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Pinstripe for PC Reviews

Pinstripe Reviews

Pinstripe is a game about descending into Hell to atone for unjustly taking a life. As you explore an underworld fit for a stop-motion Tim Burton film, thoughts of revenge, anguish, and disgust begin to creep in. Though the presentation of these themes is tantalizingly sinister at times, the ultimate impact of confronting them is dulled by pervasive storytelling issues and tedious mechanics, making this less an examination of heartbreak and more a tale of monotony.

Pinstripe’s doomed protagonist is a gaunt priest named Ted, who, along with his daughter Bo, are introduced onboard a moving train. In her juvenile naivete, Bo suggests the pair play detective and investigate nearby traces of smoke, with Ted in the role of Sherlock and her the part of Watson. Some time after exploring the various carts, they stumble upon an ominous man with piercing yellow eyes and a lit cigarette named Mr. Pinstripe, who asks whether Bo likes balloons and if she wants a shiny black one. Moments of grotesque leering later, Mr. Pinstripe kidnaps Bo, exclaiming that she’ll soon call him “father.” With his young daughter in the hands of the titular evil, Ted must go above and beyond to recover his child and punish her abductor.

Pinstripe falls in line with most tales involving kidnapping and revenge: A weak character is rendered vulnerable by a dark presence, and a hero rises to set things right and serve justice. There’s nothing wrong with the revenge trope, but Pinstripe implements it in such a way that makes the narrative feel pedestrian. Bo’s cries for help and Ted’s supposed resilience and determination come across as contrived and shallow, failing to inspire emotional attachment to either character, let alone inspire sympathy. However muted its retribution plot is, Pinstripe’s dialogue exudes childlike wonder, exemplified in the villain’s use of sanitized insults like “screw pod” or “hump face,” which sounds reminiscent of a children’s storybook and elicits a chuckle.

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When its childlike voice takes a break, Pinstripe’s haunting aesthetic–driven by gothic and Edwardian-era influence–takes center stage. Its melancholy world is paired with a dreamy soundtrack that feeds off of Hell’s spooky atmosphere. The Sack Chute level, for example, is engulfed in a thick darkness that makes navigation difficult, playing to a fear of the unknown; only Ted’s headlight peering through the dark allows for a cone of vision. This limited view imbues tension, as you can only see what’s in front of you–things grotesque and covered in slime. It’s here in the ambiance, atmosphere, and sound that Pinstripe’s dread takes hold.

When its childlike voice takes a break, Pinstripe’s haunting aesthetic–driven by gothic and Edwardian-era influence–takes center stage.

Pinstripe is a platformer first and a puzzle game second, and though none of its challenges are difficult by design, Ted’s floaty leaps complicate even basic platforming tasks in practice. Getting him onto platforms when necessary is often irritating, especially during timed puzzles.

Awkward platforming aside, Pinstripe’s many puzzles are typically on the easy side. The only time-consuming riddles are those that require you to piece together seemingly benign artifacts in the environment, but these moments are easily resolved through trial-and-error by poking and prodding at anything that looks suspicious until you hear a chime. These puzzles bring diversity to the adventure, but they ultimately feel like unnecessary speed bumps.

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You eventually encounter enemies, armed with nothing but a slingshot to defend yourself. These battles seem easy at first glance, however, the slightest flick of the analog stick will fling the reticle, making it unusually difficult to precisely aim at and hit your target. The game doesn’t include many battles, thankfully, and few of Hell’s enemies pose much of a threat despite the ineffective aiming system–the same can even be said of the final boss. Underwhelming and easily exploited, the ultimate bad guy can be defeated by ducking in a corner and button mashing, in very little time.

Regrettably, Pinstripe’s rich atmosphere is overpowered by these types of issues. Enemies need only a few shots to defeat, puzzles need only a couple of tries to solve, and the final boss can be exploited to oblivion. And because the story lacks emotional weight or resonance, once the credits roll, you’ll quickly forget Ted and Bo’s struggle, the puzzles you solved, the conclusion to what could have been a memorably haunting trip through Hell.

