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Review: Life is Strange: Dark Room

Jul 28 // Brett Makedonski
Life is Strange: Dark Room (PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One[reviewed])Developer: Dontnod EntertainmentPublisher: Square EnixRelease date: July 28, 2015MSRP: $4.99 (Each Episode) Interestingly enough, Dark Room largely betrays the pacing set forth by the previous three installments. Those chapters had a tendency to meander as Dontnod built the world and its characters. There wasn't anything inherently bad about that. Actually, now that the game's nearing its conclusion, it's paying dividends. We're invested in the story surrounding Arcadia Bay. Still, Dark Room is always tugging at your sleeves, trying to guide you somewhere. The stakes in this episode have been raised to a degree that doesn't lend itself to killing time. Urgency permeates the entirety of Dark Room. Rushing from one location to another advances the plot as things escalate steadily, and there's not always a chair handy to take a mental breather. As quickly as things move, a lot of the brilliance behind this episode comes in the form of finally tying together past events and seeing how they cause everything to shake out. There's some resolution, even if it's not full resolution. Dontnod has proven that it expertly laid the framework to affect future encounters. One particular instance comes in the form of another spat with a familiar antagonist. The branching paths can lead to several outcomes, none necessarily more optimal than the next. [embed]296752:59714:0[/embed] Another prime example is very un-Life is Strange, and maybe the only time Dark Room just sat still for a minute. Max has a board of clues that she must use to put together some damning evidence against someone. Putting on Max's sleuthing hat, the puzzle requires carefully finding related documents and grouping them in a sensible way. Odd as it may have seemed, this section nicely conveyed a sense of inter-connectivity and broke up the episode's breakneck speed. The rest of Dark Room's high points were the bleakest moments the game has seen, none of which should be discussed here. This episode doubled down on grim material and somber social issues. The absolute best thing Dark Room does is that it still somehow manages to present most of this (and the characters tied to it) from a complex perspective. It's not dealing in blacks and whites -- even though it's completely expected by now, given the nature of the subjects. The more time spent in Life is Strange, the more obvious it is that this isn't the game we may have originally thought. The supernatural won't overshadow the social issues. The rewind mechanic often doesn't feel like an option because you want to live with your decisions. Somehow, Dontnod resisted the urge to lean on these aspects, even though they'd be the easiest to lean on. The game's immeasurably better off for it. So, after another cliffhanger ending, we're left awaiting the conclusion and with no real idea where the narrative might go. Dark Room has been the most masterful installment in Life is Strange thus far, and it sets us hurtling toward the finish line. If the first 80 percent is any indication, it probably won't be a "happily ever after" ending. Only one thing's certain, though: that ever-present throat lump will be along for the ride.
Life is Strange review photo
Super Max
I played the fourth episode of Life is Strange with a lump in my throat. You know, the sort of uneasiness that puts a slight pressure behind your ears. The lump waned and grew with the chapter's crescendos and decrescend...

Review: King's Quest: A Knight To Remember

Jul 28 // Chris Carter
King’s Quest: A Knight To Remember (PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: The Odd GentlemenPublisher: Sierra EntertainmentReleased: July 28, 2015MSRP: $9.99 per episode / $40 for the "Complete Collection" To be clear, this isn't a true continuation of the series, but rather, a "re-imagining" with the same characters, and some of the same events. For the most part, this new rendition is going to tell side stories that happened between the games over the course of five episodes -- A Knight to Remember is the first. There's plenty of fanservice scattered about to keep old fans happy, but newcomers won't be lost in the slightest in their first foray into Daventry -- it's a great balancing act. When I first booted up the game, it was seemingly taking a low-key Ico-like approach, which I really dug. The protagonist didn't talk much initially, and you're thrown into an unknown situation that sets up the rest of the tale. It immediately reminded me of a Don Bluth project, with beautiful scenery and interesting character designs. There are a few areas I encountered that had some screen tearing issues, but nothing that affected my enjoyment significantly, or crashed the game in any way on Xbox One. Slowly but surely the game opened up and started to become more talkative, at which point I immediately fell in love with it. The way the game is framed is through the narration of King Graham, who is telling his granddaughter the tales of his youth. Christopher Lloyd plays an older Graham to perfection, with plenty of "grandpa puns" and lots of heart. You can tell he's really enjoying it and isn't phoning it in like some stars might (Destiny), and in fact, the entire cast is one of the most organic collective of characters I've ever seen in a game. There's tons of great references to classic films like The Princess Bride with a welcome appearance from Wallace Shawn, and even direct references to characters like Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. While I don't want to spoil the surprises, they're done with the utmost respect to the source material, and never approach the level of an annoying forced meme. It helps that the game's animations are incredible, and it's hard to not laugh out loud when you see Graham frantically running with his arms flailing about like Disney's Ichabod Crane. In fact, I've never laughed so hard at a game in my life -- trust me when I say that's not an exaggeration. I particularly like how the game handles death with the Grandpa Graham narration mechanism, which even makes failure funny. There's also a few hilarious references to characters "remembering that" from Telltale games, and a clever use of the narration technique in other ways. For instance, there's one part where you're walking on a log, and after going over it again, Graham mentions that it would be repetitive if he had to explain that bit over and over to his granddaughter, so it transports you to the other side. It's convenient and charming in the same breath. One thing I need to mention is that the game is not as hardcore as past King's Quest titles, which is to be expected. The narration element sort of clues you in sometimes to the solution (which again, is done very well), and I really like how the game focuses in on objects you are currently trying to use a piece of equipment on, to eliminate any nasty instances of pixel-hunting. There's also plenty of choices to be had that change the story in smaller ways, like leaving tips in a collection plate in any empty store, or bigger conundrums that promise more of an impact in future episodes (stay tuned to future reviews to see how this plays out). While the first hour or so of the roughly five hour adventure is rather linear, the game opens up significantly after that, with a large sandbox that isn't as massive as a classic adventure game, but big enough to roam around in. There's also some third-person obstacle dodging, mild on-rails platforming, and several first-person aiming sequences. There's a few quick-time events but they are very few and far between, which is a nice touch, as modern adventure games use them as a crutch far too often. Of course, A Knight to Remember also has several puzzles as well as some memory work involved, which are well executed. So yes, it's much more involved than your average Telltale game. I wish King's Quest: A Knight to Remember was a bit more taxing, but I loved everything about it. If this series does well I hope we get to see the adventures of other family members like Alexander, and additional areas like the Land of the Green Isles. Right now though, I'm going through withdraws for the second episode already. Move over Telltale, there's a new adventure king in town. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Kingĺs Quest review photo
A kingly modern classic
Not all revivals or remakes instill a sense of nostalgia within me. For instance, if we ever got that sequel to Kabuki Quantum Fighter we were promised in the original's credits, I wouldn't be all that excited. But King'...

Review: Trials Fusion: Awesome Level Max

Jul 21 // Jordan Devore
Trials Fusion: Awesome Level Max (PC, PlayStation 4 [reviewed], Xbox One)Developer: RedLynxPublisher: UbisoftReleased: July 14, 2015MSRP: $9.99 (DLC) / $39.99 (Full game, Season Pass DLC, and Awesome Level Max) While Ubisoft has spent much of its time talking up "The Awesome Adventure," the group of levels centered on the unlikely duo, that content makes up the minority of Awesome Level Max. It's only short eight levels, one of which is an even-shorter FMX course that has players performing tricks as they fall from space. The other twenty-two levels are a mix of developer and player-made creations. They're far more varied and come packaged under the "RedLynx vs. All-Stars" banner. But back to that unicorn -- it's meant to be ridiculous, silly fun. That may seem obvious, but some people take Trials leaderboards very seriously. Think of this set as something you'll go through once -- maybe a few times more, tops, to get better medals -- and never touch again. The scenery is a change of pace, especially from the core game's offerings. Level layouts aren't particularly memorable or challenging, and I suspect most dedicated players will be able to breeze past them, crashing only because the path ahead wasn't clear enough the first time through. The seventh track culminates in a boss battle, if you can even call it that, against a penguin inside a mech. There are pixelated cats, for some reason. You literally win the fight by balancing on the machine's helmet. I didn't know what to expect for the conclusion, but it sure wasn't that. Weird stuff. It's also worth noting that the unicorn and cat are locked out of other tracks aside from Supercross. [embed]296414:59632:0[/embed] The RedLynx vs. All-Stars side of the DLC is far more fulfilling. For one, it represents a better range of difficulty. Clearing the first checkpoint in the two new Extreme tracks felt like an accomplishment, as it should. I haven't managed to finish either of them yet, and that pleases me. One concern going in was that there would be an inconsistency between the player-created courses and the ones RedLynx designed. I didn't find that to be the case at all. If they weren't labeled separately, I'm not certain I'd be able to tell the levels apart. One takes place in a computer. Another is reminiscent of Limbo's shadowy, saw-filled world. Too many tracks employ lava but, on the whole, this bundle has exactly the variety I missed in the often bland base version of Trials Fusion. Folks who skipped the season pass but want more Trials in the vein of Trials HD and Evolution should consider downloading Awesome Level Max. It's a little on the easy side, but I appreciate RedLynx for trying new ideas and bringing back more of its unusual personality. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Trials Fusion DLC review photo
Just go with it
Why would Trials Fusion drop its motorbikes for a gun-toting cat on a unicorn? Because it's funny. The touchy controls transfer to your new ride, so when you inevitably lose balance, the quadruped will start hoofing it on two legs. If you're anything like me, you'll burst out in laughter.

