Exclusive Hands-on With Darksiders III's Latest Demo

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 08/17/2018 - 19:00

From its inception, Darksiders was meant to be a multi-entry franchise. The four biblical horsemen of the apocalypse are its protagonists, after all. Following the release of the second game and the collapse of publisher THQ, the future of the franchise looked apocalyptic, and not in the fun video game way we all appreciate. However, many of the developers of the first two games (though notably not the series’ creator, Joe Madureira) reformed to create Gunfire Games, and that studio is picking up the series where it left off. Gunfire Games will be taking a demo of Darksiders III to Gamescom, but we got a chance to play through it first.

The first Darksiders followed the exploits of the horseman War, Darksiders II followed Death, and the third follows Fury, War’s sister. The final horseman, Strife, makes a shadowy appearance in the demo’s opening cutscene, but whether or not he will be a major factor in the game remains to be seen.

Back To The Apocalypse

The demo opens with the Charred Council, three stone faces with mouths of flame who directed the horsemen in the previous games, performing a ritual that mostly involves reminding the player of who the main characters are and their roles.  Fury interrupts the ritual in the interest of getting on with it so she can get to the action and the council identifies her as the most unpredictable of the apocalyptic riders, calling her a “terrible engine of rage.”


From there, Fury begins the task given to her by the council: collecting the seven deadly sins. Fury is dropped into a what appears to be a city street that has lost a long war with nature. Dilapidated cars litter the overgrown street, and it immediately recalls locations explored by War in the original Darksiders. Also like the original game, Fury is joined by a Watcher, a companion character that reminds her of her mission and occasionally offers assistance. In the first game, the Charred Council sent a Watcher (voiced by Mark Hamill in that game) with War to keep an eye on him and make sure he stuck to his mission. It’s safe to assume Fury’s Watcher is with her for the same reasons.

For this demo, Fury only has a single attack button, but I find combos by holding down the button in the middle of a flurry of attacks or waiting to press the attack button after some initial hits. The controller layout screen in the options menu also hints at Chaos Form and Hollow Attacks, but they are closed off for my demo.  I make short work of the assorted enemies with simple combos, but it’s clear there is some additional depth to the fighting system that will surface later in the game.

Fighting Envy

After taking out a few enemies and using Fury’s chain whip to swing over gaps, I find Envy, the first of the seven deadly sins. She’s an ugly vulture-like creature that reminds me of the Skeksis from The Dark Crystal. She broadcasts her attacks explicitly but moves surprisingly fast, sending out shockwaves to jump over as well as directed attacks from above that I roll out of the way to dodge. Envy collapses the floor and I do some straightforward platforming and whip-swinging to get back to her.

She kills me during that second stage of the fight, but my failure reveals a new mechanic. Darksiders has always been transparent about borrowing mechanics from games like Zelda, God of War, Prince of Persia, and Portal, but now it has a new game to add to that list of inspirations that won’t come as much of a surprise: Dark Souls. Leading up to my fight with Envy, I had been collecting souls from killed enemies, and when I made my way back to her to attempt our fight again, I saw the souls I had presumed lost waiting in the middle of fight location waiting for me to collect them. I learn later in the demo that those souls can be exchanged for experience points for my health, attack power, or magic abilities.

Knowing her patterns now, I defeat Envy and trigger a cutscene. The Watcher accuses Fury of killing Envy instead of capturing her, but Fury holds up a glowing green talisman she stole from around Envy’s neck that sucks up her essence. It glows and functions like the Nephilim amulet that Death used to store the souls of his departed brethren in Darksiders II, but they appear to be two different objects, despite the similarities.


Impressed, the Watcher says, “You were all that the council promised, mistress,” reminding Fury that the other deadly sins will not be as easy to find and capture. The two move on to a similarly dilapidated city street and Fury comments that she is impressed by her brother War’s work, considering it was him who inadvertently caused the apocalypse in the prologue to the first game. “His gifts are impressive,” Fury says, but the Watcher reminds her that she has no peers among the horsemen. The Watcher seems to think Fury is the most powerful of the group.

Exploring The World

Before the demo concludes, I get a chance to explore the environment. I see platforms too far away to reach, implying a future upgrade that will let Fury access distant locations. I also find hallways blocked by glowing purple rocks, and another covered in some kind of translucent material that can probably be unlocked or destroyed with the right ability. I also see, off in the distance, a wall that looks a whole lot like the ones Death had to climb in Darksiders II. I didn’t climb any surfaces during the demo, but I bet Fury has the same upper-body strength as Death.


I also come across a large enemy who sleeps until I attack him. I defeat him, but he gives me more trouble than any of the enemies up to that point. I could have totally avoided him had I just walked by, so he was a totally optional additional combat challenge.

Right before the demo ends, I come across a gigantic tree weaving its enormous roots through the assorted buildings. The Watcher refers to it as The Maker Tree, and I am unable to explore any further.

Darksiders III so far feels like a continuation of the first two games in a way that I appreciate. It’s strange to be nostalgic for a console generation that only ended recently, but it played distinctly like a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 character-action game, which is a style of adventure I miss and haven’t played in some time. Hitting enemies with the chain whip felt good, but I am hopeful for more depth in the combat as you learn new abilities. I am also concerned that I didn’t solve a single puzzle. Darksiders II’s late-game had some amazing Zelda-inspired puzzles (like playing catch with clones of yourself through portals), and I hope Fury also gets a chance to use her arsenal of abilities to open locked doors when the game releases in November.

For more on Darksiders III, you can hear "Fury's Theme" from composer Cris Velasco by heading here.

Categories: Games

Generation Zero Continues To Impress With A New Gameplay And Open World Trailer

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 08/17/2018 - 17:08

Generation Zero, the open-world shooter from Just Cause developer Avalanche Studios, impressed us at E3 2018 a couple months ago. Avalanche has given us glimpses of the gameplay, but now it's ready to show off more of the open world through the latest trailer.

Set in an alternate version of 1980s Sweden, Generation Zero casts you as a vacationer returning home to find your quiet countryside home has been invaded by massive, hostile machines. Your job is to defend your home turf while figuring out why this invasion happened. Generation Zero supports fully customizable characters, seamless cooperative multiplayer for up to four players, and a persistent world where any damage you do to enemies is permanent.

Avalanche Studios released a new trailer for Generation Zero today. The new video shows off how you can use stealth and strategy to your advantage, as well as how looting the scraps of machines you kill can give you the upper hand in battle.

If you want to be among the first to try Generation Zero, you can sign up for this fall's beta test here. Generation Zero is set to launch on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC in 2019.

Categories: Games

NHL 19 Franchise Mode Interview: Learn The Nitty Gritty Details About The New Scouting System

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 08/17/2018 - 17:00

A few months ago, we painted the broad strokes of what franchise mode fans can expect from NHL 19. A completely revamped scouting mode gives users control of up to 20 scouts to gather information on prospects throughout the world, as well as keep tabs on player progression/regression across the NHL. Keeping your player reports up to date will be vital to making savvy trades and free agency acquisition, because if you're using out of date data you may end up spending too much to add a player who is already on the downswing of his career. 

The prospect scouting reports, amateur stats, player comparisons, and central scouting rankings give users more information than they've had in previous years to make smart draft-day decisions, and a dramatically expanded 50-player draft board makes it much easier to outline your plan of attack. You'll want to especially watch out for the gem and bust designations from your scouts; identifying a few late-round gems could turn your struggling franchise into a cup contender down the line.

After playing with the scouting system for a couple hours and going through a draft, I hopped on the phone with producer Gurn Sumal to talk about the vision for this new system and how the scouting affects the rest of the moving pieces in franchise mode. Before we dive in, watch this 16-minute tour of the new features narrated by Sumal.

What were your inspirations for this new scouting system? 
"In terms of the redesign itself, looking at our scouting system, it's been kind of the same since we got to next-gen, and it wasn't in-depth enough to do what we wanted the system to do. There's been times where I wasn't able to get the kind of end results I would want based on how limited the system was. When looking at overhauling it like we did, I play a lot of games and a lot of manager games, so I drew inspiration from that. Also, we have inside access to a lot of NHL behind-the-scenes footage of their war rooms and whatnot, and looking like that was cool to draw inspiration from, especially with something like the draft board. The main goal was to try to make the most kick-ass scouting system that we possibly can, drawing from different areas to make it as authentic as possible. We've had meetings in the past with scouts as well so there are a lot of different things we pulled in to sort of get us to that point. 

How do the costs of scouts and travel budgets fit into the larger picture – is it only for Owner mode?
It will only be with owner mode on, it doesn't have much of a factor if you have owner mode off. But it in terms of the groundwork we laid with owner mode, the reason why we did owner mode in NHL 16 was to build that base economy for the game so when we start adding new features like scouting and anything else that has a monetary value on it, it actually has a larger impact on how you play. If you're not meeting your owner goals and making a profit, it's going to become more challenging for you to resign quality scouts or sign your scouts as they get better in certain regions and participate within scout free agency. The goal was to really have it play as a big factor in there. Travel budget also plays a bit of a factor, they also have a daily per diem so they spend money while they travel from city to city within each league as well so you really do have to manage that. If you start moving scouts around way too much you start getting into things where you can't travel anymore or your scouts can't really scout anymore. You do have to be aware of your budget at all in times in that regard. 

How many scouts do A.I. teams usually field and how does their pursuit of scouts work? Will they outbid you for a scout's services?
Yes. In terms of the amount, they have the same amount as the user has the ability to sign up to, so they'll have anywhere from 15 to 20 scouts. Some teams will have depending on their idea of what they want to do, they'll either hire a couple more scouts or just keep the amount that they have. They go through the same process as the user so during free agency they'll actually try to sign scouts as well. If they lose a scout to retirement or they lose a scout to the fact that they couldn't resign them, they will actually try to sign scouts as well. They're every bit a part of the living, breathing environment of that free agency window. 

Do former players who retire become scouts? How often does that free agent pool refresh with new scouts?
They do. Players do retire and become scouts. The pool refreshes once a year. Scouts retire similar to how our players retire if they are really bad or in free agency too long we'll pull them out and generate new scouts to keep the pool fresh and unique. It also allows us to have players retire and become scouts. I think the other day I had Chris Thorburn become a scout for me. It does happen anywhere from one to three players a year. Some years you'll also get zero, just because no player decided to become a scout, but it does happen throughout the course of a franchise. 

