First Dev Diary Explores Georgetown And Environmental Storytelling

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 03/27/2018 - 18:20

In a series like The Walking Dead, sometimes the most impactful stories aren't told through the lens of the characters themselves, but through the ravaged world that has been left behind. The first developer diary for Overkill's The Walking Dead, the Payday team's upcoming co-op shooter, dives into the creation of Georgetown, a key neighborhood in the game's take on Washington D.C. The dev diary explores both the exterior of the unkempt neighborhood as well as several interior shots, creating a visual story of the lives that have been abandoned in the wake of the walkers.

"One of the most important parts of being an environment artist is to always ask the question 'Why?', because then you can give everything a meaning." said Jacob Claussen, an environment artist on the project. "And if you give everything a meaning, you can get a sense of a lived-in world."

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The last time we saw this game was back in December when the studio released a trailer for one of the playable characters, Aiden. Overkill's The Walking Dead is coming to PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 in Fall 2018.

Categories: Games

MLB The Show 18 Review: A Home Run

Gamespot News Feed - Tue, 03/27/2018 - 17:00

This year's MLB The Show pushes the franchise's visuals, mechanics, and authenticity to new heights. Marginal updates to the Franchise mode and some of the same quirks in Road to the Show persist, but overall this is a shining baseball game that's worthy of attention.

America's pastime is all about the details, and MLB The Show 18 proves to be an authentic sim thanks to small but impactful touches throughout. There are new crowd animations like the "Judge's Chambers" cheer at Yankee Stadium. Spectator logic is also updated so that fewer people show up for a Tuesday game or when one or both of the teams is out of the postseason hunt. One of the better and more notable aesthetic additions this year are situation-specific home run animations. If you hit a dinger in an important spot, the player will celebrate accordingly instead of just jogging around the bases like it was an inconsequential home run during a blowout.

Batting stances are also customizable now, giving you options to tweak things like the positioning of your hands and elbows. Want a little more bat-wiggle? You got it. It's fun to tweak a stance and find something that is aesthetically pleasing and uniquely yours, even if it doesn't have an impact on your overall attributes. What's more, the crowds for the most part are no longer just bland, boring background elements, and the stadiums are replicated with an incredible attention to detail. From top to bottom, MLB The Show is a gorgeous-looking baseball game.

All the core mechanics and fundamentals of baseball--hitting, fielding, catching, throwing, and pitching--give you the kind of control that you would expect from an advanced sports sim. Mechanically, Sony San Diego's commitment to refining and improving mechanics continues this year. In particular, hitting remains a challenging thrill. The hitting mechanics never feel unfair, as you only have yourself to blame if you're going for a power swing when you should be protecting the plate. It takes some work to get the hang of hitting--and you'll want to try the three available control options to find the one that works best for you. Connecting with a pitch and sending it ripping through the gap or over the fence--or even picking up a single in the clutch--remains one of the most enjoyable parts of the game.

In the field, particularly the outfield, players move like actual humans with inertia, so if you don't get a jump on a fly ball or take the wrong path when playing a ball off the wall, you might find yourself giving the baserunner extra time or even make a costly error. Like the hitting mechanics, this never feels unfair or overly difficult, thanks in part to controls that reward practice and responsiveness.

The commentary team this year adds MLB Network analyst and former player Mark DeRosa--and he is a very welcome addition. DeRosa takes the place of Harold Reynolds, who is out after just one year, and the broadcasts feel more informative and entertaining as a result. DeRosa does color alongside Dan Plesac, and they're joined by play-by-play announcer Matt Vasgersian. The three recorded lines in the same studio space this year, and this pays dividends; the back-and-forth conversations feel more natural and organic. Baseball commentary is never going to be exciting in a way that it is for other, faster sports, but these three do a good job. That being said, after only a few games, you'll begin to hear the same lines again and again.

The returning RPG-like Road to the Show mode builds on the narrative, documentary-style "Pave Your Path" from last year's game. You can import a character from MLB The Show 17 or start anew on a fresh journey from AA to the big leagues. Notably, you aren't a top prospect this time around, but rather a dark horse. You're not on scouts' radar to begin with, so it's imperative you perform well from the start if you want to get called up to the bigs--and it can be a struggle. You start by creating a character (you can customise loads of things, down to the number of pimples on your face or creases on your forehead). But new for MLB The Show 18 is that choosing an archetype for your character that has pros and cons. I went with "Good Hands," which meant my path was more focused on fielding and making contact at the plate with speed as my weakness. Once you get started, RTTS plays out in the familiar fashion: with scenes narrated by a Sam Elliott sound-a-like and narrative sequences that are quite cheesy and overly dramatic.

In previous years, you assigned training points to level up your character that you could purchase with real money through Stubs. But training points and Stubs are completely gone from RTTS (and so are microtransactions), and instead attribute points are automatically added--or subtracted--based on your performance during AA and AAA seasons. Make an error in the field or fail to make solid contact at the plate and your related skills will fall. You'll even have points subtracted if you swing at a pitch way outside of the zone. You do still have some amount of manual control of your character's progress, as "Focus Training" opportunities will pop up throughout the season to improve your skills of choice. MLB The Show 18's overall drive to be an authentic baseball sim extends to RTTS. It shouldn't be easy to go pro--and it isn't. It took me four seasons of AA and three of AAA before I eventually got the call.

At various stages you'll have sit-downs with your manager to talk about your progress. You can make light dialogue choices, and these serve to flesh out your character's personality. Generally speaking, you can choose to be brash or reserved. In one case, I was asked to switch from shortstop to left field. I was told it would be good for my professional development and to show I was a team player, but I refused--and was benched as a result. Actions have consequences (you might even get traded if you push back hard enough). If you want to make it to the big leagues, you have to believe in yourself and your abilities, but also to listen to advice and make reasoned choices about your future.

One change I appreciated is the inability to max out your character to level 99 in all areas. In the past, you could essentially create a super-player if you worked hard enough (or spent enough on microtransactions). But now you can't, and it feels more realistic as a result. Some players will never be big-hitters or the best fielders. Ultimately, it was rewarding to see my character grow and evolve, and by the end of my journey I felt satisfied to have brought my guy to the league. RTTS lacks the kind of overall polish and refinement of similar modes in other sports games such as The Journey (FIFA) and Longshot (Madden), but it is still an engaging, challenging, and ultimately rewarding experience when you get through it. Given how many different archetypes there are to choose from and positions to play, it's exciting to think about starting over again and again to see the story play out in different ways.

MLB The Show 18's Franchise mode, which lets you run as team as its GM and control all organisational decisions over a 162-game season, doesn't add much to the well-established formula from previous years, and in fact it removes something--online play. One of the only notable new additions is the ability to play through a Franchise season in Retro mode, which is the 8-bit mini-game mode that was added last year. Beyond streamlined and more aesthetically pleasing menus, one of the only other other new feature is "phases," which is a system that allows you to track specific points in a season like Draft Day, Spring Training, All-Star Race, and the Postseason. It's a nice addition that gives you yet another way to manage your team and follow their progress on a more granular level. Overall, MLB The Show 18's franchise mode remains a deep experience that gives aspiring managers a lot to work with and enjoy, even if they can't take things online.

The card-collecting Diamond Dynasty mode adds new reasons to keep you coming back. There are more legendary players this year such as Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Nolan Ryan, and Chipper Jones, among others. Elsewhere, Diamond Dynasty has more missions you can complete to earn extra items, while the head-to-head online mode is a fun way to test your squad. Diamond Dynasty doesn't add much new or particularly interestin, but it remains a unique thrill to put together a fantasy team with players from past and present on the same roster. Babe Ruth and Ken Griffey Jr. were never even alive at the same time, but in MLB The Show 18 they can be teammates, and the sheer number of dream combinations provides a reason to keep playing and keep collecting.

Sony's flagship baseball franchise has never been better. With its best-in-class controls and visuals, and impeccable attention to detail for the small stuff, MLB The Show 18 is worth catching for any baseball fan.

Categories: Games

Sea Of Thieves Review: Set Sail With Trepidation

Gamespot News Feed - Tue, 03/27/2018 - 16:00

Sea of Thieves conveys nature's beauty and wrath with aplomb, and sailing across the open ocean in a creaky vessel can make you fall in love with its impressive presentation. This romantic connection can be felt most when sailing alone, but Sea of Thieves is primarily designed to be played with a trusty crew. Doing so allows you to revel in buffoonery and appreciate the value of teamwork, delivering an entirely different perspective on what it means to be a pirate.

These awesome moments make the initial hours of the game feel like you're embarking on a special journey, but this love affair is quickly tested both by the game itself and other players, some of whom on PC are already employing hacks to put your interactions on uneven footing. Sea of Thieves is just that: a game that belongs to conniving robbers, who see fit to disrupt well-meaning players despite gaining no prize other than gold for purchasing cosmetic items. This is to be expected to a degree, and I'd be lying if I said there weren't moments when I screwed over someone else for the sheer delight of asserting power and punishing another player's naivety.

Even so, sabotaging others didn't make me happy for long, and certainly didn't provide me with anything meaningful enough to warrant developing my underhanded side. To that end, playing as a trusting do-gooder is often more fulfilling, though the aforementioned aggressors and a surprising lack of depth to missions curtailed this approach, too. After 30 hours, I'm left wondering when I'll jump back into the game again. A part of me feels like I've seen it all; another part of me knows I'm using that as an excuse to take a break from grinding through another shallow quest in search of gold.

