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Star Wars Rebels: “Legacy of Mandalore” Review

Warning: Full spoilers for the episode below.

Considering it was a pretty direct follow-up to the last episode, it’s too bad there was several weeks between the airing of “Trial of the Darksaber” and “Legacy of Mandalore.” Then again, “Trial” was such a heavy, emotional episode perhaps it was for the best to give us a bit of a breather.

Ultimately, if viewed as a two-parter, “Legacy” was the weaker installment, though to be fair, it’s being measured against one of the best episodes the series has ever done. But there was still a lot to enjoy here, as we delved into “modern” Mandalorian society (modern as measured against its portrayal in The Clone Wars) a bit more directly, having only seen certain warrior factions in previous installments.

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For Honor Review

Melee-focused action games have spent years enacting the fantasy of engaging in armed combat, fortunately sparing us the hours of rigorous training and resolve it takes to actually do so in real life. But For Honor, Ubisoft’s third-person weapon-based arena combat game, is different from other melee-focused action games, like Dark Souls or Dynasty Warriors. Its combat system is simple on the surface, but executing its more advanced tactics requires a patient mind, as well as an understanding of its deliberate pacing. There are not many games quite like For Honor; it’s an incredibly entertaining fighter that’s satisfying both in single and multiplayer, even despite the narrative flaws of its story mode.

Its fantasy medieval world is populated by three of history’s most iconic warrior classes: knights, vikings, and samurai. Regardless of which faction you choose to play as, For Honor challenges you to restrain yourself and uphold self-control in the face of strenuous conflict. The elegance of its combat is at times awe-inspiring, easily pulling you into the euphoric highs of a well-deserved victory, where your patience was maintained and your reflexes were on point.

For Honor focuses primarily on one-on-one duels, though fights against multiple foes are common. There are 12 heroes to choose from, each brandishing their own unique weapon and fighting style. While the game’s combat is simple enough to be accessible to beginners, its deep mechanics allow frequent fighters to noticeably develop their skills. It’s only then that each Hero’s strengths and weaknesses are fully revealed. For example, the spear-wielding Nobushi offers a wealth of slow, long-range poke attacks, which when put up against Orochi’s swift sword swipes, transform the battle into a calculated struggle of space management and precision striking. Every moment you spend in combat is rife with strategic possibilities: should you keep baiting an opponent with an attack or dodge? Should you get in close and knock them into a nearby pit? Or should you disorient them by being overtly offensive? For Honor’s combat encourages adaptive thinking, providing substantial depth and balance in its moment-to-moment action and myriad matchups.

At times, putting what you learn into practice is a test of patience, whether you’re playing against human opponents or AI. Fights are slow and measured, demanding you diligently carve out openings through subtle, calculated movements rather than through brute force or button mashing. As a result, you spend as much time–if not more–trying to read your opponent than attacking them. The pace of combat in its initial stages seems clunky and disorienting–especially if you’re used to faster-paced fighting games–but once you grow accustomed to its tempo, it’s For Honor’s most fulfilling and enjoyable quality. Its slow-pace is much like learning a dance; you aren’t adjusted to the choreography’s complexity and speed, but after repeated practice, it becomes a gratifying exercise of muscle memory.

For Honor's combat encourages adaptive thinking, patience, and quick reflexes.
For Honor’s combat encourages adaptive thinking, patience, and quick reflexes.

Aside from a few informational videos and practice sessions, For Honor’s most useful training tool is its single-player story mode–at least for a time. It more or less functions as a long-form tutorial, putting you into various story-driven scenarios that teach you the fundamentals of combat. For example, some stages offer you insight on how certain characters are played and how their special abilities (called Feats) are used, while others familiarize you with some of the multiplayer modes.

Unfortunately, the narrative that links these scenarios together is a nonsensical mess. A warlord named Apollyon, whose intention is to ensure an eternal age of all-out war, instigates the conflict gripping its world. But her motivation is so unclear and muddled that she rarely makes for an entertaining presence. Meanwhile, the battle-hungry ensemble cast tasked with either standing up to or supporting her are marred by lackluster characterization. They provide little in the way of relatability, coming across more as tools to move the story forward than actual living, breathing people. It also doesn’t help that their character models are lifted straight from multiplayer, with recycled, faceless designs that make it difficult to distinguish them from the multitude of other characters.