How easy or hard is it to re-sign scouts? I'm assuming they don't have a morale system and there isn't a place they can elevate into like a GM role...
It is a little bit less of a tougher time to sign scouts as opposed to players because they don't have that morale system linked into them. However, they do reject based off of cash and years, as well as if I recall correctly if you are sending them out too much in areas they aren't supposed to be in. If you have a guy that's supposed to be an AHL scout and he isn't a good AHL scout he wouldn't like that, so there is a little bit there. It's not as sophisticated as the players, but we do hope to one day get to that point. 

Do some scouts develop and do some stagnate, or do they all operate along the same experience gathering system?
In terms of how long it takes for a player to develop, it depends on their quality in that region. The longer they stay within there, they will move up in rank. It could take anywhere from an entire year to get to a relatively okay spot, but it is dependent on the scout and how poor they start off in that region. At the same time, as you keep them within there, they will start to decline within the other regions because they are now focused on developing in that one region. 

At the beginning of scouting, I noticed you may not know a player's true archetype until you scout them. How off can those initial guesses from your scouts be?
It can be off, but only from a reasonable perspective. It won't be like an enforcer will show up as a sniper, mainly because in the real world you're going to know if the guy is playing that type of game. You may have a sniper show up as a two-way forward or playmaker, and enforcer showing up as a grinder or power forward, so it's within the realm of realism there. It works the same for pro scouts as well. 

What are the benefits of having two scouts instead of one in a region? What would happen if you heavily focused on the WHL, for instance?
You'll definitely get more accurate results and you'll get more looks on players. As a GM you'll get one collective report based on that player. You'll get more accurate information in that regard, especially if you add a C scout and an A scout. The C and the A scout together would be a decent combination in that you'd get double the information on that player and it will be quicker for you to get that information. You'll also have more far reach for more of the players because you could assign 50 players to one scout and 50 players to another. You could also assign the same player to the same scout. There are benefits to it. Obviously if you do that, though, you are potentially missing out on another region so there is a bit of a risk/reward there. You may want to frontload the WHL but now you are missing information on the OHL. We tried to balance it in a way that that is a meaningful choice and you can't get all the information on all 900 players in a draft class. It's really up to you how you want to strategize that. You really may want to go all in on the WHL because you noticed that Central Scouting's ranked a lot of the players there, but you may miss out on the gem in the OHL as a result. 

During a draft, I noticed the number one overall pick, who was an elite medium center, had a stat line that looked more in line with a player that was going to end up in a beer league as opposed to the NHL. He had like 8 goals and like 14 assists. I know you are still tuning, but how does that stat generation work under the hood?
What you probably saw was a junior player playing in a men's league. You have to be very careful when you're looking at a state line in that regard. If a guy's playing in La Liga, he's playing as a 17-year-old player against 25-plus-year-old men, so you want to pay attention to the strength of competition. Whereas if you were playing in the CHL, you're going to put up more points but obviously you're playing with your peers. That's why the stats looked off in that regard. You're actually having a kid play with men, which eight goals as a 17-year-old kid is pretty good in that league. Everything is tuned based off of the league. You'd actually notice if you had that same player and you placed him in the WHL he would actually generate an insane amount of stats. It's up to you to parse that data accordantly and it's just another tool for you to look at. 

In regard to how we generate stats, it's a simplified sim engine in that sense. It's not anywhere as in depth as our actual sim engine, but it does take the players within the draft class. It doesn't go as in depth as, 'oh, this guy took a shot from here, this guy took a shot from there.' It goes 'hey this guy's overall is this, his age is this, this is kind of what we expect him to do.' 

Do those junior or international league stats affect a player's progression when you leave them in those leagues once they are drafted?
It does in a sense in which their minutes being played does have an effect on them. If you are sending them back to junior, it does have an effect. It's kind of always had an effect when you do send a player back to juniors, especially when they aren't ready. They also do help you uncover fog of war information on your player just to keep a tab on a player. If they didn't play that year, then you actually wouldn't uncover data. 

Have you made any changes in terms of how player progression works for prospects? 
We have made some tweaks. You will notice that players in the past would grow all out of whack in terms of you'd get a guy with 99 speed and then a very bad acceleration. What we've done is try to make it more in tune with what an actual player looks like. Snipers will get better at shooting a little bit more than a playmaker and not grow as much in passing. 

Talk about the gems and busts. Is that automated based on generated draft classes or does it vary how many are in each draft or is it a set amount?
It does vary. We generate draft classes on the fly so one franchise isn't the same as the other. Those busts and gems are different per franchise. They aren't predetermined. There is a formula behind it in regard to how good the scout thinks they are. The better the scout, the higher the likelihood that you are going to uncover those types of players, but typically you won't uncover more than like three gems and then a handful of busts. That's if you left it on auto-scout. If you manually scouted you may get to five gems, so there is definitely some benefit to manually scouting some guys, but there may only be 10 in a specific draft class. It's random but within a range if that makes sense. 

Are those gem and bust designations guaranteed, or can scouts whiff on those?
They are guaranteed, and the reason we did that was to not have it be completely from a user perspective if I see this guy is a gem, I would want him to be a gem as opposed to being like I don't know what's going on? However, to counter that we made them super rare, so you're not getting a substantial amount. We didn't want it to be a very crappy moment where this guy isn't a gem, I can't trust my scout at all. But a crappier scout will have a very low likelihood of finding a guy. 

When you put a player on your draft board early on, do the scouts pay more attention to him moving forward or do you still have to do that manually?
The draft board is more or less a user-based thing. It's more for the user to keep track of players they want. The scouts will obviously go scout players more often if they are within the top 250 of the draft class, so you should get relatively decent information on those players, but there is no bias to players on your draft board. It's more for pure tracking purposes for the player. In years past, we had a watchlist of five. We wanted to get it to 50 so they could really keep track of the players they want to grab in the draft. 

How does this new scouting system affect trading during the draft?
As a result of the draft board, what we wanted to do was create shortlists for all of the CPU teams kind of like a user or ream GM would do. Every team takes into account their weaknesses, their strengths, how good the player is that is currently in that pick. Each team has a shortlist that they would want to work off of. Sometimes that list is as small as three per round, sometimes it's a lot larger – depends on the team. But they no longer take the best pick available. They will actually look at their prospect depth. That's scaled based on where they are in the draft. If they are in the top half they are going to draft usually the best pick available, but in later rounds they'll draft more for depth. Now that they know who they are targeting and who they want to get, if they think a player that they want is going to be picked ahead of them, they will try to move up in the draft. And if the player that they wanted is gone and they have no one left on their shortlist, they will be more willing to trade back and go to the next set of guys essentially. So, they're a lot smarter in that way. They're also more draft oriented trades. They'll do two picks for one based on the trade value for the draft picks.

When CPU teams create their shortlist of targeted players per round, is that based on where the players are slated to go? Is that the parameter for their valuations are or do they reach, too?
They do reach in some cases. Some of the picks won't be in line with central scouting. Sometimes guys will fall like five spots and they may be like 'oh, I'm going to grab that guy because that guy fell.' It really depends on the drafts and the team that is picking in that slot. 

You have all this behind-the-scenes logic that dictates what these teams do, but it never really surfaces for the player. Have you thought of creating a narrative engine that takes the information of why these teams are doing what they are doing and translating it into a draft pick hot take from an analyst so it feels like the player can understand what the teams are doing? 
Obviously, that would be an amazing thing to do. I think for this year specifically, just the amount of depth that we are adding we obviously couldn't get to everything that we wanted to do in regard to that presentation element. That's not to say that isn't something we may want to do in the future, it would definitely be cool to have that Madden-esque type of feel where they would have Adam Schefter show up in the draft as you are picking players. It's definitely something we would like to get to. 

Let's talk about the introduction of pro scouting and fog of war. Why was this something you wanted to add into the game?
We've had amateur scouting in the past, and I really wanted to blow that up and make that feel in depth. And as we were designing the feature, we were throwing some stuff around and thought wouldn't it be cool if we had pro scouts and actually have a pro scout that actually means something? By adding something like fog of war and really flipping the game mode on its head on that regard where you are seeing every bit of information on a player and now you're not longer getting that information, we really wanted to make it a unique experience so that not every franchise mode feels the same based on the team that you pick, the scouts that you have on your team, you're going to get different results on players that you've scouted. You may overpay for players in trades as a result because your information isn't exact. There are lots of little things that in the real world the GM is going to make a mistake. In our old game, you weren't able to make those same mistakes because you could see everything so we really wanted to incorporate that real-life GM feel into the game. Having pro scouting and fog of war allows us to do that. 

The fog of war also applies to your own prospects – coming into the league you don't have all the true information on them. How long does that fog last on your prospects?
It depends on how much that you play them. So, let's say I drafted a player that I didn't really scout well as an amateur player. Once he comes over we convert their amateur report into a professional report. Once they do that, you can then play them in the preseason if you would like if they have a signed contract. In that timeframe, you may get to say a three-bar accuracy and not a four-bar one. You may need to play this guy a little more so that he gets his nine-game trial in the NHL so you can really make a good evaluation. We're trying to get that same sense and feeling as a real NHL team would have to make a decision on a player. This guy may be a 78-overall player with three-bar accuracy, but he may be an 80 when you're scouting is fully accurate or he may be a 75. I need to play him more to get that information before I keep him on my roster or send him back down to juniors.

Will you get that information if they are playing in the AHL or is it only if they are playing up with the big club?
You will get that information if they are playing in the AHL. You will get that information but if they get sent back down to the CHL then you can't bring them back up.

How does the fog of war affect CPU trade evaluations? Do you have proposals where they don't have full information on their players so you can fleece them? Do some teams reject the trade, do the research, and come back and re-propose it?
They won't do that in the sense that they won't counter-propose a trade but it does affect the CPU trades in a manner in which sometimes they will trade for a player.... it’s more user oriented than CPU oriented but it does affect the CPU in a roundabout way. Let's say I'm trying to trade for a player. When they evaluate a player off your team and you are taking a player off your team they kind of have that similar knowledge. There is some of that but it's not as in-depth as the user side. The CPU doesn't have an advantage, they have some potential error in there, but it's not as great as it is for the user. 

How long does your clarity last on a player from another team before the fog of war starts to creep in again? 
We decay reports every 30 to 60 days. We also do regenerate a report for player every time you play their team again. If that player is in the lineup and you played them, you will generate a temporary boost to maintain that report on that player and get a little more accurate information. But by the end of the year if you never scouted a player again, you'll actually lose all the information. They will decay relatively quickly if you don't have a scout in that region scouting those teams. 

