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I couldn't believe the size of Dragon Age: Inquisition's world

Jun 18 // Brett Makedonski
Dragon Age: Inquisition centers around the on-going war between the mages and templars. The presenter emphatically stated several times throughout the demo that this was our goal. That might be what's on BioWare's mind, but honestly, it seems like the more important objective in Inquisition is simply keeping the world from tearing itself apart. All across the land are breaches that need to be repaired, which is the protagonist's duty as the Inquisitor leading the Inquisition. There's plenty of room for customization here as four races and nine specializations (as well as choice of gender) are offered. If Inquisition's going to ask the player to make decisions to affect the outcome of the game, it's a good thing that the option to play several different ways is represented. Not that the Inquisitor would attempt this on his/her own, however. Inquisition has many playable characters that are leaders in their own right, effectively making the player a leader of leaders. These characters react based on choices made throughout the game. For instance, in the demo, we sent one to Redcliffe Castle where she was captured and tortured. We eventually freed her, but the presenter remarked that it'll have a long-term effect on our relationship moving forward. It's probably for the best that relationships be tended to as carefully as possible, because you'll anyone and everyone on your side in the thick of battle. The combat system has been sort of reworked for Inquisition to compromise between Origins' and Dragon Age 2's. Now, the player is able to pause time entirely to take an overhead tactical approach, or get into the fray themselves while switching characters on-the-fly. This was displayed flawlessly in a battle against a ferocious Fereldan Frostback dragon. With different reticules aiming for specific parts of the dragon, the team chipped away. This is where Focus was shown off -- a shared resource that slows down time for everyone but our party. After inflicting some major damage, the dragon was wounded enough that we could move in and deliver the coup de grâce. By the time the 30-minute presentation was up, I realized that we had barely even scratched the surface of what Dragon Age: Inquisition will have to offer. With a massive play space that changes based on in-game decisions and actions, dynamic RPG offerings, and an entire story to tell, Inquisition needs several hours to express what it's all about -- not just a thirty minutes. That being said, a half hour was sufficient time to impress; I can't imagine more time wouldn't just build on that.
Dragon Age preview photo
The rest of the game looked damn fine, too
Fantasy games have some of my favorite settings in all of videogames. Forests, mountains, chasms, rivers -- they all have a serenity and majesty about them that wonderfully adds to the sense of scale. It shouldn't surprise me...

Do you love setpieces? You'll probably like Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Jun 16 // Brett Makedonski
There were two levels shown during the presentation, both adept at communicating the new(ish) style that Advanced Warfare brings to the table, but also assuaged any fears (or dashed any hopes?) that this year's Call of Duty will be a departure from its bread and butter. The first of the two slices was nothing more than an extended gameplay video. Set up by a violent car chase along the San Francisco freeway gone awry, the majority of the level took place fighting across the Golden Gate bridge. This is where we got to see enemy soldiers jetpacking on top of semis, as the character we were watching mirrored those movements with his own boosts onto abandoned vehicles. I couldn't help but feel as if it seemed like a slower Titanfall. Although the shooting was a lot of what we've come to expect, the setting provided a wonderful playground for the action. Terrified civilians running away and cars littering the road made for a good start. But, it went into overdrive when a pack of drones were accidentally released from the enemies' truck and started cutting the cable to the bridge. As one might suspect, suspension cables are critical to suspending a suspension bridge. Who would've thought? With several of the cables no longer intact, the bridge started to slowly come down as vehicles and people alike careened off the edge and into the bay below. At one point, a policeman was about to escape harm's way until a bus plowed into him, followed by someone jetpacking to the protagonist like nothing ever happened. His demeanor eerily mirrored what players might feel; when you've become accustomed to this level of action over the course of a decade, what will it take to truly drop jaws again? The second level, which was actually played by a presenter (supposedly), took a more methodical approach to things. Set in and around a Biolab in a Bulgarian forest, stealth was paramount to infiltrating the facility. However, just because cloaking devices and quiet knife kills were in play doesn't mean that the setpieces slowed down. Almost immediately, a helicopter spotted the two principal characters and began a mad dash through a river to get to cover before it could snipe them. After leaping off a cliff and hustling into the forest, it was finally safe. Well, sort of. Making good use of the cloaking technology, the two slinked through the forest, knifing some unfortunate enemies in the throat, while opting to spare the lucky ones. After a bit, a tank rolled through blasting some sort of light that exposed cloaked individuals -- a subtle reminder that not all setpieces need to be grand. The inside of the facility held a lot of corridor-based shooting galleries that sometimes define the first-person shooter genre, but once outside, the commandeering of a tank made things interesting again. Rumbling along, nothing was spared from the path of destruction, as helicopters, vehicles, and individual troops fell in gratuitous numbers. Upon arriving at a getaway plane, the protagonists blew up the tank just for good measure. Given thirty minutes to watch Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, there are certainly mechanical changes being made to the way the game plays. However, its reliance on setpieces and scripted action makes sure that nothing strays too far from the Call of Duty formula. Maybe Advanced Warfare isn't really as advanced as everyone claims. But, maybe that sort of service to the fans keep millions of them loyal year after year. And, hey -- maybe that isn't a bad thing at all.
Call of Duty preview! photo
The action you expect
The last decade has brought us ten new Call of Duty games. With that steady drip of titles, the series' developers have figured out how to craft increasingly elaborate action scenarios. Despite being at it for a while, t...

Okay, now I'm super excited for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Jun 11 // Steven Hansen
[embed]276462:54426:0[/embed] I hate horses. I take my dog to a dog beach. It's a human beach, but dogs are allowed, off leash. Once in a while, rich people take their horses onto the beach. This is dangerous for curious dogs, who could get kicked. Plus, the horses shit as much as 20 dogs. Do those assholes get off their horses and pick it up? No. Unfortunately, Phantom Pain is 200 times bigger than Ground Zeroes, and walking across barren desert would just not be that fun. Snake did not get off to pick up the poop. Instead, he rode up to an ill-guarded structure and did that cool hanging off the side of the horses lean to tranq a guard undetected, though I'm not sure how he got that close undetected, riding a horse. He held up the other at gunpoint, getting the drop on him, and interrogated him about the contents of the nearby shipping container: raw materials. Raw materials can be Fulton'd up in the air and sent back to Mother Base to add to your GMP, the in-game currency. You can also find some, like raw diamonds, in the environment. You may be rolling solo, but you're building an army, and that takes money. Money and troops. Zipping screaming, downed soldiers into the air and back to Mother Base is hilarious. You can also Fulton over vehicles or armaments (like an anti-aircraft weapon). You can even stun some grazing sheep and send them back home. The return of levity is delightful. There was a whole lot going on in the demo and I loved all of it (except I'm still torn on the already-known slow-mo effect when you're spotted). The dynamic weather, coupled with the day and night cycle, is a neat addition. Sudden sandstorms obscure your vision, but your enemies', too. Snake also has a Phantom Cigar, an e-cig with holographic smoke. Taking a drag speeds the passage of time, all in real time, so you can see the weather and time of day changing like a time lapse and wait until you think it's best to act. When Snake rolls up on an encampment, a lot of this big-picture openness comes into play. "A huge part of the fun is just looking at the map, 'how do I get in here? What time of the day would be better? What route should I take?' That has been missing in my games," Kojima said through a translator. From up on high, Snake is able to make enemies, mark multiple way points in the camp to plot his route of entry, and keep an eye on guard sleeping and walking patterns. A lot of stealth games have a disconnect between player ability and character ability. This all helps you feel like a trained saboteur while requiring  you to do some work to earn it. Mother Base helps, too, especially if you have been training recruits (and have the GMP to afford things). You can, for example, order intel on areas. You can also have ammo airdropped in. You can even airdrop a box and konk a guard on the head, knocking them out. At the end of the mission, when Snake was detected, he called in an airstrike from Mother Base and heroically drove away in a jeep, explosions behind. A little earlier, Snake went into his R&D department and had the ultimate of stealth technology dropped in: a cardboard box. And it's hilarious that it just lands, empty, and Snake just gets in the top. It's no ordinary cardboard box, though. First, you can now pop out of the top like a stripper in a cake and shoot enemies or what have you, so you don't have to equip and unequip. You can also still use the Fulton recovery system from inside. You can also propel yourself out the front of the box (I have no idea how the box manages more than two openings), which could be useful if you're in just the right position -- nearing a wall, for example -- to get out without the enemy seeing you. You can even get them suspicious of the moving the box, rocket sneak out, and use it as a decoy. Its these sort of little touches (also the kind voice that reminds you to vacate your airstrike zone) and unique design that make Metal Gear for me. Even something as simple as being able roll onto your back while crawling (and still inch backwards with your elbows) and shoot instead of having to turn all the way around speaks to a much improved fluidity that skilled players are going to be able to use to do impressive things. You can also pretend to be a trapdoor spider and sit in garbage bins until a guard walks by and quickly knock them out and hide the body. The other big reveal from today's demo is that Mother Base isn't a menu that you jettison force labor to. It's a physical place you can return to and run around in. And when you show up, everyone salutes you, because you're the boss. In keeping with the less linear design that lets you tackle missions openly, you'll have choices that dictate how your Mother Base develops over time, what platforms get built. The sheep Snake scooped up from the battlefield is there and seems to be enjoying itself. We saw Ocelot hanging around, too, and a security UAV buzzing about (you can build them with proper investments). My favorite thing is that you can train (shooting) and spar (CQC) with recruits to raise their skills. I've never been as good as I'd like at CQC, so being able to practice freely will be great. Mother Base isn't just a hub you hang out at during missions, though. During our neatly scripted demo, rain started falling a bit after Ocelot gave a wave, and the base was suddenly under attack. We didn't get to see all of the attack play out, but we were told that your actions during missions -- how many enemies you make -- will affect the rate of these sieges. Better keep recruiting. And can we talk about the artistic design of Snake's High Planes Drifter-red robot arm? It's so cool! And it takes over the old "knock" function used for hitting walls to get attention (and can be used anywhere) by spinning and clicking like an adorable cuckoo-clock. I've had some trouble getting too excited about anything in particular this E3. That changed after the Phantom Pain demonstration. The level of detail and nuance to the mechanics, on top of already great Metal Gear staples, is so exciting to see. The juxtaposed weird levity and war crime seriousness is in full effect and I just want to mess around with it for myself. 
Phantom Pain is so cool! photo
Cardboard boxes, customizable Mother Base, stealing sheep -- I am so down
The Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain E3 trailer was good, but I'm used to good trailers for Metal Gear. It didn't light a fire in my belly. Ground Zeroes didn't exactly do so either. The behind-closed-doors Phantom Pain g...

Halo players will be right at home with Destiny's PvP

Jun 10 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
[embed]276138:54316:0[/embed] [embed]276138:54317:0[/embed]
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We gave the competitive multiplayer a spin
Along with our open world walkthrough, Max Scoville and I went ahead and checked out the competitive multiplayer in Destiny. We gave both maps a spin, and we also checked out each playable class for the videos. The biggest t...

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I rode an elephant in Far Cry 4 and went on a complete rampage


Semi-auto grenade launchers anyone?
Jun 10
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
You all saw the gameplay footage of Far Cry 4, right? Well I got to play through the demo myself, specifically focused on taking over the outpost (now referred to as fortresses). We saw how to take it over from the sky at the press conference, but I decided to take things differently by riding a big elephant into battle.  It was glorious. 

Alien: Isolation is more than just you and a Xenomorph

Jun 10 // Brett Makedonski
Being dumped into this slice of Isolation with prior experience gave me a sense of comfort as if I already knew what to expect. Motion tracker out: check. Crouch-walk everywhere: check. In the opening minute, there was nothing on my radar, so I figured I wasn't in any real danger. Not yet, anyway. I broke my strategy and ran to where I thought the next objective was. Big mistake. The Alien came running out of nowhere to violently emphasize that it was in charge of this demo, not me. With my confidence sufficiently shattered, I took to it again, knowing I would no longer stray from my tried-and-true technique. Methodically moving from room to room and corridor to corridor, I was focused partially on moving toward my goal, and maybe moreso on creating distance between myself and the Xenomorph. When I got to the area of my objective, I accidentally triggered a giant explosion. Oops. "Well, if this doesn't kill me, that pesky Alien surely will," I thought as I sighed in defeat. Oddly enough, it never showed up. As the demo progressed, I soon encountered my first human. As I hid behind some crates with a flamethrower I picked up, she yelled at me to show myself. She wasn't some space marine barking orders. There was panic in her voice. She was as scared as I was. A trickle of empathy spilled into my mind. We were kindred spirits in that moment, only I was much more well-versed in knowing to keep my mouth shut. [embed]275906:54249:0[/embed] Sure enough, as if on cue, the Xenomorph appeared and did away with the aggressor. Learning and adapting just as any good survivalist would, I took a mental note. Let it do the dirty work. Playing cat and mouse is hard enough when you're the rodent; there's no need to wander into mousetraps. Moving forward, I made my way to a medical ward, and found a gun. This wasn't a smooth-shooting assault rifle, though. It was a pistol that felt incredibly unnatural in Ripley's hands. Bulky and unwieldy. Like something she'd never held before. Like something she didn't want to hold. Like something I didn't want to hold. As I crept along, I came across more humans. They were idly chatting with trepidation in their voices. I had no idea if they were friendly or hostile. With no way of knowing and not particularly inclined to find out, I slithered around them and toward the next waypoint. After all, why tempt fate? The next section locked me in a giant room that was aflame. "Great," I thought. "This is practically inviting the Alien to feast on me." After pushing buttons on opposite sides of the room, there was a center console to hack. Unbeknownst to me, the buttons also freed a synthetic from his holding pod, and he was on a mission to choke the life out of me. I was at a loss for ideas as I took laps around the room to stall. Any weapon would attract the Alien, that much I was sure of. I tried the flamethrower, but with my limited fuel, it wasn't enough to put the android down. Shit. At least the Xeno hadn't appeared. Time to try the pistol. A few rounds with that didn't seem to faze him. I found a Molatov cocktail hidden by a box that eventually did the trick. Thoroughly relieved that that little snafu was over, I couldn't come to terms with why the Alien hadn't shown up. It had dropped out of the ceiling mere minutes before to surprise me (which literally made me jump in my seat, by the way). It showed up after I jogged for ten seconds earlier. Yet, as a giant explosion goes off or I'm pinging bullets off an android, it can't be bothered? How is Isolation going to frame the experience so we know what are acceptable ways to deal with these situations? Or, is that dissonance going to run rampant, making everything a frustrating game of trial and error? After handling the synthetic, a checkpoint popped. Checkpoints are a big deal in Alien: Isolation; every single one is a miniature victory unto itself. However, I could also sense it would signify the last section of the demo. In the first build of the game, the final bit was by far the toughest. I expected no less this time 'round. That expectation proved to be correct. It began with two humans that detected my presence. Just like before, I let them shout at me, effectively devoting their life's purpose to becoming Alien fodder. This is my design. From here, one of two things would happen: either the Alien would branch off to patrol some rooms on my left, or it'd come down the hallway toward me. The times it'd approach my location, I just had to give up. There was nothing I could do. Those attempts were essentially "unwinnable." Yes, that's as disheartening as it sounds. However, when it broke off to the direction I needed it to go, that frustration melted away and was immediately replaced with perseverance. I gritted my teeth and vowed to get past that bastard. The atmosphere of Alien: Isolation is just too immersive to rip you out of the game for long. Cautiously advancing, I took to sticking to every object I could. Sure, the motion tracker was out, but the Xenomorph has a habit of changing position quicker than I can process what's happening. As I took refuge under a medical cart, the perfect scene played out. The Alien approached from behind as I silently wondered if this is where this run would conclude. Turning my field-of-view with it, I watched as it slinked past me mere inches from my hiding spot, its tail slithering perilously close as it grew ever more distant. That moment felt like a personal victory against the Alien. Like I was the champion of our persistent game of Hide and Seek. It was simply chill inducing. I held my breath just knowing that within fractions of a second, it'd whip around and rush toward me. When it didn't, I couldn't help but break out in a grin. At least a half hour after beginning, I finally completed the demo. My many failures left me feeling like I took a long time -- maybe too long. Looking around the room, I was actually one of the first to finish. It seemed that everyone else was having the same issues I was -- maybe I was just luckier. Ultimately, the crux for Alien: Isolation is going to be how the player learns as the game progresses. If the player can adapt to the Alien adapting, Isolation could turn into a cerebral chess match, a true thing of beauty. If the adaptive Alien just means that the game's going to reward the lucky and occasionally be unfair, well, that'll be tougher to stomach. Whatever the outcome may be, this demo did a lot to further my confidence in Alien: Isolation. Seeing first-hand that interactions with other humans don't devolve into shoot-em-up segments was entirely helpful. Experiencing the same terrified sensation that the first build evoked was essential. The atmosphere that the game cultivates is so on-point that it may detract from some of its issues. That is, as long as those issues aren't hulking monstrosities like Isolation's Xenomorph. 
Alien: Isolation preview photo
Everything else is mean too
At the reveal event for Alien: Isolation, we were shown a lengthy demo that got right to the heart of the conflict at-hand: Amanda Ripley trying to navigate a space station as a very aggressive Xenomorph hunted her. In our fi...

