SteamWorld Dig 2 Review

Gamespot News Feed - Mon, 09/25/2017 - 22:02

The first SteamWorld Dig was most notable for its unique blend of mining mechanics and Metroid-style exploration, but it ended right as it began to come into its own. Its sequel is twice as long and puts that added runtime to good use, as both the story and mechanics are given room to flourish. The result is a brilliant and varied evolution of the first game that not only expands upon its hybrid formula, but presents it in its best light.

SteamWorld Dig 2 takes place in a post-apocalyptic steampunk world where Earth has become a desert wasteland; its remaining inhabitants are small populations of steam-driven robots and irradiated humans. You control a steambot named Dorothy searching for her missing friend, Rusty--the protagonist of the first game. When Dorothy hears that he has been sighted entering the mines of an old trading town, El Machino, she embarks on a journey to find him.

Dig 2 gives you more than enough to latch onto with its eclectic cast.

The story is more focused than its predecessor. Events unfold at a brisk pace, occasionally hitting you with unexpected twists and tonal shifts that keep the adventure compelling throughout. Also impactful is the way the story contributes to the overarching SteamWorld universe as a whole (it serves as a bridge between Dig 1 and SteamWorld Heist). By its conclusion, past narrative threads that were once disparate and unclear are finally expounded upon, elevating your attachment to the characters and the world.

Even if you aren't invested in the series' lore, Dig 2 gives you more than enough to latch onto with its eclectic cast. Dorothy makes for a likable lead and the characters who surround her are humorous and well-written. In particular, Dorothy's Navi-like sidekick, FEN, is one of the game's standout personalities. His sassy, oftentimes snarky, remarks are amusing, but as you progress, he grows into a far more sincere and endearing ally whose presence is irreplaceable.

Also worth noting is the presentation; both visuals and music are charming and stylish. From the moodily lit underground caverns you explore to the airy and upbeat hip-hop inspired tracks that permeate the various locales, there's an endearing atmosphere that constantly pulls you in.

Like the first game, you spend time exploring various underground mines. With your trusty pickaxe, you smash through blocks of dirt to reveal passageways, while along the way acquiring precious gems and minerals. You also obtain tools and power-ups that help you burrow even deeper. Once your pockets are filled with treasure, you return to town to sell your materials and upgrade your tools, and then you return to the mine anew.

Dig 2 encourages you to be methodical, but unlike the original, it gives you more time to be creative, and rewards your cravings to diligently explore and discover new secrets.

While the digging process seems repetitive in nature, it never becomes tedious. Exploration feels like longform puzzle solving. You're always strategizing how to take advantage of a mine's terrain and the enemies within to clear tunnels and acquire more treasure. And with the more varied tools you have access to this time around, the methods you employ grow increasingly complex.

One moment you're using your pressure bomb launcher to create a pathway that you can't reach with your pickaxe, the next you're using your grappling hook to strategically detonate a TNT barrel to kill a group of enemies. These instances are when the game is at its most fulfilling, as you have a great deal of flexibility in choosing how to approach a given area. Dig 2 encourages you to be methodical, but unlike the original, it gives you more time to be creative, and rewards your cravings to diligently explore and discover new secrets.

New to Dig 2 is the addition of collectables called Cogs, which you can use to enhance your tools with mods. These upgrades are varied and unique, each improving your abilities in different ways. For instance, you can equip a mod that increases your chances of getting two precious materials from one resource block, or you might equip one that occasionally prevents instant death from falling rocks. As you obtain more Cogs, your ability to tailor mods to better suit your playstyle grows, which becomes invaluable when facing difficult obstacles in later areas. And with the varied terrain and hazards you encounter, you always feel an initiative to experiment to better your mining efficiency and chances of survival.

When you're not spending time digging, you're exploring caves, which are special rooms scattered across the map containing either platforming challenges or puzzles to solve. These brief, well-crafted trials test your mastery of the game's base mechanics: a spike-covered room demands quick execution of your mobility options; a block-stacking puzzle challenges your knowledge of the pressure launcher's limitations; and a room with collapsing boulders has you timing your sprints in different spurts to avoid being crushed. On top of rewarding you with much-needed Cogs, caves provide satisfying opportunities to exercise your reflexes and intellect. You often look forward to discovering them, as their distinct challenges are also entertaining proving grounds to test your upgrades.

Caves provide satisfying opportunities to exercise your reflexes and intellect.

Alongside the mechanical improvements, it helps that there's a greater variety in level and objective design. From an ancient temple surrounded by lava to an ethereal jungle, each location you explore goes beyond the standard underground mine you might expect. Not only are levels thematically different, they're also structured in distinct ways from each other. At one point, you're tasked to dig horizontally instead of vertically, only to be led to an area that has you completing a gauntlet of caves in order to open a gate with multiple locks. These changes in design frame the mechanics in captivating ways, challenging you to do more than just strategically carve out tunnels. Dig 2 meticulously uses its assets to great effect, continually changing up the pace from beginning to end.

Every advancement Dig 2 makes to its story and mechanics strengthens your initiative to progress. There's an overwhelming sense of momentum that runs through the adventure; as if developer Image & Form sifted the original in a pan, removing its redundancies while expanding upon what made it so fun to persistently play. In your quest to acquire every upgrade and explore every nook and cranny, there's no shortage of hidden collectables to discover. And with post-game content that unlocks after you unearth every secret, the desire to keep digging intensifies. Dig 2 manages to not only be an exceptional successor, but a great adventure in its own right. Where the first game was a diamond in the rough, Dig 2 is a polished jewel.

Categories: Games

Project Cars 2

Gamespot News Feed - Mon, 09/25/2017 - 11:36

My first race in Project Cars 2 was a learning experience, to say the least. After a couple of years away from the wheel of Slightly Mad Studios' simulation racing series, getting reacquainted with its uncompromising style was no easy feat. The blind turns and fluctuating elevations of Scotland's Knockhill Racing Circuit played havoc with my rusty skills, as I spun out myriad times throughout my first practice session, making the trackside gravel my undesirable home. It was not the start I had envisioned, and I could have let it get to me--thwarted, as I was, by a quick sprint around the Scottish countryside. But this is where the tinkering began.

I started tuning my Formula Rookie car to adjust to the particularities of this charming British track, softening the anti-roll bar to limit oversteering, and adjusting gear ratios to get a tad more speed down the straights. With each passing lap I gradually became more accustomed to Knockhill's tricky corners, learning how to approach each one with guile and gusto. Before long I wasn't just completing laps without incident, but setting competitive times to rival the competition, and fondly recalling similar moments throughout my time with Slightly Mad's first game in the series. It's a singular, almost assuredly niche thrill; yet it was this focus on learning and adapting to the various intricacies of both car and track that made Project Cars so appealing--and which still rings true in its sequel.

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For all its strengths, however, the first Project Cars was hindered by some notable flaws. Inconsistent handling, inadequate gamepad support, dim-witted AI, and numerous, disruptive bugs regularly plagued the experience. Thankfully, these issues have been mostly addressed in Project Cars 2. For one, the physics and driving model have been much improved, with less disconnect between your actions and those of your car. There's an increased weightiness to these fuel-guzzling beasts that firmly plants them on the road, and a pliability that makes pushing them up to and over the limit a viable strategy, resulting in some incredibly tense and exciting moments.

Gamepad support is also marginally better. Where playing with a pad was once perplexingly unapproachable, it's now manageable at least--albeit significantly lagging behind the fidelity and one-to-one feedback of a dedicated racing wheel. Out of the box, the handling is quite understeer heavy, too, so you'll probably want to fiddle with the settings until it feels more comfortable. And there are some difficulties communicating exactly what the car is doing without the advantages of force feedback, particularly when the back end starts to spin out from underneath you. There's a distant, almost loose feel to the handling, and this makes playing without stability control more difficult than it would otherwise be. Racing with a gamepad is still nowhere near perfect or even close to the likes of Forza, but these adjustments do enough to make it more playable than the first game. With this in mind, I would still hesitate to recommend Project Cars 2 to anyone without a racing wheel.

