Beneath the Mask: What Makes a Great Video Game Soundtrack?

Koji Kondo. Nobuo Uematsu. Jeremy Syd. No, these names are not random. These are well-known music composers in the video game industry. Koji Kondo created the iconic tunes on certain Nintendo titles such as Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, and Punch-Out!! Nobuo Uematsu composed a majority of Final Fantasy titles since Final Fantasy I in 1987. Jeremy Syd composed the heart-pounding soundtrack in Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

A 2021 photograph of Persona 5 composer Shoji Meguro.
Persona 5 composer Shoji Meguro

Looking at the impact of those soundtracks to their respective gaming experiences begs this question: What makes a video game soundtrack great? To answer this, I want to take a closer look at Persona 5's soundtrack, composed by Shoji Meguro.

A Little Info on Persona 5

The Persona series of games are spin-off titles of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise. In the sixth entry of the series, players take control of a protagonist (named by the player) who is a high school student on probation for a crime he did not commit. As part of his probationary sentence, he is taken in by Sojiro Sakura who lets him stay in his coffee shop attic for a year while studying at the fictional Shujin Academy in Tokyo, Japan.

The protagonist, code-named Joker, meets friends along the way as he finds out the world around them is toxic and oppressive, almost like a prison! Each new friend joins the Joker's team, the Phantom Thieves, who are kids fighting off enemies that are supernatural manifestations of a real-life person's evil desires. Each team member has their own supernatural persona, and they can jump into otherworldly dimensions to aid in the fight. They ultimately defeat each enemy and, in turn, free the world around them from the evil forces that trapped them.

The Music Stands Out on its Own

I actually discovered the Persona 5 soundtrack with no knowledge of the games at all. Believe it or not, I heard the track "Last Surprise" from a dance-off video between a Houston Astros security guard and the team mascot, aptly named Astro, in Minute Maid Park back in 2018. Watch the video below and see the madness:

After seeing that video, I was curious what the entire soundtrack sounded like. A Spotify search later to find the entire soundtrack, and I was hooked. The blend of jazz, hard rock, electronic, and disco used in the soundtrack really made this stand out as a solid collection of music. The catchy licks and composition stuck with me since listening to it. Oftentimes I would add the songs to a playlist that I would listen to while I was working on something else. If there’s a deadline that needs to be met at work, “Blooming Villain” and other tracks from the game will be part of a playlist to blast through the work day. Check out the video below and feel the adrenaline surge the track can provide:

As I got around to playing Persona 5 this year, the soundtrack revealed its true form. (If you get that reference, I tip my hat to you!)

The Music Enhances the Game

Persona 5 screenshot of the player's character walking through Shibuya Station in Tokyo, Japan.
Shibuya Station in Tokyo, Japan: one of the many locations to traverse in Persona 5. (Credit: Atlus)

Sure, the Persona 5 soundtrack itself can stand on its own. But complementing it with a video game is even better. "Last Surprise" is the battle theme for every small fight. "Blooming Villain" becomes the level boss’s theme. The songs that are just pastimes on a playlist have context in the bigger picture of the game. It brings the excitement out of a fight!

A screenshot of the Persona 5 user interface when the player is in battle.
The HUD system in Persona 5. (Credit: Atlus)

Besides enhancing the fights, the songs add to the world-building of the game. Unlike movies where the audience is just watching the story unfold, video games are an interactive experience. The player is a part of the game’s world as Joker. So a song like "Tokyo Daylight" fits the bill to match the busyness of Tokyo, Japan. 

Another example of this world-building is in the different Palaces where the main bosses are housed throughout the game. Each palace represents a loose interpretation of the 7 Deadly Sins found in Christian non-biblical theology. One such Palace, for example, is based on greed. And the Palace itself is based around a bank, a modern version of what greed looks like. So what is the score associated with this Palace? It's a tune that sounds like it's straight out of a heist movie! Check it out in this next video:

The Music Creates Memories

As the game progresses, something truly amazing happens within the game’s soundtrack. Something that I really didn’t expect as the game’s ending and resolution were looming. Poet Oscar Wilde said: "Music is the art which is most nigh (near) to tears and memory." This is the most important part of a great soundtrack, whether it’s a video game or a movie. The song goes past enhancing the game itself. The music bridges the player and the game on a more personal level. Was there a hilarious scene in Persona 5 you found laughing your eyes out? There’s a song for that. Was there a boss that was so hard to beat, and then you miraculously beat it after an hour of gameplay? There’s a song for that, too! The links here are just some of my personal favorite songs that I associate with a fond memory I had in the game.

As the credits rolled on my playthrough, the different scenes of meeting each and every Phantom Thief member hit hard in the feels as I reminisced about creating a relationship with them. Building that relationship benefits the player in battle, so that was something I had invested time into. The accompanying score on "With The Stars and Us" made it hard to say goodbye. But the lyrics on this song were in Japanese, a departure from the majority of songs that were written in English. After looking at the translated lyrics, it made leaving the game much easier. Here’s an excerpt of one part of the song that cemented that feeling:

Never forget when we're apart
We are as one under the stars
It's okay for us to say goodbye

Artistic group shot of the Phantom Thieves characters in Persona 5.
The Phantom Thieves are here! (Credit: Gamespot)

Little did I know there was a sequel, Persona 5 Strikers, that I played immediately after. But that’s for another article!

Going back to my earlier question, what makes a great video game soundtrack? In short:

I can safely say, after 100 hours of gameplay, Persona 5’s soundtrack is amazing! If you haven’t played it, give Persona 5 a try! It’s a worthwhile experience. Persona 5 and its sequel are out now on PlayStation 4.

What do you think makes a great video game soundtrack?

Is a New Sly Cooper Game ACTUALLY Confirmed?!

by: Lizabeth Phoenix

Fans of Sly Cooper have been waiting for another installment in their favorite franchise for nearly a decade, and it looks like their loyalty is about to be rewarded! Recent leaks suggest that a new game could be revealed as early as this year! 

