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The HTC Vive is an absolute VR game changer

Sep 28 // Laura Kate Dale
[embed]312714:60520:0[/embed] Over the past few months I've heard people evangelizing the leap in technology that the Vive represents. Stories of developers crying, journalists shaking, and the general public speechless. I went into my hands on demo with the Vive dubious. I came out a shaken, crying, speechless VR evangelist. So, where to start. I was brought by a couple of staff members into a large, square, empty room. A small computer sat tucked away in one corner. Otherwise, the roughly 12-square-foot room I was in was completely empty. Before trying out the headset, I was handed a pair of controllers and shown how they worked. The controllers featured a pair of clickable track pads on top, triggers underneath, and a weird angular antenna on top to facilitate 1:1 motion controls. Oddly, considering how closely I had been following the Vive, this was the first time I had actually seen the Vive's dedicated motion controllers. Once I had a handle on the controller layout, I was told to put on the headset. Much like the competition, it's a single set of elasticated and solid straps that's fitted by sliding it simply over the top of your head. The Vive was by far the most comfortable of the VR headsets I have worn to date, although it lacked the retail Oculus' built-in headphones. As a result I also had to find the pair of external headphones once the set was covering my eyes, ensuring they were on the correct ears so that sounds would emanate from the correct locations. This is a very real drawback to headsets without built-in headphones. Straight away, as soon as the demo selection screen was booted up, I could see that the Vive was going to be a step above the competition. The 1:1 motion tracking of the pair of controllers was superb, with no disconnect whatsoever between where my brain new my hands were, and where it could see them in game. Head tracking was unbelievably fast and responsive, and I had no issues at all with needing the headset centered. Everything was working flawlessly right off the bat. The first demo shown off had me stood on the deck of a sunken ship underwater. I could walk around the deck by walking around the room, with a checkered grid of blue lights appearing if I got too close to the physical edges of the room. I wandered around the ship touching fish, interacting with the ship using my hands, and eventually stood face to face with a whale, who followed me with his eyes as I walked around the deck.  I looked down off the edge of the ship into the dark chasm below, and I felt a pang of terror flood my system, quickly stepping back from the sense of height. This first Vive demo was the first time I have found myself truly immersed in a VR world, an experience best equated to a Star Trek Holodeck. I was walking around a world, interacting in a way that felt tangible. I felt a physical connection between my body's movements and the world I was exploring. I truly felt like I was exploring another world. This connection to the game world was in part due to the impressive tracking of my body in 3D space, but also in part just down to the technical specs of the device. The resolution was crisp, the field of view was wide with minimal visible edges, the audio was coming from the right locations relative to my position in the world, and everything was responsive enough to avoid pulling me from the world. This was everything VR immersion could hope to be. Over the course of the following thirty minutes, I explored a number of virtual worlds. I built machines out of physical parts, stretching them to fit my needs and slotting them into each other. I finely chopped vegetables and put them in a pan to make soup. I drew physical waves of glowing art into the air and explored them from differing angles. I was drawn into a virtual space that felt unbelievably real to me. I even explored an Aperture Science lab and caused untold havoc. Then, I had to remove the headset. It dawned on me I was in an empty room. It dawned on me I had spent the past half an hour wandering in circles around an empty room. It dawned on me those experiences, which had felt so real, were gone from the room that had been my escape from the busy, loud, stressful convention that once again surrounded me. I found myself shaken in a way VR had not previously left me. This was a game changer. With all this said, the experience I had with the Vive left me dubious if that same magic could be captured in a consumer setting. As stunning and immersive as the experience was, I could see the places where a home VR experience is likely not to stack up. The demos shown were all set in set-piece environments that were single square boxes, which limits the experiences available to the player. Most consumers don't have an empty room in their homes that's as large as this room was available to use as a dedicated VR room, which it currently feels like the Vive would need. The encouragement to walk around the room also meant I had to constantly be aware of the cable attached to the back of my own head and trailing behind me on the floor. These are all serious barriers to replicating the experience I had in a home setting. Still, I walked away from my time in the Vive headset sold that a Holodeck-esque VR future is attainable. The experience I had was the first time a video game has ever truly made me forget the physical world around me, immersing me entirely in a new set of worlds I felt unbelievably connected to. Compared to my demo experiences with the Oculus and PlayStation VR, my demo of the HTC Vive felt like something in an entirely different league. If only that were an experience I could bring home and replicate.
Valve VR photo
The demo left me shaking like mad
A few months back at E3, I was lucky enough to be able to get my hands on both the retail version of the Oculus Rift, as well as the PlayStation VR, back then known as the Morpheus. As a big fan of VR in theory, if dubious ab...

I used the Oculus Rift to high-five a dead alien in Surgeon Simulator

Sep 27 // Zack Furniss
The Oculus Connect 2 event felt very rushed, so I hurried to my demo appointment for some hands-on time with the Rift. A Hollywood-looking Oculus employee charmingly asked what type of genre I wanted to start with. "Horror," I quickly blurted out, anxiously wanting to experience some spooky VR. He looked taken aback, and quietly said "Well, we don't -- well, I guess aliens are scary..." and booted up Surgeon Simulator. It's not what I would have picked, but I went with it anyway. After fitting the headset onto my noggin and the Oculus Touch controllers onto my meathooks, I opened my eyes and found myself aboard a space station. There was an extraterrestrial splayed out on a table, its midsection an open maw hungry for my hands and tools. Beyond the corpse was a window peering out into the void of space. Glancing about the room, I took stock of what surgical instruments I would require. I needed to remove an explosive, glowing orb from the alien's stomach before it destroyed the station. As I used my real-life hands to direct their in-game counterparts towards my first tool, Hollywood began recommending I grab the bonesaw. I turned my head in his general direction (remember there was a whole reality between him and I) and told him "Quiet, nurse. I am the doctor now." I heard a combination of a grunt and a giggle and continued on my way. I grabbed a hatchet and began cutting into the alien. Again, he protested and I cut him off with a "Shhh..." I let go of the hatchet and realized I was in a zero-g environment. It casually drifted away from me as I turned to my next tool, a four-pointed device that looked like a shuriken. With all my might, I flung it into the alien's stomach(?) and watched as it began ricocheting off of the various surfaces in the room. Glass was now floating all around me, but I waved it away in annoyance. Next, I grabbed a clock and started smashing it into the alien just to see what would happen. All that happened was a mess that I told Nurse Hollywood to clean up when we were done. Time was beginning to run short, and I begrudgingly reached for the bonesaw. I hacked into the ribcage-looking protusion and used both hands to grab the orb, and chucked it out the garbage shoot. It drifted outside the window and exploded non-chalantly. To celebrate, I grabbed my alien friend's cold (I assume) dead hand with my left hand, and gave him a high five with the right. His hand drifted back slowly and without purpose, and Nurse Hollywood, sounding quite afraid, whispered "What just happened? Did you just..." And I nodded triumphantly. I took off the headset and handed it back to the wide-eyed man who wasn't sure what he had just watched. The combination of the Oculus Rift and Touch lent Surgeon Simulator more presence, and it helped me role-play (something I don't really do outside of D&D) even with a stranger staring at me the whole time. Something about shutting out the rest of the world makes you feel more involved, though it's tough to ignore outside factors. That's why Nurse Hollywood became one of my surgical instruments; if I was going to look ridiculous in front of him, he was going to be part of it, dammit. 
Surgeon Simulator photo
Up high! Down low! ...Alien?
Surgeon Simulator is the type of game that easily lends itself to stories. The precise mechanics involved provide anecdotes wherein each player can fondly recall specific moments of their playthrough. Though my time as a...

Bullet Train is the ultimate 10-minute light gun game

Sep 27 // Zack Furniss
My brief time with Bullet Train had me equipped with and Oculus Rift and Oculus Touch. The Touch had a pleasant heft to it that I wasn't expecting, and it didn't do that weird clicksquish thing that some controllers do when you squeeze them. A cheery Oculus representative gave me a brief tutorial as the demo began, but her instructions made it seem more complicated than it actually was. I began on a moving subway. An authoritative man spoke to me through the headset, telling me that as an agent, I needed to become acquainted with teleportation technology. Using a face button on the controller in my left hand, I could simultaneously slow down time and aim at a (Oculus) rift and quickly warp through space. After this, I was taught how to pick up weapons (by using a button near my ring and middle fingers with either hand), which felt natural in a way I hadn't anticipated. Since teleporting and dudeshooting are all I was going to be doing, I was ready. Fwiiiish. The subway doors slide open, the two pistols in my hands becoming deleterious paintbrushes capable of crossing out whoever I came across. I dilated time, various rifts opening for me, beckoning for me with large text decrying SHOTGUN or GRENADES, as if I was window shopping for more murderous methods. Like an inexperienced lover, I initially chose to deal death in the most simple yet effective ways I knew how. Point, shoot, teleport, repeat. Once I acclimated to not having traditional movement, I realized that without the use of my feet, it was up to my hands to bring satisfaction to this gunfight. Some of the best first-person shooters are about circle-strafing, jumping, positioning -- the spaces in between every trigger pull -- but Bullet Train doesn't occupy that same space. Here, it's about holding a pistol in one hand and a pump-action shotgun in the other, firing each, then slowing time to throw the pistol into the air, racking the action of said shotgun, catching the pistol, and resuming the bullet buffet. These moments are what make Bullet Train work. Racking a shotgun with one hand à la Terminator 2. Freezing time, pinching bullets, and flicking them at your enemies. Snatching rockets out of the air and flinging them back at the flying robot boss. Unloading pistols at two enemies and then dispatching a third by hurling your guns at him. It'd all make you feel incredibly cool if there wasn't someone holding a cable attached to your head. If I was at home, I'd probably be barking out horrible one-liners with a dumb grin on my face. What doesn't work is that the teleporting is disorienting, but not in the way one usually associates with the Oculus Rift. While everything felt incredibly intuitive (and I didn't get sick), teleporting doesn't make you face the direction you're pointing toward. The rifts are basically set up in a circle so that you can fight the steady trickle of men as they spawn in the center of the room. But something about teleporting across the room and abruptly turning around doesn't feel right. I don't think warping is the solution to fast-paced movement in all first-person games. It gives Bullet Train a Time Crisis feel, which isn't necessarily a negative, but would make it difficult to play something like this for longer than a few hours. I simultaneously hope this concept develops into something more refined, but also pray it isn't the template other studios follow. At Oculus Connect 2, I heard attendees complaining Bullet Train was getting too much attention when virtual reality has the potential to be a portal to so many different worlds. To me, first-person shooters were inevitably going to be a highlight for goggles that can take you to alternate dimensions. So long as we see these places through prisms other than down the barrel of a gun, I don't see the harm in highly-polished festivals of testosterone. P.S. Here's a bonus of picture, Rift-clad and full of sex appeal:
Bullet Train photo
Be a badass for 10 minutes
The other day at Oculus Connect 2, Epic Games announced its newest VR demo, Bullet Train. Instead of a simulation following legislators dealing with the political red tape surrounding the bullet train between Los Angeles to S...

