Games

Milo And Lola Take A Shot At Satan

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 03/21/2018 - 18:04

Afterparty is the next adventure from Night School Studio (the team behind Oxenfree), and the game's first trailer shows the two main characters having a hell of a time escaping the afterlife.

Milo and Lola are being escorted to a bar in Hell via flying demon after Milo somehow got them killed. As the pair walk in, dialogue choice bubbles appear over Lola's head akin to Oxenfree. Unlike Oxenfree, however, Afterparty aesthetically aims for vibrant 3-D cel-shading with 2-D movements, whereas Oxenfree has backdrops reminiscent of a painting.

Afterparty also seems to have a dark but ironically humorous and lighthearted vibe. How can it not when Lola orders a drink called "Dead Orphan," Milo dances in front of demons that are tweeting about his moves, and the game's entire premise is to out-drink Satan to escape Hell?

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The trailer concludes with a 2019 release window. Though no platforms are officially named, Oxenfree released on every modern system, so we have a reason to be optimistic.

Categories: Games

The Spiritual Successor To Left 4 Dead I've Been Waiting For

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 03/21/2018 - 16:22

Left 4 Dead was an immediate hit thanks to its unique cooperative survival mechanics within the context of a zombie shooter. Unfortunately, the series has been stagnant for nearly a decade, and fans have been left craving another entry. While Valve isn't reviving the series, developer Holospark made it the driving inspiration for its upcoming game Earthfall.

Many of the ideas behind Left 4 Dead are intact with Earthfall: Players work in teams of four to get from one side of the map to the other, completing objectives and finding caches along the way. As expected, getting across the map isn't easy. Rather than dealing with a zombie outbreak, Earthfall players are in the midst of an alien invasion.

The scenario I played dropped me in the middle of a wooded area and tasked me with re-activating a dam's power to destroy a nest of alien pods before calling for evacuation – easier said than done. In addition to the grunts that litter the roadways and backwoods, I encounter aliens that pop with a poisonous cloud when you kill them, lanky creatures that quickly close distance to snatch you, and massive tanks that can absorb damage like a sponge.

When you restore power to an area, it attracts the swarm. This may seem risky but is in your best interest as you can also use the healing stations and 3D printers to make new weapons. The weaponry I found during my mission included standard fare like pistols and automatic rifles, but also alien tech like a gun that blasted glowing green explosives.

After I complete the mission and destroy the pods, things get real sticky at the dam. I make a break for it to the barn where there's far less heat. Unfortunately, in order to call for an evacuation, I need to restore power, which draws the attention of a swarm. I'm immediately surrounded on all sides of the shed I sought refuge in. At first, I easily handle the standard creatures hurtling themselves at me, but things once again get chaotic when an exploding alien takes out two of my teammates. Shortly after that, I'm downed and shooting at any passersby with my pistol to desperately try and help my sole remaining teammate. Sadly, the swarm closes in on him and tears him apart, causing our mission to fail at the last possible moment.

From what I played, the steady pacing, strong gunplay, and intense firefights make for enjoyable and compelling feats. I loved how even though I wasn't using voice chat, my teammates called out items they spotted to make for a more approachable teamplay experience.

I've been wanting a new Left 4 Dead with today's technological advancements for a while now. While there's no indication we'll get that anytime soon, Earthfall is everything I'd want from a spiritual successor to Valve's Left 4 Dead series. Earthfall is currently available on Steam Early Access. I can't wait to see the full breadth of this alien invasion when it launches on PS4, Xbox One, and PC this spring.

Categories: Games

Five Big Surprises From Our Hands-On Time With God Of War

Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 03/19/2018 - 15:00

Sony Santa Monica opened its doors to the press last week, giving attendees a chance to spend a considerable chunk of time with the upcoming God of War. For about three hours, I was glued to the TV, as I got to experience Kratos' new story from its opening moments. Over the course of that time, I played through sections that resonated with me as a God of War fan, and was also pleasantly disoriented by its new direction. Read on for five of my most surprising and rewarding takeaways from the game. 

Warning: I'll avoid diving too deeply into spoiler territory, but I will describe a few events from the first few hours that particularly spoiler-sensitive types may want to avoid. 

