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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]309565:61054:0[/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...

Slain! requires a surprising amount of restraint

Sep 04 // Brett Makedonski
[embed]309156:60249:0[/embed] The result of my urgency was death. Over and over it happened. Sometimes I rushed jumping over a pit and died. Sometimes I rushed into battle and died. The common theme here is that rushing leads to dying. I found out the hard way. Contributing to my death count was a jumping system that felt too rigid. Simple platforming quickly became a chore because the responsiveness of the jump button felt off. I fell into a pit that unceremoniously crushed me far too many times because it was too unintuitive to determine when exactly I needed to jump. Slain! will surely be difficult enough in its own right; it doesn't need to unnecessarily kill the player with sub-par mechanics. Still, Slain! undeniably gets its hooks in you, even through failure after frustrating failure. At one point, the representative tending to the game asked if I wanted him to clear a particularly pesky section for me. "No," I sharply shot back. "I got this." It's the type of game where you just know that you can get to the next checkpoint, and you're infuriated with yourself that you messed up that last run. Just take a methodical approach, and your chances will improve -- even if slow and steady doesn't exactly scream metal.
Slain! preview photo
Everything else is metal as hell
One glance at Wolf Brew Games' Slain! and it's immediately obvious where it draws inspiration from. This is hack-and-slash action from the '80s and '90s that takes no prisoners in its violent pursuit. The gore-fille...

Hob is a fascinating departure from Torchlight

Sep 03 // Jordan Devore
My demo at PAX Prime was short, and left me with questions that almost certainly won't be answered until I get to play the finished game, whenever that will be. It's still a ways off. I was dropped into an early area of the game -- but not the actual opening, it's worth pointing out -- and started hopping up hills and climbing vines. Hob is presented from an overhead view, but its camera dynamically zooms in on focal points. It pays to check out every tucked-away area for health, stamina, and weapon upgrades, sure, but also to take in the sights. Eventually, I happened upon some basic creatures and then a boss. My Souls instincts kicked in and I rolled, rolled, rolled. You can never be too cautious, y'know? The bigger foe was fairly easy but, in general, "The idea is that all of our monsters will basically destroy you unless you actually figure out how to beat them," according to Runic president Marsh Lefler. Moving on, I worked my way underground to an area like the one shown in this concept art, and used my arm to grapple around. The world is, in part, mechanical. It doesn't sit still. You might come back to a spot you've already gone through only to find that it has been altered. Runic wouldn't give much away about the story, but teased something unexpected. "What makes this game unique is what it hints at -- we have some pretty big ideas for it," said Lefler. He also believes the team is "going to blow people's minds when we start showing them what we're going to be actually doing with manipulating the world to the Nth degree." While there will surely be a Torchlight III one day, I'm happy we're getting Hob first. It sounds like the folks at Runic are genuinely happy to take a break from RPGs, too.
Preview photo
A new adventure from Runic Games
Zelda. Ico. Shadow of the Colossus. Even a little Metroid. Runic Games has borrowed concepts from these iconic adventures for its next PC and console game, Hob. Why "Hob?" Well, the name has a dual meaning that refers to litt...

Atlas Reactor's competitive turn-based play shows promise

Sep 02 // Jordan Devore
Atlas Reactor is turn-based, but players have a limited time (30 seconds by default) to lock in their decisions, and everyone's turns are simultaneous. That goes for your allies and enemies. It's quick and chaotic and not unlike rock, paper, scissors. After committing to a strategy, your actions (attacking, shielding, buffing, trapping, moving) play out across different phases. There's an order of operations to keep things fair, in other words. During any given turn, you have to get into your opponents' heads and try to predict how they'll behave. If you're sure an enemy is going to dodge, don't plan to fire a shot that will inevitably miss -- lay a trap instead. If you're guaranteed to be hit hard and have no escape, set up a shield. It's a system that borrows from fighting games (reading your opponents), tactical games (grid-based positioning), and MOBAs (varied characters, free aiming). The end result is a promising fusion of genres that, at least to my knowledge, has never been explored quite in this way. [embed]308953:60233:0[/embed] "Once you have the basics, it's pretty interesting," said executive producer Peter Ju. "You want to play one level above your opponent. If you play two levels above your opponent, you're just going to out-think yourself and you basically are going to seem like a noob compared to the guy who doesn't do anything." Out of nowhere, another Trion Worlds employee, who was not a part of my demo, chimed in. He said he had far better results early on when he first started and didn't really know how to play. No one could predict his strategy because he simply didn't have one. I can relate. Atlas Reactor is only now entering alpha, and while the core mechanics are set and seem solid, there's still stuff to figure out. Which modes to create, for one. The match I saw was pretty standard: two versus two, first to four kills wins. Based on what players do with custom games during alpha testing, Trion will adapt to their preferences and "make more of that." I liked the sound of lighting rounds, where you have a precious few seconds to plan your moves. As for cooperative play, challenge maps of some sort are planned. "I really want to play XCOM with buddies," said lead designer Will Cook, "but I can't do that. This is the key to that." I'd be down to play with Steven. Between this, Hard West, and XCOM 2, there's a lot of love for turn-based strategy on the horizon. As long as Trion Worlds doesn't mess up the free-to-play aspects of Atlas Reactor -- I suspect it'll charge for skins and taunts -- it should turn out well.
Preview photo
I'm pleasantly surprised
Signing up to see an unannounced title at a gaming convention or expo can be risky. I've never been burned before, but I'm aware my streak could end in an instant. I went into my PAX appointment with Trion Worlds (Rift, Defia...

Meddle in the affairs of others, control their minds in Randall

Sep 02 // Brett Makedonski
[embed]308786:60224:0[/embed] Randall (releasing on PC, PS4, and Vita) takes place in a world where everyone's been brainwashed by the authoritarian powers that be. A corporation has the citizens under its control, but the populace is completely unaware of the oppression at hand. We The Force wasn't willing to go too far into the story, but hinted at a "bigger things are at play" angle. One person is acutely aware of the oppression, however. That's the titular Randall. In a "taste of your own medicine" type of twist, he's trying to take down this faceless juggernaut through the use of mind control. It's this mechanic that takes Randall from an action-platformer and injects a puzzle element into it too. Rooms will often have a throng of enemies in them that need to be cleared out in a particular order. A rudimentary example was an area with one foe on the ground and two on platforms above who could shoot projectiles. Those platforms were unreachable from the floor, but if you controlled the bottom enemy, you could jump off of him and up to the top. Order of operations is important to figure out. It was obvious in that instance what needed to be done, but later encounters surely won't be as telegraphed. Most of these guys won't just allow themselves to get taken over, though. They require a quick beat-down. This comes in the form of simple button-pressed combos. We were shown an earlier level, but there was a definite sense that tactics would have to be switched up as the game progresses. That's only half the battle. Studio head Cesar Ramirez Molina told us that the developer's aiming for about a 50/50 split on combat and platforming. The platforming aspect isn't as intuitive as it could be, and it took several deaths before I got the hang of it. There's likely a better learning curve and teaching process in the full game than in the quick slice I played. Fortunately, Randall checkpoints graciously and there wasn't too much lost progress. There's promise in Randall, but there's more promise in what Randall represents. We The Force Studios is one of the few video game developers in Mexico. Currently, the scene is dominated by software and web developers. It's a much safer prospect to follow the established market than to risk your family's security pursuing what no one else is. That's why We The Force was doing web development up until it made the bold decision that it wanted a legacy. That's why the team started creating games. Randall is its first project, and Molina lamented what a tough transition it has been. He spoke about how challenging it is to make a decision about gameplay and then have to do all the research to figure out exactly how to implement it. Seasoned developers already know the technical side, but Molina and his crew have learned most of it on-the-fly. Randall is projected for a release sometime in 2016. It's a loose window, but it needs to be considering that the studio's inexperience possibly makes it more subject to delays than others. Regardless of when it launches and how it turns out, it's admirable that We The Force went out on a limb to pursue a dream while sacrificing safety. Just like its protagonist, these developers are going against the grain and chasing what they believe in.
Randall preview photo
Freedom fighter
Clerks has a scene where Randal Graves, an irresponsible and indifferent video store employee, tells a customer that he finds it best to stay out of other people's affairs. The laissez-faire approach isn't a noble a...

