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Assassin's Creed producer talks returning to the series' roots

Sep 24 // Alessandro Fillari
I've had an affinity for the AC series all the way back to the original. I remember getting hyped for an action-adventure title set during the Crusades, and then again for its follow-up in the Italian Renaissance period -- two settings that don't get much play from the medium. But ever since its move to the annual release schedule, I sometimes find it hard to get excited about new entries when they can come off as more of the same. While some of these games are off the charts when it comes to fun and offering an interesting setting to explore, Assassin's Creed has missed the mark a few times. Obviously, this presented Ubisoft with a challenge for how to tackle the upcoming jaunt through Victorian-era London. As one of the most-requested settings from fans, the developers felt extra pressure to get it right while making sure not to repeat the mistakes of past titles. As the ninth mainline Assassin's Creed title (yes, already), it's definitely a challenge to keep things interesting, because you can only play as an Assassin so many times without any major shake-ups before things get stale. Senior producer Jeff Skalski spoke at length about their vision for Syndicate, and how they hope the return to basics will reinvigorate the brand. "That's been a challenge for any game that's been a franchise," he said while discussing development. "Whether you're working on the second one or fifth one, but for us, we've been working on this game for two and a half years, so there's a lot of things we know about what Assassin's Creed has done in the past. We have a sense of maybe where it's going, but no one has a crystal ball. So we really evaluate what is important, where do we want to innovate, where do we want to focus, and then we kind of start building that game with that kind of mindset." The elephant in the room when talking about this series is the troubled launch of last year's Unity. While a solid entry in the series featuring  some gorgeous visuals and a stellar recreation of 18th-century France, this unfortunately, and quite understandably, was lost on many gamers who had to wade through technical issues and oddities that put a serious damper on the whole experience. While there are many reasons for how that turned out, the developers at Ubisoft Quebec wanted to ensure they nailed their interpretation and execution of the setting right at launch. "We took a real kind of fine-tooth comb and we looked at the combat, stealth, what do we change that didn't work so well, and we really evaluate it all," stated Skalski. "We've all been fans of the game, we're gamers first before we're actually developers, so these are things that for us is an opportunity. We have one shot of building an Assassin's Creed game in Victorian-era London, and it's almost a dream come true for a lot of us. And we wanted to knock it out of the park." Even though multiplayer and other online components have been present for the majority of the AC titles, this marks the first time since 2009 that a main entry in the series will be strictly single-player. With 2010's Brotherhood introducing multiplayer, along with the annualized release schedule, it set the standard for  titles going forward. So it was especially surprisingly to see that Ubisoft decided to brings things back with its focus on a pure single-player narrative. The studio made the decision early on to create a stronger narrative with denser content to back it up. "When we were conceptualizing the game and figuring out what did we want to build, but more importantly what did we not want to build -- because the more we built in the game, it means we'd have to stretch our resources thin -- we really wanted to go all in on the single-player experience. That's not to say we don't believe in multiplayer, and I think there's a place for that, but for this round we wanted to focus on the single-player. But yeah, we looked at the previous AC titles, and saw the various pillars they were built on, and thought 'How can we improve this?' [...] So it was a very conscious decision, and it was one we made very early on." For me, one of the highlights of playing Syndicate, and I'm sure many will share this sentiment, was the setting. The Victorian era was an evocative period with the old world slowly shifting into the modern era before everyone's eyes. And with the Industrial Revolution in full swing, it created many challenges for those living in the heart of the Western Empire. The devs saw this as not only an interesting setting that stands out among the predecessors, but also allowed them to open the gameplay into new areas and introduce abilities and gadgets not possible from the time period. "There's so much for us to play with in the Victorian time," explained the producer. "As you stated, it was the turning point in terms of the modern society that we live in today, so we felt that was bringing something fresh and something very new, and allowed us to kind of break the rules in places that would be exciting for players. Even today, it's a city that's a melting pot of society, so we were not short on ideas. We had to pick our top-top favorites and realize those as best as we could and work with our writers to make sure it was accurate and authentic." Despite the gloomy atmosphere and depressing subject matter, Syndicate manages to display a lot humor from the characters. In retrospect, many of the AC titles portrayed their stories earnestly with some slight scenes for humor to break up the tension.  Syndicate's dual protagonists, who are brother and sister, share a kind of sibling rivalry and make constant jokes at their expense. I'd imagine with the bleak atmosphere, they had to offer some levity. Which thankfully works quite well. "Humor was very important to us. As we were writing the game, and looking over the scripts, we were laughing, and that was a good sign for us. During mo-cap, I would laugh at lines and still find myself laughing when they came up in the game, so I hope players will enjoy the narrative, the characters -- every one of them is super special -- and the relationships they form with Jacob and Evie, and how they experience London for the first time."  Since the reveal earlier this year, the creators of Syndicate (then titled Victory), had a bit of an uphill battle to get through to ensure they were all in when it comes to creating the next big entry for the series. Fortunately, my several hours with the game got my interest piqued for what's to come. What I enjoyed most about the era is that it felt as though it was stuck between two different periods -- one from the past, the other towards the future. With many of the characters clinging onto the old ways while living in a civilization that has introduced vehicle traffic and gas and electrical infrastructure, Assassin's Creed Syndicate's interpretation of Victorian-era London should be one of the more exciting, visually striking locales the series has seen in a long time. For more info about Syndicate, check out my hands-on impressions. 
Interview photo
In a West End town, a dead end world
As the tenth anniversary for the Assassin's Creed franchise draws closer, it's hard to imagine the series has been around for so long. I was two years out of high school when Altair and Desmond first made their appearance on ...

Assassin's Creed Syndicate's London is an exciting and evocative setting

Sep 24 // Alessandro Fillari
Assassin's Creed Syndicate (PC, PS4 [previewed], Xbox One)Developer: Ubisoft QuebecPublisher: UbisoftRelease Date: October 23, 2015 (PS4, Xbox One) / Q4 2015 (PC) Set nearly eighty years after the events of Assassin's Creed Unity, Syndicate thrusts players into the gritty and bustling city of London during the Industrial Revolution. With the Assassin Order struggling to rebuild, sibling assassins Jacob and Evie Fyre come to Victorian-era London during a relatively modest mission and find it under heavy Templar control. Witnessing the extent of the corruption in the heart of the Western Empire spearheaded by powerful industrialist and Templar operative Crawford Starrick, the siblings disregard the demands from their Order to abandon the city and take matters into their own hands to dismantle the Templar power structure. Using their Assassin abilities and gadgets, along with their keen eyes for scouting potential alliances with the locals, the Fryes will have to unite the criminal underworld of London in order to overthrow a common enemy, who may be in possession of another Piece of Eden. As one of the most-requested settings for an AC title, the developers at Ubisoft were keen on bringing the series to the Victorian era. London during 1868 was a period of equally great innovation and social unrest. The Industrial Revolution gave way to mass production and advanced technologies, but it came at the cost of humane working conditions, child labor, and poor quality of life for the working class. With factories peppering the city of London and smoke blotting out the sky, urban living was not what it was cracked up to be -- there was a lot of misery for those on the bottom of the social structure. This makes for an evocative setting for Assassin's Creed, and adds a greater connection with the city. While it would sound a bit cheesy to say that the city is a character itself, it does feel that way. I was impressed with not only how accurate the city looked, but also how much life exists within the game. There are several districts to travel to including Southwark, Westminster, Lambeth, Whitechapel, and the City of London (metropolitan area). Travel can be done by train, fast travel via landmarks, or even using carriages, marking the first time Assassin's Creed has an actual traffic and vehicle system to work with while in town. As the first AC title featuring dual protagonists in the same era, Syndicate does a lot to switch things up for players. Both characters serve as the focus for the general narrative. At any time in the menu, you'll be able to switch between the two while out in the open world, and each of them have unique content to tackle. Essentially two sides of the same coin, the Frye twins have varying approaches and mindsets when taking on obstacles but still seek the same result. With Jacob being the more hard-headed, brutish assassin who seems to relish his time getting into brawls and sharing a pint with commoners in the pubs, many of his ventures tend to have a more over-the-top flair to them. Evie, on the other hand, is clearly the more rational and logical twin, focusing on hatching clever plots to accomplish her long-term goals. In the end, a sledgehammer is sometimes more effective than a scalpel, and vice-versa -- so the twins will have to rely on each other to successfully overthrow the Templars. I rather enjoyed the dynamic between the Fryes. It's a change of pace for the series, and it's refreshing to have a female assassin put in the spotlight. Jacob's brash and devil-may-care attitude works well with Evie's stoic and uncompromising demeanor, which often times conflicts with her brother's spontaneous behavior. Essentially, it's a buddy-assassin plot, and it works quite well. These characters are invested, but still manage to find time to make jokes at the expense of their sibling. Given how expansive London is -- more than three times the size of Paris from Assassin's Creed Unity -- the twins will have a lot of ground to cover in the open world. Eventually, they'll gain access to a personal train which serves as a mobile command center for their operation. As the train makes its rounds, they'll be able plan their next move and ride the railway to missions. During their exploits in London, the Fryes will come across many important figures who have their own stake in the city, and they'll come to rely on the two assassins for assistance. From Alexander Graham Bell -- who builds a rope-launcher that allows the twins to scale rooftops and make zip-lines -- to Charles Dawrin, Charles Dickens, and even the infamous Jack the Ripper; the Assassins will come across many allies and foes on the streets, and they've all got their own ambitions in mind. But the twins won't be able to succeed on their own. With the many gangs and factions around London made up of citizens frustrated with feeling powerless, Jacob and Evie will have to win them over in order loosen the tight grip the Templars have over the city. As you retake areas of London from the Templars and gangs, key leaders will make themselves available and offer assistance. In Sequence 3 of the campaign, Evie forms an alliance with Clara O'Dea, the leader of a gang of children who've been used by the corrupt factory supervisors and seek their own way of life away from controlling adults. Each key figure within the different districts of London has a relationship with the Fryes, and doing missions and side-quests for them will strengthen their bond and unlock new gear and valuables. Over time, cash made by your network of gangs will be kicked back to the Fryes. It's a clever way to work key characters into the core progression. In previous titles, most of the advancement was done in menus and general side-missions, so incorporating character growth along with the related content makes the progression feel as though you're having a deeper impact. As always, the assassins will have several areas of the game world to conquer, and completing side-objectives and story missions are the best way to do so. In Syndicate, however, it feels as though there's a much greater level of variety for the side-missions. With the lack of multiplayer and co-op modes, this gave the developers resources to flesh out the world with side-events and points of interests to explore. For instance, instead of going around and tailing contacts, Jacob can compete in local fight clubs to strengthen bonds with allies. As you accomplish missions and side-quests, you'll gain experience to level up and acquire skill points to spend in the universal skill tree. Skills range from buffing melee attacks, eagle vision effective, upgrades to the arsenal, lockpicking, store discounts, and boosts to the economy. When you acquire more resources and control more of London, the assassins can spend their cash on new items, armor, and weapons. Given the era, the Fryes will have to be far more practical in their approach to carrying out their missions and assassinations. With great swords, hammers, and crossbows now considered antiqued in mid-1800s London, and many of which would get people arrested for possession, concealed weapons were a major part of self-defense in urban life. Between the standard cane sword (a short sword hidden in the shaft of a cane), daggers, brass knuckles, pistols and revolvers, bombs, poison, and the tried-and-true hidden blade, the concealed weapons add personality to Syndicate and feature an added level of customization, which also speaks to the increasingly modernized era. As covered in my last article, the combat system has been overhauled. It's now far more active. While Unity experimented with some new ideas, Syndicate advances things quite a bit. Given how easily players could abuse certain skills and rewards during combat, the developers felt it was time to try and switch things up. Here, battles prompt players to go more on the offensive, as enemies now only attack when they seen an opening and guard more frequently. Players will have to use stuns and guard-breaks to open up these defenses, all the while using parries and their side-arms (knives, revolvers, bombs) to manage multiple foes. The combat felt much more challenging this time around, and I was surprised at how tense things got. Heavier enemies in particular take a lot longer to bring down. Unfortunately, I was concerned with the overall technical performance of the game. There were several instances of texture and environmental objects fading in, along with NPC characters popping into view, and some slight frame rate dips throughout my preview session. While this title is in a much better state than Unity was last year at launch, I do hope that the devs can iron out the issues. Given how rich the setting is -- they nailed the atmosphere and tone of the era -- it would be a shame if these technical hiccups persist in the final release. Graphical worries notwithstanding, I was largely pleased with Assassin's Creed Syndicate. This is very much a dream setting for fans, myself included, and to see it all realized so vividly was great. From the bustling streets filled with carriages, to the back alleys full of criminals and roughnecks looking for their next target, the atmosphere in Victorian-era London is the strongest an AC game has had in a long time. I'm looking forward to my trip back to the foggy city, but I do hope they'll fix the kinks. This is one era that deserves the best the developers have got.
Preview photo
City of London, City of London
With October nearly here, it's about that time for Ubisoft to release another entry in its annual time-traveling trek through history. While Assassin's Creed has had highs and lows, no one can deny it's one of the few series ...

