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‘Anthem’ Review: Flighty Fun, but a Mech-Filled Mess

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Anthem Game Review

Dive bombing an unsuspecting sniper with the melee-focused Interceptor Javelin (the name Anthem gives its exosuits), eliminating an entire wave of enemies with a succession of the Storm’s tempestuous energy abilities, tearing through the sky, the jungle sun gleaming off of the Javelin’s exterior, there are many moments when Anthem literally shines. These moments provide glimmers of hope, brief glimpses into a potentially bright future for developer BioWare’s cooperative, mech-fueled, looter shooter. Unfortunately, any brilliance Anthem displays is too frequently eclipsed by a poor game state at launch rife with repetition, dismal design decisions, a grating grind, punishing pacing, and a lackluster narrative, the antithesis to the game’s gorgeous graphics and generally great gameplay.

Relics of the Past

Narratively, Anthem is a fairly familiar sci-fi affair involving a mysteriously absent forerunner species capable of shaping the planet, powerful relics they left behind, and the different factions attempting to control or contain said relics. That could be a description of Halo. Where Anthem manages some distinction is the “cataclysms” resulting from these unchecked relics, which take the shape of monster spawning portals and, perhaps in an environmentalist turn, devastating storms. To combat these cataclysms and contain these relics, humanity devised the Javelins. Now humanity’s last hope is in a small faction of Javelin pilots, the Freelancers.

The rest of the narrative could be read as a metaphor for the game itself. Previously revered as heroes, the Freelancers (BioWare) have fallen out of favor with the public (gamers) after failing to live up to their reputation and some costly mistakes (Mass Effect Andromeda). Unable to prevent a hostile faction known as the Dominion (EA) from activating a relic hidden beneath the heart of Javelin operations has resulted in the worst cataclysm humanity has ever seen, the Heart of Rage (gamer rage). Failing to stop the Heart of Rage once (Anthem‘s launch), could the key lie in the past (a lot of updates and patches)? Pepper in some nonsense sci-fi jargon giving purpose to the player for doing the same thing over and over and over again and, bam, you’ve got your AAA, live game, sci-fi shooter recipe!

“Slow Alone. Stronger Together.”

The world of Anthem is littered with quite a few intriguing characters for the player to interact with back at Fort Tarsis, the game’s central hub, that help push the narrative along. Well acted and captured, these characters provide a spark of life to the game’s first-person sections and give the otherworldly plot some heart and history. In these sequences, players are given fully voice acted dialogue options, that, while having no perceivable impact on the narrative, keep these sections interactive instead of just one-sided conversations. That’s not to say that some of these dialogues aren’t vexing NPCs dumping nonsense sci-fi exposition onto unwilling players’ heads in the name of plot development, but in the best instances I was eager to make a good impression with the more relatable characters I had taken to.  What I didn’t take to was having to slowly jog through the poorly mapped Tarsis to get from one monologue to the next, especially if it ended in more generic sci-fi babble over meaningful character interaction. That slow jog can’t be understated, resulting in tedious strolls through a notably single player space in cooperative game. It does explain the game’s slogan: Strong Slow Alone. Stronger Together.

Moments like these accentuate issues with Anthem‘s pacing. Tearing through the campaign as the most agile Javelin, the Interceptor, most campaign missions take no more than fifteen minutes. This is immediately followed by a mandatory trip to Tarsis to adjust my Javelin and the tedious task of walking to dialogue sequences to progress the story and or collect new quests, not to mention the loading periods loading in and out of the hub, resulting in five to ten minute periods away from the game’s main draw, the cooperative action. If played simultaneously with friends, these waits between missions can be even longer as each player modifies their loadout and pushes through the dialogue delivered context for the next mission. I’ve critiqued Destiny in the past for its over-reliance on exposition dumps when flying in to the next story mission, but I’d take that over a required trip to Tarsis any day, especially since players can multitask and mess with their loadout while loading in Destiny. Anthem, on the other hand, requires players to have access to the Forge back at the Fort or in the mission pre-launch menu to swap weapons and gear. That’s sure to spell out frustration in any loot oriented game, especially when early gameplay trailers boasted gear swapping on the go.

