Warframe Review (2019) - Free To Frame

Gamespot News Feed - Fri, 07/19/2019 - 20:00

Editor's note: GameSpot originally reviewed Warframe in 2013 and gave it a 6. Due to substantial revisions and new content since its debut, we have re-examined Warframe as it is in 2019 and produced a new review to reflect its current state.

To play Warframe is to reconcile yourself with the sensation that you're always a bit in over your head. Even six years after its debut, it's still something of an oddity within the realm of online action-RPGs. With an expanding universe housing a wealth of content, the free-to-play game offers a stellar amount of freedom to explore, uncover loot, and take on missions with its cast of stylish space ninjas. It takes a decidedly unorthodox approach with its non-linear adventure--sometimes frustratingly so--yet journeying across Warframe's massive universe is as satisfying as it is endearing.

In GameSpot's original 2013 review, we praised the game's agile and hard-hitting combat but criticized the lack of meaningful features that effectively took advantage of those strengths. In the broader sense, the Warframe of old was a promising sketch of an idea that lacked reasons for investment. The Warframe of today, however, has filled out the bigger picture. Its vision is clearer, and it's now so much more than just space ninjas brawling in corridors. Some of Warframe's best moments involve venturing into the realms of deep space, exploring open worlds and, yes, engaging in combat to power up and take on greater challenges.

When it comes to its gameplay and narrative, Warframe always seems to chuck you into the deep end. The larger story focuses on an interstellar clan of warriors known as the Tenno as they reacquaint themselves with a grander universe in perpetual conflict. You take control of a reawakened Frame--revitalized Tenno fighters from the distant past--to engage in missions against a myriad of enemy factions. This conceit of spacefaring ninjas slashing and shooting across the universe holds the loose narrative together while also giving you an impressive amount of freedom. Several cinematic quests shed light on the history of the Tenno, leading up to some profound moments that reveal a surprising depth for your character and their place in the galaxy.

Warframe is a massive game with numerous, complex systems to dive into--but therein lies the rub. It's a challenging game to crack; even with hundreds of hours under my belt, I can still feel overwhelmed by how much game there is to unpack. However, the trick to understanding this game lies within finding your own focus in the nebulous grind--whether that's taking on a variety of side-activities and missions on a series of planets or investing time to customize, experiment, and tweak your favorite Frames.

It can often feel like playing catch-up, considering there is six years' worth of content in the package, but it's a game that rewards taking the time to soak it all in, instead of rushing through. How you get accustomed to this surprisingly sink-or-swim structure will determine the mileage you get out of it. Most missions are singular, discrete encounters across the solar system. This piecemeal structure ultimately makes the massive game more digestible. There's a staggering amount of activities to dive into, and with over 40 hyper-stylized Frames to utilize, there's a constant sense of fun and surprise when discovering how deep it all runs. However, while the opening missions do well to get you into the basic swing of things when it comes to its core gameplay, the more in-depth systems are left for you to decipher on your own.

The overall speed and flexibility in its action is something that it continually excels at, and there's a constant sense of grace and finesse that can make even the ordinary missions thrilling.

This mostly hands-off approach in getting you acclimated can sometimes manifest feelings of aimlessness. And it's magnified when it becomes apparent that there isn't a traditional endgame to work up to. There are higher-end missions and stories designed for more experienced players, some focusing on endless fights against waves of enemies, but there isn't anything like raids to unlock later on. In many ways, you're introduced to that familiar endgame grind from the onset, and that often entails fine-tuning your suite of Frames to tackle many of the game's tougher challenges.

The true star of Warframe are the various Frames, with each possessing their own unique designs and abilities. The pursuit of new characters to play as is one of the many constants in your journey, often dictating where you should invest your time. It always feels rewarding when you find a new Frame, especially when it's one that stands apart from the others. Some are highly specialized, such as the stealth-oriented Ash or the aquatic, alien-tentacle-summoning Hydroid. Another standout is Octavia, a Bard-like Frame that lets you craft custom music to amplify your abilities and attack enemies. One time, a squadmate of mine used Octavia's skills to effortlessly clear a hallway full of enemies--all to the tune of Salt-N-Pepa's "Push It."

There is a ridiculous amount of room to experiment, and it can be especially fun strengthening one of the beginner Frames with powerful mods and armaments that can melt through enemies. It's also impressive how in-depth customization and personalization is in Warframe--you can apply different shaders, accessories, and even alter their particular animation set, and it's rare to find another player who has the same style and loadout.

It's a necessity to get your Frame to reach its potential for them to be viable for more advanced activities. If you don't apply the correct mods and buffs to your character, it can often stop you in your tracks at some inconvenient moments in your progression. If you're committed to figuring out the intricacies of the game, then using online guides to understand these advanced mechanics, much like with other aspects of the game, is a must. These resources are a big help, but it's disappointing how often you have to use them, as opposed to the game teaching you the same information. Without them, learning these systems on your own can be a significant test of patience.

You'll quickly find yourself in a rhythm of cutting down mobs of enemies and boosting your Frame's strength by collecting mods and earning experience as new gameplay systems and events open up. While the core gameplay is often satisfying, it's still common to see a streak of highly repetitive missions, most of which re-use tile-sets for procedurally-generated levels and objective types. This repetition can create a recurring feeling of déjà vu throughout, and there were times when this left me feeling exhausted after an extended play session with the game.

To help ease this sense of repetition, Warframe does inject a number of variations on standard missions, as well as adding in new activities. Along with Nightmare challenges, harder versions of previously completed levels, several missions even remix past stages by including multiple enemy factions within one level, making some standard objectives far more hectic. Some objectives feature totally different gameplay modes, in particular incorporating the Archwing, which switches up the familiar action sequences with Wing Commander-style shooter levels. There's even a set of PvP game types, such as the Conclave and Duel modes, with the latter letting you invite another player to a player-made clan dojo to engage in a solo fight. Unfortunately, the PvP activities come across as exceedingly basic and clunky compared to the core PvE experience.

Despite how much the game has grown over the years by adding in game-changing features, Waframe's roots are still planted firmly in its fast-paced and satisfying core combat. The overall speed and flexibility in its action is something that it continually excels at, and there's a constant sense of grace and finesse that can make even the ordinary missions thrilling. It often shows similar shades to a fast-paced corridor shooter by way of a stunning character-action game, with your squad tearing through enemies using myriad skills and armaments.

The core combat and general traversal of Warframe can move at a blistering pace. Despite how complex they can get, they're still intuitive enough to dive into, and you can pull off Warframe's advanced acrobatics like gliding, wall-runs, and the appropriately named "Bullet Jump"--which darts your character in any direction--reasonably quickly. Melee combat also features its own complexities, allowing you to use an assortment of combos and aerial abilities to cut through legions of foes in flashy display. Over time, chaining together slick parkour leaps into fast strikes with your weapons can become second nature, resulting in Warframe's most gratifying and stylish encounters.

Warframe can be daunting for newcomers, yet it can also prove a challenge for players--like myself--who take an extended break and have to learn the basics of new features while simultaneously unlearning outdated ones. Such is the case for online games, and fortunately, Warframe does have an active and open community to trade with and seek assistance from, and you can directly interact with others at various social spaces across different planets. It's common that you might have to consult outside resources in order to figure out what to do next, or else your progress might come to a halt abruptly.

Stick with the game long enough, and you'll unlock access to the more involved cinematic story missions and open-world settings that best show the game's considerable growth. Unlike the fragmented storytelling in most of the game, these two pillars present a more guided plot that offers memorable narrative and character moments. Some of these missions even include the surprising addition of a dialogue system, which can result in some slightly different events in questlines.

In the open-world settings of the Plains of Eidolon and the Orb Vallis, which open after you reach the planets they're located on, you can take in the sights of the large-scale worlds, take on dynamic bounties and events with squads, and even learn more about the brewing conflict within each setting. The Vallis' story is especially engaging, dealing with workers' rights and the perils of late-stage capitalism in the interstellar age. Though these main stories set in the open worlds tend to end far too quickly, the amount of nuance and narrative packed in was impressive, which left me wanting to spend more time in the settings to continue interacting with its characters.

I'm continually pleased with the flexibility of Warframe's many systems, and how it allows for you to attain a variety of rewards and unlocks at your own pace. Of course, there is an assortment of items, weapons, and even Frames to purchase with real money or with Platinum, Warframe's premium currency. Fortunately, most items in the game are attainable through gameplay, allowing you to get into the nitty-gritty of the game's content mostly unabated. The in-game economy of Warframe is very active, and if you're resourceful enough, you can even trade some of your own gear and blueprints with other players for Platinum as well.

When new content is introduced, the pathway to experiencing the quests or acquiring the next Frame is available to all players. This relaxed approach is reassuring, especially for a game of this magnitude. I generally find acquiring gear and new classes to be quite manageable. However, there are still some time-sinks that feel mostly arbitrary, resulting in the expected and sometimes lengthy grind that's commonplace in free-to-play games. To that end, the primary intent of Platinum is to circumvent both investments of time and resources.

Thinking back to GameSpot's original review, it's interesting how much the game has improved, yet also how much has stayed the same. The game still has issues with repetition and lack of explanations for its more complex systems, but it's managed to overcome their severity by introducing so many events and revisions that continue to elevate it. While there are inevitable bouts of frustration here and there, I always manage to center myself once I move on to other opportunities. In a lot of ways, that's what Warframe manages to do best. One moment you're taking part in a random spy mission on Saturn, and the next, you're partnered up with a powerful squad of players that help you through several void fissures. Just when you feel like you've hit a lull, a better, and more fulfilling opportunity will likely present itself. Perhaps most importantly, Warframe makes sure that the time spent in its world is almost always well rewarded.

