Assassin’s Creed: Rebellion review

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Developer, Publisher: Ubisoft Entertainment

Released: September 26th, 2018

Reviewed on: Razer Phone, Android 7.0

Available via: Google Play

Fall tends to be a good time for video game releases, and the mobile market is not an exception. Ubisoft have added a surprising hit to their Assassin’s Creed franchise with the recently released Rebellion title, which is unexpected after the disappointing Identity. Rebellion not only stands out as a much better title, but also does so in the least expected format possible that brings a strong game design to the table. Presented as a side scroller, Assassin’s Creed: Rebellion is a free-to-play title that you might overlook because of its visual design, but it packs in extensive depth to make for an interesting experience. I never expected to like its cartoonish graphics style, nor the way it presents the experience, but Rebellion grows on you after a few play sessions. Among the spin-offs, this is easily the best Assassin’s Creed game I’ve played, and the 2D design works surprisingly well here. Despite its free price tag, Rebellion packs in a lot of high quality features to like, and leaves little to be disappointed in, although expect to see common features found in free mobile titles.

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Gangstar: New Orleans Review

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Developer, Publisher: Gameloft

Released: March 15th, 2017

Reviewed On: Razer Phone, Android 7.1

Available via: Google Play

The lack of open world releases on mobile platforms has created a considerable gap in the genre ready to be filled by an exciting new release to break up the stale market. Gameloft’s Gangstar series has long served up competition to numerous Grand Theft Auto ports on mobile, and while it sadly isn’t a better franchise, it stood out well with its unique settings. Gangstar: New Orleans brings the franchise to the next level of quality, offering an exciting open world mayhem at a free download price. It isn’t without faults, but considerably improves on its predecessor, and New Orleans captures the essential fun of a crime city sandbox. With plenty of activities to offer, it works pretty well, although the free to play design drags the game down somewhat. It’s still a solid experience, you just wouldn’t find the same level of quality as the numerous Grand Theft Auto games. At the free price though, Gangstar: New Orleans is certainly worth a try, and packs a lot of features into its open world to offer a compelling experience.

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Ridge Racer: Slipstream Review – Powerslide Away

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Ridge Racer: Slipstream perfectly recaptures the feel of once venerable arcade racing series on the PlayStation, known for high-speed races, intense powerslides and pumping techno music. It reminds me of playing Ridge Racer on the PSP handheld many years ago, and then its follow-up Ridge Racer 2, although on a much smaller scale. The series seemingly dropped off the gaming market after the sweet but cold-received Unbounded didn’t ignite enthusiasm in the series for many long time fans . If you desperately missed the series, however, Bandai Namco dropped a free-to-play mobile spin-off Slipstream, which by now is a few years old itself. That isn’t to say this Ridge Racer isn’t worth coming back to; with only few missteps, it takes place among the best arcade racers on mobile, right up there with the recently released Asphalt 9: Legends. Whether it be an extensive career mode, feel of the game’s arcade racing or bright colorful visuals, there is a lot to like in Ridge Racer: Slipstream, even if it makes some errors along the way.

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Asphalt 9: Legends Review – Reaching new heights

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Developer, Publisher: Gameloft; Released: July 25th, 2018

Reviewed on: Razer Phone, Android

Get it on: Google Play

Asphalt 9: Legends doesn’t quite take off into the air like its predecessor, but reaches new heights thanks to outstanding gameplay and bright visual design. An experience that largely iterates on what Asphalt 8: Airborne built up, the ninth instalment improves on progression and gameplay in meaningful ways that make it one of the best racers on mobile. While it can’t quite escape the various tropes of free-to-play gaming, these are minor complaints in the face of all features available, and progress never halts to a complete stop. What you get here is a streamlined racer with expansive variety and features that send it into the rank of legends, all available at absolutely no cost.

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ARK: Survival Evolved Mobile Review

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Developer; Publisher: Studio Wildcard; Released: June 13th, 2018

Reviewed on: Razer Phone, Android 7.0

Get it on: Google Play

The world of ARK: Survival Evolved is a strange place, one where you can seemingly co-exist with various prehistoric species of dinosaurs. You wake up with a weird artefact in your arm and nothing on your person, tasked with surviving the environment and its many dangers while gradually clothing your character, building a home, and setting out to explore. The premise follows the process of many open-world survival games, except here you’ll likely get killed by a velociraptor within a first couple minutes if you happen to be unfortunate enough to spawn in a danger zone. ARK is a massive sandbox filled with different biomes, countless species of dinosaur and other creatures, as well as a few technological wonders that almost feel out of place in this prehistoric world. If you ever wanted a survival sandbox like this to be playable on the go, the developer Studio Wildcard now has you covered with ARK: Survival Evolved on mobile platforms. While the game experience is naturally limited in areas of graphics and controls, this port fully recreates the world of ARK apart from expansion packs on compact devices.