Despite the improvements made behind the wheel, Project Cars 2's most eye-catching aspect might just be the sheer breadth of cars, tracks, and motorsports on offer. With 180 cars to choose from, 60 tracks, and 29 motorsports, you can easily go from kicking up dirt and gravel in a Rallycross event in Hell, to careening around Imola in Enzo Ferrari's magnificent namesake. Maybe you'll race wheel-to-wheel in white-knuckle stock cars for the full 500 miles of the Indianapolis 500, usher a Formula X car around the twisting turns of Monaco's opulent street course, or precariously rip through the historic 8.75 miles of the original Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in an Aston Martin DBR1/300. The extensive variety on-hand is sumptuous, and almost every track and car is intricately detailed, with phenomenal audio design bringing each bottled-up rocket of horsepower to life with a delectable symphony of shifting gears, screeching tires, and roaring engines.

The weather effects in Project Cars 2 are best-in-class, and the palpable effect they have on each and every race proves they're not just for show either

Meanwhile, a dynamic weather system that encompasses everything from emphatic thunderstorms and blizzards, to a hazy summer's day--plus an impressive day/night cycle--complements the action, and turns an endurance race at Le Mans into a keen test of attrition and strategy. As the sky cracks open and unleashes a torrent of rain, puddles will gradually form on the track and must be avoided lest you aquaplane into the nearest wall. Survive this brush with death and the hot asphalt will dissipate any pools of water, yet your relief won't last for long as the sun begins to disappear behind the trees. Suddenly corners aren't quite as recognisable as they once were as shadows cast blind spots over the track; and before long you're driving in nothing but pitch black darkness, with only your headlights to guide you. The weather effects in Project Cars 2 are best-in-class, and the palpable effect they have on each and every race proves they're not just for show either.

The best way to cycle through this plethora of motorsports is in the career mode, which takes you globetrotting from one racing discipline to another. You're still free to choose where you begin your driving adventure--whether it's in the lowly rungs of kart racing or maybe in the more potent brutes of GT4--but there's added structure this time around. The high-end championships are locked away until you've made at least some progress, and single-race invitationals mix up the pacing so it's less of a slog. The career mode is, however, surprisingly restrictive when it comes to competing in these various championships. If you finish outside of the top three, it's deemed a failure and you're asked to retry the entire championship again. This can be utterly demoralising when you've just completed ten races or so, and I'm not sure why leading the midfield pack comes with such a harsh punishment. It actively discouraged me from raising the AI difficulty until I knew I could consistently place in the top three, and it feels like a completely misguided decision. If you've started a championship and don't quite fancy it, it's also needlessly difficult to quit. The only way to do so is by starting each race and retiring to the pits, which is very time-consuming.

While these issues are disappointing, Project Cars 2's most glaring faults lie with the AI and the vast number of bugs that constantly crop up. The AI is slightly improved over the first game; it's less rigid, has more spatial awareness when racing wheel-to-wheel, and will make human-esque mistakes, particularly in adverse weather conditions. But for every moment of fair and balanced racing, there's another example where they'll nudge you off the road, shunt you in the backside, or cause an 18-car pileup on the first corner. I can't count the amount of times the AI has spoiled a race by mindlessly crashing into each other at the very first hint of a bend in the road. It's absurd.

The AI is also a constant nuisance in qualifying. It will set consistent lap times when you're out on the track, but as soon as you skip to the end of a session after a seemingly good job, it will inexplicably gain a good five seconds on your best lap time, even if there's not enough time left to do so. I've also encountered a few notable instances where I've qualified in first, only to get bumped into last place as soon as the race begins. The race director is inconsistent, too, dishing out penalties for no discernible reason. If you play in the rain at Monaco, the tunnel will flood with water and is almost impossible to drive on. And any cosmetic damage you sustain will remain after restarting a session, even if that includes missing wheels.

All of these issues, whether they're disruptive or comical, paint a picture of a game that wasn't quite ready to come out of the oven. Multiplayer races mitigate some of these flaws, and are arguably the best way to play, but the online servers are sparsely populated, resulting in a lot of waiting around to race maybe four or five other people, if you're lucky. I also suffered multiple crashes that only occurred during, or when trying to join, multiplayer sessions.

When it all works as intended, Project Cars 2 is a brilliant simulation racer--provided you're playing with a wheel. It's ambitious in scope and depth, and the sheer breadth of available motorsports almost guarantees there's something for everyone to sink their teeth into. It's a shame, then, that there's always this nagging feeling in the back of your mind that a bug or moment of AI madness will disrupt the whole thing--and more often than not, it will. These issues may be ironed out in the coming weeks and months, but with potentially stiff competition on the very-near horizon, Slightly Mad Studios might not have enough time to capture the hearts and minds of video game racing fans before they move on to pastures new.

Categories: Games

Futuristic Sci-Fi Action Game Coming To VR This October

Game Informer News Feed - Sun, 09/24/2017 - 17:50

As of this October, Raw Data is exiting early access and officially launching on HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and PlayStation VR. This action-packed VR title takes place in far future, where you play as a special operative from a hacker organization who embarks on secret missions.

You can choose from four heroes: Bishop, a "gun cleric" who wields dual pistols; Saija, a cyber ninja who defeats enemies with an electric katana; Boss, an ex-street mercenary with a large shotgun; and finally Elder, an elderly but proficient archer.

The official release will feature a solo campaign, co-op, and multiplayer. Cross-platform play for online co-op is supported, meaning that friends can team up despite owning different headsets.

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Raw Data arrives for HTC Vive and Oculus Rift as of October 5, and comes to PlayStation VR on October 10.

Categories: Games

New Trailer Reveals Caeda And Tiki As Playable Characters

Game Informer News Feed - Sat, 09/23/2017 - 21:00

Nintendo has released a new trailer for Fire Emblem: Heroes, revealing that Caeda and Tiki (two classic characters from both early Fire Emblem games and the more recent Awakening) will be playable characters.

The trailer also has footage of characaters we already knew about, such as Lyn and Camilla, pulling of their special moves and destroying waves of enemy soldiers (spoiler: that's what you do in Warriors games).

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Categories: Games

Latest Trailer Mixes Cutscenes and Dark Souls Gameplay

Game Informer News Feed - Sat, 09/23/2017 - 20:00

Bandai Namco has released a new trailer for its Dark-Souls inspired anime game, Code Vein. Like Dark Souls, Code Vein pits you against difficult, ghastly opponents in the midst of a hellish, desolate landscape. Unlike Dark Souls, Code Vein is very anime.

The latest trailer makes this clear, as gameplay segments are intercut between scenes thick with dialogue and anime camera angles, which is something Dark Souls tended to lack. Though the trailer is in Japanese, you can get a vague sense of the story Code Vein has to tell by watching the trailer below.

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Categories: Games

Watch gameplay of Tien, Yamcha, Android 21 in story mode

Game Informer News Feed - Sat, 09/23/2017 - 19:00

Bandai Namco has dropped a trio of trailers for Dragon Ball FighterZ, each featuring one of the game's most recently-announced characters in their native environment.

First, we have the first gameplay footage of Tien and Yamcha, which premiered during a Bandai Namco stream at TGS last night (or today, in Japan time? timezones, am I right folks?). You can watch the two trailers back-to-back starting at 23 minutes into the video below.

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Additionally, Bandai Namco released a separate trailer featuring footage of Android 21 in one of the game's story mode sequences. The dialogue is in Japanese with English subtitles.

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Categories: Games

The Zombie Spin-Off Is More Fun Than I Expected

Game Informer News Feed - Sat, 09/23/2017 - 06:05

The spin-off Metal Gear Survive rightfully has its skeptics. After series mastermind Hideo Kojima departed Konami in a messy separation, fans questioned if Metal Gear games would ever be the same. When Konami announced Metal Gear Survive, it was a surprise – a survival action game with zombies? Even Kojima commented on how he didn’t see how zombies fit within the series. I went into my hands-on session for Metal Gear Survive just as doubtful as any fan about the game being something I’d even want to play. While I don’t think Metal Gear Survive will be an earth-shattering experience for the series, I walked away having more fun than I expected. 

While Metal Gear Survive does have a single-player campaign, Konami isn’t ready to give many details on it, except that a wormhole opens in the sky, absorbing all MSF soldiers, transporting them to an alternate reality. You must survive a harsh environment overflowing with dangerous creatures by collecting resources and building a base camp. Time will tell if Konami takes a more zany approach and tells an interesting story considering the premise or makes the single-player very straightforward with a focus on gameplay. 

At Tokyo Game Show, I played a section of the co-op in which you work with three other players in missions. My mission was to protect a generator from waves of zombies. I chose to play as a fighter, but you could also choose a shooter. You basically want to level your character up and find better gear by completing missions; after every mission, you get new loot depending on your success. Metal Gear Survive uses the same controls scheme from Ground Zeroes and Phantom Pain, and they’re as responsive and intuitive as you remember. However, even if you haven’t played the recent games, the controls are easy to pick up and understand. 