Categories: Games

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order Review In Progress - Superpowered

Gamespot News Feed - Fri, 07/19/2019 - 00:00

Marvel's popularity has grown exponentially in the 10 years since Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 was first released, as forays into shared universes in both film and TV have propelled the company to the forefront of pop culture relevance. Previously obscure characters such as the Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain Marvel, and Black Panther have risen to prominence thanks to appearances in movies, becoming household names, while new characters like Miles Morales, Ms. Marvel, and Spider-Gwen have made their debuts in the vibrant pages of comic books. The stacked roster in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order reflects the past 10 years of Marvel's history, assembling a cast of beloved characters, both old and new, that extends its reach into almost every corner of the cosmos. The diversity of Ultimate Alliance's playable characters has always been the series' strongest aspect, and that remains true in Ultimate Alliance 3, where our favorite heroes team up for an enjoyable adventure brimming with synergized action.

Much like its predecessors, Ultimate Alliance 3 is an isometric action-RPG, hack-and-slash hybrid featuring four playable characters at any one time that you can switch between on the fly. There are a couple of left-field character inclusions counted amongst its comprehensive roster, like the monster-hunting Elsa Bloodstone and The Inhumans' Crystal, but it's an otherwise familiar list of names that features everyone from Hawkeye and Doctor Strange to Iron Man and Thor. Somewhat predictably, the plot revolves around the Infinity Stones after a Guardians of the Galaxy-related mishap scatters them across the Earth and into the hands of the evil-doers in Marvel's rogues' gallery.

Thanos and his ruthless Black Order play their part, but the story is less Marvel Cinematic Universe and more Saturday morning cartoon. That works in the game's favor, and the light-hearted writing and enthusiastic voice acting carry a narrative that does as much as it can with so many characters vying for screen time. There are fun one-liners, and the characters feel true to the ones we know, with their iterations pulling from the MCU, comics, and TV. It also helps that this isn't simply a rehash of well-trodden ground, despite the presence of many common elements. Instead, Ultimate Alliance 3 tells an original tale that takes some inspiration from 1991's The Infinity Gauntlet, while also encompassing various aspects of Marvel's films, comic books, and TV shows to create something of its own.

You only need to glance at the roster to see how Ultimate Alliance 3 pulls from every eclectic branch of the Marvel machine. Costumes and character designs are judiciously plucked from numerous sources--all homogenized by a uniform comic book-inspired art style that's full of color. The most important thing about these characters, however, is how each of them feels to play. Each hero has light and heavy attacks that can unleash various combos, as well as four super abilities that are gradually unlocked as each character levels up. There's also a block that negates some damage and a handy roll for dodging out of danger. Simple stuff. What elevates Ultimate Alliance 3's combat is the variety inherent to each of its heroes and the numerous ways in which they work in tandem. Take someone like Captain America, for example, who's all about punching enemies in the face and following up with a vibranium shield to the ribs. He plays a lot differently to a ranged character like Star-Lord, who is ideally suited to fighting from a distance with his dual elemental pistols and flight-enabling jet boots. The differences aren't just restricted to each hero's choice of weaponry or traversal, either; the Hulk is a lumbering force of nature, Wolverine strikes with quick and agile ferocity, and myriad damage types like piercing, ethereal, fire, and ice differentiate each character even further.

Then there are the abilities that tap into every hero's spate of superpowers. An energy meter governs how often you can let loose with these snazzy attacks, but Ultimate Alliance 3 is fairly generous about replenishing any lost energy in rapid fashion. This is important because using these abilities with abandon and combining them with others is a ton of fun. The basic light/heavy combat is satisfying on its own. There's a lot of button mashing, but fights can get pretty hectic when enemy projectiles are bouncing all over the screen, so you still need to be wary of your positioning and be able to avoid danger. Abilities add another layer, letting you blast away a crowd of goons with a wrecking ball comprised of Spider-Man's webs, spin Mjolnir around in a deadly electrified circle, or mow down anyone unfortunate enough to get in the way of Ghost Rider's hellfire bike.

Proximity to teammates also allows you to combine certain abilities with others to unleash devastating synergy attacks that amplify their damage output, whether it's Iron Man reflecting his beam off Captain America's shield or Deadpool tossing a deluge of grenades as Storm shoots a bolt of lightning out of her fingertips. Dole out enough punishment and you can activate a big Alliance Extreme attack that triggers all four of your character's synergy attacks at once, filling the screen with a vivid cascade of particle effects, explosions, and ever-increasing damage numbers. The frame rate can take a hit during these moments, but you're just watching the fireworks at that point, so it isn't really an issue in gameplay.

The diversity of Ultimate Alliance's playable characters has always been the series' strongest aspect, and that remains true in Ultimate Alliance 3, where our favorite heroes team up for an enjoyable adventure brimming with synergized action

The level design is fairly straightforward, funneling you down corridors and into more open areas with little deviation. This does, however, lend itself to a sense of forward momentum as you're constantly encountering new foes to fight. The only thing that slows it down are some terribly dull puzzles that are fortunately few and far between, revolving around pressing levers and pushing boxes, and a camera that has a tendency to get stuck behind objects or jitter up and down when not completely stuck. This is an occasional problem during combat when you're momentarily blind to enemy attacks, but it can be an annoyance when simply traversing as well.

It's a shame you can't just forget the camera is even there because each level takes place in a new location and the environments on show are fantastically varied. Dimension-hopping allows the action to venture away from Earth and into some of Marvel's more outlandish settings as you barrel towards the end credits, and Ultimate Alliance 3 makes good use of the sheer number of enemy factions that exist in the Marvel universe. Within the first couple of hours you'll brawl your way through The Raft and tangle with Spider-Man's nemeses before joining Daredevil and Iron Fist in a battle against The Hand's ninja army. This makes for a disparate mix of enemy types and aesthetics that keeps each level feeling fresh, and the same can be said of the plethora of boss fights you regularly encounter, too.

Facing off against the likes of Green Goblin, Dormammu, and Ultron can be quite challenging by yourself on the default difficulty level. Fortunately, there's a surprising amount of depth when it comes to upgrading each hero. Aside from accumulating XP to unlock more abilities, you can also spend currency to enhance each of their powers, reducing the energy cost or improving their potency. There's also a sprawling hexagonal skill tree that allows you to purchase stat increases that are applied to every hero on the roster, whether you're improving their strength, vitality, and resilience or unlocking various offensive and defensive buffs. Meanwhile, ISO-8 crystals give you the opportunity to apply additional bonuses to specific heroes. It's minute stuff like increasing health or decreasing damage under certain conditions, but it makes a difference and gives you a degree of customization that can be used to turn the tide of battle--and that's without even mentioning the importance of your chosen team's makeup.

Picking heroes that work well together applies various team bonuses that can further enhance their stats. This is based on tangibles like their team affiliation, intelligence, agility, and so on. You could assemble a team of the original Avengers, the X-Men, Defenders, or Midnight Sons and see an increase in particular stats that will also take into account whether any of the heroes have shared traits like "wisecracking warrior" or "anti-hero." Maybe you want to compile a team of web-slingers, Marvel royalty, or one that encompasses the women of Marvel. You have the opportunity to recreate canon teams or mix and match to create your own based on which bonuses are applied and how they can benefit you.

The only problem with all of this is that heroes only level up when you use them. Increases in strength, vitality and other similar skills are applied to everyone, but as you reach the latter half of the campaign, the lack of abilities, their upgrades, and the capability to equip multiple ISO-8s is keenly felt in your lower-level heroes, which means you end up neglecting most of the roster because they just aren't powerful enough. The workaround for this comes in the shape of XP boosts you can discover within levels and by completing optional Infinity Rifts that task you with repeating modified boss fights and challenges to earn different rewards. Getting enough XP boosts can be a long, grindy process, though, and that's just to get enough to significantly level up a single character. The diversity of Ultimate Alliance 3's roster is one of its core pillars, so feeling restricted to only using a few heroes during its final hours is a glaring disappointment.

More so than its predecessors, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order excels because of its character diversity and the ways its disparate heroes work together. For this reason alone it's an ideal co-op game, whether you're playing with another friend in the same room or with three friends online, but the AI more than holds its own if you're playing alone, too. It falters in places, but there's still nothing quite like the Ultimate Alliance series, and this long-awaited third entry makes it a triumphant return for a superhero brawler that feels more relevant than ever.

Editor's note: This review will be updated and finalized once we've tested more of the cooperative multiplayer, both locally and online, after the servers are populated.

Categories: Games

Etherborn Review

Gamespot News Feed - Thu, 07/18/2019 - 14:00

The manicured lawns in Etherborn are minimally sculptured. Their soil is thinly layered with patches of grass contained within grey slabs of concrete, and they stand in stark contrast to a backdrop of crumbling pillars and decrepit buildings. And like examining the self-contained scenes of a diorama, you'll find yourself ruminating over these landscapes as you unravel the puzzle of how to traverse them. But while Etherborn's minimalist beauty carries suggestions of loftier and more ambitious storytelling it's instead hampered a dissonant narrative, and a brevity that makes it feel lacking.

Like many platformers, Etherborn seems deceptively simple initially: just leapfrog your way towards the level's finale while collecting crystalline orbs that unlock previously inaccessible areas. In fact, some of Etherborn's geometric planes and architectural complexity very much harken back to Monument Valley, a title that famously plays on optical illusions and the mathematically-inspired art of MC Escher. What makes this puzzle game different is that its laws of gravity aren't like our world's. You can simply walk across any surface--even those perpendicular to your character--as long as there's a curved edge that connects them. However, you're still vulnerable to injuries and death; accidentally sliding off these landscapes and into the endless void below is a possibility.

Scaling these lopsided grounds introduces another dimension and new, unforeseen challenges. Etherborn often manipulates your perspectives, challenging you to find the abstract solutions to its puzzles. There are occasions where I was left baffled, unable to move on, only to realize much later that I didn't notice a few platforms I could jump on because they were turned onto their sides. At other times, you may even spend the bulk of a level on a horizontal wall and leaping over chasms within the same plane--a perspective that's tough to get the hang of. It's highly likely that you'll slip through the cracks at least once or twice due to the obtuse angles and see yourself spiraling downwards into the emptiness below (or sideways, given the game's unconventional gravitational pull).

