Throwback Thursday: Win Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization on PS4 or Vita!

saohrAfter a nice, fairly relaxing week off celebrating the holidays we’re back for the final push toward 2017. So let’s start strong with Bandai-Namco’s Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization on PlayStation 4 or Vita!

Please note these codes are for the DELUXE EDITION of the game and therefore include the Season Pass as well.

HOW TO ENTER
It’s award season for gaming, and we wanna know what you think. So, to enter, simply let us know what your favorite narrative/story was for 2016 in the comments section below. Please include your platform of choice (PS4 or Vita) along with your @Twitter handle as well.

Sample Comment
Mafia III
@LincolnClayPigeons
Vita

THE FINE PRINT
Winners will be selected on Friday, December 9th. All entries must be submitted by 4 PM EST/1 PM PST on Friday. Please note that although anyone can enter you must be following me on Twitter to win.

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PS4/XB1 Review: Farming Simulator 2017

Big Jack would be a terrifying name for a bouncer.

Big Jack would be a terrifying name for a bouncer.

By: Jeff Cater

Farming Simulator 2017 answers all the cliffhanger questions left in Farming Simulator 2016: how much hay can you bale? which tractor drives best? All kidding aside, a brand new sim title is on the market and ready for you to build a tractor cabin around your television and console, so get your best boots on and roll up them sleeves, it’s time to get to work around here!

CONTROLS (4.5/5)

Things were pretty daunting at first because this was my first Farming Simulator game. Looking at the DualShock 4 controller, I felt as though there might be a bit of difficulty translating the workings of farming equipment, but I’m very happy to say that my fears were squashed immediately upon playing the first tutorial.

As you walk around your farm with the left stick, you can interact with and climb into several different types of equipment. Sometimes you’ll have to place multiple attachments onto your tractor, such as a seeder in the back along with a counter-weight up front.

To do this, you will toggle between your tool pieces by pressing Triangle and then holding L1 to bring up a context and tool-dependent menu. Usually any given action with any tool is done by pressing Square to start it up, or adjusting the right stick to heighten the combine blades.

Overall, I came away pretty impressed with the controls and in no time felt pretty capable as a farmer. Except for the fact that, unless it’s hidden extremely well, there’s no option to invert your right stick! Much farming equipment actually uses inverted sticks when it comes to their scoops and such, so I’m really confused on the absence of the option.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (4/5)

Although the game looks alright, there’s nothing truly outstanding about it. Tractor and equipment models are all extremely detailed, but the environments feel a bit flat, and other than the occasional car driving on the road off in the distance everything feels just too still and lifeless — no trees swaying in the wind, no fields of wheat rolling in the breeze.

There are poop textures, however. As you may or may not know, farming has a lot to do with using what’s available to you and doing it as cost effectively as possible. So, poop trucks because poop is free! You can either spray it all over the place in liquid form or chunk it out over a wide area with more solids involved. Poop.

Other than the roar of tractor noise, there’s not really a lot going on. You can turn on the radio, which has some serious bumping techno beats that are fit for any club let alone a tractor. It’s a safe bet that a lot of Germans play this game.

There are a few other stations, and much to my surprise they had actual songs, not imitations of songs with silly lyrics. I honestly half-expected lyrics like “You’re on a farm, uh huh, uh huh, you’ve got to do IT, uh huh, uh huh!” but thankfully that kind of thing is nowhere to be found.

GAMEPLAY (4.25/5)

Well, Farming Simulator 2017 is essentially a hardcore version of Farmville where instead of just clicking crops to harvest them you’ve got to plow the ground, de-weed the soil, fertilize it, sow your seeds, tear it from the ground, put it into a refining process, transport it to your export area and then do it all over again.

There’s something to be said for just how calming and stress-free this game is, though, because even though I had a bad harvest a few times I was still having fun. Maybe it’s because the farmer’s life slows things down a bit and puts things into perspective.

Anyway, there’s an absolute wealth of things for you to do and thorough tutorials to help you out with bits you don’t understand. The only really difficult thing is determining the ideal time to apply things like fertilizer and stuff like that, because adding things at the wrong time can result in a dreadful harvest, and that means you might not be able to afford that sweet new John Deere to make the next harvest easier. It’s a vicious cycle.

OVERALL (4.25/5)

There isn’t really a lot wrong with the game other than the fact that lacks an inversion option for your look-stick, and it can seem like it really takes forever to make any progress. Then again, that’s farming and this is Farming Simulator 2017, so it, ya know, makes sense.

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XB1/PS4 Review: Batman: The Telltale Series – Guardian of Gotham

Bruce Wayne has plenty of reasons to brood in Episode 4.

