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NEWS (LAST 200)
UK inflation jumps unexpectedly to hit 6...
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The flickering beacon: The Trump adminis...
Prince William and Kate to attend Prince...
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Dignity SAs Sean Davison arrested for mu...
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Help, in time: Saving distressed New Yor...
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Kim Jong Un, Moon Jae-in sign agreement ...
Qatar Airways reports $69m loss amid Gul...
‘Brazil’s Trump’ lea...
Business freezes for Kabul ice-cream car...
India: Triple talaq or instant divorce n...
Turkey lowers requirements for citizensh...
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Multiple 111 calls for Western Bay of Pl...
Womens suffrage dinner unites past, pres...
North Koreas Kim Jong Un Says He Will Vi...
Japan exports rise on growing U.S.-bound...
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Victoria Derbyshire
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Michael Phelps demands more help for for...
Meteors centering on excellence start to...
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Europes solutions to migration create hu...
China-US trade war: What happens next?...
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Details emerge in deeply troubling murde...
Bert and Ernie are gay, writer says. Ses...
Why Angela Merkel sacked her spy chief...
Step closer to new law that would automa...
Trump to visit North Carolina as waterwa...
New EU terms still mean unacceptable Iri...
Turkey jails 24 Istanbul airport workers...
EU top court rules UK can request extrad...
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Police launch new murder investigation a...
Albert Drydens prison letters reveal pla...
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Theresa May says EU proposals on Irish b...
Final Say: Alastair Campbell to answer q...
Storm Ali blows caravan off a cliff &apo...
Los Angeles is banning the sale of anima...
Kim Jong-un agrees to allow internationa...
Donald Trump erodes Social Security and ...
Putting Nigerias rainmakers to the test...
Wilf Mbanga: Zimbabwes enemy of the peop...
North Korea agrees to shut missile site,...
In Real Life: Smelly bibs & wishing you ...
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Bacteria disrupts Northern Ireland breas...
NI newspaper review: DUP-influenced rain...
Ex-Dragons Den judge Peter Casey to stan...
Pro14: Ulster wait on fitness of Cooney ...
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China denies meddling in US mid-term ele...
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Pedestrians `mown down´ by car in `anti...
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Scientists hopeful of finding the Endeav...
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REVIEWS & PREVIEWS (LAST 60)
Ducks beaten in first exhibition
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California sues maker of Humira, says sa...
Saga of truck filled with bodies of homi...
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Rock on in Holland Americas new Rolling ...
The Rolling Paper
Marijuana industry fights stoner, pot an...
UCLAs Chip Kelly has little to say about...
Business improvement districts are anti-...
Dutch taxidermy duo Jaap Sinke and Ferry...
Trump says he feels terribly for Kavanau...
Buying Guide: The best cameras for peopl...
Buying Guide: The best cameras for video...
Buying Guide: The best cameras over $200...
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Sony Alpha a7R III Review
LG V30 Review
Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II Review...
Buying Guide: The best cameras for sport...
Buying Guide: The best cameras under $15...
NBA 2K19 Review - Another Year, Another ...
428: Shibuya Scramble Review - When Fate...
Lamplight City Review - Cold Case
Nintendo Labo Vehicle Kit Review: The Mo...
Frozen Synapse 2 Review - Cool-Headed...
NHL 19 Review - A Barnburner
Undertale Review - Nintendo Switch Updat...
Zone Of The Enders: The 2nd Runner - MAR...
Wasteland 2: Directors Cut Nintendo Swit...
Destiny 2: Forsaken Review In Progress -...
Buying Guide: The best drones
Buying Guide: The best cameras under $20...
Buying Guide: The best cameras under $10...
Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III Review...
Rylo Camera Review
Domke F6 Little Bit Smaller shoulder bag...
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VI Review...
Review: Palette modular photo editing sy...
Fujifilm X-T100 Review
Wandrd Prvke 21L Backpack
LG G7 ThinQ review
Hasselblad X1D-50c Review
Panasonic Lumix DC-GX9 Review
Panasonic Lumix DC-LX100 II First impres...
Nikon Z7 First Impressions Review
Buying Guide: The best waterproof camera...
Peak Design Capture Clip V3
Google Pixel 2 Review
Fujifilm X-H1 Review
Alien Skin Exposure X3 review
Review: The Petzi Treat Cam
Canon EOS M50 Review
Sony Alpha a7 III Review
Hex Raven DSLR Bag Review
Pentax K-1 Mark II Review
Panasonic Lumix DC-ZS200 (Lumix DC-TZ200...
Rhake waterproof backpack


The Ducks lost their preseason opener at San Jose on Tuesday night as the Sharks scored twice in the final two minutes for a 4-1 victory.

The Ducks took a 1-0 lead on Anton Rodin’s goal at 4:29 of the second period, but that was all the offense Anaheim could muster.

Jared Coreau and Kevin Boyle...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 18 Sep 2018 22:40:00 PDT )

Mauricio Bautista was eating a McChicken sandwich to the sound of jazz music at McDonald’s when more than 100 women stormed in with banners, bullhorns and red and yellow fliers, shouting “Keep your burgers, keep your fries, we don’t need your sexist lies.”

It was a dose of harsh #MeToo reality...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 18 Sep 2018 15:35:00 PDT )

California’s insurance regulator has accused pharmaceutical giant AbbVie of using kickbacks and other illegal practices to boost sales of Humira, one of the best-selling prescription drugs in the world.

Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones on Tuesday sued the company in Alameda County, alleging that...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 18 Sep 2018 15:55:00 PDT )

In Mexico, officials and citizens routinely announce the discoveries of clandestine graves baring skeletal remains from the gang violence that has convulsed the country for years.

The official count of the “disappeared” nationwide exceeds 30,000, and relatives of the legions of missing call that...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 18 Sep 2018 16:00:00 PDT )

At 10 years and counting, the Palazzo has unveiled a renovation that updates its casino floor and suites.

The remodeling project has been underway for the last two years at the all-suite Palazzo, part of a large hotel, casino and convention complex on the Vegas Strip that includes the adjoining...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 18 Sep 2018 14:35:00 PDT )

The U.S. Department of Labor said logistics firm California Cartage Co. will pay $3.5 million to nearly 1,500 warehouse workers, after investigators found the Long Beach company failed to pay wages and benefits required under federal law.

The penalty, announced last week, covers employees who from...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 18 Sep 2018 14:40:00 PDT )

Rock out with Rolling Stone magazine and the Holland America Line in a new club that will debut on the cruise company's Konigsdam and Nieuw Statendam when it joins the fleet in December.

The Rolling Stone Rock Room, a classic rock club developed by Holland America in partnership with Rolling Stone...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 18 Sep 2018 14:36:00 PDT )

In a scathing review of the state’s proliferating business improvement districts, a student project released Tuesday by the UC Berkeley law school accuses the nonprofit groups of systematically abusing homeless people.

The report by the Policy Advocacy Clinic at UC Berkeley School of Law alleges...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 18 Sep 2018 11:40:00 PDT )
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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 18 Sep 2018 13:40:15 PDT )
Dutch taxidermists Jaap Sinke and Ferry van Tongeren are favorites of interior designers and British artist Damien Hirst, who in 2015 bought the pair's then-entire collection. Their tome "Our First Book" comes out this month. Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 18 Sep 2018 11:45:00 PDT )

UCLA coach Chip Kelly said Tuesday that he had no response to being disparaged on Twitter by the father of his starting quarterback.

Michael Robinson, the father of Bruins quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, wrote Sunday that the team suffered from “lousy coaching and play calling,” described...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 18 Sep 2018 13:45:00 PDT )
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Source: Depreview - All Reviews & Previews (Mon, 30 Jul 2018 13:00:00 Z)
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Source: Depreview - All Reviews & Previews (Thu, 04 Jan 2018 14:00:00 Z)
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Source: Depreview - All Reviews & Previews (Fri, 24 Nov 2017 14:00:00 Z)

Update 2: After hitting a bit of a roadblock the faulty challenge reset, I've worked my way to 530 power, completing the Blind Well and Ascendant Challenge in the Dreaming City (as well as the Nightfall and other weekly challenges). After this week's reset, I should be able to try the Raid. Look for my impressions of the late-game activities in the final review later this week. -- Kallie Plagge, 9/17/18

Update 1: Due to known issues with Forsaken at launch--specifically a faulty weekly challenge reset--my progress in Destiny 2 has been stalled. I still have not had a chance to pursue late game activities. Depending on what the fix is and when it comes, I may not be at a high enough power level for the Raid on Friday, which means the final review may be delayed. The original review in progress is below, covering the story content and other side activities I have had access to. --Kallie Plagge, 9/10/18

A year after Destiny 2's launch, its third expansion, Forsaken, is now live. I've played around 12 hours so far, completing the story missions, trying the new Strikes, and messing around in the new Gambit mode. Like with the base game--and unlike with the previous two expansions, Curse of Osiris and Warmind--there's a lot to sink your teeth into in Forsaken at launch. Stay tuned for updates as we go and the final review once the Raid drops.

If you played the last two expansions, you shouldn't have too much trouble coming back in. I started the Forsaken campaign at 337 power and was able to fight my way up to over 460 by the end of it, helped along by grinding Heroic Strikes and Gambit matches. As usual, the solo grind is the toughest, while Fireteams of two or three can run the story missions cooperatively to speed up the process (even if you're all underleveled). For newcomers, you'll be able to auto-level one character and start the Forsaken campaign right away, though you have to own all the previous content to actually play.

Forsaken isn't necessarily the best entry point for new players, though, mostly because you won't care about the story at all if you don't know who Cayde-6 is. His death is the catalyst for your whole journey, and the goal this time isn't saving the world; it's revenge. But if you do like him at all, it's Destiny 2's most engaging story yet. The crux of the campaign is hunting the eight Barons, powerful boss-like enemies from the new Scorn race, who helped kill Cayde. The Fallen hate the Scorn, too, which puts you in a shady partnership with a mob boss of an alien named Spider who can help you track them down (for a price). The darker motive is refreshing after taking on the objectively, obviously evil Red Legion in the base game, and the boss-focused structure cuts down on the busy work that plagues other Destiny 2 campaigns.

Each of the Barons has their own style and traits, with some being more memorable than others. The Rider is, unsurprisingly, a big vehicle fan, and you spend most of that mission and fight zipping around an open-ish area on a Pike instead of locked in an arena. The Trickster's level is rife with bombs that look like engrams and a lot of creepily playful taunting. A few of the Baron missions follow the more traditional Destiny level structure, with minions to mow down until you reach the boss room. Altogether, it's an interesting and rewarding campaign--it has both variety and an overall sense of cohesion, and each step feels significant in building toward the conclusion.

The new Scorn enemies are a welcome addition, too, and feel distinct from the other enemy types. They generally move quickly and can overwhelm you if you're not careful; one crab-like type scuttles around and explodes upon dying, while another charges you with a flaming mace-like weapon and is very intimidating up close. You don't have to change up your approach too much, but learning to fight them--finding their critical points and figuring out how to maneuver around swarms of them--further sets Forsaken's missions apart.

Though we haven't had too much time to dive into Forsaken's new weapons and gear, the new weapons system, which launched just ahead of the expansion, can force you to try new things. The cost of infusion is higher than before, so if you're trying to go as quickly as possible to get Raid-ready, you'll have to give up your old exotics and legendaries for basic gear that drops at the new, higher power levels. The standout addition is the combat bow; it's surprisingly powerful, versatile, and very fun to use. You can shoot accurately from impressively long distances if you hold down the trigger, and you can do decent rapid-fire damage up close, helping the new weapon type hold its own among flashier space guns.

New Strikes are always welcome for those who are tired of running the same ones, but the Forsaken Strikes (including the PS4 exclusive) aren't terribly different from any other Strike--you kill a bunch of mid-tier enemies and then fight a boss. Like in Destiny 2 as a whole, Strikes become more interesting with Nightfall modifiers that increase the teamwork necessary for success.

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The better side activity is the new Gambit mode. It's largely cooperative PvE with the occasional PvP twist; you're split into two teams in mostly separate maps, racing to collect and bank a certain number of motes from fallen enemies, and if conditions are right, one team member can "invade" the other team's map to screw with their progress. I still have to play it more to see if it can really keep my interest, but it's a creative combination of elements that are usually kept separate in Destiny 2.

After being let down by Curse of Osiris and Warmind, I'm enjoying Destiny 2 again. The biggest question right now is how long that will last, but there's plenty to keep me occupied before the Raid drops.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Mon, 17 Sep 2018 17:37:00 -0700)

One of the most beautiful facets of Wasteland 2 is its wistful, austere writing. Taking lots of inspiration from tabletop RPGs, Wasteland 2 masterfully brings the best bits of open-ended roleplaying games to the digital realm, bringing the genre's hallmark nuanced scenarios, deep roleplaying, and rich, atmospheric description along. Several years after its release, it's coming to Switch, and even now it's among the best in the recent roleplaying crop.

The Director's Cut, an updated release that was a free upgrade for most console players, is the edition getting the Switch treatment. There are thousands of lines of added spoken dialogue, but the text still does most of the heavy lifting. The bigger additions are the smoother graphical presentation as well as having more minutiae with which to customize your characters. Perks and Quirks, for instance, give you the option to swap a boon for some persistent disadvantage. While that sounds counterintuitive in a video game, it pays dividends in the actual role-playing: It gives you the ability to further refine your squad and encourage yourself to think a bit outside the box as you work around the traits. For some, that might be a turn-off, but Wasteland 2 embraces it.