The story mode's ensemble cast provide little in the way of relatability, coming across more as tools to move the story forward than actual living, breathing people.
The story mode’s ensemble cast provide little in the way of relatability, coming across more as tools to move the story forward than actual living, breathing people.
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While the story mode is content to act as a multiplayer tutorial, there are moments when it attempts to be more ambitious. For instance, you sometimes encounter set pieces, like a desperate siege against a heavily fortified Japanese castle or a fast-paced chase on horseback. But these moments end up more monotonous than exciting, as they typically consist of repetitive fights against dozens of AI opponents with the occasional objective involving interacting with an object in the environment. The attempt to string together For Honor’s unique take on melee combat with a narrative leaves much to be desired. Its roughly six-hour length effectively teaches you its base mechanics, but it overstays its welcome well before the first half with a haphazard narrative. And due to the simplistic AI of many of the foes you encounter, it’s easy to become more aggressive and complacent in duels, which is a bad habit to bring into multiplayer.

When you tackle For Honor’s multiplayer, there are plenty of modes to dive into. However, the most varied and entertaining of the bunch is Dominion, a 4v4 mode where you and your team cooperate to capture and hold three zones in a battlefield filled with AI minions. Rushing from point to point, defending a zone, or working with your teammates to obtain others is exhilarating. And in the midst of all this, there is always a multitude of emergent moments to experience, like heroically sprinting into the middle zone and slaughtering swarms of AI minions in order to capture a point and turn the tide of battle, or finding yourself cornered on a bridge alone, up against three members of the opposing team. Unfortunately, combat in this mode can become too chaotic when no respawns occur at the tail end of the match; this often causes you and your teammates to mindlessly button mash your way to victory against the last standing hero. Despite this, Dominion encapsulates the sensation of a large-scale medieval battle on a smaller scale, distilling the desperation of a relentless charge and the ruthless sword fights that ensue in its wake.

Elimination mode, meanwhile, emphasizes and amplifies the complexity of For Honor’s team-based duels. It’s uncomplicated in premise: a 4v4 face-off to the death with no respawns. Combat is thrilling and challenging in this mode, especially when it’s solely up to you and a teammate to secure a victory against a full enemy squad. You come to understand not only how to fight against multiple foes, but also how to judge when and where it’s appropriate to do so. Learning this is at times punishing or unfair, as poor environmental awareness in a battle against multiple foes often spells certain death. But when your reflexes and ability to manipulate these factors work in your favor, it’s difficult not to feel an overwhelming satisfaction in how the game makes it possible to win against all odds.

If Dominion demonstrates For Honor’s capacity to create varied and exciting moments, and Elimination embodies the thrill and depth of its team-based fights, then Duel showcases combat at its most tense and absolute. This strictly one-on-one battle mode removes your ability to use Feats, forcing you to rely on the strength of your Hero’s base moveset. The grace of its simplicity heightens the tension of combat, taking the base of its complexities and forming it into something more akin to a traditional fighting game. Duel’s stripped down nature showcases the brilliance of For Honor’s one-on-one combat, elevating its other modes in the process by how it condenses what a duel is into a raw and brief competitive instance.

The sense of community and promise of rewards in Faction War gives you a higher sense of purpose.
The sense of community and promise of rewards in Faction War gives you a higher sense of purpose.

It helps that many of For Honor’s various multiplayer modes are each entertaining in their own right, as playing through them feeds into a cross-platform territory acquisition system called Faction War. As you play matches, you earn War Assets based on your personal performance, which can be distributed to further your chosen faction’s influence. While it doesn’t seem like much, the sense of community and promise of rewards it provides gives you higher sense of purpose.

In terms of performance, For Honor runs smoothly on both PS4 and Xbox One versions with little issues in online stability. The PC version runs well too, even on low to mid range hardware setups. You’re given a slew of options to find the best balance between visual quality and frames per second. This is paramount since the game requires you to consistently run at a bare minimum of 30 fps in multiplayer.

After slaying countless foes, it’s clear the impact For Honor’s combat has had; its fundamental tenets of discipline and restraint are bestowed upon you permanently, forever changing the way you perceive a melee-combat encounter in a game. In its highest moments, For Honor is difficult to put down. Its slow combat pace and narrative shortcomings might turn off those unwilling to take the time to dive deep into what it has to offer. However, make no mistake–those who do will be rewarded with some of the most satisfying multiplayer melee fighting conceived in recent years.

A United Kingdom Review

There’s a difficult tonal tightrope being walked on at the heart of A United Kingdom, the new film from Amma Asante, based on the real life relationship between Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) and Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike). Beginning in London in 1947, we meet Khama while he’s studying law in Oxford, listening to jazz in classy social clubs and preparing to take over the throne of Bechuanaland from his uncle (Vusi Kunene), who’s been serving as regent over the kingdom in Seretse’s absence. Everything is going according to plan until he meets Ruth one night, connecting with her over their shared love of jazz and undeniable chemistry.

