Games

The Outer Worlds Review - The Right Stuff

Gamespot News Feed - Tue, 10/22/2019 - 14:00

The Outer Worlds plays just like a Fallout game. That's a pretty tepid description and an obvious comparison. It's easy to take one look at the game, which strongly echoes the mechanical form of the Bethesda RPGs, and think you know what to expect. The developer, Obsidian Entertainment, was responsible the cult-favourite Fallout: New Vegas after all. But The Outer Worlds doesn't just play like a Fallout game. It is, surprisingly, the best possible version of a Fallout game--a potent distillation of what made that series so beloved in the first place.

The Outer Worlds adopts the most compelling innovations of modern Fallout games, emphasising immersive exploration and impactful, action-oriented combat in a game engine (Unreal Engine) that actually makes those things feel good by contemporary standards. It shares Fallout's satirical but incredibly bleak look at the future, but is free of its tired tropes. Critically, The Outer Worlds exhibits the same depth of soul as the early Interplay and Black Isle Fallout games (as well as other games in the '90s PC RPG genre) with a genuinely complex, interconnected narrative web of relationships and events that feel like they can change in a seemingly infinite number of ways based on the character you want to be, the variety of choices you can make, and the actions you take.

Given the studio and the key people responsible (original Fallout creators Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky), that last trait isn't surprising. But it's not the only element that makes The Outer Worlds an excellent space Western adventure--that's just the incredibly sound foundation that elevates the game's great world-building, wonderful characters, and multi-layered quest design, on top of punchy combat and consistently sharp writing.

In The Outer Worlds, you are just one of the thousands of people left in hibernation on an abandoned colony ship, when a scientist of possibly ill repute frees you and enlists your help in saving the rest of your frozen peers. After a rigorous character creation process--involving a slew of variable attributes, perks, and aesthetic customization--you crash-land on a planet, alone, and from there, how you make your mark on the Halcyon system is up to you.

The crux of this sci-fi setup is that, among other things, the Halcyon system is owned and run entirely by a board of corporations, and their presence is a big deal. Whole planets are owned by corps looking to use their ecosystems as part of a larger supply chain, and numerous vending machines from different companies populate towns, trying to attract you with their bright logos and jingles. In fact, The Outer Worlds is saturated with strikingly colourful locales; the planets you'll visit are impressively varied and sometimes beautiful, flaunting an H.G. Wells-like retro-futuristic aesthetic, the antithesis of grimdark cyberpunk.

On the first impression, corporations appear as a mostly aesthetic layer folded into the world. A number of the companies mentioned seem to mostly just exist as manufacturers of weapons and consumables--a piece of flair to keep the tone light in the same way that the Circus of Values exists in BioShock, but it's far more ingrained than that. Corporate capitalism so deeply affects everything in The Outer Worlds, and explorations into how it can affect society on a variety of levels is a surprisingly well-considered constant, despite the semblance of parody. You'll meet sympathetic workers whose livelihoods are only made possible by offering themselves to exploitation and indentured servitude, white-collared outlaws who are more bureaucrats than pirates, and well-meaning middle-managers who are trying to change the corporate machine from the inside. You'll find moderates, idealists, extremists, and most things in between and around the fringes, all of which have their own feasible ideas about how to best serve the colony or themselves. By the time the climax hits, it's clear that The Outer Worlds has its own stance on this bleak future, but that doesn't stop the world it creates, the sojourns you take, and characters you meet along the way from being any less fascinating.

There are plenty of characters in The Outer Worlds who I didn't like. Reed Tobson, for example, is a snivelling factory chief in the early hours of the game who I didn't have to think twice about undermining, and Felix, one of your potential companion characters, had such an annoyingly naive personality I avoided talking to him as much as possible. The Outer Worlds allows you to kill any character in the game (bar one), and the world will reshape and move on without them, but there's something to be said for game's depiction of its unappealing people, whose portrayal I admired despite my distaste. You'll talk to a lot of people in The Outer Worlds. How much you do is up to you--you're allowed to cut straight to get to the point or dive deeper--but chatting to the game's entire supporting cast of non-player characters is something that never gets tiring, even if you don't care for them, purely because of how strong the game's writing and vocal performances are.

I never felt like I had to endure stretches of pointless or overly dramatic exchanges, both because of how focussed and subtle the script seemed to be, as well as the variety of response options for my player character which kept conversations flowing in largely natural ways. Numerous considerations for the world state let conversations take into account things you may or may not already have done throughout your campaign; brief and subtle injections of worldbuilding and lore stop conversation from being too matter of fact without losing the game's identity, and some exceptional low-key wit works very well in sparking a periodic laugh without humour feeling like a sticking point. Solid, consistent voice direction helps keep the tone firmly measured, meaning the hours you spend absorbing the world through its people are always engaging.

Nowhere does the strength of the game's characters shine more strongly than in your companions, however (except for Felix; that guy is a weenie). You have the option to recruit six predetermined characters to accompany and assist you in your adventures, though the game does have tools to bolster a lone wolf character too. But having companions along for the ride is a delight, and that's, again, because of the strength of the character writing. Companions instantly feel like fleshed-out characters of their own accord, not like they simply exist to revolve around you. They'll converse privately with each other and chime in on conversations you have with other characters in the world, acting as sounding boards during key moments. They can, in extreme situations, leave you of their own accord if they strongly disagree with a course of action. It's all mechanically conditional, of course, but the illusion the game builds is so endearing--spending time with these folks feels just as valuable as your pursuing the overarching goal.

Companions have their own customisable skill trees, equipment loadouts, combat tactics, and special abilities you can command them to use, which, with their cinematic camera angles, inspired battle cries, and useful status effects, never become unsatisfying to initiate. The other major tool at your disposal in combat, provided your character's weapon skills are high enough to use it, is Tactical Time Dilation (TTD)--a time-bending mechanic that slows the action to a crawl, allowing you to give yourself some breathing room in order to analyse enemies and take the time to execute precision attacks. Hitting certain locations on enemies will let you do things like cripple or maim them, or inflict weapon-specific effects like bleed damage or knocking them unconscious. Using TTD tactically to take out key targets and attempt to control the flow of battle makes it an entertaining and useful tool, but its availability is limited and not something you can rely on entirely until you get to meaningfully upgrade it much later in the game.

Despite having strong RPG foundations, the combat in The Outer Worlds is very much focussed on first-person action, incorporating things like parries, blocks, and dodges on top of an array of melee weapons and firearms. There's a hectic and fast-paced fluidity to combat that feels very good, however. That's aided by some enthusiastic sound design, which does most of the heavy lifting in giving all weapons some satisfying feedback. A range of "Science weapons" bring some creative diversity in your arsenal, and features guns that have unique, entertaining properties like shrinking enemies or turning them against each other.

The only problem with combat is that on the game's recommended Regular difficulty, it eventually turns into a cakewalk. This is satisfying in a way, of course--all the points I pumped into maxing out my handgun skills, thus becoming best gunslinger in the galaxy, did actually make me feel utterly invincible. But, it also meant I didn't feel pushed to explore the game's slew of combat-adjacent mechanics nearly as deeply as I would have hoped. Things like elemental damage, equipment modding, companion synergies, and the special effects allowed by consumables (which, by the way, are incredibly difficult to parse in the game's icon-heavy menu), could all be safely ignored. The Outer Worlds has a "flaws" system that lets you purposefully shoulder restrictive debuffs in certain situations in exchange for an extra perk point, but it's completely optional and rarely worth the tradeoff. Jumping into the "Supernova" difficulty level in a subsequent playthrough changes all that, however--combat danger increases, your ability to save your game becomes restricted, and survival mechanics like hunger and thirst are introduced, making all of the game's mechanical considerations feel far more vital. The game is more challenging and interesting because of it, but its demanding nature definitely makes it more of a second-run option.

Toe-to-toe combat is not the only solution to your problems. The Outer Worlds allows for a variety of avenues for alternative and passive solutions--stealth, hacking, and speech-related options are available throughout the game, provided you pass the skill checks. It's nigh impossible to complete the game without getting into at least some combat, unfortunately, but to the game's credit, virtually every quest in the game, big or small, features branching options in terms of their paths to success and how you deal with the big, final choices you have to make to resolve disputes, which are often deliciously grey. It's at the level where you'll always be considering the additional ways you could have achieved something, whether that be taking a different route, finding more information out in the world, or killing the quest giver and everyone else in the town.

When you hit the end, the game runs through a whole slew of epilogues that describe how you resolved the game's numerous major variables and what became of them, and being shown all your exploits after some 30 hours makes the whole journey and your unique path through it really feel quite meaningful. It's difficult to know the full extent of just how many directions something can go, and the end result of many quests can likely only ever differ in a small handful of ways, but this perception of freedom and possibilities on your first run is inspiring.

I finished The Outer Worlds wanting more, eager to jump back into the world to see extra things. It's not a short game, but it's one packed with such a steady stream of wonderful characters to meet, interesting places to explore, and meaningful, multi-layered quests to solve, that it didn't feel like there was any room to get tired of it. I wanted to rewind the clock and do everything in a completely different way. The Outer Worlds is consistently compelling throughout, and it's a superb example of how to promote traditional RPG sensibilities in a sharp, modern experience.

Categories: Games

Felix The Reaper Review - Grim Adventures

Gamespot News Feed - Sat, 10/19/2019 - 17:00

For an agent of the death, Felix is an oddly loveable goofball. He doesn’t wear a pitch-black cloak or brandish an ominous scythe, but his job is pretty much what you think it is. He inserts himself into everyday life, manipulating events from the shadows to execute a well-orchestrated plan of death. It’s grim work, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have fun while doing it. Felix cannot contain his love of music, treating each level as a dance floor as he shuffles, twirls and wobbles through them. Felix is charming, but that energy doesn’t translate over to the puzzles you have to solve.

As an employee of the Ministry of Death, your job as Felix is to set up the deaths of mortals on earth. These are multi-staged tasks, taking place over numerous levels contained in themed chapters that span various time periods. The first, taking place in a long-forgotten ice age, has you setting up the comedic death of a nomadic hunter by dropping a moose head on him and attracting the attention of his companion nearby, who doesn't hesitate to use a spear on his mistaken prey. Each death in Felix the Reaper hits an entertaining punchline, letting you witness all of your previous efforts unfold in a satisfying way. Just like the board game Mouse Trap, it's fun to see each individual piece of each puzzle link up, but it’s an absolute chore getting to that point.

Felix can only move around in shadows, so you primarily reposition objects to cast their shadows along paths you plan to take. You can shift the direction of the sun by 90 degrees at a time, too, bathing new areas in dangerous sunlight and opening up new paths for you to safely walk through. Most puzzles work this way, with you moving a specific object from one side of the level to the other and using an assortment of other objects to construct your path. It rarely deviates from this. Felix the Reaper shows its entire hand within the first handful of levels and never evolves further.

The formula grows tedious rather quickly. Getting to the end of a level isn’t rewarding but a relief as you look back at all the steps you had to take to get there. Felix the Reaper makes it clear that all of its puzzles can be solved in just a handful of moves (which you’ll need to do on subsequent replays if you want to unlock some bonus stages), but it dangles this fact in front of you like a cheeky taunt when you’ve spent the better half of an hour undoing mistakes move by move before you finally find the right combination of steps to succeed.

The culprit here is the inflexibility of the puzzles, which require extremely specific movements to solve. Sometimes this boils down to shifting an object one block at a time to carry a shadow with you as you go, which is bogged down by the same animations to pick up and place items. When you make a mistake it’s not immediately clear that you have, and when you eventually succumb to asking for a hint you’ll likely have to backtrack through your last few moves to reset your position and work towards the solution. Even with hints of where to place an item, there's no help in getting you there. And since there are specific steps you have to take, it can take a frustrating number of attempts to just set down one piece of a larger puzzle.