Total War: Warhammer's Dwarven faction shakes up the battlefield

Sep 16 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]310625:60354:0[/embed] The developers have been keeping things pretty close to the vest when it comes Warhammer. While we've already seen the Empire and Greenskin armies in action, they've been very hesitant to share any details about the Dwarf and Vampire factions. As each army will have its own unique settings, politics, and overall feel from one another, Creative Assembly wanted to make sure it nailed its approach before showing it off to the world. Our session focused primarily on one of the earlier skirmishes in the Dwarven campaign. During the Ambush at the Thunderfalls Pass, the faction's underground networks have been breached by the Greenskins, and it must drive them out in order to keep its most secure and valuable asset in Dwarf hands. Unlike the other Total War titles, Warhammer has deeper ties to a general narrative during the campaigns. While you'll still have plenty of leeway into how you build the factions up, there will be several moments in the faction's plot that will affects several key characters from Warhammer lore, but will also change the course of your campaign. For the Dwarven faction, a great empire lies underground and they've built a network of tunnels to travel vast distances, transport supplies, and surprise enemies forces from beneath the earth. From underground skirmishes, to using the tunnels for trade during nation-building, the burly and stout faction will use the subterranean realm to strengthen its empire and debilitate foes. But given how valuable of a resource these tunnels have been to the Dwarfs, it's no surprise the other factions would want to take it for themselves. The Ambush at Thunderfalls Pass served as a great opener to not only the new field of war, but also to see how Warhammer made the transition to Total War. Despite the tonal shift and massive change in setting, battles should be quite familiar to those who've sunk hundreds of hours into the RTS series. Players control various types of ranged and melee units to engage the enemy and complete objectives. Along with a brand new mechanic called the Grudge system, which adds dynamic challenges based on how effective your attacks and strategies are against the opposition, the battle mechanics have evolved in this entry. With the fantasy aesthetic in full swing, the developers have gotten creative in implementing the classic Warhammer archetypes and lore into the Total War gameplay. Each faction possesses its own unique Hero classes, who are not only important to the faction's narrative, but also provide special skills and abilities to battles -- and many hardcore Warhammer fans will undoubtedly recognize a few of them. During this battle, the Dwarven units were accompanied by High King Thorgrim Grudgebearer, the ruler of the Dwarven capital city, who wielded a enchanted tome that allowed him to buff nearby units. Another Hero character with the army was Thane, a melee champion that was at his best when rushing into the thick of it. In addition to the large number of units, the hero characters add a lot of nuance to battles, as their special skills can seriously make or break a battle at critical moments. During one moment, a remote melee unit of Slayers was getting pummeled by Greenskins, but moving Thane close enough to their position allowed the Slayers to become imbued with his special melee buff which boosted their abilities and slaughtered their foes. It's important to remember that each faction always has ways to deal with the opposition, but you'll have to stay on your toes in order to keep one step ahead of the enemy. I was fortunate enough to test out the same map on two separate difficulty modes, Normal and Hard, and each skirmish field will have varying difficulties to spice things up. Hard mode makes your opposition far more aggressive and cunning, which will be a welcome option for those who want their battle knowledge to be put to the test. But of course, the thing that interests Warhammer fans the most are the faction characters. During this skirmish, we were given access to a number of unique classes from the Dwarven faction, with many more yet to be unveiled. Just as you would expect, each unit has its own special strengths and weaknesses, and they're at their best when combining efforts with different classes. From Dwarf Warriors, Longbeards with Great Weapons, Slayers, Iron Drakes (flamethrower units), Quarrelers and Thunderers (both ranged), Siege Weapons, and even Gyrocopters -- the Dwarfs' knowledge of tech and terrain are their greatest asset, and it totally comes out in the combat style and strategies they employ. I was impressed with the rich detail and visuals during the battle. With the awe-inspiring setting, and the detailed characters and animations, I had a lot of fun just watching the action unfold. Just like in previous titles, you can change camera and get much closer to the action with cinematic camera angles and wide-shots of the battlefield. It can't be stated enough at how much of a looker this game is. I spent a good amount of time just staring at the detail of Thorgrim's character model, which showed his throne being carried Dwarf servants. The developers nailed the visual aesthetic, and when Warhammer fans aren't winning battles, they'll be geeking out over the details of the world and its characters in-game. As the members of Creative Assembly stated during our session, Total War: Warhammer still has a ways to go during its development, but it's looking sharp at this point. The action was fluid, and the visuals were very impressive. The high-fantasy setting shines within the Total War brand, and with the core gameplay of the nation building still yet to be seen, more of the Warhammer universe will become unveiled in the coming months. I'm still looking forward to the day they reveal the Vampire faction, which the devs claim are very different from the others, but until then, the Dwarfs have got plenty of firepower and brute force to stand up against whatever comes their way.
Total War: Warhammer photo
Heigh-ho! It's off to war we go
Back at E3 2015, I got a special sneak peek at the upcoming Total War: Warhammer. The pre-alpha footage we were shown featured an intense battle between the Empire and Greenskins, and each side brought their largest weapons a...

Dragon Quest Heroes is a fast-paced, challenging spin-off

Sep 11 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]310289:60328:0[/embed] Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree's Woe and the Blight Below (PS4)Developer: Omega ForcePublisher: Square EnixRelease Date: October 13, 2015MSRP: $59:99 Set in the kingdom of Erusaze, humans and monsters live in relative harmony with one another, until one day, the capital city of Arba is attacked by an army of monsters led by an evil sorcerer. Taking up arms against them are two heroes from the king's guard who must band together a group of adventurers, warriors, and even monsters of their own from across the land to combat the legion of foes seeking to destroy civilization. Given the scope and detail of both the Dragon Quest series and the Musou titles, the story does well to fit itself nicely into the themes and styles of both. With the vivid and colorful setting of the DQ games, which channels Akira Toriyama's signature art style quite well along with the vast number of foes to battle, there's a undeniable richness to the world. Exploring it was quite a treat. In traditional Dragon Quest fashion, players can name their central character and then proceed on their epic quest. However, Dragon Quest Heroes presents players with the choice of two unique characters, Luceus and Aurora, both of whom are fully voiced, have their own personalities, and posses their unique play-styles. Selecting one will allow players to view the story from their perspective, with the other serving as another member of the party. Much like other titles in the Musou series, players will be able to choose multiple characters with their own unique move-sets and abilities. Many of the classic DQ archetypes and classes are recreated with new fleshed-out characters, and even some returning from past Dragon Quest titles will join your party to battle the evils that corrupt the land. Moving away from the random battles and turn-based combat, the developers incorporated many of RPG systems from the series into their brand of Dynasty Warriors-style combat and gameplay structure. Battles are entirely action-oriented, using quick and strong attacks, magic, and even the tried-and-true Tension abilities from recent Dragon Quest games to beat down the legions of monsters. Stages take place with in vast open areas with waves of monsters, while tasking players with completing objectives from active quests. You'll have to manage your MP for magic attacks, and keep your inventory of support items well-stocked for when you travel out into the field. The gameplay is very similar to titles like Dynasty Warriors, but it still has the DNA of Dragon Quest. I was happy with the marriage of different genres. Even though I felt more a twitch-focused approach to gameplay, I still felt a sense of progression as I grew in power along with my party. Keep in mind, the general structure of Dragon Quest Heroes is focused on the singular adventure with your party. Unlike the other Musou titles, which focus on a particular characters and their campaign, your party of heroes in DQH will be with you throughout your journey, and while you can switch between them during battle with ease, your chosen characters are still the main focus. Eventually, your band of heroes will gain access to a flying fortress made of stone, which will serve as your base of operations as you travel around the world taking on new challenges. With the airship, you'll essentially have a mobile town from which you can shop, interact with other characters, find new quests, and perform any other needs you may need. Battles are much faster and to the point compared to most other Musou titles, which is great for the focus on narrative and the RPG systems. With its October release approaching, this title will be up the alley for both fans of Dragon Quest and the Musou series. For the classic RPG series, this is largely new territory to be exploring. Action-RPG gameplay with its rich and finely-tuned systems would be challenging to do justice, but I was pleased with how Omega Force made the transition. To make things more enticing for the Western release, all the released DLC from the original launch in Japan will be available for free to all players. Even with its new gameplay, Dragon Quest Heroes still exudes the same sense of adventure and wonder found in the much-loved series.
Dragon Quest Heroes photo
Includes all bonus DLC for free
I've got quite the soft spot for Omega Force's series of Musou titles. If you've heard of or played Dynasty Warriors, then you know exactly what they are. As the popularity of the studio's games grow with every release, it br...

Telltale's Minecraft: Story Mode is an interesting change of pace for the series

Sep 10 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]310121:60304:0[/embed] Taking place in the world, or worlds, of Minecraft, we take on the role of Jessie, a local resident living in the wilderness along with his friends and pet pig. With the upcoming event known as Endercon approaching, sort of an in-game take on the popular Minecon, Jessie and his friends prepare for the festivities along with the rest of their community. Unfortunately, an ancient evil known as the Ender Dragon is unearthed from the nether, and wreaks havoc across the land. With Jessie and his friends being the only ones to escape, it's up to them to restore the legendary Order of the Stone, a group of powerful adventurers capable of stopping the dragon, and save the rest of the world. While it may seem unusual to try and create a specific story and narrative with predefined characters within Minecraft, which is inherently about the relative and varied user experiences, Telltale's take on Story Mode is surprisingly charming. Sure, many of the jokes focus on Minecraft-related humor and trivia, which may confuse or fall flat for those who aren't too into the adventure game, but it does a pretty admirable job of finding itself within a game world that's so varied and almost infinitely diverse. With a pretty solid voice-cast featuring Patton Oswalt, Corey Feldman, Paul Reubens, Dave Fennoy, Martha Plimpton, Ashley Johnson, and Brian Posehn, this is likely Telltale's most star-studded cast yet. During the short segment I played, we find Jessie searching through the forest for his pet pig. Gameplay will be instantly be familiar to those who've played other Telltale titles, such as The Walking Dead or Fables. You'll explore the environment looking for clues, interact with other characters, and occasionally participate in action sequences that call for well-timed responses. When Jessie was ambushed by zombies, he had to defend himself with a hastily put together wooden sword, which broke during the encounter. Eventually, his friend Petra (voiced by Ashley Johnson) saves the day and they make their way back to town. Of course, this is only the start of their troubles. Essentially, this is a very family friendly take on Telltale's past titles. Easy enough to get into, but deep enough to wonder what choices will be the best in the long run. However, one of the more interesting aspects of Story Mode is that it allows players to customize the central character Jessie. From their aesthetics to even their gender (voiced by Patton Oswalt and Catherine Taber, respectively), players will be able to build their own story and show off their character however they see fit. Given the numbers of choices and turns the story presents, it's refreshing to be able to have more of a choice in how your character looks. I'm curious to see how this title will shape up. With the first episode coming this year, Minecraft: Story Mode has some big shoes to fill. While there are many fans who may turn their nose up at such a departure from what they know from Minecraft, the developers are seeking to make a narrative that not only rewards long-time fans with a long and eventful journey through series lore, but also serves as a great opener for those who haven't taken the plunge into the quirky and incredibly popular adventure title. And it's a promising start from what I played. 
Minecraft: Story Mode photo
The Creepers will remember that
Since its announcement last year, many fans of both Mojang's Minecraft and Telltale Games were caught off guard by this union of adventure developers. With one focusing on open-ended and procedurally generated jaunts thr...

