Games

Pikuniku Review - Tasty Morsel

Gamespot News Feed - Mon, 01/21/2019 - 16:00

With its simple character designs and a game world that often looks like a young kid designed it by cutting up and sticking together different bits of colored paper, Pikuniku sometimes feels like a video game adaption of a children's book. It tells a simple story that doesn't always quite make sense, it's pointedly very silly, and there are scenes within it that seem to be based on how a child understands the world. A giant company pays a town by making money rain from the sky; a trendy nightclub will only let you in if you dress "cool" by wearing sunglasses; you play a game someone "invented," but which is, essentially, just basketball mixed with soccer.

But Pikuniku (Japanese for "picnic") never feels like it was designed specifically for children. It's a game about battling a corporate takeover, and the writing has the playful, sarcastically irreverent tone you're more likely to see from someone in their 20s or 30s. But the childish veneer is charming, and while Pikuniku isn't the deepest game around, it's lovely, funny, and engrossing in its own weird way.

At the game's opening, your character--Piku, an entity made up of an oblong red body with dots for eyes and two long spindly legs coming out of it--awakens in a cave, prompted by a ghost to go outside. The opening tutorial doesn't take long, because the controls are simple: You can jump, causing Piku to spin haphazardly as he moves through the air, you can kick in any direction, and you can curl your legs into yourself and roll around in ball form. You spend the rest of the game wandering through the small game world, encountering characters and helping solve their problems until, eventually, you find yourself fighting against Sunshine Inc, a giant corporation that is sending robots all over the land to harvest natural resources from the game's three regions.

Progression rarely requires much thoughtful effort. You explore the world on a 2D plane, talking to as many people as you can, kicking at everything, and solving objectives as they're handed to you. There are platforming elements that require some finesse, especially when you explore some of the slightly more challenging optional side quests that pop up throughout the game. Pikuniku is entertaining rather than challenging, though, and even the hardest areas you'll find are unlikely to trip you up for longer than a few minutes. But this is to the game’s advantage--it’s accessible to inexperienced and young players, and I never felt like the game would have been more enjoyable if it pushed me harder. Piku’s weird, wobbly walk, his awkward jump, and the force of his kicks mean that just moving through the game world is inherently entertaining.

Your ability to kick everything and everyone is crucial, and much of the puzzle solving in the game comes down to kicking an object from one place to another. The kick mechanic is great fun, with objects reacting differently depending on the angle and distance you hit them from, although there are occasional moments of frustration when, for instance, a box gets wedged into a corner and is tricky to get out. Getting stuck for a moment kicking something out of a corner, or dealing with an object that isn’t behaving how you’d like, can interrupt the flow of gameplay.

You can kick every character you meet in the game with no real punishment, which rarely stops being funny. In a few other instances Piku needs to don different hats or use items he has collected to push forward. Again, the mechanics around this are quite simple--if you see a blooming flower, for instance, you know that you need to use the watering can hat on it because a silhouette of that hat will appear above it. This makes it easy to keep track of what you might now be able to do or unlock when you find a new item. It’s not the deepest mechanic, but it means that finding a hat or item can spark immediate excitement when you already know what it’ll do.

Pikuniku throws little minigames and oddities at you among all the platforming to mix things up. At one point early on, you're asked to draw a new face for a scarecrow using the analog stick; later, you need to win a button-matching dance-off against a robot. There's even a Dig Dug parody, which amusingly devolves into a little joke about how some retro games don't age well. There are boss fights, too (there's no combat in the game otherwise), and while they're not super involved affairs they use the game's simple mechanics to good effect.

Pikuniku is a funny game on numerous levels--the script often undercuts tension and plays with tropes in amusing ways, the goofy way you flip when you jump is a constant source of amusement, and the game will often throw you into strange situations without much explanation. Mess with a toaster in someone's house, for instance, and you'll be hurled into the "toast dimension," which is essentially a dungeon area that you can escape by completing the simple platforming challenge within. In another instance, you enter a pottery store that is clearly begging you to smash everything inside it--it's a clear Zelda homage, but the real delight is in the merchant's zen approach to your destruction. Pikuniku is playful and mischievous. Even the soundtrack is wonderfully kooky, and often faintly reminiscent of Koji Kondo's work with Nintendo.

However, Pikuniku doesn't last long. You can jump back in after the end credits, which roll within about three hours, and enjoy the aftermath of everything you achieved, but even mopping up the last few missions and trying to collect all the optional trophies scattered around the game world doesn't add much. The world you're exploring is compact, and it doesn't take long for you to feel like you've seen everything there is to see. Pikuniku is so charming, and so much fun, that I wanted more time with it (even though the ending is great and absolutely bonkers). The game wrapped up before I was ready to leave it behind, and more story content, or another village to explore, would have gone a long way.

Pikuniku also comes with nine two-player levels, as well as a multiplayer version of Baskick, the aforementioned basketball/soccer hybrid featured in the campaign. These levels are divided between co-op challenges where Piku and his identical friend Niku need to work together and competitive levels where you race one another. You can play with two detached Joy-Cons, and the game holds up well on the smaller screen if you're playing in portable mode. This is not a major component of the game, though, so don't expect a whole second campaign. You're unlikely to get more than an hour out of these levels, but its simplicity makes it ideal to play with a younger relative or someone with little gaming experience.

While Pikuniku is a light experience, it's got enough charm and verve to stick with you well beyond completion. From Piku's weird wobbly gait and looping jumps in the opening right through to the game's funny, bizarre ending, Pikuniku is more gripping than its simple aesthetic and playful tone would suggest. It'll make you feel like a kid again.

Categories: Games

Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story + Bowser Jr.'s Journey Review

Gamespot News Feed - Sun, 01/20/2019 - 23:37

It’s not every day a hero gets a chance to literally walk around in their mortal enemy’s shoes, which is what made Bowser’s Inside Story such a bizarre but wildly unique concept back in 2009. Even though not much has changed since its original DS release, it's still one of the stronger Mario RPGs, and its innovative gimmick remains exciting on 3DS. The setup here is that a mysterious affliction called the Blorps is spreading across the Mushroom Kingdom thanks to Fawful, an obnoxious trickster who's been handing out poisoned mushrooms. Naturally, Mario and Luigi are on the job, but after Bowser gets suckered into eating one of the mushrooms, he ends up with a surprising side effect: accidentally swallowing everything in his current field of vision, including the Mario Brothers. As Fawful makes a play to take over the kingdom, Bowser heads out to get some fiery payback with some unexpected help from the Mario Bros.

That's where the inventive gimmick comes in. You switch back and forth between controlling Bowser on the top screen (punching enemies and obstacles and burning down trees) and controlling Mario and Luigi in 2D inside Bowser's body (running, jumping, hitting things with hammers, and sliding down what you can only pray are literal pipes). Specific puzzles on Bowser's side require some assistance on the inside from Mario and Luigi, like shocking his muscles to give him more power to push things, and some actions Bowser performs will affect Mario and Luigi--Bowser drinking water will flood the bottom screen. If Bowser uses the mushroom's power to swallow his foes, Mario and Luigi will be responsible for finishing the enemy off internally. There’s an abundance of cleverness in this story--inspired moments where you are, essentially, playing co-op with yourself, and it’s exciting to wonder how it will bend your brain next.

The fundamentals of combat are building off the same-old turn-based Mario RPG mechanics, where attacks have a chance of doing extra damage and you have a chance to defend yourself using carefully timed button presses. There are very few surprises for anyone who played on DS, but a graphical overhaul on 3DS changes the cartoonish watercolors of the original game to something closer to 1996’s Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. It’s not as bright and immediately eye-catching, but there’s a gentle, storybookish beauty to it.

As far as gameplay is concerned, the series always been delightfully accessible, and the only difference here is the minor learning curve of remembering which buttons control which characters (Bowser's actions use X; Mario and Luigi use A and B; specific to this port, Y controls both brothers at the same time). That said, the game does go a bit too easy on you most of the play time. The game never gets truly challenging until the latter third, and by then, if you're playing carefully, you've learned how to counter every enemy and racked up a massive collection of recovery items. As a result, fights quickly become an unwelcome hindrance on the way to more story after a while.

Thankfully, the story and writing do drive you forward. There are body-based jokes at every opportunity, Bowser is humorously angry and obtuse, and the Globins--Bowser's melodramatic cellular structures--frequently try to steal the show with their laments. Even just the bizarre little moments of Mario and Luigi speaking to each other in pseudo-Italian are a joy. The entire concept of Fantastic Voyage-but-Nintendo is ripe with possibilities for outlandish twists and turns and distortions to characters we all know and love. Having that apply to someone other than the usual Mario Bros. crew is a special treat, especially for the more ambitious moments, like having to turn the 3DS on its side to play as a giant-sized Bowser. More than all this, though, it's a chance to get to know Mario's archnemesis in more detail.

This is the rare opportunity that makes the game’s brand new side-story, Bowser Jr's Journey, worthwhile for many of the same reasons. It’s an odd little real-time strategy game that more resembles a wonky sumo match than, say, Starcraft. Bowser Jr. himself is the commander sending waves of baddies across the screen to butt heads with others, dealing damage based on a rock-paper-scissors system of weakness. Like the main game, there isn’t a terrible amount of difficulty in getting through each battle, and these fights are also a lot less interesting and dynamic. There’s a lot more waiting around for enough damage to happen, or for Jr. to accumulate enough points to activate special moves.

There’s an abundance of cleverness in this story--inspired moments where you are, essentially, playing co-op with yourself, and it’s exciting to wonder how it will bend your brain next.

If there’s a redeeming quality to Bowser Jr.’s tale, it’s that it gives us the first real look at familial relations within the Bowser clan in ages. Jr.'s tale takes place after his dad goes off to his sit-down with Princess Peach about Blorps. In Bowser's absence, Jr. takes it upon himself to make a move to take over the kingdom. Unfortunately, his bratty overzealousness ends up earning the ire of the other Koopalings as well as the three wacky underlings Fawful plants in Bowser's Kingdom. And yet, as the story goes along, there's a strangely heartfelt streak to the proceedings, of a kid who really just wants his dad's approval and figuring out that he has to earn it, not throw tantrums for it. Towards the end, you're almost rooting for the little guy, and it makes the interminable nature of the fights worthwhile.

The extra mode certainly sweetens the pot for those who owned Bowser's Inside Story on DS, but fundamentally, it's the same game. If anything, the real drawback is the game coming off as an unnecessary surprise on the 3DS--which can already play the original game via backward compatibility. But the game itself remains one of Mario's RPG best, and it's a cheerful, inventive journey.

Categories: Games

Layers Of Fear 2 Trailer Is Short But Not Sweet

Game Informer News Feed - Sun, 01/20/2019 - 17:01
Release: 2019

 Gun Media has released a new trailer for Layers of Fear 2, and it's narrated by Tony Todd, who played the titular killer in the early 90s horror film Candyman.

As with the last trailer for the game, Layers of Fear 2 focuses on fleshing out the fears of an actor. Todd's narration is succinct, implying the player character wanted to be an actor so they wouldn't have be themselves. Of course, this being a horror game, you can expect some of the genre staples: Coffins, poorly-lit rooms, and doors that close by themselves. You can watch the trailer below.

Click here to watch embedded video

 

Categories: Games

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown Review - Sortie It Out

Gamespot News Feed - Fri, 01/18/2019 - 05:00

There's more to war than just weapons and politics. Ace Combat is a series that showed us just that, hitting its stride in the early '00s with an enchanting mix of jet fighting and human melodrama. But in the past decade, its entries suffered from putting less importance in its signature stories. It dropped four games' worth of fictional lore in favor of real-world locations, traded pathos for machismo, and attempted to add cinematic blockbuster bombast to the clinical nature of flying jets, all at the cost of losing its identity. Thankfully, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown brings the series back on course and is a significant return to what it was in its prime: a thrilling interpretation of modern aerial combat that also tells a war story with heart, a conscience, and personal stakes.

