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FEATURED NEWS FEEDS


NEWS (LAST 200)
Community outage after a dead echidna i...
Labour´s Tom Watson reveals his weight ...
Dimitrov beats late call-up Safwat...
Injured Kwansei Gakuin University quarte...
Drag queens claim discrimination after o...
England vs Pakistan RECAP and scorecard ...
Ocado disciplines drivers for making sex...
Corbyn was ‘too stupid’ to tackle La...
How women are opting for natural Meghan ...
Last-place Eagles grind out win over Haw...
Over 2,000 volunteers take part in Hong ...
The Latest: Egyptian lucky loser makes G...
Tennis-Ukraines Svitolina sweeps past To...
Photo Dispatch: Death of the American mo...
Monaco Grand Prix 2018, Race Day LIVE - ...
Pakistan crush sorry England at Lords...
Dimitrov ends Egyptian lucky losers unex...
Love Island Australias Tayla Damir and E...
Pakistan make short work of victory at L...
Leaders of North and South Korea Hold Su...
Tiahleigh Palmers mother reveals her hat...
MAFS reject Tracey Jewel flaunts her fak...
Coleen Rooney displays her slender post-...
On a mission to make Philadelphia the mo...
26 Syria regime, 9 Russia fighters kille...
Trump still hopeful June 12 North Korea ...
Inglis set to take lead for Queensland a...
Theresa May refusing to push for abortio...
Nabil Fekir no closer to possible Liverp...
UK Weather: 62,000 bolts of lightning li...
Coronation Streets Simon Barlow actor to...
Justin Timberlake visits Santa Fe shooti...
Kourtney Kardashian displays toned tummy...
Antonio Banderas displays his lean figur...
BBC presenter Rachael Bland talks about ...
Taliban suicide bombing kills 2 soldiers...
England slump to nine-wicket humbling at...
Coronation Streets Kym Marsh went to a d...
‘Crash’ diets should be prescribed o...
Video shows Ukranian football hooligan a...
Kaziranga park fights to save Indias end...
Strictlys Karen Clifton shares a kiss wi...
Newcomer sees chances to improve bilater...
Elina Svitolina recovers after horror st...
Teenage boy charged with murdering fello...
Ronaldo regrets timing of leaving commen...
Englands 10 national parks captured on c...
[VIDEO] KPA receives Sh2.12 billion rail...
Vintage Teac PD-800M 6 Disc CD Player (F...
test for story
Kim Jong Un reaffirms denuclearization p...
Pakistan set just 64 to win first Test a...
Cops unearth con behind smart driving li...
Eaton PTX-120 Surge Protector (Massapequ...
Jacob Rees-Mogg: PM crucial to deliverin...
32 injured in two seperate Makueni accid...
Moahmed Salah injury: Sergio Ramos sends...
Youth Alliance threatens mass protests o...
Reading The Game: The Long Dark
See the new Google Trends
4 SONACE SPEAKERS S624T STEREO SPEAKERS ...
Speaker Justin Muturis mother is dead...
Wayne Rooney: DC United hopeful over dea...
No credible evidence for new corruption ...
Archive papers reveal Alan Rickmans frus...
Panasonic Business Phone System (Massape...
The World Cups most controversial moment...
Basketball: Wellington Saints pip Hawks ...
Cloudera Stock: Battered Cloud Data Play...
Five die, 10,000 displaced after four da...
GE Zoneline Air Conditioner/ Heater Filt...
Stormers look to positives despite Lions...
When buying a car, be strategic with you...
LISTEN: Karius – I feel sorry for my t...
Merlin Phones System 15 phone $42...
AB exit not surprising in cricket landsc...
pad pro 10.5 latest model 512 gig wifi (...
NOTIFIER Fire Alarm Power Supply (Massap...
North Korea, South Korea Meet to discuss...
The Latest: Svitolina erases early defic...
No barriers to stop you - Meet Scotlands...
Osaka frets over illegal minpaku ahead o...
South Africa: A look back at Ramaphosas ...
Lightning leaves passengers stranded on ...
France v Republic of Ireland talking poi...
Paul Scholes: Liverpool will be desperat...
The breakdown of Gareth Bales incredible...
Inglis set to take lead as Queensland as...
UK weather: Sun to return for bank holid...
Highlights of French Open first day...
Egypts football federation optimistic on...
Ballerina linked to Roman Abramovich giv...
Trumps Moves May Mark A New Era Of The C...
Number of CHP officers same as 8 years a...
Scrutiny on struggling Dog Foran in NRL...
Incredible statistics behind Real Madrid...
News24.com | Glass panel falls, kills wo...
Abe continues balancing act with Putin a...
Ex-Prime Minister Nakasone makes call fo...
Aussie Tomljanovic bows out of French Op...
Disgraced football coach Masato Uchida u...
Liverpools goalkeeper Loris Karius begs ...
Guernseys thinnest rescue seal ready for...
Cristiano Ronaldo now big favourite to w...
Disabled Yemeni girl enters US despite b...
Abe angles for another Trump chat in U.S...
Pakistan needs just 64 to win 1st test v...
Cockroach milk to be the next non-dairy ...
Theresa May refusing to push for abortio...
People with disabilities giving Japan’...
More than one million cars carrying faul...
Kakuryu holds on to claim second straigh...
Wales v Mexico -Talking Points
German nationalists plan Berlin march, f...
Flying with pets: The cost and other com...
Syria war: Russians killed in militant r...
Airbnb for horses? New online platform h...
Russia says 4 of its soldiers have been ...
New bout of heavy fighting in Yemen kill...
Elections watchdog budgets £829,000 tax...
Montreal traffic: 5 spots youll want to ...
Ukraines Svitolina sweeps past Tomljanov...
TSB customer spends 16-and-a-half hours ...
The Champions League final in pictures...
Montreal weather: Mostly pleasant, but a...
Giants hold off surging Vixens for 58-51...
Cricket Australia call for unedited Gall...
Raucous 15th birthday party advertised o...
Why Ghanas Clam Farmers Are Digging GPS...
Motor racing-Formula One aims to agree 2...
Pakistan needs just 64 to win 1st test v...
Two Sydney police officers punched in he...
China beat Japan 3-1 to claim Thomas Cup...
Jacob Rees-Mogg takes aim at Theresa May...
Drought Add to Woes of Afghanistan, in G...
‘Ivan the Terrible’ Painting Damaged...
She went to the US for a better life. Mo...
Drought Adds to Woes of Afghanistan, in ...
Egypt confirm Mohamed Salah sprained sho...
Suki Waterhouse strips completely NAKED ...
Woman charged, man dies after being hit ...
German nationalists plan Berlin march, f...
Japan’s public policy is killing rural...
Roos reign supreme out west against the ...
Luscious landscapes
England v Pakistan: Jos Buttler out lbw ...
Buskers to start taking contactless card...
Couple return from honeymoon to find 6ft...
Sympathy for Karius but keepers Anfield ...
Madrid to continue Champions League vict...
Lebanon LGBT scene empowered despite cra...
Channel24.co.za | SA shines on the Canne...
News24.com | Ex-boyfriend arrested for a...
Massive beach clean-up for Hong Kong sea...
The Latest: Spain rescues 366 migrants i...
Andover death: Murder arrest after woman...
Britains May faces calls to relax Northe...
Woodhouse stabbing: Man charged with mur...
Cleary to lead Fittlers NSW revolution a...
Theresa May resists pressure over Northe...
Where are Englands 10 national parks?...
Son must step up to become World Cup gre...
Drug dealer who hid fortune in £1.2m ma...
Securing the peace in post-ISIL Iraq...
Sophie Turner showcases her slender pins...
Japans Akiyoshi qualifies for British Op...
1 new Ebola death confirmed in Congo, br...
Once-timid cat Mintan finds a loving hom...
Trump accuses Dems of 'rooting again...
Britains May faces calls to relax Northe...
US Gulf Coast braces for first named sto...
Harley-Davidson workers say plant closur...
Roman Abramovich left UK just days befor...
Devilish Japanese TV drama makes a mocke...
England skittled on fourth morning...
5 new books you won't want to miss ...
China backs ‘crucial’ North Korea-US...
Barnaby Joyce cries foul in governments ...
MINOLTA IVF LIGHT METER (Yonkers) ...
2- TOM,TOM GPS UNITS AS-IS! (PLEASE READ...
UK wants to unlock century-old secret fu...
Director Lee Chang-dong and actor Steven...
Whats Selling Now: Homes That Sold for A...
Drake claps back at Kanye West and Pusha...
Toshiba 40L310U 40" LED TV (Murray Hill)...
No credible evidence for cricket claims...
No credible evidence for new corruption ...
PEAVEY KB4 KEYBOARD AMP (Yonkers) ...
England vs Barbarians LIVE: What time do...
Surfs up near the Korean DMZ
Abstract master Kim Whan-kis painting se...
Madrid to continue Champions League vict...
SAMSUNG BASE STANDS SIZES RANGE FROM 32"...
Honduras ready to give 100% in football ...
Hendry qualifies for 147th Open Champion...
Cristiano Ronaldo transfer: Real Madrid ...
BEHRINGER FOOT SWITCH (Yonkers) $...
Surfs up! from the ... 38th parallel...
NIKON DX 18-200 mm VR LENS (Yonkers) &#x...
Mohamed Salah injury update: Georginio W...

REVIEWS & PREVIEWS (LAST 60)
Test: Morgan Freemans questionable behav...
Gareth Bale goes from forgotten man to u...
After Virginia police officer fatally sh...
Shohei Ohtanis next turn to pitch for An...
Pink was as relatable as she was spectac...
Asani Hampton eyes state record after wi...
State Of Decay 2 Review: The Limping Dea...
Groomed for Dodgers greatness, Mike Scio...
Buying Guide: The best cameras under $20...
Francesco Molinari pulls even with Rory ...
Not your ordinary camera bag: Rhake wate...
Fiction: A Novel of Sri Lanka’s Civil ...
No Ibrahimovic, no problem as Bingham an...
NCAA softball: Vidales’ blast helps ke...
Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition Revi...
Saoirse Ronan and Ian McEwan reunite for...
Wim Wenders moving Pope Francis: A Man o...
Review: The Petzi Treat Cam
The bracing First Reformed, starring a s...
Cold Water, Olivier Assayas brilliant 19...
Framed Collection Review - Worth A Thous...
Hex Raven DSLR Bag Review
Pillars Of Eternity 2: Deadfire Review -...
The Day After adds another wonderfully u...
Talking canines shine in fluffy but fun ...
Book Clubs Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, D...
Stanley Kubricks assistant takes center ...
2001: A Space Odyssey still blowing mind...
Canon EOS M50 Review
Rohrabachers remarks about selling homes...
Starzs Sweetbitter is an introduction to...
Nonfiction: Downloadable Neurons, Life o...
New On Netflix: What You Should Watch In...
Carson Mayor Albert Robles resigns seat ...
Wizard Of Legend Review: Fast-Paced Acti...
Nonfiction: In His First Book, Ronan Far...
Trump sought a legacy with a North Korea...
Crime: Missing Bodies, Missing Killers, ...
Nonfiction: The French Revolution Made H...
New in Paperback: ‘Hillbilly Elegy,’...
Philip Roth’s Best Book
Inside the List: ‘I’m the One You Wa...
Nonfiction: David Sedaris Has a New Essa...
Sketchbook | The Literati: The Sensation...
Rockets take an edge despite an injury t...
Rams defensive end Morgan Fox suffers kn...
Torrey Pines, Palm Desert, Oaks Christia...
Chris Paul goes down at the end, but the...
No. 1 Norco pulls out 6-5 win in nine in...
Sparks suffer first loss of season to Su...
Buying Guide: The best cameras for paren...
Buying Guide: The best cameras for lands...
Buying Guide: The best cameras for video...
Buying Guide: The best cameras under $15...
Buying Guide: The best enthusiast long z...
Buying Guide: The best cameras for begin...
Buying Guide: The best cameras over $200...
Panasonic Lumix DC-ZS200 (Lumix DC-TZ200...
Buying Guide: The best cameras for peopl...
Buying Guide: The best cameras under $50...


