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Armand Pigeon doesn’t really take free kicks for the Edison High boys’ soccer team. That’s not his role.

But with the team’s designated free-kick taker out sick on Thursday night, the junior said he felt the need to line up for one right before the first half expired.

Coach Charlie Breneman is...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews ( Thu, 13 Dec 2018 23:50:00 PST )

“Tidelands,” a supernatural seaside crime thriller that gets underway Friday, has the distinction of being the first original production by Australian Netflix, and that is the most distinctive about it.

Still, notwithstanding that it begins with an epigram from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ("My soul...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Fri, 14 Dec 2018 00:05:00 PST )

Signed, sealed, delivered.

Thursday night’s victory over Kansas City was a signature win by Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who had waited so long for redemption in this frigid house of horrors.

The epic comeback by the Chargers was a total team win, of course, with receiver Mike Williams having...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Thu, 13 Dec 2018 22:55:00 PST )

Neither the team he plays for now nor the team he left behind has a winning record, but Trevor Ariza’s departure left a mark on the Houston Rockets.

They miss the boost he provided as a reserve, but they also miss his character.

“I think everybody misses a guy like Trevor in their locker room,”...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Thu, 13 Dec 2018 21:30:00 PST )

Lockheed Martin has agreed to expand its cleanup efforts of contaminated groundwater in the San Fernando Basin as part of a settlement agreement reached with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Under the agreement, Lockheed Martin will treat and transfer 1.5 billion gallons of drinking...

Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Thu, 13 Dec 2018 21:50:00 PST )

The idea of what the Super Smash Bros. games are, and what they can be, has been different things during the series' 20-year history. What began as an accessible multiplayer game also became a highly competitive one-on-one game. But it's also been noted for having a comprehensive single-player adventure, as well as becoming a sort of virtual museum catalog, exhibiting knowledge and audiovisual artifacts from the histories of its increasingly diverse crossover cast. Ultimate embraces all these aspects, and each has been notably refined, added to, and improved for the better. Everyone, and basically everything, from previous games is here--all existing characters, nearly all existing stages, along with the flexibility to play and enjoy those things in different ways. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a comprehensive, considered, and charming package that builds on an already strong and enduring fighting system.

If you've ever spent time with a Smash game, then you likely have a good idea of how Ultimate works. Competing players deal damage to their opponents in order to more easily knock them off the stage. The controls remain relatively approachable for a competitive combat game; three different buttons in tandem with basic directional movements are all you need to access a character's variety of attacks and special abilities. There are a large variety of items and power-ups to mix things up (if you want to) and interesting, dynamic stages to fight on (also if you want to). You can find complexities past this, of course--once you quickly experience the breadth of a character's skillset, it allows you to begin thinking about the nuances of a fight (again, if you want to). Thinking about optimal positioning, figuring out what attacks can easily combo off of another, working out what the best move for each situation is, and playing mind games with your human opponents can quickly become considerations, and the allure of Smash as a fighting game is how easy it is to reach that stage.

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Complexity also comes with the wide variety of techniques afforded by Ultimate's staggeringly large roster of over 70 characters. Smash's continuing accessibility is a fortunate trait in this regard, because once you understand the basic idea of how to control a character, many of the barriers to trying out a completely new one are gone. Every fighter who has appeared in the previous four Smash games is here, along with some brand-new ones, and the presence of so many diverse and unorthodox styles to both wield and compete against is just as attractive as the presence of the characters themselves. In fact, it's still astounding that a game featuring characters from Mario Bros, Sonic The Hedgehog, Pac-Man, Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy, and Street Fighter all interacting with each other actually exists.

On a more technical level, Ultimate makes a number of under-the-hood alterations that, at this early stage, seem like positive changes that make Smash feel noticeably faster and more exciting to both watch and play. Characters take more damage in one-on-one fights; continuous dodging is punished with increased vulnerability; fighters can perform any ground-based attack, including smash moves, immediately out of a running state; and short-hop aerial attacks (previously a moderately demanding technique) can be easily performed by pressing two buttons simultaneously. Refinements like these might go unnoticed by most, but they help define Ultimate's core gameplay as a tangible evolution of the series' core mechanics.

A number of Ultimate's more superficial changes also help Smash's general quality-of-life experience, too. Some make it a more readable game--additions to the UI communicate previously hidden elements like meter charges and Villager's captured items, a simple radar helps keep track of characters off-screen, and a slow motion, zoom-in visual effect when critical hits connect make these moments more exciting to watch. Other changes help streamline the core multiplayer experience and add compelling options. Match rules can now be pre-defined with a swath of modifiers and saved for quick selection later. Stage selection occurs before character selection, so you can make more informed decisions on which fighter to use.

On top of a built-in tournament bracket mode, Ultimate also features a number of additional Smash styles. Super Sudden Death returns, as does Custom Smash, which allows you to create matches with wacky modifiers. Squad Strike is a personal favorite, which allows you to play 3v3 or 5v5 tag-team battles (think King of Fighters), and Smashdown is a great, engaging mode that makes the most of the game's large roster by disqualifying characters that have already been used as a series of matches continues, challenging your ability to do well with characters who you might not be familiar with.

The most significant addition to Ultimate, however, lies in its single-player content. Ultimate once again features a Classic Mode where each individual fighter has their own unique ladder of opponents to defeat, but the bigger deal is World of Light, Ultimate's surprisingly substantial RPG-style campaign. It's a convoluted setup--beginning as Kirby, you go on a long journey throughout a huge world map to rescue Smash's other fighters (who have incidentally been cloned in large numbers) from the big bad's control. Along the way, you'll do battles with Spirits, characters hailing from other video games that, while not directly engaging in combat, have taken control of clones, altered them in their images, and unleashed them on you.

Though there is some light puzzling, the world is naturally filled with hundreds upon hundreds of fights--there are over 1200 Spirit characters, and the vast majority have their own unique battle stages that use the game's match variables to represent their essence. The Goomba Spirit, for example, will put you up against an army of tiny Donkey Kongs. Meanwhile, the Excitebike Spirit might throw three Warios at you who only use their Side+B motorbike attacks.

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It may seem like a tenuous idea at first, but these fights are incredibly entertaining. It's hard not to appreciate the creativity of using Smash's assets to represent a thousand different characters. Zero Suit Samus might stand in for a battle with The Boss from Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater by donning a silver-palette costume and fighting you in a flower-filled Final Destination, but she also stands in for the spirit of Alexandra Roivas from Eternal Darkness by using a black-palette costume and fighting you in the haunted Luigi's Mansion stage, with a modifier that makes the screen occasionally flip upside down (Eternal Darkness was a GameCube horror game whose signature feature were "Sanity Effects", which skewed the game in spooky ways to represent the character's loosening grip on reality). If I knew the character, I often found myself thinking about how clever their Spirit battle was.

Defeating a Spirit will add it to your collection, and Spirits also act as World of Light's RPG system. There are two types of Spirit: Primary and Support. Primary Spirits have their own power number and can be leveled up through various means to help make your actual fighter stronger. Primary Spirits also have one of four associated classes, which determine combat effectiveness in a rock-scissors-paper-style system. These are both major considerations to take into account before a battle, and making sure you're not going into a fight at a massive disadvantage adds a nice dimension to the amusing unpredictability of this mode. What you also need to take into account are the modifiers that might be enabled on each stage, which is where Support Spirits come in. They can be attached to Primary Spirits in a limited quantity and can mitigate the effect of things like poisonous floors, pitch-black stages, or reversed controls, or they can simply buff certain attacks.

There are a few Spirit fights that can be frustrating, however. Stages that are a 1v4 pile-on are downright annoying, despite how well-equipped you might be, as are stages where you compete against powerful assist trophies. On the flip side, once you find yourself towards the end of the campaign, there are certain loadouts that can trivialize most stages, earning you victory in less than a second. Regardless, there's a compulsive quality to collecting Spirits, and not just because they might make you stronger. It's exciting to see which obscure character you run into next, feel validated for recognizing them, and see how the game interprets them in a Spirit battle. There's also just a superficial joy to collecting, say, the complete Elite Beat Agents cast (Osu! Takatae! Ouendan characters are here too), even though these trophies lack the frills of previous Smash games.

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Some hubs in the World of Light map are also themed around certain games and bundle related Spirits together to great effect--Dracula's Castle from Castlevania, which changes the map into a 2D side-scroller, and the globe from Street Fighter II, complete with the iconic airplane noises, are personal standouts. Despite the dramatic overtones of World of Spirit's setup, the homages you find within it feel like a nice commemoration of the games and characters without feeling like a pandering nostalgia play. One of the most rewarding homages of all, however, lies in Ultimate's huge library of video game music. Over 800 tracks, which include originals as well as fantastic new arrangements, can all be set as stage soundtracks as well enjoyed through the game's music player.

There is one significant struggle that Ultimate comes up against, however, which lies in the nature of the console itself. Playing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate in the Switch's handheld mode is simply not a great experience. In situations where there are more than two characters on screen, the view of the action often becomes too wide, making the fighters too small to see properly, and it can be difficult to tell what you or your opponent is doing. The game's penchant for flashy special effects and busy, colorful stages doesn't help things at all, and unless you're playing a one-on-one match, you'll likely suffer some blameless losses. This is a situational disadvantage and may not affect all players, but it puts a damper on the idea of Smash on the go.

