The Medium - XBSX Review

The Medium by developer Bloober Team and publisher Bloober Team SA—Microsoft Xbox Series X Review written by Pierre-Yves with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

So I generally have an unwritten rule in which I don't do horror. I'm a chicken shit and things that go bump in the night keep me up at night with a night light. It's just not my cup of tea but every now and then something catches my eye and I get a sprout of bravery. The Medium, by the Bloober Team which have done both the Observer: System Redux recently covered by Nick and the Blair Witch covered by Izzy, is what I decided to be brave on and in some ways, mistakes were made but they were worth it even if I've had a few sleepless nights because of it. 

Taking the role of Marianne, The Medium starts off with her talking to someone off screen making it fairly easy to get invested as it feels like she's talking to you about events leading up to this point in her life. Recently deceased, it fell to her to prepare her foster father for a viewing as she made her way back to the funeral home that he ran. Getting a bit of a taste for the mechanics involved, Marianne will soon get a phone call starting this horror show off for real. 

Making her way up to a government resort named Niwa at the behest of someone on the other line of a telephone, it soon becomes clear that this won't be a vacation as the resort is run down and in ruins with vegetation having started to reclaim it. With the potential that whoever called no longer being present in the world of the living, Marianne heads in to find the voice from the other end of the telephone line with answers to her condition that she never thought she would find. 

There's a lot that I would like to say about The Medium but I'll start with the first thought. Wow. Graphically the environments that you'll be walking Marianne through are detailed making it really easy to want to explore and find out what secrets it's hiding even if it's haunted as hell. Mechanically the controls are basic enough with you moving through the environment and checking out points of potential interest but it's Marianne's ability that steals the show. 

On a general principle, we know that mediums have a sort of power in order to sense the departed or supernatural. It comes in a few flavours from basic senses to outright communication with the beings no longer from or from this world to start off with. Taking it to another level, Marianne depending on the power of the forces involved will quite literally exist both in this world and the world beyond simultaneously. She can move through both walking, touching and affecting her environment either through either realm. 

While this would be in a sense nothing new to the worlds that we explore, Marianne's adventure takes it a step further as you quite literally move through both at the same time needing to check both surroundings simultaneously for clues or hints of what's required in order to move forward. Appearance wise they couldn't be more different from one another so there's a bit of an adjustment the first few times, but eventually it becomes natural enough to be looking and exploring both without realizing you're looking at two whole separate sets of visuals. 

From there, the rest boils down to puzzle solving assisted by some fairly well written and voiced dialog. From Marianne herself to others that she'll meet and others who will forever remain disembodied voices, each character lends itself to helping build you into the immersion that, if like me, wi have you jump a few feet off the couch at times on a scare that you really didn't see coming. This is only helped, and worsened for me, as the ambient noises and haunting tracks were glued to my ears with some pretty hefty headphones. The opening screens before the main menu do say for best experience use headphones and they weren't lying. 

Not to simply settle in for the same style of gameplay over the course of the dozen or so hours that The Medium can take, and avoiding a fair amount of spoilers, there is going to be some going back and forth between the real world and the spirit world alongside the split screening. While in one world or the other, you’ll still be affecting things in the other but while in the real world for example, Marianne is a lot more vulnerable than she would be in the spirit world with some of her abilities which will also cross over through the split screening. 

On a final note, it’s rare to find nothing wrong with an experience. The writing, the ambient noises, the music, the dialog, and the interaction with the world are all spot on and playing on an Xbox Series X with a 4K television really helps to sell the visuals. If I had an issue or two it may be that at times certain objects were not quite as responsive due to the angle that Marianne would be standing at or that I did hit a glitch once or twice causing me to restart from the previous autosave because something stuck. Otherwise? This was a fantastic experience.

While I don’t generally sit down to horror, or horror like experiences, the Bloober Team with their atmospheric and psychological horror The Medium had me hooked from start to finish. With a very well paced story and solid mechanics that let you explore the run down resort that Marianne finds herself in, it was really hard to put down the controller as the secrets that often lay right around the corner just begged to be answered. Score: 9 / 10


Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy - PS4 Review

Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy by developer Gust Co. Ltd. and publisher Koei Tecmo AmericaSony Playstation 4 Review written by Pierre-Yves with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Taking up three years after the original events of Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & The Secret Hideout, Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & The Secret Fairy in a first for the series sees both the return of the original cast and of the original protagonist continuing her adventures. With new features, locations and party members, the crew is once again about to embark on an incredible adventure that most people wish they could be part of instead of being relegated to the sidelines as teachers.

