Metal Gear Solid: Master Collection Vol. 1 - Kept You Waiting, Huh?

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Metal Gear Solid and its sequels are seminal titles in the history of video games, pioneering the 3D stealth-action genre in conjunction with an ambitious approach to cinematic storytelling. Replaying them again after more than 15 years put me in a state of constant surprise as I was reminded how much each game is still ingrained in the recesses of my brain. From finishing lines of dialogue I hadn't heard since the PlayStation 2 was brand-new to being able to navigate the winding corridors, air vents, and layered depths of Shadow Moses and Big Shell like the back of my hand--it's clear how much of an impact the series had on my youth, and I know I'm not the only one. Because of this, the Metal Gear Solid: Master Collection Vol. 1 feels important, both as a means of historical preservation and as a nostalgia-fueled time machine for one of the most influential series of all time.

Konami has certainly assembled an impressive assortment of games for this bundle, beginning where it all started for creator Hideo Kojima. The original 8-bit Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake--as well as the standalone NES version of Metal Gear and the non-canonical sequel, Snake's Revenge--are all included in the Master Collection. Having been released in 1987 and 1990 for the MSX2 computer platform, Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2 are showing their age--though surprisingly not to the point where their archaic design renders them unplayable. Played from an overhead 2D perspective, ranged combat is inherently clunky due to your restrictive four-way movement, and any missteps are at the mercy of an unforgiving checkpoint system. Despite these flaws, however, there aren't many aspects of either game that feel so antiquated that you can't get something positive out of playing them. It helps that the controls have been updated and unified for this collection, with both triggers letting you access either the items or weapons in your inventory, much like they do in the Metal Gear Solid games. Other than this, Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2 are unchanged from the originals.

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Payday 3 Review - Turning Up The Heat

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The iconography behind a handful of thieves donning twisted masks during a violent heist has transcended many forms of media, but they're nowhere more recognizable through a gaming lens than in the enduring Payday series. This cooperative heist simulator borrows elements from some of the best in the genre but has consistently offered a distinct spin on the ensuing chaos by delivering memorable and elaborate jobs for you and your friends to pull off. It's been a long time since the last entry in the series, in part due to Payday 2's long-standing post-launch support, but in its third entry, wholesale overhauls to its formula are impeded by a lack of content and a baffling progression system.

Payday 3 once again rounds up the familiar band of thieves for another handful of assorted heists, this time strung together by a loose and entirely uninteresting plot about a conspiracy that takes itself far too seriously. It contrasts poorly against the absurdity of the jobs themselves, each of which takes place in a relatively grounded location but often requires absurd steps for completion. Coupled with the comical number of cops you'll face most of the time and the ridiculous gadgets you'll employ to break into vaults and locked-down crypto wallets, it makes the narrative tying everything all together feel like it's from a different game.

Thankfully, it's one of the least important aspects of this revamped cooperative shooter, which redefines what a successful heist is in the first place. All but one of the game's heists can now be completed entirely without firing a bullet, giving a savvy team of four the chance to think about circumventing security cameras or hiding from nosy guards and achieving the perfect getaway in the vein of Ocean's Eleven. Payday 2 players might recall that this was technically possible in the previous title, but it often required gear that only unlocked much later in the game to achieve the exact same objectives that going loud did anyway. Payday 3 splits the path of passive and aggressive with unique objectives for each, comfortably shifting from the former to the latter when the jig is up and you're forced to don your masks and brandish a weapon.

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Sonic Superstars Review - Reaching for Stars

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Sonic as a franchise is notoriously inconsistent, offering up some amazing highs, some truly dire lows, and a fair few games that are forgettably mediocre. But then there's that one weird category several Sonics fall into: games that are obviously, undeniably flawed in some way, but still have that something that makes a Sonic game feel special. Maybe not everyone can feel what makes them great, but for others, those qualities will overshine all of the negatives. Sonic Superstars is one such game, one with glaring flaws that I happen to like a lot.

We all know how it goes by now: Sonic's arch-nemesis Dr. Eggman is up to no good, and he's got his eye on a new locale whose resources he can exploit for evil schemes. It's up to Sonic and his BFFs, Tails, Knuckles, and Amy, to stop the Doctor, recover the Chaos Emeralds, battle the returning but obscure fan-favorite villain Fang the Sniper, and meet a brand-new buddy to save the day. Accomplishing this task involves zipping through 11 themed side-scrolling zones while collecting rings, bonking Badniks, and dealing with each area's distinct gimmicks and threats. No melodramatic story scenes, RPG or sim elements, or awkward romances here: It's pure, classic Sonic platforming.

