作者彙整:Andrew Reiner

Until Dawn Is One Of The Greatest Horror Games Of All Time

We never like seeing games get delayed, but Until Dawn illustrates why more time in the development cooker can make a world of difference. Originally designed as a first-person horror game for PlayStation 3’s Move controllers, British developer Supermassive Games realized the game was more enjoyable when played from the third-person perspective, and also found out people didn’t want to buy a strange controller to play a game. Sony granted the team more development time to change the vision, which just happened to occur during a console transition, meaning the game needed to move to PlayStation 4.

When Until Dawn was first shown at Gamescom in 2012, I didn’t think much of it, and questioned the decision to make games exclusively for Move. Years went by and Until Dawn became a distant memory, until it resurfaced on PlayStation 4 in a video that blew me away. I didn’t know it was the same game. It was moody, legitimately scary, and I got a huge kick out of seeing the cheerleader from the Heroes TV show in a starring role. That would be Hayden Panettiere. In that trailer, Supermassive nailed the teen slasher flick vibe, and I was all in.

When the game finally released on August 25, 2015, after beginning development in 2010, I played all the way through it in one sitting, and immediately called it the sleeper hit of the year. No one was talking about it, yet it probably should have been in discussion for Game of the Year. Nothing was going to touch The Witcher III: Wild Hunt that year, but I thought it was brilliant. On my Top 10 list for the year, I listed Until Dawn as my number five pick, behind The Witcher III (at number one), Batman: Arkham Knight, Ori and the Blind Forest, and Bloodborne. That was a hell of a year for games.

So what did Until Dawn get right other than the slasher-flick setting? Meaningful player choice, do-or-die consequences, acting, scripting, and twists and turns you won’t see coming. It also makes you realize that, under pressure, you too do the absurd things you see characters in slasher flicks do. We yell at them on the screen for getting themselves killed, and yet, making the wrong choice here, which is sometimes obvious, puts you in those same shoes.

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I don’t want to give away what happens in Until Dawn, as everyone just needs to experience it for themselves, but it goes places, to wonderful and scary places. In my first playthrough, only three of the teens survived. I played it again to save them all. Your choices matter that much.

The game features the writing talents of Larry Fessenden & Graham Reznick, and stars Panettiere as Samantha Giddings, Peter Stormare as Dr. Hill, and Rami Malek as Joshua Washington, among others. Yes, that Rami Malek.

So why bring up Until Dawn now? Supermassive’s spiritual successor, The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan, releases on August 30. It’s not only one of my most anticipated games of the month, but the year, right behind Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Play Until Dawn, and I bet you’ll be counting the days until Man of Medan hits. Supermassive created one of the most unique and enjoyable horror games to date, and I hope they can do it again next week.

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Five Games I Can’t Wait To Play This Month

I’ve played a handful of great games over the last few months, but 2019 hasn’t felt like a big year for the medium yet. In fact, it’s been somewhat disappointing. Perhaps we’ve just been spoiled over the last few years with juggernauts like Overwatch, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and God of War, but 2019 hasn’t had that one game that truly stands out from the pack. Apex Legends is damn good. I’m also having a blast with Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Kingdom Hearts III, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Devil May Cry 5, and Resident Evil 2 also deserve nods for living up to the hype. That said, I don’t know which one of these games I would label as my Game of the Year. One doesn’t jump out from the pack.

Looking ahead to the remainder of the year, I’m hoping Death Stranding becomes another Hideo Kojima classic, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is everything I want it to be as a Star Wars dork, and The Outer Worlds is more Fallout than Fallout 76 was. One of those games could define the year. Let’s not forget about the sequels either. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare looks awesome, as does Borderlands 3. I also can’t wait to get my hands on Pokémon Sword and Shield and Doom Eternal.