The story is a slow, powerful burn
The God of War series is known for many things, including huge bosses, gruesome massacres of grunt enemies, and insanity stacked atop insanity. Most of the time, those elements are introduced within seconds of pressing the start button. That's not the case with this entry. I did get to see Kratos kill something with with his new Leviathan Axe, but it was a tree. And that came only after a contemplative moment where Kratos paused to put his hand atop a mysterious glowing handprint that marked its bark.

We haven't heard many details about Kratos' wife before, and the game's opening hours isn't exactly oversharing. Still, I was able to learn a bit more about this woman, who is named Faye. She's dead by the time we join Kratos and his son, Atreus, but it doesn't appear that she was murdered or faced a violent end. She had personally marked trees in the forest for her funeral pyre, which leads me to believe that she saw her own death coming. With her passing comes an emboldened enemy, the undead Draugr. As Atreus writes in his journal, these are warriors who are too stubborn to put down their weapons, even in death. The valley that Kratos' family lived in was protected by a magical circle of trees, but when Kratos felled them – at Faye's request – an opening in the barrier was created.

All of this is revealed naturally and deliberately through dialog between Kratos and Atreus as they prepare Faye's body for the funeral rite, hunt together, and explore the surrounding forest. God of War isn't afraid of taking its time to reveal where it's going, which was definitely a change of pacing. We learn that Faye was teaching the boy how to hunt, but it's clear the focus was more on tracking animals than slaying them. Atreus also makes a passing reference to his mother not wanting Kratos and the boy to go hunting together. I'm not ready to put money on it quite yet, but people may have been jumping the gun with their assumptions that Kratos had settled down with a mortal. Faye is awfully close to the word "fae," the catchall word for elves, dwarves, and giants in Norse mythology.

There's a beautiful world to explore, and reasons to do so
Sony Santa Monica wasn't attempting to create an open-world experience with God of War, but the team has made an effort to reward players who take the time to explore. The paths that Kratos and Atreus took during my demo were ultimately linear, though there were opportunities to move off the critical path. For example, in the early moments of the game Kratos and Atreus are tracking a deer. Rather than stick to following its muddy hoofprints, I veered off to explore an alternate pathway. It led to a treasure chest, filled with crafting materials.

You can certainly blaze through the critical path, but you run the risk of making things more difficult later on. Over the course of my demo my methodical slow-poke style paid off, as I collected three hidden apples and extended Kratos' life bar by a considerable amount. Sometimes these alternate routes are obvious, and other times you have to really scour the landscape to figure out how to access hidden paths. Kratos can't jump at will in this entry; his leaps are situational moves across gaps, similar to those that you see in the 3D Zelda games. 

There's a fair amount of puzzle-solving
It's been a while since I played through the earlier God of War games, but the latest game had more puzzles that I remember. Don't worry, however. I didn't push a single crate, pull any levers, or stand on any switches. Those things could pop up later, to be certain, but they were mercifully absent from the game's opening hours. Instead, Kratos' axe gets to show its versatility.

The Leviathan Axe is a magical weapon that freezes (most) enemies, and it can return to Kratos' hand at will. (If that reminds you of Thor's hammer, Mjolnir, that's probably not a coincidence. Both were forged by Brok, a blacksmith in the Norse mythology that props up the game.) At any rate, the Leviathan Axe's frosty qualities can be put to good use in puzzles. An early puzzle is set around a pair of gates connected by a chain. Pulling the chain opens the inner gate as the outer gate closes. The secret is to fully open the inner gate and then freeze it in place by aiming the axe and chucking it at a target. From there, it's safe to run through, retrieve the axe, and pass through the outer gate.

One of the later puzzles had a deadly riff on that concept, with a spiked ceiling that could be raised by hitting large wooden paddles with the axe. Once again, I had to hit a target with the axe to lock the ceiling safely into place, but then had to take on a wave of enemies unarmed. Or, I could summon it back and do more damage while keeping an eye on the ceiling and ensuring it didn't drop too low. These might not break anyone's brain, but I saw these  a welcome change of pace from the rotating columns of yesteryear.

Oh yeah, the fighting is good
Sorry! With all this talk about story and exploration and puzzles, I forgot about that whole fighting thing. Don't worry! It's still a big part of God of War, and it's made the transition to a tighter third-person camera quite nicely. I understand purists may look at the new presentation and think, "I'm out." It's definitely different, but I was taken aback by how much it still feels like a God of War game, even though it's such a visual and mechanical departure from past games.

