Friday, August 21, 2020

"PGA Tour 2K21" Review

Golf gamers can rest assured that their sport is in capable hands.

After eons in the hands of EA, which rode the "Tiger Woods" name into the ground, then awkwardly swapped it out with Rory McIlroy before letting the series go dormant for the last half decade, the PGA license falls to 2K. 

The initial effort is a decidedly nuts-and-bolts affair, with developer HB Studios Multimedia doing its best not to end up in the bunker and two-putt its way to par. It helps that sim golf fans have gone so long since they've been able to take to the virtual links. The need for a new game is so strong, that just about anything with licensed courses and athletes could sate the urge.

Like cover star Justin Thomas, the game is fundamentally sound and pulsing with makes-it-look-easy excellence, if also a little bland and wallflowerish.

The lineup of modes and customization options is thoroughly satisfying, if unspectacular. Resisting the urge to plug in a trendy, half-hearted narrative, it's just plain golf here, with the playoff-driven FedEx Cup taking the place of the traditional majors.

The course design feature is robust and easy to use, allowing you to dream up and execute your duffer visions in minutes.

MyPlayer builds efficiently off the 2K brand established in its NBA entries, letting you upgrade your duffer's equipment and attributes, with nearly everything you do online and off contributing to your virtual currency pile. Thankfully, there is little to no pay-to-win mechanic at play.

The effort to infuse rivalries with other players seems a little stiff and forced, but does add some welcome edge to the prim, proper sport.

Online Societies, akin to virtual country clubs, let you group up with like-minded players for casual or cut-throat matches.

While more courses and players would have deepened the game's authenticity factor, what matters most is that the structure is in place for a series built to last. If 2K develops the series into an annual release format, the best is no doubt yet to come. But even if this entry stands alone for years, there is plenty here to keep fans satisfied.

Publisher provided review code.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

PHIL ON FILM: "Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story"

 For my full review, click here.

"Bite the Bullet" Review

If "Pac-Man" evolved into RPG territory, it would be something like "Bite the Bullet."

A run-and-gunner with "Kirby" and "Mega Man"-style influences, "Bite the Bullet" asks you to eat your enemies and assume their abilities.

The old phrase "you are what you eat" comes into play, with a dizzying arsenal and array of power-ups always just a chomp away. You can also devour walls and transform into hyperpowered forms that make you the hunter rather than the hunted.

The roguelite from developer Mega Cat Studios keeps the tone light and airy, tantalizing you with yet another slate of upgrades and enhancements always on the horizon.

Co-op play adds another dimension to the proceedings, with you and a buddy competing against each other for the best stuff as you work together in a fragile alliance to advance.

Working better in short bursts than it does in marathon sessions, "Bite the Bullet" is a simple, freewheeling way to slap a smile on your hungry face during the pandemic. If you are feeling the chomp or be-chomped flow, you'll want to take a bite out of this one.

Publisher provided review code.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

"Destroy All Humans!" Review

 A sense of hedonistic anarchy courses through "Destroy All Humans!" You play an egotistical, comically overpowered alien who lays wanton waste to an unsuspecting Earth, subjugating man and beast alike to your control.

Originally released in 2005 on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, the gameplay holds up two generations later thanks to an impassioned overhaul by developer Black Forest Games. Few of the nagging anachronistic issues from the previous release remain. If you didn't realize this was a remake, you would have a hard time telling it isn't a new game.

Ample boosts in visuals and framerate give the game a modern feel. This is the template that developers should use with remasters going forward. By staying true to the spirit of the original without staying devoted to its shortcomings, Black Forest achieves something memorable.

While the game is a linear story at heart, its sense of open-world destruction grants you feelings of freedom. You can attack objectives in a number of different ways, or just simply mess around while procrastinating your objectives.

Bolstered with witty writing and a sense of humor that sends up 1950s sci-fi flicks, "Destroy All Humans!" is a welcome blast from the past that easily becomes the definitive way to play the cult classic. If you feel its tractor beam tugging at you, resistance is futile.

Publisher provided review code.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

"Yakuza Kiwami 2" Review

After lurking on the fringes for the last couple years, "Yakuza Kiwami 2" is ready for its Xbox One spotlight.

Newly released on the console and PC following a 2018 PS4 release, the game is ready to stretch out to new audiences.

Those gamers are in for a treat. Over the past few years, Sega has demonstrated an uncanny ability to produce sweeping, open-world sagas under the "Yakuza" banner with impressive regularity. Part of the reason for the prolific release schedule is the regular inclusion of remakes.

Like "Yakuza Kiwami," which dropped in 2016 and was a remake of the original PS2 game "Yakuza" (2005), the "Kuwami" sequel is a redux of the PS2's "Yakuza 2" (2006). Rebuilt from the ground up to treat the story from the original as though it were a new game using the "Yakuza 6: The Song of Life" engine, the remake lifts the original well past the trappings of the PS2 original.

Not only are myriad quality-of-life updates in place -- gone are the days of tedious memory card save points -- but countless details of the production have also improved several degrees. From combat, to the menu system, the visuals, sound and story pacing, "Yakuza Kiwami 2" lifts the source material to heights it could never approached on the original hardware.

The Golf Bingo, Virtual-On and Cabaret minigames flesh out the open world as you work your way through the seedy underworld. You shape your character's personality along with his skills and attributes. The side touches round out the character and make you feel as though you're inhabiting a genuine person rather than an archetype.

Adjustments to the main story integrate the beloved Goro Majima character more directly into the mix, making the dagger-wielding thug a playable character. Following Majima through various developments, he fits into the franchise's first two games more naturally.

A story told with depth and passion, the mob opera that "Yakuza Kiwami 2" sings a haunting and resonant song of antiheroes jockeying ruthlessly for power, money and influence. By returning to its roots, the series continues to thrive as it ages.

Publisher provided a review code.

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

BOOK REPORT: "The Martian Chronicles"

The Martian ChroniclesThe Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Bradbury's sci-fi opus stands as a landmark challenged and inspired developing writers to dream of far-off futurescapes.

That said, it holds up poorly and gets more anachronistic and backward as the decades pass. In 2020, it's a decidedly rough read that often resembles tales told by a drunken great uncle.

Burdened by clunky, unlikely visions of dystopian angst and even more alarming spurts of casual racism, this is a book you may remember fondly from your youth that you'll regret to re-encounter as an adult.

What stands out to me in revisiting the classic is the choppiness of the storytelling. Bradbury excelled at vision and spectacle but faltered in the nuts and bolts of delivering story arcs and crafting memorable characters.

Mark Boyett's narration in the Audible version is whimsical and steady, matching the rhythms of Bradbury's tale-spinning to help cast the spell of a narrative.

Bizarre and thought-provoking in both positive and negative ways, this is an absurd peek into a past vision of the future that is best regarded at a safe distance. 

Publisher provided review code.

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