Those are the games that I’ve circled on my calendar as “must plays,” but I’ve also marked two days in August for five games. Yes, you read that correctly. I’m fascinated by five games releasing later this month. Here they are in order of release:

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Control

PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
August 27

Remedy Entertainment probably wanted Alan Wake and Quantum Break to become gargantuan hits that led to numerous sequels for each, but I love seeing this developer take chances with new ideas, especially since we usually get something we’ve never seen before. Control follows suit and puts the laws of reality on notice. Players are taken into the world of the paranormal, and see just how a government covers up and handles forces that can shatter reality. This journey unfolds within the Bureau of Control, a government skyscraper with an interior that is magnitudes larger than its exterior. How does that work? We’ll have to play the game to find out. Remedy says Control is nonlinear in design, and uses ideas similar to Metroid to open up new paths in previously visited areas. And what kind of firepower do you have in this puzzling world? How about supernatural abilities to fight the supernatural threats. They include levitation, telekinesis, and mind control. Sounding equally as delightful as it is twisted, Control is the game I am looking forward to playing most of this month.

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Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey

PC
August 27

Knowing that one false move could either lead to my ape falling out of a tree and breaking a bone or stepping into a swamp where he gets eaten by a snake is terrifying … and also exhilarating. These slight missteps could spell disaster for your ape clan. Taking risks could also reap benefits that extend lifelines, improve intelligence, and more. The goal of Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey is to survive and evolve. If everyone in the clan dies, it’s game over. If you do well, your clan will become stronger, smarter, and will be better suited to explore the sprawling open world. I’m absolutely fascinated by these concepts, and have been waiting to see what director Patrice Désilets did after his run on Assassin’s Creed. On that note, the apes bound through trees similarly to assassins scaling buildings. Now that bad news: Ancestors is only launching on PC in August, but if the game turns out well, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One players don’t have to wait long, as it’s slated for release on console in December.

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Astral Chain

Switch
August 30

Platinum Games has been hit or miss as of late, but I’m getting a strong Nier: Automata vibe from Astral Chain, a Switch exclusive that is designed by Takahisa Taura, a game designer for Automata. To make it more exciting, Hideki Kamiya, the creator of Bayonetta, is also overseeing the direction of this project, which appropriately features what Platinum calls “stylish combos.” The unique hook of this experience is the player controls both their character and a weapon that acts like a second character (called a Legion) at the same time. Depending on what Legion you have, you can swing it around like a sword, ride on it, shoot it like a gun – the ideas and variety on display for this battlefield duet looks impressive and fun. To top it off, it takes place in a futuristic megacity yet is also supposedly post apocalyptic. I’m in.

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Blair Witch

Xbox One, PC
August 30

When Blair Witch debuted during Microsoft’s E3 press conference a couple of months ago, no one knew what they were looking at until the logo appeared at the end of the trailer. I thought it might be Resident Evil VIII or a new Silent Hill. I didn’t think for a second that it would be another Blair Witch game, and it looks creepy as all get-out. This journey unfolds through a forest that distorts both in time and space, and also focuses on a character who is losing his mind. Okay, so maybe it sounds like a stress-inducing nightmare, but I just gotta see how this one turns out. The more horror games the better.

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The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan

PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
August 30

I can confidently say Supermassive Games’ Until Dawn is one of the best horror games of this generation. I can also say it’s one of the best choice-driven games ever made. That’s right. Most player decisions are handled in meaningful ways. I’m hoping The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan is just as good. The gameplay design is similar, it takes place on a ghost ship, and is all about choice. What more do you want?

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Is It Time To Play Anthem Again?

Although it was originally scheduled to release in May, Anthem finally unleashed its Cataclysm, a limited-time event that introduces new story missions, loot, and a scoring challenge mode, yesterday. While giving a content-starved player base something new to chew on, Cataclysm can be gobbled up in just a few hours; a fun yet flighty payoff that doesn’t last nearly long enough. As much as I appreciate getting more powerful guns, I again found myself questioning what I would use them for. A legitimate endgame is still nonexistent.

