It’s that time of the year when we get the annual Call of Duty (COD) releases which have been pretty hyped up with the release of a new Modern Warfare that boasts a single player campaign. Last year, COD Black Ops 4 lacked single player content which was a surprise for some gamers, and Black Ops 4 introduced COD’s own twist on the battle royal gaming. Activision actually released two games this year by launching Call of Duty Mobile earlier this year on Apple and Android phones. Does this mobile COD game stack up against other COD games?
First Person Shooters (FPS) games depict gun violence of which COD Mobile only shows a red mist when enemies get hit. Even when a player hits an enemy with a rocket, the red mist is the only thing that is observable. I would recommend this game to teens and adults; unfortunately, there was no ESRB rating I could find at this time. I believe the game would have received a “T for Teen” rating.
Mobile gaming has progressed a lot in the last few decades from fairly simple games to full-blown, triple ‘A’ titles coming out with their own mobile games. Call of Duty’s mobile entry into the market is an example of how well a mobile game can be, and the game shows a lot of attention to details. COD Mobile is an FPS game on a smartphone, which seems like a difficult type of game to pull off because of the challenges of small screen and lack of controller. It’s also a multiplayer game, having to work over mobile networks.
COD Mobile contains no campaign, only multiplayer modes such as Deathmatch, Domination, and Search and Destroy, much like Black Ops 4. It also contains a battle royal mode that comes with the game that closely matches the Blackout mode in Black Ops 4. Activision has stated that there will be a Zombies mode similar to other COD games which will come to the Mobile version sometime in the future.
Gameplay on COD Mobile will be very familiar to anyone who has played a COD game. The movement ring has an auto-dash, which is handy and makes movement quick as well as helps with sliding. The gun play feels snappy and exactly like a COD game with the different types of firearms behaving like classic COD weapons. A handy feature of the game, which doesn’t come in full-size titles, presents itself when looking at enemy players. They now have red highlights on their shoulders to distinguish them as enemies. The game acts and feels so much like a COD game, which is nice since it runs on my smartphone. I tested the game mostly on WiFi signals which were no problem even when I was using slow hotel WiFi. I tried it a few times on mobile data, and it ran fine on a strong 4G signal, which was great. Depending on the phone plan, playing on a mobile network will eat up data fast.
An FPS game on a smartphone brings a whole new set of dynamics versus playing an FPS game on PC or console. The smartphone becomes both the screen and the controller with its touch screen. COD Mobile does a really good job of positioning the controls and allowing for some customization of them. The game offers two control schemes, advanced and simple: the advanced scheme offers an aim-down sight (ADS) fire and hip fire button, while the simple setup only offers a hip fire button with a separate ADS toggle button. It would have been nice to be able to move the placement of all the buttons to help customize the controls, but current placement of controls still allows a good field of view while my hands are on my phone. The responsiveness of the controls may depend on the kind of phone used; I played on a Moto Z Play and a Google Pixel 4 XL and I didn’t feel there was much of a difference.
As for the graphics and performance of COD Mobile, I found that the game ran very well on my older Moto Z Play and my brand new Pixel 4 XL. The game was set on low graphics settings for the older phone, which was about four years old. I had a few crashes, but overall, the game ran smoothly with a consistent frame rate on the older hardware. On the Pixel 4 XL, the game ran with higher graphics on the newer processor, which meant I got to admire the tufts of grass and leaves on the trees in the Blackout mode versus the flat textures on the older phone.
COD Mobile is a free-to-play game with many in-app purchases available to the player. The player can purchase COD currency with real money in order to acquire a season pass, skins, and emotes for their profile. A player will get bombarded with ads for in-app purchases each time they start up the game as well as when the player unlocks any seasonal items which gets old fast. Thankfully, there’s a simple ‘X’ button to get out of the ads. I never bought any in-game currency, and I still was able to unlock a lot of weapons, but not very many skins or emotes. I understand that it’s a free-to-play model that most other mobile games take, but I think that COD Mobile is a game I would have gladly paid a few bucks to purchase just to get rid of the ads.