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You are, from the start, invited to craft your own troop of folks with whom you will travel the wastes. You can (and probably should) come up with your own backstories and use those to build out your squad. You don't have to, of course, but having a written paragraph or two, as well as hand-crafted motivations, Wasteland suggests, will help tie you to the world and your team of avatars. And damned if it isn't dead-on. While Wasteland 2 definitely offers up a decent chunk of narrative assistance for those who want to keep things simple, this is an adventure that pleads for you to give your all and is willing to reward the effort.

As you might suspect, your squad's goal is to survive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. And, as is so often the case, it's obvious that the end of civilization came in the nuclear flavor. Soon after the opening, your crew joins up with the Desert Rangers, one of the only semblances of civilization that has emerged from the chaos.

Your group struggles alongside the people you encounter, and you can be assured that their lives are exactly as dour as they seem. By giving the people you encounter such depth--which, admittedly, still can often descend into cartoonishly exaggerated moral extremes--it can be a genuine struggle to be cruel. Still, kindness isn't the panacea you'd perhaps hope.

One moment stood out to me when I first played Wasteland 2, and it's just as haunting today. As I wrote in my original review: "One particularly tough scene had me slowly watching a woman die as she begged my squad to put her out of her misery. Trying to show an ounce of mercy in an otherwise cold and macabre place, I agreed. A child saw me and ran to tell his family--another group I had agreed to help by finding their stolen pigs. They were terrified of me, and left their home without food and water. They probably died."

Those consequences are made all the richer by your investment and your choice to engage with what the game has to offer. There is an unusually broad number of solutions to just about any problem, and it's often better to examine as many possible angles as you can before acting. Still, there's an anarchic resignation that underpins everything. No matter how you act, you'll often cause collateral damage. That posits a rather severe world, but then again, this is a hypothetical where people really did poison the planet and vaporize one another.

The fuzziness of it all tests your characters, too. And they can (and should) be rewritten as you go. Wasteland 2 doesn't just hit you with these conditions to wear you down, but to see how your characters respond. This is trying, it is exhausting emotionally for your crew. How do they handle that? Will their spark of optimism be ground away by the relentless struggle, or will it live on? More importantly, why?

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The breadth of options to approach any given scenario or various other challenges is vital to backing that up. While the game has been touted as one where you can kill absolutely everyone, that really isn't wise and is a self-indulgent waste. In much the same way, it is possible, however unlikely, to make it through just about all of the game without killing people. That's less exciting for many, but it highlights the real point. The array of choices you can make are a means to an end--how would your character respond to this grim world?

To that end, combat is also remarkably diverse. In much the same way that your team can flex to meet the needs you encounter, combat, too has a lot of different ways to approach problems. At its most basic, when you shift into fights, you'll be arranged into a turn order and you proceed maneuvering through the area until all hostiles have been dealt with. Non-lethal options exist, but many of your foes are mutants, robots, and other rough-and-tumble, battle-hardened mercenaries. Maintaining control of the field against enemies willing to pull out high-yield explosives is a challenge, to say the least.

But that also hints at the relevant outcomes from the fight. Wasteland 2 is an RPG first, and your battles will have narrative consequences. As a result, your goals are often a little more refined than "blow it all up." And those going that route will be hard-pressed to care for the members of their team, who are just as vulnerable to the searing hot shrapnel from a stray grenade as your target is--so what you have is an array of options that are constrained by practical considerations.

Wasteland 2 seamlessly translates the myriad diplomatic and social options into a wide set of combat styles and approaches.

How much collateral damage are you okay accepting? How much risk are you willing to accept? When your crew starts bleeding out, will you run a medic over to patch them up, putting both at risk, or press the offensive? These options also have their own contexts within the narrative. How you use your party's skills to address puzzles and challenges in the main arc will have a big effect on if and when someone comes after waggling their creaky, rusted rifles.

Wasteland 2 seamlessly translates the myriad diplomatic and social options into a wide set of combat styles and approaches. Once again, more investment in the weapons your team carries and uses yields dividends. Having a few different types of weapons and the ability to support each, as well as an understanding of how to use them, allows your group to tackle just about any problem--regardless of whether they marched into or couldn't talk their way out of it.

In fact, the only substantive complaints are longer-than-comfortable loading times and the lack of extensive touchscreen support for the Switch edition. Given that much of the combat is tactical, and that a touchscreen works as a damned fine substitute for a mouse, the feature is an apparent omission that prevents the Switch version from being the best yet.

Wasteland 2 is still a very special outing. If you haven't spent your time in this irradiated desert just yet, this is one of the best times to do so--especially since the portability of the Switch reissue lets you take the journey on long treks of your own, or as a dense RPG to curl and nestle in with, as you might with an excellent book. On such a screen, the interpersonal dramas feel a bit more intimate, the tension of sneaking your way pay this or that NPC a bit more tangible. Plus, in the Switch's handheld mode, the rather dated-looking visuals aren't so grating. All-told it's a phenomenal port and still one of the better RPGs in recent years.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Mon, 17 Sep 2018 17:27:00 -0700)

Zone of the Enders got a bit of a bum rap as a series overall, being more famous as the game that came with the Metal Gear Solid 2 demo than anything else. Those with the patience, however, would discover one of the most distinct mech games of the day, with more than a heaping dollop of trademark Hideo Kojima madness therein. The 2nd Runner is an improvement on the original in many ways, to be certain, but held against modern standards, Zone of the Enders comes off awful rusty.

There is a story, but it's nigh incomprehensible, even with the caveat that Kojima's fingerprints are all over it. Having prior knowledge of the original doesn't help much either. Basically, two years after the events of the original Zone of the Enders, a miner named Dingo Egret on one of Jupiter's moons finds the frame-mech hero, Jehuty, buried beneath the surface. When the evil army BAHRAM nearly kills Dingo trying to retrieve the armor again, Jehuty is forced by a rebel spy to join with Dingo, keeping him alive using the mech's life support until they complete their mission of blasting the army straight to hell.

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Ideally, you'd be able to simply barrel past the story and get to what's good, which is the mech combat, but The 2nd Runner's pacing stutters along. Every stride the game hits is interrupted to deliver more nonsensical ranting on unstoppable power, duty, and the nature of war. Soured even further by English voiceovers that are one step removed from Symphony of the Night-level broad theatrics, the story is a irritating rash all over what should be a fairly straightforward mech combat experience.

Simplicity, really, works in the game's favor. You have a sword, a laser, a rocket-assisted boost, and a shield. Each stage progresses on a fairly linear path, with tiny corridors and loading areas opening up into massive arenas where, for the most part, you're expected to kill everything that moves. Your enemies are generally either flying grunts around Jehuty's own size that go down easy, or swarms of tiny annoyances you can take down en masse by using a special missile barrage. That's generally the gameplay loop, and it only gets more exhilarating the more cannon fodder the game throws at you.

ZOE shows its age most is in its control scheme. It's not necessarily unworkable, but it involves unlearning 15 years of developers figuring out elegant ways of moving around 3D spaces. Two face buttons control elevation, while the dash button is unintuitively set to the shoulders. Despite much of Jehuty's moveset relying on dashing, and fast counter-maneuvers to get in and out of an opponent's space, the motions required to do so feel awkward, even in the new “Pro” configuration that remaps the shoulder buttons and subweapon selects.

The 4K bump in resolution and soundscape enhancements are certainly noticeable, but aside from introducing brand-new textures to the mix, ZOE was always going to wear its PS2 roots rather boldly. Honestly, the game would lose something without that trademark Kojima Productions cinematic judder during intense moments. Instead, Konami went the next step, allowing the entire game to be played in VR. It's a great idea, one that'd be a welcome experiment for a lot of older titles--there's certainly an extra level of immersion, and the aforementioned new soundscape really comes to life in VR, forcing you to use your ears more than your eyes to figure out where enemies and projectiles are coming from.

ZOE shows its age most is in its control scheme.

The control scheme still mucks things up quite a bit, however, and not being able to see your special moves as you use them is a pretty big detriment in busy stages. The game does try to mitigate this, keeping a holographic representation of your avatar as it would be in the regular game on the right-hand side of the cockpit, but taking your eyes off the action is a bad idea, especially during the game's frantic boss fights. Unfortunately, sometimes you have to; bosses have a bad habit of getting up close and personal. In a crowded area, the only thing stopping you from being cornered and slashed to death in three hits is the kind of situational awareness the VR mode doesn't inherently give you. There is a special VR difficulty mode that makes dealing with enemies easier, but it swings the game too far in the other direction towards cakewalk territory.

While Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner pushed the envelope when it first launched, it's more admirable for the ways in which it tries to inject depth into a formula that never required it to be successful. There are certainly ambitions to be appreciated, and Konami has at least put some effort into preserving the experience as it was, for better or worse. Still, those ambitions aren’t enough to fight the feeling that it hasn’t been outclassed several times over in the years since.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Fri, 14 Sep 2018 15:00:00 -0700)

Editor's note: Three years after its initial release on PC, Undertale has found its way to the Nintendo Switch--and of course, the game is every bit as charming, challenging, and harrowing as it was the first time around. Undertale may seem like a straightforward retro-style RPG, but it subverts player expectations every chance it gets, which never gets stale because of clever writing and an evocative chiptune soundtrack. Thankfully, it plays just as well as it does on other platforms without any performance hitches or bugs after putting about four hours into this version. Like its console counterparts, you can fill the screen with an adaptive border that thematically fits with the location you're in (Undertale plays in a 4:3 aspect ratio). Dodging enemy attacks in the bullet hell-style defensive phase in combat works just as well with the Joy-Con analog sticks.

Undertale isn't afraid to break convention, and because it does so in a way that's thoughtful and humorous throughout, the result is an emotional rollercoaster that fills us with determination. -- Michael Higham, 14 September 2018 [We have updated the score to reflect our experience with the Nintendo Switch version, in addition to the PC, Mac, and PS4 versions. The original review follows below.]

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Undertale's opening cinematic hints at a cliche RPG where you awake in a mysterious world and embark on a journey in hopes of returning to your normal life. Despite the familiar premise, you quickly discover that looks can be deceiving. While many games can take a heavy-handed approach to teaching you the basics, Undertale does so in a way that not only introduces you to the tone of the game, but teaches you not to accept anything at face value. The first character you meet compels you to play nice, but as the cheerful music turns to sinister laughter and your new "friend" declares you an idiot, you get it: expect the unexpected. Undertale makes a name for itself with unusual storytelling techniques and combat mechanics, setting itself apart from the games it seems to imitate. It's also cleverly written and constantly subverts your expectations. There are so many wonderful experiences in store that are tempting to spoil, but to go into too much detail would ruin the element of surprise: one of Undertale's best assets.

While it seems to be a game that's designed for RPG fans first and foremost, a lot of Undertale's jokes have universal appeal. A pair of comically incompetent skeletons regularly spout puns and jokes while attempting--and failing--to halt your progress, and the social ineptitude exhibited by one character when they try to express their feelings for another is a regular source of laughter. With clever characterization and unexpected responses to actions we've been conditioned to view as predictable, Undertale elicits laughter and delight with ease.

You're encouraged to stop and engage with NPCs rather than charge through the story, and you should, because the varied and entertaining cast of monsters reveal valuable information about the wider world. This quality isn't unique, but here, it leads to unusual exchanges that are filled with great quips, simultaneously poking fun at games and human nature alike. The script tip-toes into parody, but an air of earnest thought lifts it above mere mockery. Silly as it can be, Undertale delivers poignant observations that challenge the status-quo.

It's also the sort of experience that encourages you to come back for a second or third round. This is especially true because, over the course of roughly five hours, you make a lot of decisions that impact the world around you. The importance of choice is often felt during combat, which lets you pick between fighting or talking your way out of conflict.

Sometimes the secret to winning is a little bit of love.
Sometimes the secret to winning is a little bit of love.

Trying to pacify opponents is a far more rewarding experience than simply fighting, and its a process that's unique to each type of enemy. To earn their favor, you have to analyse an enemy's behavior and figure out the right course of action. In one scenario, you can attempt to befriend a violent dog, in another, you might want to cheer up a ghost with low self-esteem; your success will depend on your ability to empathize and react. Navigating social puzzles is a refreshing change of pace for what seems like traditional combat, and the variety of distinct, entertaining enemies you engage with helps stave off a problem that's all-too-common in other RPGs: repetitive random encounters.

Because not all enemies are easily wooed, you eventually need to defend yourself regardless if you intend to fight or not. Undertale handles this with a quirky mechanic that feels out of place at first, but it eventually grows on you because it makes combat engaging and unpredictable in a good way. Enemy attacks appear as waves of projectiles that fly within a square pen, and as they fly by, you have to steer a small heart icon out of their flightpath to avoid taking damage. It's an unusual mechanic, but it's simple to understand and rewarding in the sense that it lets your reflexes-rather than statistics or dice rolls--dictate the outcome of a fight.

The variety of distinct, entertaining enemies you engage with helps stave off a problem that's all-too-common in other RPGs: repetitive random encounters.

Even within combat, Undertale layers on the humor. Sometimes you're dodging bullets, but you also need to watch out for frogs, arms with flexing biceps, and even the tears of a depressed opponent. Linking the shape, size, and behavior of projectiles with enemies' personalities keeps things challenging, and opens the door for even more laughs as you fend off absurd attacks.

Hey, what are friends for?
Hey, what are friends for?

