Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth Review - Destiny's Child

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In the final moments of Final Fantasy 7 Remake, Cloud finds himself at Destiny's Crossroads. Sephiroth has torn a hole in the fabric of reality, and a thrashing gateway into an unknown future beckons. It's a daunting prospect that is made even more so when Aerith says the next step in their journey will involve "changing more than fate itself." This was a statement of intent from developer Square Enix that suggested its retelling of one of the most beloved stories in video game history may not play out how fans expect, or perhaps want. It's a moment in which characters and players alike share in the unsettling nature of uncertainty. Before they step through the gateway, Tifa asks Aerith, "What will we find on the other side?" to which she replies, "Freedom. Boundless, terrifying freedom." And she was right.

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth is a game about a struggle between fate and freedom, but also the delicate balance between authorship and agency. Through gameplay systems that encourage exploration, Rebirth empowers players to discover the world around them and chart their path through it. And through its story, it presents a compelling narrative about the destructive impact of exploiting natural resources, as well as the human causes and consequences of radical environmentalism. But it's a story that, ultimately, is defined and destined to end in very specific ways, for better or for worse. The equilibrium between contrasting ideologies is rarely perfect, and that's evident in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth, a game that is rewarding for the dozens of hours it enables agency, but is frustrating in the few hours that author the series' future.

While the events of Remake were confined to Midgar and largely linear, Rebirth pushes back the borders to let players explore new horizons on their terms. Across 60-plus hours, Cloud, Aerith, Tifa, Barrett, and a few other party members follow in the footsteps of the mysterious pale-skinned and dark-robed individuals briefly encountered in Remake. Although they are largely incapable of communicating beyond pained groans, they are nonetheless key to tracking down Sephiroth and stopping him from destroying the world. Their slow onward march is what plots the group's course through the game's various locales.

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Pacific Drive - Before You Buy

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Pacific Drive - Before You BuyPacific Drive (PC, PS5) is a sci-fi driving survival adventure like no other. How is it? Let's talk. Subscribe for more: ▼ Buy Pacific Drive game: Watch more 'Before You Buy':

Nightingale - Before You Buy

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Nightingale - Before You BuyNightingale (PC) is a new early access survival game with an interesting twist. How is it so far? Here are some first impressions. Subscribe for more: ▼ Watch more 'Before You Buy':

Skull And Bones Review - Dead In The Water

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Skull and Bones doesn't make a good first impression. Given its troubled development, this isn't the least bit surprising; it's tough to approach Ubisoft's latest without a heavy dose of trepidation. Nonetheless, after six separate delays, several scrapped concepts, and 11 years in development hell, the game's opening hours fail to put Skull and Bones' best foot forward, instead indulging in its very worst aspects. The gradual prevalence of combat does marginally improve things, particularly once your options open up and you're able to tinker with your ship and its various weaponry, but this isn't enough to save it from the dregs of mediocrity. Forget about scurvy; this swashbuckling adventure is beset with a severe case of live-service insipidity.

Skull and Bones' tutorial preamble kicks things off by making sure you know how to talk to NPCs and cut down trees. If your idea of pirating on the high seas revolves around the kind of resource-gathering found in most survival games, then you're in luck. In truth, this aspect isn't quite as egregious as it sounds, even if mining rocks and chopping down trees makes little sense when you're confined to the deck of a pirate ship. The main issue is that this is the first example of the game's insistence on making you perform menial busywork. There is some on-foot stuff, but landlubbers be damned, this simply amounts to chatting to vendors and quest-givers, with the occasional buried treasure thrown in for good measure. Skull and Bones might exist because of Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, but the only similarities between the two pirating games occur in their naval combat.

It's difficult to discuss this aspect of the game without delving into comparisons with Black Flag, despite the 11-year gap between the two titles. Unleashing a volley of cannonballs into the starboard of an enemy ship is the strongest part of Skull and Bones' seafaring ventures, but it still strips away much of what made Black Flag such a fantastic experience. That game was a power fantasy with a kinetic rhythm to its combat. There was never a moment of downtime as you utilized your ship's broadside cannons, mortar, flaming barrels, and swivel cannons to pepper the enemy with a constant barrage of naval fireworks, outmaneuvering towering Man O' Wars by dropping and raising the sails on a dime to produce some exhilarating moments. Skull and Bones contains more depth than Black Flag, with multiple ships to sail and a bevy of customization options letting you outfit your vessel with rockets, ballistas, fire-spewing contraptions, and more, but it's nowhere near as fun.

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Pacific Drive Review - Road Trippy

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In my personal life, I loathe driving, but video games have a way of making it more fun. Rarely does a video game make driving as engaging and enjoyable as Pacific Drive does, even though it can be much more challenging than any real-life drive I've ever taken. With a ton of gameplay depth, an intoxicating atmosphere, and a New Weird story I obsessed over, the debut game from Ironwood Studios dazzled me even though it occasionally left me stranded in the breakdown lane.

In both story and gameplay terms, I've not played a game much like Pacific Drive before. Stuck in a mysterious section of the Pacific Northwest called the Olympic Exclusion Zone (OEZ) that's been closed off for years due to science-defying activity, you're meant to find a way out of a region known to swallow almost anyone who enters it. You'll do this in roguelite runs in which you drive a station wagon through a semi-randomly generated level or series of levels, collect crafting gear and other vital resources, and then race against a storm to get to a spacetime-disrupting "gateway" that propels you back to the safety of an abandoned auto shop, where you'll deposit your resources and use them to improve your vehicle and character for subsequent runs.

For more than 20 hours, this formula never wore out its welcome with me, despite some truly grueling situations that sometimes felt insurmountable. By way of great attention to detail and depth, Pacific Drive becomes a challenge early on and consistently raises the bar even as you markedly improve your car. It feels like it unfolds--as do many roguelites--to the cadence of two steps forward, one step back.

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