Thursday, October 31, 2019

PHIL ON FILM: 5 Shows to Binge in November 2019

For the full article, click here.

"Disney Classic Games: Aladdin and The Lion King" Review

The past few years have seen a renaissance of 1990s games based on Disney animated series.

Following the release of "Ducktales: Remastered" in 2013 and "The Disney Afternoon Collection" in 2017, "Disney Classic Games: Aladdin and The Lion King" rounds out the nostalgia trip with pixel-perfect rereleases of the side-scrollers that a generation of gamers grew up on.

Wisely timed to coincide with the release of the live-action remakes on home video, the anthology not only includes the original versions, but two alternate editions that provide amusing changeups and twists on the established formula. There's also a museum mode that delves into the creation of both classics.

In developer Digital Eclipse's effort to stay true to the original aspect ratio, screen size is sacrificed. As a result, you need to squint to play the letterboxed game in the Switch's portable mode. The game fares better while docked and playing on TV, but you'll probably find yourself scooting up close to the TV to make sure you don't miss any crucial details.

Returning to the games after decades away, what stands out about both "Aladdin" and "The Lion King" is how difficult they are. Both games require impeccable timing, a dogged resolve and a stomach for excruciating jump sequences and battles. You may be shocked at how tough these games were. They're every bit as torturous as you might remember from your tween years, and as a result, conquering them is all the more satisfying.

Also surprising is how beautiful the games remain. The graphic artists in the original games did a spectacular job of synthesizing the hand-drawn models to 16-bit equivalents. The sound design is similarly impressive, with soundtracks that echo the magic of the movie scores and themes.

"Dinsey Classic Games: Aladdin and The Lion King" is not only an essential pillar of a retro game library, but filled with hours of fun, if trying, gameplay that hits all the right nostalgic notes. They sure don't make 'em like this anymore.

Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

"Pig Eat Ball" Review

Developer Mommy's Best Games latches onto a simple concept and rolls with it in "Pig Eat Ball."

The puzzle game requires you to eat, grow, puke and shrink in order to trigger levers, maneuver across platforms and dispatch enemies throughout more than 200 levels.

Pulling a page from the "Fat Princess" playbook, the top-down adventure blends a quirky soundtrack with silly, absurd visuals to conjure an anything-goes tone that keeps things lighthearted and whimsical even during frustrating bottlenecks.

Arcade-style thrills keep the action moving at a haywire pace, with the barely-controlled chaos ever teetering on the brink of a meltdown of color, action and misdirection.

The "Katamari Damacy"-style writing contributes to the idiosyncratic draw, ever ready to provide sweet, fizzy palate cleanser for whatever super-serious game from which you need a break. "Pig Eat Ball" is every bit as fun and loopy as its title implies, and that's saying something.

Publisher provided review code.

Book Report: "Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup"

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley StartupBad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

John Carreyrou's pitbull intensity to tear down the curtain of biomedical startup fraud perpetrated by Elizabeth Holmes and Sunny Balwani is a thrilling joy to behold.

I was drawn to the book by Alex Gibney's HBO doc, "The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley." Both projects take on the same urgent tone and dizzying exuberance of the meteoric rise and stomach-sinking fall of Theranos.

Carreyrou's tale is textbook process reporting, taking the reader along through the harrowing journey to exposing the truth. Battles against the firm's thug lawyers in a poker game for the souls of sources takes up much of the storytelling, with cloak-and-dagger maneuverings meant to ferret out his sources and prevent them from sharing the bread crumbs that would lead to oblivion for the company.

Hanging in the balance are the fates of trusting Theranos employees, venture capitalists, patients and doctors who put their faith in Holmes Steve Jobs-style bision of grandiosity. Somewhere along the line, Holmes shifted from eager, driven visionary to a carnival barker suckering in one investor after the next, consuming anyone who would make themselves a willing dupe to her sinister shell game.

Every paragraph of Carreyrou's decimation of Theranos is a delicious morsel. With no padding or grandstanding getting in the way of the torrentous tale, this is a tight, invigorating read that stands as an example of heroic journalism that the world needs more of.

