The Last Of Us Part I Review - Desolation Row

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Joel looks different in The Last of Us Part I. It took me a while to notice, but once I did, it was hard to unsee. There's a pain in his eyes. His clothes and features are the same, but there's a quiet, unmistakable torment imprinted on his face. I've played The Last of Us nearly a dozen times across PS3 and PS4, and I had never seen it worn so plainly. I know Joel has a troubled past because The Last of Us Part I goes out of its way to show you a traumatic death in the opening scene, but that pain was never etched into his facial features this clearly.

There's an argument to be made that The Last of Us Part I is too similar to the PS3 and PS4 versions to be considered a remake, and part of me agrees with that sentiment. The story is identical, the level design is exactly the same, and the gameplay--apart from some quality-of-life improvements--is unchanged. On paper, if you've played The Last of Us and remember it well, there's little reason to return to it on PS5.

But The Last of Us Part I is more than the sum of its parts. It's an unrelenting tour de force that strategically leverages the power of the PlayStation 5 to push its story and themes a little further. Slight though many of them may be, all its enhancements serve the story, and the story is just as good as it was nine years ago.

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Immortality Review - A Most Unusual Camera

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There's a moment in movies where a restless, investigative protagonist falls down a proverbial rabbit hole and unveils a startling truth, reframing everything they thought they knew. The allure of Immortality, much like other games from Sam Barlow and Half Mermaid, is that it casts the player in this exciting role and builds to its ultimate unveiling. It's borderline impenetrable at times, as both the basic A to B plot and its greater themes are much more opaque than the team's prior puzzles. And yet, it's not really worse off for it. Despite--and sometimes because of--the dizzying effect of falling down the rabbit hole, Immortality becomes another standout narrative. It's similar to its predecessors, Telling Lies and Her Story, in some key ways, but more thought-provoking, too, and certainly more unnerving than you'll be prepared for.

Writing this review has proven difficult because virtually all of the game feels like a spoiler. I can allude to things, such as the game being scarier than I would've guessed, but I can't really tell you why. I can vaguely mention the story's dramatic turns, but given the scattered timeline, you may not see certain moments yourself until long after I did. I can at least explain how this game works, because if it's the first time you’re experiencing a game from this small team, it's going to feel completely alien.

In the early hours, Immortality's plot will likely feel elusive.

In the early hours, Immortality's plot will likely feel elusive.

Playing Immortality is like operating an old-fashioned Moviola machine, once used by editors in filmmaking but now repurposed to let you scrub through hours and hours of vintage live-action movies in an attempt to solve a mystery: What happened to Marissa Marcel? As a fictional 17-year-old actor making her movie debut in late '60s Hollywood, Marissa was primed to be the Next Big Thing, but over the next 31 years, she would only be cast in three movies, and none of them ever saw release.

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Jetpack Joyride 2 Review – Running Up That Hall

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The original Jetpack Joyride released during an early apex of the mobile market. Small but quality games were successful, and the platform was not yet overrun with free-to-play gacha games. Jetpack Joyride represented a nice middle-ground, offering a fun core mechanic great for high score competition without overbearing microtransactions. In the 10 years since it was released, the market has changed. Premium games now struggle on mobile and while the most successful titles may ask for less money, they do it more often. Jetpack Joyride 2 could have pivoted to fit this new, profit-focused model, but instead developer Halfbrick opted to bring the game to Apple's Arcade subscription service. This means it won't ask you for a dime and it is also, surprisingly, no longer an endless runner. The new structure, with the familiar jetpack gameplay, is a fantastic choice that absolutely makes a better game, but it unfortunately is not yet complete, leading to a sudden and disappointing non-ending.

