Resident Evil Village - Winters' Expansion Review - This Rose Doesn't Bloom

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The Winters' Expansion includes Shadows of Rose, the first piece of story DLC for Resident Evil Village, which picks up 16 years after that game concluded and introduces Ethan Winters' teenage daughter, Rose, as a playable character. Rose has unique powers at her disposal that make her feel distinct from the many other protagonists in Resident Evil's long history, but it's the shift to a third-person perspective--along with changes in pacing, style, and tone--that set Shadows of Rose apart from Village's main campaign. It's more comparable to the recent Resident Evil remakes than either of Ethan Winters' misadventures, but for as much as I adore those games, I'm hopeful this switch isn't indicative of the series' future.

Shadows of Rose begins with the discovery that Rose's powers have blighted her formative years. The narrative is light on details regarding how her powers manifest, but sweating a white substance is enough reason for spiteful classmates to mercilessly bully her for being "different." Rose just wants to be a normal kid and rid herself of these debilitating abilities, so when she's offered the chance to find a cure she jumps at it with little hesitation. However, attaining said cure requires her to enter the consciousness of the Megamycete. This fungal root is not only responsible for the Mold and Rose's powers, but any humans who made physical contact with it have had their memories absorbed and stored within. This conceit allows for some fun surprises and also lets Capcom revisit iconic locations from Village's story, albeit with a few key differences.

The first locale you're dropped back into is Castle Dimitrescu. The resident Lady of the house is absent this time around, but the castle walls are now inhabited by a villainous version of Ethan's merchant ally, The Duke, who gleefully dispatches his own creatures to snuff Rose out. These grotesque monstrosities are similar in design to the Molded from Resident Evil 7, except they have a nasty habit of sucking Rose's face off whenever they get ahold of her. To combat these Face Eaters, Rose is aided by an unseen entity called Michael who can only communicate by conjuring written words that appear floating in mid-air and on various surfaces. Michael manifests a pistol early on, and he'll provide you with ammunition and healing items from time to time, as well as providing hints on where to go next. His presence is more crucial to the story than the moment-to-moment gameplay, but the floating words add a fun wrinkle to chase scenes as it feels like you're being guided by an omniscient being.

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Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Campaign Review - Just Like Old Times

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2's story picks up three years after the events of 2019's rebooted Modern Warfare. Captain Price's iconic Task Force 141 is now fully assembled and, of course, another threat of global terrorism has emerged. Fresh new mechanics, more flexibility in how you complete missions, and a host of callbacks to the original series make Modern Warfare 2's campaign feel satisfying despite an increase in difficulty.

This rebooted version of Task Force 141 features Price and the familiar faces of Simon "Ghost" Riley, Kyle "Gaz" Garrick, and John "Soap" MacTavish. However, Modern Warfare 2 introduces a new ally with Colonel Alejandro Vargas of the Mexican Special Forces. While this is a different story than 2009's Modern Warfare 2, it does reintroduce General Shepherd from the original campaign. Modern Warfare 2019's Kate Laswell and the PMC group known as Shadow Company all make a return as well.

Playing as members of Task Force 141, you are put to the test when a United States airstrike kills Al-Qatala leader General Ghorbrani, whose successor, Hassan Zyani, vows revenge and teams up with an international drug cartel to transport stolen U.S. ballistic missiles. Hassan plans to launch the missiles against United States targets and it falls upon Task Force 141 to stop this from happening. The campaign is a globe-trotting affair, sending you to fight in places like Amsterdam, Mexico, Chicago, and even parts of Al Mazrah, the fictional setting of Warzone 2.0's map. This gives a refreshing variety to the scenery from mission to mission, with nighttime stealth ops, desert battles, a prison break, and even an oil rig set piece that feels like a throwback to the original Modern Warfare 2's The Only Easy Day...Was Yesterday mission, without being a remake of it.

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Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope Review - This Sparks Joy

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Against all odds, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was a charmingly weird success, fusing Nintendo mega-star mascot Mario with Ubisoft's less-than-inspiring little rabbit oddballs and throwing them into a turn-based strategy game, of all things. It was an open question then whether Ubisoft, which took the lead on the project, would be able to capture the ineffable Nintendo magic while borrowing some of the company's most iconic characters. With that question now answered, Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope sets its sights higher, managing to not only be a surprisingly good Mario spin-off, but legitimately be better than some of Nintendo's own recent games starring the plucky plumber.

