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The Inpatient Review

Game Spot Reviews - Tue, 01/23/2018 - 23:50

Prequels run the risk of diminishing the magic of the stories they lead into, but The Inpatient is a rare exception that entirely manages to avoid that. As opposed to its jumpscare-obsessed peers on PSVR--even in opposition to the game from which it spun off, Until Dawn--The Inpatient relies less on the element of surprise, instead utilizing the far more diabolical and harder-won asset of dread.

You play as an amnesiac--the gender and skin color of whom you can choose at the outset--at the illustrious Blackwood Sanitorium and Hotel. You wake in a wheelchair on a snowy February day in 1952, a doctor gently but ominously grilling you about your fleeting scraps of memory. After the first session leaves your curiosity hanging with more questions than answers, you're carted off to your room. There, nothing but your paranoid roommate, a hard-looking bed, and a steady supply of flimsy sandwiches awaits you each day, and vicious, gory, absinthe green-tinted nightmares await every night.

You'll be shuffling your way through The Inpatient's various unpleasantries using either a DualShock 4 or two Playstation Move controllers. Unlike playing with a DualShock, Move controllers enhance your immersion--giving you two functional onscreen hands to use--but collision detection is on the buggy side, where the hands can get very easily stuck on random objects while trying to interact with them and twist in weird ways. In addition, movement is a bit clunky; the quick-turning radius makes it far too easy to get stuck in a doorway because your virtual shoulder happens to be at a strange angle, which is especially awkward when you're not able to step out of the way of a scripted event in time. Lastly, no matter which control scheme you pick, the game is in desperate need of the ability to walk backwards.

You have ample time to pace around your dingy room getting used to the controls, but just as you begin to settle into your new routine, the day comes when the nurse stops paying a visit, the food stops arriving, and a chilling daily chorus of ungodly shrieks and screams from deep in the sanitorium starts taking the place of actual human conversations.

Survivors of Until Dawn can already take a wild guess at what's happening outside the door, but The Inpatient isn't so quick to jump to that conclusion. Instead of introducing its antagonist upfront, half the game is spent dealing with a far more human monster: starvation. The slow decay of sanity is executed with a steady hand; every time you wake up from an extended slumber brings a new level of deterioration to the room and your roommate. Add in the amnesia, and you're trapped in your own personal hell long before the physical devils actually start showing up.

Eventually, of course, they do, and The Inpatient's second half settles into a familiar, exploratory groove of wandering the pitch black hallways of an asylum, waiting for just about anything to come for your blood. The game loses some of its intrigue around this point, but certainly not all. A more deep-seated terror gives way to external horror, as The Inpatient's incredible, all-encompassing soundscape echoes all sorts of grisly happenings from god-knows-where in the sanitorium. It's chilling enough until you realize the sounds are happening closer than you thought, and then it's maddening. It all culminates in a specific setpiece involving a careful, pins-and-needles walk from the sanitorium to a nearby chapel. A certain red-light-green-light challenge from Until Dawn gets a retread here, but the addition of VR to the mix makes an already pulse-raising situation even more frightening.

The game does lose a bit of steam as it glides towards the ending, but its short length--around two hours if you're not thoroughly looking for secrets--means the less interesting bits don't overstay their welcome. Where The Inpatient gains depth isn't necessarily from the endgame, but the replayability. It's possible to plow through the entire game, get a perfectly satisfactory ending, and have multiple questions still dangling in the air by the end, answered only by the second or third go round. Until Dawn's Butterfly Effect branching path system makes a return here, with the added bonus of an option to use voice recognition, to literally speak for your in-game character. It comes off at the outset as a neat gimmick, but it's hard not to find yourself getting deep into character, following the onscreen emotional cues, bitterly spitting dialogue at NPCs, and making deeply personal choices. By proxy, much of what you get from the game stems less from "what does this choice do?" than "how do I play this role to get the answers I want?"

