Aliens: Dark Descent Review - They're In The Walls

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There haven't been many games that have adapted the Aliens name that have managed to capture the essence of what makes many of its early films so captivating. The survival-horror game Alien: Isolation comes closest, eschewing the typical direction of action for horror, making its single Xenomorph a terrifying entity that demands the fearful respect so many other adaptations fail to offer it. While there are many, many more Xenomorphs in Aliens: Dark Descent, this hybrid of action and real-time strategy mostly works because it conveys the same sense of fear you feel when engaging them, which makes it easier to gloss over the times its other systems don't quite work as well.

Aliens: Dark Descent predominantly takes place on the planet Lethe, after a familiar scene of a Xenomorph outbreak takes place on a Weyland-Yutani space station and forces the entire area into a deadly lockdown. As survivors scramble for a way to get off-planet while also investigating the root of the outbreak, you'll travel to numerous locations across the planet to uncover clues, scavenge for supplies, and shoot down anything that gets in your way. Aliens: Dark Descent has the inklings of a captivating tale that never delivers on any of its initial promises, boiling down an interesting premise in the opening hours to a standard story without much to say beyond its straightforward mystery.

The story is mostly delivered through dialogue between the game's two leads, a surviving administrator from the opening space station and a grizzled space marine with a strange link to the Xenomorphs. Their chemistry is lacking and their relationship swings wildly from one extreme to the next in very short spaces of time, making it difficult to feel engaged in their plight or personal motivations. Secondary characters rarely get any moments to shine, so it's easy to start tuning the entire thing out in lieu of Dark Descent's far more interesting pieces.

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Story Of Seasons: A Wonderful Life Review - Putting The Past In "Pastoral"

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Much like an axe, sickle, or hoe, nostalgia is a powerful tool. In Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life, it's what leads your farmer to return to Forgotten Valley in hopes of creating a life similar to the idyllic one led by their parents. It's also what led me--clad in my finest, rose-tinted glasses--to revisit A Wonderful Life with its recent remake. As I downloaded this new version of a game I once sunk several hours into for my Nintendo Switch, I reminisced about the first time I played the game two decades ago--the feel of my grandparents' itchy carpet, the satisfying "click" of my purple GameCube closing before it kicked into a soft whir... It was never my favorite Harvest Moon game--that spot was reserved for Back to Nature--but it was one that I found unique and enjoyable.

In some ways, I also feel that way about its 2023 remake. Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life is a very different type of farming simulator in that it's one that focuses more on relationships, family, and legacy than farm work. It's a concept I can get behind, and A Wonderful Life's emphasis on streamlining gameplay and eliminating tedium is a breath of fresh air. However, despite social-sim dynamics being at the forefront of A Wonderful Life, player interactions and the community itself feel shallow. Although the character creation process might be more involved than ever, few NPCs are memorable, dialogue is scarce, and the game's idyllic setting turns eerie quickly due to the town's vacant atmosphere. Yet if I factor out this less-than-wonderful content, not all that much is left, making A Wonderful Life feel dated and empty--especially when compared to other games in the now-highly saturated farming game genre.

The farmer and Takakura find two dogs.
The farmer and Takakura find two dogs.

Like most farming sims, A Wonderful Life begins with a letter--only this time it's sent from your character rather than to you. After growing tired of life in the city, your character pens a letter to your parents' former friend, Takakura, informing him of your intention to come to Forgotten Valley and take over your parents' old farm. Upon your arrival, Takakura offers your farmer a cow, a decent sum of money, and a tutorial that beautifully walks the fine line between overbearing and uninformative, before giving you total control over your character and farm.

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Crash Team Rumble Review - A Fresh Spin

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There are few games that serve as better examples of the industry's changing landscape than Crash Team Rumble (CTR). Once a single-player mascot platformer at the height of the genre's popularity, CTR takes the heroes and villains of Naughty Dog's, and later Activision's, series and reimagines it as a 4v4 multiplayer game with live-service elements. To some, that might sound like a myopic deathblow to a once-proud series. On the contrary, Crash Team Rumble is a fun and surprisingly tactical PvP game, albeit sometimes held back by oft-seen growing pains of games-as-a-service.

In Crash Team Rumble, two teams of four square off in platforming arenas that, at first glance, each look a bit like wide levels from a typical Crash game. Enjoyably, the controls and feel of the game perfectly capture those of traditional Crash games, too, making it an instantly recognizable experience in one's hands.

