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Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition is ridiculous and over the top in all the right ways

Apr 20 // Alessandro Fillari
Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition (PC, PlayStation 4 [previewed], Xbox One)Developer: CapcomPublisher: CapcomRelease date: Summer 2015 Set some time after the events of the original Devil May Cry, the devil-hunting half-demon Dante investigates the mysterious Order of the Sword, a religious sect that worships his demon father, Sparda, as a god. After an infestation of demons swarms the island of Fortuna, causing mass panic and bloodshed, the Order sends a young holy knight named Nero, who may have some demon lineage of his own, to find the source -- whom they believe is Dante. But along the way, Nero discovers that things are not what they appear, and that the Order of the Sword may have sinister motives in mind for him and the son of Sparda. Taking cues from Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition, the developers chose to include more supplementary features for DMC4:SE, while retaining the core structure of the original game. Using the excellent PC version of DMC4 as a base, the Special Edition now features Turbo Mode (20% increase to game-speed), Legendary Dark Knight mode (Hard mode with larger crowds of enemies), higher texture and visual fidelity, and tighter performance and framerate for both PC and console releases. But of course, the SE also brings additions that are brand new to DMC4, such as playable Vergil, Trish, and for the first time ever, Lady -- along with new cutscenes, new costumes for every character, some slight gameplay tweaks, new art to unlock, and some other surprises neat to find. However, it should be stressed that the core structure of DMC4 is almost exactly the same, and anyone expecting new bosses, monsters, and areas to travel to will likely be disappointed. It's still DMC4 through and through. I know many DMC enthusiasts were worried about what balancing tweaks were made to the game, particularly with Dante and Nero. With exception to general tweaks such as quicker Speed boost, faster Orb and Proud Soul acquisition, and some other minor tweaks and adjustments, the core gameplay for the original duo is largely untouched. So anyone who's mastered the intricacies of Guard Flying, Interia, and the incredibly tricky DRI (Distorted Real Impact) should rest easy knowing that they're intact and ready to take advantage of. Truth be told, though, I was a bit surprised by how much of the game was kept as is, even after eight years worth of feedback and cool PC mods that have surfaced. I'm bummed out that the new modes from DmC: Definitive Edition, such as Must Style, Hardcore, and Gods Must Die weren't included either. It seems like a missed opportunity, and DMC4:SE could have really taken advantage of them in a cool way.  With that said, I was impressed with the new content that awaits players in the Special Edition, and the folks at Capcom have put in the work to make it just as rad as ever. The focus of my session was checking out how all of the playable characters stacked up in DMC4:SE, and I was quite pleased to see how much diversity was offered here. Rest assured, these aren't some cheap additions to the game. The new characters feature their own unique playstyle and strategies that set them apart from the rest, which is a welcome change of pace for those who've clocked hundreds of hours into Bloody Palace. Moreover, they all have their own unique movesets to unlock, which is just as expansive as the original characters. I played with all five characters fully maxed out, so I got a pretty unique opportunity to see what they were like at their best. As you no doubt saw from the many teases we've seen over the last few months, Vergil is back, and this time he's more motivated than ever. Set many years before the events of DMC4, we find a young Vergil investigating the Order of the Sword. Not long after his arrival, demons invade the island and Vergil must put them in their place while uncovering the truth behind the mysterious group. Though his progression follows the Dante/Nero campaign beat for beat (sans original cutscenes), they feature all new opening and ending scenes to bookend his experiences. And we may even find some answers regarding his connection to series newcomer Nero. Many fans adored DMC3's incarnation of Vergil, and DMC4:SE continues his stoic and composed sense of combat, while upping his versatility to new heights. Wielding his standard Yamato -- along with the Beowulf gauntlets and Force Edge/Yamato combo from DMC3 -- Vergil dispenses his calm and uncompromising style of action that sets him apart from the others. Though fans will likely have reservations about Vergil possessing these weapons at this point in the timeline (before DMC3), the developers hope that the ambiguity of the plot and his expanded moveset will give them a pass in the eyes of fans. And after playing with Vergil, I'm certainly cool with the liberties they've taken.  Essentially the antithesis to Dante's bombastic and machismo combat style, Vergil feels more composed and cunning than his brother, which in essence lies the true genius of his style. This is reflected in the brand new Concentration meter, which rewards calm and precise combat. As you connect with strikes and dodge attacks, you build Vergil's Concentration level, which boosts his attack power and speed. Once you build it up to the max level, Vergil becomes a serious force in combat, and even unlocks special moves to use in his Devil Trigger phase -- such as the Judgement Cut End, an ultimate attack that slashes all foes at the cost of your DT gauge. I was supremely impressed with how much the developers had expanded Vergil's gameplay. The new Concentration meter makes combat feel more rewarding and satisfying, and keeping my meter full made fights more tense, as getting hit or missing an attack would decrease the meter. Thankfully, Vergil is still a beast even at the lowest concentration. In addition to incorporating DmC Vergil's sword teleportation move, which allows Vergil to teleport to enemies hit with his sword illusion skills, his weapon combos have also been fleshed out more. With Yamato using new ground and aerial combos, including aerial variants of Judgement Cut and also Vergil's take on Nero's Roulette, Force Edge also employs new combos paying homage to DMC3's Agni and Rudra moveset. Not to mention, his DT phase enhances his abilities and combos, giving him faster charge time and reduced cooldown, along with replacing his side-roll with the Table Hopper evade. I know I won't be alone in saying this, but I would've been plenty satisfied with just having Vergil as a new character. But of course, Capcom decided to take things a step further by including two more characters to the roster with Lady and Trish. Though Vergil has the campaign all to himself, Lady and Trish will share a campaign mode similar to Nero and Dante's story. With two new cutscenes, their story focuses on their exploits in the background as Nero and Dante are getting into trouble throughout the island. Lady's portion takes her through Nero's missions, using her grappling hook for traversal, while Trish cleans up in Dante's later levels. This is the first time Lady has been playable in the DMC series, and as the sole human character in the roster, the developers had to rethink how combat would work for her. Focusing more on her firearms, and employing a keep-away style, Lady is at her best while at a distance. With her only melee weapon being the massive and lumbering rocket launcher Kalina Ann, which feels fairly limited compared to other melee weapons, it's quite clear that players will have to adjust how they engage their foes with Lady. Thankfully, her arsenal of firearms and gadgets, including the Kalina Ann's grappling hook which pulls in enemies, offers more than enough stopping power to take down whatever comes her way. While it's easy to assume that her combat mechanics are a carbon copy of Dante's gunslinger style, there's definitely a lot of nuance to be found in the human devil hunter's fighting style. Using pistols, a shotgun, and the Kalina Ann as her primary weapons, Lady's focus on range gives her an edge that the other characters do not. Taking some inspiration from Nero's exceed gauge, Lady is able to charge her weapons up to three levels, which boosts her attack power significantly. When charged, the bullet icon on the HUD will show how much juice is left in the charge, giving players an idea of how much time they have for their attacks. Not only is Lady able to charge her weapons much faster than the other characters, her weapons react differently with a full charge. For instance, a max-level charge for the Kalina Ann sends out a super-charged rocket that pierces through multiple foes. And yes, she does have a double jump and also a neat spin on the Devil Trigger phase. Her take on double jump has her rocket launcher firing off a shot, propelling her upward and damaging foes underneath (which has damage jump cancelling potential), and her spin on the Devil Trigger is essentially a volley of grenades that clears out all nearby enemies. I adored the character in DMC3, and finally getting the chance to play as her was such a blast. Granted, it was an adjustment. I had to resist the urge to use melee attacks with Lady -- it was quite clear they weren't her strong suit -- which in itself was a bit of an oddity for DMC. While every character thrives on getting up close and personal, Lady is the polar opposite. Many of her moves even focus on getting her in and out of the action when the need arises. For instance, her take on the shotgun's gunstinger move has her charge in gun first for a deadly close-range blast, then follows up with another shot that her launches back out of the fray. Another example is her R1+ Back + Jump move, which replaces the typical backflip and causes Lady to jump backwards while tossing a number of grenades to the foes in front of her. Ultimately, I found Lady to be a very technical character, and she's arguably the most unique choice in the roster. I'm usually a player that uses firearms somewhat sparingly, but playing as Lady offered some inventive ways to use them. Which I certainly appreciate. Finally, the last new character to grace the Special Edition is long-time femme fatale Trish. She was last playable in Devil May Cry 2, and thankfully the developers sought to flesh her out. Using her fists, the sword Sparda (the Force Edge's transformed state), the pistols Ebony and Ivory, the super weapon Pandora, and her demonic lighting powers, Trish is essentially DMC4: Special Edition's wildcard character. On the surface, she seems to be there just for eye-candy -- but in truth, Trish is one of the deadliest characters in the roster. With her focus being primarily on crowd control and group combat, many of her moves attack multiple foes at once, due in part to her range and lightning imbued attacks. To be totally honest, I initially I felt that Trish seemed overpowered, given that she has pretty easy access to such powerful weapons. Moreover, she's an incredibly flashy character, which has her pulling off a number of elaborate combos with ease. While developing DMC4:SE, the creatives wanted to have a character that allowed newcomers to get in easily, which meant removing the weapon-switch options and keeping her arsenal present at all times. Now before you grab your pitchforks over the thought of accessibility tied to DMC, do know that selecting Trish does not mean you picked the "you win" character. As I got more comfortable with her, I found a lot of nuance that required knowledge of enemy placement, range, and sheer timing on my part. Her moveset is very robust, and features larger depth in crowd control and focused attacks than the others. Her primary weapons are her fists, called Bare Knuckle, and it's the most robust unarmed moveset the series has ever had. Bare Knuckle takes advantage of her lighting powers, and gives each of her attacks a serious boost. Along with Sparda, which is set to the Style button (Circle on PS4), Trish uses the legendary sword as is with strikes and launchers, but she can also treat it like a boomerang to keep enemies locked in place with Round Trip, or to scoop up a group of foes towards her from a distance. Her ultimate move, however, is truly a sight to behold. As one of the longest combos in the game, Trish uses almost all of Sparda's moves in an intensive flurry, finishing off with her calmly using the legendary weapon as a golf club against the unfortunate foe. Simply put, she's a badass and an utter joy to watch cut loose. Fans of her Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 appearance will be pleased to know they've incorporated her moveset into DMC4:SE. One of her Bare Knuckle moves called Inazuma is an aerial kick that leaves streaks of energy in the environment, which can trap enemies in their place. Add in Sparda's round-trip ability, along with Trish's glorious take on Chun-Li's Spinning Bird Kick, and you've got potential to dish out some gnarly damage. During a quick trip into Legendary Dark Knight mode, I went to Mission 17's street area, which is notorious for featuring the largest number of enemies in the game. While other members of the roster may take some time to clear out the mobs, Trish was in her element and laid waste to the masses in a way that would make the characters from Dynasty Warriors sit down and watch her at work. Seriously, using Sparda's round-trip, along with Inazuma and Pandora's beam cannon (which uses some DT meter) against the mobs was like witnessing Satan's weed wacker at work. It was brutal, incredibly satisfying, and it was clear they didn't send enough enemies to fight. I remember playing as Trish in DMC2, and I was really disappointed that she was a reskin of Dante. Thankfully, DMC4:SE does the character justice. With the entire roster in mind, I felt that they all complement each other, and bring levels of panache that feels special, especially if you're willing to invest the time to learn and grow with them. But what truly impressed me the most was that each character brings something unique to the table. None of them felt half-baked or intended as a diversion from the other more established members. I was quite blown away by how much we're getting here. I spent about two hours tooling around with all the characters, and while Nero and Dante feel just as sharp and versatile as ever, I anticipate the newcomers will get all the attention come release, and with good reason. Although I was initially worried that the new characters would compound the tedium of the recycled environments, I was pleased to find that the new playstyles help to offer a refreshing take on the old encounters. That will certainly take the sting out of backtracking. Hopefully, anyway. But I still have to express my disappoint in that no new modes were added. However, this is one of the great aspects of the remaster trend. Much like its companion title DmC: Definitive Edition, it's allowing games from the previous gen that may have missed the mark to reach a greater potential and be the game fans want it to be. It's been such a long time since Capcom came out with a follow-up to the original DMC series, and Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition shows that it hasn't lost its touch one bit. It's looking to be an incredibly enticing package that revels in gloriously stupid action, and ain't that the best kind? As the Street Fighter of the action genre, this franchise has a large legacy to uphold. And if you were among those who weren't too keen on DmC Devil May Cry and yearned for a return to the classic series, you've now got your shot to do so. So take it. And don't forget to turn on Turbo Mode in the options menu. 
Devil May Cry photo
The time has come, and so have I
The Devil May Cry franchise has experienced some strange happenings in recent years. After the release of Ninja Theory's reboot and many debates among fans about what direction it should go next, the future of the franchise f...

Review: Mortal Kombat X

Apr 14 // Chris Carter
Mortal Kombat X (PC, PS3, PS4 [tested], Xbox 360, Xbox One) Developer: NetherRealm Studios, High Voltage Software (PS3, Xbox 360)Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive EntertainmentReleased: April 14, 2015 (PC, PS4, Xbox One) / June 2, 2015 (PS3, Xbox 360)MSRP: $59.99 It sounds absurd, but the story of Mortal Kombat 2011 is a tough act to follow. The universe was NetherRealm's playground, offering up alliances and betrayals at every turn. There were no rules, and it did a fantastic job to the point where I'd easily call it one of my favorite fighting game story modes ever. With Mortal Kombat X, it's not quite as over-the-top, unpredictable, or even as lengthy. After Shao Kahn's attempt to rule, Shinnok is up to his old tricks again, as was hinted in the previous ending. The warriors of Earthrealm managed to seal him within his amulet, but of course, certain evil characters have an agenda to fulfill, and the realms are once again in peril. Most of the campaign takes place 25 years later, allowing for a certain degree of progeny-based storylines to accompany the new additions to the roster. I'm really torn on the new roster in general (29 kombatants, with five as DLC), not just in terms of characterization, but gameplay as well. I'm a huge fan of Kotal Kahn, D'Vorah, and his gunslinging manservant Erron Black. Cassie Cage and Jacqui Briggs iterate enough on their parents (Sonya/Johnny and Jax respectively), but Kung Jin and Takeda feel like wasted slots to me. [embed]290360:58138:0[/embed] Takeda in particular has a really horrid background involving abandonment issues from his father Kenshi, and it comes across far cheesier than the rest of the game's attempts to link various relationships. For that matter, Cassie's role in the story feels incredibly forced as well. The strength of the roster overall hides these blemishes for the most part, including the absurd DLC practices by WB, as the on-disc world of Mortal Kombat X is definitely worth exploring, no matter how brief (the story clocks in at just several hours). I think the tone overall is funnier than the last game, and the action scenes are just as entertaining. A few players though (myself included) may feel like it's a bit too streamlined, particularly due to the fact that it eliminates all of the crazy parts of 2011 (like uber-hard boss battles and 1v2 matches) and sticks with standard 1v1 bouts. A lot of you out there will probably love the lack of frustration, but I felt like it was a tad too simplistic despite it being a fun ride. The core fighting system is relatively untouched though, which I'm more than okay with. Two punches, two kicks, and a block button are at the forefront of the game's mechanics, with simple command moves offering up concepts like slide kicks, teleport punches, and projectiles. The lovely three-tiered meter is back with EX moves (powered up command abilities), combo breakers, and X-Ray supers in tow, which is not only easy to pick up, but incredibly versatile. Combos aren't terribly long in Mortal Kombat X but they are complex, and the right ones can deal a deadly amount of damage. It's good then that you can break them by conserving your bar instead of always using X-Rays, and punish with EX moves that you will have access to on a regular basis. There's even advanced tactics like meter burn canceling to avoid punishes, and environmental cues (which can be toggled on or off) that allow you to use the background as a weapon or a jungle gym. As previously mentioned the roster is a great mix of styles, from rushdown to zoning, without going over-the-top with the latter. A number of characters have really interesting wake-up games and other tactics that advanced players will relish -- in other words, this is a pretty deep fighter that you'll have to spend some time with to really stand a chance. I love the new model designs and the engine, which feels decidedly less dated at launch. Existing characters like Ermac now have a lot more personality, which is perfectly accentuated through his move set, including three variations. Yep, every character in Mortal Kombat X has a choice of three modifiers, which in Ermac's case would allow him to fly, or gain access to a set of new command moves. It's not as complex as adding three new characters in my mind, but it will easily serve as a way to vex hardcore players as they'll have to learn every frame of every variant as they spend their time in the "lab" practicing. There are modes beyond the story of course, like Faction War, a meta-game that is constantly being played behind-the-scenes, Towers, a large collective of challenge rooms, and other tidbits like Test Your Might or Test Your Luck. Towers is probably the breakout hit in Mortal Kombat X, with traditional series of fights and "Living Towers," which rotate on a hourly, daily, and weekly basis. Test Your Luck is also a standout, providing random round parameters like "no arms" or other wacky statistical changes. It's perfect for people who don't normally excel at fighting games and don't want to learn every character's ins and outs. Faction War isn't really a game-changing concept, but it is a decent way to keep hardcore people playing. You'll have the choice of joining a certain clan or group at the start (praise Lin Kuei) for a bit of extra little fluff. Each match you win will contribute to your team's overall ranking, and fun rewards like more currency or bragging rights can be yours after a certain time period has passed. Just like the new first-person Krypt mode, it's a great extra to keep you playing even when you don't feel like fighting a traditional match. My experience with the netcode has been mixed. For a good while I'll have fairly uninterrupted matches, but online play is limited by the system NetherRealm currently has in place. In other words, if you are close to someone geographically, it will play better. This sounds like common sense, but in 2015 online gaming is so massive and so global that everything needs to work comprehensively. As such, some matches stuttered -- not to the point of fully breaking constantly -- but stuttering can be the difference between a win and a loss in a competitive match. If you have a local friend to play with this is a non-issue, as nearly every mode is available offline. Likewise, if most of your Mortal Kombat buddies aren't located across the globe, you should be mostly good to go. Mortal Kombat X's impact isn't as explosive as 2011, but it's well polished and a worthy successor. I think with a more reliable netcode it will grow into one of the biggest fighting games of 2015, and as more DLC characters are added to the roster, it will become even more enticing for that Komplete Kollection purchase. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher. A Goro unlock code was also provided on launch day.]
Mortal Kombat X photo
Still not ready for a series Fatality
Fighting game developers are in a really tough spot when it comes to sequels. If you don't iterate enough, newcomers will be tempted to call it a "rehash." If you iterate too much, hardcore fans may feel alienated by the vast...