The core mechanic of Jetpack Joyride 2 is the same as the first. You, as Barry Steakfries (or the alternate reality female version, Betty Beefpies), sprint down a long hallway using a jetpack to move up and down and avoid obstacles. All these years later, narrowly dodging electric traps and missiles while the spray from your jetpack knocks over the scientists with the bad luck to get in your way is still an immediate blast. The change, however, is the sequel has levels, bosses, some light RPG mechanics, and even a shallow story. An endless mode is promised at some point in the future, but right now Jetpack Joyride 2 is a game with a campaign. The change is surprising considering the success of the first game (which still receives updates), but I like it. Beating levels is more frequently rewarding than having a series of bad runs before you finally have a good one, and the bosses are a fun additional challenge to cap off every few stages. Different levels also means stages look different as you progress, so you no longer have to stare at the same background while jetpacking.

Bosses, and levels to a degree, are overcome with Jetpack Joyride 2's other surprising new mechanic: Guns. About half your time is spent dodging obstacles, while the other half is spent shooting. This new mechanic fits in well and feels natural. This is partially because Barry and Betty shoot automatically, meaning you just have to line up your shot. It makes the shooting a basic extension of what you're already doing, and blowing up a robot with bullets as you drop below a passing missile feels great. The shooting action is even more fun against bosses as you both speed down the hallway exchanging fire.

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Madden NFL 23 Review - High Upside

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Every August, a new Madden launches with some major marketing buzzword attached. It makes for easy back-of-the-box material and quickly answers the question, What's new in Madden this year? These named features often fail to live up to their proper noun naming conventions, but in Madden NFL 23, that's not the case. This year's buzzword-y feature, Fieldsense, emcompasses several other features under its wide umbrella, with all of them relating to how it feels to actually play and move around on the field. In that regard, Madden 23 is a clear step up. But several other aspects of the game, including both returning issues and new problems, keep the game from achieving its full potential at launch.

Fieldsense is not one feature but the name for a collection of on-field improvements. Among them, the biggest and most enjoyable leap forward is the new Skill-Based Passing system. This is meant to remove some of Madden's attribute-driven outcomes and transfer decisiveness to the player. On the field, this is done by giving players a new throwing meter and shadowed target area that appears as the ball is being thrown. It allows players to pinpoint directly where they want the ball to go like never before--a bit like fielding in MLB The Show. Excitingly, this feature lives up to its promise, allowing skilled players to skewer defenses and hit gaps in coverage like never before in Madden history.

A wonky tutorial does this feature no good, making practice best done in a live setting. After a few quarters or games with Skill-Based Passing enabled, it becomes blatantly obvious that going back to the old system, while an option in Madden 23, is never a good idea. It allows the QB to keep a pass in front of the cornerback on a crossing route, hit back-shoulder fades in the end zone, and sneak into the space between two defenders' zones in ways that, in years past, almost always resulted in turnovers. I'd go so far as to say Madden 23 is worth playing for this feature alone, because throwing the football, something you'll do 15-40 times per game, has never felt so good.

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Saints Row Review - Open-World Nostalgia

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It's been nine years since Saints Row IV was released, pitting the 3rd Street Saints against an alien invasion that featured superpowers, time-travel, Matrix-style simulations, and the complete destruction of Earth. Where do you go after a game so ridiculous and outlandish? After a period of absence, rebooting the series sounds like a logical next step, and that's exactly what developer Deep Silver Volition has done with this new, stripped-back Saints Row.

It's still not "realistic" by any stretch of the imagination, but it is slightly more grounded. However, you still shouldn't envisage finding many of the modern trappings of open-world games. For as much as Saints Row differentiates itself from the bombast of its past few entries, it still closely resembles a game from the same era, leading to an experience that often feels stale and dated.

For the most part, this isn't something you could level at Saints Row IV's approach to freedom around character identity and gender, and this has carried over into the rebooted Saints Row. The character creator lets you design pretty much any person you want. There's a broad range of prosthetic options, various types of vitiligo, a number of sliders for body options that do away with binary gender selection, a choice of six distinct voices, and the ability to make an asymmetrical face, to name just a few of the available options. You can also hop back into the character creator at any point and change your entire look. This sounds like an insignificant feature, but it isn't always a given and speaks to Saints Row's focus on inclusivity.

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