The axe has a nice weighty feel around it when you're using it as a melee weapon, but that's just part of what it can do. Yeah, yeah, I already talked about the puzzles. In addition to hitting targets, you can also aim it an enemies (surprise!). If it lodges into smaller enemies, it'll freeze them in place, giving Kratos an opportunity to move on to another target or finish that one off. It's an effective way to control the crowds of enemies. My favorite part is how you can chuck the axe at an enemy and recall it, and if any other enemies are in the way of its return flight, they'll take damage, too.

I wasn't able to dive too deeply into the skill tree during my time with the game, but I did get a technique called the executioner's cleave. It's a charge attack for Kratos' heavy attack that does an absurd amount of damage, with one caveat: You can't walk around with it charged, so you need to time it just right, or you'll end up hitting empty space. 

Atreus is fun to have around. Really
We've all been burned before by A.I. companions. When they're not getting stuck on geometry they're lagging behind, getting killed, or not listening. Atreus is different in that Sony Santa Monica has made a real effort to make sure Kratos' son isn't annoying. Well, he's kind of annoying sometimes, but from a deliberate narrative standpoint, and not because he refuses to jump across a gap.

If you don't want to worry about him, he runs well on autopilot. As you fight enemies, he'll pepper them with arrows, causing damage and drawing aggro from you. (Don't worry, he can't die.) You can also manually command him to target specific enemies. He has his own upgrade path, as well as gear that you can craft for him – if you choose to do so. It's really up to you.

Personally, I liked having him around. He was helpful in combat, and he never got between me and a target – which is huge. He also calls out when enemies are coming from behind, which helped on occasions when I wasn't paying close attention to the onscreen indicators. Kratos isn't nearly as into Atreus as I was, however. He's a grumpy dude who has little patience for a child's impulsive and irresponsible ways. I suspect that they'll get closer during their journey, however.

 

God of War is coming to PlayStation 4 on April 20. For more on the game, including a variety of video interviews with the game's creators, be sure to check out our hub below.

Categories: Games

Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom Review - An Adventure Fit For A King

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

Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom is ambitious. It's a character-driven RPG that doubles as a kingdom simulator and even occasionally becomes a real-time strategy game. Though these components don't always feel like parts of the same whole, Ni No Kuni 2 compels you to care and put your best foot forward. It's the whimsical setting; it's the demanding combat; it's the tangible feeling of growth that comes from being a well-rounded ruler. There's something worthwhile around every corner, and usually something pretty to admire along the way.

You can concisely summarize Ni No Kuni 2 as the wholesome story of Evan, a boy prince ousted by traitors on the day of his coronation who wishes to unite warring nations under a banner of peace. Rather than resort to revenge, he admirably believes that cooperation is a more important goal than domination and sets out to build a new, united kingdom. Evan's charge and passion for peace subsequently carries him from one dangerous doorstep to another. Armed with steadfast ideals, he repeatedly dismantles sinister adversaries because they, too, are actually good at heart; they've merely been corrupted by powerful, dark forces.

It's familiar fantasy fare and a bit safe at times, but Ni No Kuni 2 bears no shortage of interesting moments. For example, Evan's adult consul Roland is a dimension-tripping president from the modern day, cast into a strange time and place in the aftermath of a catastrophic military assault. While this intriguing origin story is rarely referenced after the fact, the kingdoms he and Evan visit offer up interesting qualities of their own. There's Goldpaw, a society that worships lady luck. Her divine power is channeled through a giant multi-armed statue that rolls a six-sided die to decide everything from criminal prosecution to raising or lowering taxes. You'll also have to navigate a kingdom where love in all forms is considered a criminal offense, and every interaction is monitored by an enormous, all-seeing eye. Ni No Kuni 2 dedicates itself to exploring these unusual societies, elevating the otherwise standard RPG tale to something far more interesting that you'd initially expect.