As the first current-gen Naruto, Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is a huge visual leap

Apr 13 // Chris Carter
Naruto Shippūden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 (PC, PS4 [tested], Xbox One) Developer: CyberConnect2Publisher: Bandai Namco EntertainmentRelease: TBA 2015 Sometimes when a developer is able to focus solely on the production of a current-generation build, it shows. That's the case with Ultimate Ninja Storm 4, which is easily one of the best-looking anime games I've ever seen. Despite the screen being constantly filled with blasts, everything runs very smoothly, which is crazy when you consider the amount of detail present in nearly every battleground. For instance, one encounter had a giant animated nine-tails monster looming about, and even though it wasn't directly involved in the fight, its presence was felt. Since this is supposed to be the last game in the Ninja Storm series (the manga just ended), it will feature many elements from the final stretch of episodes, as well as the last film. New Ultimate Jutsu techniques are in, as are new characters like Hanabi Hyuga. Players will have the opportunity to switch leaders while playing story mode in many sequences, which was one of the most requested features from fans. I was able to chat a bit about the new game with the CEO of CyberConnect2, Hiroshi Matsuyama, who arrived at the event donned in an appropriate costume. When asked why he enjoyed working on the franchise so much, he responded, "I want to create a game where I'm satisfied as a fan first, and then I can know that fans will be happy. I wanted to support the series by creating a masterpiece to close out this chapter of Naruto." I asked him about the advantages of having new systems as a lead platform, and the biggest change that he is excited for is the focus on "bigger battlefields, with more open air. We want to really give players a sense of scale and we can do that now on the PS4 and Xbox One. There will also be more animations that weren't possible before, like costume damage details, even things like water extinguishing fire damage." From what I could tell based on my demo playthrough, these claims were true, as Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is ridiculously cinematic, almost like the equivalent of a Michael Bay movie in anime form. By that same token, it can be repetitive to watch said cinematic play out in an actual battle, like one fight that had a CPU character using the same 30-second invincible move every minute or so. The good news is once you get through it, it's off to another fantastic setting that looks nothing like the others, chained together through QTE transition phases. Naruto Shippūden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is looking great so far, and I'm really happy with CyberConnect2's decision to focus on newer platforms. It'll be interesting to see where its involvement with the Naruto series will go from here, because it is too good of a developer to stop now.
Naruto preview photo
A more authentic look
There are more Naruto games than one sane person can possibly handle. Although Bandai Namco Entertainment owns the license, a number of different developers have worked with the gaming side, most notably CyberConne...

Which low tier character will I waste my time on in Mortal Kombat X?

Apr 11 // Nic Rowen
When it comes to NetherRealm's fighters, I've been in top form. I took one look at Noob Saibot, the ninja-by-way-of-Darth-Vader, and decided to main him in Mortal Kombat 9. He was fiddly and awkward at close range, while being outclassed by more dynamic zoners at full screen where he was supposed (?) to dominate. Sure, his X-Ray move was undeniably dope, but when would you ever get a chance to use it when you were so busy eating Cyrax bombs and Kabal's aerial energy blasts? In Injustice, I mained Lex Luthor from day one and never looked back, even when facing ten game (and higher) losing streaks. Lex was a giant lug of a fighter with all the size and sluggishness of a grappler and none of the damage to back it up. He was a finesse character, based on set-ups and smart use of his hyper armor in a game where the most popular characters could evaporate half a health-bar with one combo and had moves specifically designed to ignore hyper armor. I doomed myself to living under Kryptonian tyranny and had only myself to blame. So which piece of deadweight will I pick up in Mortal Kombat X? Which character will I fall in love with early and stick by, despite it becoming increasingly apparent that they are absolute garbage? What kind of destructive co-dependent relationship will I get tangled up in this time? Quan Chi Quan Chi is a dark sorcerer shitbag that nobody likes, both in the fandom and in the series' narrative. He is a universally reviled toady, unsuccessfully scheming behind the back of whatever master he is currently serving like an incompetent, bald Starscream. The contrarian streak in me that identifies with underdogs finds these qualities strangely endearing (this is also why I'm doomed to fail). Quan has a couple of bizarre fighting styles that rely on the clever use of a summoned bat-demon or cheeky portals to force the opponent into mix-up situations and generally be an annoying jackass. He also has a variation that uses weird glyphs and symbols on the ground for a variety of effects, such as nullifying projectiles or pumping up his damage. Because that kind of gimmick couldn't possibly be a pain in the ass to try and use while Lui Kang pelts you with fireballs and bicycle-kicks right? Another trick-based finesse character that requires a lot of momentum to get going and can be shut down with a strong offense? Sounds like Lex all over again -- sign me up? I don't know, maybe I just have a thing for bald guys.   Jax MK 9's Jax had quite the character arc in the meta-game. He was one of the weakest members of the roster on release, but a few, possibly heavy handed, patches and buffs suddenly thrust him to the top of many tier lists. A real rags-to-riches story (or a great example of why fighting game players hate patches). Skilled Jax players could be a nightmare to deal with, hassling opponents from a distance with earthquakes and projectiles while utterly dominating up-close with powerful grabs and terrifying damage. Later patches toned him down a bit and in the end Jax retired as a respectable, but not spectacular kombatant. I'm not really interested in any of that. I honestly have no idea if Jax will be a ridiculously powerful demigod of command grabs in MK X, reduced back to his meek early MK 9 low tier hero status, or find some middle balance between the two extremes. I just think he looks awesome. Jax is a guy who pummels ninjas to death with a pair of robotic arms, which has been scientifically determined to be the coolest possible way to beat a ninja to death. He has a distinguished dash of salt and pepper in his beard, and the kind of preoccupation with cigars that I'm sure Freud would have something to say about. Or maybe not, considering he likes to alternatively snuff those cigars on his robotic fists, or the bloody neck-stump-turned-ashtray of his opponent. Jackson Briggs has it going on. If I can age half as gracefully (and cybernetically) as Jax, I'll die a happy man. I know it's an odd criteria, but if basing my fighting game character choices on aspirational life goals is wrong, I don't want to be right. Kotal Kahn Kotal Kahn is my wild card. He's a new character, so there's no telling if he'll be good or bad. On one hand, he was built with MK X's unique systems and play style in mind instead of being re-tooled to fit the mold. It's entirely possible he'll be an utter wrecking machine of sun-worshiping bad-assery. On the other, he hasn't had umpteen iterative appearances to figure out his place in the food chain, so maybe longtime favorites like Kung Lao will mop the floor with him using established fundamentals (such as -- hat throw, hat throw, hat throw, dive kick). This is all irrelevant. I've got my eye on Kotal because he looks like some kind of Aztec war-god, and that's pretty tough to beat aesthetically. Why would I want to throw a silly bladed hat at someone when I could fry them with divine sun beams, or cut their heart out with one of those cool wavy cult daggers? Kotal also as a variation where he carries around one of those crazy tribal swords that is basically a wooden board with a row of razor sharp sharks teeth inset along the edges, which seems like the worst thing mankind ever devised to cut another person in two with. It would be like being paddled by a frat brother and devoured by Jaws at the same time, two of my recurring nightmares condensed into one horrific device. I don't know how Quan, Jax, and Kotal will shake out. Going by my track record, the fact that I'm expressing any interest in them at all pretty much dooms them (so maybe you'll want to take this article as a cautionary tale and stay clear of them). Or maybe they'll turn out to be awesomely powerful specimens and I'll be retroactively accused of tier-whoring whenever I select them. It will be interesting to find out in a few months when people have had a chance to dig into MK X and test their might. Until then, I'd be interested to hear what characters you're excited about. Do you plan on sticking with the tried and true like Scorpion and Raiden? Will you embrace the next generation of fighters and take selfies with Cassie Cage and her crew? Or are you going to be that one freaky dude who mains Ferra/Torr from day one and beats everyone down Master Blaster style? At the end of the day, tier placement really doesn't mean much, what matters is your skill and enjoyment. As long as you're having fun and improving your game, any character is the right choice.
Low tier heroes photo
You do it to yourself, you do, and that's what really hurts
They say you should never marry for love, but I always do. Every single damn time. I guess you could call me a romantic. If you felt like being less charitable (and possibly more accurate), you could call me a scrub. I couldn...

Won't somebody think of the children?

Apr 09 // Nic Rowen
[embed]290207:58107:0[/embed] Thankfully, I had a secret weapon to get MK off the black list in my home. Aside from being a nightmarish murder simulator, I knew that MK was also fucking ridiculous; a fact all those self-serious senators stumping on the public decency ticket always seemed to forget to mention. Despite all the media hubbub, my mom was, thankfully, still inclined to give me the benefit of the doubt and listen to reason. We struck a deal, I'd be allowed to rent the neutered, bloodless SNES version under the condition that she would watch as my brother and I played it. If she felt it was too violent for our sensibilities or somehow mentally damaging, she would banish it straight back to the Netherrealm of Blockbuster Video and the veto would stand. In the end she didn't watch for more than an hour before realizing that MK was just too stupid to be considered harmful. When you break it down, MK is a game about karate men fighting each other one-on-one to save the world from a four-armed claymation monster and his boss who looks suspiciously like Lo Pan from Big Trouble in Little China. Even the famed gore of the series, when not breathlessly described by a dour parental advocacy spokesperson, was too dumb and cheap looking to take seriously. The production values on those original fatalities were a joke, character sprites awkwardly sticking into and through each other at angles and depths that don't line up quite right. The obvious cost-cutting steps of re-purposing animations and sprites stole a certain degree of gravitas from the executions. MK 1 has the same disarming flimsiness of a student film effort about zombies. It's hard to take stumbling freshmen in thrift store clothes splattered with red food coloring seriously -- the effect is more slapstick than sinister. My brother and I were left alone to throw fireballs and exchange uppercuts with the understanding that we weren't to tell anyone we were allowed to play MK (because who wants to have to explain that to the other moms) and that any attempt to actually rip a sibling's heart out would result in a summary grounding. I thought it was a pretty fair compromise. I felt mature. I was proud that I was able to hold my ground and defend a piece of media I thought was being unfairly vilified. But more than that, I was gratified that my mom believed in my ability to separate fantasy from reality. To know my own boundaries and limits and be able to compartmentalize what was totally rad in a game, but horrific in real life. Which is why I feel like the biggest, shittiest hypocrite in the world when I worry about kids playing MK X. It makes me feel like a crusty old man shaking his fist at those damn kids for doing the exact same thing he did when he was younger. I want to be able to extend the same charity, the same vigorous defense I gave MK 1 to MK X of the difference between fantasy and reality. But holy shit, have you seen this game? It is CRAZY. The way bones snap and break during x-ray moves, how skin will peel and tear to reveal musculature and ligaments, the fully detailed models of organs and intestines that are ripped apart and strewn about during fatalities, it's just so -- ewww. You can't say the game is too silly to take seriously anymore. If anything, if I were a kid now trying to convince my mom to let me play MK X, I think I'd probably focus on how it would be a great way to study up on human anatomy for biology class. Now don't get me wrong, this isn't the twist ending where I say it turns out all those senators and other finger wagglers from back in the day were right all along. They were wrong (and hysterically stupid) then, and they're wrong now. I still don't think MK X is intrinsically harmful. I don't think that the kids who weasel their way into playing it (and I absolutely guarantee they will) and watch Scorpion cut Sub-Zero's face off to let his brains slide out on the pavement will turn into a generation into of serial face-slicers. But I also know I'd hesitate to let a nine-year-old play MK X, especially a nine-year-old I was in charge of raising and ensuring didn't turn into a complete sociopath. I also know I'd probably feel a certain brand of ugly judgmental smugness, a lofty “tsk, tsk,” over any parent or guardian who didn't. There is a disconnect there that I can recognize but have trouble explaining, even to myself. Because at its core, I don't think MK X is really all that different from MK 1. Ed Boon is honestly just making the same game he has been making for 20 years. I don't think he is a different person now, that over the past two decades he really has taken the villain's part and is trying to corrupt young minds. The tone and intention of the MK series hasn't really changed at all, it's still all about silly ninja-men killing each other in completely ludicrous ways. But the technology behind that intention HAS changed. With two decades of graphical advancement and a production budget that dwarfs the cost of anything imaginable in 1992, MK X has reached a point where the fatalities and violence really ARE as gory and disturbing as the moral hand-wringers always claimed. This is the source of that disconnect for me. I've always defended the MK series as campy fun under the guise of gritty violence, and I still absolutely believe that is true. While the fatalities are not as outwardly silly as Johnny Cage uppercutting a guy so hard three heads pop off, they still rely on a completely over-the-top kind of violence that goes so far it loops back to comedy. When Kano cuts open his opponent's ribcage mid-match, only for his victim to promptly stand back up and continue fighting like nothing happened, I think there is still a sort of winking-at-the-camera comedy there. “Don't worry, none of this is too serious.” But the joke isn't as plain to see anymore, and it's even more difficult to articulate to others. There is a small shitty part of me that worries that kids won't “get it.” Ironically, part of the technological advancement that has made MK X slightly uncomfortable compared to its predecessors also ensures that there has never been an easier time for kids to circumnavigate any attempts to keep that material away from them. I mean, not that any of those efforts have ever worked. When I was a kid trying to play MK in 1992, my back-up plan if mom did ban the game was to just sneak off to the arcade or go over to a friend's house who had slightly less strict parents and play it there. Now, thanks to downloads, YouTube clip reels, and streaming Let's Play series, kids won't even have to leave the house to sneak a peek at a few fatalities. And overall, it's probably for the best. You can't stop culture or technology. Games will get gorier and crazier, and kids will find their way to them younger and younger. If little Johnny is going to eventually see a bisected brainpan or a perforated liver in full anatomical exactitude, he might as well see it in MK X; a game that is ultimately stupid and non-hateful (and I mean that in the most affectionate sense). So won't somebody think of the children? Well I have, and it's complicated and uneasy and difficult, but at the end of the day the old tricks are probably still the best tricks. Kids will play MK X, and it's going to be a little fucked up. But with proper parental oversight and a good explanation of boundaries and the divide between fantasy and reality, it shouldn't be anymore harmful than watching a 16-bit Johnny Cage awkwardly stick his foot kinda, sorta, into another digitized sprite. With that off my chest and out of my brain, I can get back to feeding Quan Chi to a buzzsaw-hat -- guilt free.
MK X Gore photo
Decapitations for the YouTube generation
When I was a little boy, Mortal Kombat was a tough sell around my home. Like most pre-adolescents of the era, I was darkly attracted to the idea of ninjas and movie stars decapitating each other in bouts of gladiatorial comba...

