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Jonathan White

I’m an IT guy with a flair for video games, electronic dance music, professional wrestling, and telling people why I like all of those things. I’m either clinically insane or the coolest person alive. Find me on Twitter @sybaritictrance.

Hitman Review: This edition to the series is aimed at new players

The newest edition to Hitman has some solid, but comical elements

Agent 47, your life hasn’t been so easy over the last few years. Not only have your games been diminishing in quality, but they made two films based on you that were atrocious. Your last game wasn’t so bad, but was crucified for being so linear, so it’s nice to see you return with something a bit more freeing. The legendary Hitman franchise returns in what feels like a half-hearted ret-con of the franchise while going back to the original roots of contract killing.

This new episodic Hitman has had me concerned for not only the future of Square Enix titles, but games in general since it was announced. There are some people like Telltale who can absolutely knock an episodic game out of the water – mainly because those involve waiting for the next chapter of a story, but in normal games? I don’t know about you, but when I jump into a new game, I want to play it for as long as I want to – that could mean the entire thing in a 12 hour marathon or 35 minutes at a time. Hitman offers you plenty of content, but it’s entirely based on the community to create new content while IO finishes each chapter for future deployment.

The ideas here are fairly solid – Hitman is essentially a murder sandbox. The intro pack is currently available for $15 and comes with a training level as well as the first level of the story which is set at a Fashion Show in Paris. The training level allows you to assassinate a guy on a private yacht party and you can eliminate him via several different methods. I had just as much fun blowing him up by sneaking into his office and planting a sticky bomb, then pulling the fire alarm so he’d hide in his office as I did poisoning the drink he had before sneaking into the bathroom behind him and drowning him in the toilet.

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The Paris level is almost comical because it’s basically the movie Zoolander. There’s a big shot model there that you can take out who happens to be tall, white, and bald – the same bland features that Agent 47 shares. Donning a trenchcoat and a little bit of sprayed on makeup apparently turns 47 from a totally not at all obvious sore thumb agent into one of the world’s biggest supermodels. Go figure.

That only details one of the ways to kill the two targets in the Paris mission, but there are several others including one where you drop a lighting rig from the catwalk onto someone. The possibilities are great, but it’s difficult to find yourself interested once you’ve completed all the challenges provided to you by the game – and that’s where the bummer comes in. IO is only releasing the chapters once a month, and I had finished 85% of the base game trophies before ever attempting the Paris mission in less than two hours so not only is the provided content short, but it’s not terribly challenging overall – though some paths are considerably harder to pull off than others.

Hitman is aimed at new players as well as returning fans of the franchise, but those who will find the most enjoyment out of it are the new players. The objectives can easily be tracked if you choose to go after certain objectives, but it’s more fun to wander around and stumble upon one, which the game will then prompt you to track by pressing the touch pad. There’s some nice quality of life updates here for the franchise, but after you’ve completed each level a few times you’ll feel satisfied and because there’s nothing terribly compelling about playing past more than a few hours, it’ll make it harder to justify buying the new levels or even remembering to come back to check them out each month.

It’s kind of a double edged sword: on one hand, the game feels great in short doses and it respects your time by being attentive to your time. On the other hand, longer play reminds you just how little is actually provided from the developers.

Because Hitman is a sandbox, players can create their own customized contracts for the community to play. This has some cool opportunities as you can make some fairly elaborate kills on some extremely difficult targets to pull out of a crowd – but honestly once you’ve finished the levels a time or two, repeating it feels dull and the ridiculous loading times certainly don’t help encourage multiple replays either. If you can tolerate the loading times, there’s a bunch of player made contracts as well as featured contracts published by the developers and they’ll be adding in targets that you only ever get one shot at very soon which will also be a cool gimmick.

All of that said, it’s a shame because there’s a lot to like here. At the core, this new Hitman does feel like a nice rebirth of Agent 47, and the new story is told with some really slick cutscenes and seems like it could actually be interesting. It’s nice to see 47s handler alive again after killing her off in Absolution, but without some patches to improve loading times it’s hard to justify popping in more than once a month just to check out the new levels – that is if you can even remember those new levels came out as we head into the pre-summer games rush time. At least IO Interactive had the decency to release this properly as a $15 early access instead of gouging people out of $60 and promising updates later like a certain other game recently did.

Overall score: 7.5/10 

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Street Fighter V Review: A Glorified Demo

Street Fighter V pretty much has demo features

Street Fighter V is pretty much a glorified demo. Once again it’s time for a new numbered version of Capcom’s quintessential fighter, and once again it’s time to break out the fight sticks and hit the lab to do some good ol’ fashioned combo learning. Wait, nevermind, that’s applicable to Street Fighter IV because that’s the game where those options actually exist.

Capcom’s not always known for doing things to please their fans, but Street Fighter V being released before most of the planned features are actually included may be the most insulting thing they’ve done in quite some time. Seriously, on day one several features are either completely missing or greyed out saying “this content will be available in March”. Right now, Street Fighter V is a glorified demo that costs $60.

If you’re willing to essentially kickstart a game in progress, Street Fighter V is absolutely beautiful in execution. The fighting is terrific, the stages are gorgeous, the music is amazing, and the netcode (when it works) seems to be decent. Unfortunately, the game is also plagued with problems: There’s hardly any content, extremely long load times, and a network that simply doesn’t function now that the game is available to the public.

As it stands, Street Fighter V released with the following options available for immediate play:

·       Story Mode – which is actually nothing but small comic book style vignettes to introduce characters and begin building a prologue for the real story mode coming out in June. This mode consists of two to four fights, with newcomer Laura being the only fighter to have four challengers. It’s generic as can be and really only serves to help you earn some in-game currency which can be used to unlock future characters and costumes. These are one round fights and you can easily complete the prologue for all 16 characters in about an hour and a half.