Dead Island 2 photo
Still doing Dead Island 2
Deep Silver has announced it is parting ways with Dead Island 2 developer Yager (Spec Ops: The Line). Just a few months ago, Deep Silver delayed the game into 2016 over quality concerns. The publisher made this announcement w...

Review: Batman: Arkham Knight - Batgirl: A Matter of Family

Jul 14 // Chris Carter
Batman: Arkham Knight - Batgirl: A Matter of Family (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: WB Games MontrealPublisher: Warner Bros.MSRP: $6.99Released: July 14, 2015 (for Season Pass holders) / July 21, 2015 (wide release) The Batmobile takes a backseat this time in favor of a tale told entirely from Barbara Gordon's perspective before the events of Arkham Knight. WB just couldn't resist the chance to bring The Joker back yet again, and it uses every opportunity to let you know that this is his DLC without really having him do all that much. In other more exciting news, Harley Quinn is back, but with her red and black Animated Series get-up for the first time in the Arkham games. It looks great. All of the action takes place in the Seagate Amusement Park, which can be thought of as a tiny little sandbox that hosts the new DLC area. The Joker has captured Jim Gordon, and it's up to Barbara (and Robin) to save the day. Family kicks things off with a by-the-book Dual Play combat session, then it's off to free roam for Batgirl. For the most part (like all the other playable characters so far), Batgirl operates just like Batman -- she even has identical detective vision. Combat is relatively the same, and even though WB Montreal notes that she's "weaker" than Bruce, it doesn't really feel that way at all. It's very cool grappling about with Robin, but other than the use of a new type of gadget (advanced hacking), it's the tried and true Arkham formula. In Family, Barbara can use her remote hacking device as a "catch-all" basically, to do all sorts of things like short-circuit devices or manipulate objects. Think of it like a super gadget that can do a lot. It's presumably done so you don't have to micro-manage all of Bats' tools all over again, and to give Batgirl a slightly different feel. Here's the thing -- it does work at a base level, mostly because it distills the experience down to a lot of the good bits, and takes away the pesky forced Batmobile sessions. In other ways it feels limited, as you're stripped of most of those wonderful toys. [embed]295688:59441:0[/embed] None of the environments are particularly memorable outside of a nice little cameo I found in a water tank (in fact, most zones are even less interesting than the random spots you'll find in Gotham proper), but the linear format isn't jarring, either. That's mostly because of the fact that the DLC is so short. Normally that would be fine, but the story never really goes anywhere until the very end. Even then, it feels like a footnote rather than an impactful part of the overall narrative. In terms of length, it's meatier than the Harley DLC, but not by much. You can complete the main story in roughly an hour, and sort out all of the other collectibles in another 30 minutes. What I would have really loved to see is a full-roam option with Red Hood, Harley, and Batgirl (I mean, the models are already in the game with grappling and combat animations), but it's not meant to be -- the latter is still confined to her tiny add-on area. There are eight Achievements/Trophies though if you're into that sort of thing. Warner Bros. is really employing an odd strategy with Batman: Arkham Knight's post-launch content and the relatively expensive $40 Season Pass. All that's been revealed so far beyond a bunch of throwaway content (skins, races) is a handful of bite-sized episodes such as this; it's a far cry from the competent Cold, Cold Heart add-on for Arkham Origins last year. While A Matter of Family may be worth it for hardcore Batgirl fans, WB will have to do a lot better than this to justify the cost of the pass. [This review is based on a retail build of the DLC purchased by the reviewer.]
Batman DLC review photo
The Killing DLC
Enough time has passed for me to make a solid judgement on Batman: Arkham Knight. For the most part, I agree with the sentiments expressed in Steven's review of the core game -- Rocksteady tried too hard in many respects, and...

Call of Goldbum photo
DLC...DLC finds...a way
Activision has sent us a great deal of information regarding Call of Duty: Black Ops III's upcoming zombie mode today, revealed at its San Diego Comic-Con panel. For starters, the all-new zombies cast features Jeff Goldblum ...

Review: Spectra

Jul 09 // Brett Makedonski
Spectra (PC [reviewed], Xbox One, iOS, Android, Windows Phone)Developers: Gateway InteractivePublisher: MastertronicReleased: July 10, 2015 For all the things Spectra isn't, it does one thing very very well. The chiptune beats instantly remind of Chipzel's in Super Hexagon -- a game which is renowned for its recognizable and catchy music, and for its addictive qualities. There's a logical explanation for this connection: the music is made by Chipzel. Good as that component predictably is, one can't shake the feeling that the developers put the music too far at the forefront of Spectra. It's tied to the core of the game in such a way that Gateway Interactive actually developed around it. The ten levels are procedurally generated for what's happening with the music. Dynamic (racing) tracks for static (music) tracks. The problem isn't so much with the method, but with the absolute lack of variation in it. Spectra takes place on a winding two-lane road (like a Sheryl Crow song) with hexagonal prisms peppered along the way liberally to serve as obstacles. The entirety of Spectra consists of avoiding those barriers, picking up gold pellets, and ever-so-occasionally hitting a turbo marker that not only boosts speed but a score multiplier too. Technically, that score is probably the main reason to play Spectra. It's heavy on arcade-like qualities in that it asks the player to put up with great repetition in pursuit of leaderboard glory. Unfortunately, the procedural generation makes it so that no one can necessarily hunker down and teach themselves how to dominate the game. [embed]295486:59424:0[/embed] Instead, it emphasizes reaction over pattern recognition, which would be noble if the algorithm didn't often feel as if it spawns too many barriers at once. Sometimes it could very well be impossible to escape those situations unscathed. It's mostly unnoticeable on the earlier levels, but it's all too apparent in the later ones. Hampering those efforts is a control system that's not poor, but just slightly too loose for a game that only asks the player to steer. It's more a complication with the ship's animation than the actual controls. Regardless, it causes the tiniest of disconnects. A reaction-based game on a narrow pathway with thousands of hurdles has no excuse for not giving the player complete control. Spectra seemingly knows it as going off-track often grants a split second mercy window to get back on before plunging into the abyss. Besides score chasing, players may find themselves insistent on simply trying to finish each level. Clocking in around three and a half minutes each, it's no small feat as Spectra lends itself well to temporary concentration lapses causing immediate failure. The track length often seems about a minute too long to sustain any spurts of enjoyment. Even completion is unsatisfying as there's no finish line due to the game being unsure how far you will have made it over the duration of the song; rather than any sort of fanfare, a new screen pops up informing you of your accomplishment. I don't usually rely so literally upon Destructoid's scoring guide when assigning a number for a review, but it feels so apt in the case of Spectra. It's like a boring meal that did nothing more than chew up a little time. It does lack any real flavor. It didn't leave me any different than it found me. It's tolerable, but not anything special. Well, the music is special, but it turns out that Spectra can't stand on the merits of its music alone. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Spectra review photo
Beat it
Spectra isn't a lot of things. It isn't complicated; its mechanics and entire premise can be learned in literally five seconds. It isn't structured; level design is eschewed for procedural generation. It isn't long; an hour of playing will have unlocked all the tracks with plenty of time to retry the many failed ones. Probably most important: it isn't really fun.

The Red Hood DLC pack for Arkham Knight is disgustingly short

Jul 03 // Chris Carter
[embed]295280:59335:0[/embed] [Straight-up, I'm not going to spoil the story for you, but be aware that this tale takes place after the events of Arkham Knight, and that many commenters may indeed spoil it for you below -- you have been warned.] First, the good news. Red Hood takes the path of least resistance, and can be seen as an anti-Batman vigilante of sorts -- Under the Red Hood was a fantastic film, and I think Rocksteady nailed that vibe here. Red Hood is pissed (for good reason), and he isn't going to let anyone get away with their crime sprees -- unlike Batman, who is content with putting people back in Arkham only for them to break out at a later date. Similar to Harley and all of the other characters in Knight, Hood feels the exact same in the close-combat sections (just mash attack and the counter simple-minded AI), with the added power of some unique animations like...murdering people with his pistols. Unlike Harley who simply couldn't use silent takedowns, this gives the DLC a distinctly different feel, and the tone is fairly unique to the series in general. I'm also a fan of Black Mask, so seeing him return was a treat. All of this is cut short by the fact that it's roughly 10 minutes long, which naturally gives it no room to grow any of the characters or deliver anything worthwhile. You'll be greeted with a combat scene, a brief Predator sequence, then another combat bit with Black Mask, who doesn't exhibit any real unique boss qualities (again, it's "this boss throws adds at you constantly, have fun"). It's a disappointment, to say the least, as both DLCs could have been so much more if they were an hour long, had more involved stories, and interesting boss mechanics. Rocksteady is teasing a few more of these "Arkham Stories" with the Season Pass, and I sincerely hope they're more than this.
Red Hood photo
Man do I love this character though
Just yesterday, we gave you the rundown on the Harley Quinn DLC pack for Batman: Arkham Knight. Much like many aspects of the core game, it was a letdown, mostly due to its length and the fact that it doesn't really provide a...