Control issues don’t make this any easier. Playing on a Nintendo Switch, I struggled to get comfortable with the camera controls, which would sometimes result in me losing my tiny mouse-like cursor from view entirely. There’s a button to re-center the cursor in the middle of the screen, thankfully, but it occurred far too frequently for me to ever feel confident in making quick moves, another requirement if you want to complete levels fast enough.

It’s a pity that actually solving Felix the Reaper’s puzzles is so unrewarding when it has so much character lovingly imbued into its presentation. Felix is never idle in a stage, always breaking out a dance move to the pulsating beats reverberating through his headphones. His ultimate goal is to eventually bump into the love of his life while out doing his job--she's a lingerie-clad agent of the Ministry of Life seeking to undo the very actions Felix is undertaking. It’s a strange but comical narrative layer that doesn’t serve much else beyond giving you a reason to hop from one chapter to the next, but it’s a setup that's so absurd that you can’t help but find it somewhat endearing.

Visually, Felix the Reaper is unique, too. The humans you eventually lead to their deaths are made up of strange shapes and sizes, with ghoulish scribbles for faces that emote in uncomfortable ways. It's not beautiful, per se, but it does establish a look and feel for the game that really makes it stand out. Felix’s marshmallow-like form complements his energetic dance moves well, animating with a kinetic motion that doesn’t wear over time. He reminds me a lot of Baymax from Big Hero 6 in this regard--he's fun to just watch in motion, and I desperately wanted to give him a hug when he was sad.

But there’s no amount of visual charm or dark humor in its violent deaths that make the effort of sticking with Felix the Reaper worth it. It’s a thoroughly enticing setting and premise that is misguided by puzzle mechanics that aren’t that aren't fun to play around with, and then fail to meaningfully build on their foundations in any way after that. Felix the Reaper might be able to drown out his surroundings with music, but that doesn't make his job any less mundane to perform.

Categories: Games

Happily Lost In The Heart Of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 10/17/2019 - 16:00

Publisher: Electronic Arts Developer: Respawn Entertainment Release: November 15, 2019 Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order draws on a number of sources to produce its unique breed of action. In moments of timing-focused dodges, parries, and varied melee attacks, the most recent God of War comes to mind. As I open shortcuts, respawn enemies after a rest, and retrieve lost XP following a death, Dark Souls is in evidence. And in moments of sliding down ice drifts from which I leap and swing on ropes across deadly gaps, I’m reminded of Uncharted. Chasing too many influences can sometimes tank a game’s potential, leaving everything a half-measure. But that somehow doesn’t happen here, as these and other borrowed ideas ably meld into one, at least in the all too short hours I played a near-final version. That’s because behind all the disparate ideas, Fallen Order nails one central guiding principle; it feels like Star Wars.

My demo drops me in the middle of the game for nearly three hours of exploration and combat. Fallen Order is suffused with the drama of inhabiting a Jedi in the time frame after Episode III. Cal Kestis is a young Jedi living in hiding as he gets targeted by the Empire, and pulled into a plot involving an ancient culture of Force-users called the Zeffo. From the first moments in-game, the visuals and audio nail the vibe of the franchise. The music nods to the classic John Williams score, but charts its own motifs and melodies in a seamless blend. Igniting lightsabers, Imperial blaster fire, and landing ships match familiar sound effect cues. From the beat-up starship Cal flies in, to the ancient ruins of the planet I explore, the world has a lived-in feel reminiscent of the films.

Flying around the galaxy, players have options of what areas to explore and when. As my demo opens, I can pursue the main story thread on Zeffo, or investigate mysteries on the dark landscapes of Dathomir. Wanting to see more of the unfolding narrative, I head to Zeffo and begin to navigate an abandoned village and the expansive underground temple far below.

The droid named BD-1 is your constant companion, but unlike some video game companions, he never gets in the way

Exploration is a big part of the game. Paths through the level at first seem linear, but I can often find shortcuts that connect back to earlier areas, recalling games like Bloodborne. While it’s hard to surmise if it’s indicative of the broader game structure, Zeffo is focused on lengthy stretches of traversal and discovery, punctuated by occasional fights against both Stormtroopers and aggressive local fauna. In one area, I have to Force Slow a spinning fan blade to create a series of platforms to cross. In another, I divert into a darkened cave, and must use my lightsaber as a flashlight. Inside, Cal uses the rare Force ability of Psychometry to sense echoes of events from objects; in this case, I learn of a desperate mother fleeing from some unnamed threat with her child. I also find an expansion for my healing stim capacity, proving the value of investigating off the beaten path.

Combat is fast-paced, with smart defense as the key to success. Reflecting blaster bolts (which is great fun), parrying attacking troopers, and dodging charging creatures all lead to better outcomes than wild button-mashing assaults, but each demands that I observe enemies carefully, and tap the button in the precise window afforded. On standard difficulty, the timing is generous, but when I try combat on higher settings, enemy damage is dramatically amplified, dodge and parry windows are smaller, and death comes much faster. No matter the challenge, animations look great and varied, especially as Cal learns new powers and dashes back and forth across the field of battle.

Those powers unlock using skill points that I spend at meditation spots scattered across the level. Kneel in one of these campfire-esque locations, and the skill tree spreads out in front of Cal, roughly split into the three categories of Force, Lightsaber, and Survival skills. Leaping Slash and Dash Strike are just two of the new moves/button combos I try out on foes, while other skills like Empowered Slow or Superior Blocking have a more indirect effect on battle. At these same meditation points I can rest to regain health and uses of healing from my buddy droid, BD-1, but it also means all the enemies I’ve fought respawn.

In a separate brief demo, I got a taste of boss combat from later in the game, where the expanded moveset offered a lot of play variety

A significant chunk of my time on Zeffo unfolds deep underground, as I explore a temple from the forgotten race of Force-users and their towering (still active) stone tomb guardians. Within those cavernous walls, I solve an involved puzzle that demands the opening of passages filled with high-powered wind, Force-pushing giant stone spheres, and leaping through an increasingly complex set of traversal challenges. I appreciate the approach to puzzles; I can solve them entirely on my own, but if I’m just not in the mood or get stuck, a button tap calls up a hint from my droid that points me in the right direction.

With secrets I won’t spoil here finally discovered, I make my way back to the surface, and notice along the way how newly acquired Force Push powers have revealed new avenues for exploration; there’s a sense that every planet could offer up new secrets after moving past its main story beats. The ascent also changes up what enemies wait for me, including an exciting combat that sets Jedi against AT-ST Walker. On a broader level, my hours of play manage to walk the challenging design tightrope between skill-oriented battle simulator, story-focused explorer, and occasional set-piece thrill-ride. It’s too brief a time to get a complete sense of the game’s overall quality, but it is certainly enough to say this with confidence: If I was excited about a new Star Wars single-player game before I played, I walked away with far greater confidence that Respawn has captured a very real slice of the magic that defines the beloved series.

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Categories: Games

Playing Through The Beginning Of The Game

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 10/17/2019 - 14:00

Publisher: The Pokemon Company, Nintendo Developer: Game Freak Release: November 15, 2019 Platform: Switch

Pokémon Sword and Shield have looked impressive every step of the way, but while we were able to play through a gym at E3 this year, extended hands-on time has eluded us thus far. Thankfully, that recently changed. I played through the first hour and a half of Pokémon Sword to see how the Switch’s first all-new mainline Pokémon game is shaking out.

The first thing I noticed was I could use a Switch Pro Controller, something not possible with last year’s Pokémon Let’s Go, Pikachu and Eevee. I didn’t have the opportunity to create my own character, but you can still choose basic looks (gender, skin tone, etc.) from the get-go. Also, I played docked in TV mode. In TV mode, Pokémon Sword ran smooth, without any noticeable hiccups or framerate drops.

As with all Pokémon games, the story begins with a character telling you about the exciting world of Pokémon. However, instead of it being the typical professor giving the monologue, Sword and Shield open with a speech from Chairman Rose in the middle of stadium in the style of a TV broadcast. The speech goes over the same beats as your typical Pokémon opening, but sets the tone for the sports-centric atmosphere in the Galar region. After a brief speech, undefeated Galar champion Leon emerges to begin a battle with a character I can’t yet discuss. Leon calls out his trusty Charizard and the broadcast cuts away just as his Charizard grows enormous in size.

Once you assume control of your character, you’re inside your idyllic countryside home. Your mum (get ready for lots of U.K.-inspired slang, by the way) and your friend Hop encourage you out the door as you learn the basics of the game. After making it to Wedgehurst, the first small town in Sword and Shield, you run into Leon who is addressing the town. After a spirited speech, it’s revealed that he’s Hop’s brother. When you meet him again back closer to your house, Leon gives you your starter Pokémon.

I choose water-type Sobble, and Hop scoops up Scorbunny; since he’s positioned as a friendlier rival than those from the earlier games, he always picks the Pokémon that’s weak to the type you choose. Hop’s overflowing energy matches that of Scorbunny, so in my mind, it’s a perfect match. Leon then recalls the sole remaining Pokémon, Grookey. With a subtle emphasis on Leon bringing the grass-type back to his possession, I ask if we’ll ever see that particular Grookey again. The team declines to comment. As is tradition, with our first Pokémon in our possession, I battle my rival.

The transition from the overworld to battle is flashy, with expressive trainer images leading directly into their Pokémon sequence. It feels cinematic, even though it’s not anything we haven’t seen in other games outside of Pokémon before. After winning the battle, it’s time to head back to Wedgehurst – this time to visit Professor Magnolia’s lab. However, upon leaving, a Wooloo has broken through the fence by your house, so you must wander into the eerie Slumbering Weald to find it.

In the foggy Slumbering Weald, I run into a couple different types of new Pokémon, which I unfortunately can’t talk about. As I venture deeper into the woods, a mysterious creature appears before me. While I can’t spoil what happens, I eventually exit the Slumbering Weald, Wooloo by my side, and am back on track toward Wedgehurst.

After arriving at Professor Magnolia’s lab, it quickly becomes apparent that she’s not there. Instead, Sonia, Magnolia’s granddaughter and assistant, greets me. Unfortunately, Professor Magnolia is on a trip north of Wedgehurst, so I’m off once again. However, before venturing out of the town, I swing by the Pokémon Center. Galarian Pokémon Centers continue down the path of being one-stop shops for many of your Pokémon needs. In addition to healing your Pokémon through the nurse, you can also have their nicknames rated, rename them, or even delete moves. You can also access the PC and buy supplies in the shop. After stocking up, it’s time to venture to Professor Magnolia.

On the way to Magnolia’s location, I encounter seven different Pokémon in the wild. While I can’t say any of the creatures aside from Yamper, I love how different Pokémon appear in the tall grass through random encounters than do as creatures that roam in the environment. This not only gives you a sense of a living world, but also the mystique of being surprised when an encounter starts without you having initiated it. Catching Pokémon gives you experience, and each encounter splits the XP between your entire team automatically. You can also whistle to attract wild Pokémon to your position.

By the time I reach the end of the route, I have a full team of Pokémon that have reached just below or just above level 10. Unfortunately, my time is short, so I don’t have enough time to continue to grind and see the first evolution of Sobble. The water starter reaches level 12 before I admit defeat in this endeavor.

After meeting up with Professor Magnolia and Leon to learn about the Dynamax phenomenon she’s studying, you and Hop ask for letters of endorsements so you can compete against gym leaders to earn the right to battle in the Pokémon League. While the idea is initially met with hesitance – after all, you literally just got your starter Pokémon like 25 minutes ago – a battle with Hop changes their minds and you receive a Letter of Endorsement so you can challenge the gym leaders throughout Galar, starting with the nearest major city: Motostoke.

Once I receive the Letter of Endorsement, a shiny object falls from the sky. This Wishing Star grants me access to the Dynamax ability, which causes your Pokémon to grow massive and powerful in battle. Now it’s on to Motostoke, the first big city in my journey (you can see part of the city in our exclusive behind-the-scenes look at Game Freak).

On my way, I find a TM for Swift. TMs in Sword and Shield are multi-use, so I don’t have to worry about painstakingly deciding which creature to use it on. Before I can make it to Motostoke, I must venture through the Wild Area.

