Vector Review

The desire for freedom is common in stories in which control and oppression are law. In Vector, you play as a man in an Orwellian dystopia, no longer able to bend to the will of his masters. He casts aside his mind-control device, and apparently his shirt, and leaps from his skyscraper prison, sprinting across rooftops toward the distant horizon.

Vector is a celebration of artistic freestyle running, where you are awarded for pulling off parkour tricks such as barrel-rolling over edges or spinning through the air over office desks. This free-running platformer relies on expert timing to vault over–or slide under–obstacles, leap into the air, and wall jump, all the while being chased by a hunter displaying similar athletic prowess. The characters are stark black silhouettes that stand out cleanly against the gorgeously rendered urban backgrounds.


Escape your corporate masters and embrace freedom.

Vector's protagonist and his pursuer are beautifully animated and demonstrate realistic grace as they nimbly vault over objects. The goal of the game is to navigate each stage to a safe zone, before your pursuer catches up. The game is brimming with exciting moments. Your pursuer creates an inherent and constant sense of danger as you move through a stage. Leaping off high-rises into the air as doves dart out of your way like in a scene from a John Woo film, all to the rhythm of a pulse-pounding soundtrack, is an adrenaline-charged thrill.


Earn rewards by performing tricks.

Hitting an action key at the wrong time yields dire consequences. Mistiming can cause a momentary disruption in pace, forcing you to stumble and slow down as you struggle to regain footing, allowing your burly pursuer the opportunity to close the gap. As the hunter draws near, the camera zooms in, and deadly electricity arcs from his gauntlets, vigorously increasing the tension. In these moments, the game demands all of your focus, because one false move means the end of your shirtless dash to freedom. You get a rush of relief and satisfaction upon reaching the goal when death is so near, and seeing the exasperation on the hunter's face as the door that seals your safety slams down makes your victory all the sweeter.

Your performance in a stage is rewarded in stars. Surviving until the end earns you one star, but to gather all three, you must perform every trick in the stage as well as collect all the floating bonus cubes scattered across the level. Stars and the occasional coin grant in-game currency you can exchange for tricks, which can be purchased just before the level starts. Also available for purchase in the in-game store is the force blaster, which temporarily stops the hunter, giving you some much-needed breathing room. But even with the weapon, it's still all on you to maneuver through the stage with expert precision in order to nab that three-star rating. One major slipup, and it's back to the start minus one potentially life-saving item. You can also buy clothing items such as a hat or a scarf, if you're into accessorizing. Later stages branch out into multiple paths. While all given paths eventually lead you to safety, only one includes every trick and bonus. Practice and exploration are highly encouraged, and it may take multiple replays to discover and master the best route.


Don't slow down: the hunter is tenacious in his chase.

The game is short, and can be completed in around three hours. However, there are plenty of reasons to jump back into Vector. Levels generally take only minutes to finish, making quick visits to nab stars during breaks appealing. Collecting stars unlocks difficult bonus missions that test your parkour skills to the limit. To progress through the stages, you need to collect stars to unlock two of the game's main sections. The number of stars necessary to unlock these areas is high, meaning you need to purchase many tricks and master multiple stages just to proceed. In time, earning the necessary stars to increase currency and purchase moves becomes a slow grind. Mistakes get frustrating, and the game soon has you pounding away at the restart key, sometimes even moments after starting a stage. But when everything goes right, Vector is a fast-paced joyride that earns your attention.

Darkout Review

The world of Darkout is not inviting. Everything is bathed in darkness, monsters roam freely, and your initial resources are scarce. Worse, though, is the initial hump you must get over just to come to grips with confusing menus, a bad tutorial, and crafting systems that aren't explained–and all for a 2D sandbox game that feels overfamiliar.

It's hard not to compare Darkout to Terraria when the influences are so obvious. So many of the elements, especially early on, are the same click for click. After crash-landing on a procedurally generated world, you are instructed to chop some wood and use that wood to build a shelter (complete with blocks, background walls, and a door). Then you are told to craft a bed (where you respawn if you die) and are invited to take your axe, shovel, and pickaxe to explore the world and all the resources it has to offer. Stop me if this sounds familiar, and I won't have to go into detail about the islands floating in the sky or the fact that torches can be your best friends in caves.


The builder difficulty setting lets you build anything without worrying about resources, so your base can look really advanced really fast.

It's tempting to simply write, “Here are the ways Darkout and Terraria are the same. Here are the ways in which they're different.” This is because Darkout doesn't do quite enough to differentiate itself, making it harder to discuss Darkout as its own entity. But at least it tries. Darkout is, as you might guess, a much darker game in both tone and aesthetic.

Of course, this is far from the first game to clone the success that was Terraria (which you could say was itself a 2D clone of Minecraft), but it doesn't help that Darkout makes a bad first impression. For the first hour at least, I couldn't shake the feeling that Darkout's best elements were borrowed and that the game they were borrowed from did everything better. With a few wrong clicks, you can accidentally toss or squander resources that are imperative for your early survival, especially if you happen to miss the small window of tutorial text that awkwardly (and poorly) teaches you the basics. As the game teaches you how to craft items, you have to deal with inconvenient and hard-to-use menu sliders, making it difficult to choose the exact number of items you want. There isn't even any music to properly set the mood.

The excitement of “What will I discover next?” is diminished when you know the answer is something like “More dark, rocky environments.”


Early on, you do a lot of exploring in the dark.

Fortunately, there are some elements of Darkout that immediately feel well-thought-out and well-executed, chief among them being a single item on your hotbar that automatically uses the appropriate tools when you're exploring. With this selected, you never have to manually switch to your axe to chop a tree and then to your shovel to dig at the spot where it was. Tools are automatically used based on where your cursor is, which is a terrific time-saver.

Unlike many 2D sandbox games that leave you to your own devices (Terraria included), Darkout tries to add a sense of purpose to this formula with the introduction of a story. While exploring, you might find data logs hinting at the world's disastrous past or warning you of danger that lurks in the dark. You might also get a few hints about what to do next, starting with deploying a distress beacon. Sadly, this story is easy to ignore, even on accident. Close a text box before looking at it closely enough, and you might spend a dozen hours not realizing there is a story at all, much less anything resembling a goal or quest. So what could have been one of Darkout's bigger differentiators instead becomes something that doesn't matter at all. It's executed too poorly to make you care.


Exploring becomes much easier when your suit has lights.

So you spend hours upon hours exploring, mostly mining the same materials and fighting the same enemies wherever you go. Even on a “small” world, different environments are far apart with few things of interest in between, and many look too similar to each other. The excitement of “What will I discover next?” is diminished when you know the answer is something like “More dark, rocky environments.” And don't bother diving deep into the large oceans you may find, because there is nothing in them. The developers say they're planning more environments for a future update, but right now there is too little variety.