Why the heck is Forza Horizon 2 trying to get me killed?

Jun 10 // Steven Hansen
[embed]276206:54279:0[/embed] Seriously, who did they hire to run this event? It started out well enough, driving through some scenic roads that gave way to a farm setting. I tried to race carefully, following the helpful race line that goes green when you're free to speed up and warns red when you should be breaking. Break before the turn, punch it in the turn. Some of the AI racers, at one point, cut through a cornfield to get an edge. Have you ever driven through a cornfield? At 140 miles per hour? Bad idea. I kept to the road like a responsible driver. Then the race line led me through a corn field. The heck, guys? I was still holding a respectable, middling 6th/7th place or so at that point when the race route led into a regular road full of cross traffic and commuters. Someone is going to get killed! Not me, because I have a helpful rewind button. I tried not to lean on it, but when I went grill to grill with oncoming traffic, I used it. I tried not to rewind further, which you could do. Just the one, I thought. When I resumed, I still didn't have room to veer out of the way. I smashed into some poor soul and got myself knocked into about 11th of 12. Then the thunder claps. Rain started, making roads even more squirrely.  I would never recover, even when the rain stopped, roads still left wet. I cruised into a 12th place finish and enjoyed the sun reflecting off of the rain slick roads. I may suck at racing games, but the Forza Horizon series continues to still make it fun as hell regardless, like a photo realistic Mario Kart.
Forza Horiszon 2 hands-on photo
Cutting through cornfields, racing against oncoming traffic, and more
Driving is dangerous. We take it for granted, but you're more likely to die driving to the airport than zipping through the air a mile high in a heavy, metal tube. I am pretty okay at driving, but I am notably not great at dr...

Hour of Destiny photo
Plus we go check out the social space known as The Tower
The folks at Bungie gave Destructoid full access to the Destiny Alpha just before E3. You may remember that I wasn't all that excited for the game the last time I saw it, but having full freedom to do whatever and being able...

Hands-on with the Destiny first-look alpha

Jun 10 // Chris Carter
Bungie (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 [previewed], Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: BungiePublisher: ActivisionRelease: September 9, 2014 Whatever you do, don't call it Borderlands. Well, you can actually in some regards, because it is a class-based FPS with RPG elements. The comparisons basically stop there though. Once you boot up Destiny, you'll get to fully customize a character with an editor that trumps pretty much every other shooter I've ever played. Any of the three classes (Titan, Hunter, and Warlock) can be male or female, as well as any of the three included races -- Human, Awoken (aliens), and Exo (robots). I chose an Exo Titan. Right off the bat one of the first things I noticed about Destiny was the weird user interface. Everything is controlled by a virtual mouse cursor that floats around the screen, which you'll direct by way of the left stick. It's odd, because there's no way to flip around the menus with the d-pad like any other game, and it can be jarring to slowly scroll across the screen to select something. On the flipside, the menus themselves are clean, and easy to read, which is more important. Upon the start of the alpha I was thrown into a story mission, which is just part of Destiny's three pronged method of gameplay -- story, sandbox exploration, and PVP. As a Guardian sent to Earth to save it from the mysterious Fallen, the first mission involves an indoor colony and a boss fight. Peter Dinklage of Game of Thrones fame is your AI guide, calling out hints and tips as you slowly make your way into the depths of your target building. Honestly I'm just happy to hear his voice, but he could use a little more "oomph" in his lines. Hopefully his performance ramps up as you advance in the story. [embed]276045:54376:0[/embed] Slowly but surely I made my way through the darkened abandoned building, taking in the sights and admiring the great lightning engine on the PS4. It really reminds me of the flashlight sections in Doom III in a good way, and there was a fair bit of tension once the baddies started rushing out of the dark crevices of the room. Everything culminated in a boss fight, which was sufficiently satisfying, and consisted of plenty of adds to take out. Combat is built around the constant injection of action. You don't run out of grenades, you recharge them. You don't just get to jump -- you can extend your leap with a jetpack. Each character also has a super move (in this case, a ground pound), which can be used in a pinch, and recharges fairly quickly. The upgrade system is fairly robust, doling out new skill points at a quicker rate than most RPG shooters, allowing passives like bonus damage, better grenades, and upgraded jumps. You'll also unlock some new moves, like a shoulder charge and the like. While the visuals didn't really blow me away at this point in the game's development, they look great on the PS4, and the draw distance is vast enough to where you'll want to sit down and take in the sights every so often. It's very smooth, and as I mentioned previously, the lightning is smooth as well. It's not going to take the honors of the best looking current-gen game, but everything is insanely polished. It helps that you can summon your mount at will and just ride around, looking at everything. I also really liked the "ruined cape motif" that Destiny's art direction is going for. The enemies remind me of fighting the Covenant from Halo for the first time, and the elite type characters are formidable enough to earn my respect. With moves like teleports, special attacks, and even call-backs like Needler weaponry, it's a style that reminds me of Mass Effect mixed with Knights of the Old Republic -- with it's own unique spin. Destiny isn't just about doing linear story missions though, as some levels are billed as "open world" joints. I wouldn't necessarily think of them as on the scale of say, a GTA game, but they are fairly large sandboxes that allow you to just wander around willy nilly. It's not just aimless exploration either, since tiny optional beacons can be found that trigger mini-missions. Multiplayer-wise I really dig Bungie's take on the whole "online-only" system. Yes, it sucks that you'll need to connect to the internet to even play the game, and many of you out there will probably forgo the opportunity, which is fine. But the result is something that reminds me of the best parts of Journey -- players will randomly phase in and out of your game seamlessly, helping you out in a pinch and forming squads. I love that it just drops players in without the hassle of checking what level you are, looking for other games in a giant list, or worrying about connection issues. It's just seamless. Destiny has a hub world too, and it reminds me of Phantasy Star Online in a big way. There's a message center to grab mail from, equipment vendors to get gear from, and even bounties to acquire. There's even a PVP vendor that sells specific PVP gear with tokens that you can only earn by fighting other players. Wait, PVP? Yep, Bungie is incorporating what it does best -- full competitive multiplayer in the form of the Crucible. There will be multiple modes available in the full game, but I only got a chance to try out "Control" -- which is basically "Capture the Point" (A, B, C). This mode is 6v6, and operates like a traditional FPS, but with the same character you've used in all of your other missions. There's vehicles to use, and the level itself really reminded me of playing Halo for the first time, which is a great feeling. The audio has a real punch to it, and makes combat pretty entertaining as a whole -- especially with a pair of great headphones. At the present time it looks like you can play the Crucible as much as you want, but the actual currency you earn from it is capped at 100 tokens per week (a very MMO-like trait). Destiny is an ambitious game, and I had a lot of fun during my lengthy stay with the alpha -- I can't wait to see if it'll hold my attention when the final version drops. I will say though, the MMO influences are really working to its advantage, and I see lots of long nights storming dungeons for loot in my future.
Destiny hands-on photo
When Tyrion Lannister tells you to kill something, you kill it
After months of hype it's nice to be able to sit down and actually play a game for yourself. It's crazy to think that Bungie sent over members of the press to an event without even giving them a chance to play Destiny, but he...

Battlefield Hardline: First hands-on impressions

Jun 09 // Dale North
The idea started as a dream when DICE and Visceral studio heads met in Barcelona a couple of years ago. Big fans of each others' games, they started talking about games they'd like to make. A crazy idea snowballed into a full-on plan. But Visceral, the team behind the Dead Space games, knew third-person shooting better than first-person. So as a way of learning the ropes, Visceral did a Battlefield expansion pack, End Game.  After that, they started on the concept work for what would eventually be Hardline. In a pre-E3 reveal, Ian Milham, Creative Director on Hardline, explained that his team at Visceral had been working on a new IP following the last Dead Space. He put his presentation together for executives after working on it for a few months, but it got a mixed reaction. The execs brought up making a Battlefield game instead. Milham says he has been a franchise fan for a long time, but he did not want to do another military shooter. Milham talked about how modern military shooters were going science fiction lately. He wanted to do something different, fun, and relatable -- no grizzle-voiced heroes or private armies. His dream was to make something that played off backyard fantasies. Robbing banks, relatable places, real weapons -- no fancy equipment or high-end squad tactics.  We had a chance to spend some time with Battlefield: Hardlline's multiplayer a few weeks back. playing a couple of short matches in two newly revealed game modes. The game does have a full single-player component, but Visceral wanted to show multiplayer first to show the direction they're going with this project. Milham noted that they've done a lot of single-player games in the past, so we know they have that side covered. The cops in Hardline are pretty militarized, so armored cars and helicopters are the norm in battle. On the criminals side, these guys are pros, so they have a bunch of handy technologies and automated gear like grappling hooks and ziplines. Cops have ballistic shields, gas masks, flash bombs and more. For vehicles, my hands-on time felt like anything goes in Hardline. Cops have fast interceptors that can zip around town while a partner hangs out the passenger side window, shooting. Criminals have muscle cars as a parallel, but they also have their own armored transports. I was suddenly dropped into just about every vehicular situation you could imagine in one match that had both factions fighting over control points in a city. I went from being on the ground, to manning a turret on top of a transport, to shooting a machine gun from an open helicopter door, all in a scramble. I played in a large group multiplayer session to try out the Heist mode. This has the criminals trying to break into a defended area,  gathering loot, and then working to escape safely. They have to get to vaults, arm charges, and defend them until the charges explode. From there, they'll take their loot to a drop-off point. Meanwhile, the cops are working to intercept these transports and halt escapes. In this mode I had fun as a cop, running down criminals with cars, or picking them off after they've worked so hard to crack a vault. Another mode, called Blood Money, has cops and robbers fighting over stolen loot. A transport was stopped mid-route, and the cops have to try to secure the transport while the criminals try to steal from it. The criminals have to take the stolen money, bag by bag, to their vault and protect it. But the cops can raid this vault and steal it back. Nothing is safe, and the line, measured in money, is constantly shifting.  This mode was even more fun than Heist. The map, a large city with plenty of damaged buildings and roadways, has plenty of hiding places and alternative paths to sneak away in as a criminal. Despite the large number of cops running, I was able to steal loads of cash for my team by keeping low and taking underground passageways. Above ground, gun fights, helicopter patrols, and crazy setpiece events, like crashing buildings, kept the tension up.  From my short time with it, Hardline feels more relaxed and approachable than the multiplayer in past Battlefield games. There's quite a bit more character and personality as well, which had these matches feeling less competitive and more enjoyable.  Battlefield is a huge franchise, but Hardline feels like a departure from the big budget, super serious games of late. Hats off to Visceral and DICE for taking the opportunity to try something different. We hope to see more of Hardline in the coming weeks.
Battlefield hands-on photo
Details on how Hardline came to be
I was pretty excited to be able to be the first to tell you about Battlefield Hardline, the new team up cops-and-robbers title from Visceral (Dead Space) and DICE. But trailer leaks, detail leaks, and even gameplay video lea...

Fantasia: Music Evolved introduces partner apprentice Scout

Jun 06 // Dale North
A new hands-on (hands-off?) session had us playing a newly revealed area called The Neighborhood. The scene features urban street art, psychedelic colors, and has a bit of a comic book vibe. Harmonix said that it was inspired by artists like The Who, and by songs like Cee Lo Green's "Forget You," among others. The area starts out pretty quiet, but as you move the Muse 3D cursor around to manipulate zones, it starts to come alive, first with radio signals, and later with music that you've unlocked. A play through of "Forget You" had us layering rock guitars and keyboards with Cee Lo's original vocals from the hit song. Later, we chopped up drum loops in a composition spell, and created a keyboard solo by waving hands in another.  After this, a diversion into a subway stop of The Neighborhood had us doing a freestyle sequencing section with singing vegetables. A turnip and beet had their own vocal tracks, while a carrot dropped a beatbox track. By moving between the vegetables, the player can jam out to create their own loops, making their own track. This performance is then added back into The Neighborhood as background music. In this case, the trio was added to a train that came back around to the scene regularly. A few new tracks for Fantasia: Music Evolved were announced during our session. Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence" will be a part of this stage, as will The Police's "Message in a Bottle." On the classical side, "The Nutcracker" was pulled from the original Fantasia. I tried my hand at Drake's "Take Care." Things got pretty interesting with alternate music tracks that underscored the entire song with acapella background vocals and beatbox rhythms.
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Hands-on with new Neighborhood level
Harmonix has thought a lot about how they'll welcome players to Fantasia: Music Evolved and they've decided to add a partner apprentice that will serve as a sort of game guide. Her name is Scout, a talented but impatient appr...