The Inpatient doesn't just do right by Until Dawn, but stands right alongside it as one of the strongest horror experiences on PlayStation 4. It's a game far less concerned with pushing you towards what's lurking down every corridor than feeding you the worst ideas of what could be.

Iconoclasts Review

Game Spot Reviews - Tue, 01/23/2018 - 22:09

Iconoclasts' Metroidvania-inspired style and structure is deceptively simple at first. The vibrant 2D-pixelated world you inhabit is alluring and the action is quick and snappy. But if you've played games like this before, it'd be easy to dismiss Iconoclasts as trite and rudimentary considering the number of similar experiences available nowadays. Yet as you push through the game's myriad twists and turns, it matures before your very eyes, unfurling to reveal complex puzzles and a heart wrenching narrative.

Iconoclasts is a fantastic looking game with an impressive level of detail on display, a prime example being the unique animations and sounds each character exhibits. The presentation and catchy retro music elevates the personality of the world, making the game more captivating as a whole. However, judging Iconoclasts simply on the visuals undersells what's buried under the surface. There's much to love about this adventure: it's brimming with nuanced characters, riveting drama, sharp wit, and a host of well-crafted action set-pieces. Iconoclasts leverages its storytelling and presentation to pull you in. These elements distinguish the game from the old-school adventures it recalls, making the experience worth checking out even if you're not traditionally a fan of retro games.

The adventure begins with little fanfare, putting you in control of mute protagonist Robin, an unlicensed mechanic in a world where technology is considered sacred due to its link to a dwindling magical resource that powers all things. This effectively renders her chosen profession illegal in the eyes of One Concern, a corrupt theocracy that rules the world with an iron fist. When Robin's actions inevitably provoke One Concern to hunt down everyone she loves, she becomes embroiled in a conflict that threatens not only the safety of her family but the entire world.

The strength of Iconoclasts' narrative isn't in the broader story beats, but the smaller emotional arcs of its characters. While the people you meet in your journey are inherently charming and likable, they're also broken individuals, consumed by their own inadequacies and traumatized by the crimes One Concern has inflicted upon them. Iconoclasts' depiction of grief is realistic and powerful; it doesn't hesitate to explore the cast's emotional issues, often resulting in moments that fundamentally alter their identities in unexpected ways. There's a real sense of growth, with each character transcending their wit-laced dialogue and evolving into people with affecting, relatable plights.

Iconoclasts doesn't hesitate to explore the emotional issues of its cast, often resulting in moments that fundamentally alter their identities in unexpected ways.

Unsettling events occur throughout, so it helps that Robin is such an uplifting presence. Her unspoken optimism and willingness to help those in need makes her an incredibly endearing hero. Robin's endless strength and kindness in the face of a world permeated with religious and political corruption--not to mention her own emotional issues--serve as rays of hope in an otherwise dark journey. In the multitude of disasters that befall your allies, you're always compelled to keep pushing further, if only to see how Robin may hope to fix the world's atrocities.

As Robin, it's a joy to move and engage in combat. With her trusty stun gun and wrench, you'll navigate various biomes and industrial complexes where all manner of foes await, from rampaging deer and purple slimes to One Concern guards and deformed mutants. Combat is primarily focused on running 'n gunning, but there's some added nuance thanks to an upgrade system driven by collecting materials to craft Tweaks, which are special items that alter Robin's abilities. The effect of Tweaks are subtle, mostly altering physical characteristics such as running speed, the strength of your wrench attack, or how long you can hold your breath underwater.

Areas are packed with puzzles where you're often pushed to think critically about how you can use your arsenal to clear a path.

While tweaks are handy, they feel underutilized as there's rarely any urgency to rely on them to succeed. Their effects aren't all that noticeable, so they do little to change combat and exploration, which is disappointing. This can be somewhat remedied by crafting three of the same tweak to maximize their effects as opposed to diversifying the types you have equipped. Still, combat remains gratifying even with the less-than-impactful tweaks as the game relies on skill and precision over an excessively complicated upgrade system.