I noticed you can scout line combinations. How is that beneficial as opposed to the other ways of scouting?
Right now, viewing lines would always be accurate. It's more for the users who play games, if they want to take a look at who's on the opposing team's lineup going into a game, it gives them that extra bit of information whereas in years past you could go to view lines and just look at their lines; like anything else you had full information on them. It's just to add a little bit of extra depth for the user that goes in and plays a lot of games so they can get a leg up on that team by scouting their line combinations. 

Were there elements you were trying to get into the scouting mode this year you weren't able to get to?
This is one of the few features where I think we got a lot of what we wanted to get in. In terms of is there anything that we wanted to get in not get in, I don't think so. 

Did you do anything different with player morale this year?
There's always fine-tuning we do based off player feedback, but nothing major. There's obviously bugs that we fixed with certain things but nothing major with player morale. Continuing to make it more performance driven than it was in the past when it was team chemistry oriented. We just played around with that a little bit more to fine tune it. 

Any changes to how the CPU GMs handle team composition? I noticed in the past few years they are really bad about freeing up roster spots for trade flexibility. They're always up against that 50-contract ceiling. 
Yeah, that gets better as you get deeper into dynasty. The problem is earlier on they are not as flexible because we're using the real-world rosters and we're importing players. By the time we get to September or October, they're kind of at that threshold. In regard to roster composition, we've done a few tweaks on how they look at players here and there. Nothing major but again it's more fine tuning when they will try to trade a player or what type of player they will sign. Very minuscule things. 

I run into something every year and I don't know if its sim engine based or contacts demand logic, but you'll have a guy who is maybe an 80 like most players in the league, he only scores 10 goals a year. He's not super productive. He's a second- or third-line guy, and every once and a while you'll get these types of players demanding contracts way more in line with a high-skill player who generates a lot more points. How is that player's contract demands determined?
Every guy that you try to sign it depends on how old they are, so you won't see a guy that's done growing get to that point. They are basically banking on themselves to be better at a certain point in their career. What they'll do is look ahead and say, 'I'm going to be a good player, so I would like to have this dollar amount.' It's not always guaranteed so that's why you have to make that decision – am I going to pay this guy or am I not going to pay this guy? But it does have some logic in that they are trying to see if they are going to project into that potential they have and they'll demand based off that. Now, there's a lot of things that we've seen that we want to adjust with that. I've heard the community talk about this in the past and we just haven't had the chance to get to it, about it being more stats driven so that player even though he may grow into that 88 overall, he shouldn't be asking for that contract. There's definitely some stuff there that we should still address, but that's kind of what the thinking behind it is. 

I noticed if you have a deep club like the Red Wings were the last decade, where your prospects are staying in the AHL until they are 24 and 25 and coming into that next contract, they'll be demanding a new contract like they've been a top-six winger in the NHL for a couple years even though they haven't played in the league yet. 
Yes, and that kind of falls back to what I had just said – they are projecting themselves out. Now, they may not become good, they may become that 88 overall or they may become an 80. It's really up to you to sort of make that decision as the end user. Obviously, we want to make it better so it's a little more in tune with the real world and those expectations they have from a contract perspective. 

There are a lot of moving parts to this deep new scouting system. Do you have any times for people just getting started so they get the most out of it?
That's a good question. Without giving away too much, knowing how everything kind of works, I would say really utilize your pro scouts to scout divisions at a time as opposed to individual players in some cases unless you are specifically trying to target a player. Otherwise, you may lose information quite quickly if you're not on top of the ball. In terms of amateur scouting, I would say try to diversify as much as you possibly can within each region because the way our prospect generation now is, good players are coming out of different areas quite often. You may want that All Cent Skin scout or that EBL scout just in case. Try to cast a wider net than you would have in years past where you focused just on specific areas. 

NHL 19 releases on September 14 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. To learn more about the game, read:

Six Changes That Make NHL 19 The Most Promising Hockey Game Of The Generation

EA Answers The Hard Questions On NHL 19 Player Likenesses, Commentary Changes, EASHL Practice Mode, And Online Franchise

Categories: Games

The Messenger Hopes To Be A Cut Above The Games That Inspired It

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 08/17/2018 - 16:00

If retro-revivals are like trying to recreate a favorite food from memory, The Messenger is trying to recreate food from memory and experiment with the recipe at the same time. In most cases that would be reckless, but The Messenger manages to hit upon the right combination of nostalgia, execution, and a few surprises to make the new parts seem like it could have always been there.

If not for the widescreen aspect ratio, it would be easy to confuse The Messenger for its inspiration Ninja Gaiden. The eponymous Messenger looks like he stepped straight into Ryu Hayabusa’s 2D shoes, and mask, and gi, and the indie title makes no bones about it. Within seconds, you’re jumping and slashing enemies with immediate expertise as you start on your journey and it only goes up from there.

An ancient evil has risen from the underworld and a warrior from the west entrusts a ninja trainee with the important mission of delivering a scroll to prophets at the top of the mountain. As the messenger, you make your way to the top of the mountain using all your ninja skills, which include a lot more than just jumping and swinging your sword at enemies.

On your journey, you gain a number of new abilities both through an upgrade tree and as part of your story progress, but both are pretty important to take utilize. The upgrade tree uses collectible currency found in the game for simple things like stat upgrades to critical skills you should immediately get like the ability to attack enemy projectiles. As you progress through the game, you will get the ability to climb on walls, glide, and more. No one is going to shoot this messenger easily.

As a linear Ninja Gaiden-like, The Messenger is surprisingly fun. One of the game’s fundamental mechanics is letting you jump in the air after slashing something with a hitbox, like enemies, their projectiles, or lanterns scattered across the stage. This means levels and puzzles are designed on the ninja ability to hit things and stay in the air indefinitely, which makes for fast-paced and exciting action. As long as you keep your abilities in mind, you’ll never be at a loss for how to tackle a situation.

Despite hewing so closely to its inspirations, it is important to note that The Messenger is never unfair. No birds are going to divebomb at you that so you fall helplessly off a cliff. The wind won’t change at the last second to force you to fall to your death. You will still die, but death’s only consequences are a small loss of programs and a monster following you around to eat the collectible currency you grab until it has its fill.

Perhaps The Messenger’s most interesting quality is its writing. Dialogue with the shopkeeper goes for days and he will occasionally entertain you with stories that range from passive aggressive life lessons to genuinely dark fairy tales. There’s also a few opportunities depending for specific moments where you can drag the dialogue on for 60 - 70 text boxes without repeating. The shopkeeper sometimes annihilates the fourth wall, which I’m rarely a fan of, but the clever writing outweighs the occasional awkward jokes about game design.

The Messenger’s early hours scratch an itch I’ve had for Ninja Gaiden while also not being frustrating, which Ninja Gaiden can sometimes be. The game also hosts more than a few surprises, which will become apparent to players who stick with it and see things through to the end.

The Messenger releases on PC and Switch on August 30.

Categories: Games

F1 2018 Review In Progress

Gamespot News Feed - Fri, 08/17/2018 - 09:00

Despite the cars being the quickest they’ve ever been in the sport’s history, Formula One in 2018 is about much more than pure speed. Impressively, the technical nature of driving the fastest, most advanced cars on the planet is something Codemasters goes to great lengths to portray in F1 2018, and the experience is all the better for it. Behind the wheel, an updated, more intricate tire model and the new Energy Recovery System controls push the game closer to a realistic simulation than the series has ever been before. This shift complements some smart changes to career mode around upgrades and media interaction that expand and broaden the game's appeal beyond a single season.

F1 2018 returns to the starting grid with a huge number of different game modes. Take control of your favorite driver in a single Grand Prix weekend, or lead them to the title in one of numerous championship events across varying disciplines. If racing against other players is more your thing, F1 2018 includes both ranked and unranked multiplayer lobbies, along with a full, 21-race online multiplayer championship that can be raced with strangers or friends alike. But where F1 2018 shines brightest is in its Career mode, which sees you assume the role of a custom-created rookie who’s new to the F1 paddock, freshly signed to a team of your choice.

Who you sign with will dictate the performance expectations laid out in your contract for the coming season. Sign with a first-class team like Mercedes or Ferrari and you’ll receive a car that’s both capable--and expected--to challenge for wins every race weekend. Sign with a lesser team like Williams or Toro Rosso and you’ll need to adjust your expectations to something more realistic to their performance level, and help the team move up the order through building performance upgrades to improve your chances.

New performance parts come quickly in F1 2018 with the upgrade system having been overhauled to give you more resource points for completing team goals. A steady flow of good performances now mean you can afford to bring multiple upgrades to subsequent races, giving you a noticeably better performing car, and a greater shot at a better finish in future events. The faster flow of upgrades feels far more rewarding than the slow trickle of past games, letting you make tangible gains on the opposition over a season. To keep things interesting in the long run, regulation changes at the end of the year can completely wipe out an upgrade tree, resetting the grid order in the process, making it possible for new teams to rise to the top, and the current dominant teams fall to the midfield.

Each team has a unique upgrade path for each of the four performance departments, and each can be directly influenced by your interactions with the media, who will hound you occasionally after a session with questions on your performance. Keeping your team morale high will keep upgrade costs down along with decreasing the chances of parts failing during development, while saying the wrong thing and upsetting them will have the opposite effect. Although answering the same questions regularly gets tiresome fast, the resulting morale changes to your team make the hassle worth it.

Performing above expectations puts you in a stronger position for contract negotiations, which thanks to the changes to the upgrade system, feels like a more relevant and rewarding process than before. A high driver value gives you more room to push for a deal that will generate more resource points, including the new addition of contract perks, which can grant strong bonuses from extra resource points for upgrades up to faster pit stops.

The only disappointment remains the muted damage system, once a marquee feature of Codemaster’s titles, once again looking like it’s been unchanged since the series' early days.