The Wild Area feels large from the very beginning. In this part of Galar, the camera swings behind my character and I can rotate it 360 degrees. As I run through the area, different biomes present themselves with unique Pokémon running and flying around. I don’t have time to venture into the tall grass to see which Pokémon are hidden in there, but I notice the weather changes between the different parts of the Wild Area, dictating to an extent which Pokémon appear.

I finally arrive in Motostoke, a relatively giant town that puts Wedgehurst to shame. I have just enough time to tour around the streets, get a glimpse into the clothing boutique, and see the outside of the gym before my time with the game ends. After spending an hour and a half in Galar, I’m even more excited to see what lies beyond Motostoke and the Wild Area. Thankfully, we don’t have long to wait, as Pokémon Sword and Shield launch November 15.

For more on Pokémon Sword and Shield, be sure to check out our exclusive coverage hub by clicking the banner below.

Categories: Games

Little Town Hero Review - Small Deck Energy

Gamespot News Feed - Wed, 10/16/2019 - 23:48

Little Town Hero, developed by Pokemon studio Game Freak, tries to do a lot with a little. Fast-traveling from the mines near its titular town to its main street, the two furthest points on the map, only saves you about a minute or so of travel time. But the game wants its small village to matter, as it spends several hours familiarizing you with the small area and its residents. Its gameplay works the same way, doing for card-battlers what Pokemon did for party-focused, turn-based RPGs: distilling it into something the average person can wrap their head around.

And it works, sometimes. When you face down an imposing monster and cobble together a hard-earned win with all the tools at your disposal, it can make the equipment upgrading, crafting systems, and myriad currencies of other games feel like bloat. But more often, Little Town Hero doesn't leave the strict confines it creates for itself; instead, it plays things safe by constraining your options so things don't get too out of hand. While that occasionally produces some challenging moments, battles quickly begin to repeat themselves, making you wish you could see what its combat might be capable of if it weren't afraid to take more risks.

The star of Little Town Hero's tiny village is Axe, a young troublemaker quickly thrust into defending his home from monsters after he acquires a red stone that gives him an edge against them in battle. Because the village is protected by a castle and surrounded by steep cliffs, no one knows where the monsters are coming from, so Axe and his friends begin tracking down their origins.

The crux of Little Town Hero is its turn-based gameplay, which borrows elements from card games but throws in a couple of twists. Fights revolve around a small deck of cards, called Ideas. Cards can be red (which have high attack values and can damage the opponent directly), yellow (which can fight multiple times a turn as long as they have the health for it, but can't damage your opponent), or blue (which don't have attack or defense values but activate powerful effects). The goal in most fights is to break all three of your opponent's hearts by destroying all of their cards in a single turn by having them trade hits with yours, then attacking them directly.

Unfortunately, this setup lacks key aspects of other card games. The most glaring omission is that you can't actually build a deck of your own; for most of the game, you're stuck with a deck that caps out at just 13 cards. You can't alter or customize which cards you bring to battle, so standard battles play out predictably; you look at the defense of your opponent's cards, match them with the cards that can break them, and see if your hand can break theirs. Some cards have special effects, but you won't see any outlandish gameplay mechanics; most effects either buff your current cards, deal damage, or add another card to your hand. Fights get boring quickly, especially after you upgrade your cards by working your way through the skill tree using the Eureka points earned from fights.

You can also mitigate much of the luck that factors into most other card games, which makes it easier to get the cards you need but also drives home how simple the strategy behind each fight is. In order to survive longer fights, you need to recycle cards by either losing a heart or spending BP (a resource you build whenever you destroy all of your opponent's cards but don't have a card to break through and damage them directly). You can even swap out cards in your hand for those in your deck at the cost of BP.

While this curbs the element of chance that can sometimes be aggravating in card games, it also emphasizes just how often you end up using the same strategies each fight. Already used the card you needed to pierce through a boss' defense to win the last round? No problem; with 3 BP, you can revive your entire deck and add that car right back into your hand. You end up sticking to one or two strategies and running them time and again because, again, your deck is made up of just 13 cards.

Because of how small your deck is and how well you can mitigate the element of chance, decision-making is crucial, and I did have a few of the a-ha moments where I was backed into a corner but, through a series of smart decisions, came out on top. But those moments quickly give way to going on autopilot. There might be a few deviations based on whatever tricks your opponent pulls or which cards you draw in the first turn, but at some point, I was able to run my plan of making several of my defensive cards invincible, steamrolling whatever offense the boss had, and hitting them for obscene amounts of damage in a single turn.

Boss fights are a little more exciting, since they introduce a couple of strategic layers. Instead of fighting in place, you take on monsters across a large swath of the village, mapped out like a small board, moving a random number of spaces each turn (though you can control where you move with certain cards). Most spaces on the board have a special effect when you land on them, granting access to an ally who can deal direct damage, allowing you to combine two cards into one, or letting you use certain cards to activate explosive barrels or cannons. Some villagers might even have suggestions, like punching a monster in the nose, that add new, one-use cards to your deck specific to that fight. Planning out where I'd travel across multiple turns depending on which cards I had that turn made from some well-timed plays that won me some fights.

To counter these powerful bonuses, bosses offer up the kind of challenge the rest of the game lacks. Each boss has its own gimmick that nudges you toward different strategies; one boss might counterattack when you hurt it (encouraging you to find more indirect ways of wearing it down), or introduce cards that add a short timer to all of your moves until they're destroyed, forcing you to be quick and possibly screw up. For the first half of the game, I had a tough time against monsters, since it seemed like they always had the upper hand. As I upgraded my deck, that tide slowly shifted.

This doesn't make later boss fights breezy--some of them are tough. But even here, because you don't have that many options to choose from, your path to victory doesn't feel personal or creative. It also doesn't help that during boss fights, both sides gain a protective shield that has to be whittled down before hearts will take damage, which makes boss fights take longer than regular fights--certain battles took the better part of an hour to get through. The combination of the gradually lowered difficulty and increased length of battles meant I knew I'd emerge victorious, but I dreaded the 15 to 20 turns it'd take to get there.

Outside of battles, you can trek back and forth across the village to run errands for shopkeepers and complete side quests that earn you Eureka points. But the village itself isn't big enough to hold your attention for long; there are no other meaningful ways to engage with anyone outside of the couple of times they might ask you to get something for them, if at all. The only resource you have are Eureka points, so there are no minigames, equipment to buy, or anything else that might give combat more depth or provide an alternative from all the card-battling. The town only comes alive when monsters attack it.

Little Town Hero finds some success in avoiding some of the complex systems and tedious menus that can bog down other card games and RPGs, but it ends up suffering for it.

The story you unravel along the way and strings all the fights together is somewhat involved, but predictable and boring. Discovering the origin of all the monster attacks has a couple of twists, but mostly leads to a predictable story that moves at a crawl. Characters are largely forgettable, quickly fall into archetypes, and play out their roles without much room for nuance. A couple of later moments get some emotional weight thanks to a strong score from Undertale creator Toby Fox and longtime Pokemon composer Hitomi Sato, but characters are too shallow to hold up their end of the bargain, and the town doesn't have enough going on to make it worth exploring beyond where quests tell you to go.

Little Town Hero finds some success in avoiding some of the complex systems and tedious menus that can bog down other card games and RPGs, but it ends up suffering for it. Keeping your card options limited allows you to approach encounters with clever instead of relying on luck of the draw, but the deck size is too limited to break the mounting doldrum of subsequent fights. And while I did get to know this town pretty well, that's because of how small and suffocating it feels as it refuses to push outside its own boundaries.

Categories: Games

The Witcher 3 Nintendo Switch Review - Wind's Howling

Gamespot News Feed - Wed, 10/16/2019 - 01:28

The dichotomy of beauty and violence has always been a driving theme in The Witcher series. The Northern Realms' gorgeous vistas are dotted with war-torn battlefields, kindness--no matter how fleeting it may be--is often juxtaposed with savagery, and even the warmest characters have a cold and calculated side to them. That neverending tug-of-war is ever-present in The Witcher 3, even when its stripped-down visuals may obscure some of that beauty.

Everything is here in the Nintendo Switch version--The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, its two expansions, Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine, and all of its DLC. The main game alone offers dozens of superb quests filled with interesting characters, fantastic twists, and rewarding combat encounters. As Kevin VanOrd said in GameSpot's original review, "Excellence abounds at every turn in this open-world role-playing game." The same is mostly true for the Nintendo Switch version.

As you'd expect, the visuals have been pared down significantly. The textures are muddied, the draw-distances are reined in, and the resolution has taken a hit. These issues are exacerbated during docked play. While it technically runs at a higher frame rate and resolution docked, these visual issues are all the more noticeable when projected onto a larger screen.

The standard Nintendo Switch's 6.2-inch screen does a great job of hiding the blemishes. Even though it's running at a lower resolution, the smaller screen gives it a much crisper look, so the poor textures and pop-in are less apparent. If you do plan on playing it in handheld mode, you can, thankfully, adjust the size of the HUD to make things easier to read.

C'mon, this is what you're really here for

For returning players, the visual downgrade may require some getting used to. However, focusing solely on The Witcher 3's visuals does this port a disservice. Four years later, the game is still massive in scope, and seeing the battle-scarred swamps of Velen, jagged peaks of Skellige, and sprawling countryside of Toussaint on a technically inferior platform is still a sight to behold.

More importantly, the grittier look of the Switch port doesn't affect The Witcher 3's core gameplay. The combat and exploration may be smoother on a PC, Xbox One X, or PS4 Pro, but I found performance to be consistent throughout a wide variety of combat encounters and locales. After nearly 30 hours, I haven't experienced any significant frame rate dips. Even the swamps in Velen--an area notorious for causing frame rate issues on PS4 and Xbox One--are comparable to the rest of the experience on Switch. According to developer CD Projekt Red, the frame rate should range between 24 and 30 frames per second. In populated areas like Novigrad, the frame rate dipped to the lower end of that range. Given the slower pace of The Witcher 3, I never found these dips to be an issue, even in the heat of combat.

The Witcher 3's visual prowess may have been a selling point for some in 2015, but the Nintendo Switch version is a reminder that there is far more to this adventure than a pretty picture. Even today, there are few games that can rival the storytelling and worldbuilding on display here. Nothing is as simple as it seems, and every thread you pull on reveals enticing new details about this world and its characters.

The Nintendo Switch version is a reminder that there is far more to this adventure than a pretty picture

The vast web of decisions and consequences is just as impressive as it was in 2015. While it may not be apparent on your first playthrough, your actions--both big and small--can have serious repercussions, even if you were trying to do the right thing. What's more impressive is how well fleshed-out each of these paths are and how they ebb and flow through main quests and side quests. While many outcomes are bittersweet by design, none feel underdeveloped.

Where The Witcher 3 continues to shine is in its many deeply human stories. While the political aspects of the main story give context to the world and the characters that inhabit it, it's the interactions Geralt has with its denizens that gives weight to the experience. There are no good guys or bad guys. There are just people fighting to find hope in an oppressive world. Many of the quests provoke questions like: Would you hurt others for those you love? Can even the most vile of men be forgiven? How far can fear drive someone?

The superb storytelling continues in the game's two expansions. Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine. While not necessary to the main narrative, these two expansions are thoughtful addendums to Geralt's story. Blood and Wine in particular is a heartfelt send-off for the storied series. If you're jumping back into the game and just want to experience these, you can skip to them right when you load it up for the first time.

Although the Nintendo Switch might not be the best platform to play The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, it's still a fantastic experience that shouldn't be missed. If you are looking to replay The Witcher 3 and bask in its detail and beauty, the Switch port may not quite scratch that itch. However, what makes this game excellent isn't its graphics, but the powerful stories it tells, and those are as vivid as ever on Switch.

