The Diofield Chronicle Review - Forever War

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Essentially a protracted series of tactical battles, Diofield Chronicle's design falls into an early routine from which it is reluctant to deviate, while its fantasy world apes the war-room politicking of Game of Thrones with a focus on moving the chess pieces at the expense of credible character development. Flashes of progress are seen in its combat, and the occasional voice dares to question a realm ruled by divine authority, but both efforts are ultimately futile, crushed by an exhausting and relentless war machine.

As the name suggests, Diofield itself is a holy land--God's country--where the hereditary monarchy is assured by each new ruler sporting the Mark of the Blessed, a birthmark of sorts that appears to resemble a vein of precious gems. Yet a frail king and the murder of his heir has caused a succession crisis, with factions forming around several candidates while neighboring empires eye an opportunity to expand their borders. Armies march across a map straight out of the Game of Thrones opening credits while those in command conduct sober debate about their next power play. These are serious people making serious decisions, it seems to imply. Everyone involved speaks as if through clenched-jaw, and with curiously little emotion, a vocal performance that is perhaps meant to indicate the gravity of the situation but instead tends to suggest everyone is a bit bored.

Your perspective on events is through the eyes of Andrias Rhondarson, who is the boyhood friend and servant of the murdered heir, now grown-up and leading a band of mercenaries in the employ of the crown. Andrias makes for a dull lead, as he's disinclined to divulge his inner thoughts, while the ponderous, often humorless conversations he has with the rest of the cast do little to warm you to his plight, or anyone elses for that matter. In fairly typical JPRG style, few of the core cast look a day older than 18 yet carry themselves, whether debating strategy around the table or reflecting on the last mission, with the world-weariness of a pragmatic veteran general. It's laborious stuff and serves mostly to highlight the need for a quicker method of skipping through each scene.

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Return To Monkey Island Review - Happiness Is A Warm Manatee

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A palpable fondness for the first two Monkey Island games emanates throughout every three-headed monkey gag and bout of insult swordfighting in Return to Monkey Island. It's the kind of love that trickles down from the top, as Guybrush Threepwood's latest adventure sees series creator Ron Gilbert welcomed back into the fold for the first time since 1991's Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge. The self-described grumpy gamer helmed development on this unexpected sequel alongside veteran designer and writer Dave Grossman and the talented team at developer Terrible Toybox. With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that Return to Monkey Island is tinged with nostalgia and leans into this wistfulness with obvious joy. It's also a thrilling sequel in its own right; one that sees the beloved series return in swashbuckling fashion by incorporating ideas both old and new.

Much like the earliest games in the series, Return to Monkey Island is a traditional 2D point-and-click adventure game built on storytelling and puzzle-solving. Hapless protagonist Guybrush Threepwood is back--older and only slightly wiser this time around. The intrepid pirate is also joined by plenty of returning characters, including his usual cohort Elaine Marley and zombie archnemesis, LeChuck. However, the most intriguing aspect of Return to Monkey Island is that it picks up right where LeChuck's Revenge left off.

In returning to the series, Gilbert and Grossman wanted to use this opportunity to finally shed some light on that game's cliffhanger ending, yet Return to Monkey Island isn't exactly a direct sequel, either. For one, it still takes into account the events of each Monkey Island game released after 1991, with characters like Murray the demonic talking skull making an appearance. How it does this and the way it structures its narrative framework is fascinating, but delving into specifics would encroach on major spoiler territory. Instead, I'll just say this unique approach adds a mysterious wrinkle to an otherwise simple tale, and the ending is no less provocative than the conclusion to LeChuck's Revenge.

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Tinykin Review - A Charming Collectathon Callback

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As we grow up, we not only forget how it feels to be small, but also forget how it feels to exist in a world that's unfathomably big. For many of us, it's hard to retain our inherent sense of childlike wonder and our ability to see the extraordinary in the mundane. For this reason, I'll always harbor a special affinity for the things in life that do--the things that remind us of just what it's like to feel small, yet boundless. Splashteam's Tinykin is one such thing.

