Harold Halibut Review - Lost In Its Own Deep Sea

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Harold Halibut puts you in the shoes of a lowly maintenance worker aboard a spaceship submerged underwater. To the residents aboard the ship, Harold is a rather charming, lovable, even dopey fellow who is endearing for his simplicity and his complacency in doing his job. Harold is tasked with removing graffiti, cleaning, and fixing machines, and when the work is done, his day ends, he goes to sleep, he wakes up--rinse, repeat. That's the surface of Harold, but tucked out of sight from people's view, is a character who is deceivingly introspective, often documenting his life through scribbled images in a notepad, or expressing himself through playful theatrics when he's alone, like singing and performing operatically while mopping up a filter system. This is a side of the character only we, the player, get to see. As a character, Harold is complex, even if he doesn't entirely understand how. He attempts to question and explore his curiosity and his own existence within the confines of a spaceship he was born and raised on, but he's not always capable of understanding exactly what he's looking for.

Harold Halibut
Harold Halibut

Harold Halibut, the game, is much like its titular character: It's charming and lovable on the surface for its unique handmade aesthetic and charmingly simple gameplay. But just beneath that uncomplicated layer is a story that attempts to ask questions about introspection and self-worth, even if the game doesn't always feel equipped to answer them or understand its strongest suits.

Harold Halibut does an incredible job in exploring its many themes and concepts by putting a magnifying glass on its setting. The FEDORA is a spaceship that was designed to leave Earth during the Cold War and set forth on a 200-year journey to seek a new planet to live on, but the new world it found was devoid of any landmass. With nowhere to go, the FEDORA crashes onto the planet, plunging its occupants into the watery depths, which they've learned to colonize. Meanwhile, Harold's mentor and resident scientist, Mareaux, attempts to find a power source to launch the ship back into space to find a more suitable planet to live on.

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Children Of The Sun Review - One Shot

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It only takes a single bullet to burn down an empire. That's the ethos behind Children of the Sun, an excellent supernatural puzzle-shooter from solo developer René Rother and publisher Devolver Digital. Like many of the games in Devolver's vast library, Children of the Sun is wonderfully stylish, violent, and built on a unique gameplay hook; think Sniper Elite mixed with Superhot and you're on the right track without quite telling the whole story.

You play as a protagonist known simply as The Girl, a one-woman wrecking crew waging a vengeful war against the eponymous cult that ruined her life. As one cultist after another is turned to mincemeat behind the vindictive crosshairs of your sniper rifle, you gradually make your way up the food chain until coming face-to-scope with your true target: The Leader. While embarking on this blood-soaked killing spree, hand-drawn flashbacks reveal tidbits about the atrocities committed by this mysterious cult and The Girl's reasons for seeking revenge.

There's no dialogue during these cutscenes; instead, the narrative is intentionally minimalist, bombarding you with unnerving memories that are both terse and chaotic. This scattershot approach makes it difficult to glean all of the available information--perhaps deliberately so--which means you might feel lost and slightly detached from the story at times. It's all complemented by a discordant soundscape of ambient white noise that matches the game's striking art style--composed of deep purples and vivid yellows--and gritty, surreal tone. The game's arresting aesthetic paints a picture of a brutal world of saturated filth, where cultists defile seedy motels, gloomy forests, and derelict apartment buildings, spreading their deceitful disease like plague-infested rats.

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Star Wars: Battlefront Classic Collection Review - Fire Away

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I spent many a weekend afternoon playing the first two Battlefront games back in 2004 and 2005, my friends and I sinking hundreds of hours into our repeated efforts to conquer the galaxy, recreate battles from the Star Wars movies, and theorize why the video game version of General Grievous was so much stronger than his movie counterpart. Heck, my hope that we'd one day see a Clone Wars animated series that focused on exploring the clones' individuality was born from Battlefront 2's wonderfully narrated 501st Journal. Now that I think about it, much of my love for Star Wars can be traced back to the first two Battlefront games. But that doesn't change that their dated mechanics and the unbalanced nature of their unrewarding tug-of-war matches don't hold up two decades later. And Aspyr Media does not address these issues in Star Wars: Battlefront Classic Collection, a collected pack of the two games, leaving them feeling like relics of a bygone era that aren't worth playing in this shape today.

