Biomutant Review – The Price of Ambition

Time and time again, small teams have proven that they are capable of incredible gaming experiences. I’ve played countless titles made by a handful of people, or by a small group, and come away impressed. Of course, the balance here is between the ambition of the team, and what they can realistically accomplish. Biomutant, the first title from Experiment 101, published by THQ Nordic, is a title that has been in and out of the spotlight for several years, always garnering interest, but fraught with delays. Now, the full game is here, and I’ve played it on both PS4 and PS5 via backwards compatibility. How did this small team fare in their battle of ambition? Let’s find out. An Ambitious Action RPG that Struggles to Reach it’s Potential Biomutant makes a strong first impression with its CGI opener and a unique character creation system. Things like choosing a class, your primary fur colors, and base stats are all here, but the game also changes your appearance based on how much you lean towards things like intellenct or strength. The former will give you a big head, while the latter will shrink your head in favor a muscular build. Tying your appearance into your stats isn’t something I’ve seen since the days of Fable where your decisions between the good and evil path changed your outward appearance. Biomutant doesn’t take things this far, but the connection in the character creation offers a streamlined approach across your looks and your stats. While you are asked to pick a class, Biomutant allows you to refine your decisions as time goes on, so really the only permanent choice in the beginning are your base stats and your appearance. The rest can be molded as time goes on, which is a level of flexibility I appreciate in my RPGs. So, with your character made, you set out into the world. This is where the highs and lows of the experience become apparent. The first few hours of Biomutant aren’t incredibly inspiring due to inconsistent pacing and a litanty of tutorials. Flashbacks to your childhood are also prevalent and a little too long for the story they’re trying tell. I felt like these could have been cut or streamlined. Given the sheer number of systems at play here, I think the tutorials could have been given a little more room to breathe as well. From a story perspective, Biomutant presents a lush and vibrant world that suffered from an environmental apocalypse that wiped out humans, leaving mutated creatures to take over the planet. While things are regrowing and nature is returning to the world, the “Tree of Life” at the center of the map is threatened by creatures known as Worldeaters that threaten to snuff out this central aspect of the world. Among this, your character is the child of someone who once united the tribes of the world and perfected a style of combat called “Wung-Fu.” Your backstory is predictable, but sets the stage for … Read More

Poker Club Review – Going by The Book

While I am not an avid gambler, I do enjoy the thrill of a good game of poker. Before the events of 2020, I was in Las Vegas for work and lost a good chunk of change at the tables. One of my colleagues (who won a lot of money) would always ask “What does the book say?” before he made a decision, referring of course to the proverbial manual on how to properly play poker. Poker Club on PS5 feels like it was made with this hypothetical “book” in mind. Advertising itself as an immersive poker simulation, the promise rings true from a developer like Ripstone that has made the most faithful chess games I’ve ever played. The game isn’t afraid to throw its own book at you, but does the experience come together to truly capture the spirit of the game? Let’s find out. A Cut Above Other Poker Titles, But Not Quite a Winning Hand Considering Ripstone’s other work on chess titles, I think what worked really well there was a combination of excellent presentation, detail, and customization. It also did a superb job of teaching how to play the game, which really helped the experience feel complete. The first thing I noticed in Poker Club was how it kind of throws you into it without much care for those who may not know the rules or strategies. There is a spot on the main menu to learn more about these things, but the delivery is simply walls of text instead of interactive training sessions or something more engaging. It also doesn’t help that the text is incredibly small on a 4K display. Not even squinting could save me here, I had to get up and approach the screen just to read what it was saying. In terms of onboarding or welcoming beginners, it feels very much lacking compared to what it could have been. Moving past this, exploring the menu reveals options for single and multiplayer modes, along with variations like single or multi-table tournaments, and a number of other variations. In all, you’ll have 10 variants to choose from, but thankfully it’s quite easy to just get into a game quickly. While the loading times are incredibly fast on PS5, the pace of the matches may be slower than some expect. People will take their time online in some cases, which is unavoidable, but the animations, the dealer themselves, and the other aspects of the game all flow in a relatively calm manner. The way the cards are dealt, the slow slide of someone placing chips onto the table, it all feels authentic but can be a little slower than other poker simulators. One thing I found particularly satisfying was how you could hold the right trigger to flip your cards up and check what you’re working with. The close-up of the hands and cards here really added to the immersion for me, making me feel like I was truly at a table, stealing a … Read More