Key to solving some puzzles is a keen eye for detail, which can help you to spot obscure passageways that open another route to your goal. Becoming intimately familiar with the nooks and crannies of every miniature world is something you'll want to do not only to satisfy your curiosity about the environment--it's also necessary if you want to get through the game's levels. Upping the ante in later chapters are shifting monochrome blocks, which expand and retract depending on where you are--and they can be a great source of grievance when they hinder your path.

It would have been a drag to commit to all these efforts if Etherborn's ecosystem were a lusterless one. Luckily, wandering and discovering each microcosm is mostly joyful and even oddly meditative. You can hike along the side of a flight of steps and find a starkly different landscape tucked away underneath, or run along the contours of the structures surrounding the island. Even though Etherborn's world is sparsely decorated and may even appear sterile, with only a few shrubberies, dandelions and elements of urban decay adorning each world, it is a universe still feels genuinely intriguing.

Discovering a hidden passage or a curved pathway as a new means of moving forward toward uncharted surfaces is hugely gratifying. Given that you'll probably be devoting a fair amount of time tinkering away at its puzzles, it also helps that the orchestral, instrumental soundtrack is soothing and non-intrusive. And while there are only five chapters in the game, each will probably take you at least an hour to figure out. Coupled with its steep levels of difficulty, it's also comforting that mistakes via accidental deaths are also quickly forgiven, with the game swiftly transporting you back to the state you were in a few seconds ago.

What's decidedly less impressive, however, is how hard Etherborn tries to shoehorn an ill-fitting narrative within the puzzles. You're a featureless, transparent humanoid figure with a very visible circulatory system, a character vaguely resembling the human anatomy mannequin found in a biology classroom. At the behest of an incorporeal, hallowed voice, you're tasked to travel across these lands in search of a series of waypoints. Tapping on these will eventually reveal various paths on a massive tree called the Endless Tree, its bark gradually peeling off to expose a meandering, vein-like system across its trunk that ties all the chapters together. It's a nifty inclusion that references the game's imagery of humanity and anatomy, but ultimately an inconsequential one.

Even as this disembodied voice tells a story that alludes to the beginnings of human civilization, the plot feels perfunctory and strangely divorced from its puzzles. Aside from introducing each chapter, the voice doesn't influence the game very much; instead, it simply delves into vague parables about the folly of human nature, without really explaining the significance of your mannequin character and this exotic world. This sense of dissonance makes the tale rather tenuous to follow. Exacerbating this is how the dialogue is filled with abstract ideas that teeter on pretentiousness, bloated with lofty lines like, "And so, their vast ego was also reduced to mere language." Etherborn would have been even more intriguing had it allowed you to project your own stories and interpretations onto this universe--like many curious onlookers would as they peer into a diorama.

The highlights of Etherborn are undoubtedly its inventive puzzles and its constellation of small, compelling worlds. But with just five chapters, its brief runtime feels lacking, and it left me wanting for more puzzles to solve. Etherborn attempts to compensate for this by unlocking a new game plus mode after you've completed the game, which lets you dive into the same worlds once more. This mode is largely similar to the original one, the only difference being the crystalline orbs, which are located in harder-to-reach places. Apart from the slightly more challenging platforming puzzles, however, the electrifying thrill of discovery has largely subsided--you've already found all the secrets, after all--and there's little incentive to revisit it. By the end, even the allure of these small worlds isn't enough to make you return, with only the yearning for more remaining in its wake.

Categories: Games

Dragon Quest Builders 2 Review - Building On A Strong Foundation

Gamespot News Feed - Wed, 07/17/2019 - 19:31

The old adage of "don't judge a book by its cover" doesn't just apply to printed matter. When you first see images and screenshots of Dragon Quest Builders 2, it's easy to write the game off as yet another blocky-building sandbox game. But Dragon Quest Builders 2 is more than just your run-of-the-mill material-gathering, object-crafting, block-laying game. Its virtual community-creating gameplay stands out among the crowd, jam-packed with the warmth, joy, and charm that makes the Dragon Quest series so delightfully memorable.

Dragon Quest Builders 2 begins with your player character, a Builder with the ability to move and create objects, winding up stranded on a strange archipelago. Long ago, these islands flourished with a great civilization--up until a cult called the Children of Hargon gained power, destroying all that existed and forbidding those in its thrall from creating anything new. It's up to you and your mysterious friend, a snarky, aggressive boy named Malroth, to destroy the cult's hold on the people and restore these islands to their former glory, one block at a time. Much like how the original Dragon Quest Builders was a take on a what-if ending for the original Dragon Quest, Dragon Quest Builders 2 takes the ending of Dragon Quest II and turns it on its head--but you don't need to be familiar with that game to get a lot of enjoyment out of this one. (You will appreciate several of the callbacks, though.)

The core gameplay loop in Dragon Quest Builders is immensely satisfying. You have a central island, the Isle of Awakening, that acts like one big sandbox, along with several other islands both large and small that you can visit to gather materials and advance the main story. The larger islands all feature a big, overarching quest to restore a destroyed population center, which you'll accomplish by completing numerous smaller sub-quests to build facilities, find new materials, help individual NPCs, and explore different areas. Completing these quests rewards you with the gratitude of those you've aided, which in turn yields new item-creation recipes, improves the skills of the NPCs at the base, and brings more characters to the area to help with building, farming, mining, and monster-slaying. When you finally complete the lengthy main quest on each of the bigger islands, several of the NPCs will return with you to the Isle of Awakening, eager to aid you in building your own unique city and letting you run absolutely wild with your creative town-building concepts.

Part of what makes this gameplay loop so fulfilling is that doing these dozens upon dozens of small errands for NPCs rarely becomes tedious. The characters you meet in Dragon Quest Builders 2 are lively and full of personality (and funny accents), and helping them out with their needs to receive their heartfelt thanks just feels really, really good. You also get the joy of watching a town transform from a barely-functional series of ramshackle hovels into a thriving community thanks to your persistence and kindness. When you finish a new building or complete a task, the populace gathers around to showcase their elation and shower you with gratitude points--a simple reward that nonetheless feels wonderful to get.

It also helps that the world itself is tremendously fun to explore. The varied settings you encounter in your quest offer a variety of things to discover: towering hills, sandy beaches, secret underground caverns, ancient ruins, waterlogged bogs, and so on. You'll find plenty to do out in Dragon Quest Builders 2's expansive environments, and by exploring, you're amply rewarded with rare materials, optional side quests, some new NPC companions, and even a few simple puzzles that yield nice rewards upon completion. There are even a few randomly generated small islands you can sail out to that offer fresh experiences every time you visit, allowing you the chance to see interesting procedurally-made environments, collect lots of unique, rare materials and bring them all home to build the city of your dreams.

Of course, it wouldn't be a Dragon Quest game without many of the series' beloved monster designs. While a few non-humans are friendly to you, most of the monsters you encounter are strict adherents of the Children of Hargon and want nothing more than to destroy you and everything you've made. You'll have to fight them off if you want to keep on building. Unfortunately, you're a Builder, not a fighter, so your combat prowess for a lot of the game feels quite lacking.

As a result, combat winds up being the weakest part of the game. While it's a marked improvement over the original Dragon Quest Builders, offering you a lot more control over your character and bringing NPCs into the mix to aid you in fighting, it still feels quite bland most of the time--you'll just run up to enemies, whack them with a few basic weapon strikes, and hope they die sooner rather than later. The NPC warriors that join you on expeditions and when your bases and city need defending are far more useful for fighting off enemies than you are most of the time, particularly Malroth, who is an absolute beast when it comes to monster-mashing. I frequently found myself just waiting for Malroth to whittle down enemies' health before I went in to finish them off and collect EXP and loot. The boss fights utilize some gimmicks involving your Builder abilities that make them significantly more interesting than normal fights, but they're few and far between. At least combat isn't a primary focus of the game, and new abilities and items you build as you progress help with enemy destruction--but combat never really stops feeling like an annoying distraction to what you want to do most: explore and build stuff.

But whatever problems the game has are quickly negated by everything else Dragon Quest Builders 2 does well. Characters are quirky and memorable with wonderfully written dialogue (though they're sometimes a smidge too chatty), you get lots of cool materials to work with over the course of the game to build and customize your city, and everything, from the controls to the visuals and audio to the interface, feels inviting, engaging, and fun. Occasionally there's a bit of tiny text that's hard to read (a problem made worse when playing in handheld mode on Switch), but the vast majority of the time you'll be too busy building away to care about the game's small irritations.

Online co-op play opens once you have cleared the game’s first major quest. Unfortunately, while you can’t play the campaign in a co-op session, you are still allowed to build on the Isle of Awakening alongside a buddy or three. Working together to build your island is as fun as playing solo—maybe even more so—and the various customization items you can craft to wear during these sessions add a lot of goofy charm to the proceedings. In our testing, sessions with other players located in North America went smoothly, with few noticeable lag hiccups. If you want to show off but don’t feel like having a virtual block party, there’s also a bulletin board where players from around the world can post, tag, and share screenshots of their creations in-game.

Dragon Quest Builders 2 is a great game, combining exploration, sandbox-building, questing, and town-management into a delightful package that will gladly suck up your time and put a big smile on your face. It's the sort of game that you'll intend to play for a little while, only to find that hours have flown by once you manage to actually put it down. Don't dismiss this one when you see big square blocks on the box--you'll be missing out on a very fun twist on an excellent gaming foundation.

Categories: Games

Night Call Review

Gamespot News Feed - Wed, 07/17/2019 - 14:00

The taxi cab is refitted as a confession booth in Night Call, a noir-styled visual novel that interweaves a series of murder mysteries through the tales of dozens of ordinary Parisian. The threads of their lives intermingling as you crisscross the streets of the city; Everyone's a little frail or fragile, much like the fabric of the game's core investigation, and it's the insights into people's everyday hopes, fears, and secrets that linger long after the end credits have rolled.

You play as Houssine, an Algerian immigrant living in Paris. Much of his background is elided, or only revealed in suggestion over the course of the game, but he is Muslim, sports a thick, dark beard, and works as a cab driver on the night shift. Houssine is recently back behind the wheel after an assault that saw him hospitalized and, because of who he is, a suspect in the very crime of which he was a victim.

