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FIFA 19 Review ? More Familiar Than Fantastic

FIFA 19 doesn?t have many vital, new additions. Career mode is practically the same and Ultimate Team?s biggest change impacts only competitive players. However, the gameplay is satisfying enough that even with some of the series? legacy issues, I witnessed many moments where I could say, ?Last year that would have never have happened.? These don?t transform the series? fundamental experience, but they add up and entertain to cut through the stagnation of the modes.

In FIFA 19, a player in the box might try to get off a shot with a desperate slide or hurry their attempt with their weak foot and send it wide. Natural actions like these didn?t always happen in the past, but now make the game feel less stiff. Similarly, players? feet can bring in slightly wayward passes, first touches exhibit fine footwork (or the lack thereof), and dangling legs and feet can produce passes and disrupt them from the other team. 50/50 balls in the open up for grabs between players also produce varied results. While the determination of who gets possession is still animation-based (and therefore not always correct), it?s nice to see the ball dribble out unexpectedly at times.

Along with other welcome surprises like more near-miss shots comes those of the less-pleasant variety: headers that have too much velocity and which are sometimes undefendable in the box, passes nowhere near the mark, and bouncy ball physics that make the new flick moves odd.

FIFA fans will recognize some of these legacy gameplay issues, as they will much of the career mode because it?s largely the same as last year. Your club gets more transfer money to play with because some of it carries over from year to year, but you can?t always trust the A.I. to conduct prudent transfer busines. Fringe players ask for playing time above their station, the transfer market dries up quickly, and squad rotation due to fatigue is not a concern as it is in real life. These don?t break the mode, but they are symptoms of its staleness ? which is not solved by the addition of the Champions League and Europa League.

The Journey story mode is back, but whereas it was nice to catch up with Alex Hunter and Danny Williams last year, the finale to their tale here is drained of such fascination. The calendar of training sessions (with new skill games) and matches is a familiar and tedious grind which neither the story?s predictability nor progression can solve. Danny has a jerk brother? Don?t worry, it?s not a spoiler because you don?t care. Adding Kim Hunter?s journey as an ascending USWNT star is welcome, as is being able to switch between each character?s story at will, but it doesn?t lessen the burden, fix the rigid skills tree, or make your teammates smarter. The Journey this year isn?t worse, but having more of it doesn?t make it better, either.

Ultimate Team is FIFA 19?s one mode that enjoys some growth ? at least if you?re a competitive Weekend League player. Qualification is more accommodating of when you want to play, and the leagues has been shortened to 30 games in three days. However, casual players are limited to Squad Building Challenges that can cost a relatively high amount of coins for packs without good odds, and a marketplace that needs quality-of-life-improvements to better help you find cards. I like FIFA Ultimate Team, but unlike the version found in Madden, I tire out quicker because my avenues to making coins are less enjoyable.

Ironically, the one mode in the game that is usually not worth mentioning ? the Kick Off exhibition mode ? has something to talk about this year with the inclusion of couch-based House Rules games revolving around variations like long-range goals counting for two and the leg-breaking, card-free No Rules match type.

FIFA 19 sits relatively still this transfer window. We may want a shiny, new multi-million acquisition to come in and transform everything, but that hasn?t happened. Instead, developer EA Vancouver has added just enough to keep things ticking along. The gameplay cuts down on predictability, providing a layer of freshness to the familiar and producing a squad that can compete ? but is also in danger of missing a Champions League spot.

My Brother Rabbit Review ? The Power Of Imagination

A girl is hospitalized with a serious illness. As the family nervously waits for answers, her brother uses a stuffed rabbit to fabricate a colorful imaginary world to help his sister take her mind off of the situation.

My Brother Rabbit is an adventure game that successfully melds the tenderness of life with the power of imagination to create a beautiful and touching journey that unfolds through kaleidoscopic landscapes filled with puzzles and seek-and-find challenges. The world the children dream up is gorgeous, looking like a mashup of Salvador Dalí, Kit Williams, and Bill Peet. In one environment, the eye can bounce between pastel-colored creatures, a giant melting clock, and a rock face littered with ordinary objects. Depending on what is happening in the story, the imagery morphs to hint at the illness or treatments. The art and story are the driving forces, but the gameplay isn?t too far behind.

The beauty of the world is important, as players spend most of their time looking at still-frame images to find carefully hidden objects of interest. Clicking on an object may lead to the revelation of a puzzle, or introduce a mission to find a specific number of one particular item. While I appreciate that nothing in the world is clearly indicated as something you can interact with, the randomness of what is there sometimes makes you click on everything until you are given a task. Once you are put on your way, the needless clicking subsides, as you are usually looking for things like water to make a plant grow, or ladybugs needed as pieces in a puzzle.

Given how well objects are hidden, I was often in positions where I needed to find just one more thing. This can lead to frustration, especially if you don?t know exactly what you are looking for. Most times the game is specific in its requests, but on a few occasions I was tasked to find a shape that could be any form or color. This is where I found myself starring hopelessly at the screen, hoping the answer would jump out. I even resorted to rapidly clicking across the image to hopefully uncover something I clearly wasn?t seeing.

Once you find what you need, a puzzle usually awaits. No two puzzles are the same, and all demand different logic and input. For instance, the colored shapes must be assembled in a specific way to occupy an entire blank space, whereas the ladybugs present a number-based challenge in which they need to be lined up in certain way. I love that the game puts your brain through a wringer, but should you struggle with one, you don?t have a hint system or help tool (unlike Artifex Mundi?s dozens of other similarly designed adventure games). I banged my head against the wall during a rotating ring puzzle, and only stumbled upon the solution through dumb luck. None of the puzzles are truly difficult, though, and it?s only a matter of time before the solution is achieved.

My Brother Rabbit consists of five chapters of puzzle and seek-and-find fun. Each chapter is bookended with silent storyboard sequences that tell the family?s story. As short as these clips are, they carry an emotional punch, and make you feel like you?re in the hospital?s lobby, hoping for good news. Finding a path through the children?s fantasy world is the hook, but even as the visuals try to steal away your attention, you can?t help but think about what may be coming next for the daughter. This is one adventure you?ll want to see through to the end, even if the seek-and-fun gameplay can get a little irritating.

Torna: The Golden Country Review ? Stepping Backwards

In Xenoblade Chronicles 2, players could easily spend 100 hours fighting monsters, completing sidequests, and collecting items. While that lengthy RPG was worthwhile (especially after post-release enhancements), repetitive and mundane quests made many of those hours feel like bloat. As a comparatively short expansion, Torna: The Golden Country had the opportunity to trim the fat and present a more focused experienced. It doesn?t. Instead, The Golden Country doubles down on the busywork, making more of it mandatory while providing fewer rewards for your effort.

The Golden Country details events that occurred 500 years before Xenoblade Chronicles 2, and that story is the biggest draw. You learn about characters and conflicts that were only briefly explored before, like Jin?s relationship with his driver Lora, and the confrontation between Mythra and Malos. The gravity of the tale depends on the player?s knowledge of these characters and how the world eventually changes in response to their deeds (this is not a good place for newcomers to join), and I enjoyed seeing the narrative threads that connect the two time periods. If you are a fan of Xenoblade Chronicles 2, these moments alone make The Golden Country worth playing, as long as you?re willing to pay the price.

Of the 17 hours it took me to finish The Golden Country, only about half of that time was spent participating in the new narrative. For the rest of it, you can expect to complete a series of boring fetch and collection quests thanks to the new community system. When you complete a sidequest, the quest-giver (and sometimes other characters) join your community, which is a visual representation of all of the people you?ve helped. They don?t impart any bonuses or benefits, but the more people you aid, the higher your community level rises. This seems like a neat idea at first, but the problem is that your community level only has one main purpose: preventing you from progressing in the main story. At a couple points, you aren?t allowed to take on the next central quest until you hit a community threshold. For example, you can?t fight the final boss until level four, which involves sinking hours into tedious chores that aren?t interesting, well-written, or connected to the narrative in any meaningful way. This structure kills the pacing and pointlessly inflates the amount of time The Golden Country requires.