Cataclysm’s short three-mission campaign can be engaged by any player that has completed the Incursion mission, but don’t expect much in terms of fireworks from the story, environment designs, or combat encounters. BioWare follows the same script as before, making these missions feel like more of the same, just in slightly different looking areas.

We sometimes see developers cut corners when it comes to storytelling – perhaps delivering it through still-frame images or plain text – but BioWare kept Anthem’s production values intact for Cataclysm. Characters are nicely animated, the voice work is solid, and one big story moment is brought to life with a cutscene that shows a sacrifice that resulted in the storms that are currently ripping across the land.

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The most interesting addition that Cataclysm brings is a public expedition called Echoes of Reality. This mission plays out a bit like a stronghold, and pushes players to combat swarms of enemies, solve a few puzzles, and square off against a boss. The wrinkle that makes it different is a bit puzzling for a story-driven experience: It’s a timed scoring challenge. You and your crew of Freelancers have just 15 minutes to work your way through the this mission. The faster you are, and the better you perform, the higher your multiplier, which makes your score balloon. The higher the score, the better the loot payout.

The challenges range from strategically placing a handful of echoes in devices to lowering a force field to press seven switches as quickly as you can to accomplish the same feat. The first time through, just figuring out what needs to be accomplished will likely result in too much time being burned off of the clock, but it makes for a fun and intense experience as you race as quickly as you can. Once you figure things out, however, this event can be completed within minutes. BioWare says more challenges will be added to Echoes of Reality over time, but we don’t know what those will be or when. With this game, the “when” has been a more than a bit concerning. The Cataclysm content is also quite buggy right now, bringing up connection errors and save failures whenever I enter the Forge.

No matter how well you do in Echoes, BioWare isn’t shy about showering players with new loot, and a new crystal currency to buy more of it. The loot includes three new classes of weapons (pulse accelerators, blade slingers, and volt casters). BioWare also reworked the difficulty for the Grandmaster 2 and 3 difficulties to make them a little easier for players.

Anthem is a damn fun game, and I had a good time jumping back into my javelin for this short blast of new content. It just didn’t do enough to make me want to keep playing. New loot isn’t enough of a carrot. Playing through the same missions on higher difficulties and with new inversion modifiers doesn’t do it for me. Even with new content, Anthem still feels like a hollow experience. 

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Replay – Twisted Metal: Small Brawl

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Replay – Spyro: A Hero’s Tail

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Here’s What’s Coming Next To The Marvel Cinematic Universe

We usually have to wait for a post-credits sequence to get a small tease of what’s coming next to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it turns out we just have to attend San Diego Comic Con to learn exactly what to expect in the future. During a Hall H panel at the convention, Marvel Studios’ president Kevin Feige gave a roadmap that shows us what’s coming to theaters and the Disney+ streaming service over the next three years.

One of the most surprising announcements was Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. We assumed Strange would get another film, but Feige said it would be the first horror movie in the MCU (yet still rated PG-13). We also learned Natalie Portman would reprise her role as Jane Foster in Thor: Love and Thunder, but not as we know her: she’s going to wield the hammer as a Thor. Portman isn’t the only new hero announced at this panel. The cast for the upcoming Eternals film consists of Angelina Jolie as Thena, Brian Tyree Henry, Richard Madden, Salma Hayek, Kumail Nanjiani, Don Lee, and Lauren Ridloff. Marvel also cast Simu Liu to play Shang-Chi in his own standalone film.