The ostensibly ultimate goal is to become a legendary pirate captain, a prestige that comes with a supposedly notorious-looking ship meant to instill awe. To reach that level of notoriety, you have to increase your reputation with the game's three factions, each to the maximum level, by completing a series of quests. These include defeating reanimated skeletons of fallen pirate captains, digging up buried treasure, and capturing very specifically colored pigs and chickens. If hunting small animals sounds boring, you're right on the money; the fact that it's a dominant activity in the game is mildly baffling. The other two pursuits have their charms at first, but once you realize that the basic requirements of each faction's quests are forever the same, monotony quickly sets in. Given that, maybe it's not surprising that people opt to rob others of their treasures as a means to impress factions.

Again, the only reward for earning reputation--even for sticking it out and becoming a legendary pirate--is looking fancy. New guns are always only as good as the ones you started out with, and expensive attire is designed to impress, not to protect you from harm any better than a basic set of rags. This might be enough for some people to stick it out through the repetitive quests and often frustrating engagements with other players, but I can't imagine why a dash of color here and a new collar there would inspire the ardent perseverance required.

All that said, I can still appreciate the dynamics of working with a friendly crew, and if I ever return to Sea of Thieves in the near future it will be to recapture those special moments. There's almost no better way to kill time during a voyage than to act like an idiot on deck. Chugging grog to the point of vomiting is a regular occurance, as is catching it in a bucket to toss on a crewmate, clouding their vision with bile and booze. The drunker you get, the less stable you are, and the higher the chance that you'll accidentally stumble overboard, much to the delight of everyone.

Coordinating with a team of three other sailors to properly stock your vessel and manage its equipment is the most immediate venue for skill development. The only time you're truly tested is when engaging in battle against another ship, where you're required to manage the speed and orientation of your boat, load and fire cannons on deck, and patch up holes from enemy fire before your ship fills with water and sinks. It's great when you can fend off an attacker, but conversely demoralizing when stripped of your riches. Just because you sign up for that risk when you dedicate yourself to the game doesn't mean losing all your treasure is any less of a hit to your enthusiasm when another crew takes over your ship.

Sea of Thieves offers other notable surprises, such as the appearance of a cloud-skull in the sky with glowing eyes, signaling a "raid" consisting of waves of enemies nearby. You can tackle these well enough with a four-person crew, but you are free to team up with others as well; just be prepared for them to turn on you when it comes time to collect the bounty of treasure.

You may also run into the infamous, massive Kraken mid-voyage, a moment that is exciting the first time around, but subsequently one worth avoiding. The Kraken's gigantic octopus arms writhe out of stained black water--really, a trick to prevent you seeing that the kraken is just a group of disconnected arms without a body in the middle. Its arms can either grab your ship or pluck sailors from the deck, and you've got a limited amount of time to pummel it with cannon fire to free would-be victims. In the end, all you can do is damage it enough so that it slinks away--a deflating discovery that makes you think twice about future engagements, especially given that there's no tangible reward for your victory.

There may come a time when Sea of Thieves is able to entice me back, and I imagine that will be with a mix of new mission types and hopefully the promise of rewards that allow for new types of interactions, if not improve my character's capabilities. For now, it's a somewhat hollow game that can be fun for a handful of hours when played with friends, and something worth trying out if you happen to be an Xbox Game Pass subscriber. Even though it's hard to wholeheartedly recommend, I like enough of what I see to hold out hope that things will eventually improve as the game continues to be patched and updated with new content.

Categories: Games

This Sandbox Lets You Build Your Own Games

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 03/27/2018 - 15:33

Games that give players creation tools can breed all sorts of creativity. We've seen this in Garry's Mod, Minecraft, and more. Even PlayStation has shown interest by publishing Media Molecule's Dreams, a sandbox game all about creating your own worlds.

E-Line Media, the developer behind 2014 platformer Never Alone, noticed the trend and has announced its own iteration. Named The Endless Mission, this creation-centric sandbox game gives you all the development tools you need to create a game from the ground up. You don't have to worry about coding, unless you want to. E-Line Media teamed up with Endless Interactive's Matt Dalio, who builds software for developers. E-Line Media and Endless then created a stripped-down toolset that's accessible to anyone, even for those who have never developed a game before. 

The Endless Mission aims to be a community-driven game where you can share and explore worlds created by others too. All of these worlds can be found in the main hub area called The Terminal, which takes the form of a crisp, futuristic station with hallways leading to different experiences.

"Right from the beginning, we're setting up this austere space that's really representative of the raw code potential upon which you're going to build your game creations," says creative director Brenden Sewell. "Like an airport terminal has gates that take you to different destinations, this terminal will be filled with game worlds that both we've created as well as for celebrating the entities our community will create."

When it launches in early access on Steam, The Endless Mission will have three playable worlds that take the form of different genres. These templates include a Banjo Kazooie-like 3D platformer, a kart racer, and a real-time strategy game. At launch, these three worlds will each have unique content. For example, the 3D platformer will be packed with quests, activities, and boss fights. The worlds can then be shaped by the player with modding tools. You can mix-and-match different assets and environments from these genres to build your own unique experience, or you can start completely from scratch and import your own art and assets from external programs.

"We intentionally chose these three genres to be as distinct as possible from one another, both in terms of mechanics and visuals," Sewell says. "It's important because having a further distance between the visuals and the mechanics of these games really is filling out the palette that players can have access to when they're constructing their own variances."

When adjusting and modding these worlds, you have access to surface-level tools such as sliders. For example, if you wanted to give your avatar or character the ability to jump higher, all you have to do is interact with the slider. E-Line Media wants to give players the ability to build on these worlds in unique ways by experimenting. For example, you can grab the minimap from the RTS game and instead bring it over to a platfomer you're creating. Similar to the concept of Rocket League, which mashes up car combat with soccer, E-Line Media hopes players will build creative mash-ups.

However, Sewell believes that The Endless Mission isn't just for creating games – it's a creation tool that can be used for many different reasons. "It's not just about creating games. You can create machinima, individual assets, and mix-and-match the assets we provide," Sewell says. 

The Endless Mission's official launch is TBA, but it launches on Steam Early Access in August.

Categories: Games

Hands-on With The Bard's Tale IV Reveals The Classic Dungeon Crawler's New, Hearthstone-Like Sensibilities

Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 03/26/2018 - 22:08

After a 30 year hiatus, a new Bard's Tale game is finally ready to grace the RPG world with its self-deprecating sense of humor and a new approach to combat that channels the turn-based strategy of digital card games. 

Taking place 100 years after the events of the 1988 release Bard's Tale III: Thief of Fate, the fourth installment in the series wisely modernizes its approach to make it a natural jumping off point for the generations who didn't have to make boot discs to play the original games on DOS. The game preserves the series basics like dungeon crawling, party management, turn-based combat, puzzle solving, and exploration, but its modernized combat feels more aligned with Hearthstone and Elder Scrolls Legends than any other RPG game. 

I got to go hands-on with a segment of the game about a quarter of the way through the 25-30 hour game. My party is on a quest to destroy a wraith that has dethroned the king and restore rule to the land. 

While in exploration mode, you see the world through a first-person view and can freely move about to interact with the environment and characters around you. I approach a gate that requires us to solve a simple gear puzzle to move beyond the door. As I move into the next room, I stumble upon a circle of mages performing an arcane ritual on a man suspended in the air above them. Before I tap these guys on the back and initiate a fight, I click the right analog stick to check out my party. I've got a fighter named Dogleash, who can taunt to draw enemies forward on the battle grid or heal his fellow fighters with a potion; a magic practitioner who can conjure up spell points for a turn to unleash a massive attack; and a bard, an all-around fighter who can add force multipliers by drinking various magic elixirs with unique properties. If bards stack too many drinks they can eventually pass out and miss a turn, so you need to watch their intake.

The robed ritual participants eventually notice me and the action transitions into the battle grid. Turns are based on the opportunity rating for your party. At this point in the game, the party has four opportunity points to spend for each round, though this number will grow over time as they become more powerful and battles become more complicated. Character position is key on this grid system – those lined up in the frontlines are more vulnerable to attack, while those in the back will have to swap places with others if they want to land a critical melee blow. Over the course of battle, you may need to reposition characters horizontally as well to maximize your attacks. 

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Battles unfold like a DCG puzzle; trying to maximize your offensive opportunities, discover party synergies, and move across the battle grid without opening your more vulnerable glass cannons to attack. After I vanquish the baddies we save the hapless bloke being subjected to the ritual. Arthur, who has a dagger lodged in his eye, quips, "Can you believe this? The idiots didn't even kill me properly." We pull the dagger out of his face, putting him out of his misery, and inspect the weapon. 

Similar to some of the devices you manipulate in games like The Room, these puzzle weapons offer some small challenges for unlocking their true potential. You can rotate and inspect the weapon, then properly align the markings. I properly align the Elvin script, which gives me a riddle to solve. If I chose the answer incorrectly the weapon will be cursed. I guess right and am rewarded with a boon; it's now an acidic weapon that can remove armor from enemies. 

All of the abilities your characters have during battle come from the weapons you equip, giving the inventory a sort of deck-building quality. Making sure you find complementary weapons and armor for your party members can spell the difference between unlocking your true potential or failing the task at hand. 

After equipping my new acid blade I venture forth into the temple. Before heading up the stairs in front of me I walk around the perimeter and spot a strange-looking stone wall. As you explore the world, you find songs of exploration that can help you maximize your experience in any given dungeon. You can raise the dead and interrogate them for clues, banish illusions to find magic loot, or you can do it the old-fashioned way and destroy weak stone structures with a magical hammer. We find one such vulnerable wall and smash it to cinders. I see a few enemies up ahead (there are no randomized battles – you always know what's coming and can try to avoid them if you want) but before engaging, I go into my inventory to eat some food. Rather than force you to heal your entire party one at a time, ingesting a meal automatically heals everyone in the party. 

The next battle requires me to rend armor and do mental damage to vanquish the new enemies, revealing another level of strategy you need to be cognizant of when fighting harder enemies. One of the baddies starts conjuring a spell that I know will do massive damage if he makes it to the next round, so I concentrate my attacks on him to remove the threat from the equation. 

