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F.A.N.G is a poopy pigeon in Street Fighter V

Feb 04 // Steven Hansen
[embed]338701:62136:0[/embed] You see the above image of F.A.N.G seemingly flapping about with his giant sleeves? He does that. Homie will literally go airborne and carpet bomb the entire horizontal plane with poison bombs like an awkward pigeon dropping shits on businessmen. Actually I love everything about F.A.N.G's movement, not just a special that looks like you modded a humanoid character model rigged onto a small bird's animations. Even his walk is a Looney Tunes style creep complete with hunched shoulders and craned arms like a goofy t-rex or Montgomery Burns. What I love less is my inability to use the character to annoy people. You see, F.A.N.G is a charge character, requiring second-long maintained button presses in various directions to properly execute moves and my slow ass just plays Ken in Third Strike so I'm screwed. Look at this hieroglyphic shit.  The only "charge characters" I want to know about are the digits of the credit cards I steal. The good news? I performed admirably with Chun-Li after years of disuse, enjoyed the hell out of Laura (like souped up Yoga Bro Ken and Chun-Li, her kicks are dynamite). Actually, question: is it more or less racist if F.A.N.G isn't Chinese? Because he looks like an XCOM Thin Man, but when I was playing as Chun-Li she noted that his favorite number, 2, was not written out in proper Chinese characters on his shirt and questioned if he's really Chinese at all. We might just have a really big Mickey Rooney Breakfast at Tiffany's fan who really wants to blow Bison for some reason.
First hands-on with FANG photo
Plus move list because I can be helpful
I know what you're thinking with Street Fighter V (PS4, PC) less than two weeks from release: everything is mined. There was the big reveal that Arcade mode will have standard text and art stories to be followed by a post-lau...

Check out the first hour of Far Cry Primal

Jan 26 // Laura Kate Dale
[embed]336360:61967:0[/embed] As you can see in the above video, there are a few places we had to skip around to keep publishers and PR happy. You don't miss seeing anything important, mainly some running around the map and the lighting of a campfire on the way to walk into a cave.  So, sit back and get an hour's worth of Primal in your face.
Far Cry Primal photo
Your necklace of ears scares me
Hey folks, are you excitedly awaiting the release of Far Cry Primal? Are you eager to see for yourself how being set back twelve thousand years affects the gameplay loop of Far Cry? Well, we have a very special treat for you today. Yep, we've got footage of the first hour of Far Cry Primal for you to feast upon.

The Division has unexpected accoutrements on PC

Jan 23 // Zack Furniss
If you wish, you can also switch back and forth between the controller and keyboard without any re-calibration. Text chat also allows for communication between players if you don't want to role-play like the actors in the game's initial announcement. All of these little things sound like basic features in an MMO, but they're usually forgotten in multi-platform titles, and it's great to see them incorporated here. Of course, you can make it look real purdy, too. The Division supports multiple video cards, 4K resolution, unlocked frame rate, HBAO+, and three monitors. I played it on two, and dealt with an amusing problem where my aiming reticle was between the two monitors whenever I used a scope, so I became the most useless sniper ever. Other than that, the PC version ran flawlessly, and the extra frame rate afforded by the more powerful hardware gave the game a punchier feel. The only downside is that there will be no mod support. The team told me "Since The Division is an online, open-world action-RPG, its genre makes modding support technically challenging." We'll see what crafty players can come up with. Tom Clancy's The Division is planned for release on March 8, 2016.
Tom Clancy's The Division photo
Thank goodness for a good inventory
A couple weeks back, I went to a Ubisoft event to play Tom Clancy's The Division. You can find my overall impressions here (Choice quote: "There are quite a few options that assist in your eradication of the homeless and dise...

I high-fived super powers to an army in the new Naruto game

Jan 19 // Laura Kate Dale
[embed]335161:61923:0[/embed] While I was able to play three missions from Ultimate Ninja Storm 4's single-player story mode, I was only able to capture footage of one of them, "Roar of the Ten Tails." All of the missions I played through followed a very similar formula. Show a faster-paced, 3D animated account of the plot of the Naruto anime and manga, throw players into a narratively relevant fight or gameplay section, jump back to a long animated plot dump, and continue. As someone who read Naruto until deep in the Great Ninja War before dropping out, the video game's narrative pacing was a good way to catch up and remind me of the plot, while moving forward and experiencing new content from that story. The big problem with what I saw of the single-player, as shown in the video above, is the repetitive nature of what should be some high-action set pieces. The fight between the nine tails and ten tails should be a huge, challenging experience. It boiled down to running left and right, then spamming projectiles until I was allowed to scratch the beast in the eye. It just wasn't terribly taxing. [embed]335161:61924:0[/embed] The Versus mode in Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is largely unchanged mechanically from past iterations in the series. Every character uses the same button combos for their main attacks, mainly varying in speed and visual style. The roster is huge, spanning a huge amount of the series' named characters as playable fighters, with the intent that you can jump in and try anyone and you'll already know what you're doing. Want to see a really big Chidori? Pick up Sasuke and do the same button combo that made Naruto do his Rasengan. If you've got the basics down with one character, you'll be able to work out how to do cool-looking moves with pretty much any other. Versus mode has a pleasantly gentle learning curve. Within a few hours, I not only had my head around the basics of the fairly simple control system, but understood it well enough to start playing with the differences in reach, speed, and power of the roster. While Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is still several weeks away from release, I feel relatively safe saying it's going to be a visual treat for Naruto fans. Want to blow someone away with a basic combo that rips a hole in reality? Well, it probably won't take you long to pull off. It might not be the deepest fighter out there, but it sure knows how to do large-scope fanservice.
Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 photo
Ninja magic explosions everywhere
Yesterday, in the hidden-away London offices of Bandai Namco, I sat down at a TV and pretended to be an anime ninja. I blew up half the planet, became a multi-tailed animalistic monster, high-fived magical fox powers onto an army, and punched an old man using a gigantic tree. Yep, I played a bunch of Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4. That game is nothing if not over the top and ambitious.


