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REVIEWS & PREVIEWS (LAST 60)
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un crosses ...
Fortnite: Battle Royale Review - Laying ...
Life Is Strange: Before The Storm Review...
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Olympus OM-D E-M10 III Review
OnePlus 5 camera review
Review: Affinity Photo 1.5.2 for desktop...
Gudsen Moza Air gimbal review
The Age of Adaline Review
Poltergeist Review
Hot Pursuit Review
Little Boy Review
The Water Diviner Review
Peak Designs Leash shoulder and Cuff wri...
Canon EOS 6D Mark II Review
Blackmagic Video Assist 4K review
The Avengers: Age of Ultron Review...
Fujifilm X-E3 Review
Nikon D850 Review
Canon EOS Rebel SL2 / EOS 200D Review...


North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has made history by crossing over to the southern side of the world's most heavily armed border to meet rival South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

It's the first time a member of the Kim dynasty has set foot on southern soil since the end of the Korean War in 1953...

Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Thu, 26 Apr 2018 17:45:00 PDT )

The break that authorities said led them to the man accused of being the Golden State Killer came when they linked DNA evidence from the killings to genetic information contained on a consumer genealogical website, authorities said Thursday.

Investigators knew the killer only through a string of...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews ( Thu, 26 Apr 2018 15:35:00 PDT )

For a game that was long in development as a cooperative horde-based shooter, the conspicuous and relatively quick addition of battle royale to Fortnite seemed to be a move to capitalize on a trend. However, its seemingly simple building system and loose shooting mechanics not only set it apart from other games built on the same premise, but work extremely well to make a uniquely chaotic and surprisingly deep deathmatch experience.

Everything about Fortnite's presentation emits a lighthearted tone. You start a match by jumping out of a party bus held up by balloons that flies across the game's massive map. Weapons, ammo, and health items litter its silly-named cities, all using alliteration--Tomato Town, Moisty Mire, Tilted Towers, to name a few. Even enemies don't really die; they're teleported away after getting knocked out. Valuable loot is found inside pinatas called supply llamas, for crying out loud. Players throw up basic structures formed out of thin air and firearms brightly express their trajectory. But don't let that first impression fool you; the further you get into a match, the more you see how Fortnite's gameplay elements have to be used in clever and complex ways to emerge victorious.

Unique to Fortnite is a streamlined building system comprised of four components: walls, ramps, floors, and roofs. These are constructed with three different types of materials that you either mine with a pickaxe or scavenge across the map; wood, stone, and metal each have their own properties in terms of durability and build speed. You can further modify structures to have windows and doors. It seems convoluted, but thanks to snappy grid-based layouts and the intuitive control scheme, getting the hang of building isn't much of a hurdle.

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At first glance, it's as if Fortnite's original Save The World mode had its mechanics haphazardly dropped into the 100-player last-person-standing premise. But this is the foundation that makes for a myriad of tactical possibilities, like creating a sky-high staircase to climb a mountain to get the higher ground or swiftly fabricating your own cover as you run across an open field to close in on opponents. Literally, bridging the gap between mountains can turn long-range shootouts into close-quarters brawls. Fortnite's dynamic building system always gives you the opportunity to improvise, even when you think your back is against the wall.

For example, players will often shield themselves with structures that act as makeshift bunkers. To undercut that, you could put the pressure on them by constructing your own set of ramps leading into their territory to force a fair fight and eliminate an otherwise well-protected enemy. In these moments, the intrinsically rewarding nature of Fortnite shines through. Conflict isn't just about landing a precise shot or spotting the enemy first; quick wit and improvisation with the given toolset put you in a position to create your own path to success. Eliminations and victories feel very much earned, especially because the late-game often consists of which player or squad has the best architectural acumen in the ever-changing safe zones.

While construction is imperative for victory, so is destruction. Every object in the world of Fortnite can be destroyed. Even as players create their own formidable defense, no one is ever safe for long in battle. A well-placed rocket or remote explosive can quickly dismantle a large, complex fort; if a multi-story tower doesn't have a strong foundation, blasting it from underneath will bring those up high back down to earth. Even a subtle tactic like breaking down a single wall and throwing up a ramp to infiltrate in an imposing fort can prove just as effective.

Approaches to combat also rely on the weapons you scavenge. A typical arsenal made up of rifles, submachine guns, shotguns, and pistols have colored tiers to indicate varying levels of power and rarity. Each gun has a sensible use-case, however, traps and explosives mix things up a bit. This is another aspect in which Fortnite diverges from many other battle royale games; shooting is fast and loose, akin to an arena shooter. Mid-range firefights and close-quarters combat feel more like a fatal dance in and around the structures plopped into the environment. Bunnyhopping with a tactical shotgun is common at close range and spraying assault rifles is standard operation. Fortnite isn't a tactical shooter in the traditional sense, but offers its own bevy of strategic options to keep players on their toes.

Enemy engagement still carries the risk you expect from games of this ilk by nature of having one life per match and the relatively quick time-to-kill. Even after downing a Chug Jug for full health and shield, well-placed shots from a legendary or epic weapon will make short work of anyone. However, the brisk pace at which matches move trades unnerving tension for a higher frequency of action. Yet, as with any battle royale game, looting for resources sits at the core of matches and eats up much of your time. The system in place for loot and resource gathering is efficient, but it grows tiresome after consecutive matches as swinging the pickaxe at trees and houses for necessary materials grows increasingly repetitive.

Another area in which Fortnite is a bit thin is in its map design, a shortcoming that's twofold. The sprawling lone map features a variety of cute, thematic areas: Its metropolis of Tilted Towers and suburbs of Pleasant Park contrast the swamps of Moisty Mire and the countryside of Anarchy Acres. Regardless, there's a feeling many of the map's landmarks lack sophistication in physical layouts and density in loot placement. To its credit, the map's verticality brings the best out in your construction abilities, but city centers like Tomato Town have little to work with when two squads land in the area. A slightly more intricate town like Snobby Shores is sometimes devoid of useful items. It'd be easier to overlook this if you didn't have to trek across to a nearby town on foot that's likely to have been looted, but such is the case.

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In just about half a year, Epic has demonstrated strong support with a consistent rollout of new content. Those who have been playing the game are aware of the limited-time modes that put a slight twist on the standard mode. Snipers-only or explosives-only matches have added a neat touch, but past modes like 50v50 or Teams of 20 do much more to change Fortnite's pace and open up new ways to play the game. If that's any indication, Fortnite could have plenty more to offer as it evolves further.

This is a free-to-play game, so you should be aware that it sustains itself through microtransactions. A $10 Battle Pass opens a slew of skins to earn and provides new goals to work towards. It's a reasonable system in that these objectives reward you with cosmetic items that visibly pop within Fortnite's bright art style. There's nothing to infringe on how the game plays, thankfully. If you wish to engage in making your pickaxe to look like a toy, don seasonal outfits, or get the latest viral dance as an emote, you either put in the time to earn it or shell out money for the game's V-Bucks.

While there are several moving parts in the game's ecosystem, Fortnite's biggest accomplishment is in how it seamlessly merges a number of simple mechanics to create a distinguishable battle royale game. What looks to be a straightforward building system steadily escalates to an elaborate display of tactical prowess. As the saying goes: It's easy to learn, hard to master. Although a few shortcomings in the map design eventually surface and fatigue in looting can set in, Fortnite rarely fails at challenging you in unexpected ways, resulting in something more than just another typical last-person-standing shooter.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Mon, 09 Apr 2018 09:00:00 -0700)

It's rare that a prequel truly works, where a story can captivate despite the audience knowing what's coming and where the path will lead. Life Is Strange: Before The Storm is one of those exceptional stories because it draws you in on its own terms. The only problem: You know it's building you up just to break your heart.

As we know, the original Life Is Strange is steeped in tragedy. Maxine Caulfield's estranged friend Chloe Price comes riding back into her hometown, hoping to find her missing friend, Rachel Amber. The search brings Chloe and Max close again after years apart, but it also illustrates a vast gulf in their life experience, which never fully closes. Max's life is defined by good fortune and privilege. Chloe, as seen through Before The Storm, is defined by loss.