The one area where Darkout tries to innovate most is research. Beyond simply crafting materials, you can spend resources and points (earned by exploring, collecting, and crafting) on new items and technologies via a research tab. Researching new light sources is especially important, because enemies are more vulnerable to your attacks when exposed to light. Of course, advanced lights demand power, so you soon find yourself researching wires and sockets so you can power up your buildings in true high-tech fashion. Like the rest of the game, wiring can be needlessly confusing at first, but it can also be incredibly satisfying when everything comes together in a base that feels futuristic. Crafting becomes more interesting when you create objects like elevators and jetpacks.

The thing is, for as many flaws as it has and as mundane as many parts of it can be, I found myself hating the game less at hour 12 than I did at hour two. Once I had mastered the controls and gotten a grasp of the crafting and research systems, I started getting excited about what I might be able to build next. New suits were particularly enticing goals to work toward, because their ability to give off their own light made exploring below the surface much more efficient and enjoyable. I started to take more pride in my base, which was slowly being converted from a wooden shack to a sci-fi lab of copper walls and titanium doors. The more I invested, the more Darkout offered, and after 20 hours, I still haven't built every item and read every data log. The content is there; it's just awkwardly spaced.


Enemies are more vulnerable in the light, but their “run straight at you” approach doesn't make them very difficult even in the dark.

But for as many hours as you can spend with (and enjoy) Darkout, too many elements are incomplete. There are even items with flavor text that simply reads “Coming soon!” It's great to know more content is coming, but it's needed now.

Lots of little annoyances add up to make Darkout less than than the sum of its influences, though they're not enough to ruin the entire experience. Once you're over the initial hump, there are things to like about the game, and it's clear the developers are digging toward something more ambitious than is initially available. Hopefully more light can shine on the good parts in the future, because right now too much of the experience is just too dim.

Doki-Doki Universe Review

At various points throughout Doki-Doki Universe, you might find yourself flying through space on a wedge of Swiss cheese, blowing kisses at a hulking sumo wrestler, or resolving a dispute between a toilet and a magical tree. But beneath that absurdist veneer lies a story of surprising warmth and emotional resonance. This is a simple game that tackles heavy themes, using its whimsical humor to extol the virtues of empathy in an earnest and entertaining way.

That goofy charm is immediately apparent in the game's vibrant art style. Doki-Doki Universe is a middle school textbook sprung to life, all doodles of stick figures and dragons and anthropomorphized carrots. It's a playful 2D aesthetic where adorable animals and winged beasts made of poo exist side by side, disarming you with its whimsy before revealing its broader narrative ambitions.

That story revolves around QT3, an oblivious little robot with problems connecting to those around him. As if being socially awkward weren't bad enough, QT3 is facing the prospect of being discontinued by the company that created him. That is, unless he can learn enough about humanity–the game's shorthand for understanding others–to prove his worth as a household companion.

Thus begins your journey through the bizarre world of Doki-Doki Universe. You're free to travel between any of the game's 20+ planets, getting to know the oddball residents that populate these worlds as you help them out with favors large and small. The medieval fantasy planet of Gunite is home to a princess who longs for a spaceship to leave her pampered life behind, for instance, while the undersea world of Aquariumland houses a giant sea monster who's ostracized purely because of his looks (his name is Matthew and he secretly loves to dance). Other worlds are full of equally bizarre characters: talking sushi rolls who are terrified of being eaten, a penguin couple looking to put the spark back in their relationship, and a bunny suffering from crippling self-esteem issues. There's a huge breadth of personalities for you to interact with, each encounter brought to life by sharp dialogue and a strong undercurrent of eccentric humor.


The denizens of Doki-Doki Universe suffer from interesting problems.

Indeed, simply talking to people is a big part of Doki-Doki Universe. There's a real focus on breaking down barriers, using conversation to reveal the human qualities behind those screwball caricatures. You might greet these strangers with their favorite gesture (some people like a nice wave, while others are fond of blowing kisses) before chatting with them to find out what their likes and dislikes are. Some are forthcoming with that information, while others play it so close to the vest that you'll need to find out about them through the proverbial grapevine.

That knowledge is important, because in order to really win people over you need to ply them with gifts. The game's inventory system adds a light puzzle element by giving QT3 the ability to summon various objects out of thin air. This system is generally flexible, letting you choose from a broad selection of objects for a given task. Does King Pink on the planet of Gunite want food for a party he's throwing in his own honor? No need for a massive spread; he'll think a bottle of ketchup is the most exotic thing in the world. You know that kangaroo in need of a shelter for his pet humans? Sure you could give him a regal castle, but a burning building surrounded by firefighters will do the trick just as well. There's a lot of room to goof around when it comes to gift-giving, and seeing everyone's wide-eyed responses is almost always a delight. It can be tedious when the game calls for something specific and you have to go hunting through the clunky inventory system, but fortunately, those issues are quite rare.

There's a huge breadth of personalities for you to interact with, each encounter brought to life by sharp dialogue and a strong undercurrent of eccentric humor.

It's a clever, self-propagating system: the more you get to know characters, the more they'll open up to you and reward you with gifts, thereby expanding your options for winning over other characters on different planets throughout the universe. On top of that, you can always return to your home planet and use those objects to decorate the place however you wish. Viking ships and mariachi bands? Sure. Killer robots and adorable penguins? You're the designer here.

Merely pressing the X button to begin a conversation is about as much of a challenge as you'll find in all of this, which can make Doki-Doki Universe drag on as you sink more and more time into it. But there's a touching quality to those interactions that makes you want to continue exploring each strange new planet. Beneath those quirky exteriors are universal themes like bullying, lost loves, and the dangers of marginalization. You enter worlds in turmoil and leave behind smiling, appreciative faces using little more than communication and generosity. You get the sense that QT3 is learning about humanity because, in some small way, so are you.


Doki-Doki Universe is nothing if not enthusiastic.

That's good, because Doki-Doki Universe doesn't offer much overarching sense of progression outside of new unlockables like costumes and flying mounts. Its freeform structure means you're free to travel wherever you like and chat with anyone you take a fancy to, but it's hard to feel like you're working toward any tangible end state.

A better sense of progression can be found in the game's abundance of quiz asteroids. These are ostensibly designed to gauge QT3's progress in learning about humanity, but in practice they're there more for you to have a laugh at yourself over the course of a few dozen humorous quizzes. A typical example presents a ludicrous image of a bulldozer fighting a giant wine glass, asking you whose side you'd take in the fight. Choose the wine glass and the game explains how you've chosen idealism over security, selecting the clear underdog because you're the type to “fight for what you believe in even if it means you will probably lose.” Do enough of these quizzes and you can return to your home planet to get a broader evaluation of your personality, which more often than not tends to be an eerily accurate encapsulation of your chosen play style.