I'm a regular Jack Nicholson at Winning Putt

Jan 14 // Steven Hansen
[embed]334326:61872:0[/embed] First, remedying a legitimate problem I had when I was just playing Hot Shots, Winning Putt has an incredibly in-depth character creator, as often seems to be the case with Korean games (their regional MMOs, at least). Aesthetics aside, you also choose from two classes: power and accuracy. Beyond the character creator, Winning Putt leans into the MMO classification with tons of stat-heavy gear and clothing. Different balls produce different visual effects, but also affect things like shot distance. You basically, "craft, enchant, and reinforce" gear picked up from digital pro shops accessed from a town square sort of area you can chill in, talk to other golfers, or start a round from. You can even create guilds, nab private guild quarters to post up in (some proper country club exclusion!), and earn guild-wide bonuses. The actual golfing is straight forward and mostly realistic (made in CryEngine) and "faithful to all the rules of golf." Click the mouse to start a meter, try to click it at 100% (without going over, resulting in a bad shot), and then try to click again for accuracy to avoid slicing the ball. There's also a Stamina and Mentality meter that drains as you play, but particularly when you use skill shots. The Fade Shot, for example, is good for curving your shot around obstacles (like trees). Using these shots eats at those two meters, and also makes them more difficult to execute by, for example, speeding up the power and accuracy gauge. Taking advantage the minimal boost things like skills offer will probably separate dedicated and casual players (and a stroke or two off handicaps). Every swing nets you experience, which levels your character. Gold (for buying things) and experience are also granted for doing certain "missions," like shooting for birdie on a particular course. And things get granular when you talk about expanding inventory slots in your golf bag for more consumables, applying patches to clothing for additional stat boosts, or upgrading clubs for benefits like a slower meter or wider accuracy range. Paying gold will permanently increase base stats and I imagine that's a big part of the monetiziation plan as the team promised unlimited play. Having never played a golf game with a mouse and keyboard, it felt a bit wonky switching between the golfer's view and GPS view (to estimate where your shot will land), but the golfing itself is all solid. The MMO elements don't appeal at all to me -- I prefer antisocial golf that's 100% skill-based rather than mired in RPG/experience trappings -- but it seems like it'll function as a free, easy to jump in golf game for anyone who just wants that, too. Winning Putt will launch with seven courses at the start of today's open beta, four of which will need to be unlocked. You can also specify how many holes you want to shoot or time of day. The team was particularly proud of an upcoming course that's set on an alien planet and even has weird mechanical platforms to tee off from and small trash drones wandering around cutting grass and whatnot. There's also an "instanced speed run" mode where multiple players play the same hole in real time and you see shot arcs for all the other players while you're shooting in a race to finish the hole first, which is a neat idea.
Preview: Winning Putt photo
New golf MMO from Bandai Namco
Bandai Namco had us drive all the way out to San Francisco's Presidio for its latest game announcement this week. That's the National Park at San Francisco's northern tip overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, which is red, actu...

The adorable Slime Rancher might be the next big indie hit

Jan 06 // Jed Whitaker
Slime Rancher (PC [previewed], Mac, Linux)Developer: Monomi ParkPublisher: Monomi ParkRelease Date: TBA 2016 Beatrix LeBeau wakes up on the Far, Far Range ranch a thousand light years away from Earth and has decided to make a living by wrangling slimes. Using a trusty vacpack (read: vacuum gun), she'll suck in wild slimes, fruit, vegetables, chickens, and plorts (aka slime poops).  When starting your first day (time passes a minute per second in real-world time), you'll have a bare-bones ranch with multiple plots on which to build corrals for your slimes, gardens to grow fruits and vegetables, coops for chicken-like hen hens, silos for storage, and so on. Most of your time, however, is spent exploring off the ranch for different types of slimes. They range from basic pink slimes to cute cat-like tabby slimes to glowing phosphorus slimes that only come out at night.  Capturing slimes feels similar to using the vacuum from Luigi's Mansion, only in first-person; it is rather simple yet satisfying. Coming across your first group of wandering wild slimes with joyous smiles on their faces is exciting. I found myself saying 'awwwww' out loud more than once during my time with Slime Rancher -- more so than probably any game I've played. While Pokémon and Harvest Moon have their moments of cuteness, Slime Rancher simply oozes it. [embed]331847:61746:0[/embed] Ranch management isn't cheap. To earn money, you'll be collecting plorts from slimes, both wild and those stored at your ranch. Slimes produce plorts when fed their preferred food source. For example, pink slimes will eat anything edible while tabby slimes will only eat meat. Once plorts are collected, you can sell them in the market via a machine stationed in your ranch. The device shows the current prices for each variation of plort and whether the price has risen or fallen recently. Plorts serve more than one purpose, however. If you feed a slime a plort from a different breed of slime, it will grow larger and develop features from the other species. For instance, feeding a pink slime a plort from a tabby will make it grow a tail and two ears. These combination slimes will eat both food sources their original species would eat, and always produce a plort from each species when fed, so you can get two plorts for the price of one. Feeding a combination slime another plort from a third species results in a monstrosity known as "The Tarr." These are evil black slimes that have rainbow streaks running through them, much like you'd see in motor oil in a parking lot. The Tarrs will eat other slimes whole while their terrified faces look at you as if to cry out for help. Should you venture too close to The Tarr, you'll also be attacked, though your health regenerates after a short time. There are two ways to take care of these evildoers: suck up and shoot water on them, or suck them up and shoot them into the nearby ocean; you're only a few feet away from it as the ranch is located on one of a series of connected islands. Even though Slime Rancher is still only considered pre-alpha by its developers, I found myself playing it for hours. There is already a ton to do. Each corral can be upgraded with various functions such as high walls, auto-feeders, and plort collectors. Music can keep the slimes from getting agitated and trying to escape their pens. At one point, my tabby slimes stacked on top of each other and jumped in my hen hen coop and ate all my hen hens! Naughty slimes. A silo can be purchased to store fruits and vegetables, as well as an incinerator to destroy things you no longer need. In the alpha, everything you can collect is of some use. Not only can you upgrade your corrals, gardens, and coops, but you can buy two extensions to your ranch: one is a cave and the other is a forest-like area, each with more spots for building. There are also character upgrades such as health, a jetpack, and stamina. Daily orders are available that ask for specific items and slimes to be deposited which, upon completion, reward you with valuable plorts, slimes, and edibles. Slime Rancher is adorable. The graphics are also on point, especially when you consider it is running on Unity and looks similar to and as good as Team Fortress 2. The music is calming, reminiscent of some of the ambient tunes you'd hear in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, while the gameplay feels totally original despite being part of a genre that has existed for years. The game is expected to launch on Steam Early Access soon, but if you want to experience the in-development pre-alpha builds now, you can do so by pre-ordering at the official site for $19.99. While that might sound steep, there are already hours worth of enjoyable content in the current build with the promise of much more to come.
Slime Rancher Preview photo
My impressions of the public pre-alpha
After seeing some brief gameplay of Slime Rancher, I instantly thought, "I feel like this is going to be the next big thing and I need to get my hands on it stat." I'm very excited to tell you that I believe I was right. Afte...

