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Review: Narcos—Rise of the Cartels

Developer: Kuju
Publisher: Curve Digital
Genre: Action, Strategy
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC, Xbox One, PS4
Rating: M for Mature
Price: $29.99

Narcos: Rise of the Cartels is a video-game adaptation of the Netflix series in the style of XCOM, and other similar turn-based strategy games. Developed by Kuju (who seems to mostly create ports and a few oddities, such as Disney Art Academy and Zumba games), Rise of the Cartels puts you in control of either the DEA or the Columbian drug cartels. You’ll face off against your enemy by controlling both turn-based battles, and a bit of money micro-managing to hire new soldiers and units. Both factions feature an individual campaign, which mirrors the TV series somewhat closely.

Content Guide

Violence: There is an abundance of violence in this video game adaptation, and many times you’ll see violent clips from the TV series, though it seems like it has been toned down quite a bit. Some scenes stylize the violence so that it’s not nearly as gritty, gut-punching, or visceral as the show.

Language: To be quite honest, I’m having trouble recollecting if this game features lots of profanity or not. In other words, it doesn’t stand out to me. With the subject matter, I’d assume you should be ready for language, as I also didn’t finish either campaign, so it could crop up more later on.

Themes: Let’s get real here: this is a game about drug lords dictating the flow of cocaine into the US. If you are playing this game, you’ve already decided this theme is fine for you. Despite your views on drug enforcement, this game also pits you against US and South American officials, so consider this. You could totally only play against the cartel; the choice is yours.

Review

Upon seeing a bit of gameplay footage for Narcos: Rise of the Cartels (henceforth referred to as Narcos), the game stood out to me as more than just a TV series ripoff. Manage your empire as you cruise through a gritty campaign. Customize  and customizing your units for each combat encounter. Enjoy the X-COM-style back and forth. And yet, unfortunately, Narcos doesn’t match the thrills of the Netflix series or the highs and lows of playing an X-COM campaign.

Ah, time to deploy my units in any order and fashion which won’t matter at any point during the mission.

Where the former offers an exciting and suspenseful game of cat and mouse between the DEA and Pablo Escobar, the latter provides a balancing act of tense micro-management of your beloved soldiers vs. deadly alien threats, along with a complex and challenging macro game of resource allocation and spending. Instead, Narcos shows the player a hodgepodge of edited TV episodes, then places the player into inconsequential combat situations. Of course, losing units within those battles means they are gone forever, but a quick save scum solves that issue. You can do this in X-COM as well, but we’ll get to why these combat encounters don’t feel weighty in a moment.

After each mission, you are treated to a score screen and granted points to upgrade units. While you are given a lot of options to move your units through various “tech trees,” losing a unit isn’t the biggest loss in the world. In fact, you can just hire new units, some of which are already upgraded. In the end, who cares if you lost your enforcer who carried you through 3 missions? He is effortlessly replaced with a small sum of meaningless cash. As far as I can tell, cash is only used to buy more soldiers anyway, or heal them.

They don’t name drop Pablo Escobar in this game, solely referring to him by the nickname El Patron. I’m sure there’s a reason for this.

This is one big strike against Narcos. I recognize that the game isn’t trying to be X-COM in every area, but I can’t help but wonder what penalty I’m suffering because I lose a unit on a mission. If this happens halfway through an X-COM campaign, odds are good that you’ve messed up your entire save file. There just isn’t that same sort of urgency and desperation here.

Funny to spend this much time in a review focused on the part of the game that doesn’t matter, when combat should be the star, right?

Well, it’s not much better.

You can’t tell in this image, but I instructed this unit to move five spaces forward. To get there, he glitched and walked halfway through the entire map.

Until I played Narcos, I didn’t realize how much I appreciate an initiative track or full squad movement back and forth between player and AI. In Narcos, you select one of your units, then move and take an action in any order. You’d think this would be interesting. Instead, it changes the game into a weird, unfun checkers match. It’s not strategic enough to use a Chess analogy.

You know how in Checkers your opponent can get their first king and just move back and forth until you finally decide to move your one piece into position for the opponent’s king to jump it? You were always destined to lose that piece because of how the game turned out—it was only a matter of time.