View all my reviews

Monday, October 28, 2019

"The Outer Worlds" Review

A sprawling interplanetary adventure, "The Outer Worlds" is meant to make you feel like you're an intrepid explorer of the star-strewn unknown.

The less you take into the saga, the more you're likely to get out of it. Walkthroughs and hand-holding will restrict you rather than help you along. Relying on your inner sense of wanderlust and curiosity is the best way absorb the game on the level it was meant to be enjoyed.

As a castaway stuck aboard a ship heading to the uncharted reaches of the galaxy, you slip into cryosleep and wake up decades later, finding yourself the apex of a conspiracy involving various clashing factions.

As the X-factor in the equation, it's up to you to decide who lives, who dies, who thrives and who shrinks away into the shadows before history can be written. The level of choice at hand is intoxicating, and sometimes paralyzing. You're best off leaving second-guessing behind and forging ahead wherever your whims lead.

Developers Obsidian Entertainment and Private Division commit fully to the single-player experience, rather than fracturing its attention on shoehorned-in multiplayer.

Choice-driven gameplay is at the forefront, with branching paths leading to varied endings. The variables at play make playthroughs different for just about everyone, encouraging you to come back and launch the quest time after time to see how things might work out differently.

Captivating visuals and sound design stretch Unreal Engine 4 to its limits, unveiling an impressive amount of creativity and iteration in character design, conversation flow and mission structure.

"The Outer Worlds" may not garner the mass appeal of the likes of "Borderlands 3" or "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare," but the robust experience it offers takes the backseat to no other game you're likely to play this year. To fire up the game is to transport yourself into another dimension, exploring your inner depths by reaching toward the great beyond.

Publisher provided review code.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

"Call of Duty: Modern Warfare" Review

A grandiose, full-featured return to form, "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare" works as a reboot not only to the storied for the subclassification of the franchise, but for "Call of Duty" as a whole.

Following last year's all-multiplayer experiment in the form of "Black Ops 4," developer Infinity Ward resurrects the highly-missed campaign mode. Fortified with a crackling story, spellbinding animation and adrenaline-pumping set pieces, the story is one of the strongest in years for "Call of Duty."

The saga takes you through a complicated, nuanced tale of divided loyalties and questionable policies of global military interference. Bold, tough questions come to light, including the motivations of insurgents, the collateral damage of geopolitical colonialism and the ethics of following orders versus doing what's morally right.

In addition to all the emotion and politics, the story is also a stunning and invigoratingly varied tale worthy of a summer action flick screenplay.

Multiplayer doesn't miss a step. In addition to the e-sports friendly classic multiplayer modes, elite operations allow you to forge ahead with teammates in cooperative raids.

Even more welcome, in a way, is what isn't there. The lack of a zombies mode is glaring, but not necessarily in a bad way. If it's tangles with the undead you're after, you can scoop up "Black Ops 4" for a few bucks in the used game rack for an excellent rendition of the stalwart mode. It was wise of Infinity Ward to focus its efforts on campaign and standard multiplayer modes rather than check perfunctory boxes. The narrower focus pays off masterfully.

Looming large behind the crafting of multiplayer is viability in the streaming and e-sports worlds, and the result -- rather than a stale effort that strives for balance above all else -- is a welcome return to fundamentals.

The grounded experience recalls the thrills that first made "Call of Duty" a household multiplayer name. Rather than try to blow off the roof with fever-pitched pyrotechnics, bizarre perks and outrageous weapons, most of the features you encounter feel feasible and sensible.

Taken as a whole, "Modern Warfare" is a towering achievement that feels at its core more like an indie passion project than a corporate-mandated annual release by one of gamedom's biggest publishers. Bulging with ample reasons to play obsessively into the night, then come back again for weeks and months to come, "Modern Warfare" proves that -- even in this world of splintered attention -- the blockbuster game event isn't going anywhere. Infinity Ward deserves a salute.

 Publisher provided review code.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

PHIL ON FILM: "Countdown"

For my full review, click here.

"The Bradwell Conspiracy" Review

Welcome to an escape room in video game form.

