Publisher: Sega (2014)
Rating: Mature (blood, strong language, violence)
The thing that made the original Alien movie such a cinematic masterpiece was how it conveyed the sheer terror of being stalked by a horrifying creature. Alien Isolation tries to recapture that feeling and nails it
. If you don't think Alien Isolation is scary, you're not doing it right. Play it in the dark with no one else around, preferably with surround sound. I normally enjoy scary games, but Isolation pushed me out of my comfort zone. The intro and load screens feature grainy, VHS-quality footage of space ships, and the effect is as creepy as it is nostalgic. You play as Amanda Ripley, the daughter of Sigourney Weaver's character in the films. As I roamed the deserted space freighter I was in awe of the circa-1979 space architecture. The monochrome computer screens, interesting levers, and mechanical contraptions make today's touchscreens seem mundane by comparison. The corridors are remarkably creepy due to erratic lighting, steam from pressure valves, pulse-pounding music, and sudden, jolting noises. You're equipped with a handy movement tracker that "spins up" through your controller's speaker (awesome). This device not only alerts you to life forms but also keeps you headed the right direction. The alien's approaching footsteps are alarming, so be prepared to duck into a nearby locker. This game is nerve wracking! The sight of the creature will make your blood run cold with its clammy skin and slithery movements. The first time I was able to observe it from a safe place, I was awestruck. You can't kill it so you need to be resourceful, collecting items to create survival equipment like medical kits, flares, and noise makers. I tend to be jaded when it comes to crafting and stealth, but these elements are a natural fit. As much as I admire Alien Isolation, a few flaws compromise the fun factor. Objectives can be confusing, and I don't recall having to restore so much power and find so many key cards since Resident Evil 1!
The otherwise polished graphics are marred by frequent clipping problems. But my biggest beef is with the manual save system. You can make a ton of progress, watch a cut-scene, finish a mission, earn a trophy, sit through a load screen, and then die only to have to do it all over again!
At the very least it could auto-save during cut-scenes, since many dump you into emergency situations. Still, Alien Isolation is one heart-stopping adventure that should be experienced. It may not be the best
scary game I've ever played but it is the most terrifying. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
Publisher: Ubisoft (2013)
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood, sexual themes, strong language, use of alcohol, violence)
Set in the golden age of piracy (18th century), Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is a sprawling adventure that might be too
ambitious for its own good. Playing the role of an undercover rogue pirate (with golden locks and perfect white teeth) you'll outfit a ship, hire a crew, visit bustling ports, and engage in epic sea battles. The designers clearly did their homework to nail down the atmosphere and historic details. As you walk through streets teeming with soldiers, wenches, and drunken pirates, you can actually listen in on their conversations. The graphics are sharp but only the ability to see great distances sets this apart from a PS3 title. Perching on a church steeple gives you an awesome view. When you're steering a ship on the open water it feels like you have a lot of weight behind you, and the waves look fantastic. I love the way the crew sings at sea. Black Flag looks fantastic on paper but is far less than the sum of its parts. The gameplay is an uneasy mix of arcade action and role-playing. I truly detest the control scheme, or should I say, the lack
of one! There's no manual or even an in-game list of controls. Instead Black Flag relies on "context sensitive" controls, where button combinations do one thing one minute and something else the next. It seems like difficult actions are effortless and simple actions are frustratingly difficult. You can't even walk down a street without your pirate trying to grab every ladder and perch himself on every barrel like a monkey. The top corner prompts you with suggested actions, but these are often unhelpful or even inappropriate. The missions aren't particularly fun or satisfying. You spend of a lot of time sneaking around, collecting items, or chasing people all over town. But the worst aspect of the game are the modern-day sequences that reveal the whole experience to be nothing more than an experiment in virtual reality. Wow, way to take you out of the moment! Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag has loads of content and great production values, but I just couldn't get into it. I felt like I was just going through the motions and never really having fun. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Assault Suit Leynos
Publisher: Rising Star (2016)
Rating: Everyone 10+ (fantasy violence, language, mild blood)
And the award for worst video game title goes to... When I realized Assault Suit Leynos was a remake of Target Earth
(Genesis, 1990) I had mixed feelings. I support the idea of resurrecting an old Genesis title, but couldn't they have picked one I actually liked?!
