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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] 
Sublevel Zero photo
Descent goes Rogue
One of the great aspects of this reawakening of the roguelike sub-genre is seeing the systems in place in genres that you'd least expect. For those unaware, roguelike is a sub-genre that features hardcore-focused RPG systems ...

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

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

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...

Atlas Reactor's competitive turn-based play shows promise

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

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

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

Kona is a hauntingly beautiful survival adventure

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

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

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

Through the Woods uses psychological horror to retell a classic myth

Aug 30 // Alissa McAloon
Conversations between the mother and her doctor drive the greater plot. The events of Through the Woods happened long ago; the players are simply helping the mother with her retelling of the tale. The demo begins with the mother alone in the dark woods with only a flashlight to guide her way. Branches crunch beneath her feet as she slowly makes her way through the environment. From time to time, an object in the distance catches the light of the flashlight. These objects, the mother explains to the doctor, are reflectors her son often collected. Reflectors sometimes trigger a short conversation between the mother and the doctor, but more often than not simply serve as a welcome reminder that you're on the right path. Eventually the forest directs her toward an isolated cluster of cabins. As she tries to open each door, she calls her son's name into the night. After finding every door locked, the door farthest from her creaks open and the soft sound of a woman's singing beckons her toward the cabin. I was somehow still surprised when the door then slammed shut behind her. The sound something loudly drooling and shuffling nearby filled my ears and it was then I became well acquainted with the run button. The game bills itself as psychological horror and it isn't hard to see why. Through the Woods uses a finessed merging of sound, design, and narrative to craft an experience that is equal parts intriguing and terrifying. I can't wait to give Woods another shot when it releases next year, but chances are I'll be playing with the lights on. 
Through the Woods photo
Norse mythology is messed up
I knew I was in over my head with Through the Woods the very second I started the demo. The moment I put those headphones on, the loud world of PAX disappeared and was replaced with the unsettling ambiance of a dark forest. ...

Burly Men at Sea is such a delightful adventure

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

Get your XCOM fix this year with the brutal Hard West

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

Cities: Skylines gets nightlife with After Dark expansion

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

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

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

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

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

First hands-on with Ninja Theory's Hellblade

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

Star Wars Battlefront's Fighter Squadron mode needs some variation

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

Dungeon League turns RPG action into a bloodsport

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

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

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

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

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

Hitman studio just wants to 'get back to Hitman'

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


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