Bruce Wayne has plenty of reasons to brood in Episode 4.

By: Mike Chen

Please note that since each episode of Batman: The Telltale Series features the same graphics engine and control setup, those elements will not be repeated in our reviews for the final four episodes. To read our complete thoughts on that, refer to our review of Realm of Shadows.

Something very bad happened to Bruce Wayne when we last left Gotham City — or at least Telltale’s version of Gotham — and Episode 4: Guardian of Gotham picks right back up. In fact, the episode is essentially broken up into two halves, one taking place inside Arkham Asylum and the second dealing with the aftermath of what Bruce did at the end of the previous episode.

As a piece of entertainment and a new take on Batman lore, Telltale’s approach to using both masked Batman and un-masked Bruce Wayne works well here, and unlike some previous episodes, this one is fairly balanced between the two.

The screws are clearly turning on Bruce and his Wayne Empire, and a whole new variable is thrown in during the opening minutes of the episode. From a gameplay perspective, though, nothing really new is introduced. Instead, you’re basically getting the greatest hits as we approach the fifth and final episode.

There’s Batman duking it out with bad guys, Bruce talking with people, some time at the Bat-computer, and a detective segment (which takes place in broad daylight, making it kind of weird seeing Batman just hanging around with sunlight on him).

All of this leads to a pretty significant cliffhanger that sets up major stakes for the finale. Non-spoiler alert — as with most Telltale finales, there’s no preview or trailer for this.

So while Guardian of Gotham doesn’t break any new ground, it does clearly establish who is at odds with whom heading into the finale — and it’s not just a standard hero/villain dichotomy.

Combine that with a surprise appearance in the first half that could impact the rest of the series (non-spoiler comment: while the role is played decently, it clearly riffs off Tim Burton’s version of Batman, which makes it rather distracting) and it’s clear that while Telltale has elected to tell a very different story of the Dark Knight, they’ve done an excellent job at it.

OVERALL (4.25/5)

Telltale maintains the high standard they’ve established throughout the first season of their Batman game. With all sorts of horrible things happening to Bruce Wayne and Gotham, this episode swiftly sets up what should be a stellar finale.

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PS4 Review: Small Radios Big Televisions

Somehow this shot reminds me of Metroid.

Somehow this shot reminds me of Metroid.

After expanding from mobile to PC over the past few years, Adult Swim Games finally made the jump to consoles earlier in 2016 with DoubleFine’s strange but enjoyable Headlander. Now its second release has arrived in the form of Small Radios Big Televisions, a serene puzzler that further suggests the direction of the fledgling platform publisher will be a quirky one.

With the exception of a brief sequence late in the game your interaction with the world is limited to pointing, clicking and dragging. Obviously that lends itself to play with a mouse; still, using a controller is generally fine. Sure, you might accidentally click on a door instead of a switch or miss grabbing an object on your first try, but it only ever results in a handful of lost seconds.

Presentation is a big part of Small Radios with its stylized visuals (the uniqueness of which led to me wanting to review the game). Each of the four factories has an interesting layout with hints sprinkled in to try and flesh out a story that’s largely left to interpretation. There’s also a nice mix of colors and blocky architecture on the respective exteriors.

While ambient sound is sparse — you are viewing abandoned structures after all — the soundtrack is nicely done. It relies largely on mellow, electronic synth to produce something akin to what you might find on a relaxation CD (or cassette) to play whilst soaking in the tub. These songs are accompanied by themed visuals; for example, a forest or a mountain.

In terms of a story, Small Radios Big Televisions sort of tosses out tidbits and ideas, but it keeps things vague for the duration. You can unlock some dialogue between unseen entities upon completing a factory, provided you locate a hidden lens to reactivate a machine, but that’s hazy, too. It seems to center on humanity retreating away from reality, but don’t quote me on that.

Your interaction with the world is limited to a 2D view of a room. Objects you can manipulate will have a white outline when you hover over them with the cursor. Clicking on a door sends you through it, doing so on a lever will flip positions and so on. It’s really basic stuff, and your goal is to complete all the puzzles in a given area before moving on to the next.

To do that you’re going to need to track down cassette tapes, each of which transports you to some kind of virtual world when played. Within that world is a gem of some kind that must be acquired and then used to power a door, allowing further progress within each factory.

Initially, the tapes display a scene based on its one-word description (for example, TUNDRA or COAST), but the object you need isn’t necessarily embedded in there. As fate would have it, each factory has some kind of magnetic scrubber, and when you use the tapes on it a second, much more alien version of the location can be visited.

