Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Review In Progress

Gamespot News Feed - Thu, 12/06/2018 - 13:00

The idea of what the Super Smash Bros. games are, and what they can be, has been different things during the series' 20-year history. What began as an accessible multiplayer game also became a highly competitive one-on-one game. But it's also been noted for having a comprehensive single-player adventure, as well as becoming a sort of virtual museum catalog, exhibiting knowledge and audiovisual artifacts from the histories of its increasingly diverse crossover cast. Ultimate embraces all these aspects, and each has been notably refined, added to, and improved for the better. Everyone, and basically everything, from previous games is here--all existing characters, nearly all existing stages, along with the flexibility to play and enjoy those things in different ways. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a comprehensive, considered, and charming package that builds on an already strong and enduring fighting system.

If you've ever spent time with a Smash game, then you likely have a good idea of how Ultimate works. Competing players deal damage to their opponents in order to more easily knock them off the stage. The controls remain relatively approachable for a competitive combat game; three different buttons in tandem with basic directional movements are all you need to access a character's variety of attacks and special abilities. There are a large variety of items and power-ups to mix things up (if you want to) and interesting, dynamic stages to fight on (also if you want to). You can find complexities past this, of course--once you quickly experience the breadth of a character's skillset, it allows you to begin thinking about the nuances of a fight (again, if you want to). Thinking about optimal positioning, figuring out what attacks can easily combo off of another, working out what the best move for each situation is, and playing mind games with your human opponents can quickly become considerations, and the allure of Smash as a fighting game is how easy it is to reach that stage.

Complexity also comes with the wide variety of techniques afforded by Ultimate's staggeringly large roster of over 70 characters. Smash's continuing accessibility is a fortunate trait in this regard, because once you understand the basic idea of how to control a character, many of the barriers to trying out a completely new one are gone. Every fighter who has appeared in the previous four Smash games is here, along with some brand-new ones, and the presence of so many diverse and unorthodox styles to both wield and compete against is just as attractive as the presence of the characters themselves. In fact, it's still astounding that a game featuring characters from Mario Bros, Sonic The Hedgehog, Pac-Man, Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy, and Street Fighter all interacting with each other actually exists.

On a more technical level, Ultimate makes a number of under-the-hood alterations that, at this early stage, seem like positive changes that make Smash feel noticeably faster and more exciting to both watch and play. Characters take more damage in one-on-one fights; continuous dodging is punished with increased vulnerability; fighters can perform any ground-based attack, including smash moves, immediately out of a running state; and short-hop aerial attacks (previously a moderately demanding technique) can be easily performed by pressing two buttons simultaneously. Refinements like these might go unnoticed by most, but they help define Ultimate's core gameplay as a tangible evolution of the series' core mechanics.

A number of Ultimate's more superficial changes also help Smash's general quality-of-life experience, too. Some make it a more readable game--additions to the UI communicate previously hidden elements like meter charges and Villager's captured items, a simple radar helps keep track of characters off-screen, and a slow motion, zoom-in visual effect when critical hits connect make these moments more exciting to watch. Other changes help streamline the core multiplayer experience and add compelling options. Match rules can now be pre-defined with a swath of modifiers and saved for quick selection later. Stage selection occurs before character selection, so you can make more informed decisions on which fighter to use.

On top of a built-in tournament bracket mode, Ultimate also features a number of additional Smash styles. Super Sudden Death returns, as does Custom Smash, which allows you to create matches with wacky modifiers. Squad Strike is a personal favorite, which allows you to play 3v3 or 5v5 tag-team battles (think King of Fighters), and Smashdown is a great, engaging mode that makes the most of the game's large roster by disqualifying characters that have already been used as a series of matches continues, challenging your ability to do well with characters who you might not be familiar with.

The most significant addition to Ultimate, however, lies in its single-player content. Ultimate once again features a Classic Mode where each individual fighter has their own unique ladder of opponents to defeat, but the bigger deal is World of Light, Ultimate's surprisingly substantial RPG-style campaign. It's a convoluted setup--beginning as Kirby, you go on a long journey throughout a huge world map to rescue Smash's other fighters (who have incidentally been cloned in large numbers) from the big bad's control. Along the way, you'll do battles with Spirits, characters hailing from other video games that, while not directly engaging in combat, have taken control of clones, altered them in their images, and unleashed them on you.

Though there is some light puzzling, the world is naturally filled with hundreds upon hundreds of fights--there are over 1200 Spirit characters, and the vast majority have their own unique battle stages that use the game's match variables to represent their essence. The Goomba Spirit, for example, will put you up against an army of tiny Donkey Kongs. Meanwhile, the Excitebike Spirit might throw three Warios at you who only use their Side+B motorbike attacks.

It may seem like a tenuous idea at first, but these fights are incredibly entertaining. It's hard not to appreciate the creativity of using Smash's assets to represent a thousand different characters. Zero Suit Samus might stand in for a battle with The Boss from Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater by donning a silver-palette costume and fighting you in a flower-filled Final Destination, but she also stands in for the spirit of Alexandra Roivas from Eternal Darkness by using a black-palette costume and fighting you in the haunted Luigi's Mansion stage, with a modifier that makes the screen occasionally flip upside down (Eternal Darkness was a GameCube horror game whose signature feature were "Sanity Effects", which skewed the game in spooky ways to represent the character's loosening grip on reality). If I knew the character, I often found myself thinking about how clever their Spirit battle was.

Defeating a Spirit will add it to your collection, and Spirits also act as World of Light's RPG system. There are two types of Spirit: Primary and Support. Primary Spirits have their own power number and can be leveled up through various means to help make your actual fighter stronger. Primary Spirits also have one of four associated classes, which determine combat effectiveness in a rock-scissors-paper-style system. These are both major considerations to take into account before a battle, and making sure you're not going into a fight at a massive disadvantage adds a nice dimension to the amusing unpredictability of this mode. What you also need to take into account are the modifiers that might be enabled on each stage, which is where Support Spirits come in. They can be attached to Primary Spirits in a limited quantity and can mitigate the effect of things like poisonous floors, pitch-black stages, or reversed controls, or they can simply buff certain attacks.

There are a few Spirit fights that can be frustrating, however. Stages that are a 1v4 pile-on are downright annoying, despite how well-equipped you might be, as are stages where you compete against powerful assist trophies. On the flip side, once you find yourself towards the end of the campaign, there are certain loadouts that can trivialize most stages, earning you victory in less than a second. Regardless, there's a compulsive quality to collecting Spirits, and not just because they might make you stronger. It's exciting to see which obscure character you run into next, feel validated for recognizing them, and see how the game interprets them in a Spirit battle. There's also just a superficial joy to collecting, say, the complete Elite Beat Agents cast (Osu! Takatae! Ouendan characters are here too), even though these trophies lack the frills of previous Smash games.

Some hubs in the World of Light map are also themed around certain games and bundle related Spirits together to great effect--Dracula's Castle from Castlevania, which changes the map into a 2D side-scroller, and the globe from Street Fighter II, complete with the iconic airplane noises, are personal standouts. Despite the dramatic overtones of World of Spirit's setup, the homages you find within it feel like a nice commemoration of the games and characters without feeling like a pandering nostalgia play. One of the most rewarding homages of all, however, lies in Ultimate's huge library of video game music. Over 800 tracks, which include originals as well as fantastic new arrangements, can all be set as stage soundtracks as well enjoyed through the game's music player.

There is one significant struggle that Ultimate comes up against, however, which lies in the nature of the console itself. Playing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate in the Switch's handheld mode is simply not a great experience. In situations where there are more than two characters on screen, the view of the action often becomes too wide, making the fighters too small to see properly, and it can be difficult to tell what you or your opponent is doing. The game's penchant for flashy special effects and busy, colorful stages doesn't help things at all, and unless you're playing a one-on-one match, you'll likely suffer some blameless losses. This is a situational disadvantage and may not affect all players, but it puts a damper on the idea of Smash on the go.

The need to unlock characters also has the potential to be an initial annoyance, especially if your goal is to jump straight into multiplayer and start learning one of the six brand-new characters. In my time with the game, I split my attention between playing World of Light (where rescuing characters unlocks them everywhere) and multiplayer matches, where the constant drip-feed of "New Challenger" unlock opportunities (which you can easily retry if you fail) came regularly. I naturally earned the entire roster in roughly 10 hours of playtime, but your mileage may vary.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate also features online modes, but they were not active during Ultimate's pre-launch period. The game features skill-based matchmaking, private lobbies, and voice chat via Nintendo's smartphone app. It also features a system where defeating another player will earn you their personalized player tag, which can be used as a currency to unlock spirits, music, and costume items for Mii fighters. I'll begin testing these features once the service launches with the game's public release and will finalize the review score once I've had substantial time with the matchmaking experience.

Situational downers don't stop Super Smash Bros. Ultimate from shining as a flexible multiplayer game that can be as freewheeling or as firm as you want it to be. Its entertaining single-player content helps keep the game rich with interesting things to do, as well as bolstering its spirit of loving homage to the games that have graced Nintendo consoles. Ultimate's diverse content is compelling, its strong mechanics are refined, and the encompassing collection is simply superb.

Categories: Games

Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden Review - Duck For Cover

Gamespot News Feed - Thu, 12/06/2018 - 03:00

Mutant Year Zero took me by surprise. When you tap the space bar to switch from the real-time exploration mode to the turn-based tactical mode, it's not considered activating combat. You're not entering into battle. The word “Fight!” doesn't leap out of the centre of the screen. Instead, the space bar is labeled “Ambush” and, while pressing it does indeed initiate a turn-based XCOM-style encounter, the semantics make all the difference.

Road to Eden is all about using stealth to thoroughly scout dangers ahead, then applying that knowledge to maneuver your squad into position for the perfect ambush. Do your research and plan well, and you can take out your target without them (or their cohorts) even realizing what has happened. Proceed without caution and you'll soon be bleeding out, your impatience severely punished. Approached properly, Mutant Year Zero isn't a difficult game; it’s a tight, cohesive tactical masterclass that rewards the diligent player.

Road to Eden depicts a post-apocalyptic Scandinavia where resources are scarce and knowledge of what the world used to be is even harder to come by. Stalkers are sent from the Ark, one of the few remaining hubs of human civilization, into the Zone to scavenge for scrap and fend off the bandits, ghouls, feral dogs and worse that now occupy the ruined towns and suburbs. Everyone, even those safe in the Ark, has been touched by mutation. But Dux and Bormin, the two starting playable stalkers, are different; they're mutated animals, a duck and a boar, respectively.

At first glance, there's a lot you can do to customize each stalker and gear them up to specialize in certain fields, letting you mix and match your active squad based on the task at hand. The limited number of weapons and sheer expense of upgrades means you're forced to make tough choices. Should you spend literally all your weapon parts on the close-quarters effectiveness of Bormin's scattergun, or are you better served improving the ranged potency of Dux's crossbow? You can only afford one right now and, since there's no capacity for grinding, it may be some time before you can afford the other.

Sometimes the decisions are easier. Up against robots? You'll want at least one stalker, probably two, with an effective EMP attack. Up against dogs? You'll want at least one stalker, probably two, with crowd control abilities to prevent their melee rush. If you've done your scouting properly, you'll know what's coming and know which stalkers to swap in and out before you tap that spacebar. But don't tap that spacebar just yet. You're not quite ready.