To do this, however, the game is forced to concede that even a king as peaceful as Evan will have to bear arms. And despite his small stature and cuddly kitten ears, Evan is a lion when backed into a corner. Considering his impassioned pleas for a world without war, the game's simple and infrequent RTS skirmishes--large scale, rock-paper-scissor battles that require basic resource management--feel notably contradictory, but standard battles are so flashy and exciting that you'll never think twice about the peace-loving king being in constant battle.

Ni No Kuni 2's traditional combat takes place entirely in real time apart from pausing to consume items, and despite the game's childish airs, fights are surprisingly demanding. Your party consists of three allies and four Higgledies--collectable miniature, goofy familiars that randomly offer buffs and attacks during battle. You only control a single person at a time, but that alone gives you three melee weapons to manage, a ranged weapon, magic skills to consider, and interlinked meters to monitor, on top of defensive concerns. You need to be aware of your surroundings at all times in order to block or dodge incoming attacks--a far cry from the first Ni No Kuni's turn-based battles. Needless to say it can take a few hours to grow comfortable managing all of these systems at once, but you're rarely put at a disadvantage. Your AI-controlled allies are good at self-preservation and dishing out damage, and your Higgledy friends regularly offer up a burst of healing magic or a powerful attack to keep things moving.

Ni No Kuni 2 also does a great job of simplifying things around combat to let you focus on the action at hand. While you can use gear to influence an individual character's strengths and weaknesses, you also earn a secondary type of experience that gets funneled into the Tactics Tweaker, a tool that lets you adjust team-wide attributes and how the game rewards your victories. You have plenty of opportunities to take on quests under-leveled, and being able to slightly dial up your effectiveness against a particular element or enemy type is a valuable means of punching above your weight. When pushing yourself against an enemy 10 to 20 levels higher than you, eking out a victory through clever preparation and a masterful performance can feel downright incredible. The game also smartly limits your inventory during battle, which means you can't rely on spamming restorative items. Only skill (or a leveled-up party) can carry you through a fight.

Given that you can find ways to overcome seemingly impossible odds, you can actually get by without intentionally grinding for experience points. To that end, the game is also designed to keep you from dulling your enthusiasm in unnecessary battles while moving about the world. Enemies appear in plain sight before an encounter with a level marker overhead, and a color denoting their threat level helps you easily discern their relative strength. Red and white labelled enemies will attack you on sight, but low-level enemies will simply ignore you unless you run into them first. Knowing you can bypass trivial fights makes the prospect of exploring the world for elusive treasure and difficult "tainted" enemies more enticing as the story carries on, and ensures that you're only focused on things worthy of your attention.

It's easy to imagine how Ni No Kuni 2 could get by on its quirky characters, engaging story, and real-time combat alone, but Evan isn't just trying to unite other nations; he's got a kingdom of his own to build. From a humble castle nestled between mountains and shore, your parcel of land will grow to contain dozens of buildings and facilities. You'll likely have smiths who craft weapons and armor, farmers that harvest meat, dairy, and produce, and institutions that develop techniques for being a more efficient ruler and a more effective fighter. If resource management and cooldown timers aren't your idea of fun, the good news is that there are only a few instances when the game forces you to reach certain architectural and population thresholds. And while not the most complex management sim out there, anyone who wants to push the limits of their kingdom can easily pour a dozen hours into forging new developments and reaping greater financial and practical rewards.

Ni No Kuni 2 is a robust game that offers ample ways to spend your time, and even if they aren't all up to the same level of quality, it's easy to appreciate how they collectively contribute to the bigger picture.

Everything in your kingdom takes money to fund and time to develop, but more than just investing in these services, you need to staff them with citizens from across the world. This means tackling a lot of sidequests, acquired either by mingling with the populace or by completing tasks for the taskmaster. By and large, sidequests are either a fetch quest or a kill-x-number-of-enemy bounty. These are common fare for RPGs, but nevertheless frustrating to see relied upon so heavily here. On the other hand, Ni No Kuni 2's humorous writing and endearing NPCs shine through, lending something worthwhile to even the most common interactions. They aren't all winners, to be certain, but the distinct accents and colloquialisms spread throughout the world play nicely into the visual variety on display.

In fact, many of the people you meet in passing are actually far more interesting than the four human characters that ultimately join Evan and Roland on the road: a sky-pirate father and his daughter, the former advisor to a queen, and an engineer from the one technologically advanced kingdom on the map. For whatever reason, very little time is spent developing their stories after they join your cause, but even if they offer little more than one-liners during most important events, they are at least invaluable allies in battle that introduce a wide range of skills.

