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‘XCOM 2’ – Turn-Based Tactics at Their Very Best

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As a devout PC gamer and lover of all things tactical the X-COM series has always peeked my interest, and with XCOM 2 only being recently released on console I thought it would be the ideal time to write a review of the game I’ve been playing since February (furthermore a game I’ve racked up a considerable amount of hours on, nearly 400 to be exact). May I also note I’ve played the console version and this review stands true to both PC and console versions of the game.

XCOM 2 is set 20 years after the events of 2012’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the aliens that originally started as a invading force still unfamiliar with their environment and your soldiers methods of combat in the first installment have suddenly become, initially at least, far superior. XCOM 2 forces you to take a vastly different approach to the game in contrast to Enemy Unknown as the tables have turned greatly, XCOM lays in ruins and you now play as somewhat of a guerrilla fighting force attempting to overthrow a long established alien occupation of the planet earth and its government in the form of ADVENT. Your base is merely a hollow husk of what it used to be and all you worked for in the first game lies in tatters beneath your feet.

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Much like in Enemy Unknown the combat system in XCOM 2 puts you in the heart of the conflict; unlike so many other turn based and tactical games, XCOM has a unique way of putting you in the heat of battle with your soldiers, despite you acting as more of a commander throughout the majority of the game. Being in control of each of your soldiers’ moves without fully knowing yourself what they’ll be walking into adds such a non-stop feeling of suspense and with every move you’ll find yourself questioning and doubting yourself as you become increasingly attached to each of your fully customizable soldiers, which I can promise you will genuinely begin to care for.

If you’re unfamiliar with the combat in XCOM it works off of a percentage hit chance, for example you might have an 80% hit chance which would be good if it wasn’t for that other 20% because more often than not in XCOM 2 that 20% could cost you the life of one or more of your soldiers. This style of combat forces players to think more tactically using their entire squad, ranging from 4 to 6 soldiers, to set up crossfires, ambushes and vantage points. Nothing will ever compare to seeing that 100% hit chance in XCOM 2 or the feeling of sheer relief when you somehow hit that clutch 10% hit that saves your entire squad. You’ll also find yourself making the tough decision of actually taking a shot or not, more often than not patience is key and you’ll find yourself using your turns to reload and set up a sturdy line of defense.

Base building has also been a fairly big part of the XCOM series and in XCOM 2 I feel perhaps they simplified it. The base building has aspects of micromanagement and if feels almost like a separate mini-game within the game itself. You’ll find yourself juggling about between research and development, building new areas and labs and darting around the globe in your now mobile base avoiding the aliens and collecting supplies. XCOM 2 has struck a very good balance with this, near enough, mini game. The base building and maintenance never feels like a chore or something you have drudge through between combat levels, but rather it feels natural and smooth and helps you progress through the game without feeling like the developers just needed a filler between the action packed combat heavy levels.160_screenshot-100632669-orig

One of the major problems with XCOM:Enemy Unknown was that the enemy became very well known (pun fully intended), after a few solid gaming sessions you could begin to figure out the routes to take on the pre-build and sometimes oddly similar maps and how certain enemies would react, the same old tactics would work time and time again and you could sail through the game using the same squad for each and every mission (providing none were injured or killed in action). XCOM 2 eliminates this; with beautiful procedurally generated maps XCOM 2 will keep you on your toes, each mission is different but not so different that it throws you off each time you enter the battlefield. The maps all feel natural, they play smoothly and with ease. Furthermore the enemies will act differently in each and every mission which creates a feeling of actual tactics as you control your squad and play through each of the levels.

The level of customization offered in XCOM 2 may be one of its major selling points, as each soldier can be tinkered with allowing you to actually create a squad that you feel a personal connection to (also making it ever more tragic when one of them gets their head blown off), and on top of this XCOM 2 has 5 base classes (6 if you include the Shens Last Gift DLC) each of which has two separate skill trees which allows you to potentially have an entire squad consisting of the same class but all with separate skills and abilities. Furthermore each soldier has a fully costomizable weapon allowing you to give specific soldiers carefully selected weapon attachments to further fine tune their class and role in your squad.