First hands-on with Crytek's newest game The Climb

Dec 15 // Steven Hansen
The Climb is simple. Once you strap into an Oculus virtual reality headset, two disembodied hands appear in front of you. Pulling the left or right triggers on the Xbox controller clenches the respective fist. "Aiming" the hand at a divot in the cliff, by way of moving your head towards where you're trying to grab, prompts the hand to appear as if it's reaching a bit more urgently, signalling to you it's ready to grab. And that's it, hand over hand, you're climbing rock. I played a course in south east Asia on easy difficulty, which only necessitates two types of grips. The most technical thing I had to do was let go with one hand and quickly grasp the same hold with the other. That and you'll want to occasionally hold the bumpers to chalk your hands so they don't start bleeding down your players' hip fitness wristband. I might be stereotyping, but I'm pretty sure it read, "YOLO" at some point. But that was it. There was some hand over hand lateral movement across a plank and a jump or two to otherwise out of reach handholds, but it's mostly about the physical intimacy of climbing up a giant rock and occasionally physically turning your head around to soak in the beautiful vista. Miles of CryEngine rendered landscape juxtaposed against surrogate fingertips. "The engine gives us that ability to do the distance, the scale, the largeness and intimacy," Crytek's Director of Production David Bowman said. Crytek came out hot in 2013 with three big releases: Crysis 3, Warface (hah!), and Ryse: Son of Rome. The first and third were sales letdowns. The second has a name that gave me immense pleasure for a year or so and might have made money in Asian and European markets where is launched sexy female soldiers. Its 2014 announcements -- a Johnny Come Lately MOBA Arena of Fate and Darksiders follow up from former Vigil employees Hunt -- have been radio silent in 2015. Its other known project is a VR game with dinosaurs. Bowman noted that Crytek is, "going to continue to make traditional great, fantastic games," but said that, "VR gives us a new toolset, a new platform, a new media that plays to our strengths. It plays right into what we do better than anybody. This is our chance to really shine." Virtual reality is an important part of Crytek's future. Where Ryse was basically an Xbox One tech demo, a piece of impressive "next gen" looks, The Climb is something like that for VR, albeit with a lot more substance than the QTE-heavy movie knockoff. Bowman calls it, "one of the premier Oculus content experiences," and says it will be released "early" in the Oculus' life cycle. "They love it," Bowman said. Oculus made a smart decision pairing its still-not-dated, still-not-priced Rift VR headset with a strong piece of software in EVE: Valkyrie. The Climb may not have that pack-in position, but Bowman says the simplicity is what will sell VR to a wider audience. "The approachability of this, we have really high hopes for it as far as bringing in people who might not consider themselves gamers. And if you are a gamer, there's a lot of sport here. It's free climb solo. That level of danger in real life means you're not going to go out and do it probably yourself, but here you have this extreme sport that's now accessible to you. "What every hardware platform needs is that application that you can say, 'Hey, I bought this, I have fun with it, and now I'm sharing it with my friends and family, and I feel good about it because they're able to appreciate it.' And now all of a sudden they're going, 'I had fun doing that, so I'm going to buy one,' and it tends to snowball. That's how hardware adoption happens." And while Bowman maintains Crytek will continue to make "traditional" games, the company has, "probably the largest VR team, the largest that I'm aware of anyway." "We're trying to position Cryengine to be the best toolchain to work in VR," Technical Director Rok Erjavec added. More people using the engine for good VR experiences increases the likelihood of VR somehow catching on where something like 3D has failed. "2016: Early adopters. 2017: Friends and family of those early adopters going, 'I want one too,'" Bowman said. "By 2019, I'm saying this is going to be one of those ways you access all sorts of experiences, not just games, but data in general. We want to be riding that curve, that wave." It starts with The Climb. "When we started doing climbing originally during our tech demos...we realized, 'Hey, this is fun. This a fun thing to do, just inherently." It took some time to get there, of course. The Climb started with a full pair of disembodied arms, but testers of different size felt out of sorts with the one-size-fits-all proportions, so the team lopped the arms off and reduce the interface to floating hands.  "We thought it'd be really fun to fall and hit the rocks and bounce and stuff. Man that makes you so sick. Don't do that." The sweet spot for falling -- to put that knot in players' stomachs without leaving them retching -- turned out to be 2.3 seconds of freefall and then a fade to black. "A lot of our developers and our QA team, god bless them, they have had to endure some really fun experimentation," Bowman said. He was cagey on how many staffers puked, but noted that during early prototyping, the team had to account for the fact that a developer might have to get out of the thing after about an hour of work due to nausea. Now, level designers work in the visor all day. "We had people run to the bathroom, though." Well, if anyone did puke during those early phases of prototyping, it's between them and their porcelain god. Bowman was cagey on just how much stuff would appear in The Climb, too. "We have a set amount of content and we're well under control as far as delivering that...and we're going to be expanding that content hopefully in the future as well," is all I got when I asked about different regions, or weather conditions. As for changes to the time of day, "absolutely." Beyond the physical interaction and varying locales, the team seems excited for the latent speed run and otherwise competitive angle to satiate the hardcore or give greener climbers something to keep them coming back.  To that end, VR does offer technically bombastic experiences pared down in a way that "non-gamers" might find appealing without being patronizing -- like I said, The Climb was simple, but plenty of fun. "When I put a strange controller in your hand and say, 'Okay, I need you to press this combination of buttons,' you've instantly alienated a lot of people," Bowman said. The Climb also supports touch controllers and features a, "solution set that works for a variety of different input devices," so hopefully we'll be bringing you Donkey Konga free climb speed run videos next year. As for other simple experiences that turned out to be "inherently fun" in VR that Crytek might want to explore? "Can't talk about them yet because we're going to use them."
Preview: The Climb photo
Crytek goes in with engaging VR
Is free solo climbing cool? I'm sure there's been some virality in its danger in the YouTube era, but we've had, what, Cliffhanger, which was more about guns and biceps than cliff hanging, and then the arbitrary opening Missi...

