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Skylanders Imaginators Review
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Update March 2: Additional information about the Switch version of the game has been added to the bottom of the review.

I've always thought of the Skylanders series as gateway titles for the next generation of gamers, with the series' kid-friendly aesthetic and forgiving difficulty serving as gentle introductions to the wider world of games. Skylanders Imaginators is, in that sense, an obvious, almost inevitable next step. With Imaginators, the Skylanders go further along along the gaming evolutionary path, adding RPG-like staples such as full character customisation, loot drops, and a more complex stats system for your weapons/gear. It's a welcome move for the franchise, as it adds a compelling twist to the tried-and-true Skylanders formula.

It's an twist that's ended up being the redeeming quality for for this latest instalment. Imaginators is, at its core, a pretty standard action platformer, and it comes up lacking when compared to the more varied and vividly imaginative recent games in the series (Superchargers and Trap Team). But that new level of customisation and the ability to constantly tinker with your character makes it feel like a different experience. This makes Imaginators the most interesting Skylanders to play in years, even if it's not the most fun.

It all starts with characters, or in this case, the ability to create your own Skylander from scratch. To create a Skylander, you're going to need a creation crystal, one of the new sets of physical toys that will debut with this year's game. Like other Skylander toys, placing a creation crystal on the real-world Skylanders portal will bring whatever character is saved onto the crystal into your game. Each crystal has a specific element attached to it (such as life, earth, undead, and so on), and the first thing you'll have to choose is what class you want your new Skylander to be. These classes fit gaming's broad archetypes such as brawlers, ranged specialists, mages, and more, and are forever locked once you make your initial decision (you can, however, change your character's looks at any time).

This is where the tricky topic of commerce in the Skylanders series enters the conversation. Choosing a character class is actually a pretty big decision in Imaginators, as the classes are distinct enough that your playstyle will be impacted by class. I played most of the game as a Bazooker class, which specialises in ranged explosives, and switching over to a more melee-focused Brawler class at certain points forced me to significantly alter my approach to combat situations. Of course, with your class locked to a creation crystal, you'll need to buy more if you want to play as any of the others. Buying new toys to experience more of the game is a Skylanders tradition, and while there's a huge amount of content here that can be accessed with just the basic starter packs, that commercial element of the franchise remains the same.

To its credit, the game doesn't limit your ability to change how your character looks at any point. Imaginators doesn't quite have the same level of customisation depth as say, something like a WWE 2K17 or a Skyrim, but what is there is pretty expansive. You can choose body parts from a wide selection of preset choices, tinker with the coloring of individual pieces, select the pitch and tone of your character's voice, change their battle music, and more. All of this customisation makes for a system where you can create a Skylander that feels pretty unique, and that you can easily get attached to because of the level of care you can pour into its creation. My favorite piece of customisation was the ability to change catchphrases; it always brought a smile to my face every time Nuggets, my Bazooker character, screamed out "I'm crazy for my muscles" before heading into battle.

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Your created characters can equip weapons and gear, and while gear isn't anything new in a Skylanders game, the frequency of drops has significantly increased, making the loot experience here more akin to a less intense version of a Diablo or Destiny. Defeating bosses, completing objectives, or even just making it to certain areas all result in dropped chests that contain loot (ranked common, rare, epic, or ultimate), and this loot isn't restricted to just gear. New body parts, catchphrases, and even sound effects will also drop, giving you the option to continually tinker with your character's look if you feel the urge to do so.

My seven-year-old son--who I played a lot of the Imaginators campaign with--certainly did, and he would continually (or more accurately, annoyingly) stop to equip a new shoulder guard, or swap in a new tail for his character, or change the size and shape of said character completely. As for me, the tinkering became fairly infrequent as the game wore on. Outside of the novelty of a cool new body part, I found little reason to swap out gear and weapons (the only things that actually make a difference to your character's stats) after the halfway point in the game, thanks to generous drops that bestowed several ultimate-level pieces of loot fairly early on. A better, more restrictive loot drop system would make Imaginators a more compelling experience for grown-up gamers, but from my focus group of one (ie, my son), the target audience seems to be in love with the constant stop-and-swap feel that this game provides.

One of the new Skylander Creation Crystals.
One of the new Skylander Creation Crystals.

It's a pity, then, that all of this customisation is limited to your created characters, and not to the wider cast of both new and existing Skylanders. There's no way to equip any of the dropped gear or weapons on any non-player created characters, so any old Skylander toys you may have don't benefit from the most significant additions that Imaginators brings. The new range of figures released for this year's game--called Senseis--do feature special ultimate moves that are both flashy and impactful, but compared to the cool new personalisation options you have with created characters, the Senseis and any plain old Skylanders come off as rather dull.

If it wasn't for the customisation options and the constant allure of what the next loot drop will bring, Imaginators too would come off as a little dull. That's not to say it's boring; Imaginators' lengthy campaign is a pleasing enough romp, but it's one that leans a little heavily on tried and true action platformer tropes. Simple puzzles, basic platforming, and multi-stage boss fights abound, and there are only a few instances where Imaginators breaks out of this traditional mold. It's not groundbreaking in any sense, and certainly feels like the most rote Skylanders experience in a while.

A better, more restrictive loot drop system would make Imaginators a more compelling experience for grown-up gamers.

But that new level of character personalisation elevates Imaginators from being decidedly average. The game also allows you to take your character into the real world, with a phone app that allows you take your console creation and order actual t-shirts, physical cards (that contains your character data and act like a Skylander toy when you place it on a portal), and even a 3D-printed toy (apparently in very limited quantities). It's not something I've tried yet, but given the close bond I feel with my character Nuggets, it may be something I do soon. With Imaginators, the Skylanders series isn't pushing any gaming boundaries, but at least it has character.

Update March 2: Skylanders Imaginators is being released as one of the Nintendo Switch's launch titles, and in terms of features and content it's similar to its other console platforms. What is different, though, is how you interact with the game's physical toys. The Switch version of Imaginators has no physical portal, and instead you'll use the Switch controllers' built-in NFC reader to scan in your toys/characters. The characters will then be added to your roster, and can be accessed at any point during the game without having to rescan them in. The advantage, of course, is that it plays to the mobile nature of the Switch, allowing you to take Imaginators on the road without having to lug all your Skylander toys with you. The downside is the loss of that important, tactile feel of swapping your toys as your mood takes you. It slightly lessens that connection you have with the physical, toy side of the franchise, but doesn't impact the overall quality of the game itself.

Read More

Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Thu, 02 Mar 2017 09:50:00 -0800)
In “The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution” Ganesh Sitaraman examines inequality not only as an economic problem but also as a threat to American democracy. Read More

Source: The New York Times - Sunday Review (Mon, 20 Mar 2017 11:00:02 GMT )

From its mysterious opening to its action-packed conclusion, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a revolution for Nintendo's revered series. It's both a return to form and a leap into uncharted territory, and it exceeds expectations on both fronts. The game takes designs and mechanics perfected in other games and reworks them for its own purposes to create something wholly new, but also something that still feels quintessentially like a Zelda game. It's a truly magical work of art that embodies Nintendo's unique talents, and a game that everyone should play regardless of their affinity for the series' past.

More than a typical Hyrule fantasy, Breath of the Wild is a daunting survival game that forces you to think in entirely new ways. You have to be cautious, creative, and resourceful in your efforts to battle the wilderness. Outside of armor, you have to source everything from the field. You earn new weapons by stealing from enemies and prepare restorative meals and elixirs by combining resources found in the environment. Death comes quickly, and whether it's at the hand of a formidable enemy or because you charged unprepared down a treacherous path, you're forced to reconsider almost everything you've learned from past Zelda games. There's so much to see, to accomplish, and to learn that you never feel like you have control over the world. This is a great thing. Where so many games front-load excitement and wonder, Breath of the Wild sustains the thrill of unexpected discoveries throughout.

Amazement sets in immediately after emerging from a tomb-like cave where the familiar hero Link has spent the last 100 years in hibernation. When he trots to the edge of a cliff and the new, massive Hyrule comes into view, you're faced with the striking scale of the world, which is by far the largest the series has ever seen. You will cross vast plains and towering mountains to achieve your goals, all the while contending with harsh weather and Link's physical limitations. Despite a few instances of frame rate dips, Hyrule is consistently impressive to behold, triggering bliss and excitement in equal measure.

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You begin your series-standard quest to defeat Ganon and rescue Princess Zelda with little more than a tree branch to defend yourself from roaming goblins. However, it doesn't take long to build up a diverse arsenal. Nearly every enemy carries a weapon or a shield, and if you can beat them, their gear is yours for the taking. This is also a godsend given that every weapon has finite durability. You will blow through dozens if not hundreds of weapons during your adventure, which no doubt feels strange at first, especially since gear often defined your progress in previous Zelda games. It can feel crushing when a particularly cool weapon is destroyed mid-battle, but you learn to move on. There's no shortage of new gear to discover, and though you aren't able to utilize a consistent stable of familiar weapons, you learn to expect that for every one you've lost, there's something better coming down the road.

