The Hong Kong Massacre Review - Very Hard Boiled

Gamespot News Feed - Tue, 01/29/2019 - 17:00

The Hong Kong Massacre aims to replicate the experience of a gun-kata-action scene, where characters shoot while diving through the air, performing acrobatic feats as they blow each other's brains out. It's an extremely violent riff on the twin-stick shooter, one clearly inspired by Hotline Miami and Max Payne. You play as a former detective in 1992 Hong Kong, seeking retribution against the Triad for murdering someone close to you. The exact specifics are unclear, but that doesn't matter too much--the plot elements are kept to a minimum, as the game focuses most of its energy into frenetic and satisfying action.

At the start of each mission you equip one of four guns--a pistol, SMG, rifle or shotgun--and are then unleashed in a top-down level to kill everyone inside it. Because of the zoomed-out view you can see into rooms and scope out opponents well before they know you're there. The rules of engagement are established quickly: one shot from any gun is all it takes to kill either you or your enemies (until later levels where some enemies get body armor and can withstand two shots), and you also need to collect new guns from the enemies you kill, lest you run out of ammo. If you go into a dive, you cannot be hit until the dive is over. Your enemies can dive too, and the same rules apply for them.

The one major advantage you have over the bad guys is your ability to slow time. This is how the game lets you fight at the speed and fury of the action cinema choreography it is paying homage to, and it makes you feel like a badass. In almost every situation, the best way to excel is to enter slow motion, dive into a position where you have a line of sight, and fire at your enemies. Often this will mean shooting through a window, or a door, or the paper-thin shoji screens that are used to separate rooms in just about every building you enter. In its wildest moments, The Hong Kong Massacre turns into a wonderfully violent ballet of shattered glass, splayed bodies, and bullets from a variety of guns all firing at once in slow motion.

The meter and cooldown for your slow motion ability is extremely generous, as it takes quite a while to drain and fully recharges within about two seconds. So as long as you plan to be in cover by the time it runs out you can use slow motion almost continuously. The star rating system for each level encourages you to try not using slow motion at all, though. Complete a level without it and you'll be awarded a star that can be spent on weapon upgrades--but not only does this make things considerably harder, it would make some levels all but impossible to complete. If you're playing on PS4 with a controller, your aiming reticule moves slowly, which is important for lining up long shots and maintaining some sense of tension and realism amidst all the madness, but it also means that completing the more difficult missions at full speed would be extraordinarily difficult.

Even with these abilities, The Hong Kong Massacre can still be extremely hard. Your enemies are not the smartest, but when there's so many of them and it only takes a single bullet to kill you, you'll likely die an awful lot. There are plenty of mistakes you can make and traps you can fall into, too. Every now and then a dive won't go as planned, and you'll slide up against a door jamb instead of leaping through the door, for instance, or end up surrounded by gunfire. It's quite tricky to pay attention to both your person and your aiming reticule, and often I wasn't sure exactly when a dive animation had ended.

Each failure requires a restart of the whole level, and even though the absolute longest one will ultimately take less than three minutes to finish once you've got a handle on the situation, there will likely be many, many failed attempts on the way there. But there's a certain pleasure in how you begin to memorize the layout, the patterns of the bad guys (which can change slightly), and weigh up the pros and cons of the different strategies and approaches you've tried thus far. And when you're in the zone, completing levels back to back with very few deaths, you'll really feel like an action hero.

Five boss fights change up the level format and see you and your opponent both moving down parallel hallways, taking shots whenever there's an opening through a window (bosses take multiple shots to kill), and every now and then you'll need to take out an enemy on your side to collect their gun. At the end of each boss stage, you'll both end up in a more open area where you'll need to finish them off, and they work well enough as a change of pace. Some levels also make you dive between rooftops, which is satisfying and fun as you fire at enemies while making an almost-impossible sideways leap.

But there's a lot of repetition across the campaign, too. The level designs aren't distinctive; while layouts and aesthetics change, the basic building blocks never do. Even as you shoot your way through a police station, you'll still notice that they're using shoji screens to separate some rooms. After a while, it becomes clear that the game is, essentially, the same few seconds of gameplay over and over. The four-weapon selection also feels slightly hamstrung by the general uselessness of the shotgun, unless you pump all the points you earn from completing levels into upgrading it (for my money it's better to focus on the SMG and pistols).

The game's strangest oversight is its lousy leaderboards. While you can see your top time for every level from the menu, there is no friends leaderboard, nor does the game show you where you sit on the global total. In fact, only the top 99 are shown for each level, and even if you've made that list you need to scroll to find yourself. This removes some incentive to replay levels and try for a faster time.

The Hong Kong Massacre is a game with a specific goal--to capture the feeling of an over-the-top John Woo-style slow-motion diving kill shot, and it succeeds. The game's faults are washed away whenever you leap out of the way of a bullet and quickly take out the person who fired it. It's a game that sticks with you when you're not playing it, as you think through different approaches to the room you died in last time. You'll fail frequently, and the repetition can wear you down, but it's hard to resist the temptation of bursting through a window and perfectly lining up three kill shots.

Categories: Games

Genesis Alpha One Review - Drifting Without Direction

Gamespot News Feed - Tue, 01/29/2019 - 09:00

Genesis Alpha One's ambitions are made clear from the moment you begin constructing the vessel meant to act as an ark for humanity's survival. You're alone in space, searching for a planet hospitable enough to act as a new home. But getting there is no easy task. You need to juggle the expansion of your ship, the maintenance of its existing modules and the living conditions of your growing crew of clones, and that's when you're not mining for new resources, fending off alien infestations, or tending to crew job assignments. The problem with Genesis Alpha One isn't that all of these systems buckle under the weight of their interconnectivity--it's that none of them are that engaging to interact with in the first place.

Genesis Alpha One contains a mixture of strategic shipbuilding and the more personal exploration of your ship and surrounding planets through a first-person view. Your ship can be thought of as a moving command center; it's where you construct new modules to scan and scavenge resources from nearby debris, hangars for ships to explore nearby planets and biomes to sustain life onboard as you expand your crew of barely indistinguishable clones. When not making changes to your ship, you explore the hallways of your creation or join crews on missions to planets for resource scavenging.

Each run in Genesis Alpha One rarely deviates from the same starting steps. You construct the bare minimum you need on your ship before getting the chance to jettison off into the great unknown--essentials like a Greenhouse for oxygen production, Quarters for your crew, a Tractor Beam for harvesting resources, and more are the fundamentals around which the rest of your ship is built. Although finding the exact module you want to add to your ship is made frustrating by the unclear menu headings (which I never got used to), actual construction is far easier. Modules click into place like Lego blocks, offering entrances and exits that need to be lined up to existing pieces of your ship or strategically placed for future ones. It's satisfying to go from a broad overview of your uniquely designed vessel and straight into the shoes of a member on board, giving you the freedom to roam around the intricately (or confusingly) laid-out hallways you just placed down.

Genesis Alpha One features familiar elements from roguelikes, giving you modifiers to change how you start each run. You choose a template for your initial crew--based on a Corporation you select--which determines how many metals, elements, and oxygen-producing plants you begin with, as well as the number of crew members on board. You unlock new corporations as you play. To gain access to a corporation that specializes in mining ore, for example, you'll first need to have one lucrative mining run.

These corporations and their advantages are then combined with a limited number of separate static upgrades, which you discover during your travels through the galaxy and that impact your playstyle more directly. You might choose to adorn your personal suit with upgrades to health and damage reduction but miss out on helpful indicators pointing you to special resources on your galaxy map, for instance. You're encouraged by the numerous locked upgrades--which appear in the menu--to search new areas of the large galaxy map during each run so that you can secure a more diverse set of upgrades to further modify your playthroughs. There are few that drastically change how a run might unfold, which leads to a sense of tedium setting in with each new attempt and its protracted start. The slight changes to your starting resources and crew do, however, give you more creative flexibility when deciding how to initially start the construction of your ship.