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Star Trek: Bridge Crew PS4 Review

Star Trek: Bridge Crew Review

For better and worse, Star Trek: Bridge Crew is exactly what’s advertised–it’s a virtual-reality simulation of operating a Federation starship. For the first few moments, the sheer thrill of taking the Captain’s chair in VR, looking around you to see crew members all working away at their stations, and issuing your first commands is all wonderful and novel. But the second you start yearning for new life, new civilizations, and to boldly go where no one has gone before, you find a game nowhere near that ambitious.

Set in the J.J. Abrams Trek universe, Bridge Crew’s single-player campaign centers around the U.S.S. Aegis–which, after a brief training mission, sets forth on its task to help the Vulcans find a new home. This mission takes the Aegis into a Klingon-controlled territory, the Trench, and into the heart of a potentially ugly interstellar incident. You can fill one of four roles aboard the ship: the Captain issues orders to every other department from the holographic menu built into the player’s chair, the Helm puts you in the driver’s seat, Tactical handles shields and weaponry, and Engineering determines how much power gets shifted to the ship’s vital systems.

The single-player campaign is brief, but it acts as an extended tutorial on the ins and outs of running a starship. From the Captain’s chair, you receive orders from Starfleet and issue the commands that lead the Aegis ever forward. However, particularly in single-player, those commands aren’t as simple as just telling your crew to move forward at quarter impulse or fire phasers. Instead, they’re a piece-by-piece process that must be followed and timed just right, with every crew member involved performing their duties with precision. In single-player, even something as simple as warping involves opening a menu, setting the correct course, telling engineering to power up the warp drive, having the helm align the ship towards the target location, and finally issuing the order to perform the warp. The process becomes second nature over time, especially with a proper VR controller like the Playstation Move to navigate the menu-heavy UI.

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You also have the ability to temporarily switch to another position to take manual control over the ship’s various functions and levers in single-player, but it’s a lot to manage and not nearly the simple power trip you might expect. A.I.-controlled crew members have a nasty habit of being complete knuckleheads who don’t know how to properly and strategically fly around obstacles when pursuing a target.

Bridge Crew is somewhat more immersive in multiplayer, where you can speak directly to your crew and coordinate actions by voice, but you need to meet certain requirements for it to go smoothly: four trustworthy crew members, all of whom know their roles inside and out, and who can pull it together long enough to take the game even marginally seriously enough to get through the trickier missions. The situation is helped by the fact that, thankfully, the game supports Cross-Play between PSVR, Rift, and Vive users, meaning there’s typically no shortage of players to fill all four roles. However, since voice chat goes through all sorts of different protocols via the uPlay service, consistent communication remains a problem. Even then, that’s assuming you’re not stuck with someone who won’t stop quoting Galaxy Quest instead of remembering to keep your ship in low-detection mode in Klingon territory.

It didn’t happen often in my time with Bridge Crew, but sometimes the stars did, in fact, align with the right kind of crew: cheerful without being overly silly, strong in their roles, intuitive enough to question an order without the bridge descending into chaos, and being just plain fun, amiable companions. And once that miracle is accomplished, you’re left to contend with Bridge Crew as a game. And that game is, ultimately, a fairly milquetoast space shooter.

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The big issue really comes down to the fact that experiencing the minutiae of running a Starfleet ship is such a thin, pedantic aspect of what makes Star Trek a fascinating universe to play around in. It’s always been strong character work and far-reaching sci-fi ideas and allegory that have elevated the dry space-navy material. There isn’t nearly enough of the former here. The single-player campaign has a story, one that’s even a decent jumping-off point from the Abrams films (albeit one that’s deeply reminiscent of Mass Effect: Andromeda), but you aren’t making the truly hard decisions that define the best Starfleet captains, nor are you able to interact with your crew or even the ship outside of the bridge room in any meaningful way.