Falling in love is the last thing either of them need, but still they spend their nights walking through London into the hours of the early morning until Seretse finally proposes to Ruth, asking her to go back to Bechuanaland with him as his wife. She instantly agrees as the two begin making preparations for their wedding, but there’s only one problem: he’s black and she’s white. Both of their families disapprove, with Ruth’s father threatening to completely disown her at the news, and Seretse’s uncle trying to force him to abdicate the throne should he move forward with his marriage to Ruth.

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Powerless: “Wayne Dream Team” Review

Warning: Full spoilers for the episode below.

There’s a point in tonight’s episode of Powerless where Vanessa Hudgens’ Emily takes one for the team and spends 24 hours watching the world’s worst, most soul-sucking anti-bullying video. It’s tempting to draw comparisons between that and the experience of actually watching Powerless. That’s a little overly harsh, as the sophomore episode is at least marginally better than the first. But the fact remains that this series is much less entertaining than a comedy set in the DC Universe has any right to be.

Two weeks in, probably the biggest knock against Powerless is that the DC elements still feel so superfluous. One could very easily rewrite the script to remove any mention of the superhero fantasy draft or the “Rumbrella” and have a very generic workplace comedy on hand. If anything, the DC elements are even less prominent than in the pilot. Other than another brief appearance by Jack O’Lantern (a one-note gag of a character who’s quickly wearing out his welcome), this episode didn’t even feature a single hero or villain in the flesh. An occasional name-drop for characters like Batman and Flash doesn’t cut it. If Powerless wants to bill itself as a DC Comics-based show, it needs to make more than the absolute bare minimum effort to be one.

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Fifty Shades Darker Review

At the start of Fifty Shades Darker, the sequel to 2015’s Fifty Shades of Grey, we find our heroine, Anastasia Steele, (Dakota Johnson), working as an assistant at a publishing company for the seemingly great Jack (Eric Johnson). Well, to Anastasia he’s seemingly great, everyone in the audience will know that there’s a villain lurking underneath that nice exterior. There has to be – Jack’s last name is Hyde (as in Dr. Jekyll and Mr.) and Fifty Shades Darker is not a subtle movie.

Directed by James Foley with a screenplay from Niall Leonard and based on the E L James novel, Fifty Shades Darker is the perfect companion to the original movie. Not only is it not a subtle film, there is little to no chemistry between Johnson and co-star Jamie Dornan, who plays Christian Grey, and that’s unfortunate because this is supposed to be some sort of love story.

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Justice League/Power Rangers #2 Review

When you put two uniquely entertaining properties like the Justice League and the Power Rangers together, the sheer fun of the idea allows for a certain level of leeway when it comes to execution. Unfortunately, that forgiving nature all but evaporates in Tom Taylor and Stephen Byrne’s follow-up installment, the book’s limited gains hampered by its disappointingly flat characters.

Given the nature of the read, the book’s familiar case of mistaken-identity-turned-inevitable-team-up is none too surprising. And to writer Taylor’s credit, he makes good use of the initial confusion, the various instances reading mostly true to character. It’s surprising then just how dull these initial interactions are, as despite the many physical clashes we’re treated to there’s never any real sense of drama or escalation. Much of that blasé feel comes from the characters themselves. While true in tone, there are no real sparks to this clash of cultures, or at least nothing that makes their union memorable. Superman and the Justice League treat the Rangers as more intriguing interlopers than true threats, whereas the dialogue for the Rangers, aside from Kimberly and maybe Billy, is more or less interchangeable from character to character. There are a few choice Batman bits involving how scary he is, but even that is offset somewhat by artist Byrne’s bright color palette.

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The Expanse: “Static” Review

Warning: Full spoilers for the episode below.

A dejected, and rejected, Miller hatched a clever new scheme this week in “Static” – a good episode that was engaging and informative, but also somewhat motionless.

A frustrated Naomi blew off steam (thanks to Cara Gee’s “whatshername” character), a guilt-ridden Alex locked himself inside a simulator, and Amos managed to find a way to connect with a captured Protogen scientist in a chapter that felt a lot like a comedown from the massive conflict waged back in the season premiere.

But let’s stick with Miller here. Right when it looked like he’d found a new home with the crew of the Roci, Miller got bounced for shooting Dr. Dresden. An action that we’d find out, later on, was done because the madman was actually making a bit of sense. You know, in a cold and calculating “greater good” way. Anyhow, Miller now found himself undone, from an arc standpoint. Where would he go? Meaning, both literally and figuratively.