Eight new classic cars join the twelve from last year’s F1 game, representing a gorgeous range of vehicles from the sport’s history in addition to the monstrous beasts of the 2018 season. All of the game’s cars look impeccably recreated; the meticulous detailing of the winglets and carbon fiber on the modern cars being a highlight, despite the much-maligned ‘halo’ surrounding the cockpit. Each of the game’s 21 locations has been given a lick of paint, too, and look gorgeous whether under lights, baking sun or a heavy downpour. Joining the calendar for the first time is the new Circuit Paul Ricard in France, a labyrinthian maze of tarmac and colored lines with a slightly confusing layout, and the return of the mighty Hockenheimring in Germany, a personal favorite. The only disappointment remains the muted damage system, once a marquee feature of Codemaster’s titles, once again looking like it’s been unchanged since the series' early days.

The difference in driving feel between the modern and classic cars is huge; where the modern cars demand a certain finesse with the controls to get the most speed, the older cars let you slide around and wrestle with the wheel a lot more. But the real enjoyment comes from driving the 2018 hybrids, with their unbelievable power and grip being bolstered by two new simulation elements in the form of the ERS deployment controls and the new tire carcass temperature model.

While both sound minor on paper, they make an incredible addition to the element of strategy through a race. The ERS system controls the amount of power deployed from the car’s hybrid battery, giving you six different settings to play with, from zero to full deployment. You can change it on the fly to attack the car in front or defend a move from behind, adding an extra tactical element at your fingertips. It can be overwhelming to manage initially, requiring a little thumb dancing on the control pad--it’s much easier with a wheel. Although if that all sounds too much for you, it can be fully automated so you don’t have to worry about changing it while trying to focus on driving.

The tire carcass temperature model is more complex and is the series' biggest step into simulation territory yet, measuring both the surface and inside temperatures of a tire to give a more accurate simulation of how it should wear while you drive on it. If you drive them too hard, or use the wrong compound in the wrong conditions, the tire will overheat and you’ll have to slow down to bring them back into their working temperature range. It puts a stronger emphasis on managing your tires through different driving styles, especially in the longer races, and the way overdriving the tires has an adverse effect on car handling and grip is superb.

The simulation-like additions to the driving model bring you closer than ever to the feeling of sitting on the grid with 1000+ horsepower at your feet.

The racing AI feel more aggressive than ever in F1 2018, and it makes for a noticeably more intense racing experience. Drivers not only defend the inside line into a corner, they will generally make more of a nuisance of themselves when trying to overtake you, rarely conceding a corner unless you’ve managed to put them in a bad position. Multiplayer has been revamped to include a new safety rating, which measures how cleanly you race in ranked lobbies, and a skill rank to matchmake you with other racers of like skill level. However, due to the pre-release nature of the build, we have yet to test the robustness of these rankings.

F1 2018 is brilliant, and the most complete Formula One game to date. The changes to career mode make it the strongest and most appealing it’s ever been thanks to the revamped upgrade system, while the simulation-like additions to the driving model bring you closer than ever to the feeling of sitting on the grid with 1000+ horsepower at your feet, without overwhelming those who just want to jump in and drive.

Editor's note: This will remain a review in progress until we test F1 2018's online modes at launch.

Categories: Games

The Quiet Man Trailer Is Cryptic And Creepy

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 08/16/2018 - 15:28

The Quiet Man's mix of live action sequences with brutal combat is on full display in the title's new trailer, but the footage also poses other questions.

Clearly the game's story involves more than just the kidnapping of jazz lounge singer Lala, and while the action may take place over a single night, for deadly and deaf protagonist Dane the game's events evoke feelings and memories of an entire lifetime.

The Quiet Man is coming soon to PS4 and PC, and is priced at $14.99.

For more on the game, check out this earlier preview covering 40-minutes of gameplay.

Categories: Games

New Battlefield V Trailer Shows Off Rotterdam Map, Gives First Glimpse Of Battle Royale

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 08/16/2018 - 14:46

Right before Gamescom kicks off in Cologne, Germany, EA and DICE have released a new Battlefield V trailer. The two-minute clip gives us a good look at the Rotterdam map, which takes place during another early World War II battle that happened before the Americans joined the fray. Known as the Rotterdam Blitz, in 1940 the German Luftwaffe carried out a devastating aerial bombardment, essentially raising the historic center of the Dutch city. 

You can see the Frostbite engine's impressive destructibility at play here as tanks rip through buildings and bombs drop from above. DICE is clearly a big fan of soldiers performing combat rolls after jumping out of windows, as this is the second trailer to showcase these animations for Battlefield V. I'm not sure why EA chose to use a cover of the classic folk ballad "House of the Rising Sun" for the trailer – the song is about New Orleans, after all – but then again I'm not sure why EA marketing makes most of its decisions.

At the 1:38 mark, the trailer transitions to show a closing circle of fire, which we presume is the border DICE plans to use for its version of battle royale. 

Battlefield V is coming to PS4, Xbox One, and PC on October 19. You can read our hands-on impressions of the new Grand Operations mode here, and learn about the 12 biggest changes coming to the game here

Categories: Games

New Survival Sim Sends Resource-Gathering To The High Seas

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 08/16/2018 - 14:00

The survival management subgenre generally isn't a cheery place. Recent sims like Frostpunk and This War of Mine drive that home, even with the most effective resource-gathering, some things are simply out of your control.

Flotsam, a new game from developer Pajama Llama, looks to be a lighter take on a still-dire situation. Set on a floating pile of trash, Flotsam tasks players with managing a floating village community as you recycle garbage into new structures, collect fish, and process drinkable water.

The game's colorful art style makes somewhat horrifying concepts – like fish wrapped in humanity's discarded trash – cuter than they have any right to be. 

Flotsam won't release until 2019, but the game aims to hit both PC and Mac.

Categories: Games

Real Stop-Motion Gets Gamified in Vokabulantis

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 08/15/2018 - 19:12

Although games that use a stop-motion art style have been attempted before, they're exceptionally rare. Every minuscule detail of animation has to be posed and captured in real life and then somehow ported into an engine that can mesh those movements with player input. Harold Halibut is one such game, set to release in 2019. Today, we got a peek behind the curtain of another such title: Vokabulantis.

Blown away by Frej Bengtsson's game animations for WiredFly's stop-motion game VOKABULANTIS. Making-of here:

— Jonathan Cooper (@GameAnim) August 14, 2018

Working through the Danish studio WiredFly, Vokabulantis is a puzzle game in which you control two friends that have been thrown into the "World of the Language," an eerie landscape full of imposing towers and deep shadows. A new video shows off the incredibly labor-intensive process of creating the characters, posing them, and then incorporating them into the game's world. 

Vokabulantis will be a PC release, with potential console port later down the line. No release information is available yet. 

Categories: Games

Five Big Changes Coming To NBA 2K19's MyTeam

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 08/15/2018 - 16:00

Card collection modes are one of the most visited destinations across sports games, and it's no different for NBA 2K. The thrill of building a super team out of cards you either earn or purchase has proven strong over the last decade. For NBA 2K19, Visual Concepts has some big changes in store. Here are the most notable new features coming to the game. 

MyTeam Unlimited

To spruce up MyTeam, Visual Concept is retiring modes from past games like Pack & Playoffs and SuperMax. One of the new features filling that vacated space is MyTeam Unlimited. Basically, this mode lets you take your 13 best cards to form a super team to compete online in a seasons style format to borrow parlance from the Madden and FIFA games. 

Each season, you play a block of 12 games with the goal of winning as many games as possible. Lose three games, and you have to start from scratch. Rewards scale upward based on how many wins you can accrue before hitting that daunting third loss. Win all 12, and you can look forward to receiving a Player of the Month card. If you can collect all the POTM cards, you will receive a Galaxy Opal Isiah Thomas card, with Galaxy Opal being the new rarest and most powerful type of card available.

Triple Threat 3v3 Modes

Full squad basketball isn't going anywhere, but given the popularity of 3v3 match-ups in the Neighborhood, Visual Concepts Wants to bring this to MyTeam in the form of Triple Threat, a new mode-within-the mode that features both single-player and competitive components. For the single-player gauntlet, you need to take down all 30 NBA teams. Every time you clean house on an NBA division, you earn one of the new Reward Tokens for use in a special marketplace. After you reign over every NBA team, it opens up a new competition where you have to beat teams featuring the best three players from that franchise. This section of the mode offers a wider variety of prizes.

Online, after each game you play you return to the new prize drop interface, where you drop a ball down a peg board to see what reward you get. If you manage to win 10 games before losing three, you get to drop five balls and collect five prizes. Once you rack up that third L, you start from square one. 

New Heat-Check Cards

New to MyTeam for NBA 2K19, Heat Check cards look and operate exactly like a base collection card – unless, that is, the player goes on a tear in real life. For instance, if the Greek Freak goes off for 40 points for the Bucks in real life, his Heat Check card will get activated, giving it a 48-hour ratings boost. The level of boost depends on how good of a game the player had. 

Steadier Content Drops

Visual Concepts realizes they had too many content lulls in the schedule last year, and it took too long to start dropping the upper echelon cards. For NBA 2K19, they want to avoid that with a better content cadence that includes five new single-player challenges every week, new multiplayer challenges every week, the return of Moments challenges, daily trials, and a more reliable stream of Locker Codes. 

To drive more interest in the high-end market, you can expect to see Amethysts from day one. Some Diamonds and Pink Diamonds are also going to drop in September. 

A Revamped Interface

For NBA 2K19, Visual Concepts has given MyTeam a dramatic overhaul. You can expect a new packet market, new auction house, redesigned landing page, redesigned collections menu, a new pack opening/card reveal animation, new edit lineups menu, a new card glossary that teaches you about the nuances of each card type, and a notifications system.

To read about more changes coming to MyTeam in NBA 2K19, including throwback collections, the NBA 2K 20th anniversary collection, the return of collector levels, and to get your very first MyTeam Locker Code for NBA 2K19, head to the official blog.

Categories: Games

Phantom Doctrine Launch Trailer Shows Gameplay Systems And Cold War Style

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 08/14/2018 - 21:40

Phantom Doctrine, fittingly enough, really snuck up on us. The turn-based strategy game has complex stealth systems, base management, and a good helping of cold war flair. In a recent New Gameplay Today, we did our best to play the game while simultaneously explaining its mechanics – a task that proved very difficult

Thankfully, developer CreativeForge games just released a launch trailer that does all those things quite efficiently. It features the game's fashion options, sneaky knock-outs, and international intrigue, all set to stylish music.

The game is out now on PS4 and PC, with an Xbox One release on August 24. 