Just staying caught up on the films and shows is going to be a time commitment, but it’s been a fun ride so far, and we can’t wait to see what comes from the next phase. Here’s what we can look forward to thus far:

  • May 1, 2020 – Black Widow (theaters)
  • Fall 2020 – The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (Disney+)
  • November 6, 2020 – The Eternals (theaters)
  • February 21, 2021 – Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (theaters)
  • Spring 2021 – WandaVision (Disney+)
  • Spring 2021 – Loki (Disney+)
  • May 7, 2021 – Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (theaters)
  • Summer 2021 – What If…? (Disney+)
  • Fall 2021 – Hawkeye (Disney+)
  • November 5, 2021 – Thor: Love and Thunder (theaters)
  • February 18, 2022 – Untitled Project
  • May 6, 2022 – Untitled Project
  • July 29, 2022 – Untitled Project

Although they don’t have dates yet, Feige revealed Marvel is working on sequels to Captain Marvel, Black Panther, and Guardians of the Galaxy. Lastly, a Fantastic Four film will be introduced in phase four, and so will Blade, who will be played by actor Mahershala Ali.

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Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 Review – Power At A Cost

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Team Ninja
Release:
Rating: Teen
Reviewed on: Switch

Thanos snapping his fingers to wipe out half of all life in the universe isn’t the only threat the Avengers face in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order. As they race to stop the mad titan from gathering all of the Infinity Gems, their journey is periodically upended by laborious and uneventful level designs, technical issues, odd balancing, and a story that sacrifices heart and soul to continually introduce new characters and locations. Even though the heroes get pummeled by the game’s shortcomings, they still stand tall and deliver plenty of fun when combat intensifies.

Players begin by controlling the Guardians of the Galaxy. This rag-tag group does a nice job of illustrating the diversity in character powers and approaches. Star-Lord can fly around and rain down laser fire from high, while Gamora uses her sword to slice foes at close range. All of the characters control admirably, with the mobility you would expect from them. Whether you are playing single player or four-player co-op, the combat in these early moments is enjoyable and dynamic, pushing you to look for openings, communicate with other players to line up tag-team synergy attacks, and use evasive maneuvers to avoid area blasts and charge attacks. Since enemies often approach in great numbers, with grunts swarming the heroes and shielded adversaries hunkering down to deliver damage from the periphery, figuring out when to use the big “extreme” attacks is another aspect that is implemented well and ends up being quite rewarding given just how much one blast can change the flow of battle.

Combat is similar to the previous Ultimate Alliance games – you do a lot of jamming on the same attack buttons to keep waves of enemies at bay and use special powers strategically to thin their numbers. This simplicity works well, but just don’t expect to see much destruction in the environments other than flying bodies. Whether you are in Avengers Tower or Wakanda’s wilderness, most of the environments are sterile, repetitive in architectural design, and hardly anything in them can be destroyed.

The lack of a connection developed to the world, both through gameplay and visually, hurts the experience more than I thought it would. Levels get repetitive fast, and the periodic puzzles that are thrown in to change up the pace are easy to solve and end up being annoying speed bumps that just halt progress. You mostly slog through bland areas until you reach a room that looks important and likely holds a new hero or villain.

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If you thought Avengers: Endgame‘s hero roster was awesome in size, Ultimate Alliance 3’s is even bigger, and thoroughly explores several sectors from Marvel’s sprawling universe. The playable characters consist of over 30 well-known faces, and not just from the Avengers portfolio. The X-Men, Spider-Verse, Marvel Knights, and Midnight Sons are represented in big ways. Characters with no defined affiliation are also here and embraced fully. While Thanos and his Black Order fill the role of end-game bosses, other villains who line up with the hero reveals or worlds they traverse are also in great abundance. The best part of the game is seeing who will pop up next, even if it is for a brief cameo. The reveals are strong from start to finish.

Most of the characters are handled well, giving you a range of powers that fit their personas. The Hulk is the rampaging mess you would expect, Deadpool is a powerful goofball, and Nightcrawler is constantly “bamfing” all over the place. Some characters are a little phoned in, however. Doctor Strange basically has the same flame attack as Ghost Rider. Most of the hero abilities are brought to life with an array of particle effects and graphics – often too many. Just keeping track of where the characters are onscreen can be difficult, especially when the camera switches to distant perspectives (which makes handheld play a little rough at times). The camera can be a serious pain.