There's something sublimely satisfying about taking on a tight, well-crafted puzzle game. Developer Bossa Studios crafts just that with "The Bradwell Conspiracy," a brainy psychological thriller that has you scrambling to stretch your lateral thinking capabilities to the brink.

After an explosion disrupts a fundraiser for teh Stonehenge Museum, you find yourself trapped in and underground labyrinth, relying on your wits and deductive reasoning to help you make your way back to safety.

Fans of "Portal" will be at home here. The visually-inspired challenges that Bossa tosses at you make you twist your perspective and reassess the usual standards of logic in order to solve the issues at hand and advance. The mark of a worthwhile puzzle game is its ability to remain fair while also presenting a stiff challenge, and "The Bradwell Conspiracy" is up to the task.

Nothing comes easy in the game, and everything you need to find the answer is always in front of you. Relying on walkthroughs feels like a cop out, robbing you of the triumphant feeling of stumbling onto the solution on your own. When you find yourself stuck, looking up the answer inevitably leads to the resentment of not allowing yourself to persist with the trial and error that would have gotten you to success eventually.

Although the story is thin and content is relatively small -- with limited replayability in the mix -- "The Bradwell Conspiracy" is the ideal airport terminal or commuter game for Switch owners. Sudoku and crossword puzzles can't hang with the serpentine challenges that lie beneath.

Publisher provided review code.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

PHIL ON FILM: What's Leaving Netflix 2019

For the full story, click here.

Musical Theater Review: "Hello, Dolly!"

Few shows can touch the golden age majesty and spectacle of "Hello, Dolly!" Overwhelming the stage with brilliant dancers executing grand-scale numbers while accompanied by the thunderous accompaniment of a live orchestra, the production hammers the audience with one show-stopping stunner after another.

The challenge is to manufacture ways to keep an antiquated production relevant while staying true to the fabric of what lifted it to its legendary status in the first place.

Billed on promotional materials as "Broadway's Greatest Musical," the show has a lot to live up to. The 1964 show has been a staple for ages, and continues to thrive in revivals.

The production, spearheaded by director Jerry Zaks' creative use of screens that whisk the setting from place to place with instantaneous ease, is spellbinding. The cutting-edge tech melds seamlessly with the classical accoutrements to craft a shimmering example of how to modernize classic musical theater without ruining it.

The acting -- broad and exaggerated to the extreme -- may not fare quite as well, but the performances thrive where it counts the most. The show thoroughly belongs to lead Carolee Carmello, a three-time Tony nominee who owns the title role with magnetic gusto.

Dolly is a dynamic woman of a certain age who romps through 1860s Yonkers with a breezy, overbearing obliviousness, manipulating the satellite characters to her whims. John Bolton is a lovably cranky foil as Horace Vandergelder, a "half-millionaire" who plays the hapless dupe to Dolly's grandiose designs.

As excellent as the two leads are, they are sidelined for the show's most remarkable sequence, in which a team of high-stepping waiters pulls of meticulously coordinated routines that deliver gasp after gasp. The transcendent choreography drew riotous cheers that could match anything coming from McKale Center a few blocks away.

While the creaky old show may show some cracks, "Hello, Dolly!" remains vibrant, relevant and energetic. It's not time to say goodbye to the old standby just yet.

"Hello, Dolly!" plays through Sunday at Centennial Hall. To buy tickets, click here.

Monday, October 21, 2019

"The Ninja Saviors - Return of the Warriors" Review

Back in the 90s, all you needed for a game concept were side-scrolling levels, mindless thugs and giant bosses to take out with flying fists or bullets.

Somewhere along the line -- after 3D, open-world traversal and FPS point of view -- developers lost the exuberance of the old-fashioned beat-em-up.

Now that retro stylings are becoming en vogue, the reinvention of the brawler is well underway. "The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors" is a top-shelf example of the genre's rebirth.

A pick-up-and-play blast that boasts enough challenge to have you repeating levels all night, the creation from Natsume Atari is a satisfyingly frustrating blast from the past.

