Wednesday, October 28, 2020

PHIL ON FILM: 5 Shows to Binge in November 2020

 For my full article, click here.

"Watch Dogs: Legion" Review

While the first two "Watch Dogs" overpromised and underdelivered, but the third time around reverses that paradigm. Those expecting more of the same in the open-world hack-a-thon will be dazzled at the amount of freedom and invention at your disposal this time around.

After the series debut in 2014 and its follow-up two years later, "Watch Dogs: Legion" opens up a breathtaking cyberpunkscape to explore and manipulate. Taking the baton from Ubisoft Montreal, Ubisoft Toronto used the extra time to reinvent the franchise while staying true to the original vision.

Set in near-future London, you play as a cog in a resistance group who's out to gather up recruits to break the back of Dedsec, the privacy-exploiting, propaganda-spewing dystopian overlords. Swiping pages from megalithic Ubisoft properties "Assassin's Creed" and "Far Cry," the free-form, side quest-pulsing realms is one of the most dense and intricately detailed open worlds yet crafted.

Every character walking the streets has a backstory, routine and exploitable tendency, and you can inhabit any one of them, adapting their abilities and access to ease or complicate the path to your next objective.

While the amount of choice at your disposal can be paralyzing, the map and menu system does a solid job of keeping your tasks in order. You can take down missions in any number of ways, either opting for stealth and hacking, guns blazing or gadget manipulation. The freedom, for instance, to hack a security camera in order to hijack a drone that you can use to set off an explosive distraction to clear your path is intoxicating.

Although it's possible to spurn the vast amounts of potential paths and creative potential in order to power through missions via shortcuts or formulaic routines is alluring, but you'll get more out of the game if you open yourself up to the array of tricks and customizations that await. If the goal is to get you feeling like a digital god who bends the Matrix to your will, Ubisoft Toronto has succeeded beyond any expectation. The freestanding online co-op and adversarial sandbox play will no doubt give the game legs that far outlasts the primary campaign.

"Watch Dogs: Legion" is one of the most welcome surprises of the year. Symbolic of the technological mastery of its fiction, the game is a powerful sendoff for the current generation, as well as a tantalizing beacon of what's to come as the PS5 and Xbox One begin their dawn.

Publisher provided review code.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

"Umihara Kawase BaZooKa" Review

"Umihara Kawase BaZooKa" is a platformer that tasks you to wield a bazooka and fishing rod to knock out scores of dopey enemies. Think of a side-scrolling Skee-Ball with a little "Reel 'em In" tossed in.

The dev team at Success keeps the tone light and fast-paced, with little barrier to entry, even at the toughest difficulty. A breezy, party game feel races through every pixel and sound, providing an upbeat, friendly feel that can serve as a nice break for those needing an escape from doom and gloom.

It takes a bit of patience to endure this brand of fun, though. Repetitive battles and drab environments make the game wear out its welcome more quickly than you'd hope, giving you little reason to proceed other than to keep your momentum going.

Local multiplayer can spice things up, letting you test your skills against up to three other players. The shared mayhem will no doubt spark laughs, both with and at the content.

"Umihara Kawase BaZooka" is a title designed for players with eclectic tastes and a casual skillset. Bouncy and peppy to both its advantage and disadvantage, it bops along to its own oddball beat. 

Publisher provided review code.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

"G.I. Joe: Operation Blackout" Review

Of all G.I. Joe's gaming forays, the one that left the most lasting impression on me was in the RTS-lite "Toy Soldiers: War Chest." 

The understated, milquetoast "G.I. Joe: Operation Blackout" may not do much to move the needle in terms of brand recognition, but is able to parlay the feel and look of the characters in that game into an action-heavy shooter.

Developer GameMill Entertainment hit its modest expectations with a serviceable, spectacle-free slice of fan service.

Most of the draw comes in the 17-mission single-player campaign. Twelve characters who span the comics, toys and animated series pop up in major roles, playing on the nostalgia factor for all it's worth.

Leading the Joes against the world-dominating Cobra terror organization, you use an array of machine gun fire, grenades, power moves and old-fashioned melee moves to slaughter your way to glory. There aren't many surprises in store, but there's something comforting in the mindless, unchallenging combat.

GameMill understandably skirted online multiplayer in favor of couch co-op and competitive combat. It's hard to imagine rustling up three other people who care enough about the game to tangle in standard capture the flag, assault, king of the hill and deathmatch formats. But if you can supply the people, the game has got your back.

While "Operation Blackout" doesn't reinvent G.I. Joe as a viable gaming franchise, it doesn't embarrass itself either. If you're a lifelong fan of the goofy characters and paramilitary antics, you'll feel right at home here.

Publisher provided review code.

G.I. Joe: Operation Blackout Image

Monday, October 12, 2020

"Trollhunters: Defenders of Arcadia" Review

Superfans don't need much to hook them. "Trollhunters: Defenders of Arcadia" checks most of the boxes for fans of the show, but does little else to go beyond fan service.

Based on the Netflix series, the plot has you guiding Jim Lake Jr. as he takes on Porgon the Trickster Troll, who is trying to bring on the dreaded time-pocalypse. There is action aplenty, with loads of enemies to pummel as you roll toward the end of each level.

What might have been an inspired throwback instead seems somewhat muted. 

With creative input from Guillermo del Toro, as well as the series' voice cast -- including Emile Hirsch, David Bradley, Charlie Saxton and Lexi Medrano -- in tow, there was a chance for something exciting. But developer WayForward falls victim to the uninspired design of many licensed games.

Expect repetitive levels, dull enemies and tedious visuals that fail to live up to the vigor of the source material.

Cut scenes are usually skippable trifles in platformers, but the story moments provide some of the more intriguing draws here. Those who have followed the storylines of the Netflix show won't need much convincing to play the game to get the full flavor of the saga.

This one will have you hunting for something better.

Publisher provided review code.