If you’re not familiar with Sly Cooper, Sucker Punch’s original trilogy follows Sly, a suave raccoon thief, after his father’s brutal murder by the notorious Fiendish Five. As he discovers more about Cooper's legacy, he faces his family’s villains head-on.

A descendant of master thieves, Sly learns to treasure what is truly valuable – both his friendship with his gang, Bentley and Murray, and his relationship with Inspector Carmelita Fox–over his family’s untold wealth.

When his thieving ways fail to provide true fulfillment, he chooses what life’s really about. Plus, there’s plenty of smooth-talking, cane-wielding cops and robbers gameplay to keep you hooked from start to finish. See what I did there? “Hooked.” ‘Cause of the cane? No? Fine.

All of my terrible puns aside, Sly Cooper is a resonant story that isn't afraid to lean into thought-provoking themes and give gamers a complex, character-rich plot. Not to mention, the last installment ended on a cliffhanger that fans are eager to see resolved!

If you’ve been following my articles (or recent gaming news!), you’ll know that Sly’s long-awaited return has been in the works for quite a while now. When an easter egg appeared in the 2021 PlayStation Showcase, hope exploded.

Since then, several tweets have claimed that the new Sly Cooper game is in development. Some of these leaks have been taken down, but luckily, we have pictures, thanks to my super-secret Sly source! One particular tweet by noteworthy leaker AccountNGT corroborates that a Sly Cooper game and a new Infamous are both in development.

NEW DEVELOPMENTS

Quite a few leaks have popped up online asserting that gamers can expect a Sly reveal sometime in the second half of 2022. As Sly’s 20th anniversary is September 23, 2022, it would make perfect sense to tease the new title and honor the beloved franchise. 

Additionally, @Shpeshal_Nick tweeted that he’d been given permission by an anonymous source to share that PixelOpus, the developer that made Concrete Genie, is suspected to be developing the game in collaboration with Sony Pictures Animation. If PixelOpus is the developer, there's a lot of pressure on them to uphold the Cooper legacy and deliver a title that not just meets fan expectations after all this time but also brings something new and canon-faithful to the table. 

Also, surprise: Sony Pictures Animation is rumored to still be working on the Sly Cooper animated series that’s been in development for several years. Again, none of this is for certain. But it’s all very exciting, nonetheless! With video game adaptations like Arcane (based on League of Legends) performing so well, I can only imagine the excellence they could achieve with Sly's wisecracking persona. I appreciate animated series with grit and heart, so I'm overjoyed Sony recognizes Sly's unlimited potential.

WHY IS THIS CREDIBLE?

Despite the lack of official confirmation from Sony or Sucker Punch, both AccountNGT and Shpeshal_Nick have previously shared reliable information. AccountNGT accurately shared a few images from the Star Wars: Eclipse trailer before it had even been released. Shpeshal_Nick is a well-known and reliable leaker in the online community- and has accurately shared information on many PS Plus games. 

On top of that, notable gaming news outlets such as Screenrant, Gamerant, and Comicbook have all covered these new developments. If that isn’t enough to convince you, Sly Cooper’s domain name has been revived. 

One Twitter user even shared screenshots from AccountNGT’s Discord server, anticipating that it won’t be a remake and might be expected sometime in 2023.

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time left fans with a major cliffhanger in 2013, and they’ve been waiting to see what would happen to their favorite thief ever since. How dare they leave Sly out there in the desert all alone! I'm personally offended by this, and if Sly doesn't come back as the badass he is, someone is getting a very strongly worded letter from me. Who, I have no idea, but someone….

Why? Because people genuinely can't wait for Cooper's revival. Many in the Sly community have been replaying The Sly Trilogy and Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time on PS Now (now PlayStation Plus) in anticipation. It's amazing seeing everyone rally around the latest news and share their excitement, including skyrocketing Sly's popularity by making him trend on Twitter. With such credible gaming news platforms sharing their thoughts on these rumors, I think it’s safe to say fans can get their hopes up for Sly’s return.

Cautiously, of course. The industry regularly experiences delays due to unforeseen circumstances and development complications, so there are no concrete promises. However the number of credible recent leaks and news coverage is enough to make even the most skeptical of Sly supporters raise an eyebrow…. 

If you want to hear even more evidence supporting Sly's return, check out this video by Canadian Guy Eh talking about how Sly 5 might use Unreal Engine 5!

Until Sony announces it for real, I vote we do like Murray and grab a donut or two while the fans wait for more news!

Two Uncharted Virgins Go See What All The Fuss Is About

My partner, Hoot, and I have an amazing group of friends who we met through our mutual love of Nolan North. For us two Xbox and PC geeks, that love came from Nolan's performances in Assassin's Creed, Destiny, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and Con Man. But for most of our other friends, that love first came from Uncharted. 

When all your friends assume that Uncharted is something everyone "just knows," there's a twinge of that old childhood feeling of being an outcast. So, three years ago, I got a PlayStation 4 Pro and grabbed the Nathan Drake Collection to see what all the fuss is about. I got about two thirds into the first game (Drake's Fortune)… and then stopped. I felt like I was just playing my beloved Assassin's Creed, but with a different premise, a different controller, and a less compelling backstory. I just wasn't feeling all the hype that my friends felt. I'd rather be organizing my sock drawer than making the 30th attempt to drive that fucking Jet Ski through a firing range on Easy mode! So I took a break from it and went back to games I was enjoying more.

I apparently wasn't alone in my frustrations. I found this screenshot in an article about bad levels in gaming history.

Not long after that, the Uncharted movie was announced with Mark Wahlberg, who I have adored for years, and Tom Holland, who turns everything into gold these days. I knew I was going to watch this movie because they were in it. But I also knew my opinions of the film would probably be very different from our Uncharted nerd friends.

Hoot and I saw the movie late on opening weekend knowing or remembering very little about the characters and their game stories. Unlike the game, I got through all of it and loved it! It's a lot of fun! It had a good pace, fun dialog, good chemistry between the protagonists (Nate and Sully), and action sequences that hit all the right notes. Plus, after seeing Pilou Asbæk playing another baddie in the post-credit scene, I was on-board for another chapter! 

