Games

The Witcher's Geralt Of Rivia Steps Into Soul Calibur VI

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 03/15/2018 - 14:24

Bandai Namco has confirmed a previous rumor that The Witcher's Geralt of Rivia is joining Soulcalibur VI's cast of characters.

The White Wolf's complementary sword and sign skills can be seen in his intro trailer below, which also shows that Geralt is as salty as ever.

Soulcalibur VI comes out in 2018 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

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Categories: Games

Yakuza 6: The Song Of Life Review: Tokyo Drifter

Gamespot News Feed - Thu, 03/15/2018 - 07:00

The Yakuza franchise is over a decade old, and in that time, its feature set has predictably grown. Over six mainline entries, free-roam areas became more substantial, additional playable protagonists were introduced, combat mechanics were expanded to incorporate multiple fighting styles, and more and more minigames were steadily piled on. Surprisingly, the latest installment goes the other way, discarding components that certainly won't go unnoticed by series devotees. But that doesn't end up being a bad thing, because Yakuza 6: The Song of Life successfully uses its smaller footprint to create a deeper, more meaningful impression.

The final installment in Kazuma Kiryu's story focuses on him alone, with the plot seeing the large cast of series-significant characters like Majima, Saejima, Daigo, and the children of Sunflower Orphanage make only the briefest of appearances before being tidied away. Adopted daughter Haruka, sympathetic detective Date, and hobo-turned-loan broker Akiyama play important parts, but exist on the fringes. The Song of Life centers on Kiryu as he returns from another long stint in prison, separated from the Tojo Clan, and unravels the mystery of an infant who's suddenly come into his care. The setup distinctly echoes the events of the first game, a seemingly purposeful decision which lets The Song Of Life act as a fitting refrain, giving Kiryu's final sojourn a roundness that brings a nice sense of closure to his series arc.

His investigations bring him to the port town of Onomichi, Hiroshima, where he encounters a lowly blue-collar crime family led by an aging, but supposedly legendary yakuza portrayed by Takeshi "Beat" Kitano (a yakuza film icon in his own right, though his subtle mannerisms don't completely survive the transition). While the game unsurprisingly spirals into a complex and dramatic story involving underworld political alliances, age-old conspiracies, and a healthy dose of deception, what's ultimately memorable are the threads and character developments that explore what becomes a very significant, widespread theme: family. Kiryu's time meeting new people from different walks of life in a closely-knit small town has him reflecting on remarkably ordinary ideas as they exist in different facets of society--bonds of friendship in the face of adversity, loyalty in times of uncertainty, and caring for your ward as a parental figure.

These themes resonate consistently throughout the better part of Yakuza 6's narrative, and this includes the numerous, optional substories. You'll help children and parents resolve conflicts and try to understand each other's point of view. You'll see Kiryu finding true strength and loyalty in the smallest of gestures, along with the different ways friends and strangers can support one another. The writing in these stories is often corny, but that doesn't mean there isn't an endearing sincerity that regularly shines through. When the sentimental piano melody kicks in during pivotal scenes of moralistic resolution, it's hard not to be swept up by it all. The series' penchant for goofiness still exists, though it doesn't return to Yakuza 0's ludicrous levels of absurdity. Particularly memorable substories are ones which humorously explore Kiryu's unfamiliarity and disdain towards modern technology like drones, robot vacuums, and YouTubers. But even the game's most comedic series of quests, which involve Kiryu dressing up as Onomichi's adorable character mascot (who has an orange for a head and a fish for a purse) ends up becoming a touching reflection about having loyalty in town pride.

These heartwarming stories are also a key component of Yakuza 6's new minigames. There are less of these side activities than previous entries, but much of what's included is more robust than usual, and in many cases, the substories attached to them are enjoyable enough to stop the simple mechanics from wearing thin too quickly. Spear Fishing is a score-based on-rails shooter that finds Kiryu helping an injured fisherman and orphaned fishmonger track down the shark that ruined their lives. The Onomichi Baseball League involves some light team management, pinch-hitting, and player scouting, but the story of Kiryu rallying a team of no-hopers is what really makes the whole affair great. The Snack Bar minigame stands out as a real highlight in this regard. It involves attempting to become a regular in a small, Cheers-style local's bar where Kiryu tries to forge personal relationships with a group of relatively unextraordinary, blue-collar folk. Its key mechanic is participating in group conversations where one patron has a vent about their woes, and Kiryu's role is to help provide supportive dialogue and refrain from saying anything selfish or dumb. It's lovely to see Kiryu try to resolve everyday, down-to-earth dilemmas and provide genuine acceptance and friendship.

Conversely, there's the incredibly involved Clan Creator Mode, which sees Kiryu unwittingly intervening in a war between youth gangs (whose leaders include real-world New Japan Pro Wrestlers, because why not). Taking leadership of one of these groups, you'll help Kiryu scout for soldiers, organize hierarchy, and participate in simple, real-time strategy-style street battles. You'll take a bird's eye view in skirmishes, where you can dispatch autonomous grunts as well as a limited number of leader characters with special abilities. Clan Creator is Yakuza 6's most substantial minigame, boasting online network functions that let you compete against other players, tackle daily missions and participate in a ranked ladder. Unfortunately, it's also the most tedious to play. Victory strategies stem entirely from massing as many troops as possible and grinding missions to keep your leaders at a capable level. Battles don't really become challenging until the many substory missions are already done, and even then, the strategy more or less stays identical. For a mode with such ambitious scope, its mechanics and relatively uninspired plot--which mainly seems concerned with spotlighting its celebrity guests--aren't satisfying enough to make the long ride enjoyable.

Elsewhere, the Club Sega arcade once again offers playable classics like Super Hang-On and Outrun, but there's also complete, multiplayer-capable versions of puzzle action favorite Puyo Puyo, and the seminal Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown, both robust offerings in their own right. Mahjong is back, a gym offers track-and-field-style minigames for above average experience gains, karaoke and a cat cafe provide enjoyable distractions, and a simple-to-master darts minigame features a substory that lets you take on a real-world darts legend.

Yakuza 6 also maintains the series convention of including more titillating pursuits. Cabaret clubs return, with a choice of six hostesses for Kiryu to woo through conversation minigames. Also notable is the particularly risque Live Chat, a minigame which sees you pay money to watch live-action webcam shows (featuring real-world AV idols, no less), while hitting button prompts to progress to the point where you can watch the models strip their clothes off and moan suggestively. The unambiguous objectification of women in these minigames continues to make their inclusion uncomfortable in their own right. Their presence does truthfully reflect prominent parts of the real-world Japanese nightlife and adult industries, but these kinds of minigames have always perpetuated an unbelievable inconsistency of character for Kiryu. There's a conflict between the canonical depiction of him as a strong, stoic, honorable saint, and a version who is a creepy, bumbling pervert. After ten years, it's still hard to believe Kiryu is someone looking to build a harem as big as the orphanage he owns, who madly exclaims "BOOOBS" and "IT'S GROWING" when a woman takes her top off. These activities do have their moments, though--the text-based quips of Live Chat participants can sometimes be laugh-out-loud funny, and courting hostesses mean you get to see additional, phenomenally good karaoke videos. But in the grand scheme of Yakuza 6, where heartfelt themes pervade all of Kiryu's character interactions, these minigames feel like distant outliers.

The iconic red-light district of Kamurocho still plays a big part in the story, though it has a noticeably smaller area size this time around. You'll still feel at home if you've visited the area before, but there is a significantly disappointing lack of access to the Champion District and Park Boulevard areas. However, the distinct sense of a vibrant, bustling city still remains, and that's amplified by what feels like a more detailed and densely populated world. Walking around in the first-person mode is enough for you to appreciate all the surface level intricacies and changes, and there's a new element of verticality with increased rooftop access. But there are also some great advancements in the way the city invites you to engage with it.

