Category Archives: Review

Short Review: A Quiet Place

Hey guys, here’s a short review I wrote for my college newspaper. Enjoy! Thank you for reading.

Review: A Quiet Place

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In today’s bloated landscape of horror movie flicks, an effective gimmick goes a long way in helping a film stand out from the crowd. It’s good news, then, that the silent tension found in “A Quiet Place” is justified by the film’s setup.

 

The premise of “A Quiet Place” is simple. A small family of five are among the few remaining survivors after an unknown attack on humanity wipes out modern civilization. The father of the family, Lee (John Krasinski) and his wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt) survive each day making as little noise as possible, teaching their children to follow in their footsteps. Any significant noise brings trouble not long after, and the film revolves around how the family takes measures to stay quiet, and thus, be safe.

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In some ways, “A Quiet Place” echoes “Don’t Breathe” a 2016 horror movie that emphasized the characters making as little noise as possible. It’s a smart technique for building tension; after all, the best time to scare the audience is when the movie is silent, and in both of these films, surprises can lurk around every corner.

 

Unsurprisingly, there are jump scares to be found in “A Quiet Place”. Coming from someone that finds most horror movie jump scares to be poorly handled, I never found any of the ones in this movie that obnoxious. They felt appropriately timed, for the most part. In their absence, though, was left a feeling of anxiousness that lasted nearly the entire watch. This feeling of dread persisted the whole movie, and I loved it. It helps that there is barely any spoken dialogue in the film, with each of the characters relying on sign language and whispers to communicate. When sounds do show up, they’re made all the more frightening by this lack of conversation.

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Each of the actors perform well on-screen. Any fear of annoying child actors are quickly put to rest, as each of the kids also provide a solid performance. Only one family member has a full character arc, but it’s focused and well written. Every actor behaves as you’d expect, with no “Why would you do that?” moments of frustration that can sometimes pop up in horror movies, when the audience questions the protagonist’s motivations.

 

There isn’t much of a backstory to be found here, which for some viewers may be disappointing, but I think the audience was provided enough information to come up with an interesting precursor of events ourselves.

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My only big criticism shows up in the final ten minutes. The ending felt abrupt, with a finale that feels a little forced and out-of-place from the rest of the film. I also wish we saw more interaction with other survivors, as the story relies almost entirely on the family’s survival. Still, it provided a complete package, avoiding any silly cliffhangers or indication that a sequel MUST be created. I’d say “A Quiet Place” is among the more memorable horror films I’ve seen lately. With a cast that plays their part very well, interesting set design, and some set pieces that keep the movie tense all throughout, I’d recommend this one to anyone that is even slightly interested by the movie’s premise.

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Review: Burnout Paradise: Remastered

Review: Burnout Paradise: Remastered

Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC (arriving later)

Hours Played: 10+

Developer: Criterion Games

Burnout Paradise

In the world of video game racers in the mid 2000’s, the “Burnout” series was king. The arcade racing genre had heavy competition in the form of “Need for Speed”, “Midnight Club”, and “Ridge Racer”, but 2008’s “Burnout Paradise” marked a peak for the genre.

 

“Burnout Paradise” abandons linear race tracks, opting for an open-world environment where players can explore a large city of their own free will and take on multiple types of unique challenges. It allows players to drive around the game world, discovering shortcuts and other hidden areas while unlocking new cars that offer better performance, where they can then compete in online multiplayer against other players in a number of different races. All of this is possible while still offering satisfying high-speed gameplay that gives an incredible sense of movement. Even with all of the additional game modes included, driving around the game world of your own volition is exciting; with a number of collectibles to gather in the form of breaking billboards, discovering shortcuts, and performing large jumps, the additional game modes are just icing on the cake.

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The game was met with critical acclaim, garnering an average of 88 out of 100 on the aggregate review website Metacritic. As expected, the remaster offers mostly the same experience as the original game’s release. Running at a higher resolution and on modern hardware means the game looks better than ever, all while running at a smooth 60 frames per second.

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The “Burnout” series is known for its high-fidelity crash systems, where the sheer level of detail put into car crashes is staggering. Every crash plays out in slow-motion, zooming in on cars that literally break at the seams when they collide with each other or obstacles. It gives failure its own minor reward in the form of well-choreographed car crashes, with a respawn timer that feels fair.