Houssine understands what it means to feel like an outsider. There's been a terrorist attack recently, the details of which remain unspecified, but Arab men like Houssine are singled out for suspicion, their mere presence a cause for concern. His assault also resulted in the death of another person, the latest in a series of deaths that the police are keen to pin on him. One detective, however, disagrees and offers Houssine a deal: Help her investigation into the murders and he'll walk free.

It feels right that Houssine would be of interest to the police given the political climate (both current and echoed in-game) and the hints at his troubled past. And it feels authentic that someone would pressure him to essentially become an informant, the kind of blackmail that insinuates that inside the moral grey area of society lies a corrupt, black core. These themes--of feeling like you don’t belong, of a rotten system operating to exclude all but the privileged few--infuse not just Houssine’s personal experience but of many of the people he encounters, and work well in linking together an otherwise disparate collection of stories. At one point a young black man from Chicago (he’s in Paris studying to become a mime, hilariously) gets into Houssine’s cab after a humiliating run-in with the police, and they bond over their shared experiences. “I’d say the police have a problem with black people,” Houssine says, then grins, “... and Arabs.”

Each night, Houssine hits the streets to track down clues and follow up leads, all while performing his regular job. From a map of the city, you select a fare to take and watch a yellow arrow navigate to its destination, the scene then overlaying an interior shot of the cab with Houssine front right and his passenger(s) in the back seat behind.

At this point, the only thing to do is talk. Conversations are entirely text-based, with you selecting dialogue options on Houssine's behalf interspersed with his internal observations. Despite being minimally animated, with a handful of poses and expressions each, each character conveys a remarkable range of emotion and succeeds in bringing to vivid life each new person you encounter.

It's a wonderfully diverse cast of characters, too. In total there are 75 passengers to meet over the course of the game, drawn from a broad range of ages, social classes, ethnicities, sexualities and, in one or possibly two cases, dimensions. They each have their own stories to tell, and Houssine seems to be the man chosen to hear them all.

That's because while he's an outsider, as a cab driver, Houssine's difference is camouflaged. Many of the people he picks up are oblivious to him, at least at first. Couples discuss private matters as if he is not there. Lone passengers mutter to themselves, seemingly unaware of the possibility there's a real human being sharing the vehicle with them. When they do notice him, one passenger scoffs at the idea that a lowly cab driver could have any useful advice. Another passenger assumes Houssine has certain political sympathies because he's a brown, working-class man. "According to the people of this country, you don't count," one character tells him, with weary resignation. Houssine is both othered and unseen, tagged as different and yet simultaneously erased.

However, some passengers are immediately warm towards Houssine, while others, if distant or cautious to begin with, soon find themselves disarmed. Regardless of their disposition, however, they're all willing to reveal the most intimate details of their inner lives with often only the slightest bit of delicate prodding. There's the politician who is at the end of his tether over endemic corruption and pleads with Houssine to help him leak confidential documents. There's the lesbian couple who are loudly debating the merits of the prospective sperm donor with whom they have just concluded a "date." There's the former porn actress who is eager to talk all about her new pro-union production company making gender-positive porn movies. These tales are often funny, moving, and sweet--but moreover, they're always fascinating and exceptionally well-written.

In between these fares, Houssine can visit various locations to further his investigation. He knows someone who works somewhere who might have some information, that sort of thing. But these scenes don't feel as fleshed out as the cab ride conversations. It's not made clear how Houssine knows to go to these places or why many of these contacts are able to help him. Indeed, much of the casework he's pursuing is obscured, as if key details have been intentionally, frustratingly, left out of reach. When Houssine returns to his apartment each morning and assesses the clues he’s uncovered--presented as hand-written notes pinned to a board--I found it difficult to interpret what much of it meant. By the time Houssine was called upon to accuse a suspect, I made an unconvincing guess that just happened to be correct.

The structure of this series of murder mysteries is strange. There are three cases to choose from when you begin a new game, and each is framed the same way: Houssine finds himself the inadvertent victim of a serial killer and strong-armed by a detective to assist the investigation. Recurring characters populate each case, though if you meet someone in one case, that relationship won't carry over into the next one. It was very odd to give a ride in the second case to the very same person I'd revealed as the killer in the first. I did learn some more things about him that complicated my feelings about how the first case was resolved, but I couldn’t help but wish I’d encountered this conversation while pursuing that first case.

Houssine can't just focus on his detective work. He needs to earn a living, too. Fuel for your cab, daily car maintenance, and repayments on your cab license are all a drain on your bank account that can only be plugged by picking up new fares. Your boss says you're like a son to him, but if you don't make enough money from your shift and can't afford to pay his cut, the car maintenance, and the license fee, he fires you on the spot and it's game over.

I like the theory behind this slight economic sim layer. It's there to ensure you feel the precariousness of Houssine's existence while also nudging you towards interacting with all the characters who don't really have anything to do with the core mystery. But my experience of the normal difficulty setting was that it felt too punitive. On my first case, I entered an all-too-real downward spiral where I simply couldn't pull Houssine out of the red and had to abandon the game. On the easy difficulty, Houssine still loses money each night, but he starts with a buffer sufficient to see the story through.

If you're going to play Night Call, then play it on the "Story" setting. The normal difficulty claims it is "the way Night Call is meant to be played." I disagree. Night Call is at its best when you're behind the wheel, gliding through the rain-kissed boulevards, lost in conversation with whichever lost soul just happened to appear in the back seat of your cab. It presents itself as a noir mystery, but the murders you’re investigating are the least interesting narrative element. Night Call’s real strength is in the stories it tells about Paris, about the people who live there and the meaningful connections you can have with them no matter how brief or unexpected. It's these people you'll remember once you've solved each case, not the fares you charged them.

Categories: Games

SolSeraph Review - Play God

Gamespot News Feed - Fri, 07/12/2019 - 20:00

SolSeraph is overtly inspired by the Super NES cult classic ActRaiser. If there was any shred of doubt of its roots given its mixture of action-platforming and sim-style management, that was removed when it opened with a slow spinning first-person view barrelling towards the earth--an homage to ActRaiser's Mode-7 showpiece so specific that it virtually winks at the audience. Curiously, though, it's some of SolSeraph's departures from ActRaiser that let it stand on its own, for better and for worse.

SolSeraph puts you in the divine boots of Helios, the Knight of Dawn, as he helps build civilization and fight against a set of Younger Gods who each manifest as the embodiment of a natural disaster. There is a hodge-podge of religious iconography at play, and Helios looks especially angelic, but this isn't tied to any specific faith. Instead, SolSeraph invents its own mythology, borrowing bits and pieces from world religions.

Each of the five territories consists of two distinct game types. To begin, you fight through monsters to unlock a new civilization. Each one is housed on its own environment type which presents its own set of hazards. An island nation is prone to constant flooding, for example, while the snowy northern tribe has trouble tending farms and needs to rely on livestock instead. You guide the people to manage their population and resources, like food and lumber, while also building defensive structures to fend off attacks from monsters. Then you can build a temple near one of the monster lairs, take part in another action-platforming or arena battle to clear it, and continue until you unlock the final portion that houses the Younger God boss.

This all may sound very familiar to ActRaiser fans, but the focus on defending against waves of monster attacks is actually a wild departure. SolSeraph's approach is more akin to a tower defense game, as the waves of monsters all march on a set path toward a centralized base marked by a campfire. Defeating waves of monsters takes a variety of defensive structures, even earning its own part in the radial menu, along with the godly powers to summon lightning or dispatch a guardian. In short, it takes the formerly minor threat of monster attacks and makes it much more active and central to the experience.

On one hand, this change makes the sim portions feel that much more dynamic. Protecting your people from brutal waves of monster attacks can be much more frenetic than the relaxed, casual sensation of watching your society grow and occasionally guiding your people in the right direction. On the other hand, this approach comes at the expense of what made ActRaiser such an interesting examination of faith.

In ActRaiser, society grew on its own as you mildly steered them, and your tools were limited. You could summon an earthquake to destroy houses and encourage stronger building, but you couldn't meticulously place each individual building on a grid. In some ways, ActRaiser functioned as a reflection on the limitations of divinity. Interactions were indirect, and the stories that played out were sometimes tragic. The people assumed it must be the will of a higher power, but in reality, you were powerless to stop some events that they had set in motion by their own free will. It's a powerful idea that, in SolSeraph, is undermined by having such direct control over everything your civilization does.

The spirit is still there, to a point. The people pray to Helios without ever hearing an answer, so the idea is still present that they're operating on faith and hoping some dispassionate deity will end their struggles. But this is present only in short story sequences, and it's discordant with the mechanics of the game itself. There is no sensation that the culture is flourishing on its own. You aren’t gently guiding as much as dictating, which feels oddly out-of-step with the idea that the people have unproven faith in a higher power.

Functionally, the sim segments are relatively simplistic but often unintuitive. Monster waves come infrequently enough that it's often easy to build up a massive arsenal of defenses before the first attack ever comes. There's no real penalty for failure, and in fact getting a game over screen just starts the monster clock over again from zero while keeping all of your recent building changes. At the same time, it isn't always clear where the monsters will be coming from or in what numbers. Building temples to clear monster lairs relies on meeting a threshold of "Souls," which are gathered from defeated monsters. This can be counterintuitive in a game about a god gathering worshippers, who could also logically be counted as souls and more sensibly connect to building a worship temple. Instead, the population only matters inasmuch as it gives you bodies to assign to defensive structures and farms. There is no counter for your total number of assigned versus idle villagers, which means you may reassign them at a critical moment by accident.

The game’s other half, the action-platforming segments, can be unforgiving. The controls are rigid and monsters come from all sides, which often makes it difficult to turn quickly to take on different threats. Life comes at a premium, with very sparse health regen and a magic spell that only recharges one measly health point at a time. Checkpoints are often nowhere to be found, which is especially frustrating when you accidentally wander into an optional area with a tougher battle that grants some small permanent reward like extra Weather Magic for the sim portion.

