Fort Solis Review - Strife On Mars

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Put a few humans in outer space for a story set in the future and the result always seems to be that nothing will go their way. That's once again the broad strokes of this latest space thriller, Fort Solis, but the intrigue, as ever, is in the details. Developer Fallen Leaf does a good job of hiding the satisfying answers to its central mysteries up to the very end, which makes its story consistently absorbing even as some of its gameplay elements betray its own Hollywood-inspired intentions.

Fort Solis is a third-person adventure game that tells a story reminiscent of Moon and 2001: A Space Odyssey. It's slow, sometimes to a fault, and more concerned with its message and themes than action set-pieces. That doesn't mean it's a low-stakes tale. On the contrary, the secrets tucked away in Fort Solis are existential, but it's expressed through the eyes of a small cast of interesting characters whom you'll get to know over the game's five-hour story.

Fort Solis has AAA aspirations, and it shows quite clearly in a few ways. For one, the game looks gorgeous. Built in Unreal Engine and presenting gameplay in an over-the-shoulder style, it would be easy to mistake this indie for the next big-budget cinematic thriller. That's further solidified by its exceptional cast headlined by Roger Clark and Troy Baker, but the complete cast of about 10 or so people is just as well-written and with great performances to match. Clark's Leary and Julia Brown's Jessica Appleton do well to color in the world in the first hour, including their own characters who would otherwise be amorphous Mars transplants in drab uniforms.

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Immortals Of Aveum Review - Run And Gun

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At first, Immortals of Aveum pleasantly surprised me, putting a lot more stock into its narrative themes of environmentalism than I expected its wartime story to cover. The focus for this first-person shooter, however, is still on blasting baddies, albeit with a variety of bullet-inspired spells instead of traditional firearms. And although all the shooting is exciting for the first half of the game, it becomes increasingly annoying in the latter half when firefights get longer and more frequent. These shoot-outs interrupt the story's momentum by dragging it out, curating an irritating sense of repetitive tedium.

Though you're slinging spells in Immortals, the magic you're casting is more cosmetic flavoring to what is otherwise a fairly traditional military shooter. Red magic unleashes with all the concussive force of a shotgun while green magic slowly ramps with the heated ferocity of a light machine gun and blue magic slices through the air with the precision of a bolt-action rifle. You switch between them at the push of the button, though annoyingly only in a cycle of blue to red to green and back to blue. There's no way to immediately leapfrog to the magic you need.

The lack of a quality-of-life feature as mainstream as a weapon wheel is quite noticeable in Immortals, which sees you frequently switch between your three equipped styles of magic. Not only does each color of magic fire differently, many enemies are armored against all but one color, meaning you need to oftentimes switch to a specific color when focusing on a new target. Early into the game, when you're only fighting a handful of enemies at a time, this drawback isn't that noticeable. But once you get far enough into Immortals' story, you find yourself fighting wave after wave of dozen-odd enemies, each of which requires a specific color of magic to defeat. And having to cycle through the animation of summoning green magic just to have the option to switch to the blue magic I need can be costly in as fast-paced a shooter as Immortals, where enemies hit hard and nimbly move about the battlefield. A carefully lined-up shot may no longer be there by the time you switch to the needed color.

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Madden NFL 24 Review - One Yard Forward, Two Yards Back

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One of my fondest memories as a football fan is Chris Johnson's 2,000-yard season in 2009. As arguably the fastest player the league has ever seen, the running back forever known as CJ2K was a one-man highlight reel, turning would-be six-yard gains into 50+ yard touchdowns all season long. But if you watch those highlights, you'll find a common theme: Titans wideout Kenny Britt was so often downfield blocking, creating vital running lanes through which CJ would weave with his unrivaled quickness. Britt is an unsung hero of CJ's historic season. In Madden 24, it's been great to find players can now enjoy similarly helpful downfield blocking like never before. This fix to the running game is precisely the sort of tangible improvement I hope for with every new Madden game. But examples such as this are overshadowed by a lack of major additions to Madden's suite of features and modes.

That improvement to blocking has been a minor bullet point of EA's marketing in the run-up to release and is known as the Tactical Blocking System, essentially referring to an overhaul of how the AI linemen and other blockers target which defenders to remove from the play. This is easily my favorite new toy in Madden as its changes are apparent and make the ground game, or running after the catch, much more lifelike than before. But the publisher didn't hype up this change as much as others. Instead, EA buried this highlight behind two returning features: minigames and Superstar mode.

