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Expeditions: Viking PC Review

Expeditions: Viking Review

Being a Viking wasn’t easy. Between the icy winters and all the fighting, it’s a tough life. Enter Expeditions: Viking–a game founded on the intrigue that lies between Jutland and the British Isles centuries before they grew to be the modern marvels we know today. It’s a premise that the hardcore tactical RPG wields with enthusiasm, but its performance isn’t the most refined. Rampant bugs trigger frequent crashes and make portions of the game unplayable, but when you catch a smooth multi-hour stretch, the strategy game will entice you back with solid storytelling, deep combat, and satisfying role-playing.

Expeditions: Viking opens (as these stories so often do) with your father’s passing. He died on a journey to the British Isles, so his position of leadership falls to you. Immediately, you’re berated by some of his most bitter enemies and dissenters, and you’re tasked with holding everyone together and bringing glory to your tribe.

As a setup, it works well enough–and does a wonderful job of inviting you into this world. But it’s also an early sign of the game’s blemishes. While bands of drunkards challenging your claim to rule on the night of what amounts to your coronation is exciting, it also leads, inexorably, to some basic questions, but there aren’t too many answers. Some say your father was too focused on conquest, while others claim he ignored the needs of his people.

It’s a confusing tangle of different, conflicting accounts. Some of those issues fall away soon enough, however, as more vibrant, nuanced characters come into focus. Stitched between the dialogue, you’ll find rich descriptions that round out the development of your gang. As they worm their way into your adventure, though, it’s tough to shake the feeling that Viking is nudging you away from the man behind the curtain, so it wows you with its cast and the novelty of its setting. And it works…mostly.

The needs of your people aren’t as straightforward as you might expect. There’s an entire pantheon of gods whose favor you’ll need, not to mention requisite arcane knowledge of the lands and its medicines. These sorts of crisp details play up the role and mystique of magic in the world without breaking believability. Divine presence is faint but palpable, and that imbues the world with a certain vitality. Vikings, like most Dark Ages folk, were a superstitious lot, and Expeditions: Viking shows you that perspective as clearly as it can.

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Morality, too, has to be viewed through the eyes and conscience of the era. It’s a notable challenge, but it’s also a fun one to play with. There aren’t any deep, profound revelations about humanity to be found here, but novel ethical frameworks are the bread and butter of most role-playing classics, and it’s wondrous to see a backdrop leveraged to such effect. Resources are scant in the frozen north, and staying the slaughter of conquered combatants isn’t always prudent or kind.

Combat keeps to that theme. It’s slow and painful–you’ll take losses and often face permanent consequences along the way: arrows tear through bone and sinew; axes break bones and shields; no one gets out unscathed. That’s all a natural part of Viking life, though. Battles are hard, but fair–especially as the game opens up its tactical options.

Fun as political jockeying in the 700s may be, mixing it up with blood and iron is even better. Expeditions: Viking borrows heavily from its tabletop forerunners like Dungeons & Dragons. Bulky warriors grab axes, nimbler fighters use bows or slings or knives, and everyone else can pick from an array of simple sidearms. When you’re ready to bop some baddies on the head, you’ll have plenty of skills and abilities to complement your tactics. Taken together and spread across your party of marauders, techniques are a tactician’s dream, offering all manner of precise or circumstantial benefits to exploit. Archers can spot for one another, offering each other battlefield support, while a wall of shieldmaidens can choke an enemy advance and help you crack opposing lines. Just about any approach is valid–as battles get tougher, though, you’ll have to think to keep moving.

If you do lose, you’ll face the usual game-over screen and have to restart–but not every time. Early on, the game is quick to suggest that failure isn’t a big deal, and that you may see new story or plot regardless of the outcome. While that’s true, the concept gets short shrift. Vikings are, to reiterate, brutal and bloodthirsty. It’s rare that you’ll be allowed to walk away from defeat. And that’s a shame, because there’s so much that Viking nails. Deep connections between plot and play yield powerful synergy, at times. The choice to switch to non-lethal attacks at the right moment for the right person might net you a bargaining chip for later. Similarly, exploration and trade will outfit your fledgling fighting force–at least until you hit a modern term that pulls you out of the experience.

So much of the game is spent being a bit too pedantic about Norse culture for it to escape critique when it drops the pretense. That would be fine on its own, but a lot of that world-building crumbles with quest design, too. The nature of the setting lends itself to politicking, and to a degree, that’s explored. You’ll need to rework some relationships and build alliances to cement the legitimacy of your rule, after all. But it’s hard to stay in the moment when you’re told you need to collect generic “trade goods” in order to progress.

