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Video Game ReviewNBA 2K23Sony PlayStation 5

Resident Evil Village – Winters’ ExpansionPS5

The ValiantPersonal Computer via Steam

WITH a new season comes a new pro hoops title to enjoy, and with it all the charms and bells and whistles longtime followers of the NBA 2K series can expect from such a title. If you’re in the mood to just play some virtual ball, then NBA 2K23 delivers on that account, as it always has. The latest iteration of the beloved franchise even has a few additions to the formula that proves to be worth looking at. While little else has changed in its core design, tried-and-tested aspects combined with these new features are sure to get basketball junkies hooked.

NBA 2K23’s main career modes are where the bulk of your gameplay will fall. MyCareer lets you build your own rising superstar; you take on various different contracts with different teams and slowly hone your hoops skills with the goal of becoming one of the best in the league. You’ll be grinding out in the courts, improving your stats, and even buying some new threads for your character to wear, all with the intention of making your dream player come to life. There’s a decent amount of content in its story mode, and its virtual hub, while, a little tedious, lets NBA 2K23 show off its updated graphics and textures in all its glory. If these more personalized simulation elements don’t suit your fancy, you can always shift to MyTeam, where, instead of building your character up, you get to form your dream team from scratch, cobbling together your favorite players to create a formidable roster that few others can compete with. Both of these modes ensure hours and hours of playtime, provided you enjoy the core gameplay loop.

That said, let’s address the elephant in the room here and be honest about the progression system these modes have. While they are enjoyable, they’re held back by their own repetitive design, requiring a lot of grinding to actually make any progress. This is where the disappointing nature of NBA 2K23 rears its ugly head. While normal gameplay nets you in-game currency to spend, it’s a paltry amount compared to what you need to make any permanent progress, and when you need dozens of games to go through in order to buy a single cosmetic or to upgrade a few stat points, these modes start to overstay their welcome. This is especially egregious when real life microtransactions practically shower you with said currency, making the functional nature of NBA 2K23’s design revolve around hardcore grinding, or paying to achieve any progress. While some people may be fine with it, the lure and allure of spending money to skip its slower parts is undeniable, and has led to these career modes feeling slow and repetitive.

This sheer amount of monetization in NBA 2K23 is what hurts the pacing of what should’ve been an accessible basketball sandbox. After all, who wouldn’t want their own player avatar decked out in the latest clothes, playing for the best teams, or having their favorite basketball stars play together? This mode could’ve been so much more enjoyable had it not been dragged down by its poor progression system. As conveyed, the player experience is a total disconnect to the career modes’ intentions. It’s hurt by its own capacity for in-game revenue generation when the grind for stats and virtual clothes can last for months on end, especially in a game series with a yearly release.

The good news is that NBA 2K23 boasts other modes. Far and above the quality of MyCareer is the Jordan Challenge. With a set goal and focus in mind, the Jordan Challenge has you reliving Michael Jordan’s career by replaying the iconic games throughout his basketball career. It handpicks several important matches in his lifetime, bringing back old faces and old favorites to play with and against. It’s a refreshing fan-service element, and it’s packed with its own unique challenges to accomplish. It’s guaranteed to have you playing in certain ways without making you feel like you’re at a disadvantage.

Equally as strong is the MyNBA Eras mode. Whereas the Jordan challenge was a more of a trek down memory lane, MyNBA Eras is a far more focused blast from the past, allowing players to play using their favorite classic teams in four different eras. It not only has the line-ups of these old teams; it also simulates the look and feel of each individual era, making clever use of filters and retextured assets to bring you back to the far simpler times of the 1990s and early 2000s. It’s a perfect mode that stands apart from the more microtransaction-heavy sandbox, and it brings with it enough variety to make each new play session feel unique and interesting, with different rosters and stars to parade.

And that is where NBA 2K23 is really at its best. Divorced from the microtransactions, it’s able to bring its A-game when it’s all about the gameplay. Life-like motion capture accentuates the new graphical styles featured through the different eras, and on next-generation consoles, it makes for a thoroughly authentic basketball experience. Without the needless stat-maxing, it allows NBA 2K23 to be, well, just a game, and when it’s “just a game” (and not a job, or a grind), it is a pretty damned good one.