A day after eight women accused Morgan Freeman of sexually harassing behavior, two more conversations have been unearthed in which he made journalists feel uncomfortable.

"Entertainment Tonight" aired the video Thursday and posted it on YouTube on Friday. It showed “ET” reporter Ashley Crossan...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Sat, 26 May 2018 23:40:00 PDT )

For most of the season Gareth Bale has been the forgotten man at Real Madrid.

Once the most expensive transfer in soccer history, he has become the most expensive substitute of all time, with injuries and his team’s poor start relegating him to a seat on the end of the bench. With Real Madrid in...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Sat, 26 May 2018 17:50:00 PDT )

Shohei Ohtani’s next start for the Angels, a topic of immense interest in recent days, could come Wednesday in Detroit.

The rookie had a light bullpen workout Saturday at Yankee Stadium. Following what has been his normal routine, Ohtani would throw a heavier bullpen session Monday at Comerica...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Sat, 26 May 2018 17:40:00 PDT )

Whenever Pink would arrive at a curse word in one of her songs Friday night, she’d pull her microphone away from her mouth and let the expletive go unheard.

The singer was spotting lots of young children in the crowd, she explained near the end of her show at Anaheim’s Honda Center, which had the...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Sat, 26 May 2018 17:40:00 PDT )

More than 200 people turned out for a community meeting Saturday to protest the death of a young black man who was fatally shot by a Virginia police officer after he ran naked onto an interstate highway.

Speakers at the meeting at Richmond's Second Baptist Church said they were angry that police...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Sat, 26 May 2018 17:55:00 PDT )

He was not first out of the blocks, but Asani Hampton sure finished strong in the 100-meter dash in Saturday's CIF Southern Section Masters Meet at El Camino College.

A week after blazing to the Division 1 title in 10.48 seconds, the Yucaipa senior won the event in 10.52. He now has his sights...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Sat, 26 May 2018 16:55:00 PDT )

The story has been whispered through the Dodgers’ darkest corners for years.

It’s a story of arrogance, ignorance and, ultimately, loss. It’s a story about one brief incident in a distant minor league, yet a story that might have forever altered the history of a franchise.

It’s about the night...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Sat, 26 May 2018 15:45:00 PDT )

State of Decay 2 sometimes feels like a far-too-real representation of the mundane reality that comes with surviving a zombie apocalypse. Consistently being on the hunt for food, resources to craft ammunition, and survivors to bolster your ranks doesn’t always translate into a captivating gameplay loop--especially when you’re faced with horrors other than the countless undead that roam around you.

Like the first game from Undead Labs, State of Decay 2 infrequently checks in with an overarching narrative. You’re given the choice of three pairs of survivors to start off with, each with their own bare-bones background stories. Those stories don’t really matter, but your decision does define your starting area and the preliminary survivors you’ll team up with to combat a growing sickness called the Blood Plague. The plague is the singular goal for you to work against, as your community strives to eradicate it from your town and build towards a brighter future.

That mission boils down to finding zombie-invested settlements that you’ll need to first scout out and ultimately destroy, with grotesque, beating Plague Hearts at the center. These fights are the only real way to measure progression through State of Decay 2’s otherwise open-ended campaign. Each settlement you conquer strengthens the rest, forcing you to step back and regroup before attempting to blow up the next. They're the toughest challenges the game has to offer, too, serving up waves of foes for you to fight as you valiantly lob another Molotov at the heart, hoping it vaporizes and takes all the nearby undead with it. Unfortunately, they are basic action set-pieces at their core, without much variety to help shake up the otherwise monotonous scavenging that surrounds them.

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State of Decay 2 is primarily about survival, and it bears all the baggage the genre is known for. Although you’re spared the stress of dealing with individual meters for hunger and thirst, you’ll instead be engaging with ones that affect your community. Food, medical supplies, and crafting materials all factor into the stability of your community, with the overall mood of your survivors governing how well you’re doing. Supplies are littered around the dilapidated and abandoned settlements surrounding you, which are easily scouted with a little high ground. Your objectives hardly stray from going out, clearing an area of enemies, and scrounging around for consumables, gear, and large rucksacks of the more pertinent supplies you’ll need to keep settlers happy.

The act of gathering these supplies is rarely gratifying, though. Although your settlement initially requires some quick work to get on its feet, State of Decay 2 hardly feels like it will fail you for slacking on your routine duties. Certain base structures, for example, have daily resources costs that might trick you into thinking you’ll need a steady supply coming through. But because days tick by so slowly (I finished my core objectives within the first 10 days) this never becomes a real concern. Resources only become troublesome when you need them to craft something specific, such as ammo or plague cures. They’re short-lived problems though, which hardly force you to pause and think about how you’re setting up your settlement. It’s rare for State of Decay 2 to make you feel pressure over the choices you make, which just make all of its interesting sub-systems feel shallow.

It’s a pity, too, because so many of them could’ve added a much-needed layer of strategy. As an example, your base features a threat level which governs how likely you are to attract a zombie attack. Creating new structures or powering them with generators creates noise and in turn increases the likelihood of an attack for a certain period. But even at the highest level, a community of just six members strong is often enough to fend off these attacks without needing explicit intervention on your part. Of the handful of moments that my character was radioed to return, the fight was over by the time I arrived. All structures intact, all survivors unharmed.

State of Decay 2 squanders systems like this by not giving you a reason to engage with them seriously. If your aim is to continually bring new survivors to a settlement but also worry about their well-being, your encounters with each new face should feature more scrutiny as to what they bring to the table. Their distinct abilities set them apart from each other, but not in a way that forces you to make tough decisions about who to invite into your settlement.

The friendlier survivors you encounter are injected with a sense of individuality thanks to numerous perks that come pre-assigned to them. One specialising in swordplay will be more effective with a bladed weapon, while another with computer skills can help expand your base of operations. The sheer breadth of options on offer might trick you into thinking that scrutinizing each potential new addition to your settlement is key, but that’s not the case. Frequently, State of Decay 2 informs you that clashing personalities are leading to fights at home base, but these never escalate to a point where you’re required to take action. You’ll never feel the need to exile an existing character or deny entry to one based on their lack of specific skills.

Graphical hitches are frequent, including enemies clipping through the environment and sometimes having entire hordes stuck on single piece of the environment.

Combat isn’t as dynamic as some character-specific abilities might suggest, but it is satisfying nonetheless. A single button is used for attacks, which depending on your weapon of choice could inflict blunt knockback damage and force an enemy to the floor or slowly slice away at them limb by limb. Each approach comes with its advantages and drawbacks. Bladed weapons deal with larger groups of enemies more efficiently but tend to be far less durable than a sledgehammer or tire iron. These bulkier weapons require you to take an additional action to finish off enemies on the ground, which might leave you open to getting surrounded. Either way, the gory finishers and gruesome sound effects really bring a weight to the melee action, even if you’re just mindlessly mashing the same button until your stamina expires. Firearms feature too, and ammunition for them is far more abundant than you might expect. Gunshots attract more zombies (even with silencers), but it’s the sluggish aiming that's ultimately more frustrating in practice.

State of Decay 2 does a fair job of mixing things up with the introduction of some new enemy types. While some less interesting additions suchs as exploding Bloaters feature more than they deserve to, two others shake up combat in delightful ways. Ferals will jolt around at high speeds, avoiding your melee swings and making firearms a nightmare to connect with. Similarly, Juggernauts make up the largest foes you’ll face on the frontier. They’ll soak up hits from vehicles and rounds of ammunition before giving you a chance to take them down with a satisfying execution. Combined with regular, lumbering enemies that will quickly surround you, Juggernauts make fights more about clever crowd control.

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Often though, it’s the game itself that will do its best to deter you from playing rather than its lack of depth. State of Decay 2 runs extremely poorly, even on Xbox One X. Despite not standing out graphically in any regard, the framerate will frequently dip well below its 30 frames per second target, sometimes locking up momentarily when the action is thick on screen. As a result, inputs can often feel incredibly sluggish and unresponsive, which just becomes annoying when you’re trying to swing your way out of a supply run gone sideways. Lighting can sometimes be striking, especially in dawn and dusk situations, but State of Decay 2 lacks a visual theme to tie itself up with and just ends up looking drab and boring. This is all stacked on top of a motion blur that is so aggressive that even the slightest movement turns your surroundings into an unattractive smudge.

Bugs are prominent too and can range from slightly annoying to near game-breaking. Graphical hitches are frequent, including enemies clipping through the environment and sometimes having entire hordes stuck on single piece of the environment. Enemies also routinely drop from the sky if you’re racing across the map quickly, which you’ll do often when you’re travelling in any one of the vehicles present on the map. Physics will miscalculate, launching your vehicle in the air from a slight touch at low speeds. Companions are also particularly prickly. Some following you on missions will disappear for no reason, while I personally had a single instance of a community member disappearing entirely and being eliminated from my pool of characters upon starting the game. One other instance saw one of my characters locked out from use in perpetuity for no apparent reason, while other times some would be stuck in an endless loop of the same boring dialogue for an entire mission. State of Decay 2 is in rough shape as it stands.

Perhaps if State of Decay 2 had the kind of depth that drew you in, these technical faults would be easier to overlook. But it’s because of the lack of meaningful motivations that they stick out so predominantly. State of Decay 2 settles into a rhythm that might be easy for you to pass some hours with, but it’s never a ride with genuine surprises, excitement or purpose. There’s promise in so many systems that it introduces, but they’re woefully underutilized to make space for repetitive activities that are nowhere near as exciting to engage with. State of Decay 2 feels like the lumbering enemies that populate its country mountains. Aimless, wandering, and just out of place.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Thu, 17 May 2018 18:00:00 -0700)

Francesco Molinari mastered the toughest conditions of the week at Wentworth to shoot a six-under-par 66 and share the lead with Rory McIlroy after three rounds of the BMW PGA Championship on Saturday.

Scoring was more difficult because of gusty winds and fast, firm greens at the West Course in...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Sat, 26 May 2018 10:40:00 PDT )
Roma Tearne’s “Brixton Beach,” a multigenerational family story, touches on sectarian strife in Sri Lanka and the nostalgia that comes after leaving home. Read More

Source: The New York Times - Sunday Review (Sat, 26 May 2018 09:00:01 GMT )

Tori Vidales hit a three-run homer in the fifth inning as 16th-seeded Texas A&M beat Florida 5-4 to stay alive in the best-of-three super regional in Gainesville, Fla.

It was the 64th career home run and 13th of the season for Vidalis, who had been hitless in the series.

The Aggies, who blew a...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Fri, 25 May 2018 22:40:00 PDT )

The Galaxy’s home used to be their castle, a place where they reigned supreme.

Between 2013 and 2016, the team lost only six times in 68 games at StubHub Center, making the playoffs each season. But over the last season and a half, home has been anything but sweet.

