Tag Archives: review

Review: Mass Effect Legendary Edition

Edmonton’s BioWare has created some great series and characters, but none became so close to my heart as the Mass Effect line of games with its roster of heroes and villains. The newly released Mass Effect Legendary Edition brings the original trilogy to a new generation of gamers in a remastered package that lets the games shine far brighter than they ever have before.

Though this is a remaster, not a full-on remake, of the three games, there are are number of quality of life changes – most sizable in the series’ first game. Mass Effect sees an overhaul of the leveling system that makes the game much more enjoyable thanks to the revamped power curve.

Prior to this remaster’s release I was playing through the original game – available on the Xbox consoles via backwards compatibility – on Insanity difficulty and the game-stopping difficulty spikes have been leveled out. The games also run better, even while outputting at 4K, which helps with the action-oriented combat. The result is a game that feels both easier and yet also far more rewarding.

This release also includes almost all the downloadable content (DLC) available for the games, over 40 bits of content in all, except for the Pinnacle Station DLC, due to the source code having been lost over the years. The game also takes a pass on the multiplayer from Mass Effect 3, though if there’s enough demand for it that may yet be added back in.

Wrex. Shepard.

The trilogy lets gamers, who can take the ‘stock’ Shepard in male or female variants or create their own, through an epic space-faring tale of betrayal with some revenge and a dash of ‘saving the universe’ thrown in for good measure. As the Shepard of their choice, players will make decisions with long-lasting consequences – to an extent not often found in games, including character deaths that leave you wish you’d done things differently.

The ability to go Paragon or Renegade – which often don’t really translate to good vs evil, but more doing the right thing vs doing the righteous thing – extends the replay value here. With three games in the package, clocking in at around 55 hours combined for just the main storylines, plus all that DLC, you’ve got a whole lot of gaming ahead of you.

The console experience offers two settings: Performance and Quality. The PS4 is 1080p/60fps in Performance, 1080p/30fps in Quality. PS4 Pro and PS5 both offer up to 1440p/60fps in Performance and up to 4K/30fps (PS4 Pro) and 60fps (PS5) on Quality.

Xbox One consoles offer up to 1080p/60fps in Performance or Quality, while Xbox One X and Series S both offer up to 1440p/60fps in Performance and 4K/30fps in Quality. The Series X is up to 4K/120fps in Performance and 4K/60fps on Quality.

The game also includes an all-new photo mode that allows you to rotate the camera, hide player/non-player characters, and other goodies. It’s a great addition to a franchise that has some gorgeous environments and character models.

What I Loved:

  • Great work on bringing the visuals up to modern standards
  • Top-notch performance transforms the feel of the earlier games
  • Quality of life changes to the first game
  • The “Wrex.” “Shepard.” exchanges are still great
  • Voice acting is still top-tier after all these years
  • The new photo mode!

What I Liked:

  • Character creator changes allow you to carry ‘your’ Shepard over all three games
  • Load time improvements allow for skipping elevator sequences
  • Forgot how much I loved the music
  • Three games + almost all DLC means at least a hundred hours of gaming
  • Better Mako controls

What I Disliked:

  • Mako still a bit frustrating to handle
  • DLC integration feels haphazard

What I Hated:

  • Reminds me there’s no Mass Effect movie…

The Final Word: Mass Effect Legendary Edition is a must-buy for sci-fi lovers who missed out on the original games, but also offers a lot for fans who were around the first time through as well. Incredible value for your dollar.

Available now on PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Playable via backwards compatibility on PS5 and Xbox Series S|X. Series X version reviewed using code provided by the publisher.

Review: Days Gone (PC)

Days Gone hit PS4 in 2019, and makes the leap to PC this week, part of Sony’s expansion to PC.

The game pits the player against a harsh post-zombie apocalypse world…think The Walking Dead, but almost everyone, including the main character, is Daryl Dixon from the first season – the leather-wearing, motorcycle riding, don’t-need-nobody antihero version.

