Games

Frostpunk: The Last Autumn Review - Winter Is Coming

Gamespot News Feed - Fri, 01/24/2020 - 18:53

In Frostpunk's main campaign, you already know the stakes. A winter of biblical proportions has descended upon Industrial Revolution England, driving its citizens into the frozen unknowns to seek out life-giving generators. In The Last Autumn, you are in charge of making one of those very generators a reality--one that will hopefully save lives in the future. Winter lies in wait on the periphery, so you have to worry about new means of resource gathering, timed objectives, and social challenges rather than staving off the flu. It dresses the familiar gameplay elements of Frostpunk up differently, demanding a new type of strategic thinking that reinvigorates the already satisfying formula at its core.

With the cold weather encroaching on Liverpool, you lead a handful of workers and engineers on an expedition to a cove on the edge of the country. Near-freezing sprays from the nearby ocean splash against treacherous rocky beaches, with only a small space to build upon peering through the thicket of trees outlining the coast. This limited space is immediately stressful--a massive generator needs to be built, resources around you already seem scarce, and the space you must work with doesn't allow for many placement mistakes. The odds are stacked against you from the start of Last Autumn's campaign, but some new tools provide reprieve in distinct ways.

Instead of gathering resources from deposits around you, you can build new harbors on limited coastline spaces to collect what you need. You have to choose which spaces are dedicated to fishing for food and which others can be set up as large ports, allowing ships with stockpiles of wood, coal, or steel to dock and unload. Shipping resources in is only one part of the supply chain, too. With new depots staffed with workers, you can quickly supply your main city with resources nearly as fast as they're unloaded, which vastly improves upon having workers manually carry them from the docks. Each of these structures requires some of your more limited resources, though, making each micro-decision carry more weight than before. When each ingot of steel feels as precious as the last, you'll rarely find yourself overwhelmed as was the case in some previous scenarios, escalating the overall tension as a result.

Other new structures are intrinsically tied to your new objective of building a central generator, each of which are used to build specific pieces of the giant contraption. You have a total of only 45 game days to achieve this goal, without any preparation time to make provisions for a stable resource supply line and citizen housing. It makes each of the four impending milestones immediately stressful, but it's all initially more confusing than it needs to be. The Last Autumn features the same useful tutorials from the main campaign to make picking up its new mechanics easy, but it doesn't do a good enough job surfacing the menus you can utilise to measure your progress towards the next milestone. It ultimately ruined my first run--I missed my first milestone without realizing that it even existed, making it impossible for me to hit subsequent ones on time before being fired. For all the good The Last Autumn does surfacing nearly every other facet of its new mechanics, it's frustrating that it takes some lost progress to truly understand its overall tempo.

Once you come to grips with the time limits imposed on you, you can focus more on The Last Autumn's new Motivation meter, which joins the returning Discontent meter from previous scenarios. Each is fairly self-explanatory--the first one measures how much motivation your workers have to get the job done, while the other indicates how unhappy they are with their current living situation. Unlike previous campaigns, though, letting either one get too high or too low doesn't end your game. Instead, Motivation determines just how efficient your workers are at the jobs they're assigned to, while Discontent alters how likely they are to put down tools entirely and walk out on strikes. Keeping Motivation high and Discontent almost non-existent at first is easy, but as the impending winter approaches and the realities of your encroaching deadlines loom, unavoidable, scenario-specific modifiers to both make their upkeep a true challenge.

Strikes are a new social aspect you'll need to contend with, going hand-in-hand with new metrics measuring the safety of workplaces in place of worrying about their overall temperature (given that winter hasn't yet arrived). Workplaces that are consistently dangerous and staffed with workers working either long or double shifts will quickly drive their occupants to down their tools and picket outside, forcing you to negotiate before returning to work. Worker requests will require you to pass new laws affecting either their work hours or living conditions, often demanding more resources from you or a tolerance for their slower pace of work in order to get them back into their factories and mills. The knock-on effects of these decisions can sometimes feel absent at first but come back around days later to haunt you, making each strike negotiation important to carefully consider. Even simply delaying your decision with handouts of rations often results in more strenuous demands from your workers, turning strikes into worthy headaches that compound the satisfyingly stressful symphony of systems present already.

With new mechanics to contend with and different ways to approach Frostpunk's strategic formula, the new laws that it introduces make tackling both as morally challenging as ever. Your base set of laws returns from previous scenarios, but the branches that come with siding with either labor or your engineers expand on them extensively. In one of my successful runs I passed laws in the engineering path that allowed me to ship in prisoners for cheaper labor, while constructing oppressive security towers and multiple penitentiaries to keep everyone in line. The authoritarian approach didn't sit well with most citizens, but it made sense to grow my workforce rapidly without needing to worry too much about the needs of my new laborers. Eventually I unlocked an ability to turn regular citizens into criminals without trial, giving me the chance to boost efficiency in workplaces solely staffed by criminals as a result of their supposed disposability.

None of these decisions are easy to make. Frostpunk has always made each of your decisions feel like choosing between two evils, and The Last Autumn maintains that. When shipping in criminals I was constantly reminded of how terrible some of their crimes were and how they might introduce problems to my other citizens if not policed correctly. But even introducing a growing security force presented issues. Empowered citizens imposed their authority incorrectly at times, which in one case drove one of my citizens to death after consistent harassment that I ignored so that my criminals could be kept in check. Seeing small stories like this emerge from decisions I made hours before was equal parts gut-wrenching and fascinating, encouraging me to explore new laws and regulations to see what effects they might have.

Because bad Motivation or Discontent don't end a run and only the stress of missing deadlines to contend with, The Last Autumn allows for more flexibility in your strategy. It lets you stretch the boundaries of what its new laws offer, offering you the chance to drive forward with increasingly morally dubious decisions if all you're focused on is getting the job done. It doesn't come without consequence, though, especially when the cold arrives near the end of the run and introduces further restrictions on resource gathering as well as the familiar temperature monitoring in workplaces and citizen residences. By the end of my own run I was furiously converting citizens into criminals to increase my workforce without new shipments of workers coming in, exponentially increasing the size of my required security force too. The last few days felt like a battle of attrition--I wasn't allowed to let up on longer shifts but also incapable of dealing with the living needs of my population without diverting resources from the work on the generator. Within just a few days nearly half my society had succumbed to illness and died, eventually allowing me to reach my goal but with hardly any of the people responsible for it alive to see the fruits of their labor.

Outside of small stories that your decisions generate and influence, The Last Autumn does attempt to conclusively confront your choices by its conclusion. With the generator built and your citizens sent to the next site that needs work, you're presented predictions for how effective your generator might be and just how many citizens it could save in the future. Based on how many milestones you missed, how many concessions you had to make to get there, and the number of people you lost along the way, the hard-fought victory might be met with depressingly low odds of success in the long run. It stings to have that presented to you after making sacrifices for what you assumed would be a greater good, forcing you to reevaluate your overall strategy and try again for a better outcome.

The Last Autumn demands a lot from you, but it's also a deeply engrossing evolution of the formula that Frostpunk is made up of, changing the core rules just enough to make all your previous strategies feel insufficient. Whether it's deciding on which resources to order and how to distribute them or which parts of your workforce to push just hard enough before they reach their breaking point, The Last Autumn maintains the morally challenging and consequence-riddled decision-making of the core game while giving you new laws to experiment with and master. It's a welcome return to an already fantastic strategy game that shouldn’t be glossed over.

Categories: Games

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot Review - Sparking Joy

Gamespot News Feed - Thu, 01/23/2020 - 18:30

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot begins right where the anime does: introducing us to Goku and his son Gohan just before the Saiyans are set to invade earth, revealing Goku's true Saiyan heritage and setting off a chain of events that threatens the entire universe. It's a story we've seen played out in many Dragon Ball Z games over the years, but unlike recent examples, Kakarot tells its tale by way of a narrative-driven RPG rather than a strictly combat-focused game. It gives life to the world and story of DBZ in a refreshing way, offering us a glimpse into what life is like for Goku and his many companions outside of battles to decide the fate of the universe.

All of Dragon Ball Z's major story arcs are contained here: the Saiyan invasion, the showdown with Frieza on planet Namek, the Androids, the fight against Cell, and Majin Buu's story. But among all of these massive, earth-shattering sagas and intense fights are numerous smaller stories and character interactions that many games have simply glossed over.