Rather than emulate Metroidvania games that favor open-ended exploration, Iconoclasts focuses on environmental puzzle solving. Areas are packed with brain-teaser-like trials where you're often pushed to think critically about how you can use your arsenal to clear a path towards the objective. For example, there are puzzles that involve moving platforms using a concussive bomb launcher. This sounds simple in theory, but it's far more involved when you have to consider how a bomb can only move a platform when the concussive force hits from a specific direction. This is further complicated by the fact that when you charge up the launcher, it fires a missile that can only push platforms after picking up enough speed. Iconoclasts' puzzle design encourages you to consider the smallest details, which can occasionally be overwhelming. But when you put in the time to work out a difficult solution, it's incredibly satisfying.

The emphasis on puzzle-solving even bleeds into boss fights, which are intense screen-filling battles that test your intellect as much as your reflexes. One boss has you switching between Robin and another playable character in order to work through a series of specific steps to reveal its weak point. While the game is quick to surprise you (and even make you laugh) with its bombastic boss fights, there's surprisingly more tactical complexity than simply shooting at them until they're dead. As a result, you're often challenged to completely revise your strategy at a moment's notice in case a boss becomes invulnerable to your attacks.

Iconoclasts is a sincere and compelling adventure that anyone with respect for fantastic storytelling and 2D-action can enjoy.

When Iconoclasts' end credits begin to roll, it's bittersweet to see the journey come to a close. After solving every puzzle and witnessing the finale of its poignant narrative, you can't help but reflect on the growth of its characters and your impact onto the world. The game will shock and surprise you with how gripping its story is, and it's likely to do so again in subsequent playthroughs of New Game+ with your expanded knowledge of character histories and events. Iconoclasts may be a callback to the style and mechanics of old-school games, but it's also a sincere and compelling adventure that anyone with respect for fantastic storytelling and 2D-action can enjoy.

AO Tennis Review

Game Spot Reviews - Tue, 01/23/2018 - 17:00

Without a major new tennis game since the last console generation, there is a lot riding on AO Tennis, an officially licensed game themed around the Australian tournament of the same name. Unfortunately, the final product feels half-baked and rushed, because AO Tennis is a game brought down by a frustrating lack of polish and poor presentation.

The game's controls and subpar shotmaking mechanics leave much to be desired, especially for a title that shares its name with such a prestigious tournament. In addition to the typical face-button setup for the various types of shots that can be played (such as slices and spins), AO Tennis adds an option where players can use the right joystick to serve and play shots. While a good idea in theory, the result is far too simplistic and feels clunky. The game automatically selects one type of shot for you every time with this method, which, although suitable for newcomers, will make you want to revert to the face buttons anyway due to its lack of depth.

Even with such basic shotmaking controls, AO Tennis does a poor job implementing them. The game aims for a tried-and-true system of holding an appropriate shot button in order to increase power before letting the shot fly. But the system is inconsistent, and far too often you will miss, use the wrong shot, use too much power for no discernable reason, or simply not react to the oncoming ball at all. And that's if you've managed to arrive at the shot in the first place.

Movement in AO Tennis is unresponsive and clumsy. Sprinting from side to side to chase down shots feels like an impossibly vain attempt every time, and to make things even more futile, there's no diving mechanic either. There are also random occasions where you might find yourself automatically pulled towards the ball, regardless of what buttons you may or may not be pushing. This troublesome movement system makes AO Tennis a frustrating game of wild guessing; it's a gamble between actual responsiveness, or losing a rally because your player does nothing at all.

Should you anticipate correctly and time a shot properly, don't expect it to land where you want it to either. Each shot type is wildly unpredictable in regards to where it will land and how much power is behind it, regardless of how perfectly you timed the power gauge. This throws normal tennis strategies out the window in favour of unrealistic ways to win points, such as hitting drop shots off 200km/h serves. Past the novelty factor of hitting error-free drop shots at will, the rallies in AO Tennis are simply jarring and unsatisfying to play.