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Returning to the experience years later, it hit me just how well “Burnout Paradise” has aged since its original release a decade ago. The game world’s city and forest areas flow well, feeling like a cohesive environment with meticulously placed shortcuts and well-designed streets. It’s obvious that the team at Criterion Games worked hard to create a fun world to explore, with no single area noticeably worse than the other. As mentioned earlier, the remaster includes all of the add-on content that arrived after the original game’s release, the most hefty of this additional content being the ‘Big Surf Island’ add-on. This add-on inserts an additional island area to the game’s open-world, offering even more streets to explore and high-flying jumps to pull off. It doesn’t feel quite as well-crafted as the original game’s areas, with some weirdly-designed shortcuts, but it is a nice addition to the overall package.

 

Perhaps the most relieving news that “Burnout Paradise: Remastered” received leading up to its release was the announcement that the entirety of the original game’s soundtrack would be returning. The game offers a large number of songs across a variety of genres; from rock artists like Guns n’ Roses, Seether and Alice in Chains, to fan favorites in the form of Avril Lavigne and songs from previous “Burnout” games, there’s something to make everyone happy while cruising around paradise.

 

Rating: 5/5

Review: Celeste

Review: Celeste

Platforms: PS4, Switch, X1, PC

Hours Played: 14

Developer: Matt Makes Games

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There are a lot of people that deal with anxiety on a daily basis, and not a lot of video games that discuss the topic. In fact, not a whole lot of games tackle mental health, although some notable releases like last year’s “Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice” do make it a central plot piece.

 

“Celeste” handles anxiety a little differently, with a central character inhabiting the player’s anxious thoughts and struggle with panic attacks. The game is a side-scrolling platformer where you’ll run, dash, and jump your way through levels room-by-room, with story segments that provide context to each situation. The game controls like a dream, not unlike developer Matt Thorson’s previous work, “Towerfall Ascension” which featured similar mechanics of movement. The control options in “Celeste” are simple, with only four commands: run, jump, dash, and grab. Through the advancement of the story, the game will teach how each one works with each other, never feeling like a chore or rushing through how each mechanic works.

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The player controls Madeline, a young woman that journeys to Celeste mountain, hoping to reach its summit and find answers about herself. Cutscenes play out during and in-between chapters, with each one serving an important part of the narrative. One of my favorite features is the ability to choose whether Madeline continues to converse with the rest of the cast; not unlike a story-driven RPG, sometimes there are multiple dialogue options that appear, with the option to pursue them or ignore the plot entirely. Learning about Madeline’s past through bits and pieces of her dialogue is rewarding, and I was genuinely invested in each of the characters and their struggle on the mountain.

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The clean character portraits that appear on screen when a character speaks juxtapose the pixel-art visuals, which at first feels at odds with one another, but I grew to appreciate the way they intertwine. Each character has a unique personality and voice (spoken in cutesy bleep-bloops during narrative sections) that I dig, and none of them felt out of place. The cast is compact and likeable, each serving an important part of the story.

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The score is also a delight, offering upbeat and adventurous tunes in the beginning, delivering more somber tracks at the appropriate story moments.

 

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with “Celeste”. The game is charming, has great platforming elements that expand on themselves in fun and surprising ways, and includes some of my favorite end-of-chapter jingles that I’ve heard in quite some time. I never found the main story levels too difficult, but unlockable hard levels called ‘B-side’ levels provide a hefty challenge for those that seek it. If you’re a fan of platformers, this one is worth a look.

Short Review: The Cloverfield Paradox

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In a move that surprised millions, including myself, Netflix debuted a trailer for the next film in the Cloverfield anthology during last week’s Super Bowl LII. Titled The Cloverfield Paradox, the movie is a Netflix exclusive that released following the end of the big game. Each movie in the Cloverfield universe follows a new protagonist, in an entirely different setting and scenario from the one before it. Their only similarity is one thing – An alien, or aliens, have invaded Earth, and nobody knows how or why they have arrived. The first movie took place on the streets of New York City, the second almost entirely within an underground bunker, and the latest one is set mostly in outer space.

