Detective Pikachu Review: Elementary, My Dear Watt-son

Gamespot News Feed - 55 min 17 sec ago

Pikachu is normally very cute and a little bit sassy, but its Detective variety is unlike any Pikachu you've ever seen. Detective Pikachu plays with your expectations of what Pikachu should be, and the game has a lot of fun reveling in the weirdness of a small, adorable creature talking and acting like a human man. It's campy and self-aware, showing a different side to Pokemon and Pikachu with an infectiously rambunctious attitude. Detective Pikachu--the character and the game--is full of personality, and as a result an otherwise standard mystery-solving game is far more fun and entertaining than you might expect.

You play as Tim Goodman, who has arrived in Ryme City in search of his father, Harry, who went missing in an accident. Of course, the real star is Detective Pikachu--you meet him almost immediately, and you're the only human who can understand him. Like a grizzled detective out of a '50s noir, he sounds like a middle-aged man and gestures like a caricature of a New Yorker, and his voice acting and animation captures that character perfectly. He'll occasionally get your attention with a cute jump and a gruff "Hey!"; sometimes he'll give you hints, which are entertaining even if you didn't need them, while other times he'll just chatter away about something random or interact with a nearby Pokemon. His streetwise attitude and campy quips never get old, adding a delightful (if weird) charm to every scene.

You soon learn that Pikachu was your father's partner Pokemon and lost his memories after the accident, though he can still lend you his detective skills to solve mysteries. Those mysteries largely involve misbehaving or even violent Pokemon, most of which have been exposed to a chemical called R. The cases start out with simple mischief, but as you investigate, you'll solve bigger ones--including actual white-collar crimes--and find clues about Harry's disappearance. The game follows a basic detective story structure overall, but the pulpy tone can make it feel less derivative, and the conspiracies around R and Harry are intriguing enough to keep the pace up.

Cases consist of everything from finding missing Pokemon to whodunnits with dramatic reveals. Your job is to talk to people--Pikachu will translate for Pokemon witnesses--and gather evidence that you can then use to solve each case. You talk to people, get more information, and use that information to unlock follow-up questions until you have everything you need to start the deduction process. Pikachu guides you through most of this, framing the questions you need to answer and later prompting you to pick the evidence that best supports your theories. There's no real way to fail; as long as you talk to everyone and search the environment thoroughly, you'll get everything you need to piece things together. That on its own is disappointing if you're hoping for compelling mysteries and puzzles.

Finding all the clues is fun, however, especially with Pikachu wisecracking as you go. Getting one solution will open up a new question or pose another problem to solve, and while they all follow the same gameplay structure, each case is deeper than it seems at first. For the most part, I was never so far ahead of the game's pace that I was still gathering evidence long after I'd figured everything out--while nothing shocked me, there were times when I wasn't entirely sure how a culprit had done it until I was choosing what evidence matched Pikachu's hints. But there were also a few frustrating times when I'd figured out the solution but couldn't find the last piece of evidence to back it up. In one chapter, for example, you have to gather a half dozen or so alibis, then use witness testimony to deduce which alibi is a lie. It involves a lot of talking, and I ended up running around for 15 minutes re-interrogating everyone until I finally found the person I'd missed (despite knowing who was responsible and why the entire time).

It's hard to stay annoyed for long, though, because Detective Pikachu is brimming with personality. Pikachu himself is a total goofball, but the other Pokemon are also entertaining in their own right. Each one gets its own special subtitle (Garbodor is the "connoisseur of trash," for example), and they typically have interesting things to say, even if those things aren't useful as evidence. The world of Pokemon is cleverly incorporated into different parts of the New York-inspired city, from flying Yanma that work as news camera operators to the Trubbish that occupy the subway entrances. You don't need to know anything about Pokemon to solve Detective Pikachu's cases, but being familiar with Pokemon and appreciating all those details enriches the simple gameplay and story.

And Detective Pikachu is a simple game. There's not much variety to the way you solve cases; the story follows a standard detective formula, and as long as you're thorough, you won't have too much trouble connecting the dots. But it's full of heart, and its silly characters and intentionally campy tone are what make it fun.

Categories: Games

Diving Into The Cooperative Action Game Within The Death Drive Mark II

Game Informer News Feed - 5 hours 50 min ago

Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes features the return of Travis Touchdown in his marquee series. However, rather than the traditional No More Heroes experience, Travis and his nemesis Badman are sucked into a game console called the Death Drive Mark II. There, the two fight, race, and platform their way through various games that are odes to classic video game genres. While developer Grasshopper Manufacture has confirmed that racing, platforming, and other genres will be included in the game's roster, I went hands-on with the arcade-style action game.

I jump into a cooperative level in control of Badman. Together with a player in control of Travis, we hack and slash our way through waves of enemies as we work our way through the stage. Unlike traditional No More Heroes combat, the camera pulls way out and the screen is presented in 4:3 to pay homage to the arcade brand of action titles. I swing my bat a little too much and Badman leans over seemingly in exhaustion. I press down on the left stick and shake my controller to essentially reload.

Electric barriers impede our progress until we clear the room of enemies, but that's not the only strange thing happening visually. The entire area is glitching out, with chunks of the floor not loading, and some serious discoloration. The visuals give it a punk-rock feel while working within the narrative reasoning of the game console glitching out.

We reach a long tunnel, use a toilet to save our progress and heal, then enter a boss battle against Electro Triple Star. The boss character blasts a thick laser our way and uses electric projectiles and area-of-effect attacks to try and take us down. Electro Triple Star is powerful but doesn't stand a chance against our combined might. Using the left shoulder button, we unleash our special abilities, which operate on a cooldown. After hitting him with my spinning attack, I throw down a healing circle that replenishes our health. We continue wailing on him until he delivers a witty line of dialogue and promises this isn't over.

The combat was easy to pick up and play with minimal guidance, making it an ideal multiplayer experience. In addition, this section was just a small part of one level within the action game. The team tells me this boss encounter was just the first of three times I'll face off against him in that stage. With much more content for that game, as well as other game styles to explore, the full release could deliver a diverse experience that brings something for everyone while remaining true to the vibe of the No More Heroes franchise.

Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes hits Switch this year.

Categories: Games

A Way Out Review: A Tale Of Two Prisoners

Gamespot News Feed - 5 hours 50 min ago

A Way Out is not really the hard-hitting, serious, emotional tale of two convicts escaping prison it appears to be. At times, it successfully strikes those notes, but extreme tonal shifts, gimmicky QTEs, and a terrible finale kill almost any emotion or tension contained in the game. In the end, entertaining environments and some inventive set pieces prove to be its saving grace.

Like director Josef Fares' last game, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, A Way Out contains two protagonists who experience the game's story together. Unlike Brothers, however, you'll need a friend to play with this time round; A Way Out is only playable in co-op, either locally or online. Whichever you choose, you'll always be playing in a split-screen that dynamically shifts between the respective views of Leo--a reckless, aggressive gangster cliche--and Vincent--a more cool-headed family man.

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Sometimes the screen will be split vertically, sometimes horizontally; sometimes evenly, sometimes unevenly; and sometimes not at all. This framing device is mostly used in interesting ways, such as giving more screen space to whoever's performing a more important action, or splitting the TV in three to also dedicate real estate to an attacking NPC. However, it can be a source of irritation, such as when I was talking to a friendly character, only for my partner to trigger a cutscene and for the screen to shift entirely to his view, ending my conversation prematurely.

This is a problem faced outside of cutscenes, too. A Way Out's small explorable environments often contain multiple characters to chat with, but if you and your co-op buddy both engage in different conversations at the same time, the game has no better answer than to play all the audio in parallel, meaning you struggle to hear either of the conversations happening in front of you. The problem is alleviated slightly if you turn subtitles on, as each side of the screen contains its own set, but the overlapping sound is still distracting.

Such issues do irritate, but they are more of a footnote than a major strike against A Way Out's co-op-only nature. Without a partner in crime, some of the game's standout moments wouldn't feel nearly as impactful. In one early scene, Leo and Vincent are attempting to hack away at their respective jail cells using a screwdriver. While your partner stabs the wall behind his toilet, you must keep watch from your adjacent cell for patrolling guards, occupying them when they get too close and warning the other player to look natural when your distraction fails.