Kona is a hauntingly beautiful survival adventure

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

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...

Burly Men at Sea is such a delightful adventure

Aug 29 // Jordan Devore
[embed]308368:60185:0[/embed] I think I would've preferred to play with touch controls given the way movement flows, but using a mouse was fine. Burley Men at Sea is coming to Windows, Mac, and iOS, so we'll have that choice. The demo at PAX was only a hint, and I am intrigued. Toward the end, a whale swallows the bearded brothers, which one of them finds "really very discouraging." I helped them escape by finding and tugging on the creature's uvula, prompting a quick blowhole escape. It's real cute. There's promise of folklore creatures and I can't wait to see how they translate to this art style.
Hands-on preview photo
Scandinavian folklore
Strolling through the Indie Megabooth at PAX Prime, Burly Men at Sea stood out thanks to its clean, charming art direction. The adventure game has a small presence within the bustling independent area, but I sincerely hope ot...

Get your XCOM fix this year with the brutal Hard West

Aug 28 // Steven Hansen
[embed]308273:60179:0[/embed] At one point in my demo I had to rescue a man held on a cannibal farm because I needed information from him. An elixir vendor further south, when pressed about the cannibalism (information gleaned from earlier adventure), admitted some of that crew come into his shop to buy spices and things. He offered to vouch for me if I drank one of his elixirs. I did, and it was poison, which weakened me a bit. But I was also able to take that poison to a well near the farm and poison their water supply, thus weakening all my upcoming enemy combatants. Plus, with the snake oil salesman's help, I was able to stealth my way through my turns and to the hostage's shack. With my cover, enemies would get suspicious if I got too close for too long, but I was able to get through fairly easily. After the rescue, that upped our ranks to three, leaving me even better off for the impending slaughter. (An optional objective was to try the human meat, which would restore strength, but it could've had some drawbacks; I opted to avoid it). There are a number of cool options available within the tactical half. Like XCOM, you have to reload, sometimes after just one shot, because of the period guns. You can also hold up an enemy if you don't want to kill them (or don't want to kill them yet). There's also no overwatch phase, so if you know where an enemy is and they aren't expecting you, you can run up on them and unload. Hard West also challenges the random number generator. You can permanently lose characters (as I did, last minute, with my would-be informant); the game is not easy. But it tries to reward you for playing well, which all comes down to positioning. Accordingly, you don't have those point blank, 98% chance shots that somehow always miss when you need them most. If you get close enough, you were playing well, and you're rewarded with sure hits. Which is important when both you and your enemies can go down in one or two hits. There are plenty of other wrinkles in Hard West I'd like to explore. There is full/half cover, but you can also make your own cover by, say, flipping over a table in the middle of a room. There are also challenging richochet shots, which I didn't try out, and each gun has secondary fire (a spread cone for the shotgun, fanning for multiple pistol shots). Playing card modifiers also enhance your characters -- by greater degrees if you also make a poker hand. And I didn't get to the early promised bit about dynamic sunlight casting shadows that can alert you to enemy positions (and vice-versa). Hard West is coming to PC this fall.
Hands-on preview photo
Cowboys and strategy
With XCOM 2 just pushed back into 2016 and, I assume, everyone needing a short break from 1,000 hours of Invisible, Inc, strategy-minded folks seem to have a good option this fall: Hard West. The Western turn-based strategy g...

Cities: Skylines gets nightlife with After Dark expansion

Aug 21 // Steven Hansen
[embed]297379:59852:0[/embed] There is also, "a new specialization for the commercial areas," leisure areas like casinos and night clubs, "the downtown area, the nightlife center of the city." Nighttime also brings about higher rates of crime, helping to fill out prisons. Daytime has unique additions, too. New beachfront property thrives during the day like the casinos and clubs of nighttime, and the cities can also allow bike lanes for cyclists (or let them travel more slowly on sidewalks), thereby reducing traffic. The team wants to add, "smoother ways of handling large systems" with its updates, "helping people do what they're already doing in a more elegant and streamlined way," like by adding bus stations that can accept multiple bus lines and allow for in-building transfers. The $15 expansion launches September 24. The day and night cycle itself is a free update added to all owned copies of Cities: Skylines, while the After Dark expansion will house additional content.
September 24 photo
September 24
Cities: Skylines' major expansion, After Dark, has been dated for September 21. After dunking on SimCity, the successful city simulator is, "focusing on making large expansions over making many small ones," Colossal Order's l...

Secret Ponchos: Most Wanted is an improvement on the original release

Aug 20 // Chris Carter
The long road to Most Wanted started a few months after the original hit the PS4, notably by way of the PS+ program. Mapara and his team started working on a complete overhaul in the game, and development culminated when he took his preview build to EVO this year. "They don't hold their punches, in a good way," Mapara said. He noted how most of the attendees aren't interesting in visuals or artistic elements, but how the game plays, if your hitboxes are correct, and other technical aspects. "We always intended on having our game be catered to hardcore players, so this kind of feedback was perfect," he said. The entire experience is re-balanced around 3v3 fights to have a perfect mix of chaos and skill -- "4v4 was a little too hectic," stated Mapara. Improving Secret Ponchos is a two-layer strategy -- support features, and content. In terms of the former, Mapara mused on how they quickly shifted their philosophy after launch, saying, "We learned so much about the game at launch. This is new territory for an indie team, making a heavily online game. So we tried to base our system off of bigger games like TF2, and we learned that the model doesn't really work for us. For instance Call of Duty has millions of players at all times. We need to make our game work even if there's only 100 people playing." As a result, they've made matchmaking easier, merging lobbies together while allowing a rookie and ranked option. In terms of content, there will be 10 characters, five of which who weren't present in the PS4's launch, and four new maps. One of the new additions is "Gunman," who is described as the "[Street Fighter's Dan] of the game. He's a dumb cop who was kicked out of his town, and still thinks he's the law. After going hands-on with him it's clear that he's a support version of the Killer character, complete with a six-shooter, and the ability to mark enemies with a defense-lowering target. The Mad Trapper is another cool newcomer, who is literally all about traps and a massive amount of range. He's incredibly technical, as he has a low health pool, and can manually hide traps, luring players into all sorts of situations. Although she has been playable before I also had the chance to check out the reworked Wolf, who is one of my favorite arena shooter characters in recent memory. She's all about crits and precision, which grant her extra damage for subsequent shots, and shots right after she dodge-rolls. She also runs faster with her knife out, and can pounce on enemies, slashing them on the ground. Also included in the game is Gordo, a minigun toting maniac, and an unnamed character who wields two tomahawks. I was actually influenced to level them all up individual as well, as there's a new progression system in Most Wanted that ties into Steam achievements, and rewards players with in-game cash and content. Other additions include a tutorial, a more improved rookie matchmaking queue, AI bots, and a new mode called "Protect the Posse Leader" (think Gears of Wars' VIP). Secret Ponchos: Most Wanted will arrive on September 29 on Steam for $14.99. Much like what happened to Rovio with Awesomenauts' shift over to Steam, PS4 updates hinge on the success of the PC version. It's great to see a developer continue to support a game months down the line, and Mapara and his team seem to be incredibly invested in it.
Secret Ponchos preview photo
Coming to Steam on September 29
Back in December, I reviewed Secret Ponchos. It was a pretty interesting online arena shooter, and I saw a ton of potential in it that hadn't yet been tapped, mostly due to a lack of content. When Switchblade Monkeys' Yo...