  At the end of the day, NBA 2K23 really depends on exactly what it is you’re looking for in your hoops titles. If you’re looking for a good basketball game and don’t mind the microtransaction career modes, then it’s definitely one to look at. While its career mode is lacking, the Jordan Challenge and MyEras make up for any shortcomings. Highly recommended.

THE GOOD

• A fair amount of game modes to play through

• Still the best basketball experience on any platform

• MyEras is a great blend of old and new concepts, with classic teams playable with modern gameplay

THE BAD

• Microtransaction-heavy career mode means a grind or pay scheme for one of its more iconic modes

• Still feels a little too similar to previous entries in the franchise

• Pay2Win aspect of career modes hurts what should’ve been a strong multiplayer sandbox experience  

RATING: 8.5/10   

POSTSCRIPT: Who isn’t a big fan of Resident Evil Village? While longtime gamers still prefer the classic survival horror tank controls formula of the older Resident Evil titles, the release of Resident Evil Village was able to bring the newer generation of button mashers to appreciate the franchise. The game was a nice blend of action and adventure, and it managed to mix the ridiculous set pieces of the more recent offerings in the series with the creepier, more mysterious aspects of its predecessors.

It comes as no surprise, then, that the Winters’ Expansion, Resident Evil Village’s newest downloadable content, exhibits more of its strengths and gives gamers exactly what they want. It brings to the table the story of Ethan’s daughter, three mercenary characters to play with, and the ability to enjoy the main campaign in third-person mode. And honestly? These are all great.

Let’s start with the actual story DLC, Shadows of Rose. Clocking in at around three to four hours of playtime, it’s a short but enjoyable romp. Highlighting Rose’s own personal experiences serves as an excuse for Resident Evil Village to do a retread of familiar locales and set pieces from the main game. This is where the true strength of the DLC lies. Shadows of Rose feels like a dark, twisted little fairytale to enjoy, rehashing the best parts of the main campaign by taking you through the familiar confines of Castle Dimitrescu and House Beneviento, and twisting them into something familiar, but different. The enemies you face are creepy and threatening and nothing like what you’d expect, and the DLC is no stranger to the gory body horror creepiness that the base game had. You’ll feel chased and pressured in every area you go into, and the DLC is not shy at thrusting you into dangerous situations with tons of enemies to fight off.

Thankfully, you are not defenseless. Your options are limited, but the few guns you have on hand are still useful at bringing your foes down. If they get too close to you, you can buy yourself some time by stunning them using Rose’s burgeoning powers, or even just running past them if you feel you can slip away. You don’t have the arsenal available in the main game of Resident Evil Village to fall back on, but this new little mechanic gives you an extra means of defense that also changes up how you can approach your fights. You’ll be balancing your ammunition with your power usage, giving you the leeway to run and fight as needed.

And as for the story? It’s a neat little tale to enjoy. Resident Evil Village’s story was a bit silly at times, but this little mini-campaign is designed to strike at the heart. Its narrative puts to rest the Winters Family arc, and serves as a satisfying conclusion to the Resident Evil 7: Biohazard and Resident Evil Village arcs.

If that’s not enough for you, the Winters’ Expansion does have a bit more stuff to offer in the form of new mercenary mode characters to enjoy, with their own unique game styles to boot. Chris Redfield is initially unlocked from the start, and he uses his campaign arsenal during his mercenaries mode gameplay. He has reliable guns to shoot his enemies with, a decent little pocket knife to use, and a laser pointer that can do tremendous amounts of damage once its explosive payload has been dropped. For more long-term fans, he also has his iconic fists, letting him pummel foes to death with his bare hands.