A reinvention of the Super Nintendo classic, "Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriros" retains the kinetic gameplay while lifting graphics, sound and gameplay to modern standards.

Playing as one of five android ninjas, you slash, chop and slice your way through marauding enemies in an urban dystopia. Co-op play opens up a new dimension to the previously single-player experience, adding shades of "Final Fight," "Contra" and "Double Dragon."

While further additions such as a boss rush mode, retro graphics options and storyboards or other historical data might have rounded out the package nicely, there's no quibbling about the amount of content included. If you're seeking a new throwback obsession, look no further than this lovingly crafted gem.

Publisher provided review code.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

"BurgerTime Party" Review

A reimagined version of an arcade classic, "BurgerTime Party" amps up the visuals but keeps the frantic puzzle-solving moving at a rate familiar to those who fed quarters to "BurgerTime" machines back in the day.

As you scramble to run completely over toppings, dropping them from one multilevel tier to the next, eventually piling them up as complete burgers for customers who apparently don't mind that they were stepped all over by tiny creatures.

As you build your burgers, you contend with Food Foes -- anthropomorphic munchkins with dead eyes and nightmare-fueled grins and grimaces. They chase you through diabolically crafted levels filled with ice-slicked ladders, tricky conveyor belts and flame-roasted floors.

More than 100 stages are included, and you'll have more fun taking them on if you've got between one and three friends around to engage in couch co-op.

While "BurgerTime Party" has the perfectionist feel of a trial-by-error mobile game that struggles to justify its $30 price, there's no denying that the original formula still works.

Oftentimes, developers ruin a good thing by getting too cute with their retro reimaginings, but the dev team at G-mode realizes that there's no sense in messing with a proven formula. "BurgerTime Party" serves up the goodness you remember fondly from the 80s.

Publisher provided review code.

Book Report: "Churchill's Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India During World War II"

Churchill's Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India During World War IIChurchill's Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India During World War II by Madhusree Mukerjee
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Mukerjee has excellent illuminating points to make, backed up by tremendous research, but he blows just about all of his payload early on.

He tells the salacious and devastating story of how Winston Churchill worked behind the scenes to keep the Indians subjugated under the grip of the British Empire as he publicly faced down the Nazi threat. The sinister, greed and race-driven motives add a disturbing shadow to Churchille's lionized image as a staunch defender of freedom and foil to tyranny.

The messy, obfuscated history of India and Pakistan bubbles to light in Mukerjee's writing, which highlights genocides, famines and exploitation that were overshadowed by the grand opera of World War II, and thus escaped the level of global public consciousness they otherwise would have earned.

As stirring as the beginning of the book is, it fails to extrapolate the seeds to a grander vision, instead dallying on piles of academic citations and monotonous listings of obscure, irrelevant statistics. The message begins to get lost in the weeds in a series of lectures meant to put students to sleep.

In the Audible version, narrator James Adams delivers the findings with appropriate distaste, barely hidden by a prim, proper British congeniality. His words bubble with a sense of embarrassment and resentment of the despicable imperial past of his nation.

"Churchill's Secret War" ends up being too much like a textbook to rise to the level of essential storytelling. Its most staggering points could have been summarized in a lengthy article in the Atlantic or New Yorker. But its lessons are stark and true, and deserve a better mindshare than that which books like these will be able to elevate them.

View all my reviews

Saturday, October 19, 2019

"Ghostbusters: The Video Game Remastered" Switch Review

There have been multiple awful "Ghostbusters" game adaptations, but the best one yet created is back, with proton packs charged up in order to exorcise haunting failures of the past.

"Ghostbusters: The Video Game Remastered" brings the overlooked classic to current consoles. I played the Switch version, which benefits mightily from the ability to play either at home in docked mode or on the go with native visuals and framerate intact. The game thrives as a double-barreled blast from the past.

Back in 2009, the original "Ghostbusters" gang got back together for a video game that served as a sequel to the two films, revisiting several memorable events and scenes from the films. The film hit nostalgic notes in a satisfying way that neither the 1986-1991 animated series nor the 2016 reboot could never approach.