Categories: Games

The Walking Dead - The Final Season Episode 1: Done Running Review

Gamespot News Feed - Tue, 08/14/2018 - 20:00

Editor's note: The review contains spoilers for The Walking Dead: A New Frontier. Throughout Telltale's The Walking Dead, we have seen what living in a zombified hellscape can do to people. The one perpetual ray of hope was in Clementine, the little girl whose soul you've been trying to protect since the first hour of the first season, and the character you control in Telltale's latest chapter. She was one of the depressingly few children left, now forced to grow up in a hostile world of zombies, desperate survivors, treacherous backcountry, deathtrap cities, and, above all, rampant, indiscriminate, ignoble death. We've seen, in New Frontier, what this world does to her. It has robbed the music from her voice. She carried the tragedies she has endured like a ball and chain wrapped around her neck.

It's worth mentioning that sad, storied history to understand just how strangely heartening it is that The Walking Dead's final season kicks off on a note of… well, hope is a strong word. Acceptance may be closer to the truth. Having known so little else of the world before, Clementine having pushed past her broken, bloody adolescence into early adulthood with her sanity intact may be the greatest blessing Telltale could've possibly given her character.

Without a doubt, much of that likely comes down to necessity. While we never see the how of it all, when Done Running begins it is at least six or seven years after the events of A New Frontier and Clementine has found A.J., the ersatz adopted son who was taken away by her authoritarian caretakers in Richmond, Virginia. The episode starts with Clementine behind the wheel of a muscle car, racing through the backroads with A.J. in the backseat. If we didn't know that walkers could be literally anywhere, it could just be a young mother and their son on a road trip to see family. There are smiles, Clementine jokes around with toys to make A.J. laugh in the face of his hunger, and the trials of figuring out the next move or where the next meal is coming are treated as facts of life rather than crushing burden. Life among the walkers is now a simple truth, and both Clem and A.J. have grown into people who have adjusted accordingly.

The same can be said of Telltale itself, which has also evolved the long-stagnant gameplay of the series. The camera is now fully controllable in action sequences, over Clementine's shoulder. QTEs are still a core element of gameplay, but you can now face walkers more proactively, walking up and choosing whether to go for a stab to the head directly or target its kneecaps before destroying the head. Walkers that get too close still need to be fought off by spamming an action button, but extra care has to be taken now--if more than one walker catches Clem off guard, it's game over. Later in the episode, environmental traps can be triggered, which help give Clementine a little more breathing room. While not a problem on PC, there is a little bit of confusion when going from the third-person camera to having to use the classic cursor for certain segments on consoles, and not being able to separately adjust how the camera and cursor control is a missed opportunity. Still, the complaints about Telltale's games being little more than Dragon's Lair with branching dialogue have been somewhat muted.

The art style and the graphics have seen a similar once-over, stepping ever-so-slightly away from trying to be a 1:1 translation of the original Walking Dead comics. Character models are handled as usual, save for the updated lighting system introduced in The Walking Dead Collection. However, much of the background details take on a rougher, more abstract nature that grants a beautiful, lurid contrast to the sharper character models in the daytime, and makes the horrors that visit at night even harder to see in the distance. A cellar sequence late in the episode may be one of the most legitimately effective pure horror sequences in the entire series due to lighting that obscure whether a walker is on the other side of the room or literally right behind you.

It's such a rarity that the responsibilities of motherhood are treated with care and respect in a video game, and the stakes are sky high when so much of Clementine's motherhood revolves around how to best avoid or deal out death.

The game still plays to Telltale’s greatest strength, which is branching storytelling. The tables have been turned somewhat, however most of Done Running isn't necessarily about furthering the plot, or creating tense scraps for Clementine to shoot her way out of, but sheer exploration and observation in a unique scenario we’ve never seen in the series. After an encounter with a group of Walkers goes sideways on Clementine and A.J., they convalesce at Ericson Academy, a long-forgotten, isolated, boarding school where the adults are either dead or have abandoned their young charges. Clementine is surrounded, for the first time, by well-written, fully-fleshed out children and teenagers. A couple of them had lives before the walkers, but most don't. There is no old world for them to miss, as many were too young when the dead started turning to mourn having parents at all.

Much of the dialogue, then, is focused less on deciding how Clementine will survive going forward, but seeing exactly how other kids have adjusted in this insanity and deciding how much she wants to join them. How you've played Clementine in the past may determine how much distance you want to put between Clem and this community. Everyone knows what happens to tight-knit groups in this world, and while the kids may have some measure of grace about "the same thing that always happens" happening to one of their own, it begs the question of how much you want to get invested. One of the big moments of the episode is meeting the leader, Marlon, and his big burly, walker-mauling pit bull named Rosie. Series veterans will remember very, very well what happened the last time Clementine met a dog, and the memory of that horror is all over her face when Rosie appears. Choosing to get over that fear goaded by Marlon's assertions that she's a sweetheart of a dog when there aren't walkers around may very well be one half of the Rosetta Stone to how you should play Clementine for the episode.

The other half, however, is A.J., and it's in him that much of the tension of the episode and, you can guess, the season will come from. Much of the series thus far has been about you playing caretaker and benefactor over Clementine's soul, keeping her sane throughout unfathomable terror. A.J., on the other hand, is not only younger than Clementine was when this all started, but hasn’t had nearly as much exposure to people as she did at the same age. And like every young child, A.J. is an information sponge for the world around him.

One of the first prompts you get in game states "A.J. is always listening.". It's true. A.J. sees every action Clementine takes, takes everything she tells him as gospel, and generally follows her lead. So much of his life has been just the two of them; however, many of the lessons come back to literally bite them (or, rather, vice versa). Once they arrive at Ericson, A.J. instinctively attacks people who try sneaking up behind him, bites people who approach him the wrong way, and tends to scrounge for materials, not caring whether they belong to someone else. One of the big decisions of the episode is whether to allow him to sleep on the floor their first night, with A.J. explaining that it would help him hide from walkers, and he could help protect Clementine better from a place of safety. It's a little heartbreaking, and yet, it's up to you whether that sad fact of his existence is worth breaking knowing that it might come in handy later. A much bigger, more lethal lesson is imparted early on that could majorly turn around on you in the last moments of the episode if you play it a certain way. It's such a rarity that the responsibilities of motherhood are treated with care and respect in a video game, and the stakes are sky high when so much of Clementine's motherhood revolves around how to best avoid or deal out death.

The full scope and breadth of The Walking Dead: The Final Season has yet to be laid out, though perhaps the best hint can be found in the game's fancy, HBO-esque title sequence, showing Clementine and A.J. walking into Ericson, but also showing a silhouetted dead walker rotting away in the front yard, being overtaken by ivy, and, eventually, sprouting a yellow flower. Beautiful things are possible in the new world and the new ways to play that Telltale has laid out in Done Running. But something ugly and horrifying is likely to happen first, and it is going to be captivating to watch.

Categories: Games

New Fallout 76 Teaser Previews The Benefits And Horrors Of Teamwork

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 08/14/2018 - 17:30

Bethesda's Fallout previews, with an old-timey narrator and simple animations, are often both adorable and disturbing. The studio's newest trailer for Fallout 76 exhibits both those traits, and shows off several potential situations for multiplayer parties to get themselves embroiled in.

Earlier this week, Bethesda dropped some details on how players would battle each other, but this sneak peek is focused squarely on tenuous cooperation. Though not gameplay footage, the video shows teams of vault-dwellers doing things that will most likely exist in-game. 

The activities shown include:

  • Battling monsters together (potentially using a team-based V.A.T.S system?)
  • Fending off hordes with automated defenses 
  • Eating and drinking together
  • Accidentally triggering traps
  • Taking your dead friends' loot once you accidentally triggered the traps
  • Getting into fights with rival squads of players

The dark comedy and colorful look of this preview cartoon are unmistakably Fallout; Bethesda is making serious efforts to let players know that, even with the massive changes, this will still be the absurd post-apocalypse they know and love. 

For more on Fallout 76, check out our breakdown of the new class system and our details of the beta

Categories: Games

Phantom Doctrine Review: Tactical Espionage Action

Gamespot News Feed - Tue, 08/14/2018 - 16:00

It's 1983. The Cold War is underway and there's a global conspiracy being perpetrated by a mysterious organization called Beholder. Fighting against Beholder are you and your rival organization, The Cabal. In Phantom Doctrine, you have the choice of playing as either an American CIA or a Russian KGB agent in charge of their own group of spies, but regardless of your alliance, every move you make needs to be carefully considered or there will be world-ending consequences. This feeling of high stakes strategic decision-making and a constant sense of urgency will become second nature as you progress through this engrossing campaign.

Tension and suspicion are ingrained throughout Phantom Doctrine to great effect. Its isometric turn-based combat system is rewardingly complex, steeped with the feeling of paranoia, where every variable decision and tactic needs to be carefully considered--even before a mission begins. The sprawling narrative is full of intriguing characters and plot twists befitting of a spy epic, with a distinct sense of distrust in voice performances (both Russian and English), and a noir soundtrack to perpetuate the overall atmosphere.

The isometric turn-based tactical combat system may look outwardly similar to other games in the same genre--action points, cover, and overwatch will be familiar concepts--but there are also many unique intricacies to internalize, and it will take some time to learn due to a large number of options available when it comes to completing objectives. Going in loud and hard is a viable option, and Phantom Doctrine even features an exciting room-breaching mechanic. But it is far more rewarding to use stealth tactics due to the wealth of strategies available. You can send in a couple of disguised spies and do everything underneath the enemy's nose; you can use your supports to help scout out an optimal path, snipe troublesome minions, or send in a smoke grenade as a distraction; you can silently eliminate everyone and hide the bodies before anyone notices; you can even send in sleeper agents to do your dirty work for you.

You can also choose to sacrifice some of your mission time to conduct a reconnaissance run, which will place you in a much better position during the subsequent mission since it opens up the options of strategically placed support agents and disguises. But if you find yourself in a time-sensitive position, then no support options will be available and the margins of error are much narrower. While you can still complete missions in whatever manner you see fit, a single false move can carry greater consequences to your campaign, compared to the relatively leniency that proper preparation and contingencies can give you. Should a mission go sideways, hard decisions must be made, such as whether to leave an agent behind and risk them getting captured, or trying to evacuate everyone at the risk of no one surviving. These field missions are exciting because Phantom Doctrine manages to balance many complex, variable mechanics with a welcome flexibility in tactical decision-making, making it satisfying to play, characteristically distinct, and thematically appropriate.