Yakuza 6 now rewards you for interacting with the world in a way that previous games didn't. Eating at the game's many restaurants, which was previously really only worth doing if you needed a health boost, is now the most convenient way to rack up experience points to spend in the game's extensive upgrade system, though you're limited by a new stomach capacity meter. Purchasing and drinking beverages from one of the numerous vending machines around the world will give you cheap, temporary combat buffs. Every mini-game, from the batting cages to playing a round of Space Harrier will also earn you experience. The result is that slowing down and taking your time to soak in the atmosphere of the city will benefit you, and the world is no longer just a pretty path for you to run down to get to your next objective. Now, you don't necessarily have to feel guilty for letting yourself be distracted by Mahjong for hours.

Onomichi, Hiroshima is a region that is larger than previous accompanying locales have been, although the sleepy port town is a much quieter, more unassuming area than Kamurocho. Situated by the seaside, cute greenery arrangements line its single-story businesses, an above-ground train splits the area, and narrow pedestrian walkways snake up the steep hills, leading to an impressive temple with spectacular views. It's a charming, authentic-feeling recreation of the more tranquil parts of Japan, which both you and Kiryu learn to cherish. The town's relaxed atmosphere and characters exemplify the Song of Life's wholehearted themes.

Of course, in order to keep that tranquillity, sometimes you need to pound a few dirtbags into the ground, and the game's updated combat system follows its philosophy of slimming and focussing. Gone are the variable fighting disciplines introduced in Yakuza 0--the Kiryu of Yakuza 6 is equipped only with an expanded version of his signature brawling style, perhaps another refrain to the series' beginnings. It still maintains its characteristic weight and rigidity, but there are additional factors that make the act of fighting feel more fluid than it's been in the past, turning encounters as a whole into more dynamic and exciting experiences.

Enemy mobs are larger in The Song of Life, and crowd control takes a more prominent focus because of that. Set-piece fights that make up central story moments regularly see Kiryu and his companions go up against dozens upon dozens of enemies at once--a ratio that is frequently amusing. As a result, the properties of Kiryu's attacks have been altered. His throwing maneuver swings a victim around before letting them fly. Each combo string now allows him to execute two finishing blows as a default, and the second typically lunges forward with a wide attack radius. Starting a hard-hitting combo with some wise positioning means that Kiryu can feel like a human wrecking ball as he cleaves and plows through a group of assailants. You can frequently create domino effects that send enemies crashing into each other, and thanks to the game's new physics engine, into environmental objects like rows of bicycles, through glass windows, and potentially, into stores and restaurants.

That's the most significant change to combat--it now benefits from seamless transitions between world exploration and battles. Getting into a fight on the street no longer means coming to a jarring halt for a few seconds while a splash screen pops and civilians gather to restrict you to a small area. Fights now have the potential to move through the city and into areas like stairwells, rooftops, convenience stores, restaurants, and a handful of other accessible building interiors. It also means you have the opportunity to make a break for it if you're not in the mood to throw down. The dynamism and uninterrupted flow this gives to Yakuza's combat is a real wonder, and means that random battles are less likely to eventually devolve into monotony, as they could in past games. You could be strolling down the street, leisurely drinking a can of Boss coffee or taking a selfie in front of the cat cafe, and a gang of thugs can suddenly interrupt you, forcing you into a tight stairway brawl that eventually spills out onto a rooftop. Or, you might try to run and hide in a convenience store, unsuccessfully, and find yourself destroying shelves and sending snacks flying until you put an end to the chaos by slamming a thug's head into a microwave--just don't expect the clerk to serve you afterward. Combat in Yakuza 6 is exciting, and the situations you might find yourself in positively echo the kinds of scrappy, tense struggles you see so commonly in East Asian gangster films.

Another sticking point is one that's been present in all of the game's iterations--the inconsistent visual presentation. While the scenes that deliver pivotal plot events are absolutely spectacular--with uncannily lifelike character models, dramatic cinematography, and exceptional Japanese language performances--scenes that present lesser moments, like substories, are a dramatic drop in quality. As in previous games, they feature far less detailed character models and wooden, sometimes non-existent animation. Static camera angles also play a big part in aggravating their dullness. Substories make up a significant part of Yakuza games, so the low-end visuals continue to be an unfortunate blemish. Yakuza 6 is also entirely voice-acted for the first time in the series, and because the performances go a long way in enhancing the humorous and earnest moments these missions can contain, it's a shame that the presentation doesn't go to the same efforts.

Yakuza 6 reins in its scope, but doubles down on what has made the series great. It's a unique and fascinating representation of the modern Japanese experience, worth playing even if you're a newcomer. The narrative is dramatic and sincere, and the game's endearing characters--coming from all walks of life--are interesting studies. The world is dense and rewarding to exist in, the dynamic combat system stays exciting even after you've kicked the crap out of five thousand enemies, and perhaps most importantly, Yakuza 6: The Song Of Life serves as a fulfilling conclusion to the turbulent, decade-long saga of its beloved icon, Kazuma Kiryu.

Categories: Games

Bravo Team Review: Back To Basics

Gamespot News Feed - Wed, 03/14/2018 - 19:00

Well into 2018, we are past the point where VR is a new and novel experiment. Had Supermassive Games' Bravo Team released when the PSVR launched, we could at least excuse the game's milquetoast nature as a first, uncertain step; an experiment in trying to bring arcadey, cover-based shooting to a new format. Released two years into the PSVR's lifespan, however, Bravo Team already comes off as archaic, a game that's been outclassed several times over in the system's first year.

Bravo Team's banality is obvious during its opening minutes. You and your online co-op partner or A.I. brother-in-arms are charged with escorting the president of a made-up eastern European country back home to deliver a unifying speech that will hopefully bring peace to her nation. Of course it goes wrong; the president's envoy gets blown to bits, and a deposed military leader kickstarts a bloody coup d'etat that you and your partner must shoot your way through in order to get home. The mission plays out with stone-faced seriousness, with the monotony of our two masked heroes broken up only by the determined British timbre of your commanding officer. There isn't even a musical score to accentuate the action, so even the most dramatic moments happen in an uncaring void.

Bravo Team's presentation leaves a lot to be desired

The set up might be indistinguishable from Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, or any number of grim, washed-out shooters, but, really, Bravo Team's gameplay has more in common with games like Time Crisis. Most of your time is spent hiding behind cover, popping out to line up your shots and fire. You can play with the DualShock 4 or the Move controllers (and this is even one of the few times where movement feels natural with the latter). However, the PS Aim gun controller is where it's at in that regard, and what thrills do exist in the game come from the inherent thrill of the Aim lending a dose of immersion.

You also get a little bit more freedom to move than in a game like Time Crisis. You can point your gun or just tilt the PSVR headset at a certain area and you'll get a visual prompt telling you whether you can move there or not. The flaw here being that actual movement takes the game out of first person into a third-person view that rips that immersion away every single time.

The presentation, with its dull, anemic color schemes straight out of 2007 and a rampant, unfathomable problem with pop-in and blurry textures, is the most prominent flaw. The same three classes of enemies you encounter in the first stage--generic grunt, armored grunt, armored grunt with chaingun--are the same ones you see every step of the way. The last half hour or so introduces two sections with melee soldiers and snipers, but they're gone almost as soon as they enter the scene. There's only four guns--a pistol, an assault rifle, a shotgun, and a sniper rifle--and you only see two of those in the last 30 minutes as well.

Playing co-op is probably the best way to experience what little Bravo Team has to offer.

