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The Long Dark PC Review

The Long Dark PC Review

As The Long Dark emerges after years in early access, it introduces the first two chapters in a five-part story, called Wintermute. The game’s demanding survival mechanics have the potential to mesh well with the story of a plane crash survivor stuck in the Canadian wilderness of Great Bear, but it’s too early to say whether or not Wintermute’s narrative ultimately pays off. It is, however, clearly off to a rocky start, leaving the more open-ended sandbox mode as the best reason to jump into The Long Dark today.

During Wintermute, you play as Will Mackenzie, a loner pilot working in the northern reaches of Canada, who agrees to help transport his distressed ex-wife and her mysterious cargo somewhere into the far reaches of the woods. Though there are a few revealing moments shared between Will and Dr. Astrid Greenwood before their plane comes crashing down, the quick and cliched implication of an emotional backstory through suggestive and vague dialogue makes a weak first impression. It certainly doesn’t help that many of the scenes throughout Wintermute’s first two episodes are hampered by odd animation jitters and floating objects that pop in and out frame.

While you both survive the sudden crash that cuts your conversation short, you are separated from one another, and Will succumbs to injuries that make surviving the harsh winterscape a true challenge. Recovering from the crash acts as the game’s tutorial, throwing you into the basics of survival. Whether it’s seeking shelter, starting a fire, or generally looking after your vital signs, almost everything you need is covered, giving you some confidence before you set out on a journey to find your lost passenger. Learning how to make the most of The Long Dark’s survival mechanics is no simple task, but these foundational steps are relatively easy compared to the hurdles that lie ahead.

Despite Mackenzie’s apparent desperation to find Astrid, he’s more than happy to scout the countryside to gather things for other people, ultimately earning nothing for himself except scraps of information about Astrid’s possible whereabouts and increased knowledge of the wild. It’s frustrating to watch–and even more frustrating to play.

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As you carry on, most of your time will be spent scouring abandoned structures for granola bars, harvesting meat from animal carcasses found frozen in ice, and dodging the elements as best you can. Tools like knives and hatchets can be built provided you have the right blueprints, parts, and access to a forge or a workbench. They also need to be maintained using spare parts, which can be gathered by breaking down extra items. Annoyingly, inventory management doesn’t let you optimise your carry weight by combining like items, so instead of being able to do something like emptying lantern fuel containers into a jerry can, you’re forced to carry them all around separately. Be careful where you tread, as well, as it’s not uncommon to get stuck in geometry without the means to free yourself–you aren’t able to jump, only crouch and walk.

Mackenzie’s survival knowledge is minimal to begin with, so his crafting abilities are minimal at best, but what he can make is essential. Blueprints can be found to learn how to craft new items, though these are extremely few and far between. In my experience, most crafting time is spent breaking down things found in the world; spare chairs, tables, curtains, old bedrolls, there’s a lot that can be fixed into something else, and it could be life-saving. By combining some sticks, a bit of spare cloth, and some lantern fuel, you can make a simple torch, providing not just light and heat but also warding off any potential predators that may be circling nearby.

The first episode never really lets go of your hand, keeping you close to a small township for most of its entirety–and rarely asking you to venture to edges of the playable area just beyond the town limits. It’s not until the second episode that you’re set free–albeit under the conflicting pretense of playing fetch for someone else–across three large expanses of untamed wilderness.

Refreshingly, these spaces are deathly beautiful and a showcase for The Long Dark’s striking visual style. When the aurora borealis shines at night, it’s nothing short of stunning–the green hues bounce softly off of snow-covered surroundings. Likewise, the stark pink and orange sunsets that wash over Great Bear are consistently captivating. They are easy come, easy go, due to the game’s dynamic weather system, but it’s impressive how the world–and your place within it–can turn on a dime, choking clear skies with a gusty snowstorm, turning a moment of peace into a chaotic dash for shelter.

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When you set aside the available Wintermute episodes–which, crucially, you can–The Long Dark’s tough yet rewarding gameplay owns the spotlight. Survival mode is unforgiving, but it plays to the game’s best strength, and you can always dial down the difficulty to keep going–likewise, if you’re finding it too easy, you can ramp it up as well. The sandbox also has five challenges you can attempt if you require a hint of direction, offering a more catered survival experience, but without the stringent procession of tasks seen in Wintermute.