This is when A Way Out is at its best: communicating with (and relying on) your partner both in-game and in real life makes these moments of tension consistently thrilling. There are a handful of these set pieces throughout the 7-8 hour campaign that feel unique and justify the decision of forcing you to play with another person.

The tone veers wildly from a Shawshank-inspired escape tale to a silly semi-parody of '70s crime dramas

But while those moments do carry some tension, it's because you're sat next (or talking) to someone you care about and never because you're playing as someone you care for. The protagonists and their motivations are the most generic B-movie fodder--gangsters with escape and revenge on their minds, but with the hackneyed added layer of troubled families. To make matters worse, the dialogue is stilted and unnatural. Conversations often end abruptly (regardless of whether your partner triggers a cutscene), and entire scenes go by without adding anything in terms of plot or characterization. Some lines in particular are cringeworthy--during one sequence in which a couple are interrupted while having sex, a female extra instructs her male partner to shut the door by saying, "I'm gettin' cold in my lady parts."

The tone veers wildly from a Shawshank-inspired escape tale to a silly semi-parody of '70s crime dramas, complete with overextended sideburns and an assassination across the border in a villain's remote Mexican lair. In one scene, A Way Out nails the feel of punishing prison life, and in another it lets you act like children on a playground swing. Sometimes those conflicting tones even crop up in parallel. One poignant late-game moment--where my character learned some surprising and emotional news on one side of the screen--was ruined by my partner interacting with a bicycle bell on the other side that caused his character to exclaim, "Ring ring, motherf***er!"

If it's not the dialogue dampening moments of tension, it's the game's numerous QTEs. While A Way Out does use timed button-tapping well in some instances, such as when our characters must time their pushes up a vent shaft while standing back-to-back, it also wastes scenes with gimmicky implementations. The final playable section of the game--the crux of this entire plot and hours of journeying and escaping and chasing--boils down to mashing Square / X. A Way Out's third and fourth acts are by far its weakest: save for one inventive story beat, all creativity is lost and the game turns into a mediocre action romp with anemic shooting and little else to do or care about.

Luckily, the rest of the game (which is much longer than the mercifully contracted finale) contains more interesting and varied environments. Throughout your journey, you'll travel from the prison to a forest, a farm, a cinema, a trailer park, and more, and each is filled with objects to interact with, puzzles to solve, and people to talk to. These diverse areas are small but dense, and they add color to what could otherwise be a monochrome world of good and bad. The trailer park was a personal favorite, offering a chance to pause and play some baseball or chat to secondary characters. There's even a Trophy / Achievement for exposing the aforementioned couple to the man's jilted wife. That this captivating space comes during what should be a time-sensitive moment, when playing baseball or exposing adulterous men would be the last things on anyone's mind, says everything about A Way Out's story and tone, however.

A Way Out has problems. By the time the credits rolled, my partner and I didn't really feel like we'd been on much of a journey with Leo and Vincent. We'd been on a geographical tour, sure--one that was often trite, gimmicky, or cringeworthy--but we didn't feel the pair had learned anything or grown in any meaningful way. I did, however, enjoy the journey I'd been on with my friend sat next to me. We had to look out for each other while escaping prison, work together to solve puzzles, and save each other's life on multiple occasions. Our characters might not have grown closer together, but A Way Out's forced co-op is worth it for the few standout moments it provides.

Categories: Games

Run A Business And Care For Your Dragon In Harvest Moon Creator's New Title

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 03/21/2018 - 22:20

Last month, Aksys Games unveiled Little Dragons Café, an adorable game that combines restaurant management, raising a dragon, and cooking. It's a concept that interested us immediately, and today, we were able to get our first hands-on time with it on Nintendo Switch.

Aksys teamed up with Harvest Moon creator Yasuhiro Wada to bring Little Dragons Café to life. The story follows twins Ren and Rin, whose mother mysteriously falls into a deep sleep and is unable to wake up. You can play as either twin and name them whatever you wish. The sibling you choose not to play appears as your brother or sister in the café. After meeting a plump, wizard-like old man named Pappy, the twins discover that the only way to save their mother is to raise a dragon and feed it delicious food. At first, the two are overwhelmed at the idea of running a café without their mother, but once they learn the ropes, everything becomes smoother.

Running the business requires you to venture out into the wilds on your island. This island was instantly engaging to me, filled with animals that have colorful, food-like appearances, such as one beast having what looks like a chicken leg bone for a tail. Hunting these creatures gives you ingredients, but if they attack you, they may eat up ingredients you've already collected. Luckily, when your dragon grows older, it can help you take them down.

You can also fish at certain spots by the water. The fishing minigame is easy to play, requiring you to press A to cast, and then A again to reel. If you reel in when a fish is biting, which is indicated by two exclamation points, you can catch a fish and bring it back to the café. 

As you gather ingredients, you also look for recipe fragments. When you collect four of one type, you learn a new recipe to cook for patrons at the café. I enjoyed searching around for recipe fragments and even instructing my dragon to crawl into hard-to-reach spaces, like a small cave, that I couldn't enter myself.

Your customers come from all over the world, and they may offer you quests and recipes of their own if you satisfy them with a good meal. These patrons come with unique problems, and your food can help bring them peace. Cooking comes in the form of a rhythm minigame, where you press arrows at the correct time. The only recipe I made in the demo was sunny-side up fried eggs. The rhythm segment was very simple, only taking about five seconds to complete, though this was part of a tutorial segment early on in the game. Difficulty ramps up later when you acquire tougher recipes. 

What I enjoyed most about Little Dragons Café was the concept of raising my dragon, as well as exploration. How far you can venture out depends on what stage of life your dragon is at. For example, when you hit stage three, your dragon can fly and you can ride on its back to reach areas that were inaccessible beforehand (though I didn't get to fly the dragon in my demo). Wada said the open world is "pretty big," and has distinct areas, including a large volcano. Your dragon's name and color are customizable, too. The latter depends on what you feed it; providing many dishes that have a blue indicator will eventually turn your dragon blue.

Little Dragons Café has a delightful world and concept, and it was just as charming as I had hoped. While I still have many questions, I'm excited to raise a dragon and hunt for new recipes when this title releases for Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 in the summer.

Categories: Games

Milo And Lola Take A Shot At Satan

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 03/21/2018 - 18:04

Afterparty is the next adventure from Night School Studio (the team behind Oxenfree), and the game's first trailer shows the two main characters having a hell of a time escaping the afterlife.

Milo and Lola are being escorted to a bar in Hell via flying demon after Milo somehow got them killed. As the pair walk in, dialogue choice bubbles appear over Lola's head akin to Oxenfree. Unlike Oxenfree, however, Afterparty aesthetically aims for vibrant 3-D cel-shading with 2-D movements, whereas Oxenfree has backdrops reminiscent of a painting.

Afterparty also seems to have a dark but ironically humorous and lighthearted vibe. How can it not when Lola orders a drink called "Dead Orphan," Milo dances in front of demons that are tweeting about his moves, and the game's entire premise is to out-drink Satan to escape Hell?

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The trailer concludes with a 2019 release window. Though no platforms are officially named, Oxenfree released on every modern system, so we have a reason to be optimistic.

Categories: Games

The Spiritual Successor To Left 4 Dead I've Been Waiting For

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 03/21/2018 - 16:22

Left 4 Dead was an immediate hit thanks to its unique cooperative survival mechanics within the context of a zombie shooter. Unfortunately, the series has been stagnant for nearly a decade, and fans have been left craving another entry. While Valve isn't reviving the series, developer Holospark made it the driving inspiration for its upcoming game Earthfall.

Many of the ideas behind Left 4 Dead are intact with Earthfall: Players work in teams of four to get from one side of the map to the other, completing objectives and finding caches along the way. As expected, getting across the map isn't easy. Rather than dealing with a zombie outbreak, Earthfall players are in the midst of an alien invasion.

The scenario I played dropped me in the middle of a wooded area and tasked me with re-activating a dam's power to destroy a nest of alien pods before calling for evacuation – easier said than done. In addition to the grunts that litter the roadways and backwoods, I encounter aliens that pop with a poisonous cloud when you kill them, lanky creatures that quickly close distance to snatch you, and massive tanks that can absorb damage like a sponge.

