The dichotomy of beauty and violence has always been a driving theme in The Witcher series. The Northern Realms' gorgeous vistas are dotted with war-torn battlefields, kindness--no matter how fleeting it may be--is often juxtaposed with savagery, and even the warmest characters have a cold and calculated side to them. That neverending tug-of-war is ever-present in The Witcher 3, even when its stripped-down visuals may obscure some of that beauty.
Everything is here in the Nintendo Switch version--The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, its two expansions, Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine, and all of its DLC. The main game alone offers dozens of superb quests filled with interesting characters, fantastic twists, and rewarding combat encounters. As Kevin VanOrd said in GameSpot's original review, "Excellence abounds at every turn in this open-world role-playing game." The same is mostly true for the Nintendo Switch version.
As you'd expect, the visuals have been pared down significantly. The textures are muddied, the draw-distances are reined in, and the resolution has taken a hit. These issues are exacerbated during docked play. While it technically runs at a higher frame rate and resolution docked, these visual issues are all the more noticeable when projected onto a larger screen.
The standard Nintendo Switch's 6.2-inch screen does a great job of hiding the blemishes. Even though it's running at a lower resolution, the smaller screen gives it a much crisper look, so the poor textures and pop-in are less apparent. If you do plan on playing it in handheld mode, you can, thankfully, adjust the size of the HUD to make things easier to read.
For returning players, the visual downgrade may require some getting used to. However, focusing solely on The Witcher 3's visuals does this port a disservice. Four years later, the game is still massive in scope, and seeing the battle-scarred swamps of Velen, jagged peaks of Skellige, and sprawling countryside of Toussaint on a technically inferior platform is still a sight to behold.
More importantly, the grittier look of the Switch port doesn't affect The Witcher 3's core gameplay. The combat and exploration may be smoother on a PC, Xbox One X, or PS4 Pro, but I found performance to be consistent throughout a wide variety of combat encounters and locales. After nearly 30 hours, I haven't experienced any significant frame rate dips. Even the swamps in Velen--an area notorious for causing frame rate issues on PS4 and Xbox One--are comparable to the rest of the experience on Switch. According to developer CD Projekt Red, the frame rate should range between 24 and 30 frames per second. In populated areas like Novigrad, the frame rate dipped to the lower end of that range. Given the slower pace of The Witcher 3, I never found these dips to be an issue, even in the heat of combat.
The Witcher 3's visual prowess may have been a selling point for some in 2015, but the Nintendo Switch version is a reminder that there is far more to this adventure than a pretty picture. Even today, there are few games that can rival the storytelling and worldbuilding on display here. Nothing is as simple as it seems, and every thread you pull on reveals enticing new details about this world and its characters.
The Nintendo Switch version is a reminder that there is far more to this adventure than a pretty picture
The vast web of decisions and consequences is just as impressive as it was in 2015. While it may not be apparent on your first playthrough, your actions--both big and small--can have serious repercussions, even if you were trying to do the right thing. What's more impressive is how well fleshed-out each of these paths are and how they ebb and flow through main quests and side quests. While many outcomes are bittersweet by design, none feel underdeveloped.
Where The Witcher 3 continues to shine is in its many deeply human stories. While the political aspects of the main story give context to the world and the characters that inhabit it, it's the interactions Geralt has with its denizens that gives weight to the experience. There are no good guys or bad guys. There are just people fighting to find hope in an oppressive world. Many of the quests provoke questions like: Would you hurt others for those you love? Can even the most vile of men be forgiven? How far can fear drive someone?
The superb storytelling continues in the game's two expansions. Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine. While not necessary to the main narrative, these two expansions are thoughtful addendums to Geralt's story. Blood and Wine in particular is a heartfelt send-off for the storied series. If you're jumping back into the game and just want to experience these, you can skip to them right when you load it up for the first time.
Although the Nintendo Switch might not be the best platform to play The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, it's still a fantastic experience that shouldn't be missed. If you are looking to replay The Witcher 3 and bask in its detail and beauty, the Switch port may not quite scratch that itch. However, what makes this game excellent isn't its graphics, but the powerful stories it tells, and those are as vivid as ever on Switch.
It’s been twenty-one years since the original MediEvil spooked players. Developer Other Ocean Emeryville is hoping to once again ensnare players’ imaginations. But, has the game stood the test of time? We recently talked with Mike Mika, chief creative officer, and Jeff Nachbaur, producer, about their upcoming game. If their passion is any indication, gamers have a treat in store this Halloween. The MediEvil Remake is not content with igniting mere nostalgia. Instead, Developer Other Ocean Emeryville has set out to create the fiendish vision the original was always intended to be, but couldn’t because of hardware limitation. Here are the reasons they might just succeed:
If you're fortunate enough to have a barcade in your neck of the woods, you have probably seen it: a huge, imposing pair of arcade cabinets with "Killer Queen" emblazoned on the marquee in blue and gold. Maybe you've even seen or played a versus session, with five players gathered around each screen attempting to work together and clutch sweet, sweet victory. Killer Queen is ideal for arcades, it's a unique game built around the camaraderie of being together in a public space--a vibe that's difficult to translate to the often solitary online experience PCs and consoles offer.
Enter Killer Queen Black, the first appearance of Killer Queen beyond the dimly-lit neon lights of modern social arcades. While it isn't a 1:1 port of the arcade original, Killer Queen Black nonetheless delivers a tremendously fun and engaging multiplayer experience, whether you're playing with a bunch of friends at home or joining in random battles online.
It's important to realize that Killer Queen in any form is, fundamentally, a multiplayer experience. That means that if you don't plan to play with local friends or take the game online, there is little that it will offer you beyond a brief tutorial mode and the ability to play with CPU-controlled teammates and enemies. But when you do get a party started, Killer Queen Black realizes its full fun and frenetic potential.
Killer Queen Black has you playing in two teams of four players (down from five in the arcade original), with one player assuming the role of the insectoid Queen and three being worker drones who aid her. Each player has an important role; while the Queen is the team's anchor and has access to powerful attack skills, the infinitely-respawning drones can pick up berries, ride snails, and upgrade in special pods to gain super-speed or become weapon- and shield-bearing warriors. Victory is achieved in one of three ways: by killing the other team's Queen three times, collecting and storing enough berries to fill your team's base, or riding a sluggish snail to your team's goalposts.