The game's structure is split into parts: free-roaming/exploration sequences with a semi-open world, battle scenes against foes big and small, and cutscenes where you watch some of the most dramatic story moments of DBZ play out in gorgeous in-engine renditions. There's a good balance between all of these; it rarely feels like you're spending too long watching a cutscene or that you're thrust into constant battle without being able to take a moment to catch your breath. Sometimes the exploration sequences can seem overlong, but a lot of that depends on how much time you want to spend doing side quests and hunting collectibles like power-up orbs, food supplies, and materials for side pursuits like cooking and crafting. It's not essential to spend a lot of time on side pursuits, but it does provide benefits--and while you're flying around the big, vibrant environments, it's easy to be swept up in exploring the DBZ world itself, which is filled with giant fish, rampaging dinosaurs, and futuristic cities.

One striking thing about DBZ: Kakarot is how it showcases the large cast of the anime. You begin the game as Goku, but as the story progresses, you assume control over several other characters, like Gohan, Piccolo, Vegeta, and Trunks, to name a few. Familiar faces like Krillin, Tien Shinhan, Yamcha, and Android 18 also appear to aid you in combat as assistants. Many of the other supporting DBZ cast members make cameos in side quests and story scenes as well. Building friendships with characters through questing and giving gifts rewards you with a character emblem, and by placing it on a “community board” that represents a group of Goku's companions, you can earn assorted boosts to combat, item-gathering, cooking, and other adventurous pursuits.

But these rewards are only part of what makes DBZ: Kakarot's adventuring feel satisfying. Dragon Ball Z is a series where character relationships and interactions are important, and that really comes through in the non-combat story bits. You see Piccolo warm up to young Gohan, Chi Chi's tough mother role, the fighters bonding outside of battle, teenage Gohan doing his goofy Great Saiyaman shtick, and much more. Even relatively minor characters like Yajirobe, Launch, and Puar have side quests that showcase funny interactions, silly scenarios, and genuinely sad and touching moments. Seeing so many DBZ characters given their moment to shine is great, and it helps you forget that a lot of the side quests are fairly typical RPG kill-these-enemies or collect-this-item affairs. As someone who thinks some of the “filler” and comedy episodes of DBZ are among the series' best, I really appreciated an increased focus on these stories in DBZ: Kakarot.

Of course, it wouldn't be Dragon Ball Z without combat. While the 3D, action-driven combat takes some getting used to at first, once you've got a decent handle on the controls, you'll be flying around, shooting off ki blasts and Kamehamehas like a pro. You control a single character who has two basic attacks--up-close melee strikes and ranged ki blasts. If you have companions in the fight, the CPU will control them, and you can command them to make use of special attacks. Besides your basic strikes, you have several powerful special skills, a boost to get up close to the opponent, several defensive techniques to guard, dodge, and catch an attacking opponent off-guard, and even (eventually) the ability to transform into stronger forms. Many of these abilities cost ki, which can be charged mid-battle but leaves you vulnerable when doing so, making ki management very important. A tension gauge fills over time, and when it's full, you can send your warrior into a superpowered state where you can chain special attacks into each other, causing some serious devastation.

It's an intriguing combat system, and the 3D aerial movement element is unique, but there's a lack of depth--most normal enemies and even a few bosses can be patterned to make fighting them much easier. On top of that, enemy variety outside of main story battles tends to be lacking, particularly the annoying cannon-fodder foes that will interrupt you during times when you just want to explore. But fighting still has some standout moments during big boss fights when enemies whip out massive, incredibly damaging energy attacks that force a rapid change in strategy. Overcoming some of the nastiest things Dragon Ball Z's iconic villains toss at you with skillful dodging and well-timed attacks is immensely satisfying, and it somewhat makes up for all of the combat time wasted punching the same robots over and over again.

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot's modern, semi-open approach to telling the saga of DBZ--despite some minor issues--is a good one. Zooming around the environments and seeing the world up close is a blast, and it's great being able to interact with so many fun DBZ characters and see stories that usually get passed over for game adaptations. And even though combat can be a bit lacking, when the big battles happen, they feel suitably epic and engaging. If you're looking for an enjoyable way to see the life and times of adult Goku through a new perspective, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot will grant your wish.

Categories: Games

MLB The Show 20 Gameplay Trailer Slides In

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 01/22/2020 - 16:05

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Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment Developer: SIE San Diego Studio Release: March 17, 2020 Platform: PlayStation 4

MLB the Show 20's first gameplay trailer has just dropped, giving teases of some of what's to come when the game releases for PS4 on March 17.

Apart from some new legends like John Franco, David Ortiz, and Mariano Rivera, the trailer also shows off some personality with team celebrations and Juan Soto's "Soto Shuffle."

In terms of gameplay, the trailer appears to reveal real-time hitting and fielding icons related to specific attributes such as Power Left and Fielding, as well as a red ring around balls dropping into the outfield as players try to dive for and catch them. The developer's upcoming livestream schedule has a day devoted just to covering defensive fundamentals, so we imagine this is related to that.

You'll also see these attributes in the rewards for the dynamic challenges of player career mode Road to the Show, which now looks to also contain perk rewards.

Other game elements coming in the livestreams, some of which are teased in the video, include (text from Sony):

  • Dynamic On-Field Relationships
  • Changing Team Name, Location & Logos for Franchise Mode
  • Overhauled Rewards Structure for March to October Mode
  • New Showdown Game Mode for Diamond Dynasty
  • Simple and Flexible Leagues With Your Friends

The series is including other non-PlayStation platforms possibly starting "as early as 2021," and this is just a sample of why the franchise has been so lauded thus far. 

Categories: Games

Five Things To Know About Doom Eternal

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 01/21/2020 - 15:00

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks Release: March 20, 2020 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Stadia), 2020 (Switch) Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, Stadia, PC

In 2016, id Software revived the Doom franchise in spectacular fashion. The action was fast and frantic in all the right ways. The tone was a humorous mix of hardcore heavy metal and Saturday morning cartoons, which felt right. In short, it was the perfect revival for the series. After playing the opening three hours of Doom Eternal, I walked away with the sense that it could be a perfect sequel. Here are five reasons Doom fans should be excited to return to hell on March 20.

1) The core loop is still addicting

Doom (2016) put a creative spin on some of the best concepts from ‘90s shooters. Players were encouraged to get close and personal as they mixed it up in firefights. If you ran low on health, you could perform a close-quarters glory kill to gain a health boost, and if you were running low of ammo, you could rip through an enemy with the chainsaw for an ammo refill. Does any of this make logical sense? No, but after narrowly dodging a room full of fireballs and taking down a small army of demons, it’s hard not to throw up the devil horns in triumph. Eternal adds one smart addition to this combat loop: The Doom Slayer is now equipped with a shoulder-mounted flamethrower, which sets enemies ablaze and earns you some extra armor. Making clever use of both the flamethrower and the glory kills is the only way to survive some of Doom Eternal’s more challenging encounters. But once you master Eternal’s core combat, you feel like an unstoppable force of nature.

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                                                                                                             2) Movement is your best friend

Doom is all about speed. While some shooters force you to find cover and take your time, Doom encourages you to dance across the battlefield. If you spend too much time in one spot, you'll be doomed to an early grave. Eternal gives fans more traversal options to work with than ever before. For starters, you can now swing across monkey bars and climb up designated walls to reach new areas. The redesigned Super Shotgun also has a grappling hook that can be used to launch yourself toward enemies. However, one of the best new tools for navigating a firefight is the new dash mechanic. Not only can you dash twice in a row, you can dash both on the ground and in the air. Making good use of this maneuver makes you a hard target, and it can mean the difference between life and death.

3) You’ll want to use more than just the shotgun

Shotguns are easy to love – just point and shoot and watch your enemies tremble in fear – if they’re not exploding from the blast. The Doom series is full of great shotguns, and Doom Eternal is no exception. However, many of the other weapons in Eternal could give the classic shotgun a run for its money. In fact, many weapons have special use cases that make them the best tool for the job. For example, if you toss a grenade into the mouth of a cacodemon, it instantly enters a stagger state allowing for an instantaneous glory kill takedown. Likewise, the heavy cannon’s sniping mode can be used to instantly remove the rocket launchers off the back of Revenants, which practically neuters them in combat. Basic grenades can be toggled into ice bombs, which freezes enemies in place. I’m also a big fan of the redesigned plasma rifle and its microwave beam upgrade, which allows you to lock onto an enemy and pump them full of superheated energy until they explode like my tummy after Taco Bell.

