Game reviews

(CLICK HERE FOR A SORTABLE TABLE OF ALL OUR REVIEWS)

You can take a look at Tom Chick's Patreon page (the link is at the top of the page) for more than you'll ever want to know about this site's approach to reviews. But the overarching idea is that a review is an expression of someone's experience with a videogame. It is subjective. It is not advice. It is not a buyer's guide. It should be valuable to people who have and haven't played the game. Furthermore, our ratings using the full range of the 1-5 scale and they are simply shorthand for how much we liked a given game. You can find details here.

And we hope you'll participate in the discussion following any review! If you've taken the time to read our opinion, the least we can do is read yours as well.

Latest Game reviews

Far Cry 5 is more effective — and relevant — than it knows

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I don’t hate the cultists in Far Cry 5 because they’ve brainwashed their followers, stockpiled firearms, bought up all the property, co-opted law enforcement agencies, dumped toxic waste into clean rivers, and installed a right-wing theocracy. Whatever. Cultists gonna cult. I hate them because they’re interrupting Ubisoft’s best open world since Far Cry 2.

I’ve come here to shoot, fish, drive around, blow shit up, and pet a mountain lion. I’m delighted with these parts of Far Cry 5. What a fantastic place to pursue happiness and bear arms, among this rogue’s gallery of people doing the same thing. But then I’m drugged and dragged into a mandatory cutscene.

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Hexplore It’s unique mix of dragons, dry erase markers, math, and maps that matter

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All right, let’s get this out of the way. The name “Hexplore It”, or “HEXplore It” if you want to get technical. Why would someone call this game that? Maybe it’s a warning that the map has hexes, but who’s still scared of hexes these days? I’m more scared of square tiles. Can I move diagonally? Does it cost extra? Why not? There’s less to remember with hexes. The Hexplore It developers went further, though. One of the faces on each die is marked with a HEX logo. Replacing the 6 on the d6 makes sense, since a hexagon has six sides, a six-sided die, fair enough. But how do they explain the 1 on the d10 being replaced by a HEX logo? And more importantly, why would a crunchy, in-depth, detailed, hardcore fantasy saga get a name that sounds like something inflicted on third graders forced to learn geometry? Fortunately, the folks who made this game gave it the subtitle “Valley of the Dead King”, which is a much more sensible name for a hardcore fantasy saga. They’re currently Kickstartering a sequel subtitled “The Forests of Adrimon”. Think of Hexplore It as an unfortunate prefix.

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Space Tyrant’s draconian grip on both space and time

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It takes an hour and five minutes to cook a frozen Marie Callender chicken pot pie. One of the curious properties of Space Tyrant, a sci-fi micro-grand strategy game, is how it reduces that time to about 20 minutes. Because there’s no way I put that chicken pot pie in the oven, sat down to play Space Tyrant, and have been at it for an hour and five minutes. That’s just not how time works.

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In Deep Sixed, no one can hear you scream at things that break at the worst time

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Dark Star was John Carpenter’s 1974 riff on 2001: A Space Odyssey. Imagine 2001 without Kubrick’s visionary serenity, where the astronauts are the hippies, stoners, and surfers a USC film school student would have known in 1974. That’s screenwriter Dan O’Bannon in the foreground as Pinback. To release a planet-busting bomb, he twists his arms inward to grasp two dials or levers. It doesn’t look very comfortable. He holds it for the countdown from 10, and then for the release, he sharply rotates his hands outward. It’s the gesture a magician would do to reveal which hand the quarter is in.

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The Thunderbirds boardgame to the rescue in a post-Pandemic world!

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The boardgame renaissance began about ten years ago when humankind finally invented good boardgame design. It had taken centuries. Previously, we had a bunch of roll-and-move junk, nerdyman wargames no one cared about, and old chestnuts like chess, Monopoly, and Settlers of Catan. Things like worker placement, deck building, and traitor mechanics hadn’t been invented yet. It was a dark time.

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That darn princess! It’s tough to be a Unicornus Knight.

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One of my favorite things about Spirit Island, my current favorite solitaire/co-op game, is how R. Eric Reuss’ design isn’t the usual solitaire/co-op paradigm. You know the paradigm from Pandemic, Arkham Horror, Flash Point, Zombicide, Dawn of the Zeds, Nemo’s War, and so on. Four bad things spawn, but you only have three actions to take bad things off the board. Now survive until the game clock runs out. It’s a rote exercise in plugging leaks that arbitrarily ends at some point and you either made it and won or didn’t and lost. The other alternative is punching something with a lot of hit points until you win. Sure, there are some exciting variations in the punching, such as the superhero decks in Sentinels of the Multiverse or the economic engines spooling up to cycle cards in a deck-builder called Aeon’s End. But it still comes down to punching a big bag of hit points.

Enter Unicornus Knights, a refreshingly unique solitaire/co-op game with its own paradigm. Want to play a cool game where secret destinies unite allies and enemies, interesting characters navigate a randomized map, and love conquers all? First, allow me to introduce Princess Cornelia, who is going to screw it all up.

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Charterstone makes its distinctive mark on legacy boardgaming

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The Charterstone box is a nearly perfect expression of the experience of playing. It’s mostly blank. An empty sky. There’s nothing there. It’s unpainted. A canvas. Or rather, it doesn’t even exist yet. Not a void that has swallowed stuff, but an immaculate space waiting for your contribution. Oh, look, there’s a little patch of artwork on one side. A tiny zeppelin hovers over some crates. There are two quaint and assuming buildings behind it. This is how your game of Charterstone will begin. Twelve games later… Well, I’ll get to that in a sec.

