The Lord Of The Rings: Gollum Review - We Don't Wants It, We Don't Needs It

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When it comes to art, I'm something of a masochist. I listen to music that the average listener might describe as "unlistenable." I relish in the skin-crawling cringiness of the major motion picture musical Cats. I gravitate toward games that make me beat my head against the wall, for better or for worse. However, every pain junkie has their limit, and The Lord of the Rings: Gollum pushed me to mine--and then some.

The long-delayed stealth adventure from Daedalic Entertainment, centered around one of Middle-earth's most iconic (if not exactly likable) characters, does not simply miss the mark here or there: It's an unbridled disaster of truly epic--like, Tolkien-level epic--proportions. Beyond its overly simple level design, jarringly dated graphics, and deeply uninteresting gameplay, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is broken to the point where it's nearly unplayable, making it one of the worst uses of a licensed property in recent memory.

The game begins in Cirith Ungol, the Orc-infested outskirts of Mordor, some 60 years after Bilbo Baggins stole the One Ring from our slimy, frail protagonist, Sméagol--or Gollum, as he's come to be known. Taking place not long before the events laid out in The Fellowship of the Ring, the crux of the story is instantly recognizable to anyone even peripherally familiar with the series: Gollum must find Bilbo and take back his "precious" at any cost, while avoiding the wrath of Sauron along the way.

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Humanity Review - What Is A Man?

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Some days you wake up, put on your clothes, and head to work or school. Some days you sleep in and enjoy a hard-earned day off. And some days your consciousness emerges from slumber in the form of a tiny ethereal Shiba Inu, and mysterious glowing orbs instruct you to guide a seemingly unending stream of human souls through winding geometric constructs to a radiant square of light. You know, normal things.

This is the premise of Humanity, a new spatial puzzle game from developer Tha and publisher Enhance Games. Players familiar with the Enhance Games library of titles like Rez and Tetris Effect likely have some idea of what to expect: an artsy experience with chill vibes, minimalistic yet striking visuals, intuitive gameplay, experimental music, and an undercurrent of positivity and warmth. Humanity ticks all of those boxes off easily, while also establishing itself as a unique and charming puzzle game that both calls back to old favorites and adds interesting new innovations.

As the nameless meme-dog, you are tasked with guiding the stream of humans that emerges from a mysterious portal "into the light"--a specially marked square on the field. To accomplish this, you place directional commands on spaces where the flow of humans are walking. If they need to turn left to avoid careening into a pit, you bark and leave a marker to tell them to turn left. Simple! It's a little bit of Lemmings, but perhaps more akin to Dreamcast sleeper classic Chu Chu Rocket.

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Planet Of Lana Review - Mutual Dependency

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Planet of Lana begins in the quaint fishing village its titular protagonist calls home. As you chase after your older sister, stumbling at times--which elicits laughter from big sis--you're afforded time to get to grips with the game's 2D platforming, jumping and climbing over the wooden docks, platforms, and rooftops that make up this small but dense town. After passing through a bustling market where people are selling strawberries and freshly-caught fish, you sneak past a chef chopping up vegetables amid plumes of steam before passing by empty boats moored in the crystal-clear waters the town is built upon. It's a moment of serenity that could be mistaken for a rural location on Earth, were it not for the all-encompassing moon dominating the sky. As you gradually make your way out of town and into the verdant hilltops nearby, this fleeting tranquility is shattered by the ominous sight of dozens of drop pods tumbling into the planet's atmosphere.

Darting back through the village in the opposite direction is a harrowing experience, as an apocalyptic army of tinted-black robots begins rounding up any signs of life. The peaceful sound of waves crashing against the shore is violently replaced by people screaming and the unnatural bleeps of faceless colonizers, establishing a sharp contrast between tranquility and chaos. With her entire world turned upside down, Lana sets out on a seemingly impossible quest to rescue her captured sister and village, taking you on an enchanting four-hour adventure that's inspired by cinematic puzzle-adventure games like Another World, Inside, and the Oddworld series. You can see bits and pieces of each of these games reflected in Planet of Lana's gameplay, from its deliberate platforming to its logic and physics-based puzzle-solving. Yet it's the animated movies of Studio Ghibli that serve as the primary influence for Swedish developer Wishfully--something that's apparent right from the game's first few seconds.