The Harley Quinn DLC pack for Arkham Knight is painfully brief

Jul 02 // Chris Carter
[embed]295181:59315:0[/embed] Much like Azrael and Batman's other playable companions, Harley's fighting style is nearly identical to the Dark Knight, and other than a few new animations, feels exactly the same -- though, she does have a "party popper" batarang substitute that functions like a Spider-Man web trap. Sadly, the most enemy waves will throw at you is roughly four standard foes and a shield-wielding cop, which doesn't really allow you to dig deep with the Free Flow combat system. A lack of nuanced gameplay permeates in the stealth portions too. In the few Predator sequences that are included, stealth is not really a priority for Harley. She employs laughing gas rather than smoke bombs, tumbles and leaps up walls instead of grappling, and so on, including exploding jack-in-the-boxes rather than explosive gel. Thankfully there are a few differences, most notably the fact that her "detective vision" shows her more demented side with graffiti written on the walls. Harley also cannot employ silent takedowns -- in fact, they're called "loud takedowns," and will always alert guards. She can however use a "Mayhem" ability that lets her knock out enemies in one hit for a limited time, and use Ivy's plants to take out enemies from afar. The entire affair is far too linear, taking place in the Blüdhaven Police Department. It's a prequel, so you know exactly how it plays out if you watch the intro, with a bit of stupid Penguin chatter (I never really liked Arkham's rendition of him) littered between the loose collections of challenge rooms. It all culminates with a final battle with a major hero from the story that uses the tired "throw adds at the player until he wins or loses" mechanic. There are some bright spots, like the idea of Harleen's inner self trying to reason with her insane "Harley" personality, but those concepts aren't really explored in half an hour. If you're a huge fan of Harley you can buy it this fall once its "pre-order exclusivity" (so dumb) is up, or you can just wait for the Game of the Year Edition where it will most likely appear as well. The same goes for the GameStop exclusive Red Hood pack, the PS4 exclusive Scarecrow DLC, and all the costume exclusives.
Harley Quinn photo
Less than 30 minutes
Harley Quinn is at it again this time with a pre-order exclusive DLC (yuck) for Batman: Arkham Knight. I have good news for everyone who didn't bother pre-ordering -- you aren't missing much. The entire add-on basically amounts to less than 30 minutes of the same core gameplay as Knight, minus the Batmobile-fest.

Review: Devil May Cry 4 Special Edition

Jun 23 // Chris Carter
Devil May Cry 4 Special Edition (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: CapcomPublisher: CapcomMSRP: $24.99Release Date: June 23, 2015 After booting it up, you'll have the option to play the original campaign with Nero and Dante, solely as Vergil, or a joint story of Lady and Trish, mirroring the former pair's split-story. Each character has their own customizable set of controls, and the Legendary Dark Knight mode (previously exclusive to the PC version) is open from the very start. I immediately sprung for Vergil and was not disappointed. If you're a newcomer, you'll likely want to replay the base story for some background, as the new characters merely have a new intro and ending to cap things off. It's essentially the exact same levels and bosses, but thanks to the fundamentally reworked movesets, the experiences feel nothing alike. Also for newcomers, the "automatic" control option returns for easier combos, as well as an automatic level-up function where the game chooses your upgrades for you. Veterans will be pleased to find a turbo option (increasing the speed by 20%) as well as your typical lock-on tweaks. Those of you out there who never played the PC version are in for a treat, as Legendary Dark Knight is about as balls-to-the-wall as it gets. The entire screen in nearly every area is littered with enemies, and it even goes so far as to add in endgame foes in the second mission. [embed]293573:58903:0[/embed] Despite the fact that there aren't any other major new modes, this is not a lazy remake by any means, as the three aforementioned character additions spice things up considerably. Vergil is probably my personal favorite new playstyle; possibly my favorite of the entire series. His style is fast and flashy, as he can still "trick" teleport up, down (which can also be used to cancel attacks), and forward, but he has a major new mechanic to manage that makes him more unique. Vergil now has a "concentration" gauge, which increases when he is walking, taunting, or connecting with abilities, and lowers when he runs, whiffs attacks, or gets hit. Raising this gauge increases your statline and opens up some new powers that are reliant on a full meter. It completely changes the way you play, as walking like a badass is now a priority, and missing attacks is more punishing. That's not to say that the game is "impossible" if you don't feel like mastering concentration on a normal or easy difficulty level, it just makes it more fun -- though it will increase your chances of survival later on. Take one advanced tactic from Vergil: teleporting. By using a sword projectile, Vergil can "stick" an enemy for later. By using the forward trick, you can instantly teleport to that marked baddie. He's extremely mobile, much like Dante's trickster style in Devil May Cry 3 or his appearance herein. To me, Vergil is the main event. Trish and Lady crash as well, starting with a small pizza party intro with Dante. Lady's playstyle, like Vergil before her, completely changes the way one would approach Devil May Cry, mostly because of her reliance on guns. In previous games, guns could always be used with effectiveness, but weren't really ideal. With Lady though, they're front and center. She has her Kalina Ann rocket launcher (which doubles as a grappling hook to mirror Nero's platforming abilities in the story), handguns, and a shotgun. While the latter two guns mesh with Dante's gunslinger style, the Kalina Ann acts almost nothing like it did in Devil May Cry 3. Her rocket sports a few melee abilities, a rocket-jump boost, and a throw, but the focus for her is ranged combat. Additionally, since Lady is human, she uses a super grenade blast instead of a Devil Trigger. It's really hard to get a good style rating at first, but once you learn to start chaining throws and juggling with different guns and abilities, it gets real fun real fast. Classic bosses like Berial are seen in a whole new light when you're trying to turtle and keep them at bay with rockets. I didn't expect much from Trish, but she's come a long way since her appearance in the first game. Her entire style hinges on the fact that she can't switch weapons, and instead just has a shit-ton of moves at her disposal. This sounds lame on paper. It's anything but in practice, as said moves are a ton of fun. In addition to a smorgasbord of powers from the entire series, she also sports some movesets from Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, as well as Round Trip, a boomerang of sorts that will continue to attack enemies while she's doing her thing. Dante himself though is still the king. He has access to his five styles (Trickster, Swordmaster, Gunslinger, Royalguard, and Dark Slayer), which can be switched out at any time using the d-pad. If you haven't seen the absolutely insane combos and possibilities that this system creates, take a look at this. Yes, with 1080p visuals and 60fps, you can still craft and employ advanced frame-specific mechanics, and beyond. With how deep the combat system is even to this day, I expect plenty of similar discoveries for the rest of the cast. That cast, by the way, is added in a way that feels like a natural continuation of Devil May Cry 3, which is a nice touch. I love little details like the fact that everyone has their own lock-on reticle. Sadly, the bad news is that all of this extra content doesn't necessarily fix the level design. The core problem hinges with the halfway point of the campaign, in which Dante (or Vergil/Trish) backtracks through the story, fighting the same exact bosses all over again. Not every level is exactly the same per se, but it's enough to grate on most players, especially since the pacing slows down a bit near the end. To unlock Dante, you'll have to play as Nero, and to unlock Trish, you'll have to play as Lady for a while. It's not that this system is bad per se because of how strong the combat systems are, it's just odd, as it feels like Capcom rushed its development a bit. The boss fights themselves are challenging and enjoyable, but having to do them all over again (or more, once you hit a gauntlet-like area at the end) is a bummer. The same goes for trekking through locales you've already seen at length. Having said all that, the juice is worth the squeeze, even more-so than before because of the new playstyles. While Nero operated like a handicapped Dante in the original edition, Vergil, Trish, and Lady have all cemented their places into the pantheon of Devil May Cry, to the point where I would love to see at least one of them (if not all) return in a future iteration. Devil May Cry 4 Special Edition reaffirms the series' status as the current king of the action genre. It may not fix some of the blemishes inherent to the game's campaign, but the new characters and styles are fantastic, and will have players creating combo videos for years to come. With respect to DmC and everything it accomplished, this is the Devil May Cry I want to see in the future, Capcom. [This review is based on a retail build provided by the publisher.]
Devil May Cry review photo
Real Dante returns
It wasn't until I played the very first Devil May Cry game that I knew I was an action fan. I must have beaten it five times at launch, pouring through every facet over weeks, perfecting my frame-by-frame combat abilities -- ...