When Episode 1 starts, Chloe is forced to finagle her way into an underground metal concert with nothing but street smarts and her own awkward sense of sass. She's not yet as sharp and hardened as the girl we meet in the original game, but she has it in her to become stronger as life gets tough. That girl's outlook on life is everywhere in Before The Storm: the greyer, evocative, post-rock soundtrack compared to the sunny lilt of the original game, the sneering commentary of the information in the menus. The Backtalk system—a stand-in for Life Is Strange's time travel mechanic—gives you even more control over the flow of a conversation to get what you want. It's a way to portray Chloe's very human strengths that sadly doesn't get implemented often enough in the latter two episodes.

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Whoever you choose to make Chloe become, meeting Rachel shifts her focus. In the original game, Rachel is to Arcadia Bay what Laura Palmer is to Twin Peaks: a bonafide popular girl whose absence seems to mean everything to everyone, but who no one seems to really know on a personal level. Chloe Price, however, did know her, and Before The Storm gives you the chance to find out what was so special about Rachel in Chloe's eyes.

On the surface, the answer seems to be nothing. Episode 1 has Chloe and Rachel playing hooky, and trying to suss each other out, which doesn't tell you anything you couldn't guess on your own. It's only after Rachel catches her District Attorney father in a compromising act that she metaphorically bares everything, revealing she and Chloe aren't as different as they seem.

Before The Storm's three episodes are roughly two hours each, depending on how compulsive you are about exploring every nook and cranny. Compared to the original game, which leaned heavy on the implications of Max's time travel, Before the Storm has no real supernatural crutch to lean on to solve the world's problems. What few flights of fancy there are--aside from a heartwarming impromptu Shakespeare performance in Episode 2--manifest as occasional dream sequences, more for Chloe to sort through her own grief than to affect the world around her. The real world around Chloe continues to crumble, and your choices tend to fall on the side of figuring out how to sort the remains. It's choices like figuring out how best to deal with being kicked out of school, whether it's worth upsetting Chloe's mother to clap back at her trashy gun-nut stepfather, or parse out how much basic respect to give the gossip girls on Blackwell Academy's campus.

The heart of it all remains Chloe's relationship with Rachel. It's a textbook case of two people finding someone worth clinging to, and taking it on good will that their faith in each other isn't misplaced at best or going to get them killed at worst. Episode 3 veers ever slightly off into low-grade cable-TV drama, but even that's played earnestly, with Chloe and Rachel's mistakes having tangible, believable consequences, and choosing how Chloe deals with her failings is endlessly captivating to play through.

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That captivation is, of course, the problem, if you can call it that. It's a game that so admirably and genuinely builds a relationship between two girls who absolutely need and deserve each other; when it gets to the ugly business of reminding you where it ends, it sours and saddens every moment. You could use your choices to keep Rachel at a bit of distance, but even that distance feels unfair, because why wouldn't both girls deserve their momentary bliss?

Still, Before The Storm's main three episodes largely play out as though the future isn't set in stone, allowing you to craft something resembling a momentary win for an ill-fated relationship, entertaining the notions of coping and vulnerability in ways very few games typically have time or inclination to. The bittersweet cherry on top, however, is contained in the game's Deluxe Edition, a final episode that allows you to play through Max and Chloe's last beautiful day together before Max leaves for Seattle. It's light, whimsical, often funny, and bathed in a gentle golden nostalgia. And once again, its final moments bring truth rushing in, and it's a stab in the heart.

This, apparently, is the heartbreaking joy that is Life Is Strange: the inevitability that life will do terrible, unexpected things to people whose presence we love, and people who absolutely deserve better. Developer Deck Nine's contribution through Before the Storm posits that the pain is still worth it; just to have the time at all is enough. A storm is still coming to Arcadia Bay, and Rachel will still disappear one day, and it doesn't matter. Being able to spend time with Chloe when her heart is at its lightest, and putting in the work to keep it going, is powerful and worthwhile.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Wed, 18 Apr 2018 13:00:00 -0700)

French-Turkish director Deniz Gamze Ergüven stunned with her first film, “Mustang,” the Academy Award-nominated portrait of an unbridled Turkish girlhood straining at the strictures of patriarchy. Her follow-up film is “Kings,” which was originally intended to be her directorial debut before “Mustang.”

... Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Movie Reviews (Thu, 26 Apr 2018 12:55:00 PDT )

Despite delivering few actual thrills, the fact-based “Backstabbing for Beginners” qualifies as an intelligent, well-crafted political thriller based on the memoirs of Michael Soussan, an idealistic American diplomat who pulls the lid off a United Nations corruption scandal.

The year is 2002 and...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Movie Reviews (Thu, 26 Apr 2018 13:05:00 PDT )
We talk with software developer and professor Meredith Broussard, who argues in her new book, "Artificial Unintelligence" from MIT Press, that a technological utopia is probably impossible because there are some things AI just can't do. Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Thu, 26 Apr 2018 11:15:00 PDT )

Los vecinos de este suburbio de Sacramento observaron atónitos cómo una casa rural se convertía en el centro de la investigación sobre el notorio asesino Golden State, que atacó a sus víctimas a lo largo de todo el estado de California en los años setenta y ochenta.

El enjambre de vehículos de...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Thu, 26 Apr 2018 08:49:00 PDT )

Reader Nancy Halpern of Santa Monica and her husband were on an East Coast road trip last summer when they happened upon Zynodoa Restaurant in the old Southern town of Staunton, Va. “We enjoyed the most fabulous, unusually moist cornbread served in an iron pan with a caramelized glaze. It became...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Thu, 26 Apr 2018 09:00:00 PDT )

Even if you haven’t heard of H. Jon Benjamin, if you’re a fan of a particular brand of eccentric comedy, you have heard him.

A longtime stand-up who cut his teeth around the alt-comedy circuit with the likes of David Cross, Benjamin got one of his first breaks in a regular role on the animated...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Wed, 25 Apr 2018 03:00:00 PDT )

The president of France, Emmanuel Macron, is expected to soon address a joint session of Congress. But will that speech make news that eclipses the serious questions being raised about President Trump’s selection to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs?

DIAGNOSING DR. JACKSON’S POLITICAL FATE

... Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Wed, 25 Apr 2018 03:00:00 PDT )

Warner Bros’ action-adventure film “Rampage” trampled the competition for the second straight week in China.

The movie, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, grossed $51.3 million in ticket sales last week, according to film consulting firm Artisan Gateway.

The film accumulated $106.8 million in...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Wed, 25 Apr 2018 03:00:00 PDT )
Lorraine Ali reviews the second-season premiere of the Emmy-winning Hulu drama "The Handmaid's Tale." Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Wed, 25 Apr 2018 02:00:00 PDT )

A British judge on Tuesday said the parents of a terminally ill toddler cannot take him to Italy for treatment, a course of action that U.K. courts have said would be futile and wrong.

Justice Anthony Hayden rejected what he said was a final legal appeal by the parents of 23-month-old Alfie Evans,...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 24 Apr 2018 18:35:00 PDT )
The Norwegian crime writer turns Shakespeare’s tragedy into a fast-paced thriller about murder and corruption in 1970s Glasgow. Read More

Source: The New York Times - Sunday Review (Mon, 16 Apr 2018 09:00:05 GMT )

2016’s Orwell tapped into our collective fears about online surveillance, the manipulation of information, and our fast-eroding sense of personal privacy in the digital age. In 2018, these problems are more pronounced and have manifested in new ways. Orwell: Ignorance is Strength has launched upon a world where the term "fake news" carries very specific connotations, and where political divisiveness is, in many parts of the world, leading to mass-protests and widespread unease, a lot of which is being channelled through the internet. The Orwell games are very much a product of their time, but unfortunately Ignorance is Strength does not resonate as hard as its predecessor did.

