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7th Dragon III Code: VDS is uncompromising, or I suck at video games

Sep 18 // Brett Makedonski
[embed]311332:60431:0[/embed] Those two little bastards repeatedly killed me. Like, ten times straight. Each of their attacks would take off a third of my health, leaving me forced to use a health potion. They attacked again and I was right back where I started. When I got a blow in, it wouldn't defeat one of them (even my specials). Worse, because I didn't spend that time healing, I'd usually die on their next turn. I tasted victory once when it let me start the encounter with a preemptive attack. I think the game felt bad for me. With only a sliver of health left, I dealt the final strike and escaped the situation scathed but alive. Progress. Incredibly uncompromising and frustrating progress, but progress nonetheless. Seconds later, I hit another random encounter against the same two enemies but now with the amount of health I had after the first fight. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. I gave up. 7th Dragon III Code: VDS wasn't going to work out for me. I know when I'm bested, and I absolutely was. Maybe I was missing something important and it's really not all that hard. Maybe it's tough as nails. Whatever the case, it sent me packing with my tail between my legs, and it's been a long time since a demo has been able to do that to me.
RPGs that are hard af photo
Maybe both
As I spend the week demoing games that are entirely in Japanese, I accept that I'm not going to understand a lot of things. I know the kanji for "forest" and that's the extent of my fluency with the language. Dialogue's the f...

I played Criminal Girls 2 and wasn't sexually aroused at all

Sep 17 // Steven Hansen
[embed]300696:59909:0[/embed] While Criminal Girls 2 is promised to be deeper and more challenging, I played a Japanese build haphazardly attacking things without strategy and that worked fine for the 15 minutes I played. Making a Japanese RPG "more challenging" doesn't sound like a good thing to be given how much "challenge" can equate to grind/leveling versus anything skill based. Eventually I reached an oasis in the dungeon, a save point, and was able to see the full anime portraits of the women all huddled together in a velvety room. From there I went to the "punish" menu and "punished" the two that looked the least like children. The purple smoke that obscured the women in the western release was not present, while the sexy moans when you smack them were present. The touch screen UI seemed cleaned up to a rhythm game style tap with circles getting smaller on either side of the vita touch screen (and, at the end, two circles, because you punish them together now, I guess). It was light for the demo, the circle showing vanilla leather whip. Even fog-free and full of moaning, no boner. Dressing tedious game mechanics with trite sex stuff seems like it shouldn't sell. I mean, why not just seek out the sex stuff and play a better game? It feels a bit like that bit about places of business that are things like, "Tattoo parlor & taxes" or "General hospital & cow slaughterhouse." Obviously this is not for me.
Criminal Girls hands-on photo
Mostly because it's kind of boring
While Japan is exoticized elsewhere as a land of weird sex stuff, Criminal Girls 2 doesn't feel that foreign, given that the original game got a western release. And it's probably the perviest game I came across (not literall...

PES 2016 made us laugh, but it's no Rocket League

Sep 17 // Brett Makedonski
[embed]311321:60427:0[/embed] STEVEN: Soccer, originally derived from the socks worn by the players, is cool. At E3 2015 a very old Pelé spent two hours on the EA stage telling an anecdote about calling soccer "the beautiful game," which is not really a thing people say, except for ironically, like calling coffee "morning mud." I mean I guess to do something ironically someone has to have done it genuinely.  Brett played as the Foot Locker-striped Jeeps and I played as Roma. I didn't know Jeep was an Italian brand. I feel bad typing it without us getting paid. Let's call it "Jorp." As much as we joke, having a sport play out without commercials (because the players and stadiums are the advertisements) is kind of amazing. On the other hand, I don't want to see a Sizzler logo on a San Francisco Giants jersey. The entire NFL is one constant running advertisement. I think in the modern era of sports subscriptions that block commercials, I'd rather take the blank periods than see all the advertising on folks.  I recognized Buffon from the 2006 Italian World Cup team (and a few other soccerers). He has a great head of hair and thousand yard stare in Winning Eleven. This is the first calcio game I've played since a few FIFAs ago but they still feel the same? Maneuvering tiny any people over a giant pitch like electronic football from far away. BRETT: The real joy didn't come so much from our unskilled controlling of these little athlete men, but in the replays that followed. The one goal that was scored saw Tevez running away from the goal, shooting it behind him, the ball ricocheting off several players including the keeper before finally being tapped in. All the movements were spot-on, but completely silly upon review given that these are representations of the finest footballers in the world. Like, Tevez would never just dart straight out of the box in that attacking situation. Similar comedy struck on the occasions when we committed to the idea of committing hard fouls. Rather than try to gracefully steal the ball, we'd end up stalking our prey before chopping them down at the legs. The replays confirmed that, yeah, we probably earned those yellow cards. Didn't manage to get a player sent off, though. STEVEN: Well Brett really likes Yellow Card so it was appropriate. How about the fact that we couldn't figure out how to skip the replays? Maybe it was the Share button to skip. I think we hit every other one. But yes, not skipping them lets you appreciate how....goofy these things look up as they strain to approximate human movement and the nuances of some of the greatest athletes in the world (after school teachers, nurses, and firemen). That goal was some bullshit, though. I took like six respectable shots on goal and got nothing, you had weird physics bounces and four assholes tripping over themselves and a chip shot. That is sports, mind, It's why it's so gif-able. Rocket League is still the better soccer game, though. It's more realistic. You have to control individual movements instead of electronic football floating. FIFA and PES feel more like real-time strategy games to me. Baseball has the advantage of being a one on one sport, football of the quarterback being most important, and basketball gets to shrink everything down for intimate and more detailed five on five. BRETT: Sure, PES 2016 isn't going to be the next video game du jour and find widespread acclaim like Rocket League has. It's just a good soccer game that good soccer game players will love -- just as they have with previous PESes. Those folks probably already know that. They're the ones who can make those replays look like actual soccer, but I get more of a kick out of our style.
PES preview photo
This preview brought to you by Jorp
Who would have thought that Tokyo Game Show, rife with interesting and weird games as it is, would lure Steven and I to try Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 (or, Winning Eleven 2016 as it's called here)? The Konami booth h...

