EA Sports FC 24 Review - New Name, Same Game

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Aside from the new name and logo being emblazoned on almost every menu screen in sight, you'd be hard-pressed to distinguish EA Sports FC 24 from the latest FIFA game. In short, EA's latest football sim introduces a number of subtle improvements to its on-pitch action while sprinkling in some incremental additions to long-standing game modes like Ultimate Team and Career. It still offers an exciting, albeit familiar, game of back-and-forth football, but the demanding yearly release schedule isn't doing the series any favors. Even with the fancy new rebrand, EA FC is an expected follow-up to FIFA 23, offering a slight evolution rather than anything revelatory.

As is often the case from one game to the next, the pace of play in EA FC 24 feels a tad slower compared to last year. If history repeats itself, this is likely to change in the coming weeks--particularly once superpowered cards are more prevalent in Ultimate Team--but creating openings via slick passing moves is currently the best way to break down a stubborn defense. It helps that player movement is ultra-responsive, to the point where it's possible to wiggle out of danger without needing to utilize the game's agile dribbling mechanic. This is easier to do with a diminutive and agile player as opposed to someone like cover star Erling Haaland, but he excels in other areas, often bulldozing right through defenses. Either way, the movement of players--and their noticeable differences--looks much smoother than in the past; the connective animations between disparate movements flow together seamlessly. EA adds a deluge of new animations every year, but those in EA FC 24 lend the game a more natural look and feel that's immediately palpable in the way you move across the pitch.

Unfortunately, other areas of the game remain unchanged, much to the game's detriment. Goalkeepers occasionally try to save shots by diving sideways into the goal, which usually results in them either punching the ball into their own net or letting it sail over their heads. Passes will sometimes veer wildly off target, and defending can be frustrating when successful tackles regularly bounce back to attackers, especially when it puts them in a much more advantageous position than they were in before. It doesn't help that off-the-ball AI still has trouble tracking runs, and referees are wildly inconsistent in regards to what is and isn't a foul. I've already encountered a few baffling red-card decisions--although one could argue this is sadly authentic. The removal of driven lobbed-through passes also takes some getting used to, but this seems to have been done in service of EA FC 24's new PlayStyles mechanic.

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Detective Pikachu Returns Review - Soft-Boiled

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Pokemon has flourished as a series in part because it crosses generations. The main series of creature-collecting RPGs and popular TCG are simple enough for children just starting to learn about role-playing-game mechanics, but with enough complexity and depth to support a flourishing competitive scene for adults. Pokemon's spin-offs, on the other hand, are usually more narrowly targeted, and that's the case for Detective Pikachu Returns. The narrative-heavy adventure game certainly has its charms, but it's so gentle and simplistic that only younger pocket monster fans need apply.

Like the first Detective Pikachu, you play primarily as Tim Goodman, the college-aged son of renowned detective Harry Goodman, who has gone missing since before the first game. You're accompanied by Harry's partner, a Pikachu in a deerstalker cap who considers himself a great detective. Tim is the only human who can communicate with Pikachu, and while neither of them are officially part of any police force, they find themselves embroiled in investigations surrounding strange happenings in Ryme City. And naturally, Tim is still searching for answers about what happened to his father.

In classic adventure-game style, most of your investigations revolve around searching around environments for evidence, talking to witnesses, and ultimately reaching a conclusion based on what you found. The crimes here are relatively low-stakes and child-friendly--a jewel heist, wrongful arrests of innocent Pokemon, and so on. For a series that has built its name on battling, there's shockingly little violence between Pokemon themselves. If two Pokemon are coming to blows, or even threatening to do so, it's treated like an emergency. That's because in Ryme City, Pokemon are treated like fellow citizens, and the city prides itself on peaceful coexistence between humans and the creatures.

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Assassin's Creed Mirage Review - Back To Basics

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Back in 2020 when I reviewed Assassin's Creed Valhalla, I talked about how much that game's story had a real sense of finality to it, bringing together and concluding dozens of narrative threads from across the franchise. Although it serves as somewhat of a prequel for Valhalla, Assassin's Creed Mirage doesn't push the series' story in new directions, opting instead for a narrative that is heavily dependent on you already knowing Basim's story in Valhalla. Mirage does get back to the basics that first defined the series by refocusing on social stealth and making it fun to learn about a city's history, but a weak cast of characters keeps it from reaching the same heights as some of its earliest predecessors.