And goalkeeper David Bingham...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Fri, 25 May 2018 22:45:00 PDT )

The latest addition to South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo’s cinematic house of talk, drink, time shifts, repetitions and romantic fumblings is the amusingly bittersweet yet quietly resplendent “The Day After.” A black-and-white space decorated with regret and possibility, it’s where you’ll find...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Movie Reviews (Thu, 17 May 2018 12:35:00 PDT )

Fonda. Bergen. Keaton. Steenburgen. “Book Club.” Sure, “Avengers: Infinity War” came out a few weeks ago, but now this is the greatest crossover event in history. Four of the most iconic actresses of the 20th century come together for a film in which their book club reads “50 Shades of Grey”? Where...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Movie Reviews (Wed, 16 May 2018 18:00:00 PDT )

Funnyman Will Arnett gets upstaged by a streetwise canine in the amusing, featherweight family comedy “Show Dogs.” Think “Best in Show” meets “Miss Congeniality” — but with talking animals.

When baby panda Ling Li is kidnapped (bear-napped?) by traffickers, FBI agent Frank (Arnett, in appealing...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Movie Reviews (Thu, 17 May 2018 15:00:00 PDT )

A newly struck 70 mm print of Stanley Kubrick’s epic science fiction classic “2001: A Space Odyssey,” opens May 18 at the ArcLight Hollywood. The re-release of the 50-year-old film was accomplished through an entirely photochemical process overseen by Christopher Nolan. Here is Times critic Charles...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Movie Reviews (Thu, 17 May 2018 11:10:00 PDT )

Leon Vitali landed his big break as an actor when Stanley Kubrick cast him in a key role in his 1975 movie, “Barry Lyndon.” The collaboration would change Vitali’s life, though not in the manner he imagined.

The fascinating documentary “Filmworker” shows how the painstaking lengths Kubrick took...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Movie Reviews (Thu, 17 May 2018 11:20:00 PDT )

German director Wim Wenders has recently devoted himself to profiling artists — the late German dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch in “Pina” (2011), the Brazilian war photographer Sebastião Salgado in “The Salt of the Earth” (2014) — and celebrating their art under the grand spotlight of the...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Movie Reviews (Thu, 17 May 2018 13:00:00 PDT )

There are a few different meanings for the title of the 1994 French youth drama “Cold Water,” an early triumph for the writer-director Olivier Assayas that is only now receiving a proper U.S. theatrical release.

An intimate, enveloping tale of romance and rebellion set in 1972, the film opens in...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Movie Reviews (Thu, 17 May 2018 12:40:00 PDT )

In the opening shot of Paul Schrader’s new movie, the camera creeps slowly toward First Reformed Church, a small chapel in upstate New York that has welcomed parishioners since 1767. The place has seen better days, and so has its weary reverend, Ernst Toller (a superb Ethan Hawke). He leads a weekly...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Movie Reviews (Thu, 17 May 2018 11:45:00 PDT )

"On Chesil Beach" is a beautifully made film that is as difficult to write about as it is to watch, and it is inescapably hard to watch.

Yet the reasons it is difficult — a completely heartbreaking story brought to exquisite life via immaculate writing, directing and acting — are why it’s worth...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Movie Reviews (Thu, 17 May 2018 11:30:00 PDT )

When it first released in 2014, Framed was declared game of the year by no less than Hideo Kojima. In the years since, this has been the game's enduring legacy--it's not just a good game, but one that inspired an industry heavyweight with its inventiveness. It's a fundamentally robust, unique idea executed well.

Framed Collection brings together Framed and its 2017 follow-up Framed 2 (a prequel, although the plot is largely inconsequential) to Nintendo Switch and PC--both were formerly exclusive to iOS and Android. They are essentially puzzle games in which you're trying to solve a narrative issue--they present comic books where the main characters die or get arrested on every page. Several panels are laid out on each screen, each one depicting different scenes, usually involving one or more of the game's unnamed protagonists trying to outsmart the police or overcome an obstacle. In the opening stages, all you need to do is switch the panels around so that the character can safely get to the end of the 'page' and escape it.

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Once you have the panels in an order that you think will work, you press 'play' and watch what happens. To give an early example, if the first (immovable) panel shows two police firing their guns then you'll need to move the panel that shows a table into the second slot, so that the man who is being fired at can immediately dive behind it and take cover. If any other panel is placed second, he'll be shot. All of this is backed by a lovely jazz soundtrack and neat visual style that renders all the characters in silhouette. Framed has a great sense of style, and although some of the backgrounds can be a bit plain (especially in the first game), it's easy to read the action and figure out what is going to happen in each panel as you enter or exit it.

In both games, the puzzles grow more complicated and clever as you progress. Later puzzles will let you rotate panels, sometimes changing the orientation of objects within them, other times shifting a rectangular panel so that it's either vertical or horizontal (which changes the order the panels are 'read' in as well). Others will let you move panels around after you've pressed play, which means that getting through to the last panel on the screen will mean moving through some panels more than once. Everything works on silly video game stealth logic--you can assume that all the police are deaf to anyone behind them--but the game's internal logic is consistent.

It's a clever system, albeit one that feels like it could have been pushed just a little further after finishing both short games. Played back to back, it's the original Framed that stands out the most. It's not necessarily better, per se, but the game has held up well since its initial release, and still feels like a fresh idea. Framed has a loopier structure than the sequel, one that calls attention to the game's weird frame-switching conceit with a plot that is hard to fully understand, but is neat in its ambitiousness. The original game introduces all the series' best concepts and ideas too, and as such ends up feeling a tad more inventive just by virtue of being the first one.

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That's not to say that Framed 2 isn't also good fun. It's much nicer visually, and the puzzles are more playful in the sequel--one sequence where you need to change a character's outfit by continually switching around panels so that they alternately put on and take off various items of clothing is a stand-out, as is one scene that lets you rotate the hands of a clock to affect the angle at which one of the characters leaps off it into the next panel. Some other set-pieces, like a fist fight and a sequence where you need to figure out a four-digit code based on a tableau taking up most of the screen, play out as cute proofs-of-concept rather than full-blown ideas, but they're in the minority. Both games have plenty of lovely 'a-ha' moments, where a puzzle clicks and an obvious solution that was staring you in the face suddenly leaps out. Neither is particularly difficult, and while that's not a major issue both games also end abruptly--some further complexity would not have gone amiss.

Framed Collection's only real significant addition is a fast-forward button, which lets you speed up the action after pressing play. This is a bigger deal than it sounds--having to watch the same scenes slowly play out every time you pressed play after organizing panels was the most annoying part of Framed on mobile, and the problem has been mitigated here. You can play either game in TV mode with the Switch, but it's better in handheld mode with touch controls--using a controller just doesn't feel natural, especially when you need to switch between panels quickly. Playing on PC with a mouse is a great fit, too; these games are well suited to a bigger screen, and the art scales well.

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Framed Collection is a pleasant reminder of why these mobile games struck such a chord. I wouldn't go as far as Kojima and declare them game of the year material, but I'd be up for a Framed 3 that took the building blocks established by the first two games and found new ways to piece them together. If you've already played Framed 1 and 2 on mobile there's not much reason to come back, but if you haven't these are the best versions of the unique and enduring puzzle games.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Thu, 17 May 2018 08:00:00 -0700)

Pillars of Eternity was something of a herald for the second golden age of classic computer role-playing games. It was an inspiration, and was quickly followed by games like Torment: Tides of Numenera and Tyranny, and plenty more have filled in the gaps since then. And that's before we even get to the reboots and re-issues of some of the genre's aging classics like Baldur's Gate.

All of this is to say that the standards have shifted quite a bit since Pillars of Eternity released in 2015. It's remarkable, then, that Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire not only keeps pace with its contemporaries, but brings its own vitality and character that sets it apart from a genre that has been feeling a bit crowded of late.

Deadfire is a direct sequel to Pillars of Eternity, but you don't need to have played the first game, as you'll get solid recaps as well as the ability to make some general choices that will affect how Deadfire plays. That said, having a familiarity with the characters and world greatly adds to the game's overall appeal. These folks have aged, wizened, and grizzled a bit in the pirate-infested Deadfire Archipelago--the expansive, maritime stage on which our adventure is set. One old friend has taken to smoking a pipe, for instance, growing a bit more lax and observational, punctuating thoughts and commentary with tokes to help process his thoughts.

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For the most part, character progression and the nuts and bolts of play work just as they did before. Character creation is deep and complex, designed to mimic the process of mapping out a character in a tabletop RPG. From there, you play a half real-time, half turn-based adventure, with exploration done in the former style and combat in the latter. If you’ve played just about any of the iconic CRPGs of the last 20 years, you’ll be immediately familiar with the basics in Deadfire.

On top of that, though, Deadfire blows out everything from its predecessor. There’s more of anything you can think of--more options for character setup, more classes and skills, more specialization, more items, and more levels. You can also explore open waters on a ship that you manage, from crew to cannon. In much the same way that an advanced player’s guide adds fundamental upgrades to the way a tabletop RPG works, Deadfire is bigger, but also deeper. New character sub-classes and the ability to multi-class your character will allow you to refine your options in combat or play more nuanced roles.

That said, the real value of Deadfire is how its setting tees up new stories and tales of exploration and adventure. The Archipelago has been settled throughout, but plenty of islands still contain ancient secrets and eldritch horrors. Moreover, the rough-and-tumble atmosphere demands sturdy defenses and plenty of able bodies to maintain your new ship. Life on the seas is brutal, and your first major craft will barely have the gear needed to survive even minor engagements. Kitting out your mobile base of operations becomes another major focus, and you'll always have to worry when another ship comes into view.

Your ultimate goal is track down Eothas, a god who has possessed a stone colossus. Mysteriously, your spirit and life force is tied to the god, and only by chasing him to the archipelago were your companions able to keep you alive. Now you must set out and figure out how all this happened and why, while trailing Eothas. This works particularly well as a means of pacing out the journey and developing a strong throughline of adventure.

So you set out for whatever towns and islands you can spot, and build from there. At this stage, curiosity is a virtue. Questions and probes yield small, intimate stories and clues for tracking down the big bad alike. These arcs build out the texture of the world and offer some of the most beautiful moments in the game. Plus, having extra gear and experience can only add to your proficiency in the game’s main thrust. How and when you engage with the world is up to you, but you'll be partially limited by the capabilities of your ship and the information you've gathered.

Deadfire's characters are bright and nuanced, and their descriptions weave personality into the simplest interactions.

Ship combat, perhaps the single largest mechanical addition in Deadfire, is well constructed. Bouts are turn-based and will be determined by everything from the abilities and experience of the crew you've gathered, to the tactical choices you make. These largely center on positioning, which is important to keep in mind when attacking or defending. Most vessels will have a few different types of guns, so you'll be working on closing or creating distance and repositioning so you can get the best shots off at the right times. Boarding, of course, also plays a huge role, but that works more or less the same as any other battle on land.

All of this, too, feeds into systems that impact how successful you are at general pirating. Your crew's morale will need to be kept high, for instance, or you could run the risk of a mutiny. While that could have been little more than set-dressing, Deadfire pulls those threads into the rest of the game--primarily through its art and writing.

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Rich, detailed prose focuses on setting the scene and building an atmosphere. Deadfire's characters are bright and nuanced, and their descriptions weave personality into the simplest interactions. All of this makes for an enriching read--if you've got the patience for it. Like the first game, the writing is phenomenal overall, but some sections can be unnecessarily verbose, and that can occasionally strike as a weakness. But, more often than not, vivid text is a means to help you escape to this fantastical world. Thankfully, though, it's not the only trick Deadfire's got.

While the isometric view is a bit of a throwback, the art and visual detail of the world stands abreast with the writing as one of the adventure's strongest points. Not only is this a visual feast, mostly because of its imaginative settings and application of the arcane, but its direction is poignant and gripping. The seaside shacks and exotic, otherworldly creatures are a stark departure of the classical fantasy setting of the previous entry's Dyrwood. The cliched stylings of Caed Nua castle give way to Treasure Island, with all the monsters and magic of DnD. In other words, this is more a fantasy adventure in a pirate-y tone than the other way around. And that works just fine--keeping enough of the original appeal intact while folding in sharp new ideas and ambiance.