Even Trek’s infamous no-win Kobayashi Maru scenario–playable here as part of the game’s introductory chapter–ends up as little more than a mindless shootout while attempting to transport the doomed vessel’s crew. The remainder of the campaign never really rises above that, content to be a game of traveling between systems, scanning areas and artifacts, transporting life forms, and fending off Klingon Birds of Prey from time to time. It’s a game that crucially needs more interesting challenges that can’t be solved with phasers.

It’s still somewhat thrilling to inhabit the captain’s chair on the bridge of a starship–at the bare minimum, Star Trek: Bridge Crew accomplishes that mission. When the game is at its best, the spirit of cooperation between various asymmetrical elements is encouraging–even special. In every other regard, however, Bridge Crew is forgettable the second you pull out of VR.

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Failure To Fame: The Story Of Arkane Studios

Failure To Fame: The Story Of Arkane Studios

Arkane Studios is a developer that has made its mark in the industry creating games, like the Dishonored series and this year’s Prey, that follow in the tradition of classic first-person immersive simulators on PC. But how did the studio come to be and who are its major players? In this three-part behind-the-scenes video series, GameSpot travels to Arkane Studios to explore the history of the team, the roots of modern first-person RPGs, and the decade-long struggle that led to the studio’s current fame.

Part one gives us a look at Arkane’s breakout hit, Dishonored. Part two delves into the origins of the immersive sims and the genre’s influence on the studio. And the final part gives us insight on how Arkane learned from these early games, its struggles to iterate on its own work, and its hopes for the future.

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For more videos like this, watch our GameSpot Studios documentaries on Mass Effect Andromeda and the history of Relic Entertainment. You can also check out our full GameSpot Studios playlist on YouTube.

Part 1: How Dishonored Saved Arkane Studios

Arkane discusses its struggles to find success for 12 years, how Dishonored propelled the studio into the limelight, and helped revive immersive sim RPGs.

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Part 2: The Secret Origins Of Arkane Studios

GameSpot tracks down Richard Garriott and Warren Spector, two legendary developers who helped pioneer immersive sim RPGs in the ’90s, to discuss how they mentored the members of Arkane Studios.

Part 3: How Arkane Studios Mastered a Genre

We talk to Arkane about the challenges that came with the success of Dishonored, the problems with making a sequel, how Prey develops the studio’s identity, and where the team wants to go in the future.

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Werewolves Within For PC Reviews

Werewolves Within Reviews

There’s a certain thrill to a well-designed lie. You know it’s something you’re not “supposed” to do, but crafting an airtight fib is a test of imagination, improvisation, and grace under pressure. There are a lot of ways a lie can fall apart, though. Someone who knows for a fact that you aren’t telling the truth can call you out on your deception. Do you double down and accuse this person of lying, come up with a new lie, or clam up because you know you’ve been caught? The best moments of Ubisoft’s Werewolves Within test your ability to handle those precise situations.

Werewolves Within is a multiplayer VR game for Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR, and the basic concept should be familiar to anyone who ever played Mafia, Werewolf, or similar card games. Players are placed into groups of eight and then assigned a role to determine their win conditions. Villagers have to work together and figure out who the Werewolves are. Werewolves have to lie and misdirect the Villagers, or ensure their victory by having themselves and any other Werewolves vote unanimously for the saint. The Deviant has to convince everyone else that they’re a Werewolf–if the Deviant is voted out, they win.

If you’re a non-Saint villager, things start off relatively straightforward. You can tell everyone else your role. If you’re a Tracker or a Gossip or an Astrologer, you have abilities that reveal information about the roles of those around you. Houndsmen can “sniff” the players sitting next to them and learn their roles. Trackers know if there’s at least one “Werewolf” in half the group to one of their sides. Gossips have information that may or may not be true about members of the group.

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But Werewolves and Deviants throw wrenches in these plans. If you’re a Werewolf, how do you throw the party off your trail? One tactic is to wait for another member of the group to claim they had one specific Villager role–and then say they were lying, and that you have that role, casting aspersions on other party members. Deviants add even more chaos because it’s their job to act as suspicious as possible.