Categories: Games

How MediEvil Remake Captures Original's Intended Vision

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 10/15/2019 - 22:14

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Developer: Other Ocean Interactive Release: October 25, 2019 Platform: PlayStation 4

It’s been twenty-one years since the original MediEvil spooked players. Developer Other Ocean Emeryville is hoping to once again ensnare players’ imaginations. But, has the game stood the test of time? We recently talked with Mike Mika, chief creative officer, and Jeff Nachbaur, producer, about their upcoming game. If their passion is any indication, gamers have a treat in store this Halloween. The MediEvil Remake is not content with igniting mere nostalgia. Instead, Developer Other Ocean Emeryville has set out to create the fiendish vision the original was always intended to be, but couldn’t because of hardware limitation. Here are the reasons they might just succeed:  

For more on MediEvil be sure to check out our hands-on impressions from Gamescom.  

Categories: Games

Killer Queen Black Review - 'Cause I'm Having a Good Time

Gamespot News Feed - Sat, 10/12/2019 - 01:42

If you're fortunate enough to have a barcade in your neck of the woods, you have probably seen it: a huge, imposing pair of arcade cabinets with "Killer Queen" emblazoned on the marquee in blue and gold. Maybe you've even seen or played a versus session, with five players gathered around each screen attempting to work together and clutch sweet, sweet victory. Killer Queen is ideal for arcades, it's a unique game built around the camaraderie of being together in a public space--a vibe that's difficult to translate to the often solitary online experience PCs and consoles offer.

Enter Killer Queen Black, the first appearance of Killer Queen beyond the dimly-lit neon lights of modern social arcades. While it isn't a 1:1 port of the arcade original, Killer Queen Black nonetheless delivers a tremendously fun and engaging multiplayer experience, whether you're playing with a bunch of friends at home or joining in random battles online.

It's important to realize that Killer Queen in any form is, fundamentally, a multiplayer experience. That means that if you don't plan to play with local friends or take the game online, there is little that it will offer you beyond a brief tutorial mode and the ability to play with CPU-controlled teammates and enemies. But when you do get a party started, Killer Queen Black realizes its full fun and frenetic potential.

Killer Queen Black has you playing in two teams of four players (down from five in the arcade original), with one player assuming the role of the insectoid Queen and three being worker drones who aid her. Each player has an important role; while the Queen is the team's anchor and has access to powerful attack skills, the infinitely-respawning drones can pick up berries, ride snails, and upgrade in special pods to gain super-speed or become weapon- and shield-bearing warriors. Victory is achieved in one of three ways: by killing the other team's Queen three times, collecting and storing enough berries to fill your team's base, or riding a sluggish snail to your team's goalposts.

The game's varied roles and three means of victory offer up a lot of interesting strategies. Do the drones all opt to forfeit the ability to carry berries and ride the snail to gain weapons to go on an all-out offense? Or maybe only a couple should grab gear while one tries to bait the opposing Queen by riding the snail? Maybe your team's Queen can dodge and counterattack enemies, distracting the opposing team and claiming their power-stations while your drone friends hoard berries or inch the snail to the goal. You can even put yourself in the snail's jaws to stymie a riding opponent, allowing your weapon-wielding teammates an opportunity to kill off threats. There are many possibilities, and while a lot is always going on at any one time in Killer Queen Black, learning its basic rules and controls is easy enough that most anyone can jump in and quickly enjoy the strategic depth the gameplay has to offer.

Graphically, Killer Queen Black has received a significant overhaul from the arcade original. The arcade game employed a detailed retro-pixel art style, and that carries over to Black. However, the detail on the characters, animations, and background elements is significantly improved, adding a lot to the atmosphere of Killer Queen's strange humanoid-insect world. As a result it's not too tough to follow the action, even on the Switch's comparatively smaller handheld screen, Along with the graphical overhaul comes some all-new maps, many of which emphasize the clever use of screen-wrapping to enhance strategic play by letting you quickly move from end of the screen to the other.

There are many ways to enjoy the game's multiplayer modes. You can link a pair of Switches together via a local network for eight-player action, you can hop online in a custom room with friends or an assemblage of random players--you can even take a local team of up to four players online to battle against another group online.

In our testing, online play was generally smooth sailing, though it was pretty easy to tell when players' connections weren't ideal; you could see their character jumping abruptly around the map as the game struggled to catch up with their location. (To its credit, the game tries its best to match you with others based on region.) There's online voice chat for each team to coordinate strategy--though, if you don't have access to voice chat (a likelihood for the Switch version), you can also communicate through a simple emote and emphasis system that draws attention to places on the map. If there's one major gripe about online, it's a lack of options; you can turn certain maps on and off, but that's about it. With only six maps in the base game (that often repeat multiple times during a five-round set), the scenery starts to feel a stale pretty quickly.

Minor gripes aside, Killer Queen Black is the very definition of a great multiplayer game: easy to learn, fun to jump into, and packed with the sort of clutch moments that make you jump up and cheer. The satisfaction of spur-of-the-moment decisions, like sniping a Queen from the other side of the map with a carefully-timed laser gun blast, knocking an attacker pursuing your Queen off-kilter with a thrown berry, or eagerly shoving yourself in a snail's mouth pixels from the enemy goal in order to buy your teammates time to complete your berry hoard is consistently engaging. If you're looking for a unique, competitive multiplayer experience for online or local group play, Killer Queen Black is the bee's knees.

Categories: Games

Rockstar Reveals Additions To Red Dead Redemption II For PC

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 10/09/2019 - 17:15

Publisher: Rockstar Games Developer: Rockstar Games Release: October 26, 2018 Rating: Mature Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Despite releasing last year, Red Dead Redemption II has been in the news a lot lately, with new content in Red Dead Online and the announcement of a PC version scheduled to launch on November 5. On that latter point, Rockstar today revealed more information about what is going to be different about PC version compared to its console counterparts.

Gamers can obviously expect some graphical improvements that take full advantage of the hardware, like increased draw distances, improved lighting, and better textures. But beyond that, the PC version will also have new content that wasn't in the previous release. That includes brand-new horses (and new variations of existing horses), three bounty hunter missions, two additional gang hideouts,  two new treasure maps, and extra weapons for the story mode (some of which are already in Red Dead Online), and more.

Players who pre-purchase the game via the Rockstar Games Launcher (until October 22) also get a bevy of other goodies, like a free upgrade to the premium edition, bonus cash for story mode and online, and a war horse for single-player. As another incentive, this deal also includes two free Rockstar PC games (selected from: Grand Theft Auto III, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Bully: Scholarship Edition, L.A. Noire: The Complete Edition, and Max Payne 3: The Complete Edition). You can get all the details at the official site.

You probably knew this already, but the original console release of Red Dead Redemption II was excellent (we gave it a 10), and these improvements may give everyone a reason to jump back in with the new version.

Categories: Games

What The Golf Review - Swing And A Hit

Gamespot News Feed - Wed, 10/09/2019 - 09:00

What the Golf prides itself in being a golf game for people who don't like golf. Its absolute irreverence means that, for long periods, it only resembles golf in that the controls are similar to other touch-screen golf games, especially Desert Golfing--you aim in a direction, pull your finger back to gauge your distance, and then let go for the swing (although here you're just trying to hit the pin, not land in the hole). But as often as not, you're not actually shooting a golf ball here. Sometimes you're firing off a soccer ball, or hurling a golf club, or an object that's not even golf-adjacent like a rocket that needs guiding through a mess of trees or a crab that must be protected from rising tides. What you're doing changes completely, but the controls, and the humorous sense of surprise, remain unchanged for the majority of the game.

Often, the first shot on any course is a punchline. On one early level, you go to shoot the ball, but on release, the on-screen golfer gets flung forward instead, rag-dolling towards the green. In other instances, the punchline comes at the end of the hole: you'll hit the pin and discover that the whole reason for putting in a level about driving a car was so that they could hit you with the pun 'driving range'. What the Golf is an inventive, charming and funny game, one that speeds through ideas, jokes and oddities at a steady clip so that none of its ideas ever have a chance to get old. It's fast, strange and pretty easy--the exact opposite of real golf, and all the better for it.

What the Golf's high-concept golf japery isn't trying to deliver a serious or deep experience. Each level is short--getting the ball (or equivalent) to the pin rarely requires more than a few shots, and while the overworld that you navigate through to access each level contains only the mildest of traversal puzzles. The whole point of the game is to make you laugh at how flexible its internal definition of 'golf' is. It's literally a weird flex, but it's more than okay.

The game's irreverence for golf doesn't tick over into malice, nor are there any real elements of parody--golf simply provides a rough framework and theme for the game to build on. Levels are divided up by rough themes and concepts: some levels are set in space, for instance, or based on other sports, or require you to switch your phone orientation, switching to a first-person control scheme. Some even bring in augmented reality elements, asking you to move your phone around to fully comprehend a 3D level. The level of creativity on display here is what makes the game so charming, and right up until the end it's still finding new ways to wring joy out of some very simple control mechanics.

It's literally a weird flex, but it's more than okay.

Unfortunately, if you're playing on PC, some of these fun gimmicks have been excised or cut back--this is a game clearly designed with mobile devices in mind. It's also not as intuitive to control, as moving a mouse is not as immediate or satisfying as using a finger, especially in levels that require you to take numerous shots in quick succession. But the game remains very funny, no matter how you play it. To explain too many of the game's gags would dilute their power, but it does a very good job of baking the comedy into the mechanics. What the Golf repeats the same basic gags often to great success--a favourite is when you think you're controlling the ball, but when you take your shot some other object gets propelled, which is somehow funny every single time. Even the soundtrack, which is largely made up of discordant tunes and singers singing "what the hell" and "golf" repeatedly, is funny.

The game is at its most fun the more recognisably connected to golf it is, although that doesn't mean that all the best levels have you shooting a ball at a pin. The game turns into a spot-on homage to Superhot for a few levels, for instance, where you pick up new clubs to fire balls at enemies who only move--and shoot--when you do. It's a committed homage, right down to the “SUPER. PUTT.” voiceover after you complete each level. There are other direct game parodies in here (and even one challenge that feels like a direct homage to Untitled Goose Game), and most of them are a delight. At a few other points, though, the game stumbles somewhat--some levels have so little to do with golf that the game's central joke feels briefly abandoned, and it would be nice to have a few more levels that required some outside-the-box thinking. Even with all the zaniness, a lot of the gameplay boils down to simply pointing at the pin and firing, and some more puzzle-based levels would not have gone amiss.

Thankfully, the two extra challenges holes attached to each level do a lot to flesh the game out. You can finish What the Golf in about two hours, but it's worth going back and trying to 100% it (which can still be done in about six hours). These extra levels are a 'par' challenge, and then another level that usually provides a significant shake-up, one that's often unrecognisable from the hole's first challenge. Often there will be new gags or ideas to enjoy tucked away in these challenges, so it's worth going back for them.

What the Golf is a comedy game first and foremost, and it succeeds at its primary goal. Perhaps the game's most telling feature is the 'Show To A Friend' option on the main menu, which runs you through a quick playable "best of" reel of some clever challenges the game offers up. What the Golf is an experience that can be shown off, fully understood, and effectively sold to a player in the span of about two minutes--and like all great jokes, you'll want to share it.

Categories: Games

John Wick Hex Review - Beware The Boogeyman

Gamespot News Feed - Tue, 10/08/2019 - 20:50

John Wick is an orchestrator of death. He efficiently uses both the tools and space around him in a fight, delicately flowing between enemies and intelligently picking them off. John Wick Hex effortlessly replicates the slick violence of the films, allowing you to embody the feared assassin in combat scenarios that are both challenging and satisfying to overcome. It also introduces a fast-paced spin on traditional turn-based action, letting you think and act like the elusive Baba Yaga while also looking as refined and controlled as he is.

At the core of John Wick Hex is an overhead timeline, which records actions both you and enemies take. Each action takes a set amount of time, represented plainly in the timeline to give you a clear view of when you’re taking a shot versus when you have to dodge an incoming one, for example. After each turn, the action you’ve made plays out in real-time, only pausing if a new enemy enters your line of sight or if you take damage to let you adjust accordingly. You’re always aware of how the action is going to play out when it starts moving again, which lets you plan ahead and position yourself for your next turn.