Like a Dream

Luckily, combat and general gameplay is the antithesis of Fort Tar-slow. Flight controls in Anthem are tight and responsive, and each Javelin “handles like a dream.”  Players can leap into flight at will, dive enemy troops on the ground, roll out of harm’s way, and hover above the field for an aerial advantage, all while an overheating mechanic ensures players are conscious while in flight and can’t over-utilize these techniques in a fight. Paired with the equally fast and fluid combat makes for some furiously frantic fun. Leveraging maneuverability to skate around an incoming attack or to deftly flank an enemy tank before letting loose with slur of shotgun shells or machine pistol munitions is extremely gratifying. Different guns pair better with different Javelins, courtesy of each Javlins unique strengths, adding depth and distinction when playing with a diverse team setup. The lightning-quick Interceptor, for example, can make excellent use of close range arms that pair with its range of melee attacks, while the Colossus benefits from hunkering down and shooting at a greater range. Even more distinct and satisfying to use are the series of abilities unique to each Javelin that punctuate Anthem‘s gameplay.

Each Javelin provides a great deal variety and perfectly encapsulates a core concept with its inherent and unlockable abilities. The Storm has a wide range of elemental and area-of-effect attacks ideal for slaying slews of enemies and hovers above the battlefield with a personal shield. The Colossus is a heavy hitting tank type with a range of multi-target attacks. The Ranger is an all range Javelin with a levy of grenade and rocket type attacks. The Interceptor is an agility based, melee monster with an assortment of throwing glaives and dashes to accentuate this style of play. So satisfying are these abilities, in fact, that I frequently go through missions without firing a single shot, opting to instead dice my enemies to death with the Interceptor itself. Not all abilities are created equal, however, and it is disappointing to be stuck with a weak or slow one for an entire mission or to have your best ability by a wide margin be one you don’t like. At least in the first scenario, you know for certain that a trip to Tarsis is only around the corner. Gameplay can also get a little stale once all of the abilities have been experienced since Anthem reserves most of its engaging gear and activities until after the twenty-or-so-hour campaign.

Combat tends to be engaging to the point that I generally don’t mind how repetitive the mission structure tends to be, however, it doesn’t take long to recognize how similarly every level is set up. Fly here, clear some ads, follow the radar to a specific point, hold to investigate, fly there, clear ads, protect a circle, done. Thankfully, again, flight and combat are really fun, but it’s a shame that most variety comes late in the game, similar to loot.

Shoot. Loot. Repeat.

Speaking of, perhaps the largest concerns with Anthem center on the loot drops. While most flags raised have been regarding the endgame loot grind where this is more critical, from the outset Anthem‘s loot seems antagonistically. Early on it just doesn’t matter since early gear drops so much more commonly. All the same, in most looter shooters I’ve experienced, almost all gear dropped through the campaign is at or above the players Gear Score, or Light Level, or whatever you want to call it, to help them climb through the early ranks. It’s typically not until the endgame grind that more powerful gear drops exclusively from endgame activities. In Anthem, however, it seemed like roughly half of all gear gained was worse than my current gear making the climb early on, again when it doesn’t matter, much slower and RNG based than necessary. This issue is only compounded when operating at higher levels.

For an investment cycle to work in a live game, players need to feel they’re earning tangible rewards for the time and effort invested. Anthem‘s constant struggle has been striking the proper balance, and in its current state, the rewards simply do not match the difficulty and time investment. There’s also a severe lack of endgame content to keep players invested longterm, limited primarily to three Strongholds, dungeon-like missions culminating in a large, unique boss fight. While Strongholds do propose an engaging challenge, that’s still pretty on content, though, as a live game, there is, of course, a roadmap charting the course for more content to come.

Finally, it’s also worth mentioning that all cosmetics are exclusive to Anthem‘s in-game store thus far, so while players are free to extensively color their Javelins, players won’t be grinding for cool armor which denotes their in-game achievements to other players any time soon. In a third person game filled with rad exosuits, this was a horrible decision as it means one less incentive to chase.

For all of its issues, I still find Anthem incredibly fun and am inclined to return again and again. Viewed as the game as a service that it’s been billed as, its difficult not to notice issues with the engame, the loot grind, and some of the missing investment opportunities on top of Anthem‘s struggle with pacing and repetition. Viewed as a momentary diversion and Anthem looks far more inviting. Exceptional in-game maneuverability, enthralling arena combat, thrilling Javelin abilities, with plenty of diversity in the form of new weapons and especially different Javelins each with their own unique abilities make Anthem distinct and worth experiencing. Viewed in that light, it is exciting that even if not fully invested, Anthem can be returned to later and it will hopefully be improved and have more to experience. In the end, Anthem might not be quite ready yet, but it has potential, like an inert Javelin waiting to take flight.