The narrative of Skies Unknown dives back into the fictional series universe last seen in 2007 and deals with a conflict between the familiar powers of the Osean Federation and the Kingdom of Erusea. You play a silent, faceless Osean pilot who will go through some changing allegiances, but half of the plot actually occurs in cinematics that run parallel to and separate from your actual missions, and come from the perspective of seemingly minor players around the periphery. It's a war story that pivots with the actions of its small cast of characters as much as it does military victories, and leans heavily into themes of the human condition--the greys of fabricated ideas like nationality, borders, and cultural identity as well as the ethics of advancements in technological warfare.

To be clear, there aren't many nuanced discussions to be had between the pronounced personalities of the cast; this is a drama first and foremost. Radio chatter is filled with bold statements of ideology ("As long as our nation stands the young will carry on!"), and sometimes it feels like there's a naivety in the writing for entirely different, slightly juvenile reasons ("How penal is this penal colony?"). It's regularly hammy and melodramatic, but the entire endeavor is so wide-eyed and earnest, so endearingly heartfelt and ultimately optimistic in nature, that it's easy to let yourself be swept up and moved by it all.

Larger-than-life voices amp you up over the radio when you're flying into a sortie, adding an infectious passion to the affairs. They remind you what you're fighting for and sometimes make you feel bad and question your actions. The overlapping conversation can be a little distracting when you're trying to dodge a missile, but it's that vital human element that keeps you really invested in this game about shooting down planes.

But that's not to say that aerial combat in Ace Combat 7 is anything but superb. The fundamental actions of chasing down enemies at high speeds, out-maneuvering them to line up a clear shot, or banking hard to avoid an incoming missile while your dashboard beeps and flashes wildly at you is enough to keep you on the edge of your seat constantly. Skies Unknown strips away recent mechanical additions to the series seemingly in service of returning to simplicity--gone are the wingman commands of Ace Combat 6: Fires Of Liberation and, thankfully, so are the in-your-face, on-rails close combat mechanics of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon.

Your focus lies solely on your plane and your surroundings. There's a variety of familiar factors to take into consideration while flying--different air and ground-based threats, the topography of terrain when fighting at low altitudes--but a significant new element is clouds and the tangible risks and possibilities they invite. Juking into a bank of clouds can break missile locks and give you the element of surprise, but come at the cost of reduced visibility, the possibility of icing up your plane and hindering maneuverability, and even things like strong wind currents and lightning strikes messing with your ability to keep control of your jet. Clouds are legitimately useful strategic considerations, on top of just being a pretty thing to admire, and they make the skies of Ace Combat 7 a more interesting place to be.

There's also an impressive variety of distinct scenarios across the game's 20 campaign missions. Generally, the scope of most battles are quite large and require you to split your attention between different kinds of skirmishes across the map with a broader objective in mind. But many missions also come with unique challenges that make for some memorable moments--dogfighting in a thunderstorm at night, stealth canyon runs, and avoiding huge area-of-effect blasts in the midst of a busy battle are some enjoyable standouts. The game's few boss-style encounters are a highlight too, as you go up against impossibly good ace fighters and the game's white whale superweapon--which itself fills the map with a terrifying amount of hostile drones. There are a few scenarios that aren't as exciting, however--hunting for trucks in a sandstorm and chasing ICBMs grew tiring pretty quickly, and the game's final challenge was a tricky exercise in plane maneuvering that feels like it necessitates multiple retries by design, which puts a damper on an otherwise grand finale.

The act of retrying will inevitably come with a pang of resentment, too, since checkpointing in Skies Unknown is sparse. Checkpoints typically only occur only at the halfway point of a mission, and it's common to get 20 minutes into a battle before failing to hit an objective and having to start from the very beginning. This can get frustrating in the tail end of the campaign, where threats are more abundant and more relentless and the overall demands are higher. Granted, there is a light emphasis on score performance, and your mission score persists even if you need to retry from the halfway point, but a little more generosity wouldn't have gone astray.

Ace Combat 7 features a straightforward, peer-to-peer online multiplayer component featuring 8-player Battle Royal (free-for-all deathmatch) and team deathmatch modes. Dogfighting with other human beings is certainly a lot more challenging and frenetic, and because matches are only five minutes in length, they consistently feel fast-paced and full of excitement. The planes and equipment you unlock as part of the campaign carry over to multiplayer and vice versa, but everything has an assigned value and you're able to play matches that have a limit on how much you can bring, which helps keep a level playing field.

Online sorties also feature a weighted scoring system where leading players are clearly marked and have a higher score value attached to their destruction. In my experience, it's an idea that works well in practice, stopping you from being a target if you're doing poorly and keeping you on your toes if you're doing well. It also allows for some great match dynamics too--there were plenty of times where I was falling behind in score, decided to zero in on the leading player, and made a spectacular comeback to take the lead in the last few seconds.

The PlayStation 4 version of Skies Unknown also features an exclusive VR mode consisting of an Ace Combat 4-inspired mini-campaign. There are only three missions, and their objectives are less complicated than those of the main campaign, but even so, the experience of flying from the cockpit of a plane is engrossing. The feeling of speed and height is literally dizzying, the ability to freely look around and track a target with your gaze is terrific, and the act of pitching and rolling your plane is so effective at eliciting a feeling of actual g-force that I personally had a hard time doing more than one mission at once without breaking out into a nauseous sweat. It's a shame that there's no option to play the main campaign in VR--the head tracking and freelook alone would be incredibly useful--but the mode is a great addition nonetheless.

Good aerial combat is important for a game involving jet fighters, but it's a given quality for Ace Combat. Skies Unknown boasts a beautiful photorealistic world, entertaining mission variety, and a reason to get excited about clouds. But most importantly, it carries renewed devotion to the history and stories of its fictional universe, and with that, it brings back the human, emotional center that makes it remarkable. Ace Combat 7 is a fantastic return for a series that is at its best when it wears its heart on its wings.

Categories: Games

The Walking Dead: The Final Season Episode 3 Review

Gamespot News Feed - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 22:12

The irony of a game about the zombie apocalypse dying an unnatural death only to be resurrected later shouldn't be lost on anybody, nor should the fact that The Walking Dead returns with a story that is very much about the latent humanity present in even the shambling corpses roaming the Earth. It is, for certain, a game worse for wear, limping on to a long-overdue finish, but it's a game full of purpose.

Broken Toys picks things up in the direct aftermath of Episode 2's climactic battle. Lilly and her underlings have taken a few of the Ericson Boarding School kids hostage to be traded and trained as child soldiers. Clementine has Abel--the grungy drifter who's been tormenting her and A.J. since Episode 1--hostage, the only lead as to how to get her new friends back. The interrogation of Abel is the closest Broken Toys gets to well-trod, familiar territory. Clementine has to walk a careful line between presenting a serious threat to a man who's clearly ridden this bloody merry-go-round a few times before and setting the best possible example for A.J.

By way of Abel's distinct character traits, this episode is more introspective and pensive than the series has been for some time. Abel's not afraid of dying; he's afraid of turning for a reason that eventually comes to define Broken Toys as a penultimate turning point and the likely set up for the finale: the idea that there is still something human in the Walkers.

Abel simply doesn't want to become trapped in a zombie body. But to James, the Walker Whisperer introduced in Episode 2, it's also a reason to show mercy and pity towards the Walkers. Naturally, the game gives you plenty of leeway to consider or discard this possibility out of hand. James' proof, after all, is tenuous, presented in a strangely poignant moment where Clementine must walk amongst the Walkers. And yet, the episode's script, credited to Lauren Mee and Mark Darin, does powerful work bringing the idea home to Clementine in other ways.

This is the episode where the theme of the whole series starts to take shape. An older generation full of perpetual fear and greed is making way for one where each others' humanity and ability to adapt and compromise is recognized, acknowledged, and nurtured without the need for bloodshed. The grudges and enmity of the world before Walkers don't seem to apply to these children, or, really, any of the children growing up knowing little to nothing else. We've seen this stretching all the way back to Gabe and Mariana in New Frontier, and, conversely, in Season 2's Sarah, a girl sheltered from the way the world is and mentally shattering when exposed to it.

The standout moment of this episode is right in the middle: an impromptu party for the Ericson kids to remember what they're fighting for before wandering into the lion's den. The kids who were actually students at Ericson before the Walkers all still have delinquency files stored that they start reading off, but after it becomes clear just how many children in the file are dead and how little the people they used to be even matter anymore, the box is put away. They sing. They hold each other. They move on. Together. It's a powerful thing, and presented in stark contrast to what Lilly's people are going through just down the river, rehashing the same old petty fights Clementine's seen her whole life. Clementine's found home and peace with her own generation, one that has known nothing else but death, and the greatness of the episode lies in watching her choose to nest in it, for her and A.J. to feel like there is a future.

This is the episode where the theme of the whole series starts to take shape.

However, that still means one hell of a fight to protect it, and the latter half of the episode is a descent right back into darkness. All the skills acquired from the previous episodes come to bear in the assault on Lilly's boat. The lack of impact from Clementine's bow is still a factor, but it's also much less of a linchpin on the one major Walker battle in the episode. Instead, the action side of things is hampered by some painful dips and judders in frame rate, the likes of which we haven't seen since Telltale's early days. Considering the fraught development history of this episode, it's understandable, but it's nonetheless a hindrance from time to time.

As far as the final stretch of the episode goes, it wouldn't be The Walking Dead without things falling apart for the survivors in horrible ways, and Broken Toys saves the worst for last. The last 20 to 30 minutes are full of double-crosses, horrifying mutilations, a breathless Mexican standoff, and a moment where Clementine must decide the fate of A.J.'s soul faster and with more urgency than anything presented in the series prior--and with devastating emotional fallout.

It's all set up for a finale that, if all goes to plan, hits two months after this one, and finally brings The Walking Dead in for the landing it deserves. But despite the blood and bombast that ends the episode, there's another moment in Broken Toys that does more to show you the light at the end of this bleak tunnel: a dream sequence, flashing Clementine back to the little girl who sat with Lee on a hijacked train in Season 1. She just got her hair cut and learned to shoot because she was worried about the future. In Broken Toys, the voice may be that little girl's, but the words are a woman's. A reluctant leader's lament for all that's been done, the emptiness that could be, and the weariness of what must be done to get there.

And yet, smartly, this ghost of Lee isn't crafted as some all-knowing magical father who tells Clementine exactly what she wants to hear. We're forced to remember Lee was making it up as he went along, that his road to being the person Clementine needs was paved by his--and by proxy, your own--mistakes. But there was love, and there was hope, and for the first time in this series, Clementine being ready to face the uncertain future has nothing to do with being able to shoot or how short her hair is but the fact that she is surrounded by people, a place, and a purpose like never before. Whatever awaits Clementine at the end of this road, she goes there with a full heart. If the finale lives up to the future set up in Broken Toys, so will we.

Categories: Games

How Sekiro Plays Differently Than Dark Souls

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 20:00

Publisher: Activision Developer: From Software Release: March 22, 2019 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

With Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, From Software is making a number of changes to the way it thinks about combat, level design, storytelling, and more. Although fans expect plenty of surprises when they sit down with a From game for the first time, certain aspects of the developer’s formula having been trained into players’ minds, and it might be these players who have the hardest time getting used to Sekiro’s changes.

To get a taste of how Sekiro might differ from From’s previous output we sat down with lead game planner Masaru Yamamura to get his insight on what learned players may want to rethink most when they jump into Sengoku-era Japan for the first time.

Attacks Are The Tells

For years, fans of From games have learned an invaluable instinct: If you see your opponent wind up an attack, get out of the way. That will only get you so far in Sekiro, and Yamamura predicts some players are going to think the game is harder than it actually is if they dodge at the first sign of movement. “We feel like the initial impression is going to be, ‘Wow, these enemies are really tough! They have a strong defense,” he says.