The choices you make in combat are vital, though. Sometimes an enemy might be quicker on the draw than you, forcing you to decide between potentially taking a hit or throwing your gun to stun them in time. This has its own set of consequences. If the enemy is too far, you’ve now disarmed yourself with too much ground to cover for a close-quarters takedown, or left yourself vulnerable to the surprise appearance of another foe. Each turn is a new step in a moving puzzle, rewarding careful consideration of positioning, sight lines, and resource management with a graceful flow of murder.

Aside from health, you have to consider both ammunition and a resource called focus. John Wick is great with a gun, but Hex limits the number of bullets you can carry at a time to force you to experiment with new weapons that you find. Knowing how many bullets you have in the magazine before a fight helps you manage how many enemies you think you can dispatch before needing to find a new one, which in turn helps you move efficiently from one kill to the next, collecting dropped firearms in the process. It’s a satisfying balance; I constantly had to adapt to the firing speeds and effective ranges of new weapons, which in turn changed the way I advanced on or retreated from a fight.

Focus governs most of your actions outside basic movement and shooting. Everything from performing an instant melee takedown to reloading your weapon requires some focus points, making it the backbone to most of your available repertoire. Although it can be replenished easily enough, finding space in a fight to do so without taking too much damage is tough, encouraging you to only bite off as much as you can chew and space your enemies out to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Your successes and failures are governed but how well you’re able to manage both ammunition and your distribution of resources, with Hex focusing less on hit percentages and random rolls and more on the choices you make and your ability to anticipate how things will play out.

Levels are designed to challenge your understanding of movement and its inherent risks, too, stuffing you into long, cramped corridors laden with doors that enemies can spawn through at any point. Sight lines are obscured to keep you guessing about who's just around the corner; a reckless roll could put you in the firing line of a group of previously hidden enemies. Each step you take towards the exit of each level has to be a calculated one, taking into account acute angles of doorways and the benefits of elevation from overhead balconies.

When you hit a stride with this balancing act, John Wick Hex feels like it’s almost moving in real time. Your decisions will start feeling instinctive, with moves playing out as if you’re beholden to a ticking clock. Hex is tuned to make you feel like you’re always one step ahead. Because you have a beat or two to react to new enemies before they make their moves, you'll often feel like your reaction times are split seconds ahead of them--so long as you're thinking carefully. But it’s equally unforgiving if you’re too bold. If you don’t learn how to break sight lines while moving, you’ll quickly find your timeline overwhelmed with enemy actions that you can’t address entirely. Hex is a power fantasy with the odds ever so slightly tilted in your favor, but it’s also a game that wants you to understand the fine margins that John Wick operates within during every fight.

With such dynamic and engrossing combat at its center, it’s disappointing that John Wick Hex’s original story fails to live up to the same standard. It takes place well before the events of the first film--when John was the most dangerous weapon the High Table had in their employ, and before he ever met his wife--with John searching for series stalwarts Winston and Charon, reprised by Ian McShane and Lance Reddick respectively (Keanu Reeves' likeness is used in the game's stylized cartoonish aesthetic, but John Wick has no dialogue to speak of). Hex, a new villain to the series, has kidnapped the pair in an attempt to dismantle the High Table in a fit of revenge, inviting the wrath of John Wick as he ruthlessly hunts him down over a variety of locales, like neon-soaked night clubs with harsh electronic music and silent, snow-slicked forests which quickly become drenched in bright pink streaks of blood from fallen foes.

While the narrative gives the game a reason to bounce from one location to the next, it never taps into the intriguing layer of lore that sits on top of the high-octane action from the films. You’ll learn nothing new about the High Table or their seedy, mysterious Continental hotels, and even less about John’s time before giving up his assassin lifestyle in pursuit of something quieter. Hex’s revenge tale also fails to establish any interesting backstory or lasting impression on the franchise, making the story feel meaningless in the grander scheme of things.

It’s a disappointing thread that ties together the exceptional gameplay, which faithfully captures the feeling of being John Wick in a strategic and pulsating formula. John Wick Hex has turn-based gameplay at a pace you’ve likely not experienced before, and it intricately balances its systems to give you a sense of being an expert hitman while also making it feel earned. It’s a slick and well-oiled game that succeeds in giving you a new, engrossing way to experience John Wick and its signature brand of chaotic action.

Categories: Games

Concrete Genie Review - Paint The Town LED

Gamespot News Feed - Tue, 10/08/2019 - 11:30

Restoring the place which harbors your fondest childhood memories is a cute and almost noble goal. In Concrete Genie you get to take something drab and dead and bring it back to life with colour, love, and warmth. It's a very simple and short experience that focuses mainly on light puzzling, 3D platforming, and a little stealth, but its charm and general sense of playfulness really make it a worthwhile adventure.

In Concrete Genie you play as Ash, a boy who dreams of bringing his former home, a fishing port called Denksa, back to life. The town has been corrupted by an oil spill and negative emotions, and is now a desolate maze-like neighbourhood by the water. Ash's love of art and memories of better days draw him to the run-down area, despite his parents' warnings. Unfortunately for Ash, his bullies also enjoy running amok in the ghost town; they tear up his art book and push him into a cable car bound for Denska lighthouse (known for housing a ghost), starting him on a new journey.

Small drawings of the genies Ash drew as a child are scattered around the city and, when combined with the power of the lighthouse ghost, bring his paintings to life. These friendly genies bid him to use his artistic talents to paint the town using a new magic brush, which restores the electric lights in the area. He sets to work, using his vibrant artworks to push back the darkness infecting the town. The premise doesn't make a tonne of sense, but its message and execution are sweet and full of heart, much like the rest of the game.

Ash is determined to restore Denska to its former glory and each area of the town, including the lighthouse, has hanging fairy lights over some parts of buildings. Painting these areas will clear the dark vines that block your path to the next section. Mechanically, painting is more like placing large dynamic stickers rather than using your own brush strokes. You choose whether you want to paint something like a rainbow or a flower, use either motion controls or the right stick to choose its location, then drag across the screen to determine the general size and shape of the object.

Concrete Genie fills in the rest, adding fine details that can vary depending on the sticker. Flowers may create extra grass, and trees can grow additional branches, but it all works to make whatever you're creating far more impressive. The artwork is made of light and genuinely quite beautiful--if a little overbearingly bright at times. Much like projected light art or bright neon signs, they work well in moderation but can get overly busy. You do have to go quite overboard to create something that's actually ugly, which makes the act of painting the town really satisfying--you get to watch a boring dull environment become something quite pretty with very minimal effort.

To light up the hanging lights, any painting will do. This means that sometimes, for simplicity's sake, I used the same art over and over again, covering the walls with butterflies or stars out of laziness. Occasionally, you may need to paint something specific, but even then it can get a little repetitive. All of the paintable objects come from your sketchbook the aforementioned bullies tore apart, and these pages are scattered all over Denska.

Sometimes you might not have the page you need yet, but setting out to find them gives you a genuine reason to explore the environment and fortunately, it's really fun to do so. Ash is just a kid and doesn't have superpowers, so he can't jump particularly high or survive large falls, but he does have a spirited spring in his step. Clambering up the sides of buildings is quick and efficient while still feeling grounded and not at all floaty. Even if you do fall to your death, you're immediately returned to where you fell from, and daredevil actions like sliding down power lines make getting around enjoyable without fear of punishment. There's a really nice fluidity to his movements, which emboldens you to explore every nook and cranny to hunt down your strewn pages.

Along the way, you'll also find spots to create new genies, which will in turn help you solve puzzles and access new areas. These genies have set colours which allow them to solve different elemental puzzles--red genies can burn down a tarp, for example, whereas blue ones can blow on specific objects, and yellow ones generate electricity to power various doors and switches. The downside to the puzzles is calling one genie to solve a problem calls all who are available to come, so often there's not much active work on your part to solve them--Instead, the genies come along and, aside from a few exceptions, they'll just solve it on their own. As genies are still technically paintings that exist on the walls they were painted on, they can only travel on connected walls and are locked in their own areas. This means you may need to have found the painting spot for the type of genie you need first, but this still isn't very difficult.

You also have a fair amount of control over how your genies will look, depending on how many genie design pages you’ve collected. The choices you make can impact their personalities, which can make interacting with them incredibly endearing--it's also very easy to make some hot mess genies, but they don't seem to mind their appearance. The interactions between Ash and the genies are very sweet--you can hang out with them, play games together, and paint things for them. Keeping your genies happy also makes them more likely to help you solve puzzles and provides you with Super Paint, which is required to paint over some surfaces, so the whole interaction with the genies feeds back into the positivity of the game.

Concrete Genie takes a surprising turn in the final act, when combat suddenly makes an appearance. As a part of the narrative, it makes sense and is an enjoyable twist, but because it's such a short-lived mechanic it feels under-developed. Like the elements of the genies, you are granted three different elemental attacks that need to be used to take down different shields. The half-hour dedicated to combat, mostly involving boss fights, doesn't give much opportunity for you to experiment with it. I'm still not sure if all the attacks did damage or whether some just caused status effects because there wasn't enough time or enemies to organically work it out.

When you're granted combat, you also gain new movement abilities, which include paint skating. This means you no longer have to run so much and can instead essentially skate on magical painted shoes. It makes getting around even more fluid than it was before, and unlike your ability to shoot elements, you get to keep this one even after the main story is completed. Because it's introduced fairly late into the game, it makes jumping back in after the story to clean up collectibles really enjoyable. The game itself only takes about six hours to complete on an initial playthrough, and once it's "over" you really do want to play more. But even with the 10 or so hours I spent finding all the secrets and collectibles, it still feels like some concepts could still have been explored to a greater degree.

Most of what Concrete Genie has to offer is fun and beautiful in a sort of childlike way. The game is not particularly difficult, and overcoming a puzzle or combat scenario isn't always satisfying. But it's ultimately still an endearing experience throughout. There's plenty of enjoyment to be found just from the act of exploring, and little hidden secrets along the way help make it worthwhile; I just wish Concrete Genie had more adventure waiting for me.

Categories: Games

Indivisible Review - Bahala Na

Gamespot News Feed - Mon, 10/07/2019 - 14:00

There's nothing quite like the bright, beautiful, and sometimes distraught world of Indivisible. It's one that wears its Southeast/South Asian influences on its sleeve, and pulls you into places you want to be in with characters you want to be around. Developer Lab Zero blends several genre elements to create a system of combat and platforming that flows seamlessly between Indivisible's seemingly disparate parts. It has so much going for it that it's disappointing when heartfelt exchanges and pivotal moments lack the gravitas they deserve or are simply glossed over. While Indivisible has trouble following through narratively, I can't shake its enjoyable moments and the sense of cultural visibility it gives a region I'm connected to.

Your journey across Indivisible's world revolves around Ajna, the hard-headed but full-hearted protagonist who perpetually stumbles into revelations about her true nature. She makes new friends along the way who either have mutual goals in mind or don't need much convincing to join her cause. Other than brief surprise, no one seems to bat an eye at the fact that they get physically absorbed into Ajna's consciousness--a separate plane of existence that acts as a sort of hub area--only to be summoned in battle or in conversation. You'll have to concede having deeper explanations other than Ajna's supernatural powers and third-eye chakra which are connected to the ominous villain Kala, goddess of destruction and creation.

A diverse cast of characters and a creative combat system make Indivisible's fights stand out.

Although a handful of key characters are central to the story, you assemble a party of four from a large and varied roster that's built up rather quickly. You assign a party member to a position in combat that corresponds with a face button; this is how you actively send them in to deal damage in real-time during an offensive phase and have them individually defend when enemies initiate attacks. Getting the hang of Indivisible's hybrid of turn-based and real-time mechanics opens you up to inventive ways of combining different characters' movesets and timing their specific attacks at the right time. It's easy to see how Lab Zero channels elements of its previous game, Skullgirls--there's a slight fighting game touch with combos, directional attacks, guard breaks, perfect blocks, and air juggling attacks. You also build up a meter, called Iddhi, which represents Ajna and friends' ability to go into overdrive for executing powerful special attacks. Battles tend to move fast, and this layered combat system makes you eager to get into the next fight.

