Dandara Review: Off The Wall

Gamespot News Feed - Wed, 02/07/2018 - 17:00

Dandara defies its platforming heritage by subverting two ubiquitous ideas: jumping and running. Neither is present in the traditional sense within this surreal, Metroid-inspired adventure. Rather, the heroic Dandara slings herself to any wall, ceiling, or floor she fancies, thumbing her nose at gravitational forces that would dare stifle her kinetic charm. This spin on standard movement sets Dandara apart, making it feel different from every other exploration-heavy platformer. When you’re zipping carefree through its labyrinthine world, Dandara is a complete joy, but control hiccups and a story that’s too vague for its own good often undermine its unique charm.

Although Dandara is based on a Brazilian figure who helped lead a slave revolt in the late 1600s, you wouldn’t know it based only on the game's surreal tale. The story is one of oppression told through vague metaphors about a broken world whose currency, salt, is in short supply. The sporadic conversations Dandara has with the trapped inhabitants does little to inject the world with any sense of humanity. The story is simply too abstract to create the lasting bonds that could have propelled Dandara forward with a real sense of purpose.

Thankfully, the imaginative action sequences grab hold of your attention in ways the story cannot. Dandara doesn’t walk. Instead, she leaps to designated spots that dot the walls, floors, and ceilings. Aiming the analog stick in a given direction shows where Dandara will land, and though her reach is limited, you can quickly bounce between surfaces to dance past enemies or arrive at a nearby treasure chest that's waiting to be opened.

This simple action is the basis on which the entire adventure is built. Because Dandara’s leaps have limited range and you can only latch on to certain places, navigating each room becomes a small puzzle as you decipher how best to reach the next area. In some places, there are rotating blocks or gliding platforms that Dandara can control by firing a burst of energy from her palms, while other rooms have tracking lasers that demand a frantic pace lest you wind up dead. There’s a great variety in what each section demands, ensuring you don’t fall into a dull routine of simply looking for the white spots along the walls without any deeper thought.

Of course, Dandara can do more than just leap to any surface. She has a projectile weapon at the ready, one that’s slow-acting so you can’t just spam your foes. It takes a second or two to charge so you have to plan your assault--if you don’t, a wayward projectile could smack you while you’re gearing up for a strike. This smart system means that even though you always have the ability to fight, it’s often better to avoid confrontations rather than risk taking damage. Eventually, Dandara does acquire new projectiles that can be unleashed instantaneously, but these are limited by an energy bar. Because every attack has an obvious downside, mastery of movement is ultimately the key to staying alive.

However, mastering movement is no easy task. Even though I spent more than 10 hours exploring this world, I never felt completely in control. The line that sprouts from Dandara to show where you’re going to land can be fiddly. Too often I had to adjust and then readjust my aim because it would auto-aim to a specific spot that I didn’t want to be on. And though that wasn’t much of a problem, quickly bounding across a hazard-strewn section was way trickier than I would have liked. Precision felt like it came at the cost of speed, so I would get smacked around by enemies as I tried valiantly to make my way to a safe area.

There’s one section late in the game that should have been the exhilarating climax everything had been building toward. It has narrow walls and five different types of enemies preventing any chance of reprieve. I was all set to show off my jaw-dropping movement abilities and dispatch the enemy swarm with the style I had learned during my hours with the game. But the reality of the situation was that instead of evading the homing missiles barreling toward me, I would accidentally fly directly into them. The same clumsiness persisted as I tried to time my leaps to counter an enemy flipping between the floor and ceiling. Because I had so much health by this point, I was able to progress with little more than a bruised ego, but it was an ugly victory. That moment in platformers where you show off all that you learned is one of the reasons I love the genre. Moving so awkwardly even as I reached Dandara’s end was a bummer.

It’s a shame that the control can be a little tricky, because Dandara is an utter delight when things really click. There’s a boss fight early on where you chase an enemy through the nothingness of space. Platforms appear out of thin air as you hunt him, and you have to bounce across the broken landscape while dodging projectiles and spawning enemies to get close enough to land a counter attack. When I finally vanquished my opponent, I felt like taking a bow. The speed and precision required pushed me to my limits, and though I died a dozen or so times, it was a serious rush when everything coalesced into a beautiful dance. But Dandara doesn’t often reach those heights. Later scenarios require even more speed and precision than that early boss fight, and because there’s a slight auto aim on your jumping point, I often felt bit out of control as I zipped around.

If you play on the PC, you do have the option of using a mouse, but it’s a little cumbersome. Although it’s slightly easier to aim for a specific spot, it’s much slower, and areas where you have to quickly bounce from one place to the next, avoiding traps on the ground while dodging projectiles from angry enemies, are tougher without a controller. No matter which control method you choose, though, Dandara is forgiving enough that I never got angry. Frequent checkpoints mean you’re rarely more than 30 seconds from where you last died, and Dandara has plenty of health to help her withstand a few stray attacks.

The level design is another strong point. The world rotates as you turn ceilings and walls into floors, making you put a little thought into figuring out which way is up. But even as everything flips and twist around you, it’s still clear where you need to go next. There are only so many unexplored paths at a given time, so a quick peek at the map should be enough to get you moving to your goal. And as you explore, there are plenty of fascinating sights to behold. The most impressive comes late in the game in a nightmare world where swirling vortexes dot the foreground while mystical islands drift behind you. It’s a stunning area that made me pause to take it all in. The same mesmerizing feeling came from the enchanting music. Even though the story comes up short, the visuals and music really transport you to an imaginative world just begging to be discovered.

Careful explorers are rewarded with bonuses that help against the tougher boss fights. Dandara can use the salt she collects from defeated enemies and treasure chests to boost her abilities. Although you don’t need to upgrade often during the early going, as you earn more and more salt toward the end of the game, and the bosses get harder and harder, you really need the extra burst of health and energy these upgrades provide. But, more importantly, it’s just fun figuring out how to reach every hidden room and unlock every treasure chest. Even when a chest doesn't yield a particularly valuable reward, simply solving a tricky puzzle to get the chest is satisfying on its own.

There have been so many Metroid-inspired games that it’s almost impossible to stand out. Dandara’s unique movement abilities ensure it’s at least significantly different from its peers. But the same reason that Dandara is so unique is also its biggest setback. The sense of mastery never quite comes, resulting in a game that flashes its potential in one scene only to undermine that thrill soon afterward. Even with its occasional stumbles, though, Dandara offers enough excitement and beauty to push you onward.

Categories: Games

Former S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Devs Reveal New Battle-Royale Shooter

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 02/07/2018 - 16:25

Considering the wild success that PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds has had, it's only natural that other developers would explore the growing battle-royale shooter. The newly announced Fear the Wolves embraces the main element of the genre – 100-player scrambles to be the last player remaining – while bringing a pedigree and some twists that make it stand out.

The game is being developed by Vostok Games, which was founded by former members of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. team. Like that series, the irradiated ruins of Chernobyl features prominently in Fear the Wolves. Players have to contend with environmental hazards such as radiation and dynamic weather conditions, in addition to their fellow players and threats from the area's mutated creatures.

Fear the Wolves is coming to PC and consoles later this year.

Categories: Games

Civilization 6: Rise And Fall Review: A New Age

Gamespot News Feed - Wed, 02/07/2018 - 15:00

Civilization VI stands out as the deepest and richest base game in the series, with smart additions and changes that refine its already great strategy gameplay. With that, however, comes the challenge of adding new content to improve upon what's already there without bloating it. Civ VI's first expansion, Rise and Fall, strikes a remarkable balance between the two, with several key features that both complement and change up the base game.