·       Survival Mode – 30 consecutive fights that allow you to choose power-up options at the end of each battle. These are also one round fights but you’ll probably find yourself bored by the 10th bout. You use your earned score to purchase options at the end of each fight. If you’re low on health, you can purchase some health if it’s an option given to you. Would you prefer getting triple the points next round? You can but the cost is that your Stun gauge is full so any damage will put you into dizzy status. It’s a nice balance of risk and reward, but it’s monotonous since Hell Difficulty is 100 levels.

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·       Training Mode – pretty self-explanatory here.

That’s it for single player experience. There’s challenges but guess what? They won’t be available till March.  How, in 2016, do you release a Street Fighter game that DOES NOT have an Arcade mode? The most basic element of fighting games is missing from what can be considered the cornerstone of arcade fighters. It’s no wonder Ono-san had to apologize for the release state of Street Fighter V’s servers, but it’s even more mind-blowing that Capcom forced this terribly unfinished project onto store shelves and digital marketplaces.

Among everything else, there’s a very real problem with hitboxes. It’s embarrassing to see visual contact between characters only to not register a hit. If you let characters idle and throw a kick, there’s a good chance you’ll see your fighter’s limb go right through the other person with no registered hit. Chun Li is notorious for this with her kicks, and don’t even get me started about the silly censorship of R. Mika and Cammy as well. If that stuff isn’t enough, online failed miserably on launch night and still continues to struggle even a few days out, meaning you don’t get any credit for playing in offline mode (this means no character exp, player levels, or Fight Money) and battle lobbies were a catastrophic mess. They seem to be working better now, but it’s still

Unfortunately, unless you’re a hardcore member of the FGC or practicing for tournaments like the Capcom Cup or EVO, there’s absolutely no reason to buy Street Fighter V right now. With games like Uncharted 4 and The Division just around the corner, there isn’t any reason to buy Street Fighter V until the game is actually closer to a finished state in June. There’s not enough game here to accurately give a score to – but since we are required to grade the content available at release, half the grading scale is missing as well. Perhaps in June we’ll make the other half of a review score accessible when the content it should be based on shows up.

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Score: 4/10

Gaming gift guide recap for 2015

A Look Back at the Best of Gaming’s Hardware and Software (2015 and Beyond!)

By Jonathan White and Josh Smith

The wonderful thing about our gaming hobby (or addiction in some cases) is that, with each new turn of the calendar, we’re presented with enormous options, which is why we have put together this gaming gift guide recap for 2016. It doesn’t matter if you prefer gaming on consoles or PC, every year, whether it’s hardware or game titles, we have hundreds of choices available. This year looks to be no different, but while it’s fun to look forward, sometimes it’s worthwhile to look backwards, too.

With all the new gaming hardware and games on the horizon, there’s an advantage to be had by going back and picking up something you may have missed. Whether it’s because of a sale or because it’s no longer on back order, our gaming gift guide recap for 2015 features items that are all worth your time and money.


  • Razer Leviathan 5.1 Surround Sound Bar ($199.99)
    It’s really impossible not to recommend Razer’s incredible little sound bar. Not only is this sound bar and subwoofer combo fairly small, it’ll handle anything you want to throw at it – from your Bluray player, to your PC, to your Xbox One or PlayStation 4. The speaker bar itself is just slightly longer than my keyboard, and the subwoofer is roughly the size of a basketball. Great sound, optical inputs, and saving space? It doesn’t get much better than that for gamers

Razer Kraken Pro Headset ($79.99)
As is the Razer way, the Kraken Pro headset is comfortable, stylish, and useful. The mic is retractable, allowing you to store it away when not in use and, because it uses a 3.5mm jack instead of a USB connection, the headset is compatible with consoles as well as PC. The 40mm drivers aren’t overly impressive, but the price tag makes this a great deal because the audio they deliver is of great quality. It’s simple to use, the volume adjuster and quick-mute button live on the cable (not the headset itself), and you have a choice of green, black, or white, each as eye-grabbing as the other.

  • Astro A50 ($299.99)
    The Astro A50 is by far the best console gaming headset I’ve ever owned. With incredible sound clarity, a decent battery life, and a nice little stand to hold your headset when not in use, Astro’s A50 by possibly be the best value for the buck. Even better, the Astro A50 works with the Xbox One, PS4, and PC so you can use it wherever you’d like. It sounds expensive, but if you figure the cost of a headset for multiple devices, you’ll quickly understand what a value the A50 really is.

Kingston HyperX Cloud II Headset ($99.99)

  • A 7.1 surround sound headset for under $100 usually means some shortcuts have been taken elsewhere – typically audio quality or design material. Kingston ignores that rule with their HyperX Cloud II, delivering one of the best values, not just for a headset, but for gaming peripherals altogether. You can use the 3.5mm jack for console play, but if you rotate between console and PC (or live exclusively on PC), the USB option exists and adds more features. It’s got memory foam ear cups, 53mm drivers, and the only real drawback is the “static” placement of the microphone – though you can take it off and cap the input if you aren’t using it, at the risk of losing the attachment.

  • SteelSeries Siberia 200 Headset ($79.99)
    SteelSeries headsets are legendary in the PC gaming world, and the Siberia 200 is equally great. Once known as the Siberia V2, the Siberia 200 features the same great headset with some minor changes. If you prefer the clearer sound of analog audio as opposed to USB sound card processing, you won’t find a better performing headset in this price range anywhere. Did I mention the Siberia 200 is also available in seven different colors?

