Pokemon Scarlet And Violet - The Hidden Treasure Of Area Zero Review In Progress

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Editor's Note: Pokemon Scarlet and Violet's expansion comes in two parts and can't be purchased individually. Because of this, we've decided to share our impressions of Part One and will update it with a full review of The Hidden Treasure of Area Zero when both parts are available. The score attached to this review is subject to change based on this.

The fan reception to Scarlet and Violet's launch varied wildly within the community. Every Pokemon fan seems to know what's best for the series, and they were happy to share their opinions on Scarlet and Violet with anyone who would listen. Some fans decried the bugs, the struggling frame rate, and other technical problems, while others appreciated the new mechanics, open world, and story enough to make peace with these issues. Whichever side you fell on, the community was split as always.

However, the further we get away from release, the more the community cools off. And those who've stuck around for the long-term, namely competitive players, have dug their claws deep into the meta. This is where Pokemon is at its best, and The Teal Mask bolsters that side of the series through new and returning Pokemon, more TMs and moves, and some welcome quality-of-life changes. This is all wrapped up in a rich new region with a heartfelt story. While The Teal Mask doesn't do much to address Scarlet and Violet's poor technical performance, its changes and additions offer an exciting first part in a larger expansion.

The Teal Mask is billed as a class field trip. A handful of students are randomly selected to study abroad in a new rural Japan-inspired region called Kitakami. Your character is among the lucky few, and you're whisked away to the countryside. It's a punchy introduction that gets you to the new area quickly and has you catching new and returning Pokemon right away.

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NBA 2K24 Review - Breaking Ankles, Breaking Banks

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Some sports game franchises often have their problems attributed to a lack of competition in their respective genres. Fans will proclaim that certain sports sim series would be better if only they were up against a similar product when players went looking to buy one. NBA 2K hasn't had a consistent competitor for most of the last decade, and it's been a reliably fun simulation of basketball regardless. That is still largely the case in NBA 2K24, but the eminently enjoyable on-court sim is hampered more than ever by the game's pay-to-win economy.

In NBA 2K24, the mainstays of MyCareer, MyTeam, and MyNBA return, and even last year's Jordan Challenge gets a pseudo-sequel in Mamba Moments, shifting the spotlight from the GOAT to Lakers legend Kobe Bryant. But Mamba Moments winds up emblematic of some of 2K24's issues: It's noticeably less interesting and less involved than that which came before it. Maybe some of that is owed to the fact that Bryant's career achievements can't quite stack up to Jordan's, so the figurative ceiling for a mode that lets you recreate some of his greatest career moments isn't going to be nearly as mesmerizing.

Mamba Moments is a fun addition to the game, but it can't stack up to last year's Jordan Challenge.
Mamba Moments is a fun addition to the game, but it can't stack up to last year's Jordan Challenge.

But even then, Mamba Moments lacks some of the attention and care this studio normally pours into its new toys. Unlike Jordan Challenge, Mamba Moments doesn't feature interview segments with players, coaches, and broadcasters who were pivotal to each chapter of the Jordan Challenge's story. Bryant's legacy mode doesn't get the same documentary-style treatment, and only about half as many games--seven--are playable this time. That makes it a shorter and less robust mode, though other fun details like era-appropriate presentation and well-researched in-game commentary remain. I was impressed when the color commentators started talking about a travel delay the Lakers suffered due to inclement weather some 20 years ago. As ever, this studio has done its homework, and it shows.

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Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty Review - The Songbird Sings

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The appeal of Night City was in its impressive scope and dazzling visuals, which painted a bleak neon-lit future dictated by technological exploitation and unfettered capitalism. Within that were tragic, human stories to pull at your heartstrings and a whole lot of violent action often perpetuated by its gameplay systems. But what if you took the best parts of Cyberpunk 2077 and condensed them into a tight, cohesive package for a heart-wrenching political action thriller? That's what Phantom Liberty does in an expansion that seamlessly fits into the original game.

