Vizio CinemaWide TV set is made for watching movies


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The Vizio CinemaWide is a big-screen TV set with a simple mission: to remove the annoying black bars that come with watching, as its name suggests, widescreen cinema movies.

The CinemaWide is a 58-inch HD 3-D TV that stands out because its ultra-wide screen was specifically designed for watching movies, theater style.

It removes black bars by displaying content at a stretched 21:9 ratio, unlike most HD TV sets, which have a 16:9 ratio. The CinemaWide also has higher resolution, -- 2,560 by 1,080 -- than the typical HD TV.

The screen isn't the only big thing about this TV. The set weighs 66 pounds and is more than 4 1/2 feet wide. It also costs a hefty $1,999.99.

But if you're a big-time movie buff, it might be worth that price. I watched a couple of movies on the CinemaWide, and they were some of the most cinema-like experiences I've had with a television set.

Whether it was a Blu-Ray movie, something streaming from Netflix, or a 3-D film from Vudu, the CinemaWide performed admirably, and in each instance, the content filled up the entire screen or nearly did so without cutting anything off.

There isn't any content made specifically for this TV set, but the CinemaWide does a good job at automatically stretching content without making it look bad.

When watching a widescreen movie, the CinemaWide stretches the screen and eliminates the black bars. When I watched "The Fighter," the image filed up the entire screen, and while watching "Man on Fire," only a little bit of the black bars were left.

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    • By LoneWolfSL
      Battlefield 2042 review: Portal mode takes the spotlight amidst a rocky launch
      by Pulasthi Ariyasinghe

      After a four-year break, DICE has delivered another Battlefield to the masses, taking the combined arms fight to the near future. The studio has also put all its focus on multiplayer this time, saying goodbye to the campaign element altogether.

      Battlefield 2042 is both a departure from the norm and a return to its roots. If you remember the classic Battlefield experiences before Battlefield 3, the series was always offered as a multiplayer shooter. To me at least, the campaigns always felt like tech demo made to show off Frostbite engine's visual prowess with lackluster stories attached — Bad Company games being the exception — so the skip isn't a big deal.

      Battlefield has boasted 64-player servers with multiplayer clashes across ground, air, and sea since the first installment, Battlefield 1942, made its way to PC all the way back in 2002. While bigger and bolder player counts felt like the next step for the series as newer entries came by for better hardware, it has taken until 2021 to gain the coveted 128-player promotion. DICE is also trying out other ways to expand on the usual formula in this iteration, with new tactics-focused and community content-orientated modes.

      With several days of play across everything Battlefield 2042 has to offer now under my belt, here's what I thought of this 'next generation' shooter.



      Gameplay
      Battlefield has always been about massive arenas with hordes of players and tons of explosions. DICE has not messed with that formula in Battlefield 2042. The maps are the biggest we've seen with a player count to match, and there are enough explosions happening at any point to make even certain countries' new year celebrations blush. Three distinct components make up the experience: All Out Warfare, Hazard Zone, and Portal. It's the third one I've been enjoying the most, but I get to that later.

      All out Warfare is Battlefield 2042's opening chapter, a combination of absolutely massive maps and 128-players to populate them. Infantry, tanks, hovercrafts, helicopters, jets, and everything in between are thrown together to create an inviting chaotic landscape. The wide-open spaces and long stretches of flat ground in most of the maps do present problems with vehicle dominance, but when frontlines collapse on each other, no other franchise can give me this much of a spectacle.

      To adapt to different kind of engagements, DICE has also introduced a sleek new way to change weapon attachments on the fly named the Plus system. Running out from a close-combat environment to a wide-open space and quickly swapping out the red dot for a 2.5x magnified scope, removing the silencer, and replacing the laser pointer with a grip, can all be done in a few seconds while still bolting. While gimmicky, it's proven to be quite useful in many situations.



      Destruction has been toned down rather heavily. Only a few structures have the means to get their walls exploded, and they are relatively rare in maps. Trees, guard rails, and other small elements can still be ripped apart thankfully, but it is disappointing to see reduced demolitions in a series that has touted it heavily in the past. All is not lost though, as tornados decide to rip through entire maps occasionally as teams scramble to both get close them, for the joyride, and get away, upending secured positions. The sudden weather change, the lightning surrounding the twister, trees almost bending 90 degrees from the wind, alarms blaring from nearby buildings, military vehicles being thrown around like toys, all culminate to create a terrific "Levolution" event.

      What has been taken out entirely are the ever-present Classes, and I don't think it was a problem that needed solving. Replacing them are Specialists. While a campaign is not part of the package, much like other multiplayer games nowadays there is a story in the background about a budding war between America and Russia, with country-less Special Forces units (No-Pats) doing the fighting. This is where the new Specialists come from, a range of hero characters with special abilities on the outside and zero personality on the inside. I'm sorry, but I'm not going to read character bios and hear one-liners to feel attached to what are essentially cosmetic holsters.

      Grappling hooks, wingsuits, automated turrets, deployable cover, homing grenades or something else, with more to come, are in the hands of all players now. I have to admit, they are fun to use and look good in action. The downside is this 'hero shooter' style mechanic only encourages even more solo play. Only two Specialists from the 10 available at launch can revive any ally (outside of squad revives), and their special abilities are probably the most boring of the entire bunch: a healing pistol and a crate drop allowing for kit switching mid-match. To nobody's surprise, they are not a common sight in maps.



      Hazard Zone
      Where Specialists do make sense is in Hazard Zone, Battlefield 2042's second main game mode. Here, a squad of four drop into a map to collect a specific kind of resources before extracting, with both other players (looking for the same items) and AI coming in as opponents. The twist is you keep the resource at the end of a match to invest into another run of Hazard Zone, which can mean better weapons, equipment, and perks. Anyone who's played Escape from Tarkov or a similar game will instantly recognize DICE's direction, but the execution here is not optimal.

      The game is missing voice communications as a whole, but when a solely tactical play-focused game mode is involved, its lack of it is felt immensely. Not being able to quickly direct the squad towards a threat or asking them to hold fire feels suffocating. There's not even a sophisticated pinging system to help a little, only the simple waypoint pings as seen in other modes. If this is working as intended, typing things out and hoping your squad is reading the chat while actively engaging enemies is bizarrely part of the coordinating process.

      Map knowledge doesn't really make a mark on the experience either. Hazard Zone utilizes the multiplayer maps from All Out Warfare, which have wide open spaces with small structures scattered about. Continuously covering great distances to objectives across flat ground hoping an enemy who invested in a scope won't wipe everyone out is the least tactical I've felt in a while. Changes need to be done here, and first on the list should be voice communications.

      Battlefield 3's Noshahr Canals in Portal Portal
      Spending an afternoon in Caspian Border, El Alamein, or Valparaiso, is not something I expected to enjoy so much. Battlefield Portal, the third major mode of Battlefield 2042, is the most impressive out of the lot, letting anybody spin up dedicated servers with a Battlefield 3, Bad Company 2, 1942, and 2042 content, with the classics recreated in the latest Frostbite engine. Want to play Battle of the Bulge with 2042 soldiers and gameplay? Done. Arica Harbor Rush with unchaged Bad Company 2 settings? Easy. A 128-player match putting 1942 and 2042 soldiers head-to-head? Say no more.

