Top Gear Season 27 Premiere Review | ScreenRant

Since the departures of Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond, Top Gear has been in a state of flux, as the BBC and the show’s producers have brought in various hosts in an attempt to reproduce the unique onscreen alchemy of the opinionated, sometimes controversial, and typically very funny gearheads, who’ve since found a new home at Amazon with The Grand Tour. Needless to say, it’s been something of a bumpy road for the series, as the past few years have seen Chris Evans (not “America’s ass” Chris Evans, but rather the British TV presenter and DJ), Eddie Jordan, Rory Reid, Sabine Schmidt, and perhaps most famously, former Friends star Matt LeBlanc step up to fill the shoes of the show’s departed frontmen. 

At the start season 27, Top Gear once again has new hosts to introduce, in the form of comedian and TV host Paddy McGuinness and former cricket star and TV presenter Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff, who have joined returning co-host and motoring journalist Chris Harris for the show’s latest new look. To the series’ credit, as well as the new hosts’, Top Gear addresses the change outright, having Flintoff compare the revolving door of presenters to Doctor Who’s frequent casting changes via the character’s regeneration. But while the show itself, as well as McGuinness and Flintoff, are quick to acknowledge the way in which their newness will take some getting used to, the season premiere makes the wise decision to settle into a comfortable Top Gear-like routine, as a way of assuaging viewers’ concerns. 

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More than that, however, the season 27 premiere ingratiates the new hosts to the show’s sizable (and presumably still devoted) audience by adhering to the comedy-meets-earnest-admiration-for-foreign-locales format popularized by the guys whose names are still synonymous with Top Gear.

It works, for the most part. Season 27 is deliberate in its efforts to get the hosts out into the world where their team spirit can perhaps flower into the kind of bromance that will sustain the series for another few years. It’s a smart move, as Flintoff in particular appears more at ease when he’s actively engaged in driving around, waxing nostalgic about a Porsche Boxster, or competing in one of the episode-specific challenges meant to determine which host chose the best car (or rather, which host’s personal history dictated the best car) for the trek through Ethiopia and into the Danakil Depression. 

The premise of the trip is simple, and it affords the trio a chance to engage in a seemingly organic “getting to know you” exercise, in which each presenter must purchase the type of car that was the first car they ever owned. This leads to some interesting driving situations, with Harris tooling around in a Mini Cooper, while McGuinness is behind the wheel of a Ford Escort, and Flintoff — being a professional cricket player at a very young age — drives the aforementioned Boxster. It all makes for a necessary surface-level introduction for audiences who might not be familiar with McGuinness’s past work and especially those in the States whose exposure to the sport of cricket is likely extremely limited, to say the least. But as the journey through Ethiopia is more about finding out how the personalities of these three men will result in some entertaining (and limitedly informational) situations, it turns out to be exactly what the show needs. 

There’s a performative aspect to Top Gear (and The Grand Tour), wherein the audience is asked to suspend disbelief and allow that many of the situations and competitions are the result of spontaneity and the hosts being “on the road,” and the season 27 premiere certainly takes advantage of that. This results in a collection of challenges that are entertaining enough (particularly one where Paddy, Freddie, and Chris must drive on an airstrip blindfolded and try to get as close as possible to a stationary target), but as is sometimes the case with Top Gear, (and, again, The Grand Tour) they have little to do with the episode’s chosen locale. While the hosts do get out of their cars long enough to play some foosball with a few locals, the episode itself spends too little time with people from the region, much less making exploring what life is like there outside of commenting on its stunning scenery. 

It’s easy enough to say that Top Gear isn’t really a travel show and therefore isn’t beholden to the kinds of cultural explorations one might expect from similar series, but the arm’s length at which the show often holds its chosen setting does feel especially glaring when a second segment compares two supercars (a McLaren 600LT and a Ferrari 488 Pista) with price tags equivalent to a modest single family home. Nevertheless, given the changes the show has undergone in recent years, it’s easy to see why producers would be eager to keep its content as familiar to the audience as possible, maximizing the car-centric shenanigans and focusing on the burgeoning and believable camaraderie of its new hosts. 

That “steady as it goes” approach proves useful in the series premiere and many of the new season’s episodes that follow, as McGuinness, Flintoff, and Harris’s various personalities and areas of expertise begin to gel, and their interactions feel more natural and consistent. For now, it’s the beginning of a new era of Top Gear, one that will hopefully last long enough for the series to feel as distinct and entertaining as it has in the past. 

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Top Gear continues next Sunday @8pm on BBC America.

2019-07-14 02:07:31

Kevin Yeoman

Gotham Series Finale Review: Batman Prequel Series Punts In Its Final Hour

Throughout its five-season run, FOX’s Gotham made a point of marching to the distinct beat of its own campy drummer. But while the show’s take on the crime-ridden streets of Batman’s home town and his classic rogues’ gallery of villains stood out for being deliberately exaggerated and theatrical, it never quite managed to be the show it could have been. That’s not to say Gotham had to be yet another attempt to ape the stylistic and tonal aspirations of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, but it wouldn’t have hurt if the series felt as though its approach to storytelling was more than throwing remixed versions of Bat-villains against the wall to see what sticks. 

So much of the final season of Gotham has been a mixed bag of ambition and inevitability. The show’s producers have long said that the Caped Crusader won’t make an appearance until the series’ finale, leaving the 12 episodes of this last season with a lot of heavy lifting to do, so the show’s resident Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) would be ready to don the cape and cowl before spending his nights punching bad guys really hard. That was in addition to the ‘No Man’s Land’ storyline that dominated much of the first 11 episodes of the season. After the city was separated from the rest of the U.S. and besieged by roving gangs headed up by the likes of Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor), the Riddler (Cory Michael Smith), and more, what remained of the GCPD — including James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) — was left to maintain some semblance of control. That was until Bane (Shane West) showed up and everything went predictably to hell. 

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As far as final seasons go, that premise isn’t bad. Gotham City has always been the problem child the rest of the DC Universe would rather forget about, and putting its survival on the line like that (despite the obvious comparisons to Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises) fittingly raised the stakes for the series. And to see Gordon and Bullock paired up with Penguin, the Riddler, and more to save the city from destruction made for the sort of story the show often struggled mightily to be: one not about the rise of Bruce Wayne to become Batman, but that of Jim Gordon, the titular city’s other protector. 

