As a spin-off of the popular action series, Monster Hunter Stories expands the world with a shiny, new, undeniably cute coat of paint. But don’t let that deter you, because Monster Hunter Stories’ heartwarming story is served with amazingly fun RPG gameplay that never gets old, even beyond the 50-hour campaign.
Instead of slicing your way through beasts and wyverns in real-time action a la the usual Monster Hunter style, Monster Hunter Stories features a turn-based battle system with you and your monster pal at your side against up to three enemies. These ally monsters are called Monsties, a kind of cringey but funny term, and it definitely isn’t the sole instance of questionable nomenclature. But I was able to easily overlook the silliness, and even began to enjoy it in between the action.
This week’s Boruto brings Sarada’s parental crisis to a close with a bang, featuring a climactic clash between the Uchiha family and Shin’s clone army. As if to make up for last week’s story dump, this episode is almost all action, with some hurried story resolution packed in at the end. It doesn’t manage to pull at the heartstrings quite as strong as the past few episodes, but offers a heartfelt conclusion to Sarada’s woes and a strong cap to the series best arc yet.
The episode opens with our heroes riding Sasuke’s Susanoo to Shin’s hideout where they hope to rescue the kidnapped Sakura. Not the type to let herself be the damsel in distress, Sakura begins a battle with Shin which Sarada and co. quickly join upon arriving. Their battle is probably the highlight of the episode, not only because it features the oft unappreciated Sakura, but also because it features some beautiful animation. I was happy to see her fight clad in the same fluid animation style seen during Shippuden’s most epic moments (especially after some of the rough animation seen in the Boruto’s earlier episodes).
Watching BoJack Horseman can be painful. Not because it’s a bad show – far from it, the Netflix animated series continues to be one of TV’s best series – but because of how achingly familiar its most powerful moments can be in their emotional honesty.
BoJack Horseman: Season 4 reaffirms the show’s sense for shining light on the darkest parts of life in a season that is not quite as formally ambitious with its meta-jokes and storytelling as season 3. But the 13-episode return breaks new ground in making BoJack and his world one of the most relatable on TV, even if a whale still hosts the news and a dog is running for mayor.
In his new FOX series The Orville, Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane finally gets to fully scratch an itch he’s had for years — and one that he has frequently demonstrated in his animated shows. I’m talking, of course, about his obsession with and love for sci-fi and Star Trek in particular. While his animated series characters have time travelled, recreated the Star Wars films, met the cast of Star Trek, and much more, with The Orville MacFarlane is now essentially making his own Star Trek in everything but name. For better or worse.
The series premiere of The Orville, “Old Wounds,” quickly establishes a world that isn’t just an homage to Star Trek, and more specifically Star Trek: The Next Generation, but is very clearly an attempt to mimic the feel and look of that show. While The Orville is a comedy, it is not a parody of Star Trek and it does not lean as heavily into the humor as some may expect from a MacFarlane project. Indeed, the show can be as earnest, in its way, as TNG itself, and in fact former Star Trek producer Brannon Braga is an executive producer on The Orville. (David A. Goodman, who has written and/or produced for Family Guy, Futurama, and Star Trek: Enterprise, is also an EP.)
If you’ve ever sought out a free anti-virus solution, you’re probably familiar with Avast. Its free version has been around for years and has a solid reputation. The paid version of its anti-virus gives you more features including phishing protection and a sandbox for safely running untrusted apps, and it’s a bit more expensive than most other antivirus solutions at $39.99 for one device (PC only).
Despite being heavy on setup and containing one too many tasteless Mineta jokes,”Gear up for Final Exams” remains engaging throughout by shining the spotlight on a few underrepresented characters while providing a deeper look into academic life at U.A. High.
My Hero Academia often revolves around high stakes action, so I appreciated the time spent in the classroom, reminding us that Deku and friends are students who have to hit the books every now and then. The visual designation of how each student performed on the midterms was a nice touch, providing additional insight into the mental aptitude of each student. With Yaoyorozu being at the top of the class, I was pleased to see”Gear up for Final Exams” give her an opportunity to shine. Her enthusiasm to help her struggling classmates study for the final written exam was so endearing, and the trip to her house did an excellent job at conveying how different a life she leads than the rest of her peers.
