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The Solus Project Review

Games Spot Reviews - Wed, 06/29/2016 - 20:32

The Solus Project is a survival game with a mysterious story to tell. You play as an explorer who crash lands on an alien planet during a search for mankind's next home, and with your survival on the line, you have to traverse a strange, deserted world and find a way to communicate with other voyagers. Along the way, you discover the land isn't as benign as it first seemed; it houses numerous dark secrets. It's an interesting premise that's ripe for excitement and intensity; however, it doesn't come together in a satisfying story and is rarely, if ever, engrossing.

The world you're stranded on is bleak and desolate, and the area you explore is a collection of islands, so much of what you see are coastal areas with beaches and large cliffs. You'll also explore creepy caves, which are nigh impossible to navigate without a source of light. The environments don't look particularly outstanding, but some of the weather effects can deliver moments of awe. The first time I saw a tornado, I was left with my mouth open in astonishment. The weather can be daunting and dramatic, assisted by music that swells and crescendoes with the wind. Tornadoes are joined by meteor showers and lightning storms, but the danger of the extreme conditions was moot--it wasn't hard to avoid death at the hands of the vicious weather.

The story is delivered through brief and infrequent monologues, and through stone tablets that your computer-like device translates. Much of the storytelling is also conveyed through audio logs your protagonist records. But despite the fact that you come across notably crazy sights, your character almost never acknowledges them when delivering her verbal assessments, focusing instead on minor, seemingly mundane details.

While there isn't any combat to speak of, you are in a constant battle to survive, and it's crucial that you stay on top of your hunger, thirst,fatigue, and body temperature. You regain health by sleeping or consuming special items. Monitoring temperatures is a critical task as it's easy to succumb to hypothermia or heat stroke, which can quickly put your life in jeopardy. With the right supplies, you can generate heat or cold as needed. Despite having to manage a host of physical conditions, survival comes easy as long as you pay attention, which unfortunately undermines any feelings of desperation the game attempts to evoke.

Your primary objective during missions is typically to get from point A to point B, and though you regularly come across puzzles or obstacles, they're usually easy to resolve. You have access to tools that can help you complete certain puzzles, like a hammer that can break down walls or a teleport device that shoots discs you can teleport to. Some puzzles can be solved through remembering patterns, while others require you to use the teleport device. However, my solutions often felt like I was cheesing my way through the game. In a lot of cases, I would hammer the jump button to slowly but surely make my way up a mountain or constantly shoot the teleporter discs until one finally made it through a crack or over a wall, which would allow me to teleport to them, then move on. Instead of feeling smart after solving a puzzle, I felt like I achieved the solution by pushing on something over and over until it worked.

At least the game's extreme weather conditions look awesome.

Sometimes you're left to explore rather than chase a distinct objective, and this isn't immediately a bad thing, but The Solus Project does little to inspire you to roam the planet's open spaces. At best your curiosity is rewarded with supplies, tools, or slight stat improvements. I never found myself struggling to survive, so many of these items ended up sitting in my inventory. There are times when you come across items that seem initially useful--like a rope that can be used for climbing--but you may never find a practical use for it. The Solus Project pushes you to explore, but it fails to reward your efforts in meaningful ways.

The Solus Project tries to bring story and survival together in an engaging way, but it ultimately falters in this attempt. It has moments of wonder, but they're divided by what is mostly monotonous wandering from place to place. It's a disappointing game with a lot of missed potential, and it doesn't convey a good story or the rewarding feeling of surviving against the elements.

Categories: Games

Inbetweeners: Why We Need To Talk About Models In The Middle Of Sizes

In Style Fashion News Feed - Wed, 06/29/2016 - 10:33
Is it time we let bodies be bodies, WITHOUT the labels?
Categories: Fashion

Let's Talk About The Ab Fab Costumes...

In Style Fashion News Feed - Wed, 06/29/2016 - 10:31
Designer Rebecca Hale discusses what it's like to dress Patsy and Eddy
Categories: Fashion

Susan Sarandon For Marc Jacobs + 16 AW16 Campaigns We’re Double Tapping

In Style Fashion News Feed - Wed, 06/29/2016 - 09:47
Fashion adverts never looked so good
Categories: Fashion

Umbrella Corps Review

Games Spot Reviews - Tue, 06/28/2016 - 22:21

As a competitive shooter set in the Resident Evil universe, Umbrella Corps faces an uphill battle. Fans of Resident Evil are most likely thinking about the upcoming, horror-focused Resident Evil 7, and competitive shooter fans have a wealth of proven games with thriving communities to choose from. With so much background noise, Umbrella Corps has to do something special to stand out. And it does offer a few promising concepts, but they sit under a flickering spotlight--Umbrella Corps is a forgettable game dominated by bland action and half-baked mechanics.

This is a competitive shooter, first and foremost, where teams of three face off in single death elimination matches, or in a series of varying match types, including domination, bounties, and item collection races. Call them what you will, Umbrella Corps' modes are standard concepts that have been around for decades, and players are so fragile that rounds tend to devolve into deathmatch battles regardless of the overarching objective.

Single player levels tend to be similarly basic--kill zombies and collect their DNA. Shooting them is an option, but why expend round after round when you can instantly kill targets with a melee attack? It's baffling that a single whack from the butt of your gun will kill zombies faster than a stream of bullets, but it does.

The small selection of maps in the game is directly inspired by the last few numbered Resident Evil games, and apart from the presence of zombies and unlockable character skins, are the strongest ties to the series at large. Despite their familiar appearance, the maps' inner-workings have some fresh appeal. While in Umbrella's labs, you can snake through ducts to get the jump on an unsuspecting enemy, or, in the game's outdoor locations, you can scurry up walls to gain a height advantage. In a game where most people constantly sprint and fire, it feels good to be able to disappear into the environment and wait for prey to cross your path; it's also an easy way to bide your time during single-death matches.