Though it has trouble balancing quality and quantity, the game isn?t a constant slog. You get in a lot of battles along the way, and the combat system has been revamped and improved for this entry. It?s still a real-time affair that has you auto-attacking and activating skills, but an increased focused on character-switching makes the action feel more fluid. This means less waiting for cooldowns and more direct control, and it makes encounters more entertaining and engaging. However, one problem that still remains is variety; enemies rarely require any variation in your tactics, so regardless of your opponent, battles usually follow the pattern of lining up combos and stacking elemental orbs.

 

Despite the legacy issues, developer Monolith Soft has also learned some lessons in the last year. One of the biggest aggravations from the base game, shuffling party members to complete field skill challenges, is no longer a factor in The Golden Country. All available characters are always at your side, and they don?t have redundant skills (only one character has superstrength, for instance). I appreciated knowing my success or failure immediately without wading through menus to see if I can squeeze out one more point of fortitude somewhere. I?m also glad to see features that were added later to Xenoblade Chronicles 2 included here, like new game+ and an auto-battle option.

Cool story moments and combat improvements offset some of The Golden Country?s frustrations, but not enough to entirely redeem the experience. It is missing some of the best parts of the base game (like the thrill of collecting unique allies and completing quests tailored to them), but retains many stumbling blocks that impeded the fun before. However, the way the story fills in gaps and provides insight into the characters makes The Golden Country a satisfying addition for fans who have already built up a tolerance for the sometimes-baffling quirks of Xenoblade Chronicles 2.

Destiny 2: Forsaken Review ? Embracing The Hobby

Ongoing games must constantly rediscover themselves to remain relevant. Destiny 2: Forsaken is a robust adventure characterized by darker themes, character-driven storytelling, and a set of thoughtfully imagined missions, enemies, and locations. But it?s also a reinvention of the franchise?s core systems and goals. Catering chiefly to dedicated players, Forsaken?s lengthy grind, complex upgrade systems, and focus on the endgame loop doesn?t invite easy engagement from newcomers. Accessibility may have taken a hit, but the resulting depth provides replayability and richness, and makes the franchise stronger than it has been in years. The expansion draws on many of the previous iterations? best traits and melds them into a day-to-day experience that is hard to walk away from.

Forsaken takes a hard turn from the quippy characters of Destiny 2?s base game, opting instead for a story about grief and the way it drives us into questionable action. The lead Guardian launches into a quest to mete out vengeance for the fallen Cayde-6, whose murder is a figurative death knell to Destiny?s more frivolous narrative tendencies. The campaign dovetails into lead side character Petra?s grief-fueled opening of a Pandora?s Box, and the evils subsequently unleashed. In both overall tone and character interactions, this is the most sophisticated narrative the series has presented.

Several excellent story missions evoke a classic Western, and play out on the wonderfully chaotic Tangled Shore destination. As I hunted down the members of a malicious criminal cadre, the level design helps each boss feel distinct, like the Mad Bomber?s scattered explosives, or the deceptive loot drops of the Trickster. These battles also showcase the aggressive new Scorn enemy group. From the swinging lanterns of the Ravagers to the totem-powered Chieftains, every one of the new baddies is fun to fight and challenging to juggle when arriving in mixed packs. The sneering Uldren is a great antagonist to wrap it all around; he?s a character we love to hate, even as his ultimate motivations are sympathetic.

The Dreaming City opens up after the campaign as Destiny?s first dedicated endgame zone. The pastoral mountains and dreamy mists of the Awoken?s hidden sanctuary make for some excellent exploration fodder. Dozens of hidden chests, secret bosses, magical portals, and plentiful collectibles are a joy to discover with friends. The new Blind Well wave-based arena is frantic and fun, but the absence of matchmaking is limiting.  

This new endgame locale also hides an innovation that plays to Destiny?s strength as a living game. The completion of the incredibly difficult Last Wish raid triggered new activities across the area, including a fantastic strike, lore-focused patrols, new Gambit map, and a story mission, with more to come in future weeks.  This sense of an evolving gameplay landscape should be the template for the series moving forward, letting players feel like they are in on a dynamic journey that is changing before their eyes and in response to their actions.

The introduction of Gambit is a welcome mingling of cooperative and competitive play. This new core mode challenges players to battle increasingly powerful waves of enemies, bank resources, and occasionally engage in tense asymmetrical showdowns with a single overpowered enemy player. Gambit is thrilling and accessible thanks to a smart interface that presents info you need, accompanied by helpful dialogue voiceovers that guide the action. The current matchmaking algorithm leads to an unfortunate number of blowouts, but I?m surprised at how frequently losing teams can turn things around and earn a big comeback. It all leads to some pulse-pounding round conclusions.

Forsaken also ushers in a total rework of several core systems. The new weapon slots are a triumph, offering flexibility and empowerment in equal measures, and bringing fun weapons like shotguns and fusion rifles back into regular usage. Character power and weapon damage have been rebalanced, leading to a faster and more lethal Crucible, but one that is less friendly to novices. Power progression is slow but mostly fair, with a ton of clearly marked activities each day that can lead to character improvement. Random rolls on weapons and armor means greater investment in your rewards as you chase the perfect loadout. New bounties and quests are a blast to layer on top of one another, but it?s frustrating to have to run back and forth between so many vendors.

Equipment infusion is currently too expensive, and the weapon mods are too hard to acquire. Likewise, new exotics are vanishingly rare to drop, and the current path to new super unlocks (after your first) obscure that desirable content behind high-level activities. All of this combines to limit the ability to experiment with playstyles or gear setups, and hides much of the best equipment and variety so deep into the grind that many players may never encounter those experiences, which is a shame. I?m all for making rewards meaningful again, but the current model has swung too far to the extreme.

Cementing its strength as a hobby game, Forsaken introduces an excellent scheme for tracking in-game Triumphs and Collections that act as a trophy wall to your gathered treasures. The Triumphs supply dozens of tasks to chase across every aspect of the game, and I?m particularly delighted by the collectible lore tabs and the fascinating stories they tell. Equipment collections solve part of the problem of bloated inventory management, but I?m bummed that most of the new Year 2 items can?t be retrieved in some form because of their random rolls. 

As a dedicated Destiny player, I?m gratified by the breadth of opportunities for adventure to be found in Forsaken, but I?m also aware that less dedicated players are going to miss out on a lot of the most compelling weapons, modes, secrets, and missions on offer. Even so, this release has the potential to draw lapsed players back into the fold. Forsaken is deep, mysterious, and vast, three words that echo what players most want from this growing universe.

 

The Bard's Tale IV Review - A Dissonant Tune

Veteran PC gamers may remember skirting the streets of Skara Brae years ago, and the Bard?s Tale IV takes us back to those times of guilds, monsters, and adventurers. This title is absolutely a love letter to the RPGs of yesteryear, and a decent option for those looking for more modern titles faithful to that style. However, along with a thirst for battle, you need to have a hearty appetite for exploration and mind-numbing puzzles to appreciate this journey.

 

 

Combat shines in The Bard?s Tale IV, with position-based encounters that present new opportunities and combos. Your team has a pool of opportunity points to use each turn, with free spellcasting on top if you have the mana. Considering your positioning and ability use each turn is great, giving battles high stakes as you interrupt enemy spellcasters or move out of the way of massive axe blows. Fights allow plenty of freedom in terms of difficulty; you can take on fights far above your level and the victories and the rewards are satisfying. Between grid positioning, channeling, and various ways to make the most of each resource, combat is a joy and handled with finesse.