The game's varied roles and three means of victory offer up a lot of interesting strategies. Do the drones all opt to forfeit the ability to carry berries and ride the snail to gain weapons to go on an all-out offense? Or maybe only a couple should grab gear while one tries to bait the opposing Queen by riding the snail? Maybe your team's Queen can dodge and counterattack enemies, distracting the opposing team and claiming their power-stations while your drone friends hoard berries or inch the snail to the goal. You can even put yourself in the snail's jaws to stymie a riding opponent, allowing your weapon-wielding teammates an opportunity to kill off threats. There are many possibilities, and while a lot is always going on at any one time in Killer Queen Black, learning its basic rules and controls is easy enough that most anyone can jump in and quickly enjoy the strategic depth the gameplay has to offer.
Graphically, Killer Queen Black has received a significant overhaul from the arcade original. The arcade game employed a detailed retro-pixel art style, and that carries over to Black. However, the detail on the characters, animations, and background elements is significantly improved, adding a lot to the atmosphere of Killer Queen's strange humanoid-insect world. As a result it's not too tough to follow the action, even on the Switch's comparatively smaller handheld screen, Along with the graphical overhaul comes some all-new maps, many of which emphasize the clever use of screen-wrapping to enhance strategic play by letting you quickly move from end of the screen to the other.
There are many ways to enjoy the game's multiplayer modes. You can link a pair of Switches together via a local network for eight-player action, you can hop online in a custom room with friends or an assemblage of random players--you can even take a local team of up to four players online to battle against another group online.
In our testing, online play was generally smooth sailing, though it was pretty easy to tell when players' connections weren't ideal; you could see their character jumping abruptly around the map as the game struggled to catch up with their location. (To its credit, the game tries its best to match you with others based on region.) There's online voice chat for each team to coordinate strategy--though, if you don't have access to voice chat (a likelihood for the Switch version), you can also communicate through a simple emote and emphasis system that draws attention to places on the map. If there's one major gripe about online, it's a lack of options; you can turn certain maps on and off, but that's about it. With only six maps in the base game (that often repeat multiple times during a five-round set), the scenery starts to feel a stale pretty quickly.
Minor gripes aside, Killer Queen Black is the very definition of a great multiplayer game: easy to learn, fun to jump into, and packed with the sort of clutch moments that make you jump up and cheer. The satisfaction of spur-of-the-moment decisions, like sniping a Queen from the other side of the map with a carefully-timed laser gun blast, knocking an attacker pursuing your Queen off-kilter with a thrown berry, or eagerly shoving yourself in a snail's mouth pixels from the enemy goal in order to buy your teammates time to complete your berry hoard is consistently engaging. If you're looking for a unique, competitive multiplayer experience for online or local group play, Killer Queen Black is the bee's knees.
Despite releasing last year, Red Dead Redemption II has been in the news a lot lately, with new content in Red Dead Online and the announcement of a PC version scheduled to launch on November 5. On that latter point, Rockstar today revealed more information about what is going to be different about PC version compared to its console counterparts.
Gamers can obviously expect some graphical improvements that take full advantage of the hardware, like increased draw distances, improved lighting, and better textures. But beyond that, the PC version will also have new content that wasn't in the previous release. That includes brand-new horses (and new variations of existing horses), three bounty hunter missions, two additional gang hideouts, two new treasure maps, and extra weapons for the story mode (some of which are already in Red Dead Online), and more.
Players who pre-purchase the game via the Rockstar Games Launcher (until October 22) also get a bevy of other goodies, like a free upgrade to the premium edition, bonus cash for story mode and online, and a war horse for single-player. As another incentive, this deal also includes two free Rockstar PC games (selected from: Grand Theft Auto III, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Bully: Scholarship Edition, L.A. Noire: The Complete Edition, and Max Payne 3: The Complete Edition). You can get all the details at the official site.
You probably knew this already, but the original console release of Red Dead Redemption II was excellent (we gave it a 10), and these improvements may give everyone a reason to jump back in with the new version.
What the Golf prides itself in being a golf game for people who don't like golf. Its absolute irreverence means that, for long periods, it only resembles golf in that the controls are similar to other touch-screen golf games, especially Desert Golfing--you aim in a direction, pull your finger back to gauge your distance, and then let go for the swing (although here you're just trying to hit the pin, not land in the hole). But as often as not, you're not actually shooting a golf ball here. Sometimes you're firing off a soccer ball, or hurling a golf club, or an object that's not even golf-adjacent like a rocket that needs guiding through a mess of trees or a crab that must be protected from rising tides. What you're doing changes completely, but the controls, and the humorous sense of surprise, remain unchanged for the majority of the game.
Often, the first shot on any course is a punchline. On one early level, you go to shoot the ball, but on release, the on-screen golfer gets flung forward instead, rag-dolling towards the green. In other instances, the punchline comes at the end of the hole: you'll hit the pin and discover that the whole reason for putting in a level about driving a car was so that they could hit you with the pun 'driving range'. What the Golf is an inventive, charming and funny game, one that speeds through ideas, jokes and oddities at a steady clip so that none of its ideas ever have a chance to get old. It's fast, strange and pretty easy--the exact opposite of real golf, and all the better for it.
What the Golf's high-concept golf japery isn't trying to deliver a serious or deep experience. Each level is short--getting the ball (or equivalent) to the pin rarely requires more than a few shots, and while the overworld that you navigate through to access each level contains only the mildest of traversal puzzles. The whole point of the game is to make you laugh at how flexible its internal definition of 'golf' is. It's literally a weird flex, but it's more than okay.
The game's irreverence for golf doesn't tick over into malice, nor are there any real elements of parody--golf simply provides a rough framework and theme for the game to build on. Levels are divided up by rough themes and concepts: some levels are set in space, for instance, or based on other sports, or require you to switch your phone orientation, switching to a first-person control scheme. Some even bring in augmented reality elements, asking you to move your phone around to fully comprehend a 3D level. The level of creativity on display here is what makes the game so charming, and right up until the end it's still finding new ways to wring joy out of some very simple control mechanics.