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XCOM 2 brings a new mechanic to the series called “concealment”, the way it works is you enter each mission with your entire squad concealed. Concealment allows you to set up ambushes and perhaps scout out your surroundings; gone are the Enemy Unknown days of being spotted the instant you come across a hostile alien that strayed a little too far from the pack. It’s an interesting concept that makes for some overly satisfying slow motion ambushes. Watching an entire squad of ADVENT soldiers being ripped apart in a storm of bullets before they have time to react gives you a warm fuzzy feeling inside. Concealment can also synergise with some soldiers abilities, for example there is an assault skill that allows the soldier to stay concealed independent from the rest of the squad, this can allow you to pull of some deeply satisfying strategies.

With new mechanics comes new enemies, and XCOM 2 is full of them. The game will keep you thinking and constantly adapting as it throws new enemy after new enemy at you, some of which will tower above you not dissimilar from the tripods in War Of The Worlds. Despite the onslaught of new aliens that want you dead, all never feels lost in XCOM 2, it’ll take some getting used to and some adaptation but you’ll start to see the kinks in their amour and find the weakest links in each of the ADVENT squads.xcom-2-wallpapers

The only real problems with XCOM 2 are some fairly minor bugs and technical issues. Sometimes the camera can be a bit of nuisance and you’ll find yourself unable to see the floor of a building or the roof of a high-rise but still be able to see all of the objects, enemies and outline of the squares on the map showing you the route your solider can take, not a game breaking bug exactly but a bug none the less. The game also has some trouble maintaining a solid 60 frame-per-second rate (especially during explosions or when there’s fire on the screen), but in a turn based game this isn’t the end of the world, just a slight hiccup.

In conclusion XCOM 2 is a near flawless turn-based strategy game, it improves on Enemy Unknown in just about every aspect and continues to be fun way after your first play through. You’ll find yourself getting lost in this game and sinking hour after hour into it regardless of if you get it on PC or console. Aside from a few minor bugs and glitches XCOM 2 is any tacticians dream and I very strongly recommend you check it out.

unable to change his avatar due to an account mix up Connor assures you he is not a blue hourglass monster, the world will never see his true face and perhaps it is best that way, the world is not ready.

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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.

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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.

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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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Game Reviews

‘Yaga’ Review: A Bittersweet Fairy Tale

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Yaga Game Review

Some games feel perfectly suited to their genres, as if they fulfill every ambition that their genre could promise. On paper, Yaga from the developer Breadcrumbs Interactive, should be one of those games. This roguelike RPG is meant to bring traditional Slavic folktales to life, and its procedurally generated structure allows the game to change in every playthrough, just like how the ancient fairy tales it’s based on can change in every telling. Yaga immediately shines on a conceptual level, but as a game, the most important question remains: will this fairy tale be enjoyable to play?

From start to finish, Yaga uses the rich source material of Eastern European history and folklore to create a vibrant, fantastical world. The entire game is framed as three elderly women telling the story of Ivan, a heroic blacksmith who has been stricken with the curse of bad luck. These women spin a fanciful yarn, one in which Ivan is constantly plagued by horrors from traditional fairy tales such as the hideous One-Eyed Likho, along with more realistic foes, such as a corrupt, overbearing Tsar. The game thrives on this balance between history and fantasy. Its world is filled with peasants who face daily, universal struggles with war and agriculture, while massive ogres and goblin-like Vodyanoys haunt the surrounding wilderness. This mixture creates a strong setting that finally gives Slavic history and mythology its long-overdue representation in games.

Yaga Game Review

“Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.”

The frame story always remains the same: Ivan will always have to serve his Tsar while avoiding bad luck in every playthrough. However, beyond these core details, the old women are extremely flexible storytellers, often switching events around or changing story beats entirely. In some playthroughs, you may discover a woman raising an enormous chicken; in others, you may instead encounter a band of thieves waiting to rob you. You will frequently face important decisions to make that will dramatically impact the outcome of your quest. yes, you can always break into monster hideouts with hammers blazing to slay every creature before you; but more often than not, you are also given the opportunity to peacefully talk your way out of these toxic situations. Even more dramatically, oftentimes the game will zoom out to the old women storytellers and allow you to choose how they tell the rest of Ivan’s story. Yaga is at its best when it doubles down on this player freedom. It makes every moment engaging and allows its stories to truly come alive.

