Rad Review - Welcome To The New Age

Gamespot News Feed - Fri, 08/16/2019 - 23:43

It's a tale as old as time: The maniacs have blown it all up, and the few unlucky survivors are forced to pick up the pieces and begin civilization anew. Double Fine's Rad, however, takes it one step further. A second apocalypse has happened, and according to the omnipresent narrator, the survivors' one-word reaction is actually the correct and logical one: “Seriously?”

From the second pile of ashes, however, a new hero arises. You, the Remade, a blunt weapon-wielding child of the endtimes who has been tasked by the Menders--the new architects of the age--with going forth into the treacherous radioactive hellscape armed with nothing more than a baseball bat and a host of ungodly but powerful bodily mutations to find a new source of power for humankind.

On paper, that sounds dreadfully serious. In practice, however, it's Double Fine, a developer that seems physically incapable of making a game that's a downer. The Menders give the Remade their powers using a magical keytar, for crying out loud. Indeed, right off the bat, the most striking and engaging thing about Rad is the look of the apocalypse. Earth is most certainly ruined, nuclear-blasted several times over, but it's reached a point of being overgrown with luminescent plants, snaking, sentient vines, and neon shocks of pinks, greens, and purples. This is less the dead worlds of Fallout or Rage and more like a bizarre Saturday morning cartoon of Alex Garland's Annihilation.

Rad, however, is a double entendre of a title for the game referring not just to the irradiated nuclear landscape, but to the overwhelming 1980s nostalgia. The booming narrator could be ripped out of any number of classic action movies. The hub world where the last humans make their home is an oddball microcosm of early '80s bric-a-brac, right down to the humorous, smart-alecky characters all bearing the names of famous characters from '80s movies (Biff, Lorraine, Sloan, etc.). The soundtrack is full of incredibly catchy off-brand riffs on famous tunes like Van Halen's Jump, Michael Jackson's Beat It, and Stan Bush's The Touch. You can push the '80s vibe even further with some of the CRT filters in options, but It makes an already busy aesthetic look nearly indiscernible.

And best you believe, you need all the advantages and awareness you can get. As cool and fun and inviting as Rad appears on the surface, it becomes clear very early on that Rad is, above all else, aggravatingly hard. It's a roguelike, so the levels are all randomly laid out, but it's otherwise a deceptively simple old-school, top-down action game. When you first make your way into the wasteland, you can jump, hit stuff with a bat, and dodge. There are some unique tricks you can employ that can help, like a jump kick, an aerial smash attack, and a distance-closing lunge, but the game doesn't tell you about any of this at the outset. There's no real tutorial or in-game hint system. Instead it just drops occasional new tips during its extensive loading screens. It was hours into my playthrough before the tip came up informing me about the lunge attack, and it felt like hours prior had been wasted not knowing it was there.

A mild learning curve would be fine if the wastelands weren't so unforgiving, but despite a wide variety of enemies, with fairly predictable attack patterns, you're just far too fragile for far too long in this game. When things kick off, you get three hearts. Enemy hits strip away half a heart generally, and once they're gone, you're starting over. There are power-ups you get after every boss that grant extra hearts and/or split one of your hearts into thirds instead of a half, but you'll be surprised how little a difference that makes. If there's more than one enemy onscreen at any given moment, cheap hits are a constant danger, and no matter how well you're doing on your run, walking into the wrong area and into the wrong group of enemies all striking at the wrong time means it could be game over in seconds. In the instances where it's not, health is such a frustratingly rare commodity that even taking extra care from then on means possibly going for quite some time with only half a heart, bleeding to death all over the cracked pavement. Yes, that's a staple of the genre at this point, but in the best examples of it there's a level of preparation you're able to have where you at least feel like you have a fighting chance. That doesn't happen often in Rad.

What you do get is this: Every enemy you kill generates a certain amount of radiation that you can soak up, essentially acting as XP. Once you've leveled up, your body gains a random new freaky mutant power. This is Rad's biggest hook. The powers themselves are wildly imaginative and wonderfully animated. You could wind up with something as simple as a set of bat wings, allowing you to essentially gain a double jump and glide ability, or being able to throw your arm like a boomerang. Or you could end up with something just bonkers, like having a deformed twin grow out of your weapon arm to extend your range and attack power or the ability to give birth to two spider-baby versions of you who'll run into combat and attack enemies. When you go back to the hub world with them, the NPCs' reactions are some of the most hilarious dialogue in the game. As conceptually imaginative as those powers are, some are vastly more useful than others, and given how swift death comes for you in this game, getting a lame one at the outset basically means your entire run is doomed.

That's generally the case for just about everything meant to help you in Rad: A bit too much of your success is dependent on sheer luck more than skill. You can collect cassette tapes--the game's currency--and either deposit them at the bank between stages or spend them on items with some of the scattered merchants around, but not knowing what new creatures to expect in an area or what attacks the boss will throw at you means running the risk of spending money on a powerup that's essentially worthless during your current run. There are on-the-fly powerups called exo-mutations you can find in some of the underground areas of the game, and while they're generally helpful at first, you can wind up drawing a handicap like extra vulnerability to attacks or a distorted screen, and that, too, can spell the end of a good run faster than it should.

The good news is that the longer you play, the better your chances of finally earning permanent upgrades that make the early stages more of a breeze. There's a completely separate pool of permanent XP that you earn after you die that unlocks new characters, game variants, and upgrades. You earn the ability to buy items on credit after you've deposited enough tapes into the bank, and the local shopkeep gets better and better stuff the more you buy. There are just so many blind, stupid, aggravating deaths to be had to get to that point, though, and it's not hard to imagine throwing in the towel long before then.

There are certainly things that make fighting the good fight worth it. The story does take some subtle twists and turns as the largely teenage population of the hub world starts wondering about the point of all these legends. The boss fights get increasingly audacious in design as you go along. I'm still discovering new mutations even on the first upgrade after playing for hours. And despite an element of visual clutter, this is a compellingly colorful world to hang out in for a while. It's just that the joys of Rad require more work than necessary to obtain, and that work can feel awfully thankless at times. Double Fine's hyper-colorful take on an '80s synthpop apocalypse makes for some gratifying nostalgia at the best of times, but there's a reason why, eventually, we all moved on to grunge.

Categories: Games

Darq Review - Beast Under Your Bed

Gamespot News Feed - Fri, 08/16/2019 - 00:30

Sleep is meant to be a rejuvenating and relaxing part of your daily routine, but in Darq, it’s a gauntlet of danger that repeats night after night. Taking place in the lucid dreams of its main character, Lloyd, Darq is eerie and unsettling, its contorted world home to shocking figures of pure body horror. But it’s also a world held together by some intriguing puzzles, each of which delicately builds upon another to provide satisfying solutions to uncover.

Darq’s main mechanic is the ability to manipulate gravity. When pressed against a flat surface, you can shift gravity towards it, flipping whole rooms onto their side and letting you explore a familiar space from a whole new perspective. Obscure passageways and interactable objects are hidden from certain angles, which makes getting around a puzzle in itself. Exploration is at the heart of Darq, as you hunt down items you’ll need to solve specific puzzles throughout its seven chapters.

Your progress through a chapter is inhibited by your ability to find the right item for the job. There aren’t obscure solutions for the most part, either, allowing you to focus instead on the challenge of finding ways to change your perspective. A cog, for instance, is used on machines where it is evident that they are missing, while a key will be labelled for the object it’s meant to unlock. Given the dream setting, there are a few instances where the items you need to solve a puzzle don't make sense--a wristwatch grows and bridges a gap in the floor, or a snake is used to mend a broken electrical circuit--but given that you never hold more than just a handful of items at a time, it's easy enough to eliminate ones that won’t work and experiment with the rest without getting frustrated.

Each of Darq’s chapters is themed around a new mechanic, which is then carried through to subsequent levels. You start by only having to worry about shifting gravity, but it’s not long before you have to consider levers that rotate whole rooms or switches that throw you backwards and forwards through an otherwise 2D plane. Each of these is introduced with well-constructed puzzles that gently show you the possibilities, eventually culminating in later levels where all of them are used together to create tricky conundrums. A just-out-of-reach gear suggests to you that there must be a new mechanic that allows you to reach it, for example, eventually teaching you that you can walk on walls without the need for tutorialized text. Darq isn’t incredibly challenging, but after learning the ins and outs of different mechanics over the course of the game, it's satisfying to solve a puzzle that combines the principles you've mastered.

Navigating levels and figuring out their multiple routes is a joy, but exploration is occasionally tripped up by enemy encounters. The few monsters in Darq are shocking figures with contorted appendages and bizarre experimentations that are quick to attack, tearing you apart violently should you get too close. Stealth is your only option in these instances, but it's limited in execution. Most of the time you simply wait for an enemy to pass an obvious hiding spot before darting into it and waiting for them to pass back around, stripping you of any creativity to your approach. These sections are little more than forced frustrations, some of which you’ll have to repeatedly engage with when backtracking through levels. In contrast to the thoughtful puzzles that surround it, Darq’s stealth is underwhelming.