Costume Quest 2 isn't for the hardcore, but it's for the hardcorn

Jun 02 // Brett Makedonski
This time around, the action's set to pick up almost immediately after the original's add-on Grubbins on Ice ended. While the timeline's a bit fuzzy at this point, one thing is evident, and it's that Reynold and Wren are eager to get back to what they love most - Trick or Treatin'. Beyond that, Rice was hesitant to reveal anything about the narrative, giving the frustratingly boilerplate "We're not talking about that yet." The demo took place in the game's first area, a bayou that segues into a French Quarter part of town. It was a sample size that was adequate to show off what it has to offer, and it was all so wonderfully Costume Quest. The bayou had a kid that wanted us to find pieces for a pterodactyl costume. The French Quarter was filled with bustling NPCs that were itching to assign sidequests as jazz music filled the air. Houses by the swamp had doorbells that were begging to be rang -- some occupied by adults that were dishing out candy, others by Grubbins looking to ambush our pint-sized protagonists. Upon being attacked, we got a look at how the combat system has been altered. While Double Fine's touting Costume Quest 2 as having a "deeper and juicier" battle system, don't expect that to translate to increased difficulty. One of the defining traits of Costume Quest that made it so beloved was its accessibility, and that hasn't changed -- it's just gotten tweaked a bit to make things more interesting. One of the biggest moves was lending itself toward making combat more action-oriented. Now, when attacked, a perfectly-timed button press will result in increased defense and a counter-attack. Likewise, when on the offensive, the original had prompts flash on-screen that needed to be executed. Costume Quest 2 utilizes a system reminiscent of Super Mario RPG where coordinating a button press to the exact moment a strike lands will result in extra damage. It's not the most revolutionary of upgrades, but it makes combat feel more involved than ever before. Of the many costumes that are sure to be on display in the full game (which is coming to PC, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, PS3, Wii U, Mac, and Linux), we were only shown three. Two of those were a clown that has some truly bizarre animations, and a superhero. The third was a humorous salute to the unplayable candy corn costume in the first game. This time, you can wear it into battle, but it does absolutely nothing, effectively reducing the team size from three to two. Rice commented that the nod is for players looking for an extra challenge, and those that complete the whole game with the corn costume in the party will unlock an Achievement called "Hardcorn Mode." Truth be told, that feat probably won't be all that difficult to achieve. Even though health doesn't automatically replenish after every fight in this installment, there are water fountains located around each map that fill your party's HP up. When I asked Rice if these would be a pain to get to between encounters, he didn't think so, but that he always wants to try to get one more fight in before retreating to a fountain. However, maybe the most welcomed modification of all has to do with the traversal of the locales. In the original, only the robot was able to zoom around thanks to the use of rollerblades, leading most to play with that costume equipped at all times. Now, rollerblades are always available by default, making getting around much more convenient. That's probably a good thing too, because according to Rice, the maps are going to be bigger and more involved than in Costume Quest. For all the changes that are going into Costume Quest 2, honestly, the biggest takeaway might be that it still feels so much like Costume Quest. That's a revelation that any fan of the original will be elated to hear. And, if you fall into that category, Costume Quest 2 has probably already won your heart and your sweet tooth.
Costume Quest 2 preview photo
Mo' candy, mo' problems
If there's one thing that the folks at Double Fine aren't known for, it's being pigeon-holed into making the same game. In fact, almost all of its titles are wildly different from one another. From the likes of Brüt...

The Evil Within seems like it forgot the 'horror' in 'pure survival horror'

May 27 // Brett Makedonski
It's a shame because The Evil Within does a fairly decent job at cultivating an atmosphere that lends itself to a survival horror game. The gritty filter over the visuals and the methodical music set up the pins. Nothing ever knocked them down. Chapter 4 takes place in a hospice, and was an odd environment to get our first taste of the game. The level's set up to be somewhat open-ended, and the game did a poor job of giving direction as to what the current objective was and where it was necessary to go. After some wandering about and eventually putting a bullet in the head of an evil doctor, it funneled me back outside to three zombies wandering around a burning pile of wreckage. It was here that I died thrice, only to be returned to the start of the demo each and every time. An annoyingly unpredictable checkpoint system would be a continuing theme of both slices of the demo we were shown. At one point in Chapter 8, there's a set piece that requires you shoot a not-so-obvious button before being pulled into two giant blades. Speaking with others attending the event, dying here negated approximately 20 minutes of progress; I was lucky enough to twitch to it my first time. Going back to the scene in Chapter 4 with the undead around the fire, despite being entirely avoidable (to my immense ire upon finding out), it served as a good training grounds to how The Evil Within's combat works. Gunplay is typically the way to go, as melee attacks will just slow enemies down. However, there are some bigger weapons scattered about, such as hatchets, that will finish them off. Additionally, using a match to set fire to the body is the only way to ensure that they won't get back up. Being a survival horror game, there are limited resources, making the inclusion of a stealth kill incredibly valuable, as it uses nothing. Trying to pick off these three zombies one-by-one proved to be incredibly frustrating. There was no clear indicator of what made enemies detect you. Sometimes I'd crouch in the shadows and bushes, patiently waiting for one to turn around on his path when it'd see me out of nowhere and come lumbering toward me. Other times, I'd be brazenly attacking one in front of another, but it wouldn't react at all. To compound issues, at no point did anything control well. Running around was a chore, especially navigating the game's many hallways and doors. Shooting was unimpressive, as the aiming reticule never felt like it moved fluidly. It's never fun to wrestle with a game's controls, but it can be overlooked under the right circumstances. The Evil Within didn't fit this criteria. By the time I progressed through the level and was mysteriously dropped into a sewer full of blood, I had gotten a feel for the tricks up The Evil Within's sleeve. It's one-third jump scares, one-third paranormal uneasiness, and one-third disturbing visuals. But, it's zero parts scary. As some monster lady summoned about 15 zombies in the area with all the grace of PlayStation 2 graphics, I was not at all concerned about the supposedly terrifying prospect of being that outnumbered, but entirely dreading fighting that many enemies using that shoddy combat system. Chapter 8 fared a bit better because it had the benefit of multiple paths to take, but each one necessary to the completion of the level. Enemies came in smaller numbers, and everything was just generally more manageable. However, an apparition named Ruvik would appear on occasion, and if she touched you, she'd knock you down to just a sliver of health. I generally just ignored her when she showed up, as I thought these bits were scripted. It turns out these were random encounters. Another person told me that she spawned when he was in a tiny room with another enemy, unfairly leading to an inevitable death -- a death that set him back 15 minutes. It's bad enough replaying extended sections of a game; having to do that when it's not fun is just downright miserable. We're at a point where I honestly don't know what can be done to salvage The Evil Within. It's commonly known that at preview events, publishers try to put their best foot forward and show the most impressive parts of their game. If this is the best that The Evil Within has to offer, I can't see how it doesn't flatline. Maybe the benefit of being told the story in its entirety can be the saving grace, but that's a puncher's chance. Otherwise, it's looking like it'll be entirely forgettable.
The Evil Within preview photo
How disappointing
All too often, survival horror titles perform poorly in some areas, but it's somehow acceptable because that's the trade-off for being survival horror. If the experience is tense and scary, it seems like everything else is fo...

Valiant Hearts: The Great War is haunting

May 14 // Alessandro Fillari
Valiant Hearts: The Great War (PS3, PS4 [Previewed], PC, Xbox 360, and Xbox One)Developer: Ubisoft MontpellierPublisher: UbisoftRelease Date: June 25, 2014 Set during the first World War, known as The Great War back then, Valiant Hearts tells the story of a set unique characters who cross paths and must traverse Europe in search of family, friends, and the means for revenge. Emile and Karl are from the same family, but drafted onto opposing sides, Freddie is an American soldier enlisted in the French military, and Anna is medic living in Paris. Each of the playable characters will encounter one another and they must work together to stay alive across war-torn Europe. Described as a passion project by the developers at Ubisoft Montpellier, they wanted to a make a game that drew upon the impact of the Great War, without designing it as a standard shooter or action title. Working with the smallest team on a modern Ubisoft title, many of whom had family serve in the war, they wanted to make a game that had a very personal story about a group of unlikely heroes. The events of Valiant Hearts are loosely based on real conflicts during the war, and many of the details and specifics are pulled from actual letters and documented occurrences. "The team read a lot of letters that date back to WW1 and noticed that many of the men called to the front were simply everyday "men in the street," in the words of lead designer Julien Chevallier. "Several letters are used as a basis for the narration of the cutscenes. For example, Emile writes letters to his daughter at various points throughout the story in order to give her news about himself and her husband Karl, a German soldier. " Since this is set during an actual conflict, and not fictional one, many of the details and phrases used in the game may be lost on some. At any time during play, you can access a Facts menu to learn more information about the war, terminology, people, and events. Think of it as a handy and abridged wiki page on relevant details from the past, which pulls information from the official Mission Centenaire 14-18 history compendium and Apocalypse: World War I documentary. This will likely help those who aren't history buffs, or otherwise didn't pay attention in school during history class, but it also reveals some not so well known facts about the war. I felt like I was learning details about the war with every passing moment. For instance, the character Freddie is an American who was inspired by the war overseas and enlisted in the French military. At first I thought this was something that the writers took liberties with, but then looking into the facts page showed detailed information, along with color pictures of how many American enlisted into French military prior to the U.S's entrance into the War. The character Freddie in particular was based on real-life African-American soldier Freddie Stowers. It's not often you learn actual history from war games, even the more popular ones. Though this is a game set during a major war, it is by no means a title focused on quick action and shooting. It's an adventure title through and through, and the developers wanted to set a game within the war and provide a more unique and personal story. "The game tells the story of each character's journey during a time of war, and it is not up to the player to shoot or kill other people," said Chevallier, "but to show how it has impacted their lives in different ways. It was really important for the team to keep that humanity in the game." As an adventure title, players will explore, traverse, and interact with other characters throughout the game space. You'll be constantly on your toes as you evade gunfire, mustard gas, and the hellish machinery invented during The Great War. I really appreciated the fact that throughout many sections of the game, you're constantly moving forward. Mostly because you're under fire and have to evade the enemy, of course, but I found it to be an interesting change of pace for an adventure title. To give players extra incentive to replay chapters, the developers asked members of the Ubisoft community to share details and photos of family heirlooms related to World War I. The developers handpicked the most interesting ones and placed the items as collectibles throughout the game. Diversity is a big element to the story and gameplay, and it's clear to see how things change when you play other characters. While for the most part you'll be performing similar puzzle solving and action beats throughout the game -- how these characters actually go about it is a bit different. For instance, Freddie's gameplay sections feel more action-oriented, as he's often on the front lines breaking through enemy barricades and bases, Emile focuses more on puzzle solving and using his dog to examine points of interest, and Anna's medic gameplay has her exploring the environment for supplies and performing a rhythm-based operation mini-game to save the lives of the wounded. "From the beginning, the team wanted to provide an added-value to the player experience with a clever shifting of the pace and a variety of gameplay," said Chevallier. "In order to meet the objective of creating a game with a wide range of emotions, it was important for the team to integrate different kinds of gameplay simultaneously. For example, action-oriented sequences elicit feelings of fear, suspense or tension." I rather enjoyed how clever the gameplay and puzzles were. One moment, I was running across a battlefield evading enemy fire and using grenades to bust open a machine gun nest, and then I moved to a different scene with a character as a P.O.W, where I had to prepare food for the enemy camp. In most other games of this genre, you're centered in a particular location where you explore and solve puzzles at your own pace. While those situations are still present, there are many different spots where you have to move quickly and think fast while avoiding danger. Oddly enough, it makes it feels much more like an action-puzzle adventure title. Which is neat. One aspect of Valiant Hearts that was I was very impressed with was the visual style. As you already know, this title runs on the UbiArt Framework engine, which was used by the recent Rayman titles, and the just released Child of Light. Visually, Valiant Hearts evokes the style reminiscent of French comic books and animated shorts from the 1960s. The art style is both detailed and crisp, as it helps to illustrate the grittiness and grim nature of war, while at the same time showing emotion and complexity in the character's personality and design. The juxtaposition between bleak and vibrant is stark, and very effective in helping to the story. With that said, I did find that the art style and layout design made it a little difficult in some cases to find clues and other objectives. There were points where clues and items I had to locate would blend into the background, and it was unclear if I could interact with it or not. I often times found myself wandering around trying to find the solution, and I had to get help at some points to figure out what to do. Here's hoping they can make objectives a little more obvious by the time of release. I'd like to think that it says a lot about a game when they're willing to tackle a more personal story set during a time of war. And to be frank, I find that level of humanity is missing from other games that are set in war. In one sequence, I was controlling the character Emile, who was awakened by his dog after surviving a bombing raid. Even with the cartoon aesthetic, the carnage seen from traversing the ruins of the base, along with what remained of the soldiers was tough to witness. I found more honesty, and more emotion in this scene than most other games about war. Valiant Hearts: The Great War is quite an intriguing and evocative game. I spent a lot of time thinking about how to best share my thoughts about it. It very much channels indie game sensibilities, such as streamlined gameplay and a personal and expressive story; which is surprising coming from a big publisher such as Ubisoft. While there were some rather serious bugs and quirks that still need to be ironed out, I admire a lot with this title. With its release next month, fans of the adventure genre will have another neat, and interesting title to look forward to.
Valiant Hearts photo
To Hell and back
I don't know about you, but I really like Ubisoft's recent output of games utilizing the UbiArts Framework engine. I'm quite a fan of games that use 2D visuals to tell a story, and even with the recent release of Child of Lig...