Rainbow Six Siege is coming along nicely, if the closed alpha is any indication

Apr 08 // Chris Carter
This week, the Rainbow Six Siege closed alpha kicked off, featuring one mode (Hostage Rescue), two maps (a house and an airport), and 10 Operators (classes). Although playing a single gametype can lead to a certain degree of tedium after a while, I really enjoyed seeing the core components at work, and I think it'll be worth checking out come release time later this year. Hostage Rescue hosts a very simple premise: two sides, each playing the role of either offense or defense. Before the match actually begins, a prequel phase of sorts occurs, with the offense commanding rolling drones to locate the target, and the defense setting up barricades to hinder the capture of the hostage. It's a really fun mechanic, as drones can leap through the air and the defenders can blow them up after locating them. There's quite a bit of stuff to do during this phase on either side. Teams can hole up with the hostage, or go out in the open, put down barbed wire on chokepoints like stairs, or tactically leave drones in a spot that will have a lot of foot traffic -- allowing an attacker to switch views mid-match to get a better look. Those on the offensive will have plenty of fun rappelling off walls with the tap of a button (with the ability to go inverted at will), and defenders can set up their own labyrinthine corridors and traps to thwart the other team. While asynchronous multiplayer has the tendency to favor one side in terms of fun factor, I really liked playing both. Classes are very unique, leading to some interesting counters. For instance one defender has the ability to see through walls at short distances, and one attacker can set charges to blow through barricades. At one point a player blew away an attacker while he was setting an explosive through the barricade while another player blasted through the ceiling and took him out. There are some "iron bars" in place so you can't literally bring the whole house down, but it's open-ended enough. When choosing a loadout, players can very clearly see the icons of your team across the top, so even without direct voice communication you can get a well-rounded composition of classes. Teams choose their spawnpoints (and thus, where the hostage is located on the defense) for each round, and deaths are permanent until the next one starts. Because of the nature of shifting spawns, teams can both enter and defend the house in a multitude of ways every time. In terms of its pedigree as a first-person shooter, Siege runs very smoothly on PC, and thank goodness, it's not going to be held back by the previous generation -- it's set to only appear on Xbox One and PS4. The controls are very easy to pickup, but the two shoulder buttons assigned to each classes' unique abilities is where the learning curve starts. Bullets have weight to them, and blowing away walls is satisfying every time. It's too early to tell how Rainbow Six Siege will really turn out, but I'm impressed so far. It seems to have a great class system on its shoulders, and there's a good mix of action and tactical gameplay abound. I can see this becoming a really fun eSport to watch if there are interesting teams involved.
Rainbow Six Siege photo
Classes done right
Rainbow Six has had quite an interesting history. After playing it in 1998 on a friend's PC I fell in love, and so did mostly everyone else in the gaming community. For a full decade, Ubisoft pumped out game after game, most ...

What is your favorite Souls series boss?

Apr 07 // Chris Carter
Chris Carter: Ornstein & Smough I'm already a sucker for humanoid encounters already, so a dance with two of the most fearsome warriors in all of Lordran is pretty much a perfect situation for me. It helps that they were sufficiently tenacious in taking me down, leading to the source of most of my deaths in all of Dark Souls. It wasn't just the fight that was memorable though. Forging on to Anor Londo for the first time and seeing the stark contrast of brightly lit skies was breathtaking, and felt like a brief respite from the challenging areas that lied ahead. Stephen Turner: Capra Demon The Capra Demon scared the shit out of me. Then I realised he had a problem with stairs. He didn't seem too scary after that. Also, Moonlight Butterfly because I made the ghost witch with the big hat do all the hard work while I cowered in the corner. Honestly, I gave up after the Gaping Dragon and stopped at the gates of Blighttown. Never went any further than that. I heard there was a lot of poisoning going around and it was a bit rundown, so I imagined it looked exactly like Swansea. Occams: Gravelord Nito Talk about doing more with less?!  Just a writhing ball of skeletons wearing darkness like a cloak.  And it's arm ending in that wicked scythe. For such a simple design, it conveys a lovely sense of dread and power. From Software could have made Nito some undead Lord and gone the ornate route.  Instead, they focused on making it a primal force of nature.  For me, this elevates Nito to one of the most memorable designs in a series rife with amazing bosses. Mike Martin: The Asylum Demon Meeting him for the first time set the tone of the game and showed you what you were in for. His size, his design and his moves all seemed to be designed to intimidate. It's not a hard a fight at all, but it really sucked me into the world. From the moment he crashed down from his chicken-like flight, swinging his hammer, destroying pillars I knew this was a game I was going to be absorbed and challenged by. Best tutorial ever. Ben Davis: Tower Knight I think the Tower Knight from Demon's Souls will always be my favorite Souls boss, although a few other bosses from the later games, like Sif and the Looking Glass Knight, come pretty close. The Tower Knight was the second Souls boss I ever fought, and it's all thanks to him that I fell in love with Demon's and the series in general. The Tower Knight beat me to a pulp so many times that I didn't want to play the game anymore, but everything about the battle (aside from the losing) was so awesome that I couldn't stop thinking about it. The music, the sheer scale of the giant knight, the knowledge that I could die in an instant if I made even the slightest mistake...something about all of this made me feel like this was a game I needed to beat, a game I would love if I was ever able to master it. And so I came back and finally beat the Tower Knight, and promptly fell in love with Demon's Souls. Nic Rowen: Black Dragon Kalameet There are more imaginative bosses (Smough and Ornstein), ones with better atmosphere (Nito, Gwyn), and better soundtracks (Seath), but Kalameet is the one and only dragon I've ever fought in a videogame that actually felt like fighting a dragon. After watching Kalameet douse the entire battlefield in black flame, snatch an adventurers life away with a quick swipe of his tail, or pound through a knight's tower shield with relentless tearing claws, who could ever go back to the listless, floaty dragons of Skyrim or even the immobile Dragon God of Demon Souls? Jordan Devore: Gwyn, Lord of Cinder As you push through the fog gate leading into Gwyn's ash-covered domain, he's off in the distance, waiting patiently. It's all come down to this. Somber music fades in and the Lord of Cinder charges at you, culminating in a massive leap with his fiery sword aimed at your chest. After fighting and slaying so many huge bosses that looked scary at first glance but ended up being clumsy or easy to read, Gwyn intimidates. He's not much bigger than you, but he's swift and persistent. For me, the hardest part of this duel wasn't timing individual blocks, or rolls, or sword strikes during vulnerable moments -- it was remaining calm throughout the entire fight. And when I finally did kill Gwyn many attempts later, any satisfaction I felt was quickly replaced by another feeling: guilt. From Software somehow made me feel guilty for killing the final boss. Kyle MacGregor: Tower Knight The encounter with the Tower Knight is far and away the most indelible moment I've experienced in a From Software game. Just crossing paths with the hulking warrior means charging across a bridge patrolled by a giant fire-breathing dragon and a small army of men armed to the teeth with crossbows and other instruments of death. And it gets no easier upon reaching the end of the line. The Tower Knight is an utterly massive, imposing figure. He stands two stories tall, greeting players with a stomp of his colossal solleret and impenetrable tower shield. Behind him a clown-like man chuckles, as dozens of crossbowmen flank the player from the surrounding ramparts. The battle figures to be a short one where the player either ends up riddled with crossbow bolts or flattened under the behemoth's boot. Then the music kicks in. It's an eerie chant accompanied by unsettling horns and strings that heightens the mood. It's harrowing. Death seems all but certain. More so than the Phalanx before it, the Tower Knight sets the tone of what players can expect out of Demon's Souls and the rest of the series. This doesn't feel like a fair fight. Not in the slightest. But if you keep your wits about you and are persistent you'll eventually triumph. It's an incredible challenge, but a totally surmountable one. And that victory is all the sweeter for your hardships.
Favorite Souls bosses photo
It's hard to pick just one
Yesterday, we talked about From Software Director Hidetaka Miyazaki's favorite boss fight from the Souls series. Interestingly enough it was the Old Monk from Demon's Souls, an encounter that blurred the l...

Review: Evolve: The Hunt Evolves Update

Mar 31 // Nic Rowen
Evolve: The Hunt Evloves Update (PC [reviewed], PS4, Xbox One)Developer: Turtle Rock StudiosPublisher: 2K GamesReleased: March 31, 2015MSRP: $24.99 Hunting Season Pass (includes all four hunters), $7.49 individually, $14.99 for Behemoth (or included with pre-order Monster Expansion Pack) The update includes four new hunters, one for each class. These characters are included in the $24.99 Season Pass, or can be bought individually for a dubious $7.49. Of course they are included in the ridiculous $99 PC Monster Race Pack if you bought that. Each new hunter is a fully fleshed out character with fresh abilities, new lines of dialogue, and new ways to take on Shear's wildlife. The new Trapper, Crow, reeks of edgy mid-'90s design sensibilities. He's dark, broody, and has a pet bat-thing to help him track the monster. So spooky. Crow's massive sniper rifle can shoot rapid-fire bursts, or charge up a single power-shot that will bypass the monster's armor and rip into its permanent health. Very nasty. Similarly, his stasis gun can be fired willy-nilly to slightly slow the monster down or stop it in its tracks with a charged shot. Knowing when to charge and when to spam seems to be key to playing Crow well. 50% robot and 100% MANLY, Torvlad is the new Assault character. He sports a no-nonsense beard, tattoos over his shirtless chest, cybernetic limbs, and wears a gigantic twin mortar launcher on his back. The dude means business. Of all the new characters, Torvlad's play style jived with me the least. While his mortar launcher does tremendous damage, its indirect fire takes a moment to land which can be fiddly and difficult to aim on a rampaging monster. I imagine with some great teamwork and practice he could be a beast, but when compared to Parnell's point-and-click rocket launcher, Torvlad seems like more work than he's worth. Slim is the new Medic and I really love his design. The result of genetic experimentation, he's got a total Cronenberg thing going on, looking more insect than human. Despite his odd appearance, Slim acts and talks like a normal affable dude, setting up some of the funniest interactions in the game. Slim's whole gimmick revolves around his healing burst, which has a far greater range than the other Medics. Successful hits from his default weapon reduce the cooldown time on his burst, and because of its long range he can generally heal the entire group in a fight, encouraging him to play aggressively. He also gets a nifty healing drone that can tag along after a hunter. It's squishy, but can heal while on the run or revive downed friends remotely. I can easily see Slim becoming the new go-to Medic for random games. Lastly, Sunny, representing the Support class, is a real treat. Another character that seems to borrow abilities from other characters, but adds a fresh twist to make them her own. She has a grenade launcher similar to Caira but with a lot more oomph, and can generate energy shields like the Duck Dynasty dude, but has a drone to do it for her -- freeing her up to lob more grenades, yay! She can also supercharge her teammate's jetpacks with an energy beam, perfect for giving your Trapper the extra lift he or she needs to get the mobile arena up over the monster. Sunny seems super handy and is probably my favorite of the new hunters. Also, her extra robot arm/glove is adorable. The new monster, Behemoth, is a rock creature with a passion for squishing things and a serious aversion to heights. Unique among the monsters, Behemoth has no leaping or flying ability and must trundle his way around the map on foot. His mobility is supplemented by the ability to climb up almost any sheer surface, and by occasionally curling up into a boulder and rolling around like a giant petrified Sonic the Hedgehog. Still not super speedy by any means, Behemoth must rely on smart use of his attacks and other abilities to stay ahead of the hunters. Players hoping to get their money's worth out of Behemoth are going to want to learn how to use his rock wall ability ASAP. Slamming both fists into the ground, Behemoth can spontaneously generate a fairly large wall of rubble in front of him. This is good for creating an impassible barrier in choke points to get away from the hunting pack, or for separating one unfortunate hunter from the others for a beatdown. His lava bombs function on the same idea, allowing him to create damaging pools of fire that further restrict the hunter's movement. Rounding out his tool set is an area-of-effect shockwave attack that will travel up walls, and a tongue lash that can capture prey at a distance and drag them in close, Scorpion style. Overall, he seems like a monster that relies more on positioning and using the environment than raw force. While billed as the "tank" of the monsters, trading mobility for sheer tenacity, Behemoth went down disappointingly quickly in my games against him. That's not just a #humblebrag -- a TRS producer confirmed during a livestream that the beast is suffering from some bugs that are curbing his survivability at the moment. The leading theory is that the hitbox of his weak point is too big and is getting clipped by shots that should be striking his more protected areas. This is an issue that should be fixed in the near future, but is still disappointing for players who ponied up the cash for Behemoth expecting a fearsome monster only to get a broken bird. Personally, it was hard to tell if this bug was the problem, or if Behemoth's size and sluggishness was the real culprit. Hitbox and health issues aside, Behemoth's lack of mobility seems to be a real Achilles' heel. While most monsters are able to avoid the full brunt of an orbital strike or Torvlad's mortars, Behemoth, especially if hampered by tranqs or traps, just gets hammered by them. Smart rock monsters will definitely want to pick their battles inside caves and buildings to avoid the worst of these attacks and play to his strengths, but considering most map objectives are outside this may be difficult. Behemoth, surprisingly, is not included in the Hunting Season Pass. If you want to play as this new beast, you'll either need to have the pre-order bonus Monster Expansion Pack, or pay out another $15. I'm not an accountant, but shelling out almost a quarter of the cost for a full game for ONE character seems like a tough sell. In fact, this entire update is incredibly pricey. If you want to get everything (and didn't pre-order) you're looking at another $40 for a game that barely felt worth $60 at launch. There are some free bells and whistles included in this update as well. A new Observer Mode has been added that will allow players to spectate matches from a variety of angles and perspectives. It's a very robust spectator mode, with support for shoutcasting and variable HUD options to best keep track of everybody's condition. I'm sure there are some hardcore fans of Evolve who will love this mode, but for most of us it will be firmly relegated to the "oh, that's nice I guess" pile. There are also two new maps out apparently. However, they are exclusive to the Xbox One version of the game for now and will only be available for PC and PS4 players next month. Sadly, as a PC player, I haven't been able to test those maps out yet, and while the idea of timed exclusives makes me grumpy, it's great to see Turtle Rock Studios add content to the game for everyone and not fracture the community behind paywalls. Kudos where kudos are due. I love these new characters -- they're undeniably fun to play and drip with personality. I think Behemoth could be cool (when he gets patched at least). But at the cost they are commanding, I can't recommend them in good conscience. This entire pack, hunters, monsters, and all feels like it should cost $15, or be the first installment of the Season Pass, not the entire thing. If you're a diehard Evolve fan still playing regular matches, then maybe consider the new hunters. I wouldn't even think about Behemoth until he gets fixed, and even then I'd advise waiting, both to see how his metagame plays out and for a price cut. There is nothing here that should attract new players or even bring back lapsed hunters who have already moved on to other titles. I don't usually soapbox about prices for game content, but the cost-to-value ratio for these packs is borderline insulting. If you already bought the Season Pass at launch, chalk it up to a lesson learned and enjoy the new hunters. If you haven't, don't support this kind of fleecing. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Evolve update review photo
Caught in a snare
More than a month ago Evolve came out to tepid reactions and muted fanfare. Today's release of the game's first major content update, delivering on the Hunting Season Pass and the pre-order Monster Expansion Pack, might have ...

Review: Forza Horizon 2 Presents Fast & Furious

Mar 31 // Steven Hansen
[embed]289632:57948:0[/embed] Forza Horizon 2 Presents Fast & Furious (Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Playground GamesPublisher: Microsoft StudioReleased: March 27, 2015MSRP: Free until April 10, then $9.99 Steven: I don't got friends... I got family. Want to talk about 2 Forza 2 Furious? Brett: Yeah, we can talk for review. Start with some dialogue, send it, and I'll respond. S: Too late. I'm counting the preceding as "started." Everyone is going to see how the Destructoid sausage gets made. Boring fucking emails. I am so very torn (I'm all out of faith, this is how I feel) on Forza Horizon 2 Presents Fast & Furious. On one hand, I am playing a free (without Xbox Live, but only until April 10) sampling of Forza Horizon 2 that feels like it contains enough of what Forza Horizon 2 is about -- especially to me, as not a car person. On the other hand, the Fast & Furious partnership that bore this free thing feels too crass, too spurious. It's just not there thematically because this is still Forza Horizon 2 (a very fun car driving game). NOS and racing for pinks feel like set dressing. Ludacris' voice over linking races just feels sort of bland. They couldn't even throw in a "Did you see that?" B: Fantastic Natalie Imbruglia reference aside (I have a whole story about "Left of the Middle" for another day), this feels less Fast & Furious and more like a large-scale demo for Forza Horizon 2. If I can add a third and fourth hand to your two, this might be the best that Forza Horizon 2 ever gets. No boring C and D class races -- just fun cars, and a campaign with a digestible scope. However, the Fast & Furious veneer isn't fooling anyone. The one-minute unskippable movie sizzle reel at the beginning is the strongest the tie-in ever gets. I don't know that anyone expected this to be anything more than fan-service, but it barely qualifies as that. The NOS mechanic is the one alteration made to gameplay, and it doesn't even do anything! It adds a filter to indicate that you're going real fast, but you don't actually gain ground on other cars. Maybe they're all using their NOS at the exact same time I am. If so, it's uncanny how that keeps happening. S: It's probably the weakest boost I've felt in a racer. Seems to slowly up your top speed on straightaways. The digestible scope thing is interesting because for as short as it is in terms of providing you with explicit objectives, the pace felt kind of whack. I already drove a McLaren in one of those skill point challenges before I won one in a race, and even then it was arguably not better than the Nissan GTR I used to win it. Plus, the few more cars you unlock down the line mostly drop from these super cars to A level or whatever, and it's like, why am I going to trade down? If you're a car nut, I guess. Or really want to drive a Jeep Wrangler. Races are engaging at any level, though, whether your top speed is around 90 or 200 mph which is good because the latter half in the race progression doesn't solely scale to super cars and will make you pick out other options in your garage. The skill point challenges, on the other hand, are rather dull or too easy. I drove around haphazardly burning out and running into things and aced most of them without much effort, save for the one that was like 25,000 points, which just took a bit longer. On the other hand, one challenge that was a combination of the two -- race to an end point in under two minutes and score 15 near misses with other cars -- was a nice mix and fit a bit more into the Fast & Furious theme of skilled drivers doing exceptional and cool things with cars. Even if "get close to but don't hit this many cars for no particular reason" is, well, arbitrary. Being able to come in first place consistently despite being a horrible driver that crashes monstrously evokes the opposite feeling, despite helping to keep things light. B: That isn't so much a problem that's inherent to this particular piece of content, so much as it is of Forza Horizon in general. And, if you want to go broader, it's really the case for any racer that doesn't pride itself on being simulation-like, or whatever. I mean, it's easy to forget when the mediums stay in their respective corners, but when you try crossing them over, you realize that in a lot of ways, Forza Horizon 2 basically already was Fast & Furious: The Videogame. That is to say, it's just a lot of fast racing and over-the-top stunts that generally require a suspension of belief. The #synergy between the two franchises is obvious, so the tie-in makes sense on a base level. However, tacking a movie known for being ridiculous on top of a game known for being ridiculous elevates expectations in a way that's near impossible to deliver on. This game falls flat in that sense, because those are heights this never had a chance to soar to. S: That's it. This is fun because Forza Horizon is fun and it is nice that it's free (until April 10), glorified demo that it is, but it makes me yearn for an actual Fast & Furious game with a "Press F to drink a Corona" prompt and a Han lives retcon. [This review is based on a retail build of the game downloaded for free on the Xbox Marketplace.]
Fast & Furious Forza photo
Just a quarter mile
Forza Horizon has long been considered the Fast & Furious of games, so this standalone release makes sense. Unfortunately. it's not much more than a thin, thin Fast & Furious skin over Forza Horizon 2, a bit of a disa...