Just Cause 3 somehow makes explosions easier than ever before

Jun 16 // Brett Makedonski
Immediately after beginning, fellow editor Jordan Devore tethered three grapples to the crotch on a statue of an oppressive ruler, pulled it until the entire thing crumbled to pieces (dick tater, am I right?), hooked the statue's head to a helicopter, and flew it off a cliff to a fiery death. Yep, Just Cause 3 is pretty fucking wonderful. The third installment in Avalanche's over-the-top action thriller franchise has a plot, but you wouldn't know it from what we played. Now that he has a few kills under his belt, Rico's returned to the Mediterranean-inspired area that he left as a child to overthrow an evil dictator. Our sandbox was more concerned with defying physics with the parachute and grappling hook, and using the wingsuit to glide far over the land and sea alike. Ironically, the wingsuit moments provided a nice touch of tranquility as we floated over the gorgeous landscape. From that high up, everything looked so serene and peaceful -- it was almost impossible to believe it's the work of an oppressive regime. That was immediately cut short when the next thought was "this needs more explosions." Because Just Cause 3 prioritizes the ridiculous over the believable, Rico is a one-man demolition crew and his supply never wanes. Avalanche has equipped him with a never-ending supply of C4, meaning that explosions are never more than a second or two away. What's the best way to dismantle this factory or to put this bridge out of commission? Our good friend C4 does the trick nicely. A lot of the design decisions were seemingly made as a result of Avalanche shrugging its shoulders. Regarding infinite C4, a studio representative told us "Why not?" Likewise, a new helicopter stunt trick where you hang upside down from the bottom was implemented because "That's just cool." After playing Just Cause 3 for a half hour, it appears that the developer put anything in the game that would make for a good time. It's certainly not a bad direction to take. Another point of emphasis for Avalanche pertains to traversal. The developer wanted to create a world that's easy and fun to move around. That's why the wingsuit, grappling hook, and parachute seemingly offer an infinite amount of momentum -- because slowing to a crawl just isn't as thrilling. It's also the reason why cars can be saved in garages and then recalled anytime you're near one. Hey, if you're going to take the discreet way around Just Cause 3, you may as well do it in style. Regardless of method, getting around Just Cause 3 may take a bit longer than you'd think. Avalanche developers tell us that the world is at least as big as Just Cause 2, but the layout's inherently different. The third installment will feature lots of islands, archipelagos, and little towns (Just Cause 2 kind of did too, but we're just going with what we're told). Also, Avalanche says that all the towns feel varied from one another and have their own sense of culture, so to speak. We wouldn't know a ton about that, because we were restricted to the first area of the game. Zooming out on the map, we could see the other two regions. They were significantly larger, and, as we were assured, significantly more difficult. When that's all available, players will get to experience what might be the developer's biggest goal: To create a perfect flow through the world. When all is said and done, Avalanche wants you to be able to flawlessly travel anywhere you want, however you want, and have a blast doing it. While it was nice seeing first-hand that Just Cause 3 nails all the things you'd expect Just Cause to nail, it was almost disappointing that the demo was completely unstructured. Okay, the sandbox element works great, but what does it have to offer players who want a reason to press forward? We weren't given a glimpse at that. Hopefully it's as competent as the free reign component is. Really, the takeaway from our time with Just Cause 3 is blowing up a lot of stuff makes for an enthralling time. It's not a revelation necessarily, so much as it is a good reminder. As we concluded the demo by demolishing a water tower that towered over a military base, a rep for the developer told us with a half-grin on his face "we're not really into subtlety." That's great, Avalanche, because neither are we.
Just Cause preview photo
That's saying something
So many preview events obsess themselves with presenting a carefully crafted slice of game. Here's a chunk of gameplay that puts the title's best foot forward. Don't deviate too far off the path, stick to the rules, and a P...

Transformers photo
Later this year on everything but Wii U
After Best Buy and a leak spilled the beans, we now have official confirmation from Activision -- Platinum Games will develop Transformers: Devastation, an upcoming action project based on the Transformers universe. It ...

Dark Souls III confirmed for early 2016

Jun 15 // Jordan Devore
(Cool box art, Namco.)
Dark Souls III photo
Rise from your grave!
The leaks killed the surprise, but I'm still into it -- Dark Souls III is coming early next year to PC, PS, and Xbox One. "Hidetaka Miyazaki and his team" are on the project, according to Bandai Namco. A pre-rendered video p...

Rock Band 4 is doing a new fun thing you wouldn't expect

Jun 15 // Brett Makedonski
Between those dueling stages was an innocuous, decidedly less interesting room. But, what it lacked in flair, it made up for in substance. Some posted up nearby talking Filipino politics, but those who ventured inside found the biggest change to Rock Band in years. Guitar solos aren't what they used to be. Trepidation was abound. Shredding in Rock Band is such a staple. Now it's different. Accuracy has been replaced with creativity. I couldn't help but think that's a musician's move right there. I also couldn't help but be a little dejected that there's less skill involved with the instrument that I spent the most time trying to perfect. Down the hall, Pearl Jam's "Alive" started playing, and Eric Pope couldn't hide his disdain. I thought about firing it up to figure out how these new solos worked. I refrained and chose "Cult of Personality." In everyone else's hands, this is a plastic guitar; in my hands, it's a pipebomb. Things didn't pan out quite as I wanted. Rather than rhythmically dissecting the song until the solo hit, I was met with five minutes of solo. That's a dev mode thing -- perks of the preview event. I guess that's adequate time to figure out the ins and outs of the new format. I was mostly right, but not entirely. [embed]293727:59016:0[/embed] A small group had formed after a few minutes. Someone made a comment about the five buttons on a Rock Band guitar. The timing couldn't have been more perfect. A Harmonix representative sprung into action to correct the misstatement and pitch the Freestyle Solos -- a system that reminded everyone there are ten buttons on these axes. Intricate notes have been left by the wayside for colorful patterns. Blue means to play in first position (normal notes); orange indicates you need to slide up the neck and play on those five forgotten-about buttons. An algorithm decides exactly what gets played, whether it be sustains, eighth notes, sixteenth notes, or just wildly tapping without any strumming. One of the patterns mandates you just play anything. Make noise, anything works. While it sounds somewhat insane, it mostly works. The solos come together in a way that's satisfying -- as if you were actually playing the solo. However, substituting that for nailing a classic solo isn't a trade-off that I necessarily appreciated. It just feels like maybe it's a bit too easy now. That's not the only concern. Harmonix has made a point of framing Rock Band 4 as a party game that anyone can pick up and play. But, I saw many of my peers struggling to integrate the solos into the gameplay they already knew. When I asked the devs how long they expected it'd take for casual players to grasp Freestyle Solos, they thought it'd go pretty quick. I estimate it'll take slightly longer than very casual players want to commit. In that event, the mode can be turned off, which seems like a less than optimal solution. For those who have the patience to learn it but aren't dedicated enough to excel at the old solos, Freestyle may be a fine compromise. Wailing on those solos makes you feel really good even when you're performing a relatively simple task. It makes for a nice little illusion for anyone who doesn't want to look past it. 
Rock Band preview photo
'Play Freestyle!'
Everywhere I looked, my peers seemed to be having fun. Mere minutes before, everyone couldn't stop talking about how cold that Santa Monica rooftop was. It was the opposite of fun. Now, that had melted away, a distant memory ...

Xbox One photo
Natively playable on Xbox One
Phil Spencer just dropped a bombshell at Microsoft's E3 presser. Xbox One will be backwards compatible with Xbox 360 games. By this holiday, 100 titles you've already purchased will be playable on Xbox One. Microsoft used Mas...

Fallout 4 photo
You can play Donkey Kong on your Pip-Boy
Tonight at Bethesda's E3 2015 press conference, game director Todd Howard demonstrated Fallout 4, which begins before the bombs fell. The character creator takes place in a mirror and adjustments happen in real time. And, yes...

Doom at E3 photo
IDDQD
[Update: Watch the trailer here!] Bethesda showed off its first footage for the new Doom today at its inaugural E3 conference in Los Angeles. Executive Producer Marty Stratton took the stage, stating that Doom is b...