Stories: The Path of Destinies is magnifique

Sep 07 // Kyle MacGregor
[embed]309565:60263:0[/embed] The narrative (or at least its delivery) draws on Supergiant's Bastion for inspiration, employing an omniscient narrator who recounts the game's events as if he were reading a child's storybook -- or in this case a dark, violent choose-your-own-adventure novel masquerading as something kid-friendly. Don't be fooled by the cutesy anthropomorphic characters, as within the first few minutes of playing I had the protagonist Reynardo (an airship pilot of a fox) kill his pal Lapino for some reason. Studio co-founder Simon Darveau told me it -- the evil route -- was a popular choice, and just one of many. In Stories, players will be forced to make a series of choices throughout the experience, which will have significant impacts on how the tale unfolds. To illustrate this, Spearhead brought a build to PAX Prime with no less than 32 possible endings. And these aren't minor departures, mind you, the decisions players make will determine who lives, dies, or even appears in the story at all. [embed]309565:60260:0[/embed] The forks players travel down will not only decide what takes place, but how the narrator will depict Reynardo. He can be a classic good guy, a selfish anti-hero, or somewhere in-between. Moreover, while playing the game, the narrator will react to what the player is doing. I recall breaking a bunch of pots and hearing him quip about something, only for Darveau to nudge me and remark that was one of several potential reactions (as there are apparently over 1,000 lines of voice over), and had I played more than once, I might not hear the same thing twice.  Something that was a tad more repetitive, though, was the combat, which I was told takes its cues from the Batman: Arkham series. However, unlike the Dark Knight, Reynardo goes to battle wielding a sword and makes no bones about carving up his foes or just kicking them into the abyss. [embed]309565:60262:0[/embed] I eventually unlocked an ability that enabled me to dash around arenas, hinting at the possibility of more than a one-note combat system. This allowed for guerrilla-style flank attacks, letting me pick apart enemy crowds, rather than charge up the middle to my death. On the one occasion I tried to brute force my way through battle, I was quickly overwhelmed by my adversaries. While I still have my concerns about the fights, thankfully, it's not all hacking and slashing. Between action sequences, the camera pulls back to an isometric viewpoint, giving players a commanding view of the lush, watercolored scenery (which is damn pretty, by the way). These segments have environmental puzzles, such as stealthing your way through a ruinous maze patrolled by sentry drones. Nothing I saw seemed too mentally taxing, but it provided some nice variation between the more action and narrative-heavy elements of the experience. [embed]309565:60266:0[/embed] Stories: The Path of Destinies impressed me on several fronts, and I'm typically wary of games that tout player choice and morality as key features. From what I've seen, Spearhead Games seems to be handing this in a more interesting, non-binary way, and backs it up with some killer aesthetics and solid combat. There's a lot of potential there, and I really hope the game can deliver on it. Keep an eye out for Stories when it launches exclusively on PlayStation 4 early next year.
Stories preview photo
You can go your own way
Anytime I attend a trade show or convention these days, I walk away smitten with a new game out of Québec. It's eerie, really. I don't go looking for them; they find me, as if there were some sort of gravitational pull...

Crazy racer has you drive multiple cars at once

Sep 06 // Kyle MacGregor
It's controlled chaos, though. Luckily, you need only take control of one vehicle at a time. However, in what might be one of the better "it's a feature" excuses yet, the computer in this game is as dumb as a post. AI-controlled cars (both yours and your opponents') are largely incompetent. This requires players to hop from one track to the next, either taking the lead or putting the computer in a position to do so before moving on to the next track. The challenge is more about management and strategy, rather than pure driving skill. And given there can be up to six tracks on any raceway, all of which sport differing speeds, steering your team to victory can be quite a handful. While Drive!Drive!Drive! is still somewhat early in development, it can be a  pretty rough ride. During my time in the driver's seat last week in Seattle, I discovered the title doesn't handle anywhere near as well as, well, any mainstream racers I've had the pleasure of playing in recent years. [embed]309532:60259:0[/embed] Midwood was the first to admit the experience could use some fine tuning, as sharp turns often resulted in messy pile-ups and ramps can send your vehicle flying onto another track with no means of returning to the correct one. But there's still time to fix mechanical issues and tighten up the controls, especially since the concept and aesthetics are already so attractive. The visuals are minimalist, but the pastel color palette and otherworldly track layouts more than make up for some technically unimpressive graphics. The trippy vibe is also enhanced by a trippy soundtrack, courtesy of synth artist Zombi, giving the game a distinctive look and feel. On top of that, there's a track creator, which should give the experience some legs, allowing players to build and share their own designs with the community, should one ever form around the game.  Drive!Drive!Drive! is targeting a 2016 launch on PlayStation 4, Vita, PC, and maybe more systems.
Drive!Drive!Drive! photo
On your marks, get set, go, go, go!
Game designers rarely go off-road when creating racing games and eschew lesser-traveled paths in favor of more established, familiar routes. Not Gordon Midwood, though; the one lone developer at indie studio Different Cloth i...

La-Mulana 2 will probably break me

Sep 05 // Zack Furniss
Since the interface and overall graphical style of La-Mulana 2 looks almost identical to the original, it's appreciated that the new character is distinctive enough that you'll know which game you're playing. Instead of inhabiting the Indiana Jones-alike Lemeza Kosugi, you'll be playing his (maybe) daughter Lumisa. Skill-wise, the only major change I noticed is Lumisa seems to have slightly more air control; instead of being locked into a forward jump, you can ease off a bit. Though I eventually acclimated to the strict leaping rules in the first game, I immediately felt more comfortable exploring the ruins in this demo. That comfort was obliterated in approximately one minute. While a jovial PR rep was telling me that puzzles aren't necessarily easier, so much as they have better signposting, I stumbled through trap after trap and wandered up to a boss. I was supposed to whack him in the face, but he kept charging through and knocking me down, killing me in a few quick blows. This happened about four times, until I gave up and went in a different direction. Another change is that there's a more noticeable sense of depth (at least in the stage that I played). La-Mulana 2 is built in 3D in the Unity engine, as seen above. Though this first area didn't play with this too much, I imagine the late-game ruins will use this newfound depth to their advantage. I'll be damned if clues to certain puzzles won't be hidden in the background. With such limited time and access to the demo, it's hard to get a sense of whether the signposting has actually been improved. The first game played a sound effect when you had advanced a step in a puzzle, but there was often no clear way to figure out what exactly had changed. The platforming and bosses still feel as tough as ever, but a series like La-Mulana really demands at least a few hours to see just how inextricable the labyrinthine ruins will end up being.  The PR rep ended our meeting by saying that when they polled players about difficulty, Japanese players overwhelmingly wanted the sequel to be easier and the Western players wanted it to be harder. They're trying to strike a middle ground here with tricky riddles that still require a sharp eye, and more forgiving platforming. We'll see how that turns out when it launches early next year.
La-Mulana 2 photo
And I look forward to it
I only recently finished La-Mulana, Nigoro's "archaeological ruin exploration action game." It tried its damnedest to make me quit at every turn; with its obtuse puzzles and tricky platforming, I don't feel it's hyperbole to ...

Banner Saga 2 is 'basically the same' as the first

Sep 01 // Kyle MacGregor
[embed]308796:60226:0[/embed] It might have been a refreshing moment of honesty, you know, if the statement were actually true.  While The Banner Saga 2 may not be a drastic revision that goes out of its way to reinvent the core experience, intimating it's a carbon copy that merely continues the story might be underselling it. In my limited time with the game, I witnessed a number of notable tweaks to the existing formula that figure to go a long way in addressing players' complaints about the original being somewhat of a repetitive slog. The sequel feels like a more dynamic, varied evolution on what's already been established, thanks to little touches like how battles arise and play out. The Banner Saga 2 reinforces one of its predecessors greatest strengths -- how consequences born from player choice ripple throughout the experience like stones cast into a pond -- by having them directly bleed into combat, starting out battles with scenes that stem from your decisions, rather than have them play out exactly the same way regardless of how a particular situation came to pass. Once a skirmish begins, you'll encounter new foes, such as four-legged creatures that can cloak themselves and ambush more fragile units (such as archers) that you figured were safe behind the front lines. New support units will also force you to make difficult decisions between targeting the enemy's bruisers or the guys making them even more imposing than they otherwise would be. Even outside of battle, players will have new options to manage their caravan. Clansman seem to be of more use this time around, as they can be recruited as fighters. However, much like everything in Stoic's universe, there are drawbacks to this; these new warriors will no longer focus on collecting supplies, making your caravan's precious resources dwindle at a faster clip. At a glance, it may not seem that too much has changed since The Banner Saga launched in early 2014, but upon closer inspection, the development team at Stoic appears to be making subtle, yet impactful changes to a blueprint that already worked in an effort to take its game to the next level.
Bad PR photo
Except not really
Game previews are an inherently strange part of this business. You wouldn't read a few pages from an unfinished book and render judgement about the final product. Likewise, we don't often have the opportunity to sample a song...

Superhot is more of a turn-based puzzle RTS than an FPS

Aug 19 // Laura Kate Dale
As someone who sucks at first-person shooters due to their twitch reaction nature, this focus on a slower, almost puzzle-based approach to combat really suited me. I got to feel like the potential to be a badass gun-wielding VR murderer was truly within me. One of the aspects of the game I had managed to stay completely oblivious to before playing Superhot was the narrative and plot presentation. Everything is presented to you as being part of a hacked video game that seems to be taking over people's minds and devouring some innate part of them. The creepy glitch aesthetic of the presentation, alongside the slow build of a maddening descent into complicity really gave a creepy weight to the gameplay systems at hand. I was in control of the gameplay, but I was certainly not in control of the plot. That juxtaposition was really interesting and something I had no idea Superhot was planning to throw at me. My biggest take away from finally getting my hands on Superhot was simply that it seems to be living up to the potential that it's early, eye-catching trailers promised. The gameplay system is polished, level design is tightly refined and the narrative presentation around that core is intriguing and uniquely presented. Superhot looked cool in trailers, and the chunk of time I've spent with it reassures me that this is going to be something special when it launches.
Superhot preview photo
Take it slow and steady
Superhot has been the talk of the town ever since it was first shown off to the world. A first person shooter where the action slows to a near stop unless you're currently moving, the game's visual style and odd momentum are ...

Rodea: The Sky Soldier might be a bumpy ride

Jun 25 // Kyle MacGregor
Rodea: The Sky Soldier was initially conceived as a Wii game, but it came too late in the day for a system nearing the end of its life cycle. It needed to be reworked as a Wii U and 3DS title. The thing is, the Wii is a special console, and Rodea was developed with its unique attributes in mind. Motion controls are a tad different than standard inputs, and the transition between the two seems to have left an indelible imprint on Rodea's design. Taking to the skies in this aerial action game doesn't come as second nature. With the press of a button, Rodea lifts into the air and hovers for a moment as you aim where you want him to go. He can't fly indefinitely, though, and will fall to his death unless you find another object for him to bounce off within an allotted time frame. It seems like the type of interface that would work seamlessly with the Wii's IR pointer, but on Wii U GamePad, I found myself flying off at odd angles, often coming frustratingly close to objectives that seemed just out of reach. Perhaps it's the sort of thing that comes with practice, but in a brief demo on the E3 show floor, I only got a glimpse at what sort of joys Rodea might have to offer.  Though it never felt intuitive, there were flashes when I managed to soar through the air with some semblance of precision. And in those fleeting moments I could really feel Yuji Naka's (Sonic Adventure, NiGHTS into Dreams) fingerprints all over the game, as I bounded from one floating isle to the next, collecting rings in this ethereal obstacle course. More than anything, my time with Rodea: The Sky Soldier made me oddly happy the Wii U version is coming tethered with a copy of the game on Wii. I'm not sure how much easier it will be to pilot on its original platform, but it feels like that's how it was intended to be experienced. Either that or flight isn't a skill easily mastered in a few mere minutes.
Rodea impressions  photo
Awkward aeronautics
My first flight with Rodea: The Sky Soldier wasn't a smooth one. But perhaps that's to be expected of a title that's seen such a turbulent development history. The project went dark shortly after its initial announcement in 2010, then underwent a change of platforms -- something that seems all too apparent after a few minutes with the final product.