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4) You can upgrade everything

A lot of games embrace RPG mechanics, so you can constantly level up your gear. Doom Eternal takes upgrading systems to the extreme. For example, weapons mods still allow you to do some great things with your guns, such as turn the combat shotgun into a full-auto Gatling shotgun. Weapon upgrade perk points boost individual weapon’s damage outputs. Meanwhile, sentinel crystals are scattered across each level; these can be used to permanently upgrade things like your health, armor, and ammo storage. Runes are a separate pickup, which can be used to augment your abilities, granting you the ability to slow time in midair or perform faster glory kills. I used a rune to give myself an ability that automatically slowed time whenever I was about to die, which saved my skin more than once. Finally, praetor suit points further enhance your abilities, revealing special items on the minimap, letting you mantle or switch weapons much faster, and making you immune to explosive barrels. There are so many ways to upgrade your abilities that I was a little overwhelmed at first, but I constantly felt like my skills were improving.

5) The story is bonkers in a good way

The story in Doom games was always a bit of a joke, but Doom (2016) embraced the joke, resulting in a humorous narrative that felt both entertaining and epic. After stopping the forces of hell from invading our system in 2016, it seemed like the galaxy could settle down for some relative peace. Naptime is over; hell is back, and the Doom Slayer is ready to make good use of his shotgun. In Eternal, players will gain a larger view of the Doom universe than ever before. They’ll travel through a battered version of Earth and push back the demonic hordes that seem intent on sacrificing our planet to a mysterious new force. There are even hints that the Doom Slayer might explore heaven for the first time in the series, which would explain these angelic-like figures we’ve seen in some of Eternal’s trailers. I’m a little surprised to say this, but I’m excited to see where this story goes.

For more on Doom Eternal, watch the new multiplayer mode in action or read our impressions from last year’s E3.

Categories: Games

Unity Of Command 2 Review - Lifetime Supply

Gamespot News Feed - Fri, 01/17/2020 - 15:00

At first glance, Unity of Command 2 may look intimidating, the familiarity of the pint-sized tanks and military men that populate its World War II battlefields obscured by an impenetrable fog of unintuitive jargon and confounding icons. But once the confusion clears it reveals a surprisingly straightforward wargame whose keen focus on establishing and severing lines of supply delivers remarkable strategic depth.

This isn't really a strategy game about marching your troops forward to attack the enemy. Unity of Command 2's twist on the genre makes it a game about manoeuvring your units to occupy spaces that maintain clear supply lines to your forces and deny supply to the enemy. In fact, the winning move often involves holding your position. Sometimes you don't even need to engage the enemy at all; you just have to starve them out.

Placing you in charge of the Allied forces in 1943, the campaign opens in North Africa before pushing up through Italy and into the heart of Western Europe. Missions arrive in groups known as conferences, one of the first off-putting terms you'll encounter. At the start of a conference, you can spend prestige points on upgrading your field headquarters, extending their range and efficiency during combat, and on purchasing theatre cards that you can play in battle to grant additional abilities. Beat all the missions in a conference and you unlock the next, along with another chance to upgrade and purchase.

Luck and short-term planning combine here in an interesting way. The cards available to purchase are shuffled randomly, meaning you can't always rely on picking up a favourite and may need to accommodate a curveball or two. And the choices you make are locked in for the duration of the conference, so you've got to manage with what you've got in terms of HQ upgrades and make those cards last over several missions. Knowing you have only three opportunities to use a naval bombardment over the course of a single mission does a lot to focus the mind. Such constraints force you to make bold choices about which targets you absolutely must hit and when precisely is the right time to do so. Get these plays right and you feel like the greatest general the world’s ever seen. Extra cards can be collected during missions as you complete certain objectives, but they arrive more as a relief package--an unexpected boon to your cause rather than a way to undermine the decisions you finalised at the last conference.

At the outset of each mission you're able to survey the map and plan your approach. Usually there are a couple of primary objectives that must be fulfilled to complete the scenario, accompanied by a few secondary objectives that, if achieved, offer a bonus reward or even a slight tactical advantage in the next mission. These objectives are designed in such a way to guide you across the map, and the attentive player will glean useful advantages from them. For example, if the objectives ask you to take a certain town by turn 5 and a second town by turn 8, then it's likely that taking the first town will be beneficial to your efforts to take the second. And if you're tasked with taking and holding a location then doing so will undoubtedly accord an ongoing advantage. Clear, concise objectives provide a structure to each mission that makes it easy to digest what's expected of you, and when you should be aiming to have it accomplished.

Rounding out the preparatory phase, the units at your disposal are pre-assigned as per the scenario, so you're never burdened with choosing whether or not to deploy the US 13th Airborne or the 7th British Armoured Division--they're already there, conveniently positioned on a hex, ready to go. Although units come in only two types--tank and infantry divisions--there's a host of critical attributes that can distinguish one tank division from the next, assuming you can get your head around the collection of arcane icons used to describe them.

Units are composed of "steps," an offputting, unfamiliar term that basically measures the health of the unit. All else being equal, a five-step unit will beat a three-step unit. Yet in these variable battlefields, things are rarely equal. Tiny stars and crosses next to a unit indicate whether it's an elite, veteran or regular unit, but these icons are all-too-easily missed, and even after dozens of hours of play I still found myself occasionally not noticing I was sending a regular infantry to their doom against an elite. Other, multi-coloured symbols represent various specialists serving in the division, but there's no tooltip or in-game explanation as to how a specialist can benefit a unit. I had to rely on an external guide, alt-tabbing out to remind myself that the dark blue icon with the chevron indicated a self-propelled anti-tank specialist while the chevron and dot meant it was a towed anti-tank specialist. There's a lot to remember and keep track of, and unfortunately, the tutorials and in-game tooltips aren't up to the job.

However, once you've taken stock there's the opportunity to make some last-minute adjustments, adding more regular or specialist units to this squad or that, to better suit the strategic gambit you wish to employ. Deploying an engineer specialist to the siege at your primary objective will help whittle away the enemy's fortification bonuses, but maybe you're better off assigning them to the infantry in the east to help ford all those rivers and secure a secondary objective? All these resources are limited, though, and the trade-offs you're forced into always carry weight.

The importance of every decision you make is heightened by the tight turn limit applied to each mission. Of course, you're free to take all the time in the world on each turn. But Unity of Command 2 is a wargame with a fast turnover, and that's precisely what makes it so accessible. Brief skirmishes are the order of the day rather than long, drawn-out stalemates. Often you'll be asked to tick off secondary goals within three or four turns while 10 or 12 turns is a generous amount of time to secure the primary objectives. Experimentation is encouraged by the short time scale. Roll the dice on one strategy, fail quickly, and then before you know it you're back at the battle planning stage, pondering a more effective approach based on the lessons taught by your unsuccessful sortie.

Battles are won through a combination of clear, decisive strikes and a conservative support structure that can swiftly respond to any breach in your line. The way you have to manage logistics through the supply line system turns what could have been a puzzle game about finding the correct solution into a meaty strategy game brimming with flexibility. Victory is all about identifying where you really need to break through the enemy line to secure that vital railroad junction that will cut off supply to every enemy unit in a particular region of the map. Or it's about realising that you can drop those paratroopers behind enemy lines to blow up a bridge that will deny the Germans' ability to keep supplying the frontline. Seeing your plan executed successfully is incredibly satisfying, but at the same time, it's still entertaining to see a plan fall apart as enemy tanks overrun a key chokepoint, suddenly finding yourself scrambling to hold the line and divert supply to your now-stranded troops.

Unity of Command 2 is an overall excellent wargame. The early going can be tough as it takes time to acclimatise to some idiosyncratic terms and learn to interpret the raft of poorly-explained icons. Persistence--not to mention some handy community-written guides--does pay off, though. Stick with it, and you'll be rewarded with one of the finest strategy games in recent times.

Categories: Games

Getting The Last Laugh

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 01/16/2020 - 15:24

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Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Developer: NetherRealm Studios Release: April 23, 2019 Rating: Mature Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, Stadia, PC

The Joker is the next new fighter in Mortal Kombat 11's Kombat Pack DLC (early access on January 28 and full release on February 4), and per usual he's got a number of deadly tricks up his sleeve.

New gameplay footage shows The Joker eviscerating DC-Elseworlds-skinned opponents with deadly surprises such as swinging bodies, gun puppets, and spring-loaded boxing gloves to the groin.

The trailer also shows off The Joker's offer of Friendship-turned-Fatality, in a nod to the past.