In practice, the weapon you wield is important but not necessarily as important as how you control it. Enemies are intelligent and utilize wildly different tactics that force you to diligently study every aspect of their behavior. Basic enemies can be toppled through careful use of a shield, but there are harder enemies that will destroy this defense in a single hit. In these cases, it’s imperative that you parry or dodge an attack at just the right time, which will trigger a moment of slow-motion that allows you to unleash a flurry of attacks against your vulnerable foe. These moves are your last line of defense when the going gets tough, and they require precise timing to execute. Given the myriad enemies and weapons you're up against, mastery feels almost unattainable even with substantial practice. However, that also means you are constantly learning in the face of unforeseen challenges.

There are innumerable unexpected events that can happen. The game never teaches you, for example, that holstering your shield after blocking enemy arrows will add them to your inventory. You're never told that grazing an enemy's wooden weapon with a fire arrow by accident will set it ablaze, thus making the fight harder for you in the long run. These occurrences fuel exciting stories between players, which feels like a rarity in a world where games go so far out of the way to ensure that you know how everything works. Even 50 hours in--and after you're capable of bringing down Ganon--there are still intimidating enemies to be found and intricate rules to study. Your power and wisdom grow as you progress, but you never feel totally invincible, which allows even late-game exploration to be feel tense and rewarding.

Beyond weaponry, Link gains access to magical skills known as runes. These include the ability to move metallic objects with a magical tether, which can be useful for, among other tricks, dropping large iron boxes on unsuspecting enemies. Link can also freeze enemies and objects in place for a limited amount of time. When an object is frozen, it absorbs energy rather than reacting immediately to whatever force you lay into it. And when time unfreezes, all that collected force is exerted in an instant. This allows you to move objects that are otherwise too heavy for Link to control, and gives you a chance to strike a defenseless enemy multiple times without fear of reprisal. Runes prove to be a wonderful source of creativity and problem solving, both in combat and when managing puzzles.

The game's four main dungeons are primarily puzzle focused, with only a few enemies sprinkled throughout. They are a bit unusual compared to dungeons in past Zelda games in that you aren't focused on finding keys to open doors. Instead, the goal is to manipulate the dungeon itself, to literally change its form in order to access important areas. It's a wonderful break from tradition, while you still get a challenging boss battle to look forward to at the end. Gone are the oddly charming bosses from Zelda's past; they've been replaced with dark and twisted fiends that are powerful combatants. Like your fights against normal enemies, you have to move and act deliberately, or suffer for your cockiness.

Breath of the Wild's big dungeons are important, but they are almost less of a draw than the smaller shrines that dot the world. There are reportedly 100 of these mini-dungeons strewn across the map, and the vast majority of them feature puzzles that test your understanding and mastery of Link's rune abilities. Some can be completed in a few minutes, but there are plenty more containing extensive, multi-step processes. Compared to roughing it in nature, these brain teasers are an excellent respite, and make great use of Breath of the Wild's impressive physics system. Figuring out what to do is only half the battle. The rest comes down to precise execution. Therefore, solving even simple puzzles can feel immensely rewarding.

When you look across Hyrule in search of your next destination, the faint orange glow of a new shrine is difficult to ignore. They are one of many distractions that cause you to veer off track. Seeking them out won't help you complete the game any faster--not that you should rush through Breath of the Wild in the first place--but they are rewarding opportunities that expose you to the far corners of Hyrule, where you often catch whiffs of something new and mysterious laying in wait.

Somewhat surprisingly, exploration often proves far more challenging than combat or puzzle solving. Link travels primarily on foot, and he can sprint as long as his stamina meter allows before having to catch his breath. Link can also climb vertical surfaces like cliffs and walls now, but again, he's at the mercy of his physical strength. Exploration may be a struggle at times due to Link's limitations and harsh weather that hinders his capabilities, but to avoid long treks is to rob yourself of some of the best moments of discovery in Breath of the Wild, and the sense of satisfaction you feel for overcoming its most foreboding environments. Equipping metal weapons and armor will turn Link into a veritable lightning rod, and if you're climbing a mountain when it starts to rain, you won't be able to climb more than a few feet before losing your grip and sliding back down. Bring a wooden shield to the fiery slopes of Mount Eldin, and watch it set ablaze on your back while Link's health slowly slips away.

Hyrule is a beautiful world to behold from the top of a mountain, but perching Link on high has other benefits. In addition to runes, Link obtains a paraglider early on in the game, which he then carries with him at all times. It's useful when you fall off a tall building or cliff, but it's also a source of levity after taxing fights and daunting hikes. Your reward for scaling a mountain or tower is the opportunity to soar through the sky and cross large tracts of land with your glider. And if you're skillful, you can use your shield as a veritable snowboard to glide down grassy hills and frozen slopes. Granted, Link can surf down hills at any time as long as his shield can handle the wear and tear, but it’s especially gratifying to drop onto a slope after flying over a massive canyon or a dense forest and coast into a town in style.

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The few towns that exist in the new Hyrule mimic the understated and rural qualities seen in Studio Ghibli's Princess Mononoke. Equally charming are the hikers you meet on trails. These lonely yet upbeat adventurers offer humorous quips, or perhaps a side quest with a quirky premise. You spend so much time fighting to survive, all while under the cloud of your impending fight with the dark and powerful Ganon. By contrast, your interactions with NPCs are opportunities to slow down and help out a friendly stranger in need. Though you have an overarching goal in mind, Breath of the Wild's delightful distractions often prove to be its most memorable moments.

If you've ever hiked deep into the wilderness and found yourself awash in wonderment and perhaps guilt for living a life steeped in modern indulgences, Breath of the Wild's reverence for the natural world will strike a chord. It's the way the rising sun graces blades of grass as you climb a steep hill. It's the flutter of a few well-timed piano notes that dance in your ear and harmonize with your internal childlike amazement. And it's the unwavering delight and excitement that each new discovery brings. It can come when you reveal a new portion of the world map and find a curious landmark, but there's an almost endless stream of smaller discoveries to make as you move about Hyrule.

No matter how gorgeous its environments are, how clever its enemies are, and how tricky its puzzles get, the fact that Breath of the Wild continues to surprise you with newfound rules and possibilities after dozens of hours is by far its most valuable quality. It's a game that allows you to feel gradually more and more empowered yet simultaneously manages to retain a sense of challenge and mystery--which, together, creates a steady, consistent feeling of gratification throughout the entire experience. Breath of the Wild is a defining moment for The Legend of Zelda series, and the most impressive game Nintendo has ever created.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Thu, 02 Mar 2017 03:00:00 -0800)

1-2-Switch, by its very nature, lacks depth. A collection of 28 minigames brings with it broad appeal in its variety--activities include shooting cowboys, strumming an air guitar, cradling a baby to sleep, and more--but little in the way of long-lasting fun or replay value. Wii Sports faced the same problem 10 years ago, and solved it by basing its party games on real-world activities that were enjoyable in themselves before distilling them to simple, satisfying mechanics that were approachable for anyone and everyone. In swinging for the same pitch, 1-2-Switch misses as often as it hits, but it is nevertheless huge fun in the right environment.

Like Wii Sports, 1-2-Switch exists to demonstrate the capability of the hardware it launches with. Many of its minigames, such as the Harry Potter-vs-Voldemort-inspired Wizard, the swing fest Sword Fight, or the catwalk simulator Runway, seek to show off the Joy-Cons' impressive motion tracking by wrapping them in quirky and competitive activities, while also being easy to pick-up-and-play on the move.

While Wizard's TV-based mirroring of your real-world duel means it works well, many of the other motion-based games--especially Table Tennis and Baseball--suffer due to the lack of a visual aid. Hitting a ball between two players is tricky when there's no ball--physical or virtual--to hit. These games rely on timing and the ability to hear a fastball coming your way, but the timing often seems random, and in a party setting peace and quiet is rarely the most plentiful commodity--more than a slight problem for a party game. This lack of feedback leads to a frustrating loss or a hollow win. Either way, these minigames are the ones relegated to the bottom of the pile. Far better are those that use the Joy-Cons' motion as a supplement to the controllers' HD rumble capacity and the TV screen. Safe Crack and Joy-Con Rotation both use the tiny pads' accelerometers and vibrations to great effect while simultaneously giving you helpful, and aesthetically attractive, cues on-screen.

1-2-Switch really shines, however, when it has you look away from the TV and into the eyes of your opponent. Quick Draw, which tests who owns the quicker trigger finger, and Samurai Training, in which one player must correctly predict the swing of and then catch their opponent's sword, are both captivating and hilarious in equal measure. These can still suffer in a noisy environment, but the immediately more social and engaging prospect of staring into your friend's (read: enemy's) soul as you whack them on the head with a pretend sword is a joy. Locking eyes with an opponent, spaghetti western soundtrack blaring, hand hovering over your trusty Nintendo-branded 'revolver,' ears peeled for the "FIRE" command--you could cut the tension with a Joy-Con, and that makes it even funnier when you unintentionally hurl your controller across the room. Serves me right for ignoring the wrist straps, I guess.

1-2-Switch really shines when it has you look away from the TV and into the eyes of your opponent.