The base- and character-building elements of Phantom Doctrine are just as well realized as the combat systems. These utilize a familiar ant farm-style perspective that splits your base into distinct areas, such as a workshop and analytics department and interrogation rooms, all of which are available to upgrade through the course of the campaign. The most noteworthy room, however, is the intelligence boardroom. Here, Phantom Doctrine takes the well-known investigative trope of "corkboard covered with photos and strings” and turns it into an enjoyable minigame.

As your agents uncover intelligence and find secret files from missions and informants, everything will be collected and pinned to a corkboard, requiring you to decipher the procedurally-generated clues in order to unlock bonuses or progress the narrative. It's the perfect mechanical expression to amplify Phantom Doctrine's espionage themes, and figuring out how a collection of clues relate to one another by linking them all together with yarn is immensely satisfying.

However, don't think that your corkboards and HQ are entirely safe from harm. Enemy spies are constantly looking for you during more macro-oriented strategy sections, and if you send your spies to participate in more attention-grabbing activities, you risk your location being discovered. If found out, you'll be forced to relocate your entire base of operations and be set back in your campaign, or be hit with an ambush. It's a compelling consideration that keeps you cautious and thinking twice about every move you make.

As a senior agent, you're also in charge of hiring, training, and assigning jobs around the globe to your fellow spies. The character-leveling system is deep, and it requires careful strategic planning to build and grow a team of agents while making sure you have access to a wide range of skills and abilities that can be applied across various mission types. You will also occasionally need to make executive decisions that can affect a fellow agent's relationship with you, for better or worse. They may be caught in a tough situation abroad and you're given the choice to leave them, dedicate some resources to help them, or launch an all-out rescue. Depending on your choice, the agent may become more loyal to you, go AWOL, or even defect.

But the game will also sometimes throw unexpected events at you that occur beyond your control, such as a spy that you've employed for a majority of your campaign game revealing themselves to be a double agent the whole time. More shockingly, there's the potential to discover that one of your best spies is a brainwashed sleeper agent in the midst of battle, and have them turn against your team. Traitorous surprises can happen procedurally in addition to being part of the plot, and they brutally emphasize the Cold War paranoia that Phantom Doctrine conveys, creating genuinely upsetting, but incredibly effective, moments.

While all-encompassing paranoia is perfectly encapsulated in Phantom Doctrine's mechanics, writing, and voice acting, the visual presentation leaves much to be desired. Cutscenes are sparse, and still images are the primary narrative delivery device, but neither is particularly easy on the eyes. The cutscenes are drab, and while the still images fare a little better, most are unimaginative. The most egregiously noticeable elements are the character models, which all look unnatural and outdated, and the monotonous location design which makes most places look unremarkable and virtually identical.

In spite of the lackluster visuals, Phantom Doctrine succeeds in making an incredible impression with its intricate and engaging mechanics. There is a lot to admire, with a single-player campaign taking about 40 hours to complete, full of varied and interesting mainline missions and procedurally-generated side content. The ability to play as either a CIA, KGB, or Mossad agent (the latter unlocked after one complete playthrough) also offers the tantalizing prospect of different narrative perspectives. Phantom Doctrine takes the familiar framework of isometric turn-based strategy and confidently repurposes it into a unique and satisfying experience. It wholly embodies the paranoia and tension of the 1980's Cold War setting in every aspect of its numerous gameplay systems, and completely immerses you in that all-encompassing state of mind.

Categories: Games

Gris Turns The Personal Into Platforming

Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 08/13/2018 - 16:12

Hardship transforms people, and none more so than the protagonist of Nomada Studio's new title Gris. The Switch/PC title coming in December chronicles a young girl's journey through the pains of life, her emotional growth transforming her own abilities and the world around her.

The game's a platformer filled with puzzles and skill-based challenges, but according to the Barcelona-based developer, does not include "danger, frustration, or death." Regardless, the protagonist's journey is also reflected in her dress, which gifts new abilities to her that lets her explore new areas in the world.

Gris will be playable this month at Gamescom and PAX West, so we'll let you know more about the title if we get our hands on it.

Categories: Games

Flipping Death Review: The Scythe Life

Gamespot News Feed - Mon, 08/13/2018 - 06:00

Despite its focus on death and the afterlife, Flipping Death is a charming and wholesome adventure. Its zany and often eccentric characters bring the well-paced story to life with fantastic voice acting and a gorgeous 2D art style. Despite some frustrating platforming elements, its campy humor and satisfying puzzle mechanics make it a delightful journey throughout.

Flipping Death puts you in the shoes of the recently departed Penny, a young girl who is accidentally thrown into the job of covering for Death. The role turns out to be rather elaborate, and you’re quickly tasked with helping ghosts resolve their unfinished business. In addition, you’ll have to help the wonderfully sassy Penny attempt to figure out how to return to the world of the living.

In order to give these dead folk a hand and solve various puzzles, you’ll be frequently switching between the worlds of the dead and living by using your trusty scythe to possess mortals and take advantage of their special abilities. Some actions need to happen in one world before the other and vice versa, such as using a person's extraordinarily long tongue in the world of living to paint the boat of a deceased captain, or using a doctor's set of defibrillators to bring a recently passed ghost back to life. You'll need to constantly flip between the two worlds and experiment with character abilities in order to find the right solutions.

Although a majority of solutions are distinct, the repetition of a few mechanics makes some puzzles predictable towards the end of the game. But at the same time, there are some that require a few too many flips in order to figure out the absurd logic behind the game’s ludicrous world. One such puzzle requires a young girl to fall down a chimney to be covered in ash, and in her new darkened state scare a fireman watching horror movies--literally to death--so he can then come to the afterlife and put out the fire on top of a ghost's head. There is a hint system which can help you when you hit a roadblock, but the clues aren’t very subtle and don’t leave much left for you to figure out. However, seeing these strange events play out is enjoyable for the spectacle alone.

The possession mechanic means it’s easy to get sidetracked, testing each ability on other characters and the environment to see what odd results occur--which is convenient because that’s exactly what you’ll need to do to complete the wacky side challenges in each chapter and unlock Ghost Cards. These collectible cards give a pleasant layer of insight into the lives of the ghosts you’re trying to help and mortals you’ve been manipulating.

And the interactions you have with each character, whether it be with the awkward police officer who lacks confidence or the local “superhero” whose power is to literally just poke people, are silly and humorous. It’s hard not to smile at all the bizarre situations they get themselves into. It helps that the voice acting is performed well, with every line delivered with a devotion and passion that makes sure there’s never a dull moment, as well as ensuring the humor lands. Some jokes can be overplayed, but for the most part, I was chuckling from beginning to end, and it was always a joy to meet a new set of characters.

Penny herself seemingly embodies the voice of every person who has played a point-and-click adventure game, as she's constantly questioning and being bewildered by each character's thoughts and actions. Acting as a foil to the many antics happening around her, she provides much of the humor and is a rather refreshing protagonist. She keeps the story engaging through each chapter with her smart quips and unyieldingly sassy personality.

The world of Flipping Death also feels lovingly crafted, filled with intricate details and diverse color palettes that bring each scene and character to life like a magnificent puppet show. The sprawling environments of Flatwood Peaks are occasionally reimagined to tell the story in interesting and unexpected ways, and a fast-travel system helps to make sure backtracking never feels like too much of a chore. A diverse instrumental soundtrack also accompanies your adventures, filling in the quieter moments but never intruding or distracting from conversations or puzzle solving.

The one area where Flipping Death really falls flat is when you’re forced into annoying platforming sections in order to collect wandering souls and other odd currencies required to possess each character. These sections feel as if they exist solely to pad out the story and act as a break from puzzles, but the game’s controls aren’t accurate or satisfying enough for them to be any fun. Platforming quickly becomes an annoying gatekeeper that stops you from continuing to enjoy the rest of the game.

Flipping Death's logic is sometimes too ridiculous for its own good, and frustrating platforming sections add some tarnish. But the game’s silly puzzles, self-aware humor, and crazy characters still make a wonderful experience filled with plenty of chuckles, which help to leave you satisfied as the credits roll.

Categories: Games

What To Expect From Doom Eternal's Campaign, Multiplayer, And More

Game Informer News Feed - Sun, 08/12/2018 - 17:15

A day after Doom Eternal's extensive gameplay reveal at QuakeCon, I sat down with id Software's Marty Stratton, who serves as the project's executive producer, and Hugo Martin, creative director, to talk about how the sequel will shake things up for the campaign, combat, multiplayer, and mod scene. Stratton and Martin wouldn't give away every secret, yet but did dive deep into what we can expect from certain aspects of this sequel.

Take me back to the conclusion of Doom. You finished it up and started thinking about the future. What was that aftermath like? What kind of discussions did you have?
Marty Stratton: It was quick. We started planning and pre-production right away. We had post-mortem discussions about what we did right and wrong and what we wanted to do better. There was a lot of research on reviews, YouTube, everything. We took it all in, and tried to figure out where to go from there.

Hugo started with the creative team right away; trying to figure out where we would go next.

Hugo Martin: We also hoped to get the chance to make another one, so the story arc started in 2016. We laid the groundwork for the sequel. There was a ton of work to be done across the board, but in that regard, it was about continuing what we started.

At that point you were showing the world what a new Doom could look like. Now you say you are creating an entire Doom universe. That screams of extensive plans. Can you discuss what we can expect from the Doom universe?
HM: We're so excited. It's what we always wanted. It just means [Doom Eternal] has depth and a lot of substance. That's mostly it – that it's something that is worth your time.

MS: There's thought and depth behind every decision, visual, level, and weapon. We tried to build a lot of lore into the codex in Doom 2016. A portion of the audience dives into that. Some people don't even know it's there. We think people that do invest in it appreciate it. With Doom Eternal, we want to make sure it's within arm's reach if you want it. It's all there. There are answers to your burning questions.

A lot of people are affected by the game on a visceral level. They love killing the demons. None of that is changing. What is exciting for me are the conversations that happen around this stuff as we build it. They are so amazing and fun. The ideas and lore are thought through by really creative people. We haven't really put [the lore] out there where people can be a part of it. That's what I love about story games, stuff like Elder Scrolls. They put it out there where people can get it at varying levels. We want to bring people into that conversation a little bit more. We think what we have is exciting.