Sublevel Zero mixes sci-fi space shooters with roguelike challenges

Sep 09 // Alessandro Fillari
Set in a facility in outer space that's slowly falling apart, you're tasked with flying your spacecraft through the tight corridors filled with rogue A.I. and other obstacles that seek to take you out. As you travel through the crumbling facility, you'll find new power-ups and other upgrades to your ship, which will give you the edge to make it through the ever-changing and increasingly difficult labyrinth. Much like many other roguelike titles, the plot is largely light and only seeks to set the scene. You're a lone space pilot in hostile territory, and you'll have to use all your skills in order to survive. The true meat of the game lies within the deep and intricate systems in place. The sub-genre is notorious for its difficulty and uncompromising challenges, so it's surprising to see a twitch-based shooter that allows you to travel in six degrees of movement to structure it within the system of an RPG title. With the procedurally generated world, along with randomly placed enemies and treasure locations, each run will be unique. As you travel around the facility, you'll find loot from downed enemies and space caches filled with new upgrade and abilities for your ship. Starting out, you'll have the basic energy cannons, but over time, you'll acquire missiles, long-range lasers, and high-powered rail guns to take on the ever-growing threats. I was pretty impressed with how well both styles of gameplay work together. Initially, I believed the fast-paced nature of this space-shooter and the roguelike systems wouldn't work too well together, but it all clicked for me quickly, and I was very much into it after going a few runs. By far, my favorite aspect of Sublevel Zero is its rich visual style. Channeling the retro feel with bright colors and a distinct visual palette, along with the claustrophobic design and layout -- I found myself quickly immersed with this title. With its release coming in October, this compelling hybrid of both fast-paced action with deep-strategic gameplay is very much unlike anything I've played in a roguelike, and its approach to the action-RPG is one you'll want to take notice of. Sublevel Zero [Steam] 
Sublevel Zero photo
Descent goes Rogue
One of the great aspects of this reawakening of the roguelike sub-genre is seeing the systems in place in genres that you'd least expect. For those unaware, roguelike is a sub-genre that features hardcore-focused RPG systems ...

MEG 9: Lost Echoes offers a surprisingly existential take on sci-fi exploration

Sep 09 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]309920:60291:0[/embed] After a group of scientists from the Horizon research facility goes missing, the corporation Quantum Multiphasics tasks one of their employees with remotely piloting a Rig, a high-powered rescue and assault vehicle, in order to find out what happened at the remote location. Unfortunately, Horizon is located within the mysteriously named Probability Aperture, a world that's located between dimensions. Using the Rig, the pilot must explore the remains of Horizon while uncovering the mysteries of the fractured and chaotic world, all the while defending himself against creatures that have taken up residence in the research facility. With a focus on narrative, the developers wanted to ensure that they had a strong foundation for the plot, in addition to getting the science right to give the story much greater believability. Luckily enough, they were able to team up with famed sci-fi author William Gibson, author of the prophetic and ultra-stylish Neuromancer and The Difference Engine. Interestingly enough, this is Gibson's second foray into game development, with the first being an adaptation of his novel Neuromancer. With MEG 9, he offered his insights into the mechanics and functionality of the Probability Aperture, and worked with the in-house writers on giving the general story a strong foundation. While exploration the world within the Aperture, players will pilot the rig and discover the remains of the lone human installation in the chaotic realm. As you explore, you'll acquire resources and other materials to combat the presence of the creatures corrupted by the environment. Throughout your travels, you'll receive backstory on the characters and world from your on-board AI, which offers some interesting commentary on all things relating to Quantum Multiphasics. Though the Rig is able to defend itself with machine guns and cannons, in addition to its thick armor, the pilot will have to rely on more advanced tools in order to survive. After acquiring resources, the Rig will be able to dispatch remote units to defend key points. During a segment while exploring the installation, I came across a massive reactor that was vulnerable to attack. Using several tools, such as remote turrets and placeable energy shields, I was able to hold off the creatures seeking to destroy the reactor. Surprisingly, this section offered a lot of strategy and kept me on my toes. I was very impressed with different this area felt. It definitely offered some callbacks to tower defense games, but with focuses on action and maneuverability. While it's still in pre-alpha, the developers have a pretty solid foundation for their title. And with more areas and creatures to explore, there's definitely a lot to look forward to. I found myself pretty intrigued by the basic premise of the setting. It's often we see games set on other planets, so it's pretty interesting to see on that's set in such an intriguing locale. With an Early Access release set for later this year, in addition to a PS4 release sometime after, the folks at Skunkwerks have got a pretty interesting title in MEG 9: Lost Echoes. I'm very much looking forward to see where it goes from here. MEG 9: Lost Echoes [Steam Greenlight]
MEG 9 photo
Featuring work from William Gibson
When it comes to games with sci-fi settings, the thing that usually excites me is the locations you'll be able to visit. Often times, you'll be blasting foes on other planets throughout the solar system, or invading enemy mot...

Kona is a hauntingly beautiful survival adventure

Sep 02 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]308447:60214:0[/embed] Set in the wilderness of Northern Canada during the early 1970s, you play as private detective Carl Faubert as he investigates the mysterious events occurring at a remote village of Atamipek Lake. What starts as simple job of finding the unknown culprits behind the vandalism of private property, it soon becomes apparent that things are not what they seem and Carl finds himself in a whole mess of danger. With nearly the entire population of the town missing -- along with wild animals looking for their next meal -- he'll have to rely on his wits and resourcefulness in order to survive mother nature's cold embrace of the land, and learn the truth of what happened in the isolated town. As the first episode of a planned series, Carl will explore two square kilometers of land in search of clues and supplies. While on his investigation, he'll find abandoned homes and public points of interest that will give him leads. Along the way, he'll learn more about the town's unique characters while searching through their abandoned homes, notes, and other clues left behind. I really liked the atmosphere and tone that Kôna gave off. Exploring the town felt like opening up a time-capsule from the '70s, and many objects, media, and other knick-knacks from the era are presented in authentic fashion. Though be careful, exploring the environment will take a toll on Carl, and he'll have to look after himself during his journey through the wilderness. Interestingly enough, the game's survival elements do a lot to play into the core structure of intrigue and dread that the game encapsulates. While most adventure and narrative-driven games like Dear Esther or Everybody's Gone to the Rapture have players focus on story and not worry about their characters getting hurt, Kôna goes all in with survivalist gameplay. Players will manage Carl's health, temperature, stress, and carrying capacity, which adds another more pressing element to the title's structure. Eventually, you'll acquire firearms to ward off wild animals, such as packs of roaming wolves, but ammo is in extremely short supply. I was impressed to see that the two gameplay focuses, which are totally different from one another, actually work quite well together. If anything, having to mange resources and Carl's well-being adds to the urgency of the environment. Though my time with Kôna was quite brief, I really enjoyed what the developers have come up with. Blending survival elements into the narrative structure of an adventure title was alluring, and my short stint in the great white north offered a lot of intrigue. The developers are also working on special VR features for the title, which will create an even more immersive experience. Though the game is still some time away from release, Parabole has got something quite special with this evocative title.
K˘na photo
Whiteout in the great white north
It's not often we see a title that blends one of the many hallmarks of the adventure genre, a focus on a rich and evocative setting, with the tense and resource-focused gameplay of survival games. But...

Shutshimi photo

Shutshimi: Seriously Swole coming soon to Wii U

Choice Provision's great goldfish shmup
Sep 01
// Alessandro Fillari
Just last week, we were graced with the release of Shutshimi: Seriously Swole on PC, PS4 and Vita. In this bizarre tribute to classic shooters, players take control of a team of gun-toting goldfish with memory issues as they ...

Zombie Vikings brings humorous brawler action to the Norse landscape

Aug 20 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]307158:60071:0[/embed] Zombie Vikings (PS4)Developer: Zoink! GamesPublisher: Rising Star GamesRelease Date: Autumn 2015 Set in a very goofy interpretation of the Viking era, the Norse god Odin has his last good eye stolen by the mischievous trickster Loki, and must unearth four undead viking warriors to chase after the rogue god and return his eye. Loki plans to use the eye for his own nefarious purposes, such the awful and evil act of playing beer pong, and Odin wants revenge. Over the course of their journey through the Norse lands, the Zombie Vikings will battle waves of monsters, creatures, and other oddities that will put their brawling skills to the test. But with their new zombie powers, they'll be able to match up to the monsters that await, while also coming to terms with their troubled past lives. Right from the opening cutscene, the game sets itself up as a humorous and cartoonish take on Norse mythology, and it was pleasing to see a game have some fun with the material. The art style is essentially like a 2D animated cartoon, complete with interludes where the characters bicker and talk amongst themselves. With the main story written by Zack Weindersmith, the creator of the Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal webcomic, Zombie Vikings blends together brawler action with comedy. Over 90 minutes worth of cutscenes are spread across the thirty levels, and the story goes in places you'd least expect. While some of the jokes are hit-or-miss, it's refreshing to see a brawler revel in its own ridiculousness. The game continually ramps up in oddball comedy, and it's all the better for it. As one of the four vikings, you'll battle through several stages utilizing unique character skills and weapons which alter your performance. In similar vein to Castle Crashers, gold acquired from your journey can be spent on upgrades and new gear. As you travel through the land and complete stages, you can head back to old areas and tackle new challenges and side-quests that open up, yielding greater rewards. While there isn't a leveling system or any other RPG mechanics, the items you can deck your character out with are plentiful, and allow for a great level of customization. Which is great, because each character has their own special playstyle. During my session, I mostly stuck with Seagurd, a viking who's corpse somehow fused with an octopus. Thankfully, it's not just for show, as he's able to use the tentacles for spin attacks and charged-up power moves which turn the small octopus on his torso into a massive monster that damages all nearby enemies. The other characters make up the more standard strength, speed, and technique archetypes for brawlers, and each of them not only shows a lot of creativity in their design, but also feels very different one another. Moreover, you can use certain skills together in unison, such as throwing your friends across the field and into a mob of foes where they can unleash a power attack. This adds another layer of strategy to combat, which can make the co-op nature of the game all the more appealing. You haven't lived until you've seen four undead vikings stack on top of each other and rush deep into battle. I'm a big fan of the brawler genre, and Zombie Vikings has got a lot going for it. Norse mythology is often ignored in gaming, so it's a real pleasure to be able to explore the lands while battling monsters straight from lore, albeit in a really goofy, comedic way. The guys at Zoink! Games made a really fun title. Those looking for a four-player co-op beat-'em-up that doesn't take itself too seriously will be intrigued by this one.
Zombie Vikings preview photo
Are you a bad enough dude to stop Loki?
When people think of the beat-'em-up genre, they most likely recall the dimly-light streets of an urban metropolis filled with thugs and other roughnecks looking to cause trouble. While there are some other notable titles tha...

