Monday, December 11, 2017

"PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds" Xbox One Review

Genius tends to come in the form of head-smacking simplicity, and "PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds" -- known as "PUBG" by the cool kids -- exemplifies that maxim. One hundred players drop from the sky onto a sprawling map, scrambling for weapons, vantage points and shelter in a battle royale. The field of play shrinks down periodically as a counter in the upper right corner ticks down the number of remaining players.

With echoes of "The Hunger Games" and, well, "Battle Royale," the stakes increase as you advance through dwindling ranks. A number of strategies will get you to that end. The scoring system encourages aggression, rewarding you for stalking and killing your competitors.But acting rashly and getting your head chopped off will do you no favors. There is much to be said for hiding out in remote corners, waiting for the masses to hack one another to bits, leaving you to keep breathing deep into the late rounds. The mix of strategy, hunting and patience is tantalizing, making no two rounds the same.

I know only by reading that if you end up as the last person standing, you're rewarded with a loot crate dubbed a chicken dinner, filled with upgrades, trophy gear and cosmetic rewards. I am sure that I will never taste the chicken dinner myself, but that will do nothing to prevent me from striving for it.

"PUBG" handles the transition to console with aplomb. Never did I feel the need for the mouse and keyboard setup. The game plays something like a hybrid of "Skyrim" and "Dead Island," mixing melee with projectiles and ranged attacks to craft a maelstrom of carnage.

Since eliminations are followed by bounces to new games, there's never a lull in the action. Console gamers who have been envious of raving "PUBG" players for months will quickly see what the hype is all about. The simplistic but fascinating and engrossingly addictive title feels like a steal for $30. That it's in early access, sure to be improved by a steady stream of updates and additions, only sweetens the pot.

The "PUBG" era is upon the Xbox One, and the multiplayer landscape will never be the same. This is the sort of game you dreamed of when you pulled the console of the rack.
Publisher provided review code.

"Pinball FX 3" Switch Review

One of the drawbacks facing third-player multiplayer-focused titles on the Switch is the limited player base. "Pinball FX 3" negates that drawback with the bold, innovative measure of cross-platform multiplayer that extends to the PC and Xbox One.

While the ability to clash with other players worldwide on various platforms is a major draw, it would have been an even more confident and player-friendly move to allow them to access tables they had previously bought on other systems on the new device.

Because of its portability and vertical play integration, the Switch makes more sense for a pinball sim than the standard home console setup, so it makes sense that devoted players who had pumped money into the game on another system would prefer to move on to the Switch. As it stands, only the "Sorcerer's Lair" table comes for free with purchase, although it helps that the "Carnivals and Legends" expansion -- which comes with "Adventure Land and "Son of Zeus" tables -- is free for a limited time for the first week after launch.

With tight controls, varied table availability and that impressive multiplayer suite, "Pinball FX 3" is a a smart, savvy addition to the Switch library, and a joy to play either at home or on the go. Just be prepared to keep on coughing up money when you get bored of the initial tables to add another.
Publisher provided review code.

"Okami HD" Review

It was 11 years ago that "Okami" became one of the most beautiful and distinctive games released to that point on the PlayStation 2. The painstaking art style, inspired by traditional Japanese mythology, wood cuttings and paintings, the fable tells a tale of a mystical wolf who quests to bring peace to the realm of Nippon.

In a realm of neverending remakes, remasters and HD upgrades, "Okami HD" is an example of the rehash done right. Not only is "Okami" a vital classic that merits revisitation on modern consoles, the graphical upgrades are sweeping and impressive, blowing out already stunning graphics into breathtaking artwork. Best of all, the game is only $20 -- a stiff counterpoint to the likes of the "Skyrim" remasters, which weighed in at a full $60 out of the gate.