COD Mobile surprised me as a mobile game, because it brought the COD experience to my smartphone and hooked me with maps like NukeTown, Crashsite, and other fan favorite multiplayer maps. COD Mobile runs very well and doesn’t need more than a decent WiFi signal which gamers can get almost anywhere. I don’t like the free-to-play ads or the in-game currency, but the game plays great without having to make any purchases. I liked being able to play Call of Duty while waiting for an appointment or while on break with co-workers. Call of Duty Mobile is worth downloading.
While Black Ops IV kind of took the world by surprise with a complete lack of campaign and fantastic battle royale mode, Modern Warfare is returning the franchise to its roots, in a manner of speaking. While the battle royale mode is missing in this entry, Infinity Ward is seeking to deliver a fresh, intense single player campaign. Is the series’ reboot worthy of the title, or should it have stayed in the past?
Violence: This will be one of the staples where Modern Warfare hangs its hat. On top of the normal gunplay of any first person shooter, Modern Warfare is filled with disturbing, violent imagery. From people (including children) being hanged and executed to animals and people being hit with poisonous gas and succumbing to its clearly disturbing, painful effects, there is a lot here that can be hard to watch.
Language/Crude Humor: As with nearly any Mature-rated first-person shooter, particularly in a realistic setting, Modern Warfare is rife with foul language. It runs the gamut from milder curses you could see on network television to G**D*** and F***. Expect nothing to be off limits, and the game could say them in up to three different languages.
Positive Themes: You’re literally working to save the world from a terrorist plot that could spark a global war. Individual character stories include everything from honor to vengeance and beyond. Characters will wrestle with following orders or doing the right thing, making disturbing, difficult decisions, and more.
Last year, Treyarch looked at the stats and decided to forego a single player campaign, opting instead to expand their multiplayer offerings with a battle royale and zombies mode. This year, Infinity Ward went back to the well for inspiration, opting to deliver one of the best campaigns in the franchise’s long history.
A shipment of deadly gas has been stolen from a Russian facility. With such a heinous tool of destruction in the hands of a terrorist organization, the world sits on the precipice of global war. Enter Captain Price and a band of allies that come together for the good of mankind. Between Alex, the standard, blonde, American soldier, to Afro-British Special Forces operative Gaz, to female, Middle Eastern, freedom fighter leader Farah, the cast is as diverse as they are well written and acted.
As is classic with Call of Duty campaigns, there are some intense moments. Through fantastic storytelling and impactful world design, you’ll feel every harrowing step of the journey. While they’ve always ratcheted the action up to 11, this is the first Call of Duty game that actually hit my core hard enough to elicit tears. There’s some really difficult content to cope with in here, especially when you consider events in the world news over the last decade or so. It’s worth every minute. It may even be worth experiencing multiple times, a feat few games earn from me.
On top of a great campaign, Modern Warfare brings the noise with a host of fun multiplayer offerings. New to the Call of Duty franchise this time around is Ground War, a massive 64-player game that has players spreading out to capture and hold points across a large area. This comes aided with cross-play, a feature new to Call of Duty that lets players on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC all play together simultaneously. In my experience, this has worked wonderfully, as we’ve had players on all platforms partied up and enjoying the game with no connectivity issues.
Of course, there’s a full suite of modes to enjoy. From the classics like Team Deathmatch, Domination, and Search and Destroy, to new offerings like Cyber Attack and the 2v2 Gunfight, there’s something here for any FPS fan to jump in and enjoy. It’s all fantastic, but I’m really hoping they’ll bring a Battle Royale mode into Modern Warfare in the future. I played hundreds of hours of last year’s Blackout mode and I’d love to have more of that with this new installation.
Map design in Modern Warfare is largely well done with plenty of nooks and crannies to wage war in. I have some serious issues with a couple of map designs, particularly “Euphrates Bridge.” I’ve seen major crushes, both on the winning and losing side. It’s infuriating to have a level where you can spawn to the glint of a sniper rifle if your opponents control the bridge. It’s absurd. Infinity Ward needs to tweak some of their map design.
Spec Ops rounds out the experience with a whole mode dedicated to multiplayer PvE content. Where Zombies has held folks’ attention in the past, these situational scenarios will put you and three others in intense situations where skill and teamwork are required to conquer. They’re a lot of fun, but they can be brutal.