Tim is not the droids you are looking for. He resides quietly in the Emerald City where he can often be found writing, reading, watching movies, or playing video games. He is the Xbox editor for Goomba Stomp and the site's official Pokémon Master.

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Game Reviews

‘AVICII Invector Encore Edition’ Review: Rhythm and Melancholy

‘AVICII Invector: Encore Edition’ is a music and rhythm game perfect for newcomers and fans of the genre.

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AVICII Invector Encore Edition Review

Developer: Hello There Games | Publisher: Wired Productions | Genre:  Rhythm | Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam | Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch


In terms of a pure adrenaline rush, nothing tops a well-designed rhythm game. Good rhythm games let players feel a euphoric sense of flow and even excitement. But the best the genre has to offer taps into the heart of music itself. AVICII Invector Encore Edition is a rhythm game perfect for newcomers to the genre but also works as a moving tribute.

I can’t tell where the journey will end
But I know where to start

Whether it’s tapping buttons in time with the beat, smashing feet on a dance pad, or moving an entire body in front of an IR camera, rhythm and music games have always been popular. AVICII Invector Encore Edition takes inspiration from music games that came before it but stands firmly on its own. It’s wonderfully accessible, truly a music game for anyone. From diehard fans of the rhythm game genre to people who are simply AVICII fans who also have a console, Invector checks a lot of boxes.

Levels across AVICII Invector play largely the same. The player picks a track and a difficulty level, and is off to the races. They control a slick spaceship moving forward along a track, and must tap or hold buttons as the ship passes over them. This “falling jewel” style has been popular from the Guitar Hero franchise and beyond, but Invector finds ways to make it feel unique. The art direction is breathtakingly stellar, taking players on far-out trips through cyberpunk-esque cities and crumbling pathways. There are even portions of each level where the player can steer their spaceship Star Fox-style through rings and around pillars to keep their point multiplier up.

Invector feels like it’s trying to affect as many sensory inputs as it can. Though Encore Edition is fully playable on handheld mode on Switch, Invector shines brightest on a big screen with a thumping sound system. The neighbors might get annoyed, but who would hear them complaining?

Tracks are divided up by worlds, with four to five tracks each. Worlds must be cleared sequentially, by scoring at least seventy-five percent on each level in that world. While this may sound initially restrictive, Encore Edition gives players access to two extra worlds with five tracks each right out of the gate, so players have plenty to play with at the start.

There are three difficulties available, and each mode offers a different experience. For players who just want to experience AVICII’s music in a low-stress way while enjoying amazing visuals and ambiance, Easy mode is the way to play. Anything above that amps the difficulty up significantly, with Hard mode escalating the required precision to an unbelievable degree. Building up a competitive high score can only be achieved by hitting multipliers and keeping a streak going. At higher difficulties, Invector feels challenging but exhilarating. Scoring above ninety percent on any difficulty mode above Easy feels extremely good, and the online leaderboards are the perfect place to boast about that achievement. During high level play, earning a high score feels transcendent.

Worlds and levels are strung together with brief, lightly-animated cutscenes. It’s a slim justification for a rhythm game, but they’re better than nothing and provide just enough context to keep things interesting. AVICII Invector is both visually and aurally pleasing, but even if the player isn’t a diehard fan of EDM or House music, there is plenty to love.

This world can seem cold and grey
But you and I are here today
And we won’t fade into darkness

AVICII Invector is a truly fantastic rhythm game. But it’s also more than that. It is impossible to play Invector and not feel a twinge of melancholy. The game is a tribute to a hard-working perfectionist, but the man behind the music had his demons. Though the visuals are enticing and the gameplay electric, it is difficult not to feel sad from the opening credits. It is to Invector‘s credit that all throughout, the game feels like a joyful celebration of Tim Bergling’s music. It is a worthy tribute to a man who revitalized and reinvigorated the EDM and House music scene.

At the end of the day, almost every aspect of AVICII Invector reflects a desire to connect. For players connected to the internet, global leaderboards are a great opportunity to share high scores. Invector is much more forgiving than Thumper or Rez or even anything in the Hatsune Miku catalog. Players can cruise through this game on Easy mode if they want, and they won’t be punished. The Encore Edition even includes a split-screen multiplayer, which is fantastically fun.