I waited an hour and a half to play Gravity Rush PS4

Sep 17 // Steven Hansen
[embed]311208:60428:0[/embed] Look at this collector's edition! I haven't touched one since Catherine and didn't expect to go for one again, but I'm getting real into this. The original box art, expanded across a giant box, a very nice figure, and then that new, minimal black and white art. So good. Maybe I should just buy some real big Gravity Rush art to hang. Gravity Rush is already my favorite-looking game and it has translated perfectly to PlayStation 4. Anime blends into French comic aesthetic. Distinct regional skies are vibrant, varicolored oil paintings. Pointed line work serves as draw distance, as if the world was alive, sketching itself out in front of you as you soar about with the most invigorating locomotion. The controls, too, felt fine. The DualShock 4 accurately replaces the Vita gyro and if you're anything like me you "aim" the direction of gravity shifts with the sticks, anyways, and that's maybe even a little easier with full-size analog sticks. I'll happily play the first again when it comes to PS4 (February 9, 2016 in the states) and thank existential crises that, two years after it was first teased, we finally got a trailer for Gravity Rush 2 (and 2016's goty, c'mon). [embed]311208:60429:0[/embed]
TGS hands-on photo
Because I am stupid and I love it
I was surprised at Tokyo Game Show. It wasn't that there were melon-breasted anime women making out with each other in a trailer casually playing all about Sony's booth. It was that the line for Gravity Rush (Gravity Daze her...

New Resident Evil is a fast-crawling, alright third-person shooter

Sep 17 // Steven Hansen
Until I actually played it, I was feeling Gears of War hints. There's the close, over-the-shoulder view (arguably equally established by Resident Evil 4, but the former gets the mental nod in the context of a third-person competitive shooter), the general griminess of the place, and the claustrophobic tightness of the map, and the "Brained," a rock climbing pick ax looking thing good for one-hit melee kills. And then I played the thing and there is none off that lumbering; it felt more like Counter-Strike speed. [embed]310837:60379:0[/embed] The regular walking speed is quick, sprint is quicker. Even the crawl is fast, which is incredibly strange looking. There's a cover system, too, which is a bit like Gears' run. If you're aiming at a structure that supports cover, it will be outlined blue. Pressing X will automatically send your character running for cover and then snap in. Zombies are kind of just milling about (I think they just kind of spawn from goopy puddles in the floor) and you do get points for killing them. They can kill you, too, but are non-threatening enough that you can run past them. I did get killed by one, though, while I was already hurt and trying to crawl-retreat from bullets. It clocked me in the face. So they add something to the matches. The one life, no respawn mode I played is "one of the main modes," which emphasizes the focus on small, quick games. We were playing 3-on-3 and the game will go up to 5-on-5 with more modes to be announced later. Umbrella Corps is a bit more fast and floaty than I expected, but that did give it a somewhat novel feel. I've always preferred smaller player count shooter multiplayer, too. The whole thing feels...fine. A bit faceless with the tactical, bug-eyed non-persons, but not completely bog standard boring, either.
TGS hands-on photo
Coming to PC, PS4 early 2016
Next year is the 20th anniversary of Resident Evil (Biohazard here in glorious Nippon) and the only Resident Evil game dated for 2016 at the moment is the newly announced Biohazard: Umbrella Corps. It is an online, competitiv...