In one of his last notable projects before his 2014 death, Harold Ramis penned the game script with Dan Aykroyd. Both lent their voices and likenesses to the game as well, joining Bill Murray and Ernie Hudson.

The actors' quips and chemistry is nearly as strong as the game as it was in the movies, making for a fascinating follow-up that bursts with fan service. The game is far more entertaining in co-op mode, but still manages to captivate as a single-player experience.

Developer Saber Interactive wisely stuck to the PS3/Xbox 360 version of the game, ignoring the inferior Wii edition.

Gone is the lackluster online multiplayer mode, which added little to the initial package and likely wouldn't have enough community backing to provide regular games had Saber bothered to include it.

Looking and playing as good on the Switch as it did the consoles of yesteryear, "Ghostbusters: The Video Game Remastered" is a welcome blast from the past, and well worth crossing your streams for.

Publisher provided review code.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

"Overwatch" Switch Review

Having established itself as a prime force in e-sports and embedding itself into pop culture, the "Overwatch" phenomenon continues to spread, now allowing Switch owners to get in on the FPS, MOBA-style action.

Following a 2016 release on PC and consoles, the game comes to Switch in impressively full-featured form, with integration players on other platforms have come to expect.

Whether docked to the TV or in handheld form, the game's visuals can hang with the PS4 and Xbox releases in most meaningful aspects. The ideal way to play the game on Switch seems to be to dock it and use a Pro controller, but there's also something to be said for the competitive advantage that the intimacy of handheld mode offers.

The fast-moving, often frenzied gameplay is somewhat hampered by sluggish performance. It's uncertain whether the culprit is on the server side or the responsibility of underpowered Switch hardware. While not the optimal form of the game, it's empowering to be able to get some "Overwatch" rounds in on the go, whenever WiFi or a speedy hotspot exists.

Just as "Overwatch" has evolved on other systems over time, with Blizzard always pushing boundaries, smoothing out glitches and giving players more incentives to return, it's reasonable to expect the Switch version to continue the upswing.

Whatever lies in the future, the Switch version of "Overwatch" is off to a promising start. Like a lithe, mobile character in the game that benefits from fast plug-and-play action and the ability to play just about wherever and whenever. The sacrifice is stability and reliability. But things can only improve from here.

Publisher provided review code.
Publisher provided review code.

Monday, October 14, 2019

"Darksiders II Deathinitive Edition" Switch Review

"Darksiders II" roars back from the dead, insisting on getting its due.

Taking control of Death, a lithe, elusive force of nature as opposed to the lumbering, slash-and-hack antics of War in the initial game.

Seven years after initial release, the game comes to Switch in a remastered edition that includes all previously-released DLC, swelling the total gameplay up to 30 hours. In addition to the remastered visuals running in 1080p, there are quality-of-life and balancing adjustments, such as altered loot distribution.

Light puzzle-solving and RPG aspects abound, leavening the action and storytelling to add up to a full-figured experience.

Amid the torrent of remastered games from yesteryear -- nearly every worthwhile game from the past decade seems to be getting a Switch treatment -- the "Darksiders" games are among the better fits.

With slick combat, popping graphics and a surprisingly emotionally resonant store, the sequel stands the test of time and is thriving in its Switch rebirth.

Publisher provided review code.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Book Report: "The Testaments"

The TestamentsThe Testaments by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thirty-four years and three seasons of the pop culture-dominating Hulu series after her seminal feminist dystopian saga was released, Margaret Atwood returns to the franchise with youthful vigor.

Ignoring the canon that developed in the series, Atwood leaps ahead several decades to tell the definitive tale of the fall of Gilead through a compilation of historical documents. It would spoil things to give away the identities of most of the narrators, but it doesn't vie anything away to reveal that the driving force behind the story is Aunt Lydia.

A sinister, domineering force of dominating invasiveness, Lydia's acid-dipped observations and spider-like cunning spins a web of a plot that permeates the story.

Atwood keeps the narrative varied and agile, introducing plotlines through differing perspectives of various characters, coaxing the reader to piece together a sense of what's happening by deducing a reliable throughline.

