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Personally, The Devil in Me was the installment I have been looking forward to the most. While I can’t turn down any horror game, there is something about a group of people killed off by a masked killer that just hits the right note so to speak. While this Dark Pictures anthology entry is by no means perfect, I feel like some reviews have been a tad harsh on it. Anyway, let’s check it out, shall we? 

Plot

A film crew – director Charlie, his assistant Erin, cameraman Mark, technician Jamie, and Kate, the face of the show – receive an offer to visit a model house of H. H. Holmes. The team has just completed filming an episode dedicated to the notorious serial killer but is struggling budget-wise. Wary but in need of a big break, the group accepts and travels to the location, a remote island they can only access by ferry. It’s not long before they are separated and picked off by their host.

A mansion is seen in the distance next to the sunset in the sky.
Welcome to the Murder Hotel with a 0 star rating on trip advisor (source: https://www.thedarkpictures.com)

One thing I would note is that the plot doesn’t seem as branched out as some of the previous games. There are certain characters who have plot armor and some decisions are set in stone no matter what choices the player makes. In true horror slasher fashion, even if some/all characters make it out, the threat still looms, and the cycle continues. It’s debatable how much excitement it takes out of playing as some could argue even Until Dawn and The Quarry ended up having a pretty linear narrative trajectory.

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Characters

In my opinion, this is where The Devil in Me falls a tad short. On one hand, it works, as slasher horror is known to have characters that fit into specific archetypes and are mainly there to get, well, slashed. On the other hand, for a game that thrives on character dynamics, they are not the most developed. 

While Jamie and Kate’s rivalry is its own bearing, it does not hold that much merit as they are quite quick to bury the hatchet. Erin and Jamie’s budding romance is cute but on shaky grounds based on some gameplay decisions. In addition, I never bought Kate and Mark as exes, as while their dialogue was well written for a broken-up couple, they didn’t seem to have much chemistry (although I have to give props to Jessie Buckley as she really put it all into her voice acting). 

While all of this sounds a bit harsh, I still find the group entertaining to watch in this setting and who knows, perhaps I haven’t unlocked specific interactions just yet. 

Gameplay

This section of the feature has probably received the most divisive feedback. Developers made some changes to gameplay, such as letting the characters jog and adding inventories. Some people have remarked that these things take away from the game rather than add to it as it makes The Devil in Me more of an RPG experience and not an interactive movie that the company is known for. 

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A woman with red hair is looking ahead, looking concerned, half her face is buried in a shadow.
Do you think Google Earth has a nighttime camera mode? (source: https://www.thedarkpictures.com)

For me, these changes did not affect the playthrough, although I do see where those people are coming from. It might’ve been better to save the changes for season two to show the progress the team has been making. One thing I should mention is the intro scene – while I loved the concept of it, the animation was noticeably worse than the rest of the game and should’ve been patched up in the final stages. 

Final thoughts

Even with some drawbacks, I consider The Devil in Me my personal favorite out of the four installments of season one. The atmosphere and jump scares were especially effective for me and unlike a couple of others, I genuinely found this game scary, which is the whole point (although I know what people find scary is entirely subjective). I am very much looking forward to what Supermassive Games has to offer next.  4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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X-Men Under Siege Review: Vintage Comic Weird

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“While the X-Men were away on a secret mission, Xavier’s Mansion was invaded by a host of Evil Mutants. The call is out. All X-Men must return to the mansion at once!” – pg 1, X-Men Under Siege Rulebook

X-Men Under Siege is a 1994 board game designed by Richard Borg. Richard is better known for games such as Memoir ‘44 and BattleLore, however, he has designed more than 130 games. X-Men Under Siege is the 12th overall game and 3rd X-Men game he worked on. 

I picked up this game while on vacation at the Louisville Book & Music Exchange. It was a delightful store with a lot of used niche hobbyist items. My spouse and I saw X-Men Under Siege (specifically the mouth-watering miniatures it comes with) and were hooked. While originally intending to just take the miniatures as a painting project, we decided to actually try playing the game. 

eighteen figurines from the X-Men Under Siege board game
A photo of the sweet miniatures that come with the X-Men Under Siege.

Gameplay

The board game is a competitive game for 2-4 players, in which you play as a squad of X-Men attempting to secure floors of the X-Mansion. There are six floors, all overrun with Evil Mutants to defeat. Your starting crew of two X-Men can grow to three as you play cards or rescue trapped heroes. 

The goal of the game is to collect more points than your fellow players. Clear rooms in the X-Mansion, defeat Evil Mutants, and deal damage to gain points. The contents of each room are random and can either contain a blank, Evil Mutant, or captured hero. The main mechanic in the game is fighting Evil Mutants when they are revealed during exploration by rolling dice equal to the attacking heroes’ Fighting Skill. The game ends when a certain point threshold is reached or the whole X-Mansion is cleared of tokens.