Before each wave, you can prepare for the onslaught of baddies coming your way, by putting up barriers, spinning blades, and even mini turrets. The best strategy is to look for any opening the zombies may be able to exploit and put down some traps to thwart them. Once they break through, you can shoot, punch, throw molotov cocktails, and anything else you come equipped with. In between waves, you can take on side objectives to get better resources to protect you from the next wave. 

I loved the chaos and strategy of it all. One minute, you’re prepping by thinking ahead, the next a horde is overflowing the area, forcing you to think on your feet and use what you have at your disposal. The resource management part is a nice touch. You have a limited amount of all your items, from barriers to ammo. You must use them judiciously if you want to make it through every wave. Setting up the perfect trap or throwing a molotov cocktail to torch a zombie horde is satisfying. Even more so, working with a team to make the best of all your resources and help each other out in a bind makes for a fun co-op experience.

Because I only played one mission, I can’t speak to the variety of content or if this game has legs beyond a few matches. Metal Gear Survive has a tough tassk ahead of convincing players it’s worthy of their time. Survival games have become more popular in recent years, but convincing people to abandon those like PUBG is a hard feat. That being said, the game is a lot more enjoyable than I was expecting, providing me that rush I get when I play games like Left 4 Dead or Mass Effect’s multiplayer. Now it’s up to Konami to see if they can attract a strong player base and win back fans. Something tells me this won’t be enough, but Metal Gear Survive is nice a diversion if you’re looking for something in this vein. 

Metal Gear Survive hits in early 2018 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC. 

Categories: Games

Five Things You Should Know About The New Edition

Game Informer News Feed - Sat, 09/23/2017 - 05:29

Square Enix recently announced a remake of the beloved classic, Secret of Mana. The action/RPG for SNES made its mark for its fun co-op, vibrant visuals, and fantastic music. This remake includes 3D visuals, voice acting, and a newly arranged score by original composer Hiroki Kikuta. While in Japan, I had the opportunity to speak to producer Masaru Oyamada about what we can expect from the remake and the design decisions behind it. Here are some of his biggest revelations.

How Co-op Works

As fans will remember, Secret of Mana had three-player co-op, which was rare for the role-playing genre at the time. Oyamada says the co-op functions in the remake exactly like the original, meaning it’s offline couch co-op. “You have three players sitting next to each other on the couch with three controllers – all playing at the same time,” he confirms. “I think a lot of the enjoyment that people have in their memories of the original game relies on that playstyle. We felt it was best to have that recreated in the same way.” 

A Few Improvements But Sticking To The Original's Core

Every remake holds the danger of changing too much for longtime fans or not updating enough for a modern audience. Oyamada gave more insight into the team's approach and the changes. “The overall construction of the game and the content of the game is the same as the original – nothing has been cut,” he says. “The additions and tweaks we’ve added the game are more subtle, more for accessibility and ease of play. For example, dashing and the run button used to only work in a single direction, now you can do it freely. The other thing for ease of control is controlling the ring commands for allies used to be very difficult for one person, but we’ve made that a lot easier.”

Cutscenes and more detailed character interactions are also new features. “In the original, it was really left to the imagination of the player to figure out what the main party was doing and how they were talking to each other between the adventures they went on,” Oyamada says. “You now get to see conversations between [the party members] and little scenes that add to the story.” 

Adding Voice Acting And 3D Graphics

This also marks the first time characters are voiced for the game, but Randi, Primm, and Popoi have appeared in other Square Enix collaborations using voice actors to say their iconic lines. “When I saw [those], it actually felt very natural,” Oyamada says. “It didn’t feel out of place at all, so when it came to doing the remake of the game, I thought we should go with voices from the start.” If you want to experience the remake like the original, there is an option to turn the voice acting off, too. 

Secret of Mana’s art style has always been core to its identity. Unsurprisingly, the shift to 3D visuals has been met with mixed reactions from fans based on the first glimpses. “It’d be very difficult actually from a technological perspective these days to do development in the old pixel style graphics,” Oyamada explains. “And I think the other thing is if we did decide to go along with that, we wouldn’t be exceeding the original. We thought it’d be better to go for an evolution – a more modern update of the graphics for 3D. But, we did very much pay attention to make sure they were not something that would put off the original fans, that they wouldn’t feel too out of place.” 

What Makes An Old Classic Work For A Modern Audience

Secret of Mana is a great game, but some elements are archaic. I was surprised to see how close Square is sticking to the original. I have a lot of nostalgia for the game, as it's one of my personal favorites, but what about fans who don't have that experience? What makes Oyamada confident they'll enjoy it? "There are not really many games that have that classic JRPG feel and these structures anymore," Oyamada says. "You don't really see it that much, and even going further seeing a game with a more modern 3D style and essence to them. I think Bravely Default is the only series that really does that. So in some ways, it feels really fresh and new in just doing that in itself – the classic style with the new 3D graphics."

Wanting To Rekindle People's Love For The Mana Series

The Mana series has struggled in the last decade or so compared to its early days. Last year, the team remade Adventures of Mana (previously known as Final Fantasy Adventure in North America) to a mostly positive reception. Could this be a push to revive people's passion for the series and carry forward to newer entries? “I very much think about the series and the remake in that way myself,” Oyamada shares. “If we can hear the same kind of opinions from fans, I really think that will link through into the future of the series.”

Secret of Mana launches on February 15 for PS4, Vita, and PC.

For ore on Secret of Mana, you can check out Dan Tack's hands-on impressions.

Categories: Games

Tooth And Tail Review

Gamespot News Feed - Sat, 09/23/2017 - 00:23

Tooth and Tail is a bizarre cocktail of a dozen great ideas. It's a minimalist RTS that tosses out complex tech trees in favor of action-packed but accessible play. It's set vaguely in Eastern Europe in the 1910s, with both the Russian Revolution and World War I in full swing. Playing up the grim tumult of the era, Tooth and Tail also casts itself with all manner of cute--though ragged and crestfallen--critters. With so many disparate items, it's a wonder that Tooth and Tail manages to work at all, but it excels with but a few minor blemishes.

Superficially, Tooth and Tail looks the part of a standard RTS, but familiarity with genre staples isn’t required. Yes, you still have resources and units, and a "base," of sorts, but the similarities end there. Instead of using a cursor to drag and select groups of units, for example, you play a sole critter twirling your team's battle standard. Tooth and Tail simplifies a notoriously complex genre into a few fundamental, direct rules.

You need a gristmill to build farms. Farms are used to grow food. Food is spent on units, making more farms, and claiming more mills to make more farms. Before each match, you pick up to six units you want to be able to use from a pool of 20. You can only build near a gristmill. Finally, you marshal units to destroy your enemies' mills.

That simplicity is marvelous. Tooth and Tail distills strategy games to its essentials--building out armies, growing stronger, and the dynamic, puzzle-like nature of play--and gets rid of nearly everything else. That means ludicrous actions per minute no longer matter.Randomly-generated maps keep others from gaining an unfair advantage with terrain knowledge. The playing field is almost always as level as it can be, leaving commanders to compete on raw strategic/tactical prowess.

Instead of building out specialized scout units and sending them to collect telemetry on the map, your commander does it on their own. The cost, of course, is that if you're scouting, you can't build because you wouldn't be near the mill. You can't attack on your own, either. This keeps you from rushing or spawning tons of machine-gun-toting squirrels near your foes' farms and claiming victory. You can, however, burrow back at any time to queue up more soldiers before heading out again. This guides a core pace to the game--rush out and study before retreating to build. It's a simple pattern that's welcoming to new players.

Strategy veterans may balk and think that this takes streamlining a step too far. After all, without unit upgrades and heavy micromanagement, it would seem that there's not much else you can do, leaving skilled folks idle and bored. That issue doesn't come up much in play, though. Because maps are random, and you never know which six units other players will bring, most start off with similar levels of knowledge. Advanced players will, of course, have a deeper understanding of which units can cover for what weaknesses, but they won't be able to use that to counter pick either the roster or the map. Instead, their play becomes much more reactive. They have to scout like anyone else, and they have to adapt to whichever assortment of woodland animals hit the map.