Review: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare: Ascendance

Mar 31 // Chris Carter
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare: Ascendance DLC (PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Sledgehammer Games (Current-gen) / High Moon Studios (Last-gen)Publisher: ActivisionReleased: March 31, 2015MSRP: $14.99 ($50 Season Pass for four packs) Site 244 is Call of Duty's take on Mount Rushmore, with a tad more destruction and radioactive waste to boot. Set to the theme of a ruined test site, the map looks cooler than it actually plays. The constant attention to detail is something you'll notice immediately, and the actual mountain itself isn't immediately apparent unless you look up in the distance. Unfortunately, the cheap crag-like layout feels limiting in a game that's supposed to be about freedom of movement. The layout is handicapped by "paths," which are basically just giant crags that block you from experimentation and herd you into various chokepoints. Because of its aesthetic value I don't necessarily vote to skip it during the loadout screen, but I'm not thrilled with it either. Another map in the bunch, Climate, follows the same style-over-functionality principle with a gorgeous design and a boring layout. It reminds me of Zoo on paper, one of my favorite maps of all time, but the layout itself is similar to Site 244 in that it feels far too restrictive. It's very flat outside of one particular quadrant, and you'll spend a lot of time shooting across long stretches and hallways, which feels counter-productive with an outdoor map. Filling the area with acid is a nice touch that occurs later in a match, but it's not enough to really make this one stand out. One arena shines above all others in the pack -- Perplex. It takes place in a five story apartment complex in the heart of Sydney, Australia, and it's just as amazing as it looks. Both the background (with the Sydney Opera House and active sailboats) and the interiors of Perplex look painstakingly crafted, and you can even see the details like the weather channel on TV, which at this point, is actually visible on-screen sans blur. It doesn't end there though as the design is genius, providing a five-story meta-game that has players constantly moving up and down to get a proper vantage point. It's also neat to see new modular apartments being flown in by drones, which end up being part of the level. As a welcome surprise, Perplex is now one of my all-time favorite new Call of Duty maps. With the new grapple playlist (more on that in a second), it's even more enjoyable.  While Site 244 and Climate felt different enough to justify the identity of the DLC, Chop Shop just feels like a decent map that should have been included in the base game. It feels like a mix of Horizon and Ascend from pretty much every angle, which you already paid for. Every time I geared up for Chop Shop it didn't feel premium in any way, but it's a decent map for objective-based games if that's your thing. To add a little oomph to Ascendence, you'll also net the OHM-Werewolf gun, as well as the aforementioned grapple playlist. The weapon itself is an SMG-shotgun hybrid that shoots blue energy bullets, able to switch between both modes of fire with a quick d-pad tap. It feels new without being overpowered, as you're inherently limited by your lack of range no matter what toolkit you use. The grapple playlist ended up being a joy to play, as everyone's Exo powers are eliminated and replace with a grappling hook, which can be used mid-jump or to scale pretty much anything. With a low cooldown meter you can pretty much grapple at all times, and it's just as fun as it sounds. Of course, the main attraction for many is the Exo Zombies mode, which also comes with a new map called Infection. It takes place in a decidedly less industrial setting, with a burger joint and an interconnected sewer system. Long time fans will remember Burger Town, which has been a "Pizza Planet"-like Easter Egg since Modern Warfare 2. The more I play Exo Zombies the more I really start to see the effort that was put into it, as zombies don't just aimlessly shamble along through windows like they did in the past -- they slip through cracks and dynamically approach you throughout the level, even if their spawn points are scripted. It's also nice to see Activision commit to an interesting cast (Bill Paxton, John Malkovich, Rose McGowan, and Jon Bernthal) rather than have them as a one-off like past DLCs. The Exosuit (once you locate it) continues to add an extra layer to the classic co-op formula, as double-jumping and air-dashing is still just as exciting when you're running from zombies. And you'll need to run, as there's plenty of formidable foes that can infect you or shut down your Exosuit temporarily. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare doesn't really have a killer Season Pass so far, but if you're still into zombies, it's worth the investment -- mostly because you can't even access the mode without buying some form of DLC. There are a few flashes of brilliance in the maps delivered in Havoc and Ascendance, but I'm hoping that John Malkovich and the crew won't have to carry so heavy a load for the next two add-ons. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
COD DLC review photo
A new meaning for Cyrus 'The Virus'
I've come to really enjoy Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare's multiplayer months down the line. It's withstood the test of time, and although I was skeptical of Sledgehammer Games' first Duty outing, it has done a decent jo...

Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China gives the series a fresh perspective

Mar 31 // Alessandro Fillari
Assassin's Creed Chronicles (PC, PS4, Xbox One [previewed])Developer: Climax StudiosPublisher: Ubisoft Release date: April 21, 2015 (Episode One) / Fall 2015 (Episodes Two and Three) "It's a very exciting and very challenging project to work on," said lead game designer Xavier Penin. "[Ubisoft] had a pretty [sizable] pitch for the project and wanted them to be short, episodic, and each of the stories would have their own specific artstyles that fit the character and time period. We knew we had to focus our efforts on making something that didn't just feel like a smaller Assassin's Creed." For the first episode, Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China, players take on the role of female assassin Shao Jun, who fans might recognize from the animated film Assassin's Creed Embers. Picking up some time after the events of Embers in 1526, Shao Jun returns to China after her training with Ezio Auditore and seeks revenge against Emporer Jiajing of the Ming Dynasty after the massacre of the Chinese Assassin Brotherhood. During her exploits, she'll acquire new abilities and contacts that will help in her quest, and revitalize the Assassin presence in 16th-century China. China has been a top requested location from fans, along with a playable Shao Jun, and seeing it come to pass is exciting. In the three levels I played, set in The Forbidden City and Fujian Province, we got to experience a starkly different setting and visual palette not seen from the series. Moreover, the brief taste of the India and Russia episodes we saw also feature their own art styles and aesthetic. Granted, the nature of this downloadable title allows them to try different settings, but I was blown away by the potential AC has in such lush environments. This enthusiasm was also shared by the folks behind the title. [embed]289710:57987:0[/embed] "When we were going to do this game with [Shao Jun], I was really excited about it and wanted to get all the information about background and her story, but it was actually pretty thin," said Penin. "So eventually we decided to come up with new ideas and settings, beyond Embers, and we came up with a story that AC fans will enjoy." Understandably, the switch from 3D to 2.5D has brought some changes to the action-stealth gameplay. For the most part, players will still traverse the environment with free-running maneuvers while avoiding detection, and only using combat as a last resort. Players will run and leap across obstacles in the environment and move between the foreground and background during traversal. I was impressed with the depth shown in the environments, and I was quite surprised that areas shown off were largely interactive. In one section during a prison escape, I had to find my gear before making an exit, which meant having to search for a guard's keys. After traveling through a hallway, I entered a large cavern housing dozens of prison cells. Off in the distance in the background, there were several guards making their rounds near a number of prisoners. From the foreground, I jumped onto a fallen pillar, which allowed me seamlessly run across to the background of the environment, which had its own unique layout and design. It was neat to be able to see how much depth the levels have, and the later levels show off much more intuitive and clever design. The stealth gameplay has had a bit of change, however, and the assassins now have to rely more on shadows and darkness to slip past their foes. Instead of the line-of-sight design from past titles, Chronicles utilizes a vision cone system. Similar to Mark of the Ninja's gameplay, all enemies can see and hear only a certain distance ahead of them, which gives you the means to figure out the best way around them. While it's still very much AC, the new design feels different. The lead designer elaborated a little further with how they went about re-designing AC stealth for 2.5D. "We had a lot of work to find the right recipe because this is the type of gameplay that require precise signs of feedback," said Penin. "We experimented a lot with the detection system, which focuses on cones of vision that work really well because it shows accurately in the 2D perspective. While some people initially thought [the visual representation of enemy line of sight] got in the way of the art style, ultimately the function allowed for us to design the stealth for players to be more interesting." Though you can easily avoid all conflicts by sticking in the shadows or hiding inside doorways or off the sides of ledges, there are a whole assortment of gadgets that Shao Jun has at her disposal, such as the rope dart which can sling enemies and help her traverse to new heights. The action and pace of the stealth from past games is present, though there seems to be much more thought put into it. Some sections felt like actual puzzles more than action-stealth gameplay, and I mean that as a good thing. The narrowing of the perspective put a lot more depth into this facet of gameplay, and it was refreshing to have a more refined approach to it. I'm also quite impressed with the visual aesthetic of Chronicles. The developers have stated that each episode will have a unique look to it, and China's style is stunning in its representation of perpetual autumn and uses of inkblot-style visuals and palettes. The colors are vibrant and lush, and the shadows and darkness show a certain roughness, as if it's a place that only the Assassins, history's wet-workers, can venture to. These still-images do not do this title justice -- it's quite gorgeous in action. While I was enjoying myself throughout the China setting, a part of me wished this was a fully 3D title rather than a downloadable side story. Nothing against this game, as it's really solid and makes some clever choices in regards to approach to stealth in a limited perspective, however I feel that such rich settings would be better used for full-fledged 3D Assassin's Creed titles. In any case, Assassin's Creed Chronicles is looking to be a nice surprise for the franchise. Though we can undoubtedly expect to see another main entry in the series this year, Chronicles will serve to be a nice change of pace for those looking for a different take on the series. For those who bit on the Unity season pass, you'll get the first episode on day one. The bite-sized nature of these titles will make them easy to get into, but they're sure to surprise players with how much depth is present.
2.5D Assassin's Creed photo
Stabbin' necks through history in 2.5D
It's not often we see a major player in the big leagues of yearly releases reinvent itself in a more modest and distinct way. With Assassin's Creed titles expected every year, it's been a bit of a challenge for Ubisoft to kee...

Review: Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel: Claptastic Voyage

Mar 29 // Darren Nakamura
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel: Claptastic Voyage (Linux, Mac, PC [reviewed], PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developers: 2K Australia, Gearbox SoftwarePublisher: 2K GamesReleased: March 24, 2015MSRP: $9.99 (included in Season Pass and The Handsome Collection)Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit With the premise of entering the mind of Claptrap, The Pre-Sequel had a ton of freedom with where it could go and what it could do. As with the Dungeons and Dragons-esque setup for Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep, the narrative hook allows Vault Hunters to leave the planet of Pandora (or its moon Elpis) in favor of even more fantastic locales. In practice, Claptastic Voyage takes players from the samey blue-gray moon surface and industrial complexes to samey blue-gray electronics (that look a lot like industrial complexes). At least, that's how the first half goes. It's immediately disappointing that the limitless setting produces such uninteresting environments, but that changes further in. A little ways into the DLC the Vault Hunters can access Claptrap's old memories, revisiting areas featured in previous titles like Fyrestone or Overlook. Eventually, the shooting goes deep enough into Claptrap's mind to find wholly original, diverse environments. The Escherian temple of Claptrap's subconscious is particularly fun to explore. One thing that Claptastic Voyage does especially well is to fill in gaps in the overarching story that have only previously been hinted at. It does this with the memory exercise in Overlook, illustrating the town's deterioration to the state players find it in Borderlands 2. It ends with a direct lead-in to BL2, showing how Claptrap meets Sir Hammerlock in the frozen tundra on Pandora. It even goes so far as to explain Claptrap's penchant for dubstep where it wasn't present in the original Borderlands. [embed]288904:57729:0[/embed] All that said, while the details are cute for fans of the lore, the main plot in Claptastic Voyage has been done several times in the Borderlands series. Perhaps it's intentionally self-referential, but the plot device that introduces the main villain early on as an ally who "unexpectedly" betrays the heroes is tired at this point. He is clearly designed to let the player know what's up, so watching the characters go along and be flabbergasted by the betrayal creates a sort of disconnect between player and protagonist. At a micro level, the writing follows what we have come to expect from the series. Though it isn't as laugh-out-loud funny as Tales from the Borderlands has been, it hits the right notes of dark comedy. It manages to get through its eight-to-ten hour campaign without making nearly as many pop culture references as the last few games in the series have done. Gameplay is largely unaltered from The Pre-Sequel's main campaign. It remains fast and frenetic to moon jump and butt slam between enemies. There are very few zero-atmosphere environments in Claptastic Voyage, so players are free to use the double jump without having to worry about running out of oxygen. Almost all of the enemies are new in some way, with viruses, bugs, and protection software given physical manifestations to explode. Even the old standby enemies like bandits and psychos behave a bit differently, able to phase in and out of existence occasionally since they are computer projections generated by Claptrap's memory. The theme of software given life extends to in-universe advertisement, with foes who do nothing but stream audio to the player until they are destroyed. There are also pop-up ads: chest-high walls that appear from the ground and can either be closed or serve as randomized mini stores for health or ammunition. The final boss deserves special mention, though not necessarily for the best reasons. It begins as an interesting fight, with a lot of different tasks the player has to juggle. There are jump pads, helpful "volatile bits" to trigger, lava to avoid, small enemies to keep at bay and use for revives, and the main boss who can deal some serious damage if he is ignored. It's exciting for the first 10 minutes. Then it keeps going. Then the boss transforms and recharges his shield. Then it keeps going. Then he transforms and recharges his shield again. I timed it; it took me 45 minutes to solo that one fight, and that was on my second try. (On the first try, I spent what felt like an hour, made it to his final form, died, and started back at the beginning of the fight. I quit for the night.) It illustrates how 2K Australia can get some aspects of Borderlands so right, but just miss the mark in other ways that bring the whole experience down a bit. The boss just has too much health, and that one element turns it from an interesting fight into a slog. It's almost as if it is intended to be a raid boss, except that it's required in order to complete the story. In fact, there is no optional raid boss like there have been in past Borderlands DLC packs, which is a little disappointing considering how phoned in the raid boss in The Pre-Sequel's main game is. That said, 2K Australia does its own thing for high level content. In addition to farming the end boss for Legendary drops, a special arena unlocks after getting through the story. It boils down to fending off waves of enemies in an arena, but it allows parties to customize various aspects of the battle. Players can increase or decrease the difficulty and add "mutations," like bonus damage for certain gun manufacturers or increased magazine size at the cost of decreased reload speed. Of course, more difficult settings yield more valuable loot. It's an interesting idea that I'd like to see explored further in future installments. Overall, Claptastic Voyage is an improvement to Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. It seems like 2K Australia has been listening to a lot of the criticism of the base game. Aside from some invisible walls, I didn't experience any of the bugs here that detracted from The Pre-Sequel. The environmental design starts off disappointingly unimaginative, but soon goes to unexpected places. The core gameplay is as fun as it has ever been. However, Claptastic Voyage still suffers from some of the problems that plague the entire series. The main plot is average, lacking any real standout moments worth discussing. It exists as a vehicle to get players between gunfights or to the more entertaining optional missions. This won't go down in history as an example of exceptional DLC, but it does what it does well and it's worth the time to play through.
Claptastic Voyage review photo
PreSequel++;
With Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, I like and dislike different parts of it in almost equal measure. The combat is exciting and the characters are likable. On the other hand, the environments are a little dull and it suff...

What if videogame consoles were Transformers?

