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Games are rated relative to other games for the same system.

Xbox One Reviews S-Z

Grade: C
Publisher: Microsoft (2015)
Posted: 2015/6/14
Rating: Everyone 10+

screenshotScreamride caught me off-guard when I saw it at Best Buy. I love theme parks and rollercoasters, so how could I resist? When I watched the intro I grew concerned with all the talk about "research and engineering". The last thing in the world I want to do is learn! Thankfully my fears were quickly laid to rest.

There are three basic modes: screamride, demolition, and engineering. The first lets you ride mammoth, high-tech coasters constructed over water. The idea is to lean into turns and activate your turbo boost to finish the coaster in record time. It's wild, but you're not so much in the coaster as following closely behind four enthusiastic riders. When the coaster goes off track it's fun to watch bodies fly and carnage unfurl.

The second mode, demolition, is like Angry Birds in 3D. You launch "cabins" at towering structures and sit back to watch them collapse and trigger spectacular chain reactions. This mode is addictive as hell but a little too easy. It seems like just rubbing against a humongous tower is often enough to bring the whole damn thing crashing down. The clean, sterile structures convey massive size but aren't very detailed or interesting.

The final mode, engineering, challenges you to fill gaps in pre-made coasters, which should appeal to the more cerebral crowd. The game's narrator is a female robotic voice clearly inspired by the one in Portal. Her matter-of-fact commentary about the widespread devastation is comical. There's no actual violence in this game (all the test subjects survive).

Screamride gets off to a rip-roaring start but I felt the fun dissipating over time. The roller coasters become less about speed and more about avoiding obstacles. Likewise the demolition stages get complicated, forcing you to do stuff like launch cabins between magnets just to get a clean shot at targets. Screamride may not be a "system seller" but its bargain price makes it hard to resist. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Grade: B-
Publisher: Square Enix (2018)
Posted: 2019/12/22
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)

screenshotSince its inception in 1997 I've watched Tomb Raider games evolve from groundbreaking 3D platformers into semi-interactive movies. In Shadow of the Tomb Raider you play as Lara Croft in her prime, exploring ruins, scaling cliffs, and taking down mercenaries in stealth mode. Her hair looks amazing and at one point she even wears her original outfit!

You'll enjoy fascinating locations like Cozumel during the Day of the Dead, and survive harrowing predicaments like the rushing waters of a tsunami. The bulk of the game is set in Peru where you'll find old-school tombs with booby traps, crumbling ruins, and head-scratching puzzles. Lara can rappel on ropes, scramble up walls, and use her pick-axes to even climb under rock ledges. I suspect she employed a stunt double for some of the more dangerous moves.

Her bow and arrow are often used to solve puzzles but come in handy against hungry jaguars as well. Pressing the right stick causes an indicator to appear on the horizon, charting your next objective. Items of interest are highlighted in the scenery but I rarely knew what I was picking up.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is fun but technical glitches have a way of taking you out of the moment. Fortunately the game saves frequently. The controls feel overloaded, partly due to renewed emphasis on crafting (ugh). The camera can be a liability, especially when you're fighting in close quarters in dense jungle or caves.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider begins as an exhilarating adventure but grows progressively more repetitive and laborious. I wish it were shorter and tighter. That said, it's still ten times more entertaining than that new Tomb Raider movie. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

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Sid Meier's Civilization: Flat Earth Edition
Grade: B+
Publisher: Planar Games (2019)
Posted: 2019/4/1
Rating: Everyone

screenshotWell, it's official: Sid Meier has lost his [expletive] mind!! After a much-publicized falling out with former Civ publisher 2K Games (ascribed to "philosophical differences") Sid plotted his own course, publishing this long-awaited (and highly controversial) Flat Earth Edition. You have to admire the man's courage and conviction, standing up for what he believes in the face of overwhelming media scrutiny.

I've never been a flat-earther per se, but at least I'm willing to keep an open mind. I do tend to believe what I see with my own eyes, and what I see here is a logical evolution of the Civilization franchise. At long last exploration-hungry gamers can break free of the confines of the conventional world, passing through the Summer Gate into the vast realm of the outer continents. You'll discover actual places like the Cliffs of Narzod, the Tributary of Pamprin, and the Well of Perpetual Gravity.