On PlayStation 4, you can also enjoy the Spec Ops survival mode. Here, you’ll fight through waves of AI enemies that get progressively more difficult, sending everything from some normal soldiers to snipers to suicide bombers and juggernauts at you. I’m genuinely frustrated PlayStation locked this down with a year of exclusivity. It’s a blast, and I would’ve enjoyed playing it with friends on other platforms. Everything else in the game is cross-play. Spec Ops Survival should have been, too.
Modern Warfare is a gorgeous game. From the slick cinematics to gorgeous, lifelike renderings of character models, to ray tracing (for PCs that can handle it); this is one of the best looking shooters on the market. The sound design is also top notch, with emotionally driven tracks for all of the action. Beyond that, it appears Infinity Ward has done some extra work to recapture the sounds of gunfire, giving them a more realistic impact. This is a true, audiovisual, multimedia treat.
But it is not a perfect game. Over the course of the last few days, I’ve put in time on all three platforms and I’ve seen some significant issues. On both Xbox One and PC, I experienced hard crashes. For Xbox, that meant it completely shut the system off, requiring a full reboot. I fully expect Infinity Ward to resolve whatever causes those hard crashes, but they’re significant. On top of that, there was occasionally some mild lag or connectivity issues, but that could’ve been the servers trying to keep up with the launch demand, as they seem to have eased off a bit since launch.
This year, Infinity Ward proved they deserve their mantle as the studio that put Call of Duty on the map. With a gorgeous, harrowing, well-told campaign featuring a variety of cast members to an impressive multiplayer suite with new modes and cross-play, there’s very little left to complain about. The game has some bugs, but I’m confident they’ll be exterminated before long. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is back in an explosive way, ruling both the campaign and multiplayer scene for the foreseeable future.
Originally developed by Insomniac Games, Spyro was birthed out of the late 90’s. Following a successful trilogy, various other Spyro games developed by other parties were released on handheld and consoles. But the most successful of them all were the three released on the first PlayStation.
Spyro the Dragon, Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage! and Spyro: Year of the Dragon were all lauded with praise and became instant classics when they were first introduced to gamers both young and old. Almost every single gamer who owned a Playstation owned one of the Spyro games. Releasing the original trilogy as an HD remake was a fantastic idea by Activision, even if most of the sales were by young adults in their mid to late twenties. Will we adults sit down in front of our Playstation 4s and play a game that was originally made for a younger audience without shame? Yes, we will. And who better to work on it than the developers of the most recent successful Skylander series?
Violence: My only concern in these Spyro games is the cartoon violence. The very nature of the Spyro games is to defeat foes by either charging into them or burning them with your fire breath. Once attacked, enemies simply disappear. Otherwise, the game is neutral.
Before owning any console besides those by Nintendo, I remember visiting family friends who did not have kids my age, but they did own a PlayStation. Thankfully, realizing my boredom, they allowed me to play a few games, including Spyro the Dragon and Crash Bandicoot, marking my first introduction to the world of Sony. So as an adult, once I heard that the original trilogy was to be made remade in HD, I pre-ordered it. I never really got the chance to play them in their entirety, and this was a great opportunity to do that. I was not disappointed.
What mostly drew me was the fact that it was being remade using Unreal Engine 4. Practically, any game made using UE4 comes out looking beautiful, with smooth textures and landscapes you can’t help but pause to gaze at. It is uncanny just how new and different the Spyro games look. It’s one thing to watch them being played on Twitch or YouTube, but seeing them for yourself is another thing. I found myself on several occasions pausing just to admire the amount of detail, care, and effort that went into rebuilding every single level exactly the way they were on the original Playstation, but through a high-res new lens.
Another part I love about the graphics are the remade character models. The characters were once ugly, poor, square, blurry, and unrecognizable. It was the best Insomniac could do with what they had in that era. The difference in the Spyro Reignited Trilogy is amazing. Characters enjoy brand new models, and I can see facial expressions! Technology!
But Spyro’s new and improved look is not the only thing I love about the HD remodel. The classic charge-and-burn gameplay returns. Spyro still charges, still roasts, swims, glides, and slams into enemies like he originally did, but smoother. If all you change about a game is the graphics, but keep the still-fun core gameplay, then that game is indeed a treasure. These games are exactly that.