When you restore power to an area, it attracts the swarm. This may seem risky but is in your best interest as you can also use the healing stations and 3D printers to make new weapons. The weaponry I found during my mission included standard fare like pistols and automatic rifles, but also alien tech like a gun that blasted glowing green explosives.

After I complete the mission and destroy the pods, things get real sticky at the dam. I make a break for it to the barn where there's far less heat. Unfortunately, in order to call for an evacuation, I need to restore power, which draws the attention of a swarm. I'm immediately surrounded on all sides of the shed I sought refuge in. At first, I easily handle the standard creatures hurtling themselves at me, but things once again get chaotic when an exploding alien takes out two of my teammates. Shortly after that, I'm downed and shooting at any passersby with my pistol to desperately try and help my sole remaining teammate. Sadly, the swarm closes in on him and tears him apart, causing our mission to fail at the last possible moment.

From what I played, the steady pacing, strong gunplay, and intense firefights make for enjoyable and compelling feats. I loved how even though I wasn't using voice chat, my teammates called out items they spotted to make for a more approachable teamplay experience.

I've been wanting a new Left 4 Dead with today's technological advancements for a while now. While there's no indication we'll get that anytime soon, Earthfall is everything I'd want from a spiritual successor to Valve's Left 4 Dead series. Earthfall is currently available on Steam Early Access. I can't wait to see the full breadth of this alien invasion when it launches on PS4, Xbox One, and PC this spring.

Categories: Games

Five Big Surprises From Our Hands-On Time With God Of War

Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 03/19/2018 - 15:00

Sony Santa Monica opened its doors to the press last week, giving attendees a chance to spend a considerable chunk of time with the upcoming God of War. For about three hours, I was glued to the TV, as I got to experience Kratos' new story from its opening moments. Over the course of that time, I played through sections that resonated with me as a God of War fan, and was also pleasantly disoriented by its new direction. Read on for five of my most surprising and rewarding takeaways from the game. 

Warning: I'll avoid diving too deeply into spoiler territory, but I will describe a few events from the first few hours that particularly spoiler-sensitive types may want to avoid. 

The story is a slow, powerful burn
The God of War series is known for many things, including huge bosses, gruesome massacres of grunt enemies, and insanity stacked atop insanity. Most of the time, those elements are introduced within seconds of pressing the start button. That's not the case with this entry. I did get to see Kratos kill something with with his new Leviathan Axe, but it was a tree. And that came only after a contemplative moment where Kratos paused to put his hand atop a mysterious glowing handprint that marked its bark.

We haven't heard many details about Kratos' wife before, and the game's opening hours isn't exactly oversharing. Still, I was able to learn a bit more about this woman, who is named Faye. She's dead by the time we join Kratos and his son, Atreus, but it doesn't appear that she was murdered or faced a violent end. She had personally marked trees in the forest for her funeral pyre, which leads me to believe that she saw her own death coming. With her passing comes an emboldened enemy, the undead Draugr. As Atreus writes in his journal, these are warriors who are too stubborn to put down their weapons, even in death. The valley that Kratos' family lived in was protected by a magical circle of trees, but when Kratos felled them – at Faye's request – an opening in the barrier was created.

All of this is revealed naturally and deliberately through dialog between Kratos and Atreus as they prepare Faye's body for the funeral rite, hunt together, and explore the surrounding forest. God of War isn't afraid of taking its time to reveal where it's going, which was definitely a change of pacing. We learn that Faye was teaching the boy how to hunt, but it's clear the focus was more on tracking animals than slaying them. Atreus also makes a passing reference to his mother not wanting Kratos and the boy to go hunting together. I'm not ready to put money on it quite yet, but people may have been jumping the gun with their assumptions that Kratos had settled down with a mortal. Faye is awfully close to the word "fae," the catchall word for elves, dwarves, and giants in Norse mythology.

There's a beautiful world to explore, and reasons to do so
Sony Santa Monica wasn't attempting to create an open-world experience with God of War, but the team has made an effort to reward players who take the time to explore. The paths that Kratos and Atreus took during my demo were ultimately linear, though there were opportunities to move off the critical path. For example, in the early moments of the game Kratos and Atreus are tracking a deer. Rather than stick to following its muddy hoofprints, I veered off to explore an alternate pathway. It led to a treasure chest, filled with crafting materials.

You can certainly blaze through the critical path, but you run the risk of making things more difficult later on. Over the course of my demo my methodical slow-poke style paid off, as I collected three hidden apples and extended Kratos' life bar by a considerable amount. Sometimes these alternate routes are obvious, and other times you have to really scour the landscape to figure out how to access hidden paths. Kratos can't jump at will in this entry; his leaps are situational moves across gaps, similar to those that you see in the 3D Zelda games. 

There's a fair amount of puzzle-solving
It's been a while since I played through the earlier God of War games, but the latest game had more puzzles that I remember. Don't worry, however. I didn't push a single crate, pull any levers, or stand on any switches. Those things could pop up later, to be certain, but they were mercifully absent from the game's opening hours. Instead, Kratos' axe gets to show its versatility.

The Leviathan Axe is a magical weapon that freezes (most) enemies, and it can return to Kratos' hand at will. (If that reminds you of Thor's hammer, Mjolnir, that's probably not a coincidence. Both were forged by Brok, a blacksmith in the Norse mythology that props up the game.) At any rate, the Leviathan Axe's frosty qualities can be put to good use in puzzles. An early puzzle is set around a pair of gates connected by a chain. Pulling the chain opens the inner gate as the outer gate closes. The secret is to fully open the inner gate and then freeze it in place by aiming the axe and chucking it at a target. From there, it's safe to run through, retrieve the axe, and pass through the outer gate.

One of the later puzzles had a deadly riff on that concept, with a spiked ceiling that could be raised by hitting large wooden paddles with the axe. Once again, I had to hit a target with the axe to lock the ceiling safely into place, but then had to take on a wave of enemies unarmed. Or, I could summon it back and do more damage while keeping an eye on the ceiling and ensuring it didn't drop too low. These might not break anyone's brain, but I saw these  a welcome change of pace from the rotating columns of yesteryear.

Oh yeah, the fighting is good
Sorry! With all this talk about story and exploration and puzzles, I forgot about that whole fighting thing. Don't worry! It's still a big part of God of War, and it's made the transition to a tighter third-person camera quite nicely. I understand purists may look at the new presentation and think, "I'm out." It's definitely different, but I was taken aback by how much it still feels like a God of War game, even though it's such a visual and mechanical departure from past games.

The axe has a nice weighty feel around it when you're using it as a melee weapon, but that's just part of what it can do. Yeah, yeah, I already talked about the puzzles. In addition to hitting targets, you can also aim it an enemies (surprise!). If it lodges into smaller enemies, it'll freeze them in place, giving Kratos an opportunity to move on to another target or finish that one off. It's an effective way to control the crowds of enemies. My favorite part is how you can chuck the axe at an enemy and recall it, and if any other enemies are in the way of its return flight, they'll take damage, too.

I wasn't able to dive too deeply into the skill tree during my time with the game, but I did get a technique called the executioner's cleave. It's a charge attack for Kratos' heavy attack that does an absurd amount of damage, with one caveat: You can't walk around with it charged, so you need to time it just right, or you'll end up hitting empty space. 

Atreus is fun to have around. Really
We've all been burned before by A.I. companions. When they're not getting stuck on geometry they're lagging behind, getting killed, or not listening. Atreus is different in that Sony Santa Monica has made a real effort to make sure Kratos' son isn't annoying. Well, he's kind of annoying sometimes, but from a deliberate narrative standpoint, and not because he refuses to jump across a gap.

If you don't want to worry about him, he runs well on autopilot. As you fight enemies, he'll pepper them with arrows, causing damage and drawing aggro from you. (Don't worry, he can't die.) You can also manually command him to target specific enemies. He has his own upgrade path, as well as gear that you can craft for him – if you choose to do so. It's really up to you.