The systems behind combat are less compelling. Each character can only bring a handful of abilities into battle, and selecting your loadout is not interesting because your options are limited if you want a successful crew. Though you can technically experiment with group composition, you need to ensure you have a healthy mix of interrupts, damage, and resource generation. You don?t have the flexibility to take more more than the necessities, like a classic fighter/caster mix with a hefty frontline and magical barrage backline.

 

This streamlining feels needlessly restrictive, and it trickles down into character development. Skill trees are tiered, so your character needs to put many skill points into lesser skills to unlock higher tiers, which keeps them from becoming too powerful too early. While this constraint may protect players from irreparably screwing up characters, it feels more like linear progression than meaningful choice.

Your party makes its way through Skara Brae and to beautiful worlds beyond. Loot is everywhere and a satisfying crafting system allows you to create everything you need to keep going, from grappling hooks to steak. Your signature tool, however, is a selection of bardic songs used to uncover secrets and shortcuts. The list promises hammers to knock down walls, fanfare to illuminate hidden treasures, and melodic vocals revealing enemies. That sounds interesting, but in practice, you can just sing every song when you're faced with an impasse to see what works, rendering the variety of different tunes worthless.

You absolutely need a high tolerance for puzzles to enjoy The Bard?s Tale IV, which throws an absurd number of brain-twisters at the player, ranging from easy-to-solve dwarven gear doors to esoteric runic combinations. Some mandatory puzzles stymie progression and feel incredibly overbearing, especially in areas that present puzzle after puzzle after puzzle. I yearned for even a minor goblin to massacre after rooms of blocks, spikes, runes, and traps. These sections are frustrating and take much of the energy out of the excellent combat system by replacing it with tedious fiddling. Purists may love solving riddles spewed forth from disembodied wall-mouths, but the frequency in some areas is simply befuddling and detracting. Even though the game comes with a guide featuring all major solutions, looking up answers doesn?t make the puzzle gauntlet satisfying or fun.

The Bard?s Tale IV pays dutiful homage to its roots and offers an accessible way to experience the joy of the old-school RPG, but the enjoyable complexity has been sacrificed. Long puzzle mazes detract from the inspired combat system, and occasional crashes after a big battle can be discouraging. That said, if you?re looking for that vintage style with some enchanting new-age accoutrements, the endearing melodies of the Bard?s Tale IV won?t lead you astray.

NHL 19 Review ? Top Shelf Snipe

A prospect can have all the puck skills in the world, but it?s not uncommon for players who regularly put up 100-point seasons in the CHL struggle to crack NHL lineups. The difference between true NHLers and a career minor leaguer can often be chalked up to one ability ? skating technique. Over the last few years, EA?s NHL franchise has underperformed like one of these plodding prospects largely due to the same factor. The players felt slow and unresponsive, a far cry from the burst and agility we see from NHL stars. With a new skating system, NHL 19 shows dramatic improvement in this crucial area, and the effects are felt across every mode in the robust package. 

Gone are the lumbering skaters who turn like the Titanic. The new skating system makes it easier to turn directions, burst out of stops, and control movement in tight spaces, making this the most responsive skating system yet. Best of all, the new approach to skating has also helped EA largely overcome the longstanding puck pickup problem that has plagued the series. 

The skating may be the star of NHL 19, but the new collision physics gets the assist. The physical side of hockey feels and looks better than ever, from small incidental contact where you inhibit a rival?s movement to wince-inducing big hits that leave victims stunned on the ice. I saw the occasional awkward animation, particularly around the goal mouth, but overall players react more naturally to contact.

The impact of these changes cannot be understated, as they change the feel of the game through the myriad modes in NHL 19. Still, the gameplay isn?t perfect. Poke checking is dramatically nerfed, which takes time to get used to, but in the meantime expect poke check spammers to rack up more penalty minutes than a checking line featuring Marty McSorley, Tie Domi, and Dale Hunter. Time will tell if the changes went too far for most people to reign in the pokes, but it requires rethinking your approach to defense. My use of the defensive skill stick and stick lifts increased as a result, and I?m down to a penalty or two a game, so it can be done.

The teammate A.I. could also use some lessons at a hockey academy. Attackers don?t demonstrate much creativity, teammates lack cycling support, and I frequently saw legacy EASHL issues like A.I. defenders accidentally skating into their own goaltenders or foolishly joining the offensive rush and leaving the team wide open to unimpeded counterattacks.

The flagship new mode for NHL 19 is World of Chel, a one-stop shop for all your online teamplay needs. From this new hub, you can create a skater to take into the popular EASHL competitive mode, drop-in games for the arcade Threes mode, or the new Ones competition, which puts three skaters on the ice in a festival outdoor atmosphere where they square off to show off their puck hogging skills and try to score the most goals in a set amount of time. Winners rise up the ranks to earn special accolades, but EA curiously chose to limit it to online only even though it's perfectly suited to couch co-op play. I?d much rather play this bragging-rights mode with friends than randoms.

Newcomers intimidated by the competition can also sharpen their skills in a breezy Pro-Am mode that pits you against waves of A.I. controlled modern stars and NHL legends. This is a decent onboarding experience, but it offers nothing but some easy progression upgrades for series veterans, who are better off sticking with the largely unchanged EASHL. One caveat: 3v3 and 6v6 drop-ins only work sporadically, and I experienced several matchmaking drops in EASHL play. These problems weren?t nearly as prevalent during the recent beta, so this should hopefully be resolved in short order. 

Whichever mode you play, you earn experience that rewards you with new skills and bags of customization options. The skill customization is a welcome step up from the milquetoast fixed archetype system of previous games that gave you no say in how your skater performed. Being able to mix-and-match unlocked traits and specialties and see how exactly they affect your ratings allows you to tailor a skater to more accurately fit your playing style. It?s a nice step forward, but I?d still prefer a more robust player upgrade path like NBA 2K (or Live) that allows you to rank up and play a career mode with your created character as well. NHL 19 still includes the standalone Be A Pro mode, but adding skill trees doesn't do enough to spruce up the experience; it's time for a serious reboot. Integrating the next effort into World of Chel and offering more various activities that use the cool outdoor settings seems like a natural evolution. 

Franchise mode fans frustrated by years of neglect have a lot to look forward to in NHL 19 thanks to the reworked scouting system. Users now control a stable of up to 20 scouts responsible for finding the next diamond-in-the-rough prospects as well as keeping tabs on rival teams? rosters so you know when a trade offer is either an attempt to fleece you of a good player or worthy of series consideration. I love how granular you can get with the new system; I meticulously micromanaged the scouting of players in positions of organizational weaknesses and was able to continually pull in excellent draft classes. Being able to generate five different types of reports on the prospects gives you a lot of points of differentiation when deciding between two players of similar skill, and I loved seeing how both my own prospects and the ones I wanted to take in the draft but got selected before my pick turned out. 

The Fog of War system is also a welcome improvement. If you?re not keeping tabs on rival teams? prospect pools and upcoming free agents over time, you can make the kind of organizational missteps that could make you Mark Bergevin?s new rival as worst GM in hockey. Both the scouting and Fog of War system could use some quality of life notifications where scouts offer valuable insight to help guide the process and make sure you aren?t neglecting something serious (like scouting upcoming free agents before the spending spree begins), but I appreciate how much more it demands of me as the GM. Your biggest headaches this year come in the form of the unpredictable player morale system, which still isn?t where it needs to be to add value to the experience.

For those who prefer a more fantasy-oriented approach to team building, Ultimate Team returns reinvigorated thanks to a healthy injection of NHL legends and a new objectives system that rewards you coins for completing various goals. These additions are nice, but the mode still lacks the variety of single-player challenges you see in FIFA and Madden. The auction system needs to be burned to the ground and rebuilt as well; not being able to track the bids from one simple screen is maddening when you see how much better the experience is in the other versions of Ultimate Team.