The need to unlock characters also has the potential to be an initial annoyance, especially if your goal is to jump straight into multiplayer and start learning one of the six brand-new characters. In my time with the game, I split my attention between playing World of Light (where rescuing characters unlocks them everywhere) and multiplayer matches, where the constant drip-feed of "New Challenger" unlock opportunities (which you can easily retry if you fail) came regularly. I naturally earned the entire roster in roughly 10 hours of playtime, but your mileage may vary.

Your mileage may also vary in Ultimate's online mode, where the experience of competing against others was inconsistent during the 200+ matches we played. Ultimate matches you with players from your region, but continues to use peer-to-peer style connectivity, which means the quality of the experience relies primarily on the strength of each player's internet connection. A bad connection from any player can result in a noticeable input delay, stuttering, and even freezing as the game tries to deal with latency issues. Things have the greatest potential to go bad during four-player matches, where there's a greater chance of finding a weak link.

There's some blame to be put on the console itself--the Switch only has the capabilities for wifi networking. You can invest in an optional USB LAN adapter to make sure your own connection is stable, but because of the peer-to-peer nature, I found that the experience was just as inconsistent. You can get lucky--I would regularly enjoy sessions filled with smooth matches--but regardless, laggy matches aren't exactly a rare occurrence. It's also worth noting that you're required to have a paid subscription to Nintendo's Switch Online service to be able to play online at all, so the sub-optimal performance of the mode is disappointing.

Network performance aside, Ultimate's online mode does have an interesting way to cater to the large variety of ways to play Smash Bros. You can create public or private arenas for friends and strangers, which serve as personal rooms to dictate specific rulesets, but the primary mode is Quick Play, where you're matched against people of a similar skill level to you. Quick Play features an option where you can set your preferred ruleset--things like the number of players, item availability, win conditions--and it will try to match you up with someone with similar preferences. However, Ultimate also prioritizes getting you into a match in under a minute, which is great, but sometimes means that you might find yourself playing a completely different style of match.

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In my experience, I found that there were enough people who wanted to play with my ruleset (one-on-one, three stock, six minutes, no items, Omega stages only) and I would find myself in these kinds of matches, or at least a very close approximation, the majority of the time. Getting thrown into the occasional four-player free-for-all felt like a nice, refreshing change of pace to me, but depending on how flexible you are as a player, this can be a turn-off. But like so much of Ultimate, its multitude of options and styles of play doesn't necessarily mean that all of them will suit every player.

An inconsistent online mode and situational downers don't stop Super Smash Bros. Ultimate from shining as a flexible multiplayer game that can be as freewheeling or as firm as you want it to be. Its entertaining single-player content helps keep the game rich with interesting things to do, as well as bolstering its spirit of loving homage to the games that have graced Nintendo consoles. Ultimate's diverse content is compelling, its strong mechanics are refined, and the encompassing collection is simply superb.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Thu, 06 Dec 2018 05:00:00 -0800)

As a 7-year-old suburban New Jersey white boy, Dwayne Booth wanted to be famed black activist Angela Davis. That pretty much says it all about the person who would become the wildly iconoclastic cartoonist known as Mr. Fish. His story is told with enjoyable insight and candor in the documentary...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Movie Reviews (Tue, 4 Dec 2018 18:25:00 PST )

At the beginning of versatile Scottish actress Karen Gillan’s debut feature as a writer-director, “The Party’s Just Beginning,” we might be forgiven for looking upon Liusaidh (Gillan) as just another callously hedonistic, snarky 20-something.

In the opening scenes, she uses her karaoke time to...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Movie Reviews (Tue, 4 Dec 2018 15:35:00 PST )

“Write When You Get Work” doesn’t work. Not as a romance, not as a Robin Hood-tinged caper flick, not as a social commentary on racial inequity or classism, and not as a male-buddy picture — all elements director Stacy Cochran attempts to wedge into her often muddled, under-focused script.

Ruth...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Movie Reviews (Tue, 4 Dec 2018 15:50:00 PST )

Editor's note: We've now tested Nidhogg 2's Nintendo Switch port, and we're pleased to report it runs as smoothly as it does on other platforms. Plus, local multiplayer with a single Joy-Con each is, well, a joy. Unfortunately, a lack of online players mean you're often left waiting to join an online match, and the matches you do get into are often subject to poor connectivity. Regardless, Nidhogg 2 remains an accomplished local multiplayer game that is thankfully now available on the best console for local multiplayer. -- Oscar Dayus, November 26 2018

The beauty of Nidhogg was in its simplicity. Its minimalist style and two-button gameplay fed into what was a wonderfully streamlined and focused experience. With Nidhogg 2, developer Messhof has attempted to expand the multiplayer fencing game with more maps, different weapon types, and a busier art style, with mixed results. Some of the changes--particularly the weapon selection and grotesque aesthetic--prove to be distractions from what is otherwise an excellent party game.

Nidhogg 2's concept, as with the first game, is to stab your opponent and race past their decaying corpse onto the next screen. Your enemy will respawn on the new screen within a couple of seconds to once again impede you from reaching your goal--a giant hungry worm. You can jab your sword at any of three heights--head, torso, or... below the torso--or throw it for a long-ranged attack. Of course, flinging your sword leaves you vulnerable, as does attacking at the wrong height, which creates openings for your opponent to counter.

This was the meta-game driving the original Nidhogg's competitive gameplay--except now there's more pieces to the puzzle. The sequel introduces three new weapons: a thicker broadsword, which can be swung from either top or bottom to bat your opponent's weapon away but leaves you vulnerable in the middle; a dagger, which has a much shorter reach but allows you to stab more quickly; and the long-range bow. Arrows can only be fired in the middle or bottom and can be hit back in your direction, but they're by far the longest ranged weapons in the game that don't leave you defenceless afterward.

The expanded arsenal is of course designed to add depth, and it does: wielding a dagger for a few seconds can be a refreshing change after three years spent playing Nidhogg with just the same old rapier. But the game's fast-paced nature and its lack of warning as to which weapon you'll spawn with next means that you're often left frustrated that your attempted swipe of a sword failed because you happened to reappear holding a bow instead. You can change the order of weapons you'll spawn with in Tournament Mode, but even there the speed at which matches unfold makes adapting in the split-second respawn window a struggle. In addition, those customization options are not included in Quick Play, Arcade, and online multiplayer--a minor but strange decision given some may wish to turn the new weapons off entirely.

The introduction of weapon variety also impacts balancing. The uniformity of map design and character types creates a level playing field, but this serves to further emphasize each weapon's weaknesses. The dagger in particular feels very underpowered--it's tricky to use its speedier stab when your opponent has a much longer sword keeping you at bay. Similarly, arrows take too long to fire, meaning a quick opponent can easily gain the upper hand. Even if they don't, arrows are pretty easy to dodge, and you'll be too busy hammering the Square / X button out of frustration to take advantage.

The pulsating electronic soundtrack helps each stage feel as enjoyable, as varied, and as weird as the last.

Messhof has taken a similar "bigger means better" approach when it comes to Nidhogg 2's art style. The minimalism seen in the original is gone in favour of a style that, while still retro, is noticeably noisier. At times, the lighting is lovely, and the greater color range allows for much more varied locales than the original's monochrome level design. But the style also makes it harder to immediately see what's happening on-screen, and this lack of clarity is representative of the sequel overall. Possibly the only area in which the increased amount of content has benefitted Nidhogg is in those added maps. The original arenas have been rebuilt, and they're accompanied by a number of all-new locations. They contain a number of environmental hazards such as pits, moving ice, and long grass--as well as a pulsating electronic soundtrack--helping each stage feel as enjoyable, as varied, and as weird as the last.

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Despite all the distractions, however, Nidhogg 2 can be brilliant. The original's tense, frantic, hilarious nature has not been diminished, and local matches offer some of the best same-room multiplayer around. I think my ear is still ringing from a friend shouting so loudly (repeatedly) after he beat me (also repeatedly). Nidhogg 2 becomes a sport: even onlookers get swept up in the tug of war the game evolves into, and you'll cheer or cry more in each swing of momentum than most video games manage to muster in a whole campaign. It effortlessly creates moments of nail-biting tension and in the very next room uproarious hilarity: in the moment, simply batting an arrow back at an opponent can seem like the most daring maneuver ever attempted, while falling into a pit immediately after a momentus kill can paralyze a room with laughter.

You'll cheer or cry more in each swing of momentum than most video games manage to muster in a whole campaign.

Each strike is lethal, and every inch of ground gained over your opponent feels like a huge step toward victory. The controls have remained as natural as they were in the first game, allowing you to plan and execute strategies with ease, making it perfect for group sessions even if some haven't played before. And when you figure out your opponent's strategy, exploit it, and just before they respawn you reach the finish line to win a tournament, it's exhilarating. I just hope my ear stops ringing soon.

Nidhogg 2, then, adds a lot without really adding much at all. The new weapons and busy aesthetic can frustrate, making the overall package feel less refined, but the core gameplay still shines through. Despite its problems, Nidhogg 2 is spectacular, engrossing, funny, tragic, and dramatic in equal measure, and it will no doubt become another party game staple. Nidhogg 2 sacrifices simplicity for more options, and it doesn't prove to be a good trade. But when the underlying action is this good, I'll put up with the odd unwelcome dagger.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Mon, 26 Nov 2018 11:17:00 -0800)

What's another oppressive dictatorship to series protagonist Rico Rodriguez? Not much. He does encounter a new kind of enemy in Just Cause 4, however: extreme weather. It's the common thread that runs through both the story and new mechanics and tops off the explosive spectacle the series is known for. And alongside new gadgets to send objects (and people) flying across the world, Just Cause has become a physics playground. Unfortunately, there just aren't enough opportunities to put these features to good use; underwhelming mission structure and a world slim on enticing activities makes Just Cause 4 a short-lived blast with untapped potential.