Super Mario Maker is more fun than I initially thought it would be

Aug 18 // Chris Carter
Super Mario Maker starts in the best way possible -- a miniature creation tutorial featuring the first Super Mario Bros. After jumping across an impossible-to-make gap, you'll have the option to "finish the course," and bring Mario to the safety of the goal flag. Objects are located at the top, and it's very easy to use the stylus to create platforms, Question Mark Blocks, enemies, and hazards. Putting wings on enemies, piranha plants inside pipes, and items inside of blocks is also as easy as dragging it on top of said item. You can also tap or drag to clone the last-used item, which is useful for dropping tons of blocks. There's a lot of personality present, especially with the auto-tuned voice that notes item placement, cutely shouting out things like "block! block block! block block block block!" to the tune of the classic Mario theme. Maker even has its own tutorial character named "Mary O." who functions as a Power Line Expert of sorts, complete with a headset. I love little touches like this. The way amiibo support works is by adding characters to a roster with a GamePad tap, which will allow players to change into new cast members when touching a Mystery Mushroom. Each character has a special emote with the up d-pad button (for example, Pac-Man will raise a piece of fruit) -- most of the ones I've seen so far also have their own sound effects, and if you're hit, you'll transform back into Mario. Here's a full list of compatible amiibo.  Changing your "theme" (such as above or underground in the first Mario game, or even a new series entirely) is as easy as pressing a button, and only takes a few seconds. It's awesome seeing a stage change from the retro style to the "New" visuals instantly. It's also important to note that more tools only open up "over a series of days, as you continue to create in the game," and only 12 are available right away -- Nintendo notes that this is so you aren't overwhelmed but I don't really buy into it (hence my lingering issue). Expect thoughts on how this scenario plays out in the coming weeks. In terms of modes, you'll start off in the editing portion, but you can also access a challenge mode of sorts that limits your lives, and "Course World," which is a full online hub that allows you to play, star, download, and comment on levels. I love how Nintendo has this mode laid out, as you can clearly see the entire level by way of an icon in the hub menu, giving you an idea of whether or not the stage is up your alley before you even play it. You can also sort by rating and filter "up and coming" levels if you wish, and each map only takes roughly five seconds to load. There's tons of levels available right now for reviewers, so I'll be able to provide some thoughts on how the hub works at a later date. I don't want to spoil too many secrets, so expect our review in early September ahead of the September 11 launch of Super Mario Maker.
Super Mario Maker photo
First hands-on with the retail edition
Although I haven't been super excited for Super Mario Maker based on the initial pitch, we've slowly been drip-fed more and more information over the past month or so, and some of it looks intriguing. Now, I've had the chance to play the game myself, and left pretty satisfied outside of one lingering issue.

First hands-on with Ninja Theory's Hellblade

Aug 08 // Steven Hansen
Hellblade is the story of Senua, a Celtic warrior suffering from mental illness that manifests in her world. Her state of mind affects the world around here. The weather gets gloomy, rainy, sky full of lighting and rolling thunder. Beefy, imposing enemies come menacing in one at a time. Working with mental health experts and sufferers, the team is still learning about the "diversity we can bring in with the psychosis element," "different visualizations" based on "the range of experiences people have." But these are not mere hallucinations or effects, as is common in games as recently as Far Cry and Batman. Ninja Theory is focused on "representing this as the reality, because, to [Senua], this is reality. There's no switch to turn it off and on; everything is real to her." It's an interesting contrast to the frequent stylistic separation between real and unreal. The first Hannibal Lector film, Manhunter, uses excellent visual affects to distinguish how its villain sees the world, versus the objective film reality. The recent TV adaptation does the same with its hero. Here, though, playing as Senua, there is no objective reality to turn to, just hers. Given Ninja Theory's past, this then manifests itself more on the nose as a literal "fight your demons," because it is still a third-person action game (there was a light puzzle in the build I played, too). [embed]297247:59881:0[/embed] I enjoy the focus on one-on-one combat, which restricts the camera and brings it in tighter because you, as the player, don't have to protect ya neck worry about additional enemies coming in from all sides. In combat there is a quick evade, block (and parry), and a few strikes. Combat feels well weighted. A successful block still feels perilous, as it should with  sword just inches away from killing out bangs on your own steel with force.  It does have the draw back of making movement less key, based on the fewer than 10 encounters in this current build. Footwork is important to a fighter, be they using sword or melee, and while most action games don't make movement too important, the ping-pong between combatants give the illusion they do (I'd argue Resident Evil 4 does it better than the typical walk/roll/sprint). Ninja Theory has the right approach with Hellblade. It uses the limited third-person perspective to render Senua's problems physical; and to "tell her story," which happens to be the story of someone with mental illness, and "represent her character in a truthful way" that is unique to her experience. "What we don't want to do is reduce [mental illness] to mechanics," Matthews said, referencing things like Amnesias "Sanity meter." Hopefully Senua's story will be a good one.
gamescom preview photo
Action game for PS4 and PC
Ninja Theory has felt like a mercenary of late. Enslaved didn't sell as well as it should have (neither did Heavenly Sword), and so the last five years has been spent 1) making a mobile game for EA-owned publisher Chillingo, ...

Star Wars Battlefront's Fighter Squadron mode needs some variation

Aug 08 // Brett Makedonski
The build of Fighter Squadron that we saw essentially operates as a team deathmatch. There were X-Wings battling against TIE Fighters -- ten humans to a side with another ten AI-controlled vehicles, which brings the total to 40 players in each game. Aside from attempting to shoot down others, occasional large transport ship would spawn. They needed to be either defended or destroyed. The way your ship functions is the best thing about Fighter Squadron. Everyone has a set of blasters that are prone to overheating, a homing missile that's effective (yet still challenging to use properly), and a set of evasive maneuvers. The difference between sides is that TIE Fighters have a boost mechanic, while the X-Wings get a shield. The trick is that everything needs to be used in moderation because reusing it all is on a short timer. Generally, this sort of fast ability freeze-out wouldn't be too big of a deal, but it is because of the pace that Fighter Squadron moves at. With all the other pilots making quick cuts across the battlefield, you need to perfectly time when you pull your punches. Otherwise, your lasers get lost in the great void. [embed]297271:59829:0[/embed] For a more authentic experience, players can switch to a cockpit view. This first-person seat is where Fighter Squadron looks the greatest but plays the worst. As previously mentioned, this mode is relentlessly fast. Trying to play from the pilot's seat only decreases the already limited time to get off a good shot. Despite everyone controlling a standard vehicle, Fighter Squadron has bigger opportunities. Power-up icons put the player in a hero ship -- The Millenium Falcon and Boba Fett's Slave I are the two we were told about. We didn't see either, but those situations will likely draw the attention of everyone in the skies. These hero ships are an example of the potential that Fighter Squadron holds but doesn't live up to yet. Simple team deathmatch grows old quickly, as it needs more variation. TIE Interceptors, A-Wings, and Y-Wings are all planned and might accomplish that goal if they play differently enough from one another. Better objectives need to be implemented too. Defending and attacking transports felt largely without consequence and tacked-on. Star Wars isn't necessarily all about dogfighting, but it's integral enough to the franchise that it can't be overlooked either. If Star Wars Battlefront is going to be the seminal title in the series for the foreseeable future, it needs to do dogfighting right. Fighter Squadron just misses that mark because it isn't quite interesting enough yet. There's still time for that to change, though.
Battlefront preview photo
For now, it's a nice distraction
Thoughts of dogfighting over the surface of the planet Sullust should raise your heartbeat a little bit. It's an exciting prospect. Really, that goes for piloting any vessel in the Star Wars canon through any franchise l...