I've been playing the Atelier Series for a long time now and while certain elements like the high emphasis alchemy has remained the same, other elements have been experimented with and have changed over the years from one entry to the next. From pure RPG elements in the first two entries of the Atelier Iris Trilogy to time based goals in the third and that of Atelier Rorona, Atelier Sophie and Atelier Firis blended both those lines for something new and familiar until Atelier Ryza's debut. No timeline, no outright in your face goals, just wherever the adventure took the party.

Keeping in line with the latest direction of the series, Atelier Ryza 2 and Ryza’s adventures continue the path laid out while also following in the rest of the series’ footsteps by adding in new features and refining existing ones. Moving from her home island that Ryza, Tao, Lent and Klaudia saved years prior, Ryza being the only left at home finally heads out to the Capital after receiving a letter from Tao who says they found something to help Ryza with her alchemy. Taking a ship and walking the rest of the way, the new adventure is off to a good start.

Perhaps one of the bigger changes to the newest adventure is that it feels more mature than the previous as the cast are now a bit older and have been going about their own separate lives for the past several years. Setting up shop in the capital, Ryza’s new workshop will double as her new home while Tao and Klaudia, to start off with, are set up elsewhere in the city for their own affairs. This helps both set the new setting and the in between moments as you’ll be swapping between the various quarters that your party members are staying in without sacrificing the lighter moments that the series is known for.

With the change in locations from her home coastal island to that of a very much land based capital, the manner in which Ryza and the rest of the party will move around has changed. While originally having a starting point and being able to move as far as your tools such as Ryza’s staff, bug nets, axes, and bomb staves would allow, things this time around a bit more “story” based in how the party finds out about new ruins and the paths that lead to them. The style itself hasn’t changed as you’ll still be moving from one location to the next and sometimes even finding a side path for resources, but it’s a bit less explore at your own rhythm and more explore where we suggest you to.

To make it through these areas and to the ruins in question, the series staple of Alchemy makes a return and thankfully this time around it doesn’t take long to get the cauldron going as Ryza is already an Alchemist and knows what’s she doing. The only issue is that unfortunately Ryza left EVERYTHING back home when she came over to the capital so new equipment is going to have to be synthesized to make the party’s life a bit easy. Staves, swords, bows, knives, bug nets, axes, fishing roads, bombs, ores, oils, and a very big etc, will all have to be relearned with the materials that the region provides.

Making things perhaps a bit easier this time around though is that instead of having to figure all of these big things out on your own, Ryza has a skill tree which can be unlocked by using Skill Points acquired either by performing alchemy or by exploring ruins and solving their secrets. The skill tree itself is pretty basic with lines leading from one item to the next showing you exactly what you’ll need to learn first in order to get over to what you are currently aiming for. Items on the skill tree that have a plus mean that you’ll get more than one recipe for spending the points to learn it while others on the tree increase the quality of the materials you can acquire and how successfully you do so with your staff or your hands if they are something lying on the ground.

Moving down the list of refinements, and not just with Ryza’s cauldron, is how you go about picking up materials. To collect materials, you’ll be able to as mentioned above pick them up off the ground but you’ll also be able to whack them with a staff, swing a bug net, fish in a pond or river, or swing an axe at a tree or a rock. Adding in things like the bomb staff and the materials that can be collected from the various sources across each location can easily change. That part hasn't changed, but what has is that now you can hit multiple things on the field at the same time and collect them all. Now, if you want to hit a tree once for example, you can press and hold with the current item equipped and be done with it instead of swinging until it's finished being harvested. You can still do that if you want to harvest different things, but if it’s only one thing you want like chopping down wood? You need only swing once.