There are no zombies here though, with gamers – as Deacon St. John – putting down hordes of ‘Freakers’ while exploring the open world. There’s also not much of a supporting cast, with the game relying heavily on players identifying with Deacon, who is basically as unlikable of a character as he can possibly be for the first 20-odd hours of the game, or his friend Boozer who doesn’t fare much better.

The opening 10-odd hours of the game are heavy on stealth. At that point Deacon only has the tools and knowledge to take on a few Freakers at a time. Once you unlock traps it’s not quite so necessary to sneak in and one-hit-kill as many as possible before going loud, but you’re still best to stick to 10-15 Freakers at a time and avoid the massive hordes with a few hundred zombies in them.

Alert a large horde and you’d think a terrifying run for your life would commence, but that’s not the case. Instead, it’s a bumbling run through the environment being chased by things that can’t quite catch you. Leading Freakers over ledges that slow them down or cause pathing problems can be entertaining, but not really stressful. Later, with more weapons and traps, these fights distract from the main game but they’re still filler.

The PS4 launch had serious performance issues, with my review advising people to hold off until it was patched. That’s not the case here. The game runs well on a half-decent GPU. I’ve even seen video of it on a 1030, though it was a bit rough. If you’re running a 1060/1070 (or equivalent) or better, however, it’s smooth sailing with only minor visual bugs. I also had one crash during my playtime, but nothing repeatable.

While the PC version doesn’t fix the so-so story or the empty open world, it does include every PS4 update. This includes higher difficulty settings and challenges, so PC players are getting the absolute best version of the game.

What I Loved:

  • Great visuals
  • Huge zombie hordes look intimidating

What I Liked:

  • Good variety of weapons and traps
  • On-the-fly crafting system
  • Solid performance on lower-end systems
  • Screenshot resolution boost to allow for 4k/8k/12k screenshots

What I Disliked:

  • Horde chases felt more like slapstick than horror
  • So-so plot, driven by busywork
  • Doesn’t make use of features like raytracing or DLSS
  • Some minor visual glitches still

What I Hated:

  • Gorgeous open world, devoid of anything interesting, feels wasted

The Final Word: The performance boost PC offers does little for the story issues, but think of this as a summer action movie. It looks good enough and is fun enough that you don’t want to examine the plot all that closely.

Days Gone is available now on PC via Steam. Reviewed using code provided by the publisher.

E-WIN Racing Chair Review

I have always been a bit of an outspoken critic of gaming chairs, so I was surprised when E-WIN Racing reached out to ask if I wanted to review one of their chairs. It turns out there’s a reason they were confident in the product, which recovered from a poor initial impression to be a surprisingly solid chair.

The chair, an E-Win Racing Calling Series chair in black and red, arrived at my work in a box that’s sizable but still fit in the back of my Fusion to get it home. Assembly took about 25 minutes from unboxing to the chair being ready to use thanks to a design that allows for quick assembly. E-WIN Racing ensured all the fasteners and tools needed were in the box and even included a few extra parts – a touch I really appreciate in a manufacturer.

The chair itself is solidly built, even when I’m the one building it. The seat and back are high-density foam that’s a step below memory foam but provides good elasticity and will hopefully weather long hours of daily use better than memory foams do. The covering is polyurethane (PU) leather, which means it won’t absorb liquid spills and is easy to clean, but we’ll see how it holds up to daily use. I’ve had PU leather products in the past that cracked and peeled over time, so I’ll update its ongoing condition in a few months.

With a hydraulic piston allowing seat height adjustments, adjustable armrests, and a ‘dial it in’ locking tilt, it took about five minutes to get the chair adjusted how I wanted it. There are also removable lumbar and neck support pillows that I opted to keep in place for now. I’m not sure the lumbar support will make the long haul as it feels a bit too intrusive, but we’ll see if it loosens up over time.

I’m hopeful it will as my initial impressions of the seat were poor because, out of the box, the cushion was very, very firm, and just not as comfortable as I’d hoped. I’m liking this E-WIN Racing chair a lot more and find it far less stiff after a few days of use, however, so I’m glad I gave it a chance beyond those poor initial impressions.