Personally, I liked having him around. He was helpful in combat, and he never got between me and a target – which is huge. He also calls out when enemies are coming from behind, which helped on occasions when I wasn't paying close attention to the onscreen indicators. Kratos isn't nearly as into Atreus as I was, however. He's a grumpy dude who has little patience for a child's impulsive and irresponsible ways. I suspect that they'll get closer during their journey, however.


God of War is coming to PlayStation 4 on April 20. For more on the game, including a variety of video interviews with the game's creators, be sure to check out our hub below.

Categories: Games

Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom Review - An Adventure Fit For A King

Gamespot News Feed - Mon, 03/19/2018 - 14:00

Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom is ambitious. It's a character-driven RPG that doubles as a kingdom simulator and even occasionally becomes a real-time strategy game. Though these components don't always feel like parts of the same whole, Ni No Kuni 2 compels you to care and put your best foot forward. It's the whimsical setting; it's the demanding combat; it's the tangible feeling of growth that comes from being a well-rounded ruler. There's something worthwhile around every corner, and usually something pretty to admire along the way.

You can concisely summarize Ni No Kuni 2 as the wholesome story of Evan, a boy prince ousted by traitors on the day of his coronation who wishes to unite warring nations under a banner of peace. Rather than resort to revenge, he admirably believes that cooperation is a more important goal than domination and sets out to build a new, united kingdom. Evan's charge and passion for peace subsequently carries him from one dangerous doorstep to another. Armed with steadfast ideals, he repeatedly dismantles sinister adversaries because they, too, are actually good at heart; they've merely been corrupted by powerful, dark forces.

It's familiar fantasy fare and a bit safe at times, but Ni No Kuni 2 bears no shortage of interesting moments. For example, Evan's adult consul Roland is a dimension-tripping president from the modern day, cast into a strange time and place in the aftermath of a catastrophic military assault. While this intriguing origin story is rarely referenced after the fact, the kingdoms he and Evan visit offer up interesting qualities of their own. There's Goldpaw, a society that worships lady luck. Her divine power is channeled through a giant multi-armed statue that rolls a six-sided die to decide everything from criminal prosecution to raising or lowering taxes. You'll also have to navigate a kingdom where love in all forms is considered a criminal offense, and every interaction is monitored by an enormous, all-seeing eye. Ni No Kuni 2 dedicates itself to exploring these unusual societies, elevating the otherwise standard RPG tale to something far more interesting that you'd initially expect.

To do this, however, the game is forced to concede that even a king as peaceful as Evan will have to bear arms. And despite his small stature and cuddly kitten ears, Evan is a lion when backed into a corner. Considering his impassioned pleas for a world without war, the game's simple and infrequent RTS skirmishes--large scale, rock-paper-scissor battles that require basic resource management--feel notably contradictory, but standard battles are so flashy and exciting that you'll never think twice about the peace-loving king being in constant battle.

Ni No Kuni 2's traditional combat takes place entirely in real time apart from pausing to consume items, and despite the game's childish airs, fights are surprisingly demanding. Your party consists of three allies and four Higgledies--collectable miniature, goofy familiars that randomly offer buffs and attacks during battle. You only control a single person at a time, but that alone gives you three melee weapons to manage, a ranged weapon, magic skills to consider, and interlinked meters to monitor, on top of defensive concerns. You need to be aware of your surroundings at all times in order to block or dodge incoming attacks--a far cry from the first Ni No Kuni's turn-based battles. Needless to say it can take a few hours to grow comfortable managing all of these systems at once, but you're rarely put at a disadvantage. Your AI-controlled allies are good at self-preservation and dishing out damage, and your Higgledy friends regularly offer up a burst of healing magic or a powerful attack to keep things moving.

Ni No Kuni 2 also does a great job of simplifying things around combat to let you focus on the action at hand. While you can use gear to influence an individual character's strengths and weaknesses, you also earn a secondary type of experience that gets funneled into the Tactics Tweaker, a tool that lets you adjust team-wide attributes and how the game rewards your victories. You have plenty of opportunities to take on quests under-leveled, and being able to slightly dial up your effectiveness against a particular element or enemy type is a valuable means of punching above your weight. When pushing yourself against an enemy 10 to 20 levels higher than you, eking out a victory through clever preparation and a masterful performance can feel downright incredible. The game also smartly limits your inventory during battle, which means you can't rely on spamming restorative items. Only skill (or a leveled-up party) can carry you through a fight.

Given that you can find ways to overcome seemingly impossible odds, you can actually get by without intentionally grinding for experience points. To that end, the game is also designed to keep you from dulling your enthusiasm in unnecessary battles while moving about the world. Enemies appear in plain sight before an encounter with a level marker overhead, and a color denoting their threat level helps you easily discern their relative strength. Red and white labelled enemies will attack you on sight, but low-level enemies will simply ignore you unless you run into them first. Knowing you can bypass trivial fights makes the prospect of exploring the world for elusive treasure and difficult "tainted" enemies more enticing as the story carries on, and ensures that you're only focused on things worthy of your attention.

It's easy to imagine how Ni No Kuni 2 could get by on its quirky characters, engaging story, and real-time combat alone, but Evan isn't just trying to unite other nations; he's got a kingdom of his own to build. From a humble castle nestled between mountains and shore, your parcel of land will grow to contain dozens of buildings and facilities. You'll likely have smiths who craft weapons and armor, farmers that harvest meat, dairy, and produce, and institutions that develop techniques for being a more efficient ruler and a more effective fighter. If resource management and cooldown timers aren't your idea of fun, the good news is that there are only a few instances when the game forces you to reach certain architectural and population thresholds. And while not the most complex management sim out there, anyone who wants to push the limits of their kingdom can easily pour a dozen hours into forging new developments and reaping greater financial and practical rewards.

Ni No Kuni 2 is a robust game that offers ample ways to spend your time, and even if they aren't all up to the same level of quality, it's easy to appreciate how they collectively contribute to the bigger picture.

Everything in your kingdom takes money to fund and time to develop, but more than just investing in these services, you need to staff them with citizens from across the world. This means tackling a lot of sidequests, acquired either by mingling with the populace or by completing tasks for the taskmaster. By and large, sidequests are either a fetch quest or a kill-x-number-of-enemy bounty. These are common fare for RPGs, but nevertheless frustrating to see relied upon so heavily here. On the other hand, Ni No Kuni 2's humorous writing and endearing NPCs shine through, lending something worthwhile to even the most common interactions. They aren't all winners, to be certain, but the distinct accents and colloquialisms spread throughout the world play nicely into the visual variety on display.

In fact, many of the people you meet in passing are actually far more interesting than the four human characters that ultimately join Evan and Roland on the road: a sky-pirate father and his daughter, the former advisor to a queen, and an engineer from the one technologically advanced kingdom on the map. For whatever reason, very little time is spent developing their stories after they join your cause, but even if they offer little more than one-liners during most important events, they are at least invaluable allies in battle that introduce a wide range of skills.

Then there's the small creature Lofty, who while not a deep character, is the game's comic relief and an endless source of amusement. With yellow skin, a pointy head, and a red torso, he's what you might imagine Lisa Simpson looks like if someone described her but forgot to mention she's human. In almost every scene, be it serious or inconsequential, he often lingers just off-center with a dim-witted stare, mouth agape in blind amusement. And when he speaks, he cuts through scenes with wry wit, and even regularly calls out the team for repeatedly taking on errands and doing strangers favors. He is a massive benefit to the overall experience, even within battle. He primarily wanders aimlessly during a fight, but on rare occasions offers a ball of light that causes a character to enter a temporary state where magic can be used freely. Ni No Kuni 2 wouldn't feel the same without him.

Despite the fact that famed Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli isn't directly involved this time around, veteran artists from the studio have injected the sights and sounds of Ni No Kuni 2 with distinctly recognizable whimsy, of which Lofty is but one example. You see it in the characters and environments at large, and you hear it in the soundtrack composed by Joe Hisaishi, a veteran of numerous Ghibli films and the original Ni No Kuni. The feeling is often upheld by a clean and colorful cartoon aesthetic, but there are also plenty of times when Ni No Kuni 2 shifts into a different and far-less appealing style.

