SelectButton - All Content The latest Content from SelectButton /reviews/antstream-arcade-xbox-review Thu, 27 Jul 2023 00:00:00 -0400 <![CDATA[Antstream Arcade (Xbox) Review]]> Video game preservation has become a hot topic among gaming communities in recent years, driven by the resurgence of retro game collecting and the subsequent increase in physical game prices both online and locally. Various companies are now producing home game consoles and portables, offering players the opportunity to enjoy their original cartridges and, ideally, non-decaying CDs/DVDs. Additionally, some platforms facilitate digital backups, sparing players from the challenge of dealing with aging games that become increasingly fragile due to physical degradation over time. However, the use of emulators and illegally obtained ROMs remains a controversial gray area, largely due to copyright concerns.

Crowdfunded through Kickstarter, Antstream Arcade aims to evoke powerful nostalgia by offering a live streaming service focusing primarily on retro video games, complemented by several retro-inspired indie games, such as Flea! (NES), Golden Wing (Amiga), and Rune Master (MSX). Currently available on PC, Mac, Linux, Android, Firestick, and your web browser (beta), Antstream Arcade boasts a games library of 1,470 titles (according to the official website). It's worth noting that the number does include games available across multiple platforms. On Xbox, the game icon advertises "play over 1,300" titles. As with any streaming service, the number represents the total number of games, but not the unique number of games on the service. Licensing plays a crucial role in availability, and not all titles accessible on PC are currently accessible on Xbox. Notably, Namco developed/published Arcade titles such as Pac-Man, Galaga, Dig Dug, Splatterhouse, and more have been removed from the service on Xbox (at the time of this review) due to ongoing licensing complications between Namco and Microsoft, as disclosed by developers on the official Discord.

Besides the aforementioned indie games, Antstream Arcade’s library offers a diverse selection of games spanning the 70s, 80s, 90s, and 00s. The collection heavily features arcade titles, early home consoles, and PCs like the Amiga, Commodore 64, and the ZX Spectrum, along with a smattering of games from other platforms such as the MSX/MSX2, NES, SNES, Atari 2600/7800, Sega Genesis, and more. Personally, I was pleasantly surprised to rediscover DOS based LucasArts Games that I have very fond memories of playing, including classics like The Secret of Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, Indiana Jones Fate of Atlantis, and even the three Super Star Wars (SNES) titles. While new games are consistently added on a weekly basis, it's important to note that the focus of Antstream Arcade lies in providing an authentic arcade preservation experience rather than offering entire console libraries. And in this regard, it certainly does not disappoint.

The greatest appeal of Antstream Arcade lies in the seamless and swift transition into gameplay. Within seconds, I found myself immersed in Earthworm Jim (SNES/Genesis), battling an evil army in SNK's Sengoku (Arcade), or defending humanity from robots in Robotron: 2084 (Commodore 64). Moreover, browsing through various genres listed on the main screen adds an element of excitement. However, the absence of dedicated platform or genre pages may require users to master the search function to locate specific games. While clicking the "more" button on the categories listed on the home page results in a mere keyword search page (with the "beat ‘em up" link strangely not functioning), the search feature itself proves to be potent and effectively displays relevant games categorized by publishers, genres, platforms, or year released. One peculiar aspect is the list of players appearing above the game results, which seems unnecessary as players typically search for games rather than other users. For instance, searching for "irem," synonymous with classic shoot ‘em ups, yields game results for Captain Dynamo due to the game's description containing the word "retirement," which includes "irem," while the 16 games listed under Irem as a publisher can be found underneath. Although the search results display all versions of games (if available on multiple platforms), the UI layout occasionally covers the platform ribbon on the game thumbnails with the challenge rocketship icon, signifying the presence of optional challenges. Consequently, confirming the platform requires clicking into each game. If the platform button is not grayed out, it can be clicked to alternate between the various platforms on which the game is accessible.

Game info screens provide a brief synopsis of the game, listing the available platform, genre, developer/publisher, and year of release, along with showcasing high-quality box art and a handful of in-game screenshots. Oddly enough, there is no option to manually cycle through the screenshots, as you must sit on the screen and wait for it to rotate through them. Utilizing unused buttons on the Xbox controller, particularly the shoulder buttons, could greatly enhance the user experience. An additional improvement that should be considered is allowing you to scroll through games and menus by holding the left analog stick instead of clicking through one by one.

The challenge tab, for supported titles, offers different challenges at varying gem requirements. Once a challenge is selected, players can compete for leaderboard positions, challenge friends to beat their scores/times, or engage in community-wide battles like Giant Slayer (my personal favorite). Duels pit players against a single opponent, each betting an equal amount of gems with the winner claiming the entire pool. If you find yourself without in-game friends, 50 recent players are shown, ensuring you always have someone to compete with. Giant Slayer, an exciting feature, lets one player compete against the community by selecting a challenging task and posting a score that others must strive to beat. The community must band together, acting as "slayers," to defeat the giant by repeatedly surpassing the score or time. These mini-challenges only last for a brief period, resulting in a constant stream of new events, fostering a highly engaged community. Score based challenges limit you to a single-life, so things can become a bit nerve wracking, and give you the feeling of one more shot if you fail. The score screen showcases game-specific leaderboards, providing rankings for global, other players you’ve favorited, and Xbox-only categories. At present, I hold the 4th rank on Pac-Man for Xbox, and until the licensing issue is resolved, it seems likely that my ranking will remain unchanged.

Despite being streamed, I have not encountered any noticeable latency issues in the almost 300 different games I've played so far on Antstream Arcade. The service automatically selects the best server location for optimal performance, but users also have the option to manually choose their preferred server location if desired. The connection test is a valuable tool that provides insights into various aspects, including bandwidth, streaming capability, packet loss, input, and connection quality. While the test displayed excellent values for all metrics, it did indicate a minor issue with input lag, represented by a sad face icon. Nevertheless, in my extensive experience with various streaming services, past and present, I can confidently say that Antstream Arcade stands out for its virtually negligible input lag, which has had no significant impact on my overall gaming experience.

With a strong emphasis on authenticity, the platform strives to preserve the original gaming experience of titles like Double Dragon (Arcade), ensuring any slowdowns present in the original game are retained. As a result, users shouldn't expect performance enhancements or modern emulation options. The absence of video settings means you are locked into Antstream's predetermined configurations for each game, though thankfully, stretched pixels haven't been observed. The sole in-game option available allows users to adjust the game's volume, maintaining the original gameplay as closely as possible.

Antstream Arcade offers access to four save slots, allowing users to save progress and continue playing conveniently. However, some have reported issues with the save feature on Xbox, as it doesn't consistently function as intended. Personally, I have also encountered mixed results with the save slots, observing intermittent functionality. The UI can be a tad obtuse; pausing the game allows users to save, but selecting "save" from the pause menu does nothing. Instead, users need to use the plus symbols indicating different save slots. Despite these occasional hiccups, the dedication to maintaining the authenticity of classic gaming experiences is a key selling point of Antstream Arcade.