PC Hardware

  • Razer Mamba Tournament Edition ($89.99)
    I’ve reviewed a lot of mice in my time, and this mouse might possibly be the most colorful and eye-catching mouse I’ve ever had on my desk. The Tournament Edition Mamba has a continuous rolling rainbow lighting that looks so damn good you won’t want to change it to anything else ever. Aside from being quite the provocative piece of techno-lust, sometimes simple is better when it comes to gaming mice and the Mamba features an obscenely sensitive optical sensor and two simple navigation buttons which can be mapped to functions. The Mamba is a great mouse for work and play.

  • SteelSeries Rival100 Mouse ($39.99)
    In the market for something highly competitive but far less flashy than the Razer Mamba Tournament Edition? Consider the SteelSeries Rival 100, as it features the same minimal button setup, custom LED color settings, and a less premium feel, with a much lower price tag. The DPI settings aren’t nearly as high either, but then again if you require extremely high DPI settings (or even know what that even means) chances are this probably isn’t the mouse for you. The Rival comes in at an impulse purchase price point, meaning it’d be easy to buy two of them – one for your dorm and one for your backpack.

  • SteelSeries APEX M800 Keyboard ($199.99)
    The APEX M800 is a mechanical version of the popular membrane based APEX. SteelSeries actually developed their own type of switch for this keyboard, meaning it’s considerably quieter than most mechanical keyboards, but still sensitive to register button presses by barely pushing down. On top of that, there’s plenty of programmable macro buttons and a cool color changing effect that changes the color of the button you press briefly and then slowly fades back to whatever color the keyboard is while resting. It takes up two USB slots, but you’ll get two more to use for charging devices or plugging in flash drives right on the back of the keyboard.

  • ROCCAT Nyth ($119.99)
    Not a piece of hardware for the casual gamer, the Nyth is a modular mouse. That means you can add or remove buttons depending on your need. With games like League of Legends and Dota 2 dominating the MOBA world and countless MMO titles hitting the market every year, the Nyth legitimately gives you a competitive advantage. You can add up to 12 buttons, each with a different function, or use the software to create macros. It’s one of the few options that comes with a case to house all your button and grip options. It’s a nerd’s favorite toolbox.

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Games (Prices vary)

·       Dragon Quest Heroes – Dragon Quest has a unique following here in the USA. There aren’t a lot of these games that come out on our side of the globe, but when they do they’re typically the really good ones – and DQ Heroes continues the trend. This game wound up being one of my biggest surprises on the PS4 this year (and now available on Steam) because of how well it blends RPG style with Dynasty Warriors’ one versus a thousand battle structure. You can also gain monster coins in combat to allow you to summon sentry monsters to hold map points for you while you fight your way through hordes of enemies that all happen to be the most adorable monsters you’ll ever see.

·       Fallout 4 – Not a fan of the Nordic elements? That’s totally understandable. Why not get lost in the post-apocalyptic wastelands of Boston in Fallout 4? After surviving nuclear bombs in a cryogenic fallout shelter, scavenge the wastes in search of your stolen child. Take the loveable German Shepard known as Dogmeat with you on an epic adventure, or swap him out for one of many companions you’ll meet along the way. If that isn’t enough to get you interested, how about crafting a serrated sword that has arcing lightning on the blade and then using it to chop ghouls to kibbles? Yeah, I thought that might be more appealing. Fallout 4 is undoubtedly a welcome addition to the series, and those who might not have liked the previous games will be pleased to know that the shooting feels a lot more standard instead of having to rely on the auto aiming system.

·       The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt – If The Witcher developer CD Projekt Red is anything, they’re ambitious. This game was actually released way back in May, but it’s gotten a bunch of awards including Game of the Year from the Video Game Awards. Add an impressive amount of free content and continuing DLC packs that feel more like an expansion, The Witcher 3 strives to be well worth your money and your time if you’re a fan of action RPGs. Geralt is a man you wish you were, and the kind of man everybody wants to be with.

·       Halo 5 – If you have an Xbox One and don’t have Halo 5: Guardians, you’re missing out on the best multiplayer experience this year. Join Spartan Locke as he searches for the now seemingly rogue Master Chief, and uncover treachery, while maintaining a Spartan’s pledge to uphold honor. Okay, so it’s true Halo 5’s campaign might leave something to be desired, but you’ll be so busy online trying to earn REQ packs that you won’t even care. This is the best shooter available on the Xbox One, and you’re going to want to have it in your library.

Family Friendly Games

·       Just Dance 2016 & Just Dance Disney Party 2
While games for Kinect haven’t been on our radar too often, the two newest in the Just Dance series are perfect for killing some time, getting a littler exercise, or training for the inevitable dance off that breaks out on every campus nationwide. Between the two games you’ll get songs that you’ve heard at the club and some that appear on popular Disney television shows. Granted, you probably haven’t spent much time watching many shows on the Disney channel, but they’re surprisingly catchy and danceable. Even for an overweight guy with no sense of rhythm.

·       Gravity Falls Legend of the Gnome Gemulets

Another Disney installment, I had to borrow my son’s 3DS to play, but was quickly replaced. Gravity Falls Legend of the Gnome Gemulets mimics the show, having players share an adventure with Mable and Dipper, twin siblings. There’s plenty of clean humor to keep young adults entertained, and while it’s not overly difficult, it’s still fun and a great change of pace.

·       Hasbro Family Fun Pack
If you’re skeptical, know that a digitized version of some of you favorite board games is actually a whole lot more fun than it sounds. This pack features Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit Live!, Monopoly Plus, and Risk, but you’ll get various “video game-ified” options to go along with the classic modes you grew up with. Online play adds an extra element, but also allows you to trash to your opponent, as if they were there with you!