What I want from Fallout 4

Jun 13 // Nic Rowen
Better stealth I'm going to take for granted that better gunplay is a given for Fallout 4. The awkward, inaccurate shooting of Fallout 3 was probably the most common complaint about it, and New Vegas' attempt to address it with a janky iron-sights system was so rough and amateurish that it felt like a hacked together mod. Fallout 4 will obviously have to do better in the guns-and-ammo category, so I'm not going to waste my breath begging for it. What I will beg for though, is better stealth design. Some of the best moments in Bethesda's games have emerged from the shadows. The Thieves Guild and Dark Brotherhood had the best quests in Oblivion and Skyrim, encouraging many players to roll up at least one sneaky character. I know I personally spent a huge chunk of my time in Fallout 3 trying to skulk through super-mutant camps, silently seeding the area with mines and booby traps before pulling down on some mutant and watching the chaos pop off as his buddies came running. When done well, the tension and power dynamics of stealth can provide some of the best gameplay around. Bethesda seems to know this. It includes so many quests and options in its games that encourage you to be a sneaky little jerk. So why does sneaking around feel like some after-thought, Scooby Doo bullshit? The old "crouch down and watch an icon that tells you if a raider can see you or not" routine isn't going to cut it anymore. Stealth should be more than a factor of your sneak stat and a matter of breaking line of sight. I'm really not interested in another stealth experience that allows enemies to pick you off from 50 yards away in the dark like you were holding a road flare if your sneak skill is low, or let you squat down straight in front of their shins like you're the Invisible Man if the skill is pushing 90 and above. Make stealth active, give us something to do to make us feel sneaky. Instead of making the Sneak skill and active camouflage gear the end-all-be-all of stealth, how about throwing in some active abilities to let us dynamically manipulate the enemy? They don't have to be complicated. Take a page from the Far Cry games and give players with a moderate skill investment in stealth the ability to throw a distracting rock or bullet casing to draw enemies away. Make some cubbyholes or hiding spots that only intermediate ninjas can use. Let Sneak-Kings focus down like Joel from The Last Of Us and get some "I'm super good at hearing" ghetto-SONAR ability. I'm not asking for Metal Gear Fallout: Sons of the Atom Bomb or anything here. I understand that in a game as big and complex as the Fallout games have been, you can't layer on every little system and nuance you'd like (that's what paid mods are for, am I right folks?) but I'd like to see something to make crawling around in the shadows fresh for Fallout 4. More skill checks please, but keep them quiet One of the things I love, love, LOVED about New Vegas was its focus on non-combat skills. Reaching back to the original Fallout, New Vegas went out of its way to incorporate skills like barter, repair, and science outside of their obvious (and boringly pragmatic) purposes way more than Fallout 3 did. This is without a doubt the right direction to move in and I would love to see Fallout 4 double down on the idea. I love this idea because it makes each character feel unique. My tech obsessed teenaged hacker had a much different experience in the Mojave Wasteland than my cannibalistic night stalker. Not just because she preferred to melt her worries away with a stream of molten plasma while he would literally cut to the heart of a problem; they moved through the world differently, physically and socially. She would hack into systems, open doors, appropriate security drones, all that good, typically sneaky stuff. But she was also able to use her skills as a currency, occasionally repairing broken gear or fixing otherwise unsolvable problems for people in the Wasteland. She fell in with the equally tech obsessed Brotherhood of Steel and it felt natural. My cannibal used his detailed knowledge of anatomy to occasionally work as a makeshift surgeon, appearing as a wolf in sheep's clothing to the unaware, and was invited into a cabal of secret people eaters. Each of them had opportunities and moments that were totally unique and exclusive from each other and that's amazing. That's exactly what Fallout should be about. I just don't want to know about it up front. I would love a little more subtlety and mystery when it comes to skill checks in Fallout 4. As I loved how New Vegas worked, I couldn't help but find the giant, full caps skill messages jarring. Nothing quite reminds you "oh yeah, you're playing a videogame" like a big old block of mechanical text that says something like [MEDICINE 60 REQUIRED]. Fold skill checks into the game more organically. If a player doesn't have the skill required to pull something off, don't show the option. Or, maybe show the option, but don't promise success. Let Prof. Goofus with his measly 15 points invested in repair set off a bomb when he tries to defuse it. Let someone who thinks they're a smooth talker chat their way into a slaver's pen. I know some people may prefer to know their options up front and the stats they should shoot for, but I'm a big believer in surprises and trusting the player to figure things out. Besides, if you really want to know the stat requirements for every interaction, there are always wikis and FAQs.   I can't believe I'm saying this, but maybe make it a little darker? Okay, hold on. Don't go branding me with the mark of #Darksiders2 just yet. I'm not asking for Fallout 40K edition here and I'm not saying I want some grim and dirty "realistic" depiction of a blasted out radioactive wasteland, because realism wouldn't do the game many favors. All I want to see is Bethesda even out the tone. Make the normal world a little darker and saner so the black humor and absurd moments can pop in contrast. I love the line Fallout walks, that razors edge between unimaginable despair and corny '50s sci-fi pulp. It's a difficult balance to find and while I think both Fallout 3 and New Vegas did a decent job at it, I think they could have done better. I think the problem is that neither game is willing to let you get your feet under you before piling up the silly stuff. Fallout 3 starts in a Vault isolated from the realities of the world, so I'm willing to put up with the greaser shenanigans of the Tunnel Snakes. But then the first town you come across in the real world, Megaton, is full of equally goofy shit and ridiculous people. You go from one silly place to another without a big change in tone when the game could have set you up for a gut punch by showing you a very zany life in the Vault and then plunging you into the harshness of the wastes. New Vegas starts its story by introducing you to Victor, a robotic cowboy with a TV in his chest and machine guns in his arms like a very well armed Teletubby. Again, don't get me wrong, I love the idea of a robot cowboy, but couldn't we wait five dang minutes to establish the stakes and condition of this post-apocalyptic world before saddling up on the wacky horse? When you come across a crashed alien saucer, find a settlement of pacifist super-mutants, or liberate a slave mine with Lincoln's very own rifle, it should be a hell of a moment, not business as usual in the wastes. Fallout 3 and New Vegas come at you with the bizarre and ludicrous so hard and so often that it runs the risk of losing its impact and blurring together. I'd like to see Fallout 4 avoid that if possible. Don't get rid of the black humor and ridiculous moments, just space them out a little more, or make the average day in the wastes a little more grounded so they can stand out better. Going by the very sombre trailer we've seen, I may just get my wish on this one. How about you? What are you looking forward to in Fallout 4? What kind of perks do you want to see? What kind of companions? How much are you hoping all these rumors about a voiced protagonist and a very focused main-plot with a mandatory male character are black and filthy lies? I know I am! Hopefully we'll find out more at Bethesda's big event tomorrow. Then we can either sing the praises or count our dead.
Fallout 4 wishlist photo
We'll find out soon enough
I'm a huge Fallout nerd. I can wax poetic about the Fallout games and how much they mean to me all day (I've done it before), so to say I'm looking forward to what Bethesda does with Fallout 4 is a little bit of an understatement. I do have some requests though. A wish list of things I would personally like to see in the next installment.  

Payday 2: Crimewave Edition is yet another competent port

Jun 12 // Mike Cosimano
[embed]293774:58944:0[/embed] Payday 2: Crimewave Edition (Xbox One [reviewed], PS4)Developer: Overkill SoftwarePublisher: 505 GamesReleased: June 12, 2015 MSRP: $49.99 In Payday 2, you're a gang of criminals in Washington, D.C, intimately familiar with the ins and outs of crime and crime-related activities. You and three friends (or AI partners if that's how you roll) apply this skillset liberally, transforming places where once there was no crime into a veritable haven of villainy. In some ways, you could say the Payday Pals are some kind of wave...of crime. These dirty deeds range from bank robbery, to jewelry store robbery, to museum robbery, to art gallery robbery, to murder. To be fair, unless your team is quite good, each mission ends with a sizable body count, so there's murder to be found in just about every mission. This is a sticking point with Payday 2 -- it's very difficult to pull off a controlled heist. Even if you're rolling with a team of people you know and everybody's using microphones, there are still a lot of unknown factors and most of the best stealth gear is locked behind dozens of hours worth of progress. Since the core shooting is tight and responsive, stealth attempts quickly transitioning into explosive gunfights was never a genuine problem. At first blush, locking different approaches behind progression is at the very least disingenuous, but if you're going to be playing the game for that long anyway, rewarding time spent with variety is a smart play. But in this case, appreciating design must take a backseat to player enjoyment. Pistol suppressors -- a crucial tool for stealth missions -- are either the luck of the draw or hidden behind some labyrinth of menus. It's impossible to tell which. Although there's a limited pool of missions, I never saw them all in my 16 hours with the game. This is partially because I spent time grinding out shorter, easier missions for cash and experience, but there's still a fairly respectable amount of content available. Since Crimewave Edition comes with all the DLC released up to that point, there's a lot even beyond the missions. There's more guns, a new character class, and even new characters (including a female member of the Payday Pals, and the boogeyman himself: John Wick). Something also has to be said for the game's atmosphere. When the relentless, driving soundtrack kicks in right as a fresh wave of pigs rush your crew, it's hard to not get swept up in the moment. I'll always choose stealth over action, but I never felt the need to restart a heist in Payday 2 because I had grown accustomed to the combat -- it had become a regular part of life in this fictional capital. Maybe there's something there about the normalization of violence, about how the endless war of attrition between the law and those who operate outside it only serves to perpetuate a culture of death -- when the authorities perform a show of force, perhaps they are creating the very criminals they seek to apprehend. Look, there are a lot of re-releases in stores right now, and even more coming this year. More often than not, they are slight, if competent, upgrades from the last batch of consoles. They've got nothing on the PC versions, but not everyone can afford a monster rig. Payday 2 is reasonably engaging, and the Crimewave Edition works as advertised. The framerate is solid, which is a nice bonus. But this is still a slightly new wrapper on a two-year-old game. Know this, at the very least: if you choose to skip this game in the hopes of drawing a line in the sand regarding split-gen ports, there are worse titles to pass over.
Payday 2: Crimewave photo
Yeah, I'm thinking I'm back
Much like the president from Resident Evil 6, the last generation of games has risen from the dead to feast on the living. We’ve seen so many remasters, remaster collections, and straight ports in the past year that it ...

Based on the new demo, I have a good feeling about Shantae: Half-Genie Hero

Jun 11 // Chris Carter
[embed]293784:58947:0[/embed] The first ever playable build of the game that's been released to the public features three levels -- a water ruins location, a desert, and an action sequence that takes place on a conveyor belt. The first two heavily feature transformations, which thankfully have returned after their absence in Pirate's Curse. For the first stage you'll have the opportunity to change into Shantae's classic monkey form, which can climb up walls and jump with ease, and on the second, she sports a crab transformation with heavy defensive capabilities. As always, her new forms are downright adorable. Unlike Mighty No. 9, which doesn't match its great gameplay with a similarly impressive visual style (it still looks a little bland), Half-Genie Hero is gorgeously hand-drawn. In other words, it looks almost exactly like the concept art: a rarity these days. It also plays great, as the simplistic three-button system (jump, attack, and dance for transformations) works perfectly even in this early build. I dig the bright settings, platforming design, and art direction. Get a look at two of the stages above yourself -- you'll have plenty of time to decide on whether or not to pull the trigger, as WayForward has made it clear that there is still no solid release window for Half-Genie Hero.
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero photo
Three levels in Early Access
Back in 2013, WayForward crowdfunded a new project by way of Kickstarter called Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, the fourth game in the storied Shantae series. It managed to raise almost a million dollars in funding, whic...