Upon launching a title on Antstream Arcade, the game controls are thoughtfully highlighted, offering players a clear understanding of the controls they will be using during gameplay. However, it's worth noting that the platform does not provide the option to remap controls or utilize turbo buttons. This limitation might affect the overall gaming experience, particularly in the case of certain three-button arcade games that could benefit from swapping two of the buttons for more intuitive gameplay.

For instance, when playing games from the Genesis/Mega Drive library, the Xbox controller follows a three-button setup using X, A, B, instead of X, Y, B configuration, which would have been my preference. Despite these control limitations, the vast majority of games on Antstream Arcade function smoothly without any noticeable issues. However, as with any gaming platform, player preferences and familiarity with control schemes can vary, leading to occasional differences in how players perceive the overall gameplay experience.

When it comes to the in-game currency Gems, as previously mentioned in terms of challenge rewards, their importance is relatively lower on the Xbox platform compared to other supported platforms. While Gems play a significant role in certain aspects of Antstream Arcade on other devices, their significance is somewhat diminished on Xbox due to the nature of the subscription model.

Antstream Arcade offers two main subscription options to access its vast library of retro games. Users can opt for a yearly subscription priced at $29.99 or a lifetime subscription at a cost of $79.99. Each subscription option provides unlimited access to the platform's extensive collection of games, allowing players to indulge in nostalgic gaming experiences.

However, it's essential to note that the platform does not offer an upgrade path between subscription tiers. In other words, if you initially choose the yearly subscription and later decide to switch to the lifetime subscription for long-term access, you'll be required to pay the full amount for the lifetime sub, without receiving any credit or discount based on your previous subscription payments.

While the subscription options offer great value, it's important for users to carefully consider their gaming preferences and long-term commitment before selecting the most suitable subscription plan.

On PC, Antstream Arcade offers a "free tier" concept, allowing users to earn gems by completing challenges, which can then be used to play games without the need for a subscription. This feature provides an option for players who want to engage with the platform without committing to a subscription.

However, on Xbox, the platform takes a different approach. With an active subscription, users gain unrestricted access to the entire library of games, eliminating the need to use gems for launching games. Gems on Xbox are primarily utilized for entering tournaments and participating in challenges, adding a competitive aspect to the gaming experience and encouraging players to compete against each other. Additionally, the use of gems in tournaments and challenges resembles the nostalgic act of placing a quarter on an arcade cabinet to indicate "you've got next."

The platform also includes a daily login bonus, providing users with additional gems for simply logging in regularly. However, users utilizing the quick resume feature on Series X|S need to be aware that in order to claim the daily gem bonus, they must fully close out the game and re-enter it. This requirement may not be immediately apparent to some users, and it's worth noting to ensure they don't miss out on the daily gem rewards.

Overall, Antstream Arcade's different approach on PC and Xbox offers users varied ways to access and enjoy their extensive collection of retro games, catering to different preferences and gaming styles. Antstream Arcade strives to provide a nearly input lag-free streaming experience, and they have succeeded where others have fallen short. However, achieving this goal does come at a cost, impacting the visual and audio quality of the games. The extent of these effects depends on the type of game being played, the speed of the on-screen action, and the complexity of patterns displayed. Players may encounter screen tearing, blurry, and at times extremely poor image quality in certain situations. For example, such issues are hardly noticeable in games like Bubble Bobble (Arcade), but they become more apparent in fast-paced titles like Mortal Kombat (Arcade), where image noise resulting from compression can be observed around character edges.or in many of the fast-paced shoot ‘em ups.

Moreover, there have been instances where certain games had their music removed due to contractual reasons, such as Spy Hunter (Arcade). Additionally, occasional hiccups were noted with sound effects either playing incorrectly or being completely lost. However, restarting Antstream Arcade typically resolves these audio issues. Despite these challenges, Antstream Arcade remains dedicated to delivering an authentic gaming experience while navigating the complexities of streaming technology.

Though the UI could benefit from some improvements, such as the ability to remap controls for enhanced accessibility, these minor issues do not hamper the overall functionality of the service. One notable quirk is the lack of the option to hold a direction on the d-pad or left analog stick to scroll through games, necessitating clicking through them one by one. Nevertheless, Antstream Arcade remains a highly enjoyable platform that successfully combines gaming nostalgia with modern convenience.

Simply Put

The preservation-first mentality of Antstream Arcade is truly refreshing. The team's dedication to ensuring future generations can easily access some of the greatest games ever created is commendable. With a vast library of over 1,300 games already available on the service, they have exceeded expectations while offering a very reasonable yearly or lifetime subscription cost. As with any live service, there is always the possibility of changes in the future. While games are continually added on a weekly basis, some titles may be removed due to shifting licensing agreements, as evident with the situation involving Namco and Microsoft. Nonetheless, these occurrences do not significantly detract from the overall experience.

Though the UI could benefit from some improvements, such as the ability to remap controls for enhanced accessibility, these minor issues do not hamper the overall functionality of the service. One notable quirk is the lack of the option to hold a direction on the d-pad or left analog stick to scroll through games, necessitating clicking through them one by one. Nevertheless, Antstream Arcade remains a highly enjoyable platform that successfully combines gaming nostalgia with modern convenience.

]]> [email protected] (Kevin Mitchell)
/videos/aliens-review-arcade Tue, 18 Jul 2023 09:57:00 -0400 <![CDATA[Aliens Review (Arcade)]]> /videos/alien-review-atari-2600 Mon, 09 Aug 2021 10:03:00 -0400 <![CDATA[Alien Review (Atari 2600)]]> /videos/innsmouth-no-yakata-review-virtual-boy Tue, 03 Aug 2021 21:41:00 -0400 <![CDATA[Innsmouth no Yakata Review (Virtual Boy)]]> /videos/j-j-and-jeff-review-turbografx-16 Tue, 27 Jul 2021 21:40:00 -0400 <![CDATA[J.J. & Jeff Review (TurboGrafx-16)]]> /videos/batman-returns-review-atari-lynx Tue, 20 Jul 2021 21:39:00 -0400 <![CDATA[Batman Returns Review (Atari Lynx)]]> /videos/3d-baseball-review-sega-saturn Mon, 12 Jul 2021 21:34:00 -0400 <![CDATA[3D Baseball Review (Sega Saturn)]]> /reviews/nacon-pro-compact-controller-review Thu, 20 May 2021 00:00:00 -0400 <![CDATA[Nacon Pro Compact Controller Review]]> Not only is the Pro Compact Nacon's first foray into the Xbox ecosystem under the Rig brand, but it is also the first wired customizable controller to include a permanent Dolby Atmos license. At first glance, you may be wondering why anyone would even entertain the purchase of a wired controller. I initially thought the same thing, considering I haven't owned a wired controller since the WaveBird ushered in a new era of wireless freedom on the Nintendo GameCube back in 2002. Today, wired controllers are still prevalent, but it has been mostly limited to esports events, as any introduction of latency or interference may influence a match. I'll never be part of that scene, but I've experienced interference during important industry events, such as E3 when demoing games.