The haunting monsters present a real threat in what is otherwise an entirely made-up world, with the underlying premise of lucid dreams allowing for all the otherworldly mechanics that Darq offers. Its vision of the subconscious can easily be compared to classic Tim Burton films. Your character features stick-like appendages and empty black eyes which match well with the gloomy, dreary world filled with oppressive grey hues and a pervasive industrial revolution theme. The variety in levels, from an abandoned hospital to a coal-drenched locomotive, does a lot to flesh out the world. Darq runs the gamut on cliché spooky spaces, but it realizes them so well in its visual style that they feel fresh rather than cheesy.

Part of what makes each of these spaces stand out is the exceptional sound design. Darq can be terrifyingly silent at times, with only your footsteps echoing into the distance for long stretches at a time. But the silence only accentuates the quality of a creaking wheelchair moving slowly towards you or the sharp screams of enemies alerted to your presence when entering a room. Interactions with puzzle elements are often accompanied with loud, sharp sound effects that pierce through the quiet halls of the levels they’re in, always instilling a sense of unease when you’re poking around Darq’s dreary world.

It’s a shame then that with all this delightfully spooky atmosphere, there’s not much else to do once Darq’s seven chapters are over, which took me just over two hours. Each stage barring the finale contains a single collectible to find if you’re itching for an additional challenge, which can make return visits mildly rewarding. The brevity of Darq is, however, disappointing because of the potential left on the table. The beginning chapters are too short and the finale breaks the structure of every chapter before it, leaving most of Darq's most compelling pieces in its middle. On top of that, each level isn't given enough time to really explore the breadth of its unique puzzle mechanics, bringing about the end just as it feels like momentum is starting to form.

As brief as it is, Darq does offer well-designed puzzles that are incredibly satisfying to solve on your first playthrough, each one building upon the last in intelligent ways. Darq never fully stumbles into frustration, even if it is tripped up slightly by underwhelming stealth sections. But its gloomy atmosphere and exceptional sound design enrapture you in its dreary world of dreams. Darq is full of great ideas that contribute to a tight and brief package, but it’s hard not to want for more once it’s done.

Categories: Games

Metal Wolf Chaos Review - Red, White, And Blue Tinted Glasses

Gamespot News Feed - Thu, 08/15/2019 - 17:00

From Software wasn't always the renowned developer it is today, but by and large it still produced interesting, worthwhile games in the early PlayStation and Xbox days. The studio's rich history is absolutely worth exploring, and once you start down that rabbit hole, 2004's Metal Wolf Chaos is sure to catch your eye. A game starring the fictional President of the United States is an intriguing setup. The fact that he pilots a mech stuffed to the gills with an arsenal of giant weapons is a near-irresistible premise. Metal Wolf Chaos is one big schlocky joke at the US' expense delivered in the form of an action game, and because there aren't many nations or cultures that are fit to be mocked with such gusto, it feels like a rare opportunity that warrants investigation.

Perhaps for obvious reasons, Metal Wolf Chaos never completed its planned journey westward back when Bush was in office and the US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan put us on more international shitlists than usual. Fifteen years later, amid very different (though arguably worse) political and cultural climates, From Software's tongue-in-cheek parody of US stereotypes is finally open to widespread interpretation. There are aspects of its bombastic campaign that coincidentally bring to mind the worst of our current predicament, but the Metal Wolf President Michael Wilson, his secretary Jody, and the main villain, Vice President Richard Hawk, never let you forget that this is first and foremost a series of surface-level jokes played up with B-grade voice acting.

"Jody: Mr. President, I haven't been this happy since...Since that supermarket going-out-of-business sale, when I was searching for my favorite candy and...I found the last bar all covered in dust at the back of the rack! And the expiration date was still good!

Michael Wilson: I know the feeling, Jody."

Once you dive into missions, any goodwill earned by these ludicrous exchanges--in the face of a coup d'etat--eventually fades. The Metal Wolf mech is a bullet-belching powerhouse that carries four weapons on each side (from a wide range of pistols, bazookas, flamethrowers, you name it), and cycling through its arsenal quickly becomes second nature as you need to contend with limited ammo and a small variety of enemy types. Wreaking havok and causing massive explosions is gratifying for a while, and the only argument for actually playing the game versus watching a recap of the cutscenes online.

Otherwise, the missions you face are largely rote and devoid of merit. Optional tasks like rescuing hostages--by destroying cages with small-arms fire--and poking around levels for unlockable weapons aren't much of a draw either. Perhaps they would be for a completionist looking for an excuse to get more out of the experience, but the net gain from these activities never makes them feel essential or worth deviating from your path of destruction. The variety of locales and scenery is appreciated and does help renew some curiosity, but the look of a stage only takes you so far, and a new map layout doesn't mean a whole lot without clever moments to make it shine.

Some stages try harder than others, but seemingly without the intended results. Heading into the mission based in Arizona puts you in the middle of a dense Old West town with streets just big enough for some happy-go-lucky mech action. It's also one of the few missions that puts you toe-to-toe with another mech--three at once, in this case. Doing battle in the confined corridors is more interesting than fighting out in the open (as experienced in other missions), but it also means that you can find ways to trick the shallow AI into getting stuck on the corner of a building. It's easy pickings at that point as you fire away on your hapless foes. It's neither challenging nor enjoyable, perfectly illustrating the fact that gunplay and explosions alone can't resolve Metal Wolf Chaos' consistently mediocre designs.

A lot of time has passed since the original release, and there's reason to expect that certain aspects could have been ironed out in preparation for Metal Wolf's formal reintroduction. That's not to say the entire game should have been reconsidered, but there's definitely room for less-intense changes that could make a major impact, such as adding mid-level checkpoints. Simple as they are, Metal Wolf's levels can be very long and drawn-out, coming close to the 15-minute mark in many cases. So often there are either surprise difficulty spikes or threats of instant death, and if you fail to survive because of a momentary lapse of judgment, you will have to play the entire level from the beginning. Fall off a dock mere meters from the shore? You're dead. Accidentally cause collateral damage at the wrong time? You're back at square one. When death can come in a flash, to have to go back to the beginning of a long level that's achingly routine feels like a great excuse to put the controller down and walk away.

Metal Wolf Chaos is an old game with a wild reputation, and though it lives up to it in some ways, it's not good in general. At best, it's a curio that helps inform the story of From Software's trajectory over the years. At worst, it's a frustratingly shallow experience that fails to capitalize on it's best qualities. The From Software of yore deserves applause for punching up so confidently, and in style, to a degree, but Metal Wolf Chaos doesn't live up to the hype that's been building for well over a decade.

Categories: Games

Rebel Galaxy Outlaw Review - Space Truckers

Gamespot News Feed - Tue, 08/13/2019 - 21:45

Rebel Galaxy Outlaw sits at a crossroads somewhere between American Truck Simulator's slice of trucking Americana and the iconic combat of Freespace 2. It's a highly competent, single-player space combat sim complete with warring factions, pirates, corrupt cops, and dubious sectors filled with all manner of undesirables, a nicely detailed trading system, and stellar combat. While intense difficulty spikes and lacking mission information leaves some scarring on the hull, Rebel Galaxy Outlaw delivers a worthy payload.

You play as Juno Markev, a pilot stuck between the search for her husband's killer, her need to make cash to cover the debt of replacing her recently junked ship, and her shady past. Told largely through comms messages and cutscenes between missions, many of the characters you meet are fairly archetypal, but share a sense of relatability and groundedness that lends them a lot of their charm. Character animation in story cutscenes can feel quite stiff, lending them an uncanny valley vibe, but these moments are short and don't distract from the wider storytelling. Juno herself is a big highlight; her endearingly grounded sense of self-belief and her inability to suffer the fools she finds herself constantly dealing with always makes for fiery dialogue.

Story threads are easy to lose track of due to the sheer number of things to do. When it's just you and your ship, it's all about surviving the hustle of being a space trucker; trading and smuggling goods, taking mercenary jobs, mining and selling resources--anything you can do to keep those credits rolling in so you can upgrade or outright replace the colossal junker of a ship you're given at the game's outset. In the opening hours, your travel is limited to one system and a handful of local missions, but once you get your hands on a jump drive you can start making your way across the galaxy, and things start to open up some more.

There are five ships you can purchase from various stations, each with traits that make them suitable as freighters or as fighters. While some ships are better suited for certain tasks than others, you're not locked into a playstyle because of your choice. Fighters can add cargo bays to move more items, and you can take a freighter fully kitted out with advanced weapons pirate-hunting and it'll still feel pretty good.