In his music, Bergling worked across genres to expand what pop music could look like. With Invector, music lovers and players of nearly any skill level can have a pleasing experience. In video games, that’s rare, and it should be celebrated.

According to publisher Wired Productions’ website, all music royalties from AVICII Invector Encore Edition will support suicide awareness through the Tim Bergling Foundation.

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Game Reviews

‘Tamarin’ Review: Monkey Trouble

Like Yooka-Laylee before it, Tamarin flounders in its attempts to recreate its source material for a more modern audience.

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Tamarin Game Review

Developer: Chameleon Games | Publisher: Chameleon Games | Genre: 3rd Person Shooter/Platformer| Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC | Reviewed on: PlayStation 4

You have to be of a certain age to recall a game like Jet Force Gemini. One of Rare’s one-off titles of the N64 era, like Blast Corps, Jet Force Gemini never earned itself a sequel but was a fun sci-fi adventure for its time. It’s this same energy that Tamarin, from Chameleon Games, attempts to channel.

Made up of former Rare staff, the folks at Chameleon Games are almost certainly the best team to make an attempt at rekindling such a long dead franchise with their spiritual successor. However, as can be the case with retro throwbacks, sometimes it’s better to ask whether you should bring back an older style of gaming, rather than if you could.

As we’ve seen with games like Yooka Laylee and Mighty No. 9, it often seems that the idea of an older game or franchise being resurrected for modern audiences is better to imagine than to actually play. While the occasional Bloodstained does come along to buck the trend, more often than not we get a game which is too faithful to its sources to make a mark or too different to rekindle that old love and nostalgia.

All of which is to say that Tamarin, while very faithful to its inspirations, never quite hits the mark that brings it to the next level. Part of this is the natural aging process, particularly of the first era of 3D platformers and adventure games which spawned on the PlayStation and Nintendo 64. While many of the games of that generation packed in endless hours of fun, so too have many of their mechanics aged terribly.

Tamarin Game Review

This accounts for Tamarin‘s weakest point, which is undoubtedly its combat. The shooting sections of the game, while channeling another Rare franchise that balanced cuteness with cartoonish violence, are just so mechanically terse that they drag the game down egregiously each time they crop up.

Like with Jet Force Gemini, players will spend much of Tamarin battling troubling insectoid enemies that threaten the peace of all of civilization. Also like the game which was such a clear inspiration for Chameleon, Tamarin brings back the clunky 3D aiming reticle. Not only is the shooting janky here, it feels downright unwieldy when you first get your hands on a firearm.

Though players can get the hang of it with a little effort and some reworking of how they see shooters, there seems to be little point in doing so. Tamarin‘s braindead AI and sparse few enemy types make combat feel like much of an afterthought to the experience, despite how central it is to progressing through the game.

To be fair, Tamarin does also bring some of the good from its spiritual forebear. The gradually growing arsenal of laser guns and rocket launchers does feel fun to play with, and the game is peppered with plenty of upgrades for the guns along the way. Sadly, then another of the Space Invaders style mini-games will pop up and derail things all over again.

Yes, there is a strange reference to yet another long gone gaming franchise here. Unlocking certain doors requires players to start from the center and aim the analog stick around firing at hovering, shifting rows of bugs. Again, it feels very unwieldy, and by the end most players will simply settle for spinning the analog stick wildly while firing with the machine gun for maximum ease.

Fortunately, more successful are the platforming sections. Making up the other side of Tamarin‘s coin, is a game more inspired by Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong Country 64 than anything else. As players travel through the outside world, gathering collectibles and gaining new abilities as they go, Tamarin shows much more variety than its combat sections.

With clear cues marked on the terrain to denote which areas require upgrades or new abilities to traverse, Tamarin is generally able to point you in the right direction across its world, though a map or minimap would help matters considerably. Though the game is split into many separate areas, they often look so similar that it can make the game hard to navigate and harder to remember where previous markers were for exploration. Even a rudimentary map feature would make this far less of an issue.

Alas, the exploration flounders on occasion as well. Jumping sometimes feels a bit too flighty and can even break the game at times, allowing players to jump off of surfaces they shouldn’t be able to normally. Further, the need to hold down a button and press another to grab certain collectibles is totally unintuitive and is another feature that seems to be more or less pointless.