When exploring the world map, managing your kingdom, and diving into RTS skirmishes, the camera pulls back and everything is given a rough-hewn, super-deformed appearance. Though you can bend over backwards and call it a potentially necessary evil, that doesn't excuse the sinking feeling that there must have been a better way, one that doesn't require the game to hide its lovely, cel-shaded face. Near the end of your journey, this shift rears its head during a battle that's intended to feel epic and intimidating, but is ultimately deflated by the simple presentation and impersonal perspective; one last reminder that Ni No Kuni 2, despite its outstanding qualities, bears obvious flaws.

Ni No Kuni 2 is a robust game that offers ample ways to spend your time, and even if they aren't all up to the same level of quality, it's easy to appreciate how they collectively contribute to the bigger picture. It's chock full of excellent battles and surprising moments that make for a far more memorable experience than you initially expect and leaves you impressed by your own accomplishments. If you didn't play the first game, don't let this one pass you by too.

Categories: Games

Attack on Titan 2 Review: Colossal Action

Gamespot News Feed - Fri, 03/16/2018 - 23:31

Far from being a mere video game adaptation of the anime, Attack on Titan 2 stands strongly as a character-driven action-RPG in its own right, with rewarding combat that feels fluid and fast and a story that's equal parts charming and shocking. While it shares many similarities with the first game in the series, Attack on Titan: Wings of Freedom, the sequel feels like a better package overall with a cleaner visual style and tighter combat. Despite its story taking some time to really dig its anchors in, it gets there and then some, entrancing you all the way until the closing of the final chapter.

Based on the second season of the popular anime series, the story puts you at the center of the conflict between humanity and Titans--a race of giant, people-eating humanoids that one day appeared out of thin air, wiping out a large percentage of the population. Forced to seek a new life behind three huge walls built to keep the Titans out, humanity tried to rebuild, but the Titans managed to find a way through. Faced with extinction, it's up to you and the rest of the military to stop them.

After creating a character--who, if you choose a woman, will still be weirdly referred to as "our man" by the game's narrator--the game opens with you joining the military cadets and becoming a part of the 104th Cadet Corps. The first few hours cover the same ground as Wings of Freedom, putting you through military training and effectively re-living the events of the first game, albeit in a more condensed setting. Also, each character is voiced in Japanese, so you'll rely on subtitles to keep on top of things.

The plot closely follows the anime, so fans are already familiar with what's going on. But it's a story that will pull you in, hard, though not without its fair share of melodrama. While much of the early game feels a little dragged down by some excessive exposition, you come to appreciate those sequences later on, particularly as characters you grow to like face death in shocking ways. Not that the game is overly violent--although the Bloodborne-esque spatter from killing a Titan is pretty messy--it's more that the characters grow on you over time. Watching them struggle through the Titan invasion becomes less of a drudge and more an emotional rollercoaster.

The game is made up of numerous large combat areas and some smaller, peaceful hubs where you can go about your daily life: upgrading weapons, buying materials, and maintaining friendships that grant you different equippable skills that can upgrade your stats. While not all that interesting visually, the hub areas serve as a good bookend between each battle, as well as a chance to debrief with the other characters about the last mission and your next moves.

The larger, more-open combat zones, which vary from green valleys and large towns to snowy, abandoned villages and giant forests, are far more interesting to move through. A big part of what makes the movement so vital and exciting is your omni-directional mobility gear, or ODM for short. The ODM gear fires anchors into a distant object like a house, a tree or even a Titan, and with the help of two side-loaded gas canisters, thrusts you along the ground and up into the air. It can get a little janky; sometimes you’ll catch the underside of a roof or hit a cliff face that’ll halt your momentum. But more often than not, gliding through buildings or between giant trees feels effortlessly satisfying.

Similarly great is the combat, which manages to feel faster and better paced than it did in Wings of Freedom. Titans can only be taken down by slicing out the nape of their necks. You have to fire your anchors into any one of five spots on a Titan you can lock onto, circle around it in mid-air, and then launch at it, swinging your blades wildly. It can feel a little clumsy at first, but within an hour I was dodging attacks in the air and flinging between Titans like it was nothing. The rapid switching of targets and close calls while maneuvering between enemies during a fight never loses its allure, only getting more intense as the story builds.

The Titans themselves are the true stars here. With their ridiculous grins, ambling movements and saggy butts, they look amazingly creepy. On higher difficulty levels, the Titans become faster and more aggressive. Their limbs flail impishly as they freely counter your attacks, flick off ODM anchors like they're swatting flies, and pick fellow Scouts out of the air. Moments like this amp up the intensity tenfold, especially when you're caught between responding to an urgent request for help or going to the aid of someone who's been grabbed by a Titan. It's hard not to feel the pressure in the moment, and it's great.

Despite its slow start, Attack on Titan 2 offers exciting gameplay along with a deep and intriguing plot that, melodrama aside, tugs on the heart strings. It's well-paced and offers some impressive spaces to move through. The unique combination of the movement and combat mechanics combines with a gripping story to make Attack on Titan 2 one of the more surprising releases of the year.

Categories: Games

The Beautiful Destruction Of MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 03/16/2018 - 17:13

MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries developer Piranha Games has dropped an update to the title with new gameplay footage, including destructible buildings and new biomes.

You'll be battling it out in forests and canyons, and the weather will also factor into your chances in battle. All of that and more can be seen in the new video below.

The game is scheduled for a 2018 release on PC. Check out footage from an earlier build of the game here.

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Categories: Games

Surviving Mars Review: Building The Final Frontier

Gamespot News Feed - Thu, 03/15/2018 - 23:25

It's been said that city simulators are best thought of as a series of stocks and flows. You have essential buildings that supply resources, which are then distributed in a grand pattern etched by your design. Your success, then, depends on how artfully and effectively you've crafted your settlement. If that is the measure by which we are to judge city simulators, nowhere is that more beautifully or essentially or thematically distilled than in Surviving Mars.

Space is hard, and Mars isn't any more forgiving; your goal is to command a mission that can endure the punishing conditions of the Red Planet. You can take the reigns of an international consortium, a major private enterprise, or any number of real-world space-capable nations here on Earth. From there, you choose how to guide your Martian colony. Insofar as many simulators allow a degree of role-playing, your time on Mars is yours to do with how you will. But your progress is constantly evaluated by your sponsor country or organization, offering some very loose targets like "get colonists" and "keep them alive for a while." Beyond that, the direction is yours.

Your first forays on the planet are drone-based; RC rovers and semi-autonomous bots are your essential tools. They help you probe the surface of Mars and get your basics going. You have a bevy of options for obtaining vital resources--with each creating a slightly different relationship between your settlement and the planet. That's because everything here degrades. Ground down by the perpetual dust storms, punishing cold, and meteor strikes, nothing lasts and everything comes with a cost. Whether it's by extracting from rock, or sucking what little can be from the scant Martian atmosphere, even something as basic as how you obtain water influences countless other decisions down the line.

Choose the extractor, and then you need to design your outpost around the fact that it'll kick up far more corrosive dust into the air (among a half-dozen other considerations). The extractor's cousin, the vaporator, is a more environmentally friendly option...but at the cost of comparably low output, and requiring broad spacing between structures to be effective. The brilliance of Surviving Mars, then, is in forcing you to think systemically. Each choice is a commitment, a statement of how you think it best to run humanity's excursion to the new frontier.

Surviving Mars gets a lot of narrative mileage from this. As you progress, you're always fighting the exaggerated elements and forces of nature. Your structures are always degrading, and help of any sort is often months away--meaning that you either have strong supply lines for the necessary materials, or you're prepared to work around the long delays in resupply missions from Earth. Because your colony's development is connected to these choices, it also creates a powerful emergent narrative throughout, not unlike ones found in The Sims, for instance.

Those decisions might feel like setting up a trap down the line, but Surviving Mars' other stroke of genius is how permissive it can be. Instead of locking you into a given play style, the emphasis is on consequences and teaching you how to manage them. Your colony, at its most basic level, is governed by a set of rules. If you have X building, every so often you'll need Y resource to maintain it, and that resource comes from Z building, and so on.