Umbrella Corps is at its best when it allows you to utilize your surroundings, but this isn't always possible. Most games with a cover system allow you to snap to any structure of a certain size, such as a wall or a crate, but not here--only some objects are eligible, highlighted with a neon outline. Sure, you can hide behind any wall in the face of incoming fire, but only some walls--ordained without discernible rhyme or reason--allow you to enter a proper cover state and fire from safety. Because of this, you quickly learn that relying on cover is a fool's errand. Ultimately, characters move so fast, and kill each other so quickly, that you become accustomed to looking for enemies rather than hunting for cover opportunities.

Despite being fired upon by two armed combatants, the melee attacker will probably come out on top thanks to Umbrella Corps' technical bugs.

You can kill opponents in three ways in Umbrella Corps: you can shoot them, kill them instantly with a melee attack, or disable their Zombie Jammer and rely on zombies that litter every map to get the job done. Every player has a jamming device on their back, which allows players to move around the map without rousing suspicion from the undead. When it's disabled--triggered by a well-placed shot to a player's back--zombies rush towards their newfound target. This is a great option in theory, but in practice, it's very difficult to execute. Whether you're standing, crouching, or prone--where you slither around like an awkward greased seal--you can cover a lot of ground with minimal effort, which results in a lot of twitchy and chaotic face offs where opponents frantically attack anything that moves.

While you can melee enemies with your gun, you might as well equip the Brainer if you prefer close quarters combat. Your Brainer is an overpowered, hybrid scythe-hammer that kills opponents in one hit, so long as they fall in the weapon's generous kill zone, indicated by a HUD projection. Using it comes with a risk--the Brainer's attack animation is notably long--but it's the fastest way to take out an enemy. Should you and a Brainer-wielding enemy attack each other at the same time, you both stagger for a moment before you can issue a follow-up attack. Typically, this results in a flurry of button presses as you try to attack again as soon as the game allows--but with both competitors mashing away, it becomes a game of luck rather than skill. Relent and try to switch weapons, and you'll probably die. Spend too much time trying to issue a counterattack, and you're likely to get killed by an enemy who's passing by. The Brainer is both the most effective tool in your arsenal, and the most likely to get you killed.

You can try to adjust your strategy to account for the Brainer's peculiarities, but there's nothing that can be done to combat Umbrella Corps' broken death animations. In some instances, it takes a full second or two for a death to properly register in the game, and in that window of time, the doomed player can attack and kill others before they are disabled. There's probably a joke to made in there about how the dead don't stay dead in the world of Resident Evil, but this is a bug--not a feature--and the final nail in the coffin for a game pitched as a competitive shooter.

Determined players can earn cosmetic items and new weapons as they earn XP and level up, but a new gun or patch for your helmet doesn't wash away the bad taste of Umbrella Corps' gameplay. Its systems are either unreliable or illogical, and as a result, it feels almost impossible to get a foothold. The first time an enemy kills you when they should have been dead, you may shrug it off. When it happens the dozenth time, you'll probably wonder why you're playing Umbrella Corps at all. There's ultimately no good excuse.

Categories: Games

Inside Review

Games Spot Reviews - Tue, 06/28/2016 - 13:00

A world, broken at the hands of technological progress, decays in silence and darkness. Cowed and enslaved people shuffle mindlessly through the streets. Overseers dressed in masks and black clothes stand at the corners, waiting for one of the slaves to fall out of line, watching the soulless masses as they are forced to jump and dance. A featureless boy in the midst of it all walks through this dystopia wearing a red shirt, one of the only touches of color in this oppressive world.

This is Inside, the second game from Limbo developer Playdead. Like Limbo, the gameplay is simple: you have to walk, jump, and grab objects in order to solve puzzles and overcome obstacles. Ultimately, however, the game is about your journey through a tyrannical, unknowable, and apocalyptic world. Over the course of a few hours, you descend ever deeper into the heart of a malicious and immense construct that threatens to suffocate agency and humanity.

Limbo followed a character moving through a strange and primitive land. Death came easily to the character, but it rarely felt like murder. Inside, on the other hand, exudes violence, cruelty, and artifice. The game highlights the old and shattered parts of a society that you discover has been dragged into a hell of human experimentation.

As you progress through Inside, you experience stretches of quiet and calm punctuated by flashes of complete absurdity. The game encourages you to relish these often shocking or brutal twists, which incite feelings of revulsion and confusion. They make you want to know more.

These moments remain vivid in my memory even a few days after completing the game. A mindless horde of figures followed me off a cliff only to slam into the ground, creating a squelchy pile of flesh. A wispy, feminine creature tenaciously stalked me through underwater regions. I led my character to many deaths that were immediate and gruesome. I loved the game most during its quiet lulls when the oppressive feeling of the world was most apparent, but the in-your-face moments showed a different and darkly comedic side of Inside. I sometimes couldn't help but laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of what it threw at me.

Solving puzzles can be as simple as moving a box up to the base of a high ledge in order to jump up to the top, or as complex as synchronizing multiple automatons to flip switches, lift objects, and move carts so that you can open a door. Some early puzzles rely more on cautious movement than logic as you attempt to avoid murder or abduction at the hands of masked figures. Later puzzles, on the other hand, require more patience and thought. Some make you open sequences of doors to move objects through a room, while others require delicately timed jumps or switches to complete.

There comes a time when Inside leans too heavily on its puzzles to keep you engaged. In these moments, I felt that my driving motivation had shifted from exploring the world to simply flipping the right switch. It's a problem that plagued Limbo, and Inside nearly falls into a similar trap in its middle act when it takes you deep underground. You must complete the game's most time-consuming puzzles during its most narrative-light sections, and the suspense that the game worked so hard to build nearly falls apart.

Fortunately, this issue evaporates as the game enters its final act, when the world and puzzles again form a cohesive bond. Inside is at its best when it doesn't feel like you're doing puzzles at all, but rather avoiding obstacles and finding paths through a dangerous space. As Inside nears its conclusion, the puzzles strengthen the sense of exploration that defines the rest of the game.