In the trilogy, Spyro will need to collect objects of some sort, whether that includes other dragons, dragon eggs, relics, totems, or friends who need help. But let’s not forget the most important one: gems. Throughout the young dragon’s journey, he will repeatedly run into a greedy bear named Moneybags who will frequently demand gems in order to continue down a path or to open up a bridge, etc. The easiest way for this to never be an issue is to collect all the gems you find along the way.
At the end of each game, there is always an additional level or area that is only accessible once Spyro has collected every single item and gem that there is motivation to continue playing. Some might say that the Spyro games were some of the first to introduce this ingenious concept of unlocking more content through the requirement of collecting all collectibles. This often works by keeping gamers playing for hours. I normally don’t care for such tactics, but I just might return nevertheless since I came very close to accomplishing 100% in Year of the Dragon…
As I stated before, Spyro Reignited Trilogy is beautiful and the care and attention to detail can literally be seen in every single level. The maps are as simple as I remember; I am able to run through most of them in 30 seconds or less. In Ripto’s Rage, some levels are so short, I can finish the main mission in 5 minutes! But the length of each world traveled to isn’t a problem, as there are many worlds to traverse and explore for hidden collectibles. My favorite part about Spyro is the creativity invested in the crafting of all these different worlds. To name a few, there’s a volcanic world full of goats who like to party, a swamp world with giant candles and rabid piranhas, and a frozen tundra with Eskimos and ice wizards. The respectable people over at Insomniac have some pretty great imaginations and ideas.
One of the few grievances I have against the trilogy is really against the original games. The Spyro adventures have terrible transitions and will often leave things open-ended or will have an abrupt ending. Once I defeated Gnasty Gnorc at the end of Spyro the Dragon, there is a short cutscene of Spyro making a witty comment, and then it cut to the credits. I appreciate that in later games, there was more of a conclusion to the story, especially in Year of the Dragon.
As for the difficulty, the games are simply far too easy. The extra missions and collectibles present some sort of challenge, but if you’re skillful enough and are able to master the controls, these are still a breeze to accomplish. But, like I stated before, I can run through most levels and maps under 30 seconds—some in 10 seconds! The real challenge, of course, lies in the ability to collect everything to unlock the extra content.
Strangely enough, the boss battles vary in difficulty. One would think that the final battles would be the most difficult, but I found some to be randomly challenging. The middle boss in Ripto’s Rage was, by far, the hardest boss in all three games. On the other hand, the final boss in Year of the Dragon was, by far, one of the easiest! Now, there is no formula or script in game design dictating that final bosses in all games should be the hardest to battle, but typically, that’s the expectation.
New, revamped graphics means that the characters and environments had to be drawn from the ground-up. This also means that there were artists, cartoonists, illustrators, and animators involved. Some of the game’s art and concepts are shown off in the credits, but it’s not enough! I love the drawings and the amount of love that went into recreating every single dragon, companion, and NPC in the game. I would not mind putting these tributes on my wall.
I was also excited for Tom Kenny, the voice of other popular cartoon characters (Spongebob Squarepants), returning to voice Spyro. Other returning artists include Stewart Copeland, who composed the original soundtrack for the trilogy when it was first released on the PlayStation.
If it wasn’t clear, Spyro Reignited Trilogy is a delight. Yes, it tends to be easy, the endings are abrupt, and the difficulty is inconsistent, but it’s still a blast to play. The graphics alone are reason enough to shell out $40 for it. Toys for Bob successfully rebuilt this game from the ground up. One thing I do not see, however, are more Spyro games in the future. But, who knows? Maybe Spyro will be made into a movie? If Sonic got his own movie, anything can happen, right?
The youngins these days associate FromSoftware with the “Soulsborne” franchises, consisting of Dark Souls and Bloodborne. But gamers like me who are closer to 40 than 20 not only remember 2009’s Demons Souls, but also FromSoftware’s first million-selling game, Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven. As the Tenchu franchise is among my top three in all of video games,* please indulge me as I trace how Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice came into existence.
Activision acquired the rights to Tenchu in 2003 from Sony Music Entertainment; the irony the verb in the previous sentence is that Acquire is the developer responsible for Tenchu: Stealth Assassins, the first game in the entire franchise, with SME serving as publisher. Activision would then almost-immediately sell FromSoftware rights to Tenchu just in time to publish Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven on behalf of developer K2 LLC (a subsidiary of Capcom). FromSoftware would continue to publish Tenchu games on PS2 and Xbox 360 through the decade, concluding with Tenchu: Shadow Assassins on the Wii in 2008-2009.
