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Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice Review

Games Spot Reviews - Thu, 09/29/2016 - 19:34

Although formulaic and somewhat one-note, Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice is a fast-paced platformer in a similar vein to classic side-scrolling Sonic the Hedgehog games. It combines the same enjoyable spin-dashing, looping courses, and ring collecting of old with some new--albeit vapid--ideas. The story comes down to the classic struggle of Sonic and friends trying to clean up the mess left in the wake of Dr. Robotnik’s shenanigans. The only difference, however, is the fact that mysterious rifts in the world have integrated with the tech worn by Sonic and his buddies, temporarily granting them their newfound fire and ice powers.

With a button tap, you can charge Sonic with fire or ice powers, allowing him to burn away or melt obstacles and freeze solid water for easier traversal across hazardous environments. These features are useful in more challenging sections with many obstacles that call for quick reflexes, including moments where moving pillars have to be avoided by quickly switching between fire and ice to enter safe zones beneath the hazards, but the feature is not so great when it brings fast-paced sequences to a jarring, unnecessary halt by sending characters crashing headfirst into an icy brick wall or through water into a pit of spikes.

You have the ability throughout the game to rapidly switch between different characters from the Sonicverse, including Knuckles, Tails, and Amy. Each character has their own unique special ability that can occasionally be used to access otherwise gated sections or each stage. For example, Amy’s hammer can bash walls or floors to move certain obstacles and Knuckles’ burrowing ability allows him to dig underground.

Some abilities can occasionally be used for mundane tasks like collecting items, but they rarely have any meaningful application aside from accessing hard-to-reach areas. And really, searching for hidden items is largely inconsequential, more of a temptation for completionists than a beneficial pursuit in practical terms. Like the fire-and-ice mechanic, special abilities and collectibles are ultimately underutilized.

The flow of Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice is also unabashedly formulaic. Every island Sonic visits has a handful of standard 2D levels set in seemingly arbitrary environments, like a prehistoric beach or a pirate bay. Accompanying these core areas are a few others with different formats that break up the flow of typical side-scrolling levels. These include a runner-like minigame in which Sonic auto-runs while dodging obstacles using his fire and ice powers; a side-scrolling, time-limited submarine-diving minigame used to acquire trading-card collectibles; and one-on-one races with one of Robotnik’s super-fast robots.

Minigames are fairly basic and straightforward, and only loosely related to the rest of the adventure. The attempt to fit a submarine minigame in an otherwise standard 3D platformer especially felt somewhat out of place, but ultimately these diversions serve as a nice palate cleanser in between 2D levels and make for easily replayable challenges.

Although formulaic, when it makes great use of its new mechanics and evokes classic Sonic gameplay, Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice is a competent and enjoyable adventure. The ability to replay levels and minigames to improve scores or use a character’s unique ability to explore more of a map offers enough incentive to dive back in, and the mix of classic Sonic platforming elements with newfound twists gives the game a more novel identity unto itself. Compared to the many missteps in Sonic’s history, it’s a decent example of what the series could be in a modern context. But when measured solely on its merits as a platformer, Fire and Ice is a repetitive yet competent game that's slightly above average.

Categories: Games

Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 Review

Games Spot Reviews - Thu, 09/29/2016 - 15:00

Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 is a fulfilling follow-up to Inti Creates' electric 3DS action-platformer from 2014, and while it's notably similar in many ways, the subtle changes it introduces expand and enrich the experience. An additional playable character--the returning antihero Copen--completely changes the way the game is played, and expanded sub-systems imbue the action with newfound significance and complexity. Whether you've played the first game or not, Gunvolt 2 is an exemplary display of tightly-paced action from start to finish.

Gunvolt 2's story takes place shortly after the events of the first game, throwing its electric-powered protagonist, the titular Gunvolt, into a conflict against Eden, a fanatical group of superpowered individuals known as Adepts. However, Gunvolt isn't the only one standing against Eden; his rival and anti-adept extremist, Copen, has also entered the fray fueled by his own agenda.

Despite the fact that the game offers a different campaign for each of its two playable characters, the narratives told aren't very memorable--each follow a structure that more or less resembles an extended fetch quest. At times, a hint of self-aware writing attempts to tide over the lacking story, but these moments end up more cringeworthy than entertaining.

Fortunately, these narrative issues do little to undermine the game’s strongest quality: run-and-gun action. Like its predecessor, combat is focused on tagging enemies with pistol fire and zapping them with a devastating surge of electricity. The game's distinct "tag-and-assault" playstyle deconstructs the rudimentary nature of combat within run-and-gun action games, breaking down the formula into a multi-step process. The result is combat that's both incredibly engaging and satisfying in practice.

For those who played the first game, it's worth noting that Gunvolt's abilities haven't changed much, as the skills and abilities he earns throughout the game are identical, like his HP restoring Galvanic Patch skill and his powerful Luxcalibur projectile attack. Some minor additions are present, however, such as new items that allow you to increase the number of enemies you can tag. These don't do much to enhance the already well-realized Gunvolt, but despite the lack of any meaningful changes, he remains an entertaining protagonist.

Then there's Copen, a character whose addition opens up a wealth of new combat opportunities. Like Gunvolt, Copen's primary method of attack is tied to tagging and assaulting his enemies. But while Gunvolt tags an enemy by shooting them, Copen does so by dashing into them. Once an enemy's tagged, Copen can follow up with a barrage of powerful homing bullets from his pistol. This might sound like a miniscule deviation from the formula, but the differences between Copen and Gunvolt are immense.

For starters, Copen can only tag one enemy at a time, while Gunvolt can tag up to three. To compensate for this limitation, Copen has a higher degree of mobility, thanks to his ability to air dash in six different directions. In addition, he sports an arsenal of support weapons that help compensate for his inability to tag more than one enemy. For instance, he has a dual water cannon that can provide supporting fire, and a drill weapon he can deploy to cover his rear. Copen is by far the more gratifying character to play as, offering a complex set of tactics to learn, an array of attack options to use, and a sense of speed that's continually exhilarating.

Thankfully, the stages are meticulously designed around each character's playstyle, providing a diverse selection of obstacles to navigate, hazards to avoid, and enemies to defeat. During the first half of the game, each character traverses stages completely unique to his campaign. The latter half, however, has both characters progressing through the same ones. This structure lends itself well to emphasizing the unique abilities that Gunvolt and Copen posses. While none of the areas are particularly memorable on a visual level, the challenges they present keep the pacing tight--the game never lets up as you unleash an onslaught of destruction against the waves of enemies in your way.