And yet, even as a bearded stick figure named Doctor Therapist describes your inner-psyche in thorough detail, Doki-Doki Universe never feels heavy-handed. It guides you along with a light touch, wrapping its warmhearted message in layer after layer of absurdity and humor. This is a strange and wonderful game, one that's equally comfortable exploring the nuances of human interaction as it is sending you through space on a flying piece of poo. Such experiences are rare in games. Then again, there's nothing commonplace about Doki-Doki Universe.

Two Brothers Review

Two Brothers is one of the oddest games I've played in a while. As a game touting fairly accurate Game Boy-era monochromatic visuals, it exists as a curious pastiche of Zelda, Final Fantasy, and countless other classics. It takes for granted that you're familiar with their aesthetics and constantly plays off of those expectations to create an unnerving second look at life, death, and the magic of that which we can't fully explain.

Roy Guarder and his brother, Braville, are the eponymous protagonists. In the first few moments, Roy and his wife die on an expedition in the Cursed Lands. Roy crosses into the afterlife, where he experiences color for the very first time before being told that it's not his time to die yet. He's dropped back into the mortal world with a sort of tempered fatalism, and a new life goal: to discover the source and the nature of color. It's a jarring sequence specifically because Two Brothers plays itself off as just an average-looking Game Boy game in all of its sepia-tone glory.


Well, this is certainly unusual.

Much like with the Game Boy, you have only four buttons and some movement controls to do everything. Besides select, which opens up your item bag, you have one projectile attack and one melee attack. The game also auto-saves at every screen transition, so start only pauses; it doesn't bring up any sort of menu. It's all very straightforward. That said, many puzzles push those limited mechanics as far as they can possibly go. For example, while picking things up and carrying them isn't possible until you get an item bag, you can push people to different places to trigger new events. And shooting arrows can trigger switches and in some cases cause you to switch places with a block, allowing you to cross gaps or reach new areas.

This is a game that ruthlessly jerks back and forth between helping you empathize with and embody Roy and utterly confusing you as to just how this world, or any gameworld, really works.

Unfortunately, that cleverness doesn't always work out. The combat isn't on par with the puzzles. Some ways into the game you're introduced to combos and power attacks, neither of which amounts to anything substantial. Occasionally, bombs and other objects enter the mix, allowing you to set up some devastating ambush attacks, but the AI is too terrible to do anything more than wander around aimlessly. Enemies don't rigorously pursue you, and I recall an entire boss fight that I won simply by using the power attack over and over again and waiting for the boss to impale itself on my blade. The best battles add bits of puzzle here and there, but this tendency often goes too far the other way. Some puzzle bosses are unforgiving in terms of where you need to be and when. Combat can come across as a bit of a mess at times, and it goes a decent way to reminding us all why turn-based combat was so common in the early days. It allowed for a lot of options and strategy that rudimentary controls couldn't bring to real-time play.

Besides the haphazard attempt at combat, mechanically Two Brothers doesn't do much to shake up the conventions of 8-bit game design. Instead, its real innovation is in its writing, world, and story. This is a game that requires some fluency with older games. Throughout, Two Brothers relies heavily on your understanding of tropes and cliches of the late '80s and early '90s. For example, in the Zelda series, cutting down enemies or grass with your sword often caused hearts to pop out. These could be picked up to restore a small amount of health. Two Brothers does the same thing, but instead of being heart-shaped video game power-ups, hearts here are actual, physical hearts–blood and all–that you eat to gain power. The game is brutally self-aware, and while complete fourth-wall breaks aren't common, it tends toward this strange approach to pseudo-realism that attempts to play all of its bizarre quirks completely straight.


There's a mistake here. Take all the time you need.

The total package is often unnerving. One moment has Roy crossing paths with a stranger that refuses to identify himself. Several times, the unknown man causes the screen to glitch and reset. Roy's memory was never fully wiped, however, and his growing confusion and anger closely matched my own. Later, an ancient, sacred beast trusts Roy simply because his name is Guarder, which sounds a little like “guardian.” This is a game that ruthlessly jerks back and forth between helping you empathize with and embody Roy and utterly confusing you as to just how this world, or any gameworld, really works. As uncomfortable as it all sounds, it really works.

Two Brothers never gets so bogged down in its witticisms that it becomes a game about games, but it does trigger a lot of questions about the nature of death and how we value life. There is a message here, and while the world itself is jittery and frenetic, the theme doesn't get lost in all the weirdness.

Where this weirdness does sometimes break down, though, is in the game's actual glitches and bugs. Because Two Brothers tries too hard to be subversive and odd, it's not always clear when the game is broken or when you're just not understanding what's happening. For instance, the second time I started up the game, I began to float above the world unable to interact with or do anything. It was weird, but it was very similar to the scene where Roy first ascends to the afterlife. I couldn't tell what was going on, and I ended up spending about an hour trying to look for clues before frustration set in and I gave up. The next time I started up the game, everything worked as normal. I didn't notice any severe bugs beyond that one, though I sometimes found myself moving through walls to other areas, but I couldn't control it or find any pattern to it.


If this shot doesn't remind you of a certain professor, you clearly didn't play enough Pokemon.

Even without the bugs, Two Brothers could definitely use another round of editing. There are a number of typos and graphical oddities that can take you out of the moment from time to time. It's possible that they could all be part of the pastiche aesthetic, referring to poorly translated games of yesteryear, but that's never made clear, and given my experience with bugs, I was more ready to attribute them to carelessness than purpose.

When Two Brothers works, when it lines up whole scenes that bounce between funny, disturbing, and touching, it shows just how powerful the ideas it's working with are. The human experience is one that's dominated by our fear of death, our pursuit of love, and the belief that the world, more or less, makes sense. But what if death was really the secret to life? What if we didn't love what we thought we did? What if the world only makes sense because we're delusional? These are fun questions, and they are deep ones that we'll all probably wrestle with at one point or another, and mediocre combat and bugs aside, they're subjects that Ackk Studios manages to treat with a surprising amount of respect, bringing with them a clever twist on the tropes we expect to see.

Gran Turismo 6 Review

Gran Turismo 6 can be a wonderful thing. It's hard not to admire its intuitive handling, the obsessive attention to detail, and its steadfast dedication to simulation, even though some of the fun is sucked out in the process. It's an impressive piece of work in some respects, but for a series with such a legacy behind it, you can't help but feel it's forever doomed to a life of quiet predictability to keep the diehards happy. GT6 is all about small, incremental changes over grand reinventions. While it is–in my mind at least–the best true racing simulation available on consoles, so much of the game feels antiquated and quaint when compared to its rivals. Everything that's good about Gran Turismo is here, and so too, unfortunately, is the bad.

Things start off well, though. GT6 gets you straight into the action with a Trackday lap–a first for the series–by putting you at the wheel of a Renault Clio RS at the new Brands Hatch circuit. There, you're taught driving basics, such as how to use a racing line and zip around the track. The pacey Renault isn't going to smash any lap records, but it's great fun to drive, and the Trackday certainly gets you geared up for some proper racing. And then, as soon as the tutorial is over, Polyphony Digital falls back into 15 years of horribly bad habits.

