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Game Reviews

Rip and Tear: ‘DOOM’ Review

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In all of gaming there are few names more influential or more well known than Doom. It’s the game that solidified the shooter genre, was influential in the early days of the ESRB and gaming controversy, and made Windows the dominant OS for PC gaming. Despite all of this, there are only a handful games bearing the name Doom, and so people were rightly excited when Bethesda showed off Doom (formally known as Doom 4) at E3 last year. There’s been a few stumbles leading up to its release, such as the poorly received Beta and the lack of review copies to all publications which have had people on edge. Does Doom live up to the legacy of one of the most important games of all time, or is this just another pretender to the throne?

There’s nearly no plot to Doom, and that’s just the way it’s supposed to be. From the first moment it’s made very clear that you only exist in the game for one reason: kill everything in your way. You are the Doom Marine, brought into life in the wreckage of the UAC Mars research facility. The place is overrun with demon spawn and you seem to be the only thing that can overwhelm them, often through the use of lethal amounts of ammo. There are snippets of lore scattered throughout the game, and a codex you can slowly fill after encounters, but with a small handful of exceptions, this is pure run and gun gameplay and damn the idea of a story.

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Doom feels like coming home after a long time away.

When it comes to gameplay Doom is sublime. Let’s not mince words here, this is one of the most enjoyable shooters of the last decade, and outshines even other oldschool shooter reboots like Shadow Warrior, Serious Sam 3 or id’s own Wolfenstein reboot a few years ago. The trick is its almost silly simplicity. Doom isn’t a complicated game, and that’s the best part about it. You see weapon, you get weapon, you use weapon on demon, you move forward. Objectives are kept simple so as to not get in the way and mostly just involve activating a switch, or more likely punching something to make it work.

There were concerns after the first E3 trailer that the gameplay wouldn’t be as fast as the old games, and while it’s hard to accurately compare them, there’s no doubt that Doom is miles faster than any other shooter on the market. There’s no sprint button, because you’re always sprinting. Guns don’t have reloads, save the venerable Super Shotgun, so you’re free to hold down the trigger until everything is dead. And you’re going to want to do that a lot because Doom does not mess around when it comes to offering you a challenge. The first few levels mostly serve as equipment runs, drip-feeding you new guns or abilities so the last two thirds of the game can beat you senseless with insane amounts of challenges.

Progression always follows a linear path of arena fight->hallway encounters->arena fight with the occasional collection puzzle thrown in for good measure. While the linearity of the game might be a turn off, in classic Doom fashion there’s a host of secretes littered in every level, often well hidden with secret walls, switches, or easy to miss openings. Each level also contains an unlockable Classic Level from the original games, which you can play through in HD once unlocked. On top of this some of the levels contain Challenge Runes which teleport you into a self-contained challenge for the chance to unlock powerful runes that add bonuses like more ammo from ammo drops or better jump controls. There’s also an upgrade system for both weapons and armor that sees you hunting down all the upgrade drops, giving plenty of reason to explore the massive levels.

On the technical side Doom remains a masterpiece. Graphically it hits the sweet spot between overly realistic and cartoony stylization. Demons that were scary in the original games like the Cacodemon and the Baron of Hell are downright terrifying when they’re rendered in HD, standing fifteen feet tall and bellowing a challenge at you. Lighting in particular is well done, a signature of id’s games since the 90’s, casting oppressive shadows over the level with scant illuminations from errant torches or burning wreckage. Weapons look great too, well modeled and as enjoyable to watch in action as they are to use.

A special mention needs to be made for the animations in Doom, which are absolutely amazing. There’s been much talk about the over the top Glory Kills – melee finishers that you use to brutalize enemies at low health for the reward of ammo and health drops – and rightly so, as they’re brilliant, both in their execution and the smart way they’re kept lightning fast, meaning they feed perfectly into the flow of battle. There’s little more satisfying then blasting a Barron with a rocket barrage only to follow-up by tearing off his horn and shoving it down his neck.

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the atmosphere is oppressive, be it the mechanical halls of the UAC facility, or the depths of hell itself.

The audio work is nothing short of perfect. Weapons are destructive, with a special shout-out to the absolutely thunderous Super Shotgun. There’s an extra oomph to everything, and the weapons provide a satisfying level of kick when fired. Then there’s the music, and while there are tracks that felt out of place with an over abundance of wub-wub, when the heavy metal kicks in during a particularly nasty arena fight it’s hard not to get pumped up and it adds a lot to the experience. It might not be as classic as some of the tracks from the original game, but it does a great job of standing up on it’s own and it’s one of the better shooter soundtracks in a long time.