Eye contact is also key to a number of 1-2-Switch's more suggestive games. In a somewhat surprising move for the usually resolutely family-focused company, Nintendo has produced a title whose high points are often centred around euphemisms of--shall we say--'lewd acts.' Milk sees you pull on the teats of a virtual cow, Eating Contest sees you hold a Joy-Con close to your face to eat a footlong sub, and Soda Shake has you shaking an imaginary bottle of pop until it bursts, showering its shakers. These minigames are all dressed up innocently enough, of course, but are quite clearly designed to cultivate thoughts of a rather more X-rated nature. Some may call it a vulgar attempt to please both knowing adults and unsuspecting kids with double entendres, but seeing your friends' faces as they realize what hand gestures they're making serves up some of the funniest moments 1-2-Switch has to offer.

Unfortunately, even these highlights wear thin all too soon when playing with the same people. 1-2-Switch's considerable breadth (there are plenty of activities to try) but lack of depth (those activities are mostly shallow) is reflected in its lasting appeal. Every new person I introduced to the game enjoyed their time with it, and my buzz was vicariously renewed with every initiation. But playing any one minigame more than a handful of times with those same people leads to that buzz fading rapidly. The innuendo-laden games suffer most from this since they're a one-note joke--a funny one, but one-note nonetheless. The only ones to survive the effect of diminishing returns are those that either have a layer of strategy--Samurai Training and Fake Draw (identical to Quick Draw but the announcer will fool you with red herrings like "FRUIT" or "FILE")--or have a high score component. Even this is a wasted opportunity; no leaderboards or Wii Sports-style skill level trackers mean you only find out what the record for the quickest shot is when you break it, starving 1-2-Switch of any meaningful meta-competition element.

1-2-Switch, then, feels a little like a wasted opportunity. Many of its minigames are duds that are too limited to be fun on their first attempt, let alone their 100th, and the remainder mostly don't have the depth to maintain a consistent enough high to warrant many playthroughs with the same crowd. There's no doubt 1-2-Switch should have been packed in with the Nintendo Switch, and the decision to sell it separately goes against every fibre of its varied-but-shallow DNA. But 1-2-Switch, at its best, delivers some hilarious moments. Seeing an uninitiated friend milk a cow, looking into your dad's eyes as you beat him to the trigger in Quick Draw, and making a fool of yourself strutting down Runway's catwalk is all amazing fun, even if it is short-lived.

Does it live up to Wii Sports? Not a chance. But that doesn't stop 1-2-Switch being an entertaining minigame collection--just make sure you've got enough willing friends to maintain your own fading high.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Thu, 02 Mar 2017 06:00:00 -0800)

Since both Nintendo and Sony seem intent on not continuing their line of revered hovercraft racers (F-Zero and WipeOut), it’s good to know other developers are happy to pick up the slack. Witness Fast RMX, a digital-only launch title for the Switch, that fills this niche nicely. Astute racings fans may recognize this as the semi-sequel to the excellent if boringly named Wii U racer, Fast Racing Neo (itself the sequel to the Wii game, Fast Racing).

Admittedly, it’s likely not many will recognize this series at all, but given the dearth of launch titles for the Switch, maybe the game will finally get its due. Fast RMX resembles WipeOut, but plays more like F-Zero with its looser, more casual steering and physics. It’s a solid middleground between the two games, with some outrageously designed tracks and a frantic sense of speed.

For those who did play Fast Racing Neo, it should be noted this is essentially an upgraded version. It contains the previous game’s 24 tracks (including the DLC content) and adds six new tracks. This new version sports the same vehicles, three speed-based leagues, and game modes with the except of time trials, which are due to be added later. In Lieu of any world building or story, your only options are to hit the track for a quick race or work your way up the ranks in championship mode. Pick your speed machine of choice and head out to a variety of exotic and futuristic locales to take on the best of the best.

Fast RMX tracks represent a varied array of themes. You can race through sharp and shiny chrome-filled urban sprawls, ice-covered landscapes, jungles, deserts, outer space, and more. Environmental effects ranging from storms to asteroid strikes add flair as well, and make your task slightly more difficult than usual. Tracks typically feature roller coaster-like designs, with looping roads and massive jumps. At times, the tracks seem designed more for effect than skill, however, with off-kilter obstacles like hard to avoid giant turbines and jumps that are too disjointed and easy to crash against, especially when racing in the game's fastest leagues.

These races are brought to life with exceptionally good graphics--this is easily the best looking game on the Switch (at launch) next to Zelda. Vehicles are creatively designed and detailed, and the myriad of locations look terrific. The game also runs at 60 fps/1080p on your TV, even when playing split-screen multiplayer. The audio is more serviceable than exceptional, with an expected, if standard techno soundtrack.

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The overall structure of the racing is a bit odd. The championship mode consists of three leagues (or speed classes), but all use the same 30 tracks. You only get one shot at placing in the top three on any given track within a championship, which makes the lack of a practice mode (or time trial) regrettable. Unlocking tracks in the championship mode also leads to the ‘Hero’ mode, where you have one life to race on a single track and must place first.

In Hero mode, your boost energy also powers your shield, so there’s an interesting dynamic between gaining more speed and preserving your ship. This all amounts to an intense alternative to the standard racing of the championship mode.

There are no weapons in Fast RMX, but absorbing energy from special pads on the track is vital. Energy comes in two flavors--blue and orange. You can phase shift your ship's energy field at any time between the two colors and the idea is to hit a pad with the corresponding field activated. So, hitting a blue energy pad while your ship is blue, gives you a massive turbo boost. Crossing a blue pad while your ship is orange will result in a loss of speed. Fast RMX gets a lot of mileage out of forcing you alternate phases in rapid succession, and makes the already fast races feel slightly more energetic.

Multiplayer support includes both eight player online and four-player split screen support, in addition to local online (where each Switch owner needs their own copy of the game). The split-screen play is excellent and highly customizable to get exactly the type of race you want. Online play works smoothly, but just throws you into a random game. Aside from players voting on the next track, there are virtually no options. There’s not even an ability to find friends or choose leagues yet.

So, Fast RMX isn’t as polished as the games it’s trying hard to emulate, but certainly isn’t a wash. It’s fast, looks excellent, and offers a great variety of tracks. The racing is fun, even if some of the track design is less than stellar. If the online multiplayer gets patched with more customization options, this will also make an excellent addition to the Switch’s scarce multiplayer options.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Sat, 11 Mar 2017 09:30:00 -0800)

Ghost Recon: Wildlands is a squad based Tom Clancy game that plays by the numbers. It stays true to the series' Rainbow Six-inspired roots, emulating the cold and calculated nature of organized infiltration and coordinated stealth kills. Whether you're syncing shots with friends or an AI companion, there's gratification in taking down targets efficiently. Unfortunately, the adherence to this specific kind of gameplay gets lost and diluted in Wildlands’ vast expanse of Bolivia.

By Tom Clancy standards, Wildlands' story--a revenge tale disguised as a narco-state destabilization operation--is low hanging fruit. Worse yet, the narrative perpetuates the notion that a cartel is only worth taking seriously when one of your own has been tortured to death, ignoring the thousands of locals who've suffered similar fates.

It's easy to tell that Karen Bowman--your CIA field handler--has a personal vendetta against the Santa Blanca, the drug cartel that rules Bolivia. When you ultimately come face to face with El Sueno, the cartel's kingpin, you can spot the payoff a mile away. At the end, there's no poignant message or lesson regarding this latest Tom Clancy episode in American interventionism. El Sueno himself has the privilege of introducing his side of the story right when you launch Wildlands. His introductory monologue and his subsequent speeches justifying his twisted sense of morality sounds like the rationalizations of someone who grew up in a bedroom with posters of Michael Corleone and Walter White.

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The pursuit of a single lead that Karen provides conveniently results in a series of other clues and each one of those tip-offs blossoms into others. Enough successful missions eventually results in confrontations with underbosses and lieutenants who are less than six degrees away from El Sueno. Wildlands is as much about gathering information on your targets as it is about picking what leads to follow down their respective rabbit holes. With a keen eye (and enough luck), you can avoid having to complete every missions related to a given boss and eliminate them ahead of schedule.

As you travel from lead to lead, you're exposed to the various factions that pepper Bolivia. On your side are the rebels, known as the Kataris 26. Enforcing El Sueno's rule are the Unidad, Bolivia's military police. These groups add character to your surroundings and how intrusive they are with your mission goals depends on you. You can curry favor with the rebels and gain their support by completing side missions and marking valuable resources for them. And as long as you're flooring it in a vehicle, any Unidad you drive by will sit tight, rather than follow in pursuit.

Some of your intel will reveal locations of weapons to add to your collection, though amassing a stockpile of firearms is purely optional. Compared to the multitude of games where the acquisition of guns is a major selling point, Wildlands’ selection is serviceable. The problem is that you can easily complete the game with your initial load out. This is because you regularly earn skill upgrades by completing missions, and you gain access to the quintessential stealth weapon--the silenced sniper rifle--early on. There's little incentive to hunt for other weapons unless you're a gun nut or you enjoy the experience of mixing up different weapons.