Combat works a little differently this time around; when you see an attack come your way, that’s your time to strike. “When the enemy’s attacking you, you can deal damage to them, you can wear down their posture by deflecting their momentum and their attacks,” Yamamura says. Most attacks enemies dish out can be can be countered by your own sword swings, dealing damage, but more importantly, increase their posture meter. When this meter maxes out, they’re vulnerable to death blows, which will deal severe damage, usually killing them.

It’s not simply a matter of mashing the attack button instead of the roll button, though; the window for properly deflecting an attack is fairly thin, so you’ll have to study an opponent’s attacks and learn the proper timing to counter them. “Once users have mastered the deflect technique, they’ll be dealing not only damage through their own attacks, but when they’re being attacked by the enemies, turning that to their advantage,” Yamamura says.

Exploration Is Part Of Combat

Before you engage in combat at all, however, you’ll want to do your research. The Wolf’s grappling hook lets him move to high places and get a view of where he’s fighting. This lets you survey your opponents before you fight them. Make it a point to seek out vantage points where you’ll be able to see what you’re up against and plan accordingly.

On the ground, you’ll want to be sneaky. Though past From games let you get the jump on enemies from time to time, Sekiro has a bona fide stealth option, letting you move slowly and hide in tall grass to avoid detection. This serves two functions. First, if you can take out a few of the more isolated enemies before you’re spotted, you’ll have an easier time once you go loud. Second, if enemies don’t know you’re there, they might be a little chattier, and have conversations that might be of use to you. It also helps to talk to anyone else you meet along the way. “The eavesdropping mechanic, conversations with NPCs, overhearing enemy conversations – these are ways you can learn about the world, and gain hints about combat as well,” Yamamura says. If you overhear enemy conversations before you kill them, you might learn a particular enemy is weak to fire, giving you an advantage when you finally face them.

The Answer Is Always In Front Of You (Or Nearby)

In Sekiro, every player plays by the same rules. By giving every player the same toolset, From can create encounters that may require a specific approach, attack, or tool, and trust that players will have that solution at the ready. “The game is designed in a way that we’d like users to experience all these [options],” Yamamura says. “And to incorporate them all into their toolset, and to take on challenges by thinking, ‘What could I take from my repertoire in this situation? How could I apply that here?’”

If you’re finding a particular encounter or boss too difficult, think about all of the tools at your disposal. Between your katana, prosthetic limb weapons and tools, and stealth or traversal options, you probably have an answer for your problem. If not, it might be time to go look for it, as some options are hidden around the world. Either way, you’re never “locked” out of a certain strategy simply because you didn’t build for it.

You Can Change Your Strategy On The Fly

Sekiro isn’t as malleable a game when it comes to creating different character builds. That means some dedicated From players are going to have their gameplans pulled out from underneath them. But are there ways to make The Wolf your own that let you adapt to different encounters.

Yamamura says the biggest way players most comfortable with heavy weapons, bows, or magic will find some comfort in Sekiro’s combat arts – equippable skills that offer new abilities. “If a user wants to use a particularly heavy, slow attack, then they’ll find something in the combat arts,” he says. Meanwhile, “the prosthetic tools have a variety of more, I suppose, martial arts or ninjutsu-based attacks that could be perceived as magic, as well.”

So while you won’t be able to turn yourself into an unstoppable heavy-roller or keepaway mage, players with different tastes should look into how they can create their own comfortable “build” through the combat arts, rather than having to return to a particular character to respect their stat points.

For more on Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, make sure to check out how Sekiro’s bosses work, or how From is changing their approach to storytelling, and click on the banner below to keep up through all of our coverage throughout the month.

Categories: Games

New Character Geras Revealed For Mortal Kombat 11

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 19:55
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Developer: NetherRealm Studios Release: April 23, 2019 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC

At the end of the Mortal Kombat 11 event today, the team at Netherream revealed the first completely new character for the game who goes by the name of Geras. While the character trailer did not reveal much in the way of story details, Geras appears to control the power of sand, maybe in the same way Raiden commands lightning and thunder. He certainly does not appear to fear the lightning god, at least.

Check out the reveal trailer below.

Click here to watch embedded video

You can see his fatal move and his fatality in the trailer, which involves punching someone's brains out quite literally.

Mortal Kombat 11 is scheduled to release on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC on April 23.

Categories: Games

Bloody Good Time

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 19:20
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Developer: NetherRealm Studios Release: April 23, 2019 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC

During the Mortal Kombat 11 live stream today, Netherrealm Studios began the event by showing off the first gameplay reveal for the new game. In it, we can see returning and new characters, but primarily focusing on bloodmancer Skarlet from Mortal Kombat 9, Sub-Zero, Baraka, and more.

Check out the gameplay video below.

Click here to watch embedded video

The video also has a bit of the game's story mode, which picks up right after Mortal Kombat X, though creative director Ed Boon mistakenly said Mortal Kombat 9 originally. You can watch various warriors beat on each other a bit in the gameplay video above as more Mortal Kombat nformation starts to trickle in.

You can also catch the game's opening prologue, which shows off Shinnok and new character Kronika, the time-bending warrior. Check it out below.

Click here to watch embedded video

Mortal Kombat 11 is releasing on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC on April 23.

Categories: Games

New Trailer Showcases The Dangerous World

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 17:14
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment Developer: SIE Bend Studio Release: April 26, 2019 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation 4

Days Gone isn't far from its April 26 release, but if you're eager to start riding your motorcycle through this zombie-infested setting, maybe the latest trailer will help make the wait easier.

The video sets up the various threats and locations players will encounter out in the wilderness. If nothing else, the footage definitely makes truck stops and small towns seem much more menacing than they are in our reality. Watch for yourself right here:

Click here to watch embedded video

Are you excited to play Days Gone? If so, you can learn even more about the game by clicking on the banner below.

Categories: Games

The Division 2’s Creative Director Discusses Dark Zone Changes, Weapon Normalization, And Anti-Cheating Plans

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 17:01

Publisher: Ubisoft Developer: Ubisoft Massive Release: March 15, 2019 Rating: Not rated Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

If you’ve read our extensive preview that launched earlier today, you know that the  developers at Massive and Red Storm have a lot of ambitious plans for evolving the dark zone and PvP experiences in The Division 2. Creating three distinct dark zones, normalizing weapon stats to create an even playing field, and still having one rotating “anything goes” region, where hardcore players can test their min-maxed gear unabated, should give the game its own identity. To explain the rationale behind these sweeping changes, we spoke to Red Storm creative director Terry Spier. 

Let's talk normalization – the community has been discussing the pros and cons of putting weapon damage on an even playing field. Can you explain how exactly you want it to work? 

I think how I described it, that's the deepest I'll go here. When we're talking about weapon damage and things like that, if you have an assault rifle and I have an assault rifle, but yours is legendary and mine is common, we're going to bring those inline. We're going to take stats, we're going to respect your build, but we're going to make sure that all the things are pretty in line, and that's as deep as I'll go because we're still working on it. We're still fixing stuff and figuring out – that doesn't work at all. But the ultimate goal is to make sure that players get what they've been asking for – at least the ones who have been asking for it: Give us a fair chance in the dark zone. 

By adopting normalization in the dark zone, are you seeing more diversity in the types of builds people use? 

Yeah, I do. I see a lot more diversity because players are able to play with their build but their output, I don't want to say it's marginalized, but the fact that it's even means you can play the way you want to play and have success. And the other player feels the same way. That wasn't the case in the original game. It was, “I'm trying to play the way I want to play, and I can't because that is too powerful,” so we're seeing a lot more parity. The truth of the matter is we have much more variety in this game already, and we haven't even hit post-launch. So, there's going to be a lot of options for players to explore and experiment with.

When you're in the dark zone fighting both A.I. and other players; are you basically running two scripts on top of one another when NPCs are in a battle with humans?

That's a good question and one I'm probably not properly equipped to answer. How our damage effect, we changed the way the A.I. scale. Maybe you noticed, but we don't display A.I. level in the dark zone anymore. The A.I. will always be equal to you. So, when you are attacking the A.I. you are doing appropriate damage, and when someone else is attacking the A.I. and they are a different level, they are doing appropriate damage. The way we work it all out in the wash, god bless the technical people. They figured out a way to make sure it all works. 

On the map, it looked like there were parts of the dark zone that were higher level, but you're getting rid of that? 

Yeah. Remember, the dark zones unlock in a linear fashion, so the player will be introduced to Dark Zone East first and then they'll go on the journey. You will experience dark zones and they will seem to get harder, and when you open them all up and unlock them, they will all be appropriate. If you're level 29 and you go back to Dark Zone East, which you played when you were level 10, it's going to be just as hard. 

Let's talk about density – the three zones on their own are obviously smaller than the dark zone in the first game. When I saw them on the map, the new zones didn't look that big. How are you controlling population? Are you trying to kill those longer, quiet moments that people had in the original dark zone?

That's a great question. We did have a lot of those longer, quiet moments, and how we've replaced that or how I believe we've approached those moments is we've given more feedback to the player. If you noticed, when a player engages a landmark, it now flashes. Little subtleties like that – how we display the rogues and manhunts on the map. How we don't display the gray rogues on the map. We want to make sure that because we have reduced player count, players can control more where they want to go based on the feedback they are getting. We didn’t have any of that feedback during the first game. My experience was people just went north. If they didn't want to see other people, they would just go north and it was generally free space. I don't think that was as efficient as it could have been, because you had a lot of the dark zone that wasn't active. The other way we approached it was the dark zone sort of lives on its own. If there are players grouped up and spending a lot of time in the southern portion of a dark zone, the dark zone will decide to spawn activities elsewhere to creation motion and movement. Players will be able to safely move around the dark zone and avoid or collide with the other groups. It's worked well so far. 

What is the player count now in the dark zones? Does it scale differently depending on the zones?

The max player count in the dark zones now is 12. 

How do you feel the density change is going to affect solo play in the dark zone? Some of my favorite moments in the dark zone were when I escaped by the skin of my teeth when I was by myself out there waiting for friends to join. Those are rewarding moments, and my initial reaction was these maps are small enough that it's going to be hard to avoid people. Are there perks or abilities that allow solo players to be effective in that space? 

Your dark-zone level now has passive perks attached to it, so you'll be able to go to the base of operations and pick and choose from a tree of things that will help you be able to play how you want to play. So, there is that, and you will be able to do that and assist yourself as a solo player. And then, I'm going to touch back on things that we communicate in the dark zone and how we hide the PvE player very subtly in the new dark zones, and the fact we normalize. All these things – they don't take away from the tension. I will admit that it will be harder to fully disappear, you can't just go up into DZ09 where no one is going. You're going to have to remain real cognizant. And I want to retain that sort of hair on the back of your neck feeling when you're in the dark zone. Bringing the people in a little bit closer, making sure people know what's going on in their zone. Pay attention to all the signs and feedback, because if you don't you could die. But to me that creates the essence of the tension that dark zone creates. I'm not going to say I'm making it any easier for the solo players, but I think I am. Especially given the normalization. 

When I visited one of the underground thieves dens available if you complete a rogue loop, there was a guy in the den who had an icon that said 0/5 MRE. What does that mean? 

MRE is a military ration. Each dark zone has a specific item that only drops from that dark zone, and the vendors in the thieves’ den are always looking for a mix and match or a specific type of item. If you can satisfy his needs, you will get his reward. We'll be able to control the value and scale of those rewards and how much you have to collect. Each dark zone has its own unique needs item that players can hunt and find. 

Do you sometimes need to farm these unique items from one place and bring it to another?

Sometimes. Absolutely. You might say, "We need more morphine and that's only in east. East is occupied...what do we do?” I don't want to say there are time-sensitive elements – players can play at their own pace – but yeah, sometimes you need to go into east, and what are you going to do? Are you going to risk it? Are you not? We'll let players make the choice. 