NHL 19 still has its share of legacy issues that need attention, but the vastly improved skating and physics make this the best playing hockey game of the generation. The scouting system gives franchise mode a much-needed makeover, and while World of Chel feels like a half-built theme park right now, I?m excited about its future prospects. If you haven?t played an NHL game in a while, this is the year to jump back over the boards. 

The Golf Club 2019 Review ? Adding Up The Strokes

I became obsessed with my progress the more I played The Golf Club 2019, which is only natural with video games. How far am I? Am I getting better? Given that this year?s title contains the PGA Tour license for the first time, the game has its own built-in career ladder. Although the game quantified my success as I went from the Q-School to the Web.com Tour and finally to the PGA Tour, making it as a pro didn?t feel as powerful as I thought it should. But that doesn?t mean I was unfulfilled. On the contrary, the gameplay was a better chronicle of how far I?d come with the title than which tour I was on.

The Golf Club series has never been about upgrading your player like in traditional video games. This year has more visual customization aspects than ever (including clothing items from famous brands like Under Armour) that you can spend your earnings on as you level up, but you?re not going to improve your player in the traditional sense by adding points to a putting skill, for instance.

I am used to this aspect of the franchise, but even though skills don?t progress in a defined way, I could feel my golfing getting better as I spent more time on the courses. I became comfortable in my backswing and follow-through speed which in turn created consistency ? something that?s just as important for your accuracy as keeping the actual movement of the analog stick on the straight and narrow.

The interesting thing is that in pressure situations when I needed to clear a bunker on the fairway or not stray from my intended course, the more I tried to consciously put some extra oomph in my shot or wanted to not veer to my right, for example, the worse the results. But the more I relaxed and trusted the game the more I was rewarded ? a compliment to the gameplay. My confidence in bunker situations, picking the right clubs and shots, and even hitting straight tee shots (hard to do with the pro club set and beyond), grew over time. While I?m not sure the game always accurately measures the speed of the backswing on chip shots, overall when it comes to balancing out challenging gameplay with the reward of output, The Golf Club 2019 is more than fair.

I wanted my gameplay progress and satisfaction to be mirrored in my career as a golfer on the Tour, but I didn?t get the same feeling. The lack of a player upgrade system contributes to this, so despite the presence of the Tour license and six real-life courses, the game has failed to bridge this gap and find more ways to meaningfully demarcate your ascension apart from giving you new pieces of clothing for your avatar. The tour events come and go, but I didn?t feel invested in it (even with rivalries) like I did my actual skills out on the course. Building up your golf society, where you can inaugurate a golf club and recruit other players to post scores and join events apart from the PGA Tour is a way to measure yourself as a golfer in the game, but this is checked by the fact that this feature hasn?t grown since the last Golf Club.

 

Despite the inclusion of the PGA Tour license, the easy-to-use course creator remains a wellspring of content and a key component of the franchise. This feeds into the game?s expanded multiplayer options, including the ability to set up sessions easily with your friends on or offline. Still, the basic matchmaking doesn?t let you tweak parameters such as selecting a course or which tees to use, so similar options like the ones in the private matches would be nice.

It may be slightly odd to want more gamification in a series that has resisted it ? to its benefit ? in certain areas thus far, but The Golf Club 2019?s career mode in particular is more the start of something that could be good rather than its full realization. I certainly don?t want developer HB Studios to change its philosophy and implement a player upgrade system, but something in the mode needs to deliver that hard-to-define but satisfying feeling of progression better than what?s here. Until then the title?s gameplay is more than just a band-aid. It's fulfilling in its own way ? one which is as temperamental as the sport itself  ? and it?s the fundamental piece of a title whose benefits are more subtle than overt.

NBA 2K19 Review ? Outworking And Outplaying The Competition

Over the last couple of decades, the NBA 2K series steadily emerged out of the niche sports game genre and solidified its place in mainstream pop culture. These days, pro players eagerly announce their ratings on social media, hip-hop icons like Jay-Z and Pharrell Williams lend their talents for soundtrack curation, and the game stays high on the sales charts year round. The accolades are well deserved, because each year the development team at Visual Concepts improves all the game modes, tightens the on-court action in all the right ways, and takes risks to move the genre forward. NBA 2K19 continues this positive trajectory. 

The centerpiece MyCareer mode once again gives players many unique ways to grow and improve their created player. The story follows a highly motivated baller (inexplicably named A.I. ? no relation to Allen Iverson) whose path to the NBA takes him overseas to China and through the NBA minor league. The well-acted cutscenes featuring well-developed characters and interesting situations stand in stark contrast to last year?s wayward effort, but the length of these sequences would make Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima blush and they offer little choice in its trajectory. You still begin as a dramatically underskilled player, which makes the early stages of your career a plodding affair where every other player on the court is more talented than you. I say it every year, but I wish 2K gave you quality-of-life upgrades like a decent amount of stamina, speed, and agility to kick off your career. The grind for becoming a better player still exists in the form of level cap breakers and upgradeable badges, so making your player so feeble to begin with seems unnecessary.

Once you make it to the NBA (which takes a few hours), MyCareer opens up the revamped Neighborhood, which has a dramatically improved layout that places the playground courts in the middle and the shops around the periphery. Earning VC won?t be as hard as in years past thanks to easily achievable daily bonuses, a free daily spin of a rewards wheel, flexible endorsement contracts that give you more say over how you earn extra VC, and live events like dodgeball and trivia that generously reward the victors. If NBA 2K18 rubbed you the wrong way with its aggressive approach to encouraging spending, this year?s edition doesn?t ease off in that regard. You can spend currency on upgrading your character to the level cap, buying new clothes, or acquiring performance-enhancing boosts from a kiosk right out in the open (is the NBA cool with that?). I personally don?t care if people spend their money on visual customization, but creating an uneven playing field can compromise the competitive experience.

Those who like to let their MyPlayer?s skills shine in online competition have even more options at their disposal this year. The park and Pro-Am return (the latter of which finally offers private matches), but NBA 2K19 also adds a 3v3 mode resurrecting the Crews branding and an arcadey trampoline basketball experience. Crews fills a nice gap in the 2K suite by letting you create a squad, customize jerseys, and compete with two other friends against other players and A.I. challengers. The trampoline basketball in The Cages, on the other hand, feels like a throwaway gimmick I won?t spend much time playing. The full array of options impresses, but Visual Concepts still has infrastructure problems in competitive multiplayer. Its stubborn insistence in making players queue for park games drives me mad. Time is precious, and the ?got next? concept wastes it by forcing players to needlessly stand around. Why can?t I just jump into a game immediately via a menu like I can with the NBA or Pro-Am games? The matchmaking also could use some work to better pair players of similar ratings. Squaring off as a brown-shirt 60 overall against someone with vastly superior skills isn?t a good way to encourage more players to compete online in these strong modes.

Franchise fans have a lot to look forward to in NBA 2K19. MyGM picks up where last year?s game left off and puts you in control of a new expansion team. You must guide the new franchise through its branding design and expansion draft. The story brings back familiar faces from last year in interesting ways, including everyone?s favorite heel Andrew Sanderson, but I wish the story featured more realistic behind-the-scenes drama. Your front office must contend with sniffing out a mole leaking sensitive player profiles, which is the highlight of the experience, but otherwise a lot of your time is wasted playing trivial pickup games with the hillbilly owner or trading meaningless barbs with your rival instead of dealing with locker room tension, trade rumors, and the myriad other compelling circumstances that can arise in real NBA front offices. The fodder is there for the MyGM story to be remarkable, Visual Concepts just needs to tap into that rich reservoir more earnestly. It?s also curiously easy to build a contender right out the gate; in one simple conversation I somehow lured LeBron James to the team and the rest took care of itself. 