The events of Ignorance is Strength occur concurrently with the first three episodes of the original game, but while there's some occasional overlap you're primarily focused on an entirely separate case. Barring one new element, the gameplay is mostly identical to the first game, which you should play first if you have any interest in this follow-up--some knowledge about the "The Nation" (the fictional country the game is set in) and the technology you're in charge of is assumed. You play as an investigator, charged with digging through the internet for information that will serve the interests of the country's corrupt government.

Initially you're searching for details about Oleg Bakay, a missing military officer from neighboring country Parges. Soon--and for the remainder of the game--your focus shifts to Raban Vhart, a blogger whose anti-government sentiments and campaign against the leadership of The Nation (which is, yes, run by a man who looks a bit like Trump) must be thwarted. You are, essentially, the bad guy, running surveillance for a dictatorship that demands absolute fealty from the citizens it so closely monitors, but Ignorance is Strength is less explicit about the meaning behind all of this than the first game was. While Orwell stretched across five episodic instalments, Ignorance is Strength runs for just three, which winds up being too little time to build upon the previously established mythology of the game's world. The broader political climate of The Nation, the appropriately Orwellian setting for both games, isn't expanded upon much by Raban's war against it, and while a conflict with Parges is discussed it's never quite explored enough to feel like a proper plot point.

Your job is to find chunks of data online using the computer interface of the Orwell surveillance system, then throw as much dirt as you can at Raban. If a piece of information on a page can be collected, it will be highlighted, and you can drag it to their profile on your screen. You find this information by scouring websites (although annoyingly you can't "search" for sites; you either find links on sites you have already accessed or gain a new site for your database after grabbing a data chunk), and when you manage to find someone's phone or computer details you can snoop through their private screens too. Pages that haven't been fully explored, or which have data chunks you haven't lifted, are highlighted on your list of pages visited. Each piece of information you collect will eat up ten minutes on your in-game clock, and in each of the game's three episodes you're working towards a specific time limit, so you want to focus on the important information and skip over any data that does not add to the case you're building.

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Sometimes data will contradict with other chunks, and as the Investigator it's up to you to choose which one to submit. The "Ethical Codex" mandate means that your supervisor is only privy to information you submit, and will make informed decisions based on that. The way the plot progresses will be influenced by which statements you decide are more valid, as you can't submit two contradictory pieces. It's an implausible system, but from a game design perspective it's a clever one, forcing you into regular moral dilemmas.

The stakes feel muted this time, though. In episode 2, for example, if you gather too much useless information without finding a specific important detail, Raban will publish an anti-government blog post before you can stop him. Raban isn't a talented writer, and while he has a following, his posts largely read as hysterical, which is a strange tone to hit. He drops a genuine revelation in the first episode, but for the remainder of the game Raban seems like someone who is fast unravelling, and who the leaders of The Nation could probably comfortably ignore, having successfully implemented a surveillance state and perfected the dissemination of propaganda in ways that make Raban's stand largely ineffective. It also doesn't help that the game, which is so text-heavy, has several issues with grammar, punctuation and sentence syntax, at least some of which seem unintentional. They're minor problems, but over time they become distracting.

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It's up to you to discredit Raban by investigating his personal life and past, which becomes the driving force of the second and third episodes. You're essentially asked to destroy a man's life, and it can be distressingly satisfying when you dig up the appropriate dirt on him. The human drama at the game's heart is the most compelling aspect of its plot, especially once you start to investigate Raban's wife and brother. A few twists in the story are telegraphed too heavily to have an impact, but the experience of taking available information about a man's life and using it to destroy him--by any means necessary--is just the right level of disturbing.

The third and final episode introduces a new wrinkle: the Influencer Tool, which lets you gather information and broadcast to the world, obscuring the truth by cherry-picking certain information to reach conclusions that ignore specific inconvenient details. The Influencer Tool taps into our worst fears--our secrets and our private conversations being exposed against our will, and our moments of weakness being read as our true selves coming out. The balance between your personal satisfaction over achieving in-game goals and the horror of what you're doing, coupled with the plausibility of these tools being used against someone, can lead to serious self-reflection, even if the man you're taking apart isn't the most compelling figure. It's a shame that these moments are fairly fleeting--Ignorance is Strength would have benefited greatly from a few extra chapters to really emphasize the tragedy of what is happening.

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Orwell: Ignorance is Strength does not leave as strong an impression as the first game did, even if the central mechanics are still inherently compelling. There's not quite enough space for the game to breathe, and the interesting ideas, like the Influencer Tool, could be taken further. As a series, Orwell is brimming with potential, but it feels like the sequel was rushed to ensure that it could comment on the state of the world in early 2018. But extensive private data collection, political turmoil, and pervasive surveillance aren't going anywhere, which is why the game's namesake, George Orwell, has remained so perpetually relevant. If there's a third Orwell game, hopefully Osmotic Studios will find more to say about it.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Thu, 29 Mar 2018 07:00:00 -0700)

The famous Einstein quote that "science is never finished" has never been more perfectly exemplified in a video game than in Kerbal Space Program. After four years in official release, and what felt like a lifetime in early access, the game has provided a deeply impressive set of tools to experiment with, explore, and imagine the possibilities of space travel. In fact, that toolset is so deep, and the game's enraptured fanbase so committed, that it's hard to not see the first official expansion, Making History, as being behind the curve.

The biggest thing Making History adds to the game is a set of missions branded as milestone events in Kerbal astronautical history. Most are modeled after real-world space excursions like the Apollo and Soyuz missions, and there are a few less-realistic scenarios thrown in for good measure, including one that essentially feels like an official Kerbal remake of Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity. It feels like a deliberate, well-curated collection of content that introduces a slew of new parts and vehicles to tinker with. Your performance during these missions are also scored and can be compared to how the rest of the community fared, which is a nice little plus. There's tons of value to be had trying to figure out how best to execute the mission, how best to deploy a ship's resources and crew, or how to efficiently manage an emergency, and there are certainly plenty of those moments to be expected.

These missions are only the beginning, though, as the expansion also brings an official mission editor to the game. Given the aforementioned variables that go into every mission, as you might expect, the tool allowing you to create new missions is just as astoundingly complex. You design new aspects for a mission using a series of linked windows, telling the editor where you want players to start, which craft they'll start with, what the end goal is, what the flight conditions will be, any environmental hazards you wish to add, and what the win state will be.

It's a bit of a mess, though. You can't just click through a menu, choose specific variables for each section and move on. Most of the more elaborate scenarios you could think up involve multiple aspects that need to be linked together using a strange, unwieldy process between option boxes. For my part, all I wanted was to try out the Armageddon scenario of taking off from Earth and slingshotting around the moon (or, rather, the Kerbals' Mun) to land on an asteroid, and I could barely get the mission editor to register the correct flight trajectory. There's a tutorial in the mode that runs you through the basics of using the editor, but just like the tutorial in the core game, it fails to adequately explain the minutiae. Much of what the average player will create (without hours of practice, at least) is the result of trial and error more than actual vision. For what it's worth, this is generally the way everything in Kerbal Space Program works.

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The overarching irony of the expansion, however, is that while new players may be stymied by the editor for hours on end, veterans will have likely already taken full advantage of the legion of mods floating out there for the game, already accessible through the main menu. Aside from the specialized winning and scoring parameters, the official editor seems almost redundant.

There are very dedicated players and creators out there, however, and the expansion most definitely gives those folks more to play with, which has led to some wondrous, fascinating and, yes, absolutely frustrating new player-made missions. Disaster scenarios seem to be a particular specialty, and it has honestly been more captivating to put out situational fires--rescuing a stranded Kerbal, stopping a space station's spin in close to low orbit--than to make things fly on a straight path. Making History certainly adds more to Kerbal Space Program, and those who've already poured hundreds of hours into the game may be grateful for the tiny cache of new supplies it introduces. But in this particular space race, players have already been to the Moon (sorry, Mun) and back long before developer Squad unveiled its new rockets.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Thu, 29 Mar 2018 12:00:00 -0700)

Huddled together in a crater, they gather around their last hope against the cold--an aging steam generator. Fueled by coal, it can kick out just enough heat to give the last bastion of humanity a faint glimmer of hope. A moment like this illustrates the essence of Frostpunk, a survival-style city-builder where you must lead a lonely band of survivors not against encroaching armies, but against a frigid storm that's wiped out most of the human race.