I came away from Bard's Tale IV: Barrows Deep intrigued by its unique mixture of lane-based combat and exploration. The user interface is a little rough around the edges and could use a revision to make the movement options more legible, but the shortcomings I experienced hardly spell doom for a game that's still in the alpha phase of development. 

The Bard's Tale IV: Barrows Deep is scheduled to release on PC later this year. Inxile Entertainment says it's still looking into consoles but doesn't have anything to announce at this time.

Categories: Games

Raising The Stakes, Banner Saga 3 Puts It All On The Line

Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 03/26/2018 - 20:55

The Nords of The Banner Saga aren't living the idyllic Viking life of raiding coastal towns and throwing big parties with the spoils. Over the course of the last two games, we've seen their numbers diminish rapidly as a mysterious force called The Darkness takes hold and pushes an army of Dredge across the region. The third game begins at a point where hope is scarce and the humans and Varls have their backs up against the wall. 

Banner Saga 3 picks up at the end of the second game, with one caravan marching heedlessly into the Darkness while the other takes up a defensive position at Arberrang, the last bastion for the humans. The story swaps back and forth between the two. Iver's caravan, Juno, and Bolverk's Ravens take their uneasy alliance into the unknown to try and end The Darkness, while the others try to stay alive as long as they can to buy the others time. The game supports many endings that could see you lose all the heroes, lose Arberrang but purge the evil, and everything in between. Stoic wants to make sure players feel their choices have mattered across all three games rather than give a binary choice at the end. 

Enter The Darkness
Our demo joins the group heading into the darkness, and it's clear from the get-go that this alliance is on a weak footing. Right away the group comes into a dispute where I choose the option of intimidating the Ravens to follow along with our plan. Iver growls "who wants to be first?" And the Ravens immediately back down. The crazy purple lighting that struck just behind our hulking hero may have had something to do with their reaction. 

Suddenly the group finds themselves surrounded by mutated enemies, and we get our first taste of how combat in this mysterious realm differs from the norm. Just like the buildings and landscapes are warped here, so are the living things. Warped Varls, spearmen, and raiders all have heightened statistics and passive traits that make them more formidable. That shouldn't make the threat too overwhelming considering your heroes have been upgrading their skills over the course of two games. 

Since the game is a race against time, developer Stoic Games has added a wave mechanic in the darkness realm. For each turn-based battle, you have a timer that counts down until another wave of Dredge bears down on your position. This creates an interesting risk/reward to these battles, as holding your ground through a second wave is the only way to earn new items in this realm. Before each new wave starts, you can reposition your party to make sure they're in the best position to succeed.

During these wave battles, the Valka spear that Ivan recieved at the end of Banner Saga 2 comes in handy. The spear fills with up to three charges players can use to unleash a chain lightning attack. Just like the willpower attack in previous games, but anyone in the party can use the spear attack.

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New Faces In The Fight
This is the first game where players can take control of Juno as well, and she brings a unique dimension to the fold. She can turn into a ghost during battle to gather the darkness energy to gain strength and willpower. If the player loses the battle while she's in the nether region, then they lose, so she needs to get to as many energy spots as she can and get back to her body before the battle is over. Players will learn why she can take this ghost form and come to understand what's going on through the course of the narrative.

Juno is just one of the new playable characters in Banner Saga 3; all told players have more than 40 heroes to choose from, each with unique skills, passive abilities, and storylines. For the first time, the cast includes a playable Dredge character, and the Varl historian Ubin can finally join your party for the last stand. Another new face, Alfrun, is a witch who can add strength to fellow party members during battle and deal massive damage from afar with a swooping "ride the lightning" attack.

Stoic wanted to give the game a sense that the characters earn their nickname through accomplishments, so once you get your characters to level 10, you can spend renown to give your characters heroic titles. For instance, the options available for Bulwark the Dredge character are Bulwark Bloodletter, Death's Messenger, Dredge Breaker, Monster Killer, Oath Maker, or Shadow Walker. Each title has five ranks you can unlock, and they all impart passive upgrades like resist willpower damage, increased strength damage, etc. Once you choose a title for a character you can't change it, and it becomes unavailable for other characters. 

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The Last Stand
After the battle in the darkness realm comes to a close, the story transitions back to Arberrang. Here, we see the city largely surrounded by the Dredge, with the darkness creeping closer and closer each chapter of the story. This caravan won't be journeying out of the city during the course of this game; instead, they must dig in their heels and get ready to defend the city at all costs while trying to avoid the infighting that has a tendency to break out when the outlook is this bleak. Based on your decisions, the city will change dynamically. Perhaps revolting people will start fires within your walls, burning down districts. You have clickable events to check out that evolve based on the circumstances the city faces. 

Arberrang has three rings of reinforced walls, which makes me think the dredge will inevitably breach and pour through the opening. Sure enough, the commander of the dredge forces unleashes a chain attack to pull down the outer walls. As the dredge advance between rounds, you will see the city change visibly – and not for the better. 

Look for The Banner Saga 3 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC sometime this summer. 

Categories: Games

Awaken The Dragon In This Extended Trailer

Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 03/26/2018 - 20:15

With Yakuza Kiwami 2 being announced for the west just recently, Sega has released an extended version of the announcement trailer.

The trailer shows off Kiryu being the best at looking uncomfortable during tense conversations and extends the scene a little further, giving the name of the antagonist from the game. Fans of Yakuza 0 who did all of Majima's side stories might recognize the character from the name or appearance.

You can check out the extended trailer here.

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You can check our hands-on impressions of Kiwami 2, a remake of Yakuza 2, right here.

Categories: Games

Batman: The Enemy Within Episode 5 Review - No More Joking Around

Gamespot News Feed - Mon, 03/26/2018 - 15:00

In the season finale for The Enemy Within, an exhausted, bloody, and beaten Joker asks Batman a question: "Did you ever think of me as your friend?" It's a spark of vulnerability in a character that is typically sowing discontent and wreaking havoc. Unlike many of the other decision-making points, there's no timer pressuring you to respond, and in that moment I reflected on the choices I had made up until then. I asked myself whether I feigned friendship with him in the pursuit of justice, or if it was genuine.

Telltale's Batman: The Enemy Within convincingly presented me with the idea that I could find salvation for the Joker. That I could use the Dark Knight's unwavering sense of justice as a guiding hand, hopefully to shape him into something other than the maniacal Clown Prince of Crime. I was wrong, and I failed.

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In the end, events played out as they always do: A cackling clown and a man dressed as a bat standing on different sides of the law. This is a disappointing bait and switch, but only because I let myself think things could be different--I saw hope where there was none. The fact that I bought into the idea speaks to the strength of the writing and performances throughout the series. Despite this letdown, Episode 5 remains a compelling end to a story in which Batman becomes a participant in the creation his greatest adversary.

While that's not a unique concept, 'Same Stitch' takes the idea that Joker exists because of Batman and explores it more directly. Where comics allow subtlety and subtext to suggest the symbiotic nature between the two characters, Telltale's take is more overt, and makes a stronger, clearer statement because of it: Maybe Batman is the reason villains exist in Gotham, and maybe his crusade is doing as much harm as it is good.

In possession of a deadly virus and being hunted by an out-of-control Amanda Waller, John Doe comes out of hiding as a vigilante calling himself Joker. That's the person I shaped though my actions as Batman. Wherever possible, I put my faith in him, trusted him to do the right thing, and gave him the benefit of the doubt, hoping it would have a positive impact. In response Doe modeled himself after Batman, complete with Jokerangs, a grapnel gun with chattering teeth, and the overwhelming compulsion to see justice served.

But, despite my intentions, I had unwittingly placed Joker on the path to realising his villainous destiny, albeit with a short detour through vigilantism. The episode begins with Batman trying to recover the deadly virus in Doe's possession and stop him from doing harm. Amanda Waller, meanwhile, wants to capture Doe and Batman, and resorts to using villains to get the job done, putting together a Suicide Squad of sorts.

Events quickly spiral out of control. Having been blamed for killing The Riddler, Joker becomes focused on proving that Waller is the real villain in Gotham. His morality becomes black and white, and Telltale does a great job of forcing Batman to admit there are shades of grey. As Waller argues her case, it's hard not agree with her that Batman has taken similar measures in his crusade. This showing of sympathy, and Batman's insistence that she face trial instead of suffering a more immediate fate frustrates Joker, making him lash out.

[Joker's] morality becomes black and white, and Telltale does a great job of forcing Batman to admit there are shades of grey

Batman's rigid code of conduct and unwavering morality erodes Joker's sense of what it means to be a hero and conflicts with his need for reparations. The result is is a mentally unstable figure that acts on violent impulses and lives by a twisted sense of self-serving principles. Instead of dropping John Doe into a vat of green chemicals to create Joker, Episode 5 presents your influence as Batman to be one of the reasons Joker is born.

Same Stitch manages to be introspective and thoughtful, while also providing plenty of levity. Joker's stint as Batman's sidekick is incredibly memorable, thanks to excellent voice acting and more than a few funny lines. Joker behaves as you'd imagine any Batman fanboy would if given the opportunity to go on a mission with the Dark Knight, revelling in going back to back with his idol, running through the ridiculous superhero names he considered before arriving at Joker, joyfully riding in the Batmobile, and taking pleasure in being mended by Alfred. Sadly, the fun and games are short-lived, as before long he's on the warpath.

Episode 5 also gives Alfred a more prominent and meaningful role. Having been there for every step of Bruce's journey, from orphaned child to vigilante superhero, he's begins to realise that perhaps he's also been a negative influence, enabling Bruce's destructive lifestyle and failing in his job as a surrogate father. Telltale takes some bold steps to change the dynamic between the two characters, and it will be interesting to see how this carries over into future seasons, if they happen.