Sneak king: 14 hours of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Jun 09 // Steven Hansen
[embed]293558:58900:0[/embed] There is a reason I am excited about Snake's horse having a poop button and it is not only that I am a dumb idiot. While I never managed to confirm, I am sure that you can do something like strategically place poop so an enemy walks into it and stops, or maybe slips. Because things like that are what elevate Metal Gear Solid V above typical stealth and/or open-world titles. It's the idiosyncrasies, like calling in a supply drop from Mother Base right onto the head of a stationary guard, knocking them out. It's knowing winks like hiding in a PS4 cardboard box, or the ghost from PT being an item, or a spoken, in-universe tutorial where you're told fourth wall breaking things like "press X" while under extreme virtual duress. The opening segment, which has mostly been covered in diced up trailers, stuck with me in hindsight for how long it goes on with you controlling a crawling, limping Snake in the under siege, burning hospital. It's a while before you're given any power back (guns or even the ability to walk properly), which I appreciated. Kojima ratchets up the direness here, too, as loads of hospital patients get brutally murdered all around. The meat of Phantom Pain opens after this mix of spectacle and terror with a trip to dusty Afghanistan to save Miller that ends in a frightening [redacted]. This plays similarly to Ground Zeroes, of course, but with a horse and more scouting and enemy tagging to do. I wormed my way up to where Miller was captive, climbed up a crack in a building, and jumped from one roof to another to neatly sneak in. Carrying a less-limbed Miller out did get me plenty shot up, but a whistle for my buddy D Horse got both of us out of there quickly. Back on Mother Base, the structure becomes clear. There are main missions you must travel to (by helicopter to a nearby landing zone, or on horseback/by ground vehicle) and they are not all story heavy, though you're always treated to beginning and ending credits, as if each mission was a TV episode, just in case you forgot that this was directed by Hideo Kojima. One mission simply tasked me with rolling up on a compound and assassinating three Russian officers. I fulton'd them all -- attached balloons to them to send back to Mother Base -- against Miller's wishes instead, which proved wise as the officers had some high statistical aptitudes. These poached soldiers fill out your private army and get cool names like Blue Mastadon. Eventually you can scan them ahead of time to know which have high stats, or you can sometimes interrogate soldiers into informing you if an en elite operative is nearby (provided you've acquired a translator for your support team, as Snake's language skills are limited). [embed]293558:58893:0[/embed] It's a lot of contract work in addition to the narrative goal of stopping the Hamburglar-masked Skull Face and generally figuring out what the hell is going on with things. I was actually a bit surprised by how infrequently missions came with cutscenes or main story ties. Sometimes they open up three at a time and you can take them on in any order. You can also choose to repeat a mission at any time if you want to aim for a better performance ranking. I did this with a prisoner extraction mission I had previously finished, but barely. Turns out using the Phantom Cigar to speed up until nighttime, coupled with the night vision goggles, made that particular mission a five minute cakewalk. Going at it in the day led me to enough deaths that I was offered the Chicken Hat, which makes things easier and slows down enemy reaction time. Other dynamic weather events -- rain or sandstorms -- can also come into play, sometimes not at opportune moments. The low visibility caused by sandstorms helped me a few times, but also led me to walk right into an enemy soldier, once. There are also useful side missions that pop up for you take at your leisure, often en route to the next mission point. The Afghan desert is huge, but much of the terrain is empty or cordoned off by mountainous areas or steep cliff sides that encourage you to use the main roads. These roads are littered with enemy outposts, however, often with small platoons of three to four and a watch tower. Sneaking through them isn't too tough, because often you can take a longer loop around them, but they often house collectables (you can pinch a huge assortment of music from enemy tape players) and valuable resources that tie into the upgrade system. Oil, alloys, raw diamonds for straight cash, plants to upgrade the sleeping toxin in Snake's tranquilizers or the time-shifting Phantom Cigar -- you'll be scooping up all of it, though other means of acquisition open up when you can start sending squads out on missions. Plus, those posts are full of soldiers to abduct and, after you upgrade your Fulton balloons, things like heavy artillery to nick. [embed]293558:58895:0[/embed] Everything you Fulton, barring bad weather or bad luck with nighttime visibility, ends up back at Mother Base, which is large enough, especially once you get construction going, that you can actually take a helicopter to other parts of it. Or you can take a long, straight drive in a jeep. Going back to visit helps your troops' morale. They're also proud and happy to have you practice your close quarters combat on them at any time. During my lengthy hands-on, I never got to the point where my Mother Base came under attack, though that's supposed to be a big part of it, up to the point where you can consider nuclear capability as a defense. It's worth noting that 14 hours or so with Phantom Pain and I didn't feel close to finished. Back at Mother Base, I was still building an animal sanctuary (necessary to house all the wandering sheep and other creatures I kept bringing back) and trying to get an imprisoned, sun-bathing Quiet as a deployable buddy like D-Horse and Diamond Dog (the adorable wolf pup that grows into a super-scouting badass). She just sat in the cell, face down, top undone (got to watch those tan lines) listening to tunes from an eclectic, amusing soundtrack. Adorably, construction scaffolding on Mother Base is all stamped with a picture of a dog in a hardhat with a pick axe. It's the little things. Like changing my Diamond Dogs logo from a boring, stencil font "DD" to a cool ass octopus emblazoned with the words "VENOM WOMAN." You can even paint Mother Base if that Giants-orange is too much for you. I find a tasteful dark blue goes well with the sea. My favorite Mother Base quirk so far, though, is the giant shower Snake can jump into to come out feeling refreshed. It also washes off all the blood that accumulates on him while out on missions (if you end up getting shot, at least). [embed]293558:58891:0[/embed] While there are reasons to return home, you can manage a lot of Mother Base, like troop allocation and base development, while out in the field through the iDroid. It also acts as Snake's cassette player, useful for Codec-replacing heaps of exposition, which is just about the only place I heard Snake do much talking.  From the iDroid you can also develop new or better versions of weapons and items. There are upgraded critter traps, different abilities for Snake's robot arm, enhancements to the binocular scanner, extra Fulton balloons to heft heavier weight. I mostly played with a stealthy approach so I didn't dabble much with the vast assortment of snipers, machine guns, or rocket launchers you can call in. Nor did I ever run up on a lack of funds that would prevent re-supply drops of my own essential Fulton balloons and tranq darts, but the fact that you have to call in and then get to the supply drops means that the feature rarely made things too simple. Especially because missions often end up in close quarters or indoors where a supply drop would be useless anyways. I was impressed by how naturally set piece sort of areas exist in Metal Gear Solid V's world. There are long tracts of dusty road, vast open desert, but suddenly you stumble upon an enormous, imposing compound. In the case of one early mission, it was an Uncharted-style winding, honeycomb-esque historical labyrinth, which you get to by creeping through an excavation camp. There are mission areas that would feel like obvious "levels" elsewhere, but here they mesh cleanly with the open world. Just starting or ending a mission (the latter, usually by reaching a helicopter and flying out in real time) is seamless and the day/night cycle persists in cutscenes. I did hit one snag with this open-world structure, though. When you start a mission (or side-mission), you're then restricted to a "mission area." Leaving it ends the mission. I only ever noticed after one challenging mission that ended with [redacted] and [redacted] coming up on [redacted] and holy hell [redacted] -- anyway, towards the end I tried to hightail it on my horse, but I ended running clean through the mission area and having to start from way, way back. It wanted me to sneak to a nearby chopper extraction point instead of just racing to safety and calling one in. This is, incidentally, when I noted the cutscene and subsequent segment I originally did at night now took place during the day. [embed]293558:58892:0[/embed] Phantom Pain feels like the freshest, most distinct use of an open world since Far Cry 2 and it does this without sacrificing the cozier feeling of the series' past level design. While I can't say anything about the story, I don't actually know much at this point, either, besides various "holy shit" moments that have only raised questions. It's appropriate, then, that this Sutherland-voiced Snake speaks sparingly. He always seems sad and a little bit confused, retreating into the rote, work-like task of soldier stuff hoisted upon him by Ocelot and Miller, who seem to be a bit at odds with each other as well.  While Ground Zeroes' sadistic storytelling might raise concerns over how this extra grim tale will play out (Snake is basically a devil what with the horns, the intro is pure brutality before giving way to surreal insanity, there's still a whole thing about child soldiers at some point), I've come away nothing but impressed with Phantom Pain. I don't miss codecs, I don't miss Hayter. I've embraced the open world, I love the tangible Mother Base. And I feel like I've only scratched the surface. There's so much more to do. I've barely used the cardboard box -- you can leap out the sides or hang out in delivery zones and actually have enemies unwittingly pick you up and drive you into outposts. I haven't used to inflatable decoy to bop someone off a cliff. In a world of blockbuster clones and genre convention, Metal Gear Solid V manages to feel fresh. I can't wait to get someone to slip on my horse poop.
First hands-on! photo
First hands-on with Metal Gear Solid V
Trailers from as far back as two years ago offer evidence enough, though. Do you all remember the giant, on-fire man supplanted in malevolence seconds later by the even more giant, on-fire whale careening through the sky to ...