Deadfire is dense, and it isn't a small game, easily dwarfing its predecessor in terms of scale. There's a lot to do, and it's easier than ever to get lost in the little stories you find, without following the arcs that the game has specially set out for you. Still, it's worth taking your time. The richness of Deadfire takes a while to appreciate, and like the brined sailors that call it home, you'll be left with an indelible attachment to these islands when you do finally step away.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Tue, 08 May 2018 10:00:00 -0700)

Hyrule Warriors is a beautiful, chaotic mess of a game. It's got all the glossy rupees, imaginative monsters, and fashionable characters you'd expect from the Zelda series (and plenty you wouldn't), topped off with some nods to the medieval hack-and-slash Dynasty Warriors series. In place of puzzles and elaborate levels or side-quests, you're here to do one thing--mess up some monsters.

This shouldn't be new to most folks, as the original run of Hyrule Warriors launched back in 2014, but the port to Nintendo Switch brings all the extra characters and items from the DLC, plus some added costumes and all the content from the 3DS version. That's a ton of content to bring to the table, but the game's central theme is the same as ever. That makes the Switch version a tough sell for all but the most dedicated fans of the original or those who have never set foot into the wacky world of this strange mash-up. Given the Wii U's relatively meager sales, though, this is a great second chance for the strongest Zelda spin-off ever.

For the unfamiliar, Dynasty Warriors is a tactical action game that tasks you with managing an army and controlling specific keeps or tracts of land. All the while, you are able to insert yourself directly into the fray as an uber-powered demi-god. That allows you to shift the tide of battle, essentially acting as the queen in chess. Powerful though you may be, you've also got to keep constant track of the field, and where you're needed most. That tension--between the battle right in front of you, and the tactical considerations of the field--represent the core tension of the series.

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Hyrule Warriors doesn't compromise on that at all, and even mixes in plenty of mid-game quests and objectives to keep you juggling your goals and constantly weighing your best options. It's a lot to have going on at once, but it genuinely works. Choices are always billed as risks--should you go home and shore up the defenses of your base, or press-on for a valuable collectible? Understanding where you're needed most and how the various elements of a map all play together is important, but it's not so taxing that you can't fudge your way through a good chunk of it.

And that's part of the appeal. As Link or Darunia or Zelda or Impa, you've got the entire Hyrule cast at your back. Zelda isn't some rando, she's a monster-busting fiend. Even when you've got more important decisions to make, watching Zelda summon spears and swords from raw light and dispatching wave after wave of moblins is the kind of cathartic release many have been waiting decades for. This is fan-service at its most pure and most satisfying. Seeing the characters you've grown up with or idolized in new contexts that allow them to unleash their full might, is a bit like taking your favorite characters into Smash Bros. or Marvel vs Capcom. There's an essence of childlike fascination that comes along with it, and Hyrule Warriors wields that well.

Fans of Zelda lore and the like need not turn their noses up at this adventure, either. Provided you can buy into the initial premise and get some mileage there, the adventure is truly a fascinating one. You'll cross dimensions and timelines, bouncing between locales from many of the more recent Zelda entries, including Wind Waker, Breath of the Wild and Skyward Sword. All of this fits tonally too. With more than a dozen characters from all over the timeline and Zelda own history of world-swapping, time-warping weirdness, muddling the lines between worlds a bit to get everyone into the same game feels natural.

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If anything, as we stated in our original review, the one major issue this brings up is the longing for flashier attacks and better combos in the mainline Zelda series. And when a spin-off makes you want more from the original, that's certainly a special sort of accomplishment.

New to the Switch version is split screen multiplayer. The original allowed one player to use the Wii U Gamepad, and another to play on the TV. This mode honestly, while nice, isn't much of an improvement. The Switch can still chug a bit when the action gets heavy, and trying pack two players, and the mayhem they cause onto a single screen feels a little tight. Still, it's always nice to have the option.

Those returning to the fray will likely be a little disappointed as there just isn't enough new content to rouse fresh excitement. For newcomers, though, Hyrule warriors is a delightful, bizarre outing that opens up the Zelda series, taking us places we've been before, just with thousands of monsters and awesome, screen-clearing magical attacks.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Thu, 17 May 2018 08:00:00 -0700)
Michio Kaku goes long in his new book, “The Future of Humanity,” imagining the frontiers of possibility. Given enough time, he says, we might become as the gods. Read More

Source: The New York Times - Sunday Review (Fri, 25 May 2018 21:00:01 GMT )

A young doe-eyed brunet sits expectantly at the table of an upscale restaurant, enthralled by its pink hues, pristine condition and white orchids. She is being interviewed by the eatery’s owner for a server position, but the talk is filled with awkward silences.

“You’ve got really nice nails,”...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Fri, 25 May 2018 14:00:00 PDT )
Find out what's coming to the streaming platform in June as we list our top recommendations, including Thor: Ragnarok, Glow Season 2, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi! Read More

Source: GameSpot Gaming Reviews (Fri, 25 May 2018 13:08:00 -0700)

Carson Mayor Albert Robles was honored this week for his work as director of a regional water board with that agency’s announcement that a $110 million wastewater treatment facility in Pico Rivera was named after him.

But then on Friday, one day later, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Fri, 25 May 2018 12:30:00 PDT )

Roguelike pixel-art games are so common that it almost feels like a cliché. Without a great hook, many of these would-be indie hits wind up lost among ever-filling digital storefronts. However, Wizard of Legend, despite a painfully generic title, manages to distinguish itself from its peers with fast, challenging gameplay. Despite a few missteps, it successfully delivers an engaging and endearing experience.

After a breezy tutorial framed as a series of interactive wizard museum exhibits, you finds yourself whisked away into a new dimension--one with an ever-changing, multi-floor dungeon inhabited by three all-powerful wizards. The challenges you face in this dungeon are called the Chaos Trials, and only wizards of truly exceptional skill have ever conquered them…meaning, of course, that you need to become a wizard of exceptional skill.

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Your wizard character has animpressive moveset, with a basic melee spell, a dash/dodge spell, and two powerful techniques with cooldowns mapped to each of the controller's face buttons. While a lot of roguelike games focus on smart usage of the random resources you find on any given run, Wizard of Legend's emphasis is more on skill-based action gameplay. By using your spells and movement skillfully, you can create powerful combos, stunlocking enemies with a flurry of melee attacks, ranged magic, and dashes. The fast, fluid movement of your character and timing-based combos make Wizard of Legend feel like classic action-RPGs of yore--a welcome change from the generally slower rhythm of similar procedurally-generated games.

Finding and learning new arcana magic inside and outside of the dungeons can also affect your gameplay; you might have acquired a really cool and powerful spell, but it's practically worthless if you don't learn to use it well in tandem with your other skills. The process of experimenting with the magical combinations you acquire--and augmenting their effectiveness with various artifacts--allows you to personalize your wizard's playstyle to suit your strengths. Just don't get too attached to the spells and items you find inside the dungeons--most of those won't be coming home with you after death.

As you make your way through the Chaos Trials, you'll encounter a variety of obstacles, enemies, places of interest, and treasures scattered throughout the catacombs. Defeating enemies and collecting treasure chests yields gold and gems; gold can be used to buy goods and services within the dungeon, while gems stay with you even if you're defeated and allow you to buy new spells, clothes, and artifacts in the shopping area before a new run. Only the goods purchased outside of the dungeon are permanent--with a few rare and valuable exceptions--making hunting for and collecting gems an important part of exploration. That doesn't make gold worthless, however, as you can use it to purchase temporary upgrades, health restoration, and additional, powerful spells. Yes, you'll lose all the stuff you bought with gold if you perish, but these skills and items can help make a run last a lot longer, which means more potential permanent loot in the long term. It never feels like a serious setback when a run goes bad; you just buy a few goodies, practice your new arcana, and jump back into the game.

It's plenty of fun, but there are a few annoyances. The environments are dull and lack visual variety, and in some cases it's hard to discern what things are due to the colors used and a lack of detail. The dialogue, sparse as it is, also feels like it's trying just a bit too hard, particularly when it goes for lousy puns. It's also an unforgiving game for newcomers, as enemies are relentless straight from the get-go, making the learning curve steep. But no matter how good you are, sometimes you'll just get a really terrible, unescapable battle in a room filled with hazards and projectile-slingers that feels like it's there simply to ruin your run. While the randomness in Wizard of Legend feels like less of a run-killing factor than in other games of this sort, when its RNG decides it doesn't like you, you'll know it.

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With a buddy, however, things get easier. You can play local co-op with a friend, with the both of you sharing a common pool of permanent items and arcana picked up from all your runs up to that point. Having two players makes the more difficult enemy encounters and combo challenges feel less overwhelming, and a generous revival system that involves picking up energy from defeated enemies lets a fallen player hop back into the action fairly easily. However, one major fault is that both players must occupy the same quadrant of the screen, which makes for restricted movement in certain situations--like when one player is working to get in for melee strikes while the other is trying to zip around to set up ranged skills. Giving the camera the ability to zoom out during these situations would have been nice. (Also, as of this writing, you can only play local co-op on the Switch using the Joy-Cons, so forget about using that Pro Controller when your friend's over.)

Overall, though, there's a lot to love about Wizard of Legend. While it does have some issues, the cycle of exploration, discovery, failing, learning, and exploring again will keep your determination to conquer the Chaos Trials high. Wizard of Legend might not look like much on the surface, but there's some good magic underneath.


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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Fri, 25 May 2018 10:48:00 -0700)
“War on Peace” details how American policy is being driven by military leaders rather than the State Department. Read More

Source: The New York Times - Sunday Review (Thu, 10 May 2018 14:24:11 GMT )

When it began, with a South Korean official standing outside the White House announcing that the leaders of the United States and North Korea would meet for an unprecented summit, President Trump believed he had accomplished a historic breakthrough — an accomplishment, he told friends, that would...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Fri, 25 May 2018 03:35:00 PDT )
Six new paperbacks to check out this week. Read More

Source: The New York Times - Sunday Review (Fri, 25 May 2018 09:00:01 GMT )
Alex Andriesse’s translation of “Memoirs From Beyond the Grave, 1768-1800” follows François-René de Chateaubriand from Europe to America and back. Read More

Source: The New York Times - Sunday Review (Fri, 25 May 2018 09:00:01 GMT )
Sweet-and-sour humor permeates Dorothea Benton Frank’s latest Southern comedy of manners, “By Invitation Only.” Read More

Source: The New York Times - Sunday Review (Fri, 25 May 2018 09:00:01 GMT )
How the success of “In Cold Blood” led to a quick fame, followed by a long infamy. Read More

Source: The New York Times - Sunday Review (Fri, 25 May 2018 09:00:10 GMT )
In “Calypso,” Sedaris delivers a caustically funny take on the indignities and banalities of everyday life, Cumming writes. Read More

Source: The New York Times - Sunday Review (Fri, 25 May 2018 09:00:09 GMT )
In Marilyn Stasio’s column, a pond in Maine and a British choir loft may be crime scenes. World War II Reykjavik and modern-day Glasgow surely are. Read More

Source: The New York Times - Sunday Review (Fri, 25 May 2018 09:00:11 GMT )
20 novelists, critics and historians make their case. Read More

Source: The New York Times - Sunday Review (Fri, 25 May 2018 09:00:22 GMT )

His team, the defending NBA champions, is on the verge of elimination for the first time since Kevin Durant joined forces with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. One of the most underrated players, Andre Iguodala has missed two straight games. The Houston Rockets have held his Golden...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Thu, 24 May 2018 22:50:00 PDT )

Rams defensive end Morgan Fox suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament during organized team activities Thursday, a person with knowledge of the situation said.