The best and most prevalent piece of Just Cause games is at the forefront once again. An exceptional traversal system lets you propel Rico across the beautiful landscapes of Solis and effortlessly soar through the skies. With the combo of a grappling hook, parachute, and wingsuit, Rico can basically go wherever, whenever (and often more efficiently) without a vehicle. Like past games, you build momentum and essentially catapult yourself using the combination of these tools and hardly ever have to touch the ground. It's tough to overstate how satisfying it is to escape enemy hordes and hook onto the underside of a helicopter to hijack it and tear them all down, or slingshot yourself out of harm's way toward the next target you'll blow to bits.

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Rico isn't only built to move fast, however: if you aren't causing explosions on a regular basis, you might be doing something wrong. Fuel tanks, red barrels, and vehicles are unusually explosive, and set the stage for over-the-top action. Since the grappling hook can also be used to tether objects together, you have lots of opportunities to get creative outside of exhausting your arsenal of firearms--some of which have their own wacky practical applications, like the wind cannon or lightning gun. Some weapons just wreak havoc such as the railgun or burst-fire rocket launcher, and even modest small arms like the SMG have impactful alternate fire modes. This may be the expectation for Just Cause, but it still pulls you in for a wild ride.

It's tough to overstate how satisfying it is to escape enemy hordes and hook onto the underside of a helicopter to hijack it and tear them all down, or slingshot yourself out of harm's way toward the next target you'll blow to bits.

Its identity as a destructive playground is further emphasized by grappling hook mods, three of which you customize: air lifter, retractor, and boosters. All three devices coincide with the new physics engine. Air lifters (essentially mini hot air balloons) let you launch things into the sky, and they can be further customized in terms of velocity, behavior, and altitude. Retractors pull targets together violently, and boosters work like jet engines that'll send objects into a speeding frenzy, whether it be an attack helicopter or a poor enemy soldier. Multiple permutations of these contraptions are made possible, since their effects can be stacked into a single tether and three loadout settings let you switch between loadouts on the fly. These gadgets are unlocked through side activities, and you're given plenty of avenues to make them work as you desire, which leads to the most disappointing part. Just Cause 4 gives you so many shiny new toys to play with but seldom a reason to use them.

Mission structure is uninspired, as you are continually asked to escort NPCs, defend a specific object for a set duration, activate (or destroy) inconspicuous generators, or hit a number of console panels to activate some sort of process. The worst offender has to be the timed missions that ask you to sink bomb-rigged vehicles into the ocean; they're tedious and prone to mishaps at no fault of your own. These are tied to Region Strikes, which are required to unlock territories on the map and progress to main story missions. While blasting through waves of enemies and their military-grade vehicles offers some great moments, you're often asking yourself: okay, what else? Shielded heavies, snipers perched from a mile away, and flocks of attack helicopters can become enjoyably overwhelming, since you have to rapidly make use of your diverse toolset. But several missions are designed in such a way that's oddly restricting, limiting the game's strongest assets. Enemies simply swarm and act as basic obstacles rather than clever challenges, and that leaves you with objectives that rarely bring out the best in the mechanics and systems of Just Cause 4.

At a time when open-world games sometimes overstay their welcome, Just Cause 4 is at the other end of the spectrum, where you wish there was more to experience because it has so much going for it.

There are a few stellar moments in the main story missions that make proper use of the extreme weather system that is the core of Just Cause 4's premise. Specifically, the conclusion to a stormchaser-themed questline funnels you through a number of battles while a tornado rips through your surroundings. Your ability to parachute and glide are drastically affected by the wind velocity and turbulence, which throws some welcome unpredictability into the mix. One particular sequence is also indicative of what the grappling hook mods are capable of; destroying massive wind cannons that impede progress with boosters wasn't only the most efficient method, but watching these heaps of steel frantically spin out of control was a sight to behold. The last stand in this mission, a sequence of rooftop firefights amid the harsh weather, brings the many great pieces of the game together.

The same can't be said about the other extreme weather conditions, however. Sandstorms challenge you with violent winds and obscured vision, and thunderstorms bring torrential rain and lightning strikes that make for a visual treat. But they're not game-changing in the way tornadoes are since they have a minimal effect on gameplay. Even then, the questlines tied to these weather conditions and their respective biomes are over before you get to fully experience their unique qualities.

All the while, a vaguely coherent story about family and a rebellion against an evil regime serves as the platform for Rico's wild ride. Stories in Just Cause haven't been more than excuses for environmental destruction and a way to make you feel comically powerful, and the same holds true here, though you may find the ties to previous entries somewhat endearing. The harsh forecasts are justified by villain Oscar Espinoza's high-tech devices that control the weather and oppress the people of the fictional South American country Solis. Rico remains the plausible one-man army who has the capabilities of a superhero with the air of a grounded, unassuming protagonist. If there's anything that Just Cause does well story-wise, it's convincing you to accept the absurdity of it all.

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Throughout the game, you'll be building a revolution across Solis, bolstering what's called the Army of Chaos. It's a fundamental piece to progression and the key to taking down Espinoza and toppling The Black Hand private military again. The Army of Chaos serves as a tool to controlling territories across the map since you need to accumulate squad reinforcements to overtake regions, which also gates your ability to take on story missions. Cause destruction and raise your chaos level, and get squads to progress. It boils down to a numbers game, and once you understand the structure of this system, you can easily snowball squad numbers and control all of Solis without having to grind your chaos level. Side activities from three minor characters litter the map as well; Sargento has you teaming with NPCs to destroy enemy infrastructure, Garland makes you do stunts, and Javi provides a bit more context to Solis by asking to do a few easy puzzles. It's more things to do, and they unlock the aforementioned grappling hook mods, but they're simple in nature and aren't enough to compensate for the shortcomings of other missions.

Just Cause 4 has incredible moments where beauty and destruction cross with Rico's ability to zip around the world at a moment's notice. It's gratifying and easy to grasp, especially when you're able to string a series of wingsuit fly-bys, vehicles hijackings, and fiery explosions all in the name of revolution, but those moments are either short-lived or tied to rudimentary missions. You're given an awesome toolset that paves the way for creativity in a world with too few problems to solve. At a time when open-world games sometimes overstay their welcome, Just Cause 4 is at the other end of the spectrum, where you wish there was more to experience because it has so much going for it.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Tue, 04 Dec 2018 18:51:00 -0800)
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Source: Depreview - All Reviews & Previews (Sun, 25 Nov 2018 14:00:00 Z)

A private performance by pop superstar Beyonce at a $1,000-a-night lakeside resort. Two former secretaries of State grooving awkwardly on the dance floor. A guest list that looked like India’s version of an Oscars red carpet.

This isn’t just a big fat Indian wedding; it’s the biggest, fattest wedding...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Thu, 13 Dec 2018 08:05:00 PST )

As a kindergartener growing up in Philadelphia, Jessica Taft Langdon had zeroed in on footwear, and it wasn’t in a playing-dress-up-in-mom’s-pumps kind of way. When her parents talked to her after a school field trip to the zoo, she said, “I told them that it was great to go to the zoo because...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Thu, 13 Dec 2018 09:00:00 PST )

The dumplings arrive underneath wisps of scallion and cucumber, their opaque skins crimped like carnation flowers and tinted butterfly pea blue. Called chor muang, this style of dumpling has historically been made for Thai royalty, but here they are on a menu in Mexico City, at the Thai restaurant...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Thu, 13 Dec 2018 09:00:00 PST )

Scan the dining room at Langer’s Deli in Westlake during lunchtime, and you’ll find a #19 sandwich on just about every table in the restaurant. Al Langer, current owner Norm Langer’s father, created the sandwich after opening the deli in the 1940s. Its components make for a flavor combination that’s...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Thu, 13 Dec 2018 08:00:00 PST )

Facebook is continuing its push for more original video.

The social media company announced Thursday that it has renewed four of its shows for second seasons: “Sorry for Your Loss,” “Five Points,” “Sacred Lies” and “Huda Boss.”

“Sorry for Your Loss” is a drama series that stars Elizabeth Olsen...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Thu, 13 Dec 2018 08:00:00 PST )

The quintessential Los Angeles surfer already has a pretty cool look. Think bronzed skin, sun-bleached hair, breezy beachwear. However, local surfer Anna Ehrgott thought there was one thing missing: a stylish way for her to carry her board.

Unimpressed with plain polyester surfboard socks (the...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Thu, 13 Dec 2018 08:00:00 PST )

Chargers (10-3) at Kansas City (11-2)

When Chargers have the ball

During the season opener — a 38-28 Kansas City victory — Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler combined to carry 20 times for 103 yards and catch 14 passes for 189 yards. Because of injuries, the Chargers won’t have Ekeler this time and...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Thu, 13 Dec 2018 08:00:00 PST )

When Jordan Peele hired Spike Lee and me for this project, the only note he gave us was “make it funny.” We knew exactly what Jordan meant. He wasn’t speaking about broad comedy or jokes; he was instructing us to reveal the irrationality of racism. The more you expose the normality of hate, how...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Thu, 13 Dec 2018 07:55:00 PST )

“I couldn’t feel the toes on my left foot, and my face was covered in ice, but I was having the time of my life,” Scott Fritz writes.