There are eighteen playable characters, each with their own special ability. Characters include; Archangel, Banshee, Beast, Bishop, Cable, Cyclops, Gambit, Havok, Iceman, Jean Grey, Jubilee, Longshot, Maverick, Nightcrawler, Psylocke, Rogue, Storm, and Wolverine. However, the heroes are not equal. Each has a score for Fighting Skill, Durability, and Intelligence which changes the effectiveness of various actions. There are certain characters that have much higher scores than others, with the sum of scores being highly variable. Additionally, some of the heroes can only use their special ability when they are the leader, meaning they attack first in combat.

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X-Men Under Siege game board
A picture of the board during our game.

Review

This game feels as if it has a great game hidden somewhere within it. The X-Men theme is well done and hits the spot in terms of my X-Men nostalgia. As a kid, X-Men Legends for the Xbox was one of my favorite games. Playing X-Men Under Siege was reminiscent of that experience for me, almost solely from the strong visual and narrative X-Men themes. I was SO excited to play as some of my favorite characters. The eighteen miniatures of all the playable heroes are very enticing too. Also, it was rewarding to face off against familiar X-Men villains. However, nostalgia and the general premise are the only things this game has going for it. 

Before I get too critical, I acknowledge this game is for children and nostalgic adults. It is just disappointing to me that it falls flat because it is halfway to being a wonderfully enjoyable game.

Most egregiously, the core mechanics feel underbaked and confusing. How rooms are searched and moved to doesn’t make much sense and there are many edge cases that aren’t accounted for. Additionally, turn action allowances are also vague. From both of these, my spouse and I had to make up a lot of rules as we went just to keep consistency.

While fun to see X-Men villains in the Evil Mutant cards, they are flat. The only info on the cards is a name, picture, and strength number, which barely means anything. The hero characters were also a bit flat, especially since some of them seemed blatantly underpowered in comparison to others. Though, for better or worse, this game has hilarious names for game items. For example, X-tra Special Cards and Evil Mutant Blood Chips. 

Overall, X-Men Under Siege was enjoyable to mess around with. It was just engaging enough that my spouse and I finished our game (even though it took 2 hours). However, it requires a deep love of X-Men (or cool miniatures) to find it too enjoyable. Definitely an interesting collector’s item but not the game to play for those looking for a good gaming experience. 2.8 out of 5 stars (2.8 / 5)

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Slay the Spire Downfall Review: A Masterclass in Fan Content

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Slay the Spire Downfall, also known as Downfall, is a fan-made mod to Slay the Spire by Table 9 Studio. Table 9 is a small game studio that has primarily specialized in small projects but is soon to release its own original game, Tales & Tactics. Downfall is one of its first projects, and has been met with heavy support from the Slay the Spire development team and community. It has been so successful, it even has its own Steam page

If you aren’t familiar with Slay the Spire, check out my review! Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with the base game, let’s get into the expansion!

A screenshot of me playing Downfall with The Slime Boss as my character fighting The Hermit Boss.

Gameplay

Downfall adds considerable content and new playing options to Slay the Spire. Generally, there are plenty of new cards, events, and relics. Additionally, there is a new hero, The Hermit, an undead gunslinger. Cards in their deck have increased abilities when played from the middle of  a hand, creating better outcomes the more deliberate you play.

In addition to traditional Standard mode, the game’s meat and potatoes is Downfall mode. In Downfall mode, you can play as one of seven bosses from Slay the Spire. Instead of climbing up the tower, you work your way down defending it from the same heroes you’d play as in the base game. Each boss has its own unique playstyle and deck, resulting in even more varied play experiences.

The seven playable bosses are The Slime Boss, The Guardian, The Hexaghost, The Champ, The Automaton, The Gremlins, and The Snecko. All can be encountered as enemies during a Standard run. Their playstyles are as follows:

The Slime Boss

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The Slime Boss’s special mechanic includes slime minions that can split from the Boss and have a variety of effects. Additionally, the Boss has cards that add Goop, increasing the damage of the next attack and causing additional effects when consumed.

The Guardian

The Guardian’s special mechanic is that they are able to phase between modes after taking a certain amount of damage. The cards also have gem slots, which allows gem cards to be combined with other cards to make them more powerful. 

The Hexaghost

The Hexaghost’s special mechanic is that it has six Ghostflames that can be ignited by playing certain card type combinations. When ignited, a special effect occurs. A large portion of the cards in this deck are centered around end-of-combat buffs and cards that disappear if not played immediately.