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Yaga’s writing and presentation only serve to make this world even more striking. It features a distinctly dark sense of humor – for instance, a man may ask you to push a boulder into a well behind his house, but he will neglect to tell you that he has also thrown his wife into the bottom of that well ahead of time. Much of this dialogue is even written in rhyme, enhancing the otherworldly, fairy tale atmosphere. On top of that, nearly all dialogue is fully voice acted, with most voice actors delivering some eccentrically charming performances that make the game feel as if it’s a playable Disney film. The visuals look like they’re taken straight out of a Russian children’s book of fairy tales, while the music incorporates traditional instruments and language into an electronic, hip-hop fusion soundtrack that captures the cultural heritage that Yaga focuses on while connecting it to modern culture. Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.

However, this leads to the gameplay. Quests may be randomized each time you play, but nearly every one of them takes the same general format. One character will request help, and then Ivan will have to venture out into the world to fight some demons or recover an item. Worse yet, the levels are just as randomized in their procedurally generated design, and not in a particularly clever way, either: most of them likewise follow the same formula, being little more than arenas full of enemies connected by copy-and-paste environments. Many paths in each environment lead to nothing more than pointless dead ends. The combat has a satisfyingly simple basis, with basic moves like long- and close-range attacks, roll dodging, items to use, and a variety of different weapons to equip, although his trusty old hammer is generally the best choice. However, while this simplicity makes the combat enjoyable on its own, there is very little depth to it, and the inherently repetitive design of the mission only serves to highlight how paper-thin combat can be. Most battles involve little more than hacking away at enemies until they die, which becomes increasingly repetitive by the end of the roughly ten-hour campaign.

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At the very least, the robust customization system helps add a little intrigue to the combat. As a blacksmith, Ivan is naturally gifted with the ability to craft weapons for himself to use. By scavenging parts and items from fallen enemies and treasure chests around the world, Ivan is able to create the most powerful weapons. Crafting is simple to use yet extremely ripe for experimentation, requiring only one base item and a handful of accessories to create unique new items. With dozens of components to discover and use in your forging, there are plentiful opportunities to create the best possible weapons.

“All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.”

The crafting system would be the standout aspect of the moment-to-moment gameplay if it weren’t foiled by another one of the game’s systems: Bad Luck. Ivan has been cursed with perpetual Bad Luck, which grows constantly throughout the game – whenever something good happens, Bad Luck is sure to increase. Whenever the Bad Luck meter fills all the way, Likho will appear and strike Ivan, generally breaking one of his weapons or stealing his money.

Yaga Game Review

On paper, this mechanic makes sense, since it prohibits the player from becoming too overpowered and also fits into the folklore style off the story. In practice, however, it is an infuriating limitation on player progression and invention. It effectively punishes players for putting thought and care into their weapon crafting and character-building – at any moment it can all be washed away in bad luck, so what’s the point? Considering how enjoyable the crafting and combat systems are, it’s a shame that Bad Luck seems to exist solely to diminish the very best parts of the gameplay, leaving the game feeling like it cripples itself.

Your enjoyment of Yaga depends heavily on what experience you want out of it. If you’re looking for a deep and satisfying RPG, then it likely won’t deliver. Although it features satisfying combat and customization systems, the frustrating randomization of its level design and Bad Luck system only serve to foil these good qualities. If you are instead looking for a faithful, fleshed-out image of Slavic cultural heritage, portraying both the harsh realities of peasant life along with its fanciful folklore, then Yaga is a clear triumph thanks to its emphasis on player choice, its excellent writing, and its beautiful hand-drawn visuals and inventive soundtrack. All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.

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Game Reviews

‘Remothered: Tormented Fathers’ Review: I Want My Remummy

There’s merit to be had if you just want a quick bash at a quirky, indie horror game, but with so many flaws, I can’t recommend Remothered.

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Remothered: Tormented Fathers Review

It feels like a while since the ‘survival horror but you can’t fight back’ genre was at its peak, especially with the recent, tradition-tinged revival of the Resident Evil series, but back in 2017 when Remothered: Tormented Fathers was being developed for PC it was all the rage. Like any indie game that’s had even the slightest amount of interest or acclaim during the current generation, Remothered has received the now-obligatory Switch port. Although its modest technical requirements clearly made a successful transition to the platform more than manageable, they don’t help to hide the game’s very obvious shortcomings.