It would be a crime not to mention Undertale's soundtrack, which is loaded with beautiful bit-based melodies that blend perfectly with the action on-screen. Each boss gets its own theme song, which do a great job of enhancing their particular personality. These tracks in particular bring energy and vigor, putting you on the edge of your seat as you try to fight or befriend your opponent. Outside of battle, tracks set the appropriate mood, too, from the quirky jingle in Temmie Village, to somber melodies that build tension near the end of the game. Regardless of its retro style, Undertale's soundtrack has timeless appeal and is great at evoking emotions.

Without spoiling the many ways it will screw with your expectations, it isn't possible to truly capture how wonderful Undertale is. You wouldn't know it with a passing glance, but it's one of the most progressive and innovative RPGs to come in a long time, breaking down tradition for the sake of invention, with great success.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Fri, 14 Sep 2018 10:53:00 -0700)

With its brand-new pond hockey mode, introduction of legendary players like Wayne Gretzky, superb controls, and multitude of ways to play, NHL 19 successfully and impressively captures the spirit and culture of ice hockey. It has issues, including a lack of meaningful changes for veteran players, but the solid foundation makes NHL 19 an excellent hockey game.

One of the biggest new additions to NHL 19 is "World of Chel." An evolved version of the EA Sports Hockey League, World of Chel is an online hub featuring multiple modes, with character progression for your skater tied together in one place. The most notable mode within World of Chel is Ones, a game of 1v1v1 played on ponds and lakes. With shivering spectators in heavy coats on the sideline, no whistles, imperfections on the ice, and numerous collectibles like hoodies, beanies, and parkas to unlock and equip (that you can only get via regular progression), NHL 19 effectively captures the general aesthetic and vibe of playing outdoors. An over-the-top and colourful announcer who makes many silly quips and references to hockey culture helps the experience feel appropriately lighthearted. The 1v1v1 setup makes each three-minute match satisfyingly tense and highly replayable, though there are some downsides. For example, it's only half-ice, so the puck frequently gets jammed where the walls meet. With matches only running for two minutes, it's frustrating to spend time digging the puck out of corners. It is also disappointing that Ones is online-only; there is no local play, an omission that stands out when NHL 19's numerous other modes support couch co-op.

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Returning from last year, and remaining the franchise's most exciting and engaging mode, is the ridiculously over-the-top Threes. This mode pits teams of three against each other in fast-paced and chaotic games with arcade-style scoring multipliers and the ability to play as the league's different mascots. NHL 19's standard modes feature true-to-life professional teams, players, stadiums, announcers, and visuals with an impressive attention to detail, but I kept coming back to Threes more than anything else for its constant action and delightfully wacky tone.

Aside from Ones and Threes, new this year is a Pro-Am mode that lets you take on NHL legends of past and present in a series of challenges. This mode, in addition to the impressively robust Franchise, along with Ultimate Team, Shootout, Be a Pro career, and online head-to-head, combine to give you numerous distinct and compelling ways to play. Be A Pro serves as NHL 19's career mode, and it delivers a satisfying path from low-level hockey to the pros. It lacks the depth found in the story modes of other EA Sports games like Madden and FIFA, but it is rewarding all the same to build your character and grow and expand their skills over time.

Franchise mode returns, and it remains a deep experience. New for NHL 19 is a more involved scouting system within which you can recruit, hire, and fire amateur and professional scouts to look for new talent by player, region, and team. A further layer to the new scouting mechanic is a "Fog of War" system that hides a player's true rating if you don't scout enough. These new features, as well as the numerous returning ones like morale meetings, trades, salary cap considerations, and more, combine to make NHL 19's franchise mode possibly the deepest in the GM experience across EA Sports. Ultimate Team is also back, and with Legends like Gretzky and Lemieux now in the mix, creating a dream-team is even more absorbing, though its inclusion of microtransactions may irk some. Given that there are so many different modes in NHL 19, it's nice that the menu lets you pin four different modes to the home screen for quick access.

The on-ice action in NHL 19 looks and performs better than last year. EA's new Real Player Motion tech that was used in Madden NFL 19 and NBA Live 19 is also implemented in NHL 19, and it helps add a strong sense of realism to the animations and physics. Skating in particular looks incredibly lifelike; some of the standout animations include seamless transitions from forward to backward skating, fluid crossovers, the kick of the leg during a fake shot, and how a player will situationally chop a puck out of mid-air or into the goal. The hitting physics have also been updated; a well-timed open-ice check will now deliver a crushing blow that causes the other player to crumple to the ice. The system is sophisticated enough to dynamically adapt to the awareness of the other player, meaning hits are gnarlier when the targeted skater doesn't see it coming and can't brace for it. On the presentation side, NHL 19 looks like a TV broadcast with finely detailed character models and crowd animations complete with rowdy fans holding red Solo cups, along with NBC Sports hosts Eddie Olczyk and Mike Emrick back providing excellent commentary.

NHL 19 nails the controls with a weighty and responsive feel. Moving the puck around is easy and intuitive, and with vibration feedback for passes and hits. Possessing the puck is critical in NHL 19, and the controls give you the tools you need to do so at a basic level and also with a huge amount of style and skill. The Skill Stick and Hybrid controls provide an amount of depth that allows more dedicated players to show off their skills with superstar dekes like windmills, spin-o-ramas, and advanced toe drags, to get around defenders and light the lamp. These dekes, of which there are many, can be strung together, which creates fun scenarios--especially in online games against other humans--to keep the defenders guessing. Alternatively, the two-button NHL 94 control setup is a fun return to basics for hockey fans looking for a simpler experience. Whatever scheme you're using, NHL 19's excellent controls make it feel wonderful to move players around the ice, complete tape-to-tape passes, dangle around opponents, and rip shots into the net.

NHL 19's drive to become a complete hockey game is further helped by the addition of NHL "Legends" as playable characters. Thanks to EA reaching a deal with the NHL Alumni Association, the names and likenesses of numerous hockey icons like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Patrick Roy, and Mark Messier, as well as even older players like Jean Beliveau, are now in the game. There is a great attention to detail; Gretzky's trademark half-tucked in jersey is replicated in the game, while there is period-accurate gear, too, as players from the '50s and '60s like Beliveau do not wear helmets and use wooden sticks with no curve on the blade. With its use of legendary players, NHL 19 delivers the fun fantasy fulfillment of pitting Gretzky against current NHL superstars like Alexander Ovechkin and Connor McDavid.

NHL 19 further expands its reach by faithfully incorporating and letting you play as teams in other real-world hockey leagues. The AHL, national teams, and numerous international leagues from Europe and other parts of the world at different levels of professionalism are represented. This contributes to help make NHL 19 feel like more of global hockey game that represents the sport at more levels and in more regions.

NHL 19 succeeds mainly because of its best-in-class controls, authentic presentation, multitude of different ways to play, and its overall excellence in capturing the essence of hockey culture. The pond hockey mode is a fun new way to play with friends in beautiful outdoor environments, but it's the only brand-new feature, and that may disappoint veteran fans.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Thu, 13 Sep 2018 15:01:00 -0700)

With a futuristic, digitized look and rhythmically pulsating soundtrack, Frozen Synapse 2 is every bit as stylish as its predecessor. It's a deliberately slow and cerebral experience meant to be learned and played at your own pace. While some technical issues and annoying limitations to the campaign result in frustration at points, Frozen Synapse 2's compelling take on tactics and strategy makes up for this. Whether in single or multiplayer, its highly tactical combat requires patience and wit to grasp, but the steep learning curve is worth it, with every engagement brimming with brilliant tension.

While the game's style is undeniable, with gorgeous, procedurally-generated urban environments, Frozen Synapse 2's tactical, turn-based gameplay is the main draw. You control every movement of a squad of up to six Vatform units--repairable humanoid mercenaries hired for use in combat deployments--to take down enemy teams. Units are controlled by the strategic placement of waypoints, which you mark on the battlefield as you plan out your next turn. Once your plans are primed, you hit the play button and watch as the next five seconds of your movements, and those of your enemy, are played out in a real-time concert of bullets and shotgun blasts. It's a violent game of chess where, refreshingly, logical rules dictate the outcome of a gunfight, not the roll of a random number generator.

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When making your plans, plotting out waypoints and moving units from one place to another is the easy part. Where the real effort comes in is predicting the movement of your enemies and anticipating what they're going to do next. At any point along a unit's path, you can add any number of commands, from "wait" or "engage on sight” to asking them to duck and stay low when moving. Your options are plentiful, letting you get as complex as you need to. Helpfully, you're able to plot out enemy waypoints as well, letting you test out theoretical counter-attacks that they might set up in response. But there's no certainty in war, and it's this uncertainty that makes each engagement feel wonderfully tense and unique. Even your best-laid plans can go horribly wrong, while at the same time, a hail mary might see things line up in the exact way you needed it to.

The lack of random chance makes planning out your moves more meaningful, as there is always an optimal solution for any given scenario. A stationary unit will always have a faster time-to-kill than a moving one, for instance. However, different units have their own time-to-kill stats, as well as effective ranges and reload times. These need to be taken into account when marking out your next move, as even well-placed units can struggle to make an impact when they're outgunned and vice-versa; shotguns are devastating in close quarters but are sitting ducks when left out in the open. Learning the intricacies of Frozen Synapse 2's combat is an exercise in both dealing with and overcoming the frustration of early mistakes, of which you'll make many. It only makes it all the more satisfying when the mechanics all finally click, which they will after a few hours of experimenting.

Frozen Synapse 2's single-player mode adds an intriguing real-time strategy layer to the game's strong combat systems in the form of the city map. The city is broken up into several districts, with the different factions operating within them. Both the districts and factions directly contribute to your overall budget, increasing funding as you complete contracts on their behalf, and decreasing it if those actions affect them negatively. Contracts are also time-sensitive, so if you fail to act in time or ignore it completely, another faction will jump at the chance, costing you precious funding and faction reputation. It feels like you're forever on the back foot, which can be a jarring experience at first.

Aside from the occasionally menu-heavy UI, the city has a gorgeous cyber-minimalist look to it. This is backed by a superbly written futurist sci-fi story, told through smart and occasionally funny character dialogue between Mettem, chairman of the city municipal council, your gleefully dry AI helper named Belacqua, and the various faction leaders, each with own clear sense of purpose. You are given the reins of the city's security forces as it deals with an increasing level of factionary violence as well as the outbreak of a sentient AI named Sonata that's also causing a fuss.

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The campaign has some issues, though. It struggles to maintain stability at times, unexpectedly crashing to the desktop on rare occasions. Checkpoint contacts involve keeping a squad deployed on a street corner for an allotted time period, except immediately after a deployment, you're prompted to send the squad back to base. If you're not aware of this, you'll fail the contract and your time spent in combat there will be for nothing. There's also no autosave prior to mission deployment, so if your squad's too small or underpowered on a mission where failure is not allowed--a condition that isn't explained beforehand--you're forced to choose between trying to progress through impossible odds or restarting your campaign entirely. This mode is made to be replayable, but given the relatively slow pace of progress, a forced restart is a hard pill to swallow.

Thankfully, the game's superb multiplayer makes up for this. While single player AI is a good challenge, nothing quite beats the feeling of out-thinking a human opponent, and there's far more pressure to plan out your movements with total precision. Multiplayer is also built intuitively into the UI, allowing you to request opponents with a single mouse click or move between multiple games you have going on at the same time. The load time between each game is short, so if one opponent is taking their time, you can always run along and start a new game with someone else, mitigating any frustration at being made to wait while someone plots out their next move.

It's hard not to be drawn in by Frozen Synapse 2's style, but it's even harder to pull away once the game's combat gets its hooks in you.

There are six different modes to choose from, each with a light (enemies are always visible) and a dark variant (enemies are invisible unless they're within your unit's line of sight). While there's the standard deathmatch mode called Extermination, other modes are much more interesting. In Hostage, one squad attempts to hold the hostages placed in a square in the middle of the map while another moves in to free them. Charge sees the battlefield laid out like a football pitch; both players bet how far they think they can get their squad to the other side of the field, and the winning punter gets the chance to prove themselves while the other defends. No matter the game mode, every multiplayer encounter is fantastically suspenseful, with a palpable air of uncertainty surrounding the few seconds prior to your plan's outcome being played back.

It's hard not to be drawn in by Frozen Synapse 2's style, but it's even harder to pull away once the game's combat gets its hooks in you. While the single-player mode ambles through both high and low points, the multiplayer remains a steadfastly enjoyable experience. The anticipation as squads approach in preparation for battle is both thrilling and nerve-wracking, and the ability to switch between multiplayer games on the fly makes tracking multiple games elegantly simple. Technical hiccups aside, Frozen Synapse 2's incredible style and strong tactical combat make it wonderfully gratifying.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Thu, 13 Sep 2018 09:00:00 -0700)

Nintendo Labo's Vehicle Kit is the latest variant available for the Switch's paper crafting/video game hybrid, a separate retail product that features completely new builds, games, and activities. You could, if you wanted to, describe it as the series' latest piece of DLC--if DLC stood for Da Latest Cardboard, that is.

If you thought that last dad joke was bad, it's at least appropriate, given Labo remains an outstanding shared activity between parents or caregivers and the little squirts in their lives. At times intricate and yet appealingly simple, Labo sits in that gaming gap between juniors just starting to evolve beyond simple experiences on a tablet and jaded pre-teens who laugh at you for not knowing what the Fornite floss is. Its mix of real-world cardboard crafting and on-screen activities remains a winning one to experience with a child, although as with the first two Labo kits (the Variety Kit and the Robot Kit), there's really not much here for grown-ups to latch onto.