When “FromSoftware” appeared at the end of the world premiere reveal of “Shadows Die Twice,” the youngins thought in terms of Soulsborne; given my history with the company, I prayed for Tenchu. As revealed in 2018, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice began life as a Tenchu concept game, but director Hidetaka Miyazaki disclosed in the Japanese magazine Famitsu that FromSoftware decided to proceed in a different direction to avoid inadvertent imitation of prior games. Even after the total conversion, the soul of Tenchu remains in Sekiro (he he he!).
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is rated M for Mature primarily because of its sheer volume of blood gushes. Here, expect to see anime-like gallons of the red stuff from every type of injury, from standard sword slashes to punches from Shaolin monks. While optional for common enemies, defeat of major foes requires special finisher animations where they languish in the agony of the pain inflicted from the final blow. A key story and gameplay element requires that the main character suffers from a severed arm; later, a decapitation takes place.
Blood should be anticipated in a game like Sekiro, but what might come as a surprise is the heavy presence of Buddhism. Along with the candies from Buddhist monks serving as power-ups—not unlike the mints that old ladies at church pass out which help one stay conscious through a sermon—an entire temple is a major setting. Even those candies, when used, activates a somatic motion similar to casting a spell.
Well before any of this comes to bear, players will be required to pray at Buddha statues to save their games. Prayer maintains its importance throughout the game, but for purposes that would be spoilers if I disclosed them. In a confession of my ignorance on Eastern religion, those interested in learning about Buddhism in Sekiro may do so here.
Among other possible content concerns, there is a single d**n. Saki—Japanese alcohol—is a collectible item that can be shared with NPCs so that they may divulge some of the world’s lore.
On a positive note, Sekiro in its entirety demonstrates the importance of loyalty, dedication, commitment, service, and honor. It also inadvertently makes me appreciate the free gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. This game shows the lengths to which man will go to attain something similar; the results are tragic.
Near the conclusion of a fictional version of Sengoku-Jidai, the age of the country at war, a feudal lord by the name of Isshin Ashina wages a bloody coup to take control of the land of Ashina. Why is it necessary that he wage a war to lay claim to a land of his own namesake? I have no idea, but I am also accustomed to FromSoftware’s tendency to write stories that do not always make sense; here, I was certainly confused. At any rate, a man named Owl takes under his proverbial wing a boy orphaned by this war and trains him in the way of the Shinobi Code: obey your father first, your master second. The boy is given the name “Wolf.”
Twenty years later, Isshin Ashina has fallen ill in his old age as his enemies accumulate on his doorstep. His descendant, Genichiro Ashina, abducts a child known as the Divine Heir Kuro for reasons that were unclear to me for half the span of the game. Because Kuro is Wolf’s master, the young shinobi finds and smuggles Kuro from the Ashina estate. Genichiro intercepts them, and after a duel, severs Wolf’s hand, incapacitating him. After regaining consciousness, Wolf discovers that his arm has been replaced with a queer contraption called a Shinobi Prosthesis. Now armed (he he he!) with this multitool, Wolf sets off to liberate his master, Divine Heir Kuro, again.
Wolf does not care about Genichiro’s interest in Kuro, but it will nevertheless become (somewhat) clear in due time. While on his mission, Wolf encounters a few NPCs to assist him, such as the Sculptor and Emma; a couple of NPCs refer to Wolf directly as Sekiro (roll credits!), or one-armed wolf. But then there is still the matter of the game’s subtitle, Shadows Die Twice.
In that regard is the game’s signature mechanic: resurrection. As Kuro’s liege, Wolf has been granted the power to defy death. This is not an unlimited feature; after one use, the power goes on cooldown until Wolf prays at a Buddha statue or delivers enough deathblows to common enemies or a boss. I vacillate between understanding FromSoftware’s commitment to the game’s difficulty, and frustration when I die while possessing multiple resurrection charges. Compared to this, the penalty of halfing gained experience and money, or “rot” poisoning NPCs is negligible.