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Overall, Episode 5 of Telltale's Batman: The Enemy Within provides plenty of thrills and is a satisfying conclusion to the story. Although there are a few set-piece fights that are dynamic to watch, much of the actual gameplay remains focused on walking around environments and interacting with points of interest. It's a shame that the series as a whole didn't offer more opportunities to solve puzzles, as it did in the earlier in the series, but given the satisfying story payoff that's easy to forgive.

Over the course of five episodes, the Batman: The Enemy Within has delicately developed John Doe and pulled strings to position Batman as a key player in his transition into Joker. While Telltale's first Batman season stuck a bit too close to established mythos and delivered an underwhelming ending, the second is a memorable Joker origin story that Bat-fans should make a point of playing.

Categories: Games

Far Cry 5: Review In Progress

Gamespot News Feed - Mon, 03/26/2018 - 11:01

If you're familiar with the premise of Far Cry--the idea of a one-person army taking on overwhelming hostile forces in large, unpredictable surroundings--then you know exactly what Far Cry 5 feels like. You'll engage in different styles of offensive conflict; attempt to tame the wild, natural environment to your advantage; and slowly build a guerilla resistance in the background. But for its fifth mainline entry, the series formula has undergone some very positive refinements, which make its core hook of exploring and engaging with its volatile setting a more free-flowing and pleasant experience. It lets you fully enjoy the sights and activities of its beautiful and interesting open-world without too many overt distractions.

The biggest change is that the series is finally confident enough to put you in charge of your own progression. After a brief orientation, the entire region of Hope County, Montana USA is immediately open for exploration. Three intimidatingly large regions surround your starting point, and you're given only a gentle suggestion of a good first destination. The moment when you're shown all the equally accessible possibilities and the furthest reaches of the map feels liberating--you may even be crippled by the choice, and that's a good problem to have.

To accompany this decision, Far Cry 5 now handles its story progression in a more freeform manner. The goal in each of the three regions is to earn enough Resistance Points to hit three milestones, and subsequently have three encounters with three lieutenants of the Eden's Gate cult, with the ultimate goal of reaching their leader, Joseph Seed, "The Father". Each of these individuals runs a different facet of the God-fearing group, but their role in the story ultimately isn't as interesting as you might think, despite Far Cry 5's potential for a controversial and politically charged narrative. Earning Resistance Points--an abstract indication of the growing opposition to Eden's Gate--can be achieved in a number of different ways. Completing story missions and side missions for resistance members is the most efficient way to do so, but you can also viably achieve your goal by performing smaller tasks that you might stumble across during your journeys through the county: rescuing civilians in random encounters, finding and destroying cult structures or supply vehicles, and liberating occupied compounds, seized as cult outposts.

Mechanically, it's a great, player-friendly system that rewards you no matter what activities you decide to undertake or avoid. But the reason why it feels so good in execution is due to a change regarding how you discover these opportunities in the first place. With the exception of the locations of each region's hub area and the whereabouts of Specialists (support characters who provide unique abilities), no points of interest are marked on your world map, and the traditional Far Cry (and Ubisoft game) practice of finding and scaling key structures to populate the world with icons has been removed.

Discovering points of interest can be achieved in a few ways. Physically stumbling upon a significant area will mark it on your map. Actively looking at wildlife road signs inform you of the fauna in that region. Finding notes, maps, and magazines located in homes and other buildings can point you to a number of different things, including Prepper Stashes, which involve solving obscure environmental puzzles that can lead to money and gear. Simply encountering a civilian might give you the opportunity to talk to them about the latest word on the grapevine about an outpost, side quest, or even the location of a story quest giver.

All these elements work wonderfully together to create a style of larger progression that feels mostly organic. I began my time with the game knowing I would be pursuing stealth tactics, so I immediately set off toward the given location of a Specialist who would complement that playstyle. Along the way, I encountered a civilian being led down the road at gunpoint. After saving him, he told me about a nearby pumpkin farm which had been seized by Eden's Gate. As a vegetable lover, I made it my personal duty to free the oppressed squashes from their gun-toting captors. I happened to find a map marking fishing spots while I was sneaking around the compound, and once I had liberated the farm, one of the farmers I had freed flagged me down to offer a side mission. While the initial expanse of the open world might cripple you with choice, the discovery system dishes out distinct options in small doses, encouraging you to follow and explore the small distractions you might find with genuine curiosity, as opposed to because it was one of a dozen icons you arbitrarily picked as they stared at you from a minimap.

In fact, there is no minimap, and it's one of the best things to happen to the series (as was also the case in Far Cry 2). There's a compass that helps you track your direction and will narrow down the general location of enemies and marked objectives, but there's nothing telling you about the specifics of the area. You'll still need to navigate to the menu to see the world map (the in-world physical map from Far Cry 2 was sadly not reimplemented), but it's a welcome change nonetheless. The absence of the minimap allows you to see the trees in the forest, so to speak. You can focus on details in the world without distraction, and can actively appreciate the stunning beauty of the natural environment you inhabit--the tall Douglas firs among the craggy hills, the serene fields and farms, the lively rivers teeming with fish--and pay full attention to intricate interior details in the homes and businesses you visit, each with distinct, lived-in personality.

The new freeform flow sits comfortably well with the most celebrated aspect of the Far Cry series: the capacity for you to engage with the game's conflicts in your own way, seeing what kinds of chance scenarios you stumble into, and attaining those watercooler tales about what happened next. There are still numerous ways to approach tasks like liberating outposts--go in sight unseen with stealthy movement and silent weapons, lure predatory animals into the compound to do the dirty work for you, take advantage of the propagating fire system and set the place alight with flamethrowers and explosives, or just be traditional and go in guns blazing.

Far Cry 5's altered upgrade system helps you make these modes of play more viable from the get-go. Perks are grouped into disciplines but aren't arranged in any kind of tree, meaning prerequisites aren't necessarily needed to unlock particular skills, and almost nothing is progress-locked. So if you begin the game and prefer stealthy approaches, you can unlock perks that let you run silently, move faster while crouched, and perform multiple takedowns (all previously higher-level skills, typically) as your very first unlocks. Points to spend on perks are tied to an item you'll likely find often during your regular travels in the world, as well as a laundry list of very achievable challenges that correlate to every weapon, personal action, and support character in the game. You can go out of your way to vary your approaches and maximise perk points, but if you tend to stick to a specific kind of playstyle, it's unlikely that you'll need to. There's also, thankfully, less of an emphasis on hunting. Selling animal skins is the most lucrative way to earn money for purchasing weapons and vehicles, but the series is finally past the point of needing to hunt specific creatures for the purposes of crafting upgrades.

Another fantastic change (again revived from Far Cry 2) involves the aforementioned Specialists and their more generic relative, the Guns for Hire. They allow you to utilise and command the unique skills of one of many support buddies, adding another fun and dynamic element to your toolkit. Specialists provide a variety of options, from the humans that lay down covering fire with different weapons and vehicles to the animals who can assist you in marking enemies and stealth takedowns. They're fantastic assets who can complement your skillset or fill in a necessary gap. You might recruit tortured archer Jess to give you a silent attack option, or order helicopter pilot Adelaide to fly in and provide suppressing fire and a distraction.

The AI that drives support characters sometimes makes poor decisions that puts them in harm's way, but in lieu of a co-op partner, Specialists help bolster the series propensity for emergent, fist-pumping "hell yeah" moments. You could be crossing a bridge and find that an enemy SUV has surprised you by driving up onto it from behind, completely blocking your escape. You could dart into the forest ahead for cover and inadvertently disturb a cougar, who starts by chasing you, but turns and decides one of your aggressors is an easier catch. You might then find yourself in a high-speed car chase, and call Specialist Nick to fly in with his armed seaplane to attack the pursuing vehicles. And as you hear him hooting and hollering over the radio, you look out the rear window to see his airstrike completely annihilate the convoy in a fiery explosion, right before you turn back around and find yourself driving off a cliff.

That's what Far Cry 5 is all about--fluid and dynamic engagements that act as different canvases and let you use the game's variety of tools to finish the picture. At least, that's the case most of the time. While many story and side missions also incorporate secondary activities like outpost takeovers, many hone in on single-style experiences which can be hit or miss depending on your preferences, and are less open to experimentation.

There are a number which can be, depending on your patience, intolerable. Once you've hit one of the three milestones in liberating a region, the Eden's Gate lieutenant in charge will capture you, whisking you away from the world, no matter what you're doing, with an insta-kill macguffin. You'll escape each time, of course, and in doing so, typically plow through single-style corridor affairs until you escape or reach an opportunity to kill the lieutenant. These missions showcase some of the game's most stunning setpieces, but mechanically they're bland at best, featuring elementary stealth challenges, on-rails turret sequences, and monotonous platforming among other scenarios. These missions are relatively brief, but they're semi-regular occurrences that pull you away from the world that makes Far Cry 5 great, and it's easy to hold that against them.

What makes these missions more egregious are the prolonged, close-up encounters with the Seed family members upon capture. Joseph Seed and his lieutenants are nothing if not charismatic villains, and their performances are impressive. But every encounter with them is the same--you're restrained in some manner and can do nothing but watch them get all up in your face, preaching about topics that make sure you know just how evil they are, which becomes tiresome very quickly. Far Cry 5 devotes too much time in belabouring the point here, and the few attempts to try and capture your sympathy for their cause feel cheap. Part of their plan in making sure you really, really, really hate them is capturing and hurting major allies. Scenes of violence against them will make you wince and are supposed to be motivators, but the reality is that you'll likely only have spoken to these people once or twice before, if at all, and won't have formed any real attachment.