The experience is further enhanced by the kudos system, an adjustable score counter that increases as you defeat enemies. The catch? If you're hit often, you stand to lose all the points you've earned. The points you do earn are saved at the semi-frequent checkpoints you encounter and contribute to your total score at the end of a stage. This feeds into the crafting system--the better your total score value, the more crafting items you can obtain at the end of the stage. From there, you can create special equipment to improve your character's abilities.

The screen gets especially crowded when characters talk mid-action, but subtitles are the only way to follow the story.

This all may sound superficial on paper, but in practice, the system injects the action with a new level of challenge, unlocking a difficulty you wouldn't have otherwise known existed by simply playing the game. Hazards and bosses take on a whole new meaning when you can only take one hit before your score multiplier goes straight to zero. With three different kudos-system options to choose from--each offering different handicaps and score multipliers--there's more than enough challenge to take on.

When these various mechanics all function at once, things can get crowded on-screen. This is further compounded by dialogue boxes that take up nearly a third of the screen, sometimes obscuring the position of enemies. Fortunately, the dialogue can be turned off, but that feels counterintuitive if you're trying to understand the narrative. The presence of an English dub might have alleviated these issues--Gunvolt 2 is dubbed in Japanese--but even then, the amount of space taken up by the speech boxes on the screen remains a major issue when trying to focus on the action ahead.

With a host of bonus stages and challenge modes that unlock after clearing each campaign, Gunvolt 2 provides enough to inspire you to go back in for another run--either to refine your skills or simply to bask in the bliss of combat and movement. While an uninspired story and intrusive dialogue displays hold the game back from reaching its potential, what's here remains incredibly satisfying and worthwhile.

Categories: Games

The Hillary Clinton Instagram You Need To Follow Right This Minute

In Style Fashion News Feed - Thu, 09/29/2016 - 11:10
Why hillarystreetstyle is the account we never knew we needed...
Categories: Fashion

River City: Tokyo Rumble Review

Games Spot Reviews - Wed, 09/28/2016 - 19:43

Kunio’s a hot-blooded teenager who’s known as the toughest punk at school--his very name sends fear down the spines of rival troublemakers across Tokyo. Grades and respect for authority mean little to him--he’s all about fighting for his own personal brand of justice, and if that means pummeling a few muscle-heads on the back streets of Tokyo, he’ll do it. However, what seems like a personal scuffle between one of Kunio’s friends and a rival group turns out to be a plot by a vicious gang to conquer all of Tokyo. It’s up to Kunio and company to clean up the streets in order to put a stop to their plans.

River City: Tokyo Rumble utilizes much of the familiar gameplay and visual style of River City Ransom--a cult-classic NES brawler. As Kunio, you bash your way across side-scrolling sections of Tokyo, fighting off mobs of rivals and local punks and picking up the loot and cash they drop, all while learning more about the strangely lovable band of delinquent scrappers you’re controlling. Tokyo Rumble’s combat is pretty basic when compared to other beat-em-ups, but that’s not really a huge mark against it--the easy-to-learn controls make it a breeze for players of all skill levels to start delivering some beatdowns.

Of course, if things didn’t increase in complexity, the game would get dull pretty fast--but that’s a point where Tokyo Rumble excels much in the same way as the original RCR. As you pick up money and items dropped by defeated enemies, you can buy food, equipment, and skills to help augment your character. Gear like boots and brass knuckles raise your fighting stats, while buying instructions on new fighting skills from bookstores adds new moves to your arsenal--they increase your options during combat without significantly upping the control complexity. Pummeling enemies also increases your level, allowing you to get stronger and stronger as the game goes on.

Tokyo Rumble is modeled after RCR in its gameplay and visuals, but this time publisher Natsume has opted for a somewhat different style of localization that preserves much of the Japanese setting--many areas are based on real-life parts of Tokyo--and cultural tough-guy tropes that were missing from RCR. The result is a game that feels both comfortingly familiar and fascinatingly different to fans of the original RCR.

Supplementing this is an all-new quest system that has Kunio and company doing various errands in areas they’ve already cleared, such as fighting special bosses or looking for hidden mystery shops. Progressing through the game will also let you recruit CPU-controlled helper characters, who tag along with you but fight and level up independently. You can give your CPU pals basic orders, such as “help” or “stay back,” and they can be great assets during tougher boss brawls.

I say “tougher” because Tokyo Rumble isn’t a terribly difficult game on the default setting: I played through on Normal, and it felt quite breezy as long as I kept a few healing items on hand for the bosses. It’s also not a terribly lengthy game, either: you’ll likely be able to smack your way through this on a lazy Saturday. While you can extend the game length by taking on the various optional missions available throughout the game, many of these missions actually make the game less fun, like asking you to beat a high number of faceless thugs in certain parts of the city or entering the same areas over and over again in hopes of finding a rare enemy encounter.

Tokyo Rumble does a good job of avoiding repetition in the core game, but asking you to waste time bashing generic thugs can make the combat really start to wear out its welcome. The same goes with boss fights: While some bosses have a few neat tricks up their sleeves, such as surrounding themselves with speedy motorcycle gangsters that need to be KO’ed with jump attacks, a lot of them are simply brutes that favor perseverance over skill.

While the main game is brief, it’s plenty of fun, and bonus minigames like dodgeball add some extra charm to Tokyo Rumble. It’s a solid action game with a charming retro flavor that leverages RCR's foundation to construct both a new adventure and a different perspective on beloved game. Here’s to hoping that Tokyo Rumble heralds the further adventures of Kunio and company coming Westward as well.

Categories: Games

Sex, Laurent and The City: The Saint Laurent SS17 Show Report

In Style Fashion News Feed - Wed, 09/28/2016 - 10:30
Anthony Vaccarello is bringing sexy back...
Categories: Fashion

World of Warcraft: Legion Review

Games Spot Reviews - Wed, 09/28/2016 - 03:33

More than a decade into World of Warcraft's shelf life, it's fair to say that Blizzard has spent years spinning its wheels narratively, even as it continued to polish the MMO formula the company helped to enshrine. Mists of Pandaria introduced new races tangential to the Horde/Alliance conflict, and Warlords of Draenor was essentially an alternate-history nostalgia trip of the game's real-time strategy roots.