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Twin-stick shooter developer 10tons’ Tesla vs Lovecraft sets the genre back 15 years

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10tons Ltd., an indie developer in Finland, has been making twin-stick shooters since 2003, when they released Crimsonland. Since then, they’ve done various workaday projects — anyone for a round of Sparkle 2 on the iPad? — but their heart is clearly in the the top-down wholesale slaughter of innumerable dumb enemies. With Tesla vs Lovecraft, they’ve gone back to their first love.

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I don’t play fishing games, but if I did, I’d play Atom Fishing II

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In real life, my experience with fishing began and pretty much ended when I was a kid young enough to be scared by a fish. Which is a perfectly healthy thing to be scared of. When you impale fish on a hook and drag them out of the water, where they frantically thrash and flop their slimy wet bodies and prickly fins, eyes and mouths agape, it’s a horror show. As a kid, I wasn’t sure whether the fish was dying or attacking, but whichever the case, I wanted no part of it. Fish belong in water. “Fish out of water” is an idiom for a reason.

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A Hat in Time is so good I’m gonna die

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Everyone knows the scene in Despicable Me when Agnes sees the stuffed unicorn at the carnival booth. “It’s so fluffy I’m gonna die,” she states simply. So the Steve Carell mad scientist character has to win it for her by blowing up the booth. As they walk away from the smoking ruin, Agnes clutches her newly won unicorn and snarls, “It’s so fluffy!” Her voice has dropped several registers. It is ragged with mad glee at the fluffiness of the unicorn, now locked in her fingers. It is so fluffy.

That’s how I feel about A Hat in Time. Not the precious cuteness of “it’s so fluffy I’m gonna die”. But the ragged mad glee once she gets her hands on it.

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Pinball FX3 gets Carnivals, Legends, and an awkward switch to another platform

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I have some good news and some bad news on the Pinball FX3 front. The bad news is the Nintendo Switch version. The frame rate hitches are a real poke in the eyeball, especially given the loading times. There’s no comfortable way to control the flippers while using the screen vertically, which is one of the selling points for playing on the Switch. And most importantly, more than half of the tables are missing. None of the Marvel or Star Wars tables are available. Ouch. You’d think Disney has it out for Nintendo. Even the Bethesda tables are missing. How odd that I can play Skyrim and Doom on the Switch, but I can’t play the Skyrim and Doom pinball tables on the Switch.

But the good news is that Carnivals and Legends, the latest pair of tables for Pinball FX3, adds something good and something great to the roster of 70 tables. Or 30, if you’re playing on the Switch.

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Bomber Crew demands that you help him, help him, help the bombardier

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I was in a Lancaster over Bremen. I had to knock out some submarine pens with a mega-bomb from high altitude. My crew were getting cold in the atmosphere, even though they had thermal mittens and electrically heated boots, and if I didn’t get to a lower level soon they would start to get hypoxic, even though I had equipped them with “advanced oxygen bottles” which were probably made in the USA. The target came into view through wisps of cloud, slowly moving across my bombsight. At this height it was a small-but-discernable structure, much different from the seemingly huge targets that filled my bombsight when I attacked from low altitude. As it entered my crosshairs, I hit the “release” button and switched to my pilot to tell him to dive to low altitude. As I dropped lower, I entered a hornet’s nest of fighters. I swiveled my view around and around, trying to pick up the ones I hadn’t yet “tagged” so my gunners could focus on them. I told my radio operator to “auto tag” and start calling out targets. There were too many. So my radio operator got on the horn and requested assistance. An agonizing thirty seconds or so later, a flight of Spitfires flew into view and took down two Messerschmidts right off the bat. Given a bit of breathing room, I sent my engineer to fix the port fuel tank, which was leaking, and sent the bombardier to grab a med kit and give first aid to the top turret gunner, who was down and bleeding. The tail gunner grabbed more ammo. My navigator plotted a course across the North Sea. With some luck, we’d make it home. If we didn’t, my crew had sea survival vests, a dinghy, and a homing pigeon. They had a good chance of getting picked up by the Royal Navy.

Exciting, no? Much different than what I expected from a game that gave me seven bobbleheaded nine-year-olds to fly a cartoony bomber on solo missions over cartoon France and Germany.

Turns out that wasn’t the only thing I didn’t expect. Continue reading →

Star Wars: Battlefront II is a great game from a certain point of view

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Darth Vader is awesome. We all know this. Even if you’ve never seen a Star Wars movie, you know that Darth Vader is someone you don’t want to mess with. He’s gigantic. He wears space samurai armor. He has a red laser sword. He’s voiced by James Earl Jones. You don’t want to be on the bad side of that. All that imposing badassery is exactly why kids love to roleplay as Darth Vader. No one scares Darth Vader. Nothing hurts Darth Vader. That bully that torments you at recess? Darth Vader would destroy him. Early bed time? Not for Darth Vader. Time-out in the corner for breaking Mommy’s favorite cookie jar? No chance of Darth Vader agreeing to that! Pretending to be Darth Vader is the ultimate power fantasy. Getting to be Darth Vader in Star Wars: Battlefront II and mowing down hapless rebel soldiers gives you exactly the adrenaline rush and satisfaction you’d think it should. You are a whirling red and black sawblade buzzing through balsa wood. You are become death, the destroyer of worlds.

But what if you don’t get to be Darth Vader? Continue reading →