Seemingly in an effort to break up the straightforward gunplay, stealth kills are possible. But outside of the tutorial, it's impossible to maintain stealth for more than two or three enemies before, without fail, another enemy stands at an angle where he can't be stealth killed. It doesn't help that your supposedly silenced pistol gives away your position 75% of the time. The most fun in Bravo Team comes from its online co-op, where at least you have a partner to bounce dialogue off of, give directions to, or request recovery when you've fallen. It's a salve, albeit a temporary one.

Instead, Bravo Team slogs on, stranding you in huge spaces, throwing wave after wave of cannon fodder your way, making its short play time feel hours longer that it actually is. Bravo Team is a game that feels unsure and tentative about ideas that have been tried and tested for years now, even in VR.

Categories: Games

Relive The Classic Street Fighter Games With Online Play

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 03/14/2018 - 16:00

Few video game series, and few fighting games in particular, have the history and cultural cache that Street Fighter boasts. Even after occasional missteps, the series commands the attention of the entire fighting game community, carrying the banner at nearly every major fighting game tournament under the sun.

It is with this legacy in mind that Capcom is releasing Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection, a bundling together of multiple versions of older sprite-based Street Fighter games, with a few having been retrofitted with online play. The collection pays homage to the venerated fighting game series while trying to bring the virtues of the older games in front of a modern audience.

Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection includes the original 1987 Street Fighter, five incarnations of Street Fighter II up to Super Turbo, three Street Fighter Alpha games, and three iterations of Street Fighter III. Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting, Super Street Fighter II Turbo, Street Fighter Alpha 3 and Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike have online play enabled, while the rest do not.

Each game is pulled straight from its arcade version, even including the name of the hardware on the menu when selecting the game. It does mean that, if you are a fan of any specific eccentricities of a console version, you may not see them repeated in the Collection.

All the games featured the same filters if you choose to use them, labeled TV and Arcade. Both emulate scanlines, while the arcade is a bit dimmer to represent being recessed into an arcade cabinet. Players can choose to play with borders which often differ by game, stretch the image, or fill the screen. The option to just turn off all the filters, borders, and stretching exists, too.

The Switch version also has an exclusive mode using Super Street Fighter II's tournament mode, letting players with multiple Switch units put them into table top mode and play musical chairs by physically moving to the right unit for the next fight. While this does let the tournament move fairly quickly by making the fights proceed concurrently, it can also be kind of a confusing mess figuring out which system and controller you need to be at for your next match.

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Fans of Street Fighter history will appreciate the museum mode, which features unreleased art, a timeline of all the releases in the series, and character profiles. You can even dive deep into individual characters and see their animations or comparisons of all their sprites across games.

Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection is releasing on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC in May.

Categories: Games

The 25th Ward: The Silver Case Review: Obstruction Of Justice

Gamespot News Feed - Wed, 03/14/2018 - 15:00

As a direct sequel to The Silver Case, it will come as no shock that The 25th Ward is a fundamentally bizarre game. It plays around with fever dreamy, Twin Peaks-esque logic, with a profound disregard for how reality works. That's all to say: it is very much a Suda 51 game. It's also not too surprising, then, that The 25th Ward is rough around the edges; sometimes purposefully so, and sometimes not. Disorderly it may be, but dull it certainly is not.

Set four years after the events of The Silver Case, The 25th Ward takes place in a completely new planned community in Japan, marketed as a home for the super elite. Its residents are specifically chosen to help establish a city with absolutely no criminal activity or negative elements, kept utterly spotless, and where every rule is followed to the letter. The price for even minor infractions--taking your trash out on the wrong day, being rude to a neighbor, playing music too loud--is typically death, either by being shot or having your brains scrambled to the point of being a drooling zombie.

In the most basic terms, The 25th Ward is a visual novel, its storytelling told predominantly through text and still photos punctuated by point-and-click adventure game tangents. Scenes will stop to force you to look around, move through hallways, use a particular item, talk to a specific person in the area, or type in a password. The game is structured as a compilation of three separate stories based around the people who're responsible for upholding the draconian law in the ward. Two of these tales, Match-maker and Correctness, follow the efforts of the presiding law enforcement branches of the ward: the Heinous Crimes Unit--essentially, a CSI team--and the Regional Adjustment Bureau. The third scenario continues the Placebo plot from The Silver Case, once again following hard-boiled reporter Tokio Morishima, now an amnesiac, as he loses his sanity investigating a mysterious death in the ward.

Compared to its predecessor, each of the scenarios feels distinct. Only Correctness was actually penned by Suda, and it has his jagged, pulpy fingerprints all over it, from the hard-as-nails, sailor-mouthed teammate to a string of attempted assassinations on an HCU detective playing out--for no rhyme or reason--like an 8-bit RPG. Non-sequitur discussions occur with the HCU's coroner about his burgeoning snuff film addiction and perfectly normal conversations veer off into thoughts about how hungry characters are at that moment.

The other two scenarios were written by Masahi Ooka and Masahiro Yuki, Suda's cohorts on The Silver Case. Their respective chapters are much more cohesive, purposeful pieces of work. Placebo, in particular, takes on an unexpected but beautifully twisted cyberpunk bent. Match-maker's story wouldn't be terribly out of place in one of Sega's increasingly nutty Yakuza games, with just enough of the surreal involved to make the story unpredictable.

The very idea of the 25th Ward as a standalone, authoritarian dystopia disguised as utopia is enthralling, and all three scenarios manage to mine surprising depth out of the set up. Correctness is, at its core, a story about the mindset that creates crooked cops, while Placebo and Match-maker explore the specific societal factors that create crooked people. It’s far from being the first piece of fiction to tell a tale of how moral deviancy develops when the idea of what’s considered deviant behavior becomes ubiquitous, but it’s a very distinct way of telling it. It’s a game with some heavy thoughts on its mind, and those thoughts are exaggerated and abstracted to the extreme. Helping things out in that area is a singularly off-kilter synth pop soundtrack from longtime Suda collaborator Masafumi Takada, with some simple moody beats contorted around strange instrumentation and eerily hypnotic melodies. The visual style follows suit, with each scenario adopting its own particular stark, gritty art style, from Correctness’ black-and-white, under-lit shadows, to Match-maker’s abstract, bloody, police sketchbook style. It’s all perfectly suited for the kind of crazed psychotropic Law & Order stories being told.

The 25th Ward's stories were originally released episodically, which makes it slightly easier to forgive just how sprawling the narrative is. Having said that, all three stories inhabit the same time period, each imparting information that helps fill in some of the blanks of the other episodes, though it's not like the game tells you that going in. While I played each scenario straight through, a more fulfilling approach would be to play each of the episodes in each scenario sequentially (all three episode 1s, then all the episode 2s, etc.). Otherwise, the stories being told, while still comprehensible, are annoyingly confusing instead of fascinatingly obtuse. Without a doubt, however, the game's biggest narrative weakness is its disregard for time. It's a game that luxuriates in making the wrong moments last, hammering minute character details down into dust, while forgetting to elaborate on complex plot twists. A 10-minute stretch is devoted to the unorthodox way a character eats a fancy dessert; 20 seconds are spent explaining how a major character seems to miraculously cheat death.

The game also has a bad habit of slowing you down with its disappointing "puzzles." They largely come in two flavors: elementary tasks, like memorizing a short series of numbers, or frustrating tests of patience. One such investigation requires you to narrow down which room a victim lived in, and provides 80 floors of a mostly empty apartment complex to explore. The very first room you go to gives a hint that the victim was in an even numbered corner apartment, and the next hint on the second floor tells you which rooms her favorite community groups met in. Narrowing down the target location seems like an impossible task, until you realize that the very first apartment on each floor gives new information, and after reaching the first apartment on the 5th floor, you're simply told which room to go to, at which point none of the previous floors' information even matters. I almost wanted to congratulate Suda on the A+ trolling, except there's no telling if that was the intent.