Although building out your vessel is generally satisfying, you soon begin to realize how tedious your routines around the ship can become. Each module has a purpose, and without hands tending to them they remain ineffective. Salvaging resources from nearby debris requires workers on the Tractor Beam, for example, that you need to assign via a console that's only located in that specific room. The same goes for every other station around your ship, making your opening moments aboard a frantic dash between each room to get everything running. When you jump from one solar system to another, this process sometimes needs to be repeated. You'll need to rescan new debris around you--which requires you to hold a button for far too long--and manually assign the Tractor Beam again for salvaging, even if you previously assigned crew members to that job. It's baffling to have to go through these same motions every time you jump to a new solar system (which happens fairly regularly), especially when a centralized interface giving you access to all your ship's sub-systems would be far easier and more manageable.

This is exacerbated by AI that makes your crew largely useless without your input. Unless they're assigned to a station, crew members will wander around the ship and not really do anything. They might engage with unwelcome alien stowaways but appear to ignore or forget about them completely when even slightly separated from them. An attacking pirate crew might be storming your hallways and causing mayhem, but your crew won't react until they've entered a room with them inside. As a captain, you're severely limited in the ways you're able to command your crew, save for ensuring that they're present at a console to carry out the menial tasks that rooms and their associated purposes require.

That leaves a lot of additional work for you to do alone, which starts piling up to an unbearable degree. Should you find yourself fighting off an alien infestation, you're stuck dealing with eradicating the spreading alien eggs alone in the catacombs below each corridor. It's satisfying to set up your vessel in a way that establishes clear choke points or routes enemies into an area filled with turrets you've placed for defenses. But as your ship grows, your ability to actively react to a growing danger becomes nearly impossible. It's compounded by unclear ways to deal with mission-ending threats such as infestations and raiding pirates. It seems that once either is onboard there's little you can do to get rid of them for good. Pirates will continually spawn on your ship even after multiple jumps to new solar systems, while aliens will continually sprout new hives even after you've cleared them all out. If there's a way for you to triumph over these challenges after you've encountered them, Genesis Alpha One doesn't make it clear exactly how.

Losing progress in a roguelike is meant to entice you to hop back in with new accessories to change your next run, but Genesis Alpha One doesn't have the mechanics in place to make these variations interesting enough to experiment with.

The first-person action isn't that robust, either. You can craft numerous types of weapons--ranging from simple assault rifles and flamethrowers to more futuristic, slow-firing laser weaponry--but enemies rarely offer diverse-enough challenges for you to consider the strategic advantages of each. The actual mechanics of shooting are also not satisfying. You can't aim down a gun's sights; instead, you lock onto enemies with the press of a button, making skirmishes tedious and boring. Enemies don't recoil from your attacks convincingly, robbing the action of a punchy feeling. And, despite your abnormally high movement speed, there are no enemies that demand you use this in creative ways. Instead it's just easy enough to use that speed to back away from enemies that can hardly ever keep up, or are never accurate enough to pose a threat from afar.

Losing progress in a roguelike is meant to entice you to hop back in with new accessories to change your next run, but Genesis Alpha One doesn't have the mechanics in place to make these variations interesting enough to experiment with. Instead, death just feels like a punch to the gut, and a reminder that all the tiring setup you endured in the previous run must be repeated for hours to feel anywhere close to where you left off.

From tedious combat to the repetitive nature of exploring new solar systems, there's little in Genesis Alpha One to hold your attention. Expanding your ship as you traverse a vast universe is marginally rewarding when you get the chance to roam around the elaborate structures you've built. But the process of gathering resources to make this possible is arduous, while threats bringing your inevitable demise are either dull to fight against or spawned onto your ship in aggressively large numbers without any clear methods of success against them. Genesis Alpha One contains all the components for deep space adventure, but none of them are executed well enough to make it a voyage worth taking.

Categories: Games

Playing Mario, Cuphead, Zelda, And Lots More In Dreams

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 01/29/2019 - 03:30

Click here to watch embedded media

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment Developer: Media Molecule Release: TBA Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation 4

Dreams has been in closed beta for some time, but today, Media Molecule gave the go-ahead for those playing to share what they're making or what they've found so far while Dream Surfing. We decided to showcase some of the games creators have been making based on established games. You can watch the video above to see Dreams creators' takes on Zelda, Dark Souls, Metal Gear, PlayStation Home, Portal, Mario, Cuphead, Ratchet & Clank, Flappy Bird, Leisure Suit Larry, Final Fantasy VII, P.T., and Wolfenstein 3D.

For a whole lot more on Dreams, you can check out all of our features from when we had Dreams on our cover by clicking the banner below.

Categories: Games

New Screens Show A New Location, Treasure Hunting, And More

Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 01/28/2019 - 16:29

Publisher: Bandai Namco Developer: Ganbarion Release: 2019 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

The latest batch of screenshots for One Piece: World seeker, the open-world One Piece game coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on March 15, shows off a new location, treasure hunting, and a karma system that will measure your relationship with NPCs.

Sky Island, seen in the images below, is a location that floats above Prison Island.

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The new screens also reveal the Karma System which will, "reward players with special events as relationships with enemies and partners increase."

If you're successful with the Karma System, you can also earn treasure maps which can be used to track down special items.

Click image thumbnails to view larger version



One Piece: World Seeker is coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on March 15 and it's one that I recently called my second most-anticipated game of 2019 on The Game Informer Show. You can watch that conversation below at the 35-minute mark.

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Categories: Games

Naruto's Son Boruto Joins The Roster

Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 01/28/2019 - 15:24

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Developer: Bandai Namco Release: February 15, 2019

The latest Jump Force trailer reveals that Boruto, Naruto's son, will be a playable fighter. The trailer also shows off some gameplay of Dai, who was revealed in screenshot form last week.

Click image thumbnails to view larger version



Jump Force's story still isn't totally clear, but with both Naruto and Baruto being playable characters, and them both appearing to be about the same age, I think it's safe to assume some interdenominational time-travel shenanigans are going on.

For more on Jump Force, you can watch some of our impressions from the beta here.

Categories: Games

Dragon Ball Project Z Is A New Dragon Ball RPG Coming This Year

Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 01/28/2019 - 00:00

Announced right before the conclusion of the Dragon Ball FighterZ World Tour finals event, Dragon Ball Project Z is an RPG set in the world of Dragon Ball. Unlike Dragon Ball Xenoverse, which focuses on telling a new story set in that universe, Project Z returns to the series' roots, retelling the classic story of Dragon Ball Z from the beginning. 

The trailer showed off several scenes from in a 3D cel-shaded style. We only saw a brief glimpse of gameplay, showing Goku walking around places like West City and the Kame House. The game is set to release sometime this year.

You can watch the full trailer announcing the game below.

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Categories: Games

Videl and Jiren Are The First To Join Dragon Ball FighterZ In Season Two

Game Informer News Feed - Sun, 01/27/2019 - 23:17
Publisher: Bandai Namco Developer: Arc System Works Release: January 26, 2018 Rating: Teen Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC

Jiren and Videl are the first two characters to enter the Dragon Ball FighterZ fray in 2018.

Bandai Namco accidentally let threw up a trailer for the characters, which was likely not supposed to drop until after the conclusion of today's Dragon Ball FighterZ World Tour finals, showing off Jiren (who had previously been revealed through Japanese magazine V-Jump) and Videl, who was the first to uncover the mystery of Gohan's Saiyaman ruse and the ended up marrying him.

The trailer also shows off a tease for Dragon Ball Super Broly and SSGSS Gogeta.

You can watch the trailer below.