The big-picture addition and namesake of Rise and Fall is the Ages system, which coincides with each of the existing technological eras--Ancient, Classical, etc.--but is based on a global average rather than individual progress through the tech tree. As the world collectively transitions from one era to the next, each civilization accumulates a score toward the next era's "Age." Depending on your progress during the previous era, you can enter a Normal Age, fall into a Dark Age, or rise into a Golden Age. While Golden Ages obviously carry the most benefits, Dark Ages have unique bonuses of their own, and if you pull yourself out of a Dark Age and into a Golden one, it'll be even stronger. These so-called Heroic Ages are a powerful weapon later in the game if you've fallen behind and are struggling to catch up.

The Ages system works brilliantly with Civ VI's emphasis on careful planning and building a well-rounded civilization regardless of the victory condition you're working towards. A wide variety of accomplishments contribute to your score, from clearing Barbarian outposts and building Wonders to being the first civilization with a complex form of government. If you lean too heavily into one specialization, like science, you'll have trouble earning enough points in any given era to escape a Dark Age and its pitfalls. So even if you're two eras ahead of everyone else in your own tech tree, you're still susceptible to falling into a Dark Age if you fail to do anything else of note. As a result, a strong start isn't enough to carry you through Rise and Fall, even on lower difficulties--you need to work proactively and adapt your strategies at every step if you want to rule the world.

Building off the base game, monitoring each city's individual growth is paramount. In vanilla Civ VI, cities have individual happiness meters instead of civilization-wide ones, and greater depth to city development forces you pay close attention to each city and its unique contributions to your empire. Rise and Fall adds two big features that affect cities specifically: Loyalty and Governors, which work in tandem to add depth to city management without overcomplicating it.

Loyalty is a metric of each city's dedication to your leadership and is added on top of happiness to the list of city stats you need to care about. Loyalty suffers in Dark Ages and flourishes in Golden ones; if it falls too low, your city will be less productive and eventually revolt, becoming a "free city" open to the sway of other civs. You can affect Loyalty through proximity--a city on the edge of your borders will be vulnerable to the charms of a nearby foreign city and vice versa--city projects, espionage, and more. Colonizing a separate continent requires more of a cost-benefit analysis than ever, as the danger of low Loyalty can outweigh the advantages of settling new regions. But you can also disrupt an opponent's Loyalty for your own gain, including the city itself (without suffering a Warmonger penalty).

Keeping your Loyalty high is more passive than it sounds thanks to various Loyalty-boosting improvements as well as Governors, new characters that you can gradually unlock and station in your cities. In addition to increasing Loyalty, each of the seven Governors has a different specialization (commerce, war, science, and so on) and can be leveled up to provide various benefits to the city they govern. They can be reassigned at any time, too, so you're not locked into one city being all culture-focused until the end of time. Most importantly, Governors are a further incentive to invest in each of your cities and consequently develop a more balanced civilization--not just one that can crank out science points until you win the space race in the 1800s.

Rise and Fall brings with it a series of smaller tweaks to round out the big additions. You can now form different kinds of alliances with other civs, like economic or military ones, so you can trade comfortably without going to war; there are also "Emergencies," triggered by things like taking over city-states and dropping nukes, during which civs can band together to address the threats and reap the benefits if they succeed. On top of that, there are new policies and small changes to the highly customizable government system, which means more options to tailor your government to your playstyle as it develops.

Of course, there are also new civs and leaders, which range from the battle-ready Genghis Khan of Mongolia to the science-minded Seondeok of Korea. There are nine new leaders but eight new civilizations; Chandragupta has been added as an alternative to Gandhi in India. The new civs aren't so much groundbreaking as they are a nice change of pace for Civ VI veterans who are eager to try out something new.

Unfortunately, Rise and Fall doesn't appear to improve the AI inconsistencies present in vanilla Civ VI. Some AI-controlled civs still act almost randomly--Japan declared war on me twice in one game despite never sending its military my way--while others are a bit more clever, declaring preemptive wars or offering strategic trades at opportune times. And while the Loyalty and Governors systems enhance city management and encourage you to pursue a wider variety of specialties than just your intended victory condition, religion remains the least dynamic of the avenues without anything in Rise and Fall drastically changing it.

As Civ VI's first expansion, though, Rise and Fall works so well with the base game that lingering issues are minor. It enhances, rather than overcomplicates, systems that were already deep and layered to begin with, while introducing features that keep each game engaging from start to finish. Ages in particular provide room for struggling civs to climb the ranks in the late game and keep leading civs on their toes, and the Governor and Loyalty systems add to the city-specific strategies that helped make the base game great.

Categories: Games

Dissidia Final Fantasy NT Review: A Messy Mashup

Gamespot News Feed - Tue, 02/06/2018 - 20:07

Moving away from its role-playing game foundations, the original Dissidia Final Fantasy traded turn-based battles for real-time action duels. Featuring an all-star cast from the franchise, it told an original story that celebrated the series' diverse incarnations--while also presenting an odd yet satisfying approach to character action. After the release of the 2015 arcade follow-up, Square-Enix and developer Team Ninja have brought the 3v3 multiplayer fighter to the PS4. But in aiming for a more competitive focus--along with some half-hearted offerings for solo content--Dissidia Final Fantasy NT loses sight of what makes the Final Fantasy series so memorable, resulting in a hollow journey through a franchise's storied history.

Set long after the original Dissidia titles, and just before the arcade edition, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT takes many liberties with the franchise's array of stories to offer context as to why the many fighters are embroiled in an eternal battle. When warring gods Materia and Spritius call-forth the heroes and villains to engage in a new fight for the fate of their collective universes, the warriors soon realize that there is a greater threat lurking in the background--forcing rivals to set aside their differences to take on the encroaching menace.

Much like its predecessors, Dissidia NT is very much a celebration of the Final Fantasy mythos. Set across different locales from the series' past--including Final Fantasy I's Cornelia and FFVII's Midgar--several of the stages recreate the same style and tone found from their respective titles. The visuals on display are vibrant and detailed--allowing fans to see their favorite characters and their ornate outfits with modern graphics. Along with the return of iconic musical themes and other references to past titles--including the appearance of the tutorial Moogle who continues to overstay his welcome--the brawler pays great attention to creating a mashup of the most iconic elements from 30-years worth of noteworthy games.

Dissidia Final Fantasy NT's story campaign makes attempts to justify the backdrop of its chaotic slugfest, while offering some moments of fan-service. Taking control of several heroes from the Final Fantasy series, they'll fight against their own rivals and corrupted copies of other characters as they come to grips with the reality of the present battle. While the many cutscenes throughout are charming, the story as a whole feels undercooked, even disregarding some of the newcomers to the roster.

This is made worse by some rather odd choices in how you go about experiencing the narrative. Story progression uses a node-based system, with cutscenes and key battles costing Memoria to unlock. After exhausting your Memoria, you'll have to dive back into other gameplay modes such as the Gauntlet mode to grind experience and earn more tokens for the campaign. This ultimately makes the campaign a fragmented experience that you can't go through at your own pace, weakening the impact of the story's more meaningful encounters, which build up dramatic fights that you've already experienced several times over in other modes.

To switch things up during the story, your party will take part in boss battles against several of the game's summoned monsters. Pitting your team of three against large-scale foes that can use several arena-filling attacks and super moves is certainly a step up from the usual fights throughout the campaign. But while the scale of these fights are impressive, and the game's visual luster shines throughout, these battles also present massive difficulty spikes in the campaign. What's apparent during these encounters is that Dissidia's multiplayer-tuned mechanics and movement seem ill-equipped to handle the large attacks and movement patterns these bosses wield. Given that they are capable of wiping out your party in single moves with ease, these large battles feel more like clumsy exercises in trial-and error--and luck--rather than a culmination of your skill.