Poncho is a mind-melting retro journey through post-robopocalypse

Aug 20 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]307084:60068:0[/embed] Poncho (PC [previewed], PS4, PS Vita, Wii U)Developer: Delve InteractivePublisher: Rising Star GamesRelease Date: September 24, 2015MSRP: $14.99 After the apocalypse, humanity has been wiped out by an unknown scourge, and all that is left are machines. With mother nature having retaken the earth, the machines developed their own society and culture in the ruins of the old world. But one day, a poncho-wearing robot longs to discover his origins, and seeks out his creator. Using perspective-warping abilities and his own platforming skills, the resourceful little robot will travel through the landscape and encounter other machines trying to find purpose in the new world. Over the course of his adventure, he'll not only discover the meaning his own creation, but also the truth behind mankind's destruction. In recent years, retro-throwback games such as Fez have become common. What these titles share is an increased focus on subversion and playing with genre conventions, all the while crafting a compelling story that goes beyond what many would expect from the genre they're paying homage to. Poncho is no different. With the ability to travel between different planes of the level -- from the foreground, background, and middleground -- the poncho-wearing robot will have to tackle challenging puzzles and action set-pieces. The developers cite classic platformers such as Super Mario World and Sonic the Hedgehog, which had richly detailed backgrounds, as inspiration. I was surprised by how quickly Poncho ramped in difficulty. Initially, it's a very atmospheric game that focuses on storytelling, but once you're let loose into the various stages, things take quite a turn. While there are no enemies or bosses to battle, the challenges come from figuring out how to navigate the multi-layered levels with the perspectives-jumping abilities. With platforms, switches, and other obstacles that call for quick jumps between the different areas of the stages, there's tricky twitch-based gameplay to the platforming and some genuine three-dimensional thinking to the puzzles. It's trippy while still playing on the 2D plane.  With its release approaching, I got in some quality time from the current build of the game. As you acquire new abilities and skills from schematics, you'll be able to travel back to past stages and explore new areas. These abilities, such as the robot stomp, open a number of new avenues of exploration. This mechanic did a lot to make me understand the true scope of Poncho. It's very much a throwback platformer with modern puzzle gameplay dynamics. There were several moments where I felt I was stuck, but once I figured things out, I was left immensely satisfied.  If you're itching for a puzzle-platformer that plays with the genre's tropes and conventions, then keep an eye out for this little title. While on the surface it looks like a rather humble platforming jaunt through a post-apocylyptic world filled with robots, Poncho quickly goes into mindfuck territory, and it'll raise questions you'll be dying to get answers to.
Poncho preview photo
Out on September 24
Last year, we got a sneak peek at a rather peculiar puzzle-platformer named Poncho. Launching on Kickstarter and debuting at EGX for attendees, it showed a lot of promise in exploring the earth after humans went extinct. Unfo...

3D Gunstar Heroes revitalizes Treasure's debut action title

Aug 19 // Alessandro Fillari
Released towards the end of the Sega Genesis' life in 1993, Gunstar Heroes was Treasure Co.'s first title, and it was certainly a hell of a debut. While it quickly became a favorite among action fans and gaming press, it mostly went under the radar for many Genesis owners. Though the spotlight was on the release of the upcoming Sega Saturn, Gunstar Heroes still managed to become a cult hit among hardcore gamers. But over the years, it's cemented itself as one of the Genesis library's most loved and sought after titles, and even saw a sequel in Advance Gunstar Heroes for the GBA. This made it a prime candidate for the remaster treatment in Sega's 3D Classics series. Speaking with producer Yosuke Okunari, he spoke at length about the respect and admiration they have for the hectic and punishing action title."This was Treasure’s debut game. Everything they ever wanted to do, but couldn’t up until then, is poured into and represented in this game," said the producer while reflecting on the title's legacy. "The game’s volume and difficulty balancing is really spot on in my opinion, and you can feel the passion of the original dev team when you play the game even now. Their follow-ups, Dynamite Headdy and Alien Soldier, were really good games in their own right, and while the games' volume and difficulty were appropriate for its own day, they might not stand up so well in modern standards [In regards to difficulty curves]."Taking place in in a world where a massive army of mercenaries are seeking world domination, it's up to a family of crime-fighters known as the Gunstars to stop them. With the evil Colonel Red (called Colonel Grey in Japan) having acquired four powerful gems to power a massive robot capable of conquering the world, the brothers Gunstar Blue and Gunstar Red have to put a stop to the army's evil plans, all the while finding the whereabouts of their missing brother, Gunstar Green.Unfortunately for me, I missed out on Gunstar Heroes back in the day. While most of my attention was on titles such as Streets of Rage, Mortal Kombat, and Sonic, this one totally slipped past me. It sucks, because my seven year old self would've lived for this type of game. In similar style to Saturday morning cartoons or Japanese anime, the action and tone of the story is extremely over-the-top and takes place in episodic order, allowing you to go about clearing the game in anyway you want.For the uninitiated, Gunstar Heroes blends together high-octane shooting with some light-brawler action set across a series of unique and challenging levels. In the vein of classic side-scrolling shooters such as Contra, two players can utilize a variety of weapons, ranging from close-range flamethrowers, energy beams, and homing lasers. Moreover, players can even select aiming modes with Free-Aim (moving and shooting) or Fixed-Aim (stop and shoot), to suit their play styles. Even at close range, the Gunstars know how to handle themselves. Unlike the Contra guys, the Gunstars can throw, kick, and dive attack enemies that get too close for comfort. Utilizing all these skills is quite easy, and you'll be able to kick ass with ease.I was pretty blown away by the performance of 3D Gunstar Heroes on the 3DS. The original was quite an achievement on the Genesis, and seeing it in action in 3D is a trip. The visuals in the game use a number of graphical tricks and gimmicks that made the action really pop, and the 3D option really does a lot to enhance those aspects of Gunstar's visual design. Some bosses even have some quasi-3D animations and visuals, which was extremely impressive back on the Genesis. With 3D Gunstar Heroes, the overall performance is rock solid. Even with the 3D enabled, I was blasting enemies with screen-filling weapons and watching foes rush the screen with no drops at all. The folks at Sega saw porting over Gunstar Heroes as a major challenge, and actually put it off until they had more games under their belt."When we went about these Genesis 3D conversions, back when we first got the project off the ground, we thought that if we could get Gunstar into what we considered ideal 3D, then there was no way it wouldn’t be a good game," said the producer. "However, we knew that we had to wait until the development team had the experience needed to go about converting the sheer number of stages and all the odd perspectives the game used. In three years, M2’s team has worked on 13 titles (and then some), and they were finally ready to handle Gunstar since they now had the speed and skills to pull it off."Of course, one of the most admired aspects of Gunstar Heroes is its unique power-up system. While you select a core weapon at the beginning of each mission, power-ups acquired while out in the field will act as modifiers to your main weapon. For instance, using the lightning gun with the chaser power-up (green homing laser), it turns the lightning weapon into a homing laser that targets nearby enemies and clings to them until death. The weapon combos get pretty gnarly as you switch things up, and each combo changes the gameplay and strategies up considerably. In keeping with its focus on challenge, the original game only allowed core weapon selecting before the beginning of a mission. This design was to ensure players would commit to a weapon and stick with it for the level. Unfortunately, it was very often players would choose poorly and be stuck with an ineffective weapon for a level that may call for something more versatile. While many of the more skillful gamers could make it work, most players would often have to restart and pick a better weapon. This was one area the developers at Sega wanted to improve upon. With the addition of the brand new 'Gunslinger' mode, players can now switch between core weapons on the fly. While many hardcore fans might find this a bit sacrilegious, the developers had a lot of discussions about the new mode, and even took some inspiration from other titles from Treasure's library. "In Gunstar Heroes, there’s a lot of weapons, but the opportunity to change weapons is somewhat limited, so sometimes you get all caught up in using that one combination you like," said Okunari while discussing their work on Gunslinger mode. "It’s possible that people just never had the leeway to try different weapons or control modes. But by using Gunslinger Mode, you can now try a different weapon combination on that boss that used to give you a hard time back in the day, and you might find that you can beat them a lot faster. It’s a chance to try playing the game the way the developers originally intended. This does have the impact of lowering the difficulty. The 3DS’s controls are different from the Genesis, and we want people who played games back but maybe not so much now to be able to have fun with it. The gamers back then are probably more or less the same age as me, and they might not have the same skills they used to, you know?""This is something we can say for all the ports, but the SEGA 3D Classics development team were all fans of the games back when they were released. We know what makes these games good, so we didn’t need all that much time to figure out what sort of support features a person needs to play the game in today’s world," continued the producer. "The core of Gunslinger mode comes from a sequel made by the same development team called Alien Soldier, a game with a bit of a cult following that was only released in Japan and Europe. The key lies in this game. In Alien Soldier, you can choose from a number of weapons and control modes at will right out the door."Thankfully, I can say that the new mode is in keeping with the core Gunstar experience. The game was still tough as hell, even with the extra room to experiment and adapt to challenges with the weapon switching. I was pretty impressed with how well balanced the game is. Even with the larger arsenal, the enemies still can overwhelm and outmatch the player. I'm more than certain fans of the original will find a lot to like with Gunslinger mode. With the increased access to weapons, you'll be able to get to core of what Gunstar Heroes is about without much hassle.All in all, I have to say that 3D Gunstar Heroes is a pretty stellar port of the original. While I'm still kicking myself for missing out on this one back when I was a kid, I still managed to recall those days of wonder and excitement while spending some time with this installment. I feel as though this entry will bring in a lot of new admirers to the series. In many ways, Treasure was ahead of the curve when it released this title, but not that many people realized it. Thankfully, 3D remastering has done the original justice, and it'll give new players curious about this cult favorite the chance to give it a shot. But take heed: all the hype about this title's challenge was not exaggerated one bit. Be ready for this one.
Sega 3D Classics photo
Lock and Load on August 20
It's been pretty wild re-experiencing many of these past titles in Sega's 3D Classics series. In the last few months, we managed to get 3D remasters of several games that have defined Sega's legacy as one of the most famous g...

Dungeon League turns RPG action into a bloodsport

Aug 07 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]297396:59857:0[/embed] After a dungeon master expresses disappointment with seeing that heroes have lost interest in his labyrinths full of traps and other dangers, he decides to turn his creations into a competitive sport in order to attract adventurers seeking gold and glory. With the creation of the Dungeon League, travelers from all over flock to his randomly conjured deathtraps in order to acquire gold, defeat the opposition, and come out on top. Designed with local multiplayer in mind, Dungeon League re-contextualizes the dungeon-crawl setting and shapes it into an old-school RPG battle arena. From the standard deathmatch variants, territory capture, to the more unusual race gametype, which tasks players with dashing through checkpoints around the dungeon while taking swipes at the opposition, the game does a lot of cool things to the roguelike gameplay system. As you acquire gold and experience, you can level up between matches, upgrade skills, and buy new items from the league vendors. In traditional roguelike and MOBA fashion, character growth is all from the ground up in every game, so you'll have to prioritize which areas you want to focus on. In case it wasn't clear, Dungeon League is very self-aware with its approach to the dungeon crawler. There are several different classes to choose from -- such as the traditional archetypes like Warrior, Rogue, and Archer -- to more bizarre classes such as the rainbow-spewing Unicorn. It's a rush to fight through dungeons filled with nasty traps while cutting down hoards of monsters that get stronger with each stage. It'll take a lot to stay a step ahead of the opposing side and become the champion of the Dungeon League, so choose your class wisely. It's not often we get a unique take on the dungeon crawler, especially one that doesn't take itself too seriously. I liked how lighthearted things are in Dungeon League despite all the over-the-top action and bloodshed, and had a blast battling it out with friends. While there are some single-player options where you can battle waves of monsters, the real draw here is multiplayer, and Dungeon League is quite clever in its design. If you're looking for something a bit different that channels the old-school RPG aesthetic, then this is one you'll want to keep an eye on. Dungeon League [Steam Early Access]
Dungeon League photo
Out now on Steam Early Access
What happens when you turn hardcore RPG gameplay, with hints of roguelike elements, into a sport? Imagine having to grind and acquire loot in order to score points and one-up your competition. Sounds pretty wild for an action...