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While season 2 was not datamined like the first season was, the leaker that came out with the entire first season's roster has allegedly resurfaced in recent weeks to report on more characters. Several weeks ago, a picture on an image board purported that Videl with Great Saiyaman, Dragon Ball Super Broly, Jiren, and Gogeta were part of the season pass, all of which have been revealed.  They also said Janemba, Zarbon, Majin Vegeta, Ultra Instinct Goku, Kefla, Super Saiyan 4 Goku, and Raditz would join in. Since Bandai Namco only announced eight characters at the moment, it's hard to say if this list has more options than intended to throw people off or the season has way more characters than announced.

Categories: Games

A Puzzle Platformer About Fighting The Darkness

Game Informer News Feed - Sun, 01/27/2019 - 21:00
Publisher: Chucklefish Developer: Hidden Layer Games Release: 2019 Platform: Switch, PC

Inmost, an upcoming story-driven puzzle platformer from the publisher of Stardew Valley, is a game about fighting the darkness. It follows three playable characters that each have "one dark, interconnecting story," describes the official website.

Taking place in an abandoned castle, you explore its depths while avoiding detection from dangerous monsters. As you progress, you can search for secret passages, lure enemies into deadly traps, and solve puzzles.

The trailer below shows off its beautiful pixelated aesthetic and emotional musical score.

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Inmost releases on Switch and Steam later this year. 

Categories: Games

BioWare On Updating Anthem, Listening To Feedback, And Crossplay

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 01/25/2019 - 19:03

Publisher: Electronic Arts Developer: BioWare Release: February 22, 2019 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

We recently played a whole lot of Anthem, covering sections in the beginning, middle, and end of the game. There’s lots to dig into, and you can listen to our early impressions of how Anthem’s flight, mission structure, and multiplayer work on the latest episode of New Gameplay Today. 

We also caught up with lead producer Mike Gamble to talk about some of the nuances of maintaining a live game, how BioWare is already listening to feedback and tweaking the game up until launch, and more.

Game Informer: From what we’ve played today, I have a better sense of the structure of the game, in terms of how the mission flow works. How much of that do you feel is in flux? How much of it do you see as evolving over the course of the game's lifespan, in terms of adding new mission types, things like that?

Mike Gamble: We can do a couple of things, and we have plans to actually do many things. The first thing is, when you play the game in freeplay, or even when you play in some of the missions, a lot of how the combat is set up – the creatures as well as the types of gameplay activities that you have in combat – we can keep adding to that pool.

You have an Annex, where you have to hold a point down, as part of that pool. We can add new gameplay mechanics like capture the flag. And then we can add new enemies to the pool, which will dynamically update all of those existing encounters with those enemy types, more strategic objectives, things like that. So we'll do all that.

In terms of the structure, you might have seen the launch bay, which is kind of like a social-style space. The idea is that when you get to the elder game and you just want to run quick missions with your friends, you would go back to the launch bay, ready up quick, do your loot resolution, and then go back out. You don't necessarily have to go back to Fort Tarsis. When we add new content, we have the choice to make it stuff that's accessible via the launch bay, or accessible via Tarsis, or both, and that's a very different type of content.

If it's story-based content, which affects the characters in Tarsis, we'll ask you to go back to Tarsis. If it's different types of content that doesn't affect the characters in Tarsis, or introduces new characters, you might use the launch bay exclusively. We have some flex in how that works.

Part of how we use that stuff will be based on who's playing and how they're playing. If folks are playing primarily endgame with groups, then we'll cater towards that and vice-versa, so if people want more story content we'll add to that. I'd say the structure is set for what we want to launch, but it's extensible and flexible for post-launch.

Is that content going to scale to different group sizes? Is the idea that you'll be able to have a group of four do anything in the game?

For the launch game, yeah, definitely.

Do you have plans to add things with different player counts?

We look at everything. I'm being super generic for a reason: We're not taking anything off the table. We're balancing the game right now, and the other game stuff, and the main game stuff for four players. What happens after that, we don't know.

In terms of adding content in the post-game, how much of that is going to be free versus paid?

We're definitely letting players extend their time with the game by adding free stuff. Absolutely, definitely. In terms of adding things in the future, we haven't really planned that, we don't know. Honestly, it's like, maybe a new Javelin will come out, or maybe an entirely new class that changes everything will come out, we don't know yet. But the idea is story updates, changing the world in ways we have control over, so changing enemy types, adding new enemy types, things like that. We want all that to be kind of the free, ongoing live-service stuff. Adding more weapons, adding more gear, adding more cosmetics, with the hope that to support that, on the live-service stuff, people are buying cosmetics.

We got to see some of the interactions you can have with people in Fort Tarsis. How much do the choices you make in those conversations change your relationships with those characters?

Usually what will happen, and I don't want to spoil the story aspect of it too much, we have a faction-reputation system in the game. Basically, you can earn reputation for the Arcanists, the Freelancers, or for the Sentinels. The choices that you make in these conversations favor some of those factions, and some give you points for other factions. So even if you're talking to the Arcanists, if you're talking to Mathias, and you tell him something that is anti-Arcanists, or negative to Arcanists, then it will up [your reputation with] the Freelancers.

You manage those reputation pools, and of course doing missions, and freeplay, and other things also add to those reputation pools. Then there's the character-specific stuff, which is like, if I say this, does this character do this forever? And yes, there are examples of those littered throughout. Usually, you have to build the relationship to a certain point before you can start to make those decisions. You may have seen in the demo that you can get one or two characters almost to that point. Then it changes the outcome of that character.

Outcome as in of the plot, or do you get different rewards based on your loyalties to these factions?

Both. In terms of the factions, if you favor the Arcanists, you'll have different blueprint unlocks. It says that in your challenge screen, it'll be like "Arcanist Whatever 1, look at all the things you can unlock with that." Then part of it is a little piece of Fort Tarsis will change once you do those things as well. So for example, I don't remember if it's the Arcanists or the Freelancers, but one of the factions, once you get to their level one or two challenge, then the fountain in Fort Tarsis clears up and it's no longer full of sludgy goop and it's like a flowing fountain. Examples of that are kind of littered throughout.

In terms of rewards for the player, are there faction-specific guns, or cosmetic sets?

There are not faction-specific guns, but there are crafting blueprints you can only unlock by doing those faction challenges. It's not like the Arcanist pistol, but the it's like a pistol that you only get it by doing that [challenge].

How much of that faction stuff is malleable? If I got to this level with this faction, but I want this blueprint from another faction, can I double back and try to make up with them?

The good thing about the factions is that conversations and choices are only one input into the system. So if you go out and there's Arcanists who are in trouble, and you rescue those Arcanists in a world event, you'll get Arcanist faction points, and since that kind of content is replayable. If you really wanted to, you can go after the specific things from the other factions. Ideally, after many, many, many hours, you could get all three factions to 100 percent if you do that.

Are there going to be any faction-specific missions?

Right now the faction-specific missions are the ones that Mathias, Brin, and Yarrow give you. Yarrow represents the Freelancers. He'll give you a number of missions before the endgame, and also missions after the endgame, about that faction, Brin represents the Sentinels, same thing. Yarrow is the Arcanist group. You'll have an number of Arcanist missions, you've probably played a few of them. Once you hit the end of the critical path, then some more of them open up for you to play. And then there's contracts.

So those are missions that I might be able to unlock that other people wouldn't? Is that the case?

You will unlock them once you – that one isn't tied to your faction level, those are tied to completing the previous mission.

So there wouldn't be any mission where one person unlocks it and the other person hasn't unlocked it?

Correct. We don't really want to have that. For example, if you're on Mathias' third mission, and I'm not, I can still join your mission if you invite me. We should probably be clear about the fact that I haven't unlocked that one yet, and that's a tweak that we're going to make in the game. But I should still be able to play it with you. But then, later on, I haven't unlocked it, so I'm going to have to unlock it.

Is any of the stuff going to be retroactive? Would you have to do that mission again later?