Lara Croft GO captures the essence of pure Tomb Raider

Aug 08 // Brett Makedonski
Lara Croft GO fits soundly into that latter category by more than just name alone. Despite being a mobile title, it nicely captures the spirit of the very first Tomb Raider games. Donning her classic outfit, Lara works through level after level in search of an artifact. Puzzle-solving and exploration are earmarks, just as they had been all those years ago. However, the mobile format is what makes GO distinct. Rather than continuous action, this game is turn-based which places a greater emphasis on thinking before moving. A rudimentary example might be a pair of snakes that are facing opposite directions. You always have to attack from the side or back, lest they strike and kill you first. There's only one path that allows for the correct order of operations; the others just leave you dead. But, even when Lara Croft GO deals out frustration, it doesn't negate progress. This is the mobile crowd, after all -- a group that might not have the patience to have its time wasted. Checkpoints come frequently and everything is ever-so bite-sized. On a micro-level, the scale of each section is obviously intentional. Routon says that the studio knows who it's developing for. Despite Lara Croft GO allowing for minimal time investments, Square Enix Montreal is seeing a more encouraging trend. "People intend to play for five minutes, and they end up playing for an hour or more," Routon comments. "We tell playtesters they can leave, but they say they want to finish this puzzle first. I guess that's not a bad thing." [embed]297421:59880:0[/embed] It really doesn't come as a surprise that people don't want to put Lara Croft GO down. It elegantly encapsulates what makes Tomb Raider work, and boils it down to its purest form. Swipe, swipe, swiping on the screen is so simple, yet it doesn't feel cheap to lead Lara on an adventure in this fashion. Helping production values are the strong aesthetic and the narrative told only through gameplay details. Although it's in the mobile market, Square Enix Montreal prices its titles more traditionally. GO will be available on August 27, but the cost is unknown right now (Hitman Go released at $4.99). Once invested, this game is fully playable at any speed; there are no energy meters to temper progress. Routon confirmed that there will be microtransactions of some sort, but their nature will be puzzle solutions for those who are struggling. In a wasteland of freemium games, this price model is commendable. More commendable, however, is the way that Square Enix Montreal boldly gets back to the roots of Tomb Raider. Series veterans will rediscover a Lara Croft that they know and love in a format that's undiscovered to them. Fitting, seeing as Tomb Raider should be all about discovery.
Lara Croft GO preview photo
Swipe right
Antoine Routon grinned. "We have people knocking down our door saying 'Can you do our game too?'" Routon's the lead programmer at Square Enix Montreal -- the publisher's studio that's dedicated to mobile titles. Square Enix h...

Halo 5 has some changes that longtime fans will have to get used to

Aug 06 // Brett Makedonski
Longtime Halo players might find this change jarring or even possibly off-putting. There are people who pride themselves on getting their way through the story on legendary difficulty, trying again and again until they finally hit the next checkpoint. Halo 5 could render that sensation largely moot thanks to a new revival system that's akin to the one in Gears of War. It gives second chances, something that Halo hasn't really done before. Design director Brad Welch says he doesn't think that will be the case. He commented that those who are playing on those higher difficulties will find a familiar level of challenge. "We've approached Halo from a completely new perspective," he said. "It might take people a little while to adjust, but we've worked for a long time on the balancing," he offered as he explained that being careless with your teammates will just lead to everyone dying rather quickly. Once that happens, it's right back to the checkpoint. There's a similar AI implementation in multiplayer that's a departure from what everyone has been used to. The 12-on-12 Warzone mode will feature computer-controlled bosses and defenders, as opposed to humans dictating all of the action. Again, Holmes and Welch say it'll take some getting used to, but this expanded game is their vision for Halo 5. [embed]297354:59849:0[/embed] Warzone's particularly significant in that it's one half of 343 Industries' initial multiplayer push. Classic four versus four arena play is available for purists, but Warzone is the mode for those who want action in larger numbers. Holmes explained that they designed these two kinds of multiplayer with two different types of player in mind -- that's why they're distinct styles. In fact, Warzone is such a priority that 343 is launching Halo 5 with it in place instead of Big Team Battle. However, Holmes clarified that Big Team Battle would be implemented within weeks of release. This is rather indicative of the developer's approach to post-launch content. Halo 5 will ship with 20 maps, but it'll eventually grow to around 50 -- all of those being added for free. Holmes elaborated that he wanted to get away from paid map packs because those do nothing but segment the community. He wants everyone to be able to play with whomever they want without putting that access behind a paywall. It's ambitious for sure, but everything about Halo 5 is ambitious. The sheer scale of it all tips its hand about that. 343 Industries and Microsoft are both on a mission to make a lot more Halo, and it looks like they'll accomplish that goal in the short-term -- even if it means players will have to make some small adjustments.
Halo 5 preview photo
There's a lot of the familiar, though
It was one year ago when I sat with 343 Industries as key developers told me all about the studio's plans for The Halo Channel. At the time, Halo 5: Guardians was more than a year on the horizon, and Halo: The Master Chi...

Rise of the Tomb Raider is a little easier on Lara (but still kicks the shit out of her)

Aug 06 // Brett Makedonski
The most obvious example lies within the fact that Rise of the Tomb Raider places less emphasis on campfires. They're still necessary for fast travelling and general checkpointing, but they're no longer required to upgrade skills. That can be done on the fly, meaning that Lara can become a more formidable foe in the thick of the fighting. She also has the opportunity to use materials in the wild to her advantage. Rise of the Tomb Raider features a new crafting system (again, no campfire needed) that acts as further upgrades. The likes of berries and pelts can be collected and turned into items far more useful than berries and pelts. Hardly the first game to do it, but it'll place more emphasis on exploration and scavenging when that should be a pillar of Tomb Raider. Crystal Dynamics knows that was a drawback of 2013's game, and it's making right this time. Speaking with members of the development team at gamescom, they assured that there will in fact be more tomb raiding in Rise of the Tomb Raider. The early section we played was a critical path tomb, but there will be more optional ones -- they'll be more expansive and intricate, to boot. One of the more intriguing aspects of this is that Lara will have to become proficient in various languages to access certain areas. We saw her discover a religious-looking artifact that raised her Greek skill a level. It seems as if finding these along the way will be the only method of unlocking certain side paths. It can probably be assumed that these languages correlate to the many countries Lara will find herself visiting. The demo we played took place in Syria, and those events led to her winding up in Siberia (which was shown at E3). When asked where else she'll go, we were given the well-rehearsed PR-trained line of "We're not ready to get into that quite yet; right now, we're focused on talking about Syria." Though brief, the demo showed nicely showed what Rise of the Tomb Raider has in store. It's just as cinematic, dramatic, and action-filled as we'd expect. Lara's going to do plenty of rough falling, labored climbing, and "wow, you just barely made that" jumping. Even though it's an origin story, she should know by now that tomb raidin' ain't easy.
Tomb Raider preview photo
At least she might learn something
Lara Croft has never been the best archaeologist. Carefully digging for hours so as to not damage an artifact wouldn't make for a very good video game. Still, there's a disconnect when she knocks over human skulls that are pe...