The Pro Compact wired controller for Xbox is smaller (and lighter) than anything offered by Microsoft (15% smaller, according to Nacon). Still, more importantly, the handles have been redesigned, changing the position of how it rests in your hands. This doesn't mean that anyone with larger than average hands will find it more difficult or uncomfortable to use for long periods, but it does mean you need to make adjustments. The compact shape features shorter handles than Microsoft's Xbox controller, with a matte front and textured grips (although less prominent than the Xbox controller). The deep groove between the handle and the upper half of the controller is designed for you to rest your middle fingers. My pinky fingers barely wrap around the bottom tip of the handle since it needs to be held with a higher grip than usual. After getting used to the Pro Compact, I can say it is pretty comfortable; I prefer it to the Xbox controller in certain situations. The long braided USB A cable is 300 centimeters in length or just under 10 feet. A breakout connection is included at the tail end, providing safety just in case someone or something gets caught in the cable.

As an officially licensed controller, the analog sticks placement remains asymmetrical. There's a bit less space between the four face buttons than the standard controller, not to mention that the buttons are more prominent yet flatter. The menu and view buttons (I will forever unofficially call them start and select) are glossy (compared to the matte finish of all four face buttons) and moved away from the controller's center. The view button sits next to the left analog stick, and the menu button is the next-door neighbor to the Y button. With these new placements, you don't even have to lift your thumbs off of their usual resting spots to use them. When using a headset on a PC or Xbox, you have to purchase a $15 Dolby Atmos license, which I highly recommend because 3D audio is a game-changer. The Pro Compact includes the license, letting you plug in any gaming headset into the 3.5mm headphone jack at the bottom of the controller.

The analog sticks are concave (naturally) but are completely smooth around the edges, featuring a uniquely designed textured finish on the inside. The D-pad features the classic "plus" design, which may intrigue fans compared to the redesigned "rocker" offering of the Xbox controller. It is certainly less "clicky," feeling squishy under your thumb as you move around each of the four main cardinal directions. There is less feedback as you shift your thumb around, and the sensation can be best described as muted. I won't say it's not good, but it certainly may not be ideal depending on the type of game you are playing. Navigating through menus or switching weapon loadouts is fine, but there isn't enough feedback when pulling off special moves or combos in fighting games.

The Nacon App on Windows 10 and Xbox allows you to remap the inputs for specific buttons, adjust the response curves for both analog sticks, and even the sensitivity for each of the triggers. If this is your first foray into adjustable dead zones, you are in for a treat, especially for first-person shooters. Interestingly enough, the app, which is available on PC and Xbox, allows for enabling or disabling vibrations and converting the 8-way D-pad to a 4-way D-pad, perfect for 2D side-scrolling games. An easy-to-follow guide effortlessly shows the best presets for specific genres, such as racing games, first-person shooters, or fighting games. Your customizations can be turned on/off with the switch on the rear of the controller, although you can only have a single custom profile. Any controller updates will come from inside the app; however, one hasn't been released.

Simply Put

The Rig Nacon Pro Compact controller is a smaller, lighter, and cheaper alternative for Xbox and PC (especially since it includes a lifetime Dolby Atmos license). It does take some adjustment to get used to the placement of the controller in your hands, but I found it to be quite comfortable, and I have larger than average hands. I would have preferred less of a gap between the triggers and shoulder buttons or none at all to match the standard Xbox controller. I feel I spend more time adjusting the placement of my pointer fingers since I can't comfortably press the shoulder and the triggers without lifting my fingers like I do with my Xbox controllers. It may not become my permanent Xbox controller due to it being tethered, but it will become my primary PC controller for now.

]]> [email protected] (Kevin Mitchell)
/reviews/hood-outlaws-and-legends-review Thu, 20 May 2021 00:00:00 -0400 <![CDATA[Hood: Outlaws & Legends Review]]> Steal from the rich, give to the poor—a philosophy, a way of life, for Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men. The real-life exploits of the outlaw Robin of Loxley may not be as robust as the legendary tales we grew up with, but he stood for the people against an oppressive dictatorship. Hood: Outlaws & Legends, a competitive online multiplayer title, tasks two rival crews of four to stealthily infiltrate guarded locales and steal the treasure. There's no honor amongst thieves as you attempt to make your way to the extraction while defending what is now yours.

Only one primary competitive game mode exists (so far), and although that may mean the game feels "lite" on content, especially compared to other offerings, I've yet to grow tired of trying to pull off the perfect heist. It helps that there are a handful of uniquely designed maps, with at least one more coming in an upcoming season, as indicated by the post-launch road map. The training mode, the only other game mode, allows teams to hone their craft against the AI, merely serving as practice, but doesn't offer anything as thrilling as retrieving the chest while fending off another group. If you only want to focus on the game's cooperative aspect and not the competitive nature of playing against other players, this mode does precisely that.

Teams start on the opposite side of the map, far enough that you'll contend with AI guards before encountering an opposing player, but the objectives remain the same; steal the vault key, retrieve the chest, make your escape. Guards clad in armor, clinging to their swords, bows, and other medieval weaponry, patrol the districts, ensuring that you need to stay in the darkness, stealthily making your way through nearby bushes. If you are seen, the guards can raise the alert level, summoning more soldiers to content with and shutting all gates, and locking down the area. Stealth is the key to victory, and thankfully, the maps are covered in flora to mask your approach. The first step, stealing the key dangling from the belt of the slow-moving but massive presence known as; the Sheriff. As you approach, the faint rumbling emanating from your controller grows ever stronger, an effect that works to drive home the monstrous force that is the Sheriff is coming. One false move and he can crush you between his mountainous hands, killing you instantly. You may be thinking, well, I'll just kill him first, but no, this beast is an unrelenting force, and although you may take him down to a knee, buying precious seconds to make your escape, he will always rise up and never stop hunting you. Think medieval Jason Voorhees.

After acquiring the key, you'll need to locate the hidden vault on the map while trying to defend yourself from the AI and other players who wish to acquire the chest for themselves. If you are lucky enough to snag the chest first, you'll notice there are multiple extraction points. These may be closer to your initial spawn point, in the middle of the map, or right next to the enemy's starting location. Depending on the vault's location, you may opt to find the closest place in an attempt to hoist the chest onto the ship as quickly as you can, or strategically opt for a location safely away from prying eyes. Either way, carrying the chest is a chore, as the weight of the shiny gold inside forces the one with it to move at a snail's pace. The brute John moves the fastest with the chest, so it is always good to have him traverse the map with it in hand. This is where coordination and teamwork start to lead teams to victory. Of course, with multiple possible locations, the enemy team can opt for chasing you down or try to guess the spot and sit and wait, ready to ambush.

