Still Wakes The Deep Review - The Abyss Stares Back

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Though The Chinese Room has previously worked in the horror genre, I don't think of the team as primarily a horror-centric development studio. Rather, I've long felt its name is synonymous with sadness. The throughline spanning games like Dear Esther, Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, and even Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is a feeling of melancholy, longing, or even tragedy. Still Wakes The Deep continues this run of depressing games, which I mean as a compliment. By leaning into the studio's forte, the game's memorable horrors become more affecting hardships.

I've found it difficult to write about Still Wakes The Deep as I didn't want to spoil its best aspect--the monster at the root of it all, which isn't shown in any pre-launch materials. But then I discovered how the game has been advertised--"The Thing on an oil rig"--which seems to let me off the hook. As it turns out, that elevator pitch is exactly what this game is like. Blue-collar workers stranded with a creature of unknown origin is a classic horror premise--Alien's "truckers in space" is essentially this, too. The Chinese Room pulls from these genre titans to tell a story of its own and places it all in an especially uncommon setting.

It's Christmas 1975. Aboard an oil rig near Scotland, Caz McLeary evades the personal problems awaiting him back on the mainland by joining his buddy and several others toiling away at sea. The game's early moments set the scene well, with large, intimidating human-made machinery creaking and bellowing amid a storm. Indoors, claustrophobic corridors are plastered in cautionary signage that reminds players of just how dangerous and oppressive an oil rig is--even without a monster showing up. Fulfilling any role in such an environment seems to merit copious hazard pay. As waves crash around the perimeter and rain-soaked ladders climb to platforms that feel more like thrill rides when you stand atop them, the game's message seems clear: This place is not safe, and humanity doesn't belong there.

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Elden Ring: Shadow Of The Erdtree DLC Review - Kill Them With Kindness

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Late into Shadow of the Erdtree, Elden Ring's first and only DLC, I encountered something I'd never seen before in a From Software game. Nestled in a far corner of the Land of Shadow was a village untouched by the death, devastation, and decay left in the wake of Messmer The Impaler's bloody conquest. There, I watched trees sway gently as the wind swept through and marveled at the multicolored flowers spread across a field of lush green grass. The twilight of an overhanging moon met the golden rays of a life-giving tree towering above, creating a dream-like tranquility that was accentuated by soft, sorrowful music. No monsters lurked in the shadows and no threats awaited around corners; there was just beautiful, untarnished serenity.

Shadow of the Erdtree takes players to the Land of Shadow, a place that has been hidden away, where the laws of the venerated Golden Order that governs The Lands Between were written in blood, and that has been forgotten and left to fester. Battling through the Land of Shadow's numerous castles, caves, and crypts delivers exactly what you want from a From Software game and what made Elden Ring an open-world masterpiece when it was released two years ago. It offers the same thrilling sense of player-empowered exploration and rewarding discovery, as well as the satisfaction of triumphing over adversity. These aspects of Elden Ring are all as potent in Shadow of the Erdtree, but it's the game's subversions that are the most striking.

Shadow of the Erdtree is full of surprises, whether it's an unexpected moment of calm, a new gameplay twist, or a narrative revelation. The biggest of these, however, pertains to my expectations. I was ready for a modest-sized expansion to the world of Elden Ring akin to Bloodborne's The Old Hunters or Dark Souls 3's Ringed City. What I got, however, was a full-fledged, 30-hour game crafted by a team that is peerless when it comes to creating worlds that feel as dangerous and unnerving to be in as they are satisfying to conquer.

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F1 24 Review - Narrowly Misses Pole Position

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The 2024 Formula One season is finally heating up. Max Verstappen will probably still win a fourth successive driver's championship after the final race in December, but at least the rest of the field is making life more taxing for the dominant Dutchman and his Red Bull team. Recent races have been more competitive and unpredictable, with multiple teams battling for first place in any given race weekend. It should be the perfect time for F1 24 to launch, but the same excitement generated by the real-life product doesn't quite apply to Codemaster's latest. It's still an excellent racing game, especially when you factor in an overhauled Driver Career mode, but its overt familiarity means there are fewer reasons than ever to upgrade if you own F1 23.