Yes. So what'll happen is, when we're in a squad or I'm reinforcing you, I'm kind of helping you as part of quickplay, I'm helping you out. I get the benefits by getting XP rewards, basically being able to further my job and loot. But it's not done for me in the story. Because then that would cause some interesting issues where if you're on Mathias V and I'm only my Mathias I, and then if I help you and finish Mathias V, then what happens to one through four? So we don't want to do that to players. We want to give them the best of both worlds. You can still play missions that you haven't unlocked yet, because other games might not let you do that. But at the same time, we don't want to auto-complete it for you.

For the quickplay, are there going to be some mission types that aren't going to have matchmaking?

No. They'll all have matchmaking. The only ones that don't have matchmaking are the introductory missions. Because the narrative of the introduction is that you're a single freelancer in this scenario, and we're going to matchmake people.

Then of course, the game is a dedicated-server model, so when you're in Fort Tarsis you're not in a dedicated server, you're on your own. But then when you go out into the world you're in a dedicated server. You can set that server to be private, so just you on a dedicated server, and you can play the game as you want solo, then go back to Tarsis.

But we hope that players eventually realize that playing with friends is really beneficial.

One of the most requested features for games like this is crossplay. Where do you all sit on that?

We're in the "pro" column. We want to do it. It's just not going to be there for launch. We're going to look into it a lot more, we've already been looking into it quite a bit. We'll have more news on that later. But in terms of how does the Anthem development team feel about it? We want you to play with friends, that's the thing about Anthem. If your friend happens to own an Xbox, and you happen to own a PlayStation, we still want you to play with your friends, so that's what we're going for.

Do you see PC being able to interact with that at all?

Oh yeah, yeah. PC interacting with consoles, same thing.

Would there also be potential for cross-save, carrying your characters around consoles and PC?

That is actually easier than crossplay. The way it all works is that there is a local save file, but that's not really not where everything is stored. Everything stored is on your account. Allowing you to access that stuff on another platform is actually easier to solve. But still, not for launch.

Diving back into the story stuff. Let's say I have a group of four who want to see the whole game through. People do things at different paces. How do you see that blending in with the mission structure?

You have to play at your own pace. If you're grouped up with a bunch of your friends who are yelling at you, well then you know that you're not going to be able to read all the Cortex entries in Fort Tarsis. But you then know that you can log into the game, or after your friends are done or whatever, and then you can do all that stuff solo; you can do that at your own pace.

Likewise, if you're playing with your friends, and you want to talk to some people, make some decisions, you can say, "See you guys, you guys run this mission, we're going to be in chat while you're messing around in Tarsis." That's fine too. And then afterwards if you want to join a group of randos, or invite some randos into your game. It's supposed to be asynchronous, so that you can play at your own pace, rather than being forced into a certain structure. If you choose to play with all four people at once through the critical path, this totally supports that. But if you choose to break away from that, it also supports that as well. 

Ultimately, it kind of comes down to this: Everyone plays these games differently, and we have to try to support as many of those play styles as possible. A lot of the traditional BioWare fans who usually play games single-player, they don't get into the whole "I group up every night at 8 p.m. with my crew and we go do this stuff," so we had to give an opportunity for them to play as well. Likewise, if you play with peeps, then the game supports that because even if one guy couldn't make it one night and you guys move forward and play the next critical-path mission, he or she could easily join up with you to play the next one.

How scalable is that going to be? Let's say I have more hours per week to dedicate to Anthem in the long run in the endgame versus some of my friends, and there's a new stronghold that requires a high power level. How scalable is that? Are they going to be able to jump in with me?

Yes. That's the whole reason why we did this. This is an example at its extreme, just so you're aware. You've been playing Anthem forever, and you've unlocked Grandmaster Three, the hardest difficulty that we have, I can't even beat Grandmaster Three right now. So you're playing with two other people, and then your new friend has bought the game for the first time and gotten past to tutorials and is into Lost Arcanist. You can invite that person into your Grandmaster Three stronghold, because damage and loot and everything is relative, and it's instanced to the player. You'll have a really hard experience and people will shoot you in the face and you'll die quick, but you'll also get legendary loot. Your friend will get common and uncommon loot. When they kill enemies, it will be a relative difficulty to them. So everyone is still leveling up relative to their power level, but there's no, "Oh no, you guys can't join us because you aren't cool enough."

How are you approaching balance in Anthem? There's no PvP, but how amenable are you to feedback from the community, of like "oh, this particular gun is too strong." Are you seeing problems like that?

Yeah. Already. We're super-amenable. Obviously, if anyone knows anything about this kind of game, one person's buff is another person's nerf, usually. It's just kind of how it is. But we're paying attention as much as possible. I don't know if you've seen, but we're doing livestreams, we're active on Reddit, we're trying to foster that relationship even before we get out so that people know who we are, people know who to come to, they know who to yell at, they know who to praise, we want all of that going into launch.

There's going to be things that will happen, that we need to fix. No one gets it right 100 percent of the time. We want to do that, and we can tweak all that in the backend. This includes the economy, so that's one big thing where it's like, "All right, when players play the demo on the weekends, you absolutely positively have to know that the economy is different in than the game.” Because it's a shorter amount of time, we wanted to make things easier to get, so you can get them. Likewise, when the game comes out, we want to make sure things are fair to earn. And we're monitoring player feedback on all that, too.

What's been the thing that's changed most in development based on community feedback?

A bunch of different stuff. Anything from UI changes, the infamous "damage floaties" thing, that was a big one, being able to turn to damage numbers that pop up off, tweak them. Questions about how to access certain things, how to give specific loot rewards for doing specific things.

Also being able to play in a social way so we added the launch bay, which we never had before. Before we had this concept of going back to your Strider and then mulling around with your crew for a bit, then going back out. That didn't really serve the vision for the game at all, which Tarsis really serves that well. So we said, "Hey, let's put the Strider away, and put a social hub in instead." So it's constant listening and changing like that, which we've done all the way until launch. We're going to be doing from now until launch, and obviously post launch. There's a team dedicated to doing it.

With a lot of games like this, it always feels like the first year is the roughest in terms of variety of things to do. Then a year from now, people say “Destiny is good now,” or “The Division has more content.” Where do you feel Anthem is going to sit on that spectrum? Do you think Anthem will be a very different game a year after launch? Or do you feel you're where you need to be?

I feel like we have what we need at launch. It's a good framework, and the narrative conceit is there, the storytelling base to continue to build on, the type of content that we want to release post launch, we already know fits in well with everything. The systems are extendable, like we talked about at the beginning. Everything is there to build and continue building on. Make no mistake, as I said earlier as well, there are going to be things that have to change, there are going to be things that the community wants that we haven't built into the game and we're going to pivot. Casey [Hudson] actually released a blog today that said as much, which is like, "We've done everything we can, and now the last missing component is all the people who are going to play the game and give feedback."

Then it is what it is. It's no longer in our hands, it's now the people who are playing the game, buying stuff, enjoying the game. They get to help us figure out where we're going.

What kind of feedback are you most interested in right now?

I'm interested in seeing if people are enjoying the characters they're meeting in Tarsis. They're unique little stories, and how they play out over time. That's just my personal bias, because I'm the Mass Effect guy or whatever. I like that. I think what's important to the long-term health of the game is economy feedback, that's a huge thing. Does it feel like you're actively pursuing a great reward every time you go out? Do you want to do it again and again? That's the kind of thing that we care about a lot. That's why there's been a couple of closed alphas and the demo is coming out. We're listening to all that stuff.

Categories: Games

Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain Releasing In April

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 01/25/2019 - 17:00
Publisher: D3 Publisher Developer: Yuke's Release: April 11, 2019 Platform: PlayStation 4

Earth Defense Force is an odd series. The aggressively and proudly budget games arguably mix camp and compulsion in ways very few games can manage. At one point in the past, developer Sandlot and publisher D3 tried to tune the game more to western fans, but eventually went back to tried-and-true Earth Defense Force up through the recent Earth Defense Force 5. Now D3 is taking another stab at a more serious Earth Defense Force game with Iron Rain, which they've announced will be releasing worldwide on April 11.