·       The Smurfs
You know all about the Smurfs, but on 3DS you’ll experience a number of mini-games that feature the little blue troublemakers. It takes advantage of the 3DS’ capabilities, but is very close to what you’d expect in a mobile game. The great part is that you’re not dealing with microtransactions, making this a great option for when you’ve got a small window to play, or a nice time waster if you’ve got a lot of time to spare.

Console Gaming

  • Xbox One Elite Controller ($149.99)
    The simplest way to describe this is, “the greatest gaming controller invented. Ever.” It sounds a bit hyperbolic, but to justify the price it needs to be amazing. And it is. Interchangeable sticks, back paddles, and D-pad, it’s all expertly constructed and held together with magnets … seriously. It feels well-made directly out of the box and, with the help of the free app, you can map any of the back paddles to any button you desire. If you spend even a moderate amount of time on the Xbox One, you owe it to yourself to buy this controller.

GAEMS Vanguard Black ($349.99)
It might seem a little too far out of the range for a college student, but in all honesty it might be the best investment you could possibly make for your gaming. Featuring a 19 inch monitor in a sturdy thick plastic shelled case, the Vanguard is excellent for travel and portability. Wanna play some Xbox with your friends? Throw it in your Gaems case and take it with you to their room. Downtime after class and don’t feel like going back to your dorm? Take the Vanguard with you and plug into any available outlet you find.

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Zipbuds might be the most convenient earbuds

The Zipbuds feature a zipper that prevents them from ever getting tangled

I’ve carried around a lot of different types of earbuds over the years but I’ve never had a pair that I’d consider innovative, but Zipbuds might be the most convenient earbuds. I’ve never really cared about the technology inside of them, I just wanted them for when I needed music immediately in my ears. Fortunately, there’s a company out there making products that are for people who just want earbuds without any hassle – and their newest pair may be the coolest set I’ve ever owned.

If you’ve never heard of Zipbuds, they’re a company that makes in-ear headphones with a very clever little gimmick: They’ve built the cords to connect to each other and literally “zip” up, just like a zipper. Most earbuds you get are actually stuck together and you pull them apart to give you more slack. You can then adjust this typically with some sort of slider that keeps the cords close, but doesn’t reunite them. This keeps you from getting your earbuds wrapped around each other in your pocket or accidentally tying a knot in them if you’re digging for them in your purse or bag. Their newest product features an innovative zipperless zipping technique called Slide.

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The way Slide works is that these earbuds cords actually have little a little groove on one side, while the other side has a small rail that is guided into this groove in order to keep them “zipped”, and this is accomplished simply by pushing the little logo block up and down. It’s simple and effective. While I personally wish they had just a slight bit more slack as they’re still closer to my chin than I’d like fully opened up, but they work really well – though I worry that the rubber may become more flexible over time and that rail may pop out of line, but so far so good after about two months of heavy carrying and use.

I was pretty impressed with how much easier fishing these out of my pocket became thanks to the zipper tech. The earbud cable zips up to the base of the bud, which makes them sit tightly together and nestled in your pocket. I’ve carried them with me for almost two months now almost daily, and they still look (and function) just as well as they did the day I got them. I’ve even carried them in my back pocket and sat on them for hours at a time, often forgetting that I even had them with me, and for a product so seemingly flimsy, holding up under my 300lb frame is quite impressive.

While the biggest appeal to the Zipbuds is their namesake, the earbuds themselves are pretty solid as well. They aren’t the deepest sounding buds I’ve used, and they certainly don’t do anything to complement 3D sound or binaural recordings like popular sleep aid ASMR videos, but they do handle anything you throw at them flawlessly. It’s true that they aren’t for audiophiles, but they were crystal clear no matter what I threw at them. I put them through the gauntlet as well – playing samplings of various genres of EDM, Hard Rock, Trap Bass, HipHop, and even orchestral elements. I never once heard distortion, no matter what type of music I played or at what volume. Phone calls also worked quite well, as the in-line microphone sounded good with no complaints from those I spoke with.

If I had to make one complaint about the Zipbuds Slide, it’s that I’m not a big fan of their angled in-ear approach. While I appreciate them not being the standard “push in” type, instead opting for a unique design which requires putting the right side in the right ear for optimal use, they take a little bit of wearing time to get used to. Still, for my ears they’re far more comfortable than the garbage Earpods my iPhone 6+ came with.

While the Zipbuds Slide are a little costly for earbuds, the clarity of music at any volume makes them easy to recommend, while the convenience of staying tangle free only further increases my recommendation. Even though I slightly complained about the fit being uncomfortable at first, they stayed in my ears no matter what I did while wearing them, making it easy to recommend these for use at the gym as well.

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WWE 2K16 Review

So much better than WWE 2K15!

Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way right now in this WWE 2K16 Review: Last year’s WWE 2K15 was one of the worst wrestling games of all time. WWE 2K16 builds upon the foundation of last year’s mess and manages to create a far better game this time around.

WWE 2K16 looks great and it has an impressive roster, touting over 120 unique playable characters (which at the time of review there’s actually only around 114, but there are several characters planning to be added as part of the season pass) including current WWE Superstars that everyone knows such as John Cena, Brock Lesnar, The Undertaker, while also including NXT up-and-comers Finn Balor, The Vaudevillains, and Baron Corbin. If that isn’t enough, there’s a ton of legends and former wrestlers (mostly thanks to the 2K Showcase, but more on that later) such as Brian Pillman, British Bulldog, “The Anvil” Jim Neidhart, ECW’s favorite underdog Mikey Whipwreck, and all five members of the Nation of Domination complete in their African/Jamaican colored gear.