Fox, 23, played in 16 games last season and had 2½ sacks. He also logged significant playing time in the Rams’ playoff loss against...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Thu, 24 May 2018 21:40:00 PDT )

Eric Gordon came off the bench to score 24 points and his steal on Golden State's last possession secured a 98-94 victory Thursday night that gave the Houston Rockets a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

The Rockets head into Game 6 on Saturday night in Oakland, California one win away...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews ( Thu, 24 May 2018 20:40:00 PDT )

Chiney Ogwumike scored 18 points in her first WNBA victory against sister Nneka, helping the Connecticut Sun beat the Sparks 102-94 on Thursday night.

Chiney Ogwumike, who missed all of last season with an injury, topped Nneka for the first time in six professional meetings. Nneka Ogwumike had...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews ( Thu, 24 May 2018 18:50:00 PDT )

The zombie drama “Cargo” has more in common with Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” than with “Night of the Living Dead.” Co-directors Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke (the latter of whom wrote the screenplay) sacrifice some tension with their more character-based approach, but the cumulative effect is...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Movie Reviews (Tue, 15 May 2018 18:45:00 PDT )

For a game that’s based on the world of Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian, Conan Exiles has remarkably little to do with any part of that universe. It’s a big, open-world survival sim that sticks true to its initial hardcore vision to a fault. When you combine the steep learning curve of a deep but confusing crafting system with largely monotonous gameplay and a spectacularly awful UI, Conan Exiles feels like it does everything it can to push back on those curious enough to step into its admittedly intriguing but highly flawed world.

The game opens as you regain consciousness in the scorching desert, completely naked and vulnerable. As an exile, you are trapped in a doomed and cursed land with nothing but the faint memory of being cut down from your crucifix by Conan, the giant hunk of man-meat himself. From there, you’re free to wander off into the wild yonder. The exiled lands are massive, made up of different environmental biomes that can be explored freely from the outset. Spectacular-looking sandstorms can roll in out of nowhere, forcing you to seek shelter lest they consume you. You can climb anything from mountains and trees to walls and buildings, provided you have the stamina. This adds an extra dimension to exploration, with the added payoff of some lovely views of Conan's varied world.

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You start out small, picking up rocks and sticks and crafting simple tools. Almost everything you find can be broken down one way or another, and while it's neat to watch rocks chip apart and trees topple over as you hack into them, the humdrum motion of harvesting never feels rewarding. Eventually you’ll need to build shelter and a bed, which becomes your new spawn point. Given the game’s brutal permadeath mechanic, doing this sooner rather than later can save you some real heartache.

Shelter can mean anything from a small stone shack all the way to a giant castle, complete with reinforced walls, towers, and even a trebuchet. Building is block-based and relatively free form, allowing for hugely elaborate base designs that can be some fun to build, provided you take the time to gather the raw materials to build everything you need. That's all well and good, except for the part where you aren’t shown how to do any of it. It’s all up to you to simply figure out or dive head first into a wiki to have anything explained in detail.

If you aren’t motivated by curiosity, Conan Exiles' single-player mode will feel empty and largely aimless. It's more like a practice mode, with only a handful of NPC outposts and structures to find. When you do, most of them are hostile, and the few that aren’t only offer minimal interaction. Multiplayer changes this up for the better in a few ways, mainly through the addition of other human players.

More importantly, though, multiplayer gives you more purpose and clearer goals to achieve. This includes defending your base from other players as well as The Purge, an army of NPCs that might attack and destroy your base as you gain XP. You can also join Clans, which will allow you to build collectively, either on or near clanmates' already-laid foundations. For times when you do have to leave home behind, you can create Thralls--human NPCs with specialised abilities you can knockout, bind, and drag back to base to enslave--to help protect it, and they do a decent enough job.

Character progression in both single and multiplayer takes place in the Journey, a series of tasks grouped into chapters that, when completed, grant you attribute points to spend on any one of seven main ability slots. You also gain knowledge points to unlock new crafting recipes, of which there are a lot. The number of things you can craft is staggering; weapons, armor, survival items, and even religious altars to help to deify the gods of the world and earn their favour.

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Once you start crafting more complex items, you get better acquainted with one of the game's worst aspects: its UI. There’s nothing intuitive about it, and like the rest of the game, there’s very little explanation given as to how it works. On top of that, it's overly complicated, requiring you to place the resources along with any fuel required into the crafting bench first, select what you want to build from the menu, and then hit the play button to actually craft it. There’s also almost no difference between the console and PC UI, so it's an absolute nightmare to do any kind of inventory management with a controller. And like in most survival sims, it’s what you inevitably spend a significant amount time doing, making it a constant source of frustration.

When you get tired of chipping away at trees and rocks, which you will, you can chip away at creatures or other humans instead. There are all manner of things in the exiled lands for you to kill or be killed by, from animals and beasts to monstrous boss creatures like a giant black spider and a huge, spiked Dragon. But despite the sizeable enemy variety and the large array of weapons you can smith--from daggers to axes and giant mallets--combat is just plain bad. Both light and heavy attacks feel unwieldy thanks to sluggish animations, and weapon strikes lack any impact, resulting in dull and monotonous fights.

Conan Exiles is one of the most unsatisfying games I’ve ever played.

To top it off, Conan Exiles just feels really unpolished. The bodies of harvested enemies simply disappear into thin air, and large areas of the world can pop in and out of view at any time, clipping your character through the ground then respawning you somewhere else on the map. When the night starts to come, the moon’s light casts upwards from the ground, creating an bottomlit effect that looks atrocious. It’s also not in the most stable condition, with a number of crashes affecting gameplay randomly on both PC and Xbox.

Ultimately, Conan Exiles is one of the most unsatisfying games I’ve ever played. Its crafting and resource systems may be dense enough that the ultra-patient could find something to enjoy here, but anyone else would likely walk away with their hands thrown up in defeat. The mind-numbing tedium of harvesting resources, woefully boring combat, and a slew of bugs left me feeling completely underwhelmed and unimpressed when it was all said and done.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Thu, 24 May 2018 16:00:00 -0700)

As the leader of the California Senate, Kevin de León negotiated the fine points of a landmark effort on climate change. He helped balance the state budget. He wrote the California immigration law that’s drawn the ire of President Trump.

But Democratic voters who applaud those efforts don’t necessarily...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Thu, 24 May 2018 12:00:00 PDT )
The artist turns Plato's Cave into a South L.A. reverie, creating a splendid handmade grotto, which will subtly change over the next three months. Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Thu, 24 May 2018 08:00:00 PDT )
Chef Virgilio Martinez shares kitchen tips for using potatoes, along with a recipe. Read More

Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Thu, 24 May 2018 08:00:00 PDT )

Detroit: Become Human posits a well-worn future, when androids have become so lifelike and so deeply integrated into human society that surely it's only a matter of time and circumstance until they break through to the other side and achieve consciousness. There isn't much time spent examining how such a seemingly preventable event might be possible; Detroit is primarily focused on androids' experiences during the process of their awakening, and their shock when looking at humanity with eyes unclouded for the first time. Ultimately, it's up to you to decide how they react in the face of adversity.

It is a gameplay-light experience broken up into dozens of chapters with hundreds of decisions to make during cutscenes and explorative sequences. The only real challenge is to be fast, thorough, and perceptive enough to guide characters towards decisions that match your moral compass--or not, if you prefer your stories messy and chaotic. As a result of the myriad crossroads in Detroit, few players will experience events in the exact same way. Pivotal moments gone awry can lead some characters to premature deaths, but even small deviations can have a lasting impact on the state of the people, places and events you encounter throughout. Many of the decisions may seem mundane at first, but however benign a choice may seem, they add up, and gradually draw you into each character's individual experience.

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Detroit is purposefully designed in a disorderly fashion, leaving you with mini cliffhangers throughout the game as it cycles from one character's perspective to the next at the end of every 10- to 20-minute chapter. This may sound messy, but it actually works in its favor as the main characters Kara, Connor, and Markus each bring something different to the table. That variety ensures you're never bored and almost always surprised by what happens next.

Kara, a housekeeper android belonging to an abusive, drug-addled single father at the start, becomes a guardian on the run protecting Alice, the little girl she watches over. Kara is unfortunately naive, and as a result finds herself (and Alice) in trouble on a regular basis. The fact that danger for Kara also means danger for a young child significantly raises the stakes when push comes to shove. You strive to protect them from the worst examples of humanity gone astray, and though it's easy to identify the right choices to ensure their safety, getaways are rarely clean, and often messy.

By comparison, Connor's chapters are more personal and inquisitive. He assists a worn-out detective named Hank who loathes his presence due to a deep-seated prejudice, and the two must work together to solve a series of murders tied to rogue androids. Connor's partner isn't very likeable. He is gruff and rough around the edges, but he is nonetheless a good foil for you to play off of. Where Kara's owner is onenote and unbelievably harsh, Hank can be swayed to trust you over time and overcome his cynicism. It's not always easy to know what will convince him of your worth. Some answers may feel "right," but Hank knows better than to listen to someone who only tells him what he wants to hear.

Hank and Connor will regularly investigate crime scenes together where you're required to analyse your environment, gather clues, and recreate events by interpolating evidence. Not every crime scene tells a compelling story, but the process of investigation is consistently engaging. Conor's allegiance to humans (and his first hand experiences dealing with Hank's blunt hatred) gives you a chance to better understand both sides of Detroit's embroiled society. If there's one android in Detroit who deserves his own story to be blown up and given more screen time, it's Connor.

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The most pivotal character of the lot is Markus, and while he is involved with some of Detroit's most creative scenes, he is remarkably lacking in nuance. At the start, he has the most fortunate existence. His owner is a kind, elderly painter who encourages free thought and treats Markus as though he was his son. Meanwhile, the painter's actual son is a complete jerk who runs the risk of ruining his father's and Markus' well-being. This inevitably comes to pass, and it's from here that Detroit's big-picture plot kicks off: the fight for android equality.

The discussion is a valid one to have given the context at hand, but the way that the social disparity between humans and androids is conveyed in Detroit is such an on-the-nose series of references to the American Civil Rights Movement that it's hard not to to be taken aback. Androids are forced into the back of buses, segregated from some public areas and private establishments, and made to use the stairs instead of escalators… for some reason. When Markus rallies other rebellious androids and you get to pick their protest slogan, you are actually given the option to choose "we have a dream." These references are distracting, and at no point does it feel justified to lift from the history of actual people who've suffered--and continue to suffer--in the real world.

These moments are unforgettably lame, but it's a testament to the story's strengths elsewhere that they don't completely drag the experience down as a whole. Detroit excels at presenting dire situations. Danger seems to lurk around every corner, and because you are expected to react quickly under stress, you can't help but feel anxious when either Kara or Markus are at risk of being discovered by humans after going rogue. These moments can be quiet, slice-of-life scenes, but that would-be serenity only amplifies the tension; sometimes one misstep is all it takes to upend an otherwise peaceful chapter, and you don't want to feel responsible for triggering a chaotic turn of events. Generally, you still have a chance to fix a bad situation, but with so many potential ramifications in the air, Detroit always finds a way to leave a scar you won't soon forget.

Even if Detroit stumbles on a semi-regular basis, it is almost always captivating to behold.

For as powerful as those chapters can be, it's Detroit's most dreadful and horrific scenes that leave a lasting impression. Kara faces her fair share of terror, but Markus' transition to freedom is a hellish trip into the darkest corners of this fictional version of Detroit that's truly unforgettable. Detroit wouldn't be so effective at bringing you into this world if not for its overall stellar presentation. Some NPCs and secondary characters do stand out due to below-average production values, but it's only because most characters and scenes are so beautifully rendered. Even if Detroit stumbles on a semi-regular basis, it is almost always captivating to behold.