In other turn-based strategy games, you can use the initiative track to your advantage. When you know when your opponent moves, you learn a ton about when to move which unit to which space. Here in Narcos, you eventually have to move your unit forward so the AI will begin tracking them for an attack. It’s boring and devoid of strategy. You never get to use your team’s support actions to the fullest.

Believe it or not, neither of my units have a shot on the DEA unit behind the truck. Why? I’m not sure either.

Instead, you need to move a unit forward to get into position to attack. On your opponent’s turn, they’ll move forward to attack you, which you’ll then attack and pull back to your forces, only to watch that same enemy unit walk right into your territory to finish gunning down your unit. It’s so lame. I’m sad to have wasted so much time trying to figure out how to make this better, but I just can’t.

Now, one way to counter this is to go through each of your other units and immediately end their turns, which gives them an “overwatch” eyeball so they can counterattack when an enemy moves into range. That sounds fun, doesn’t it? Let’s spend time ending turns so I can one-by-one, pull enemy units into my forces to kill them. The game gives you a slow-motion sequence where you can aim a crosshair at your opponent to gun them down. It’s… fine… just… It was interesting the first few times it happened.

Finally, let’s chat about graphics and UI.

This is a potato, for reference.

I don’t care for ragging on games for weak graphics. Listen, we’ve got hundreds of incredible games out there which either tell great stories, or have engaging gameplay. Why spend our time being bothered about whether graphics are realistic or not? In my opinion, that’s half the reason the console wars started, and it’s not unusual for me to spend my gaming time with games from the last decade, or older.

All of that said, this game looks like putty. It’s probably because this isn’t a great port to the Switch, but it’s not flattering. I’m assuming it’s a resolution issue, but even the models look like a mobile game. Honestly, it might do better as such. Oh, did I mention load screens say “loading” then instruct you to push a button, then spend another 30 seconds loading?

The UI isn’t great either. It’s super annoying to select spaces on the grid to move to because of how the cursor slides around and locks into spaces. I think I spent 15 seconds trying to move the cursor onto a specific space because it kept sliding into a nearby space. This becomes much, much worse when you are dealing with terrain at different elevations or inside of buildings. Many times I would try to point within a house, but the house wouldn’t open up so I could see where I was moving. This is also made worse with the potato graphics, but what are you gonna do about it, ya know?

I just bought Cuphead for Switch on the Nintendo holiday sale, and I’m looking forward to playing it. I think I have plenty of space on my micro SD card to download it, but now that this review is written, I’m going to delete Narcos just in case.

Review copy generously provided by Homerun PR.
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Gaming PC PS4 Reviews Switch

Review: Remothered—Tormented Fathers

Developer: Stormind Games

Publisher: Darril Arts

Genre: Horror

Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch

Rating: M for Mature

Price: $19.99 on PC, $29.99 on all other platforms

Out of the creative mind of Chris Darril comes a horror game unlike any other. Taking inspiration from Silence of the Lambs (the main character is a spinning image of Jodie Foster) and games like Silent Hill, Darril built a concept of Remothered at a young age. Slowly, the game took form and became what it is today. Partnering with the Italian game developer Stormind Games, Darril officially announced Remothered in 2016. It came to PC in January 2018. 

Now, Remothered has a strong following, driving it to become a trilogy, with the second entry releasing on all current platforms in the Summer of 2020. But when the game originally appeared, it received much praise, earning dozens of awards. It even reached the ears of Keiichiro Toyama (creator of Silent Hill) who endorsed it on Twitter and voiced his desire to work with Darril in the future. All of these spotlights earned it a port to the Switch. The game is good, but does the transition to the Nintendo console tarnish its reputation?

Content Guide

Violence: This is a gory horror game and it leaves little to the imagination. Prepare to cringe, wince, and say “ugh” to the screen as Rosemary Reed dies to the hands of her stalkers. Every time she is caught, if the player does not react in time, her gory death is shown, which is usually some sort of menacing weapon being stabbed straight into her head. Some bodily torture and dismemberment takes place, along with plenty of gore and blood. Some characters are burned alive and the camera does not pan away from graphic scenes such as these. 