Destiny's combat is solid, but I'm not so sure about the rest of it

Apr 28 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
Bungie (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 [previewed], Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: BungiePublisher: ActivisionRelease: September 9, 2014 Here's a quick recap of the story of Destiny. It's the near-future, and humanity has been visited by the mysterious Moon-sized being known as the Traveler. This being breathes new life into our solar system, paving way for massive human expansion. It's a Golden Age, as humanity rushes into the stars, creates colonies on Mars, Venus, and so on. It's an amazing era of unbounded human progress, but it doesn't last. The Traveler had an enemy and this evil is finally able to track it down in our galaxy. The human race is nearly destroyed from the ensuing war. When hope is all but gone, the Traveler sacrifices itself to save what's left. It now hangs above Earth where humans begin to rebuild underneath it as they try to reclaim their former Golden Age. Players come into the story centuries later. The alien enemies have been slowly regaining power. You as a Guardian live in The Tower, the last safe city on Earth, and are tasked with protecting this home, and helping humanity push back into space and carve your destiny in the stars once again. So, first let's focus on the stuff I know for a fact based on what I got to experience. What Bungie had us play through was a Strike mission, instances where up to three players work together to take on replayable scenarios that last an average of 30 minutes or so. Strikes are designed to be linear in nature, and while I experienced a great mixture of wide open spaces and tight corridor interiors in this particular Strike, the level was always kind of funneling you along. The Strike we played took place on Earth in Old Russia, and Bungie had us replay it three times in order to experience all three playable Guardian classes: Titan, Warlock, and Hunter. All the weapons in the game are available to each class, so what differentiates them is primarily their Focus abilities. Focus is a special offensive or defensive power derived from The Traveler's energy, and it's only the Guardians who can wield these powers. As you're fighting in Destiny you'll be drawing energy from the Traveler to fill up your Focus. The better you fight, the faster you'll draw this power. Once your energy meter is filled up, you'll trigger it by pressing both bumper buttons at the same time. With the Titan, you have this super melee strike that has to be directed right at a target. The Warlock is able to summon this energy blast that he shoots at the ground, giving off area-of-effect damage. The Hunter gets a golden gun that kills most targets with just one shot instantly. Those were just some of the Focus abilities I got to mess with as there's plenty you can choose from. That's a key point for Destiny, in fact. You as a player are provided with a ton of choices all throughout the game and it all affects your character. The MMO/Borderlands comparisons come up a lot when talking about Destiny, and for good reason -- there's a ton of loot to acquire. On top of the weapons, you can get helmets, cloaks, gauntlets, chest plates, and so on. Beyond the cosmetic reasons, your armor will alter your characters traits. You can configure armor to favor movement, strength, speed, and more in order to change how your character handles to fit your exact play style. Plus, the loot and ammo you see is just for yourself -- you never have to worry about sharing or calling dibs on items that fall on the map. In fact other players can't see the loot that you're seeing, making the items all the more meaningful for just you. You have nine inventory slots when it comes to your guns and each of your gear slots, and as you encounter stronger items you can dismantle older items to gain resources/materials. Or you can take them to The Tower, the social space for players where you can sell your collection and buy new things. On top of all this, Bungie is looking into item trading. At launch you'll only be able to trade items between the three characters you're able to develop. "We're really excited about doing a player economy," investment lead Tyson Green stated. "This is going to be a game that the community really drives. But for launch we're going to be restricting it to trading items between your own characters. We have a lot to learn about the way the economy works, and also the security situation both for our own systems and platforms. We're excited about opening up player to player trade as soon as we can, but we're actually going to keep it to character-to-character trade at launch." Here's the most important thing you'll probably take away from my hands-on experience: Playing Destiny felt like I was sliding right back into Bungie-made Halo games. It felt extremely natural for me as a hardcore Halo player taking the fight to the various aliens in this Strike setting. Combat was very satisfying. I could feel the weight of each of my different gun types. Most of all the impacts of each bullet/laser blast felt like they mattered. Fights are not that typical MMO bullshit where you see the numbers falling/dwindling down from the enemy while you're taking turns hitting each other like everyone is a sponge. You see your enemy's lifebar as they take damage, and you see health fall based on where you're hitting them. Headshots are often instant kills, whereas you may need to shoot enemies a few times if you're hitting them in the chest or limbs. I was worried about Destiny being too MMO-ish, but as Green told us, Bungie always focused on the action foremost. "We started off saying we want to build a game that's got more RPG to it. In fact I would say early in Destiny's life we were really mostly thinking about what kind of formulation of that do we want. But as it evolved, as it developed, as it firmed up -- we're talking years ago -- we really said okay first and foremost we're making a first rate action game. We have I guess a reputation to live up to and so that's what we really concentrated on delivering. We have tailored the investment systems to support that rather than I would say replace it. So very iterative process but really always our eye has been on the action game. Really making sure the action plays well ... we really concentrated on that and layered the investment game on top of that." Arsenal-wise, you have your Focus, grenades, and three weapon types. Tapping the weapon-swap button will bounce you between smaller weaponry like a pistol, to special weapons like shotgun, assault rifles, and the like. Holding the weapon swap button down for a couple of seconds will switch you to the heavy category, such as a belt-fed heavy machine gun or rocket launcher. You can pick what weapon to use before jumping into a mission, but you're free to swap guns out at any point on a mission from your inventory screen.  Bungie is really hyping up all the different guns you can get, giving them cute special names like "Super Good Advice" and such, but from what I saw they just seemed like the standard offering of guns you see in most games. I didn't really get to mess with any of the gear or character customization during my time, so I can't say what makes them extra special other than some of them just look cool and future-y. Players have a slide move, but the biggest thing with your movement abilities is that there's double jump. Each character class has a different double jump too. The Titan has a jetpack, the Warlock ends up with more of a floaty effect, and they both can hover in the air for a small duration of time. The Hunter meanwhile has jet boots, and that's more of the traditional double jump effect. All the double jump stuff will nearly instantaneously recharge the second your feet touch the ground too. The double jump ability is helpful in combat, for instance hovering over someone's cover and then shooting them from below. Just don't go expecting Titanfall-style parkour or traversal here. While you have to take on a Strike with three players (with friends or via matchmaking if you have no friends), you're not bound to each other at all once in the mission. You can totally summon your hoverbike (that everyone can pull up at anytime), and just take off. There are good reasons to stick with your team, however. For one, whenever you use your Focus attack you drop little energy balls that can be picked up by allies that go to filling up their Focus meter faster. The biggest reason of course is that it'll make all the fights more manageable. While the enemy AI seemed pretty dumb overall (standing out in the open, not really being overly aggressive when near a player), they can get overwhelming when there's over a couple of dozen enemies at key choke points. Granted, dying has no serious effect, at least in Strikes. If you are killed you'll have to wait for about 30 seconds before you can respawn again on your own. Or a teammate can come revive you to get back in faster. I was told that you will lose some progress in certain situations if you die, though. My favorite moment during my hands-on time was when we encountered a giant spidertank mech as a mini-boss halfway into the Strike. I posted up on a perch with plenty of cover around me, and used my sniper rifle to pick off the spidertank, hitting its obvious weak points. Meanwhile my teammates flanked each side of me to distract the enemies, allowing me to focus all my energy on the mini-boss before I joined them on ground to mop up what was left. There was a lot of variety of enemies all throughout the Strike as there were two alien races present: The Fallen and the Hive. From low-level grunts, captains with shielding, creatures that used magical forces, and giant boss-sized enemies. In a lot of ways, it was reminiscent of the Covenant from Halo in terms of variety. It was always a good mix throughout the experience, and there was even a moment where we encountered both alien races as they were waring on each other, vying for control over a certain location in Old Russia. As for the whole universe exploration, you can't immediately go anywhere you want to at the beginning. You have to level up, develop your character as you explore more of the story. The Director is a HUD system that you will pull up to view all the active missions and others activities you can go mess around with, and it adds more content as you develop and explore areas. Some areas you can re-explore too, such as the Old Russia level I played where I wasn't able to go through some doors until I was able to level up more. The places you will visit will be specific interesting locations filled with content Bungie has created on each of the planets, as opposed to just being able to go anywhere and explore say the entirety of Earth itself. Traveling from planets take place through your space ship, and from what I saw (with the Strike missions at least) the space ship stuff was more of a loading screen element over you being able to pilot the ship. So that's all the stuff I got to experience myself. Everything from here on out is just stuff we were briefly shown, or told while the developers had to dance around certain subjects they couldn't talk about yet. Which was a lot, with most of the reasons being they're holding off to reveal more at E3.  Where Strikes are small, linear experiences, Patrols are Destiny's more open-ended story-type offerings. Bungie's Eric Osborn showed off a section that took place on the Moon, where he was traveling by himself in a giant open environment with incredible draw distances of actual areas you could explore, taking on objectives as they came up. Aside from the whole acquiring loot and cool-looking armor, I'm still not sure why I as a player will be invested to make any sort of progress in Destiny, and that's primarily why my excitement has dwindled from this hands-on look. I'm first and foremost a story kind of guy when it comes to shooters, and Bungie still won't really share what's going to motivate players. We've been told there will be a beginning, middle, and end with the story, and while in most games that would mean something, it's pretty hard to grasp when it's said about a massively multiplayer online game. It was also disappointing that we weren't able to experience any of the public event instances. As you're playing Destiny, you'll come across public events that will seamlessly bring in other players to take on a big adversary. How many players wasn't specified, but I was reassured by community manager David "DeeJ" Dague that these events will be scaled in a way to make them exciting. "There isn't any one technical limitation that says '45 [people]' you know? We try to make sure that a public event is something where there are enough people where it's exciting. But not so many people that any one Guardian is not important in the encounter. Everyone who is there, everyone who is fighting should feel like they contributed to that action." While public events scale the difficulty, it's not something just one player alone can defeat. You have to cooperate, but again if you don't want to play with others or just don't like the odds, you can straight up bail and go back on your own thing. Some last miscellaneous points before I wrap up my thoughts: I was never given a clear answer why they're still not supporting the PC platform as an option. It's even more baffling once you experience the character customization section. Instead of going through menus and such with the d-pad or whatever as you would 99% of console games, you have a cursor that you have to move around with your directional stick much in the way you would move a mouse cursor, just not as fluid. And for all of you who asked me over Twitter, there's no info to share on split-screen, with one Bungie rep stating they weren't allowed allowed to talk about it yet. At the end of the day I'm happy that I finally got some hands-on time with Destiny, if for nothing else but to be reassured with how well the combat mechanics felt. That, and the game is incredibly gorgeous. There's so much detail and color to everything that it really looks like a living, breathing world. As for everything else, well, my excitement has fizzled out. After talking about Destiny for so long, and being kept in the dark throughout it even now, it's just getting old. I'm totally going to play Destiny when it comes out later this year. But I'm ultimately wary that I'll have no real good reason to spend any significant time on the story.  For more on Destiny check out some early details on the competitive multiplayer, plus how you'll be able to import characters from last- to current-gen.
Destiny HANDS-ON! photo
The mystery is just getting old
It's been over a year since Bungie first released details on Destiny, its next big project after handing off the Halo series to Microsoft. While the studio was done telling the tale of the Master Chief and his journey, Bungi...

Xbox Originals photo
Xbox Originals

Xbox Originals will hit Windows 8 products, revenue model still being worked on


Plus a preview of some of the original programming
Apr 28
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
Xbox Originals is going to produce shows based on Microsoft IPs such as State of Decay, Halo, and more, along with producing all sorts of other original content. I have some very early impressions on a lot of the content in d...

The next Skylanders borrows a little from the Pokemon series

Apr 23 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
Skylanders Trap Team (3DS, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 [previewed], Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: Toys for Bob (last-gen) / Beenox (current-gen, 3DS)Publisher: ActivisionRelease: October 5, 2014MSRP: $74.99 (Game, Portal, figure, two Traps) The story sees Invader Zim Chaos trying to take over Skylands ... again. This time, however, he's going to enlist a group of villains trapped in a prison made out of Traptanium, the hardest material known to Skylanders. Chaos' plan works, sort of -- he's able to free the villains, but they all just escape instead of joining up with him. Enter the Trap Masters, the main draw of Trap Team. These Skylanders are bigger than normal core characters, but not as big as the Giants. The Trap Masters are skilled with all things Traptanium, and all their weapons are made out of the substance, shown off as see-through crystals in the game and the toys themselves. There's going to be around 50 new Skylanders, made up of a mix of these Trap Masters, new core characters, and reposed fan-favorite Skylanders. And of course all the previous Skylanders, Giants, and Swap Force heroes will work in Trap Team. Now here's the surprise, there's going to be over 40 playable villains as well that you'll have to physically capture, so to speak. "Pretty much the biggest thing we've done is this idea of constantly innovating," executive producer Jeff Poffenbarger told Destructoid. "Bringing toys to life was the first initial big innovation. We can certainly just continue to do that, but for us we asked ourselves 'What would even take that a step further?' We know we can bring toys to life ... but we also wanted to figure out how to reverse that magic. So you can bring toys to life, but how do we bring life to toys?" All of the escaped villains can be converted over to your team. Take them on, defeat them, and then capture them in a new special crystal toy. So yeah, kind of like Pokemon. Once an enemy has been defeated, players are told to insert a special crystal into the new version of the Portal of Power. It's actually a really cool effect, as the audio from the TV gets outputted into the Portal itself (and vice-versa) as they get sucked in and out of the adventure. Villains will also give you feedback, help, and advice from the Portal when not in use. One of the first major bosses is called Chompy Mage (pictured in the lead image), a crazy old guy who fights with a sock puppet on his hand (kind of like the Ventriloquist from the Batman series.) He can summon little tiny monsters, and later in the battle he'll transform into this giant jumpy gross monster thing. After he joins your team, all the power sets he used on you are now yours. While some villains are powerful in this way, there will be some with more passive abilities. One example shown was a mini-boss troll that can use a gun to freeze opponents. He can't really do damage, just freeze enemies. Those playing by themselves can actually hotswap between a Skylander and a villain with the press of the button to take advantage of this ability. Or say a parent can play as the ice troll to let their kid be more of the main star in the game. Traditional co-op with multiple Skylanders is still in the game too. So a cool concept, but here's where it gets kind of dumb. You can only save one villain into a Trap toy at a time. That I kind of don't have a problem with. You can at least store villains at a new hub location so you can swap villains in and out as desired into a crystal. The dumb part is that the Trap toys are all elemental based. So you can only store an ice based villain inside of an ice Trap toy, for example. My main concern is that this is going to get more expensive for fans than ever before. I'm just hoping the Trap Hero toys will include their respective Trap toy too. Plus these things are tiny compared to even the tiniest Skylander figure, and could potentially get lost really easily. Collectors be warned: There will be multiple variants of the Trap toys themselves as well. That said, you don't have to capture the villains, just like how you don't need all of the elemental types of Skylanders to beat the games. So what happens if you don't want to -- or just can't -- capture a villain after defeating them? Toys for Bob is still figuring that out, having kids and adults of all ages try out the game to find the best solution for everybody. Otherwise players can expect similar approaches to the mini-games, competitive multiplayer, the cross-platform saves, and the return of the jump mechanic from the past games. The visuals are just as gorgeous as ever, especially on the current generation of hardware. You know how you've always wished that the CG sequences from a game was what you were actually playing? That's Trap Team, essentially. The great visuals extend down to the toys themselves too, looking more detailed than ever. So yeah, Skylanders Trap Team. If you're a fan of the series, you already know you'll be picking this one up. I did want to make some special mentions of other playable characters before you leave. There's Chopper, a new core hero who's a little tiny T-rex with a helicopter rotor on its back. It can fly in the air and shoots swarms of missiles like it was straight out of Robotech. Then there's a duo team of villain trolls who control a walking chainsaw tank. Just let that visual sink into your head. Also SPOILERS Chaos himself is playable.
Skylanders Trap Team photo
Skylanders Trap Team has you capturing and reforming villains to your team
The developers at Toys For Bob are back in the saddle with Skylanders Trap Team, the next entry in their hit toys-meet-videogame franchise. This time the hook involves you capturing villains and enslaving brainwashing reform...