I also wanted to mention the adjustable back, which reclines near enough to flat that you could take a nap if you really wanted. As a guy a little over six feet tall, however, leaning it back that far gets dangerously close to ‘this chair’s going over’ territory so I’m not brave enough to try and catch some sleep in it.

What I Loved:

  • Quick assembly and solid build quality
  • Not an over ‘gamer’ looking chair
  • Adjustment flexibility
  • Great support for taller and heavier users

What I Liked:

  • Suitable for long stretches of gaming
  • Good comfort level after initial wear-in period
  • PU leather means little to no cleaning concerns

What I Disliked:

  • Awfully stiff right out of the box, though this chair did break in quickly
  • Dial tilt control is ok, but I prefer a locking tilt lever

What I Hated:

  • Nothing

The Final Word: The E-WIN Racing chair surprised the heck out of me. I’ve been a critic of gaming chairs in the past, but this shows they’ve come a long way and exceeded my expectations in comfort, style, and build quality.

Review done using a Calling Series chair provided by E-WIN. If you’re in the market for a chair, use code AntiMacro at checkout for 20% off.

Review – Monster Jam: Steel Titans 2

Monster Jam: Steel Titans 2 builds on the bones of the 2019 original, putting gamers behind the wheel of even more of the utterly ridiculous big-tired behemoths of the track and letting them loose in all-new open world environments.

In-arena racing, destruction, and trick events won’t wow you, but they’re fun enough in short bursts even with controls that never feel quite right. The twin-stick controls, where the left analog stick turns the front wheels and the right stick turns the rear wheels, allows for true all-wheel steering so you can do those ‘on a dime’ spins the big trucks are known for, but it makes them incredibly prone to rolling over and leaves you at the mercy of a computer-controlled camera.

The game does include an RPG-like leveling up system, where trucks will earn experience used to level up the chassis, engine, suspension, tires, etc… to help improve all aspects of their handling. Even with that, I found it hard to get to a point where I’d say I was comfortable throwing one of these 1,400+ hp monsters into a drift around a corner or that I could hit the ground after a big jump without anticipating the near-inevitable rollover.

The career mode is lengthy, but events get repetitive quickly enough that all but true monster truck fanatics are going to want to space it out a bit by playing a few and then doing something else. There are a lot of races and a whole lot of trucks to take them on with – the full roster is just shy of 40 of the big metal monsters – so expect this to take some time to wrap up no matter how you choose to tackle it.

Where the game really comes into its own is in the five open world environments, which you can explore either alone or with friends in same-screen or online play. Jumping into these Monster Jam Worlds and bombing around with a friend is a lot of fun, and home to some of the more unusual physics bugs when vehicle collision physics don’t quite work out the way you’d expect.

What I Loved:

  • Open world environments are a great add
  • Multiplayer is a blast

What I Liked:

  • Lengthy career mode offers replay value
  • RPG system offers progression even in small play doses

What I Disliked:

  • So-so visuals
  • Events get repetitive quickly
  • Fighting the camera

What I Hated:

  • Nothing

The Final Word: Monster Jam: Steel Titans 2 is fun in short bursts and monster truck fans will love it, but it’s not the big step forward I’d hoped for.

Monster Jam: Steel Titans 2 is available now on PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, and PS4. Reviewed on Xbox Series X using code provided by the publisher.

Review: On the Road – Truck Simulator

Truck simulators are common – and almost disturbingly popular – on PC, with Euro Truck Simulator probably the best known of the bunch, but it’s not a genre that’s really caught on with console gamers. A distressing lack of polish means On The Road – Truck Simulator is unlikely to be that breakout title, but it’s not all bad…

For starters, this truck sim really nails most of the audio. Jamming through the gears is great and the engine noise is certainly serviceable, but there are a lot of smaller sounds that add to the experience. The way the brakes squeal that little bit as you ease off them is perfect, for example, as is the pfft of the air brake and the little rumble of the cab shake as you roll the power on.