Categories: Games

Five Highlights From Our Hands-On Time With Magic: Legends

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 01/15/2020 - 17:56

Publisher: Perfect World Developer: Cryptic Studios Release: 2020 Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Cryptic Studios is making a free-to-play action/RPG in the vein of Diablo based on Wizards of the Coast’s massive hit card game Magic: The Gathering. For our recent cover story, we were fortunate enough to get the first details and extensive hands-on time with Magic: Legends. From the strategy behind building decks to engaging in non-stop action via spells and summons, we saw a lot of promise. Here are the biggest highlights of our experience.

Cool And Satisfying Spells

This is a game about magic, after all. What would it be if you didn’t have interesting spells? Magic: The Gathering has a glut of impressive spells, but bringing them to life in an action/RPG is a whole different ball game. A card has some gorgeous art and straightforward text to convey function, but that needs to be reimagined for a flashier, action-packed adventure, so a lot of care went into bringing Magic to this new format. You should feel powerful when doling out your spells (and they should look cool, too). Thankfully, Magic: Legends fulfills that fantasy. Cast Fire Vortex and watch enemies get sucked into a merry-go-round of fire. Need to push them back? Use the spell Tidal Wave to envelop enemies in a flood of water, washing them away from your character and leaving a pool of water in its wake that applies a snare to foes for over five seconds. Want to be crafty and confuse foes? Summon an illusory ally to take some of the heat off yourself, or select Telecast to teleport to a new location – disorienting the baddies you leave behind, while also dealing big damage to the ones surrounding your new location. 

While each class has three permanent abilities, the spells you cast are up to you, depending on which you pick for your 12-card deck. At any time you have a random hand of four spells to cast. These come in three different types: sorcery (instantaneous or short duration effects), creature (summoned pets), and enchantment (long duration, sets a “rule” to build around). As we played, we all quickly chose our preferences, focusing on getting the most out of these spells and using them at opportune moments. Having one spell take out a swarm of enemies never gets old, and being able to upgrade your favorites to see more devastating outcomes makes you feel powerful.     

Big Summons For Big Damage

A significant part of this game is summoning when you’re not casting direct-damage spells, and they are your best chance at surviving against the large waves of enemies. Your summons depend on what you put in your deck, but watching them multiply really drives home you’re building your own awesome army of majestic creatures from the MTG universe. Putting buffs on your summons will also cause them to grow to epic proportions, which is a sight to behold on screen. During our hands-on time, we summoned a variety of creatures, such as baloths, griffins, angels, flametongue kavus, and earth elementals. You definitely want these powerful beings on your side, and it was a treat when we had tons of them following us around on-screen, ready to brawl at a moment’s notice. 

The Joy Of Mixing And Matching Decks

One area where you have a lot of freedom to customize is in building your deck. Just like in the card game, this requires thought and care, but you can decide how much you want to get into the weeds of it - Cryptic said it’s considering some sort of sample versions for players who don’t like to tinker. For those that do, you want something that suits your playstyle, but also, if you’re playing with others, complements their decks. 

For instance, we had someone focus on buffs to ensure our summons would stand the test of time and dole out ridiculous damage, and all of us focused on healing, which meant we weren’t going down easily. The cards you can choose from all represent the five colors of magic, and you don’t have to stay tied to just one, regardless of class. The Geomancer class may be all about playing aggressive and in-your-face like most red cards, but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t pair it with some white to give you access to angel summons and healing spells. However, unlike the card game, you can only use two different colors for your decks.

The developers said they plan to have leaderboards of the top decks so people can see different creative ways to approach the game’s challenges and follow their lead if they wish, just like how people look for decks in the card game. This gives you something to aspire to, as maybe you need to rank up a certain spell to get the most out of that type or deck. Cryptic said it doesn’t want one deck to reign supreme. It won’t be banning cards like MTG does, but the team is working to ensure the game is balanced and there’s no runaway option for success. Building our decks became far and away the aspect we had the most fun with, and it’s cool to have something that’s slower, more thought-intensive to complement the non-stop action once you’re on the battlefield. 

Intense Action Rising With Our Mastery

Magic: Legends is about loot and epic battles. To ensure everyone is getting a challenge that excites them, Cryptic spent a great deal of time developing “The Director.” The Director A.I. measures the intensity of battles and adapts the situation to how you’re performing. This is separate from game difficulty, but in case you’re wondering, the game does have the standard modes. The Director is more about the moment-to-moment action and providing some variety and unpredictability. If you’re really mowing down the competition, it might spawn a miniboss you didn’t experience when you previously played the quest. Or if it ups the amount of enemies attacking you and you start to get overwhelmed, it will tone down the action so you can regroup. Taking on these tougher challenges rewards you with better loot drops. In our ventures, there were points where we were tearing our opponents to shreds, and The Director stepped in, spawning a horde of enemies that filled the screen. But we got the last laugh with more shards to upgrade our cards after the level.

The Harmony Of Working With Others

You can certainly play Magic: Legends solo, and we all did our first few missions alone. It’s still fun playing that way and helps in getting acclimated to things, but playing with two other players is really the best way to go. The fights are more thrilling as you see all your different spells and summons come together. It gives you more freedom in how to approach things, as well. Some missions have time limits to get specific things done, so you can get a jump ahead by splitting up. And there’s something to be said about seeing your different decks come together. 

When we played, we all made our decks by what we each liked best and just went in. What ended up happening is we had a great deal of summons, buffs, and healing. When we got to our main boss of that area, Josu Vess, we were able to really see the power of these combinations, especially because he was weak to summons. Playing with others also just makes the battlefield more chaotic and interesting. Imagine a bunch of spells going off at once, or seeing the combination of all three players’ summons roaming around the battlefield together. It’s as great as it sounds.

If you want to see some of what we experienced in action, check out the New Gameplay Todays we did on the Geomancer class and Mind Mage class. And keep watching the site for coverage all month long on Magic: Legends.

 

Categories: Games

Doom Eternal's Latest Trailer Reveals New Glory Kills, Enemies, And Violence Galore

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 01/14/2020 - 17:31

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Publisher: Bethesda Softworks Release: March 20, 2020 Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, Stadia, PC

Final Fantasy VII Remake and Avengers were just delayed today, but it looks like Doom Eternal is locked and loaded for its March 20 release date for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC, and Stadia. In the latest trailer, developer id Software gives you plenty of reasons to be excited. Several new glory kills are on display, as are two new enemy types: the Marauder and Gladiator.

Doom Eternal features a single-player story that moves away from Mars to show what happens when the demonic invasion hits Earth and other alien worlds that are new to the series. Your friends can try to halt your progress through this blood tale using the new Invasion mode, which allows them to become demons. Players can also try their hands in battlemode, a new 2v1 avenue of play that pits two player-controlled demons against a fully outfitted Doomslayer. All of these options look fun as hell. Start counting the days, people.

Are you excited for Doom Eternal? Let us know in the comments section below.

Categories: Games

The Nemesis Strikes In New Resident Evil 3 Trailer

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 01/14/2020 - 17:17

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Publisher: Capcom Developer: Capcom Release: November 11, 1999 (PlayStation, Dreamcast, GameCube), April 3, 2020 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC) Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, GameCube, PC, PlayStation, Dreamcast

Jill Valentine is about to have a very bad day. As she keeps zombie hordes at bay and tries to get out of Raccoon City unscathed, a hulking beast named Nemesis is in pursuit. Much like Resident Evil 2's Mr. X, Nemesis can only be slowed and will continue its hunt after it catches its breath; he can even punch his way through walls. Capcom released a new trailer that shows just how terrifying this threat can be. Thankfully, Jill isn't alone. Carlos, who players will get to control in this remake, is also around to take a Nemesis punch or two to the face.

Resident Evil 3: Nemesis is slated to release on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on April 3. The game comes packaged with a asymmetrical multiplayer mode called Resident Evil: Resistance, which pits four survivors against a mastermind.

Categories: Games

New Gameplay Today – A Look At Magic: Legends' Geomancer

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 01/10/2020 - 18:00

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Publisher: Perfect World Developer: Cryptic Studios Release: 2020 Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

If you're looking for subtlety, you may not be in the market for a Geomancer. In this exclusive look at the Magic: Legends class, we highlight her face-melting attacks, which put her close to the action. Dan Tack, Leo Vader, and Kim Wallace got to check out the upcoming action-RPG at Cryptic's offices, and they share their thoughts about the Geomancer in today's NGT.

This particular build includes a spell that creates a whirling vortex of fire – perfect for drawing enemies close together for a devastating follow-up. The Geomancer ended up being Kim's favorite class during her hands-on time with Magic: Legends, and this clip provides plenty of supporting evidence.

Magic: Legends is coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC in 2020.