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Music Racer Mobile Review

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Developer: AbstractArt; Released: December 26th, 2017

Reviewed on: Razer Phone, Android

Google Play

Racing games based on music-generated tracks aren’t entirely new to the gaming landscape, although that doesn’t make quality releases any less interesting. The most notable title that comes to mind is Audiosurf, which existed on PC since 2009 and proved successful enough that it spawned a sequel. On the mobile platform, however, if there were any similar games in the past, they were mostly low-quality clones that didn’t offer any interesting elements. And with a huge music library I carry on my phone compared to either my computer or laptop, I’ve been long wishing for something to come along I could compare to the quality of Audiosurf. Having tried Music Racer, which gets straight to the point with its name, there is finally a game on my phone where I can race tracks generated by my extensive music library. While the game is pretty straightforward, and most could consider it as another Audiosurf clone with similar mechanics, the quality of this release makes it worth discussing on its own. With a diverse selection of cars and track designs, powered by a decently good music track generator, Music Racer delivers a satisfying experience that’s well worth checking out, especially at its free price.

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The setup of Music Racer is simple: choose your car, choose the design of track and finally, load up whichever song you like from your music library. From there on, the game generates a racing stage to match the pacing of a particular song. It isn’t the most impressive track creator when compared to likes of Audiosurf, but showcases impressive song matching  for a mobile release. It is frankly impossible to avoid comparisons here as Music Racer takes extensive inspiration and design clues from Audiosurf, however as I want to point out, this isn’t a bad design direction. Racing speed varies depending on how fast a song is, and varies throughout any level to match highs and lows, as well as fast and slow points. To make the experience more interesting, players would collect points between the three linear lines set across a track. Apart from point collection, one has to avoid numerous obstacles that reset the score multiplier, and hitting too many can reset the score. Music Racer isn’t complex in its design nature, but using own songs makes for an engaging experience, even if you’ll be playing the game in short bursts at a time.

Collected points serve as a form of currency to unlock further race tracks and a decent variety of vehicles, which I found to be a nice touch as it keeps players engaged for the time it takes to unlock everything. This also provides ample diversity to the game experience, as race tracks feature different designs, even if they follow the same futuristic theme. With only three race modes to choose from, Music Racer greatly benefits from having different rides and stage designs. The Free mode exists simply for the enjoyment of user songs, while showcasing the game’s strong design. Normal is what most would be playing to progress through unlocking all of the game’s stages and cars, whereas Hard is the same experience but features quicker speeds and an increase in obstacles. Neither of the three are significantly diverse from one another, and Free mode isn’t worth paying much attention to as it doesn’t earn any points. While I would have liked to see some diversity in actual racing, the urge to unlock all stages and cars is strong enough to engage players for a while. As I’ve mentioned before, this will probably be a game best played in short bursts rather than over long sessions.

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A neat feature I found is how Music Racer shows progress in a song through an advancing white bar over the song title. I imagine most won’t need to be reminded how far along they’re into a song, but useful over long music tracks. Built with the Unity engine, the game’s graphics actually look really great for a small download that Music Racer is, with detailed models and diverse vibrant colors. Some track designs do lack legibility, however, especially those created with dark shades, which makes them worth trying out just once and then abandoning altogether. Most of the game’s car selection is modeled after real-world vehicles, although there are a few oddballs like a racing bike and what I can only assume is a flying mechanical bird or dragon. The garage is fairly diverse, and vehicles feature some nice effects matching their color scheme. Among the standout visual designs is your ride breaking into a million tiny pieces when hitting an obstacle, and then forming back together within milliseconds. Music Racer also boasts a good amount of visual options to make the game playable on lower-end smartphones, as well as giving the ability  to disable some visual effects to decrease strain on the eyes. There is a lot to like about visuals, and diversity helps to make the game as enjoyable as it currently is.

There is a small flaw to point out, however, and that is the presence of ads. These aren’t frequent, and don’t intrude on the gameplay whatsoever, which makes these ads a very minor issue. I applaud the developers for placing ads after a race and sometimes in the menu screens, as it would make the game a disaster otherwise, if the ads infringed onto the racing itself. Given the game’s free-to-play download, the ads are forgivable, however I would personally prefer to pay a few dollars to the developer and purchase a non-ad version. While this doesn’t appear to be an option at the moment, it’s something many would like to be implemented as well, based on Google Play Store reviews. The ads that play after each race are optional when taking a closer look, and players can choose whether to watch a 30-second ad for a small currency reward, or skip it altogether. This smart implementation of ads stands out given how most free mobile titles jam them in wherever they please. Overall, ads aren’t a big issue in Music Racer, but I would like to see the developer implement a paid version without any ads at all.