In many ways, last week’s ‘They Did What?’ served as the series’ official series finale, with ‘The Beginning…’ serving as more of a coda to the overarching story. With the city saved and Bruce on his years-long quest to become the hero his city needs, Gotham was ready to hand the reins over to its pointy-eared protector, but what the series actually delivers is a shallow pastiche of previous Batman origin stories, one told too hastily and from too many different perspectives to deliver a truly dramatic punch, much less an enticing new spin on the character’s early days. 

The issue stems mostly from the decision to jump forward 10 years in time, putting the characters in the unenviable position of having to explain what’s transpired over the last decade, while also dealing with the arrival of Gotham’s golden boy. Bruce’s homecoming is hamstrung by the fact that Mazouz only makes a brief appearance at the episode’s beginning, before the time jump takes place. And while the series scores some points for the clever casting of in Lili Simmons (Banshee), as the now-grown Selina Kyle, Selina’s role as the cat burglar extraordinaire Catwoman feels unmoored from the character viewers have gotten to know over the past five seasons.

It’s a problem that carries through the hour as the arrival of both Bruce Wayne and Batman is the talk of the town, but both characters are shunted off to the margins, with Bruce never actually being seen and Batman only showing up in his bargain-basement suit at the episode’s end. Throughout the episode, Gotham seems to be wrestling with how much time it wants to devote to the character audiences have been waiting to see, with the awed reactions of street-level characters like Gordon, Bullock, Barbara Kean (Erin Richards), and Lucius Fox (Chris Chalk). In the end, it the hour winds up punting on both accounts. 

Credit to Taylor and Smith who are tasked with screaming through most of the episode as they’re either revealed to be patsies in Jeremiah Valeska’s grand scheme to dunk Gordon’s daughter in a vat of Ace Chemical-brand green goo, or are besieged by an offscreen guy presumably dressed up as a bat. Cameron Monaghan, meanwhile, gets to be the Joker — but not in name — wearing some garish makeup and doing his level best to sound sort of but not too much like a mashup between Mark Hamill and Heath Ledger’s versions of the character. In the end, neither Jeremiah nor Penguin and Riddler have any sort of meaningful run-in with the Batman. Instead, that’s saved for Selina, who speaks to Bruce without ever making eye contact (otherwise the show would have to focus on his costume), in a scene that provides little to none of the emotional closure either character probably should have had in that moment. 

Though it often succeeded in being exaggerated and weird, Gotham struggled to match its odd-duck status with its ambitions to be a compelling comic books story. As the final hour demonstrates, the series was ultimately too concerned with where Bruce Wayne was headed when it should have been more invested in what the arrival of Batman meant in the city for which the show was named. 

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Gotham seasons 1-4 are available to stream on Netflix.

2019-04-25 06:04:46

Kevin Yeoman

Days Gone Review: A Cliche Open-World Zombie Love Story

Days Gone follows every post-apocalypse cue in the book. It does combat, level design, and bike riding well but struggles to overcome a basic story.

Zombies are everywhere. Yes, of course, they’re everywhere in Sony Bend’s open-world game Days Gone, but they’re also everywhere in our apocalypse-obsessed culture. On TV there’s the immensely popular Walking Dead and its admittedly less popular spinoff Fear the Walking Dead. Jim Jarmusch’s star-studded zombie film The Dead Don’t Die will release in theaters this June. And the undead can already be seen in a plethora of video games (Left 4 Dead and the recently released World War Z to give just two examples). In a crowded field, Days Gone establishes itself with the AAA world building and hours of content one would expect, but is supported by a story so lackluster, it’s hard to stay engaged and keep fighting.

Though the devs may insist that Days Gone doesn’t have any zombies, the so-called “freakers” sure follow all the tropes of the recently-risen-from-the-grave. There’s the rotting skin, the hunger for human flesh, and the tendency to prefer dark places and large groups. How exactly the virus spread and what they are called by bikers and their compatriots are semantics. The only cliche missing from the game is “friend-bitten-and-doesn’t-want-to-turn,” but it’s easy to miss it anyways as players will likely skip through the several hours of cutscenes that feel right at home in your least favorite season of your favorite zombie show.

Related: Days Gone is 30 Hours Long, With 6 Hours of Cutscenes

Days Gone‘s biggest hurdle was trying to find a name for itself, so it doubled down by adding the preface “biker” to the “-open world game” tag. The story follows Deacon St. John, a man who wears the cut of the Mongrels MC, an Oregon-based motorcycle gang. It’s been two years since the zombie- sorry, “freaker” apocalypse and Deacon has all but given up hope finding his wife, Sarah.

In the first of many cutscenes peppered throughout the game, the player witnesses Deacon put the injured Sarah on a helicopter, staying behind in an infested city with his ride-or-die pal, Boozer. Through context, we discover that the helicopter crashed and Sarah perished, and Deacon blames himself. Now he wanders the wastelands of a ruined world searching for freakers to kill and a way to put meaning back into his life. The “dead-wife” trope isn’t really buoyed by anything substantive; there’s glimmers of a past that might come back to haunt Deacon, and colorful characters light up the otherwise bleak world, but they’re little more than dressing to Deacon’s main goal.

Deacon is a drifter (a fact the game will never let you forget), wandering from camp to camp in the Pacific Northwest. Early on, players encounter Copeland, a free-radio loving leader of a small group of survivors, and Tucker, who runs a “work-camp” to the west, though more camps are introduced in the later game. Missions mostly consist of running errands for either party, such as rescuing hostages from other gangs, clearing marauder outposts, and carrying out bounties. These missions are all expertly designed, and though the majority are only optional, should be played. Whether the player is zooming past the tall pines, chasing down a rogue biker, or sneaking into a freaker-infested day-spa, discovering your preferred play-style and mastering the mechanics of Days Gone is a joy. Luckily, completing a mission not only rewards the player with satisfaction (and credits to spend at the corresponding camp),  but also increases their “trust” in you. The higher the player’s trust rating, the more gear is available for purchase.