More commonly, your progress is gated by the need to exhaust every menu option in a conversation until the story progresses, but more often than not, the action in the menu doesn’t correspond to what needs to be done. The “Look” function, in particular, performs everything from moving into another room to completing a character's psychotic break and eventual self-actualization as a murderous sociopath. The amount of times “Look” actually means examining something can be counted on one hand. It's a problem exacerbated by a localization effort that, on top of some frequent, cringeworthy typos, has a tin ear for how character dialogue works. Many of the game's very grizzled, very adult characters occasionally drop into a very young millennial style of speech that occasionally threatens to break the game's immersion. It's a testament to what's still on the screen that it doesn't.

Despite a collection of problems, it's easy to occasionally admire The 25th Ward's ambitions. Where The Silver Case was a slog, punctuating long stretches of nonsense with blasts of pure horror, The 25th Ward consistently commands your attention with frighteningly relevant themes, bonkers plot twists, or even just the simple thrill of some beautifully rendered and twisted imagery. It's a game that demands patience and forgiveness, but rewards those willing to put up with its problems.

Categories: Games

Kirby Star Allies Review: Take It Easy

Gamespot News Feed - Wed, 03/14/2018 - 14:00

Kirby games are guaranteed to have a perky pink mascot, candy-coated platforming levels, and plentiful power-ups to wield and combine; all key pieces of Kirby Star Allies. But what sets the latest game apart from previous Kirby adventures is that everything is designed with co-op in mind, whether you have friends to play with or not. It's a welcome change that keeps the otherwise traditional gameplay fresh, and even though the extra help is overkill for most of the challenges that lie in wait, Star Allies still puts your cheerful chums to good use.

You've been able to team up in previous games, like Kirby's Return to Dream Land on Wii, but it's fundamental to Star Allies and far more flexible in practice. Rather than being limited to only playing alongside key characters like Meta Knight or King Dedede, you can now recruit almost any enemy you come across. And after you unlock a pair of extra modes upon completing the story, you earn the right to play as any character in the game in a speedrun mode. It's not a massive twist given that enemies play the same as Kirby does when he's absorbed their powers, but for a game built around its variety of personalities, it's an appreciated bonus to look forward to.

Star Allies perfectly executes its playful cartoon aesthetic from start to finish, stuffed with adorable animations and digital glitter. Meanwhile, the soundtrack swings from uplifting jingles to intense battle themes, providing ample motivation and entertainment, and is up there with the series' best works--many of which have been expertly remixed here. And now that you can team up with allies in unique ways--say, when you have a chef power-up and pretend-cook your friends in a pot to produce life-giving snacks--Star Allies is just relentlessly charismatic.

The story mode paces itself well, in part because it's so short. The procession of new ideas from one stage to the next keeps you wondering what clever platforming obstacle or power-up will appear next. These surprises may force your team to split up to tackle simple, large-scale puzzles, a feat the AI handles effortlessly without your input. You also occasionally group together to roll downhill as a wall-smashing wheel, hop on the back of a flying star for some casual side-scrolling shooter action, or line up to form a train and steamroll through enemies.

Reaching the end of a level or world is generally very easy. The only real challenge is to locate hidden items--puzzle pieces that are used to complete pictures, not unlike the 3DS StreetPass game, Puzzle Swap. Each stage has a unique pink piece, though you can regularly find randomized blue pieces or tap amiibo to generate them on the fly. The pictures you unlock are just that--pictures--which is a little deflating, as far as rewards go.

But rare levels contain hidden rooms with a switch that unlocks a new stage in the overworld. You're told when a stage contains a hidden opportunity, so the trick is to simply keep an eye out for suspicious-looking objects or doors during your travels. On some occasions an obstacle or object requires you to interact while using a specific ability (such as electrifying a power line or igniting a pile of leaves). Never one to make you suffer, enemies with the relevant power-ups are generally placed nearby so you won't ever feel totally unprepared.

Strolling through the story mode ensures a generous amount of expertly crafted whimsy and joy, but because levels are so easygoing, with lightweight platforming and a trio of friends watching your back at all times, Star Allies' campaign quickly runs out of steam. It's almost a good problem to have--a game that's so good that you don't want it to end--but it's tough to shake the disappointment when you cross the finish line.

The unlockable extra modes, then, are the game's saving grace. Nevermind the wood-chopping and meteor-batting mini-games, which are cute but undeniably shallow; the boss rush and speedrun modes are the main attractions. For the speedrun mode, Guest Star, you charge through five sets of levels as the Star Allies character of your choosing. These are the same stages you've played before, but the further you get, the faster, stronger, and more resilient you become. Your gradual growth, robust set of actions per character, and the race against time inject Star Allies with the energy to match its overflowing personality.

And to account for the lack of difficulty elsewhere, the boss rush mode (The Ultimate Choice) can be dialed up to unforgiving levels, where enemies hit harder, health replenishments are in shorter supply, and more bosses line up to battle. Both this and the speedrun mode can be enjoyed with a total of four players, which feels more beneficial compared to the pushover story mode.

Star Allies is yet another Kirby game, but it's up there with some of the best. It's an artistic showcase, and a great opportunity for co-op platforming. The one real complaint you can levy at it is that it gates off its more challenging aspects, but the fact that they are present to begin with will please anyone who's grown weary of the series' painless platforming.

Categories: Games

Pit People Review

Gamespot News Feed - Wed, 03/14/2018 - 02:00

Pit People is the fourth title developed by The Behemoth, and also the fourth genre the developer has tried its hand at, after some side-scrolling blasting (Alien Hominid), an old-school beat-em-up (Castle Crashers) and devious puzzle platforming (BattleBlock Theatre). Pit People is a turn-based strategy game in the vein of Fire Emblem or XCOM, and it's got the same art style and irreverent sense of humor as the developer's previous games--and even some direct world-building carryover, if you pay close attention.

At a glance, Pit People looks like a simplified tactical game, and in many ways that’s true. But what sets it apart from the norm is the relationship between your position on a battlefield and the automatic action you’ll take once you move to a new location. Land on a tile touching an enemy, and you’ll attack them as expected. But land on a tile touching two enemies and your character will pick and choose which to attack on their own. Likewise, you need to be extra careful when lining up a ranged attack lest you automatically attack an inadvertent target nearby.

At first, this makes the game feel too limited for real strategic planning. Over time, though, these restrictions come to inspire foresight and creativity. The moment one of your characters splits from the pack, they're likely to be ganged up on, and premeditated blocking and baiting become important. Most characters (including your own fighters) have a lot of health and take many hits to down, so figuring out how to do the most damage while preserving yourself can be tricky. Some characters perform area-of-effect attacks that can also damage allies, so if you put a teammate between an archer and their target they might accidentally hit them with an arrow. Pit People may have distilled the logistics of the turn-based strategy purely to placement, but there's still plenty of thought required. It's not up there with the heavyweights of the genre--this simplified system makes the game easier to get into, but there are never really instances where you need to craft a grand, clever strategy that requires thinking ahead more than a couple of moves.

The way you build your team is the game's smartest hook. If a character can be armed with specific gear (which applies to most human classes), you can have them forego any sort of shield and instead give them a net. During combat, the net can be thrown from two spaces away to bind an enemy to their space for the next turn, but when there's only one enemy left on the field, you can hurl your net to recruit them, adding them to the list of characters you can control. It's the same hook that made Pokémon so big (it's surely no mistake that your team has six slots), and trying to keep the most enticing member of the enemy party alive so you can capture them at the end of the fight adds an interesting wrinkle to the campaign.