As such, for all of it’s cute mascot spiritedness and lovingly attributed influences, Tamarin ultimately falls short in bringing back some of the best franchises of yesteryear. Though the effort is a valiant one, Tamarin, hampered by the flaws of the games it attempts to emulate, is just too clunky in its execution.

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Game Reviews

‘Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered’ Review: Some Games Age Like Milk

Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered fails due to problems that existed in the original title, as well as flaws in this remastered edition.

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Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered

Developer: Square-Enix | Publisher: Square-Enix | Genre: Action-RPG| Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Mobile | Reviewed on: PlayStation 4

There’s a bit of a storied history between Nintendo and Square. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is an important part of that history. Or rather, the original version, released in 2003, was.

While it might seem to younger gamers like Square-Enix and Sony have always been close, Square had a different best friend for much of the 80s and 90s: Nintendo. Though a rift developed between them when Square opted to focus on CD-roms rather than cartridges for Final Fantasy VII, that rift only lasted for about 6 years. The game that signalled the end it? Well that was a new release exclusively for the GameCube: Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.

Though Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles was released to relatively positive reviews 17 years ago, the game has not aged well. The quest of a caravan of crystal bearers to refill their crystal’s power and protect their homes from a deadly miasma, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered fails due to problems that existed in the original title, as well as flaws in this remastered edition.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered

The first, and most considerable, problem with the game is that the quest at the heart of Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is tedious and repetitive. Players ostensibly go from area to area on a world map, exploring uninteresting towns and beating lackluster dungeons. If this wasn’t enough, players are also forced to replay these levels over and over again in order to gain enough upgrades for later levels.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: all RPGs ask players to level up in order to succeed. You’re not wrong, it’s simply the structure of levelling up that makes this experience so trying. The only way to level up in Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is to beat the entire level again. Players are not rewarded experience for killing enemies but instead can choose one stat to upgrade each time they complete a level. What this means is that every tiny upgrade to your character can take 10-15 minutes at a time to get.

This wouldn’t be as trying on your patience if simple, basic flaws in the game weren’t so egregious. Hit detection is incomprehensible at times because, even when your character seems to be standing right next to an enemy or boss, they often fail to connect their attacks. Even worse, rather than mapping different attacks to the face and shoulder buttons, players must cycle through them one at a time, with the attack button standing in for defense, magic, healing or food consumption.

Of course, much of this has to do with the format of the original game. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles was meant to be played with link cables and Game Boy Advances connected to the GameCube. Each player would have a different bonus displayed on their GBA screens and, as such, players would work together in local multiplayer, aiding each other with their unique screen information as well as their combat skills.

Naturally the GBA had only two face buttons and two shoulder buttons, hence the layout. However, it’s been 17 years, and it’s pretty egregious that Square-Enix didn’t even think of giving players an option to rework the button layout. Doing so would make combat much more dynamic and help to fix the often clunky feeling of battling the game’s monsters.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered

Adding to the tedium are unskippable cutscenes all over the game. Every single time players challenge a boss, they are forced to sit through the same cutscene introducing the boss. Further, there are random events that occur on the world map which are also unskippable, even if they’re repeats of events that the player has already seen. Haplessly tapping the confirm button to skip through dialog that we’ve already heard should not be an issue in a game released in 2020.

These flaws were mostly a part of the original release as well but what’s the point of remastering a game if you haven’t fixed anything? Even the visuals in Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered have failed to receive much polish. The game looks murky and fuzzy rather than sharp and clear. If Square-Enix could clean up Final Fantasy VIII for its gorgeous remaster, what stopped them here?

This is without even mentioning the loading times, which are frankly absurd for a game nearly two decades old. Again, it seems that getting this remaster out the door trumped quality control for Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered, which does nothing to help the game’s case.

Though the game is markedly more fun when players join you to take on a level, even the online connectivity has serious issues. To make matters worse, if a player chooses to use the multiplayer, they’ll have to carry a chalice around themselves if no one joins them, picking it up and putting it down all through the level.

Since single player has an AI character who will carry it for you, this option could be easily added to multiplayer, disappearing when (or if) someone actually joins you. This would allow the structure of the game to remain static regardless of whether someone joins your game or not, instead of making the game harder if no one decides to pop in.

While game director Araki Ryoma has promised to address the issues with Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered, the game has aged so poorly that, even without the flaws of the remaster, it’s hard to recommend it to modern audiences. Sad as it is, some games are better left in the past. Such is the case with Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.

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