Apart from him, two main campaign bosses are also unlockable once you’ve scored enough points. The first is Karl Heisenberg, who can not only use his hammer to bring his foes down with its large, sweeping aoe attacks; he also has access to magnetic powers. He can throw scrap to puncture an enemy’s skull, or sawblades to chop them in half, and even bring to battle his Soldat Jet soldiers to explode on enemies. The second is Lady D herself. Using her powerful claws, she can combo her foes down and slice them to bits, or summon her daughters to help her in combat and provide backup. She tosses chairs and summons flies, and can even chokeslam any unwary foe that crosses her path.

These three new characters provide a wealth of replay value to what was originally a very simple side mode. Unlocking them does take some effort, requiring certain ranks in all stages before you can access them, but it’s a nice reason to go back and finally hit those higher ranks. While the mercenaries mode still isn’t particularly engaging long term, it’s one that finally gives you a reason to replay them and do well.

The Winters’ Expansion likewise features a third person mode to play with during the main campaign. While nothing much has changed in the campaign structure, this third-person perspective actually makes for a big change in pacing, giving you more peripheral vision, and changing how you move because of this unique vantage point. Cutscenes are still primarily in first person, but the game’s third-person mode gives some nice little advantages that the classic view didn’t have, and it’s a nice excuse to replay the main campaign.

All in all, the Winters’ Expansion proves to be a fairly enjoyable offering. Capcom has given Resident Evil Village fans a fun little story DLC to play with, and new reasons to go back and enjoy its other modes. It’s a no brainer for anyone who enjoyed the base game, and while it’s not essential to the core experience, it adds more than enough to be worth considering.

THE GOOD:

• Enjoyable retread of the base game, with its best parts fully emphasized

• Tons of new and familiar content to enjoy

• Wraps up the connected stories of the last two releases in the series nicely and neatly

THE BAD:

• Doesn’t add new content to the base game’s campaign

• Much of the content in the DLC relies on wanting to replay old content

• Might disappoint fans who are expecting a full-fledged story expansion  

RATING: 8.5/10

KITE Games’ The Valiant is what it promises to be — no more, no less. Set during the tumultuous periods of the Medieval era, the game has you taking control of knights, swordsmen, and archers to defeat your opponents on the battlefield. Whether you’re taking control of important objectives or running down your opponents using its rock-paper-scissors-esque combat mechanics, little by little, it’s your wits and your actions that decide if you win the day.

In this regard, The Valiant relies heavily on its unit counter system to really shine. Some of its mechanics are a staple of real time strategy offerings. Spears are supposed to take on horsemen, horsemen take down unsupported archers, swordsmen tank the damage and take the hits, and whatever ranged units you have rain supporting fire on the battlefield. Where it changes things up is in unit abilities. While each melee unit can charge opponents and lock them into melee combat, each unit also has its own special skills to employ. Whether it’s your knight’s devastating charge knocking your foes down, or your spearmen throwing javelins to pin enemies in place, unit micro is more than just making sure you have the right engagements. You’re constantly vying for position to use your abilities properly; else, you’ll find yourself quickly overwhelmed by your many foes. Base building is completely absent, so you’re mostly reliant on a handful of squads to really carry the day.

Thankfully, The Valiant also gives you access to heroes to really help bolster your line. Not only are they more powerful than your regular soldiers; they also have access to unique upgrades that change up how they play. Your tanky hero being able to trigger area-of-effect heals is a massive boon in slog fights, whereas taking a ranged hero into battle nets you a fragile but extremely useful damage dealer that’s almost essential in later levels. During the campaign, these heroes also level up, giving you some minor replay value as you do get some variety in what skills they can have and what abilities to customize them with.

Campaign is really where the meat of The Valiant’s experience is. There’s a decent number of missions to play through, each with different objectives to accomplish and gimmicks to change up the pace. Some are far more standardized, requiring you to hold positions or survive ambushes. The more difficult ones actively test your micromanagement skills, with some interesting, if silly, attempts at boss fights that require you to juggle units around to avoid AoE attacks and telegraphed AoE strikes. It’s silly to think about, but it’s an interesting way to make bosses an actual threat beyond just kiting them to death.