It's literally a weird flex, but it's more than okay.
Unfortunately, if you're playing on PC, some of these fun gimmicks have been excised or cut back--this is a game clearly designed with mobile devices in mind. It's also not as intuitive to control, as moving a mouse is not as immediate or satisfying as using a finger, especially in levels that require you to take numerous shots in quick succession. But the game remains very funny, no matter how you play it. To explain too many of the game's gags would dilute their power, but it does a very good job of baking the comedy into the mechanics. What the Golf repeats the same basic gags often to great success--a favourite is when you think you're controlling the ball, but when you take your shot some other object gets propelled, which is somehow funny every single time. Even the soundtrack, which is largely made up of discordant tunes and singers singing "what the hell" and "golf" repeatedly, is funny.
The game is at its most fun the more recognisably connected to golf it is, although that doesn't mean that all the best levels have you shooting a ball at a pin. The game turns into a spot-on homage to Superhot for a few levels, for instance, where you pick up new clubs to fire balls at enemies who only move--and shoot--when you do. It's a committed homage, right down to the “SUPER. PUTT.” voiceover after you complete each level. There are other direct game parodies in here (and even one challenge that feels like a direct homage to Untitled Goose Game), and most of them are a delight. At a few other points, though, the game stumbles somewhat--some levels have so little to do with golf that the game's central joke feels briefly abandoned, and it would be nice to have a few more levels that required some outside-the-box thinking. Even with all the zaniness, a lot of the gameplay boils down to simply pointing at the pin and firing, and some more puzzle-based levels would not have gone amiss.
Thankfully, the two extra challenges holes attached to each level do a lot to flesh the game out. You can finish What the Golf in about two hours, but it's worth going back and trying to 100% it (which can still be done in about six hours). These extra levels are a 'par' challenge, and then another level that usually provides a significant shake-up, one that's often unrecognisable from the hole's first challenge. Often there will be new gags or ideas to enjoy tucked away in these challenges, so it's worth going back for them.
What the Golf is a comedy game first and foremost, and it succeeds at its primary goal. Perhaps the game's most telling feature is the 'Show To A Friend' option on the main menu, which runs you through a quick playable "best of" reel of some clever challenges the game offers up. What the Golf is an experience that can be shown off, fully understood, and effectively sold to a player in the span of about two minutes--and like all great jokes, you'll want to share it.
John Wick is an orchestrator of death. He efficiently uses both the tools and space around him in a fight, delicately flowing between enemies and intelligently picking them off. John Wick Hex effortlessly replicates the slick violence of the films, allowing you to embody the feared assassin in combat scenarios that are both challenging and satisfying to overcome. It also introduces a fast-paced spin on traditional turn-based action, letting you think and act like the elusive Baba Yaga while also looking as refined and controlled as he is.
At the core of John Wick Hex is an overhead timeline, which records actions both you and enemies take. Each action takes a set amount of time, represented plainly in the timeline to give you a clear view of when you’re taking a shot versus when you have to dodge an incoming one, for example. After each turn, the action you’ve made plays out in real-time, only pausing if a new enemy enters your line of sight or if you take damage to let you adjust accordingly. You’re always aware of how the action is going to play out when it starts moving again, which lets you plan ahead and position yourself for your next turn.
The choices you make in combat are vital, though. Sometimes an enemy might be quicker on the draw than you, forcing you to decide between potentially taking a hit or throwing your gun to stun them in time. This has its own set of consequences. If the enemy is too far, you’ve now disarmed yourself with too much ground to cover for a close-quarters takedown, or left yourself vulnerable to the surprise appearance of another foe. Each turn is a new step in a moving puzzle, rewarding careful consideration of positioning, sight lines, and resource management with a graceful flow of murder.
Aside from health, you have to consider both ammunition and a resource called focus. John Wick is great with a gun, but Hex limits the number of bullets you can carry at a time to force you to experiment with new weapons that you find. Knowing how many bullets you have in the magazine before a fight helps you manage how many enemies you think you can dispatch before needing to find a new one, which in turn helps you move efficiently from one kill to the next, collecting dropped firearms in the process. It’s a satisfying balance; I constantly had to adapt to the firing speeds and effective ranges of new weapons, which in turn changed the way I advanced on or retreated from a fight.
Focus governs most of your actions outside basic movement and shooting. Everything from performing an instant melee takedown to reloading your weapon requires some focus points, making it the backbone to most of your available repertoire. Although it can be replenished easily enough, finding space in a fight to do so without taking too much damage is tough, encouraging you to only bite off as much as you can chew and space your enemies out to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Your successes and failures are governed but how well you’re able to manage both ammunition and your distribution of resources, with Hex focusing less on hit percentages and random rolls and more on the choices you make and your ability to anticipate how things will play out.
Levels are designed to challenge your understanding of movement and its inherent risks, too, stuffing you into long, cramped corridors laden with doors that enemies can spawn through at any point. Sight lines are obscured to keep you guessing about who's just around the corner; a reckless roll could put you in the firing line of a group of previously hidden enemies. Each step you take towards the exit of each level has to be a calculated one, taking into account acute angles of doorways and the benefits of elevation from overhead balconies.
When you hit a stride with this balancing act, John Wick Hex feels like it’s almost moving in real time. Your decisions will start feeling instinctive, with moves playing out as if you’re beholden to a ticking clock. Hex is tuned to make you feel like you’re always one step ahead. Because you have a beat or two to react to new enemies before they make their moves, you'll often feel like your reaction times are split seconds ahead of them--so long as you're thinking carefully. But it’s equally unforgiving if you’re too bold. If you don’t learn how to break sight lines while moving, you’ll quickly find your timeline overwhelmed with enemy actions that you can’t address entirely. Hex is a power fantasy with the odds ever so slightly tilted in your favor, but it’s also a game that wants you to understand the fine margins that John Wick operates within during every fight.