MechWarrior Online is aiming for the stars on Steam

Dec 14 // Nic Rowen
The biggest news for MWO, and the focus point for the event is that the game is now available on Steam. After three years of existing as an independent product, MWO is now on the monolithic game service. While this is obviously big news for the game, and PGI no doubt hopes to capture a wider audience on the more visible platform, my question was “why?” MWO has existed as a stand alone product since launch and has cultivated a loyal, if not massive, core audience. The mech combat genre is nowhere near as hot as it was a decade and a half ago, and with plenty of other free-to-play games already available and established on Steam, why make the move so late in the game? Russ says it wasn't a decision the team took lightly. “It was always in the conversation... We became certain that we definitely wanted to go to Steam about 12 months ago, and we spent that much extra time making sure that we were ready as we could for that new influx of players.” “Part of that conversation, though, was just the features you need for that audience” added Bryan. “We felt that if we were going to go for Steam, we needed to present a product that was accessible for that [broader] audience.” Recently added features such as a guided tutorial and fresh UI options designed to ease new players into the complicated mechanics of the game certainly seemed to be aimed at that. MWO has long been a “learn by dying” experience that tossed new players into the deep end, an experience I remember only too vividly (cue awkward break-up #1). Giving new players a rundown on the basics of movement and what all the gauges on the HUD mean before having them wander into a combat will be a more welcoming introduction to the game than expecting them to refer to the manual while under fire. [embed]326481:61510:0[/embed] As for keeping that new audience, PGI has a few plans. Russ confirmed that they have at least one more “big update” planned for Faction Warfare, the persistent territorial control game mode that pits the Great Houses of the Inner Sphere and the warring Clans of BattleTech lore against each other. The galactic conquest is supposed to give players a reason to invest in the world and care about the game on a deeper level than a series of robotic death-matches by giving them something to fight over. Future plans center around making the acquisition and holding of planets more valuable by providing resources to successful groups (a nuclear like artillery strike was teased) and unclogging stalemates by introducing attacker or defender based advantages in contested battlegrounds. There are also plans for single-player content in the works. “That's one of the great aspects of MechWarrior that has been unexplored for the past 15 years, so that's definitely going to be part of our future.” This is something that a lot of fans of the original campaign driven MechWarrior games have been hungry for, so it's great to hear PGI is actively working towards that goal. But don't expect to hear anything about it soon, Russ was quick to position it as a future project.  What PGI seems to be hanging its hat on in the meantime is a greater emphasis on community participation and eSports. Later that evening during a stage presentation, PGI unveiled their plans for a worldwide MWO tournament slated to begin in the new year. Complete with regional qualifiers, play-off elimination series, and with PGI already committing to a $100k seeded prize pool, the announcement broke to the absolutely thunderous approval of the gathered fans. If PGI was searching for the thing that would appeal to their core fanbase the most, they certainly found it – as the ringing in my ears could have testified. I'm not so sure that's what the game needs though, especially when trying to capture a broader Steam audience. We've seen many games try to come out as “the next big eSport” in the past few years and almost all of them have failed to take off (looking at you Evolve). While everyone in the room that night can't wait to watch (and probably participate in) a huge worldwide bracketed tournament, I have no idea who else is going to be interested. Even with improvements to the game's spectator options and a focus on tighter, fast paced four vs four mixed-tech teams, the game is still working in the confines of the fairly niche mech combat genre. When I tried to envision who would actually watch a such a spectacle, all I could picture was other tournament players watching while waiting for their turn to play. What I personally found more exciting were the two separate VR demos on display. While the virtual mechbay tour on the ghetto-holodeck HTC Vive seemed like an impressive but COMPLETELY unnecessary exercise in BattleTech nerd wish-fulfillment, the smaller Oculus Rift demo caught my attention. While it was obviously in the very early stages of development -- little more than a stationary mech that could swivel its torso around and test fire a few weapons into a nearby mountain range -- it was captivating. Just being able to look around the cockpit and survey the area with a quick side-to-side glance was unbelievably thrilling. Honestly, it felt like the way stompy robot games were always secretly meant to be played. I squatted the unit for a good ten minutes trying to make myself sick by rotating the cockpit in a clockwise direction while trying to rotate my head in the opposite (easier said than done) and dreamed of the future in a dizzy haze. I've been as excited as anyone for the dawning VR age, but I've always been skeptical that a lot of "real" games would translate well to the experience. I don't want to see a future where the potential of VR is squandered on quaint virtual tours and on-rails shooters. But, a mech simulator that naturally sits you down in a cockpit while you manipulate a suite of controls makes sense with what the technology  is currently capable of and has that one-to-one coordination between what you are doing and what you are seeing that really makes VR pop. Nobody asked me, but this seems like THE thing to focus on instead of trying to carve out a slice of the already picked apart and wholly devoured eSports pie. A bunch of smaller features were also announced. Improvements planned for the Faction Warfare mode with expanded career options, ranking progressions, and leaderboards seemed like a big hit with the fans. As was the newly demonstrated decal system that will let MechWarriors plaster the ancestral battle machine of their noble family with gaudy stickers and logos like a warmongering Dale Earnhardt. I joke, but it is my secret shame that I would love nothing more than a big giant decal of a wrench to slap on my favorite mech. As a longtime player who has seen the game go through several ups and downs, I had to take the chance to ask about some of the more controversial decisions and notable difficulties the game has encountered. Things like the total about face on third person view, a feature PGI promised would never be added to the game during the beta, but was nevertheless eventually introduced to the collective disdain of the community. The sluggish pace of development that delayed key features for months if not years past announced launch dates. The introduction of consumable items purchasable for real money and a myriad of other insular grievances that sound completely crazy to people outside of the MWO bubble, but created serious rifts and a huge amount of distrust and negativity within the community. Russ acknowledged that the issues that set the fanbase off haven't always been predictable and they've been caught off guard once or twice. “It can be frustrating, but there comes a point where you don't have to understand why they're upset, you just have to know they're upset, and face it head on.” He says that after the departure from former publisher IGP last year, the team doubled down on communication with the fans and focused on providing concrete proof that they were addressing their concerns. “We weathered it, I think mostly due to 'put up or shut up' type things. We said we would pick the pace up and we did it.” When asked about the working relationship PGI had with IGP before separating ways, Russ and Bryan were quick to point out that there were some great people who worked there, but admitted there were difficulties. “In the end, it [working with IGP] really impacted our speed at which we could do work, implement features, and interact with out community. It was too policy driven.” says Russ “Our community suffered for it.” In comparison, he went on to describe how much faster the work flow is now. When the team wants to make a change, they can do so without having to hold several meetings about every decision. He pointed to the more frequent community facing Town Hall meetings and Q&A sessions with fans as proof of PGI's dedication to their audience. I don't know if I'm personally ready to lay every past snafu at the feet of IGP. At this point, MWO has broken my heart so many times that I'm not sure that I'll ever completely trust it again. But on the other hand, it has seemed to enjoy a new lease on life in the past few months. Big balance changes, new features, fresh players, MWO has really cleaned up its act. Maybe this time it really has changed. Maybe this time we can make it work. Oh what the hell, I'm gonna reinstall. Nothing serious, just going to test the waters. Relationship status: It's complicated.
MWO steam event photo
But is it too late for stompy robots?
Longtime readers of the site, especially folks that read my c-blogs and recap articles before I became a staff writer, know that I have a weird, on-again, off-again relationship with MechWarrior Online. It's a game I want to ...