Much more problematic in the action sequences is the interplay between the foreground and background. Helios does his battle strictly on one plane, but enemies often approach from the foreground or background. You can see them approaching, but until they reach your plane, slashing with your sword won't touch them. The transition between untouchable and vulnerable isn't clearly signaled, so oftentimes your best bet is to slash wildly at an approaching enemy until it takes damage--but since some of them fly diagonally towards you, this isn't foolproof. The interplay between these areas can present a good challenge when it's just background characters firing projectiles that you'll need to dodge, but the tendency for enemies to cross from one plane to another just creates more frustration than it's worth.

The Younger Gods boss characters are the exception to this rule and where the combat shines. The old-school challenge isn’t hampered by the gimmick present in normal enemy encounters. Better yet, the collection of boss designs are largely a creative mixture of different cultural traditions from around the world, and each one’s power set and attack patterns connect with the natural disasters they have represented for your people. Defeating them grants you a new power, but it’s nearly as satisfying to have defeated the personification of floods, drought, or wildfires, after watching your culture struggle with them.

SolSeraph could have hemmed slightly closer to the conventions of its clear inspiration, and it may have been better for it. The changes to the sim aspect create gameplay depth at the expense of tonal depth, and the action segments can be annoyingly clunky, especially with the unnecessary addition of enemies that are untouchable until an unclear point in time. The willingness to riff on one of the most beloved classics of an entire console era shows a remarkable amount of audacity, and it actually halfway works. It's the half that doesn't that makes SolSeraph such a qualified recommendation.

Categories: Games

198X Review

Gamespot News Feed - Fri, 07/12/2019 - 02:00

198X taps into our love for the games of the '80s, giving you a handful of short gaming vignettes wrapped around a simple story about the pain of growing up. The games themselves look more like '90s SNES games than '80s arcade titles (albeit very handsome SNES games), but 198X's neon aesthetic (and, of course, its name) is clearly trying to evoke a sense of nostalgia for this period. Unfortunately, despite a few nice homages, it's not a particularly transportive experience.

198X features five faux-'80s arcade games to play through, and they're short enough that the whole thing, story sequences included, wraps in less than two hours. They're not quite minigames--they're framed as tiny slices of full games that exist within the narrative's world, the first few levels of five larger experiences. These games, which are chained together sequentially by beautiful pixel-art cutscenes set to a synth soundtrack, make up the entirety of 198X's gameplay. The plot centers on the "Kid" (he's never named beyond this), who lives in a suburb outside of a major city. He watches the highway at night and thinks about getting out of town. He seems generally unhappy with his life, until he discovers an arcade hidden away in an old abandoned factory and discovers a sense of purpose and place amidst the machines and patrons there.

198X suffers from some of the same problems that Ernest Cline's Ready Player One suffered from. If that book's insistence that being a geek is inherently good irritated you, then 198X's vague reverence for arcades and youth will likely have a similar effect. There's something very immature about the game's portrayal of the Kid and the way he talks about his idealistic childhood, while giving limited insight into why things are so hard on him now. "You get to high school and everyone's brainwashed," he says at one point, which is about as deep as the game gets in its exploration of the difficulty of one's teenage years. You're not given enough insight into the Kid to really get a sense of why this arcade is so important to him, beyond a few vague references to his father not being around anymore.

Of the five games you play through in 198X, only two really touch on the boy's struggles in a meaningful way. Playing through the five games in order, then, doesn't tell us a lot about more about the Kid's private life, and there's little real sense of why they are important to him beyond a general sentiment that games are powerful and important by default. Much of this narrative assumes your own investment in the power of an arcade, and the game doesn't put much effort into selling you on why this particular arcade, and these particular games, mean so much to the Kid.

Your first foray into the arcade comes through Beating Heart, a Final Fight-style brawler with a simple two-button control scheme. It's the most basic game included--you can punch, do a jump kick, or perform a spinning kick, and if you die while facing off against the handful of enemy types, you can immediately respawn without penalty. It's a simple introduction, with a lovely period-appropriate midi soundtrack that does a great job of evoking the arcade classics it is paying homage to (in fact, this is true of every game in 198X). But it doesn't offer anything interesting or unique in its mechanics, nor does it contribute much to the narrative of the Kid.

Next is Out of the Void, a shooter clearly inspired by R-Type, which only runs for two levels. You fly from left to right, collecting ship upgrades and firing regular and charged shots to take down your enemies. It's solid fun, if nothing spectacular, and things get quite hairy in the second level. It's one of the more enjoyable games in 198X simply because it actually feels pretty close to a decent arcade space shooter. Alas, it's over very quickly, and while it's relatively enjoyable, it's certainly not as inventive or intense as the best games in the genre--the final boss, for instance, is a pushover. A more challenging experience, or some unique mechanics, would have better represented the games from this period that we have actual nostalgia for.

After this comes The Runaway, an OutRun-style driving game that lacks the arcade classic's sense of speed and whimsy. The lack of gear changes and sharp corners makes this one a bit of a snooze, although it's also the game in the collection that achieves the most resonance with the narrative--at a certain point, elements of the world you've seen in the cutscenes blend into the game. It's a neat trick, but it's in service of a plot that isn't particularly gripping..

Shadowplay, a "ninja" game, is the standout of 198X. It's the longest game in the collection (although you'll still likely finish it in about 20 minutes). You play as a fast-running ninja across a series of automatically-scrolling screens. You can move left and right, jump, slide, and slash your sword at enemies ahead of you. It's got the feel of an involved auto-runner, and timing your jumps and slashes to avoid enemy attacks and traps is engaging, with ever-changing level designs and interesting challenges that hit the right balance of difficulty where the game is challenging without being frustrating.

The platforms, spikes and pits you encounter make you read your environment and think about how you time your movements as you run through each level slashing at your enemies. You can collect power-ups to give your sword a greater reach, and there are more levels here (and more gameplay variety) than in the other games. There's even a great boss fight at the end where you have to dodge between multiple platforms as a demon shoots tendrils at you, and reaching the end feels satisfying in a way the other games don't. As much as 198X feels like a gimmick, Shadowplay stands out as an experience that feels like it could work as a full title. It feels disconnected from the overarching narrative, but it's the most enjoyable part of the 198X.

The final game, Kill Screen, is a simple first-person RPG. It's aiming to be weird and creepy rather than particularly challenging, and on that level, it works fairly well. It's meant to represent the mental state of the protagonist, who has, up until that point, spent every cutscene moping. It works as a mood piece, and there's some cool weird imagery in there, but the gameplay, which involves hunting for dragons in a maze full of random encounters, is very simple. There's a neat Paper Mario-inspired mechanic where you can time button presses on attacks to do more damage, and the weird enemy designs are inventive, but it's fairly one-note in both its gameplay model and its commentary on the Kid's state of mind.

198X ends with a "To Be Continued." This feels appropriate because the game, which is not being explicitly billed as episodic on its Steam page, feels not just short, but incomplete. As neat as the concept is, 198X doesn't do enough to sell you on the connection between the metanarrative of the Kid and the arcade games he is playing--or spend enough time investing you in why any of this matters. There's promise in some of these short genre riffs, but the game doesn't give you many reasons to care about the Kid and his desire to get out of the suburbs.

198X is a great idea with middling execution. While its games offer some brief enjoyment, there's not enough here for the game to feel like a proper ode to '80s arcades, nor does the Kid's plight, and his longing to escape his current life, totally connect. There's definitely a spark of something here--and Shadowplay, in particular, is a lot of fun--but 198X feels more like a proof of concept than a final product.

Categories: Games

Greedfall Gets A Release Date In Its Swashbuckling New Trailer

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 07/11/2019 - 20:30

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Publisher: Focus Home Interactive Developer: Spiders Studios Release: 2019 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Developer Spiders has released a new trailer showing off their newest game, Greedfall, and it won't be too long until we get to chart the mysterious island of Teer Fradee ourselves.

Greedfall's focus seems to be designing a completely player-driven experience, including character customization, romance options, and faction alliances, while also delivering a solid single-player campaign. The takes place on an uncharted island in the 17th century, where magic and mystical beasts are everywhere.

"Player freedom and choice are core to GreedFall, as your decisions will build friendships, break alliances, diffuse conflicts and shape the future of the island," according to Spiders. "Exploring a brave new frontier, your search for lost secrets will rely on more than just skill in combat. Everything, whether a dialogue option, choosing a stealthy approach, or even your choice of companion in a given situation may alter the outcome."

We were impressed with the game when we saw it at E3 2018, and we won't have to wait too much longer until it's in our hands. Greedfall launches on September 10 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.

Categories: Games

The Bard's Tale IV Is Coming To Console Later This Year

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 07/11/2019 - 18:28
Publisher: Deep Silver Developer: inXile Entertainment Release: August 27, 2019 Rating: Teen Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

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When The Bard's Tale IV, a successor to the original 80s RPG trilogy, was released in 2018, it stood as a love letter to the old RPG classics of earlier days. In a few short months, you can play that love letter in its expanded and improved form. 

The Director's Cut is coming fully stocked with more enemies, weapons, and character customization options, a new end-game chapter to the story, additional difficulty settings, and a whole host of improvements to the game's balance and interface. 

While The Bard's Tale IV originally only released on PC, The Bard's Tale IV: Director's Cut will release digitally on Xbox Game Pass, PlayStation 4, and PC on August 27. Physical copies of the game for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One will release on September 6. If you already on the base game on PC, you will receive the Director's Cut as a free update. 

For more on Bard's Tale IV, check out our review of the original version of the game here.

Categories: Games

Your First Look At Gunfight

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 07/11/2019 - 18:05

Publisher: Activision Developer: Infinity Ward Release: October 25, 2019 Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Details about Infinity Ward's new take on its popular Modern Warfare subseries are still scant, especially when it comes to the multiplayer. Today, Infinity Ward pulled back the curtain just a hair to show off a snippet of one of its new modes, Gunfight.

Gunfight is a 2v2 mode where each team has 40 seconds to kill the other. After 40 seconds pass, a flag will spawn on the map and teams will need to capture and defend it for three seconds to score a point. If nobody scores a point within the time limit, the team with the most health wins that round. The first team to six points wins the match.

For more on Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare, check out our thoughts about the reveal here.