How did you change the manhunt system for The Division 2?

In The Division 2, we've upgraded the manhunt endgame we had in the original. Now you have three shade terminals that are going to activate when you go manhunt, and those terminals are what you'd go to if you want to clear your manhunt – essentially reboot your shade system and collect your reward. But this time, we don't give specifics to people that are chasing you. We give you the precise location of the terminals and we give players that are chasing you a general vicinity. Of course, players will learn where those are, but they don't know which one you are heading to. When you arrive as a manhunt at one of those terminals, you can choose to clear and collect your bounty, or you can choose to increase your notoriety. We're essentially letting people ante-up and increase the rewards you can earn. When you do that, the players chasing you will see you have done that and that one station goes offline and you only have two left. They still don't know which one you are going to, but there is an interesting cat and mouse game that's played by the manhunt folks and the people who are chasing them. Depending on how aggressive the manhunters want to be, they can earn a sizeable award if they increase their notoriety twice if they end up at one station where everyone on the server knows where they are going to be. It's pretty lucrative, and it's super intense. 

We saw landmarks, manhunts, hacking, and supply drops. Are there any other variable events that pop up in the dark zones?

In the original game we had contamination events that would happen in the dark zone. We did not include those at launch. So right now, we're starting with dark zone drops, landmarks, and we've changed the dynamic nature of the zone. You'll see a lot more A.I. you didn't expect. Part of that is because we reduced the player count so we can include a little more A.I. and increase the density because player characters are pretty expensive [resource wise]. So, as far as things that are calling you on the actual map, it's supply drop, extraction, and landmarks. Those are the things that are going to really ring the bell. 

But you'll see more variety within these?

Absolutely. You saw the landmarks have difficulty ratings now, so you're going to be able to pick as a solo player or a group player. I want to do the challenging one, or I want to just do normal. That's going to dictate how many waves of A.I. come out of the landmark and how much loot you get out of it. It also dictates how long you stay at a landmark, which could be detrimental depending on the other players in the dark zone, that density – how it fluctuates depending on who is playing the dark zone – is a lot different than the first one. 

I noticed not every item you loot is contaminated. Was that a decision you made so players still feel somewhat rewarded even if they aren't able to extract stuff? 

Yeah. It was kind of a two- or three-fold decision. It was in part for the solo player. It was tough as a solo player, as you said, having to extract everything. You have to ring the dinner bell every time you want to get something out of the dark zone. Quite frankly, I was disappointed that yellow bag started to mean a little bit less in the original game because players had everything they wanted, nobody really cared, and they were just killing each other for killing's sake. Making it so when you saw a yellow bag, you say, "Oh, that dude has a contaminated item!" and how we're handling the loot rolls on those contaminated items is different than it was in the original game. We're taking a look at who extracts that item, and then we're going to roll it after they successfully get it out. The likelihood that you get an upgrade is much higher. If the three of us fight over a contaminated bag for two hours, it's an M4, but that's all we know. Its roll is going to depend on who extracts it. Making that yellow bag special, making it a real thing that you care about again, and making players who don't want to care, they can avoid it altogether and farm regular loot. 

There seemed to be a lot of new crafting items like titanium and ceramic. Are you diversifying so there is more variety in the types of items users need to build new gear? 

The crafting system is insane. It's completely out of my range to talk about, but I know that Massive has put a lot of time into it. It doesn't come into play in organized PvP, but we'll have crafting nodes it the dark zone so players can gather and get all the things they need. There is a lot. 

As I gathered loot through the dark zone, I noticed that none of it was cosmetics. Is that all tied to progression, currency, or a store now? Or can I still find new vanity items in the world?

I can't comment exactly on that. What I can say is how we distribute the vanity is something that's still happening. But I'll tell you there is a whole s---load of vanity in the game. There's going to be a whole lot of ways to collect it. 

Talk about occupied dark zones. You want that essentially to be a thunderdome

Yeah, absolutely. We want a fair experience and the dark zone is a huge part of the map and the gameplay. I want more people in it, so let's make sure that people can go in it and we do what we need to do. But we have to respect the players who still play today, who still go in the dark zone today, to really blow off steam and flex and reap the benefits of all the optimization they have done on other people's faces. Give it to them, let them play as hard as they want to play. And take all the gloves off – everything. The A.I. is harder. The PvP is harder. The signs and feedback are harder. That intensity appeals to me so much. I think it's going to be crazier than the dark zone was when we launched the original game. 

How does the occupied system work exactly? It's at endgame?

It's at endgame, just as you said. When you hit endgame, the dark zone will become occupied, and it's one of the three dark zones. It's only going to happen at endgame so you're never going to see this. When you hit endgame, there is a very clear icon over the dark zone, and it's an event that occurs. If you are already in the dark zone, things will begin to happen. You'll get notifications from Isaac, and you'll notice things begin to happen in the air and on the ground. Things will change and they'll be a timer and you'll know shit is about to go down. It will stay that way, Let's say it will stay in Dark Zone West for 16 hours, and then it will go away and appear somewhere else. I'm not going to tell you what it's occupied by, but it's one and it rotates. We're never going to force anyone in it and we want it to be organic so it wasn't like a toggle. 

Let's talk PvP. How are the awards different in that mode than they are in the general game? Are there PvP specific gear that I need to play this mode to get? 

No gear. The same gear you can get doing any of our activities is the gear you're going to get playing PvP. We do have exclusive vanity that played out through the course of your PvP level, but we don't want to open up a place where people have to play PvP to get the quote “best gun” or whatever. But you'll get rewarded for playing PvP and have cool stuff that other people won't have. 

How do you get into PvP? Are there multiple ways to access it?

There are two main ways. You can go to the base of operations. There's going to be an actual person there you can talk to. Or you go right to the mega-map, and there's a whole PvP tab where you can do it right from the menu. You don't have to go to that person if you don't want to. 

Can you jump into PvP from the beginning or is it locked behind endgame?

It's not the super-duper beginning because of how we do some of the skill unlocks and the progression, but let's just say level five. Super early you can jump it, we just want to make sure players are at a baseline before we let them go. Pretty early. 

Let's talk about clans. How are you handling clan progression? What are the rewards behind that? Is that cosmetic emblems and things like that?

It's absolutely cosmetic. We want to make sure that people who participate in the clan feature can be as flamboyant as they want to really deck out their character and make sure they can be as proud as they want of their organization. There's nothing behind clans. If you were not to participate, you're not missing out on anything beyond being a part of a special community. You're not missing out on weapons or gear or anything like that. 

Are you creating an infrastructure that allows clans to matchmake and scrimmage with other clans? 

At launch, that's not integrated. But I can tell the goal is to have clans be part of all the features in the game. Right now, no, there isn't a custom match with clan, but hold tight. 

Are you locked with 4v4 in PvP or are you leaving the door open to try different populations with different modes? 

I think the goal is to try as many things as possible. A group of four is the DNA of the Division, so that was the perfect place to start. Everything works well, including the back end. All the engineers made sure we started with 4v4. But we want to make Conflict the destination for PvP, and that means new experiences. That means working on new things. I think speaking to the fact that we're going to have an eight-player raid, that's going to allow us to explore a lot. 

When you get into a battle when there are two different groups of players and your players, the HUD can get really busy. Is there and customization you can do to strip stuff away that maybe you're comfortable not having on the screen and getting more of a pure experience where you can manage sightlines better?

Yeah. We're going to allow PC and console HUD customization. You can customize in a lot of ways and pick and choose what you want.

Let's talk about toxicity and cheating. You said you are having multiple anti-cheat systems at work. 

I don't know that I've been cleared to name the third-party software, but everything we did to combat cheating in the original game is in place, and then we've got that third-party software. It's not just about us responding to people that get reported. It's about us detecting cheaters and proactively taking them out of the system. We can do that now. It's pretty robust. We've been doing a lot of work here [at Red Storm] and at Massive. I'm happy because I hate cheaters. 

In terms of toxicity, when the bullets start flying the proximity chat will be turned off. Are there any other de-griefing measures? 

That's where we're starting. I think it's going to be a very fluid thing. We really want to respond to community feedback and handle it with care because the proximity VOIP is a unique part of the DZ. The instinct was Yank that shit! because nothing good came from it. But that wasn't the case. There were so many good moments we heard about from fans, ETF members, and people who were on Reddit. But let's start with this, and then we'll see where we go from there. 

Of all the changes you have made to dark zone, which are you most proud of and do you feel enhances the experience the most? 

It's such a two-fold answer. We sat down at the table and said, “We want more people to go in the dark zone.” And at the same time, I said "I want a crazy-ass dark zone." Being able to deliver – I think we're going to do it, I think we're going to get more people in the dark zone because the intro missions are safe, and because they can explore at their own pace, and because it's normalized and we give great signs and feedback and I've got this crazy place where all these awesome people who spend a hundred billion hours playing, they can go there and kick each other's butt. I'm most proud of that, having those two ends of the spectrum and I just envision a day where there is someone who wasn't a darkzoner, and they experience it and realize they kind of like this. And one day they decide to step foot in the occupied dark zone. To me, that's the ultimate success. They've become confident in their ability to play against other players even though they didn't think they were, and then they spend enough time playing to optimize their build and realize that I'm going to try this. Then we've won. I can't wait for that. 

Categories: Games

10 Things You Need To Know About The Division 2’s New Dark Zones and Conflict PvP Mode

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 16:59

Publisher: Ubisoft Developer: Ubisoft Massive Release: March 15, 2019 Rating: Not rated Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

The Division 2 is quickly barreling toward its March 15 release date, but up to this point Ubisoft and the developers at Massive and Red Storm have still kept many details close to their vests. Some of these dark zones are now receiving the spotlight thanks to a recent event that highlighted how the multiplayer spaces are changing for the sequel. After several hours of hands-on time, we have more than a few answers to our questions. Here is everything you need to know about how the dark zone is evolving in Washington D.C., how the development team hopes to make this element of the game more accessible, and the first look at the new PvP modes. 

Washington D.C. Has Three Smaller Dark Zones

In The Division, Manhattan had one large dark zone parked in the middle of the map that players could access from all sides. Rather than replicate this layout in Washington, D.C., Ubisoft took a new approach by creating three smaller dark zones in various parts of the region. Each dark zone has its own origin story, unique biome, and emphasized gameplay style. 

Dark Zone East is located at the Capitol Train Station. This is where the military set up during the green-poison outbreak to shuttle supplies around the city. With long sightlines and open spaces, this region is ripe for mid- to long-range combat. 

Dark Zone South is located down by the waterfront. This is the epicenter of the green-poison outbreak in Washington, D.C. Over the last several months, storms, flooding, and “other terrible things” occurred in this area. Now, the waterfront is choked with overgrown vegetation. This area accentuates close-quarters encounters with its deep interior spaces more reminiscent of the first game’s Underground area and tight streets that provide cover every couple feet. 

Dark Zone West (pictured above) is found in the residential area of Georgetown. Here, you take the fight to backyards, block streets, and alleys. Georgetown was the first test-bed for a government-created compound called DC62, which was sprayed across the neighborhood in hopes of neutralizing the green poison. Problem was, it also proved deadly. Expect a lot of medium-ranged combat here. 

Each of these dark zones is much smaller than the large one in the first game, which means there are some density changes. Though you still have pathways should you want to move undetected, you’re going to have to exercise patience because all the landmarks, supply drops, and extraction points are by nature grouped much more closely together. The maximum number of human players in each dark zone is 12. Red Storm hopes this smaller player pool is offset by a greater assortment/number of A.I. threats in the regions. 