Drug Use: Rosemary Reed smokes cigarettes briefly before entering the mansion. There are plenty of prescription drugs abused by some of the characters in the game. Hypnosis and hallucinogenic drugs are shown and used.

Language: Horror movies and games tend to come with plenty of cursing and profane language. Remothered is no exception. Stalkers and enemies to Rosemary can be frequently heard calling her a “b*tch.”  “D*mn,” “f*ck,” “sh*t,” and variations of these words are screamed and shouted throughout the entire game. 

Nudity: The bare rear end of one of your captors is shown. 

Sexual Themes: There are hints of an LGBT relationship, but it is only implied, not directly stated. 

Religious Themes: In Remothered, there are paintings hanging on the walls that have religious icons, like a lamb and a virgin. There are also statues of Mary holding Jesus throughout the mansion. One of the enemies that stalks Rosemary continuously repeats the Lord’s Prayer as a voice line. Jesus and atonement of sins are spoken about in the game. A cult of nuns is referenced as well.  

Negative Themes: The game is meant to strike terror and anxiety in the person playing, which can be psychologically troubling if the player is not prepared or accustomed to such graphic content. Other themes like suicide, abusing drugs to cope with PTSD, and physical abuse are also touched on. 

Positive Themes: Despite so much negativity, the game has redemptive value and will occasionally give the player a moment to rest and take a breather from the constant evil that is thrown at them. The themes of love and forgiveness seem to be hiding behind a large wall of maliciousness. 

Review

The best way I can describe Remothered is by calling it a mix between a 1990’s suspenseful/thriller and a cultish horror flick. Eerie cults, mental illness, bad family histories, and forgotten memories all mesh together to create an exceptionally troubling tale. The story is enthralling will pull players in from the start. Plot points here and there can be confusing to follow, since many are connected to objects found throughout the game. If the player misses some of these observable objects, cutscenes may end up not making sense.

Horror stories are only as good as their twists. There needs to be a reason for such heinous evil and tremendously distorted vision. Oftentimes, the villain will be suffering from some sort of mental illness or they will seek revenge for some past transgression. Remothered does not disappoint with its own twists. What I appreciate most about the game is its continuous flow and constant story progression during gameplay. Plenty of games struggle with combining gameplay with story, often favoring one over the other. Remothered meshes the two together and does it well. 

Speaking of gameplay, some things work, others do not. The main character, Rosemary, must sneak around an old mansion, searching for clues about a missing young woman named Celeste. Several characters stalk her throughout the game, a similar feature found in  Outlast or Alien: Isolation. In the mansion, there are plenty of places to hide, including inside wardrobes or under benches. Rosemary can also pick up bottles, clocks, and music boxes to be used as diversions. I rarely used this mechanic, as I would often simply sneak around and hide when nearly found. Most annoying though, was that suddenly, the game required me to use this diversion mechanic at the end of the game, after not having to use it throughout my entire playthrough.

While you sneak around, the stalkers will make noise and progressively get louder as they get nearer to you. The unsettling soundtrack will also grow more intense as they get closer to finding you. Once they find you, a shrill violin sound is played, and the player-character will exclaim that they’ve found you. This happened to me several times, making me jump three feet off of my chair, especially when I had no idea where my captor was. The suspense and thrills in Remothered have a thickness that can be cut with a knife. I found myself holding my breath, whispering to myself, “I’m dead! I’m dead! I’m dead!” often. Any horror game that can successfully execute this tension is doing its job well. 

Rosemary can take a breather at side tables that have mirrors and pendulums on them. She can also restore her health; she sustains about 4-5 hits from an enemy before being murdered. As she takes damage, she will walk and look different, similar to how Leon’s stride will change in Resident Evil as he sustains hits and bites. Make sure that Rosemary always has a weapon besides the diversionary items. In a last-ditch effort, before the final blow, she can use the weapon she has equipped at the moment to stab her attacker and flee. Once she uses it, she loses it and must find another weapon. If she has no weapon, a death cutscene ensues. 