And Days Gone has gear in spades. Aside from upgrading weapons to take down literal hordes of freakers, there are also bike upgrades to make your hot rod, hotter. Nitro is the most cartoonish and most immediately useful, giving players that extra burst of speed to close the distance to an enemy or widen it from a hundred or so flesh-eating foes. Weapons include traditional shotguns, low-level pistols, and expensive heavy-duty machine guns. But even as you obtain the highest level of gear, the main selling-point of the game never gets easy: wiping out hordes is a challenge that will keep players invested in the infestation long after the campaign is complete.

From the beginning, Sony Bend made it a point to showcase Days Gone‘s incredible environments and beautiful weather system. Your surroundings can change on a dime, as clouds brew overhead and rain begins to fall, or the mountainous terrain gets its first bit of snow. But interrupting that tranquility are thousands of freakers, grouped together in a “horde.” These are by far the toughest enemies in the game despite there being loads of mutated boss freakers, like infected bears and giant “breakers.” Sure, they go down in a few body shots, but they can easily overwhelm Deacon and take his health from 100 to 0 in a second flat. It’s a tricky business of planning your attack, making sure you have enough supplies and the right weapons, and kiting the horde through choke points, taking out 20 or so at a time. The average horde appears to have around several hundred members, so it can take a while to burn ’em down, but finally besting a horde is immensely satisfying.

When Deacon isn’t dealing with fighting freakers, he’s battling other survivors. There are plenty of drifter gangs that are not distinguishable from your own  groups (begging the question, why exactly do they have to die so gruesomely?) but the Rippers really make a name for themselves. The Rest in Peace (RIP) gang are a group of survivors that worship the freakers and are covered head to toe in scars. Their outposts are adorned with spikes and human carcasses. These enemies are a bit more unique and less morally ambiguous than your average “just-trying-to-survive” marauder. Their general vibe is very Mad Max, which happens to be a game in which Days Gone shares many similarities.

Days Gone is set in the third-person, just like your average PS4 exclusive shooter (read: Uncharted). Aiming and firing is a highlight; it’s easy enough to snap to the head for a much-needed headshot, but doesn’t feel cheap or bot-like. Especially with the addition of “Focus” a defacto “DeadEye” from Red Dead Redemption, that allows players to slow down time when aiming, firefights are difficult not because it’s hard to land precise hits, but more because health can deplete fast and the cover system is underwhelming. Deacon can duck behind crates or fences, peeking up when the enemy reloads, but there’s a lack of precision to the movement; he doesn’t flush to the wall, just hides near it. This is a more traditionally first-person mechanic that doesn’t work quite as well in the 3rd.

Driving Deacon’s “hog” around is freeing. Not only does it allow the player to escape most encounters, but the rush of passing by lingering freaker clusters or scenic waterfalls never gets old. Though a player may occasionally run out of fuel and not be anywhere near a gas station or randomly-found gas can, more often than not, the road is where you’ll find great moments of play: encounters with survivors, freakers, or enemies. They can be passed by or provide a welcome detour to the long journey on the road.

But through all its content, Days Gone seems to only borrow from well-established titles, without providing much in terms of nuance or innovation. Take its crafting system, straight out of The Last of Us. Deacon can make a bit more than Joel, pipe bombs for instance, but design remains the same. Players pick up (or loot from bodies) crafting materials like rags, nails, sterilizer, etc., and use these to instantly pop a survival item into existence. They can also upgrade melee weapons to be less degradable and more powerful, adding a saw blade to a bat or wire to a 2X4. The UI is well-made, but like a lot of Days Gone, it’s all been done before.

One small thing that Days Gone does really well is the menu, allowing players to access upgradable skills, the map, objectives, and inventory with a single swipe on the PS4 controller pad. It’s a nice touch and really streamlines the importance of checking in on how many credits Deacon might have at the time, what side missions can still be accessed, and how far away a horde might be. The “Story” section itself does a superb job of showing how much of the story is complete and at what percentage completion awards like vehicle skins and crafting recipes are given. Skills as well come with a fun twist: there’s Melee, Ranged, and Survival categories, each with different tiers. Each tier contains three purchasable skills (with xp) but only two are needed to access the next tier. This makes for a fun meta-game of choosing the most useful skills (or those most attuned to your playstyle). The polish here might have been used across the rest of the game.

Days Gone requires a lot of processing power, with massive amounts of enemies on screen at once and detailed textured environments that change from day to night. Unfortunately on the base PS4, this means there is a lot of loading lag. Frames will drop to an unplayable sub-20 a second or textures will fail to load completely leading to game-breaking glitches. The first horde I fought got stuck on the edge of a cliff and were unable to move, making them easy target practice. A mission towards the finale skipped over a major fight because Deacon’s bike fell through what looked to be a sturdy bridge. Nothing a few patches can’t fix, but it doesn’t erase the main issue: players shouldn’t need a PS4 Pro to run a PS4 game.

Days Gone nails the tone and theme of a zombie game and sticks to its guns. “Surviving ain’t living” is a phrase uttered by Boozer, the heart and soul of the game. But these messages and great high-concept questions are handled about as deftly as you might expect from a person named Boozer. It’s all show with none of the punch that The Last of Us had. Deacon is generally unlikable, killing plenty of non-freakers in a very Nathan Drake-like fashion. He is so overly committed to his biker-shtick even after the world has ended that his motives feel sort of goofy and dated. He rabbles incessantly about “not killing unarmed women,” while others talk about how “chivalry isn’t dead.” This macho-man perspective sort of puts a damper on some of the more interesting side-narratives. It’s disappointing that the protagonist is a practical Rick Grimes that gives an “impassioned” speech about why there are no black members in his biker gang in a confusingly unnecessary and poorly-written flashback.

The game features so many disjointed story moments, where the player sits and watch Deacon interact, then is put in control to move him about 20ft, then watches another cutscene. It gives the appearance of the game being unfinished, where either less or more interactivity might have solved this issue (and cut down on loading screens). Additionally, the ludonarrative dissonance of Deacon and others appearing more “civilized” than other groups, then mowing down hundreds of relatively innocent humans is hard to look past. The acting is pretty good across the board, but Deacon’s constant yelling on nearly every line deliver gets old fast. On a whole, the story is so rote and tired, that by the end, players might just want in to end.