Those headaches compound a few hours in when excessive, intrusive bugs start to hit. Conversations might fail to load and progress, loading screens will hang and then crash to the desktop, and Viking seems to be so poorly optimized that at one point, it pressed an eight-core processor and a GTX 1080 graphics card close to their thermal limits. That’s far more disruptive than it may sound, and players may find themselves stalled for real-world days trying to figure out ways to advance that don’t crash the game.

Viking lives in its atmosphere, so it’s appreciated that most of the game is a spirited romp. For now, that experience is mangled by dozens of technical hiccups and anachronisms. At its heart lies an earnest drive to recreate a slice of Viking culture, and those looking for just that niche will find nothing better. But for everyone else, it’s impossible to recommend until it’s given some major help. There’s a lot to be gained from stepping into the 8th century, but be prepared to have your journey hindered by bugs.

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Persona 5 Review

Persona 5 Review

Persona 5 is a game overflowing with style. From bold black and red menus that leap off the screen to the pop-and-lock of scene transitions that carry the player from one colorful corner of Tokyo to the next, it’s a game about youthful exuberance and the power that lies within it. But its beauty isn’t just skin deep. Persona 5’s gameplay systems evolve and coalesce over its 80+ hours to deliver a confidently executed role-playing experience that is not only satisfying, but worth the almost decade-long wait since Persona 4.

Like its predecessors, it’s part social simulator, part dungeon crawler. By day, you’re a high school student–busy taking classes, visiting cafes, watching movies, and hanging out with friends. But by night you are the leader of the Phantom Thieves, a ragtag troupe of idealistic teenagers that infiltrate a parallel reality called the Metaverse. Here, the corrupted hearts of adults have manifested as Palaces, and the Phantom Thieves must find and steal Treasures within them to reform their marks, and by extension, society. Think Lupin the Third, but with a socially conscious supernatural twist.

Together with your friends, you infiltrate the Metaverse. Here lie physical representations of people’s personalities, called Personas–angels, demons, and monsters of all shapes and sizes that you battle using elemental attacks. Physical moves can be used to chip away at health points incrementally, but exploiting an elemental weakness elevates battles from turn-based slapsies to a flurry of crushing combos. Hit an enemy weak to fire with Agi and it will crumple, giving you an additional turn to exploit another enemy’s vulnerability, either by switching Persona to adopt a different elemental alignment or by passing the baton onto a teammate who can pick up where you left off. Once they’ve all keeled over, you can launch an All-Out Attack and watch as black silhouettes of your team dance across a striking red background, slicing and dicing enemies until they burst into a shower of blood. This triumphant animation calls to mind The Bride’s iconic blue room battle against the Crazy 88 in Kill Bill, and even though you’ll see it hundreds of times it never stops being cool.

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Improvements to the battle system mean that if you’ve already identified an enemy’s weakness, instead of trawling through menus to locate the specific ability, tapping R1 takes you straight to the move you need. When combined with the baton passing, streamline the turn-based fights into pacy experiences that maintain forward momentum with ease. There’s nothing more satisfying than firing off Persona spells, tagging in teammates, and wiping out waves of Shadows without them even getting a look in. Persona 5’s combat pulls together some of the best elements from previous games–and it’s borderline addictive as a result.

Persona 5’s combat pulls together some of the best elements from previous games–and it’s borderline addictive as a result. Negotiations from early Shin Megami Tensei and Persona titles also make a return, but the system is much improved. If you knock down a Shadow, you’ll surround it with guns drawn and can commence an All-Out Attack or simply talk to them. The conversation becomes a weird Q&A about your character or society a whole, and it often throws up some hilarious dialogue. There’s nothing quite like winning over a succubus by playing hard to get or gaining the favour of a giant demon sitting on a toilet by telling him you, too, are a pretty easy going kinda guy.

Whether you’re successful or not, negotiating will get you something. You can demand items, money, or a monster’s allegiance, but whether your request is granted depends on your gift of the gab. I found negotiation to be a much more useful reward system than the random pickings offered by Shuffle Time in Persona 3 and 4. When filling my Persona compendium or trying to fuse a specific Persona I’d ask them to join my cause. While grinding I’d use an All-Out Attack to earn more XP. In a pinch I’d demand an item. The new system let me reap the benefits I needed at that point in my playthrough.

