Games

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Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 10/10/2018 - 23:28

Amanita Design has revealed a trailer and a few details about its upcoming adventure game, Creaks. Creaks seems to follow in the trail of the studio's previous work, with a whimsical art style and puzzle-focused gameplay. But, if the trailer can be interpreted, this game explores the idea of what lies behind those creaky walls in an old house.

Amanita Design has won praise for its previous games, including Machinarium and Botanicula.

Creaks is targeting release on PC and consoles in 2019.  

Categories: Games

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Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 10/10/2018 - 23:28

Amanita Design has revealed a trailer and a few details about its upcoming adventure game, Creaks. Creaks seems to follow in the trail of the studio's previous work, with a whimsical art style and puzzle-focused gameplay. But, if the trailer can be interpreted, this game explores the idea of what lies behind those creaky walls in an old house.

Amanita Design has won praise for its previous games, including Machinarium and Botanicula.

Creaks is targeting release on PC and consoles in 2019.  

Categories: Games

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Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 10/10/2018 - 20:34

Bungie today offered details about what Guardians can expect to discover in this year’s Festival of the Lost, which is set to run from October 16 to November 6. While the event has yet to begin, the initial announcement suggests that the event is significantly more robust and feature-rich than some players have come to expect.

In addition to an engram-themed redecoration of the Tower, there are several discrete activities and collectibles to pursue as well. The character Eva Levante used to be the centerpiece character of the Festival, but she has been missing since the events of Destiny 2’s core game. Instead, Shipwright Amanda Holliday will step up as the main vendor for this year’s event. She will offer daily bounties that reward fragmented souls – this new currency, in turn, can be used to purchase new masks, as well as a new legendary auto rifle called Horror Story.

A new activity area is also opening up called the Haunted Forest. Inside, players attack enemies and see how deep into the area they can reach in 15 minutes, with the challenges becoming more difficult the further in you go. Bungie doesn’t offer a lot of additional detail about this new locale and activity, so we don’t know if the Haunted Forest will come along with any specific loot. The Haunted Forest is available to play solo, with a premade team, or with matchmaking – a fact that will come as welcome news to many players frustrated by the absence of matchmaking for modes like Escalation Protocol and Blind Well.

Festival of the Lost will also serve as the launching ground for a multi-week murder mystery, beginning on October 30. Master Ives, the Cryptarch of the Vestian Outpost from the original Destiny, has been killed, and players must figure out who did the deed. The connected quest line includes a new powerful engram to be earned each week, so it’s one more way to level up. We clarified with Bungie, and while the Festival of the Lost will only run until November 6, the new powerful engram and its weekly reward will continue on past that conclusion date for a few additional weeks.

As players level up throughout the Festival of the Lost, you’ll also gain a new Eververse Ephemeral Engram with each level passed, along with the standard Steadfast Engram you always get. The Ephemeral Engram seems to feature a number of new rewards, including ships, Ghost shells, and emotes. This new engram type can also be purchased using real money. Tess will also sell a selection of specific items from the event for direct purchase using Bright Dust.

Festival of the Lost will be available to all Destiny 2 players (regardless of expansions owned), and on all its platforms - PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

[Source: Bungie]

Categories: Games

My Memory of Us Review - War Has Changed

Gamespot News Feed - Tue, 10/09/2018 - 14:00

My Memory of Us, a game by Polish developer Juggler Games that focuses on the plight of two Polish children during a robot uprising, serves as a thin allegory for World War II, and obviously means well. This is important, as a version of My Memory of Us that didn't have its heart in the right place would be a disaster. This puzzle platformer aims to pay tribute to the Polish citizens who lost their lives during the Nazi occupation, especially those that provided shelter and help to the people around them, and the game feels like it intends to be respectful, especially in the collectible "memories" that tell you more about the real-world people who inspired the game. Unfortunately, the good intentions of My Memory Of Us are obscured by dull gameplay and poor metaphors.

You play as a young boy and girl simultaneously, neither of whom are given names. Early in the game a "robot occupation" occurs, standing in for the Nazi occupation of Poland, and you find yourself guiding these two kids through an increasingly perilous situation. The game is a puzzle-platformer with an intentionally limited monochromatic color palette, with a sparing use of red. You can swap between the two characters or move them both at once by having them hold hands, and solving most puzzles comes down to running around interacting with everything and using the unique abilities of each kid. The boy can sneak and shine light into people's eyes to temporarily blind them if he happens to be standing in a patch of light, while the girl can run and use a slingshot, abilities which make her more enjoyable to control.

Occasionally the children will be separated or will need to work together while having access to different parts of the map and different resources. Some sections have a stealth focus, where you'll need to creep between cover and avoid enemy patrol patterns, and there are even a few vehicle sections (think Excitebike but much slower) scattered throughout. Any sequence like this with a potential fail state can get tedious thanks to some control issues--climbing objects requires more inputs than it should, the hand-holding mechanic can be unresponsive, vehicle sections feel stiff, and checkpoints that could stand to be more generous.

The puzzles you solve often resemble those you might find in a very simple point-and-click adventure and are rarely well implemented into the game world or plot. For example, figuring out a padlock combination during one sequence set within an orphanage involves observing an equation left on a blackboard, which encourages you to multiply birds by strawberries, then subtract the number of ships. The solution is to use a telescope upstairs to count the birds outside, multiply that number by the strawberries that appear in a thought bubble above an NPC's head after finding and giving them a jar of strawberry jam, and then subtracting the number of ships dotted around the house the padlocked door is in. This isn't a difficult puzzle to solve, but there's a sense of disconnect between your actions and the outcome, and completing it feels like busywork.

This is an issue throughout the game, where the impact and logic of your actions is often unclear. You're regularly stumbling ahead just looking for the next thing you're able to interact with, unsure of what outcome you're trying to achieve. The best puzzles are the more traditional ones--there are sliding tile puzzles, a few numeric brain-teasers, and even a clever maze later in the game. They largely feel divorced from the levels they're in, but some of them are at least entertaining.

A bigger problem is the concept of dressing up a Nazi invasion as a robot invasion. The plot's framing device--that the boy, now an old man voiced by the great Patrick Stewart, is telling a story to a young girl who visits his bookshop--can only justify the game's euphemisms so far. The conceit is that the story is being changed to make it child-appropriate and more exciting; in practice, though, obscuring the truth of the story just makes things weird. Stewart delivers his lines, set against static cutscenes between missions, with his trademark timbre, but it's hard to get past the fact that the game has taken something horrific and made it cute.

Worst still is when the metaphor the game is operating under starts to fall apart. Partway through the game, the girl gets marked as "red" by the robot army. The game's "red" people wear red clothing, painted on by the robots' machines, and suddenly find themselves treated like lesser beings by everyone. It's an obvious tribute to the girl in the red coat from Schindler's List, but as a metaphor for how the Polish Jews were treated, it feels too ham-fisted as a metaphor and far from the horror of what it is meant to fill in for, especially when it seems like the citizens being painted are being chosen, essentially, at random. It's possible to tell a Holocaust story like this through metaphor and abstraction--Art Spiegelman's comic Maus stands as perhaps the best example--but it never feels like My Memory of Us has anything new or interesting to say about the period it is depicting, and framing it as a story being told to a child does not excuse this.

The disconnect between the game's cuter aesthetic elements and the story, where characters get sent to live in ghettos and whisked off to concentration camps, is jarring. In one scene, a robot commander demands that the girl dance for him (which plays out as a button-matching minigame), throwing her a literal bone (which you need to subdue a dog) when she succeeds. The cruelty of this act is obscured by the game's layers of metaphor. There are a few moments when the game's aesthetic works well--one section where the two characters dress up in a crude robot costume is a standout--but the tonal confusion dampens most of the experience. The game's art style and soundtrack are both great, despite a few mild performance hiccups where the music would blip out for a moment, but even the way both children are smiling in their idle animations feels wrong.

Things improve later in the game when it leans in harder to the underlying horror of the situation. The weird fantastical elements still don't quite sit right, but when you're, say, releasing other "red" people from the robot's flying train while it's on its way to a camp, there's a tangible sense of gravity to proceedings, and there are a few plot beats that land well. When a weird, out-of-place final boss fight (complete with stuttering performance issues) breaks out in the penultimate level it's hard to know what the game stands for. But the emotional finale that immediately follows, while simple, manages to pay off well on the relationship at the game's core, providing the closure a story like this needs.

My Memory of Us feels misguided; a concept that doesn’t sit well, marred by puzzle gameplay that fails to challenge or excite. It means well, and divorced from the game's context, the game's aesthetic is charming. But it doesn’t really work as either a puzzle game or as an educational experience.