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

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

Sam Lake explains Quantum Break's television show tie-in

Aug 05 // Steven Hansen
[embed]297184:59794:0[/embed] What's weird, though, is that while my suspicion and low expectations haven't changed even as the game has, there's some magic in hearing Remedy's Sam Lake tell it. Few can string together scripted nonsense like "intense story-driven action game spectacle" and still seem genuine with a kind of unassuming, unironic grin. It's adorable At one point Lake noted that the team destroyed yet another giant ship in the demo we were shown. "We are destroying another ship here as we did at last gamescom," Lake said, explaining that Remedy doesn't hate ships or the shipping industry. "We love shipping. Shipping games." Pause. "Hah hah." That was a "hah hah," not a laugh, and a perfectly delivered one. So we've seen "I'm a super badass baby-faced dubstep killer" wreck house on crews of heavily outfitted corporate military already and it's a little goofy as the guy in jeans and a Guess jacket brushes off assault rifle fire. He's aided by the time powers granted by a failed time travel experiment that is bringing about the end of time (hah). Time Rush allows Jack to run forward with time stopped, either to avoid environmental obstacles in platforming sections or to combo into running punches. Time Dodge is a quick dash out of harm's way or into an enemy to bump them a bit. Time Blast is an offensive projectile, Time Shield is a bubble shield, and Time Stop freezes time in one focused area. Some of Monarch's soldiers are outfitted with fancy backpacks that give them some of these powers, too, so you're not just up against folks shooting you. Quantum Break is "a story about warring philosophies," Lake says. The fatalist antagonist thinks the future can't be changed or fixed no matter what, the protagonist thinks that's bogus. The game focuses on the perspective of the latter, while "the show is about villains," focusing on the Wire half of the cast and what's happening at evil Monarch. So how does it work? "You first play through an act of the game, Lake says. "It culminates in a special scene that is the junction moment, where you make a choice," which opens up an episode of the show "based on the choice you make." So you get roughly 22 minutes of programming tailored to your decisions. And all of Quantum Break is "shaped by your choices." The given example of a junction moment is where evil corporate bad guy Paul Serene has to either: 1) kill a student activist who's witness to some shady things or 2) threaten to murder her family to bend her into submission. Both bad, one less bad, I suppose. Her death, should you choose, is reflected in the protest scene from last year's trailer. On the other hand, should she live, she becomes Jacks ally, helping to dig up dirt on Monarch. Sometimes these two parts of the game weave even closer. A live-action conflict between Monarch folks who've captured Jack ends at an anticlimax as their guns disappear and Jack is shown to have gotten away. On the game side, there's a cutscene of Jack waking up in the back of the van, noticing the conflict outside, and escaping (and gun jacking) during a time skip. With Xbox having killed its original programming arm, Lake also clarified that, "the game and the show ship together as one item."
Not skippable photo
'[They] ship together as one item'
It's been over two years since I first side-eyed Quantum Break, the television show and third-person shooter hybrid from Remedy (Alan Wake, Max Payne). Quantum Break finally has a release date it probably won't be delayed out...

Hitman studio just wants to 'get back to Hitman'

Aug 05 // Brett Makedonski
[embed]294082:59060:0[/embed] From what we saw, creativity should be a pillar of gameplay this time around. There's so much happening at any given time, leading to seemingly endless possibilities. Seifert pointed out how almost everything could be used as either a distraction or an instrument of death. Chandeliers can be cut loose, gas lamps can be tampered with, weapons could be smuggled inside electrical equipment, liquor could be poisoned, et cetera ad nauseam.  Our approach was a bit more customized. We planted an explosive device behind a guard and then threw a coin to alert him. Proficient in his line of work, he noticed the mine, disarmed it, and picked it up so no one would get hurt. He took it to the guard center inside which was past security. All we had to do was retrieve it later. Sucker. People who know and love Hitman might pick up on this style immediately, but newcomers won't necessarily know how the game's systemic nuances work. Seifert's solution to bridging this gap is an "opportunity alert" that doesn't quite guide the player, but informs them that something can be done. He noted that it's very important that the feature be able to be disabled. "Hardcore players will turn it off right away," Seifert said. "They want to discover things on their own." There's a lot to do in Hitman, and all these unique methods stem from the density of the levels. The stage we saw was set at the iconic Parisian Fashion Week (not my first time virtually touring the French capital). Seifert said that this was one of the smaller settings, yet it's still six times larger than anything in Absolution. Likewise, Absolution had around 30 NPCs with their own routines and lifecycles per level; Hitman will have around 300. Everything's bigger in Hitman, but it's not just for the sake of being bigger. It all leads to more options, which is exactly what players want from a Hitman game. There's no trick to being more efficient implementing this, either. It simply just takes more time. Seifert says that it has taken IO Interactive around a year to complete any given level. They take a while to create, but those levels will likely get a lot of use over time. One of the major planned features is an assassination mission that rotates out every two days or so. The catch is that players are only given a single try. If they botch it, the target gets away and they have a black mark on their permanent record. Success will be rewarded with unique items to carry into the campaign and leaderboard glory. This is indicative of Seifert's beliefs on post-launch content. He doesn't think that developers should spend four years creating a game, put it out, and then get working on another four-year cycle. Instead, he wants to offer players new things with regularity. That mindset isn't too unique, but Seifert is interestingly against paid DLC. That's why Hitman will have none. He said it's a model that he lobbied for, and admitted that it was a "tough sell." Everyone likes their money, after all. Still, somehow he won. The price of the base game is all people will have to pay to fully experience his game. Really, when you boil it down, Seifert's adamant attitude toward constant content is just another angle for all that Hitman wants to accomplish -- it's another way to give players options. The appealing idea here is that everyone will have a personal experience with the game -- their own stories to tell about an assassination gone right or awry. That, as Seifert would put it, is how they're getting back to Hitman.
Hitman preview photo
And the response to Absolution
"Hitman is 15 years old," IO Interactive head Hannes Seifert said. "That's a long time. Tastes change. It's time to get back to Hitman." That was Seifert's explanation for why the next game in the series has forgone a su...

Kamiya: Scalebound 'not a simple action game that Platinum is known for'

Aug 05 // Steven Hansen
[embed]297186:59795:0[/embed] Kamiya noted that Scalebound is, "a story about Drew...who has been transported from our modern world into this fantasy world," and by some held back plot point ends up in union with Thuban, the last of his kind. Very Dragonheart. Drew's devil may care attitude (and Devil May Cry Dante comparisons), "might be too early," according to Kamiya, who noted Platinum has released little information thus far. The "partnership between Thuban and Drew" is one of the many themes, both within the mysterious story and in gameplay. You're able to issue the AI-controlled Thuban basic commands which fall into 1) attack (at varying levels of scorched earth) and 2) fall back a bit. The latter is important because Thuban's stronger attacks can wipe enemies clean out of existence. If Drew downs them, he is able to crystallize them and collect the resulting red gems which can be used to customize Thuban. It's a bit weird you can actually change what kind of dragon he is, but hey, RPGs. "Pulse" drives the world of Draconis with its floating islands and colorful palette. It's also what powers Drew's Mega Man buster cannon-reminiscent pulse shot and the "colored accents on Thuban." I believe Kamiya called them green and I don't want to disagree, but they look pretty blue to me. I will ask my mother.  Aside from incentivizing you from not leaning too much on Thuban through the gem system, the demo continued past defeating the mantis boss in the trailer and into a much more narrow area where Thuban has to fly ahead and thus isn't free to use in combat. That means that, because of Thuban, "the world can't be too small," so there'll be plenty of open plains like the ones seen in the trailer. Other tidbits: Drew's transformation is "dragon mode" as it stands. Some trailer-like features montage showed off a large, NPC-filled city. There is also some sort of skill point system that seems like it's based on how well you perform combat. Drew also has access to a wide variety of weapons (halberds, enormous anime swords, etc.) that appear to be housed in a block-based inventory system (think Resident Evil 4). And, as learned yesterday, there's four-player co-op. "As kind of a policy for myself when I start creating a game, I am not creating to please everyone," Kamiya said. "My job is that you fall in love more and more with what I created." From what has been released, this feels like the most straightforward Platinum/Kamiya game. Basic action RPG stuff is appropriate for trade show reveals. Still, I think as crazy story details and mechanics are unveiled en route to the holiday 2016 launch (crossing back into the modern world? increased dragon skills and combo attacks?), I will get more and more into what is already a pretty, nice looking action game.
Scalebound at gamescom photo
Customizable dragon
First, note that I wanted to get Scalebound's Hideki Kamiya to say, "Ask your mom" on video, but gamescom meetings are too tight, too perpetually behind to get much good one on one in. Still, I got to see an extended playthro...