Writer and director David Cage is known for crafting these sorts of games (Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls), but Detroit marks the first time you are presented with an explicit breakdown of the choices you made at the end each brief chapter--or during the chapter if you look in the pause menu. This is positioned as a feature, one that allows you to reflect on your actions and realize what you could have done differently, and if you so choose, to immediately go back and make different decisions. But in effect, this feedback methodology is ultimately detrimental, destroying your immersion by reminding you of the game you're playing, and reducing your influence to a point score that can be traded in for unlockable character models and documentaries. So far as I can tell, there's no narrative or meta significance to justify thrusting this information to the forefront before the game is finished. It's useful if you want to chase trophies or shy away from facing the consequences of your actions, but it sucks to be treated as if that's your default approach. There's no way to disable these flowcharts, and I really wish there was.

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These unavoidable flowcharts, like the blatant and cheap appropriation of American history, drag down Detroit's otherwise gripping tale. It has the makings of a truly memorable game, and in many ways, pieces of it will stick with me for a long time. It is too beautiful, too haunting, and too impressive to forget.

Despite being built for multiple playthroughs, it's difficult to imagine jumping back in to fix "mistakes" or exhaust every possible outcome for the sake of completionism. I played with my best intentions. Things didn't always go the way I wanted, but that was a burden I chose to bear, and the story benefitted from my commitment, flowcharts be damned. After completing the game, I tried to go back and fight my instincts to see what would happen if I chose a darker path. It never felt justified nor worthwhile. Detroit is well worth playing, but it struggles to strike the right balance between giving you freedom of choice and reminding you that it's all a game in the end. Cage and Quantic Dream are getting closer to nailing this style of game, but it's obvious that there's still room to grow.


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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Thu, 24 May 2018 05:00:00 -0700)

Kenta Maeda balled his right hand into a fist and hopped off the mound. A scream escaped his lungs after he executed his 97th pitch of the evening, a well-placed changeup that resulted in his 10th strikeout, ended the top of the sixth inning and erased a threat from the Rockies in a 3-0 Dodgers...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Wed, 23 May 2018 23:05:00 PDT )

The Washington State Major League Baseball Public Facilities District has approved terms of a new 25-year lease with the Seattle Mariners for Safeco Field.

Combined with options for two three-year extensions as part of the agreement approved Wednesday, the new lease could keep the Mariners at the...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Wed, 23 May 2018 22:40:00 PDT )

This is why a team should never be declared dead in the first six or seven weeks of a season.

After an inactive winter by an overconfident front office that bordered on irresponsible, after losing Corey Seager for the season and Clayton Kershaw for about a month, and after dropping successive series...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Wed, 23 May 2018 22:55:00 PDT )

Based on a hit comic book series from the late '90s, Battle Chasers: Nightwar successfully translates the look and feel of a comic into a turn-based RPG. The mesmerizing animated intro shows exactly what you're in for: a wild world where steampunk meets Dungeons & Dragons, rendered in beautiful, deep-shaded colors. It was a spell that was frequently broken when it first released. After months worth of patches, tweaks, and improvements on other platforms, however, it's a very different, and much stronger experience right out of the box on the Nintendo Switch.

The broad premise of the Battle Chasers comic is that a girl named Gully has taken a pair of magic gauntlets, along with a motley crew consisting of a sellsword, a wizard, and a kindly robot, on a journey to find her missing father. The Nightwar chapter, however, is a minor sidetrack from that journey. The crew gets shot down from their airship over a mysterious island with serious problems of its own. Supposedly, the island is home to a mother lode of mana, which has prompted something of a magic-based gold rush. Mercenaries, thieves, unsavory merchants and, most worrisome of all, the attention of an evil sorceress named Destra, are drawn to the island. The crew's plans to depart dissolve into a trek that goes deep into the island's darkest regions.

Battle Chasers endears you in the process of establishing its world, characters, and combat systems. Garrison, the mercenary, is exactly what you might expect from a square-jawed warrior with a tragic backstory: his terse personality keeps him at arm's length from his cohorts. On the flipside, the hulking mech, Calibretto, is a gentle soul who acts more as the defacto healer, and the beating heart of the story as it goes along. The cast at large brings infectious personality and energy to every scene, and all of this is underscored by a delightfully diverse soundtrack, flavoring typical medieval adventure anthems with everything from Chinese string instruments to bassy, trip-hop backbeats.

The game's overworld is dotted with opportunities to battle oozing slimes, vicious wolf men, and surly prospectors. Dilapidated little shanty towns pop up along the way, as well as occasional side quests, which usually impart a bit of lore before asking your band to thwart a high-ranking enemy in a dangerous place. The bread and butter of the game, however, is its major dungeons. Eight in total, the dungeons are procedurally generated. Despite the randomization, each room and its layout is impressively detailed, with smoothly integrated puzzles, that most of the time it's impossible to tell every dungeon wasn't meticulously laid out until you reset one, and re-enter to find an unrecognizable location.

From the outset, combat is fairly standard turn-based fare. Veterans of the game will find that the difficulty curve has been evened out in a way where early battles are still very doable, but don't go too easy on new players. The first few hours are full of hard hits and unexpected deaths for those who don't stay vigilant. Basic enemies hit for dozens of points in damage in a single wave, leaving debuff effects like Poison and Bleeding in their wake before you even really know what they do.

Thankfully, it's fairly easy to turn the tables. Every character has a special skill to affect enemies within dungeons--proactively stunning, ambushing, or igniting them--just before a fight kicks off. The principal gimmick during a fight is the Overcharge system. Basic attacks contribute to a special pool of red mana points that can be used to cast magic and tech attacks, rather than actual mana points. The new balance of progression makes it much easier to gain a foothold in the world, where no fight feels too unwieldy. For the fights that do, the removal of level restrictions on equipment also means that the right tool for the job is never too far out of reach. MP still remains in short supply as the game progresses, however. One should still be mindful about whether to build Overcharge or expend mana when using abilities. This gets increasingly tricky, but in a way that keeps you engaged in every battle, no matter how small.

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There were two major problems with Battle Chasers when it first released: A severely steep difficulty curve as the game progressed into its second and third acts, and frequent, aggravating load times going into both battles and new areas. The bad news is that the second issue remains. Even on the more powerful PS4, months of patches still leave a problem where even just getting into a fight in the overworld map can stop the game dead for 30 seconds to load a single, low-level enemy. At least that system gets 60fps fights as a consolation prize. The Switch gets no such benefit, with not just a lower resolution, but intermittent stutters in framerate the more active and flashy the attacks. On both systems, going from the overworld to a dungeon or vice versa can keep you trapped on a loading screen for close to a minute.

The good news is that everything else feels great. Changes to the game's XP and various store economies make it easier to keep your companions ahead of the curve through regular gameplay instead of through tedious grinding—though that's still an option if you want it to be, and the rewards are now much more worthy of the effort. The same considerations still have to be made with each new piece of gear. Armor typically raises a character's HP, stamina, and speed, but drastically lowers physical and magical defense--stats that matter against stronger enemies. The trick of it is finding items that counterbalance the loss, and the odds of that happening, as it stands, have been improved for the better.

Beyond the challenge of combat, Battle Chasers is sustained through the strength of its story, a rollicking tale that takes our heroes literally to hell and back. It's bolstered by some sharp dialogue, gorgeous artwork, and an ensemble that plays extremely well off of each other. Lots of work has gone into Nightwar since its first release, and the balancing improvements make it an easy game to recommend on all platforms.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Tue, 15 May 2018 12:00:00 -0700)

FAR: Lone Sails, the debut title of Swiss developer Okomotive, opens with your character--an unnamed, ambiguous figure in red--wordlessly paying their final respects at a grave behind their home. As you guide them from left to right, through their residence and out the front door, you leave it behind and set out on an unclear journey. The world is tinged grey, broken, abandoned. You quickly arrive at the vehicle that serves as your dwelling for the rest of the trek, a landbound ship that uses petrol, steam, wind, and its giant wheels and sails to propel itself forward. You henceforth pilot the ship in a straight line away from your home, unsure of the specifics of your destination or purpose--it seems like you're simply trying to go as far as possible.

Lone Sails is a 2D puzzle game in which there are no enemies, few challenges, and a purposefully vague narrative. These are all ideas we've seen attached to plenty of other indie platform-puzzle games, and in the opening few minutes described above it all feels very familiar. But it does not take long for Lone Sails to emerge with its own distinct voice and identity, and that's thanks to the ship you're piloting.

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You'll spend at least half your time running around inside your ship--presented from a bisected viewpoint whenever you enter it--pressing the big red buttons that operate its various functions. You'll need to make sure that you've got fuel in the tank before firing the engine, meaning you'll often have to stop and collect canisters of it from outside during your journey (at no point in my playthrough did I come even remotely close to running out). Steam will build up if the engine runs for long enough, and pressing the associated button releases a valve and gives you a brief speed boost. Aside from these functions, most parts of your ship don't require frequent attention. You have a hose for fires and a repair torch, but they're generally only needed during or following set-pieces; a brake that brings you to an immediate halt; and, following an early upgrade, a set of sails that you can coast with if the wind permits.

There are plenty of sections where the ship must be brought to a halt so that you can leave and fiddle around outside to clear a path or get yourself moving again. These are Lone Sail's puzzles, and they're generally quite gentle, usually not involving much more than figuring out the right order to hit a series of red buttons or attaching your ship's winch to something. But even if they're not challenging, these set-pieces are usually delightful, either in how much your meddling changes the environment around you, or how the world's vistas stretch out behind you, or because they end with your ship getting a neat upgrade. FAR: Lone Sails is consistently engaging, with a tactile pleasure to pulling boxes, pressing buttons, and jumping around as needed.

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But there are also long stretches where you'll likely find yourself doing nothing--the wind is carrying your ship, everything is organized below deck, and there's not much to do but sit on top and admire the view while listening to the soft orchestral soundtrack that kicks in during these quieter scenes. In these moments, as you take a moment to appreciate Lone Sail's beauty, the storytelling feels especially confident and focused. The world is beautiful, even though it's vaguely post-apocalyptic, with much of the landscape made up of a drained sea-bed and abandoned buildings. There are little hints at what may have happened to the world here and there, but ultimately the world outside of your ship doesn't matter so much until near the end of the journey, as the game's final act unfurls in a way that informs everything that came before it. Coming to appreciate the extended stretches of tranquility that Lone Sails often stretches out is one of its greatest pleasures.

You are always alone, and because of that, your attachment to the ship grows deeper. After a while, exiting the ship for any period starts to feel dangerous despite the lack of enemies. When bad weather conditions kick in at various points, leaving the ship feels akin to having to get out from under your blanket on a cold night. The ship feels alive and reactive, thanks in large part to great visual and sound design. Watching the turbines whir and embers shoot out from the back when you release steam, or even just sitting on top of the ship as it blasts along a flat with its sails out, is a bonding experience.

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This is a polished game, with only a few minor issues that I encountered. Every now and then an object in the foreground would obstruct my view of some parts of the ship, but the ship's layout is easy enough to remember that this was only a minor roadblock. Twice I had to reload my most recent checkpoint because I got stuck--once it was my own fault, the other time I was trapped by a rare invisible wall designed to keep me from going a certain way. But the checkpointing is generous enough that I didn't lose more than two minutes of progress, and I generally felt totally in control of my ship. It's also quite easy overall, and up until a surprising death towards the end of it all, I didn't even know you could die.