Inspired by Jack London’s book “Call of the Wild,” Fritz decided to take a dog-sledding adventure in the Swedish Lapland. It was sometimes grueling, but it opened...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Thu, 13 Dec 2018 07:00:00 PST )

Laudomia Pucci had to stop and think for a minute when Ken Downing, Neiman Marcus’ fashion director, asked her to create a resort capsule collection exclusively for his store’s customers.

“In the back of my mind there were prints I was dying to see,” said Pucci, vice chairman and image director...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Thu, 13 Dec 2018 07:00:00 PST )

Painting Gris as a beautiful adventure is almost too obvious. Even amid the crumbling ruins that hint at better days, every element of this platformer emphasizes its undeniable loveliness. From the wide-angle shots and the ethereal music to the delicate way in which you glide gracefully to a far-off platform, Gris is enrapturing in ways that make it hard to walk away from. Though it takes a mere four hours to reach the ending credits, the time spent with Gris is so captivating that it would have felt greedy to stay with it any longer.

In Gris, a young woman finds herself alone in a desolate world. Ruined buildings and broken pillars dominate the landscape, remnants from a lost civilization. Without saying a word, the woman exudes loneliness, moving forward only to fulfill the aching sense of longing that is now her only companion. The feeling of loss is palpable. You wander through a palace that could tumble with one strong gust of wind. Cracked statues lay before you, all of women. Some stand in poses of power, others of thoughtfulness, but all are only relics of what used to be. Savor the sight because the statues, the buildings, the pillars could all be turned to dust when you return.

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Your goal is to obtain fragments of light that complete constellations, allowing you to reach other areas. But the dreamy flow through locations is so subtle that it rarely feels as if you’re completing specific tasks. Rather, you guide the young woman down slopes, across balconies, and through ruins because the call to see what wonders await is impossible to resist. For much of the game, I felt lost as I glided across the serene landscapes, unaware of where I was going but curious to see what lay just outside of my vision. Being lost in Gris is different from other games, though. Whenever I wondered if I was going in the right direction, I wandered into a new location just as beautiful as where I had been, and I set off to wherever it felt like I was being led.

As I drifted through Gris’ world, I collected the odd light fragment, but it never felt like the point of my movement--I just wanted to see where the path led me, and I solved puzzles to reach the fragments along the way. These puzzles are not mind-teasers that demand careful concentration or daring trial-and-error obstacles. Rather, you need only figure out how your given abilities work in a specific area to continue onward undeterred. In the beginning, for instance, I had to learn that I could walk up staircases I thought were only in the background. A little puzzle, yes, but one that brings joy when you realize how simple and delightful the solution is.

Later sections have blocks that appear when a light shines upon them or a wintery wind that casts statues of ice in your image, but none of the puzzles are presented in such a way as to stymie a player. Gris is a game in which its lack of challenge is a positive quality because any frustrating section would have derailed the feeling of peace and serenity that it builds so wondrously as you progress. There’s no combat or death to break you from this trance, just pure pleasure throughout. I wanted to explore this world, to see breathtaking sights and soak in the melancholic score, and Gris welcomed this feeling instead of hiding its charms behind tests of skill.

Despite the ease of the puzzles, there are genuine surprises in how you navigate the world. I gasped when I realized a rippling block wasn’t as solid as I had assumed and there’s a perspective-flipping section that made me laugh with joy. The magic of Gris is that it encompasses the varied move set you’d expect in a more demanding platformer, without expecting impressive feats of dexterity to progress. Instead, it introduces all those navigational twists to draw you ever deeper into this fascinating world. Because of its many surprises, it’s the rare game where I wish I could have my memory erased, to play it once more from the beginning, because few games contain surprises that were so affected.

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Gris is joyful and sad, a beautiful ruin, contradictions that make these experiences so exciting. The surprises that lay hidden are not plot twists or unlockable goodies but rather moments when the mechanics perfectly complement the aesthetics. Every element is used to engage your sense of awe. Gris is beautiful, yes, but it uses that beauty like a surgical knife. As you climb to the top of a pyramid, with the sun growing ever brighter and the stars beckoning, it knows to pull back the camera, to show how small you stand against the majesty of the universe.

Don’t dismiss Gris as a game so caught up in its artistic splendor that it forgets what medium it's a part of, though. Strip away the resplendent visual design and enchanting score and Gris would still be enticing because of its sense of movement. The young woman moves with graceful purpose. She’s light on her feet but sure-headed, giving her a weightiness that makes it feel like you’re trying to break free of gravity but can never quite do so. There were sections when I would purposely repeat a series of jumps because it felt so good to skirt against the dreamy sky. New powers are unlocked as you get deeper into the adventure, and all of them add another layer of interactivity that not only expands your horizons but feels good to enact.

Gris understands intrinsically how magical video games can be and continually pushes your imagination until you’re almost bursting with joy. The ways in which it reinvents itself as you gain powers and dive ever deeper into this world is truly special, and just as it knows exactly when to pull back the camera or introduce a new song, it’s keenly aware of when it's time to say goodbye. Like a comet streaking across the sky, Gris is full of wonder and beauty and leaves you with a warm glow in your heart.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Thu, 13 Dec 2018 06:00:00 -0800)

Ryan Kadro will leave his post as executive producer of “CBS This Morning” when his contract expires at the end of this year, according to two people familiar with the plan.

Kadro has led the program, co-anchored by Norah O’Donnell, Gayle King, John Dickerson and Bianna Golodryga, since 2016 and...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Wed, 12 Dec 2018 20:05:00 PST )

The Los Angeles Times’ former publisher and editor, Davan Maharaj, reportedly received a $2.5-million settlement following his exit from Tribune Publishing Co. after revealing to a mediator he had recorded anti-Semitic comments allegedly made by the company’s largest shareholder, Michael Ferro.

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Wed, 12 Dec 2018 18:00:00 PST )

About 800 hotels workers demonstrated Wednesday in front of five high-end hotels in Los Angeles and Orange counties in what union leaders say is a preview of upcoming strikes if contract agreements are not reached.

The workers from Unite Here Local 11 marched, banged drums and chanted throughout...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Wed, 12 Dec 2018 14:55:00 PST )

Oakland is suing the NFL over the relocation of the Raiders, and that raises serious doubts about where the team will play next season while its Las Vegas stadium is being built.

“All options are on the table,” Raiders owner Mark Davis said Wednesday at the league’s annual December meetings.

Well,...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Wed, 12 Dec 2018 16:50:00 PST )

Scott Boras climbed atop a platform before a ceiling-scraping imitation fir bedecked with silver, gold and emerald ornaments as dozens of reporters swelled around him. On the penultimate day of the winter meetings, Boras came bearing corrections, metaphors and reassurances about the strength of...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Wed, 12 Dec 2018 16:45:00 PST )

In Kosovar filmmaker Blerta Zeqiri’s debut feature “The Marriage,” bride and groom are both trying to tamp down certain emotions before their upcoming wedding. Anita (Adriana Matoshi), one of the many Kosovans with missing loved ones from the war, would like to suspend feelings of loss and concentrate...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Movie Reviews (Tue, 4 Dec 2018 14:50:00 PST )

When mom (Juliette Lewis) goes to jail for killing their abusive dad, introverted, undereducated son Harley (Alex Pettyfer) proves wholly unequipped to take care of his three younger sisters — obnoxious, promiscuous teenager Amber (Nicola Peltz), embittered middle daughter Misty (Chiara Aurelia)...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Movie Reviews (Tue, 4 Dec 2018 13:55:00 PST )

After nearly an hour of deliberation among council members, staff and the public Tuesday night, the Laguna Beach City Council unanimously approved an ordinance allowing but strictly regulating sidewalk vendors.

The action followed a recent change in state law that goes into effect Jan. 1.

In the...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Wed, 12 Dec 2018 14:45:00 PST )

Nearly 800 hotels workers demonstrated Wednesday in front of four high-end hotels in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and Anaheim, in what union leaders say is a preview of upcoming strikes if contract agreements are not reached.

The workers from Unite Here Local 11 marched, banged drums and chanted...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Wed, 12 Dec 2018 14:55:00 PST )

When Los Angeles laid out plans to beef up its system for giving public money to city candidates, groups like the California Clean Money Campaign applauded the move.

Doing so, they said, would help level the playing field for grass-roots candidates.

But as the city continued to hammer out more...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Wed, 12 Dec 2018 12:50:00 PST )

Beach patrols will increase following a late-night discussion about public safety at the Laguna Beach City Council meeting Tuesday.

The council voted unanimously to fund a stronger police presence at Main Beach and Heisler Park. There also will be a new lifeguard tower at the south end of Main...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Wed, 12 Dec 2018 12:45:00 PST )

Turkey will launch a military operation against U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in northern Syria “within a matter of days,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday, threatening to upend an uneasy detente.

That could put it on a collision course with Washington, which backs the Kurds with thousands...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Wed, 12 Dec 2018 12:45:00 PST )

With contenders such as “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Atlanta” receiving ensemble cast nominations and a nominations announcement delivered by Awkwafina and Laverne Cox, the Screen Actors Guild Awards looked to sidestep the criticism that has been levied around Hollywood of late surrounding a lack of...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Wed, 12 Dec 2018 09:40:00 PST )

A 23-year-old man was arrested this week after authorities say he shot and killed his neighbor’s Chihuahua with an assault rifle after the animal urinated on his lawn and car.