The game, developed by WWE 2K studio Yuke's, is an attempt at a higher budget and higher fidelity Earth Defense Force that takes itself a little more seriously. It might be better to just watch the new trailer to see what it's all about.

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It will be interesting to see how Iron Rain compares to other EDF games. The changes might just be what the series needs, as our review of Earth Defense Force 5 argues that the series is growing a little stale over the years.

We'll find out for sure when Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain releases on PlayStation 4 on April 11.

Categories: Games

Dai From The Dragon Quest Manga Joins Jump Force

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 01/25/2019 - 16:02

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Developer: Bandai Namco Release: February 15, 2019

Dai, the protagonist from the Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai manga is the latest fighter to join Jump Force's increasingly huge roster.

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The Adventure of Dai is based on the video games and was originally published in the early 90s. It is one of Shonen Jump's best-selling series. The manga also received an anime adaptation, though it never officially dubbed for North America.

Jump Force is coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on February 15. For more on the game head here.

Categories: Games

PC Specs Revealed For Metro Exodus

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 01/25/2019 - 15:22

Publisher: Deep Silver Developer: 4A Games Release: February 15, 2019 Rating: Mature Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

4A Games has always prided itself on making games that push computer hardware to the limit with incredible looking graphics. Today Deep Silver and 4A revealed the minimum and recommended specs for Metro Exodus.

Curious to know if your machine is powerful enough to play Exodus at "Extreme" quality level? Take a look at the handy chart and you'll find out.

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For more on Metro Exodus, check out our latest hands-on experience here.

Categories: Games

New Gameplay Today – Anthem

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 01/25/2019 - 00:20

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Publisher: Electronic Arts Developer: BioWare Release: February 22, 2019 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Earlier this week I had the chance to play several hours of Anthem at a preview event, which put into focus its larger structure. While I'm not able to talk about everything I saw right now I thought I'd sit down with Matt Miller to chat about some of the early missions I've encountered, and chat about some of the differences between classes, how the game is structured early on, and flying.

Categories: Games

Digital Board Game Spotlight: Isle Of Skye

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 01/24/2019 - 23:45

Few board games are more popular or prolific than Carcassonne, the family-friendly tile-laying classic from 2000 that tasks players with building a communal countryside, one colorful square at a time. While not officially related, Isle of Skye feels like an evolution of Carcassonne's theme and mechanics, giving players a meatier experience that’s loaded with replayability and perfectly suited for mobile gaming.

Digital Board Game Spotlight is an ongoing series that highlights my favorite digital translations of modern board games. Unlike most modern mobile games, these selections feature traditional up-front pricing, without any time-gates, premium currencies, or ads to ruin the fun. If you're looking for your next mobile fix, look no further.

Isle of Skye

Publisher: Asmodee Digital, Developer: Digidiced
Multiplayer: Online (Asynchronous and Real-time), Pass & Play
Available on: Android, iOS, PC

As with Carcassonne, your goal in Isle of Skye is to build a kingdom by laying down tiles comprised of different regions – in this case, the lakes, mountains, and grassy plains that make up the real Scottish island. Each tile you place must match up with the regions of its orthogonal neighbors, and may contain a variety of different livestock, buildings, and ships that factor into Isle of Skye’s unique scoring system. Barrel symbols are a notable exception, and will grant you more gold each turn – but only if they lead back to your city via an uninterrupted road. Unlike Carcassonne, each player is building their own kingdom in Isle of Skye, but there’s still plenty of interaction thanks to how tiles are chosen in the first place.

At the beginning of every round, each player receives three landscape tiles, and will secretly choose one to discard, and place bids on the other two. Those bids set the prices that other players can buy them for on their turn – you can purchase exactly one tile from another opponent. If no one wants to pay the prices you set, you’re on the hook for them yourself, and pay the money you set aside for the bid in the first place.

All of these discard and pricing decisions are made secretly and introduce a wealth of interesting choices. Do you set a high price on a valuable tile in hopes of retaining it for yourself? Or push your luck with a lower price and hope no one takes it? Do you discard a tile that would be beneficial to an opponent, or set a high price in hopes of scoring some extra money, which you can in turn use to buy more valuable tiles from your competitors? But what if that tile you're eyeing is the one your opponent is planning to discard anyway?

Ultimately, the value of any given tile comes down to its scoring potential, and that’s where Isle of Skye really gets interesting. At the beginning of the game, four scoring tiles are randomly chosen out of a pool of 16 options. These will award points for a variety of different criteria, like one VP for every sheep in your kingdom, or five VP for the person with the most ships, or two VP for every completed mountain area. Each score tile is triggered exactly three times during the game, but their timing is staggered throughout each of the six rounds; only tile A scores in the first round, but B and D score together in the fourth round, and A, C, and D all score in the fifth round, etc.

Besides adding a boatload of variety and replayability to Isle of Skye, this scoring format also introduces interesting pressures that twist your strategy from turn to turn – “If I get one more ship tile I’ll have the majority, but I need to get it NOW before it scores. Or maybe I’ll focus on those two cow tiles instead – I don’t have a road tile to connect them back to my kingdom, but I’ve got another round before their score tile comes up to figure that out…” Devising a way to capitalize on the natural ebb and flow of the score tiles and rake in a massive pile of points at the right time is supremely satisfying.

Finally, some land tiles offer their own bonus scoring opportunities that only trigger at the end of the game. Not only do these tiles add one last dash of variability to every game, they also ensure an exciting finale as you tally up the endgame points. Whether Isle of Skye will have the lasting popularity of Carcassonne remains to be seen, but it certainly has enough depth and variety to keep matches feeling fresh for years to come.

Like all of the games highlighted in this series, Isle of Skye greatly benefits from its transition to the digital table. In addition to a shorter playing time, A.I. opponents, and automated scoring, the digital version also boasts a wonderful aesthetic improvement over the physical game; when you rotate a tile to fit into your kingdom, its symbols automatically realign themselves – no longer will your ships be sailing upside-down or your sheep be standing sideways like some strange M.C. Escher landscape. Like Digidiced’s other titles, a humorous tutorial explains the ins and outs of the rules, and detailed explanations of scoring tiles are always a tap away. The touch controls make moving and rotating tiles and setting your bids a cinch, and the end-turn prompt ensures you always have the opportunity to undo potential mistakes anyway.  

Isle of Skye’s multiplayer offerings are also consistent with Digidiced’s other titles, in that they provide a wealth of options that are all underused by the community. The local pass-and-play option seems viable for two players as there’s not a ton of hidden information to worry about in the game, but any more human players would simply be cumbersome. You won’t find many opponents for the asynchronous or real-time multiplayer modes, so wrangling your own friends up for online play is still your best bet.

While, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed thinking my way through Isle of Skye’s strategic tile-laying action, if you’re looking for something easier and breezier, you may want to check out its spiritual predecessor. Asmodee Digital’s topnotch Android port of Carcassonne features exceptional visuals, streamlined play, and a number of extra expansions for purchase if you find yourself enamored with the base game. It’s also one of the few digital board games with an active player base on Android, if you’re hankering for some human competition. A word of warning that a different developer owns the rights to Carcassonne on iOS, however, so Apple owners are out of luck – but Switch and PC versions are also available.

For more digital board games that are worth your time, check out my write-up of the fast and fun card trading of Jaipur, and the streamlined but strategic auctions of Stockpile. For physical board game recommendations, check out Matt Miller's bi-weekly column, Top of the Table.

Categories: Games

Learn More About The Importance Of Your Bike

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 01/24/2019 - 21:44

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment Developer: SIE Bend Studio Release: April 26, 2019 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation 4

Days Gone developer Sony Bend started a series of videos focused on the bleak world featured in the game and what you'll have to do to survive in it. Today, the studio released the latest in its "World Series" of videos. This time, the focus shifts toward Deacon St. John's trusty motorcycle.