Palaces are areas given form by the distorted desires of powerful, corrupted individuals, while the process of infiltrating is akin to pulling off a heist. You need to identify your target by conducting investigations in the real world, then enter the Palace to explore it and secure an infiltration route. Once you’ve located the corrupted heart of the individual–represented as an ethereal Treasure–you send a calling card to the target in the real world. This act of showmanship not only alerts the world to the target’s misdeeds but also gives physical form to the Treasure in the Palace so it can be stolen.

And those Palaces are the best dungeons the series has ever had. No longer are you climbing through levels of procedurally generated corridors to reach a boss at the top. Instead, each Palace contains a myriad of puzzles to crack, traps to avoid, and of course, Shadows to defeat. They are intricate, striking locations that unravel as you explore them, each varying in size, scope, and gameplay opportunities. One is a rat maze filled with locked doors and looping hallways, another is a giant safe that you need to crack, and one is a crumbling pyramid filled with walking mummies. They feel almost like different worlds from a Mario game, each uniquely themed and cycling through gameplay ideas like cards in a rolodex.

As Phantom Thieves, you sneak through halls, darting between cover and jumping over obstacles. As you slink into the shadows and ambush an unsuspecting enemy, getting in that crucial first shot, you realize that these Palaces are designed for you to be sneaky. And it feels really satisfying to bounce between coverpoints and ambush an enemy … when it works. Although you’re encouraged to take enemies out sneakily, doing so is made difficult by the game’s uncooperative camera, which often restricts your view. Similarly, clambering over obstacles doesn’t quite feel as good as it should. There are specific spots that you can climb up to access more areas and I often missed these because I wasn’t standing in the pixel perfect point to get the prompt needed to jump.

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But honestly, this is nitpicking. I loved my time in each of the Palaces, wandering around using my Third Eye Ability to uncover secrets and steal treasures, feeling like Batman on Opposite Day. Its puzzles never became too taxing, even in later dungeons that required backtracking to find a specific item, enemy, or switch using the Third Eye. In these areas the game mercifully opens up shortcuts for you, so you don’t feel like you’re wasting too much time.

Persona 5 has a hefty run time and while the story remains engaging until its final moments, the gameplay has some pacing issues towards the end. Balance in such a huge game is tricky. I played on Normal difficulty, and for the vast majority of the game enemies felt well-matched to my level. Persona 5 has a hefty run time and while the story remains engaging until its final moments, the gameplay has some pacing issues towards the end. Instakill attacks, a short supply of elemental power-refuelling SP items, and going long stretches of miniboss after miniboss without a save point mean the latter stages can sometimes feel more frustrating than enjoyable. I’ve been wiped out half an hour into a fight on multiple occasions, and I’m still a bit bitter.

But Palaces are just one part of the Metaverse. Once you take a Treasure, Palaces collapse, so they’re not really the place to grind for levels. For those that enjoy the grind-heavy areas of P3’s Tartarus and P4’s randomly generated dungeons there’s Mementos–society’s joint Palace, which takes the form of the depths of Tokyo’s subway system. This area is long, with many procedurally generated levels spiralling down towards a mysterious, seemingly unreachable core. It would feel like a monotonous job were it not for the Phansite. One of your Confidants believes so much in the plight of the Phantom Thieves that he sets up a website where members of the public can leave messages of support (or memes).

More importantly, Phansite users can suggest people they think deserve a change of heart. These are figures that aren’t quite evil enough to have their own Palace, but who are still misbehaving enough to spawn a demi-boss within Mementos. These side stories of abusive boyfriends, scammers, and thieves are mere tasters–bite size chunks of justice that you can dole out at your leisure while grinding for experience. Infiltrating Palaces can sometimes take hours, so quickly dealing with a few Phansite Requests in one go is a satisfying microcosm of the larger gameplay loop in Persona 5. Plus it made me feel like Judge Dredd, dishing out justice as I saw fit to clean up the city.

Persona 5 creates a rewarding synergy between its social simulator and dungeon crawling by making everyday activities in the former empower you in the latter. With limited time in each day and a constant deadline to steal Treasures by, it’s up to the player to prioritize after-school and weekend activities. Attributes such as Knowledge, Charm, Proficiency, and Guts can be improved by studying, working in part-time jobs, crafting tools, or watching DVDs. In turn, these enable you to build deeper bonds with other characters to strengthen yourself and your cause.