First hands-on with Metal Gear Online had us going back for more

Sep 17 // Steven Hansen
The demo stations were set up to accommodate 16 players (8 on 8 split between teams Liquid and Solid) with four pre-fab classes. Given how much meticulous, stealthy Phantom Pain I've been playing prior to arriving in Tokyo, I immediately went non-lethal, armed with nothing but a non-suppressed sleep pistol and a grenade that identified nearby enemies. I skulked around a bunch in a wide arc across the map hardly encountering anyone, which is likely because everyone else was running around trying to kill dudes, as you wont to do in a team deathmatch setting. I died to roving D-Walkers and machine guns. I was yearning for a bit of one life, no respawns, but I adjusted, switching to a sniper class mid-game. At one point I got CQC pulled from my sniping vantage point, which stunned me. The opposing player Fulton ballooned my ass off the battlefield. [embed]284642:56558:0[/embed] BRETT: Fultons, active camouflage, D-Walkers, turret nests -- really, the list goes on and on. There are so many ways to play Metal Gear Online that it's kind of overwhelming. Like, I finished second on our team one match, but did so entirely through gun kills. It felt disingenuous. The next round, I knocked a guy out and dropped a molotov cocktail on his head. That was infinitely more satisfying. One of my early deaths came while I was trying to figure out my secondary weapon: a stuffed kitten. How does that even work? I understand AI getting distracted, but these are humans I'm playing against. I took a bullet to the head immediately after setting it down. The kill cam showed my murderer running over to the cat and enthusiastically clapping at its cuteness. Kojima, you magnificent bastard. STEVEN: Was it a stuffed puppy? There's a husky plush (assumedly inspired by the wolf-ish D-Dog buddy from The Phantom Pain) you can set down like a mine, but instead of it blowing enemies up, if they get to close they get distracted by how cute it is. In MGS4's online, it was a nudie mag you could set down to distract. It's good for getting non-lethal kills without resistance (or freezing someone up and sniping from afar), and then you could Fulton. You get extra points for the latter (and points for stuns). That first game was split one win to one win and instead of a third match it came down to total points being tallied. And yeah, my best match was the last of the four. I came in second by way of points, first by way of kills. I actually didn't pick up on it, but there are points tied to nailing "Objectives," though I wasn't sure what they were. There's also a bounty system and extra points for offing someone with a bounty on their head. I only noticed because a bounty got put on me at one point, though nothing came of it. But in that last match I basically opted for a large machine gun and brute forced people with 100-bullet clips. I was mowing down small crews in doorways, people jumping onto D-Walkers. It was a little less fun, but I assume when the game comes out and people have more of an idea what they're doing that becomes a less viable strategy (especially because you die pretty quickly if you are getting accurately shot up). BRETT: For every thing I figured out, I feel like there were three things I didn't. Metal Gear Online is obviously much more than your standard tacked-on multiplayer mode -- although it can definitely be played as such. I spent a considerable amount of time in one round just gunning people down from the relative safety of a guard's nest vantage point. Again, it felt wrong. Comeuppance was swift and just when a D-Walker figured out my strategy. Confused as I was at times, I was also undoubtedly elated. How many times in your many conventions have you found yourself going back to replay a demo? It's probably the first for me, as far as I can remember.  STEVEN: I can't think of one. I also love that the cardboard box remains an item even though players would know to be suspicious. It did have some weird utility in previous Metal Gear Online for instant ducking, but here it was just idiots (like me) running around in it upright while cycling through loadout items. Probably the best thing about The Phantom Pain's edition of Metal Gear Online is not having to deal with a fucking Konami ID/MGO ID and that whole awful log-in process that eventually locked me out of playing the damn thing when I couldn't remember all my info. That kind of bullshit is Konami. Glad we'll still be able to enjoy another phase of weird Kojima Metal Gear after he's gone.
Tokyo Game Show hands-on photo
Getting shot up trying to stealth
While Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain isn't an insignificant time sucker as is, it did launch missing its competitive online multiplayer component, Metal Gear Online, which was delayed until October 6 on consoles and January 2016 on PC. Brett and I got our hands on the thing at Tokyo Game Show and immediately ran back in line for a second go like giddy schoolchildren.