Leynos certainly looks like a 16-bit shooter with its text-driven cut-scenes, catchy electronic music, and 2D action. The voices are Japanese which makes the game feel authentic. Sadly, the dialog drones on and on, prompting me to press buttons like a madman to page through it all. The first stage involves trudging a small green mech across a dusty planet surface, eliminating marching green robots and flying ships. The overlapping graphics can be disconcerting and I hate to say it, but my friend mentioned it looks like a Flash game
. If you're looking for a fast action you're going to be bitterly disappointed. You primary weapons lets you unleash rapid-fire shots but it overheats with irritating regularity. The escort missions are as plodding as you might expect, and the flying stages are a mess, with arrows directing you all over the place (sometimes off the screen where you can't even go). The frequent boss encounters require you master the aiming controls and effectively use your shield. The scoring system is bizarre. Instead of a high score the game maintains a cumulative score which increases your rank and unlocks items. I thought the "classic" mode was going to emulate the Genesis version, but it only emulates the difficulty
of that version. Fans of the genre will dig Assault Suit Leynos but casual gamers should think twice before picking up this budget title. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Atari Flashback Classics Vol. 1
Publisher: AtGames (2016)
Atari Flashback Classics Vol. 1 brings you nine arcade games and 41 Atari 2600 titles from the golden age of gaming - the early 1980's. I can vouch for the arcade emulation of Centipede and Millipede, since I own the machines! The analog stick isn't as precise as a trak-ball, but it might just be the next best thing. Other arcade titles of note are Space Duel (great with two players), Liberator (underrated Missile Command spinoff), and Warlords (wish I had four controllers). Pong is a bust; your paddle can't reach the upper or lower part of the screen! Didn't anybody play-test this? Rounding out the arcade lineup are vector-graphic titles Tempest (nice), Black Widow (hmm), and Lunar Lander (ugh). Vibrant cabinet art fills the edges of the screen, and it looks spectacular. The Atari 2600 games are an eclectic hodgepodge with only a handful of well-known titles like Yars Revenge, Centipede, and Combat. I assume AtGames failed to secure the licensing for big names like Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Frogger, Defender, and Donkey Kong. Too bad! I couldn't help but notice an overabundance of sports titles including my old favorite "Trashcan" Football. Retro gamers will be interested in unreleased prototypes Stunt Cycle, Tempest, Combat Two, and Save Mary. Three Swordquest games are included but without their comic books they feel incomplete. And how am I supposed to play Star Raiders without a keypad controller? The 2600 emulation is not as tight as the arcade stuff. In Combat I witnessed several shots pass right through a tank. While playing Bowling (a game that inexplicably mesmerized my cat Claire) the sound of the ball rolling down the lane is harsh. Be sure to disable those unsightly "scan lines" which makes all the games look ugly by default. With that off, these oldies look better than ever! So sharp and clean! Manuals for all 2600 games are accessible via the menus but the resolution is lousy when you zoom in close. When selecting game variations via the virtual 2600 console you get english descriptions like "Tank, guided missiles, easy maze". I like that a lot!