Categories: Games

New Monster Hunter World: Iceborne Trailer Debuts Two Terrifying Subspecies

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 07/11/2019 - 15:11

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Publisher: Capcom Developer: Capcom Release: September 6, 2019 Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

The Monster Hunter World: Iceborne expansion gives fans a new region to explore in which variants of known monsters and all-new beasts test the upmost of your abilities. The game's new trailer features two such variants: Fulgur Anjanath and Ebony Odogaron, as well as a look at the Seliana home base.

Fulgur Anajanath uses lightning instead of fire, and Ebony Odogaron has a wider attack range as well as a dragon-elemental attack. The new trailer also shows off Glavenus, with its sweeping tail attack.

Before you go out and tackle these fearsome beasts, you can recharge and stock up at the Seliana base in Hoarfrost Reach, complete with a streamlined gathering hub, gear-crafting smithy, resource center, gardens, and more. Players can also customize their My Room in Seliana, and after the game's launch Capcom says players will be able to visit each other's rooms.

Monster Hunter World: Iceborne comes out September 6 on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One (the PC version is planned for the winter). For more on the expansion, be sure to check out the exclusive stories in our cover-story hub (click below).

Categories: Games

A Three Hour Tour

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 07/11/2019 - 14:59

Publisher: Bandai Namco Developer: Supermassive Games Release: August 30, 2019 Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

When Man of Medan was revealed a year ago, fans of Supermassive’s Until Dawn on the PlayStation 4 naturally expected a successor to that game’s mechanics and narrative. Everything that has been shown from the title until today reinforced the belief that the Dark Pictures Anthology, beginning with Man of Medan, was going to be a standard narrative adventure within the horror genre based mostly on choice. During a demo event, Supermassive revealed that there was still one more feature about the game they had kept hidden since the game’s reveal: online multiplayer.

It probably sounds a little strange and, in a way, it very much is. The game still has its single-player portion that allows a branching narrative that fans of Supermassive have come to expect, with quick-time events and decision-making driving the story. Man of Medan, and all further games in the Dark Pictures Anthology, can also be played in a new “Shared Story” mode online with one other player. Together, you and a friend participate in the story by controlling different characters as the story dictates.

In the demo I played, I was paired up with another player from a different outlet and started the game from the beginning. While we weren’t able to use voice chat, players who play online will be able to, which is going to be fairly important to the dynamic the game wants. Throughout the narrative, the two players take control of different characters at once, sometimes interacting and sometimes splitting up, and make their own decisions.

In the setup for the game, two soldiers wake up from a drunken stupor on a battleship, allowing the players controlling them to either split up or stay together, as you do in a horror movie. The pair discover that the entire ship has been either killed or is slowly dying, and there’s a lot of creepy imagery that players might see differently depending on which character they’re playing.

After a time skip, players take control of a group of friends looking to do some deep sea diving looking for a World War II airplane that has gone undiscovered for years. Two brothers, Alex and Brad, are preparing for the dive by having a conversation about their upcoming venture, with one player taking each side of the conversation and choosing the dialogue options from a radial menu. Brad can choose to be nervous, prompting the way Alex responds, and maybe telling you a little bit about how the players would view this situation outside of the game.

There are also times where players will split from each other entirely. When Alex’s girlfriend, Julia, joins in alongside her brother Conrad, portrayed by Shawn Ashmore, players can have entirely separate scenes. When Julia and Alex dive underneath the water’s surface, Conrad and the ship’s captain, Fliss, stay on the boat. Conrad attempts to flirt with the young captain, who can either be receptive to it or shut him down, while Alex proposes to Julia down below. As the possibly-engaged pair come back up to the boat, they see a small explosion of fire coming from the surface, and have to decide whether to risk decompression sickness to go help. From the other perspective, Conrad overzealously gases up the grill, and it fires back into his face.

Does the player on the boat tell the other player not to worry? Is it even worth mentioning while they have their own fires to put out? Would someone want to save their own character above the other player’s favorite? There’s a lot of different considerations that make the narrative adventure more than just competitive or cooperative.

The game also has a local mode called Movie Night, which allows up to five players to get assigned a character in the story and play through it together with one controller. Supermassive says that Movie Night is inspired by the feedback they got from Until Dawn, which told them people tended to play the game together by passing the controller around and sticking to characters for specific players. Movie Night goes through the single-player path of the game, so you’ll see a bit of different scenes, like some of Fliss and Conrad on the boat and some of Julia and Alex diving below.

Overall, the path Supermassive chosen to bring multiplayer to what is essentially an interactive movie is a promising one. It may not be everyone’s preferred way to play through the game, but there’s different options for however someone wants to go through the narrative. You can be spooked alone, spooked online, or spooked with friends.

Categories: Games

Psychonauts 2 Delayed To 2020

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 07/11/2019 - 01:20
Publisher: Double Fine Productions Developer: Double Fine Productions Release: 2020 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

At E3 this year, Psychonauts made its first big splash in some time by coming out with a gameplay demo and trailer at Microsoft's press conference. Developer Double Fine also announced that the studio is joining Microsoft's umbrella as one of their first party developers. While this doesn't affect where Psychonauts 2 is releasing, when Psychonauts 2 is releasing has seemingly changed, as Double Fine has announced a delay to next year.

The news comes in the form of a backer update through Fig, which Psychonauts 2 was crowdfunded and Double Fine head Tim Schafer is part-owner. After mentioning that the game is confirmed to still come to every platform it was promised for, the post mentions a delay for Rasputin's next adventure.

"There really shouldn’t be too many other noticeable changes for you at all, at least not for a while...with one notable exception: We’re now targeting next year for release," the post reads. "We know it’s always disappointing when you have to wait a bit longer, but we also know that you are an amazing, supportive bunch, who - just like us - want the game to be as good as possible. So we’re hopeful you’ll understand! <3"

It's likely this has nothing to do with the Microsoft's acquisition and more just the realities of making a bigger game at a smaller studio, but hopefully the title hits more toward the beginning of the year than the end of it. When it does release, Psychonauts 2 will come to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

Categories: Games

New Haven Trailer Shows Off An Adorable Romance

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 07/10/2019 - 18:23
Publisher: The Game Bakers Developer: The Game Bakers Release: 2020 Platform: PC

Haven was announced earlier this year with a few simple screenshots and a short description of what to expect from the game. "You play as two lovers who escaped to a lost planet. The only thing that matters to them is to stay together."

As an RPG from the developers of Furi, this description and the gorgeous screenshots were enough to intrigue. Now, a gameplay trailer has been released to give players a firm grasp on what the game will be like. 

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From an update to the game's Steam page, the full description now reads, "Haven is a story-rich adventure, with touching characters with whom you fall in love as you follow them through their challenges and everyday life. But it’s also a (J)RPG with an innovative combat system that lets you play the two characters at the same time, and chain actions using tactics and timing." 

Fans of the art style and killer soundtrack of Furi will be pleased to discover that Haven will follow closely in its footsteps. The narrative driven adventure is described as a primarily solo experience, but can be played in local co-op. Haven will be launching on at least PlayStation 4 and PC with a planned release window of 2020. 

Categories: Games

Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers Review

Gamespot News Feed - Tue, 07/09/2019 - 10:50

Whereas previous Final Fantasy XIV expansions grappled with broad-brush concepts in corruption, religion, and imperialism, the path you tread in Shadowbringers is a distinctly personal affair. The central conceit is the battle between good and evil, and between the dual concepts of Light and Dark, but at its core is a story about a protagonist who's been left adrift and has to come to terms with their identity alongside long-time companions against the backdrop of a dying world. This harkens back to the sort of character treatment that the non-MMO Final Fantasy games have prided themselves on for decades, but even with the familiar subject matter, the journey here feels distinctly forward-looking. The question for a lot of fans was whether the longevity of the game post-Stormblood would last. When you roll the credits on Shadowbringers, it'll be hard to envision a world where the answer to that is anything other than a resounding "yes".

Shadowbringers hinges on a revelation. The quests between Stormblood and the new content do a great job of laying down a narrative foundation rife with inter-faction politics, intrigue, and shadowy figures pulling strings with hidden consequences. As the new expansion opens, however, that particular nest of vipers is upended by way of a forced jaunt through time and space. What starts as a quest to save your friends takes a life-altering turn; you're thrown into the heart of a conflict between Light and Dark that strikes at the core of the hero mythos that the game has built around your character since A Realm Reborn.

As the Warrior of Light, you're tossed rather unceremoniously into the realm of Norvrandt: a world ravaged by the very element that you've chivalrously championed all your life. Like any erstwhile hero facing the unknown, your job initially is to search for some clarity and a way to save your friends back home from eternal slumber. It soon becomes very clear that your impressive deeds in Eorzea mean next to nothing here. No one knows of your previous accomplishments, there's a distinct distrust from the locals, and your usual non-verbal charm gets you nowhere.

The kicker is that any mention of the Light will make you public enemy number one; it's rampaging through the land and leaving death and destruction in its wake. You're unmoored and as good as stranded in an unfamiliar world where your values and beliefs could get you killed. Starting a new MMORPG expansion can often feel like slipping into a pair of worn shoes that have stood the test of time; there's a certain sense of security afforded to you because of your established Chosen One status. With the story's rocky start, Shadowbringers takes a decidedly discomforting approach by doing the narrative equivalent of taking those shoes off your feet and getting someone to beat you with them. The solution it offers in its opening minutes is simple: Set aside everything you know and become the Warrior of Darkness.

In practice, this is more difficult than it sounds. Norvrandt is home to all manner of dangers, and the most insidious aren't the ones that come at you with sharp teeth and sharper claws. There's a seething undercurrent of wrongness that permeates everything, as beautiful as the lush forests and the wide, open fields of this realm may be. These sentiments are felt throughout the design of Shadowbringers' new locations and dungeons: the debaucherous Eulmore where the rich are willfully ignorant to the suffering of others, the deceivingly dangerous riot of fae and fancy of Il Mheg, and the apocalyptic wastelands of times long destroyed by the Light, to name a few. Each new environment is twisted violently in some way, whether it's the presence of monstrous enemies or the cruel ways that its inhabitants have chosen to eke out a living.

