Hood: Outlaws & Legends Review – Petty Theft

On paper, Hood: Outlaws and Legends has a lot going for it. It’s a competitive riff on the co-op multiplayer heist game where two teams of four merry men and women simultaneously attempt to unlock a vault and extract a giant chest of gold. Its stealthy race to elude computer-controlled knights and rival players rarely plays out with the grace implied by the concept. More often, the competition for keys, chests, and respawn points devolve into protracted brawls that showcase Hood’s clumsy combat, rather than dynamic stealth. Throw in some confusing UI, easily exploitable stealth-kill mechanics, and myriad small design flaws, and Hood’s execution fails to deliver the goods it’s promised.

Each match in Hood has four phases. First, someone needs to steal the vault key from the invincible (but generally unaware) Sheriff. Second, you find and open the vault. Third, someone carries the chest to one of a few extraction points on the map. Once the chest is locked in, one or two players use a winch to lift the chest while the others defend them. The “other team,” meanwhile, has opportunities to disrupt the mission to try and acquire the key or chest for themselves. With both teams naturally meeting at a few key locations, you have plenty of opportunities to surprise and overtake the objective.

In this idealized version of the game, the match is a coordinated stealth run, where each character uses their unique skills to advance the mission or help their teammates. Each of the four characters theoretically has a role to play: Marianne, the stealthiest fighter, moves quickly and has abilities that let her steal the key or assassinate enemies discreetly. Robin’s bow allows him to take out enemies from afar. Little John can lift gates and move the chest quickly. Tooke is a solid backup fighter with a wide-reaching melee attack and a healing ability. Though some of these skills make certain characters well-suited to different tasks, there’s no moment where you need a specific character and their skills. This opens the door for players to choose characters based on their playstyles, but also minimizes the importance of class-based play around the heist itself.

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Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: Wrath Of The Druids DLC Review

The Assassin’s Creed franchise has typically relied on its story-based DLC to enhance the narrative of its games. This is usually done in one of two ways: As a means of filling in obvious holes within a game’s plot (like Assassin’s Creed II‘s Bonfire of the Vanities), or as a method of continuing a protagonist’s story to further explain how they connect to other games in the series (like Odyssey‘s Legacy of the First Blade). The first of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla‘s two post-launch story-driven DLCs, Wrath of the Druids, doesn’t fit into either camp. Without much tying it back to the main story of Valhalla or the franchise as a whole, the DLC doesn’t quite serve a distinct purpose and it’s worse off for it.

In Wrath of the Druids, Eivor receives a letter from her cousin Barid saying that he wishes to see her again–as it happens, he’s become king of Dublin, a major port town in Ireland. Upon arrival in Ireland, Eivor learns that Barid seeks to protect his crown by securing the trust of soon-to-be High-King of Ireland Flann Sinna, a man who desires to unite all of the country–whether they be Catholic or druid–under his rule. Eivor agrees to aid her cousin, also teaming up with shrewd economic chief Azar to increase Dublin’s financial standing and by working with the mysterious bard and poetess Ciara to stop the Children of Danu, a cult hellbent on preserving the druid people by destroying the increasingly Catholic leaders of Ireland.

Tonally, this story feels odd. Though Wrath of the Druids releases months after Valhalla, its story is clearly meant to fit somewhere within the main game’s campaign, not take place afterwards. The ideal power level for the DLC is 55, making it a great story to play mid-way through Valhalla in order to strengthen Eivor if you ever need to. But Valhalla doesn’t have any obvious holes in its campaign, so Wrath of the Druids’ story is structured to fit into it anywhere. Thus, there’s very little momentum or character growth in this particular story arc. As I played the DLC after having completed Valhalla’s campaign, it actually felt like Eivor had regressed in her development, saying and agreeing to things that didn’t track with the Eivor I had come to create over the course of the main campaign–she didn’t feel like my Eivor.

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Taiko No Tatsujin Pop Tap Beat Review — Drum Solo

Some video game franchises seem destined for the mobile gaming scene, their format ideally suited for touchscreen controls or quick on-the-go gaming sessions. Bandai Namco’s drum-pounding rhythm game Taiko no Tatsujin is the latest established franchise to make the jump to mobile, and it’s a match made in heaven. Bright, colorful, and full of charm, Taiko no Tatsujin Pop Tap Beat will have you smiling from ear to ear as you tap tap tap away to its catchy soundtrack. It’s just a shame that fun has such a short shelf life.