High scores are saved for the arcade games but not for the 2600 games which is a shame. If you have Playstation Plus there are online multiplayer options as well. It's an imperfect collection but all things considered Atari Flashback Classics Vol 1. offers more than enough bang for the buck. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Atari Flashback Classics Vol. 2
Publisher: AtGames (2016)
A mirror image of Vol. 1, Atari Flashback Classics Vol. 2 is an odd mix of early-80's games that seems to favor more obscure titles. Of the nine arcade games only Asteroids and Missile Command stand out as bonafide classics. Still, Asteroids plays like a dream and you can really hear that bass kick in when you engage your thrusters! While playing Missile Command it occurred to me that as a kid I would freaked out
over the idea of playing this at home on a big screen TV. Other arcade games include Asteroids Deluxe, Major Havoc, Sprint, Super Breakout, Crystal Castles, and Red Baron. I don't recall having played the first person vector-graphics shooter Red Baron before, but it's awful. Crystal Castles is great once you adjust the overly-sensitive analog settings. The 41-game Atari 2600 selection is all over the map. Adventure is a genuine classic but the horizontal line artifacts are so distracting! Do yourself a favor and immediately shut off the "scan lines" via the option mode. Other standout 2600 titles are Asteroids, Maze Craze, Haunted House, Night Driver, Super Breakout, and Video Pinball. The emulation is quite good except for the occasional missing sound or collision glitch. The analog-control games aren't quite as fun without the original paddle controllers, but they're definitely more challenging! Expect an abundance of throwaway titles like Basic Math, Star Ship, Stellar Track, and Code Breaker. Rarities include Off the Wall, Sentinel, and Atari Video Cube. Return to Haunted House is a new-ish home brew. It occurred to me that dividing this collection in half was a clever marketing gimmick to make these look like more of a bargain. I think it worked! Some bonus features or historical information would have been nice, but if you have any appreciation for the classics both Atari Flashback volumes are money well spent. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Batman: Arkham Knight
Publisher: Warner Bros. (2015)
Rating: Mature (blood, language, suggestive themes, violence)
The three Arkham titles that graced the Xbox 360 were so astonishingly good they left little room for improvement. Batman Arkham Knight reprises the familiar formula with a mind-bending storyline, first-rate visuals, and remarkably sophisticated gameplay. The graphics are superb but not substantially better than the previous games. This chapter takes place in a raging thunderstorm, and I love the driving rain and how it beads on Batman's suit. The gothic scenery is incredibly detailed yet I never felt a burning desire to explore. The basic gameplay is unchanged except there's more of everything. More moves, more gadgets, more characters, and more profanity (ugh). One drawback is the control scheme has become so overloaded that the game almost constantly prompts you for the next button combination. The combat is so frenetic it looks like a parody
of itself. Batman looks ridiculous as he hops between enemies like a flea. You hardly feel in control as you mash buttons while watching him go buck-wild. And despite advancements you still can't knock enemies off ledges. The criminal investigation scenes provide a nice change of pace as you recreate details of the crime in remarkable detail. But none of that is new. The big new addition is the ability to drive the Batmobile, but it kind of sucks
. The car slides wildly around the narrow, winding streets, bouncing like a pinball and smashing everything. The game leads you around by the nose with gaudy flashing arrows on the road. Bad guys making their getaway make a lot of sharp turns so it's hard to keep them in your sights, much less build up much speed. Used in many unlikely situations, the Batmobile is like a Swiss army knife. It fires weapons remotely, pulls down walls with its wench, and even transforms into a tank! In one stage you must navigate it over a series of precarious elevated platforms, and it's painful
. The tank battles seem cool at first, but after a dozen times it's just tiresome. Batman Arkham Knight isn't a bad game but it's hard to imagine why it was delayed so long. Those new to the series will be impressed, but this franchise has long passed the point of diminishing return. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sony (2015)
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, violence)
Probably the most anticipated Playstation 4 game to date, Bloodborne looks like a work of art. Its decrepit towns boast amazing gothic architecture with soaring spires and blood red sunsets. Each stone building, horse-drawn carriage, and cast iron gate is meticulously detailed and properly aged. As you explore the wet, misty streets, creeps lurk in shadowy corners, waiting to lunge out. You encounter grotesque lanky figures that often gather to form lynch mobs. There are hooded maniacs with pitchforks, masked men with torches, mangy werewolves, and shotgun-toting goons wearing top hats. Had its gameplay been half
as good as its graphics, Bloodborne would be an instant classic. Instead it's a nightmare