Walking Into The Dark Zone Isn’t As Intimidating In The Sequel

Those who played The Division knew that anything could happen in the Dark Zone, the dangerous quarantine area in the middle of the map where the toughest enemies and best loot was found. Even after doing all the hard work of fighting through tough defenses and acquiring a valuable contaminated item for extraction, an opposing squad of agents (or even one of your own compatriots) could decide to put a bullet in your skull during the extraction and take the spoils for themselves. This created a riveting tension that attracted those brave enough to roll the dice, but it also drove many players away who preferred a more controlled experience. 

Ubisoft isn’t content with the dark zones being play spaces for only a hardcore slice of its player base, which is why they are integrating the dark zones into the story missions. Each of the three dark zones has a narrative-driven introductory mission where you can venture into the zone with some cooperative buddies to get the lay of the land. During these private missions, you can explore the dark corners of the zones to your heart’s content, identifying the landmarks, finding the safe rooms, and locating extraction zones without worrying about being descended up on by rogue agents. Once you complete these missions, the dark zones transition into being the dangerous PvEvP space we’re all accustomed to. But having a private mission in the dark zone alone isn’t enough to tempt players to venture into the danger zone. Ubisoft also made other changes to entice wary gamers into the dark zone, most notably…

Weapons Are Normalized In The Dark Zone…

You no longer need to walk into a dark zone in fear of being destroyed by a Division lifer who has already min-maxed gear to the best of their ability. Ubisoft wants to make sure the dark zone is an even playing field no matter how many hours you’ve put into the game, which is why it has created a new weapon-normalization formula to balance out damage stats in the dark zone. 

When you walk into the dark zone, your gear still works like you expect it to. However, all assault guns, sniper rifles, etc. are balanced to output similar damage. This rewards twitch play rather than whoever has spent more time with the game. 

The weapon normalization does not happen behind a veil of secrecy. In the menu system, you can view how your weapon stats change in the dark zone at the press of a button, allowing players to make adjustments and see what happens. 

The biggest potential benefit to weapon normalization is the diversity of builds we may see in the dark zone moving forward instead of seeing so many players using the same D3FNC style equipment.  

…Except For Occupied Dark Zones

Hardcore Division players probably scoffed at the idea of weapon normalization in the dark zone – how are they going to peacock their amazing gear sets when all the gear is re-rolled to the same basic level? The good news for these players is many at Red Storm feel the same way as you, which is why the game will have rotating “occupied” dark zones that have no rules. 

Once you reach the endgame in The Division 2, one of the dark zones becomes occupied. We don’t know what this means narratively just yet (Aliens? Foreign governments? A power grab?), but we do know that it creates a no-holds-barred experience where friendly fire is on at all times, normalization is thrown out the window, and players can experiment with builds to their heart’s content. 

“We have to respect the players who still play today, who still go in the dark zone today, to really blow off steam and flex and reap the benefits of all the optimization they have done on other people's faces,” says Red Storm creative director Terry Spier. “Give it to them, let them play as hard as they want to play. And take all the gloves off – everything. The A.I. is harder. The PvP is harder. The signs and feedback are harder. That intensity appeals to me so much. I think it's going to be crazier than the dark zone was when we launched the original game.”

No players have shade icons in these occupied zones, which means you have no idea what they are up to. Are they friendly? Are they manhunters? You never can tell until they act, adding yet another layer of tension to the experience. 

Not All Dark Zone Loot Is Contaminated

If you ventured into the dark zone in The Division, chances are you worked real hard to recover some contaminated gear and marched it to the extraction zone only to have a rogue group of agents take you out and pilfer your goods. There’s no way around it – getting robbed sucks. Conversely, successfully extracting a rare item feels so goddamn good. 

Ubisoft wants to preserve this feeling of empowerment, but at the same time wants players to feel rewarded for going into the dark zone whether they can extract some rare gear, which is why not every item you recover in the dark zone is contaminated. Ubisoft hopes this makes the contaminated items you do recover feel more valuable. 

“Quite frankly, I was disappointed that yellow bag started to mean a little bit less in the original game because players had everything they wanted, nobody really cared, and they were just killing each other for killing's sake,” Spier says. “Making it so when you saw a yellow bag, you say, "Oh, that dude has a contaminated item!" and how we're handling the loot rolls on those contaminated items is different than it was in the original game. We're taking a look at who extracts that item, and then we're going to roll it after they successfully get it out. The likelihood that you get an upgrade is much higher.”

The Rogue System Offers More Varied Experiences

The rogue system from The Division operated on a simple premise – if you killed a rival player in the dark zone, you were branded a rogue. Rack up enough PvP damage and a manhunt quest would trigger for players in the surrounding area, putting a bounty on your head for them to collect. The Division 2 is making some significant expansions to this system to encourage different types of gameplay experiences. 

This time around, you don’t need to be interested in PvP play to use the rogue system. You know all those pesky locked chests littered around the dark zone? If you don’t have a key, this time around you can pick the lock and steal the goods. The same goes with the supply drops – you could share with others or hoard it all for yourself. Doing so activates a new rogue state that still opens you up to attacks without consequences for other players. But doing so has another benefit: There are several hackable computer systems littered throughout the darkzone. Successfully hack enough of them and you gain access to a hidden thieves den, where you can collect potentially valuable loot and interact with mission givers who will reward you for recovering particular items. 

The manhunt system has also been changed to reward emboldened players. When a player is designated as a manhunter, three shade terminals activate around the dark zone. One of these must be activated by the player to clear the manhunt status and claim the reward. The player knows where these locations are, but the bounty hunters only know it’s in a general vicinity.  When a player reaches the first terminal, they can choose to clear the bounty or choose to increase their notoriety. 

“We're essentially letting people ante-up and increase the rewards you can earn,” Spier says. “When you do that, the players chasing you will see you have done that and that one station goes offline and you only have two left. They still don't know which one you are going to, but there is an interesting cat and mouse game that's played by the manhunt folks and the people who are chasing them. Depending on how aggressive the manhunters want to be, they can earn a sizeable award if they increase their notoriety twice if they end up at one station where everyone on the server knows where they are going to be. It's pretty lucrative and it's super intense.”

The Division 2 Includes New Toxicity And Anti-Cheating Measures

Ubisoft is making some infrastructure changes to make the dark zone more hospitable. The reworked client/server architecture gives the developers the flexibility to handle more things server side, which eliminates the ability for users to modify data without getting caught. Both internal and third-party anti-cheat programs are being used to better identify and ban cheaters as well. 

On the toxicity front, Ubisoft is making one critical change to voice chat. You can still talk to strangers in the dark zone, but once bullets are exchanged between parties they can no longer talk to each other. This should hopefully cut down on the amount of trash talking you hear on a nightly basis.

The Clan System Becomes Reality

The oft-requested clan system is finally becoming a reality in The Division 2. Setting up a clan with friends gives you unique leaderboards where you can compare accomplishments as well as a unique progression track. Clans earn XP for completing objectives and activities together, which unlocks special collaborative objectives, special clan perks, and exclusive clan cosmetic items. 

“We want to make sure that people who participate in the clan feature can be as flamboyant as they want to really deck out their character and make sure they can be as proud as they want of their organization,” Spier says.

Clan members can communicate with each other via clan chat, direct messaging, and a bulletin-board system. The clan system lacks the ability to matchmake and scrimmage other clans, but Ubisoft’s goal is to eventually have it integrated with all the features in the game. 

The HUD Is Customizable

When multiple squads and A.I. waves descend on the same position, the user interface overlay can get very cluttered and obscure your view of the action. Thankfully, both PC and console users have access to HUD customization that allows you to reposition (or even remove) certain data points. 

The Conflict PvP Mode Lets Teams Of Four Do Battle

For squads who want to test their mettle against rivals in the purest of environments, Ubisoft has crafted Conflict. This organized PvP suite pits two teams of four against one another in two modes – Skirmish and Domination. As you would expect, Domination follows the familiar flag-capture formula found in many competitive shooters. Skirmish is essentially a team deathmatch mode that culminates in a single-elimination event. 

Ubisoft plans to have three unique maps available at launch, with plans for more maps and modes in the future. These locations are discrete instances that take place off the mega-map. 

Like the dark zone, the PvP battles use stat normalization to even the playing field. Skill-based matchmaking should group you with players with similar abilities, and the unique progression track in Conflict includes exclusive vanity awards you can’t get elsewhere. 

To learn more about The Division 2's new dark zone and PvP spaces, read our interview with Red Storm creative director Terry Spier

Categories: Games

The Legend Of Heroes: Trails Of Cold Steel III Coming To The PS4 This Fall

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 15:52

Click here to watch embedded video

Publisher: NIS America Developer: Nihon Falcom Release: Fall 2019 Platform: PlayStation 4

NIS America has announced that it is bringing over Nihon Falcom's The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III this fall, taking over as publisher from XSEED, who published the first two Trails of Cold Steel titles here in America.

The game takes place a year-and-half after Cold Steel II, following the continuing exploits of Rean Schwarzer.

NIS' involvement is not without reservation. The publisher handled the localization of Ys VIII after XSEED, and NIS did not do a great job.

If you're not familiar with this side series, be sure to read Kim's Grind Time column on why you shouldn't overlook it.

[Source: NIS America]

Categories: Games

Long Division

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 01/16/2019 - 23:50
Publisher: Ubisoft Developer: Ubisoft Massive Release: March 15, 2019 Rating: Not rated Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

The countdown to Ubisoft's next big game release in The Division 2. The freshly post-apocalyptic multiplayer shooter takes players from the wintry New York City to the contrasting greenery of Washington D.C. But why are you at the nation's capitol and what are going to be doing there? Ubisoft has answered those questions in small bullet points, but we get a better look at the story with the latest trailer.

Check out the story trailer for The Division 2 below.

Click here to watch embedded video

The video also gives a good look at the kind of weaponry you will be using in The Division 2. You can do what every post-apocalyptic video game does and equip a crossbow. Presumably it will have bows that never deteriorate despite shooting them through people.

The Division 2 will be releasing on March 15 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. The PC version will be skipping Steam in favor of the Epic Games Store, the first of what Ubisoft says will be several upcoming collaborative projects. The private beta begins on February 7 through February 10.

Categories: Games

YIIK: A Postmodern RPG Review - A Bit More Hipster

Gamespot News Feed - Wed, 01/16/2019 - 20:24

"Postmodern" is both an intriguing and an intimidating word. YIIK, pronounced "Y2K," comes with the subtitle, "A Postmodern RPG," but what does that mean? Is it a game centred around the tennis matches of Infinite Jest? Or around Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans? Regardless of the intention behind labeling the game as such, the postmodern tag initially seems a little peculiar.

However, when you boot up YIIK you're met with a stylish title screen that looks like it was ripped straight out of a retro arcade. The stunning visuals are accompanied by an electro-jazz bass-driven track that immediately asserts the game's homage to '90s pop culture. After a short exchange with a crow named Marlene, you're given control of Alex McHugh, college graduate and spoiled brat. You're also unemployed and spend your time wandering around your town aimlessly until you meet a cat with a Salvador Dali moustache. Shortly afterwards, an ethereal girl goes missing, triggering a chain of events that threaten the very fabric of reality itself.

YIIK plays as a turn-based RPG, but instead of a strength/weakness mechanic that's usually innate to most turn-based systems, YIIK uses a series of minigames to determine how much damage you deal and receive. Alex's basic attack sees him spin his favorite LP on a portable record player, which is lighthearted and amusing at first. However, as more characters and abilities are introduced to the game, the amount of minigames becomes increasingly more daunting.

Basic attacks become ineffective as the game progresses, leaving you to use special abilities that feature minigames spanning myriad genres. These special abilities are necessary to take down mid-game enemies, but because there are no instructions on how to play the minigames, the game's learning curve is both unfair and unsatisfying. Make a mistake and you'll deal no damage, so you'll likely need to die a few times before you get the hang of a new ability. There's a voice that narrates the battle dynamics when you dodge an attack or die that sounds like the aliens from The Simpsons, though, which is a small redeeming factor.