      Elements from earlier games I sorely miss in 2042 are made even more apparent with the inclusion of features like classes, Rush game mode, layered environments, and much deeper destruction in Portal recreations. Trivial things such as vehicle orientation indicators while in the gunner position or hustling to grab a seat of a tank without spawning straight into one are amazing to re-experience. The mode ends up being a showcase of DICE's greatest hits and shines a spotlight on the latest entry's misgivings.

      Funnily enough, going back and playing the old games or a weird combo is the most basic thing achievable in Portal, the possibilities only increase from there. I've already dived into Gun Game and Infected servers via the browser — oh did I mention there's a server browser in Portal? The web-based logic editor offers a mind-boggling number of options for creating new game modes, which I'll leave for much more talented members of the community to deliver on.

      Bad Company 2's Valparaiso in Portal I expect to see brand new creations for the best kind of kooky experiences as the masses hit the game at launch. There is terrific potential here for Portal going forward. As a dedicated studio is attached to it, hopefully a steady stream of more classic Battlefield content and rule customizations will keep rolling out. My stupid hope is for Battlefield 2142 and Hardline assets to breach Portal. Imagine giant walkers chasing after police cars. It's brilliant.

      Graphics, audio, and lots of bugs
      2042 is not the most visually impressive Battlefield game DICE has put out, though it certainly wants to run like it is on the performance side. On my machine running an 8-core 3700X with a RX 580 8GB, the average frame rate hovers around 80 and 50 on the low and ultra-presets, respectively. What I have noticed though are constant FPS dips. They only last a brief time, but as mouse sensitivity changes along with the frame rate, it makes quickly tracking targets an impromptu butter churning session on the mousepad. The same FPS dips are being reported on even the highest end graphics cards like the RTX 3090. An optimization pass is definitely needed.

      Unfortunately, the issues continue in the audio side, normally a department DICE goes above and beyond in. Positional audio likes to mess with you with phantom footsteps and vehicle noises. The overall soundscape is much quieter too, compared to earlier iterations. A massive battle occurring only a few hundred meters away involving dozens of ongoing explosions often makes no impactful sounds. The same goes for when a helicopter is doing a raid. It takes a second to realize the hellfire on the ground had come from above as the air vehicle's sound is barely noticeable.

      Spending time under the map Throughout Battlefield 2042, what pulls the emersion and fun factor down the drain is the constant stream of bugs and bizarre UI decisions. The world of hovercrafts climbing walls, jeeps falling through the map, teleporting players, and many more comical wonders are unfortunately common sights. These aren't only slight annoyances either, multiple times I have gotten stuck in the 'asking for revive' status, where quitting the match entirely is the only escape.

      The UI direction in Battlefield 2042 is genuinely facepalm worthy sometimes. For instance, the game does not show what my squad mates' currently equipped gadgets are so I can fill an empty role like going anti-armor or medic. Unless you're playing with a group of friends with a third-party voice software, prepare for a solo experience where your squad functions as mobile respawn points. Excruciatingly, no nearby medics nor ally indicators are present when downed either, meaning almost nobody waits around for revives. At the same time, the Commorose — a quick menu for giving out commands and asking for support — has a good chance of disappearing and being stuck closed. This is just a small sample.

      Even minor things like being forced to open a dropdown to check if you're in a party as most of the main menu is dedicated to a useless animation, or the fiddly gun customization system inside menus makes the game feel sloppily put together.



      Conclusion
      The core of Battlefield 2042 is still the stupidly fun formula DICE has mastered, with spectacular Michael Bay movie-esque action sequences that organically breed out of extreme chaos. There's a lot of game in here, and the bump to the player count is a natural step forward for the franchise. While I'm not sold on Specialists replacing classic Classes entirely, their abilities and gadgets are fun mechanics overall to play around with.

      However, from the playable but unstable frame rates and what can only be described as dreadful UI decisions, to the overall buggy-ness of the game, more time in the oven was a definite requirement for Battlefield 2042. While situated as one of the three main pillars of the game, Hazard Zone's tactical focus is brought down by not having maps crafted specifically for the experience, lack of voice coms, and at least a semi-decent pinging system.

      This isn't the first under baked Battlefield launch, and if those prior instances are anything to go by, DICE and other EA studios will work hard to fix the glaring problems in the coming months. It's just a frustrating tradition I wish they don't keep repeating, especially with such huge contenders in the shooters front from AAAs to indies. A launch purchase recommendation is hard to give when, by the time the game is at a much better state, it will also be priced lower.

      In any case, Portal is easily the most entertaining thing to come out of Battlefield 2042. Handing the community the keys to past games as well as a deep rules editor and letting them run wild is an exciting plan. I really hope the potential will keep growing and its talented development team at Ripple Effect can plug more Battlefields and customizations into the experience going forward.

      Battlefield 2042 is available for purchase on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5 for $59.99. The title launches on November 19 for standard and EA Play Pro members, but the Gold and Ultimate editions offer immediate early access. a 10-hour trail is also available to EA Play and Xbox Game Pass Ultimate members.

      This review was conducted on PC using a Battlefield 2042 key for EA Play provided by Electronic Arts.

      If you're interested in learning how the current-gen console experience of Battlefield 2042 is, read our very own Asher Madan's Xbox Series X impressions of the game here.

    • By Asher Madan
      Call of Duty: Vanguard Xbox Series X campaign review — A bombastic but stereotypical story
      by Asher Madan

      Call of Duty: Vanguard is this year's entry in the popular first-person shooter franchise and it brings with it a number of modes, including a bombastic campaign filled with stunning set pieces and plenty of explosions. Back in October 2021, Call of Duty: Vanguard writers said that they wanted to create iconic heroes like Halo's Master Chief with this game. Did they succeed in doing so? Read on to find out.

      Story
      Call of Duty: Vanguard's story is an action blockbuster with somewhat stereotypical soldiers, but it also touches upon issues like discrimination and racism in the Allied countries. The plot focuses on a mysterious, but fictional, Nazi plan called Project Phoenix. There's an overarching tale that homes in on taking down a despicable commander, but you also play through flashbacks that explain how the heroes of the story started working together, and their reasons for fighting.

      You'll get a chance to experience the game from different points of view, and hopefully learn more about the team. The flashbacks give a glimpse as to who Call of Duty: Vanguard's playable heroes are, but they mostly focus on their leadership and fighting styles instead of giving us a deeper look into Arthur Kingsley, Polina Petrova, Lucas Riggs, and Wade Jackson.

      In my opinion, Call of Duty: Vanguard doesn't spend enough time fleshing out these individuals. There are some truly horrifying moments in the campaign, but all of the heroes end up coming across as caricatures or stereotypes. Their reactions to the deaths of fellow soldiers and even family members are unrealistic. Had developer Sledgehammer Games added a little more dialogue — maybe a monologue or two about how certain tragic events affected each character — it would've elevated the story.