The Zone is divided into a couple dozen maps networked across southwest Sweden. They're not especially large--bigger than an XCOM map, but hardly sprawling--and typically centered on an identifiable feature: a scrapyard, a school, a subway station, a fast food restaurant, and so on. When you first enter an area you're in exploration mode and free to walk around in real time. When you spot an enemy you can enter stealth mode by switching off your flashlight, thus slightly reducing your visibility but also greatly reducing the distance at which the enemy will spot you. You're still moving around in real time, just slower and more discreetly.

The tension is ratcheted up during this pre-combat exploration phase, as you're tip-toeing into hostile territory, identifying how many enemies await you, what types they are, what levels they are, whether they're patrolling, where those patrol routes take them, where their vision cones intersect, and so on. You've noticed one enemy's patrol route takes him away from the others. You hit F to split up your party and guide them individually into position. Bormin has his back to a tree, Dux is on the roof of a nearby building, and Selma is crouched behind a rock at the end of the unsuspecting enemy's patrol route. He's there now. Time to hit the spacebar.

It's all about the ambush. It's about analyzing each scenario in the exploration phase and identifying which enemies you can eliminate, one by one, without alerting others. But pulling off a series of clean hits isn't always possible. Inevitably something will go wrong--you'll miss that 75% chance shot you were counting on or fail to do quite enough damage before the enemy gets its turn and calls out for reinforcements--and suddenly the whole area is on alert and you're scrambling to improvise a new plan. In these moments of high chaos, when the rug is pulled out from under you, this is where the game really shines.

The tactical combat engine borrows a lot from Firaxis' revival of XCOM and offers as much depth alongside a presentation that ensures all critical information is clearly communicated at all times. And you need to be well-informed, because most of the time--outside of the odd simple skirmish that introduces a new element--there's an awful lot to think about. Enemy variety is key; there are basic brutes who charge you in melee, snipers who hunker down on overwatch, shamen who can call in reinforcements, and medbots who can revive enemies, pyros who flush you out with molotovs, and that's just the early stages. Later, there are high-HP tanks who can ram your cover, priests who can buff fellow enemies or deliver chain lightning attacks, giant dogs who can knock you over and maul you for multiple turns, while others possess mind control powers and more. Tackling groups of enemies drawn from several of these types can be hugely challenging, even when you've culled their numbers with some decisive early stealth takedowns.

The stakes are high, especially on the harder difficulty settings. Your stalkers' health will be measured in single and low-double digits for much of the game, meaning it only takes a couple of direct hits to put them down. Similarly, your weapons can only fire once, twice, or if you're lucky, three times before you need to use up valuable action points to reload. These limited resources echo the post-apocalyptic themes of scarcity and survival while also raising moment-to-moment tactical considerations in combat.

Juggling all the demands of combat, from patiently surveying the field beforehand through to learning how to best counter each enemy type and improvising a new strategy when it all goes horribly wrong, make for an immensely satisfying tactical experience. But as enjoyable as the predefined encounters on offer over the course of Road to Eden's mostly linear story are, it's still a linear story. On a new playthrough, that same map will still feature the same enemies standing in the same spots or running the same patrol routes. Outside of testing yourself against the hardest difficulty and a permadeath mode (assuming you don't opt for these first time through) there's not a lot of replay value to be found.

It's a shame, because the combat engine is so robust I would love to continue pitting myself against some sort of randomly generated map long after completing the main story. Mutant Year Zero's clever focus on stealth and pre-combat preparation reward your diligence, its turn-based combat encounters are complex, and they help bolster its all-encompassing post-apocalyptic atmosphere. It is a superb tactical combat campaign that you shouldn't let sneak past.

Categories: Games

Just Cause 4 Review - Mildly Wild Ride

Gamespot News Feed - Wed, 12/05/2018 - 02:51

What's another oppressive dictatorship to series protagonist Rico Rodriguez? Not much. He does encounter a new kind of enemy in Just Cause 4, however: extreme weather. It's the common thread that runs through both the story and new mechanics and tops off the explosive spectacle the series is known for. And alongside new gadgets to send objects (and people) flying across the world, Just Cause has become a physics playground. Unfortunately, there just aren't enough opportunities to put these features to good use; underwhelming mission structure and a world slim on enticing activities makes Just Cause 4 a short-lived blast with untapped potential.

The best and most prevalent piece of Just Cause games is at the forefront once again. An exceptional traversal system lets you propel Rico across the beautiful landscapes of Solis and effortlessly soar through the skies. With the combo of a grappling hook, parachute, and wingsuit, Rico can basically go wherever, whenever (and often more efficiently) without a vehicle. Like past games, you build momentum and essentially catapult yourself using the combination of these tools and hardly ever have to touch the ground. It's tough to overstate how satisfying it is to escape enemy hordes and hook onto the underside of a helicopter to hijack it and tear them all down, or slingshot yourself out of harm's way toward the next target you'll blow to bits.

Rico isn't only built to move fast, however: if you aren't causing explosions on a regular basis, you might be doing something wrong. Fuel tanks, red barrels, and vehicles are unusually explosive, and set the stage for over-the-top action. Since the grappling hook can also be used to tether objects together, you have lots of opportunities to get creative outside of exhausting your arsenal of firearms--some of which have their own wacky practical applications, like the wind cannon or lightning gun. Some weapons just wreak havoc such as the railgun or burst-fire rocket launcher, and even modest small arms like the SMG have impactful alternate fire modes. This may be the expectation for Just Cause, but it still pulls you in for a wild ride.

It's tough to overstate how satisfying it is to escape enemy hordes and hook onto the underside of a helicopter to hijack it and tear them all down, or slingshot yourself out of harm's way toward the next target you'll blow to bits.

Its identity as a destructive playground is further emphasized by grappling hook mods, three of which you customize: air lifter, retractor, and boosters. All three devices coincide with the new physics engine. Air lifters (essentially mini hot air balloons) let you launch things into the sky, and they can be further customized in terms of velocity, behavior, and altitude. Retractors pull targets together violently, and boosters work like jet engines that'll send objects into a speeding frenzy, whether it be an attack helicopter or a poor enemy soldier. Multiple permutations of these contraptions are made possible, since their effects can be stacked into a single tether and three loadout settings let you switch between loadouts on the fly. These gadgets are unlocked through side activities, and you're given plenty of avenues to make them work as you desire, which leads to the most disappointing part. Just Cause 4 gives you so many shiny new toys to play with but seldom a reason to use them.

Mission structure is uninspired, as you are continually asked to escort NPCs, defend a specific object for a set duration, activate (or destroy) inconspicuous generators, or hit a number of console panels to activate some sort of process. The worst offender has to be the timed missions that ask you to sink bomb-rigged vehicles into the ocean; they're tedious and prone to mishaps at no fault of your own. These are tied to Region Strikes, which are required to unlock territories on the map and progress to main story missions. While blasting through waves of enemies and their military-grade vehicles offers some great moments, you're often asking yourself: okay, what else? Shielded heavies, snipers perched from a mile away, and flocks of attack helicopters can become enjoyably overwhelming, since you have to rapidly make use of your diverse toolset. But several missions are designed in such a way that's oddly restricting, limiting the game's strongest assets. Enemies simply swarm and act as basic obstacles rather than clever challenges, and that leaves you with objectives that rarely bring out the best in the mechanics and systems of Just Cause 4.

At a time when open-world games sometimes overstay their welcome, Just Cause 4 is at the other end of the spectrum, where you wish there was more to experience because it has so much going for it.

There are a few stellar moments in the main story missions that make proper use of the extreme weather system that is the core of Just Cause 4's premise. Specifically, the conclusion to a stormchaser-themed questline funnels you through a number of battles while a tornado rips through your surroundings. Your ability to parachute and glide are drastically affected by the wind velocity and turbulence, which throws some welcome unpredictability into the mix. One particular sequence is also indicative of what the grappling hook mods are capable of; destroying massive wind cannons that impede progress with boosters wasn't only the most efficient method, but watching these heaps of steel frantically spin out of control was a sight to behold. The last stand in this mission, a sequence of rooftop firefights amid the harsh weather, brings the many great pieces of the game together.

The same can't be said about the other extreme weather conditions, however. Sandstorms challenge you with violent winds and obscured vision, and thunderstorms bring torrential rain and lightning strikes that make for a visual treat. But they're not game-changing in the way tornadoes are since they have a minimal effect on gameplay. Even then, the questlines tied to these weather conditions and their respective biomes are over before you get to fully experience their unique qualities.

All the while, a vaguely coherent story about family and a rebellion against an evil regime serves as the platform for Rico's wild ride. Stories in Just Cause haven't been more than excuses for environmental destruction and a way to make you feel comically powerful, and the same holds true here, though you may find the ties to previous entries somewhat endearing. The harsh forecasts are justified by villain Oscar Espinoza's high-tech devices that control the weather and oppress the people of the fictional South American country Solis. Rico remains the plausible one-man army who has the capabilities of a superhero with the air of a grounded, unassuming protagonist. If there's anything that Just Cause does well story-wise, it's convincing you to accept the absurdity of it all.

Throughout the game, you'll be building a revolution across Solis, bolstering what's called the Army of Chaos. It's a fundamental piece to progression and the key to taking down Espinoza and toppling The Black Hand private military again. The Army of Chaos serves as a tool to controlling territories across the map since you need to accumulate squad reinforcements to overtake regions, which also gates your ability to take on story missions. Cause destruction and raise your chaos level, and get squads to progress. It boils down to a numbers game, and once you understand the structure of this system, you can easily snowball squad numbers and control all of Solis without having to grind your chaos level. Side activities from three minor characters litter the map as well; Sargento has you teaming with NPCs to destroy enemy infrastructure, Garland makes you do stunts, and Javi provides a bit more context to Solis by asking to do a few easy puzzles. It's more things to do, and they unlock the aforementioned grappling hook mods, but they're simple in nature and aren't enough to compensate for the shortcomings of other missions.

Just Cause 4 has incredible moments where beauty and destruction cross with Rico's ability to zip around the world at a moment's notice. It's gratifying and easy to grasp, especially when you're able to string a series of wingsuit fly-bys, vehicles hijackings, and fiery explosions all in the name of revolution, but those moments are either short-lived or tied to rudimentary missions. You're given an awesome toolset that paves the way for creativity in a world with too few problems to solve. At a time when open-world games sometimes overstay their welcome, Just Cause 4 is at the other end of the spectrum, where you wish there was more to experience because it has so much going for it.

Categories: Games

Resident Evil 2's Latest Demo Lets Us Dive Deep Into Claire And Leon's Campaigns

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 12/04/2018 - 16:00

Though archaic now, there was a certain charm to survival horror on the PlayStation that has yet to be replicated in the exact same way despite massive technological advancements. Chalk it up to a young age and a lack of perspective, but nothing quite felt the same as stalking the halls of the Raccoon City Police Department in the cover of night looking for the right key to the wrong door. I went into the Resident Evil 2 remake looking to recapture that same feeling, but found that Capcom wasn’t trying to recreate a moment-in-time with the horror revival as much as they were trying to recontextualize it.

The Resident Evil 2 demo we played at Capcom’s offices puts us a little bit into both Leon and Claire’s campaigns going different directions. While Leon’s demo started with him opening the parking garage gate with Ada Wong, longtime Resident Evil femme fatale first introduced in the 1998 release, Claire’s demo starts with her getting separated from Sherry in the same parking garage. The two follow different paths for their entire demos, with Leon venturing into the city’s sewers and Claire running for her life in the police department.