. The interface is user-hostile and the complete lack of instructions is mystifying. The control scheme is so counter-intuitive it requires a substantial time investment just to learn basic concepts like equipping a weapon or throwing an object. The upgrade system makes no sense and the "gesture" controls are incomprehensible. Your character's movements are skittish and the controls are touchy. Close camera angles provide plenty of scare opportunities but you never know when someone is about to clock you over the head. There are smashable crates and barrels all over the place, but why are they all empty?! The combat is clumsy. Unless you're targeting something your shotgun fires directly into the ground
. The collision detection is atrocious. You can't shoot through a fence yet the mobs can easily swing their weapons right through it. You attack with wide, sweeping combinations that leave you in a vulnerable state. That's a problem, because unlike your foes which sustain multiple deep gashes, one good hit does you in. Upon death you're treated to a lengthy loading screen, followed by the realization that you need to completely restart that long, treacherous stretch you've been toiling through. I must have attempted Central Yharnam 100 times
, employing every tactic imaginable. Did anyone test
this game? Why does it place creatures in your path that you're not nearly powerful enough to handle? There's a difference between hard and flat-out unfair. The lack of a difficulty select or pause feature is an unfortunate side effect of the game's unnecessary online functionality. Bloodborne should have been a game for the ages but it's a disappointment
for the ages. It's a shame because I suspect there are some extraordinary sights and sounds here that will largely go unseen. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Call of Duty: Black Ops III
Publisher: Activision (2015)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, drug reference, intense violence, strong language)
Each year I reluctantly review the latest Call of Duty and despite being jaded as hell
this first-person shooting series always elevates my blood pressure to unhealthy levels. The Black Ops games set the high water mark for Call of Duty in past years, but now they've pretty much blended in with the Modern Warfare games. Black Ops III is set in the year 2065, so you're not only contending with high-tech weaponry but also Terminator-style robots! Your first mission ends with one of these robots tearing off your limbs. The military takes what's left of you and fills in the rest with cybernetics, turning you into a half-robot killing machine. The first few missions employ virtual reality to help you get acquainted with your cool new "cyber abilities". You can hack into flying drones and take control of them. You can unleash "nanobots" to swarm enemies. You can make robots spontaneously combust. The intensity runs high as you shoot your way through a train in the snow, forge through a city during hurricane, and escape a flooding underground research facility. The gunfights can be confusing, especially when you have robots fighting on both sides! I noticed a lot of female screams as I mowed down enemy soldiers. Some may characterize this as "progress" but to me it's off-putting. My favorite parts of the game are when you control a turret on a jeep or boat, blowing up everything in sight while on a high-speed thrill ride. The campaign mode in Black Ops III is so convoluted it makes that new Terminator Genisys movie seems downright sensible. Of course many gamers are only in this for the online multiplayer anyway. I gave that a whirl but found myself out of my league, pitted against players with superior firepower and armor. I did find it interesting to listen in on several Asian guys discussing the action, possibly on the other side of the world! If Asian dudes aren't your thing there's an offline multiplayer that lets you battle friends via split-screen. You can even play solo against an army of CPU-controlled bots! If that's not enough there's a slew of bonus games including Bioshock-inspired Zombie mode and Smash TV-inspired "Dead Ops 2" overhead shooter (complete with pixelated cut-scenes). These bonus modes aren't especially fun but it sure was nice of Activision to include them. The Call of Duty formula may be running on fumes, but the sheer amount of play value in Black Ops III is off the charts. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
Publisher: Activision (2016)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, drug reference, intense violence, strong language, suggestive themes)
For twelve consecutive years Activision has released new Call of Duty titles, leaving one final frontier: space! Infinite Warfare takes Modern Warfare and injects it with a heavy dose of Star Wars. One minute you're taking cover in a conventional gun battle in a crumbling port city and minutes later you're buzzing galactic cruisers in space. The futuristic theme gives the game an epic flavor with missions whisking you from one exotic planet to the next. I couldn't really tell you what the story is about, but the enemy is led by Jon Snow from Game of Thrones. As jaded as I am of Call of Duty, the white-knuckle campaign still gets my blood pumping. Advanced weaponry includes rifles that unleash lighting and spider-like grenades that climb on enemies. There's a special grenade that suspends gravity in a limited area, letting you to pick off floating soldiers like fish in a barrel. During land battles you can call in airstrikes to inflict widespread damage or hack enemy robots to turn them