Spiritus and his warriors ready for battle.

With a roster of well over 20 characters--including familiar faces such as the brooding loner types Cloud Strife and Squall Leonhart, along with newcomers Ramza Beoulve and Noctis Lucis Caelum from Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy XV respectively--there's an impressive set of brawlers to choose from, each with their own unique playstyles. These characters adopt one of four classes, ranging from the heavy hitting Vanguard to the agile Assassin, the zoning Marksman, and the versatile Specialist--with their varied movesets bringing strategy to Dissidia's fast-paced combat system.

The battle system in Dissidia NT is largely as it was in the previous titles, save for the removal of character-unique super moves and the new focus on team-battles. Dissidia will force you into split-second decisions to make your hits count. By building up attack power with non-lethal Brave attacks--draining your opponent's power in the process--you'll be able deal greater amounts of raw damage to your opponents with lethal HP attacks. Moreover, collecting energy from randomly placed crystals will allow your team to call in your chosen Summon monster to the fight turning the flow of battle in your favor. Much of the previous game's RPG growth mechanics have been stripped out in favor of more static growth. Gameplay in Dissidia is entirely skill-based, with leveling only opening up alternate abilities and other supplementary options. Which places every player on a largely even playing field.

Battles are set in large arenas, so you'll constantly be on the move utilizing defensive maneuvers --along with support spells and buffs--to stay one step ahead of your rivals. Combat is mostly kept at a relentless pace, and when you're in the thick of it, the fighting system allows players to exhibit some rather clever strategies that reward those who can read their foe's next move and strike back. While this system may come off as bit a overwhelming for newcomers, the generous tutorial mode will put you through your paces to learn all the mechanics necessary to survive.

Materia's guardians face off against their rivals.

Moving away from the one-on-one duels, the new 3v3 format makes for more hectic battles. While these are fun to take part in most of the time, they often result in overly busy encounters with all fighters bunching up--made slightly worse by an overstuffed user-interface. The camera also struggles to keep up with the action, which is especially frustrating on the higher difficulties or during online play, with your enemies adopting a more cunning approach.

As you clear through battles and increase your player rank and character level, you'll acquire Gil for use in the item shop. While you can buy most of every item in-game with the currency--which includes character costumes, weapon skins, online card decals, player avatars, and background music--you can also find special treasure packages that yield a set of randomized rewards. Though rest assured, you can acquire every item on your own in-game with Gil, as there are no real-money microtransactions in the game whatsoever.

In keeping with its multiplayer focus, Dissidia NT now features an online experience which includes ranked matches and custom games tuned to your own preferences. When up against skilled players online, these matches can prove to be intense affairs that show off the complexity and strategy within the combat system. Unfortunately, simply waiting to take part in battles can be a chore. During the first week of the game's release online matchmaking took upwards of 3-5 minutes to get a battle going. Moreover, several of the matches were burdened with sudden lag spikes and skipping, resulting in some rather uneven and unreliable encounters. While most online battles turned out well, lag dips and long wait times were a common occurrence.

What's most disappointing is that in going headstrong into its competitive multiplayer angle, Dissidia NT doesn't offer much outside of it. If the online multiplayer and repeat excursions into the Gauntlet mode doesn't interest you in the long term, then you may find yourself with few reasons to proceed with the game's already repetitive offerings.

For all its attempts to honor Square-Enix's long-running series, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT stumbles far too often when trying to replicate some of the many core gameplay tenants of the series in the framework of its own game. While it manages to offer fun and responsive combat, along with an infectious charm throughout, it struggles to advance much from the previous Dissidia titles. With a story that's fed piecemeal behind arbitrary gating, several combat encounters that feel out of place, and unreliable online systems that don't function when you need them to, this online brawler isn't able to live up to the series that it steadfastly tries to celebrate.

Categories: Games

Upcoming Brawler Has An Unforgiving Twist

Game Informer News Feed - Sun, 02/04/2018 - 20:06

Permadeath is often an integral part of roguelikes and modern indie games, mixing unforgiving gameplay with procedural level design. Developer Secret Base brings this widely used mechanic to its upcoming beat-em-up game, Streets of Red, in an especially unforgiving way.

When you die in Streets of Red, that's it. You don't have any second chances. Instead, you're forced to start all over from the beginning. Rather than grinding or leveling up, Streets of Red instead tests your skills and patience. This brawler brings the classic arcade experience home, without the ability to insert a quarter to continue. It may sound daunting, but it could also make a captivatingly tense game.

Streets of Red can be played through local co-op with friends, though it does not include online co-op. Watch the trailer below.

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Streets of Red releases for Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 as of February 27.

Categories: Games

Keeping Your City Alive In A Harsh Winter

Game Informer News Feed - Sun, 02/04/2018 - 17:10

Frostpunk is a survival game that has tense decision-making and an oppressive tone, similar to the creators' previous game, This War of Mine. This time, however, these mechanics are applied to the city-building sim genre, where you build a society and attempt to keep your people alive through a harsh winter. 

Frostpunk's tough decisions bring about questions of morality. For example, would you let children work in the labor force if it increased your chances of survival? Will you treat the sick and wounded, despite having scarce resources? Would you allow robots to help ease the workload off of your human settlers, even if there's a chance these mechanical helpers are unsafe?

Developer 11 Bit Studios released a developer diary recently detailing automatons, which are steampunk-like robots that can help your settlement survive in many ways. They can work consistently without needing rest, and make life easier for your people. However, your society might have varying reactions to them, and concern could grow over whether they're safe to use or not. Watch the short video below to learn more.

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Frostpunk has an interesting setup that could make for a captivating experience. I'm looking forward to when it releases for PC at the end of March.

Categories: Games

Launch Trailer Says It Won't Suck As Much As The Last One

Game Informer News Feed - Sun, 02/04/2018 - 00:55

Shaq-Fu: A Legend Reborn is riding off the back of a name most people would rather forget. The original Shaq-Fu is a notoriously terrible brawler starring Shaquille O'Neal. In its launch trailer, A Legend Reborn makes a bold claim: That it won't suck.

From the trailer (which goes out of its way to acknowledge that the original Shaq-Fu sucked), A Legend Reborn is certainly a step up, from a production standpoint. However, it's hard to see how the game is actually put together or how the game will feel when it finally releases. Despite calling itself a launch trailer, it doesn't mention the release date, with the description saying it's hitting sometime in 2018.

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Categories: Games

Far Cry 5 DLC Includes, Mars, Zombies, Vietnam

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 02/02/2018 - 16:20

Ubisoft Montreal is getting weird with Far Cry 5's post-release support. A new trailer shows off the campaign's story, in which the player helps to lead a resistance against a cult leader and his brainwashed followers in Montana. The DLC is decidedly less serious, however.

Players who pick up the game's season pass will be able to download three separate adventures. They're as follows, with the text straight from Ubisoft.

  • Hours of Darkness: Players will travel back in time to Vietnam to battle against Việt Cộng soldiers
  • Dead Living Zombies: Players will face hordes of zombies in multiple b-movie scenarios
  • Lost on Mars: Players will leave Earth behind to go toe-to-claws with Martian arachnids

The Gold Edition of the game includes Far Cry 5 and the season pass for $89.99. There's no word yet on the pricing of the individual DLC episodes.