Much of Inside's success in storytelling comes from its visual design. The game is gorgeous, with a simple but evocative art style defined by muted colors and featureless figures. Gone are the indistinct backgrounds of Limbo; Inside's environments are richly detailed and full of motion and secrets. For example, you might find smoke still wisping from a candle in a recently abandoned room, a truck full of automatons departing right as you enter a new screen, viewing platforms used to watch slaves dance, or the massive shadowy shapes of the compound's machinery looming far off in the background.

Inside's use of sound and music is occasionally breathtaking. You never hear voices, but each setting has its own unique noises. As I moved through a forest, pine trees rustled, rocks clacked against each other, and leaves crunched under my feet. In the compound, a pulsing, rhythmic noise accompanied my journey, a constant and unsettling reminder of the world's heartlessness. Music is used sparingly, but when it swells, even minor events like exiting a building became points fixed in my memory.

All of it--the setting, the sound, the beautiful art--builds to the discovery of the secret of this compound, but what I found at the end almost ruined the entire experience. Subtlety was thrown out the window and I was left reeling, unable to process the turn. The oppressive, quiet, slow-moving, and mysterious story that dominated most of the game changed in a flash of complete absurdity. I didn't know whether to laugh or yell in horror as Inside twisted in on itself. When the credits began to crawl, I sat in silence for a few minutes, unable to decide what to make of it.

But as time passed, those final moments grew on me. I still find the ending somewhat odd, but upon playing through Inside a second time, I found endearing elements that fit with the overall story more effectively than I first thought. The ending is self-aware in a way that is simultaneously overwrought and humorous, poking fun at itself and at Limbo. It's also cathartic, releasing all of the tension that built over the rest of Inside in one scene.

This is a beautiful, haunting, and memorable game, a worthy follow-up to Limbo. Its puzzles, although rarely difficult, are engaging complements to the story. The real achievement of this game, though, is the way that it crafts its narrative: detailed environments convey the bizarre world that you travel through; introspective moments are filled with minimalist sound design and just the barest touches of music; and the things you must do to complete your journey force you to confront the realities of humanity, freedom, and existence. The puzzles might not bring you back to play it again, but the opportunity to learn more about the world alone is enough motivation to return to Inside's dystopia.

Categories: Games

From Hair Whipping To Chanel, Why Willow Smith Is Everything Right Now

In Style Fashion News Feed - Tue, 06/28/2016 - 09:32
Willow Smith's Chanel campaign?! BADASS. Here's everything you need to know about the rising star
Categories: Fashion

Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness Review

Games Spot Reviews - Tue, 06/28/2016 - 05:00

It's been seven years since the release of the last Star Ocean game, with tri-Ace and Square Enix's lauded science fiction RPG series laying dormant. Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness (or Star Ocean 5) breaks this silence, but after exceeding 30 hours buried in its beautiful yet barren world it's difficult not to feel disappointed. Its story and characters are underdeveloped, its mission design fluctuates between vapid and downright tedious, and despite gratifyingly complex combat and skill upgrade systems, the game is weighed down by a host of frustrating smaller problems.

Broadly speaking, Integrity and Faithlessness is a story about first contact with alien life. Fidel and his childhood friend Miki choose to involve themselves in their home planet's civil war, and along the way discover a bigger problem. Technologically advanced beings from another world have landed on their planet and are using it for nefarious purposes. Along the way, Fidel gathers a ragtag band of scientists, soldiers, and space pilots as he finds, loses, finds again, loses again, and eventually tries to rescue a mysterious little girl named Relia.

The first contact story has been done better elsewhere--numerous times over--and the rest of Star Ocean 5's narrative elements fall equally flat. The characters are bland with little to no emotional development, and feel more like a list of tropes than a believable group of friends, making it difficult to care about their trials. Dialogue is about as subtle as a dump truck, and the unfolding plot does a poor job of communicating why these six strangers have decided to band together and risk their lives to save one little girl. There is a lot of melodrama between them with no power behind it. The relationship between Fidel--a late-teens boy--with Relia--who is maybe five years old at most--is particularly distressing, with lines like "Without you there's no chance I can be happy!" coloring awkward tonal shifts. They do not grow together; rather they take confusing emotional leaps, and for this reason it is difficult to invest in their journey.

It's a little too quiet out here...

The world of Star Ocean 5 is big and beautiful, but feels just as empty as its characters. Open fields of detailed emerald grass shimmer under clear blue skies. Sunlight bounces off rocky mountains in the distance. Deserts are a deep, dark blur of brown as the wind whips sand around your party, and technology labs sparkle and shine with walls of glinting metal and glowing light. These areas are vast, and the dungeons you find hidden in corners of the world are mazes of corridors dotted with treasures. But none of it feels alive. Enemy creatures spawn in clumps at generous intervals throughout each area, but if you leave and come back the same enemies will appear in the same spots without fail. It's a predictable and shallow world, which makes it a chore to complete quests that require a lot of backtracking on foot through the same areas.

Most missions, both in the main story and side quests, include a lot of said backtracking, and the game adds insult to injury by not including a readily available world map. There's a local map you can reference, but you can't look at areas beyond it. If you forget where a certain town or facility is, you're doomed to wander until you find it or remember until you unlock fast travel towards the end of the game. It's easy to get lost. You're also prevented from entering certain areas until you've progressed far enough in the story, gating you on a mostly linear path and preventing you from exploring at will. The world looks vast and beautiful, but this rigidity and emptiness makes traversal unenjoyable.

Boom, baby.

Star Ocean 5 is at its best when you're in combat. All characters in your party fight at once, though you can only directly control one at a time. You can swap between characters on the fly, which comes in handy during tougher boss battles where you may want to oversee healing efforts yourself. At its biggest, your party has two casters, two swordsmen, a melee brawler and a ranged attacker--as well as Relia, who can't do anything besides heal. Battles are a flurry of motion and light, and are an absolute delight to take part it. Even longer, tougher boss battles are welcome challenges, and your team dancing around the battlefield in real time is a gorgeous display. That is, if you properly develop and assign combat roles and skills prior to the skirmish.