Once reached, teams must extract the chest, either sacrificing a single person to progress slowly or using two players to speed up the process. Melee classes operate the crank faster than ranged, and without a balanced team, you are unlikely to win. Admittedly, that won't always be the case. I've already encountered groups that favored one class over the other, but for 90% of my matches while playing with random players, classes were evenly balanced between melee and ranged classes. Once extraction has begun, a meter appears for all players. The meter itself has several notches, where progress is saved, and rewards are given to the team that reaches those points. This means that a team can do 90% of the work, earn rewards, and the opposing team can swoop in and finish the final step and still win the match. It makes for some exciting last-minute victories (or losses), precisely what you would want from a heist-based title.

Another component and one that is almost as important as controlling the chest itself involves securing and holding the control points scattered throughout the map. These serve as spawn positions for your team, allowing you to get across the map after you die. Imagine fighting to extract the treasure, but every time a member of your crew departs, you need to run across the map in its entirety. Not only that, but shortcuts can be opened as you make your approach, from unlocking doors or releasing ropes to climb to offer alternate paths. With heightened security during the final moments of each match, the elite guards that spawn can put a damper in your plan to traverse the map safely. At the same time, the AI can work in your favor when the Sheriff makes his presence known, methodically making a bee-line straight for the extraction site. Although, the intelligence of the AI could use a little bit of work. Sometimes, they will walk right past the players working on securing the chest and chase other nearby players. I would think that acquiring the gold would be on top of his priorities, and therefore, anyone seen trying to steal his treasure would be a higher perceived threat.

There are four classes in Hood: Outlaws & Legends, each one based on a character from the fabled story of Robin Hood. The Ranger, Robin, is equipped with a bow, making him a powerful long-range class, capable of one-tapping foes with accurate headshots and firing explosive fire arrows. The Hunter, Marianne, is the best at remaining concealed (literally being able to turn invisible), and her crossbow may not have the range as Robin's bow, but its burst-fire makes it deadly at close range. The Brawler, (Little) John, wields a massive two-handed sledgehammer, making him the most potent melee class available and the king of close-quarters combat. He is also the only class that can temporarily lift the massive gates, letting his teammates make it through the area without finding an alternate path. The Mystic, Tooke (based on Friar Tuck), is the ultimate support class and the only one that is capable of healing not only himself but anyone on your crew within his vicinity.

Their primary weapons for each of the classes are only the tip of the iceberg, and although the game's combat isn't that deep, it still provides plenty of strategy and incredible moments. First and foremost, you're actions are limited by your current stamina. Light attacks are weaker in terms of damage but use less energy when compared to stronger heavy attacks. Blocking consumes stamina, ensuring you can't remaining protected for too long, especially since heavy attacks can leave you stunned, breaking through anyone blocking. Parrying incoming attacks can give you a chance at an unimpeded counter-attack, given you still have enough stamina left. The mystic's poisonous smoke bombs can instantly drain the stamina of anyone caught in the blast, even himself), leaving players on both sides of the battlefield open to attack at range.

As you level up by earning experience points and gold from completing heists, new cosmetics, such as character outfits and weapon skins, become available to purchase, as well as perks. Only three bonuses can be equipped simultaneously. These offer slight advantages against other players, such as increased crouched movement speed or a leeching effect that can make Tooke unbeatable in most one-one melee engagements. When coordinating with a team, these perks can alter your playstyle and even how your abilities operate. Outside of the perks, players are on an even playing ground, with only unlockable cosmetics serving as a driving force to customize the appearance of your characters. With the purchase of the battle pass, you'll earn premium outfits and skins, as well as banners, but the roadmap will provide other free cosmetics and content for all players.

Simply Put

Hood: Outlaws & Legends is the best PvPvE game I've played in quite some time. Sure, it has its issues; the AI can sometimes feel braindead, class balancing needs to be tweaked, and animations can be a bit janky, but the adrenaline rush of the heist makes up for all of that. Not to mention, this is only a $30 game, and the developers have released a fully fleshed-out roadmap for ongoing support. Players can expect new characters, game modes, seasonal events, cosmetics, and more. And did I forget to mention that the game already has cross-play matchmaking at launch? Hopefully, the developers can expand the party system for cross-platform friends.

]]> [email protected] (Kevin Mitchell)
/articles/rig-pro-compact-offers-worlds-first-xbox-controller-to-include-dolby-atmos Wed, 05 May 2021 12:00:00 -0400 <![CDATA[RIG PRO Compact offers world's first Xbox controller to include Dolby Atmos, Available May 20]]> Nacon has announced the world's first wired customizable controller with Dolby Atmos will be available on May 20, 2021, in North America. Online pre-orders are now open for the RIG PRO Compact at GameStop, Walmart, and Target. It will also be readily available in-store at Best Buy in the US on May 20.

With Microsoft's own Xbox controller, you are required to purchase a Dolby Atmos for Headphones license on the Microsoft Store (a one-time $14.99 add-on for the Dolby Access app) to experience the impressive surround sound technology that adds height and depth to supported games. The PRO Compact is the only wired controller on the market that includes Dolby Atmos without paying for a separate license.

Officially licensed for the Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One, the PRO Compact retails for $49.99 USD and $79.96 CAN, and is available in both black and white.

The full press release can be read below:

NACON announces the RIG PRO Compact, its first customizable wired controller and app for Xbox available in North America from May 20. The PRO Compact is also the world’s first game controller to include Dolby Atmos® for Headphones.

Dolby Atmos places game audio all around the player with three-dimensional precision, so they can react faster and more accurately. Gamers are immersed in a more intense experience that brings crystal clear, hair-raising realism to every battlefield, so they can catch the subtle, potentially game-changing sounds they’ve been missing.

Exceptional audio, optimized form factor and complete customization give the PRO Compact an impressive combination of features. Gamers can create custom button maps, change trigger sensitivity and control dead zones using the PRO Compact app for Xbox.

“We’re excited to introduce the RIG PRO Compact controller to North America,” said RIG VP of Global Sales & Marketing, Peter Petrides. “Being able to leverage Nacon’s expertise as the #1 third-party controller brand in Europe, means we’re bringing RIG gamers a product that stays true to our brand promise. Which is to develop next generation gear that helps gamers improve their performance.”

“This is the perfect controller for competitive players who prefer, and play better, using a smaller form factor not available in other elite products,” continued Petrides. “The PRO Compact provides unparalleled levels of customization through its dedicated PRO Compact app. This, coupled with the inclusion of Dolby Atmos, makes it an extremely compelling controller for its price.”

“Dolby Atmos heightens your situational awareness and helps you reach competitive excellence,” said Mahesh Balakrishnan, Vice President of Dolby’s Audio Business. “It’s great to work again with RIG to make immersive gaming experiences more accessible to people around the world through the RIG PRO Compact.”