Pop Tap Beat follows the standard rhythm genre format: notes travel from one side of the screen to the other (in this case right to left), and you tap the screen when each one reaches a circle to score points. The closer to the circle the note is when you tap, the more in rhythm with the song you are and the more points you score. It’s a simple system that’s easy to understand and pick up even if this is your first time playing a rhythm game, making for a short learning curve and a longer focus on fun.

The gameplay loop offers incremental increases in challenge with each subsequent difficulty level, offering an experience that’s challenging without ever feeling impossible. Notes come in two colors: red, which signals tapping the drum, and blue, which signals tapping around the edge of it. Higher difficulties will split the drum in half, meaning you not only have to pay attention to the color of each note but also keep in mind which side of the screen needs to be tapped. Pop Tap Beat mixes things up further with special notes, alleviating any monotony. These special notes include drum rolls with continuous tapping, golden drums for furious tapping, and balloon notes for a different kind of furious tapping.

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Resident Evil Village Review — Shapeshifter

Over its 25-year history, the Resident Evil series has continually changed and evolved, like a mad scientist who injects himself with a questionable bio-weapon, mutating into something new every time he shows up. For the most part, those evolutions have been fascinating recombinations of elements as Resident Evil tries different mixes of survival-horror and action gameplay. With Resident Evil 7, Capcom swung for the fences with a first-person perspective, a narrower scope, and more horror-focused gameplay. Resident Evil Village evolves that idea to make something that feels very different from its predecessor, but which is just as engaging.

Though the perspective and mechanical underpinnings are the same, Village branches off in its own direction from RE7, capturing some of the things that were great about that game while resisting the impulse to retread the same ground. While it’s still frightening at points, it takes a less horror-driven tack on the same underlying first-person formula. Village continues to evolve Resident Evil while maintaining a keen grasp on some of its core tenets, finding new ways (or reviving old ones) of getting under your skin and ratcheting up the tension.

As has been pretty clear for a while now, Resident Evil Village is Resident Evil 7 through the lens of Resident Evil 4. When the latter was released way back in 2005, it significantly revamped what the franchise had been up to that point, swapping the earlier games’ slower, survival-horror focus for a more fast-paced action approach. RE4 was scary because you were being overwhelmed by enemies, backed into corners, and chased by madmen wielding chainsaws. It traded darkened corridors and jump scares for adrenaline-fueled panic.

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Total War: Rome Remastered Review — Et Tu, Total War?

The enemy outnumbers us two-to-one and reinforcements are still days away. The raucous Gaul army is at our gates, baying for blood; each enemy soldier is coated in white and blue war paint and a select few operate battering rams that’ll plough through our modest wooden defenses in a matter of minutes. The scent of death is in the air and we’ve got no choice but to stand our ground and fight. “One of you is worth any number of them,” bellows our general, shattering the tense silence with an impassioned war cry. “We face adversity, a band of brothers, dedicated to the warrior’s code of strength and victory,” he continues, rallying the troops. “But we will never know defeat while we stand together! This day we add another triumph to the history of our people! We will be honored as men!”

Whether you go on to achieve victory or succumb to overwhelming odds, moments like this are part of what made Rome: Total War such a beloved strategy game when it launched in 2004–and why its popularity still persists today. It put Total War on the map and laid the groundwork for what has since become a blockbuster series in the strategy genre. With Total War: Rome Remastered, developer Feral Interactive has updated Creative Assembly’s seminal title by overhauling the visuals and adding a number of quality of life improvements that make it slightly more appealing for modern sensibilities. Under the hood, however, this is still very much the same game as it was back in 2004, for better or worse.

Total War: Rome Remastered hasn’t messed with this engaging setup, although you can now play as the other 15 factions without having to unlock them first–unless you’d prefer to do it the old-fashioned way by defeating each faction during the campaign as one of the Romans. When it comes to upgrades, the most obvious ones are visual, with improved lighting and more detailed terrain making both the battlefields and world map pop with added vibrancy. Environments are still overly sparse, which does make battles fairly lackluster to watch unless elephants are hurling soldiers 30 feet in the air, and the updated units aren’t nearly as impressive either, falling some way short of the graphical fidelity we’re used to seeing in modern Total War games. As a trade-off, however, Total War: Rome Remastered does feature an experimental “Extreme” setting for unit sizes, allowing you to partake in chaotic battles with an overwhelming number of forces, provided your hardware can handle it. Though loading times are still lengthy no matter which unit size you choose–even if you’re running the game off an SSD–which can make the campaign fairly laborious at times.

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