Tulare County Sheriff’s Office deputies began investigating the incident Monday when the dog’s owner came into the office...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Wed, 12 Dec 2018 08:25:00 PST )

Your ticket to the Disgusting Food Museum is a barf bag, like you’d see tucked into the back of an airplane seat. That should tell you much of what you need to know about this museum, a contrivance of Swedish psychologist Samuel West, who brought us the moderately amusing Museum of Failure in 2017...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Wed, 12 Dec 2018 08:25:00 PST )

An innovative animated take on the “Spider-Man” superhero franchise is expected to top the North American box office this weekend, proving that the Marvel comic book character still has legs after multiple big-screen reboots, reimaginings and retoolings.

Sony Pictures Animation’s “Spider-Man: Into...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Wed, 12 Dec 2018 05:00:00 PST )

Christmas came early this week for design devotees and architectural aficionados waiting to see who would be named to Architectural Digest’s prestigious AD100 for 2019, a list recognizing 100 top talents worldwide in the field of design, deemed the “best of the best” by the editorial staff at the...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Wed, 12 Dec 2018 05:00:00 PST )

A strange confrontation in the Oval Office. The threat of a shutdown. Is this a preview of next year’s divided government?

TOP STORIES

The Donald, Chuck and Nancy Show

For more than 15 minutes with the cameras rolling, President Trump, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and House Minority...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Wed, 12 Dec 2018 05:00:00 PST )

The Los Angeles Times will produce a prime-time news magazine television series for Charter Communications’ recently launched Spectrum News 1 channel, the companies said Tuesday.

The one-hour show, “L.A. Times Today,” will air Monday through Thursday starting in February and will take an in-depth...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Wed, 12 Dec 2018 05:00:00 PST )

The film "22 July" revisits the summer day in 2011 when neo-Nazi Anders Breivik detonated a car bomb in Oslo, then gained access to a youth camp on the Norwegian island of Utøya and methodically shot 69 young people to death. "The film is obviously disturbing in the first 30 minutes or so," says...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Wed, 12 Dec 2018 04:55:00 PST )

Toronto had made so many shots in Tuesday’s third quarter that by the time Delon Wright missed a three-pointer from the wing, the crowd at Staples Center let out a sigh of relief.

The shot hit the front of the rim and caromed nearly to midcourt where two Clippers, Patrick Beverley and Tyrone Wallace,...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 11 Dec 2018 22:55:00 PST )

Los Angeles officials on Tuesday raised speed limits on more than 100 miles of streets, saying the increases are the best way to quickly resolve a years-long problem that has prevented police officers from ticketing speeding drivers across the city.

Despite concerns from neighborhood groups, the...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 11 Dec 2018 15:20:00 PST )
The Nigerian writer Chigozie Obioma recalls how his father’s gift for storytelling led his son to discover the worlds between covers. Read More

Source: The New York Times - Sunday Review (Mon, 03 Dec 2018 19:00:04 GMT )

An Oxnard woman was convicted Monday of second-degree murder after prosecutors say she tried to cover up the death of her 3-year-old daughter, whom she was abusing.

Jurors also found Mayra Alejandra Chavez, 27, guilty of felony torture and assault leading to the death of Kimberly Lopez in June...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 11 Dec 2018 13:25:00 PST )

French prosecutors are investigating the shooting that killed two at a Christmas market in Strasbourg on Monday as a potential terrorist attack.

The Paris prosecutor, who is in charge of anti-terrorism inquiries in France, is heading to Strasbourg, according to a statement from his office. The...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 11 Dec 2018 14:00:00 PST )

CBS Corp. finally held its annual meeting with shareholders — a ritual that had been twice postponed this year because of corporate turmoil. But during Tuesday’s 25-minute gathering there was no hint of the drama surrounding the company, nor any mention of the man who led it for 12 years: former...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 11 Dec 2018 13:50:00 PST )

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to approve the Centennial project at Tejon Ranch, clearing the way for a hotly debated master-planned community in a private wilderness area at the county’s edge.

“This is not just another sprawl project,” said Supervisor Kathryn Barger,...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 11 Dec 2018 13:40:00 PST )

For the first time in nearly 20 years, a Los Angeles County law enforcement officer has been charged with killing an unarmed civilian while on duty.

Luke Liu is accused of shooting Francisco Garcia at a Norwalk gas station on Feb. 24, 2016, according to a complaint filed by the Los Angeles County...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 11 Dec 2018 13:35:00 PST )

A house that tacos built is back on the menu.

The longtime Rancho Santa Fe home of late Taco Bell founder Glen Bell has returned to market at $5.995 million, down about $1.5 million from when it first listed for sale in 2015.

The palm-studded estate encompasses 6.75 acres of grounds and includese...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 11 Dec 2018 11:55:00 PST )

A letter discovered in a building at Cal State Northridge that threatens a mass shooting has prompted school officials to provide off-campus alternatives for final exams on Wednesday.

A student found the note, written in red ink on lined notebook paper, late Monday folded up on the floor of a classroom...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 11 Dec 2018 11:50:00 PST )

Fresh off his squad’s World Series victory, Boston Red Sox owner John W. Henry is hoping to score a win in the real estate game. His palatial estate in Boca Raton is on the market for a cool $25 million.

Should it sell for even close to that, it’ll be a sizable return on investment for the billionaire....

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 11 Dec 2018 11:45:00 PST )

Rainbow Six Siege's Operation Wind Bastion update recently arrived on PS4, Xbox One, and PC, marking the end of the game's third year. Ubisoft still has a lot more content in store for the shooter in 2019, however, including another batch of Operators. With the new season just around the corner, the publisher has already begun offering the Year 4 pass for Siege, and it grants holders some good benefits.

The Year 4 pass is available for purchase on all platforms. Much like previous Siege passes, it costs $30 and entitles players to a number of perks. Chief among them, those who purchase the Year 4 pass will receive seven-day early access to all eight of the new Operators being introduced to Siege in Year 4, and you won't have to grind for in-game currency in order to unlock them, as you would if you don't own the pass.

On top of that, Year 4 pass holders will get a handful of exclusive items, including eight uniforms and headgear, as well as the Lava 6 Charm. Owners will also receive 600 bonus R6 credits, along with a few other benefits through January 31, 2020, such as 5% Renown boost and a 10% discount in Siege's in-game shop.

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As an added bonus, everyone who picks the pass up before March 4, 2019 will get the Volcano Signature weapon skin. Those who own the Year 3 Pass will also receive an additional 600 RS credits when they pick up Year 4's. You can read more about the season pass on the official Rainbow Six Siege website.

Ubisoft has yet to announce the new Operators coming to Rainbow Six Siege in Year 4, but the recent Operation Wind Bastion update introduced Nomad and Kaid. The former is an Attacker whose primary weapons come with a device that launches wind-powered proximity mines, while the latter is a Defender who's equipped with deployable electroclaws. Operation Wind Bastion also introduced a new map named Fortress.

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Source: GameSpot Gaming Reviews (Tue, 11 Dec 2018 12:16:00 -0800)

It's difficult to talk about Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom without discussing Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap and its 2017 remake, because despite being produced by an entirely different development team, this game is, in fact, an official successor in the Wonder Boy series. But even though its history might be confusing, Monster Boy is a fantastic adventure in its own right, one that distinctly builds upon the best parts of Wonder Boy and adds some welcome modern conveniences for good measure.

You play as Jin, a blue-haired young man who must stop his drunk uncle Nabu from inflicting curses upon the kingdom's inhabitants and transforming them into animals. Unfortunately, the plot doesn't really expand beyond that initial premise. With the exception of some moments of levity provided by the cast of interesting supporting characters, the story is uninspired and concludes on a final act that feels shoehorned. But where Monster Boy's narrative lacks in imagination, it more than makes up for it with its well-honed character transformation mechanic.

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Over the course of the game, Jin unlocks an arsenal of equipment and gains five animal transformations--pig, snake, frog, lion, and dragon--each of whom has their own unique abilities. Jin's human, frog, lion, and dragon forms are also able to equip a variety of weapons, shields, and armor, all of which can be upgraded. Equipping items unlocks new abilities--one type of boots allow you to walk on clouds, while another allows you to double jump, for instance. Quickly swapping between all these different forms to take advantage of their strengths adds a continually enjoyable layer of thought to the platforming experience, and its strengths are regularly showcased by Monster Boy's excellent puzzle design.

You're eased into each new animal form and piece of equipment with some basic obstacles and enemies before being set loose to explore the titular Cursed Kingdom. Puzzles scattered throughout require some thought; on several occasions, you'll be forced to combine the use of several different powers and abilities in creative ways in order to progress forward or reach a treasure. It might be juggling two different animal forms, using particular equipment abilities, or taking advantage of environmental items, and when you eventually figure out how to get there, it always feels rewarding. Puzzles become increasingly complex, the variety of enemies becomes tougher, and the platforming sections feature additional obstacles that require more precise timing as you progress, but the growing challenges are balanced out well by a forgiving number of checkpoints, which help you keep motivated to give things another try.