His drifter bike is much more than a means to travel. Sure, the bike can get him from point-A to point-B, but it is also his lifeline for when an area gets a little too hot. In addition, if you die in Days Gone, you respawn at your bike. You can learn more about that in the latest video released by Sony Bend, as well as ways you can expect to upgrade the bike and how fast travel works.

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Days Gone hits PlayStation 4 on April 26. To learn more, check out the previous world-focused video released by Sony Bend, or head to our coverage hub for tons of details about the upcoming post-apocalyptic title.

Categories: Games

Polishing Snow

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 01/24/2019 - 20:00
Publisher: Deep Silver Developer: 4A Games Release: February 15, 2019 Rating: Mature Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

As we go into a surprisingly packed time for video game releases, Metro Exodus is hoping to surprised and delight players when it releases in a few weeks. In an ongoing series about the development of the game, developers 4A Games talk about the actual artistry of creating the broken and cold world of Metro, including how it acknowledges and celebrates Slavic culture.

You can check out the second episode of the documentary series below.

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It's always interesting to get insight from the people who create games like this that go to great lengths to be immersive, especially when you can genuinely feel their passion for doing so. You can see the latest weapons trailer for the game here to get a sense of how Metro Exodus is shaping up its post-apocalyptic arsenal. 

Metro Exodus releases on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on February 15.

Categories: Games

Transform Yourself & Your Weapon In God Eater 3

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 01/24/2019 - 16:00

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Publisher: Bandai Namco Developer: Bandai Namco Release: February 8, 2019 Rating: Teen Platform: PlayStation 4, PC

Saving the world is no small feat, and in action/RPG God Eater 3 you're going to need some help. The latest trailer for the title (coming out on February 8 for PS4 and PC) showcases your transformable weapons, teammates, and the boss encounters that help give this game its own flavor.

For more on the game's multiplayer in particular, check out our hands-on impressions.

Categories: Games

New Kingdom Hearts III Trailer Delivers A Gameplay Overview

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 01/24/2019 - 15:35

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Publisher: Square Enix Developer: Square Enix Release: January 29, 2019 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One

On the eve of Kingdom Hearts III's release on January 29, Square Enix has released a gameplay overview of the title, going over new keyblade features, ship customization, the title's minigames, and more.

Of course, to get the definitive take on the game, check out Kim's glowing review.

Categories: Games

Kingdom Hearts 3 Review - Dearly Beloved

Gamespot News Feed - Thu, 01/24/2019 - 15:00

Like every game in the series before it, Kingdom Hearts 3 begins by playing its theme, Dearly Beloved, over the title screen. Composed by acclaimed musician Yoko Shimomura, it perfectly captures the sentimentality at the heart of the series. The song is at once tender and melancholic, wistful and adventurous, somber and uplifting--a reminder of a history that'll leave longtime fans dewy-eyed. I wish I could properly convey the impact of hearing it, but the best I can do is to say that it is overwhelming.

The only way to really understand the emotions Dearly Beloved stirs is to have connected with the franchise and its characters; to have followed their journeys over its 17-year history, for better or worse. The nostalgia for and investment in Kingdom Hearts as a franchise is incredibly powerful, so much so that it helped me push through the rougher patches in what is overall an enjoyable, if uneven, third entry in the core series. Kingdom Hearts 3 is preoccupied with fan service to a fault, and it also struggles to stay coherent under the weight of its own convoluted lore. But it's also everything fans love about the series: a thrilling action-RPG that celebrates Disney and Pixar, all the while ensuring themes of friendship, heroism, and pure-hearted goodness shine bright.

At times, those themes can be difficult to discern, particularly when the game is intent on telling the grander story of Kingdom Hearts as opposed to the smaller tales centered around Disney's iconic characters or Sora’s innocent idealism. Given it's the concluding chapter in a massive story arc, it can't be faulted for having this fixation, but the execution is frustrating nonetheless. Kingdom Hearts 3 is bogged down in the finer details of its lore, so much so that--for all but the most clued-in fans--it can be difficult to get a sense of what our three main heroes are actually trying to accomplish.

At its broadest, the story of Kingdom Hearts 3 involves Sora, Donald, and Goofy preparing for an upcoming war against the forces of darkness by gathering the Guardians of Light. This is oversimplification to its most extreme, but to delve into the finer details would require lengthy explanations of numerous confounding concepts and characters. It is undoubtedly messy, but for fans who have committed to playing all the games and been studious enough to join the dots along the way, it makes sense. For those that aren't as well-versed in Kingdom Hearts, the essentials of the story aren't laid out nearly as clear as they need to be.

The bloated state of Kingdom Hearts’ lore is the result of numerous spin-offs and sequels that introduced new characters to explore back- and side-stories. Contained in their own games, these characters had the room to breathe, establish themselves, and have full narrative arcs. However, when united in one game, each is diminished in both characterization and impact. Kingdom Hearts 3 attempts to take all the disparate narrative threads from across its many games--and the characters tied up in them--and weave them together into one concluding story, and the result is incoherent to say the least. It doesn’t help that numerous characters look the same, or that some are time-travelling versions of themselves. Others, meanwhile, are reincarnations that have taken on a new form or exist inside the heart of yet another character. There are also a few that used to have one name, but now have another, but both names are used depending on who is talking about them. Before long all of these characters are elbow to elbow, vying for screen time and pulling the story in so many different directions that it becomes difficult to find its center again. The handful that are critical to the plot inevitably become lost among the many bit-parters that feel like they're in the game as fan service, instead of being meaningful to the story.

If Kingdom Hearts 3 had stronger writing it may have been possible to highlight key details and figures for the player to latch onto; a chance to see through the crowd of faces and pick out the ones most important. However, the writing largely makes proceedings even harder to follow. The villains in particular--many of which are members of Organization XIII--spout inane lines that are purposefully vague. Presumably this was to build mystery, but it only serves to muddy motivations and further obscure the crux of the story. Otherwise, they're delivering cheesy dialogue that feels at odds with the sincere melodrama happening around them.

At its core, Kingdom Hearts 3 is a heartfelt tale of enduring friendship, and the narrative is at its strongest when it narrows its focus to just this

This is a shame because, at its core, Kingdom Hearts 3 is a heartfelt tale of enduring friendship, and the narrative is at its strongest when it narrows its focus to just this. Sora, the hero of the series, continues to be plucky and lovably naive. His greatest facets are his strength of heart, his ability to make friends with anyone, and his devotion to them--he is the archetypal wholesome good boy. Joining him once again is Donald Duck, stuffy and prone to outbursts but a trustworthy companion; and Goofy, slightly dimwitted but also the emotional anchor of the group.

The endearing trio's adventures through the Disney and Pixar worlds featured in Kingdom Hearts 3, as well as the interactions they have with the characters within them, are a reminder that beneath the tortuous lore are smaller stories that resonate. By keeping the bigger Keyblade Wars story in the periphery and having minimal involvement from all those involved with it, these stories are clearer and more concise. The underlying themes of Kingdom Hearts harmonize with those of Disney's own properties so well that each new world Sora journeys to delivers an impactful moment of storytelling. In Toy Box, Sora helps Woody, Buzz, and the gang find their missing friends, as they also grapple with the idea that they live in a world where Andy doesn't exist. In Arendelle, he meets Anna, who is desperately trying to reconnect with her sister, Queen Elsa, and gets caught up in the family drama. In San Fransokyo, Sora assists Hiro and the Big Hero 6 team as they battle Microbots and find a forgotten friend. Admittedly, some of these stories retread old ground, but whether it's Tangled, Pirates of the Caribbean, Winnie The Pooh, Monsters Inc., or Hercules, experiencing them again through the lens of Kingdom Hearts 3 still packs an emotional punch. It's hard not to get swept up by the exaggerated displays of heroics or earnest reminders that your friends exist in your heart.