If you don?t need a story in your franchise experience, you can skip it altogether and start a traditional MyGM experience. The best new feature in the mode this year is the mentorship system, which allows you to put a young player under the wing of a veteran to speed up how quickly they earn badges of your choosing. This is a smart system that changed the way I viewed my reserves. Instead of stashing low-rated talent that would never earn minutes on the floor, I instead sought out aging veterans who had valuable badges I wanted my young up-and-comers to earn. The rest of the mode plays out the same as previous years, but if you have problems with the trade or free agency logic you can now tweak them to your hearts? content. The other franchise mode, MyLeague, improves dramatically thanks to live draft and free agency events that let rivals in online leagues try to outduel each other for talent. 

Card-collection mode fans have a lot to look forward to with MyTeam this year. The revamped interface makes it easier to navigate the menus, and the addition of the 3v3 Triple Threat and salary cap free Unlimited modes provide plenty of depth. However, MyTeam still has some legacy issues I wish Visual Concepts would resolve. Locking players out of the auction house until they play through several challenges is annoying, especially when you?re already sitting on duplicate cards that you plan to offload. The mode still stubbornly clings to disposables like contracts and shoe boosts as well when competing modes in other sports games have moved beyond them.

On the court, NBA 2K19 shines thanks to a fresh coat of polish that evens out last year?s most glaring issues. Players have the choice of multiple shot meters, and the egregious clipping animations that occasionally killed immersion are gone. The defense is dramatically improved as well, making it easier to stay on your mark. Attackers must do a better job of protecting the ball or risk being stripped, and passes through high traffic areas are way more likely to be picked off or at least tipped. My only major gripes thus far is the sluggish speed of the transition game and the fact that you weirdly get caught on the backs of opposing players when cutting through traffic. Some legacy issues like the lack of boundary awareness still pop up from time to time but make no mistake, this the best playing basketball game on the market.

NBA 2K19 isn?t just a game; it?s a lifestyle. Whether you are a hardcore franchise mode fan, card collection aficionado, or invested in making a mark with your MyPlayer, Visual Concepts latest ode to basketball offers a wealth of satisfying content that should keep you occupied well past the point the Golden State Warriors raise yet another championship trophy.

Valkyria Chronicles 4 Review ? Back In Fighting Form

War is a common backdrop for many games, and different genres provide players various ways to experience it, whether through the strategy of command or the urgency of ground combat. The thrill of the Valkyria Chronicles series is how it blends these two approaches; conflict becomes a puzzle to be solved as you assess the situation from a tactical map, then control individual units directly to gain the advantage. This compelling approach to warfare remains at the core of Valkyria Chronicles 4, but this sequel does more than march in step behind its predecessors.

Valkyria Chronicles 4 largely ignores the PSP sequels and gets back to what I loved about the original entry (like big and varied maps populated by plenty of units), then makes up for lost time with smart additions. The most impactful change is the new grenadiers, who fire mortar-like grenades from afar and provide interception fire, allowing them to clear the way for other infantry while effectively punishing enemy advances. Using them to take out enemies in defensive positions is especially fun, and opens up a new array of strategic options. I also love the leader units? ability to bring squad mates along for move actions, ensuring slower troops like lancers and grenadiers don?t get left behind. You also earn the ability to call in naval support later, but it is available too inconsistently to play a major role in your planning.

These factors combine to take the puzzle-like quality of encounters to a new level. Finding a path to victory carries the same satisfaction as untangling a devious knot; you pull a string in one place to see how your enemy responds, which creates an opening to exploit elsewhere. Distract a boss so you can score a headshot from behind, or draw a tank away from the base it guards. The number of viable options are impressive. Heap buffs on a single unit and dash for the objective, or employ a traditional multi-pronged advance. Personally, I love the gambits that only barely work. My first time defeating the final boss using the expected tactics took nine turns. When I replayed the mission, I used an unconventional alternative that ended the fight in two. That kind of flexibility is rewarding, and encourages experimentation.

After the battle is won, you earn XP and money to level up your classes, upgrade equipment, and outfit vehicles. Despite being linear at first, you eventually get more gratifying avenues for customization. Do you prioritize firepower, movement, or defense when considering how to allocate your tank?s limited capacity for new parts? Different situations call for different loadouts, but if you want to get a general leg up, you can grind skirmish battles or story missions, though I never hit a wall that required it.

Valkyria Chronicles 4 doesn?t demand prior experience with the series, since it tells one squad?s standalone story. Though it presents a fantasy-infused vision of World War II, it conveys real human struggles in clever ways. Soldiers have biographies you can read, but their personalities truly come out in ?potentials? that trigger under specific conditions. One character drinks to escape a past failure, which manifests as the ?hammered? potential that ends her turn prematurely. You learn more about characters as you use them, culminating in special side missions starring a handful of linked squad mates. These were my favorite rewards, because they have satisfying narrative payoffs in addition to the practical benefits of granting new potentials or changing negative ones.

 

As much as I enjoyed the character development, the storytelling in the main campaign falls flat. The plot is interesting and the setting is gorgeous, but the scarcity of cinematics and reliance on animated portraits rob many moments of their intended gravity ? including some major scenes that feel especially shortchanged. Along with some crass language and sexual references that are tonally inconsistent, this is the main area where Valkyria Chronicles 4 feels outdated rather than a return to classic form.

After aircraft were introduced to military operations during World War I, they changed the shape of warfare. They opened up a field of conflict above the land and sea, and even though tanks and infantry still worked the way they always did, new considerations altered the ways they were deployed and used. Valkyria Chronicles 4 does not actually have aircraft, but the innovations it brings have an analogous effect on the turn-based strategy of this series. Though familiar mechanics and units remain, excellent new features and conveniences transform the way you see the battlefield.

Shadow Of The Tomb Raider Review ? In The Shadow Of Something Greater

Over five years ago, we were introduced to a revamped Lara Croft, different than the one we?d known for decades. Crystal Dynamics took on the task of rebooting the character by creating an origin story that would give us deeper insight into her personality and show her at her most vulnerable. It was an exciting change of pace, as we were watching her grow from inexperienced adventurer to full-fledged tomb raider. Shadow of the Tomb Raider provides the final piece of this transformation, showing us her defining moment of becoming the wall climbing relic hunter she was meant to be. This chapter should be an exciting climax that encapsulates the series at its best, but instead, it?s a step back. I had my share of fun with the adrenaline-pumping set pieces, but I also felt a bit disappointed by both the overall narrative and Lara herself.

The plot involves Lara accidentally setting an apocalypse in motion and later finding out her long adversary Trinity?s connection to it. The interesting parts of the narrative aren?t so much about how it unfolds, but about how Lara handles the things that have long haunted her, whether it?s her unresolved feelings over losing her parents or determining what measures she?ll take for the greater good of the world. Bringing back Jonah, who has helped Lara since her first expedition, provides some of the best interactions in the game. Not only does his relationship with Lara add tension over her reckless tendencies, but it also shows how much Lara values this friendship, learns from it, and how far she?ll go to protect it. 

While the story and her characterization have some great moments, they also have some not-so-great ones. What bothered me most was Lara?s actions not matching the character we?re presented. One minute, she?s showing a softer side by giving children some hidden treasure or trying to reunite a man falsely accused of murder with his distraught daughter, but the next she?s going on killing sprees and hanging corpses. Motivation for some of her violent outbursts is provided, but I always felt like I was playing as two different Laras.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider still has all the things I love about the series: tense escape sequences, secrets to uncover during exploration, and a sense of accomplishment from solving a difficult challenge tomb. However, as with the story, the gameplay has its highs and lows. As this entry takes us to places such as Mexico and Peru, you can expect a different feel from the icy regions and isolation of the last game. Here, you explore jungles, crowded cities, and much more interesting ancient structures, but soon you realize just how unexciting these locales are.

 

The action remains over the top and intense; you do everything from fighting jaguars to trying to survive tsunamis, all the while locating crypts and tombs containing death-defying leaps. Overhang climbing adds some verticality to the experience, while the addition of rappelling and wall-running makes this element of the game more fun. The series definitely takes some pages out of the Uncharted playbook, though that?s not a bad thing as these improvements add more complexity to climbing. I enjoyed the variety they introduced, especially in how to incorporate their use into challenge tombs, which are a step up from Rise of the Tomb Raider?s in difficulty and variety.