And that’s a shame because Days Gone has a lot of well-crafted moments. Most missions are satisfyingly tough and leave a lot of room for play-style flexibility. Side storylines pack a bit of emotional punch and shift the viewpoint a bit further from “whitest dude in Oregon.” Battling hordes and riding the ol’ bike through broken roads and dirt paths provide both the greatest challenge and the most relaxing experience. Everything that is done well is done very well, but this game feels less made by a group of passionate devs and more like it was made by an algorithm. Zombies, check, crafting, check, gritty veneer, and so on. So even while painstakingly taking out every horde, there’s nothing to fall back on; no friends with whom Deacon can share his glory. The world and story of Days Gone are lonely, but if an open-world Last of Us meets Son of Anarchy sounds like your thing, then it might be worth the slog to kill some freakers.

More: Days Gone Dev Insists Freakers Are Not Zombies

Days Gone is out on April 26th on the Playstation 4 for $59.99. Screen Rant was provided with a digital copy for the purposes of this review.

2019-04-25 05:04:54

Ty Sheedlo

Chambers Review: A Muddled Horror Story Stumbles Through Identity & Grief

Netflix’s Chambers is essentially a teen horror drama that skirts around notions of identity, race, and grief. It centers on Sasha Yazzie (Sivan Alyra Rose) who in the series’ opening moments suffers a freak, near-fatal heart attack at the age of 17. After receiving a life-saving heart transplant, Sasha begins to experience visions and takes on new personality traits ascribed to the young woman whose untimely death gave her a second lease on life. Sasha soon begins to investigate the life of her donor, Becky Lefevre (Lillya Scarlett Reid), an act that’s made entirely too easy after she’s invited into the affluent lifestyle of Becky’s family. That family, Ben (Tony Goldwyn), Nancy (Uma Thurman), and Elliott (Nicholas Galitzine), and their radically different class and social standing in the small Arizona town of Crystal Valley, becomes one of the series’ many potentially engaging but ultimately underdeveloped concepts.

A lack of clarity on what the central mystery actually is — contenders include Becky’s backstory, the circumstances of her death, the weird, cult-like atmosphere surrounding her parents, and what it means for Sasha to take on more of her donor’s personality — muddles the series from the outset, leaving the viewer with only a vague idea of what’s going on and what, ultimately, is at stake. The series is partly a ghost story and partly a possession drama, one that plays openly with notions of race and class and the divisions that emerge along those lines. Sasha lives with her uncle Frank (Marcus Lavoi), the proprietor of a fish store, in close proximity to a Diné reservation where Sasha’s semi-estranged grandfather still lives. In that same town exists the moneyed friends and acquaintances of the Lefevre family, including Lilly Taylor (The Nun) and Matthew Rauch (Banshee).

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The obvious dissimilarities between Sasha and the Lefevres drive much of the early tension in the series, as Becky’s parents begin to take a greater interest in Sasha’s well-being and her future. They go so far as to offer her a scholarship in their daughter’s name, one that sends her to a predominantly white, well-to-do, seemingly progressive high school, and later, by gifting Sasha Becky’s old Prius, much to the chagrin of their son, Elliott. On the surface, Ben and Nancy’s altruism appears to be born of their grief over having lost a child and desire to see her live on in an oblique way through another young woman. But it’s not long before their supposed selflessness begins to take on more sinister implications, ones that begin to threaten Sasha’s identity and eventually her soul. 

The series plays with the latter elements in frustrating fashion, often appearing indecisive over whether or not the mystery of Becky’s death is intended to offer insight or open the door to more terror. At first, Sasha begins to relive moments of Becky’s past, seeing, feeling, and fully experiencing parts of her life, up to and including the moments right before her death. The visions are only part of the package, however, as Sasha gradually begins to see changes in her personality and even her physical body, with her naturally dark hair turning blonde and even her skin whitening as the threat of possession becomes more evident. 

Even as the series foregrounds ideas of racial and cultural erasure and forced assimilation, it struggles to turn them into the compelling, propulsive narrative they deserve. It comes down to intent versus execution, and although the intent of Chambers allows it to deliver a subversive take on horror and its many tropes, the manner in which those ideas are carried out — or laid out for the audience — often feels (oddly) of two minds, the seeming uncertainty of which ultimately proves unable to give the story the energy it needs to sustain itself through 10 (almost) hour-long episodes. 

The series attempts to balance the terrifying subsumption of Sasha’s identity with the palpable grief of Becky’s family. In doing so, it briefly flirts with humanizing an ostensible Great Other that is more or less the boogyman of this story. But, like everything else in Chambers, the road to discovering who the Lefevres are and what they want is long and ponderous. And that’s saying nothing of how labored Becky’s possession of Sasha proves to be. Instead, Chambers seems uncertain how best to utilize the presence of Thurman and Goldwyn and too often settles on repetitive scenes in which their unguarded emotions result in various interactions with Sasha, Frank, or even the privileged Elliott becoming overwhelmingly awkward. 

Although it offers a thought-provoking ideas, a socially relevant premise, and a clear desire to subvert horror tropes, the series’ execution fails to match the ambition of its conceit. Filled with dialogue that is often stilted and dull, and plagued by a meandering pace that frustrates in its refusal to commit to the concept, Chambers settles for intriguing when it could have been outstanding.   

Next: Cobra Kai Review: Karate Kid Sequel Series Continue To Defy Expectation In Season 2

Chambers will stream exclusively on Netflix beginning Friday, April 26.

2019-04-25 04:04:03

Kevin Yeoman

Cuphead Switch Review: Old Timey Fun & Challenge On A Small Screen

Cuphead and Mugman haven’t lost a step in their move to Switch. The game remains an immensely enjoyable and challenging romp at home or on the go.

Cuphead earned praise and mild infamy in 2017 for its faithful homage to 1930’s animation and its polished but challenging gameplay. That high quality hasn’t diminished in its move to the Switch. The Nintendo faithful will find to plenty to love (and loathe) about Studio MDHR’s deceptively tough platformer; a game that’s much more than a pretty face.