That doesn't mean it's entirely devoid of new ideas, however. All of the zones are brand-new: Familiar elements from previous games like gimmicks and enemies might return, but every stage is an original. Collecting a Chaos Emerald now grants a special Emerald Power players can put to use at almost any time, provided they have the energy for it. And--perhaps the biggest new twist of all is that Sonic Superstars now supports four-person couch co-op multiplayer. Sure, somebody could pick up the player 2 pad and flail around as Tails in Sonic 2 and 3, but that was extremely limited; what we have here in Superstars is a unique kind of controlled chaos (pun intended).

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Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged Review - 2 Hot 2 Wheels

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On its face, Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged is a continuation of the original game that doesn't offer many drastic changes or additions. Underneath the surface, however, there are a ton of small improvements in both the gameplay and the content that make for a better experience overall.

The main campaign of Hot Wheels Unleashed 2: Turbocharged is a collection of racing events connected via an overworld map. This time around, these events are loosely tied together by a story about massive monsters invading the city. The two main heroes must shrink these monsters down and beat them by driving Hot Wheels. The story is told through short cutscenes that feature stills of the cartoon protagonists and a Saturday-morning-cartoon-style tone. It's not particularly great--the dialogue is over the top and the jokes don't land--but these cutscenes are pretty infrequent and short, so it's a small part of the experience.

The racing itself is easily the most enjoyable part of the game, with major improvements to the feel. Each Hot Wheels vehicle is now given a class, like drifter, off-road, or rocket, which gives you a rough idea of how the vehicle controls. Drifters specialize in drifting, naturally, while rockets have the highest available speed, but lack in control. With some classes, like the Off-Road, you can tell their specialty just by looking at the vehicle; it's nice to know at a glance what a standard looking car is good at without having to find out by racing. Each racing event is labeled with the class best suited for the track, giving you an idea of the best vehicle to pick without needing to run a practice lap first. For the most part, you aren't forced to use the recommended vehicle class, so you can always pick your favorite Hot Wheel, regardless of the situation, which is a nice touch.

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Hellboy: Web Of Wyrd Review - A Way With Wyrds

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With his giant red fist, oversized pistol, iconic character design, and a menagerie of mythical foes, it's surprising there haven't been more Hellboy games. The two that exist aren't remembered fondly (and that's putting it lightly,) but it's still somewhat shocking that it's taken 15 years for a new game starring Big Red to show up. Enter Hellboy: Web of Wyrd, a game that's surprising even beyond its mere existence. Rather than taking what might be considered the "safe" route and developing a simple action-adventure game, British studio Upstream Arcade has instead created a roguelite built on a foundation of weighty, methodical combat. The risk doesn't entirely pay off, resulting in a slightly uneven experience. Yet for anyone clamoring for a decent Hellboy at the very least, Web of Wyrd ticks most of the right boxes.

This all begins with the game's visuals, which successfully emulate Mike Mignola's art style in stunning cel-shaded 3D. It's so faithful to the original comics, in fact, that each frame could be a panel in itself. Striking colors contrast against deep black shadows, where characters and environments appear as though they've been boldly sculpted by thickly painted outlines, achieving the comic book's signature look. When squaring up against a salivating werewolf, it's as if Hellboy's battle with William Grenier in The Wolves of Saint August has leapt off the page. Every moment of Web of Wyrd is a Mignola art piece brought to life, and it's evident Upstream Arcade has a lot of reverence for the source material--a feeling that also extends to the rest of the game.

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Take Web of Wyrd's roguelite structure as an example--a decision informed by Hellboy's near-invulnerability. It takes an awful lot to kill Hellboy, so when your health reaches zero, rather than dying and resetting at the start of the game for some contrived reason, this snaps the tether connecting you to the Wyrd, sending Hellboy hurtling back into the real world. The Wyrd is a nightmarish dimension that can only be accessed via the mysterious Butterfly House. When this titular dimension starts impacting our reality in locations across the globe, Hellboy and the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence utilize the Butterfly House as a staging ground before embarking on missions within the procedurally generated realms of the Wyrd. From this outpost, you're able to talk to other B.P.R.D. agents, gear up for your next descent, and spend resources on various upgrades to either improve your equipment or Hellboy's physical attributes.

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