Now because Ryza can’t just be left in peace to collect these resources, there are monsters everywhere and a fair amount will want a piece of Ryza and her party for intruding on their natural habitats or territories. Keeping in line with the first, combat is still real time and continues to use the “tactics” system but the rest of it has changed from how to use skills and how to use items such as crafts, bombs and healing items. Now, every character can hit the enemy about three times if they want adding in Action Points (AP) to the meter. The total amount of AP is limited by the current tactics level. In order to increase the tactics, you now simply need to continue battling your enemies and using up AP to perform skills instead of wasting it on raising the tactics level.

Having very recently gone back over the last chapter of Atelier Ryza, the change in combat took a bit of getting used to as AP used to be something you wanted to conserve to a degree while now it’s honestly something to spam as that’s the only way to get higher tactics levels. Side to that, items still use core points but until a certain point in the story where you can unlock stronger core crystals by modifying them, you’ll be starting battle with a total of zero. While before you had a total of ten and could use up an item in order to boost the amount of points, now it's the inverse. You start with none and it’s only through using AP and chaining your skills together that you’ll get CC to use your items. It’s tough in the beginning until you get the hang of it, but as a system upgrade? It’s worth it as you can now carry over unused points to use healing items from your menu.

Keeping in line with all of these changes is the new format of the “dungeons” that Ryza will be exploring. While in Atelier Ryza it was all about exploring the various reaches of the mainland after setting up their Secret Hideout, Atelier Ryza 2 is about exploring the various ruins around the capital that people have simply seemed to not care about as they go about their busy days. Staying relatively close, the secrets of these locations require more than simply going through, defeating monsters and gathering materials for synthesis. Along for the ride is Fi, who is this little adorable fairy-like creature that tags along with Ryza for the ride and helps to find clues through the use of a magic compass by uncovering echoes of the past.

These echoes, these remnants of events past, are scattered throughout the various areas of each ruin and are required to be collected and put into a logical order to uncover what happened so that the party can then figure out what’s missing in order to move forward. It’s a bit odd at times and it can definitely cause a standstill in the adventure as these echoes are not available up front. Instead, you have to get the compass to find them to activate before being able to search for these and until you get that up and running, you could run in circles for a few hours trying to figure out what to do. At least I was able to level up my party and get some really fancy new gear through what probably ended up being two hours of synthesis to unlock everything that I could at that point in time.

In regards to the dungeon approach though, it’s not a bad change of pace but it often felt a little less “free” than the previous entry as each location is only granted as the story moves on and it’s not like it’s blocked off because you don’t have the tools, it’s simply just not there. The rewards for collecting and putting all of the echoes in place is obviously worth it (even if you have to do it) as it gives you plenty of SP to use in the Skill Tree and other items that can be synthesized to make the journey a bit easier, but it came at a bit of cost.


Overall though, Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & The Secret Fairy is an excellent sequel to Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & The Secret Hideout. While the refinements to the gameplay’s perspective of the adventure alone are worth the return, the return of the original cast and of the protagonist for another adventure was something that the series has been missing for a long time. It’s not to say that most of the sequels in the various trilogies weren’t worth it as Atelier Firis remains just about my number one entry, but seeing first hand the growth of the protagonist on their next adventure was something that this series needed and it did it very well.

Score: 8.75 / 10

Note: Played off of a PlayStation 5


ENDER LILIES: Quietus of the Knights - PC Preview

ENDER LILIES: Quietus of the Knights by developers Live Wire Inc., adglobe and publisher Binary Haze InteractivePC (Steam) Preview written by Pierre-Yves with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

ENDER LILIES: Quietus of the Knights by developers Live Wire | Adglobe and publisher Binary Haze Interactive is one of the latest Metroidvanias to hit Early Access. Acting as an example of exactly what to do, Ender Lilies can easily stand beside some of the better releases in the past few years such as Hollow Knight, Guacamelee! 2 and Salt and Sanctuary and it isn't even finished yet. 

Our tale starts off with our protagonist Lily waking up in a crypt and being met by a spirit who both offers you his sword and to fight for you. This immediately had me thinking of a few things and brought back some nostalgia to a less popular Castlevania on the PS2, The Curse of Darkness as well as Nights of Azure where you have spirits lending you a hand in the fighting. The difference here though is that Lily herself does not fight. She can run, jump, dive out of the way and harness powers to double jump and pass under water. But she herself? Lily only commands the spirits at her disposal.