To enjoy Dolby Atmos for Headphones, simply download the Dolby Access app from the Windows Store on Xbox or Windows 10, plug in the controller via USB and connect a headset to experience immersive audio while gaming.

]]> [email protected] (Kevin Mitchell)
/articles/rig-500-pro-and-rig-700-series-gen-2-announced Wed, 05 May 2021 12:00:00 -0400 <![CDATA[RIG 500 PRO Series & RIG 700 Series Gen 2 Announced]]> NACON has announced the next generation of the popular RIG 500 PRO Series and the RIG 700 Series gaming headsets. The RIG 500 PRO HC Gen 2, a multiplatform console and portable gaming headset, is now available at Gamestop. The three variants, designed for Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5, and PC, become available on May 20, 2021.

Unlike the entire 500 PRO series, which are all wired, the RIG 700 PRO Series (HX and HS) provides wireless comfort with zero lag in an ultra-light design.

The full press release can be read below:

The RIG 500 PRO Gen 2 takes everything gamers love about the first generation 500 PRO and adds a few upgrades. All models of the 500 PRO Gen 2 feature a comfort-enhanced steel headband that is both highly durable and flexible while also being lightweight. Signature RIG exoskeleton earcup design isolates low distortion 50mm drivers that have been specifically tuned for immersive game audio.

RIG 500 PRO Series has a number of models for use with Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4 and Windows 10. The 500 PRO HC Gen 2 is available now at GameStop, with all other variants available at major retailers on 20 May:
  • RIG 500 PRO HX Gen 2: for Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One: $69.99 (USD) / $89.96 (CAN)
  • RIG 500 PRO HS Gen 2: for PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4: $69.99 (USD) / $89.96 (CAN)
  • RIG 500 PRO HC Gen 2: for multiplatform console and portable gaming: $69.99 (USD)
  • RIG 500 PRO HA Gen 2: for PC gaming and includes longer cables and y-splitter: $79.99 (USD)
Lastly, the RIG 700 PRO Series delivers unreal wireless comfort with zero lag in an ultralightweight design. Weighing no more than 241 grams, it remains one of the lightest wireless headsets available for Xbox and PlayStation gaming. Featuring a self-adjusting head strap along with dual-material ear cushions, the RIG 700 PRO Series provides hours of fatigue-free gaming.

RIG 700 PRO Series has models for Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One and also PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4. Both models are available exclusively at GameStop today:
  • RIG 700 PRO HX: officially licensed for Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One: $119.99
  • RIG 700 PRO HS: PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4: $119.99
]]> [email protected] (Kevin Mitchell)
/reviews/call-of-the-sea-review Wed, 09 Dec 2020 21:59:00 -0500 <![CDATA[Call of the Sea Review]]> From Out of the Blue, Call of the Sea is a fresh take on the whole Cthulhu mythos and puzzle games in general. It carefully balances a world-building experience and puzzle-solving with a 1930's adventure on a tropical island.

The old vernacular aside (I'm pretty sure I remember hearing the phrase "good show, old boy!"), the game is a straightforward, fun playthrough. You're Norah Everhart, a seemingly well-to-do and educated woman from Colorado, long-suffering from some mysterious illness that has caused you no end of troubles and seclusion. Your husband, also educated and well-to-do sees himself as the intrepid adventurer and stops at nothing to find a cure for your mysterious illness. He sets off on an expedition sometime before the start of the game, leaving you alone without much indication of what's happened to him. Using what info you have, you set out to find him and whatever cure he's hopefully discovered.

The game looks gorgeous, even without HDR support. It felt very akin to Rare's version of piracy in Sea of Thieves, but I thoroughly enjoyed the island jungle setting's vivid brightness. Somehow it made the game just pop more throughout the experience. Most games that dance around a Cthulhu-esque experience end up being dark, depressing, and set in the dreariness of New England. Call of the Sea eschews all of that and brings players to a bright, tropical experience in the South Pacific. There's still your fair share of darkness that creeps in, but it just felt so much different amidst the game's stylings.

The simplicity of the gameplay itself – interact with A, use the right stick to move things around to find potential clues, use the left stick to change puzzle selections – makes the core focus fall on the puzzles and not on getting around the island. Thankfully, as well, the game offers you a "run" button that speeds up Norah's movement. She's not really running, but it at least makes her a bit more mobile than her slow walk. I only wish I did not have to toggle it by either clicking the right stick or using the right trigger; given how slow she was without, it should immediately have become the default once unlocked.

The puzzles are not generally challenging, but they do offer some definite opportunities to flex your brain. I say that because they at least vary in intensity – some will take some time to solve, others will be more straightforward. I was actually pretty thrilled at the puzzles' variety since some took more creative thoughts while others were a quick "oh, I should have looked at the back first" scenario. That was at least until chapter four, where I was just unable to wrap my head around some of the puzzles after a couple of hours of trial-and-error. But they're fun, they do challenge you, and they expect you to take some time to look around you. That's the critical piece – on top of helping unfold more of what's occurred during your husband's adventure, you build a better sense of the people he was with, the challenges they faced, and ultimately what happened to them. This is also all chronicled in Norah's journal (on top of any clues you find), giving players a chance to read up on her thoughts about everything she's discovering.

Most puzzles are about getting all of the pieces through creative methods; look around, touch all objects, make sure you're putting your notes into your journal. From there, it's just rearranging those pieces into a method that makes sense of the madness around you. In some cases, you won't know you have all of the pieces for a puzzle until after you return to a spot within your current chapter, making it worthwhile to make sure you complete all of your exploration and examination. It reminds me a bit of old puzzle adventure games, like Myst, where the answer isn't always right in front of you but instead hidden around you somewhere.

Simply Put

I think Call of the Sea has something to offer a variety of gamers. The puzzles are fun, challenging, and genuinely make you learn more about the world around you and Norah's personal challenges. On top of that, learning more about Norah herself and what has caused her illness is a huge draw – it's one of those mysteries you want to figure out more and more as things progress. The bright, popping visuals and simplistic gameplay all tie this into a pretty good bow for those who want to give it a shot.

]]> [email protected] (Marcus Jones)
/reviews/spirit-of-the-north-enhanced-edition-review Wed, 09 Dec 2020 19:46:00 -0500 <![CDATA[​Spirit of the North Enhanced Edition Review]]> Tugging at your heartstrings and evoking emotions through environmental storytelling, Spirit of the North released a year ago on PlayStation 4. Still, the small team at Infuse Studio has relaunched on PlayStation 5. While the gameplay remains mostly unchanged, the Enhanced Edition provides two exclusive fox skins, along with visual improvements worthy of a next-generation console. Running at a 4K resolution and 60 frames per second, the team has remastered the textures, lighting, and more. You take on the role of an ordinary fox, trodding your way across the breathtaking landscapes of Iceland.