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Double Dragon 4 Review

In Arc System Works’ revival of the classic Double Dragon series, we have evidence that some video game throwbacks can be too authentic for their own good. Double Dragon IV is a direct sequel to the NES version of Double Dragon II (oddly not Double Dragon III)–and when we say “direct,” we mean it. This is an odd game that, quite literally, could’ve appeared on the 30-year-old system and felt right at home.

While this might sound great in theory if you have nostalgia for the 8-bit era, reality tells a different story. The original Double Dragon games still hold a special place in many an older gamer’s heart, but they are products of their time. Later side-scrolling brawlers would vastly surpass the primitive action of the series’ Lee brothers. Capcom’s Final Fight and especially Sega’s Streets of Rage would go on to take the mantle of top brawlers in the 1990s, so seeing a sequel to the NES version in 2017 is a bit strange.

Double Dragon IV staunchly replicates the NES games’ graphics and mechanics, complete with incredibly annoying screen tearing and flickering. Characters are crudely drawn, hit detection is sketchy, and the gameplay itself wavers between mindless and unfair. Some enemies stand around senselessly or rush blindly at you, and others start attacking with projectiles before they even appear onscreen. Compared to a modern brawler, the moveset–though slightly enhanced since the early ’90s–is limited. You have a punch, kick, jump kick, and a couple of minor “special” moves like an uppercut. Regardless, you can get through most levels by spamming basic attacks.

Repetition has always been a problem with brawlers, but Double Dragon IV really doesn’t overstay its welcome. Like the originals, it takes around 35 to 45 minutes to complete. Levels are short, transition story panels are slight, and while the scenery changes, there’s not a lot of variety in the level design.

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In light of a few sections that require pixel-perfect accuracy on your part, Double Dragon IV’s stiff controls add an unnecessary layer of frustration to seemingly simple platforming. At one point, there’s an odd level inside a freight ship that includes spiked ceilings and traps, that lead to a lot of annoying instant deaths. Tricky level design isn’t unusual for Double Dragon, but unfortunately, it serves to highlight how sluggish the controls are.

So, Double Dragon IV isn’t a good game in a modern sense, but it certainly is an honest trip back in time that will, if nothing else, offer a heavy dose of nostalgia for anyone with a fondness for the Lee Brothers’ 8-bit adventures. Frankly, it mimics its source material perfectly. It’s a worthwhile historical artifact if nothing else, but absolutely cannot match the vast improvements in gaming since those early days.

Warhammer 40,000: Sanctus Reach Review

Warhammer 40,000: Sanctus Reach is a tough game to play. It’s a turn-based strategy game packed with great ideas pulled straight from its namesake tabletop game, but it buries the good bits under layers of awful user interfaces, poor artificial intelligence, threadbare aesthetics, and a ton of bugs.

On the surface, Sanctus Reach seems like it’d be easy enough to pull together. You only have two factions to manage: the iconic Space Marines and the bloodthirsty Orks. Once a match starts, each player has a preset number of points they can spend on the units and gear they’d like to take into battle. Options are varied and run the gamut between colossal Dreadnoughts and packs of Goblins. After each side picks its warriors, players take turns moving across the board with the aim of controlling as many victory points as possible. Bouts are engaging, and depending upon your initial choices, you’ll have a small array of strategic options at your disposal. Unfortunately, almost everything outside of that core is painful and frustrating. And it starts with the menus.

Starting a match in Sanctus Reach is a tedious process. At a point where players should be raring to go, excited for all the possibilities to come, menus with almost nonexistent tool tips bog and frustrate. Outside of the campaign–where you’re railroaded into a series of rough-hewn maps–skirmishes and multiplayer games start you off with a few options. Most of these, like the size of the map, are simple enough. Others, however, don’t make any sense unless you’re a seasoned player, as they don’t get any cogent explanation.

The game fails to demonstrate which troops do what or what types of foes they’re effective against. Match length is unpredictable and the objective of each game mode is unclear. Options include “Attack,” “Defend,” “Meeting Engagement,” and “Symmetric.” None of those, on their own, explain their effects at the start.

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Granted, some of that goes away with experimentation, but the bulk of the game’s tutorials are in YouTube videos. They explain things in a direct, easy-to-understand manner, but they’re not available in the game itself. You can access these videos from the game’s splash screen, or click an in-game link that closes the program and launches your browser. Instructions within the game are insufficient as they are, and it’s unfortunate that you need to leave the game entirely to learn the inner workings of its mechanics.