Lone Sails is a transfixing, lovely experience, one that takes recurring indie game tropes and does something unique and fun with them. It's short enough that you could play through it in a single two or three-hour session, but it will likely stick with you for a long time. I can see myself going back in a few months just to revisit the ship, like checking in on an old friend.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Tue, 15 May 2018 07:00:00 -0700)

Imagine the bleakness of the man versus giant creatures gameplay of Shadow of the Colossus as a definitively Nordic tale, and you have a general idea of what Jotun is. Sprinkle in a little bit of Dark Souls’ difficulty and a malevolent sense of challenge, and you’re closer to hitting the bullseye. Now imagine all of that hand-drawn in a style somewhere between Dragon’s Lair and Princess Mononoke, and you’ve got Jotun.

Boiling the game down to its disparate parts does the game a mild disservice, though. In execution, Jotun is a perfect storybook, a game that seems ripped from the imagination of a Viking child being told tales of warriors of old facing down their gods. It’s a wonderfully wild, vibrant bedtime story told with fire and verve, even when the game is at its most stark and lonely.

Jotun tells the tale of Thora, a Viking shield maiden who falls from her boat during a voyage and drowns. Because passage to Valhalla is only granted to those who fall in battle, Thora is given the chance to earn her way into the golden halls by finding and killing the Jotun, the Titans of Norse mythology. Along the way, the gods assist her, granting her new power when she finds their shrines and pays her respects. Otherwise, all she has is an iron axe and an iron will. We learn between stages where Thora’s determination comes from in a fantastic, steely narration performed in Icelandic. Each new piece of her story would be worth it on its own, revealing years of underestimation, neglect, and later, a sibling jealousy that turns tragic. Even if the gameplay wasn’t as good as it was, being able to help Thora achieve glory would be more than worth the effort.

Behold, the tree of life.
Behold, the tree of life.

Gameplay is 16-bit levels of simple, and yes, that is a compliment. You have a light attack with Thora’s axe, a hard-hitting heavy attack with a major delay, and a dodge. Thora can find massive shrines to the Gods in each stage, and by praying there, she earns new magical powers specific to each one--Thor allows her to use Mjolnir for a short time, Frigg allows her to heal at will, Loki creates a decoy that eventually explodes after a time--but all six of the powers have limited uses, and none are what you would call a guaranteed solution to any sticky situation. Primarily, timing, cunning, and luck will get Thora to Valhalla.

For most of the game, that cunning involves mastery of the environment. Jotun’s six stages, which can be tackled in any order, are impeccably designed. They are deceptively linear, laid out in such a way that gives the impression of vast, stunning tableaus in places dwarfed in size by your typical Diablo III dungeon. The illusion works. Grand, breathtaking vistas are the norm in Jotun, and they often serve as a wicked distraction from the dangers mere inches away. They’re also often rather desolate places, dark locales that no mortal has tread upon in ages. The game isn’t swarming with enemies, except for one particular stage that sends a veritable legion of dwarves your way. This bolsters the comparisons to Shadow of the Colossus, where the loneliness of what Thora has to do makes the sheer distance between each new obstacle feel like a greater journey. The real problem with that desolation is that more than a few times, you’ll need to backtrack through some of these areas to find much needed power ups, or because you’ve missed a crucial switch in order to get to said power ups, or because you’ve ended up in an area and the game’s obtuse pause screen map didn’t help you.

And this is why pruning your garden once a week is just so important.
And this is why pruning your garden once a week is just so important.

The main events of the game, however, are the Jotun themselves as bosses. The Jotun are simply awe-inspiring enemy design, taking the rather threadbare descriptions from Norse lore, and extrapolating them to the nth degree, with each one several times Thora’s size onscreen.

The best is still the first: A nature giant that feels like Ursula from The Little Mermaid made entirely out of living trees and vines. Still, each of the bosses are just wonderfully realized, and you get maybe a good minute to marvel at them before the pain starts. A terrifying shield-swinging giant can summon a legion of dwarves out of the ground to rush at Thora with a scream. Halfway through the frost giant’s fight, the playing field turns into a sheet of slippery ice; when it’s down to a quarter bar of life, a white-out blizzard starts. A blacksmith giant has you fighting in a neverending firestorm. What the Jotun typically lack in speed, they make up for in power, where being in the wrong place at the wrong time during a fight will mean your end in two hits. The Jotuns’ patterns and weak points aren’t hard to suss out whatsoever, it’s simply a matter of using your limited arsenal to deal with them, and often with the horde of peripheral obstacles/enemies each Jotun will throw at you during, and quite often it will still not be enough. The game gives Thora infinite tries, and will start her right at the boss with each of her powers replenished each time she dies. Persistence and learning from the numerous failures will lead to success, but the game will not coddle, and every victory will be well-earned beyond a shadow of a doubt.

The PS4 and Xbox One ports of Jotun are very much on par with the PC version. The only major difference is the addition of Valhalla Mode, a boss rush that opens up after you beat the campaign. Aside from expanded health bars, an extra element of danger has been added to each boss battle taken from the campaign, forcing you to alter your attack strategy. The first stage's plant boss now has poisonous spores surrounding her weak points, making it a game of hit and run rather than patient strikes. Alternately, a sword-wielding forge boss has a much shorter window in which to strike. Valhalla Mode is a small addition, but a welcome one.

One solemn face and 200 angry dwarves.
One solemn face and 200 angry dwarves.

The Switch version of the game stands tall next to its more powerful console brothers, with not a single frame out of place, and no slowdown, even in the game's busiest and most expansive areas. In handheld mode, the moments where the camera zooms out to give players a full view of their surroundings, or to behold the game's numerous, massive bosses can sometimes make poor Thora a tiny red needle in a haystack. These moments are scarce, though, and it's a small price to pay for the game's epic scope.

The Switch port does, however, have one problem that's much less tolerable: A much longer load time stretching between 15-30 seconds when entering a new area or respawning after a death. The initial load for a stage is acceptable, and transitions to new areas within a stage are much quicker, but for a game whose greatest challenges come from trial-and-error bosses that can sometimes kill with a single hit, the wait time to have another crack and be maddening. It's a single flaw, but it's a crucial one that can add insult to game's legion of fatal injuries.

Jotun is a short game, and good players can probably plow through it in about 3 or 4 hours, but even with the ending behind me, I find myself dying to witness some images again and wanting to try different strategies. I want to hear Thora tell her tale again. Any good bedtime story that makes you want to hear it again right after it’s over is one for the ages.

Editor's note: Portions of this article were featured in our PC, PS4, and Xbox One Jotun review.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Fri, 27 Apr 2018 08:00:00 -0700)

Jared Kushner has received his full security clearance after more than a year of delay and controversy, removing a hurdle to his continued service as a key advisor to President Trump, his father-in-law.

Kushner lost his access to top-secret intelligence in February, an embarassing setback for a...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Wed, 23 May 2018 12:25:00 PDT )

Leo Santa Cruz is enthused about his June 9 featherweight title rematch against Abner Mares at Staples Center and the potential to unify belts in the deep division.

But at 29, with a third child due in August and his father-trainer emerging from a life-threatening cancer scare, Santa Cruz is more...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Wed, 23 May 2018 12:45:00 PDT )

To the editor: The response by USC faculty and staff to the revelation that gynecologist Dr. George Tyndall practiced on campus for 26 years despite multiple complaints of inappropriate conduct with patients has been heartening yet indicative of the vast divide between them and the university administration.

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Wed, 23 May 2018 11:35:00 PDT )

Compared to the rest of the animal kingdom, the human brain is way out of whack.

Our brains are roughly six times larger than what you would expect for a placental mammal of our stature, scientists say.

And no other animal has a brain as large as ours relative to body size.

So why did humans evolve...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Wed, 23 May 2018 10:00:00 PDT )

Thousands of people in Karachi attended the funeral Wednesday for a 17-year-old Pakistani exchange student who was killed in a mass shooting at a Texas high school.

Sabika Sheikh was among 10 students and staff killed Friday at Santa Fe High School near Houston.

She was her family's oldest child...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Wed, 23 May 2018 09:40:00 PDT )

NFL owners reached a consensus Wednesday on a policy regarding the national anthem, addressing the most controversial and divisive issues in recent memory.

Under the new policy, players who do not choose to stand for the anthem before games will have the option of staying in the locker room. But...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Wed, 23 May 2018 08:55:00 PDT )

For many mornings, five-time Tony-winning choreographer and director Susan Stroman would turn on her phone to find a musical message from legendary composer John Kander, her friend and frequent collaborator.

The content of the messages from Kander, of Kander & Ebb fame: waltzes.

“They were called...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Wed, 23 May 2018 08:50:00 PDT )

In most district attorney elections, the campaign playbook is clear: Win over the local cops and talk tough on crime.

But in California this year, the strategy is being turned on its head.

Wealthy donors are spending millions of dollars to back would-be prosecutors who want to reduce incarceration,...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Wed, 23 May 2018 07:00:00 PDT )

The Chargers did what they could to show their appreciation to tight end Antonio Gates, one of the best players in the team’s history, as they made plans to move on.

Tuesday, those plans might have changed.

Gates’ replacement, third-year tight end Hunter Henry, suffered a season-ending knee injury...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 22 May 2018 19:10:00 PDT )

A prototypical leadoff hitter Max Muncy is not. At a stout 5 feet 10 and 215 pounds, he is more rectangular than sleek, more slugger than speedster.

Before Tuesday, Muncy had an average of one home run every 14.2 at-bats, which ranked sixth in the National League among players with at least 75...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 22 May 2018 18:50:00 PDT )

Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin is closer than ever to playing for the Stanley Cup, and he’s determined to make the most of the opportunity.

“I’ve never been in this position before,” he said Tuesday, looking ahead to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 22 May 2018 18:50:00 PDT )

The Angels received more bad injury news when reliever Blake Wood was diagnosed with a damaged ulnar collateral ligament.

Out for the past month with what the team called an elbow impingement, Wood will seek a second opinion. He’s expected to miss significant time.

“It’s a shame,” manager Mike...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 22 May 2018 17:40:00 PDT )
The great Irish writer William Trevor captured turning points in individual lives with powerful slyness. “Last Stories” is his final gift to us. Read More

Source: The New York Times - Sunday Review (Mon, 14 May 2018 09:00:07 GMT )

A Facebook friend recently posted the intriguing question, “What movie do you wish you could live inside?” I now have my answer: “The Gardener,” Sébastien Chabot’s captivating documentary about one of the world’s most beautiful and ambitious private gardens, the 20-acre Les Quatre-Vents in rural...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Movie Reviews (Mon, 14 May 2018 13:40:00 PDT )

“Welcome to the Men’s Group” has perhaps the most full-frontal male nudity ever in a mainstream movie. If that sounds at all cool, think again: It’s just one of many irritating, self-indulgent, faux-provocative bits in actor-director-co-writer (with Scott Ben-Yashar) Joseph Culp’s interminable...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Movie Reviews (Mon, 14 May 2018 12:35:00 PDT )

Enjoying Battletech takes time and patience. Born from the decades-old tabletop game of the same name (which also gave birth to the Mechwarrior series of games), the Harebrained Schemes version of Battletech places the universe into the genre most suitable to its origin: turn-based tactical strategy. It's a successful endeavor in that playing Battletech very much feels like playing a complex board game, both for better and worse. There are deep systems to be found in its meaningful mech customization, detailed combat scenarios, and enjoyable fantasy of running an interplanetary mercenary outfit. But reaching the point of thoroughly enjoying Battletech requires the willingness to weather its steep learning curve and laborious pace, which can sometimes veer into excruciating territory.