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The Cloverfield Paradox follows Ava Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), an engineer aboard the Cloverfield Station, a massive space vessel housing a crew of several other engineers and researchers. Their goal is to solve the Earth’s energy crisis by using a particle accelerator aboard the ship, providing our planet with unlimited energy. In a move that spells out most of the movie’s plot at the beginning, an author back on Earth warns humanity that using the particle accelerator could rip open a portal to alternate dimensions, causing horrible creatures from other dimensions to enter ours. While I like the idea of alternate dimensions being the cause of the Cloverfield monster’s appearance in the first film, Paradox tells most of its story in a sloppy and uninteresting manner, while refusing to answer any questions that longtime fans have had.

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The first half of Cloverfield Paradox is the strongest part of its watch, giving light Event Horizon vibes (but in a good way!) Although it doesn’t dip its toe quite as far in the ‘body horror’ subgenre, it kept me especially curious to see where the plot will go. Unfortunately, the movie shies away from this setup about halfway through and relies on tired tropes to fill the rest of its runtime. Betrayals, bad jokes, and 3D-printed handguns (seriously, a handgun somehow found its way into this movie) make up the worst parts. The world building and possibilities that the Cloverfield universe allows are the most interesting part of these movies, and it’s a shame that Paradox fails to expand on the premise in a satisfying way. As loosely connected to the first film as 10 Cloverfield Lane was, it at least provided a tight narrative to compliment a fascinating backdrop, giving fans a renewed level of excitement for what was to come. Here, Paradox mostly feels like a tired, run-of-the-mill science fiction tale with the Cloverfield name stuck on the front to bolster views. And I hate to sound so negative, but don’t even get me started on the ending stinger. Hopefully the next movie in the Cloverfield franchise can satisfy long-time fans and newcomers alike.

 

Rating: 2/5

Review: MONSTER HUNTER WORLD

MONSTER HUNTER WORLD

Platform Played: PS4 Pro

# Hours Played (so far): 66

Monster Hunter World is a massive game. It doesn’t have quite as much content as some of the previous entries, such as Generations, but there is still a lot to discover. I’ve played over 60 hours of this game, and can’t see myself stopping anytime soon. The addicting gameplay loop found in previous Monster Hunter games is fully intact, but in an exciting new entry (finally) on home consoles.

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Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate on the 3DS was my entry point to the long-running hunting series. Playing the demo when I got my ‘New’ 3DS XL was a great moment because I instantly knew that I’d be hooked. The game had satisfying combat, a great variety of weapons to suit any playstyle, and the visuals were great for what the 3DS has to offer. I poured over 200 hours into the game, raising my hunter rank and having a blast the entire time. Monster Hunter Generations released a few years later and, while I did end up playing a lot of it, I didn’t find the game quite as addicting as 4U.

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When Capcom announced Monster Hunter World last year, I almost couldn’t believe what I was seeing. A brand new, console-focused Monster Hunter game that had the best bits from the handheld games but with shiny new graphics? Sign me up! The initial trailer may have worried some veterans of the series, but I thought it looked phenomenal from the start. Finally getting my hands on the game, my expectations were blown out of the water. Monster Hunter World has, so far, turned out to be even better than I anticipated. Each of the weapons work similarly to previous games, offering a wide degree of control. Melee attackers, ranged fighters, and support players are all welcome, and each play an important part of any hunt. Every critical strike on a monster feels satisfying, offering a solid crunch noise and brand-new damage numbers to add to the feeling of dishing out major damage. I was initially wary of the damage numbers, thinking they looked too game-y, but they provide great feedback for each of your hits on a monster, as well as give you an idea on where the right place to hit a monster is located.

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Despite there being only a handful of maps to explore, each area is massive. They feature no loading screens in between areas, which is a very welcome change from previous titles. This opens up a new layer of strategy to monster hunting – no longer can you run out of the arena at any point to catch your breath during a fight. You have to carefully choose when to retreat, otherwise a monster can simply chase you down into different areas. This change gives each map a better flow, removing any abrupt loading screens in favor of large new zones to explore. More importantly, each map feels interesting enough to explore, with plenty of hidden items to gather to improve your hunter’s arsenal.