XCOM games are about staring down the impossible and choosing to fight on anyway. The premise of the franchise is that Earth is under siege by immeasurably more advanced alien swarms. XCOM 2 posits that we, as players, can’t be victorious. Where its predecessor had you marshal your best defense to repel the invasion, XCOM 2 opens on a occupied, defeated Earth. Twenty years after their defeat, the governments of the world have all but given up, opting to negotiate with their tormentors instead of fighting back. Instead, you take the reins and gather up what resistance you can to keep the war–and hope–alive, and try to liberate Terra from the three-toed grasp of hyper-advanced psychic space monsters.
The new XCOM 2 expansion, War of the Chosen, expounds upon that foundation in every way. The baddies are tougher and your own troops have more strategic and tactical counters, but they’re also more human and, in some ways, more fragile. Together, these feed into not just the complexity of XCOM’s already robust chess-like play but the human edge as well.
XCOM has always found its grounding in its characters. You, as a player, are encouraged to name the members of your resistance after your friends and family. After some time on the battlefield, they grow more experienced and versatile, developing new skills and finding their own, ad-hoc narrative slices.
During my first run, I remember one of my high-school friends, Ben, grew to become my top soldier. A pinpoint sniper, Ben could deadeye any foe from 100 yards–easy. But the long slog of the war with the aliens left him traumatized. And, over time, he became a glass cannon. His mind was rattled by intimidation, and his frail body ached. On his 60th mission, he was brainwashed and slaughtered by his captors.
These sorts of vignettes flow organically in XCOM 2, but War of the Chosen explores them more fully. First, soldiers that spend lots of time together form close relationships, conferring battlefield stat bonuses as well as fodder for whatever backstory you choose to conjure. War of the Chosen encourages you to create inspirational posters for your warriors, too, to post around your base. Between missions, you’ll see the beaming faces of your finest dole out propagandic slogans. It doesn’t affect anything outside of aesthetics, but it’s a tacit acknowledgement that your team and their connections matter, and it’s a simple way to reinforce the desperation at play. Each of these soldiers, though they march into battle, often without ever questioning their commander, are still human. They need faith, and they need symbols of victory that encourage them to press on.
Of course, this is something of a red herring. War of the Chosen wants you to use these features–kindling relationships with characters like Ben and leaning on them for your own sort of moral support–so that it can bludgeon you with hopelessness down the line.
For every fun little addition War of the Chosen slots into XCOM 2, it also adds something more sinister. The eponymous “Chosen,” for example, are an elite trio of champions that are hell-bent on capturing and torturing your soldiers, picking their minds clean so they can take aim at you.
That places a grim and sobering filter over everything else. You send these people out to fight and die, and you have to carry the knowledge that if they suffer, it’s because you failed. And, what’s worse, if they’re captured, they’ll face far more pain and anguish not because of anything they did, but because your resistance continues to frustrate your presumed overlords.
To balance the scales a little, you’ll also be able to tap three new factions for your burgeoning Squad. The Templars, for example, are powerful mind-wizards who loosely counter the Warlock, one of the Chosen and a psychic warrior whose mind has been twisted by obscene power. The Reapers and Skirmishers round out your ranks with stealthy-snipers and gruff, short-range assault troops, respectively. Each of them comes with special skills so as not to overlap with your more basic, rank-and-file soldiers.
Each of these add-ons might be a solid inclusion on their own (who wouldn’t want cadres of super-soldiers to shore up the ranks?), but War of the Chosen wouldn’t work without all of them.
The new factions are introduced early, so players who finished the base game have some new meat to sink their teeth into. Everyone else? They get a straightforward introduction and continue on as normal. The key, though, is that a Reaper can help you expand your tactical options early on, where stages–bereft of the reverse-engineered laser cannons that show up dozens of hours later–could use a little more excitement.
This makes the first few hours a bit easier than the rest, but this affords you room to experiment before the truly punishing moments appear. After all, characters who aren’t watched have a tendency to be ripped apart or shot to bits. Having a souped-up fighter in the field affords you some flexibility: As with a queen in chess, you can adjust your plans on the fly, leveraging that additional power at key moments–either for offense or defense. But, as with the queen, losing such a valuable soldier can hurt doubly so.
The Chosen play a similar role, dropping into missions and harassing your teams whenever possible. They learn and grow from battle to battle, too. It’s not quite as robust as the Nemesis system from Shadow of Mordor, but they will adapt to your tactics, covering their weaknesses over time. That makes them exceptional foes down the line. In essence, they become bosses that dog you and wear you down, an omnipresent threat that could hit at any time.