It's not necessary to learn every character as it's viable to stick with a handful of your favorites to cycle between for certain situations (they all level alongside Ajna so no one gets left behind). But as great as combat can be, you'll be disappointed to know that its wonderful complexities are squandered by a lack of challenge towards the end of the game. Your party becomes so powerful that simple button mashing will get you by most, if not all, enemies and bosses. You'll continually recruit new members in the late-game, too, but with little reason to get in tune with their mechanics. Combat's biggest enemy is the lack of difficulty right when the stakes should be the highest.

Fighting is only half of Indivisible, gameplay-wise, though--it's partly a 2D side-scrolling adventure that draws from Metroidvania-style exploration. As you accumulate new tools and powers, so too does your means of traversal. Ajna starts with an axe that she uses to propel herself upward to higher ledges, but she'll soon be pole-vaulting, pogo-sticking, and monkey-swinging with a spear to avoid hazards and reach new areas. Her own superpowers eventually let you dash across wide gaps, jump to greater heights, and break through walls. What makes all these mechanics fun to use is that you face a variety of obstacles that force you to think about the clever ways you need to string together your toolset and abilities to overcome these platforming challenges.

Unlike combat, platforming steadily ramps up to a satisfying difficulty towards the end, but it's never frustrating since you only face light punishment for death. Rather than loading a previous save, you get brought back to a generously placed checkpoint should you fail a sequence. What's more, a number of boss battles merge the two gameplay styles and test you to juggle both at a rapid pace. That could sound like the game biting off more than it can chew, but the pace at which you transition between the two phases keep things moving seamlessly.

From one location to another, Indivisible's imaginative art style gives you an unmistakable sense of where you are and the things that happen there. I'm still thinking about the rough streets of Tai Krung City, which come to life through neon signage, quirky apartment setups, lavish clubs, and sketchy alleyways. Even the grimy, oppressive Iron Kingdom clearly communicates a hardship among the common folk who inhabit the cobblestone roads, and you feel the bustle of the markets that occupy the colorful seaside town of Port Maerifa. That rich sense of style extends to each of the characters, who are beautifully realized in expressive, hand-drawn artwork. It's an evolution of the imaginative style and designs from Skullgirls, and it helps distinguish each member of the wide, diverse cast.

Excellent platforming scenarios challenge you to use all your tools and powers.

Indivisible's sensational soundtrack tops off the joy of exploration and complements the feelings you get from soaking in the beautiful visuals. The infectious tunes solidify the personality of Indivisible's locations, a favorite among the tracks being the song that plays in Tai Krung City--its steel drums and upstroke guitar riffs hook you, but its somber melody reflects the town's dreary side. And the energetic tempo and horn section of the club area's song propels you to keep going, especially when it doubles as the battle theme. The Pacific Islander-influenced region of Kaanul features a theme with catchy woodwind instrumentation and a solemn string section. Indivisible's soundtrack is very much part of the atmosphere it aims to build, and it's one that's worth listening to on its own.

I want to love Indivisible unconditionally; it has so many great pieces, and it's a special thing to feel seen. I'm happy to have a game that's distinctly Southeast Asian, giving some earnest representation to a part of the world I belong to and one I'm even more curious about now.

Indivisible roots itself in broad-reaching concepts from Southeast/South Asian mythologies and history. Every in-game region's introduction is written in Sanskrit. Mount Sumeru, the critical location for which Indivisible starts and concludes, is derived from the sacred mountain in Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain mythology that harnesses all things physical and spiritual. An important character, Thorani, who treats Ajna as one of her own, calls her luksao, the Thai word for daughter. You can also spot smaller pop culture references, too--special shout out to the Jollibee reference in Tai Krung City, and a charming wannabe-Kamen Rider stand-in. Even down to character names, there are so many more connections to draw. While Indivisible doesn't necessarily explore these cultures in any particular depth or in more meaningful ways, it gives the stage to a diverse region to tell a simple story of personal growth, self-acceptance, and sacrifice.

I wonder how the three-piece chickenjoy and halo-halo are at Jolly Katydid.

With that said, while Indivisible has the foundation to portray something powerful it doesn't exactly follow through. Many of Indivisible's major story beats lack the necessary impact they need to stick with you and get you fully invested in Ajna's fight to save the world. While there's an assortment of likeable personalities and quips between characters, and the voice acting performances shine, many dialogue sequences don't reflect the gravity of the situations that unfold. For example, Ajna internalizes life-altering events in ways that frame them as frustrations to her rather than tragedies. And when she inadvertently causes destruction, it's largely brushed off as an accident with consequences that aren't communicated. Characters are quick to change their minds about things without portraying the process through which they came to their conclusions, undermining possible emotional stakes.

There are key moments when other characters push back and confront others to think harder about what they're doing. Whether it's characters who open themselves up to feel any sort of positive emotion, go through a sincere redemption arc, or provide unquestioning support, you can identify the times Indivisible gets it right. I can't help but wish that the story contained these highlights more often than not.

I want to love Indivisible unconditionally; it has so many great pieces, and it's a special thing to feel seen. I'm happy to have a game that's distinctly Southeast Asian, giving some earnest representation to a part of the world I belong to and one I'm even more curious about now. As a whole, it sometimes doesn't come together; it's missing weight to its narrative and the challenges necessary to flex its wonderful combat system. But it stands out as an RPG that's doing something genuinely different, and it brings joy to its clever platforming with the tune of an infectious soundtrack. For all its faults, Indivisible has its heart in the right place.

Categories: Games

Yooka-Laylee And The Impossible Lair Review - Uninvited Nostalgia

Gamespot News Feed - Sun, 10/06/2019 - 17:00

It's easy to love Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair when you start. The platformer is bursting with bright, saturated hues at every turn, with a whimsical soundtrack that's as catchy as it is cheery. It's a delightful veneer that quickly gives way to an otherwise predictable and unremarkable platformer. Despite changing its formula from full 3D to 2.5D, Yooka-Laylee is still too firmly rooted in a bygone era for platformers.

This shortcoming is hard to see at first, especially with Impossible Lair's intriguing setup. In theory, the Impossible Lair is an endgame challenge you can attempt in the opening moments of the game. It's a gauntlet of spike traps and moving platforms, populated to the brim with enemies ready to chew you up and spit you back out. Each stage outside of the Lair is meant to help you with this. You’re rewarded with a bee when you complete a stage, each acting as an additional hit point when you attempt the Lair once more. Gathering as many bees as you can lets you push further in while affording you more mistakes. This entices you to check back in with the Impossible Lair from time to time, seeing how well your new health pool holds up and if that (combined with your improving platforming skills) are enough to best it.

In practice, though, you're going to need pretty much every bee Yooka and Laylee can find, mostly due to how ridiculously difficult the Impossible Lair is compared to the rest of the game. It lives up to its name almost too closely, with no checkpoints throughout and long stretches of deadly chasms that will reset your progress significantly should you fall. It's completely different from the rest of the game's stages, which are well-paced with checkpoints and feature options to skip entire segments if you just can't get them right. The shift from accessible, pleasant platforming to a poorly balanced test of skill isn't an inviting one, and it sullies the otherwise interesting idea of having the Impossible Lair accessible at all times.

Outside of the Lair itself, this half-sequel, half-reinvention splits up into two distinctly different types of games. Individual stages are standard 2.5D platforming fare, tasking you with moving from start to finish, while a handful revolve around hunting down collectible items for completion. You navigate through spike traps, swinging ropes, rotating platforms, and dangerous cannons; everything feels familiar enough if you've played a platformer before. Enemies come in different varieties--some will hop in the air, others will charge at you on sight, and still others will simply move between ledges--but their designs aren't visually exciting enough to be memorable.

As familiar as they are, it's not long before stages start to feel like chores. Part of the problem is the merely serviceable platforming at its core. Yooka and his companion Laylee don't feel bad to control per se, but there's nothing exceptional about their move set either. Jumps feel a little floaty and it's annoying that your only attack is mapped to the same button as your roll (any hint of directional movement initiates the latter, and there's no way to change the control scheme), but outside of that there's really nothing remarkably good or bad about making your way through stages. It just feels far too routine, which quickly becomes boring no matter how varied the stages get as you progress.

There are technically 20 distinct stages, but in practice it's double that. Each stage can be manipulated in the hub world to alter both their makeup and challenge. For example, one level entrance on land can be submerged in water, flooding it and making new routes accessible via swimming. The changes are sometimes substantial, like introducing massive gusts of wind to help you float through the air or lasers that chase you through a route that was otherwise safe before. There are routes you'll see on your first run through a stage that are clearly meant for your inevitable return visit under different circumstances, which is a nice touch to their overall design.

Outside of these stages, the game transforms into an isometric 3D platformer, which lets you navigate through a relatively large world as you hop between individual stages. This area is more than just a hub for the real platforming awaiting; it's a self-contained stage unto itself, filled with its own puzzles, secret areas to uncover, and characters to interact with. Each part of the map is themed--there's one with large sentient fans that block paths with gusts of wind and an arid desert with a winding pipe system encroaching on its sparse wilderness, for example--which keeps things fresh as you travel between them.

Solving puzzles in this hub world rewards you with some additional bees for the Impossible Lair, but also with quills and tonics. You collect thousands of quills throughout your time in the game, using them to unlock the abilities that tonics offer, which can be incredibly useful in some tricky stages. One will force Laylee to stick around longer after getting hit, giving you more time to recover her and regain both her abilities and an additional hit point. Others let you glide for longer after a jump or lets Laylee emit a sonar pulse to reveal nearby collectibles. Others are just cosmetic. You can drench the screen in a variety of filters using FX tonics, or marvel at what a modern platformer would look like in a 4:3 aspect ratio before switching it back. They're good for a giggle or two, but not much beyond that.

Finding tonics is more fun than messing around with the abilities they offer. Secret paths are obscured slightly with the fixed camera angle, which makes picking apart your surroundings and uncovering them a treat. Others require some lightly skilled platforming to reach entrances to small caves (which themselves are sometimes locked away behind rocks you need to demolish or prickly shrubs you need to burn away) or the deciphering of clues from other characters to find keys to locked chests. It gives you more reasons to interact with the hub world behind just shepherding yourself from one stage to the next and lets you tackle them in your own time.

The Impossible Lair is definitely a better attempt at capturing the magic of platformers than Yooka-Laylee's first crack at it, but it's still not remarkable.

What isn't as engrossing is the progression system that governs how you move between each part of the hub world. Gates, jokingly referred to as paywalls, are erected throughout the world, and each requires T.W.I.T coins to unlock. There are five T.W.I.T coins in each stage, hidden in shrewdly obscured rooms or located at the end of particularly challenging platforming routes, both of which are satisfying. Initially it's pretty easy to get by using the few you find naturally through playing. But the high requirement for later gates means replaying stages you've already completed is unavoidable, which quickly introduces an unpleasant pattern of repetition. It's a slog to have to slowly comb through levels you've finished to find one or two coins at a time just so that you can continue on the game's main path.

Having to backtrack through stages to eventually reach and tackle the Impossible Lair would be more tolerable if the final encounter wasn't such a steep difficulty spike, but in truth it's likely you'll tire of its routine platforming well before that disappointment sets in. The Impossible Lair is definitely a better attempt at capturing the magic of platformers than Yooka-Laylee's first crack at it, but it's still not remarkable. If you're itching to return to a bygone era, then The Impossible Lair might scratch it. Just don't expect much beyond that.

Categories: Games

Ghost Recon Breakpoint Review In Progress - A Ghost Of Its Former Self

Gamespot News Feed - Sat, 10/05/2019 - 01:37

Ghost Recon Breakpoint is uneven and conflicted. On one hand it's a natural sequel to 2017's Ghost Recon Wildlands, offering a near-identical core gameplay loop of open-world espionage and shooting. On the other hand, Breakpoint is a messy hodgepodge of disparate ideas, pulling various aspects from other Ubisoft games and shoehorning them in, half-baked and out of place. Ghost Recon's identity as a tactical shooter has evaporated and been replaced by a confused patchwork of elements and mechanics from other, better games. Its defining characteristic boils down to just how generic and stale the whole thing is.