Powerful supercars still sound like lawnmowers and hairdryers.

Career mode begins without even giving you a choice of your first car; you're forced into the tepid Honda Fit for around the first 90 minutes of the game. Progress is slow, with credits being handed out at a paltry rate early on, and you're rarely rewarded with new vehicles for race wins. The first vehicle you unlock without having to spend any of your hard-earned credits is only a go-kart. Gran Turismo purists will probably be expecting this kind of grind, but newcomers will quickly be alienated by GT6 when other racing games are happy to put you behind the wheel of a kickass sports car within minutes.

Progress through your career is gated by a new star system and by the traditional GT license tests. There are six categories of races, each requiring a certain number of stars to unlock. Once you have enough stars to unlock the next category, you then have to complete a series of license tests. It's a long, drawn-out process that feels very old-fashioned. If you've played a lot of racing games, then the license tests are completely pointless; not everyone needs to learn how to drive from scratch with each new GT game. The fact that the tests are now mandatory again after being optional in GT5 is a total kick in the teeth.

GT6 maintains the series' famous variety of models and events, and adds to its heritage in meaningful ways.

Thankfully, your progress isn't further hindered by the user interface as it was in GT5. The menus are a vast improvement over the previous game's muddled design, borrowing heavily from the tiled layout of Microsoft's Metro UI. Everything from buying and upgrading cars, to Career mode, online play, and community features is accessed from a single screen. It sounds like a simple upgrade, but compared to GT5, it's light years ahead.

GT6's handling is nearly flawless. The updates to the driving model seem subtle at first, but the little tweaks combine to make vast improvements. Cars spring to life, demanding precision and concentration from even the most experienced drivers. The changes to the physics are the claimed result of partnerships with several automotive parts makers, from aftermarket suspension companies to tire manufacturers. The suspension modeling is the most immediately noticeable change. You can feel the body roll and yaw as you change direction, making it natural and instinctive to correct tiny slides as you sense the car's weight shifting, rather than relying on visual feedback.

Stock road cars are livelier too. In the past, they had very neutral and unresponsive handling, but in GT6, you can sense much more movement through these less-high-end machines, particularly when the nose dives down toward the asphalt under heavy braking. You can anticipate the limit of grip even on standard street tires, giving the best drivers the opportunity to extract more performance than usual from slow cars. That might all sound intimidating, particularly if you're not a seasoned driver, but there's a whole suite of assists that keep GT6's realistic physics accessible to less-skilled players. Traction control and other settings have 10-point sliders that can be adjusted gradually as you improve your driving, starting you off with basic control and easing you into a more realistic experience.

However, while the driving is executed beautifully, there are other areas of the GT6 experience that fare less well. New circuits like Brands Hatch, Bathurst, Goodwood, and Ascari all look superb, but older tracks are sorely in need of a fresh coat of paint. Some of the environment art leaves a lot to be desired too, and is in danger of falling far behind the rest of the racing pack. Many of the grandstands are filled with cardboard-cutout fans, and some locations have some horrible-looking trees and rock textures that look like they haven't been updated since GT4 on the PlayStation 2. Rain effects are disappointing too, with water falling from the sky in jagged lines, and spray from cars looking like a decal glued to the back of each vehicle.

Night racing, on the other hand, is spectacular, with gorgeous lighting and detailed star-filled skies. There is, however, an unfortunate side effect to the entire simulation: the frame rate. It's stable most of the time, but it suffers on some of the more detailed courses, and load times are inconsistent too.

Then there are the differences between the cars. The hotly debated issue of premium versus standard cars that was a big problem with GT5 was supposed to have been solved for GT6. In practice, the situation has improved, but it's far from resolved. For the most part, cars are stunning, both inside and out, but on the track, you can definitely tell which of them are updated versions of GT5's standard models. These cars have lower-resolution textures and significantly fewer polygons in addition to their featureless black cockpits.

In a weird twist, GT6 no longer separates standard and premium cars on the dealership screens. This can lead to spending your hard-earned credits on a new ride, only to get onto the circuit and find that it looks jagged and blurry next to the other pristine cars. Car audio is still a problem too. This is one of the worst parts of the series' long legacy and is crying out to be updated. Powerful supercars still sound like lawnmowers and hairdryers. Changes have been promised for future patches, but at the moment, the audio has been lapped by the competition.

The AI needs a big upgrade as well. Despite promised improvements, Gran Turismo 6 feels much the same as past GT games. Opponents adhere to a rigid racing line, behaving more like slot cars than real racers. They show almost no awareness of either you or the other AI drivers, clumsily turning into other cars, stamping on the brakes way too early, and failing to power out of corners. In this regard, GT6 feel hugely dated in comparison to its competition and sucks the fun out of the racing. The driving itself is hugely enjoyable and rewarding, but racing with the AI is more like an elaborate obstacle course than a motorsport event.

If you want some competitive racing, you need to head into the online lobbies. Multiplayer racing can be a minefield at the best of times, and GT6 similarly makes getting into a race an awkward process. For some reason, the day-one patch removed the Quick Match option from the menus, meaning that the only way to race is to scour pages and pages of custom lobbies until you find one that you like. Users can flag events as racing for fun, for realism, or for drifting, but that's about as helpful as it gets. Icons show you whether a lobby restricts assists or car performance, but there's nothing to tell you which assists will be locked out, or exactly how car performance is restricted. You're left with no choice but to connect to a game and hope for the best. This is yet another area where Polyphony Digital promised big changes from GT5 but has failed to deliver.

Despite its many problems, GT6 still has vast appeal for gearheads and car collectors. Polyphony Digital claims that the game has more than 1,200 cars, so there are plenty of new machines to experience and customize. The possibilities for automotive customization have been dramatically expanded in GT6 with huge amounts of visual upgrades available. There are dozens of wings and other aerodynamic enhancements and hundreds of wheel designs, but sadly, no options for custom painting. On the mechanical side, the tuning shop has been significantly streamlined, making it much easier to see the effects of each new part before you spend your credits, although there's still no way to share setups with other players.

So much of the game feels antiquated and quaint when compared to its rivals.

As well as the sheer number of cars, GT6 maintains the series' famous variety of models and events, and adds to its heritage in meaningful ways. In a first for the series, the game includes a long list of European racing cars from the FIA GT3 class, so you can take to the track in the ultimate versions of the world's most desirable cars, like the Mercedes-Benz SLS-AMG GT3 and the Audi R8 GT3. There are more Le Mans prototypes than ever before in a GT game too, and rally makes a welcome return, albeit with no new dirt courses. Polyphony is promising plenty of cars and tracks to come, much of it via free downloadable content, including the Vision GT cars, which are unique concepts developed by the world's top carmakers specifically for Gran Turismo.