Categories: Games

Pathfinder: Kingmaker Review - The Classics

Gamespot News Feed - Mon, 10/08/2018 - 19:37

While there have been many, many attempts to translate the tabletop roleplaying experience to the PC and console, more often than not it hasn't quite worked out. One of the biggest struggles in transitioning a traditional tabletop RPG into the quicker, imminently more binge-able video game form is incorporating a complex ruleset faithfully. Hypothetically speaking, with the right combo of spells and skills, a tabletop campaign can get utterly bizarre, with players collaborating to do things like using effectively unlimited ammunition to shoot through a mountain. These kinds of solutions are impossible in video games, where destructible environments and the difficulty of coding different possibilities necessarily limits the ways you can interact with the game. Pathfinder: Kingmaker is a partial exception to that rule, but it often fumbles with the execution.

Just about everything has been wholesale imported from the Pathfinder tabletop games; nearly all the mechanics, spells, skills, etc. make their way in, and so does a massive chunk of the lore and mythology. That's all well and good, particularly because Kingmaker offers plenty of options to help customize the difficulty and effectively put you in the role of Game Master. There are more than a dozen options for adjusting everything from damage scaling for foes--a handicap that makes you more resistant to harm in tougher fights--to how the AI will manage your (eventual) kingdom.

Given that this is a hefty choose-your-own-everything adventure, your character is a blank slate. You can pick from many of the basic races--as well as the godlike aasimar--and a fair few of the basic classes, skills and abilities from the tabletop edition. Your companions are initially pulled from a crowd of heroes you meet in the game's opening, but it expands soon after with any number of additional friends and allies to bring along the way. For the most part, these serve as means to an end. Your allies are as much a part of the experience as your own character is, both in terms of party composition and roleplaying in the narrative.

This is reinforced by one of the few concessions the tabletop game doesn't make, but the game does: party-wide skill checks. Passing obstacles in the tabletop Pathfinder, for instance, can often separate the party, as those that don't have a skill like acrobatics won't be able to maneuver through a thicket. Instead, in Kingmaker, the party completes these tasks as a team. It behooves you, then, to really spread out your abilities and party to maximize coverage of options over making sure everyone has the same basic setup with slightly different modifications down the line.

Such concessions transition well into group cohesion in combat, as well. With such a diverse set of specializations, party management is exceptionally important--especially because of the intense base difficulty. By default, Kingmaker follows the rules of tabletop perhaps too closely; it's a system where simple combat with a few foes can take 30 minutes to an hour (or more), all compressed into a few seconds on-screen. That can be taxing as it requires tremendous familiarity with each classes' traits as well as the acuity to know how to pull them together.

Were everyone sitting around the table, each would have a couple minutes to look over their spells, consider all manner of responses, and then execute the plan on their next turn. In Kingmaker, though, combat largely happens in real time. Sure, you have a pause button and can quickly look over your characters to devise tactics mid-battle, but this absolutely grinds combat down and really hits the pacing of the game in the worst way.

Perhaps a bit more troubling is the fact that within Pathfinder's ruleset, many monsters and creatures require very specific tools to kill. Swarms of small creatures like rats, for instance, can't be effectively fought with a sword and shield. Sometimes Kingmaker warns you, but other times it simply expects you to know how to handle the problem. Rust monsters, skeletons, ghosts, and so on all have specific tools that you need to understand and be able to use with relative ease. That's made easier by having a diverse party, but then you have to take far more time aside to learn the ins and outs of your band of characters than a traditional tabletop player.

This tension--between what Kingmaker is trying to be and what that looks like in practice--is at the heart of many of its missteps. With more than a dozen references and resources to draw upon, quite a few things have slipped through the cracks, causing issues of balance throughout. There’s the distinct impression that Pathfinder’s convoluted rulesets have led to oversights in how damage gets calculated by the game in this or that room, or whether you’ll face a much higher spell failure chance when squaring against a boss.

There have patches since release, and many of the adjustments definitely work. A slightly modified Story Mode (the name of one of the difficulty presets) is a solid entry point for many. Still, the rules and procedures can be labyrinthine--and that's even with tooltips that explain proper nouns and the requisite in-game encyclopedia to explain everything else.

For those willing to take on the challenge, however, what lies beneath the brusque exterior is a welcome return to involved roleplaying. The voice acting is spotty, and writing can be a bit cliché at times, but the game doesn't shy away from its subtitle. In relatively short order, you earn your barony and have the ability to build it out however you choose--hiring advisers and upgrading facilities to help you along the adventure. Kingmaker’s campaign cuts much closer to long-term tabletop campaigns and gives you a stable home base from which to plan your next outing. And, not to belabor the point, but most of your mini-adventures will definitely require prep.

These outings also constitute the bulk of your questing play and a good chunk of the ongoing narrative--an interconnected web of relationships and allegiances that lends itself to plenty of political intrigue and exciting adventures. Unearthing the mysteries of not only your “employers” but also the shifting factions of the Stolen Lands and how that plays into the world at large is definitely an extraordinary and rewarding endeavor.

For those willing to take on the challenge, what lies beneath the brusque exterior is a welcome return to involved roleplaying.

The interaction between the ruling bit of play and the rest of it is great. Having each of these systems--roleplaying, combat, adventuring, and what's essentially SimCity-lite--feed into and influence one another yields an experience that is as broad as it is deep. Your level of investment and engagement with each is largely up to you, but each of them matters and will require attentiveness to get the best results. But the opportunities it yields are exceptional. Having your roleplaying choices and character story and alignment all play into how you rule and who accompanies you on your trek is amazing. Working towards getting a well-crafted set of gear for your party after carefully maneuvering through hours of quests and adventures, all for the glory of besting a big bad using all the skills and abilities you've given your team, are high points of the adventure.

All-told, Kingmaker isn't a stellar outing, hampered by a litany of small issues, balancing, and the gargantuan knowledge base you'll need to play most effectively. But, for those with the patience, the rewards are well worth the investment.

Categories: Games

Five Big Takeaways From Our Hands-On With Resident Evil 2’s Dangerous Corridors

Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 10/08/2018 - 16:00

The Resident Evil 2 remake has generated all kinds of positive buzz since it was unveiled at E3. With the game just a few months away, Capcom has been showcasing more and more of its re-envisioning of the beloved entry. Leon and Claire both have their own campaigns, with some overlap. While Leon was the focus of E3; Gamescom was Claire’s time to shine, putting her in a hectic battle with William Birkin. Most recently, Capcom let us see what happens after that intense encounter, providing some gameplay surrounding the meat-and-potatoes of classic Resident Evil: exploration and puzzle solving. Here’s what stood out from our demo. 

Every Encounter Feels Dangerous

One thing Resident Evil 2 does right is how it approaches each menace around Raccoon City and their power level. Each enemy is a threat and none of them can be taken lightly, even on their own. When facing multiple enemies, you may be looking at a crisis for anything tougher than your run-of-the-mill t-virus zombies. Precision and understanding your arsenal are key – without the right weaponry used in the right way, you’ll find yourself up a creek. 

You have some options for how you protect yourself. When in the clutches of a zombie, the knife is worth its weight in gold. I slammed it into the zombie’s side – not enough to kill it, but enough to escape the deadly bear hug. This removed the knife from my inventory, but not all was lost. Once you take care of the enemy, you can recover it, but if the danger’s too high, you might have to walk away from it and hope you can find another knife. Knives are also breakable, so keep that in mind when you bust it out. 

Although fighting isn’t always your best option...

Running Is Vital To Survival 

Claire Redfield isn’t Master Chief; she doesn’t have to fight everyone within a five-mile radius. You often have to think quickly and depend on your instincts. Don’t feel bad if you choose to run, because it’s an extremely useful tool. As I explored the police station, I encountered a corridor with a licker on one side of the door. With just handgun ammo in my inventory, I was in no mood to battle, so I ran… directly into the other licker around the corner. Without the firepower to take down the one, much less a second, I booked it for the end of the hallway. Somehow, I made it through without taking any damage whatsoever, and the lickers were happy in their corridor. Although, I did have instances where enemies followed me, even one sneaking up behind me when a door was ajar. 

Avoiding combat is frequently worthwhile, but some enemies can be more tenacious than the lickers. I blew past some standard-issue zombies after I found a car key and wanted to figure out just what car it opened. After spending some time in the parking garage, I was startled to find those two former officers waddling in to find some brains. I took them down in short order, because I made sure to investigate every area thoroughly for items and had the ammo to spare.

Searching Can Be Just As Rewarding As It Is Dangerous

Exploration matters if you want to survive, because it gets you all sorts of goodies. The car trunk contained a powerful handgun along with ammunition. I explored a morgue, filled with dead people who (mostly) were just that. Each of the refrigerators could be individually opened and explored, revealing, aside from the corpses, things you’d normally find: herbs, ammunition, and keys. Don’t forget, exploring and trying to suss out every item also comes with its share of risks. Opening one refrigerator to find a red herb on the side of a corpse ended up being more than I bargained for, as that body was instead a zombie ready for battle.