That's because, despite Vehicle Kit's stronger focus on more traditional gameplay-like modes, what's included still leans more onto the simplistic side and is more geared towards appealing to younger kids (both in scope and gameplay challenges). As the name implies, vehicles are the focus for this Labo experience, and you'll be building your own cardboard controllers for three different vehicles: a steering wheel for the in-game car, a flightstick for a plane, and a… third one featuring rotating dials to control a submersible. You'll also have to build an accelerator pedal, which is used across all three vehicles to control your speed.

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Nothing has changed when it comes to the quality of the components you're working with in this latest Labo kit compared to the previous two, which is to say that putting together these cardboard complexities is as satisfying as ever. There's something immensely gratifying about handling the crisp sheets of paper, punching them through their perforated edges, and assembling them using the clear, concise on-screen instructions. As a grown-up, it's meditative to spend the hours needed to build the most complex creations in Vehicle Kits, but it can be slightly less so if you're building it with a junior partner (and how capable, amenable to instruction, or grumpy due to a lack of naptime that junior partner is). That said, while putting together the various Joy-Cons (the term Nintendo uses for the various cardboard creations) can be a fun solo project, it really shines as a shared activity with a child. Most of the builds are just complex enough that some adult supervision will be required, so there's real joy to be had in making Vehicle Kit a joint project with someone younger.

While the Vehicle Kit creations may literally just be stiff pieces of paper, they're still remarkably durable. In our hours of testing, all of the various Joy-Cons managed to survive the overexcited attentions of a nine-year-old and a four-year-old without breaking. And it really is impressive to see a thing you just put together from various pieces of cardboard work as a fully-functioning steering wheel or as an accelerator that detects even slight amounts of pressure. But while the tech and build behind these Joy-Cons are neat, they're still DIY creations, so there's not as much control finesse or nuance here that you would otherwise expect from dedicated, manufactured steering wheels or flightsicks.

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This lack of fine control suits Vehicle Kit just fine, however, as the games and activities included don't really ever require you to pull off things like hairpin manoeuvres at high speeds around rain-slicked roads. To its credit, Vehicle Kit is a leap forward compared to other Labo variations, as there's actually a decent amount of gameplay to be found here (as opposed to tech demos as was the case with the Variety Kit). There are racetracks to compete on, rally modes to enter, and more. Vehicle Kit's main game is dubbed Adventure Mode, and is a fairly expansive, open world area that can traversed by car, plane or submersible. Dotted throughout this world is a substantial amount of tasks: you may be asked to fly your plane through five clouds in quick succession, use your submersible's hook to break open a cage, or drive a curious tourist around many of the world's sights. None of these challenges are particularly taxing, with most solutions presenting themselves after a little careful exploration. The challenge level--along with Adventure Mode's bright yet basic presentation--is aimed squarely at younger gamers, and there's probably not much here that will prove engaging in the long run for anyone older.

But if you're in that target demographic, then these otherwise rote activities become a little more engaging. My nine-year-old son was my primary partner in this review (occasionally joined by his four-year-old sister, who just really wanted to fly that plane), and from his perspective, the gentle pace and steady exploration afforded by Adventure Mode was immensely appealing. Nintendo Labo's Vehicle Kit certainly isn't for everyone. But if you have a curious, excited child, then it might be just for you.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Thu, 13 Sep 2018 06:00:00 -0700)

Lamplight City is a high-concept adventure game that will win some players over on premise alone. You play as Miles Fordham, a former detective turned disgraced private investigator following the death of his partner, Bill, during a case. The game is set in 1840s New Bretagne (a borough of Cholmondeley, England) and follows Miles as he takes cases off-the-books to try and keep busy--and block out the voice of Bill, which now haunts him wherever he goes. There are five cases to solve over the course of Lamplight City, but there's an interesting twist: It's possible to either accuse the wrong culprit or find that the case is unsolvable because of errors you've made.

Lamplight City is not the first game to do this--Frogwares' last two Sherlock Holmes games, Crimes and Punishments and The Devil's Daughter, tried something similar--but this time it's all wrapped in a comfortingly familiar adventure game aesthetic, with pixel graphics, a simple point-and-click interface, and great-looking environments. The script is socially progressive and critical of the racism and homophobia of its 1840s setting, and Miles, for all his faults (he takes sleeping pills and drinks heavily to shut off Bill's voice in his head), is a likeable character. What the game lacks, unfortunately, is depth. It's full of great ideas, but isn't quite able to pull them off effectively.

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The ability to fail a case is an interesting mechanic that is never actually explained or really commented on in-game. I accused the wrong suspect in the first case, having exhausted my other options; I said the wrong thing in a conversation and a character that could have given me vital clues stopped talking to me, meaning that I only had one suspect to accuse. For the rest of the game I saved regularly so that I could reload and avoid a situation like this again, but the only concrete indication that I'd arrested the wrong person was their denial during the arrest cutscene. Later, in the third case, I wasn't able to enter a certain area because a family member of the formerly accused threatened me, but otherwise, there were no repercussions or even explicit confirmations that I'd made the wrong accusation. I only know for sure that I picked the wrong culprit because of a Steam achievement I did not get.

But there was no room for misunderstanding in the other four cases. If you put in the work, you'll likely never find yourself in a position where there are multiple plausible suspects--it's very clear who the culprit is once you find all the evidence. The game will reward you, sometimes, for going the extra mile--if you locate the culprit in the second case before reporting their guilt, for instance, you'll earn a new lead in the fifth case--but doing so isn't particularly challenging, and a wrongful accusation is more likely to come from impatience than incompetence. These cases are fairly staid, and lack the spark of a good Agatha Christie mystery or the lunacy and twists of something like Phoenix Wright. While the final case--which sees you, inevitably, on the trail of Bill's killer--is a bit more exciting than the others, Lamplight City squanders a very good idea on mediocre cases where there's little room for error.

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With this gimmick deflated, you're left with an okay adventure game that's low on exciting puzzles. You can brute force your way through most cases, visiting each location and clicking on everything and everyone to see if new interaction options have opened, with few real puzzles to solve. There's no inventory management, so you don't get to use 'X' on 'Y'--everything is context sensitive, and Miles will use items or ask questions automatically if it makes sense for him to do so. This means that it's easy to miss objects that can only be examined at first--signified by a magnifying glass when you mouse over them--but which become collectible after an objective is reached. The game's sense of logic is extremely fair, and there are no ridiculous or irritating solutions, but it's easy to disengage when cases involve asking the same questions of each character to see what turns up.

The characters are interesting, at least. The game's dialogue is mostly well-written, and having Bill's ever-present snarky voice in Miles' head is a smart way to provide flavor to endless item descriptions as you click on everything in a room. Miles' wife, Adelaide, is also a great character, and a subplot about their marriage issues is one of the more compelling strands. Sometimes the game asks you to make changes that have a proper payoff, and how you handle Miles' marriage is a prime example.

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There are many little aspects of the world of Lamplight City that exist mostly on the periphery of your experience. You often encounter characters engaged in steampunk experiments, looking to harness a new form of energy called "aethericity," and there's an undercurrent of political turmoil running throughout much of the dialogue in the fourth and fifth cases. The divide between the working class and the aristocracy comes up often too, but a lot of the observations the game makes only skim the surface. These details flesh out the game's sense of place and give some context for the wider world Miles lives in. It's a shame that few of these end up being important to the actual cases, though--there are running plot threads that ultimately go nowhere and cases that seem to involve some of the game's kookier elements ultimately end up having mundane explanations behind them.

Lamplight City has a hell of a concept behind it, but unfortunately, the cases don't deliver on its promise. When you strip away the idea that the game will let you fail, and that you need to pay particularly close attention to what's happening, you're left with an adequate adventure game that is low on great puzzles. It's certainly not without charm, but the game's inability to make a strong delivery on its fantastic central gimmick casts an unfortunate shadow over its unique setting and likeable cast.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Wed, 12 Sep 2018 21:00:00 -0700)

The past few years have seen a rise in popularity for narrative-driven games in the West. Many of these games owe a lot to Japanese adventure and visual novels, which have enjoyed a long history in their home country. One of the most revered examples is 428: Shibuya Scramble, which originally released in 2009. Now, almost a decade later, players in the West can see what all the fuss was about--and that it was very much worth the hype.

428: Shibuya Scramble takes place in the titular Shibuya, a major area of Tokyo. It's a routine day for most people, but for five individuals, what's happening is anything but ordinary. Young detective Kano is currently caught up in the midst of a mysterious kidnapping case: Maria, the daughter of reclusive scientist Kenji Osawa, is missing. As Kano sets up Osawa's other daughter, Hitomi, to deliver the ransom money, a street punk named Achi wanders into the picture, fleeing with Hitomi when the sting goes awry. Meanwhile, freelance reporter Minorikawa is called by a suicidal editorial manager who needs to put together a magazine by day’s end to save himself from financial ruin, and a young girl named Tama finds herself trapped in a cat mascot suit, hawking dubious diet drinks for a scam artist at the famous Shibuya Crossing.

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The story's five central characters--Kano, Achi, Minorikawa, Osawa, and Tama--all find their fates intertwining through five unique stories told over the course of a single day. What begins as a routine kidnapping soon reveals itself to be something far more sinister, turning into a thrilling story of colliding fates, character drama, and international intrigue. It's up to you to put together the pieces and save these characters, and perhaps all of Japan, from a potentially terrible (and occasionally ridiculous) fate.

428 is a visual novel game in the same vein as Ace Attorney and Danganronpa. However, the emphasis here is definitely more on the "novel" part; the game is written out like a lengthy story, with most of the gameplay centering around multiple-choice branches that influence how the characters behave in certain situations. What's also noteworthy is that multiple stories from different characters' points of view run parallel with each other, and if two characters witness the same event, it may affect them in very different ways.

This ties in with the multiple-choice system; sometimes a seemingly insignificant choice you make can have far-reaching effects. For example, if one character runs into the street to avoid pursuers, another character might wind up in a traffic jam caused by resulting car accidents and be late to a meeting. You can also "jump" into the thick of another character's story by highlighting certain onscreen words that tie two characters' stories together, even if they're not in the same location. While zipping around the stories is fun, you also have to be mindful of your decisions, as incorrect choices can often lead to a Bad End that'll force you to jump back in time a bit.

What makes this work so well is that all of the characters are engaging and well-written. Kano is a hardworking, earnest cop who is being distracted by a surprise visit from his would-be father-in-law. Achi's hotheadedness and desire to help Hitomi stems from family drama and his falling-out with a local gang. Minorikawa's a colossal jerk, but he's a jerk that gets results, and his brashness disguises a genuine passion and desire to aid those important to him. Osawa finds himself in a very dark place, questioning his relationships with his family and his business partners in some tense, introspective moments. And Tama… well, her particularly bizarre situation leads her to some unexpected places.

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One of the particularly unique and memorable elements of 428 is its use of still photography to illustrate much of the story text. The thousands of real-life photos taken to illustrate the story accentuate the text perfectly, as does the impressive staging and use of close-ups, color, and camera pans. The text is delivered in a way that can't be replicated on the printed page: big, loud words appearing suddenly for emphasis, slow text crawls or fade-ins for tense moments and terrifying revelations. Music and sound effects are also used to highlight particular scenes and events. Occasionally, a clip of FMV or an animated image might show up to emphasize something, such as a serious event or a more comedic moment.

The wonderful blending of text, photo imagery, and sound in 428 is showcased especially well in several scenes throughout Osawa's scenario. Osawa is unbelievably stressed due to Maria's kidnapping and a conflict with his wife, and the combination of clever photo staging, sparse use of sound, and careful text presentation really helps to communicate the anguish he's going through. As he finds himself becoming irritated with the frequent butting-in of a police detective stationed in his home, you start to see intense colors and extreme close-ups in the photos that emphasize the rapidly increasing annoyance he feels. It's an excellent example of how the visual novel genre can transform the written word in an engaging way.

It's an excellent example of how the visual novel genre can transform the written word in an engaging way.

The vast majority of the time, the storytelling in 428 is top-notch, drawing you into the character drama and adding an air of tension to your choices. Occasionally there are parts that take you out of the narrative--an oddly misplaced comedic bit after an emotional or action-laden sequence, or a plot contrivance that feels a little too convenient. The game's interface can be a struggle at times as well. If you go back in time to fix some of your bad choices, you may wind up having to replay a chunk of certain scenarios to reach a stopping point you had previously opened, and whether or not the game lets you skip past already-read text seems arbitrary. There are also a fair few text display bugs, a handful of which cause serious formatting problems, and one I encountered actually softlocked the game.

A few bugs, however, don't ruin the game. 428 is a truly rare beast, a special and unique experience that would have once been completely passed over for a Western release. While it's not without its flaws, it's hard to think of many other games that blend text-driven storytelling and well-constructed visuals and sound this well. From the first hour of the in-game day, you'll be riveted by this story's unexpected twists and turns. If you want a story- and character-driven game with a presentation you won’t see anywhere else, 428 is a game not to be missed.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Wed, 12 Sep 2018 16:14:00 -0700)

Every year, NBA 2K comes around to hype up basketball fans for the upcoming season and provide an avenue for living out dreams of dominating the court; this year’s iteration is no different in that regard. NBA 2K19 dishes out what you'd expect from the franchise: accessible yet deep core mechanics that often work just right and occasionally falter. Beyond that, there’s a full roster of ways to enjoy the sport thanks to a robust package of game modes. Unfortunately, microtransactions loom over everything, much like last year’s game, with a problematic system of virtual currency. Still, 2K19 remains an admirable representation of basketball itself.