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While I’m a fan of the expansive roster, the absence of a few people leave quite a noticeable hole for those who were (and still are) watching weekly. It’s absolutely ridiculous that we have a pretty good sized list of Divas available, but there’s no plans to bring Charlotte (the current WWE Divas champion) or Bayley (the current NXT women’s champion) to the game in any shape or form, but we have Santino Marella who had little to do with the WWE programming since his neck injury in 2014. Alberto Del Rio returned at Hell in a Cell two weeks ago, and he’s using the same theme song and gear that he wore before he left. That model is already in last year’s game, so why couldn’t they have patched him in? Seems like that shouldn’t be a tall order considering how much of this game feels like it was copy and pasted from last year.

For the most part, I applaud 2K’s attempt to make WWE games feel more like a simulation and less like an arcade fighter. That said, what’s wrong with a mix of both? Wrestling matches are often fast paced, mainly due to TV time constraints, while every match in WWE 2K16 is a 20 minute chore because the characters “sell” moves in order to feel more like the real thing. That’s great, but the recovery times are terrible because of it. Even with a full health bar, you’ll need to pump the hell out of the buttons to get up in hopes you won’t get attacked by the other guy. The reason for panic when getting knocked down is because you’re now only allotted a maximum of five (or less depending on the wrestler) reversals at a time (these regenerate over the course of the match). Last year’s game basically boiled down to whomever mistimed their reversal would end up being the guy who lost. With a limited reserve of reversals, you now have to decide which moves are more detrimental. This helps keep gameplay more interesting, and provides an experience a bit more closely resembling what you’d watch on WWE programming.

While I definitely approve the changes to the reversal system, the new submission system is by far one of the worst ideas of all time. WWE 2K16’s submission system now resembles that from the UFC games and while that’s fine, the system takes what feels like forever to actually learn. It took me more than 25 attempts to submit Stone Cold Steve Austin as Bret Hart through one of the showcase alternative goals, and I was so angry with the game that I was ready to snap the disc in half. Let’s hope they introduce something more intuitive next year.

The biggest appeal to WWE 2K16 aside from the roster comes in being able to relive the career of Steve Austin. You’ll have opportunities to play matches from all three stages of his career. You’ll revisit his WCW, ECW, and WWF/E days including both the rise of Austin 3:16 when he cut his infamous promo after defeating Jack “The Snake” Roberts for the King of the Ring, and his feuds with Bret “Hitman” Hart, the Hart Foundation, The Nation of Domination, Mick Foley, Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and The Rock.

While a lot of these are staples in Austin’s career, there’s a painfully noticeable hole left by the absence of Owen Hart. Legal reasons kept Owen Hart (mostly) out of the game but it’s disappointing not being able to play that Summerslam 1997 match which is arguably one of the biggest moments of Austin’s career. I’m also pretty bummed that we don’t get Austin vs Kurt Angle, as the Beer Truck/Milk Truck incidents are some of my favorite memories ever. Speaking of the video packages, they’re well done but a lot of the less notable moments only feature a generic match card with an equally generic hype song behind it. It’s lame and feels like they ran short on time so rather than dig through proper footage, they just filled it in with something so the loading screen wouldn’t be black.

Another problem with the 2K Showcase is the anachronism of having those matches called by Jerry Lawler and Jim Ross. While most of us will agree that Jim Ross is the greatest color commentator in WWE history (perhaps in wrestling history overall), it feels so out of place to hear him call WCW matches that happened while he was the lead guy for WWE. Bobby Heenan’s health problems have sadly rendered him unable to record new lines, but was Tony Schiavone busy? Joey Styles recorded the commentary for Austin vs Whipwreck and that match winds up feeling the most authentic of the non-WWF/E era matches because of it.

The creation suite is greatly improved this year, and they brought a lot of the things fans complained about last year. Create a Diva, Create a Championship, Create a Show, and Create an Arena allow players to make their own women, titles, arenas, and events. I’m not really one for making my own creations, but its fun to pull some of the community creations down to see what people can do. My biggest complaint is the lack of superstar themes for wrestlers you can expect the fans to create. Obviously, no Chris Benoit or Hulk Hogan, but I can make an Evolution stable (as the moves and poses are here), but the theme isn’t here for me to use? There’s a ton of CM Punk gear included, but no “This Fire Burns” or “Cult of Personality”? You knew none of the four horsewomen were going to be in the game, so why aren’t their themes here for me to create them accurately myself? What about the rest of the NXT talents? Blake and Murphy are going to be included in the season pass, but what about Dash and Dawson or Jason Jordan and Chad Gable? Those are all CFO$ created themes, so it’s not like WWE doesn’t own the songs.

Speaking of things overlooked, for wrestling fans attention to detail is key here. Austin’s wearing his “Dragon Killer” tights in the match with Steamboat which is fantastic. Austin’s double finger salute finally isn’t blurred out this year, and Enzo Amore does the shuffle before he steps through the ropes. Unfortunately, several characters are billed from the wrong cities, and poor Emma is a mess. She’s in the game using her face gimmick complete with the bubbles and stupid dancing for her entrance, but she’s got her brand new remixed theme she’s using in NXT. Don’t get me wrong, I personally LOVE the Evil Emma theme, but it’s the wrong theme for the gimmick that appears in the game. Emma’s persona is completely different now as is her gear and her entrance. I know, it’s nitpicky but when you’re building a game that caters to fans, these are small nuances that matter.