You begin your journey wandering through snow-covered mountains. However, a force drives you towards the red sickness or corruption emanating across the sky without a single line of dialogue. After an incident leaves you limping through icy underground caverns, you'll learn world lore through glowing pictographs, illuminated by the Spirit of the North's energy. An unknown civilization thrived as the spirit fox protecting all life surrounding the mountains until a monolith (I think) sought ruin, causing a volcano to erupt, trapping the guardian in a deep slumber and destroying the surrounding villages. Perhaps society began to worship the glowing red monolith instead, sending the guardian to be forgotten. Without narration or lines of dialogue, it is certainly left open to your interpretation.

Sacrificing themselves to save your life, you are imbued with the powers from The Guardian of the Northern Lights to cleanse the land from corruption. Along the way, you'll come across remnants of the lost civilization, reuniting shaman bodies scattered throughout the chapters with magical staves, releasing their souls and allowing them to rest peacefully. Now, only a floating spirit orb, the former guardian serves as a mentor, guiding you throughout the visually impressive environments. There's no mini-map or anything to follow, but visual cues help guide you along. You'll solve environment puzzles without combat, either by instilling relics with the powers of light or matching symbols carved into stone statues.

Spirit of the North Enhanced Edition can be completed around the five-hour mark, but as your progress, you'll learn new powers requiring the use of spirit energy. The energy can be found throughout the game world from blue flowers, letting you channel it inward or release it into relics that open blocked passageways, or activating an ability such as entering a spirit form and running across flowing water. Besides the powers, you can run, bark, and jump, but the movement feels imprecise. With the amount of platforming required, you'd have thought that jumping would feel better. You'll occasionally slide off edges or be blocked by invisible barriers, but wandering around with the atmospheric orchestrated soundtrack is awe-inspiring.

Simply Put

Spirit of the North Enhanced Edition is a visually impressive narrative experience that foregoes dialogue for atmosphere and world-building. The game is simply beautiful and runs smoothly; however, the gameplay should have been tweaked with the PlayStation 5 release. Occasionally, it is unclear what you need to do, or the imprecise jumping can cause you to backtrack needlessly. It's a solid platforming adventure that successfully tells a tale through pictographs and gameplay.

]]> [email protected] (Kevin Mitchell)
/videos/new-and-upcoming-games-for-playstation-5 Mon, 07 Dec 2020 12:49:00 -0500 <![CDATA[New and Upcoming Games for PlayStation 5]]> /videos/cyberpunk-2077-playstation-gameplay Tue, 24 Nov 2020 13:42:00 -0500 <![CDATA[Cyberpunk 2077 - PlayStation Gameplay]]> /reviews/warhammer-chaosbane-slayer-edition-review Mon, 23 Nov 2020 20:32:00 -0500 <![CDATA[​Warhammer: Chaosbane Slayer Edition Review]]> Just in time for the launch of the next-generation consoles, Warhammer Chaosbane Slayer Edition is the definitive way to purge cultists and heretics. A hack-and-slash action RPG, Warhammer Chaosbane delighted fans in 2019, bringing the behemoth Warhammer fantasy universe to a genre dominated by the likes of Diablo, Path of Exile, and Torchlight.

Optimized for co-op in mind, the game supports up to four players local and online, as players must slaughter the daemons of Chaos, develop their characters and work together to save the Empire. The Slayer Edition brings over a year's worth of improvements, enhancements, and post-launch content, including the Tomb Kings narrative expansion and the newly released Witch Hunter class. Be prepared to purge Chaos from the world.

We've already reviewed the base game (read through for in-depth game mechanics), thanks to Marcus's deep knowledge of everything Warhammer, calling it "an unabashedly fun title." As an isometric action RPG, Chaosbane is filled to the brim with gear, loot, and dozens of foes charging towards you at any given moment. When creating a new character, you have the choice to start playing any of the three included story arcs; the original story starting in Nuln, the paid Tomb Kings expansion, and the free The Forges of Nuln chapter.

For this reason, I recommend sticking with a single class, at least until you finish the tale, as playing through the same quests on every class is tiresome (unless you are looking to unlock trophies). Through randomly generated levels, players can team up with others to journey within challenging expeditions. The time-sensitive boss rush mode tasks players with eliminating the bosses fought through the narrative, which are quite impressive and the highlight of the game. In contrast, relic hunt adds dungeons with numerous difficulty levels to earn powerful heroic gear sets. The inclusion of the Tomb Kings story content takes players to the golden deserts of Nehekhara and away from the infested sewers of Nuln, the ruined streets of Praag (the Cursed City), and the frozen Norscan penisula.

Unlike Marcus, who purged numerous daemons with his dual-ax dwarven slayer, I chose the game's sixth class, The Witch Hunter, to dish out my form of judgment upon the legions of Chaos. With his pistols and rapier, you're capable of trapping and slowing down heretics at range and finishing them up close. The hybrid range/melee approach fits well with my playstyle and effortlessly synergies with all existing classes.

The normal difficulty is a bit of a cakewalk, as long as you don't become overwhelmed by 30+ cultists or daemons attacking you simultaneously, along with elites. You need to spend gold or fragments to revive on the spot or restart from the beginning of the current dungeon if you perish. As you increase the difficulty, the percentage of loot quality, extra gold/fragments, and experience bonus also increase, providing a risk vs. reward factor. Once you unlock the chaos difficulties, that's where the game's cooperative nature truly shines. Fragments drop almost as frequently as gold, and are used to bless items, providing further stat bonuses, depending upon what colors are used. For example, a stack of green fragments can add a plus to your maximum health, while blue fragments add armor bonuses.

Loading times are virtually non-existent, thanks to the power of the PlayStation 5. At most, you'll be waiting three seconds for dungeons to load, but moving between zones within a dungeon is instantaneous. The three narrative activity cards are designed to let you quickly pick off exactly where you left off in the narrative, regardless of what campaign or chapter you are currently playing, loading directly into the game with your previously last used character. Additional ones unlock as you unlock each mode meant for end-game content.

The DualSense controller's adaptive triggers provide an enjoyable sensation for the two skills tied to the left and right trigger. When on cooldown, both triggers provide resistance, making it much harder to squeeze. As soon as the skills can be activated, the resistance is removed, and you can easily use your skills. It's a small touch, and although it's not as satisfying as the haptics from Astro's Playroom, it is appreciated and hasn't gone unnoticed. The game's visuals look incredibly sharp, running at 60 frames per second, even at 4K.

Simply Put

Warhammer Chaosbane Slayer Edition is the definitive action RPG experience on PlayStation 5, with plenty of narrative content, loot grinding, and dungeon crawling. The game looks stunning, especially at 4K resolution, and runs incredibly well on a PS5 with minimal loading. The adaptive triggers are a nice touch but don't take full advantage of the DualSense functionality. Currently, there aren't any upgradable paths for those that previously owned the game to the PS5 Slayer Edition besides spending $60 to repurchase.