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Music Racer is a fun driving experience, allowing players to use songs from their music library to generate a racing track, with a music background to listen to. With this title, the mobile platform has a contender to match the unique setup of Audiosurf on the PC platform. As most have larger music libraries on their phones than on computers, this is a great game to play in short bursts while on the bus or waiting somewhere. With impressive visuals for its small size, and the experience available entirely offline, Music Racer’s quality is comparable to, if not better than many racing games on the platform, even those that come from big name publishers. If the design idea here appeals to you, I can definitely recommend Music Racer to many, and it’s free download doesn’t require any purchase whatsoever, even if presence of ads makes me wish for a premium paid version.

Shadowgun Legends Review – Best FPS you’d currently find on mobile

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Developer; Publisher: Madfinger Games; Release Date: March 22nd, 2018

Tested On: Razer Phone (Snapdragon 835, 8GB RAM), Android 7.1

Google Play

Shadowgun Legends completely blew my expectations out of the water, and being familiar with Madfinger Games’ previous instalments in the franchise, I was very surprised at how much effort the developers have put into completely changing the game. Shadowgun Legends feels unlike any other game before it, and fills a niche currently absent from the mobile games market. Think of it as a toned-down Warframe or Destiny 2 on the bigger platforms, and that’s Shadowgun Legends in a nutshell. On the moibile, the closest reminder is Gameloft’s N.O.V.A. 3 linear shooter, which is a somewhat old game by today’s standards. The mission-based gameplay from a central hub has allowed the developers to create something fresh for the franchise and the mobile platform in general. As a free-to-play package, it is a very enticing deal, and the game doesn’t force players to rely on micro-transactions, as those exist only for the purpose of cosmetic items and premium currency. Given the game’s PvE nature, plenty of loot can be gathered in many of Shadowgun’s story and side missions, eliminating the need to spend real currency on in-game purchases, which plays to the title’s strengths. To add, Shadowgun Legends looks and plays similar to most AAA titles found on the PC and consoles, and I can easily say that it’s the best looking game on the market. Madfinger games have certainly been improving their first-person shooter and visual experiences, with Legends representing their best efforts so far. The game is quite a looker, and shines on high-end phones, not only presenting crisp visuals and smooth framerates, but also featuring the highest amount of particle effects I’ve seen in a mobile shooter. Shadowgun Legends is an excellent FPS game, and while its free-to-play nature is bound to create obstacles in progression, the fluid gameplay and addicting missions makes Legends a big hit on the mobile platform. Add in its free price, and there is no reason to not give this game at least a try, and I can easily recommend Shadowrun Legends for those in a market for a first-person shooter on the go.

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Environmental detail is simply stellar

If you’re familiar with previous Shadowguns, then Legends feels like a completely different game to the first two, and one that’s best executed overall. The first Shadowgun was a linear third-person shooter with a short campaign and not much else to offer. The follow-up DeadZone took a different approach, offering a free-to-play online deathmath or team v team gameplay, but it did retain the look and combat of its predecessor. Shadowgun Legends steps into a completely new direction, and features hub-based gameplay along with a switch to a first-person perspective. Out of a free game, I would not expect such level of detail put into Legends, and while some would no doubt find its structure to be quite repetitive with similar missions, there are also plenty of exciting moments to be had playing it. Shadowgun Legends uses the same player progression systems seen in many MMO titles, which includes access to different levels of gear, extensive skill tree, as well as a wealth of customization options available to purchase in-game. While repetitive mission design might serve to the detriment of the game, its close relation to games like Warframe and Destiny 2 that specialize in PvE events and gameplay will draw many players in, and the addicting gameplay loop will keep players occupied over extensive periods of time.