Along with the obvious discretionary benefits of the aforementioned silenced sniper rifle, the drone--even before you've upgraded its capabilities--is an exceedingly helpful tool. It's the catalyst to Wildlands' mark-and-execute mechanic, the same feature that's been the hallmark of last few Tom Clancy games like Splinter Cell: Blacklist and Ghost Recon: Future Soldier.

For the fans who've been hooked on Ghost Recon for the advancing technologies--which has been integral with the series' brand--the lack of gadgetry in Wildlands will prove disappointing. The novel appeal of drones--particularly in Tom Clancy games--has long since expired. While you can upgrade it with a handful of offensive and diversionary capabilities, its default function as a target-marking device is all you need.

While the drone marks your targets, it's your squad's responsibility to pull off the kills. The need for coordination underscores the team-based appeal of Wildlands, which can be experienced with AI-controlled teammates or, preferably, with other players. When playing with skilled friends, there’s comfort in knowing that you’ll most likely be on the same page. Playing with AI has it’s own benefits, like being better bullet sponges when they’re out in the open healing you. The one puzzling omission to multiplayer is the ability to form a mixed squad of friends and AI; if you're playing only with one buddy, you're stuck as a pair. Even so, it's wholly amusing that the whole squad's ongoing situational story-driven banter persists even when you're just a duo.

Wildlands' most gratifying moments come from playing the ghost. It means having the patience to spend minutes surveying a stronghold from a distance and arming yourself with that visual information to confidently infiltrate the base. There's a rush in leaving the base quietly with the intel you're assigned to uncover or--even more challenging--the VIP you're sent to rescue. And it doesn't get any better than pulling off these stealthy missions on your first try.

Equally thrilling are the moments where you have little time to adapt to changing circumstances. When the best laid plans go wrong, when you've been spotted and a base is on high alert, you're treated to one of the few instances where your squadmates' moment-to-moment updates are actually useful. When a high value target is fleeing, your team will let you know. Suddenly, a foot pursuit ensues and you're left ignoring all the chaos and gunfire around you. The resulting car chases prolongs the excitement, unless you're lucky enough to grab the target right before he finds a getaway vehicle.

At the outset, its appears that Wildlands' strength is in its diverse mission types. For every assassination, there’s a capture or rescue assignment. Any given sortie might involve hacking, sabotaging, or even stealing a plane. You might even find yourself pulling off the ol' switcheroo with two similar looking trucks. It’s never a dull moment, at least for the first 20 or so hours. By the time you've experienced each of these kinds of objectives a handful of times, boredom starts to set in.

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This encroaching sense of monotony feels more apparent as the poorly written squad chatter starts to repeat itself. When your teammate complains about not being allowed to man the boat, it’s mildly amusing the first time, so you can imagine how annoying it would be hearing the same gripe the twentieth time. Even incorrect situational commentary, say when you’re alerted to a patrol chopper while you’re deep inside a mine stops being funny before long.

Ubisoft's reimaging of Bolivia is tailor made for goal-driven excursions beyond the story. Often times, it's photo realism is eye-catching, like when the sunlight glistens off a watery tire tracks. Other times, seeing nothing but jungle or an endless ridgeline of beige rocks brings out the blandness of some regions.

The mix of dense vegetation and barren mountains echo the environments of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, just less accommodating. Navigating your way down a rocky cliff on foot is as unpredictable as climbing one. Instead, you're left using vehicles as your most reliable means of traversal. Yet for a map that should be more off-road friendly, this interpretation of Bolivia often encourages you to keep to the beaten path, lest you wipeout after a sick cliff jump on a motorcycle.

One unsurprising benefit of the open environment are the myriad avenues for infiltration into any enemy stronghold. No matter how fortified a four-sided base is, there is always a backdoor, whether it's a broken fence and a convenient stack of boxes next to the outer wall. Finding and using these alternate entrances can be as satisfying as any frontal assault.

Despite the country's vastness, it's a mixed blessing that you don't need to visit every region to take down El Sueno. Whether you take the most direct route to the boss or you systematically cross off every underboss and lieutenant first, you'll confront a rogues gallery of diverse personalities, whether that's a social media savvy Santa Blanca evangelist or an American military ex-pat who found purpose in El Sueno's cause.

As only the second open world game in the Clancyverse, Ghost Recon: Wildlands is a middlingly safe tactical shooter and a slightly wasted opportunity given the ambitious scope of its seemingly boundless map. While its main strength is its mission diversity, it doesn’t take long to lose the motivation after reaching El Sueno's doorstep. Even with a foursome of highly trained friends, Wildlands eventually reveals its diminishing returns. The feeling of positive immediacy and dopamine hits begin to wane sooner than you expected from a game with such a large and diverse world.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Fri, 10 Mar 2017 17:30:00 -0800)

Malicious Fallen may not be developed by Platinum Games, but it sure does look the part. This may have something to do with the fact that developer Alvion supported Platinum Games during the development of such titles as Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Bayonetta 2, and Anarchy Reigns to name a few. Malicious Fallen delivers some beautiful, colorful, anime-inspired visuals, and presents a familiar approach to massive-scale fights and flashy combo attacks. But that’s not enough to shake the feeling we've seen it done bigger, better, and more cohesively elsewhere.

Malicious Fallen tells the tale of a land ruled by an insane king whose wife makes a deal with supernatural powers in order to end her husband's reign of terror. After he's gone, however, she finds herself more than a little hesitant to give up on her power trip. She becomes the new despot, subsequently granting her best warriors a share of the glory in rampaging across the countryside. A group of prophets, loyal to the powers beyond, have you in their back pocket. You play the part of the Spirit Vessel, who's been imbued with all the remaining magical power left in the universe, along with a cape called the Mantle of Cinders, to go forth and triumph over evil.

Since all of this is presented in text form, however, it ends up as an easily missable cover story for what essentially boils down to a dazzling boss rush that throws you to the wolves within minutes of starting the game. You're given a short, perfunctory tutorial, a series of portals to choose from, and off you go. The brevity of training could be forgiven if the game were more of an arcade-style brawler where you only really need to know how to hit, dodge, and maybe perform a flashy special, but Malicious Fallen--to its credit and curse--offers a combat system full of tiny intricacies that only really come together via rigorous, Sisyphean trial-and-error.

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You begin your quest with a few attacks: the Mantle of Cinders can turn into a shield for defense, a set of giant fists for close-quarters combat, or it can fire a ranged attack that can target whatever's directly in front, and potentially barrage multiple enemies. To add an extra level of complexity, you can also alter attacks so that enemies who die explode, chaining damage to other nearby enemies. All of this is adds points into a resource called Aura.

Aura is everything in Malicious Fallen. Not only is it the resource that you use to heal, but when your Aura stash is full, you're allowed to unleash extremely high-powered attacks that can make relatively quick work of the game's massive bosses. All of this is technically explained in the tutorial, but these instructions mean little without context; you're ultimately left to figure out how to handle Aura on the fly, and likely die several times in the process.

The other gameplay element is a Mega Man-style system where every boss drops a new ability for you to use, and figuring out which ability will have maximum effect against each boss--or even whether what you have available will even make a dent--is, again, a trial-and-error process. It requires that you get very comfortable with each bosses' patterns and attacks, but it also means a lot of wrestling with the game's twitchy camera. It's the basis for a woefully unintuitive targeting system that only focuses on the boss, and sometimes has trouble even activating. It's not unusual to end up on your back, suffering from a barrage of cheap hits for prolonged periods of time, all because you weren't able to target properly. The kicker? Your life force is measured by having limbs and parts of your outfit knocked off--which, on a busy battlefield, can be near impossible to monitor. Typically, it's not until a single hit results in an unexpected game over that you realize how far gone you were.

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Through the chaos, however, there are joys to be found. The game's ornate cathedrals and rollicking battlefields are, at times, breathtaking spectacles. The bosses themselves are fantastically designed, and just watching them move and react is impressive. While combat is poorly explained, going back to older bosses with a new arsenal and a better understanding of the game makes for a gratifying form of payback.

The fact remains that you have to perform a lot of legwork to understand how each boss works in respect to your abilities. There's a fine line to be crossed in a boss rush game, where hard fought battles lead to either sighs of relief or aggravated groans. Too often, Malicious Fallen earns the latter. Malicious Fallen isn’t a game that feels triumphant so much as tiring.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Mon, 20 Mar 2017 10:00:00 -0700)
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Source: Depreview - All Reviews & Previews (Sun, 12 Feb 2017 11:00:00 Z)
If you're moving away from compacts and want to know more about interchangeable lenses we can help.
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Source: ePHOTOzine - Photography Techniques (Wed, 29 Mar 2017 00:00:06 GMT )

After the first few hours of Mass Effect: Andromeda, I was discouraged--maybe even a little distraught. Within that short span of time, I'd already encountered unconvincing animations, bog standard missions, clunky user interface, stilted dialogue--basically every red flag you hope to avoid when approaching a lengthy shooter-RPG powered equally by action and story.