]]> [email protected] (Kevin Mitchell)
/reviews/bubble-bobble-4-friends-the-baron-is-back-review Fri, 20 Nov 2020 13:42:00 -0500 <![CDATA[​Bubble Bobble 4 Friends: The Baron is Back! Review]]> One of Taito's biggest arcade games in the late 1980s, Bubble Bobble, was not only fun but approachable for all audiences regardless of age or gender. It featured two colorful and cute dragon brothers on a quest to save their girlfriends from the evil Baron Von Bubba across 100 levels. Bub and Bob have become gaming icons, with ports of the original arcade puzzle action game releasing on home consoles and numerous sequels and spin-offs over the years. With four-player cooperative couch gameplay, you'll bubble your way through 100 levels to defeat the magical wizard Bonner (Drunk). However, along with the PlayStation 4 release, the "The Baron is Back!" update is free for those that purchased the original Nintendo Switch release. It adds 100 new stages, where you'll need to avoid the invincible Baron (Skel-Monsta), who appears throughout without continuing.

Taking place in a child's bedroom, Bubble Bobble 4 Friends: The Baron is Back! takes you across five areas, each with ten stages, with the final stage pitting you against a massive boss with special abilities thanks to Bonner. Each stage typically takes around a minute or less to complete, so you'll breeze through all 50 of the stages on the normal difficulty in less than an hour. Once you've completed the first set of stages, hard mode becomes available, remixing the original stages with always "angry" bullies. The core gameplay of Bubble Bobble is intact. Players must shoot bubbles to trap enemies inside, then burst them either by using your spikes on your back or stomping through. When multiple bubbles are touching, bursting starts a chain reaction, bursting all nearby bubbles and providing a score boost.

Bubbles float thanks to the air currents, which were invisible in the original arcade game; however, this sequel provides visual indicators, ensuring you know precisely where trapped enemies and empty bubbles will end up. For the purists out there, you can turn off all visual assistance or make them more subtle. Considering the stages are built for verticality (every stage only takes up a single screen), you must ride bubbles upwards to reach new platforms. Defeated bullies turn into food in the form of fruit, giving you a set amount of points based on the number of enemies bursting in a single chain. You'll also replenish the uses for your selected skills, which unlock by defeating bosses. As long as you quickly finish stages and chain multiple enemies together, you can raise the amount and type of delicious fruity desserts that appear after completion. There is a tiered ranking for the fruit, with bananas being the lowest and watermelon, grapes, and pineapple being near the top. Get proficient enough, and you'll earn shiny gems instead, but that's only for those that have mastered Bubble Bobble (not for me).

Instead of picking up magical items that randomly appear while playing, you'll unlock them by defeating bosses. These skills can be equipped but have a set amount of uses and must be replenished by defeating bullies. These abilities are based on each boss's powers, such as shooting bubbles further, thunder bubbles that send out a horizontal shockwave, and even an exploding time bomb bubble. Trapped enemies float around the stage based on the wind direction but become free and angry after a short time. Angry enemies are far deadly, with faster movements. The stages are designed using both transparent and solid platforms, with the difference being that the former can be passed through only. You're also able to crouch and squeeze through tight spaces to reach enclosed areas, but you cannot shoot bubbles while crouched. Later levels become less free-flowing and more maze-like, with only a single path to move through. Not only that, but dangerous spikes are added, killing you with a single touch; however, strangely enough, it doesn't pop bubbles.

Scattered throughout the nine platforming stages in each area are the letters E-X-T-E-N-D, although only one letter appears in a stage, unlike the original arcade game. You'll get a bonus life for collecting the letters and completing the word extends (get it?) the number of uses for your skill. As you may expect based on the title, the game supports four-player local multiplayer. However, all players share the same pool of lives and score; instead of instantly dying like in single-player, getting hit traps you inside a bubble. Your partners have a brief moment to burst the bubble, ensuring that a life isn't wasted. Given the linearity of some of the stages, things become quite chaotic as four players are blowing bubbles simultaneously in tight corridors. Improving the accessibility of the game series is the inclusion of an invincibility option once you see the "game over" screen three times.

Simply Put

Bubble Bobble 4 Friends: The Baron is Back! is a fun four-player multiplayer experience, with 200 stages to complete with the cutest arcade characters of all time. There's even the option of playing the original two-player 100 stage arcade release. The new area that features the invincible Baron and no continues replaces the standard arcade machine once you unlock hard difficulty by completing the first fifty stages. Online ranking for every area is tucked away in the options menu, letting you compare high scores across the globe.

]]> [email protected] (Kevin Mitchell)
/reviews/overcooked-all-you-can-eat-review Thu, 19 Nov 2020 17:55:00 -0500 <![CDATA[​Overcooked! All You Can Eat Review]]> From their beginnings, as a two-person turned three-person independent studio, Ghost Town Games has become synonymous with fun, frantic couch co-op multiplayer with the original series of Overcooked! In 2016. The chaotic four-player multiplayer title became the definitive experience amongst friends and family, testing even the most stable relationships with precision cooking under pressure. Overcooked! 2, the follow-up added the option of online multiplayer, new dynamic levels, interactions, and even throwing mechanics to easily send ingredients from one side of the kitchen to the other. In time for both the launch of Xbox Series X|S, and PlayStation 5, Overcooked! All You Can Eat is an absolute smorgasbord, stuffed with more content than a Thanksgiving Day turkey.

Overcooked! All You Can Eat is the definitive way to experience the blessing of cooking together with friends under pressure, except this time, both games can be played via online multiplayer. This yummy package has overhauled both games and added some fresh content right out of the oven. Not only that, but the game includes every tasty morsel of downloadable content previously released and includes way faster loading times, remastered visuals, and everything runs at a buttery smooth 60 frames per second, even at 4K. There is even all-new content added exclusively to this release, three new chefs, seven new levels, and more. Accessibility options have been greatly improved, allowing even more players to join in the fun, like family members and younger audiences. The UI can be scaled (hooray with bigger text sizes); color blindness options and dyslexia-friendly text are viable options. If the frantic, anxiety-driven nature of having to work as fast as possible, assist mode offers options for slowing down round timers, recipe timers, and even skipping levels.

Considering the original Overcooked! didn't have online support; it has been entirely rebuilt using the Overcooked! 2 engine. Both games in the definitive collection are going to support cross-platform online multiplayer in an upcoming patch. All of the characters (there are more than most fighting games) from all of the DLC and updates released over the years can be played across both games, giving players a massive pool to select their favorites. Want to play through the original game as a vampire or even a reindeer? Go right ahead. Arcade mode features two modes, coop and versus, but both can be experienced locally or online (with random player support for online multiplayer). There are dozens of levels for players to vote on, each one with their own unique kitchen environment and recipe requirements, from sushi to thanksgiving turkey. However, the campaigns are limited to playing with friends, as you'll have to invite others if you wish to play online.