Rashid is easily one of my favorite new Street Fighter characters

Sep 17 // Chris Carter
To my surprise, Rashid's command moves were actually simple to execute. He has a few abilities that are done with the simple touch of two buttons at once, and most of his other moves can be done with one directional movement. Maneuverability is key with Rashid, as he has the power to do a front flip (which can cancel into multiple moves, Vega style), a roll (that can dodge projectiles), and even a wall jump. He's the personification of "easy to learn, tough to master." For those who aren't aware, Street Fighter V features V-Triggers (triggered by HP + HK), which basically function as a unique ability of sorts that exemplifies the type of fighter each character is. For instance, Ryu is known for his projectiles, so his V-Trigger Denjin Renki boost his moves, including a boost to his Shinku Hadoken. Rashid's V-Trigger is "Ysaar," a whirlwind that moves slightly forward and blocks the screen. The key here is that Rashid can move through the wall, slightly boosting his movement speed and altering his attacks. Players will have to be lightning quick to take advantage of this, because the effect fades rather quickly. Similarly, his Critical Art (super) Altair is an anti-air whirlwind, which looks and feels like Ken's Shouryuu Reppa. When combined with his dodges and rolls, Rashid becomes a very technical character that has an answer to almost everything, but will take a great deal of skill to use. A Capcom rep informed me that Street Fighter V would be taking a MOBA-style approach to DLC, offering up new content on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. As previously announced, players can earn in-game currency to pay for the DLC without having to fork over real cash. When asked about how much work would have to go into buying a single character, Capcom noted that they were still "testing the waters." As for my general thoughts on Street Fighter V, they are still very much positive. Although I had fun fighting my friends in IV, it just didn't feel like it captured the essence of so many classic games in the series. I see a lot of Alpha in Street Fighter V, and that makes me very happy.
Street Fighter photo
Hands-on with Street Fighter V
Street Fighter V has been pretty well received by the fighting game community, and it's not even slated to come out until early 2016. I enjoyed my time with the beta, and now, I got my hands on the latest build here at TGS, which includes a playable Rashid. I certainly didn't expect it, but I may have found a new main.

Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir photo
Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir

Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is like a whole new game

A massive framerate upgrade from PS2
Sep 17
// Chris Carter
Odin Sphere was one of the first games I played with my wife, and we had a perfect system. She would play a lot of the core areas during the day, and at night, I would plant seeds, gather food, and level up while she took a n...

It's mostly Ratchet and very little Clank at Tokyo Game Show

Sep 17 // Brett Makedonski
[embed]311251:60420:0[/embed] Ratchet caused a racket though, armed to the teeth as if he were a guard at the on-ramp. Barrages of missiles and wild melee attacks brute forced the way through the demo. Nuts that serve as a currency spilled out of everything and magnetized their way to the lawless lombax. Clank's presence was diminished even further during the second half of the demo. Dropped into a hellish pit against some sort of Rancor-esque boss-thing, Clank clearly wanted nothing to do with it. Ratchet swung, swung, swung away at the feet of the monster, as it reared up and down but did very little harm. It was kind of like getting under a Souls boss and doing way more damage than you probably deserve to. It didn't stay like that forever, though. Two times during the fight, he disappeared and summoned swarms of battle toads before coming back to the fray. Toward the end, he spit fire at me so I pulled out a flamethrower and we had a neat back-and-forth of slowly jumping over walls of flame while facing the other. His health meter plummeted a lot quicker than mine, so I was the victor -- no Clank required. In all likelihood, Clank will prove to be more useful and prevalent in the final game. This demo was probably skewed a bit too far in its omission. Ratchet was the star of the day, and his platforming and action work quite well. Once Clank gets properly added into the mix, the 2016 installment should feel right at home alongside all the other games in the series. 
Ratchet and Clank photo
Par for the course, right?
As far as the action bits go, Clank generally takes the backseat while Ratchet is doing his thing. Sure, Clank facilitates some of it, but it's a tempered role. He's a sidekick who knows his job. That makes the relationship w...