As temperatures plunge well below freezing, it's your job to guide the remaining populace towards establishing a successful, self-sufficient camp. You'll need hunters and hothouses, mines and saw mills. And you have to keep all of these machines running in temperatures that would make even the hardiest penguins shiver.

The essentials are pretty simple, though. People need houses and jobs. Because this is a survival situation, everyone works on a near-constant basis. The day starts at 5:00 AM, and people have a few hours to finish any construction projects before they head to their primary job for 12 hours. Then they head back home, finish a few small tasks, and go to bed.

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This cycle is hugely important because you'll need to always make sure you have enough fuel to keep the generator running through the night. A major part of this is planning out when and where people need to be to complete their tasks. If you survive, you'll build outwards in concentric rings, ensuring that, as you expand, your core can keep up with the heating demands and provide enough warmth for your citizens to combat the pervasive chill.

This all works seamlessly, too. There’s a natural pattern to it all, and you’ll be given little challenges throughout the day to help give you a bit more structure. Often, these are emergent consequences of past decisions. If you were able to keep people alive through the night, but not warm enough, then they could get sick--posing a new set of challenges to prioritize for the day after. If any one element of the city is neglected a bit too long, then you’ll start getting more strident demands from your people, which often become more intricate, two-to-three-day goals. The structure for it all is elegant and precise--you always have just enough work, and you’re never left without near and moderate-term goals to help give you direction.

Your mission is also strained by all manner of unavoidable disasters. Everything from sudden cold snaps and necessary amputations to mining disasters and refugee crises crop up, requiring your intervention. This forms what could be called the crux of the game--balancing hope and discontent. Compassionate actions give your people hope. They remind the huddled masses that we (in the general sense) haven’t lost touch with humanity. Dispassionate or draconian acts, however, drain the collective will. Unlike most moral choices in games, neither are unilaterally better.

Compassionate actions are typically better long-term goals for short-term hits. For instance, taking on gravely injured or terminally ill refugees will help hold your people together--reminding them that if they are ever left out or lost, they will be found and cared for. At the same time, medical care in the post-apocalypse is damned near impossible, and if you don't have the facilities to care for the people, you'll soon end up with a pile of bodies spreading disease throughout the colony. Manage to fix up the wounded, though, and you'll have an able-bodied workforce embued with the unbreakable spirit of hope.

These are the kinds of choices Frostpunk lives on, and what separates it from every other comparable game. Frostpunk gets a lot of mileage from it, too. It’s hard to cling to the moral high ground--even if you succeed--when you’re reminded of the sacrifices you’ve made along the way. That gives your decisions weight in a way that SimCity and many of its ilk simply can’t. Here, the effects of disasters are tangible, and the game rightly blames you for your personal failures.

One of your citizens approaches you: "Children should be put to work. We're all in this together, and we need help right now." Then, you're shuffled over to a rough-hewn book of laws for your band. There you can, with a click, start putting the kids to work. Or you could build child shelters to house the kids and keep them healthy and safe from the cold. The citizens didn't present you with that second option--and why would they, they can only see what's immediately in front of them?

Frostpunk itself, in the tutorial, notes that the people you serve are always looking for a solution, but not necessarily the best one. What's ultimately best depends on the emergent challenges you face. Do you have a mysterious illness spreading wildly through the camp? Are you struggling to find coal, forcing you to char firewood and construction materials to keep the generator going? These questions are constant and agonizing throughout. Frostpunk drips cynicism and bleakness. And yet it is that hopelessness, that fundamental need of human beings to persist in spite of everything that Frostpunk seeks to embody most. You become the bulwark against fear--even as you look across the land and internalize just how hard this fight will be.

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That's powerful precisely because it hurts. Every time you make a tough call, doubts linger. If you had been better, if you had chosen differently, maybe you'd have been able to save everyone. Adding to the distress, Frostpunk's Hope meter shows you the consequences of your decisions right as they happen. Send children into the mines and you can watch the camp's faith evaporate as a whole chunk of meter gets lopped off.

This system--balancing the will of the people against their own needs--works so well precisely because every mechanism in the game is built to support that core idea. Your job is to manage the emotional fortitude of the people as much as it is about anything else. In time, you'll be able to form scouting parties, outposts, and build a sprawling network of makeshift towns and settlements that stand together. But again, that arc intersects with countless brutal decisions. Should you send a scout to help survivors fight off bears? What about risk turning off an electrical super-weapon that fries everything it touches--but with the potential of a new safe haven from the world outside? The story of your civilization, of your masses hoping, is forged in the choices you make along the way. And they become a part of the narrative you build.

Frostpunk is among the best overall takes on the survival city builder to date. Its theming and consistency create a powerful narrative through line that binds your actions around the struggle to hold onto humanity in uncertain times. Hope is a qualified good, but you may not always be strong enough (or clever enough) to shelter that flame from the cold.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Tue, 24 Apr 2018 15:00:00 -0700)

After a longer-than-expected wait, the first details about Destiny 2's second DLC expansion, Warmind, have been revealed. Bungie shared new information during a livestream that explored the new Landing Zone and area on Mars where the DLC is set, the Escalation Protocol event, and other changes.

Warmind is set on Mars but a different area we haven't been to before. The Hellas Basin features the planet's polar ice caps and is the birthplace of the Warmind Rasputin, who has awoken and is creating problems across the solar system--as evidenced by the space junk you'll see falling out of the sky. The Clovis Bray corporation plays a key part in the story, and you'll get to meet Ana Bray, a Guardian who is featured in the prologue cinematic and serves as a vendor and your main point of contact in Mars' new area.

Escalation Protocol

One of the big focuses of the stream was Escalation Protocol, a new sort of Public Event that can only be activated after you finish the campaign (though you're free to join one someone else starts). This event isn't on a schedule and can be started at any time, and it involves facing off against seven waves of Hive enemies, each with various bosses. After the third and fifth waves, reward chests will spawn in, but the real rewards come after finishing Wave 7. That wave consists of a new boss with unique mechanics. There are a total of five bosses that can show up during this phase, and the game will rotate between one each week.

Bungie said Escalation Protocol is meant as an endgame activity (hence the campaign completion requirement) that addresses players' requests for something that is truly challenging and replayable. There are unique weapon rewards up for grabs (which will be different depending on which final boss you face) along with new armor to earn. You'll also be able to use special weapons during the course of the event, including the returning Hive sword from the original Destiny campaign. There's also something called The Valkyrie, a new type of spear that doubles as both a melee and ranged weapon and can only be used for a limited time after it's picked up.

Crucible

On the Crucible side, Bungie detailed the two new types of player rankings. Valor is a progression system that goes up when you complete matches and has no loss penalties. Glory is only available in the competitive playlist and is tied to your wins and losses; you'll gain rank when you win and lose progress when you come up short. There's also a "streaking" aspect that accelerates your gains (or losses) as you win or lose consecutive matches.

Crucible rewards are also handled differently. Once Season 3 begins with the release of update 1.2.0, you can go to Shaxx for a free rewards package, and through him, you can see all of the available rewards and how to earn them. Some will be earned by reaching certain ranks, while others will also require completing certain objectives in Crucible. There's also a prestige-style mechanic where you can reset your Valor rank when you hit the max level in exchange for rewards. There's no limit to the number of times this can be done, and the number of resets will be tracked on a corresponding emblem.

Bungie also previewed private matches, which will work much like you expect, as well as some of the Exotic weapon changes being made. The overall goal is to make these weapons more useful and distinct without altering what is meant to make them unique. Not shown but mentioned is that there is a new Raid Lair--the final one for Leviathan--called Spire of Stars.

