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Hot Games of the Week Reviewed: March 3rd

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Hot Games Reviewed

In the shadows of big-budget releases Resident Evil: Revelations 2 and Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires lurks the spunky underdog Starwhal. A wild, single-screen multiplayer game, which unfortunately dropped its original subtitle, Just the Tip, before release, it delivers riotous multiplayer thrills that were popular in the quarter-pumping arcade days. While the bigger releases also impress to varying degrees, Starwhal may well hook you more than any other new release. If you’re in the mood to stick with a game already in your rotation, there’s also new DLC out for Call of Duty Advanced Warfare.

Reviews by Phil Villarreal. Phil is an authorblogger and Twitterer. Publishers provided review copies.

Havoc

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare: Havoc DLC

(PS4, Xbox One, $15, Mature)

After hitting the Xbox One weeks ago, Advanced Warfare‘s first DLC pack finally makes its way to the PS4, bringing with it four multiplayer maps, a new weapon and variant, and a rigorous zombie mode. The maps are the star of the show for multiplayer junkies, with Core, Urban, Sideshow and Drift sending you off to exotic locales including the Rocky Mountains and Gobi Desert. New maps are always welcome to vary up hours of repetitive play, and the maps in the pack are among the strongest and most diverse in the game.

There’s also a new co-op mode in Exo Zombies, in which mutated, weapon-toting super soldiers have taken over a research facility. To help even the odds, you’re granted access to the new to play AE4 Directed Energy Assault Rifle, which is upgradeable to the AE4 Widowmaker. Taking on hyperpowered zombie enemies with a buddy is a welcome change-up from the solid but linear campaign and the free-for-all carnality of multiplayer. If you and your crew are still digging Advanced Warfare, this $15 injection will give new life to the game you’re obsessed with.


Empires

Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires

(PS4, Xbox One, $50, Teen)

The Dynasty Warriors series often deservedly takes it on the chin for cranking out mindless hack-and-slashing, attempting to impress players with visuals and an overwhelming number of enemies onscreen rather than improvements in core gameplay. So the Empires offshoot is worthy of praise for the way it snaps out of the funk by adding a deep, intensive strategy aspect to the warmongering among Chinese kingdoms. Before each battle, you engage in a cycle of diplomacy, resource management, troop movement and upgrades. Battles only occur once you have engaged in all sorts of menu-manipulating and menu heavy-lifting.

As varied as the game may be, it amounts to two mediocre modes rather than coalescing into something more than the sum of its parts. The strategy sessions are so mind-numbing and laborious that you find yourself longing for the button-mashing release of the battles. It doesn’t help that the enemy A.I. is stale, predictable and easily manipulated, leaving strategy fiends longing for something like Civilization or Total War. Recommendable only for Dynasty Warriors geeks willing to forgive all the series faults while looking for a change-up to the formula, Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires is a rental at best for most players.


Revelations

Resident Evil: Revelations 2, Episode 1 — Penal Colony

(PS4, Xbox One, $5, Mature)

Back in 2012, the then-3DS exclusive Resident Evil: Revelations impressed series fans by delivering one of the best franchise entries in years, hearkening back to the survival horror roots while ignoring the dumb action flick vibe the mainline entries had embraced. The tight, frantic game spread to home consoles, and the sequel picks up on the close-quarters fighting, scarce-resources thrills successes of its predecessor. The first of four episodes lets you test the dangerous waters without having to commit to the full package. While nothing in this episode matches the uniform excellence of the previous game, there’s more than enough here to get you to ante up for the next chapter.

Designed from the ground up for co-op play, the emphasis is on tight, labyrinthine maps, detailed nooks and crannies that serve as hideouts and scarce ammo and upgrades stashed throughout, waiting for you to find them as you frantically race away from enemies. Mission structure grows a little repetitive, and once you’ve plowed through the slim content once there is little reason to return for another g0-round. A promising, if unspectacular, start to the new game, it will be up to the next episode to deliver on the groundwork this episode sets in place.


Starwhal

Starwhal

(PS4, PS3, $15, Everyone 10+)

Rainbow-colored narhwal-shaped space beings try to impale one another in this single-screen multiplayer romp, a throwback to Joust and Mario Bros., and arguably the best of its kind since Towerfall. Much of the challenge comes in wrapping your mind around the difficult-yet-rewarding control scheme. You aim your spastic Starwhal with the stick while tapping other buttons for speed boosts and lunges. Sometimes wins and losses often feel more cheap than earned, but no matter what wildness goes on, it’s always fun and just maddening enough to hook you back in for another round.

A rapidfire round structure has you slamming your controller in disgust when you become one of the first Starwhals to lose all your energy and drop out of the game, watching in disgrunted fury s the remaining players slug it out. The lack of online multiplayer in a game that begs for it is a hefty setback, but at least PS4 owners can link up via the SharePlay feature.  The game was designed for elbows-into-ribs couch multiplayer, and is a natural as a trippy dunken party diversion.


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