      For example, early in the campaign, a subordinate's head explodes due to a round from a sniper rifle. The newly promoted Kingsley just stands there without saying a word or discussing this traumatic event later. Fast forward a few missions, Petrova witnesses the massacre of her entire city, but seems to move past this tragedy in the blink of an eye because the vaporized bodies are never mentioned again. On one hand, Call of Duty: Vanguard wants us to identify with the game's heroes, while on the other it doesn't explore their humanity. It's during moments like these that the story feels rushed and the characters unrealistic.

      As mentioned earlier, Sledgehammer Games said that it wanted to create characters in Call of Duty: Vanguard that would be on the level of icons like Master Chief from Halo. In my opinion, the game fails to do a good job of character building. Kingsley, Petrova, Riggs, and Jackson aren't distinctive enough from individuals in other military shooters out there.

      The voice acting is excellent, and you can't fault the title there. But when you're going out and trying to create new faces for a franchise, you have to have more heart. This is a standard World War II story that's interesting, but it's no Battlefield Bad Company 2 or Halo 4.

      Performance and visuals


      Call of Duty: Vanguard's campaign looks incredibly sharp on Xbox Series X despite the use of dynamic resolution scaling, and remains locked at 60 frames per second (FPS) for the most part. It also appears to render at 4K resolution most of the time. However, every 10 minutes, I encountered random slowdowns for a couple of seconds where the frame rate dropped to around 15 FPS.

      The performance issues don't appear to be related to any in-game event, like extreme weather, because they occur during hurricanes and starry nights, sometimes even when you're inside small buildings. There are even hiccups during the 30 FPS cutscenes, which are jarring to witness after 60 FPS gameplay in and of themselves. It's clear that the Xbox Series X version of Call of Duty: Vanguard needs further optimization.

      Aside from the performance problems, Call of Duty: Vanguard suffers from a number of odd bugs in its campaign. While the majority of them revolve around weapons clipping through teammates or dead soldiers dying in strange positions similar to poisoned cockroaches, some of the most severe ones are related to the user interface.

      For example, the game's campaign allows you to control your allies' actions during certain moments. A giant banner that says how to do that stays on the center of your screen, right next to the reticle, for an entire level. It's unclear how this wasn't caught during quality-control testing. The Call of Duty series has always been multiplayer-focused, but that doesn't mean annoying bugs should be part of the story mode.

      As is the case almost every year, Call of Duty: Vanguard is one of the best-looking games when it comes to its linear campaign on Xbox Series X. The lighting is spectacular — explosions illuminate every surface — and the atmospheric fog is a sight to behold. Animations, faces, materials, reflections, textures, weather effects, and wet surfaces are also of the highest quality. Even when you're piloting an aircraft in one of the earlier missions, the details in the cockpit are remarkable.

      Call of Duty: Vanguard features two performance modes on Xbox Series X. By default, the title renders at 4K 60 FPS, but you can enable 120 FPS from settings if you have a compatible display. The game does not use ray tracing on Xbox Series X unlike Call of Duty: Black Ops - Cold War.

      Environments and missions


      The environments are diverse as well. During the 10 hours I spent playing the campaign — some gamers beat it in 5 hours — I fought my way through burning villages, cities, deserts, flower-covered fields, and treacherous trenches. The visual design offers an excellent contrast because you witness how a quaint day can be destroyed in an instance.

      The third mission in Call of Duty: Vanguard takes you to the Eastern Front of World War II. There, you're able to explore limited areas of the city and interact with the locals. You can even watch a violin performance on a rooftop. Minutes later, it's all laid to waste by invading forces, with bombs exploding not only buildings, but also disintegrating your friends and neighbors. The campaign shines when the game utilizes this stark contrast to demonstrate the horrors of war.

      Also, why are dogs so overpowered during the campaign? They can kill you with one bite. I'm not sure if that's realistic, but it makes playing through the story somewhat frustrating because it's hard to spot them if it's raining and there are tons of explosions going on around you. Luckily, the precise shooting mechanics redeem the title as a whole.

      Conclusion


      Two missions stood out for me the most. My favorite levels have to be the one that focuses on surviving an airplane raid in Russia and one where you pilot an aircraft. Petrova has the most reason to hate the Nazi invaders, and stepping into her shoes was a blast. Additionally, who doesn't love flying an easily-controllable fighter plane and shooting down targets?

      Overall, Call of Duty: Vanguard's campaign adds to the package that includes robust multiplayer offerings, but it feels a little rushed. There are major story and technical missteps this year. If you're a fan of previous Call of Duty campaigns, you should definitely play it. However, if you're thinking about picking up Call of Duty: Vanguard for its story, you should probably wait until there's a sale down the line.

      Call of Duty: Vanguard is available for purchase through the Microsoft Store, or the platform of your choice, for $59.99. The game launched for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S on November 9, 2021.

      If you're curious about the multiplayer portions of the game, check out my colleague Pulasthi Ariyasinghe's review for PC. The campaign was reviewed on Xbox Series X with a review code provided by Activision Blizzard.



    • By LoneWolfSL
      Call of Duty: Vanguard multiplayer review: Packed to the brim but too familiar
      by Pulasthi Ariyasinghe

      Every year for the past 14 years, Activision has rolled out a Call of Duty without fail. Right on schedule, we got the 2021 edition of the shooter last week in the form of Call of Duty: Vanguard by Sledgehammer Games. I've been hammering away at the Multiplayer and Zombies portions of the massive release as Neowin's Asher Madan dove into the campaign side of things. My time with the multiplayer was solely spent on PC.

      Although 2007's Call of Duty 4 was my jam back in the day, the following year's World at War was a respectable side jam although the shooter genre was inevitably moving to contemporary warfare even then. Over the years, World War II was only revisited by Call of Duty by the very aptly named WWII in 2017, which was also by Vanguard studio Sledgehammer. This year's return to that era is powered by Infinity Ward’s Modern Warfare (2019) internals, a game that revitalized the franchise in my eyes.

      After spending a weekend with Call of Duty: Vanguard, read on to find out how does the Multiplayer and Zombies fare in this entry.



      Gameplay
      Vanguard multiplayer is filled to the brim with content, but that does not count for anything if the game doesn’t feel good to play. I am happy to say Sledgehammer has crafted a loop that makes me keep coming back for more.

      Although the time to kill (TTK) felt a little too fast for my tastes at first, after a brief time I got used to the tempo. In comparison to other Call of Duty entries, it feels closer to Hardcore than Standard in normal matchmaking. Modern Warfare's impressive weapon handling and animations have been kept intact. Tactical sprint, inhuman slides mounting weapons to surfaces, leaning, reloading in any stance, interactive doors and windows are all back, making for an extremely tight combat experience.

      With the speed of the movement, it's easy to get used to the bursting through doors, sliding around corners and sprinting across fields. The momentum hits the right spots. Unfortunately, playing by footstep sounds is pretty much a lost cause. It is all about fast reactions and pulling the gun up faster than the other guy. Either everyone is sneaking around using silent perks just to surprise me or the game does not give enough focus to footstep audio. The audio as a whole is not helpful in gaining combat awareness. While positional audio is working fine, with the low TTK, by the time you hear a gun being fired from an unseen direction, it’s already too late to react.