All this does not make expertise meaningless. When the only thing under your control are which parts of the map you can see, what you're building, and whether or not you're advancing or retreating, each of those choices carries much more weight. Food also isn't unlimited, and unless you were nabbing territory in the early game, you'll run dry (and starve) in short order. This keeps the pace brisk, and, when combined with the limitations inherent in controlling one commander vs. having a nigh-omniscient view of the map means that the action almost always hits at the edge of what feels manageable. Tooth and Tail supports up to four players, and when everyone's in, things get chaotic. With all four of you fielding armies of tiny, skittering squirrels and badgers or hawks and owls, things get messy fast. And, this is where Tooth and Tail begins to shine.

Short, mediocre campaign aside, there's little here to muck with the essential beauty of this streamlined RTS.

As mentioned, at any point there could be 20 different units on the field. Unlike your StarCrafts or your Sins of a Solar Empires, though, your arrangement of units are unique each round. You pick your commander--who will hail from one of four factions--and then you select your roster. Neither option has any impact on the other, but which critters you pick will have a huge impact on strategy.

Unit types range from defensive artillery to flamethrowers and run the gamut of classic military roles. Medics, transports, gun nests, heavies, engineers, etc. get their due. But big decisions hinge on being able to read the lay of a battle in an instant. You only have a couple of buttons with which to command your troops. One order will have them pressing forward, another will pull them back. The ability to understand, at a glance, which armies have what units and who has the advantage is essential. Lacking the simple visual cues of a uniting theme or aesthetic as in other strategy games, Tooth and Tail has to make each of these figures clear and recognizable in the heat of battle. And, thanks to stellar art and crisp animations, that's never an issue. Each unit has its own heft--or lack thereof--and they're all recognizable by silhouette with the possible exception of a handful of the smaller scrappers. All you need do, then, is worry about a small band of critical choices.

Because of that purity, playing with a controller feels as tight if not better than a standard mouse and keyboard. The analogue stick is a touch more responsive than otherwise limiting WASD keys. This also makes it one of the few games to nail real-time strategy on the console. And, like with Pikmin, the relative straightforward approach to tactical challenges doesn't come with any costs.

Tooth and Tail picks the right premise, with the right pacing, and the right amount of streamlining to keep every second of a match feeling heated. Games run their course in 10 minutes or less, and that brevity feels revolutionary. Matches in most other RTS games run half-an-hour or longer, limiting who can pick up and play a round here and there. That doesn't need to be, though. Tooth and Tail shows that you can have a zippy, engaging strategy game that's satisfying, nuanced, and accessible.

My only real complaint is that, while the game is deep, you'll want to play with friends. A single-player campaign gives you a basic introduction to the world through a tongue-in-cheek presentation of different political factions. There's a civil war on, and the throngs of fluffy animals are all fighting to be the one who doesn't get chomped by the rest. Each loosely aligns to a real-world political philosophy, but they are all pushed so far into the realm of the ridiculous that none of them come as either mean-spirited or pointed critiques of anything tangible. These characters are fodder for the game's morose sense of humor, and it works. It is not, however, as groundbreaking as the bulk of play, and it doesn't amount to much beyond progressive, contextualized challenges.

Campaign maps are procedural, which keeps things from getting stale but, given the more specific mission objectives for the campaign, it also isn't as balanced as its free-for-all multiplayer counterpart. You will, at some point, end up with a map that feels stacked against you. And, luck of the draw though it may have been, it still frustrates. Then again, all you need do is wait out the 5-8 minute match and you'll get a new map to try again.

Short, mediocre campaign aside, there's little here to muck with the essential beauty of this streamlined RTS. Nothing else in recent memory offers quite the same white-knuckle thrills. Scouting and modifying your unit composition with up-to-the-minute info on enemy forces, rallying them into battle, continuing to grab up new farmland to fuel your fluffy hordes, and switching between them every fifteen seconds is divine.

Rotating through the band of 20 fighters will offer plenty of depth on its own, too. There's plenty of room to fake out foes by overbuilding one type and feinting a foe into countering that so you can sweep them with your own reserves. If you don't have quite the squads you need to deal with enemies in the best way, you'll have to adapt -- and strong variety will give you the tools to come up with unique combinations and tactics on the fly.

When all of that comes together in a tight, four-player battle royale, it is a thing of beauty.

Categories: Games

New Trailer Sets Up The Story

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 09/22/2017 - 18:25

Sonic is back, again! After the retro love letter that was Sonic Mania, fans get another game this year starring the hedgehog, Sonic Forces. The latest trailer puts story in the spotlight, setting up the characters and the conflict for the game.

Does Eggman like Sonic, or not? Does one find strength only in numbers? Is the power of friendship good for overcoming adversity? You'll have to play Sonic Forces when it releases on November 7 to find the answers to these mind-bending mysteries. 

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For more Sonic the Hedgehog, read about his recent comeback in Sonic Mania. Or if you'd rather glory in him at his worst, watch our Sonic '06 Super Replay


Categories: Games

Celebrating No More Delays With A New Trailer

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 09/22/2017 - 17:34

South Park: The Fractured But Whole was originally supposed to release in December 2016, but then it got delayed. Then it got delayed again. If you were worried that the game might not hit its current October 17 release date, you can rest easy. Ubisoft announced that the game has gone gold, so it will be in your hands in less than a month.

To celebrate the occasion, you can watch the new trailer for the game below. It has fish, swear words, and sex jokes, but not necessarily in that order.

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For more on The Fractured But Whole, check out our coverage hub.

Categories: Games

Legitimate Surfing Unveiled In Pokémon Ultra Sun And Ultra Moon Trailer

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 09/22/2017 - 15:51

We've been "surfing" in Pokémon for years, but it in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, you will finally be able to do the real thing.

The latest trailer for the game reveals all kinds of new details, like the return of Island Challenges, a new trial for Mina, and the appearance of at least 400 Pokémon in the game. The trailer also details the Alola Photo Club, which we revealed back in August with the game's director. The best (possibly) however, was saved for last with the reveal of legitimate, honest to god surfing. In the game, you will be able to surf between islands on the back of Mantine while pulling off an assortment of fancy tricks.

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For more on Pokémon Ultra Sun and Moon, head here. Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon releases November 17 on 3DS.

Categories: Games

Four Big Takeaways From Capcom's Next Big Entry

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 09/22/2017 - 12:44

The Monster Hunter series has always had a dedicated fanbase that just can't get enough of slaying monsters and upgrading their gear. Monster Hunter: World is the series' big chance to expand its reach to a larger audience, bringing it back to the big screen after the last few entries have been relegated to handhelds and Nintendo platforms. Monster Hunter: World launches on PS4 and Xbox One on January 26, coming to PC at a later date. It just might the biggest adventure we've seen from Capcom's flagship franchise. I went hands-on at Tokyo Game Show to see a new portion of the map and found a lot to love. Here are my biggest takeaways.

Newcomer Friendly 
Monster Hunter hasn't been the easiest series to get into, as there's a steep learning curve and the controls have sometimes been obtuse. Monster Hunter: World's combat feels the smoothest it's ever been, and I was able to navigate the world with ease. I chose the dual blades for my demo, but the game has a slew of weapons, including everything from lances to bow guns. The dual blades are quick and doing combos comes naturally as you tap different attack buttons. As always, you need to watch your stamina meter to make sure you can pull off the best moves to defeat the beasts that roam the land. You have to consider things like demon mode, which makes you faster and stronger, but drains your stamina faster. Using that as you're just about to polish off an enemy comes in handy. You can also craft items like bombs and poison knives to help in your adventure. If you wanted to, you could even sneak up on a sleeping monster and place bombs all around it for a satisfying kill.

Additionally, this entry eschews the familiar loading screens once you're out of the hunt. Without areas to run between, I was able to chase foes across wide expanses without ever losing track of them due to the seamless world. It's a huge step, and one I'm happy to see.

Fun With Friends
This entry, like previous entries, does have co-op, letting you take three other friends with you on hunts. Lobbies allow for bigger parties that can then split off into groups of four and play. There's something about working with friends in this vast world full of discoveries and seeing everyone on screen attacking these gigantic monsters that is engaging to boot. In my demo, I followed scout flies that became more prominent as I approached the monster I was tracking down. Once you spot the footprints or other telltale signs, you follow them, but you can also stop and pick up items and kill other enemies along the way for loot. Your whole party is on the hunt, and once someone finds the creature you're tracking, you're alerted on the map to its location, so you can help take it down and enjoy its spoils.