The beautifully detailed cockpit is the default view, and it is daunting at first--though you can also play in third-person--which seems weird given that you play an experienced pilot; the numerous switches, lights and dials each flicker away, and you're not really sure what they do at first. There's no tutorial to help with this, so it can feel like you're being thrown in the deep end. But while it takes some time to understand what the ship systems are telling you, it's not long before you're fluent in reading the controls and gaining a better grasp on any given situation. There is support for a flight stick and a HOTAS, but I found it best with a gamepad as everything you need is right at your fingertips.

Stations are where everything outside of combat happens, although you don't hop out of your ship and wander around. Instead you browse a handful of menus to get what you need before setting off on your next journey. This is where you make repairs or ship upgrades, handle commodities trading, sign up to one of the guilds that offer side missions, or browse the standard side missions for that station. It's an elegant way of handling station traversal, and the nice visual shots and animations of the station internals give you a sense of what type of station you're in and the kinds of things you might find there. You can bother the local bartender for helpful gameplay tips, sector news, or other information or play one of the handful of trite but fun mini-games like slots, 8-ball, or Star-Venger, a simple take on an Asteroids-based sprite shooter.

Missions are either picked up from stations or, in the case of story missions, given through dialogue. They generally amount to going to a waypoint and finding or killing something for varying factions. Some of these have an effect on your standing with different factions, which can change who treats you as hostile when out amongst the stars as well as the stations you can land at. Missions also show a level of risk from mild to extreme, but these aren't a great benchmark, as countless times I warped into a mission zone of mild-to-low risk only to be completely overwhelmed within 10 seconds of my arrival. At least a reload after death is super fast, returning you to the last jumpgate you took or station you'd left and allowing you to do something else for a while before coming back to try again. But this is also a huge source of frustration as the only way to push through these difficulty spikes is to grind for credits and ship upgrades.

The tension in a good firefight is wonderful. When you're not tuned in to one of the seven different radio stations that broadcast throughout the galaxy, the game's southern hard rock soundtrack kicks into overdrive as the lasers start flying. Firefights will sometimes offer up instant rewards, either as bounty credits or loose cargo that's been freed from the breached hull, and you can freely engage the tractor beam to suck these up in order to sell on yourself and reap the benefits. In some cases you may also find an ejected pilot who you can haul in for detention, or you can enslave them and sell them on the black market, though doing so will put you on the wrong side of the space cops, which can make life in the outer rims much harder than it needs to be.

The cockpit views on each of the game's crafts are tight, and there's no option to move your head around, so you rely heavily on your radar to know where to go and what's around you. It's invaluable when in the thick of the action, which can very quickly get overwhelming unless you act decisively. Power management is a big part of this, and it's a system that adds a nice slice of tactical thinking to the visual feast of the combat. Weapons fire has two modes, linked and staggered, and while linked fire will unleash the full power of your hardpoints, it'll drain your available power quickly and severely limit your ship's capabilities. Staggered fire only fires one hardpoint at a time, meaning it uses less power overall, but can be sustained for longer. You can also quickly reroute power between the engines, weapons and your shields, but as there's only so much to go around you're always settling on a compromise between offense and defense, so the system as a whole works wonderfully well as a test of situational awareness.

Rebel Galaxy Outlaw's gorgeous visual design is one of its biggest strengths. There's a huge assortment of stations, ships, planets and other things to see while out in the vastness of space. From the huge casinos of the Nevada sector to the glass-capped atriums of Hobbes Station, there are postcard moments to be found almost everywhere in the galaxy. There's also a wildly in-depth and excellent ship painter that lets you completely redesign the paint job of your ship, so you can customize to your craft's look down to minute details. That extends to the combat, too, with under fire shields flashing in protest and hull plating falling apart as its struck by cannon fire before bursting into a flaming wreck in front of you. Distant firefights look like a laser light show.

There is a lot to do in Rebel Galaxy Outlaw, so much so that it's easy to lose yourself among the myriad of activities beyond flying around and shooting things. Juno is a great character despite her sometimes jarring movements, as are much of the rest of the charming cast. The combat is fast, frenetic and consistently challenging, although that challenge can sometimes feel impossible without stepping back and grinding out some progress elsewhere, which quickly gets frustrating. Thankfully the core of the game--its combat, trading, and space flight--are all superb and had me launching into the stars for many hours of galactic trading and explosive firefights.

Categories: Games

Dicey Dungeons Review

Gamespot News Feed - Tue, 08/13/2019 - 17:00

Dicey Dungeons, from Terry Cavanagh of VVVVVV and Super Hexagon fame, is a roguelike deck-building dungeon crawler framed as a game show presented by host Lady Luck. You play as one of the show's six adorable contestants, all of whom are anthropomorphic dice, because this game really is all-in on loving dice. But while the game's clever combination of cards and dice make for an entertaining gameplay system, it can't escape the occasional frustration that is inherent to rolling a die.

In each episode your chosen die heads into a six-level dungeon to defeat enemies, opening chests and visiting stores while building up a deck of cards capable of defeating an end boss. The dungeons are presented as a series of nodes you can move between, with shops, health-restoring apples, and enemies placed on several of them, and to progress you need to fight enemies and reach the node that features the trap door to the next floor.

Each character can equip between three and six cards (you have six slots on your inventory screen, and some cards take up two of them), all of which are powered by dice. Each card requires something different; some are affected by how high the number on the die is, or have maximum or minimum numbers, or will only take odds or evens. Still others might introduce effects or buffs. A card might "shock" your opponent, for instance, meaning that one of their cards will be locked next turn unless they spend a die to unlock it, or induce a "freeze" effect that reduces their highest dice roll down to a 1. A good deck will let you be adaptable depending on what you roll, but there’s not a huge number of cards and enemies in the game, meaning that the same ones will pop up frequently--10 hours in I would still occasionally encounter something new, but not as often as I would have liked.

A charming art style works wonders in glossing over this sense of repetition, however, with each character having a distinctive personality despite the game being light on dialogue. And although their animations are limited, the enemies are charming, too. The character designs and poses are consistently delightful, so you'll always feel a little bad taking down a direwolf puppy because of the huge grin on their face. The gameshow motif doesn't stretch that far, but the upbeat soundtrack and the little check-in scenes with Lady Luck before each adventure is an effective way of giving you a sense of purpose.

The six characters each have a unique playstyle, which helps to give the game some sense of variety. The thief copies one of its opponents' cards in each match, for instance, and the inventor will always sacrifice one of their cards at the end of each fight in favor of a new ability for the next round, which can be activated just by clicking on it without needing to worry about dice. Some get more radical still, like the witch, who attacks using a "spell book"--when you roll a die you can either spend it on one of the four spells you have selected on your screen, or you can throw it at the spell book in lieu of using an ability and get whichever spell is assigned to that dice number. It's a great system because each character feels completely different, and while the central combat system of laying dice onto cards doesn't change, the mechanics by which you acquire those dice and cards do.

For the first few hours, as you're moving through the initial dungeons for each character and getting to grips with how they play, Dicey Dungeons is a delight, albeit one that's light on challenge. But once you've played a round as each of the first five characters and unlock each character's more difficult episodes, there's a steep difficulty curve to overcome. Each one introduces modifiers that make the game more challenging--you might lose health instead of gaining it every time you level up, duplicate dice might immediately disappear, or you'll only roll 1s on your first roll of a fight, 2s on the second, and so on.

These episodes are where you'll really start to learn the different strategies and combos that are essential to mastering Dicey Dungeons. Using your Limit Break ability (a character-and-episode specific ability that is usable only after you've taken a certain level of damage) and making sure that you're making good use of buffs and/or debuffs are vital to success. After a while, you start to figure out which abilities work best against which enemies--freeze is particularly useful against creatures that can only roll a single die, for instance, whereas shock is useful if an opponent has few cards. Some enemies are also weak to particular elements, so if you see an enemy on your level who you know is weak to shock attacks, you can plan accordingly. You'll need to remember these details yourself, though, as the game will not remind you of an enemies' abilities and weaknesses until you're actually in the battle.

Whether or not Dicey Dungeons becomes too difficult after the initial episodes will depend on your patience and your willingness to play through the same scenarios repeatedly. It can feel like butting your head against a wall at times, though, because if a single episode takes you multiple attempts to beat (and many of them will), you’re going to end up rolling through the same enemies several times. You might try out different card combinations, but it's going to be from the same small pool of potential cards and facing off mostly against the same enemies that got the better of you last time. A loss can sometimes feel out of your hands, too, if an early enemy just rolls too many sixes or the final boss just happens to be immune to the debuff you built your deck around.

But this also means that figuring out and implementing a winning strategy can be very satisfying. It took me six attempts to beat the second episode for the Warrior (the easiest character), but once I built a deck that was high on freeze cards I was able to deal with the later enemies easily enough, even if the end boss who was immune to freezing almost tripped me up (ultimately I got lucky on dice rolls). In a game so heavily themed around dice there's always going to be an element of luck, which can be gratifying or exhausting depending on whether it goes your way or not.