All the aforementioned mechanical problems are amplified even further in AO Tennis' lackluster doubles mode. The expanded court margins and the near-lifelessness of players on screen exasperates the game's shotmaking problems and render doubles to a barely playable feature.

Each match is also noticeably lacking in atmosphere and gloss, which can be attributed to AO Tennis' bare-bones presentation. There are no commentaries, no crowd interactions, no entrance music, no pre-match greetings or handshakes, no post-match congratulations, and no trophy presentations, even if you've won the whole Australian Open tournament. The venues themselves are also rendered in a mediocre fashion; there is practically no detail to the different kinds of court surfaces, and you wouldn't know the difference between Rod Laver Arena or Wimbledon's famous Centre Court if it weren't for the change in colour scheme.

There are also some glaring omissions and extremely odd decisions that feel like straight-up mistakes at best and corner-cutting at worst. There are no in-game tutorials to properly explain how everything works; Rafael Nadal's distinctive on-court grunts are weirdly reused for random computer opponents; every single player (including iconic, real-life pros) has almost the exact same shotmaking motions; and the in-game referees occasionally get line calls incorrect, such as calling "let" in the middle of a rally.

Unfortunately, AO Tennis' poor presentation extends beyond the match court. There are a number of game modes available from the onset, but each one is sorely lacking in polish or even mildly interesting features. Career mode allows you to create your own player and take them on a journey from rookie to Grand Slam champion. But aside from playing tournaments and earning money in order to improve your player's skills, there is absolutely nothing to do besides match play. There are no training mini-games, practice courts, or even a rudimentary simulation of a tennis career off the court, such as press conferences or building up an entourage of coaches and physiotherapists. There is a special Australian Open tournament mode, but it's as bland as the matches in Career mode. You simply slog through the 128 male or female player draw and then do it all over again once the finals are played.

Should you not want to create your own character, AO Tennis has a roster of real-life pros for you to choose. A total of 18 pro players are currently available to play, including Rafael Nadal, Angelique Kerber, and a contingent of Australian players such as Sam Stosur and Ash Barty. But the lack of more recognisable superstars such as Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, or Serena Williams does diminish the star wattage of AO Tennis a bit, especially for casual players.

AO Tennis' custom player creation tool does have enough features to let you create other real-life pros, and these creations can be shared online with other players. Having said that, the number of available individual options are quite limited, so crafting some of tennis' most unique looks (such as a long-haired Andre Agassi) won't be possible.

But the small roster of licensed pros available are given an unfortunate spotlight in AO Tennis because of terrible visuals and facial animations. Each real-life pro looks wooden, and they barely meet the standard set by the Top Spin and Virtua Tennis franchises years ago.

The developer, Big Ant Studios, has promised to continually improve AO Tennis throughout the year, promising an ambitious slate of content that includes new players, events, and game modes. But with its poor presentation, lack of content, and frustrating controls, AO Tennis in its current state is subpar at best, and requires much more refinement to even meet the standard of last generation's tennis titles. Rather than a Roger Federer-esque ace, AO Tennis is more akin to a double fault whose shots don't even make the net.

The Red Strings Club Review

Game Spot Reviews - Mon, 01/22/2018 - 23:00

Truly charismatic characters are a rare thing to encounter in games. A distinct feeling of connection to fictional people depends on key elements like good writing, laser-sharp timing, and unique perspectives. With all these concepts in place, you're more likely to be drawn into a story or relate to a character's motives, and subsequently, remember those characters for a long time to come. This is the main reason The Red Strings Club is so strong.

With an animation style that recalls classic LucasArts adventure games, The Red Strings Club begins in the titular basement bar owned and operated by information broker Donovan. Along with his partner, the street-smart hacker Brandeis, Donovan values secrets more than money and as such, he is well-known throughout his community as the man who can get answers. Late one night, the pair get a visit from a malfunctioning android who is desperate for help. When Brandeis is able to access the android's memory banks, an extraordinary journey begins, where you play as all three characters in a tale filled with unexpected emotional depth and individuality.