Categories: Games

New Gameplay Today – A Look At Magic: Legends' Mind Mage

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 01/09/2020 - 18:15

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Publisher: Perfect World Developer: Cryptic Studios Release: 2020 Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Magic: Legends' Mind Mage is a ranged class loadout that specializes in crowd control, and also sports an incredible escape ability that lets him drop a doppleganger and take to the shadows while foes go after the copy. At least, that's the basic idea. In today's NGT, Dan Tack, Leo Vader, and Kim Wallace talk about Cryptic's upcoming title, and how some of the deck-building conceits from the card game make the transition to the world of action-RPGs. Join us for a trip through an "ordeal" which is a smaller slice of gameplay compared to bulkier quest missions, with less focus on story and more focus on bashing baddies and objectives.

Most of the crew recently visited Cryptic's offices for the cover story, and they share their hands-on impressions of the overall game, in addition to talking about the Mind Mage.

Magic: Legends is coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC in 2020.

Categories: Games

Wattam Review - Forever Wondering

Gamespot News Feed - Wed, 01/08/2020 - 19:32

There's a part in Wattam where your friend (an old-fashioned telephone) is crying because the sun took its receiver and is making a long-distance phone call. To solve this cellular problem, you have to gather all of your friends, stack them up, and climb on top of them so you can explain the situation to the sun and ask for the receiver back. Once you get up there, the sun gives it back and apologizes for the misunderstanding. The telephone says that it's okay, and then you carry on with your day.

That might sound like a hallucination, but that's the heart of Wattam. It's a bunch of silly concepts and weird actors being constantly thrown into head-scratching scenarios that you have to solve. In this world, it doesn't really matter that everything is so bizarre. What matters is ensuring all of your friends are happy, and every character would do absolutely anything possible to make their reality a friendship utopia.

Every character in Wattam is a vibrant random object that changes shapes, forms, and sizes the more you progress and interact with the world and its environment. The game starts with one character, but you meet plenty of new pals, and later in the game the screen becomes charmingly cluttered, like a kid dumped a bunch of their toys on the floor and didn't clean it up. Among the characters are trees that can gobble up others and turn them into a fruitified version of themselves, a toilet named Linda that can turn characters into poop, and a nose named Ronald that can sniff up characters that are buried underground. The characters always seem to be having fun, embracing the change and sometimes adopting new personas and using catchphrases to parody genres like action movies and whodunits. They treat each other like old friends and run around and play with each other even when you're not controlling them. Watching them all interact and utilize their powers together adds a sense of life to this zany world--it may be weird, but they have their own fascinating ecosystem going on.

The main character is a green cube with a bowler hat named The Mayor. At the start of the game, The Mayor finds out about "Kaboom," the hidden power of its hat which launches everyone in the nearby radius into the sky in an explosion of laughter (the people love a good Kaboom). With your newfound ability and the strange charisma of a cube, it's your job to explore the world, learn its history, and keep everyone happy. Most of the time you're acting as a mediator, walking up to whoever is crying at the given moment, asking them a genuine "What's wrong?" and then solving their problems via a mini-game. It's tough work at times due to some pushback from awkward controls and sudden frame rate drops, but it never gets frustrating. You just look down and realize you're playing as a cool little apple who loves to dance and you finish the mission. It's also satisfyingly worth it at the end of each puzzle when you see your motley crew of inanimate objects cheering you on and having a blast together in this world you helped soothe.

You can play as anything on the screen, and when you swap into a character, it changes the main instrument in the song that's playing in the background. Each character has their own designated sounds: If you switch to a plant bud you'll hear the theme with a xylophone, for example, and if you switch to a poop you'll hear fart noises. Each quirky object has a clear and thoughtful theme tune, and the soundtrack as a whole always has you grooving. Sometimes I'd take a break from the main story to swap to a character and just listen to how the songs sounded from their perspective. There's a jazz song on the soundtrack called "A Long Time: The Six Years" that has no business going that hard.

Wattam is a collection of plotlines with objectives that can be completed in a few minutes, so each time you go back to the game it feels like a vastly different experience than what you were doing half an hour previously. One moment you could be running around as a miniature acorn, trying to find a spot to bury yourself, and the next you could be meeting a golden bowling pin that wants you to stack your friends to its exact height. It could so easily have been disorienting to be forced to constantly learn new mechanics and to always be playing the game in new ways every few moments, but Wattam isn't overwhelming. There's a sense of intrigue whenever a new character needs help, because whenever you help one, something in the game changes significantly--someone will gain a new power or maybe a mysterious staircase will emerge for you to investigate.

While it's essentially an anthology of short mini-games, Wattam has an underlying plot that's revealed over the course of a few cutscenes. These stop all the tomfoolery to tell a story of the apocalyptic events that happened right before the start of the game; it's a surprising tonal shift but it still fits very well with Wattam's ethos. Wattam is cool because it isn't just eccentric for eccentricity's sake--it also has a message it wants to share. You meet a few characters that come in the form of scroll, a book, and a futuristic floppy disk that explain that message and why connections and bonds are so important in this world. While they aren't the deepest cutscenes in the world, Wattam's message inside of them is ultimately heartwarming and offers context to things you wouldn't think are connected.

It isn't often that you play something that is so pure and unapologetically itself, but that's Wattam. I don't know if I'll ever play another game that makes me turn all of my friends into fruit so I can progress. It oozes passion, and it has an infectious enthusiasm that's present in each and every aspect of it. Wattam never takes itself too seriously, and that makes it easy to buy into its world and suspend your disbelief. While the gameplay is all over the place, Wattam is held together by themes of friendship and a cohesive soundtrack that actually leave you grinning long after you're done.

Categories: Games

Disaster Report 4 Hits This April, Check Out The New Trailer

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 01/07/2020 - 17:10

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Publisher: NIS America Developer: Granzella Release: April 7, 2020 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation VR, PlayStation 4, Switch, PC

NIS America today released a new trailer for Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories, which is slated to release stateside for PlayStation 4, Switch, and PC on April 7. Holding true to the series' history, the new footage for Summer Memories shows players will be making allies and meaningful choices in the face of disaster.

The Disaster Report games have always delivered plenty of excitement and just as much camp. You can see plenty of both in the trailer, including a moment where the player makes someone's day by giving them toilet paper. Summer Memories released in Japan in 2018, and it's great to see it coming stateside in just a few months.

Check out the first episode of our complete Super Replay playthrough of Raw Danger (the second Disaster Report game) below:

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Categories: Games

Embr Preview – Five Star Firefighting 

Game Informer News Feed - Sat, 12/28/2019 - 17:00

Publisher: Gonzo Games/Sideline Amusements Developer: Muse Games Release: 2020 Platform: PC

We live in a gig economy, where the rise of social networking and mobile computing has allowed companies like Uber, Lyft, and AirBnb to alter the way we conduct business. Inspired by this economic market, Muse Games has taken ride sharing to the next logical step: emergency services. Players who join the Embr Respondr crew assume the role of a contract firefighter tasked with battling fires, rescuing trapped civilians, and protecting their reputation from angry user reviews.

“As an Embr Respondr, you are responsible for saving people’s lives,” says director Matthew Niederberger. “When you open up your map on the Embr app, you’ll see you’ve got a couple calls – a couple houses on fire – and you can pick which one you want to respond to. You can battle these fires alone or you can team up with some friends and rescue people together.”

Rescuing civilians isn’t always easy, and every call features its own pitfalls. Fortunately, overcoming Embr’s environmental hazards often leads to goofy hijinks thanks to Embr’s system-driven mechanics. Civilians follow you toward safety, but you will need to carve a path for them. Do you push back the flames with your water hose? Do you use your axe to open a new exit on a nearby wall? Or do you use a ladder to create a shortcut to the ground? 

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Players choose how they overcome each obstacle and how they circumvent each challenge, but fire is like a wild creature and you don’t always know how it is going to act. When I took too long in one building, the fire ate through the floor and I fell into the basement, so I had to find another route outside. On another mission, I accidently knocked a civilian unconscious when I hit them with my water hose and I had to carry them to safety. 

“We discovered early on while designing puzzles with one solution that if someone doesn’t get it, the game falls apart, so from a design perspective we stopped designing puzzles and started designing obstacles,” Niederberger says. “It’s kind of a philosophical piece of our design ethos these days. We just put things in players’ ways and give them lots of tools. They might come up with a more interesting way to get through them than we would.”