There are several different kinds of units, and while their attacks and abilities can be modified with a variety of equipment, they all serve specific functions--archers attack from long range, cupcakes can heal but can't attack, mushrooms can spray poisonous clouds, and so on. But capturing isn't just restricted to standard enemies, either--if you can defeat all a boss character's underlings, you can recruit characters who play a part in the game's story. The character designs are as cartoonish and fun as The Behemoth's characters have always been, with lots of gross-looking monsters and weird takes on standard RPG classes, which makes recruiting as many of them as you can more compelling--even if, at a certain point, it sinks in that you'll probably never use most of your under-levelled recruits.

According to one of the game's loading screen tips, you can recruit over 500 units. At its core, Pit People is a collect-a-thon--the campaign is brief, and the moment you finish it, the missions start cycling again from the beginning (there are a heap of optional side-missions too, which are mostly good fun). The true goal of the game is to build up your army, level up your best units, collect the best loot from battles, and then take it all into the titular Pit, a combat arena where you can either face waves of AI or fight opponents online. A lot of the loot is purely cosmetic, which makes the grind a bit less interesting than it could be, but putting together a team and taking them online to see how they fare is an interesting experience.

Unfortunately, the lobbies have been quiet since the game's 1.0 launch, and finding people to play against has been difficult. This is a shame--the competitive multiplayer is a fun addition. The whole game can be played cooperatively too, online or off, which means fighting with two teams against double the enemy count in each mission. Because characters tend to lack passive support roles, it's not a game where playing with a friend will necessarily enhance your experience, but it's a nice option to have and doesn't detract from the game in any significant way either.

Pit People is a fun take on the turn-based strategy genre, even if it's not the deepest out there. Building an army with the recruitment mechanics is great fun, and pulling off a difficult victory is always rewarding, especially when you manage to scrape through with only a single, battered unit left. On that note, a quick word of warning--do not start the game with permadeath enabled, no matter what your usual predilection in this genre is. If you lose certain characters that you need to take on story missions, you simply won't be able to finish the game, and while you can restart a battle (most of the time--one mission ended with my entire team spontaneously exploding, the game autosaving before I properly realised what had happened), getting through a match with no losses is difficult.

This would be acceptable--you’re signing up for a more difficult experience, after all--but it also renders the Pit all but unusable. Getting through a match against the AI or an online opponent unscathed is essentially impossible, making this an even more hardcore option than it usually would be within this genre. It’s not just that the permadeath mode is unbalanced--it essentially locks you out of certain modes, which is not clear from the beginning, and because of existing genre conventions it’s fair to assume that some players will go in expecting permadeath to be the ‘right’ way to play. Follow this advice: let your characters come back when they die, and you'll be okay.

Pit People's irreverent appeal isn't enough to make it stand alongside the greats, but it's entertaining and mildly engrossing. It maintains the cartoonish charm that The Behemoth always imbues their games with, and the gameplay cycle does a solid job of getting you invested in your scrappy team of fighters. Hopefully, over time, Pit People will build more of an audience and the online modes will improve, but even if you prefer to just stick to the single-player campaign, it's a fun time.

Categories: Games

A Fascinating Co-Op Narrative

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 03/13/2018 - 18:15

A Way Out was announced kind of cryptically at an Electronic Arts press conference, a quick clip of two silhouetted figures riding in a boxcar and looking up at the stars, setting the tone more than offering any details. All that was known then was that the new title was from the people that created 2013's Brothers. As time passed, director Josef Fares and his studio Hazelight have been proactive in wanting people to know what they're getting with A Way Out ahead of its release later this month.

I got a chance to play A Way Out with Fares as my co-op partner at Electronic Arts' headquarters. After shaking hands and picking up controllers, we sat down and Fares leaned from his chair to mine to ask  "This is f---ing stupid, you know?" He looked at the Electronics Art representative we were sitting with. "I already know how to play this game, so he's not getting the full experience."

This more or less set the tone for playing the game with Fares as he explained A Way Out to me through different chapters.

The game follows two characters that have escaped from prison for reasons Fares does not want to divulge yet. The two characters are exactly the same in function, though their small bits of personality shine through in their animations and dialogue. In the first chapter, the pair are attempting to avoid a police manhunt in a mountainside forest, with stealth and stealth-knock out mechanics exclusive to that chapter. One character quietly tries to make the pursuers pass out, while the other clocks them violently.

Both players have to work in tandem to get around the manhunt and communication is paramount. There are several situations where taking out one guard without your partner ready to knock out the other one will result in things going sideways. At the end of the chapter, a choice was presented for both players to discuss. While it has no larger narrative influence, the choices can affect a personal I-told-you-so factor between players.

In another chapter, Fares, frustrated with the demo not being an ideal experience for discovery, announced that he would only follow me along as I solved puzzles, not performing actions unless I told him to perform them. Through this method, we managed to build a spear, catch some fish, and cook them for a brief scene of dialogue over the campfire.

"This is really f---ing cool," Fares said, picking the last save file from a list. The next and final chapter Fares showed me was a combination of Fares' ambition as a game designer and his experience as a film director. The two characters were escaping a hospital in a chapter Fares was happy to point out is one continuous shot, even during and despite the two characters splitting up and taking different routes.

A Way Out is so co-op focused that the game can't be played any other way. A single purchase lets you give another player online access to play with you, or as Fares suggested, playing it locally with someone on the couch next to you. The game is uncompromising in this vision, which Fares himself is unapologetic about, and the game benefits for being so stubborn in its inventiveness.

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Fares pointed out to me while playing that making a well-paced game means he can use mechanics only when they're appropriate and not need to stretch them out.

I remarked that's a thing games like Mario do, too.

He smiled. "Hell yeah they do."

A Way Out is out on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on March 23. You can read our interview with Josef Fares here on the differences between making movies and making games, working with Electronics Arts on an eccentric indie game, and why he focused on co-op.

Categories: Games

Q.U.B.E. 2 Review: Think Inside The Box

Gamespot News Feed - Tue, 03/13/2018 - 10:00

If the original Q.U.B.E. was a product of experimental design and unhindered student ambition, Q.U.B.E. 2 is the sophomore follow-up that almost ticks all the right boxes. No longer are you messing with unmalleable puzzle rooms; Q.U.B.E. 2 gives you the tools to have greater flexibility with your solutions and feels more rewarding as a result. It sometimes struggles to shake off the shackles of its deeply rooted narrative limitations, but it’s ultimately a wonderful puzzle game that will often have you exclaiming in joy after solving one of its many riddles.

If you played the original game, it might be surprising to hear that Q.U.B.E. 2 redefines how its puzzles work from the start. As was the case with the first game, the objective in Q.U.B.E 2 is simply about moving forward. You enter a room and need to figure out a solution to either exit it at the other end or interact with a specific object (like a power node that routes energy) to open doors elsewhere. But where Q.U.B.E. had you manipulating different colored blocks in increasingly challenging puzzle rooms, it never gave you agency over their initial placement. Armed with a new set of gauntlets that have pulsating neon energy flowing through them, that small amount of freedom is exactly what Q.U.B.E. 2 bestows on you from the outset.

The options you’re given are still somewhat limited to compensate for this, with only three distinct abilities at your disposal. Red blocks can be extended and retracted at will; blue blocks turn neutral white tiles into springy bouncing boards; and green blocks let you create a cube of matter that you can further manipulate, either by moving them around with other abilities to activate switches or use them as additional steps to reach a higher ledges. You can use a red block, for example, to push a green block in front of it, perhaps into a nearby blue spring block that launches it into the air and onto a switch nearby. Learning how these three mechanics intermingle is gratifying, and the intricate levels laid out in a linear fashion do a good job of showing you just how you’re meant to employ them.

You can’t use these abilities anywhere, though, which starts to resemble the restrictive layout of the first game. Although you have the freedom to paint any neutral white tile to a color of your choosing, there’s still only a finite number of them in any given space. Their placement always feels deliberate, acting as signposts for the eventual solution. Such design can be helpful in latter stages where the scope and size of the space you’re solving in grows to overwhelming levels, but it's somewhat disappointing that you're never given complete freedom to concoct unusual solutions.