Following the release of the first DLC, Curse of Osiris, back in December, Warmind is due out on May 8. That's the same date that Season 3 begins, which will feature a free update that introduces an increase to Vault space, Exotic weapon Masterworks, and more. Season 3 also marks a notable change for Crucible maps, as all of the post-launch levels will be available through matchmaking to all players.

Later in the summer, Season 3 will also bring bounties, a seasonal event, improvements to Faction Rally events, and changes to Exotic armor sandbox. Season 4 is scheduled for launch in September and consists of weapon slot changes, gear collections, and more.

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Source: GameSpot Gaming Reviews (Tue, 24 Apr 2018 11:11:00 -0700)

Whenever a new remastered edition is announced, some people cheer while others groan. The less-than-amused folks are often the ones who bought the game in its original form and aren't happy about the prospect of paying full price for the upgrade. But when it comes to Dark Souls Remastered for PC, the groans shouldn't be too loud.

That's because From Software has officially announced owners of the PC game Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition will get a 50% discount when upgrading to Dark Souls Remastered when it launches in May. Owners of other versions of the original Dark Souls, however, are out of luck.

On PC, the transition between the current version and the Remastered version will take a couple of weeks. On May 8, Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition will be removed from Steam. If you've already purchased it, you'll still be able to plan and re-download it, but no one will be able to buy it after that date. Then, on May 25, Dark Souls Remastered will launch on Steam, as well as on PS4 and Xbox One.

The remastered version features the same characters, environments, and challenging gameplay, but it includes a number of upgrades, including improved graphics and quality-of-life tweaks. You'll also be able to play online with six people, rather than the previous limit of four.

Dark Souls Remastered is also heading to Nintendo Switch but not in May. While the Switch port was originally meant to launch the same day as the other versions, From Software delayed it to this summer. Nintendo has also pushed back the release date of the Solaire of Astora Amiibo.

Some links to supporting retailers are automatically made into affiliate links, and GameSpot may receive a small share of those sales.

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Source: GameSpot Gaming Reviews (Tue, 24 Apr 2018 11:12:00 -0700)

Sharing much of the style of Punchdrunk's 2011 play Sleep No More, The Invisible Hours is more immersive theater than it is interactive fiction. You exist as a ghost in each scene, and you can follow any of the characters at any time, rewinding, fast-forwarding, and pausing as you please. But you don't act on anything; you just observe, gathering pieces of a larger story along the way. That story draws heavily from classic mystery novels, and even though its twist isn't as original as it initially might seem, it's intriguing to watch things unfold from every perspective and learn more about its shady characters.

Set in an alternate version of the late 1800s, The Invisible Hours takes place at inventor Nikola Tesla's mansion, where an assortment of guests--including a very arrogant Thomas Edison--have gathered at his behest. When the first chapter begins, Tesla is already dead, lying in a pool of his own blood in the entryway. If you pause as soon as the chapter opens and wander Tesla's island, you can find five of the guests in their rooms and one outside in a gazebo--and no indication of who the murderer is, of course. In true Agatha Christie fashion, among the guests is a detective who supposedly can help the process along.

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That detective, Gustaf Gustav, is the first character you meet and the only person at Tesla's isolated mansion who arrived after the murder. You start out on the docks of the rocky island just as Gustaf's boat approaches, though you can go anywhere at any time rather than sticking by his side. But following Gustaf through a scene gives you the most straightforward perspective, since he's the only one of the seven suspects who almost certainly didn't do it and is simply looking for the killer. Effectively making him the protagonist for your first playthrough of each of the four chapters is the easiest way to get your bearings, and it's a strong anchor for the rest of the story.

That said, The Invisible Hours works regardless of the order in which you experience different events. The game is structured so that one revelation or detail won't ruin any other scenes in the same chapter, so you can follow whoever interests you the most and go from there. You can listen to a character discuss a murder trial and then find a newspaper clipping about it with new details, or you can find the news story first--each instance works in isolation with the bigger picture. For the most part, there's something going on at any point in time. There are stretches where characters, when left alone, aren't doing much--looking out windows into the storm, reading books, or sitting and staring into the distance--but there's always a lead to chase somewhere, if not more than one.

The characters and their sordid backstories turn out to be far more interesting than the murder itself. The real mystery is not who killed Tesla but why Tesla invited these people to his mansion in the first place, and as the story progresses, those reasons become more and more clear. The depth of each side story makes rewinding and revisiting scenes rewarding, rather than the chore it could have been. The game also tracks who you've seen and at what time during each chapter, so it's easy to find exactly whose perspective you're missing and track them down--and find out what they were doing when you weren't looking.

Because it shares a lot of the same DNA as classic mystery novels, The Invisible Hours can initially come off a little campy. A few over-the-top characters--especially Edison--and some convenient explanations for their behavior feel like dinner theater fare at times, but there are significant reasons for those apparent missteps to appear the way they do. The Invisible Hours' performances are reflective of that, and the more you learn about each character, the more you can appreciate the acting that goes into all of them. The stage actress in particular is impressive, with shifting body language and changes in her speech revealing the different sides to her.

The Invisible Hours works regardless of the order in which you experience different events.

In the same vein, every plot hole I thought I'd found turned out to be solid once I saw it from every angle. That put me in the position of the characters in mystery novels that frustrate me the most: the ones who jump to conclusions, make assumptions, and cause more problems than they solve. It was a reminder that my job wasn't to figure out whodunnit, and I appreciated The Invisible Hours most when I stopped trying to solve the mystery and instead just watched as it unfolded. Once I did find out who the killer was, I wasn't even concerned with it anymore, for better or worse (though a hard-to-find secret ending makes the killer's reveal more interesting than it is on its own).

The Invisible Hours shifts depending on how you approach its story; scenes take on different meanings as you see them from different perspectives, and as a result, finding every detail in the bigger picture is rewarding. It strikes the same tone as an Agatha Christie novel and at times feels campy for it, but the characters are interesting and well-acted, making each trip through the same few minutes worth it just to see a different character's side of things.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Tue, 24 Apr 2018 10:00:00 -0700)

Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors has shelled out $12.05 million for his own slice of beachfront in Malibu.

Set on a privately gated street, the multilevel contemporary home was originally built in 1976 and extensively remodeled five years ago. Features include open-concept living and dining...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 24 Apr 2018 09:00:00 PDT )
The late artist thrills with paper and wood-scrap works that defy easy categorization. Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 24 Apr 2018 09:00:00 PDT )
"Cut! Paper Play in Contemporary Photography," a delightful teaser of a show at the Getty Museum, divides neatly into two complementary halves. Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 24 Apr 2018 09:00:00 PDT )
Carnations and crushed beer cans jostle against fur and strings of beads in one of the artist's works at Shulamit Nazarian gallery, where a hit-or-miss show also includes sculpture. Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 24 Apr 2018 09:00:00 PDT )

From a new cocktail bar in the Theater District to a new Greek restaurant in Beverly Hills, here’s what’s happening in the Los Angeles food and drink world:

Thai town sweets: Pastry chef Justin Chao, who trained at the Michelin-rated Le Meurice in France, has made a name for himself supplying guests...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 24 Apr 2018 09:00:00 PDT )

As games continue to grow in scope and complexity, there is something to be said about the light-hearted, compact RPG stylings of The Swords of Ditto. It mixes childlike cartoon visuals and a delightful soundtrack with light puzzles and simple-yet-challenging combat. And while it doesn’t offer anything particularly groundbreaking to seasoned RPG or roguelite fans and backs you into a wall in some confusing ways, the intuitive nature of its systems, along with the inclusion of local two player co-op, makes The Swords of Ditto a fun leap down the rabbit hole into saving a strange and ever-changing cursed town.