That toolset expands greatly as you use your firefighting earnings to purchase new equipment and vehicles directly from the Embr app. Most equipment can be upgraded several times. For example, water hoses have upgrades for greater water capacity and higher hose pressure, which makes it easier to push people and obstacles around. An auto refill upgrade means you won’t have to run back to your response vehicle in the middle of a mission. Another handy tool is the grappling hook, which can be used to pull people and other objects around the environment, and this can be upgraded to have a greater reach or to pull heavier objects. 

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Embr isn’t the only firefighting squad on the market, and during your rise to firefighting glory you might run into the competition. A Canadian firefighting startup called Hosr aims to bring socialized firefighting back to the United States. However, since you’ve signed a non-compete agreement with Embr, Hosr can’t hire you, which makes you their enemy.

“Every once in a while, you’ll get a call that seems a little suspicious, and it won’t be your usual rescue mission,” Niederberger says. “When you get one of these suspicious calls, you might end up trapped in a building, and you’ll have to use your knowledge of firefighting to escape any way you can. These missions will be a little more puzzle oriented. There’ll be some mechanics that you have to learn a little more deeply, so you might need to spray water on an electrical outlet where the wires have been cut to open a door, for example.”

Embr is goofy and full of oddball antics, but it also offers an interesting commentary on the perils of working as a contract laborer. Muse Games aims to unleash Embr early next year on PC, and is currently exploring console options. It might not set the world on fire, but we can’t wait to play more.

Categories: Games

Supermash Review - Flop Jam

Gamespot News Feed - Fri, 12/20/2019 - 22:52

It's easy to think of how some of your favorite video game genres might fit together. In the space of just pure imagination, it’s possible to completely deconstruct familiar tropes and wildly throw them against a wall to see what sticks, challenging established norms without consequence. It’s this sort of unhinged creativity that makes Supermash initially hard to ignore. By making it easy to choose two genres and mash them together with randomly determined results, Supermash seems to promise a near endless supply of retro concoctions. But instead of delicately blended results, the games that Supermash does spit out lack any identity, while feeling too similar to one another when they do work and downright frustrating when borderline broken.

The core conceit of Supermash is the ability to create new games from templates of genres. The genres on offer are varied, ranging from a classic NES action adventure in the vein of The Legend of Zelda to the sneaky steps of a Metal Gear-inspired stealth game. Each genre template plucks a core idea from its inspirations and uses that as the core mechanic for your eventual combinations. For example, a JRPG will lend turn-based combat to any game it’s matched with, while a shoot-'em-up will introduce vertically scrolling terrains to whatever other genre you choose to pair with it.

Supermash is incredibly easy to get going--pick two genres, decide on a desired game length and difficulty, and use mostly single-use collectible cards to make small cosmetic and gameplay changes to the initial result. The rest is handled by Supermash’s procedural generation, which doesn’t always do the best job of masking the limited templates it's clearly working with. Within an hour, I was recognizing the same layouts in both stealth and action adventure mashes, and even routinely seeing the same visual palates used to dress them up in. Seeing the strings behind the puppetry would’ve been disappointing but forgivable, though, if the games themselves were any fun to play.

Most of the creations lack any substantial differences between them. Whether you’re playing a shrunken-down Zelda-like dungeon or jumping through a Mario-inspired platformer, you’re generally doing one of three things: finding a specific character, retrieving a specific item, or killing a certain number of a specific enemy, all within a short timeframe. These don’t change with the genres you’re putting together, which often makes genres meant to be less linear pointless. Genres like JRPGs or metroidvanias are much more than just their styles of combat or collectible upgrades, but Supermash never gives you levels or goals that reflect this. And even when the objectives do coalesce with the main genre influence, they’re just unsatisfying to play. Platforming feels floaty and imprecise, dungeon crawling becomes nothing more than a repetitive checklist, and shoot-'em-ups never capture the exhilaration of their inspirations.

Randomly assigned modifiers called "glitches" can somewhat differentiate one mash from the next, but more often than not, they result in more game-breaking issues. A glitch can, for example, spawn a new enemy every time you attack, or conversely heal you every time you take damage. These serve to either eliminate any challenge or increase it to frustrating levels, regardless of the difficulty setting you assign prior to making the game. Others are more frustrating, though. I had a glitch that moved me in a random direction for a few seconds after each attack, which made simple movement a chore. It forced me to just forgo combat entirely while navigating a dungeon, further restricting the already limited actions I had. There’s no way to turn these randomly assigned glitches off either, so when you’re dealt a bad hand, you just have to restart and hope for a better result next time.

That isn’t to say there aren’t some combinations that aren’t at least amusing. Playing a 2D stealth game with the turn-based combat of classic Final Fantasy games doesn’t work mechanically (having to go into an action menu to perform a stealth kill is ridiculous), but it does remind you of how good each of the individual parts are in other games. But Supermash’s multitude of little games never come close to reaching the entertaining heights of the genres they attempt to recreate, which makes it difficult to want to test the abilities of its random generation further after your initial attempts.

Encompassing all of this experimentation is a thin story about three friends trying to keep their video game retail store open, with the crew hoping to package and sell some of these new creations to spark some interest. Story objectives set some parameters for your next mashup, indicating what genres and modifiers to use, without really steering you towards any great outcomes. There’s an additional journal to work through with objectives tied to each genre you have at your disposal, each connecting small but throwaway stories within them.

Progressing this journal is incredibly frustrating, though, since the items required for completion are populated into your generated levels at random. You’re forced to repeatedly mash together the same genres in the hopes of finally getting one that has what you need, which only serves to expose the repetitive nature of them even faster. Each chapter culminates with a boss fight specific to the genre you’re completing, and despite being some of the only handcrafted bits of retro action in Supermash, they fail to be any more exciting than the random contraptions you put together. Most are one-note and devoid of challenge, only requiring repetitive attacks and simple movements to overcome. They’re not worth the time you need to invest to unlock them.

It’ll be rare for you to want to save any of the creations Supermash lets you construct, which is indicative of how shallow and unsatisfying they all are at their core. In a bid to try and do so many things right, Supermash forgets the fundamentals of all the genres it tries to encompass, while also overreaching by trying to make them all work in some way together. None of Supermash’s creations feel close to replicating the joy of their inspirations, and instead serve as reminders that there are far more focused and polished attempts at each individual one that will reward your time better. There’s no doubting the imaginative idea at Supermash’s core, but it ends up choking on its ambition.

Categories: Games

The Touryst Review - Life's A Beach

Gamespot News Feed - Fri, 12/20/2019 - 17:00

The first island you visit in The Touryst is a tiny, perpetually sunny place, and it's full of spots to have a sit or a lie down. Having a rest doesn't achieve anything, but I found that my immediate instinct was to give my character a moment to luxuriate on a bed in one of the island's small personal rooms--this is a game about vacationing, after all, and on any vacation it's important to relax. The Touryst is a soothing and relaxing experience thanks to the lovingly rendered voxel graphics and the (mostly) gentle gameplay, and despite some occasional moments of frustration, playing it really does feel like taking a mini-vacation.

You play as a moustachioed man in a loud shirt who is tasked with travelling between different island vacation spots and collecting cores that rest within the game's scant few monuments--essentially short dungeons. You move between beach parties under orange sunsets, lush tropical expanses, and Mediterranean tourist spots, before diving into murky underground caverns that contain jumping puzzles and non-violent boss encounters. It's a strange combination of elements, but The Touryst wears its strangeness on its sleeve.

This is, above all else, a game about the joy of a holiday. As you play, you unlock new islands to visit, and while each one is small, they also all have their own distinct flavor, as well as unique activities to discover and engage with. The superb voxel art style imbues each setting with personality and makes the simple act of sightseeing a pleasure. Simply existing in these beautiful locations is inherently enjoyable, and while each new setting won't take long to fully explore, I found walking around each one calming.

The monuments themselves contain puzzles and tests of your dexterity, and working your way through them is essential to unlock every island and complete the game's story. They're ultimately the least interesting part of the game, but they're certainly not without their charms. They can be quite challenging, but the key is usually to just remember that there's an optimal solution to the puzzles, even when it seems like they're just asking you to nail precise jumps. Often, how you're manipulating the camera to line up your angles and judge the space you're in is as important as your ability to control your trajectory; if you're messing a jump up often, it's because you haven't quite cracked what that room is asking of you.

Even so, every now and then, the game asks for a greater level of precision from your actions than the controls want to give you. The controls are a bit floaty for how small some of the platforms you're landing on are, and one jumping puzzle took me, at a conservative estimate, 25 attempts to get. The rooms inside monuments are viewed from an isometric perspective, which can make judging gaps difficult. Any situation that requires you to throw an object with great precision is frustrating too because of how the throwing arc works, but these moments of frustration only stick out because they are rare.