Panic! Dark Souls III is so easy I didn't die by the boss once

Aug 05 // Steven Hansen
[embed]297197:59811:0[/embed] Site Souls-expert Chris Carter reckons this slice of Dark Souls III was about five hours into the game, so it's no first boss gimme that I took down casually and without a sweat. Also, henceforth, I am Destructoid's resident Souls expert. Chris was the first to beat the boss out of everyone (I came in a close second), but not even he managed to do it first try and so he is usurped. In fact, I almost made it all the way to the boss without dying until I got stuck investigating a corner and some malnourished dogs attacked me. My attacks got caught on the shelves and wall on either side, interrupting the animation, and I was pinned. Streak nixed, I explored a bit more, fought a black tendril-y roof monster, and so on. My natural investigative nature is probably the only reason Chris beat me to the boss, if you think about it. Even to a handsome newbie like myself, Dark Souls III was instantly familiar. Despite matching Bloodborne's speed, it doesn't have that same novelty learning curve that came with playing sans shield, with a giant transforming axe scythe thing and a gun. The big new addition, Weapon Arts, are activated by holding L2 and then doing attacks for alternate strikes, but I never put them into play during combat. The skill went from unlimited to a cap of 20, refueled at bonfires, which should help undercut my joking fear mongering regarding the difficulty level of the game. All of this could change and likely will. We were shown a stage and system that feels completely final (art, animation, etc.) save for the most important thing: balance and tuning to feel. [Disclosure: Bandai Namco provided local travel to the event, as well as dinner.]
Dank souls photo
Hands-on preview
When I wrote about why Souls games are not that hard earlier this year, I told you all that I was neither expert (under 30 series hours total) nor savant (not skilled at anything). And yet, this lumbering galoot, after quite ...

Dark Souls III wears its Bloodborne influences on its sleeve

Aug 05 // Chris Carter
Our demo started out in an era called the "Wall of Lodeleth," which to me, looks like a mix between the Undead Burg and Boletarian Palace. The layout was fairly linear, but offered up a ton of surprises like the standard "dragon guarding loot" offshoot, and a mini-boss of sorts. Lodeleth was multi-tiered, and featured a number of side rooms accessed by way of ladders, as well as some rooftop shenanigans. It was par for the course, but still felt right. Combat as a whole is quicker, which is likely a direct response to Bloodborne changing the game. Rolls and dodges are faster, and enemies as a whole feel faster, too. It's not quite "fighting game" fast, but it's a comfortable medium between Souls and Bloodborne, which I'm more than okay with. One big addition is "Battle Arts," which are basically super moves triggered by different equipment combinations. "Not all shields parry now," I was told by Bandai Namco producer Brandon Williams, and you can see that distinction by way of an icon on the item itself in the lower-left equipment corner. A shield icon denotes a defensive action, and a sword icon is more aggressive. In this instance, it allowed my axe to power up for a short period, granting me a damage boon, which was depicted by a glowing aura on my weapon. In essence, it's a more "on-demand" spell system for folks who prefer direct combat -- I say bring it on. My personal style for Souls games involves using the shield as blocking insurance, but not necessarily for parrying, so I'm all for this change. As a note, these are limited-use abilities, and will recharge at a bonfire much like flasks. As I made my way through the demo, I eventually encountered the only boss, the Dancer of the Frigid Valley (1:45 in the trailer). Based on my experience, it was very similar to Bloodborne's Vicar Amelia fight -- for the most part attacks are easy to dodge, but if you get caught up, you're going to get punished, and possibly one-shotted. The boss also sports a flaming sword, which produces chip damage even if you block, forcing you to be more aggressive. It was a standard but fun fight. [embed]296887:59812:0[/embed] One problem area I noticed during my hands-on session however was the frame rate. There was often times a lot of enemies on-screen, but it chugged on all of those occasions. Bloodborne was 30fps as well, but it's high-time that the series moved on without needing a re-release to bring us into higher territory -- Scholar of the First Sin is incredibly smooth at 60fps. For reference, the build we played with seemed to be PC-based, using an Xbox One controller. Another sort of more personal issue I had was the fact that it felt a little too samey. As I mentioned above, Lodeleth felt like an amalgamation of existing areas in past Souls games. Even something like Huntsman's Copse in Dark Souls II, which is for all intents and purposes a "forest area" that had been done before, felt like something completely different. Bloodborne was a breath of fresh air, providing a unique perspective with a harrowing blight and a darker tone in general. With Dark Souls III, I'm distinctly getting the feeling of "more Souls," which for the most part is a good thing, but did wear on me a bit even during my brief time with the game. It took me roughly 30 minutes to make my way through the demo area and defeat the Dancer -- of which I was the first in the group to do (though Steven beat the boss in one shot!). At the end of it all, amidst the claps from my colleagues and the Namco Bandai reps, I felt that sense of accomplishment that I've felt since downing the Phalanx boss in Demon's Souls. I think Dark Souls III will be fine. [Disclosure: Bandai Namco provided travel to the event, as well as dinner.]
Dark Souls III preview photo
I also see a few problem areas
It's crazy to think that we're on the verge of yet another Souls game right after Bloodborne and Scholar of the First Sin. From Software doesn't seem to rest, and as soon as the studio has wrapped up one project, it's on...

Superhot asks that we do something different with a gun in our hands

Aug 04 // Brett Makedonski
[embed]297228:59815:0[/embed] "Time only moves when you move." That's Superhot's very to-the-point slogan. The game's stuck in a perpetual bullet-time that slows to an absolute crawl. Upon touching the left stick, it speeds up to the degree that you sped up. It's important to manage these movements almost like a resource of sorts. The polygonal enemies will swarm in the event that you're wasting movements. The most challenge lies in figuring out where exactly these enemies should be shot. Significant leading is required because they aren't going to stay where they were when the bullet was fired. Stylish headshots are tempting, but the smart money's on a well-placed round in the body. It accomplishes the exact same thing, but again, several years of experience have taught us to aim for the dome. Before long, a pattern forms. Slowly line up a shot, inch along in any direction at a safe pace until the bullet hits, stop and find the next foe. It's easy to understand but so counter-intuitive for most. That's why even when they showed restraint, they eventually gave into the urge to press forward quickly. That's a death sentence in Superhot. If you'll notice, I've been using most of this preview to critique others' performance at Superhot. That's because I played it on VR at E3 2014, and I was very good at it. Blazed through the demo, in fact. This non-headset business would be a breeze. Dammit, I just died. Okay, no problem, just a quick restar--son of a bitch, I died again. This doesn't make sense. I know what to do, I'm just not doing it for some reason. Oh, god. Am I playing just like all these foolish other journalists? Ugh, this is embarrassing. That's exactly what was happening. When I was cool, calm, and collected, Superhot was easy to manage. The second I got either too confident or flustered, everything went awry. The ability to throw the player between those two mental extremes at such a quick pace is a defining attribute of the game. And, a constant source of anguish. Just take it slow, and everything will work out.
Superhot preview photo
Keep your cool
One after another, I watched everyone play Superhot wrong. They all made simple mistakes, threw their hands up in pleasant frustration, and then made the same mistakes again. Every single person was bad, and it was kind ...