Metal Gear Online TGS footage breaks down modes, characters, classes

Sep 17 // Steven Hansen
There's also: Cloak and Dagger "Attackers win by recovering the Data Disc and uploading it at the Evac Point within the time limit. Defenders win by preventing the upload. Attackers are armed with only non-lethal weapons while defenders only have lethal weapons. This is an elimination mission. Once eliminated, you cannot return to the battlefield until the next round." Comm Control "Attackers must capture Comm Links to download confidential intel. If the attackers complete the download within the time limit, they are victorious. If the defenders are able to prevent this within the time limit, they are victorious. Comm Links can be captured by staying within the effective range of the Comm Links until they change ownership." Stages include: Jade Forest – African Jungle Outback. Composed of natural jungle and a desolate village.Red Fortress – Soviet Military Base in Afghanistan. A hilltop base with a peripheral view of the surrounding desert.Gray Rampart – A dam and its environs. The stage contains two regions on either side of a river, with the dam and bridges connecting them.Amber Station – A gas refinery on a harbor. The stage contains several multi-level structures.Black Site – The infamous US military base nine years after the events of “METAL GEAR SOLID V: GROUND ZEROES”. It contains a multi-level base with mostly flat and spacious surrounding areas. Classes: Scout – With advanced scouting capabilities, the “Recon Class” specialties are long-range combat and support functions. Movement speed and strength are average making this a great choice for beginners.Enforcer – With great strength, the “Heavy Class” specializes in powerful weapons. However, movement speed is slow making this class less effective in close quarters. This class is for intermediate players.Infiltrator – Fast moving, the “Infiltration Class” specialty is close combat such as CQC. Due to the strength being low, you should avoid a head-on battle. This is a class for experienced players. Tips: Unique Character – When “Unique Character” is selected in mission settings, one player on each team is assigned at random to play as a unique character. Unique characters such as Snake and Ocelot have significantly higher abilities compared to regular player characters. They also have exclusive weapons and actions, providing opportunities to try different play styles. Abilities – Equipping abilities enhance performance of your character or your weapons. Each ability has 3 levels. Buddy – Players can join up with a “Buddy”. When your Buddy Gauge reaches 50% or greater, you can respawn at your buddy’s location. Once the buddy gauge reaches 100%, you can equip the E-RB WORMHOLE GEN. from your support weapons. This device can be placed and entered to instantaneously travel to your buddy’s location. Interrogation – Restraining an enemy with CQC and holding down the CALL button performs an “interrogation”. If the interrogation is successful, you gain intel on the enemy team’s location, which is automatically shared with your buddy. Weight and Mobility – Weapons and items have weight associated with them. Based on total weight, your “mobility” rating ranges from Level S to D, affecting your movement speed and weapon sway. When editing your loadouts, keep the mobility rating in mind. Party – If you join a party, you will be able to join the same match as the party members. You can access the Party Menu from the Freeplay environment. Experience Points – Based on your performance during the match, you gain experience points. Earn experience points (XP) to raise your character level. If you raise your level, you can obtain new weapons or abilities as a reward.
Tokyo Game Show photo
Playing as Ocelot explained
Konami's website has added the new Metal Gear Online gameplay debuted at Tokyo Game Show. There's even a breakdown of the things that Brett and I didn't understand in our earlier hands-on preview, like the Bounty Hunter mode...

Exist Archive preview photo
Exist Archive preview

Exist Archive looks great, but it has a lot to prove

It's nothing special so far
Sep 17
// Chris Carter
When Spike Chunsoft and tri-Ace announced Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky, I was supremely impressed with the visual style. As it turns out it looks even better in person, as I witnessed during my hands-on time with the TGS build. From a gameplay standpoint though I have some concerns, mostly stemming from the repetitive nature of the flow.

Star Wars Battle Pod is an immersive, flashy, and elaborate arcade cabinet

Sep 17 // Brett Makedonski
[embed]310990:60396:0[/embed] It's not just the game that impresses here -- the actual cabinet itself does, too. Blowing air vents and rumble features that are synchronized with the action add to everything. The overwhelmingly large convex screen taking up the entirety of your peripheral vision certainly helps too. For the third time in this article, I'm using the word "experience" because Star Wars Battle Pod is more that than a game. Unfortunately for me, I'm kind of bad at it. Giving it a few different shots, I couldn't manage to clear any of the (approximately) three minute missions. Everything was going smoothly enough until "Mission Alert" flashed across the screen, meaning that there's an objective to fulfill -- defend a transport, blow up the Death Star...that sort of thing. I failed here each and every time. Oh well, it was still a hell of a ride. My go at Star Wars Battle Pod was at Bandai Namco's headquarters in Tokyo, where a free cabinet was set up. Those in the United States can give it the old college try, as it's in several Dave & Busters locations. That won't be gratis, of course; online reports seem to indicate that it's $4 per play. Steep, but maybe worth it for Star Wars fans to at least check out. There are likely diminishing returns across more runs, as Battle Pod shows its hand immediately. But hey, if the force is strong with you, who am I to stop you?
Star Wars photo
And fans will probably love it
While everyone's waiting for that one Star Wars game this fall, there's another new(ish) experience meant to transport you to a galaxy far, far away. It won't scratch the same itch, but it's immersive, flashy, and unabas...

Sword Art Online plays so much better when you can fly

Sep 17 // Chris Carter
When I first started my demo session with Lost Song, it felt far too familiar for its own good. It has a very similar presentation, right down to the simplistic combo system (that's basically built on two attack types, dodging, and a few abilities), and the extremely samey zone that was almost a copy and paste job from its predecessor. However, there are a few minor enhancements along the way that Sword Art fans will recognize after digging in a bit, like the addition of a three-party group, and most notably, flying. With the touch of a button, players can soar up in the air, swooping about, or opt for a more deliberate glide maneuver, with a control scheme that's extremely precise in nature. It opens up your exploration options considerably, and cuts down on some of the monotony of traveling long distances. Plus, plenty of enemies inhabit the skies, so you'll be able to do some fighting along the way, alongside of tactical dodges and pursuit situations. By that same token, the world still feels a bit hollow and uninspired, showing its PS3-era roots. Flying is fun, but the areas that I could actually fly to in my demo weren't exactly riveting, mostly consisting of high-up vistas with no flair or unique rewards. Still, everything looks a tad more impressive on the PS4 in comparison to Hollow Fragment, which initially launched on the Vita before heading to the current generation just a few months ago. Sword Art Online: Lost Song will arrive in the US on November 17, 2015, on PS4 and Vita.
SAO preview photo
Other than that, it's par for the course
I had mixed thoughts on Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment last year, but ultimately I came away happy. Funnily enough, as someone who absolutely hated the second arc of the anime, I actually found the follow-up, Lost Song, to be a little more enjoyable based on my hands-on session at TGS. As it turns out, flying around in the world of ALfheim Online is quite a bit of fun.