Outside of these moments, The Touryst is a game with a lot of chill. One island doesn't even have a monument at all--instead it has a movie theatre that shows a short highlight reel of moments from the rest of the game, an art gallery that you'll eventually populate with your own photography, and, best of all, a retro arcade with three cabinets. There's a racing game (based on the studio's own Switch game Fast RMX), a strange platformer, and a Breakout clone, all offering brief diversions that successfully sucked me in for an hour. Completing the high scores in these arcade games (and earning the arbitrary cash reward) is challenging, but there's something almost zen about a game that encourages you to waste your time like this--it perfectly captures my very specific childhood memory of discovering arcade machines in local pubs while on holiday and shovelling coins into them. The Touryst, appropriately, frames everything you do as an act of tourism.

Completing sidequests will earn you money, but cash is largely inconsequential to completing the game--by the time the credits rolled I had hundreds of coins left with very little to spend them on. The sidequests play into the shaggy nature of the game--you don't complete them because they're helpful, but because you want to see everything the game world has to offer. I spent a long time down a mine you encounter on one island, engaged with a spelunking challenge that lets you collect gems that can then be exchanged for money. I spent so much time down there not because I needed money--I never even traded the gems in. I did it because the mines are particularly enjoyable--they let you abseil down cliffs, swing between ledges, and even ride rickety minecarts as you delve deeper and deeper.

There are plenty of other activities scattered across The Touryst's small world. You can fix up a boring beach party, then liven it up further by buying new records for the DJ; you can show off your sporting prowess in surfing, soccer, and pull-up minigames; you can search the game world for photography subjects with the camera you're given early on, or hunt down several carefully hidden scrolls. The sidequests are often very simple and easy but watching as island life slowly shifts and changes based on your actions is a delight.

I found that as the credits rolled on The Touryst's strange ending, I was keen for them to finish so I could jump straight back in and mop up the remaining objectives. Admittedly, even if you want to do absolutely everything, The Touryst isn't very long—my completion total sat at 94% after five and a half hours. But perhaps it's better this way--after all, the best vacations often end before you've had a chance to really get homesick. It's the next best thing to an actual holiday.

Categories: Games

Phoenix Point Review - The Life Aquatic

Gamespot News Feed - Wed, 12/18/2019 - 17:00

You've earned the right to mess with the XCOM formula when you're the person chiefly responsible for it. Julian Gollop was the co-lead designer on the original XCOM: UFO Defense in 1994, and Phoenix Point, from Gollop's new studio Snapshot Games, is a self-described spiritual successor to XCOM. At first it feels all too familiar: You play the eponymous private military organisation defending Earth from an alien threat, patching holes in the sinking ship via tactical combat and strategic upgrades. But Phoenix Point reinvents the formula in both big and small ways, sending changes rippling across the strategic map and tinkering with the nuts and bolts of close combat. Not every new idea is equally successful, though many of them are welcome, and in sum deliver a refresh that points the genre in an exciting new direction.

As with the first XCOM sequel, Terror from the Deep, the threat here comes from the ocean. A mysterious mist is creeping at the coast, luring people into the sea and returning them as Lovecraftian fish monsters--all scaly-skinned, newly betentacled, and packing crustaceous heat, an army of soldier crabs. Phoenix Point is joined in defending the planet by three ideologically distinct factions: New Jericho want to destroy the aliens, the Synedrion want to coexist with them, and the Disciples of Anu want to synthesize human and alien life. Many of the missions you undertake will inevitably involve offending at least one of the factions and so, no matter how impartial you to try to remain, eventually you're going to have to choose sides. It's a depressing, relevant example of humanity's failure to come together in the face of existential catastrophe.

On the world map, presented here as it was in the original XCOM as the Geoscape, a rotatable globe pockmarked with scouted points of interest, the mist is a red miasma slowing enveloping the planet, a Doomsday Clock ticking closer to midnight one continent at a time. This strategic layer runs in real time as your Phoenix squads fly from one flashpoint to the next, while you work on increasing base capacity, manufacturing new arms, and researching new military solutions. All the while the red mist spreads, escalating the danger as new nests appear and strangling your ability to fight back as faction outposts fall. It's the perfect visual representation of the odds you're facing and the seeming inevitability of defeat. Despite the abstraction, it's genuinely painful to see the mist consume a settlement you had heroically rescued only days earlier.

At a strategic level, Phoenix Point wants to let you pick your own path. The Geoscape is at the start shrouded in the fog of war. Through scanning nearby areas and aerial exploration it soon becomes a sprawling, cluttered morass of multi-coloured icons describing your own bases, factional havens, key quest destinations, potential scavenging sites, neutral colonies, alien nests, and other unidentified locations. You have considerable freedom in navigating your own route across this world. You can basically travel wherever you like and, when you arrive, you can usually decide whether or not to take on the mission you've encountered. Want to save this low-threat scavenging mission for some new recruits further down the line? Just hit abort and fly your veteran squad into more dangerous territory.

It's liberating, at least early on, as you jet around, scouting the map, picking and choosing your next mission. Yet by the time you have multiple squads traversing the globe, and you're juggling a handful of different flight paths across a Geoscape that has exploded into a galaxy of competing icons, that liberation is swamped by confusion. It's not that it's hard to tell what you could do next--important story missions and factional quests are highlighted--it's more that there are so many things to do that it's easy to lose yourself in endless distractions or worse, drown under an overwhelming wave of map markers.

Indeed, the chaotic, confounding clutter of the Geoscape is emblematic of some wider interface issues. The research screen throws every possible tech into a long list with scant attention given to how useful it might or where it might lead. There's a research order function, but you can only send one tech to the front of the queue, not adjust the order further down. Inventory management is a mess when it comes to comparing different weapons to equip and deciding which new gear to manufacture.

The the freeform structure of the Geoscape guarantees no two campaigns will play out alike. What those campaigns have in common, however, is a mentally exhausted player. You're pulled in so many directions. Two colonies are under attack in India but an alien nest needs eradicating in Malaysia. New Jericho wants to assist its research in China but the Synedrion wants you to sabotage Jericho's research lab in Australia. And all the while there are dozens of unexplored spots in Africa that you haven't even visited yet. But it’s worth battling through the stress and clutter to get to the combat.

What typically awaits at a destination is a bout of small-scale, turn-based combat. Occasionally you will stumble upon a simple narrative event that will give you a decision to make and readjust your resources or factional reputation in response, but for the most part, you will find yourself engaged in a firefight.

At a combat level, Phoenix Point is all about tactical flexibility. There are four primary classes--heavy, assault, sniper, and melee--but perk trees are semi-randomly rolled for each soldier, and you can also allow them to multi-class. This means no two soldiers have to be the same, and you have a lot of room to tailor each six-person squad to suit your preferred style of play. My first heavy was the typical tank character, lots of health and a big cannon, but later adopted a secondary class and would jet pack onto a roof and launch a few grenades to destroy the enemy's cover before switching to a sniper rifle to finish them off.

Many of the man-made structures on a map can be damaged and destroyed. Grenades and other heavy weapons can remove that pillar you were relying on for cover. Even the humble pistol can shoot through a thin wall, hitting anything that was on the other side and leaving them more exposed for a follow-up shot. My jet-packing heavy nearly bit the dust one time when the roof they'd landed on gave way in an explosion, dumping them into the room below where a nasty crab creature lurked. Fortunately, on the next turn, they were able to jetpack to safety out of the newly renovated ceiling.

When you take a shot, you aren't given a percentage chance to hit while some dice are rolled to see if you did any damage. Instead, bullet trajectories are said to be physically simulated, meaning if you can see something, you can hit it. There are two ways to take a shot. The default has you aiming generally at the centre of the target's mass. Take an aimed shot, though, and you're given a first-person view where what you point at is what you'll shoot. You can target an enemy's limbs or their weapon or even another object in the environment, and for the most part you're likely to hit it. There is a degree of fuzziness here--you'll see the crosshair surrounded by two rings, the inner one indicating where most of the shot(s) will hit and the outer accounting for any remainder--and the accuracy and damage of any particular shot is still affected by the weapon's range and other stats. But it's very satisfying to destroy an enemy's shield with one well-aimed sniper shot, then follow it up with an assault rifle round to the now-exposed head.