Leon’s content was definitely the more linear of the two, sending him out into the city alongside Ada. While the rookie cop defends his circumstances to the trenchcoated woman, she deftly dodges all questions about her own past and what she’s doing in Raccoon City’s zombie apocalypse. The conversation boils over in Kendo’s Gun Shop, where the now fleshed-out owner asks the pair to leave after it’s clear Ada won’t explain anything, prompting Leon and Ada to head into the sewers in pursuit of scientist Annette Birkin, giving Leon his first clue into his partner’s motivations.

In the sewers, Leon ends up meeting with a giant alligator who isn’t very happy to see him. The mishaps continue until players can, for the first time in Resident Evil 2, take control of Ada. While the character has been playable in various Mercenaries modes and her own climactic chapter in Resident Evil 6, she brings new tools with her into this remake. Ada can scan walls using an X-ray gun that lets her see wires and remotely hack electronics from a distance, an important key to solving puzzles.

For Claire’s route, rather than exiting into the city, she enters into the Raccoon City Police department to find a way to follow Sherry Birkin. While her long-term goals of opening the parking garage gate are obvious, finding the circuitous ways to get there involves a lot of running around and creating short-term plans for where to go. There’s various rooms that need to be hit and puzzles that need to be solved.

You don’t have time to sit and wait around, as Mr. X is pursuing Claire through the department. He shoves aside a helicopter, prompting Claire to swear to herself, and stalks her as she desperately tries to solve puzzles. You can hear him stomping from rooms away, giving you a warning to run or find a save room to hide yourself, but fighting Mr. X only ends in delaying him slightly, with no chance of defeating him.


The game controls immaculately, but this doesn’t mean you will be shooting zombies down like this is Resident Evil 4. Ammo is still extremely limited and trying to kill every zombie will result in a smoking but empty clip sooner rather than later. One sequence with Ada puts her in a room with four or so zombies while she solves a puzzle. Trying to kill them all is theoretically doable but unlikely. Gathering them all in one spot and using a flash grenade to run past them to the goal is probably a much better use of your resources.

You can check out our New Gameplay Today for footage from the demo. Resident Evil 2 releases on January 25 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

Categories: Games

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Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 12/04/2018 - 15:39

Civilization VI's upcoming Gathering Storm expansion (February 14) features devastating environmental effects, but Maori legend Kupe – discoverer of New Zealand – finds a hospitable place to settle for his civilization.

Check out the expansion's new trailer detailing the Maori's advantages, from increased production, a unique building, and more.

For information on the Gathering Storm expansion as a whole, check out this previous preview.

Categories: Games

Big Bash Boom Review

Gamespot News Feed - Tue, 12/04/2018 - 04:00

The Big Bash League, or BBL, is cricket's answer to the ever-increasing pace of modern life; a 20-over-a-side slogfest where smashing the ball out of the park to the sound of fireworks and loud rock music takes the place of five-day-long tests of endurance and patience. Big Bash Boom takes this concept and smashes it into the arcade game-o-sphere by introducing nice-looking power-ups, unlockable customizations, and a streamlined approach to gameplay that speeds up the action, while leaning into a goofiness that cricket games rarely embrace. But with a litany of technical problems and no meaningful tutorial to help you work out the basics, Big Bash Boom feels like it needs more time in the practice nets.

Big Bash cricket is all about smashing the heck out of every ball and scoring as many runs as possible, and Big Bash Boom does a superb job of recreating the buzzing atmosphere you'll find at the ground during a BBL match, complete with wild crowds, fireworks displays, and unintentionally terrifying-looking mascots. You can pick any of the eight licensed teams from either the BBL or Women's BBL, taking them to glory in a casual match, full tournament, or online head-to-head.

When jumping straight into a casual match, you can customize match options, team lineups, and ball type, which includes a few fun varieties--pie, anyone? You're led out onto the pitch and greeted by real-world commentator Pete Lazer, though his occasionally charming reads come off as a series of one-liners instead of actual commentary, and they begin to grate after some repeats.

Out on the field is where Big Bash Boom shows off its main differences to past cricket games, including Ashes Cricket, which was by the same developer as Big Bash Boom. The action has been streamlined to cut out a lot of the dead air time that you tend to get at a cricket match, which gives the game its arcade feel. You're never asked to pick bowlers or select lineups. You can if you wish, but the game will otherwise make these calls to ensure a faster flow. The players all have NBA Jam-style big heads, which shows off the player likenesses in a way that's easy to appreciate. Faces are detailed, if a little robotic and expressionless, but the overall look works in context, especially combined with the great use of special effects to mark big shots.

Batting and bowling feel more pick-up-and-play than in any other cricket game; however, the lack of a meaningful tutorial means things that should be obvious knowledge, like what the changing cursor colour on the pitch means, remain a mystery until you just happen to work it out through the natural course of playing. But that aside, it's simple enough to get into a match and start slogging balls left and right, with timing and shot selection all coming into play. Time it perfectly, and you'll probably make it sail over the ropes, but get it wrong and you might pop the ball up for an easy catch or swing and miss entirely. Bowling is a touch more complicated, involving selecting a bowl type to start the run in and then keeping the cursor on the pitch in place while timing your release. It often feels like you're up against it as a bowler; there's little you can do to avoid being belted around the park apart from bowling the occasional short ball, and you're limited to performing only one of those per over. Getting belted around every ball takes some getting used to, but thankfully if you'd rather spare yourself the embarrassment, you can always simulate the innings.

The inclusion of power-ups for batters and bowlers help pump up the excitement of a match, and you can activate these after filling a special meter by hitting runs and boundaries as a batter, or dot balls and wickets as a bowler. Each exhibits some excellent-looking animations and special effects, and you'll get some extra power for the next few balls. Bowlers can bowl twice as fast, fielders are able to run at double their speed, and batters can force slower throws from the outfield or hit twice as hard, sending loose balls into the stratosphere. It's immensely satisfying.

Everything you do in a match will earn you coins that you can put towards buying new in-match celebrations, which you're prompted to perform after hitting a big six or taking a wicket. While it's somewhat satisfying to rub it in your opponent's face, the lack of gameplay benefits makes showboating feel a little arbitrary. You can also purchase cosmetic customizations like new hats and helmets, but that's as far as personalization goes; disappointingly, there's no player or team editor.

Beyond the excellent special moves and vibrant aesthetic, the rest of the game struggles to hide its seams, most notably when it comes to animations. Fielders will move about awkwardly when chasing the ball before settling and sending in the return throw, while batters often warp into place before setting off for a run. There are also some more obtrusive bugs that, when they hit, can change the outcome of a match. A few times I was called out for a catch on one side of the field when the camera made it look like the ball had gone in the opposite direction. I've also had catches made in the outfield seem as though they don't count, with my player harmlessly throwing the ball back to the keeper as though nothing happened--something that can be immensely frustrating.

Big Bash Boom's potential is clear. Despite its singular focus making it feel a little barebones when compared to other cricket titles, the shift towards arcade gameplay feels perfectly suited to the relatively flamboyant presentation of the BBL. But it's washed with bugs that affect the core of the experience, and those technical issues make it difficult to warm up to.

Categories: Games

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Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 12/03/2018 - 14:35

This week mark's the opening salvo of Battlefield V's Tides of War live service campaign. Called Overture, the first chapter has a few notable components. The new single-player war story mission, The Last Tiger, centers on a German tank driver facing bad odds when the Yanks roll into Nazi territory. On the multiplayer side, tank drivers can look forward to the vehicle-focused map called Panzerstorm, which is set in the open fields of Belgium.  Overture also includes a practice range so you can test out weapons/vehicles and delivers a slew of new assignments, weapons, and cosmetics to unlock. This includes vehicle customization, which was conspicuously missing from the game at launch.  

The content drop comes alongside an update that fixes some issues players found in the early weeks of action. Medics will benefit from a buff to SMGs that make them more effective at range, and DICE plans to involve the community to find the sweet spot in the time-to-kill/time-to-death debate

You can dive into the Tides of War content Tuesday, December 4 on all platforms.

Categories: Games

Five Reasons We're Excited For Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries

Game Informer News Feed - Sat, 12/01/2018 - 23:00

MechWarrior was the first notable gaming franchise to let players pilot a giant robot capable of wreaking all sorts of havoc. An off-shoot of the popular Battletech universe, Mechwarrior has a surprisingly long, twisty history of IP rights being traded back and forth between companies. This has resulted in long delays between entries as well as an MMO set in the series' universe: MechWarrior Online.

While MechWarrior Online has turned into a well-received game due to continual support after a rocky launch, fans of the series have yearned for another strong single-player showing for more nearly two decades now.  Revealed back in 2016, developer Piranha Games (who also developed MechWarrior Online) have promised that Mechwarrior 5 will be just that : a return to fiery, mech-driven glory. However, the world has changed since Mechwarrior stomped its footprint into gaming's landscape back in the 90s. With the likes of Titanfall, Steel Battalion, Hawken, Armored Core, Into The Breach, and numerous other mecha-inspired games, the seminal series finds itself with a new challenge: having to stand out amongst the crowd. Luckily, the demo we got to play at this year's Mech_Con demonstrates that Piranha Games has something noteworthy on the horizon with Mechwarrior 5.  

Here are five reasons to be excited about MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries.

The Story Is Promising
A problem you run into with games that have a rich lore like Battletech and Warhammer is that they can often be unkind to new players unfamiliar with that history. Luckily, MechWarrior 5 is a game that casual players can jump into without any familiarity with the universe thanks to a simple setup: you're a young pilot who's been orphaned by one of the factions in MechWarrior's universe. Your job is to build a band of mercenaries to make your living in the war-torn setting of backwater planets and get revenge. The story is direct, with a lot of potential to dive into the cost of war, trauma, technology's horrific effect on warfare. Or, y'know, it could just be a well-written direct revenge yarn. Either way, the easing into the universe will doubtlessly be appreciated by newcomers.

The Combat Is Challenging And Fun
If you haven't played MechWarrior before, you might look at a screenshot of the game and understandably mistake it for a Titanfall-like experience. However, MechWarrior's brand of action has always been more tactical, with a focus on exaggerated realism. Your mechs are not swift and nimble. Instead these machines operate more like tanks, hulking and slow, with each footstep echoing throughout the cockpit and brushes of your mech against buildings capable of leveling entire structures. It's all meant to help you immerse yourself in the fantasy of piloting a massive war machine and it does a fine job accomplishing that.

Combat itself strikes a balance between standard first-person shooter action and simulator warfare. You'll often be fighting in open spaces, like countrysides or cities, having to switch between the various weapons in your loadout. During our demo, I had access to lasers, miniguns, a powerful cannon that was essentially the mech's sniper rifle, and a barrage of missiles. Learning the ins and outs of your weaponry is important because you have a heating meter that can cause your mech to briefly shutdown if you use too many high temperature weapons at once, leaving you vulnerable to attacks. This means you have to master a sort rhythmic battle, with High Temp (laser) following Low Temp (minigun) while also figuring out where to aim on your opponent's mech.

Do you want to take your foe out immediately? Go for the cockpit or the legs. Is their laser doing too much damage to you? Focus fire on their arm to blow it off. Keep in mind there a repercussions for dismembering your opponents, with the salvage of your enemy mech being worth far less on the market if you take to destroying the valuable weapons and limbs on them.