Unfortunately, if you want to build up a big car collection, you're going to need either a lot of spare time or a lot of spare cash. GT6 is designed to reward its most dedicated fans by keeping the very best cars exclusive. Classic racing cars have high credit price tags, meaning that you're going to have to grind out a lot of career events to afford them. In GT5, you could get around this by taking part in the weekly updated seasonal events, which differed little from Career races but offered massive payouts, sometimes upward of half a million credits. In GT6, the first batch of seasonal events offer a top prize of only 12,500 credits. This leaves the newly introduced microtransactions as the only option for busy players to acquire the best cars. One million credits cost £7.99, but the most expensive cars in the game are worth around 20 million credits, costing upward of £100 in real money. Spending money is entirely optional, and you have to actively go looking for the store to do so, but the choice to add microtransactions instead of addressing the grind leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

GT6 takes another bizarre turn in the game's Special Events. These side missions place you in specific cars and locations with unique tasks. My favorite of these is the Goodwood Hill Climb, which puts you behind the wheel of a variety of classic cars at this famous British motorsport festival, and is a neat bit of nostalgic fun. At the other end of the spectrum is the gimmicky lunar exploration task. That's right, you can drive on the moon. In this event, you drive supposedly accurate lunar rover missions from the 1970s. These are slow, tedious events that are only remarkable for the setting and the fleeting novelty of driving in low gravity.

Career mode also features optional coffee break events designed to add more variety to the racing format of the single-player game. These are usually drifting challenges or cone challenges in which you have to knock over a certain number of cones in a given time. They're more of a pleasant distraction than a meaningful addition, but they break up the pace nicely.

The rest of the presentation is pure Gran Turismo, for better and for worse. The music is the now-notorious mixture of lounge jazz and heavy metal, and none of the game is voiced, so you read a lot of text tutorials in the early going. Other areas have been given a bit more attention. Races are introduced with some cool TV-style graphics with details about weather conditions, temperatures, and starting grids, which creates a nice sense of atmosphere that has been missing from previous GT games. Damage, on the other hand, has not been changed at all since GT5. The vast majority of cars show barely any damage. Even 100mph head-on collisions cause only tiny dents and scrapes, and they have no impact on car handling or performance.

It's those little niggles that make Gran Turismo 6 feel so incredibly dated compared to its rivals. Yes, it's nice to have that attention to detail poured into the physics simulation itself, but when the likes of Forza are heaping on the features, it's hard not to feel shortchanged by GT6's lack of vision. Maybe we'll see the makeover the series sorely needs when it inevitably hits the PS4, but until then, Gran Turismo 6 remains a fantastic simulation; it's just not a great game.

The Novelist Review

Things are never as simple as they should be. The Kaplans have come to a secluded house in the Pacific Northwest for a summer getaway–a chance for Dan to focus on his book, for Linda to reignite her painting career, for the two of them to work on their marriage, and for their son Tommy to make some progress in coping with his learning difficulties. That's an awful lot for a family to tackle over the course of a single summer, and as it turns out, for the Kaplans as for many real families, not everyone can have all their needs met all the time.

The Novelist doesn't hold together as well as you'd hope, but the challenging situations the Kaplans find themselves in, and the burden of having to decide how the Kaplans respond to those challenges, make it a gripping game that causes you to reflect on the often-competing forces that are at play in our real-world relationships, and the difficulty (if not the impossibility) of finding a successful balance that's fair to everyone involved.


At the end of each chapter, you see the consequences of your decision.

You impact the lives of the Kaplans not as a member of the family, but as a ghostly presence who inhabits the house they've rented for the summer. There are two difficulty settings in The Novelist, “stealth” and “story.” If you select stealth, you can be seen by the Kaplans as they wander about the house, and spooking a family member limits your options in that chapter where he or she is concerned. But it's easy to avoid being seen given your ability to zip from light source to light source, a speedy and fun way to navigate the two floors and multiple rooms of the house. If you choose story, the gameplay is exactly the same, only without any need to worry about spooking the Kaplans; you can wander the house openly. The Novelist isn't a game about moment-to-moment gameplay but rather about the impact of decisions over time, so the choice of whether to play in stealth or story mode is ultimately the least meaningful decision you have to make in the game.

In The Novelist as in life, disappointment is inevitable.

The much more interesting decisions start confronting you immediately. In each chapter, you explore the house looking for clues to the current desires of each family member. These can be letters Linda has written to her sister, sketches Tommy has drawn, notes Dan has scrawled about the book, and the like. At one point, Dan is feeling pressure from his publisher to get some chapters submitted on his new book, while Linda really wants to get some quality time with Dan, and Tommy wants his daddy to play with him for a while. In another chapter, Linda's grandmother's funeral is happening at the same time as an opportunity for a public reading that could save Dan's career, and there's an air show that Tommy, feeling lonely at the isolated house, would love to attend.


Tommy is a visual thinker.

Before you can make a choice about what the family should do, you need to both investigate the house for clues, and investigate the memories of the characters. When you approach them from behind, you can zip into their minds and see frozen tableaux in the house of moments that have happened recently. By clicking on the figures, you hear exchanges between them, such as Dan asking Linda, who is gazing longingly out a window, “Is there something out there?” and her responding, “The entire world's out there.” But these remembered interactions and solitary moments rarely provide much real insight into the characters; the process of entering memories and witnessing them feels more like a hollow, predictable routine that pads out the game than like actual investigation into the hearts and minds of the characters. However, the written words of Linda and Dan change to reflect decisions you made in the previous chapter, and these are more effective at bringing the characters to life.

After you've completed the investigation routine in each chapter, it's time to make your decision. You can totally fulfill one character's desires and have another character find an unsatisfying compromise for his or her wants, while the third character's desires will go completely unfulfilled in that chapter. I almost always felt conflicted about my decisions, my heart aching for the character whose desires I'd decided to ignore for the moment. And the situations the characters faced made me think about situations in my own life, about how life is a balancing act, how sometimes we need to make sacrifices for the people we care about, or soldier on with work in the midst of personal crises, how not all of our needs can be met all the time. In The Novelist as in life, disappointment is inevitable.

The Novelist isn't immersive; the behaviors of its characters as they wander about the house aren't convincing. You never see them interact with each other in meaningful ways (aside from the frozen moments you see in characters' memories) and you might sometimes see a character walk right through a closed door. The narrative structure also fumbles in its attempts to create an engaging and believable arc. For instance, one chapter might end with Linda tossing a shoe angrily at Dan because of the decisions you made in that chapter, suggesting their relationship is in real trouble. But then the month-end recap that immediately follows and shows how the Kaplans are doing as a result of choices from the past several chapters might have the pair spending a very happy night together at a bed-and-breakfast.


The Novelist's environments aren't terribly detailed but they have a pleasant painterly look.