      Speaking of guns, just because they are eight decades old doesn't mean customization doesn’t allow for unusual combinations. Major liberties have been taken with the era to keep the Gunsmith customization system varied. Every gun in the game comes with eight attachment slots and two perks. You can certainly make a recoilless laser shooter, but something is given up in turn to make that happen, usually nerfing damage or increasing the time taken to reset the gun from a sprint. As expected, just a weekend in, the community has deemed certain guns and attachment combinations 'too overpowered to not use'. Still, I have not had problems picking up a newly unlocked "underpowered" weapon and having fun gaining streaks.

      The weapon and attachment unlock rates are so well tuned in at this point, it's an art. Seeing experience bars tick up at the end of matches to always unlock something new, using the time left until the next match to preview or equip the unlock, whether it be a gun, attachment, cosmetic, or anything else, hit just the right spots just as intended. Last year's Cold War experimented with a score-based streak system, but Vanguard ditches all that to bring back the classic kill streaks, rewarding kill hungry players with boons capable of extending leads or turning tides. These try to be era specific, but it's Call of Duty after all.

      The twist game mode of the year is Champion Hill, a fast-paced tournament mode with buy rounds and resource management. While similar to Modern Warfare's Gunfight, it doesn't have the same flair or nail-biting sequences due to purchasable kill streaks and multiple spawns being involved. It has also been a difficult mode to matchmake in my region. I have continued to get matchups with high ping in distant servers.



      A small thing that bothers me more than it should is the new MVP selection. This is a group voting session that happens at the end of every round after the play of the match highlight nonsense, adding even more downtime - which you can't skip - between games. Everyone stares at a voting screen without the ability to quit the match for 30 whole seconds while canned animations of players who contributed the most to the match are shown off. It's not a long length of time I admit, but in less than half that time I'm normally able to find a new match to get into. Getting annoyed at something this small preventing me from playing more of the game speaks for how much fun I've been having.

      Maps and Combat Pacing
      Call of Duty: Vanguard ships with 16 maps for standard multiplayer modes, with four more attached to Champion Hill. I can't remember the last time a multiplayer game launched with so many, easily the highest count a Call of Duty has touted. There are old-school World War II-inspired landscapes with muted colors and ruins, sunbaked desert environments, a Japanese castle, a submarine base and so much more. I have my own list of favorites, from the clear sight lines of Desert Siege and chaos of Das Haus to the nostalgia hit from returning World at War maps, each one is very distinct. While I always think I am over them, getting chucked into a tiny map with lots of things to shoot at will probably never get old.

      A seriously cool addition for wading into multiplayer is the new Combat Pacing system. To put it simply, this is a streamlined player count filtering method letting you choose exactly the kind of match you're in the mood to play. From the three flavors available, "Blitz" tries to pack as much as 48 players into the available maps and modes, while "Tactical" tightens the scope to classic 6vs6. The third choice, Assault, is for those who fall into the middle of the two sides.



      The system cuts down what would have usually required multiple filters and caused playerbase splinters. Someone looking to relax with mindless shooting can quickly get into a 40-player madhouse with one click on Blitz, where even imagining a reload means a quick trot to the grave. For me though, the old dependable, 6v6 Tactical pacing is yet to disappoint as my preferred poison. The map flow, playstyles of players and engagement times change both organically and dramatically as the player counts fluctuate, so don't think the name Combat Pacing for a filter is misused here. With the implementation, the feature makes the already staggering number of maps even more varied and fun to come back to using a different pacing lens.

      The advertised destructible elements like wooden barricades and glass windows don’t factor much into maps. The speed of the game is too great to break a pane of glass, hold position and shoot through. The dynamic covers break when sprinting or vaulting through as well, meaning a minute into a round, they are all obliterated.

      Is a Call of Duty game even a true Call of Duty game without bad spawns? Sledgehammer didn't think so. Vanguard firmly grasps the ridiculous spawn algorithm baton from the last entry and valiantly marches forward to offer another system that can only be described as chaotic neutral. Instances of being pulled into battle in front, behind and even side by side of enemies are more common than ever.

      The video clip below should accurately convey what I'm describing, where enemies look away thinking "that guy isn't coming back" after dispatching me. Oh, but I do, respawning not once but twice right next to my dead body.



      These events aren't limited to smaller maps either. The game really likes to put your operator into action as fast as possible without thinking things through. Thankfully, this is equally as bad for both teams. That's technically balanced, I suppose.

      No matter how much content and opportunities to have fun a game can shove in your face, knowing it has a cheater problem makes any odd-looking death a suspicious one, at least for a moment and it's not a good feeling to have. Call of Duty and Warzone have suffered from this for years now. To Vanguard's credit, I haven't met any cheaters, or at least obvious ones, in my time with the launch product. What I can't say is if this is due to sheer luck or Activision's first pass of Ricochet anti-cheat implementation. I have seen a few social media hubbubs of active cheaters encountered by others though it's hard to say yet if the phenomenon is becoming widespread as in previous games.

      Ricochet's kernel-level driver is not coming until later, but its robust server-side cheat detection is said to be keeping an eye on any extracurricular activities of script kiddies. The driver is sure to stir up controversies of its own, but if it can deliver on its promises of finally ridding Call of Duty's reputation of being a cheater haven, you won't find me complaining.

      Zombies
      While the rest of the game is Sledgehammer's baby, from Treyarch's coffers comes Zombies, Nazi Zombies, to be exact, the supposed third pillar of Call of Duty: Vanguard's launch product. Honestly, I haven't kept track of the crazy demon-infested, multiple universe-spanning storylines of Call of Duty Zombies. I can string together what the current dilemma is about, the opening cutscene and the corny dialog help, but the big picture is admittedly lost on me. The good news is the gameplay does not reflect that; in fact, it offers the complete opposite experience. Intensely streamlined, Vanguard Zombies makes it easy to figure the gameplay loop without knowing anything about the systems in place before jumping in. I spun up the mode while the game was still finishing its download and managed to spend over an hour in a run without ever going down.



      The sole problem here lies in not having enough to do. Replacing the standard round-based map, a central hub serves as the place to activate perks and upgrade weapons in relative safety. Once a squad is ready, they can pick one of the portals available to go do one of the three flavors of what can only be described as side-missions. This involves farming zombies for a certain number of drops, surviving against waves in a small area for a time and escorting a zombie head. And that's it.

      There is no main quest or Easter Egg hunt, only three types of zombies are currently available and all the locations, including the hub and the few teleporting areas, are from multiplayer maps. There's nothing to work towards and there is no point to replaying the same content a second time. If you play it for a few rounds, you have seen everything Zombies has to offer at launch. It is the complete opposite experience of what I've been thrown at in Multiplayer.

      Zooming into a diabolically decorated room like a Speedster, holding down the trigger on an overpowered weapon and seeing all the zombie heads explode is still gruesomely satisfying. The rest of the experience feels undone, not undead. This is more like a teaser of what's to come from Treyarch than a full-fledged mode worthy enough to hold the space next to the campaign and multiplayer in the launch menu.

      Graphics and performance
      Call of Duty: Vanguard multiplayer visuals don't attempt at reaching the levels of its single-player counterpart, but it makes up with high frame rates. On PC, the game is optimized through the roof. Considering the reach Call of Duty has, Vanguard was easily pumping my 1080p display with over 60FPS on an AMD Radeon RX 580 with a mixture of ultra and high settings on 1080p without any dynamic resolution usage or downscaling.