Review: Massive Chalice

Jun 08 // Steven Hansen
Massive Chalice (Xbox One, Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: Double Fine ProductionsPublisher: Double Fine ProductionsMSRP: $19.99Release Date: June 1, 2015 A talking cup with the alternating voices of an old man and younger woman gives you a "Hello Commander," informing you that you, an immortal being tied to the chalice, are the only one who can navigate humanity to victory against the encroaching, monster-filled Cadence. With that brief set up, you pick five pre-generated families to serve as your starting vanguard of fighters. It's an aesthetic choice. Try and pick families with distinct flag colors (and fun surnames) because otherwise keeping track of them is a mess. The Fab Five have different stat-affecting traits (bred) and personalities (learned) and three different base classes that can be combined to make sub-classes with slightly different abilities. You're also seemingly bound to get stuck with an asthmatic early on whom you can rightly cast off into the scary orange mist because they will be useless and the life of an individual isn't worth much in a 300 year war effort. Massive Chalice operates on two levels. Combat is turn-based with grid movement and two actions per turn. Walk a bit and then attack, or walk further and leave yourself unable to attack are the big ones. The latter has a chance of leaving a character screwed if they wander into the obscured battlefield Fog of War and reveal a pack of waiting enemies. Outside of combat, there is scant decision-making and a lot of hitting the Advance Timeline button as you try to make it to year 300 to destroy the Cadence by building kingdoms for your characters to bone in to produce better soldiers and advance the bloodline. [embed]293482:58868:0[/embed] Combat, however, feels one-dimensional, perhaps appropriate for the rote meat grinder that is 300 years of war. There's no cover or overwatch, never objectives beyond kill everything within line of sight. Inch forward, kill, inch forward, kill. I often had to double back through the sometimes obnoxiously routed, procedurally generated levels to off one last monster that was content to, I guess, walk around in circles in the far off map corner for all its turns. Enemies are impressively distinct. Ruptures create a wide berth of corrosive tiles upon death, Lapses sap soldiers' XP, Wrinklers age soldiers on contact. But Massive Chalice only metes out these highly specialized enemies and facing them over and over, in larger and beefed up quantities, gets tiring. Its turn-based strategy feels brute forced and basic. Even with the addition of sub-classes and the tips screen advising carrying members of every class, I still felt like fielding a team of five Hunters to SOCOM its way through fights was ideal and borderline easy (on Normal mode). The Alchemist's volatile, limited projectiles killed more of my own troops than enemies in my last run and sending the melee-focused Caberjack into the fray always feels too dangerous. This, though, raises a huge problem with the lengthy final fight that I've found unwinnable without the area of effect moves of the other classes. Nation management, too, feels simple and sterile. You are asked to choose between research projects which take years to finish. The most obviously necessary are the Keeps, which is where you retire soldiers to and appoint a mate on the grounds of eugenics. I find that once I get Keeps built and Übermenschs screwing, research becomes haphazard. A couple pieces of gear (mainly for Hunters), the experience raising item, and then I'm mostly choosing something at random and slamming on the "Advance Timeline" button until someone else dies of old age and needs to be replaced at their post. It is clinical and the soldier stat effects feel slim (so long as you avoid breeding a handful of proper blights, like asthma). The idea of bloodlines is a good one, but the sparse overworld (the same Simon panel of territory and occasional, stoic look at a throne) does not support any narrative or connection in the vein of a Crusader Kings-like strategy game. All there is are brief, occasional text adventure events that have you make a decision (how will you settle a squabble between two troops?) that might affect some mild stat. Meanwhile, the short shelf-life of fighters doesn't support any connection to individual troops in combat, save for the one or two fights you'll have a high-level troop with a funny nickname. The most attachment I felt was to a flag color. This becomes a weird problem with the ending, which tries to suddenly loop back around and deliver an unnecessary story element that, at best, would "explain," in-universe, subsequent playthroughs. It is odd, unnecessary, and even robs you of basic world-saving catharsis. It also reminded me that, on Normal, I've yet to come close to my kingdom falling, which belies roguelike claims, while on the other hand I sort of dread playing 300 more years (plus failure restarts) on higher difficulties because of the simple combat. Massive Chalice is both beautiful and approachable, somewhat rare qualities in the genre. But its 300 year arc bends toward apathy and inhumanity. By mid-game, what was novel and enticing becomes a slog. The nation and bloodlines are mostly built out, ending the high level tactics, and battles become more brute force as the same enemies double in HP, power, and quantity. I felt like middle management making the same position appointments that a computer could make more quickly and all I got for my click click clicking was combat with bigger numbers on the same handful of stages. There is some payoff with the bloodline idea at the end, but it is not worth the rote meat grinder to get there. [This review is based on a retail build provided by the publisher.]
Massive Chalice review photo
Great fighter with a glass jaw
Double Fine's less scrutinized Kickstarter success, Massive Chalice, has been formally released half a year since entering Early Access. Along with Invisible, Inc., it formed a one-two punch of time-eating, XCOM-tinged turn-b...

Dark Souls III photo
Supposedly releasing next year
Following a report that Bandai Namco would announce Dark Souls III later this month at E3, The Know has come out with a slew of supposed screenshots and information for the game. This is the same group responsible for that s...

In case you missed it: The Fallout 4 debut trailer is live

Jun 06 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]293232:58797:0[/embed] In the press release, game director Todd Howard spoke briefly about the current development of Fallout 4. "We know what this game means to everyone," he said. "The time and technology have allowed us to be more ambitious than ever. We've never been more excited about a game, and we can't wait to share it." We also have official word about its presence on consoles. Before its debut, there was some concerns about it being a cross-gen title. Meaning, it would be released on current and past-gen consoles. Thankfully that's not the case, and Fallout 4 will be developed for current tech only. I'm glad to see it finally revealed. It felt like the worst-kept secret in the gaming industry, so it's good that the shoe finally dropped. And it's so wonderful have Ron Perlman return.
Fallout 4 photo
You know what it is
No talking, here it is. Fallout 4 is being developed for PS4, Xbox One, and PC. 

Review: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare: Supremacy

Jun 02 // Chris Carter
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare: Supremacy DLC (PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Sledgehammer Games (Current-gen) / High Moon Studios (Last-gen) / Raven Software (Zombies)Publisher: ActivisionReleased: June 2, 2015 (Xbox) / TBA (PC, PS3, PS4)MSRP: $14.99 ($50 Season Pass for four packs) First up is Skyrise, a map that takes place in futuristic Greece. Well, you wouldn't notice the setting unless you really looked, as the only clue is the Acropolis landmark on one side of the map. As it stands, it's basically a straight remake of Modern Warfare 2's Highrise. It's a classic arena in its own right -- but as I've said in the past, I'm not a fan of injecting remakes in a $15 DLC pack. Having said that, Highrise really holds up. It's a classic tiered map with plenty of high, middle, and underground paths, with a giant playground in the middle, and hidden side paths. It's a nice addition to the rotation, and enough time has passed between the release of Modern Warfare 2 to not piss me off. Parliament is set on the River Thames in London, and is yet another tanker map. It's almost like Activision needs to fulfill an imaginary quota of tankers in every Call of Duty, so this is where you can get your fix if you're a fan of steel traps. It's a lot like Skyrise in that most of the cool stuff is happening in the background, but there's some decent opportunities to jump around the map and over hazards like the river itself. It's not quite on par with Skyrise's layout, but I have no real qualms when it comes up, since it takes advantage of the increased Exo mobility quite well. Kremlin, obviously set in Russia, is extremely colorful, and sets itself apart from the rest of the pack immediately. I love that it feels like a legitimate map from an older game like World at War, as there's tons of detail inside and out, and nearly none of the layout is wasted. It's one of the best objective-based maps currently, as there are multiple chokepoints built into it, including one really rad area that involves a long road and a mounted machine-gun perch. Whenever it comes up in a playlist, my eyes light up and I mash the vote button. It seems like there always needs to be one bad apple in these DLCs, and Compound fulfills that niche. Taking place in a staging ground in Colorado, Compound is a boring, small map that serves no real purpose in Advanced Warfare, which is a much more mobile game than past iterations. From what I've played, opposing teams tend to spawn on top of one another, leading to a bunch of messy firefights. They tried to go for a more tiered design here, but it mostly fails because everything is so low to the ground. Thankfully, the Exo Grapple playlist returns for Supremacy, and I recommend playing it to get more mileage out of Compound. In case you were wondering, there's no DLC weapon this time around -- which I'm more than fine with. [embed]293187:58782:0[/embed] Like clockwork, a number of issues I have with Supremacy have been alleviated with the third part of the Exo Zombies tale, Carrier. I really love how Sledgehammer and Raven Software are moving the story along with the same cast of characters, and its narrative style is pretty much exactly where it needs to be. It's not as cryptic as Treyarch's method, it's not too on-the-nose, and it's far more interesting than Infinity Ward's alien-oriented Extinction lore. It helps that Bruce Campbell is now along for the ride, and he fits the tone of the game perfectly. Maybe he'd be better suited as a full-on Ash cameo down the line with a wackier take on the zombies mode in general, but he does a great job of acclimating to the already talented cast here. Carrier itself looks aesthetically similar to the first Exo Zombies mission, but the intricacies will soon start to pop out the more you play. One of my favorite bits involves a makeshift Pachinko machine on a random wall that takes spare grenades, rewarding you with cash. There's also a lot of cool skirmishes with humanoid opponents this time, which elevates the mode and gives it a certain degree of depth that exceeds your normal "horde" expectations. Objectives like defusing bombs while fighting off ravenous zombies do a great job of keeping you on your toes. Call of Duty: Advance Warfare's DLC drops have become incrementally more impressive as Sledgehammer is willing to take more risks. While I didn't think it'd be able to bring anything new to the table for its first Call of Duty outing, the studio has proven me wrong, surpassing Infinity Ward in my mind. While the jury is out on the fourth DLC for Advanced Warfare, Sledgehammer has already done enough to make me look forward to its next project. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Call of Duty DLC review photo
Third time is a charm
Another year, another round of Call of Duty DLC -- four rounds, yet again, in the case of Advanced Warfare. We've already had the Havoc and Ascendance packs drop so far as part of the Season Pass, and while they weren't bad offerings, nothing about them really vied for a purchase. With Supremacy, there may be a case for the pass, at the very least at a discount down the line.