Ubisoft Bordeaux's vision of ninth-century Baghdad stands out as the most compelling part of Mirage. While I can't speak to its authenticity, Baghdad's colorful, multi-layered architecture creates a playground of possibilities, offering numerous avenues for navigating the city, sneaking past guards, and reaching your objective. Freerunning is intuitive, though occasionally clumsy in its design, with Basim sometimes getting snagged on corners or leaping off rooftops in a way I didn't intend. These mishaps are thankfully not very common, allowing you to focus on strategizing how you want to get from one building to the next.

But most of all, Baghdad feels alive in its history, incorporating pinnacles of the city--like the House of Wisdom--into main story missions and highlighting every discovery and fresh face with new pages in an expansive codex that details the history, culture, and importance of the setting. In the earliest days of the franchise, Assassin's Creed helped me pass my History classes by making European history fun to learn about, and Mirage does the same here for Baghdad, highlighting the golden age of a city and culture not often touched on in world history and certainly not in modern media.

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Forza Motorsport Review-in-Progress - Hitting The Apex

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Forza Motorsport is nearly as old as the Xbox brand itself, but it's had a surprisingly extended absence since its last entry in 2017. In its place, the less simulation-focused, open-world Forza Horizon series has flourished, despite not offering the technical track racing that the core series of the franchise once excelled in delivering. Forza Motorsport is a reset of sorts for the series, with the time away from the track used to refine its scintillating racing and fine-tune its progression system. The result is a streamlined simulation racer that puts all of its focus toward on-track action, delivering one of the most exhilarating racing experiences you can find on any platform.

Forza Motorsport wastes no time getting you on the track, throwing you behind the wheel of its cover car, the 2024 Corvette E-Ray, on the tarmac of the Maple Valley Raceway, a throwback to the series' oldest fictional track. This short showcase, somewhat similar in presentation (but not tone) to the openings found in Forza Horizon, makes it immediately clear how much work has been put into Forza Motorsport's visuals. The golden sunset lighting and autumnal colors around the track contrast beautifully against the glinting blue metal of the roaring hypercar at your fingertips, with the subsequent race at a cherry-blossom-laden track in Japan showcasing gorgeous nighttime lighting as dozens of polished liveries careen around corners. Each one of Forza Motorsport's faithfully recreated cars is a treat to behold when out on the track, while equally standing up to scrutiny when you take the time to investigate their intricately recreated interiors. If you obsess over the finer details of exceptional automotive engineering, Forza Motorsport raises the bar for what you will now expect from other games in this genre.

Both in the showroom and on the track, Forza Motorsport is accentuated by an attractive implementation of ray tracing, which is even featured in one of the game's performance modes to mitigate any feelings of compromise to enjoy the game looking its finest. While it's difficult to appreciate accurate reflections at breakneck speeds, the collective effect helps to ground each car to the track in a way that makes previous iterations seem a bit strange by comparison. It's not a faultless implementation--there were numerous instances in rain-soaked conditions where reflections would routinely break when ray tracing was enabled--but there's no question it's a transformative change that elevates Forza Motorsport's presentation to new visually pleasing heights.

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Cocoon Review - A Bug's Strife

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I've always been equal parts fascinated and terrified by bugs. These seemingly contradictory sentiments most likely stem from them being a bit contradictory themselves. They are everywhere yet feel foreign, vital to our world's operations yet seemingly insignificant, and small yet capable of improbable feats, whether that be carrying objects 50 times their weight or rendering homes inhospitable. They are disarmingly complex creatures--and it makes them the perfect subject for a game just as intricate as they are.

Cocoon, the debut game from Geometric Interactive, is a surreal and intimate puzzle game that is also beautifully complex. Considering the pedigree of its gameplay designer--Jeppe Carlsen of Limbo and Inside fame--perhaps this shouldn't be too surprising, but it didn't stop me from continuously being in awe of just how tight and intelligent the overall experience was. This, paired with fantastic sound design and art, both synthetic and organic--lush yet scarce--makes for a memorable experience.

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Cocoon sees you take on the role of a cicada-like creature moments after it emerges from a womb of petals. Without fanfare, exposition, or any guidance, this creature is thrust into an orange, arid, and largely desolate world. There are few enemies to be found in Cocoon, to be sure, but all of them are relegated to closed off arenas, where you must use quick thinking and evasion to get the best of them. While some of these boss battles are incredibly engaging (and others, not quite as much), combat is not the focus in Cocoon--it's exploration.

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