Republique episode 4 photo
Republique episode 4

Republique finally gets analog controls on PS4


Physical disc rounds out best package
Dec 11
// Steven Hansen
Republique, a stealth game proud of its Metal Gear Solid 4 lineage, was Kickstarted in 2012. It hit iOS in 2013, and then proceeded at a pace of one port per year (2014, Android; 2015, PC) en route to three of five episodes h...

The animals are the real stars of Far Cry Primal

Dec 03 // Brett Makedonski
At a preview event this week, I spent an hour with Far Cry Primal. Free rein to the game wasn't quite permitted, as there were no story missions available; Ubisoft seems to be keeping that under wraps for now. Instead, I was left to wander from campfire to campfire ticking off side objectives and open-world encounters along the way. No matter which direction I traveled, from the glaciers of the north to the swamps of the south, there were ferocious animals all along the way. At first, I'd actively seek them out. Sabretooth nearby? That sounds fun to kill, let's go. I never found out if they were actually fun to kill. My defeat was swift each and every time I encountered one. By the end of the hour-long session, I went out of my way to avoid them. I'd watch them chase around other animals, holding my breath until they were finally out of sight. Safe for the time being. [embed]324054:61365:0[/embed] The reason for being appropriately underpowered had everything to do with my arsenal. Primal is the first Far Cry game that doesn't prominently feature guns. Clubs, spears, and arrows are the weapons on-hand, and the adapting process isn't necessarily easy. No longer can you rely on spraying bullets until you're out of a sticky situation. There's a world of difference between unloading a gun's clip and throwing spears one by one when a mammoth is charging at you. To soften the cold, harsh reality of the Stone Age, Ubisoft has taken some liberties with man's connection to creature. Far Cry Primal features a beast-master system that allows for the taming of animals, which can then be summoned to help in battle at any time. There are 17 variations, but I only saw three: a small jaguar, a white wolf, and a bear. Not only do they serve as a great distraction in battle, but they actually take care of some enemies on their own. As seems to be the theme with Primal, your beasts are at their best when facing off against other humans. There are plenty of enemy people wandering the game's sizable map, but they never feel as formidable as the wild animals. Maybe it's because, like you, they also have to get into position to throw a spear. Whatever the reason, these interactions seem as if they pose a considerably simpler challenge than an unfortunate surprise encounter with a good number of the game's many animals. For all the animal-controlling Far Cry Primal asks the player to do, it's a more passive tactic that proves to be the most delightful. With the press of a button, an owl can be summoned to fly overhead and scout out the surrounding area. Basically, it's Primal's response to not having a camera to tag enemies. The owl comes in particularly handy when checking out human outposts. Once you feel satisfied that you've seen enough, you can divebomb an unsuspecting human and murder him. It's a great way to get a jumpstart on a camp before sending your next animal in. That owl is probably the least threatening thing in Far Cry Primal, but even it has no problem asserting its dominance over mankind. That's just kind of how it goes as Far Cry sees the tables turned for the first time; humans weren't yet the dominant force they'll eventually be. Emphasizing animals seems like a good direction for the franchise. It required turning the clock back a few million years, but consistently befriending and battling beasts feels right in line with the Far Cry spirit -- a savage and brutal affair that's more about surviving than anything else.
Far Cry Primal photo
Friends and foes
The Stone Age is a remarkable moment in history ("moment" meaning 3.4 million years, in this instance) because it was a period when mankind wasn't at the top of the food chain. Beasts ruled the roost and humanity had to tread...

