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Pac-Man: Championship Edition 2 Review

Game Spot Reviews - Sat, 02/24/2018 - 19:00

It’s always a risky proposition to take a beloved classic franchise and move it forward with added twists. Change too much, and a reimagined retro game can lose its nostalgic charm. Don’t change enough, and players might not see the point at all. Bandai Namco has been toeing this razor-thin line with Pac-Man for quite a few years, but with good results. In 2007, Pac-Man: Championship Edition bolstered the series' simple maze template with different modes, challenges, map configurations, and eye-catching effects--and the result was one of the best arcade revamps ever made.

Fast-forward nine years, and Bandai Namco has successfully rejuvenated Pac-Man once again in Pac-Man: Championship Edition 2. It’s so overhauled, in fact, that it uses a progression meter to unlock new modes--starting with a tutorial. Who’d have thought that a Pac-Man game would need instructions? Yet Championship Edition 2 definitely does. Rather than merely teach you how to play, it also serves as a quick trip down the road of game design to see how developers can successfully evolve a game from 1980.

The first major enhancement comes courtesy of Pac-Man’s relationship with the ghosts, Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde. Pac-Man can touch them now, after decades of doing his best to avoid making contact. Even though you won't outright die if you bump into a ghost, it can still have dangerous side effects--and after the third bump, the ghosts will doggedly chase down Pac-Man and kill him on contact.

The game includes sleeping ghosts as well, who wake up when Pac-Man gets near and immediately rush to join their leader. The veritable trains that form after waking up multiple ghosts are vital for achieving high scores, because when Pac-Man eats the power pill that allows him to devour weakened spirits, he can gobble up multiple ghosts in quick succession. When it's time to feast on the dead, the game switches to a cinematic 3D view, allowing you revel in your success in style.

Boss battles are also included now--but done in proper Pac-Man style. You don’t attack a boss directly, since they float above and below the board (they’re usually massive ghosts made up of hundreds of blocks). Instead, you fight through a series of maps by collecting every last piece of fruit. On the final stage, Pac-Man must eat enough dots to make a power pill appear. The resulting mayhem isn’t quite as interactive as it could be--the power pill merely kicks off a cutscene where Pac-Man devours the boss on his own.

The final twists are bombs and bomb jumps. Essentially, if Pac-Man gets himself into a tight spot, a quick button press will send him back to his starting point. This is important, because Pac must tactically change course sometimes in order to evade ghosts or catch floating fruit that runs away from him.

The first Championship Edition was a triumph of style, and the same can be said here. The classic Pac-Man theme is present and accounted for--remixed and enhanced like everything else--and the overall presentation is terrific. All these elements come together across the game's many levels to create an experience that’s still absolutely Pac-Man but advanced in ways that make it far more interesting and strategic.

Pac-Man: Championship Edition 2 creates an exciting dynamic where ghosts are still dangerous, but the overall game is more forgiving than the original--and it’s more entertaining as a result. Arcade ports tend to be games we play in short bursts--mostly for the nostalgia factor. Pac-Man: Championship Edition 2 certainly relies on that nostalgia to a point, but it handles the classic game in a way that plays with expectations to surprise you. It’s the same game enhanced in the right directions to be make an old concept fun, innovative, and challenging all over again.

Update: Just released on the Switch in a slightly enhanced “Plus” version, Pac-Man feels perfectly at home on the portable system. Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 Plus retains all the same game modes, features, and good looks of the previous console versions, but smartly adds a two-player version where two Pac-Men must work together to foil the ghosts.

This Plus2P version is more than just a thrown together cooperative play mode. You can opt to play with a second CPU-controlled Pac-man, instead of a second player, which changes the dynamics a bit. In the single player version, you’ll merge with the CPU Pac at times and then send the AI off after ghosts thanks to Power Pellets. The AI Pac will chase after blue ghosts, but to eat them, you have to trap the ghosts from the other side. In boss rounds, the CPU can automatically go after pellets, then connect with your Pac-man to attack the boss. There’s jumping from one wall to another in these segments, but the game is designed well enough to still feel like a natural evolution of the core game.

In the actual two-player mode, the sense of teamwork is more palpable and there’s a distinct sense of accomplishment when two players work together to trap a whole string of delicious frightened ghosts for big points. Beyond that, this is the same great game it was on the other consoles with the same terrifically trippy neon visuals and gameplay.

Editor's note: Just released on Switch in a slightly enhanced “Plus” version, Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 feels perfectly at home on the portable system. It retains all the same game modes, features, and good looks of the previous console versions, but smartly adds a two-player mode, where the sense of teamwork is more palpable and there’s a distinct sense of accomplishment when two players work together to trap a whole string of delicious frightened ghosts for big points.