If this is your first rodeo, Cuphead and his pal Mugman wind up in hot water after an ill-fated night of gambling leads to a forced deal with the Devil. The duo must collect the soul contracts of the dark lord’s other debtors or face eternal servitude. Cuphead’s old-school art regularly turns heads and for good reason: it looks fantastic and unlike anything else out there. Animations look gorgeous. Smaller touches like the flickering film grain and muffled sound bites further sell the idea that you’re playing a cartoon from yesteryear. A varied and boisterous jazz soundtrack, one of the best in recent years, bolsters the incredible presentation.

Related: Katana ZERO Review – Mesmerizing Swordplay Dripping with Style

Cuphead’s run-and-gun side-scrolling gameplay takes inspiration from classics such as Contra and Mega Man. Finger-gunning down foes and nailing the snappy parry move feels as smooth as it did on Xbox and PC.  The game never skips a beat while playing in handheld mode as well. In fact, the smaller screen’s lower resolution actually compliments the vintage presentation. Super crisp resolution didn’t exist 80 years ago, after all. The only drawback of playing undocked comes from the hardware side. Expect a sore thumb after holding down the Joy-Con’s tiny fire button during longer sessions.  

A rogue’s gallery of elaborate boss battles act as the game’s centerpiece and remain among of the most imaginative in gaming. From a sweets-loving princess who chucks her own head to pugilist frogs that merge into a giant slot machine, no two bosses are alike. Watching them take on even wackier forms throughout the fight is both exciting and terrifying. That’s because, despite their whimsical veneer, overcoming bosses demands a high level of timing, precision, and, most of all, patience. Make no mistake: Cuphead is a very hard game. But no matter how crushing the loss, nothing ever feels cheap. Boss patterns are relatively easy to decipher, so you can always tell where you went wrong. The steep difficulty only makes each victory feel like a well-earned accomplishment. If you have a friend that’s up to the challenge, conquering foes in co-op play can be a raucous blast.

Sweetening the bitter spoonfuls of defeat is a wonderful progress meter that illustrates exactly how far players progressed during a fight. Seeing that a boss was only a shot or two away from falling can be equal parts inspiring and infuriating. Regardless, it’s a powerful motivator to keep trying as you literally see yourself getting better with each attempt.

Boss battles may be fantastic but the handful of traditional platforming stages remain the weakest part of package. Though adequate, there’s something less tolerable about enduring a hard, drawn-out side scrolling stage than a single large-scale fight. Run-and-gun stages aren’t worthless, however. They house coins used to purchase a myriad of helpful upgrades. Spread shots, teleport dashes, and special abilities like brief invincibility are among the fun and invaluable enhancements.

New features for Switch include the option to play the entire adventure as Mugman. The Luigi to Cuphead’s Mario had formerly been restricted to Player 2 in co-op. Mugman plays identically to his buddy so the choice is purely preferential, but it’s a welcomed change nonetheless. Beautifully animated cutscenes replace the original static scenes to further enhance the cartoon nostalgia. A range of additional language options helps in the accessibility department.

Whether you’re rage quitting at home or on the bus, Cuphead remains one of the most exhilarating indie titles out there. It may be tough, but the highs of toppling foe after zany foe feels amazing, and the tight gameplay makes every victory seem achievable. The much-lauded art direction hasn’t gotten old and really has to be seen in action to believe. Sadly, the only thing missing from this version is a wrist strap to prevent players from hurling their Switches after one too many losses to Mr. King Dice.

More: Mortal Kombat 11 Review: The Best Fighting Game in Years

Cuphead is out now on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PC. Screen Rant was provided with a Switch download code for the purposes of this review.

2019-04-25 02:04:27

Marcus Stewart

Series: Your Story Universe Review – Live in The Movies (For A Price)

Series: Your Story Universe might let players participate as characters in their favorite movie and TV shows, but the good choices will cost them.

In Series: Your Story Universe, players have the chance to live out their wildest dreams in their favorite movies and TV shows. From The Breakfast Club to Saved By The Bell, players can jump into their favorite fictional worlds and become a character within them. It’s just too bad that to continue playing, as well as to make certain decisions, it’s going to cost them some real-world cash.

To begin Series, players must choose which world they want to play. The choices include a variety of movies and TV shows from the NBC/Universal library, including The Breakfast Club, Law & Order, Bridesmaids, Saved by the Bell, Xena, Vanderpump Rules and Sixteen Candles. After a story is selected, players can choose to customize their characters, choosing between genders, as well as choosing from a variety of hair color and styles, facial features, eye color and size and more. Once character creation is complete, the game alerts the player that clothing can make or break a scene, so characters are then prompted to choose their outfits. Then the story begins, and players find themselves dropped into the world of their chosen story. For example, The Breakfast Club begins with the main character doing something that lands that character in detention with the rest of the characters from that movie.

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This is where the fun supposedly begins. Imagine being in detention with Claire, Andrew, Brian, Bender and Allison, with Vice Principal Vernon breathing down their necks. Gameplay involves reacting to what the other characters say and do, with dialogue that comes straight out of the movie. But what makes Series so interesting is that as the player progresses through various chapters, the situations go beyond the films and into brand new territory. For example, in The Breakfast Club, after detention, the main character gets invited to a house party.

However, this is also where Series begins to fail. These new stories that go outside of the original movies and TV shows aren’t always well-written. There are also times when characters seem to act out of character. Sometimes, the dialogue is just dull, and getting through it to get to the next choice often feels cumbersome.

It gets even more annoying when players are faced with choices, and one is a “premium” choice. That means that this particular choice (which is more than likely the one most players would want to make) costs gems. And the gems run out quickly so that players are forced to either make the choice they didn’t want to make or fork over real-world money to buy gems. The game also requires players to have tickets to play future episodes/chapters, and those seem to run out quickly. One hundred gems and 14 tickets run around $5, which should allow players to make a total of approximately four premium choices.

To say the game is a money grab is putting it lightly. Although players can earn gems and tickets through gameplay, they can’t collect them fast enough to keep playing. So although the premise behind Series is a promising one, in the end, it’s all about how much money players want to invest in a game that probably isn’t worth it.

More: Heaven’s Vault Review: Too Much of a Good Thing

Series: Your Story Universe releases on the App Store and Google Play on April 25, 2019. Screen Rant was provided with a download code for the purposes of this review.