Unfortunately, everything truly great about Doom gets tossed out the window as soon as other players are added. Multiplayer just isn’t enjoyable enough beyond a few matches. There’s some fun moment to moment gameplay, and blowing players apart is giggle-worthy at times, but it’s just not satisfying, and can’t sustain itself for very long. There’s little reason to play it beyond trying it out, and the gaudy and pointless unlocks left a bad taste in my mouth. For what it’s worth, as far as gameplay goes it at least retains the speed of the single-player and there’s been a few tweaks made to the game since the Beta, but weapon damage is still laughably low, being restricted to only two guns is annoying, and PVP just doesn’t do anything special. Let’s break the narrative here and make this abundantly clear: whatever you do, please don’t buy the Season Pass for this game, multiplayer just isn’t worth it.

The third game-mode is the SnapMap player map creator tool, which adds some interesting longevity to the game. It’s not as great as actual mod tools would be, and don’t expect anything like the mods or .WADs from the old games, but it’s powerful enough to create interesting single and multiplayer maps while being easy enough that anyone can piece together a decent map with only a little time investment.

Doom is catharsis made video-game. It’s everything great about the original games given a brand new coat of blood-red paint. It’s an apology for Doom 3, and an apology for the modern shooter genre that some would argue has lost it’s way. It’s the shooter we always wanted from a new Doom game and the shooter Doom was always meant to be. Multiplayer might not be the greatest addition, and some may find the addition of upgrades to be an necessary modernization of their game, but it’s hard to deny the beauty of this game. Fans of the original need not fear the modern shooter, Doom is back.

Andrew Vandersteen has been watching movies and playing games since before he could do basic math, and it shows. But what he lacks in being good at things, he makes up for with opinions on everything nerd culture. A self described and self medicated audiophile and lover of anything and everything really, really terrible, he's on a constant quest to find the worst things humanity has ever published. He's seen every episode of The Legend of Zelda, twice, and thinks the Super Mario Movie was a war crime. When he's not playing games or writing about them, he's messing around with audio or fixing computers. Perpetually one paycheck short of breaking even, and always angry about something.

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Game Reviews

‘Riverbond’ Review: Colorful Hack’n’Slash Chaos

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Sometimes a little bit of mindless smashing is just what people play video games for, and if some light sword-swinging, spear-stabbing, laser-shooting giant hand-slapping action that crumbles a destructible world into tiny blocks sounds like a pleasant way to spend a few hours, then Riverbond might just satisfy that urge. Though its short campaign can get a little repetitive by the end, colorful voxel levels and quirky characters generally make this rampaging romp a button-mashing good time, especially if you bring along a few friends.

Riverbond grass

There really isn’t much of a story here outside something about some mystical leaders being imprisoned by a knight, and Riverbond lets players choose from its eight levels in Mega Man fashion, so don’t go in expecting some sort of narrative thread. Instead, each land has its own mini-situation going on, whether that involves eradicating some hostile pig warriors or reading library books or freeing numerous rabbit villagers scattered about, the narrative motivation is pretty light here. That doesn’t mean that these stages don’t each have their various charms, however, as several punnily named NPCs will blurt out humorous bits of dialogue that work well as breezy pit stops between all the cubic carnage.

Developer Cococucumber has also wisely created plenty of visual variety for their fantastical world, as players will find their polygonal hero traversing the lush greenery of grassy plains, the wooden piers of a ship’s dockyard, the surrounding battlements of a medieval castle, and the craggy outcroppings of a snowy mountain, among other locations, each with a distinct theme. Many of the trees or bridges or crates or whatever else happens to be lying around are completely destructible, able to be razed to the ground with enough brute force. Occasionally the physics involved in these crumbling structures helps gain access to jewels or other loot, but this mechanic mostly just their for the visual appeal one gets from cascading blocks; Riverbond isn’t exactly deep in its design.

Riverbond boss

That shallowness also applies to the basic gameplay, which pretty much involves hacking or shooting enemies and environments to pieces, activating whatever task happens to be the main goal for each sub-stage, then moving on or scouring around a bit for treasure before finally arriving at a boss. Though there are plenty of different weapons to find, they generally fall into only a few categories: small swinging implements that allow for quick slashes, large swinging implements that are slow but deal heavier damage, spears that offer quick jabs, or guns that…shoot stuff. There are some variations among these in speed, power, and possible side effects (a gun that fired electricity is somewhat weak, but sticks to opponents and gives off an extra, devastating burst), but once an agreeable weapon is found, there is little reason to give it up outside experimentation.

Still, there is a rhythmic pleasure to be found in games like this when they are done right, and Riverbond mostly comes through with tight controls, hummable tunes, and twisting levels that do a good job of mixing in some verticality to mask the repetitiveness. It’s easy for up to four players to get in on the dungeon-crawling-like pixelated slaughter, and the amount of blocks exploding onscreen can make for some fun and frenzied fireworks, especially when whomping on one of the game’s giant bosses. A plethora of skins for the hero are also discoverable, with at least one or two tucked away in locations both obvious and less so around each sub-stage. These goofy characters exist purely for aesthetic reasons, but those who prefer wiping out legions of enemies dressed as Shovel Knight or a sentient watermelon slice will be able to fulfill that fantasy.