That said, Hoot and I talked a lot about the film's obvious head-scratchers when it comes to basic physics. That backpack full of gold, even if it was a small 10-liter pack, would weigh around 425 pounds! (Damn, Sully must be ripped!) And whose hair looks that good two minutes after you've been drowning? (Chloe clearly has magic hair.) But when we let go of those little reality breaks, it's an enjoyable ride start to finish!

Nolan North and Tom Holland on the set of Uncharted

Favorite moment? Nolan's cameo, of course! Perfection! I think some folks next to us in the theater recognized him, too.

Nate and Sully were the only characters I remembered from the short time playing that first game, plus Elena who wasn't in this film. I loved seeing this story of how Nate and Sully came to know each other and work together. I bought every second of their story and really enjoyed their dialog. Knowing their backstory now honestly makes me want to go back and at least finish the stories in the games (or just find all the cutscenes on YouTube).

So yeah, Uncharted is a fun film that's on par with classic adventures from my childhood like the first three Indiana Jones films and The Goonies. And if you didn't get the obvious tributes to those films, you were probably too busy looking for all the game references, instead. 

For perspectives from some long-time Uncharted fans, check out what Lily K and Maria Kinnun said about the film.

Any fellow Uncharted game virgins or near-virgins out there? What did YOU think of the Uncharted movie?

Under the Radar: Before Your Eyes

Back in April Before Your Eyes was brought to my attention and immediately piqued my curiosity. Upon looking into the game, I found that it was developed by Goodbye World Games, a small team of about nine people that started life as a student project called Close Your. This very unique game may have gone under your radar, but it is worth looking at.

Life Flashes

The highly unique feature of Before Your Eyes is that you play the game with your eyes. The game, only available on PC, uses your webcam to track your face, and more specifically, your eyes. This tracking technology allows the game to see when you blink and have your eyes open and closed. You literally play the game with your eyes and control the story’s progression by looking and interacting with various objects. To engage with the items, you use your mouse to control where your character is looking, but then you blink on the items to interact. There are moments in the game where you are tasked with keeping your eyes open to see what is happening, but when you blink, the game jumps to the next scene. Time usually jumps forward every time you blink, sometimes months, or sometimes years, which adds a whole new meaning to the expression blink, and you will miss it. Inversely some moments have you close your eyes and listen, and if you open your eyes, the scene restarts or ends. This mechanic makes you really focus on what is being presented to you. See it for yourself with the trailer.


They Grow Up So Fast

Beyond using your eyes to play, the game is a rich narrative-driven story. Without giving too much, you start on the boat of a “ferryman dog” who wants to know who you were in life. You then proceed to live through the life of Benny, starting on his first birthday. You learn about your parents, their passions, worries, and ambitions. You see Benny choose what kind of person he will grow into, who and what he loves. You make life decisions to determine where your character spends time and focus as you grow up. Sometimes there are some dark spots in your memory that are difficult to see and pass quickly. All of this is done with your eyes and focusing on people, objects, and observations. You can learn how to play piano, draw in different styles, or play video games; you decide how Benny grows up.

Before You Know It

As of now, Before Your Eyes is only available on Steam for a reasonable price of $10. As of this writing, I had spent roughly 5 hours in the game on my first playthrough and started a second playthrough to experience some of the different outcomes. There is a lot to appreciate in this small package, from the voice acting to the music. The audio experience is exceptionally well done and crucial to the game’s overall tone (definitely wear headphones for the best experience). Throughout the game, a very emotional story presents some challenging moments that for some, could hit home with a lot of life’s nuances and struggles. The feelings and emotions that go along with growing up, first love, and dealing with loss, are all presented in a very interesting and unique way and played in a way never done before.

Before Your Eyes is a heartwarming, emotional, and wholly unique gameplay experience. If you are a fan of story-centric games that focus more on the experience and less on gameplay, you might want to check this one out.

To Look Back 

An aspect of this game I had not considered until after playing was the accessibility options that this game presents. Many gamers struggle with a disability in one form or another, and accessibility in games has become a major push by many studios and platforms. Check out Xbox’s Adaptive Controller, which allows the use of a vast assortment of peripherals to give disabled gamers the best experience possible. Before Your Eyes may be presenting yet another new technology to help expand the roster of options for those that need it. 

This one may have gone under your radar and it may not be a game for you. However, it could change the way people experience video games in the future.

Have you played Before Your Eyes? How do you feel about a game you play with your eyes?

I Am Fish: The Little Fins That Could

Have you ever played a game on an off chance, and it ended up being goofy fun that just put you in a good mood? I did, and I am going to tell you about it! Bossa Studios, the team who showed how not to operate in Surgeon Simulator and brought you the quirky adventures of the magical toast that could in  I Am Bread, is back with another crazy adventure… I Am Fish.

Possible Spoiler for the opening parts of the game. Enjoy!

At first look, I didn’t know what to expect except for some Finding Nemo vibes. The game looks very cute and kinda wacky, so I was expecting more of a silly fish game for kids. I was quite wrong; this game is definitely not made for young kids as it does feature some violent imagery towards our fish friends. I Am Fish is a tricky little adventure about four fish trying to make their way back to the sea in the wildest way possible.

The game starts with a cutscene in a small town that looks like San Francisco. We have the hills and the iconic bridge in the distance, but everyone has a British accent and a fondness for weird baked goods. I’m not against it! The story literally starts with a man trying to buy a sausage roll that the baker doesn’t have. There are some Great British Bake-off levels of drama here. The two chat back and forth and, instead of the sausage roll, the clerk offers two whole loaves of bread that are literally alive and wiggling around on the shelf! “Special Bread!” I now know it is a reference to the Bossa Studio game “I Am Bread,” but at the time, I was pretty confused. After some very British deliberation, the man has no choice but to settle for two loaves of possessed bread and is totally fine with it. How bloody civil! Next, a lady comes into the bakery to buy “special bread” but is disappointed when she finds it is sold out! Who wants alive, wiggling bread?? What is up with this town??