2019-04-25 01:04:40

Robin Burks

Avengers: Endgame Review – Marvel Delivers A Superhero Epic Like Never Before

Avengers: Endgame wraps up the story of the MCU so far, delivering an epic superhero adventure while honoring the past in a satisfying finale.

Marvel Studios kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe nearly 11 years ago with 2008’s Iron Man. Back then, they had a relatively modest vision of building to The Avengers by assembling a team of heroes from their respective origin movies into a single unit. In the decade since Robert Downey Jr. made his debut as Iron Man, the MCU has grown to include superheroes from all across the universe, from Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to the Guardians of the Galaxy. Now, Avengers: Endgame marks the 22nd film in the MCU and sets out to achieve a feat Hollywood has never seen attempted before by ending the story that first began in Iron Man. And it does, in a spectacular accomplishment. Avengers: Endgame wraps up the story of the MCU so far, delivering an epic superhero adventure while honoring the past in a satisfying finale.

Avengers: Endgame picks up after the events of Avengers: Infinity War, which saw the Avengers divided and defeated. Thanos won the day and used the Infinity Stones to snap away half of all life in the universe. Only the original Avengers – Iron Man, Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) – remain, along with some key allies in the forms of War Machine (Don Cheadle), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Captain Marvel (Brie Larson). Each of the survivors deal with the fallout from Thanos’ Decimation in different ways, but when an opportunity presents itself to potentially save those who vanished, they all come together and set out to defeat Thanos, once and for all.

For Avengers: Endgame, Marvel Studios assembles its veterans behind the scenes as well, re-teaming directors Anthony and Joe Russo, who joined the MCU with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, with screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who’ve penned a total of six MCU movies since Captain America: The First Avenger. All that’s to say, Avengers: Endgame fits perfectly within the larger MCU in terms of direction and screenwriting because it was created by those who had a prominent hand in crafting the sprawling cinematic universe. And with so much experience under their belts, the Russos excel at balancing the superhero spectacle with human drama, while the more focused story of Endgame allows for the characters to truly shine. There are moments when the story gets a little unwieldy, suffering from similar problems to Infinity War in maintaining a consistent pace throughout the entire film. But Avengers: Endgame is meant to be a culminating epic and it’s clear that the Russos, Markus and McFeely took the care to make sure they got it right.

At the heart of Avengers: Endgame are the heroes we’ve been following since the very beginning. At this point in the franchise, there’re too many heroes for one movie – even a three-hour movie – to focus on all of them. Avengers: Infinity War undoubtedly struggled under the weight of balancing so many characters. With half the universe gone, Endgame is able to focus on the original six Avengers, who are the true center of the MCU (at least, so far). The film remarkably balances its character arcs so well it’s as if each hero gets a solo movie in Avengers: Endgame. There are certain character beats that may not work for all viewers, and even within the original six, certain heroes get more focus than others, unfortunately. To their credit, though, the actors give some of their best performances in the MCU, especially the original six: Downey, Evans, Hemsworth, Ruffalo, Johansson and Renner. Even with future movies or TV shows already planned for some characters, this is the original Avengers team’s swan song, and the actors put their hearts and souls into Avengers: Endgame.

In addition to the character drama, Avengers: Endgame delivers superhero spectacle like nothing seen in the MCU – or any other superhero movie – ever before. With Endgame acting as the conclusion of the MCU thus far, it goes all in on action. There are times when Endgame falls back into Marvel’s old problems (hordes of unimportant villains, too much CGI and muted coloring), but they’re tempered with character-focused moments. While most of these are in service of the core six, each Marvel hero in Avengers: Endgame gets a moment to truly shine and join in on the superhero fun. Some of these moments are unashamedly fan service and, in fact, there’s a great deal of fan service in Avengers: Endgame overall. But after 11 years and 21 movies, Marvel has earned some fan service, and it all adds to the epic, event nature of Avengers: Endgame.

Ultimately, Avengers: Endgame is a whole lotta movie, but the filmmakers put every single second of its three-hour runtime to good use. Since Endgame concludes the Infinity Saga (the official title of the story thus far), Marvel and the filmmakers have the unenviable task of delivering a movie that satisfies all MCU fans. While there are bound to be aspects of Avengers: Endgame that don’t work for all viewers, for the most part the movie actually, truly offers a satisfying ending to the Infinity Saga. As a result, Avengers: Endgame is a must-see for Marvel fans, even those who have only a casual interest in the MCU. Because of the spectacle, it’s worth seeing Avengers: Endgame in IMAX, though it isn’t necessary to enjoy the movie. Marvel Studios’ latest faces the highest expectations of any Marvel Studios movie thus far and manages to exceed them, which is nothing short of extraordinary. Simply speaking, Avengers: Endgame is one of the best Marvel movies ever.


Avengers: Endgame starts playing in U.S. theaters Thursday evening April 25th. It is 181 minutes long and rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comments section!

2019-04-23 03:04:53

Molly Freeman

Cobra Kai Review: Karate Kid Sequel Series Continue To Defy Expectation In Season 2

The biggest surprise of YouTube Premium’s original series Cobra Kai was how successful it was in capitalizing on nostalgia for the Karate Kid without relying on it entirely. The return of original cast members Ralph Macchio and William Zabka for a half-hour TV series on a fledgling streaming service initially looked as though it was going to be a tongue-in-cheek goof on the ‘80s coming-of-age hit that launched a franchise. Instead of clowning around with crane kicks and fence-painting training montages the series took a sincere interest in the lives of Daniel LaRusso (Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (Zabka), and how a single kick to the face appeared to have overwhelmingly influenced the next 30 years of their lives. 

But in the case of Cobra Kai, sincerity doesn’t translate to humorlessness. In fact, the show’s willingness to lean into comedy and occasionally poke fun at both Johnny and Daniel is perhaps its saving grace. The push-pull of two competing martial arts philosophies, headed up by two very different men, could have resulted in an overbearingly moralistic or cloyingly sweet message, but as the series (and creators Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, and Josh Heald) has demonstrated from the beginning, it’s very concerned with striking the right balance with regard to it core philosophies without resorting to schmaltz to get its point across. 