With such dynamic and engrossing combat at its center, it’s disappointing that John Wick Hex’s original story fails to live up to the same standard. It takes place well before the events of the first film--when John was the most dangerous weapon the High Table had in their employ, and before he ever met his wife--with John searching for series stalwarts Winston and Charon, reprised by Ian McShane and Lance Reddick respectively (Keanu Reeves' likeness is used in the game's stylized cartoonish aesthetic, but John Wick has no dialogue to speak of). Hex, a new villain to the series, has kidnapped the pair in an attempt to dismantle the High Table in a fit of revenge, inviting the wrath of John Wick as he ruthlessly hunts him down over a variety of locales, like neon-soaked night clubs with harsh electronic music and silent, snow-slicked forests which quickly become drenched in bright pink streaks of blood from fallen foes.
While the narrative gives the game a reason to bounce from one location to the next, it never taps into the intriguing layer of lore that sits on top of the high-octane action from the films. You’ll learn nothing new about the High Table or their seedy, mysterious Continental hotels, and even less about John’s time before giving up his assassin lifestyle in pursuit of something quieter. Hex’s revenge tale also fails to establish any interesting backstory or lasting impression on the franchise, making the story feel meaningless in the grander scheme of things.
It’s a disappointing thread that ties together the exceptional gameplay, which faithfully captures the feeling of being John Wick in a strategic and pulsating formula. John Wick Hex has turn-based gameplay at a pace you’ve likely not experienced before, and it intricately balances its systems to give you a sense of being an expert hitman while also making it feel earned. It’s a slick and well-oiled game that succeeds in giving you a new, engrossing way to experience John Wick and its signature brand of chaotic action.
Restoring the place which harbors your fondest childhood memories is a cute and almost noble goal. In Concrete Genie you get to take something drab and dead and bring it back to life with colour, love, and warmth. It's a very simple and short experience that focuses mainly on light puzzling, 3D platforming, and a little stealth, but its charm and general sense of playfulness really make it a worthwhile adventure.
In Concrete Genie you play as Ash, a boy who dreams of bringing his former home, a fishing port called Denksa, back to life. The town has been corrupted by an oil spill and negative emotions, and is now a desolate maze-like neighbourhood by the water. Ash's love of art and memories of better days draw him to the run-down area, despite his parents' warnings. Unfortunately for Ash, his bullies also enjoy running amok in the ghost town; they tear up his art book and push him into a cable car bound for Denska lighthouse (known for housing a ghost), starting him on a new journey.
Small drawings of the genies Ash drew as a child are scattered around the city and, when combined with the power of the lighthouse ghost, bring his paintings to life. These friendly genies bid him to use his artistic talents to paint the town using a new magic brush, which restores the electric lights in the area. He sets to work, using his vibrant artworks to push back the darkness infecting the town. The premise doesn't make a tonne of sense, but its message and execution are sweet and full of heart, much like the rest of the game.
Ash is determined to restore Denska to its former glory and each area of the town, including the lighthouse, has hanging fairy lights over some parts of buildings. Painting these areas will clear the dark vines that block your path to the next section. Mechanically, painting is more like placing large dynamic stickers rather than using your own brush strokes. You choose whether you want to paint something like a rainbow or a flower, use either motion controls or the right stick to choose its location, then drag across the screen to determine the general size and shape of the object.
Concrete Genie fills in the rest, adding fine details that can vary depending on the sticker. Flowers may create extra grass, and trees can grow additional branches, but it all works to make whatever you're creating far more impressive. The artwork is made of light and genuinely quite beautiful--if a little overbearingly bright at times. Much like projected light art or bright neon signs, they work well in moderation but can get overly busy. You do have to go quite overboard to create something that's actually ugly, which makes the act of painting the town really satisfying--you get to watch a boring dull environment become something quite pretty with very minimal effort.
To light up the hanging lights, any painting will do. This means that sometimes, for simplicity's sake, I used the same art over and over again, covering the walls with butterflies or stars out of laziness. Occasionally, you may need to paint something specific, but even then it can get a little repetitive. All of the paintable objects come from your sketchbook the aforementioned bullies tore apart, and these pages are scattered all over Denska.
Sometimes you might not have the page you need yet, but setting out to find them gives you a genuine reason to explore the environment and fortunately, it's really fun to do so. Ash is just a kid and doesn't have superpowers, so he can't jump particularly high or survive large falls, but he does have a spirited spring in his step. Clambering up the sides of buildings is quick and efficient while still feeling grounded and not at all floaty. Even if you do fall to your death, you're immediately returned to where you fell from, and daredevil actions like sliding down power lines make getting around enjoyable without fear of punishment. There's a really nice fluidity to his movements, which emboldens you to explore every nook and cranny to hunt down your strewn pages.
Along the way, you'll also find spots to create new genies, which will in turn help you solve puzzles and access new areas. These genies have set colours which allow them to solve different elemental puzzles--red genies can burn down a tarp, for example, whereas blue ones can blow on specific objects, and yellow ones generate electricity to power various doors and switches. The downside to the puzzles is calling one genie to solve a problem calls all who are available to come, so often there's not much active work on your part to solve them--Instead, the genies come along and, aside from a few exceptions, they'll just solve it on their own. As genies are still technically paintings that exist on the walls they were painted on, they can only travel on connected walls and are locked in their own areas. This means you may need to have found the painting spot for the type of genie you need first, but this still isn't very difficult.
You also have a fair amount of control over how your genies will look, depending on how many genie design pages you’ve collected. The choices you make can impact their personalities, which can make interacting with them incredibly endearing--it's also very easy to make some hot mess genies, but they don't seem to mind their appearance. The interactions between Ash and the genies are very sweet--you can hang out with them, play games together, and paint things for them. Keeping your genies happy also makes them more likely to help you solve puzzles and provides you with Super Paint, which is required to paint over some surfaces, so the whole interaction with the genies feeds back into the positivity of the game.