The charm of Dicey Dungeons can start to wear thin when you're stuck, but when you bypass an episode that was giving you grief, it feels great. I found myself frequently quitting out of the game, pacing around my house, and returning to it again 10 minutes later for another go. No matter how annoyed I might get, it's never difficult to come back to Dicey Dungeons, and the challenges never feel insurmountable--it's always plausible that your next attempt could be the one where you crack it. Dicey Dungeons is a charming and often rewarding game, as long as you learn to accept that sometimes the dice won't roll your way.

Categories: Games

Age Of Wonders: Planetfall Review

Gamespot News Feed - Thu, 08/08/2019 - 02:00

The fifth and latest in the long-running Age of Wonders series is the first to trade in the staple high fantasy setting for a sleek and shiny sci-fi theme. Despite the change of scenery, it remains true to its roots, delivering a very good hybrid between turn-based tactics and 4X strategy game that is at its best when it focuses on people--both the people you meet and the people you send to war.

4X strategy games tend to present the lands they ask their players to explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate as uninhabited. It's common to begin a new game with a settler unit and the implicit promise that this is a world yet to be settled. It's there for the taking. The colonialist fantasy extends to indigenous populations, if they exist at all, being treated as incidental. At best they are neutral props without any ambition of their own; at worst they are nothing more than vermin to be eradicated.

Age of Wonders: Planetfall offers a different perspective. Instead of conquering a new world, you are returning home ages after a calamity drove your ancestors away. There is still war to be had, there are still peoples to displace--this remains a 4X game in the Sid Meier tradition. But in the light narrative touch of a quest system that gives voice and purpose to everyone you meet, there are moments of reconnection and rediscovery. In a sense it becomes a 5X game, allowing you to exhume and reclaim traces of your civilization's history.

This emphasis on archaeology is more prevalent in the surprisingly substantial campaign mode than in the randomly-rolled maps of the scenario mode. The 13 campaign missions, which let you play as all six of the game's half-dozen factions, are peppered with scripted story beats that succeed in fleshing out the history of and relations between the various civilizations. Visit a foreign colony and you might trigger a conversation between your commander and another faction leader in which you're asked to perform a quest to gain their favor. Later you might encounter a third faction who promises you some vital insight into your own objectives in return for betraying the friendship you recently forged.

Such choices are fraught. Each faction, even the minor indigenous ones, is busy cultivating relationships with the others, and it soon becomes clear that every new decision you make will ripple out and meaningfully affect your standing in the world.

The random scenario mode can't rely on the scripted story of the campaign, but each procedurally generated map still supports the same dynamic quest system. One faction might task you with helping them complete some important research, while another urges you to hunt down a pack of troublesome enemies pillaging their lands. Such quests not only keep you engaged with interfactional diplomacy but also serve to provide clear motivation for exploring new areas and expanding your borders in specific directions.

Regardless of whether you opt for the campaign or a scenario, you begin with a single settlement and gradually take over adjacent sectors to secure access to their resources. You build military units to go to war or to protect your newly acquired holdings. You colonize unclaimed sectors and upgrade them to specialize in supplying your colony with food, energy, research, or production. You have to get your head around the unintuitive sci-fi names of many technologies, structures, and units, but hover the mouse over Kinetic Force Manipulation to bring up the tooltip and you quickly realize it simply means "Better Guns."

Indeed, it's all fairly straightforward for anyone who has played Civilization or dabbled in the strategic layer of a Total War, though sometimes it does feel like expansion decisions are not really choices at all. When faced with the prospect of expanding into one of two possible sectors, you're always going to pick the one that receives bonus production from its quarry over the one that offers no bonuses of any kind. Occasionally you'll have to weigh the benefits of one resource over another, but they aren't genuine either/or choices--they're more akin to whether you need that food-rich river sector now or whether you want it a little bit later.

Among the structures you can build with a colony, there's also a disappointing lack of variety. Most of what you can construct are incremental upgrades that boost resource production while unique buildings, like the world wonders in Civilization, or anything that truly changes your style of play (rather than merely accelerating it) are felt only in their absence.

More interesting decisions arrive in combat. Armies can contain up to six units and are lead by a hero unit commander. When two or more hostile armies meet on the world map, combat is resolved via a remarkably full-feature XCOM-style tactical battle. Every unit can move individually, take partial or full cover, attack in melee or at range, and call upon a number of specialized abilities. The range of options at your disposal here is dizzying.

Each unit can be outfitted with primary and secondary weapons and up to three ability mods earned through quest rewards or unlocked on the tech tree. You can apply a template to all units of the same class, so that newly recruited infantry, for example, will all have increased accuracy and healing. But if you're like me, you'll enjoy rolling up your sleeves to customize every single unit in your army. Adding to the complexity, hero units can learn skills that not only enhance their own abilities but confer buffs to the units they lead.

I loved having the authority to develop specialized armies. In my current game, I have one army composed of snipers led by a commander who uses mind control debuffs and a second army focused around a melee tank supported by defensive grunts who can throw down portable cover anywhere on the battlefield. The degree of customization allowed is both flexible and powerful.

This sort of specialization matters because you can bring multiple armies into the same fight--and indeed, it becomes essential as you encounter tougher armies into the mid- and late-game. Any army on the world map that is situated adjacent to the hex where combat is initiated will be drawn into the conflict. Thus, a huge part of the tactical considerations at work here comes from maneuvering your troops to outnumber the enemy. Combat can be auto-resolved, allowing you to either watch the AI simulate the tactical battle or skip straight to the outcome, but doing so results in unnecessary losses in all but the most lopsided contests.

Overall, Age of Wonders: Planetfall is a robust package for 4X players who want to test themselves against a more in-depth combat system than is typically found in the genre. It suffers a little from its sci-fi setting making things just that little bit harder to relate to than, say, actual human history, but it compensates by creating a cast of fictional alien civilizations that are worth getting to know. It might not quite feel like home at first, but you'll quickly settle in.

Categories: Games

Addressing Team Morale

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 08/07/2019 - 16:02

Publisher: EA Sports Developer: EA Canada Release: September 27, 2019 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Fans of FIFA's career mode haven't gotten a lot of love in recent years, but FIFA 20 series developer EA Vancouver is trying to give fans something to look forward to.

One of the main areas for this year in the mode is the subject of morale, which influences players' attributes. Pre- and post-match manager press conferences (now with actual manager models), as well as one-on-one dialogs with players, affect team and player morale. These interactions take place via a left-analog controlled dialog system similar to the one used in transfer dealings.

The mode generates player storylines based on their performance that require your response as a manager. How you respond affects not only the player involved but also your standing as a manager.

As you'll be more front and center as the skipper, thankfully you can customize your manager's avatar to a much greater degree than in previous games, including being a woman. The customization options not only include more detailed facial features, but also different outfits you can change at any time.

FIFA 20's career mode changes also include:

  • Improved fixture congestion
  • Player potential affected by performance
  • Increased initial wage budget allocation
  • Better A.I. starting elevens
  • Increased transfer market value for defensive players
  • New transfer-negotiation settings

For more on the game's career mode, check out the game's full Pitch Notes blog.

Categories: Games

Rivals Team Yell And Galarian Pokémon Revealed For Sword & Shield

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 08/07/2019 - 14:13

Click here to watch embedded media

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

Much like Sun and Moon's Alolan region-specific version of classic Pokémon, Sun & Moon's Galarian region will also be receiving exclusive versions of familiar Pokémon. The trailer (seen above) shows off Galarian Weezing (a poison/fairy type), Galarian Zigzagoon (a dark/normal type), and Galarian Linoone (another dark/normal type), which can evolve into Obstagoon.

The trailer also revealed Sword & Shield's rival team, Team Yell. Team Yell looks a bit like punk rock soccer hooligans who are apparently big fans of a trainer named Marnie. The trailer also showed a rival named Bede, but it's unclear what Marnie's relationship is too Marnie and Team Yell.

A new Pokémon was also shown. Morpeko is a hamster-inspired Pokémon who can change forms between the cute full belly mode and the scary and evil hangry mode.

Pokémon Sword & Shield is coming to Switch on November 15. For more in the game, head here.

Categories: Games

Persona 5 Royal's Morgana Will Tell You To Go To Sleep Less Often

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 08/07/2019 - 02:30
Publisher: Atlus Developer: Atlus Release: 2020 Platform: PlayStation 4

It was a common complaint about Persona 5. You finish your day, you're single and ready to mingle, but THAT CAT is blocking the bedroom door out. You want to play video games, "Aren't you tired?" You want to lift weights, "Maybe you should go to sleep." The voice actress even made fun of it. It was kind of a frustrating problem because putting that decision on another character felt like it took away agency from your character as a little cat ordered you to get under those sheets with no other options.

Thankfully, that appears to be changing with Persona 5 Royal.

Atlus has been using their Twitter account to host something called "Ask Morgana Anything," where people write in questions to the cat that hates late nights to get answers about the upcoming Persona 5 revision. This time, someone asked a popular question: "I know you’ll reprimand me, Morgana, but can we go out more at night?"