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Players who pick up the Gold Edition or its season pass can also download the Far Cry 3 Classic Edition, which includes all of that game's single-player content. It will be available on PlayStatation 4 and Xbox One four weeks after it's available via the season pass, sometime this summer. PC players who pick up the season pass or the Far Cry 5 Gold Edition will be able to download the full version of Far Cry 3. You can see the Classic Edition in the trailer below.

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Categories: Games

Take Control Of The Genestealers In Turn-Based Battles

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 02/02/2018 - 15:42

The Warhammer 40,000 universe continues to spread into the world of video games, with the announcement of a new Space Hulk title. Space Hulk: Tactics is a turn-based tactical game based on the board game, featuring a pair of campaigns and online multiplayer. 

Publisher Focus Home Interactive says the two campaigns show battle from two distinct points of view. In one, you command a squad of Blood Angels, directing their actions and upgrading them during the course of the story. In another, you take charge of a Genestealer swarm, clawing and rampaging your way through Space Marine forces. 

Online multiplayer modes let players choose Genestealers from one of four different Space Marine groups. Those include the Blood Angels, Space Wolves, Ultramarines, and Dark Angels. Players will be able to create their own maps (with customized objectives) and share them with the community.

The game is being developed by Cyanide Studio, which has previously adapted the Games Workshop board game Blood Bowl in a pair of console and PC games. It's set for a 2018 release on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

Categories: Games

Returning With A Fresh Coat Of Paint

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 02/02/2018 - 01:43

Atlus has released a new trailer for Dragon's Crown Pro, the 4K rerelease of Vanillaware's sprite-based 2D brawler.

The new trailer is mostly just an excuse to gawk at Vanillaware's artwork, now coming to PlayStation 4. It retains all the features of the previous version, but cleans up the art and adds a new arranged soundtrack completely recorded by a live orchestra.

Check out the new trailer below.

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Dragon's Crown Pro is out next week in Japan and will be out in the west this Spring exclusively on PS4.

Categories: Games

A Pirate Game Worth Its Salt

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 02/01/2018 - 22:15

Xbox One’s ambitious open-world pirate game, Sea of Thieves, recently wrapped up its closed beta. Game Informer interns Jon Bowman and Robbie Key got a chance to brave Sea of Thieves’ vast waters. They pore over details of their voyage such as how they fared in running a two-man boat, how terrible a drunk accordion player sounds, and whether or not Rare’s title is worth buying at launch.

Jon –  It probably goes without saying, but this game is a lot more fun playing with buddies rather than randoms. Even if we weren’t rewarded properly ...

Robbie – Absolutely. Our two-hour tour was enough to tell me this game is meant for goofing off with friends. Though, I will say playing with a random crew can be fun. Right before we joined up, I played and talked with a guy who was actually on PC, which was a pretty surreal cross-platform moment for me. The other two didn’t have mics, but we all worked well together in our voyage. That made things a thousand times better. It makes a world of difference when you have good teammates in any co-op-heavy game, and this is no exception.

Jon – Totally. So, let’s talk about our journey when we actually connected on Saturday. What would you say was your favorite part of our quest for “The Stash of the Lame Grog Mayles,” or as I like to call it, “Two Super Salty Males Miss Out on Treasure”?

Robbie – For me, it was progressively learning how the game works by simply playing it. For games, I almost always want some kind of tutorial to at least point me in the right direction. Sea of Thieves doesn’t really have that, but it turns out to be a high point in the game because it adds a weird social element. You get to bounce knowledge off and on your crew, and you get to work together to figure out how everything works. It helps you create little, memorable moments. Oh yeah, and how could I forget when toward the end of our quest I vomited all over your face from drinking too much? In the game, not real life.

Jon – The vomit was definitely a highlight for me, too. That and drunkenly playing the accordion. Between playing distorted notes and stumbling around the room, it’s easily the creepiest and funniest way to go about doing that. But maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. Should we talk about what brought us there?

Robbie – Of course! Our quest led us to three different islands, one very small and the other two huge. The time it takes to travel in between islands was a great way to learn the ropes.

Jon – Definitely. I felt that my docking skills vastly improved by the time we got back.

Robbie – Your lack of docking skills before then also helped me to become a master at plugging up holes in the ship. That’s when I realized that maintaining the ship – something I wouldn’t normally like – is actually fun to manage with a good crew. Whether it’s being high up on the ship to watch for enemy vessels, helping the captain navigate, or playing zany tunes from a hurdy-gurdy for giggles, the roles each person plays is important and makes each quest rewarding in its own ways, even more so when you score some sweet loot.

Jon – Other than learning to sail and repair the ship, finding the treasures along the way was pretty cool. I liked solving the riddles in order to find the chests and how each time we would discover a chest, more parts of the riddle would be revealed for the next one. I do wish your controller would vibrate as you approach treasure, or provide some other way to let players know when they’re getting warmer.

How about that Sorrow Chest?

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Robbie – That was a hilarious surprise! The last chest we picked up in the quest was crying the entire time, which was already strange enough. When we loaded it on the boat, we noticed the lower deck was flooding with water and tried to pour it out with our buckets, but it wouldn’t go away. After looking around the ship and realizing nothing was wrong, we were both like, “It’s the chest!” We had to keep a close ear out when it cried so we wouldn’t end up in a watery grave.

Jon – So after swashbuckling skeletons, solving riddles, playing the hurdy-gurdy underwater, and consoling the Sorrow Chest, I docked us almost perfectly back at the outpost, excited to get that crybaby out of our boat and get some gold. Unfortunately, our reward was nothing!

Robbie – I felt so swindled by that stupid mcbeardy face. The journey to get those chests was so much fun and obviously the main point of the quest – and probably all quests – but I really wanted that gold to not only buy some cool swag, but also get better quests since you acquire those by collecting treasure. And to be clear, this seemed like a bug in the game. The pirate didn’t actually steal from us.

Jon – It was an epic tale all around. And I still had enough gold to buy a tankard, which led to some pretty fun antics in the pub. I was laughing so hard while playing the accordion and struggling to stand in one place. Not to mention throwing up in each other’s faces. Probably the only instance I’d laugh about that happening.

Robbie – I was dying from laughing when our screens were suddenly covered in vomit.

Oh yeah, and what about the combat? I’m honestly not too excited about that part. It was a cookie-cutter formula when fighting skeletons. You maybe block and swipe three times to take them down. It was hardly engaging.

Jon – Yeah, I’m not the biggest fan of combat either. I think what was most jarring about it for me is that sometimes before landing the killing blow on a skeleton, the camera would pull its focus and almost lock onto that skeleton. It almost made it feel like I was playing a quick-time event with no prompts. 

That said, I’m not into this game for the combat. The things I’m taking away from our excursion are playing some shanties on the open seas, learning how to manage ships, and finding treasure. I hope combat improves, but if it doesn’t, I’m okay with it because that’s not what Sea of Thieves was about for me. 

Robbie – So, based on our journey, do you see yourself buying Sea of Thieves when it comes out?

Jon – I do. I mean, let’s face it: We did not have the best experience Sea of Thieves has to offer. Neither one of us enjoyed fighting the skeletons; we didn’t run into any rival crews, either on land or at sea; our big quest rewarded us with zero gold; and in spite of all of that, I still walked away feeling like I had a great time, ready to get back out there and find more treasure.

I think having a good crew makes all the difference. If I had gone through the same issues we faced while manning a solo ship, I would’ve left the beta with a bitter taste in my mouth. But being able to goof around with your buddies, learning to work as a unit to take care of the ship, sailing the open ocean to tunes from the hurdy-gurdy, and solving treasure riddles are the things I keep coming back to, not the shortcomings. 