After making quick work of it thanks to the aforementioned handgun, I went to pick up the red herb, only to find that all 12 slots of my inventory were full. Resident Evil 2 might be a brand-new reimagining of its former self, but the bogeyman still remains.

Resource Management Is Still A Big Part Of Strategy 

Capcom’s producers and directors were quick to make note that inventory and resource management are still important. The delicate balance of deciding between what you need and can ditch has always been an essential part of the series. Just because this is a remake doesn’t mean the developers are easing up or changing their tune on this element. When I asked point-blank about any kind of auto-management, the response was that it wouldn’t happen, as it adds to the ambiance of Raccoon City. Want to load up on weaponry? That’s less space for healing items or key items like cranks and keys.

The traditional storage chest system does return, so you can keep items you don’t need right now, but the decision always looms. However, one new convenience is the ability to know when a key item is used up and can be discarded. When I opened the car trunk, a checkmark appeared next to the key, alerting me there wouldn’t be any other uses for it. I could simply remove it from my inventory, freeing up space for more pressing items.

The Updated Graphics Take Things To A New Level

Our demo ended shortly after our exploration of the police station, spawning a cinematic sequence with Chief Irons, Claire, and young Sherry Birkin, ending with Irons locking Claire in the parking garage and escaping with Sherry. I was impressed with my short time with the game. It’s clear Capcom has put a significant amount of work into updating this classic, while still retaining the charm it had when it first launched on the PS1. 

The team also added plenty of nods and Easter eggs for longtime fans. Even more impressive is how much the new graphics make a difference. “We tried to update it for a more believable, grander feel because it’s using the RE engine for this amazing photorealistic look,” says producer Yoshiaki Hirabayashi. This new realistic touch informed everything, right down having puzzle objects make sense for the setting and the look of the zombies.

 “We want to make sure that every zombie and character in this game is truly terrifying and life-threatening,” adds producer Tsuyoshi Kanda. “We got this ‘wet gore,’ as we call it, where they just look glistening and horrible. We also have the ragdoll physics on the way the zombies move. You might think you’ve got them down but then they come back to life and grab you again. Even the way you can aim for different parts and dismember them, we put a lot of effort into realistic damage and making the zombies the best zombies we ever made.”

Based on the tension and terror I felt as I explored, I’d say they’ve done just that.

Resident Evil 2 launches January 25 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

 
Categories: Games

Dead Or Alive 6's Tweaks Are Making For A Stronger Fighter

Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 10/08/2018 - 14:03

At a recent KOEI Tecmo event, the Dead or Alive developer let us sit down with the latest build of its new fighting game, Dead or Alive 6. 

I last got a chance to sit down with Dead or Alive 6 with E3 and was not feeling it at the time. Since then, Team Ninja has made a number of changes to the special attack system, including incorporating it into the game's sidestep mechanic. This current build contained newcomer Diego, but did not have the recently-shown Tina, Bass, and Mila.

The Fatal Rush mechanic, which allowed players to perform an auto-combo and end with a super, has been toned down quit a bit since E3. It now does less damage overall and isn't a trump card that would ultimately become useless. The biggest change is incorporating the special button into the dodge, letting you perform an evasive move during a sidestep that blasts enemies similar to Dead or Alive 5's power blow.

The new stages are also more interactive than before. The pirate ship stage shown off earlier has multiple levels, each with different hazards. On the top deck, a kraken picks up characters and throws them around. A lower deck has treasure lining the floor, while another deck is lined with burning gun powder and tons of explosions. Another arena brings dinosaurs back to the series and delves into different Jurassic Park-like environments, complete with angry dinos.

You can check out a few matches I played with Team Ninja's community manager, Emmanuel MASTER Rodriguez, who claimed he was going all out on me. Considering his tournament wins, I am not sure I believe him, because I managed to hit him once or twice.

Dead or Alive 6 releases on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on February 15.

Categories: Games

We Go Hands-On With Hitman 2's Colombia Levels

Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 10/08/2018 - 14:00

The path of the Hitman series has been as circuitous and complicated as one of the conspiracy-tinged stories that follow Agent 47 through the twists and turns of the path of bodies he has left behind him. With the confusingly-named Hitman 2 releasing soon, IO Interactive is backing off from the episodic model of the previous game, this time backed by a new publisher. We got to go hands-on with the latest revealed level of the game, Colombia, and take out three narco-kingpins in the jungles of Santa Fortuna.

Agent 47 stalks through a jungle-village with multiple compounds surrounding it. In the village center, a party is being set up by the cartel to welcome themselves as liberators of the people, replete with musicians, drunkards, and soldiers to watch over the whole thing. There’s rarely a place to blend in without a patrol unit walking by, a camera capturing your presence, or a villager going about their day and eyeing up the weird bald guy walking around the village.

There is something about Santa Fortuna that makes it feel unique in that way. The tried-and-true methods of following someone to an empty room and then whacking them with a soda can to steal their clothes will still work, but there’s far fewer opportunities that Hitman maps have had before. There’s less sprawl to Santa Fortuna and that works in its favor. There are always people around and assuming you’re alone will not work out in most cases.

Colombia is similar to the previous game’s Marrakesh level, which had riots and protests in the streets, but makes its NPCs more mobile. A guard I lured over to a garden with a running hose came at the same time the gardener also checked it out. Following the gardener leads back to his house where he has an argument with his wife, making me wonder if it would have been better if I had hit him with a wrench like I planned.

Things escalate as you go to the actual cartel compound, which is populated by personal bodyguards, soldiers, and service staff. There’s no single disguise that fools all three groups, forcing you to switch outfits here and there, block suspicion by hiding, or hoping for the best as you dash through the hallways to get the outfit you need to get and hope you’re not compromised.

Of course, the disguises are a key part of the Hitman formula and Hitman 2 loves giving you plenty of cosplay for Agent 47 to use no matter what execution you choose. Dress up like a soldier and head to the jungle to look for some missing cargo or disguise yourself as a drummer for some actions that may help you take down a target. Almost every NPC you find will unwillingly give you their clothes after knocking them out and I was unable to find any, like in the previous title, that had no disguise to give.

You can check out the Colombia mission in action in the video below, where I take out two targets in one planned way and one happy accident.

IO Interactive's last Hitman game was published under Square Enix and the switch to Warner Bros. doesn't seem like it has forced any errors on IO's part for the sequel. It remains to be seen if it can be every bit as amazing as its predecessor, but everything looks good for fans so far.

Hitman 2 releases on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on November 13.

Categories: Games

FIFA 19 Nintendo Switch Review - Switched Off

Gamespot News Feed - Sun, 10/07/2018 - 01:54

If FIFA 19 on PS4 and Xbox One is a 40-piece orchestra with all the bells and whistles you can think of, then FIFA 19 on Nintendo Switch is the tribute band. The Switch version of EA's footballing behemoth purports to have all the same qualities--the Champions League! Ultimate Team! Career Mode!--but under the surface, each of its many facets lacks the depth and longevity from other versions. On the pitch the Switch port feels relatively smooth, if a little dated, but it's hard to shake off the feeling you're playing an inferior and incomplete version of this year's biggest soccer sim.

Some improvements from the PS4 and Xbox One editions carry over to the Switch port, such as timed finishing and the new Kick Off house rules options like No Rules and Survival Mode. Others, such as game plans--or any kind of tactical tweaks or player instructions--do not make the cut.

Once you get on the pitch, things feel satisfying--sometimes. Passing still feels imprecise, even with the world's best players, but shooting and dribbling feel almost as good as what's available on other platforms. But this port also seems to pull from older versions of FIFA--many cutscenes and environmental cues like those read out by stadium announcers are from as far back as FIFA 10.

Additional problems crop up when you want to play a friend with one Joy-Con each. It works, but not particularly well. As with FIFA 18 on Switch, fewer buttons and sticks means there's no way to use finesse shots, threaded through balls, knuckle shots, manual defending, skill moves, or driven passes. Double-tapping the right bumper allows you to knock the ball ahead of you in a similar fashion to the right stick when playing with traditional controls, but similar workarounds don't exist for the other missing functions. Playing with one Joy-Con is possible but often ends up feeling like more hassle than it's worth. You are, at least, able to matchmake with friends when playing online, which was missing from last year's Switch port.