The other quest giver characters are mostly extreme caricatures you'll either love or hate, but you're not asked to put much investment in their livelihood outside of the outrageous quests they give you. They'll send you on adventures that show you the goofy side of Far Cry, from hunting down alien turkeys for a mad scientist or watching bovine mate as Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing plays. These missions feel more in line with the freewheeling spirit of Far Cry than anything that directly involves the Seed family.

The Seed family missions ultimately aren't an enormous detraction, but there are additional gripes. Weapons and vehicles that have the capacity to be purchased with real-world money take prominent positions in every shop menu, and their connection to an online storefront also seems to increase the loading time of these menus, which is annoying if all you want to do is swap weapons. And, despite Far Cry 5's unquestionably relevant, religiously and politically volatile setting, the game doesn't do or say anything interesting with it beyond a few hammy jabs here and there. It's unchallenging satire, and for all the attention paid to the Seed family, you would expect there to be something more.

But there are so many more simple, experiential joys to be found in Far Cry 5. The exhilarating feel of jumping off a mountain and flying through the skies in a wingsuit. The idle chit-chat between your Specialists. Fishing in one of the many rivers or lakes for hours on end. Petting your animal companions. Flying a plane for the first time in the series. The taut and precise gunplay. The relaxing feeling of cruising down a picturesque highway in a 70s muscle car, listening to the great selection of classic American (and one Australian) rock and country tunes on the radio.

If you'd rather experience this with someone who is a little more autonomous, or you prefer your worlds to be a little more bonkers, Far Cry 5 also includes two major features: full online co-op for the campaign (with few restrictions, thanks to the game's completely accessible map) and Far Cry Arcade. Arcade houses the game's custom map editor, allowing you to build your own single-player, co-op, or competitive multiplayer maps, or play those uploaded by the rest of the community. While the process of jumping into custom maps requires some patience to cater for potentially lengthy load times, and the Hope County denizen that pimps Far Cry Arcade deserves a mention as the most irritating character in the game, Arcade provides the enticing potential for a diverse array of ideas that are far removed from the tone and rules of the main game.

Despite some brief irritations and missed opportunities with its narrative, spending time in the world of Hope County remains absolutely delightful. Far Cry 5 boasts a wonderfully harmonious flow to its adventure, with its smart changes to exploration, discovery, and progression distinctly bolstering the enjoyment of creatively engaging and experimenting with its spectacular open world.

Far Cry 5 has a number of network features, and while we've played some campaign co-op and a number of cool levels in Arcade, we want a chance to witness how Far Cry Arcade and online multiplayer perform following the game's public launch. We'll be classifying the above opinions as a review in progress until then, and will be updating the text over the coming days with our definitive conclusions.

Categories: Games

Build Your Dream Coaster, Then Ride It In VR

Game Informer News Feed - Sun, 03/25/2018 - 22:48

When RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 launched in 2004, it allowed players to hop on their creations as passengers for the first time. Unfortunately, the feature was limited, as the processing power required for the first-person mode was greater than the simulation aspect of the game, and players were simply watching it from the monitor rather than actually feeling like they're inside the world. Nvizzio Creations hopes to deliver the full realization of that feature with the upcoming PlayStation VR title RollerCoaster Tycoon Joyride.

At its base, RollerCoaster Tycoon Joyride allows you to hop on-board a number of pre-made coasters or build your own. Using basic track customization tools, you can design your ride pretty easily. If you get to a point and want to wrap up the process, you can click a button and the game will close the circuit for you. You can set your creations in a number of different environments, but my favorite is the city setting that let me spiral the tracks down skyscrapers and in between structures.

Barreling down drops and around tight curves tricks your brain, giving you a similar sensation as riding a real coaster. On top of simply riding along the tracks, you also participate in a target-shooting competition using the motion controls of the standard PlayStation 4 controller to aim. In order to score big, you can shoot different value targets and earn one of several power-ups to your gun. It's a fun diversion and can be quite the challenge, but the main attraction for me is being able to ride the coasters; if you don't want to shoot the targets, you can just ignore them.

In addition to being able to build whatever coaster pops into your head, you can also share and download creations using PlayStation Network, giving you an even deeper pool of rides. You can also use the leaderboards to see how you rank in your shooting skills, or pass the PSVR headset around the room and compete with up to three other players.

It's clear that the concept behind RollerCoaster Tycoon 3's CoasterCam has come a long way. Being able to actually feel like you're riding the coasters you dream up is a strong selling point for longtime fans of the series, and the target-shooting game adds an extra layer into the mix. PSVR owners who have been disappointed by the roller coaster offerings on the platform could get rewarded for their patience with RollerCoaster Tycoon Joyride when it launches this spring.

Categories: Games

Hands On With Human Head's Hack-N-Slash Viking Adventure

Game Informer News Feed - Sun, 03/25/2018 - 21:30

After 18 years in the drawer, Human Head Studios has dusted off its Viking-themed action adventure series Rune with a new open-world, hack-n-slash adventure.

Rather than pick up where the original game left off, Rune: Ragnarok picks up in the midst of the Nordic apocalypse. Legends foretell the fiery death of all the gods during Ragnarok, but the cataclysmic event is not playing out as believed. The hellscape has taken hold, lasting nearly a decade. Giants, dragons, and the undead lay waste to the Scandinavian countryside, but somehow amidst this chaos, Loki has fiendishly prevented the end of the world from occurring. Your job is to take down this trickster god and get the apocalypse back on track. 

I ventured into this battle during a hands-on demo of the alpha build at GDC. The game is still very rough around the edges, but I still came away with a basic understanding of what to expect from this Viking adventure, which allows you to play single-player, cooperatively, or on PvP servers.

The first thing I noticed about Rune: Ragnarok is the frantic pace of battle. After breezing through a fairly basic character editor that allowed me to pledge allegiance to one of several Nordic gods or valkyries (each of which offers different skill traits), I took to the killing fields as an ax-wielding, tattooed Viking rocking a braided beard. Using the mouse and keyboard, the attacking controls are fairly simplistic and rather inexact given the third-person camera and lack of a lock on during attacks. Once you get close to an enemy the fights commonly devolve into a series of sloppy swings and misses from all the parties involved – don't expect the choreographed melee combat of a game like For Honor here. Scrolling the mouse wheel gives you quick access to a variety of weapons like swords, spears, and bows. A collection of hotbar commands gives you easy access to items like mead for health recovery, as well as the runes you may pick up along the way. My Viking was equipped with a berserker rune, as well as a health rune.

Fighting alongside the demoer from Human Head, we are hunting one of Loki's frost giants. Many enemies cross our paths, including rival Vikings, demonic animals, and undead. We pillage the dead for gear and also stumble upon a fair amount of chests sitting right out in the open. These typically give you crafting supplies or new items you can equip should they be better than the armor or weapons you're currently using. The amount of skill buffing loot gives Rune more of an RPG feel; throughout the demo constantly returned to my inventory screen to see if the new items were worth equipping. As you explore the world and level up you also gain god favor, which can be used to unlock new skills. The skill tree is one unified tree, featuring crafting, new skills, and even quests that you can unlock. 

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Rune: Ragnorok extends beyond the RPG systems to integrate survival elements as well. The game has a hunger and thirst system, as well as dangerous weather effects like hypothermia to worry about. If you're in a frigid part of the land you will start to get frostbite over time, so it's important to equip warmer armor. Mead can stave off the cold as well, but if you drink too much you will get drunk. You can find mushrooms in the world that have psychedelic properties if you digest them as well, so be careful what you eat.

As we head toward our objective marker, we eventually need to board a Viking ship to reach another island. Pulling up the world map, I get a sense of the scale of the game. We ventured through the largest land mass in the game, but it's also surrounded by a variety of archipelagos. The furthest north locations will be covered in snow, while the southernmost regions may have more flora and fauna. Boarding the ship, we set sail toward our destination, but not before I use the ship's crossbow to kill a wolf chasing my partner as he tries to board.

Landing on the new island, we finally locate the frost giant in some stone ruins. This battle takes some savvy, dealing with crowd control while plucking away at the giant's health from afar with a bow and arrow. He eventually gets caught up on some of the ruins' geometry, allowing us to fill him full of arrows and emerge victoriously. The dozens of arrows hilariously stay lodged in his skull, making his corpse a sight to see.

Rune: Ragnarok is scheduled to come out on PC later in 2018. Human Head says it's also considering a console release, but has nothing to announce at this time.

Categories: Games

New Game From This War Of Mine Developer Leaves You With Difficult Choices

Game Informer News Feed - Sun, 03/25/2018 - 20:00

Leading a society is a difficult feat. Leading a society in a dying world that's frozen over is even tougher. This is the premise of Frostpunk, an upcoming city builder and survival game from 11 Bit Studios, the creators of the indie hit This War of Mine.

Being a leader comes with difficult choices, and your decisions will either haunt you or progress your people to better days. You manage your society by following different story-driven goals, such as tasking groups to mine for coal. In Frostpunk, you are constantly gauging which choices are better in the long run, even if their immediate effects aren't favorable. This makes for a thrilling concept, where you are constantly thinking about the future of your people.

"Morality rules that apply to individuals like in This War of Mine don’t apply to entire societies. The rules are different. If you’re a leader, you can make a decision that you believe is the right one in the longterm, but people may disagree with you," 11 Bit partnerships manager Pawel Miechowski says.

Frostpunk tells an alternate history, taking place in the 19th century. For unknown reasons, the world has frozen over and humanity is dying out. Lucky for you and a group of survivors, you find a hidden generator that is operated by coal. With it, you slowly rebuild a modest society, but each decision you make can have dire consequences.

Child labor, for example, may seem incredibly immoral, but what if it was the only choice you had left to ensure survival? However, such a decision could make your people unhappy. At the bottom of your screen, you have two bars, one for discontentment and the other for hope. If discontentment goes too high, your people can rebel. When hope goes too low, people may leave your city. If you fail either completely, it's game over.