Naggingly, some issues that remind you of the game's age remain. The archaic save system, which eschews the modern nicety of the autosave in favor of old-fashioned checkpoints, as well as the inability to skip overly long text-driven story scenes, makes cranking through content to get to a save point more trying than it needs to be. "Okami" remains a game you need to allow room to breathe, focusing on for hours on end to receive just rewards.

Since "Okami" is old enough that even those who beat it at release will have forgotten its finer points, as well as cheap enough to justify a new purchase, that it feels like a crucial and essential addition to just about every gamer's library.

Publisher provided review code.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

"Let Them Come" Review

Developer Versus Evil embraces the joy of the turret-shooter minigame for a full-fledged experience, setting up "Let Them Come" as a horde mode with wave after wave of assaulting enemies coming after you. In between barrages, you can regroup and add upgrades to your loadout.

You'll need every edge you can muster to neutralize the increasingly ravenous difficulty. With the action always flooding the screen with enemies coming at you -- forcing you to use both your ranged and melee defenses -- there is never a moment to catch your breath.

Although the gameplay is simplistic, it never gets dull because you always feel as though you can do better with the next plunge into the fray. You're always hanging on by your fingernails, just a pixel or two away from total annihilation.

The $8 price tag may seem on the high side for what could easily be a $1 smartphone app, but those who take the plunge will find themselves with an addictive experience that packs loads of replay value.

Publisher provided review code.

"Steep: Road to the Olympics" Review

Single-player, story-based campaigns have become the norm in annual sports titles, serving as more than the glorified tutorials they were in the past to become a significant part of the package. Ubisoft's winter sports-based game "Steep," didn't include a campaign, instead opted for an expansion dubbed "Road to the Olympics" that takes you through a young upstart's quest for gold in South Korea.

The long road to glory begins humbly, with qualifying runs on small courses with hardly any crowds to speak of. Professional and personal obstacles pop up along the way, but every setback is just more heartstring-tugging fodder the producers will eventually use to feature you before your medal attempt.

The campaign may be the main attraction, but there is plenty more in the expansion's offing. New alpine skiing, snowboard and freestyle ski events are included, adding to the base content and previous expansion to fill out the package in impressive fashion.

Since the base game that includes the expansion can be had for $60, with the expansion by itself running $30 -- you need the base game if you opt for the expansion on its own -- your options for picking up the full experience are on the inexpensive side. Luckily there is nothing cheap about the quality.
Publisher provided review code. 

Saturday, December 09, 2017

HTC U11 Life Review

Five months after releasing the impressive U11, the manufacturer followed it up with an even more impressive feat. The U11 Life manages to cram just about every relevant feature of the device into a slimmer, lighter and much cheaper package.

The $349 device includes the squeeze functionality that separated its predecessor from the pack. Acting as a sort of hot key macro, a squeeze can pull up an app. While not overly useful, the squeeze provides another quick, seamless way to navigate your phone.

The Snapdragon 630 chipset and 3GB of RAM keep the device running fast and smooth while juggling multitasking functions. The dual 16MP cameras produce impressive stills and video. The proprietary uSonic earbuds, included in the box, make up for many of the audio deficiencies in the cut-rate speakers.

Android users hail software diversity and customization as a major draw, and the U11 Life feeds into that draw by integrating Amazon Alexa into its Google Assistant interface. If you want to order something off Amazon, pull up a Prime video or search for a song on Amazon Music Unlimited, it's far easier to do so on this advice than, say, a Galaxy.

The paltry 32GB storage capacity -- an expected sacrifice to keep the cost of the device low -- is mitigated by expandable micro SD memory. That the device is resistant to both water and dust adds to its utility.

Those looking for a budget, high-end smartphone can do a much worse than the U11 Life. A throwback to flip phones that fit easily into pockets along with keys and wallets, the durable, tech-savvy device is a welcome, low-cost alternative to the likes of Galaxy and Pixel competitors on the Android scene.
HTC provided review loaner.