The moment-by-moment combat is exciting and every decision you make not only affects how the battle unfolds but the metagame as well, which is satisfying in a different way.

There's A Lot Of XCOM's Influence Here
MechWarrior 5 is basically two games in one. When you're not taking up arms for settlers on remote planets, fulfilling contracts to get paid, you'll be raising your own band of mercenaries and manipulating the market to your outfit's advantage, recruiting mercenaries and buying mechs with the salvage you sell after battles. You're not alone in MechWarrior 5, with three other mechs able to join you on missions for you to issue simple commands to (like Attack Enemy). The pilots for these mechs have an RPG-lite system attached to them. The more they fight, the more experienced they become in battle, with experimenting with certain weapons making them more efficient with those weapons. You'll need to diversify your stable of pilots to help you have a loadout for every occasion. For example, you wouldn't want pilot that has no experience with laser weapons, load their mech with lasers, on a lava-based world because they would overheat their mech all the time.

Like XCOM, pilots can also die. Permanently. You'll have an endless supply of fodder soldiers to restart from the ground up when you lose people, so it's not the end of the world, but it's still devastating to lose a character you've put so much time into. While Piranha Games currently has no modifier conditions that stick with the soldiers for a substantial amount of time (like PTSD affecting performance), the developer has said that such a system could be a possibility for the final release. 

Riding Into Hell With A Buddy
If you want to play with a squad that's a little less predictable than the serviceable A.I., you can play every mission with up to three friends. We played a round of co-op and it was a blast, with a team of player-controlled mechs absolutely destroying the enemy forces much faster one player plus three A.I. partners. Be warned: if your friend dies in a game, the pilot they're controlling is gone for good from your stable.

That's A Lot Of Mech
Piranha Games is striving to make MechWarrior 5 a big game filled with things to do. Though the developer admits the time is flexible, depending on what side contracts the player pursues as well as their skill level, "40-50 hours" was bandied about in our Q&A sessions for a complete playthrough. Considering that you can play through the game with a band of buddies, this could give MechWarrior 5 the same sort of appeal that Borderlands 2 and Ghost Recon: Wildlands have: beefy multiplayer experiences capable of pulling in both casual and hardcore gamers who are looking for a title to play with their friends regularly. With tons of missions to take on and mechs to collect through the market (and battle), there's also just a lot of fodder here for completionists too.

We'll have more on MechWarrior 5 later today as Mech_Con continues to rage on in Vancouver.

Categories: Games

Cosmic Top Secret Review - Declassified

Gamespot News Feed - Fri, 11/30/2018 - 22:01

There's a particular milestone of growing up that goes relatively unexamined as far as shared experiences go, and that is the moment you realize your parents had deep inner lives of their own before you were born. That's true for Cosmic Top Secret's writer/director/protagonist Trine Laier, whose parents are hiding one of the coolest secrets imaginable, and yet that palpable sense of a once-impenetrable boundary having been crossed between them is still huge. Cosmic Top Secret trying to translate those feelings into a video game makes it remarkable. Ironically, what stops it from being brilliant is that it's not very good at being an engaging video game.

The game's title refers to an actual security designation within the Danish equivalent of the Department of Defense, which, unbeknownst to Trine until her late 30s, was the security level both her parents held while working there on a classified spy project during the most tense years of the Cold War. Determined to get the full details, Trine ropes both her parents into doing interviews for a documentary on their lives. The project runs into major snags since neither of her parents know if their work is declassified, even after Trine actually gives the Department of Defense a call and has a high-ranking official essentially debrief them on what's safe.

Cosmic Top Secret is a series of five relatively self-contained open worlds, all relating to a specific point in Trine's time trying to squeeze what she can from her parents. It all takes place in a papercraft, pop-up-book representation of her journey; imagine the living papier-mache world of Media Molecule's Tearaway, except crafted by 50 years of shredded classified documents, and you have an idea of what Cosmic Top Secret feels like.

From marching alongside her mother at a military base to going orienteering--a sort of free-form competitive hike--with her father in a local forest, everything takes on a sort of twisted, mesmerizing magic. That abstract interpretation includes the paper doll avatars of Trine, her parents, and all their former colleagues, rendered as googly-eyed exaggerations that shift, change, break, and rip along with whatever their current mental and physical status is. While in real life Trine's father injured his shoulder while orienteering, his paper doll self in-game gets its arm torn off, and you have to find it. Trine being reminded of a specific family tragedy might cause her doll version to fall apart entirely, meaning you have to put her back together again to finish the conversation. It's a sort of emotional sleight-of-hand that could only have been executed in games, trying to inhabit a documentarian's feelings and internal dialogue. It's a magic trick not every game--even the ones specifically aiming to evoke emotions from the player--pull off as successfully as Cosmic Top Secret does.

All the while, Trine herself must explore each environment, sifting through the chaos of years of espionage history for the clues to lead her closer to the truth. The process had to take months of looking through filing cabinets in real life, but the game portrays it as a huge collect-a-thon of Trine running around the open world. Everything is clearly marked on the map, which is conveniently laid out like an alphanumeric grid, and there's no puzzle so difficult that it'd require consulting a wiki. There's just so much of it, and it's not until you pick something up that you know whether the item will actually unlock the next snippet of story or not. Thankfully, every single item in the game unlocks a piece of obscure history (like the secret operation to steal a sample of former Russian president Nikita Khrushchev's feces), a fascinating anecdote (a man imprisoned for years for taking the wrong pictures in Poland), or a video clip of the real-life interviews Trine conducted with her parents.

Had Cosmic Top Secret been a documentary, this is the kind of meticulous detail she'd have to leave on the cutting room floor. As sheer experience in the realm of gaming, it's all contextual gold, giving you an extensive picture of not just Trine's parents as people but the world they operated in--even as they try to keep Trine at arm's length from it.

The caginess has a universal feel to it. Many parents talk to their kids as kids for so long, transitioning to talking to them like adults can be difficult. Trine's parents are so used to talking around their work in the name of national security, they actually don't even remember how to talk about it. Much of the actual story structure of the game is about Trine finding her parents at just the right moment or coming at a question at just the right angle to get them to open up. What they reveal isn't necessarily the stuff they make award-winning cable shows about--no, they didn't assassinate anybody or anything like that--but it does tell quite a bit about the kinds of people her parents were, how that knowledge relates to her and how that changes how she sees her parents.

In trying to relate to her parents lives as agents of the state, Trine has to come to grips with the fact that her parents were not just her parents and not just spies, but grown adults with their own regrets and secrets and feelings. Many of them come from when they were younger than Trine was when she made the game. She speaks to former colleagues who had never met her but knew her parents as friends or by reputation, maybe the first times Trine hears her parents spoken of in such a way.

One of the big revelations that stops the investigation in its tracks a moment is Trine's mother remembers her first husband, who died young, and whose best friend became her second husband and, eventually, Trine's father. By her admission, Trine doesn't think about it much because it breaks her heart, but her mother tosses the matter out as mere trivia, a fact of life she's long come to terms with. The game is full of these tiny moments of reckoning for Trine, and these are the times when the game transcends being a simple mystery into a story of poignance. In a documentary, those thoughts and feelings would be essentially carried by narration, dialogue and candid moments surreptitiously caught by an intrepid cameraperson. Cosmic Top Secret, however, is less about saying how Trine feels--or even about showing it--and more about thoroughly immersing the player in a vast, interpretive world of her feelings about it.

Cosmic Top Secret's very existence and ethos makes it special in the realm of gaming.

The trouble comes while navigating through Trine's feelings on everything, and unfortunately, that's not a metaphor. You move in Cosmic Top Secret by moving your mouse over Trine, which crumples her up into a tiny ball of trash you can roll around a stage. It's extremely easy to lose control and send the ball flying off into corners, and you're unable to reel the ball back and stop, turn on a dime, or even just roll straight--which you need to do far too often and far too precisely to be enjoyable. Later, one of the middle stages has Trine turning into a paper airplane that has the reverse problem, where the controls barely respond to the degree you need to land on the very small platforms you're guided to. Combine those problems with a finicky camera that actively limits your rotation until Trine turns around, and for large chunks of the game, you're stalled not because you're reading about fascinating history but because you're trying to wrestle the game's controls into submission. There's this concept that a game that's primarily about exploration needs some sort of challenging gameplay element to be considered a "real game," and seeing Cosmic Top Secret trip over its own feet for the sake of adding that extra challenge should put that argument to bed once and for all.

Cosmic Top Secret's very existence and ethos makes it special in the realm of gaming. It's conceptually brilliant and heartwarming. Arguably, it's still worth fighting the game's mechanics just because Trine--and you, by proxy--deserves to know the truth and hear every angle of these peoples' captivating story firsthand. Trine started her journey with curiosity and finds herself closer to the people who raised her than ever, while also giving them the ultimate familial gift: a literal living history of their youth, and their work for the greater good, through the fantastical, imaginative eye of their clearly talented, inquisitive daughter. But there's a barrier to entry here, and it has nothing to do with the embarrassment of asking a parent what they were like when they were younger or their hesitation with the truth, and everything to do with the aggravation of even exploring the world in which their story is told.

Categories: Games

Dark Pictures: Man Of Medan Gets A New Dev Diary Detailing Visual And Audio Design

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 11/29/2018 - 01:55

Man of Medan, the first game in Supermassive's Dark Pictures Anthology, is still a bit of a question mark. While the game seems to take after Supermassive's criminally underrated Until Dawn, more information would definitely help bolster our excitement for the title. Thankfully, the developer and Bandai Namco are answering that request with a series of dev diaries.

The first dev diary focuses on the sound work in the game, arguably one of the most important parts of making a horror game. To get the sights and sounds of an old steel ship right, the team actually got the run of a real one and recorded all the various sounds they could amass.

The video also goes on to talk about the lighting in the game, trying to make sense of how to navigate the game world while both keeping it spookyand playable. Thus the team based lighting off occasional in-room light sources and light coming down in shafts through openings in the ceiling.

Man of Medan is scheduled for release in 2019 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

Categories: Games

Meet Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden's Foxy New Hero

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 11/28/2018 - 17:00

The Bearded Ladies just showed off a new recruitable character to its tactical adventure game Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden. Farrow is a humanoid fox and combat-ready Stalker who can use her signature ability, Silent Assassin, to double her critical strike chance while hidden.

Players will encounter Farrow in the Metal Fields. This stealthy fox makes for a great assassin, but she has no memory of her origins and had no idea that anything other than her settlement existed until she meets your crew in Road to Eden. 

Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden lets players choose from a number of mutations split into three categories: Passive, Minor, and Major. While Farrow has several options, you can only equip one from each category. Her mutations  include:

  • Passive
    • Super Tendons: Move and sprint to high places without a ladder.
    • Silent Assassin: Do great damage while in hiding.
  • Minor
    • Circuit Breaker: Identify and disable a mechanical enemy's critical functioning parts for 1 turn.
    • Sneak: Pass others unnoticed.
    • Gunslinger: Shoot multiple targets at once using only 1 AP.
  • Major
    • Corpse Eater: Eat fresh raw meat to replenish your health.
    • Moth Wings: Grow wings on your back to move vertically and hover in position.
    • Frog legs: Perform super-mutant leaps and cover long distances. 