Players take control of Rosemary Reed in her attempts to investigate retired notary Dr. Richard Felton, who is currently undergoing treatment for a mysterious disease. Oh, and he has a missing daughter that he probably murdered. The plot of the game feels a little cliché, but it’s undoubtedly its strongest facet. However, suspending your disbelief at the ropy animations and dodgy voice-acting is needed to avoid being sucked into feeling like you’re watching Theresa May running around a big mansion trying to escape from a John Cleese impersonator with his arse hanging out. Alas, I clearly failed in this endeavor.

Remothered is essentially a game of ‘go there, fetch that, bring it here, use it’ with an added element of ‘don’t let the annoying old man kill you in the face with a sickle’. Yeah, one of those ones. The story takes place almost entirely within Felton’s huge mansion, and navigating the ol’ girl is by far the game’s toughest element. It’s made especially harder while you’re constantly on edge, trying to avoid the stalking lunatic without a map, weapons, or a proper objectives system. Be prepared for your bearings to be quite considerably lost.

There are a couple of ways to avoid that face full of sickle. There’s a dodge button (provided Rosemary isn’t too tired to actually dodge), a run button, distraction items, and defense items that will automatically be used to escape a grab attack if you have one equipped at the time. Remember those crappy bits in Resident Evil 4 where you had to play as Ashley? This is like that… for a whole game.

While a little tired in 2019, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the formula of the weapon-less survival horror game – it’s just that in Remothered, it’s not implemented all that well. Enemy AI routing is weird, which should be grounds for an unpredictable fright-fest, but leans more toward the annoying and/or hilarious. It seemed like the stalkers would either sit directly outside the room I needed to enter – barely moving and refusing to be distracted for longer than a few seconds before returning immediately to their original spot right on my current objective – or simply bugger off to another floor and never come back.

Even with his penchant to completely vacate the area, and despite his advancing years, Dr. Felton possesses supersonic hearing. It seemingly doesn’t matter how far away you are – if you run in this game, he will hear you. To make matters worse, the sound design just doesn’t make sense. With every press of the run button, enemy dialogue would instantly change to indicate they’d heard you and then loud footsteps would permeate every room you enter as if they were right behind you, when they most certainly are not.

It’s either a cheap scare tactic to give the impression of enemies constantly being within touching distance, or the fallout from a combination of naff sound design and the limitations of my Switch’s Pro Controller not having a headphone port. What makes it worse is that everything is so campy that it’s seldom scary in any tangible way. When the man trying to murder you is constantly shouting about how he hasn’t got anything to eat that isn’t moldy while you hide in his cupboard, it’s not exactly bone-chilling.

As a result of the big-eared murderers and their impeccable radar tuned to the sounds of running, I spent almost the entirety of the game… well, not running. Unfortunately, Rosemary walks slower than an asthmatic ant with heavy shopping, and this made exploring the mansion a monotonous chore – especially when getting caught and subsequently having to run up and down floors to hide before slowly sneaking back to restart the investigation.

Puzzles are that old school type of obtuse where you’re tasked with finding everyday items to fix problems. The puzzle itself lies in realizing the item the developer decided should work, finding it in the giant four-floor mansion, and slowly returning to the its intended area of use without dying. For example, in order to get into an attic, you have to search rooms at random to find an umbrella to pull down the door’s previously-out-of-reach cord. It’s such a shame that Remothered eschews any type of self-contained puzzle for a string of confusing fetch quests, as everything feels more tedious than taxing.

It feels a little unfair to bemoan the lack of polish for a two-year-old indie game, but Remothered is full of niggling issues. Animations are janky, lip-syncing is non-existent, and the camera wigs out after the QTEs to fight off enemies have finished – always pointing you in the wrong direction. I also encountered a couple of game-breaking bugs where Rosemary did her door-opening animation without the door actually opening, and I couldn’t enter the room without rebooting the game. Lastly, and I don’t want to be too harsh to an Italian developer, but the in-game English is pretty abysmal, and lots of the game’s expositional notes and articles border on illegible through their poor translations.

There are some people out there who can’t get enough of the whole hiding under sofas schtick, but I like my survival horror games with better psychological tension, a (limited) means to fight back, and coherent puzzle-solving. There’s merit to be had in the game’s labyrinthine setting and short length if you just want a quick bash at a quirky, campy indie horror game in the Haunting Grounds model, but with so many flaws and such a frustrating gameplay loop, I can’t recommend Remothered: Tormented Fathers outside of anything other than morbid curiosity.

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