As the game marches on, you are beset on all sides by powerful foes that force you to adapt. Your own soldiers might grow as well, but when your elite squads are picked off, or they’ve grown weary and fatigued, or when they lose their best friend or lover, that loss is palpable.
War of the Chosen packs in appreciable new layers of tactical and strategic depth that breathe new life into what was already one of the genre’s best. But it is, once again, the humanity of the fight that binds it all together. New factions wouldn’t work without new challenges, and new bonds are strained by foes that seek to quash opposition not with overwhelming force, but by cracking your will. If one mission goes particularly south, you may be forced to bury far more well-trained fighters than you can replace. And when you can’t quite field the strength you once did, you might not have the drive to keep going. You share not only in new powers, but in the pervasive defeat felt when they are taken from you.
Everything that Chosen brings–from the elite soldiers to the deeper connections between your squads–feels like a living part of the XCOM universe. If you like your deep strategy and brutal turn-based tactics alongside brilliant interplay between camp and emergent drama, there is none better.
Okay, so – *slight spoiler* – no one actually triumphantly bellows “SPOOOOOON!” on Amazon’s new live-action Tick series — from Tick creatorBen Edlund (Angel, Supernatural, Gotham) — but Peter Serafinowicz’s terrific take on everyone’s favorite blue justice-obsessed golden retriever-of-a-superhero is a delight, with plenty of corny bombast and mixed metaphors to spread around in the name of destiny.
Casper Jackson, one of the rescue members in the new isometric survival game Distrust, is having a hard time of it. He’s starving. He’s sleepy. His helicopter crashed. Along with a single survivor, he’s now stuck at a research base in the middle of nowhere in Antarctica outrunning aliens who’ve wiped out the local scientists, and at last the madness hits him.
“Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day and make me travel forth without my cloak,” he yells randomly to the uncaring elements.
Most people wouldn’t consider auto-recalling the specifics of Shakespeare’s 34th sonnet under extreme duress as insanity. But that’s how Distrust sees it, ranking it alongside violent outbursts and hearing voices as one of the conditions that haunt Casper and his fellow crew members. Your goal in Distrust is to keep all these conditions at bay while maintaining your satiety, stamina, and warmth across six randomized zones, all while digging through shelves, boxes, and piles of trash for clues and supplies. Fall asleep, and the aliens appear. And if you fail and let them catch you? If you starve, freeze, or just go bonkers? Game over. The aliens win. The randomization makes it maddeningly tough, even on the easier of its two modes, but it’s also entertaining once you slip into its rhythm.
Antarctica is one of the few places left on earth where you know no one’s around to help you. H.P. Lovecraft understood its potential for horror, as did John Carpenter when making the 1982 film The Thing, from which Distrust draws heavily. But rather than body snatchers, aliens here are “anomalies,” which initially manifest themselves as glowy clouds akin to swarms of butterflies when you’re sleeping, or menacing black balls with a white corona, sort of like little solar eclipses on the run. They’re at their worst in their latter state, when they hunt you down and devour you by merely getting too close. More frightening incarnations eventually show themselves, but sadly, you’d be wrong to expect alien horrors of the sort that leaves you cranking up the lights to 150 watts.
The greatest horrors here are instead those that spring from the simple drive for survival, and usually to good effect. Even without aliens playing tag, your status bars for satiety, warmth, and stamina dwindle with every passing second, forcing quick lessons in multitasking and prioritization. Failure can be as simple as freezing to death, particularly if you stay outside too long without finding a well-insulated coat or run out of fuel for the facility’s furnaces. Even seemingly “safe” food can give you food poisoning if you lose one of Distrust’s many coin toss prompts, such as one that asks if you dare ignore a little mold on the edge of your noodle cup. Worse, your crew’s ridiculously accident-prone, as they cut themselves on all manner of crates and metal lockers, requiring precious bandages to patch up their carelessness.
Despite the repetitive sight of grey buildings and snowy backgrounds, repeat playthroughs of Distrust feel meaningfully different thanks to variety found elsewhere. There’s great variability in the crew itself. Your pick of two companions from a pool of three characters feels limited at the start, but quickly expands the offerings to 15 as you both tick off achievements and discover people lying unconscious within the facility. Some, like the Kurt-Russell-esque Olaf Haraldson, handle the cold better than their peers. Casper Jackson can outrun and outwalk everyone else. Some even come with helpful perks, like Irma Dillinger and her blessedly slow metabolism.