The defense mechanics aren't much better. Sometimes you can dodge if you nail a real-time prompt, whereas other times the most you can do is reduce the amount of damage you receive. One particular kind of attack, for example, targets your entire party of four and hits you like a truck unless you nail three timed prompts in quick succession, which is a lot more difficult to do than it might seem. Since this attack is used more frequently over time, it becomes a frustrating way to engage with combat. The battle pace is slow and the response to your inputs is clunky, making the battles themselves last for an unnecessarily long time. And the further you progress through the game, the more often you have to battle while traversing its many dungeons. Also, the real-time battle prompts are much better suited to a precise mouse-click than a button press, which is an issue on PS4.

The game's leveling system, meanwhile, is tied to the Mind Dungeon, which sounds a lot more intriguing than it actually is. Again, the Mind Dungeon gets maximum style points, quite literally being a dungeon located in the protagonist's head that's accessed by dialing a specific number. In the Mind Dungeon, the camera angle changes to a side-scrolling perspective. In order to level up, you need to select one of four doors on the current floor and choose one of six skills to increase. You then need to enter the room behind that door, which confirms the skill increase. All four doors can be used to increase a skill, meaning that you can increase four skills for every level. After all four doors have been used, you can speak to Marlene the crow at the staircase located on the opposite side to the side you entered on. After confirming the level up, you descend to the next floor, which has another four doors -- and so on.

The actual world of YIIK is stunning, though. Each map (apart from the dreary and awkwardly angled Wind Town) is designed with a gorgeous retro art style that screams '90s Nintendo, and the soundtrack is consistently killer. Hearing that Undertale developer Toby Fox helped with music production wasn't surprising at all, and the late-game vocal tracks in particular set the mood brilliantly. The art style and music set a ‘90s mood that's paired with a lighthearted tone, with the game being genuinely funny for the most part. One particular NPC unleashes a barrage of rubbish jokes, the last of which is, "Are you visiting from Seattle? Say hi to Nirvana for me." It's very silly, but it works in the game's favor.

However, YIIK's attempts at humor can also be very problematic. Characters call each other "spazoids," derived from the highly-insulting term "spastic," as a throwaway insult. At one point Alex even says, "That's our word" about the word "ginger." On another occasion, a character says, "You guys went into an epileptic fit," despite the fact that what actually happens doesn’t even remotely resemble that. These jokes don't land, instead creating an uncomfortable atmosphere. It's one thing to set your game in 1999 and use otherwise outdated terms in context, but it's another thing entirely to gratuitously use derogatory terms for comedic effect. The art style and characters already capture the era perfectly; drawing on the negative parts of the '90s for no reason doesn't add anything.

YIIK has a number of design and technical performance issues as well. The game doesn't perform very well on console for a range of reasons. For one thing, the movement mechanics are a real issue on console. With no invisible barriers, traversing narrow bridges from an isometric perspective with a PS4 controller's analog sticks usually results in falling off the side. Obviously pressing the D key on a keyboard will cause you to move right with precision, but the same can't be said of analog sticks unless you're willing to move at a snail's pace through a game that's already slow.I also encountered a game-breaking bug that could only be resolved by going back three hours to an old save file.

Although some aspects of the game can be called postmodern, YIIK tries a bit too hard to make itself smart, coming off as pretentious more often than not

In general, puzzles that are not complicated ended up being unnecessarily time-consuming. The puzzles in the early parts of the game are quick logic problems that are enjoyable and fit the style of the game like a glove. The later puzzles, however, are resolved with much more arbitrary solutions and, in my experience, are susceptible to bugs. For example, you are taught early in the game that one tool (Panda) is used to hold down pressure plates, while another tool (Dali) is used to activate inaccessible switches. Late in the game, you need to use Dali to activate a pressure plate while Panda is already in use elsewhere. However, you've been explicitly taught that each of the two has a role of its own--it's a bit cheap, really, and when I figured it out I felt dissatisfied, because it didn't fall in line with the logic that the game went out of its way to establish earlier. The solution was neither a clever implementation of the game's established rules nor a smart twist on those same rules.

Although some aspects of the game can be called postmodern--namely the character arcs and the writing--YIIK tries a bit too hard to make itself seem smart, and it instead comes off as pretentious. By self-consciously addressing itself as a game and including lines like, "How can an RPG be postmodern?", YIIK is postmodern in a basic sense, featuring nods to the critique of Enlightenment ideas of self-realization. However, it doesn't use this basis to communicate anything important later on. It never builds on its foundations. YIIK's reliance on the quirkiness of its content--such as Alex attacking enemies with a record player--means that it's not postmodern so much as it is a take on hipster culture.

YIIK opts for pointless "postmodern" jargon about the nature of objective reality and a person's soul over meaningful character development and ambitious experimentation with its form. On top of this, postmodern literary phrases are rattled off in contexts that are completely detached from their meaning, which can be perceived as postmodern in an edgy sense but definitely not an intriguing or challenging one.

YIIK's characters are intriguing at first, but they don't really develop until late in the story, so it's difficult to care about them. At the end of the game, Alex provides a summary of what has happened, and it's genuinely interesting. It's unfortunate that the game managed to kill that intrigue with its slow, tedious, and clunky gameplay. There are two endings, both of which are canon. The one I got is the one that most people will get on their first playthrough, and it's not good. The story doesn't resolve itself in any meaningful way and the last boss is designed as another arbitrary puzzle that's a bit much to be considered clever or fair. Also, the route to the end of the game involves a monotonous grind that feels like not enough butter scraped over too much bread.

Despite YIIK's stunning art direction, kicking soundtrack, and occasionally interesting plot point, it suffers as a result of its clunky combat, tedious grinding, and poor puzzle design. Postmodern texts aren't always enjoyable--Wallace's Infinite Jest features walls of text that list every chemical name for prescription drugs under the sun, spanning pages upon pages at a time. However, Infinite Jest has substance. For the most part, YIIK doesn't.

Categories: Games

How From Software Is Changing Its Approach To Storytelling For Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 01/16/2019 - 20:00

Publisher: Activision Developer: From Software Release: March 22, 2019 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Set in the waning years of Sengoku-era Japan, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice features a brighter, more colorful world than we’ve seen out of From Software. This lets them create environments with a different air about them than either Bloodborne or Dark Souls, as the developer tries to both elicit and play with the beauty of Japan during the Warring States period. The change in locale has also prompted From Software to make some key changes to how it tells stories, but it’s not shying away from the key methods fans have come to love.

For starters, don’t let the brighter environments in Sekiro fool you into thinking this will be a cheerier tale. “Of course, this being a From title, there’s beauty and there’s death and decay to contrast that,” says From manager of marketing and communications Yasuhiro Kitao. When choosing a time period for Sekiro, From chose the earlier Sengoku era over the more modern Edo period as its setting specifically because it fit the studio’s style. “Edo is more like Japan coming back from the brink, and really kind of revitalizing itself, and everything’s a lot more early-modern [stuff],” Kitao says. “Sengoku is much like Dark Souls and such, more medieval Japan, and allows us to play with those medieval concepts and those more mystical concepts.”

The company has taken inspiration from history before (the company looked to Victorian London when making Bloodborne), and you can expect a similar approach to Japan in Sekiro. “We decided to take inspiration from the architecture and the vegetation, but there are no actual historical people or locations featured in the game,” Kitao says. “This is a From game we’re talking about. It’s a Miyazaki game we’re talking about. You can probably expect a lot of weirdness to occur and to begin to unravel as you progress through the game.”

With its move away from RPG builds and progression, From is also leaning into telling the story of a set character rather than letting players create their own. Previous From games told the story of their worlds moreso than any individual character, delving into the history of the locations you traversed and telling stories of characters whose footsteps you were following. While your character in those games set important events in motion, you were only one small part of a grander tale. “This time we have a fixed protagonist and we have a cast of characters who we’re trying to build that story around,” Kitao says. “We’re trying to tell more of a drama, if you will, of these characters.”

The story of Sekiro begins with the Young Lord, a child The Wolf is in charge of protecting. Early in the game, The Wolf and the Young Lord are assaulted by a group of enemies led by the Ashina Commander, who defeats The Wolf, chops off his arm, and kidnaps the Young Lord. After finding himself restored to health after the battle and wearing a prosthetic limb, The Wolf’s goal at the start of Shadows Die Twice is to find and retrieve the Young Lord – and exact revenge on his assailant.

“One nice thing about basing the story around these characters is we get to play with the relationship between these characters, between [The Wolf] and the Young Lord, and how their relationship kind of evolves throughout the game,” Kitao says. The Young Lord and The Wolf will meet up several times throughout the story, and the story will place a large emphasis on their relationship. “There is one point in the early game where he is by your side, but this is not a kind of escort mission in the typical sense, and it only happens the one time.”

The Wolf is also a more fleshed-out character than the player characters in other From games. Raised on the battlefield by a character named The Owl, The Wolf will speak to other characters as he encounters them, lending his own character to the story. “Having this key protagonist allows us to build a cast of characters around him, and his personality, and his history,” says director Hidetaka Miyazaki. “We feel like, you know, not the typical NPCs that you run into during the game, but these kind of central – these core characters that are central to his presence in the world, and his story ­– are going to be playing a lot of that role of the story in the gameplay. So, we feel like you’ll be able to experience both his past, in that sense, and the here-and-now of where the game takes place.”

The main area we played through, the Hirata Estates, was couched in the story as a flashback, in which The Wolf fights against Lady Butterfly, an acquaintance of The Owl. “He sort of plays a foster father role to the protagonist,” Miyazaki says. “This Owl character picked up Sekiro on the battlefield and raised him as a shinobi and one of his old acquaintances – or part of that shinobi system of allies – was this Lady Butterfly character. So, while Owl was training the protagonist and teaching him techniques, maybe he got to spar with this character or had some sort of menial relationship with her through the foster-father figure.” 

From isn’t going to lean too heavily on flashbacks to tell its story, however. “It’s mainly focused on the present,” Miyazaki says. “It’s not a game where you’re going back and forth from present to past to piece together the puzzle, but this is a one-off flash back, if you will, to a portion of his past and that allows you to piece a little more bits together of the story. So, you get some extra detail and you can flesh things out for yourself in that way.”

While this more character and narrative-centric approach is atypical for From, Kitao is confident with how the change in direction is taking shape. “It's actually a very 'From’ way of doing a protagonist, and the way he conducts himself and the way this character kind of evolves is very kind of From-esque," he says. Although he’ll have a central role in the story, don’t expect Sekiro to be a chatterbox. “He'll say a few things here and there, but yeah, he won't bore you to tears with constant monologues," Kitao says.

At first, this character-driven approach seems to clash with one of From’s signature storytelling techniques: foregoing a traditional narrative in favor of having players build their own narrative out of vague hints from characters and item descriptions. From is well aware of fans’ love of that technique, and wants to assure them what while the story they’re telling is angled differently, the methodology isn’t changing too much. “That is very much intact in Sekiro, we’re trying to maintain that,” Kitao says. "We don't want to rob the experience of that kind of fragmented storytelling. We want it to be a user-driven story, a play-driven experience rather than [something] directed by us. We don't want to feed the user every little bit of information. We don't want to tell them straight-up the answers, or how something is. We'd like them to experience and explore that for themselves."

We found plenty of items during our time with Sekiro, and of course the descriptions for these items were more than just functional. The description for the Fistful of Ash item, for example, states it can be thrown to distract enemies, but also mentions that doing exactly that was a hobby of boys growing up in Ashina, the locale in which The Wolf was raised. As we approached a particular area, we also saw a scene of the Young Lord chatting with Emma (one of the characters who helps you in Sekiro’s hub area) play out through ghostly figures in the environment itself, similar to how certain “flashbacks” in games like BioShock occur. However, Kitao says the number of cutscenes in Sekiro won’t be out of line with the company’s past work, and that they won’t have huge info dumps, either. “We want users to pick up on these subtle hints through the cutscenes, through the dialogue, as well."