And it's frustrating that a game about the struggle to find balance in a family is subtly skewed to put more focus on Dan. You always whisper your choice about what the family should do to Dan and Dan alone, as if he, as family patriarch, is single-handedly responsible for the directions the family takes. It's equally disappointing that, while there's a lot of focus on Linda's career throughout the game, in the final summary of how the decisions the Kaplans made that summer affected their future, the game comments on Dan's career, on Dan and Linda's marriage, and on Tommy's future, but not Linda's professional future.

But as a game of ideas, The Novelist works. It's not a challenging game, but the choices you have to make are. I played through the game twice, and was surprised to see how differently things were for the Kaplans in the end based on the different decisions I'd made. When a family member was left struggling or failing in the end because of the choices I'd made, I felt a kind of guilt that moral choices in games rarely make me feel. The Novelist knows that when it comes to the people we love, there are no small decisions.

Peggle 2 Review

I love the rising notes that accompany the bounce of a Peggle ball as it tumbles from peg to peg, each tinkle perfectly pitched to the serene melodies underneath. I love how each selection on the menu screen is accompanied by the notes from Peer Gynt's “Morning”, a subtle nod to Peggle 2's wonderful predecessor. And I love the rainbows, and the sparkles, and the blast of Ode to Joy that accompanies a perfectly cleared Peggle board. It's absolutely mesmerizing, and indicative of a game that's as much about lifting the weight of the world from your shoulders as it is spending hours figuring out the perfect peg-pummeling shot for a high score–and trust me, once Peggle gets its hooks into you, the hours will fly by.

Describe the absolute basics of Peggle to someone though, and they'll give you the sort of sympathetic stare they'd give to someone who'd suddenly confessed to Coldplay being their favourite “rock band”. It's so stiflingly simplistic at first glance that it's hard not to wonder what all the fuss is about. All you do is shoot a small ball at different coloured pegs scattered around a level, attempting to hit each and light them up along the way. Blue pegs give you 100 points, orange pegs need to be cleared to progress, while purple pegs give you score boosts, and green ones activate power-ups. Once the ball drops out of play, the lit pegs disappear, and you fire off another shot. Your only method of control is over the direction of the ball and when you decide to launch it, with a neat physics system taking care of the rest.


That's the face of a true Peggle champion.

That might make it seem like there's not a whole lot you can actually do about hitting those pegs with any skill, and for sure, there's an element of luck about the whole thing. But it's that very randomness, the way that each shot is a gamble no matter how well-practiced you are, that makes Peggle so utterly engrossing–and the natural feel of the ball physics means that you never feel hard done by because of its random nature. The ball behaves just how you'd expect, and you adapt how you play around it. For every shot that hits just a single blue peg, there's another that somehow bounces across the board for a long shot bonus, hits a purple peg on the rebound, and then skims its way across a group of orange pegs before neatly landing in the moving free ball bucket at the bottom of the screen. It's an amazing feeling when it happens.

There are certainly some tricks to learn that come with practice too. Knowing how to skim a ball across a row of flat pegs for maximum points, or knowing just the right angle to hit a single peg to bounce it directly into the free ball bucket for a trick shot prove invaluable in later levels. With just 10 balls at your disposal, and many more pegs than that to clear, Peggle is just as strategic as it is random. Trying to beat challenges like clearing all the pegs, performing a certain trick shot, or beating an ace high score on each level can keep you going for weeks and months; I'm still trying to 100 percent the seriously tricky Zen level on the original Peggle to this day.


Ultra Fever! Catch it!

There are a bunch of new challenges too, under the guise of trials that challenge you to do things like beat a level under a certain score (much harder than it sounds), perform impossibly long slide shots, and score over a million points on a single level. But Peggle 2 never forces the really difficult trials upon you. There's as much satisfaction to be had from just nailing all the orange pegs on the one of the ingeniously crafted levels as there is in going after all the rainbow trophies that you're awarded for completing challenges. The delicate tones that emanate from each hit peg, the drum rolls, the way the camera zooms in as you're about to hit the last orange peg, and the rapturous explosion of music and colour are all brilliantly designed to stimulate the senses, and give you a real feeling of accomplishment, even for the smallest of tasks.

Then there are the Peggle masters, each of them offering a different power up to help you along the way. There's a greater visual focus on them this time, with each character getting the full body treatment, rather than being relegated to a headshot at the top of the screen. The results are absolutely hilarious. Play a Bjorn level and the colourful unicorn pulls the silliest of cringing faces as soon as you're down to your last three balls; perform a particularly great shot and his horn transforms into a rock 'n' roll set of devil horns; and sometimes, for seemingly no reason at all, he farts sparkles.

Bjorn is the only returning master this time, bringing his super guide power with him. The rest are all new and feature a bunch of inventive powers that do just enough to change the way a level plays out without undermining the core mechanics. Play a level featuring Berg the yeti and he freezes the screen, making the pegs slide around the screen when you hit them. Clever level design means there's plenty of opportunity to rack up some really high scores by chaining a bunch of pegs together. And if you get a particularly high score, you're treated to the awe-struck bleats of Berg's goat friends and a dance from the yeti himself, complete with a pixelated picture of his rear end.

In the first Peggle, Splork and his explosion power tended to be the go-to choice for nailing the really high scores. His counterpart here is Gnorman, a little tin robot that gives you the ability to hit three pegs at once for some outrageous high scores. His power proves particularly useful on levels that feature new armored pegs, which need to be hit twice, and levels that feature bumpers, which let you bounce the ball back into active pegs for more points. In a small but welcome tweak, you don't have to complete the entire game before being able go back and use a different master to tackle the level. Now, you unlock a master simply by making it to their level, which means you can take on the most tricky challenges much sooner this time around.


Bjorn is one insanely happy unicorn.

There are other little tweaks too, such as the colourful and imaginative backdrops, which are far more detailed than before, and the background music which gives a more sedate take on the different celebration themes of each character. Yes, this time you're treated to more than just Ode To Joy, and while it'd be a shame to give all the new tunes away here, rest assured they're just as well chosen, and just as shamelessly jubilant.

Indeed, it's that shameless pursuit of making Peggle 2 as fun and as accessible as humanly possible–no matter how cheesy the cost–that I absolutely adore. It's the very epitome of a pure gaming experience, one that can be as deep or as simple as you want it to be, and one that never loses sight of what makes it so appealing to so many people. Sure, the window dressing here plays its part in the fun as much as the core mechanics of the game do, but that's no bad thing; that all important feeling of accomplishment comes from the slick visual payoffs and charming audio cues as much as is does from skilful shots. Peggle 2's randomness simply isn't an issue once you're locked into the Peggle groove. It's heaps of fun, totally absorbing, and such a wonderful place to be.

Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I DON'T KNOW Review

Adventure. The word suggests danger, daring, and excitement, perhaps a journey into the perilous unknown. In Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I DON'T KNOW, you do indeed venture into dangerous realms, but all you find there is unadulterated drudgery. The game possesses none of the whimsy and imagination of the cartoon that inspired it. This is dungeon-crawling at its dullest and most rudimentary.