Pick the best two of the bunch, though, and you’ll likely still fail, and fail often. Like so many roguelikes, Distrust attempts to keep the inevitable repeated playthroughs interesting with randomized locations for assets like buildings, tools, and food. The catch? Distrust can feel unusually unbalanced in this regard. In some playthroughs, it practically shoves food and gear in your face, but you’re just as likely to wind up in an instance with little else besides spoiled food and a laughable absence of generator fuel.
Distrust complicates this already punishing setup further by insisting you manage other factors such as the the little madnesses mentioned above, as well as a strategy for killing anomalies by luring them into warm buildings (while they suck up your precious fuel at the same time). The madnesses and conditions themselves sometimes demand an excess of attention, particularly myopia, which prevents you from guiding the crew member to the other side of the map without steering him or her click by click. Match this with the mildly annoying camera, which doesn’t center on your heroes when you click their respective hotkeys, and you’ll find you’re losing too much time that would be much better spent guiding your other crew member to dig through safes and cabinets.
But if everything goes according to plan and you aren’t backed into an inescapable corner, you’re looking at a roughly six-hour playthrough. That may seems short, but chances are the vagaries of Distrust’s randomization will leaving you taking much longer to reach its end, and even after six hours you’ll feel as though you’ve survived a trial by fire. Victory is a warm feeling in this world of cold. As Casper might tell us in his Shakespeare-quoting reveries, the challenge makes crossing the finish line feel all the most rewarding, “lest light winning make the prize light.”
After two episodes raising interesting questions and establishing characters, Telltale’s Guardians of the Galaxy maintains the same momentum with Episode 3: More Than a Feeling. It starts out with flashback scenes that are well-suited to the Telltale style of storytelling, and the difficult decisions it asks you to make call back to previous episodes’ choices in engaging ways. However, it’s held back by inconsistent pacing and poorly executed exploration sections.
Thanks to the Eternity Forge, a relic with the ability to resurrect the dead, the Guardians have been experiencing visions and vivid memories of their pasts. The episode starts with a scene from Peter’s childhood, then shifts to one from Gamora’s life with her sister Nebula and Thanos. Seeing how Gamora and Nebula used to interact is intriguing, especially since you’re given a few choices in how to treat Nebula while in the memory. It’s also satisfying coming off of the previous episodes, where Gamora’s relationship with Nebula was positioned as conflict but lacked the context to be meaningful.
Peter and Gamora then discover Mantis, a being connected to the Eternity Forge who has the ability to read people’s emotions. Mantis reveals that she has been using Peter’s memories of his mother to guide him to her–and that the Eternity Forge can either be given the power to resurrect anyone or destroyed forever. The choice lies in your hands: power up the Forge and resurrect Rocket’s lost love and Drax’s family, or destroy it at Gamora’s urging and prevent the revival of an evil army. This is the main conflict of the episode, and it’s not an easy choice to make.
Though there’s little action in Episode 3 whatsoever, the moral questions are enough to drive the story forward. Using Mantis’ power, Nebula shows you her side of the sisters’ troubled relationship through the same memory you saw from Gamora’s point of view. It’s one of the highlights of the episode; where I previously found it incredibly easy to side with Gamora in every situation, understanding her faults through Nebula’s eyes recentered me. That in turn made the choice to empower or destroy the Forge harder and far more weighty, since Gamora’s support wasn’t enough to make the decision for me.
Even with the right amount of intrigue, the pacing of the episode feels off. With one main conflict at its center, the episode feels empty in places, as if there should be more to do or more of Telltale’s characteristic choices to make. For an episode that deals with so much–and with such high stakes–it ends just as it’s ramping up in order to leave room for later episodes, which makes the two hours it takes to get there feel a bit slow and dull in retrospect.
That’s made more pronounced by a particularly aggravating exploration and investigation sequence that requires you to spam one command until you trigger the next scene–but this isn’t at all obvious just walking around and trying to figure out the solution. It takes way longer than it should, and it’s yet another instance in the series of the more “game”-like elements feeling out of place and intrusive.
Like the previous two episodes, Episode 3 of Guardians gains enough momentum with its most engaging relationships and story beats to carry itself forward. It continues to build upon its characters and gives meaning to its choices, but it also suffers from similar problems, including poor gamified sequences. A cliffhanger ending interrupts the excitement of the scene and ends up feeling forced, which is less intriguing after two prior episodes of manufactured suspense.