Seven things I loved about playing Watch Dogs

Apr 23 // Alessandro Fillari
Watch Dogs (PS3, PS4 [Previewed], PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U (Q4 2014))Developer: Ubisoft MontrealPublisher: UbisoftRelease Date: May 27, 2014Set in the city of Chicago, Watch Dogs lands players in the role of Aiden Pierce, a gifted and resourceful hacker with a some serious baggage. After a failed assassination attempt on his life leaves a family member dead, he embarks on a vendetta across Chicago to find out who was responsible. Utilizing his hacking skills to use Chicago's city wide surveillance and service operations system, ctOS, Aiden bends the city to his will to root out the culprits, while keeping an eye on the citizens and suspects at large.1. The Windy CityThere aren't too many games set in the city of Chicago. As vast and dense as it is, you'd think there would be more games having players explore the city streets. So that's why it's a refreshing sight to see an open world title plant its feet in the Windy City as it's known. While of course it's not designed to scale, they do capture many of the familiar locales and attractions of Chicago -- from Millenium Park, Navy Pier, and many of the iconic skyscrapers -- the developers at Ubisoft wanted to set a title in a city that wasn't too often visited by games."[Chicago] feels fresh, the autumn, the setting," Belanger told Destructoid. "The architecture is both modern and old, and this creates a visual richness. Also, the surveillance system in Chicago is one of the most advanced in the U.S. Narratively, in terms of organized and population density, it give credibility for our story."Don't expect to stay in the city and suburbs of Chicago for the entire game, however. Aiden's missions will sometimes take him out of town to the local wilderness, away from the heavy traffic and dense ctOS infrastructure. This also presents interesting situations where players will have to rely on their other core skills, such as driving, shooting, crafting, and a little less on the hacking.2. The Brooding HackerEvery conspiracy thriller needs a central character, and Watch Dogs has got it with Aiden Pierce. Looking to find the man responsible for the assassination attempt on his life, Aiden Pierce will hack, shoot, drive, and amass resources to find the answers. Known as "The Vigilante" around the city, he's got the skills to track, hunt, and fight his prey on the streets of Chicago, all while keeping a low profile using the ctOS to his advantage. Along the way, Aiden Pierce will meet other hackers and dangerous individuals who will either hinder or assist him in his vendetta. While collecting resources and funds, players will be able to acquire new weaponry, spend skill points to boost his core skills such as combat, driving, hacking, and crafting abilities, and spend cash to get new vehicles and clothing (over 40 different options). When worse comes to worst, Aiden's no slouch in terms of combat. Wielding a baton and an assortment of firearms and gadgets, he'll take down waves of gangsters and cops who want him out of the picture.3. Hack The PlanetObviously, hacking your environment is the name of the game in Watch Dogs, and the developers at Ubisoft Montreal have pulled out all the stops to allow players full access to the city infrastructure. With the press of a button, players can manipulate city services to their whim, take control of security systems for intel, and even take out enemies with clever environmental manipulation. As you rank up and acquire more resources, you can invest in new upgrades for your hacking skills, which can open up even more opportunities. If you think causing traffic accidents was interesting, wait until you set off an explosion from a steam pipe underneath a busy street, or cause a mass blackout across the city. The level interaction is vast, and Watch Dogs offers an impressive amount of freedom for players.4. Walk around the right corner, and you can find anythingOne aspect of Watch Dogs that I really admire is that the people in this open world actually matter. In other open world titles, NPCs are mostly just cannon fodder or walking dummies to humiliate, maim, and otherwise ignore. While you can still grief and be a menace to the in-game society of Watch Dogs, it's good to remember that the citizens of Chicago all have identities. They have names, occupations, quirks, the list goes on. While this isn't to make you feel bad about harming them, it does highlight the reach you have when utilizing ctOS. Having information on a whole city brings you many different opportunities."The goal was to have a lot of density," said Belanger while discussing the opportunity players have at their disposal. "There's gameplay in every street corner. Those people, you can unlock side-content, story -- it's about fulfilling that fantasy of surveillance. We didn't want to gamify it, we wanted to make it a choice for players."Aiden's phone can tap into the devices of people in the city, and from there you have an all access look into their lives. While many of the options you have are purely voyeuristic, such as listening to calls and reading text messages, there are cases where you are presented with a choice. In one instance, I came across a woman on the street who was recently diagnosed with a disease. When I looked deeper into her data profile, I ended up stealing about $1,200 from her bank account. I immediately felt bad about it, but these newly acquired funds went to paying for my new gun, and then I moved on to the next person. The best part about this instance is that these tiny moments of narrative are scattered across the whole city. Some are minor, but others can pull you into something bigger with serious consequences.5. Mess with the Best, Die like the Rest (Multiplayer)As seen back in the E3 2012 reveal, Watch Dogs takes a very fluid and blended approach to multiplayer. After reaching a certain point in the story, Aiden will be able to contact and come into conflict with other hackers. Just like him, they have access to ctOS and high powered phones to bend the city to their will. If you haven't guessed, the other hackers are actually other players, and at any time they can invade your game to either steal vital information and resources, or simply eliminate you as a threat.This asynchronous approach to multiplayer makes things fluid and feel natural, and it all ties back to your primary resources and skills. Instead of playing as a fresh-faced wannabe hacker, you'll be playing as Aiden online. Of course to avoid confusion, others online will see you as a regular NPC that blends into the crowd. During my time online, I stalked another player to steal vital information from him. While he was aware of my presence in the game space, they didn't know where I was. I stalked the guy in my muscle car, stole his intel remotely via my phone, and made my getaway while he was none the wiser. I felt pretty sneaky, and I made out with a hefty amount of EXP to rank up. But then that excitement faded as I was invaded by the same guy minutes later. He T-boned my car at an intersection and filled me up with bullets from an assault rifle. It's good to remember that revenge is also an option in the online mode. But of course, if you're not up for facing other online, you can decline the in-game prompts or disable the online mode altogether.6. The devious power of a Companion AppMuch like other recent titles, there will be a free companion app for mobile devices called ctOS - Mobile. Wait, before you scroll down to the next point, just hear me out. ctOS - Mobile isn't just a simple app that relays supplementary data about the game as it also functions as an extension of the multiplayer experience. With your tablet device synced to your game, a friend can challenge you to a special ctOS - Mobile match. During these special scenarios, players in-game can either race against the clock across Chicago, or face off against waves of enemies, while the person with the tablet has complete control of the in-game ctOS infrastructure. This may all sound simple, and sorta gimmicky, but I can say that this mode felt very different from the traditional multiplayer. It felt way more devious and cruel, in fact. With control of ctOS, the player with the tablet can lay traps and swarm players in game to the point of exhaustion. During a racing mission, I was having a pretty pleasant time, but after the player on the tablet got the hang of the system and acquired more resources to spend on ctOS operations, I was running into barricades left and right while being swarmed by Chicago police. It felt exhausting and pretty scary to be on the receiving end. Moreover, players with ctOS - Mobile can taunt those in game by hacking into electronic signs and leaving messages. Much like the multiplayer features, the ctOS - Mobile game mode is entirely optional.7. Strange Days have found usIf you've been following this game in the last few months, then you probably saw a picture of a giant robot spider running around Chicago. Don't worry, Watch Dogs won't jump the shark or go Indigo Prophecy on you. Throughout Chicago, Aiden can take a break from busting up gang hideouts and uncovering conspiracies to unwind and expand his resources and skills by taking part in optional missions and games. Some of which are secret poker matches, street races, and even a clever take on Alternate Reality games, which task players with collecting holographic coins or shooting holographic space aliens in the streets of Chicago. "We wanted to support the fantasy of having a phone, and playing alternate reality games was a part of that," Belanger stated while discussing the colorful side missions. "It's an homage to older games, but it's also a lighter side -- even though the tone of the story is serious, we wanted to show that it was still a game. They fit the story, in the sense."Now, here's where things get strange. Across Chicago, there are sly merchants that sell "Digital Trips," which are special VR missions that Aiden can undertake. Not to be confused with the AR games, these missions are instanced and task players with goofy and bizarre challenges. Such as controlling a giant mecha spider as it rampages across Chicago, or another mission that's a nod to Carmageddon, where you get behind the wheel of a demonic car and mow down possessed humans across a hellish version of Chicago. This all may sound really odd and not in keeping at all with the game's tone, and that's OK. In the thematic sense, they help to illustrate the divide and detachment we have with reality because of our reliance on technology, which is in keeping with the game's central story. But in regards to game design, it's just good ol' dumb fun. And that's fine by me.Well, those are the things I really dug with Watch Dogs. Unfortunately, things weren't all great in the Windy City. Despite the fun I had with messing other players and the citizens of Chicago, I still found a few issues that bothered me. Many of them are purely technical, such as the unusually long load times, which are painful after failed missions -- but also how clunky platforming and free-running abilities feel. It feels like a scaled down version of Assassin's Creed, to be totally honest. This is especially troubling when meeting some objectives that require you to run to specific marks and make certain climbs. The accuracy for the traversal just isn't there. Of course, the big concern is the obvious visual downgrade. There was a bit of controversy last month about how different the game looked after its appearances at E3. Unfortunately, I can say that the game does look a bit off the mark with what was shown at E3. Moreover, the draw distances of assets can be somewhat of an annoyance, as you'll see cars and people phase in and out at a somewhat short distance. Don't get me wrong, though -- the game still looks pretty and runs very well. I was playing the PlayStation 4 version and the title runs at a solid 30FPS with little to no drops, and it looks very smooth in action. But, I'm still a bit disappointed to see how it doesn't quite reach those same visually heights we were originally shown.But in any event, I still came away quite impressed with what I played in Watch Dogs. I had my reservations at first, I assumed this would be more Assassin's Creed than anything else, but I found myself pretty intrigued with being a sneaky hacker in a city full of possibility. The attention to detail is strong, and the amount of content packed into the vast cityscape is impressive. With apparently over 30 hours of single-player content, in addition to the full potential of online multiplayer, there's a certainly a lot to uncover. It's a long time coming, and I'm definitely looking forward discovering how far Watch Dogs takes things when it comes out next month.
Watch Dogs preview photo
And a few things that I didn't love
The delay of Ubisoft Montreal's new open world IP, Watch Dogs, surprised many. With only a month away from launch, and a rather bold marketing push for the holiday season, Ubisoft appeared ready, but then we found it wasn't. ...

Preview: Grid Autosport's San Francisco needs steeper hills

Apr 22 // Steven Hansen
Grid Autosport (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)Developers: CodemastersPublisher: Bandai NamcoRelease: June 24, 2014 I don't know a lot about the finer points of racing games. That's Dale's wheelhouse. Har har. But I do know San Francisco, so I had to put the San Francisco street course through its paces. What you have is an admirable representation of downtown -- specifically, the Ferry Building and the Bay Bridge -- that bleeds into a more forced, inaccurate version of Chinatown with race-appropriate wide streets. And San Francisco's endless hills are represented, but they are not as steep as they should be. The result is what Grid Autosport is going for in being "not an arcade racer," but not a "clinical" sim racer, either. The landmark-pocked pastiche of San Francisco is a fun course to race on in a racing game. It's homage without being slavishly realistic. [embed]273531:53534:0[/embed] Grid Autosport's menu is minimal, mostly black and white. There are five race styles to partake in. Touring Cars is a battle with aggressive AI on typical racetrack. Street Racing plops you down in places like San Francisco and Washington D.C. Endurance Competitions are long (around 10 minutes) night races where you have to weigh things like tire wear into your play style decisions. Tuner has drifting and time attacks. Open-wheel puts you behind powerful, delicate machines that will see you fishtail if you take corners badly. In career mode, you choose a discipline to race in, which can be changed at the end of each season. You join a team and worry about hitting objectives while your team AI handles things like car upgrades and your racing partner (though you can set their AI in-race). The idea is to race well and get picked up by better teams. If you decide to try (and do well in) all the disciplines, you'll be invited to a lengthy competition that includes them all together. This is a pared down departure from Grid 2, but "without ripping the fun out of the experience." There are difficulty settings (if you are capable of playing at higher difficulty, you get more rewards and can advance through the career faster) and the Flashback rewind button for taking a mulligan on mistakes. If only that was a thing in real life. I had to use it a lot when I played. I kept taking corners just too fast or accidentally barreling into other cars while trying out Touring. I don't think I placed in the top five once. But it didn't feel insurmountable, and I think I would, as someone not well-versed, still enjoy playing and feeling out the finer points of handling and other race strategies. All the jostling was a pain when I was getting knocked about, but when I got a good handle at jostling back, it felt darn good. I'll definitely need more practice at finding the right speeds to take different corners in open-wheel racing. I was fishtailing like crazy. Autosport, which came about from a lot of dedicated fan feedback and collaboration with professional racers, is also doing a lot of community-focused things with Codemasters' RaceNet site. Social clubs are clan equivalents and clubs gain experience from member performance, ranking up collectively, along with custom livery and their own pages to check out the club's collective stats. In online play, your cars earn experience used to unlock tuning options, but they also accumulate wear and tear. The cars you've been racing well with are better, but maintaining a newer car not put through its paces costs less. To go with the 12 player online play, there's also 2 player local splitscreen. Now I'm going to go drive my real car like a real man to a real grocery store to buy some real cookies. 
Autosport preview photo
Be a good autosport and fetch daddy's carburetor so he can make his joke
Hot on the heels of last year's GRID 2, Codemasters is coming back with GRID Autosport, a "celebration of pure, unadulterated motorsport." This is going to be less of an arcade racer than GRID 2 ended up being, but without d...