Most bosses are this way, anyway. While The Valiant is enjoyable most of the way through, the game’s final missions are more grindy than fun, with its late-game enemies shrugging off blows that cut through them the in the prior level. On top of that, the game concludes the entire experience with a particularly terrible final mission that undermines most of what it hitherto tried to do. It’s frustrating in the worst ways possible, and ends what would otherwise have been a good campaign on a very sour note.

The campaign at least features a cohesive story to enjoy, following the tale of two crusader brothers and their experience with an ancient artifact. The Valiant makes sure you get invested in this storyline, setting the stage properly with a good narrative punctuating the start and end of each mission. The various characters that join you mesh well with the drama it has set up, and each character is fully voiced, allowing for a healthy mix of different personalities. The plot is cliched, yes, and some of its events border on being silly, but it does have its moments. When characters are let loose and the build-up of the story is allowed to reach its crescendo, you can see exactly what the developers set out to accomplish.

That’s not to say The Valiant is perfect. While the game’s graphics do look good, it does let you down in some areas that might feel immersion-breaking. On one hand, the variety of locations you fight in does indicate that the story is building up to something important. On the other, minor details like the lack of lip-synching or the over-the-top kill moves might draw you out of the setting. It’s not a deal breaker at least, but it can be a little jarring if you expected The Valiant to feel grittier and more realistic.

In any case, The Valiant’s real flaws are more apparent in its skirmish and multiplayer components. While the campaign feels fleshed out, its other modes feel severely lacking by comparison. The missing base-building elements can be forgiven due to its game design, but there are no alternative factions to play with in multiplayer mode. As a result, you and your opponents really are just facing each other in a mirror match. You’ll be fighting over the same resource buildings, maneuvering with the same units, and playing on the same maps over and over again. It really kills the replay value that this title might have had, and any lasting longevity this mode could’ve offered. While its campaign is able to make up for its shortcomings with its varied objectives and narrative focus, the skirmish mode just feels tacked on as a result.

The Valiant does try to make up for its shortcomings. For instance, it boasts of a Last Stand survival game mode if you just want to mess around. Pitting you and two of your friends’ heroes against hordes of soldiers, the goal of the mode is to really just see how long you can last before you perish. It’s a simple mode that’s fun for short distractions, albeit no real substitute to a fleshed-out multiplayer experience.

Bottom line, barely anyone makes use of The Valiant’s multiplayer mode, and for good reason. When you do try to have matches, you have so poor a connection as to induce frustration. All the multiplayer games are fated to end inconclusively, with lost connections shutting off matches within minutes of their start. It’s a constant annoyance, and one that really hurts the overall experience, especially when it’s advertised to have a strong focus on its multiplayer component.

This leaves The Valiant in a strange position. On one hand, its single player component is entertaining, and shows the game at its best even with noticeable flaws. However, its multiplayer component lacks the replay value expected of strategy games. And without firm community support and rebalancing, it’s a game that doesn’t last long term. If you’re looking for a decently challenging real-time tactical game with fun set-pieces, The Valiant does its job, but little more than that.

THE GOOD:

• Interesting single player design, with good voice acting and a decent story

• Solid mechanics, featuring a healthy mix of units to play with, and lots of abilities to unlock and equipment to use in single player

• Smooth, if repetitive, gameplay, with a focus on unit abilities and unit matchups

THE BAD:

• No faction variety in multiplayer and skirmish modes, with bad multiplayer support

• Terrible final mission that sours the entire experience

• Big on spectacle, but light on mechanics and variety, ultimately leaving you wanting more  

RATING: 6.5/10   

THE LAST WORD: For gamers, there’s some good news and some bad news in regard to the much-awaited release of Returnal on the personal computer. The third-person roguelite shooter that first made its way to the PS5 during the console’s beginnings already has an active Steam page, but with a “Coming Soon” release date. Even as the development has fans salivating, there is a hitch: Required specifications for gaming rigs include 16 gigabytes of random-access memory, with a recommendation for twice that. Which, in a nutshell, compels even those with recently purchased hardware to upgrade their memory modules.

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