Even with the video tutorials, however, you’ll encounter situations you won’t quite understand. A Dreadnought (Warhammer speak for monstrous exosuit) can stand right next to a cadre of Orks, unable to attack. You might think it’s because line-of-sight is blocked, but there’s nothing preventing you from attacking. The Orks will shoot up your mechanical walker several times before you can reposition, and before you know it, you’ve lost one of your most expensive units. It’s impossible to tell if there’s some mystery mechanic that’s never explained or if it’s a bug.

Those bumps notwithstanding, matches do show some promise. Depending on the composition of your team, you’ll have tactical options (though, again, you don’t know what those are without experimentation) that range from area-of-effect attacks to suppressing fire to specialized melee abilities. Your only goal is to scout control points and hold onto them with your units’ various abilities. Depending upon whether you’re attacking or defending, you can charge forward, blowing holes in walls and destroying your foes’ cover, or you can hunker down and prepare ambushes for the invaders. Regardless, this is where Sanctus Reach’s scant strengths show.

Most units have a few different means of attack. Some have heavy weapons and melee options, while others are fast shock troops that switch between pistols and grenades. Your goal is to leverage each of their abilities and organize your teams into tight groups that work well with one another in order to clinch victory. Pairing units that complement one another–like vehicles that can hit hard and move fast with flamethrowers that can wreak havoc on swarms of enemies–is crucial. And the combination of troop variations with map obstacles often creates intriguing decisions. You can hold a defensive position in a bombed-out building, whittling enemies down as they approach before you blow through a wall to continue on to the next control point.

As fun as that can be, you won’t have to wait long for it to wear a bit thin. Whether you’re in the campaign or in skirmish/multiplayer modes, you’re always dealing with control points. Turn timers put a hard cap on how long games last, too, so rushing tactics are the only real option. There’s no total elimination and no multi-part missions with creative or varied goals.

Making matters worse, the game’s AI is laughable. Often, Orkish hordes will march straight into an obvious trap, and then, once their soldiers have been reduced to mangled, bloody bodies, they’ll send another detachment without any additional precautions or changes to tactics. The developers have openly acknowledged some of these problems, but at time of this review, it’s a big drag on a game that desperately needs some more marks in its favor.

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Sanctus Reach is frustrating enough with poor tutorials, bugs, and awful AI, but that’s all magnified by bland aesthetics that blur together. Many units look similar, textures are grainy and pixelated, and many screens have low-resolution backgrounds. It’s not usually an issue, but graphical oversights of all types abound and can make it difficult to recognize units and unit types, as well as hinder the legibility of tool-tip pop-ups.

Even if you can get past its many shortcomings, Sanctus Reach has some of the weirdest bugs I’ve ever seen. In my time with it, I found that the game wouldn’t always maintain full-screen priority. Without warning, it would shift into the background and bring up a web browser or word processor. It would also lock up on occasion, and when trying to Ctrl-Alt-Delete to close, I’d get a Sanctus Reach-specific error code saying that it had a “Fatal Application Exit.” Crashes like this were rare, as was the automatically shifting window priority, but they add even more frustration to an already flawed game.

Sanctus Reach does offer a handful of decent moments. I chuckled when I reduced a squadron of Orks to bloody puddles, and again when I managed what at first seemed an impossible incursion. But these flashes of satisfaction aren’t enough to hold up a game that’s mediocre at best and vexing at worst. Together with a host of minor annoyances, they add up to a long, dull stint with a bad game from a great franchise that deserves far better treatment.

Arrow: “Bratva” Review

Warning: Full spoilers for the episode below.

With Arrow spending so much time flashing back to Ollie’s time in Russia and initiation into the Bratva, it was only a matter of time before the show made an international detour in the present as well. Past and present didn’t collide in any particularly meaningful way this week, and there was certainly no progress on the Prometheus front, but the change in scenery alone helped keep things interesting.

Among other things, the Russian trip served to wrap up Diggle’s ongoing storyline, as the majority of Team Arrow raced against the clock to prevent General Walker from selling a nuclear bomb to Markovian terrorists. I’m not overly thrilled with how Diggle’s struggle resolved itself. He’s gone from wrongly incarcerated felon back to free man a little too cleanly and easily. And not for the first time this season, it feels like David Ramsey is overdoing it a bit when it comes to conveying Diggle’s pent-up frustration. Beating a prisoner nearly to death seemed a bit much. The big question now is where exactly Diggle goes from here. His ordeal seems over at this point, though it’s always possible that Walker will find some way to make good on his threats to Lila and John Jr.

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