Stricken from frostbite, and desperately wanting shelter from a violent blizzard, the feeling of helplessness in the sandbox mode gets overwhelming, and it’s in these moments of desperation that The Long Dark is most effective. And thus every minute you survive, and every meter of progress you make, feels remarkably rewarding–the result of a series of calculated decisions you made in the face of depressingly unfavorable odds.

Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9 No Caption Provided When the weather isn’t out to kill you, chances are you’ll find some wildlife that would be more than happy to try. A lone wolf can be handled by waving around a lit torch or flare in its face, but if a pack gets a whiff of you nearby, the only option is to run. And did I mention bears? There are bears, and they aren’t interested in being friendly. Death comes swiftly and brutally at the hands of the animals in The Long Dark, a stark contrast to the slow fade into darkness that comes with growing colder and hungrier.

It’s important to remember that The Long Dark is just waking up from early access. It’s cold, hungry, and huddled somewhere under a rock face, but it’s just gotten the fire started. Another three story episodes are still due, so there is time to turn things around for Will and Astrid. However, because the best parts of The Long Dark are already alive and well in survival mode, perhaps Wintermute’s weak beginning is reason enough to stick to what’s worked for the game all along, blemishes and all.

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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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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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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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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.

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Stardew Valley Review For PC and PS4

On the surface, Stardew Valley is a game about farming, but there are more adventures awaiting curious players beyond cultivating a rich and bountiful garden. From mining and fishing to making friends and falling in love, Stardew Valley’s Pelican Town is stuffed with rewarding opportunities. As modern day woes give way to pressing matters on the farm and within your newfound community, Stardew Valley’s meditative activities often lead to personal reflection in the real world. It’s a game that tugs at your curiousity as often as it does your heart.

Your journey begins in the field, cleaning up a neglected and rundown farm. Plotting and planning your garden requires care and attention to detail. What fruits and vegetables do you grow? How much room does each plant need? How do you protect your crops from nature’s troublemakers? You learn through practice, and while the basics are easy to grasp, you quickly need to figure out the best way to outfit your budding farm with new tools and equipment.

Upgrades help speed up essential tasks like tilling the earth and watering your plants, but advanced equipment becomes a necessity when the time comes to break down large rocks and stumps that stick out in your garden. The crafting menu also entices you with optional time-saving tools; automated sprinklers that water the crops every morning, artisan equipment to make preserves or beer out of your harvest, and refineries, such as a furnace for turning ore into metal bars. If you want something, you can make it, you just have to scour your environment for the necessary components.

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As your farm improves, you gain the ability to raise livestock. Animals are expensive to buy and maintain, and the barn they live in isn’t cheap either. You start small, with a barn just big enough for a few chickens and ducks. But if you run an efficient and bountiful garden, you can eventually afford to upgrade to a bigger barn and keep hearty livestock like pigs, cows and sheep.

You have to feed your stock every day, which can get expensive, but they will eventually begin to produce eggs, milk and other rewards for all your hard work. Beyond their monetary value, animals are simply endearing to be around. Give them a name and work a little petting time into your routine; before you know it, your commodities have become your friends. Like your crops, the goodies livestock produce give you a sense of accomplishment, but their companionship is a different yet equally valuable reward.

The goodies livestock produce give you a sense of accomplishment, but their companionship is a different yet equally valuable reward.

When your farm is healthy and your equipment set, Stardew Valley opens up and your routine expands: after you water your plants, feed your animals and tidy up in the morning, you get to head out in search of adventure and friendship. There’s a mine north of Pelican Town with a seemingly endless bounty of buried treasure, but also danger. Combat is simple–a plain swipe of a sword will brush back most common monsters–but the dangers you face grow as you delve deeper into the mine, pushing your basic tactics to the limit.

There’s a risk/reward relationship to seeking out valuable treasure, as it becomes increasingly more difficult to defend yourself from procedurally generated creatures the deeper you go. You hit checkpoints–in the form of elevator stops–every few floors, which both encourages you to keep going and to return in the future in search of grander rewards as checkpoints allow you to skip past the mine’s early levels. The precious gems you find can be sold for profit, donated to a museum that will conduct and share research, or simply hoarded in a chest to be fawned over down the road.