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While the game is primarily linear, the Cursed Kingdom itself is enormous and features several different secret-filled areas (discovering everything will likely blow out your playtime to roughly 15-20 hours), and the variety of puzzles and charming locations that you find in far corners of the world are themselves an attractive incentive to reach. The experience is doubly rewarding when you unearth new paths while revisiting a previously-discovered area armed with a bigger arsenal of animal forms and skills, and Monster Boy even implements a teleportation mechanic to alleviate frustrations of excessive backtracking.

Monster Boy also boasts a brilliant visual and audio presentation that makes the Wonder Boy aesthetic shine, featuring a meticulously detailed hand-drawn art style. Each character is beautifully realized with their own delightful animation--little details, like the pig's sheepish look as he farts after eating a power-up plant or the frog eyeballing some flies as part of his idle animation, adds volumes to Jin's characterization and the game's charm. Every area of the Cursed Kingdom is also visually distinct and beautifully animated, and a couple of superb anime-style sequences that bookend the game help give it a slick, cohesive feel. The game's strong soundtrack helps round out the package and features both original pieces influenced by Wonder Boy's soundtrack, combined with new, rock-influenced arrangements of Wonder Boy's most memorable tunes, making it a great collection of music both new and old.

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Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom not only pays faithful homage to Wonder Boy, particularly The Dragon's Trap, but by refining the solid foundations of its spiritual predecessors with modern affordances, it becomes a rich platforming adventure in its own right. With a well-realized world filled to the brim with secrets and excellent platforming mechanics that always keeps things interesting, the Cursed Kingdom is a place you will want to discover every corner of.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Mon, 10 Dec 2018 18:00:00 -0800)

USC coach Clay Helton has made another addition to his staff, hiring former Boise State defensive line coach Chad Kauha'aha'a to the same position for the Trojans, according to Kauha'aha'a's Twitter bio.

Kauha'aha'a (pronounced cow-ha-a-ha-a) spent one season at Boise State in 2018 after three...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews ( Tue, 11 Dec 2018 10:45:00 PST )

A Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy is being charged with voluntary manslaughter, marking the first time a law enforcement officer in Los Angeles County has been prosecuted for an on-duty shooting in nearly 20 years.

Luke Liu, 40, was scheduled to appear at an arraignment at the criminal courthouse...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 11 Dec 2018 10:55:00 PST )
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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews ( 星期二, 11 十二月 2018 08:51:00 PST )

Hello and welcome to the L.A. Times soccer newsletter. I’m Kevin Baxter, the Times’ soccer writer. We have a lot to talk about this week, but unfortunately we start with bad news: Former Galaxy coach Sigi Schmid, the winningest coach in MLS history, is in intensive care at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (星期二, 11 十二月 2018 10:00:00 PST )

In chronological order of their opening, these were the 10 most engaging art museum exhibitions that I saw this year within L.A.'s immediate orbit. (Good news for the holiday break: Six of them are still on view.)

"Jasper Johns: Something Resembling Truth," The Broad

A big survey, not a full retrospective,...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (星期二, 11 十二月 2018 09:00:00 PST )

Desert Child is a game of modern ambitions and sensibilities wrapped up in a retro aesthetic. It looks like an early-'90s DOS game rendering of a future where humanity has colonized Mars and built a city that feels like a mix between a Cowboy Bebop planet and modern-day Australia. The game's unique look, chilled vibe, and strong concept make for a great first impression, but unfortunately, by the end of it you'll realize that there's not much more to Desert Child than what you got in those opening minutes.

You play as a young man who leaves Earth in the game's opening, looking to conquer Mars' speeder bike circuit and earn enough money to prove himself in an upcoming championship. At the beginning of the game, you choose between four weapons to have mounted on the front of your vehicle, each with a different difficulty rating depending on how useful they are. All races are one-on-one and play out on a 2D plane viewed from a side-on perspective, which is a strange--but also a strangely enjoyable--way to compete. There are a handful of different tracks, all with unique obstacles, and when you start up a race you'll be thrown into one of them at random. While there are obstacles to avoid, winning comes down to using your boost effectively and firing your weapon at TVs planted around the track. Each TV you take out gives you a speed boost, and to maintain your maximum speed you need to consistently destroy the televisions on the track before your opponent does.

The first few times you race in Desert Child, it's thrilling. Your hoverbike controls well--it's floaty and fast but precise--and blasting away at everything in front of you and timing your boosts well is fun. The game captures the inherent excitement of hoverbike racing, but once it becomes clear that every race is going to be more-or-less the same, that excitement dulls considerably. You can't switch guns mid-game, the tracks all play very similarly, and the only real difference between opponents is that the very last one in the game is more difficult to beat than the others. I couldn't highlight a uniquely cool moment from any of the races I took part in across two playthroughs of the game, or a race where the game showed off a new trick or idea.

Desert Child also has the thin veneer of an RPG system. You spend much of the game's short running time wandering around a Martian city, exploring and poking at its different stores, NPCs, and the odd jobs it offers. There are only a handful of different environments for your unnamed protagonist to mosey through, and while they're lovely to look at the first few times, the game's small scale begins to feel limiting when you realize that the game world never changes in any significant way. After each race or job you take, the day progresses, and while some NPCs shift around and store stocks change, Mars very quickly starts to feel small and static.

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Your major objective is to raise $10,000 for a tournament while keeping yourself well fed, your bike in good working order, and not attracting the law by taking on too many dodgy missions in the nightlife district. The goal seems to be to capture some of the tedium of life in this town--there's a lot of walking around, visiting ramen stores, and switching between odd jobs. Some of these jobs are fun, but generally only for the first few times that you play them. For example, you can work as a pizza delivery person, riding a bicycle through one of the game's tracks while shooting pizza boxes at people; you can herd kangaroos, which involves following a group of them through a field and maneuvering your hoverbike behind any slackers so that they don't drop away from the pack; you can enter and intentionally lose a race for the local crime boss.

There are a few different minigames like this, but ultimately none of them really offers anything that feels like a meaningful twist on the existing racing (with the possible exception of the "hacking" minigame, in which you're attacked by floating Windows logos and marble busts--I could not figure out this job's victory conditions). Once you've quickly seen everything Mars has to offer, and especially once you've bought the game's entire soundtrack from the record shop (which is worth doing, because the music is great), there's nothing exciting to find or unlock.

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There are a lot of references in Desert Child that will hit harder with an Australian audience. There's a bridge dedicated to the welfare program Centrelink, complete with a job board that you can access different tasks from; the constant casual profanity is very Aussie; and there are little nods to local cultural touchstones dotted around Mars. The "Bring Back Tim Tams" graffiti might not hold the same appeal for all players, but it made me smile.

Before long, your focus will shift to saving up for the tournament, which boils down to racing and completing tasks over and over while storing your earnings in your bank to accrue interest. It's an uninteresting progression model, and the tournament itself is unexciting--you race three times, and if you lose any of them you must start again. You earn huge amounts of money even if you lose the first two races, which lets you buy all your hoverbike's potential upgrades and make things a bit easier on yourself. Winning the third race promptly ends the game, even though, narratively and mechanically, it really feels like things are just getting started.

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Desert Child exhibits a number of smaller issues, too. While the numerous misspellings feel like they could plausibly be an intentional part of the game's aesthetic, the lack of a pause option during races feels like an oversight, as does the fact that selecting "New Game" from the menu automatically starts up a new game without warning you that all previous data is going to be erased. Sometimes the equipment I'd put on my bike, like a laser sight for my gun, arbitrarily wouldn't work during a race, and I could never figure out why there were TVs scattered around during the pizza delivery game with seemingly no way to destroy them. Problems like this pop up all over Desert Child, and while most of them are minor, they add up.

Desert Child has a wonderful sense of style, and there are moments when it clicks. When you jet across the water on your bike firing a shotgun blast that shatters several televisions in front of you, or when you first start to wrap your head around the aesthetic of Mars, the game briefly, but brightly, shines. But Desert Child doesn't quite hang together, and by the end of its very brief runtime the things that seemed exciting just an hour prior have lost most of their luster. This could be a lovely proof of concept for a bigger game; as it stands, it's hard not to get caught up thinking about all that it could have been.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Tue, 11 Dec 2018 08:00:00 -0800)

Dwyane Wade’s final game against the Lakers meant a lot to one Laker who wasn’t LeBron James.

Josh Hart wears No. 3 because of Wade, a player he’s always idolized.

“That’s my role model, that’s my favorite player growing up,” Hart said. “Still is. Sometimes it’s tough when you’re playing that 48...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 11 Dec 2018 06:55:00 PST )

When it was over and the Clippers had just barely survived a short-handed and struggling Suns team at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Monday night, L.A. left the court feeling content with its 123-119 overtime victory.

“We won. That’s all you need to do,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said.

“Like on...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Mon, 10 Dec 2018 21:55:00 PST )

It's difficult to talk about Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom without discussing Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap and its 2017 remake, because despite being produced by an entirely different development team, this game is, in fact, an official successor in the Wonder Boy series. But even though its history might be confusing, Monster Boy is a fantastic adventure in its own right, one that distinctly builds upon the best parts of Wonder Boy and adds some welcome modern conveniences for good measure.

You play as Jin, a blue-haired young man who must stop his drunk uncle Nabu from inflicting curses upon the kingdom's inhabitants and transforming them into animals. Unfortunately, the plot doesn't really expand beyond that initial premise. With the exception of some moments of levity provided by the cast of interesting supporting characters, the story is uninspired and concludes on a final act that feels shoehorned. But where Monster Boy's narrative lacks in imagination, it more than makes up for it with its well-honed character transformation mechanic.