The main story quests ferry you from location to location at a decent clip, though ample time is devoted to you experiencing the horrors that the Light has wrought about the realm. Having to go back to what feels like the equivalent of Hero School affords you some breathing room; it's clear that the expansion wasn't going to live and die on the Warrior of Darkness' shoulders alone, and a large part of the narrative is actually devoted to fleshing out popular supporting characters from Final Fantasy XIV canon. You're not the only one who's had to make some difficult adjustments, and Shadowbringers doesn't shy away from tough questions about sacrifice, honor, and duty (or their tougher answers).

The dungeons and trials are an excellent way for Shadowbringers to hammer those points home, and to deal with important narrative beats. It's a credit to the game's development team that the dungeons are much more than just a means to keep you occupied or to give you enough experience to move on to the next big thing in the world. They function like little pockets of insight into the decayed state of Norvrandt, complete with harrowing bosses and crumbling ruins. These dungeons see you racing through castles fighting seraphim and diving into fae realms making desperate pacts to secure your future. And it all plays out to a distinctly operatic soundtrack that leans heavily into dramatic strings and modern vocal frills, creating a perfect atmosphere to underscore the urgency of your character's mission. Every new encounter of this fashion drives the Warrior of Darkness closer to their goal of restoring balance to the world, whether it's driving a sword through the heart of a friend now-twisted by Light or unearthing the origins and primal motivations for this conflict. Dungeons have always been a part of the main story's requirements in Final Fantasy XIV, but here they feel just as crucial to your enjoyment and understanding of the tale as the new quests do.

Quests place you directly in the shoes of these supporting characters, and playing as them is both a welcome change of pace and a chance for newer players to deepen their understanding of the game's lore. That being said, not all quests are made equal, and there are some confusing mechanical decisions that may frustrate. For example, the end of the expansion requires a player to have completed a max-level quest before picking up a lower-level one to progress to the grand finale. In other cases, optional quests that share a common thread can sometimes be spread out across different locations on a map and aren't signposted any differently from unrelated ones. This can make you feel like you need to slog through every mundane errand in the hopes of finding a diamond. Luckily, these instances are few and far between; just like its predecessor, Shadowbringers brings to life a number of humanizing stories through its side quests and manages to make you care about the day-to-day lives of new characters who initially have nothing but scorn for what you stand for.

It's not solely about capitalizing on known factors, though. The expansion introduces plenty of unfamiliar delights to sink your teeth into--the Trust system is perhaps the most important addition for accessibility that Final Fantasy XIV has seen since its rebirth. It allows players to take a fully-formed party of NPCs from the main story quests into dungeons with them, eliminating the need to wait 20 minutes in the queue if you were trying to go through matchmaking. This is the perfect solution for players who don't want to play with strangers and ensures that no one is gated from progressing in the story just because they may have to wait an inordinate amount of time to find the necessary party. These NPCs are drawn from a pool of the familiar faces of the Scions of the Seventh Dawn and from some noteworthy new acquaintances, so using them in the Trust system is a pleasant nod to the value that the Shadowbringers narrative places on friendship and sticking together in the face of adversity.

On the matter of the new classes and races aside, servers are currently teeming with Viera and Hrothgar avatars ready to take on the world. While the new race models look as spectacular in motion as one would expect, the Gunbreaker and Dancer classes are still a relative unknown that players are puzzling out at this early stage in Shadowbringers' life cycle. Gunbreaker packs a hell of a punch as a high-damage job, suited for an off-tank role that trades in axes and greatswords for something a little less traditional. Dancer's primary focus other than looking absolutely enchanting in combat is to provide buffs for party members, and it appears to be trying to fill the utility ranged DPS role previously occupied by Bards who have now had their party-wide buffs removed.

Gunbreaker currently feels a little too much like it was originally meant to be a DPS class. It does a ridiculous amount of damage, managing to hold its own against the likes of Black Mage and Samurai. This seems a little antithetical to the tanking philosophy imbued within the other role options, where the thematic focus on survivability and protection is much clearer. Healers in particular will have to get used to managing cooldowns around Superbolide, one of the key Gunbreaker abilities that reduces their HP to 1 whilst preventing further fatal damage. Playing as a gun-wielding tank is novel but hard to master as it takes a higher-risk approach to putting your life on the line for your party members and also requires those partied with you to be familiar with your new tricks.

Dancer, for all of its beauty, currently lacks some fire in the damage department. You have to manage two class-specific stances--Technical Step and Standard Step--each with its own set of moves to master. You also have access to Closed Position, which lets you choose a dance partner to benefit from your buffs and your skills. Pulling off a perfect performance will buff the Dancer's DPS overall, and the key to doing damage is through graceful move combinations that ultimately let you unleash AOE attacks upon unsuspecting foes. The strength of Dancer shines through in prolonged encounters where their deadly chakram slice and dice at enemies, giving them the chance to use skills from both stances for a significant payoff. That being said, setting up these balletic massacres takes time; without enough breathing room to perform a routine, the Dancer can feel a little more frumpy than flamenco, especially in the majority of the game's legacy content where breathing on something is as good as a killing blow.

Both classes have a distinct identity, though the streamlining of the other jobs has muddied the waters a little in respect of the existing classes enjoying the same individualism. You used to have to pick up quests specifically for your chosen job to learn new skills. Now, Shadowbringers has replaced these with role quests for DPS, tanks, and healers, and these exist mostly to provide experience and to further the overall narrative than to improve any existing affinity with your character's chosen profession. While some job questlines were more involved than others (Stormblood introduced a particularly heartfelt Samurai one), to do away with them entirely seems like a waste. Role actions also have been further simplified, with changes to tanking and healing in particular removing some bloat but also making them more homogenous. While this makes it easier for newcomers to plug and play, it feels like it's come at the cost of the unique class identities which past expansions have been so careful to cultivate.

Some of its changes to the player experience are still causing a little discomfort during this teething phase, but Shadowbringers makes a strong case for itself as the game's most engaging expansion. It's not just the sheer scale and strength of the narrative weaving in years of old lore without cheapening the experience for new players, or the immaculately designed boss fights replete with spectacular music and thematic touches. It's also the implementation of the Trust system and the chance to truly feel the impact of the Warrior of Light's decisions over the past expansions through exploring the stories of your companions. For a story that starts with a laser focus on your character's motivations and misgivings, it tells a tale that ends up being the biggest and the best that Final Fantasy XIV has ever told. Equal parts redemption, vengeance, cruelty, and sassy Elezen, Shadowbringers promises a hell of a lot when you take your first steps into Norvrandt and delivers a truly spectacular finish even if it stumbles a little along the way.

Categories: Games

Kill La Kill: If Demo Available Now On PS4

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 07/09/2019 - 01:05
Publisher: Arc System Works Developer: A+ Games Release: July 26, 2019 Platform: PlayStation 4, Switch, PC

Arc System Works has a pretty good track record with anime adaptations and fighting games, but is still relatively unknown in the field of publishing them. It makes sense, then, that fans would want to try out a new game merely published by Arc System Works but developed by APLUS before committing to buying. If that's you, and you own a PlayStation 4, you can do so right now!

The demo takes you through the game's introductory chapter of the story mode, which presents an alternate universe story to the Trigger-created anime show. You can also take part in the game's local versus mode with a limited set of characters to get a sense of how the game plays against people.

While the demo is only on PlayStation 4, the game is also releasing on Nintendo Switch and PC, as well. All three versions release on July 26.

Categories: Games

NASCAR Heat 4 Hits The Track This September

Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 07/08/2019 - 17:39

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Publisher: 704Games Developer: Monster Games Release: September Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Publisher 704Games and developer Monster Games have announced the next iteration in the NASCAR Heat series, NASCAR Heat 4, which is scheduled to hit the PS4, Xbox One, and PC this September. Although details on the game are light at the moment, new tire models for the different track types and more career mode flexibility are highlighted among other additions such as a needed graphical upgrade.

NASCAR Heat 3 added dirt racing, and although that may be a big draw for some (legend Tony Stewart is featured on the game's cover), one of the new features of career mode is the ability to start in any of the game's four racing series – dirt, trucks, the Xfinity series, and the Monster Energy cup series.

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Whether this is the mode's main addition for the year remains to be seen, but 704Games president Colin Smith says that the game, "[incorporates] a number of features and improvements recommended by the NASCAR Heat community."

Hopefully this includes more in-depth car customization options, improved A.I. and online performance, more career mode depth, and improvements in other areas.

NASCAR Heat 4 is now accepting pre-orders for its standard and gold editions (featuring Jeff Gordon on the cover), and the latter includes three-day early access to the game and other goodies. Everyone who pre-orders can play Martinsville at night early. Find out more about pre-orders as well as both editions of the game here.

Categories: Games

The Bigger The Better For Gigantamax Pokémon In Sword and Shield

Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 07/08/2019 - 16:25

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Publisher: The Pokemon Company, Nintendo Developer: Game Freak Release: November 15, 2019 Platform: Switch

At the E3 Nintendo Direct for Pokémon Sword and Shield (out on Switch on November 15) we learned about the Dynamax phenomenon for some Pokémon in the Galar region, and today's new trailer for the game introduces a similar form called Gigantamaxing. 

Gigantamaxing is a rare situation for certain Pokémon species, enlarging them and imbuing them with a special G-Max Move particular to that Gigantamax species that even regular Dynamax Pokémon can't use.

Drednaw, Corviknight, and Alcremie are examples of three Gigantamax Pokémon, with formidable G-Max powers. For example, Drednaw's Stonesurge causes damage to the opponent as well as any Pokémon entering the battlefield. Meanwhile, Corviknight's Wind Rage similarly causes damage as well as removes effects of moves such as Reflect and Electric Terrain.

The trailer also shows off the Galar Region Pokémon League. Here you'll collect eight gym badges (and get a special slightly customizable uniform, see below) after being endorsed by prominent people in the region like Chairman Rose or Oleana. Complete the Gym Challenge and you'll be invited to the once-a-year Champion Cup in the region where you can take on reigning champ Leon and his partner Charizard.