But with Legion, Blizzard continues its streak of integrating the best of contemporary MMO mechanical design but also radically alters the balance of power in their world for the first time since 2010's Cataclysm. It's a gamble that pays off.

Legion finds Azeroth's greatest existential threat making its first return since Burning Crusade. Thanks to the treacherous orc warlock Gul'dan (who lives again thanks to the events of Warlords of Draenor), the titular demonic Legion has been set loose on Azeroth once more. Although the Alliance and the Horde combine forces at the expansion's beginning to turn back the tide of this invasion, their attempts are crushed. You are then tasked with finding the Pillars of Creation--ancient devices created by the Titans, who predate mortal life on Azeroth--which are the only hope of closing the portals to the Twisting Nether.

Unless you're invested in almost two decades' worth of Warcraft lore, that all may sound confusing. Although purchasing Legion gives players a free character boost to level 100--the new starting level for the expansion--it's clear that Legion exists for WoW's core player base. It's fortunate, then, that the twists and major emotional beats of Legion will mean something to those players who have been with the game since its early days.

Life at 110 feels pretty good.

Legion starts off with a string of impactful tragedies and doesn't pull any punches from there. Characters you've known since WoW's inception aren't safe. The demonic corruption of the Legion takes major lore heroes from the series' RTS days and turns them into tragic villains. Dragonflights--which have been on the decline since Cataclysm--reach death's door. When hostilities between the Alliance and the Horde heat up again, it happens for extremely personal reasons--and, for once, it doesn't seem like one faction makes an inexplicably idiotic decision that brings new life to their war. By the end of the expansion's basic PvE content, you're given a firsthand look at the mana addiction that ruptured elven society (and invited the Legion to Azeroth in the first place).

It's hard to complain about that brevity when the content that gets you there is some of the best-designed world questing that Blizzard has produced to date.

Quests are focused and meaningful from the moment you choose your starting zone--Legion comprises four. You can hit the new level cap of 110 after about a week or so of moderate play, but it's hard to complain about that brevity when the content that gets you there is some of the best-designed world questing that Blizzard has produced to date.

Legion also includes some of WoW's best non-heroic/non-raid dungeon design in years. Although the game doesn't meet the genre heights set by something like Final Fantasy XIV, even the first dungeons of the expansion require actual coordination and teamwork. The average boss is your simple "tank 'n' spank," but Legion also offers a host of bosses with more complex movesets to manage. There are also a handful of new engagement types, such as guiding the boss between two different energy beams to mitigate attacks or finding runes on the arena floor that heal your character and give them added strength. These dungeons are tied to story progression---as well as some of the best early gear in the game--and weed out the less-competent players.

Stormheim viking statues not actually to scale.

Whether stemming the corruption of the Emerald Dream in Val'sharah, uniting tauren tribes in Highmountain, or battling the resurgent naga in Azsuna, the new zones are built around straightforward goals. You rarely have to question why you have to kill this or collect that, and the sense of busywork that WoW's basic quest design can often engender is thankfully absent. You get to play a part in shaping not just the fight against the Legion, but new societies you discover as well. WoW has a rich lore that isn't always integrated well (or at all) into its direct play, but Legion doesn't have that problem.

Legion's new Class Hall system also finds ways to integrate WoW's lore into the game in meaningful ways. Each class (and subclass) has its own artifact weapon, acquired at the beginning of the expansion, that levels as you play. These aren't just random weapons that you get from dungeon bosses--odds are that veteran players are familiar with them from past Warcraft experiences. Players may be forced to head back to Icecrown Citadel to acquire their class weapon, and Demon Hunters get trips to Karazhan and other places of classic WoW import.

Legion's new zones are positively gorgeous, working in broad-but-memorable aesthetic strokes.

WoW is running on a modified engine that's 12 years old at this point, and while you can tell you're playing a game with graphics not too far removed from the PS2 era, Legion's new zones are positively gorgeous, working in broad-but-memorable aesthetic strokes. The Nordic cliffsides and towering sculptures of Stormheim bring a richness to the zone's hyperbolic Viking fantasy. Val'sharah, a sprawling, overrun forest teeming with life and corruption, is the heart of Azeroth's original World Tree. And Legion's final leveling zone, Suramar, is awash with psychedelic purples and oranges and reds that speak to its place as the heart of the plague currently consuming Azeroth.

Legion's new class, the Demon Hunter, doesn't change things too much in terms of the game's traditional Holy Trinity of tank/healer/DPS. It's a melee DPS/tank hybrid, but it adds a wrinkle that almost spoils the allure of the game's other classes. Demon Hunters can double-jump and glide across landscapes, and it gives them such a degree of mobility and agility that all of the other classes feel sluggish and restrained in comparison. Few things in Legion prove to be more satisfying than avoiding a lengthy walk by just leaping off a cliff and diving to a new destination, further solidifying the Demon Hunters' status as WoW's new essential class.

Don't let Suramar's beauty fool you; it's deadly.

The biggest complaint one can make about Legion is that it does so many things so well that it serves to remind you that World of Warcraft is now a mosaic of more than a decade's worth of different design principles. Cataclysm revamped the entire vanilla WoW experience, but players who want to roll alts or start WoW for the first time (and experience it in its entirety) have to play through Burning Crusade and Lich King content, which just aren't half as smartly designed as WoW in its current incarnation. Blizzard keeps getting better at what it does; six expansions in, it shouldn't feel like a chore to get to the game's best content--but it does.

With Legion, it's hard to remember when WoW's narrative and questing were ever this strong before. Time will tell if Blizzard will serve up a healthy dose of new content to keep the expansion and game alive (a la Mists or Lich King) or if it will suffer the fate of Warlords of Draenor, but right now (about a month after the expansion's release) Blizzard has proven it can still craft an MMO experience as well as--if not better--than anyone else.

Categories: Games

XCOM 2 Review

Games Spot Reviews - Tue, 09/27/2016 - 18:20

This review has been updated to reflect XCOM 2's re-release on PS4 and Xbox One, which released on September 27, 2016:

Time is always fading in XCOM 2, and it's never on our side. As we train our next soldier, drop them into battle, and fight for humanity's survival, we can only make the best of the minutes we have left. We'll probably fail. But we'll move on anyway.