Creative Ways To Kill
Part of the fun of Monster Hunter is taking down baddies in unique ways. Monster Hunter: World lets you use the environment around you to great effect. When my party finally discovered a massive rock lizard called Barroth, we pulled out all stops to defeat him. You use your slinger to knock giant rocks on a monster, climb up on surfaces and jump down and mount him rodeo style, or even lure him into vulnerable positions. In my demo, my teammate led him toward a craggy rock, which he smashed his head on. This immediately knocked him to the ground, allowing us to wail on him for a few moments. At one point, we bait him into an area with another monster. Because there's a living, breathing ecosystem, monsters will battle for dominance and attack one another. Our plan works, as Barroth limps away to hide, which lets us know we're close to finally killing him. He goes hiding into the mud, flinging it at us as his last move of desperation.

Getting Rare Loot Makes The Experience
Fans of the series shouldn't be surprised by this, but finding better gear and weapons is a delight. All monsters have breakpoints, where you can cut off parts of them for additional loot. In my demo, a teammate successfully chopped off Barroth's tail, not only damaging him further but also getting us getting goodies for doing so. The gear you get for taking down monsters all resembles them, from their feathers to skin type, which is a nice cosmetic touch. It certainly is a badge of honor. 

Final Thoughts
I had a lot of fun in my hands-on time with Monster Hunter: World. This entry isn't rewriting the series' formula (it didn't need to; it's an engaging loop), but improving it and taking it to new heights. This world is the most engaged I've ever been with the series and I love that you can fully immerse yourself in it, such as watching the ecosystem play out before you to camouflaging yourself in bushes to get an edge on monsters. I can't wait to figure out some cool ways to take down beasts and craft some awesome gear in the process. The monsters are getting more intriguing, looking bigger and more detailed than ever. Hopefully, the entire adventure provides enough variety and discoveries to keep players invested. If so, I could see myself spending a lot of time on the game when it launches early next year. 

Categories: Games

RPGs And Sports Merge

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 09/21/2017 - 18:23

The indie game scene never ceases to find novel ways to approach a subject, and Sidebar Games’ Golf Story is yet another potent example of the creative approaches developers are taking to long-established genres. Coming exclusively to Switch, the unusual game melds the familiar trappings of arcade golf with the drama, characters, and upgrade systems of the role-playing world. 

“We call it a golf drama,” says Golf Story designer Andrew Newey. “It combines the fun and excitement that everybody associates with golf with a serious story that plays out over eight different courses.” Each of the environments is more than just greens and fairways, featuring distinct towns, characters, and hidden secrets. “One of the main features is the ability to drop the ball at any time and hit it,” Newey says. “The towns turn into a sort of golfing wonderland, with various practice greens and challenges crossing over each other and secrets being hidden near and far. But you will also get to play traditional games of golf on full courses and compete in tournaments.”

Your golfer is on a quest to go pro, and he needs to level up and improve both his stats and his equipment along the way. In this case his equipment is his golf clubs; different clubs offer distinct advantages and disadvantages. “Blades will make your distances more consistent but are also more punishing of inaccurate hits,” Newey says. “And then there are clubs such as the digging wedge, which can be used to dig up all manner of things from treasures to old golf clubs.”

Sidebar integrates the storytelling and challenges you undertake off the course into your success on the links. For instance, you might have to rescue some turtles in one story thread, but then they show up during a match, letting you skim the ball across their backs to cross a tough water hazard. Players can also expect a broad array of additional features that further flesh out the progression and gameplay, including puzzle solving, drone flights, geocaching, mini golf, and even mowing. “The lawn mowing is one part of fixing up an old course to get it tournament ready,” Newey says. “This is what the first chapter of the game revolves around, and includes other tasks like researching course maintenance, dealing with vermin which might be possessed, and attracting interest by convincing a celebrity golfer to compete.”

Golf Story clearly isn’t going for a realistic setting. One sequence is all about specters haunting the greens. “You strike up a deal with the ghost that sees you trying to complete his golf course,” Newey says. “It plays as a free roaming section where you have to find each tee to be able to play the hole. Meanwhile, malevolent spirits on the course try to use your golfing abilities to do their bidding.” In other situations, alligators may snatch your ball on a wayward drive, or you might need to light your golf ball on fire to melt ice blocks concealing the hole. 

We haven’t seen many indie games heading exclusively to Switch, but Sidebar seems excited by the console’s potential. “It was our first choice for the game,” Newey says. “Something about having TV and handheld mode makes every game on it seem more exciting.” Newey also cites the console’s HD rumble functionality, which the team uses to accentuate elements of the game both on and off the course. 

Golf Story looks like it taps into some of the same quirky fun that makes games like Stardew Valley so entertaining, relying on a whimsical tone and fun characters to deepen the experience. If Sidebar’s new Switch game sounds like it might be for you, there won’t be a long wait. Barring any changes to its roll-out plan, Golf Story is headed for release before the end of September. 

A variation of this article originally appeared in Game Informer issue 294, with reporting help from Andrew Reiner.

Categories: Games

FIFA 18 Review

Gamespot News Feed - Thu, 09/21/2017 - 16:38

In the Age of the Internet, where we demand everything faster and our attention spans shrink to that of a goldfish, it's interesting that both PES and FIFA are slowing down. It's a trend aimed at making soccer games more realistic, but upto and including FIFA 17, it had caused EA's series to suffer, with every title since FIFA 15 feeling less responsive than its predecessor. Finally, with FIFA 18, the franchise has managed to arrest its decline, and while the series' latest entry still feels slow, it at least feels a little more responsive, and less frustrating as a result. Combined with outstanding presentation and more ways to play than ever, FIFA 18's on-pitch improvements represent the beginnings of a recovery for the series.

FIFA 17's problem, I realized after far too many sleepless nights, was that it slowed players' turning speeds to Titanic levels but left much of the rest of the game at a higher velocity. That meant you could sprint pretty quickly, but would take an age to accelerate or change direction. This is still a problem in FIFA 18, where players' continued slow turning circles and lengthy animations can feel like there's a split-second of input lag--but their slower sprinting does mean the game's speed as a whole feels more consistent.

This results in a more thoughtful game that's less concerned with beating defenders using trickery or pace and more about--as your youth coach probably told you every week--letting the ball do the work. AI teammates now make more frequent and intelligent runs to give you greater options when you're on the ball, and players' first touches keep the ball closer to their body, finally making driven passes a viable option in the attacking third. Unfortunately, however, non-driven passes remain as limp as before: long passes and chipped through balls still slowly float towards their target before inevitably getting cut out, and ground passes are similarly weak, rarely possessing enough zip to carve a defense open.

Many attacks end in your wingers or full backs crossing the ball into the area or an attacking midfielder having a pop from the edge of the box. It's a good job, then, that these are the areas that have seen most improvement. Shots carry a little more weight than before and are responsible for the game's most satisfying moments--seeing a volley fly into the top corner is a great feeling, and it happens far more frequently in FIFA 18 than last year. Crosses, meanwhile, have been reworked, dropping the old low cross in favor of a new three height system: holding R1 / RB while crossing produces a driven, ground cross; L1 / LB creates a floaty ball similar to FIFA 17's efforts; and just the standard X / Square input whips the ball behind the defenders with pace. Crucially, unlike last year, it is now actually possible to score by crossing it into a target man or poacher, and doing so feels better than it has in any FIFA to date.

Players' continued slow turning circles and lengthy animations can feel like there's a split-second of input lag

That doesn't translate to set pieces, however, which are still useless--even if penalties are slightly less complicated than FIFA 17's approach, which felt like trying to solve a Rubik's cube with your hands tied. They're still unnecessarily obtuse, requiring you to be mindful of shot power, direction, and height, as well as your run-up, all at the same time, but at least you now have time to think about your approach, rather than the run-up being mapped to the same stick as shot direction.

Elsewhere, EA has finally got the balance of individuals' pace just right--slow players feel slow and fast players feel fast, and utilizing the latter no longer feels over- or under-powered. However, despite the numerous small-but-important enhancements, there a number of lingering flaws holding FIFA back. Different players still don't feel unique enough: other than Ronaldo and a handful more of the world's elite, every footballer in the game feels roughly the same, the vast majority of them displaying the same animations and only feeling different in their heights and speed stats. This year's gimmick, quick subs--which allow you to press R2 / RT during stoppages in play to substitute a player without having to pause the game--are a nice touch that is limited by the fact you can only apply it to three pre-planned changes organized before the match or go with the game's suggestion. That suggestion is rarely a good fit for the situation at hand, and mapping it to the same button as sprint meant I was constantly activating it by mistake.