Persona games live and die on characterisation as much as they do on the RPG mechanics that underpin the gameplay, and in that respect the latest entry delivers a cast that is loveable, quirky, and nuanced in equal measure. Although the main group neatly fits into classic anime archetypes initially, over time everyone reveals the baggage they carry and, as you solidify your bonds, they start to show their complexities, creating emotional moments where you work through their pain together.

Sometimes their goals will align with yours and sometimes they won’t, so the group can be a little rowdier than previous Persona teams–but that only adds to the experience. I loved that you really had to invest time and effort into each character to crack their personality and unlock how they truly felt. Morgana the amnesic talking cat (it is a Japanese game, after all) is shrouded in mystery, determined to learn about his forgotten past. The quirky Futaba, despite suffering from extreme social anxiety, is the strategic genius behind the group’s Metaverse adventures. Ryuji’s boisterousness is both the energy the team needs to push forward and the powder keg that could be its undoing. And Ann deals with issues of self-doubt in the competitive field of modelling. These characters grow and change as you spend more time with them: They go from being mechanical tools that you engage with to strengthen their Personas, to real people you can identify and sympathize with. By the time the credits rolled, I felt like I was leaving behind friends I had known for years.

Building these relationships with teammates is key to success in the Metaverse. Increasing Confidant Ranks (a rebrand of the Social Link system from Persona 4) by spending time with each of your friends not only affords you deeper insight into their personalities, but also provides bonuses and special moves in battle. A teammate who initially was closed off and distant in the real world can end up literally taking a bullet for you in the Metaverse. Similarly, by improving your personal traits through daily activities you can meet a variety of side-characters that teach you new abilities or offer bonuses that feed back into the battle system.

More than any entry in the series before it, Persona 5 manages to make the mundane not only fit into its gameplay loop but be essential to it. Atlus has perfected the back and forth investment and reward dynamic between the game’s two parts to point where even doing laundry is gratifying–and how many games can you say that about?

While there are moments of levity in Persona 5, the actions of the Phantom Thieves are important and often have much bigger implications than even they intended. Persona 5 deals with complex subject matter and really doesn’t shy away from dark, even uncomfortable, story beats. A constant theme of the game is oppression and injustice, specifically how people can be suffering them in silence. It uses personal hardships and the pressures of modern day society to explore how the actions of the older generation affect the future of the youth. But there’s also an optimism to it all. Its cast approaches complex issues and takes on overwhelming odds with a clarity and gusto that can only be born from teenage naivety, and there’s a refreshing, cathartic quality to being part of that. But of course, just like in the real world, things aren’t always black and white, and the game does an excellent job of showing how even well-meaning actions can have adverse consequences.

Narratively and thematically, Persona 5 has the potential to overwhelm–particularly once it starts digging into Jungian theories of psychology. Thankfully, however, the writing does a fantastic job of eliminating unnecessary exposition, which ensures the important storylines are clear and everyone–especially series newcomers–is on the same page. It means the first ten hours are a little slow, and may make a lot of surface level observations, but not to the detriment of the story or its characters. Even with the heavy subject matter, it doesn’t become overbearing and in fact is filled with little jokes and easter eggs to lighten the mood where appropriate. The localisation team has done a superb job of translating the comedy for a Western audience, too. I’m a big fan of the DVDs you can rent–spoofs of popular Western media like ‘The X-Folders’ or ‘Bubbly Hills, 90210.’

Within Persona 5 is a complex set of interconnected gameplay mechanics, and in almost every aspect Atlus has executed on its vision exceptionally, barring the pacing issues towards the end. At every turn, it presents something to marvel at, whether it’s the fluid combat, vibrant world, or the many memorable characters. It’s a game I could talk about for hours; I haven’t mentioned the ability to connect to the Thieves Guild, which lets you see how other players spent their day or ask them for help answering questions at school. Or the thumping acid-jazz-infused soundtrack that I’ve not been able to get out of my head. Or even just the joy of seeing how it stylishly transitions between menus. But that encapsulates why Persona 5 is a game that shouldn’t be missed. It’s stuffed to bursting point with gameplay ideas and presentation flourishes–there’s an overwhelming level of artistry in every part of Persona 5, making it a truly standout entry in the series. It’s a refined, effortlessly stylish RPG that will be talked about for years to come.