The brilliance here is that all of these systems work and are responsive to how you play. Every choice matters, but none rule your destiny. Even if you can't get what you need from a Martian mine just yet, you can order it from Earth. Each of those choices, too, have consequences, though. And that means that at some point, you either fail to meet a condition and the system starts falling apart, or you keep going and surviving.

What helps here is that Surviving Mars may be delicate, but it isn't punishing. Sure, the in-game consequences of failure are...a little extreme (like watching your colonists suffocate, should you fail to keep oxygen flowing). But you'll often have plenty of time to fix them, and a series of warnings that encourage you to change course. How you do so, again, comes down to which consequences you want to take on, and how long you can keep paying those costs--at least, at the most basic level. At times, Surviving Mars may underemphasize some key parts--namely just how important supply chain management is--but it's delightful and elegant, tasking you with just enough management and planning to keep your role engaging. As you progress, drones can take on more, leaving you to handle larger-scale plans for the settlement.

That allows you to graduate to managing the lives of the colonists, your relationship with Earth, the fineries of your supply chains, and new expansions and additions to your colony (which follow their own systems and sets of rules). What makes all of this work is precisely that it is so scalably complex, gives generally great feedback on how well your choices are working, and giving you progressively larger goals to chip away at. It's a strong set of basic ideas that keep the game consistently engaging, and allows you to open up new fronts and address new challenges--like getting another adjacent settlement going--as you build the confidence to work through them.

Surviving Mars is SimCity with soul.

A more traditional, optional narrative is available as well. Each time you play, you'll eventually discover some sort of mystery, be it colonists with weird visions, disturbing black cubes, or legit aliens. These will nudge your colony in more specific directions, if you decide that it's something you want to explore. Often, these mysteries require you to do something specific, like construct a special building to start a sequence of narrative vignettes. While the core play of "maintain and survive against all odds on the Martian surface" should be a big enough hook for many players, it's nice to have an optional story that addresses the mythology of the planet throughout our real-world history and pop culture.

And that's just it. Mars is more than a planet--it's the next big goal for a healthy portion of people here on Earth. Surviving Mars nods to that with a pursuit of real-world influences and designs, plus as many plausible technologies as it can pack in. While the game definitely takes some liberties, most of the structures, ships, and technologies will be familiar to fans of spaceflight. The basic supply and passenger ships, for instance, are modeled after SpaceX's forthcoming BFR ships.

Surviving Mars, above else, is about hope. So many strategy games hold to their gameplay, eschewing any overarching themes or messages. But, as corny as it sounds, for those who believe in the majesty of spaceflight, for those who are keen to marvel at how pernicious our plucky little species can be, Surviving Mars is SimCity with soul. It shows the challenges that come along with planetary migration, but it also shows that they are solvable. With the right planning, drive, and ingenuity, we can do great things together.

Categories: Games

The Kraken Emerges In The Gameplay Launch Trailer

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 03/15/2018 - 19:21

Sea of Thieves sets sail in a few days, and the official launch gameplay trailer features a lot of what we've been shown over the last few months. There's plenty of sword fights with skeletons and ship-to-ship combat. There's treasure hunting and dancing around to tunes from the hurdy-gurdy. There's even an adorable little pig running around. Adventure awaits in this colorful world.

Suddenly, the scene darkens as the waters run black and still. A tentacle bursts forth and towers above your ship, followed by another, and then another. One of the tentacles wraps around the hull and threatens to split it in half. The Kraken has been awakened and is looking to drag you down to Davey Jones' Locker.

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We've already attacked rival ships and met the world's end during the beta, but we're excited to see what the Kraken is truly capable of in the full game. Sea of Thieves launches on Xbox One and PC on March 20.

Categories: Games

Might & Magic: Elemental Guardians Casts Its Spell On Mobile Devices This May

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 03/15/2018 - 18:34

The Might & Magic universe comes to mobile devices for the first time with Eternal Guardians. A free-to-play RPG with turn-based battles, this game from Ubisoft Barcelona takes the tone for a spin with a "Western anime" art style.

You can recruit up to 400 allies with some that evolve with stronger abilities. Strategy comes into play when using the four elements for effective attacks in the single-player campaign or online with PvP battles where you can test your team's mettle.

You can customize your own character by pledging allegiance to a particular House of Magic, determining what you unlock and special abilities you can use for playstyles you gravitate toward. Ubisoft is treating the game as a service, with events and guilds you can join to earn rare items. 

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While the game is scheduled to release for iOS and Android on May 31, you can pre-register to be notified when it launches. Doing so will grant you an exclusive creature to adopt in your party.

Categories: Games

Drive, Fly, And Boat Across America This June

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 03/15/2018 - 17:44

Ubisoft has announced that The Crew 2 is releasing on June 29 with a special Collector's Edition.

The collector's edition, dubbed the Motor Edition, nets you the game three days early for people who just can't wait. The Motor Edition comes with The Crew 2 Gold Edition (which comes with the season pass), The Motorsports Deluxe Pack with in-game outfits and vehicles, a customized The Crew 2 license plate, a steelbook case, the official roadmap, and four stickers. The Motor Edition will run you $109.99.

The Crew sequel was revealed by Ubisoft just last year with a wider focus on different kinds of vehicles, like planes and boats, and telling a story more focused on gaining popularity through driving.

The Crew 2 releases on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on June 29.

Categories: Games

Latest Trailer Shows Dangerous Planetary Exploration

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 03/15/2018 - 16:52

With games like No Man's Sky, Elite Dangerous, and Deep Rock Galactic still going strong, space-faring exploration is all the rage right now. Team 17 is throwing its hat into the ring later this year as well with Genesis Alpha One, an ambitious title that blends elements of roguelikes, base builders, and shooters. 

Developer Radiation Blue explains the thrust of the game: "As the Captain of a Genesis starship, you journey into uncharted space on the ultimate mission: find new homes for humanity’s DNA and save the species from extinction. To do this you will need to build and manage your spaceship, discover planets and harvest resources from them, clone new crew members, and create new lifeforms to populate new worlds… and of course, defend yourself from terrifying alien infestations on your ship! Nobody said saving humanity would be easy."

Today, Team 17 dropped a new trailer showing more of the game in action.

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Look for Genesis Alpha One on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC later this summer.

Categories: Games

Roland To The Rescue In Ni No Kuni II

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 03/15/2018 - 15:06

Ni No Kuni II's young king Evan needs all the help he can get in ruling Ding Dong Dell, and when a man mysteriously appears before the king, help arrives at just the right time.

Roland turns into a mentor and protector to Evan, which is a role he relishes.

For more on the game, check out our New Gameplay Today video here.

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Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom comes to the PS4 and PC on March 23.

Categories: Games

The Witcher's Geralt Of Rivia Steps Into Soul Calibur VI

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 03/15/2018 - 14:24

Bandai Namco has confirmed a previous rumor that The Witcher's Geralt of Rivia is joining Soulcalibur VI's cast of characters.

The White Wolf's complementary sword and sign skills can be seen in his intro trailer below, which also shows that Geralt is as salty as ever.

Soulcalibur VI comes out in 2018 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

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Categories: Games

Yakuza 6: The Song Of Life Review: Tokyo Drifter

Gamespot News Feed - Thu, 03/15/2018 - 07:00

The Yakuza franchise is over a decade old, and in that time, its feature set has predictably grown. Over six mainline entries, free-roam areas became more substantial, additional playable protagonists were introduced, combat mechanics were expanded to incorporate multiple fighting styles, and more and more minigames were steadily piled on. Surprisingly, the latest installment goes the other way, discarding components that certainly won't go unnoticed by series devotees. But that doesn't end up being a bad thing, because Yakuza 6: The Song of Life successfully uses its smaller footprint to create a deeper, more meaningful impression.

The final installment in Kazuma Kiryu's story focuses on him alone, with the plot seeing the large cast of series-significant characters like Majima, Saejima, Daigo, and the children of Sunflower Orphanage make only the briefest of appearances before being tidied away. Adopted daughter Haruka, sympathetic detective Date, and hobo-turned-loan broker Akiyama play important parts, but exist on the fringes. The Song of Life centers on Kiryu as he returns from another long stint in prison, separated from the Tojo Clan, and unravels the mystery of an infant who's suddenly come into his care. The setup distinctly echoes the events of the first game, a seemingly purposeful decision which lets The Song Of Life act as a fitting refrain, giving Kiryu's final sojourn a roundness that brings a nice sense of closure to his series arc.