Shadowgun Legends features a single hub town, from which all missions can be accessed on the fly through the galaxy map, and these range from simple defense/eliminate missions that only take 2 minutes to complete to extensive story missions that require longer attention. The mission design can be summarized as highly repetitive, however having played Warframe on PC with the same progression loop, I can easily say that Shadowgun Legends makes up for the repetition by enticing players with better gear and quality combat experience. The game constantly pumps out new gear through quest rewards and enemy loot drops, and is pretty generous with the content it has on offer. You can buy better items from vendors for either standard or premium currency, and of course, if you wish to have any customization beyond paint for your armor and guns, you’d need to spend some real money on currency to gain access to those items. But as mentioned before, one doesn’t need to spend money on Legends to still enjoy it for many hours. After multiple hours of playthrough, the game feels very familiar to Destiny (take either the first or second one) in many ways, including restrictive story progression in favor of additional ‘grind’ quests, however keep in mind that Shadowgun Legends is available on the go and doesn’t cost any admission price.

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This shiny town is where you’ll be spending time between missions

Madfinger Games have done a really great job at focusing on the visuals for this game, and it looks absolutely stellar on high-end mobile devices. Texture resolutions are very sharp, and the game has the best vegetation detail across all mobile releases of the recent years: seriously, take the time to look at the grass in the hub town and you’ll see what I mean. And textures are just a beginning of this visually impressive package. Shadowgun Legends tends to gravitate towards Michael Bay-style explosive action, and every mission gives an opportunity to see some of the best particle effects by far in mobile gaming. Everything from lighting to environmental detail absolutely shines, and the game features a few diverse locales to make sure players don’t get bored of the same missions they partake in on the same maps. Having to render only a single open hub town, Legends takes full advantage of the assets from Unity Engine to create some spectacular environments and game effects. Did I also mention this is the best-looking Unity engine game I could find on mobile? No? Well, Legends absolutely is, and I’d go as far as to say the game is comparable in graphics to some modern titles on the PC and Consoles. If that wasn’t enough, Legends has the best set of animations that apply to both the player character, as well as the enemy AI. Interactive segments really showcase the animation quality, and even pulling levels is quite satisfying to see, until you’ve seen that same animation about 100 times. Shadowgun Legends as a visual experience is simply unchallenged on the mobile platform, and while quite a few recent releases on mobile such as Gear Club (my review) and PUBG (my review), they are far from competing with the quality of Legends. If you have a high-end phone or tablet, then Legends is one of the best, if not the overall best lookers on mobile systems.

Shadowgun Legends takes players across multiple planets, which brings diverse locales to be seen across the campaign. The scenery change is always nice, although after a few grind missions in the same environment, I was getting bored of the sights. That’s not to say Legends has bad environmental design. In fact, it is the opposite – the level of detail here is the best I’ve seen in a mobile game, which helps Shadowgun look stellar on high-end flagship phones. And the effort didn’t just go into environmental backgrounds either, and shows in everything from character models to highly-detailed guns and even animations are as diverse and smooth as I’d be expecting from a high-profile PC game. Which makes it pretty sweet that Shadowgun Legends is free, however that brings many gripes along which I discuss further into this review. Surprisingly, all these graphics still take up under 1GB of storage, although Madfinger Games’ releases have always been fairly condensed in size. Still, the environmental design showcases some of the best detail and variety I’ve seen in a mobile shooter, and while it’s sci-fi premise looks awfully similar to N.O.V.A. 3 by Gameloft that itself took inspiration from the Halo series, Shadowgun Legends stands its own with a wider range of game mechanics. The hub-based mission design is rare to see on mobile, and while I’m not a big fan of 2-minute long missions, which amount to about the same time as a few loading screens when hopping between the hub and confined linear levels in different locales. But overall, this all works really well, and there is plenty of content to keep players invested over longer periods of time, as many would enjoy Legends’ solid gameplay.

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The brief plot there is concerns humanity being oppressed by a superior alien force, although can easily be missed because of the gameplay structure. Hub-based mission design never really leaves room for any story development to happen, and lack of voice over in at least main mission briefings doesn’t help by much either. Shadowguns are known as skilled mercenaries in this universe, and as one, the player completes a variety of story missions, side challenges and takes part in surprisingly many multiplayer modes. You wouldn’t really care about the plot here, plus Legends feels awfully similar to Halo, Destiny and N.O.V.A. in its plot setting and development, and as such, there are far better stories to be seen even on the mobile platform. As Shadowgun Legends is free, expect a progression curve that takes a while to complete; story missions are broken up with side quests and quick challenges, and while it does offer diversity away from the main plot, the grind required to access further plot missions often slows the game down to a complete halt. Whereas the main plot missions are generous with their XP rewards, side missions tend to reward players much less, and on numerous occasions, I found myself grinding side missions or dipping into multiplayer just to unlock that next story bit. Not that it’s a necessarily awful design, as the gameplay in Shadowgun Legends is very solid and while it does require grind, the game doesn’t force micro-transactions. The game is one of the best shooters on the mobile platform, although it is bound to find competition from the likes of PUBG Mobile and Fortnite when it comes out. The PvE-based mission design works really well along with Legends’ central hub, which makes the game fun to play both in short bursts and over longer gaming sessions.