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Parappa The Rapper Remastered Review For PS4

You can pretty much count the number of PlayStation games from 1996 that actually stand the test of time on a single hand, but Parappa the Rapper is a particularly egregious example of a game that had a deep problem even back then: it’s a rhythm game that can’t keep rhythm.

At their worst, broken games are a valuable lesson in what not to do. But at their best, you get games that overcome major technical shortcomings to deliver exceptional experiences despite their flaws. Parappa the Rapper is almost–almost–in that latter category. After all, it’s difficult to put down a game about a rapping dog trying to win the affection of an anthropomorphic sunflower by learning karate from a giant onion, getting his driver’s license from a moose, and nearly screwing up his date with her because he can’t find a toilet to pee in.

While Parappa and the world he inhabits are amusing, the game he stars in is frustrating to play. The foundation of the game is a call-and-response system: in each stage Parappa is paired with a wacky character with some wisdom to impart via the power of hip-hop. The stage master will drop a silly, nonsense rhyme, each syllable of which corresponds to a timed button press on the controller. You need to copy the pattern and respond with a rhyme of your own.

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It’s a simple enough premise, but as with the original, the remastered version of Parappa the Rapper struggles to find its rhythm. Trying to match button presses exactly with what you see on screen will result in failure. What ultimately works is hitting the syllables in some invisible sweet spot that seems to be unique to each master, which means gameplay feels more predicated on luck than rhythm. Regardless, even when Parappa’s rhymes do play out on time, he sounds like a dying Siri.

The kicker is that the game has an Easy mode that eases the odd and strict timing for each note, but–in another one of those touches that could only have come from the mid-’90s–only the first three stages of the game are playable when you knock the difficulty down, and your scores aren’t saved. Oddly, the game’s original cutscenes remain untouched–they’re presented in tiny boxes, in their original low-res form.

It’s an awful rhythm game. All the more awful because I was compelled to continue playing despite its obvious flaws.

Despite its issues, Parappa the Rapper has an infectious spirit. Its bright and unmistakable aesthetic lends the game an undeniable charm, especially since the remaster smooths out the original’s jagged pixels. The tonal weirdness makes its craziest moments unforgettable. The raps are Sesame Street levels of rudimentary yet silly enough to be memorable, and the constant repetition of failing and retrying stages hammers them into your brain like musical nails.

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The linchpin is the game’s attitude. Parappa himself is a loser with no money or prospects who spends his entire day hanging out with his loser friends. He’s also constantly being shown up by the very rich and very lame Joe Chin, who shows up in every cutscene to demonstrate how much better he is. And yet, every time the chips are down, Parappa springs up, screams “I gotta believe!” and does something crazy to match Joe with the sheer size of his heart. Parappa is the G-rated version of 8 Mile’s B-Rabbit, and his willingness to overcome every obstacle in his silly life with the power of belief is so charming, it’s easy to forget you’re getting torn apart on the scoreboard.

There’s a generation of gamers who will find Parappa the Rapper Remastered validates all their happiest memories watching Parappa kicking and spinning with Chop Chop Master Onion again, more vibrant and colorful than ever before. But there will come a point when they have to confront how incongruous the aggravating gameplay is with how delightful everything else around it is. The aesthetics and vibe are still unlike anything else out there, and they’re still worth the hassle. But the greatest trick Parappa the Rapper ever pulled was convincing the world it’s not a broken game.

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Gravity Rush 2 Reviews For PS4

Gravity Rush 2 Reviews For PS4

The original Gravity Rush had many positive qualities, but controlling Kat, its upbeat and unusually skilled hero, was the reason to play the game. With the ability to control her center of gravity, you could walk on walls and ceilings, and–most important of all–fly through a magnificent floating city in the clouds. The unusual gravity-based nature of Kat’s powers made the age-old concept of flight feel fresh and managed to carry the imaginative yet underdeveloped adventure. But by the end, with untapped potential and numerous unanswered questions hanging in the air, Gravity Rush felt like it needed a sequel to finish its tale.

More than just a simple follow-up, Gravity Rush 2 exceeds expectations, filling in lingering gaps while simultaneously telling a new story. It also crucially doubles down on depth and scale, significantly increasing the scope of the adventure and the number of optional missions. Like the first game, you spend most of your time peacefully flying around looking for key items and characters to move the story along. But when the alien-like Nevi appear, Kat turns full action superhero.