The Champ

The Champ’s special mechanic is that they change between Defensive or Berserker stance, giving them bonuses depending on which stance they are in. Their cards interact heavily with their stances.

The Automaton

The Automaton’s special ability is that they create functions, cards which are the stored combination of three already played cards. Their cards can cause compile errors when certain cards are used together, and the deck is focused on function synergy.

The Gremlins

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The Gremlins’ special ability is that you play as all five gremlins, each with their own health bar and buff effects. Cards have extra abilities depending on which gremlin is the main gremlin at the time.

The Snecko

The Snecko’s special ability is that they play cards of any class. This means they have access to hero and boss cards of all types throughout the run. 

Review

The new playable characters are a hit. They are so much fun to play and add an intriguing new dimension to the game. My favorite new characters are The Automaton and The Slime Boss, though every time I play any character a few times, I find a new favorite! Each character is refreshing and interesting in its own way. 

Generally, the gameplay takes an already great game and gives it even more replayability. My biggest critique is that Downfall currently doesn’t work on the Steam Deck, unlike Slay the Spire. However, it’s an absolute blast to play either way. Because this is a fan expansion, it is free to download! But you do still need Slay the Spire in order to play.

I can’t recommend this game enough. It is enjoyable, has a high level of replayability, and a greatly executed concept. I only wish I could play it everywhere! 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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Slay the Spire Review: Deckbuilding & Monsters

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Slay the Spire is a roguelike, deckbuilding video game created by small indie studio Mega Crit Games. Released in 2017, Slay the Spire is the first and only game created by Mega Crit. However, the game has continued to see updates from the development team and fans alike since its release. In fact, a Slay the Spire Board Game just launched in November 2022 on Kickstarter to great success.

In Slay the Spire, you play as one of four characters as they battle their way through a magical tower filled with monsters, loot, and curses. The further up the spire you go, the harder and more lucrative your journey becomes. Will you defeat three of the many bosses awaiting you and receive your glory?

Gameplay

Within Slay the Spire, there are four characters (The Ironclad, Silent, Defect, and Watcher) each with their own deck and playstyle. You begin by choosing which one you will play as for the journey ahead. The Ironclad has a focus on healing and strong attacks, and is the simplest adventurer to play as. This makes sense, as they are the first character you have unlocked and introduces you to the mechanics of the game. Meanwhile, The Silent has a focus on many small attacks and poison. The Silent is very accessible in its mechanics just like The Ironclad, however is less forgiving to strategic mistakes. The Defect is more complicated and has a focus in channeling different elements to produce varied effects on the battlefield. Lastly, there is The Watcher, the complicated character, who has a focus on utilizing different combat forms to gain advantages. In addition to different playstyles through their unique decks, each adventurer also begins with a special ability and starting health.

After selecting your character, you journey deep into The Spire, choosing pathways filled with monsters, merchants, more relics, rest sites, and mystery events. Killing enemies provides rewards through gold, cards, single-use potions, and occasionally powerful relics which stay with you the whole run. Elite enemies provide better rewards, however, healing opportunities are usually few and far between. Fighting too many elite enemies may prove more dangerous than lucrative. At merchants cards, potions, relics, and the removal of a card from your deck can be purchased in order to improve your strength. Rest sites provide either healing or card upgrades, forcing you to choose between your precious health and the improvement of your build. There are three acts in a full run, with a boss at the end of each act. As the acts progress, the bosses become harder, testing the mettle of your improvements throughout the game.

A screenshot of the map in one of my runs in Slay the Spire.

Review

I have absolutely adored my time playing Slay the Spire. The progression within a run is difficult but rewarding. There have been times when poor luck ended my run, however I still always had fun anyway. The diversity of characters and the resulting playstyles is great, even if I have found myself going back to The Ironclad time and time again. Additionally the game gives the player a significant amount of agency in the decisions on how to improve your deck and character. This creates replayability and a sense of ownership over a given run. The game also rewards and encourages taking chances, making it a blast to push your luck. 

A screenshot of one of my runs as The Ironclad in Slay the Spire.

While I’ve had a great deal of fun, there are some areas for improvement. My biggest gripe is that there aren’t more unique characters, monsters, events, and bosses. I’d love to see more playstyles as well as see less repeats of bosses, monsters, and events. The system and gameplay is so robust, it just needs some more content to be a top tier game. That being said, there have been periodic content updates (including the addition of The Watcher in 2020) and the community has created an extensive content mod that even has its own Steam page. Also, despite my issue with the amount of content, I definitely will be putting at least 30 more hours into this game. 

Overall, I love this game and highly recommend it, so much so, I cannot wait for more content. For $25 on Steam, this game is a must play if you enjoy rogue-likes and deck building games!

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4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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