Thankfully, Andromeda did improve. As I progressed, I unlocked exhilarating new combat options, met characters with deeper appeal than my initial crew, and discovered freely explorable worlds that finally fulfilled the series' decade-old planet-hopping promise. And yet, some of those early problems persisted throughout, and while I did catch glimmers of the original trilogy's greatness, that shine was often dulled by lifeless dialogue, tedious missions, and even technical shortcomings.

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To its credit, Andromeda boldly abandons the familiar. In place of the iconic Commander Shepard, we have Ryder, the daughter (or son) of a man chosen to lead one of four arks filled with intergalactic explorers looking to found colonies in a distant star cluster. Several disasters later, Ryder inherits her dad's job, and while the moments leading to and including that scene are pretty hackneyed, the stakes really sink in once you reach the Nexus--Andromeda's version of the earlier games' Citadel.

Here you discover the other three other arks have gone missing and that the Nexus, which arrived ahead of the arks, has suffered every setback imaginable, from growing food shortages to a veritable civil war. With leadership in shambles and no resources to revive the cryogenically frozen colonists, the sudden arrival of an ark immediately lands Ryder in an uncomfortable position of power. In practice, the scenario felt more believable than typical "you are the chosen one" cliches. I understood why those characters would look to me and felt the weight of their desperation. So when the Nexus gradually sprang to life as I started fixing problems, I felt genuinely accomplished.

The central storyline revolves around an evil alien race and its narcissistic leader.

In parallel with this more broadly-focused narrative--which encompasses much of the side content--the central storyline revolves around an evil alien race and its delusional, narcissistic leader, who poses a more immediate threat than food shortages. He's less one-dimensional than he initially seems, but the plot is largely predictable in a mindless blockbuster sort of way. The two stories intersect occasionally, and both pay off in the end.

Truthfully, Andromeda's story problems stem more from delivery than from plot. The vast majority of Andromeda's characters are just dull, and conversations rarely delve deeper than arduous "get to know you" small talk. No one yells or cries or expresses any measurable emotion at any point, even when they explicitly talk about their feelings, and there's no Tyrion Lannister or Francis Underwood to keep things interesting. There was plenty of room for Game of Thrones-style power struggles on the Nexus, yet all political disagreements are merely mentioned without being explored. Even romance options feel stilted, and the culminating scene I unlocked for successfully wooing a crew member was not as explicit or exciting as you might expect.

Worse still, your agency in these conversations is limited. Sure, you can periodically select from up to four dialogue options, but these frequently boil down to "be optimistic" or "be realistic." On paper, this system improves over the rigid renegade/paragon dichotomy of the original series, but in practice, the various options felt only superficially different. And regardless of what I picked, my inputs only rarely impacted the outcome. Even when I tried to be rude, characters generally found a way to shrug it off. And after beating the campaign, I can only recall one major decision that had serious repercussions, and even that felt contrived. It also paled in comparison to the memorably gut-wrenching choices forced on me in the original games.

In fairness, Andromeda did sometimes surprise me with poignant moments, like my crew comforting me in a dark hour and a conversation with my partner AI about the meaning of life. The game just buries these gems under hours of empty or even cringe-worthy interactions filled with heavy-handed themes, awkward lines of dialogue, and weird idiomatic phrases that felt out of place in a far flung galaxy. What person says "What's the word on the street?" without irony in 2017 let alone 600-plus years in the future?

Andromeda's worlds are breathtaking to behold and exciting to explore.

Thankfully, I didn't have to dig as deep to find the things Andromeda does well. Its worlds, for example, are breathtaking to behold and exciting to explore. You eventually uncover four mini-open worlds, as well as smaller, standalone areas like an overgrown jungle outpost and your own ship, The Tempest. The four major maps are sizable and offer drastically different environments and hazards, from frozen wastelands to arid deserts to unruly jungles. They're also filled with NPCs to chat up and side missions to undertake. You could end up solving murders in a pirate port, betting at a Krogan fighting pit, or unlocking secrets in ancient yet hyper-advanced vaults. Or you could just wheel around in your Nomad. The galaxy is vast and varied, and that's worth being excited about.

I also fell in love with the combat, especially later in the game. The core shooting mechanics feel stronger here than anywhere else in the series, and the flexibility of the progression system let me cherry pick cool powers rather than locking me into a set character class. I ended up building, well...a space ninja, basically. I could use tech to cloak myself, biotics to charge enemies, a shield-buffing sword to deal damage, and the standard jumpjets to dart away again. The results were consistently frantic and fun, though there are plenty of other options as well. I enjoyed nearly everything I experimented with, even if most enemies proved to be predictable adversaries.

Combat's one major flaw is the crafting system. I would call it more of a missed opportunity than a problem, but crafting is often the only way to get the weapons and armor you actually want, which means hours of scanning objects to accrue research points and many headaches dealing with the messy UI. Even bare essentials like comparing weapon stats can be tricky or even impossible. The crafting and loadout stations are also at opposite ends of the Tempest, which routinely forced me to run back and forth to get things done. You will occasionally find loot around the world, but it's severely utilized as a reward mechanic. I felt deeply satisfied when I finally completed my perfect loadout, but I'm not sure it was worth the energy.

Crafting isn't Andromeda's biggest time-waster, however. That would be its tedious missions. Far too many open world quests--even some that feel important or come packaged in an interesting premise--devolve into multistep "go here, hit a button" errands. There's always another navpoint somewhere across the map or an NPC who needs exactly three items or a crucial datapad that's unexpectedly missing when you arrive. I frequently felt like an intergalactic errand boy, mindlessly scanning everything in sight so my omniscience AI partner could do whatever the situation required and give me a new waypoint to reach.

I frequently felt like an intergalactic errand boy, mindlessly scanning everything in sight.

These missions aren't all bad, per se, but they desperately needed some editing--or at least a wider variety of gameplay scenarios. Forcing players to repeat the exact same action three times or drive across the map to interact with one prompt isn't fun--it's padding. The campaign and crew loyalty missions provide better crafted experiences, but there's no avoiding at least some of the unimaginative tedium, especially since you rarely receive enough information upfront to really know what you're getting into.

There is plenty to do outside of missions, however. Andromeda includes a somewhat convoluted meta-game that challenges you to raise planets' viability levels by establishing outposts and completing other quests. You can also hunt for "memory triggers" left by your father that eventually reveal a few interesting secrets. And then there's mining, which uses a hot/cold indicator to let you hunt for crafting resources while driving across the worlds; space travel, which lets you jump from to location to location, scanning planets for XP; and strike teams, which give you the option to send unseen groups of soldiers out on missions or earn additional rewards by jumping into a cooperative multiplayer horde mode match. Individually, these elements don't add much, but collectively, they do round out the sci-fi fantasy.

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Unfortunately, there's a dark cloud hanging over all of this: technical issues. Sure, the facial animations really don't look great, but the problems run deeper. On PS4, the framerate was all over the place both in and out of action. On both PS4 and PC, I encountered several audio issues, most notably multiple lines of dialogue playing at the same time, covering each other. I also saw other random glitches like characters that failed to load during conversations, exiting a conversation to find myself a room away from where I was previously, and enemies that fell into the level geometry. None of these issues rendered the game unplayable, but they were noticeable and pervasive.

In many ways, Andromeda feels like a vision half-fulfilled. It contains a dizzying amount of content, but the quality fluctuates wildly. Its worlds and combat shine, but its writing and missions falter--and the relative strength of the former is not enough to compensate for the inescapable weakness of the latter. As a Mass Effect game, Andromeda falls well short of the nuanced politics, morality, and storytelling of its predecessors. For me, the series has always been about compelling characters and harrowing choices, so to find such weak writing here is bitterly disappointing. Yet even after 65 hours, I still plan on completing a few more quests. The game can't escape its shortcomings, but patient explorers can still find a few stars shining in the darkness.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Mon, 20 Mar 2017 00:00:00 -0700)
Trump orders the unwinding of Obama's Clean Power Plan March 28, 2017, 1:29 p.m. Here's our look at the Trump administration and the rest of Washington: President Trump moves to undo Obama's Clean Power PlanThe House Freedom Caucus looks to be back driving the GOPWho will win the emerging White... Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 28 Mar 2017 13:29:00 PDT )
Trump orders the unwinding of Obama's Clean Power Plan March 28, 2017, 1:29 p.m. Here's our look at the Trump administration and the rest of Washington: President Trump moves to undo Obama's Clean Power PlanThe House Freedom Caucus looks to be back driving the GOPWho will win the emerging White... Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 28 Mar 2017 13:29:00 PDT )

Electronic Arts' Xbox One subscription service, EA Access, launched in August 2014 with four free games, including FIFA 14, Madden NFL 25, Peggle 2, and Battlefield 4. Since then, EA has added over 30 more and launched a version of the service on PC called Origin Access.

We've now rounded up all the freebies into lists, which you can see below. We will update this post in the days, weeks, and years ahead when more games are added. EA has vowed never to remove any games from the "Vault" of freebies. "I think one of the key things is that once a game goes into the Vault it stays there, it's not going to be taken out, that's a commitment we've made," Peter Moore said.

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No version of EA Access is available on PlayStation 4. According to Sony, the service does not offer the kind of value PlayStation fans have come to expect. That being said, Sony maintains that it is open to having a dialogue with EA about how it might be able to bring EA Access to PS4 someday.