Saving/Restoring health at the pendulum

Puzzles exist in this Remothered, and they take the form of fetching items. The only way to move the story along is by completing said puzzles. One puzzle requires you to unclog a bathtub to figure out what’s inside the drain. What unclogs a tub? That’s right, a plunger! I appreciate the simplicity of this game. Some games will require the use of random items in ways the player would never think of using unless trying all possible solutions or combinations. Remothered does not do that. That being said, there was one puzzle I found annoying and I angrily had to look for the solution online. The handle that I needed to open an oven was simply on a high shelf. All I needed to do was shift my camera up. And this was the only puzzle in the game that required me to look up—unnecessarily frustrating. 

Remothered‘s spook factor is high among other horror games I have played. It’s comparable to Amnesia, among the other horror games I have mentioned. There were moments in which I was legitimately fearful and had Rosemary running for her life down what seemed to be the longest hallway ever created in a video game. What I appreciate most about this game is how it will change rhythms from being exploratory to escaping to sneaking. Its structure works well, having one lengthy primary section, which serves as a good way to solidify the player’s understanding of the gameplay mechanics. After that first part, the game has smaller sections, which keep it fresh. 

Unfortunately, the graphics are horrible. They are so bad, the gameplay suffered because of it. Frames would catch, lag, and everything would hesitate. Some cutscenes seemed incomplete and would sometimes glitch out, making the transition from scene to gameplay rough. Glitching also happened during sudden movements during cutscenes, like when something would catch fire. Some death scenes ended in a glitch or looked silly. Again, after dying, the game would sometimes get stuck and fail to restart from a checkpoint. I frequently had to pause and exit to the main menu in order to begin again. 

Apart from this, I enjoyed the constant environment change and progression. As the story continued, new areas became available in the mansion; it was not always the same three floors. The soundtrack, composed by Luca Balboni, adds great mood and atmosphere. Sometimes, no soundtrack was present, would add much to the mood as well. What’s worse than eerie music in an eerie mansion? No sound, other than the character’s footsteps and breathing. 

Remothered is a horror story well done. But due to the graphic issues, I decided to give this switch port a five out of ten. If you’re willing to be frustrated with troublesome frame skips, unviewable cutscenes, and having to forcibly exit levels after dying, buy it on the Switch. But I highly recommend gamers who want the best experience to buy this on PC. 

Update: On October 21, 2019, the developers released a patch for Remothered that was to fix graphic issues and bugs. While graphics due indeed look better and glitches are gone (no more limbs showing through doors), some cutscenes are still completely unviewable. This patch does little to the Switch port and these issues should have been addressed at first launch of the game. My score remains unchanged. 

Review copy generously provided by Homerun PR. 
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Review: Control

Developer: Remedy Entertainment

Publisher: 505 Games

Genre: Action/Adventure

Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC

Rating: M for Mature

Price: $59.99

 

 

It’s always a good time when Sam Lake and Remedy release a game. Notables from Remedy include Max Payne 1 and 2, Alan Wake, and Quantum Break. Control happens to be Remedy’s first game on a PlayStation console since 2003. This fact has sparked rumors of a Sony-Remedy acquisition. I think Remedy is a good studio, but I’m not sure what they could uniquely offer Sony Fans. I’ve been excited for Control since the 2018 E3 announcement.

Content Guide

Suicide: The opening few moments of the game involves a suicide.

Paranormal Content: In this game there are several paranormal events including bodily possession. Some items in the game are called “ritual items.” While I found no religious content, others may be led into dark places. Therefore, if you struggle with paranormal events in your life, I suggest skipping Control.

The game contains interesting events or objects which hold or give supernatural abilities. Altered World Events are paranatural events in which out of the ordinary circumstances occur for example the Hiss invading the FBC is a AWE. Objects of Power These are items that hold or give powers to the owner, For example, Jesse’s firearm is an OoP. The firearm changes shape into different weapons and regenerated ammo automatically.

Adult Language is present in several pieces of dialog.

Violence: Control is an action adventure game with 3rd person cover based shooter mechanics. Jesse can be shot and killed in combat as well as shooting and killing the hiss as. Jesse can launch chunks of concrete or other objects into the Hiss. Enemies have grenades and rocket launchers to use against Jesse too.

Positive Content: I like having a female character as the protagonist. Jesse can serve as a positive image for female gamers.