The Champions League license and standalone mode do form a part of the Switch version, complete with Derek Rae's Aberdeen-Atlantic commentary and UEFA's operatic anthem. Night games look impressive on Switch, even if the atmospheres don't quite live up to the sights and sounds of the PS4 and Xbox One editions, in part due to lower resolution. The standalone mode is essentially a stripped-down version of Career Mode, which itself is even more bare-bones on Switch than it is on home consoles this year. On Switch, neither mode contains the dynamic cutscenes or interactive transfer negotiations found on other platforms. Here, FIFA 19 really does feel very similar to 18, just with updated licenses.

Ultimate Team has a similar story in this version. FUT is easily FIFA's biggest and most popular mode, thanks in large part to EA's Squad Building Challenges, in-form cards, and more live services that keep things fresh. All those are present and correct on Switch, but the mode is lacking in ways to actually use your squad. Division Rivals, FUT's new sub-mode for this year on PS4 and Xbox One, is nowhere to be found, meaning you have to make do with standard old Online Seasons matches. Squad Battles, the primary method of play for offline players in FUT, is also absent--the more miserly Single Player Seasons are your best bet here. To make matters worse, you still need a constant internet connection to access even Ultimate Team's single-player sections, so playing FUT on the go isn't an option unless you tether your Switch to your phone signal. Oh, and the FIFA 19 companion app is not compatible with Switch versions of the game, so you're out of luck there, too.

All that's left is to lament the ongoing absence of The Journey, which of all FIFA's modes appears the best fit for Switch--a deep, offline story playable in small chunks--and yet it's omitted entirely from the port. And that sums up the Switch version of FIFA 19: a playable, competent game of football encased in a package of outdated modes and lacking the controls and features you really want.

Categories: Games

New Footage Of System Shock Remaster Shows Off Remade Environments

Game Informer News Feed - Sat, 10/06/2018 - 22:16

Backers of the System Shock remaster kickstarter campaign will soon have access to the Adventure Alpha, which aims to be an early version of the game that's actually playable. To accompany the announcement of the alpha, developer Night Dive studios has released a new trailer showing off the remake.

Fans of the original should be able to recognize most of the levels shown, even if they've been retooled with higher-resolution textures. Of course, this being an alpha, the actual look of the game has not been finalized. "Not only will these re-tooled textures make the Adventure Alpha more interesting but it will provide the team with a blueprint of how to approach updated art, lighting, level design, and more," the studio posted.

After being put on hiatus until recently, but is expected to release in 2020 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, and Linux.

Categories: Games

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Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 10/05/2018 - 20:20

Earlier today, Sony outlined the exclusive content coming to Red Dead Redemption II when it releases later this month. As previously announced, the content is only exclusive for the first 30 days, at which point it will release for Xbox One, but these are the first details of what exactly it will be.

For the game's story mode and Red Dead Redemption online, you get access to the Grizzlie's Outlaw Outfit. You can start using this outfit from the game's launch date. When Red Dead Redemption Online launches soon after the game's release, you get access to some other items and accessories and a horse.

The PS4 content for Red Dead Redemption Online includes a Chestnut Arabian Horse, the Alligator Skin Ranch Cutter Saddle, and the quick-shooting High Roller Double-Action Revolver. These items are only for the online mode and will come to the Xbox One a month after they launch on PS4.

Red Dead Redemption II releases on both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on October 26.

[Source: PSBlog]

Categories: Games

New Dead Or Alive 6 Trailer Shows Off Tina, Bass, And Mila

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 10/05/2018 - 19:25

KOEI Tecmo today showed off a new trailer for Dead or Alive 6, their upcoming fighting game title. The trailer shows off returning characters Tina, Bass, and Mila, two long-time DOA veterans and the latter introduced in Dead or Alive 5. Check out the new trailer below.

Tina and her father Bass have set up a tag team with each other called Muscle Team, which seemingly gives superfan and MMA fighter Mila a shot at fighting her wrestling idols. The trailer also shows off the wrestling ring stage, which has some variation in every modern game in the series.

Dead or Alive 6 releases on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on February 15.

Categories: Games

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Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 10/04/2018 - 18:55

While Yu-Gi-Oh's Yugi Moto was revealed a few weeks ago for the upcoming manga fighter Jump Force, we haven't really seen him in action yet. Thankfully, Bandai Namco has provided a new trailer for the game showing exactly how the card-slinger fights.

While it's been sometime since I have familiarized myself with the card-battling story of Yu-Gi-Oh, my understanding is that Duel Monsters' eponymous monsters were holograms created by the weird thing they wore on their arms, which is clearly not the case here. Yugi fights using corporeal versions of Dark Magician and Dark Magician Girl and finishes enemies with a certain legendary monster. 

It's unclear if Yugi will have different monsters to play with, but for now his bread and butter seems to be the two Dark Magicians in his deck.

Jump Force releases on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC in February.

Categories: Games

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Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 10/04/2018 - 15:31

Bandai Namco has revealed that Inferno is joining the Soulcalibur VI roster. As a new trailer shows, it looks like fighting him is going to continue to be a massive pain in the rear.

Inferno's gimmick is centered on his ability to mimic other combatants, and also the fact that, well, he's on fire. 

Soulcalibur VI is coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on October 19. 

Categories: Games

Cities: Skylines Review - In The Zone

Gamespot News Feed - Wed, 10/03/2018 - 23:50

Editor's note: We have updated this review to reflect our experience with the Nintendo Switch version of Cities: Skylines. See the end of the review for our thoughts.

Now this is more like it. Even though my real-world occupation as the mayor of a Canadian town means that I try to escape such things as budget meetings and zoning hearings when I play games, Cities: Skylines still managed to hook me due to its authenticity. Unlike the latest SimCity, which was far too fantastical to let me build cities that resembled those in the real world (size limitations and not being able to establish proper zoning districts drove me crazy), this Colossal Order production nails just enough of what is fun about running a municipality in the real world. Proper zoning, room to grow, and the addition of policies and districts that let you plan out sensible city development make for a (mostly) bona fide experience in the virtual mayor's chair.

Is it too geeky to be excited about the use of zoning rules and policies in a city-building game?

Making comparisons between games is not always helpful, but in this case, it's difficult to ignore the tight relationship between Cities: Skylines and its SimCity inspiration. Colossal Order delves deep into what Maxis and EA once made so popular with a traditional city-building approach. Few surprises or even significant innovations can be found here: There is just a standard single-player mode of play in which you choose from a handful of maps representing territory types ranging from flat plains to tropical beaches. You may also play the game with standard conditions, dial up the difficulty, and/or turn on sandbox and unlimited-money mods. No tutorial is included, either, which makes for a learning curve at the beginning. At least tips are provided on a continual basis during regular play.

Multiplayer is totally absent, as are frilly options like disasters and giant monster attacks. There are no multiple-city games, either. You have one city to deal with, along with a mostly invisible outside world that allows you to buy and sell goods on a common market. The game has been developed with modding in mind, however, and it ships with a full editor. Therefore, you can expect a lot of user-made add-ons to hit the net shortly. Nonetheless, at the present time, this "just the facts" focus makes for an initially bland experience. The plainness is exacerbated by stark menu screens and dated visuals that are attractive enough to get by, while at the same time cutting corners by cloning buildings and signs, as well as lacking amenities like a day-night cycle and weather patterns.

If you have been jonesing to be a virtual mayor, though, Cities: Skylines gets nearly everything else just right. First off is zoning. You have full control over zoning neighborhoods as low or high (medium is absent, although I didn't miss it) residential, commercial, and industrial. These basic mechanics provide thorough control over laying out cities, which gives you a real sense of being in charge. Second up is map size, which allows for a lot of stretching out. The initial size is restrictive at 2km by 2km, but you can access more plots of land to eventually expand to a metropolis spanning a whopping 36 square km. That allows for expansive burgs, and an incredible sense of freedom. You always have room to correct mistakes and grow out of early problems, making you feel more like the super-mayor that you should feel like, and not the goofball constantly demolishing whole neighborhoods to fix problems you couldn't have foreseen three hours ago.

Two other great features involve establishing districts and policies. This allows for the creation of boroughs with separate identities (policies can be set to take in entire cities, as well) by drawing them out with the Paint District tool. If you want your very own Brooklyn hipsters or a hardhat neighborhood for factory Joes, you can paint out city blocks and then tweak localized settings. This allows you to offer free public transit, boost education, give away smoke detectors, get into high-tech homes, ban high rises, and even alter tax rates for different zones. You can also set up specific industrial areas to focus efforts there. So if you want a green city, allow only farming use in industrial zones. If you want to go in the other direction with the sort of hardcore factories that killed grandpa, you can set up oil or ore districts and watch the smokestacks pump out poison.

Smart use of districts and policies allows for the creation of cities that closely resemble their real-life counterparts.