Kat can pick off small enemies or weaken large brutes from a distance by magically throwing inanimate objects, but you typically rely on her kick abilities to get the job done–quick-and-dirty combos on the ground and measured homing attacks in midair. Nevi have sensitive red orbs on their bodies, and while you’re required to target them to inflict damage, built-in aiming assists make your life a little easier.

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Kat eventually learns two new “styles” that mix up her relationship with gravity. Rather than merely changing the direction of gravity and falling at a fixed speed, the Lunar style makes Kat move in a floaty manner, with persistent low gravity, and makes her auto-targeting more effective. It also gives her the ability to leap great distances. The Jupiter style allows Kat to hit harder, but she moves in a much more deliberate, weighty manner. Kat’s powers never feel lacking to begin with, but these additions give you a few new tools to wield during combat. Thankfully, you’re rarely forced to use one style over the rest, so you’re free to experiment and devise your own fighting style most of the time.

Fighting in midair in Gravity Rush 2 feels a lot like it did in the first game: exciting and unusual, and at the mercy of the camera. It’s relatively easy to look past this issue since the camera only gets temperamental on occasion, but during tense, prolonged battles, this issue isn’t as easy to reconcile.

More than just a simple follow-up, Gravity Rush 2 exceeds expectations, filling in lingering gaps while simultaneously telling a new story. Kat’s story is reestablished months after the conclusion of the first game, though you spend quite a bit of time in new locations before reconnecting with her past. After the appearance of a mysterious gravity storm, Kat and her detective friend Syd are violently whisked away to a mining camp. Dusty, Kat’s feline guardian and the source of her power, is nowhere to be found.

Before she can locate Dusty and regain her powers, Kat has to navigate a slave-like existence at the camp. While this section does feel a little deflating given that Kat’s powers are the first thing you want to explore, it thankfully doesn’t last too long. If nothing else, the intro helps set up the new cast of characters and a new conflict for Kat and Syd to wrestle with.

After you break out of the intro, you’re brought to a divided society where the rich live in opulence above the clouds, while the poor try to scrape by below. In working to bridge the gap between the two social classes, you come to realize that the poor aren’t the ill-natured thieves the rich make them out to be; the rich, on the other hand, are mostly as slimy and greedy as you imagine. The examinations of these topics aren’t revelatory or groundbreaking–Gravity Rush 2 loves silver linings–but they lend a small amount of relatability to the otherworldly realm.

Given the open world nature of the game, you’re free to explore its locales and pick from a selection of activities and missions that are automatically pinpointed on your map. With over 20 episodes and at least 40 side missions–including skill trials–boredom is never an issue. Through expressive avatars and minimal but effective voice acting–and the joy of flight, naturally–even basic missions are a treat and rarely feel like filler content. Gravity Rush 2 goes to great lengths to connect side missions back to the main story too, revealing new facets of seemingly minor characters that enhance your understanding of their position in society–and, thus, your perspective of the bigger picture.

Simply flying around the world is a captivating experience in its own right, both for the innate thrill of flight and for the beauty of your surroundings. The only types of missions that wear thin are those that force basic stealth rules. Sometimes you have to sneak around a soldier-filled base and avoid their sightlines while you make for a key location, or you may trail a suspicious character to gather intel. These brief missions aren’t very challenging, but should you be spotted, you’re immediately kicked back to the last checkpoint. They aren’t a major intrusion, but by and large, these missions fail to leverage Kat’s strengths, and come across as dull compared to the rest of her high-flying adventure.

Truth be told, you don’t even need to engage with missions to enjoy yourself. Simply flying around the world is a captivating experience in its own right, both for the innate thrill of flight and for the beauty of your surroundings. The world pops with color and character, building on the first game’s strong, Studio Ghibli-esque visuals. And basic exploration is once again made more rewarding by the hundreds of gems–used for ability upgrades–strewn across the map. Kat flies with an awkward grace that feels totally unique, and though you occasionally need to let her fall for a second or two to recharge her power during a long flight, there’s an undeniable sense of freedom to flying through the world, unencumbered by architecture or enemies.

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Beyond littering the world with collectible gems, Gravity Rush 2 incentivizes casual exploration by introducing emergent events, generated by other people playing the game. On a regular basis, notifications pop up when you’re flying to and fro, indicating a nearby treasure hunt. Accept the challenge and you’re whisked away to a specific point on the map. You’re then given a chance to examine a photo of the relevant location in order to pinpoint landmarks and zero in on a treasure chest within a limited amount of time. This provides a fun diversion that tests your observation and navigation skills in new ways, and if you generate a photo that helps another player successfully locate some treasure, you’ll receive a small reward for your work. It’s a small touch, but treasure hunts also reinforce the feeling that you’re part of world that operates independently of your adventure, befitting the new large, lively open world.