The main loop of each playthrough is simple: Wake up, gather a sword from its resting place in the town of Ditto--either from statue or in the graveyard--to become the hero, then seek out the Toys of Legend to destroy the Anchors that the villain Mormo uses to strengthen her grasp on the world, making her easier to defeat in the final confrontation. If you die before then, Mormo wins and Ditto lives under her rule for another 100 years before the new Sword of Ditto is awakened, and the cycle continues. If you succeed, Ditto lives in peace for 100 years until Mormo returns, and it all happens all over again. Getting the hang of this can all feel a little overwhelming at first, but any confusion quickly slips away as the game’s rhythm settles in, and it doesn’t take long to feel comfortable with what’s expected of you.

Co-op play is local only, but the drop-in, drop-out system makes it very easy to have another player come and go at any moment. It also changes up the dynamics of play fairly significantly. Enemies are stronger, as you’d expect, meaning some enemies require a more tactical approach to take down. Items are shared between players, which can put a sudden strain on health items if you’re both struggling to deal with the added difficulty. Thankfully this is alleviated somewhat by an increased item drop rate, so health items can be replenished nearly as quickly as you go through them.

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The entirety of the explorable areas are made up of individual sections that are pieced together at random for each playthrough. When out exploring the world, there’s plenty to find and keep you busy. In Zelda-like fashion, you can slice up grass to score more coins or health items. One standout touch: If the weather is dry, you can torch a field of grass and watch it all go up in super-satisfying fashion. Random shops, caves and houses filled with cute and interesting characters dot the world, and while some only share a few repeated lines of dialogue, others offer quests for items or keys to unlock dungeons in other parts of the map. Almost everywhere you look there’s something else to see and do, and it’s this sense of discovery that's felt when finding these hidden gems that makes The Swords of Ditto so rewarding.

Combat is mechanically straightforward; you can perform a simple melee attack with your sword as well as a roll dodge, and you have four interchangeable gear slots for items or weapons that are accessed using the d-pad. You can also buff your character by applying stickers that you find around the world or purchase within certain shops. It’s all fairly rudimentary, but despite the combat’s relative simplicity the enemies are a huge challenge, and this is where it gets gratifying.

Each foe has its own unique way of attacking or defending, and learning this for each enemy will make you much more effective at taking them down. The three-headed fireball will, if it touches you, turn your sword attacks into healing slashes for a few seconds, forcing you to retreat before the effect wears off. The green slime-ball monster falls harmlessly apart when physically attacked--it'll only taking damage when it’s set on fire. It takes some time to learn all of this, but when you do, combat feels much more satisfying. You become capable of clearing large groups of monsters than if you’d just kept slashing away, and having to think each encounter through makes it all the more enjoyable.

While it needs a little refinement, The Swords of Ditto is sure to delight, whether played on your own or with a friend.

Dungeon puzzles are also relatively simple yet engaging. Some involve coloured switches that rearrange the room entirely, altering your path and the enemies within. Some rooms simply involve killing all the enemies to make a key or a chest appear, while others are increasingly more elaborate and labyrinthian. It’s not unusual to come across a room that demands you place a multiple runes in slots that only appear when a certain switch is triggered, all separated by large chasms, locked doors, and rows of floor spikes. Later rooms will combine all of these variables into one, adding a light complexity that manages to keep things breezy and enjoyable.

Alongside the puzzles, each dungeon submits to the Isle of Trials rules--a set of modifiers that changes the rules of how each dungeon works. Early dungeons will only have one or two of these applied, but later playthroughs will throw upwards of four, and they could be anything from negating poison to activating auto-health-regen while prohibiting the use of consumables. These modifiers keep the game and the dungeons feeling fresh, especially in subsequent attempts, offering new challenges that unpredictably swing things either for or against you.

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It’s not a game without issue, though. Even while playing on PS4 Pro, it's prone to quite a bit of slow down and stutter, mostly when there were lots of items strewn about. I also had a couple of triggering issues that would block my progress, meaning I had to quit to the menu and reload the game to reset the room. But the biggest problem is the time limit that’s enforced for each playthrough. You are only given a handful of in-game days--which changes depending on difficulty--to explore, gather resources, and complete quests before being forced into confrontation with Mormo at the end of the final day. Not only that, it feels like the days are too short, making some of the more elaborate discoveries difficult to fully engage with in a single playthrough.

While you can unlock the ability to rewind time by collecting enough of a particular type of item and taking them to a shrine, you have to collect yet a second currency to purchase them on top of that. Given that some of the items required for these longer quests are lost with a new character, It feels like you should have this ability to purchase rewinds from the start. This would have given me more confidence to explore more of the game, instead of keeping one eye on the days remaining and the other on whatever tasks are left to complete.

The Swords of Ditto is nothing short of a light-hearted good time. Despite a few bumps getting in the way of progress and some misgivings about the forced time limit per playthrough, it’s still a joy to slash through enemies and collect items while humming the game’s ear-tickling soundtrack. Meeting oddball characters and watching the world react to past playthroughs is a wonderful exercise, and pushing through the game’s barriers to exploration feels rewarding every time. While it needs a little refinement, The Swords of Ditto is sure to delight, whether played on your own or with a friend.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Tue, 24 Apr 2018 06:00:00 -0700)

The jewel of the Dodgers farm system steadied himself in the center of their ballpark. Walker Buehler cradled a baseball in his right hand and tucked it inside his glove. He exhaled as he prepared to throw the first pitch of the first start of his career. Buehler went still; Dodger Stadium went...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews ( Mon, 23 Apr 2018 22:20:00 PDT )
SERIES

The Voice Maroon 5 performs in this new episode. 8 p.m. NBC

The Flash Guest star Wentworth Miller (“Prison Break”) reprises the role of Citizen Cold, who’s enlisted by Barry (Grant Gustin) to help keep a meta in line during transport. 8 p.m. KTLA