While the majority of the game involves speaking to different people, the tense and poignant dialogue choices give even the smallest exchanges a surprising amount of weight. Trust and deduction play big roles in your choices when learning who these people are and what they want from you. Each question or answer seemingly branches off into an enticingly different part of the story, and it's exciting to consistently wonder if you've made the right choice.

You quickly learn that Donovan is famous for matching drinks to customer's specific needs and desires. Throughout certain conversations, the game shifts to a cocktail-mixing mini-game where you must pour the exact amount of certain alcohol types to gain access to different parts of a person's emotions. Setting off a character's depression, pride, fear, lust, and so on can expand dialogue choices and give you additional clues on how to solve the greater mystery involving corporate greed, the ethics of technology, and a violent conspiracy.

Another large share of your involvement also features the aforementioned android, Akara-184. Akara is skilled at creating internal modules which can artificially manipulate the emotions of human customers upon request. These can potentially reduce anxiety, boost confidence, or dull fears. In creating the modules, a pottery lathe (along with a choice of soothing music) is presented, and it's up to you to not only carefully shape the module to suit the customer but decide which components to install. For example, someone wants to boost their ego for an upcoming meeting, but it's up to you to judge what is best for them based on the limited information provided to you. Would they be better off suppressing their selfish desires? You can experiment and witness the outcomes, although things might not go as you planned.

This is where the heart of The Red Strings Club lies: exploring the limits and depths of human emotion. Donovan, Brandeis, and Akara-184 all begin to question their motivations and their purposes as they inhabit the dreary end of this rainy, atmospheric metropolis. Their internal dilemmas are where some of the game's best moments are born. Do our emotions, especially the most horrible ones, make us who we are? If possible, would we keep our sadness but remove our depression? Are we shaped by our suffering?

More than a few times, you are faced with decisions based on ideas that you might not usually consider. Uncomfortable concepts laid out in front of you present a can of worms that, when opened, can either be fascinating or downright terrifying. Weighty decisions are heightened by the game's exceptional writing. Whether it's friendly conversations at the bar, a dangerous argument on a rooftop, or a compelling series of investigative phone calls, you find yourself hanging on every word, becoming sympathetic to conflicting opinions and building a strong connection to characters. Every piece of narrative is more fascinating than the last and before you know it, all that matters is discovering what happens next. From managing a hostile but vulnerable whistleblower to exploiting the affection of a friend to get vital information, paying attention to every action is key to uncovering these fascinating plot threads.

As the layers of mystery peel back, you'll begin to realize the ramifications your decisions have in this world. While you might regret some answers and be confident in others, the delayed cause and effect of some of the game's choices can have you questioning how you could have possibly formed those opinions in the first place, which makes this adventure an extremely personal one. The cast of characters that populate the story each have their own history, motives, and personality conveyed in a direct and intelligent way. Gost the mysterious smuggler, Larissa the extroverted marketing director, and self-obsessed rock star scientist Edgar lead you through an exploration in relationship manipulation. Can you trust this person? Do you want them to trust you? These fantastic, varied characters make you want to settle in and chat, rather than rush through the dialog.

Supporting these moments is the detailed environments; The bar itself is a major location and thanks to the gorgeous 2D art design, it is a space that's enjoyable to spend time in. Subtle details like Brandeis lighting his cigarette, the lonely ceiling fan, the hint of the city when a customer enters, and the sparkling, electronic soundtrack is a haunting combination which forms a tangible sense of atmosphere.

From the far-reaching implications of ethics and artificial intelligence to the heart-wrenching relationship between Donovan and Brandeis, the moment-to-moment storytelling in The Red Strings Club is the kind that can have a strong, personally resonant impact. It puts you in circumstances that make you pause for thought, beyond simply contemplating the motives of the character. There is inventive design in its locations and scenarios which makes you not only want to revel in them, but revisit them with a different purpose once the credits roll.