Following in the footsteps of 2012's XCOM: Enemy Unknown, its sequel is a brutal, unforgiving turn-based strategy title played on a strategic world map and isometric battlefields. XCOM 2 places us in command of the human Resistance as they rise up against the Advent, an alien regime that has governed Earth for 20 years. As opposed to the soldiers of Enemy Unknown, XCOM 2's rebellion is on the offensive. We're no longer staunch defenders--we're a desperate guerilla force.

This new script supports numerous tweaks to the XCOM formula, all for the better. We're still building an army, researching new technologies, and putting them to use in squad-based strategy missions. But these missions are less about repelling the aliens, and more about sabotaging their global operations whenever we can. We loot supply trains and intercept communications signals to halt the Advent's plan for human eradication. XCOM 2 ties its narrative and gameplay together in such a way that every mission feels critical, and every shot carries weight.

The mission objectives have changed, but so have the ways we approach them. XCOM 2 implements a new concealment mechanic, in which your soldiers drop into most missions unnoticed, allowing you to sneak past enemies or coordinate attacks on unsuspecting patrols.

The Viper is one of several new enemy types. Fighting them is terrifying.

This further elevates the idea of guerilla warfare, but also allows for exhilarating ambushes, as you lob grenades into groups, fire machine gun rounds as enemies scatter, and pick off stragglers before they have a chance to react. Initiating firefights takes just as much consideration as finishing them.

XCOM 2 also uses procedural map and objective generation to ensure a different mission each time your squad leaves the dropship. You'll defend new rooftops and sneak through different alleyways in each campaign. This dynamism, coupled with the aforementioned stealth mechanics, extend XCOM 2's longevity far past that of Enemy Unknown, in which missions grew boring several campaigns in.

In fact, the entirety of XCOM 2 unfolds in original ways each time you play. It's a multilayered experience wherein each level displays nuance, but also contributes to an amorphous, ever-changing whole.

XCOM 2's strategy layer imparts the same urgency as the tactical battles on the ground.

The squad firefights lay the foundation: there are tactical considerations, from the elevation of the battlefield to the sightlines of the map's structures. Then there are the character classes, each with a world of possibilities to consider: the specialist can hack Advent security towers and buff your squad in the field. The grenadier's carrying capacity makes him the pack mule of the group. The ranger's blade makes her a lethal close-quarters force. The psi operative, on the other hand, uses the alien mind control powers against the Advent, turning firefights into psychological battlegrounds.

Character customization lets you control everything from your soldiers' loadouts to their nationality.

The sheer amount of factors affecting any firefight is staggering, raising numerous questions as I move across the map: how many aliens are there? Does my specialist have any medkits left? Who has the highest armor rating in my squad? Should I leave my sniper in overwatch, or move her forward with the rest of her crew? And how can I flank that Sectoid before it uses its mind control abilities to turn my ranger against me?

More often than not, there's a timer pushing you forward, counting the turns until your target escapes, or the aliens extract their secret data. There's always something to worry about, something to consider, some way things could go wrong as you fight to keep your squad alive. In many cases, I opted for retreat: by throwing down flares I could extract my remaining soldiers back to base. If objectives became impossible to reach, saving my valuable fighters became paramount in the grand scheme of things.

XCOM 2's overarching strategy layer imparts the same sense of urgency, and a similar bevy of obstacles. As we move the humans' mobile Avenger base across the globe, establishing links with other rebel cells, we also fight the aliens' plan to erase humanity, indicated by a crimson progress bar at the top of the world map. A real sense of tension forces us to maintain a constant state of motion, whether by freeing a waylaid country, researching new alien weaponry, or rushing production on a crucial new structure.

The strategy aspect is almost as important, as you make contact with rebel cells, and build your overall economy.

Underlying all of this is a more personal current. We grow attached to individual soldiers as they perform spectacular feats and rise in the ranks. We get to know their loadouts and what equipment they carry. We rely on our best leaders to stay composed, and root for rookies to prove themselves. XCOM 2 may be a war game, but it doesn't ignore the boots on the ground--strategy plans are only as good as the soldiers putting them into action.

Take Lieutenant Micky Taylor, for instance. He died in the snow at 6:53 p.m. outside of my disabled helibase, just outside of Kansas City. The mission was to destroy an EMP device that was preventing us from taking off, while also keeping the Advent away from our landing pad. With enemy Vipers poisoning my rangers, hulking Mutons wounding my grenadiers, and mechanical Sectopod mechs bombarding my medics, I balanced offense and defense, accounting for every eventuality as the mission unfolded. Things went well. But then I sent Taylor into cover as the rest of his squad rushed to the evac zone. He was the only one who didn't make it. It was his 23rd mission.

I remember that scenario because of its clever design, but also because it's where I lost my best soldier. In the end, XCOM 2 is fantastic not just because of its refined individual layers, but how seamlessly they interact. We think on different levels during playthroughs, bouncing between the commander's chair, the scientist's lab, and the sergeant's eyes. If Enemy Unknown was a chess game, the sequel adds more pieces--and more spaces--to the board.

We think on multiple levels in XCOM 2, bouncing between the commander's chair, the scientist's lab, and the sergeant's eyes.

Every once in a while, however, XCOM 2's difficulty surpasses challenging, and becomes unfair. For the most part, enemies abide by the same restrictions we do. But sometimes, they shoot through walls and dodge point-blank shotgun bursts. The cards are already stacked against us in most campaigns, and part of the fun is overcoming those odds--but when the enemy AI ignores the rules, the game loses its appeal. Furthermore, XCOM suffers from certain technical glitches: the action halted during action-camera sequences, and in certain cases, I felt as if the game was overwhelmed. My soldiers' reaction shots didn't trigger when they should have, and enemies' attacks happened all at once, or weren't shown at all.

But the vast majority of the time XCOM 2 performs well and the difficulty is fair. We will make mistakes--but that's the point. Failure is not just a possibility in XCOM 2, it's a necessary presence. This is the rare game that's less about choices, and more about the consequences thereafter: we play, we learn, we strive to get better. The entire process is a stunning display of meaningful failure.

So time keeps ticking in XCOM 2, and the best we can do is make the right choices when we have the chance. XCOM 2 imparts the weight of those decisions, and that's what makes it extraordinary. It's mathematical, emotional, and thoughtful all at once. It's exhilarating, even in the face of failure. It's compelling, even though we often lose. Victory is the goal, but that's just an afterthought here--it's the complex journey that counts.