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Over the course of the game, Jin unlocks an arsenal of equipment and gains five animal transformations--pig, snake, frog, lion, and dragon--each of whom has their own unique abilities. Jin's human, frog, lion, and dragon forms are also able to equip a variety of weapons, shields, and armor, all of which can be upgraded. Equipping items unlocks new abilities--one type of boots allow you to walk on clouds, while another allows you to double jump, for instance. Quickly swapping between all these different forms to take advantage of their strengths adds a continually enjoyable layer of thought to the platforming experience, and its strengths are regularly showcased by Monster Boy's excellent puzzle design.

You're eased into each new animal form and piece of equipment with some basic obstacles and enemies before being set loose to explore the titular Cursed Kingdom. Puzzles scattered throughout require some thought; on several occasions, you'll be forced to combine the use of several different powers and abilities in creative ways in order to progress forward or reach a treasure. It might be juggling two different animal forms, using particular equipment abilities, or taking advantage of environmental items, and when you eventually figure out how to get there, it always feels rewarding. Puzzles become increasingly complex, the variety of enemies becomes tougher, and the platforming sections feature additional obstacles that require more precise timing as you progress, but the growing challenges are balanced out well by a forgiving number of checkpoints, which help you keep motivated to give things another try.

No Caption Provided
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While the game is primarily linear, the Cursed Kingdom itself is enormous and features several different secret-filled areas (discovering everything will likely blow out your playtime to roughly 15-20 hours), and the variety of puzzles and charming locations that you find in far corners of the world are themselves an attractive incentive to reach. The experience is doubly rewarding when you unearth new paths while revisiting a previously-discovered area armed with a bigger arsenal of animal forms and skills, and Monster Boy even implements a teleportation mechanic to alleviate frustrations of excessive backtracking.

Monster Boy also boasts a brilliant visual and audio presentation that makes the Wonder Boy aesthetic shine, featuring a meticulously detailed hand-drawn art style. Each character is beautifully realized with their own delightful animation--little details, like the pig's sheepish look as he farts after eating a power-up plant or the frog eyeballing some flies as part of his idle animation, adds volumes to Jin's characterization and the game's charm. Every area of the Cursed Kingdom is also visually distinct and beautifully animated, and a couple of superb anime-style sequences that bookend the game help give it a slick, cohesive feel. The game's strong soundtrack helps round out the package and features both original pieces influenced by Wonder Boy's soundtrack, combined with new, rock-influenced arrangements of Wonder Boy's most memorable tunes, making it a great collection of music both new and old.

No Caption Provided
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Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom not only pays faithful homage to Wonder Boy, particularly The Dragon's Trap, but by refining the solid foundations of its spiritual predecessors with modern affordances, it becomes a rich platforming adventure in its own right. With a well-realized world filled to the brim with secrets and excellent platforming mechanics that always keeps things interesting, the Cursed Kingdom is a place you will want to discover every corner of.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Mon, 10 Dec 2018 18:00:00 -0800)
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Source: Depreview - All Reviews & Previews (Mon, 05 Nov 2018 14:00:00 Z)
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Source: Depreview - All Reviews & Previews (Wed, 28 Nov 2018 14:00:00 Z)

The Supreme Court signaled Monday it is not anxious to revisit the abortion controversy in the year ahead, disappointing conservative activists who were cheered by the appointment of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh.

After weeks of debate behind closed doors, a divided court turned down appeals backed...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Mon, 10 Dec 2018 11:45:00 PST )

Some DLC is minor--new character skins, a new weapon, a random new mode thrown in for fun. But other DLC and expansions are game-changing, letting you experience a game from an entirely new perspective or vastly improving what was already there. In 2018, the best expansions reinvented games for the better. This includes Destiny 2, which had a rough time earlier in the year and got just the boost it needed, as well as Civilization VI, which had a strong foundation and whose first DLC refined it in a number of ways. All the expansions on this list were released in the calendar year, though some of the base games were released earlier. In no particular order, here are the best expansions of 2018.

Destiny 2: Forsaken

[Read the review]

After two mediocre expansions, Destiny 2 was struggling going into the final quarter of 2018. It had a good foundation in its outstanding shooting and movement mechanics as well as a variety of activities for different types of players, but it was lacking a compelling endgame for the most dedicated Guardians. Forsaken finally answered the call--so much so that it took weeks for us to properly dive into all of it. A fun new mode in Gambit, extensive endgame activities like the Ascendant Challenge, and a new Raid added a much-needed layer of satisfying things to do and powerful loot to chase. Forsaken both filled in what was missing from Destiny 2 and reminded us what we liked about the game in the first place.

No Man's Sky: Next

[Read the review]

When it released in 2016, No Man's Sky was caught between what it was in reality and what people expected it to be. The Next update not only added a number of things that had been promised at launch, but it also doubled down on the best parts of No Man's Sky as it's always been. Next introduced true multiplayer--a much-requested feature--as well as base building and other sandbox-y elements. It also brought with it a number of improvements, namely visual enhancements that made the already ethereal world feel even more alive and look more beautiful. Perhaps most importantly, Next made us give No Man's Sky a second chance--it reminded us of the awe-inspiring, breathtakingly lonely game that No Man's Sky had always been.

Prey: Mooncrash

Prey was a divisive game for us in 2017, as its outstanding level design and rewarding combat were somewhat let down by uneven pacing and a lackluster story. The Mooncrash DLC capitalizes on all the best things about Prey--meaning its immersive sim elements--by recontextualizing them in the structure of a roguelike and keeping the story to a minimum. Because Mooncrash takes place in a simulation that you can reset, you're encouraged to experiment and find creative solutions to problems in the environment. That is, after all, what we liked about Prey in the first place, and Mooncrash allows us to enjoy it all over again.

Civilization VI: Rise and Fall

[Read the review]

As the first expansion to Civ VI, Rise and Fall faced a difficult challenge: How do you add to a game that's already deep to begin with? The base game has plenty going on, and any new features could have been in danger of bloating its systems. But Rise and Fall added smart tweaks and improvements that complemented the base game while changing it for the better. The headlining feature, the Ages system, introduced rewards for improvement and consequences for stagnation. This in effect helps prevent players from coasting to victory on a strong lead and gives an edge to underdogs who play smart. That, alongside smaller improvements, make Rise and Fall a standout expansion in 2018.

Sonic Mania Plus

[Read the review]

Sonic Mania had both the nostalgia factor and smart design, making it one of the best--if not the best--Sonic games ever made. Sonic Mania Plus, an update to the digital version that was included with the physical one, made it even better. It added new characters with their own unique abilities as well as Encore mode, which takes you through remixed versions of the base game's stages. Both the new characters and the new mode let you experience Sonic Mania differently than you did before, and that in turn showcases what's so great about the game to begin with.

GameSpot will be unveiling our picks for the best games and entertainment of 2018 throughout December. Head to our Best of 2018 hub to see all the winners so far.

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Source: GameSpot Gaming Reviews (Mon, 10 Dec 2018 10:03:00 -0800)

A Tulare police officer was injured and his canine partner, Bane, was fatally shot following a pursuit Sunday night.

One suspect was shot and killed in the gun battle, authorities said. Another suspect was gravely injured, and a third was taken into custody, said Sgt. Jon Hamlin, a spokesman with...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews ( Mon, 10 Dec 2018 08:55:00 PST )

The Rams failed to take advantage of an opportunity to clinch a bye in the wild-card round of the playoffs and also lost ground in their bid to gain home-field advantage through the playoffs. Here’s what we learned from their 15-6 loss to the Chicago Bears.

The Rams defense should be encouraged

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Mon, 10 Dec 2018 08:55:00 PST )

Hello, my name is John Cherwa, and welcome back to our horse racing newsletter as I thank all you readers for writing the newsletter today.

As I mentioned, thanks to all of you who sent in your thoughts on who was the best mudder you’ve ever seen. I couldn’t use all your comments, so I apologize,...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Mon, 10 Dec 2018 05:00:00 PST )

Stafford Taylor was his usual self, vigorous and sharp-minded, when he left a friend’s party late on the Fourth of July.

But sometime after, the 64-year-old Malibu artist and master carpenter was attacked and left wandering Pacific Coast Highway. He didn’t receive medical attention for hours, his...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Mon, 10 Dec 2018 05:00:00 PST )

Olivia de Havilland was more than just angry when she learned how she was portrayed in last year’s FX limited series “Feud: Bette and Joan.” The Hollywood legend felt blindsided by the show.

“Mystification and indignation,” the 102-year-old star of “Gone with the Wind,” “The Heiress” and other...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Mon, 10 Dec 2018 05:00:00 PST )

Welcome to California Inc., the weekly newsletter of the L.A. Times Business Section.

I'm Business columnist David Lazarus, and here's a rundown of upcoming stories this week and the highlights of last week.

Investors are hoping this week will be better than last for Wall Street, which has been...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Mon, 10 Dec 2018 05:00:00 PST )

Question: I’m trying to maneuver my way through the world of visas and realize I need help. Three of us are traveling to Cambodia and Vietnam. Is it better to get the visa yourself or have a visa service do it? Also, what about getting a visa on arrival? Another question: The flight to Cambodia...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Mon, 10 Dec 2018 05:00:00 PST )

After 17 years of war in Afghanistan, there’s no obvious way out.

