Somerville Review - I Wanted To Believe

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Despite aliens existing as one of the most prevalent enemies in video games, seldom do we get to experience them from the vantage point of ants beneath their shoes we may well be. So often, we're tasked with shooting aliens in space battles or gunning them down on the back of military vehicles, and the lack of a proper alien invasion story in the vein of Signs or Invasion of the Body Snatchers has been a personal annoyance for years. For the most part, Somerville finally gives us such a game, but that uncommon setup I've so looked forward to is ultimately hampered by both story and gameplay decisions that keep it from feeling impactful.

Created in part by a former Playdead (Inside, Limbo) developer at a new studio called Jumpship, Somerville feels similar to those milestone puzzle-adventures. The color palette favors darkness, the story unfolds without dialogue of any sort, and you'll explore by moving through a world full of threats, solving puzzles to overcome each obstacle and outrun unassailable enemies.

In Somerville, you play the patriarch of a family of four which also includes your wife, baby, and dog. It doesn't take long at all for the story to pick up; within minutes, you go from passing out on the couch on a typical evening at home to scrambling for shelter as otherworldly pillars rain down from the sky. Separated from your wife and child, the nameless father and his four-legged friend embark on a quest to reunite with the others.

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Pentiment Review - Layers Of History

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I loved reading history books growing up, especially those written more like a storied account of what happened as opposed to straight facts on the page. There's an implied truth to history when it's told moreso as a story, as it admits that there's no objective truth to the past. History is simply what we make of it. Pentiment is written around this idea, providing a means of exploring a point in history from an outsider's perspective--the protagonist is not native to the region and we, the player, aren't native to the time period. Rather than simply retell history, Pentiment affords the chance to influence it, and in doing so, delves into the subjectivity of historical record. Pentiment also features some fun nods to history with its fabulous art style and stylish fonts, but the narrative throughline of its three acts--a conspiracy of murder mysteries--feels lacking, given the frustrating restrictions to each investigation and the unceremoniously abrupt ending.

In Pentiment, you play as artist Andreas Maler, who is attempting to finish up his masterpiece while working for the Kiersau Abbey, which overlooks the Bavarian town of Tassing. A visiting baron draws the ire of both the farmers and craftspeople in town, as well as the Christian nuns and brothers of the abbey, but no one is prepared when he winds up dead. With Andreas' mentor--a man too old and feeble to have possibly overpowered the baron--pinned for the crime, the young illustrator vows to conduct his own private investigation in hopes of bringing the true culprit to justice. In doing so, Andreas is drawn into a strange conspiracy of cryptic notes and unspoken secrets, and his actions shape both Tassing and Kiersau Abbey in a story that spans a quarter of a century.

Your actions have consequences in Pentiment. Most conversations can branch in a number of ways depending on the choices you pick, and Andreas' relationship with those around him is further shaped by the resulting consequences. Oftentimes, these consequences are felt immediately--a worried wife catching you in a lie might not offer information on her husband, for example--but there are quite a few with much longer-reaching effects. During the second act of Pentiment, the game kept telling me that choice after choice I was making would "be remembered," but it wasn't until the final minutes of the act that the results of my actions were revealed. And in a twist of fate, my decision to repeatedly be nice to someone in the hours up to that point meant that they wouldn't abandon me during a dangerous situation.

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Tactics Ogre Reborn Review - 4D Chess

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Tactics Ogre is a landmark game in the evolution of the strategy-RPG genre, yet it's never quite received the appreciation it deserves outside of Japan. Part of this has to do with the long shadow cast by its directly-inspired and much-beloved younger sibling, Final Fantasy Tactics. Despite receiving an incredible remake in 2011, PSP exclusivity once again limited the audience for Tactics Ogre. Now, with the release of the HD and massively revamped Tactics Ogre Reborn on every platform under the sun, Square Enix is taking steps to correct a long-standing injustice--though some quibbles with presentation and gameplay changes keep this from being the definitive version of the all-time classic.