NBA 2K19 is a basketball simulation at its heart. As with previous games, you're given nearly full control of footwork, ball handling, and defensive maneuvers with the Pro Stick scheme that puts both analog sticks to use. If there's a fundamental move in the sport of basketball, chances are you can pull it off in the game. Moreover, it's advantageous to understand when these fundamentals are most effective. For example, driving to the basket from the post with a quick quarter-circle on the right stick in the proper direction could help you blow by an inside defender; if a big stands in your way in the paint, knowing how to put up a floater gives you a better chance for a bucket than a simple layup. Pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops are simple to draw up and an important tool for executing plays, but they don't guarantee success on every possession; the best players have to adapt to how the field develops.

Much of the game is in your hands, from game plan customization when controlling an entire team to execution on the court when assuming the role as an individual player. It induces a high skill ceiling, especially when playing competitively. Momentum is also manifested in the new Takeover mechanic; if a player catches fire, a few extra moves become available and slight stat boosts are applied for a short time, depending on the player's archetype/position.

We're still getting used to seeing LeBron James in purple and gold.
We're still getting used to seeing LeBron James in purple and gold.
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While it's good to know that you have so much control considering the potential for challenge, it's disappointing when things break down. Of course, you should be punished for mistakes, like over-committing on defense while the opponent exploits an opening with a quick pivot or cut towards the basket. But frustration starts to settle in when there's a lack of responsiveness. Cutting across to lead the defender into a crowd is smart basketball, and if you're the defender, getting stuck on other players without controls appropriately responding to a change in direction highlights some inconsistencies and overall sluggishness in player movement. There are more hits than misses in how NBA 2K19 functions, but the times when it falls apart hold it back from true greatness.

Much of the game is in your hands, from game plan customization when controlling an entire team to execution on the court when assuming the role as an individual player. It induces a high skill ceiling, especially when playing competitively.

NBA 2K19 has the advantage of including top personalities from professional sports media; this includes renowned sideline reporter David Aldridge and the iconic voice of sportscaster Kevin Harlan. It's unfortunate, however, that while 2K has TNT's charismatic crew of knuckleheads from Inside The NBA--Kenny Smith, Shaquille O'Neal, and Ernie Johnson--their part in the game's presentation fails to capture what makes them great broadcasters (it's also missing Charles Barkley). Generally, commentary gets redundant even with specific anecdotes and callouts to players' history. The soundtrack curated by hip-hop artist Travis Scott includes a few of his own songs along with other artists/groups like SOB x RBE, Migos, P-Lo, and Toro y Moi make for a fun vibe throughout the game.

As for game modes, MyCareer takes the spotlight again, combining a personal narrative and an RPG-like progression system around a player you create. Not only do you have to choose your position wisely, but you'll pick out a primary and secondary skillset that carves out specific strengths for your player, much like character classes in an RPG. This new story, dubbed The Way Back, tries for a more heartfelt tone this time around. Your created player goes undrafted after college, and you have to prove yourself in China and in the NBA G-League--it's worth noting that the chapters in China feature authentic Mandarin dialogue and commentary. An old college teammate acts as a throughline, drama follows you everywhere, and betrayal is just around the corner. While it's more gripping than last year's journey at times, it often falls flat due to nonsensical story beats with superficial drama permeating pivotal moments. Despite this, the performances and voice acting from the likes of Haley Joel Osment and Anthony Mackie are top-notch and frequently strike a natural conversational tone; it's a good execution of a bad script. At the very least, it breathes life into your player, providing a backstory that's carried on throughout your time in MyCareer.

There's something special about having your player succeed on an NBA team.
There's something special about having your player succeed on an NBA team.
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The story mode is just an appetizer in MyCareer, and if you want to get straight to the main course, you can skip cutscenes and simulate outcomes for games. After signing to an NBA team and getting a house to call your own, you're dropped into a slick MMO-like social hub known as The Neighborhood with random players online. From here you have access to several ways to build your player and ball up. Continuing the journey through the NBA will put you through full NBA seasons that sprinkle in a bit of personality by incorporating events from The Way Back--this includes sideline interviews and faux-taped conversations that look true-to-life. You'll work your way to the starting lineup over time after riding the bench for limited minutes on the floor, and it feels pretty good to see my player work up the ranks of the Lakers roster and drop dimes to LeBron James for clutch baskets in close games. Between each game, there are also team practices where you run drills to fine-tune your ability to execute in certain in-game situations, driving home that sense of being part of the team.

Building out your player's stats and rising up in overall rating is satisfying nonetheless, especially since you can't strictly buy your way to maxed-out stats.

Outside of becoming an NBA star, you'll use The Neighborhood to customize your player with sweet tattoos, new kicks, or fresh outfits at shops. More importantly, street ball in The Playground has random roaming players or squads matched up in 2-on-2 or 3-on-3 pick up games. These are a ton of fun with a grounded atmosphere that'll feel home to amateur ballers, but there aren't sensible matchmaking tools to help players join in a snappy way. You can hop into the Jordan Rec Center, which is just as enjoyable, to get matched up, but it can take a while to get going.

The MyCareer ecosystem all feeds into character progression, so you're constantly working towards something and earning rewards whether you spend time in the NBA season or grind away in street ball. But at the end of the day, virtual currency (VC) rules everything around NBA 2K19--VC is used to upgrade stats, buy cosmetics, and purchase boost cards that provide a temporary ratings bump. Despite a slight shift towards rewarding those who grind for VC compared to 2K18, the system still feels as if it prefers you engage in microtransactions and buy VC with real money. It's also a bit tasteless that players can wager VC in basketball matches in the lavish casino-like Ante-Up building that is bordering on gambling.

Building out your player's stats and rising up in overall rating is satisfying nonetheless, especially since you can't strictly buy your way to maxed-out stats. When the general experience bar (MyPoints Cap Breaker) fills up, you unlock the potential for higher ratings in certain skills. But you're required to spend VC to actually acquire those stats, as if VC were skill points.

For something a little different, MyGM offers a visual novel-esque story experience that picks up right where 2K18 left off. It takes your player model and puts them into the role of general manager to essentially build a team from scratch (ahem, or basically bring back the Sonics). MyGM can be a nice change of pace with some hilariously hammy moments and conversation options, but be prepared to read a lot of inane dialogue as none of it is voice acted. You'll make personnel decisions and manage the team's location, but it's less than glamorous with a few inconsequential playable scenarios on occasion.

For those who are into card collecting and building a fantasy team, the MyTeam mode is another avenue to play ball. Here, you start with a modest pool of players from a few card packs to create a lineup, then use them in challenges scenarios and games against NBA teams. You'll earn MT coins, a currency only earned by playing, which is used to purchase additional card packs. But because you can buy card packs with VC, a lot of the grind can be undercut. Aside from that, an extra layer of objectives are set to earn tokens which give you options to pick up NBA stars from the past. It's another significant time investment, but it's neat to make the most of what you're given under the mode's unusual circumstances.

It's impressive that the game of basketball has translated to controllers and screens in the way it has. If you want to immerse yourself in the sport and culture, NBA 2K19 has you covered with a breadth of content. But even that has its limitations after several years of iterations. Although those willing to grind for everything will eventually get rewarded, the system of VC still comes off as exploitative. But there's a lot of fun to be had in NBA 2K19 despite its flaws, especially if you have a strong love for the sport.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Wed, 12 Sep 2018 06:00:00 -0700)

Valkyria Chronicles 4 marks a forceful but necessary return to the franchise's strategy roots, much in the vein of resetting a broken bone. The most recent Valkyria Chronicles game in the industry's memory is Valkyria Revolution, which had a decidedly action-RPG outlook and ultimately paid the price for its experimentation. Revolution was a jagged pill to swallow, but Valkyria Chronicles 4 more than redeems the spin-off’s mistakes. It retreads the central thematic conflict of the original Valkyria Chronicles, which makes for a story that is poignant and comedic in turns without losing sight of what made the series so popular to begin with: guts.

You're deposited straight into the hot-seat of the Second Europan War as a Federation soldier, Claude Wallace, with your rag-tag bunch of friends including an adorable dog and a number of potential anime love interests. Unsurprisingly, your enemies are the Imperial Alliance, who all sport quasi-Germanic or Russian names and have an overwhelmingly burgundy color scheme for their uniforms. Any real world resemblances here are likely intentional; this is a fictional take on a world war that we've all read about in some way, shape or form in our own history books. Valkyria Chronicles has always drawn from a hodge-podge of WWI and WWII to create its own canon, and that mix is more pronounced than ever here. The timeline broadly overlaps with that of the first Valkyria Chronicles game, so be prepared to notice mentions of conflicts that series veterans will already be more than familiar with.

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The similarities between the two games are much more substantial than that, however. Valkyria Chronicles 4 is alike in almost every single way to the original except in name. The series continues to stay true to its blend of classic artistic European landscapes; there's rolling hills, snowy mountains, and vast bodies of water. The gameplay is still a unique take on traditional strategy RPGs which does away with the grid movement system of stalwarts like Fire Emblem, instead preferring to rely on a mix of turn-based tactics and real-time movement and fighting, creating ample room for reactive play and tense skirmishes. You deploy your troops in advantageous positions, move them until their action points are depleted, and fire at the enemy--it's a satisfying cycle.

Valkyria Chronicles 4 also hones in on the way that the war affects a core group of childhood friends and former innocents, simultaneously decrying violence whilst also thrusting you headfirst into situations where it's unavoidable. It's in those moments, where you're backed into a corner with nowhere to go but through faceless enemy ranks, that the senselessness of the conflict really stands out, and those are some of the game's strongest moments.

Accordingly, making sure that you have a squad that will be able to survive those skirmishes is key to your enjoyment of Valkyria Chronicles 4. You'll take command of a whole host of different soldiers throughout your journey, and each of them is special in their own way. Whether it's a brash Shocktrooper who gets an attack buff when he's around the ladies, or a timid Sniper who can't quite shoot straight when she's alone, each person that you deliver orders to is unique in some way. Soldiers have a chance of activating Potentials based on those personality quirks, which are buffs or debuffs affecting anything from unit accuracy to how terrified they are in the heat of the moment. This leads to plenty of friendly chatter on the battlefield that adds depth to your interactions with troops; in the absence of a formal social link system, these moments feel honest and raw when set against their backdrop of percussive gunfire and chaos.

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Chaos is really the name of the game when it comes to the broader military campaign, and your first few fights will probably feel that way until you get used to how the game's battle system handles. Valkyria Chronicle 4's first few hours serve as a lengthy tutorial, and you'll still be learning things even after you're multiple chapters into the main story. Troops work the way you'd expect them to--snipers, anti-tank units, and grenadiers do what they say on the tin, and there will be almost no surprises to those who have played similar Japanese-flavored military titles before. Mechanics are built around things like cover, return fire, and ammo management, and balancing all of those are key to victory. There are some improvements from the original Valkyria Chronicles, primarily in troop variety and quality-of-life niceties, but it isn't a significant overhaul. Getting accustomed to the way the quirks of your soldiers work in battle is the primary challenge of the game, and figuring out just how you can push the combat system to its limits is another. Those who know the system will find it easy to create overpowered combinations of troops, which can trivialize the early to mid-game experience to a point, if you can be clever enough.

The overarching chaos also comes from the enemy's single-minded pursuit of the Federation's destruction, and you'll meet this beast at every turn possible. The Alliance is both an immediate, militaristic threat and an ideological one that overshadows every encounter and every non-combat interlude. It's not just a matter of turning the tide on the SPRG field and winning. The narrative drives you into increasingly hostile and inhospitable situations with odds that appear ever tipped in the Alliance's favor.

You don't have the luxury of picking which battles to fight, and loading into a battle with flames as high as a barn licking at your troops and screaming coming through the static whirr of your communications device is confronting each and every time. On Nintendo Switch, HD rumble is employed smartly with vibration patterns changing depending on the type of weapon used, and sounding off both on impact and when you fire. Immersion can be affected somewhat by small issues with hitboxes, pathing, and line of sight displaying oddly in cramped conditions, but these instances don't really detract from the weighty atmosphere that the game works hard to perpetuate.

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Valkyria Chronicles 4 really excels in those sobering moments where it makes tough choices and leaves you to pick up the pieces. You feel like a cog in the Federation war machine because you are merely a cog in the war machine, and the story does a good job of hashing out age-old debates around ethics in wartime, necessary sacrifices, and whether or not there are truly any victors. That being said, the day to day operations of the game doesn't always carry the same big-picture weight, and the pacing is stronger for it. Much of your active time will be spent embroiled in a military conflict of some kind; your superiors point your squad in the direction of something that needs killing, and you do it. Some may see this as a lack of opportunity for true role-playing, but the absence of freedom of choice is arguably necessary in a game where the military hierarchy is a key component of the history that it seeks to reinterpret.