Combat roles are unlocked by defeating enemies and collecting special points. You spend these points on upgrading roles, which determine the behavior of your characters in battle. For example, you can unlock healing roles that prioritize casting spells and assign them all to one character, putting them in charge of buffing the party and debuffing enemies. Or you can give roles that prioritize the use of special attacks to your casters, which insures they keep out of harm's way while still dealing the highest damage. You can also combine points and special items hidden throughout the world to unlock special, more powerful attacks that are unique to each character. These attacks can be lined up so that characters automatically perform them on the battlefield, or manually executed if you switch to a specific character. This all creates deep levels of customization within your fighting party, and taking the time to unlock, develop, and assign combat roles and skills makes fighting a visual treat and a breeze to navigate. Cooking up assignments and strategies before major boss battles was a highlight of my time with Star Ocean 5.

Outside of battles, missions suffer from agonizing objectives. Too many large-scale battles come with the caveat of having to protect a certain character from dying while fending off waves of enemies, adding some much-unwelcome tower defense into the mix. Some combat missions involve seemingly never-ending waves of enemies with no direction for defeating them, and so you battle on and on until you realize you have to make an attempt to escape the area. Still others pit you against enemies you can deal no damage too, and force you to burn up your magic and health points until dialogue leading up to the introduction of a macguffin plays itself out. These missions are poorly designed, an egregious abuse of your time and tools, and become wars of attrition very quickly.

"Bird droppings? Where the heck am I supposed to find those?"

Side quests also suffer from this tedium. Some involve you conversing with characters in your party to get to know them better. In theory, the more you interact with certain characters, the more likely they are to heal you or assist you in battle, or go into an attacking rage should Fidel be knocked out. I spent a lot of time completing these drab, unentertaining side stories and noticed no difference in how other characters helped Fidel in combat. Maybe I was too busy trying to hear what they were saying over the din of battle, but in truth my efforts didn't feel like they made a difference.

Speciality skills--including crafting, scavenging, emoting, and having treasure and enemies appear on the minimap--are unlocked by completing side quests. All of these, with the exception of the first two, are unlocked by completing fetch quests marked on quest boards in every major town. These entail bringing certain items collected on your journey back to the board or hunting down and talking to certain NPCs. There's no way to know if or how you collected certain items, as most of them are obtained through drops from random encounters. There is also no indicator where in the world you can find certain things--you have to do the trial and error on your own and it's nearly impossible to track your progress.

"Ayyyyyyeeeeee!"

It's also possible that you will never unlock certain specialities because you never complete enough or the right kind of quests; I went through the entire game having unlocked a fraction of these specialities. Crafting is opened up by completing a handful of banal fetch quests for a girl named Welch, and the feature itself isn't worth the trouble when you can pick up or buy the most powerful items anyway as you progress through the story. These side quests are a complete waste of time, and you can make it through the game having not completed any.

In addition to all this, Star Ocean 5 suffers from some very strange technical issues. Characters constantly talk over each other. Side-conversations begin over talks pertaining to the plot, and if you're talking and run into a random encounter, the conversation will continue beneath the sounds of combat. Too often, while in a boss battle or major conflict, characters would have conversations key to the plot. In these circumstances, unless you've had the foresight to fiddle with the sound settings beforehand, you won't hear any of it. Pivotal conversations were lost to me over the clash of swords and spells, and you can miss important plot points if your subtitles aren't on or you didn't change the audio settings. Oversights like this are unforgivable.

Also, Fidel can bump into and physically move NPCs but will walk straight through his teammates like they're ghosts. It's incredibly jarring and pulls your right out of the experience. There is no autosave and the game's manual save points are infuriatingly few and far between. There are also parts of the story where the game actively blocks you from saving. There was a moment between large battles that I ran into an inn hoping to use the save point, but the game wouldn't let me save. When I failed the second battle, I had restart from before the first one, which also included a lengthy, unskippable cutscene that further wasted my time. Running a gauntlet without reprieve is unnecessary, and doesn't serve to add a challenge--only frustration.

I feel you, man.

In the end, Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness' payoff was not worth the time I put into it. The story feels bloated and empty, with no worthwhile emotional payoff in character development or narrative. Combat and its subsequent upgrade systems are genuinely fun, but the overall experience is held back from being great by issues elsewhere. As a fan of Japanese role-playing games, it's heartbreaking to not be in love with Star Ocean 5, but it holds too tightly onto outdated character tropes and concepts--like the unfair save point system--that make it feel dated and out of touch. If you came to this game seeking the epic sci-fi glory of the series' early years, this is not the Star Ocean you are looking for.

Categories: Games

Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review

Games Spot Reviews - Mon, 06/27/2016 - 21:00

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a cultural juggernaut, but it isn't without its detractors. It may be a rollicking adventure, many say, but a lot of it feels like a retread. Characters, locations, and story beats echoed those of the very first Star Wars film, with even the movie's creators acknowledging that there were many (deliberate) similarities between the two.

Much the same can be said about Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens. As the newest entry in the long-running Lego series, there's more than a touch of the familiar about this game. It's gameplay, puzzles, and basic structure are all well worn, and even some of that trademark goofy Lego humor is starting to feel a little predictable. No surprises doesn't necessarily mean no fun, however. This game isn't a mold-breaker in the same way the superior Lego Dimensions was, but it delivers on its core promise of being an engaging, fun, and charming title that's imminently suitable for families. It's also goofy enough for adult fans of Star Wars to get a few giggles out of.

Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens follows the plot of the movie closely, allowing you to play through many memorable sections from the film like the desert planet of Jakku, the lush forests of Takodana, the ground (and the skies) of Starkiller Base, and more. You can play as dozens of different characters from this movie and other Star Wars films, but for the bulk of your first run through of the game's story mode, you'll be in charge of key characters from The Force Awakens such as Rey, Finn, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Poe Dameron, and BB-8.

Befitting a title aimed at young children, character controls are simple, and with unlimited lives and immediate respawns, there's no real penalty for death. As is standard with the Lego games, many characters have unique abilities which are used to solve puzzles or access specific areas. Rey, for example, can use her staff as a lever to activate some switches, while Chewbacca is armed with explosives that can destroy certain structures.