Impressively, the puzzles Q.U.B.E. 2 tasks you with solving are complex in makeup and exciting in execution despite this. Each scenario has a unique twist to the trials that came before it, introducing new mechanics and obstacles. Just as you’re comfortable with spawning a cube and getting it from one side of the room to another, an element like arrays of high-powered fans is introduced. These can, for example, allow you to propel cubes at high speeds, or give you a much-needed lift to a previously inaccessible area. Later, elements like slippery oil come into play, as do magnetic tiles, rotatable platforms, and restrictive doorways that require either sheer force or elemental damage (like fire) to bust open.

Just like the three core abilities, Q.U.B.E. 2 introduces each of these auxiliary mechanics in digestible chunks. As you progress rooms will start taking on themes around these new physics, giving you a playground to comfortably experiment with them before zooming out to larger, all encompassing cranial challenges. Light-bulb moments permeate the game from the opening seconds to its riveting conclusion, with only a few puzzles that seem out of place in terms of difficulty. Several patterns emerge over the six hours of puzzling--I found myself always placing a green tile above a blue one to spawn and instantly propel a cube, for example--but their application in new challenges that tax your spacial awareness never really gets stale.

The same can’t be said for the encompassing narrative that Q.U.B.E. 2 presents, which struggles to find a consistent pace. You play as Amelia Cross, a scientist that’s become stranded on the desolate alien cube most of the game plays out in. The story doesn’t rely on knowledge from the previous game but doesn’t seem to build on anything established either. Instead, it plods along from one revelation to the next, in an attempt to slowly piece together the secrets of the entity Amelia finds herself trapped within. Its latter half is then a rush to a conclusion, quickly introducing new story beats through an overload of exposition, and ultimately leading to an uninspired binary choice at the end. It’s a pity, given that the small cast does deliver some powerful voice acting performances, especially in conversations between Amelia and Emma Sutcliffe, a fellow survivor who seems to know more than she lets on.

Q.U.B.E. 2’s world lacks the impact and intrigue of something like Valve’s Portal series but takes some design cues from its breadth of visual design. Basic test chamber-like sequences are quickly pierced with gorgeous outdoor vistas, letting moonlight flood geometric chambers and cold tile spaces. As the story progresses, Amelia is whisked away to more lush territories, where nature has overgrown the structures she's trapped in. Vines choke the life out of walls around you as sunlight bathes the chambers you’re slowly working through, giving the entire experience a distinctly contrasting feel. Q.U.B.E. 2 might have benefitted from a higher framerate to keep up with the action at times, but it’s a consistently pleasing treat on the eyes.

C.U.B.E. 2 makes remarkably clever changes to a formula well established by its predecessor, giving you more agency over puzzle solutions with redefined core mechanics. It means veterans and newcomers alike won’t have to suffer through an overwrought tutorial, with a gentle learning curve effectively nudging you along its growing library of tools. Q.U.B.E. 2 struggles to contextualize its clever puzzles with a narrative as engaging as their solutions, but it’s still one nut that is consistently rewarding to crack.

Categories: Games

Get Your Diploma For Saving The World In Super Daryl Deluxe

Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 03/12/2018 - 19:47

Super Daryl Deluxe was originally unveiled as a Kickstarter project that surpassed its $5,000 funding goal with $7,861 back in 2014. While the two-man team of Dan & Gary Games have had their work cut out for them for the past few years, they're almost ready to unleash Super Daryl Deluxe on the world this coming spring.

As detailed on the PlayStation Blog, co-founder Dan Plate labels the game as an "RPGvania with brawler-style combat." It follows the new kid on the block, Daryl Whitelaw, as he awkwardly becomes embroiled in saving his high school from multi-dimensional foes. One of the most appealing parts of Super Daryl Deluxe is how players can unlock up to 46 abilities that can be earned by exploring the world, completing side quests, and bought off "Trenchcot Kids."

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Whether you want to fight enemies from a distance, deal more damage with status-based attacks, or dance around in the air, the game is designed to slowly yet surely encourage players to adjust how they tackle encounters throughout their bizarre travels, which range from deserts with flexing cacti to giant knights in space.

In the same vein as Supergiant Games' Transistor, you can't equip all of your abilities at once, but can have up to five of your choosing. This means you need to see what types of combinations of moves and combos work best, and with passives and outfits to keep in mind, there's plenty to keep you busy in this unpredictable, sprawling adventure that aims to provide a 15-hour experience.

Super Daryl Deluxe comes out on April 10 for PS4 and PC.

Categories: Games

The Park Is In Your Hands

Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 03/12/2018 - 17:12

Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment announced that pre-registration for its upcoming mobile game Westworld is now open. Based on the hit HBO show, Westworld will bring the power to control every aspect of the western-themed sci-fi park into your hands.

In the mobile game, players are thrust into the role of a new Delos employee and are given access to the Delos Park Training Simulation. The DPTS gives the new trainee access to all functions of the Westworld park, including the creation and maintenance of the A.I. hosts and pairing those hosts to satisfy every desire of the park's guests.

“This game is an opportunity to give mobile gamers a fresh and exciting way to interact with the engrossing themes and enigmatic narrative explored by the Westworld series," said Jonathan Knight, vice president and studio head at WB Games San Francisco. “We can’t wait for fans to get their hands on the game to develop their own unique strategy to orchestrate and explore the perfect park experience.”

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Those who pre-register for Westworld will receive additional in-game items, including a code to access Lawrence as a host. More information about pre-registration and the game itself can be found at Westworld's website. Westworld is coming to iOS and Google Play in April 2018.

Categories: Games

The Frost Sets In This April

Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 03/12/2018 - 13:57

11 Bit Studio, the developer behind the deeply moving and heartbreaking This War Of Mine, is back at it again with the survival genre in Frostpunk.This time, however, 11 Bit is taking on city-building, with you trying to keep a ragtag civilization alive in the biting cold.

If making tough decisions (like enforcing child labor to boost your city's survival rate) is your kind of thing, you won't have to wait long for Frostpunk. The game is out on April 24.

You can watch the trailer, featuring a Johnny Cash tune, below.

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For more on 11 Bit Studios games, check out our review of This War Of Mine.

Categories: Games

A Bizarre, Unsettling Game About Crowds

Game Informer News Feed - Sun, 03/11/2018 - 18:15

Masses of people, similar to crowds you find in metropolitan subway stations, walk forever forward. They traverse through pristine, tile floored areas, where giant falling cubes may block their way. Sometimes other humans kill them. This is the premise of a trailer showing off Humanity, an upcoming game billed as a "crowd action game" by Japanese developer tha ltd.

It's unclear exactly what the objective of the game is, but from the trailer, it looks like you attempt to guide massive crowds through different places. With an unsettling narrator talking about what it means to be human and the overall aesthetics, Humanity looks to be an unsettling but intriguing game.

Take a look for yourself at the trailer below.

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No platforms have been announced yet, but Humanity is expected to hit sometime this year.

Categories: Games

How Do You Play It, And How Will You Pay For It?

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 03/09/2018 - 15:24

After watching several rounds of Valve’s new card game, Artifact, and playing a couple of my own, I don’t think it’s a stretch to call it the Dota 2 of card games. Designed by Magic: The Gathering creator Richard Garfield, Artifact is, like Dota, intimidating at first. Between three separate battlefields with separate health pools and positions, ten total heroes with different color-coded affinities, and, outside the game, a reevaluation of how Valve views its market economies, Artifact is hard to wrap your head around. But that’s how I felt about Dota 2 when I first started playing it, and over 3,000 hours later it’s one my favorite games of all time. Does Artifact stack up?