"It's all about responsibility and power," Miechowski says.

As you progress, you unlock new books of law, which allow you to pass different legislation. These laws, when passed, are irreversible, but future laws can amend them. For example, radical treatment for frostbitten individuals gives them medical care and food. They eat up your resources and and are unable to work. It's a humane decision, but a difficult one when resources are so slim to begin with. Later on, however, you might develop more advanced technology to create prosthetic limbs so that these individuals can return to work.

The law system is a skill tree that you progressively unlock. New books of law can be found in many ways, such as when someone asks something of you or as you explore the outer depths of the frozen world.

Unlike Sim City, Frostpunk isn't a never-ending city builder. You can play through an approximately 10-hour campaign, or through two different scenario modes. The campaign has a story with a beginning and an end, and story progression is deeply rooted in exploration. You can eventually send scouts to explore new areas which moves the story forward and helps you piece together what caused these harsh frozen conditions. As you journey outward, you can create new settlements or bring back other survivors to your city. Bringing these refugees back with you, though, isn't always so simple.

 "If you have spaces for 300 people and a big group of refugees come to the city, you need to provide households and all that for those people," Miechowski says. "If you don't have resources for that, maybe it's better to not let the refugees in.

Miechowski also teases that there will be a "big moment" that definitively chooses your path with future books of law, though he didn't specify more than that.

Much of Frostpunk's mechanics revolve around a risk/reward concept. Putting your generator in overdrive during a snowstorm may help keep your people alive or keep frostbite at bay, but it can also explode if you're not careful. You have a meter beside the generator to tell you how close your are to combustion. If it explodes, it's game over, but you can also lose if your people die or become sick from the cold. Keen decision-making requires you to weigh the odds in order to best protect your society. But even when you lose, Miechowski believes that the game portrays it as a learning experience. You learn from past mistakes so that you can better lead your people the second time around.

"Losing is part of the experience," Miechowski says. "You learn, you adapt, and you adjust."

Miechowski stresses that Frostpunk's decisions are often neither good or bad. They fall in the grey area, with consequences either way. He says that 11 Bit chose this approach so that the player can make choices without the game judging them. 

"Playing with morality should happen within the game or in the player's mind," he says. "The game cannot judge you."

For more on Frostpunk, you can watch a trailer about automatons by heading here. Frostpunk releases for PC on April 24.

Categories: Games

Combining PvP And PvE For A Different Take On Battle Royale

Game Informer News Feed - Sun, 03/25/2018 - 04:39

In 2015, Techland delivered an ambitious open-world zombie title that featured a heavy emphasis on scavenging, exploring, parkouring, and crafting. Dying Light garnered positive reviews, and Techland has continued evolving the experience ever since through updates and expansions. Now, the studio is hopping on board the battle royale bandwagon, but this is far from a PUBG clone.

Dying Light: Bad Blood is a new standalone online title set in the universe of the 2015 game. The concept is simple: six players are dropped across a large, open map with the goal of harvesting and looting enough blood packets to trade in for a helicopter ride out of the infected zone. The catch? There's only room for one.

The primary way to obtain blood packets is by killing zombies. Nests are located all over the city, and since you're racing against other players to get to the chopper with enough blood, you want to make a beeline toward the high concentration areas. Unfortunately, when you're dropped in, it's with nothing but the clothes on your back. Thankfully, the looting and crafting aspects of the original game are fully intact; you're not going to get far without a competent weapon, and weapon mods definitely help.

As with most zombie games, the undead are usually the least of your worries. Sure, nests feature some of the upgraded zombies with brutal attacks, but the other five players are definitely more unpredictable and dangerous. Of course, other players don't just target you to be jerks; if you take another player down, you get all of their weapons, medkits, and, most importantly, their blood packets. In both matches I played, I died at the hands of another player who sneaked up on me while I was fighting a boss zombie. They were happy to take all the blood I had gathered.

Once you get enough blood, you level up, increasing your damage and health. To have enough to trade in for a helicopter evac, you need to max out to level five. It doesn't take long; each of my matches lasted ten minutes or less. After acquiring enough blood, you must make your way to the evac point and hold it for 30 seconds as the other players are notified of your near-victory state. This leads to tense battles that put most zombie swarms to shame as the remaining survivors descend upon the point for a winner-take-all slugfest that could see any of the players emerge victoriously.

Dying Light: Bad Blood has the benefit of building on top of its already strong gameplay systems and compelling world. It's been a couple years since I played Dying Light, and Bad Blood was a quick reminder of just how much fun parkouring, exploring, and looting can be in the post-apocalyptic city. Dying Light: Bad Blood is set to launch on PS4, Xbox One, and PC sometime this year, with a playtest hitting PC soon.

Categories: Games

Julian Gollop's Spiritual Successor To XCOM Is One Worth Watching

Game Informer News Feed - Sat, 03/24/2018 - 19:42

Firaxis has done great work modernizing the classic XCOM franchise with two phenomenal titles. But that isn't stopping original creator Julian Gollop from pursuing his own evolution of the seminal turn-based strategy series. Phoenix Point is a spiritual successor that builds on the XCOM foundation in interesting new ways.

The year is 2047, and human civilization is under siege from a dangerous virus that was unleashed by melting permafrost. The virus spread quickly, mutating everything it came into contact with, and it only took two decades to dwindle human settlements into a few small pockets around the globe. To combat extinction, humans activate the Phoenix Project, a collection of the world's finest scientists, engineers, and military personnel. Players take control of this organization and must find a way to repel the viral assault.

I got a hands-on demo at GDC with Snapshot Games co-founder David Kaye, and came away impressed by the ways it enhances and extends beyond the XCOM template. Here are five reasons Phoenix Point is one game strategy fans should keep an eye on.

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A Deep And Varied Combat Design
Fighting a varied assortment of mutant enemies forms the backbone of Phoenix Point, and anyone who's played XCOM will understand the basics. But Phoenix Point evolves the experience in several interesting ways. First, the game replaces dice rolls with a realistic ballistics system. Snapshot Games modeled bullet trajectory to take into account distance, velocity, and target availability. If you shoot a rifle head-on at an enemy holding a melee shield, chances are extremely high your bullets will be repelled by the shield. You're better off flanking before opening fire to guarantee damage. Destructible environments also give you the option of taking out cover if an enemy is entrenched behind a barrier. 

Whatever strategy you deploy during combat, over time the mutants will evolve natural counters, forcing you to continually adopt new approaches (or invest in research to find weak points on these newly formed armor shells). Location-based damage gives you a few other tactical decisions to consider in battle. Snipers, in particular, can target any limb on an enemy, giving them the ability to take out an arm to nullify an attack or their legs to slow down their movement.

Giant Mutant Monsters
Like its spiritual predecessor, don't expect Phoenix Point to take it easy on you. The game constantly challenges you with an evolving threat, as well as gigantic enemies that can really muck up your carefully laid plans when they appear out of nowhere. During the mission I played, I took all the hard lessons learned in recent XCOM games and moved forward very cautiously. That diligence was thrown out the window, however, when a giant, spider-looking Hive Queen appeared out of nowhere on my flank alongside a new wave of basic grunts from every direction. Completely surrounded, I focused my attack on slowing the Hive Queen with all the heavy firepower my squad had at its disposal, but my efforts proved fruitless as the other enemies took advantage of my preoccupation to whittle down the health of my perimeter guards while my two heroes closest to the queen weren't able to incapacitate it before she gave them an early funeral. 

Human Politics Still Matter
Not everyone falls in line with the Phoenix Point project right off the bat. The game introduces three human factions you must learn to work with (or around). The Disciples of Anu are a secretive religious sect whose goal is to mutate humans with some of the viral properties to ensure survival. The Synedrion focuses its efforts on preserving the history of the past and accepting the alien virus as a co-habitant of Earth. The third faction, New Jericho, rejects all overtures to adopt any part of the mutations and would prefer to squelch this invasion with military might. As the leader of Phoenix Point, it's your call whether you cooperate with these factions or reject their teaching. Allies will gladly share their technological advancements, but if you end up rivaling one or more of the factions you'll need to infiltrate their bases and take their tech should you decide it sounds useful. 

Resources Are Scarce
With humanity on the brink of extinction, you don't have a lot of resources stocked away in a bunker. This means you must send out expeditions to scavenge for useful gear. Run down Phoenix bases are scattered across the globe, and activating them can give you access to information archives and research that is otherwise unattainable. In addition, you can use resources you've gathered to trade with factions to acquire their tech. Lucky scavengers may even come across an air vehicle.

Knowing Your Enemy Can Make All The Difference
You have a team of scientists at your disposal, so bringing them live specimens of the various enemies can reveal some vital information about your rivals, such as where their weak points may be. Once you learn about their various mutations, they may find weaknesses or recommend counters to their more fearsome attacks.

Phoenix Point is currently on track for a release on PC by the end of the year. Snapshot Games says it's interested in porting the game to console as well if they get the financial backing to do so.

Categories: Games

H1Z1 Review: Still On The Ground Floor

Gamespot News Feed - Fri, 03/23/2018 - 21:29

Battle royale games have evolved rapidly in the past year with the likes of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and Fortnite, but H1Z1's early access version captured the magic of the last-person-standing shooter well before the genre's current front-runners. With the official full release of H1Z1, however, it's apparent that not enough has been done to help it stay in the larger conversation.

H1Z1 drops up to 150 players (solo, duos, or squads of five) on a sprawling rural map where small towns, gas stations, and campsites act as points of interest for loot. In traditional battle royale style, everyone starts with only the clothes on their backs and rushes to find the best weapons and gear. Naturally, the fact that you have one life per match makes this type of deathmatch thrilling and rewarding when you find success, especially when coordinating tactics with a squad.