Homefront: The Revolution is very different than when we last saw it

Aug 04 // Brett Makedonski
[embed]297199:59800:0[/embed] When I first played Homefront: The Revolution, the world felt lived-in. The oppressive themes were apparent, but the citizens seemed to accept it and go about their daily routines (except for the ones sparking the revolution in secret, of course). I believed that this was a city I could change the face of. I saw the potential to revolt and to do so in creative ways. The chunk I recently saw was more chaotic than that. Things are on fire and smoke billows on the horizon. All those people doing everyday stuff don't exist anymore. There are a few freedom fighters, but not many. It's mostly an empty playground for me to ramp my motorcycle off stuff. Rather than showing off a functioning city, this version of Homefront: The Revolution opted for sporadic waves of enemies. Many battles took places in warehouses, often around large crates that are meant to scream "industry!" It was all just so boring. It was like a Call of Duty where you traverse more ground before the next section of bad guys with guns. The world was still open, but the enemies acted with the scripted ways of a linear game. The player reached the top of the stairs, so it's time to charge through the door. That is to say, this demo largely erased my positive attitude toward Homefront: The Revolution. I'm not going to care about liberating a city if there's no one in that city. Its lifelessness reminded me of every shooter I've played for the past ten years and then immediately forgot about. The thing is, this can't be the true Homefront: The Revolution. Its premise is one with promise, but this slice shows none of that ambition. There's no way the game's skewed this far from concept. I guess I'll chalk this up to another misrepresentative demo, and hey -- I just broke the rule I spent the first paragraph talking about.
Homefront preview photo
But not necessarily better
Sometimes when you see a game at a preview event, you don't even want to write about it. You just know that what was shown wasn't a good representation of the final game. Malicious intent isn't always to blame, either; there ...

Gears of War HD is fine, but why wasn't active reload its legacy?

Aug 03 // Steven Hansen
[embed]297093:59771:0[/embed] Fergusson calls Ultimate Edition "the first at its best." The team didn't want to update the gameplay to reflect every change brought about by the second and third sequel. It's a "balance between modernization and breaking Gears 1." You still can't move while downed, for instance, but you can spot enemies. Still, the ten-year-old game could use some cleaning up. Fergusson has talked about the slapdash putting together of the original. He noted that, "When you look at Gilligan's Island today, it's a terrible show that should never be watched." That it isn't really funny, "but Mary Ann was hot." This comparison doesn't make a ton of sense because Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is a tech overhaul. It's a shot for shot, line for line remake, like that Psycho with Vince Vaughn. An HD, visually remastered Gilligan's Island would still be Gilligan's Island. I played some Gears Ultimate last week in San Francisco. For shock value, they had Xbox 360s set up to play one round of multiplayer in the original. It is gritty and monotone. Characters feel appropriately like tanks and I struggle to discern between human and alien bug ground monster. This problem didn't go away completely when we switched over to Xbox One, but we can chalk that up to me being not particularly great. I think my team only lost one round, though the win piles were not me carrying folks. Here's a more important question: why is the gruff marine third-person cover shooter the thing that feels most copied from Gears and not active reload? Active reload is still so fucking good. It engages the player when they'd otherwise be waiting for an animation to finish, it has practical advantages, more button presses (in repeatable timing instances) makes for more rhythmic and fluid play. Why didn't everyone do this? The rest of it is still fun, too. The insult of walking patiently up behind a sniper and casually chainsawing them dead. The hulking movement and exploding heads. That one level with a killer train in between halves. And there are new additions like TDM, differing "competitive" and "social" matchmaking, 4K displays if you buy it on PC, additional content if you never played the original PC release. Playing Gears Ultimate will net you the previous Gears games when Xbox One sorts out its backwards compatibility, too, and you of course get early access to Gears 4 down the line.
Hands-on preview photo
Hands-on with the rebuilt Gears of War
Gears of War was not alone in ushering in an era of grimdark, of repetitive third-person cover-based shooting, but it ground our faces deepest into the dirt and grit. At one point an officer yells at prison-broke Marcus Fenix...