None of it is too challenging; the game specifically tells you which characters to use to overcome obstacles, and even the more obtuse puzzles usually just involve finding the right object in the world to destroy in order to "build" a new Lego structure. But the fun--as in previous Lego games--is in the way you'll have to swap between multiple characters to achieve objectives, such as using BB-8 to maneuver a winch whilst regularly swapping out to Finn to build the rails for the winch to run on. Lego games are built for co-op enjoyment, and The Force Awakens is no different. The puzzles are just hard enough that younger players will require adult assistance to solve, making it an ideal game for some outstanding kid/grown-up game sessions.

There’s also a new mechanic added to puzzle-solving--the ability to "choose" which Lego structures to build (and the order in which to build them) to solve some puzzles--which adds little to the overall experience. Despite the potential for interesting solutions or a greater variety of outcomes, this new mechanic usually just results in different animations that lead to the same conclusion. It's window dressing and adds rather little to the Lego formula.

Combat is the weaker half of Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Most enemies in the game can be defeated through simple button-mashing, save for a few bosses that require some loosely timed quick time events to vanquish. There is one new addition to battles here: in some levels, characters can duck behind cover and shoot at enemies (like a Lego version of Gears of War). But the game's concessions to a younger audience make this addition challenge-free. Hitting the left trigger automatically targets an enemy, so there's never any need to actually aim.

That formula may be well traveled by now, but it's still a pleasant one to experience, even though a lot of your enjoyment will depend on your affinity for the Star Wars universe (and The Force Awakens in particular). "Charm" is a word oft-used to describe the Lego series, and it's still appropriate here. Simple though they might be, I still found delight in many of Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens' levels. It was exciting flying Poe Dameron's X-Wing above the lakes of Takodana and over Starkiller Base's thermal oscillator, dogfighting against waves of TIE fighters amidst chatter from my fellow pilots. I also loved controlling both Rey and the stormtrooper she Force-controlled in the movie to escape her imprisonment from the First Order.

And while the goofiness in which the Lego games approach their source material has now become somewhat rote, it still elicited several laughs from me. It was funny to hear some ambient chatter from two stormtroopers about one of them achieving a 3 out of 10 ranking in a recent target practice session (a new record, apparently), and I laughed out loud when Kylo Ren, during that pivotal scene in the snowy forest, bemoans not simply walking over and picking up that fallen lightsaber. Trying to use the Force, he says, was just "cooler." And I swear there was a gag directly referencing a "secret" cameo within the film (that is, a cinematic spy who played a stormtrooper in The Force Awakens). It's little asides like this that make the game enjoyable for grown-up gamers despite the simplicity of play.

There are even several extra levels that expand on the events from the film, including a pre-film timeline rescue of Admiral Ackbar from the First Order's clutches and another detailing exactly how Han Solo and Chewie secured those Rathtars in the first place. For Star Wars fans, these are exciting (and apparently canonical) additions, and it's given more authenticity by the inclusion of nearly the entire cast of The Force Awakens, who recorded new lines of dialogue for the game. It's wonderful if you're a Star Wars completionist, but it's also annoying as these new, non-film levels are hard to access. They're locked away until you earn the requisite number of gold bricks within the game, so you're going to need to play a lot of Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens to experience them all.

Playing a lot of Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens won't be a chore, though, especially if you do have a younger partner to take with you on your galactic journey. These Lego games are confectionaries now, little candies that don't have a huge amount of substance but are enjoyable nonetheless. Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens doesn't really take you to a new galaxy far, far away, but it's still a pleasant journey.

Categories: Games

WATCH: How To Choose The Perfect Sunglasses In 3 Steps

In Style Fashion News Feed - Mon, 06/27/2016 - 11:40
Shopping for sunglasses? Our fashion director Arabella Greenhill is here to help...
Categories: Fashion

Concealer? No Thanks, This Acne Is Intentional

In Style Fashion News Feed - Thu, 06/23/2016 - 11:50
Meet the make-up artist giving models (fake) acne this Milan men's fashion week
Categories: Fashion

Blake Lively's Maternity Style File (Aka A Lesson In How To Dress Your Bump)

In Style Fashion News Feed - Thu, 06/23/2016 - 11:13
Now THIS is how you style out your bump...
Categories: Fashion

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Review

Games Spot Reviews - Wed, 06/22/2016 - 16:00

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, the long-awaited mashup between Shin Megami Tensei developer Atlus and the Fire Emblem creators at Intelligent Systems, occasionally feels a bit too ambitious for the amount of boxes it's trying to tick. It's the plot of an SMT game--demons invade from another realm and attempt to control our world--with Fire Emblem characters portraying said demons, veneered with the color palette of a Lisa Frank folder and a J-pop-centric story. The relationship-building and demon-recruiting elements of SMT and its spin-off Persona series are present, but the rest is unmistakably Fire Emblem: the weapon and skill upgrades system, mastering and changing classes, the rock-paper-scissors weapon triangle. It's not that there is an overwhelming amount of things you need to complete in Tokyo Mirage Sessions; other than the main story and a handful of side quests, there isn't much to explore. But the tasks it does ask you to accomplish are challenging (and silly) enough to hold your interest.

The story itself is a bit of a cheesy mess, but it commits to itself so seriously it's difficult not to get wrapped up in the drama. Teens Itsuki and Tsubasa find themselves pulled up in an otherworldly war. Fire Emblem heroes and enemies appear as otherworldly beings called Mirages, who are stealing people's Performa--the creative spirit that resides in singers, actors, and other entertainers--and collecting it in a bid to take over the world. Shibuya, Tokyo is rife with these beings, and those who can control Mirages are called Mirage Masters. Itsuki and his gang recruit the likes of Chrom (Fire Emblem: Awakening), Caeda (or Shiida from Shadow Dragon), Tharja (Awakening), and Tiki (a recurring series character) to help them defeat the evil Mirages and save Shibuya from certain destruction.