Persona 4 goes full Miku in Dancing All Night

Jun 20 // Kyle MacGregor
This is all a set-up for a rhythm game, where the spotlight shines on Atlus composer Shoji Meguro's infectious tunes, including some new tracks to go along with remixes of old favorites.  Persona 4: Dancing All Night's gameplay is reminiscent of Sega's Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA series, which makes sense given the tiles were both created in part by the same studio, Dingo. Unlike the Project DIVA games, where the notes fly in from off-screen toward the center, Atlus is taking the opposite approach with Dancing All Night. Star-shaped objects appear and fly from the center of the middle of the screen toward six points on the outer edges of a ring, all of which correspond to parts of the D-pad and individual face buttons. As rhythm game veterans know very well, how you time your button presses as the notes fly into these zones will impact how well you score. There are various levels of difficulty to select between, so fans of the genre can challenge themselves while those just looking for a new Persona story can breeze through the stages with less resistance.  As you tap along with the beat, familiar faces like Kanji and Chie will groove out to the music on the Midnight Stage while Shadows look on the in audience. Eventually, the stages will culminate in a Persona summon, which I got a real kick out of. Seeing (the main protagonist) Yu's partner Izanagi jam out on a bass guitar put a big smile on my face. Atlus also showed us the game running on a PlayStation TV, which might be a tad more challenging than playing it in the palm of your hands on the Vita depending on how far away you sit from your screen. Since we were pretty close to the monitor during our demo, this required us to rely heavily on our peripheral vision, which added a layer of challenge. Whether it's an RPG, fighter, or rhythm game, more Persona is always a good thing in my book and seeing Persona 4: Dancing All Night in action this week at E3 has me no less excited about the game. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing more of it when it finally launches sometime this fall.
P4D preview photo
Just set it free and dance!
It's been months since the Investigation Team cracked the case and life is getting back to normal. That is, until members of Rise Kujikawa's J-pop group suddenly go missing. And, surprise, surprise: The rescue mission brings ...

Mobile Tomb Raider Lara Croft GO feels lovely

Jun 18 // Kyle MacGregor
[embed]294301:59143:0[/embed] At first glance, Lara Croft GO bears a strikingly close resemblance to Square Enix Montréal's first effort. It echoes the quiet, clean aesthetic of Hitman GO, while featuring similar turn-based puzzle design, but pushes the concepts further. Fresh elements like verticality quite literally add new dimensions to the experience, and go a long way to making this feel like a legitimate Tomb Raider. The characters are no longer static figurines, as the designers felt it wouldn't be natural for Lara, a character known for her athleticism, to be portrayed in such a rigid fashion. So while our heroine is still navigating an on-rails obstacle course, she's fully animated, looking very much at home as she climbs and scrambles around ancient, subterranean ruins. Perspective is also used to great effect, with the isometric camera allowing the developers to add little flourishes like a silhouetted beetle crawling along a tree branch in the foreground, or see a bridge appear in the distance when Lara toggles a switch. Square Enix Montréal is also keen on avoiding unnecessary hand-holding. The title's 40 levels (which are quite a bit larger than those found in Hitman GO) are based around trial and error. With each stage now divided into segments with checkpoints, new mechanics can be introduced and then used in rather sophisticated ways in short order without a loss of progress.  One example of this is terrain that will fall away when walked over or climbed across twice. Shortly after being introduced to this by falling to my death, I was using it to evade an enemy. Knowing a certain surface would crumble away, I used it to lay a trap for the giant lizard nipping at my heels.  Not all of the obstacles I saw were quite that compelling, though. While it was a rush to see an Indiana Jones-style boulder trap, the turn-based nature of the game makes this sort of scene less compelling than if were to play out in real time. Still, what I've witnessed thus far has me eager to see what else awaits in the full game. Lara Croft GO is coming to iOS and Android devices sometime later this year.
Lara Croft GO photo
Small in scale, but no less impressive
Square Enix Montréal possesses a genuine talent for artfully distilling series down to their essence. In 2014, the developer released Hitman GO, a turn-based deconstruction of IO Interactive's stealth franchise, w...

Beyond Eyes photo
Beyond Eyes

Hands-on with Beyond Eyes

Explore sounds, smells, touch and tastes
Jun 16
// Laura Kate Dale
A few months ago, our very own Darren Nakamura went hands on with a game called Beyond Eyes, where you play as a young blind girl, exploring the world in the hopes of finding her lost cat. I was lucky enough today to be able ...
Call of Duty photo
Call of Duty

I sucked at Call of Duty: Black Ops III's multiplayer

But I still had fun!
Jun 16
// Zack Furniss
It's easy to be cynical about a new Call of Duty release. Between the series' annualization and aggressive marketing, the urge to fire with phasers set to snark is strong. But every year I end up thoroughly enjoying an a...
CoD photo

Hands on with Call of Duty: Black Ops III multiplayer

Complexity and simplicity collide
Apr 26
// Robert Summa
During my recent visit with Treyarch, I was lucky enough to get my hands on the multiplayer for Call of Duty: Black Ops III. After sitting through a presentation that seemed dizzying at times with the amount of changes and la...

Far Cry 4 features a more dynamic and vibrant open world

Oct 14 // Alessandro Fillari
Far Cry 4 (PS3, PS4 [Previewed], Xbox 360, Xbox One, & PC)Developer: Ubisoft MontrealPublisher: UbisoftRelease Date: November 18, 2014After the release of Far Cry 3, the developers at Ubisoft Montreal took a lot of criticisms and affirmations to their open-world shooter to heart. They received some flak from those who found Jason Brody and his exploits on the Rook Islands to be a bit of an annoyance. By setting the next installment in a war-torn country and giving all the central characters a deep and emotional connection with it, the developers hope that the narrative will resonate with players, and give them a greater sense of the tension and suffering in the land of Kyrat. Though to be frank, the opportunity to include rideable elephants was also a driving factor for this setting. Speaking with game director Patrik Méthé, he spoke at length about the origins of Far Cry 4, and what players can expect."After we shipped FC3, we had a discussion about what IS Far Cry. With the past games, we saw that we blended open world with shooting mechanics, while having lots of animals to interact with. After some talking, I said that I wanted to be able to ride an elephant," said the game director proudly. "At first, the programmers thought it would difficult, but once we agreed upon it we started looking at possible locations for the game. That's when the Nepal region came in, and with it came the sense of verticality [in terms of terrain and landscape], along with a rich culture and varying types of weather and environments. It was a challenge, but we wanted to turn that into an advantage."Set in the fictional Asian country of Kyrat, players take on the role of Ajay Ghale, who returns to his homeland after many years living in North America. Seeking to fulfill his mother's last wish to have her ashes scattered in her home country, Ajay is soon caught up in a conflict with Pagan Min, a charismatic and sadistic warlord who has named himself Kyrat's ruler. As the country is tearing itself apart from civil war, we learn that Ajay and his deceased father had deep ties to the country and its people. Ghale soon joins the Golden Path rebellion to fight for the freedom of Kyrat. But in order to take down Pagan Min and his personal army, he'll have to reconnect with his roots -- and of course, learn the ways of a warrior.At first, it all sounds very familiar. I was watching the cutscenes during my session and engaging in missions, and I felt an odd sense of déjà vu. Of course, the plot and gameplay structure for Far Cry 4 take many influences from its predecessor, particularly the fish out of water trope and along with the now standard Ubisoft Open-World Formula. While this may disappoint those expecting a complete reinvention, I can say that FC4's approach to storytelling and the country of Kyrat makes things felt incredibly fresh. In the few hours I spent with the game, I felt more of a connection with Ajay's struggle with the fate of the country than most of what I experienced with FC3 (which I still enjoyed).In another lesson learned from Far Cry 3, the developers wanted to ensure that exploring Kyrat would be different from what players experienced on the Rook Islands in Far Cry 3. Visually, the terrain and locales are much more varied, featuring snow, tundra, jungle, and urban locales, and as a result the color palette is much larger. The lush green jungles are accompanied by snow-capped mountains and ancient catacombs decorated with clay statues and ceremonial decor. In regards to gameplay, the mission structure in Far Cry 4 was expanded and reworked. In FC3, the missions themselves were fairly static and finite in nature. If you played long enough, the content would basically dry up, leaving players with only minor mini-games and small skirmishes to entertain themselves with."When we saw that the majority of players spent so much time in the single player, one of the first things we did was to put much more emphasis on the open-world," said Méthé. "So that's why we came up with multiple types of quests, new types of encounters, new collectibles -- everything is much more embedded in the fantasy of the world, to make sure that as a player, spending fifty, sixty, seventy percent of their time in the open world, that they always have new stuff and new surprises along the way."During certain story missions, players will have to choose to side with some characters over others, which can cause a rift in your relationships with them. In one mission, I had to choose between helping two of the rebel leaders, Sabal and Amita. Sabal wanted me to break into an enemy camp to save hostages, while Amita wanted me to acquire intelligence instead. Opting to go for the intel, the following mission had me sneak into an enemy location, use my hunting bow and knife skills for silent kills, and acquire the intel. Upon completion, my next mission for Sabal had him reacting to me unfavorably, asking if what I did was worth it. It certainly made me cautious about how we would proceed from here. Choices during the main story matter, and with several different endings, the main campaign looks to be far more developed than in previous FC games.To oust Pagan Min from power, Ghale will have to take down outposts and cripple the resources for the enemy army. Ultimately, Ghale has to increase the rebels' power to have a fighting chance against Min's strongholds in Northern Kyrat. Of course, how to do this is up to each player. The choices include completing story missions for the Golden Path, side-missions for the civilians of Kyrat, hunting missions, the optional and trippy Shangri-La side-story that goes on a journey to a world of myth and legend, or the brand new Karma Missions. Karma Missions are dynamic and randomly generated micro-objectives that occur while in the open world. At some point, players will find allies in danger fighting the enemy, being led to an execution, or requiring general support. Such missions yield Karma Points (KP), which levels Ajay's overall Karma level. Upon leveling your Karma, you can upgrade members of the Golden Path with better armor and weapons and get discounts for the Trading Posts. Of course, you can ignore these objectives and leave the GP members to their fates, but doing so would miss out on Karma growth.Much the like the one in FC3, completing missions and other objectives yield experience points and currency, which can be used to level up a character and purchase gear respectively. The arsenal Ajay can acquire is vast, ranging from pistols, machine guns, shotguns, sniper-rifles, cross bows, flamethrowers, and more. There's even a weapon that's a wonderful nod to last year's Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon -- but I won't spoil that. Upon leveling up, Ajay can use attained skill points to purchase new abilities, perks, and other augments -- now in a much more streamlined two-school skill menu. Skills are sorted in two schools; Tiger skills focus on offensive abilities, while the Elephant skills focus on support perks. I appreciate this attempt to streamline, as the last skill menu felt needlessly spread out and had skills that should have been standard for players.The dynamic nature of the missions, including weekly updates for the hunting challenges, and constant threats from enemy soldiers looking to retake territory, are designed to ensure that players will stay active even after the main story is finished. Moreover, this makes the world feel alive and reactive to the choices made. With the wildlife constantly on the move looking for new prey -- by the way,  honey badgers are indeed vicious little bastards -- walking tradesmen looking for your business, and enemies waiting for the right time to strike and take back territory, the land of Kyrat feels organic and lived-in.Back at E3 2014, we got a chance to see the newly designed co-op play for Far Cry 4. Opting to go in a different direction, the developers chose to implement the co-op mode directly into the open world setting of the main story. Those who enjoyed the stand-alone co-op mode with its own side-story from Far Cry 3 will likely be disappointed, but I had a lot more fun than I expected exploring the the open world with a buddy. And going by what the game director says, that's exactly what they were going for."Very early when we had the discussions about what we want to do next, the first thing was that we wanted to put more emphasis on the open world," said Méthé. "It took only seconds, but we saw that most players just wanted to play with a friend in the open world. What would it feel to take part in quests, to attack outposts with a friend  -- so that's why we wanted to explore that."At any time, players can activate the Guns for Hire option, which springs up the option to initiate online co-op or call in NPC allies to help. The Guns for Hire option is not dedicated to just co-op, players offline can still utilize this feature and receive help from friendly AI squad mates. But with the co-op, things can get pretty hectic. Once connected, the main story missions are disabled, leaving players to focus on any other objective they wish. The player joining takes on the role of Hurk, a returning character from Far Cry 3 who somehow made his way to Kyrat. During my session, my partner and I engaged in a hostage rescue mission that required stealth and quick thinking. I stayed behind for sniper support, while the other guy snuck in and made quick work of the enemy with a blade. Or perhaps, players can just drive around and cause chaos, which is exactly what Max Scoville, Bill Zoeker, and I did during our play sessions. We pulled off drive-bys against Pagan Min's forces in our beat-up compact vehicle. We rode around in the Buzzer, a gyrocopter that was fun to fly, but got us into more hairy spots than we could manage. Flying too far up into the sky will cause the vehicle to malfunction, and unfortunately, we didn't have a parachute or wingsuit to save us.Speaking of heights, one aspect of Kyrat that is apparent is the increased focus on vertical gameplay. Throughout the landscape are grapple points that can be used to climb steep surfaces and get the high ground. With the surprise appearance of the wingsuit in Far Cry 3, players began to experiment with ways to explore and engage the enemy. And because of its popularity, the developers plan to give players access to it much earlier in Far Cry 4. Unfortunately, the enemies can also take advantage of vertical terrain to their advantage. "Right from the get-go, we wanted to make sure the NPCs are able to navigate the vertical environment, " said Méthé. "In FC3, you could climb a ladder or climb a ledge and you were out of their territory. But in this game, they can use the same traversal tactics as you."Not all was great during my journey through Kyrat. I had some issues with the technology powering the game. While this title was running at a mostly solid 30FPS at 1080p, I found that there were some points where the game would become extremely sluggish, which resulted in performance dropping and serious texture pop-in issues. While the developers stressed that the build we were playing was from four weeks prior to this event, I still found a lot to feel a bit worried about.I also had misfortune of encountering many bugs and glitches during my travels. In some cases, I had to restart missions, as NPC characters I had to meet with were completely absent from the game world. During a mission with Sabal, I followed the waypoint into an ancient temple of worship, with many followers and visitors nearby. Unfortunately, I couldn't find where to go as the marker pointed to an empty space in the temple. I ran around temples and the jungles outside looking to see if I missed something, only for an attendant to tell me that I encountered a bug. On one hand, I felt a little disappointed that FC4 largely uses the same formula as its predecessor; on the other, I recognize that it's a much more refined and developed game. Far Cry 4 does a better job with utilizing space, as the world size is roughly the same as FC3, but is much more dense with content. I was constantly coming across missions, side-challenges, and skirmishes -- and it made me want to just drop everything and see what trouble I could get into. Though we're still in the dark about the game's competitive multiplayer mode, I feel that Far Cry 4 already has a lot to offer players come release next month. Though I still do have concerns about the technical issues, and since it's almost down to the wire with only a month get them ironed out, I'm ready to expect some quirks on launch day. With that said, I came away pretty jazzed with what I played, and with a musical score from Cliff Martinez (Drive, Only God Forgives, and The Knick) -- I'm looking forward to seeing what chaos I can cause come release.
Far Cry 4 photo
Beware the Honey Badger
Back in 2012, Far Cry 3 turned out to be a surprise hit for Ubisoft. It became the bestselling title of the series, appearing on many game of the year lists, and also created a rather excellent spin-off title. But with the an...