Mar 28 // Mike Cosimano
Megatron: Xbox One In Dark Cybertron, IDW's first major Transformers-only crossover event, Decepticon leader Megatron did the impossible: he switched sides and joined the Autobots. Megatron has gone from trying to conquer the universe to exploring it with the wacky spacefaring cast of More than Meets the Eye (currently the best ongoing series in comics). It felt like a real stretch at the time (because it's a simple change in character that is going to sell a lot of comic books, like Bucky Cap or Lady Thor) but the issues released since then have justified his change of heart. Many Transformers stories have tried to make the audience feel sympathy for Megatron, but none have ever been so successful. More than Meets the Eye successfully reconciles the 'violent despot' characterization we all know and love with the new 'tired old revolutionary' Megatron used to soften his previous deeds, crafting a new version of the character that feels absolutely definitive -- against all odds. This reminds me of the Xbox One. When the console was first revealed, there was a sizable amount of justified backlash. It was a device for busy rich people: expensive, packed with irrelevant features, saddled with baffling limitations, and bearing a hidden $60 per year cost. Everyone was worried they wouldn't be able to play their single-player games if their Internet went down, or that the evil camera would watch them have sex in front of their television. Both fears were not totally unfounded, leading to an enormous backlash and low pre-order numbers. In order to save the system, Microsoft had to pull an about-face, reversing almost every controversial decision. Since then, we've seen the Xbox One drop the Kinect along with $100 off the MSRP, reach out to indies with the ID@Xbox program, and chase weird exclusives like Phantom Dust. Ever since Phil Spencer took over the Xbox division, the company has made positive strides towards fixing its reputation. It's not hard to see the parallels between Megatron (as written by James Roberts), Megatron (the character in More than Meets the Eye), and Phil Spencer's work on the Xbox brand. When you want to make a change, be it financially motivated, a creative decision, or an emotionally motivated faction change, there has to be some revisionism. You have to convince yourself that the past doesn't matter, and then you have to perform the Herculean task of convincing everyone else of the same. For the moment, it's almost impossible to tell whether Megatron or Microsoft were successful. We won't know how successful the Xbox One will be until well into the life cycle of the Xbox Two, and I honestly don't know where Megatron's character development could go from here. Either way, I'm looking forward to both. Tailgate: Wii U Tailgate is a relic. Not long after coming online, he fell into a sinkhole on Cybertron, only escaping his predicament after a six-million-year-long power nap. Physically, he is older than almost every character in More than Meets the Eye, but he approaches the Lost Light's various adventures with a childlike enthusiasm. Which makes sense -- he's technically two weeks old when the comic begins. Tailgate used his age to fabricate a series of stories, even claiming he was a bomb disposal expert. He's gone through some real trials over the course of the comic -- including almost dying of old age and saving half of the Cybertronian race in one week -- but he's come into his own, accepting his true role as a waste disposal 'bot and letting go of his tall tales. It's hard to hear the word 'relic' and not give the Wii U a little side-eye. When the console launched, it was months away from being outdated, with online decisions that were utterly baffling in the Xbox Live era and a launch library that was primarily a series of efforts at reclaiming old glories and ports nobody asked for. Hell, look at the name of the thing -- Wii U. Smarter people than me have been pointing this out since the console was revealed, but I'll be damned if that isn't the most transparent attempt to move units I've ever seen. The Wii U smacked of an old man trying to convince the kids he was cool, not realizing he was a kid at heart the whole time. All he had to do was embrace his inner child and the people would come running. There's something futile about chasing old glories, especially when they're made up. Nintendo has never been good with third parties. Remember that "historic partnership" between EA and Nintendo? Remember when Call of Duty: Ghosts coming to Wii U was a big deal? Where's Advanced Warfare? Where's Battlefield 4? The Wii U was a joke back when it was trying to be just another videogame console; another machine for you to enjoy those big tentpole releases. Today, it's genuinely beloved, even if the rampant amiibo shortage threatens to overshadow Nintendo's recent successes. Is the Wii U selling well? Of course not, that door closed when it launched with a crappy Mass Effect port and didn't have a killer app until a year into the console's life cycle. And Tailgate lost any chance of becoming an Old Cybertronian legend the second he fell unconscious. But we've got Mario Kart 8 now, and Tailgate defeated a genocidal despot by sticking a finger in his robo-brain. (God, I love these comics.) Accept your limitations, and use them to move forward. Can't wait for whatever NX is! Drift: PlayStation 4 Everybody on the Internet goes through a phase where they make an awesome self-insert character for their favorite thing. You know the type: mysterious, silent, unkillable, tortured past, maybe a bit of a dark streak? We've all done it! Be honest with yourself. Maybe post your original character in the comments. Now, imagine a world where you were paid to make that character an official part of your favorite thing. Hell, the character even gets a toy! And the best part? The character will be just as badass as you imagined: no watering down. That's Drift. And -- surprise surprise! -- when he premiered in the pages of the mega-event All Hail Megatron, everyone realized he was a cynical attempt at making a new fan-favorite character. Thankfully, he was redeemed in More than Meets the Eye, recast as a lovable hippie. Now, Drift is actually a fan favorite, despite being universally disliked when he first appeared. (Ironically, we've actually come full circle with the super racist Drift in the fourth Transformers movie) And, let's be real, nobody really liked the PlayStation 3 when it first came out either. It cost too much, the infamous "PS3 HAS NO GAMEZ" meme had a ring of truth to it (even though Resistance and Metal Gear Solid 4 were great) -- everything about the console reeked of post-PS2 swagger. But, much like the Wii U, the PS3 stumbled out of the gate. Compare that to the PS4, a console that came out swinging, easily taking and holding the lead. Now, I can't verify this for myself, but I've heard enough talk from enough different people that it makes sense: the PlayStation 4 is a Sony Computer Entertainment of America joint. That's why you're seeing people like Adam Boyes and Mark Cerny take the stage during E3 press conferences, and that's why the company is going after Western nostalgia properties like Grim Fandango. This change in power seems to be working: the PS3 never saw positive press the likes of which we saw when Jack Tretton confirmed the PS4 could play used games. Sometimes, it's smart to let go of the wheel and let somebody else take over. I'm not saying Shane McCarthy (the creator of Drift) is a terrible writer, or that Sony Japan doesn't know how to make a console. The PlayStation 2 is the best console of all time! But every so often, giving control of your creation to someone with a different vision works out best for all involved. It's just a simple matter of seeing that maybe you aren't the right person for this job. I mean, the PlayStation 4 has sold twenty million consoles so far, and Drift's resurgence in popularity got him another mini-series. Leaving your pride at the door works, as it turns out. Maybe that's the crux of all three of these consoles: pride. The Xbox One isn't trying to shove terrible ideas down our throats, the Wii U is no longer convinced it can be something it's not, and the PS4 isn't asking for $600. In many ways, success is about letting go of that pride, learning to accept your limitations and playing to your strengths. And it may have taken a little while, but I feel like each console is currently taking that to heart. I like where these consoles are at right now, and I think we've got a fantastic generation ahead of us. Also, Transformers are great. Thank you.
Transformers photo
Blast(er) Processing
This isn't clickbait. This isn't some article cashing in on hypothetical fan art of an Xbox turning into Megatron or a post about those awesome Mega Drive/PlayStation Transformers. This is my life, you fools. I've spent time ...

Review: Game of Thrones: A Telltale Game Series: The Sword in the Darkness

Mar 25 // Darren Nakamura
Game of Thrones - A Telltale Game Series: The Sword in the Darkness (Android, iOS, Mac, PC [reviewed], PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: Telltale GamesPublisher: Telltale GamesReleased: March 24, 2015MSRP: $4.99 (episode), $29.99 (season)Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit [Editor's note: there will be no major spoilers present for the episode reviewed here, but events in previous episodes may be discussed.] Like the previous episode, The Sword in the Darkness opens with Asher across the Narrow Sea. Hothead that he is, his sections always seem to be more action-oriented than the others. As an introduction to the episode it sets an energetic tone, though most of the other sections follow the more subdued light exploration and dialogue trees Telltale is known for. Asher is presented with a major this-or-that decision early on, and it comes during such a panicked situation that I was actually caught off guard by it, despite knowing what to expect by now. The scene does a good job of getting the adrenaline pumping and then presenting players with an impossible decision. I think I shouted some profanity at my monitor when it showed up. Well played, Telltale. Though Asher is charming and fun, Mira's tribulations in King's Landing continue to be the most interesting. Cersei, Tyrion, and Margaery all show up, and each wants something from the eldest Forrester daughter. Though the audience with Cersei in episode one was nerve-wracking, the politicking here provided the most sustained tenseness in the series. [embed]289414:57887:0[/embed] Cersei doesn't want Mira associating with Tyrion, Margaery wants her marriage into the Lannister family to go smoothly, Tyrion wants to team up with Mira to make some money, and Mira wants to give her family the best chance at survival by manipulating relationships in King's Landing. Keeping everyone happy while still achieving Mira's objective requires delicate balance, and there are very real consequences presented for crossing any of the major players. Mira's navigation of nobility politics feels more like Game of Thrones than any previous encounter. Previously, Gared hadn't been too important in the overall story of House Forrester, but now his purpose is made clear. The North Grove plot point introduced in episode one and ignored in episode two is revisited, and it sets a more tangible goal for future episodes. Where before it seemed like Gared being sent to The Wall was just an excuse to show scenes with Jon Snow, now it seems like a carefully calculated decision, both in-universe by Duncan and outside by Telltale. I'm much more interested to see where Gared's story goes now than I was coming into episode three. The most focus is placed on the events at Ironrath, where the Whitehill soldiers are becoming increasingly unruly. There are a couple of different approaches to take, but even if the player decides to go down one path, there are a number of scenes that test resolve. The smart choice for the long run is rarely the one that feels right in the moment. It's a strange situation, because Ironrath's state by the end of The Sword in the Darkness is obstensively worse than it was at the end of The Lost Lords, but I feel more optimistic about the future. As Rodrik, I made choices for the greater good that I thought might let other characters down, but the team all appeared to be on the same page. For the first time in the series, I don't feel like I have made all of the wrong choices. For sure, sacrifices had to be made. Not everybody ended up happy. By some metrics, each of the playable characters is worse off than before. But as a whole, the group finally has direction. Where the first two episodes took their time setting up the narrative machine, The Sword in the Darkness finally puts that machine into motion. Telltale's initial promise that each character's actions will ripple out and affect the others is coming to fruition. I only expect to see that even more with the next episode. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Game of Thrones review photo
The wheels are in motion
Telltale seems to be getting into the swing of things with Game of Thrones, in more ways than one. For starters, it only took seven weeks since the last episode for this one to come out. If Telltale can keep up that pace, the...

Review: Life is Strange: Out of Time

Mar 25 // Brett Makedonski
Life is Strange: Out of Time (PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One[reviewed])Developer: Dontnod EntertainmentPublisher: Square EnixRelease date: March 24, 2015MSRP: $4.99 (Each Episode) This is a tremendous step in world-building, but Dontnod did too little with the time it had in this chapter. Episode two spends entirely too long plodding about and convincing others that, yes, Max's time-rewinding powers really do exist. Despite so much screen-time given to Max and Chloe, neither Max's personal narrative nor the relationship between the two was advanced significantly from the foundation laid in episode one. Major pacing issues plague most of this installment. While the tempo has problems, Life is Strange has no difficulty reaching incredible crescendos at the drop of a hat. These are the moments that will surely make a long-lasting impression. The final act of Out of Time holds an encounter that almost the entire episode builds toward. When it happens, it's tough to swallow the raw emotion of it all, regardless of which outcome you're saddled with. But, those type of pinnacles wouldn't pierce so strongly if they weren't slowly built upon. Small interactions accumulate as puzzles are pieced together across multiple sources. Out of Time deals heavily with subjects such as drugs, sexual abuse, and debilitating depression. That'd be daunting enough in its own right, but the player's given perspective of both the victim and those who are maliciously perpetuating the gossip. It's tough to stand by and watch someone that down and out, but it's heart-wrenching to see them relentlessly bullied. [embed]289314:57864:0[/embed] Out of Time's lasting mark will be that it's the episode where choices begin to actually matter. Those aforesaid peaks in action come to a head eventually, and many decisions made (no matter how seemingly innocuous they may have been) act as the winds of change that could very well trigger a maelstrom. There's just too much gray area between good and bad for everyone's arc to have a pleasant conclusion. Dontnod has done well so far to not telegraph a clear-cut route to achieving a desirable outcome. While Out of Time has a tendency to meander (like Max herself), it hits hard in its critical moments. This episode succeeds in that it's adept at creating sincere concern for most of the inhabitants of Life is Strange. That depth is appreciated, but Out of Time felt like a giant step to the side, as we aren't much further along than we were at the end of episode one.
Life is Strange review photo
The squirrels and the birds come
I just finished episode two of Life is Strange, and I've spiraled down a playlist of Ben Folds songs. Out of Time is Kate Marsh's story, but "Kate" is too cheerful; this tale isn't about daisies, dandelions, and butterfl...

Final Fantasy XV is a Goddamn Sexual Tyrannosaurus

Mar 24 // Chris Carter
Kyle already talked at length about the core mechanics of the Final Fantasy XV during a PAX East showing, but after about 20 hours of playing it, I've discovered quite a bit of depth to Episode Duscae. For starters, the action combat system has more layers than an ogre. After discovering all of the hidden tech items scattered about the map combat opened up quite a bit, offering new abilities and nuances that allowed me to enjoy myself more than the tutorial let on. My favorite thing to do is to use the warp strike to charge in and retreat, teleporting around the battlefield at will. Tempest is probably my favorite ability, functioning as an area-of-effect spin attack that can open up enemy defenses. Using Warp Strike in tandem with all of Noctis' powers is seamless, and after learning how to truly go on the offensive I didn't have to rely on the dodge ability that often. Magic will be in the final version, but even without the classic addition of spells I can see myself slicing and dicing for 80 hours without tiring of it. And can we talk about the summon system? Seeing it in action on a video is one thing, but summoning Ramuh in-game has real weight to it, and since it all happens around you regardless of your surroundings, it feels personal. My jaw actually dropped, which doesn't happen often. Evidently there was an option to either focus on summons or other mechanics for the demo, and the team chose to show Ramuh in all his glory. I think they made the right call. [embed]289182:57838:0[/embed] Something else I noticed more as time went on were the authentic personal interactions that took place throughout the demo. Subtle little things like your party members lounging around the chocobo farm are nice touches, and I adored the conversation between the cheerful couple who decided to eat bird feed. I can easily get on board with a bro-fest royal road trip storyline, as it's a stark departure from the rest of the series while still maintaining that "crystal troupe" feel. I also got a Dragon Age vibe from the banter, even if the script could use a lot more variation in the final cut But the best news of all -- I actually remembered everyone's names after finishing the demo, and didn't find anyone nearly as grating as Hope was in XIII. Seeing the group work together to take down the Behemoth, though scripted, felt like a genuine spot of teamwork. It'll be interesting to see how this dynamic is handled at the end of the road, but for now the retinue's connection to the prince feels both professional and personal. Nothing is perfect though, and I'm seeing some problems early on that may or may not be related to the demo. The framerate is rather sluggish even if it's supposed to be addressed in the full release, and the stasis staggering system really takes you out of the action in a bad way. Though the full version will have magic (as previously stated), a full equipment system and a higher resolution, I hope Square can really polish it by the time it goes gold. Then again they've already made some changes to XV based on fan-feedback, and truly seem to be taking the criticisms from XIII to heart. Beyond those small issues, if the full version is even close to the build shown in the demo, I'll be happy. The future is bright for Final Fantasy, and I can see a true return to form for a proper "numbered' title that isn't an MMO on the horizon.
FFXV hot damn photo
And I'm not just talking about the boy band cast
Hidden away in the intro to my Final Fantasy Type-0 HD review, I recently talked about how Final Fantasy was never dead despite some rough patches, and based on recent efforts, it actually has a bright future a...

Konami drama photo
What the hell?
"After we finish [Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain], Mr. Kojima and upper management will leave Konami," a source within Kojima Productions told GameSpot today amidst speculation that some real crazy shit is happening at ...