In addition to free games, EA/Origin Access members can play some games (but not all) ahead of launch; most of the time, subscribers get a five-day headstart. Another benefit is that subscribers save 10 percent on all EA digital content, which knocks down the price of a $60 game to $54.

The service costs $5/month or $30/year.

EA Access Free Games (As of February 24, 2017)

New and upcoming games are bolded

  • Battlefield 3 (released on January 20)
  • Battlefield 4
  • Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (released on January 20)
  • Battlefield Hardline
  • Bejeweled 2
  • Bejeweled 3
  • Dead Space
  • Dead Space Ignition (coming in 2017)
  • Dragon Age: Inqusition
  • EA Sports UFC
  • EA Sports UFC 2
  • Feeding Frenzy
  • Feeding Frenzy 2
  • FIFA 14
  • FIFA 15
  • FIFA 16
  • Heavy Weapon
  • Madden NFL 15
  • Madden NFL 16
  • Madden NFL 17 (released on February 24)
  • Madden NFL 25
  • Mass Effect
  • Mass Effect 2
  • Mass Effect 3
  • Mirror's Edge
  • Mirror's Edge Catalyst
  • NBA Live 15
  • NBA Live 16
  • NHL 15
  • NHL 16
  • NHL 17 (added March 28, 2017)
  • Need for Speed
  • Need for Speed Rivals
  • Peggle 2
  • Plants vs. Zombies
  • Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare
  • Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2
  • Rory McIlroy PGA Tour
  • Skate 3 (released on February 13)
  • SSX
  • Star Wars Battlefront
  • Titanfall
  • Unravel
  • Zuma
  • Zuma's Revenge (coming in 2017)

Origin Access Free Games (As of February 24, 2017)

  • Aragami (added February 16)
  • The Banner Saga
  • Battlefield 3
  • Battlefield 4
  • Battlefield Hardline
  • Crysis
  • Crysis 2
  • Crysis 3
  • Crusader: No Regret
  • Crusader: No Remorse
  • Dead Space
  • Dead Space 2
  • Dead Space 3
  • Dragon Age: Origins
  • Dragon Age 2
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition
  • Dungeons of Dredmore
  • FIFA 15
  • FIFA 16
  • Furi (added February 16)
  • Jade Empire
  • Mass Effect
  • Mass Effect 2
  • Mass Effect 3
  • Medal of Honor Allied Assault
  • Mini Metro
  • Mirror's Edge
  • Need For Speed
  • Need For Speed Rivals
  • Peggle
  • Plants vs. Zombies
  • Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare
  • Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2
  • The Saboteur (added February 16)
  • Sim City
  • Sim City 2000
  • The Sims 3
  • This War of Mine
  • Titanfall
  • Torchlight II
  • Trine
  • Trine 2: Complete Story
  • Unravel
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Source: GameSpot Gaming Reviews (Tue, 28 Mar 2017 14:12:00 -0700)
According to Tiffany Dufu’s “Drop the Ball” and Stephen Marche’s “The Unmade Bed,” there’s a solution to those impossible household to-do lists: Quit. Read More

Source: The New York Times - Sunday Review (Tue, 28 Mar 2017 15:14:14 GMT )
The Leica M10 is the latest rangefinder to join Leica's legendary M-System line-up but does it live up to the famous name? Read our full review.
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Source: ePHOTOzine - Equipment Reviews (Tue, 28 Mar 2017 15:45:01 GMT )
We round-up the best budget smartphones for photography, the best budget camera phones with a good camera. Under £300 sim-free.
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Source: ePHOTOzine - All Photography Articles (Tue, 28 Mar 2017 15:21:04 GMT )
PermaJet have announced a new paper especially for monochrome printing at The Photography Show.
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Source: ePHOTOzine - All Photography Articles (Tue, 28 Mar 2017 15:36:17 GMT )
Professional photographers can currently have 500 images corrected for free with the ProImageEditors team.
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Source: ePHOTOzine - All Photography Articles (Tue, 28 Mar 2017 15:37:59 GMT )
John Riley reviews the compact prime lens for Pentax Q cameras, the 8.5mm f/1.9 AF lens.
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Source: ePHOTOzine - Equipment Reviews (Tue, 28 Mar 2017 14:52:09 GMT )
“The Inheritance” is about five siblings (out of six) who inherited a genetic mutation that leads to early-onset Alzheimer’s. Read More

Source: The New York Times - Sunday Review (Tue, 28 Mar 2017 11:00:01 GMT )
Here are some fun tips and tricks on photographing portraits that are a little more creative.
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Source: ePHOTOzine - All Photography Articles (Tue, 28 Mar 2017 11:01:37 GMT )
This 2002 essay by the playwright Arthur Miller was meant to assist a campaign to abolish the death penalty in Illinois. Read More

Source: The New York Times - Sunday Review (Tue, 28 Mar 2017 10:00:01 GMT )

A decade in, Michael Wayne finally has a clear vision of what his company can be.

The former Sony Pictures Entertainment executive had been driven by the idea that video would overtake the Internet, and he wanted to be the leader in producing high-quality digital shorts. But what they’d cover,...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 28 Mar 2017 03:00:00 PDT )

When Laszlo Szabo, Hungary's deputy minister for foreign affairs and trade, visited the United States this month, he made a point of including Los Angeles on his itinerary.

“I wanted to come to L.A. because there is a huge community of Hungarian origin,” said Szabo, who is also his country’s minister...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 28 Mar 2017 03:00:00 PDT )

Pay-TV companies lost nearly 800,000 video subscribers last year, almost twice as many as a year before — the latest evidence that a growing number of Americans are sick and tired of paying through the nose for hundreds of channels they never watch.

But if the future of TV is paying only for the...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 28 Mar 2017 03:00:00 PDT )
Frances Fitzgerald’s “The Evangelicals” is an examination of how politics and conservative Protestantism became intertwined. Read More

Source: The New York Times - Sunday Review (Tue, 28 Mar 2017 09:00:29 GMT )
As well as winning the UK National Award, a British photographer has taken the top title in the Open Architecture category.
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Source: ePHOTOzine - All Photography Articles (Tue, 28 Mar 2017 09:35:35 GMT )
Here, Eschenbach help you to tell the difference between 5 similar looking corvids.
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Source: ePHOTOzine - All Photography Articles (Tue, 28 Mar 2017 09:00:07 GMT )

More than 13,000 customers across Southern California lost power on Monday as gusty winds between 40 mph and 50 mph damaged trees, downed power lines and fanned small fires.

The National Weather Service issued high wind advisories and warnings Monday for the valleys, mountains and coastal areas...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Mon, 27 Mar 2017 22:50:00 PDT )
California politics updates: Senate leader calls effort to cut 'sanctuary city' funding 'blackmail,' Democrats hit Mimi Walters on healthcare vote March 27, 2017, 5:49 p.m. This is Essential Politics, our daily look at California political and government news. Here's what we're watching right now:... Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Mon, 27 Mar 2017 17:49:00 PDT )

Ducks defenseman Kevin Bieksa was practically deadpan when he broke down how this season has played out.

Asked whether the Ducks’ gradual cohesion was by ideal design, Bieksa channeled his comedic side.

“We had a meeting at the start of the season and we said, ‘Let’s come out of the gates slow,...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Mon, 27 Mar 2017 17:05:00 PDT )

Troubled electric car maker Faraday Future continues to slim down its grand plans.

The Gardena-based company plans to build a technology-loaded luxury electric sedan called the FF 91. But cash flow has been a big problem.

The company said Monday that it’s ending negotiations with the Bay Area city...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Mon, 27 Mar 2017 17:00:00 PDT )
California politics updates: Senate leader calls effort to cut 'sanctuary city' funding 'blackmail,' Democrats hit Mimi Walters on healthcare vote March 27, 2017, 4:59 p.m. This is Essential Politics, our daily look at California political and government news. Here's what we're watching right now:... Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews ( Mon, 27 Mar 2017 16:59:00 PDT )
The details of “American War,” Omar El Akkad’s dystopian novel about an unraveling United States, makes his fictional future feel alarmingly real. Read More

Source: The New York Times - Sunday Review (Mon, 27 Mar 2017 23:13:18 GMT )

Health officials are investigating what caused 47 people to fall ill at a Christian campground in San Bernardino County.

On Saturday night, campers at the Oak Glen Christian Conference Center in Yucaipa began suffering from nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, said Lana Cao, spokeswoman for San Bernardino...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Mon, 27 Mar 2017 16:00:00 PDT )

Leaders from so-called sanctuary cities across Southern California struck a defiant tone Monday, stating that they would continue to protect people who are in the country illegally despite threats by U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions to cut off and even claw back grant funding from the Justice Department.

... Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Mon, 27 Mar 2017 15:50:00 PDT )

There are lots of reasons why doctors encourage new mothers to breastfeed their babies. Compared with babies who get formula, babies who are breastfed are less likely to die as a result of infections, sudden infant death syndrome or any other reason. The longer a mother nurses — and the longer...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Mon, 27 Mar 2017 15:15:00 PDT )
Review: Nintendo Switch
Read our updated review. The post Review: Nintendo Switch appeared first on WIRED. Read More

Source: WIRED - Product Reviews (Wed, 01 Mar 2017 14:00:09 +0000 )
Review: Canon EOS M5
This tiny camera demonstrates the DSLR giant can make a very capable higher-end mirrorless. The post Review: Canon EOS M5 appeared first on WIRED. Read More

Source: WIRED - Product Reviews (Fri, 10 Mar 2017 16:00:42 +0000 )

As a Switch launch title, Snipperclips does little to sell the unique features of Nintendo's new console. Playing the game on the go isn't ideal, since the Switch's small screen and the bumpy nature of playing it in cars (or buses, trains, or planes) derails some of the accuracy needed to complete its puzzles. The game also doesn’t make use of the Joy-Cons' advanced haptic capabilities, meaning there's no real benefit to playing with the minuscule controllers--even though you're forced to do so.

So, no, Snipperclips isn't a game you'd buy to show off the capabilities of your sweet new Switch. But it is a game you should play because of its interesting mechanics, fun puzzles, and great cooperative play (and griefing possibilities). Snipperclips makes the most of its unique premise--often in surprising, challenging ways.

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The game's base mechanic is simple enough: You--an anthropomorphic piece of paper--can cut up to three other players into various shapes in order to complete objectives and puzzles. At its simplest, it could be something as straightforward as snipping each other in order to fit into a specific silhouette or cutting a larger piece of paper into a certain shape.

Snipperclips doesn't stay simple very long, though--the game does an admirable job of presenting engaging, challenging tests built off its simple setup. Some puzzles task you with figuring out how to manipulate several gears and switches in order to move an object from one side of a level or another, while others require you to figure out a way to herd fish to a specific location. Some of the game's best levels are even more intricate--in particular, the ones that require you to control a princess avatar through a path you've had to cut out of a single sheet of paper.

The solutions to these levels are sometimes apparent, but most will require some creative thinking and a fair amount of trial-and-error. Thankfully, the process of uncovering these solutions is usually engaging, especially when playing with a friend or three. Snipperclips excels as a cooperative experience, and it's a particularly accessible one given its relatively sedate pace. There's no time pressure or twitch reflexes needed--finding the solutions to puzzles requires teamwork, lots of conversation, and perseverance.

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Surprisingly, Snipperclips also plays pretty well as a solo experience, with a significant amount of the game's puzzles able to be completed alone. When playing solo, you still have to control two paper characters (switching between the two, as opposed to playing concurrently), and it's certainly a good challenge to figure out the sometimes-intricate step-by-step process you need to go through to complete objectives. You'll need a mountain of patience, though--having to do everything on your own while you're swapping between characters means an extra level of finesse is required, and because it takes so much longer to set up the solution to a puzzle when playing alone, having to start from scratch when you make a tiny mistake can become frustrating.

It's a lonely pursuit, though, because Snipperclips works best as a shared experience. When you're working with friends and you do finally complete a tough level together, the sense of accomplishment and camaraderie is palpable. Unfortunately, there's no real reason to replay levels--once you've figured out a solution, there's no incentive to try again, since there's no tangible benefit to finding out more efficient solutions. Snipperclips is indeed engaging, but it's likely something you'll only ever play through once. It isn't a Switch showstopper, but when a game is this inventive and appealing, it doesn't need to be.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Fri, 10 Mar 2017 10:23:00 -0800)
Towns are full of photographic opportunities. When are you going to take your camera to yours?
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Source: ePHOTOzine - Photography Techniques (Tue, 28 Mar 2017 00:10:03 GMT )
Win Vanguard tripods and bags by showing us your best 'Slow Shutter Speed' images.
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Source: ePHOTOzine - Photography News (Fri, 24 Mar 2017 10:00:06 GMT )
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Source: Depreview - All Reviews & Previews (Wed, 01 Mar 2017 14:00:00 Z)
Trump attacks conservatives over healthcare debacle, and hints at displeasure with Ryan March 27, 2017, 3:10 p.m. Here's our look at the Trump administration and the rest of Washington: After initially blaming Democrats, Trump sets his sights on the GOP for the failure of healthcare billTrump learns... Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Mon, 27 Mar 2017 15:10:00 PDT )

Healthcare product maker Johnson & Johnson and automaker General Motors Co. are among the latest companies to halt advertising on YouTube after concerns that Google is not doing enough to ensure brands’ ads are not appearing near terrorist content.

New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson said in a statement...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Mon, 27 Mar 2017 15:00:00 PDT )

Barry Jenkins conquered the film world with “Moonlight,” the small-budget movie with the big heart that won best picture at last month’s Academy Awards. And now Jenkins is ready for his next challenge.

Amazon announced Monday that it is developing an hourlong limited drama series based on Colson...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Mon, 27 Mar 2017 14:55:00 PDT )
Thirteen new Color Field paintings by Mary Weatherford include several that are the largest she has made. Nuanced and self-assured, they show her working in top form. At just under 10 feet by 20 feet, each of four mural-size abstractions in the first room at David Kordansky Gallery envelopes a... Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Mon, 27 Mar 2017 14:50:00 PDT )

Just days before the women’s world championships, a group of U.S. senators has written a letter urging USA Hockey to reach a settlement with top American players who have vowed to boycott the tournament.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D.--Mass.) and more than a dozen of her colleagues raised concerns on...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Mon, 27 Mar 2017 14:50:00 PDT )

There are many ways to read an opening scene in which an elderly man glumly stares at himself in the bathroom mirror but perhaps only one way to interpret a shot that zeroes in on the surgery scar on his chest. It’s imminent death that’s on the mind of Ray, played by Frank Langella. Eventually,...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Movie Reviews (Thu, 2 Feb 2017 13:35:00 PST )
Dell has added a new 31.5inch monitor to their range that has a 7680x4320 resolution.
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Source: ePHOTOzine - All Photography Articles (Mon, 27 Mar 2017 15:25:54 GMT )
Trump attacks conservatives over healthcare debacle, and hints at displeasure with Ryan March 27, 2017, 6:48 a.m. Here's our look at the Trump administration and the rest of Washington: After initially blaming Democrats, Trump sets his sights on the GOP for the failure of healthcare billTrump learns... Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Mon, 27 Mar 2017 06:48:00 PDT )
We pick out the Amazon deals photographers will be interested in so you can purchase the essentials without breaking the bank.
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Source: ePHOTOzine - Photography News (Mon, 27 Mar 2017 13:42:43 GMT )
A beautiful macro dew drop image has been awarded the photo of the Week accolade.
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Source: ePHOTOzine - Photography News (Mon, 27 Mar 2017 14:01:18 GMT )
The Eschenbach binocular range is currently on offer over on Amazon UK with a wide range of discounts available.
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Source: ePHOTOzine - Photography News (Mon, 27 Mar 2017 13:02:20 GMT )
The third winner of a year's Photo Month has been announced - find out more here.
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Source: ePHOTOzine - Photography News (Mon, 27 Mar 2017 11:49:52 GMT )

The NHL Kings are struggling, but their namesake Jr. Kings Squirt B2 team is thriving. The team won its division with a 5-1 victory over the California Wave on Saturday in a Southern California Amateur Hockey Assn. playoff game at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, which is the Kings’ practice...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Sun, 26 Mar 2017 16:35:00 PDT )

Dustin Johnson won the Dell Technologies Match Play with more drama than he needed to cap off an otherwise dominant week that made him the first player to sweep the four World Golf Championships.

The scorecard will show Johnson never trailed in any of his seven matches over 112 holes, ending with...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Sun, 26 Mar 2017 16:10:00 PDT )

A gunfight broke out inside a crowded Cincinnati nightclub early Sunday, leaving one man dead and 15 others wounded after a dispute among several patrons escalated into a shootout, authorities said.

No suspects were in custody by late afternoon in the shooting at the Cameo club, which has a history...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Sun, 26 Mar 2017 17:00:00 PDT )
Learn how to shoot better outdoor flower shots with your compact camera.
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Source: ePHOTOzine - Photography Techniques (Mon, 27 Mar 2017 00:10:18 GMT )

Kyle Larson won the Auto Club 400 in overtime Sunday to give him a sweep for the NASCAR weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.

The 24-year-old Californian also won Saturday’s race in NASCAR’s second-tier Xfinity Series.

Sunday’s two-lap overtime finish in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Sun, 26 Mar 2017 15:50:00 PDT )
Review: Zepp Baseball
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Source: WIRED - Product Reviews (Thu, 09 Mar 2017 15:00:26 +0000 )
Review: 2017 BMW 5 Series
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Source: WIRED - Product Reviews (Tue, 28 Feb 2017 17:00:30 +0000 )

At least two people opened fire inside a crowded nightclub early Sunday morning, killing one person and wounding more than a dozen others in what authorities described as a chaotic scene.