As is the case with "The Handmaid's Tale," Atwood peppers her story with fevered, poignant observations about social and gender dynamics, as well as the dangers of mob politics and cults of personality.

A thoroughly satisfying and relentlessly challenging wrap-up to the saga, Atwood's novel is a triumphant storming of the Gilead gates.

View all my reviews

"Disney on Ice: Mickey's Search Party" Review

As the years pass, "Disney on Ice" paints itself into a corner, grasping at ways to try to top itself. Instead of being content with recycling the same plot devices and moves, the choreographers and effects designers continue to push the paradigm further and further.

Some years show more advancement than others, but the latest edition is on the edgier side, making the audience gasp with riveting gymnastic spectacles. The quality of performances continues to impress. Despite the kid-friendly trappings, this is top-level dance theater, with all roles going to highly capable performers.

The challenge year in and year out is to integrate the same characters and movie storylines into a different overarching story. Although the narrative remains as stretched and silly as ever.

Pan characters pop in and out of the movie re-enactments, telling the audience that they're looking for clues as to the whereabouts of Tinker Bell, who has gone missing.

The narrative is just an excuse for a Reader's Digest version of the most iconic scenes from the likes of "Aladdin," "Toy Story," "Frozen," "Coco," "The Little Mermaid" and "Moana." Oddly left out of the mix was "The Lion King."

Breathtaking set pieces abound, many involving silk aerials, trampolines, ramps and flexible poles. Among the standout moments are "Toy Story" army men backflipping on trampolines, Belle elevating dozens of feat off the ground in "Be Our Guest," an elevated Ariel pantomiming swimming in "The Little Mermaid" and giant puppets in "Coco."

A dazzling spectacle for all ages, "Mickey's Search Party" reinforces the notion that no matter how many "Disney on Ice" performances you've been to, you're cheating yourself if you miss this year's go-round.

For information on the tour, click here.

Studio provided review tickets.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

"Sega Genesis Mini" Review

Building off the retro-appealing success of Nintendo's NES Classic and SNES Classic, the Sega Genesis Mini is a plug-and-play console that's preloaded with several of the most memorable games for the seminal device.

With an authentic-feeling controller, pixel-perfect 16-bit graphics and 40 games, including entries from the Sonic the Hedgehog, Phantasy Star, Virtua Fighter, Earthworm Jim, Mega Man and Street Fighter series, there is more than enough here to justify the $79 cost.

Despite the adherence to retro charm, the quality-of-life features abound. The light, slim form factor makes it easy to move around, and there's a home button that lets you trigger a save state, pick another game, then hop back into your old game to resume your session.

On the downside, the wired controller forces you to scoot up near the TV to play, just like when you were a kid, and there's no option to rewind gameplay in order to help you easily get past some of the more trying challenges of yesteryear. The ability to connect online to take on other gamers with the Sega Genesis Mini would have been a tremendously thrilling addition, but it's not included.

Of course, it can be argued that any of the perceived drawbacks are simply methods to stay true to the charm of retro gaming, when the only multiplayer was the slug-your-brother-in-the-shoulder joys and frustrations of couch co-op.

A mini time machine that zaps you back to the late 1980s and early 90s, the Sega Genesis Mini nails the modest goals it sets out to accomplish. Blast processing is back, baby.

Publisher provided review sample.

Friday, October 04, 2019

"Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint" Review

Moving away from traditional real-world locations, Ubisoft's Ghost Recon franchise deploys to new horizons in "Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint," but keeps its political commentary and believable near-future military gadgets front and center.

A sprawling, rich multiplayer-focused production, "Breakpoint" has you scurrying around for resources while clashing against human and drone adversaries. Emergent chases, tactical mindgames and pulse-pounding firefights fill out the relentless action, pushing the franchise confidently in new directions while staying true to the series' trademarks.

Set on the fictional, remarkably biologically diverse island of Aurora, the game provides ample settings for cooperative clashes.

The dev team at Ubisoft Paris borrows freely from other Ubisoft franchises to buttress its already compelling base. Wildlife and natural resources lend a "Far Cry" feel, while the open-world campaign owes a debt to the past two "Assassin's Creed" games.