Gameplay wise, the game handles better than last year. I’ve had far less glitches but it hasn’t been flawless. I had a match in Showcase where Austin’s character model was under the arena floor and I had to use the placement of his shadow to determine where I was actually at until I got to the next cutscene checkpoint in the match to reset it. Not having a dedicated focus button also hurts as more often than not my wrestler will swing at absolutely nothing. He’ll turn and face the commentary or he’ll swing at the ref while doing combo strikes on a stunned opponent. It’s annoying but because last year’s game was so buggy I won’t even complain. Commentary adds JBL this year making it a three man team, but it’s terrible and doesn’t flow well at all. JBL’s clearly reading off of paper and he’s as disinterested as you can get.

WWE Universe mode is still exactly what you’d expect (but better) and My Career is a bit more interesting than it was last year. Matt Bloom sounds a lot more interested than Bill DeMott ever did. You’ll train with NXT superstars and eventually capture the NXT title, making your way up the main roster until you get to the Hall of Fame. Standard fare. Online is still a mess because 2K’s servers aren’t great. I got dropped from more online matches than I could complete so I stopped trying.

Overall, WWE 2K16 is still a bit of a mess but it’s leaps and bounds better than last year’s rush to get on “next gen”. WWE 2K16 is good, but it’s not great. The foundation is now firmly in place and hopefully future entries continue to make forward strides.

Review Score: 7 out of 10

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Halo 5: Guardians Review

We received a free copy of Halo 5: Guardians and reviewed the hell out of it

There’s absolutely no denying that Halo has one of the biggest fan bases in gaming, which is why we of course had to do this Halo 5: Guardians Review. From the multiple games, books, action figures, Mega Blocks sets, there’s something in the Halo universe that’s meant to appeal of audiences from any walk of life. For me, I’ve tried getting into Halo over the years without much success. I bought the original Halo when it launched on PC years ago to play online with some friends, however at the time I was more into the Arena based shooters such as Unreal Tournament and Quake 2 so I didn’t give it a lot of time or extra thought. I played Halo 2’s multiplayer at an event I went to, but while it was fun, I didn’t own an original Xbox and didn’t feel like it was worth picking one up for.

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Fast forward a number of years later, and I got a free copy of Halo: Reach for being part of the Xbox Live Preview Program for testing new dashboards. I played a little bit of the online multiplayer, but didn’t ever touch the campaign. Coming into this Halo 5: Guardians review, I was completely ignorant of the Halo story, save a few well-known names and enemy types. For others who might share this fate, Xbox UK posted a fantastic recap series on their YouTube channel called Halo in 117 seconds (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL8zOSWc8FnOM-56wlZ7wd67JG0KgGQZL2). These are quick summations of each of the Halo stories so newcomers can catch up. They are extremely well done and cover nuances only found in alternate media such as the Forward Unto Dawn videos, the Find the Truth podcasts, and the Halo: Fall of Reach animated series.

Once I was caught up on the story, I dove into Halo 5’s campaign which has one of the coolest and most visually impressive opening sequences I’ve seen on the Xbox One. You’ve likely seen this as well as one of the trailers for Halo 5 features this entire cutscene while playing “Knights of Cydonia” by Muse in the background. Once you’ve finished the first mission which introduces you to Spartan Locke and his fireteam Osiris, you’ll next play as Master Chief and his Blue Team. While playing as Osiris you learn plenty of cool things about the members and there’s a bit more reason to care about Locke’s team, while there’s very little explanation as to why Blue Team rejoining Master Chief should be a big deal – in fact there’s only one quick blurb of dialogue that informs new players that they have history.

From there, Halo 5’s campaign starts off extremely strong but changes gears at one point, and then sort of abruptly ends. Longtime fans of the series will get a bit of closure and might enjoy the whole ride, for those of us without sentimental attachment to Halo’s universe, you might feel sort of gipped. I was left wondering if they had shipped with an incomplete story that they planned on adding to with a future DLC installment. This isn’t exactly the best way to suck new fans into the story, and it doesn’t help that most of the marketing you’ve seen for Halo 5: Guardians doesn’t even happen in the game. This trailer is incredible, but is not at all even remotely close to what you’ll see in Halo 5. This might eventually take place somewhere in this new Halo trilogy which starts with Halo 5, but it’s not in this game at all. In fact, Locke never once decrees Chief a traitor, though it’s clear that he’s got doubts based on the evidence presented to him by UNSC.

Switching gears, it’s clear Halo 5 wants to you become more attached to Locke and Osiris in order to take the focus off of John-117. This makes sense considering the story wouldn’t ever progress to new places without a new main character, but mainly Locke also represents a changing of the guard. Master Chief’s power armor is big and bulky, while Locke’s is extremely minimal and streamlined. Locke looks more like a hunter from Crysis 3 than he does a typical UNSC marine, while the rest of his team (mostly notably, a guy named Buck who’s been around since Halo 3: ODST) also wear the larger power armor. After finishing Halo 5’s campaign, I finally get why fans are so in love with the series. Even though the story is a bit weak, it was compelling enough to keep my interest even in sections where I would criticize other games for making players slog through firefights just to extend the story.

While I won’t split this review into two sections, I will individually score the campaign and the multiplayer at the end for a combined total score. I feel like this is extremely important as there are plenty of fans who buy each Halo game solely for the story and couldn’t care less about the multiplayer functions. Speaking of multiplayer, before we dive into that, you should know that Halo 5 is the first game in the series that does not feature split-screen co-op gameplay. In order to play Halo 5’s campaign with a friend, they’ll need to join you on their own console via Xbox Live. For some fans this is an absolute deal breaker, so while it doesn’t directly impact me as a reviewer, it’s important enough that I felt readers should be aware.