Ultimately, this is a return to form for the Valkyria Chronicles series as a whole. It stays so true to the franchise's first iteration that it'll feel as if almost no time has passed in the decade or so since the original game first came out. In revisiting the concerns and the environments of the first, it makes the most of those parallels and invites comparison in a way that highlights its strengths. Valkyria Chronicles 4 doesn't necessarily tell a new tale, but it doesn't have to; for all of its clichés and expected twists, there's a charm to the game's unwillingness to let up as it drives you and your friends forward at a rapid clip towards its bittersweet end.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Mon, 10 Sep 2018 06:30:00 -0700)

The Lara Croft who appears in Shadow of the Tomb Raider has made a ton of discoveries, lost a lot of friends, and killed countless living beings. She has incredible drive and self-confidence, and her enemies fear her. It's taken a lot for the character to get to this point, and if you've been along for the ride since her excellent revival in 2013's Tomb Raider, you may be pleased to hear that Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the same style of experience we first saw in 2013, only bigger and with more added to it. In fact, there's seemingly very little, if anything, that's changed dramatically or been discarded from the formula. But while that means Shadow retains a lot of the components that give Tomb Raider that fantastic, timeless sense of wonder and discovery, it also means that Tomb Raider's interpretation of blockbuster action-adventure mechanics is starting to feel half a decade old.

It's a little unnerving to spend time with the seasoned Lara of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, because her experience has changed her into a hardened, obsessive, and selfish individual. She's reached true colonizer form, determined to get the game's McGuffin, blind to the collateral damage, much to the concern of her lovable partner Jonah. Her demeanor is reflected in a renewed focus on stealth, where the new mechanics and the jungle setting give Lara the opportunity for Predator-style ambushes. She can cover herself in mud for additional camouflage, string enemies up from a tree, and craft Fear Arrows, which cause humans to freak out and attack each other. You're also now able to transition back into stealth after being discovered, provided you can get away and break line of sight. There's a big emphasis on these new abilities, as tooltips throughout the entire game will continually remind you that they exist. But while her expanded skillset gives you more options to confidently and quietly hunt everyone on the map, it also highlights the cracks and inconsistencies in Tomb Raider's enemy logic and the limitations of the game's relatively unsophisticated core stealth mechanics.

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Sound still does not play a significant factor in Tomb Raider's stealth. While firing at someone and throwing objects will draw attention, moving through rustling vegetation and making loud footsteps don't seem to faze anyone even though the game suggests that it will, nor will taking out a soldier right behind another with his back turned, but those rules also seem malleable. There were times when my attempted stealth approach went wrong, a gunfight broke out, and after the dust settled I was shocked to discover an additional patrol of guards in the same area, only a few seconds away from the action, carrying on with a conversation as if nothing had happened.

Lara's Survival Instincts ability once again will give you information on which enemies are safe to quietly take down without alerting others, but it can also reveal puzzling inconsistencies in enemy AI. There were too many times where I was able to get away with taking out a guard with one of his coworkers staring right at us, only meters away. Other times, the game will tell you it's unsafe to take out an enemy because of someone with line-of-sight halfway across the arena. You can't always trust your own perception of the map, even if it seems obvious, and using Survival Instincts feels necessary to constantly verify that the game agrees with your idea of what is safe or unsafe--expect to be taking out a lot of bright yellow men in monochromatic environments. When playing on Tomb Raider's hard combat difficulty, which removes enemy highlights, this uncertain behavior makes stealth tougher than you might think.

The new abilities also have their quirks. Though camouflaging yourself with mud rightly makes you harder to notice, you can abuse it to the extent where you can roll right under the nose of a guard--it's thrilling for you, but makes you pity the enemy. Mud is also typically available at the onset of major stealth sections, or very close to hiding spots that require it, making the mechanic feel more like an innate ability rather than a tactical option you need to seek out. Fear arrows have disappointingly varied results, too. More than a few times I would find myself stalking a patrol of men from a tree, shoot a fear arrow at the shotgun-toting soldier, and watch as he proceeded to miss every point-blank shot.

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There's still some satisfaction to be gained in Shadow's stealth, though. Waiting with bated breath for patrols to move on, and figuring out the order in which to eliminate guards like some kind of violent logic puzzle, is still enjoyable. But the new mechanics don't really add anything significantly interesting to that baseline experience--the big spotlight on them suggests a more sophisticated stealth system that isn't there. You get the feeling that Lara is a cold-blooded predator, that much is true. But it's not satisfying when the prey is so dumb and easy.

There's a cutscene in Shadow of the Tomb Raider that mirrors Lara's first kill in her 2013 outing--in both, she's caught off-guard by a soldier and is thrown to the ground. But despite being at a severe disadvantage, the 2018 Lara confidently blocks and counters his attacks, and when she eventually kills him, there's no emotion on her face. She barely even sighs. The game wants you to know that this Lara is fearsome. However, this depiction is betrayed by her actual abilities in the game's toe-to-toe combat, where it's often tough to get Lara to act like that efficient killing machine.

The game's guerilla angle calls for more close-and-personal encounters, and the greater number of small combat arenas means that when things get hostile, soldiers close the distance quickly. Additionally, there are new melee enemies who focus on rushing you down with overwhelming numbers. Tomb Raider's existing combat mechanics do not service this particular style of hostilities well. Lara's dodges are still the hurried scuttle and roll from her early days as an amateur survivor, and her climbing axe is still largely ineffective as a melee option--most enemies will simply dodge her knockdown attempts, especially on harder combat difficulties. Melee doesn't become a viable close-quarters tactic until you unlock a dodge and counter skill later in the game, and most of the weapons in Lara's arsenal are inefficient as close-range keep-away tools until the events of the story give you a shotgun.

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Additionally, Shadow of the Tomb Raider still doesn't communicate damage direction--if you're getting overwhelmed and are being attacked from the sides or behind, you won't know exactly where from, meaning it's more difficult to make smart evasive maneuvers on the fly. With so few certainties and reliable tools to assist you in close-quarters combat, these encounters typically result in making Lara scurry clumsily in whichever direction doesn't have enemies coming from it and frantically trying to create enough space to effectively use your weapons.

When Shadow throws you into its few mid-range combat encounters, though, the difference becomes clear. Fighting suppressing fire, scampering from cover to cover, throwing improvised Molotov cocktails, and pinging out headshot after headshot after headshot feels empowering. The combat mechanics feel much more suited to these scenarios, as was the case in previous games, and it's only here where Lara can feel like the ice-cold killer queen she has become.

But the game keeps reverting back to close-quarters encounters, and there is one battle that's particularly frustrating and seemingly never-ending. One enemy will charge at you relentlessly, teleport if you create distance, and has a large, damaging area-of-effect attack which Lara's double dodge will only just avoid. Other enemies in this battle can also, unfairly, knock you off the side of the level, but you can't do the same to them. The environment is not your friend, and it's an infuriating way to remember a grand adventure.

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What the environments are, though, is beautiful. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is nothing if not a gorgeous game, and it features some stellar level design, both aesthetically and mechanically. Exploring the impressively dense locations in Mexico and Peru is a joy. Jungles feel imposing and endless, ruined tombs are intricately detailed, hub cities are enormous and lively, and it's easy to be completely distracted by discovering new paths and areas. Hunting down the game's artifacts, treasure chests, and numerous other collectibles--however meaningless you might think they are--is also still enjoyable, as they give you a reason to go sightseeing. There's a lot of emphasis on underwater exploration in Shadow, too. And while underwater sections can be frustrating as part of story missions (instant-kill piranhas that require you to hide in seaweed get old fast), it's hard to resist swan-diving into a huge body of water when you get a chance to explore on your own.

But it's Shadow of the Tomb Raider's numerous challenge tombs and crypts that are the undisputed stars of the show. The impressive design of ancient mechanisms and the obscure solutions to using them and unlocking the path forward feel amazing to decipher after minutes of head-scratching. Some of the answers can appear straightforward if you've tackled a number of these in the past, but it's always satisfying to watch the complex parts come together regardless. Shadow of the Tomb Raider also rewards you for completing these activities with exclusive skills and gear, making them more than worth your time.

Traversing the treacherous environments in these tombs, as well as during the game's story missions, is thrilling in its own right too. Despite there always being an expected sense of peril, the designs of Lara's foolhardy paths between locations never gets old--there's always some kind of dicey maneuver at a terrifying height that makes you hold your breath.

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But these exciting traversal puzzles also feature their own unique moments of frustration, because though the locations have changed since 2013, Lara's platforming ability has seemingly not. Her jumps across gaps still feel floaty and inconsistent, meaning she'll sometimes get a mysteriously divine boost in the air to make sure she latches onto a faraway edge, but sometimes she might not grab onto a ledge at all even if she's easily cleared the gap. The same goes for tool-related maneuvers--there were enough instances where Lara completely (and amusingly) whiffed a grapple axe or zip-line that caused her to plummet to her death, prompting me to check that my controller was still connected and that I still had my primary motor functions. Her jumps and traversal maneuvers still feel loose in general and lack a strong sense of weight, which makes them feel imprecise--the way she unconvincingly flops her climbing axes directly into solid rock faces after jumping onto them always raises an eyebrow.

Altogether, these elements bring a dire uncertainty to Shadow's more demanding traversal sections--every time you try and make a jump, it's a gamble. The result you get after jumping the first time might not be the one you're supposed to get. But while that adds to the perilous nature of the task, and everything works out fine most of the time, it's annoying when it doesn't. It's especially demoralizing while playing on the hard exploration difficulty, which completely removes the subtle white paint that hints at the forward path. This difficulty setting is great--having to pay such close attention to your surroundings is engrossing, and there's a small pang of delight and relief every time you discover the first step. But sometimes you'll try a jump, the right jump, and Lara won't latch onto the ledge for whatever reason. Because you don't know any better, it discourages you from trying the jump again until you've pointlessly tried every single other option and decide to come back to it. When you can't completely trust Lara's abilities to jump and grab a ledge that she's supposed to jump and grab, that's a problem. It's these kinds of moments make you incredibly frustrated that Tomb Raider's core platforming mechanics don't seem to have been refined in the past five years.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider adds so many more pieces to the formula of previous games, but there are also so many little things that it just doesn't quite land. The game's obsession with collecting crafting materials has only become more profuse--there are now 21(!) different items to gather--causing everything to seem less valuable and the act of gathering them to be more of a chore. The side quests are poorly paced, as each will lead off with roughly 10 minutes of fetch quests across the game's huge hubs and watching talking heads before getting to the meat of things, making it easy to lose motivation. The game has an option for immersive voiceovers which causes NPCs to speak in their native languages, but Lara continues to speak to everyone in English, which feels like a missed opportunity.

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And perhaps most sad of all is the fact that Lara herself, with her single-minded selfishness, is a harder character to empathize with in Shadow. Her attitudes and obsessions are intertwined with the game's plot, and you might find yourself in disagreement with her a lot, which is a big deal when trying to overlook the flaws in her abilities. Jonah is the one you'll be rooting for in this game because he acts as Lara's centre, he'll likely echo a lot of your own sentiments, and he has a more sympathetic arc. It's a shame that the Lara you grew so incredibly fond of in the Tomb Raider reboot, and the scrappy skills you used to help her survive Yamatai, have both grown to be some of the most frustrating parts of her latest adventure. Shadow of the Tomb Raider makes you long for the days of a Lara that was easier to empathize with, where being inexperienced and imprecise made sense, and there was only one crafting resource to gather.

Thankfully, the parts of Tomb Raider that make it really fantastic--uncovering the mystery of ancient ruins, solving impressive challenge tombs, and exploring exotic environments--are still here in Shadow, and they are just as outstanding as they have always been. But the core mechanics that have been with the series for half a decade are starting to show their limitations. Making the journey to Shadow of the Tomb Raider's peaks is certainly an attractive goal, but like the challenging terrain Lara needs to traverse, the path there is getting rougher and more unpredictable.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Mon, 10 Sep 2018 06:00:00 -0700)

With tight controls, a more engaging career mode, numerous reasons to invest in your character, and fine attention to detail, NBA Live 19 is a surprisingly big drive forward in many aspects for EA's pro basketball franchise. However, its numerous animation and AI issues and lack of significant updates to Franchise mode make the newest entry ultimately feel like only an iterative update on last year's game.

Basketball is a fast and fluid game, and NBA Live 19 excels in replicating this on the court. The game uses the Real Player Motion technology that EA implemented in Madden NFL 19, and this helps make player movement and animations look better and more realistic. There are a number of impressive details that NBA Live 19 replicates authentically, including the transition from jog to run to sprint, how bodies collide when you drive the lane, and the way a player falls to the ground in embarrassment when they get their ankles broken by a well-timed crossover. Players jockeying for position in the post or making a quick cut to get free for a shot look better than ever, while defenders closely guarding an opponent with their hands replicate the kinds of motions you'd see on TV. What's more, player-specific moves, like Steph Curry's step-back jumpshot and Joel Embiid's windmill dunk are all brought into the game with a fine attention to detail. The player models are for the most part more realistic-looking.

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The animations have their ugly side, though. Bounce-passes almost never look right, with the ball zipping to the recipient at an inhumanly fast pace and sometimes at impossible angles. During some free throw animations, the player may grip the ball in a way that science says would prevent them from releasing it cleanly or at all. There are also odd sequences related to AI logic. AI players can make strange decisions like fouling on threes consistently and making obviously errant and silly passes. There were also times when AI players would stand in the paint and get called for three-second violations as if they didn't know it would get whistled. These abnormalities are unfortunately common, and take you out of the game.

On the brighter side, NBA Live 19 impressively captures the atmosphere of professional games and basketball culture in general. In professional games, the crowd noise soars when you make a big shot; shoes squeak as players enter scramble for position; players slam into the stanchion after a big play; and you hear the announcer talking about everyone getting free pizza or tacos if the home team scores X number of points. It's impressively close to what you'd see on an NBA broadcast. Street games also faithfully capture a very different subset of basketball culture. There is something special about playing outdoors, and NBA Live nails the presentation of its blacktop courts and atmosphere of fans crowded around the edges trying to get a glimpse. One of the nice new tweaks is that the camera cuts to a cell phone video of someone in the crowd livestreaming the game after big plays. These changes and improvements contribute to an impressive presentation package that pulls you in.