Exploration is still a central and exciting fixture, especially with more underwater places to search. How much you want to spend tracking everything down is up to you, and you?re not punished from a lack of total completion. While some are interesting, the bulk of the side content is humdrum fetch quests and lackluster fights, though they do often reward your efforts handsomely with better weaponry or gear. What I like about the overall progression loop is that you gain experience points for going out of your way to search every nook and cranny. This helps you earn skill points, which you can then use to upgrade Lara?s abilities.

The skill tree is split up into three areas: seeker (exploration), warrior (combat), and scavenger (crafting and stealth). To unlock these additional perks, you need to activate adjacent squares, which can sometimes mean unlocking a skill you don?t really need to open up a better one. The upgrade system is shallow, and outside of a few abilities, you never feel like you?re dipping your points into anything all that impactful. While I liked using points to reveal more things on the map and getting lure arrows for more battle options, the progression in Lara?s powers just isn?t satisfying ? there?s not enough there. I did, however, enjoy the addition of craftable costumes, which gave me a way to build Lara more toward my playstyle by adding perks, such as more XP for stealth kills, lowering detections from animals and humans, and gaining additional resources. 

As for the combat, the gunplay is competent, and Lara?s bow and arrow is great for headshots, but the game certainly favors a stealth approach, with various places to climb or hide to get a jump on the enemy. Lara can also now use mud to help conceal her and blend into walls. Thankfully if you break stealth, you can get out of the enemy?s line of sight and reset. Going in guns blazing is riskier and means mowing down a lot more enemies, but I had fun crafting explosives and using my fire arrows to blow up flammable objects to take out groups. Stealth was my preference and I felt it had more entertaining and strategic options, but this system also has some rough edges. Don?t expect a challenging or sophisticated stealth system like you?d find in a series such as Dishonored or Metal Gear Solid. I had some laughable moments where I should have been detected and was rewarded stealth kills when an enemy clearly saw me and alerted others.

The whole adventure culminates in an ending that also isn?t quite up to snuff. While Lara certainly shows growth through this journey and some closure is provided, it?s all a bit of a letdown. I immediately thought, ?This is her defining moment? Her evolution into the Tomb Raider?? After following this origin story for three games, I hoped for a more rewarding finale.

Lara Croft often throws herself headfirst into the action without seeing the bigger picture. In a way, that?s a good a parallel for Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Parts feel rushed with odd scene jumps and some of the gameplay systems feel half-baked. The game has its standout moments, but it?s also full of unrealized potential. Whether it was a more engaging skill system or a bigger map, I was often left wanting something a bit more ? yet, I could play it for hours. As the final game in Lara Croft?s origin story, it just didn?t hit the high note it needed to. Still, that doesn?t mean it?s not a crazy, high-stakes adventure worth taking.

NASCAR Heat 3 Review ? Finding Some Grip

There?s a good reason why ? whether win or DNF ? a driver is always quick to thank the people back at the shop; the people who work their tails off all week so the driver can climb behind the wheel and put it all on the line. Finally, NASCAR Heat 3 gives its earnest due to all those who make it happen via a career mode with more organizational options. The franchise has desperately needed this step forward since developer Monster Games brought the series back two years ago, but even with this new evolution the game doesn?t roll off the hauler a total winner.

The game?s career mode is expanded in two crucial ways: You start out in an abbreviated dirt racing tour, which offers a loose and local racing feel that other racing series can?t offer, and you can start your own racing organization. While you don?t have to do this and can simply race on contracts from other teams, managing your own racing team (you?re the only driver, however) creates a reason to spend all the money you?re making, which is otherwise a dead end.

There?s nothing complex in running your own team ? it?s just a matter of hiring employees, training them up, and putting them to work on chassis setups catering to the specific types of track you race on. It?s not like F1 2018 where you?re making choices on a sprawling R&D tree.

Despite the simplicity of Heat 3?s franchise setup, one aspect particularly suited to NASCAR shines through: bringing the right car to the right track. Stock car racing may be predominately ovals, but if you don?t set up the car specifically for the track you?re racing you?ll never get to victory lane. Thus, you have to grow your organization to the point that you can work in advance to have the right machine when you need it.

The rub is that each chassis starts at a 70 rating each week and employees can raise that number by a maximum of 15 points per week. So, if you want to get that car to a 100 or make it competitive, you?re going to need at least two weeks. But you sometimes don?t have that luxury because the schedule may stack races that require the same type of chassis three weeks in a row, for instance. So you?re always eyeing the schedule and seeing what you can get away with. Can you meet the sponsor objective of a top-five finish with an 80-rated chassis? Do you take the 90-rated one that was originally planned for a super speedway instead and take a ratings penalty on top because it?s not actually designed for the track you?re racing this week? You?re constantly juggling present and future needs. Sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you have to bite the bullet and do the best with what you got.

While owning your own team and juggling its demands gives the game a needed NASCAR feel, it?s lacking in other areas. The rivalries, while letting you interface with drivers through a basic email system, don?t really manifest themselves on the track. Despite your organization?s chassis setup, you don?t have to deal with damage ? which doesn?t even visually show up when you?re racing. It?s also disappointing that the paint schemes you can create for your team?s cars are very basic.

In terms of the game?s racing itself, much remains the same ? in a good way. I love trying to hook up with partners in different lines to make my way through traffic ? even if I know that staying in a line too long could mean three other cars team up and blow by using another part of the track. Going for the block isn?t always a sure thing, with getting punted into the outer wall the kind of track justice that makes you mutter, ?fair ?nuff.? Perhaps more than ever I spent a good amount of time racing just by looking in my side mirror, trying to guess which packs were forming up behind me to try and make a run.

 

In other areas, the gameplay has improved, such as A.I. cars pitting at different times, but other problems occasionally show up such as cars randomly stacking up or not taking good lines, and visually the whole package needs a new coat of paint.

Online is similarly much the same. The race countdown automatically starts once a second person joins the lobby, lag can infect races, and there aren?t options to turn off collision or turn on qualifying for races. The game has, however, added a weekly tournament structure that leads to a year-end shootout, creating needed, optional big-picture goals.

The NASCAR Heat series is three years in and is just now hitting its stride. This year?s addition to the career mode is a solid foundation that pays off in the present and sets it up for the future. I don?t think the game has necessarily locked down each of its main components ? gameplay, online, and career mode ? but it?s making its way through the pack.

NBA Live 19 Review ? Still Searching For Its Shot

After nearly a decade of struggling to find its game, last year EA Sports finally found a promising centerpiece to build its NBA Live series around. The create-a-player mode The One gave hoop heads a one-stop-shop for writing their NBA legacy, showing off their skills on the streets, and competing with rival players online. NBA Live 19 adds some new wrinkles to this formula, but stagnancy in legacy modes and new gameplay problems prevent the series from taking a big step forward.

The newest addition NBA Live 19 brings to The One is Court Battles, a fantasy mode that allows you to bring NBA and WNBA players you?ve unlocked in The Street (or purchased with the in-game currency) to defend your customizable home court. At the same time, you can take a squad on the road to conquer other users? courts populated by A.I. player of their choosing for Court Battle-themed rewards. Many games play out differently thanks to a deep collection of rule modifiers players can place on their courts. One game may require every player on your team to score to win, while another may reward five points for successful perimeter shots. These variable rules call to mind arcade basketball games like NBA Playgrounds, but I don?t get the same thrill from playing against random collections of A.I. as I do competing against other users or trying to capture an NBA championship.