From the game's opening piano chords, The Red String Club's futuristic exploration of themes regarding human emotion, strong writing, and exciting situations create an experience that is deeply gratifying. The cast of relatable, three-dimensional characters elevate the stakes of every bullet fired, secret divulged and cocktail poured. They are flawed and dangerous, but also convey admirable human characteristics that feel inspirational. The Red Strings Club is a tense adventure about a cast of characters that endanger themselves for goals that aren't necessarily guaranteed, a rewarding journey into the human soul, and a game that pushes the limits of what a point-and-click adventure can do.

Dragon Ball FighterZ Review In Progress

Game Spot Reviews - Mon, 01/22/2018 - 14:00

Despite the countless Dragon Ball games that have appeared since the manga debuted in the mid-'80s, the series has never needed them to sustain its popularity. Most are forgettable, some are good, and even fewer are truly great. Thanks to developer Arc System Works' particular talents, Dragon Ball FighterZ is one of the great ones, if not the best yet. Even if you think Dragon Ball is old hat, and even if you're intimidated by fighting games, there's a good chance you'll be drawn into the explosive action and personalities that expertly evoke the anime's infectious spirit.

Arc's prowess for making 3D assets look like 2D cel animation is as strong as ever, and its artists display a clear understanding of Dragon Ball's characteristic details. The screen is constantly filled with saturated colors and special effects, and super attacks are framed in a way that pull you out of the fight and into a momentary state of awe. Whether still or in motion, FighterZ's art looks like Dragon Ball at its very best, adhering closely to the standards set by the series creator, Akira Toriyama. And no matter how you may have watched the show, the option to choose between Japanese and English voice acting makes it easy to feel connected to the events on-screen.

Within the convincing Dragon Ball shell lives a fast-paced 3v3 tag-team fighting game that will feel familiar to Marvel vs. Capcom 3 veterans. But despite a few familiar parallels, FighterZ is distinctly Dragon Ball. Characters can jet through the air in a flash at any time, toss energy blasts like it's nothing, and unleash a flurry of smaller punches and kicks to stagger a hesitant opponent. Every fighter emphatically shouts at the top of their lungs (in a good way) every few seconds while attacking, and you understand why: these super beings are incredibly powerful, and FighterZ translates that energy to the screen perfectly. It also makes it easy for anyone to tap into that power, with relatively short special attack lists and one-button or two-button activations for universal mechanics. Not that it's recommended, but you can theoretically play with one hand and capably close the distance to your opponent to kick their ass in style regardless of the character you choose--all without any directional inputs.

Like any great fighting game, FighterZ doesn't lose depth just because it's accessible. Super attacks and teleports are easy to pull off, but they come with timing and combo conditions that allow for expert-level analysis and strategic play. It's also important to properly manage the lone meter that fuels most of your special abilities, a setup that makes a fighter's next move more unpredictable than usual, compared to some games with multiple, ability-specific meters. With seven levels of charge that feed into both offensive and defensive moves, it's never exactly clear what someone will do next, but you know a full meter means trouble, and a potentially chaotic back and forth between two crack fighters.

It also means fun is just seconds away. Being that it's so simple to cover ground, participate in mechanical mind games, and look impressive while doing it, there's practically no barrier to enjoyment provided you are fighting with opponents of a similar skill level. When the balance of skill in your opponent's favor, with no means of escaping a combo once you're trapped, there are times when you have to accept fate and wait for them to finish their onslaught--or until your current character dies--again, not unlike MvC3. Thankfully, online matchmaking is set up to auto-match you with players of similar experience, and lopsided fights are (so far, based on the open beta) few and far between.

You also don't need to be an aspiring online competitor to enjoy FighterZ, as it includes a significant story mode that can last a dozen hours or more if you seek out every possible cutscene. While a bit drawn out in places and relatively easy until the conclusion, it's still a treat for Dragon Ball fans with plenty of new vignettes staring classic characters. Though the plot is split into three arcs, you are technically seeing one arc from different perspectives, with a few alternate events to keep things interesting.