If FIFA 18's on-the-pitch showing is inconsistent, its presentation--the area in which the series has progressed most over the past few seasons--continues to set the standard for sports games as a whole. While it may sound like a boring, granular change, the prettier and more versatile lighting really helps make each match feel unique. It's aided by more realistic and enthusiastic crowd reactions, and different kinds of atmosphere depending on where in the world you're playing. Spanish matches are scored with the distant beat of drums and constant, partisan noise, whereas English crowds are more likely to taunt the away team over their lack of support. Club-specific chants are common for the bigger sides, though Liverpool fans may tire after Anfield's 200th rendition of You'll Never Walk Alone.

In addition there's official league-specific branding and graphics, lineups being read out by stadium announcers (even in the lower leagues with less well-known players), and largely excellent commentators discussing real-life transfers and results. Together they make a game that replicates the experience of watching football and interprets the culture around the sport--the media, the fan adoration and anguish, and the obsession with following your team--more immaculately than ever.

FIFA 18 replicates the experience of watching football and interprets the culture around the sport more immaculately than ever

As FIFA continues to almost become a sports channel in itself, it also expands its repertoire of game modes every year. This year sees the narrative-driven Journey mode return for a second season, with Alex Hunter now a world-famous prodigy. The Journey sees few improvements over Season 1 beyond some greater customisation options (you can now change Hunter’s apparel and hairstyle, among other minor tweaks), and its cast produces the same mixed performances as last year. It remains a unique mode, but think of FIFA 18's Journey more similar to the second run of a middling TV show than anything else: it's the same, just more of it.

Elsewhere, Pro Clubs remains largely untouched--save for a Journey-style skill tree in which you need to acquire certain traits before others are unlocked--and Ultimate Team's winning formula has also been left mostly alone. The few new additions include Squad Battles, where you play a number of matches against other Ultimate Team clubs controlled by AI, before being ranked against other real-world players for the amount of wins you manage. They're a perfect alternative to the online FUT Champions for those who don't want to brave the wastelands of online multiplayer, or for those who don't have the time to commit to the latter's grueling schedule of qualification rounds and weekend tournaments. Meanwhile Daily Objectives, in which you're rewarded with coins or packs for, say, winning by over two goals or for scoring with a Serie A player (among other challenges) offer welcome new bonuses, particularly for Seasons players who have traditionally been subject to meagre rewards.

Finally, The Journey's influence has spread beyond Pro Clubs and into Career Mode, whose transfer negotiations have been overhauled--aesthetically at least. Instead of submitting your offer as an email, transfer talks are now conducted in real-time through interactive cutscenes. It's a largely superficial change since the only actual new feature is the ability to add release clauses and sell-on percentages to signings' contracts--the rest of the process is exactly the same, except with a human face rather than an inbox in front of you--but it's at least more exciting than seeing the same offer letter template written down for the hundredth time. Otherwise Career Mode is the same as ever, with the player conversation system feeling most stale--the emails players send to you are identical to the ones they've been sending for years now, and there's still no way to reply. It would've been nice to be able to speak with your team in a similar vein to the transfer negotiation cutscenes, though maybe that's a feature for next year.

Career Mode, Pro Clubs, and Ultimate Team's new features are undoubtedly incremental, but that's largely because what was already there was excellent. They each offer an entirely different way to play, with Career Mode offering the chance to control your favorite team, Pro Clubs being a great way to play with friends, and FUT being by far the most addictive and fun--especially for those who collected football cards as a kid.

It's off the pitch that EA excels. From the variety of game modes on offer and how everything's presented, to the constant updates in FUT's Team of the Week, Daily Objectives, and discussion of real-world happenings in commentary, FIFA 18 captures the world of football and confidently translates it into a video game. On the pitch, however, EA's soccer series is still lagging far behind PES 2018's more fluid, satisfying football. This year's improvements are welcome, but more needs to be done in the coming years if FIFA is to be a world-beater once again.

Categories: Games

A Bloody Difficult Time

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 09/21/2017 - 05:00

Outside of knowing that it’s about vampires and emulating Dark Souls, not much has been revealed about Bandai Namco’s newest action/RPG. This isn’t the first time a game has taken the Dark Souls formula – after all, Nioh did just that and had great success. Persevering through the toughest challenges and telling the tale is something most gamers thrive on. Code Vein embraces that fully, not even offering difficulty options. Every player must make it through the same path, accepting death and learning better strategies. At a recent Bandai Namco event, I went hands-on to see how it’s shaping up.

Code Vein is focused on exploration and meant to be more open-world, similar to Dark Souls, where everything is connected and you can choose where to go. In the story, a queen has corrupted revenants, making them her puppets. Part of your journey will involve taking her down, but things take an interesting turn when a red mist appears over the world. Everyone is now thirsty for blood and fighting over the limited blood beads available. Can you survive? In Code Vein, tough battles and hellish creatures are a given.

As you explore dungeons, you can bring one NPC buddy with you to help in your fight. As the story progresses, you get more NPCs you can swap between by visiting your homebase. The A.I. companion is probably the game’s most unique feature. During your trek, the NPC talks to you and aids you on the battlefield; my companion provided some supportive magic, casting a barrier spell to protect me. I also noticed my NPC being great for distracting the enemy, while I flanked from the other side. Watching your A.I. partner can also give you an idea of how to beat bosses. From what I experienced, it’s very similar to Dark Souls, where you must study enemy patterns to best them. Bosses all have different phases and their attacks change based on how much damage they’ve taken. The controls take some time to wrap your head around, as there are a lot of options. You have defensive abilities like dodging, guarding, parrying, while you have a light and strong attack alongside a launching attack. You also have a stamina gauge, so you can’t just spam any of these actions.

Because this is a game about vampires, you also have the ability to sneak up on enemies and feed on them using the drain action. This deals a large amount of damage, but also restores your ichor, the resource used to launch special attacks. Up to eight abilities, called focuses, can be equipped at once. Different enemy types require certain weaponry to take down, but you can carry up to two weapons at a time and swap between them at will. In my demo, the character had a massive, heavy sword, but Bandai Namco said he will also have access to guns. You can also respec your character on the fly to overcome different obstacles, and this is encouraged as a strategy in the game.

So far the game looks like a brutal trek; developers said in some boss battles, one hit can render you a game over screen. What I’m most interested in seeing is how deep the NPC system goes. Do you form a relationship with them? Do they have their own interesting tales? Bandai Namco kept mum on how many are in the game and further delving into the story. For now, Code Vein looks to scratch that difficulty itch that many gamers crave. If you’re a fan of this type of challenge, it’s worth keeping an eye on, but whether it can live up to the other games it apes, only time will tell.   

Code Vein launches in 2018 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. 

Categories: Games

The Sequel's Improved Combat Is Flat-Out Fun

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 09/21/2017 - 02:00

Being dropped into a Studio Ghibli-inspired world is breathtaking, providing a childlike wonder to every discovery. This was no doubt the highlight of Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. The sequel tries to recapture that magic, but also shore up on some of the first game’s weak points. At a Pre-TGS event, I went hands-on and saw a presentation for Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom, and it’s looking promising. 

Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom may not have Studio Ghibli directly involved, but Level-5 and Bandai Namco were sure to include its top talent from its predecessor for the sequel. This includes longtime Studio Ghibli fan and director Akihiro Hino, who wrote the story; character designer Yoshiyuki Momose, who worked as an animator on Spirited Away and Porco Rosso; and lastly composer Joe Hisaishi, who worked on film scores for everything from Princess Mononoke to Kiki’s Delivery Service. All three were core to the original game, complementing one another to deliver Oliver’s story. 

Ni no Kuni II once again centers on a coming-of-age story. This time around, however, the focus is on a young king named Evan. After being exiled from his kingdom, Evan must demonstrate his worth so he can reclaim the throne. Along his journey, he meets various other characters who help him on his path to becoming a truly just king. Evan’s goal is to unite various kingdoms in harmony, and to do this, he needs to assist various denizens with unique challenges. At the presentation, we saw another kingdom, called Hydropolis, where Evan must confront an evil queen who rules with an iron fist. Every kingdom has its own kingmaker, and they may be difficult foes for Evan. In the case of Hydropolis, the creature Brineskimmer swims through the ocean and uses water attacks. 