This honestly could have gone one of two ways. On one hand, it could have been a brilliant idea and simply not work, or, it could work as well as it sounded and make the adventure that much more for it. So going the second route, spirits come in two main formats. The first are those that can be used infinitely while the second have limited usage. With a total of six in two groups of three that can be quickly swapped between, mixing and matching to suit your playstyle and even having the same spirit in both loadouts is easy. 

Where things become a little less easy is that these spirits need to be defeated in combat before Lily is able to harness their power. Set in a dystopian world which has been all of the rage for the past few years especially when looking at Souls-like and Soulsborne entries, and Lily’s adventure fits right into that atmospheric mold even if the gameplay does not. If Lily falls in combat, she simply wakes up from the previous safe place that was visited. This could potentially change moving forward in which a portion of the accumulated experience is lost and must be re-collected which would make this a Soulslike, but for the moment, it’s strictly a Metroidvania.

The reason for the tangent above is that Ender Lilies while not a Soulsborne feels like one and on that note channels a bit of Code Vein above the rest for the design style of enemies. Plagued with a blight that has turned everything mad, enemies are designed with dark color palettes which incorporate glowing red elements. Fighting through these enemies to figure out both who she is and what happened to everything, and Lily among the grunts will come across both Mid-bosses and main bosses. Both of these once defeated will become spirits that Lily can use to move ever forward with both their combat prowess and the special abilities that can come with some of them such as being able to double jump, break through elements in the ground and create an air bubble to move underwater.

This leads into the last two things that Ender Lilies has really nailed down in terms of design. Boss fights and the music behind them. The musical scores are just amazing to sit down and listen to with the variety of range that they have and only help to amp up the boss fights as the music changes as the fight goes on. While Mid-Bosses are never really anything more than stepping stones, real bosses go through essentially three phases. The first shift is a subtle one as there may be one extra move thrown into the mix and the music may not shift but by the third phase, the appearance, the music and the difficulty are all thrown up a notch and what may have seemed like an easy fight moments ago is now an actual fight for you life. 

It’s brilliant and even after dying multiple times to some bosses, I still kept coming back for more. It’s more than the GitGud syndrome as Ender Lilies isn’t THAT hard, but, it takes some time to make adjustments as new moves mean different approaches and those will take some time to learn unless you are already that good at it all. Each of these fights also felt unique and not a carbon copy / copy & paste meaning you never really knew what you were in for when walking through to get the fight started.

Lastly, between these epic fights there is going to be a ton of exploration to be had and here too was well done. Like any Metroidvania, there are some things that you’ll notice immediately and know that you cannot pull off while others you may try a few things and either succeed or know that you’ll have to come back. It’s here that I found one of my favorite features. As you explore further from the starting point, you’ll be uncovering a map with points that let you know roughly which parts of that segment lead outwards which roughly lets you plan your approach. A bonus to that though is that the shading of those squares on the map lets you know if you’ve collected everything that can be, or if there’s still something left to find. Knowing this from the very beginning helps tremendously as a few times I had to change directions because I simply couldn’t make it any further.

Now, while ENDER LILIES: Quietus of the Knights is an Early Access title and amazing so far, there were a few small hiccups here and there but they were mostly easy things to ignore as it’s clear that they are items on a current to-do list. An example of this would be that the audio tracks for cutscenes after defeating major bosses skip in and out as well as break the frame rates of the animation. If it killed the application that would be one thing, but it’s a small thing to sit through as moments after you’re back out on the road with Lily and her spirits to find the next path forwards.

All in all, with only four of the listed ten chapters currently available before seeing the dreaded this is as far as the Early Access version currently goes, ENDER LILIES: Quietus of the Knights is shaping up to be an incredible experience. With a so far well balanced combat system, incredible music accompaniment and some crazy multi-stage fun boss fights, fans of the style will have plenty to look forward to as development continues to bring the full version to both the PC and the consoles both old and new.

Score: N/A


Ys IX: Monstrum Nox - PSN Demo - Let's Play

Ys IX: Monstrum Nox by developer Nihon Falcom and publisher NIS America Inc.Sony Playstation Network Demo spotlight article written by Pierre-Yves.