One of the strengths of Kingdom Hearts 3 is the care and attention it pays to bringing Disney's worlds to life, which, in turn, makes being in them all the more exciting. You get to wander around Andy's bedroom as a diminutive toy version of Sora, scaling his walls and jumping on his toys, before making a trip to the mall. There you visit various toy shops, leaping on top of display units and between shelves as you battle the enemy Heartless. Returning to Kingdom Hearts 2's Twilight Town comes with a wave of nostalgia, as you hang around in the square watching a Mickey Mouse movie projected on a wall or visit the mansion where Namine stood at the window all those years back. Venture to the Pirates of the Caribbean world and the game adopts a striking, realistic visual style, swapping Sora and friends from their usual vibrant visages to a muddier tone in line with the movies' color palette. It then gives you command of your own ship with Jack Sparrow at your side. 100 Acre Wood shifts to the warmer pastels of a storybook aesthetic, as you help Rabbit tend to his garden so that Pooh can get some honey. San Fransokyo makes great use of verticality and Sora's ability to effortlessly run up buildings and glide between rooftops. At night it transforms into a blinding neon cityscape, inviting you to fly between floating blimps and grind rails with Baymax flying in tow. Monsteropolis has you working with Sully and Mike to stop Randal seizing control of Monsters Inc., and all the while Boo adorably potters along next to you.

Many of the worlds offer extra gameplay activities to engage with after the story within them is wrapped up. Toy Box puts you in a Final Fantasy XV parody where you're in a mech destroying enemies and chasing high scores. Traverse Town has a cooking mini-game which involves collecting ingredients from across the worlds and then bringing them to Ratatouille's Remy to make meals. Pirates of the Caribbean lets you sail the open sea in search of treasure and do battle with enemy ships, or defend Port Royale in a wave-based mini-game. The amount of gameplay variety in Kingdom Hearts 3 is impressive, and although the extras may be short-term distractions, for those who want to spend more time in their favourite worlds, they're a fun reason to make the return trip.

Not all worlds maintain that high bar, however, as some feel either empty or lacking in what they offer. Arendelle's snow-covered terrain, for example, feels quite bland, and the main mission involves climbing a mountain multiple times. Port Royale is an entire location used primarily for an item hunt. Toy Box's mall is devoid of life beyond the toys and enemies--it would have been nice to have people around to make it feel more alive, instead of like an after-hours shopping center. The same can be said of San Fransokyo which, on ground level, feels eerily deserted for a metropolis.

The bulk of Kingdom Hearts 3's gameplay, however, is in its sword-swinging, magic-conjuring combat, which feels fast, frenetic, and spectacular in its cinematic flourishes. Its combat mechanics are an evolution of Kingdom Hearts 2's, which themselves have been tweaked and refined in the various spin-off titles. The most noticeable change is in its fluidity; Sora moves between enemies quickly, delivering a barrage of attacks, seamlessly transitioning into casting Fira to set enemies ablaze or Cura to recover health. There's a pleasing forward momentum to all the battles, as you zip around dispatching enemies in quick succession.

There are numerous layers on top of the basic combat mechanics which, while not adding a great deal of depth or strategic considerations, make for more exciting skirmishes. Keyblades now come in a number of flavours to match the Disney worlds they're unlocked from. As part of this, they also have Formchanges, which are exactly what they sound like. As you land attack buttons, a meter builds up, and you are eventually given the option to transform your Keyblade into more over-the-top forms, where more powerful attacks and abilities become available. The game shows creative flare in these transformations too; Wheel of Fate, unlocked in the Pirates world, becomes an oversized spear and then the mast of a ship with the flag attached. Happy Gear, found in Monsters Inc., transforms into a set of high-speed claws and then a pair of yo-yos. Hunny Spout morphs into a pair of twin pistols and then a launcher, both firing honey at enemies.

The amount of gameplay variety in Kingdom Hearts 3 is impressive ... for those who want to spend more time in their favourite worlds, [mini-games] are a fun reason to make the return trip

Magic works similarly, with repeated use of a spell eventually making a Grand Magic version available at no additional mana cost. Throughout, Donald and Goofy will call to Sora for a team-up attack. For the former this could be a salvo of colorful fireworks that damage everyone in your vicinity. For the latter you can leap into the sky and throw Goofy at an enemy, with his shield causing an explosion on impact. These are characters that have fought many battles side by side, so having these back and forths are a nice representation of the camaraderie between them and their growth across the series--not to mention they're eye-catching cinematic moments.

Feeding into the Disney milieu further are attractions such as tea cups, water rafts, bumper cars, and a rollercoaster that can be summoned to dish out damage. Each one controls differently, either through timed button presses, using the analogue stick to guide their path, or becoming a first-person shooter to pinpoint specific enemies, injecting a different style of combat gameplay into the action at regular intervals. Other Disney characters such as Simba, Stitch, and Ariel can also be called into battle, functioning similarly to Final Fantasy's summons to unleash devastating special attacks. Their inclusion is welcome, in lieu of giving them their own worlds, as some have had in past games. Beyond that there's Flowmotion, which builds a sense of speed by encouraging you to dash into objects in the environment to swing around, or at walls to parkour along. It can be tricky to get a handle of, but once you're able to work these moves into the flow of combat, you build a sense of prowess over the battlefield.

Watching battles unfold, you'd be forgiven for thinking that combat is a complicated dance of fingers across buttons, but everything is actually achieved with one or two taps. Kingdom Hearts 3 is simple to play, which works in its favour. It prioritizes spectacle above all else and delivers tremendously. Instead of having to focus too much on what you're pressing and when, you can enjoy the madness unfolding on screen. This is a game that shows off and wows you with dazzling lights, explosive sounds, and high-octane action, and you don't want to miss a second of it. That's not to say it's completely devoid of strategic considerations, but you'll need to play on the harder Proud difficulty level if you want the game to challenge you. Otherwise--barring a few end game bosses--the enemies are pushovers.

Another feature that makes its return from Kingdom Hearts of old is the Gummi Ship. Sora and his crew are able to pilot a spaceship as they travel to new worlds, at which point the game becomes a shoot-em-up of sorts. While Gummi Ship segments in the past were on-rails, this time you have full freedom to fly where you please, using wormholes and boost pads to explore quicker. Space is littered with treasures to find, but you'll often have to battle enemies to acquire them. The shooting in the Gummi Ship, while serviceable, isn't satisfying. The combination of lackluster visual and auditory feedback makes it hard to tell whether you're actually doing any damage, and for the most part I found myself absentmindedly holding the fire button down and waiting for things to explode. It is possible to create your own ships and outfit them with more weapons and augmented support abilities, but the fundamental shooting remains unchanged and uninteresting.

As the game reaches its conclusion, the balance shifts heavily in favour of non-Disney worlds, where the main story of Kingdom Hearts can play out and resolve itself. Many of the environments this happens in are striking, from a pristine white city to strange modular arenas that can be turned upside down at the whim of an enemy. But in these locales the game trades the heart and whimsy of the worlds up until that point for heavy-handed storytelling that inevitably culminates in battles that are impressive set-pieces but feel cheap and spammy to play. With the finish line in sight, the game disrupts the pace with one arduous boss fight after another--not challenging in any way, just more of slog. The payoff, meanwhile, isn't entirely worth it, as Kingdom Hearts 3 wraps up its story in an incredibly unfulfilling way.

But the story of Keyblade wars, time-travelling villains, body-hopping also-rans, and world-ending darkness isn't what I'll remember about Kingdom Hearts 3 or the series as a whole. What sticks with me is the exciting battle against elemental titans with Hercules, taking Rapunzel out into the unfamiliar wide world for the first time, snapping selfies with Winnie the Pooh, and going toe to toe with Davy Jones. In 2002, as Sora, I left Destiny Islands to travel across the universe and make new friends. In 2019 I brought old ones home, and I had so much fun doing it.