Now that XCOM 2 has made its way to consoles, these sentiments remain the same. Some technical issues have migrated from this year’s PC release: characters sometimes freeze in place while the turn progresses; soldiers can take almost 10 seconds to execute commands; and cutscenes have a tendency to drop frame rates throughout campaigns. But the layered tactics, impactful meta-game, and deep character-building are all intact on PS4 and Xbox One. XCOM 2 remains a superb strategy title.

Categories: Games

These Sweatshirts Are Everything For Zodiac Fans

In Style Fashion News Feed - Tue, 09/27/2016 - 15:55
Find the design for your star sign...
Categories: Fashion

How To Wear A Shirt Dress Without Looking Like A Square

In Style Fashion News Feed - Tue, 09/27/2016 - 11:05
Here are 7 ways to style it
Categories: Fashion

7 Cool New Ways To Wear A Shirt

In Style Fashion News Feed - Tue, 09/27/2016 - 11:01
Inspiration from the Insta-elite
Categories: Fashion

FIFA 17 Review

Games Spot Reviews - Tue, 09/27/2016 - 03:12

Being consistently good can bring its own problems. Among the highlight gameplay changes in this year's FIFA we have: better throw-ins, low driven shots, and the ability to control the ball from a long keeper kick. Welcome improvements, sure, but still, pity the guy making them sound exciting in the press release.

Maybe that's why FIFA 17, a football game that checks all the usual boxes you’d expect of an already successful annual sports title--trimming, tidying, domination by iteration--also throws in a more glamorous and unexpected addition: The Journey.

The Journey is a new story-based mode centering on Alex Hunter, a young player breaking into professional football. It’s built from a mix of gameplay, dialogue, and cutscenes, which depict Alex’s evolving relationships with his family and teammates and, ultimately, whether his talent is enough to kickstart a dream career.

It is, in other words, a football Cinderella story--and, as such, it marks a pleasant change from the relentless capitalism of FIFA’s monstrously successful Ultimate Team. FIFA already contains at least three modes life-consuming enough to take up 12 months of your spare time, and aside from an annual release schedule that demands a constant supply of newness, recapturing some of the hope and romance of football seems the only logical reason for The Journey to exist.

As for the mode itself, hope and romance are what it does best--convincing dramatics and RPG gameplay, not so much. Choice within The Journey is, in practice, pretty limited, outside of the initial opportunity to choose which Premier League side Hunter joins. Certain fixed plot points underpin the story. They happen no matter how you’re performing on the pitch or behaving off it--things like being sent out on loan, or Hunter’s childhood friend and teammate Gareth Walker being inexplicably awful to him the whole time.

Once you start leveling up, you can directly apply upgrade points to specific skills, enabling you to make Hunter exactly the sort of player you'd like him to be. But there's less flexibility in the dialogue choices offered during certain cutscenes and post-match interviews. These are clearly labeled--"fiery," "cool," "balanced"--and rather than leading individually to different opportunities or outcomes, these decisions are aggregated into a binary temperament gauge showing whether Hunter is hot-headed or sensible. This, in turn, has an effect on cosmetic things like how pleased your manager is with you or how many fans you have, but it doesn’t unlock any significant changes in events.

While lead actor Adetomiwa Edun (Merlin, Bates Motel) shines through the performance capture process to offer a vulnerable, determined Alex Hunter, The Journey still sounds the occasional awkward dramatic note. Interactions between characters can seem forced, like Alex’s dad storming away from an early game or your rivalry with Gareth. And sometimes the locations themselves (especially exteriors) are quiet and empty, giving the scenes an unreal, disconnected feel.

Speaking of unrealistic, sometimes the cost of mistakes seems unfeasibly high. At one point, Hunter was established in the first team at Tottenham Hotspur, and a red card led directly to him getting released from his contract despite the fact that he'd scored in the previous three games (requiring a return to the latest save). A talking-to or even a transfer listing might’ve worked here; to suggest a player scoring goals in the Premier League could find his contract canceled and career over because of a sending-off is bizarre.

And yet, for all that, The Journey captures something that the existing parts of FIFA never have. Despite its rough edges, there are moments here that deliver a kind of brute emotional force: the opening scene of Sunday morning boys’ football, which puts the cliched tale in a delicate context; a pitch-side camera’s view of Hunter’s first goal for the senior side, with his own delirious shout audible above the crowd; various quiet moments of triumph and failure with family. It lacks sophistication, but The Journey has something, and it succeeds in attaching an added emotional weight to your actions on the pitch.

It lacks sophistication, but The Journey has something, and it succeeds in attaching an added emotional weight to your actions on the pitch.

As for the rest of this year's update, FIFA 17 feels like a round of unglamorous but welcome housekeeping after the relatively thorough gameplay changes of last year. EA has touted the switch to the Frostbite engine, a change that will presumably pay off increasingly in future years. Right now, wide shots of stadiums look very pretty, especially at night and with mist hanging in the air. But elsewhere, you'd be hard pressed to spot the difference, and some locations in The Journey--offices, bedrooms, changing rooms--look a little flat and characterless.

The gameplay improvements this year are typified by much-needed tweaks but also feel like the kind of changes you only get around to when there's nothing really pressing to address. So now throw-ins can be dummied much like a faked shot, giving players a way to move defenders around and get a better chance of keeping possession. Free kicks and penalties have been freed up, so you can choose your angle of approach and charge your cross or shot much more like you would in regular play.

Physical play, too, has been refined so that holding the left trigger down is now the way to let the game know, in attack or defense, that you want your players to engage physically with the other team. It's a small tweak, but it’s one that removes some of the mystery surrounding jostling while defending and seems very useful for holding on to the ball while in possession, especially with sturdy midfielders like Mousa Dembele or Paul Pogba. Finally, the inclusion of low, driven shots adds an appreciable new wrinkle to offensive play. Nail the timing, and you're able to power efforts on goal low and accurately, finally ending the years-long, reality-defying rule that more power must equal more height.