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Just a few weeks left to go before we finally get to explore the newest of Adol the Red’s adventures, NISA released a free demo of Falcom’s Ys IX: Monstrum Nox on the PSN to give us an idea of what awaits us. Split into two gameplay segments totalling no more than ten minutes each, there are two dungeons with four bosses that can be conquered if you’re fast enough to pull it off.

So the first of the two is a more traditional dungeon featuring some of the newest features to the series. Having to think both horizontally and vertically now, you can now run up the walls to higher levels instead of having to find a set of stairs upwards. Equipped with three characters, Adol the Red (The Crimson King), The Doll, and the Raging Bull are in for some fast paced action.

Side to the first dungeon run, the second is a little less traditional with cliff sides that the party can glide between in order to navigate the various elevations that they find themselves on. While the options to run up walls is still available, it’s not really necessary in this case but being fast on your feet is still a must with the rock / paper / scissors approach that the series took a few years back now.

So that’s it for now but we’ll definitely be back for more amazing fast paced action later next month after Nihon Falcom and NIS America Inc.’s Ys IX: Monstrum Nox releases for the PS4.

Note: Gameplay footage was recorded and saved off of a PS5.

Score: N/A


Zombie Army 4: Dead War - PS4 Review

Zombie Army 4: Dead War by developer and publisher RebellionSony PlayStation 4 Review written by Pierre-Yves with a purchased copy.

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

Last year wasn't an easy one for many reasons and this year may not be either as the pandemic we find ourselves in globally continues. The from bad to worse scale has been rather severe from people having died in mass numbers to others finding themselves unemployed and unable to afford even the most basic of living conditions. Others have felt trapped in their spaces and relationships have seen the truest of tests as we have all stayed indoors to remain safe. So it's during this past year that Izzy and I have become closer than ever and the once non-gamer has now found a passion and together? We've slayed Hitler's Zombie armies not once, twice or thrice, but four times.

Having started back in October with the original Zombie Army Trilogy before moving into Strange Brigade, I wasn't quite sure what I was in for. I knew that Robert loved the series and spoke quite highly of Rebellion’s Zombie Army, but having never looked up the gameplay, all I knew was that it was a shooter and a spin off of the Sniper Elite Series which we have just started up last week. I seriously wish I had jumped into Rebellion's work prior to this. So after some rather intense moments as we learned what worked and what didn't, we moved onto Zombie Army 4: Dead War and haven't really put it down since even after Platinuming it with help from Marc, Richard and a random drop in Smileshot9. Thanks again Smiles!

The Game

I'm a big fan of structured campaigns especially when it comes to first or third person shooters and Rebellion definitely delivers on this point. Taking up after the end of the original trilogy, there are some returning characters along with new blood to once again take up arms against an undead zombie Hitler and his army that is once again trying to take over the world by turning every living thing into one of the undead. As that would clearly be a bad thing, you and up to three others can load up on ammunition and explosives before setting out to disrupt these diabolical plans. 

While I enjoy a good third person shooter, I enjoy it even more when the details are just right. Having been a fan of the Gears of War series forever now (which I've also introduced Izzy to), there's been refinements done to it over the years between the different development studios and Rebellion with Zombie Army 4 is no different. Set in an over the right shoulder view, you set out with a main rifle, secondary submachine gun or shotgun, and a sidearm leveling up and learning new skills and perks to make the upcoming challenges a bit earlier.

The main goal is easy. Survive. While maybe a tad simplistic to say aloud, it's your number one priority as you move through linear stages as you complete objectives before hunkering down in a safe room in order to restock and take a quick break if needed. A little different from the original trilogy is that safe rooms also act as major checkpoints that can be reloaded individually instead of having to play through the entire level's set of stages in one go. This makes it much easier to plan around gaming sessions if you’ve got other plans or didn’t feel like having to sink an entire hour into it just to make it to the next point. 

Also unlike the original Trilogy’s safe rooms, these new versions not only provide you with ammo restocking, but also provide you with the ability to change and customize your weapons, skills, perks and appearance. Weapons unlike the original can now be upgraded and customized in order to meet your needs. Additional accuracy, lessening the recoil, adding elemental charges such as Fire, Explosives, Electricity and Divine elements or simply increasing the ammo stock. Each weapon type acts a bit differently so playing with these loadouts to find what makes the most sense for you takes time. 