Opening up on a shot of the daytime sky, the vivid hand-painted art style immediately pulls you in and evokes movies such as Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro without trying to replicate their exact style. Objects closer to the screen are coated in finer detail, for instance, while the vibrant backgrounds use broader, thicker brush strokes, creating a layered image that makes it feel like you're inside an interactive painting. Just glancing at screenshots sells the game's gorgeous aesthetic, but it looks equally stunning in motion, with trees swaying in the breeze, critters scurrying out of sight as you traverse through woodland, and ancient structures whirring to life after being dormant for decades--the world feels alive. The sense of scale is noteworthy, too, not just from a visual standpoint, but because of the way it gives perspective to the scope of Lana's task. The giant robot mothership that initially looms in the distance gradually consumes more and more of the horizon as you inch closer to its foreboding structure, providing a visible landmark for your journey's progress.

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After Us Review - Abstract Dystopia

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Nothing quite compels you to buy into a game's stakes like happening upon the decaying carcass of a dog who's starved to death. This is the first of several emotional moments in After Us. The surrealistic set dressing of this 3D platformer is regularly morbid but it makes for quite a compelling dystopian world to explore, if only to satiate an innate curiosity--how did the Earth end up like this and is there anyone left? The simple combat and good-but-not-great platforming mechanics bog down the experience a bit but After Us' incredible environmental storytelling of a doomed world clinging to a feeble hope more than makes up for it.

In After Us, you play as Gaia, a young spirit tasked with tracking down and salvaging the souls of the last creatures on Earth. These include animals like the aforementioned canine, the last dog who died of hunger, and coming across others lead to plenty of somber moments of human cruelty--the last eagle caged and plucked, for instance, and the final whale to be harpooned. There's a present-day storyline that runs parallel that isn't all that interesting as it's difficult to relate to the mostly-silent Gaia, who displays small signs of emotion during certain cutscenes but seems to largely view the world around her with passivity. The history of this Earth's past, which you uncover in your pursuit of the lost animal souls and optional collectibles, is far more captivating and works as a strong narrative backbone for the platformer.

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Running and jumping are Gaia's primary ways of navigating the world, and these actions are complemented by other platforming staples like hovering, rail-grinding, wall-running, and dashing. She's a bit too floaty and loose to control in certain platforming segments--there were quite a few moments where a frustrating mistiming meant I accidentally leaped over a floating chunk of freeway and plunged to my death or sprinted a step too far and skidded off the top of a skyscraper. Most often, failure was the result of the controls working against me, not my own mistakes. Thankfully, the checkpoint system in After Us is relatively forgiving so even the most irritating of deaths are only small setbacks.

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Lego 2K Drive Review - Oh Snap

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Lego thrives on versatility and variety. The brand has become associated with everything from model towns to outer space to licensed franchises like Star Wars to original IP like Bionicle and Ninjago. Lego 2K Drive is relatively narrow compared to the wide array of Lego iconography, but that laser-like focus works in its favor. The team at 2K and Visual Concepts has made a great racing game first, allowing the Lego elements to organically add both an astounding amount of customization and flavorful visual flourishes to make a lively and enjoyable open-world driving experience.

Under the hood, Lego 2K Drive is a combination of open-world racing games like Burnout Paradise or Forza Horizon and kart racers like Mario Kart or Sonic All-Stars. The main campaign has you exploring three big biomes, each with their own wide variety of activities and events, punctuated by kart races against rival drivers who run these regions. But part of what makes both exploring and racing so fun is how toy-like it feels, thanks to some smart systems that remove any possible friction from exploration.

When driving around in a typical open-world racer, you may have to set a waypoint to your next objective and spend a few minutes making your way over by following the roads. In Lego 2K Drive, your vehicle auto-switches from roadster to off-road vehicle to boat based on whatever you need at a given time. The click-clack of your vehicle instantly reconstituting itself into something new when you hop from a road to a river just feels great every time. A generous nitro boost and a dedicated jump button mean you can hop over obstacles and scale hills with ease. Other cars or small buildings in the way? No problem, just smash right through them and they'll explode into a thousand Lego bricks, building your boost meter in the process. This effectively makes the whole world your playground, letting you carve paths through it. There's almost never a hard barrier between you and the fun.

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