It was not clear what prompted the shooting at the Cameo club about 1:30 a.m., and authorities didn't immediately...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Sun, 26 Mar 2017 03:00:00 PDT )

Dungeons & Dragons has a long, storied history in gaming. The classic pen and paper game has had several successful digital counterparts,and its approach to role playing has influenced and been repackaged as everything from Final Fantasy to Skyrim. If you’re only familiar with modern role-playing games, you could be forgiven for assuming that they’re all about crafting and loot, leveling and growing stronger. In truth, D&D’s many progeny have simply sidestepped what makes role-playing games one of the most powerful, affecting genres.

Torment: Tides of Numenera seeks to take role-playing back to its roots. Gone are the bombastic power fantasies. Gone, too, are cluttered inventory screens and complex crafting. Instead, Torment is about you taking on the role of another. Reductive as that might sound, the distinction underscores what modern RPGs have been missing for so long--actual role-playing.

Set more than a billion years in the future, Torment blurs the line between science fiction and fantasy. While everything is ostensibly technological, it’s often so advanced that it might as well be magical. It’s against that backdrop that your character pops into existence. You’re thrust into the body of the Last Castoff, a husk of a person created by a god seeking a perfect vessel. You begin your new life falling from space, with only a few broken memories ripped from the god who made you.

Character creation comes as a series of scenarios that encourage you to choose not just who you are (i.e. your gender or class), but what kind of person you want to be. Your backstory is set, but you can choose how to respond and explore the alien world into which you’ve just been born. From the outset, Torment encourages you to internalize motivations for your character.

When you play an RPG, you’re shaping the experience as much as the game’s developers did. They’ve authored the text and crafted the structure, but from those pieces, you construct your own adventure. It’s a blessing, then, that Torment’s pieces are phenomenal. Its environments are rich and detailed, packed with strange creatures and wondrous animated effects. Surreal, atonal music billows from these far-future locales, setting an uneasy tone. Torment’s true strength, though, is its writing and the beautiful twists it brings to classic RPG concepts.

This approach to crafting role-playing games pays dividends--it leaves room for thought and reflection. While RPGs often tout that you can do just about anything to just about anyone, Torment tries to break down what your actions mean.

Each area introduces at least a dozen characters--each with their own stories and relationships. Torment encourages you to indulge your curiosity and talk to everyone you see. That can cause the game to drag in places, as you might find yourself pushing through a thousand lines of text before you move on. Aside from the few parts where the sheer amount of text can be a little overwhelming, florid descriptions pour onto your screen describing everything from the subtle body language of alien creatures to finer details of your surroundings. Torment’s rich prose hits wonderful highs. It’s easy to slip wholly into the game’s world, losing yourself amidst the strange, unknown features of Earth a billion years from now.

Torment captures the essence of huddling around a table with your friends playing a campaign. It may not be as free-form as a true tabletop RPG, but Torment manages a believable illusion of endless possibilities. It drops the maps and simple, one-step quests of contemporary RPGs. Exploring these lands is an active process: You ask questions, you piece the mysteries together, and you find your own, novel solutions. With such developed characters and dense worlds, you’ll often think you’ve missed something, but this actually works in Torment’s favor, as more often than not, you’ll be left thirsting for more.

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Even when you’re done with one small segment of the game, Torment begs you to wonder how things could have played out. That’s difficult for a scripted game, as it relies on blocking just enough from the audience that it inspires curiosity, while tilting the hand just often enough to show that what’s hidden is substantive. Torment walks that line perfectly, giving each scenario believably different outcomes with effects that can ripple throughout your playthrough. At the same time, these distinctions never feel arbitrary, you aren’t selecting between “the good option” and “the evil option.” Instead, your choices center around the tone and spirit of the character you want to play -- quests then are paths to your character’s development, not rote tasks with clean mechanical pay-offs like more money or better gear.

This approach to crafting role-playing games pays dividends--it leaves room for thought and reflection. While RPGs often tout that you can do just about anything to just about anyone, Torment tries to break down what your actions mean. At one point, you’ll have the opportunity to resolve a fracture in time. Working through it could be seen as an effort to heal and help, but you’re just as likely to cause a section of time to collapse, killing another character. Carelessness breeds instability--which, in turn, causes suffering. Similarly, kindness isn’t universally rewarded. Torment nudges you to think carefully about how you want to express yourself in this world.

Torment wants you to dig through its hamlets and delve into its dungeons on your own. It isn’t about cutting down waves of foes, it’s not about being the one true hero, and it’s not wish fulfillment. Narrative is an end in itself.

Here, pulling any one thread without understanding its connective tissue is the greatest sin. And this allows Torment to explore broader questions in ways that are human and relatable. You might be dealing with a woman who’s split between several dimensions or an all-consuming, amorphic maw that streaks across the landscape, but this is dressing for the more fundamental reflections on what it feels like to have your mind spread too thin and how people grapple with slow-moving disasters.

While the bulk of your time with Torment will, no doubt, be spent navigating dialogue trees, that’s not all there is here. You’ll also have three pools of points that you can pull from to perform extraordinary feats--might, speed, and intellect. The size of each can vary, so you could have nine points of speed to cash in and only three of might, but they’re all spent in similar ways. For example, if you come across a boulder that blocks your path, you might be able to shift it. You can attempt this without help, leaving the outcome largely to chance, or you can spend a few points of might to dramatically increases your odds--possibly even guaranteeing success.

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This comes at a cost, though. Each of your point pools are difficult to replenish, so extraordinary exertion can leave you too weak or cognitively taxed to do much. You’re never powerless, though, and Torment goes out of its way to make every outcome interesting. Much like its almost infinitely sprawling tabletop inspirations, Torment flips the idea of failure on its head. Should you ever "fail", you might meet someone new or discover a secret you wouldn’t have caught if you had succeeded in the initial task. Everything you do and don't do in Torment is rewarded with more world-building prose and intrigue.

Torment wants you to dig through its hamlets and delve into its dungeons on your own. It isn’t about cutting down waves of foes, it’s not about being the one true hero, and it’s not wish fulfillment. Narrative is an end in itself. Story is the everything, and the play that backs that story, while minimal, gives the experience a weight that’s too often lost in other games. Torment defines itself as codified opposition to current trends, but that’s also not all it is. Using pools of points to set limits on its players and driving player expression through curiosity are novel additions to one of gaming’s oldest genres.

Taken together, Torment is far more than just a phenomenal role-playing game. It’s a challenge to restore the depth and nuance for which the genre was once known.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Wed, 08 Mar 2017 14:41:00 -0800)
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Source: Depreview - All Reviews & Previews (Tue, 29 Nov 2016 15:01:00 Z)

The Photographer's Guide To Scotland is the newest edition to Ellen Bowness' successful series, helping people to find the best photos in the UK's most photographed places.

Previous off...
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Source: ePHOTOzine - Book Reviews (Tue, 12 Apr 2016 15:53:53 GMT )
Capture better shots of boats with our photography tips.
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Source: ePHOTOzine - Photography Techniques (Sun, 26 Mar 2017 00:10:03 GMT )

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.

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.

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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.

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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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Thu, 16 Mar 2017 17:30:00 -0700)
Review: Cuisinart Vertical Waffle Maker
Cuisinart turns the whole waffle iron thing on its side. The post Review: Cuisinart Vertical Waffle Maker appeared first on WIRED. Read More

Source: WIRED - Product Reviews (Fri, 17 Mar 2017 16:30:05 +0000 )
Top 5 at a Glance
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Source: The New York Times - Best Sellers (Fri, 05 Nov 2010 01:18:07 GMT )
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Source: The New York Times - Best Sellers (Sat, 06 Nov 2010 05:22:46 GMT )
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Source: The New York Times - Best Sellers ( Sat, 06 Nov 2010 05:27:10 GMT )
Keith Richards’s autobiography, “Life,” hits the hardcover nonfiction list at No. 1, unsurprisingly. Read More

Source: The New York Times - Best Sellers ( Fri, 05 Nov 2010 15:46:40 GMT )
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Source: The New York Times - Best Sellers (Fri, 05 Nov 2010 01:26:35 GMT )
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Source: The New York Times - Best Sellers (Fri, 05 Nov 2010 16:14:42 GMT )
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Source: The New York Times - Best Sellers (Fri, 05 Nov 2010 16:16:30 GMT )
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Source: The New York Times - Best Sellers (Fri, 05 Nov 2010 01:20:56 GMT )
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Source: The New York Times - Best Sellers (Fri, 05 Nov 2010 01:24:49 GMT )
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Source: The New York Times - Best Sellers (Fri, 05 Nov 2010 01:25:44 GMT )
2.5 stars out of 5: A little much.
The past few years have seen a marked rise in the number of Christian-themed films getting wide theatrical distribution, but to call it a "new wave" of faith-based cinema is probably inappropriate. That designation is usually reserved for a...
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Source: Movies.com - Dave White Reviews (Fri, 24 Apr 2015 23:27:52 GMT )
2.5 stars out of 5: Proustian mush
It begins with a shot of the Earth from space, and omniscient narration. (The voice of Hugh Ross, narrator of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, whose low-key, somewhat conspiratorial, post-sincere, NPR reporter tone turns...
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Source: Movies.com - Dave White Reviews (Fri, 24 Apr 2015 23:25:37 GMT )

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