Cut to a pet shop where our mysterious live magic bread is being crumbled into a fish tank to feed the fish. The fish are going crazy for the magic bread and eat every last piece! This is where we first meet our fish folk. A goldfish, a pufferfish, a flying fish, and a piranha whose names we are not told. How did these guys get together? Also, freshwater and saltwater fish… living together? Mass hysteria! Somehow, they haven’t eaten each other yet, and this is where we first get our taste of gameplay.

After the small tutorial, we discover that part of our extra goals is finding lost pieces of bread around town…as a fish. Yep! It’s about to get interesting. Are you still with me? The story continues…

After a night of fish partying with freaky bread, the fish folk are presumably adopted to their new homes. We find Mr. Goldfish lonely, downgraded to a smaller, perfectly spherical fishbowl. He dreams of returning to the sea to be with his friends….

If only he could. If only there was a way…

It’s from here that the game fully starts, and little goldfish is on an adventure to see his friends and collect freaky bread, Super Monkey Ball style, in his rolling fishbowl…

The game is heavy physics-based with fun puzzle-solving and some exploration. The path is pretty linear, so it isn’t hard to find where to go. But the challenge is getting there! The game itself wants the player to be a self-starter without much help. From the start, it just lets you try and fail until you learn. The controls themselves for controlling the ball are not too hard; just push where you want to go and roll with it. Literally. As expected, you start on the highest, most precarious ledges in the world with not much room for mistakes. Get used to this as this is an ongoing theme. You must carefully navigate across high beams and thin walkways. One wrong flip of a fishy tail and little goldfish and bowl smash to the ground leaving you to watch a gasping cute little fish slowly die before your eyes. It’s actually quite disturbing! Again, not for kids! To make things worse, you don’t have the best stopping power when your bowl gets rolling; in fact, start rolling too fast, and your ball will begin to bounce almost out of control. You really have to balance your speed and take your corners carefully.  Luckily, checkpoints are generous and frequent, so you don’t have to navigate too far after dying on trying parts. I was thankful! I died a lot.

Sometimes the little fish that could, just could not.

Now it wouldn’t be much of an adventure if you were only roaming in the house…oh no! Before you know it, little goldfish and bowl are out on the town. You are up on roofs balancing on phone cables, dodging cars while crossing roads, avoiding hazardous pitfalls and traps. That sounds a little crazy, right?! Imagine that your bowl breaks and you are catapulted into the air and by chance, you land in a mop bucket of fish-friendly water that you then have to drive with your own fish-power across town all while being chased by a man through a park. Yeah, it happens. At one point, you end up in a sewer underground where you are swimming through gross trash like hypodermic needles that actually stab you in the eye if you swim too close.

I Am Fish has been thoroughly entertaining to me. Sure, it’s not perfect as the controls can be a little finicky, causing tasks to be a little more tedious than they should be. But, coming from the creators of I Am Bread, the tricky mechanics are to be expected. The game is a test of patience and persistence. Admittedly, I am not the most patient with games like these, but It really hasn’t been that rage-inducing…yet! I have definitely had my “of for f*ck sake” moments, yet I will continue playing. It is pretty clear when unlocking other levels that we do, in fact, get to play with the other three fish, so I am excited to see what skills they have to help them get back to the sea.

Want to see more? Check out I Am Fish in this 13 minutes of gameplay video!

I Am Fish really has been a pleasant surprise to find, and it kept me laughing with how bonkers it is! I kinda love it!! If you are looking for something a little silly and are up to a bit of a challenge... I Am Fish is available on Xbox Gamepass and PC right now. Go play it even just to say you did!


Gears Keep Turning: Celebrating 10 Years of Gears Of War 3

The only way to describe the year 2011 is that it was simply built differently. This was a year that offered an abundance of killer video game titles that were consistently released back to back. We were treated to absolute gems with the likes of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Uncharted 3, Batman: Arkham City, Portal 2, Dark Souls, and so many more that this list could go on and on. This month we are celebrating 10 years since the release of the absolute spectacle that is Gears Of War 3.

Gears Of War 3 launched on September 20, 2011, and was widely accepted by critics and fans alike. This was meant to serve as the conclusion to the trilogy of games created by Epic Games. After having to wait in anticipation for nearly three years after the release of Gears Of War 2, players were eagerly waiting to "finish the fight," so to say, against the Locust Horde.

The buildup around this game had nearly everything a fan could ask for. Originally dated to release in April of 2011, the title was delayed and pushed back to September to be one of the stand-out titles during the holiday season. Luckily for fans, an open Multiplayer Beta was released around the time of the original release date. Players could even get into the action a few days earlier if they purchased People Can Fly's "Bullet-Storm" (a very underrated game, by the way). The Beta allowed players to earn an exclusive golden retro lancer weapon skin and a Thrashball Cole character skin to use in multiplayer modes when the final product was released later that year.

Award-winning Cosplayer and Foamsmith Supadezz Gears up in an impressive COG soldier armor.

Fate Of Carmine Campaign

Leading up to the release of Gears 3, Epic Games launched the Fate of Carmine campaign.  As the title states, fans of the franchise were able to decide the fate of the newest member of the accident-prone Carmine family, Private Clayton Carmine. The Carmine family has been a favorite among the Gears community over the years due to the running gag that not only is each Carmine a force to be reckoned with, but they are all but guaranteed to die in each game in some horrible fashion. Fans were able to cast their vote by purchasing two different t-shirts for their Xbox avatars on the Xbox 360 marketplace. One saying "SAVE CARMINE" and the other "CARMINE MUST DIE!". The t-shirt with the most sales would be dubbed the winner and seal the fate of Delta squads newest teammate.