Miracle Girls Festival is fairly standard

Sep 17 // Brett Makedonski
[embed]311207:60413:0[/embed] Still, that familiarity (with the gameplay presentation, anyway) smacked me in the face and ears when I demoed Miracle Girls Festival. Button prompts flying from every which direction confused until they didn't anymore. Eventually there's a rhythm (ha!) you fall into. At least I felt connected to the music through my interaction. But, the honeymoon was short as Miracle Girls Festival ranked me as "standard" after all three songs I played. Cold. Not as chilly as all the times it flashed "worst" at me, but frigid nonetheless. The tracks were brief (probably two minutes, tops) so the onslaught of insults didn't stretch too long. Slightly ironic that Miracle Girls Festival repeatedly called me standard when it's the one cobbled together on the frames of other works. In doing so, it's completely predictable. Not that the fact will bother Project Diva fans, but it is. I can name-call too, Miracle Girls Festival.
Miracle Girls Festival photo
As am I
Sega's Miracle Girls Festival borrows from all over the place. The rhythm game features girls from a number of different anime, and it employs the same engine as Project Diva titles. If you're familiar with all of t...

Monster Hunter Stories takes the series in an entirely different direction

Sep 17 // Brett Makedonski
[embed]311169:60408:0[/embed] Because of the language barrier (the demo was entirely in Japanese), it was unclear to me if this is solely a random event or if there are patterns you can pick out. Fortunately, the rest was easy enough to figure out just from familiarity with turn-based games. Replenishing health was necessary a couple of times via healing potions; otherwise, attacking was the way to go. All that was training for the quest's final boss: some sort of giant, unhappy dragon. His health bar was obscured by question marks, so all I could do was fight on and hope that he was near death. It added a nice sense of tension. I fought alongside my humble looking monster in hopes of taking down this formidable-looking foe. We didn't stay side-by-side the entire time, though. Eventually, something called my Kizuna Stone filled up and I could hop on top of my monster for a particularly powerful group attack. This was accompanied by a slick animation to verify that, yes, whatever was happening was indeed special. A few of these, some solo attacks, and a couple rock, paper, scissors victories later and the dragon was defeated. We did it, monster buddy. It may be more Pokemon than Monster Hunter, but Stories is undoubtedly entertaining. It's breaking the series formula to try something new, but piggybacking on franchise popularity. At least it's thematically consistent. After all, piggybacking's kind of the entire point in Monster Hunter Stories.
Monster Hunter Stories photo
Ride or die
In a lot of ways, Monster Hunter Stories doesn't necessarily feel like Monster Hunter. It shouldn't; it's different. The Monster Hunter series that has grown an immense following basks in constant action and team-or...

Digimon photo
Presentation's mega-slick, too
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Tokyo, make it rain yakitori. That was my modus operandi at Bandai Namco's office. Rather than strangely assaulting passersby with a meat barrage, I limited my chicken chuckin' (cluc...

My time with Bloodborne: The Old Hunters felt far too familiar

Sep 17 // Chris Carter
[embed]310920:60384:0[/embed] Based on this build, if I saw someone playing The Old Hunters, I wouldn't have really been able to tell that it took place in new areas. In short, the demo location is very similar to Central Yharnam, outside of one particular landmark hill that hosts a striking view of the sun. Even the enemies look and feel the same, down to the werewolves that you've encountered since the beginning of the core adventure, and of course Hunters, the humanoid foes that sport the same weaponry choices as the player character. The map itself felt rather linear, which may be a result of paring things down for a fast-paced TGS demo, but so far it lacks the sprawling feel of most of the Souls DLC. At the end of the demo I encountered a boss (Ludwig, who plays a role in the central lore) that looked like a demonic cross between a horse and an abomination of some sort, complete with features that felt similar to the Cleric Beast. The creature had a grand opening, as usual, with unconventional movement animations to boot, bringing it inline with the rest of the big bads in Bloodborne. It's not jaw-dropping or particularly difficult, but it fits nicely into the lore. Hopefully this horse-thing was just a palette cleanser. That lack of excitement kind of sums up my time with The Old Hunters. I mean, it's more Bloodborne so of course it's going to be good to an extent (there's nothing directly wrong here), but I'm not sure I'm sold on the prospect of paying $20 for it. When I first played Artorias of the Abyss or the three Dark Souls II DLCs, I was immediately swept into another world, which is how a paid expansion should feel. Stay tuned on our thoughts on the finished version later this year.
Bloodborne photo
It doesn't feel like a $20 expansion
When Bloodborne: The Old Hunters was announced, I was ecstatic to get back into the world of Yharnam again. After all, I beat Bloodborne three times after just one week with it, and thoroughly enjoyed the more action-oriented gameplay compared to its predecessors. Based on my playthrough of a demo at TGS however, my excitement has been curbed a bit.