Our story follows young Denam and his sister Catiua, two siblings of the Walister clan. The Walister have suffered under the oppression of the ruling Galgastani for years, and a resistance movement has begun to form among them. What begins as a plan to avenge the death of the siblings' father snowballs into a mission to rescue Duke Ronwey, leader of the resistance. But as Denam becomes part of the growing resistance force, he discovers the lengths that Duke Ronwey will go to advance his cause, forcing him to make very difficult choices. As the struggle expands to involve neighboring states, Denam will need to find his own way to put an end to the conflict.

If you're familiar with previous works by director and writer Yasumi Matsuno (Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy XII), you'll find similar themes here: intertwining politics, moral quandaries, class struggles, and idealism gone awry. Depending on the choices you make (including some absolutely gut-wrenching, life-or-death decisions) the story's path--as well as which special characters you can recruit--will change dramatically. There are plenty of twists and surprises to experience, enhanced by a combination of a superb English script from famed localizer Alexander O. Smith and the addition of voice acting for cutscenes. The World Tarot system from the PSP remake also returns, which acts as an enhanced New Game+: Upon completing the game, you can go back to previous points in the story, exploring different outcomes and routes while keeping your current character roster.

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Sonic Frontiers Review - Sonic, Is That You?

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From the moment it was first revealed, it was clear that Sonic Frontiers is quite unlike any of its predecessors. Sonic's 3D adventures have been more miss than hit throughout the blue hedgehog's 31-year existence. For every Sonic Generations, there's been a Sonic Boom or Sonic '06 leaving behind a bitter taste and further diluting the speedy mascot's appeal. Each new game has offered some variation on the Sonic formula, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle and finally give the series a consistent direction moving forward, but none have succeeded--at least until now. Sonic Frontiers is that game.

It certainly has its flaws and still maintains many of the familiar elements you'd expect to find in a game starring the eponymous hedgehog, but it's in the differences where Sonic Frontiers stands out and occasionally excels, making it the best 3D Sonic game in more than a decade.

The biggest and most notable change is the shift to a semi-open world. Sega calls Frontiers "open-zone," meaning the game is split into multiple islands that Sonic is free to explore. Each zone has its own aesthetic, from verdant rolling hills to arid desert plains and a simmering volcanic island floating above the clouds, meshing together natural beauty with ancient alien temples, grind rails, and bounce pads. It's a curious amalgamation but one that works well enough within the game's sci-fi conceit. The environments are also part of a striking tonal shift for the series. The vibrant primary colors of classic Sonic levels like Green Hill Zone have been replaced by a color palette that's low on saturation and high on pastel hues. The obvious inspiration here is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, not just in the way Frontiers looks, but in its use of music and the shift to open-ended world design. It doesn't play anything like Link's five-year-old adventure, but you can see how Sonic Team was influenced by it throughout.

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God Of War Ragnarok Review - Blood, Sweat, And Tyrs

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God of War Ragnarok is a lavish production with pristine visuals, jaw-dropping scale, crunchy combat that is as satisfying as it is brutal, and a world that begs to have its every corner and crevice explored. It's a spectacular blockbuster, but these are the least of its achievements.

In a game where a hulking god rips all manner of creatures limb from limb, the most shocking moments aren't bathed in blood, but carried by poignant words and heartfelt emotions. They are a former God of War--known for mercilessly killing his kin--finding the words to empathize with loss; a despondent child emploring a father to break a self-destructive cycle; a moment of tenderness in the life of a boy that has the weight of the world on his shoulders.

God of War Ragnarok's most impressive achievements are its exploration of loss and love; grief and growth; determinism and defiance. It's an astoundingly well-written game that deconstructs the mythology of Norse gods and rebuilds it as an odyssey about families. Its story isn't about the end of the world, but those that have a hand in it. They're revered as mythical gods but are characterized by deep flaws, twisted by skewed perspectives, and corrupted by questionable motivations in the same way the people they preside over are. And yet, some also have redemptive qualities. In that respect, Ragnarok's story is told from a grey area where nuances blur the line between heroes and villains; good and evil. By constantly challenging you to reconsider who they are and the factors that drive their actions, these characters remain compelling throughout.

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