against their own side. Robots and mechs serve on your side as well, including a friendly robot soldier named Ethan who serves up comic relief with his human-like responses ("You're making me blush sir!") Infinite Warfare is action-packed but it suffers the same issues as previous entries, notably a convoluted storyline and difficulty telling the good guys from bad. Some action sequences seem to be on autopilot, yet you won't dare let go of the controls. Sadly the new space battles and the zero-gravity gunfights are the least enjoyable parts of the game. I also detected a glaring lack of controller vibration - especially when my ship was clearly being jostled on the screen. The split-screen mode multiplayer mode is enjoyable but limited to two players. I guess Activision lost the technology to split the screen four ways. Still, as a person who avoids human interaction, it's nice to be able to play a 6-on-6 deathmatch with bots. Infinite Warfare has its share of thrills but I found it hard to get excited about this. The developers tried to shoot for the stars but it feels like they were grasping at straws. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Evolved
Publisher: Sierra (2016)
I loved the original Geometry Wars but the idea of taking it to the third dimension was fraught with fear and trepidation. Too many great 2D franchises have been ruined by a forced polygon makeover. Fortunately, Dimensions does it right. At its core Geometry Wars is a turbocharged version of Asteroids
(Atari 2600, 1982). Its simple gameplay is appealing as you blast vibrant, colorful shapes to a bass-bumping, pulse-pounding musical score. The club-like atmosphere makes you want to crank up the stereo and have an alcoholic drink. The dual-thumbstick controls let you unleash rapidfire shots in one direction while moving in another. The basic 2D gameplay remains the same but instead of a flat playing field each stage offers a new warped surface. There are curved planes, rounded cubes, globes, and even giant plls. Dimensions does for Geometry Wars what Tempest (Arcade, 1981) did for early arcade shooters. A few stages even have cordoned off areas reminiscent of Omega Race
(Colecovision, 1982). Geometry Wars Dimensions dazzles with its fast action, vibrant colors, and satisfying fireworks. Each shape behaves in a particular way, and I like how those green boxes nervously dart away from you when you aim at them. It looks funny to see a bunch of them huddled in a corner. You can tell where enemies are about to materialize by a faint color in the background, but the visuals are so chaotic you'll regularly fall victim to unseen hits. The adventure mode offers a challenging progression of unique stages including boss encounters. Special abilities and drones add a layer of strategy but I think the level of complexity has reached its tipping point. In fact, the more complicated stages tend to be the least fun and the coop modes are just overwhelming. There are plenty of modes to choose from but frankly I prefer the old classic modes. I'm glad the game records offline high scores because I have no interest in the online leaderboards. It's just a shame my friends can't pass around the controller and enter initials for high scores. The good news is, that's about the only thing missing from Geometry Wars 3. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Bandai Namco (2015)
Oh dear. This was one of those early PS4 releases most gamers didn't notice, and they were the lucky ones
. I tried to review Godzilla over a year ago, and the fact I couldn't even bang out a review speaks volumes. It's a slow, plodding affair where you take the giant, lumbering lizard through branching stages of urban destruction. The controls are so clunky you need to hold R1 or L1 just to turn.
Trudging through city streets is unsatisfying thanks to bad physics and a lazy damage system. When you swing your tail at a building it will pass clear through it as the building flashes white. Repeat three times and the boxy structure collapses. Not very satisfying. Many stages involve destroying power generators around the city while dealing with one or more rival creatures. These monsters span the history of the Godzilla franchise, reprising the caterpillar, porcupine, Mothra, and "Space Godzilla" among others. If the developers were going for the "man in rubber suit" look of the old films, they nailed it. The monsters look totally fake with no sense of scale or mass. The one-on-one battles are tedious back-and-forth affairs with hits that appear to have zero impact. It's like a PS2 game with high definition graphics. Since you move like a snail and can't block, combat is just a war of attrition. Swing your tail a few times, unleash your breath, rinse and repeat. As you advance through the campaign Godzilla is supposed to "grow" and become more powerful but I didn't really notice. Between missions the game spews tons of unnecessary text dialog from a reporter and some politician. You won't be able to skip that fast enough. Longtime Godzilla fans may enjoy facing old creatures resurrected from the archives, but please don't expect much in the way of excitement. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Guilty Gear Xrd Sign
Publisher: Aksys (2014)
Rating: Teen (blood, language, suggestive themes, use of tobacco, violence)
This franchise has gained a cult following since the debut of Guilty Gear
(PS1, 1998). Most modern one-on-one fighters use 3D models but Guilty Gear Xrd looks more like an anime cartoon!