Farrow also has passive stat boosts that will upgrade her chance of inflicting critical damage and increase her maximum health. 

You'll be able to try out the vulpine recruit when Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden comes to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on December 4.  You can see the game in action in the 35-minute developer walk-through video here

Categories: Games

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Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 11/27/2018 - 19:35

The latest Jump Force trailer has revealed the character models and attacks for their new additions to the Shonen Jump brawler. Last week Bandai Namco announced that characters from the anime/manga Rurouni Kenshin would be joining the roster. The new trailer shows off the sword-based attacks of protagonist Himura Kenshin and Kyoto arc antagonist, Makoto Shishio.

Released as a manga in 1994, the story of Rurouni Kenshin follows Kenshin, a former assassin who in later life swears off his murderous past and becomes a wandering swordsman who pursues justice without taking lives. To do so he has the lethal edge of his katana turned inward making killing with it practically impossible. The antagonist Makoto Shishio, was likewise an assassin before being burned alive by the government, forcing him to adopt his covered-in-bandages look.

The trailer seems to give us a glimpse of Shishio's fiery finishing move, as well as Kenshin's ultimate slice among other moves.

Jump Force is set to release February 15. For more info on the power-packed anime roster, be sure to check out our video compilation of nearly every ultimate attack revealed thus far, or our news hub where we'll keep you constantly updated with all the latest powered-up transformations and energy bombs. 


Categories: Games

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Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 11/27/2018 - 19:30

You'll be able to play the one-man wrecking crew and leader of The Army of Chaos, Rico Rodriguez, when Just Cause 4 comes out next week. Three years after Just Cause 3, the fourth entry in the over-the-top action-adventure game is just around the corner and has already gone gold. To celebrate Avalanche Studios and Square Enix released a live-action trailer that gives us a hilarious glimpse of the enemies' stories about Rico Rodriguez.

In a struggle not unlike describing video games to a non-gamer, this trailer shows low ranking Black Hand soldiers attempting to explain how a man riding a tornado was able to destroy an entire base by himself to their incredulous and angry boss. The enemy soldiers get more and more enthusiastic about Rico's exploits – flying in on a tornado, infiltrating the base like a panther, and creatively using the environment to take them out – before their leader silences them with a gunshot. 

Just Cause 4 releases on December 4 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. If you missed the last high-flying trailer for the game, you can check it out right here. Also, make sure you don't miss our impressions of the deliriously fun demo.

Categories: Games

Persona 3: Dancing In Moonlight Review - A Spotlight In The Dark Hour

Gamespot News Feed - Tue, 11/27/2018 - 14:30

"Wherever you are, we'll meet again," artist Yumi Kawamura sings at the closing of the theme song "Our Moment." It's a track that beautifully captures both the joy of seeing old friends again and bittersweet memories left by Persona 3. It's a sentiment that rings throughout Persona 3: Dancing In Moonlight, a wonderful rhythm game that celebrates the great RPG by reuniting its charming cast of characters and putting its incredible, unique soundtrack in the spotlight.

The rhythm gameplay system first established in Persona 4: Dancing All Night returns; six button inputs border the screen and notes flow from the center out to the corresponding input. Double notes, holds, and DJ scratches (with the flick of the analog stick or with L1/R1) keep note patterns varied, and makes things delightfully hectic on the highest difficulty. There are plenty of beginner-friendly options as well with four difficulty settings and several modifiers for assistance. It's a fun rhythm system that's supported by note patterns that flow seamlessly with the fantastic tracklist--there's an undeniable satisfaction to nailing perfect combos as the audible claps, tambourines, and scratches sync with the beat of the song.

Yukari's on her way to a perfect combo and dance routine in front of the Paulownia Mall fountain.

I'll be the first to admit that there's a thematic dissonance between dancing in flashy outfits and Persona 3's darker tone, which might be off-putting for some die-hard fans of that game. Still, it's an absolute delight to be with the SEES crew again, reincarnated in 3D models in the same vein as Persona 5's art style. It's a reimagining of Yukari's cheerful demeanor, Mitsuru's stern attitude, and Junpei's goofiness. Everyone goes all out and dances with impressive fluidity, especially with how partner/group dances are choreographed with natural imperfections. I do wish we had the fearless squad member Shinji from the start, but he's available in a DLC track. And sadly, the ferocious, adorable Shiba Inu Koromaru and the Persona 3 Portable female protagonist are missing. Regardless, there's an overwhelming sense of joy in seeing these characters together again. And the fact that old locations are renovated with modern visuals makes them feel new--the Iwatodai Dorms, Port Island Station, Paulownia Mall, Gekkoukan High School, Tartarus, it's all here.

The remixes and remasters evoke not just a sense of nostalgia, but have a striking quality that breathes new life into the series.

Most of all, Dancing In Moonlight stands out with a tracklist that spans the course of Persona 3's history, which includes songs from Persona 3 FES, Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, and Persona 3 Portable. It gives a musical variety that's attached to so many great memories but that's also exciting to play. The remixes and remasters evoke not just a sense of nostalgia, but have a striking quality that breathes new life into the series. "Heartful Cry" has an unrelenting melodic-punk twist, and "Memories Of You" gets an electro-pop remix that remains heartfelt. "When The Moon Reaches For The Stars" and "Light the Fire Up In the Night" are have their full-length versions that slap harder than ever. The ending montage for "Brand New Days" and video for "Burn My Dread: Last Battle"--two songs on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum--capture their vibes perfectly. Even the Persona Super Live 2017 performance of the Persona Q boss theme "Laser Beam" made it into the tracklist. It may not be playable, but the song that fills the background during conversations, which samples the melody of "Our Moment" and the backing vocals of "Want To Be Close", is a soothing track that beautifully blends the old and new. Dancing In Moonlight carries the lasting impact of Persona 3's soundtrack.

Unlike Persona 4: Dancing All Night, there is no traditional story mode; outside of dancing, there are Social Events. The overarching premise is that SEES gets stuck in a dream state where Elizabeth from the Velvet Room asks the crew to dance their hearts out. It's silly, but it's enough to provide the context necessary for Social Events; a series of jovial scenes where characters simply banter. There isn't much in terms of new character development, though they do have a newfound determination to dance. Social Events play off of what you already know about the cast; Akihiko is still obsessed with getting stronger and counting calories, Aigis is still working her way around typical human mannerisms, and Fuuka continues to embrace her supportive role. It's wonderful to hang out with them again and watch conversations play out, especially since most of the original voice cast has returned--you also have the option for the original Japanese voice acting.

Still, it's an absolute delight to be with the SEES crew again, reincarnated in 3D models in the same vein as Persona 5's art style. It's a reimagining of Yukari's cheerful demeanor, Mitsuru's stern attitude, and Junpei's goofiness.

Unlocking outfits and accessories for your squad is also tied to viewing Social Events, so if you're into customizing their getups, it's further incentive to hang out. Outfits range from modest to utterly ridiculous; the Gekkoukan tracksuit and casual winter clothes look great, but putting Junpei into a snowman costume and Ken in a reindeer suit is hilarious. Social Events also provide motivation for playing in different ways since each character has specific conditions for unlocking their scenes, like passing songs using certain modifiers or wearing several outfits or accessories. It's well worth it, especially for the room visits. Even if it's just the team's dorm rooms, visiting these places in first-person brings to life characters you've known for years.

Compliments from Mitsuru are hard to come by, great work Fuuka.

Persona 3: Dancing In Moonlight puts the spotlight on one of the strongest parts of the entire series: the music. Its fusion of pop, rock, hip-hop, electronica showcases some of the incredible work of series composer Shoji Meguro and company. Dancing In Moonlight is particularly special because of the strong remixes and remasters of familiar songs, recreations of places we've been, and reimagination of characters we've long known. You may find the overall premise a little strange, but if you let loose--just as the SEES crew has done--you'll find a brilliant rhythm game weaved into an amazing, evocative soundtrack.

Categories: Games

Persona 5: Dancing In Starlight Review - The Shujin Shuffle

Gamespot News Feed - Tue, 11/27/2018 - 14:30

One of the most important pieces of the Persona series, and a major reason why we remember each game so fondly, is the music. Each mainline game and spin-off has its own memorable songs that encapsulate its defining moments. And with Persona 5: Dancing In Starlight, the evocative soundtrack that wonderfully captured the journey of Persona 5 is brought to the forefront for a fun, exhilarating rhythm game with its charming personalities taking center stage.

Here, the rhythm gameplay system used in Persona 4: Dancing All Night makes a comeback. As songs play, you're tasked with hitting the corresponding notes that align with the six button inputs that border the screen. Notes come from the center and move outward to the corresponding input, with unison notes, double notes, holds, and DJ scratches (using the analog stick or L1/R1) keeping you on your toes. It's a system that's beginner friendly with lower difficulties and assist modifiers, but wildly challenging on the highest difficulty. There's an incredible satisfaction to nailing perfect combos as note patterns flow seamlessly with the tracklist. The audible claps, tambourine shakes, and scratches that come from these notes mesh impeccably with beat of the song. It's not far off to say that you feel the rhythm when note patterns start to come naturally as you grow familiar with each track.

A perfect combo and dance routine in the song "Price" for Makoto Niijima.

The style and swagger of the Phantom Thieves bursts at the seams in Dancing In Starlight; it's seen in a wink, nod, or smile as they move in ways that fit their personalities. They'll be getting down in familiar locations like Mementos, Shibuya Crossing, and Shujin Academy. Even deep within hostile palaces, they express themselves by going all out on the dance floor with an impressive fluidity. Tandem dances in Fever Time and group dances are choreographed with a natural imperfection, supported by the eclectic soundtrack.

The style and swagger of the Phantom Thieves bursts at the seams in Dancing In Starlight; it's seen in a wink, nod, or smile as they move in ways that fit their personalities.

The theme song "Groovy" is so beautifully drawn and animated that the unapologetic confidence of the Phantom Thieves comes through vividly--it's an inspiring microcosm of the original game's attitude. A number of hard-hitting songs like "Rivers In The Desert", "Blooming Villain", and "Yaldabaoth" are featured here alongside the more calming tones of "Life Goes On" and "Tokyo Daylight". And, of course, the best palace theme "Price" features Makoto throwing it down in front of Kaneshiro's bank in the Metaverse sky. The masterful fusion of jazz, pop, metal, and rock make for a great playlist that feels like a trip through the struggles and triumphs of Persona 5 all over again. There some decent remixes, like the house-style version of "Whims Of Fate", but many are a little underwhelming, such as the "Beneath The Mask" remix that doesn't quite make the same impact for a rhythm game. That's not to say they're bad songs, but with the bar set so high, you wish they had a bit more punch for the gameplay to thrive on.

There are also a few shortcomings in Dancing In Starlight when it comes to presentation. "Life Will Change", an empowering song with infectious conviction is paired to a fairly cheesy music video. But what's much worse is that the female cast members (who are also high school students) get oversexualized in the Last Surprise music video, which is some sort of bizarre burlesque show that's out of touch and wholly unnecessary.