A number of gameplay elements factor into succeeding, like scavenging for the right materials to craft useful items. Among the essential items to craft are makeshift armor for much needed protection, ointment to stop bleeding, and explosive arrows that can really throw a curve-ball at enemy squads. Crafting feels more like a carry-over mechanic from early H1Z1 models, but it's a key component to winning, and thankfully it isn't very deep considering the fast pace of matches.

There isn't much time between each phase of the shrinking safe zone, and matches move quickly because of it. When employing the strategy of skirting along border of the deadly circle, there's a strong sense of urgency; if you don't find a vehicle or start running towards the new safe zone soon enough, your fate may have been decided well before the toxic gas envelops you. H1Z1 does incorporate a significant amount of predictability, which offers a different dynamic for players who want to jump straight into conflict. During the pre-match warm-up phase, you choose which grid of the map you want to drop in to start--this is called tactical deployment. A heat-map will also provide a general indication of how many others are planning to drop into each grid. Combine those elements with the fact that H1Z1 unveils the first safe zone in the pre-match phase, and you can essentially choose something that's more action oriented.

The fast-and-loose rules of H1Z1 shine through when you're shotgunned by an enemy that hopped out of a jeep going 100 miles-per-hour, made possible by the fact that you don't take damage when jumping out of fast-moving vehicles. Pulling off combat maneuvers like this are actually quite rewarding when you use them strategically. But by leaning into more outlandish action and a faster pace highlights a sort of dissonance in H1Z1, primarily because it retains the survival and simulation elements from its progenitors. Aside from crafting, players have to manage continuous health loss (with varying degrees of severity) after taking damage. This is complicated by the fact that first aid kits only replenish health gradually. Assault rifles also fire with such significant recoil that you'd think H1Z1 taps into realism or military sim roots. These mechanics aren't necessarily bad on their own, but they are at odds with the core of how the game is played.

A lack of variety also hurts H1Z1's longevity. One map would have been just fine if it wasn't for the emptiness of the fields between the plainly designed city centers. A few locations, like Runamok Lake's cabins and camping grounds, add some flavor, but overall you can expect little in terms of verticality or intricate structure layouts. This extends to the available arsenal; a shotgun, magnum, and two assault rifles are useful in the proper scenarios. Crossbows with exploding arrows come in handy although they aren't practical given that the arrows need to be crafted. A sniper rifle provides a long-range option, however, it's only available through randomized supply drops. There are no attachments or scopes to change up the limited set of firearms, and the excitement of putting a good weapon to use is hard to come by. Going into a first-person view on the fly allows you to use iron sights to get better shots in tight corridors, but there isn't much to use for long-range combat. It's an absence of parity in weaponry that's very apparent when battling it out in the map's open areas. Firefights still carry the intensity you'd expect from battle royale game, but lose some of steam when the available arsenal limits the depth of enemy engagement.

To shift gears from the standard last-person-standing concept, H1Z1 has a separate mode called Auto Royale. The mode itself is in beta, but it serves as an admirable change of pace. This team-based car combat pits 30 teams of four against each other by putting one player in the driver's seat and three others as passengers who shoot from their seats in an effort to destroy enemy cars. No one can leave the car, and it's absolute chaos. The battle royale structure is still in tact with a progressively shrinking safe zone, but teams sink or swim as one unit. Players can revive themselves if they get knocked out, so teams are eliminated once the vehicle is destroyed. This mode trades uneasy tension for carefree off-roading action.

Akin to Twisted Metal or Mario Kart's Battle Mode, item pickups litter the map, including weapons and ammo for teammates, diversions like smoke screens and oil slicks, or car repair kits to help stay in the fight. Ramps are also tacked onto the map for high-flying stunts in the middle of high-speed chases. Auto Royale is as absurd as it is fun, albeit only enjoyable in short bursts.

By nature of being free-to-play, H1Z1 unsurprisingly features microtransactions, which are thankfully limited to cosmetic items. Colorful skins for everything from vehicles and parachutes to guns and helmets leave a lot of room for customization. You're allowed to trade items with other players as well, so if there's a skin you really want, you don't have to rely entirelyh on the loot box system. Timed challenges give you something to work towards and serve as a means to acquire in-game currency, though there is a separate paid-for currency available.

H1Z1 predicates itself on eliminating the more random factors seen in other battle royale games, and it remains a competent execution of the genre. The game has its intense moments and exhilarating firefights; the thrill of besting 100+ players is very much present. However, the incoherent gameplay elements overshadow the better moments, and the lack of variety in both map design and weapon selection makes H1Z1 lose its appeal rather quick, especially in the genre it spearheaded.

Categories: Games

Trailer Offers A New Brief Look At Connor

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 03/23/2018 - 14:23

The android rebellion starts in May and today Quantic Dream offered a new look at Connor, the android on the side of the law. It's a brief trailer that doesn't reveal much except that Connor is supposed to be a top of the line police service unit.

Also there's lots of yelling and chasing, and actor Clancy Brown (Highlander, Daredevil) shows up at one point?  You can watch the whole thing right here.

(Please visit the site to view this media)

For more on Detroit: Become Human, you can check out our preview impressions.

Categories: Games

Detective Pikachu Review: Elementary, My Dear Watt-son

Gamespot News Feed - Thu, 03/22/2018 - 20:55

Pikachu is normally very cute and a little bit sassy, but its Detective variety is unlike any Pikachu you've ever seen. Detective Pikachu plays with your expectations of what Pikachu should be, and the game has a lot of fun reveling in the weirdness of a small, adorable creature talking and acting like a human man. It's campy and self-aware, showing a different side to Pokemon and Pikachu with an infectiously rambunctious attitude. Detective Pikachu--the character and the game--is full of personality, and as a result an otherwise standard mystery-solving game is far more fun and entertaining than you might expect.

You play as Tim Goodman, who has arrived in Ryme City in search of his father, Harry, who went missing in an accident. Of course, the real star is Detective Pikachu--you meet him almost immediately, and you're the only human who can understand him. Like a grizzled detective out of a '50s noir, he sounds like a middle-aged man and gestures like a caricature of a New Yorker, and his voice acting and animation captures that character perfectly. He'll occasionally get your attention with a cute jump and a gruff "Hey!"; sometimes he'll give you hints, which are entertaining even if you didn't need them, while other times he'll just chatter away about something random or interact with a nearby Pokemon. His streetwise attitude and campy quips never get old, adding a delightful (if weird) charm to every scene.

You soon learn that Pikachu was your father's partner Pokemon and lost his memories after the accident, though he can still lend you his detective skills to solve mysteries. Those mysteries largely involve misbehaving or even violent Pokemon, most of which have been exposed to a chemical called R. The cases start out with simple mischief, but as you investigate, you'll solve bigger ones--including actual white-collar crimes--and find clues about Harry's disappearance. The game follows a basic detective story structure overall, but the pulpy tone can make it feel less derivative, and the conspiracies around R and Harry are intriguing enough to keep the pace up.

Cases consist of everything from finding missing Pokemon to whodunnits with dramatic reveals. Your job is to talk to people--Pikachu will translate for Pokemon witnesses--and gather evidence that you can then use to solve each case. You talk to people, get more information, and use that information to unlock follow-up questions until you have everything you need to start the deduction process. Pikachu guides you through most of this, framing the questions you need to answer and later prompting you to pick the evidence that best supports your theories. There's no real way to fail; as long as you talk to everyone and search the environment thoroughly, you'll get everything you need to piece things together. That on its own is disappointing if you're hoping for compelling mysteries and puzzles.

Finding all the clues is fun, however, especially with Pikachu wisecracking as you go. Getting one solution will open up a new question or pose another problem to solve, and while they all follow the same gameplay structure, each case is deeper than it seems at first. For the most part, I was never so far ahead of the game's pace that I was still gathering evidence long after I'd figured everything out--while nothing shocked me, there were times when I wasn't entirely sure how a culprit had done it until I was choosing what evidence matched Pikachu's hints. But there were also a few frustrating times when I'd figured out the solution but couldn't find the last piece of evidence to back it up. In one chapter, for example, you have to gather a half dozen or so alibis, then use witness testimony to deduce which alibi is a lie. It involves a lot of talking, and I ended up running around for 15 minutes re-interrogating everyone until I finally found the person I'd missed (despite knowing who was responsible and why the entire time).

It's hard to stay annoyed for long, though, because Detective Pikachu is brimming with personality. Pikachu himself is a total goofball, but the other Pokemon are also entertaining in their own right. Each one gets its own special subtitle (Garbodor is the "connoisseur of trash," for example), and they typically have interesting things to say, even if those things aren't useful as evidence. The world of Pokemon is cleverly incorporated into different parts of the New York-inspired city, from flying Yanma that work as news camera operators to the Trubbish that occupy the subway entrances. You don't need to know anything about Pokemon to solve Detective Pikachu's cases, but being familiar with Pokemon and appreciating all those details enriches the simple gameplay and story.

And Detective Pikachu is a simple game. There's not much variety to the way you solve cases; the story follows a standard detective formula, and as long as you're thorough, you won't have too much trouble connecting the dots. But it's full of heart, and its silly characters and intentionally campy tone are what make it fun.

Categories: Games

Diving Into The Cooperative Action Game Within The Death Drive Mark II

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 03/22/2018 - 16:00

Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes features the return of Travis Touchdown in his marquee series. However, rather than the traditional No More Heroes experience, Travis and his nemesis Badman are sucked into a game console called the Death Drive Mark II. There, the two fight, race, and platform their way through various games that are odes to classic video game genres. While developer Grasshopper Manufacture has confirmed that racing, platforming, and other genres will be included in the game's roster, I went hands-on with the arcade-style action game.