Riverbond bears

By the end, the repetitive fights and quests can make Rivebond feel a little same-y, but the experience wraps up quickly without dragging things out. This may disappoint players looking for a more involved adventure, but those who sometimes find relaxation by going on autopilot — especially with some buddies on the couch — will appreciate how well the block-smashing basics are done here.

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Game Reviews

‘Earthnight’ Review: Hit the Dragon Running

Between its lush visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, Earthnight never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

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Earthnight

In Earthnight, you do one thing: run. There’s not much more to do in this roguelike auto-runner but to dash across the backs of massive dragons to reach their heads and strike them down. This may be an extremely simple gameplay loop, but Earthnight pulls it off with such elegance and style. Between its lush comic book visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, it creates an experience that never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

Dragons have descended from space and are wreaking havoc upon humanity. No one is powerful enough to take them down – except for the two-player characters, Sydney and Stanley, of course. As the chosen ones to save the human race, they must board a spaceship and drop from the heavens while slaying as many dragons on your way down as they can. For every defeated creature, they’ll be rewarded with water – an extremely precious resource in the wake of the dragon apocalypse. This resource can be exchanged for upgrades that make the next run that much better.

This simple story forms the basis for a similarly basic, yet engaging gameplay loop. Each time you dive from your spaceship, you’ll see an assortment of dragons to land on. Once you make a landing, you’ll dash across its back and avoid the obstacles it throws at you before reaching its head, where you’ll strike the final blow. Earthnight is procedurally generated, so every time you leap down from your home base, there’s a different set of dragons to face, making each run feel unique. There are often special rewards for hunting specific breeds of dragon, so it’s always exciting to see the new set of creatures before you and hunt for the one you need at any given moment.

Earthnight is an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.”

Earthnight

Landing on the dragons is only the first step to slaying them. Entire hordes of monsters live on their backs, and in true auto-runner fashion, they’ll rush at you with reckless abandon from the very start. During the game’s first few runs, the onrush of enemies can feel overwhelming. Massive crowds of them will burst forth at once, and it can feel impossible to survive their onslaughts. However, this is where Earthnight begins to truly shine. The more dragons you slay, the more upgrade items become available, which are either given as rewards for slaying specific dragons or can be purchased with the water you’ve gained in each run. Many of these feel essentially vital for progression – some allow you to kill certain enemies just by touching them, whereas others can grant you an additional jump, both of which are much appreciated in the utter chaos of obstacles found on each dragon.

Procedural generation can often result in bland or repetitive level design, but it’s this item progression system that keeps Earthnight from ever feeling dry. It creates a constant sense of improvement: with more items in your arsenal after each new defeated dragon, you’ll be able to descend even further in the next run. This makes every level that much more exciting: with more power under your belt, there are greater possibilities for defeating enemies, stacking up combos, or climbing high above the dragons. It becomes an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.

Earthnight

At its very best, Earthnight feels like a rhythm game. With the perfect upgrades for each level, it becomes only natural to bounce off of enemies’ heads and soar through the heavens with an almost musical flow. The vibrant chiptune soundtrack certainly helps with this. Packed full of driving beats and memorable melodies with a mixture of chiptune and modern instrumentation, the music makes it easy to charge forward through whatever each level will throw your way.

That is not to say that Earthnight never feels too chaotic for its own good – rather, there are some points where its flood of enemies and obstacles can feel too random or overwhelming, to the point where it can be hard to keep track of your character or feel as if it’s impossible to avoid enemies. Sometimes the game can’t even keep up with itself, with the performance beginning to chug once enemies crowd the screen too much, at least in the Switch version. However, this is the exception, rather than the rule, and for the most part, simply making good use of its upgrades and reacting quickly to the challenges before you will serve you well in your dragon-slaying quest.

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Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.”

It certainly helps that Earthnight is a visual treat as well. It adopts a striking comic book style, in which nearly every frame of animation is lovingly hand-drawn and loaded with detail. Sometimes these details feel a bit excessive – some characters are almost grotesquely detailed, with the faces of the bobble-headed protagonists sometimes seeming too elaborate for comfort. However, in general, it’s a gorgeous game, with its luscious backdrops of deep space and high sky, along with creative monsters and dragon designs that only get more outlandish and spectacular the farther down you soar.

Earthnight is a competent auto-runner that might not revolutionize its genre, but it makes up for this simplicity by elegantly executing its core gameplay loop so that it constantly changes yet remains endlessly addictive. Its excellent visual and audio presentation helps to make it all the more engrossing, while it strikes the perfect balance between randomized level design and permanent progression thanks to its items and upgrades system. At times it may get too chaotic for its own good, but all told, Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.

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Game Reviews

‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off

The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.

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Life is Strange 2

Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.

Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.

Life is Strange 2

The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.

To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.

Life is Strange 2

In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.

On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.

By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.

Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.

Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.

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