Trailers, Trailers, And Trailers

Next up came the trailers. The series has had a reputation for the past 16 years of dishing out emotional trailers, which not only show all the war and violence that is to be expected but the personal struggles that come with it and how far this story has come. And boy did they deliver. The story reveal trailer featured Black sabbath's "War Pigs," playing over a handful of Epic moments that players can expect while chainsawing their way through the campaign alone or with up to three friends. Then there were the more somber and heart-felt trailers titled "Ashes To Ashes" and "Dust To Dust," which focus more on the Brothers To The End aspect of the game. Here you get a feel for how close these brothers in arms truly are and just how much they have been through and sacrificed throughout the years fighting to bring back some form of peace to their world.

 

All-Star Cast

For a mega-blockbuster game, you needed to have quite a star-studded cast, and that was a department Gears 3 needed no help in. Rounding out Delta Squads’ voice actors is John Dimaggio who played the veteran war hero Marcus Fenix, and Carlos Ferro as the loyal and courageous Dominic Santiago. Lester Speight unleashed his energetic and lovable personality as Thrashball player turned soldier Augustus Cole, while Fred Tatasciore perfected the sarcastic yet resourceful Damon Baird. Not only did Epic secure these larger than life voice actors to play the leading roles in the series, but they also went a step further in casting Black Panther star Michael B Jordan as Corporal Jace Stratton and actor/rapper Ice-T to play Stranded Leader and CEO of Griffin Imulsion Corporation, Aaron Griffin. These voice actors gave it everything they had and gave players an experience like no other with terrific chemistry and key moments in the game that still leave players emotional even ten years later. 

 

Gear Up Soldier!

At long last, Gears Of War 3 was released worldwide, and with it came an end to a six-year trilogy. The campaign tied up many loose ends in terms of story and lore but also left enough threads open just in case it had a story to tell in the distant future (which we now know is the case with the more recent titles). The campaign also featured an arcade mode where players could compete with other Xbox live friends to see who could get the highest score in each chapter. Fun and unique features were implemented in the form of mutators that added more pleasure or difficulty to your playthroughs, such as infinite ammo, big head mode, or no ammo pickups.

Other game modes that launched alongside the campaign included the ever-popular Horde mode 2.0 and the newest game mode to the franchise “Beast mode.” Horde 2.0 was bigger, badder, and better than the horde that launched previously in Gears Of War 2. This time around, players were introduced to a new currency system in which every kill a player gets, they receive points. These may be redeemed to buy fortifications such as barriers and sentries to help defend from the never-ending onslaught of incoming waves of enemies. A variety of new bosses were added to the mix, which would randomly appear every ten waves causing players to think on their feet and adjust to several different scenarios. New to the series was Beast mode. Here it plays like the previously mentioned Horde mode but with a twist. This time you play as the Locust and wreak havoc on the COG heroes. Instead of buying fortifications, players unlock different tiers of Locust to take control of and tear through the enemy’s defenses.

Overall, when Gears Of War 3 was released ten years ago, it brought an experience like no other and is viewed as a game that still holds up in 2021. The series has since published over three novels, a line of comic books, six additional games, and even a movie adaptation in the works. While we wait for Gears 6 to inevitably come out, there’s no better time to revisit the past with Gears Of War 3 and join Marcus and the rest of Delta squad to once again bring back hope to humanity.

 

If you enjoyed this article and want to share your thoughts/experiences on the conclusion of the original Gears trilogy, leave a comment down below. And for all things Gears, be sure to check out some of my other articles including The Tears Of War - 10 Most Emotional Moments In Gears.

Monthly Update: September 2021 Game Releases

September will be kicking off with a bang with the fall release schedule of games. There is a lot of variety getting released to boot, from little indie’s to big-budget action; we have a lot to look forward to this month. Get your pocketbooks ready! It’s about to get crazy this holiday season!

 

September’s Highlights

Tale of Arise - Sept 10th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, PC)

Tales of Arise is the latest installment of the long-running RPG “Tales of” series. The planet of Dahma has always been ruled by the planet in the sky, Rena. You play as residents of Dahma that are often used as slaves trying to find freedom. Experience the most stunning Tales game yet powered by Unreal Engine 4 with dynamic action RPG battles and classic Tales gameplay. Dive into this vibrant new world and rich story on September 10th.

 

DEATHLOOP - Sept 14th (PS5, PC)

The much-anticipated game from Arkane Studios is finally here. A true “next-gen” title coming to PC and PS5, you will be taking down your foes with glorious style and precision. Deathloop has you playing as two deadly assassins that have to relive a time loop to find the best possible way to reach their target and put an end to the time loop trapping everyone inside. An innovative take on first-person action, Deathloop will allow players to find a preferred playstyle, be it stealth or guns blazing. End the Loop of Death on September 14th.

 

Aragami 2 - Sept 16th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Gamepass, PC)

You are an Aragami, a group of elite warriors afflicted with a supernatural condition that corrodes the body and mind. You also control Shadow Essence, a mystical power to control the shadows. Go it alone or work with two friends to free the village from invaders who are enslaving the Aragami. The shadows are your ally in this 3rd person fast-paced stealth action game, where you build your own shadow assassin to save and protect your people. Become a master ninja in Aragami 2 on September 16th.

 

Kena Bridge of Spirits - Sept 21st (PS4, PS5, PC)

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a story-driven action-adventure set in a charming world rich with exploration and fast-paced combat. Players find and grow a team of tiny spirit companions called the Rot, enhancing their abilities and creating new ways to manipulate the environment. Kena has been developed by Ember Labs, an animation and digital content studio, and is their first-ever game. There has been a lot of anticipation for this gorgeous Pixaresque looking adventure since it was revealed. Help Kena and befriend The Rot on September 21st.

 

Diablo 2 Resurrected - Sept 23rd (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch, PC)

Diablo 2 Resurrected is a fully remastered version of the original action RPG, which many believe to be the best. It will have the same classic gameplay as the remaster is built on top of the original game. It will feature cross-progression across all platforms with updated features and support for modern gaming needs. The entire game, including monsters, items, and spells, has been updated, including the original expansion, so you get the full Diablo 2 story in one package. Play with up to eight people and return to this classic adventure or play for the first time on September 23rd.