Dancing In Starlight doesn't feature a traditional story mode, unlike its predecessor Persona 4: Dancing All Night. However, there are Social Events, which are scenes of dialogue where characters banter--these play out similar to a visual novel-style of Confidants in the original game. The overarching premise is that you and your crew are stuck in a dream state dictated by Caroline and Justine of the Velvet Room, and they're enforcing the one rule of Club Velvet: dance. Admittedly, it sounds silly, but it works to pave the way for some joyous moments in Social Events. You shouldn't expect much when it comes to further character development, although they embrace their newfound passion for dance. Conversations and references play off of what you already know about the cast; Ann's striving to be the next top model, Yusuke's enraptured by his artistic side, and Ryuji's as brash as ever. While these don't play into the high stakes and striking themes of the RPG, it's great to be with these characters again and watch the silly banter unfold, especially since the original English and Japanese voice casts return.

You're also incentivized to play in different ways since each character has specific conditions for unlocking their Social Events, like passing several songs using modifiers or customizing characters during your time playing. Viewing scenes grants you these cosmetics, too, so the game naturally guides you to seeing most of its features. And the conclusion to Social Events rewards you with room visits; even if its just the attic of the Leblanc coffee shop or a crew member's room, working towards them is worthwhile as you get to see familiar places in first-person and take a closer look at a world you thought you already knew.

The masterful fusion of jazz, pop, metal, and rock make for a great playlist that feels like a trip through the struggles and triumphs of Persona 5 all over again.

It might take some adjusting to the overall premise, but it's fitting to see this cast getting footloose across Tokyo and the Metaverse. Dancing In Starlight shines the spotlight on the original RPG's rich, wide-ranging soundtrack and highlights some of the best work from series composer Shoji Meguro. Although many of Persona 5's tracks struck a chord because of their evocative attachments to the events of that game, these songs come back around to remind you just how special that journey was. And the fact that these amazing tracks are tied to a great rhythm gameplay system make this game a fantastic new way to enjoy Persona 5's tremendous music and revisit the Phantom Thieves.

Categories: Games

Beat Saber Review - Bass-Boosted

Gamespot News Feed - Mon, 11/26/2018 - 23:35

A good rhythm game knows how to get you moving to the beat, but very rarely does it require your full physical exertion in the way that Beat Saber does. On one hand, Beat Saber is a delicately designed rhythm game that uses simple mechanics in increasingly complex combinations. On the other, it's a full-body workout--one that demands you get up and move to the many beats of its drum- and bass-heavy songs. It's a wonderful use of both virtual reality and motion control, with only a few campaign issues and a slightly disappointing lack of content holding it back.

Beat Saber is easy to pick up and understand immediately. You're equipped with two sabers (lightsabers in all but name), color-coded in red and blue. Each song plays out as a track of similarly color-coded blocks, each of which have arrow indicators signifying in which direction they need to be cut. You slice and dice your way through multiple songs, many of which mix up both speedy repetitive patterns with long avenues of tricky swiping angles that test your reflexes; there are also small hazards like explosive bombs and glowing red walls that you'll need to physically avoid. With difficulties ranging from the slow and simple Easy to the frankly ridiculous Expert, there's a gentle curve that lets you engage with Beat Saber on your own terms--from a light, manageable workout to a true test of your mobility and reaction times.

PSVR support and the mandatory use of the Move controllers are what give Beat Saber its sense of motion. Beat Saber's blocks fly at you from the same starting point but can have wildly different trajectories that force you to stretch out to cut them. These can come whizzing past exclusively on your left-hand side before quickly transferring over to the right and flipping the pattern or alternate between low diagonal positions to a flurry of blocks flying overhead. The way Beat Saber continually uses rotations and last-minute position swaps gives its simple two-color system a lot of depth, which often requires deft motion tracking. The limitations of the PS4 camera have made this facet of PSVR tricky in the past, but Beat Saber features precise tracking, allowing for a high level of breadth to movement without impacting the feel of playing.

Beat Saber's songs do a good job of differentiating themselves from each other. "$100 Bills"” for example, is a satisfying exercise in pattern recognition that rides along a punchy bass track, while "Be There for You" shifts between slow and melodic verses into an adrenaline pumping chorus that uses devious pattern swaps to keep you on your toes. There's a lot of standard electro and alluring drum and bass, but Beat Saber does dabble in genres that you wouldn't immediately expect from its neon-brushed presentation and effects-heavy levels that elicit the feeling of attending an intense music festival. Coming across a new type of melody is refreshing after hours of dealing with similarly intense beats per minute, even if there aren't that many songs in total.

The PS4 version has five exclusive songs, each of which have tracks that fit their corresponding songs well and highlight their unique rhythms with clever block positioning. But on console, you lose the ability to download custom songs. Users on PC have been able to create songs using unofficial tools, greatly expanding Beat Saber's limited song library. There's more officially supported songs coming as paid DLC, but the selection is a little slim currently.

Modifiers alleviate the repetitive nature of the limited library to an extent. You can play songs with altered tracks that only allow you to use one saber or have directional arrows disappear as they get close to you. Only a handful of modifiers are available for each song, with an entirely new subset used in the game's campaign mode (which is exclusive to PS4 for the time being). These include challenges that ask you to not only complete a song but also move your arms to hit a collective distance travelled or achieve a high combo. Each of these pushes you to get better at songs you've likely already played, helping you inch closer to a perfect run in a natural way.

Some challenges are frustratingly counterintuitive, though. Certain modifiers will inexplicably limit the amount of movement you're allowed to make, which detracts from the energy that makes Beat Saber so exhilarating. Other modifiers that force you to keep below a certain combo or make a certain number of mistakes before the end of a stage feel obtrusive to your progress. They require you to actively play worse, manually breaking out of great streaks or purposefully making wrong moves in order to progress.

The campaign gives you branching paths to follow on your way to its conclusion, so some of these frustrating challenges can be avoided. But you'll have to engage with each of them at least once, and they are disorientating speed bumps in an otherwise exciting journey. But Beat Saber's campaign is an otherwise well-paced training ground for your growing abilities. Its difficulty ramps up fairly--you can't change it like you can in other modes--consistently challenging you while also gently nudging you out of your comfort zone so that you can improve.

Beat Saber is an exhilarating rush and an exhausting game to play in the best way. It has great music that is more varied than you might expect, complemented by smartly designed levels that marry their complex patterns perfectly to the beat. It's difficult to get bored of Beat Saber, especially thanks to its extensive campaign that pushes you to get better with each step up in difficulty. But that same campaign is also uneven at times with confusingly counterintuitive challenges, which might frustrate you to the point of taking a break. And when you do, you'll realize that Beat Saber is also currently thin on content, with only a handful of songs and no means to upload customs ones. Yet despite those flaws it remains consistently satisfying to play, and is certainly one of the best PSVR games you can buy right now.

Categories: Games

Nidhogg 2 Review - En Garde

Gamespot News Feed - Mon, 11/26/2018 - 19:17

Editor's note: We've now tested Nidhogg 2's Nintendo Switch port, and we're pleased to report it runs as smoothly as it does on other platforms. Plus, local multiplayer with a single Joy-Con each is, well, a joy. Unfortunately, a lack of online players mean you're often left waiting to join an online match, and the matches you do get into are often subject to poor connectivity. Regardless, Nidhogg 2 remains an accomplished local multiplayer game that is thankfully now available on the best console for local multiplayer. -- Oscar Dayus, November 26 2018

The beauty of Nidhogg was in its simplicity. Its minimalist style and two-button gameplay fed into what was a wonderfully streamlined and focused experience. With Nidhogg 2, developer Messhof has attempted to expand the multiplayer fencing game with more maps, different weapon types, and a busier art style, with mixed results. Some of the changes--particularly the weapon selection and grotesque aesthetic--prove to be distractions from what is otherwise an excellent party game.

Nidhogg 2's concept, as with the first game, is to stab your opponent and race past their decaying corpse onto the next screen. Your enemy will respawn on the new screen within a couple of seconds to once again impede you from reaching your goal--a giant hungry worm. You can jab your sword at any of three heights--head, torso, or... below the torso--or throw it for a long-ranged attack. Of course, flinging your sword leaves you vulnerable, as does attacking at the wrong height, which creates openings for your opponent to counter.

This was the meta-game driving the original Nidhogg's competitive gameplay--except now there's more pieces to the puzzle. The sequel introduces three new weapons: a thicker broadsword, which can be swung from either top or bottom to bat your opponent's weapon away but leaves you vulnerable in the middle; a dagger, which has a much shorter reach but allows you to stab more quickly; and the long-range bow. Arrows can only be fired in the middle or bottom and can be hit back in your direction, but they're by far the longest ranged weapons in the game that don't leave you defenceless afterward.

The expanded arsenal is of course designed to add depth, and it does: wielding a dagger for a few seconds can be a refreshing change after three years spent playing Nidhogg with just the same old rapier. But the game's fast-paced nature and its lack of warning as to which weapon you'll spawn with next means that you're often left frustrated that your attempted swipe of a sword failed because you happened to reappear holding a bow instead. You can change the order of weapons you'll spawn with in Tournament Mode, but even there the speed at which matches unfold makes adapting in the split-second respawn window a struggle. In addition, those customization options are not included in Quick Play, Arcade, and online multiplayer--a minor but strange decision given some may wish to turn the new weapons off entirely.

The introduction of weapon variety also impacts balancing. The uniformity of map design and character types creates a level playing field, but this serves to further emphasize each weapon's weaknesses. The dagger in particular feels very underpowered--it's tricky to use its speedier stab when your opponent has a much longer sword keeping you at bay. Similarly, arrows take too long to fire, meaning a quick opponent can easily gain the upper hand. Even if they don't, arrows are pretty easy to dodge, and you'll be too busy hammering the Square / X button out of frustration to take advantage.

The pulsating electronic soundtrack helps each stage feel as enjoyable, as varied, and as weird as the last.

Messhof has taken a similar "bigger means better" approach when it comes to Nidhogg 2's art style. The minimalism seen in the original is gone in favour of a style that, while still retro, is noticeably noisier. At times, the lighting is lovely, and the greater color range allows for much more varied locales than the original's monochrome level design. But the style also makes it harder to immediately see what's happening on-screen, and this lack of clarity is representative of the sequel overall. Possibly the only area in which the increased amount of content has benefitted Nidhogg is in those added maps. The original arenas have been rebuilt, and they're accompanied by a number of all-new locations. They contain a number of environmental hazards such as pits, moving ice, and long grass--as well as a pulsating electronic soundtrack--helping each stage feel as enjoyable, as varied, and as weird as the last.

Despite all the distractions, however, Nidhogg 2 can be brilliant. The original's tense, frantic, hilarious nature has not been diminished, and local matches offer some of the best same-room multiplayer around. I think my ear is still ringing from a friend shouting so loudly (repeatedly) after he beat me (also repeatedly). Nidhogg 2 becomes a sport: even onlookers get swept up in the tug of war the game evolves into, and you'll cheer or cry more in each swing of momentum than most video games manage to muster in a whole campaign. It effortlessly creates moments of nail-biting tension and in the very next room uproarious hilarity: in the moment, simply batting an arrow back at an opponent can seem like the most daring maneuver ever attempted, while falling into a pit immediately after a momentus kill can paralyze a room with laughter.

You'll cheer or cry more in each swing of momentum than most video games manage to muster in a whole campaign.

Each strike is lethal, and every inch of ground gained over your opponent feels like a huge step toward victory. The controls have remained as natural as they were in the first game, allowing you to plan and execute strategies with ease, making it perfect for group sessions even if some haven't played before. And when you figure out your opponent's strategy, exploit it, and just before they respawn you reach the finish line to win a tournament, it's exhilarating. I just hope my ear stops ringing soon.

