Astro Bot: Rescue Mission Review

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I’ve grown pessimistic in my old age. I tried virtual reality for the first time with an HTC Vive and some of the quintessential VR titles of the time like Space Pirate Trainer, SuperHot VR, and The Lab. I was impressed with the tech but I didn’t see myself doing any of it for an extended period of time. I saw it like Wii Sports; I didn’t buy a Nintendo Wii for Wii Sports. I waited for Super Mario Galaxy’s impending arrival before I pulled the trigger on a Wii.  

Then Astro Bot: Rescue Mission made waves with many equating it to a Super Mario title. Couple that praise and a very attractive Black Friday deal and I was convinced that I had to own a PlayStation VR.  

I wouldn’t if someone told me Team Awobi were comprised of ex-Nintendo designers. The ideas and nuance demonstrated in Astro Bot: Rescue Mission would not be out of place in a Super Mario title. A straight forward romp through the five worlds filled me with wonderous VR tricks and spectacles. If I just left it at that, I would have come away with a very positive VR experience. I would have collected just enough robots to unlock all the worlds to finish the game.  

I found Astro Bot: Rescue Mission was as much of a demonstration of the DualShock 4 as it was of PlayStation VR. Tight platforming controls on a DualShock 4 controller wasn’t novel but transforming the controller into a water cannon, grappling hook, and other tools made allowed me to interact in the VR space without the need for PlayStation Move controllers. The marriage of a well made platformer with well made VR exclusive gimmicks and abilities brought me an experience that was both deeper and more diverse experiences.  

When I took the next step and approached each level with VR rules and capabilities in mind, I was rewarded with additional robots and other hidden secrets. I was able to deduce the locations of all but a handful of robots and hidden chameleons by peeking a certain way doing what made sense in VR. I looked high, low, behind me, above me, and below me in an effort to find all these living collectibles.  

The hardware powering PlayStation VR wasn’t perfect. A hold of the Options button fixed most of its tracking issues but every once in a while, a full level reload was required to fix the orientation of the DualShock 4. The stylized visuals played to the PlayStation 4 Pro’s strengths; anything too realistic often looked far too grimey on an already less than ideal level of clarity offered by the PlayStation VR’s headset.  

Astro Bot: Rescue Mission convinced me there was a pathway to infuse virtual reality ideas into 3D platforming. It was reminiscent of playing Super Mario Galaxy for the first time. New and refreshing ideas were being introduced right until the very end which meant every play session was filled with joy. It’s the title that I was constantly wanting to rope my significant other, my brother, and anyone who will listen to try. It was genuinely wonderful and should not be missed.

Verdict: 
I loved it

Ratings Guide

Marvel’s Spider-man Review

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Insomniac Games’ Spider-man may be my favorite piece of Spider-man content in recent memory. I enjoyed it more than the movies and any other game featuring the web crawler. That’s how good the main story thread was. That’s how good it felt to swing, fight, and be the amazing Spider-man in this game.  

Spider-man was my superhero of choice while growing up. I watched a lot of the Spider-man: Animated Series. I genuinely enjoyed the game of the same name, Spider-man and Venom: Maximum Carnage, and the Dreamcast release of Spider-man by Neversoft. Since then I mostly stayed away from Spider-man games; I barely touched that much lauded Spider-man 2 with its awesome swing mechanics. In fact, the most Spidey action I experienced since the Dreamcast days came by way of the Marvel vs Capcom games.  

This game may not be a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe but Marvel’s influence and touch was all over it. Spider-man was extremely polished from top to bottom with audio and presentation cues inspired by Marvel’s movies – a notable cameo from those movies even makes it in. Spider-man’s various suits were incredibly detailed and well rendered. I found myself admiring them until the very end of the game.  

By virtue of advancing tech and talent, Spider-man seamlessly transitioned from one acrobatic move to another without missing a gameplay beat. I cannot stress how good Spider-man feels to control. Thanks to the smooth framerate delivery, responsive controls, and stellar motion blur, I forgot that it’s a 30 FPS game.  

Insomniac Games’ created a relatively frictionless experience with Spider-man. The main story thread propelled me forward with ebbs and flows of drama and action. I found their depictions of iconic Spidey characters such as Peter, Mary Jane, and Aunt May to be top notch. Doctor Octavius and Norman Osborn filled their roles well giving them modern updates that gave them depth. In fact, I felt a lot of the Spider-man staples were superbly re-imagined in this game. I have no idea how much of that was lifted from the comics but I felt Insomniac Games made all pieces fit.  