Four things I loved about playing Assassin's Creed: Rogue

Oct 13 // Alessandro Fillari
Assassin's Creed: Rogue (PS3, Xbox 360[Previewed], PC)Developer: Ubisoft SofiaPublisher: UbisoftRelease Date: November 11, 2014 (PC Early 2015) Set after the events of Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag and taking place before Ratonhnhaké:ton's story in Assassin's Creed III, players take on the role of Shay Cormac, a newly trained assassin in North America. While slowly becoming disillusioned by their ways, he is eventually betrayed and left for dead after a mission goes south. He manages to escape and retreats back to New York, but vows vengeance against the Order of Assassins. He later meets Haytham Kenway of the Templar order, and joins their fight against the Assassins -- using their own skills and training against them. "We wanted to tell the story that was left unfinished with the Kenway saga, and what happened in North America," said producer Karl Luhe. "There's a big piece of the story, a corner piece of that trilogy that hasn't been told yet." While the timeline of events can get a bit confusing here, Rogue serves to bridge the gap between Black Flag and ACIII, showing why the Brotherhood of Assassins was in such disarray during Ratonhnhaké:ton's journey, but also has ties to the events of AC: Unity. So fans who have the opportunity to play through both Rogue and Unity will no doubt get more enjoyment out of the story. 1. Steppin' to the bad side While the Order of Assassins is often seen as a force for good, or rather a lesser shade of gray, the events of Rogue aims to show a different side to the conflict. If Black Flag fulfilled the pirate fantasy, then Rogue seeks to put players in the shoes of a cunning operative working for a shadowy organization. As the first full Templar experience in the AC series, it's your duty to undermine and weaken the Assassins' influence on civilization. This might be a shock to the system for many, as you'll no doubt come into conflict with those you've helped from other games. But this change of perspective also gives players a different way to play. "We really wanted to tell a story of what it's like to be a Templar, and we felt it was important to have it from a perspective of someone who really believed they're doing the right thing," said Luhe. "He honestly believes what he is doing is right for human kind, and he's horrified by what he sees some of the assassins are doing early on in the game, and hence he ends up hunting them down." While playing the early missions, it was certainly a bit jarring to see how things are different from the other side. But I quickly realized that the Assassins are nasty foes indeed. While exploring the open city of New York, I had to bust up some territory controlled by the Assassins. While exploring for ways break into their base, I found that several new types of enemies, one of which called Stalkers, would scout around and try to locate me. While Shay's eagle vision made finding them a bit easier, they still managed to get the jump on me in some cases by using the same stealth tactics, such as hiding by benches, using crowds, and haystacks. Sound familiar? Well get used to feeling a bit uneasy around such spots, as the Assassins are quite adapt at using them. But then again, so are you. 2. New York and the great pond In keeping with its predecessor, Assassin's Creed: Rogue aims to maintain the dual open-world design for the high seas and the urban environments. Set across the Eastern coast of North America and the North Atlantic, you'll quickly find that you have a much larger space to play in than previous games. Judging from what I saw, this is likely the largest AC game that Ubisoft has released yet. "With every new Assassin's Creed game, we want to be true to that fantasy, and this time you're a Templar," said the producer. "We wanted to try a new setting and we went up north around Canada, with icy terrain, and this gives us new experiences with gameplay and the ambiance. Also, this is set during the Seven Year War, so there's this big war raging between the French and the British, and we really play upon that." In New York, Shay must capture and amass the cities resources to benefit the Templar Order. This can be done by winning over the hearts of New Yorkers by renovating city institutions, and of course weakening the Assassins' hold over the environment, which in turn frees up economic resources. While New York is the only major city that players can expect to explore, the addition of two fully open-water areas, the North Atlantic and the River Valley, gives players a large variety of places to explore. Much like Black Flag, you can explore the oceans, capture territory, raid forts, hunt animals, engage in naval warfare, and use the spoils to strengthen Shay's resources and the Templar Order's hold in the Atlantic. 3. This wonderful bag of tricks One of the benefits of being the bad guy getting to play with all the cool toys. As a Templar, Shay has access to a vast number of resources that greatly dwarf what the Assassins of the 1700s possess. Because of this, you'll be utilizing weapons, ships, and other gear that will allow the Templar to explore and control areas of the world that the Assassins could not. Early in his Templar career, Shay meets Benjamin Franklin, who gives him access to experimental equipment and gear. One of which is a modified pellet gun that fires various sleeping, poison, and tracking darts, in addition to doubling as a grenade launcher. In one mission, I had to enter a gas factory and use both sleep grenades to knock out clusters of guards, while using the shrapnel grenades to destroy dangerous chemicals would be used against the populace. Using these tools in conjunction with his Assassin training makes Shay a serious predator, and also inspires you to try and experiment. Shay's handlers from the Templar Order have also bestowed him a powerful vessel to conquer the seas. Called the Morrigan, this beauty is outfitted with special cannons that fire rapid rounds at enemies, weaponized oil to burn the ships that try to follow, and a powerful Ice Ram that can punch through sheets of ice scattered around the ocean and punch holes into ships. 4. Dangerous Waters Avast! Ye Matey. Your adventures on the oceans along with a hearty crew did not end with Black Flag. Though the upcoming Unity has removed the naval exploration entirely, Rogue aims to fill the void by expanding upon the high-seas gameplay that began in ACIII. The Templar Order will have to sail through dangerous waters and battle countless ships to take control of the new world. Much like Black Flag, players must explore the waters to claim territory from the enemy, all the while expanding your own resources by capturing or salvaging ships, finding loot, and exploring the small areas of land. However, with the new locations around the Atlantic, players will have their work cut out for them as the environments are much more dangerous than before. In the River Valley, players will have to navigate their ship through tight canals in mountainous areas. In the North Atlantic zone, the low temperature has caused ice and blizzards to form. If your ship is unprepared, expect to face serious danger when traveling into waters that require special upgrades. Though the environment can be an equally strong foe, it can also become your greatest ally on the high seas. In some areas of the ocean, particularly the icy waters of the North Atlantic, you can use the iceberg and heavy ice to your advantage. If your ship is being pecked at by schooners or gunboats, you can destroy the icebergs nearby to create heavy waves to sink or damage enemy ships.Well, now that I've shared my thoughts on what I dug about it, now I gotta switch gears and discussed what rubbed me the wrong way. I know, this seems like an expected complaint, and you've likely already noticed in the pictures, but the game looks incredibly dated. Granted, I was playing on Xbox 360 and not a PC build, but I still got the impression that it was held back by the old consoles. I found it to run rather sluggishly. There were long load times, and the visuals and performance came to a crawl at some points. Failing a mission became a point of frustration, as I'd have to wait for an extended period to start playing again. Perhaps this is because I've already become used to playing on the new hardware, but the visuals in Rogue are aged. Which is a shame, as there are a number of beautiful environments and great art directions throughout. I really enjoyed going through the environments and taking at a look at the locales, but then I saw that there were points with graphical artifacts and texture pop-in would come in. It's a bit jarring how rough the game looks, and it took me out of the moment at some points. But in any event, I still found my time with the game to be quite enjoyable. Of course, this isn't a major step forward for the series. By all intents and purposes, it's Black Flag with much more content and a new storyline. And that sounds great to me. With over 30 hours worth of content in this title, which will no doubt be plentiful, I can definitely see myself returning to the high seas to hunt for more assassins once the game is released next month.
Assassin's Creed photo
And some things I didn't like
It's been four years since Assassin's Creed became an annual fixture. Every year, like clockwork, Ubisoft releases a brand new, fully developed title in the AC series. But things have changed slightly this year. In a surprisi...