Concrete Genie takes a surprising turn in the final act, when combat suddenly makes an appearance. As a part of the narrative, it makes sense and is an enjoyable twist, but because it's such a short-lived mechanic it feels under-developed. Like the elements of the genies, you are granted three different elemental attacks that need to be used to take down different shields. The half-hour dedicated to combat, mostly involving boss fights, doesn't give much opportunity for you to experiment with it. I'm still not sure if all the attacks did damage or whether some just caused status effects because there wasn't enough time or enemies to organically work it out.
When you're granted combat, you also gain new movement abilities, which include paint skating. This means you no longer have to run so much and can instead essentially skate on magical painted shoes. It makes getting around even more fluid than it was before, and unlike your ability to shoot elements, you get to keep this one even after the main story is completed. Because it's introduced fairly late into the game, it makes jumping back in after the story to clean up collectibles really enjoyable. The game itself only takes about six hours to complete on an initial playthrough, and once it's "over" you really do want to play more. But even with the 10 or so hours I spent finding all the secrets and collectibles, it still feels like some concepts could still have been explored to a greater degree.
Most of what Concrete Genie has to offer is fun and beautiful in a sort of childlike way. The game is not particularly difficult, and overcoming a puzzle or combat scenario isn't always satisfying. But it's ultimately still an endearing experience throughout. There's plenty of enjoyment to be found just from the act of exploring, and little hidden secrets along the way help make it worthwhile; I just wish Concrete Genie had more adventure waiting for me.
There's nothing quite like the bright, beautiful, and sometimes distraught world of Indivisible. It's one that wears its Southeast/South Asian influences on its sleeve, and pulls you into places you want to be in with characters you want to be around. Developer Lab Zero blends several genre elements to create a system of combat and platforming that flows seamlessly between Indivisible's seemingly disparate parts. It has so much going for it that it's disappointing when heartfelt exchanges and pivotal moments lack the gravitas they deserve or are simply glossed over. While Indivisible has trouble following through narratively, I can't shake its enjoyable moments and the sense of cultural visibility it gives a region I'm connected to.
Your journey across Indivisible's world revolves around Ajna, the hard-headed but full-hearted protagonist who perpetually stumbles into revelations about her true nature. She makes new friends along the way who either have mutual goals in mind or don't need much convincing to join her cause. Other than brief surprise, no one seems to bat an eye at the fact that they get physically absorbed into Ajna's consciousness--a separate plane of existence that acts as a sort of hub area--only to be summoned in battle or in conversation. You'll have to concede having deeper explanations other than Ajna's supernatural powers and third-eye chakra which are connected to the ominous villain Kala, goddess of destruction and creation.
Although a handful of key characters are central to the story, you assemble a party of four from a large and varied roster that's built up rather quickly. You assign a party member to a position in combat that corresponds with a face button; this is how you actively send them in to deal damage in real-time during an offensive phase and have them individually defend when enemies initiate attacks. Getting the hang of Indivisible's hybrid of turn-based and real-time mechanics opens you up to inventive ways of combining different characters' movesets and timing their specific attacks at the right time. It's easy to see how Lab Zero channels elements of its previous game, Skullgirls--there's a slight fighting game touch with combos, directional attacks, guard breaks, perfect blocks, and air juggling attacks. You also build up a meter, called Iddhi, which represents Ajna and friends' ability to go into overdrive for executing powerful special attacks. Battles tend to move fast, and this layered combat system makes you eager to get into the next fight.
It's not necessary to learn every character as it's viable to stick with a handful of your favorites to cycle between for certain situations (they all level alongside Ajna so no one gets left behind). But as great as combat can be, you'll be disappointed to know that its wonderful complexities are squandered by a lack of challenge towards the end of the game. Your party becomes so powerful that simple button mashing will get you by most, if not all, enemies and bosses. You'll continually recruit new members in the late-game, too, but with little reason to get in tune with their mechanics. Combat's biggest enemy is the lack of difficulty right when the stakes should be the highest.
Fighting is only half of Indivisible, gameplay-wise, though--it's partly a 2D side-scrolling adventure that draws from Metroidvania-style exploration. As you accumulate new tools and powers, so too does your means of traversal. Ajna starts with an axe that she uses to propel herself upward to higher ledges, but she'll soon be pole-vaulting, pogo-sticking, and monkey-swinging with a spear to avoid hazards and reach new areas. Her own superpowers eventually let you dash across wide gaps, jump to greater heights, and break through walls. What makes all these mechanics fun to use is that you face a variety of obstacles that force you to think about the clever ways you need to string together your toolset and abilities to overcome these platforming challenges.
Unlike combat, platforming steadily ramps up to a satisfying difficulty towards the end, but it's never frustrating since you only face light punishment for death. Rather than loading a previous save, you get brought back to a generously placed checkpoint should you fail a sequence. What's more, a number of boss battles merge the two gameplay styles and test you to juggle both at a rapid pace. That could sound like the game biting off more than it can chew, but the pace at which you transition between the two phases keep things moving seamlessly.
From one location to another, Indivisible's imaginative art style gives you an unmistakable sense of where you are and the things that happen there. I'm still thinking about the rough streets of Tai Krung City, which come to life through neon signage, quirky apartment setups, lavish clubs, and sketchy alleyways. Even the grimy, oppressive Iron Kingdom clearly communicates a hardship among the common folk who inhabit the cobblestone roads, and you feel the bustle of the markets that occupy the colorful seaside town of Port Maerifa. That rich sense of style extends to each of the characters, who are beautifully realized in expressive, hand-drawn artwork. It's an evolution of the imaginative style and designs from Skullgirls, and it helps distinguish each member of the wide, diverse cast.
Indivisible's sensational soundtrack tops off the joy of exploration and complements the feelings you get from soaking in the beautiful visuals. The infectious tunes solidify the personality of Indivisible's locations, a favorite among the tracks being the song that plays in Tai Krung City--its steel drums and upstroke guitar riffs hook you, but its somber melody reflects the town's dreary side. And the energetic tempo and horn section of the club area's song propels you to keep going, especially when it doubles as the battle theme. The Pacific Islander-influenced region of Kaanul features a theme with catchy woodwind instrumentation and a solemn string section. Indivisible's soundtrack is very much part of the atmosphere it aims to build, and it's one that's worth listening to on its own.