Atlus replied in character, saying that there would be a lot more activities in Persona 5 Royal, like reading, watching DVDs with Morgana, studying, or what have you. Be warned, though, you still will have to call it an early night when the story demands it. It should just theoretically demand it less.

Persona 5 Royal is scheduled to hit the PlayStation 4 in America in 2020.

Categories: Games

Making It All Flow

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 08/06/2019 - 22:02

Publisher: Easy Day Studios Developer: Easy Day Studios Platform: PC

Skater XL by Easy Day Studios is still in Early Access on PC, but the title continues to work on its craft, moving forward with more features and a flexible animation-based approach to skating.

The studio held a mo-cap session with Old Friends pro Walker Ryan and explained how the footage was the first building block toward how it wants to replicate skating movements in the title. This isn't anything new for video games, but Easy Day built a new system from scratch to synthesize the information and make it instantly accessible as players perform tricks in the game. The goal is to give users the freedom to come up with whatever tricks they can muster and have the game respond realistically, both visually and for the sport.

Click here to watch embedded media

The studio has also done other scanning sessions for the game's customizable character and the gear players can utilize, such as clothing and accessories. The character and their clothing come together via photogrammetry to make it all look and behave as realistically as possible.

The results – which haven't even incorporated some of the new animations captured in the Walker Ryan session – can be glimpsed below, and they look like they might reveal a new location for the title, adding to the previous L.A. Civic Center spot.

You'll be able to make your own clips like these in the final game thanks to the instant-replay editor, which modders have already been using to make their own video edits, highlight reels, and mashups in a continuation of the skating tradition of homemade videos. Players can place camera waypoints to get the vantage point they desire and even set a specific path for the camera to follow for that skate-along view.

For more on the game, check out its Steam Early Access page and take a look at our hands-on with the title in this New Gameplay Today episode taken from a much earlier version.

Categories: Games

Anthem's Cataclysm Update Is Now Live

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 08/06/2019 - 20:12

Click here to watch embedded media

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

Anthem players have something new to dive into today, with the launch of its long-awaited (and delayed) Cataclysm update. BioWare and EA have released a new trailer that outlines just some of what it brings, too, if you haven't been keeping up.

In short, the Cataclysm event pits players against time itself, as they race against the clock for higher scores. It takes place in a new location, with eight different arenas. Perform well as a team and maximize your 15 minutes, and you can unlock crystals to purchase new gear for your Javelin.

The update is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

Categories: Games

Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! Has A Tasty Reveal Trailer

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 08/06/2019 - 19:35
Developer: Vertigo Games Release: early access 2020 Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox, PC

Click here to watch embedded media

Watching this trailer is definitely not a good idea to do when you're hungry. The Cook, Serve, Delicious! franchise is back and ready to solidify its trilogy for the Xbox, PlayStation, PC, and Nintendo Switch. With early access coming in 2020, we'll have plenty of time to decipher what new elements were revealed in the trailer above. 

This time around, it seems players are going to be serving up food in a food truck driving around a post-apocalyptic world with robot assistants. This is a big transition from the previous installments, which just involved a regular present-day restaurant-sim scenario. Despite the new additions, players are still able to cook up some delicious-looking meals in a fast-paced environment.

Feeling a little hungry after this article? Well go ahead and check out Jacob Geller's feature on some of video games' most mouth-watering pixels.

Categories: Games

Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare Features A 'Tamagunchi'

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 08/06/2019 - 19:00

Publisher: Activision Developer: Infinity Ward Release: October 25, 2019 Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Last week, we revealed our September 2019 cover story as Infinity Ward’s reimagining of its flagship subseries: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. While we’ll have exclusive interviews and impressions throughout the month, we wanted to lead with the most important detail: You can equip your character with a digital pet that is known as a Tamagunchi.

This oddball idea was born from art director Joel Emslie’s passion for watches. “We put in a watch pretty early on; one of our coders got really excited about it and over a weekend synced up a dev kit to have the actual time on the watch, so it actually tells the real time from your kit,” multiplayer design director Geoff Smith says.

Once they saw a working wristwatch (shown above) was possible, they began brainstorming what else was possible. They started with things like stat tracking and functionality you might find in a modern smartwatch or fitness tracker. “Then that just kind of kept growing into more and more madness.” Smith says.

Eventually, the team decided to implement a digital pet, inspired by the Tamagotchi craze of the ‘90s, which you can choose to equip to your character in multiplayer and the co-op Spec Ops mode. Think of the Tamagunchi as a pet you need to feed and care for, but instead of food, you nurture it with kills. Go on a wild killstreak? It’ll chirp with delight as you rack up the points. Hit a dry spell? It’ll get angry and demand you do better.

“This little thing on your wrist, every time you get a string of kills, it goes, ‘Ya-ta!’ and it makes a little noise, then you look at it, and it evolved out of an egg,” Emslie says. “Tamagunchis are fed by the player’s performance in multiplayer. It’s just this little active wristwatch thing.”

The Tamagunchi evolves from an egg and reacts to your performance. It doesn’t poop (yet), but it does need to be cared for, or else it’ll face a grim fate. “If you don’t take care of your Tamagunchi, it will rot and die,” Emslie says.  

Obviously, if you don’t want to equip a Tamagunchi to your character, you don’t have to. However, for those seeking a little bit of levity and zaniness amidst a shooter that promises to explore heavy subjects in single-player and feature intense firefights across every mode, the Tamagunchi might be just the thing you’re looking for when Call of Duty: Modern Warfare hits PS4, Xbox One, and PC on October 25.

Click on the banner below to reach our hub for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. We'll be adding content all month examining how Infinity Ward is breathing new life into the longstanding series, with articles, interviews, videos, and more.

Categories: Games

Apex Legends Getting Solo Battle Royale In A Time-Limited Event

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 08/06/2019 - 18:55
Publisher: Electronic Arts Developer: Respawn Entertainment Release: February 4, 2019 Rating: Teen Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Since release, Apex Legends has pit players against each other in battle royales in teams of three. You fall to the battlegrounds together, you win together, and you lose together. Not everyone is keen on that kind of multiplayer however and many fans have requested that Apex Legends at least offer a mode for single players, much like other battle royale games. Traditionally, Respawn and EA haven't been keen on doing this, but a new time-limited event will give those fans a taste of what they've been asking for.

Respawn has announced that, as part of the upcoming Iron Crown Collection event, players can do solo matches for the first time. The announcing tweet was accompanied by a video of Apex Legends heroes standing in teams as their teammates fade away.

While this is a time-limited mode that likely only takes place during the Iron Crown Collection event, Respawn has added modes that proved popular to the main game before. Ranked mode, which was a side-activity during Bloodhound's event in June, was then added to the game when the second season rolled around. Should solos work out, I expect the new mode will follow suit.

Apex Legends is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Respawn's Star Wars game, Jedi: Fallen Order, releases this November, while the studio is also set to reveal a VR game at Oculus Connect next month.

Categories: Games

Exclusive Remnant: From The Ashes Corsus Swamp Trailer

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 08/06/2019 - 17:10

Click here to watch embedded media

Publisher: Perfect World Developer: Gunfire Games Release: August 20, 2019 Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Remnant: From the Ashes is the latest from Gunfire Games, the studio behind Darksiders III and the Oculus Rift launch title, Chronos. Remnant is not a sequel to Chronos, but it takes place in the same post-apocalyptic world. In the newest trailer for the game (seen above), we get a look at Corsus Swamp, which looks a lot different than the dilapidated cities and deserts we've seen from the game so far.

Remnant: From the Ashes is coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on August 20. For more on Remnant: From the Ashes, head here to learn four things to keep an eye on for the upcoming game. You can also watch us play the game here with with design director John Pearl.

Categories: Games

Touring The Archipelago Auroa

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 08/06/2019 - 17:00

Publisher: Ubisoft Developer: Ubisoft Paris Release: October 4, 2019 Rating: Mature Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Ubisoft threw longtime Ghost Recon fans a major curveball when it announced the latest game in the series wouldn’t be set in a real country. Instead of heading to the latest region embroiled in a global showdown, Ghost Recon Breakpoint instead transports players to a fictitious archipelago known as Auroa. The decision wasn’t made lightly, but Ubisoft is confident that its new playground will feel just as alive and realistic as its predecessor.

Creating its own setting solved one of the major problems that developer Ubisoft Paris faced when transitioning from Wildlands to Breakpoint – finding another location on Earth with the sweeping vistas and diverse biomes that made Bolivia such a standout setting. “We were quite happy with this idea of completely controlling the design of the game, including the landscape, and not just sticking to reality and trying to recreate existing vistas,” says lead artist and technical art director Benoit Martinez.

Click image thumbnails to view larger version


                                                                                                             Players can expect to traverse snowy mountain tops, sweeping grasslands, gorgeous fiordland with waterfalls descending into the rivers, and salt marshes.