Instead of a turn-based battle system akin to the original, Ni no Kuni II uses real-time combat, giving you access to both melee and long ranged attacks. You also have special abilities on cooldowns that pack a punch. The most interesting addition to combat is the Higgledies; these little creatures replace familiars and come in groups, somewhat reminiscent of Pikmin. On the battlefield, you can issue them commands, and they can do everything from attack to provide buffs for you. In certain situations, they may even provide hints for how to take down enemies. Battles are chaotic, forcing you to pay attention to enemy patterns and strike at opportune times. In addition, you want to make the best use of your Higgledies. I loved the fast-paced action, where I had to dodge, block, and use my special attacks to thwart a boss’ assault. Bosses pull out all stops, such as throwing rocks, using charged attacks, and even trying to belly splash you.

Another fun new addition is kingdom mode. You aren’t capturing familiars this time around, but you are recruiting citizens to join your cause and expand your kingdom called Evermore. Expanding your kingdom not only shows up visually but also gives you crafting opportunities, from researching new magic to building item shops. You recruit new members by proving yourself to the citizens of other kingdoms during your journey. 

Skirmishes is another new mode, but it’s tied very closely to kingdom mode. As you recruit citizens, you can add them to your infantry for big battles.The types of citizens you recruit also determine your abilities in battle, such as whether you have archers or warriors. In this mode, Evan can control up to four units. Your soldiers attack automatically when you get near an enemy, but you can use the shoulder buttons for positioning to get the upper hand. While this may seem simple, there’s more depth to it than meets the eye. You can use your guts gauge to improve attacking with an all-out assault, or choose quick march to get out of a sticky situation. In addition, the units’ weapons have a rock-paper-scissors set of strengths and weaknesses, akin to Fire Emblem. Each unit also has its own special tactic, which is on a cooldown. In my demo, one had the ability to call in an airstrike, while my other group could heal allies in peril. Another cool feature is shock tactics, which make you invincible for a short time to deal an onslaught of attacks. 

Outside of recruiting familiars and experimenting with their abilities, I didn’t find the first Ni no Kuni’s battle system that engaging. Ni no Kuni II seems to be on the right track, with more variety, smoother controls, and better A.I. Most importantly, battles are just more fun and engaging. Building up your kingdom and then playing in more tactical battles like skirmish mode are also a nice touches. Hopefully, this helps break up any potential tedium. I’m more optimistic after my hands-on time, making me excited to see how Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom shapes when it launches on January 19 for PS4 and PC. 

Categories: Games

NHL 18 Review

Gamespot News Feed - Thu, 09/21/2017 - 01:06

After stumbling on current gen consoles starting with NHL 15, the NHL series is starting to hit its stride, with a wide variety of improvements and additions to the core game in recent iterations. In NHL 18, most of these improvements are aimed at new or casual players, but hardcore hockey heads haven't been forgotten. From its generous list of modes ranging from full-season to the exciting NHL Threes, to how the action on the ice feels smooth and deliberate, NHL 18 is a fun yet accessible sports game.

When you're out on the ice, NHL 18 feels fantastic. There's a feeling of weight to the players crashing into each other, making each check feel satisfying. Passing and controlling the puck is smooth and fast, and when you outsmart the defense and score a goal, it's a genuine fist-pumping moment. The new dekes open up fresh possibilities of outsmarting your defenders. Passing the puck around the ice, screening the goalie, and then putting a wrister into the goal always feels purposeful and satisfying. There's no button mashing here unless you want it, in which case you can set the game to NHL '94's ultra-simplified 2-button controls.

The new modes like NHL Training Camp, NHL Threes, and Expansion Draft feature in Franchise mode bring new ways to play, but returning gamers will find the core NHL experience familiar. Gameplay is largely the same as it always has been. The commentary is basic, repetitive, and the delivery and excitement don't always match the on-screen action.The soundtrack, too, is limited. There are very few songs, so they repeat on the menu screens frequently. Songs like Kaleo's Hot Blood and The North Panic's Haven't You Heard? become annoying from repetition.

Of the new mode additions, NHL Threes feels the freshest, and controls exactly the same as the rest of the game while keeping an arcade feel, slacking on penalties and rules found in the simulation modes. I enjoyed slamming other players in situations where I'd normally be penalized, particularly the opposing team's goalie for stopping play.

Despite the familiarity returning players will feel with NHL 18, the number of possibilities are impressive and each serves as a hook to get into into another mode. If you just want to smash around the ice, foregoing things like off-sides and icing, NHL Threes is perfect. You can even earn team mascots as playable characters. If you're heavy into the simulation of a season, there's a full-season mode. Hockey Ultimate Team lets you build your own fantasy team using current and past players, and is complex and feature-rich enough to practically stand on its own.

But the beauty of all this variety, besides having something for everyone, is how one mode complements another. Playing NHL Threes is a great way to get a feel for the basics of the game--skating, shooting, and hitting--without worrying too much about the rules. It makes the on-ice time in something like season play that much more dynamically, because it allows you to get a better feel for the way NHL 18 moves and plays. The MyCareer mode lets you start off with your own custom player, and play your way from amateur to professional, building exactly the type of player you want to build. It gets your foot in the door for a full season mode, controlling each team, switching between players on the fly--which hones your hockey skills, helping you dominate NHL Threes. It's cyclical. Playing any single mode makes you better at any of the other modes. It's awesome.

While Madden and NBA 2K have both taken the single-player experience and turned them into compelling story modes, NHL 18 makes no such effort. You set up your player, play in the junior leagues, and move up from there. It's generic. Building on the MyCareer mode would have made a great addition for returning players, but instead it's just more of the same we've seen in every previous sports game for years.

But NHL 18 is welcoming in every possible way to new users. One of the most difficult things about sports games is learning the vocabulary of each title. In the past, jumping back into a series, or starting for the first time, seemed overwhelming. The NHL Training Camp is great for returning users to learn some of the new moves, and invaluable for helping rookies get a feel for the game.

Visually, NHL 18 doesn't reach the same heights as other sports sims on the market right now. The crowds especially fare poorly, looking more like Sims characters than actual humans. When the camera pans the crowd, the animation looks canned and often suffers from framerate stutters. Actual gameplay is fluid, but transitional animations are non-existent. It doesn't look natural in up-close replays when a character goes from skating, to scoring, to celebrating.

New players won't feel lost, as NHL goes out of its way to make sure you get up to speed with training, tutorials, and on-screen hints.

There's still a lot to love about NHL 18, even if the core on-ice experience has only seen minor tweaks. The new modes bring variety to the gameplay, with NHL Threes standing out as a fast-paced, fun way to play hockey. No matter what the mode, gameplay is fast, responsive, and rewarding. And those fresh to the franchise won't feel lost, as NHL goes out of its way to make sure you get up to speed with training, tutorials, and on-screen hints. New players are sure to feel welcome, but for any series veterans, NHL 18 still has some room to improve.

Categories: Games

Echo Review

Gamespot News Feed - Wed, 09/20/2017 - 21:42

Somewhere, in the infinite void of space, is a planet with a race of transhumans that believes they can bring the dead back to life. A being named En has come here looking for a way to resurrect a loved one currently trapped in a red cube strapped to her back. What she will find is a seemingly endless labyrinth that puts her head to head with the most dangerous enemy: herself.

More accurately, the endless labyrinth of Ultra Ultra's Echo puts you head to head with yourself.

The labyrinth, as it turns out, is a decadent but sterile mansion, reminiscent of the alien hospice where Dave Bowman lives out the rest of his days in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The place is clean, but devoid of life. En eventually gets the lights back on, but activates something else in the process. What first manifests as ugly, malignant blobs on the floor eventually takes shape. Specifically, the shape of En. A labyrinth-wide blackout triggers every few minutes, knocking everyone out for a brief moment. When power and consciousness returns, the clones--called Echoes--reboot on their own. With each reboot, the Echoes become closer to a perfect copy of En, and even more determined to murder her.

Therein lies Echo's biggest, most captivating twist: the labyrinth itself monitors En--her every movement, her every action--recording the data, and feeding it back to the Echoes. When the power reboots, the Echoes will have learned new skills directly from your actions. Use your gun to kill the Echoes, and the next reboot, all of them are suddenly trigger-happy crack shots. Sneak up behind an Echo to take them out with stealth, the next reboot, they will skulk around silently, looking for the perfect opportunity to sneak up and choke En to death. By default, the clones are afraid of water, but if they see you get in, the next reboot, that fear is gone. Echo is an intricate game of cat and mouse where the mouse keeps sharpening the cat's claws.