I want to love Indivisible unconditionally; it has so many great pieces, and it's a special thing to feel seen. I'm happy to have a game that's distinctly Southeast Asian, giving some earnest representation to a part of the world I belong to and one I'm even more curious about now.
Indivisible roots itself in broad-reaching concepts from Southeast/South Asian mythologies and history. Every in-game region's introduction is written in Sanskrit. Mount Sumeru, the critical location for which Indivisible starts and concludes, is derived from the sacred mountain in Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain mythology that harnesses all things physical and spiritual. An important character, Thorani, who treats Ajna as one of her own, calls her luksao, the Thai word for daughter. You can also spot smaller pop culture references, too--special shout out to the Jollibee reference in Tai Krung City, and a charming wannabe-Kamen Rider stand-in. Even down to character names, there are so many more connections to draw. While Indivisible doesn't necessarily explore these cultures in any particular depth or in more meaningful ways, it gives the stage to a diverse region to tell a simple story of personal growth, self-acceptance, and sacrifice.
With that said, while Indivisible has the foundation to portray something powerful it doesn't exactly follow through. Many of Indivisible's major story beats lack the necessary impact they need to stick with you and get you fully invested in Ajna's fight to save the world. While there's an assortment of likeable personalities and quips between characters, and the voice acting performances shine, many dialogue sequences don't reflect the gravity of the situations that unfold. For example, Ajna internalizes life-altering events in ways that frame them as frustrations to her rather than tragedies. And when she inadvertently causes destruction, it's largely brushed off as an accident with consequences that aren't communicated. Characters are quick to change their minds about things without portraying the process through which they came to their conclusions, undermining possible emotional stakes.
There are key moments when other characters push back and confront others to think harder about what they're doing. Whether it's characters who open themselves up to feel any sort of positive emotion, go through a sincere redemption arc, or provide unquestioning support, you can identify the times Indivisible gets it right. I can't help but wish that the story contained these highlights more often than not.
I want to love Indivisible unconditionally; it has so many great pieces, and it's a special thing to feel seen. I'm happy to have a game that's distinctly Southeast Asian, giving some earnest representation to a part of the world I belong to and one I'm even more curious about now. As a whole, it sometimes doesn't come together; it's missing weight to its narrative and the challenges necessary to flex its wonderful combat system. But it stands out as an RPG that's doing something genuinely different, and it brings joy to its clever platforming with the tune of an infectious soundtrack. For all its faults, Indivisible has its heart in the right place.
It's easy to love Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair when you start. The platformer is bursting with bright, saturated hues at every turn, with a whimsical soundtrack that's as catchy as it is cheery. It's a delightful veneer that quickly gives way to an otherwise predictable and unremarkable platformer. Despite changing its formula from full 3D to 2.5D, Yooka-Laylee is still too firmly rooted in a bygone era for platformers.
This shortcoming is hard to see at first, especially with Impossible Lair's intriguing setup. In theory, the Impossible Lair is an endgame challenge you can attempt in the opening moments of the game. It's a gauntlet of spike traps and moving platforms, populated to the brim with enemies ready to chew you up and spit you back out. Each stage outside of the Lair is meant to help you with this. You’re rewarded with a bee when you complete a stage, each acting as an additional hit point when you attempt the Lair once more. Gathering as many bees as you can lets you push further in while affording you more mistakes. This entices you to check back in with the Impossible Lair from time to time, seeing how well your new health pool holds up and if that (combined with your improving platforming skills) are enough to best it.
In practice, though, you're going to need pretty much every bee Yooka and Laylee can find, mostly due to how ridiculously difficult the Impossible Lair is compared to the rest of the game. It lives up to its name almost too closely, with no checkpoints throughout and long stretches of deadly chasms that will reset your progress significantly should you fall. It's completely different from the rest of the game's stages, which are well-paced with checkpoints and feature options to skip entire segments if you just can't get them right. The shift from accessible, pleasant platforming to a poorly balanced test of skill isn't an inviting one, and it sullies the otherwise interesting idea of having the Impossible Lair accessible at all times.
Outside of the Lair itself, this half-sequel, half-reinvention splits up into two distinctly different types of games. Individual stages are standard 2.5D platforming fare, tasking you with moving from start to finish, while a handful revolve around hunting down collectible items for completion. You navigate through spike traps, swinging ropes, rotating platforms, and dangerous cannons; everything feels familiar enough if you've played a platformer before. Enemies come in different varieties--some will hop in the air, others will charge at you on sight, and still others will simply move between ledges--but their designs aren't visually exciting enough to be memorable.
As familiar as they are, it's not long before stages start to feel like chores. Part of the problem is the merely serviceable platforming at its core. Yooka and his companion Laylee don't feel bad to control per se, but there's nothing exceptional about their move set either. Jumps feel a little floaty and it's annoying that your only attack is mapped to the same button as your roll (any hint of directional movement initiates the latter, and there's no way to change the control scheme), but outside of that there's really nothing remarkably good or bad about making your way through stages. It just feels far too routine, which quickly becomes boring no matter how varied the stages get as you progress.
There are technically 20 distinct stages, but in practice it's double that. Each stage can be manipulated in the hub world to alter both their makeup and challenge. For example, one level entrance on land can be submerged in water, flooding it and making new routes accessible via swimming. The changes are sometimes substantial, like introducing massive gusts of wind to help you float through the air or lasers that chase you through a route that was otherwise safe before. There are routes you'll see on your first run through a stage that are clearly meant for your inevitable return visit under different circumstances, which is a nice touch to their overall design.
Outside of these stages, the game transforms into an isometric 3D platformer, which lets you navigate through a relatively large world as you hop between individual stages. This area is more than just a hub for the real platforming awaiting; it's a self-contained stage unto itself, filled with its own puzzles, secret areas to uncover, and characters to interact with. Each part of the map is themed--there's one with large sentient fans that block paths with gusts of wind and an arid desert with a winding pipe system encroaching on its sparse wilderness, for example--which keeps things fresh as you travel between them.