The Japanese word for “shadow” is “kage,” and through popular culture, the terms have been used interchangeably in reference to “ninja,” which is also alternated with “shinobi.” All this means is that shadows/kages/ninja/shinobi are gonna die, and more than twice. As this is a FromSoftware game, gamers may naturally believe that Sekiro is a “git gud” kind of game. Such an assumption would be correct; however, I never felt Sekiro to be soul-crushing (he he he!). At the beginning of the game, a common samurai imposes themselves as a formidable foe, wearing down Wolf’s poise posture meter, parrying deflecting, and delivering devastating blows that will have players sucking down the estus flask healing gourd in no time. With time and education of the game’s mechanics, such a foe becomes a mere inconvenience.
When gamers describe a Souls game as fair (they are lying), what they mean is that the game teaches players how to defeat it by encouraging other means besides brute force button-mashing like in Bayonetta or Devil May Cry. This was not my experience in Demons and Dark Souls, especially in the former where I made a holy build to self-heal as I deathmatched every boss; in the latter, I summoned over-leveled allies when I could not figure out how to beat bosses like Ornstein and Smough. Here, Sekiro is purely a single-player game, so it is imperative that one “gits gud” at deflecting attacks, which deals more damage to enemy posture than blocking attacks. This is important, because everyone has separate posture and health meters, and the former generally fills faster than the latter empties, at which point Wolf can deliver a deathblow finisher. Failure to master the art of the perfect deflection—and all blocks in this game are simply failed deflection attempts—as well as missing dodges or jumps when warned of an enemy’s unblockable attack will result in an arduous, miserable experience.
Thankfully, Sekiro is not a Souls game despite its developer’s pedigree. On the contrary, it plays like what I would expect from a fusion between Tenchu and Ninja Gaiden Black due to the rapid flow of combat, the hard-hitting enemies, the verticality granted by the grappling hook to the usable items to the skill tree to the utility of the Shinobi Prosthetic. Of course, there are also stealth kills deathblows; the wise Shinobi thins out the ranks before engaging in the unavoidable fights!
Speed and smoothness in particular separate Sekiro from Souls. Running at a locked 60 fps (with mods that can run it up to 160 fps and expanded field of view), I realized that I could execute perfect parries with precise timing and also “fuzzy blocking” since the kind of timing a game like this requires is often inextricably tied to framerate (console versions are reasonably comparable). Sekiro is most definitely a beautiful game, but a smooth engine is what facilitates the possibility of breakneck flow once one becomes adept at the game’s mechanics, as opposed to what I feel is a slog in Souls even thirty-hours deep. Behold:
Mid-bosses and major bosses alike will put player skills to the test, but Sekiro does not leave players to rely on their skill alone. Over time, experienced gained converts into points that can be exchanged to acquire techniques such as the defensive Miriki Counter, which parries thrusting enemies for massive posture damage, or the Ichimonji (Double), a devastating overhead slash that also overwhelms posture. Other skills passively increase healing or reduce posture damage. Health and damage can be increased by collecting specific trinkets after key (mini)boss fights.
The Shinobi Prosthetic is the item that keeps things interesting despite Wolf’s commitment to a single weapon. A certain bestial enemy in the first quarter of the game was goring me with relish until I decided to use some firecrackers to scare it. Certain simian foes could be dispatched from a distance with shuriken. Sheild-bearing enemies can get sliced in half with a spring-loaded axe. A fan shield can nullify riflewomen’s dead-eye sniping. The more money Wolf farms, the better better he can augment his prosthesis. As of this writing, there are still yet-to-be-discovered ways to utilize this tool; I am sure that YouTube and Twitch will be showcasing special runs of Sekiro for some time to come.
Optional bosses included, I clocked forty-eight hours during my first run of Sekiro, and it is possible to finish the game in half that time, though not if one wants to unlock all four endings through NG+ runs. I took things slowly, pausing to relax in tranquil gardens, to appreciate the uncontrollable chaos of fire consuming a lord’s estate, or observe as the inhabitants of a village move and attack in ways similar to the Las Plagas in Resident Evil 4. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice offers plenty to do for its asking price, exceeding my expectations by offering a vastly different experience compared to FromSoftware’s Souls series. Most importantly, it is the spiritual successor to Tenchu that I thought I would never get.
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