When you grow weary of toiling underground, you can also spend time fishing on lakes, streams and coastal beaches. Fishing in Stardew Valley is straightforward–you use one button to reel in a fish and let go when the line is tense–but it gives you a chance to soak in your surroundings and experience the joys of catching a wide array of fish unique to specific seasons and locations. It’s a calming experience at sunset after a long day that gives you a chance to reflect on your progress and daydream about adventures to come.

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Stardew Valley constantly encourages you to explore, be it mining, foraging for fruit in the woods, or collecting seashells, and your curiosity is amply rewarded. Every hidden area you find, every train track you follow, leads to new sights and discoveries that add detail and color to the world around you. Yet as fulfilling as farming and exploring are, visiting Pelican Town’s community center pulls you ever deeper into your new life. Like your farm at the beginning of the game, the community center needs a little attention at first: you’re sent out on fetch quests to gather the necessary materials to fuel its reconstruction.

Outside of the community center, the rest of Pelican Town’s inhabitants also need your help. In working together to achieve small goals, you grow to understand your neighbors’ personalities and identify what makes them tick. Some are pursuing their hopes and dreams, while others fight day to day to overcome personal obstacles; others are quirky creatures of habit that round out the community’s overall identity.

Relationships are gauged by a heart meter, and getting to a certain number of hearts results in a cutscene that offer a closer look into your new friends’ lives. Offering gifts and completing tasks from a board in the center of town are easy ways to increase your connections, and slowly but surely you’re allowed in the inner circle of people’s otherwise private lives. You may befriend a father named Kent who’s dealing trauma after years at war. He’s working on his temper and trying to bond with his child after being away from home. The child, whom you meet in hiding in his parent’s basement, is quiet and introverted. But when you put the time in to get to know him, he reveals that he actually doesn’t mind being alone, even though he believes that he’s at odds with his parents. These personal moments are touching, and encourage you to spend more time getting to know the people around you.

And if you decide to enter Pelican Town’s dating scene, don’t be surprised if you end up with butterflies in your stomach. Giving your crush the right gift and seeing the joy on their face makes you genuinely happy, but you have to put yourself out there first. Sure, working with townsfolk in general is a good way to understand the ins and outs of potential suitors, but no amount of preparation diminishes the impact of anxiously delivering a heartfelt gesture. Because you’ve invested so much time and energy into forging relationships, you get nervous when you expose your feelings, regardless of the fact that you’re courting a pixelated crush. Through strong writing and characterization, Stardew Valley stirs up surprising feelings: when your date shares his umbrella in the rain, you know he’s the one.

Through strong writing and characterization, Stardew Valley stirs up surprising feelings

Romance often buds during community events that take place each season. In spring you’ll attend a dance and try to get someone to be your partner. At the summer luau you’ll have to bring something delicious from your harvest for the community potluck. At each of these events you’ll have time to get to know the people within the community and see them in a different light than usual. Although it’s lovely to see them outside of their usual activities, it’s a shame year after year the comments and actions of the villagers remain the same. Still, you can learn from previous years, adding better food to the potluck and finally earning the affection of your favorite dance partner.

Mastering farming and earning the affection of your special someone in Stardew Valley are fulfilling journeys filled with surprising and rewarding challenges. But when you have those accomplishments under your belt, it’s hard to know where you go from there. Divorce is an option, but if you put a lot of yourself into finding a spouse, dumping them merely to extend your game doesn’t seem like an attractive path. Besides, with your money-making farm, cash isn’t a concern either.

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Ultimately, Stardew Valley’s eventful world is so inviting that you may opt to simply start from scratch and forge a new life. For anyone who played Stardew Valley earlier this year when it launched on PC, the new console ports capture the same magic that made the game special all those months ago, and allows you to play from the comfort of your couch. Controls on console are essentially identical to what you get from the PC version’s controller support. Console versions also get the fully updated version of Stardew Valley, which includes the aforementioned divorce option, new farm maps that focus on different skills, and a handful of new mechanics that add appreciable wrinkles to life on the farm and about town.

The sheer number of things to accomplish in Stardew Valley can keep you interested beyond the original three in-game years you need to reach the end of your story–you may just want to start over rather than continue on. You’ll work quite hard to gather enough money for your first horse, so that you can quickly move to the mines to get a mineral to complete a bundle at the community center. It’s all centered around whatever it is you want to accomplish that day. And that’s truly what makes Stardew Valley such a lovely experience, it encourages you to go out and be the best you can be, in whichever task that brings you the most joy. Stardew Valley motivates naturally, with blissful optimism.