Building Auroa from scratch allowed Martinez and his team to pick and choose the geographic elements of the archipelago, and the results are stunning. Players can expect to traverse snowy mountain tops, sweeping grasslands, gorgeous fiordland with waterfalls descending into the rivers, and salt marshes. Each biome has its own distinct flora and fauna, which can be harvested for crafting purposes. These regions come to life thanks to the improved technology developed by Ubisoft Paris, including a new lighting system, new weather mechanics, and denser vegetation. 

The sweeping vistas may steal the show, but Ubisoft also put in work to make it feel like Auroa has been inhabited for years. Skell Technology may have taken over the island and littered it with state-of-the-art technology sites, but the island has a rich history that includes ruins from an ancient civilization called The Forgotten, dilapidated Cold War facilities used by the United States during the height of its tensions with the Soviet Union, and small villages inhabited by islanders who have called Auroa home for decades.

Click here to watch embedded media

Ubisoft brings Auroa to life with a new lighting system, new weather mechanics, and denser vegetation.

Touring the islands, you can tell Ubisoft did its homework to make this place feel real. The large, state-of-the-art research facilities may look like something out of a near-future sci-fi show, but everything that’s necessary to make Auroa a self-sustaining entity is visible as well. Drones harvest the farmlands, waste facilities clean up after the population, industrial sites harvest the necessary materials for the drone constructions, and Silicon Valley-style dwellings house the talented engineers and scientists who call this archipelago home. 

Don’t expect to see those citizens cruising around the island, however. The island is on lockdown due to security threats, and the private military contractors providing overwatch don’t let the population roam free. They are essentially indentured servants by the time the Ghosts arrive, so any vehicles or humans you see in the wilderness are likely armed and dangerous. Security checkpoints and drone patrols ensure the Ghosts won’t be taking too many carefree joyrides through Auroa. Based on our early play sessions the seconds-to-conflict feels much tighter than Wildlands; threats are around every corner. 

Click image thumbnails to view larger version


                                                                                                             This concept art shows off some of the futuristic designs for the various Skell Technology facilities scattered around Auroa.

As a longtime fan, I was initially disappointed by Ghost Recon Breakpoint’s plan to abandon real-world settings. But after our fly-by, Auroa has me intrigued. I’m curious what secrets those archaeological sites and Cold War bunkers may hold, and eager to explore the rest of the gorgeous island as well. 

Ghost Recon Breakpoint releases October 4 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC. You can get your hands on the game in advance during the beta that kicks off September 5. To learn more about the game, read our previous coverage: 

Categories: Games

River City Girls Gets New Trailer For The Hot-Headed Misako

Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 08/05/2019 - 19:00

Click here to watch embedded media

Wayforward released a new trailer for its upcoming game, River City Girls, giving a more in-depth look into one of the two main heroines: the energetic and tough Misako.

River City Girls is a beat-'em-up by Wayforward set within the River City franchise, with a few twists. For one, the installment shakes up River City's visual style, integrating more color and detailed environments than 2016's more traditional River City: Tokyo Rumble. The other twist: River City protagonists Kunio and Riki have been kidnapped, so it's up to their girlfriends, Misako and Kyoko, to save them.

You can see the original teaser trailer for River City Girls here. The game launches on PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC on September 5.

Categories: Games

Seven Major Gameplay Changes Coming To NBA 2K20

Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 08/05/2019 - 16:00

Publisher: 2K Sports Developer: Visual Concepts Release: September 6, 2019 Rating: Everyone 10+ Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC

Last week 2K Sports released the first gameplay trailer for NBA 2K20, which gave us a small glimpse of some of the new features coming to the hardwood. Today, we got our first official information on how Visual Concepts plans to evolve the on-court experience via an in-depth blog post that explains their intentions. Here are the biggest takeaways:

2K Continues Its Quest For More Responsiveness

NBA 2K18 introduced a new motion engine that was intended to honor stick skills and responsiveness over animation-driven gameplay. NBA 2K20 continues to operate under this creed, with more slight changes meant to make these world-class athletes look and feel as agile and dangerous as their real-world counterparts. 

"Some of the advances that you’ll immediately see and feel when you pick up NBA 2K20 are better foot planting, momentum modeling, and motion style variation," says gameplay director Mike Wang. "Players have a much better sense of weight and plant their feet properly when cutting or exploding from a stand. And thanks to the addition of motion styles, you’ll quickly feel the difference between a lumbering big vs. a quick, explosive guard."

Visual Concepts also spent time researching the sprint speeds of NBA players to more accurately recreate their burst, which led to a larger change around how sprinting affects stamina. "This year, you’ll notice a flashing yellow effect around the stamina bar when your energy level drops below a certain threshold," Wang says. "Once hit, you’ll quickly ramp down to a run speed and get tired much faster. So it’s important this year to pick and choose when you want to explode with your first step and not abuse the Sprint trigger all game long. "

Ball Handlers Get Signature Dribbling Styles

When you're taking the ball up the court in NBA 2K20, you're going to have a lot more options at your disposal than you did last year. Visual Concepts has developed 27 different dribbling styles, which affect how a player handles the ball. This should better separate the lightning-quick dribblers like De'Aaron Fox from players like DeMar DeRozan who operate with more wiggle. Using these new controls, you can change up your dribbling rhythm and pace just by moving the left analog stick.

Here's the list of Signature Dribbling Styles, which you can also use in MyCareer: Base, Big, Power, Fundamental, Quick, Slasher, Shifty, James Harden, LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Jerry West, Dennis Johnson, John Stockton, Allen Iverson, Tim Hardaway, Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Isiah Thomas, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Stephen Curry, Paul George, and Kawhi Leonard.

Other changes to the dribbling in NBA 2K20 include a new size-up mechanic that lets you chain standing dribble moves by flicking the right analog stick, expanded triple threat offense options, and new advanced moves like behind back wrap escapes, Luka Doncic’s fake stepback, stutter chop steps, new shammgods, and the fake sham hesi that Will Bynum pulled out at the Big Three.

Stronger On-Ball Defense

You can't buff ball handlers without giving defenders the tools to lock them down. NBA 2K20 introduces some new tools Visual Concepts dubs "Read and React Defense."

"When guarding the ball, defensive players will see a small arrow under the ball handler, indicating where they’re leaning or attempting to go," Wang says. "The arrow shows up at different times based on the defender’s abilities, modeling the different reaction times between a poor defender and a great one. Anticipating the ball handler’s movement properly and cutting off their attack will yield much more predictable outcomes such as stonewalling the dribbler, forcing a pickup, or causing a fumble."

A new icon under the ball handler indicates whether they are vulnerable to steals as well. If it's a solid circle, you automatically know it's a bad time to attempt to pick their pockets. However, if the icon changes to broken up lines, you will have a much higher likelihood of coming away with the ball when attempting a steal. Wang hopes this makes the on-ball defense feel more predictable and encourages players to pick their spots rather than spam the steal button.

Reworked Layups Give Players More Control

Layups have been a point of contention for 2K users for a while now, and Visual Concepts has some new ideas in 2K20 that should give them more agency over what happens once they leave the ground.

"The new gather feature allows you to kick off an advanced gather on the floor, read the defense, and select how you want to finish that gather by re-deflecting the Pro Stick as you takeoff," Wang says. "For example, if you started a euro gather but saw the defense close in, you could re-deflect the Pro Stick down to branch to a floater finish to avoid contact. This also allowed us to introduce the concept of gather resolutions. Forcing a gather into heavy traffic or directly into a defender will lead to jam ups, but choosing the correct gathers in open spaces will let you knife right through traffic."

Conversely, patrolling the paint gets bolstered in NBA 2K20 thanks to hundreds of new in-air collision animations, hard fouls, grab blocks, and swats. Post defenders also have an expanded post body-up system that Wang says should help them counteract spins, drives, dropsteps, and hopsteps.

Off-Ball Juke Moves Return

Since you spend so much time moving away from the ball in MyCareer and in the various competitive multiplayer modes, Visual Concepts wants to bolster this area in NBA 2K20. Users can play their defenders by using the Pro Stick to access fake first steps, spins, and stutters that can be chained together. 

Defenders can counter these with more off-ball collisions. If you anticipate their move, you can cut it off. 

The final big change to off-ball movement is a reworked screen system that should allow help defenders to better navigate around screeners and not get sucked into animations. 

A.I. Goes To School

Not everyone likes to call offensive plays; some prefer to rely on ball movement and isolation to create opportunities. These players should get a boost in NBA 2K20 thanks to the new dynamic freelance engine, which governs A.I. teammates to make more intelligent decisions off the ball. The new system centers around your best players, so it should generate looks you will be compelled to consider, particularly around off-ball screens and cuts that free your star players for open looks.

If you prefer to control the strategy yourself, NBA 2K20 introduces new play action buttons that quickly activate situations like floppy, receive screen, isolation, etc. Users can save their eight favorite quick plays for easy access.