As joyous as the character reveals are, adding yet another face to your roster can be somewhat maddening given how difficulty is balanced. Within one level you may unlock a handful of characters to use. These new recruits are balanced to the particular environment, meaning Ghost Rider will be level 25 when you get him. You can immediately play as him, and he feels appropriately powerful. He also gains experience and continues leveling up. The hero you swapped out won’t gain anything, and the longer that character sits on the bench, the less likely they are to hold their own in the next battle. Considering the large number of playable characters that you have at your disposal, you just have to give up on some of them, since most of the roster ends up being under-leveled. You can’t just say “I want to play Spider-Man” and expect that experience to be fun if he’s level 8 in a level 30 zone. The alternative is to grind experience points for hours just to bring him back up to a viable power level.

Given how powerful bosses are, you’re going to need four high-level characters as you progress through the uneventful story. These villains give you a good run for your money, and end up being the most enjoyable (and lengthy) battles in the game. Some of these bouts are damn fun. They push you to sync up attacks and be as evasive as you can.

Though you can replay levels, the fastest way to level up heroes is to give your character an immediate shot of XP from a cube, which you can find hidden in levels or earn by completing specific tasks like the Infinity Trials. Even though you stumble upon the trials as you work your way through the story, they kick you out to the title screen whenever you engage them. I don’t understand why my characters aren’t dropped back into the level, but it makes the game more hassle than it needs to be. The Trials don’t offer new content, and instead take you through previously completed boss battles and challenges with slightly different parameters and difficulties, such as only being able to use Captain America or every foe giving you a few seconds more on a clock that is counting down to zero. The challenges are also level-gated so you won’t be able to play as low-level characters in most of them. The higher level trials reward you with new playable characters and a few costumes.

As oddly put together as the character leveling is, I applaud how ability progression, items, and alliance enhancement are handled. Equipping infinity shards (which can be powered up) is mighty slick, as is the sprawling alliance enhancement grid, which gives stat increases and bumps to the entire team – just not enough to help low-level characters.

My time with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 was filled with peaks and valleys. It has great moments where everything is clicking, followed by lulls where it all falls apart. The story never really gets going, however, but is a fun exploration of all things Marvel. For that, it delivers a little bit of fun, but this experience is all about the character reveals and getting to test them out, even if the worlds they explore and challenges within them often lack excitement.

Score: 7

Summary: The massive roster isn’t enough to overcome repetitive level designs and progression issues.

Concept: A super-powered brawl that delivers an impressive number of characters, but stumbles with story, progression, and level designs

Graphics: The heroes and villains look like they were yanked right out of a comic book, and that’s a good thing. The environments are light on details and destructible objects

Sound: The score and character voices are all over the place. Some melodies are appropriately heroic, others sound like generic rock riffs. Some character voices are perfect, others sound forced

Playability: The controls work well and make characters feel powerful and true to who they are (with some exceptions)

Entertainment: The bland level designs and baffling character progression hold the action back and make it somewhat of a slog

Replay: Moderately High

Click to Purchase

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Every Overwatch Funko Pop To Date

Funko pumps out Pop! figures at an alarming rate, and even had one ready for Ashe when she was announced as a new Overwatch character at last year’s Blizz Con. In addition to creating a figure for almost every Overwatch hero, Funko has created a variety of retailer exclusive versions that show off different skins. You’ll even find some that are themed to Halloween and Christmas.