You can also opt to play with a second CPU-controlled Pac-Man, instead of a second player, which changes the dynamics a bit. You’ll merge with the AI-driven Pac at times and then send it off to chase after blue ghosts. But to eat them, you have to trap the ghosts from the other side. In boss rounds, the CPU can automatically go after pellets, then connect with your Pac-Man to attack the boss.

Beyond that, this is the same great game it was on the other consoles with the same great visuals and gameplay. - Jason D'Aprile, Feb. 24, 11:00 AM PT

Payday 2 Switch Review: Mo' Money Mo' Problems

Game Spot Reviews - Sat, 02/24/2018 - 18:00

Since its launch on PC and last-generation consoles in 2013, Payday 2 has proven to be one of the more popular co-op shooters around. Considering that, it's perhaps unsurprising to see it make its way to Nintendo's hugely popular new platform. But given the game's largely online nature, it also raises questions about how well this version retains Payday 2's established charms. The answer is simple: not well. Yes, it's still Payday 2--full of all the sass, swearing, and swelling dubstep you remember--but almost every aspect is outdated or diminished in some way.

Payday 2 is a first-person shooter about pulling off big heists, then using the money from those jobs to buy weapons and equipment to better tackle the harder heists that lay ahead. Heists can range from a simple smash-and-grab at a local jewelry store to an elaborate, three-day plan set across numerous locations to bring down a drug and weapons cartel.

Using the aptly named Crime.net--the in-game database where mission contracts are offered--you sign up to each mission, set your loadout, and plan your approach. Some missions also offer the illusion of stealth, but stealth in Payday 2 rarely lasts for long. Every mission largely descends into a violent shootout at some point, but thankfully the variety in core mission structure is such that this isn't a problem. It's one of the game's ultimate strengths, and that, at least, hasn't changed in this edition.

Team up with other capable players and you'll see why people are still playing Payday 2 despite its age: it can be very fun, if chaotic. Playing with a full room of up to three other players speeds up the game immensely, giving the heists a sense of urgency that's missing when you're forced to play solo. Although it's hindered by the Switch's frustrating lack of voice chat, your teammates' status is conveyed in the UI, so it doesn't take much to see whether they're in trouble or not.

Every heist is built with teamwork in mind, so if you're playing on the go or without an internet connection to link up with other players, you'll be stuck completing many of the more elaborate and laborious tasks with AI cohorts, which rarely goes well.

While not outright obstacles, the AI can be utterly useless. These accomplices never engage in mission tasks. They won't help you pick up loot or unlock doors, nor will they help you restart the drill you're breaking into the vault with when it inevitably fails. They take a couple of seconds to react to enemy fire, and also never place down any support equipment. Occasionally, they'll even fail to revive you, instead standing over you until the counter hits zero and you're put into custody, effectively a respawn counter. And unless you've taken a hostage that can be used to negotiate your release, you'll fail the mission and get nothing. It can be downright disheartening at the best of times. The worst part about this is some of these exact problems have been fixed via patches for other versions of the game.

Exclusive to this version is Joy--a new character sporting unique gear and weapons--but in all other respects this version of Payday 2 is outdated. It's missing some weapons, heists, masks, and numerous patches that helped improve other versions of the game. It does have a handful of never-before-seen heists, but existing players hoping to enjoy the fruits of past updates on a new platform will be disappointed when they see what's missing.

Visually, Payday 2 is a bit of a rollercoaster on Switch. In handheld mode, it runs at 720p, at 30 FPS. On one hand, the game looks pretty good given the handheld hardware at play, but it's also nowhere near the standard seen on even now-outdated consoles. It's generally quite dark, and it can be tough to see where you're going in some of the nighttime missions. Lining up long-range shots is also tough on the smaller screen, and when out in some of the larger, more open environments, the frame rate can take some serious dips. But it's a much better experience overall when compared to playing in docked mode, which, at 1080p on a big screen, emphasizes the game's grungier textures. Everything from environments and characters to weapons--even the menus--looks woefully dated and suffers from greater slowdown than when played undocked.

Visuals aren't the only important factor when deciding whether to play handheld or in docked mode, though. Ignoring performance, the game easily feels best when played with the Pro controller. Playing with Joy-Cons can be a little awkward, with the small and cumbersome analog sticks making it difficult to line up some of your shots. Part of this is alleviated by automatic reticle snapping when aiming down sights, at least.

Ultimately it doesn't matter which way you decide to play; you're having to compromise somehow, which is the story of Payday 2 on the Switch. It is an entirely functional video game that (in most respects) looks, feels and plays like Payday 2, and given the right circumstances, can also be a bit of fun. But given how readily available it is on other platforms and the concessions made with this version, it doesn't highlight Payday 2's unique brand of shooting and looting the way other platforms have for years.