Side to the weapons, characters have the ability to learn and upgrade perks. Perks were perhaps once the most useful things especially when moving from Normal over to hard. Eventually being able to load up five in total, perks give you options ranging from taking less ranged and melee damage over to being able to take heavy weapons off of the racks and  have more ammo. Get shot down and your teammate is not close? You can equip a second wind that can eventually be upgraded to allow you to do this twice per chapter. 

Finally, you can customize the appearance of both your character and their weapons. While this doesn’t affect the gameplay short of scaring the crap out of your teammates as a fiery pumpkin head or evil clown mask comes out of a literal nowhere, it is fun. Customizations themselves though are part of the gameplay as certain items such as helms can only be obtained by doing certain actions such as saving people or opening safes. Items can also be obtained by leveling up, OR, by buying them on the storefront individually or through the season passes which is the least expensive way to get your hands on the continuation of the story. 

In regards to the story, each level has multiple stages that have been mostly broken down into three to four sections a piece until the final boss fight, keeping most levels under an hour (ish). In each of these stages you’ll be charged at by a variety of enemies starting with random grunts that will moan and shamble towards you into much more fearsome foes such as 80s ripped Arnold gunners, tall lanky pyros with flamethrowers, chunky buzzsaw brutes and tons of 'explody boys' to light up the adventure a little bit more. Each of these units requires an individual approach, or, if you’re like me, walk right out to them with something that shoots fast and hope for a few critical headshots. Works wonders and then you can pick up their weapons for yourself!

This was perhaps the other biggest change to Zombie Army 4, the ability to pick up those massively powerful weapons that can easily take you and your squad down within seconds if you’re not careful. While powerful in your hands, these weapons are very limited in ammo and cannot be restocked or refilled which is a bit unfortunate at times. The only real way to get “more ammo” is to have the heavy perk in order to get more ammo off the bat but even that doesn’t last long once the hordes start to come in.

Horde Mode

Exactly what it sounds like, Zombie Army 4’s Horde Mode continues the sheer onslaught of zombies in waves against you and whoever will stand by your side. Unlike the original trilogy, this time around you’ll be starting off with a random pistol and you’ll need to pick everything else up on your own. The only things that you can choose are your perks and your special melee ability. Everything else will be random as it is spawned through the waves that will be coming at you.

In a way, not having access to your own gear was at first annoying as hell, but as we plowed through the waves, it became a bit refreshing as it allows you to see what the other types of guns and their upgrade paths can look like without having to invest into these weapons that you’ve never used. Continuing on from the first, unlike Gears of War which you start off with the whole map and a place to set up shop, Zombie Army 4 will slowly unlock new parts of the map for you to move through and access gear without ever giving you a place to call “home”. 

Unlike other Horde Modes that I’ve played, constantly having to move around to stay alive was a bit odd at first as I’ve been used to building up barricades and turrets Tower Defense style over the years. Having only access to whatever I was holding but in never ending waves can get a bit tough so if you are thinking of diving into Horde Mode? It may be a good idea to level up a bit first as even if your weapons get more powerful, you’ll still have to heavily lean on your perks and your own abilities to survive long enough to get those trophies!

Season Passes

Still on topic, all of the above continues in additional levels that have been released over time since the original launch of Zombie Army 4. Currently coming in two packs, Season Pass 1 and Season Pass 2 which Izzy and I are awaiting the drop of the latest story expansion, there are more zombies, crazy new sights to see and plenty of ways to die as even without their boss, the zombie horde is still keeping it real while trying to finish off eliminating the living.

It takes me a lot to shell out for one “Season Pass” unless it’s coming in packaged, much less two, but with how much time we’ve sunk into Zombie Army 4 we figured why not as we dove into these just before Christmas. I’ll be honest that I have not been disappointed even with the price that we paid for each as neither has gone on sale since starting out our adventures. Other than some new weapons and cosmetics, the additional levels of the Season Passes aren’t just tacked on randomness as a cash grab. Each level and their stages have the same level of care that can be found inside of the main campaign and honestly, some of these levels are better than the original content while others are ok, but in either case, we’ve played through what’s currently available just as many times as we’ve played the main campaign.