At first glance the Fire Emblem characters, redesigned with much darker looks (just see what they did to Chrom), seem a bit out of place in the technicolor-pop world of #FE's Shibuya. But rather than simply shoehorn their appearances in, the game uses them in the same way demons and Personas are used in the Shin Megami Tensei and Persona franchises. Each Mirage is attached to one character, and the pair level up alongside each other through combat. Antagonists from the Fire Emblem series show up as enemy boss fights, including Aversa and Gangrel from Fire Emblem: Awakening, and even side characters like Anna make brief appearances as Shibuya shop clerks. The way the Fire Emblem cast is used is creative, and after a while you'll be able to look past the twisted, dark art style that characterizes their looks for #FE.

Oh Chrom, what did they do to you?

The majority of your time in #FE is spent in dungeons. Each takes on a unique appearance--one is the set of a Japanese culture film, another an eerie television studio--and features its own twist on environmental puzzles. One area requests you find and help small groups of Mirages by lighting lamps in their dressing rooms; another is more complicated, requiring you crack a numerical code to determine which doors in a given area will let you advance. All of these tasks might be completed while fielding off random encounters, as enemy Mirages will appear and attack without warning.

These dungeon puzzles can take some time to unpack and require you to pay close attention to your surroundings. At first I was frustrated with the difficulty of some of them, writing them off as tedious since they require a lot of backtracking through areas on foot. There is very little direction on where to find things, like hidden walls to new areas, and although this wandering is required it's refreshing in that at no point does the game hold your hand. The deeper I went into the game, the more challenging the puzzles became, and in the end I enjoyed their trials almost as much as I enjoyed combat.

Dungeons are dressed like spooky movie sets.

But Tokyo Mirage Sessions' gorgeously-animated turn-based battles are where the game really shines; it's a delight to watch Tsubasa, clad in her Pegasus Knight getup, backflip into the arena and stab an opponent before Kiria preps an ice spell and blasts the enemy into oblivion. Fights are fun to watch, as our heroes and enemies dance in a flurry of attacks around each fighting arena. Some special attacks can trigger a Session, which essentially allows you extra turns as each hero character gets in an extra hit on an enemy. The way battles are set up, with difficulty scaling up the deeper you get into the game, encourages you to take your time in seeking out attacks that trigger a Session. This, coupled with elemental weaknesses and resistance in some enemy types, creates layers to each battle requires you take time to carefully plan out attacks two or three turns ahead. It's a strategy-oriented battle system, and feels like Fire Emblem in that you have to to consider both hero and enemy placement as well as what weapons and magic your team currently has at their disposal.

Sometimes, however, boss battles feel more like a war of attrition than a fair fight. Even when I was overleveled, I had difficulty with some late-game battles involving a boss that continuously multiplied himself or another that required me to kill three creatures at the exact same time or they would keep reviving. Other bosses just had a stupidly high amount of health and no real attack pattern, and dragging out a fight with such dull rules doesn't making overcoming the conflict rewarding.

Outside of dungeons, you can take time to upgrade your passive skills--called Radiant--and weapons--called Carnage. Both are upgraded by collecting Performa and detritus from the enemies you defeat. Many special skills are tied to the narrative and require characters to meet certain level or story-focused milestones before they become available, but weapons can be levelled up through regular combat. Each weapon, once mastered, will grant the character access to new skills, and you are encouraged to swap to a new weapon immediately after mastering an old one since you can now move on and diversify your skillset with another weapon. This system isn't complex but it is rich, as each weapon can imbue a character with new or more powerful healing or elemental abilities, depending on your choosing. For example, I made sure to equip Tsubasa with spears that taught advanced healing and elemental spells, and by the end of the game she was a caster to be reckoned with. You can pick and choose which skills to learn and which to forget, allowing for a range of customization in each character's repertoire.

Combat arenas are super stylish.

Mirages, too, can change their class using a Master Seal, and upgrading a Mirage class affects the power of the user. For example, upgrading Chrom to a Great Lord class heightens Itsuki's attack power and unlocks new, more powerful special abilities. Levelling up Mirages, unlocking and crafting new weapons, and cherry picking what skills to learn is all ripped from the Fire Emblem series, and it is expertly grafted onto Tokyo Mirage Sessions. Juggling all this requires some careful planning, but the payoff in battle is truly satisfying.

And when you're not in battle or running around dungeons, you're spending time with your comrades in Shibuya. The city isn't as open-world as perhaps you'd like, with traversal between buildings in the city relegated to fast travel. You can explore Central Shibuya on foot, but there are unfortunately few NPCs to interact with and you are stuck on the sidewalk, navigating the spaces between item shops. Tokyo Mirage Sessions uses the Wii U GamePad like a cell phone, where text messages from your companions will occasionally appear. Sometimes these texts will indicate a new side quest, where you can strengthen your relationship with your friends similar to the Social Link from the Persona games. Side stories typically involve some running around Shibuya with one companion, followed by brief dungeon time and a mini boss battle. These quests add depth to Tokyo Mirage Session's story, and give you additional chances to level up your Mirages and gear.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #Fe is gorgeous, fun, and a smart collaboration all around. Backtracking through dungeons and running up against tedious bosses can bring the momentum down, but overall the game is something worth exploring. After a few dozen hours the semi-ludicrous story and systems set in front of you feel so comfortable together that this mashup of developer Atlus' most popular franchise and Intelligent Systems' beloved strategy RPG seems like it was destined to be.

Categories: Games

Trials of the Blood Dragon Review

Games Spot Reviews - Tue, 06/21/2016 - 22:40

Trials of the Blood Dragon is one of those concepts you didn’t realize you wanted until it was staring you in the face. Far Cry: 3 Blood Dragon's over-the-top setting deserved an encore, but it couldn't just be another first-person shooter--cue the whacky dirtbike racing-meets-platformer series, Trials.