After more than a dozen hours of helping the poor, supporting your friends, and uncovering corruption at the highest levels of government, Gravity Rush 2 concludes its new tale before revisiting Kat’s origin story. In the final act, you discover the answers to the biggest mysteries laid out in both games. You have to do a little detective work at first to get the ball rolling, but once you find the path forward, Gravity Rush 2 delivers a series of exciting, over-the-top boss battles–one with an unmistakable likeness to the olympic stadium battle from Akira–and narrative-heavy scenes that delve into Kat’s pre-Gravity Rush past.

With a wealth of stories big and small to chew on, Gravity Rush 2 fulfills the needs of both a sequel and a prequel. The first Gravity Rush had enough going for it, but Gravity Rush 2 is stuffed with things to love. While its stealth missions are lame and it’s disappointing to experience camera issues from time to time, Gravity Rush 2 excels in almost every other respect, making its predecessor seem quaint by comparison. This is easily one of the best video game sequels in recent memory, and an adventure truly worthy of its excellent lead character.

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Pokemon Go Review–Game Review

POKEMON GO REVIEW

Pokemon Go, described in simple terms, is a clever concept: Walk to real-life locations called PokeStops marked on a map on your phone to get items and collect the Pokemon that pop up along the way to gain XP. Use those Pokemon to take over real-world objectives called Gyms from other players. It has all the basics covered to make it a functional mobile treasure-hunting app, though technically its performance (and that of its servers) is often very poor on iOS and Android. But the main appeal of the free-to-play Pokemon Go is how being out in the real world, finding tons of other people who see the same augmented reality you do, brings the sort of intangible dream of Pokemon to life.

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It has to be experienced to really make sense; without that social aspect it’s really just an extremely light RPG level-grinder. Pokemon Go’s success or failure hinges on that experience, and right now it’s stuck somewhere in between, simultaneously fun and unique but also inconsistent and incomplete. (It is, after all, listed as version 0.29 despite being released onto the App Store and Google Play without caveats.) It’s not mechanically interesting, but it is socially very interesting thanks to a few smart design decisions. You wouldn’t jump off a bridge because everybody’s doing it, but that is a great reason to play Pokemon Go.

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how to play Pokemon Go

Welcome to the World of Pokemon At least in the short term, Pokemon Go is a proven phenomenon with millions of players. I was at a party in the San Francisco Bay Area over the weekend where at least two dozen adults were out on the front lawn, calling out the names of Pokemon as they appeared on our phones. We ran inside when someone claimed a Bulbasaur was in the fridge; we ran back outside for Ponyta. We walked a block or two to challenge a nearby Gym only to have it taken over right from under us by someone we didn’t know and couldn’t see, and we all had the app crash on us a few too many times during our hour out and about. It was silly and frustrating and fun all at once.

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Pokemon Go’s setup

The San Francisco area is admittedly really well-suited to Pokemon Go’s setup — your mileage may vary if you’re out in a remote area with few points of public interest around. Here, it feels like there’s no shortage of PokeStops to visit, and on multiple occasions I arrived at a PokeStop or Gym only to find that a group of other people playing Pokemon Go was already there. I also learned a lot about my neighborhood and the landmarks I walk by every day just by taking meandering walks to PokeStops, which was one of the best things about the times I played Pokemon Go by myself. In this environment, at least, Pokemon Go’s design — the RPG-lite level system combined with the collection aspect and the nostalgia only a hugely popular, decades-long franchise can bring — all build to the kind of experience that developer Niantic wanted, the kind the trailer seems to evoke.

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people playing Pokemon Go

“ It feels like the whole world is playing Pokemon Go.

I was drawn to Pokemon Go for that real-life Pokemon Trainer dream, but even when that aspect of it underwhelmed me with its simplicity and bugginess, I keep playing because having to go outside puts me in front of new places surrounded by other people doing exactly what I’m doing. All of my friends are playing, random passers-by are playing; it feels like all of the world is playing.