Then there's the small creature Lofty, who while not a deep character, is the game's comic relief and an endless source of amusement. With yellow skin, a pointy head, and a red torso, he's what you might imagine Lisa Simpson looks like if someone described her but forgot to mention she's human. In almost every scene, be it serious or inconsequential, he often lingers just off-center with a dim-witted stare, mouth agape in blind amusement. And when he speaks, he cuts through scenes with wry wit, and even regularly calls out the team for repeatedly taking on errands and doing strangers favors. He is a massive benefit to the overall experience, even within battle. He primarily wanders aimlessly during a fight, but on rare occasions offers a ball of light that causes a character to enter a temporary state where magic can be used freely. Ni No Kuni 2 wouldn't feel the same without him.

Despite the fact that famed Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli isn't directly involved this time around, veteran artists from the studio have injected the sights and sounds of Ni No Kuni 2 with distinctly recognizable whimsy, of which Lofty is but one example. You see it in the characters and environments at large, and you hear it in the soundtrack composed by Joe Hisaishi, a veteran of numerous Ghibli films and the original Ni No Kuni. The feeling is often upheld by a clean and colorful cartoon aesthetic, but there are also plenty of times when Ni No Kuni 2 shifts into a different and far-less appealing style.

When exploring the world map, managing your kingdom, and diving into RTS skirmishes, the camera pulls back and everything is given a rough-hewn, super-deformed appearance. Though you can bend over backwards and call it a potentially necessary evil, that doesn't excuse the sinking feeling that there must have been a better way, one that doesn't require the game to hide its lovely, cel-shaded face. Near the end of your journey, this shift rears its head during a battle that's intended to feel epic and intimidating, but is ultimately deflated by the simple presentation and impersonal perspective; one last reminder that Ni No Kuni 2, despite its outstanding qualities, bears obvious flaws.

Ni No Kuni 2 is a robust game that offers ample ways to spend your time, and even if they aren't all up to the same level of quality, it's easy to appreciate how they collectively contribute to the bigger picture. It's chock full of excellent battles and surprising moments that make for a far more memorable experience than you initially expect and leaves you impressed by your own accomplishments. If you didn't play the first game, don't let this one pass you by too.

Categories: Games

Attack on Titan 2 Review: Colossal Action

Gamespot News Feed - Fri, 03/16/2018 - 23:31

Far from being a mere video game adaptation of the anime, Attack on Titan 2 stands strongly as a character-driven action-RPG in its own right, with rewarding combat that feels fluid and fast and a story that's equal parts charming and shocking. While it shares many similarities with the first game in the series, Attack on Titan: Wings of Freedom, the sequel feels like a better package overall with a cleaner visual style and tighter combat. Despite its story taking some time to really dig its anchors in, it gets there and then some, entrancing you all the way until the closing of the final chapter.

Based on the second season of the popular anime series, the story puts you at the center of the conflict between humanity and Titans--a race of giant, people-eating humanoids that one day appeared out of thin air, wiping out a large percentage of the population. Forced to seek a new life behind three huge walls built to keep the Titans out, humanity tried to rebuild, but the Titans managed to find a way through. Faced with extinction, it's up to you and the rest of the military to stop them.

After creating a character--who, if you choose a woman, will still be weirdly referred to as "our man" by the game's narrator--the game opens with you joining the military cadets and becoming a part of the 104th Cadet Corps. The first few hours cover the same ground as Wings of Freedom, putting you through military training and effectively re-living the events of the first game, albeit in a more condensed setting. Also, each character is voiced in Japanese, so you'll rely on subtitles to keep on top of things.

The plot closely follows the anime, so fans are already familiar with what's going on. But it's a story that will pull you in, hard, though not without its fair share of melodrama. While much of the early game feels a little dragged down by some excessive exposition, you come to appreciate those sequences later on, particularly as characters you grow to like face death in shocking ways. Not that the game is overly violent--although the Bloodborne-esque spatter from killing a Titan is pretty messy--it's more that the characters grow on you over time. Watching them struggle through the Titan invasion becomes less of a drudge and more an emotional rollercoaster.