Dragomon Hunter: Anime MMO fan service by way of Germany and Taiwan

Dec 01 // Steven Hansen
It doesn't clear anything up, but Aeria Games actually started in Santa Clara, California almost a decade ago. It expanded globally, including into Berlin, as a a publisher and online portal (maybe you noticed the logo playing Tribes: Ascend) before being purchased by multi-billion-dollar German media conglomerate ProSiebenSat.1 Media in 2014. But even before getting Katamari'd up, Aeria boasted over "40 million players" and turned enough of them into paying players to finance continued publishing. "They basically leave us alone," Vice President, Global PC Games Business Tom Nichols said of his parent company. Of course, the advertising deals that affords alone are helpful. "The German market is much easier for us especially in regards to competition, it's easier for us to be visible," Bousquet said. "It doesn't always means that its necessarily a success. There's still a high dependence on the games and their mechanics and if they appeal to this audience. For instance, anime games, they work okay, but the two big markets are really the English and French markets. Germany's not really into anime stuff." The extra advertising oomph, helpful in Germany when Aeria is peddling more regionally popular medieval fantasy is somewhat emblematic of Aeria's strength, which is packaging something up for consumption by a new audience. As Nichols explained, "What Aeria does is take games that have been successful in Asia and brings them to the west." [embed]307904:60138:0[/embed] So the aforementioned "most changes [to appeal to the western audience]" for Dragomon Hunters are not for a general western audience, but knowingly for, "a much smaller audience...much more niche within anime MMOs," and that is the ultra chibi style. It is for western anime fans. The Japanese Dragomon Hunter publisher -- no, it's not a Japanese game -- brought on well-known anime voice actors (from the likes of Bleach and Naruto) and the western landing page has a link to a video excitedly pointing to, "the original Japanese voices" in this French and American localization by a German company of a game originally developed by Taiwanese developer X-Legend. I chuckled about anime-game fans who threaten boycotts over digital-only releases or the lack of dual language audio. "It's a very special audience," Bousquet said. The original title is Dragon Slayer. Bland, but much less of an obvious, broken-neck nod to Monster Hunter (the game is slightly more action oriented than many MMOs) and Pokemon (collecting). "We thought it didn't fit the genre or didn't communicate what the game was about," Bousquet said. "Dragon Slayer sounds like a game title you've heard a hundred times. You have a basic idea of the setting, but you have no idea what the game is. We wanted a title that caught attention just from hearing it." That's one way to do it. "I know some people, the first time they see it, they kind of interpret it as, 'oh, this is a ripoff,' but we feel it's much more of a tribute and a nod [to Monster Hunter] than a ripoff. If you look at the game closer, there are some similarities and .... the idea of collecting materials from slain enemies and using them for crafting is not a new idea, but this is an MMORPG at its core. It's not an action, skilled game. It takes cues from this existing game style, but takes very few elements from that." Playing up the [anime life]style isn't restricted to the title. The translated script is reference filled for game and anime fans (the story is sparse, so it doesn't necessarily come in at odds with a greater tone). "[Dragomon Hunter has been localized by anime and game fans for anime and game fans. We're not shying away from being referential and doing a few nods here and there." But the biggest changes in Aeria's fourth collaboration with developer X-Legend (you can still play the first, Grand Fantasia) have been on the gameplay side. "Most of the Asian RPGs are very grindy, like super hardcore grindy, which is something we try to get away from a little bit and be more action-player friendly." There are "better drop rates" and everything can be bought with in-game currency (versus spending real money). The tendency for Asian players in these types of games is to try out different classes and explore all the game's options, whereas western audiences seek out of whatever's figured to be the strongest class and work towards maxing levels and the like most efficiently. The archive system for the over 100 in-game mounts (all of the enemies have a chance at dropping an egg upon death, at which point you can use the monster as a means of transportation) doesn't exist in the original, but was added because, "Americans and Europeans like to collect things." Historically true! Dragomon Hunter also features controller support, something developer X-Legend neglected to mention because of how much of a non-feature it was in Asia, but that's a bigger deal in the US. And while Dragomon Hunter doesn't lean as far towards pure fighting game as something like Blade & Soul, movement is ostensibly important. I didn't find it too necessary in the early goings, the few hours I played from level one, but watching some high-level co-op plays against much more imposing baddies and opting to steer clear of a big, incoming attack is a smart move. Otherwise there are classes to choose from, monsters to catch (or buy), and Hoppalongs, your companion rabbits you design at the onset after making your player avatar. They're super cute and can be classes to balance and pair well with your character. And of course there's the need to preempt "pay-to-win" complaints that inevitably crop up around free-to-play properties in the west."What most companies like ours were doing was looking at game monetizing and saying you know what, we have those whales -- those few people who are spending crazy amounts of money and that's enough, so let's just focus on those people," Bousquet explained. "But that means it's extremely difficult to get people into the game because you're bringing in new people who are not going to have fun. They're going to go in there and the paying players are going to have fun slaying them, and those [new] people are not going to stay. What we're trying to do now is only focus demonetization on convenience and vanity...in those anime games it is very important and does resonate with an audience. If people want to buy their mounts, that's up to them. If they want to hunt them down and get them as drops from the monsters that they slay, anyone can do that." The aim is to reward "people coming in and logging into the game often enough and staying in the game," versus just reward those who are "paying money up front." For a fun counterpoint to Dragomon Hunter, there's the trading card game Immortalis Aeria published on mobile. It took a card game that was successful in Japan and replaced the art assets wholesale while keeping the original gameplay mechanics. The more western fantasy art style worked and the release has a big success for Aeria. The company has gotten good in predicting what will sell and how. This year's fantasy MMO Echo of Soul was the biggest launch yet. "There's nothing about the game that makes it really stand out in terms of, 'oh, this has an innovative feature,'" Nichols said. "The MMORPG genre is really crowded so it's hard to come up with a new feature that nobody has done before, but EoS is just really polished and has all of the features an MMO gamer would want." Aeria seems to know what MMO gamers want; it's a fair, mid-Mel-Gibson-era claim when you're still running your first-published anime MMO six years later and simultaneously launching your fourth from the same developer. And Aeria is diverse, blending anime and fantasy MMOs with shooters and mobile development all while reaching interntional audiences. "The Turkish market loves shooters. They don't spend a lot of money, but there's a lot of players," Nichols said. You can still play WolfTeam, a shooter that lets you transform into a powerful wolf (that aspect is most popular in Germany). [embed]323419:61324:0[/embed] As for the future beyond Dragomon Hunter? Nichols sees, "fewer PC MMOs and shooters coming out of Asia" because of the mad dash towards mobile, "as a result, our PC business is kind of stable. We're launching one or two games a year at this pace, whereas two years ago we were launching four games a year. The growth strategy for our business is coming from mobile. We have four games all set to launch early next year. Each one of those games was very successful in its native market in Asia. We're optimistic that a game that can be successful in Asia will be successful in the West as long as we make the art and style of the game appropriate for the Western market." But mobile is getting full up, too. "We're seeing some signs that some of the developers are shifting back to PC because the mobile market is so competitive," Nichols said. "I thought, Capcom and Konami, they're late, because they've been so focused on consoles." "Even huge companies like Supercell are doing TV advertising in Korea -- that never happened before in Korea." You might remember Supercell's $9 million Clash of Clans commercial that aired during this year's Super Bowl in the states, unless you mute commercials and use the time to thumb through your phone or grab a drink. "And all the Korean developers are like 'what the hell is this,' because they can't spend that much money." 
Dragomon Hunters preview photo
And it all makes some kind of sense
"Dragomon Hunter is one of the games where we've made the most changes [to appeal to the western audience]," Aeria Games' Product Marketing Manager Alexandre Bousquet tells me. That doesn't mean shaving the points off of spik...