Is that lore mostly going to be off to the side in the codex again?
HM: It's not just lore or backstory. If you want to surf the main game, we have what we call the A story and B story. The A story is the main game, and what the average consumer is going to experience. The B story is context for everything, like who am I talking to, why did that guy interact with me in that way? The key thing when we say "universe" is we want to take the Doom player to places they've never been before. That serves the A story. It's not just about making juicy codex entries, it's about, as you saw with those locations, taking you to new places. As Marty said, Doom is about killing cool bad guys in amazing places with awesome guns. That's it. The amazing places part, and the cool demons part, and the awesome guns part fit into that stuff.

"The ballista is kind of an ancient looking weapon. Where does that come from? Do I get to go to that place?" We just want to make sure that Doom has some fantastic set pieces in it. We're swinging for the fences with this one. We're going to go to some cool places. Doom universe is just about making the game more awesome and fun.

Let's talk about the slayer himself. You guys gave him an upgrade...a few upgrades.
HM: It's the evolution of who he was in Doom 2016. He's still the same guy, but fictionally speaking, he is constantly modifying his armor. Many people call out: If he is this ancient warrior who has been in this eternal struggle between good and evil, why does his armor look modern? There's a good answer for that. He's changing his armor all of the time. He's upgrading it. Superheroes do it. That's a part of that genre. We think of him like a superhero. When he upgrades his stuff, he does it with efficiency in mind. From a gameplay perspective, we always think of that first.

The blade in particular is something we thought a lot about. It's hard for us to glory kill enemies with [the slayer's] bare hands. Some of the demons are the size of elephants. We would talk about the glory kills, and [the development team] would be like "I can't do this." They would put the slayer's hands on the baron's face, and they would look like baby hands. We had to give him a tool. He always had to pull parts off of enemies, which he still does, but now he has a utensil to take out large enemies more efficiently. The first glory kill he does in the demo is faster than any in Doom 2016. [The blade] is faster, it can take out big enemies, it looks cool, and adds variety.

MS: We really tried to maintain the dance, flow, and feel of combat. Everything we've added is centered around that same dance, just giving you new moves to use on the dance floor. That was always important that it was the same dance. We want it to be a tight game loop where the player is thinking of what to do next. The flamethrower, I don't know how much it got noticed, but when you shoot a guy who is on fire, there's a benefit – you get armor shards. It works a little like the chainsaw. It isn't just cool looking, you get gains from it.

HM: Destructible demons are the same. Is [the destruction] all cosmetic only? No. Some of it can be strategic. For example, you can shoot off the gun turret on the Arachnotron. That's his primary attack, and it can be pretty devastating. If you have good aim, and you want to nerf his abilities – he still has other attacks, though – you can take out that gun. As long as something feels like it is promoting the player to be aggressive, it's Doom. All of these things, the doom blade, equipment launcher, it's about being aggressive.

The thing that surprised me the most about the gameplay you showed was how open the spaces were. Are most areas that large?

HM: If the race car gets faster then the race track has to get bigger. That's basically it. Our race car can do a lot of things now, so the track he's on has to be bigger. Talking about our traversal combos, when you double jump to a dash into a monkey bar swing use the meat hook and then wall climb, it makes the ambient spaces more dynamic. Having the tools in place as game designers allows for some really interesting moments, and that includes combat.

MS: The stuff happening around you in these levels is crazy; whether you're experiencing hell on earth on the edge of collapsed buildings or fighting under the BFG 10,000 on Phobos. We're not just taking you to new places. The experiences you're getting in places you've been, like the UAC, you've never seen before in a Doom game. We've really taken that next step. The worlds were great in 2016, but the level of s--- going on around was never at 10. The sky box was never at 10. This time around, when you look around, you're going to see you're in the middle of something big going on.

Can the meat hook latch onto anything?

MS: Just demons.

It has to be made of meat then?

MS: Yup. Exactly.

The meat hook is attached to the super shotgun. Does that mean you need to have that weapon equipped to use the hook?

MS: Yup. The way works is when you have the super shotgun out, you hit the mod button and it shoots it out.

You didn't go into multiplayer, SnapMap, or mods during your presentation. Can you talk to me about your plans for those things? Todd Howard took Escalation Studios, the team that made SnapMap.

MS: Todd takes everyone. (laughs)

I'll start with SnapMap. We decided to move away from it. We loved it and thought it was great, but it didn't scratch the itch we thought maybe it could for people. We touched on the Invasion stuff. That's a whole part of game we think people are going to have fun with. That was a high-level goal for [Doom Eternal]. We're also working on a PvP component. We'll talk about it later. It's also very Doom, as we like to say. It isn't a sidecar experience. We are doing that internally. We've taken all of that in.

HM: (whispers) It's awesome.

MS: [The multiplayer] is new and different. We're also planning for probably the thing that was most requested, which is post-campaign content that we create, not through something like SnapMap.

HM: The campaign, Invasion, PvP, it all feels like Doom this time. There isn't kind of a separation there where you're like "I kind of like the MP, but it doesn't feel like Doom." We were aware of that. We're making it internally now. We're excited about what we have.

Categories: Games

<p>We already know Fallout 76 will be

Game Informer News Feed - Sat, 08/11/2018 - 19:17

We already know Fallout 76 will be an online-oriented game, with a focus on inter-player interactions over branching dialogue trees with NPCs. But what does that mean when it comes to player-on-player confrontations? During today's Fallout 76 panel at Quakecon, project lead Jeff Gardiner, game director Todd Howard, and development director Chris Meyer gave us some elucidating details.

Since Fallout games have been mostly single-player affairs up to this point, multiplayer introduces some interesting problems. At the forefront of the team's mind was the question of how the world would deal with griefers - people who might wander the wasteland looking to ruin other people's games by relentlessly attacking them.

Howard's answer to this question was quick. "We turn ass***** into interesting content."

"We want this element of danger [in Fallout 76] without griefing," Howard said. After hitting level five, you'll begin to encounter other players as you explore the wasteland. One of the ways you can interact with them is to shoot them. Taking into the account the fact that players are likely going to shoot each other on the fly quite often (by accident or otherwise), early potshots won't deal much damage. But if one player is insistent on attacking another, that damage will begin to increase. You can, however, avoid accidental encounters completely by enabling a pacifist flag, which will prevent your bullets from harming other players.

If you do want to fight, the individual levels of each player will matter, but not as much as you might think. Players who've played for a while will obviously be stronger, but that doesn't mean lower-level players are entirely powerless. The power curve is more normalized in PvP than in PvE, making PvP encounters a bit more fair. "The guy in Power Armor with a minigun is obviously going to be harder [to kill], but if you get the drop on him with a knife, it does kind of work," Howard said. 

How the defending player chooses to respond is up to them. If they reciprocate the attack, each player offers a cap reward based on their level, making it tempting to land a kill. VATS returns in Fallout 76, though it's been altered to accommodate the new online nature of the game. Targeting takes place in real time, and you can't target individual body parts at first. Instead you can target the whole body, with a hit chance based on your Perception attribute. You can also use VATS to find sneakier players. Early on VATS may not be as effective as simply shooting your opponent, but invest in Perception and that will likely change.

If you lose a scuffle and die, you'll not only drop your cap reward, but also any junk you might have had on you at the time. Junk is accumulated by searching the world and isn't worthless, either; you need it to build up your camps or craft armor, among other things.

The team didn't want to make death too punitive, but they wanted it to mean something, leading to a system where you do lose something when you die, but it's also not an all-or-nothing affair. So whenever a player encounters what they think might be a tough area or player, they may want to think twice about how much junk they're holding and whether to engage. To circumvent losing junk, you can store it in various stashes hidden around the world, any base camp you might have built up, or in Vault 76.

If someone does end up murdering you, have a chance to get revenge. Once you return to life, you'll be given the chance to seek out that specific player and retaliate. If you manage to win that round, the game will give you double the normal reward for killing them.

But perhaps the most interesting mechanic arises when one player doesn't want to fight. A player who kills someone who didn't fight back becomes a wanted murderer. There's no reward for murdering someone who doesn't fight back other than the brief satisfaction it might give a jerk, and the cost is high; being a wanted murderer marks that player on the map of everyone around them as a red star. That player also carries a new bounty that comes out of their own caps, incentivizing every other player in that instance of the world to kill them. Wanted players won't be able to spot anyone around them on their map, making it difficult for them to see attacking players coming.

Players also have camps they've built to worry about, but losing them won't be as heartbreaking as you might expect. Nukes are a big part of the Fallout experience according to Bethesda, and while getting your carefully-built camp nuked might sting, you can choose to "blueprint" individual structures, letting you recreate them entirely with a simple button press. Of course, you can also use this feature to quickly relocate your camps as well.

Communication is a major part of online games, and Fallout 76 is no different. Along with voice chat for players you join up with, you can also choose to toggle voice chat for nearby strangers on or off, letting you hear them coming or simply make it easier to create ad-hoc roving bands of survivors.

Hopefully, with these various methods of inter-player violence and communication, Fallout 76's decision to foregone bespoke storytelling for more lively player-told stories will pay off.

For more on Fallout 76, check out our write-up on its character progression and creation, as well as how mutations alter your character.

Categories: Games

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Game Informer News Feed - Sat, 08/11/2018 - 18:33

Although we have a general overview of what Fallout 76 is going to be (an online action-RPG where players replace NPCs and become the vehicle for storytelling), it was hard to get a good idea of how we'd be interacting with our characters over the course of several hours. Earlier today at a Fallout 76 panel for Quakecon, Bethesda revealed how character progression, character creations, and mutations work in their new game.

The best way to think about progression in Fallout 76 is by visualizing your character as a deck of Magic: The Gathering-style trading cards that gets stronger as you level. Starting out, you'll have one point invested into each of the seven attributes that make up Fallout's S.P.E.C.I.AL. system. Every perk has a point cost associated with it. An early perk called Gladiator, for example, offers a 10-percent boost to melee damage and costs one point in the Strength attribute to equip. 

You can equip as many perks (which take the form of cards) as you want, provided you have enough points in that attribute to accommodate them. You can also combine copies of the same card into stronger versions of that card, which increase the potency of the card but also its cost. Cards can drop or be fused into each other up to a point cost of five. Bethesda pointed out during the panel that there are "hundreds" of perk cards to experiment with.