The game is made up of numerous large combat areas and some smaller, peaceful hubs where you can go about your daily life: upgrading weapons, buying materials, and maintaining friendships that grant you different equippable skills that can upgrade your stats. While not all that interesting visually, the hub areas serve as a good bookend between each battle, as well as a chance to debrief with the other characters about the last mission and your next moves.

The larger, more-open combat zones, which vary from green valleys and large towns to snowy, abandoned villages and giant forests, are far more interesting to move through. A big part of what makes the movement so vital and exciting is your omni-directional mobility gear, or ODM for short. The ODM gear fires anchors into a distant object like a house, a tree or even a Titan, and with the help of two side-loaded gas canisters, thrusts you along the ground and up into the air. It can get a little janky; sometimes you’ll catch the underside of a roof or hit a cliff face that’ll halt your momentum. But more often than not, gliding through buildings or between giant trees feels effortlessly satisfying.

Similarly great is the combat, which manages to feel faster and better paced than it did in Wings of Freedom. Titans can only be taken down by slicing out the nape of their necks. You have to fire your anchors into any one of five spots on a Titan you can lock onto, circle around it in mid-air, and then launch at it, swinging your blades wildly. It can feel a little clumsy at first, but within an hour I was dodging attacks in the air and flinging between Titans like it was nothing. The rapid switching of targets and close calls while maneuvering between enemies during a fight never loses its allure, only getting more intense as the story builds.

The Titans themselves are the true stars here. With their ridiculous grins, ambling movements and saggy butts, they look amazingly creepy. On higher difficulty levels, the Titans become faster and more aggressive. Their limbs flail impishly as they freely counter your attacks, flick off ODM anchors like they're swatting flies, and pick fellow Scouts out of the air. Moments like this amp up the intensity tenfold, especially when you're caught between responding to an urgent request for help or going to the aid of someone who's been grabbed by a Titan. It's hard not to feel the pressure in the moment, and it's great.

Despite its slow start, Attack on Titan 2 offers exciting gameplay along with a deep and intriguing plot that, melodrama aside, tugs on the heart strings. It's well-paced and offers some impressive spaces to move through. The unique combination of the movement and combat mechanics combines with a gripping story to make Attack on Titan 2 one of the more surprising releases of the year.

Categories: Games

The Beautiful Destruction Of MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 03/16/2018 - 17:13

MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries developer Piranha Games has dropped an update to the title with new gameplay footage, including destructible buildings and new biomes.

You'll be battling it out in forests and canyons, and the weather will also factor into your chances in battle. All of that and more can be seen in the new video below.

The game is scheduled for a 2018 release on PC. Check out footage from an earlier build of the game here.

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Categories: Games

Surviving Mars Review: Building The Final Frontier

Gamespot News Feed - Thu, 03/15/2018 - 23:25

It's been said that city simulators are best thought of as a series of stocks and flows. You have essential buildings that supply resources, which are then distributed in a grand pattern etched by your design. Your success, then, depends on how artfully and effectively you've crafted your settlement. If that is the measure by which we are to judge city simulators, nowhere is that more beautifully or essentially or thematically distilled than in Surviving Mars.

Space is hard, and Mars isn't any more forgiving; your goal is to command a mission that can endure the punishing conditions of the Red Planet. You can take the reigns of an international consortium, a major private enterprise, or any number of real-world space-capable nations here on Earth. From there, you choose how to guide your Martian colony. Insofar as many simulators allow a degree of role-playing, your time on Mars is yours to do with how you will. But your progress is constantly evaluated by your sponsor country or organization, offering some very loose targets like "get colonists" and "keep them alive for a while." Beyond that, the direction is yours.

Your first forays on the planet are drone-based; RC rovers and semi-autonomous bots are your essential tools. They help you probe the surface of Mars and get your basics going. You have a bevy of options for obtaining vital resources--with each creating a slightly different relationship between your settlement and the planet. That's because everything here degrades. Ground down by the perpetual dust storms, punishing cold, and meteor strikes, nothing lasts and everything comes with a cost. Whether it's by extracting from rock, or sucking what little can be from the scant Martian atmosphere, even something as basic as how you obtain water influences countless other decisions down the line.