Nidhogg 2, then, adds a lot without really adding much at all. The new weapons and busy aesthetic can frustrate, making the overall package feel less refined, but the core gameplay still shines through. Despite its problems, Nidhogg 2 is spectacular, engrossing, funny, tragic, and dramatic in equal measure, and it will no doubt become another party game staple. Nidhogg 2 sacrifices simplicity for more options, and it doesn't prove to be a good trade. But when the underlying action is this good, I'll put up with the odd unwelcome dagger.

Categories: Games

Darksiders 3 Review: Soils-Like

Gamespot News Feed - Mon, 11/26/2018 - 11:00

Darksiders 3 has an identity crisis. On the one hand, the stylish, effect-laden combos at your disposal point to a game with combat encounters reminiscent of Devil May Cry's kinetic action. Yet your fragility and the tough challenge enemies present actively discourage you from approaching combat on the front foot, instead favouring a more methodical approach with an emphasis on tact and evasion. The Darksiders series has always worn its inspirations on its sleeve, but at least there was a sense of focus and consistent design omnipresent in all of its moving parts. Those first two games may have been derivative, but they took concepts and built on them in fun and engaging ways that elevated their strong points. Darksiders 3 is the antithesis of this approach, feeling muddled and unfocused, with an uneven design that trickles down and negatively affects each of its disparate systems.

After both War and Death had their fun in Darksiders 3's predecessors, it's now the turn of the perpetually angry Fury, as you take the reins of the third horseman of the apocalypse. Fury wields a bladed whip known as the Barbs of Scorn, which offers both decent range and a satisfying feedback of meaty hits once you're up close and personal in some demonic entity's face. Throughout the game you'll acquire Hollows that grant unique secondary weapons--like a lumbering mallet and rapid-fire chains--and open up your traversal options with different elemental effects. Combos are relatively easy to execute, with one button dedicated to primary attacks and another for those aforementioned secondary strikes. Button mashing is enough to get you through most encounters, but mixing in slight delays between button presses will allow you to pull off air combos and other similarly stylish moves. It certainly looks the part of a flamboyant action game, but these flashy combos are only really feasible against weaker enemies.

Darksiders 3 has taken some clear inspiration from Dark Souls, so Fury's low survivability forces you to approach combat in a way that belies its exuberant combos. Enemies are fast and hit hard, and are regularly found in groups. With no stamina meter to speak of, there's an emphasis on dodging and keeping out of danger that does deviate from Dark Souls' stringent use of energy management. Each perfectly timed dodge is rewarded with a slow-motion flourish and the chance to counter with a powerful arcane attack, and most clashes are built around Fury's ability to weave out of the way of incoming sword slashes and ravenous claws. There's a good variety of enemy types, too; reading their attack patterns and knowing when to evade is paramount to defeating almost every enemy you can't simply banish with a single combo.

This all sounds well and good on paper, and taken at face value there's nothing inherently wrong with a more considered approach to combat. But Darksiders 3 never leans into this method heavily enough, and out-of-place vestiges of its flashy counterpoint regularly cause frustration as it seems to split between wanting to be two very different types of game.

You may have air juggles and various strings of deadly moves at your disposal, but you're often forced to settle for safe combos because anything else will leave you wide open to a devastating attack. Then there's the way you lock on to enemies. This has remained relatively unchanged from Darksiders 2, opting for a 3D targeting system similar to the one used in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. This was clearly designed with one-on-one battles in mind and certainly doesn't fit in a game as challenging as this. While there are undoubtedly some tough enemies in Darksiders 3, the real difficulty comes from facing more than one enemy at a time rather than a singular threat. This works twofold: groups of enemies are intrinsically tougher due to their numbers, and the unwieldy lock-on and a terrible camera make these fights a lot more challenging than they would otherwise be. The camera has a tendency to block your view with walls and any objects in the vicinity, which is only exacerbated by the claustrophobic environments that dominate the majority of the game. Dying because you can't see, or because switching targets is too fiddly, are constant annoyances. Not to mention the number of times you're hit by attacks from off-screen. There's an indicator for incoming attacks, but it's incredibly difficult to discern in the thick of the action, and no such warning exists for projectiles.

Dying because you can't see, or because switching targets is too fiddly, are constant annoyances. Not to mention the number of times you're hit by attacks from off-screen.

Darksiders 3 also strips out a lot of the RPG elements from its immediate predecessor. Killing enemies rewards you with souls which can also be found throughout the game world in consumable clusters. Each time you reach a checkpoint you can trade them to a demonic merchant in order to level up three attributes: health, strength, and arcane. It's a very simplistic progression system, and while you can lose souls by dying and must then retrieve them again, there's never any tension borne from the threat of perishing and losing them all because you can bank souls even if you don't have enough to level up.

Weapons can be upgraded to increase their damage output, and enhancements will augment your arsenal with buffs that might give you 4% health back for each successful hit, or add more invincibility frames to your dodge. But there's no sense of individuality here, and combat never evolves because all you're doing is boosting your damage output. It doesn't take too long before repetition settles in.

This is a problem when combat is all-encompassing. There are some rudimentary puzzles sprinkled throughout, but they're few and far between and generally revolve around hitting a large jellyfish creature into position so you can use its head to reach higher platforms, moving blocks, and using explosive insects to access different areas. None of this is particularly engaging, and that goes for the rare instances of platforming as well. Grabbing onto ledges is too temperamental, and Darksiders 3 lacks a cohesive visual language that makes some platforming sections more convoluted than they should be.

The apocalyptic wasteland of Earth just isn't that interesting to traverse either. The interconnected world is made up of dilapidated office buildings, grimy subways, and flooded industrial areas. Each of these locales is enveloped in muted colours dominated by beige and grey, with only a couple of areas deviating from this bland design. Your quest might revolve around tracking down and killing The Seven Deadly Sins, but the environments you're in rarely reflect their diverse personalities, which feels like a squandered opportunity. Sloth is a large grotesque bug, so it makes sense that you'll find eggs cascading around the walls of his subway lair, and face off against arachnids and four-legged creatures. Yet, bafflingly enough, Gluttony--a vulgar plant-like creature with multiple mouths--also resides in a subway littered with eggs and insectoids to fight.

Verticality plays a substantial role in these environments, but there's no sense of scale when you're regularly confined to dank corridors in subways and caves. It's a shame, too, because while the bulky, comic book art style of Joe Madueria is still reflected in the excellent character designs--even if he's not directly involved in Darksiders 3--the backdrop for these larger-than-life beings is this generic, insipid world. And while it underwhelms in the visual department, Darksiders 3 is still rife with constant framerate issues--even on a PS4 Pro--on top of crashes, sound glitches, and other technical misgivings.

There are other elements worth mentioning, like the way the game length is padded out by the exclusion of an vague in-game map that makes fast travel worthless since you never know where exactly you're going, or the counter-intuitive way letting an enemy kill you is the best option when it comes to replenishing your healing items. But saying any more at this point is just too disheartening. Darksiders 3 retrogrades on its predecessors with an unfocused approach that constantly clashes with itself. There are remnants of a good game here, buried within the vivacious combos of a combat style this game doesn't want to embrace. Unfortunately, it's buried far too deep to ever salvage.

Categories: Games

Underworld Ascendant Review - Going Under

Gamespot News Feed - Thu, 11/22/2018 - 06:40

Ultima Underworld was a game ahead of its time. A first-person action-RPG released in 1992, it foreshadowed the kind of creative problem-solving sandbox that would later be popularized through Deus Ex, Bioshock, and Dishonored. The legacy of Ultima Underworld is a design approach that prioritizes player-authored experiences. It was, essentially, the immersive sim that first asked the questions: Do you want to fight your way in? Sneak your way in? Or set off a chain reaction of chaotic, physically simulated interactions and emergent gameplay your way in?

Crowdfunded via Kickstarter and then signed by publisher 505 Games, Underworld Ascendant was first pitched as a spiritual successor to Ultima Underworld developed by a veteran team featuring several people who worked on the original, most notably its lead designer Paul Neurath.

Unfortunately, far from a tribute to an influential classic, the result is both a crushing disappointment for Underworld fans and a genuinely bad game in its own right. Ascendant is riven with technical glitches. Every player-empowering feature is undone by a series of bafflingly ill-conceived design choices. And wherever you go your progress is constantly chafed by an all-pervading lack of refinement.

The story, for what it's worth, tells an oblique tale of warring gods and carries only tenuous links to the original Underworld games. You play as a familiar chosen one burdened with the sole responsibility of saving the world from imminent catastrophe. The game's primary antagonist bellows his ghostly threats at the beginning of each new area as another hour ticks by on the doomsday clock, but it's all bluster. Nothing about the world feels imperiled until the game over screen descends and you're left feeling bemused rather than defeated.

One of Ultima Underworld's great strengths was its sense of place. The Stygian Abyss of its subtitle was a multi-level, interconnected dungeon populated by diverse, warring tribes who observed what felt like distinct cultural practices. Ascendant's version of this is composed of seven discrete levels whose haphazard design (here's a swamp, inside a fort, inside a volcano) obliterates any suggestion of internal consistency and a huge but empty hub area that is so tiresome to traverse it becomes genuinely frustrating to return to between missions.

Again unlike the original game, which let you wander freely throughout the dungeon and pick up quests from its inhabitants, Ascendant takes a more modern and compartmentalized approach. There's a job board in the hub from which you select one of four missions before you step through a portal to the relevant location. Critical path missions require you to find the abyssal key lost in each of the seven worlds, but other missions--each set by one of three factions with whom you can gain favor--may have you kill a particular enemy or collect a number of a specific item. You can only accept one mission at a time, however, so there's a lot of trekking back and forth between hub and dungeon level. And, oddly, any mission that asks you to collect items will ignore any of said items already in your possession and force you to collect fresh ones instead.

None of the missions are complex and all ultimately boil down to entering the dungeon, fighting or sneaking your way to a certain spot, picking up or killing what you need, and legging it back to the nearest portal to warp to the hub. There are no NPCs to talk to, no conversations to have, no story choices to make, nothing but a bunch of what feel like procedurally-generated fetch quests delivered over and over again. If you recall the random quests given to you by the various Jarls throughout Skyrim, that's pretty much the entire game here--except repeated over seven static dungeon levels instead of spread across a whole seamless continent.

The closest Ascendant comes to honoring Underworld's legacy is in how it affords players the ability to customize their playing style. During character creation, there is no choice of class as such, but once you begin earning "memora" you can purchase skills on a tree with three clusters of branches representing the typical Fighter, Mage, and Thief archetypes. Of course, you're free to mix and match these skills to tailor your character's strengths. Maybe you're an axe-wielding fighter who has also mastered healing magic? Or perhaps you'd rather dash from shadow to shadow and avoid enemies altogether?

In a nice touch, spells aren't simply a replacement for weapons, but are better suited to the more cerebral player who wants to use the environment to their advantage. One spell lets you create a ball of fire, for example, but it's not a typical fireball that you hurl at an enemy; it's instead used to set other things on fire to, say, collapse the walkway that enemy was standing on, or more mundanely, burn down a fence that was blocking your way. The skill tree is flexible and allows you to craft a character that reflects the way you want to play, and leaves plenty of room to experiment with alternative play styles should you ever want to roll a new character.