Solving puzzles in this hub world rewards you with some additional bees for the Impossible Lair, but also with quills and tonics. You collect thousands of quills throughout your time in the game, using them to unlock the abilities that tonics offer, which can be incredibly useful in some tricky stages. One will force Laylee to stick around longer after getting hit, giving you more time to recover her and regain both her abilities and an additional hit point. Others let you glide for longer after a jump or lets Laylee emit a sonar pulse to reveal nearby collectibles. Others are just cosmetic. You can drench the screen in a variety of filters using FX tonics, or marvel at what a modern platformer would look like in a 4:3 aspect ratio before switching it back. They're good for a giggle or two, but not much beyond that.
Finding tonics is more fun than messing around with the abilities they offer. Secret paths are obscured slightly with the fixed camera angle, which makes picking apart your surroundings and uncovering them a treat. Others require some lightly skilled platforming to reach entrances to small caves (which themselves are sometimes locked away behind rocks you need to demolish or prickly shrubs you need to burn away) or the deciphering of clues from other characters to find keys to locked chests. It gives you more reasons to interact with the hub world behind just shepherding yourself from one stage to the next and lets you tackle them in your own time.
The Impossible Lair is definitely a better attempt at capturing the magic of platformers than Yooka-Laylee's first crack at it, but it's still not remarkable.
What isn't as engrossing is the progression system that governs how you move between each part of the hub world. Gates, jokingly referred to as paywalls, are erected throughout the world, and each requires T.W.I.T coins to unlock. There are five T.W.I.T coins in each stage, hidden in shrewdly obscured rooms or located at the end of particularly challenging platforming routes, both of which are satisfying. Initially it's pretty easy to get by using the few you find naturally through playing. But the high requirement for later gates means replaying stages you've already completed is unavoidable, which quickly introduces an unpleasant pattern of repetition. It's a slog to have to slowly comb through levels you've finished to find one or two coins at a time just so that you can continue on the game's main path.
Having to backtrack through stages to eventually reach and tackle the Impossible Lair would be more tolerable if the final encounter wasn't such a steep difficulty spike, but in truth it's likely you'll tire of its routine platforming well before that disappointment sets in. The Impossible Lair is definitely a better attempt at capturing the magic of platformers than Yooka-Laylee's first crack at it, but it's still not remarkable. If you're itching to return to a bygone era, then The Impossible Lair might scratch it. Just don't expect much beyond that.
Ghost Recon Breakpoint is uneven and conflicted. On one hand it's a natural sequel to 2017's Ghost Recon Wildlands, offering a near-identical core gameplay loop of open-world espionage and shooting. On the other hand, Breakpoint is a messy hodgepodge of disparate ideas, pulling various aspects from other Ubisoft games and shoehorning them in, half-baked and out of place. Ghost Recon's identity as a tactical shooter has evaporated and been replaced by a confused patchwork of elements and mechanics from other, better games. Its defining characteristic boils down to just how generic and stale the whole thing is.
The addition of loot and an ever-increasing gear score fits into the standard template of Ubisoft's recent open-world games, whether it's The Division 2, Assassin's Creed Odyssey, or even Far Cry New Dawn. Breakpoint fulfills its quota by including these light RPG mechanics, but the implementation of its loot grind feels like a severe afterthought. There are numerous pieces of armor to find and equip as you explore the fictional island of Auroa. The numbers attached to each one will raise or lower your gear score, but the effect this has on gameplay is entirely inconsequential. Rare loot might include small buffs like a 2% increase in stamina or a 1% increase to movement speed, yet the effects of these buffs are negligible, and armor doesn't affect your damage resistance in any perceivable way. A level 5 beanie offers as much protection as a level 75 helmet, so these numbers only exist to raise a gear score that's nothing more than a flimsy representation of your progress. You're supposed to feel good about that number rising, but it's difficult to care when there are no tangible benefits to picking one piece of armor over another. You just end up opting for whatever has the higher rating without any meaningful consideration.
Choosing which weapon to roll with requires slightly more deliberation, although this is mainly due to your preference for specific weapon types as opposed to the number attached to each. Breakpoint features the usual assortment of assault rifles, SMGs, shotguns, and sniper rifles, and these firearms function similarly to armour, with rare weapons receiving miniscule buffs to aspects like reload speed and recoil reduction. Again, the impact these stats have on gameplay is paltry at best, especially because shooting in Breakpoint is still geared towards landing headshots for an instant kill. This is a holdover from Wildlands and the series' early beginnings as a somewhat "authentic" tactical shooter. The most heavily armored grunts in Breakpoint take two shots to the head to kill--one to take off their helmet, and another to finish the job--but every other enemy can be extinguished with a single bullet.
Weapons feel impactful as a result of this, successfully capturing the rush of being an elite special ops soldier that can take out four or five enemy combatants in a matter of seconds. But this also means the rarity of weapons and the gear score attached to them is ultimately meaningless. You can wander into an area recommended for players with a gear score of 140 with a significantly lower score and still kill every enemy without breaking a sweat. This amount of freedom would be commendable if it didn't shine a derisive light on how shallow the RPG mechanics are.
The only enemies in the game that require a specific gear score to defeat are the killer drones dotted across the island. Encounters with these unmanned killing machines are few and far between, but because they don't have heads and aren't made of flesh and blood, they can be bullet sponges. Facing off against one of these drones is the only time the number next to your weapon actually matters, and even then they're easier to destroy by using the rocket launchers, grenades, and mines found in your inventory, which don't even have numbers attached to them. It's another example of how Breakpoint isn't a coherent match with Ghost Recon's sensibilities, which are still reflected in the way headshots function, and the trivial impact that loot has on gameplay makes the constant switching and dismantling of each piece of gear an unnecessary timesink.
Breakpoint's paper-thin survival mechanics are similarly underdeveloped, hinting at a tense experience that never comes to fruition. You carry a flask that you can refill in lakes, rivers, and even in someone's backyard swimming pool for that sweet tasty chlorine. Water is used to replenish any lost stamina you've misplaced by over-exerting--usually by rolling down a hillside because Auroa is nearly bereft of flat ground. The island consists of diverse biomes including verdant woodlands, snow-capped mountain tops, and muggy swamps, but the common throughline in each environment is the presence of craggy cliffs and hillsides.