Pandemic Studios' Battlefront and Battlefront 2 (not to be confused with EA DICE's 2015 Battlefront and 2017 Battlefront 2) are both shooters that focus on Star Wars' Clone Wars and Galactic Civil War periods, seeing you step into the boots of ordinary soldiers who participate in the conflicts. Mechanically, both games play very similarly to one another, though Battlefront 2 adds to the first with space battles, playable heroes (who are notable characters from the Star Wars movies like Yoda and Darth Vader), and a more story-driven campaign that ties into Revenge of the Sith.

The 501st Journal is still great.
The 501st Journal is still great.

Each army features four standard soldier archetypes. You've got your assault rifle-wielding standard trooper, long-range sniper user, heavy-hitting rocket launcher demolitionist, and a support soldier who excels at short-range combat and fixing up vehicles. Beyond those four, each army has additional special units--the Republic Clone Army has the jetpack-equipped Jet Trooper, for example, while the CIS has the roly-poly Droideka. Because the main units all handle the same for the most part, you don't have to learn entirely new mechanics for each class, while the more specialized troopers add a bit of distinct flair to each army. I like it--it makes it easy to pick up both games while also ensuring the gameplay doesn't grow stale quickly.

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Open Roads Review - Quick Trip

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I once read in a very profound article published in a very prestigious magazine (okay, it was a TikTok) that "daddy issues" make artists while "mommy issues" make writers. I can't attest to the science--or lack thereof--behind this statement, but as a writer born into a long line of guarded women who wielded pens as weapons, I can absolutely relate.

As such, I have a particular fondness for mother-daughter stories and the catharsis they can offer. When I heard the team behind Gone Home would be tackling the subject in their upcoming game Open Roads, I braced for a beautiful cross-country journey that would inevitably hit too close to home. However, while Open Roads has moments of relatability that are powered by solid dialogue, charming characters, and nostalgia, I was ultimately left underwhelmed by the walk-and-click exploration game. With a runtime too short to truly pull players in and an abrupt ending that leaves things feeling hastily resolved, Open Roads feels more like a pit stop than an adventure.

That's not to say the game's premise isn't interesting. Open Roads begins shortly after the death of the Devine family matriarch, Helen, and follows her daughter Opal and her granddaughter Tess as they cope with loss and what to do next. Throughout the entirety of the game, we play as Tess, a 16-year-old high school student who is every bit as strong-willed, cheeky, and hopeful as most 16-year-old girls are. On top of her grandmother's death, Tess is also processing her parents' recent separation and the loss of her home, as she and her mother lived with Helen but were not given the house upon her death.

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Pepper Grinder Review - Short And Spicy

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It only takes a glance to understand Pepper Grinder's inventive gimmick. A small girl named Pepper--a pirate by trade--wields a drill named Grinder that's roughly the size of her entire body. The gear allows her to grind through soft surfaces with ease, complete with the ability to launch out of the surface with a leap. That might have been enough to carry the game by itself, but what's most surprising about Pepper Grinder is its sheer variety. Though it's short, that brevity helps to make the campaign a no-filler thrill ride that continuously pushes the boundaries of its central mechanic.

It turns out Grinder is a pretty versatile tool, even regarding its most basic function. You can burrow through the ground, which immediately feels natural and smooth. At the same time, you can't simply turn on a dime with an instant about-face like a typical platformer--you have to handle turns by curving an arc out of your drilling path. Additionally, when you pop out of the surface of the dirt, you won't gain much distance unless you jump just before breaking through. Those little touches give the core mechanic a sense of finesse, imitating the feeling of a playful dolphin--or at least, a dolphin video game like the classic Ecco.

Once you get the hang of it, drilling through soil and leaping out of the surface in a perfect arc, only to catch another piece of soft ground in the distance and continue your digging, feels thrilling and acrobatic. The drillable surfaces are nicely differentiated from hard environmental pieces, so you quickly learn to read a level and see the path through it, evoking a feeling similar to performing a great run in Tony Hawk. Collectibles like gems are scattered strategically throughout the stages to both subtly guide your eye along the path, while also sometimes setting traps for your greed.

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