On a final Season Pass / Additional Content note, the new weapons that were added while upgradable, aren’t simply upgraded by finding or being given upgrade kits and then slapping them on. Instead, like the original weapon mastery challenges that can be unlocked by fully upgrading a weapon, the DLC weapons upgrades can only be unlocked through their own sets of challenges. Some aren’t as good as the main set while others are better, BUT, that’s for me and my play style. It could be different for someone else. These don’t need to be acquired if you just want to buy the stages individually, but if you’ve been wanting a bit more spice in your zombie stew, it’s not a bad place to look.

Overall, between the sheer amount of content of the main campaign and horde mode before adding on the expansions and their campaigns and horde mode stages, Rebellion’s Zombie Army 4 is amazing. Is it perfect? No. We’ve hit loads of glitches along the way across various patches but if one of us looks at the other and says “zombies”? Odds are we are in for more Zombie Army 4 even as we continue our slowly paced Platinuming of the original Zombie Army Trilogy and Strange Brigade. Score: 8.75 / 10


Normandie | Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed - Level Up

Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed by developer and publisher EA—Sony PlayStation 2 feature article written by Hamza
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes.

To some, Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed represents a more different time for the franchise. Until the Underground series ushered the franchise into a new era - for better or for worse - of heavy car customization and narrative, these features were either thin on the ground or practically non-existent. Need for Speed had a different identity back then, a more straightforward one.

But this is not to suggest the change wasn't well received, far from it; the inclusion of characters provided some really memorable acting and quotes (I still remember Nikki's PSA from the opening of Carbon), police chases became more advanced, and overall the franchise started bringing fresh elements to its gameplay. Given the fact that the very first installment had FMV (full motion video) and the obnoxious Mr. X who served as the game's antagonist, if anything Need for Speed went back to its roots.

Porsche Unleashed is among my all-time favorite video games, and if I were to rank every NFS installment I've played, this one would be near the very top. Despite the nature of racing games that invites aggressive competition and high-octane racing, the gameplay of Porsche Unleashed feels more like a commemorative than anything else. At no point does it ever feel I'm in a race of my life; but rather participating in a parade that happens to have light racing thrown in for fun. Every genre has that one example that is a touch different than its peers and doesn't immediately feel like it belongs to said genre: Porsche Unleashed is that game.

If you've read my previous article on North Country from NFS II: SE, then you know tracks from racing games don't often provide much in way of critical or literary analysis, and the best anyone can talk about is their associated feelings with it. With that being said, let's travel to Normandie: arguably one of the most beautiful tracks ever to appear in a racing game. Once again inspired by rural countryside, Normandie employs a very scenic route with wide open roads and fantastic ambiance. Trust me, this particular track is better experienced with the music turned off.

Starting off in a forest, the warm autumn tones at once give off a cozy, quaint vibe. The visuals and colors are reminiscent of those romantic cards which feature silhouettes locked in embrace. The forest track immediately branches off into two routes, with the right housing remnants of a broken building; a church perhaps. I remember these details being rather impressive back in the day. This route is ostensibly a shortcut but you're better off taking the left one because there's no danger of crashing into anything. Even in a relaxing racer such as this, there's always the chance of A.I. drivers bumping into you. The forest segment is short and serves as a wonderful way to open this track.

The next segment is the main highlight of the game. Exiting the forest, the track turns into tarmac and opens into a vast rural environment, with a pleasing skybox and lens flare to finish the effect. This is the segment where the ambiance pays off. Farmhouses and barns are intersected with rows of beautiful farm fields, complete with rolls of hay and appropriate sounds of livestock (though they themselves are nowhere to be seen).

Driving further reveals a town; grain silos and more neatly stacks of hays populate this area. If you take what is ostensibly the shortcut through the town, you'll come across cozy-looking homes and what looks to be a woman on a rocking chair. I'm being hesitant because the charmingly outdated and low-res blocky models and textures can only allow for so much assumption. Next to the woman is another model, stuck in perpetual slow-motion sweeping action. The low quality is understandable: they are background elements and meant to be noticed by the corner of your eye.