I jump into a cooperative level in control of Badman. Together with a player in control of Travis, we hack and slash our way through waves of enemies as we work our way through the stage. Unlike traditional No More Heroes combat, the camera pulls way out and the screen is presented in 4:3 to pay homage to the arcade brand of action titles. I swing my bat a little too much and Badman leans over seemingly in exhaustion. I press down on the left stick and shake my controller to essentially reload.

Electric barriers impede our progress until we clear the room of enemies, but that's not the only strange thing happening visually. The entire area is glitching out, with chunks of the floor not loading, and some serious discoloration. The visuals give it a punk-rock feel while working within the narrative reasoning of the game console glitching out.

We reach a long tunnel, use a toilet to save our progress and heal, then enter a boss battle against Electro Triple Star. The boss character blasts a thick laser our way and uses electric projectiles and area-of-effect attacks to try and take us down. Electro Triple Star is powerful but doesn't stand a chance against our combined might. Using the left shoulder button, we unleash our special abilities, which operate on a cooldown. After hitting him with my spinning attack, I throw down a healing circle that replenishes our health. We continue wailing on him until he delivers a witty line of dialogue and promises this isn't over.

The combat was easy to pick up and play with minimal guidance, making it an ideal multiplayer experience. In addition, this section was just a small part of one level within the action game. The team tells me this boss encounter was just the first of three times I'll face off against him in that stage. With much more content for that game, as well as other game styles to explore, the full release could deliver a diverse experience that brings something for everyone while remaining true to the vibe of the No More Heroes franchise.

Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes hits Switch this year.

Categories: Games

A Way Out Review: A Tale Of Two Prisoners

Gamespot News Feed - Thu, 03/22/2018 - 16:00

A Way Out is not really the hard-hitting, serious, emotional tale of two convicts escaping prison it appears to be. At times, it successfully strikes those notes, but extreme tonal shifts, gimmicky QTEs, and a terrible finale kill almost any emotion or tension contained in the game. In the end, entertaining environments and some inventive set pieces prove to be its saving grace.

Like director Josef Fares' last game, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, A Way Out contains two protagonists who experience the game's story together. Unlike Brothers, however, you'll need a friend to play with this time round; A Way Out is only playable in co-op, either locally or online. Whichever you choose, you'll always be playing in a split-screen that dynamically shifts between the respective views of Leo--a reckless, aggressive gangster cliche--and Vincent--a more cool-headed family man.

Click image to view in full-screen gallery

Sometimes the screen will be split vertically, sometimes horizontally; sometimes evenly, sometimes unevenly; and sometimes not at all. This framing device is mostly used in interesting ways, such as giving more screen space to whoever's performing a more important action, or splitting the TV in three to also dedicate real estate to an attacking NPC. However, it can be a source of irritation, such as when I was talking to a friendly character, only for my partner to trigger a cutscene and for the screen to shift entirely to his view, ending my conversation prematurely.

This is a problem faced outside of cutscenes, too. A Way Out's small explorable environments often contain multiple characters to chat with, but if you and your co-op buddy both engage in different conversations at the same time, the game has no better answer than to play all the audio in parallel, meaning you struggle to hear either of the conversations happening in front of you. The problem is alleviated slightly if you turn subtitles on, as each side of the screen contains its own set, but the overlapping sound is still distracting.

Such issues do irritate, but they are more of a footnote than a major strike against A Way Out's co-op-only nature. Without a partner in crime, some of the game's standout moments wouldn't feel nearly as impactful. In one early scene, Leo and Vincent are attempting to hack away at their respective jail cells using a screwdriver. While your partner stabs the wall behind his toilet, you must keep watch from your adjacent cell for patrolling guards, occupying them when they get too close and warning the other player to look natural when your distraction fails.

This is when A Way Out is at its best: communicating with (and relying on) your partner both in-game and in real life makes these moments of tension consistently thrilling. There are a handful of these set pieces throughout the 7-8 hour campaign that feel unique and justify the decision of forcing you to play with another person.

The tone veers wildly from a Shawshank-inspired escape tale to a silly semi-parody of '70s crime dramas

But while those moments do carry some tension, it's because you're sat next (or talking) to someone you care about and never because you're playing as someone you care for. The protagonists and their motivations are the most generic B-movie fodder--gangsters with escape and revenge on their minds, but with the hackneyed added layer of troubled families. To make matters worse, the dialogue is stilted and unnatural. Conversations often end abruptly (regardless of whether your partner triggers a cutscene), and entire scenes go by without adding anything in terms of plot or characterization. Some lines in particular are cringeworthy--during one sequence in which a couple are interrupted while having sex, a female extra instructs her male partner to shut the door by saying, "I'm gettin' cold in my lady parts."

The tone veers wildly from a Shawshank-inspired escape tale to a silly semi-parody of '70s crime dramas, complete with overextended sideburns and an assassination across the border in a villain's remote Mexican lair. In one scene, A Way Out nails the feel of punishing prison life, and in another it lets you act like children on a playground swing. Sometimes those conflicting tones even crop up in parallel. One poignant late-game moment--where my character learned some surprising and emotional news on one side of the screen--was ruined by my partner interacting with a bicycle bell on the other side that caused his character to exclaim, "Ring ring, motherf***er!"

If it's not the dialogue dampening moments of tension, it's the game's numerous QTEs. While A Way Out does use timed button-tapping well in some instances, such as when our characters must time their pushes up a vent shaft while standing back-to-back, it also wastes scenes with gimmicky implementations. The final playable section of the game--the crux of this entire plot and hours of journeying and escaping and chasing--boils down to mashing Square / X. A Way Out's third and fourth acts are by far its weakest: save for one inventive story beat, all creativity is lost and the game turns into a mediocre action romp with anemic shooting and little else to do or care about.

Luckily, the rest of the game (which is much longer than the mercifully contracted finale) contains more interesting and varied environments. Throughout your journey, you'll travel from the prison to a forest, a farm, a cinema, a trailer park, and more, and each is filled with objects to interact with, puzzles to solve, and people to talk to. These diverse areas are small but dense, and they add color to what could otherwise be a monochrome world of good and bad. The trailer park was a personal favorite, offering a chance to pause and play some baseball or chat to secondary characters. There's even a Trophy / Achievement for exposing the aforementioned couple to the man's jilted wife. That this captivating space comes during what should be a time-sensitive moment, when playing baseball or exposing adulterous men would be the last things on anyone's mind, says everything about A Way Out's story and tone, however.

A Way Out has problems. By the time the credits rolled, my partner and I didn't really feel like we'd been on much of a journey with Leo and Vincent. We'd been on a geographical tour, sure--one that was often trite, gimmicky, or cringeworthy--but we didn't feel the pair had learned anything or grown in any meaningful way. I did, however, enjoy the journey I'd been on with my friend sat next to me. We had to look out for each other while escaping prison, work together to solve puzzles, and save each other's life on multiple occasions. Our characters might not have grown closer together, but A Way Out's forced co-op is worth it for the few standout moments it provides.

Categories: Games

Run A Business And Care For Your Dragon In Harvest Moon Creator's New Title

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 03/21/2018 - 22:20

Last month, Aksys Games unveiled Little Dragons Café, an adorable game that combines restaurant management, raising a dragon, and cooking. It's a concept that interested us immediately, and today, we were able to get our first hands-on time with it on Nintendo Switch.

Aksys teamed up with Harvest Moon creator Yasuhiro Wada to bring Little Dragons Café to life. The story follows twins Ren and Rin, whose mother mysteriously falls into a deep sleep and is unable to wake up. You can play as either twin and name them whatever you wish. The sibling you choose not to play appears as your brother or sister in the café. After meeting a plump, wizard-like old man named Pappy, the twins discover that the only way to save their mother is to raise a dragon and feed it delicious food. At first, the two are overwhelmed at the idea of running a café without their mother, but once they learn the ropes, everything becomes smoother.

Running the business requires you to venture out into the wilds on your island. This island was instantly engaging to me, filled with animals that have colorful, food-like appearances, such as one beast having what looks like a chicken leg bone for a tail. Hunting these creatures gives you ingredients, but if they attack you, they may eat up ingredients you've already collected. Luckily, when your dragon grows older, it can help you take them down.

You can also fish at certain spots by the water. The fishing minigame is easy to play, requiring you to press A to cast, and then A again to reel. If you reel in when a fish is biting, which is indicated by two exclamation points, you can catch a fish and bring it back to the café. 

As you gather ingredients, you also look for recipe fragments. When you collect four of one type, you learn a new recipe to cook for patrons at the café. I enjoyed searching around for recipe fragments and even instructing my dragon to crawl into hard-to-reach spaces, like a small cave, that I couldn't enter myself.

Your customers come from all over the world, and they may offer you quests and recipes of their own if you satisfy them with a good meal. These patrons come with unique problems, and your food can help bring them peace. Cooking comes in the form of a rhythm minigame, where you press arrows at the correct time. The only recipe I made in the demo was sunny-side up fried eggs. The rhythm segment was very simple, only taking about five seconds to complete, though this was part of a tutorial segment early on in the game. Difficulty ramps up later when you acquire tougher recipes. 

What I enjoyed most about Little Dragons Café was the concept of raising my dragon, as well as exploration. How far you can venture out depends on what stage of life your dragon is at. For example, when you hit stage three, your dragon can fly and you can ride on its back to reach areas that were inaccessible beforehand (though I didn't get to fly the dragon in my demo). Wada said the open world is "pretty big," and has distinct areas, including a large volcano. Your dragon's name and color are customizable, too. The latter depends on what you feed it; providing many dishes that have a blue indicator will eventually turn your dragon blue.

Little Dragons Café has a delightful world and concept, and it was just as charming as I had hoped. While I still have many questions, I'm excited to raise a dragon and hunt for new recipes when this title releases for Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 in the summer.

Categories: Games