Explore and conquer the galaxy in Stellaris

Nov 24 // Steven Hansen
Stellaris (PC)Developer: Paradox Development Studio Publisher: Paradox Interactive Release: TBA So, conquest in space, again, with Stellaris. The Beyond Earth comparison isn't just based on the sci-fi theme, as director Henrik Fåhraeus explained to me last week, Stellaris, "is a grand strategy game masquerading as a 4X game." In that sense it's a departure from past Paradox successes and the upcoming, WWII-set Hearts of Iron IV. He explained in a blog post earlier this year, "The early game is thus characterized by exploration and discovering the wonders of the galaxy," until reaching the mid-game wherein, "there is not much left to colonize and your easy expansion grinds to a halt. At this point, the map stabilizes into the Stellaris equivalent of the world map in Europa Universalis." You begin as one planet directed by a set of cultural guidelines (shown off to us last week was an Individualist Xenophobic empire, which made for a good first encounter with another large empire during which the only dialogue option was, "Alien scum!") that has just discovered faster than light travel. You'll choose between slower , free-moving warp travel; hyperspace across straight lines; and wormhole travels, which requires wormhole stations to be built. [embed]322210:61231:0[/embed] As opposed to pre-canned societies, there are over 100 alien portraits that can be aligned with a variety of traits, so "you will never meet the same aliens again;" or, at least, those bug-eyed purple asshole from your third game might be an inquisitive, pacifist sect next time you encounter that alien art. There are a few other parameters to set, like how many large empires will populate the galaxy you're exploring, but there are also quick start and preset options that reflect Paradox's attempt to widen its appeal, "without compromising our level of depth and complexity." There is an in-game adviser, for example, full voiced to help guide burgeoning emperors (or democratically-elected fish-faced idiots, whatever). In fact, Stellaris is Paradox's first project with a dedicated audio director. Coupled with all the space-faring in a full-figured galaxy and it could prove a little more inviting than playing on a giant map if the grand scope of spaaace isn't too alienating itself. Other simplifications include ditching tech trees for a system, "more like a collectible card game where you draw three cards and pick one." Research into Physics, Society, and Engineering is dictated by your scientists' traits and immediate options are weighted to be most convenient to you at any given time, though sometimes rare research opportunities pop up ("space amoeba weapons" were mentioned). Game progression goes something like this. Start on your home planet, represented by squares arranged 4x4 wherein you can place population unites (and strive for adjacency bonuses, like XCOM's base-builder). Send your science ship around to survey the galaxy, including addressing strange anomalies. In the demoed instance, we were drawn to a distress signal much like our own. There was a 10% failure rate, which just means missing out on the anomaly, though there is potential for catastrophic failure. In this case, the crew of the discovered ship was dead by brain parasite and a trait of our surveying scientist is the only thing that saved our crew from succumbing. Instances like these are neatly thrown into a Situation Log and you can research them from there. Then you'll want to send out ships for colonization and build construction ships to take advantage of resources (habitable planets are rare and meant to be cherished). There's a detailed ship builder, but you can auto-build for the best, too. "I don't want the flow in this game to be too micromanagey," Fåhraeus said. Other systems will start looping back around later. The population of a colonized planet or even your native planet can splinter off into factions of warring ideology, leaving you to choose if you want to say, quash the insurrection with force or give rein to a splintered, population-supported political spin off group. Eventually you will make it to the aforementioned mid-game, where it's "more like Europa Universalis" and you're butting up against large, rival empires. If one scouts you, it has the option to research you before you research it, and make first contact. There are other, smaller civilizations you'll discover, too, some pre-industrial, some post-technology.  To counter past Paradox games' anti-climactic endings when "you reach a point where you know you won," and are just trudging along to victory, late game crises are introduced, revolving around things like dangerous technological advancements or sentient robot worker uprisings -- things that threaten the whole galaxy. And there's maneuvering to do there, too, like letting the killbots off your biggest threat while allying elsewhere, bolstering yourself for the impending man-vs-bot slaughter. Also, you can "uplift" alien wildlife and, say, create a planet of space-faring, extremely loyal dolphins to go space crusade in your name, amen. Stellaris is "coming soon."
Stellaris preview photo
In space no one can hear you scheme
Earlier this year, Paradox offered an alternative for the many disappointed by EA's botched SimCity two years earlier by publishing Colossal Order's excellent city-building-simulator Cities: Skylines. Now Paradox's internal s...