 

The complete list… (Updated*)

Big Rumble Boxing Creed Champions - Sept 3rd (PS4, Xbox, Switch)

KitAria Fables - Sept 3rd (PS4, Xbox, Switch)

The Medium - Sept 3rd (PS5)

Chernobylite - Sept 4th (PS4)

Sonic Colors Ultimate - Sept 7th (PS4, Xbox, Switch)

WRC 10  - Sept 7th ( PS4, PS5, Xbox)

Hindsight 20/20 - Sept 9th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch, PC)

Life is Strange True Colors - Sept 9th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, PC)

Olympia Soiree - Sept 9th (Switch)

NBA 2K22 - Sept 9th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch, PC)

Tale of Arise - Sept 10th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, PC)

Lost in Random - Sept 10th (PS4, Ps5, Xbox, Switch, PC)

Colors Live - Sept 14th (Switch)

DEATHLOOP - Sept 14th (PS5, PC)

Ever Forward - Sept 14th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch, PC)

Where The Heart Leads - Sept 14th (PS4)

Aragami 2 - Sept 16th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Gamepass, PC)

Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom Prince's Edition - Sept 17th (Switch)

Tails of Iron Crimson Knight Edition - Sept 17th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch)

Lost in Judgment - Sept 20th (PS4, PS5, Xbox)

Apsulov: End of Gods - Sept 21st (PS4, PS5)

Kena Bridge of Spirits - Sept 21st (PS4, PS5, PC)

Diablo 2 Resurrected - Sept 23rd (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch, PC)

Death Stranding Director’s Cut - Sept 24th ( PS5)

The Addams Family: Mansion Mayhem - Sept 24th (PS4, Xbox, Switch, PC)

FIFA 22 - Sept 26th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch)

Hot Wheels Unleashed - Sept 26th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch, PC)

Alchemic Cutie - Sept 28th (Xbox, PC)

Lemnis Gate - Sept 28th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, PC)

New World - Sept 28th (PC)

Open Country - Sept 28th (PS4, Xbox)

Streets of Rage 4 Anniversary Edition - Sept 28th (PS4, Switch)

Insurgency: Sandstorm - Sept 29th (PS4, Xbox)

RICO London - Sept 30th (PS4, Switch)

The Riftbreaker - Sept 30th (PS5, Xbox, Gamepass, PC)

Xuan Yuan Sword 7 - Sept 30th (PS4, Xbox)

 

What game are you most looking forward to playing this September?

 

Friendship Enders: Mario Party

There are three universal truths in life: light travels at one astronomical unit, gravity exerts a force onto the Earth equal to 9.8 m/s, and Yoshi is the best character to play in Mario Party (fight me).

Speaking of Mario Party, we’ve got the second installment of Friendship Enders after a long hiatus, and we’re focusing on part two of the relationship-ending trifecta – Mario Party. Now because there are quite a few games in the franchise, I’ll be grouping them into my own personalized categories. The following stories are based on real events… the names have been changed to protect the guilty.

For all of you that have never experienced the true rollercoaster of emotions that is Mario Party, you roll dice and move around a set of boards each with interesting themes and play minigames to earn coins which you use to buy stars. This goes on until the set number of turns ends and bonus stars are awarded to players or someone gets frustrated and hits the power button. It’s like a family game night except you can’t flip the table unless you want to replace your gaming console.

Mario Party 1 – 3: A Rocky Start

With any great work of art, you’ve always got the first few rough drafts, and even the juggernaut franchise that is Mario Party is no exception.

So, we’ve got the first three Mario Party games on the Nintendo 64, which is in and of itself a bit of a rough draft console, especially with the early polygonal 3D graphics employed that could take someone’s eye out if they looked too closely.

Apart from feeling like I’ve had my retinas sanded down after playing these games, these do feel like the first floundering steps of the developers. The maps are pretty simple and lifeless compared to later games, the minigames are a little rudimentary and underdeveloped, and there seems to be a bizarre prevalence of 3 v 1 minigames as opposed to the 4 v 4.

All this being said, Bowser really feels more like an agent of chaos and embodies the random chance of these Mario Party games that I have come to miss with later games in the series.

Still, these games gave me some great times and some lifelong memories, specifically ruining the palm of my hand playing Tug of War ten times in a single 50 turn game.

Worse for your palms than masturbation

Jumping from the early cave paintings to the renaissance Tintoretto styling of 3D graphics, we’re ditching the N64 and jumping aboard the good ship SS GameCube for our next three games. These games, much like the graphics of the GameCube compared to the N64, were a more refined experience.

Mario Party 4 got the ball rolling in a big way. It really felt like the developers broke down the first three games to their fundamental elements and reworked them to squeeze every last drop of enjoyment out of it. First of all, they gave us chances to team up with our mates and gave us a couple of new characters to play. The minigames were similar to the first three but with the rough edges sanded down.

The fourth game in the franchise may have gotten the ball rolling, but Mario Party 5 was the real game-changer with the introduction of their capsule/orb system. These little capsules had all sorts of items crammed into them, from extra dice blocks to chance time events. It lends each and every game that extra helping of randomness that has become the basis of the famous Mario Party idiom “the only turn that matters is the final turn.”

The best part is that Mario Party 6 pretty much perfected the formula, smoothed out the last of the rough edges, and kept the party going.

All the memories I have of these three games are always either crazy chance times that ruined my perfect strategy or stupid bonus stars handing me a second-place loss out of nowhere.

Little did Daisy know that with three small button presses she’d end up putting first place to fourth, seizing the means of production and topple the Roman Empire

Mario Party 7 – 9: The Downward Spiral

With every peak comes the trough, and for every winter comes the spring, bringing with it the stench of decay that the winter snow mercifully covered. In the case of Mario Party, that stench of decay emanates from these next three games.