I was glad to see them enter Peter Parker’s life as a young adult trying to navigate life on his own. His origin story is known to everyone by now so there’s no need to revisit it. By the end of the story, Peter grew a bit as a person and learned to trust and respect Mary Jane as a partner and person. I loved how they handled Doctor Octavius and Peter’s relationship. Peter had an admiration, respect, and sympathy for the struggling scientist. It’s a relationship that I’ve never seen depicted before but one that paid off handsomely.  

Analogs to Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham games’ combat were apparent, but I would argue that style of combat suits Spider-man better. I never understood why Batman was dashing between enemies so much whereas it makes perfect sense for the agile Spider-man to do so. Spidey had speed, agility, and web shooters to keep him afloat in combat.  

I chose a slightly higher difficulty which packed more punch in behind firearms and melee attacks, but the true challenge in the game came down to numbers. Not even one-on-one boss battles with Spidey’s foes like the Scorpion, Electro, or Shocker were as tough as being outnumbered. The only way to take me down was to just send a torrent of enemies from all sides, at different ranges, with an array of weapons and weaknesses to exploit. Overwhelming me was the only way to take me down. Fortunately, those who are not keen on the combat can thin out enemies with stealth takedowns akin to those that the Dark Knight employed in his adventures. 

Breaking up the action were stealth and exploration segments involving Peter, Mary Jane or Miles Morales. I enjoyed seeing where Peter worked and life on ground level. Some the stealth segments with Mary Jane were stretching it but I was able to work my way through them with relative ease.  

It’s tough to make a city matter when means of travel encourages me to ignore huge swathes of it. I didn’t even realize I could read newspaper headlines until halfway through. There was almost never a reason to set foot on the ground unless I was addressing a crime.  

Filling New York City with meaningful content is tough. Even with giant open world games like Grand Theft Auto, it’s tough use that space effectively. Insomniac Games’ facsimile of Manhattan was convincing enough for a foreigner like myself. Central Park and the Avengers tower were my reference points as I slowly familiarized myself with the city. But like I said, it’s tough to care where I was when all the side activities didn’t reflect the districts I picked them up in or were drowned out by the noise of all the busy work. They really should have focused on quality over quantity here.  

I didn’t see how the developer of Resistance, Ratchet & Clank, and Sunset Overdrive were going to Marvel’s Spider-man justice. I thought Sucker Punch would have been the natural fit considering their pedigree but I gave Insomniac Games the benefit of the doubt and they rewarded my optimism and created the definitive Spider-man experience. There was so much love and care given to every aspect of the web slinger’s life. Not all of it landed

Verdict: 
I loved it

Ratings Guide

Hollow Knight (Switch) Review

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Hollow Knight delighted then frustrated. 
Hollow Knight delighted then frustrated.
And on and on it went until the credits rolled.

Hollow Knight walks and talks like a Metroidvania title but after a bit of time it’s obvious that it’s a more sinister and annoying variant of those types of games.

Many of the choices Team Cherry made were reminiscent of Dark Souls where the developers intentionally stripped away modern conveniences in to develop a fear of dying. I didn’t fear dying though; I’m used to the minor inconvenience of running back for my soul/currency. In fact, I actually developed a dread for exploration.

I was annoyed and bewildered by the idea of not drawing in the map until I owned a map of said area. Having to wander around in the figurative and literal dark was not my idea of fun. It was a cute idea the first time around but as the areas got more complex and dangerous, that feeling of curiosity was replaced with perplexity.

Back tracking is par for the course in these types of games. I don’t mind trekking all the way back to the beginning and unearthing new treasures with my newfound abilities. Hollow Knight’s one ups other games in this subgenre by evolving certain areas in significant ways as I defeated story centric bosses. I just wished the game automatically noted secrets.

There’s an unlockable pin system for the maps but I just never remembered to use them. Plus it’s not a particularly entertaining mechanic for me.

I wasn’t thrilled with the exploration aspects of the game but the combat and platforming were pitch perfect; to be honest, it carried me towards completion. The combat mechanics were straightforward but slicing up enemy bugs with the nail felt gratifying. I would have liked a broader array of moves to play with though. The fear of losing my only source of health regeneration kept the idea of using spells other than healing at bay. When I’m faced with the dilemma of dealing more damage or the ability to erase my mistakes, I’m always going to pick the latter.

“What if I need it?”

That was the concern that plagued me in this game. I never felt confident enough to pull off the damage dealing spells. I felt they often left me way too vulnerable with their long cast and recovery times compared to the basic attacks. This was especially true against the boss fights.

The non-essential boss fights in this game were by far the toughest boss fights I ever encountered in recent memory. A lot of it was pattern recognition but sometimes I was just underpowered and needed to augment my abilities with upgrades or equipment changes. However, my stubbornness meant I often refused to back down and kept trying to beat these bosses via immaculate execution.