"Utter Nonsense: Naughty Edition" Review

Party card games are amid a major comeback these days, with the likes of "Exploding Kittens" and Cards Against Humanity" leading away. Now the likes of "Utter Nonsense" -- which tasks you to come up with accents to mix and match with ludicrous phrases -- adds to the resurgence.

Available in both family and naughty editions -- although with the right group, the family edition can also easily become the naughty edition -- the game boats a seemingly infinite number of combinations of laughter and mayhem.

The $20 base game is expandable with add-on packs, which help you freshen up the deck and vary your potential responses.

The magic of "Utter Nonsense" is the way it manages to draw introverts out of their shells for impromptu performances. It's a box full of inside jokes and belly laughs ready to explode at any time, and its compact packaging makes it easy to store and pull out on demand.

"Utter Nonsense" just makes sense in so many ways.
Publisher provided review sample.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

"Human: Fall Flat" Switch Review

Your character in "Human: Fall Flat" is a blank slate, with arms controlled by the corresponding analog stick. Before you stands a cavalcade of interlocking platforms lined with buttons, elevators and sliding crates.

Lacking the ability to jump or run, you move through the challenges methodically. When you find yourself stuck in the early stages, a handy tutorial message pops up to nudge you along. Stumbling upon the answers comes with a sense of discovery and satisfaction. Each level is well constructed, getting you to utilize your accumulated knowledge and techniques to continue to advance.

Released in May on other systems, "Human: Fall Flat" fits well into the Switch library. The game is lined with auto-save checkpoints that lend themselves to portable play.

Low-key and unassuming, "Human: Fall Flat" is a well-constructed puzzler that generates a strong sense of momentum that it never lets wane.
Publisher provided review code.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

"Slain: Back from Hell" Switch Review

After a bungled March 2016 release plagued by bugs and dopey design choices, developer Wolf Brew Games took the flood of negative feedback into account and quickly reworked the title from the ground up, rereleasing it less than half a year later. The result may not have been perfection, but was closer to the original vision projected in teases and interviews.

Now "Slain: Back from Hell," which takes more than a few cues from "Castlevania," arrives on the Switch with reputation intact. Its 16-bit, side-scrolling sensibilities are a natural fit for the console -- especially in handheld mode -- and is all the more crucial because of how slow Nintendo has to re-implement the Virtual Console of the Wii, 3DS and Wii U that allowed gamers to rebuy classic titles.

After your curmudgeonly hero is revived from death by an alarmingly pushy spirit, you're off on a platforming, sword-swiping escapades filled with swarms of creatures of the night out to stop you from vanquishing the great evil that you've been summoned to confront.

Tight controls and delightfully corny 1990s-style visuals and storytelling are the main draw here. You will need to get over a resentment of overtly cheap enemies and choke points to fully enjoy yourself, but figuring out the quirks of advancing is much of the fun.

On its chosen level, "Slain: Back from Hell" rarely fails to slay.
Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

"A Hat in Time" Review

The adventure game genre comeback spurred by Telltale and the horde of walking simulators has paved the way for indies to go back to the old point-and-click model and experiment in refreshing ways.

That's why we get "A Hat in Time," a whimsical time-hopping point-and-click affair with action elements. Your cherubish character, equipped with a mystically powered hat, is free to roam through environments, interacting with objects at will to advance the story.

The often irritating crucible of trial and error is there to bear, but the annoyance is mitigated by the loads of easter eggs waiting to reward you for actions that don't advance the story. You might find your character plop down on the couch to catch some cartoons, drop to all fours to chase a roomba or take the helm of a captain's chair for a free-wheeling spin.

The writing and characters are compelling enough to keep you moving along. Expect to rely on walk-throughs to make your way through some obtuse bottlenecks, though. For both better and worse, the visuals never miss a chance to cheese out.

If the methodical, point-and-click slow-roll feel of yesteryear is your speed, "A Hat in Time" is your game.
Publisher provided review code.