Tying into the trading card idea are card packs. When you level up, you can add one additional point into any attribute to let you expand which perk cards you can equip, and you will be able to choose one new perk, but every few levels (every two levels early on, then every five levels), you'll receive card packs, which will give you several cards to experiment with (as well as a joke and chewing gum that will temporarily reduce your hunger when you eat it). Because you start off with one point in every attribute, this allows you to experiment with perks you might otherwise ignore in favor of leveling one specific attribute. Some cool perk cards may drop that cost more points than you might have in a particular attribute, which incentive players to rethink their progression in order to equip a perk outside their expertise. 

Once you reach level 50, you will no longer be able to invest additional points into any attribute, but you will still regularly receive perk cards, which will let you further customize your character.

As you explore the wasteland of West Virginia and level up, you'll likely wind up in some irradiated areas. If you happen to accumulate too many RADs, you'll become susceptible to mutations, which will alter your properties for both better and worse. One mutation Bethesda shared was one that turned the player into a marsupial, increase their jump height dramatically at the cost of reducing your carry potential and strength.

One important aspect of this new system is that, like trading cards you can swap them out any time depending on the situation. There's no cost for swapping out perks, so if you see a combat situation on the horizon, you may want to respec if you've been running a lockpicking "deck" while breaking into people's homes. Of course, with Fallout 76 being a live game, you'll want to swap cards out in safe spot.

The online, multiplayer focus of Fallout 76 may not seem to jive with the Charsima attribute, which in past games was where you could invest points and become a smooth-talking negotiator with NPCs. In Fallout 76, Charisma has been retooled to work as the sort of co-op attribute, allowing players to equip perks that benefit their entire team. Some Charisma perks are oriented towards solo players, but most will emphasize teamwork.

Another social aspect players can expect in Fallout 76 lies in character creation. Character creation is mostly similar to Fallout 4's with a close-up camera of your character within the world. However, this time you also create a snapshot of yourself, using different expressions and poses. You can also use these out in the world, where you can take a selfie at any time. As players take selfies in the world, it'll become populated with curated photos from the community, giving the map a more populated feel.

For more on Fallout 76, check out some of the details on the upcoming beta, your progress in which will carry over to the full game.

Categories: Games

We Happy Few Review - Joyless

Gamespot News Feed - Sat, 08/11/2018 - 01:23

Just like the forcibly stretched grins of its inhabitants, the joy found in We Happy Few is a facade. The game's fascinating setting of a drug-fueled society wasting away in fake happiness is squandered on repetitive environments, poorly paced and downright boring quest designs, and a variety of confusing mechanics that never find harmony with each other. Its three individual tales of survival manage to deliver some surprisingly poignant moments, but We Happy Few does its best to dissuade you from wanting to play long enough to see them through.

We Happy Few takes place in a timeline where Germany reigned victorious after World War II and has England bowing to their whims. Children are sent to the German mainland without reason, and the quiet town of Wellington Wells is plunged into a drug-induced mirage of peaceful, happy co-existence. With pills called "Joy" helping citizens forget the atrocities of the past, uprising is far less likely. But this fake sense of tranquility brings about its own problems. Citizens refusing to live under Joy's medicinal spell are outcast to the borders of city, forced to live in decrepit, crumbling houses while they wait to starve to death. The citizens of Wellington Wells are always happy to see you, but only if you abide by their rules.

Enter Arthur, Sally and Ollie--the three characters you'll control throughout three acts that show all sides of this horrific society. Arthur suffers from post-traumatic stress, reliving the moments where he lost his brother to the German kidnappings. Sally hides a secret within the walls of Wellington Wells while also providing black market drugs to those who pay enough. Ollie is just a confused war veteran, disturbed by events of the past that have shaped his future. The more personal aspects of each character end up being more interesting than the mythos surrounding them. Each new perspective lends context to previously puzzling interactions to create clever "aha" moments, and the stories have powerful themes of abandonment, parental sacrifice, and overbearing guilt. Each finds a satisfying (if not always happy) end to their journey, despite the mechanics fighting actively against you reaching their climax.

In Early Access (where the game sat for nearly two years), We Happy Few was a survival game. That's mostly stayed the same, despite the structure of its design changing around it. As any character, you'll need to manage meters for hunger, thirst, tiredness, and more (Ollie actually needs to watch his blood sugar, of all things), which impose penalties and buffs on your fighting and movement abilities. Early on, managing these statuses is difficult, with a scarcity of resources while you're still coming to grips with We Happy Few's many rules. But they soon end up being just frustrating. The resources to replenish them aren't hard to find, but constantly having to tend to them when you're just wanting to get along with the story is arduous.

There is an unbelievable number of items to pick up and carry in We Happy Few, but only a small handful end up being useful. You’ll frequently be forced to pick up flowers to craft healing balms or bobby pins for lockpicks, for example. But vials of toxins that can knock out or kill enemies don't give you a reason to choose one or the other. The crafting menus for each character change based on their abilities, but the core items that are shared between all three are likely the only ones you'll actually utilize--the specialized items hardly necessitate their complex requirements. It feels like such a waste having a vast crafting system attached to a game that never puts you in a situation where it feels necessary. We Happy Few has many ideas strewn across its menus but nothing mechanically that requires their use.

This frustration is only exacerbated by the lack of interesting quests to undertake in We Happy Few's relatively large open world. Its inhabitants treat you as their delivery boy, never giving you anything more complex than walking to an area, picking something up, and walking all the way back. Quest design works counterintuitively to the idea of having to scrounge to survive. Even if you wanted to reach into the world's nooks and crannies to find something interesting, inquisitive eyes are rarely met with any rewards aside from the plethora of items you probably already have stashed in your inventory. There's a point in Arthur's story where he exclaims, after a multi-staged questline, "All that, just to reboot a bridge?" and it feels like he's crying out for help from you directly.

What attempts to break up this straightforward structure are the rules of Wellington Wells. Outside of its walls you'll be forced to don tattered clothing to fit in with the rest of the depressing crowd, as well as fighting off temptations to steal from their strewn-about dwellings. Inside is another story entirely. The inhabitants of Joy-infested cities will be quick to throw up arms should you do anything but walk. Haunting guards and eerie Joy-sniffing doctors pose a threat to your blending in, which can force you to pop some pills from time to time. Their effects keep you hidden for a time but have devastating withdrawal symptoms that prevent you from masking your depression, which can have an entire city on your tail in mere seconds.

The setting sounds intriguing on paper: a system where stealth is managed by social interactions and conformity. But its execution is lacking. Obeying the strictly imposed rules is trivial and only slows down your progress towards the next quest marker, negating any sense of tension they might have imposed. Outside, the rules are looser, but there's also far less to look at. You'll spend a lot of time simply sprinting through empty fields with no discernable landmarks, only to be greeted by another bridge into another strict state that brings progress to a crawl. It's a disappointing misuse of a system that might have otherwise been engrossing.

It feels like We Happy Few understands many of its mechanics are a chore to begin with.

The character progression system is even more underdeveloped. While each of the three characters has some unique characteristics, the abilities you're able to purchase are largely shared between them, and many give you ways to turn some of We Happy Few's rules off entirely. One allows you to sprint through cities without rousing alarm for example, while another lets you ignore annoying night curfews entirely. It feels like a concession--like We Happy Few understands many of its mechanics are a chore to begin with.

When rules aren't being (mercifully) stripped away, they often just don't work. The night curfew, for example, will have guards turn hostile should they spot you. But conceal yourself on a bench, and they inexplicably ignore you entirely. Melee combat is monotone and predictably boils down to you exhausting your stamina swinging your weapon and then simply blocking until it recharges. When you're not being forced to contend with that, you'll be sneaking around enemies with a barely functioning stealth system. Enemies are inconsistent in their ability to spot you, sometimes walking across your path without a whiff of suspicion. Their patrol lines are easy to spot and never deviate, making the reward of a successful infiltration feel remarkably hollow. Most times they're just far too predictable. They'll stare for extended periods at distractions you conjure and fail to search an area after spotting you briefly. We Happy Few's stealth is so transparently binary that it just feels like you're cheating the system most of the time.

It's a shame that so many of these systems never fit together in a cohesive way, especially when the world itself is overflowing with potential. There's some rich environmental storytelling in We Happy Few, even if its visual variety is shallow. It's striking to transition from dilapidated walls with mad ravings written across them to neatly structured hollows parallel with rainbow roads. The way We Happy Few mixes up its visual representation based on your character's mental states is clever, too. On Joy you'll witness double rainbows as far as the eye can see, with a shiny veneer encapsulating the overly cheery nature of your character. Withdrawal sours this into a dreary grey world where the sounds of flies and visions of decay replace usually unremarkable facets of the environment.

This blends well with We Happy Few's interpretation of the era. Monochrome television screens hang from awnings and play the propaganda-filled ravings of the enigmatic Uncle Jack swing towards you as you pass with a startling red hue. The stretched faces of Wellington Wells' most behaved citizens are off-putting in a brilliantly creepy way, even if there's such a lack of distinct character models that you'll find multiple identical faces hanging out on a single street corner. Cartoonish robotic contraptions mingle in more strictly secure areas and whistle off cheery tunes as they pass by. They also tend to mess about with the pathfinding for Wellington's human inhabitants, which is hilarious only the first few times. For everything that We Happy Few gets right in terms of world building, its gameplay leads it astray.

For everything that We Happy Few gets right in terms of world building, its gameplay leads it astray.

Technical issues plague We Happy Few too, ranging from mildly annoying to borderline game-breaking. Characters will often clip through the floor or disappear entirely as you approach. Shifts between night and day see characters appear and disappear from one second to the next. The framerate suffers on capable PC hardware. Quest logs will sometimes not refresh, while getting an item at the wrong time failed to trigger a quest milestone, forcing me to reload an older save. Audio can disappear from cutscenes entirely for long stretches of time. From numerous angles, We Happy Few is in rough shape.

But even if you are able to overlook its technical shortcomings or perhaps wait for more stable patches in the future, We Happy Few's biggest problems are ones that are hard to remedy. Its entire gameplay loop is underpinned by boring quests and long stretches of inaction. And even when it forces you to interact with its world beyond just walking to waypoints, combat, stealth, and otherwise fascinating societies fail to impose the right balance of challenge and tension. There's a clear lack of direction that We Happy Few is never able to shake, which wastes its intriguing setting. It does manage to weave each of its three stories cohesively into a larger tale, but it's also one that's never critical enough to earn the right to repeat "happiness is a choice" any chance it can. There are just too many hurdles to overcome to enjoy We Happy Few, and not enough Joy in the world to cast them aside.

Categories: Games