Policies are on the fanciful side, and establishing wildly different rules on social activities and even tax rates between neighborhoods in the same city will not go over well on election day. But I still love the ability to fine-tune cities without delving too deeply into micromanagement. The district and policy features combine to let me sketch out what I want in each part of my city--yes, this will be my gentrified borough for snotty white-collar professionals, complete with a smoking ban, no pets, no high rises, recycling, allowance for the use of certain controlled recreational substances, high-tech homes, and, of course, stupid high taxes--and then sit back and watch neighborhoods evolve.

The challenge is not pronounced, especially if you have city-building experience. You needn't worry about random sparks somehow taking down whole blocks, or other acts of God obliterating all of your hard work. This gives Cities: Skylines a relaxed character, instead of coming across like a rigorous game loaded with set objectives and problems to be solved. It's an old approach, but a great one, as it allows you to concentrate on the abstractions of building, instead of mindlessly racing around meeting random goals related to citizen happiness or residency numbers.

I wish I had shares in Go Nuts Doughnuts.

The only aspect of the game that becomes annoying to handle is transit. Given the same developer's Cities in Motion series, you might expect roads, buses, and the like to take on a vital role. Ultimately, however, transportation systems are overly Byzantine and convoluted, particularly when it comes to bus routes. It's difficult to tell if transportation woes are your own wrongdoing, or if there are problems with vehicle pathfinding in the game itself. You can muddle through, although you never exert the same level of control with transit as with everything else.

Moving Cities: Skylines to the Nintendo Switch is mostly what you would expect. This is a pretty thorough port of the PC release, including the original game as well as the After Dark and Snowfall expansions that added evening activities and ho-ho-ho weather. But while the game experience itself is virtually the same as it is on PC, you have to make a few sacrifices on the Switch. While the interface itself functions (perhaps surprisingly) well ported from mouse-and-keyboard to the more limited d-pads and buttons of the Switch, the controls are less than precise. I often overshot or undershot my mark. Laying out roads, for example, requires patience here, especially when compared to the ease of putting down long stretches of asphalt on the PC. I eventually became accustomed to the controls, although I still prefer mouse and keyboard.

While the game experience itself is virtually the same as it is on PC, you have to make a few sacrifices on the Switch.

Portability presents some big pluses in that it makes Cities: Skylines more of a pick-up-and-play game where you can bite tasks off in chunks. I played the game more casually and more frequently on the Switch, knocking off sessions throughout the day just because I had the system close at hand. Still, taking the game on the road or even around your house comes with some drawbacks. The intricate nature of city layouts and the small size of the screen makes it tough to track everything easily. This problem grows as cities get bigger. I spent almost as much time zooming in and out as I did zoning neighborhoods. In some ways this made me pay even more attention than usual to what was happening on the mean streets of my cities, but it also led to some frustration.

Camera manipulation reveals performance problems as well. Even though the graphics have clearly been dialed back a touch on the Switch, the game chugs when it has to handle larger cities. This can be a problem when you need to take a close look at things. These stutters seem more pronounced when you have the Switch docked and you’re playing on a TV, so they don’t present as many annoyances when using the console’s own screen, when--as noted above--you have to zoom in more often. Still, this slowdown is not a show-stopper, although optimizing the game through a patch would be welcome.

Even with a few PC issues and a less-than-perfect Switch port, Cities: Skylines remains the best city-builder on the market right now. The game's presentation is stodgy, but it is all but guaranteed to provide you many hours of carefully crafting cities, laying out zoning, and establishing districts for specifics residential and industrial uses…all free from real-world mayoral headaches like 6 a.m. phone calls griping about snowplowing. Right now, there is no better way to take a peek at life as a mayor without filing your papers to run for office in the real world.

Categories: Games

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Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 10/03/2018 - 14:38

Darksiders III hits on November 27 (PS4, Xbox One, PC), and the latest trailer for the game shows the evolution of Horseman of the Apocalypse, Fury. Her unlockable/switchable Hollow forms give her the might to defeat the Seven Deadly Sins through an array of abilities.

Fury's giant hammer, Scorn, is not only a powerful weapon, but a way for Fury to draw in energy to scale walls.

For more on the game, be sure to check out our hands-on impressions of the demo as well as the Gamescom trailer.

Categories: Games

Super Mario Party Review In Progress - Super Stardom

Gamespot News Feed - Wed, 10/03/2018 - 14:00

Anyone who's played a Mario Party game in the past 20 years has a good idea of what to expect from Switch's Super Mario Party, but Nintendo's latest offers a few new modes that each add their own creative spin on the tried-and-true formula. In many ways, Super Mario Party feels smaller than previous games in the series, but added layers of strategy and clever, fun minigames help keep it lively and fresh.

The fierce competitive nature of the series' earliest titles is back, as Super Mario Party ditches Mario Party 9 and 10's cooperative car mechanic and once again pits players against each other in a race for Stars. The overall goal in Super Mario Party is to earn five Gems, which you get after completing each of the game's five major offline modes: Mario Party, Partner Party, Challenge Road, River Survival, and Sound Stage.

Mario Party mode features the series' classic formula of bite-sized games interspersed between rounds of board game hijinks. Your character is still placed on a board with three others where you'll all race after Toadette and her collection of Stars. The biggest change is the introduction of character dice blocks; while previous Mario Party games utilized virtual 10-sided dice, now every character has two dice blocks, one six-sided and the other unique to them, and you have to decide which one to use each turn. The six-sided die rolls a one through six, while each character die comes with its own set of strengths and weaknesses.

For example, Mario's has a number three on three of its sides, while the remaining three sides are one, five, and six. In comparison, the devilish gambler Wario has a special die where two of the sides cause him to lose two coins, but the other four sides are sixes. For the first time in a Mario Party game, your choice of character is more than just aesthetic, and figuring out the best time to use a specific dice block adds a level of strategy to what's typically been an act of randomness.

Each of the game's four boards requires slight tweaks to your strategy for reaching the Star, but they're all small, and most don't take advantage of their unique makeups. Whomp's Domino Ruins, for example, features Whomps who will block your path down certain shortcuts. The board only has two Whomps, though, so you don't encounter them very often, and even when you do, the board is small enough that taking the long way around won't put you at much of a disadvantage. Super Mario Party's four boards don't feel distinct, so your strategy for each one won't be all that different. And since there are only four boards in total to pick from, Mario Party mode grows stale fairly quickly.

There are a total of 80 minigames in Super Mario Party, putting it just behind Mario Party 6, 7, and 9 in terms of quantity. Of the 80 minigames, nearly half rely on the motion control or rumble features in the Switch's Joy-Cons. Don't fret; both the motion and rumble features work surprisingly well, and it makes for some of the most cleverly designed games in the Mario Party series. For example, in Fiddler on the Hoof, you and three others race horses, and making a pulling back motion with the Joy-Con to simulate whipping the reins increases your score if you move with the beat of the song that's playing. In Nut Cases, you and a partner need to outwit the other team by claiming the five boxes that have the most walnuts inside them. You get an idea as to a box's contents by picking it up and measuring the severity of your Joy-Con's vibration. As Super Mario Party only supports motion control with a single Joy-Con, you won't be able to play the game in handheld mode or with a Pro Controller.

Partner Party mode is Super Mario Party's reimagining of Mario Party 6's Team Battle mode. The rules are similar to Mario Party mode, but there are more paths around the board, and you need to actually land on Toadette's spot to get a Star instead of just collecting it while passing by. The minor obstacles from Mario Party mode become trickier to get past in Partner Party because you need to remain mindful of both you and your partner. Paying to move Whomp out of the way might get you to the Star more quickly, but doing so could trap other players, including your teammate. There's the possibility of winning the next minigame and earning enough coin to buy an item to free them, but that's no guarantee. This type of consideration and amount of forethought simply doesn't exist in Mario Party mode.

Two of the other major modes, River Survival and Sound Stage, are new to the Mario Party franchise. The former has you working together with three others to survive a trip down a dangerous river while playing Co-op minigames, while the latter is an energetic dance competition where you solely play Rhythm minigames. Both River Survival and Sound Stage offer fun, albeit brief, alternatives to the staple Mario Party formula. The Co-op and Rhythm minigames are also some of the best in the Mario Party series, especially the Rhythm ones like Fiddler on the Hoof, that have you actually standing up and moving around to match the groove of the game's characters. Both Co-op and Rhythm minigames lack the heated competition of other head-to-head minigames, but they do pump up a room.

Super Mario Party's final major mode, Challenge Road, is the closest the game has to a single-player campaign, but it only opens up once you've unlocked all 80 minigames. The mode has you play through every single minigame with specific handicaps placed on you to make each one harder. For example, a racing minigame might challenge you to get first place without running into any of the track's hazards. This mode comes very close to giving Super Mario Party just the amount of challenge the game would need to increase its longevity, but unfortunately it buckles. If you fail at a challenge three times, the game asks you if you'd like to just skip it. You can always come back and beat the challenge later if you want, but the mode never punishes you for skipping any of the minigames. As long as you get to the end of the road, regardless if you skipped a dozen challenges to get there, you'll still earn one of the five Gems you need.