I also really liked how you could customize your seat position, pushing forward or backwards to get the field of view you wanted, and raising/lowering the seat to see more of the road or the instrument panel. Getting the seat ‘right’ is a tough thing in a real vehicle, and it’s just as difficult here.

You’ll want to get the seat right, because you can spend hours on these roads just cruising from location to location. This is a reasonable replica of Germany, though it only includes just over a dozen locations that you’ll visit to pick up and deliver cargo, with thousands of kilometers worth of virtual highway to drive.

Unfortunately, that’s the end of the things I really liked here. There’s a lot of ‘well, this is ok’ stuff here – from the thousands of kilometers of German roadways that you can drive to the feel of the big rigs you’ll be powering down them, expanding your company with new trucks, drivers, and routes  – but also a lot of ‘this could be a whole lot better’ disappointment.

Mirrors, for example, are an essential part of your driving experience…but they don’t work in On The Road. I thought it was a bug at first and restarted the game, but they never changed off a flat gray texture. It’s possible this is still just a bug, as the game has quite a few right now, the funniest of which is the way vehicles spawning in the distance drop down to the road like they just jumped off a ramp you can’t quite see.

The lack of mirrors makes cornering far harder than it needs to be, and though you can ameliorate this a bit using the third-person camera perspective that does entail fighting with camera controls that should be a whole lot smoother than they are. Getting the camera angle right can take longer than parking the trailer should have.

Adding to the frustration are obstacles like shrubbery or light poles that a big rig with a fully loaded trailer should – and have, in real life – be able to just knock over. In On The Road, however, those lightweight obstacles will stop you dead in your tracks leaving you prey to every other driver on the road, who apparently think nothing of smashing headlong into the rear end of a trailer loaded with hogs heading to market.

All this, and the game freezes up or crashes far too often for my liking…

What I Loved

  • Some great – and subtle – truck audio

What I Liked

  • A version of Germany that’s reasonable condensed
  • Truck feels ‘ok’ to drive
  • Expanding your trucking empire, hiring drivers, and managing routes

What I Disliked

  • Low-end graphics for environments – especially buildings and trees
  • Tons of pop-in couples with low draw distance to hurt visuals even more
  • Simplistic menus, with no explanations
  • Collision physics
  • Routine game freezes or crashes

What I Hated

  • Non-working mirrors

The Final Word

I think transport sims can be as popular on consoles as they are on PC, but On The Road The Truck Simulator isn’t the breakout game the genre needs to make that happen.

On The Road The Truck Simulator is available now for Xbox One, PS4, and PC, and is playable on PS5 and Xbox Series consoles via backwards compatibility. Reviewed on Xbox Series X using code provided by the publisher.

Review: Superliminal

Superliminal is a first-person puzzle game from Pillow Castle Games that asks you to look at things from a new perspective, then changes all the rules about perspective on the fly and demands you adjust your thinking to fit how this new reality works.

The bulk of Superliminal’s puzzles deal with forced perspective, using your perspective on the situation to manipulate an object’s size or changing the environment in striking ways based on how your view of it changes as you move around.

Picking up objects and increasing/decreasing their size by manipulating your perspective on them never really gets old, even though it’s used quite a few times during the course of the game. This isn’t a one-trick pony game, however, and you’ll need to master a few more perspective games if you want to succeed.

At times you’ll feel like a genius, when you realize how you’re supposed to view a problem and solve a tricky puzzle in seconds. At other times you’ll feel like an idiot as you struggle with something that seems simple, and, perhaps, even like an even bigger idiot when you realize later that the solution was staring you in the face the entire time and was even more simple than you’d thought.

There’s a storyline here about perspective and understanding that your viewpoint, while it’s what you can see, isn’t always what’s happening. As a patient of Dr. Glenn Pierce, you’ll explore your subconscious within sleep therapy – or at least that’s what’s supposed to happen. In a Portal-like twist you quickly discover there’s more at play here, but – as with so much else in this game – that is, perhaps, also a matter of perception.

If you’re big on abstract thinking, Superliminal is going to give you a couple of hours of fun. If you prefer to see reality stay the way it is, this might not be for you.