Nintendo and developer Game Freak have also announced a slew of additional announcements for Pokémon Sword and Shield, including each version's exclusives. Sword exclusively features Pokémon Deino and Jangmo-o and Gym leader Bea, while Shield has Pokémon Larvitar and Goomy and leader Allister.

Meanwhile, take a look at more Pokémon of the Galar region, the pre-order keychain, the double pack of both Sword and Shield, and the digital version that contains a dozen Quick Balls that help you catch Pokémon if used early in battles.

Categories: Games

Save Tokyo From Eggman By Clearing Literal Hurdles

Game Informer News Feed - Sun, 07/07/2019 - 21:36

Publisher: SEGA Developer: SEGA Release: 2020 Platform: iOS, Android

Throughout his history, Sonic the Hedgehog has had to foil myriad ridiculous evil plots from his adversary, Dr. Eggman. This time, Sonic and his crew are in Tokyo for the 2020 Olympic games, when they're suddenly forced to intervene in an all-out Eggman invasion. In a bizarre twist, the best way for Sonic and his friends to battle with the maniacal doctor is to compete against him in Olympic events. 

Once you accept that odd premise, Sonic at the Olympic Games looks to deliver fun action centered on fanciful versions of traditional Olympic events. During my demo, I had the chance to see multiple events in action and play one for myself to learn a bit more about what this new mobile version of the long-running minigame series brings to the table.

A look at the Tokyo map that houses all the events and minigames.

Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games 2020 Tokyo was designed from the ground up exclusively for Switch, meaning it has more complex controls in addition to Nintendo's stable of characters. For Sonic at the Olympic Games, Sega wanted to prioritize simplicity. "We would like everyone to play, so the controls are designed to be really easy to do that," creative producer Eigo Kasahara says.

Unlike its console counterpart, Sonic at the Olympic Games leaves Mario and the Nintendo squad behind in favor of focusing just on Sonic the Hedgehog characters. During my demo, I see numerous characters, including Sonic, Knuckles, Tails, Shadow, and Silver, in action. While you start out with Sonic, your roster expands as you progress through the map of Tokyo and its several Olympic events and minigames. "The playable character depends on the event," vice president of product development and head of Sonic Team Takashi Iizuka says.

Within Sonic at the Olympic Games, you play through various events based on actual Olympic events. During my demo, I saw the 400 meter hurdles, archery, the hammer throw, the 200 meter dash, badminton, trap shooting (seeing Shadow holding a gun definitely brought back some memories), and spring board diving. However, Kasahara says there will not only be more events than what I saw, but also more to do. "We're thinking of implementing more than 15 events right now," he says. "Other than the event games, we have minigames on the UI map. They're not true event games, but they're more like mini fun games."

While the vast majority of my demo was hands-off, I did have the chance to try out the 400 meter hurdle event. With simple swipe-to-jump controls that are more concerned with timing than precision or technical mastery, I'm able to hop right in and perform respectably in my first attempt at the event. If this event is any indication, the team's desire for simple and approachable controls is well on track. While the 400 meter hurdles event has already reached an acceptable level of approachability, Kasahara tells me that the team isn't particularly happy with how badminton controls just yet, so they're still refining how it plays.

In addition, many events have EX versions, where the rules are twisted to make things more difficult. For example, in hammer throw's EX version, your hammer must land in a narrower section of the field, while the EX mode of trap shooting gives you multiple targets to shoot at once instead of just one. Sometimes, the events themselves are completely fantastical. This is on display in my favorite thing I saw during the demo: the EX version of spring board diving. Instead of simply performing tricks using the touchscreen controls as you would in the standard version of the event, the EX version presents almost a puzzle-like layout. In this enhanced version, you must plan your route collect the most rings, picking the best times to perform double jumps in hopes of racking up the best score. This event, which looks like a lot of fun, is exclusive to the mobile version, meaning it won't appear in the Switch's Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games 2020 Tokyo. 

Mobile games, including other Sonic mobile titles, often encourage players to come back for long periods of time through continued updates. While it's almost a foregone conclusion that a big-name mobile game these days will adopt the living-game model, Sonic at the Olympic Games will not follow that trend. "It's made for the Olympics period, so we won't add any new features after the Olympics, but we are thinking about adding a classic Sonic BGM song in there, so people can download it and listen to that music," Kasahara says.

Sonic at the Olympic Games is set to launch on iOS and Android next spring. 

Categories: Games

All The Ways I Killed Time

Game Informer News Feed - Sun, 07/07/2019 - 19:32

Publisher: Deep Silver Developer: Ys Net Release: November 19, 2019 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation 4, PC

At long last, Shenmue III is finally in the home stretch of development. The revenge saga of Ryo Hazuki, who witnessed his father's murder at the hands of Lan Di in 2000's Shenmue on Dreamcast, is finally ready to continue. Announced at E3 2015 as a Kickstarter campaign, Shenmue III picks up after the events of 2002's Shenmue II, meaning that by the time the game launches, it will have been 17 years between releases. I had a chance to play a brief demo of Shenmue III and speak to series creator Yu Suzuki about how development is going.

At the onset of my demo, Ryo says he needs to find a bookie. Obviously, this would be a part of a story mission. However, I'm not here for that. I'm here to see how the side activities – the updated versions of the ones that kept me glued to my screen in middle school, much to the confusion of any onlooking friends – feel in this new entry in the Shenmue saga.

I immediately go to an area that loosely fits the definition of an amusement park. As I enter an area full of small games, I decide to sample what the local game masters are offering. Ryo approaches a woman, who pitches him on playing peg-based marble-drop game Lucky Hit. After a few rounds of watching the marble narrowly veer away from the jackpot slot at the bottom of the board, I decide to move to something else: dice. Watching my demo intently, Yu Suzuki eggs me on to bet higher with each successive roll. I take the bait after winning a couple of consecutive rolls, but this method isn't sustainable in games of chance, and soon Ryo's pockets are much lighter and he's expressing his disdain in his trademark dry voice delivery.

After depleting a good chunk of Ryo's funds in luck-based minigames, I decide to try and build his bankroll back up through something only the most skilled of players can win: turtle racing. Believe it or not, the turtle racing minigame is a test of endurance for the player. As the turtles make their ways down the course, you're responsible for mashing the button that appears on screen. Doing so builds up the radial meter in the upper right corner, which provides a boost for your turtle upon filling. After a long, tiring race, my turtle comes out on top, giving Ryo a good chunk of change. Following my hard-earned victory, I decide to quit while I'm ahead and see what else I can do with my spare time.

Yu Suzuki points at the monitor and instructs me to go up a slight incline to a dojo. This sounds like a more exciting way to spend the remaining hands-on time I have with the demo. While at the dojo, I'm given the chance to train, spar, or fight one of the monks. Training is done by completing minigames. The one-inch punch, for example, has you strike a training dummy in a timing- and rhythm-based game. After that, I move on to horse stance, an Asian martial arts posture where the practitioner maintains a low squat. In this minigame, I must press a button to keep a meter marker within a small range.

After wrapping up my training, I head into the dojo and challenge the Red Tiger monk. Fighting in Shenmue III is much smoother than that of its predecessors. Ryo moves with more fluidity and his attacks feel much less stiff. After trading blows with the monk, I come out of the encounter victorious, and my skills meter rockets as Ryo ranks up. Next, I decide to spar, which gives me specific button commands to use in battle in order to learn new combinations and moves.

Despite various modernizations to the Shenmue formula, the third entry feels faithful to how Shenmue was for players in the early 2000s. "My team was not necessarily trying to provide innovative things," Suzuki says. "Because it was created through Kickstarter crowdfunding, my main focus was to make Shenmue III to make fans happy to play a sequel to Shenmue. That was the first thing I wanted to make sure. Probably nothing I'd call innovative, but there are many, many new elements."

As mentioned before, fans waited many years for the announcement of Shenmue III, and then additional years for its release. However, Shenmue III was delayed from its original August 27 release date to November 19. Suzuki tells me this is delay isn't indicative of any problems, but rather necessary time to make sure the game is in a good state when it launches. "With the title very close to the end, I'd like to brush it up as much as possible for the fans in order to make sure it's as good as possible," he says.

With fans having to wait so long for release, Suzuki says he has a mix of feelings, which seems to include a little anxiety, as launch nears. "I not only feel relief because the game is very close to release, then I also started wondering how the people are going to think and particularly how the new players are going to think," he says. "As such, there is some other feelings I started feeling."

While players have often thought of Shenmue as a trilogy, Suzuki tells me Shenmue III will not conclude the story. In fact, we may have a ways to go. "For Shenmue, I have 11 chapters in the story," he says. "My problem is, of those 11 chapters, how much do I want to put into Shenmue III? In other words, it's not the end of the story; it will continue. It's still going. Shenmue III comes out of chapters three to six."

When I ask Suzuki if that means more games or if the story will continue in other media, he says, "Whatever I can do, I will."

The first two games were published by Sega, and the influence of the publisher was inescapable. In Ryo's travels in those first two games, he encounters all kinds of references to other Sega properties, including capsule toys of characters from the Sonic the Hedgehog universe, and arcade machines like Space Harrier and Hang-On.

Since Sega isn't the publisher of Shenmue III, you likely won't find as many references to Sega in this game. However, all hope is not lost for fans wanting to see some nods to the publisher. "You can find some," Suzuki says. "There is one cabinet called Astro City, which is from Sega, and you can find some of the posters in it. I'll say that for the Sega fans, you will find some things you can appreciate and will smile."

Sega also published HD versions of Shenmue I and II on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC last year. While Suzuki didn't have anything to do with those games coming to modern platforms, he does feel as though that Sega release probably helped him to build excitement for the release of Shenmue III.

My time with Shenmue III is likely representative of how I'll play the game when it comes out later this year: delaying story missions in favor of the many diversions scattered throughout the world. That's alright, as that's how players have experienced the Shenmue games for years. This sequel to Shenmue I and II has kept fans waiting for nearly two decades, but the wait is almost over, as Shenmue III hits on November 19 for PlayStation 4 and PC.

Categories: Games