Phantom Liberty showcases the full potential of Cyberpunk 2077 with a new, captivating story about the faults of loyalty, reckoning with your past and its consequences, and self-preservation in a tech-fueled dystopia. These are familiar themes, for sure, but Phantom Liberty is intimate, raw, and earnest--all told through the lens of a strong cast of characters elevated by poignant writing and delivered through sharp performances. It's able to execute on these narrative ambitions because, more often than not, the missions that drive the plot feature top-tier action set pieces that let the revamped RPG mechanics sing, then break the pace with a variety of tense and well-crafted non-combat scenarios, which gives the experience a constant and steady momentum.

More than anything, Phantom Liberty goes above and beyond with not one, but two finales that are wildly different yet equally stunning--hell, you could even argue it's three when counting the added ending for the original story. It's a fantastic mix of nearly everything you could ask of Cyberpunk. And after taking 30 hours to experience all of its content--both main story routes, the new ending, all the side missions and gigs, and more--I can't imagine Cyberpunk 2077 without Phantom Liberty.

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Mortal Kombat 1 Review - New Era, Familiar Kombat

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NetherRealm Studios had a tall order to fill with Mortal Kombat 1. As the game is positioned as the franchise's second lore restart in 12 years, the team had to find ways to make this new era of Mortal Kombat feel as fresh and new as the storyline demanded, all while maintaining the high bar of quality the fanbase has come to expect over the series' 30-year lifespan. Mortal Kombat 1 mostly accomplishes this goal through fun new mechanics and an unpredictable storyline, but the overall package lacks the depth needed to make this a masterpiece.

Mortal Kombat 1 picks up right where MK11 Aftermath left off, with Liu Kang ascending to godhood. As the Keeper Of Time, he is able to create a new universe as he sees fit, and his creation puts familiar faces on new and interesting paths. Raiden, for instance, is no longer the all-powerful Thunder God; instead, he is a simple farmer from a small village. Every character sees some kind of fundamental change, though some are less noticeable than others.

This results in a playable roster that features only returning characters from the series' past; there's not a single brand-new fighter to be seen. However, because of the game's narrative focus, each character feels like they're new--or at the very least has some new elements to their style--which creates the sense of discovery normally reserved for brand-new faces. MK1 takes existing names and reinvents them and it's a novel idea that works really well across the majority of the characters, though some don't feel as revolutionary as they could have.

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Lies Of P Review - No Strings Attached

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There's no shortage of Souls-likes vying for our attention, but only one can claim to put a dark and twisted spin on the everlasting story of Pinocchio. Developed by South Korean studio Neowiz Games, Lies of P presents a very loose retelling of Italian author Carlo Collodi's 1883 novel The Adventures of Pinocchio. This grim reimagining, combined with a striking Belle Epoque-infused setting, ensures that Lies of P's aesthetic stands apart from other Souls-likes, including From Software's own. Bloodborne is still a clear inspiration, as its tonal atmosphere and combat design call to mind the cosmic horror masterpiece, leading to it feeling overly derivative at times. Still, Neowiz also implements just enough originality for Lies of P to eke out its own identity, even if it's as thin as a puppet string.

The story sees you take on the role of P, a lifelike puppet who wakes up amidst the carnage of a puppet-led invasion of the fictional city of Krat. If you're familiar with Pinocchio, you'll likely recognize character names such as the puppet-maker Geppetto and the talking cricket Gemini. Their names are usually where the similarities end, however--either in relation to the book or any Disney-produced retellings. For one, Gemini isn't an anthropomorphic insect but rather a tiny puppet caged in a lantern on P's belt, acting as both a guide and source of light. Similarly, characters like the Fox, Cat, and Alidoro are reimagined as common criminals and thieves, who don their respective animal masks in order to achieve both anonymity and infamy.

It's this unique take on a familiar tale that makes Lies of P such an intriguing proposition, so it's hard not to feel disappointed when the story doesn't kick into gear until close to its final act. For the most part, you're tasked with visiting various locations where you'll need to either rescue someone or defeat a specific enemy before returning to the game's central hub. Without an overarching goal to propel you forward, it feels unfocused and only attains a sense of momentum in its final few hours once the antagonist reveals themself. There's very little to latch onto before this point, outside of a curiosity to see where the narrative could potentially go. It's not a case where the game is holding back and being intentionally opaque either. The story is predominantly told via expositional dumps and there's little sense of mystery as a result. There are interesting moments dotted throughout but they're fleeting, and I don't think it's too harsh to expect more considering the source material.

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