Ana

 

Ana (Amazon Exclusive)

Ashe

Bastion

Brigitte

Brigitte (San Diego Comic Con/Blizzard Store Exclusive)

Doomfist

D.Va

D.Va (Blizzard Exclusive)

D.Va (Walmart Exclusive)

D.VA (Second Sculpt)

D.Va (Funko Insider Club/GameStop Exclusive)

Genji

Genji (Target Exclusive)

Genji (E3 2019 Exclusive)

Hanzo

Hanzo (E3 2019 Exclusive)

Junkrat

Junkrat (Box Lunch Exclusive)

Junkrat (Blizzard Exclusive)

Lucio

McCree

McCree (GameStop Exclusive)

McCree (San Diego Comic Con 2019/GameStop Exclusive)

Mei

Mei (Hot Topic Exclusive)

Mei (GameStop Exclusive)

Mercy

Mercy (GameStop Exclusive)

Mercy (Blizzard Exclusive)

Moira

Orisa

Orisa (GameStop Exclusive)

Pharah (Blizzard Exclusive)

Pharah (Blizzard Exclusive 2)

Pharah (Emerald City Comic Con Exclusive)

Pharah: Second Sculpt

Pharah: Second Sculpt (Amazon Exclusive)

Reaper

Reaper (Box Lunch Exclusive)

Reaper (Blizzard Exclusive)

Reaper: Second Sculpt

Reaper: Second Sculpt (Walmart Exclusive)

Reinhardt

Reinhardt (New York Comic Con Exclusive)

Reinhardt (Best Buy Exclusive)

Reinhardt (San Diego Comic Con/Blizzard Store Exclusive)

Roadhog

Roadhog (Hot Topic Exclusive)

Roadhog (Blizzard Exclusive)

Soldier: 76 (GameStop Exclusive)

Soldier: 76 (Blizzard Exclusive)

Soldier: 76 (San Diego Comic Con Exclusive)

Sombra

Sombra (Hot Topic Exclusive)

Sombra (Spring Convention Exclusive)

Symmetra

Tobjorn

Tobjorn (Best Buy Exclusive)

Tracer

Tracer (Loot Crate Exclusive)

Tracer (ThinkGeek Exclusive)

Tracer (GameStop Exclusive)

Tracer: Second Sculpt (Hot Topic Exclusive)

Widowmaker

Widowmaker (Blizzard Exclusive)

Widowmaker (Loot Crate Exclusive)

Winston

Wrecking Ball

Zarya

Zenyatta

Zenyatta (Blizzard Exclusive)

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Harry Potter: Wizards Unite Review – Gotta Zap ’em All

Publisher: Niantic Labs, WB Games
Developer: Niantic Inc., WB Games San Francisco
Release:
Rating: 9+
Reviewed on: iOS
Also on:
Android

Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is a more interesting and polished game than Pokémon Go, yet is too much of a spiritual successor for its own good. Many of the gameplay mechanics and ideas that carry over are shoehorned in, and ultimately hurt an experience that delivers some magic in the elements that truly speak to the license’s appeal.

Like Niantic’s last AR phenomenon, Wizards Unite has you visiting real-world locations and interacting with fictional objects in order to build up a collection. Wandering the Muggle world and using various spells to round up misplaced “confoundables,” which can be characters, beasts, or wizarding items, doesn’t have the same appeal as collecting cute Pokémon, yet is the backbone of Wizards Unite. When a confoundable is captured, it ends up as nothing more than an image in a sticker book.

While some fun comes from trying to place every sticker on the book’s pages, catching the same thing over and over again is an exercise in monotony. Once a page has all of its items, you can wipe it clean and start again. The reward for this accomplishment? The page gets a new border design, and you’re asked to claim even more of the same types of things. Since these items don’t have any gameplay value (unlike Pokémon, which can battle for you in Pokémon Go), the only reason to catch them is to grind experience points. That grind becomes more pronounced the more you play. Catching the Weasley’s Clock dozens of times just isn’t fun, yet is the definition of what this game is.

To catch something like the clock (or even Luna Lovegood), a spell must be cast like. To do this, you simply trace a squiggle that appears on screen as quickly as you can. This may sound easy, but it’s a surprisingly challenging and amusing test. Any kind of deviation from the line leads to a less powerful spell, which increases the chance of the confoundable running away. You can use potions to make the encounters easier, but these resources are not bountiful, and must be concocted using ingredients found in the world. Inventory space is ridiculously tight, and the bag fills up in no time, especially given you have to keep track of 23 different items. As a result, you are frequently asked to expand the bag’s size using in-game gold or real money. Wizards Unite’s microtransaction baiting is intrusive, and decisions like repeatedly telling the player to expand the bag size make the game worse. The push to spend real money is far more pronounced than it is in Pokémon Go.