Grand Ages: Medieval brings open-world strategic gameplay to PS4

Aug 05 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]297244:59819:0[/embed] Grand Ages: Medieval (PC, PS4 [previewed])Developer: Gaming MindsPublisher: Kalypso MediaRelease Date: PC September 25, 2015 / PS4 September 29 Much like its predecessor, Grand Ages: Rome, Medieval allows for total freedom in how you build your empire and expand your reach. Though Rome itself was a major player during its heyday, the empire's time has passed, and now the kingdoms throughout Europe, the British Isles, Northern Africa, and the Middle East aim to leave their mark on the world. With both a narrative campaign and free mode to tackle, players can build their kingdom in any way they see fit. Dubbed as an "open world grand strategy economy' game by the developers, they were very adamant about this title being something more than a traditional RTS game. With the freedom in how you engage with allies, tackle challenges, initiate trade and wartime agreements, and eliminate the opposition all up to your own playstyle, you're given an enormous amount of leeway in how you stake your claim throughout the land. In the campaign mode, players take on the role of Leon Versselios, a young ruler in central Europe who must take over his kingdom after the death of his father. Essentially, this campaign serves as the tutorial and teaches players how to establish towns, trade with neighboring cities, gather resources, scout nearby lands to expand reach, negotiate alliances, and prepare for war against foes when negotiation fails. As you build your nation, Leon will encounter many allies that seek alliances with him and his kingdom, but over time, many events could sour relations and turn neighboring kingdoms to seek out what is yours. As you expand, you're treated to animated cutscenes showing recent relations with allies and the morale of family members and citizens of the kingdom. While there is freedom to be had, you are guided along to an extent in the campaign. According to the developers, the narrative mode can take upwards to 10-15 hours to complete, and features many twists and turns that will keep you guessing. However, once you've reached a certain point in the campaign, which concludes Leon's core story, you're allowed to continue his rise to power at your leisure and continue with your expansion. This also serves as a great segue into where the true game begins. In the open world mode, you can choose a custom character and starting location, and begin your expansion as you see fit. This mode is where most players will spend their time in Grand Ages, as it allows for your to create your story and show the neighboring civilizations how your empire will shape the known world. During my session, I was dropped into a 20+ hour save file. I was initially a bit overwhelmed by how much data there was to keep track of. With many different kingdoms, many of which were allies, and some neutral or hostile, you'll have to keep a close eye on which ones need assistance or require swift action against. But it's not just people you'll have to worry about -- the kingdoms will have to contend with mother nature as well. Earthquakes, thunderstorms, volcanoes, famine, and even the bubonic plague are major threats that will call for immediate action. While these sorts of games are home on PC, the PS4 was able to hand everything quite well. The user interface has been slightly modified to accommodate the controller setup, but overall it's largely the same game as its PC counterpart. While it's very menu intensive, I found it easy to get into once I went through the motions and learned all the tricks needed to engage. There's truly no other game like this on PS4, and it'll definitely please the more hardcore-minded strategy gamers looking for a new title on console.
Grand Ages: Medieval photo
Don't call it an RTS
Last year, I went hands-on with Grand Ages: Medieval, a civilization builder set during the Medieval era. Coming from the developers of Port Royale 3 and Rise of Venice, they've moved onto a bigger stage of Europe. During a t...

Assassin's Creed Syndicate reinvigorates the series with a return to basics

Aug 05 // Alessandro Fillari
Assassin's Creed Syndicate (PS4 [Previewed], Xbox One, PC)Developer: Ubisoft QuebecPublisher: UbisoftRelease Date: October 23, 2015 (PC Q4 2015) Unlike its recent predecessors, Syndicate aims to do something a bit more streamlined during its trek through the streets and over the rooftops of Victorian-era London. While Assassin's Creed has had online gameplay components since 2010, Syndicate will follow AC: Rogue's example and focus purely on single-player gameplay. While online has been pretty neat for the AC titles, the developers wanted to make a single-player experience while putting all their resources into making it the sharpest game of the series. "We really wanted to get back to the basics. Our objective was to ship the biggest and liveliest city yet with London, and it was a big challenge, and we wanted to concentrate on building a massive single-player experience," said associate producer Andrée-Anne Boisvert. "Because of that, we were able to refine the core gameplay, adding in the rope launcher for easier traversal, refining the parkour, revamping the fighting gameplay -- so with all these things, we wanted the single-player to be really amazing." Of course, the most unique aspect of Syndicate is its focus on two protagonists with the brother and sister duo Jacob and Evie Frye. While we've already seen much of Jacob and his exploits in London, this marked the first time we were able to go hands-on with Evie, and it's evident who has the brains in this operation. Much like her brother, Evie is an assassin who must find the location of the Piece of Eden, all the while debilitating the Templar's control of the city. Though unlike her brother, she is a far more calculating and cunning assassin, and tends to shy away from the all-out brawls Jacob revels in. With many of her skills focusing on long-range assassinations and stealth, Evie is essentially the scalpel within London's Assassin order. At any time during open-world exploration, you'll be able to switch between the two and engage in missions at your leisure to reassert control of England's capital city. "We found it interesting to have the dynamic between these two; they have different personalities and different narrative storylines," said the producer. "That's something we wanted to focus on. We wanted to make sure that their personalities are reflected in the gameplay with their unique skills that they have." We finally got to put Evie's skills to the test during a key mission to strike at the Templar order. During a Blackbox mission within the Tower of London, Evie infiltrates the site to assassinate the Templar operative Lucy Thorne, who also has knowledge of where the ancient artifact is. Using skills and weapons such as the Voltaic Bomb, which shocks nearby foes, and the chameleon skill, which grants limited invisibility, Evie's approach is far more subtle. Much like its predecessor, Blackbox missions are open-ended challenges that feature multiple approaches to accomplish a single goal. Unity was the first to implement this mission structure, and Syndicate definitely plans to create more unique moments during these specific events. As Evie found her way to a vantage point within the Tower of London, she was able to discover three different opportunities to infiltrate the site and assassinate Thorne. Option one was to stalk the key-bearer and procure the master-key to enter the main tower solo; option two was to work with an undercover tower-guard to sneak into the tower; and option three was to rescue the local Constable and round up a group of loyal guards to battle their way into the tower. The third option was the riskiest and loudest approach, but it also allowed for Evie to utilize her stealth skills in unique ways, so I immediately went for it. The developers felt that with the two protagonists, there was room for much more variety and experimentation with the missions. "For Assassin's Creed: Synidicate, we wanted to make it a lot more about the freedom to choose your own path and ways through missions," said Boisvert. "We want players to be able to tackle the missions in the way they want to do it. Blackboxes are the way we have them do it, which is what we base the game on, giving players choices and offering many different ways to approach an objective for their playstyle." Using many of the traditional Assassin skills, such as Eagle Vision, parkour, and aerial assassinations and takedowns, I was able to sneak into the guard house to free the Constable, and we led a group of loyal guards to assault the main tower. While Evie isn't much for brawling and tends to focus more on the calculated strokes to achieve victory, she can easily hold herself in a scrape when it comes to it. The combat in Syndicate has seen a bit of an overhaul, which the developers felt was necessary after seeing how easily players were able to win encounters by waiting for enemy attacks and using parries. It seems over time the Templar order has finally wised up to the Assassins' tricks and plays a far more defensive game. They'll only attack when they see an opening and will guard many of your attacks. Evie and Jacob will have to utilize guard breaks and dodges to counter them, and parry only when the time is right. I felt far more active during combat, and it was the right move to switch things up. As the guards battled their way through the tower, I was able to gracefully move through the carnage while using Evie's knife throwing skills to make quick work of any oncoming threats. We finally came upon Thorne with her personal bodyguards. With the carnage filling up the central room, I was able to get the jump on Thorne for a quick assassination. At this point, the mission ended in traditional AC fashion with the central character and victim sharing a final moment before their death. But I didn't stop there. Afterwards, I booted up the mission again and went for the other options. The key-bearer was the stealthiest approach, as I was able to sneak through the tower area and assassinate the target with minimal casualties. As you can probably guess from reading this, I'm into the new setting. As one of the most requested settings from fans, Victorian-era London is a stark departure from the previous titles. Not only from the stylistic standpoint, with the dark and grimy streets filled with people who represent the best and worst of what society has to offer, but it's also the first AC game (outside of the present-day narrative) with its toes dipped into the modern era. As swords and axes become antiques, revolvers and rifles are much more common, making combat feel riskier than ever. "It's the first modern-day setting for an Assassin's Creed title [in regards to the core game setting], so it's the first time where we have a city that is so huge like London," said Boisvert. "Traffic is dense, we have carriages and other people walking on the sidewalks, and you also have the police which will chase after you when you cause trouble for others. It's a whole new dynamic for us. With the also the trains and boats, it make the city much more vibrant than any other title." I was pretty impressed with Assassin's Creed Syndicate. The game ran fairly well and I didn't notice any performance hiccups like the ones that plagued the previous AC title. I got the sense that Unity represented a major shift in how Ubisoft develops the series, and with Syndicate re-evaluating its priorities to focus more on the core game as opposed to the meta-aspects and supplementary content, I feel this entry could be a great turning point. I look forward to seeing more from the Frye siblings in the coming months, though I certainly hope the devs will figure out a way to work in Jack the Ripper, Sherlock Holmes, and Charles Dickens during the Assassins' trek through the city. To ignore them would be a missed opportunity.
Assassin's Creed photo
There's no place like London
It's not often we get to see a series recognize that things may have gotten off track. As many no doubt remember, Assassin's Creed Unity got hit hard with criticisms about its technical performance and odd design decisio...

Metal Gear Solid V photo
Metal Gear Solid V

MGSV: The Phantom Pain for PC moved up, Metal Gear Online delayed

MGO on PC set for January 2016
Aug 03
// Alessandro Fillari
With less than thirty days until Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain's release, Konami has still been keeping things close to the vest. Which is amazing, considering that the recent extended gameplay demos and videos show...

3D Streets of Rage 2 is a return to classic brawler action

Jul 22 // Alessandro Fillari
Released back in 1992, Streets of Rage 2, called Bare Knuckle II in Japan, was an immediate hit with Genesis owners and still stands as a favorite among beat-'em-up fans to this day. Set a year after the events of the first game, our street-fighting brawlers have to take back control after the sprawling criminal empire the Syndicate kidnapps one of their allies and plunges the city into chaos. Teaming up with pro-wrestler Max, and a young rollerblading brawler names Skate (the brother of SoR1's Adam), Axel and Blaze have to scour the city while scrapping with vicious thugs that work for the ever-elusive Mr. X. I spent many hours with Streets of Rage 2 when I was a kid, and the flashy neon lights and bombastic atmosphere -- along with Yuzo Koshiro's bumping synth score -- are imprinted in my memories of those glorious Genesis days. Surprisingly, there's a strong focus on plot in these titles. While most beat-'em-ups settle for the save X from Y plot and call it a day, SoR goes a bit beyond that by wrangling in government conspiracy and even throwing in some crazy sci-fi angles. Though the narrative is pretty much on par with B-level action movies, it still goes a long way with setting the tone and atmosphere. While there was another follow up with SoR3, the second game is my favorite and holds up remarkably well. Fortunately for us fans, Sega agrees and it's since been ported over to many different platforms, including Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, and even iOS. However, with its upcoming release on the 3DS, this marks the first time you'll be able to play the game in 3D. "Streets of Rage 2 was the most popular of the three games in the series, so we actually had 2 slated as a conversion candidate from the very beginning," stated producer Yosuke Okunari. "However, when we first starting the development on these games, there were technical issues around getting this game into 3D, and it was deemed an impossible task so we gave up on it. If you've spent time playing the game, you've probably noticed that these sorts of side-scrolling beat-'em-ups are extremely well-suited for stereoscopic 3D (we actually call them 'belt action' games in Japanese because it's like being on a conveyor belt). The benefit of being able to visually confirm that you are lined up with your enemy and thus avoiding whiffing is huge." Coming off the original, the sequel featured a number of innovations and upgrades that made it stand apart from its predecessor. Aside from the obvious visual upgrade, which features sharper graphics and more detailed environments and character designs, the combat mechanics were greatly expanded to include new character-specific moves and super attacks. While I'm sure there were many who missed the police backup from the original, the focus on character diversity and growth was what made Streets of Rage 2 a true upgrade. During their work on the original's 3D remaster, the developers overcame the challenges of translating the unique visual style to bring over its sequel. "The graphics in these games were not like modern 3D, so there's a lot of pseudo-3D going on [referring to the diagonal side-scrolling stages], and when you take that and apply real stereoscopic 3D to it, you get conflicting visuals. So at the time, we thought we wouldn't be able to get the game into 3D," explained Okunari. "That said, because we were able to get the first game in the series into 3D, the staff's ability and know-how around 3D conversions saw huge improvements, and we found ways to work around these sorts of conflicting situations, and thus making the project a reality." After several playthroughs with the 3D remaster, I was impressed with the quality of the port. I can assure you that the pictures do not do the game justice. The side-scrolling visuals really pop with the 3D enabled, and many of the animations and action sequences feel more pronounced. The visuals on the 3DS feel sharp and with no slowdown or loss performance, which is great for when things get really hectic. While the game is largely as it was, gameplay feels just as precise as it was back in its heyday on the Genesis. It's a true testament to the design of the game, and it feels right at home on the handheld. As with the other 3D Classic releases, Sega has decided to do fans one better with the addition of new gameplay modes. In 3D SoR2, players can now experience the new mode called Rage Relay, which gets people playing as other characters during their run. Upon death, your starting character will switch over to the next one from the roster. For instance, if you start out playing with Axel and you get taken during a tough encounter, then you'll switch over to Max upon respawn. Initially, I found it to be a pretty odd gimmick, but I'll admit it came in handy during tough bosses or enemies which called for a bit more brute force. The developers included this optional mode as a way to encourage trying out the other characters after noticing how often players would stick with their favorites. "The original development team that worked on SoR2 was heavily influenced by Street Fighter II when making this game, so rather than a normal beat-'em-up, they really wanted each character to have their own feel, so each character has a very unique play style associated with them," said the producer. "However, unlike competitive fighting games, people tend to only play with the character the choose first for beat-'em-ups, and we didn't think most people strayed from that initial choice. There's four characters here, each with their own play style, so we wanted to make sure every character got a shot and make it interesting by giving players a chance to try characters they didn't really used back in the Genesis era. Our answer to this was Rage Relay." To say I had a great time with 3D SoR2 would be an understatement. I was pretty damn happy with how this remaster turned out. Not only do the new features help liven up the experience, the core gameplay still shows that simple beat-stuff-up action can be a ton of fun. And with local play available, you'll be able to team up with friends to take down Mr. X. With its release approaching, I can tell that many fans of Streets of Rage 2 will feel right at home with the 3D remaster. Not only has this title held up well, but it makes some impeccable use of the 3DS hardware. Once you fire up the game, and Koshiro's synth score reverberates through the opening title crawl, you'll be hooked. It's a total blast from the past, and it'll get your adrenaline pumping in no time.
Sega 3D Classics photo
Taking back the streets on July 23
Growing up, one of my favorite genres was the side-scrolling beat-'em-up. From Final Fight to Double Dragon, I was quite fond of the action found in traveling through different stages and kicking the asses of gang members and...