Other welcome-but-non-revolutionary additions include multiplayer skill games--things like passing drills and small matches of two-on-two--which are so much fun that the loading screens for full matches now threaten to become the matches themselves. There’s also the fact that reality--or a small slice of it, at least--has been invited into Career mode. Your objectives in managing a club are now more specifically tailored to the club in question, and are divided into Domestic and Continental success, Brand Value, Finance, and Youth Development. Pick Tottenham, for example, and your club overlords will be less worried about European success than winning at home. Choose Manchester United, and you'll not only have high expectations in terms of winning trophies but also a global brand to sustain. It's a relatively simple way of removing the mode's previous one-size-fits-all feel while giving a sense of individuality to every playthrough. There's now a reason other than boredom to switch clubs or start a new career altogether.

This year's FIFA, then, can be fairly summarized as one big change that doesn't quite pay off, and lots of small ones that do.

Ultimate Team remains FIFA’s biggest draw, with EA choosing to add to rather than tinker with a winning formula. The most notable addition are Squad Building Challenges, which require players to construct sides with certain conditions--using only players of two different nationalities, or with a minimum chemistry level--and then submit them for rewards. It’s a very smart piece of design, not only giving players a use for the scores of bronze and silver players they’ll accrue over the course of a season (and that will never feature in a playing squad), but also making play of the subtle and sophisticated problem-solving that already underpins Ultimate Team’s systems.

This year's FIFA, then, can be fairly summarized as one big change that doesn't quite pay off, and lots of small ones that do. The Journey is engaging enough that it'll be interesting to see how it's developed next year, but right now, it's not the reason to buy FIFA 17. That remains a combination of still-excellent fundamental gameplay (on a par, at least, with Pro Evolution Soccer 2017's much-improved showing) and Ultimate Team, the game-above-the-game to which PES still has no serious answer. Put together with an improved Career mode and best-in-class presentation, and FIFA 17 is still out in front--even if its lead has been cut this year.

Categories: Games

Destiny: Rise of Iron Review

Games Spot Reviews - Tue, 09/27/2016 - 01:00

With Rise of Iron, Destiny feels like a game that’s within reach of fresh ideas, but can’t quite escape its own past. There are moments of exhilaration throughout the newest expansion, and a few inspiring missions remain rooted in my memory, but as Bungie’s shooter wades into its third year, a sense of fatigue has risen to the surface. Destiny’s exhaustion is beginning to show.

From a story standpoint, Rise of Iron follows our Guardians as they assist Lord Saladin, one of the last remaining members of the Iron Lords, in his fight against Siva, a nanobot plague that all but exterminated his group years before present events. Rise of Iron borrows its aesthetic from fantasy tales such as Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, pulling us up to the snowy Felwinter Peak to the sound of low horns and loud clarion calls. At its outset, Rise of Iron displays a confident sense of character.

But that wears thin soon thereafter. Destiny’s new campaign lasts for about 90 minutes, and while it does a decent job of setting up the expansion’s late-game missions and public events, the plot serves only to introduce us to new quest-givers and areas of interest. Any narrative promise the opening moments display soon fades. The campaign’s final boss battle may be thrilling--it encourages frantic melee combat against an onslaught of enemies--but the short trip it takes to get there is forgettable.

As a major Destiny expansion, of course, Rise of Iron also brings additional cooperative strikes, public events, player vs. player options, a new social space, a new patrol zone, and a six-player raid. I call this content additional, and not new, for a reason: much of Rise of Iron’s content is taken from Destiny’s first two years and given a fresh coat of paint.

Rise of Iron's new gear blends science fiction and fantasy.

Yes, Siva-infected enemies bring new dangers to firefights, and existing bosses have changed their combat strategy to make things just fresh enough to initially feel different. But the Destiny grind is more apparent here than ever. I’m once again firing round after round into Sepiks Prime. I’m patrolling the snowy wilderness on a strikingly familiar Earth. I’m wading through strikes I’ve played dozens of times before. The Wretched Eye strike, Rise of Iron’s truly new cooperative venture, is one of the aforementioned shining moments. But it’s surrounded by vapid echoes of the past.

Rise of Iron’s player vs. player content follows suit. The new Supremacy game mode requires you to pick up fallen orbs from slain enemies, not granting you full credit for a kill until you do so. You can also deny opponents their points by collecting your comrades’ telltale remains--the system creates tense situations as players rush into the open to gather orbs, only to die and make the field that much more tantalizing for the next challenger. Smart players can hang back and pick off scavengers shortly before gathering several points for themselves.

While Supremacy does lure you out of your comfort zone with enticing scenarios, the experience is only a slight variation on the classic deathmatch formula. As with Rise of Iron’s campaign, Supremacy feels uninspired. Rise of Iron’s maps are well designed, combining close-quarters battles and long-range engagements with seeming ease, proving once again that studio Bungie is a top-tier developer of competitive shooter arenas. But these maps set the stage for a new mode that doesn’t pull its own creative weight.

The redundancies in Destiny's campaign, strikes, and Crucible content are a shame, too, considering the moments of greatness Rise of Iron does deliver.

The redundancies in Destiny’s campaign, strikes, and Crucible content are a shame, too, considering the moments of greatness Rise of Iron does deliver. The quest line to obtain the newest version of Gjallahorn, Destiny’s now-mythical rocket launcher, culminates in a massive battle the likes of which Bungie hasn’t created since its Halo days. Archon’s Forge, the expansion’s new public event space, plays host to chaotic battles between a possible nine players and a variety of alien bosses. The sheer spectacle of these skirmishes combines with Destiny’s mechanical fluidity to create some of the shooter’s finest moments to date.

This rings true in Rise of Iron’s Wrath of the Machine raid. The trek pits you and five other players against an array of enemies in a bevy of complex scenarios that don’t use boss battles and hordes of enemies as crutches.

While these elements are present, Wrath of the Machine demands that you rethink what a boss fight can be: without spoiling too much, one section of the raid asks you not just to battle a massive enemy, but use it as transportation, too. Wrath of the Machine’s final encounter is one of those shining moments I keep coming back to. Despite the difficulty you’ll encounter, it’s a stunning combination of teamwork, survival techniques, and combat tactics, as well as using the expansion’s pervasive Siva against itself, that will carry your squad through.

The new strike pits you against two enemies, only one of which is susceptible to damage.

But the raid is the sparkling light at the end of an often-dreary tunnel. I spent dozens of hours slogging through familiar strikes, uninspired new Crucible content, and a patrol zone that felt like a retread, not an adventure. I found myself playing more for the new gear and Light levels--for the progress--than the actual enjoyment.