Returnal Review – Hardcore Deja Vu

I’ve discovered in recent years that I really enjoy stories centered around a time loop. I’ve seen some excellent films use the concept, and I’ve played even better games that use it. The Outer Wilds comes to mind as a perfect example, but when I saw a first-party PS5 title was using the concept in a roguelike with a AAA budget, I was absolutely on board. Now that Returnal is here in all its glory, it’s time to find out if the latest title from veteran developers at Housemarque makes the leap from arcade bullet hell to third-person bullet hell while also navigating a complex time loop story. Strap in folk, this is one wild ride. You’re Gonna Need Two Things: Time and Patience I have a mixed relationship with roguelike titles, mostly because I like to feel like I’m making progress in a game, and when the very concept prohibits you from making consistent progress, it can be difficult to really get invested. For me, it’s all about the story. I can handle repeat runs if I feel like I’m receiving motivation to keep trying. Hades is a perfect example of a title that nails this execution. Children of Morta also did well in this regard, offering bits of story between runs. With Returnal, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. There are audio logs you can find as you go through each randomly generated run into Atropos, and specific story set-pieces give you a glimpse into a house that shouldn’t exist on an alien planet, but the way the story is delivered is neither consistent nor reliable. Depending on my performance, I can go several runs without a single piece of lore, translated text, or audio log to motivate me. Given the sheer budget here, I would have liked to see more invested into additional story elements that make each run feel like you learned something, or at the very least tease you with new potential narrative if you can get just a little further. That’s not to say that what story Returnal does have isn’t good. The voice acting is excellent, with plenty emotion conveyed when the main character realizes she’s finding dead bodies of herself from other failed attempts to escape the loop. It’s all very compelling, and I certainly wanted to know what’s going on, but I think I would have stayed for another run or two per play session if I knew there was a narrative breadcrumb waiting for me at the end regardless of my performance. Now, for most people this isn’t going to matter. Roguelikes live and die by their gameplay, after all, you’re going to be playing a lot of it. They also typically leverage randomized environments or layouts to try and keep things fresh. This is one place where Returnal does shine. It took me several runs to get out of the first biome, and the environments shifted around just enough between each run to keep me from getting bored, … Read More

Paradise Lost Review – A Poignant Journey into The Heart of Grief

One thing I’d like to make clear is that I am not a fan of the term “walking simulator.” As a writer, I find that what I like to call “narrative adventures” offer a way to experience a story through light interaction and decision-making. Calling something a walking simulator devalues the work that goes into telling an interactive story. With that out of the way, Paradise Lost is a narrative adventure out now for PS4 and playable on PS5. It’s a story set in an alternate version of post-WWII where the Nazi’s decimated Europe with nuclear weapons, and our main character finds himself exploring a seemingly abandoned bunker that for reasons that become known as the story progresses. Does this dive into a version of history that never happened tell a story worth experiencing, or should we leave this paradise to the fold of time? Let’s find out! A Gripping Exploration of an Alternate Timeline Paradise Lost is a game that excels in creating a rich and detailed atmosphere right from the beginning. This level of immersion is due to a few things, but in no small part to the richly realized environments and little touches like being able to see your entire character’s body as he jumps off ledges or climbs through elements of the environment. The game’s story didn’t grab me immediately, but as it progressed through the roughly four hour run time, I found that it very organically reveals more and more about the events that transpired prior to your arrival, and the reasons for why you find yourself in this elaborate bunker. I say bunker, but it’s more of a sprawling underground city with multiple districts and distinct areas. In this version of history, the Nazi’s decimated Europe with nuclear weaponry, leaving the area in Poland where you spend the game nearly uninhabitable on the surface. With a few clues to go on, you play as a 12-year-old boy with nothing but his wits, a photograph, and a lighter to guide him in the beginning. The story is told through some flashbacks, dialogue between the boy and one other character (I’m leaving out their names as they’re not revealed right away in the story), audio recordings, and of course, the good old fashioned method of finding in-game documents. Where Paradise Lost’s story worked really well for me was in the way that it doesn’t show all of its cards until later. You’ll spend the first chunk of the game alone and eventually make contact with someone via the camera / microphone system, but even the documents play coy with what the Nazi’s were up to in this massive underground society. I imagine that some people will predict several elements of the story before they come to fruition, but I even found myself surprised at a few of the developments. It’s also a story with some flexibility thanks to a few different paths you can take through environments and moments where you interact with a complex machine … Read More

Doodle Devil: 3volution Review – Is it Good to be Bad?