Korean action MMO Blade & Soul a right step for the genre, coming West on January 19

Nov 19 // Steven Hansen
The newest class, Qi Master, was recently announced. It's a Kung Fu Master and Force Master hybrid. [embed]321525:61178:0[/embed] I got time to mess with Blade & Soul recently at NC Soft's autumnal headquarters (possibly my first actual fall, being from San Francisco) and spent a not insignificant amount of time in the not-quite-Black-Desert character creator to create a buxom Kung Fu Master with beautiful hair. The boobs even jiggle in the character creator screen. I named her bushdidnineeleven because the numbers prohibited 420noscope69 and I am nothing if not an embarrassment. I went with Kung Fu Master, though, because of the challenge that was announcing it as the toughest class to use, most reliant on timing and player input. And indeed, once I got to that point, figuring out enemy attack wind-ups and using the counter skill felt pretty damn good rather than letting early chump MMO fodder even get off their potshots. Plus, the Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon influence is obvious in the running and fly/gliding animations (development head Moonyoung Choi cited it specifically when asked about influences, along with a long list of games including Street Fighter and Soul Calibur). And while Blade & Soul does encourage more activity than your typical click click click, it falls into feeling like just another MMO, at least in the early game. While I moving fleet of foot with WASD and beginning encounters with a floating jump kick, it was mostly for my own amusement, as I spent hours (somewhat quickly, but always very casually) leveling up near 20. I can see the twitch reflexes being more useful in hard raids or, obviously, PvP, but this isn't a huge genre shakeup when all's said and done. Just a pretty, high-budget version of the last decade with one twist in the right direction, which will undoubtedly be enough for some, especially with it being free to play anyways.
Blade & Soul launch photo
After three years
It's been a long time coming. Hugely popular Korean MMO Blade & Soul was confirmed for Western release over three years ago and it's finally happening. It went into beta last month and some beta weekends remain: November...

Soar the island-filled skies of Worlds Adrift

Oct 01 // Jordan Devore
[embed]313407:60583:0[/embed] There's Spider-Man-style swinging at 7:15. Ship construction, which is done by hand, starts at 10:50. Williams demonstrates flying at 19:20 and even alone, without the threat of other players, it looks terrifying. Then again, he clearly knows how to grapple and isn't afraid of plummeting to his death. Lastly, you can take photos (including selfies!) and frame them. See that at 23:20.
Worlds Adrift photo
But watch out for pirates
Bossa Studios (Surgeon Simulator, I am Bread) is making an open-world MMO about building airships, flying them to floating islands, and screwing over others (probably). You interested? The developers were in town, so we sent Rey to take a look at that game, Worlds Adrift, and he put together this in-depth video with narration provided by designer Luke Williams.

Dying just makes Super Rude Bear Resurrection easier

Sep 28 // Brett Makedonski
[embed]312542:60542:0[/embed] After any given death, the titular Rude Bear's body will by lying across the trap you just succumbed to. There's a fair chance it was a spike trap; Super Rude Bear has a lot of spike traps. On the next attempt, you can platform on the corpse which shields you from those pesky spikes. Super Rude Bear just got easier, albeit for only the briefest of moments. For a game about a rude bear (curiously, we haven't seen any ill-behaved mannerisms apart from a backward hat and a permanent scowl), this isn't as light-hearted and blithe as one may expect. Actually, it's quite entrenched in the macabre. Coffins serve as checkpoints and are even more appreciated than coming across your freshly dead body. There are some extra mechanics offered up to guide along the platforming. Rude Bear is forever followed by a wizard, as he's the one who actually transported you back to medieval England and put you in this dire situation. It's possible to take control of him and scout ahead. How thoughtful, Guy Who Is Directly Responsible For Me Dying Thousands Of Times. Likewise, in the event that your corpses pile up too high to clear some sections (yes, that will happen), he can clear them one-by-one or with a single powerful blast. Again, how thoughtful. This is actually the second time we've seen Super Rude Bear -- originally, it had the "Resurrection" withheld from the end. The first was at Tokyo Game Show 2014. There was obvious care put into the controls, but everything was made up of placeholder art. Also, the jumping on your past failures part is new, which is why we've seen the game fittingly re-titled. Super Rude Bear Resurrection has come a long way in the year that has passed. Now, it's a game that I'm actually excited to play, even as infuriating as it's likely to be. The game's site currently lists projected platforms as PC, PS4, PS Vita, and Xbox One. Wherever you find yourself playing, don't be afraid to die; it's all part of the process.
Super Rude Bear photo
Expect to do a lot of it
A corpse is typically not a welcoming sight, but in Super Rude Bear Resurrection it absolutely is. That decomposing body (which is yours from seconds ago, by the way) means that maybe you can skirt a particularly challen...

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

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

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

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

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.

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...

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...

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...

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 ...

Sublevel Zero mixes sci-fi space shooters with roguelike challenges

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

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

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

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...

Crazy racer has you drive multiple cars at once

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

La-Mulana 2 will probably break me

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

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...


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