That said, From is making some changes to this storytelling approach - namely, who’s doing the telling. Although Miyazaki is handling the overall story, he won’t be doing the bulk of the writing for the dialogue and item descriptions, delegating the job to other members of the staff to “create a fresh experience and something that we hope users have never seen before,” Kitao says. Miyazaki himself doesn’t want to fall back into his old writing tricks, either, something he feels fans wouldn’t be as excited about as they have been in the past.

While Miyazaki finds the change refreshing in some ways, it’s meant getting used to a change in the overall narrative workflow. “Previously, I could have just written some stuff down as part of the text or dialog at home,” Miyazaki says. “Nowadays, for Sekiro I have to communicate this to staff and be really quite forthcoming about it. That’s quite tough in itself. But then to see them reinterpret this into their idea of what that means or that implies, this is enlightening for me, and it allows me to see this different interpretation and then to have this collaborative story building together.” This, in turn, gives Miyazaki the ability to see the story From is building from a new perspective, and for the first time, get a read on how coherent it might be to an outside reader.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice makes a number of tweaks to how From Software tells stories, but from the time we’ve spent with it, it looks to stay true to the company’s mantra of letting players engage with their stories in various engaging ways, even as it aims to tell a more personal tale.

For more on Shadows Die Twice: check out our deep dive into a boss fight, how progression works, and more, and make sure to click on the hub below to follow our coverage all throughout the month.

Categories: Games

One Last Look At Metro Exodus Before Launch

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 01/16/2019 - 14:59

Publisher: Deep Silver Developer: 4A Games Release: February 15, 2019 Rating: Mature Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

With the February 15 release date fast approaching, Metro Exodus has already gone gold and developer 4A Games is in the fine-tuning stage of development. Deep Silver recently swung past GI headquarters to give us one last look at the game before we begin our final evaluations. 

This latest build brings us to a dusty desert region we only saw glimpses of during our cover story visit to 4A Games’ Malta studio last year. Artyom and the Spartan Rangers accompanying him are far away from the Moscow subway tunnels they once called home, and from the looks of it, they are worse for the wear. 

I journeyed through this dangerous region for several hours, by far our most expansive hands-on time with the promising title thus far. Here’s what you need to know.

Click here to watch embedded video The Countryside Is As Unforgiving As The Metro

This mission starts with the Spartans in dire straits. The Aurora locomotive that serves as the group’s home and your hub has burned through all the coal, leaving them to burn any available fuel. To make matters worse, its water tank is also dangerously empty, and many passengers are suffering from hunger, dehydration, and sickness. 

This desert is no convalescence resort, so Artyom is assigned four critical tasks – find some water reservoirs, steal some gasoline, and look for the nearby communications bunker that may have maps the Spartans can use to find a hospitable area free from radioactive fallout. 

Just because the mission takes place outside, however, doesn’t mean Artyom now has an abundance of resources. Like the underground tunnels of the previous two games, attrition still plays a central role in Metro Exodus. With the new sandbox-style world design, you’re free to wander in any direction, and exploring can yield some nice attachment upgrades. But you’ll also probably burn through a lot more ammo defending yourself, which could put you in a disadvantageous position during the more focused firefights. Expect to desperately scavenge resources and constantly deconstruct ammo for guns you aren’t currently using so you can fill enough magazines to get you through your next armed encounter. Sometimes, it’s smarter to stick to the shadows and conserve those bullets. 

The Wide Open Areas Still Have Frightful Moments 

When 4A Games announced its plans to leave the underground and head into the open Russian countryside with Metro Exodus, I had concerns. Namely, could the studio still pull off pulse-quickening moments in wide open spaces? Thus far, this quality hasn’t been lost in translation. 

When I first set off on-foot in this desert region, I headed toward a set of ruins off the path from my next objective. Rounding a corner into the rubble left from a building, I was immediately taken aback when it looked like the wall started to move toward me. That was no wall. Apparently, the hunched “humanimals” roaming the irradiated wastelands have developed camouflage skills, because the ones in this region blend in perfectly with the tan backdrop. Fighting off one of these new beasts is easy enough, but they can call for backup. If you’re not careful, you can be quickly overwhelmed. 

Humanimals aren’t the only horrors haunting this region. Mutated snakes slither through the sands and can catch you off-guard in otherwise deserted areas. The winged demons hover above and occasionally swoop down to grab you (or beat the hell out of your vehicle) if you’re spotted. Occasionally, sandstorms whip through the region as well, dramatically diminishing visibility and making it much harder to identify threats from afar. 

The Interiors Are Suffocating And Dangerous 

Though these sandbox regions have lots of open space, 4A Games includes large, detailed underground areas as well where it can inject that classic claustrophobic Metro tension. Artyom journeys to this Caspian region to find an invaluable set of maps in a nearby bunker. Enlisting the help of a local lady who owes him a favor after repelling a bandit advance on the lighthouse she calls home, Artyom gains access to the abandoned facility. 

Down here, Artyom has to deal with a lot of familiar problems – radiation zones that require he equip his facemask, dimly lit corridors, packs of lurkers and spiderbugs roaming the area ready to swarm on first sight, and dilapidated rooms that give these mutant threats the ability to emerge and attack from all directions. The dread that hangs in this underground complex feels like classic Metro. After locating and packing up the maps, the sporadic firefights leave Artyom short on ammo. The mission ends in a dramatic sprint back to the elevator while being overwhelmed by enemies.

The Game Reacts Dynamically To Your Actions

With Metro Exodus allowing players to chart their own path through the sandbox spaces, 4A Games had to design a mission structure that accommodates this newfound freedom. I saw these systems on display during my playthrough. When I showed no intentions of going to the first objective, after I journeyed far enough in another direction eventually Artyom’s handlers call over the radio to suggest he head to another nearby place of interest. But in doing so, I missed a set-piece moment where a sandstorm engulfs a communication tower and Artyom gains access to his first vehicle. Going off the beaten path doesn’t punish the player, however. I eventually gain access to a vehicle by other means. 

After I successfully recouped the map, I could have continued to find the water and fuel supplies, but instead I headed back to the train to see what my compatriots were up to. After chatting with some of the people and crafting more bullets at the workbench, a dynamic firefight broke out right outside the train against a local faction threatened by our presence. 

The Sandboxes Have A Lot Of Diversity

Desert regions are rarely the standout setting in video games – they are frequently barren and uninteresting because by their very natures, the developers don’t have a lot to work with. That’s not the case in Metro Exodus. I journeyed to most of the corners of the map and found it to be surprisingly diverse thanks to its proximity to the former shores of the Caspian sea. While most of the map is arid, you still see the infrastructure of a docking region, with a lighthouse, large crane, and several beached shipping vessels where the regional power keeps its prisoners. A change in altitude along the western part of the map gives way to an interesting cave system, and on the other side of the map you can find some gear in the air tower and hangers-on an abandoned airfield. 

We felt the same way about the thawing river region and densely wooded territory we saw in previous game demonstrations, each of which had multiple alluring points of interest.

Click image thumbnails to view larger version

 

                                                                        Artyom’s Lack of Agility Can Hinder You

Maybe it’s because he’s spent most of his life in the tunnels of Moscow. Maybe it’s because he lugs a backpack of heavy gear with him everywhere he goes. Whatever the reason, Artyom is not a limber man. Throughout my playthrough, I was surprised by how slowly he vaulted and climbed and how difficult it was for him to maneuver through tight places. Don’t expect to be moving quickly between different vertical planes. This is important to remember during firefights, where you can leave yourself mortally exposed if you make your move at the wrong time. 

To learn more about Metro Exodus, check out all the details we discovered about the game in our cover story hub.

Categories: Games

Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes Review - Short On Heroics

Gamespot News Feed - Wed, 01/16/2019 - 14:00

Relentless absurdity and hyper-stylized action have been core tenets of the No More Heroes series. It never cared for making much sense and instead embraced its own ridiculousness with bold self-awareness, a staple of director Suda51. The slimmed-down hack-n-slash spinoff, Travis Strikes Again, hits many of the same notes, but not as hard and with varying degrees of success. Its combat is frenetic, but well worn toward the end. Its story and style is unique, but thin in crucial moments. Its humor lands in spots, but not quite with a punch. But despite a middling delivery of what past games have done, there's fun and charm packed into Travis Strikes Again, and if anything, it is a great example of local co-op action on Switch.

Seven years after the events of No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, Travis Touchdown has removed himself from the world of assassination. The series' too-cool-for-school protagonist now spends his days playing video games in a trailer nestled away in the backwoods of Texas. The father of past enemy Bad Girl, aptly named Bad Man, tracks him down for revenge, but he and Travis get sucked into an alternate dimension within Travis' possessed Death Drive Mk II video game console. They end up working together to uncover the true nature of the haunted console and its games, and that's how you get the co-op premise where you can play as either Travis or Bad Man in the six Death Drive games that serve as missions.

Charge attacks are satisfying to pull off, especially when Travis unleashes his inner tiger.

Travis Strikes Again primarily plays as a top-down hack-n-slash action game that pits you against hordes of enemies, referred to as "bugs," that look like they're from a digitized hellscape. Travis is still equipped with his trusty beam katana, but can now equip four unique abilities mapped to the face buttons, which can be activated when holding down the left bumper and operate on a cooldown. As you acquire more of these skills, called Chips, combat starts to open up and become more varied; finding what works for you and stringing together attacks with a preferred loadout is satisfying, especially when dealing with tougher enemies that require more than button-mashing to defeat. A personal favorite combo is a lightning strike to immobilize an enemy followed by a sticky bomb, then a "force push" to toss them into a crowd before the bomb goes off. Each of these abilities are also quite effective alone since they deal more damage and create openings. Along with heavy attacks that carry a nice, weighty feel and charge attacks that build up to bring out a literal tiger in Travis, you can't help getting hyped up when powerful enemies like a Sheepman spawn into combat.

Throughout the game, attempts to break up the pace of core combat are half-baked implementations of fun ideas.

There's more than enough to toy with in terms of combat skills, but basic level layouts that move you from one combat arena to another wear thin. The scenery changes and stronger enemies with different movesets show up, but the formula eventually stagnates. Aside from the tail end of the first mission, "Electric Thunder Tiger II," and a late mission we won't spoil, environments tend to be visually bare without much flair to match the over-the-top action. The "Coffee and Doughnuts" mission shifts to a side-scrolling view for a straightforward murder-mystery theme sprinkled with Twin Peaks references, but combat is limited in this perspective and rudimentary platforming doesn't make up for it.

Missions are occasionally broken up with either a minigame or puzzle, but this isn't enough to stave off the repetition perpetuated by the simplistic level design. The "Life Is Destroy" mission that tasks you with rotating pieces of a grid-based suburb to make a path forward adds a sweet puzzle element, but gets hampered by an enemy that chases you around and causes instant death on contact. A drag racing minigame in "Golden Dragon GP" brings along a novel twist, though it's short-lived. Throughout the game, attempts to break up the pace of core combat are half-baked implementations of fun ideas.

There's more than enough to toy with in terms of combat skills, but basic level layouts that move you from one combat arena to another wear thin. The scenery changes and stronger enemies with different movesets show up, but the formula eventually stagnates.

Battles get real spicy when the "Serious Moonlight" chapter rolls around (at the time of writing this review, we're not at liberty to divulge its contents), but even then, the combat arena formula begins to overstay its welcome. And the conclusory mission devolves into a series of tedious mazes and Gauntlet-like fights in empty rooms. In boss battles, it's enjoyable to recognize simple attack patterns and strike when the time's right. But again, they don't quite challenge you in interesting ways or make the impact you'd expect from a No More Heroes game.