Fortunately for you, Echo intelligence has limits. Every system blackout wipes the progress of the previous reboot, so it's possible, with patience, for the Echoes to unlearn skills if they weren't used during the previous period of full power. Prior to a full blackout, there's a short period where the lights go out, and the labyrinth is processing the new data, i.e. not recording. These are the moments where En can act with impunity, using all the tools at her disposal to permanently put down an Echo, and traverse the environment freely without any of her movements coming back to sabotage her later.

Even then, En has her own limits. Every action, even the ammo for her gun, is tied to an energy cell system that can be refilled using "Suns" scattered around the labyrinth. But Suns aren't so ubiquitous that one can just spray-n-pray bullets, then vault over a table to hide before a full blackout. A big part of the game's challenge is tied to resource management, plotting a course which will leave En to safety, but with the means to defend herself if necessary, while also taking into account what the Echoes can currently do (and will be able to do) once you've executed your plan. Echo is the child of a little over a half dozen ex-patriates from Io Interactive of Hitman fame, and that pedigree shows itself in the amount of foresight needed to be successful in every stage.

As a whole, the game falters, but only slightly. The core story of En trying to resurrect her loved one is handled with admirable restraint. En herself is voiced by Game of Thrones' Rose Leslie, a subtle performance that has her balancing excitement and determination with just enough doubt to make Happy Ever After for this fool's errand uncertain. That doubt is further instilled by her ship’s coldly cynical A.I., London (voiced by Nick Boulton, already having a great year coming off of playing Druth in Hellblade), whose constant questioning and dialogue with En drives the story, and fills in the backstory, albeit to questionable results. The biggest problem is En and London dropping reference after reference to the history, religion, and lore of En's homeworld, but never really stopping to catch you up. It's still mostly comprehensible, but it's surprisingly dense, and much of it is spent filling in backstory, but not really pushing things forward until the end of the game is in sight.

The biggest problem is the labyrinth itself. It's a fantastic, evocative environment unlike anything one might expect to see, but the aesthetic starts to wear thin in the later hours; the only break comes from the occasional transitional maintenance area that separates major milestones. Add in the fact that, with the exception of a late level opponent, both En and her enemies are all the same model, and there's a numbness that starts to sink in after playing the game for extended periods. One type of section, where En must collect dozens of purple orbs to open an elevator to the next area, stretch out far longer than necessary. These are often the sections compounded by the game's sporadic save points, which sometimes drop En a minute or two from the next door, but sometimes don't trigger until you've been running, jumping, shooting for twenty minutes in an area, and all it takes is one Echo's lucky shot to end her, and erase all that progress.

Figuring out how to and how not to teach the game's enemies what to do is a stupendously gratifying process.

Fortunately, though often tricky and uncompromising, Echo never feels impossible, or cruel. However, it does require constant thought and consideration. Figuring out how to and how not to teach the game's enemies what to do is a stupendously gratifying process, in that same magical way a game like Portal rewires the player's brain to think in a whole other dimension than just where to insert bullets. It could benefit from variety, but it's a stellar use of A.I. programming, regardless, one that we will likely--and ironically--see imitated but never duplicated in the future.

Categories: Games

The Three New Kingdoms Are A Blast To Explore

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 09/20/2017 - 14:01

Over the years, Nintendo has shown it isn't afraid to redefine what makes a Super Mario game. From Mario's ever-expanding power-up arsenal in the 2D games to the more extravagant 3D adventures like Galaxy and 3D World, we've seen the definition of what makes for a Super Mario game molded to fit new gameplay ideas. However, with Super Mario Odyssey, Nintendo is stretching the gameplay of the core series further than what we saw with games like Sunshine, while keeping the D.N.A. of the series intact. I recently played through three new Kingdoms of Super Mario Odyssey to see how Nintendo is revolutionizing the series in unprecedented ways.

In Super Mario Odyssey, Nintendo alters certain conventions fans have grown accustomed to. Things like the lives system are done away with, while the seemingly countless coins Mario snatches up suddenly have value beyond giving you a better score. With your coins, you buy new outfits that Mario can equip to not only change up Mario's look, but also give him access to certain areas. In a previous play session, I needed to fit a certain look in order to access the mariachi club in Sand Kingdom, so I bought a sombrero and a poncho and they let me in. These themes carried over in my latest session with Super Mario Odyssey as I checked out Cap Kingdom, the food-themed Luncheon Kingdom, and the beachy Seaside Kingdom.

After the opening cutscene where Bowser defeats Mario and takes Princess Peach away on his airship, Mario awakens in a dreary, colorless landscape populated by ghost-like hat creatures. One of these characters is named Cappy. Mario's sudden return to consciousness scares Cappy and he runs off. After a brief chase through the hilly landscape, Mario catches up to the horrified headgear. Cappy reveals that Bowser not only attacked Bonneton in the Cap Kingdom (destroying all of their ships in the process) but Mario's rival also stole away Cappy's sister. Cappy suggests the two join forces to take down Bowser and rescue the two hostages. Cappy combines with Mario's iconic cap, which was shredded in the aftermath of the earlier confrontation, to grant Mario new hat-based powers. Mario can throw his cap like a boomerang, use it as a trampoline to jump higher, and even pluck pegs out of the ground to open up new areas. The most important new mechanic Cappy's fusion with Mario's hat introduces, however, is the ability to "capture" creatures and unlock new abilities for Mario.

The first creature you capture is a frog, which allows you to jump comically high. However, the creatures you can possess only get more unique from there. Over the course of my playthrough, I captured everything from Goombas to fireballs. My favorite targets were found in Seaside Kingdom, as I grabbed control of a squid that can jet across the surface of the water and upward to reach new areas, as well as a cheep cheep, which let Mario breathe underwater and have more complete control in his swimming. The strangest thing I captured during my time with Super Mario Odyssey was a giant slab of meat in Luncheon Kingdom, which I then made flop around in some salt to bait a giant bird to take me up to its nest where I could jump out and collect a bundle of three power moons.

Power moons are the main objective of the game, similar to stars in Super Mario 64. Using these moons, Mario powers his hat-shaped ship, The Odyssey, to reach new Kingdoms. Power moons can be found throughout the entire world, often where you least expect them. Sometimes they're out in the open and yours for the taking, while other objectives are a bit more abstract in how you acquire them.

With power moons, gold coins, Kingdom-specific purple coins, and more scattered throughout each area, exploration is paramount in Super Mario Odyssey. While I completed the main objectives in each Kingdom and claimed those rewards, I also found several other power moons along the way. For example, in Luncheon Kingdom, I found multiple power moons by doing everything from smashing a nearby box to finding a secret entrance and capturing a fireball to swim through boiling stew that required me to jump from puddle to puddle in difficult "platforming" sequences.

Though Luncheon Kingdom delivered the most surprises, my favorite Kingdom I explored was Seaside. Not only did this area give me the most fun creatures to capture with the aforementioned squids and cheep cheeps, but the underwater depths seem to house untold secrets. I also enjoyed tossing Cappy at an exotic flower growing in the region, which attached a rocket to the back of Mario's cap, allowing him to temporarily sprint across the water's surface. After completing the main objective of collecting four power moons to open up the region's famous fountains and knock an octopus who has been slurping up the Kingdom's carbonated water off of his pedestal.

Unfortunately, now the octopus is angry. Fortunately, this boss battle ends up being the most fun part of my time with Odyssey. The octopus is content with staying in the water, so Mario can't take him on as-is. Instead, I capture a nearby squid, which is much more well equipped to take on the behemoth. The action intensifies the longer the battle goes on, with the spiked seashells he leaves in the water eventually giving way to spiral shells he shoots like missiles. The intense confrontation was fun to play and left me wanting more as my play session came to a close.

I was initially skeptical of the direction of the game, but each time I play Super Mario Odyssey, I'm more on board with the new, bizarre concepts at play. Capturing opens up so many new ideas for gameplay and world design, and the distinct areas I've explored to this point have kept me engaged even beyond the time I've had to play in them. I've left my previous demos with Odyssey wondering what secrets I missed and how else the game will surprise me when it finally comes out, and this time was no different.

Super Mario Odyssey hits Switch on October 27. To see a highlight reel of my time with Super Mario Odyssey, head to our video feature.

Categories: Games