Review: Bladestorm: Nightmare

Mar 17 // Josh Tolentino
Bladestorm: Nightmare (Xbox One, PS4, PC, PS3 [reviewed])Developer: Omega ForcePublisher: Koei TecmoReleased: March 17, 2015MSRP: $59.99 (PS4/Xbox One), $49.99 (PS3) [Note: Screenshots used in this review are taken from the PS4 version of the game.] As an aside: this game, based on 2007's Bladestorm: The Hundred Years' War, is one of the weirdest choices anyone could've made when deciding on which games to add to the growing number of "remastered" titles popping up on current-generation consoles and PC. Despite initially generating excitement among the Dynasty Warriors-loving crowd as a long-desired European-themed entry to the franchise, the original game came and went without much comment. That was thanks to its odd-duck design, which even led Jim Sterling, a much bigger Warriors fan than yours truly, to call it a real-time strategy game in his review. I'm not quite as inclined towards that drastic recategorization, but ol' Jim does have a point: Bladestorm is, for good or ill, of a more thoughtful mind than most of Omega Force's  offerings. Indeed, whereas typical Warriors games take history's leaders and convert them into armies unto themselves, Bladestorm takes the player and molds him (or her) into a leader of their own squad of troops. If Dynasty Warriors is about being a human Cuisinart, Bladestorm attempts a wartime version of Katamari Damacy. More on that in a bit. [embed]289070:57824:0[/embed] Bladestorm: Nightmare comes with two main modes. "The Hundred Years' War" mode is essentially identical to the original 2007 release, aside from graphical/mechanical tweaks, and drops player-created mercenaries -- or "merthenaries" to hear the comically bad European-accented voice-acting say it -- on the battlefields of medieval France. There players can work for the French or English factions, supporting one or the other as pay and scruples dictate. They'll interact with luminaries of the era like Edward, the Black Prince, Philippe the Good, and Gilles de Rais, and participate in key engagements like the Battle of Crécy and the Siege of Calais.   The second mode, "Nightmare," is a more linear, scripted campaign set when a monster invasion interrupts the Hundred Years' War, forcing France, England, and the merthenaries they employ to ally against hordes of hellbeasts commanded by none other than Joan of Arc herself. Interestingly, though Nightmare mode is clearly designed to be played after finishing off The Hundred Years' war, players can switch between the two freely, with progression data like levels, money, equipped gear, and distributed skill points carrying over with virtually no restriction.  Graphically, Bladestorm works best on newer hardware. Aside from the added special effects and improved draw distance and environments, the frame-rate drops that I experienced on the PS3 are absent on the PS4 version. Additionally, the Nightmare campaign on PS3 is prone to drastic loss of frames as well, likely due to the much larger squad sizes and the hordes of monsters.  Both modes essentially boil down to an expansive form of territory control. Each of the battlefields is divided into numerous forts, towns, and castles defended by allied or enemy troops. Most missions ("contracts" in merthenary lingo), particularly in the more open-ended base campaign, will task players with conquering one or more settlements by killing off their defenders and beating their commanding officer. The bigger the settlement, the tougher the commanders, and some particularly large castles are basically defended by mini-boss enemies with distinct attack patterns. In Nightmare mode, those defenders can even include dragons, cyclopes, or grim reapers. Doing the killing involves taking command of a squad of troops. Though broken down roughly by weapon type, each soldier type is unique, with strengths, weaknesses, and a set of special attacks mapped to the face buttons. Players can pick up or drop squads they find in the field, or summon reinforcements directly. New to Bladestorm: Nightmare is the ability to create multiple squad leaders, commanding them separately via the battle map or attaching them to a personal unit as a bodyguard, ultimately allowing for up to 200 troops to move and act as a single unit, rolling everyone in the way (hence the Katamari analogy). This type of of structure provides Bladestorm with the same kind of dynamic as the typically more action-oriented Warriors games. Like in those titles, players in this game are often "fire-fighting," moving as quickly as possible between crisis zones, keeping scores and rewards up by plowing through everything along the way. Though ultimately shallow, Bladestorm's battle mechanics do lend the game an impressive sense of scale, particularly when playing as a cavalry leader. I must have done it hundreds of times in my hours with the game, but it never gets old to trigger a charge and flatten dozens of enemies under the hooves and lances of your soldiers. It also never gets old to watch horses slide across the ground like they are hovercrafts, a testament to how rough-hewn the game can be at times. Balance issues are also a concern, as properly leveled cavalry units basically trivialize the whole game except at the highest difficulty levels. I'd actually be more mad that cavalry are so overpowered if they weren't already the most fun class to play, but that's neither here nor there. Bladestorm: Nightmare isn't a Dynasty Warriors game, but it doesn't aim to be, and still ends up being good time when taken on its own merits. In fact, it's a little ironic that its unusual qualities doomed the original release commercially, but help this new release feel much more fresh and engaging than even the latest "core" franchise entries. [This review is based on a digital copy of the game provided by the publisher.]
Bladestorm review photo
Merthenary Lyfe
Bladestorm: Nightmare is not a Dynasty Warriors game. That bit of information might be good or bad news, depending which side of the fence one falls on with regard to Tecmo Koei's long-running brawler series. At the same...

Jackbox Games talks You Dont Know Jack, Twitch, and the future

Mar 17 // Chris Carter
Destructoid: Tell us a bit about how you started Jackbox Games, and how you ended up here from Jellyvision so many years back. Mike Bilder: Jellyvision Games was originally Jellyvision Inc. which was originally Learn Television. Harry Gottlieb, creator of You Don't Know Jack, founded the company in early '90s and is still very much a part of both Jackbox Games and its sister company The Jellyvision Lab. Like you, I was a big fan of YDKJ and left Midway Games in 2008 to join Harry and others in rebooting the games company. How successful has the recent You Don't Know Jack series been? Would you say it's still your flagship franchise? You Don't Know Jack is certainly our flagship franchise. The franchise has sold over 5.5 million units since the first release and our recently retired social and mobile versions had over 5 million installs. The 2011 console reboot was a huge hit critically and with fans, and the latest version, You Don't Know Jack 2015, can be found in our most recent game release: The Jackbox Party Pack. We’ve been very pleased with the reception to our new party bundle. Longtime fans seem to love the new YDKJ and new players that have discovered The Jackbox Party Pack through Fibbage and Drawful can enjoy YDKJ for the first time. I noticed that the newer titles have toned down some of the graphic content from the older series -- did you want to bring the franchise to a broader audience, and do you have any plans to bring back an adult-oriented Jack at some point? If you asked our editors they’d tell you they’re pushing the boundary of a T rating now more than ever. I guess if you looked at the old CD-Rom versions there may have been a few more over-the-top questions, but in these ESRB days we have to be a little careful not to attract an M rating. And at least for now, we’re going to try to avoid that M rating. Overall, we think the tone is on par with the older games, but updated for today’s comedic sensibilities, of course. For example, some of our most recent fake commercials and prizes have been for The STD Superstore (“parking in the rear”), Peeping Todd’s Pervert Supplies, Fat-Mouth Fascist Fish, Ted’s Drop-Dead Gorgeous Body Bags, and a dating show where women vie to mate with a horse. I could go on. So let's talk about Quiplash, heading into its Kickstarter this week. How did you come up with the idea? After Fibbage came online last year, we began rapidly prototyping other game ideas that worked with our mobiles-as-controllers technology. Many prototypes later and we had our first Jackbox Party Pack. After the content for that game was locked and production was well underway, the idea of Quiplash came about. The more we played the Quiplash prototype in the office this year, the more fun we had. Unfortunately our production plans for 2015 are full, and yet this prototype kept bubbling to the top. We want to finish Quiplash as a full game and bring it out by summer 2015 which is why we’ve turned to Kickstarter. With help from backers, we can bring on the resources we need to finish the game. What moved you towards supporting Twitch play directly? Do you see this new type of gameplay catching on? Our recent games have been developed with parties in mind. Our expectation was 2-20+ players in the same room laughing and enjoying party games – much like you might do with board games, Rock Band, or Cards Against Humanity. After we launched Fibbage we realized that despite the stream delay, people were streaming their games and viewers could join and play along anywhere in the world. By the time we realized this we were pretty far along with development of The Jackbox Party Pack, but we took some extra steps to further embrace the streaming mode of play by extending timers in Drawful and making some tweaks to Lie Swatter. With Quiplash, and our future games (if it makes sense for the game mechanic), we’re going to fully embrace this streaming mode of play. We’ve seen many large streamers play our games and get 100 or more people joining their game and playing along with their live stream. We want to let thousands of viewers participate. We think it’s an amazing way to use Twitch and other streaming services. Instead of viewers only being able to comment or perhaps affect gameplay through comments (as has been done in some games), we’re giving viewers a way to actively participate with their favorite streamers by playing the game with them. And, we’re giving streamers everywhere a multiplayer experience they can share with their audience. In terms of the mobile functionality, I have to say, it's pretty genius. How long did it take you to develop the tech, how does it work, and how long do you plan on supporting it? Thanks! We think it’s great too. We spent a few months prototyping the technology and then proving it would work and the experience would be fun…and then we spent about a year perfecting it. Although it seems simple on the surface, it’s a very complex system. Besides the game itself and all of the platforms it runs on, there’s a large scalable server architecture that hosts and manages the “rooms” for each game as well as the customized controller systems that display the real-time game interfaces on your mobile/tablet/browser. We worked hard to eliminate any friction with getting people into our games. There isn’t any app to download or install nor is there a need to sync devices or ensure they’re on the same Wi-Fi. As long as your device has an internet connection and a browser, you can participate in our games. We fully believe in this method of play and we’re planning to support it with all of our future party games, at least until VR and telepathy interfaces take hold. What platform have you had the most success with from a programming perspective? The Jackbox Party Pack is on a ton of platforms. While we’ve had different financial success on different platforms, I’m not sure any programming successes stand out in one platform vs. any other. Each platform has its own quirks. Thankfully, we have a very talented team that’s built a robust cross-platform engine that can run our games from the most powerful current-generation consoles down to the simplest set-top box. Honestly, the biggest success was getting the console manufactures to allow us to use mobile phones as controllers. What a challenge that was – but they all supported us! I see that you haven't focused on the Wii U yet. Is there a reason for that? In that same vein, what is your experience working with Amazon's platforms, Ouya, and the Roku? We’re a small team and we’ve done the development for all of our platforms in-house and we’ve self-published all of our recent games. We like the Wii U and may support it in the future but our recent lack of support is really a function of production resources, as well as market size. Amazon, Ouya, and others have been easy platforms to get to because of our technology. We really feel the type of games we make – party games – are uniquely suited for this recent generation of set-top-boxes that feature games. Consumers of those boxes aren’t looking for AAA console quality games. If they are, they likely already have a console. But, some awesome, affordable party games (our games) that you can easily fire up on your TV seem like a perfect fit for that audience. Finally, if you can share them, what are some ideas you have that are on the cutting room floor? We have hundreds of ideas and dozens and dozens of prototypes. I feel very fortunate to work with such a creative, talented, and funny group of people. One day we may release Willy Pee, Everybody Help Grandma, or Space Farts, but until then, you’ll have to put up with our recent games in The Jackbox Party Pack… and hopefully Quiplash!
JackBox Games photo
Quiplash is on Kickstarter this week
Jackbox Games has been busy. In addition to reviving the You Don't Know Jack franchise for modern consoles, it's also built an intriguing online infrastructure from the ground up. As an innovative way to solve the "contr...

Resident Evil Revelations 2's extra episodes are fun, but non-essential

Mar 17 // Chris Carter
[Small spoilers below in regards to the main ending in "The Struggle" section.] The Struggle The first bit involves Moira, post-campaign, surviving on the island after Claire has left. You'll get a little background as to what it takes to truly deal with a zombie threat after the "big bad" is out of the picture, which is an interesting little way to deal with an epilogue. The only thing I'm not big on is the fact that it wraps up a few loose ends, which you can't access if you bought everything piecemeal. In that case just go ahead and watch it online. The most interesting part of The Struggle is the setup. Old school Resident Evil fans will remember pre-RE4 Mercenaries -- the game mode was born out of RE2, but really started to take form in 3. Before the endless arena setup in 4, players were tasked with getting from point A to B in a certain amount of time, killing enemies they see fit for score, and scavenging for supplies along the way. The Struggle is just like that, but with a twist. Permadeath is a thing, but if you hunt animals while fighting off enemies you can earn "rations," which act as extra lives. The entire affair isn't lengthy, clocking in at roughly 30 minutes per playthrough, but it's definitely fun and hectic on the higher difficulty level. All of the areas are from the core game so don't expect anything new. The fact that it's co-op only adds to the replay value. I wasn't expecting much, but I still go back from time to time to replay it again even after beating it. Little Miss This side-story that takes place in the middle of the story features Natalia, with an interesting little dynamic -- an alter ego named Dark Natalia, which can be operated by a co-op partner or with the "switch" mechanic found in solo play. Your task is to find her missing teddy bear roaming about various existing maps and sneaking around enemies to do it. The kicker is that Natalia can no longer sense enemies through walls, or point to highlight areas of interest. That role is passed on to her dark persona, which is now completely invisible to enemies and has all of the original abilities from the campaign. Her catch is that she can't interact with doors or objects, so you need to lead around both personas in tandem to succeed. With a co-op partner it's a really fun way to spend an afternoon, even if it's also on the shorter side. For either of these episodes I wouldn't go out of my way to buy them, but as an extra for the Season Pass or disc, they're absolutely worth playing.
RE: Revelations 2 extra photo
Exclusive to the Season Pass or the disc
As you might be aware, Capcom is taking a really weird approach to Resident Evil: Revelations 2. In addition to bringing in an episodic format, they've also hitched two secretive "extra episodes" to the package, exclusive to ...

Review: Resident Evil Revelations 2: Episode 4

Mar 17 // Chris Carter
Resident Evil Revelations 2: Episode 4 (PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: CapcomPublisher: CapcomReleased: March 17, 2015 (Episode 4)MSRP: Four episodes ($5.99 each), Season Pass ($24.99), boxed ($39.99) [Now that everything is said and done, you can read reviews for the first three episodes here (1, 2, and 3), an assessment of the Raid Mode DLC here as well as a tips guide, an explanation of what the "Extra Episodes" are here, and a full breakdown of all the prices here.] While Claire and Moira took the main stage last time, Barry and Natalia are decidedly the focus in the final episode. The former pair has a really short episode ahead of them, which answers nearly all of the questions posed so far and explains how everything unfolded before Barry ended up on the island. You'll make your way through a cool little laboratory area to get said answers, with a final non-combat confrontation with the Overseer, and a short action-oriented sequence. It's brief, and sweet. I'm really impressed by the Barry side in the fourth episode however, as it may be the best chapter yet. It's long, varied, and full of tense moments, especially with the continued dynamic of Barry and Natalia. There are plenty of miniature puzzles on-hand that surpass the crate-based affair of the previous chapter, and the maps are a bit more open this time with plenty of hidden areas and nooks. One of my favorite elements involves areas with a deadly gas, where both Barry and Natalia are forced to constantly move to higher ground to get a breath of fresh air. You can spend roughly 30 seconds in the gas before the screen starts to become hazy and you pass out, which lends itself well to some tricky sections with lengthy mine tunnels filled with enemies who are impervious to its effects. To say it gets tense is an understatement. The finale, without spoiling too much, takes place in a setting similar to the very first Resident Evil game. It's a lot smaller than a fully fledged Spencer Mansion, but it's easily the highlight of Revelations 2 for me, and brings back plenty of fond memories -- especially so for the Tyrant-like final boss fight. More of this, Capcom. [embed]288704:57767:0[/embed] It's at this point that I started to really go back and see what I could squeeze out of everything -- and it's a hell of a lot. I completed a few previous chapters in the Time Attack mode setting, one chapter with invisible enemies, and I went back and found a lot of hidden emblems and secrets that I missed. There's a ton of special extras like a classic black and white horror filter setting, bonus weapons, costumes, concept art, and multiple difficulty settings to master. Finding out that Episode 3 had a small alternate ending for Claire's story is also pretty awesome. Over the past month, Raid Mode has also stood the test of time, and I still play it on a weekly basis. I've said pretty much everything that needs to be said about it in past reviews, but I can't stress enough how deep it is, and how long it will take to truly complete, even with one character. Capcom really outdid itself for this one, and I'm looking forward to the next evolution. At the end of its road, I'm happy to recommend Resident Evil: Revelations 2. It's my favorite Resident Evil in years, and with a pricetag that's $20 cheaper than most retail releases, it offers up hundreds of hours of entertainment for those who are willing to dig into Raid Mode. Like many other classic entries before it, I'll be happily playing this one years down the line. [This review is based on a retail build of the game's Season Pass provided by the publisher. DLC was purchased by the reviewer.]
RE: Revelations 2 review photo
A fitting finale
That's it, folks. Resident Evil: Revelations 2 is finally done with its odd episodic format, delivering small chunks every week for the past month or so. The final package is out in all of its glory, including the disc v...