Rising Thunder aims to shake up the fighting game scene

Jul 20 // Alessandro Fillari
The developers at Radiant Entertainment have quite a history with the Fighting Game Community -- particularly Tom Cannon, who not only was the co-founder of the development studio, but is also one of the founders of Evolution Championship Series -- and after Seth Killian joined the studio, who's been a key figure within the FGC for many years and has worked on several fighting games during his time at Capcom (the final boss of Street Fighter IV was named after him), they figured it was time they try to bring their own desires for what a fighting game can be into reality."For me, a big part of my history with fighting games has been trying to show them to people, talk to people about them, and try to get people excited about them and give them a chance," said creative lead Seth Killian while discussing his history with genre. "And while I've been doing that for a lot of years, and while I love it and I think fighting games are one of the greatest genres and one of the proudest achievements in gaming period, it's exciting and a little sad to see that of the twenty people I talk about fighting games, only one will have the same experience that I have. Fighting games are really hard, and often times the core game is buried behind this very tall executional wall. And it's not about making it easier so we can all be Justin Wong, but I'm saying the basic moves and mechanics can take a long time to get a handle of. Once you do, then you can start learning the intricacies of player strategy." Set in the far-future, players control a select group of battling robots from different areas of the world and duke it out for supremacy. Each of the six starting characters have their own unique skills and abilities, and special combos used from the variety of weak, medium, and heavy attacks. In addition to that, super moves called Overdrives are activated when the super meter is filled to unleash devastating attacks. Moreover, they can take advantage of kinetic abilities that range from breaking enemy combos and dash cancels. The developers wanted to allow for a great level of customization, and players will be able to select loadouts for their favorite characters, which determine what special moves they bring into battle. The minds behind this title have some ideas on how to make this new fighter more accessible to players who aren't as well-versed in the classic formula of fighting games. On the surface, Rising Thunder looks very similar to titles like Street Fighter IV or Mortal Kombat X. Action is on the 2D plane, with two fighters duking it out until their enemy's health is depleted. Using special moves and strategies unique to each character, players will have to equally overpower and outsmart their opponents to claim victory. Sounds familiar, right? Well, the formula is largely as is, which is a testament to how timeless the setup is. However, the developers saw an opportunity to alter certain parts of the formula in order to remove the initial anxiety and awkwardness from new players seeking to break into competitive play."We were really excited to build a game that could open the door to what's glorious about these games to more people, and to try and let everybody understand what's exciting about these game and kept us excited about them for most of our lives. We basically ended up making a list of all the things that kept most people out of fighting games. For one, Online Sucks, it's terrible and you can't have a serious competitive experience with others. And even if you like fighting games, you also need to be in a place where you happen to be around twenty or so friends that are willing to play with you all the time."Given that it's a PC exclusive fighter, and how candid Killian was about the state of online fighters, the developers wanted to ensure they didn't drop the ball in that regard. Not only is the game completely playable with the keyboard (which feels great, by the way), and they even consider it the default setup, they also have the means to update the title quickly when needed. But course, online play is the make or break point for online fighters. Thankfully, the other founder of Radiant Entertainment, Tony Cannon, is also the creator of the famous GGPO (Good Game, Peace Out) netcode, which started out as a fan-made solution to poorly designed netcode for online fighters, but has since been implemented into retail releases. With Rising Thunder, the creators are bringing in their new GGPO3 netcode, which ensures even more sophisticated tech powering online play. Even during its alpha state, my time online was rock solid and ran at a smooth 60 frames-per-second."The other thing was -- we didn't really know, but it was our suspicion, so we built a prototype to test it -- but when you look at a fighting game match you never go 'Wow, that guy did all his moves. He didn't mess up any fireballs, what a champion.' When you look at the great history of fighting game matches, it's all about the great decisions, reads, an in-genius play, using moves in ways that you would never thought of before -- no one cares about the guy who can do the moves, that's the basic bottom layer of skill," Killian explained. "My thinking was basically, what if we were to make these moves not a problem? What if we were to remove special move inputs?"You might have done a double-take after reading, and I kinda did mentally when he first explained it to me. Accessibility was a major focus for Rising Thunder. Though while many fans may cringe at the thought of moving or adjusting the bar to make things easier for the common player, the developers wanted to think up of ways to allow players who aren't as skilled or knowledgeable as many other players to get into the core gameplay of the fighter much faster. But in doing so, you'd have to go against an established and accustomed idea. In Rising Thunder, all core specials moves, along with the Overdrive moves, are executable with a single button and don't require directional inputs. Every character brings in three special moves, which are activated by three special buttons, and each move works on a cooldown.Initially, I was a bit taken aback. As directional inputs for special moves are pretty synonymous with the genre itself. However, this idea works much better in practice, and Rising Thunder makes great use of the mechanics. I was able to jump into the game pretty quickly, and with much of the initial awkwardness of having to get a feel of the character's inputs and moves correctly, I got over the awkward character introduction phase and started to think about how to utilize their moves within minutes of play. It sort of gave me some callbacks to MOBA titles that emphasizes setups and pick-up and play mechanics, but of course, it's still a deeply refined fighter at its core."Well, all the theorists on the internet will tell you you'll destroy fighting game, it wouldn't make sense anymore, it wouldn't be a fighting game, and if you would've asked me five years ago I probably would've agreed that it wouldn't work," said Killian. "But the way we decided to try it was to build it, and to test it. And not only did the game work, but I started to see things happen in a game ever in my twenty years of talking about fighting games. One guy went from total scrub, to started playing mind-games with me. Like for real. It opened a lot of interesting match-ups. [...] That's where fighting games to me really shine, it's where they can show off people's minds and the way they work in relation to one another."In addition to these tweaks and modifications to the classic fighting game formula, the developers also added in a number of interesting visual and gameplay changes to accommodate the focus on online gameplay. Certain character utilize moves that are telegraphed and use visuals that can used for strategies, For instance, the character "Crow" is able to drop a dome barrier that makes him invisible while inside of it. While the player using Crow is invisible (which is still somewhat visible on their screen), the opponent will not be able to see them during invisibility on their screen. This is to add a layer of unpredictability. With opposing players using their own screens, they'll be able to hide the more nuanced aspects of their moves from their enemies to surprise them.Radiant Entertainment is certainly confident in their new fighter, and given that they're allowing the FGC and newcomers full access to their game very soon (early alpha beginning on the 28th), they're looking forward to hearing their feedback. As with their other title Stonehearth, the community will have a major impact on the state and feel of the game. While Rising Thunder does a lot of things that may go against the more iconic aspects of the genre, there's a lot of thought that went into the intricacies of this fighter. As this title is still in fairly early stages, many features and visuals are not in place quite yet, but the developers are confident enough in releasing it as the true heart of the game is in place. They also plan to actively update the game, introducing new content, updates, and other additions to keep things interesting. "We love fighting games, we've loved them for a long time. We've seen a ton of games come and go, there's plenty of great fighting games out right now, but -- at least in our view -- they're not focusing on the real sources of the trouble [accessibility]," he said. "Don't charge people to try your game, don't ask them to spend six months practicing the game before they can actually start having a real game, and make the online good god dammit."If anything, Rising Thunder will prove to be a pretty interesting experiment. During my time with it, it was clear that a lot of love and passion went into the game, and the folks behind this title are putting a lot of trust into the FGC to be as honest and vocal about the game as possible. Which certainly won't be hard for them. In recent years, the fighting game genre has evolved significantly, and with more players mindful of the true core gameplay with every fighter, Rising Thunder aims to get players to the nitty-gritty of what fighters are all about right from the get-go. Rising Thunder [Alpha Sign-Up] 
Rising Thunder photo
PC, free-to-play, powered by GGPO3
If you were one of the many watching the EVO 2015 livestreams over the weekend, then you no doubt saw a trailer for Rising Thunder, a brand new fighting game featuring battling robots. While viewers didn't get much info about...

The Magic Circle photo
The Magic Circle

The Magic Circle launch trailer pokes fun at games industry egoism

'Trailers are just lies set to music'
Jul 09
// Alessandro Fillari
Back in January, I had the pleasure of checking out The Magic Circle, a charming and funny adventure title that poked fun at the chaotic, often insane challenges of game development. There's a launch trailer to set the mood ...
Fallout 4 photo
Fallout 4

Bethesda will show new Fallout 4 gameplay to QuakeCon 2015 attendees

A private showing for the fans only
Jul 09
// Alessandro Fillari
Since that massive wave of info about Fallout 4 back at E3, I've counting the days till its November release. I'm a big fan of the series, and seeing its debut on the current gen was incredibly satisfying. Unfortunately, Beth...