The gist is that a bunch of clones of the planet's strongest fighters are running amok, Dragon Ball heroes and villains (some who have been resurrected from death) must work together to stop them, and a new character, Android 21, is somehow at the center of it all. Because there's practically zero time spent introducing you to characters or their world, it's difficult to imagine how a newcomer to Dragon Ball would understand things like the Ginyu Force's proclivity to pose dramatically or the reason why Krillin doesn't have a nose, let alone the broad concepts of Super Saiyans and Dragon Balls. Then again, the mix of oddball antics and hyper-serious face-offs is inherently appealing for the confident cartoon expression on display.

As in combat, Arc's capable design skills make the 3D models and environments in cutscenes look stunningly close to actual 2D animation. There are moments when it feels like you're watching a new episode of Dragon Ball Z. But there's a catch: you're forced to press a button to advance dialogue, rather than allowed to kick back and watch the show. When FighterZ gets achingly close to recreating the look of the anime, the forced interaction feels like a step in the wrong direction, albeit a minor one in the grand scheme of things. Generally speaking, story sequences often elicit a smile or a laugh, only occasionally feeling like filler made to advance the story. One of the most strange yet likable qualities is the way the game contextualizes you, the player: a spirit that has randomly inhabited Goku (or another character depending on the arc in question) and can be passed to other fighters. It's unexpected and weird, but you have to give Arc System Works credit for pulling you into the room as opposed to simply breaking the fourth wall.

FighterZ is complex and distinct enough to be enjoyed by fighting game competitors, but there's no question that it's been designed to tap into the hearts of Dragon Ball's most dedicated fans...

Story mode's only real downfall is how repetitive it becomes--you fight clones of only a portion of the game's overall roster ad nauseam. Each chapter is presented like a map with locations connected by a branching path. In order to get to the chapter boss, you have to navigate the board and pick and choose your fights along the way. Given that there are optional pathways in each chapter and that you can concoct your own team, it's not surprising to learn that there are optional cutscenes to unlock depending on these conditions. Despite the rewards being largely enjoyable, after a handful of hours fighting lackluster opponents, the idea of replaying story chapters to see a quirky character interaction is unfortunately one that's easy to sideline.

Similarly, the game's basic, small overworld feels unnecessary even though it attempts to add value. Modes are divided among spokes around a circular hub, and you can run around as small versions of the game's characters, sometimes in alternate outfits. While cute at first, you soon learn to just hit the quick menu button and avoid running around at all as there's no benefit other than visualizing visiting a different venue for each mode.

The game tries to incentivize you through unlockable avatars for the overworld, but even if this sounds good, you can only earn them through randomized loot boxes. You earn money as you fight and complete story mode milestones and these can be cashed in for a capsule which turns into a random cosmetic item, be it graphics for your fighter profile, the aforementioned avatars, or alternate color palettes for in-combat outfits. The premium currency in the game can be earned when you open a capsule to find a duplicate item, or purchased using real-world money. Spending premium currency will simply net you an item that you don't already own--not one of your choosing. Rather than harm the game, the system feels a bit unnecessary as none of the rewards are critical to enjoying what matters most: participating in explosive battles and enjoying interactions between Dragon Ball's lovably bizarre characters.

Though merely a small piece of the overall puzzle, the rare Dramatic Finishes are perhaps the most respectable and impressive nod to fans in FighterZ. Anyone who's spent years watching Dragon Ball Z unfold over nearly 300 episodes will gasp the first time they trigger one, which will only happen with certain matchups under particular conditions. They have nothing to do with FighterZ's story, but they have everything to do with the revered history of the series at large.

FighterZ is complex and distinct enough to be enjoyed by fighting game competitors, but there's no question that it's been designed to tap into the hearts of Dragon Ball's most dedicated fans, and no doubt those same qualities will win people over who've never given the series a chance. Where past games attempted to get there through huge character rosters and deliberately predictable trips down memory lane, FighterZ has bottled the essence of what makes the series' characters, animation, and sense of humor so beloved and reconfigured it into something new: a Dragon Ball fighting game that can go toe-to-toe with the best of the genre.