The chances of doing that are slim, sadly. Underworld Ascendant isn't just a bare-bones action-RPG, it's also full of bugs and glitches and carries a really weird save system. I've encountered glitches that I'd classify as trivial: frequent gaping, untextured holes in the world geometry; lines of dialogue repeating on loop until you leave the area; getting stuck momentarily on a staircase; struggling to get out of a knee-deep pool of water because the current is absurdly strong; standing too close to a chest when opening it and having the physics fling you across the room. These issues, and many more, I can cope with. They're irritating, sure, but they're not game-breaking.

But the bugs become game-breaking when, for example, your character gets trapped between two bits of geometry and the only way out is to reload. Or when you can no longer use your bow even though you still have loads of arrows equipped. Or when you can actually use your bow and see the arrow shoot across the world but it seemingly passes right through the enemy without doing any damage. Or when an enemy spots you and simply runs into a corner and keeps trying to run through a wall while you attack it from behind until it dies. Or when you pull a lever and a rolling spike trap vanishes from the world but is still actually there and kills you. Or when an enemy gets caught in a cycle of jumping in the air and throwing a smoke bomb at its feet. These issues, and many more, are ones I can't cope with.

But perhaps most crucially of all, I can't cope with the save system. To begin with, you cannot save wherever you like. You can save whenever you like, but loading this save will see you restart from the beginning of the level with your inventory intact but any changes to the level reset. You can, however, plant a tree sapling at certain points throughout a level to act as a respawn point if you die, similar to the Vita-Chambers in Bioshock. This would be okay if Underworld Ascendant was a run-based game where you're primarily interested in how far you can get and what loot drops. But it's not. It's a mission-based game where you're exploring a level for upwards of an hour each time, trying to complete a specific objective. You're already revisiting the same level over and over again by virtue of having to return to the hub to cash in a mission and pick up the next. Having to restart a level from the beginning each time you load a save is just adding insult to injury.

For many players, especially the time-poor, the save system alone will be enough to render Underworld Ascendant unplayable. But even if it were addressed, and a more conventional system patched in, it would be impossible to recommend this game to anyone. Framed as a spiritual successor to Ultima Underworld, Underworld Ascendant misses the mark with almost every shot, much like my aforementioned hapless archer. At the same time, even freed from the expectations its historical baggage brings, it is a clear failure. The spirit of Ultima Underworld lives on elsewhere.

Categories: Games

Fallout 76 Review - Scorched Earth

Gamespot News Feed - Thu, 11/22/2018 - 06:00

Well, war has certainly changed. Fallout, the RPG series with a 20-year legacy, finds its latest entry taking another chance at braving a new direction. It puts a major focus on cooperating with other people in a world with perpetual activities that seek to sustain your engagement indefinitely. But Fallout 76 is a game without a strong focus. It introduces significant changes to the set structure of Fallout 4 to make it function as both a single-player and multiplayer experience. In doing so, both styles of play suffer from major compromises that exist only to serve the other, and as a result, both are weak. Fallout 76 can look and feel like its illustrious predecessors at times, but it's a soulless husk of an experience.

Fallout 76 has no artificial human characters to interact with. The justification is that, because the dwellers of Vault 76 are tasked to be the first to re-enter and reclaim this post-apocalyptic America, there are very few coherent beings. Many of the folks who did survive nuclear annihilation conveniently died shortly before your arrival. Without established characters to populate the world, the vibe of 76 is an eerie one, and it often amplifies one of the series strengths: creating the feeling of desolation and otherness. There's a curiosity about the familiar but unknown environment that drives you to veer off the beaten path, visit places that once were, attempt to imagine what life might have been like before everything went to hell, and wonder what the hell has happened there since. Exploring a new wasteland and stumbling upon new settings, scenery, and oddities is one of Fallout's most enjoyable aspects, and it's 76's best trait.

However, the lack of inhabitants is also Fallout 76's biggest problem. The game goes to great efforts to paint a picture that includes towns and cities with different populations and cultures, survivors who have banded together to form factions, and stories of people who managed to survive against all odds. But without having any of those people present to tell their stories personally, 76's world is limited to being little more than just an environmental exhibit with things to kill. It means the art of conversation is disappointingly absent, but more critically, it means there are no strong emotional anchors to help you become truly invested in the world, a complication that diminishes the game's other core activities.

The biggest victim is the quest system. Without actually having people with needs and desires, initiating and undertaking quests frequently involves the use of explicit found-object storytelling tools--listening to audio logs, reading notes, and browsing through computer terminals for key information. A quest will often explore the stories of certain characters, but they're characters that have long since passed, and all you get are long monologues and one-way directives from a person who no longer exists and you can't interact with. Your actions ultimately won't affect anyone, or the rest of the world for that matter--every location you visit will be reset with items and enemies regularly--so it's difficult to stay motivated.

...there are no strong emotional anchors to help you become truly invested in the world...

Some of these stories are intriguing to be sure, and when you come across a tale about a character who piques your interest, you get excited to discover more about their last living moments. But there's such an over-reliance on listening to disembodied voices and digging through pages of text in every aspect of the game that these standouts are easily lost. The lack of a more relatable and personal connection between your actions, the world, and its inhabitants--combined with your lack of influence--means quests begin to dissolve into wild goose chases around the world to check things off a list, and feel meaningless. It makes the idea of continuing to progress the story--listening to more audio logs, running across the country to search for more doohickeys, reading through more diary entries--feel exhausting.

The reliance on things like audio logs and written notes also proves to be the biggest deterrent to playing Fallout 76 in multiplayer. By teaming up, you can explore the world together, get help in taking down difficult enemies, and complete any quest, but certain things are kept distinct to each individual player's experience. Containers that hold items, for example, will have unique loot for each person who opens them. But quest objective completion also isn't shared, and every member in your squad needs to activate things personally to have them count toward their progression.

This is a great idea on paper, as it makes sure everyone sees each piece of a story themselves. But in playing with both good friends and strangers, I found that each person's individual need to advance quests severely hinders the flow of progress. Because of the need to wait for your squad to catch up, have each member take their own time to listen to important audio logs (which is impossible when you've got voice chat going), and search terminals for pertinent information, questing in multiplayer requires a lot of patience and courtesy. Add to that the fact that Fallout is already a game that encourages constant, time-consuming gear management (which penalizes your movement speed for being over-encumbered), as well as a rudimentary, occasionally tedious survival system (which asks you to maintain meters representing hunger and thirst), and the idea of having another squad member just feels like an additional burden.

If you have a squad that is happy to skip the narrative content things will go much more smoothly, but then you're denying yourself the one vector that gives these quests flavor. Multiplayer is more enjoyable when you and your squad are just content to leisurely explore the world and get into scrapes, at least once the logistics of preparation are behind you. But the capacity for arbitrary fun is an unremarkable trait. The advantage of questing solo and not needing to wait around is definitely a big advantage, but it has its own obstacles too--packs of enemies will often have a handful of foes that are 10 or 20 levels above you, and having someone to watch your back is definitely a factor that needs consideration, warts and all.

Fighting enemies also doesn't feel that meaningful in 76, a more morbid consequence of the lack of in-universe characters. The new region of Appalachia is filled with an assortment of delightfully mutated creatures both new and old, including humanoid enemies like the Scorched and Mole Miners who can wield firearms. But it isn't as entertaining to take on enemies that haven't wronged you or anyone you know. Without sadistic raiders and their despicable actions to be appalled by, interesting gang factions to get on the wrong side of, or lucid ghouls and super mutants to make you think twice about raising your weapon, every living being you encounter in 76 just feels like cannon fodder.

The combat mechanics don't deal well with a lot of cannon fodder, either. Appalachia is filled with a large variety of multiplayer-focused public events that invite everyone on the server to gather and participate in a unique task tied to a particular location. But these mostly boil down to escort and defense missions that ask you to hold back multiple waves of enemies and perform basic objectives. The real-time shooting of Fallout 76 is mostly unchanged from Fallout 4 and is serviceable enough to make small skirmishes with either firearms or melee weapons feel fine, despite occasional technical hiccups. But the system is not good enough to make shooting hordes of enemies for 20 minutes in an event feel like anything other than a chore--the gunplay and movement are not satisfyingly responsive or kinetic enough to make them enjoyable for long periods.

That's also partially due to the changes to V.A.T.S. What was once a strategic pause-style ability that allowed you to take time to assess your surroundings, target specific body parts, and make the most of your combat strengths, is now a primarily an opt-in real-time auto-aim system, a change presumably made for the purposes of multiplayer. If you decide to upgrade the skill, it serves its purpose in being able to make precision hits on limbs when the action is manageable, but in more intense situations this version of V.A.T.S. does little to bridge the limitations of the real-time combat system as it once did.

Fallout 76 also has fewer opportunities to complete quests in your own unique ways, which exacerbates the sense that you don't really have a huge part to play in this wasteland. Traditional charisma skills are gone, but lockpicking, hacking, and stealth abilities remain and provide a little bit of variety. But the overwhelming majority of quests have clear linear throughlines to their respective goals, all of which involve shooting a lot of things.

Some of the decisions in Fallout 76 are positive, though. The flexibility of the new perk system (which is now card-based) allows you to change your abilities at will, which has encouraged me to use Fallout's weirder skills, depending on my situation. In my experience, the game's unique take on player-versus-player competition is effective at deterring unprovoked attacks when exploring the world--killing another person is a lot of work for little reward if your target doesn't retaliate. Base-building carries over from Fallout 4 and comes with a few quality-of-life changes. You have the ability to move your base camp for a trivial fee, and you can save blueprints of entire arrangements for easy placement elsewhere. It's straightforward and pleasant, but like the rest of 76, it lacks the feeling of permanence and importance of building settlements in Fallout 4.

Most disappointingly, when you do begin to find some small joy in exploring Fallout 76's world, you're often not far from falling victim to the series' now characteristic penchant for technical oddities. Whether caused by the game engine or the online server-based nature of the game, I've run into countless issues in the PC version, even after the game received a major patch within its first week of release. Problems like clipping through the world, frozen animations, entire buildings failing to load, enemies getting stuck in walls or just not moving, audio logs not playing, enemies spawning out of mid-air, delayed damage detection and world effects, server disconnections, and being unable to complete a quest because someone else in the world killed your target, requiring you to log on and off again until it respawns. These are just some examples, and experiences will vary, of course. But in my time with the game, Fallout 76 did not feel like it ran smoothly for extended periods, technical issues were severe and often frustrating, and they overshadowed any fondness that was, at that point, starting to grow.

Fallout 76 attempts to execute on some significantly new ideas for the series, but with few exceptions, they notably limit the major facets of the game. The novelty of multiplayer can be mildly entertaining, but it's not an ideal way to enjoy mainline progression, and the shooting mechanics aren't strong enough to make the focus on combat-heavy activities genuinely enjoyable. Things feel better as a solo player, and the Appalachian landscape certainly has interesting things to see. But the absence of in-universe characters and your inability to make a meaningful impact on the world means becoming invested in the whole journey is incredibly difficult.

Bethesda has stated it intends to continue supporting the game for a long time, but at launch, Fallout 76 is a poor experience. There are echoes of the series' admirable qualities, but look past that facade, past the cute Vault Boy animations, past the familiar radio tracks, and you'll find no heart--just an inconsequential wasteland doomed to be nuked over and over again.

Categories: Games