Review

Story. Control follows main protagonist Jesse McFadden. She’s on a mission to find the FBC, or Federal Bureau of Control. Personally, I compared the FBC to the X Files, investigating paranormal activities. This is where things start to get weird.  The story is multilayered, complex and confusing at times; a second comparison is to the movie Inception. I still haven’t completely wrapped my mind around everything, even after my playthrough. Essentially, Jesse finds the FBC by walking into a seemingly random nondescript office building in New York City. She believes that the FBC has information on her long-lost brother. However, after entering the building, we soon discover the building is called “The Oldest House,” and Jesse had found the FBC because the Oldest House allowed Jesse to find it. However, as you enter the FBC, you’ll notice things are askew.

With the exception of a custodian, there is no one in the building—that is until Jesse hears a gunshot and enters the the FBC director’s office. The gunshot victim lies dead in a pool of his own blood and dies of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. We learn shortly thereafter that it was the will of the oldest house and Jesse is appointed as the new director. The Oldest House isn’t simply a building, it’s a living organism; a character.

As you play, you’ll notice certain rooms are full of out-of-place block-like structures. However, as soon as Jesse cleanses the Control point, the room shifts into a more normal-looking room. What is humorous is the fact that the FBC is aware the building shifts and even issues PSAs to the employees about not moving after a shift occurs; they are to stay put and their supervisors will find the lost employees. Generally, these Control points are heavily guarded by a mini boss and several enemies. Control points act as save points, places to invest points into skills or modifications, and fast travel markers in the game.

The enemies are called the Hiss. During the game you’ll notice bodies floating. The Hiss are able to possess these bodies and attack Jesse. These enemies are easy to dispatch, but if you’re not careful, they’ll flank you and take you out.

Throughout the game you’ll encounter Hiss bosses. These are usually high ranking officials of the FBC who’ve been possessed by the Hiss. One aspect of the Hiss I enjoy is the fact that Jesse will hear their voices in the background as she fights them. It’s creepy and a cool effect, especially through headphones; it’s similar to the voices heard in Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice. The voices Jesse hears are sometimes the former director, sometimes an imaginary voice she talks to, and other times, several overlapping voices. I also love the red lighting and soundtrack. They are very fitting and match the creepy setting perfectly.  Control is a beautiful game and one of the best sounding games I’ve played this generation.

Gameplay. Control is a typical action adventure game. There is a lot of shooting, ducking, and moving into cover. Control is a kinetic game. If you don’t move in combat, you die. Ammo replenishes overtime, but health doesn’t. Health falls from defeated Hiss enemies in the form of blue blocks Jesse can collect. There were several occasions where I had to leave cover to grab health. Firefights get your heart beating. If you plan on staying behind cover, you will get overwhelmed and die. I can’t stress movement enough. Move, or die.

A second cool aspect of gameplay are the supernatural powers Jesse learns throughout her time in the FBC. There’s nothing cooler than flying through open spaces and launching huge chunks of concrete at the hiss. It’s like if Force Unleashed had been good. Jesse is a supernatural Jedi and it’s awesome.

However, not all is good in Control. A lot of the story is uncovered by reading documents and listening to or watching recordings and videos Jesse finds while exploring. So, if you’re not one to look at these items, the story will leave more confused than I was.

A second complaint is the map. Control isn’t quite open world, but open enough. However, this means that occasionally you’ll enter an area you’re not supposed to enter for dialog or questlines. Higher level enemies pose little threat. The story is shallow a mile wide, but only an inch deep. I was led to believe the supernatural would play a deeper role like it does in Beyond: Two Souls.

Overall, Control is a great game. When it shines, it shines, but when it cracks, you can see all its flaws. It is a cool, atmospheric game that most people will enjoy. The story, while confusing, is intriguing. The action is a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to jump back in. The game can get creepy and weird without being scary. In this case, weird is a good thing.

 

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Gaming PC PS4 Retro Reviews

Review: Heavy Rain

Developer: Quantic Dream

Publisher: SCEA

Genre: Action/ Adventure

Platforms: PS3, PS4, and PC

Rating: M for Mature

Price: $19.99 Epic Game Store, $29.99 PSN, or $11.99 for Quantic Dream Collection on PSN

I have always been interested in good stories, and Quantic Dream have been crafting excellent ones since the company was founded in 1997. The developer has released five games in total, with Heavy Rain originally released in 2010 on the PlayStation 3. So why are we reviewing a game that released just over ten years ago? Well this is because earlier in 2019, the QD’s exclusivity deal ended with Sony, and the former announced that its Sony trinity of Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls, and Detroit: Become Human would be making their way to PC. The Heavy Rain port, then, is why Geeks Under Grace is reviewing a ten-year-old game.