Neverwinter: Strongholds might get me back into the game

Jul 31 // Joe Parlock
Building your Stronghold [embed]296961:59747:0[/embed] With the goal of providing “interesting and meaningful experiences to guilds”, the process of creating and upgrading your guild’s stronghold is at the heart of the expansion. All buildable structures and upgrades are ultimately decided by the leaders of the guild, but those goals are worked towards by every member through the “Coffers” system. Coffers are the total resources available to a guild to help build up their stronghold, and they’re separated into three categories: materials, which are found in the lands surrounding your stronghold such as lumber; treasures, which are earned by playing through the campaign zones of the wider game such as the Dread Ring campaign; and stockpiles, the normal loot, gold, and astral diamonds players earn throughout the game. Finding these resources ensures creating a good stronghold for your guild isn’t just a case of the leaders fiddling with the UI; every member of the guild would have a role to play, be it collecting resources or planning out where structures will go.  Once there are enough resources to build a new structure in the stronghold, or to upgrade an already existing one, the guild leaders can then start the work of upgrading, while also setting the next goal for the guild to work towards. However, the amount of upgrades you can apply to a structure depends on the overall level of the guild’s keep. While structures have a maximum level of 10, the keep can grow up to level 20. However, structures can’t out-level the keep, so sometimes an effort must be made to upgrade the keep rather than simply rushing for all the new and shiny buildings. As players donate these hard-earned resources to their guild’s coffers, they are awarded guild marks with which they can buy new gear and items for themselves at the marketplace. It’s a way of incentivising altruism among the guild, and is one of the few times in the game players can make decisions for themselves that aren’t directly linked to the decisions of their wider guild. Another way the guild must coordinate in building their stronghold is in the new added boons. Boons are passive bonuses granted to players, and in Strongholds, structures can be built to grant the entire guild specific types of boons. There are currently four categories: offense, defense, utility, and Player vs. Player (PvP). The catch is not every type of boon would available for a guild at the same time, as there are only a limited number of boon structures that can be made. This requires decisions to be made about how players within the guild will be buffed. An example given would be a raiding guild may put more emphasis into PvP or offensive boons to increase their power. The boons in each category would be optional for each individual player, however what type of boon is available is up to the guild. It’s a neat mechanic, as now other players who you’d regularly play with have an active impact on how your character works, and how these buffs influence your character may well change in the future. Should the guild decide to change an offensive boon structure to a defensive one, the boons you previously had would no longer apply. It’s interesting, however I could also see it causing some conflict within guilds. The area given to a guild to build its stronghold on is the biggest zone Neverwinter has ever seen: it is three times bigger than the biggest previous one. The zone is split into multiple, smaller themed areas, each with their own enemies and quests. For example, there may be faetouched areas, or there may be areas that are more desolate, and different enemies may be encountered in each one. It’s nice to see some variance in the zone, as Neverwinter does have a problem of each zone being its own themed thing that gets boring sometimes: the snowy zone, the desert zone, or the city zone and nothing but that. Some areas will be sealed off and hidden until the stronghold has been built up and expanded on, but what’s interesting is that the future of the zone isn’t entirely known even to Perfect World yet. The strongholds system is planned to be expanded upon over the course of at least the next two expansions: Strongholds and a currently unannounced expansion after that. According to them, being “done” with building a stronghold simply isn’t possible, as new structures and boons will be made available in future updates.  While there is a storyline planned out for Strongholds and the expansion after that, the specifics of what sort of boons and structures will be included in them are apparently down to player feedback and community suggestions. New Player vs. Environment Content Building up a guild’s stronghold isn’t the only new addition to Neverwinter. Alongside it comes a new range of player vs. environment content, much like in the previous expansions before it. However, a lot of this will still directly help your stronghold grow. Firstly, the act of actually acquiring your guild’s new keep will be part of a quest line that changes as the stronghold grows. At first, your guild and a travelling band of Orcs will both arrive at the same time, causing there to be multiple skirmishes and missions available. Finding guards, protecting farms, and driving off Orcs to ensure that your keep is safe in the early days. As the keep levels up, new enemies will start to appear in the zone. For example, the second phase of the zone involves mercenaries appearing to try and steal the keep from you, giving you multiple quests involving dealing with them. The zone’s campaign appears to play out in much the same way as previous campaign zones such as the Dread Ring have, however there is also the added dimension of it being dependent on your keep’s level. Of course, there will also be a series of daily quests available from your stronghold’s steward too, and they will also help guide players to the next of their campaign quests. Greed of the Dragonflight That’s all pretty standard expansion stuff: more of what Neverwinter players will be used to. What’s particularly interesting is the major new boss fight that occurs in the Strongholds zone. Dubbed Greed of the Dragonflight, the boss is designed to be played by guilds of 40 or more players who must coordinate and plan out how to take down four powerful dragons simultaneously across the map. If one dragon is killed, the other three will flee shortly afterwards, requiring guilds to figure out which players are best suited to take on each dragon, and make sure all four of them die at the same time. Doing so will net the guild huge rewards, some of the most powerful items in the game, according to Perfect World. However, failure to nab all for dragons doesn’t mean nothing was gained. Due to some guilds not having enough players to take down all four dragons, there is a sliding scale of what rewards are given. The more dragons the guild can kill, the better the loot given. What I saw of this event reminded me of my favourite bit of Neverwinter: the timed boss events. Instances are great, questing is fun, but seeing the alert to head to an area of the map to slay as big-as-hell lizard was always really cool to me. It’s involving, it’s hectic, and it looks as though adding in the extra element of needing to size up who takes on which dragon will make it all the more satisfying when the guild succeeds. The difference between normal timed events and Greed of the Dragonflight is that it isn’t only a timed event. Due to a large amount of player requests, Perfect World is allowing guilds to trigger the event manually whenever they like, and so it could become a pretty big part of guild social life somewhere down the line. A New PvP mode inspired by MOBAs Player vs. Player in Neverwinter has been the centre of Perfect World’s attention for a while now: originally offering a fairly basic 5v5 arena mode, an open-world PvP was later added in Icewind Dale, and of course Strongholds will be adding even more for those who like stomping other players. The PvP added to Strongholds is a 20v20 Guild vs. Guild mode, which when I first heard about it reminded me a lot of Guild Wars 2’s World vs. World feature. However, it appears as though the new mode is being more inspired by the likes of Dota and League of Legends. This isn’t a compulsory feature, guilds must queue up to enter the mode. Once in the game, guilds will find their strongholds and surrounding lands “glued together”, with a river separating the two. The MOBA inspiration comes on the emphasis of controlling the various lanes between the two strongholds, while pushing forward and sieging the enemy guild. Perfect World has also catered to smaller guilds that might not have 20 players online at a time. When in queueing, if a guild has enough players to spare, they will be transferred temporarily to the other guild and fight for them instead. It’s a nice way of evening the playing field, but it will also be interesting to see where their alliances lie once the match is underway. It’s worth noting I didn’t get to actually see any PvP in action, due to the problems setting up a game with 40 players just to show me it would’ve caused. As such, all of this is only how it was described to me by Overmyer. Final Thoughts As previously mentioned, I’ve got a fair amount of experience with Neverwinter, however the lack of something to keep me interested once I’d finished the story quests meant I dropped out of the game soon after. Guilds have always been something in MMOs I’ve had an interest in, but never found the right match – I always ended up in quiet, inactive guilds where nothing ever happened. Strongholds looks like it wants to solve both of my problems, while giving me more of the solo content that got me into the game at first. I’m somewhat concerned that finding decent guilds might still be tricky, but maybe the new toys guilds can play with will convince people to give running guilds a go. PvP has never been a big interest of mine. I got into Rift’s quite a bit, but still eventually found myself going back to questing. Neverwinter in particular has been quite notorious for equipment you can buy in the store being perceived to be more powerful than stuff you can earn in-game, which always put me off PvP. However, if it’s true that the rewards from Greed of the Dragonflight are some of the strongest in the game, it could go a way to fix that problem. Overall, I’m excited. I’m definitely going to be going back into it just to see how all of these new mechanics change how people interact within guilds, if at all. Plus Dragonflight is a condensed version of everything I like about Neverwinter, which is great. Neverwinter: Strongholds will be released on August 11 as the next free expansion on PC. Neverwinter is free-to-play on both Xbox One and PC.
Neverwinter: Strongholds photo
An in-depth look at all the new stuff
On August 11, Perfect World will be releasing the latest expansion to their Dungeons & Dragons-based MMO Neverwinter, Strongholds. With its action-based combat, fantastic locations, and relatively simple mechanics, N...

How the hell did Galak-Z hide a Gundam for three years?

Jul 24 // Steven Hansen
Let's recap for a second if you haven't been following along. Galak-Z is broken into five seasons each with five episodes. The fifth season will be added in for free post launch. This is one diversion from the typical roguelike set up, in that when you die, you don't start all the way at the beginning of the game, but rather at the beginning of whichever "season" you're on. "One of [Kazdal's] pet peeves with roguelikes" is that playing very beginning segments over and over can get boring, so this blends that death-based need to replay with earned progression. More typically, levels are randomly generated, and you get different fractions of story and dialogue every time. This way you won't hear the same repeated bits death after death, but slowly glean more information until you finally get through the season. The space shooting half we already knew about is not just a twin-stick shooter, either. The ship maps thrusters (and a boost) to the triggers. There's also a backwards thruster so you can shoot and flee, a dodge thruster, and a a barrel roll (square) that juts the ship "toward" you like it's coming out of the screen (and over incoming bullets on the 2D plane). You have your standard weapon and an Itano Circus missile salvo (limited, but you can buy more if you find the shop during levels). [embed]296589:59676:0[/embed] Ok, so the not-Gundam? You can morph the ship into the robot at any time with a smooth, Transformers-like animation and change up the playstyle completely. It has a beam sword, which can be charged for a stronger, wider attack, and a shield that has parry capabilities. Perhaps most fun, though, is the extending claw arm that can grab dangerous space junk and throw it at enemies, or grab enemies themselves, bringing them in close so you can start wailing on them with punches. Keeping the mech locked up this long is impressive. The feature was locked off in the many public shows Galak-Z has been demoed at and no one slipped up about it. Kazdal tells me there were plans for a third, stealth-focused character, initially, but that it made for too many mental hoops in dealing with all the other things that could be happening at any given moment. Galak-Z is smooth, feels great to play, and the mech is a welcomed addition, adding one more layer to the game. There are warring factions you can sometimes pit against each other, environmental hazards to be aware of (and sometimes use to your advantage -- thanks alien trapdoor spider who saved my ass!), and instant shifts between ranged and close-quarters combat. It's tough, gorgeous, encourages exploration (beyond mission goals, there are blueprints for new gear and other upgrades to find), and a ton of fun.
HANDS ON: Galak-Z  photo
Spelunky by way of Macross...and Gundam
We've covered the "Spelunky by way of Macross" space shooting roguelike for a couple of years now and the follow-up from Skulls of the Shogun developer 17-bit is almost here, coming to PS4 August 4 and PC a few months down th...

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

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

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