TOP STORIES

An Impatient President and the Forever War

In Afghanistan, where America has waged its longest war and seen more than 2,400 military personnel die, attacks by Taliban insurgents have increased at an alarming rate. The...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Mon, 10 Dec 2018 05:00:00 PST )

The idea of what the Super Smash Bros. games are, and what they can be, has been different things during the series' 20-year history. What began as an accessible multiplayer game also became a highly competitive one-on-one game. But it's also been noted for having a comprehensive single-player adventure, as well as becoming a sort of virtual museum catalog, exhibiting knowledge and audiovisual artifacts from the histories of its increasingly diverse crossover cast. Ultimate embraces all these aspects, and each has been notably refined, added to, and improved for the better. Everyone, and basically everything, from previous games is here--all existing characters, nearly all existing stages, along with the flexibility to play and enjoy those things in different ways. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a comprehensive, considered, and charming package that builds on an already strong and enduring fighting system.

If you've ever spent time with a Smash game, then you likely have a good idea of how Ultimate works. Competing players deal damage to their opponents in order to more easily knock them off the stage. The controls remain relatively approachable for a competitive combat game; three different buttons in tandem with basic directional movements are all you need to access a character's variety of attacks and special abilities. There are a large variety of items and power-ups to mix things up (if you want to) and interesting, dynamic stages to fight on (also if you want to). You can find complexities past this, of course--once you quickly experience the breadth of a character's skillset, it allows you to begin thinking about the nuances of a fight (again, if you want to). Thinking about optimal positioning, figuring out what attacks can easily combo off of another, working out what the best move for each situation is, and playing mind games with your human opponents can quickly become considerations, and the allure of Smash as a fighting game is how easy it is to reach that stage.

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Complexity also comes with the wide variety of techniques afforded by Ultimate's staggeringly large roster of over 70 characters. Smash's continuing accessibility is a fortunate trait in this regard, because once you understand the basic idea of how to control a character, many of the barriers to trying out a completely new one are gone. Every fighter who has appeared in the previous four Smash games is here, along with some brand-new ones, and the presence of so many diverse and unorthodox styles to both wield and compete against is just as attractive as the presence of the characters themselves. In fact, it's still astounding that a game featuring characters from Mario Bros, Sonic The Hedgehog, Pac-Man, Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy, and Street Fighter all interacting with each other actually exists.

On a more technical level, Ultimate makes a number of under-the-hood alterations that, at this early stage, seem like positive changes that make Smash feel noticeably faster and more exciting to both watch and play. Characters take more damage in one-on-one fights; continuous dodging is punished with increased vulnerability; fighters can perform any ground-based attack, including smash moves, immediately out of a running state; and short-hop aerial attacks (previously a moderately demanding technique) can be easily performed by pressing two buttons simultaneously. Refinements like these might go unnoticed by most, but they help define Ultimate's core gameplay as a tangible evolution of the series' core mechanics.

A number of Ultimate's more superficial changes also help Smash's general quality-of-life experience, too. Some make it a more readable game--additions to the UI communicate previously hidden elements like meter charges and Villager's captured items, a simple radar helps keep track of characters off-screen, and a slow motion, zoom-in visual effect when critical hits connect make these moments more exciting to watch. Other changes help streamline the core multiplayer experience and add compelling options. Match rules can now be pre-defined with a swath of modifiers and saved for quick selection later. Stage selection occurs before character selection, so you can make more informed decisions on which fighter to use.

On top of a built-in tournament bracket mode, Ultimate also features a number of additional Smash styles. Super Sudden Death returns, as does Custom Smash, which allows you to create matches with wacky modifiers. Squad Strike is a personal favorite, which allows you to play 3v3 or 5v5 tag-team battles (think King of Fighters), and Smashdown is a great, engaging mode that makes the most of the game's large roster by disqualifying characters that have already been used as a series of matches continues, challenging your ability to do well with characters who you might not be familiar with.

The most significant addition to Ultimate, however, lies in its single-player content. Ultimate once again features a Classic Mode where each individual fighter has their own unique ladder of opponents to defeat, but the bigger deal is World of Light, Ultimate's surprisingly substantial RPG-style campaign. It's a convoluted setup--beginning as Kirby, you go on a long journey throughout a huge world map to rescue Smash's other fighters (who have incidentally been cloned in large numbers) from the big bad's control. Along the way, you'll do battles with Spirits, characters hailing from other video games that, while not directly engaging in combat, have taken control of clones, altered them in their images, and unleashed them on you.

Though there is some light puzzling, the world is naturally filled with hundreds upon hundreds of fights--there are over 1200 Spirit characters, and the vast majority have their own unique battle stages that use the game's match variables to represent their essence. The Goomba Spirit, for example, will put you up against an army of tiny Donkey Kongs. Meanwhile, the Excitebike Spirit might throw three Warios at you who only use their Side+B motorbike attacks.

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It may seem like a tenuous idea at first, but these fights are incredibly entertaining. It's hard not to appreciate the creativity of using Smash's assets to represent a thousand different characters. Zero Suit Samus might stand in for a battle with The Boss from Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater by donning a silver-palette costume and fighting you in a flower-filled Final Destination, but she also stands in for the spirit of Alexandra Roivas from Eternal Darkness by using a black-palette costume and fighting you in the haunted Luigi's Mansion stage, with a modifier that makes the screen occasionally flip upside down (Eternal Darkness was a GameCube horror game whose signature feature were "Sanity Effects", which skewed the game in spooky ways to represent the character's loosening grip on reality). If I knew the character, I often found myself thinking about how clever their Spirit battle was.

Defeating a Spirit will add it to your collection, and Spirits also act as World of Light's RPG system. There are two types of Spirit: Primary and Support. Primary Spirits have their own power number and can be leveled up through various means to help make your actual fighter stronger. Primary Spirits also have one of four associated classes, which determine combat effectiveness in a rock-scissors-paper-style system. These are both major considerations to take into account before a battle, and making sure you're not going into a fight at a massive disadvantage adds a nice dimension to the amusing unpredictability of this mode. What you also need to take into account are the modifiers that might be enabled on each stage, which is where Support Spirits come in. They can be attached to Primary Spirits in a limited quantity and can mitigate the effect of things like poisonous floors, pitch-black stages, or reversed controls, or they can simply buff certain attacks.

There are a few Spirit fights that can be frustrating, however. Stages that are a 1v4 pile-on are downright annoying, despite how well-equipped you might be, as are stages where you compete against powerful assist trophies. On the flip side, once you find yourself towards the end of the campaign, there are certain loadouts that can trivialize most stages, earning you victory in less than a second. Regardless, there's a compulsive quality to collecting Spirits, and not just because they might make you stronger. It's exciting to see which obscure character you run into next, feel validated for recognizing them, and see how the game interprets them in a Spirit battle. There's also just a superficial joy to collecting, say, the complete Elite Beat Agents cast (Osu! Takatae! Ouendan characters are here too), even though these trophies lack the frills of previous Smash games.

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Some hubs in the World of Light map are also themed around certain games and bundle related Spirits together to great effect--Dracula's Castle from Castlevania, which changes the map into a 2D side-scroller, and the globe from Street Fighter II, complete with the iconic airplane noises, are personal standouts. Despite the dramatic overtones of World of Spirit's setup, the homages you find within it feel like a nice commemoration of the games and characters without feeling like a pandering nostalgia play. One of the most rewarding homages of all, however, lies in Ultimate's huge library of video game music. Over 800 tracks, which include originals as well as fantastic new arrangements, can all be set as stage soundtracks as well enjoyed through the game's music player.

There is one significant struggle that Ultimate comes up against, however, which lies in the nature of the console itself. Playing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate in the Switch's handheld mode is simply not a great experience. In situations where there are more than two characters on screen, the view of the action often becomes too wide, making the fighters too small to see properly, and it can be difficult to tell what you or your opponent is doing. The game's penchant for flashy special effects and busy, colorful stages doesn't help things at all, and unless you're playing a one-on-one match, you'll likely suffer some blameless losses. This is a situational disadvantage and may not affect all players, but it puts a damper on the idea of Smash on the go.

The need to unlock characters also has the potential to be an initial annoyance, especially if your goal is to jump straight into multiplayer and start learning one of the six brand-new characters. In my time with the game, I split my attention between playing World of Light (where rescuing characters unlocks them everywhere) and multiplayer matches, where the constant drip-feed of "New Challenger" unlock opportunities (which you can easily retry if you fail) came regularly. I naturally earned the entire roster in roughly 10 hours of playtime, but your mileage may vary.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate also features online modes, but they were not active during Ultimate's pre-launch period. The game features skill-based matchmaking, private lobbies, and voice chat via Nintendo's smartphone app. It also features a system where defeating another player will earn you their personalized player tag, which can be used as a currency to unlock spirits, music, and costume items for Mii fighters. I'll begin testing these features once the service launches with the game's public release and will finalize the review score once I've had substantial time with the matchmaking experience.

Situational downers don't stop Super Smash Bros. Ultimate from shining as a flexible multiplayer game that can be as freewheeling or as firm as you want it to be. Its entertaining single-player content helps keep the game rich with interesting things to do, as well as bolstering its spirit of loving homage to the games that have graced Nintendo consoles. Ultimate's diverse content is compelling, its strong mechanics are refined, and the encompassing collection is simply superb.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Thu, 06 Dec 2018 05:00:00 -0800)


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