Content Guide

Violence: Violence in Heavy Rain is brutal and frequent. Since the game revolves around solving a series of murders, it should come as no surprise that grisly scenes are a reality. There are occasions where a failed QTE will result in the permadeath of a character including main characters. The game does contain scenes of torture and a convenience store robbery with handgun. Heavy Rain also contains several scenes of sexual assault against a female character. Towards the end of the game, there are scenes depicting suicide. Heavy Rain is a gritty game but doesn’t apologize for it, but rather, it is an honest game observing how brutal the sinful world can truly be.

Language: Adult language abounds in Heavy Rain much like an unedited episode of Law and Order or a 90’s action flick would go.

Nudity: Heavy Rain contains scenes of female nudity, sexual assault, and a gentleman’s club. Other mature themes include guilt, suicide and substance abuse.

Positive Content: I would argue Ethan the protagonist demonstrates a Father’s love much like how God loves us. Jesus sacrificed His body and blood on our behalf. To prove His love for his son Ethan must sacrifice a part of himself. Granted Ethan’s actions do not offer forgiveness of sins for the whole world, but it does offer a glimpse of how far a father will go to rescue his son.

Review

Heavy Rain’s story focuses on a four daytime spans in which Ethan Mars’ son is kidnapped under his watchful eye, presumably by the Origami Killer. From there, the story is divided up into chapters and the individual story lines of the other main characters. However, Ethan’s story is rather heartbreaking. The game opens with Ethan and his family celebrating his older son’s tenth birthday. However, the celebration is short lived because Ethan loses his ten year old son in the mall. This sequence is honestly terrifying especially if you yourself have children and you have momentarily lost sight of them while shopping. When this happens, in real life, you develop tunnel vision, sounds become muffled, the crowd closes in, and the open spaces funnel down to nothingness. Quantic Dream excells at making you the player feel as if you’ve lost your child in the mall. However, at this point Ethan finds his son unharmed, but the reunion is short lived when Jason Mars is hit by a car and killed.

Ethan’s story picks up six months later and the game shares Ethan is now divorced with one living child. Shortly after this point, Ethan’s heartbreak continues as his younger son Shaun goes missing from the park. Here Ethan’s story is heartbreaking similar to Job in the scriptures. But will Ethan’s story be as positive as Job’s at the end of the game? The short answer is no. Heavy Rain is a storytelling  masterpiece full of twists and turns you’ll never see coming.

During Heavy Rain, you will control four different characters. You will play as a private detective, Scott Shelby, FBI agent Norman Jayden, journalist Madison Paige, the Origami Killer and main protagonist Ethan Mars. Each of these characters assist Ethan in his search for his son and each character offers unique information, tailored skill sets, and interesting perspectives of the Origami Killer his victim and motives. During Heavy Rain, each of these characters face a traumatizing event during their story.

It is also important to note that choices you make effects dialogue, story outcomes and even death. Death will close off certain outcomes and endings. The first time I played Heavy Rain, I accidentally killed Norman Jayden through my in-game decisions. Had he lived, I may have solved the mystery and received a better ending for Ethan. Heavy Rain also has an excellent supporting cast so take care of them!

The gameplay, is consistently Quantic Dream’s biggest weaknesses throughout their catalogue. Gameplay consists of QTEs, similar to Until Dawn, including awkward button input combinations or analog stick movements. Failure to perform the actions correctly or timely can result in mission failure, leading to an alternate story path or permadeath. There is an instance where I needed to open files for an investigation, but rather than opening files the game kept forcing me to perform other actions making a straightforward section frustratingly difficult. Therefore, simple motion controls can break immersion and become a serious downfall for this game. However, the awkward button inputs make complete sense if you’re climbing up a muddy hill, which you will, or crawl through a tunnel of broken glass on your hands and knees—again you will. So when the character is experiencing a hardship, the player will face a similar problem with the controls. During those times the QTEs and motion controls make sense, and, dare I say, add to the experience.