Metal Gear Survive Review In Progress: A Harsh But Compelling Experience

Game Spot Reviews - Sat, 02/24/2018 - 17:00

Metal Gear Survive is demanding, oppressive, obtuse, and not what most people would traditionally think of as "fun." I've played for hours and haven't achieved anything meaningful. My most dependable method of defeating the zombie-like Wanderers littered around its barren world is still poking at them with a sharp stick from the other side of a chain link fence. And I spend the majority of my time throwing up because I drank dirty water and contracted a horrible stomach bug.

And yet, I keep coming back to it. Not just because I'm obligated to soldier on and review the game, but because on the other side of the desperation and stress is a small nugget of satisfaction; the sweet release of endorphins that comes with completing an objective. I'm the rat pushing a button for a food pellet, and by god I can't stop.

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This manipulation of human psychology as game design has always been a tenet of role-playing games, but it has become a pervasive part of most genres of late. Metal Gear Survive pushes it to its most ruthless, demanding extremes to make good on its classification as an action game focused on survival.

The game is set shortly after the attack on Mother Base in Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. During this siege, a wormhole into a parallel world appears, sucking in a chunk of Mother Base, along with the members of Snake's Diamond Dogs and the attacking XOF forces. Your character is seemingly killed or rendered unconscious while defending Mother Base, but is brought back by an enigmatic UN scientist and constantly frowning Laurence Fishburne look-alike named Goodluck.

Upon waking up, you're told you've been infected by a parasite that has overrun Dite, the world on the other side of the aforementioned wormhole. Your mission is to travel there to seek out a cure for yourself, and also find out what has become of your comrades, including a close friend. In typical Metal Gear Solid fashion, there's more to Goodluck than meets the eye, and since the parasite that transforms people into Wanderers first showed up during the Vietnam War, there's some questions around its true nature too. Dite also happens to have a special crystalised resource called Kuban, which can be extracted from Wanderers and harvested from the environment.

From the moment you land in Dite, you're on the back foot. Survive wants you to know that success in this hellscape will come through struggling and pushing forward in the face of overwhelming adversity, and to that end the game tracks hunger, thirst, and oxygen on-screen. These ever-visible bars are constantly depleting, counting down to death if not kept topped up. The food and water needed to replenish them are scarce, and even the act of seeking them out expends resources in a way that will make you pause and really think about if it's all worth it. It's a grueling grind where the material rewards offer just a fleeting respite.

But all this also serves to intensify that rush of satisfaction you get when you manage to complete a mission or successfully take a trip to gather edible herbs, meat, or dirty water that has a good chance of making you sick. By stacking the odds so heavily against you, these successes--big or small--feel like an act of defiance.

By stacking the odds so heavily against you, successes--big or small--feel like an act of defiance

The narrative is advanced by taking on main missions that send you into a distant, poisonous cloud of dust that envelops your home base. There you're tasked with recovering data that can restore Vergil, the AI that ran previous missions into Dite, to full functionality and, hopefully, help track down a cure and return everyone home. These operations usually send the player into Wanderer-infested territory, where Survive's rudimentary combat comes into play. The Phantom Pain felt like the meeting of slick, refined combat mechanics and enemy behaviour that was dynamic, reactive, and very often surprising, Survive--in its opening hours--feels restrictive and lethargic, and its enemies do little to challenge you outside of attacking in large groups.

Since you're burning resources, be it recovery items, stamina, or weapon durability, engaging them is usually a fruitless endeavour. The Kuban energy that can be harvested from Wanderers is the only reason to actually take them on, and since Kuban is used to craft items as well as level up the character and unlock perks that improve stats or add combat moves, it's a good one. But the smarter player will isolate straggling Wanderers and bring them down by either approaching from behind to deliver a one-hit kill, jabbing them in the big crystal weak points located where their heads should be, or firing an arrow at them from a distance. It's not very exciting.

Of course, I'm still early in the game, so there's plenty of room for it to develop into something more, especially as additional enemy types are introduced and I gain access to advanced weaponry. The game certainly is motioning towards this, as I recently encountered the larger Bomber enemy type, which has a less opportune weak point and a giant pustule on its head that would probably have exploded had I stuck around to find out.

The set-piece moments thus far have been when I've tried to activate wormhole transporters, which enable Survive's equivalent of fast travel. Doing this summons a wave of Wanderers to your location, and at this point the game becomes about building fortifications and holding off advancements long enough for the machine to power up and release a wave of energy that wipes them out. To its credit, these moments are tense, high-octane bouts of action that involve running between locations, managing enemy numbers, setting up barriers, and maintaining your own health and stamina.

Given that Metal Gear Survive only became playable to press on its launch day, I haven't played enough to deliver a more comprehensive review. There are other aspects to its gameplay that haven't had the time to properly develop: the base building, crafting, and online multiplayer for example. And there are also characters who are slowly appearing that need the chance to grow before I can make a judgment on them.