As a result, traversing on foot revolves around spending a lot of time sliding down undulating slopes. This quickly drains your stamina, sending you into an uncontrollable roll that inflicts damage with each nick and bump. Health regenerates over time, but if you suffer either a minor or major injury and don't want to hobble everywhere, you need to use a syringe for instant pain relief or spend longer wrapping yourself up in bandages. Syringes are finite, yet you have an infinite supply of bandages that almost make the mechanic moot. There are never any anxious moments of desperation as you find yourself hindered with an empty medicine box. It's easy enough to wrap yourself up after a tumble, and injuries in combat are rare enough that having to find a safe spot to pause is not something you have to consider very often. There are also bivouacs spread out across the map that are used as fast travel points and rest areas where you can apply specific buffs by eating, drinking, or aiming your gun at the sky to somehow improve its accuracy. You don't have to gather food because it's always available, and there's some light crafting on the docket if you have the materials to restock your supply of explosives and gadgets.
Much like the loot, these light survival mechanics aren't fleshed out enough to warrant any engagement beyond the limited amount you're forced into. The story revolves around your character being stranded alone, trapped deep behind enemy lines. You're outmanned and outgunned against an elite force equipped with a stolen fleet of devastating, unmanned killing machines. Stealth is encouraged, so much so that when you're prone you can cover yourself in mud and foliage to blend into the environment and remain undetected. Each of these elements places an emphasis on survival, but Breakpoint constantly skirts around the edges, never committing to mechanics that would extend beyond the feeble survival aspects already included. The plane-like Azraël drone occasionally flies overhead, ready and raring to rain fiery destruction down upon your helpless human body. Yet all this means is that you'll sometimes have to lie down and wait for it to pass before you can continue with what you were originally doing. You can see the inkling of some interesting ideas here, but Breakpoint never capitalizes on these and is ultimately a generic pastiche of what's come before.
The gameplay loop is almost identical to Wildlands': You send a drone into the sky, survey an enemy base, and mark targets before infiltrating in whichever manner you see fit. Navigating through a heavily fortified compound without being seen is still inherently satisfying. Each one is usually designed in a way so there are a number of enemies obscured from your drone's vision. You might be able to pick off a handful of guards from a distance using a silenced sniper rifle, but at some point you'll have to enter and find the rest. The only thing impeding your stealthy espionage is the fact you can't move sideways while prone. Instead, you end up with these awkward animations because you can only turn at right angles. Taking cover is overly cumbersome, too. You do it automatically, but what the game deems as cover is inconsistent from one low wall to the next, and even if you do manage to get behind an object, whether you can shoot over it or not is another question. Though this would be a bigger problem if the AI were the least bit competent.
Enemies in Breakpoint are mind-numbingly dumb to the point where playing on the highest difficulty doesn't present a significantly harder challenge. Their reaction to a buddy getting shot in front of them is often one of confusion; they'll stand still in the open instead of scurrying for cover. They don't fare much better in the midst of combat, either, running between the same two pieces of cover without engaging you or seemingly forgetting you exist. Occasionally they might try to flank your blindside, but more often than not their strategy boils down to charging directly at you, making it incredibly easy to line up your shots and dispatch a few in a row. Bottlenecks like corridors and doorways are by far their worst enemy, though. Sit down one end of a straight corridor and it doesn't take long for the bodies to pile up. You can even shoot the ground at the entrance to a base and kill each enemy who comes to investigate. Factor in the disappointing fact that enemies don't so much as flinch when getting shot in the body, and none of this is conducive to enjoyable combat.
If you can get some like-minded friends together, there's definitely some fun to be had in Breakpoint's four-person co-op. Silently clearing a base of its enemies is more gratifying with four people. You can plan ahead, simultaneously approach the compound through different entrances, and time sync shots together. It's more chaotic with strangers but you can jump into matches with random players if you fancy a taste of open-world chaos.
There is, however, some dissonance between co-op and the story painting you as a lone soldier, although this is much more egregious in Breakpoint's social hub. You can play the whole game solo, but mission givers all hang out in this homely cave where you'll also find 50 or so other players. Your character is literally called Nomad, and yet you're in a space with a bunch of other Nomads, all standing around the same NPC like it's an MMO. And the story's not great either way. Jon Bernthal elevates every scene he's in, chewing up the scenery to deliver simmering monologues befitting a villain with a dubious moral code. The writing is mostly cheesy, though, with some flat voice acting and predictable twists. The inventor of the island's killer drones develops a minor Oppenheimer complex when he realises his creations can be used to kill innocent people, but this aspect isn't explored beyond surface level, and that applies to the rest of the narrative too.
Much like the loot, the light survival mechanics aren't fleshed out enough to warrant any engagement beyond the limited amount you're forced into.
The presence of the social hub and the effect it has on diminishing the story would've been worse if the story were better. As it is, the social hub seems to exist to guide players towards Breakpoint's myriad microtransactions. Maybe that's an overly cynical viewpoint, but why else would you gather players in an open space other than to encourage them to show off by purchasing fancy new cosmetics? You can buy tattoos, shirts, masks, hats, weapons, vehicles, and more. Purchasing in-game money also comes in denominations that ensure you're always spending more than you need. You don't have to engage with any of this stuff, and it's easy enough to ignore, but this microtransaction structure is predatory by design.
It would make sense if the addition of loot were in service of guiding people to spend real money on better guns, but even then the stats are so meaningless it would take a lot of convincing. There's some surprising fun to be had stealthily infiltrating enemy compounds and playing with friends, but Breakpoint is still a generic and distinctly sub-par game. It's essentially every Ubisoft open-world game rolled into one, failing to excel in any one area or establish its own identity. Breakpoint is a messy, confused game and a ghost of the series' former self.
Editor's note: We will be finalizing this review once we've played PvP and the raid. Stay tuned for the final review in the coming days.