The addition of loot and an ever-increasing gear score fits into the standard template of Ubisoft's recent open-world games, whether it's The Division 2, Assassin's Creed Odyssey, or even Far Cry New Dawn. Breakpoint fulfills its quota by including these light RPG mechanics, but the implementation of its loot grind feels like a severe afterthought. There are numerous pieces of armor to find and equip as you explore the fictional island of Auroa. The numbers attached to each one will raise or lower your gear score, but the effect this has on gameplay is entirely inconsequential. Rare loot might include small buffs like a 2% increase in stamina or a 1% increase to movement speed, yet the effects of these buffs are negligible, and armor doesn't affect your damage resistance in any perceivable way. A level 5 beanie offers as much protection as a level 75 helmet, so these numbers only exist to raise a gear score that's nothing more than a flimsy representation of your progress. You're supposed to feel good about that number rising, but it's difficult to care when there are no tangible benefits to picking one piece of armor over another. You just end up opting for whatever has the higher rating without any meaningful consideration.

Choosing which weapon to roll with requires slightly more deliberation, although this is mainly due to your preference for specific weapon types as opposed to the number attached to each. Breakpoint features the usual assortment of assault rifles, SMGs, shotguns, and sniper rifles, and these firearms function similarly to armour, with rare weapons receiving miniscule buffs to aspects like reload speed and recoil reduction. Again, the impact these stats have on gameplay is paltry at best, especially because shooting in Breakpoint is still geared towards landing headshots for an instant kill. This is a holdover from Wildlands and the series' early beginnings as a somewhat "authentic" tactical shooter. The most heavily armored grunts in Breakpoint take two shots to the head to kill--one to take off their helmet, and another to finish the job--but every other enemy can be extinguished with a single bullet.

Weapons feel impactful as a result of this, successfully capturing the rush of being an elite special ops soldier that can take out four or five enemy combatants in a matter of seconds. But this also means the rarity of weapons and the gear score attached to them is ultimately meaningless. You can wander into an area recommended for players with a gear score of 140 with a significantly lower score and still kill every enemy without breaking a sweat. This amount of freedom would be commendable if it didn't shine a derisive light on how shallow the RPG mechanics are.

The only enemies in the game that require a specific gear score to defeat are the killer drones dotted across the island. Encounters with these unmanned killing machines are few and far between, but because they don't have heads and aren't made of flesh and blood, they can be bullet sponges. Facing off against one of these drones is the only time the number next to your weapon actually matters, and even then they're easier to destroy by using the rocket launchers, grenades, and mines found in your inventory, which don't even have numbers attached to them. It's another example of how Breakpoint isn't a coherent match with Ghost Recon's sensibilities, which are still reflected in the way headshots function, and the trivial impact that loot has on gameplay makes the constant switching and dismantling of each piece of gear an unnecessary timesink.

Breakpoint's paper-thin survival mechanics are similarly underdeveloped, hinting at a tense experience that never comes to fruition. You carry a flask that you can refill in lakes, rivers, and even in someone's backyard swimming pool for that sweet tasty chlorine. Water is used to replenish any lost stamina you've misplaced by over-exerting--usually by rolling down a hillside because Auroa is nearly bereft of flat ground. The island consists of diverse biomes including verdant woodlands, snow-capped mountain tops, and muggy swamps, but the common throughline in each environment is the presence of craggy cliffs and hillsides.

As a result, traversing on foot revolves around spending a lot of time sliding down undulating slopes. This quickly drains your stamina, sending you into an uncontrollable roll that inflicts damage with each nick and bump. Health regenerates over time, but if you suffer either a minor or major injury and don't want to hobble everywhere, you need to use a syringe for instant pain relief or spend longer wrapping yourself up in bandages. Syringes are finite, yet you have an infinite supply of bandages that almost make the mechanic moot. There are never any anxious moments of desperation as you find yourself hindered with an empty medicine box. It's easy enough to wrap yourself up after a tumble, and injuries in combat are rare enough that having to find a safe spot to pause is not something you have to consider very often. There are also bivouacs spread out across the map that are used as fast travel points and rest areas where you can apply specific buffs by eating, drinking, or aiming your gun at the sky to somehow improve its accuracy. You don't have to gather food because it's always available, and there's some light crafting on the docket if you have the materials to restock your supply of explosives and gadgets.

Much like the loot, these light survival mechanics aren't fleshed out enough to warrant any engagement beyond the limited amount you're forced into. The story revolves around your character being stranded alone, trapped deep behind enemy lines. You're outmanned and outgunned against an elite force equipped with a stolen fleet of devastating, unmanned killing machines. Stealth is encouraged, so much so that when you're prone you can cover yourself in mud and foliage to blend into the environment and remain undetected. Each of these elements places an emphasis on survival, but Breakpoint constantly skirts around the edges, never committing to mechanics that would extend beyond the feeble survival aspects already included. The plane-like Azraël drone occasionally flies overhead, ready and raring to rain fiery destruction down upon your helpless human body. Yet all this means is that you'll sometimes have to lie down and wait for it to pass before you can continue with what you were originally doing. You can see the inkling of some interesting ideas here, but Breakpoint never capitalizes on these and is ultimately a generic pastiche of what's come before.

The gameplay loop is almost identical to Wildlands': You send a drone into the sky, survey an enemy base, and mark targets before infiltrating in whichever manner you see fit. Navigating through a heavily fortified compound without being seen is still inherently satisfying. Each one is usually designed in a way so there are a number of enemies obscured from your drone's vision. You might be able to pick off a handful of guards from a distance using a silenced sniper rifle, but at some point you'll have to enter and find the rest. The only thing impeding your stealthy espionage is the fact you can't move sideways while prone. Instead, you end up with these awkward animations because you can only turn at right angles. Taking cover is overly cumbersome, too. You do it automatically, but what the game deems as cover is inconsistent from one low wall to the next, and even if you do manage to get behind an object, whether you can shoot over it or not is another question. Though this would be a bigger problem if the AI were the least bit competent.

Enemies in Breakpoint are mind-numbingly dumb to the point where playing on the highest difficulty doesn't present a significantly harder challenge. Their reaction to a buddy getting shot in front of them is often one of confusion; they'll stand still in the open instead of scurrying for cover. They don't fare much better in the midst of combat, either, running between the same two pieces of cover without engaging you or seemingly forgetting you exist. Occasionally they might try to flank your blindside, but more often than not their strategy boils down to charging directly at you, making it incredibly easy to line up your shots and dispatch a few in a row. Bottlenecks like corridors and doorways are by far their worst enemy, though. Sit down one end of a straight corridor and it doesn't take long for the bodies to pile up. You can even shoot the ground at the entrance to a base and kill each enemy who comes to investigate. Factor in the disappointing fact that enemies don't so much as flinch when getting shot in the body, and none of this is conducive to enjoyable combat.

If you can get some like-minded friends together, there's definitely some fun to be had in Breakpoint's four-person co-op. Silently clearing a base of its enemies is more gratifying with four people. You can plan ahead, simultaneously approach the compound through different entrances, and time sync shots together. It's more chaotic with strangers but you can jump into matches with random players if you fancy a taste of open-world chaos.

There is, however, some dissonance between co-op and the story painting you as a lone soldier, although this is much more egregious in Breakpoint's social hub. You can play the whole game solo, but mission givers all hang out in this homely cave where you'll also find 50 or so other players. Your character is literally called Nomad, and yet you're in a space with a bunch of other Nomads, all standing around the same NPC like it's an MMO. And the story's not great either way. Jon Bernthal elevates every scene he's in, chewing up the scenery to deliver simmering monologues befitting a villain with a dubious moral code. The writing is mostly cheesy, though, with some flat voice acting and predictable twists. The inventor of the island's killer drones develops a minor Oppenheimer complex when he realises his creations can be used to kill innocent people, but this aspect isn't explored beyond surface level, and that applies to the rest of the narrative too.

Much like the loot, the light survival mechanics aren't fleshed out enough to warrant any engagement beyond the limited amount you're forced into.

The presence of the social hub and the effect it has on diminishing the story would've been worse if the story were better. As it is, the social hub seems to exist to guide players towards Breakpoint's myriad microtransactions. Maybe that's an overly cynical viewpoint, but why else would you gather players in an open space other than to encourage them to show off by purchasing fancy new cosmetics? You can buy tattoos, shirts, masks, hats, weapons, vehicles, and more. Purchasing in-game money also comes in denominations that ensure you're always spending more than you need. You don't have to engage with any of this stuff, and it's easy enough to ignore, but this microtransaction structure is predatory by design.

It would make sense if the addition of loot were in service of guiding people to spend real money on better guns, but even then the stats are so meaningless it would take a lot of convincing. There's some surprising fun to be had stealthily infiltrating enemy compounds and playing with friends, but Breakpoint is still a generic and distinctly sub-par game. It's essentially every Ubisoft open-world game rolled into one, failing to excel in any one area or establish its own identity. Breakpoint is a messy, confused game and a ghost of the series' former self.

Editor's note: We will be finalizing this review once we've played PvP and the raid. Stay tuned for the final review in the coming days.

Categories: Games

Kamala Khan Joins The Team

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 10/04/2019 - 21:29

Publisher: Square Enix Developer: Crystal Dynamics, Eidos Montreal Release: May 15, 2020 Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Stadia, PC

Kamala Khan – known as Ms. Marvel – is the first new playable character to be announced following the initial reveal of Marvel's Avengers at E3 this year. Played by Sandra Saad, Kamala Khan is the sixth playable hero announced for the game, joining Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, and Black Widow.

Click image thumbnails to view larger version

 

                                                                                                            

Kamala Khan was affected by the events of A-Day, where the Avengers failed to stop a massive attack launched by an unknown adversary. Khan was turned inhuman, bestowing her with embiggen abilities, which she can use to great effect in combat. We only get brief glimpses of her in combat in the trailer below, but the story sequences show that she will play an integral role in the way the narrative plays out. According to the PlayStation Blog, Kamala is a driving force in reassembling the Avengers following the early events in the story.

Click here to watch embedded media

Marvel's Avengers comes to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Stadia, and PC on May 15. For more on Avengers, check out our hands-on impressions from the initial demo, and learn how the mission and gear systems work.

[Source: Marvel's Avengers on Twitter, PlayStation Blog]

Categories: Games

Iron Man VR Hits PSVR In February

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 10/04/2019 - 20:56
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment Developer: Camouflaj Release: February 28, 2020 Platform: PlayStation VR

Iron Man VR was announced in March and has looked promising ever since. However, while we've gotten our hands on a small demo for the game, we've been eagerly anticipating playing the full release. During today's Marvel Games panel at New York Comic Con, Marvel revealed we'll finally have that opportunity on February 28.

IGN reports the panel, which is not being streamed, also including the game's first story trailer. We'll update this story once that trailer hits the internet. Iron Man VR launches on PSVR February 28, 2020.

Update: PlayStation has shared the story trailer, which you can see below.

Click here to watch embedded media

[Source: IGN]

Categories: Games

Destiny 2 Shadowkeep Review In Progress - A Giant Leap

Gamespot News Feed - Fri, 10/04/2019 - 19:45

It's hard to overstate how much better Destiny 2 has become in the last year. The Forsaken expansion and the smaller updates that followed added variety in activities that meant you could earn rewards while playing your favorite content, as well as a huge amount of new, weird lore to sift through and fun secrets to uncover. It's not a stretch to say Destiny as a franchise was the best it's ever been in the second year of Destiny 2.

The new Shadowkeep expansion builds on those foundations in just about every way. While returning to the moon is a pretty good time in and of itself--the expansion leans hard on the spooky locale, which was part of Destiny 1 but refreshed and enlarged for Destiny 2--it's the smaller improvements to the way the game works that are really the standout. Destiny 2 is a stronger experience in Shadowkeep because Bungie has found ways to make it even more fun to play.