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The game is downright gorgeous, offering plenty of unique forests, deserts, and varied locations to discover. I usually hesitate to call a game world ‘alive’ because most of the time in video games, it can be easy to spot subtle nuances that break the immersion. But here, using the word alive may be the best way to describe most of the maps in Monster Hunter World. Each map really feels like a full ecosystem with its own unique inhabitants that wander the game world as you track down your prey. There are often multiple monsters that wander during a hunt, and if they come into contact with each other, they may initiate a turf war where they’ll inflict damage on each other. These conflicts have been among my favorite parts of the new game – watching giant beasts go one-on-one against each other, even for just a few seconds, is an exciting shake-up to the fight. When hunts for a target monster can take upwards of 30 minutes, it’s a nice change of pace to see your target fighting another monster. All of the environmental interactions to help take down your foes are also a great addition, such as offering vantage points to climb atop a monster’s back, or heavy rocks that can be broken from the ceiling to deal heavy damage to a target.

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Veterans of the series will immediately pick up on most of Monster Hunter World’s familiar mechanics, and there are plenty of tutorials to help new players find their way through. I have heard a number of people complain about the obtuse nature of certain parts of the game’s design, and while these complaints are certainly understandable, this Monster Hunter is more accessible than ever to newcomers of the franchise. Most of the old systems from the past are intact and better than ever, thanks to numerous quality-of-life changes that have made hunting even easier. No longer are there breakable pickaxes, bug nets, or whetstones – all of these items can be accessed without spending any resources. These items are ones that every player will utilize a lot during their playtime, and their shift to infinite usage is very welcome. Even better are the numerous customizable options at every player’s disposal; everything from your shout-outs during a battle, location of items on your toolbar, and even a new radial menu that gives you access to even more items is here. These all culminate to give players the options that best suit their playstyle.

 

It’s really tough for me to imagine many ways that I’d improve Monster Hunter World. Additional monsters to hunt would be appreciated, but those are coming through free downloadable content in future updates. The frame rate can get a bit choppy during certain enemy encounters, but I found it stable for most of my playtime. The voice acting is also a bit hit or miss, and a few of the main story missions are downright unenjoyable, but the latter only accounts for a minor portion of the game. Overall, this is exactly what I’ve wanted from a Monster Hunter game for years, and it’s fantastic to see the game selling well. Monster Hunter may have finally broken out of its niche and found itself a bigger western crowd.

REVIEW: Resident Evil 7: Biohazard: Gold Edition

REVIEW: Resident Evil 7: Biohazard: Gold Edition

Version Played: PS4 Pro

Hours Played: 16+

Developer: Capcom

No Spoilers

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Being a long-time fan of the Resident Evil series, I was skeptical of Resident Evil 7 when it was initially unveiled. Coming off of the disappointing Resident Evil 6, Capcom had a lot to make up for with fans, and the bets they placed on the next game sounded ambitious for the series. They claimed that the game would return to its survival-horror roots, with a focus on preserving ammunition and navigating tight corridors. Not to mention a new camera perspective, a forced first-person view, that seemed to riff on the success of then-recent horror games like Outlast or Amnesia: The Dark Descent. I’m happy to say that now having played through the entirety of Resident Evil 7 twice, the changes made to the series formula have paid off. RE7 feels like a game that appeals to long-running fans of the series, while welcoming newcomers into the fold.

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The premise of Resident Evil 7 is simple and much smaller in scope than the previous two RE entries. There are no villains being blasted in the face with rocket launchers, for better or worse (in this case, probably for the better). While I had a blast playing Resident Evil 5 in co-operative mode with a friend, RE7 has a completely single-player-focused narrative. It requires zero knowledge of the prior games’ events, but includes small nods to the series past that Resident Evil veterans will appreciate.