Editor's note: This will remain a review in progress until we've had ample opportunity to test multiplayer on retail servers after launch.

Batman: The Enemy Within - Episode 4: What Ails You Review

Game Spot Reviews - Mon, 01/22/2018 - 08:01

There's a line in Episode 4 of Telltale's Batman: The Enemy Within that serves as an evocative metaphor for the dynamic between Batman and Joker--or more aptly for the Telltale series, Bruce Wayne and John Doe: "We're two threads in the same stitch, bound together...even under strain." Across the previous three episodes, events have transpired to pull at the fabric of their relationship, and in Episode 4, the two threads begin to fray.

What Ails You is a standout episode with strong writing, compelling performances, and decision-making moments that feel like they have significant consequences. The star is John, the would be Joker, who finally unravels, going from the well-meaning if a bit unhinged friend to something much closer to the Clown Prince of Crime we're used to seeing terrorize Gotham City and Batman. However, since developer Telltale has been building towards this from the very start, the shift is the culmination of a slow descent into madness instead of a leap, and it's fascinating to watch.

It's not as simple as something within him snapping. Instead, this Joker has been forged by a maelstrom of emotions wearing him down. John has suffered internal conflicts between what he's destined to become and his desire to find true friendship; a destructive love for Harley Quinn and his reverence of Batman. And all of that comes through in the way he's written and performed in the episode. We get to see a vulnerable, misguided, lonely figure desperately trying to find something to anchor himself to--and whether Bruce and Batman are positive influences in that process is called into question.

As Harley, Bane, and Freeze make a play for a deadly virus that could have devastating implications, Bruce realizes that the key to stopping them is John. In fact, many of the series' most high-stakes events have involved Bruce relying on John for help, and the realities of this give-and-take relationship are laid bare. While many Batman stories have tried, very few have succeeded in making the audience feel sympathy for Joker, but Telltale actually pulls it off, and it's a testament to how well it has humanized this larger-than-life supervillain that he feels relateable. There are moments that make you think about the way you've used John in the past, and whether you've been genuinely treating him as a friend or as just a tool to achieve objectives.

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In the midst of the self-reflection the episode inspires, the game asks you to choose whether to put your faith in John once more. However, it does this after presenting the most damning evidence that he may have finally flipped, with just John's word luring you into thinking that things may not be as clear cut as they seem. It's a powerful moment that offers fans of Batman something few other mediums can: the opportunity to give Joker a chance. Given that the series' decision-making moments ultimately always reconnect to a predetermined narrative, the overall outcome is set. However, the type of person John emerges as is one that your actions--past and present--have helped define.

Episode 4 also muddies the relationship between Batman and Amanda Waller, whose unclear motives start to come into focus. As is typical of Waller, her actions become more dubious, and the consequences of them have fallout on those around her. While her cards aren't completely laid out on the table, her tells and bluffs start to become more transparent. By presenting her as someone who is both somewhat sketchy and under pressure to handle a situation spiraling out of control Telltale maintains an enigmatic air about her.

What Ails You also lays the groundwork for future drama, revealing how recent happenings have impacted Alfred, and the responsibility Bruce now has to face for his decision to take Tiffany Fox, the daughter of his close ally Lucius Fox, under his wing. And it breaks up all these with sequences where Bruce investigates clues to push the narrative forward, or the odd set-piece in which Batman trades blows with villains. Like previous episodes, there's a dearth of moments that challenge the mind or offer engaging gameplay, but in a narrative and characterisation-heavy episode, these sequences provide some respite from the high-pressure interactions with other characters.

Episode 4 of Telltale's Batman: The Enemy Within has top-notch writing, thoughtful depictions, and impactful decision-making moments. It leaves Bruce, Batman, and you to grapple with questions and uncertainty. Between the future of Joker, the nature of Amanda Waller, and the potential fallout of Bruce's mission on his allies, Telltale has set the stage for what could (better) be an explosive finale.

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