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F1 24's most significant selling point is its new, reworked Driver Career mode. You can still play through this multi-season experience as a custom driver, but F1 24 now lets you strap into the helmet of one of the 20 superstar drivers on this season's grid. You may want to try and win Verstappen's fourth successive championship yourself or pick a younger driver like Yuki Tsunoda and earn your way onto one of the bigger teams in the sport. Not only this, but you can also opt to start as an F2 driver--beginning your career in either F2 or F1--and choose from a selection of legendary icons like Aryton Senna, Jacques Villeneuve, and errr… Pastor Maldonado. This isn't just a cosmetic change, either, because all previous stats and accolades carry over, including the number of successful podiums, race wins, championship victories, and so on. It's an enticing prospect being able to potentially win Michael Schumacher's record eighth world title or attempt to rebuild Williams back into a title contender with Senna behind the wheel.

Your driver's reputation within the sport will grow as you achieve top-10 finishes, complete contract targets, and tick off more accolades. This can help you secure a new deal with your current team or attract the attention of rival teams, who will then start vying for your services. If this happens, you can agree to attend a secret meeting and negotiate a move or turn down the offer, with the whole thing emulating the sort of behind-closed-doors nature of sudden driver moves that occur in real life. If you opt to stay with your current team, they'll be pleased with your decision. This is nonsensical considering the meeting was supposed to be secret, but these covert rendezvous are a nice new addition nonetheless.

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Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance Review - Losing My Religion

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The original Shin Megami Tensei V was great. When I reviewed it back in 2021, I loved the challenging combat, the excellent art design, the menagerie of mythological beings, and the overall dark and oppressive atmosphere wherein humanity hangs by a thread. But there was certainly room for improvement, so I was eager to see how Atlus would handle Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance, its revised and expanded multiplatform release. So rather than repeat what was said before--much of my original review still stands--it's more worthwhile to look at Vengeance's most important changes and new additions. There's a lot that's been added and adjusted, so let's focus on what made the biggest impact on the game overall.

Perhaps the most noteworthy is its performance. Instead of being constrained on the Switch hardware, Vengeance is now multiplatform, allowing the game to run at a much smoother 60fps. Though the Switch version was known to chug when a lot was going on in its big, open environments or in combat, this is no longer a problem. (Since we've reviewed Vengeance on PS5, we can't say if the Switch version still has these performance hiccups, though we do know it aims to run at 30fps.)

Visually, however, Vengeance looks similar to the original; the environments and character models lack the sort of intricate detail you might be used to seeing on current-gen consoles. Still, what Vengeance lacks in ultra-detail it more than makes up for in stunning art design, filling the world with beautiful angels and goddesses, vile demonic hellspawn, and a blend of tarnished wastelands and mysterious, otherworldly constructs.

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Destiny 2: The Final Shape Review-in-Progress

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It's impossible to think about The Final Shape without the context of the last 10 years, seven other Destiny 2 expansions, and four original Destiny expansions, plus the campaigns that came with the releases of both games. This eighth Destiny 2 expansion is, to some degree, the culmination of the somewhat haphazard decade-long journey that the first game spawned. And while the story itself hasn't always been consistently building toward a conclusion, there's a clear, mostly positive evolution across all those steps that informs what The Final Shape is to Destiny as a whole.

I've noted in the past when expansions were high water marks for Destiny 2 as a game, but this is something else. The Final Shape isn't just another step forward in a long march of progress, but a leap. At least so far, two days in, The Final Shape is as close as Destiny has ever gotten to the original promise of the game when Bungie first described a shared-world sci-fi fantasy shooter set in a strange and far-flung future. This isn't just Destiny 2 as the best it's ever been--this is Destiny 2 as it always should have been.

It all starts with a story campaign that tosses you into the Pale Heart of the Traveler in a bid to stop the Witness, Destiny 2's long-gestating ultimate villain, from using the game's convoluted physics-ignoring powers to rewrite reality. It's immediately apparent that developer Bungie has taken a different tack from how it usually approaches these chapters, trading overcomplicated, jargony plots for a focus on Destiny 2's main cast of characters as they head toward a potentially world-ending confrontation. The Final Shape is easily the best story Destiny has ever told in an expansion, clearly laying out what is at stake and, at least emotionally, how it'll work, and setting players on a journey straight from point A to point B and a final confrontation with the Witness.

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