Thankfully, the option for local cooperative play is streamlined and allows a second player to jump in at any time. Playing in co-op elevates the thrilling aspects in combat and makes the duller moments a bit more exciting, as you'll coordinate with your partner to pull off skills and efficiently tear down enemies. The already intuitive control scheme also translates effortlessly to a single Joy-Con. Travis and Bad Man don't differ much in combat capabilities, though there are a few Chips unique to each character, and while you'll have to decide who gets to use which of the shared Chips in the early game, there's enough to go around in later missions.

Progression is laid out neatly with each mission concluding in a boss fight followed by a narrative sequence about how Travis acquires the next game. He runs into a cast of quirky characters and bizarre situations in a monochrome screen-style visual novel, and it's surprisingly intriguing. Creative visual representations of characters and places in the green-black color palette are elevated by catchy MIDI-tuned music (including the original No More Heroes theme) and amusing dialogue. It's not without a bad joke or two, or a gag that doesn't land, but the exceptional execution of a seemingly secondary element goes a long way for tying the overarching plot together, as disparate as it may seem.

Here's to hoping we still see No More Heroes 3.

The overtly crude-but-not-clever humor has been toned down this time around, and it's for the better. Profanity-laced lines and toilet humor remain intact along with tongue-in-cheek jabs and references to gaming culture, and frequent fourth-wall breaking; even commentary on the struggles of being a game developer finds its way into dialogue. Travis' brash attitude works most of the time as every other character keeps him in check, including his sassy cat Jeane--who talks and has an anime-inspired portrait in the story chapters--and the game bosses Travis encounters who he expresses reverence for. However, dialogue is rarely spoken, as there's limited voice acting even in the game's scant cutscenes.

As expected, the game is packed with references, purposefully ham-fisted, to drive home the overall absurdity of No More Heroes. It works at times, such as the Chips being named after Gundam (Strike Freedom, F91, and Atlas, to name a few) and a story chapter that uses Suda's own The 25th Ward: The Silver Case as a narrative device. There's even a Jeff Minter stand-in character who's crucial to the plot of finding the original Death Drive developer. A late-game reveal proves to be the boldest of them all, especially for those fond of a particular past Suda51 game. And there's a slew of shirts you can equip with key art from other independent games (like Undertale, Hyper Light Drifter, and many more). As heavy-handed as some references may be, they're at least consistent with the game's personality, and if anything, liven up its tone.

This is not the return of No More Heroes you'd hoped for, but it at least shows signs of a series that still has life in it.

Once you've sifted through the references and callbacks, you have a competent action game with some great ideas that are only halfway there. Slashing through waves of deformed bugs and hardened brutes has its moments, highlighted by a seamless co-op system that makes jumping into the action a breeze, and the minimalist story presentation will draw you into the journey. However, Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes doesn't quite deliver on its potential, relying too heavily on repetitive encounters. This is not the return of No More Heroes you'd hoped for, but it at least shows signs of a series that still has life in it.

Categories: Games

Double Cross Review - Combat Woes

Gamespot News Feed - Tue, 01/15/2019 - 21:35

There is no shortage of indie 2D platform games out there vying for your attention and money. In order to stand out from the crowd, these games have to try to make themselves unique through visuals, sound, and perhaps most importantly, gameplay. 13 A.M.'s Double Cross does this by mixing a physics platformer with a mild dash of beat-'em-up combat and even a mystery-sleuthing story element. It's an interesting concoction, but sadly, this mix doesn't go down quite as smoothly as you'd hope.

Double Cross has players assuming the role of Zahra, a spunky young lass who works for RIFT, an interdimensional police force. RIFT is in charge of keeping all the various alternate universes out there in check, and Zahra's one of their best up-and-coming agents. When RIFT HQ falls victim to a mysterious attacker, however, Zahra is tasked with combing through multiple dimensions and finding clues to the strange being's identity. This involves some hand-to-hand combat, a bit of evidence collection and investigation, and a lot of swinging about with Zahra's special Proton Slinger.

While the game's tutorial and Zahra's status as interdimensional law enforcement might have you thinking that Double Cross's priority is combat with monsters from different universes, it's actually slanted very heavily towards pure platforming. Zahra makes ample use of her grappling-hook-like Proton Slinger to latch onto objects and propel herself along the game's various environments, using the swings in tandem with a dodging skill to avoid hazards like spikes, fire pits, and security lasers. You'll often be tasked with doing multiple, very precise swings in a row, which can be quite challenging--but thankfully, time slows down when Zahra is aiming her Proton Slinger, making it much less of a pain to do the demanding multi-sling sequences. It feels really satisfying to hit a bunch of tricky sling targets all in a row, especially if you've managed to suss out a hidden path to collect Upgradium, the game's token ability-boosting collectible.

Elements like weird, clingy-bouncy goo walls and switch-activated platforms keep stage design interesting and engaging while providing simple puzzles to solve. It's a good thing most of the stages are fun to bounce around in, because there's not much to them visually--while Double Cross does offer a pleasant color palette and uses camera zoom wisely in areas where it's beneficial, the lack of detail and samey-ness in many of the game's backdrops don't inspire much excitement to explore. You're really playing to see what kind of fun platforming challenge will get thrown at you next. There are a few levels that are just plain bad--the arcade stage with numerous timer-based challenges is a real hair-puller--but they're rare.

However, sometimes those fun platforming challenges are interrupted by combat. While Double Cross tries to make its combat seem meaningful--even offering a nifty custom combat-enhancement loadout system with new skills players can earn and equip--in practice, combat is a boring, mash-heavy slog with little player skill involved. The impact from connecting hits feels weak, enemy variety is nonexistent, and what few enemies there are in each stage are pretty easy to beat: whack the small fries with quick attack chains, stunlock the bigger dudes with heavy attacks, and occasionally use the Proton Slinger to grab and toss a projectile back at a foe.

You can gather energy from felled foes to charge up special attacks like a burst and a projectile, but their use tends to be limited. I got through the game almost never using the burst, instead hoarding my fireballs for when I knew a big annoying enemy wave was coming. Combat-heavy boss encounters, such as the fight at the end of the Reptarria level set, highlight the most glaring flaws of Double Cross' combat: you're up against a huge damage sponge that often doesn't react to your arsenal of primarily short-range strikes in a way that indicates whether what you're doing is right or wrong. Other bosses, like the battle at the end of the Gootopia stages, focus more on clever gimmicks than combat and are far more fun for it.

Another element of Double Cross that disappoints is the game's mystery theming. Zahra's cross-dimensional adventure has her finding evidence related to the attack on RIFT headquarters, presenting it to her coworkers, and using their observations to build a case and go after various bad guys. This sounds like a pretty exciting gameplay element--I mean, who doesn't like the sound of Where In the Physics Platformer Multiverse is Carmen Sandiego?--but in practice, it's simply trial-and-error. You talk and show various items to the characters inhabiting RIFT HQ until one of them reacts. There's no setback for showing the wrong thing to the wrong person--the only thing an incorrect guess does is prevent you from reaching a boss stage until you do get it right. Much like the combat, the detective aspect feels unnecessary and unsatisfying.

Had Double Cross opted to focus more on its strength--fun physics platforming--and de-emphasized things like combat and the tedious mystery-solving element, the game would have been an easy recommendation. But the weak parts of the package drag down the whole, and Double Cross winds up feeling like it's a somewhat undercooked mash of ideas.

Categories: Games

Vane Review - In Vain

Gamespot News Feed - Tue, 01/15/2019 - 14:00

Vane opens in a storm, as the small child you're controlling is buffeted by strong winds and must figure out the path forward. Invisible walls stop you from going the wrong way, a lot of the debris flying around is clearly floating up through the floor, and the ambiguities of the scene--you’re not told anything about your character or their situation--make it hard to get invested. Vane doesn’t make a strong first impression.

After this brief opening, you're thrown into a new sequence where you're playing as a bird. You take flight and soar through a huge environment, looking for the distant sparkles of windsocks that you need to find and land on so as to meet and unite other birds. This is all communicated wordlessly, and despite the enormity of the environment those sparkles signpost where you need to go and what you need to do. The controls take some getting used to, but it feels great to be let loose on a huge expanse after that earlier, restrained experience. This opening represents the duality of Vane, a game that occasionally feels epic and exciting but which is also burdened by moments of sluggishness, all manner of glitches, and a camera that refuses to behave.

The child you control can, for reasons unexplained, turn into a bird, morphing if you jump off a high ledge. If the bird comes close to the gold dust that appears in several places throughout the game world, it turns back into the kid. This mechanic is used to good effect early on as you fly around various environments switching between the two forms to progress. This is Vane at its best, as you come to grips with the strengths and weaknesses of both forms and figure out the way forward.

But in the game's back half, the bird form is largely put aside. You spend most of your time in human form, moving slower and exploring your environments on foot. Your ability to interact with the world is limited--you can jump, there's a seldom-used interact button, and you can use a "call" button to call to other birds or children as you encounter them.

There aren't really puzzles in Vane, per se--being observant and exploring the environment thoroughly is more important than critical thinking. You're not given much guidance on where to go next, or what your exact objective is, in most parts of the game--it's almost entirely devoid of instruction, beyond the very occasional button prompt. This means that figuring out the way forward usually means just reading your environment, but that's not always easy. The camera in Vane is uncooperative, frequently getting stuck in parts of the environment or not turning as you'd like it to. In bird form, flying close to the ground can make the camera clip through it, which can be very frustrating.

The kid you're playing as is rendered with little detail, as is much of the world. This is clearly an intentional style choice, and for the most part it works well, with the angular visuals and moody synth soundtrack doing a good job of conveying the inherent weirdness of the world. The simple style works in service of a later game mechanic that allows you to morph the world around you--in one section, for instance, you're pushing a giant orb through an environment, and the orb will change parts of the environment it gets close to. If there's a gap between two platforms, the orb might generate a bridge between them.

Unfortunately, this is also the section of the game where I was hit by the most frequent game-breaking glitches--I got stuck in the environment more than once, and at one point the orb disappeared, forcing me to restart at a checkpoint very far back. I was hit by another issue right near the game's end, encountering a glitch during the game's trippy finale that sent me on a maddening goose chase; without getting into specifics of how the game ends, a structure that was meant to grow in front of me simply did not, causing me to go in the wrong direction for several minutes until the game unceremoniously reset me to the beginning of the sequence.

These are issues that could be fixed with patches, of course (the first pre-launch patch made substantial improvements to the camera), but there are also fundamental design issues here. Vane is more committed to mood than storytelling, and by the end of the experience it's difficult to say what, exactly, just happened. There's room for analysis, of course, and the game conjures up what it's like to be a scared and lonely child in a few scenes, but it's all too vague to really feel meaningful. There's value in being mysterious, but Vane could use more payoff.

It's all over very soon, too. This is a short game that constantly feels like it's still gearing up towards something better, a way to tie together all its mechanics. The last sections of the game are quite lackadaisical, simplifying the game's systems right down while relying on an investment in the game's thin lore. It's not just that the game doesn't give you easy answers--it also gives you little incentive to come up with your own. There are moments where you can see what the game could have been--like when you soar through a valley in bird form, or morph the world around you--but Vane lacks a voice and a strong sense of purpose.

Categories: Games

Latest Catherine: Full Body Trailer Is A Music Video Featuring A Japanese Pop Band

Game Informer News Feed - Sat, 01/12/2019 - 20:07
Publisher: Atlus Developer: Atlus Release: 2019 Rating: Mature Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Although the latest trailer for Catherine: Full Body is entirely in Japanese, you won't need to know the language to enjoy it, since it also doubles as something of a music video.

Japanese pop-rock band Sekai No Owari ("End of the World") has partnered with Atlus to have their song, "Re:set" featured in the trailer. It's a good song.

Click here to watch embedded video

Catherine: Full Body is out in Japan February 14 for PlayStation 4 and Vita, and sometime in 2019 in other territories, but only on PlayStation 4. It's worth pointing out that the original, non-Full Body version was recently ported for Steam.

Categories: Games

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