Lethal Weapon Murtaugh and Riggs (Damon Wayans...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Mon, 23 Apr 2018 20:00:00 PDT )
2.5 stars out of 5: Proustian mush
It begins with a shot of the Earth from space, and omniscient narration. (The voice of Hugh Ross, narrator of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, whose low-key, somewhat conspiratorial, post-sincere, NPR reporter tone turns...
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Source: Movies.com - Dave White Reviews (Fri, 24 Apr 2015 23:25:37 GMT )
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Source: Depreview - All Reviews & Previews (Mon, 16 Oct 2017 14:52:00 Z)
3.5 stars out of 5: Much Avenge About More Things
They're building a giant machine now, a machine made of movies. To participate in the machine's agenda of taking your money, it will not help to begin by looking at this perpetual motion installment and working backwards, trying to catch up. You...
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Source: Movies.com - Dave White Reviews (Fri, 01 May 2015 00:39:50 GMT )
1.5 stars out of 5: History written by the winners.
First-time director Russell Crowe has stepped in it, probably without meaning to. But it's happening all the same. His film, entirely devoted to an exploration of the aftermath of a key, nation-defining battle in Australian war history -- the...
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Source: Movies.com - Dave White Reviews (Fri, 24 Apr 2015 23:26:41 GMT )
2.5 stars out of 5: A little much.
The past few years have seen a marked rise in the number of Christian-themed films getting wide theatrical distribution, but to call it a "new wave" of faith-based cinema is probably inappropriate. That designation is usually reserved for a...
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Source: Movies.com - Dave White Reviews (Fri, 24 Apr 2015 23:27:52 GMT )
1.0 stars out of 5: Pursue a ticket to a different movie.
Allow me to mangle Tolstoy for a minute, and say that each good comedy is good in its own way, but that all bad comedies are alike. There's variation, of course, but they all limp along on sad, weak legs and confused direction. They're airless...
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Source: Movies.com - Dave White Reviews (Fri, 08 May 2015 21:06:08 GMT )
0.5 stars out of 5: BOO-RING
It's hard out here for a ghost. Always having to think up new ways to scare suburban people in movies. You make the kids' toys come alive and play creepy music, and all the other ghosts hold up signs with straight 1.5s across the board. You're...
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Source: Movies.com - Dave White Reviews (Sat, 23 May 2015 09:29:13 GMT )
2.5 stars out of 5: You can fly. Eventually.
In your initial visit to Tomorrowland, you're not really there at all. That's what scientifically-named Casey Newton (The Longest Ride's Britt Robertson) discovers when she first goes there by touching a tiny, metal, "T"-emblazoned pin. She takes...
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Source: Movies.com - Dave White Reviews (Fri, 22 May 2015 05:11:54 GMT )
1.0 stars out of 5: Stay home.
Although there is at least one earlier, less sexual, usage of the slang term "the d-train," referring to having a generalized bad experience, lately the expression has become more synonymous with the penis. That's because pop culture always needs...
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Source: Movies.com - Dave White Reviews (Sat, 09 May 2015 01:33:01 GMT )
5.0 stars out of 5: Death to the patriarchy.
"Who killed the world?" yells a minor character in Mad Max: Fury Road. This outburst comes after an earlier moment where camera pauses on the question painted on a cave wall. And since it's one of only a couple dozen complete and comprehensible...
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Source: Movies.com - Dave White Reviews (Fri, 15 May 2015 05:05:45 GMT )
2.5 stars out of 5: Songs about butts.
Pitch Perfect 2 begins with a crazy, performance-based, wardrobe malfunction, one that, in the film's words, exposes the "down under" region of one of the a cappella Bellas. For this accidental offense they are mocked, chastised, and stripped of...
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Source: Movies.com - Dave White Reviews (Fri, 15 May 2015 05:04:29 GMT )
Nickelback has no official connection to the big-screen version of “Rock of Ages,” but on Friday night at Staples Center, it was hard not to think of the just-opened movie musical -- a flashy-trashy dramatization of the 1980s hard-rock scene... Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Pop Concert Reviews ( Sun, 17 Jun 2012 19:36:33 -0700 )
Now in its fifth year, Make Music Pasadena celebrates music at its most casual and community-focused, and has grown from a festival that once largely featured intimate, acoustic appearances in storefronts to one that can draw artists with national appeal. Boasting 149 performances and pop-up stages on Old Town's Colorado Boulevard and the Playhouse District's Madison Avenue, Make Music Pasadena is a large-scale event done on a budget. Ninety-nine percent of the artists appearing do not get paid, say organizers, and headliners such as electronic artist Grimes and peppy local rockers Grouplove were expected to bring at least 20,000 people to downtown Pasadena. Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Pop Concert Reviews ( Sun, 17 Jun 2012 17:39:47 -0700 )
Live: Lil Kim driven to give till it hurts: The hip-hop diva's ambitious if erratic show was almost too much for the compact confines of Key Club. Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Pop Concert Reviews ( Thu, 14 Jun 2012 17:51:14 -0700 )
LMFAO's Redfoo and Sky Blu stay in character and play debauchery for laughs and fun at Staples Center as part of Sorry for Party Rocking Tour. Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Pop Concert Reviews ( Wed, 06 Jun 2012 18:34:01 -0700 )
The Beach Boys reunited June 2, 2012, at the Hollywood Bowl for the band's first tour together in more than two decades. A review for the Los Angeles Times. Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Pop Concert Reviews ( Sun, 03 Jun 2012 13:21:26 -0700 )
If you closed your eyes during the sold-out Santigold concert at Club Nokia Friday night -- especially at any point in the first half -- it’d have been easy to feel like you were at one of the Hollywood Bowl’s annual flashback concerts featuring ‘80s British bands. Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Pop Concert Reviews ( Sat, 02 Jun 2012 13:49:57 -0700 )
On day two of UCLA's annual JazzReggae Festival, Shaggy, Tarrus Riley, Collie Buddz, Alison Hinds and others showcased the many sounds of the Caribbean, from soca and reggae to reggaeton and lovers rock. Times pop music critic Randall Roberts offers an overview of the day. Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Pop Concert Reviews ( Tue, 29 May 2012 12:25:57 -0700 )
The New Zealand band the Clean has been around a long time but still packs energy, especially when it performs ‘Tally Ho.’ Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Pop Concert Reviews ( Thu, 31 May 2012 14:57:42 -0700 )
Van Halen returned to Los Angeles to perform to a hometown crowd at the Staples Center, where band members David Lee Roth, and Eddie, Alex, and Wolfgang Van Halen performed during their "Different Kind of Truth" reunion tour. Times pop music critic Randall Roberts says the performance was often lackluster. Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Pop Concert Reviews ( Sat, 02 Jun 2012 12:49:42 -0700 )
Power 106 FM kept its annual summer hip-hop show, Powerhouse, old school and relatively orthodox, with rappers Snoop Dogg, T.I. and Young Jeezy leading a show that was light on the dance-oriented pop hits that dominate the airwaves. The Times' August Brown reviews. Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Pop Concert Reviews (Sun, 24 Jun 2012 17:40:41 -0700 )

In Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, the struggle of coming to terms with past trauma and guilt comes out in a number of surprising ways. Developer Ninja Theory channels its talents for narrative and presentation to tell a personal story that has more to say than it initially lets on, and will likely leave you wondering what's real, and what is a part of an elaborate hallucination.

In a far-off land covered in mist and fog, a traumatized celtic warrior named Senua embarks on a spiritual vision quest to suppress her inner demons, and come to grips with the death of her family. Plagued with severe psychosis, Senua's past trauma manifests itself through duelling inner voices and visual hallucinations that compromise her emotional and mental state. On this journey, she'll face abstract and reality-defying puzzles, and battle a seemingly endless horde of adversaries that aim to put a stop to her quest.

Pulling from Nordic and Celtic lore, the fiction of Hellblade evokes a dire and somewhat bleak atmosphere, making it seem like the world had already ended, leaving Senua with only the company of her memories. Hellblade is an introspective experience, albeit with several combat and interactive story beats scattered throughout. While the story and world are presented through cutscenes and stone glyphs depicting the history of the land, Hellblade also makes clever use of live-action cutscenes. These cinematic moments are blended into in-game graphics, giving each occurrence a somewhat surreal feeling, as if you're watching a live playback of an altered memory.

On her journey through the cursed lands, Senua will come into conflict with the Northmen, an army of berserkers that appear out of thin air. These moments are when the combat comes into play, and it offers some of the most intense and thrilling moments of the game. Despite her illness weighing on her, Senua is still quite adept at fighting and is able to take on a number of foes at once. With fast, heavy sword swings, as well as up-close hand-to-hand strikes, you can use some light combos to hack away at the Northmen, while using dodges and parrying their strikes to get the upper hand.

Though combat is one of the core pillars in Hellblade, the game doesn't concern itself with offering numerous weapons or complex skill-trees to work through. Aside from some new combat abilities unlocked at key story milestones, Senua's arsenal of skills and weapons is kept light till the end. The true challenge and satisfaction comes from mastering the base combat mechanics, which is responsive, and fluid--allowing you to bounce between multiple foes easily, with her inner voices warning you of incoming strikes based on the position they're coming from.

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When it comes to portraying mental illness, Hellblade takes a sympathetic approach and isn't at all interested in showing the differences between reality and imagination. It's all about Senua's perspective; with her visions and what's truly real being presented as one in the same. One of the more oppressive aspects of her psychosis are the inner-voices, who quarrel with one another while commenting on the wandering warrior's present state. Using binaural audio--which makes wearing headphones a must for the full effect--you'll get to experience a taste of what it's like to have several voices in your head.

In many ways, it feels like a subversive take on the common video game trope of the bodiless companion offering help via radio, making them a somewhat distressing presence you desperately wanted to keep at arm's length. The effectiveness of the inner voices in making you uncomfortable is a testament to the stellar presentation of the game, which uses some rather inventive tricks to play with perspective and audio-sensory manipulation. It does well to make you feel on edge and in a state of confusion, while simultaneously getting you to focus on the more tangible and true elements of her surroundings--even if they are still hallucinations.