Back in the early 2000's, I'd often slow down by the woman and just… stare at her. She may very well have been the first time I ever paid attention to a minor, background character. The creaking of her chair and the surrounding ambiance (remember: the music is turned off) still brings a smile on my face. I can only hope my retirement plan matches the calmness of this scene; though I can imagine myself getting annoyed if a Porsche 911 randomly started doing doughnuts in front of my face.

Exiting the town leads to open, winding roads and scenic scenery all the way to the finish line. On either side of the roads you'll see wonderful farmhouses, rolling hills, and mountains with jaggy edges. Once again - like how it did in my North Country article - this section strongly reminds me of the more interior places of Oman. I'd love to take a walk alongside this scenery.

Re-visiting this track for the article was a wonderful nostalgic trip indeed. I was surprised by how much I'd remembered about the track, even after all these years. If you've wanted to experience the concept of Hygge in motion, Normandie is perfect for you.


Professor Lupo: Ocean - Switch Review

Professor Lupo: Ocean by developer and publisher Beautifun GamesNintendo Switch Review written by Richard with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Professor Lupo: Ocean is a standalone sequel to Professor Lupo and his Horrible Pets. A 2-D grid based puzzle solving adventure where your main goal is to not die, which will be met with varying levels of success. Bringing back some of the creatures from the first title and introducing new ones to work with the new water mechanics, a new degree of death is added in the form of H-2-oh no.

The protagonist this time around is a young girl who wakes up from a pod, and is saved from drowning by a mysterious creature who drops a helmet on her that provides oxygen while she is underwater. Turns out she can't remember anything, so with the assistance of snarky AI Plato, she is directed to complete a large number of tasks in order to fix the space station that has now found itself underwater. An undertaking she is not too thrilled about.

Unfortunately for our newly christened heroine, dangers abound in the space station, whether that be monsters from the previous title trying to kill and/or eat you or deadly water currents dragging you to your death. In order to avoid these hazards, you must interact with control points to open and close doors, or activate devices. Some of these can be activated remotely, and some need to manually be activated while standing next to them.

This is split into chapters and stages within each chapter, usually with an overarching theme for each chapter. Along the way you may spot holographic documents. These are optional items that you can pick up to tell you a bit about other crew members, mostly cameo references or funny tidbits about their life or death. In addition to these, there are some stages with bonus optional objectives, such as "leave this enemy alive", or something in a similar vein. These add a nice additional challenge if you're finding the main game needs a bit more of a challenge.

Now, those who haven't played the first title, first off you're missing out. Second off, you will be spoiled for some of the plot points from the first game by playing Ocean, so I highly advise you to pick up the first title. Now, those who have played the first title, let me point out that Ocean was a lot easier for me. That isn't to say it isn't challenging at times, but I just personally found it much easier, both the main stages and the bonus objectives.

Something returning players may note is that Ocean is also a lot shorter, with just under 50 stages to the original 100 from the first title. This makes ocean feel like more of a spin-off than a direct sequel, or like the developers simply ran out of time trying to either fix bugs or come up with puzzles. Now I'm not saying 50 stages of puzzle solving isn't impressive, I mean, I've tried making my own puzzles before, and it can be super challenging mores than solving them, but compared to the first title it just felt a little lacking.

On the plus side, the game is really smooth, and I never experienced any bugs or glitches or crashes while playing, something that I'm rather prone to, regardless of game, which is a plus if it doesn't happen to me. The game might be a little slower paced, as your protagonist doesn't move around very vast, but that also gives you time to think about what you're going to do next. The new water mechanics were actually pretty nice as well, something I don't think I've ever said about a game "the water stage was good". The puzzles were both challenging yet intuitive enough that you could work out a solution without a P.h.D in puzzle solving, and while the plot line gets extremely corny towards the end, the new monster designs are kinda cool.

Overall, while not quite at the level of its predecessor in terms of either length or script, Professor Lupo: Ocean still delivers a great puzzle solving adventure with water physics that won't make you cry, challenging yet reasonable puzzles, and a slew of bonus objectives to keep you entertained. There are plenty of puzzles, new monsters to avoid, and it was a great time to be had.

Score: 8 / 10

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