What about you?

Robbie – I’m not 100 percent sure I would get this at launch, but I’m certainly more optimistic after having hands-on time. I had a blast when we played, so I can only imagine how whimsical it is to play with a four-person crew. The journey to and from each island felt like mini adventures between the quest itself. The small discoveries, like realizing you can’t play the accordion well while you’re drunk and adopting a role in running a ship, added so much to the experience in a way not many games have done.

Yet, I can’t help but wonder: Is our initial experience a honeymoon phase? These moments could easily lose their luster after a short time, and that’s partially because I fear the game is one giant fetch quest. However, if Rare keeps up the joy of discovery in hilarious and unexpected ways after a few dozen hours into the game, then Sea of Thieves is something shared-world enthusiasts could absolutely love.

Sea of Thieves launches March 20 for Xbox One and PC. For more Sea of Thieves action, check out when some of the Game Informer crew attacked a rival ship and when they reached the world's end.

Categories: Games

Night In The Woods Review

Gamespot News Feed - Thu, 02/01/2018 - 17:54

Both intensely personal and widely relatable, Night in the Woods doesn’t just tell a story--it gracefully captures complex, often unpleasant feelings and experiences. From the quiet melancholy of doing nothing on a rainy day to the emotional vacuum of severe depression, I felt deeply, sometimes too deeply, while wandering through the cartoon-animal version of a small Midwestern town. Its witty writing and character development keep its crushing existential themes grounded, making Night in the Woods one of the most evocative games I’ve played in a long time.

Night in the Woods follows 20-year-old Mae Borowski--who happens to be a cat--after she drops out of college in the beginning of fall and returns to her tiny hometown of Possum Springs. She’s an angsty troublemaker with a bit of a rap sheet and a sharp tongue, and you spend her first few days back kicking around town and catching up with people, including her high school friends Bea and Gregg. A few people allude to something awful Mae did in the past, while others talk about a kid from her high school who has gone missing.

There's enough small-town curiosity in those short, early interactions to be intriguing, but there are plenty of awkward moments that keep Mae’s homecoming feeling ordinary. You can talk to an old teacher (who likes Mae despite her awful behavior) and an elderly neighbor (who considers Mae a horrible nuisance), and it feels very real, like any small talk in your hometown--just with Mae’s distinct brand of snark. These interactions both offset and highlight the mysterious elements of Possum Springs, a balance Night in the Woods masterfully strikes throughout the entire story.

You’ll spend most of your time exploring Possum Springs through light platforming and optional interactions with the same few people you want to talk to, broken up by lighthearted, simple mini-games. For most of the game, you take things day by day, and that slow drip of information bolsters the development of Mae and her friends. This structure manages to feel aimless without being purposeless; every day is similar but not the same, and there’s always something new to learn about a neighbor or a dry remark from Mae to make the same few sights feel different each time. It’s understated worldbuilding that enhances the impact of the main story--especially through a better connection to Mae, her friends, and Possum Springs as a whole.

Many days end with a choice of activity, like going to the mall with one childhood friend or "doing crimes" with another. This is when a lot of the bigger--and stranger--events take place. Sometimes things are lighthearted, like sneaking into an abandoned grocery store just for the fun of it, but there are also serious talks about past mistakes or what exactly Mae is doing with her life. Watching her struggle to articulate her problems and awkwardly dodge questions about college is hard--especially if you’ve ever been in a similar position. Combined with melancholic music, a lot of Night in the Woods evokes the feeling of lying in bed all day, despondent and paralyzed by indecision and uncertainty.

Initially, I had an incredibly hard time getting through more than a day without having to step away from the game for a bit. At 20 I was in a bad place with both school and depression, much like Mae, and playing felt more like looking in a very shameful mirror. But there’s enough going on in Possum Springs to distract from that early-20s, nearly drowning feeling, and instead of closing my game, I looked forward to the respite of mini-games and visiting friends at work, both for Mae’s sake and for mine.

I began checking every corner of town hoping to find the smallest or silliest of moments, and I often got them. I shoplifted pretzels (in a red-light, green-light style mini-game) for baby rats just to see what would happen if I fed them, and I listened to a neighbor’s dumb poetry every day because she could easily have been someone I know in real life. At the center of Night in the Woods is a story about a young adult who has gone numb, and those experiences on the periphery are what she--and anyone who’s lived through an emotional void--does to feel anything at all.

The unfortunate reality is that finicky controls, and even some scenes that feel forced, occasionally interrupt Night in the Woods’ evocative atmosphere. More than one scene requires you to complete simple platforming to proceed, for example; sometimes it’s unnecessarily hard to execute thanks to poorly placed platforms, and in general, having a hard objective is at odds with a game that is otherwise not really gamified.

At the center of Night in the Woods is a story about a young adult who has gone numb, and those experiences on the periphery are what she--and anyone who’s lived through an emotional void--does to feel anything at all.

Night in the Woods does have a game-within-a-game: a dungeon-crawler called Demontower that you can play on Mae’s computer. It’s another good distraction--I played it right before having Mae go to bed, much like I would in real life--and it’s a throwback to the kinds of games you might have put a lot of hours into in the mid-2000s. As a cute detail, you can pick up where Mae apparently left off a decade earlier (and if you don’t like Demontower, you can just go on the computer to IM your friends after a night out).

By the third and final act of the game, I had grown seriously attached to Mae and her crew of deeply flawed but charming weirdos. Their experiences in a struggling, dead-end town are relatable even if you’re nothing like them--and that’s what gives Night in the Woods its emotional impact.

From beginning to end to epilogue, Night in the Woods is ultimately open to individual interpretation. How you relate to it depends on your own experiences and choices, including Mae’s dialogue and who you decide to spend time with. Though its charming and angsty story works well on its own merits, it’s special because of how it prioritizes conveying emotion over telling a straight narrative.

Editor's note: This review has been updated to reflect our time with the Nintendo Switch version of the game. -- February 1, 2018

Categories: Games

OK K.O.! Let's Play Heroes Review: Pulling Punches

Gamespot News Feed - Wed, 01/31/2018 - 17:00

With an extensive roster of quirky characters and a world that's as colorful as it is joyful, the OK K.O.! universe is the perfect playground for a video game adaptation. But while OK K.O.! Let's Play Heroes perfectly captures the show's tone and aesthetic in its own way, it is, unfortunately, let down by repetitive quests and shallow mechanics.

You play as a young boy named K.O. who aspires to be the world's greatest hero. He is aided in his journey by his delightful group of friends (such as the cool-as-ice Enid, the slacker Radicles, and the tough-as-nails Mr. Gar) who all hang out and work with him at the Lakewood Strip Mall. But when the evil Lord Boxman from across the street threatens to take down Lakewood by resetting every hero's POW card (which depicts their "hero levels") to zero, it's up to K.O. to help restore everyone's levels by beating up an endless factory line of robots. Let's Play Heroes is primarily a beat-'em-up with some simple RPG elements, such as a basic leveling system and side-quests, sprinkled in. While this helps keep the game from getting too mundane, it only partially succeeds in alleviating the tedium.

The game's beat-'em-up combat is simple but has enough variety to keep things engaging. Attacks and dodges are performed with single button presses, and advanced moves involve a few more directional changes but nothing too tricky to master. Like most beat-'em-up games, there are also a large number of super techniques, called Powie Zowies, available to unlock. As you complete each stage, you earn experience points that go towards leveling up your Strength, Agility, or Cool stats. With three attributes, there might have been potential to shape K.O. to your desired playstyle, but disappointingly, the stats only serve as a way to keep advanced moves locked until you reach certain levels.