Princess Bubblegum has summoned the heroes of the realm, charging them with exploring the Secret Royal Dungeon beneath her castle and dealing with the rambunctious monsters who are not so securely imprisoned there. Unfortunately, she doesn't warn Finn, Jake, and the rest of the gang that it's more likely that the boredom will kill them than the monsters. You trudge through floors of the dungeon, hacking away at enemies and picking up piles of treasure here and there. That's pretty much it.

Of course, there are some great games that rely on this basic premise. Some offer you a diverse range of attacks that feel powerful and are satisfying to use. Some pit you against memorable foes who use attacks that require you to play smartly if you hope to emerge victorious. Some include deep character customization options. Some have terrific gear you can find and equip to make your hero increasingly more powerful. Adventure Time has none of this. The game takes a few cues from the landmark multiplayer arcade dungeon crawler Gauntlet, but despite having the benefit of nearly 30 years' worth of genre advances and innovations to draw upon, Adventure Time fails to even be as exciting a game as that old quarter-muncher.

Yes, there are a number of playable characters with different abilities. Marceline can float right over pits and traps, for instance, while the Ice King can freeze enemies. But no matter which character you choose, the exploration remains slow and tedious; the dungeons remain bereft of interesting places, enemies to fight, or items to discover; and the combat remains excruciatingly shallow and simplistic. No subweapon you might find and pick up in the dungeon, be it a kitten gun or a fire hose (that is, a hose that shoots fire) does anything to liven up the process of pushing buttons mindlessly until monsters fall before you. You can play with up to three friends, but then you're all just sharing a miserable experience.


Oh yeah, the boss fights are terrible, too.

After suffering your way through a number of levels, you're given the opportunity to return to the surface with the treasure you've collected, but there's little of interest to spend that treasure on. You can sink it into a few absurdly expensive upgrades to attributes like health and damage, each of which can be upgraded only two or three times. The problem with them being so costly is that you can't stash your gold anywhere. When you reenter the dungeon, you must give up any unspent treasure. This is an idea that works well in games like Rogue Legacy, in which there's a satisfying loop of earning more treasure in the dungeon, which lets you strengthen your character, which lets you earn yet more treasure on your subsequent dungeon runs. But in Adventure Time, spending time slogging through several levels of the dungeon, only to realize that you don't have enough treasure yet to purchase any upgrades and must try to slog through several more levels and collect still more treasure, just feels like punishment on top of punishment.

There's the rare moment of humor, like when the vampire Marceline remarks, right after you upgrade her health, “I can't die anyway!” But cutscenes and dialogue exchanges are few and far between, so even the most devout fans of Adventure Time won't find enough entertaining quips or goofy moments to reward them for struggling through the dungeon. The game's title may not provide justification for exploring the dungeon, but the much bigger I DON'T KNOW here is why anyone would play this game.

Dead Sky Review

You’re down to your last clip of ammo. The plan was to make it to the train station just ahead and hold out until help came. But your comrades have already fallen. Poor Billy. Poor Sarah. The despair of the zombie apocalypse had been the catalyst they needed to confess their feelings for one another. If you can hit that next shambler in the head, you may just be able to make the sprint to safety, for now.

Sadly, Dead Sky cannot properly capture the inherent dread of such a scenario. When you think of survival shooters, and zombie games in general, you expect a little suspense and tension, and actual fear of death. Unfortunately, Dead Sky is just masquerading as a survival shooter. Instead, it is a fledgling tower defense game that never grows out of its daydreams of being anything more.

You cannot fail this mission, no matter how hard you try.

The game’s menu greets you with ill-suited blaring rock music that doesn’t fit the tone of the game that follows. (When you’re trying to survive the zombie apocalypse, your first step is probably not to turn on a soaring guitar solo to draw attention to yourself and your roving gang of gunmen.) The single-player campaign is a quick six-mission distraction to introduce you to the core multiplayer action, with only two missions actually reflecting that core experience. The game opens up with you defending your buddy’s escape plan (his car) from a meager offering of slow-moving, mostly nonthreatening undead.

Once the car starts, you must drive away on a long street littered with zombies just waiting for you to plow them over. The mission is failable, but only if you come to a complete stop. And though the road is winding, you can drive straight until the very end for one final turn in order to beat the stage. Once you come to the end of the street, the game introduces you to a caricature hillbilly who tinkers in scrap metal (the game’s resource) in order to turn it into more usable forms, like a gun turret or a strange bug zapper that stuns the encroaching zombie horde. Wyatt, the aforementioned redneck, isn’t a humorous portrayal at all; he’s simply an overacted representation of Southern stereotypes. This character is grating, and he’s present throughout the multiplayer game.

Not even the flashlight can help you see a reason to keep playing this game.

The campaign attempts to get to survival shooter roots with a trip through the zombie-infested sewers, but because the zombies are uniformly spaced apart, there’s almost no tension in the journey. The sewers play more like an attempt at capturing the gameplay of an action role-playing game like Diablo or Torchlight (minus any exciting character skills) than a shooter, and the randomized weapon drops further push the game in that direction. You don’t find weapons in preset locations; they drop randomly from the zombies. Their temporary boost in power is great, except that the amazing power of the rocket launcher and railgun is wasted in a sewer with no more than two to three zombies approaching you at a time. There’s no epic carnage or cathartic mega-corpse explosion extravaganza.

Once you’ve completed the introductory campaign, the game pats you on the back and instructs you to try out multiplayer. “OK, let’s go!” you think to yourself, as you click Join Game. But, alas, you see naught but “Finding lobbies…” on your screen. “No problem, I’ll check again in a minute.” You keep telling yourself someone will host a game soon. And finally, a game appears. You click to join. But a fate far scarier than the game’s tepid zombies slaps you in the face: “Failed to connect.”

The random monster selection can make your otherwise fine defense arrangement useless, because you cannot prepare ahead of time.

Should you be lucky enough to find a game, you either must defend a building, or simply stay alive. You start with a bit of scrap metal you can use to upgrade your trusty pistol or purchase a few stationary defenses, which come in handy when you end up settling for a solo attempt on one of the maps intended for multiple players.

The multiplayer maps don’t have a final objective, but instead require you to survive or to defend the objective for as many waves as you can. Zombies randomly drop machine guns or shotguns for you to wield, but since you have limited ammo and no ability to stockpile weapons for later, they don’t change combat for long. Once you pick up a new weapon, you can’t switch back to your pistol or to a separate weapon, which greatly drags down the shooter aspects of the game.

There aren’t many people to compete with on the leaderboards.

The shallow shooting might have been more serviceable if the tower defense elements had been fleshed out, but unfortunately, you have only three tower options: a gun turret, a flame turret, and the bug zapper. Other static defenses include a very fragile wall, a bear trap to snare a single zombie, and a mine to clear out a few zombies at once, but to purchase any of these ineffective tools is to throw your scrap metal away. You also have the option to upgrade your character with better offense, defense, or support capabilities, but these upgrade costs quickly outscale the amount of scrap metal you’re getting once you consider the upkeep and replacements necessary for your turrets.