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Here’s the part of the review most of you have been waiting for: Online Multiplayer. I’m happy to tell you that Halo 5’s multiplayer elements are excellent. There’s a change in gameplay that makes combat feel a little more like Call of Duty, and being able to grab ledges is much better than the floaty rocket jump of Halos past. In fact, aside from some team skill balancing issues and players not being added to the game quickly enough to stop a one-sided steamroll, Halo 5 has some of the best multiplayer available on the Xbox One. Because of 343’s dedication to having the game run at 60 frames per second, Halo 5 looks fantastic and stays extremely fast paced and hectic. If you were scorned by Halo: The Master Chief Collection’s seemingly endless multiplayer problems, you’ll find that it’s clear they dedicated all of the resources to making sure Halo 5 got the preferential treatment. It’s easy to be bitter, but for Halo fans Halo 5: Guardians should be more than enough to put 343 Industries back in their good graces.

Multiplayer is split into two sections: Arena and Warzone. Arena is where you’ll find more classic types of gameplay, including Slayer, Capture the Flag, but also introduces Strongholds and Breakout. In Breakout you’ll play 4v4 and you only have one life per round on a very small map. You have no shield, but won’t die from a one hit headshot either. It’s pretty fun despite sounding like garbage on paper. Strongholds is a lot like Control in Destiny or Conquest in Battlefield, but in order to score points your team has to control two of the three points.

Warzone is a giant battle which features 24 players and your goal is to destroy the enemy team’s core or be the first team to get to 1000 points. I found Warzone to be a load of fun as it was possible to come back from a large point deficit by coordinating a group attack on the enemy’s core. In an era where gamers aren’t talking to each other as much as they are to their Twitch audience, it’s still kind of nice to see gamers collectively moving toward a goal and joining them without having to actually say anything.

Warzone also features Halo’s foray into the world of Microtransactions. While playing Warzone, you’ll be able to use Requisition cards. These cards are purchased in game via points earned by completing multiplayer matches, but you can also spend real money on them for points to buy a higher tier pack. The higher tier the pack, the better the guaranteed rewards are. Included in these packs are cosmetic items such as armor/helmets, weapon skins, and emblems, but you’ll also find weapon licenses, and individual per use weapon and vehicle cards. As you play a Warzone match, your useable requisition level will rank up from one to six, and while it’s easy to give yourself a shotgun at lower ranks to gain and early lead, you never know who’s going to have a card for a Scorpion tank at the higher levels which is ridiculously overpowered in online play.

While some of the cards will definitely give you an advantage, I’m happy to say that Halo’s REQ packs don’t feel like a pay-to-win experience, but more like buying an experience booster or a time-saver pack to unlock items quicker. The useable cards are expendable and they are consumed on use, similar to the perk cards in Titanfall, so while someone might spend $10 before they get to summon a Scorpion, you’re likely going to think twice before you use it. It’s not so bad, but we’re still in the launch week and we’ve yet to see how the plans will unfold months down the road – but for now it’s optional and not all a requirement to be competitive.

Overall, this Halo 5: Guardians  review revealed that this is a great game. The multiplayer is excellent, and the campaign’s story is interesting but only slightly above average in terms of the playable experience. Fans who love Halo’s online battle modes are in for a real treat, while story fans get a nice bite to hold them over until the next game. If Halo 5 is the first entry in a new trilogy, it’s the one full of backstory and introduction before anything really happens – but don’t fall for the marketing hype or you’ll be disappointed.

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Campaign Score: 6.5

Multiplayer Score: 9.5

Overall Score: 8

Dragon Quest Heroes play-through review

Dragon Quest Heroes: The World’s Tree Woe and the Blight Below Review – It’s Goo Time

Dragon Quest is an extremely popular RPG franchise that actually pre-dates the insanely popular Final Fantasy series and we did a Dragon Quest Heroes play-through review. Published in the US as Dragon Warrior, Dragon Quest and its sequels have been lauded by fans as being some of Square Enix’s best work – if not as good as or better than certain Final Fantasy titles. Personally, I’ve only ever played the original Dragon Warrior, so when it was announced that they would be releasing Dragon Quest Heroes, I wasn’t sure how to feel until I saw that it was being done by Omega Force. Omega Force is known for their work with the seemingly endless Dynasty Warriors franchise. These are typically love or hate games, so as a fan with an eye on trying to get into Dragon Quest, and someone who really enjoys Musou (Warriors) games, I knew I’d have to get my hands on this game.

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This might possibly be the best melding of two different game styles ever made.

If you’re a fan of the Warriors games, you know this isn’t the first time Omega Force has attempted to appeal to a larger audience. Last year’s Hyrule Warriors introduced Musou to the Kingdom of Hyrule, and while the adventures of Link and his crew were a lot of fun, Dragon Quest Heroes blows it out of the water. Traditionally in a Dynasty Warriors game, you’ll play as one hero and your goal is to strategically eliminate the mass enemy threat while capturing proper checkpoints and saving your allies in order to work toward a common goal. Dragon Quest Heroes almost abandons that idea and instead often puts you in smaller scenarios where you’ll have less ground to cover but it feels far less frustrating than riding a horse for five minutes to get to the other side of the battlefield only to lose your keep because your ally was overrun and you didn’t choose a faster path.

Combat might actually even be oversimplified for long time fans of the Warriors franchise. Dragon Quest Heroes has crystals you can activate in each area, and this will allow you to use a skill to quickly transport yourself across the map without the need for a mount. See what I mean about easing frustration? This actually feels really nice and I think it would be a welcome option for future Dynasty Warriors games.