Review: Tales from the Borderlands: Atlas Mugged

Mar 17 // Darren Nakamura
Tales from the Borderlands: Atlas Mugged (iOS, Mac, PC [reviewed], PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: Telltale GamesPublisher: Telltale GamesReleased: March 17, 2015 (Mac, PC)MSRP: $4.99, $24.99 (Season Pass)Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit [Editor's note: there will be no major spoilers present for the episode reviewed here, but events in previous episodes may be discussed.] To its credit, Telltale owns up to the long wait between episodes. The opening line is Marcus commenting on how long it has been since the last part of the story. Then he goes into a recap of the main events from Zer0 Sum, leading into the beginning of Atlas Mugged. Hyperion executive Rhys and Pandoran con artist Fiona have stumbled onto some unknown but hopefully valuable Atlas technology, just in time for a digital reconstruction of Borderlands 2 antagonist Handsome Jack to load into Rhys's mind. Jack comes and goes over the course of the episode, typically when Rhys suffers head trauma, and he often offers his brand of morally bankrupt help. Though he only appears during certain scenes, Handsome Jack sort of steals the show. Rhys, Fiona, and the rest of the gang have some good lines, but Telltale's treatment of Jack is on point. He is simultaneously deplorable and hilarious, which serves the concept of Telltale adventure games well. In Borderlands 2 he was a likable villain; in The Pre-Sequel he was a detestable hero. Here, he can be either, allowing the player to choose whether to heed his more outlandish suggestions or to risk progressing without his aid. [embed]288757:57654:0[/embed] Episode 2 has the two protagonists separating and reuniting again and it still works great as a narrative device. Seeing the what from one perspective and then the why from the other gives extra insight to events, though Atlas Mugged lacks some of the punchier revelatory moments that Zer0 Sum had. There are still some secrets set up for later, like the function of the Gortys Project or the identity of the paddy hat-clad character. Fiona gets an upgrade to her single-shot pistol in this episode, allowing it to deal an elemental damage of her choice among incendiary, shock, and corrosive. Knowledge of the shooters in the series seems to help with knowing which element to use in which situation. Another kink thrown in is in addition to having limited ammunition, each element appears to be usable only once, so players may be locked out of one they want for the future. It's the kind of inter-episode mechanic that may or may not pay off intellectually until later. Neither of the established characters who made cameos in the first episode show up again here, but a few new ones do. Scooter and Athena are among those who make an appearance, and I hope for the narrative's sake that this isn't the last we see of them. Given her background with the Atlas corporation (see: The Secret Armory of General Knoxx) Athena plays a particularly interesting role that brings up questions I hope to see answered. From a gameplay perspective, this runs by the standard of modern Telltale titles. It includes the unique Borderlands hooks like Rhys's bionic eye and Fiona's management of money, but they are less emphasized than in the previous episode. Tales still feels like a Borderlands game, but slightly less so now than before. Though puzzles have basically been expunged from Telltale's modus operandi -- and I have come to terms with it -- there is one section where it still stings a little to think about. In it, Rhys has to restore power to an electronic system and it skirts the edge of requiring just a touch of critical thinking, but it ends up being a simple exploration exercise. The setup almost begged for some sort of puzzle; it was disappointing that the solution was so mundane. Past that, the main gameplay is exactly what we all expect from Telltale. Dialogue trees, quick-time events, and the occasional big choice to make. Keeping consistent with the first episode, the writing is sharp, the jokes are plentiful, the plot is intriguing, and the action is over-the-top. What it lacks is easily forgiven because what it contains is really good. Visually, Tales from the Borderlands is as great as ever. The bright colors and hard edges still work well with Telltale's engine, and they juxtapose against the dark comedic themes in a way that never seems to get old. I did experience a couple of minor graphical glitches, but 99% of it ran like a dream. In the end, Atlas Mugged is not quite as good as Zer0 Sum. It had me chuckling five minutes in, but there were fewer laugh-out-loud moments. It maintained high intensity in its action sequences, though none quite compared to the earlier death race. It used the unique Borderlands mechanics just a bit less. Its narrative lacked any jaw-dropping twists or powerful moments of clarity, but it still remained engaging throughout. Though it is slightly less than excellent, it is still great, and I can hardly wait to see where it goes next. Telltale, please don't make me wait so long before Episode 3. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Borderlands review photo
It's here Atlas
[Disclosure: Anthony Burch, who consulted on the story for Tales from the Borderlands, was previously employed at Destructoid. As always, no relationships, personal or professional, were factored into the review.] Tales ...

Review: Battlefield Hardline

Mar 16 // Steven Hansen
Battlefield Hardline (PC [reviewed], Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, PS3)Developer: Visceral GamesPublisher: Electronic ArtsReleased: March 17, 2015MSRP: $59.99 (Standard), $69.99 (Deluxe) Hardline stars a young, honest detective named Nick Mendoza, a Cuban immigrant who grew up in a lower income area in Miami. Nick is drug police in a present day revival of '80s Miami; that is, a sudden influx of drugs, namely cheap liquid cocaine called Hot Shot, and subsequent drug violence. Nick's initial partner directly references the show Miami Vice and it feels like an excusatory retreat into nostalgia to hand wave away the shallow narrative. It feels unnecessary and irresponsible to dredge up '80s Miami so Hardline can bang on about the War on Drugs in an almost-non-present temporality, skirting contemporary issues. The structure of the game makes similar sleights of hand. Save for the first episode, which has Nick and his new partner Khai walking through colorful-character-filled projects, overhearing quaint bits of urban dialogue, there are few civilians in the game and you can't interact with the one or two you come across. That designation, "civilian" is an important one, though. When the trip through the projects turns into a stealth mission, suddenly the tutorial prompt is happy to tell you to, "toss a shell casing to separate a group of criminals." Those "criminals" are a couple of people talking in front of their house. What makes them criminals? Being in the projects while Spanish music is playing? And why are police sneaking around clubbing people in the back of the head to do silent takedowns? [embed]289147:57817:0[/embed] The characters acknowledge through dialogue that sneaking across private property isn't legal, but they're silent on the whole knocking civilians out bit. A bit later you make a rough arrest, which opens up a central mechanic: flashing your badge to freeze up to three criminals. From that point, you can go up and arrest enemies, shoving them to the ground with infinite handcuffs where they will stay with little sleeping "zzz's" overhead despite staring at you with wide open eyes. It's nice that, despite being awake, they stay completely silent after being cuffed because Hardline is easiest played as a stealth game wherein you isolate targets, flash your badge, and make arrests without being seen. Especially because playing on Visceral-recommended Veteran difficulty (the highest available at the onset), combat has a higher chance of killing you with a shotgun blast while you're reloading. Much better to wait in a corner, toss shell casings, and lure seven guards over one at a time. Of course, this renders the detailed and specific weapon and weapon modification system moot, save for painting my guns with garish orange and blue camouflages out of amusement. You're almost encouraged to make arrests rather than kill because arrests get you more points, but I also maxed out the progression tree less than halfway through. And all it yields is more gun and gun mod unlocks, which you don't need if you're not killing everyone. The whole system is a sort of confused attempt to facilitate the story, which is ripped straight from network television, the kind of one-season crime drama no one will ever remember. In fact, there's a glib, Netflix-style overlay between the game's "episodes," down to the "Next episode will start in..." countdown pane. Plus, much of the voice and directing talent is actually pulled from US network television shows, yielding quality voice work that says nothing. That's why Hardline is so good at skirting specificity and modernity. It comes from people working to make the most accessible, non-alienating kind of bombastic fiction possible. This is why an obviously telegraphed triple cross turns it from boilerplate cop drama halfway through to something you'd see on FOX: prison breaks, revenge heisting, a trip to Hollywood, a racist redneck cult compound. At one point, it is so telegraphed that you're going to be attacked by an alligator that I laughed so hard when it happened I failed the QTE. While Hardline is tone deaf at times, mostly it is just deafening. Explosions and bombast are used not to distract from a troubling narrative as much as a stale one perfunctorily paced and reminiscent of network television emptiness. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher. Destructoid did not attend the two day Hardline review event. Multiplayer was tested on Xbox One servers populated with EA Access members. Unlike the last Battlefield, it appears stable, albeit on one platform, prior to full launch.]
Battlefield review photo
Standard operating procedure
Following a year characterized by increased public awareness of rampant police violence against citizens and the militarization of local law enforcement, a gun fetishist's game riding a "cops versus criminals" tagline feels s...

Review: Fruit Ninja Kinect 2

Mar 16 // Brett Makedonski
Fruit Ninja Kinect 2 (Xbox One)Developer: Hibernum CréationsPublisher: Halfbrick StudiosReleased: March 18, 2015MSRP: $14.99 For the few who don't know, Fruit Ninja relies on the suspension of disbelief that you are a ninja (apologies to the actual ninjas in the audience), and that fruit is your mortal enemy. As fruit is tossed up on the screen, slashing, slicing, dicing, chopping, and cleaving motions dispel the pesky produce. Efficiency is key, and eliminating melons, berries, and citrus in numbers of three or higher is more rewarding in every sense of the word. Again, it's a simple premise. Fruit Ninja Kinect 2 warmly welcomes back arcade, classic, and zen modes, all of which remain (almost) untouched in their varying degrees of danger and urgency. However, there's also an attempt to add depth with four new modes, a bolstered multiplayer system, and campaign objectives. They're all fine improvements -- small tweaks on a formula that really can't be tweaked all that much. Festival is where seasoned Fruit Ninja players will find the most jarring changes. These four games each place their own significant caveat on gameplay. Two of them require avoiding incoming shurikens and staying out of a moving spotlight while still slicing fruit. Another throws seeds into the mix which, when not disposed of, turn into bamboo that needs chopping down. And, in maybe the biggest twist yet, one game trades in faux katanas for barroom darts. [embed]289110:57801:0[/embed] All that mostly ends up serving as a distraction -- a palate cleanser when the three mainstay modes temporarily overstay their welcome. They'll also have a share of campaign objectives that are unique to them, as Fruit Ninja Kinect 2 has a level progression system that sees the player from whatever unremarkable title rank one holds, through Fruit Ninja at rank 30. In the past, the only real reason to keep at Fruit Ninja was for leaderboard dominance. While that urge is still present, the stripped-down campaign does a lot to encourage continued play, even if there's nothing notably unique about it. Honestly, Fruit Ninja Kinect 2's most alluring prospect is as a party game. Fortunately, the multiplayer has evolved significantly since the past iteration. Now, four-person play is supported (although only two at a time, with swift trade-offs), and there are mini-games galore to ensure that everything's more varied than "chop more fruit than your friends." Predictably, Fruit Ninja Kinect 2's biggest weakness comes from the implementation of the Xbox One's Kinect. It's not a perfect motion peripheral, and that can become all too evident when laser-like accuracy is necessary. But, to their credit, the developers did the best they could minimizing the severity of the issue. One of Fruit Ninja Kinect's greatest strengths (and it's true of this game, too) is that it maps the player's shadow to the background. It seems somewhat insignificant, but this gives the player an omnipresent frame of reference, something that other Kinect titles couldn't offer. Most importantly, it mitigates the imprecision of the Kinect by projecting a constant and reliable method to altering body movements that'd achieve desirable results. And, brilliantly enough, this all exists in the player's subconscious. Fruit Ninja Kinect 2 is subject to the same technical downfalls in theory, but it handles them a bit better in execution. That's to be expected; it's using improved hardware, after all. There aren't many instances of Kinect just flat-out refusing to read your movements. The issues are more nuanced than that. Sometimes it'll put players on the wrong side in multiplayer and refuse to fix the problem. Other times, it won't accept the bowing command to pause the game. Most of these are niggling complications that can be worked around once you know how Fruit Ninja Kinect 2 consistently functions. Still, it's frustrating until that point's reached. Ultimately, Fruit Ninja Kinect 2 is a game that improves upon its predecessor in almost every conceivable way. Anything less would be unacceptable given that this feels somewhat more like a remaster of sorts than a true sequel. There aren't any major alterations, as the Fruit Ninja concept can't be shaken up too dramatically. But hey, it turns out that frantically slicing fruit still makes for a nice little distraction, regardless of whether it's on a tablet, a phone, or a television.
Fruit Ninja review photo
Banana, split
Any way you slice it, Fruit Ninja is one of the most popular mobile games of all time. It's built around such an unassuming foundation that it lends itself perfectly to those lulls in life when you don't really want to think ...

Review: Final Fantasy Type-0 HD

Mar 16 // Chris Carter
Final Fantasy Type-0 HD (PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)Developer: Square Enix 1st Production Department, HexaDrivePublisher: Square EnixReleased: March 17, 2015MSRP: $59.99 Type-0 HD takes place in the world of Orience, with four nations dubbed "Crystal States" constantly vying for power. The narrative focuses on a particular academy in the Vermillion Peristylium region, specifically on a group called "Class Zero" -- an elite unit, consisting of the cream of the crop. Unlike some other Final Fantasy games the narrative is incredibly easy to follow, as it is essentially framed as a warring states type deal with magic infused in it -- think Harry Potter on a grander scale. The order of operations in terms of gameplay is pretty straightforward. Players will spend a lot of time at the academy, which function as a hub-like city where you can buy and sell equipment, upgrade spells, take lectures to learn more about in-game lore, or advance the story and go on missions. There's a world map complete with optional chocobo travel, where characters can engage in random encounters, tame roaming chocobos, or find roaming monsters or warring factions. Most of your time however will be spent in combat, by way of battlefield encounters that resemble those in Kingdom Hearts (which I'll get to in a moment) and small RTS-like segments that play out on the world map. With the latter sequences you can invade towns, order troops between different vantage points, and try to sway the tide of combat with your own magic abilities. [embed]288500:57590:0[/embed] The real draw here though is the action-oriented combat, which features all of the staples you've come to love over the years -- lock-on, dodging, magic, physical attacks, and synergy between party members. It's crazy to see how much detail was put into each individual action, as every character has his or her own nuanced movements. For example, Ace has a teleport-style dodge, and can put up a magical defensive barrier to protect himself from attacks. Another character might have a faster melee skillset and focus on rushdown attacks, preferring a rough and tough block over the barrier. The more one plays the deeper combat becomes, as you start to get into tactics like standing still to heal, holding ability buttons to charge them up beyond their limits, and absorbing souls from fallen enemies, Onimusha style. For the most part you'll control three characters at once, with the ability to switch freely between them with the d-pad to adjust your tactics accordingly. By sacrificing your leader one can bring out a temporary playable Eidolon summon like Ifrit (which is subsequently limited by a timer), or rely on reserve troops if your party starts to die out and dwindle.Type-0's big message is that every party member needs to be used, and everyone is viable. From what I've played, this is absolutely true. Out of all 14 students, every single one of them has a unique skillset, from scythes to Magicite pistols to good old fashioned fisticuffs. The game gives you pretty much everything up front, and to really succeed, you'll need to have a balanced party to prevent a top-heavy situation from happening. While some may find it an excuse to pad the length, I personally love it, as there is real incentive to try out everyone. Since they're all fun to play in their own right (even Deuce, who wields a flute), I have no problem with it. It helps that you'll keep your experience even if you fail a mission, and Square Enix actually hints that it's perfectly okay to fail. I've had instances where I was down to my very last member in the final boss fight of a mission, and it was an absolute blast to figure out how I got there and how to prevent my party from getting eviscerated further. It must be said, Type-0 HD is a difficult game, and mastering every element is required to really succeed consistently. For those of you who want a more casual experience, Square added a "cadet" setting that should help less skilled players get to the end. Aesthetically, I love the focus on red and gold. Just like any Final Fantasy game you'll have your favorite characters, and the seasoned dub cast led by talents like Matthew Mercer really do a great job here. If one is so inclined Japanese audio is also in without having to download a patch (as Square has been known to offer). The incredible soundtrack also deserves its own mention, and I'm keen to listen to tracks outside of the game, which doesn't happen all that often. I also felt a connection to the world of Type-0, which helped me along as I took on each mission. There's lots of blood, perhaps more than any other Final Fantasy title to date, and the first time I saw a chocobo brutally executed in front of me while a young cadet begged for his life, my jaw was wide open. There are a lot of great action scenes afoot in Type-0, and because of the down-to-earth school setting the rivalries between classes and classmates are a little more relatable than some other back stories. Of course, not all is good when it comes to the visuals. The style is great on paper, but it really feels scaled down for an HD release. You can take the outdated visuals out of the PSP, but you can't take the PSP influences out of this remake. There are some jarring transitions to deal with, low-detailed environments, and re-used maps in a lot of city-states. The world map also feels bland compared to pretty much every other JRPG out right now. These things are easier to overlook when the game is constantly fun and rewarding, but it's something to be aware of. JRPG fans looking for a meaty experience will be pleased to know that Type-0 HD has at minimum roughly 40 hours of story content, and if you do everything, it'll take you more than double that. There are extra missions to enjoy, plenty of sidequests and world map activities to find, and there's an expansive "history" section on the main menu that opens up the more you play. There are also four difficulty levels, two of which will push your skills to the absolute limit. While it did not factor into this review, first-run physical discs and digital copies will include a demo for Final Fantasy XV. That's quite a hefty list of extras, but there's a certain degree of disappointment when one takes into account that the HD remake didn't really add anything significant content-wise for people who have already played it -- in fact the multiplayer component was actually taken out of the game for fear of taking another year to develop. Final Fantasy Type-0 HD is a pleasant surprise, and after playing it, I can see why so many people were clamoring for a western release. Although it doesn't necessarily justify the HD treatment at every turn, the core game is worth playing whether you're a fan of the franchise, or just enjoy challenging tactical action. If Square keeps highlighting and pushing quality experiences like this, it will prove to more people it hasn't lost its touch. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Final Fantasy Type-0 HD photo
More capes, darling!
For years now, some people have been saying that Final Fantasy is dead. While XIII was considered a misstep by some, XIII-2 was a marked improvement and Lighting Returns was one of my favorite games of las...

What can save Titanfall 2?