      There is an ungodly number of graphics options available to tweak for even the most minute alterations. I do wish the preview comparison for each setting was a little more detailed or even real-time instead of simply supplying two shots side by side. At first launch, Vanguard models looked a little smudged on the edges. Switching off anti-aliasing and enabling the FidelityFX CAS option delivered the much-needed crispness.

      Another bonus for frame rate fanatics is the inclusion of Nvidia DLSS and AMD FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR). I cannot speak for how well DLSS looks here, but anyone with a non-RTX graphics card wanting more frames should really investigate at least enabling FSR's Ultra Quality. This will grant a very much appreciated frame rate boost without discernible visual degradation.

      Conclusion
      Call of Duty: Vanguard is throwing at multiplayer fans exactly what they want, tons of maps. With 16 in the bag, hour long stretches can happen without having a repeat location and Combat Pacing adds another layer of variation. This content flood is paired with tried-and-true gameplay systems lifted straight out of Infinity Ward’s gem from 2019. Aside from the traditional spawning issues and adding another unskippable post-match sequence, I’ve had a lot of fun with the game, which is not something I expected to say after the beta shenanigans. If you loved the gunplay and movement systems of Modern Warfare, and is itching for more map variety, Vanguard is a perfect pick up.

      The game doesn’t do much to advance the franchise, with the World War 2 setting ending up being a skin pack on the same old multiplayer formula. At the same time, Call of Duty didn’t become this successful by trying new things ever year.

      The multiplayer is so jam-packed, the Zombies mode’s shocking lack of content doesn't impact me personally very much. However, for anyone eying to buy Vanguard for its undead experience, I strongly advice holding off at least until a major update or two arrives.

      Call of Duty: Vanguard is available for purchase on Battle.net for PC as well as Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5 for $59.99.

      This multiplayer review was conducted on PC using a Battle.net code provided by Activision Blizzard.

      If you're interested in hearing about the single-player campaign of Vanguard, check out our own Asher Madan's review of that portion here.

    • By Asher Madan
      Forza Horizon 5 Xbox Series X review: A refined open-world racing experience
      by Asher Madan

      It's been a few years since we've received another entry in the Forza Horizon or Forza Motorsport franchises. The last game, Forza Horizon 4, came out in 2018 and allowed players to explore the United Kingdom. The title featured a number of improvements like changing seasons and more environmental variety, and all of those features make their way into 2021's Forza Horizon 5.

      The latest game builds upon the successful foundation of its predecessors, while giving us a deeper look into Mexican culture, the varying biomes the country has to offer, as well as substantial graphical enhancements. However, does Forza Horizon 5 differentiate itself enough from past games? Read on to find out.

      Gameplay
      If you've ever owned an Xbox 360, Xbox One, or Xbox Series X|S — or played one of the games on PC — you're probably familiar with the Forza Horizon formula. However, if you aren't, what you need to know is that Forza Horizon 5 is an open-world racing game that takes place in Mexico. You can drive anywhere — from active volcanoes to dense jungles — as you participate in various races and other events in different biomes.

      While you can take any car on your cross-country road trip, another major feature of the game is to build a car collection. There are over 500 vehicles to collect, but you should have a couple of go-to machines. For example, using an Aston Martin DB11 in a muddy riverbed probably isn't a good idea. You should use a Ford Bronco or another all-wheel-drive vehicle for that. Choosing the right car for the right environment, or race, plays an important role in Forza Horizon 5. Driving in the rain is quite a slippery affair compared to a sunny day. You should be prepared to factor in weather conditions.

      The game gives you a number of ways to earn cars including buying them with Credits, unlocking them through Wheel Spins — essentially like Wheel of Fortune, but you either win vehicles or Credits, or find them in Barns.

      As you drive around Mexico — and level up — you gain access to new races, objective-based missions, and Showcase events. The races vary from drives across the map to laps around a circuit. They're pretty standard. The objective-based missions feel a little unrealistic, but they offer a somewhat compelling reason to, let's say, explore an active volcano because you're measuring seismic activity or retrieve one of the organizer's belongings in an abandoned airfield. It seems to me that a trained professional should be setting up devices near a volcano. Additionally, why are the organizer's belongings scattered across an abandoned airfield with a downed plane? Is this some Fast & Furious-like situation?

      Lastly, Showcase events are by far the most spectacular because they're essentially Top Gear-like set pieces. You race against planes to the finish line and do so much more. Showcase events are rare because they're essentially bombastic races, that are given as rewards, for taking part in a substantial number of events in a particular biome.

      Exploration


      There are a number of other mechanics in Forza Horizon 5 like buying Houses that serve as start points, constructing Outposts that increase the scope of the Horizon Festival — the fictional car event at the heart of every Forza Horizon game — or finding collectibles that can unlock Fast Travel points or grant XP. However, my favorite has to be the Barn Finds.

      Barn Finds in Forza Horizon 5 tell personal stories that highlight Mexican culture. For example, early on in the game, you're tasked with retrieving a Volkswagen Bettle that belonged to one of the organizer's grandfathers. During the short road trip where you're exploring the highlighted area, you're introduced to a number of interesting aspects about family life in the country. This personal touch is what sets the game apart from its predecessors in my opinion. Hopefully, Playground Games will expand upon this in subsequent entries in the franchise.

      Forza Horizon 5's map is 1.5 times larger than Forza Horizon 4, but that's not the major difference in my opinion. The striking contrast across various regions is what separates this game from even Forza Horizon 3 which featured a number of different areas of Australia. Of course, there are cities and deserts, but we also get to explore ancient Mayan ruins and gorgeous beaches. The diversity showcased across this snapshot of Mexico is truly breathtaking because each section feels very distinctive.

      How Forza Horizon 5 opens up is also up to you. At this point, you're a Horizon Festival professional and you decide where you want to go next. This game gives you the choice to customize your experience. For example, let's say you want to go see ruins instead of an active volcano. You can do that. If you want, you can even unlock more events in the region you're currently exploring. Forza Horizon 5 lets you play the way you want and this adds to that sense of freedom. Not only can you drive anywhere — if you have the right vehicle — you can mold the game to your liking.

      Graphics and performance


      Forza Horizon 5 looks absolutely stunning on Xbox Series X, especially when it's raining and your car gets progressively dirtier. The game features two modes — Performance and Quality — but surprisingly, both of them target 4K resolution on Microsoft's latest console. Loading times only last a second or two. During my analysis, I saw that Quality mode locked the frame rate to 30 frames per second (FPS), but provided better lighting and draw distances than the Performance option.

      As expected, Performance mode increases the frame rate to 60 FPS, but there's a noticeable drop in image quality because lighting, draw distances, and even some textures receive a downgrade. However, input lag is greatly reduced at 60 FPS so Forza Horizon 5 feels much smoother. If you're a competitive player, you should probably stick to this mode because split-second decisions are key to winning multiplayer races against others.

      During my 38 hours with the title, I didn't encounter any noticeable FPS drops or bugs in Quality mode, but detected some minor slowdowns during Performance mode at the start of contained multiplayer races. Keep in mind that you'll have to restart Forza Horizon 5 in order to switch between Quality and Performance. Below, you'll find a table of how the game runs across various devices.