I'm still playing Metal Gear Survive and formulating my thoughts, but, from the outset, there's something strangely compelling about it, despite the fact it's designed to treat players so harshly. Fundamentally, the loop of exploring, scavenging, and marginally improving your existence in Dite is satisfying. That, in essence, is the core of all survival games and what has drawn people to titles like Don't Starve, Subnautica, Terraria, and even Stardew Valley. In that respect, Survive succeeds in what it sets out to achieve--it's perhaps one of the most hardcore survival games available. But there's also room for it to grow into something more and put its unique stamp on the genre.

Metal Gear Survive's high-profile baggage, and the fact that it is created from the building blocks of a much different experience, provide more to consider and analyse. I'm going to stick with it and in the coming days will deliver a finalised review. For now though, if the idea of a brutal game where you scavenge and fight for survival sounds like the way you want to spend your gaming hours, it's worth considering.

Age Of Empires: Definitive Edition Review: Antique Revival

Game Spot Reviews - Thu, 02/22/2018 - 20:00

Booting up Age of Empires: Definitive Edition for the first time is immediately surprising. The original game launched more than two decades ago, but it's been refined and revived for 2018, ready for modern audiences--or at least old players with new PCs and missing CD keys. It begins with pomp as a curt opening trailer plays, showing off the upgraded visuals and the new, orchestral score. As a returning player, that moment feels like coming home.

Starting with the launch of Age of Empires II: HD Edition, Microsoft Game Studios has been working to update the series, even adding plenty of new content. Now, the game that started it all has been remastered in 4K, with new narration and slight gameplay tweaks rounding out the list of improvements. Even with all that, though, the core play hasn't been meaningfully altered, leaving it to feel relatively quaint by modern standards: You simply command troops to gather resources, chop wood, build out a base, and conquer nearby enemy strongholds. That's great for some purists, but it does put Age of Empires: Definitive Edition in the awkward position of having to stand on some old and tired legs. Thankfully, the majority of the game makes the leap well enough.

Not keen on tackling the whole of human history in one game, as with Rise of Nations or Civilization, Age of Empires games focus on limited timelines--for instance, the Ancient and Classical ages at play here. You aren't some disembodied leader looking to lead your people to an overarching victory against all others--you're just trying to survive and not be wiped from the history books.

In the Egyptian campaign, your work revolves around supporting one of the first Pharaohs, Narmer, to help him marshal the political and material strength needed to unite the early Egyptian Empire, thousands of years before the rise of Rome. That gives you immediate, tangible goals to pursue, allowing you to feel effective and influential.

Where those sort of history lessons fade into the background, of course, is in the open-ended multiplayer. You'll see the Egyptians fielding Roman legionnaires, even though that doesn't make sense. Nor does the troop progression of Hoplite, to Phalanx, to Roman Centurion, which implicitly suggests a linear path through history that both didn't happen and doesn't add up. But, again, this game hails from 1997, a year before Starcraft, when the idea of having factions with unique traits in strategy games was only just being considered.

It's hard to say whether that's an issue that you will personally find bothersome, but it's a strong example of the game's old-school foundation. While not everything in the game has been refreshed, all the things that were, however, are stellar.

Visual upgrades aside, small tweaks to sound effects as well as myriad gameplay adjustments are the real stars of this remaster. The expanded multiplayer mode in particular get high marks. It's simple and quick, allowing you to jump into a match less than 30 seconds after opening the game. Boosted population limits (all the way up to 250) allow much larger and more chaotic battles than before.

The in-game scenario editor, too, offers up some powerful level-building and even campaign-creation tools. It's a bit complex, requiring you to have an external file organization system for your campaign maps and the like, but it's still quite robust for those who want it. Just about all the tools you need to design your own entire plots are there, too. You can, with some effort, create a historical campaign more-or-less akin to what you’d play in the main game. Or you can get silly with it and have a map made of forests where players will have to log their way to a foe, opening up some very unusual tactics and strategies.

Other changes might not get quite the same fanfare but are nonetheless vital to keeping Definitive Edition relevant. Improved pathfinding, tools for locating stray villagers and military, attack-move commands, and plenty more have all been folded into the remaster, making for an impressive bump to general feel and smoothness of the game.

Unfortunately, there's still a lot that just isn't quite there, by modern standards. The limited units--particularly the lack of unique ones for each faction--can make play feel homogenous very quickly. Structures aren't as developed either, meaning your ability to run more complex strategies is limited. You won't find extensive unit queuing, hotkeys, shift-commands, or any of the countless gameplay improvements RTS designers have come up with over the intervening decades.

If you're set on playing the original Age of Empires, this is far and away the best way to do so. That said, real-time strategy is a very feature-heavy genre. While this is the tightest the original AoE has ever been, it’s still sluggish and stripped-down compared to almost any modern offering.

Look Of The Day

In Style Fashion News Feed - Thu, 02/22/2018 - 14:15

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