Trials of the Blood Dragon takes place some years after Blood Dragon’s ending. Rex “Power” Colt has retired from the Blood Dragon killing business with his wife, Dr. Elizabeth Darling, and has two kids: Slayter and Roxanne. When Dr. Darling disappears mysteriously, and Rex dies fighting Vietnam War 4 by himself, the kids--now smart-aleck teenagers--are recruited to take up the family business of defending America.

The first few stages take place in a rendition of Vietnam bathed in sunlight and explosions. You steer a stunt bike over steep, rolling hills, in theory making sweet, impossible jumps and flips. But because Trials of the Blood Dragon requires surgical precision, you will likely spend an equal amount of time failing and picking up the pieces as you familiarize yourself with the controls. Compared to previous Trials games, the tutorial here is a bit lacking, but the game balances that out by having a steadier learning curve than previous Trials games. The difficulty of missions increases in gentle increments, easing you into mastery. The pacing might run the risk of boring veterans if the game didn’t have its share of tricks up its sleeve.

After a few levels, you acquire a gun, and for a short time, the gunplay is a fine fit, with a reasonably small selection of targets to hit while riding your bike and targetting with the right analog stick. However, there comes a time when you have to ditch your bike. In these few, scattered stages, you control Roxanne on foot, and the game becomes a twin stick platformer. The mix of platforming and shooting during these missions is a counterintuitive mess, where you can use the X button to jump, but can’t shoot at the same time. All the while, your enemies have spectacular aim, and you don’t have the time to stop and shoot.

Not all of Trials of the Blood Dragon’s new ideas flounder, however. Later stages swap the guns for a grappling hook. You have to manage momentum and positioning with greater care than usual, but it leads to some tense, heart-pounding moments when speed is a factor--there's an amazing boss fight against Power Ranger lookalikes that makes rather brilliant use of the hook. Roxanne eventually gets to use a radio controlled car built for speed and wild loop-de-loops in a distinct slate of Hot Wheels-inspired courses, adding another appreciable layer of over-the-top action.

Trials of the Blood Dragon truly excels once it breaks out of Vietnam. Where Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon was a delirious take on cult 80s action, Trials of the Blood Dragon takes wider aim, featuring missions based on action-schlock homages, each with its own wild twist. One stage is a full-blown Hotline Miami hat-tip--complete with animal masks--that climaxes with a full-on drug hallucination level that shifts, rebuilds, and alters gravity on the fly. Another stage is a weird mash up of Big Trouble In Little China and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, complete with a minecart-based platforming.

Even with all this, the game manages to maintain a plot. The twins interact during and between levels while non-sequitur Saturday morning commercials intrude at random. It’s a strange, random mix of aesthetics, with the cartoonish twins and live-action commercials vying for attention, but each stage mimicks its source material with style. The wide variety of themes and referenes does a great job of staving off late-game boredom, and the twins are surprisingly enjoyable characters to be around, ribbing and complimenting each other in equal measure, despite the insanity that surrounds them.

As with other Trials games, Trials of the Blood Dragon demands frequent replays if you want to get the best rankings and unlockable items. There’s no shortage of goodies to collect, like extra costumes, but the stages are varied enough to be inviting all on their own without the promise of rewards. You will have to contend with boredom during a few unremarkable levels, but the game's fun, mind-boggling stages leave the strongest impression. Whatever mad genius decided to smash the two series together should be commended: the mix is mostly a successful one, and where it fails, it’s at least failure in favor of trying something new.

Categories: Games

The Way Review

Games Spot Reviews - Tue, 06/21/2016 - 21:46

A lone man stands tall among hundreds of gravestones. His hunched shoulders and back, and the slight grimace on his face indicate the burden of impending peril. He grabs a shovel and starts digging. You can spot an intimidating city skyline in the distance, with gloomy clouds suffocating the sky. Eerie, synthetic piano notes play in the background. “Her grave..,” the man whispers. He quietly moves through the cemetery, beginning his tumultuous journey to discover a way to bring back the dead.

What is the meaning of life, and how far would you go to hold onto your loved ones? The Way asks these two age-old questions throughout its intriguing narrative. The premise is simple and familiar, but The Way sprinkles enough clever story beats and surprises to avoid predictability. The beginning chapters show promise, offering inventive puzzles that make great use of your character’s strengths and weaknesses. These obstacles require patience, thought, and the ability to accurately retrace your steps. The puzzles during the game's opening hours range from simple tasks, such as deciphering riddles and acquiring precious passwords, to unlocking hidden doorways and passageways in dangerous locations. Early on, you sneak into a security building crawling with deadly robots and cameras armed with lasers. Avoiding the detection while crawling through vents and hitting switches makes for thrilling James Bond-esque moments.

All your character can do at this point in the game is jump, crawl, and fire a gun--if he has one. It’s this simplistic approach that makes The Way a momentarily delightful experience. One early challenge requires you to find a way to disable streams of water so you can reach your destination. There are curious, bright green numbers placed above each stream. Switches that stop water from flowing are hidden in a different room, and also have the same numbers. I had to figure out in what order to hit the switches based on their placements above each stream. It took some time to solve, but it felt gratifying when I finally did.

The Way unfortunately devolves from this type of level design in favor of mundane trial and error. Where the earlier puzzles give subtle clues, later obstacles offer almost nothing in the way of hints or direction. You’ve no knowledge to refer to, and you end up stuck on a puzzle that can only be solved through banal repetition.

The Way further discourages you when it combines these poorly-designed obstacles with haphazard mechanics. At one point you acquire the ability to use a shield that deflects laser beams. The shield, when deployed, is difficult to wield with skill, and it has to recharge between uses. One of the worst puzzles in the game tasks you with precisely deflecting lasers with your shield towards small tiles in order to create a complicated circuit. This took me an hour to solve due to the cumbersome nature of the shield, and because I had no clue which tiles to hit first. This bogged down the game's swift pace. From then on, the puzzles grew progressively more boring and confusing. Thankfully, the story and characters are fascinating enough for you to keep playing.

A beautiful, happy moment.