Speaking more on combat, Dragon Quest Heroes allows you to take a traditional party into the battle and you can quickly switch between characters on the fly with a tap of L2. This works well if someone falls in battle as you can quickly swap to another person and revive them instead of hoping the AI will do it for you. This also works well as you can swap to someone who’s outside combat for an easier route to stationary weapons, as you’ll often find some turrets that help to dispatch some of the more difficult boss characters. One fight in particular is pretty rough as you’ve got a big green baddie who smashes you, and he’s got a wyvern that heals him by his side. The problem with that isn’t just the healing, but the wyvern is shielded and only vulnerable to attack every few seconds, so you have to pick your shots well.

The other cool thing about combat is the ability to pick up and use Monster Coins. The coins drop from slain enemies and you can then summon the fallen monster to fight for you. They are defined by two types – one type will summon a monster that you can position in an area (this is great for maps with bottlenecks as you can grab a stronger enemy like a Golem to guard it while you work on other areas) and the other will summon a monster briefly for a specific purpose. Some of the monsters are summoned and unleash a powerful attack, while others cast a buff on your party or debuff the enemies. It’s a very welcome addition to a proven formula, and while Dragon Quest Heroes isn’t a very difficult game, it’s exactly the type of game that will welcome newcomers to the genre.

The story is pretty cliché and fairly predictable, but it’s interesting and the voice acting is great – though it can be a bit grating. Everyone speaks with an English accent, but there’s a lot of attention to detail so the dialect both in the actual voice acting and the written text (Yangus is pretty hilarious as he often shouts “U WOT” which is fairly popular meme on the internet).

Luceus and Aurora are the main characters as captains of the King’s Guard, but the King joins them shortly as they seek out to protect the other areas of the realm. The realm was typically peaceful as monsters and Humans worked together, but an evil sorcerer casts a spell which makes all of the monsters (except a slime named Healix) turn on the Humans and attack.

Along the way the World’s Tree roots become exposed and the King explains to them how the Tree gives life to their realm. Like I said, it’s cliché but it’s well done – especially for a Warriors game, considering people typically skip the scenes and go straight to the fighting. You’ll continue protecting the cities and Healix will continue being the cutest thing of all time – as she’s a slime who will constantly make slime references. Her typical sentence might read something like “I thought I was gooing to be splattered into a puddle!” It’s sickeningly adorable, as is pretty much everything else about this game and it melted my evil icy heart. The monsters aren’t scary, but instead they’re all cute which means Dragon Quest Heroes will grab anyone’s attention as you can play it no matter who’s in the room.

If you’re a fan of RPG’s, Dragon Quest Heroes offers a somewhat traditional RPG experience with a different twist on combat. You’ll still buy weapons and gear for your allies, pick up ingredients to craft items using Alchemy, and spend skill points on new abilities or core stats – you’ll just be ditching turn based combat for real time horde slaying. It’s very much the greatest mashup game you never knew you wanted.

Overall score: 9 out of 10

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Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 Review

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 failed to impress or even meet standards

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 is pretty bad.

Back in 2012, Activision released an updated version that remixed Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and THPS 2, and remastered it for the current gen (at the time) consoles – they dubbed it Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD and it was a $15 digital title which seemed to do fairly well and while it had some issues critics were mostly forgiving because of the cheap price tag. Because of this success, a new game was created by the team at Robomondo (the developers behind the HD remake) aiming to keep the franchise alive, and being the first numbered entry in the series since 2002. When flagship games get a numbered sequel, it’s usually because they’ve developed something special.

There’s no doubt about it – this game is definitely something special, but let’s just say that it’s a good thing Tony Hawk isn’t dead yet, because if he were he’d be rolling over in his grave if he saw this atrocity with his name on it.

When a pre-release copies go out to press AFTER a game has been available to the public for over twelve hours, you know the publisher is bracing for impact and backlash. While not the worst game I’ve played, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 is nothing but a shady cash grab at the expense of throwing the franchise right in the trash can.

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If you’re someone who’s been playing these games from the beginning, you know that the series changed drastically when they moved away from Pro Skater and into the Underground series.  Things got ridiculous in THUG 2, and while American Wasteland toned it down some to feel like a subtle return to the Pro Skater style, EA’s Skate series came in and blew everyone away with what a Skateboarding game could be. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 returns to the series roots, getting rid of a lot of the silly mechanics that became core – like jumping off your board to extend combos or skitching, and instead going back to relying on reverts and manuals to chain your combos together.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 seems to be an attempt at reviving the series by recreating the feel of the original with a few twists and the end result is a terribly bland experience with a few new tricks that are more frustrating than fun. Skating is, for the most part, fairly solid but you’ll struggle at first because you need to complete challenges which unlock skill points used to make your skater perform better. The biggest problem comes in mechanics that are muscle memory for me that simply no longer work. Pressing the grind button now makes your skater stomp the ground, instead of being able to hold the button to catch a grind on the way down from a trick. I also had a problem on PS4 with the game not keeping up with how quickly I input commands, so my skater would constantly fall and bust his ass trying to start tricks half an inch from the ground.

There’s very little good to say about this game. If you can manage wading through the tedium, you might enjoy it in small bursts. Graphically, it looks like a game that should have been released on the iPad, with a soundtrack of mostly unknown hipster bands who are trying to sound like they belong in the early 90’s punk scene. There are a few enjoyable tracks, but they’re censored and because actually playing the game is such a chore, every second of edited silence sticks out like a sore thumb. There are also frame rate issues, collision detection problems (doing an ollie will occasionally launch you across the screen for no reason at all), and challenges that are duplicates of others just to make sure every level has the same amount available leading to disappointment that would have been tough to recommend at $15, but at $60 this game is nothing short of an abomination.

If you really want to play Tony Hawk and enjoy it, pick up THUG 2 on PC and use the THUG Pro fan mod for a much more enjoyable experience. Don’t waste your money on this cash grab.

Overall Score for Tony Hawk Pro Skater 5: 3.5 out of 10

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