As an expansion that revamped how Destiny actually played, last year’s The Taken King was a major step forward for the shooter. But Rise of Iron feels merely like the other foot catching up to rest firmly in place. It feels timid. It feels safe. It feels like the last remaining breath before the possible sequel, as if Destiny is standing still and waiting for inspiration to arrive, rather than going out to find it.

Categories: Games

66 AW16 Campaigns We’re Double Tapping RN

In Style Fashion News Feed - Mon, 09/26/2016 - 15:44
Fashion adverts never looked so good
Categories: Fashion

NBA2K17 Review

Games Spot Reviews - Sat, 09/24/2016 - 04:22

NBA 2K17 feels like it was made by a team of people who live and breathe basketball. Everything from the meticulous presentation to MyCareer mode's practice drills exhibits the care and attention that only come from people who get whisked away in midday dreams of playing in the NBA--and that makes it doubly easy for you to do the same. This is the first time I've delved past an NBA 2K game's Play Now and Blacktop modes, and in witnessing how great this game is, I’m beginning to wonder why I never did so in the first place.

2K's NBA games are known for smooth, fluid play, and true to form, 2K17 allows you to move the ball around the court, mixing in advanced ball maneuvers and fancy footwork with ease. Employing the right stick's ability to juke is when you'll really feel the satisfaction of faking out an opponent on your way to the net. It's empowering to know that you outsmarted the opposition, and it's a credit to the game's controls that complex moves are accessible and feel natural. Once you grow accustomed to the potential at your fingertips--a fast process--NBA 2K17 feels like a game of instincts, rather than a calculated series of inputs.

Of course, victory wouldn't feel as sweet if the AI didn't put up a good fight, and given its prowess, you need to employ smart positioning and playmaking to get to the hoop. Experimenting with the tools at hand is as essential as it is satisfying when you put a winning strategy into action--and humbling when you're stuffed by a clever opponent. The AI isn't going to fall for the same trick every time, so mixing up your strategies is required--passing the ball to your best player in an attempt to score three points every time isn't going work. Finding out the best way to tackle each shift on the court is continually rewarding and engages you wholeheartedly in the excellent on-court action.

To get your bearings, you can jump into the 2KU mode, which has you participate in scrimmage games, and feeds you tutorial tips as you play. Gameplay pauses as instructions and narration pop up to let you know how to pass, shoot, and retrieve the ball on defense. This can be helpful for learning the basics, but it would be a lot more effective if the game reacted to your performance and coached you appropriately rather than merely providing static direction. For example, it doesn't let you know why you lost a jump ball or why you got a foul for trying to knock a ball loose. Without a responsive, real-time feedback system, NBA 2K17's training mode feels more like a primer than a full-fledged tutorial.

When it's game time, NBA 2K17's commentators, camera angles, and mid-game events--such as mascot antics and halftime dunk shows--demonstrate incredible realism and attention to detail. Fans get excited at the right moments, with intercepted passes and turnovers riling them up the most. The only downside to the whole broadcast setup is the pre-game and half-time shows; they sound good, but the virtual hosts are stiff. It often looks like someone’s pulling the strings of realistic Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal, and Kenny Smith puppets. Thankfully, they're a relatively small part of the package, and the rest of the presentation, particularly the commentary and fans, makes every game feel like you're playing in the NBA.

Shaq, Ernie, and Kenny don't echo the authenticity found elsewhere in NBA 2K17.

Playing with authentic teams and players scratches the NBA itch, but MyCareer offers a different kind of game, where you create a player and master a single position as you make your way through college and into the pros. Cutscenes are infrequent, but they add some nice background to you and your life through moments of playing video games with a friend or talking to your excited, caring mom over the phone. They're not super impactful, but the way everyone in your life reacts to you and your playing makes you want to do better on the court.

Playing as a single athlete can feel restrictive in some sports games, but playing your part on a team in 2K17 is thoroughly rewarding. Setting up a teammate for an alley-oop or having someone pass to you so you can make that key three-point shot fosters an awesome sensation that feels like real teamwork, where you have total ownership over your role. Sure, you can call for the ball every second and hog it like Kobe, but you'd be robbing yourself of the satisfaction that comes with skillful cooperation.

Playing as a single athlete can feel restrictive in some sports games, but playing your part on a team in 2K17's MyCareer mode is thoroughly rewarding.

You can actually improve your game by participating in practices--various types of mini games. They might challenge you to sink as many alternating three-point shots as possible, shoot the ball from a specific spot, or play a game of one-on-one. Most of these challenges are fun, making the choice to go to the gym before a game a lot easier.

Outside of playing basketball, MyCareer encourages you to take part in life off the court. You can attend promotional and fan events to get a little extra currency to spend on attributes and upgrades. These amount to nothing more than selecting a menu item, watching your player walk out the door, and then getting a message saying you completed the event. The lack of interactivity with these events is fine, but the amount of time it takes for this process to finish feels a bit excessive. Additionally, you get text messages from friends, players, and coaches, and the way you respond will change the way certain people react to you. These moments of texting are often funny and add a bit of life in between games and practices that's much appreciated.

2K17 offers a number of modes to play online against other players, and for the most part, the connection holds up well. In my several hours of online testing, I came across a few games where the connection was fairly bad, resulting in a match that was nearly unplayable. Thankfully, these encounters were few and far between.

You can compete against other players in the basic Play Now mode or take a team you assemble through card packs and face off against others in MyTeam. In this mode, you kick things off with a starter pack that gives you a small bounty of cards to help you build a lineup of players. In addition to paying real money for these packs, you can earn them by racking up in-game currency. This process takes much longer, and you aren't guaranteed to get any useful cards in a pack. This can be frustrating, especially when you pay real money toward the purchase of card packs. You're better off buying the players you want from the auction house. Doing what essentially amounts to gambling is a risk that just isn't worth it.

Despite its few drawbacks, NBA 2K17's excitement for basketball is contagious, and it's hard not to get wrapped up in it. Apart from the lacking 2KU mode and stiff recreations of commentators, the rest of the game looks great and plays even better. After finally devoting a significant amount of time to one of these games, I now see why it's such a well-regarded series, and it makes me wish that every sport got the same treatment that basketball does in NBA 2K17.