Those who primarily play offline should notice a much different feel to the way the opponents shoot this year. "In past 2K’s, the A.I. has always used Real Player Percentage when it came down to determining makes and misses," Wang says. "This could often lead to robotic, predictable outcomes. This year, we’ve implemented the same shot timing mechanics for the A.I. that players use. The result is a much more human-like opponent and a more even playing field.

Visual Concepts also spent time reworking the transition defense, which gives players new options for protecting the perimeter against three-point attempts on the break. 

Reworked Badge & Takeover System

Ratings matter, but the skill-centric badges is what players spend the most time grinding for in NBA 2K games. This year, Visual Concepts revamped the entire system. "We know how important they are to the game and to the community, so one of the first things we did this dev cycle was sit down (in many meetings) to re-imagine what badges we should have in the game and how they should work," Wang says. "We came away with an impressive list of around 80 badges that allow players to express different strengths in various areas of the game. We put in a ton of work to ensure that each badge was valuable and unique enough to cater to just about any imaginable playstyle. We even added Neighborhood-specific badges that enhance the physicality and flashy play of the Playground."

Takeover returns in NBA 2K20 as well, but Wang says it should feel much more balanced across the board, no matter your position or play style. 

NBA 2K20 releases on September 6 for PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC. You can play the demo starting August 21 on all platforms besides PC. To learn more about the game, read our preview of the changes coming to MyGM and MyLeague

Categories: Games

Five Exclusive Hours With The Legend Of Heroes: Trails Of Cold Steel III

Game Informer News Feed - Sun, 08/04/2019 - 21:03

Publisher: NIS America Developer: Nihon Falcom Release: October 22, 2019 Platform: PlayStation 4

Nihon Falcom’s Trails of Cold Steel is one of those series I wish got more love. Falcom has made a name for itself with its long-running Ys franchise, which helped pave the way for action/RPGs, but its equally-fantastic Trails series, part of The Legend of Heroes brand, has never received the same recognition. After Trails of the Sky hit North America in 2011, nearly seven years after it first launched in Japan, hardcore RPG fans realized they had been missing out something special. The game featured charming characters and an alluring and detailed world. It had a classic feel that reminded you of your favorite traditional RPGs of yesteryear, but it also wasn’t afraid to take chances and modernize the genre. 

After the Sky trilogy was complete, Western fans were then treated to the Trails of Cold Steel series, which added a school backdrop, complete with social elements and improved turn-based combat. After two fantastic entries filled with surprising reveals and epic battles that had the students do everything from partaking in crazy mech duels to stopping a civil war, we’re about step into the third part of the four-game arc. I had the pleasure of playing the first five hours of the game and so far it’s shaping up nicely, full of callbacks and reunions with past cast members alongside new mechanics and locations to make the series feel fresh.

A New Class VII

Past entries have centered on Thors Military Academy and its special Class VII, with protagonist Rean Schwarzer leading the way while uncovering his own mysteries about what he thought was a seemingly normal life. For those who need a refresher, Rean’s class was the first to ever to not segregate noble and lowborn students, which is a big source of tension in the first game. The second game had our heroes working together to stop the Erebonian civil war, and Trails of Cold Steel III picks up about a year and a half after these events.

“After Trails of Cold Steel II, we see that [Chancellor Giliath] Osborne is alive and well, and now holds all the power,” says Nihon Falcom president and producer Toshihiro Kondo. “He is currently carrying out a campaign of invading foreign lands to increase the Empire's territory. As for Rean, he is caught up in the events that happened at the end of II, and—as the Awakener of Valimar—is following Osborne's orders. Internally, though Osborne has quieted the noble faction, their activities will be further examined throughout the events of III.”

Those are far from the only new developments: Rean and his peers have now graduated from Thors Military Academy, meaning they are taking their first big steps into adulthood and trying to figure out their lives. Part of the fun is seeing the different roads the characters we’ve come to know and love have traveled. Rean is still the protagonist you control, but he has a bit of a different role this time around: instructor at a new branch of Thors Academy. The new branch is populated with outcasts and misfits and Rean leads a new “Class VII” with only three members initially (you keep running into a few other characters that will most likely join up with you later).

For now, there’s Kurt Vander, a determined young man who excels with twin blades, Juna Crawford, a gunner who formerly worked at the Crossbell police academy and isn’t afraid to speak her mind, and Altina Orion, a mysterious girl created in a laboratory that we met last entry and can manipulate a black combat shell. “The new Class VII has students whose pasts diverge beyond the distinction of class, including some who were formerly involved with Ouroboros—the villains—like Altina, and a noble who is hiding from his former responsibilities,” Kondo explains. “In various ways, these students have more ‘complicated’ backgrounds.”

Click image thumbnails to view larger version



Cold Steel III’s opening hours showed an interesting dichotomy between the three classmates. Growing up in a lab and being treated like a weapon means Altina struggles with human interaction and rarely considers options outside the most logical avenue. Kurt and Juna have a relationship very similar to Rean and Alisa in previous games, as both are trying to prove themselves and run into a few misunderstandings along the way. Throughout the first chapter, there’s plenty of funny moments between the cast as Rean tries his best to play professor and has reunions with members of the previous Class VII. “While the main characters of this tale are Rean and his students, you might remember that at the end of II, the former members of Class VII made a promise to each other,” Kondo says. “They are all now working in various parts of the empire, doing their best to fulfill their ends of that promise. As Rean and his students begin to travel across the empire, they will run into familiar faces, and we'll see what they are up to.” 

In many ways, there’s a weird déjà vu with Trails of Cold Steel III. The game is filled with callbacks and appearances from characters throughout the Trails series history. It feels like a big class reunion; many times I’d recognize a character then jog my memory for their role in the story that has unfolded so far. Let’s just say there’s great reward for longtime fans beyond Trails in the Sky’s Tita Russell and Agate Crosner appearing. In addition to many surprise cameos, you also often stumble upon people, places, and things from previous games that bring new revelations and twists. Trista Radio, anyone?

The parallels to the first Cold Steel entry where Rean was stepping onto campus for the first time and brushing shoulders with his new classmates are ever-present, right down to Kurt and Juna bumping into each other in a similar way to how Rean and Alisa did. It’s a fun trip down memory lane, and if you ever need a refresher, there’s a handy backstory option on the opening screen to lookup certain characters and events. 

A New Principal Heats Things Up

While things seem par for the course for the school experience, Rean’s new academy harbors its own mysteries – from the get-go something seems a little off, such as the administration willingly throwing students into dangerous, barely survivable situations. The school’s principal is also none other than Aurelia Le Guin, who was the general of the Noble Alliance during the civil war in the previous entry. Le Guin is a bit of a wild card as she retired for unknown reasons; Kondo even refers to her as “a very intense person.” Le Guin doesn't sugarcoat things and sees value in preparing students for the worst circumstances.  

To add to matters, it appears Rean’s former military academy and his current branch are at odds, creating some extra tension and conflict to navigate. “The Thors main campus is facing a different set of circumstances than it did when Rean and his classmates were enrolled there,” Kondo says. “The biggest change is that there is a different [Thors Military Academy] principal, who is much more willing to toe the government line. Not to say that Dreichels wasn't concerned about the glory of the empire, but the current principal is much more in-line with Osborne and his regime. On the other hand, the branch campus is actually closer in-line with Olivert's vision, and with that being said, I think you will be able to imagine the differences between the two campuses.”

If you remember anything about Olivert, let it be that his more pacifist ways are bound to ruffle some feathers, especially Chancellor Osborne and his military dictatorship.

New School, New Town, New Challenges

While it follows a similar format to previous entries, Cold Steel III also has some new locales and situations bringing a different tone and feel. “In the previous games, we mainly explored the Eastern part of the empire,” Kondo explains. “This time, we will be exploring the Western side, and visiting places that have only been mentioned up until now. There are also new areas to explore in existing locations.”

Leeves is the new town housing Thors Branch Academy, and it’s a quaint little spot. It has similar areas to what we saw in Trista, with a chapel, an opportune fishing spot, and a slew of shops. Yes, you can expect the typical clothing and pawn shops, but there are also some new additions. My favorite was Carnegie Books and Games, which has its shelves stocked with tabletop games. This is also where you can go to play the latest popular card game called Vantage Masters. 

Previous entries featured the Blade card minigame, where you’d do your best to one-up your opponent by using your mirror and blast cards at the best moments to destroy their progress. Trails of Cold Steel III is all about Vantage Masters. It definitely plays off the popular trading card game scene, where you build your own deck to battle other players to earn stronger cards. From what I played, it looked like a delicate balance between using your attack cards with elemental attributes and special abilities, while activating your magic cards to cause various effects on the field. You only have so much mana and every card has a cost, so you need to use it wisely, but you also restore mana each turn. The more turns that pass, the more you restore, meaning: Plan ahead. Your goal is to get your opponent’s HP to zero. You can get the gist by watching a portion of my match in the video below.