You can still take your create-a-player?s talents to the NBA in The League. Like last year, your mentor, coach, reporters, and others interact with you via texting, but this year social media influencers and ESPN personalities also discuss your promising career over highlight reels that play between games. This is a nice touch that makes you feel closer to the culture. The mode still has problems to resolve on the court, however. Teams (including your own) tend to play their bench players more than their starters, inexplicably leaving stars off the court in the closing minutes of tight games. The revamped grading system is lenient to the point of being meaningless, even rewarding you points for getting lucky with poorly timed shots and missing free throws. The grade is no longer capped at 100, so I frequently had games where I scored in the 300s and 400s. The system, which punishes taking repeated bad shots, was clearly designed to prevent ball hogs online, but does nothing to encourage sound basketball.

The grading system is well-intentioned, but I didn?t notice a drop of selfish players in the early days of online play, even in the new 3v3 pickup games this year. This isn?t EA?s problem; such is the state of online gaming. Private lobbies exist for setting up your own games if you find a group of serious players who also want to avoid the black-hole ballers frequently encountered in pickup games. However, with no team or league structure, this mode still feels woefully underdeveloped. 

So does the marketplace that lets you spend the currency you earn across any of the modes in The One. The store offers a rotating collection of lifestyle wear, team-branded apparel, shoes, accessories, court customization patterns, and a couple dozen players for Court Battles. Sadly, at release it feels like I?m shopping at a clearance sale that?s already been picked through. The team apparel is basic as can be; no jerseys are available for purchase, and the list of purchasable players are lower rated than those I earned early on in The Streets. Right now I?m sitting on more than 200,000 in currency waiting for something interesting to splurge on. EA needs to hire a few fashion designers if they think the current paltry selection of clothing is desirable. 

The modes not housed under the umbrella of The One are still works in progress. Franchise mode adds a new trading mechanic that lets you field offers for particular players or picks, but this is easily exploited. Before a season started, I offered up my first-round pick for the next draft. One team absurdly offered me two firsts in return even though they have no idea which pick would be higher in the next draft. The mode still lacks player scouting before drafts and draft-day trades, and player A.I. leaves a lot to be desired in the offseason. Modern NBA free agency is driven by players combining their talents with other stars and sometimes taking less money in hopes of getting on one of the three or four teams with a legit shot at competing for a championship. But in NBA Live, free agents gladly left their good situations to get paid to play on rosters with barely any other talent of note. This mode is still far from being a good experience; if you like franchise experiences, you?re better off with NBA 2K19.

The EA Sports staple Ultimate Team returns in NBA Live 19, but this is the most under-developed version of the popular card-collection mode across the label?s sports titles. You start with a woeful roster and must grind quite a few challenges before you earn a halfway decent player, a dramatic reversal from the trends we?ve seen in FIFA and Madden. 

All the modes in the world don?t add up to anything if the hardwood action isn?t up to snuff. NBA Live 19 adds some integral new wrinkles like a dramatically improved off-ball dynamic that allows you to impede the movement of your mark and counter handsy defenders with cuts. Its dribbling and defensive mechanics are easy to comprehend and execute, making this the easier of the sim hoops games to pick up and play. But at the same time, the gameplay takes a few steps backward mainly due to locked animations that take control out of your hands and dictate your next movements. 

To spice up the look of the action on the court, EA added thousands of new animations to NBA Live 19. The game looks more natural because of it, but since you can?t branch out of some animations the controls feel sluggish. You can get sucked into unintended animations too frequently, which sometimes pull your player halfway across the court when you really wanted to go the other direction. Contextual shots near the hoop are unpredictable and often pull you out of good position. Too many plays that should result in easy dunks become needlessly complicated layups that are easily blocked by defenders. Passing also suffers; sometimes after you press the pass button the player holds onto the ball while the dribble animation plays out before they release the ball, and losing that half second can mean missing that open window where you tried to thread the needle. 

NBA Live 19 offers interesting diversions when it moves away from its license and into the fantasy of The Streets and Court Battles. The NBA experience in franchise mode and The League, however, both need a lot of work to reach their potential. If EA can branch out of the canned animations to make the controls more responsive, the already decent gameplay could take a dramatic leap forward. The core at the heart of NBA Live still shows promise, but chalk this one up to a year of growing pains.

Spider-Man Review ? Spinning An Amazing Web

Insomniac Games? Spider-Man is a triumph of superheroes and storytelling. Within a beautifully realized version of New York City, Spider-Man soars across the skyline with awe-inspiring grace, ducking into darkened alleys to pummel criminals in spectacular ways. The wall-crawler is front and center for most of this journey ? spitting out quips and making a flashy show of heroism ? but his mask frequently comes off to focus on Peter Parker?s struggles with relationships and the unpredictability of life.

This complicated web is what separates this Spider-Man experience from the rest of the superhero games on the market. The story has a soul, and isn?t afraid to slow down after a hard-hitting fight to show players Peter is every bit as interesting as his alter ego. Almost every move Spider-Man makes is worthy of a highlight reel, but some of the most notable moments are seen through the eyes of Mary Jane Watson, Peter, and other characters. The story is filled with intrigue, and is legitimately funny and touching.

Insomniac?s decision to forego an origin story pays off handsomely for both the narrative and gameplay. Spider-Man doesn?t freak out after punching someone for the first time; we see him in his prime as a force to be reckoned with. The second I gained control of him, I instantly felt like a hero who could handle any threat. He oozes power. His web swinging and acrobatic traversal are the most impressive elements, allowing players to rocket across the city by chaining together high-flying maneuvers. Running along walls, bouncing off of poles, and twirling through tight gaps are easily handled.

The web swinging is so much fun that I never once used the subway to fast travel. The city is another reason to use the long route to destinations, as it's a work of art that I continually marveled at for its architectural design and people-watching potential. I also didn't want to miss a second of J. Johan Jameson's hilarious alarmist superhero podcast.

Most of the city exploration leads to discoveries and Spider-Man becoming more powerful. Yes, he?s a seasoned veteran, but he?s also a skilled inventor who is continually making technological breakthroughs. By the time the credits roll, his power grows exponentially through his gadgets. With one press of the button, a group of enemies can be electrified or launched into the air (where they hovered in a stasis field). Gaining new toys is an incredibly satisfying element of this experience that Insomniac masterfully dangles like a carrot in front of the player.

 

Meaningful enhancements are also incorporated into the dozens of suits Peter assembles. From the Iron Spider Suit?s awesome multi-legged attacks to the handy ?Spider-Bro? companion equipped in the Stark Suit, there?s no shortage of ways to mess with your adversaries.

Most of the story-based missions feature excellently designed combat sequences that use the environment well, both for enemy placement and stretching out Spidey?s powers. The missions almost always offer an unpredictable element. One may feature environmental chaos, another could dive into Peter?s mind for a dream-like moment.

You also can?t rule out Mary Jane or another character getting involved. Control switches to these characters frequently, and at the right times. M.J.?s gameplay shows us why she?s a great investigative reporter. The other character?s sequences are some of the most shocking in the game. I enjoyed playing as both of these heroes (though not as much as Spidey). They bring variety in fun ways, including solid stealth mechanics and clever puzzles.

The open world is filled with activities, though some fall victim to extensive repetition. Performing the same button taps to stop a speeding car grows old quickly, as does catching pigeons. The Taskmaster challenges are a good test of skill, and I love the breeziness of Black Cat?s Where?s Waldo-style photo missions. The city activities and Osborn missions are the weakest of the lot. Combat arenas, of which there are many types, are leaned on too much, especially in the final act.

Given how personal this story is for Peter, many of the villains are bred from his relationships. In a way, the game is an origin story for them. They receive plenty of screen time, and are brilliantly tied to Peter?s life. Mr. Negative wasn?t a household name before the release of this game, but he will be now. He exudes a different type of evil than we usually see. His defining moment occurs in a surprisingly disturbing sequence.