A head in the poles: Project Totem is platforming fun

Apr 11 // Steven Hansen
Project Totem (Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developers: Press PlayPublisher: Microsoft StudiosRelease: Fall 2014 Project Totem is called Project Totem because you play as severed rungs in a totem pole. Simple enough. But you plays as rungs, plural, with an 's.' That's how plurals are made. In some languages. Anyway. That's where there's a nice twist, as you control two totems simultaneously. The minimalist style doesn't default to pixel art or faux 8-bit. Rather, the inspiration stems from graphic design, so expect menus full pleasing colors and nice triangles. I hear blue is calming. The gameplay, on the other hand, owes itself to some classic design and a few contemporaries; for example, doing what Super Meat Boy still deserves credit for, it gets you back into the action fast post death. And unless you're super talented and handsome and great at cooking like me, you may be dying often. Sometimes you're meant to as fast paced portions are designed to mess with you and trip you up on routine movements. It's not broken or malicious. It just plays on how we can get psyched out in platformers before muscle memory helps us breeze through.Anticipate jumps that aren't there. In that sense, Project Totem is a bit like two different games. Much of the first run through involves learning how to work the puzzles. You start with consistent movement on your totems, making jumps in time, but alternating terrain occasionally loses perfect reflection and you have to be aware of where they both are. It only gets more complex. There are colored gates that only the same colored totem can get through requiring a button press to swap spots, sometimes quick and often. There are also bits of magnetism that will attract or repel totems, which go beyond walking on the ceiling. Often you have to jump large gaps with momentum, repel the totem away, and attract it back before you're carried into a hazard. Sometimes you're oscillating back and forth for a while. You'll also get stackable totems of the same color, double jumps, and a couple other abilities. Once you can nail the levels as puzzles, you can work on the equally satisfying prospect of speed running and time trials to propel yourself on the leaderboards. All runs earn you totems that stack on your personal, growing pole. And you can compare your pole to all your friends' and see whose is bigger. But it's not just whose is bigger. The better the run -- faster times and fewer deaths -- the better your totem reward. It's the difference between a blinging totem and a piece of plywood. There will also be a daily challenge wherein one winner takes home a special totem piece. The team also hopes to implement ghost data to race against directly, but doesn't want to spoil puzzles. Leaderboards will be there at the least. There's a separate co-op mode -- local only -- available at the onset where you'll both control a couple totems and have to work together to get through levels. Communication and coordination is key. Or telepathy.   I fell into Project Totem's rhythm quickly and happily. All those years of ill-advised multitasking and split attention paid off. Who says you can't text and drive?
Preview: Totem photo
Can't beat that headline
Press Play proved it can make a platformer with Max and the Curse of Brotherhood, but it wasn't meant to test your muscle memory and invite speed running. It was a colorful adventure with some charm and plenty of stopping for...

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel takes the shooter looter to the moon

Apr 09 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (PC [previewed], PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)Developers: 2K Games Australia, Gearbox SoftwarePublisher: 2K GamesRelease: TBA 2014 So what's going on this time in the Borderlands universe? Story-wise, The Pre-Sequel focuses on four new playable hunters working for Handsome Jack as he rises to his role you eventually see him in Borderlands 2. Every playable character is someone Borderlands fans should be pretty familiar with too. Here's the breakdown: Athena, a crimson lance assassin from the General Knoxx expansion. Sheriff Nisha, an NPC from Borderlands 2. Wilhelm, the first big boss character in Borderlands 2 -- but before he became a giant robot. The Pre-Sequel does see Wilhelm evolving over the course of the game as he slowly becomes more and more cybernetic with his upgrades and such. And last but not least, Claptrap! Yup, Claptrap is finally playable. The camera is even positioned much lower than normal to reflect the murderous robot's height too.  For the demo, 2K was using Athena and one of her main abilities was this shield she can pull up to absorb enemy fire. You're still able to shoot while it's up, and once the shield has absorbed enough damage you're able to fling it out at an enemy for incredible damage. An upgrade to the shield will later allow you to hurl the shield to hit multiple enemies, Captain America style. The biggest change to come to Borderlands with the latest entry is the place all the action is happening on: the freaking moon! Yes, you're finally able to explore the moon and it offers a few major new mechanics that may make playing the older Borderlands games challenging once you experience all the new features. The major change is that you have an oxygen meter now. You need oxygen to breathe on the surface of the moon, but oxygen also doubles as the fuel for your jet pack. Yup, jet packs are a thing now. Jet packs allow you to double jump, soar even longer through the air on top of the lower gravity provided by the moon, and whenever you're high enough you can even do a ground pound to either get down to the surface faster, or hurt some enemies. Using your jet pack's abilities does drain oxygen, and it's definitely something you need to monitor as you play now. Oxygen is lootable, and the live demo we were shown had multiple points from which the player was able to refill oxygen so it doesn't look like it will be too tedious of a thing to manage. Note that it's only when you're outside of a base or interior location that you have to worry about your oxygen intake. Otherwise the action inside a base is more akin to past Borderlands games -- except, you know, there's still lower gravity and you have a freaking jet pack. Borderlands' biggest claim to fame is its billions and billions of guns, and The Pre-Sequel introduces two new weapon types. The first are laser weapons, from guns that shoot out little laser blasts like in Star Wars, to guns that fire out a steady stream of fire power like the Proton packs from Ghostsbusters. Then there's the Cryo guns, which have the new ice elemental effect. The Cryo guns can slow enemies down, eventually completely freezing them solid at which point you can then shatter them into hundreds of pieces -- an effect made even cooler on the moon as the ice pieces float off. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is a collaborative project between 2K Games Australia and Gearbox Software. While Gearbox has a hand in The Pre-Sequel's development, the Australian team has been afforded the creative freedom to add its own spin on the series. "They almost approached it like fans did," Randy Pitchford, head of Gearbox Software, stated when describing the Australian's team take on the franchise. The Cryo guns are a good example of what 2K Australia brought to the table when creating this latest Borderlands. "I've always wanted ice bullets in Borderlands and it finally happened," Randy told us. "Internally we used to argue about this at Gearbox. The Australian team did not care about our argument. They were like 'Fuck it. We want ice bullets, we're going to make damn ice bullets.'" Those of you attending PAX East this weekend will want to stop by the 2K booth as they'll be showing off Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel demos of what Destructoid got to see recently. We'll have more to tell you about the latest Borderlands early Friday morning, including why there won't be an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 version of The Pre-Sequel.
New Borderlands photo
Jetpacks, ice bullets, and playable Claptrap!
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is official. The latest entry in Gearbox's shooter looter takes place between the original Borderlands and Borderlands 2, hence the Pre-Sequel moniker. The new game is based on the Borderlands 2 en...

Child of Light is a return to classic JRPG wonder

Apr 03 // Alessandro Fillari
Child of Light (PS3, PS4, PC [Previewed], Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U)Developer: Ubisoft MontrealPublisher: UbisoftRelease Date: April 30, 2014Set in 1895 Austria, the story of Child of Light focuses on a young girl by name of Aurora. Born into royalty and daughter of the Duke, Aurora one day contracts an illness and falls into a deep sleep. Upon waking, she finds herself alone and in an unknown land not of this world. When she meets a mysterious firefly named Igniculus, she sets out on a journey to return to her own world, while restoring the balance within the mysterious new land she finds herself in.Child of Light takes players across a bizarre and ethereal landscape filled with danger and curious individuals in need of help. Blending together classic JRPG gameplay with platforming and exploration reminiscent of games in "Metroidvania" style, players will traverse the land in search of answers, while battling foes looking to cause harm to Aurora and her friends. Speaking with Jeffrey Yohalem, lead writer for Child of Light and also Far Cry 3, he talked about influences from classic fiction and role playing games, the themes of escapism and unity, and surprisingly, how Child of Light has many parallels with Far Cry 3. "I grew up reading fantasy books, The Black Cauldron, The Great King, Narnia Chronicles, the OZ books...I love stories of people who wandered into other worlds, these secret spaces in our home and our woods," said writer Jeffrey Yohalem. "And to me, this was an opportunity, a once in a lifetime opportunity I think, and I jumped at the chance to make it."The art style of Child of Light takes many influences from classic storybooks, artwork, and animated films from our youth. Using the UbiArt engine, the same technology used by Rayman Origins and Rayman Legends, the game artists were able to bring their concept art and original designs and implemented them directly into the game. Because of this, translation into actual in-game assets wasn't required and it allowed for the developers to work straight off the artist's concept work to create a more pure and cohesive visual aesthetic.And does this game look stunning. I was an admirer of the art style from Rayman Legends, and the same tech is used even more effectively here. As Child of Light is more about exploration and traversal, you'll be able spend more time and admire the visuals. While I was only playing the first few hours, I saw a number of environments that took place in dense forests, ancient ruins, caves, and a seemingly abandoned town populated by crows wearing top hats. The visuals look mesmerizing and dense, and it goes to show that 2D graphics are in a league of their own.As a narrative focused game, Child of Light focuses on Aurora's journey and how she grows as an individual. While at first she believes her adventure to be a dream, it eventually becomes something real to her and shapes her as a person. Yohalem wrote Child of Light as a critique on escapism within fiction, but also as a tale of the hypnotic pull of nostalgia. And strangely enough, his previous title Far Cry 3 share many parallels with this new one. "Far Cry 3 was also like that. That island could be a real place, but we turned it into a very surreal place, you know that it doesn't quite exist -- it could be like an episode of The Twilight Zone," said Yohalem while discussing the theme of escapism. "Far Cry 3 was sort of punk [in reference to its critique on escapism], in that it's an attack on escapism. Child of Light is sort of a hopeful proposal. Here's what a game could be, in that it is worth loving, that there's more to life than addiction ."When exploring, Aurora can jump, fly, and dodge enemies in the field, while finding treasure chests and other secrets located around the landscape. Also, your ally Igniculus can be controlled by the right stick, mouse, or by another partner with a second controller. Co-op play focuses on controlling Igniculusm who can interact with the environment and restore Aurora's abilities. The firefly can emit a powerful light that can heal Aurora's wounds, open locked chests, activate switches, and even stun enemies. However, when the enemy gets the upper hand, you'll have to do battle.While Aurora is a stranger in a strange land, she's still more than capable of looking out for herself and going toe-to-toe with foes. With the help of Igniculus and other party members she meets on her journey, she'll gain power and resources to take down whatever obstacle is in front of her.The battle system takes many different influences from classic JRPG title such as Final Fantasy and Grandia. Battles are turn based, and actions and turns are determined by a single time gauge on the bottom of the screen. There are two phases, Wait and Act. During Wait, character and enemy icons move across the time bar to reach the Act phase, and when it's your turn to Act, you can select a move and engage. Timing is everything during battles, and while they're not twitch based, you'll have to think ahead and plan your moves in advance. During the Act phase you can prepare a move and your character will ready up -- but if an enemy attacks you during Act, your move will be cancelled and it will send you back to the Wait phase. Of course, you can take advantage of this as well to cancel enemy moves. There are a variety of different physical attacks, magic, items, and special skills -- but they each have their own unique charge period during act. So you must choose your move wisely. Winning battles will earn you experience points, and getting enough exp will level your characters. When you level up, you acquire skill points which can be used to unlock new moves on each of the character's unique skill trees. You can augment character strength, magic power, defense, acquire new moves, and much more. The trees are fairly dense, it'll likely take awhile to unlock everything. But wait, your character augmentation doesn't end there. Over the course of the game you'll acquire Oculi, which are small gems and crystals. Many of these Oculi possess elemental and stat boosting properties that can buff your weapons and armor. Moreover, you can combine and mix different Oculi to create special rare types with special boosts to your characters. This all may sound complex, but I assure you it is not. The game eases you into the combat and character growth nicely, and even newcomers to the genre will be able to pick it up right away. If anything, combat feels a bit too easy. Even though it was still early in my adventure, I was clearing through enemies and bosses with no trouble at all.Moreover, players can even use Igniculus during fights, much like how they would in the field, to stun and slow enemies in battle. To be honest, it was very easy to take advantage of it by slowing a rather strong enemy's charge on the time gauge, and cancel his moves at the right time. Thankfully, Child of Light features a hard mode, which significantly buffs up the combat. Fans of the genre will likely want to start off with this mode.It's safe to say that Child of Light might be seen as somewhat of an unusual title coming from such a big name publisher. Of course, there's the stigma of big publishers not caring too much about small titles that go for something a bit different, but Yohalem spoke very highly of the publisher and the experience. "Ubisoft has just been so supportive of what we wanted to do. They've been really hands off and supportive of this title, every bit of writing for this game was exactly how I wanted it to be and what I intended it to be," said Yohalem. "But it's also frightening, and I think you do your best work in that situation. You have to make sure every idea has been looked at all sides by everyone. I'm really proud of Ubisoft and what the team created."I came away from Child of Light very surprised, and intrigued. It was a game that was definitely seeking to recall elements of nostalgia and wonder from our youth, but at the same time bringing a perspective imbued with wisdom and insight that comes from age. While I did have some issues with the difficulty, and particularly some troublesome technical glitches that caused some annoying stuttering during cutscenes and battles, I still feel there's a lot to admire about this title. It's definitely something that will stick out in Ubisoft's current 2014 lineup, as they've got a number big budget titles set for release. But I tell you, it's very refreshing to see so much faith in a title that's got so much charm and heart.
Child of Light preview photo
An epic tale of nostalgia
Last year, the news of Ubisoft making an old-school throwback to the JRPG genre took a number of people by surprise. When Destructoid got the chance to check it out, there was a healthy amount of curiosity around it. Not too ...

Hands-on with Ultra Street Fighter IV's Decapre

Mar 27 // Ben Pack
Hugo is a grappler, and like most grapplers he isn't about hitting combos. The lumbering giant is about as tall as the whole screen, and the slowest character by far, but when he hits you he hits hard. One of the most important things you need to utilize with Hugo are his anti-air throws which are great for catching escaping opponents. Elena plays very similar to her 3rd Strike version, but Rosas wanted to fix some of her issues. Her jump is more ambiguous, meaning she has more options on her opponent's wakeup. Also she has more ground options when trying to get in on an opponent.  Rolento is all about mobility. His special moves let him either play very aggressively or escape, meaning he can get away from dangerous situations or bait out moves and punish them with his high damage reka combos. He can also keep the pressure with his air kunai projectiles and wall-based attacks. Poison plays somewhat similar to Juri, but more focused on keep-away. She can keep opponents away with fireballs, but also has moves that can get opponents off of her on her wakeup. The fact that these characters play similar to previous iterations is great for 3rd Strike players who have wanted to get into SFIV. I think it will also allow players who have been playing competitively for years to know how to deal with them. Decapre is the only character that has never been playable in the series. She is, quite literally, a Cammy clone. While she may look and move similar to Cammy, that’s where the similarities end. First of all she is a charge character, meaning that to perform her special moves you have to be more prepared with how you are going to try to get in. Also she is reliant on mixups, meaning she is unlike other charge characters in that she has to be aggressive rather than being forced to turtle. Along with the new characters, every other character has been buffed or nerfed depending on what players perceived their weaknesses and strengths to be. Capcom created a preliminary version of the game with changes to the characters, and then took it on tour around the world to get player feedback from pros, to character specialists alike. To this day characters are still being tweaked, and even characters like Decapre have been changed between her reveal at the fighting game tournament Final Round, and the demo less than a week later. This is the perfect way to balance characters, especially if this is going to be the last update this game will ever see. Players now have no choice but to accept these final versions of their character, and hopefully this will bring the lower tier characters into more competitive play. One of the most interesting and definitely the most surprising feature to be added to USFIV is Edition Select. What this means is any character can be selected in any version that they were featured with all their frame data from that version intact. For example, if you select the Super Street Fighter IV version of Zangief, his EX Greenhand gets its knock-down properties back, as well as all of his other changes. Finally players will be able to settle the debate of who is the most broken Street Fighter character. Rosas believes that this will be an interesting side tournament idea, as people will still want to play around with the changes made to their characters in Ultra for years to come, and I think it will allow for some very cool exhibition matches. But other than that it probably won't have a lot of staying power. Other changes include six new stages adapted from SFxT, new online modes such as training or team battles, general gameplay tweaks like being able to use two character ultras instead of one, and a new move called red focus. Ultra Street Fighter IV is set to release in Japanese arcades in April, on consoles in early June, and PC sometime in August. The game can be bought as a digital upgrade for $14.99, or on disc with all previous DLC included for $40.
Preview: Ultra Street Fig photo
Checking out all the changes Capcom has made
Earlier this week I got to spend some time with Ultra Street Fighter IV, Capcom’s fourth and final iteration of the original 2008 game. My demo was presented by professional fighting game player turned Capcom emplo...