Into the Stars is an intense Space Opera, hits early access July 9

Jul 02 // Alessandro Fillari
Into the Stars (PC, [previewed], Linux, Mac)Developer: Fugitive GamesPublisher: Iceberg InteractiveRelease date: July 9, 2015 on PC (Early Access)Set in the far future where mankind has populated the outer reaches of the known universe, you take on the role of a captain for the last human ship carrying a most precious cargo. After a war with an alien race destroys the last colony of humans, you must lead the remaining survivors and your crew on an exodus through uncharted territory in order to find a new home in Titus Nova, located in the far end of the galaxy. Along the way, you'll recruit new crew members, trade with neutral alien factions, and wage an on-going struggle with the aliens that destroyed your home planet. With the fate of many lives in your hands, you'll have to make many tough decisions in order to secure the future of humanity, while also keeping your one and only ship in working order. The developers weren't shy about sharing their influences for Into the Stars. From Battlestar Galactica, to Firefly, Star Trek, and even Guardians of the Galaxy -- the folks at Fugitive Games wanted a space adventure that emulated the same wonder and awe from classic Space Operas, while injecting a tense and hectic atmosphere that gave players the sense that one wrong move could lead to disaster. Storytelling was an important area of focus for the devs, and while there aren't really any cutscenes or dramatic set-piece moments, the players will be able to create their own captain, crew, and ship parameters (with adjustable stats and areas of focus) from scratch -- giving them freedom in how they play and choose to forge their way across the galaxy.With an entire galaxy map to explore, you'll have to choose wisely where you want to guide your ship, as many different resources are consumed during travel, and dangerous foes might rear their ugly heads. Taking place on over 90 tiles shown on the galactic map, each space represents a sector of the galaxy that can be explored. Players can freely steer their ship within the tile and explore at their own pace. Each tile possess their own unique points of interests, planets, culture, resources, and other sources of intrigue. While some randomness comes into play, the developers wanted to give the entire universe a hand-crafted look and not rely on procedural generation to fill in the blanks. And the results are quite stunning. The visuals within Into the Stars are a feast to behold, and the work from the Unreal Engine 4 shows great promise. From soaring past gas-giants, derelict spacecrafts, to massive floating artifacts from alien cultures, there's much to explore within the galaxy, and it'll take more than one playthrough to witness all the visuals. Though be warned, spending too much time in a certain section of the galaxy will attract the attention of hostile forces that wish to wipe you out.Taking cues from titles like XCOM and FTL, the developers at Fugitive Games wanted to have a strong focus on crew and resource management while gathering resources and keeping ahead of danger. Your ship will need resources and a strong crew to keep flying, and in order to keep both on the up, you'll have to take risks and even make some sacrifices. When you come across planets and installations throughout your travels, you can send probes or Away Teams (a capable team of explorers) down to the point of interest to search for resources and valuables. Though bare in mind, these places can often be dangerous and result in some deaths or harm to your ship if things go south. During one instance, we sent our away team to a remote planet and found many valuable resources with no incidents. Unfortunately, our luck wasn't so great when we went to a derelict human spaceship. An accident occurred which resulted in the deaths of some crew. [embed]295154:59311:0[/embed]As a whole, Into the Stars is a game about taking risks. While some cases may call for the occasional space heroics, most of the time you'll have to play it safe. During planetary examinations, sometimes its better to send probes, which result in a mini-game where you mine materials. Though keep in mind, the lives of your crew and your cargo of human survivors are a valuable resource as well. While traveling in space, you'll come across merchants that may sell goods at the cost of valuable materials vital to the function of your ship. While giving away minerals may be easy, in some cases merchants may request some humans for the trade. It's a pretty grim prospect, and though it may be easy to turn down a request when its first presented to you, you might be in a tight spot and have to entertain the offer. By any means necessary, your ship has to make to Titus Nova, and you may have to make some decisions that could compromise your own captain's humanity.But what would any space opera be without epic ship battles? When you encounter foes that seek to raid your ship, or just want to wipe out what's left of humanity, you'll have to defend the vessel and command your crew in a battle of wits and instinct. Unlike other space-sims, battles take place in quasi-term based format within the confines of the ship. Within the bridge, you have a clear view of the attackers, and you'll have to simultaneously adjust shields, make repairs, and strike against the enemy when the time comes. Initially, I found the battles to be a bit confusing and somewhat dense. It's all in menus, and you have to keep track of different crew attributes and ship parameters to stay one step ahead of your enemies. When making repairs, your view switches over to the engine room as you monitor hull breaches and causalities, all while the enemies are still attacking. While the smaller foes can be easily defeated, facing groups of enemy ships and some of the more massive cruisers can result in somewhat lengthy battles.I was largely impressed with Into the Stars. While we're definitely seeing an influx of space-sims as of late, this title subscribes more to the technical school of thought, rather than the focus on action and explosions. While I admit I got a bit lost during some moments, and had to consult some tutorials, I found Into the Stars to be an incredibly ambitious game that seeks to install a simultaneous sense of dread and awe from players. Not many games can get me feeling nervous while traveling through a lush and colorful galaxy filled with rich cultures and places to explore. If you're looking for something a bit more introspective and technical for your spacefaring needs, then you'll definitely want to keep an eye on Into the Stars.Into the Stars - Early Access [Steam]
Into The Stars photo
Find a crew, find a job, keep flying
The Space Sim genre has been one of the most ambitious and sought after titles from developers and fans alike. Ever since the early days of gaming, there's been a desire to craft a title that allows for exploration across a s...

Pillars of Eternity photo
Pillars of Eternity

Pillars of Eternity: The White March is set to be one epic expansion

Part one launches this year
Jun 23
// Alessandro Fillari
As one of Obsidian Entertainment's most ambitious titles, Pillars of Eternity earned a lot of respect from fans of the genre. The developers found great success in returning to their roots, and they've got more in store for t...

Mother Russia Bleeds is a brutal throwback to classic brawlers

Jun 19 // Alessandro Fillari
Set in an alternate universe where the USSR has been crippled with crime and drug abuse, leaving society in an ever-present dystopian fugue-state, a group of street fighters take it upon themselves to fight back against the criminal element. Addicted to mysterious drugs in syringes that enhance their abilities, they'll have to use their skills to take down the Russian mafia, the powerful government, and a secret society of sexual deviants to exact revenge on those that have laid waste to the motherland. While the plot is pretty standard for a beat-'em-up, the story gets damn dark throughout. What's interesting is that you're not necessarily a good guy -- just a lesser shade of grey roaming the streets. The presentation does a great job of pulling you into this twisted world. Much like Hotline Miami, it uses dark and hypnotic lights to set the tone, and also manages to mess with your head. There were several points where I really tripped by the visual style. And I mean that as a good thing. The style is trance-like, and once it gets you, it doesn't let go. Much like the classic titles Mother Russia Bleeds pays homage too, its controls are largely easy to get into and remember. With a combination of heavy and light attacks, including grab and dash moves, you'll be able to take out the various enemies trying to rush you down. You'll also find weapons and gear in the field, such as bats, guns, and bar stools. Moreover, each character possesses their own moveset and stats. Out of the three characters available, I chose Boris, a seemingly homeless brawler with serious speed. With his moves, I made quick work of the mobs. Oddly enough, friendly fire was enabled by default, which made battles hectic but also irritating. Thankfully, you can turn it off (unless you're in need of an extra challenge). With that said, there are a number of cool additions to the traditional mechanics. The syringes that the fighters possess grant them buffs for periods of time. When used, the screen turns dark and the fighter on his high will gain super speed and increased strength. Also, they get access to a unique fatality, which instantly kills one enemy. They're brutal and satisfying to pull off, but you'll sacrifice the remainder of your buff period. Also, syringes are used to heal yourself and revive downed allies. Though if you're running on empty, you can sacrifice some of your own life to revive them. Playing Mother Russia Bleeds was a trippy experience. Though there were a number of odd quirks they'll have to iron out before released, I was very pleased with what I played. We also got a peek of some upcoming features outside of the story mode. Along with Boss Rush, challenge missions, Arena, and Versus play, the developers plan on giving the people the total package. I got the sense that this was made from folks that loved the genre, and with their aspirations to help revitalize the brawlers, I can say fans will find a lot to admire here.
Devolver Digital photo
Launches on PC, Mac, and PS4 in 2016
One of my favorite types of games from back in the day was the side-scrolling beat-'em-up. Though the sub-gene has sorta evolved into more standard and narrative-based action games, I still feel there's more to be done with t...

Crossing Souls is a stellar tribute to the 1980s

Jun 19 // Alessandro Fillari
Set in a small town during the summer of 1986, a group of friends stumble across an ancient artifact that allows them to connect with the world of the dead. Interacting with ghosts of former residents, both long-past and recently departed, they begin to learn that things are not what they appear to be in their boring, quiet town. But soon after, they discover that several forces want control of the relic for themselves, and they must evade police, the U.S. government, and other supernatural entities in order to keep it out of their hands. The developers behind Crossing Souls cite '80s films and TV, along with '90s video games like EarthBound and A Link to the Past as their major sources of inspiration. During my half hour with the game, it was clear that this was a love letter to the era. It not only exudes style channeling the playful rebelliousness of E.T. and The Goonies, but also the sense of adventure found in SNES action/adventure titles. Stylistically, it's a charming game featuring VHS-esque distortion during many of the animated cutscenes. And with music from Timecop1983, one of the Internet's more well known Snyth-Pop artists, Crossing Souls pulls those nostalgia strings hard, and it does so in an evocative way. As the group must keep the balance between the world of the living and the dead, they'll have to explore both realms simultaneously. Each of the five friends possess their own strengths, which necessitates switching between them. Some have certain skills for climbing and heavy lifting, while others have access to ranged attacks. While exploring the town, you can freely interact with the folks from both the living and dead realms. It's completely open, and you can uncover side-missions and events that will have you explore the furthest reaches of town. My favorite part of the demo was exploring the town square and seeing ghosts from the past comment about 1980s culture. It was interesting to see the changes between the two. In one world you could be relatively safe in a populated area, but in another you might get swarmed by vengeful ghosts looking to attack anything alive. Also featured in the game will be an Arcade mode. Throughout your adventures, you'll come across mini-games and special encounters that will have you take part in a trial of wits and timing, and after they're completed you can play them again at any time within this mode. During one segment, I had to evade the police on my bike in style very reminiscent of Battletoad's infamous speeder bike sequence. Thankfully, this one was a lot more fun and less stressful. I wonder what else the game has in store. The mini-games were a cool diversion from the core gameplay, and I'm sure most players will find one they'll gravitate to. I wish I could've spent more time with Crossing Souls. I'm a huge admirer of 1980s culture and entertainment, and it hit all the right nostalgic notes. This was totally the type of game any '80s and even '90s kid would want to experience, and it recalled all the cool moments I had playing video games or watching cartoons back then. Fourattic channels that sense of wonder and awe of experiencing something so fresh and charming. I can't wait to see more from this title in the coming months, and with its release next spring, you'll get to re-experience an era of exuberance soon.
Devolver Digital photo
Releasing on PC and Mac in spring
In recent years, Kickstarter has opened the doors for a lot of developers looking to make things happen. It's a real pleasure to see titles that would've never been greenlit by publishers find an audience willing to put up ca...

Frictional Games' SOMA brings true horror to PS4

Jun 19 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]292979:58725:0[/embed] In an underwater research station, you play as an engineer, Simon, who must uncover the mysteries behind the disappearances and deaths of the crew. After finding himself alone in an unknown part of the station, he discovers that things have taken a turn for the worse as machines begin inhabiting human characteristics. Some robots have even gone rogue after merging with the biology of the deep, and will hunt down anything they find. Using his own resourcefulness and whatever gadgets he can find, Simon will have to evade these horrors to reach safety. Following the school of design found in Amnesia: The Dark Descent, the player will not have any weapons at their disposal to take on whatever creatures they encounter. And gadgets and other support tools to help evade the creatures will only do just that. The name of the game is evasion, and hiding behind crates or other furniture scattered around is usually your best bet. Much like studio's previous title, this can make encounters incredibly nerve-wracking. Though my session only had one real encounter with one of the deep-sea abominations, I got pretty tense during it. That sure made solving the puzzle to escape more challenging. The environment is an interesting setting as well. The underwater research facility is dank and in disrepair, and with the horrors of the deep seeping into the facility, it feels like an industrialized take on the Lovecraftian aesthetic. While venturing through the halls of the station, you'll come across the bodies of workers that still possess clues and other secrets. As each member has in internal black-box installed, you can experience their last moments in audio-log form. It's a clever take on the mechanic, and it does a lot to flesh out the story as well. Though I only had a brief session with SOMA, I found the developers made something that felt like a more natural evolution of Amnesia -- a continuation of the same hide-and-seek-style horror that many fans loved. And in such a rich setting, surprises are in store. Without saying too much, there's a lot more going on with the character's journey and his surroundings than you might think.
SOMA preview photo
Releasing September 22 for PC and PS4
Even though it doesn't seem that long ago, it's been five years since a group of indie developers struck it big with the release of Amnesia: The Dark Descent. The game became a hit with players looking for...