So, imagine this; it’s 2006, and you’ve been waiting for ages to play the latest Mario Party after the US has had it for months. You finally get the game, start playing, and something just doesn’t feel right, kinda like the heart and soul of the franchise has started to leak out of it, and there’s a bit of a weird smell coming from it.

You keep playing but you can’t shake the sense of Deja Vu with its copy-paste gameplay and art style. Some of the boards have a couple of unique gimmicks like Neon Heights, but it doesn’t have the same spark from previous games. Still, the series has been going from strength to strength, so you write it off as a small stumble.

Then Mario Party 8 and Mario Party 9 come out to put your fears to rest *switch to an ominous tone of voice* or so it seems. Admittedly, some of the minigames have a uniqueness lent to them by the power of the Wii mote waggle.

All of this doesn’t hide the very simple fact that you’ve played all of this seven times before. Looking at these games in a vacuum they’re good enough, but comparing them to the wider franchise, they’re always going to come up short.

With exciting games like hide and seek, how could this one have been anything but a surefire hit?.

Mario Party 10 & Super Mario Party: Rock Bottom and A New Hope

Here we are, the bottom of the barrel and the remake that was needed with Mario Party 10 and Super Mario Party respectively. It seems that with Mario Party 8 & 9 not exactly setting the world on fire, the developers decided to scrap the competitive focus and make Mario Party 10 a more cooperative game. Unfortunately, no sane person was there to tell them that you don’t make Mario Party cooperative. Just like you don’t combine ranch dressing and fish sauce with the sterling logic that both flavors work well together because you like them (spoiler: it won’t).

For me, the scales had fallen from my eyes back in Mario Party 8 & 9, but it seems like everyone else has reached that point with the tenth entry because absolutely no one ever mentions this game when people discuss great games in the series. The fact it was on the Wii U also didn’t help with that console being the red-headed stepchild of the Nintendo family.

I’ve only played this game a couple of times and there’s nothing memorable in this game that hasn’t happened to me in previous games. Let’s move onto a better game – namely Super Mario Party.

Oh man, so I got my switch and was so excited to play all the new Mario Party maps… all four of them. Well, then maybe they put a bunch of effort into the boards, right? Well… kinda. The board gimmicks are pretty much the same as previous entries in the franchise but each of the four boards are different enough so they don’t feel samey, but with only four, they lose their novelty pretty quick.

While the boards and number of maps are a bit on the lean side, the minigames are where it feels the majority of the development time went and they have got to be some of the best Mario Party games I’ve ever played (Sizzling Steaks!). It’s the first time since Mario Party 4 I’ve had to check the instructions and it was a great feeling.

Yes, Super Mario Party is a little lackluster in the quantity department, but the quality of the minigames is a real breath of fresh air and personally, I’ve had more fun with this game than any other in the series.

Mario at its finest

Here’s looking forward to the next Mario Party.

Have you played Mario Party? Which game’s your favorite? Let me know in the comments below.

Early Access: Ground Branch

To begin this article I have to ask you all something first. Have you ever wanted to play a game that had realism, tactics, and with a pinch of unique shooting mechanics? Welcome to Ground Branch, a realistic tactical shooter where you actually have to think like a Tier 1 Operator in order to play this game.

 

WHAT IS SO UNIQUE ABOUT GROUND BRANCH?

 

Ground Branch is not your every day “First Person Shooter”. The game puts legitimate elements together for you where you have to actually think about and how to overcome certain objectives.

Let me give you an example: think of a plane taken over by terrorists and the surrounding buildings. What would your approach be? Do you go in with stealth to take over the buildings before going to the plane? How would you get to the plane without being noticed or getting shot in a wide-open area? What weapon will you take with you? Do you take an M416D CQB or an M16 rifle? Do you want to go long-range and back up your team, or do you want to clear the plane in a close-quarters battle?

These are just some of the questions that you ask yourself when playing this game. Preparation is vital in this, and believe it or not, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to playing Ground Branch.

 

CO-OP/SINGLEPLAYER AND GEARING UP

 

If you want to squad up with your buddies and play some good ol’ fashion co-op mode, Ground Branch has you covered! When you start in a lobby, you will be placed in an Operations Center. This is where you can customize your loadout (Will talk more about customization further down!), test your equipment at the shooting range, vote on what map to play/match settings, or customize your character.

I’m gonna be honest here. When it comes to the customization in Ground Branch, I was completely blown away by how much attention to detail there is. When I put together my gun, I used the M416D CQB option(A carbine used for Close Quarters Battle) with a basic holographic sight, foregrip, suppressor, and laser sight.

Customizing my rifle was fun. You can place the foregrip anywhere on the under-barrel. You want it closer to where your magazine is? No problem! You want the sight a little bit further down on the rifle? You can do that!

If you wanna do some sniping but are concerned about getting up close with the enemy, you can put a sight on top of the scope! Just make sure the scope has a flat mount first, then you can put a mini red dot sight with the flat mount.

Let's move on to the character. You will have an encumbrance meter (Weight of gear that you are carrying)for your loadout, so be aware of that when customizing your operator. With every operator, you will have a chest rig or platform that holds your ammo. Now with this, you can put which type of ammo you want in your pouches. It usually defaults to your primary ammo, so I would keep it to that.

The same can be said for the grenades. If you want flashbangs or smoke grenades instead of the frag, you can change that out! I can go on and on about the customization, but I feel like I should leave some of it out so you can experience this for yourself!

Once you have everything you feel is the right fit for your loadout, you will find a briefing room where you can get a strategy going with your team and pick where to insert yourself on the map. The map will only give you two points of entry, so decide where you feel it is best suited for your loadout! When playing with bots, there are only two game modes to choose from. You will have the traditional Terrorist Hunt game mode and Intel Retrieval. You will also have mission settings where you set the difficulty, expected resistance, search time, etc.

 

IS THE GAMEPLAY ANY FUN?

 

The gameplay and gunplay in this game are extensive, so I will do my best to describe how fun it was while keeping it relatively short.