Its lushly illustrated 2D visuals are reminiscent of the old Street Fighter games. Likewise the glossy, full-color manual is a welcome throwback to the old school. Sol Badguy is the primary character and he still holds the title of "worst name ever." Axl Low is an Axel Rose clone and Potemkin is a lumbering behemoth. May is a cute girl dragging an anchor and I-No is a sexy guitar-witch with a striking resemblance to Katy Perry. On the darker side, Faust is a lanky freak with a bag over his head and Bedman is a comatose guy in a mechanical bed that fights for
him. The basic controls are simple enough that most gamers can dive in without knowing all the subtle nuances. The battles are utter chaos but highly entertaining. Your senses will be assaulted by all the shape-changing and teleportation attacks. Faust can materialize a large door and slam it in your face. How do you defend
something like that? The backgrounds convey post-apocalyptic landscapes, but the excessive detail makes them looked cluttered and unsightly. I don't even know what I'm looking
at. I dislike how the life meters drain progressively slower. You think you have your opponent on the ropes, yet it takes forever
to finish him off! I enjoyed fighting against my friends, but the profile system practically ruins the experience by requiring everyone to "sign in" (ugh). I was glad to see a bunch of offline modes but they proved disappointing. The mission and challenge modes are beyond tedious and the story mode is one endless cut-scene. The MOM mode lets you work through branching stages while earning medals and equipping various abilities. It would be great if it weren't so damned complicated!
Only one high score is saved in arcade mode, and only when you beat
it. Would a top-10 screen with initials have been too much to ask for?! Extensive stats are recorded for online play but few for offline. You can earn credits to unlock features but the substantial stuff (like a new character) is crazy
expensive. Guilty Gear Xrd Sign has the sights and sounds to draw you in but lacks the hooks to keep you there. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Guitar Hero Live
Publisher: Activision (2015)
Rating: Teen (lyrics)
The original Guitar Hero
(PS2, 2005) rocked my world a decade ago, but after a bad case of sequelitis the franchise fizzled out along with its twin sister, Rock Band. Now the next generation Guitar Hero has emerged with some fresh ideas. Guitar Hero Live makes use of actual video of a crowd to convey the feeling of being on stage in front of a live audience. I haven't seen real footage used like this since the days of the Sega CD and 3DO! It's fun to watch the crowd react to your performance, cheering when you play well and throwing stuff when you falter. The camera also pans the stage, and the reactions of your pissed-off bandmates are priceless. The backdrops behind the audience (superimposed by computer no doubt) look magnificent, featuring amusement parks, suspension bridges, and city skylines. Another innovation is the guitar controller itself, which is great. Instead of goofy Fisher Price buttons you have three pairs of buttons that blend into the guitar neck. You hold these in like frets of a real guitar, allowing you to play chords as well as notes. Once you get past the learning curve the game is a lot of fun. Playing certain sequences of notes in a row earns you "Hero Power" which can whip the crowd into a frenzy. You initiate the power by pressing a new button located near your palm, but I found it so awkward I just turn the guitar vertical instead. There are two basic modes which are really poorly named: Live (offline) and TV (online). Offline you play short sets (three or four songs) at various venues. Once unlocked you can play the songs individually for score. Compared to previous Guitar Hero titles, the track list is weak
. I don't even recognize most of these tunes! Highlights include Demons (Imagine Dragons), R U Mine (Arctic Monkeys), Won't Get Fooled Again (The Who), Paint It Black (Rolling Stones), and my personal favorite My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Fallout Boy). The fact that tracks by Katy Perry and Eminem were included is testament to the sorry state of rock and roll today. The online mode offers a continuous stream of random songs. Earning (or buying) points lets you play songs of your choice, and wouldn't you know it - the best songs are online! You'll find classics like More Than a Feeling (Boston), Limelight (Rush), Cult of Personality (Living Colour) and so many others. What a racket! Guitar Hero Live is a solid game, but the music should really be a selling point and not a bone of contention. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
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