Fumbling anime fighting with Saint Seiya: Soldiers' Soul

Sep 17 // Steven Hansen
I think my favorite thing about Saint Seiya is that I can say its title to the tune of Outkast's "Hey Ya!" Also it looks pretty pretty. Not quite as clean as some of Namco's other anime games, like the current One Piece and Naruto titles, which look gorgeous. But still good. Has that Killer is Dead extreme sheen and mild grunge to it. BRETT: I guess my favorite part about it is how I beat you at it. By the skin of my teeth in the final round, but a W's a W. I'm not quite sure how I did it. It probably has something to do with the fact that neither of us had a real clue how to play. A pre-fight intro screen was gracious enough to share all the controls, and it was convoluted enough to make me say "Hahaha, fuck this" out loud. I don't consider myself well-versed in fighters, and that goes doubly so for 3D fighters. In my layman's opinion, I thought it felt slow, but not in a bad way -- more of a moving chess match kind of way. The pace is likely the reason I was able to string together a few nine hit combos, which were satisfying even though I have no idea if they were impressive or not. Probably not, to be honest. It felt good when my golden boy blocked your dumb Kratos chains, too. STEVEN: Yeah, I was using a pink lady with green hair who, actually might've been a very pretty and slim man, according to pre-fight dialogue. Regardless, she had these Ivy Soul Calibur whip things going and I spent the first match just ranging Brett because it was easy to do and exploit, but that proved pretty boring so I tried to figure out other things to do. Figuring out the block button was essential, but I'm still confused about the supposed throw combination and also the specials. I do enjoy that 3D fighter running style -- "like chickens," you noted -- which is very anime-like (and definitely faster than something like Tekken). That general style of fighter (I lump Gundam Versus and Dissidia types in there, too) is interesting me, but not something I ever got into. I last spent notable time in a fighter with vanilla Street Fighter IV (I later tried to get into Persona 4: Arena, but not even Persona love could hold me). I'll mess with more Samurai Gunn, Towerfall, Duck Game, Smash Bros. these days. Had a bunch of stages, though, Saint Seiya. And a pretty good roster. I feel like a lot of fighters skimp on that recently, probably for DLC (Mortal Kombat X comes to mind). BRETT: Who knows if that roster is a blessing or a curse. For all we know, it's unbalanced as all get-up and there are glaring exploits. Probably not though, right? The meta's something that people can figure out when it releases very soon. We had fun, got a few chuckles, and ran around like chickens. Chalk that preview experience up as a success, I say.
The Fighting Animes photo
PS4, PC fighter
The Saint Seiya series has been going strong for nearly 30 years in Japan. Those elsewhere might know it as Knights of the Zodiac. Brett Makedonski and myself don't know it from Adam, though the maintained '80s anime art styl...

Project X Zone 2 is more of the same, with new faces

Sep 16 // Chris Carter
To be clear, Project X Zone 2, so far, seems to be more of the same. Although Bandai Namco has promised advancements when it comes to the combat system, it's still very simplistic, and more style than substance. That's not to say that there's no strategic depth involved in general though, as the decision to employ defensive options at the cost of SP is alive and well, in addition to the general placement of your characters in each mission's grid. It just isn't nearly as nuanced as a lot of other SPRGs on the market. During my hands-on time with the game I was able to play a full level, which followed the mundane task of "killing all enemies," an objective typically found in the first iteration. Having completed the original it was an all-too familiar sight, albeit with the typical rush of playing as some of my favorite video game characters. During the demo I had access to Dante/Vergil, Chun-Li/Ling Xiaoyu, Strider Hiryu/Hotsuma, Kazuma Kiryu/Goro Majima teams, as well as the solo units of Captain Commando, Phoenix Wright, and and Ulala. As expected, the flair didn't disappoint. Dante/Vergil were a joy to play as, and the ninja team of Strider/Hotsuma (Shinobi) was just perfect. Seeing Captain Commando was also a treat, as he doesn't get nearly enough respect these days. Every single character is represented well, even the ones that can merely be called in by core units. It may be fanservice, but developer Monolith Soft is handling it in stride. Series producer Kensuke Tsukanaka was on-hand to talk about the game, and noted that in particular, they want people to know that this is a character-focused game, so the opening animation will not only feature every playable hero, but will clock in at just over two minutes in length. Tsukanaka went on to state, "We're aiming to look for new fans with an even bigger cast. We want people to see a new character and ask 'what game is this from?' We want them to become even more involved with the industry as a whole." The team is also stepping up the original animation with the sequel, as there will be more artwork than before both in and out of combat. I noticed this particularly during my demo session, as supers and abilities had a bit more visual flair than usual. When asked how this collaboration was even possible, Tsukanaka replied that "all of us have a mutual respect for each other. We've also collaborated for years with one another, so it wasn't too much of a stretch to create this project. The rivalry still exists, but it's a friendly one." Project X Zone 2 is still set for a November launch in Japan, and a February 16 date for the US was just announced.
Project X Zone 2 photo
Your mileage will vary
Based on the reception to Project X Zone 2, it's clear to see that it's a "hate it or love it" affair. Fans seemed to really take to the idea of playing as a cavalcade of heroes from some of their favorite franchises, but oth...