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That’s not to say Cobra Kai isn’t aware the sometimes awkward sincerity prevalent in the sports genre, and certainly the franchise from which it was spawned. There’s still plenty of that here, especially in season 2, as Daniel’s feud with Johnny has escalated considerably following Miguel Diaz’s (Xolo Maridueña) dirty win over Johnny’s son, Robby Keene (Tanner Buchanan), in the All Valley Tournament at the end of season 1. It’s now dojo vs. dojo — or Cobra Kai vs. Miyagi-Do — in an all-out war that may or may not see a bunch of kids’ futures as collateral damage. 

Through it all, though, Cobra Kai maintains a healthy sense of humor, and its secret weapon is Zabka’s performance as Johnny, a man so stuck in the past he’s living an almost Rip Van Winkle-like existence. Between his morning routine of chugging cans of Coors and eating Slim Jims, utter un-wokeness, and ongoing relationship with ‘80s rock, Johnny Law is a light snack for today’s “call out culture,” a man just waiting to be “canceled.” Though the series dangles the villain bait with regard to Johnny, it doesn’t take it. Instead, the ostensible protagonist of the series becomes a prime example of season 2’s major through-line: the question of second chances and who, if anyone, deserves one. 

To answer that, Cobra Kai brings Johnny’s old sensei John Kreese (Martin Kove) back from the dead. Instead of dying in the wake of losing the Cobra Kai dojo following the events of Karate Kid, the steely ex-solider gets a re-engineered story, one in which he re-enlisted and did some black ops work in the intervening decades. Whether there’s any truth to what Kreese tells Johnny is almost beside the point; the guy epitomizes not only the notion of second chances, but also the season’s other overarching theme of fathers (or father figures) and how their influence shapes the future of their sons. Or in the case of Johnny and Daniel, how a pair of mentors shaped the lives of their surrogate children. 

The series allows this to play out in a variety of ways, building on the dynamic between Daniel and his own children Samantha (Mary Mouser) and Anthony (Griffin Santopiero), as well as his Miyagi-like relationship with the estranged son of his sworn enemy, Robby. Similarly, Johnny’s relationship with Miguel continues to evolve, as the recently crowned All Valley Karate champ has to learn a little humility, and also that his sensei is a flawed human being who’s learning how to be a role model as he goes along. 

Of the series’ parallel storylines, the Johnny/Miguel relationship is the more engaging one, and not only because being the “bad guy” is more fun, but because Cobra Kai has positioned Johnny as the character with the most to lose and the most to gain. That might seem impossible considering where he was when the series began, but everything that Johnny has, everything that means something to him, has only come to him since the series began. And the biggest threat to what Johnny’s built isn’t Daniel LaRusso and his Miyagi-Do; it’s Kreese and Johnny’s own baser instincts. 

As the season attempts to demonstrate through the escalation of the rivalry between the two dojos and their respective sensei, bad people aren’t born, they’re made. This way of thinking is what turns Johnny Lawrence into a surprisingly and satisfyingly compelling character, one who is wrestling with the poor choices he’s made in the past, even as his current circumstances threaten to push him down a similar path. That Cobra Kai can pull that off, all while being an entertaining mix of comedy and drama in a half-hour package is another example of how the series continues to defy expectations. 

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Cobra Kai season 2 will be available to stream beginning April 24 exclusively on YouTube Premium.

2019-04-23 02:04:14

Kevin Yeoman

God’s Trigger Review: A Pulpy, Enjoyable Shooter

God’s Trigger is an outrageous and chaotic top-down shooter with a robust co-operative mode and plenty enough action to cover up its clunkier moments.

The apocalypse has always been a great source of inspiration for video games. Whether the Biblical destruction of Darksiders or the dark world of The Last of Us, the end of the world has come in many shapes and sizes. The latest game to dive into this theme is God’s Trigger from developer One More Level.

In God’s Trigger, the apocalypse is on the brink of being set off. Enter an angel named Harry and a demon named Judy, who must form an awkward alliance to stop Hell from literally breaking loose, heading after the four horsemen in the process. Along the way, all sorts of bloody hijinks ensue as the pair cut a violent path through enemy hordes.

Related: Overwhelm Review: A Brutally Difficult Retro Sidescrolling Shooter

The most obvious comparison to make for God’s Trigger is Hotline Miami. The Dennaton Games titles also had a top-down viewpoint and buckets of gore, but tonally the two properties are very different. When it comes to Hotline Miami, this boiled down to that sheen of a video nasty, with both games drenched in 1980s neon as much as claret.

God’s Trigger is much more light-hearted. With tongue firmly planted in its cheek, God’s Trigger is knowing with its over-the-top violence, revelling in its outrageous tone with a light-hearted attitude. This comic book styling follows through to its overall art direction, relishing in the opportunity to offer up a pulp quality akin to beloved railgun shooter House of the Dead: Overkill.

The Hotline Miami similarity is most apparent within its gameplay, though. God’s Trigger also dives into the viewpoint seen in arcade classics like Smash TV, as players go from room to room hunting down enemies with ruthless efficiency. This means utilizing the angel and devil duo’s abilities and weapons scavenged from goons to clear maps of unwitting minions.

The levels themselves are maze-like, occasionally offering alternate pathways at times that suit different playstyles. Those after a stealthy approach, which offers additional experience at the expense of acquiring weapons or keeping up a speedy pace, may choose a series of rooms where enemies can be picked off individually, whereas those after a full-on attack will find areas that suit them better.

Both Judy the demon and Harry the angel also have their specialities. The two characters have different attacks and various magic skills that can be used, whether turning invisible, confusing groups of enemies, or turning one enemy unit against the others to thin out numbers. In single-player mode, this character swap mechanic adds a dose of ingenuity to gameplay, with players thinking on their feet as to which character suits which moment better.

This isn’t just an arbitrary choice of character for any given moment, either. Akin to Shadows: Awakening, both Harry and Judy are needed at certain moments. This could be using Judy’s ability to ghost through grates, or Harry’s power to get through certain walls. Since both characters level up separately, it’s also important to use both in a fairly equal amount to make sure their skill sets are boosted throughout the game.

Although a required swap between these two playable characters may feel like a chore, in reality the fun gameplay is enough to stop players from feeling that this mechanic is too forced. Equally, God’s Trigger makes the decision to include a checkpoint system rather than make the player start the mission over from scratch with each one-hit death – something that players may appreciate given the occasional lengthy level with tricky sections to navigate.