His investigations bring him to the port town of Onomichi, Hiroshima, where he encounters a lowly blue-collar crime family led by an aging, but supposedly legendary yakuza portrayed by Takeshi "Beat" Kitano (a yakuza film icon in his own right, though his subtle mannerisms don't completely survive the transition). While the game unsurprisingly spirals into a complex and dramatic story involving underworld political alliances, age-old conspiracies, and a healthy dose of deception, what's ultimately memorable are the threads and character developments that explore what becomes a very significant, widespread theme: family. Kiryu's time meeting new people from different walks of life in a closely-knit small town has him reflecting on remarkably ordinary ideas as they exist in different facets of society--bonds of friendship in the face of adversity, loyalty in times of uncertainty, and caring for your ward as a parental figure.

These themes resonate consistently throughout the better part of Yakuza 6's narrative, and this includes the numerous, optional substories. You'll help children and parents resolve conflicts and try to understand each other's point of view. You'll see Kiryu finding true strength and loyalty in the smallest of gestures, along with the different ways friends and strangers can support one another. The writing in these stories is often corny, but that doesn't mean there isn't an endearing sincerity that regularly shines through. When the sentimental piano melody kicks in during pivotal scenes of moralistic resolution, it's hard not to be swept up by it all. The series' penchant for goofiness still exists, though it doesn't return to Yakuza 0's ludicrous levels of absurdity. Particularly memorable substories are ones which humorously explore Kiryu's unfamiliarity and disdain towards modern technology like drones, robot vacuums, and YouTubers. But even the game's most comedic series of quests, which involve Kiryu dressing up as Onomichi's adorable character mascot (who has an orange for a head and a fish for a purse) ends up becoming a touching reflection about having loyalty in town pride.

These heartwarming stories are also a key component of Yakuza 6's new minigames. There are less of these side activities than previous entries, but much of what's included is more robust than usual, and in many cases, the substories attached to them are enjoyable enough to stop the simple mechanics from wearing thin too quickly. Spear Fishing is a score-based on-rails shooter that finds Kiryu helping an injured fisherman and orphaned fishmonger track down the shark that ruined their lives. The Onomichi Baseball League involves some light team management, pinch-hitting, and player scouting, but the story of Kiryu rallying a team of no-hopers is what really makes the whole affair great. The Snack Bar minigame stands out as a real highlight in this regard. It involves attempting to become a regular in a small, Cheers-style local's bar where Kiryu tries to forge personal relationships with a group of relatively unextraordinary, blue-collar folk. Its key mechanic is participating in group conversations where one patron has a vent about their woes, and Kiryu's role is to help provide supportive dialogue and refrain from saying anything selfish or dumb. It's lovely to see Kiryu try to resolve everyday, down-to-earth dilemmas and provide genuine acceptance and friendship.

Conversely, there's the incredibly involved Clan Creator Mode, which sees Kiryu unwittingly intervening in a war between youth gangs (whose leaders include real-world New Japan Pro Wrestlers, because why not). Taking leadership of one of these groups, you'll help Kiryu scout for soldiers, organize hierarchy, and participate in simple, real-time strategy-style street battles. You'll take a bird's eye view in skirmishes, where you can dispatch autonomous grunts as well as a limited number of leader characters with special abilities. Clan Creator is Yakuza 6's most substantial minigame, boasting online network functions that let you compete against other players, tackle daily missions and participate in a ranked ladder. Unfortunately, it's also the most tedious to play. Victory strategies stem entirely from massing as many troops as possible and grinding missions to keep your leaders at a capable level. Battles don't really become challenging until the many substory missions are already done, and even then, the strategy more or less stays identical. For a mode with such ambitious scope, its mechanics and relatively uninspired plot--which mainly seems concerned with spotlighting its celebrity guests--aren't satisfying enough to make the long ride enjoyable.

Elsewhere, the Club Sega arcade once again offers playable classics like Super Hang-On and Outrun, but there's also complete, multiplayer-capable versions of puzzle action favorite Puyo Puyo, and the seminal Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown, both robust offerings in their own right. Mahjong is back, a gym offers track-and-field-style minigames for above average experience gains, karaoke and a cat cafe provide enjoyable distractions, and a simple-to-master darts minigame features a substory that lets you take on a real-world darts legend.

Yakuza 6 also maintains the series convention of including more titillating pursuits. Cabaret clubs return, with a choice of six hostesses for Kiryu to woo through conversation minigames. Also notable is the particularly risque Live Chat, a minigame which sees you pay money to watch live-action webcam shows (featuring real-world AV idols, no less), while hitting button prompts to progress to the point where you can watch the models strip their clothes off and moan suggestively. The unambiguous objectification of women in these minigames continues to make their inclusion uncomfortable in their own right. Their presence does truthfully reflect prominent parts of the real-world Japanese nightlife and adult industries, but these kinds of minigames have always perpetuated an unbelievable inconsistency of character for Kiryu. There's a conflict between the canonical depiction of him as a strong, stoic, honorable saint, and a version who is a creepy, bumbling pervert. After ten years, it's still hard to believe Kiryu is someone looking to build a harem as big as the orphanage he owns, who madly exclaims "BOOOBS" and "IT'S GROWING" when a woman takes her top off. These activities do have their moments, though--the text-based quips of Live Chat participants can sometimes be laugh-out-loud funny, and courting hostesses mean you get to see additional, phenomenally good karaoke videos. But in the grand scheme of Yakuza 6, where heartfelt themes pervade all of Kiryu's character interactions, these minigames feel like distant outliers.

The iconic red-light district of Kamurocho still plays a big part in the story, though it has a noticeably smaller area size this time around. You'll still feel at home if you've visited the area before, but there is a significantly disappointing lack of access to the Champion District and Park Boulevard areas. However, the distinct sense of a vibrant, bustling city still remains, and that's amplified by what feels like a more detailed and densely populated world. Walking around in the first-person mode is enough for you to appreciate all the surface level intricacies and changes, and there's a new element of verticality with increased rooftop access. But there are also some great advancements in the way the city invites you to engage with it.

Yakuza 6 now rewards you for interacting with the world in a way that previous games didn't. Eating at the game's many restaurants, which was previously really only worth doing if you needed a health boost, is now the most convenient way to rack up experience points to spend in the game's extensive upgrade system, though you're limited by a new stomach capacity meter. Purchasing and drinking beverages from one of the numerous vending machines around the world will give you cheap, temporary combat buffs. Every mini-game, from the batting cages to playing a round of Space Harrier will also earn you experience. The result is that slowing down and taking your time to soak in the atmosphere of the city will benefit you, and the world is no longer just a pretty path for you to run down to get to your next objective. Now, you don't necessarily have to feel guilty for letting yourself be distracted by Mahjong for hours.

Onomichi, Hiroshima is a region that is larger than previous accompanying locales have been, although the sleepy port town is a much quieter, more unassuming area than Kamurocho. Situated by the seaside, cute greenery arrangements line its single-story businesses, an above-ground train splits the area, and narrow pedestrian walkways snake up the steep hills, leading to an impressive temple with spectacular views. It's a charming, authentic-feeling recreation of the more tranquil parts of Japan, which both you and Kiryu learn to cherish. The town's relaxed atmosphere and characters exemplify the Song of Life's wholehearted themes.

Of course, in order to keep that tranquillity, sometimes you need to pound a few dirtbags into the ground, and the game's updated combat system follows its philosophy of slimming and focussing. Gone are the variable fighting disciplines introduced in Yakuza 0--the Kiryu of Yakuza 6 is equipped only with an expanded version of his signature brawling style, perhaps another refrain to the series' beginnings. It still maintains its characteristic weight and rigidity, but there are additional factors that make the act of fighting feel more fluid than it's been in the past, turning encounters as a whole into more dynamic and exciting experiences.