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You play as Ethan, a newcomer to the RE series, who enters a seemingly-abandoned home in search of his missing wife, Mia. Your goal is to survive the wrath of the Baker family, who try to kill Ethan every step of the way. These are among the most memorable cast of villains I’ve seen in a horror game, with Jack Baker being the star of the show. He poses an immense threat in every encounter, and provides some funny dialogue during battles, making him a likable villain and a force to be reckoned with. The slow mobility speed made me cautious of how boss battles would be balanced, but the addition of a block ability helps remove some of this worry. In fact, I think the addition of the block button is a vital component to the game’s success. Because the entire game takes place in first-person, navigating past enemies is more difficult than in previous entries, so blocking attacks is crucial to survival. Blocking slows movement speed, but the amount of damage taken from attacks is severely reduced. Knowing when to attack, block, reload, heal, and run is paramount to your survival. Resident Evil 7 hides ammunition and consumables in clever spots, effectively rationing the amount of offensive power the player has at their disposal. I was especially pleased to see enemy encounters and item locations change across the normal and hard difficulty levels, giving the second playthrough some new life.

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I’ve never thought of the Resident Evil games as focused on horror and scares, but rather as survival games that take place in a creepy setting. There are some parts of RE7 that had me genuinely nervous to turn the next corner, especially in the beginning of the game when Ethan’s defensive options are extremely limited. The game is less scary as it progresses, but the beginning is truly terrifying, especially if you enter the experience with no prior knowledge of the game’s early events.

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I think the only section of Resident Evil 7 that disappoints is a later chapter spent entirely on a boat. It’s a plodding, unexciting section that serves little story progression. While it does introduce a novel concept to the series in its later section, I think it could have been cut down and have still served its function. The final boss battle is a bit of a letdown, as it feels a bit rushed. The previous boss battles are solid enough that this doesn’t drag down the experience, but I was hoping to see more from the final confrontation.

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Overall, Resident Evil 7 is the game that series fans, like myself, have been waiting for since RE4. It’s a tight, mostly focused survival-horror game that provides a compelling narrative and satisfying shooting elements. To top off the package, in the gold edition, all of the downloadable content is included. I’ve only played some of the bonus content so far, but the one that stood out to me most was “End of Zoe” in which you play as a different character from Ethan. I won’t be writing a review for that bonus game here, but let’s just say that it’s a drastic shift in tone from the main Resident Evil 7 experience, and surprisingly enough, it works well for what it does.

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The main story of Resident Evil 7 has me excited for the future of this series. Where Resident Evil 6 disappointed me on many levels, RE7 has given me renewed interest in where Capcom will take the survival-horror games in the future. I hope they stick with the fixed first-person perspective, because it works surprisingly well with the game’s focus, but we’ll just have to wait and see where they take it from here.

 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 

Man, this one took me a long time to write. It’s not even that long of a review, I just kept starting over from scratch across multiple days. It’s easy to lose focus of work when you’re off from school! I’ll be back in the full swing of things by January 16th, when the next semester starts. Anyway, I’m currently playing a bunch of Yakuza Kiwami and enjoying the game, even if it doesn’t quite match up to my love for Yakuza Zero. I’d love to write about Zero, so maybe I’ll do just that one of these days. Hope you’re all having a great start to the new year.

  • Matt

REVIEW: Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (No Spoilers)

REVIEW: Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (no spoilers)

Platform: PS4, X1, PC

Hours Played: 22+

Developer: Machine Games

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Back in 2014, Machine Games surprised many people, including myself, with the clever writing and memorable characters that showed up in Wolfenstein: The New Order. Set Roth, Bombate, Caroline, Anya, and Max Hass made for great side characters to accompany our hero William J. Blazkowicz through his Nazi-killing adventure. Machine Games built a fascinating universe in the New Order, one where Nazi Germany won World War II and conquered the allied forces. I’ve always been a sucker for alternate history stories in media (for example: the Resistance games on PS3) and the intriguing premise hooked me immediately.