      Forza Horizon 5 is an arcade racing game and I played it on the Quality setting most of the time. Even at 30 FPS, it's a very responsive title that stands out on a 4K display. I'm a stickler for the highest resolution and graphical settings so that's how I chose to experience Forza Horizon 5. However, it's up to you to decide what you want to prioritize.

      Unfortunately, ray tracing isn't utilized when rendering the vast open world of Forza Horizon 5. Nevertheless, you get a taste of it in Forzavista. Forzavista is essentially where you can examine each vehicle and look at it in greater detail. Think of it as a garage and photo studio in one. Needless to say, the lighting and reflections are incredible, and I wish ray tracing had made its way into the actual game in some capacity.

      It's unclear why ray tracing is completely absent during actual racing. Adding limited ray tracing to some areas, similar to Resident Evil Village, or low-resolution ray tracing to the entire open world like Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales on PlayStation 5 would've been a truly next-generation leap for the visuals.

      Forza Horizon 5 is a compelling and engaging experience — and makes major strides in terms of graphics and capturing the essence of a location — but so was Forza Horizon 4. In my opinion, the game needs to do more when it comes to highlighting a country's culture. Even though it's not a next-generation leap in the strictest sense, it's the direction the franchise should adopt going forward.

      Multiplayer


      Forza Horizon 5 features a number of robust multiplayer modes that are part of the base game. You race against other players or participate in cooperative challenges. Horizon Arcade allows you to take part in various mini-games such as smashing objects or jumping over cars, while Horizon Open lets you band together for a low-stakes competitive experience such as seeing who can drift the longest.

      On the other hand, Horizon Tour allows you to team up with other players to race against Drivatars, computer-controlled cars that learn the behavior of other players. My favorite mode is probably in Horizon Open and is called The Eliminator because it's a battle royale experience. Returning from Forza Horizon 4, once again you continuously race against another player in an ever-shrinking arena until one champion remains.

      Forza Horizon 5 also features a new EventLab level creator, allowing players to build their own races and change fundamental rules for each creation. For example, you can make a circuit race with various objects that's cooperative instead of competitive. One team member's win is a win for the whole team. This encourages working together, strategizing, and talking to one another instead of simply going at it alone.

      While the multiplayer modes are fun, I prefer playing in single-player — called Horizon Solo in Forza Horizon 5 — because it's all about going at your own pace. You don't have to wait for a Party Leader to initiate an event and there's no added pressure if you don't do well in a multiplayer race. I'm the type of player who loves to go through a forest, earning an Ultimate Wreckage accolade for destroying objects, instead of sticking to the road. Luckily, the game allows for both playstyles.

      EventLab


      Selecting EventLab is quite simple. Just go to any existing event in Forza Horizon 5, and press the X button. Then, if you press the Left Bumper, you'll be taken to the EventLabs menu where you can browse existing creations from the community or make your own. There are a lot of incredibly complex levels out there already, and if you play them your car's going to be bouncing around jump pads and going down narrow roads. It reminded me a lot of the difficulty in Super Mario Maker 2.

      If you chose to make your own race or obstacle course, you'll first select the type of cars you want to use and the type of track. You can go with anything, from muscle cars to vintage vehicles. Next comes naming the creation, adding a description, choosing weather conditions, and much more. There are a lot of options to play with because you can even modify the music in the game. Luckily, there are helpful tutorials that go through each configuration in great detail.

      Once that's done, go to the Modify Track option and start building whatever you want. There are dozens of items to choose from, from ramps to roller coaster-like windy tracks. It's exactly like Halo's Forge mode where you control the camera and place objects wherever in the vast open world. I'd recommend using Precision Mode for perfect alignment between panels. I spent a few hours making a tall tower that featured a bowling alley at the end. I can't wait for my friends to experience it once the game launches.

      EventLab is one of the most significant additions to Forza Horizon 5 in my opinion, and for those who love experimenting with Halo Forge or Minecraft's Creative mode, you'll have an absolute blast. You can create anything you want, from drivable spiral tracks to jumping puzzles. Right now, there are only a few user-created levels in EventLab so discoverability isn't an issue. Hopefully, as the collection grows, Playground Games will introduce new ways to find EventLab levels. This should also dramatically enhance the longevity of the title.

      Customization


      No racing game is complete without deep customization and Forza Horizon 5 lets you modify everything from your car, car horn, clothing, and character. When you first boot up the title, you're allowed to make your own driver. There are more options here than Forza Horizon 4, but obviously it's not on the level of a role-playing game. The character creator lets you choose one from a number of different backgrounds, equip prostheses, and select pronouns, even though they're a little limited.

      The best part is that when you enter your name, the game contains a preexisting list of recordings so it's said a number of times during Forza Horizon 5's events. For example, since my name is Asher, the game recognized this and automatically selected it. However, you can change it to whatever you want because there are dozens of available options.

      On the other hand, car customization and upgrades focus on changing the overall look of a vehicle, swapping out the engine or suspension for a different driving experience, or making a custom livery that showcases your style. I'm a fan of flashy rims so I spent a lot of time tweaking those. However, seasoned players will probably tinker with engines and handling to construct the machine of their dreams. I didn't toy with this much in Forza Horizon 5 because I almost always ended up with unwieldy creations.

      Each car in Forza Horizon 5 also feels distinctive. For example, driving a Toyota Supra is easier than a Ferrari Portofino. Usually when it comes to open-world racing games with countless vehicles, like Burnout Paradise Remastered or The Crew, they tend to feel quite similar if you've tried enough. That's not the case here. While I've yet to collect many more cars, the hundred or so that are in my garage each have their own quirks. Learning when to accelerate, when to brake, and what terrain each vehicle works best on is a worthy pursuit. As you use each vehicle more and more, you level it up and this accelerates the rate at which you earn XP from participating in various activities like drifting or races.

      Unlike the Forza Motorsport games, Forza Horizon 5 forgoes strict realism because its main focus is on exploration and free traversal. Controlling vehicles is very easy, and incredibly precise in Performance mode due to 60 FPS rendering, but there are also a number of assists — like automatic braking — you can employ to make your experience manageable during races.

      If Forza Horizon 5 proves too unwieldy, or you're losing a lot of races during Horizon Solo, you can always adjust a number of parameters like Drivatar difficulty to suit your playstyle. Accessibility is a hallmark of the experience, just like its predecessors. The handy Y-button-rewind functionality also makes a return in single player so you can undo serious mistakes.

      Music


      As expected, Forza Horizon 5 features incredible music. All of this is controlled through the use of an in-game radio. There are a number of stations to choose from that play a wide variety of tunes. Let's say you want to listen to pop instead of classical. You can do that whenever the mood arises. My favorite station has to be Radio Eterna, though Block Party is also a lot of fun.

      The game's soundtrack features dozens of songs, but some of my favorites are listed below. Be sure to check them out when you're driving through Mexico.

      El Punto Final by Centavrvs Cool Up by De Lux Levitating by Dua Lipa The Valley Of The Pagans by Gorillaz Full Heart Fancy by Lucky Chops New Heartbreak by Sad Alex Preach by Saint Motel Fiebre by Sotomayor You'll recognize some very famous artists, like Dua Lipa, in there. Just remember to turn on Streamer Mode in settings to avoid any copyright issues when posting videos or streaming the game. You can also turn off the music altogether if you only want to hear the powerful exhaust notes many vehicles make.