The ability to target specific limbs becomes vitally important as more diverse enemy types start populating the battlefield--you'll very quickly need to worry about more than those wielding shields. The sheer variety of enemy types and behaviours issues an interesting challenge every turn and have you constantly thinking about cover, height, range, support, supplies, teamwork and priorities. In addition, every enemy is susceptible to a well-aimed shot that cripples a specific limb, thus slowing its movement, nullifying its special ability, destroying its weapon or inhibiting its mode of attack. As a result there's so much more to think about in combat than just methodically moving your squad forward and shooting the enemy when they appear.

The flexibility is heightened by the action point system that provides more options than just moving and shooting. Every soldier has 4 APs, but different weapons and abilities use different amounts, and the ground a soldier can cover in 1 AP is affected by their speed stat. Two of my assault troops worked in perfect tandem: one was a shotgun expert with the speed to close quickly on their target and use a debuff that reduced the APs of nearby hostiles, the other hung back a bit, offering support with their longer-range rifle, entering overwatch every turn thanks to its cheaper cost, and running in with a medkit if the other took damage. Both characters started out the same, but the wildly different level-up choices I made for them, coupled with the capacity to spend their APs every turn on a mostly unique suite of options, meant they felt distinct--like characters whose behaviour I had authored and who I was personally responsible for. I'd invested in their stats, tweaking them in parallel to become complementary, and as a result, had become emotionally invested in them.

When you lose a soldier it hits hard, of course. Any soldier that goes down in a fight is permanently dead, and you have to recruit a novice to replace them. Yet while your emotional investment can never be fully recovered, the stat investment can be at least partially reclaimed. This is because experience points earned from completing missions is awarded to each individual soldier who participated and to a common pool. You're free to dip into this pool whenever you wish--maybe you just need a few more points to unlock that next tier perk you've had your eye on--but my strategy was to save the pool for new recruits. Every time I hired a new soldier I was able to level them up several times before they had pulled a trigger. It's a clever, flexible system that means veteran troop losses are a setback, but never a debilitating or irredeemable one.

The tactical combat doesn’t suffer from the clumsy interface design that plagues the strategic layer. There are convenient overlays informing you of movement ranges, AP consumption, and targeting possibilities, it’s easy to scroll between different terrain heights, and everything requires deliberate selection so you don’t end up performing an action you didn’t intend. However I did very, very occasionally run into a problem where the overlay would tell me I had line of sight from a certain tile if I moved there, only to move there and discover I couldn’t actually see the enemy. And after dozens of hours of play, I still have no idea why my soldiers would sometimes start a new mission with their weapons needing reloading, nor indeed how to reload them when not in a mission. But these feel like trivial concerns in the grander scheme of what is an overall robust combat engine.

Phoenix Point has plenty of bold new ideas for the XCOM genre, but not all of them have the same level of shine. It can feel a bit unwieldy at times, a bit less user-friendly than you'd hope. But it's a game that feels more concerned with experimentation than perfection, that's more interested in discovering new paths to take than walking one that's already well-trodden. As a hybrid tactical/strategy game, it's dynamic and deep with the occasionally disorientating misfire along the way. As a contribution to the genre XCOM first defined, it's a well-aimed shot.

Categories: Games

Hands On With Journey To The Savage Planet's Diabolical Third Biome

Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 12/16/2019 - 20:00
Publisher: 505 Games Developer: Typhoon Studios Release: January 28, 2020 (Xbox One, PC), March 31, 2020 (PlayStation 4) Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

I’ve courted death many times on this hostile planet, but my astronaut’s journey is ultimately cut short by a giant, angry frog. Fortunately, my encounter with the reaper is only a fleeting introduction. My bosses at Kindred Aerospace seem to have found a way to cheat death – not bad for being the fourth-best space-exploration outfit in the galaxy. My newly manufactured body emerges from my landing craft’s 3D printer, and I head back out to give it another shot. And hopefully, these shots hit their mark. 

My battle with that frog may not have initially gone as I’d hoped, but the encounter is a great refresher on Journey to the Savage Planet and what Typhoon Studios is hoping to accomplish with its debut release. First, it highlights the visuals, which refreshingly draw from a wide array of bright colors. “We wanted to have a game that was bright and happy and welcoming and not oppressive and negative and dark,” says creative director and studio founder Alex Hutchinson. Simultaneously, Hutchinson says the team wanted to deliver a comedic game. “If you set up situations where the player can screw themselves over or do strange things, could they be involved in their own comedy?”

I get a sense of that kind of comedy when I bring my newly reformed body back to the site of my earlier demise. There, near the frog, is my old corpse. It’s hugging itself in a sad fetal pose, and I’m given a prompt to bury it when I get close to it. I do so, and the screen darkens while the text, “Shamefully burying your body” appears onscreen. The body is then replaced with a high-tech obelisk, which displays the number of times I’ve died since playing the demo. I look back at the frog and initiate battle again, determined not to add another tick to any gravestone’s counter. Especially not to an enemy that’s named “Slamphibian.”

In my defense, Hutchinson is in our office showing off late-game content, which includes a brand-new biome. Slamphibian is apparently one of the game’s more difficult foes, which is appropriate considering his environment. The previous two areas Hutchinson showed were more contiguous and, well, planet-like than this place. Here, solid ground has given way to an abundance of floating islands and rock formations, which make getting from place to place a challenge. Fortunately, my astronaut’s kit includes a grapple-like tether that lets me whip onto special points and swing between them. A few environmental puzzles have me toss quick-growing seeds onto highlighted spots, which let me place my own grapple spots, too. I ask about this zone and how it doesn’t feel particularly like a planet, and Hutchinson says that there is indeed a reason for its strange nature, which players will learn. 

That sense of unfamiliarity extends to the overall universe that Journey to the Savage Planet is set in, too. When you respawn or visit your landing craft, you’ll be able to watch a variety of live-action TV commercials for strange products such as a foodstuff called Grob or an erotic phone service for blobs. They all give off a distinct Tim and Eric vibe, which I love; your mileage may vary. Those are interspersed with messages from your boss, Kindred CEO Martin Tweed, who is taking more and more of an interest in your planet. More specifically, he’s interested in the strange tower that juts from the surface of the location, which was previously assumed to be uninhabited.

I don’t get to see what’s inside the main tower during my session, but I am able to investigate a smaller area that will eventually – hopefully – open the doors to the place. After upgrading my boots to perform an aerial stomp attack, I’m able to restart some previously idle machinery. Once it’s back online, things get a little hairy. The cylindrical room fills with rising lava as I hop my way into safety. The tricky platforming is made a bit easier thanks to my ability to double-jump. Hutchinson says players can eventually upgrade to a quadruple jump, which seems as though it would make this particular challenge fairly trivial. 

Even with rising lava and hostile monsters, Typhoon Studios isn’t trying to punish players every step of the way. Scanning environments for scientific discoveries and exploring new spaces is a big part of the mission, and there are long stretches of quiet contemplation. Even if those moments are interrupted by beefy frogs, there’s a nice overall vibe of discovery throughout the game. You’ll be able to see for yourself in just a few weeks.

Categories: Games

Fast & Furious Crossroads Pulling Off Another Job Next Spring

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 12/13/2019 - 04:35

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Fast & Furious Crossroads was just announced at the Video Game Awards, including appearances by actors Michelle Rodriguez and Vin Diesel, who are also reprising their characters in the game.

Crossroads comes out next May on PS4, Xbox One, and PC, in advance of the next Fast & Furious movie out on May 22, and is being developed by new Codemasters internal studio Slightly Mad Studios (although Crossroads is being published by Bandai Namco). Slightly Mad is known for its work on the Project Cars franchise.

The game features the crew pulling heists around the globe, and features high-speed cars, stunts, gadgets, and multiplayer to go along with the single-player story.

Categories: Games

Telltale Returns With The Wolf Among Us 2

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 12/13/2019 - 04:23

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Telltale as we know it has gone through significant changes, but the band is getting back together to start work on The Wolf Among Us 2 on PC (as an Epic Games Store exclusive) and consoles.

The game was announced tonight at The Video Game Awards, and directors Nick Herman and Dennis Lenart, writer Pierre Shorette, and others from the first title are working on the series' second season. The developers are apart of AdHoc Studio, who are listed as co-developers for the game, focusing on its story and cinematic direction.

Also returning are voice actors Adam Harrington (Bigby) and Erin Yvetter (Snow), who you can hear in the teaser trailer, as well as composer Jared Emerson-Johnson. Telltale and AdHoc say the second season has a greater focus on Bigby and Snow, and is set in Fabletown.

The Wolf Among Us 2 is still only early in production and AdHoc is still recruiting, so there's no release timeframe in sight. Telltale says the story will still be "told in episodes," even if how these will be released is still be determined.

Categories: Games

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