The central town in Legends grants access to everything from missions to new gear. It serves as a central hub, where players start off to venture into either single player missions or the various multiplayer modes Shadowgun offers. It’s the only semi-open location featured in the game, and even then, it is limited to a few interactive spots and characters, however that is understandable on the mobile systems. Not that there is anything to do in the hub besides selling looted gear and picking up missions, so there are no complaints against the game in regards to the linear structure. It is easy to tell Legends borrows many elements from the likes of Destiny and Borderlands, with first-person gameplay, various rarity levels of loot, and the focus on constantly improving player stats. Again, this isn’t a bad thing as such games weren’t available on the go, and Legends fills that niche perfectly. In addition to endless piles of gear, there is a giant skill tree, which suggests a very high level cap, although I doubt the game has enough single player content to support that, and those interested in maxxing out their characters would resort to multiplayer. Decoding holograms or opening loot boxes is the easiest way to get paint for armor and weapons, which offers players an opportunity to personalize their Shadowguns.

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you can deck your character out in pretty much anything

Legends is fairly generous with loot, and after extensive browsing through the game’s visual shop, I determined that premium currency is used for cosmetics only, so doesn’t offer players who spend real-world money any significant advantage. For those obsessed with accessorizing characters, be prepared to spend some amount of real-world currency. With that said, there is one element the premium currency affects most, which is loot box keys. Gold loot boxes contain a high chance for rare items, however require a keycard to unlock unlike regular chests. After a few hours of play, I have 3 sitting in my inventory with no way to unlock them, which I see as a problem as more and more of those loot boxes are accumulated. Oddly enough too, Legends is missing a daily rewards system (apart from currency contracts with certain payouts), and to use its wheel spin feature, one again needs the premium currency. It’s not the best design, as the wheel spin does contain a chance for keycards to those gold chests I noted above. Forcing players to spend real-world currency on something with a random chance of reward (hello triple A gaming loot boxes) is not an ideal system, and like many other free-to-play titles on mobile, Legends could have done with a free wheel spin per day. Apart from these major gripes with premium currency, however, there is no reason to spend real-world currency at any point as the game provides enough rewards.

The multiplayer mode is fairly diverse, and offers players a selection of 6 different modes, which include both PvP and PvE systems. There are 6 models in total, including a co-op dungeon, 1v1 and team vs team modes. It’s a diverse set of multiplayer events, and given Legends’ recent launch, servers are plentiful with other players, who are even rendered real-time in the game’s hub town. Legends offers a set of emotes for quick gestures and also message communication, however that appears to be limited to the hub town so far, as I’ve found no means to communicate with others during actual missions. When missions require player coordination to unlock something, it can be frustrating when others on your team aren’t paying attention, and hopefully it’s something that can be addressed in future updates. A proper communication system can certainly be useful in co-op, as well as team vs team modes. The latter 3 co-op arenas are gated behind lengthy progression, which lessens their appeal, however based on description, they are meant for skilled players, so taking time with the game prior is fairly important. With the diversity of content that Shadowgun Legends offers with both its single and multiplayer modes, the game is currently one of the best shooters available on the mobile platform, and also Madfinger Games’ most ambitious project so far (read here).

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6 multiplayer modes available in total (co-op and PvP)

With release of Shadowgun Legends, the mobile platform finally has a title to contend with likes of Warframe and Destiny, and the game is also one of the best lookers across a vast range of games on Google Play. The fluid first-person shooter mechanics combined with a loot system and skill progression creates a unique experience on mobile, and the addicting gameplay loop contributes to longevity of the title, which is important considering fierce competition of releases on the mobile systems. With an extensive single player campaign broken up with side quests and challenge trials, Shadowgun Legends is the most ambitious FPS title on the platform so far, and its free price can’t be ignored, even if it does bring numerous gripes with the game’s slow progression curve. In addition to being a stellar shooter, Legends is also an excellent looker, with visual detail coming very close to the graphics of some PC and console titles. Environmental design deserves extra praise, and the diversity of environments is excellent for a game of this scale. While it is not a completely perfect game, and the progression presents some extensive grind in places, the gameplay more than makes up for it with diverse environments and excellent FPS mechanics. As a free download, I see absolutely no reason not to recommend this game. Madfinger Games did indeed deliver on their “most ambitious title yet”.

*all screenshots captured in-game