A Game Across Three Lanes
Artifact is dense, and the best way to explain it is probably to just walk you through a match. I wasn’t able to mess around with the deck-building aspect of Artifact during our play session (which is probably for the best, since I would have had no idea what I was building anyway), and instead played two rounds using pre-built decks. The minimum card count is 40, though you can have as many cards in your deck as you want. 

Each deck is based around five heroes, each of which has a border that’s either red, blue, green or black. Generally speaking, Red is based around stronger heroes with weaker abilities, blue is based around weaker heroes with powerful spells, green offers various stat buffs and additional creeps, and black has a host of mobility options, direct damage, and other sleights of hand. These affinities are more than a subtle nudge toward a strategy, however. Most cards you hold or draw in your hand have a matching color, and if you don’t have a hero of that color in a particular lane, you won’t be able to play that card at all. Affinities aren’t new to card games, and while it I occasionally forgot I couldn’t play a card because I didn’t have the right hero in that lane, it wasn’t too hard to figure out why. 

If you’re familiar with card games, think of Artifact as playing three matches of a regular card game at once, except these battles all interact with each other. At the start of each match, three of your five heroes are randomly assigned to a lane, along with a single creep unit. You start with five cards in your hand and draw two per round. Each round is separated into three lane phases, starting from left to right. In each lane phase, you can choose which cards to play based on a limited mana pool that increases by one each turn (just like Hearthstone). However, each lane has its own separate mana pool, so during the first round, you have three mana at your disposal in each lane phase.

For most players, the three-lane structure will be the biggest hurdle, and what will ultimately separate Artifact from other card games. Part of what makes Hearthstone so immediately appealing is its pick-up-and-play approachability; if the matchmaking gods treat you right, you can launch the client and be done with a match within in about seven minutes. Valve estimates the average match length for Artifact is 12 to 15 minutes. This makes it harder to jump in, and keeping track of three separate fights was tricky at first, since you not only have to allot your cards across the lanes, but make decisions according to how your actions will affect each fight. Pulling off deft maneuvers across three fronts felt cool, and deciding how to distribute your heroes and cards each turn based on your opponent’s actions adds a nice strategic layer.

Fighting, Shopping, And Annihilation
The lane phase itself, however, plays out more like a round of Gwent, in which the players trade moves one at a time until both players choose to pass up their turn. If you have the mana for it, you can play cards to buff your heroes, summon extra creeps or units, fire spells that deal damage, and more. Although you might recognize some from Dota, most of them have names and attributes new to Dota. There are also some new heroes, such as Rix, Sorla Khan, and Kona, which Valve says will eventually make their way over into Dota 2. Other cards will also serve to flesh out Dota’s lore in a way the core hasn’t been able to until now. As someone who prefers Gwent’s tense back-and-forth, poker-esque anteing up and baiting over Hearthstone’s more one-sided turns, I definitely enjoyed Artifact’s reactive turns.

Heroes definitely feel weaker relative to creeps in Artifact than in Dota, but they’re still the core of the game. Some heroes have active abilities they can dish out. Sniper, for example, can deal five damage to any creep or hero in his lane. Others have passive skills: Drow Ranger offers every unit across all three lanes +1 attack, while Crystal Maiden returns two mana for every spell you use. Axe doesn’t have a special ability, but compensates for by having incredibly lots of health and damage to throw around. Each hero also offers access to three copies of a specific card (though any hero can use them, as long as it’s the right color). This means across five heroes, 15 cards are immediately accounted for when you’re building a deck. But you’ll want these cards in your deck anyway, as they’re some of the strongest in the game. Luna’s Eclipse deals out massive amounts of damage at random, while Sniper’s can deal 10 damage to any unit in any lane.

After both players choose to pass, all the enemies and creeps attack each other at once according to their position. If your hero or creep is across or facing an enemy (depending on a random assignment at the beginning of the turn), you deal and receive damage based on each unit’s attack, health, and armor stats. If there isn’t an enemy sitting across from your unit, it attacks one of your enemy’s towers. If you manage to destroy a tower, it becomes an Ancient. If you can destroy an Ancient or two towers, you win the game. Towers are exceptionally fortified, however, and will take several turns to destroy. Assuming no one loses during that lane phase, the round shifts one lane to the right, until both players have passed their turn on all three lanes. This makes positioning crucial; if you’re facing an impossibly strong Axe, for example, finding a way to plant even a basic creep in his path can render him harmless. 

Once the fighting’s all done, you do a bit of shopping. If you manage to kill a unit (hopefully, an enemy hero) during a round, you earn gold you can spend on special cards that are added to your hand between rounds. This includes usable items like healing salves or teleport scrolls, as well as equippable items like the Blink Dagger (one of the few ways to freely hop among the lanes), all of which come from a second deck of nine cards you build beforehand. Because the main object of the game is to destroy towers and not heroes, gold acts as an incentive to kill heroes, and items, in turn, make it easier to destroy towers. If a hero dies during lane phase, they’ll have to sit out during the next round, but will come back after that (unless it’s Rix, who gets to come back at the start of the next round.) From there, it’s rinse and repeat.

The shopping system reminds me of the Pokemon card game, where you have a side deck of six rewards to choose from. It’s a fun nod to Dota 2’s emphasis on economy, and works as a deterrent against overwhelming odds. The right item bought at the right time can make a huge difference.

After I played a couple of rounds, Valve showed the game off by having high-level CCG players from other card games take the reins for an internal tournament. As expected, matches went by far quicker, and I also saw the kinds of decisions players who know what they’re doing will face. One aspect that emerged was turn priority; basically, if you choose to pass on your turn first, you make the first move on the next lane phase, which can be a huge factor when a lane’s tower is on its last legs and every move matters.

Like I said, it’s a lot to take in. Like in any good card game, turns only get more complicated as you gain access to more mana, start unleashing intricate spell combos, and turn every round into that much more of a minefield. Do you abandon one lane entirely for a couple of turns by blinking a hero out of it and pray you can destroy the two surrounding towers before they destroy your unprotected ancient? Do you clear an entire lane using the Annihilation spell now, or try to bait your opponent into investing more heavily into it before blowing it all up? Do you save your gold for a card that will make future purchases much cheaper, or spend what you have The Blink Dagger and Healing Salve that could save your Legion Commander from certain doom? The combination of more reactive turns, lane distribution, and hero variety make certain answers hard to come by, and it makes Artifact feel like a more open-ended card game.

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No Longer Free To Play
With most card games, the business model is as important as the game itself. Valve is incorporating a number of lessons from Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. The first is a shift away from the pure free-to-play models that have defined other card games over the years. Before we played Artifact, a group of press sat down with Gabe Newell to talk about Valve’s hopes for Artifact as a marketplace. “When you’re in a free-to-play environment, you end up with this tendency that rarity equals power,” Newell said. “So you’re trying to create get this artificial relationship [between the two], and that’s not the case at all with Artifact.” Newell promises that common cards will be among the most powerful, and that the company will try to steer away from pay-to-win models as much as possible.

Players will have to buy in to receive their first few cards (what that buy-in will be Valve isn’t sure yet). From there, they can buy additional card packs. Valve sees opening card packs as a competitive opportunity through draft-style and closed deck formats. Newell thinks of every card pack purchase as part of a shared economy, one where the cards you have retain their value because they’re actively being traded. To that end, Valve is letting players treat their cards the same way they would physical ones. If you don’t want or already have a card you bought from a pack, you can just sell it on the Steam marketplace. If you’re looking for a single card to complete the incredible deck idea you just cooked up, you can go and buy it directly from someone else, without having to burn money on card packs until you get it, getting cards that are either useless along the way. This attaches real value to individual value to each card that you can trade in at some point.