Each enemy robot has its own unique skillset, and some battle stages have item crates containing useful weapons. These factors encourage some strategic thinking, but the limited number of enemy types and the simplistic AI means that you can win almost every battle in the same manner with the same attacks. These robot fights only become remotely challenging during boss battles, but these are few and far between.

When you are not battling robots, the rest of Let's Play Heroes involves exploring Lakewood Strip Mall and talking to the various side characters to unlock their Powie Zowies via simple side-quests. Unfortunately, most of your options are either long-winded fetch quests or battles against robots, quickly turning these tasks into a grind. The game falls into a tedious pattern of talk, fetch item and/or fight, and talk again. There are a few mini-games available, but they are generally nothing more than reskinned or tweaked versions of the game's many robot battles.

The repetitiveness also does nothing to help the game's poor pacing. Despite the high-stakes story (for the OK K.O.! universe), Let's Play Heroes plays out like a series of meandering vignettes that mostly ignore the overarching storyline, not unlike the narrative structure of the show. While that approach may work in TV, the result is a game with too much padding and little in the way of forward momentum.

What Let's Play Heroes lacks in narrative urgency and mechanical depth, it almost makes up for in its presentation. Rather than imitate the show's simple presentation, like what The Fractured But Whole did with South Park, OK K.O.! Let's Play Heroes features its own colorful interpretation of the characters and universe. In contrast to the show's static look, the game's art style is dynamic and rich in detail yet simple enough to capture the tone of the source material.

Complementing the eye-pleasing visuals is the excellent audio design, notably the soundtrack and voice acting. Each background track feels entirely in tune with the show’s whimsical tone, right down to K.O.’s adorable beatboxing. The voice cast from the show lends their talent to the game, giving Let’s Play Heroes a wonderful sense of familiarity and comfort. Writing and characterization are also top notch, and perfectly capture the quirky nature of the show. Witty one-liners, layered jokes, and meta gags are generously sprinkled throughout the game, though these sadly start to run out towards the final act. All the characters in Let's Play Heroes are well-realized, with nearly every hero and villain given enough time to shine in their interactions with K.O., all while staying faithful to their TV counterparts. It goes a long way in not only pleasing long-time fans, but also establishing character relationships and dynamics for those unfamiliar.

There is also an additional payoff for those who watch the show religiously, though it's something may frustrate newcomers: The game features a special vending machine that allows you to input secret hidden codes found within episodes of the show in exchange for POW cards that are otherwise unobtainable. While this kind of locked content is disconcerting, Let’s Play Heroes’ simplistic fighting system renders this almost unnecessary. The fact that you can easily finish the game without unlocking these hidden POW cards means the mechanic ultimately doesn’t have a significant effect on the overall experience, though it may frustrate those who want to collect every POW card in the game.

As far as adaptations go, OK K.O.! Let's Play Heroes looks and sounds fantastic in a way that is distinct yet faithful to the source material. But the shallow mechanics, the repetitiveness of the gameplay loop, and narrative pacing issues prevent the game from being a rousing knockout.

Categories: Games

Latest Trailer Showcases The Co-Op Chaos

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 01/31/2018 - 16:30

Atlus is bringing Vanillaware's brawler Dragon's Crown to the PlayStation 4 this spring. The game features arcade-style action with support for up to four players. Curious about how it looks with a full party? You're in luck! A new trailer for the game highlights the co-op experience.

Your party can include up to four players, either locally, online, or in any combination. Regardless of how your party is composed, you can expect chaotic, screen-filling action.

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Categories: Games

Kiryu Assembles His Dream Team In New Clan-Creator Video

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 01/30/2018 - 16:13

Kazuma Kiryu brings people together, whether it's helping random couples with their love troubles, smoothing out relationships between criminals, or giving Yakuza players a common appreciation for the long-running series. Yakuza 6 gives the hero a new way to unite people, with the introduction of a clan-creator minigame. Think of it as a slightly more violent version of the series' hostess clubs. OK, it's a lot more violent.

Kiryu will be able to recruit a variety of different foot soldiers for his clan, which can be leveled up through battles. Those battles are fairly ambitious affairs, featuring dueling teams of up to a dozen combatants each. Players assume the role of battle tactician, giving commands to Kiryu's men and helping them take on enemies – including the Six Lunatics. You can see the lunatics and more in the video below.

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Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is coming to North American PlayStation 4s on March 20.

Categories: Games

Shadow Of The Colossus Review: A Somber Masterpiece

Gamespot News Feed - Tue, 01/30/2018 - 08:01

2005's Shadow of the Colossus was a revelation, a game whose gorgeous aesthetic and reserved tone were, at the time, undeniably distinct. Together with its unique take on boss encounters and a stirring soundtrack, those aspects made the game a defining title of the PlayStation 2 era. But it was also a game infamous for its technical issues: most notably, the ambitious design of the titular colossi meant the game would often suffer from a choppy, aggravating framerate.

A 2011 HD remaster for the PlayStation 3 alleviated these problems, but now, with 2018's Shadow of the Colossus for PlayStation 4, Bluepoint Games has completely rebuilt every aspect of the game's world while leaving the underlying structure and mechanics intact, a move which not only rejuvenates the game visually but uncategorically intensifies the utter majesty of this extraordinary experience.

Shadow of the Colossus takes place in an ancient world, where young warrior Wander and his horse Agro transport a deceased loved one to a forbidden, sealed land. With a mythical sword and an ordinary bow, Wander hopes to take advantage of a fable that suggests something in this isolated province has the means to bring back the dead. There, he encounters an omnipresent entity who compels him to destroy sixteen colossi scattered throughout the territory in order to enable his wish.

If you've already played a previous version of Shadow of the Colossus, you'll find that Bluepoint's rendition feels much the same, barring some minor differences in controller mapping, some subtle quality-of-life tweaks, and a new Easter egg. The locations of each colossus and the methods of defeating them remain the same, as do the locations of every white-tailed lizard and fruit collectible. The weight and movement physics of Wander and Agro feel unchanged, and New Game+ rewards are identical.

But the impact of the completely rebuilt world is transcendent. This is a world that is geographically as you remember, but one that still astounds you as if seeing it for the first time. Highly detailed environment modeling in tandem with impressive light and shadow simulation bring amazing life to the game's breathtaking biomes. Lucious forests are densely packed with majestic tall trees and twisting foliage, dappled beautifully with soft rays of sunlight. Vast, arid deserts feel hauntingly desolate as you try and sight somber ruins through a wispy sandstorm. Even the simple sight of mountainous crags and cliff faces is impressive, with shadows acutely defining their rocky surfaces, making them pop ominously. Every time you crest a hill, emerge from a crevice, or change your perspective, the landscape will be a sight worthy of pause.

The increased fidelity of the reconstructed colossi is just as spectacular, and the mere sight of one in this version of the game is even more awe-inspiring than it is in your memory. Each foe--some small and nimble, the rest impossibly titanic and overbearing--is a terrifying beast of stone, fur, and leather. That fur is now noticeably more dense and luscious, and hanging onto it for dear life as your enemy tries to violently shake you off feels even more intense. These moments are enhanced by the detail of the distant environment that lies far beneath you when on top of a colossus, combined with motion effects that amplify the sense of danger at these dizzying heights. The first time I mounted a flying colossus in this version of the game, I could feel my chest wrench as I squeezed my controller to hold onto its wing for dear life while it soared, flapping wildly through the air. It was exhilarating.