Nail upgrades improved strength. Charms, on the other hand, worked like a Call of Duty Pick 10 class system where I was given a limited number of slots to shift and augment my little bug warrior. If I wanted to increase the range of my nail attacks, I could do that. If I really wanted to increase the range and heal faster, I can do that as well but then I would have to give up the ability to see my current location on the map. It was an interesting system that could have benefitted with loadouts.

Hollow Knight was cute. It was a game filled with bugs, unsettling stories of a destroyed kingdom and fallen warriors. I didn’t pay attention to most of it; I merely basked in its overarching ambiance. I completed the first ending with 82% world completion and had my fill. I completely missed an area of Hollow Knight and did not feel the desire to go find it after the fact. I was leaving Hollow Knight delighted and I didn’t want it to follow through to frustration.

Verdict:
It was okay

Ratings Guide

Forza Horizon 4 PC Review

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Forza Motorsport 3 was the Forza title that sunk its hooks into me. The rewind function, adjustable difficulty, driving lines, and sublime controls were instrumental to my enjoyment of playing the game. The sleek presentation made races exciting compared to the calm melodic stylings of a Gran Turismo. But as with all things, things began to grow stale. Forza Horizon took the Forza Motorsport formula and injected it with even more excitement. I thought Playground Games’ spin off looked neat but not enough to warrant a purchase at the time.
 
It took a new generation of consoles, a PC release and a new game subscription service model before I finally gave another Forza title a chance.  
 
The other reasons I took the plunge was the ability to run the game at 60 FPS on the Xbox One X and PC. I heard of the troubles with attaining higher framerates beyond the default 30 FPS in Forza Horizon 3, so the 60 FPS mode for Xbox One X owners made the decision to jump in even easier. Racing games are playable at 30 FPS but they come alive at 60 FPS and Forza Horizon 4 was no exception.  
 
I tried to run the game at 4K 60 FPS on my GeForce GTX 1070 but it would dip far too frequently. After some tinkering, I settled with 1440p and a variety of adjusted settings. The Xbox One X version ran at 1080p and an unwavering 60 FPS. I switched between both versions and I was really impressed by the console’s output. I also have to commend the cloud save support which was seamless. 
 
Forza Horizon 4 followed its predecessor’s footsteps of unleashing the Forza Motorsport driving into a large open world. For this installment, they chose a chunk of England to carve up for our racing pleasure. Dirt roads, long winding courses, and open fields were all used as courses for players to race through. The inclusion of seasons gave all those tracks different aesthetics and feel making variety a non-issue.  
 
Like other open world games, there were tiered content. In Forza Horizon 4, a variety of races peppered the map including dirt rallies and street races. These came in the usual point-to-point or lap variety. The Story missions came with window dressing like light cutcenes and voiceovers setting up the crazy scenario in which I ended up behind the wheel of a extravagant hypercar. The crème of the crop were the Showcases which is just the over-the-top Top Gear races involving trains, planes, and bikes were pitted against cars. 
 
I had my fill of Forza Horizon 4 before finishing all those Story or Showcase events. The inclusion of Seasons added a level of dynamism to the world that sounds awesome in theory but a bit disappointing in execution. It turns out that I just don’t like driving in the rain or snow very much. Playground Games changed the seasons on a weekly basis. As a result, if I only enjoyed racing in the Summer or Autumn seasons, I would be sitting out two weeks while I wait for the seasons to change again.  
 
I preferred how they handled the seasonal changes during the first 25 or so levels where I could trigger when to change over to Winter. If I wanted to bang out more long epic races in Autumn, I could do so at my leisure. With the live nature of the game, I have to schedule my choice of events around the seasons.  
 
The material changes between the seasons meant that I was slipping and sliding on wet roads without winter tires, but it also meant I could drive on frozen lakes to reach new areas in the winter. I found these details to be incredible additions. 
 
My only other gripe with the fast travel system. Charging precious in-game currency to warp around the map is annoying. I realize it’s a bit silly to want to exclude driving in a driving game but sometimes, I just want a change of scenery without having to drive across the map. The annoyance was exacerbated when I forget to change my “home” and end up back at the other side of the map at the beginning of the next session.  
 
Those quibbles aside, Forza Horizon 4 was a blast to drive through. I’ve set it down for the time being but there’s a whole lot of game waiting for me if I decide to revisit. It’s one of those games that’s just bursting at the seams with both quality and quantity. It’s easily one of the best racers I’ve played in years.  

Verdict:
I like it

Ratings Guide

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