Though the game has just one mode at launch, it's designed very well. The goal is to score 2,000 wumpa fruit before the rival team does. To do this, players will spin over, slam onto, and slide into crates and loose wumpas all around the arena to collect them. Moving them to a goal area will, after a moment, score them for the team permanently. But the exciting chaos of CTR exists in this in-between space, and often even on the goals themselves.

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AEW: Fight Forever Review - A Midcard Debut

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In 2019, All Elite Wrestling opened its doors and immediately changed the professional wrestling world. For the first time in a long while, a promotion emerged which could rival the longtime king of American pro wrestling, WWE. There have undeniably been some growing pains, but four years later, AEW continues to be a popular alternative option for wrestling fans. Now, the company is trying to do the same in the video game world with AEW: Fight Forever, and much like those first AEW shows, the game is a promising debut effort--but with some noticeable room for improvement.

Fight Forever features 47 wrestlers--a far cry from the 218 wrestlers in WWE 2K23, for comparison--at the start, with more able to be unlocked via the in-game shop with currency earned through playing the game. AEW mainstays like MJF, Kenny Omega, Jon Moxley, Dr. Britt Baker D.M.D., "Hangman" Adam Page, and The Young Bucks are here, as well as a few surprising entries. Some of them are heartwarming tributes to wrestlers who have passed away--like Mr. Brodie Lee and Owen Hart--while others are names who have departed to the competition like Cody Rhodes. There are plenty of names missing--the current AEW Women's Champion Toni Storm, the previous women's champion Jamie Hayter, and two-thirds of the Trios Champion House Of Black, for example--but it does represent most of the top talent currently in the promotion.

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What's cool about Fight Forever's approach to the roster is that everyone is on an even playing field. There are no ratings in Fight Forever; I can pick any matchup I want and have the same chance of winning no matter who I'm controlling. And I do mean "any matchup I want," as intergender matches--which aren't available in WWE's current game series--are completely fine here. The game treats its roster less like a wrestling simulation, with clear divisions and ratings that separate the big stars from the midcard talent, and more like a fighting game where anyone can fight anyone, no questions asked. Being able to book whoever I want in a match, regardless of gender, size, or any other factors, is a really cool approach and I love that Fight Forever opted for it.

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Final Fantasy 16 Review - On Its Own Terms

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Upon first impression, Final Fantasy XVI struck me with its darker and more violent tone than anything in the series' past. It's not just in the graphic depictions of bloody battles or godlike beings crushing each other to a pulp, but also in the explicit narrative threads about persecution and enslavement. It delves into the death and destruction that follows in the wake of all the political drama and supernatural standoffs. The brutality inflicted upon its victims is laid bare at nearly every turn, sometimes to the point of embellishment, to strike the nerves it wants to hit. But there's a thematic coherence to it all that melds what happens to the people at the ground level with the fantastical elements that steer their destinies. And within that harsh exterior, glossed with magic and aether, is a gripping story about characters clinging to their humanity, the bonds that give them strength, and the lengths they'll go to make the world a better place--all told in a way that only Final Fantasy can.

Final Fantasy has always been about reinvention and FFXVI perhaps marks the series' most drastic shift yet. The combat system veers much closer to a Devil May Cry than Final Fantasy XV or VII Remake, and is a shining example of what an action-RPG can be. Eikon battles initially seem to be just explosive set-pieces but grow into meaningful moments that are as narratively driven as they are utterly impressive spectacles. Through the awe-inspiring battles and emotional cutscenes, I found myself repeatedly asking in disbelief, "Did this game just do this?" as the soundtrack's beautiful melodies were seared into my memory. However, those peaks are also met with dated design conventions that stick out like sore thumbs, making for some noticeable lulls in the 50-plus hours I spent with the game. Still, I’ll always remember FFXVI for its powerful and stunning moments, for those are the reasons it stands among the storied franchise's best.

FFXVI is very much about the growth of Clive and the people around him, but story's initial emphasis on the nations and political structures of Valisthea set the stage for everything that follows. Valisthea is a world plagued by environmental decay and war is fueled by the hunger for resources, which in this case, are the crystals. Because they are a catch-all magical resource, those with the inherent ability to wield magic are abused, subjugated, and treated as property; tools to be used and sacrificed in service of their supposed superiors. Thus, liberation and revolution are the narrative throughlines, and FFXVI heavily leans into these themes, using them as a strong foundation to build every facet of the story and its characters.

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