As a Villager, it’s impossible to have perfect information about the party because you never know who is lying to you. Good werewolves sow dissent amongst the party til it’s total chaos and all of the villagers are at each other’s throats because they don’t know who to believe. The best deviants will be so wily that they’ll have you convinced they’re a werewolf who barely understands the rules of the game and is just asking to be caught.

For a game built entirely around social interaction, Werewolves Within unfortunately doesn’t have enough safeguards in place to deal with abusive or inappropriate players. The game offers “mute” and “kick” options, but muting another player is pointless because all players need to be able to speak in order for the game to work, and kicking a player requires a majority vote from the group–a rare occurrence.

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Bad apples aside, Werewolves Within proves that VR doesn’t have to feel like an isolating experience. The immersion it affords makes you all the more convinced that you’re sitting in a circle, conversing group of people. Your avatar’s head follows where you, the player, are looking, so if you’re lying to another player about your role, there’s a good chance you’re looking them right in their “eyes” as you do it.

It isn’t just the immersive nature of VR that makes the social stuff work so well. Player avatars are thoughtfully animated; when you speak, they move their mouths and gesticulate to communicate a wide range of emotions. The avatars can be so convincing that they become almost indistinguishable from the player controlling them after only a few rounds. The only exception is when a player’s voice is dropped mid sentence–a bug that’s unfortunately common.

There are so many ways that a Werewolves Within match can go down that it’s also a shame the overall game is somewhat threadbare at launch. There’s a single game mode, and that’s it. Additionally, there’s no ranking system or even a way to keep track of your stats. If you want to know how often you win as a Werewolf versus how often you win as a Villager, you’re out of luck. The game keeps track of no information of any kind besides trophies, which is a shame, because the core game offers so much to pick apart.

A week after launch, Werewolves Within has a seemingly dedicated player base, though not one big enough to prevent occasionally waiting 20 minutes for a “quick match.” But the best matches–with a good group–are hair-raising, pulse-quickening experiences that are worth the wait. If Ubisoft can find a way to expand the community and add more incentives to return to the game, it’s easy to see Werewolves Within becoming a regular haven for players looking to test their guile in VR.

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Shovel Knight: Specter Of Torment Review For NS

Shovel Knight is defined by its likeness to games from the era of 8-bit consoles. It takes inspiration from games like Mega Man and Ducktales not only in its pixel- and pitch-perfect audiovisual aesthetic, but also in its mechanics–Shovel Knight is a resolutely unforgiving 2D platformer. Peril is almost always present on screen–be it a bottomless pit or a tough enemy that can quickly whittle down your health–making this a game that demands your undivided attention as much as it does your quick reflexes. Specter of Torment is the latest expansion to Shovel Knight, a prequel that’s available as a standalone campaign on Nintendo Switch or a free update to those who already own the main game, and it follows the titular Specter Knight as he sets out to gather an army for the series’ primary antagonist, The Enchantress.

Specter Knight’s default skillset is dramatically more varied than that of Shovel Knight, with a focus on the lightness and dexterity of his character, as opposed to Shovel Knight’s heavier, brute-force feel. Specter Knight has an innate ability to wall jump, mount ledges, and vertically scale walls for a short time. Most significantly, Specter has the ability to perform a mid-air scythe dash on enemies and certain environmental objects, an attack which sends him flying at an angle and is used for traversal as much as it is for offence.

The execution of these moves is simple, requiring nothing more than a timely press of the attack or jump buttons, and together they make Specter feel like a powerfully agile character who is a joy to control. But with these abilities come more difficult challenges in Specter of Torment’s new platforming levels. Unlike Shovel Knight, whose stages gradually grew in difficulty and were gated in an overworld map style reminiscent of Super Mario Bros. 3, Specter of Torment presents you with the full selection of what I personally found to be equally-challenging stages and their accompanying boss fights, available to be tackled in any order in a structure more reminiscent of the Mega Man series.