Making multiplayer music in Fantasia: Music Evolved

Mar 25 // Dale North
[embed]272413:53111:0[/embed] Fantasia: Music Evolved  (Xbox One, Xbox 360) Developer: HarmonixPublisher: Disney InteractiveReleases: 2014 What's great about Fantasia's cooperative mode is that players will collaborate with each other to make their own musical interpretation of a given song. Before trying it for myself, I watched two others play Dvorak's "Symphony No. 9" (heard here at the 32 minute mark) together. Don't write the song choice off as boring classical music, though. I watched and listened on as the orchestral original warped from its natural form to an 8-bit chip tune, and then into a big band arrangement, finally combining all three styles for one crazy arrangement. Chip-style drums started to underscore the orchestra, and then jazz piano worked its way in. I was fascinated with how Harmonix's arrangers brought the three styles together. I liked how the gestures lined up nicely with the musical passages, and how they seem to have players passing these passages to each other. Flicks and swings of the arms visually follow musical cues, making it look like the players are conducting some invisible orchestra. Sometimes their movements will come together to make it look as if they're collaborating on a grand gesture that would bring this orchestra together in a big way. The sweep arc gesture near the finale made it look like the two were sharing a high five. It's easy to see that a lot of thought was put into this mode's choreography. Breaks in the standard play come with Fantasia's composition spells. In these sub-challenges, players will use gestures to trigger on-screen objects to add their own touch to the song. The first one I saw had these players moving their hands to trigger drum sounds. These random hits soon became full-on drum fills, and when they were finished with their creation, these fills were magically blended into the existing score as they continued play. Several others like this are scattered through the play session. For my time with multiplayer, I skipped over classical, picking Nicki Minaj's "Super Bass" from the available tunes. The opening forward punch gestures make sense with the rhythmic nature of the song, and the motion felt good; it was almost like I was punching to define the beat. As for the heavily featured diagonal swiping motions, I wasn't executing them with as much flair as my partner. But I appreciated that Fantasia is much less restrictive than Harmonix's previous title, Dance Central. I was told that as long as your timing is good, the quality of your gestures is less important. By the end of it, I was double swiping through the air with at least some flair, and having fun doing it. I even caught myself sort of bobbing to the beat. Too bad I only scored 56 percent. I really like how open Fantasia is to players' musical tastes. Before the cooperative level begins, both players are asked to make choices to customize the song. Each player gets to gesture toward a musical style twice before beginning, and they have even more opportunities for genre morphing throughout.  I'm glad that Fantasia is more of a rhythm game than a dancing game, as this suits my personal tastes more. I've learned that it's less about your moves and more about the music. When you combine this with the ability to freely explore and morph its songs with gestures you have a musical experience that has the power to keep you coming back. And the newly revealed multiplayer mode lets you share that exploration with a friend. 
Fantasia multiplayer photo
First hands-on with multiplayer
Harmonix revealed a multiplayer mode for Fantasia: Music Evolved at GDC last week alongside some new songs and levels. I jumped in front of a Kinect sensor to try out the new mode, and it wasn't long before I was flapping my arms to the beat.  Can't you hear that boom, badoom, boom, boom, badoom, boom, bass?    

Bound By Flame is richly detailed and dark

Mar 20 // Alessandro Fillari
Bound By Flame is a dark fantasy action-RPG set in a land ravaged by war and the forces of darkness. Players take on the role of Vulcan, a mercenary who must use his skills for battle to benefit his own personal agenda, or right the wrongs and save civilization. During his quest, Vulcan becomes possessed by an ancient demon who imbues him with demonic powers. These powers come at a cost, as the more Vulcan relies on these abilities and make choices that benefit his own personal standing, the more his demonic presence will be drawn out and leave a visible mark. With many different choices to make, Bound By Flame features several different endings that will reflect the influences you've had on every character you interact with. As an action-RPG, combat takes a more twitch-based and reflex approach to battles. Similar to titles like Dragon Age and The Witcher, Vulcan moves around in real-time and battles groups of foes with a variety of unique abilities. Utilizing active block and dodging along with quick attacks against foes, combat always moves at a brisk pace. At any time, players can bring up an ability menu which shows all of the skills and moves available. When the menu is up, combat slows to a crawl and players can take their time and pick their next move. Customization and choice are a key element of Bound By Flame, and players will be able to flesh out their character as they see fit. From the beginning, players can create either male or female version of Vulcan, complete with their choice of facial features. Over the course of the game, players will make important choices that will alter the look and attitude of their character. Focusing on their humanity will keep players in their human form, allowing them to use different types of armors and skills. However, making choices that bring out the demonic side of Vulcan will cause the character to take the form of the demon that possesses him. The skin color and texture turns a rough and craggy color of obsidian, their eyes begin to glow, and horns sprout from their head. While their overall attack power increases, their armor will be degraded by Vulcan’s demon form, leaving them more vulnerable to attacks. Helmets are also not an option as the demon horns sprouting from the player character will make them impossible to wear. The attention to detail in terms of design is strong and there's a purpose for everything -- it’s definitely one of Bound By Flame’s strong suits. For character growth, players can chose between different combat focuses for Vulcan. Leveling up will acquire skills points which can be spent on various skill trees. The Warrior tree focuses on wielding heavy weapons and skills related to tanking multiple foes. Ranger skills places emphasis on long-range attacks (crossbows for instance), traps, and dual-wielding weapons. Lastly, Vulcan’s demonic form unlocks the Pyromancer skill tree that opens up magic skills. The developers of Bound by Flame claimed that it was only possible to max out one skill tree in the game, but it's designed to also to allow players who wish to spread out their skill points and try out abilities and buffs from every tree. Eventually, Vulcan will come across characters that will join his quest as companions. There are a total of five companion characters to meet and interact with, and they will aid him in battle using their own special skills. As Vulcan is a combat-focused character, some companions will be vital for their support abilities, long-range attacks, magic skill, and melee prowess. Depending on how you build your character, you might be more inclined to stick with certain allies over others. I came away pretty impressed with Bound By Flame. While granted it isn’t too different from other titles, it does seem to do things pretty well. Combat looked fun, there's a lot of options to consider for your character plus it’s great to see that your choices actually have a lasting, and very noticeable impact. Bound By Flame will be seeing a release on May 9 on PC and all current consoles (except Xbox One and Wii U), so players can expect to take a trip through this intriguing action-RPG soon.
Bound By Flame photo
Developer Spiders show off new action-RPG at GDC
The fantasy genre has been a staple of the gaming scene for a long time. They go hand in hand, really. Because of this, it’s common to see titles that look to similar to each and don’t necessarily distinguish them...

Hyper Light Drifter is gorgeous and punishing

Mar 18 // Alessandro Fillari
Hyper Light Drifter is a 2D action-RPG title with a deep focus on exploration and combat. Players take on the role of an unnamed Drifter who must raid dungeons, collect loot, and try to survive in the unforgiving landscape. As seen in many of the trailers, HLD places emphasis on atmosphere and mood. We explored a level on an eerie mountain pass as we made our way to a suspicious shrine at the top. Along the way, we were ambushed by local wildlife and magic users. The Drifter has many skills at his disposal, his sword and gun combo allow for swift action close range and at a distance.Heart Machine wasn't shy about sharing its influences. The Legend of Zelda, Diablo, and even the more modern Phantasy Star Online have been a massive influence on the gameplay aesthetic and makeup. It is a skill based game that focuses more on player reflex, timing, and quick thinking. While the staples of RPG gameplay are present, such as character growth and stat boosts, the game is about skill at heart. "I think a lot of people miss this genre in specific, they love older top down SNES titles," said Lead Designer Alex Preston while elaborating on the combat system. "It's much more about honing your skills. In fact, we've actually built the entire game to allow players [if they want] to not upgrade your character." As evident in the footage released some time ago, the action is very fast and twitch based. Controls were simple and responsive, and you'll be utilizing the Drifter's weapons and special skills on the fly. Initially, players will come across single foes that don't pose too much of a problem -- but then things change when you come face to face with enemies in large groups. And let me tell you, things get incredibly chaotic when fighting ten or more foes looking to take the Drifter out. The key to combat is staying on the move, and the dodge mechanic allows players to move in and out of the action with ease. While this wasn't present in the playable build, exploration is big part of the game and the developers at Heart Machine wanted to make player choice a big part of the experience. The Drifter will have access to a town hub, where he can purchase new equipment, restock on materials, and take up quests from the town's populace. While this my call to mind classic tropes from Zelda or Metroid, the developers were very clear about making the game open. "We're keeping it pretty open, we're not going to lock players behind too many item walls or anything like that," said Preston. "There's no order of dungeons you have to go to, so if you want to head north, south, east, or west -- you can do that." Even though it's still a ways off, Hyper Light Drifter has already garnered a loyal following beyond its Kickstarter backers. After the announcement of their delay, they received a lot of positive feedback from fans. "We can't be thankful enough of the fans," said Preston. "When we delayed the game from our initial June release date, they were very positive and wanted the best for the game. It's crazy that we have fans, we couldn't be more grateful for all the support." With Hyper Light Drifter still a ways off, the folks at Heart Machine still have plenty of time to fine tune and add more content. I was quite impressed with my brief time with the game. I wanted to try another go, but the line got pretty long and I had to let go. This game can't come out soon enough.
Hyper Light Drifter photo
Developers of Retro Action-RPG talk influnces and development
In recent times it seems as though games in 'retro-style' are on the rise. Perhaps this is nostalgia at work for a bygone era of gaming, or maybe there's an endearing spirit and honesty from gaming's past that still...