Choose the extractor, and then you need to design your outpost around the fact that it'll kick up far more corrosive dust into the air (among a half-dozen other considerations). The extractor's cousin, the vaporator, is a more environmentally friendly option...but at the cost of comparably low output, and requiring broad spacing between structures to be effective. The brilliance of Surviving Mars, then, is in forcing you to think systemically. Each choice is a commitment, a statement of how you think it best to run humanity's excursion to the new frontier.

Surviving Mars gets a lot of narrative mileage from this. As you progress, you're always fighting the exaggerated elements and forces of nature. Your structures are always degrading, and help of any sort is often months away--meaning that you either have strong supply lines for the necessary materials, or you're prepared to work around the long delays in resupply missions from Earth. Because your colony's development is connected to these choices, it also creates a powerful emergent narrative throughout, not unlike ones found in The Sims, for instance.

Those decisions might feel like setting up a trap down the line, but Surviving Mars' other stroke of genius is how permissive it can be. Instead of locking you into a given play style, the emphasis is on consequences and teaching you how to manage them. Your colony, at its most basic level, is governed by a set of rules. If you have X building, every so often you'll need Y resource to maintain it, and that resource comes from Z building, and so on.

The brilliance here is that all of these systems work and are responsive to how you play. Every choice matters, but none rule your destiny. Even if you can't get what you need from a Martian mine just yet, you can order it from Earth. Each of those choices, too, have consequences, though. And that means that at some point, you either fail to meet a condition and the system starts falling apart, or you keep going and surviving.

What helps here is that Surviving Mars may be delicate, but it isn't punishing. Sure, the in-game consequences of failure are...a little extreme (like watching your colonists suffocate, should you fail to keep oxygen flowing). But you'll often have plenty of time to fix them, and a series of warnings that encourage you to change course. How you do so, again, comes down to which consequences you want to take on, and how long you can keep paying those costs--at least, at the most basic level. At times, Surviving Mars may underemphasize some key parts--namely just how important supply chain management is--but it's delightful and elegant, tasking you with just enough management and planning to keep your role engaging. As you progress, drones can take on more, leaving you to handle larger-scale plans for the settlement.

That allows you to graduate to managing the lives of the colonists, your relationship with Earth, the fineries of your supply chains, and new expansions and additions to your colony (which follow their own systems and sets of rules). What makes all of this work is precisely that it is so scalably complex, gives generally great feedback on how well your choices are working, and giving you progressively larger goals to chip away at. It's a strong set of basic ideas that keep the game consistently engaging, and allows you to open up new fronts and address new challenges--like getting another adjacent settlement going--as you build the confidence to work through them.

Surviving Mars is SimCity with soul.

A more traditional, optional narrative is available as well. Each time you play, you'll eventually discover some sort of mystery, be it colonists with weird visions, disturbing black cubes, or legit aliens. These will nudge your colony in more specific directions, if you decide that it's something you want to explore. Often, these mysteries require you to do something specific, like construct a special building to start a sequence of narrative vignettes. While the core play of "maintain and survive against all odds on the Martian surface" should be a big enough hook for many players, it's nice to have an optional story that addresses the mythology of the planet throughout our real-world history and pop culture.

And that's just it. Mars is more than a planet--it's the next big goal for a healthy portion of people here on Earth. Surviving Mars nods to that with a pursuit of real-world influences and designs, plus as many plausible technologies as it can pack in. While the game definitely takes some liberties, most of the structures, ships, and technologies will be familiar to fans of spaceflight. The basic supply and passenger ships, for instance, are modeled after SpaceX's forthcoming BFR ships.

Surviving Mars, above else, is about hope. So many strategy games hold to their gameplay, eschewing any overarching themes or messages. But, as corny as it sounds, for those who believe in the majesty of spaceflight, for those who are keen to marvel at how pernicious our plucky little species can be, Surviving Mars is SimCity with soul. It shows the challenges that come along with planetary migration, but it also shows that they are solvable. With the right planning, drive, and ingenuity, we can do great things together.

Categories: Games

The Kraken Emerges In The Gameplay Launch Trailer

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 03/15/2018 - 19:21

Sea of Thieves sets sail in a few days, and the official launch gameplay trailer features a lot of what we've been shown over the last few months. There's plenty of sword fights with skeletons and ship-to-ship combat. There's treasure hunting and dancing around to tunes from the hurdy-gurdy. There's even an adorable little pig running around. Adventure awaits in this colorful world.