There are times where the voices become a boon to your survival--such as the rather tricky boss battles that force you change up your usual strategies--but the most useful instances come deeper in the game, when you're able to clear through more than 20 foes consecutively, a far cry from the struggles of fighting only two to three foes. Many of these battles serve as the capper for narrative arcs in the story, making it feel like a cathartic emotional purge where you vanquish a construct of Senua's past.

"It's all about Senua's perspective; with her visions and what's truly real being presented as one in the same."

While some characters from Senua's past treated her mental state as a danger, she's able to use it to her advantage to see the order in the chaos of her surroundings--finding patterns and solutions in ways that others wouldn't have the presence of mind to see. Despite how terrifying and draining her psychosis can be, Senua is able navigate the various trials thanks to her unusually heightened perception, which comes out in a number of unique puzzle solving moments.

For the most part, puzzles revolve around unlocking doors by finding glyphs hidden in plain sight or in alternate perspectives that require manipulating Senua's focus, illustrating her abstract attention to detail. While these puzzles can be clever, the same style occurs far too often, making some of the more drawn out sequences a chore. On the inverse, the moments where Senua is stripped of her senses and gear, forcing her to take a more subdued approach to avoid her enemies, felt far more engaging and interesting.

In one of the game's best moments, the shadows themselves serve to be a real danger as Senua rushes from one light source to another in a dark cavern, all the while memories of her torment and anguish come flooding in--obscuring your vision while she's making a dash to safety. These moments are a real highlight, channeling the same pulse-pounding sense of urgency found from set-piece moments in Resident Evil 4, making a seemingly simple objective into an unnerving experience--which in a way truly sums up what Hellblade is about. While these moments serve to be some of Hellblade's most profound and affecting moments, it uses them sparingly to help break-up general puzzle solving and obstacles, which feel somewhat bland by comparison.

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While Senua experiences many dangers, such as the horrific hallucinations of the dead, immolation by a mad fire god, and ravenous beasts that hide in the shadows--there is one threat that constantly looms over her that can result in dire consequences. Early on, Senua is infected with a corruption known as The Dark Rot, which continues to spread after she 'dies' or fails a set-piece event. She passes failure and death off as another hallucination, but with every failure the infection spreads, and after multiple deaths it reaches her head. The result of this is Senua succumbing to her illness, forcing you to restart from the beginning of her journey.

Despite the inclusion of a permadeath mechanic, Hellblade is still a largely fair game. Taking around eight hours to clear on the hardest difficulty, and experiencing only a handful of deaths--mostly on account of some overly vague and awkward objectives coming off as obtuse, breaking the flow of traversal--the game is largely balanced with its pacing and difficulty. It even goes as far as to offer an auto-scaling difficulty system that adjusts based on how you're playing. Interestingly, there's no tutorial whatsoever in Hellblade, prompting you to learn the system by doing and listening to prompts from your inner voices.

Over the course of its journey, Hellblade keeps its gameplay lean in order to not overstay its welcome. Despite the complexity of the narrative and its presentation, combat only happens when it needs to, and puzzle solving and set-piece moments often drive the story forward to reveal more about Senua's motivations. Which in turn reveals the struggles that torment her, preventing her from moving on.

Hellblade's most notable achievement is the handling of an incredibly sensitive subject matter within an engaging and well-crafted action/adventure game. At its heart, the story is about Senua's struggle to come to terms with her illness. In the process, she learns to find the strength within herself to endure, and to make peace with her past. And in a profound and physical way, we go through those same struggles with her, and come away with a better understanding of a piece of something that many people in the world struggle with.

Editor's note: We have updated this review to reflect our time with the Xbox One version of Hellblade. We tested the game on an Xbox One X. -- April 6, 2018

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Fri, 06 Apr 2018 10:12:00 -0700)
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Source: Depreview - All Reviews & Previews (Thu, 04 Jan 2018 14:00:00 Z)
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Source: Depreview - All Reviews & Previews (Fri, 24 Nov 2017 14:00:00 Z)

Dressed in an all-black nun’s habit on a hot afternoon, Allison Janney emerges from her impromptu dressing room — a black tent on the parking lot of CBS Television Studios — and heads towards a group of celebrities headed by James Corden, host of the network’s “The Late Late Show.”

“Oh, lord,”...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Mon, 23 Apr 2018 13:45:00 PDT )

The Alliance Alive wastes no time throwing you into a dark and oppressive world. As soon as you begin, you meet young Azura and her friend Galil. In their world, Daemons have sealed off continents from each other, forced humans to toil under Beastfolk masters, and covered up the sun for over a thousand years. Azura dreams of seeing a painting of a blue sky. It seems like a silly thing to obsess over, but anything that can bring even a twinge of happiness is something worth risking life and limb for.

This story is only the beginning, however, as you are funneled through a series of three intersecting perspectives: Azura and Galil, the Daemoness Vivian and her desire to observe humanity directly, and a human servant to Daemonic overlords named Gene. At about ten hours in, the three parties’ stories converge in a spectacular battle against a powerful foe, and the game transforms from a linear RPG into a more open-ended adventure to free humanity from its oppression and discover the truths of the world they live in.

Alliance Alive’s world captures your interest from the get-go and is uplifted by strong visual design that creates a series of distinct, detailed environments. The story moves along at a brisk pace, never lingering for too long on a singular location or plot point. Dialogue is also succinct and punchy, though some of the character development suffers a bit as a result--Daemon noble Vivian’s motives are flimsy compared to the machinations of the mysterious Gene and eccentric inventor Tiggy, while Azura and Galil’s rebel companions barely get any characterization at all. Overall, though, The Alliance Alive never feels likes it’s dragging its feet.

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The game's turn-based combat deviates from established RPG norms in a lot of interesting ways. First, characters do not level up; instead, they randomly gain stat boosts after battle. Secondly, most characters can equip any weapons and armor they want, but they need to use said weapons in combat in order to gain proficiency and skills (which, much like stat gains, are learned at seemingly random moments). Thirdly, combat formations are hugely important here: depending on their position and the role (offense, defense, or support) a character is assigned, the effectiveness of attacks and skills is altered--and skills have individual levels tied to the specific position a character is in.

These oddball elements, though perhaps strange at first, help make combat more engaging than just mashing through menus. However, the game does a poor job of explaining most of these systems, expecting you to either be familiar with the series that inspired them (Square-Enix’s SaGa games) or having played developer Cattle Call’s previous RPG with similar combat mechanics, The Legend of Legacy. There are a few NPCs in the starting village that will drop hints, but they’re easily missed and don’t go into a lot of detail. An easy-to-access guide from the camp menu would have been a huge help, but unfortunately, you’re just going to have to learn a lot of Alliance Alive’s quirks through experience.

Once you’ve gotten the hang of everything, you’ll eventually reach a point where the game’s progression shifts towards a more open-ended structure. Despite this change, however, the speedy pacing and the solid combat don’t suffer much--though you may encounter more instances where you need to run from a high-level enemy that’s kicking your tail. One of the most fun elements also opens up around this time: the ability to find helpful NPCs who can be recruited to the various guilds that dot the land.

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Groups like the Signimancy Guild, the Library Guild, and the Blacksmith Guild have set up towers across the world, and being in the towers’ sphere of influence yields benefits like enhanced combat stats and random start-of-round attacks and status ailments on enemies. They also aid the party by developing specialty weapons, armor, and spells. As you recruit more NPCs to these guilds, their capabilities also increase. You can engage with this element as little or as much as you want, but it can be one of the most enjoyable parts of The Alliance Alive. The feeling of building up support for your ragtag rebel crew is immensely satisfying--it’s just a shame it takes about a third of a game before it even opens up.

There’s a lot to love about The Alliance Alive: a well-paced story in an interesting world, a meaty mashup of unique combat elements, and a fantastic soundtrack that keeps you pumped and eager to explore. If you can put up with a bit of a learning curve, you’ll find a great portable adventure well worth dusting off your 3DS for.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Mon, 23 Apr 2018 12:00:00 -0700)


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