This is a thinking man's game, with every strategic decision fraught with peril. A peaceful settlement in Hapis might offer a false sense of security until the moving island of Thoth approaches with its army of outer continent warriors. The authenticity is commendable, employing scientific geological data, astrological charts, and actual navigational manuscripts. Still, there are signs the game was rushed. The menu interface is a little clunky and the style of the map and in-game screens are inconsistent. Still, I can highly recommend this. A game like Civilization: Flat Earth Edition is what the world really needs right now. The media may denounce Civilization: Flat Earth Edition all they want, but it's become clear to me that old Sid Meier isn't so crazy after all. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

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Sunset Overdrive
Grade: C
Publisher: Microsoft (2014)
Posted: 2015/1/24
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, drug reference, sexual themes, strong language, violence)

screenshotSunset Overdrive lets you play the role of a goofy hipster stuck in a post-apocalyptic city overrun by hideous pink mutants. Your firepower is awesome but your primary mode of transportation is what sets this game apart. You whiz around town by grinding telephone lines, fences, guardrails, and just about anything with a straight edge. It's like Jet Grind Radio (Dreamcast, 2000) - on steroids!

In order to elevate yourself above the fray you bounce off cars and vault off walls. This game is kinetic to the max, but holding the left trigger slows things down so you can properly aim. Your weapons inflict wide-scale destruction so you don't need to be a perfect shot to blow up a mob of puss-filled creatures.

Sunset Overdrive is divided into missions that involve collecting items, escorting people, and guarding areas for a period of time. The missions can be repetitive, and frankly some feel like busy work. Heck, even the star of the game expresses his discontent with having to run around town retrieving trivial items.

The graphics are crisp, colorful, and arcade-like. The city is expansive but so cluttered that it's hard to tell where to go or what to do. Your tiny yellow destination marker tends to get lost in the scenery, especially since you're constantly changing direction. The camera will let you down at the worst possible time, like when you're grinding the upper floor of a skyscraper lined with bombs.

Sunset Overdrive tries hard to be stylish but its overt punk-rock motif had my friends rolling their eyes. The language is pretty juvenile but I will admit there are some funny moments. I'll give Sunset Drive credit for its high energy and raw enthusiasm, but I feel like I should have enjoyed this game a lot more than I did. Installation note: This game is ill-behaved if your console is offline. Not only does it force you online to install, but it forces you back online to check for periodic updates. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.

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Super Lucky's Tale
Grade: C-
Publisher: Microsoft (2017)
Posted: 2018/6/10
Rating: Everyone

screenshotFocusing on the PC demographic has left the Xbox One with a dearth of kid-friendly games. Super Lucky's Tale tries to fill that void starring a cartoon fox in a heavily-constrained 3D world. Though lightweight by Xbox One standards, I was still forced to go online and download a 3.5 GB system update just to play the damn thing. When it comes to the Xbox One you can't even play an innocent little game like this without a Microsoft-sized headache!

Once up and running Super Lucky's inviting fantasy world reminded me of Yooka Laylee (Playstation 4, 2017). Our hero has a kid's voice but thankfully he doesn't talk much. The hub area is a floating island with lush green foliage, waterfalls, and bridges connecting to new areas. Many stages tend to be of the side-scrolling variety, calling to mind Crash Bandicoot (PS1, 1997).

Of course Super Lucky isn't in the same league. The controls feel a bit laggy with no digital pad support. Frequent frame drops and minor glitches make the game feel undercooked. It's easy to get caught up on obstacles you thought were part of the background. Spicing things up are puzzle challenges and perpetually-moving stages.

Super Lucky does offer a few original features like the ability to burrow under the ground, made all the more satisfying by excellent rumble effects. Sometimes you'll dig in a side-scrolling stage only to reappear far in the background. You're then expected to continue playing from that distant viewpoint, which is occasionally even obstructed! The gameplay is forgiving thanks to bouncy physics and a handy double-jump move.

Completing a stage rewards you with a four-leaf clover that helps you unlock new areas, but I have no idea what the point of collecting all those gold coins is. I figured 100 would award me with a free life but nothing seemed to happen. Super Lucky's Tale is strictly by-the-numbers, but if you're looking for a kid-friendly romp I suppose this will suffice. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.