You already know you want it but here's a Persona Q preview anyway

Sep 09 // Dale North
Persona Q is adorable. That was my first impression, and that's really the one that sticks the most. Seeing your favorite cast members from Persona 3 and Persona 4 with big heads and little bodies is a delight, but seeing them move and hearing them talk takes it over the top. Watching Rise's eyes bug out or hearing Chie rant about meat products won me over before I ever entered my first dungeon. Teddie is still horny, but now cute. And Nanako? You're not ready. It's fan service by the boatload. They pulled out all the stops -- the music, voicing, art, menus, and more are all dialed up to thrill. There's no way a fan of either Persona 3 or Persona 4 should miss this. There's plenty of new gameplay to go with the fan service. I only played for about an hour but I could already tell that Persona Q is going to be a meaty, satisfying dungeon crawler. Jumping into a brand new game session, I saw that Persona Q has five difficulty levels. All but the very last one, called Risky, lets you bounce around between levels. For Risky, you're locked in for good. But even on Normal, don't expect a walk in the park; Persona Q pulled more from its Etrian Odyssey roots when it comes to difficulty. [embed]280940:55590:0[/embed] There are a bunch of new sub-systems for this spin-off, pulling from both franchises. New from the Persona side of things are sub-Personas, a secondary choice that acts as a status buff. Equipping a sub instantly adds hit and skill points to a character, to be used in battle. These bonus extra HP and SP gains recover for each battle, too. Etrian Odyssey roots show in a trio of specific attack types. Characters will have either cut, stab, or bash attack types that have to be factored into the attack plans as the rock/paper/scissors rules come into play with these. I didn't see this play out early on, but knowing Atlus we'll end up in battles where you'll have to be sure to be set up just right to win. I did some dungeon crawling right off, making my way down corridors that would have any Etrian Odyssey fan feeling right at home, and then jumping into battles that would have any Persona fan feeling right at home. And it all looks great: the corridors look better than even the latest Etrian Odyssey game, with sharper textures and more detail. The character models in battles are PS2-level, holding up to the latest Persona.  For dungeon crawling, there's auto-mapping to help you make your way through the maze, and a new Boost system to help you through the fights. Boost isn't quite Press-Turn, though it still does have you working to exploit enemy weaknesses for a battle advantage. Getting in the right kind of hit will eventually earn you this Boost, which has the attacking character's skills zeroed out for the next turn. Free skill attacks are always welcome! Continued exploits let you continue to Boost, though getting hit will knock you out of Boost status.  All of the dungeons of Persona Q have their own theme. The earliest is Alice themed, and has the gang visiting a messed up version of Wonderland. I don't want to spoil too much, but the last battle of the stage has you fighting exactly who you think you would. My fight had my team going up against this boss' minions, barely making it out alive. Right when the big boss moves in to take over from the minions, the other half of the cast appeared to save the day. Get ready for a really great entrance scene. Oh, baby. Even in the short time I played I could tell that there's way more under the hood to be discovered. New skills, spells, team attacks, and more teased from the menus. And that's not even touching the loot and what you can do with it. I only got the smallest taste. I'd also like to avoid spoiling the story, so we'll go light on those details. It's safe to say that you'll start out by picking which cast you'd like to start with (I started with the P4 crew). Each has their own story start, but the two casts come together in the first hour of play, with a Yasogami High school festival serving as the backdrop for this event. The P4 group finds that school feels weird on festival day; the P3 gang finds themselves at a strange school suddenly. You'll see. It's not long before your party ends up in a mysterious place that leads to a freaky dungeon, and things really get going from there. I don't have much to say about the new kids on the block, Rei and Zen, either. That's mostly because I glossed over their bits in my playtime as I want to enjoy my first real play through, and I don't want to spoil the story for you. I got to see the first hints of their story, which involves lost memories. Their missing memories seem to be tied to the manifestation of the dungeon, and beating the boss of the dungeon reveals a clue to their pasts. So far, all I can really say is that Rei is super cute. And you'll recognize her voice. Though Atlus wouldn't exactly confirm the voice actor's identity, it seems we were on the right track earlier.  Persona Q is a bit different, but you're going to like it. You knew that already, though. Etrian Odyssey loving people are going to like it -- that's a no-brainer. Persona fans will too, especially if they're into the casts of the last two games. This new spin-off might be missing some of the Social Link hooks, but it's got new gameplay, a huge cast, and tons of personality to make up for that.
Persona Q preview photo
First hands-on in English
It was almost surreal to be playing Persona Q in English for the first time this past week. It came out of nowhere late last year, a fantasy game mixing Persona 3 and Persona 4 characters in a new 3DS game that uses Etri...

Killer Instinct photo
Killer Instinct

Killer Instinct is combo-tastic... and it's free-to-play

So much for my buzz
Jun 11
// Tony Ponce
This is damn ridiculous. When does it all end, Microsoft? When does it all end? I've just returned from a special Microsoft event where select members of the press could sample Xbox One titles before the E3 show floor opens. ...

PAX: Transistor is a worthy follow-up to Bastion

Mar 22 // Alasdair Duncan
Transistor stars Red, a popular singer who is being targeted by a group of assassins for unknown reasons. At the start of the demo, she nervously walks over to a large blue sword protruding from a dead body. This is the Transistor, and he calls out to Red to take him with her. You'll recognize the voice straight away as Logan Cunningham, who voiced the narrator Rucks in Bastion. Red, just like the Kid, is mute and the Transistor makes a cryptic mention of her attackers "taking your voice." As Red makes her way through the beautiful cityscape, she's attacked by spherical robots with glowing red eyes, and this is where the Transistor shows it's use. A press of the right trigger shifts the game to a tactical view: the background fades away and a reactive grid is overlaid on-screen. The grid is there to help in targeting, and Red can move to different points along it but is not bound to them. At the start of the demo, the Transistor only has two abilities: a simple slash ability and the Burst. The latter is the more useful, as it will send out a bust of energy that will pass through enemies; get two or three in a row and you can take groups of enemies really quickly. Eventually, a melee attack and a jaunt attack fill out the Transistor's arsenal, which help when the Transistor recharges itself: during this time Red can enter the tactical view and fend off enemies.  Red can queue up commands that you'll see on a bar at the top of the screen, but you can cancel any action with the left trigger. As combat begins, blocks will rise from the ground, filling out the tactical grid and making cover. The cover is fairly fragile, but it allows some tactical depth: you can destroy cover to attack enemies, although this will leave Red vulnerable.  As Red and the Transistor make their way through the world, they encounter more victims of the robots. "Hundreds" of people have been going missing in the city "in a few months," and Red was due to be next. Instead of fleeing from her synthetic attackers, the demo concludes with Red seeking them out in their home world, called The Process. Transistor has been in various stages of production for the last year, but Supergiant took breaks to work on the iOS and Google Chrome versions of Bastion, according to audio lead Darren Korb and art director Jen Zee. Korb admitted that there's pressure to follow up on Bastion's success, but the team "want to make a game we're happy with." There is no publisher attached to Transistor yet but the Supergiant guys aren't necessarily looking to publish the game themselves, so we'll need to wait and see if someone will pick Transistor up. As we've come to expect at this stage of the console cycle, there are no platforms confirmed for Transistor but since Bastion appeared on a consoles, PC and iOS it wouldn't be a surprise to see the same happening with Transistor. For those not at PAX East 2013, you'll have to wait for 2014 when Transistor will hopefully be arriving.
Transistor photo
Supergiant Games' next title will be arriving in 2014
Only a few days ago, we heard that Transistor would be Supergiant Games' follow-up to Bastion and that it would be playable at PAX East 2013. Lucky convention-goers can play an early build of the game, on course for...

First hands-on: Beyond: Two Souls

Mar 21 // Dale North
Beyond: Two Souls (PS3)Developer: Quantic DreamPublisher: SCEARelease: October 2013 Starting out, Jodie looked to be returning to a scientific research center just as firefighters and ambulances were wheeling out injured people from the building. It looked as if she was warned not to enter, but she does anyway, moving past debris, injured bodies, and burning walls to go deeper into the building.  Jodie can be moved with the left analog stick, with the navigation of her world being fully contextual. Simply move her to where you need and she'll step over thresholds, climb over obstacles, and more, each with specific animations. I did this to step over debris, through broken windows, and deeper into dangerous looking territory.  The world interaction system is completely new, using the right stick to input moves that make sense in given situations. Unlike Heavy Rain, there are no prompts for action with this system. Instead, a simple white dot will show areas of potential interaction. Moving the right stick at this dot in a way that makes sense for a given action, like pushing up to stand, or down to crouch, executes that action. Movements are always based on where Jodie is and what she's able to do in that location. Some situations involve button-press prompts, while others use the SIXAXIS movement sensors to have players moving the controller around. The first obstacle of the demo that we encountered had Jodie stopped at an elevator door that would not open. She requested that Aiden move ahead to investigate, which had me moving the entity down the elevator shaft to find that the elevator door would not close due to an obstruction. A simple press of the triangle button toggles control between Jodie and Aiden at any time. Being an invisible entity, Aiden can fly around anywhere. Controlling it in a first-person view, I was able to fly through walls and other matter, straight down into the jammed elevator. Aiden can interact with objects in the world through use of the analog sticks and the R1 button, enabling it to push, throw, and blast objects. I used this ability to push the obstruction away from the door, letting the elevator close to be called up to Jodie.  The demo featured other situations where I had to use Aiden to do things move through a door to unlock it, or move through a fire to push a fire extinguisher toward Jodie to help her quell flames. Some situations presented the option to use either Jodie or Aiden to proceed. In one room, glass doors prevented Jodie from progressing. The player could either use Aiden's blast ability to bust the glass, or have Jodie pick up a chair to slam it through the glass.  One of the most interesting team abilities for the duo has Aiden channeling some of another human's aura toward Jodie. This enables Jodie to have a short vision, which, in this case, gave her a fuzzy glimpse of injured or dead people's last moments. In two different situations in this demo, these visions showed that these humans were attacked by some force. The last one seen showed what looked to be semi-transparent tentacles coming out of the wall to thrash some victim around. My guess is that this entity had something to do with the disaster at this research center, and that Jodie went in to deal with it.  Just as things got interesting, a Quantic Dream staffer cut me off from proceeding.  From what we saw in the hour-long presentation and from this hands-on session, it seems that moving through Beyond: Two Souls involves a lot of problem-solving collaboration between Aiden and Jodie. With the simple challenges presented here, it was kind of satisfying to switch between two totally different control types to figure out how to progress. I'd imagine that more complex problem solving will be required as the game progresses.  While Jodie moves exactly as you'd expect with this simple interaction system, the first-person control of Aiden takes a little getting used to. Flying around and whipping through walls and doors is fun and freeing, but with that much freedom it's also a bit disorienting. The camera control feels sufficiently like moving a ghost around, but with no limitations other than distance from Jodie, you can easily end up lost between walls or other structures. Add in Aiden's negative color view and disorientation comes even easier.  While I would have preferred playing what we were shown in the hands-off presentation, this demo was more than enough to show off how Beyond will use Aiden and Jodie's unique control schemes together. Other aspects of Jodie's control, like an action system for combat, and vehicle control, were teased during this visit, but it looks like we'll have to wait to try these out.
Hands-on Beyond photo
Control system detailed
While a sizable portion of Beyond: Two Souls was shown to press at a event at Quantic Dream this week, unfortunately, it was a hands-off situation. But the studio didn't want to leave us completely empty handed, so they prepa...