In neither case is their return nearly as helpful or interesting as some of the on-field tweaks. In the case of minigames, I find their return to be uneven at best. On one hand, a full Training Camp simulation that gives Franchise players a faster track to player improvements is at least rewarding, but the minigames themselves range from fun and clever to boring and simple. With bronze, silver, and gold medals correlating to XP earned for the player, it's worth playing for the XP attached to those awards, but some of the minigames are much better or worse than others.

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Blasphemous 2 Review - Unholy Pilgrimage

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Whether it's a giant woman willfully letting the Children of Moonlight deglove one of her hands; a bearded man leaking golden honey out of gaping wounds in his palms, face, and back; or a vendor that's simply an arm protruding from a towering pile of goods, developer The Game Kitchen has a knack for creating surreal pixel art imagery. Blasphemous 2 sees the Seville-based studio delve further into Andalusian and Spanish culture, iconography, and folklore to concoct a gothic, quasi-Catholic world that's as gruesome as it is fascinating. Inspired by the religious paintings of Francisco Goya and the architecture of cities like Seville and Cadiz, Blasphemous 2 follows in the footsteps of its predecessor, mixing its unique and harrowing aesthetic with a gameplay amalgam of Metroidvanias and Souls-likes. Where the first game faltered, however, its sequel makes significant improvements, resulting in a thrilling adventure that doesn't run out of steam.

As solid as the original game was, monotony did seep into its latter half due to a lack of variety--with one-dimensional combat limited by a single weapon--and some frustrating platforming. Thankfully, Blasphemous 2 rectifies both of these issues by introducing a robust combat system in tandem with more varied traversal that doesn't rely on an overabundance of spike traps. You'll still encounter the occasional pitfall intended to punish mistimed leaps, but plunging onto a bed of jagged spikes doesn't result in instant death anymore. This is a crucial change since an expanded repertoire of abilities has resulted in more demanding platforming, yet you're unlikely to feel disheartened if you do make a mistake while traversing this labyrinthine world.

When it comes to story, Blasphemous 2 is as obfuscated as its predecessor. Much of its heady lore can be interpreted from dialogue with friendly NPCs and loquacious item descriptions, but if you're anything like me, you'll need an in-depth lore video to fully grasp it all. Nevertheless, the setup is rather simple. Picking up right where Blasphemous' Wounds of Eventide DLC left off, Blasphemous 2 begins with the return of the all-powerful deity known as The Miracle, who is prophesied to give birth to a so-called miracle child. This forces The Penitent One to awaken from his final resting place in order to slay the unholy newborn and every other grotesque monstrosity in his path. Along the way, myriad NPCs will shine a faint light on the mysterious new world the Penitent One finds himself in and its hidden secrets, but only if you choose to seek out these ancillary threads. Much like the inscrutable fables of From Software, you'll only take out as much as you're willing to put in. This style of storytelling isn't for everyone, but even if you can't or aren't willing to comprehend all of its machinations, the tales you do fully engage with are likely to engross.

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Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew Review - Spectacul-arrrr

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Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is an ideal summer movie. The franchise went on to become single-mindedly obsessed with its breakout star, Captain Jack Sparrow, but the first movie was an agile, lightly spooky swashbuckling adventure. Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew shares that movie's spirit of goofy haunted slapstick with a heart and real dramatic stakes, and blends it with an expertly crafted stealth-strategy campaign. It all comes together into one of my favorite games of the year.

Shadow Gambit centers around the Red Marley, a living, talking ghost ship with an undead crew who have fallen to the Inquisition of the Burning Maiden. You play primarily as Afia, as she revives the cursed compatriots one by one and gathers information on the hidden treasure of the Red Marley's captain, Captain Mordechai, who is conspicuously absent. The search for Mordechai's treasure is an intriguing hook that propels the plot forward and balances well against the often eccentric subplots of the individual characters.

The crew is distinctly drawn with one-of-a-kind visual attributes and backgrounds that makes discovering each team member a joy. Afia is permanently seen with a spectral sword sticking out of her chest, which she draws to eliminate enemies. Suleidy looks as if she's been partially consumed by plant-life. Pinkus is a fancy lad in a powdered wig, while Quintin the treasurer carries around his own golden skull. For a game about the undead, the personalities are just crackling with life and personality.

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