Again I want to reiterate the realism in this game. While going up against bots/other players, a single bullet can and will kill you (Insert Murphy's Laws Of Combat).

While I was playing, I noticed that arm strength is a real mechanic in this game, and if you keep your rifle up at the ready, you will sway a lot more than usual. In this case, I will introduce another mechanic to the gunplay. You can raise, lower, or ready your rifle from the hip before doing a breach and clear. You can even lean left and right out of cover to get a better shot without exposing most of your body.

If you want to go in with some stealth, you can find a panel and turn off the power to a building while your team readies at the door. While at the door, you can choose to open the door slowly and quietly while entering, keeping the element of surprise!

I will be honest, I had a lot of fun playing this game solo but wanted to try it out with a group of random people in co-op. Now I did have fun, but with all games, you will get a lot of people griefing you, but overall I had fun in the end.

Now I know I didn’t cover everything. I did that on purpose because I want you to try it out for yourself and discover what other mechanics are out there in Ground Branch.

So to finish off this article, if you are into tactical shooters where you need to think while playing, I would highly recommend this game. I do need to remind everyone that this game is in early access so everything is still subject to change! Have fun!!

Monthly Update: April 2021 Game Releases

Hey, gamers! Welcome back to your monthly dose of game releases for the month of April 2021. Oh April..please show us that 2020 is over. This month sees the release of a new looter shooter, the next official PS5 game, the first Pokémon Snap game in almost 20 years, a return of a PS1 classic, and a PS exclusive series coming to Xbox! What?! This is no April Fools Joke, let's roll!

 

April’s Highlights

Outriders - April 1st (PS4, PS5, Xbox, PC)

 

Outriders is a new 3rd person looter shooter with deep RPG mechanics from People Can Fly, the studio that made Bulletstorm and assisted with the Gears of War franchise. Humans have fled from Earth and are now on the planet Enoch, where humans become altered. Explore a hostile planet with friends and take down menacing foes with brutal gunplay and special abilities. Outriders is available April 1st and will be on GamePass for Xbox Day 1.

 

Oddworld Soulstorm - April 6th (PS4, PS5, PC)

Oddworld first appeared on the PS1 and PC back in 1997 and is considered by many to be a cult classic with multiple iterations over the years. Now, Oddworld Soulstorm is a reimagining of the original story that tells the story of a volatile society pushed to the limits. Oddworld is a 2.9D puzzle-platformer whereas Abe, you are trying to guide your fellow Mudokon’s to safety and away from tyranny. Soulstorm will be available for free to PS Plus Members on release day, April 6th.

 

MLB The Show 21 - April 20th (PS4, PS5, Xbox)

MLB The Show has been a staple franchise in the PlayStation stable for many years, and now it's going multiplatform. The Show 21 sees the series' first entry ever be on Xbox, which has not had a mainline baseball game in 8 years. The Show has had a long-standing reputation as one of the best baseball games ever made due to its authentic and accurate depictions of being a part of the major league. Now everyone, who likes baseball, can enjoy this series on April 20th.

 

NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139… - April 23rd (PS4, Xbox, PC)

 

Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139... (yes that is its actual title) is a remaster of a PlayStation 3 game that was only released in Japan. Now the game is getting a visual overhaul, NA localization, and an English voice cast that includes the talents of Liam O’Brien and Laura Bailey. Nier Replicant is a prequel to the much-loved Nier Automata that was released in 2017. Neir Replicant seems to play a little closer to the Original Nier and bridge the gap to Automata. If you are a fan of over-the-top action with a touch of bullet hell, check this one out on April 23rd.

 

Returnal - April 29th (PS5)

Returnal is the first major PS5 game to release from the talented studio Housemarque who is most well known for smaller games like Resogun, Alienation, Matterfall, and Nex Machina. In Returnal, players assume the role of Selene, who has crash-landed on a dangerous shifting planet. Similar to other games by Housemarque, Returnal is a run-n-gun shoot 'em up with some roguelike elements. Selene is living a horrific alien-infested version of Groundhog’s Day, where every time she dies, she awakens anew remembering what has happened and skills she has gained but starting from the beginning. Dive into this surreal semi-horror experience on the PS5 on April 29th.

 

New Pokemon Snap - April 30th (Switch)

POKEMON! I wanna be the very best, like... Oh *cough*. Eh hem. New Pokémon Snap sees a return of the beloved classic from the Nintendo 64 days. Pokémon Snap has been dormant for over 20 years. Fulfill all of your Pokémon filled digital photography dreams by taking pictures of Pokémon in their natural habitats. Collect, research, and learn behaviors of Pokémon out in the wild and take photos of rare moments to get the best ratings, and fill your Pokémon photodex. Catch all your Pokémon (photos) on April 30th.

 

The complete list...

 

Outriders - April 1st (PS4, PS5, Xbox, PC)

Oddworld Soulstorm - April 6th (PS4, PS5, PC)

Star Wars Republic Commando April 6th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch)

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV - April 9th (PS4, Switch)

SaGa Frontier Remastered - April 14th (PS5, Switch. PC)

MLB The Show 21 - April 20th (PS4, PS5, Xbox)

Atelier Mysterious Trilogy - April 21st (PS4, Switch, PC)

Atelier Firis: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Journey DX - April 21st (PS4, Switch, PC)

Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Painting DX - April 21st (PS4, Switch, PC)

Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Book DX - April 21st (PS4, Switch, PC)

MotoGP 21 - April 21st (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch, PC)

Judgment - April 23rd (PS5, Xbox Series)

NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139… - April 23rd (PS4, Xbox, PC)

Chess Ultra - April 27th (Switch)

Pure Pool - April 27th (Switch)

Terra Trilogy - April 27th (PS4, Switch)

WRC 9 - April 27th (Switch)

Returnal - April 29th (PS5)

New Pokémon Snap - April 30th (Switch)

 

There are always dozens of new games coming out each month. What will you be playing this month? Let us know in the comments