While at first glance Tinykin seems like a Pikmin clone, it'd be a disservice to write it off as such. Sure, the puzzle-platformer does share some elements in common with the Nintendo series (chiefly the helpful little creatures that give each game its namesake), but above all else, Tinykin is a collectathon that will charm anyone who put countless hours into Banjo-Kazooie, Spyro, and other '90s platformers. And this isn't the only quality that inspires a return to childhood--it also is set in a '90s style home that seems positively massive in the eyes of our pint-sized protagonist Milodane. With larger-than-life environments brimming with detail, life, and wonder, simple-yet-fun mechanics, and satisfyingly rhythmic gameplay, Tinykin is an original and exuberant experience.

Milo surfing across a silk web high above a lush level.

Milo surfing across a silk web high above a lush level.

Tinykin's story begins when Milo crash-lands on planet Earth. Unfortunately for Milo, this derails his current mission, and starts him on a new one to build a new ship so he can once again return to orbit. Fortunately, however, this 90s suburban home is filled with lots of friendly faces and happy helpers in the form of bugs and "tinykin." Tinykin, as the name suggests, are adorable little creatures that are always eager to be of help--which is particularly useful, considering the science-minded Milo's sole abilities are using his glider to traverse short distances, and sliding around on levels on his "soap-board."

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NBA 2K23 Review: Like Mike

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I've never envied the development cycle that comes with working on an annual sports game series. When you consider how much time and money goes into any other big-budget project, asking a studio to constantly churn out a game that is both functional and consistent but also fresh and exciting every single year seems unfair. NBA 2K23 is incredibly impressive regardless, but even moreso in light of this tight dev cycle. With a deep suite of fun game modes, improved on-court gameplay, and a deeper social experience, it feels like the team at Visual Concepts managed to freeze time and spend longer than the typical cycle on this exceptional NBA sim.

It's hard to know where to begin with NBA 2K23 because, in ways both big and small, there's a lot of new stuff to see. For me, though, it starts with The Jordan Challenge. For the first time since NBA 2K11, you can relive highlights from the career of the greatest player in NBA history. More than just a rehash of a mode absent for over a decade, this renewed Jordan Challenge is like a modern remake of that original concept.

Beginning in his college career at North Carolina, you'll play through 15 of Jordan's biggest games and work to recreate statlines and other outcomes like a time traveler seeking to not disrupt the proper timeline. Where Jordan dropped 63 on the Celtics and set a playoff scoring record, now so can you. Where he won his sixth and final NBA title, you too can perform his last dance. These and other forever-on-replay basketball moments are yours to relive.

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Metal: Hellsinger Review - Walk With Me In Hell

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Metal music ought to be synonymous with first-person shooters, considering the original Doom is perhaps the most influential FPS of all time. That game's frenetic demon-slaying was accompanied by the iconic sounds of 32-bit heavy metal riffs and high-tempo drums, but the marriage between the two never really caught on outside of shooters like Quake, Killing Floor 2, and Mick Gordon's phenomenal work on the most recent Doom games. Metal: Hellsinger isn't likely to buck that trend, but this rhythm-based FPS from Swedish developer The Outsiders puts metal front and center as the most crucial aspect of its high-octane gameplay.

At first glance, Metal: Hellsinger may look like little more than an imitation of 2016's Doom, from the general demon-killing and Hell-inspired aesthetic right down to the searing pace of its action. Doom is an obvious inspiration and apt comparison, but Metal: Hellsinger adds an extra layer of depth to its shooting by structuring all of its moving parts around music. You play as a demon who's fighting through Hell on a revenge mission, and you deal more damage by shooting enemies to the beat of a song. The more precise you are about keeping rhythm, the more your Fury multiplier will grow and the more your overall score and damage output will increase. To help you achieve this, there are pulsating icons on either side of the crosshairs that match up with the rhythm of the song. If you're on beat, you'll be graded with either a "Good" or "Perfect" attack, with the latter dealing the most damage and adding more to both your Fury and score.

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Beyond the nitty-gritty of its mechanics, however, killing demons in time to a song's rhythm is just incredibly satisfying. There's an added oomph to the sound of your weapons when you're on beat, and increasing your Fury has a direct impact on the music, too. As the multiplier escalates from 1x up to 16x, the music builds until eventually reaching a rip-roaring crescendo as the vocals kick in and the song's full arrangement is unleashed, battering your eardrums with the kind of guttural vocals that perfectly fit the game's demonic aesthetic.

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