Individual missions in Battletech are protracted, plodding conflicts, averaging around 45 minutes in length. You command a group of four battlemechs, each piloted by unique and specialized pilots, with the goal of either blowing something up or keeping something safe against outnumbering forces composed of hostile mechs and vehicles of warfare. The enormous mechs of this universe are the lumbering, industrial behemoth kind, bulky tanks with legs characterized by ugly chassis and weapons overtly fused to their limbs. They are graceless, unwieldy machines, and Battletech doesn't hesitate in belaboring their nature as they slowly trudge through the game's vast, sprawling maps like pieces on a military sand table.

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Observing a unit's actions play out can be a quite a process. You'll watch them steadily stomp to a point on the topological grid-based terrain, leisurely rotate their torsos to their designated angle, wait for their weapons to spin up, watch the weapons fire, and wait again for a few moments as the damage report comes in to assess the aftermath. Mech animation speed aside, there are often pauses during this string of actions that feel unnecessarily egregious, and given the number of turns that need to be played out, long missions have the capacity to feel never-ending. There are more exasperating examples, too--during escort missions you'll find yourself watching up to four autonomous convoy vehicles taking turns to crawl through the map, slowly and one at a time, and the display is nothing short of agonizing. At the time of writing, there is a debug mode you can use to help artificially alter speed, but these are not officially endorsed options. By default, Battletech debilitating pace, combined with the game's lacking tutorials, firm difficulty, complicated UI, and persistent technical stammers mean the experience of Battletech's early hours can be tough to brave.

But it's worth it. Growing acclimated to Battletech's attrition-focused warfare and making enough of your own critical mistakes to get a handle on its systems feels liberating, when it eventually happens. Being able to parse initially obtuse information allows you to internalize and appreciate the suite of mechanical nuances and helps you recognize the game's detailed and hard-nosed approach to strategy. Like any great tactical game, each decision requires multi-faceted risk analysis for the best possible outcome. But the joy of good choices in Battletech doesn't come from bombastic maneuvers where your team precisely eliminates a whole enemy squad without a scratch, as it might in XCOM or Into the Breach--that's an impossible scenario here. Being truly successful in Battletech relies on being prepared to get into scrappy, aggressive fighting, and coming to terms with what an acceptable loss might be to you at the time, whether that's an objective, a limb, or the lives of multiple pilots.

With only four mechs to eliminate a larger number of adversaries in a turn-based ruleset, with no allowances for mid-combat repair, learning how to maneuver your mechs in order to endure a reasonable amount of damage becomes one of the most gripping aspects of decision making--how far do you push yourself to take on enormous odds? On the battlefield, this might mean something as simple as studying the impressively varied terrain in each map and finding the most advantageous spot to hunker down, or using buildings, forests, and mountains as cover during an advance. But on a more advanced and necessarily specific level, it might mean rotating your mech to present a fully-armored side to an attacking foe and obscure a side already damaged. Taking additional damage to a body part stripped of armor can result in structural damage or loss of limb, requiring replacement and repairs at significant cost, on top of running an increased risk of having your mech pilot permanently killed.

Similar considerations are always on your mind when you're on the offensive. You might decide to temporarily switch off some of your weapons when attacking to avoid overheating your mech, which can cause immediate, all-over internal damage. One of your mechs might be out of ammo but has the option of using its jets to leap off a mountain and crash onto an enemy below to knock it down--but can you afford the risk of breaking both your legs and being floored yourself?

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With a complete understanding of how each unit can affect another at different locations, with various skills, weapons, and modifiers at play, your perception of unfolding battles becomes one of utter fascination at the minor details and outcomes of each strike. Seeing the battlefield in a different way in order to devise your own alternative approaches and formulating creative backup plans are things that begin to occupy your thoughts, instead of the tempo. Conflicts are still lengthy, and some drawn-out maneuvers still feel unnecessary, but with the time devoted to each turn, you start to use it to observe and internalize what exactly is happening and why. Pivotal turning points in a battle can be narrowed down to the exact action, which can become tactical learnings for future use. There are still a few random elements that can occur, attributed to the probabilities that drive attack calculations--lucky headshots that instantly injure your pilot regardless of armor durability are the prime unfair example--but regardless, the increased focus and time spent on each distinct action means that the anxious feelings that come with even the most trivial of anticipated hits and misses are amplified tenfold.

Battletech also gives you an interesting ability used to preserve your squad--when a mission becomes overwhelming and dead pilots are almost certain, you can choose to immediately withdraw from a mission, at the cost of sullying your reputation with the factions that hired you and surrendering your paycheck. The latter is an especially vital consideration, because money quickly becomes a huge concern in Battletech's campaign and begins to affect all your decisions, both on and off the battlefield.

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The dynamic between the tactical battles and logistical management means almost every decision you make feels like it has rippling, tangible consequences elsewhere. The campaign sees your custom character rise to the leadership of a mercenary company which has accrued an enormous debt, with monthly repayments to meet every month. Naturally, everything costs money, from post-mission repairs, mech upkeep, pilot salaries, ship upgrades and even travel costs--this is a game about business management as much as it is about commanding a squad. Accepting missions allows you to negotiate a contract to determine what your fee should be in relation to your post-battle salvage rights (valuable for maintaining and upgrading your mech configurations as well as unlocking new models) and faction reputation, which opens up more lucrative opportunities. Request too little money on a mission you take carelessly, and the cost of mission-ready repairs afterward might send you into bankruptcy. Without enough salvage and spare cash to play around with, you're impeded in your ability to play with one of the most vital and enjoyable parts of Battletech: building and customizing individual mechs to improve the combat capabilities of your squad.

There are close to 40 different models of stock mechs, varying in tonnage and intended purposes. But the joy of spending time in the mech bay is experimenting with different configurations using the parts you have on hand. Every alteration you make on a mech is at the sacrifice of something else--you can carry more weapons and ammo at the expense of dropping things like heatsinks and additional armor plating, for example. Taking the time to fine-tune that balance and seeing your decisions translate into a more efficient unit on the battlefield feels exceptionally worthwhile.

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The lore and epic narratives of the Battletech universe are as important as the mechs themselves, and this game puts a heavy emphasis on them. The main plot begins with the coup of the head of a parliamentary monarchy--your custom character's childhood friend--and continues as you regroup years later to rally forces and take back the throne. The recorded details of the fictional history and politics between factions are unsurprisingly scrupulous--glossary tooltips for universe-specific concepts litter the game's text. But there are enough broad strokes and familiar feudal parallels to enjoy it at face value, and the comprehensive presentation--well-written and diverse characters, beautiful 2D cutscenes, inspired soundtrack, crunchy sound design and convincing radio chatter--do more than enough to completely sell this brand of mecha fantasy.

Battletech is a game that selfishly takes its time to be meticulous in every respect, and pushing through the density and idiosyncrasies of its many, slow-moving parts can be tough. But if you have the will to decipher it, albeit, at a deliberate and punishingly plodding pace, you can find yourself completely engrossed in its kinetic clashes. Battletech's intricate components ultimately foster a fascinating wealth of nuanced systems that build a uniquely strenuous, detailed, and thoroughly rewarding tactical strategy game.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Fri, 04 May 2018 17:30:00 -0700)

Out of the numerous games to spring up under the Bit.Trip umbrella, it's not exactly a surprise that the most accessible of the bunch, Bit.Trip Runner, would be the one to transcend its retro-styled roots. In bringing the Runner games' mechanics to a fancier playground on the Switch, developer Choice Provisions has made its most ambitious game yet--but in doing so, may have revealed the limits to how far it can push the concept. It's also the most difficult, and if you haven't already invested in a good sturdy case for the Switch that might stand up to having the system thrown at terminal velocity out of a living room window, now would be a good time.

On paper, the gameplay is as deceptively simple as it's always been. Your character runs forward automatically, and it's up to you to jump, duck, slide, and kick down obstacles until you reach the finish line. The secret sauce of the Runner series is that every action and every item in a stage is plotted to work with its music, a whole game trekking along to simple melodies. Stages can be unpredictable, but if you have any sense of rhythm whatsoever, losing yourself to the music can get you through the tougher moments.

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None of Runner 3’s tunes are terribly catchy, and quite frankly, it makes me wistful for the innovative chiptunes that accompanied the original Bit.Trip Runner. Most of the tracks settle for rudimentary and quirky when they could’ve absolutely gone big and eclectic. The furthest Runner 3 branches out in that regard is in the Danny Elfman-like haunted house tunes that accompany much of the second area of the game. At most, the music does the bare minimum: providing a beat for you to follow.

Most people will be able to blast through the first few stages easily, but Runner 3 ramps up the difficulty early on. Around the halfway point of the first area, stages start changing perspectives to an angle, but the shifts in viewpoint can make some of the jumps trickier than they need to be and obscure some obstacles. At its most aggravating, it's difficult to suss out where it's safe to land or what the timing needs to be to kick something out of your way. There are also moments where the game is too complex for its own good; for example, a machine that builds platforms as you run along, making anticipation impossible except through sheer trial and error--which can feel immensely cheap, especially as you get closer to the finish line.

That problem is made worse by the sheer length of each level. Although there are fewer stages in Runner 3, they go on longer than ever--a perfect run with no deaths can sometimes stretch on for four or five minutes. There are still checkpoints at the midpoint of each stage (and as before, if you like living dangerously, skipping the checkpoint gives you a ton of points), but each stage is so densely packed with obstacles this time around that those two minutes to get to safety can feel like an eternity. On top of that, the difficulty is wildly inconsistent; you might get stuck on an early stage that throws bizarre off-kilter obstacle patterns at you, and the next two stages could be walks in the park.

Compared to the relative austerity of the previous titles, Runner 3's environments go full-tilt wacky, overloaded with comical flourishes. The very first stage has you running through a breakfast island, a place where the palm trees are slices of cantaloupe and grapefruit, the rivers flow with milk and cereal, and the high roads are paved with waffles and toast. Later, another stage in Foodland sends you running through a giant refrigerator, bouncing off Jell-O cubes and jogging past some of the most outlandish and gross fake food products imaginable (personal favorites: Fish Errors, Beefmilk, and Cup O' Lumps in Milk Brine). Runner 3's levels are so immensely packed full of random amusements that you're equally likely to fail because you were busy staring at some visual gag happening off in the distance.

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For those who do want more of a challenge, there are Hard variations of each stage, and ironically, there's a more gradual climb in difficulty with these than in the normal stages. In addition, the branching Hard routes tend to be where most of the game's collectibles are hiding, giving even more incentive for multiple playthroughs of an area. Said collectibles unlock a sizable amount of content, from the truly infuriating Impossible stages to new runners--with recurring characters from previous games rubbing shoulders with Shovel Knight and, for some reason, Eddie Riggs from Brutal Legend--to Retro stages which are built on a Hanna-Barbera aesthetic.

The greatest compliment to be paid to a game like Runner 3 is that after feeling the urge to toss a controller, it's hard to think of anything else except trying again. Runner 3’s greatest strength is in rewarding that perseverance. Getting through each stage means more jokes to see, more characters to play around with, and more secret stages to explore. Runner 3, over time, reveals itself to be a veritable buffet of weird and whimsical environments, and thrilling, precision-based gameplay, but make no mistake: you will have to work for your meal.

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Source: GameSpot - Reviews (Tue, 22 May 2018 11:40:00 -0700)

Rams quarterback Jared Goff has made quick work of selling his home in Oak Park, an area near Agoura Hills.

The 23-year-old’s renovated single-story home came up for sale in April and had multiple offers after just three days on the market. Sale of the 1989-built house closed on Monday for $1.775...

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Source: Los Angeles Times - Restaurant Reviews (Tue, 22 May 2018 10:00:00 PDT )


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