This is frustrating since players are encouraged to collect everything they see, but the time it takes to brew potions with those ingredients doesn’t line up with the time spent exploring. The player is better off exiting the game for extended periods to brew potions and free up some inventory space…or spend money.

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Wizards Unite also delivers a respectable kind of frustration with the confoundables. Even if you happen to stumble upon a Tom Riddle or Harry Potter encounter and perform a perfect spell, they may run away. The player needs to gain more power to have a better shot against them, and this is where Wizards Unite fascinates and sinks its addictive hooks into you. It delivers a legitimate pursuit of power with relatively deep RPG systems.

When a player selects their profession, deciding to be an auror, magizoologist, or professor, they open up a skill tree offering over 130 upgrades that can enhance stamina, defense, and percentages to various things like wand damage and critical hit chances. The more the game is played, the more powerful the wizard. The grind is beneficial to gaining power, yet isn’t that entertaining given just how often confoundables are repeated.

Strong RPG elements also bubble to the surface in the fortresses, which push a team to battle against a set number of beasts and wizards on each of the 20 floors. The higher the floor, the higher the difficulty, and the need increases for players to team up to provide healing, buffs, and other kinds of support. I had a blast journeying through fortresses with friends, but wish they weren’t timed. All too often our progress would come to an end because we spent too much time discussing tactics.

Up to five wizards can journey together, but each battle is a one-on-one affair. These encounters are good fun, pushing you to hover a reticle over a moving target until a meter fills and a spell can be cast. When an enemy strikes, you simply need to swipe in a specific direction to deflect some of the attack. Damage is sustained no matter how perfect the swipe is, but you can at least limit how much is dealt.

Now to the worst part of Wizards Unite: Progress for any activity can come to an abrupt end when a wand runs out of spell energy. Even if you are in the middle of a battle, the action pauses to ask you if want to spend gold to replenish the wand’s energy. The only way to get it back is to visit inns, complete tasks, or cash in that rare gold. Again, Wizards Unite frustrates in its design, which often pushes for real money to be spent.

Pokémon Go was (and still is) criticized for not having enough content, and Niantic and WB Games clearly took that to heart with Wizards Unite. Although everything revolves around the casting mechanic, this game is swimming with challenges, events, and mysteries to solve. A lot of this stuff comes down to dumb luck with what spawns around you, but at least there’s some depth here to take a bit of the bite out of catching that damn clock repeatedly.

No corners were cut with Wizards Unite’s visuals. Each encounter plays out like an animated skit, with detailed character models doing different things for catches and misses. I was quick to turn off augmented reality for catching, but it is used in a clever way for Portkeys. If a player enters a Portkey, they are transported from their reality to the Wizarding World for a fun 360-degree scavenger hunt in a known location like Hagrid’s hut.

When Wizards Unite is trying to do something new, it can be good fun. Most of the content sadly ends up feeling like a strange version of Pokémon Go, giving players flimsy reasons to catch or zap ‘em all.

Score: 7

Summary: Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is a more interesting and polished game than Pokémon Go, yet is too much of a spiritual successor for its own good.

Concept: Explore the real world to cast spells on Harry Potter characters and beasts

Graphics: The detailed character models and animations are impressive, making each encounter a little more fun…until you’ve seen them all a dozen times

Sound: Familiar Potter melodies ring out in the overworld and menus, and you occasionally hear banter from the characters

Playability: Casting spells is simple, but fun and surprisingly challenging. Depth comes in the form of a skill tree and plenty of quests

Entertainment: While rich in content, a lot of the catching and questing comes down to the dumb luck of spawns

Replay: High

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