Playing on a PS4 Pro offers you the ability to further enhance visual fidelity via high dynamic range color, as well as the choice between two different graphical options with different priorities. Cinematic mode enables 4K resolutions, as well as allowing for impressive downsampling (that is, scaling down a higher-resolution image) for 1080p displays at a targeted 30fps. Performance mode provides less impressive graphical quality but maintains a smoother frame rate targeting 60fps. In my experience, I preferred the crisper image offered in Cinematic mode--once you realise you can recognise the definition between each individual blade of grass, it's hard to let that go. However, the visual quality offered by both modes still enhances the experience of the game in ways previously mentioned, especially for those whose last memory of it was suffering through sub-30fps framerate issues on the original PS2 release.

The visual reconstruction doesn't detract from what makes Shadow of the Colossus great, and the game's holistic and understated direction still comes through strongly: its muted colors, cinematic camera angles, and stark absence of music while exploring the world still evoke a poignant tone of desolation and solitude. The world's large forsaken landscape doesn't feel bereft of things to do, because simply riding through it and enjoying at the majesty of the land, accompanied only by the sound of Agro's hooves scraping against the earth, is a meditative experience.

Fighting a colossus is still a grand, solemn, and tense challenge that is exhilarating to overcome. The impassioned orchestral soundtrack heightens the pressure of every maneuver: Deciphering a method of mounting your impossibly enormous enemy, clambering to reach their vulnerabilities as they try to fling you off, and driving your sword into their flesh. Every moment of a colossus battle is thrilling to execute and witness, whether you're doing it for the first time, or the fifteenth time in a post-game time trial.

While the passing of twelve years hasn't affected the overall quality of Shadow of the Colossus, there are two technical annoyances that persist and remind you of a bygone era. The third-person camera system does not clip through world objects, so it becomes erratic and troublesome to adjust when moving Wander through enclosed spaces, or near a solid object. Additionally, the game's unforgiving climbing system, which asks you to jump with the X button and grasp onto a ledge or surface with the R2 trigger, is occasionally temperamental in certain situations; there may be times when contact with a ledge may not correctly register even though you may have been holding R2 well in advance and correctly estimated the distance needed for your jump. However, both of these issues affect only a small amount of your time with the game and should not be considered a significant strike against the whole. In the case of the climbing system, it's a quirk that's easy to come to peace with because of how absolutely essential the mechanic is to creating the rousing pressure and suspense of colossus encounters.

Shadow of the Colossus is a tremendous journey, and one well worth taking and retaking. The visual overhaul is stunning, thoroughly enhancing every facet of Wander and Agro's excellent adventure. Galloping through the tranquil world is always breathtaking; felling a monumental colossus is always humbling. Shadow of the Colossus is a beautiful reconstruction of an already exceptional title. It continues to be a modern classic and is an extraordinary game that everyone must experience.

Categories: Games

Subnautica Review: A Water Wonderland

Gamespot News Feed - Mon, 01/29/2018 - 21:00

Decades after Jaws cemented our cultural fear of the deep ocean, Subnautica emerges from Steam Early Access to fuel a new breed of underwater nightmares. This first-person survival epic by Unknown Worlds Entertainment dumps you into the water with not a great white shark to watch out for, but an entire alien world full of monstrosities ready and able to swallow you whole. Subnautica expands into an intense and challenging game that maintains considerable beauty and mystique across its massive environments. It's so magical and otherworldly that it practically pains you to stop playing, even when you're filled with dread.

Despite its scale and demanding ecosystem, Subnautica is one of the most approachable open-world survival games around. Where most of this sort have a steep difficulty curve to climb, this underwater alien world is easy to get into. The solo-only campaign begins when your ship crashes onto a flooded planet. You awaken, floating in your pod with only the fiery ruin of your former starship to break up the monotony of the ocean that rolls on endlessly to all points of the horizon.

From here, your goal is a simple one--survive, discover what else is on this world, and do your best to find a way off of it. Thankfully, you come from a Star Trek-style federation. Your lifepod is tricked out with a fabricator, a nifty wall-mounted device that can make pretty much anything, provided you feed it the necessary raw materials. Bladderfish are needed right away to provide potable water, while smaller finned creatures are best for fast frying and eating.

Compared to other survival games, gathering up items is easy. Want to see what mineral is hiding in that rock? Punch it or whack it once or twice with whatever you have in your hand. Need to cut plants or coral? Right-click to slash with your knife. Considering other survival games force you to do things like bash your fists bloody against trees to collect wood, you get by pretty easy here, and the entire game is better for it.

Because the crash has corrupted a lot of your databank, you also have to find and scan fragments and crack open data boxes scattered across the ocean floor before you can build bits of technology. You can even fabricate additional fabricators that make components for vehicles like the zippy Seaglide or Seamoth mini-sub, and even seabases straight out of Octopussy. These are not only cool to look at, but useful in the long run, with '70s-style observation bubbles, solar panels, and high-tech hardware to refine and manage your supplies.

Of course, there are still some significant challenges here. While you start off in the appropriately named Safe Shallows, home to mostly friendly fish and readily available materials required to craft basic items like swim fins and oxygen tanks, you soon need to venture farther afield. The world consists of many biomes, distinct geographical regions with their own flora and fauna. Most of the better goodies in the game come from more extreme and far away places, which forces you to steadily upgrade your equipment to handle greater depths and highly aggressive sea life that look more like monsters of myth than fish at your local aquarium.

...there is a real push-pull dynamic at large that makes you feel like you're constantly achieving one new goal after another.

Aggressive creatures are a continual presence. You have to respect them and keep your distance, knowing what they can do. With that said, creatures are not unduly punishing. Running into something aggressive doesn't result in instant death. You'll likely die far more often as the result of drowning during an exploration dive, or starving to death because you took too long during an expedition.

Diving into wrecks makes for the most intense moments in the game, especially when you're at significant depths. Bigger wrecks almost always seem to be in the neighborhood of the nastiest monsters on the planet, which means you need to sneak in and out. Caves are almost as nerve-wracking and contain an even stronger likelihood of drowning due to their labyrinthine nature. Further investigation rewards you with rarer natural resources like diamonds, nickel ore, and Blood Oil. Caves aren't as enjoyable to explore as wrecks, though, because the sheer danger makes them too risky to have much fun in. At least the game eventually allows you to craft things like a compass and the pathfinder tool that lets you lay down a trail of electronic breadcrumbs.

While routine scavenger hunts for more basic survival needs can grow routine (though you can turn off the need to eat and drink at the start of a game--or go in the other direction and turn on a hardcore permadeath mode), there is a real push-pull dynamic at large that makes you feel like you're constantly achieving one new goal after another. Even something as simple as grabbing a dozen or so bladderfish and peepers and turning them into bottles of water and salted fish snacks can be rewarding, because you know those supplies are essential for extended exploration missions.

Your development as a scavenger is nudged along by a story that loosely guides your exploration. Getting the lifepod radio repaired reveals a number of distress calls from other lifepods that went down along with you, along with coordinates of their current or approximate locations. This even opens up a possible rescue attempt, which leads to another interesting part of the planet. Venturing to these locales uncovers an unexpectedly deep story, but it also moves you to various locations where you find vital resources at just the right time. Progress moves quickly if you follow the story, though this is still a huge game that requires a lot of time, patience, and exploration.

Some patience is also required when you bump into the game's rare technical issues. Loading save files takes a very long time, there are regular sound glitches where audio vanishes while leaving the water, and crashes can occur when loading your save. Given that you're only allowed a single save slot per campaign, these moments are stressful, though thankfully no saves were lost during our time with the game.