Like Batman: Arkham Asylum before it, Spider-Man raises the bar for one of the world?s most beloved heroes. You feel like you?re doing everything he?s capable of. Insomniac succeeds in making Peter and the supporting cast just as memorable and engaging as the wall crawler. Excitement is delivered consistently from the outside of play right up to the last story frame, which is a real shocker that contains a reveal that will make the wait for the sequel almost unbearable.

Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate Review ? Touching Up The Past

In Monster Hunter, you quickly learn to treat the quiet moments of preparation with the same seriousness as the hunt itself. Taking a trip to the market to buy potions or scarfing down a stat-boosting meal might be what separates a close-call victory from a brutal defeat. Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate offers more than enough thrilling challenges to test the skills of tactical-minded players. Generations Ultimate is a Switch remaster of the dense 3DS title from 2016, presenting players with systems that take hours to learn. For dedicated monster slayers, deep rewards await as you carve pieces from your fallen foes and craft the fantastic armor and weapons that fuel this engrossing adventure.

You play as a hunter, undertaking quests to slay monsters with the help of your Palico (a feline assistant) or other hunters. Generations is a remixed, greatest-hits version of previous Monster Hunter games, meaning it has a massive roster of beasts to hunt down and a sizable selection of ways to do so. The story is threadbare, but that isn?t the point; satisfying combat and the sense of power that comes from slaying (or capturing) monsters is what propels you forward.

You have an arsenal of sharp things to stab monsters with, including a sword/shield combo, a longblade, and dual swords. Weaponry that leans more toward the wacky and creative side includes cannon-like blowguns and insect glaives, which send out bugs to attack your targets. Each weapon is essentially a class, requiring hours to master. While that might sound frustrating, it is immensely gratifying to dance around monsters that once gave you trouble, killing them with ease and grace. For those who played the more recent Monster Hunter: World, the combat might feel clunky by comparison, but the battles still capture the thrill of taking down titanic beasts.

 

Preparation is the most important part of Generations? loop, even more so than becoming competent with a weapon class. As you take on more difficult monsters, your inventory should be filled with meal portions and devices to give you the upper hand. You must also make sure your armor and weapons are constantly upgraded, which means scavenging zones for valuable resources when you?re not stalking beasties. Hunting for some of the larger game can take up to nearly an hour before the fight ends, and losing due to an expired time limit or dwindling supplies is crushing.

Battling with any of Generations? beasts, whether it?s the armored crab Daimyo Hermitaur or the fanged Niblesnarf, is an exhilarating experience ? especially when you?re dodging attacks and landing devastating blows. Taking on monsters is fun in multiplayer, with up to three other hunters joining the fray, but I found the challenge of fighting with only my Palicos at my side more enthralling and tense. Whenever I was frustrated in combat, it was usually because I made a mistake. However, a monster would sometimes throw me out of the zone and I?d have to sit through a brief loading screen to jump back into the fray. Occurrences like this, or the rare occasions my blade clipped through an enemy without causing damage, are frustrating ? but they hardly ruin the entertainment.

Ultimate?s jump from 3DS to Switch results in a big improvement, especially when it comes to visuals. Gone are the cluttered UI and grainy graphics. The more generous real estate of the Switch?s screen and the visual fidelity are immediately noticeable. Colors pop brightly. Muddy textures are now as sharp as a rapier?s point; the draw distance clearly showcases pretty vistas of snowy mountains and forests. Despite being a 3DS rerelease, the Ultimate version of Generations looks good, and the new controller scheme is also a huge improvement over the cramp-inducing 3DS layout of the original version. Whether you play with joycons (separate or in handheld mode) or with a pro controller, Generations Ultimate controls fluidly and better than the original setup by miles.

The most disappointing aspect of Generations Ultimate is a lack of content incentives for players who already sunk a hundred hours into the original version. A carry-over save transfer option exists so you don?t have to restart from the beginning (as well as the DLC from the 3DS version) but there?s little actual new content beyond a few additional monsters and a new rank of beasts to hunt.

Outside of the lack of meaningful additions, Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate is still a massive and compelling timesink, offering over 90 beasts to pursue and defeat. Though this is fundamentally the same game that released two years ago, improvements to the playability and visuals keep the thrill of the hunt alive. The focus on preparation, as well the high cost for failing to do so, isn?t for players who want a straightforward hack-and-slash game. But if you embrace Monster Hunter?s demand for vigilance, this experience holds bountiful treasure.

 

Two Point Hospital Review ? A Bittersweet Pill

Medical careers are highly rewarding, but they can also be stressful, tedious, and full of high-stakes choices. Two Point Hospital dramatically diminishes those stakes, because in this topsy-turvy world, patients contract diseases like Premature Mummification and seek treatment in cartoonishly large injection machines. Like real hospital work, managing this network of treatment centers is satisfying ? but Two Point Hospital can?t do away with the tedium of routine.

Two Point Studios is composed of ex-Lionhead and Bullfrog developers who previously worked on franchises like Fable, Theme Park, and Populous. Over 20 years ago, its core team created the beloved management sim Theme Hospital, and now its creators are back for more hospital hijinx with a long-awaited spiritual successor that matches the goofy tone and deep management layers of the original.

Playing Theme Hospital isn?t a prerequisite for Two Point Hospital. The opening hours do a nice job easing in new players. You manage every aspect of a hospital, including hiring (and firing) doctors, constructing new treatment wards, and ensuring that your patients remain at a comfortable temperature. Two Point Hospital features a variety of interlocking systems, but I never felt overwhelmed. The game does a great job notifying you about problems that deserve your attention, like when I needed to hire more janitors because my hospital was a garbage pit, or when my nurses felt underpaid and became disgruntled.

Your ultimate goal is to travel to every hospital in the county and improve their overall ratings. The easiest way to turn a death pit into a three-star hospital is by completing missions. Early on, these simple tasks ask players to cure a certain number of patients or build a specific facility. These goals get more interesting after you unlock marketing, training, and research facilities. At one point, I was tasked with curing 10 patients of lycanthropy, but patients with that disease weren?t checking into my hospital, so I ran a marketing campaign to attract new patients and researched a better treatment to improve my hospital?s reputation. After that, my beds filled quickly.

Two Point Hospital?s management layers are deep. You can micromanage your employees? break times and pore over profit/loss spreadsheets. This level of detail feels like boring paperwork, but like most hospital records, they are a necessary evil. Two Point?s automated systems keep your hospital running, but if you want to max out your facility?s efficiency and earn a three-star rating, you need to scrutinize these stats. At one point, as I looked over my staff sheet, I discovered that one doctor was killing more patients than they were helping, so I quickly axed them and hired a more skilled surgeon.

I had more fun building new treatment wings and decking the halls with surreal paintings. My early hospitals all looked similar. As I progressed, I unlocked new medical equipment and currency used to purchase new decorations and novelty items. As I gained a wider range of decor, I felt a greater ownership over my hospitals. The simple click-and-drag interface also allows you to move entire rooms around within a building (even after they?ve been constructed), so mistakes are easy to paper over, and massive remodeling projects are a snap. Even late in the game, I was tinkering with the layout of each ward. I enjoyed designing each GP?s office around a specific theme, and my patients were pretty happy when I added a mini-arcade to the waiting room.

While I loved playing interior decorator, I quickly grew tired of doing it over and over again. Each time you move to a new location in Two Point County, you have to rebuild your hospital again from the ground up. Late in the game, it can take an hour or more just to get your hospital to a point where it meets all the basic functions. Since the game has over a dozen hospitals, you spend a lot of time reliving the basics. This slog is necessary to unlock new treatment rooms and tools, so I always felt the pressure to move on to a new hospital and start from scratch.

Two Point Studio has done a remarkable job reviving Theme Hospital and repackaging its concept for a modern audience. I loved Two Point Hospital?s distinct charm and the thrill of researching treatments for absurd diseases. But the tiresome grind eventually wears down even the best parts of the experience. Like an actual hospital visit, I?m glad I went, but I?m not particularly excited to return.