Elite: Dangerous for Xbox One adds new multiplayer mode

Jun 18 // Alessandro Fillari
With its recent launch on Xbox One, Elite: Dangerous has seen immediate success on the console. Boasting over 500,000 active players, the community is very active and passionate about the game. The developers stated that though PC and Xbox One players can't play with one another, the economy and active-narrative within the universe is consistent with shared, which makes the universe feel more alive than ever before.During our presentation, we got to witness the upcoming multiplayer content, the Close Quarters Championship. Taking place in instanced arenas around the known universe, players will be able to take their best ship and compete with others in a variety of different modes ranging from Deathmatch, Team-Deathmatch, and a altered take on CTF called "Capture the Datasphere". As they level up and acquire currency, they'll be able to upgrade their multiplayer ship and build it up to be a top dog within the CQC. All upgrades made in CQC will only be available for multiplayer. The developers felt the mechanics and systems within the multiplayer were unique and required an extra boost, and that players can already acquire a massive amount of content within the open universe.Though the content is only set for Xbox One as of now, players on PC can expect to see it sometime later this year. The developers felt that the Xbox community was the best place to test out the new mode, given the existing player community that loves their MP content. Speaking of which, the Xbox One version of Elite has developed quite well. As it's in beta presently, the developers are still working on new features and tweaks to the port. One of the proudest accomplishments they had with the development of the console release was that they were able to place all the mechanics into the controller without watering down the gameplay. The controller utilizes context-sensitive prompts and hold-button options to bring up new options. It's pretty clever, given the scope of the original title.If you're interested in giving Elite: Dangerous a shot, and don't possess a beastly PC to do so, then the Xbox One release is your best shot. Currently on discount, this port retains all the best elements of the game, and might even make it a bit more accessible for those who may have been scared off by the scope of the PC title. And with new content coming to console first, there's plenty incentive to give it a go.
Elite: Dangerous photo
Launches in July, PC later this year
As one of the most well-known Kickstarter titles, Elite: Dangerous has really become a massive and seminal title within the PC community. With an entire universe to explore, built to scale according to the developers, they pr...

Total War: Warhammer changes the game of war

Jun 18 // Alessandro Fillari
Moving away from the historical settings of Rome and Attila, the Warhammer lore opens things up considerably for some intense and incredibly over the top action. Set in the high-fantasy universe, players will be able to choose one of four factions (Empire, Greenskins, Dwarves, and Vampyre) and build their nations, either through diplomacy, economics, or the raw might of their military forces. When things come to blows, each faction possesses its own unique style of combat and tactics that the opposing armies will have to deal with.The combat mechanics during battles have been greatly expanded. Units can utilize more moves and abilities from close range attacks to long-range tactics through magic or muskets. Along with the Hero characters, which can be leveled up and imbued with new skills to boost their units, players will be able to summon monsters and other creations to help their armies in a pinch. During one battle between the Empire and Greenskins, one of summoned a massive spider known as Arcanarok, which spawned mini-spiders that mowed down enemy units. I was very impressed with the sense of scale and the pace. I'm interested in seeing more of what the units can do once developed further.Rest assured, the nation-building gameplay from past titles is still present in Warhammer. But naturally, how each of the factions will go about expanding its civilization will vary. As each faction possesses its own unique culture, traditional diplomacy and negotiation may not be as effective as the swing of an ax, and some factions will be more focused on engagements than others. For the Empire, it'll have the traditional and more civilized routes for expansion with politics, trade, and economics as its biggest tools. But when it comes to showing off military might, the Empire will utilize its siege cannons and Demi-grifs to lay waste to invaders.For the Greenskins (Orcs), players will have to use brute force and cunning to expand their own empire. As Orcs don't really have much interest for diplomacy and the political aspects of nation-building, they choose the more direct approach to get what they want. While they possess the standard warrior and shaman classes, the latter who can utilize spells to summon giant constructs to stomp their foes, they also make use of kamikaze goblins that use leather wings to fly into enemy units. Launching catapults, they can be manually aimed while in flight for precision targeting.While the title is in pre-alpha, and the build we saw was hands-off, I was incredibly impressed with what I saw. The new visual aesthetic and a rich setting offers so much potential for what the Total War series can do within the fantasy genre. As you can spend countless hours with just one faction, building them up and taking down opposing forces, I'm very interested in seeing how much lore they can fit into this title. Though Creative Assembly was very hesitant to share any details about the Dwarf and Vampyre factions, it was very clear in stating that all of the factions will be very developed and possess their own unique cultures that will alter how they function on the world stage.It's still a ways off, but the folks at Creative Assembly are on track with developing something unique. Obviously, it's quite a departure for what the series has done before, but it's still very much a Total War title through and through.
Total War: Warhammer photo
Creative Assembly changes the scenery
The Total War series is known for its focus on intense real-time combat and simulation-based nation-building gameplay. As one of the more historical games, the series has garnered a lot of respect from fans and many critics a...

Hideaki Itsuno talks his return to DMC with Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition

Jun 18 // Alessandro Fillari
It's been more than seven years since the release of DMC4 back on PS3 and Xbox 360 back in 2008, and things have changed quite a bit. During that time, Itsuno choose to begin work on his passion project, an open-world Action-RPG title for consoles, which eventually became Dragon's Dogma. The sprawling role-playing game was one of Capcom's most intensive projects, and was largely met with acclaim. Though sometime after its release, the opportunity to return to the series presented itself, and Itsuno was keen on giving the series another go. "Once the original DMC4 production was over , I was ready to be done with DMC for awhile, and it was quite good timing," said director Hideaki Itsuno while recalling his work on Dragon's Dogma. "But by that time [after Dragon's Dogma], I felt that I wanted to work on another DMC game, and the topic of the Special Edition came up and it was really good, it came at a great time for me. Also it wasn't too difficult coming back to DMC mentally after awhile. I had actually been working on some mobile titles for awhile before this. It was good to be home with DMC, it was a year and a half project, and and I really enjoyed it all." As the second Special Edition release for the series, many fans have det their expectations high for the return to DMC4. Since its reveal, we've learned much about what the Special Edition will contain, and surprisingly they decided to go further with including the most playable character in a single title that the series has ever seen. While talking about the development of the game, Itsuno recalled what they wanted to focus on when making the Special Edition."Coming off DMC3: Special Edition, including Vergil was a no-brainer really, and it was also something that a lot of fans pretty much expected to happen when you announce another Special Edition," said Itsuno. "The next thing we looked at was bringing it up to speed [...] It's been seven years since the last game, and people may not be as familiar with it as they once were. So even just having tiny things like auto-save, helped bring up to console standards. Then we added Lady and Trish."Right from the beginning of the series, gamers have recognized that DMC is in a class of its own when it comes to combat. After Itsuno took over as director for the series, the combat expanded much further. With experience on titles such as Capcom vs SNK and the Street Fighter series, he used much of his work on honing combat and fighting mechanics and transitioned it over to DMC. With DMC4SE, the developers plan on injecting more of the fighting game mentality into the series with the inclusion of multiple playable characters, as each posses their own unique playstyles.  "You definitely could say I've brought my fighting game experience to bare," said Itsuno while talking about the new playable characters. "Particularly because we got some additional characters and gameplay experiences are quite different for each character, and the gameplay will change for each. It's quite a unique aspect to DMC, compared to other action games where we have this selection of characters, so you're really getting a different gameplay experience with each character. We looked at people's combo play videos for 4 and also 3 Special Edition for Vergil, and we used those as references. But ultimately, we wanted to make sure it was the game you love." During my time with DMC4SE's Vergil, it was clear that he adopted some tricks from DmC Vergil. Ninja Theory's work on the mechanics for Vergil offered some very inventive takes on classic moves and also included some new skills that very clever in their own right. Over the years, DmC: Devil May Cry has been a pretty divisive title among series fans. Many of whom don't tend to view it in the same light as the original series. The director of the series spoke about his work supervising the developers at Ninja Theory, and still holds the game and its developers in high-regard."It was a three year project working on DmC: Devil May Cry with Ninja Theory, and I was going back and forth to Cambridge working on it with them. And I got a lot of great memories, I'm still really great friends with those guys, whenever I see them I'm like 'give me a hug, bro', and even though it was a divisive game, and that was the reaction from fans, obviously -- I still feel it's a well respected game. I don't like thinking of it as this separate other thing from the rest of the other games. My work on that game definitely influenced DMC4SE.As with every upcoming E3, many fans like to hypothesize about what's going to be announced at E3. Just checking on twitter or NeoGAF, you could see massive threads detailing fan theories and speculation about some upcoming news relating to the developers and publishers attending. And though many were convinced that Capcom was going to drop the bomb and announce Devil May Cry 5 at this year's expo, they of course were mistaken. But rest assured, Capcom is totally aware of the enthusiasm for the series. Itsuno had this to say to fans about the current state of Devil May Cry.  "Of course, there was some people rumor and speculating whether or not there'd be a new announcement at E3. Sorry, but there wasn't one this year. But 4SE is something I really wanted the chance to get DMC in the hands of the next-generation console player. It's been that long since the original series, the hardware has changed, standards are different, and I know that people are waiting to play the game again." With the upcoming Special Edition almost upon us, it's going to be a special time for many fans who've longed for the return to the original series. I've spent quite a bit of time with it, and I feel that many long time fans will love what Itsuno and the developers have done to reinvigorate DMC4. The new characters add a whole new level of freshness to the game, and fans who've spend countless hours exploring the nuances of Dante and Nero will love what Vergil, Trish, and Lady bring to the table. Expect our full review from Chris next week.
Devil May Cry photo
This Special Edition goes all in
As you have probably noticed over the last few months, Destructoid has been loaded with articles about the Devil May Cry series and its upcoming titles. The folks at Capcom have been very open with sharing details about the s...

Shadow Warrior 2 goes even more over the top with co-op action

Jun 17 // Alessandro Fillari
Set after the events of the previous game, Lo Wang returns to battle armies of demons that have invaded our realm, and it's up to him and his new ninja warrior buddies to take them out. The plot is as ridiculous as the original, and probably more so with the addition of new characters and a much larger arsenal of weapons. The claws and throwing blades are extremely fast, and make quick work of the demons in incredibly gory fashion. One thing that was immediately clear was that the gameplay of Shadow Warrior has been considerably expanded. The corridor-shooter aspect of the original game has been ditched in favor of more open levels to explore. While not open world, there is much more room for exploration and traversal throughout the environments. Platforming and general movement has been enhanced to take advantage of the new lateral movement gameplay. Wang will no longer have to worry about managing his stamina, as his ninja abilities have given him enhanced strength and dexterity, allowing him to climb walls and run across rooftops with ease.  Moreover, the general structure of the game has been changed as well. With a new hub area, Wang and his allies will be able to acquire quests and upgrade their characters before venturing out into the missions. As the last game was largely a straight shot through a series of chapters, SW2 gives players more freedom in how they tackle objectives. This also allows players to revisit earlier missions much easier to re-engage past foes in order to build up Wang's strength. With the new character progression system, players will be flesh out the Shadow Warrior in very unique ways. Since the last game, the developers decided to seriously up the combat and character growth aspect with brand new RPG mechanics. As you battle enemies, you'll level up your weapons and acquire gems to augment your equipment, giving them elemental properties and buffs. While it's not Diablo-esque loot where you'll find near-infinite forms of the same weapons, the gems you find will give your gear some interesting buffs that will vary from character to character. Of course, you'll be revisting missions very often, and the devs decided to include new procedural content for the level design. Every mission (save for specific story events) will feature procedurally generated level design and content. Enemy positions, terrain, buildings, and weather conditions are all random, which will make repeat visits interesting. During one level, we came across a town with several buildings and mobs of foes to take down. The design itself was impressive, as it encouraged a large focus on vertical movement and flanking of the demons. Keep in mind that this was random, and it will feature an entirely different design. Furthermore, the level design will also take into account side-quests and other events that happen in real time, which will add more flavor. I only had a brief amount of time with Shadow Warrior 2, but I was plenty pleased with what saw. I sometimes get worried when action games go more RPG for their sequels, but the additions to the growth system and action only enhance the core sword/gun play. I was impressed with SW2. Lastly, co-op play looks to be a lot of fun, and though the new characters are mostly anonymous ninjas, each player in group will play as Wang in their own game, while the others appear as the newcomers. It's in a clever way of making sure everyone gets a bit of Wang. With release set for sometime next year across PC, PS4, and Xbox One, fans of the original will be getting more Shadow Warrior into their hands much sooner than they think.
Shadow Warrior 2 photo
Wang is back, baby
2013's Shadow Warrior reboot from Devolver Digital made a name for itself when it was released on PC. As most reboots of classic titles tend to go for a more gritty and toned-down vibe, the developers at Flying Wild Hog went ...

Hollowpoint photo

Hollowpoint gives co-op shooting a fresh perspective

Cover shooting from all angles
Jun 17
// Alessandro Fillari
Update: Cross-play for PS4 and PC will not be a feature for Hollowpoint.It feels like you can't go anywhere without seeing another co-op shooter set for release or being announced for the first time. Since the success of titl...

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