Categories: Games

12 Models To Follow On Instagram For All Your Backstage Fashion Week Action

In Style Fashion News Feed - Fri, 09/23/2016 - 12:56
The industry cool kids that'll give you the insider activity
Categories: Fashion

This Vlogger Did Incredible DIY Versions Of The Yeezy Knit Bootie

In Style Fashion News Feed - Fri, 09/23/2016 - 10:49
Prepare to have your mind blown...
Categories: Fashion

Gigi And Bella Hadid Slay Sibling Style In Milan

In Style Fashion News Feed - Fri, 09/23/2016 - 09:51
Watch out Kendall and Kylie, you have some serious sibling-style competition...
Categories: Fashion

God Eater 2: Rage Burst Review

Games Spot Reviews - Thu, 09/22/2016 - 15:45

These days, it's easy to find games that let you exterminate fantastic beasts with giant blades and panache. Yet not all those experiences deliver the immediacy of prey hunting with cooperative play quite like God Eater 2: Rage Burst. It makes up for its lack of difficulty and recycled maps with a robust combat system and a wealth of loot to sort through and manage in between matches. Much like the best of Monster Hunter, Rage Burst reaffirms that an online action RPG can rely on a single objective type, as long as that objective is to triumph over hostile creatures.

Set three years after the post-apocalyptic events of God Eater: Resurrection, Rage Burst finds the remnants of humanity on a planet still overrun with godlike beasts known as Aragami. God Eater has always been about surviving the end of the world while looking good in the process. The introductory music-video cinematic sets expectations by showing off the agents’ fiery, demon-killing intensity while wielding God Arcs, transformable weapons often larger than a typical human. It’s easy to be motivated by your squad’s collective gung-ho attitude and the game’s bombastic choral soundtrack, which features the kind of compositions normally saved for final boss fights.

Don’t mind the commander who’s dressed like a recent widow.

The unabashed nature of its teen-targeted presentation is the crux of Rage Burst’s charm. The intricate, often vibrant youth-centric outfits serve as a reminder that Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts veteran Tetsuya Nomura does not have a monopoly on gratuitous zippers. The backdrops of desolate cities, fallen skyscrapers, and the imposing visages of otherworldly Aragami do little to dampen the hopes of the spry early twenty-somethings who make up your party.

Anime-styled cutscenes are pleasant breaks in between sorties, and the steady stream of new characters help add diversity to your potential squad. Compared to Resurrection, Rage Burst’s initial cast is surprisingly easygoing, and it takes a few hours before more distinct archetypes join the cast. For example, the unsurprising addition of the overconfident-but-well-meaning agent serves as a poignant contrast to the introduction of the brooding-yet-skilled squadmate.

Rage Burst isn’t as front-loaded with scene-setting exposition as Resurrection, which makes it easier to get started with the first batch of missions. Like in Monster Hunter and even Phantasy Star Online, it’s not unusual to revisit old maps or see foes from the past reprise their roles as prey in Rage Burst. They’re worth getting reaquainted with, especially given the imagination put into their designs. Large, bipedal bugs and helmeted lizards return, as does the gigantic gorilla sporting armor reminiscent of a Japanese demon.

Combat is the main course in a god hunt that actually involves the consumption of the deities you’re tasked with vanquishing. The straightforwardness of Rage Burst’s “kill X” quests can appear shallow at first, and yes, you can accomplish many goals by making a beeline for your targets and mashing a basic combo. Exhilarating moments can be as simple as relentlessly pummeling your foe or showcasing an adept use of well-timed roll dodges.

There’s a rush in avoiding an Aragami’s strike and fully capitalizing on the opportunity with a lethal thrashing. Aragamis aren’t pushovers, though. They can extend the fight with a hasty retreat to recover health. Different maps offer Aragami distinct escape routes--some inaccessible to your party--but it’s a problem easily fixed with a speedy chase along the paths you can use. If you’re smart when it comes to managing your ammo, you can interrupt a retreat with a well-placed salvo, even if the Aragami’s already 50 yards away.

Rage Burst is rich in these satisfying tactical maneuvers. Moves partly executed in midair add flair to an already stylish squad. By adding complex staggers and cancels to your repertoire, you can appreciate the series’ fighting-game influence--and, more importantly, become a more meaningful contributor in battle.

One of the game’s most rewarding combat features, Burst Mode, isn’t complex at all, though. If you can find a two-second window to charge your God Arc in melee mode, you can take a literal bite out of an Aragami, resulting in a temporary enhancement of your stats; it’s essentially God Eater’s “Super Saiyan” mode. It sounds twisted, but you can buff your friends by shooting at them. The most rewarding aspect of Burst Mode is the ability to use the same element-enhanced attacks of the Aragami that you consumed. It’s the equivalent of beating up an opponent with his own arm--which, by the way, you just ripped off.

Belts and buckles, all the live long day.

Loot is the key to molding and refining your character’s battle skills and combat prowess. Rage Burst’s modest difficulty makes it easy to craft weapons, where style can sometimes take precedent over optimization. Sorting through loot and pondering over stat upgrades can be overwhelming at times--the game offers more than 100 skill effects alone, and that doesn’t include support skills or status effects.

It’s not unusual to spend more time poring over weapon-crafting than in completing a single assignment. What good is killing an Aragami if you don’t give yourself a fighting chance at an S-rank and looking great at the same time? It’s not a case of whether you live or die, but whether it takes 60 seconds or 5 minutes to finish the same sortie. It’s very much determined by how you’ve crafted your gear to your playstyle, but team chemistry is also a factor. While the AI can’t replicate the efficiency of a seasoned online team, the AI-controlled comrades are surprisingly reliable.

Good sequels strike a balance between reproducing familiar systems and introducing new features. Rage Burst shares many similarities with Resurrection, to the degree that you wouldn’t be blamed for mistaking the former for an expansion pack of the latter at a glance. But Rage Burst is bolstered by a beefed-up combat system and scores of stylish, powerful loot, making frequent, sometimes repetitive questing, more enjoyable than it was in Resurrection.

Categories: Games

The Designers Doing Diversity Right For SS17

In Style Fashion News Feed - Thu, 09/22/2016 - 12:53
Looking for diversity in fashion week SS17? These are the designers making headlines (in a good way)
Categories: Fashion

One Model On What It’s Really Like To Be On Your Period In Fashion Week

In Style Fashion News Feed - Thu, 09/22/2016 - 11:18
Do models model on their period? Victoria Cain talks about what it’s really like
Categories: Fashion
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