Last stand!

The “stronger” monsters that assault you starting in the second round are randomly generated. In some games you may encounter just a few zombie dogs and zombies with burning attacks, but other attempts at the game may unleash a legion of explosive gas zombies or zombies that pull you out of your comfort zone and into a group to maul you. The random monster selection can make your otherwise fine defense arrangement useless, because you cannot prepare ahead of time.

Dead Sky’s only saving grace is its inclusion of a leaderboard that lets you see how your attempts fare when stacked against the others defending Wyatt’s backwoods cabin or the abandoned wastelands village. Otherwise, everything that Dead Sky does or tries to do, other games do far better. There’s little room to experiment from game to game, and there’s only so long that fighting to have your name ranked among the few hundred other zombie slayers can keep you grinding in this poor excuse for a tower defense game.

World of Warplanes Review

With a fuselage chewed up by bullet holes, an injured pilot who's bleeding out, and smoke trailing out of your engine, few things are more gratifying than ramming your doomed fighter headlong into the jerk who put you in such dire straights to begin with. World of Warplanes makes as much room for tactical sneakery as it does fancy flying, which gives your likelihood of surviving an exciting air of uncertainty. When the skies are swarming with fighters, dogfights spill into one another as you rocket through waves of antiaircraft fire and near misses. Layer on top of this an exhaustive list of unlockable planes and part upgrades to tinker with, and you have a game that is far more enjoyable than its repetitive nature might suggest.

World of Warplanes is a streamlined arcade-style experience built for easy accessibility. It takes only a minute or two to come to grips with the simple controls, and after a quick piloting tutorial, you're booted right to the battlefield with minimal handholding. It's a whirlwind introduction to be sure, but the flow of battle quickly becomes a familiar groove once you get a few missions under your belt. The fact that there's only one competitive player-versus-player mode to dive into helps you get acclimated quickly, though that limitation is ultimately to the game's detriment.


Hang in the hangar for tinkering fun.

Matches pit opposing squadrons in 15-on-15 battles for air supremacy over massive square maps. Victory is achieved by dealing enough damage to your opponents' base or by blowing every enemy bird out of the sky. The latter tends to be the deciding factor in nearly every battle simply because aggressive players are always on the hunt for the next potential kill. This doesn't make bombing and air-to-ground strafing runs any less useful, since you still gain experience for them, but it does keep matches short. Most games rarely bump up against the 15-minute time limit because there's no one else left in the air at that point.

Given the flight speed of the zippier fighter craft, it isn't long before squads clash in explosions of gunfire and chaos. Whether they unfold high in the clouds or closer to the ground, the inevitable dogfights that erupt are a thrilling highlight. Jockeying for position as you dive and climb or circle around to flank a foe–contending with antiaircraft flak and dangerous mountain terrain all the while–makes for some exhilarating moments. Taking damage to key areas of your plane and getting your pilot injured can severely impact handling too. That usually draws enemy fighters to you like hungry buzzards eager for scraps, but it's pretty awesome to land those last few kills when you're limping along.

World of Warplanes' maps are packed with beautiful scenery both at ground level and in the skies.


Things are just as exciting near the ground.

Speaking of explosions, your time on the battlefield is often short-lived, at least until you sharpen your piloting skills and unlock better gear for your planes. The experience and cash rewards for making it through a match intact give you a big boost, although death is only a minor bummer thanks to the way missions are handled. Get blown up, and you can still stick around as a spectator to see how things play out, though hopping instantly back to your hangar lets you grab a different ride and start a new game. At first, it's a nuisance that planes are tied to each match you initiate, forcing you to wait until a match is completed before you can free up the plane again. But the upside is that this encourages you to try lots of different craft and gradually improve your whole fleet rather than rely too heavily on one favorite.

The depth that World of Warplanes lacks in its sparsity of modes and short-lived air battles pops up in the huge number of craft you can unlock. With hundreds of planes arranged in class tiers across five different countries–USA, USSR, Germany, Japan, and the UK–there's a lot of sweet military hardware to dig through. You'll find everything from old biplanes and burly bombers to more modern jets, and each craft looks outstanding. Gaining access to them is a slow but satisfying process that makes each match you play, no matter how short or long, feel like it's contributing to your overall progress.

Your first few aircraft are flimsy and get torn apart quickly in direct fire. Spending accumulated experience earned with each craft lets you access new planes and upgraded parts for each one, ranging from engines and guns to armor and special bullets. That's when they become a lot more formidable and fun to fly. It's a two-stage process, however. Once you spend experience to gain access to each additional ride and extra parts, you have to shell out accumulated in-game cash to actually buy and equip them. It's a grindy system, albeit one that lets you get a lot of cool stuff without having to pay actual cash.


Bombing runs are a nice break from dogfighting.

Spending real money on gold currency is needed if you want to expand your hangar to hold a larger number of planes at once, or to speed the whole process up, but you have a good amount of starting space to work with. A small handful of souped-up planes can only be obtained with gold. Aside from being a bit more powerful than their non-premium counterparts within the same class, these craft are not necessarily the absolute best you can fly, but they don't require research and they give you a boost in earned credits and experience. Elsewhere in the shop, you can purchase gold, credits, and temporary packages that boost your experience gain. These purchases range from reasonable to extreme in price, but they give you a solid advantage by providing quicker access to upper-tier crafts and powerful ammo.


Taking down a tough adversary is tops.

World of Warplanes' maps are packed with beautiful scenery both at ground level and in the skies. Diving close for bombing runs gives you a closer look at ships, buildings, and infrastructure, while the sun and cloud lighting effects are beautifully captivating. Flying high gives you a strategic advantage to divebomb planes below you, and cloud cover can obscure the view, allowing you to spring a sneaky surprise. The map topography and ground-level designs make a much bigger impact on combat when you drop down to hug mountain peaks, buzz past AA guns, and rocket through deep canyons to try to shake someone on your tail. Despite the game's good looks, it stinks that the map rotation is so limited. Each setting is impressively rednered, but you can't pick which map you play on in a given match. This leads to lots of matches where you fly over the same few vistas, adding to the repetitiousness of the experience.

Taking to the skies in a seemingly endless string of short and intense matches proves to be a lot of fun in World of Warplanes, even when you feel caught in a time loop playing the same maps ad nauseam. Every encounter is pleasantly unpredictable, and the crazy kills and near misses keep the steady grind for cash and experience interesting. Ultimately, it's the variety of planes and unlockable goodies available for each aircraft that keep you pushing through the more limited, recycled stretches of this airborne assault freebie. There's room to grow here, but World of Warplanes leaves the runway with a sound foundation intact.

A Website For Gadgets & Gaming Enthusiasts