One of the games I played when I first got a smartphone was this simple app where you combined base elements to unlock more complex items. It was just a drag-and-drop interface with very little flourish. It even had a basic name like “chemistry” or something. Nevertheless, it was addicting, even if I ended up just trying combinations at a certain point. Doodle Devil: 3volution is the latest game in a series that follows a similar formula, but throws in the theme of being pure evil and coming up with things like the seven deadly sins in your various combinations. Does this darker side of the Doodle God games offer an evil evolution worthy of your time, or is this title about as fun as a vacation to hell? Let’s find out. A Fun Core Loop With Unnecessary Baggage Right off the bat, it’s worth noting that Doodle Devil: 3volution is not an expensive game at all. While games like this originate as smartphone apps fueled by microtransactions, the exchange here is a slightly higher price in exchange for having everything in-game. With a price of $8.99, I’m taking the cost into account as I discuss the ups and downs of the experience. That being said, Doodle Devil: 3volution offers the standard gameplay that those familiar with the series are used to, while also adding a few extra modes that we’ll discuss momentarily. For those not familiar with the series, Doodle Devil begins with some base elements and a single category for you to work with. Using a combination of trigger inputs and button presses, you’ll pair things together like fire, water, earth, and so forth to create more complex things like steam.and lava. As you explore combinations, you’ll unlock other categories to keep everything organized. The twist with Doodle Devil is that you’ll be unlocking things like the concept of torture, the river styx, the seven deadly sins, and yes, even sex. I raised my eyebrows when I saw the game’s icons for some of these things, but nothing is inherently offensive. An option for younger players is in the settings as well for those who may have younger gamers playing alongside them. Things happen fast, and combinations are almost always rewarding in the opening portion of the game. Once you hit about 50 or so unlocks though, things slow down and you’ll find yourself accidentally redoing combinations without realizing it. An in-game store allows you to purchase upgrades that prevent you from seeing the same animations or giving you the abiilty to spot which items have combinations, but these need to be purchased first. It’s not a big deal, because the game gives you 10K gold off the bat to grab these things, but at that point it would have made sense to just enable them by default. Gold is also spent on purchasing hints or outright suggestions on what to combine, which is nice when you just need a nudge to keep things going, but the game … Read More

Spirit of the North Enhanced Edition Review – Taking The Scenic Route

The last generation of consoles brought two major characteristics of gaming to the surface: the inclusion of smaller indie studios, and games as a form of art. With so many titles made by small teams, leveraging unique art styles and storytelling, games became an even more diverse type of art than ever before. When I reviewed Spirit of the North on PS4, I found it to be a gorgeous looking game, with a presentation that goes beyond what you would expect from a smaller studio, but ultimately it didn’t have the emotional impact or depth that I would have liked to see from it’s unique storytelling approach. Now that Spirit of the North Enhanced Edition has come to PS5, how has that experience improved? Let’s find out! A Beautiful, if Similiar Experience Spirit of the North, for those who haven’t played it, is an action adventure title with a focus on a story told without words. You play as a fox who, with the help of the land’s guiding spirit, sets out to rid the world of a mysterious corruption that has taken hold through the various regions. There are hints are something greater, and a history displayed through the use of murals that you can find. Optional skeletons of what seem to be mages from a lost civilization can be activated as well by bringing nearby staffs to the bodies, at which point the spirit seems to thank you before passing on. Visually, it’s a stunning game with plenty of mystery in its various ruins and and the aforementioned murals that you come across, but it’s all hints at something greater and never quite becomes something more than that. I appreciate the approach of a wordless story, and I’ve seen it work in other titles like the excellent Virginia on PS4, but here I feel like the story could have conveyed more detail about the origins of the corruption, or the role of the titular spirit and their struggle against it. Missed story opportunities aside, the world in Spirit of the North is compelling to explore, with plenty of variety across icy vistas, water-logged ruins, and harrowing encounters with the corruption that has taken hold in later areas. Gameplay is a mixture of light puzzle solving, exploration, and utilizing new abilities you unlock to progress forward. There’s a nice sense of progression as new gameplay mechanics unlock and change how you traverse or interact with the world. I will refrain from specific examples as these abilities represent some of the few surprises you’ll encounter on your journey. Speaking of surprises, the environments also have a good sense of flow, conveying the feeling that you’re truly moving through a connected world. While the story doesn’t quite utilize them to the fullest, that sense of mystery and intrigue never quite goes away. Despite being linear, the environments are quite open, and while exploration can reward you with staffs to reunite with mage skeletons, there isn’t much else to motivate you, making … Read More