Like the original, Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope is very strange. It occupies a parallel version of the Mushroom Kingdom where Mario and his friends casually socialize with their Rabbid doppelgangers, and where many of them are packing heat--albeit in an abstract, bubblegum package. The Rabbids are a little obnoxious and off-putting, but Mario and his friends seem too polite to say anything. When they discover a Spark, a new life form that is obviously a Rabbid fused with one of Rosalina's Lumas, they immediately know something must be wrong because Rosalina would never allow that to happen to her babies. The implicit acknowledgement that being a Rabbid mutant is a terrible fate got a good chuckle out of me right from the jump.

This is indicative of how Ubisoft approaches the overall tone: reverent and respectful of Mario lore, such as it is, while cheeky and self-aware about its own Rabbids creations. Mario and his friends are video game royalty, and its cast includes a literal space goddess. The Rabbids were always made to be annoying; that was sort of the joke. These are not the same, and the game knows it, juxtaposing the two against one another to surprising comedic effect.

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Gotham Knights Review - Knightfall

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Batman is dead. With so few words, Gotham Knights is instantly intriguing. What does Gotham look like without its Dark Knight perched over the rotten city? What do his nemeses--many of whom exist in some way because Batman did--do without him? Most importantly, what impact does his death have on Robin, Batgirl, Nightwing, and Red Hood, the so-called Bat-family? Their leader's sudden demise leaves a massive hole in the heart of Gotham, and Gotham Knights is the story of sidekicks stepping out from his shadow. Although the new guard fares well from a narrative standpoint, the gameplay systems built to serve their 30-hour campaign to reclaim Gotham let the team down.

This isn't an Arkham game, though Gotham Knights does use the beloved series as a jumping-off point. In a totally open-world version of Gotham City, the Bat-family will still spend much of their time swooping down on enemies from gargoyles overhead and chain attacks with stylish combat moves as they dispatch packs of gangsters. They'll still crawl through vents to get the drop on baddies who are feeling empowered by Batman's sudden departure. The open world is also structurally familiar in the way it carries the player through the game. It is full of icons ranging from main story beats to one-off time trials and challenges, so at first glance this version of Gotham doesn't seem all that different from other versions of it, or other open-world games for that matter.

Though it looks the part, with its stark class divide, constant crime sprees, and neo-noirish intentions, patrolling the urban sprawl is sadly a chore. Because Gotham Knights trades the tried-and-true action-adventure roots of recent Batman games for a loot-focused brawler, the cadence of action foregoes compelling storylines that complement the main campaign for rote and repetitive street brawls that reward you with crafting resources. The game starts really strong, with several authored story missions that feel nearly as big and bold as you'd expect, given the last 15 years of Gotham-set games. After that intro, however, the game settles into unremarkable and unfilling gameplay loops driven by awkward games-as-a-service design principles.

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New Tales From The Borderlands Review - Good Stories

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New Tales from the Borderlands is a fun pit stop in the space Western of the Borderlands series. Much like its predecessor, Telltale Games' Tales from the Borderlands, this new adventure focuses on an ensemble cast of everyday people, not the superhero-like Vault Hunters of the main series. And in a very similar vein to the first game, New Tales from the Borderlands makes a solid case that the series needs more stories like this one. It's just more interesting to see normal people navigating Borderlands' capitalist hellscape of corporate wars as they approach the ludicrous antics and dystopian lawlessness from a more relatable perspective.

The normal people in question are altruistic scientist Anu, her younger adopted brother Octavio, and frozen yogurt shop owner Fran. Anu wants to build a device that can end conflicts nonviolently, much to the chagrin of the weapons manufacturer she works for. Octavio desires respect and fame, seeking an idea for a get-rich start-up business. And Fran desires vengeance upon weapons manufacturer Tediore, whose invasion of the planet of Promethea results in the destruction of her shop. Upon learning the invasion is to acquire a Vault Key and open the Promethean Vault, the trio finds themselves working together to acquire the Vault's treasure before Tediore can claim it, hoping it will be something valuable enough to secure funding for Anu's research and Octavio's dreams, while also depriving Tediore of their goal and netting Fran her revenge.

Most of New Tales from the Borderlands has you making dialogue choices for Anu, Octavio, or Fran, or performing some feat via a quick-time event. Your choices can have a range of consequences--strengthening the relationship between two characters, for example--but their primary effect is repercussions on the story. You can't outright avoid the major narrative beats of each chapter, but you can influence how events transpire to color in your own take on the adventure. Fran is always going to be visited by the insurance agent overseeing her claim of the damage to her shop, for instance, but it's entirely up to the choices you made leading up to and during that encounter that determine whether she gets that payout, and shapes how the agent perceives her going forward. This structure does mean that New Tales from the Borderlands can occasionally feel too scripted--especially near the end of episodes when the story has to guide you towards an unavoidable outcome to set up the next story beat--but it works for the most part, injecting enough player agency into the story to create tangible change in pretty much every event.

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