Although this may sound abstract, the mechanics of actually solving the puzzles and exploring the factories is pretty straightforward. Completing one piece of a location may allow you to rotate the exterior, exposing more doors and areas to explore. They’re of a decent size, but there are just four along with a final location that’s decidedly easier to complete than the preceding ones.

With so few locales and limited challenge, Small Radios Big Televisions can be completed rather quickly. Even factoring in the time it took to figure out what I was trying to do when I first booted up I rolled credits in around two hours — maybe you could edge up toward three if you stumbled about, but with minimal replay value its $11.99 price point feels a bit high.

OVERALL (3.25/5)

Small Radios Big Televisions has a clean, retro look and a calm soundscape, but its brevity and lack of viable challenge figure to limit its appeal.

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PC Review: Xanadu Next

The Godswood it ain't.

The Godswood it ain’t.

By: Brian Gunn

Xanadu Next is the latest PC port of a niche game from XSEED. Originally released in English only on the ill-fated N-Gage, one of Falcom’s most well-regarded titles is finally available in English via Steam after nearly 12 years. Was it worth the wait, or should it have been forgotten like the platform it made its western debut on?

CONTROLS (3/5)

Originally developed for PC, Xanadu Next generally controls well. It is sort of odd though, as it is occupying a realm between pure action and RPGs. For instance, you can’t wildly spam your attack button; you have to be near an enemy to queue up an attack, as the game automatically soft locks onto the nearest one.

That takes some getting used to, especially as random tufts of grass and flowers can sometimes be targeted. Furthermore, the game’s interface hasn’t been fully translated well to gamepads when it comes to inventory management and shopping. These are done during relative downtimes usually, but it’s still kind of a chore for anyone that doesn’t play with a mouse nearby.

GRAPHICS/SOUND (4/5)

Visually, Xanadu Next is fairly dated, especially on the character model front. Everything is blocky and comprised of hard angles, which, to be fair, was often the style when it came out.

XSEED has at least cleaned up images in the port by providing custom resolution support and a few other tweaks. Still, there’s something to be said for the creative ways developers hid their limitations. A sense of mystery, isolation and dread still permeates the atmosphere.

Things fare far better on the sound front when it comes to standing the test of time. Like most Falcom games, Xanadu Next comes with a great soundtrack full of epic boss themes and hard rock that will get you pumped for the fight.

There’s no voice acting, which is kind of distracting in the game’s cinematics, but it’s understandable for the era. Sound effects offer satisfying feedback, particularly when you score a critical hit.

GAMEPLAY (4.5/5)

Your nameless protagonist has been traveling with his young friend, a fellow orphan named Char. Soon enough you land in Harlech, a small village surrounded by many ruins and a mystery about a castle in the middle of the lake that can only briefly be seen. After a bit of exploring, your intrepid hero is nearly brutally murdered by a mysterious stranger.

With a temporary cure in place, it’s time to set out to find the disappearing castle, as it is said to house the Dragon Slayer Sword, which will restore you to normal health. After this setup, the story mostly takes a backseat, aside from the occasional strange person making vague remarks that take a while to pay off.

Harlech Village acts a hub where you’ll frequently unlock shortcuts to return to. You’ll need to stop back there to resupply, get new weapons and spend your ability points. It’s also the only reliable place to save, and so it quickly becomes a literal safe haven.

The game’s rhythm of setting off from the town, exploring, unlocking a shortcut to the hub, spending whatever resources you found and then heading back out to a boss fight ended up reminding me a lot of the Dark Souls series.

Combat itself is pretty fierce, and you’ll often run into enemies out of your level range. While the game offers some magical abilities, on your first playthrough you’re likely going to want to go the way of the warrior.

There’s a limited used system for magic, which only replenishes when you save or level up, both of which are not always going to be in reach. Further compounding matters is that you’re only able to equip four abilities at a time, which can feel like the game is railroading you.

If there’s one glaring flaw, it’s that Xanadu Next flat out expects you to grind out a level or some gold every once in a while. Your attacks will do almost no damage while absorbing a ton if your stats aren’t at the right point. Even just an extra point or two in your strength attribute will make a huge difference. A few too many box puzzles also appear over the course of the story.

Those grindy moments shouldn’t deter you, though. When Xanadu Next is at its peaks, whether it’s the incredible boss fights, or the ludicrous amount of secrets to uncover, it managed to scratch an itch only a few games a year do for me.

OVERALL (4.5/5)

Xanadu Next is a masterclass in general game design. Sure, the visual are dated and the controls take some getting used to, but they’re well worth looking past to get to meat of the game.

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