While the single-player mode is robust and compelling, multiplayer remains king. The modes out of the gate provide compelling matchmaking, diverse -- albeit in a slim out-of-the-gate selection -- of maps. Microtransactions abound, but largely stick to cosmetic buffs, spurning the dreaded pay-to-win model in order to keep combat balanced.

The lush vegetation of the jungles, dizzying crags of the mountains and icy realms of the tundra throw different wrinkles into the combat dynamic, forcing you to adjust your schemes on the fly.

While the true measure of "Breakpoint" will come in the following months, during which Ubisoft Paris promises to support the initial offering with a slew of steady updates and additions, it's hard to ask for much more out of the gate than what's here.

Tactical gamers can buy in without reservations, confident that they've found their next obsession with which to clan up for the next several months. "Breakpoint" forges ahead in all the right ways.

Publisher provided review code.


For my written review, click here.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

"Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast" Switch Review

"Star Wars" games have always scattered across the spectrum between excellence and garbage, and that trend continues to this day. The advantage of being a gamer today is the advantage of cherrypicking the best of the best.

Such an example of a cherry is the recently-released remastered version of the 2002 GameCube and Xbox classic, "Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast" holds up reasonably well despite plenty of expected creakiness.

You play as Kyle Katarn, a Jedi hero who takes on an intergalactic threat. At your disposal are a full range of force powers, lightsabers and blasters.

What amounts to a linear open-world shooter with enough trappings to make it seem as though it's open world, "Jedi Outcast" truly is a trip back to a galaxy far, far away. Although its continuity has been destroyed by the post-Disney takeover canon reboot, the story rings true because of the way it sticks to the fundamentals of what make up a stirring "Star Wars" tale.

Due to its age and now wacky story trappings, the game will doubtless appeal more to older gamers than youngsters, who may well find its controls and interface stale and awkward.

If you're willing to look past the rough patches and somewhat stiff controls, you may well find yourself as entranced as ever by the swashbuckling, ever-empowering thrill of wielding your light saber and force throws.

With its grand return to modern consoles, "Jedi Outcast" emerges from the shadows and is no longer a forgotten lark from the past. Its rebirth points to a new hope that other memorable moments from the franchise's past will reappear.

Combat variety and execution is where the gameplay continues to thrive the best. In the nearly two decades since the game's release, few titles have matched the level of precision and excitement found in the swordplay here. Exhilarating lightsaber battles require skill and versatility to conquer.

Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

PHIL ON FILM: 5 Shows to Binge in October 2019

For the full post, click here.

"80 Days" Switch Review

There's something intrinsically appealing about the idea of handlebar-moustached Victorian gents making grand, globe-trotting bets. "80 Days" takes the premise and runs, rides and flies with it.

A mix of Jules Verne source material buttressed with cyberpunk trappings, "80 Days" is all about resource management, tough decisions and measured risk. Much as with the choice-driven text adventures in the 1980s version of "The Oregon Trail," your selections lead to surprising and often comical results.

Following a 2014 iOS debut and a 2015 PC port, the game makes its Switch debut, with the dev team at Inkle using the console's technology as a broad canvas to sketch out its grand plans.

Set in 1872 London, you scramble to maneuver your way across the world via numerous transportation methods. You jockey your inventory, making necessary sacrifices by leaving behind some key items while doubtlessly bringing some with you that will prove a hindrance. Along the way, you encounter a series of obstacles and setbacks that ratchet up the urgency of your bold, brash race against the calendar.

Along the way, you can encounter romance, sci-fi wonders and horros, thievery and even space exploration. There's no way to see and do all the remarkable wonders in a single playthrough, so you're encouraged to play the game again and again to explore it from different avenues and perspectives. The more you play, the more scenarios unlock. The game is designed to show you only three percent of the total available content on each go-round.

Slim and efficient and bolstered by a clean, appealing look, "80 Days" is a whimsical travelogue that stokes the flames of boldness and derring-do that personified the 19th century origins of the material. A breathless lark, "80 Days" brims with intrigue and discovery.

Publisher provided review code.