Super Mario Party also has several smaller modes and features that aren't tied to earning the Super Star title. In Mariothon, you compete in five minigames where outlasting your opponents in time-based games earns you extra points on the tournament ladder. There's an online version of Mariothon too, but the servers aren't live until the game's launch. Square Off is also a minigame-based tournament, but after each win, you're allowed to claim a territory space. Owning the pieces of territory on either side of another player's territory nets you their space too, and the game continues until every space is filled. The winner is whoever owns the most spaces at the end of the match. Both modes give you a goal to strive for while playing minigames, which creates extra levels of friendly competition amongst a group of friends.

The new Partner Party, River Survival, and Sound Stage modes add enjoyable alternatives to Mario Party mode--which at least returns to its competitive roots.

There's also Toad's Rec Room, where you can play unique games that change based on how you position your Switch, and a Stickers room, where you can cover a wall in a mural of stickers you've collected. Both seem tacked on to Super Mario Party; the former to justify putting the game on a console that can be played on a horizontal plane, in kickstand mode, or in a dock, and the latter to give you a reason to go out and buy some Amiibos to scan and get special stickers that aren't earnable within the game. Although the option of changing perspectives in Toad's Rec Room--such as looking at a baseball field from a bird's eye, laid-back, or pitcher's view--is an interesting gimmick, none of the games are really made better by adjusting how you look at them. The Stickers room is not worth getting invested in at all.

Everything about Super Mario Party feels smaller in comparison to previous titles in the series. Both Mario Party and Partner Party mode play on small boards, and certain modes, like Challenge Road, have clear tier points to make it easy to play through in small chunks. So it's all the more puzzling that you can't actually play Super Mario Party on the go in handheld mode. Given you need a seperate Joy-Con to perform the motion-based actions in the game, it makes sense, but it's still odd to see a game on Switch that actively prevents you from making use of the console's portability.

Most of Super Mario Party's varied assortment of 80 minigames are fun, especially if you've got a full group of four players, as the NPCs aren't smart or skilled enough to pose much of a challenge until you unlock Master difficulty. The new Partner Party, River Survival, and Sound Stage modes add enjoyable alternatives to Mario Party mode--which at least returns to its competitive roots. And even if the unique character dice blocks don't shake up Super Mario Party's four boards enough to give Mario Party mode some longevity, they implement small moments of strategy into a series that has for too long solely relied on randomness to determine a winner.

Editor's note: As we have not been able to test Super Mario Party's online features on live servers prior to its release, this is a review in progress. We will update and finalize this review when we're able to test its online functionality at launch.

Categories: Games

Latest Hitman 2 Trailer Shows Off Wetwork Weaponry For Your Contract Killer

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 10/02/2018 - 21:56

Agent 47 may work on a different team than James Bond, but they both share an affinity for deadly gadgets. The latest Hitman 2 trailer shows off the array of wetwork weaponry you can take on the job this time around. 

The teaser showcases remote exploding cell phones, proximity tasers, concussion grenades, remote audio distractions, and disposable scramblers. How you use them will determine if you successfully terminate the target. 

Hitman 2 is scheduled to release on November 13 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. 

Categories: Games

Battlefield V's Weapon List Has Some Curious Omissions

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 10/02/2018 - 19:02

Today, Electronic Arts and DICE revealed the list of weapons, gadgets, and vehicles appearing in Battlefield V at launch. With 30 primary weapons, 7 sidearms, and 9 melee weapons, 16 gadgets, and 24 vehicles the initial arsenal sounds decent. You can read all about them here. Many guns should be intimately familiar to Battlefield 1 players considering roughly half of them appeared in that game as well. But when you start to dig into the details, there are some interesting omissions. 

Two of the weapons most associated American forces during the war – the M1 Garand and BAR M1918 – are nowhere to be found. This shouldn't be too surprising since EA previously announced the game is launching with only the British and German factions. DICE plans to add more factions (and presumably weapons) as it rolls out new theaters of war in its Tides of War post-launch campaign. 

Battlefield V releases on anywhere from November 9 to November 20 depending on what version you purchase for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, or PC.

 

EA's plans to follow the historical trajectory of World War II over multiple theaters of war after the launch of Battlefield V sounds interesting, but it's created a nonstop series of announcements with problematic optics. People are going to gripe when you ship without critical factions, iconic weapons, and famous battles. Most surmise DICE plans to add most of this content after launch because frankly, you'd have to be insane not to release a remaster of the classic Wake Island map from Battlefield 1942. But the continuing cascade of "not at launch" omissions has left many (myself included) wondering if there will be anywhere close to the amount of content a regular Battlefield game has upon release.
Categories: Games

New Red Dead Redemption II Hands-On Impressions From The Opening To Its Open World

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 10/02/2018 - 15:34

Dutch van der Linde’s gang is on the run. The notorious band of outlaws pressed their luck in Blackwater, and the resulting fallout from a failed boat heist has been devastating. A few dozen stragglers have retreated from the territory of West Elizabeth to the Grizzlies, and the situation is looking grim. Winter has laid claim to the mountainous region and ravaged the wounded. Morale is lower than ever. Through it all, Dutch has done his best to maintain control of a group that, even in good times, resists a guiding hand. Things are going to get worse before they get better – if they ever do.

Red Dead Redemption II is set in 1899, more than a decade before its predecessor, which leads to an obvious question: Don’t we already know how this all ends? Former gang member John Marston hunted down his old friends, including Dutch, before he met his own tragic fate. That still holds true, but after playing the game from the beginning for more than five hours, it’s clear that there’s still plenty of story to uncover – and it takes place in Rockstar’s most fully realized world yet.

On The Run

The wagon train inches up the mountain, while a blizzard shoves it back. There are rumors of an abandoned mining town, which is enough to keep the group limping their way ahead. When they finally reach the camp, they’re spent. One man, Davy, is dead. From what they can tell, the law has called off their pursuit. It would be suicide to attempt travel in this kind of weather. Once inside a dilapidated building that once passed for a lodge, Dutch displays the leadership that explains why anyone would bother to follow someone through this kind of frozen hell.

“We’re going to ride out and find some food,” he tells the group. “We’re safe now. Nobody is following us through a storm like this, and by the time they get here we’ll be long gone. I need you to turn this into a camp and make it easier for a few days. Everyone get warm, stay strong, stay with me. We ain’t done yet. C’mon Arthur.” And with that, Dutch and I head out into the unknown.

Before our wagons made it to camp, Dutch sent out a couple of scouts. We get onto our horses with the hope of finding them, and, God willing, supplies to keep our group alive a few more days. Visibility is next to nothing, and there isn’t a formal trail to guide us along. I take it on faith and follow Dutch, holding a button to match his pace. There’s a reason Dutch picked Arthur to accompany him on this critical part of the journey: He’s part of a core group who has run with the leader for the past few decades. By the time we ran into John Marston in the original game, he had broken old alliances for the sake of his family. At this point at least, Arthur is a true believer, even if he is just as confused about how the gang got here as I am.

“What really went down on that boat?” Arthur shouts over the wind.

“We missed you. That’s what happened,” comes the reply. If answers about Blackwater are coming, they aren’t coming anytime soon.

We press on for a bit, eventually coming across gang member Micah Bell. He says there’s a homestead not far from our location, and it sounds like they’re having a party. Sure enough, after a short ride, we find the cabin. A fiddle plays, and people are laughing and shouting inside. We hitch our horses, and Dutch tells Arthur and Micah to stay out of sight. “Let me handle this,” he says. “We don’t want to spook these fine people.”

The following exchange feels more like a standoff than an introduction, as the people inside warily regard Dutch. They aren’t falling for his weary traveler routine, even though he’s selling it with everything he’s got. Micah gets my attention, and it becomes clear that something’s amiss; a corpse is inside the wagon he’s been hiding behind. With that, we draw our weapons and prepare for the worst. The worst comes soon enough. One of the men appears to recognize Dutch, blurting out “It’s god damned—” before we cut the conversation short with our triggers. The gunplay is familiar, and snapping between targets in and out of the cabin is simple. Arthur is at the peak of his powers, too; he doesn’t need to drink a miracle tonic before he can tap into his time-slowing Dead Eye ability, which ends the encounter with a pair of deadly accurate shots.