Europa Universalis IV: The betrayal of Venice

Feb 14 // Fraser Brown
Europa Universalis IV (PC)Developer: Paradox Development StudioPublisher: Paradox InteractiveReleased: Q3 2013MSRP: $39.99  We started by getting assigned the nations we would lead to victory or death, but there were only eight PCs for nine players. Being a gentleman (the worst trait for an EU player), I said I'd be happy to team up with someone and share responsibility for whatever mess we found ourselves in. So I had joint command of wealthy Venice with Rock, Paper, Shotgun's Adam Smith. Our plan was a simple one: drown in gold. That we actually ended up drowning in blood and rebellions just goes to show that no plan survives the first five minutes in EUIV, especially when other human players are thrown into the mix.  It all began so well, too. We had provinces all down the coast of the Adriatic, and further afield we had Crete under our thumb. Trade seems to have been really fine-tuned this time around, and we had no small amount of options when it came to expanding our coffers. We sent traders into markets connected to our trade network, had them send even more cash our way, and watched as we saw our wee cash counter rise -- we were rolling in it. Just to be safe, we also ordered a sizable fleet to patrol our trade route. Nobody could be allowed to threaten our lovely money. With our financial security well in hand, Adam and I thought it was high time to expand our republic. Now, I would like to point out at this juncture that we're good guys. We aren't warmongers, we aren't conquerors, we just needed room for growth. If you choose to draw parallels with the excuses used by Germany in WWI, then that's your problem. To give greater direction to these vast, meandering, centuries-spanning games, Paradox has implemented a mission system to allow for a more goal-orientated approach, should players wish it. Completing such missions confer extra benefits on top of the land you get for taking a province, or the money you stop your enemy from receiving when you blockade their port. Our first mission -- the impetus for our first war -- was the conquest of Cremona, a province to the west that was under the control of Lombardia. We were hardly in a position to declare war straight away, however. Armies take a long time to raise, what with the training, outfitting, and other tomfoolery associated with gathering a bunch of rowdy men and sending them off to kill people.  Venice was famed for her great mercenary armies, though, so instead of spending most of the year turning chubby blokes into killing machines, we simply hired the finished product. Using our large cash reserves, we purchased a veritable horde of angry gentlemen, and directed them towards our new foes. War was upon us. Things did not go quite as expected. As our mercenary force carved their way through Cremona, Lombardia called in Milan for help. We should have spent more time researching who Lombardia was friendly with. Risk assessment might sound dull, but we learned rather quickly that it's a tad important. Regardless, we had chosen our path and now we were sticking to it. Cremona fell quickly, but we had two large enemy armies marching towards our exhausted mercenaries. At the last moment, one of them -- the Milanese force -- changed its mind and headed straight for our own provinces. We were the bloody invaders, not them, the gall! The next ten minutes passed by slowly as we focused on chasing invaders out of our own territory, keeping the provinces we had just locked down, and pushing back two well-trained armies who weren't suffering from the morale issues that were so crippling our hired swords. Even once we had destroyed the Milanese and accepted their peace offer, the Lombards wouldn't quit. Actually, their army was growing.  After hiring all the mercenaries we could afford (and some that we could not), we were back in the game. Battle by battle, we stripped the Lombards of men and morale, but due to an unfortunate bug, they kept escaping evisceration. This led to the prolonging of a war we could ill-afford. Eventually they were finally put down, however, and we struck a deal with our broken foe. As we had pretty much ravaged all of their provinces, we could dictate terms from a very strong position. We walked away with two new provinces, but a hell of a lot of cuts and bruises. Nothing would have pleased me more than to put my feet up on the desk, drink some Italian wine, and toast our success. Maybe I would have even thrown some coins at a bunch of dirty peasants. This was not to be, unfortunately. The arduous war, depletion of our cash, and the introduction of new citizens who hated our guts meant that rebellions were brewing everywhere. The Cretans and Croatians were demanding independence, peasants were demanding lower taxes, and our new Lombard population wanted revenge. Crete and our single province in Croatia were a bit too far away for us to waste time with, so we set about fixing our problems at home first. We had to disband our mercenary units after the war with Lombardia, so now we had to raise a new one. Lamentably, this was impossible due to our serious lack of money, and it would also take a bit of time to get the number of men we needed to put an end to these rebellions. To speed up recruitment, we selected our first "National Idea." These concepts help players define their nation and contain lots of individual bonuses, from economic boons to religious benefits. The first part of the Plutocracy Idea allows for faster recruitment of mercenaries, making it absolutely perfect for Venice. One loan later and we even had enough currency to purchase them. We were still in a lot of trouble, though, and our lands were in complete disarray. It was time to ask for help from another player. Throughout much of the game, Joe Robinson (you can read his perspective over at Strategy Informer) had been offering us an alliance. He was playing as Austria, leader of the powerhouse known as the Holy Roman Empire. It was time for us to put aside our pride, accepting this new ally into our wine-soaked bosom. Joe was a fantastic ally at first. He quickly rushed in to aid us with our rebel infestation, taking on armies that were far too large for us to handle on our own. He did so freely, and without complaint, despite the border disputes and petulant members of the HRE causing him no amount of stress. This gave Adam and I time consolidate our trade routes once more, start recruiting new troops to augment our mercenary forces, and try to find a peaceful solution to some of our rebellions. One of the new features in EUIV allows players to quickly see why, exactly, rebels are getting up in arms. Frequently, there's even an option to solve the issue immediately by offering them what they want. We managed to put down one rebellion this way, but the demands made by the others were simply too costly. The constant battles were also playing havoc with both our stability and war exhaustion, and raising the former meant that we didn't have enough to lower the latter. It was a tense juggling act. We were also dealing with elections and selecting new technologies. Due to our conflict-ridden state, we were pleased to be able to advance our arms due to new technological improvements, but the aforementioned election didn't please us nearly as much. We'd been previously supporting a Doge with quite a bit of skill when it came to military matters, but electing the same leader over and over again pushed us ever closer to a monarchy, which is the last thing you want to do if you are trying to manage a republic. To stop further problems down the line, we had to choose a new Doge, and our military campaign suffered. Things were going from bad to worse, with nations now declaring war on us. For some reason, Bosnia wanted a piece of the action, and our fellow Italians had stopped circling like carrion birds and were now coming in for the kill. Crete had successfully gained independence at the point of a sword, and now had its own monarch, while our solitary Croation province had seceded from the republic, as well. At this point, Joe decided to pull out, ordering his forces back to Austria to deal with his own domestic issues. We were alone, and completely surrounded by enemies.  That's when the bloody Lollards struck. I can't even begin to describe how much I hate the Lollards. At the time, I didn't have a clue who the hell they were. They simply appeared out of the blue, with several armies, and proceeded to decimate our scattered forces. Their shield icon was a pentagram, so naturally I assumed we were being invaded by Satanists. This was when I started openly shouting, all pretense of "playing a game" for "fun" were flung out the window. This was serious business. I won't even bother listing all of the factions who were slaughtering Venetians, it would simply take too long. It felt like the whole world was out to get us. We had more debt than men, and every few minutes another province would fall to either a rebel army or a foreign aggressor. Where was our Austrian ally during all of this, you ask? Well, we thought he was dealing with his own problems, but no, he was very, very interested in what was going on just south of his border. Austria was a wolf in sheep's clothing. The whole time we thought that we were defending our lands against rebels who had no just cause to go to war, we were actually playing right into a shadowy figure's hands. Some of the rebels had a master, you see, and that master was Joe Robinson, a truly evil man.  At our lowest point, when it seemed like things could not possibly get any worse, we received a notification: "Austria has declared war on you." War. With the leader of the Holy Roman Empire. We were absolutely buggered. Not acknowledging the threat of Austria earlier made me feel like Chamberlain waving that piece of paper in 1938. There will be peace for our time -- not bloody likely. We did what we could, getting more and more into debt, hiring every single mercenary throughout the land, but we had lost before the first Austrian soldier crossed the border. Despite our dire situation, we still put up a noble fight. Thousands of men threw themselves onto the pikes of the Austrian aggressors. If we couldn't kill them, we'd make a wall with the corpses of our mercenaries. Operation Corpse Wall was not a success.  Joe's terms could have been a lot worse -- he only wanted one province. It was his mission, apparently; one that he was so dedicated to that he betrayed his ally and slaughtered countless men. I'm definitely not still bitter. Even with the end of the war, Venice's trials were far from over. Rebels continued to run riot in all of our remaining provinces, our people were exhausted and miserable, and to add insult to injury, one of the provinces taken by the rebels ended up getting snatched by Austria. In total, we'd lost half of our provinces. Before long, all of our surviving holdings were surrounded by our one time ally turned despised enemy. It was a tragedy.  It was then that the game ended. Plans were being formulated which may have allowed Venice to reclaim some of her former glory. Old lands would be taken back, Serbia and Bosnia would be conquered, the Adriatic would once again be dominated by our fleets, and wine would flow freely. It never happened, of course, but it could have. And it would have been amazing. 
EUIV multiplayer photo
A tale of greed, rebellion, and lost glory
A wee while ago, I was struggling through blizzards raging across Iceland to cover the Paradox Convention in Reykjavik, hence all the previews I've been drip feeding you over the last week or so. The greatest struggle didn't ...

Preview: Madden NFL 13 gets serious on Wii U

Nov 01 // Keith Swiader
Madden NFL 13 (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Vita, Wii, Wii U [previewed])Developer: EA TiburonPublisher: Electronic Arts Release: November 13, 2012 Unlike Madden entries of Nintendo's past, which opted for a more cartoonish, family friendly style of presentation and gameplay as opposed to its more realistic console brethren, Madden NFL 13 on the Wii U is, for the most part, a straight port of the game released earlier this year, with the exception of the new Infinity Engine being MIA. EA assured me, however, that they are looking into making sure the new engine is added with future iterations. Still, for the first time ever, Nintendo players will be able to experience a high-definition version of Madden, complete with the full presentation offerings, HDR lighting, motion blur, and of course, commentary from Phil Simms and Jim Nantz. In short, what you would expect to find in a full-fledged Madden release is now available on a Nintendo console.  Where the Wii U version of Madden NFL 13 falls short with the exclusion of the new Infinity Engine, it makes up for with the slew of Wii U-specific features. The more notable of the bunch has you making pre-snap player adjustments via the Wii U's touchpad. Think you should move that linebacker into the flats? Simply press and hold his icon on the touchscreen and drag it to the far bottom left or right side. Need an extra defender to cover the deep pass? Drag the desired icon to the far top of the screen. Blitzes and man-coverages can also be adjusted in the blink of an eye with the pad. It's quick, intuitive, and highly effective. While one could see this as a gimmick to invite the novice player into the game, a veteran would be hard-pressed to dismiss the invaluable nature of not having to cycle through multiple menus just to adjust coverage.  On the offensive side of the line, the Wii U GamePad allows you to draw even the most squiggly of squiggly routes for your receivers. No, seriously. During my hands-on time, I must've drawn a 15-loop loopty-loop, and sure enough, my receiver followed the play, although it didn't land me the next down. But, on a more serious note, the ability to customize your hot routes now means that you are no longer restricted to the typical lot of slants, streaks, flats, and curls. With this enhancement to offensive hot-routing coupled with the top-down perspective of the field given on the GamePad, you now have a better way to break your receiver away from defenders. If there's a downside to the route-drawing feature, it's that you can't create full playbooks with it, though EA said it hopes to bring this idea to life with future titles. A Detach Mode is also available on the Wii U's version of Madden, which enables you to play the entire game through the Wii U GamePad's display, which, in my time, failed to offer any hiccuping or graphical hitches during gameplay. Both local and online multiplayer can also take advantage of utilizing this display, with the former having one person viewing the game on the pad, and the other playing on the television. Traditional local multiplayer is also on offer if you so prefer. Madden NFL on a Nintendo console is no longer an afterthought. Nor is it merely something you play at a gathering once you get tired of Wii Sports. This offers the same hard-hitting experience as its other HD releases, so much so that the Wii U version will also receive same-day roster updates. Those who feel that the Madden series has become the same ol' thing every year should definitely keep their eyes peeled when Madden NFL 13 drops on the Wii U this November.
...and touching men feels good
When one thinks of buying the latest installment of John Madden football, one typically goes the route of either the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 version, instantly shrugging off even the thought of playing a year of pigskin on ...