I feel Heavy Rain is a  game that video game enthusiasts must play. I feel it remains a staple in storytelling for a reason. It’s a gem from last gen that can be now enjoyed on PS4 or PC. 

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Gaming PC PS4 Reviews Xbox One

Review: Borderlands 2—Commander Lilith & the Fight for Sanctuary (PC)

Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K
Genre: FPS
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Rating: M for Mature
Price: $14.99

 

Let Me Tell You a Story

It’s not often that a developer will release free DLC for a 7-year-old game, but that’s exactly what Gearbox did until July 8th, 2019. Commander Lilith & the Fight for Sanctuary is a free DLC pack for the award-winning Borderlands 2 that links the plots of Borderlands 2, Tales from the Borderlands, and the upcoming Borderlands 3. On top of the story content, Commander Lilith raises the level cap from 72 to 80, adds a new tier of “effervescent” weapons, and provides some other quality of life improvements.

Is Commander Lilith worth your time and your money? Read on for one cheese doodle aficionado’s opinion.

Content Guide

If you’re a Christian gamer reading a review of DLC content for Borderlands 2, you already know the deal: Cussing, violence, sexual innuendo, crude humor—the whole nine yards. Everything said about every other Borderlands title on GUG applies here.

Story

Commander Lilith picks up some time after the events of Borderlands 2, Tales from the Borderlands, and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. When Sanctuary is attacked by a DAHL paramilitary group led by Hector, the Crimson Raiders are unprepared.

Exiled to Pandora’s surface by Hector’s battalion, the Crimson Raiders must rally the scattered remnants of their group to defeat Hector and prevent him from releasing a bio-weapon that will turn everyone on Pandora into plant monsters. Reunite with the trash-talking cast from the previous games to take Hector down and save Pandora from his madness.

Gameplay

This previously-free DLC pack doesn’t change the gameplay of Borderlands 2 so much as it augments it. The new weapon tier provides fun for returning veterans, and the “infection” mechanic increases damage given and taken for players. There is also now an option to start a character at level thirty so you can jump into the Commander Lilith DLC without starting a new toon. Nothing too fancy, here.

Everything else players loved about Borderlands 2 is still here.

Presentation

To Gearbox’s credit, Commander Lilith has received the same level of care that a paid DLC would receive, yet it was offered for free until July 8th. There are new soundtracks, fully-voiced story from the returning cast (except Claptrap—there was some controversy with the old voice actor that’s not worth anyone’s time to Google) and great voice work for Hector. Historically, voice acting has been one of the unacknowledged gems of the Borderlands series.

Per the usual in this series, the story is mostly crude humor and action movie fodder, but every once in a while, the game hits you with a slap of dark reality that makes you ask an ethical question. In Borderlands, that question usually comes back to the evils of unsupervised corporate superpowers—a point made clearly in the tragic backstory of Hector and his soldiers. These games have always excelled at creating sympathetic villains and morally-gray heroes.

Conclusion: Should You Pay to Play?

Commander Lilith is a great DLC, but should you pay for it? That depends on how much you love Borderlands 2. If you just run the story missions, Commander Lilith should take you around two hours to complete. It is by far the shortest of the DLC packs for Borderlands 2 (excluding the Headhunter packs).

I cannot unequivocally recommend that casual players purchase the Commander Lilith DLC. If the DLC had come out to around $5, a casual player could pay and not feel cheated. At $14.99, I’m not convinced it’s worth it. That’s a tough thing to say considering 2K initially gave this thing away for free, but the fact is that Commander Lilith is a very short DLC and really isn’t worth too much time and attention to me as a returning fan of the series, and I’m not sure Borderlands 3 players who don’t run Commander Lilith will absolutely need the context this DLC provides to enjoy that game.

If you’re a Borderlands franchise fan, though, you absolutely need to pick up Commander Lilith. Even if you just own Borderlands 2 and haven’t played it in a while, you should grab this up. Despite its shortness, it’s well-made, raises the level cap, and introduces some new gear returning players should gratefully accept from Gearbox.