Breaking New Ground: Metal Gear Solid V's Tactical approach to Open World

Mar 05 // Max Scoville
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes (Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4 [Previewed])Developer: Kojima ProductionsPublisher: KonamiRelease: March 18, 2014Price: $29.99 (Xbox 360, Xbox One,  PS3, PS4) $19.99 (Xbox 360 & PS3 digital versions) The main mission of Ground Zeroes takes place a matter of months after Peace Walker, and twenty years before the original Metal Gear. Returning characters Paz (whose allegiances are unknown) and Chico have been captured by XOF, a newly introduced organization whose motives are unclear, aside from being bad guys. It’s up to Snake to sneak quietly into Camp Omega, where Paz and Chico are being held, locate them, and carry them a safe distance from the base for extraction. So, basically, if you’re fuzzy about the plot, or are a newcomer to the series looking for a good point of entry, you’ll probably need to do some homework to make sense of the story beyond “a gruff man with an eye-patch must rescue teenagers from the clutches of a shadowy paramilitary organization.” In terms of gameplay however, Ground Zeroes is easily the biggest overhaul to Tactical Espionage Action since the jump between Metal Gear Solid 1 and 2, and for this overhaul, it seems to have taken some cues from other game franchises. For starters, first-person view is gone. [Correction: first-person aiming is still there.] Snake primarily does his shooting in third-person, with the left trigger letting him aim more closely, in a fashion that should be familiar to us at this point. To switch into first-person, it's a matter of tapping the R1 button while aiming. The weapon selection and item management has been relegated to the D-pad. The health gauge is gone, and Snake will recover automatically as long as he stays out of harm’s way for a moment. Basically, the same regenerative health system you’ll find in most modern action games. If he’s in really rough shape, an on-screen cue will appear to apply some form of health-spray, which will make him grimace in agony. Seriously, Snake? It’s probably just Bactine, calm down. Call me old fashioned, but I miss the silliness of hiding in a ventilation shaft and binge-eating rations to recover from half a dozen gunshot wounds. Along with the health gauge and dual scrolling inventory slots, another thing absent from the HUD is anything resembling soliton radar or active sonar. Tracking guards now depends on tagging them, either by spying on them through binoculars, or by hovering the reticle on them long enough while in range. After doing this, a flag will appear above their heads. It’s very similar to the system in Assassin’s Creed or Far Cry 3. Once tagged, the exact position of enemies can be seen on the map, accessible from Snake’s iDroid device. The iDroid is a portable device that’s also used to access intel and call in your chopper, and is the most anachronistic addition to Metal Gear Solid since Cold War-era giant robots. What’s interesting is that bringing up the iDroid doesn’t pause the game, which can lead to some fairly tense moments. I’d compare it to the on-the-fly crafting system in The Last Of Us; checking the map and calling a chopper are crucial parts of gameplay, so why should the entire game stop down and wait for you? In addition to checking your iDroid, all radio conversations take place in-game. Kaz Miller will periodically chime in with tidbits of intel about your surroundings as you are playing. If you’d like more details about something you encounter (an APC, a guard tower, a security camera, etc) you can point your reticle at it and give Miller a call with a tap of the R1 button, and he’ll briefly give you intel. I really hope this is indication that The Phantom Pain’s story will be more smoothly integrated into the gameplay itself, instead of through exposition-laden codec conversations or long-winded PowerPoint presentations between missions. Snake himself has a number of new abilities. One of the more controversial abilities is "Reflex Mode," which is a brief moment of slow-motion bullet-time that's triggered upon Snake's discovery. The concern is that this will make the game too easy, but I don't think it's the case. In fact, points are actually docked for each use of the ability. In any case, on the "Hard" difficulty setting, neither the enemy-tagging nor reflex mode features are available.Sprinting is another of Snake's new abilities. It’s possibly the least stealthy addition to the series since the shotgun, but if you know what you’re doing, it’s a damn good way to get around. Snake's somersault has been replaced with a new ability to dive into a crawl too. The X button still makes Snake change his stance from standing to crouching to crawling, but now he can dive straight from sprinting to crawling with a tap of Square. It’s one of those mechanics that just feels right, and makes gameplay noticeably more enjoyable. It’s probably my favorite basic in-game action since the ability to karate-kick through car windows in Saints Row: The Third, though it’s considerably less ridiculous-looking. The big, huge, obvious change Ground Zeroes makes to the Metal Gear Solid formula is its transition into open-world. The series has always granted players a fair amount of freedom in how to approach situations, but Ground Zeroes is almost completely wide open. In addition to that, there’s the added element of verticality, and Snake can make his way up on certain rooftops fairly easily. Don't expect him to be parkour-ing up the sides of buildings, but it's a welcome addition. Oh, Snake can also pick locks, but it's really just a matter of holding down the action button by a door and waiting for him to do his thing. Unfortunately, it seems as though some sacrifices have been made for the sake of the game’s scale. For instance, there’s nothing resembling a boss fight in Ground Zeroes, which will undoubtedly be a letdown for some fans given Hideo Kojima’s amazing track record for cool boss fights. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Ground Zeroes also feels lacking in quirky details, and the odd touches that have always made Metal Gear Solid games so unique. There are no lockers to hide in, or to use for storing unconscious guards. There are no cigarettes or cigars or girly magazines, at least not that I came across. Worst of all, there’s no cardboard box. I have confirmation on that, there's no box. Ground Zeroes also adds vehicles into the mix. As far as controls go, they’re a simplified version of the driving in any modern sandbox game. Don’t expect to be getting any insane stunt bonuses, but it’s enough to get around. There’s obvious stupid fun to be had, like stealing jeeps and using them to run over guards, or knocking several guards unconscious, loading them into a Jeep, and driving it off a cliff, but vehicles can also be key when quickly completing missions. Driving might be faster than crawling, but it’s also a lot louder and even if you’re going the speed limit, riding around in a large diesel truck will attract the attention of guards. But that’s if you’re behind the wheel. Another option is to hop in the back when no one’s looking, gathering recon of the base while the truck goes about its routine. In addition to Jeeps and trucks, there’s also an APC with a fully functional cannon on it, if you feel like throwing stealth to the wind and blowing stuff up instead. The helicopter plays a major role, thought it’s less of a vehicle and more of a replacement for the Fulton Recovery System from Peace Walker. While it’s slightly less absurd than tying weather balloons to unconscious guards and sending them airborne, there’s still something rather silly about concluding your top-secret covert mission by calling in a noisy helicopter that’s blaring the Peace Walker theme or Ride Of The Valkyries out of its PA system. Yep, that’s right. You can set a custom ringtone for your helicopter. Shortly after you select a landing zone on your map, a chopper will arrive at that point, and any prisoners you’ve brought to that spot can be loaded onboard. In the main mission, rescuing additional prisoners aside from Chico and Paz only adds to your score/ranking at the end of the mission, though considering the presence of a second-screen app devoted to running Motherbase, it’s possible that retrieving prisoners in The Phantom Pain could play a role similar to the recruiting of NPCs to the MSF in Peace Walker. After all, Snake is “Big Boss.” Managerial skills are part of his job title. If you’ve been following coverage of Ground Zeroes, you might’ve heard about the presence of “side-missions” amidst the main campaign. I sort of assumed that these would be secondary objectives that could be completed during the course of the main mission. In reality, they’re more like VR Missions; completely separate challenges that make use of the same map, but with different objectives and placement of enemies. While The Phantom Pain promises a real-time day-night cycle, the time of day and weather conditions in Ground Zeroes depend strictly on which mission you’re playing. The main “Ground Zeroes” mission is set on a dark and stormy night, affording Snake plenty of hiding spots. One side-mission, in which Snake has to assassinate a pair of targets, is set in broad daylight, giving the guards much better visibility and eliminating the option of keeping Snake in the shadows. I’ll probably be booed offstage for saying it, but … the difference is like night and day.   I know one the biggest concerns people have about Ground Zeroes is its length. After Game Informer announced that they’d beaten the main mission in under two hours, the internet had a hissy fit. During my time with the game, I completed the core "Ground Zeroes" mission twice, as well as playing the other missions (with varying degrees of success) and it’s clear that this is a game meant to played repeatedly. If you're the type of player who likes to screw around and explore, and really mess with enemy AI, you'll most likely have a blast. If you're the type of player who's hell-bent on achieving "Big Boss" rank on extreme difficulty, this is probably also up your alley. If you're the type of player who falls somewhere in the middle, it's a tougher call to make.  Ground Zeroes has been framed as an introduction to the new mechanics of The Phantom Pain, and a prologue to its story. I’ve often said, mostly kidding, that my favorite game in the series is the Metal Gear Solid 2 demo disc that came packed in with Zone Of The Enders. Others have expressed similar sentiment towards the demo for the first Metal Gear Solid. I would say Ground Zeroes is very much comparable to those. The layout of Camp Omega feels reminiscent of the first few areas of MGS1, and the new mechanics like driving and climbing are as novel as arranging the bodies of unconscious guards in lewd positions, or hiding in lockers in MGS2. While I feel like I’ve experienced a lot of what the game has to offer, that doesn’t stop me from wanting to play more of it, and if the goal here was to whet my appetite for The Phantom Pain, I’d say mission accomplished. Still, it really sucks about that cardboard box.
Hands-on with MGS V photo
Snake is driving Jeep! How can this be?!
Considering that the series just celebrated its 25th anniversary, it might seem a little odd that Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is only the fifth game in the series. However, if you’re counting Peace Walker, it...

Preview: Murdered: Soul Suspect

Feb 27 // Steven Hansen
Murdered: Soul Suspect (PC [previewed], Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4)Developer: Airtight GamesPublisher: Square EnixRelease: June, 2014 One design element to questionably-realized-cool-guy protagonist Ronan O'Connor does get established early, when his life flashes before his eyes, and his tattoos begin marking the significant events in his life via a series of flashbacks. They aren't just for show, so at least part of his look was given consideration, rather than kitchen-sinked on.  See, Ronan grew up hard. He was a criminal. But then he found love and straightened up his act, somehow managed to get a job as a detective despite his criminal record. And then his wife tragically died, of course, and he went back to being a loose canon. Which got him killed. Thrown out a window (in a lovely scene).  You first take control of Ronan in a weird scene that I hoped was a harbinger of gameplay to come. "I just have to get back into my body," Ronan deduces, and you're tasked with awkwardly lining up ghost Ronan's head and limbs with the crumpled fleshy Ronan. It almost works, too, until your assailant makes their way down stairs and shoots the hell out of him with his own gun. Now it's time to solve your own murder. [embed]269979:52460:0[/embed] Murdered started sort of weird. There were strange, slow scenes, like pushing forward on the analog stick to slowly reach toward a door handle. I wasn't sure how I felt about these bits, but they stuck with me. The rest of what I played, however, quickly abandons these control quirks for a less scripted, more typical "roam around in third-person (except you're a ghost)" set up. Ronan gets briefed on the supernatural backing to the Salem-based game -- narrative explanations for why he can't freely walk through everything, for example. Being able to walk through walls actually almost didn't make it into the game as early prototyping saw how disorienting it could be to phase in and out of closets and lose your bearing. But what's the point of being dead if you have to use doors? After exposition and intrigue (Ronan is stuck in a dangerous, demon-filled limbo because something in his life is unfinished), Fedora Man is off to solve his own murder, which is where things get a bit sticky for me. At the scene of your murder, the bottom of the screen reads "0/8," telling you how many clues there are and how many clues you have discovered. Therein lies the difficulty of making a true detective game like I'm always clamoring for. It halts progress. It can be frustrating. It dead ends your narrative. You have to be able to lose, and possibly start over. But it's nice when a game has the guts to go for it. There is no fail state. Rather, you have three blue pips when you need to make a choice -- perhaps pick which clue to influence into the mind of a possessed witness. Choose wrong, you lose one. You can lose all three. You'll probably just miss some achievements or maybe look silly to your friends. But there's not much punishment for cocking up if you end up needing to take a brute-force approach. There are some things meant to help keep investigation from feeling like a checklist. There are various persons to possess whose minds you can read. There are occasional stealth sections that have you sneak up on soul-sucking demons and rip their ghost spines out with quick-time events. There are sidequests meant to help give other ghosts you meet closure. There are extraneous clues at scenes and it does actually ask you to think about what you collect, what's pertinent. There is an everlasting ghost cigarette Ronan can't shake, speaking to the nature of addiction. But it's not a detective game, which is sad to me, because it's what I was holding out for. Rather, it's more of an exploration-based narrative game. You play the ultimate voyeur, getting into peoples' bodies and minds, whether or not they have anything to do with your case. It seems mostly about wandering about as a ghost in between bits that will drive the narrative and finger your culprit as you unravel the ghastly elements, weird glyphs, and history of Salem. It's all related, assuredly. At that point, it's really on the story-telling to deliver all the way through and make dying worthwhile. We'll have to wait until June to know for certain.
Preview: Murdered photo
It appears to have some soul, but I'm still suspect
The last few times we've written about Murdered: Soul Suspect, the discussions centered around next gen ports. Well, that and the protagonist's unfortunate choice of head wear and other accoutrements. I mean, the fedora is somehow not the most egregious fashion choice. Wallet chain?  But now I've gotten a chance to play and have a bunch of different things to complain about.

Wolfenstein: The New Order is as middling as I feared

Feb 24 // Abel Girmay
Wolfenstein: The New Order (PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: MachineGamesPublisher: Bethesda SoftworksRelease: May 20, 2013 Yes, B.J. Blazkowicz is back, and your mission is to cut down the Nazi war machine and their twisted creations. As fate would have it, the Nazis have won the war, leaving B.J. to head on a revenge mission 20 years later. There's obviously a fair amount of story details I'm leaving out of that abbreviated synopsis, but just know that outside of the alternate history setup, there's not much to the story but every military story trope imaginable. For a game that's part of a series whose name is built on occult Robo-Hitlers, it's not a great offense. It's what I played that's left me cold on The New Order. As a shooter, The New Order is just fine. It's a mechanically sound shooter that plays just no better, and at plenty times worse, than any other shooter around. On its default setting, Wolfenstein couldn't be described as difficult, but it is rather uneven. For the most part, I found myself running through corridors and trenches, blasting through enemies with relative ease. In these moments, the enemies feel more like fodder than anything to worry about. Out of nowhere though, I would hit points where every enemy was imbued with the aim of Hawkeye, and waves upon waves of them appeared until I advanced to some invisible trigger that made them stop spawning. It also didn't help that enemies would throw an endless amount of grenades at my feet with the precision of an NFL quarterback. It was really the oddest feeling, as on one hand the game suddenly gave me a reason to sit up straight and actually have to make an effort, even though it went about it in the cheapest way possible. It also didn't help that the damage indicator was so off that figuring out which direction I was getting attacked from was too often unclear until my health and armor were critically low. At the very least, Wolfenstein: The New Order packs a solid visual presentation. We're of course very early in the console generation, but Wolfenstein still looks really damn good. The version I played ran on PS4, and although it didn't turn heads like Killzone: Shadow Fall, it's still a pretty game. While most of the environments are grimy brown military bases and bunkers, there is a good amount of steampunk weirdness and tech that makes good use of showing what this current gen offers. Here's the long and short of it. My time with Wolfenstein: The New Order left me with nothing to write home, or you readers, about. It looked and played like a thoroughly competent first-person shooter with more than a fair amount of blemishes and the A.I. can be dumb as rocks until it decides to put Stephen Hawking's IQ to shame. Outside of its namesake, I'm not seeing anything that makes Wolfenstein: The New Order stand apart from its genre peers. Wait, but don't anticipate, unless you fancy yourself a diehard Wolfenstein fan.
Wolfenstein preview photo
I'm not a big supporter of this new regime
Wolfenstein: The New Order is a videogame that has guns in it, and you use these guns to kill people. That's about as remarkable a statement as I could rack my brain for after spending three hours with game. As much as some W...

Why Titanfall will be my next big gaming obsession

Feb 12 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
At first, your instincts will kick in when you start a round of Titanfall and play it like it's any first-person shooter that's been released in the last few years. It can't be helped. FPS games have always followed what was successful before them. It started with the Doom formula, then Quake, GoldenEye 64, Halo, and Call of Duty 4. They were some of the biggest trendsetters, and now we have Titanfall changing up the status quo. Time will tell if Respawn ultimately strikes gold again in the genre, but personally I believe they will. Titanfall has captured this nice middle ground where it's just fast-paced enough to please Quake and Tribes fans, but not to the point where it will turn off what the ultimate target audience here is: Those millions of players buying Call of Duty and Battlefield year after year. That said, I had a very hard time going back to other shooters after Titanfall as they felt just too slow, and so limiting. Speed is one thing, but it's not until you experience something like running alongside a wall for a few seconds, jumping to an adjacent wall, using your jetpack for a short boost up, automatically grabbing the edge of the roof to hoist yourself up, then running off the roof in order to jump down onto an opposing Titan below so you can effectively unload your gun into its circuitry that just feels so, well, freeing. Then of course there's the Titans themselves. Piloting them just feels like an extension of you, like a second skin to the player. It's actually a shocking feeling at first, especially if you've played mech simulators in the past like say Gundam 0079, Steel Battalion (the good one), and the like where it feels like you're controlling a big hulking slow piece of machinery. The action gets even more fast-paced in a Titan, yet still balanced so you're not just an unstoppable behemoth. Titanfall does a good job of making you feel like a badass, even if you're not the best FPS player around. Wallrunning, using the Titans -- it's all intuitive and designed to reward the player, as opposed to punishing you for making a mistake. Check out some of my wall running from the video commentary to get a good sense of it. [embed]270332:52546:0[/embed] More importantly, it all feels balanced. Titans don't come across as extremely overpowered, and you don't feel totally helpless as a pilot since there's enough avenues of escape from how open the environments are when there are Titans around.  And whatever your feelings are towards the six-versus-six nature of the multiplayer, it still feels like there's a lot going on during matches. There's always some fighting taking place, even if it's against the AI enemy players. You will know when you're up against the AI, and while they aren't the brightest, they can take you out if you're being careless. It can even get claustrophobic when there are multiple Titans duking it out. So yeah, I think the multiplayer is great if you couldn't tell. The campaign, on the other hand, doesn't sound like much. We've known from the start that Titanfall has no real single-player -- it's one in the same with multiplayer as you're playing with others. While there will be specific things that can only be seen in the campaign mode (set pieces, etc), the story levels will be taking place on the same levels you'll get in multiplayer. You'll play through the story from each of the rival faction's perspective (IMC and Militia forces), and the entire campaign will take around four to five hours to complete. If you're okay with just a primarily multiplayer experience, you won't mind the length. I'm getting into Titanfall for multiplayer, and with the way things are looking for the rest of the year it looks like Titanfall may be one of the only major competitive FPS games launching in 2014, giving it the potential to really grow a player base. It will at least hold me over until Destiny is released in September. No idea if the multiplayer will be any good with that one, but it is Bungie after all.
Titanfall preview photo
Plus gameplay commentary covering the contents of the closed beta
It was the beginning of 2013 when I finally just got tired of the competitive aspect of first-person shooters. It's been my favorite genre ever since the GoldenEye 64 days, but over the last few years I've just been losing mo...


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