Inside the cabin, we forage for provisions. I find a horse in the barn, but am attacked by a man before I can calm the animal. After a quick beating, we learn the men were members of Colm O’Driscoll’s gang, who are in the region to rob a train. Dutch and O’Driscoll have history, and it isn’t good. Dutch tells me to do what I want with the man, but to bring the horse when I’m done. I let him go. Arthur may be an unrepentant outlaw, but he’s not a straight-up murderer – at least not for now.

The Great Train Robbery

The next few days are eventful. The gang isn’t completely in the clear, but they seem to be settling into a new routine. Javier Escuella and I head out to find John Marston, who has been missing since Dutch sent him to scout with Bell earlier. “I know if the situation were reversed, he’d look for me,” Escuella says, unaware of how prophetic his words are. 

Marston’s role in Dutch’s gang is one of the most interesting aspects of Red Dead Redemption II. We knew of John as a loyal, dependable man with a dark past. Here, a dozen years before our introduction, he’s seen as a bit of a joke. At one point, Arthur calls Marston “as dumb as rocks and as dull as rusted iron.” We find John, and during the rescue learn how he got his distinctive facial scars.

There are a lot of people to get to know in Dutch’s gang, and unlike characters like Escuella, Bill Williamson, and Dutch himself, we don’t have the benefit of having known most of them from the first game. Rockstar does a remarkable job getting players up to speed through dialogue and interpersonal moments, most of which take place in-game as opposed to breaking them out in cutscenes. In the opening hours, Arthur goes on several excursions with a variety of different gang members. On those rides, they talk about Blackwater, share their thoughts on the current state of things, and even discuss the possibility of going straight someday. The conversations feel natural and don’t seem as though you’re listening to “Exposition Moment #4.”

Even though each gang member has their own criminal specialty, they share one common love: money. Dutch has been looking for another lucrative opportunity after the disaster in Blackwater, and it comes after the gang raids an O’Driscoll hideout. There, he finds more information about their planned train robbery, as well as the explosives to pull it off. Our gang also manages to take an O’Driscoll member alive, though the man downplays his involvement. Dutch tells his men to tie up this Kieran Duffy fellow, before giving a chilling speech: “I’ve got a saying, my friend: We shoot fellas that’s need shooting, save fellas that’s need saving, and feed ‘em that’s need feeding. We are going to find out what you need.”

Duffy isn’t saying much, but that’s fine; Dutch has what he needs for the time being. He calls a group of us together to head down the mountain to pull off what he hopes will be a big score. The steady descent from the Grizzlies is transformative. For hours of game time, Arthur has had to push his way through knee-high snow and had his view obscured by blizzards and blinding reflections of the sun on snowdrifts. As the wagon train rattles its way down, packed white trails give way to paths of dirt and mud, and green foliage peeks from between the pines. There’s an accompanying sense of relief, and I appreciate the fact that, for the first time since I pressed start, it looks like our gang might actually catch a break.

The job seems simple enough. We survey the tracks from a hill beside the train tunnel. Dutch sends Williamson out to plant the explosives, and I help by stringing the wire between the dynamite and the detonator. Of course, these things rarely go as planned. The detonator fails, and the gang scrambles to salvage the opportunity. Lenny Summers and I manage to dive atop the train as it passes by, and we work our way to the engine. Along the way, Lenny asks what I think we should do next. Pulling the left trigger, I bring up options, such as having him move ahead or stay back as I clear out the cars ahead. 

Arthur is part of a seasoned gang of killers, and that’s reflected in the action. The A.I. doesn’t hang back and let me get all the glory. Instead, characters like Lenny do their damndest to cut down any enemies they see. There are plenty of times where I’m about to dial in a kill only to see my target cut down by a partner’s shot. It’s a different sensation from a lot of other games, where your teammates often feel as though they’re shooting blanks.

Even though the heist didn’t work out as planned, the results are the same. We blast open an armored car and end up with valuable bearer bonds – a great haul, for sure, but one that will require some effort to reap. Whether it’s the result of the spring air or the feeling of a successful score, one thing’s certain: It’s time for Dutch’s gang to get back to what it does best. 

Planting Roots

Our gang heads down the Grizzlies, and the mood is completely different from our ascent. People are in good spirits, and the weather is beautiful. That doesn’t mean that everything is perfect, however. Arthur rides with Hosea, and the old man is still nursing a grudge. Hosea reminds Arthur that the two of them had a lead in Blackwater that the gang could have pursued, and that they both knew that the boat job didn’t feel right. “It just isn’t like Dutch to lose his head like that,” Hosea says. Arthur tries to smooth things over, saying he figures they must have gotten more right than wrong over the years. 

The gang sets up their new camp at a place called Horseshoe Overlook. “I’ve been through a couple of times,” Hosea says. “There’s a livestock town not too far from here called Valentine. Cowboys, outlaws, working girls, our kind of place.” Now that things are settled down, I get to see what the gang does on their own time. Members fan out into the world, each with their own schemes – with the understanding that they keep low profiles and kick a share back to the camp coffers. One of the first to go is a studious looking man named Leopold Strauss, an Austrian loan shark. Valentine is his kind of town, indeed.

Now, for the first time since I started, the world is truly open. The camp is bustling with activity, as characters go about their various routines. I talk to Dutch and then grab a bowl of stew from the camp kitchen. The camp has its own needs – ammunition, medicine, and food – and I can choose to help pitch in whenever I want or ignore it altogether and let someone else deal with those chores. Morale improves the more I help, however, which is just one of the incentives to do so. For now, I want to head to Valentine and see what it’s like. I run into our gang’s resident drunk, Uncle, taking a nap against the wagon. I ask what he’s doing, and he says he’s thinking. “So. While the rest of us are busy stealing, killing, lying, fighting to try to survive, you get to think all day?” Arthur asks. “Yeah, it’s a strange world we live in, Arthur Morgan,” he responds. Uncle wants to head into town, and so do Karen Jones, Tilly Jackson, and Mary-Beth Gaskill. The ladies sing a bawdy song on the wagon ride down the road, giggling and messing up the lyrics at times. 

Halfway there, we come upon a man whose horse has bolted away. I get off the wagon and lasso the animal, leading it back to its grateful owner. Arthur tells the man he was only trying to impress the women. Heading down the road, Uncle is clearly not impressed, and says Arthur is turning into a regular fairy godmother.

Players have their honorable and dishonorable deeds tallied as they play, though Rockstar says it’s not as linear a system as it was in the first game. The effects of being a hero or scoundrel are both subtle and far-reaching. Players who go out of their way to help others are rewarded with higher bounty rewards and townsfolk that don’t flee on sight. On the other hand, if you prefer to become a highwayman and rob people who pass by on the trail, you’ll get better prices at illicit fence operations and respect from fellow outlaws. In addition, the musical score shifts to reflect your moral alignment, and your character’s posture and facial animations change. Even your killcams highlight different aspects of your moral character – heroic slow-motion for the good guys, and more brutal actions if you choose to black hat your way through life.

Valentine is a mid-sized town surrounded by hills. It looks like there’s a lot to do, and my passengers waste little time finding it. I stick with Uncle, and we go to the general store to pick up some supplies. You can choose to browse the shelves, similar to how Ammu-Nation works in Grand Theft Auto V, or flip through a catalog. The catalog is a little easier to navigate, and it’s filled with period language and illustrations. It includes a large section of clothing options, too, such as hats, vests, pants, coats, and more. If you like playing dress-up in games, the cosmetics appear to run far deeper than the handful of outfits offered in Red Dead Redemption.

In addition to the general store, there’s a gun shop, stable, and street vendor to lighten your wallet, as well as a few watering holes. People mill around, adding to the feeling that it’s a bustling town and not just an NPC dumping ground. 

Dutch implored us to stay out of trouble, but sometimes trouble seeks you out. I see Charles and Javier in the saloon, where they’re trying their best to impress a couple of working girls. Arthur isn’t much of a charmer, opening their interaction by asking how much they cost. “Well, ain’t that a nice way to talk to a lady,” one responds. “Oh,” Arthur shoots back. “I didn’t know I was talking to a lady.” And with that, the trio drinks alone. It wouldn’t be a saloon without a fight, and soon enough our friend Bill Williamson gets into it with some locals. It’s a classic western fight, with broken tables, smashed chairs, and a piano player who scurries out at the first sign of trouble. I’m able to hold my own, but then a bruiser stomps down the stairs and throws me through the window. Hand-to-hand combat is more involved than in past Rockstar games, and it offers a fair bit of depth. After a few minutes of blocking and parrying his attacks and getting in a few solid counters, I knock him down to the muddy street – to the amusement (and horror) of the assembled crowd of onlookers that has dynamically drawn close to watch the show.