Click here to watch embedded media

Thors Branch Academy is obviously the main attraction of Leeves, and you’ll spend a great deal of time walking its halls to either socialize with students or run your own errands. The social system is similar to previous games, where you want to use your free time to improve your relationships, as it not only provides cool scenes but will increase your teammates' ability to help you on the battlefield. I saw some fun sequences, spanning from Altina trying to figure out which club to join and realizing she’s a natural at swimming to helping Juna with her tennis by being none other than "ball picker-upper.”  You can see some of the early interactions in the video below. There’s also a bathhouse in the dormitory, which allows you to hang out with other instructors in your spare time and usually get a free item for doing so. 

Click here to watch embedded media

Cold Steel III has a slew of new characters to get to know, but that doesn't mean you won't be spending your bonding points on your favorites from previous games. Kondo wanted to set the record straight on that: "I'll also preemptively address another concern that was brought up in Japan before the game came out, 'What about those characters who we could previously bond with?' Please don't worry about that, as you will be able to bond with returning characters, as well."

Stepping Into Battle

Remember that familiar-but-slightly-different feel I was talking about earlier for Cold Steel III? That extends to combat, which remains turn-based and still centers on positioning, linking teammates for improved tactics, and using their special attacks and magic spells judiciously. Trails of Cold Steel III's gameplay expands on the series' already-complex battle mechanics with a break system (straight out of the Ys series) to weaken enemy defenses and Juna being able to change her battle style. Juna’s gunner position is great for ranged attacks and hitting groups of enemies, but if you swap her to the striker, it increases her speed, defense, and attack power on close-ranged foes, best used on one target. 

Also new is Brave Order, which allows you to enact tide-changing perks in battle. Every character has their own and they can do everything from reducing damage to cutting the cost of magic. You can only use one of these at a time, but they are key to winning boss battles. For instance, in one of my fights against a giant ogre, the creature used a howl attack that had a nasty side effect of reducing my characters’ defense. The only way to offset it was to use a brave order to reduce incoming damage.  Kondo proves my theory true about them being essential to winning the bigger bouts in the game: "If you don't utilize this system, you are putting yourself at a serious disadvantage, particularly in regards to long boss battles, where skillful use of this system will make a huge difference," he says. You can watch me learn this the hard way in the video below of the intense ogre fight. 

Click here to watch embedded media

Cold Steel II introduced mech – aka Divine Knight – battles and those return here. They function similarly to previous entries, where you must block and use your special attacks while targeting specific body parts in order to unbalance them. Brave Points also apply to these battles, and building them up gives you new options to consider. You can get a taste of what they entail in the video below. Yes, in true Falcom fashion, except some flashy over-the-top specials to really sell the experience of piloting one of these big hunks of metal. 

Click here to watch embedded media

Taking A Dramatic Turn

We've seen some crazy things happen across the Trails series and the Cold Steel arc has certainly brought its twists. This third entry should follow suit, but Kondo also said "the series will take a very dramatic turn from here on out," making me even more curious and excited for what's to come. 

While we start approaching Cold Steel's ultimate finale (there's still one more game after III), Kondo also made it clear that Falcom is far from done with the Trails series. "While it is true that the Cold Steel portion of the story has come to a finish with IV, there are still many things hinted at in the Trails in the Sky, Zero, Ao, and Cold Steel games that have yet to be revealed," he teases. "We want to tell these stories, and the fans want to hear them, so we are thinking about the best way to do that in a game." 

Kondo also confirmed the team is working on an "entirely new tale in an entirely new part of the world not seen yet in a Trails game," and said there would be more information soon. For now, all we can do is wait until October 22 when The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III launches on PlayStation 4. Get ready to be reunited with old faces and also meet some new ones in the process.  

Categories: Games

Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot Review - Old Fashioned

Gamespot News Feed - Fri, 08/02/2019 - 23:32

With MachineGames at the helm, Wolfenstein has enjoyed a resurgence during the last couple of years. Wolfenstein has managed to captivate with its strong characters and intriguing world-building, giving you a glimpse into an alternate future where the rules are rewritten and whole new terrifying possibilities are waiting to be explored. None of this is present in the series' first venture into VR, however. Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot isn't just lacking the elements that make its universe intriguing, but it's also dated by recent VR standards, with flat, unexciting action and little reason to return after one short playthrough.

Set in 1980s, Cyberpilot puts you in the shoes of a pilot working for the French Resistance at the same time as the events in Wolfenstein: Youngblood. Your piloting skills are alluring to two French hackers who have managed to smuggle away a few Nazi war machines, giving you the chance to aim these monstrosities back at their creators. If you've ever cursed at being mauled by a Panzerhund, Cyberpilot initially seems like a great opportunity to flip the script.

It doesn't take long for that feeling to fade, though. Three of Cyberpilot's four missions give you control of a new machine to pilot. The Panzerhund lets you dash towards enemies before melting them down with a mouth-mounted flamethrower, a small airborne drone makes sneaking around a Nazi bunker simple, and the more straightforward Zitadelle arms you with a high-powered machine gun and rocket launchers. Despite these varied abilities, Cyberpilot doesn't provide interesting challenges for you to test them against. Each mission is linear and frustratingly one-note. You keep moving forward through cramped and visually bland spaces, mowing down enemies in your way and occasionally taking a breather to heal up before the next encounter. The drone mission at least tries to shake things up by pivoting from all-out action to stealthy engagements, but the unresponsive AI and cramped level design don't allow you the satisfaction of a well-planned stealth kill.

Since you're using machines armed with flamethrowers and unlimited rockets, combat should presumably be explosive and adrenaline-pumping. But Cyperpilot gives so little feedback to your actions that it's difficult to feel their impact at all. Enemies, for example, make no sounds when engulfed in flames or blown back by nearby explosions, and they almost always use the same animations when dying before disappearing from sight. The devastating weapons at your disposal offer no satisfying animations and subsequent sound effects that give them a real kick, which makes action feel limp and uninteresting.

In between each mission, you can explore a multi-floored resistance bunker, using a lift to transition from a spacious loading bay to a dimly lit reception area adorned in abandoned Nazi regalia. These spaces look great and do a good job of reminding you of the imposing grip your enemies still have on European soil. Although this bleeds into the handful of missions you're sent on, Cyberpilot doesn't offer anything new or interesting to say about this alternative perspective on the resistance. The only other characters are your resistance handlers, who occasionally engage in some quirky banter between each other, but outside of that you're nothing but a tool to them, and you disappointingly get no new insights into Wolfenstein's world as a result.

These brief interludes between missions also introduce you to each new pilotable machine in intimate fashion. Before being able to remotely control them, you need to hack your way past their security, which Cyberpilot makes out to be far more complicated than it really is. While you're being fed descriptions of intricate wiring and defensive subroutines, all you are doing is using motion controls to remove a chip from the machine in question, plugging it into a nearby monitor, and then replacing it after a brief pause. Getting to see the details of each chillingly monstrous Nazi machine up close, in VR, without fearing death is surprisingly fascinating, but there's not much else to do during these sequences. That makes each of these forced interludes feel drawn out and unnecessary.

Cyberpilot can be played with either the PlayStation Move controllers or a DualShock 4, and neither is great. With a DualShock 4, combat feels more familiar. You use the thumbsticks to freely move around and rotate (either smoothly or in adjustable segments) while using motion control to aim. In this configuration, your two hands move as one, which makes activities outside of combat a chore. The PlayStation camera can only track the front-facing light from the DualShock 4, so reaching for objects on either side of you is borderline impossible in some cases.

Using the Move controllers changes that immediately, and also gives you more freedom in combat. Moving your arms independently from one another lets you bash on your special attack button and heal at the same time, which is impossible to do when you're tethered together by a seemingly invisible set of handcuffs. As a tradeoff, movement is trickier using the Move controllers. Rotation is mapped to face buttons while lateral movement is controlled using the big, mushy PlayStation button on the face of the controller. It's far less ideal than the DualShock 4, leaving you with a decision to make between the lesser of two evils.

There's no reason to jump into Cyberpilot if you're looking for another avenue to explore more of Wolfenstein's world.

You won't have too much time to adjust, either, given that Cyberpilot's four missions can easily be finished in less than 90 minutes. Beyond reaching its flat ending, there's nothing else to do to make what time you do have more engaging. There are no collectibles to find, alternative mission routes to explore, or exciting mission set pieces to replay for the thrill of it. It gives Cyberpilot a distinct tech demo feeling; since VR games have become increasingly more adept at using the hardware in unique ways, Cyberpilot feels outdated by comparison.

There's no reason to jump into Cyberpilot if you're looking for another avenue to explore more of Wolfenstein's world. This straightforward shooter lacks the punch to make its action exhilarating and breaks up combat with even more repetitive and slower-paced interludes where you'll do the bare minimum with motion controls to achieve simple and mundane repair tasks. Beyond looking striking for a VR game in some places, there's nothing about Cyberpilot that warrants your time.

Categories: Games