Suddenly, the scene darkens as the waters run black and still. A tentacle bursts forth and towers above your ship, followed by another, and then another. One of the tentacles wraps around the hull and threatens to split it in half. The Kraken has been awakened and is looking to drag you down to Davey Jones' Locker.

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We've already attacked rival ships and met the world's end during the beta, but we're excited to see what the Kraken is truly capable of in the full game. Sea of Thieves launches on Xbox One and PC on March 20.

Categories: Games

Might & Magic: Elemental Guardians Casts Its Spell On Mobile Devices This May

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 03/15/2018 - 18:34

The Might & Magic universe comes to mobile devices for the first time with Eternal Guardians. A free-to-play RPG with turn-based battles, this game from Ubisoft Barcelona takes the tone for a spin with a "Western anime" art style.

You can recruit up to 400 allies with some that evolve with stronger abilities. Strategy comes into play when using the four elements for effective attacks in the single-player campaign or online with PvP battles where you can test your team's mettle.

You can customize your own character by pledging allegiance to a particular House of Magic, determining what you unlock and special abilities you can use for playstyles you gravitate toward. Ubisoft is treating the game as a service, with events and guilds you can join to earn rare items. 

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While the game is scheduled to release for iOS and Android on May 31, you can pre-register to be notified when it launches. Doing so will grant you an exclusive creature to adopt in your party.

Categories: Games

Drive, Fly, And Boat Across America This June

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 03/15/2018 - 17:44

Ubisoft has announced that The Crew 2 is releasing on June 29 with a special Collector's Edition.

The collector's edition, dubbed the Motor Edition, nets you the game three days early for people who just can't wait. The Motor Edition comes with The Crew 2 Gold Edition (which comes with the season pass), The Motorsports Deluxe Pack with in-game outfits and vehicles, a customized The Crew 2 license plate, a steelbook case, the official roadmap, and four stickers. The Motor Edition will run you $109.99.

The Crew sequel was revealed by Ubisoft just last year with a wider focus on different kinds of vehicles, like planes and boats, and telling a story more focused on gaining popularity through driving.

The Crew 2 releases on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on June 29.

Categories: Games

Latest Trailer Shows Dangerous Planetary Exploration

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 03/15/2018 - 16:52

With games like No Man's Sky, Elite Dangerous, and Deep Rock Galactic still going strong, space-faring exploration is all the rage right now. Team 17 is throwing its hat into the ring later this year as well with Genesis Alpha One, an ambitious title that blends elements of roguelikes, base builders, and shooters. 

Developer Radiation Blue explains the thrust of the game: "As the Captain of a Genesis starship, you journey into uncharted space on the ultimate mission: find new homes for humanity’s DNA and save the species from extinction. To do this you will need to build and manage your spaceship, discover planets and harvest resources from them, clone new crew members, and create new lifeforms to populate new worlds… and of course, defend yourself from terrifying alien infestations on your ship! Nobody said saving humanity would be easy."

Today, Team 17 dropped a new trailer showing more of the game in action.

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Look for Genesis Alpha One on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC later this summer.

Categories: Games

Roland To The Rescue In Ni No Kuni II

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 03/15/2018 - 15:06

Ni No Kuni II's young king Evan needs all the help he can get in ruling Ding Dong Dell, and when a man mysteriously appears before the king, help arrives at just the right time.

Roland turns into a mentor and protector to Evan, which is a role he relishes.

For more on the game, check out our New Gameplay Today video here.

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Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom comes to the PS4 and PC on March 23.

Categories: Games

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

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

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

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

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

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Categories: Games

Yakuza 6: The Song Of Life Review: Tokyo Drifter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Games

Bravo Team Review: Back To Basics

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

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

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

Bravo Team's presentation leaves a lot to be desired

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Games

Relive The Classic Street Fighter Games With Online Play

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Games

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Games

Kirby Star Allies Review: Take It Easy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Games

Pit People Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Games

A Fascinating Co-Op Narrative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He smiled. "Hell yeah they do."

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

Categories: Games

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