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The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Grade: C
Publisher: CD Projekt (2015)
Posted: 2020/4/24
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, nudity, strong language, strong sexual content, use of alcohol)

screenshotThe Witcher 3 is an expansive action-RPG with elements of Skyrim: The Elder Scrolls V (Xbox 360, 2011) and Red Dead Redemption II (Rockstar, 2018). I'm usually not a fan of lengthy intros but this one has a Game of Thrones vibe complete with the gratuitous violence and nudity.

If you're looking for a fully-realized fantasy world this game has you covered with bustling townships, medieval castles, creepy caves, and haunted towers. You can travel through the rugged wilderness on horse and fast travel to places you've already visited. From lush forests to crumbling ruins, the degree of detail in the scenery is pretty fantastic. There are enough side quests to keep you busy for months, considering everywhere you go there's some poor slob screaming for help. Personally I'm not interested in collecting flowers or helping some ugly widow. I prefer to stick to the main storyline which is well acted with intelligent dialog. I also like how that dotted line on my radar leads the way.

So what is a Witcher, you ask? Apparently they are outcasts of society with the ability to wield magic in addition to bludgeoning whatever gets in their way. Our hero is one bleach-blonde badass and his main squeeze is a dead ringer for Kate Beckensale. I was impressed that you have a full set of spells right off the bat like the ability to start fires.

The Witcher III broods atmosphere but its PC roots show through here and there. Some of the text is awfully small and the animation feels stiff, especially during combat. It's easy to move about freely in the open wilderness but in tight spots like caves you tend to get caught on rocks and the camera is all over the place. The hack-and-slash combat feels very mechanical and unsatisfying. The story feels like a never-ending stack of quests. I need to find this object so some guy will give me a clue so I can find some witch who will give me a clue to find a location... wait a minute, what the hell was I trying to do in the first place?! The game helps you along when you get stuck and you can use the left trigger to enable your "Witcher sense". This ability highlights clues in the scenery but I found its dream-like, fisheye view nauseating.

The game auto-saves often which is great because you never know when you're about to die. Once I fought off an army of soldiers single-handed only to die after getting bitten by a dog. After a while the game's degree of tedium began to exceed my threshold. I got so sick of hitting A to pick up every little mushroom or herb. I hate the concept of "crafting" so the idea of repairing weapons, brewing potions, and applying oils turns my stomach. I enjoyed the spectacle of The Witcher 3 but once a game starts feeling like a chore that means it's time to move on. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

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Zoo Tycoon
Grade: C
Publisher: Microsoft (2013)
Posted: 2015/6/14
Rating: Everyone

screenshotOn a console featuring so many "epic" titles it's refreshing to play a family-friendly game like Zoo Tycoon. Constructing a zoo from scratch is surprisingly easy. Instead of building on pre-existing confines, you grow your zoo outward into a large, sprawling park. Basic habitats and exhibits are readily available; you simply stamp them into the landscape. Time-consuming "research" is required to enable more advanced options like exotic animals or elaborate concession stands. Adopted animals make a dramatic entrance via a helicopter unloading a large freight - like Jurassic Park!

You'll want to select animals appropriate to the habitat climate (tropical, savannah, alpine, etc). I love the idea of "pinging" the happiness of the animals and visitors, giving you a birds eye view of your status. It's distressing when an animal isn't happy because they look so lifelike, you grow attached to them! I love watching the baby monkeys jump around and play. You can enrich exhibits by adding feeding stations, shelters, and interactive features. It's satisfying to watch your zoo come to life as people filter into the park and start interacting with exhibits. You can roam around at ground level and even ride a buggy. No, you can't mow people down (I tried).

The layered menu interface is logically designed and easy to flip through. Leaving no stone unturned, there's even a "poop" option that lets you sanitize an exhibit. Zoo Tycoon has several different modes. Free-form lets you build with no regard to money, but it feels like playing with a cheat code. The campaign mode places you in various problematic scenarios. But the real meat of the game is the challenge mode, which lets you build your zoo from the ground up while carefully managing resources. It requires some patience but the game offers frequent rewards with much fanfare.

I love the general style of the game with its safari music, animal sound effects, and clean visuals. What's not to like? Well, the sprawling, cookie-cutter zoo layouts all look the same, and the game starts to feel like an actual job after a while! That said, Zoo Tycoon is a classy, well-intentioned title that will appeal to gamers who would rather create than destroy. Bump up the grade by one letter if you enjoy Minecraft or "Sim" games. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.

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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, Amazon.com, Xbox Marketplace, GameSpot, Gematsu, Moby Games