Preview: The story of Creationism in SimCity

Oct 25 // Keith Swiader
SimCity (PC [previewed], Mac)Developer: MaxisPublisher: Electronic ArtsRelease: March 5, 2013  SimCity is the series' first foray into the three-dimensional realm, whereas past titles portrayed the action in a 2D isometric, or birds' eye view. Developer Maxis states the inspiration comes from the studio's love of model train sets, as well as the idea of being able to reach out and touch the city. While hardware limitations restrain us from being able to touch our created world in SimCity, the game's engine does allow you to zoom in and out of the environment with ease and pan the camera into every nook and cranny possible, which is still pretty darn close to physically touching your city. The world you create in SimCity is made possible by Glass Box, an in-house simulation engine that controls every car on the road, every person working on the street, and every tornado and other natural disaster that wrecks havoc on your utopia. Cars on the road now actually drive to destinations, be it to a job, the local burger shack, and so on, and if you don't have your roads constructed in an organized manner, traffic jams will be on the rise, negatively affecting the flow of the city's ecosystem. If people can't get to work, nothing can be produced and money can't be earned. There's a huge emphasis on cause-and-effect in SimCity, so detailed planning will make the difference in creating a prosperous metropolis or a dismal shanty town.  The desirability of your city will also go up or down depending on what you do with it. Setting your residential zones atop a hill or cliffside, for example, will score you major props with the residents. Placing a smoke-puffing factory next to them afterward, however, will result in a lot of "For Sale" signs. But adding a park, library and multiple areas of education within the vicinity of your housing district will increase the desirability, and in turn, you'll start to see more upscale housing pop up. If you play your cards right, those one-bedroom houses could quickly transform into a dream mansion with 8 1/2 baths and a theater. Think big! Glass Box also features fully detailed maps representing information such as water flow, power flow, and what factories are currently functioning. Before placing a power plant or water tower on the field, you will see exactly where the energy will flow, effectively helping you plan out the best possible setup for your business and residential zones. However, don't try to cram everything into one section with the hopes of creating the all-in-one paradise. Whether you're controlling multiple territories alone or interacting with people online, the best course of action is to have multiple cities, each specializing in one or two aspects, and then have them interact with the adjacent ones. For example, one city could set up housing, and its residents would travel to work to another city, and then travel elsewhere for spending. It's all about inter-city dependence, as Maxis calls it, and having cities work in unison will prove to have extremely profitable results. And yes, I did say "interacting with people online," because EA's latest is not only the series' first 3D iteration, but the first one to come equipped with online play. You now have the ability to work together with others, both on a global scale or in a closed-community among family and friends, with the combined vision of creating the perfect inter-connectivity between cities. There's even a player-driven global market on offer, so if your town has, say, a surplus of oil, you can then put it up on the market at whatever price you choose and sell it to the Mayors (other players) of other cities who aren't so rich on that particular resource. Global and local leaderboards are also present, with boards including the wealthiest and poorest city, the city with the most pollution, and the city richest in a certain resource. SimCity is one of those games that becomes what you make of it and thus has practically no end. If nothing else, that's what's most exciting about SimCity's release date. It's a game that will trap you in its grasp for hours on end, where an all-nighter results in being buried half-alive under mounds of Red Bull and Bawls, with deep, dark bags under your eyes. And yet, that's a good thing. Remember, it's all for the greater good of your citizens, right?
What the teachers never taught you
Odds are that as a child, you had the fascination of building things out of LEGOs. Or Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys, if we're going back a ways. Whatever the case, as children, we have a keen enjoyment of building stuff. This ...


Project P-100 was one of the better Wii U games at PAX

Sep 04
// Tara Long
While I can't say I was wholeheartedly impressed with every one of the Wii U's offerings at PAX this year, one game did stand out as a fun and unique addition to the system's growing compendium of third-party titles. Project...

PAX: MOGA gives mobile the buttons we've always wanted

Sep 04
// Dale North
Up until now I have always chosen a 3DS or Vita over my phone, even if it meant sacrificing portability. Why? Buttons, man. Buttons. While there are a few smartly designed mobile games that don't need buttons, there are still...

Ten things to know about Defiance

Jul 16 // Jayson Napolitano
[embed]231396:44411[/embed] #1: The Story Defiance has a truly fascinating story. Several alien species, upon discovering that their home systems were going to be destroyed, built ships known as arks and put representatives of their respective species on board along with some of their native flora and fauna. They ended up at Earth, not realizing we were already here, and proceeded to set up colonization rights in exchange for technology. This of course pissed a lot of people off who had to be relocated. Soon thereafter, the in-orbit arks were sabotaged and destroyed, causing their debris to rain down onto Earth with their terra-morphing machinery intact, causing radical changes to the surface of the planet and leading to generalized chaos and war. The game and television show take place 40 years later on a drastically different Earth where governments and primary communications have been destroyed. #2: The Setting While the television show takes place in St. Louis, the game takes place in San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area. Both cities are frontier cities where a valuable alien mineral called golenite has been discovered, and people are traveling to these areas to stake a claim. The terra-morphing machinery found within the arks has turned portions of the city completely alien, while some are still intact and others are half-alien, half-human hybrids. You’ll explore wilderness and cityscapes, and will come across familiar sites including the Golden Gate Bridge which is now blown up, contorted, and un-crossable. According to Beliaeff, “We want that Planet of the Apes moment. San Francisco has so many landmarks that we wanted people to say, ‘Oh God, this really is Earth, and a lot has changed.’” #3: The Music Bear McCreary, known mostly for his work in television on shows including Battlestar Galactica and The Walking Dead, is composing music for both the game and television show. That puts him in a pretty unique position to bring continuity across the two properties as most game projects based on television shows get different composers. McCreary is working hard to create unique themes for the various alien races as well as reference material from Earth’s musical history, including the 1980s through the 2000s. We’re told that there will be a lot of dramatic orchestral score for the television show while the game may feature more action-oriented themes. Also of note is the fact that McCreary’s unique position as the composer for both the show and game has turned him into somewhat of an expert resource for both teams. “If a member of this race was to pick up an instrument and start playing, what might it look like?” is a question that’s been brought to him several times, so he’s had to work with the team’s full-time mythology coordinator to develop unique instruments for the world’s various races that may even be mocked up and used in the television show. Maybe he ought to file a few patents for these instruments while he's at it! #4: A Complete Story Out of the Box An entire storyline will be available out of the box, although there will be places for the team to plug in events that occur in the show into the game. There will also be regular content updates and possible expansion sets. Zone events (described below) use a modular plug-and-socket model to easily manage events throughout the game world. #5: Intuitive Controls The game plays and feels a lot like Halo. I was able to pick up an Xbox 360 controller and figure it out within 15 seconds, so I will also say that the controls are super intuitive. Using this controller configuration, the right trigger shoots, the left trigger zooms, the right shoulder throws grenades, and the left activities abilities. Pressing the right analog stick down performs a melee attack, and various other buttons are used to jump, crouch, and reload. #6: Lots of Ways to Get Around The game takes place in a large persistent world where players assume the role of a mercenary. The primary hubs where people will meet were described as “mainly outposts where characters can interact and trade.” When asked just how large the world would be given that it only encompasses sections of Northern California, we were told that they’re still working on that, but players will be able to use an ATV to cover more distance, and there will be a travel option to go between major locations (but “not too many, as we want you to interact with the world”). They’re also considering allowing players to spawn into the game next to their friends to immediately get into the action as opposed to having to coordinate a meeting spot. #7: No Political System While there isn’t a planned political system where players can group together and battle with one another for control of certain zones, there are factions that players can align themselves with for quests and notoriety. It seems as though the goal is for Defiance to be more collaborative than competitive. #8: Dynamic Event System (Ark Falls) Pieces of the arks mentioned above are still in orbit with things living within them. These pieces randomly enter orbit and crash down onto the Earth, changing the environment due to the terra-morphing machinery. If players choose to partake in these events which involved killing a bunch of hellbug creatures in the demo we played, special minerals and technology can be obtained. While small ark falls will occur throughout the entire game world, larger, zone-wide ark falls will also be featured using their plug-and-socket model. #9: No Strict Class System The game doesn’t feature a strict class system, but rather allows players to customize their character however they wish. One ability can be equipped at a time, but players can level up any ability he or she chooses, although it will be impossible to achieve the maximum level for all abilities, leaving players to prioritize what kind of character they’d like to play. In groups, it’s beneficial to have each member choose a different ability. These abilities also have an impact on the weapons that can be equipped which include sniper rifles, shotguns, and a beam weapon with an area effect attack and a secondary healing function, effectively making these players a medic class. #10: Enemies and Loot The hellbug creatures that have been featured heavily in promotional materials for the game are actually a mutation and not something that was brought to Earth by the alien races. They were actually small foreign bacteria that mutated and became these hideous creatures. We encountered them frequently during the ark fall events because apparently the minerals contained within the arks are something that the hellbugs thrive on, so they aggressively defend the precious resource both by directly attacking players and by building defensive structures. One such structure has weak points located all around its body that players have to focus their fire on, emphasizing the first-person shooting in the game. Other enemies include cyborg miners and another alien race that acts as a constant threat in both the game and television show that provides somewhat of a rallying point for all of the other races to join together against. When I asked about drops, and what the hellbugs in particular may drop, we were told, “Hellbugs eat everything, so they do drop guns.” There will be rare drops from sub-bosses that appear randomly in the game world as well as in quests and four-player instances, and they will feature different visual appearances so players know they’re important. We asked about PVP, and while we were told it will be in the game, Trion isn’t ready to talk about it until gamescom. -------------------- I had a lot of fun learning about and experiencing the world of Defiance, but are you sold on this hybrid television show/videogame and its first-person shooting gameplay within an MMO world?
Truly fascinating
Defiance is SyFy and Trion Worlds’ venture that breaks new ground by simultaneously developing a television series and videogame within the same universe, and even sharing a few characters between the two. We were only ...