Like in the originals, if you attempt to play the game solo, you are simultaneously in charge of two chefs. At any point, you can click the right bumper and swap between either character, a necessity given some kitchen layouts are split in half, limiting the number of things a single chef can accomplish. It's much harder to play through the game this way, and honestly, after a single level, I realized just how much I hated playing the game this way. Thankfully, the game is still the king of couch co-op, and it wasn't long before Joan and I were back to getting three stars in each level in the campaign. Although, someone inevitably slips up, and chaos soon follows, with incorrect orders being made, fires erupt, and everyone runs around panicking as the timer counts down. As orders are received, the list of the required ingredients for the customized order is directly listed. You may be tasked with making three salads in a row; however, one may include tomatoes, another may have cucumbers, but sans tomatoes. Serving food with the proper customizations is vital to maximizing your score, which earns you stars. New levels during the campaign are gated by the number of stars you have, so you may have to replay levels multiple times in the hope of getting a better score.

The kitchen layouts are relatively traditional and straightforward at first. Still, it isn't long before you're cooking on a swaying pirate ship or a kitchen split across a frozen river, requiring you to rush across floating sections of ice. Regardless of the kitchen, and any environmental hazards, including rats that love to steal ingredients, preparation needs to be prioritized. Everything action has a set timer, from being chopped, boiled, or cooked. Do you risk a soup possibly burning to prep the next order's ingredients, or do you drop everything you are doing and rush to plate the item and send it out of the kitchen.

Simply Put

Overcooked! All You Can Eat is the definitive edition of two of the best party games released in the last generation. The next-generation release and the remastered visuals, new enhancements, and added accessibility options ensure that the frantic cooking experience can reach a wider audience. Although the original release has been rebuilt, Overcooked! 2 is still the only one that features throwing. It would have been nice to add the functionality, but it may have also required reworked kitchen layouts, considering how dynamic and crazy the sequel levels become. The new content is appreciated; however, it may be too little for those that have squeezed every ounce out of the games already. Online multiplayer and the promise of cross-play support certainly does sweeten the deal.

]]> [email protected] (Kevin Mitchell)
/videos/cyberpunk-2077-official-gameplay-trailer Thu, 19 Nov 2020 12:58:00 -0500 <![CDATA[Cyberpunk 2077 - Official Gameplay Trailer]]> /reviews/the-falconeer-review Thu, 19 Nov 2020 08:22:00 -0500 <![CDATA[​The Falconeer Review]]> The Falconeer is an exciting flight sim/air combat game set in a water world that stopped growing somewhere during the Victorian/Industrial era. If you're not sailing somewhere, you're flying on giant birds capable of amazing aerial feats. And if people are not one of the many trying to make an honest living, they're one of the various pirates or warmongering groups that proud Falconeers such as yourself are trying to stop.

In a world where just traversing can seemingly be the most dangerous thing (I saw what looked like a giant, spike-armored whale snake leap out of the water, it's got to be dangerous in there), flying makes the safest sense in terms of getting around. Thankfully, I've been a big fan of flying sims or general "flying games" for most of my life. Sky Oddysey on the PlayStation 2 springs to mind as a prominent one, but that's just me dating myself a bit. The Falconeer puts you on the back of one of these birds, strapping guns and some ammo packs on there for good measure, and sending you off into the wild yonder without a ton of orientation. The tutorial is relatively useful, given you a chance to test yourself and how good (or bad) a pilot you might be.

That's not a bad thing, though; the world is seemingly massive. It takes some time to get around with some of the weaker/earlier birds, given their lower speed, but exploration is genuinely one of the best ways to understand the game. Stopping at different locations gives you a chance to buy items or upgrades or find additional quests to complete mid-stream (stuff you can do post-mission completion as well). You may also get an intriguing monologue from various characters, providing world-building lore, such as the creepy shaman/fortune teller woman about the meaning of the place. There's genuinely a massive world to explore, but once you've seen everything on the map, the excitement from the unknown is gone.

The Falconeer ends up, after a point, feeling very repetitious once you've managed to uncover all of the hidden must-see locations around the map. The gameplay loop is relatively basic; go to point a, kill some enemies, go to point b, ensure your weapons are charged, rinse, and repeat. Unfortunately, the exploration aspect wears out potentially early on unless you manage to hold off and focus only on completing the missions. Granted, the giant gaping hole in the middle of the ocean takes a bit of time to get an explanation, but beyond that, it's a series of small port towns, defensive structures, or old shrines. The story is your main draw, and you'll be sent off to be a mercenary for various groups, building your reputation, skills, and firepower over time. Much like how there's excellent world-building with lore hidden around, the game's story is very political – backstabbing, double-crossing, and a series of ever-escalating political intrigue.

However, most of the story ultimately relies on combat—something which is both fun as hell but challenging and frustrating at times as well. The game revolves around you flying your giant bird around, engaging in aerial dogfights or strafing sea-bound vessels, targeting forward with your lightning cannon. It's all great in theory, and most of the time, it's excellent in reality. However, I found myself consistently facing difficulties maintaining a good bearing on my foes. Sure, yeah, it's a dogfight – barrel rolling and turning usually ends up being the norm. But I often struggled against the camera, and anytime there were more than four or five enemies up against me, I was quickly picked off from all conceivable angles. Encounters would generally devolve into spinning in circles, attempting to find an enemy only to be killed no matter how many swoops or maneuvers I performed. The game offers you the ability to lock onto enemy targets at the cost of losing camera control and any orientation of how you're flying. It can be almost nauseating if you try to do it for too long in the middle of combat, and it's one of the reasons I ended up not using the mechanic and hoping for the best.

Outside of combat, though, the controls felt very intuitive and similar to other flight titles. It was fun to work with the bird, climbing higher and diving back down to recharge my energy meter (part of what you use to speed up or do rolls). I could almost hear Peppy from Star Fox yelling, "Do a barrel roll!" as I effortlessly spun through the air, and just getting that speed up in a sharp dive was thrilling and fun. A bonus – to refill your ammunition, fly through an active thunderstorm and watch the electricity surge towards you. I mention all of this because, even as frustrating as the combat always ended up being for me, the rest of the game felt fluid and fun. Flying around, exploring, and learning about the great mysteries of The Falconeer while helping random passersby at least filled in some of the gaps created by the combat.

Simply Put

There's so much here to The Falconeer that I want to see more. The world feels very fleshed out and realized, the giant birds are freaking cool, and I'm still left wondering what the hell is going on with the woman glowering over my (maybe?) dead body between missions. I would love some tweaks to the gameplay and some chances to freely explore the world, but I feel pressured to complete the missions at hand, and I ultimately missed some things until I was a few hours into the game itself. It's great that the initial tutorial helps you get your wings, but there was a lot more I didn't know until experimenting around during missions. The history lessons I found, shopping opportunities, and side hustles are neatly tucked away, waiting to be unlocked by players that want to spend the time looking. But I worry that once those are dried up, the story (and combat) may not be enough to hold some through to completion.

]]> [email protected] (Marcus Jones)