Rockstar says that if I’d gotten into trouble in Valentine before accepting the saloon mission, Charles and Javier would have come out to help – the characters are in the world, and not just spawned in for the sake of missions. In that instance, the saloon mission might not have been available afterward, thanks to whatever chaos we may have caused in the streets.
Arthur is caked with mud, so I take him to the hotel for a bath before checking out a quick movie. While I could have let it dry, there’s something undignified about catching a flick covered in mud. The film is a glorified slideshow, but it’s still an entertaining diversion.

Black Belle, And A Bad Loser

In a bar down the street, I run into a man who’s trying to write a biography about a famed gunslinger, Jim Boy Calloway, known as the fastest left-handed draw who ever drew breath. Calloway has obviously seen better days, as he’s slumped onto the bar, blacked out. I agree to help the biographer out with his plan B, which involves tracking down some other gunslingers and getting their stories about Calloway.

I start by finding a woman named Black Belle. Her last-known location is in a swamp, and I set my waypoint on the map. It’s about a 10-minute ride, even at a steady gallop. The world is big and beautiful, but more importantly there are things to do. During the trip I watch a guy get kicked in the head by his horse (and lose honor points by looting his body), help a man stuck in a bear trap, and get my fortune told by a man called Old Blind Man Cassidy. “Just as evil begat evil your whole life long, so good may begat good,” he says. 

While larger-scale missions are denoted with easy-to-see icons on the map, these diversions pop up around me without much to-do. I’m able to choose whether to engage with these vignette-like gameplay moments or keep riding along. Since the rewards can be lucrative – financially and morally – I’m more inclined to participate.

Red Dead Redemption’s campaign had a serious arc, but there were moments that leaned more toward the Weird West end of things. From my time with Red Dead Redemption II, things seem significantly more grounded. That’s not to say that it’s not funny, but that the humor is more about the funny things that the characters are saying than in leaning into weird characterizations such as body-defiling prospectors. If that kind of silly stuff is in the game, I didn’t see it.

I won’t spoil what happens with Black Belle, but she’s a great example of a character delivering humor without being a punchline. Suffice it to say, it’s a case where that biographer may have picked the wrong subject.

On the ride back to camp, I swing by a ranch to see what’s happening. There isn’t much activity, aside from a few cattle and sheep, and a friendly game of dominos is what passes for excitement. I pull up a chair and join in. One of the best things about Red Dead Redemption was the slow, almost meditative, pace exploration embodied. You’re traveling predominantly on foot or horseback, which has a significantly different feeling from whirling a car around corners at 90 miles an hour. In this kind of world, a relaxing game of dominos is just the ticket. At least until I lose.

I was about ready to walk away with a smile on my face, when the winner made a little gloating remark. I look at him, and then pull up an interaction menu. When you see an NPC, you can choose several different ways of engaging them, if you want. In addition to friendly greetings, you can rob them or try to intimidate them. I try to talk him into fighting, and he obliges. After a few punches, I knock him out and take on his friend for good measure. I riffle through his pockets for the $4 pot – not my biggest score, but it’ll have to do. I also take his hat for good measure.

Unfortunately, the remaining player sees it all go down and alerts the law. I get on my horse and hoof away from the crime scene, but soon get a notification that there’s now a bounty on my head. And, to add insult to injury, it’s $5. 

Hunting Party

Back at camp, I meet up with Hosea. He says he’s been itching to go hunting, ever since learning about a legendary bear who stalks the woods nearby. Going after a beast that’s purportedly 1,000 pounds doesn’t exactly sound safe, but what do I have to lose at this point? 

We head out, stopping by Valentine to sell a horse that Hosea has recently “acquired” during his travels. Since we don’t have the paperwork on it, I’m unable to get top dollar for the animal, but I do get enough in the transaction to buy the stable’s cheapest option. At first, I think the mare is covered in freckles, but I realize it’s just filthy. I dismount and clean her with my brush, making her look about as good as can be. “Interesting choice,” Hosea sniffs, though he says that if I spend enough time with her I could make something out of her. Indeed, the longer you spend on your horse, the tighter your bond grows, through four levels. Each level provides a new riding ability, like being able to rear up on command, perform dressage, and eventually pull off the equine version of drifting with a slide turn. 

Overall, the horse riding is a marked improvement over Red Dead Redemption’s. The horse obeys commands but also acts with its own kind of intelligence; it doesn’t feel like you’re on the back of a four-legged robot. At one point I’m getting fancy with the camera, and don’t realize that I’m heading toward a rock. The horse bucks me off, and I flop onto the ground. Lesson learned. If you want to focus on the game’s breathtaking visuals, you can have the horse stick to the trail automatically while the camera cycles through a variety of different cinematic angles. It’s a great option for when you tire of looking at your horse’s rear. If you prefer, you can also use first-person mode. 

Hosea and I ride down the trail for a while before we break camp for the night. I hunt down some rabbits for supper, which is easy to do thanks to an Eagle Eye vision mode. It’s similar to the alternate-view mode you see in a lot of games now, where colors momentarily desaturate and points of interest – animals in this case – are highlighted. Rockstar’s take is a little different, however. When you use the view, animals and their tracks are highlighted. If you look at their trail and press a button, it highlights the trail for a period of time when you return to normal vision. It’s a clever way to provide the benefit of an alternate vision without forcing you to see the game through a distorted lens for longer than you need to.

Rockstar has done a particularly great job in replicating the outdoors – no small detail, considering just how much time you spend there. Forests get appropriately dense, and wildlife is abundant, with more than 200 different types of birds, beasts, and fish. And while the game features a score that has more than 100 different pieces of music, the sounds of nature are a big component of the audio landscape. At several times during the demo, I was certain that a persistent fly was near my head, but it was just part of the game.

I take down the rabbit with a bow, and then skin our dinner. Unlike the last game, the camera doesn’t pull away during this action. Arthur holds the creature with one hand and pulls its hide off in one smooth motion with the other. Skinning deer is a more complicated process, with Arthur sliding his knife down the creature’s belly and methodically removing the hide. Hides can be sold or used to craft apparel, and meat can be eaten – such as the rabbit, which Arthur roasts on their campfire. After eating, we go to bed in our makeshift camp with full bellies. That’s an important new element to the game, since Arthur needs to eat and sleep. When he’s full, for instance, he can regenerate health more quickly. It didn’t seem like a fussy component to the game, but I dipped into my in-game satchel to eat a few oatcakes or other foods that I scavenged to keep Arthur full.

The next morning, we craft some bear bait with fish and berries, and try to track down the legendary beast. I’m able to track it using clues, such as a half-eaten fish, pile of scat, and broken branches. Hosea says we’re close, and I’m given the choice between splitting up or dropping the bait and staying together. Splitting up seems like a bad idea, so I drop the stinky bait and we hide behind some boulders. Less than a minute passes before Hosea starts fussing about the bait. Did I mix it correctly? Did I put it in the right spot? We move out, only to realize just how effective it was – just a few feet away, the bear appears, raising on its hind legs and roaring. I enter Dead Eye and paint its massive body with targets. It’s enough to scare the beast off.

Hosea is grateful for saving his life, and he gives me a book of maps in gratitude. “A man in a bar gave it to me,” he says, adding, “well, I stole it from him, but that’s another story.” He heads back to camp, giving me the option of going back with him or seeing if I can finish the bear off. I tell him I’m going to try my luck and see if I can’t finish what I started. And with that, Hosea rides out of sight.

Who Is Arthur Morgan?

The biggest takeaway from my time with Red Dead Redemption II – and Arthur – wasn’t centered around any kind of revelatory character moments. I’m sure those will come later. What struck me most is how rooted he was to the world around him. Rockstar has pioneered the open-world genre for decades, and with Red Dead Redemption II, they’ve outdone themselves. It’s a role-playing game in the truest sense of the word. You are inhabiting this role in ways that few, if any, other games have attempted.

You won’t end up with a Level 38 Arthur Morgan, or anything like that. Instead, there’s a feeling that you inhabit the world. A lot of open-world games fill the screen with icons representing things to do, and that’s fine. In this game, you’re given things to do between those activities, which are small but meaningful. The game isn’t attempting to be a simulation like Don’t Starve, but you need to eat and sleep. You can make your firearms more effective by maintaining them with gun oil. Even something as seemingly insignificant as being able to say hello to a passing traveler adds to the overall tone – even if they look at the gut-shotted deer carcass stowed on the back of your horse and sarcastically ask if it’s your first time hunting. 

Arthur Morgan is still surrounded with mystery, which is why it was so interesting to step into his boots. We know what happened to Javier, Bill, Dutch, Abigail, and other members of the gang, but Arthur’s fate is unknown. Did he manage to get out and start a life away from Dutch’s crew? Was he killed in another failed heist? Arthur may be an outlaw, but hopefully he’s able to find his own kind of peace along the way.

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