The controls in NBA Live 19 are relatively simple but contain enough depth to give you ample opportunity to play with your own style. Moving the ball around to create scoring lanes is a fine way to play, but there's room to emphasize more stylish and exciting moves. Ankle-breaking crossovers, behind-the-back dribbles, step-backs, and spin moves can all be performed with the flick of a stick in the right direction at the right time. It's also nice that the game recognizes when you're in the paint or when a hole opens up, and it guides you toward making the right play under the circumstances at hand. In past games, you might have pulled up for a jumper two feet away from the rack, but now the game better understands where you are in the key and turns it into a layup or dunk. Executing a play requires strategy and timing, and it all feels fluid as your teammates will, for the most part, make smart cuts to get free. It's up to you to recognize those cuts and runs and make a pass at the right time. NBA Live 19's on-the-court gameplay is the best it has ever been.

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NBA Live 19's broadcast presentation is one of its strongest components. The game continues to use the ESPN license, which brings the big-time sports network's graphics, trademark music, and commentator Jalen Rose to the game for halftime highlights and breakdowns in a further bid for realism that enhances the experience. What's more, EA brought in a new commentary team for NBA Live 19 composed of Ed Cohen, who does play-by-play for the New York Knicks in real life, and former Chicago Bulls player Jay Williams. They have a natural-sounding and mostly pleasing back-and-forth, with Cohen making precise comments about statistics, positions, and schemes in his play-by-play role and Williams on color making quips that draw from his years of playing experience. The commentary eventually grows stale, sadly, and this is particularly apparent when playing in Franchise mode where you stick with the same players all the time. Did you know that Boston Celtics center Aron Baynes grew up in Australia playing rugby, and that contributes to the physical nature of his play style? You will, as Williams repeats this line again and again. As it does with the Madden series, EA plans to update NBA Live 19's commentary throughout the season to keep things fresh, and that's fortunate because new and different lines are what the game needs.

One of the most substantial and noteworthy additions to last year's game was the career mode, The One, where you create an amateur player and build them into a superstar. It returns in NBA Live 19 and genuinely feels like it has improved with a globe-trotting story, a deep new mode called Court Battles and the ability to create your own court.

Your journey in The One takes you to notable real-world street courts like Tenement Square in the Philippines, Cherashore Playground in Philadelphia, Quai 54 in Paris, and Parque De Rio in Brazil. The diversity of courts and their related aesthetics--like the Eiffel Tower in the background and colourful structures in Brazil--give you the sense that you're going on a journey as you try to become, well, the one. There are also some fun narrative choices you can make with your mentor and agents, including playful banter about your performance on the court as well as more substantial decisions, like where you want to compete next. This kind of control helps you feel more connected to the player you create and more attached to their journey.

Progression in The One is akin to an RPG where you'll spend skill to increase attributes like passing, rebounding, dribbling, and shooting. In the early stages, you'll notice deficiencies in your player; they might lack dribbling skills to blow by a defender with a finesse move or be unable to catch-and-shoot as fast and effectively as a more accomplished player could. Toughing it out and cutting your teeth in early games, then eventually upgrading your skills to become a more well-rounded player, makes The One's progression system feel rewarding. On the customization side, the character creator finally lets you make a female character, which was a notable absence from last year.

Winning tournaments in The One lets you recruit NBA and WNBA players to your team, and it's a wonderful fantasy fulfillment for basketball fans to build a team of players that can be comprised of any professional player. Another noteworthy element is The League, which sees you taking your created character through the NBA Combine to Draft Day and eventually to the NBA where you can play a full season as your fantasy character on any team you want, and it's exciting to play as your created character alongside NBA superstars.

One of NBA Live 19's deepest modes is the card-collecting Ultimate Team, which fans of EA Sports games will know well. There are a mountain of fantasy challenges available right at the start--more than one thousand in all. had fun earning new players and completing the challenges, but the overall experience feels very grindy. To build your team you can slog away at these challenges or pay real money for "NBA Points" to buy new players that you can use immediately. The Store page where you can buy NBA Points is front and center in the Ultimate Team menus, and this feels like an unnecessary and gross, if unsurprising, push towards microtransactions.

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Franchise mode sees some noteworthy new updates, including a pre-draft preview, while the introduction of "Bird Rights" expands and improves on last year's shallow contract negotiation options. However, with no player editor or online functionality, Franchise remains a barebones experience that comes nowhere close to what EA's other sports games offer.

NBA Live 19 also offers numerous online modes including the standard head-to-head matches and deeper, more interesting ones such as Live Run and Live Events. In these, you team up with other players online to take on co-op challenges like winning street court games in 3v3 and 5v5 setups. In addition to acquiring more progression points for your character, you can earn customization items for yourself and your court by completing these challenges. Part of what I like so much about playing basketball in real life is the community aspect of playing together with friends--or strangers--on a court down the street. NBA Live 19 captures that feeling and delivers a rewarding experience for engaging in it.

NBA Live 19 is a capable and competent basketball game that offers a multitude of different ways to play and numerous reasons to keep coming back. Its impressive attention to detail complements the strong foundation set by its presentation and gameplay. However, the AI logic and animation problems are impossible to ignore given they're at the heart of the experience the entire game is based on. These issues, combined with a lackluster franchise mode and a push towards microtransactions, detract from what is an otherwise solid basketball game.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Thu, 06 Sep 2018 21:01:00 -0700)

Back in 1997, Theme Hospital laughed us all back to health with its acutely tongue-in-cheek approach to hospital management simulation. 21 years later, Two Point Hospital pulls at the same nostalgic heart strings, channeling Theme Hospital’s brand of brash, British humour and mixing it with some surprisingly deep economic management gameplay. Two Point Hospital simultaneously pays homage to its predecessor while surgically carving out its own place in your heart.

Two Point Hospital puts you behind the administrator’s desk and charges you with both the grander and finer aspects of managing your new hospital empire, from designing the internal layout of each building down to hiring staff and researching treatments. You’ll start out small with only a single hospital and a handful of illnesses to worry about treating and slowly build your way up towards managing larger locations with multiple buildings and a vast range of wacky illnesses that require special rooms and equipment to treat. Its goofy style--bright colours and characters with big, bulbous heads--belies the depth of its management simulation, finding a good balance between both aspects. Helpful tutorials in each mission ease you into the concepts behind new objectives at a comfortable pace, and as you complete them, you’ll earn stars to unlock new missions as well as room types.

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For your hospital to run smoothly and make lots of money, patients need to be diagnosed and then treated as quickly as possible. For some that means a quick trip to the GP’s office, then a jab in the injection room. But for most, this means long stays and visits between different rooms for tests and eventual treatment. For these patients, as well as your staff, you’ll need to make sure there’s plenty of things around to keep their mood up, placing importance on how you make use of your space. Getting it right can make the difference between having the best reputation in the business, or causing an innumerable number of patient deaths, dropping your reputation and bank balance into the toilet. Helpfully, you’re given lots of colourful graphs and floor charts to work out what needs improvement, so you’re not left out in the cold trying to work out why all your patients are rage-quitting and storming out the hospital doors before being treated.

The tools for drawing out rooms and placing furnishings feel intuitive and robust; rooms are drawn out like blueprints on a floor plan, then once you’re happy with the layout you can place your items like desks, bookshelves and coffee machines. Items help add prestige to a room, and are unlocked using Kudosh, a reward currency that’s awarded for completing objectives. The larger the room and the more you fill it with items, the higher its prestige and happier staff and patients will be when using it, meaning staff work longer and for less money and patients will pay you more. This creates an interesting dichotomy between saving available space for a bigger variety of rooms, or building larger, higher-level rooms and seeing the effects that both have on your staff and patients.

Later missions go out of their way to shake up the established gameplay loop by throwing machine-damaging natural disasters like storms and earthquakes at you. You need to draw on everything you’ve learned up to that point as mission objectives broaden and your funds start to spread thin. You also have to consider the mind-boggling number of different treatment rooms to research and prioritise which to build and which patients to turn away. While some diseases only require a pharmacy to cure, others require their own rooms with expensive equipment, and putting all your money into the wrong treatments could leave your bank account reeling.

Thankfully anything that’s researched in one mission becomes available in all others, so if you get stuck somewhere and don’t have the funds to research what you need, you can always go back to a previous hospital and get them to front the research bill instead. This grander focus across all your hospitals extends to a light multiplayer portion in the form of leaderboards. All of your stats like cure rates, money earned and reputation are saved to online leaderboards, where you can compare your successes and failures against your friends. It’s only good for bragging rights, but it’s a nice addition regardless.

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Part of Two Point Hospital’s overwhelming charm is its sense of humor, which permeates every corner of the game, from the fantastically funny radio station--complete with fake ads and feature segments--to the pun-laden disease names like Jest Infection or 8-bitten. Someone suffering Mock Star shuffles about with the look and swagger of Freddie Mercury, requiring a session with the psychiatrist to pull them out of it. Equally funny are the contraptions used to cure some of the rarer conditions. The Extract-a-Pan treats Pandemic and is a giant magnet on the end of a tube that pulls the pan off the top of the patient's head. The writing throughout is sharp and witty, with the descriptions of various ailments being a particular high point.

But just discovering those diseases and their often darkly funny symptoms, as well as watching your staff and patients go about their day, feels rewarding enough. Everything moves with the look and flow of a cartoon pantomime; patients will die only to come back as ghosts and haunt your hallways until a janitor can come along and suck them up with a vacuum cleaner. At one point my receptionist got up from his desk, vomited in front of patients because he was disgusted by something, then left to pour a coffee in the break room before demanding a pay raise. It nails the Theme Hospital nostalgia and is so good that even the 20th time you hear the announcer ask patients “not to die in the hallways” is hilarious.

Part of Two Point Hospital’s overwhelming charm is its sense of humor, which permeates every corner of the game.

The one area where the game does suffer is in the minor grind of starting a brand-new hospital for each new mission. After spending hours perfecting several locations, going through the early phases of a new hospital starts to feel more like a chore than it should. It’s not a long process, but it quickly becomes a section you want to rush through to get to the things you haven’t seen yet.

It’s remarkable that it’s taken so long for a spiritual successor to Theme Hospital to show up, but now that it’s here, it feels like it’s been well worth the wait. The exaggerated, cartoon look and relaxed approach to management make it inviting enough for most players, while the deeper aspects of its economy are enough to keep seasoned players engaged. Two Point Hospital not only re-works an old formula into something modern and enjoyable, it also iterates on the classic brand of irresistible charm and wit, making something that’s truly wonderful.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Thu, 06 Sep 2018 14:08:00 -0700)

The shackles are off for Pro Evolution Soccer 2019. No longer burdened by an obligation to develop for the previous generation of consoles, PES 2019 feels like the beginning of an exciting new era for Konami's long-running football series. The visuals have received a much-needed overhaul, while the on-pitch action has been tightened up, refined, and improved. The series’ lack of impactful licenses and insipid UI and commentary are issues that persist, but PES 2019 builds on what was already a runaway title winner to set a new high bar for the series.

The improvements to PES's superlative brand of football initially appear trivial, like Konami simply slapped a new lick of paint on last year's game. It still adopts the same methodical pace, tangible sense of weight, and breadth of passing as PES 2018, but after a couple of matches you begin to notice subtle changes that gradually add up. The impact of another year's worth of development becomes palpable.

Passing is, of course, the bedrock of any great football game, and PES 2019 enhances its passing dynamism with a plethora of new animations, bringing each kick of the ball to life with startling accuracy. Players are intelligent enough to contextually know what pass to play and when, giving you a greater sense of control over each passing move. If you're receiving the ball under pressure from a burly centre-half, you'll have the confidence to know you can potentially flick the ball around the corner to an overlapping winger or deftly play it back to a midfielder so he can knock it into space with the outside of his boot.

There's an impressive variety of passes in any one match, while the fluidity of the players' movement and the responsiveness behind each button press lead to moments of scintillating football--whether you're patiently building from the back, carving a team open with a clinical counter-attack, or hoofing it up to your big target man. PES's passing mechanics have been so accomplished for so many years now that there's always been a singular pleasure in simply shifting the ball between teammates. That outstanding feeling has only intensified in PES 2019.

Ball physics have been reworked and greatly contribute to this, too, making that little white sphere feel considerably more like a separate entity than ever before. It never appears as if the ball is rigidly stuck to your player's feet, nor are your passes laser-guided to their target. There's an authentic flow and unpredictability to the way the ball moves, curling and dipping through the air, spinning off a goalkeeper's fingertips, and neatly coming under the delicate control of a player like Mesut Özil. No one would blame you if you hopped into a replay just to ogle the ball's flight path and the animation that preceded it. Sending a diagonal pass to the opposite wing just feels right, and this excellence emanates out to each aspect of PES 2019's on-pitch action.

Players are more reactive off the ball and make smarter runs, pointing to the space they're about to sprint into to let you know when to unleash that inch-perfect through ball. There's more physicality to matches in PES 2019, too. Hurtling into a tackle and fighting tooth-and-nail to win the ball back with a defender is much more active and satisfying as a result. Players will jostle for position, realistically clattering into each other, and it feels rewarding to barge an attacker off the ball, or hold off a defender with a diminutive winger, before using a feint to create some space and escape their clutches.