      Conclusion


      At the end of the day, Forza Horizon 5 is about enjoying the open road and having the freedom to go wherever you want. Playgrounds Games is a master of the genre at this point and the latest entry in the acclaimed franchise is one of the best racing games out there. It just feels more iterative than revolutionary.

      Nevertheless, Forza Horizon 5 is a blast to experience due to its many objective-based missions, spectacular wet weather, diverse environments, and ability to present Mexican culture in a personal manner. Even though it's similar to Forza Horizon 4, the game is a must-play because it represents the absolute pinnacle of the open-world racing genre.

      You can purchase Forza Horizon 5 from the Microsoft Store for $59.99. The game will launch on November 9, 2021 for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S. Those who pre-order the Premium Edition can play it on November 5. Forza Horizon 5 will be available on Xbox Game Pass at launch and supports Xbox Cloud Gaming and Xbox Play Anywhere.

      Microsoft provided a review code for Forza Horizon 5. The game was tested on an Xbox Series X console.

    • By Asher Madan
      Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy Xbox Series X review: A fantastic but restricted adventure
      by Asher Madan

      This is a spoiler-free review of Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy

      On the surface, Guardians of the Galaxy appears to be a standard third-person action game that places you in the shoes of Peter Quill, also known as Star-Lord, as you race to save the galaxy from certain doom. However, it's much more than that due to the various mechanics introduced throughout this adventure. You'll gain new abilities, solve puzzles, resolve disputes, and, of course, shoot through legions of enemies.

      While the combat and puzzles are great, Guardians of the Galaxy truly shines when it focuses on the dynamics between Peter, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot. The game touches on a lot of poignant topics like the cost of war and discrimination, but at its core, it's all about overcoming loss. Through this, the title manages to become more than the sum of its parts. Read on for my impressions of this fantastic game from developer Eidos-Montréal and publisher Square Enix.

      Many of you may be hesitant to pick up Guardians of the Galaxy because it's from the same publisher as Marvel's Avengers. Luckily, the focus on playing as one character, in a solely single-player game, is a refreshing change from what we got a year ago. There are no microtransactions or paid boosts. If you purchase the $69.99 Digital Deluxe Edition of Guardians of the Galaxy, you get a few high-quality outfits from the comics and films that don't impact gameplay whatsoever, like making you more resistant to damage. Better yet, the best outfits are earned through exploration and progression through the story.

      It's worth keeping in mind that Guardians of the Galaxy takes place in a universe that's separate from the films. Each character has their own unique story that's revealed through this 25-hour-long experience.

      Characters and story
      The Guardians of the Galaxy are a team of misfits who have banded together in the wake of a massive galactic war. They take odd jobs in order to make enough units to survive in this post-war landscape. Think of them as "heroes" for hire. They're from different planets and come from dramatically different backgrounds. However, many of them have shared, conflicting pasts and it's a miracle that Peter, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot manage to work together so well.

      If you're familiar with the comics or movies, you'll know that Guardians of the Galaxy takes a more lighthearted approach to universe-threatening events than, let's say, the Avengers game. This hilarious tone permeates the entire game and is enhanced by cameos from popular characters in the company's catalog, like Mantis.

      If you're familiar with the latest Avengers films, you'll immediately recognize the scale of destruction possible if the main antagonist isn't stopped. If I told you what the tale revolved around, it'd ruin the surprise. Luckily, you'll know exactly what I'm alluding to once you pass the first mission. What I can say is that it's personal and definitely one every player can relate to.

      Decision-making


      Guardians of the Galaxy allows you to make a number of decisions that can take you down different branches. For example, there are dialogue and story choices like saving an animal instead of hiding a bunch of illegal equipment. Others seem like basic options to side with one character over the other, and don't have much of an impact on how the game plays out.

      Choosing different prompts grants you varying allies and enemies. For example, if you successfully recount an incident where Star-Lord was inebriated and sang with a random alien, he'll help you down the line. Similarly, if you side with a character named Nikki Gold, she'll give you a device that lets you open any door on a ship called Hala's Hope. This can make traversing some environments a lot easier when you reach that part of the story. This also enhances replayability because the journey varies depending on your choices.

      Prepare to manage interpersonal crises between all of the Guardians of the Galaxy members because there will be a lot. If you take the time to talk to everyone while they're on the Milano — your ship that's controllable during certain levels — you'll be able to learn more about them and hopefully, ease their anger or frustration towards you or other members of the team.

      Guardians of the Galaxy only allows you to control Peter and his actions. The success of every battle and dialogue choice rests on your shoulders. In my opinion, this focus is better than being able to control every character because this adds a more strategic element to gameplay. You have to learn how to command your team properly. Additionally, imagine trying to solve puzzles by having to choose what each character did all the time. Better yet, having to switch to Groot during combat just to heal or resurrect an ally. That would detract from the focused gameplay that revolves around leading a team.

      Combat mechanics


      Star-Lord is great at shooting anything that moves with his blasters, but that's not enough. In order to effectively take down enemies, you have to constantly direct your teammates. If you push down on the Left Bumper on an Xbox controller, time slows down and you can choose a particular ability to use against any combatant. Rapidly lowering the health of an enemy also allows you to initiate takedowns by pressing the B and Y buttons together.

      Gamora does amazing single-target damage with her blade and all of her other skills are tailored towards that. Drax, oddly enough, doesn't do as much damage as Gamora, but he strikes a good balance between taking down single targets and damaging a number of enemies if he's pouncing on the ground. Rocket is by far my favorite because he has some unbelievable gadgets at his disposal. He's the only one who can throw lethal grenades, and also possesses a barrage of endless missiles. His missiles — they're unlocked as you make more progress in the campaign — can take out half a dozen opponents at a time. Lastly, Groot is good at ensnaring enemies so the rest of the team can do increased damage. Eventually, he gains the ability to heal and resurrect. This comes in handy when you're facing the final bosses of Guardians of the Galaxy. Keep in mind that standard attacks don't have a cooldown, but all special abilities do. You'll have to wait a few seconds to use them again. This includes Star-Lord's deployable overshield and Groot's healing.

      Sometimes, if you keep on encountering enemies at every turn, Guardians of the Galaxy can get a little frustrating. You just want to move on to the next area. However, it's not too repetitive. Luckily, the moment you start to feel some annoyance, the story leaps forward. The pacing is almost perfect in my opinion. What does get repetitive is the combat dialogue though. Your teammates say the same phrases again and again if you take a long time to clear an area.

      Guardians of the Galaxy features forgiving combat at lower difficulties, but it gets very difficult as you crank it up. Luckily, the Huddle Up ability gives you a second chance by pausing the action. If your team's not doing so well, you can always trigger this, give them a pep talk by selecting one of two dialogue options that can either heal you or the entire team, and reset cooldowns. I'd use Huddle Up when you're truly desperate because there's no reason to waste it. However, when you use Huddle Up, it plays an amazing song so there may be an added incentive to trigger it when you're in the mood to hear the game's stellar '80s music selection during combat.