The small handful of characters you meet along your journey are all eccentric, and play a vital role in the plot. A group of barbaric, colorful villagers you encounter in an ancient village wear strange masks, and can’t speak English very well. You also partner up with an orange behemoth-like creature nicknamed “Tincan.” The highly detailed, pixelated settings and character models, and the synth-like sci-fi musical score further enrich the excellent worldbuilding and storytelling. No environment or level looks the same, from decaying graveyards and ancient caverns, to sunny sand-swept deserts and bright green forests.

Making your torturous, long trek across planets and galaxies to discover the key to the afterlife can be fascinating. It's a psychological examination of the human spirit and mind, and what we’re truly capable of when we can’t accept our losses. You have to spend several hours solving frustrating puzzles to see it through, but The Way’s poignant story is worth the occasional struggle.

Categories: Games

From Wipes To Wellies, Your Ultimate Festival Packing List

In Style Fashion News Feed - Tue, 06/21/2016 - 11:29
Because there's no such thing as 'over prepared', here's your ultimate festival packing list...
Categories: Fashion

22 Summer Problems Everyone In Britain Lives On A Day-To-Day Basis

In Style Fashion News Feed - Mon, 06/20/2016 - 11:33
It’s the first day of summer, guys… Can’t you tell?
Categories: Fashion

Kylie Jenner Raids Her Mum's Wardrobe?! She Isn't The First - We Share Our Stories

In Style Fashion News Feed - Mon, 06/20/2016 - 09:55
Kylie Jenner is being blasted again for helping herself to her family’s swimwear, but she’s definitely not the first to steal retro pieces from her Mum’s wardrobe. Team InStyle reveal their style stories…
Categories: Fashion

Mighty No. 9 Review

Games Spot Reviews - Mon, 06/20/2016 - 08:01

Mighty No. 9 might not bear the Mega Man name, but there's no escaping the fact that it's a spiritual successor of the classic side-scrolling series. You run, jump, and shoot at enemy robots through a series of 2D levels, and for every boss you defeat, you gain a new ability to use during the rest of your journey--that's not to mention longtime Mega Man producer Keiji Inafune is at the helm. It's a cartoony and light-hearted adventure, and if you enable the chiptune soundtrack, it's bound to trigger nostalgia for anyone who has fond memories of Capcom's blue bomber.

There's more to Mighty No. 9 than elements of Mega Man, however: you're encouraged to be fast and efficient. You could argue this is just an echo of the Mega Man X games--where skillful dashing was required in order to complete certain levels or to reach secret areas--but Mighty No. 9 rewards quick and nimble play in a new way by allowing you to absorb particles from damaged enemies that temporarily enhance your speed, armor, and power. These boosts have an immediate and tangible effect, and the more you play, the more skilled you become at both acquiring and using them.

One of Mighty No. 9's more dynamic stages.

Mighty No. 9's sense of speed evokes intermittent exhilaration and its nostalgic elements can be charming, but these spurts of joy aren't enough to carry the game in the face of its standout issues. Its levels are are too basic and leave you hungry for something new and exciting; the biggest threats are instant deaths from pitfalls and spikes. As long as you play smart and with a measure of patience, it's very hard to fail.

There are a total of 12 stages in story mode, with four that unlock after you finish the initial eight. These eight levels can be tackled in any order you wish, but don't mistake this open-ended level selection as a true callback to Mega Man's punishing structure, where you had to decipher the "correct" path through stages and ultimately bosses. Mighty No. 9's bosses can all be defeated using your default weapon with reasonable effort, and thus you rarely feel compelled to explore your weapon upgrades out of necessity. The last four stages are an exception, where particular obstacles demand the use of one weapon or another, but at that point, you have no attachment to your newfound tools, and thus only a vague sense of pride in your progress.

At the end, you have no attachment to your newfound tools, and thus only a vague sense of pride in your progress.

The real challenge lies in earning high ranks; killing groups of enemies in a specific way that earns you accolades is an ever-present objective. Marks are determined by factors like how much damage you take, how many enemies you kill, and how efficient you are at absorbing their energy. There are also discrete challenge stages with rules and victory conditions that force you to think on your feet, putting your reflexes and problem-solving skills to the test. Sadly, there aren't enough of these--or variety of rulesets--to sustain their budding allure. Perfecting your reflexes is a fun pursuit if only because of the rewarding feelings you get from chaining together attacks and dashes in a fast and stylish manner, but it's nothing more than a convenient way to spice up Mighty No. 9's typical action.

Despite its traditional gameplay, there are some noticeable efforts made to modernize the experience; everything is modeled in 3D, including cutscenes where the hero Beck and other characters plan actions and analyze the overarching conflict. At best, the game's 3D models look like sharp and expressive recreations of classic game art, but Mighty No. 9 mostly feels like a compromised effort, failing to deliver either contemporary flair or classic whimsy. Given this, it's more maddening that some levels exhibit a surprising amount of slowdown, though it becomes clear why certain lighting and particle effects are used sparingly; the game isn't optimized to support them throughout.

The aforementioned cutscenes are particularly disappointing, with characters that simply sway in place as they talk through static mouths. You can choose to hear dialogue in either Japanese or English, but expect to switch to Japanese regardless of your habitual preference; the English voice acting is too slow and abrasive to stomach. The best moments that relate to Mighty No. 9's characters or plot come during levels, when allies pop in to offer encouragement and dismantle basic obstacles. These cute moments show signs of promise, but Mighty No. 9 doesn't encorporate its thoughtful touches into the bigger picture.

Mighty No. 9 is an inoffensively average game sprung from the memories of the past, with little to show for its position in the present.

For a game that's meant to bear the legacy of a classic series, Mighty No. 9 barely succeeds. It may rouse excitement from time to time, but by and large, it lacks a pervading sense of artistry, both in its level design and presentation. Platformers--and even Mega Man-like games in particular--are readily available. For one to stand out and leave a mark, it has to do something novel that speaks to the player and the conventions of the genre; something to spark wonder and excitement. Mighty No. 9 is an inoffensively average game sprung from the memories of the past, with little to show for its position in the present.

Categories: Games
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