E3: Hands-on with Rayman Legends

Jun 08 // Chad Concelmo
This game will make you want to buy a Wii U. It is that good. So far it is a Wii-exclusive, and, if it stays that way, this game could really be a system seller. If Pikmin 3 wasn't in the picture, Rayman Legends would easily be the best Wii U game I played at the show. Even me typing this hyperbole feels a little crazy, as the only thing on-display for Rayman Legends was the game's co-op mode. The single-player mode -- and the game definitely has one! -- was not playable. To fall this in love with an "extra" mode is insane. I can't imagine how incredible the single-player campaign will be. When I say "co-op mode," I don't mean it in the regular sense of the word. While you can play up to four-play co-op with four characters on-screen like in Rayman Origins, there is a new co-op mode that involves one player playing with the new Wii U Pro Controller and one playing with the GamePad. Let me break down how this works. As mentioned, one player controls the main character on-screen with the Wii U Pro Controller (you can read my impressions on that fantastic controller right here). The other player holds the GamePad and uses nothing else but the built in touch screen. While the first player is running through the splendid levels, the other player is "assisting" them by interacting with the world around them. This could be very basic like the co-op mode in Super Mario Galaxy, but it is not simple at all. There is so much variety to this "assisting" that it is always interesting and fun. In fact, it is so impressive that I gasped on multiple occasions because I was so impressed with what the game was letting me and my partner do. At first, the assisting is much easier. The second player can cut grass by swiping the touch screen to uncover shiny lums, tap on something in the background to open a secret area, or grab enemies and hold onto them to help the player. As the levels progress, things get much deeper (and much more fun!). In one section, the second player has to shoot projectiles at dragons in the background to protect the first player. In another, player two can grab parts of the environment to help player one proceed further. And this is some of the stuff that impressed me the most. In one level, a huge wooden wheel was in front of Rayman. The wheel had a complicated maze-like passage through it that needs to be traversed in order for the first player to proceed. In the passage were deadly, one-touch-and-you're-dead spikes and hooks to grab on to. In order to proceed, player two has to grab hold of the wheel and turn it for player one. To to this, the second player taps the touch screen to lock in the hold and rotates the actual GamePad back and forth. There is no lag and everything is smooth and intuitive. When the wheel is placed in the right direction, the first player can move forward. This dance between both players takes a lot of cooperation, and, when successful, is ridiculously satisfying. There were several puzzles like this, and they were all extraordinary. And then the second part of the demo started. I was already impressed by everything I played, but the second part of the demo involved Rayman running through a fast, auto-scrolling level timed to the music being played and activated by the second player. It's hard to describe unless you see the video (watch it right here!), but, basically, every jump, item grab, and movement the first player makes is timed to the music playing in the background. To help with the beat, the second player can tap on-screen statues. It is unbelievably cool and one of the most impressive levels I have ever seen in a 2D platformer. After talking about all this, I didn't even mention how beautiful Rayman Legends looks. I mean, it kind of goes without saying. But it should be mentioned. Rayman Legends is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. One of the best-looking 2D platformers ever. Hell, one of the best-looking games ever. I didn't think it was possible, but Rayman Legends looks ever better than Rayman Origins. And, keep in mind again, that I saw only two small sequences in the game. I can't imagine how amazing everything is going to look when all the various levels are opened up. Ubisoft and Nintendo were smart to show off the co-op version of Rayman Legends on the Wii U. A single-player demo would have been a nice bonus, but we already know what that is going to look like -- we have Rayman Origins to play over and over. With Rayman Legends, Ubisoft has taken things to a whole new level. The game looks incredible, it plays just as well as its predecessor, and the Wii U-specific co-op features are fun and never once feel gimmicky. Rayman Legends is a masterpiece in the making. If the final game is as strong as the demo, this could be some serious Game of the Year stuff.

Rayman Legends is the direct Wii U-exclusive sequel to the beautiful, gorgeous, sublime 2D platformer Rayman Origins that was released last year. The good news if you were a fan of Rayman Origins: Rayman Legends is even more ...

E3: Hands-on with ZombiU

Jun 08 // Chad Concelmo
Let's get to all the good stuff first. Even though zombies are completely overused in videogames, ZombiU surprisingly feels fresh. This is due to a few key things. One, the controls. The Wii U GamePad feels great, and playing a first-person shooter like this with it is totally comfortable. The draw to this game -- and the feature that drew the most applause during the Ubisoft press conference -- is the cool implementation of the GamePad controller. While running around doing normal zombie-killing things, you can use the GamePad for many different things. When opening a box, you can see the contents on your touch screen. Just tap what you want and slide it into your inventory! Get to a door that needs unlocking? You can pick the lock in a super easy (almost too easy) lockpicking minigame on the GamePad! Need to type in a code to open a door? Type it in on the touch screen! This stuff is fun (if a little gimmicky) and helps mix up the action. Another cool addition to the game is permanent death. When you die in ZombiU, you die forever. There are no retries or lives in the game. When you die, you restart as a brand new survivor, with your old character walking around the level as a zombie. It's a really neat addition and makes death feel so much scarier than in most games of the type. Now ... the not so good. First, ZombiU doesn't really look that great. Compared to the Wii, the game looks incredible. The textures are detailed, the lighting is slick, and the environments are appropriately atmospheric. But when you compare the game to other current gen games of the same type, it doesn't hold up. If it was very stylized, this comparison wouldn't be fair. But it's not. It is supposed to look as realistic as possible, and the graphics just don't feel as advanced as they could. The game doesn't look bad by any means, but it's hard not to compare it to similar games on other systems. The comparison is inevitable. Another problem with the game is also one of the ZombiU's greatest strengths: the implementation of the GamePad controller. As mentioned, there are some really cool things about the new control scheme -- lockpicking and item management is particularly neat. But there are some sequences that are just plain weird and a little awkward. Some parts of the game have you hold up the GamePad screen and look "through" the touch screen. Sometimes this is used for aiming with your sniper rifle, which is pretty cool, but most of the times it is used to "scan" the area and find secret thing using a special kind of vision. In concept, it sounds neat, but it doesn't work very well and totally takes you out of the action. (It is also accompanied by a very awkward on-screen animation of your character also looking through the same type of tablet screen. Why does he/she have this device in their backpack?) Adding a few clever elements with the GamePad is great, but add too many and the game collapses under its own cleverness. And, unfortunately, ZombiU falls into this category more often than not. Some of this stuff could be cleaned up before the final version, but, as of now, the game just feels to unsure of its own strengths and weaknesses to excitedly recommend it. Seeing an M-rated game being promoted on the Wii U is very exciting, and bodes well for the future of the system. With ZombiU, though, a little more work needs to be done to stay away from the gimmicks and focus on the core gameplay. I liked ZombiU, but didn't. I was impressed by some of the new features, but confused by them as well. I had fun with the game, but also was frustrated. So, in short: Huh.

Huh. That was my first reaction after playing ZombiU for the Wii U at Nintendo's booth during E3. Huh. Now, "huh" usually has a negative connotation, but that is not necessarily the case with this particular game. The "huh" i...

E3: Daedalic and the return of the classic adventure game

Jun 08 // Chad Concelmo
The two games Daedalic Entertainment showed off were The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav and Deponia. The Dark Eye is a more traditional fantasy adventure game like King's Quest, while Deponia is a wacky adventure set in space that very much reminded me of Space Quest. Both games look absolutely gorgeous, with hand-drawn backgrounds and smooth animation. Just looking at the games for the first time brought back such memories of how beautiful adventure games used to look with their hand-drawn and hand-painted art. As great as the little I got to see of Deponia was, that game is still a little ways off. I will focus on The Dark Eye, as that is the game that featured an extended demo. It will also be available on Steam on June 22, so the release date is only a few weeks away! Like most point-and-click games, The Dark Eye involves a main character exploring a vast world, interacting with characters, and solving puzzles to reach the end of the game. Obviously, the first thing you will notice about the game is how gorgeous it looks. The fact that a small group of people made a game that looks this good really boggles my mind. It's incredible how talented some people in this world are. Exploring the world is as simple as clicking on any object or character you want to interact with. Again, it is classic graphic adventure stuff. In addition to this, a very large inventory system is also used. Like most adventure games, you can pick up a ton of items, some so random you won't even know where to use them until just the right time. One addition to The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav is a basic, yet effective magic system. Along the way, the main character can learn spells that will interact with the environment. One spell will break items. This can be used in many scenarios with no real result -- it is more of an aesthetic thing. But some items need to be shattered to solve puzzles. In one scenario in the demo, the main character was tied up and trapped in a cave. By using his magic power combined with many items in his inventory, he eventually escapes in a plan of almost Rube Goldberg-proportions. It was quite complicated, but very well-designed, so the solution could be figured out eventually with some focused thinking. In fact, all of the puzzles in the Dark Eye felt very challenging, but never too challenging to be frustrating. I am one of the first people to admit being driven to madness in some old adventure games, due to the puzzles being near-impossible. That is not the case with Dark Eye. Yes, the puzzles are tough, but they are never too daunting. If I had to have one negative about both the Dark Eye and Deponia, it would be the localization. So far, the localization is not perfect, leaving jokes kind of hanging and some dialogue very awkward. It is not a deal breaker by any means, but when the games are so visually strong and beautifully designed, you want everything about them to be perfect. The same can be said for the voice acting. While not bad, it definitely could use a little work. Outside of these small issues (or big, depending on what you look for in an adventure game), both The Dark Eye and Deponia look great. I adore adventure games, and I am very much looking forward to playing both of these promising games. Deponia is still in production, but The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav is set to hit Steam on June 22. If you are a fan of classic adventure games, you will want to check this one out.

One of my favorite things to do at E3 is visit the smaller publisher and developers and try out their games. Usually creative and made with such a large amount of heart, the smaller games at E3 are always a breath of fresh ai...

E3: Hands-on with Project P-100

Jun 08 // Chad Concelmo
While not nearly as violent as MadWorld or polished as Viewtiful Joe, Project P-100 still has that weird, fascinating vibe that only Platinum Games knows how to create. It almost feels like a hybrid between Pikmin, Little King's Story, and old arcade classic Smash TV. In the game, you play as a group of washed-up superheroes -- superheroes that, alone, don't amount to much at all, but, together, can almost do anything! Project P-100 is entirely controlled with the new Wii U GamePad. The group is moved around the screen with the left analog stick, and all attacks are done with the face buttons. In addition to these normal attacks, special moves can be performed with the GamePad's touch screen or right analog stick. On the touch screen, images of different things are displayed. In the demo, there were three special moves: a sword, a fist, and a gun. By "drawing" a specific shape on the touch screen (like Okami!), the superheroes combine and form whatever power you are summoning. The sword is a great, powerful melee weapon, while the gun is good for long-range attacks. The fist can be used to turn cranks and solve puzzles. Like Pikmin and Little King's Story, all of the heroes move around in a giant group. At certain points, and after defeating certain enemies, citizens can be rescued to join the group and make it bigger. The bigger the group, the more powerful the attacks. It's a simple concept that is made more interesting in a few ways: First and foremost are the somewhat odd controls. Moving around and attacking is easy enough (and really fun!), but accessing the touch screen is really tough to do while holding the GamePad. It just doesn't feel natural. If there was no time limit on drawing your shapes, this would not be as much of a problem. But you have to activate these special powers during some pretty intense battles. It was a stressful process and needlessly difficult. The powers throughout the game can also be "drawn" with the right analog stick, but that is almost trickier, since the accuracy is tough when not using the touch screen. The graphics in the game are colorful and polished, if a little simple. And, at times, some things even looked low-res, which was very strange. All in all, though, Project P-100 looks pretty good and uses a refreshing, bright color palette when compared to many other recent games. My favorite part of the demo was a section when your superhero group enters a warehouse. After entering by turning a crank with the fist power to open a door, the leader of the superhero group runs inside the building. Since the game is played in an isometric, top-down view, the insides of buildings are not shown (the roof blocks the view!). Because of this, the action moves to the Wii U GamePad's screen. Once inside a building, the leader of the group runs around in a third-person perspective as the player navigates him through some simple, yet fun puzzles. The graphics on the GamePad touch screen are really great and it was fun and surprising to switch play to the GamePad and then back to the T.V. screen once exiting the warehouse. It was a great sequence and made me think about all the cool possibilities that could happen with the GamePad in the future. Overall, I liked Project P-100, but didn't love it. I liked the interesting style and gameplay, but did not like the awkward, tricky controls. This could be remedied once the final game is released and players are not just thrown into the middle of the confusing action like the demo, but, as of now, I am hesitant if Project P-100 will be a must-buy when the Wii U is released later this year. If anything, Platinum Games did a good job of surprising with such a different game.

Project P-100 (working title) from Platinum Games (creators of Viewtiful Joe and MadWorld) was one of the strangest Wii U games I played on the show floor at E3. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. In a way, it reminded ...

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