Subnautica's story, scares, and beautifully rendered underwater setting make it one of the most fascinating survival games around. You will always have to grind away to a certain extent to gather necessary resources, but the overall experience is both accessible and refined. Subnautica may not make you eager to get back to the beach this summer, but right now there is no better virtual way to experience the beauty, and the terror, of the deep blue sea.

Categories: Games

New Trailer Introduces Nakoruru And Goes In On Fanservice

Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 01/29/2018 - 18:47

A new SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy trailer released at the conclusion of EVO Japan sets up the story and shows off the customization menu, as well as introducing Nakoruru into the fold.

The new trailer establishes that the cast of SNK heroines were called to a castle by an unseen and almost certainly evil force and are now battling it out for some reason in cow bikinis and vampire costumes. The trailer also does a fairly deep dive into the customization menu and what appears to be a model viewer with a security camera filter.

You can check out the trailer below. SNK Heroines Tag Team Frenzy is releasing on Switch and PlayStation 4 this summer.

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Categories: Games

Lost Sphear Review

Gamespot News Feed - Mon, 01/29/2018 - 15:00

Lost Sphear, like its predecessor I Am Setsuna, wants to remind you of the 16-bit RPGs that were so beloved in the '90s. Developer Tokyo RPG Factory has succeeded in terms of the basic look and mechanics, but after two games, it's starting to feel like the studio's name is intended more literally than we initially realised. Lost Sphear isn't a bad game by any stretch; it does some genuinely interesting things with its combat system, but everything surrounding that often feels like something that came off a factory assembly line.

Lost Sphear follows Kanata, a young man who sets out on an adventure with his two childhood friends, Lumina and Locke--along with Van, a stranger that the team adopts with very little vetting or discussion--after a calamity strikes their hometown. It soon becomes clear that Kanata is the key to solving a worldwide epidemic of people and places becoming "lost," meaning that they've disappeared, leaving behind a sparkly white silhouette. He and he alone can restore the lost thanks to his special, mysterious ability to compile and restore memories, and as whole chunks of the world disappear Kanata learns more about the disaster and why he alone can turn it around. This likely sounds familiar, because it's hitting on the same broad tropes that many RPGs have in the past. This is a standard "chosen one" story, albeit one that gets fairly bogged down in game-specific terminology. You and your slowly-expanding crew of fighters travel around an overworld map straight out of the SNES days, discovering new towns and smacking down a variety of monsters. Structurally, there's nothing here you haven't seen before if you're even a casual fan of RPGs.

Lost Sphear's battle system--despite being very directly based on Chrono Trigger's Active Time Battle system--has a stronger sense of craft to it than the story does. Each member of your team has access to unique weapons and moves, with no overlap, and by visiting the magic consortiums and blacksmiths in each town you can equip them with all sorts of abilities. Over time, you can play around with the "momentum" system--which lets you add buffs and bonuses to certain abilities that can be triggered during battles--and "sublimation," which lets you build up passive effects on these abilities over time. Each attack has its own area of effect, and each character also has access to a "vulcosuit," which lets them suit up in a mech during battle to access more powerful attacks. Figuring out strong attack combinations, and which attacks to assign which momentum bonuses, is satisfying, and while the game throws a lot of terminology at you as more combat abilities unlock, it never feels overwhelming.

You also have full control of your movement when each character's turn rolls around, meaning that you can choose where to place them. You might position someone who attacks from ranged distances in a safe spot behind the rest of the party, or spend ages trying to find a pixel-perfect position that will let one character's attack hit two enemies instead of one. This means that you have a lot of control over your placement on the battlefield and by playing strategically you have the potential to execute attacks that will let you deal a lot of damage at once. The strategic depth imbued into these systems means that even the most basic battles, the ones you can't possibly lose, remain enjoyable. Over time you can build up a huge number of passive buffs by restoring lost parts of the overworld map with Katana's powers, meaning that diligent players will have the opportunity to really boost their effectiveness in combat.

Some abilities are fundamentally much more useful than others, but harsh cooldown times and resource penalties mean that, in a long battle, you can’t spam your strongest attacks over and over. But while the system behind combat is great, most enemies will go down quickly if you just throw your biggest attacks at them without worrying too much about being strategic. I only died once outside of a boss fight, but when the bosses arrived, I never knew what to expect. Playing on normal, some were a cakewalk, while others were a brutal slog that the game had in no way prepared me for. Bosses will throw out incredibly cheap tricks, often right at the very beginning of the fight--instant-death attacks, sleep powders that put your entire team out of action for a long time, punishing area-of-effect attacks that trigger upon the boss' death, you name it. Thankfully, you can change the difficulty at any time if you get frustrated and don’t want to take a long trek back to the nearest town to buy new abilities and fortify your weapons in the hope of becoming strong enough to endure their attacks. And Lost Sphear not only allows you to quick save, but it signposts boss fights with save points--modern concessions that you'll likely be thankful for.

Outside of combat, working through Lost Sphear's campaign can often feel like busywork. It gets bogged down in glorified fetch quests for long periods of time, sending you pinging between different points on the map to take in unexciting dialogue exchanges. There are very few formal side quests with dialogue and objectives, and while there's quite a bit you could do on the map there's not much incentive to strive for 100% unless you're committed to finishing it on Hard.

For a while Lost Sphear feels aimless and flabby--it takes a while for an identifiable villain to emerge, and many early plot threads drop by the wayside as new, less interesting conflicts and dramas pop up. There's a lot of exposition, and the plot justifications for what you must do next often feel flimsy or forced. But lore is built up over time, and the plot pulls a neat trick on the player later on, subverting expectations and eventually connecting various dangling threads across the final act. It builds to a satisfying conclusion, albeit one weakened by uninteresting characters.

Lost Sphear also has an odd aesthetic to it. It has the look of an older portable title that has received an HD remake, with some pleasant scenes and locations offset somewhat by numerous repeated assets, bland textures, and dull interiors. Every now and then there will be a moment of beauty--a lovely vista, a quaint village--but other sections of feel like placeholders, too empty and boring to feel like real places. The character designs are indistinct, and the lack of close-ups or FMV cutscenes mean that it's hard to get a sense of personality from them. Tomoki Miyoshi's score is a solid fit for the events that unfold, but is lacking in earworms and unique boss themes.

It feels like the main purpose of Lost Sphear is to remind you of your favourites of the genre, rather than to join their company. Its enjoyable combat system and late-game revelations are satisfying, but it's hard to pin down its identity or to point towards anything that really makes it stand out beyond its ability to provoke nostalgia. For some players, that may be enough, but for others, the best thing about Lost Sphear might be that it inspires you to replay Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy VI.

Categories: Games

A Stylish RPG Involving Pirates And Mercenaries

Game Informer News Feed - Sun, 01/28/2018 - 19:00

Developer Klei Entertainment has always had a knack for style, with games like Don't Starve and Invisible, Inc. At last year's E3, Klei showed off its newest project, Griftlands, that once again has a unique look and premise.

Griftlands is a sci-fi RPG that its developers describe as a "pirate/mercenary sandbox," where you attempt to make a fortune for yourself. You control a group of mercenaries who have several different quest lines, and Klei explains that the world will mold and dynamically change depending on your actions. As for battles, these are played out in a turn-based fashion with a focus on subduing your enemies rather than outright killing them.

Much of Griftlands revolves around its economy, and on its Steam page, it says that "everything is negotiable," including money, loyalty, and morality. Below, you can watch its reveal trailer, which premiered at last year's E3 at the PC Gaming Show.

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Griftlands releases for PC at some point this year. No fixed release date has been revealed just yet.

Categories: Games