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Pokemon games

When It’s Not Very Effective But this is a precarious house of cards built on top of a wobbly foundation of nostalgia. For the most part, Pokemon Go’s design as a paper-thin RPG is super accessible, but it’s completely unremarkable. You as a trainer have a level, and your captured Pokemon have “combat points” tied to your level, but none of that relationship is explained very well and thus feels confusing. It turns out that your level impacts the combat point ceiling of Pokemon you acquire, which is essentially how catching Pokemon in the regular games works… but just not as polished or intuitive, even to long-time Pokemon players. Fortunately (in a way) combat lacks the depth of traditional Pokemon games, so it barely matters.

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Pokemon’s rock-paper-scissors

Battles for control of Gym locations are nothing more than simple, real-time tapping-based combat, and it’s virtually unaffected by anything other than combat point value. Even Pokemon’s rock-paper-scissors type matchups hardly matter, either — if you have the higher-powered monster, you’re all but guaranteed to win. It’s boring by itself and, like the combat points system, isn’t explained well. (There’s dodging, but it doesn’t seem to do much to turn the tide of a fight.) It’s not that the only acceptable form of combat is turn-based and tactical, but the system in its place here is simply a dull chore after just a few fights.

On top of that, the app itself is stuttery, crashy, and performs inconsistently. There are updates that help with this, and it’s not a dealbreaker, but it’s often frustrating. I’ve lost semi-rare Pokemon to random crashes that struck during crucial moments (though sometimes those seemingly escaped Pokemon show up as caught once I reload after the crash).

“ Pokemon Go’s biggest weaknesses are more a matter of the features it doesn’t yet have than the ones it does.

Pokemon Go’s biggest weaknesses are more a matter of the features it doesn’t yet have than the ones it does, though. There’s no trading, no player-versus-player battles (you only fight automated Pokemon left to defend Gyms), no friends list, no leaderboards, and no in-app social capability of any kind, other than how we’re all prompted to group into one of three competing teams. Some of these features are in the works, but right now, the most interesting thing about Pokemon Go is not its gameplay but how its design encourages personal connections with other real-world players by physically bringing us together as we all chase common goals. Collecting is fun for a while, but without more things to do with those Pokemon or my Trainer profile, it feels a little empty at times.

The Power That’s Inside Battling against that emptiness are a few key things that keep Pokemon Go together. In order to power up or evolve a Pokemon you’ve captured, you have to catch duplicates of its species — sometimes many, many duplicates. Transferring the weaker ones out of your bank of available Pokemon earns you “candies” for that species to fuel power-ups. It seriously takes the sting out of finding yet another Zubat, something that the main Pokemon games never quite solve. In Pokemon Go, I want to catch that hundredth Zubat so I can farm it for power-up potential.

There’s also an area-of-effect item that all players can use for a limited time: lures. One person can place a lure at any PokeStop, which increases the number of Pokemon that will show up. The cool thing about them is that they lure people in addition to Pokemon — I pulled over while driving because my friend said there were lures nearby, and we ran into the people who had placed them. Wanting to catch Pokemon means more lures, which keeps the community alive. It’s one of the smartest design choices in Pokemon Go.

“ A few key design choices keep Pokemon Go’s community alive.

That drive and incentive to catch ‘em all keeps me walking and venturing out of my way (I walked all the way around a hospital yesterday) to catch even more Pokemon. I mostly want stronger Pokemon to take over Gyms for my team, even though combat is boring. There’s just something satisfying about holding an objective that every other person playing can see, and the draw of taking territory for my team kept me coming back when the battle had long since worn out its welcome. It also helps that taking over a Gym nets you in-game currency, and I’ve found that spending real money on microtransactions isn’t strictly necessary. I haven’t bought any of the in-game money since I can find items and earn coins from playing as normal, and I haven’t felt pressured to do so in order to keep playing at the aggressive pace I’ve been going at.

All of this, even if it’s not too complicated, encourages more walking around, which it keeps everyone playing and encountering each other. That in turn feeds the real-world aspect that makes Pokemon Go special. It’s just a matter of whether people continue to play.

The Verdict Right now, Pokemon Go is an incredible, can’t-miss social experience — like Pokemon is actually real and everyone is on board — but its RPG mechanics and combat don’t have nearly enough depth to support itself in the long term. If people start to lose interest due to its lack of depth once the novelty of seeing Pokemon pop up around their everyday lives expires, the community will fall apart and the spell will be broken. What Pokemon Go needs is more features to support that real-world interaction. Things like Pokemon trading and leaderboards, which developer Niantic says are incoming, could keep that momentum up. Even if it will be short-lived, though, there’s no doubt it’s exciting to be a part of while it lasts.