Although the character swap method in single player works well, it’s fair to say that God’s Trigger is best enjoyed in local co-op. This multiplayer mode is a genuine treat, with one player taking the role of Harry and the other as Judy, causing chaos in tandem. God’s Trigger is decent enough in single player, but those users who have a friend on the couch next to them will find a much more enjoyable experience.

When it comes down to it, God’s Trigger works very well. Its occasional awkward moments with gameplay are eased by the fun of different powers and a quick checkpoint system, and its cheesy story and tone are infectious in their enthusiasm. Those after a good dose of simple fun could do a lot worse than turning to God’s Trigger for some help.

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God’s Trigger is available for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Screen Rant was provided with a PS4 download code for the purposes of this review.

2019-04-22 08:04:41

Rob Gordon

Mortal Kombat 11 Review Roundup: Bloody Good

According to early reviews, Mortal Kombat 11 is a worthy successor to a franchise that has had its fair share of ups and downs over the past decade or so. As the first entry in the beloved series in over four years, Mortal Kombat 11 has embraced all the elements of the franchise that fans may have missed in its absence, including over-the-top fatalities and a storyline that features time travel, Johnny Cage teaming up with Johnny Cage, and a first-time female villain with the ability to control the ebbs and flows of reality.

Mortal Kombat‘s last release was Mortal Kombat X, which was considered one of the best in the series despite having a PC release that was met with middling reviews over the severe technical issues players faced on that platform. In the time away from the series, NetherRealm Studios released Injustice 2, the DC-based super hero fighter that received equal amounts of praise for its prowess in the genre. To say that the developer has had a string of successes (excepting WWE Immortals) over its past few outings would be an understatement, and as such, expectations are high heading into Mortal Kombat 11‘s release tomorrow on April 23, 2019.

Related: Mortal Kombat 11 Leak Confirms [SPOILER] As DLC Characters

Luckily for those heavily invested in the adventures of Liu Kang, Scorpion, and the countless other iconic characters who grace Mortal Kombat 11‘s roster, it appears that early feedback on the game is extremely positive. Many reviewers are praising the game’s combat (spelled with a “c”, sorry), particularly what many have identified as a fluid, savvy tutorial system that immediately prepares players for the nuances of mechanical and timing-based online fighting. According to MetaCriticMortal Kombat 11 is currently sitting at an 84, which makes it generally favorable and something to keep an eye on. It’s a similar story with OpenCritic, which sees Mortal Kombat 11 at an 82% average with an 81% recommendation percentage from reviewers. Those are strong numbers, and should the reviews that are still to come continue the trend, it will be yet another impressive release from NetherRealm Studios. Read on to learn more about what Mortal Kombat 11 is doing to keep reviewers kraving more.

IGN: 9/10 – Mitchell Saltzman

It’s a rare fighting game that hits just about every note as strongly as Mortal Kombat 11 doesEverything from its methodical and deep combat to its fantastically absurd story mode and its rock-solid netcode, right down to its extraordinarily comprehensive tutorial is absolutely exceptional. It’s only when you get into its drawn-out progression that it triups up: the keys to unlocking Mortal Kombat 11’s rich vault of customization options are locked behind the frustratingly gimmicky and grindy barriers of the Krypt and Towers of Time.

GameSpot: 8/10 – Edmond Tran

MK11 isn’t just a sequel for series fans and NetherRealm devotees, it’s a gateway into the realm of fighting games for anyone who has a passing interest in watching ruthless warriors beat each other silly. Streamlined mechanics keep the act of fighting furiously exciting no matter what your skill level, and comprehensive tutorials encourage you to dig into the nitty-gritty. There’s a diverse roster of interesting characters and playstyles, and the story mode is an entertaining romp. The unfulfilling approaches to the game’s dynamic single-player content and progression may feel like they’ve totally whiffed (at least at this early stage), but Mortal Kombat 11 hits where it matters.

GamesRadar: 4/5 – Aron Garst

Mortal Kombat 11 struck a rare chord in me where, even after playing twenty hours in a few days, I want to go back and play more. I doubt I’ll be next in line to compete at EVO, but as a casual player who enjoys putting extra time in – I love what NetherRealm Studios has put together.

USGamer: 3.5/5 – Mike Williams

There’s a lot to love in Mortal Kombat 11. It’s a fantastic fighter with a roster of 25 varied characters, tons of customization options, beautiful graphics, and one of the best story modes in a fighting game. It’s a shame that modes like the Krypt and Towers of Time inject annoyance and tedium into what was an excellent experience. The progression is complex and obtuse, when it should be easy and straightforward. MK11 could been[sic] an all-time best, but it’s just a contender.

Variety – Nicole Carpenter

The violence in Mortal Kombat 11 is gratuitous, but it’s also self-aware. In both comedy and horror, we like to make ourselves feel uncomfortable. Mortal Kombat 11 is uncomfortable. Outlandish. Campy. Combined with the game’s complex, precise gameplay, it’s a damn good fighting game.

From the sounds of it, Mortal Kombat 11 succeeds as a fighting game, with mechanics, tutorials, fatalities, visuals, and even some absurd storytelling to make it one of the most compelling choices in the genre in 2019. As the reviews all tend to point out, though, the thing holding back NetherRealm Studios’ latest effort is the grind that is required to unlock many of its customization options: it’s time-consuming and has been called out by nearly everyone who has come into contact with it as a transparent means of either getting players to spend money to accelerate the process or to extend the game’s lifespan by several hours.

Overall, Mortal Kombat 11 seems to make up for its short-comings with a near-flaweless gameplay experience in-fight. While concerns over Mortal Kombat 11 microtransactions—especially after series creator Ed Boon was so adamantly against predatory game practices—remain a point of contention for the game heading into its broader release, it’s also possible the grind will be lessened based on reviewer feedback. As it stands now, Mortal Kombat 11 is another worthy entry into a historic franchise that should once again sit at the top of the fighting game genre alongside some of its fiercest competitors.

Next: Mortal Kombat 11 Brings Back Movie Theme Song In Launch Trailer

Mortal Kombat 11 will be available on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Switch on April 23, 2019.

2019-04-22 08:04:27

Cody Gravelle