Forsaken made some effort to establish Destiny 2 as a game that's constantly evolving. Instead of dropping a series of big content updates with little happening between them, Destiny 2's second year became a drip-feed of new stuff that helped keep the game compelling, for the most part, month after month.

Bungie has said this approach is how it wants to handle the game going forward, and Shadowkeep represents a big step in that direction. That means at least across the first few days, the expansion feels a bit truncated; there's a lot more Bungie has detailed that's just not in the game yet. Destiny 2 story campaigns have always been a touch lackluster--they usually pack cool individual missions, but they almost always end quickly and rarely amount to more than chasing down some big enemy and putting them in the ground. Shadowkeep's main story is also on the short side, wrapping up in a four or five dedicated hours (and less once you start leveling alternate characters who benefit from the high-level gear you've already procured). It's also clearly the first part of a much larger tale, one that Bungie says will play out over the entire year. As such, it presents something of an unsatisfying journey; it's the first few steps, rather than a complete arc, and you might be a bit surprised when it's suddenly over.

Shadowkeep sees the return of a Destiny 1 character, Eris Morn, who was central to two previous expansions: The Dark Below and The Taken King. Here, Eris has learned that the death-worshipping enemy alien race, the Hive, has discovered something on the moon that's conjuring up phantoms of past foes and allies, returning deadly facsimiles of them to life. In a way, it's a big reunion tour of old Destiny content. Eris is back, you return to the D1 location of the moon, which we haven't seen in two years, and you fight slightly watered-down versions of big bad guys you've previously defeated, such as Dark Below raid boss Crota and Destiny 2 vanilla boss Ghaul. Since we haven't been back to the moon for two whole years, it's something of an amped-up nostalgia trip. But we're still waiting to reach the long-term endgame content that will wrap up some of these story threads.

It is cool, however, to hang out on the moon, especially because its spooky factor has gone up. Lunar tunnels are filled with frightening screams of hidden terrors, there are plenty of tough enemies to dispatch, and the whole place carries an air of haunted mystery. It seems we've only scratched the surface of what's hidden on the moon so far. Destiny is at its best when it's full of secrets for the community to band together to discover, and it appears there will be lots to find on the moon during Season of the Undying, the first season of Year Three.

Destiny 2 Recent News

The new content is all generally pretty fun, though it does feel a bit thin, at least in the early going and especially compared to the big, layered content offering that was Forsaken. Part of the issue is that the new seasonal approach means we're still waiting on additional activities, like the Vex Offensive, which starts in the days to come and is effectively a part of Shadowkeep that's not yet available. The story campaign has some exciting moments as Guardians band together to attack and infiltrate the new Scarlet Keep location and discover what the Hive is up to. Nightmare Hunts, the new high-level gear-grind activity on the moon, are pretty much mini-Strikes, making them quick, palatable boss fights that help you grab new gear. Exploring the moon has a lot to offer as well--though a lot of the location is made up of old areas, they're deep and maze-like, and every trip into their depths feels deliciously dangerous.

Where Shadowkeep really excels, however, is less in the content to work through and more in the myriad smaller changes Bungie has made to totally revamp Destiny 2. The biggest changes focus on making character builds a bigger part of the experience, giving you a chance to experiment with weapons and armor not just to make your character more powerful in general, but more powerful in ways that specifically meet your particular play style and needs.

Driving that focus is the new approach to weapon and armor mods, which allows you to mix and match elements that were previously unmovable perks on particular pieces of gear. In the past, you had to spend so much time switching gear in order to make your overall stats go up that more nuanced numbers, like how fast your grenades recharged or how quickly you moved, could generally be ignored. Making sure you had the best rolls on particular gear only really mattered in the game's toughest activities and to the most hardcore of players.

With Armor 2.0 and the new weapon mod system, you can move those perks (now as individual mods) between armor sets to build a few pieces of gear with exactly the capabilities you want. You're also no longer penalized for experimenting since mods aren't consumed on use. It means that once you start to get some pieces of armor and weapons that work really well for you, it's possible to continually tweak them to fit how you want to play the game and your particular role on a team.

I'm still early on in the process of seeing just how useful the system is--moving mods around is great, but how much freedom you actually get and whether you really need to care about them will become more apparent after spending more time in the endgame and upcoming seasonal content. But even early on, the system is providing more opportunities to think and develop character builds than I've been doing through most of the five years I've played Destiny. On paper, this is an improvement Destiny desperately needed.

The early leveling system has been improved significantly as well, making the climb to the endgame a lot more reasonable. Leveling up your character is (mostly) gone in favor of constantly chasing gear with better Power numbers. Up to the soft Power level cap, every drop is a useful one--giving you a chance to try out a host of different weapons and armor in various circumstances before you get to Shadowkeep's toughest content. Shadowkeep's change to move experience points from a needless character-leveling system to a battle pass also helps a major ongoing Destiny problem of running out of things to do as you approach maximum level. Everything earns you experience to advance your battle pass, so there's a lot less wasted time chasing useless rewards.

Evaluating a game like Destiny 2 is always tough, especially now that Bungie's putting more of its chips on long-term, evolving content. There's still a lot that won't be clear until I've been able to spend more time with the game. My initial experience with the post-soft cap endgame climb is that it is, in fact, pretty grind-heavy. After only a couple of days, however, it's tough to really get a sense of how satisfying or frustrating the path to reach Shadowkeep's pinnacle activities will be.

I'm also still waiting for new activities that will launch in the days to come and change from there. No review of a Destiny expansion would be complete without addressing its raid--Bungie's raids are consistently the most inventive, clever, and difficult experiences in Destiny, but we won't see the raid until it launches on October 5. A new seasonal activity also drops with the first completion of the raid, and seems likely to advance the story and help with providing higher-level players with more to do.

What's clear from just the first few days of Shadowkeep is that it represents a shift in the fundamentals of Destiny 2, and that has only improved the game. Returning to the moon is full of spooky fun, and while Shadowkeep might not be as huge as Forsaken, it still provides some impressive additions to the world that will take time to fully explore. More meaningful choices in Shadowkeep, even in the early hours, are pushing me to think beyond just packing my most powerful guns and shooting everything in my path. It remains to be seen just how much new choice and nuance these improvements will provide at the highest levels of play, but they absolutely represent a giant leap forward for Destiny 2.

Editor's note: We will be playing more Shadowkeep, including the Garden of Salvation Raid, before finalizing this review and the score. Stay tuned for the final review in the coming days.

Categories: Games

Austin Wintory Is The Composer Behind John Wick Hex

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 10/04/2019 - 16:59

Publisher: Lionsgate Developer: Good Shepherd Entertainment, Mike Bithell Games Release: October 8, 2019 Platform: PC, Mac

Gamers know composer Austin Wintory for his acclaimed scores to titles like Journey (which was nominated for a Grammy) and Assassin's Creed Syndicate. Next week, with the release of John Wick Hex, we'll hear even more of his work.

Wintory is the mind behind the music of John Wick Hex, as revealed in the exclusive video below from Lionsgate and developer Bithell Games. Check it out to hear some of Wintory's score and see his collaborators (Tom Strahle and MB Gordy) in action:

Click here to watch embedded media

With this reveal out in the open, Wintory will also be joining game director Mike Bithell and voice actor Troy Baker for their John Wick Hex New York Comic Con panel on Saturday, October 5 (a.k.a. tomorrow). 

For more insight into Wintory's work, you can listen to the Journey soundtrack accompanied by his commentary. For more on John Wick Hex, read our impressions from E3. 

John Wick Hex releases on October 8 on PC and Mac.

Categories: Games

Sayonara Wild Hearts Review - All That Glitters

Gamespot News Feed - Wed, 10/02/2019 - 20:51

Playing Sayonara Wild Hearts' best levels is an intangible, hard-to-describe feeling. When the art, the movement, and the music all come together in a track, it's absolutely captivating. But it's also fleeting, and I spent the majority of my time playing Sayonara Wild Hearts chasing that feeling. It came through in a few standout levels, but for most of the game, I found myself on the verge of falling in love with songs only to fall short of that high.

It's an interesting kind of music game. The main goal is to simply flow with the music, rather than hit a series of precise rhythm-based inputs or dance along to beats. Crystalline hearts line the paths you ride (or fly) through, and often, following the hearts is the best way to get through a level safely without scrambling to avoid oncoming obstacles. Timed inputs are reserved for flashier moves--big jumps, deft dodges, graceful attacks--and these sequences are all scripted, so all you have to do is hit the button somewhat on time and then watch as the moves play out to the music. The camera and forward movement, including your speed, are automatic, too, leaving you to move only from side to side with rare exception. This all lends Sayonara Wild Hearts a dreamlike feel; you are both participant and observer, somewhat in control but mostly just along for the ride.

Initially, the dreaminess of Sayonara Wild Hearts is enchanting. The scripted moves, which often come during fight sequences against brightly colored antagonists, have a distinct magical-girl flair. Dodging an attack becomes a balletic leap, a flurry of punches culminates in an explosion of color, and even punch-induced vomit (in one level) is so colorful and abstract that it flows seamlessly with the overall aesthetic. Some levels are bathed in electric neons, while others are more pensive, dark blue interdimensional affairs. And yet all of them, even at their most bright and exciting, are tinged with melancholy, largely due to the heartbreak-infused pop soundtrack--it's the kind of music that, if it were to come on in a bar, would make you feel incredibly lonely but also kind of like dancing.

When this all works together, it really works. My favorite level, Dead of Night, closely matches the music with the action and, as a result, the song has impact. During the buildup, you ride your motorcycle through the forest, weaving between trees and picking up hearts while all is calm. Ahead of you are four masked enemies; they strike a group pose, and then, right as the drop hits, their three-headed wolf tank appears and the mini-boss-like sequence begins. You slide side to side to dodge attacks, then hit X with the prompt to leap over the tank as the music swells. It's timed beautifully, and you feel a sort of abstract sadness as the singer belts, "I'm the only one alive in the dead of night," and the tank slides, defeated, on the forest floor. You've "won," but it's bittersweet.

Most of the levels, however, aren't as finely tuned. A lot of times, the timing-based moves feel offbeat, like you should hit them a moment or two early or late to really be in-time with the music--or like they aren't really set to the tempo at all. It makes it hard to get into a lot of the songs, even though the soundtrack as a whole is excellent, and distracts from the overall spectacle of a level--you have to watch the prompts' visual cues rather than listen for the right timing most of the time.

Movement, too, can disrupt the flow of things. It can be hard to line yourself up properly for hearts, turns, and jumps; you might find yourself a little bit to the right or left of where you thought you'd be. This is largely caused by the independent camera, which sometimes leaves you blind going into turns or unsure of how obstacles and collectibles will line up. The highly stylized, dreamy feel of each level also leaves some ambiguity as to the placement of things. I found myself wishing there were either fewer obstacles or tighter controls; while the flowy feel of moving side to side fits the aesthetic perfectly, it's hard to stay in the zone when you're constantly tipping the analog sticks slightly to better line yourself up.

Each level continues into the next not like tracks on an album would, but with short breaks in between. On top of that, the main story mode kicks you to the menu after each level to see your score and select the next song. There is a seamless mode of these same levels in the extras section, and the broken-up structure lends itself well to mobile or handheld play--but the story is the first mode you're introduced to, and it's only about the length of a long album. Where you might listen to an album all the way through at least once before jumping around and picking songs, you do the opposite in Sayonara Wild Hearts, and that saps it of its momentum.

On repeat playthroughs, I found myself getting more and more used to Sayonara Wild Hearts' quirks and better appreciating each level as I gained the muscle memory for them. Only a few hit me like Dead of Night did, and those levels are stellar. But the rest are either forgettable or somehow discordant, whether because of movement issues or strange timing. I wanted to get lost in the daydream it presented, but I kept getting ripped back to reality, just a bit more melancholic than when I started.

Categories: Games

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