Mar 14 // Nic Rowen
Fine, just go ahead and make a single player campaign As someone who almost never bothers with the single player campaign in a shooter, I applauded Respawn's decision to axe any kind of bloated, roller-coaster ride of narrative mode like I was a 18th century French peasant cheering at the guillotine. I looked at all the stats and figures showing how most CoD players never touch the SP game and thought of my own history of aggressively ignoring most shooter stories since Quake 3 and thought it was a savvy move. A good way to cut down the cost of development while making sure the full focus of the project was placed on the most important part of the game, the multiplayer. And I was wrong. Well sort of. Personally, stubbornly, I STILL think it was a good idea. I was fine with the window dressing of the “campaign multiplayer” mode which added a few lines of story-based radio chatter over the usual MP action, leaving the player to draw in the details. But given the massive popular backlash against the decision, it's clear that the absence of a SP campaign hurt the reputation and perception of Titanfall more than whatever dollars they saved in the process could have. It may be silly, but so many people were offended by the lack of a SP campaign (that they were statistically unlikely to have played) that it killed a lot of enthusiasm for the title. It made Titanfall feel like half a game sold at the price of a full title. Even as just an optics thing, the trade-off wasn't worth it. As much as I hate to admit it, Titanfall 2 should have an SP campaign. Whether it's fair or not, it is something that is seen as part of the complete package for a first-person shooter. They gave it a shot without one and it didn't work, to stick to that stance on principle would be foolish. Besides, I don't know about anyone else, but I could probably stand to learn a little bit more about the history behind the development of the Titans and the lives of the colonists living on those monster-infested planets. Ironically, Titanfall's world is probably one of the only FPS settings that actually could get me to sit through a five-to-eight hour campaign! For God's sake, give us more robots Surprising nobody, the biggest draw about Titanfall was the mechs. I thought they looked cool, had a satisfying weight in the world compared to the pixie-like pilots, and had an intimidating presence on the battlefield. They were powerful and desirable without making the average pilot on foot feel useless. I just wish there were more of them. Three Titans aren't enough. Not by a long shot. I get why, from a gameplay perspective, Respawn might have wanted to keep it simple and stick with “the fast one, the Ryu, and the big one” so players could clearly see the trade-offs of each and easily size up the opposition while wall-running down a four story building trying to aim a rapid-fire rocket launcher. Maybe that was the right call for the first game, but this is the sequel. It's time to add some more wrinkles, some more complexity, some more crunch. I want to see weirder, more specialized Titans. Robots with particular abilities and roles, or weapons that can only be equipped on specific chassis rather than one-size-fits-all solutions. Maybe mechs that can use larger cannons or launchers by deploying in a static position, making themselves an easy target temporarily while they break out the big guns. Or maybe a Titan that has less offensive power but a sophisticated sensor system to compensate, creating a more tactically minded option for coordinated teams. I don't want to get bogged down in imagineering up robots (that's a rabbit hole I could waste an entire day in), but you get the idea. The Titans are supposed to be what sets the game apart against all of the other “hold left-trigger, squeeze right-trigger” shooters out there, they should be front and center and there should be plenty of them. Robot bling  While emblems and custom AI voice options for your Titans were eventually added into Titanfall with a patch almost half a year after release, it was a classic case of too little, too late. It's mind boggling to me that those options weren't in the game from the start and that Respawn was so timid with them when they finally added them in. I mean, one little patch on the shoulder of your three story tall robot? Nuts to that. I want to be able to paint my Titan hazard yellow with orange and gold trim, people should recognize me when I come stomping. I want to be able to select between a few different types of leg joints and shoulder pads, give my robot just the right swagger. I want to be able to adjust the look of my individual pilot characters by class and type, deck out my own imaginary crew of jetpack-wearing badasses. This is a futuristic sci-fi setting, why not have some fun with it? Adding in a ton of unlockable cosmetic gear isn't just fun for players, it also solves another problem Titanfall had -- content and progression goals. While I personally liked that there were only so many guns and attachments in the game and they were all relatively quick to unlock, a lot of players complained that it felt like there was nothing to “do” in Titanfall, that they were never working towards a goal (like you need more incentive to climb into the cockpit of a missile spewing robot? I don't understand people). Cosmetic gear could be used to give progression minded players something to shoot for without messing up the pace of weapon unlocks or stuffing the game full of useless sights and foregrips just for the sake of having them. If Respawn sticks to its admirable “no micro-transaction” policy, fancy helmets and mech bling could be a nice long-term carrot for players that who don't hold robot brawling as a self-justifying reward. What do you think? As I said before, I loved Titanfall, so while I have plenty of suggestions on how to improve the game, maybe I'm not seeing what turned everyone else off. So what do you think? Is there anything Titanfall 2 could do to make you interested in a jet-pack/robot deathmatch, or is Respawn doomed to repeat history a second time out?
Titanfall 2 wishlist photo
I've got a few ideas
I absolutely adored Titanfall, but going by the comments and blogs I've read over the past year, it seems like I'm the only person on Earth who did. Every article, news post, or blog written about the game invariably becomes ...

Jason in Mortal Kombat X photo
The horror icon is in
Warner Bros. Interactive has just confirmed that Jason Voorhees, classic Friday the 13th horror icon, is in Mortal Kombat X as DLC. You'll be able to buy the Kombat Pack at launch for $30, which allows access to fo...

SMITE's Xbox One alpha is off to a great start

Mar 12 // Chris Carter
While many of you out there probably dislike the lack of ingenuity when it comes to SMITE's roster, I must admit I still love the gimmick of tapping into existing spiritual and celestial beings. SMITE has playable characters representing Norse, Greek, Roman, Hindu, Chinese, Mayan, and Egyptian mythology, and odds are you'll recognize at least a few faces in the crowd. I'm addicted to scrolling through the little bios for each character, like binge-reading a series of Wikipedia entries. Hi-Rez has done a great job making them their own aesthetically. For those who aren't familiar with SMITE, gameplay comes in three varieties currently with the Xbox One alpha -- Arena (5v5 all-out combat), Siege (4v4 with two lanes, the most traditional MOBA experience), and Joust (3v3 with just one lane). Assault and Conquest from the PC version are currently not enabled, but the three aforementioned Xbox modes have a "first win of the day" bonus that grants you extra currency. It's a smart move, as it encourages you to boot up the game, relax, play a few matches, then retire for the evening after getting your bonuses. Heroes of the Storm and many other MOBAs have similar practices, but it feels especially at home on a console for me. The alpha currently does not allow you to connect your existing PC account (although it is promised for the future) or purchase "Gems" (the premium currency), but it has a decent selection of free characters at the moment, as well as the ability to earn "Favor," which allows you to "buy" characters by playing the game. I expect Gems will be sold by way of Xbox Live, and so far, the interface isn't confusing -- all of the cost info is right up front. Currently the going rate is roughly 400 Gems for $8, and each character in the alpha costs 200. The good news is that you can earn about half of the roster by buying each character with Favor, with the earn rate working out to a little less than a week of casual play. It's a little on the high side, but I've seen worse. Plus, the free rotation has been generous so far. [embed]285826:56801:0[/embed] Surprisingly, it controls great on the Xbox One. Everything is extremely easy to pick up, including movement, aiming, and getting to know all four of your character's abilities, which are mapped to the face buttons. Line targeting and even area-of-effect (AOE) powers are easy to aim using both sticks, and I had very little problem getting my powers where they needed to go. Since basic attacks are all done manually, a controller lends itself well to the action-oriented scheme, and using some character's dodge abilities felt more natural. Having the rumble feature go off when a queue is finished pre-match is a nice touch. Currently, the user interface needs a little work. It's a bit dated, and can stand to look a lot sleeker with its console debut. There are also a few minor issues with the current build, like the lack of indication that you're holding down the left trigger to "prep" your currently equipped items. Often times I'd need to use an item like a speed boost in a sticky situation, and it wouldn't go off because I apparently wasn't holding the trigger correctly. So far the visuals are very smooth, even for an alpha, but this is a testing phase after all so everything didn't go off without a hitch. My first match was rocky and unplayable, constantly lagging and counting back the game clock -- I tried to leave, but I couldn't jump into a new game until it was completely finished, which took a fair bit of time. I must say though that nearly all of my matches were very smooth, with little lag involved at all. This bodes well for Hi-Rez considering that it's still early in the console version's life cycle. If Xbox One owners are willing to take the plunge on SMITE, Hi-Rez stands to make quite a bit of money from daily players. The studio is going to have to stay on its game this year however, as there is plenty of competition as more and more developers are jumping into the space. While SMITE still isn't quite at the top of my MOBA list, I think I'm going to make an effort to play more when it arrives on the Xbox One later this year.
SMITE on Xbox One photo
Hi-Rez's MOBA has transitioned well to consoles
There aren't a whole lot of fully featured MOBA games on consoles. While a handful of them exist, some faring better than others, there's going to be a bigger push this year with games like SMITE and Gigantic headin...

Xbox to indie devs: There's a place for your game on Windows 10, no matter the size

Mar 11 // Brett Makedonski
[embed]288897:57724:0[/embed] According to Charla, that's the program's ultimate goal. "The most important thing to us is to make sure that when someone turns on their Xbox One or their Windows 10 device, they have access to a really broad array of videogames," he said. "The nice thing about that is that for us at ID@Xbox, it creates a really easy, kind of north-star central goal that we align ourselves to every day which is 'Let’s make life really easy for developers.' The easier we make life for developers, the more we reduce friction to get onto our platforms, the more we make Xbox and Windows 10 a great sustainable ecosystem." That's where Windows 10 comes in, at least in the gaming space. If Microsoft wants consumers playing games on any Windows 10 device, it starts with convincing developers to put their titles on those platforms. But, Charla deals solely with indies -- a demographic that's not known for their extensive resources. Would this mean that some independent developers might be averse to the idea of over-extending themselves to too many platforms at once? Charla doesn't think so. He commented "We’re not about trying to put requirements on developers; we’re about providing options for developers. The thing with Windows 10 is that it has a huge, broad reach. That doesn’t mean you have to make your game work on phone on Windows 10, and on PC on Windows 10, and on HoloLens on Windows 10. You should make your games for the platforms, endpoints, or devices that you think it’ll succeed on. We think that including Xbox Live needs to be pretty straight-forward, and for the developers who have done it so far, it’s been pretty straight-forward. And, they’re not the biggest developers in the world, right? We think it enables developers to offer their players an interesting addition to the game." It will make for an interesting option for developers, but it's also Microsoft's vision of the future (at least for now). It's reasonable to assume that Xbox and Microsoft have a vested interest in getting as many developers as possible to philosophically buy into the program. Given that ID@Xbox helps indies publish their games, maybe Xbox will offer extra incentive to developers that release across multiple platforms. It's easy to see a scenario where these studios are offered some sort of preferential treatment, whether it be in the form of extra support or funding. However, Charla denies that this is the case. He insisted that while ID@Xbox is dedicated to decreasing the burden on developers, it's not sweetening the pot for some that are willing to help this new ecosystem thrive. Instead, that assistance is being distributed unilaterally in the form of services such as speeding up the certification process or holding showcases for the games in the program. And, now it's about giving developers options. But, one option that still won't be available is XNA. XNA is a free toolset that's aimed at developing games across several Microsoft platforms. Some notable examples of titles created with it are Dust: An Elysian Tail, Bastion, Fez, and Charlie Murder. There's talk within the development community that it'll make a return, and this new emphasis on unifying games on Windows 10 seems like the perfect time. When asked point-blank if XNA is coming back, Charla responded with a definitive "No." He elaborated "But, I think that when you think about what XNA was for, a lot of that spirit is still at Microsoft in the desire to make sure that anyone can create games for Microsoft devices, whether they’re a 150 team at a major publisher or a teenager who’s just learning how to code. We want to make sure that the Microsoft ecosystem is a place where you can make games and learn. In that spirit, XNA was a solution design for the technology that was available at the time. It was a program that was created to foster the creative spirit. We’ve always said that we want Xbox One – and by extension, Windows 10 – to be a place that isn’t just a place to enjoy great content; it's a place to create great content." Really, that's step one when it comes to creating a platform for games: make sure people want to create there. That's what ID@Xbox is dedicated to doing. Charla wrapped up the interview by saying "But, it’s important to us to support developers and to make their lives easy, and to support the spirit that anyone can make a game." By most accounts, ID@Xbox has been doing that all along. Now, Windows 10 just makes it so developers have a few more options.
Xbox interview photo
'We're about providing options for developers'
Microsoft announced last week at GDC in San Francisco that it was introducing cross-play between Xbox One and Windows 10 devices. That opens a world of possibility in ways for developers to deliver games to their audience. So...

Review: White Night

Mar 11 // Conrad Zimmerman
White Night (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)Developer: OSome StudioPublisher: ActivisionReleased: March 3, 2015MSRP: $14.99 Set near Boston in the latter years of the Great Depression, White Night tells a pulp horror tale with noir trappings. Driven off road in a storm by the ghostly form of a woman, the player begins wounded at the gates of decrepit Vesper mansion, home of a once powerful family with a grim legacy. What begins as a simple effort to make it through the night develops into an exploration of the Vesper family and how it connects to the apparition which drew the player in. Storytelling is the major aspect of White Night, and the one which it most capably succeeds at. As the player explores, they'll find dozens of journal entries, notes, photos, bits of private correspondence, and newspaper clippings relating to the Vespers. Walls are covered with family portraits and art, most of which can be examined and rarely see their descriptions recycled (though the art occasionally is). Narrative creeps in at the corners, these expository bits gradually developing into a fascinating tale of gloom, desperation, and madness. They're wonderful, and encourage a thorough exploration of every room. Voice-acted narration from the protagonist comes in at points as well, though these are typically far less interesting and hindered a bit by a youthful voice which doesn't seem to match the character. [embed]288768:57713:0[/embed] Taking an unusual approach to visual design, the game is presented in 3D, using fixed camera angles, almost exclusively in black and white. Stark and captivating, the sharp contrast and its limitations effectively draw the eye to details and discrepancies. The darkness is oppressive and encroaching, yet often preferable to the light which reveals that there actually are horrible things in hiding. It's a stylish look that well serves play dominated by object collection and interaction, as the player's view is often limited to their immediate vicinity. This, paired with the fixed cameras, is occasionally disorienting, as landmarks which could be used to identify the player's relative position are rendered invisible in the dark, which does make the experience more intense (albeit at the risk of frustration). Light and darkness are used literally and metaphorically throughout the game as core concepts. The player is helpless in the dark, unable to interact with the environment in any meaningful way. Inside the mansion, as working light fixtures are few and far between, the player must rely on matches for light. A maximum of twelve matches can be carried at one time, and the length of time they burn is affected by factors like movement, making it hard to gauge how much time one has, and (as anyone who's been down to a few matches will tell you) they're unreliable. There is a little thrill to be had from running dangerously low, only to have two matches in a row come up as duds. As time is spent out of the light, thrumming bass begins to build in volume and add a layer of frantic intensity which is exciting. Refills of matches are plentiful, however, and the amount of time the player has to actually spend in the dark before succumbing to it is considerable. One could play so poorly that victory becomes impossible, but the likelihood of this happening unintentionally seems low. The use of matches for light also hinders the player's ability to interact with objects which require the use of both hands, making most puzzles in the game follow a pattern of finding the objective, then finding a light source which allows for interaction with the objective, which may then lead to another puzzle. Most puzzles aren't difficult to solve, requiring just a touch of logical deduction based on easily found clues. If the player is struggling, they can reference an in-game hint system that collects observations the player has made and puts them a newspaper layout which usually points out what may have been overlooked. Occasionally, the protagonist will chime in with a comment of their own which indicates where they should check next. These features do a good job of cutting down fruitless wandering to find the next goal without explicit hand holding. The real killers are the ghostly forms of the Vesper family matriarch. Found in almost every room of the mansion at some point, these spirits roam about or obstruct progress and give chase when they see the player. If caught, the game is immediately over, which occasionally feels a tad unreasonable in light of the fixed cameras, but it does make their presence something to be feared and being hunted by them provides some tense moments. Ghosts can be evaded, usually by exiting the room they occupy or by getting a bit of distance in darkness (they're blind, a fact the game fails to point out until halfway through). They can also be destroyed with electric light, and a considerable percentage of the player's time will be spent figuring out how to turn on lights just to kill ghosts in their path. White Night bills itself as "survival" horror, a case made on the basis of its loose extrapolation of mechanics found in other games attributed to that genre. Players expecting a traditional survival experience of limited resources against considerable odds will likely find it underwhelming. Very rarely is a significant challenge presented, save for a few larger rooms with a lot of ghosts to avoid (easily overcome with a little persistence, though the trial and error can be wearisome). Limited resources, while still limited, are plentiful and widely distributed. Save points, though not numerous, are placed well to minimize the distance between them and any point of major interest. The trappings of survival horror are there, but there is no teeth to the gameplay. It would be more accurate to say that White Night is an exploration adventure, an interactive story in the "weird tale" tradition. Just enough obstacles exist to make that story feel as though it was earned, that the player participated in the telling, but conveying the story is the priority. From clever exploitation of gameplay mechanics to the pages and pages of rich exposition which carefully unravel and the moody jazz soundtrack, everything exists in service to the fiction. In that, it succeeds, and it's a story worth experiencing and deserving of praise. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
White Night review photo
Stay in the light
When people look back upon the great horror games of this year, they're probably going to forget about White Night, and that's understandable. It doesn't break any ground, it isn't littered with jump scares to draw in the You...







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