Enemy mobs are larger in The Song of Life, and crowd control takes a more prominent focus because of that. Set-piece fights that make up central story moments regularly see Kiryu and his companions go up against dozens upon dozens of enemies at once--a ratio that is frequently amusing. As a result, the properties of Kiryu's attacks have been altered. His throwing maneuver swings a victim around before letting them fly. Each combo string now allows him to execute two finishing blows as a default, and the second typically lunges forward with a wide attack radius. Starting a hard-hitting combo with some wise positioning means that Kiryu can feel like a human wrecking ball as he cleaves and plows through a group of assailants. You can frequently create domino effects that send enemies crashing into each other, and thanks to the game's new physics engine, into environmental objects like rows of bicycles, through glass windows, and potentially, into stores and restaurants.

That's the most significant change to combat--it now benefits from seamless transitions between world exploration and battles. Getting into a fight on the street no longer means coming to a jarring halt for a few seconds while a splash screen pops and civilians gather to restrict you to a small area. Fights now have the potential to move through the city and into areas like stairwells, rooftops, convenience stores, restaurants, and a handful of other accessible building interiors. It also means you have the opportunity to make a break for it if you're not in the mood to throw down. The dynamism and uninterrupted flow this gives to Yakuza's combat is a real wonder, and means that random battles are less likely to eventually devolve into monotony, as they could in past games. You could be strolling down the street, leisurely drinking a can of Boss coffee or taking a selfie in front of the cat cafe, and a gang of thugs can suddenly interrupt you, forcing you into a tight stairway brawl that eventually spills out onto a rooftop. Or, you might try to run and hide in a convenience store, unsuccessfully, and find yourself destroying shelves and sending snacks flying until you put an end to the chaos by slamming a thug's head into a microwave--just don't expect the clerk to serve you afterward. Combat in Yakuza 6 is exciting, and the situations you might find yourself in positively echo the kinds of scrappy, tense struggles you see so commonly in East Asian gangster films.

Another sticking point is one that's been present in all of the game's iterations--the inconsistent visual presentation. While the scenes that deliver pivotal plot events are absolutely spectacular--with uncannily lifelike character models, dramatic cinematography, and exceptional Japanese language performances--scenes that present lesser moments, like substories, are a dramatic drop in quality. As in previous games, they feature far less detailed character models and wooden, sometimes non-existent animation. Static camera angles also play a big part in aggravating their dullness. Substories make up a significant part of Yakuza games, so the low-end visuals continue to be an unfortunate blemish. Yakuza 6 is also entirely voice-acted for the first time in the series, and because the performances go a long way in enhancing the humorous and earnest moments these missions can contain, it's a shame that the presentation doesn't go to the same efforts.

Yakuza 6 reins in its scope, but doubles down on what has made the series great. It's a unique and fascinating representation of the modern Japanese experience, worth playing even if you're a newcomer. The narrative is dramatic and sincere, and the game's endearing characters--coming from all walks of life--are interesting studies. The world is dense and rewarding to exist in, the dynamic combat system stays exciting even after you've kicked the crap out of five thousand enemies, and perhaps most importantly, Yakuza 6: The Song Of Life serves as a fulfilling conclusion to the turbulent, decade-long saga of its beloved icon, Kazuma Kiryu.

Categories: Games

Bravo Team Review: Back To Basics

Gamespot News Feed - Wed, 03/14/2018 - 19:00

Well into 2018, we are past the point where VR is a new and novel experiment. Had Supermassive Games' Bravo Team released when the PSVR launched, we could at least excuse the game's milquetoast nature as a first, uncertain step; an experiment in trying to bring arcadey, cover-based shooting to a new format. Released two years into the PSVR's lifespan, however, Bravo Team already comes off as archaic, a game that's been outclassed several times over in the system's first year.

Bravo Team's banality is obvious during its opening minutes. You and your online co-op partner or A.I. brother-in-arms are charged with escorting the president of a made-up eastern European country back home to deliver a unifying speech that will hopefully bring peace to her nation. Of course it goes wrong; the president's envoy gets blown to bits, and a deposed military leader kickstarts a bloody coup d'etat that you and your partner must shoot your way through in order to get home. The mission plays out with stone-faced seriousness, with the monotony of our two masked heroes broken up only by the determined British timbre of your commanding officer. There isn't even a musical score to accentuate the action, so even the most dramatic moments happen in an uncaring void.

Bravo Team's presentation leaves a lot to be desired

The set up might be indistinguishable from Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, or any number of grim, washed-out shooters, but, really, Bravo Team's gameplay has more in common with games like Time Crisis. Most of your time is spent hiding behind cover, popping out to line up your shots and fire. You can play with the DualShock 4 or the Move controllers (and this is even one of the few times where movement feels natural with the latter). However, the PS Aim gun controller is where it's at in that regard, and what thrills do exist in the game come from the inherent thrill of the Aim lending a dose of immersion.

You also get a little bit more freedom to move than in a game like Time Crisis. You can point your gun or just tilt the PSVR headset at a certain area and you'll get a visual prompt telling you whether you can move there or not. The flaw here being that actual movement takes the game out of first person into a third-person view that rips that immersion away every single time.

The presentation, with its dull, anemic color schemes straight out of 2007 and a rampant, unfathomable problem with pop-in and blurry textures, is the most prominent flaw. The same three classes of enemies you encounter in the first stage--generic grunt, armored grunt, armored grunt with chaingun--are the same ones you see every step of the way. The last half hour or so introduces two sections with melee soldiers and snipers, but they're gone almost as soon as they enter the scene. There's only four guns--a pistol, an assault rifle, a shotgun, and a sniper rifle--and you only see two of those in the last 30 minutes as well.

Playing co-op is probably the best way to experience what little Bravo Team has to offer.

Seemingly in an effort to break up the straightforward gunplay, stealth kills are possible. But outside of the tutorial, it's impossible to maintain stealth for more than two or three enemies before, without fail, another enemy stands at an angle where he can't be stealth killed. It doesn't help that your supposedly silenced pistol gives away your position 75% of the time. The most fun in Bravo Team comes from its online co-op, where at least you have a partner to bounce dialogue off of, give directions to, or request recovery when you've fallen. It's a salve, albeit a temporary one.

Instead, Bravo Team slogs on, stranding you in huge spaces, throwing wave after wave of cannon fodder your way, making its short play time feel hours longer that it actually is. Bravo Team is a game that feels unsure and tentative about ideas that have been tried and tested for years now, even in VR.

Categories: Games

Relive The Classic Street Fighter Games With Online Play

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 03/14/2018 - 16:00

Few video game series, and few fighting games in particular, have the history and cultural cache that Street Fighter boasts. Even after occasional missteps, the series commands the attention of the entire fighting game community, carrying the banner at nearly every major fighting game tournament under the sun.

It is with this legacy in mind that Capcom is releasing Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection, a bundling together of multiple versions of older sprite-based Street Fighter games, with a few having been retrofitted with online play. The collection pays homage to the venerated fighting game series while trying to bring the virtues of the older games in front of a modern audience.

Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection includes the original 1987 Street Fighter, five incarnations of Street Fighter II up to Super Turbo, three Street Fighter Alpha games, and three iterations of Street Fighter III. Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting, Super Street Fighter II Turbo, Street Fighter Alpha 3 and Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike have online play enabled, while the rest do not.

Each game is pulled straight from its arcade version, even including the name of the hardware on the menu when selecting the game. It does mean that, if you are a fan of any specific eccentricities of a console version, you may not see them repeated in the Collection.

All the games featured the same filters if you choose to use them, labeled TV and Arcade. Both emulate scanlines, while the arcade is a bit dimmer to represent being recessed into an arcade cabinet. Players can choose to play with borders which often differ by game, stretch the image, or fill the screen. The option to just turn off all the filters, borders, and stretching exists, too.

The Switch version also has an exclusive mode using Super Street Fighter II's tournament mode, letting players with multiple Switch units put them into table top mode and play musical chairs by physically moving to the right unit for the next fight. While this does let the tournament move fairly quickly by making the fights proceed concurrently, it can also be kind of a confusing mess figuring out which system and controller you need to be at for your next match.

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Fans of Street Fighter history will appreciate the museum mode, which features unreleased art, a timeline of all the releases in the series, and character profiles. You can even dive deep into individual characters and see their animations or comparisons of all their sprites across games.

Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection is releasing on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC in May.

Categories: Games