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's not easy running an airship in Guns of Icarus Alliance

Sep 09 // Jordan Devore
I tried Alliance last month at PAX and while I enjoyed what I played, my goodness was there a lot to take in all at once. It was my first time with Guns of Icarus, after all. My duties were relatively simple -- help mark far-off ships and structures, hop from gun to gun, shoot bad guys until they explode -- but even that proved chaotic. Acclimating to the different types of weapons and their variable ammunition (and bullet drop!) proved difficult at first, especially when the ship's layout was still unfamiliar to me. Efficiency is crucial to surviving. Sometimes, our guns were on fire, on account of the many ships shooting at us. Other times, while backing off of a turret (because it needed to reload or, uh, it was on fire), I fell to my death. It didn't happen early on like I thought it might, but after the first fall, it became a habit. Despite Muse Games CEO Howard Tsao's best efforts as our pilot, we died. A lot. Still, it was exhilarating -- each airship we brought down felt like a feat, as it should. There's depth to the combat, which I appreciate (and will appreciate far more once I'm proficient with the systems). Alliance has been a long time coming -- reworking the game to function with AI has been challenging -- but progress is being made. Kickstarter backers are now testing the prototype. In its latest Kickstarter post, Muse Games wrote that it will be "adding progression to characters and factions. There will be a world map and a grander sense of the Guns of Icarus universe where every battle will shift the course of history. At the end of each season of conflict, you'll have the opportunity to have your deeds immortalized in the lore of the game, and have glory bestowed upon your clan and faction. While not all of these features will be available immediately, we'll be seeing more and more of them enter testing as we continue to push towards launch in 2016. Last but not least, there will also be new unlockable ships, new weapons, new tools, new clothes, decals, and more!" It's still going to be a bit of a wait, in other words. I hope everything comes together as promised.
Preview photo
But it sure is rewarding
I always liked the sound of Guns of Icarus Online. It's a competitive multiplayer game in which players work together to control a steampunk airship and take on other teams. Someone physically steers the vessel, while others ...

I died cold and alone in The Solus Project

Sep 08 // Brett Makedonski
[embed]309864:60287:0[/embed] Exploration and narrative go hand-in-hand in The Solus Project. Technically, your goal is to find a way to communicate with Earth, but there's more at play. An alien civilization used to inhabit this planet, and that's a mystery you get to unravel. That is, if you're not too busy getting ripped apart by the elements. If this demo had gone correctly, I would have scurried inside a cave which would have offered some much-needed shelter. That didn't happen. After finding two requisite keys, I scrambled back to unlock a giant ruinous door. Cycling through the loads of water in my inventory, I didn't quite have enough time to put that second key in the lock. Who would have thought that picking up survival equipment would be what eventually damned me? As quickly as I was pummeled into submission, I definitely didn't see the worst of what The Solus Project had to offer. In fact, I may have seen it at its most forgiving. Firestorms, tornadoes, and earthquakes are all in play. Who knows what's waiting underneath the surface? My time with The Solus Project was mercifully brief. It was a weird look, but what I saw seemed like it was both misrepresentative and completely representative of the experience. Like, it was too short for anything meaningful to happen, but it also wonderfully captured the fickle nature of the environment. That's a beast that we'll probably never tame; we can only hope to sidestep its wrath.
The Solus Project photo
The nature of the beast
The Solus Project chewed me up and spit me out. After spending mere minutes with the game, blood spots started appearing inside my space helmet as it started to crack in an unsettling manner. It was ruthless. I knew I wa...

Stories: The Path of Destinies is magnifique

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

Crazy racer has you drive multiple cars at once

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

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.
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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 three 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.
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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.
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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...

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