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Gunplay and level traversal work similarly in Wolfenstein II to the previous game. You run forward, dual-wielding machine guns, blasting away Nazi’s and enjoying a cutscene at the end of each level. There are plenty of opportunities for stealth, but I only used it sparingly, instead opting to charge head-first into a firefight. Those are the parts where Wolfenstein II shines; when you can dual-wield your preferred weaponry and successfully take down enemies, the game feels great to play. Unfortunately, these instances aren’t quite as common as I’d hoped. Especially when compared to last year’s Bethesda shooter Doom, BJ Blazkowicz feels like a wet sponge when he takes hits from enemies, with little hit indication showing where the player is being shot from. For comparison’s sake, let’s look at any Call of Duty or Battlefield title. When the player is damaged, their screen violently shakes and red splatters appear on all edges of the screen, indicating that they’ve been hurt. It’s a clear indicator that, hey, you need to get to cover! Wolfenstein II doesn’t shake the screen violently to let you know you’ve been hurt, which is a good thing because I always disliked how violently Call of Duty handles it, but the feedback letting the player know they’ve taken damage isn’t strong enough. There were a few points in my playthrough of Wolfenstein II when I abruptly died upon entering a new combat zone, not realizing that enemies quickly chipped away at my health. This occurred even when I had full health and armor. The game didn’t describe what killed me or how, which made each area when it happened a bit frustrating. Even worse is when BJ can be hit-stunned by particular enemies, ensuring the player has no way out of an untimely death. This is why I’ve heard many others echo a similar statement: during your first playthrough of Wolfenstein II, play on a lower difficulty setting. The gameplay is at its most enjoyable when you’re successfully throwing hatches at enemies, dual-wielding machine guns and running through a level feeling like a goddamn badass. The lower difficulty ensures these instances of what often felt like unfair deaths are an outlier in an otherwise very satisfying shooter game.

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Now, we reach my favorite part of the new Wolfenstein games, specifically the story and characters. Especially that second part, the characters; I can’t stress enough how great I think the cast of Wolfenstein II is, featuring plenty of memorable faces, each with an interesting personality that makes them unique. The cast’s performance is top-notch, rivaling the industry greats like Naughty Dog’s acting talent, making every cutscene an engaging watch. The game doesn’t explore the past of each character greatly, instead including optional conversations and events to occur when you’re exploring the new game’s hub area. Speaking of the hub area, I can’t say I like it as much as the resistance hideout from the New Order. The new hub is rather complex and easy to get lost in, and I only got a handle on its layout upon finishing the game. Even though it’s more interesting than the last hub area, I think the developers could have taken extra steps to differentiate each area, perhaps by colored walls or some such. BJ Blazkowicz himself is fleshed out further, providing a look at his childhood, and some horrific events that shaped the man he has become. Despite some initial worry about the tone of these flashbacks, I think they fit into the narrative nicely, giving the player even more reason to appreciate the monologues that BJ gives throughout the action-packed (but also appropriately quiet) story.

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As it’s been widely reported, there are some absolutely crazy scenes that play out in Wolfenstein II. So crazy, in fact, that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about a few of them since completing the game. The first that pops into mind is about halfway through the story, in an extended cutscene that *literally* caused my jaw to drop. It is so over-the-top, so absurd, that I think it’s one of my favorite moments of 2017. There’s even a tease to this scene earlier in the game, lightly foreshadowing the future event. It’s handled incredibly well, and I absolutely adore this insane moment’s inclusion. It’s tough to say anything else about the halfway point without spoiling anything, but I will say this: Machine Games have done an incredible job at differentiating their first person shooter from other shooters on the market, and this specific sequence reinforces that fact. There are some grisly moments throughout the story that hammer home the brutality of life, but there are enough scenes peppered with glimpses of hope and humor that even out the experience. 

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In a surprising omission, there aren’t any boss fights in Wolfenstein II, which is a shame because there are a few battles from previous games that were very enjoyable. After all, this is a game series that is famous for one of the craziest boss battles from 90’s video games in the form of Mecha-Hitler. As you could probably guess by now, at no point in Wolfenstein II does BJ Blazkowicz fight Mecha-Hitler. However, the story moves in what we’ll call a satisfying direction, making me all the more excited for the eventual Wolfenstein III. I think the ending of this game ended abruptly, yet I’m still yearning to play more in the form of the game’s challenge modes. I will be waiting patiently for Machine Game’s next dive into the Wolfenstein universe, and you can bet I’ll be there day one to jump on their next thrill ride.

 

Score: 4 out of 5

 

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading. I’m finishing up Stardew Valley for Switch at the moment, and I’d like to write a review for that game soon. It’s an extremely charming game that has helped stave off my hunger for more Animal Crossing (c’mon Nintendo, bring on that Switch AC!). Anyway, thank you for reading, and have a great week.

 

– Matt