Executing feints, step-overs, and other skill moves is intuitive, with each one mapped to the left and right sticks. There are few better feelings in PES than leaving a defender for dead with an eye-opening piece of skill, and this feeds into an added emphasis on player individuality. Cut inside with Lionel Messi and he's liable to flick the ball over the outstretched leg of a defender, using his low centre of gravity to peel past them, before rasping a left-footed shot into the bottom corner of the net. Meanwhile, someone like Paul Pogba will saunter around the midfield, finding pockets of space and using his large frame to maintain possession, while Roberto Firmino will occasionally bust out a no-look pass, and Cristiano Ronaldo will hang in the air on crosses for what feels like eternity, or smash in a dipping 30-yard screamer that has the 'keeper rueing his luck. PES has a recent history of making both its players and its teams feel unique, and with a deluge of superb new animations, PES 2019 is no different.

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It's not all roses, however, as it does still share some of the more disappointing aspects of its predecessors. Referees, for example, are maddeningly inconsistent; both too lenient and too harsh in the same match, while match presentation is bland and lifeless. A new naturalistic lighting engine produces some stunning sights, casting realistic shadows across much improved grass and crowd textures. But the UI surrounding it still feels trapped in the past, and stalwart commentators Peter Drury and Jim Beglin return with the same disjointed dialogue we've come to know and hate, with little in the way of new lines. Drury will still get overly excited by tame shots, and there's only so many times you can listen to Beglin say "If you don't speculate, you won't accumulate" across multiple games before you're tempted to turn the commentary off completely.

Some of the teams that are officially partnered with PES get the red carpet treatment, with recognisable chants and an authentic atmosphere permeating every home match. Play with Liverpool at Anfield and the kop will belt out "You'll never walk alone" before the match begins. On the flip side of this, teams with no official ties to PES receive canned crowd noises and indecipherable chants that rob these games of any ambience. This isn't terrible, but after showing a more accurate depiction of a Saturday afternoon matchday, the lack of a distinct atmosphere in these games can't help but feel like a downgrade.

Disappointingly, Master League remains almost untouched. The International Champions Cup debuts as a short pre-season tournament, and transfer negotiations have been slightly reworked, giving you more flexibility when it comes to player fees and contracts. You can now include clauses like clean-sheet bonuses and sell-on fees so there's not just a lump sum involved, but AI transfer logic still isn't particularly smart. Budgets and fees don't replicate the reality of the transfer market, with much smaller numbers than the astronomical prices we've seen players going for in recent years. It's possible to buy a player like Aymeric Laporte for £12 million a mere six months after Manchester City splashed out £57 million for the central defender in the real world.

At least goalkeepers have finally seen some enhancements. They're essentially useless when rushing off the goal line, regularly failing to close down an attacking player's angles, but this is where the faults end. Each number one's ability as a shot stopper has seen a marked improvement. Just like elsewhere on the pitch, goalkeepers have been blessed with a range of new animations that banish their previously robotic nature. They'll pull off some eye-catching saves, getting fingertips to shots destined for the top corner, or just generally making themselves as big as possible in order to get something, anything, on an incoming shot.

You'll need your 'keeper to be on top form in the latter stages of a match, too. The stamina system in PES 2019 has been reworked to place significantly more importance on your players' fitness. This has been dubbed "visible fatigue," and it does exactly what it says. Run a team ragged and their midfield and defence will visibly tire as the match wears on, potentially opening up space for you to exploit with fresh legs off the bench. This isn't a one-way street, though, as you'll need to be mindful of your own players' stamina as well--your star midfielder isn't much use if he can barely muster a light jog. This forces you to play a more considered game of football, sprinting only when it's absolutely necessary and making timely substitutions when the situation calls for it. This is a literal game-changing feature, and it wonderfully complements PES's brand of authentic, methodical football.

It's a shame, then, that PES is still trailing FIFA when it comes to official licensing. Losing the Champions League and Europa League licences to the EA behemoth is a massive blow for PES. To Konami's credit, it has responded by obtaining more licensed leagues than ever before, with the likes of the Scottish Premiership, the Russian Premier Liga, and Superliga Argentina all being featured in their official forms. They're certainly welcome additions, but these aren't standout leagues that are going to move the needle the same way the English Premier League or La Liga would. If you want to play in the Madrid derby you're still stuck choosing between KB Red White and MD White, and the Bundesliga is completely absent beyond Schalke 04 and Bayer Leverkusen, meaning two of Europe's biggest clubs--Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich--are nowhere to be found. Thankfully, the PES community does an amazing job creating update files if you want to mod in the teams, players, and kits that are missing, but you're out of luck on Xbox One where this isn't possible.

PES 2019's online servers are surprisingly stable, considering the series' history of troubled connections. We didn't encounter any noticeable latency across dozens and dozens of online matches. Meanwhile, myClub introduces a few changes to its Ultimate Team-esque formula. Featured Players are now released each week, with outstanding performances in the real world translating to attribute boosts in PES. The way you attain new players has changed, too, with players bundled in packs of four as opposed to the single player you would get in previous iterations of the mode. This lets you build up your squad faster or turn these additional players into XP trainers that can boost some of the key players in your team. If you receive three duplicates of the same player, you can also combine them together to get a higher-rated version of that player. Ultimately, these tweaks don't alter the structure of myClub too much, but it's a fun mode to engage with purely to play more of its outstanding brand of football.

For as long as EA continues to develop FIFA and hold a monopoly over official licences, PES will be the scrappy underdog just hoping for a surprise upset, even when it's fielding the likes of London Blue and PV White Red. The lack of licences for top-tier leagues remains a disheartening sticking point, but PES continues to make brilliant strides on the pitch, building on what was already an incredibly satisfying game of football to produce one of the greatest playing football games of all time. It might be lacking off the pitch, but put it on the field against the competition and a famous giant killing wouldn't be all that surprising.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Thu, 06 Sep 2018 10:36:00 -0700)

A film about a psychically wounded vet reluctantly bonding with a child may sound like something you’ve seen before, but you haven’t seen “Lost Child.” Directed by Ramaa Mosley from a script she wrote with Tim Macy, the slow-burning thriller walks a fine line, balancing elements of psychological...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Movie Reviews (Wed, 12 Sep 2018 18:10:00 PDT )

With “Rodents of Unusual Size,” directors Quinn Costello, Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer have a heck of a story to tell charting the destructive impact that nutria, the furry, orange-toothed critters of the title, have had on the Louisiana bayou and the measures locals have taken to fight back,...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Movie Reviews (Wed, 12 Sep 2018 17:25:00 PDT )

Sadness envelops the French Canadian biopic “Nelly.” Born in Quebec as Isabelle Fortier, Nelly Arcan worked as a high-class call girl before bursting onto the French-language literary scene with the semi-autobiographical novel “Putain” under her nom de plume in 2001. She wrote three more novels...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Movie Reviews (Thu, 13 Sep 2018 08:00:00 PDT )

Other than USA Network’s “Queen of the South,” most TV and movie narratives about drug dealers and drug lords focus on male protagonists. Refreshingly, “MDMA” takes a different route, but it isn’t just for now-fashionable feminism’s sake. First-time director Angie Wang brings her own story of dealing...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Movie Reviews (Wed, 12 Sep 2018 16:20:00 PDT )

When fantastic scenarios work, the imaginative mixes tantalizingly with the familiar — each feeds the other. But since we’re already way past the expiration date on the allure of post-apocalyptic settings and their themes — loneliness, survival, grief — it’s surprising that they keep attracting...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Movie Reviews (Wed, 12 Sep 2018 17:00:00 PDT )

Swelling with humanity and romance like the crescendo of an aria, “Bel Canto” is a moving meditation on the power of love, music and proximity. Based on Ann Patchett’s bestselling novel, the Paul Weitz-directed drama gives top billing to a stellar Julianne Moore as a superstar soprano, but this...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Movie Reviews (Wed, 12 Sep 2018 17:10:00 PDT )

Take a prog-rock album cover, cross it with a trashy 1980s horror paperback, throw in one gloriously gonzo Nicolas Cage performance, and that’s “Mandy.” Director Panos Cosmatos’ visionary revenge thriller is a dreamy genre exercise that’ll appeal to connoisseurs — though it may flummox anyone just...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Movie Reviews (Wed, 12 Sep 2018 16:55:00 PDT )

There are divergent ways of viewing “Final Score,” an action thriller starring Dave Bautista as an ex-Navy Seal battling a group of Russian rebels who have taken over a London stadium during a soccer match.

If your idea of light entertainment does not include fare that could turn up as a breaking...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Movie Reviews (Tue, 11 Sep 2018 11:30:00 PDT )

Even in the well-trod genre that is the ’80s drug movie, the true-life story of teen drug kingpin Ricky Wershe Jr., a.k.a. White Boy Rick, stands out.

The baby-faced baller moved serious weight in Detroit in the mid-1980s, and the legend surrounding him is larger than the real, tragic story. Director...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Movie Reviews (Wed, 12 Sep 2018 17:40:00 PDT )

“Blaze,” director and co-writer Ethan Hawke’s rambling, low-key look at country-blues singer Blaze Foley (played by folk-rock musician Ben Dickey in a craftily immersive acting debut), is a film for the most patient and mellow of viewers. Although this overlong, shaggy slice of musical Americana...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Movie Reviews (Wed, 12 Sep 2018 17:40:00 PDT )

Not every accused murderer gets a nursery rhyme written in their honor, or has had film directors and heavy metal singers take their name as an edgy, feminist statement. But not every accused murderer has a story quite so exciting as Lizzie Borden’s, the woman who was tried and acquitted of murdering...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Movie Reviews (Wed, 12 Sep 2018 18:00:00 PDT )

“Didn't we already get an ‘Unbroken' movie?” you might ask. Nevertheless, faith-based film distributor PureFlix serves up “Unbroken: Path to Redemption” as a coda, or a minor corrective, to Angelina Jolie's 2014 film about the amazing World War II survival story of Olympic runner Louis Zamperini.

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Movie Reviews (Wed, 12 Sep 2018 18:20:00 PDT )

Possibly the year's most audacious film debut, "I Am Not A Witch" has won numerous awards, including Britain's BAFTA for best first feature, and to see it is to understand why.

Written and directed by Zambian-born, Wales-raised Rungano Nyoni, this smart and savage satire is impressive for the way...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Movie Reviews (Thu, 13 Sep 2018 10:50:00 PDT )

Numerous landmark directors did remarkable work in Hollywood in the 1970s, but a convincing argument can be made that Hal Ashby and his films represented that decade at its best.

As filmmaker Alexander Payne points out in the simply named "Hal," the lively and evocative documentary on the man,...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Movie Reviews (Thu, 13 Sep 2018 10:15:00 PDT )
Power 106 FM kept its annual summer hip-hop show, Powerhouse, old school and relatively orthodox, with rappers Snoop Dogg, T.I. and Young Jeezy leading a show that was light on the dance-oriented pop hits that dominate the airwaves. The Times' August Brown reviews. Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Pop Concert Reviews (Sun, 24 Jun 2012 17:40:41 -0700 )
Nickelback has no official connection to the big-screen version of “Rock of Ages,” but on Friday night at Staples Center, it was hard not to think of the just-opened movie musical -- a flashy-trashy dramatization of the 1980s hard-rock scene... Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Pop Concert Reviews ( Sun, 17 Jun 2012 19:36:33 -0700 )
Now in its fifth year, Make Music Pasadena celebrates music at its most casual and community-focused, and has grown from a festival that once largely featured intimate, acoustic appearances in storefronts to one that can draw artists with national appeal. Boasting 149 performances and pop-up stages on Old Town's Colorado Boulevard and the Playhouse District's Madison Avenue, Make Music Pasadena is a large-scale event done on a budget. Ninety-nine percent of the artists appearing do not get paid, say organizers, and headliners such as electronic artist Grimes and peppy local rockers Grouplove were expected to bring at least 20,000 people to downtown Pasadena. Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Pop Concert Reviews ( Sun, 17 Jun 2012 17:39:47 -0700 )
Live: Lil Kim driven to give till it hurts: The hip-hop diva's ambitious if erratic show was almost too much for the compact confines of Key Club. Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Pop Concert Reviews ( Thu, 14 Jun 2012 17:51:14 -0700 )
LMFAO's Redfoo and Sky Blu stay in character and play debauchery for laughs and fun at Staples Center as part of Sorry for Party Rocking Tour. Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Pop Concert Reviews ( Wed, 06 Jun 2012 18:34:01 -0700 )
The Beach Boys reunited June 2, 2012, at the Hollywood Bowl for the band's first tour together in more than two decades. A review for the Los Angeles Times. Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Pop Concert Reviews ( Sun, 03 Jun 2012 13:21:26 -0700 )
If you closed your eyes during the sold-out Santigold concert at Club Nokia Friday night -- especially at any point in the first half -- it’d have been easy to feel like you were at one of the Hollywood Bowl’s annual flashback concerts featuring ‘80s British bands. Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Pop Concert Reviews ( Sat, 02 Jun 2012 13:49:57 -0700 )
Van Halen returned to Los Angeles to perform to a hometown crowd at the Staples Center, where band members David Lee Roth, and Eddie, Alex, and Wolfgang Van Halen performed during their "Different Kind of Truth" reunion tour. Times pop music critic Randall Roberts says the performance was often lackluster. Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Pop Concert Reviews ( Sat, 02 Jun 2012 12:49:42 -0700 )


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