What I Loved:

  • some inspired puzzles using forced perspective
  • well-written dialogue kept a story that could have fallen flat moving along
  • mind-bending puzzle elements you’ve never seen before
  • rewarding rush for figuring out tough puzzles

What I Liked:

  • graphic style changes as plot changes, upping the tension
  • didn’t overstay its welcome at about three hours long

What I Disliked:

  • full exploration of some of the themes could have lengthened it without padding
  • some ‘try random stuff until it works’ puzzles

What I Hated:

  • nothing

Superliminal is available now on Nintendo Switch, PC, PS4, and Xbox One (version reviewed using code provided by the publisher).

Review – SpongeBob SquarePants – Battle For Bikini Bottom Rehydrated

SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle For Bikini Bottom, released in 2003, is one of those ‘cult classic’ titles like Deadly Premonition, Dragon’s Dogma, or Earthbound that fans just won’t stop telling you about, even – or perhaps especially – if you’ve never played them. For the record, I never played the original Battle for Bikini Bottom.

I have played Deadly Premonition, Dragon’s Dogma, and Earthbound but no…I don’t want to talk about them.

Purple Lamp Studios has delivered us a masterpiece of a remaster with the Rehydrated version of Battle for Bikini Bottom, a gorgeous reimagining of the original game’s graphics that doesn’t – to my knowledge – touch the gameplay or design of the original. That adherence to the original is great for those oh-so-devoted fans of it, but I’m not sure how it’ll play (no pun intended) with today’s gamers. Game design has advanced a lot in the last 17 years, after all, especially in 3D platformers, and Rehydrated takes advantage of none of those advancements.

This feels like a 17 year old collect-a-thon platformer, even if it looks like a thoroughly modern title – and that means little to no holding your hand as to where to go or what to do next. That’s fine, and it’s a style of ‘let them do what they want and figure it out’ game design that’s increasing in popularity again these days, but modern games benefit from better designed signposting, elements that point toward what you should be doing even if they don’t insist you go do it right now.

Thankfully while some of the design elements feel a bit dated, the gameplay is still fun. As SpongeBob you can use an assortment of bubble powers and are the team’s best long-ranged weapon, but if that’s not particularly helpful for the situation you can switch to Patrick or Sandy and use their special abilities instead. The game does a good job of teaching you those abilities at the outset, and it also helps that you have only a few areas to explore at the start, unlocking more as you gather more Golden Spatulas. In a very ’17 year old game’ piece of design though, if there’s a spot you need to use Sandy, for example, you have to go back to the bus stop to change characters and then make your way back there again.

One thing that stood out to me is how little the game takes advantage of how well-written SpongeBob is. I mean there’s a reason it’s one of the most heavily meme’d and clipped shows out there – there’s a quote for literally everything under the sun, but the game uses just a few lines of dialogue for attacks or picking up collectibles and then repeats them AD NAUSEUM until you want to mute the game.

The game has a co-op mode, both same screen and online, to play what’s basically a Horde mode against a boss that was removed from the original game. I was able to play some same-screen with Andrea, who thought it was funny but not particularly fun, but wasn’t able to get into an online game with Brock – he’s busy getting ready for a move and the servers haven’t been available in pre-release.

This was my face, seeing these kelp beds for the first time. The graphical upgrade here over the 2003 original is sizable.

What I Loved:

  • Stellar graphics…and smooth framerates
  • Some great lines and good use of characters

What I Liked:

  • Trip down nostalgia lane for game design

What I Disliked:

  • So many sliding sections
  • Some game crashes/bugs
  • Nostalgia wore off quickly

What I Hated:

  • Repeating dialogue
  • Repeating dialogue
  • Repeating dialogue
  • Repeating dialogue

The Final Word: Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated is a fantastic remaster, but it’s also a stellar example of how sometimes a remake would have been the better choice for a new audience. Fans of the original game and of the series should check it out, but it’s not for everyone.

Reviewed on Xbox One X using code provided by the publisher.