According to Newell, this lets players more easily think about implementing new strategies. “Let’s say in a game where my assets are depreciating, where I can’t exchange them, I can spend a bunch of time building up stuff and then I’m stuck with my strategy,” he says. “I can’t make a technical decision and try something else because essentially I have to burn all of the value that I’ve put into the game so far.” Because players can’t easily trade in cards they already have for new ones in this model, it becomes harder for them to develop and experiment with new strategies. Artifact hopes to change this.

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Another reason for moving away from free-to-play, according to Newell, is that when free and paid-for items intermingle, the paid-for items lose their value. “If time is free, or an account is free, or if cards are free, anything that has a mathematical relationship to those things ends up becoming devalued over time, whether it’s the player’s time and you just make people pay to grind for thousands of hours for minor trivial improvements, or the asset values of the cards or whatever, that’s a consequence,” he says. Considering Valve wants to attach real value to every card, it makes sense that the entire economy would be cordoned off from free stuff. This is likely a lesson learned from their previous economies; in Dota 2, for example, cosmetic items that came from purchasable chests could wildly vary in price, making them either inaccessible to players who didn’t want to invest a ton of money or making them worthless in the long run. Unlike cosmetic items, Artifact’s cards have real gameplay implications, making it even more important to keep them valuable.

This also factors into Valve’s other marketplace, user-made items, which has become a huge part of both Valve’s pitch to players to make Valve games feel like they belong to the community and for Valve make some cash on the side. Across their other games, avid workshop devotees can stand to make money by having their custom items approved and put up for sale (Valve, of course, gets a cut of that sale). Valve has confirmed that while Artifact is not yet as moddable as they’d like it to be (so far, the biggest opportunity they see is for illustrators making custom art for cards), they plan to let non-artists contribute in some way. Following Valve’s logic, it’s possible that the move away from free-to-play would make these sorts of user-made items more valuable as well.

While the logic seems sound, it’s hard to know how this new model will play out. I wasn’t able to glean how rarity would work under this system, but as a layman I can’t help but wonder whether this leads not to a model where rarity is power, but where power is rarity – a system where the most useful cards aren’t traded as often, and thus become harder to come by, leading to instances where players may have to pay a bit extra for the best cards. This might lead to some of the price-gouging seen in physical card games. Without knowing specifics, however, it’s hard to speculate.

Polishing Up The Edges
While the idea of a card game based on Dota 2 seemed a little bit “me-too” for Valve or a side project as they work on something larger, it’s clear Valve is taking Artifact seriously.

It’s a serious card game, and whether its higher skill ceiling, dense approach, and new market economy work out remain to be seen. Although I only barely had the hang of it by the time my session was over, I’m looking forward to playing more of it when it hits closed beta later this spring. It fuses a lot of elements of Dota and card games I enjoy, and while its intricacies might make it overwhelming at first, I’m eager to dive in and just keep learning, even if I know I won’t fully grasp it for a while. After all, one of the things that makes Dota 2 special is the continual learning process that, while not always intuitive, generally leads to fun, worthwhile discoveries that reward experimentation. Let’s hope that’s the case with Artifact.

Categories: Games

Gravel Review: Slow And Steady Doesn't Win The Race

Gamespot News Feed - Wed, 03/07/2018 - 18:04

Arcade racing games have been few and far between during this console generation, which makes Gravel's straightforward approach feel almost like a throwback. On its surface, Milestone's latest appears to toe the line between being an authentic simulation of off-road racing, and a rough-and-tumble arcade experience. There are myriad driver assists that let you tune the difficulty to your liking, and the option to tweak each vehicle's ride height, differentials, and so on, gives you some degree of performance-based customisation. Yet the effect these options have on Gravel's driving model are negligible at best. This is an unpretentious arcade racer that's incredibly easy to pick up and play, but this simplicity also contributes to a lack of heart-pounding excitement.

Gravel's single player career mode, dubbed "Off-road masters", has you globetrotting between events that mix up different race types and disciplines, with each one loosely connected by the concept of a Gravel TV show. There's not much of substance to this structure beyond the inclusion of an unenthusiastic commentator imparting a few tired lines before and after every race, and a few quasi boss fights that bookend each block of episodes. The latter do at least come locked and loaded with some corny FMV introductions, where fictional racing drivers strike poses in what can only be described as a flaming hellscape. For as amusing as I often found these brief interludes, the mano-e-mano races that follow suffer from the same prevalent problem Gravel does as a whole: they're just kind of boring.

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All of this speaks to a lack of depth to Gravel's off-road racing. This wouldn't be an issue on its own, but the simplicity of its action craves an exciting assortment of tracks to really coalesce its various systems into something approaching an engaging racing game, and Gravel falls short of the mark. There are outliers, of course: the point-to-point cross country races through Alaska and the sun-drenched beaches of Namibia are highlights due to their white-knuckle nature and environmental variety. However, the rest fail to get the blood pumping with any sort of regularity. There are a few real world Rallycross tracks, but most of the courses on offer are fictional, and it's a shame they're not more imaginative. The majority of the time I felt like I was simply going through the motions, even after bumping the difficulty up to hard for a more substantial challenge. And this feeling is only exacerbated by the limited number of environments on offer, with multiple tracks taking place in the same locations.

Meanwhile, multiplayer options are confined to creating your own lobby to invite friends, or jumping into a quick match in the hopes of finding others to race against--but this is easier said than done. After numerous attempts I’ve only managed to find a solitary match, which was populated with three other people (the rest of the grid was made up of AI drivers). Other than this I’ve had no luck finding another race, even a week after launch.

Visually, weather and lighting effects are occasionally impressive, but otherwise Gravel's tracks mostly look flat, and a short draw distance leads to shadows and foliage frequently popping into view. There's also a lack of detail to each vehicle's body, and a smoothness to each one that gives the illusion they're coated in a sheen of vaseline. They look more like toy cars than the high-powered mud-churners they should be.

In my mind's eye, Gravel's bland visuals contribute to a game that doesn't look too dissimilar from the seven year old titles it most closely resembles. There's something appreciable about its no-nonsense style, and there's definitely some intermittent fun to be had with its arcade style racing. But it doesn't do anything that its contemporaries haven't done better before, and it fails to stand out as an enjoyable alternative, which is unfortunately reflected by its barren multiplayer component. Like the fireworks that occasionally ignite throughout select races, Gravel's attempts at excitement don't quite dazzle.

Categories: Games

Survive In A Zombie Wasteland This May

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 03/06/2018 - 19:26

State of Decay 2, the highly anticipated sequel to the zombie-survival game from last generation, now has a release date of May 22 in two separate versions, according to IGN.

The game comes in a standard edition, priced at $29.99, and an Ultimate edition at $49.99. The Ultimate edition allows players to access the game early on May 18 and includes the original game, State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition, on Xbox One and State of Decay 2 DLC packs Independence and Daybreak, which have TBD release dates.

Microsoft got behind State of Decay after the first game made a huge splash on Xbox Live Arcade. The new game runs on Unreal Engine 4, switching from the first game's CryEngine. You can check out the game's trailer from last E3 below.

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State of Decay 2 is releasing on Xbox One and PC.

Categories: Games

See The Missing Chapter Even Before The Prequel

Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 03/05/2018 - 18:48

Deck Nine Games wraps up their run on Life is Strange with Farewell, the final episode in the prequel series Before the Storm.

The episode, which comes out today, takes the prequel even further back, when Chloe and Max were only kids. The bonus episode, which is exclusive to the Deluxe edition of Before the Storm, covers the period of time where Max leaves Chloe to move to Washington and how the two don't really reconnect until Life is Strange.

Check out the trailer for Farewell below.

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The episode is available to download now if you own or upgrade to the Deluxe version of the game.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

Categories: Games

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