Categories: Games

Jon Shafer's At The Gates Review - Fertile New Ground

Gamespot News Feed - Wed, 01/23/2019 - 20:00

In his time at Firaxis as the lead designer on Civilization V, Jon Shafer showed he wasn't afraid to uproot a settled and successful series and venture forth in search of something better. With At The Gates, his first release under the one-man studio moniker Conifer Games and his first game proper since Civ V, you get the feeling Shafer challenged himself to pack up the whole 4X genre and find fertile new ground on which to start over again.

Connections to the past remain--technologies are researched, resource nodes are exploited, wars are inevitably waged--but Shafer's pioneering vision here is of a genre that is narrower in scope and more concerned with how players respond to the figurative hand of cards they're dealt. At The Gates is a promising starting point that, with a few thoughtful additions, has the potential to develop into a thriving empire.

It all starts with a settlement. At first, you play as the Goths on a randomly generated map that represents 400 A.D. Europe. On each map is a number of rival clans, some of whom are always vastly more powerful than you are right from the start, as well as two factions of the fading, but still intimidatingly large, Roman Empire. Your aim is to grow your settlement into an empire and eventually win via one of two victory conditions: by conquering the Romans by military force or by training your own Roman Legion to assume control, i.e. an economic victory. Cleverly, factions other than the Goths are unlocked to play once you’ve met and formed an alliance with them in a previous game.

As the early turns tick by, clans of people will join the settlement and you can put them to work extracting resources from the surrounding tiles. Each clan can be trained in a profession drawn from one of six disciplines, all of which are unlocked by generating knowledge to progress through the tech tree. Early decisions are influenced by the mysteries of the randomly-generated map algorithm. If it has spawned you in an area with a lot of mineral deposits you will probably want to focus your efforts on metalworking professions, a couple of diggers to extract the iron, and, say, a dredger to multiply their production.

But how should you employ your fourth and final clan? While the map informs your strategy in certain directions, the whims of your population will often be tugging you in the complete opposite direction. Clans are randomly rolled a handful of traits when they arrive at your settlement's door. Some traits are unambiguously beneficial, like a +1 bonus to their movement points or with a few levels already earned in the crafting discipline, while others are downright bad, like a tendency to commit crimes; others yet are merely circumstantial, like preferring an active profession like explorer over a settled one like cheese-maker.

These elements quickly start to create compelling conundrums. What do you do when, on the one hand, the mineral-rich starting area of the map might be telling you to invest in mining, but on the other hand the clans you're being sent bear all the characteristics of some really effective soldiers? Or cheese-makers? Clans can, of course, be retrained as the need for new or more advanced professions arises, but it cannot be done instantly and any experience they had accumulated in their previous profession is lost. If you've only got a village of farmers and bards when the bandits turn up, you're quickly going to regret not training at least one of them to wield a spear. Balancing the demands of the map with the skills of your clans is the core strategic concern of the entire game. Along the way--and this is where At The Gates really starts to shine--there are many ways that relationship between the map and your people can change.

For one, you're not committed to your starting position on the map. In fact, at any moment you can pack up your settlement, move to a new location, and resettle. For the first 50-odd turns you'll be living something of a nomadic existence, exploring the lands, foraging for food, hunting and trapping animals, and collecting wood before moving on, crossing those mountains to the eastern coast or trekking across the steppes to the lush riverlands of the south. On a mechanical level, all the early technology you have at your disposal depletes resources--send a gatherer to work a fruit tree and they'll keep picking until the tree is exhausted. It's not until the mid to late game that you're able to build structures that don't deplete a resource and, in the case of a fruit plantation, can even replenish it. And it's at this point that you'll want to have found somewhere to make your permanent home.

This makes for an early game flow that is fascinating and unusual for the 4X genre. You want to be researching technology and training clans to suit your immediate situational needs, while also identifying (but, crucially, not yet exploiting) a resource-rich region you can later claim for your eventual empire. Sometimes this is straightforward enough--in one game I spawned on a narrow land bridge connecting two continents. I fished and picked berries until I was ready to journey southeast and declare my kingdom in a river valley full of wheat and horses. Other times it's more challenging, like the time I spawned on a tiny peninsula with only a bare handful of tiles separating my settlement from the border of the Huns. The beauty here is that even when the enemy is literally at the gates, you have enough flexibility to find an alternative--in this case, several hundred miles away, preferably.

The beauty here is that even when the enemy is literally at the gates, you have enough flexibility to find an alternative...

The map itself also intriguingly shifts in fundamental ways thanks to both seasonal and situational changes in weather. During cold months you have to worry about supplying any units traveling outside your territory, or else that scouting party might not make it back home. It's also vital to maintain a surplus of food for the winter as many of your food sources will no longer be operational. Heavy rains, flooding, and even blizzards on specific tiles also keep things interesting, as they can see units immobilized for multiple turns, potentially throwing into chaos your carefully planned assault on a rival settlement or, if you're lucky, delaying that bandit raid on your logging camp.

As the environment changes over the years, so do the people. Two clans might get into a feud and you'll be forced to pick a side. Another might be caught stealing and you'll have to decide their punishment. It's up to you to sort things out--retrain clans, shuffle them around to new locations, placate them with alcohol--before morale drops too low and everyone's unhappy. This might seem fiddly and a little prescriptive, but it's rarely as simple as it may sound. Clan Dankward may now hate Clan Waller, but the Dankwards are your best breadmakers and the Wallers your best blockcutters, you can't just send one of them out to run the sheep pasture. Besides which, the Wallers are afraid of animals and refuse to work in livestock. Working out a solution to these problems often means having to make tough decisions and uneasy compromises.

None of these clans are fleshed-out characters; they're just a collection of buffs and debuffs attached to a random name and portrait. But the way their traits and desires are expressed through their abilities and little exchanges goes a long way to make you feel like you're ruling a loose collection of real people. They're not people, of course, but they're your people.

The same cannot be said of the opponents you face, though. You’re always pitted against the same opponents on every map, but to my mind this is acceptable within the bounds of the scenario Shafer chose to depict. Instead, the more significant problem here is the lack of interaction with those AI opponents. To begin with, they don't particularly care about you--that's how small and insignificant you are in your initial nomadic phase. As you grow they start to take notice, but it's rarely more than a raised eyebrow here and there. Occasionally a dialogue box pops up and you can give a gift or rudely refuse one, and that's pretty much it until you're at war or you form an alliance. Essentially, you're either utterly indifferent to the AI, or you're their best friend or worst enemy, with barely any negotiating in between.

Indeed, it feels like the late game in general is underdeveloped. The absence of compelling diplomacy with the AI factions plays a huge part here, as for much of the game it's perfectly possible to adopt an isolationist strategy and focus on the more economically focused victory. Pursuing the military route extends your interactions with the AI to throwing your stacked military units at theirs until you occupy their settlements and structures. Combat will be familiar to anyone who’s played Civ IV and it gets the job done in a similarly efficient, if tactically unspectacular, fashion.

Even trade is handled in a curiously neutral manner, having you buy and sell goods through an anonymous caravan rather than through any interaction with the AI factions. Worse still, the concept of religion is relegated to a checkbox that has an unclear effect on an AI faction's disposition toward you. Shafer has admitted that the diplomacy features are still in their infancy and he has plans to continue to work on them post-launch. That's an encouraging sign, and one we hope also applies to these other areas, because the late game in its current form is desperately undernourished.

That makes At The Gates difficult to wholeheartedly recommend. What's there right now is undeniably good; however, what's missing makes you yearn for how good it could yet be. It's a fresh, invigorating, more personal take on the grand strategy game. But at the same time, it's lacking in a few areas, and they really do hold it back from greatness. Jon Shafer has found that fertile new ground on which to settle. He just needs to give it a few seasons to grow.

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