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Bottomless pits and other instant-death hazards feel more abundant in Specter of Torment, and proceeding forward almost always involves more than just careful jumping. Stages often require you to chain a series of movements together in order to keep Specter Knight airborne for extended periods of time over treacherous ground, and one fumbled execution could mean a complete do-over. You might climb the side of a wall to get you just enough height to wall-jump towards a series of swinging chandeliers, letting you scythe-dash into each one and eventually fling yourself across the room to mantle an opposing wall. Managing to reach a checkpoint after perfectly overcoming a series of obstacles without fumbles or fatalities is always a thrilling relief. The dexterous demands of performing these moves means that progress always feels satisfying and well-earned, even when it feels second-nature.

Each themed stage adds its own unique mechanical twists to the game’s platforming which need to be internalised too. There are some incredibly memorable ones such as scythe surfing, which sees Specter Knight ride his scythe like a skateboard and grind rails to move through stages at speed–but otherwise the majority will be familiar to those who have played the main Shovel Knight game, albeit with minor twists to better accommodate Specter’s abilities. This is unsurprising, given the game’s prequel nature and the appearance of many of the same characters and worlds, but the new level designs still feel more demanding.No Caption

Specter of Torment also features many of the same formidable level bosses as the original Shovel Knight, and although many of the battles with them seem a bit too similar to their previous appearances, some are altered significantly to make the most of Specter’s mobility, and can come as an enjoyable surprise to those familiar. The fight with Propeller Knight, for example, no longer takes place on a static platform, but in the midst of many tiny, cascading airships, requiring you to continually scramble upwards while dodging attacks.

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The completion of each level allows you to purchase additional Curios, Specter of Torment’s unique version of Shovel Knight’s Relics, which allow for the use of special abilities at the cost of a consumable meter. Each Curio has its own distinct use to aid in the dispatching of enemies or to ease the burden of traversal. For example, the Hover Plume gives Specter Knight the ability to float in mid-air for a short duration, and Judgement Rush allows Specter to ignore pits and walls and teleport directly to an enemy. Each tool adds an interesting new facet to the way you can approach Specter of Torment’s levels, but the entirety of the game can be completed without using them. I found that relying on Curios diminished the sense of satisfaction that came from overcoming difficult obstacles using only Specter Knight’s base skillset, and tended to avoid them.

Much of what made the original Shovel Knight a success can also be found in Specter Knight. Level designs also cleverly act as intuitive tutorials, demonstrating the possibilities and limits of what you can and can’t do in particular stages without explicit explanation. Shovel Knight’s penchant for rewarding exploration is also still present. Secret paths and areas are strewn throughout the game’s stages and hub world. Some are obvious, but some can come as a small surprise to those who are willing to push the limits of the traversal abilities. The game’s checkpoint system–which allows you to actually destroy a checkpoint for monetary reward at the risk of having to re-traverse more of the level upon death–is still a clever mechanic. And Shovel Knight’s sense of humor and charm still manage to shine through, despite Specter of Torment’s more melancholic tone. Small moments like watching a reunited skeleton couple perform a waltz, playing with a cat, or simply enjoying the lighthearted dialog of NPCs provide nice moments of levity.

While it only took us a few hours in total to complete the game’s story mode, Specter of Torment felt well-paced and never unnecessarily short. The density of challenge contained within its individual stages meant that I was always entirely concentrated on the next obstacle, but Specter of Torment attempts to pace its demands on your mental state every few levels with short, interactive narrative interludes that serve as an enjoyable prequel to this prequel campaign. Specter of Torment also offers a new game plus option upon completion with a slightly more demanding health mechanic, and also offers a challenge mode which presents a variety of platforming and boss fight trials under strict restraints.

Specter of Torment is a finely-crafted 2D platformer that is satisfying in all respects. Simply controlling Specter Knight–flying through the air and slicing through enemies–is a joy in itself, and being able to push your ability to control these skills in overcoming the game’s cleverly-designed and challenging levels is always an exhilarating feeling. Specter of Torment is a focussed, polished, and satisfyingly challenging game that’s well worth experiencing whether or not you’ve had the pleasure of playing Shovel Knight.