      Guardians of the Galaxy often manages to surprise you because, just when you think you have the hang of combat, it'll throw a boss at you that's as tall as a skyscraper. Boss battles aren't the quick time event-laden fights you'd expect. You have to target certain body parts, dodge attacks, and use your teammates' abilities to succeed. For example, let's say you're fighting a famous monster from the Marvel universe that has tentacles. You'll have to tell Groot to ensnare its tentacles, that'll give you the opportunity to do a lot of damage, and eventually, Gamora will be able to slice them off.

      Upgrades


      As you progress through the game, you gain new blaster powers. These happen automatically and you don't have to do anything to unlock them. As mentioned earlier, you have to direct your teammates, but you also have to solve puzzles. For example, you may have to melt a frozen structure to create a passageway or freeze a pipe leaking poisonous fumes in a ship. Some enemies also have shields that can be disabled by hitting them with the appropriate elemental bullets.

      Your teammates also have certain strengths that come in handy, but you have to tell Gamora, Rocket, Drax, and Groot what to do. Gamora can slice a number of structures and boost you to higher ground, Rocket can hack almost anything, Drax can lift heavy objects, and Groot can create bridges. You'll need to utilize your powers and that of your team's to traverse every level.

      Apart from that, Guardians of the Galaxy features Perks that allow you to increase your health, the rate of fire, or even scan enemies during combat to uncover their weaknesses. I managed to unlock all but one Perk during my first playthrough, but I imagine it'll be possible when I start New Game Plus. You can easily find crafting materials scattered in every level and they can be used at Rocket's Workbenches to make you a more capable fighter.

      Lastly, there are special abilities that can be unlocked through leveling up. After every enemy encounter, you gain experience and points. These points can be used to acquire new powers for yourself or your teammates. For example, Gamora gains devastating sword skills while Groot gets area-of-effect damage. Given the fact that you can't skip enemy encounters for the most part, you shouldn't have a problem unlocking everything during your first playthrough.

      Environments and exploration


      This game features some basic exploration — you can find additional outfits, artifacts, lore, and upgrade materials if you venture off the beaten path — but it's still very constrained. You're essentially going from one area to the next, either fighting enemies or solving puzzles, until the end of the level. The structure is a lot like Devil May Cry 5.

      Guardians of the Galaxy guides you through each area and contains over a dozen chapters. The environments are varied and you'll get to see everything from barren wastelands to frozen mountains. The enemy variety also changes a lot based on where you're at. For example, you start by fighting basic blob-like creatures and eventually take down yeti-looking fiends.

      While the environments in Guardians of the Galaxy aren't recycled, there are many combat scenarios that are, especially towards the end of the game when you're tracking down a mysterious figure from the Marvel universe. Here you basically have to keep on fighting through fog, again and again, in the same exact area, until you're given the option not to. This felt a little odd to me because it's unnecessary because the game is quite lengthy as is. There's no need to pad it further.

      My only major complaint with Guardians of the Galaxy has to be its extremely linear nature when it comes to exploration and traversal. I've played countless games over the years, but this has to be one of the most rigid experiences ever. Luckily, there's one area in Guardians of the Galaxy that allows you to explore at length, and it's populated with a ton of mini-games. I won't spoil it for you, but you can go to a bar, get a drink, play the lottery, gossip, and do so much more. This was a welcome reprieve because I was really hoping Guardians of the Galaxy would allow for more freedom like the Mass Effect series.

      Dialogue and music


      Guardians of the Galaxy features some of the best voice acting I've ever heard in a video game. Every character is phenomenal and gives a perfect performance in my opinion. I'm usually one to nitpick when it comes to voice acting, but I honestly couldn't find any fault in this game. Drax is by far the funniest with his deadpan humor.

      If you view the Xbox Series X gameplay posted above, you'll notice that everyone from Gamora to Mantis sounds natural and the conversations feel effortless. It's clear that a lot of care went into making sure the dialogue delivery was second to none because, given the film-like nature of this game, it's imperative to get that right.

      Guardians of the Galaxy also features a killer soundtrack filled with hits from the 1980s. You won't be hearing a lot of the music that's in the game on YouTube because it's copyrighted. There are tons of amazing tracks that blend perfectly with gameplay. When you're on your ship, you can also select which tune to play. I've listed some of my favorite tracks below.

      Never Gonna Give You Up performed by Rick Astley The Final Countdown performed by Europe Wake Me Up Before you Go Go performed by WHAM! Holding Out for a Hero performed by Bonnie Tyler We Built this City performed by Starship Hit Me With Your Best Shot performed by Pat Benetar Don't Worry, Be Happy performed by Bobby McFerrin Since You Been Gone performed by Rainbow There are over thirty fist-pumping classics in there that have universal appeal. You won't be disappointed. The rest of the soundtrack is also great and includes a bold musical score from composer Richard Jacques as well as ten original songs from Eidos-Montréal Senior Audio Director Steve Szczepkowski. Guardians of the Galaxy features a fictional band called Star-Lord — that's where Peter gets his nickname — and Szczepkowski wrote their music. While the tracks may not be as bombastic as Hit Me With Your Best Shot or Wake Me Up Before you Go Go, they fit well with the 1980s' theme.

      Performance and visuals


      Guardians of the Galaxy looks utterly incredible on Xbox Series X. Textures are unbelievable, but the standout feature has to be the characters' eyes. They're uncannily expressive and may just be the best eyeballs ever created in a video game. Guardians of the Galaxy is easily one of the best-looking games available right now on any platform, and there's a ray-tracing mode in the works for current-generation consoles.

      The build I played lacked a major patch, but even without it, it's a polished title. I just encountered some camera glitches a few times when I was trapped in a corner fighting hordes of enemies. Other than that, there aren't any pressing issues on Microsoft's console. I didn't encounter any noticeable frame rate drops during my playthrough either.

      From my analysis, Quality mode boosts the resolution to 4K, but locks the frame rate at 30 frames per second (FPS). The performance option lowers the resolution to 1440p, but the game gains the advantage of 60 FPS rendering. 60 FPS greatly improves the feel of combat because input lag is reduced.

      I played the title on Quality mode because to me, Guardians of the Galaxy is more like an interactive film in an action game's wrapper. I wanted to experience it as the highest resolution possible on a 4K display. I'm glad I went with that because it was a glorious experience.

      Conclusion


      Guardians of the Galaxy isn't perfect, but Eidos-Montréal has done an excellent job with staying true to the source material and capturing the essence of every character. The game is about family, relationships, and overcoming loss, together. It has some incredibly dark moments that are masked well through the title's hilarious tone.

      The combat, music, and voice acting are phenomenal, I just wish I had more freedom to explore the wondrous planets you land on. Had Guardians of the Galaxy adopted a semi-open world approach like the recent Tomb Raider games, it would've been a breakthrough experience. I'm hoping there's a sequel that gives us just that while maintaining the tone of the original.

      You can purchase Guardians of the Galaxy from the Microsoft Store or the platform of your choice for $59.99. The game releases on October 26, 2021 for Nintendo Switch (Cloud), PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.

      Square Enix provided a review code for Guardians of the Galaxy. The game was tested on an Xbox Series X console.