Disney Infinity 3.0 expands with the Star Wars and Inside Out playsets

Jun 01 // Alessandro Fillari
For those who aren't familiar, or maybe just a bit confused about what Disney Infinity is, this title brings players into an open world and unified experience to craft unique and original playgrounds for Disney characters from the past and present. Much like the Skylanders series, characters are acquire by purchasing actual figurines that can be uploaded into the game via a world disc, a real world scanner. While you can create levels and unique scenarios and share them with others online, you can also dive into unique playsets centered around specific Disney films and television shows. In its third year now, Disney Infinity has seen a number of upgrades and additions. With last year's expansion introducing Marvel characters, they've also spent some time upgrading the gameplay and general design. In order to do this, they recruited help from independent developers such as Ninja Theory, Sumo Digital, and United Front Games where they worked on the key areas of combat, racing, and additional character support respectively. With general development handled by Avalanche Software (note: not the same Avalanche behind Just Cause), they've found the creation of Disney Infinity to be a rewarding and satisfying experience. "The two words that come to mind are 'humbling' and 'gratifying," said the GM of Avalanche Software John Blackburn while reflecting on his work on Disney Infinity. "I feel so fortunate to work with all these brands, and it's a dream come true in a lot of ways[...] I'm pretty happy that people have responded to it in the way that have, and have accepted it and are looking forward to the new versions right now. I want to make sure we're doing a good enough job that we're really trying to make high quality kids and family entertainment, because that's been more and more difficult as a business to do. So it's very gratifying to see that we're doing it right." With the 3.0 expansion, new environments and characters will be added to the core game, such as the recently announced Star Wars: Twilight of the Republic (based on the prequel trilogy), Rise Against the Empire (original trilogy), The Force Awakens, and also Pixar's Inside Out playsets. While Star Wars will be largely combat and vehicle focused experiences, Inside Out will experiment more with platforming in surreal environments. Much like the film, the gameplay centers around the emotional state of a young girl named Riley and her changing perception and feelings. Set sometime after the film, players take control of Riley's emotions Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger, and Fear, when she experiences a nightmare after falling asleep during a scary movie. The playset focuses on platforming gameplay through Riley's dreamscape, where environments and enemies take on a variety of different properties, such as warped gravity and the ground turning into hot lava. Each character has their own unique abilities and skills which will serve them throughout the adventure. After seeing the movie, I was itching for another trip into the bizarre and evocative world from Inside Out, and the Disney Infinity playset serves a great follow up to the film as it's basically the sequel to the film. Moreover, it fleshes out many of the settings and areas from the film, such as the dream productions studio where Riley's subconscious craft her dreams by way of old school film production. It's a very colorful and imaginative world, and it's likely the most unique playset Disney Infinity has had yet. The devs at Disney Interactive were very excited about what the new playsets can offer. "Every year a new fan is born," explained the VP of production John Vignocchi. "We're sitting here in the hallowed halls of Pixar, and everyone there will be someone who sees Toy Story for the first time, and we want to make sure that when they pick up Buzz Lightyear, or another favorite character, and when they play with them inside of Infinity, that he is just as cool as he was in the film." Even though I've only had some minor experience with Disney Infinity, I was quite surprised with the creativity found in these playsets. Perhaps this was coming off of my high after seeing Inside Out a month early, but I was very pleased with the translation from film to game. With the writers and directors from the film working with the devs, along with the same voice cast including Amy Poehler and Bill Hader, they wanted to ensure that it would be as faithful as possible. It's pretty crazy to see how much Disney Infinity has grown over the years. What was once a strange experiment trying to catch on to the Minecraft and Skylanders craze, has now turned into a title that's really come into its own. It's pretty impressive to see how much detail and content is packed in the title already, and with the new 3.0 expansion hitting this Fall, the Disney universe is about to get a bit bigger for fans to explore.
Disney Infinity photo
It's a small world after all
Who knew that Disney's strange and bizarre mishmash of characters into one large game would turn out to be such a big hit? I know, a Disney title with a bunch of Pixar, film, and legacy characters would've sold regardless, bu...

Review: Game of Thrones: A Telltale Game Series: Sons of Winter

May 26 // Darren Nakamura
Game of Thrones - A Telltale Game Series: Sons of Winter (Android, iOS, Mac, PC [reviewed], PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: Telltale GamesPublisher: Telltale GamesReleased: May 26, 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.] Those following along with the series shouldn't expect any major changes in how events play out. There is lots of dialogue, lots of split-second decisions, a handful of quick-time events, a little bit of exploration, and not much else. The split between the four living playable characters stays about the same as well: Mira's sections are almost entirely dialogue-based and Asher's are generally more action-focused. Despite being the Forrester known better for stabbing first and asking questions later, Asher's story in Meereen comes with some of the more interesting this-or-that decisions this episode. Where Rodrik has to choose between murder and mercy, Asher has the more nuanced quandary of loyalty to the family that exiled him and loyalty to his sellsword partner Beskha. Parts of Beskha's past come to light in Sons of Winter that give the situation more gravity. Of all the decisions in this episode, Asher's handling of the mission in Meereen is "the big one" for me, and I'm most anxious about the potential fallout from my choice, which won't show up until next episode at least. [embed]292557:58611:0[/embed] Mira's tribulations in King's Landing continue to be a high point for the series. Though this episode lacks the big names -- neither Cersei, Tyrion, nor Margaery makes a significant appearance -- the way Telltale handles Mira shows genuine understanding of what makes the source material so great. Any game could have quick-time swordfights, but a Game of Thrones game ought to be more than that. Her best scene is at Tommen's coronation feast. It comes closest to being like a classic adventure game. She must navigate the celebration cautiously, eavesdrop on conversations to gain information, and use that information at the right time. Even if it turns out not to be the case in the end (as Telltale games often do), the feast scene felt like it could have ended with a much different outcome. As it stood for me, I came out of it laughing, pleased with how clever I felt to have achieved what I wanted and particularly smug about the last line I had Mira say to close out the scene. It reinforced the idea that in King's Landing, shrewd manipulation of information is just as powerful as a sword, if not more so. Rodrik has his own share of politicking to deal with on the home front. A new opportunity lands in his lap that could help return control of Ironrath to House Forrester, and he has his own decisions to make, though they seemed a bit more obvious. Satisfy a desire for petty revenge near the beginning and he loses some leverage for later on in the episode. I'm curious to know how things shake out with other choices; in contrast to the first few episodes I feel like I made the best decisions for Rodrik this time around. There is a tense scene as Rodrik at Highpoint, the Whitehill stronghold. Not only are the stakes high, but it also rewards an attention to detail. Prior to the meeting with Lord Whitehill, some light exploration can help to reveal information that can be used in the encounter. It's another instance where proper intel beats physical force that feels right in place in the A Song of Ice and Fire universe. Gared's scenes were the least interesting this time around. Where prior episodes set him up to be part of the party that goes to Craster's Keep, he ends up with a blander story. It still has room to get better once the importance of the North Grove is revealed, but in this episode it felt a bit like he was stagnating. The oil paint aesthetic that turns people off remains, though it does feel like Telltale has tuned down the baffling polygon edge blur effect that plagued the first two episodes. It's still present, but not nearly as distracting as it used to be. There aren't any heart-stopping moments or dramatic twists like there were in the early episodes, but Sons of Winter sets a good pace and keeps it up throughout the episode. It's great to see the continued focus on shrewdness over brute strength for most of the characters, especially considering House Forrester's situation in Westeros. What the family lacks in soldiers, it must make up for in cleverness. Being party to the events makes me feel clever, whether I truly have much of an effect or not. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Game of Thrones review photo
Son of a...
At the end of Episode 3: The Sword in the Darkness, Game of Thrones: A Telltale Game Series was in an interesting place. Nearly all of the playable characters were in tough spots, but all of them ended the episode with some h...

Review: Life is Strange: Chaos Theory

May 26 // Brett Makedonski
Life is Strange: Chaos Theory (PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One[reviewed])Developer: Dontnod EntertainmentPublisher: Square EnixRelease date: May 19, 2015MSRP: $4.99 (Each Episode) As Life is Strange plays out chapter by chapter, it's increasingly difficult to talk about with any degree with specificity. Doing so not only runs the risk of spoiling the many significant plot points that continually punctuate this game, but it also feels like a disservice to discuss Life is Strange's events in black and white when much of its brilliance lies somewhere else. It's not a linear story progression that makes this title worthwhile, rather it's the character building and continually changing relationships that constantly shine. While episode two felt like it meandered too much, it laid the framework for an effective third part. Just spending that extra time inside the head of Max, getting to know Chloe, and seeing the incessant vitriol at Blackwell made for characters who are easier to empathize with. It all pays off in a big way in Chaos Theory as the cast is finally at a place where the audience feels like it knows them and cares for them. At the forefront of this trend is Max's relationship with Chloe, as the duo is ditching the re-introduction stage and have hit a groove of sorts with their interactions. There are plenty of moments when Chloe's rebellious carpe diem spirit rubs off on Max in a charming way; likewise, Max's level-headed and rational demeanor affects Chloe, probably for the better. [embed]292750:58673:0[/embed] These conflicting personalities may have been most at equilibrium during a serene midnight dip in the academy's swimming pool. It's here that the two are at their most introspective and humble. It's here that they express that they lean on one another. There's an understated emotionality about it all that makes it one of Life is Strange's best scenes yet. Really, the swimming pool scene best exemplifies the quality that Dontnod's employed masterfully throughout the three-fifths of Life is Strange that we've seen: restraint. It would've been easy to highlight the moment with some sort of memorable event. But, the developer didn't. Instead, it let the two simply talk, which wonderfully lends humanity to them both individually and as a team. However, it's not just Chloe and Max that are further humanized. Almost all characters have some sort of sympathetic progression, as Life is Strange continues to prove that it excels at dealing in shades of grey. We get a glimpse at how scumbag drug dealer Frank has loved and lost. We see how "step-prick" David password protects his computer not with a nod to his army service or himself, but with a receipt that holds the date he met his wife. The latter of those revelations is discovered through a fetch quest-style puzzle. As painful as it is to admit, this element of gameplay is still where Life is Strange is at its very worst. The reason that's sort of tough to swallow is because it always encourages exploration and will often reward the curious. However, when it forces that wandering upon the player, the pacing drops from a self-imposed standstill to a mandatory one. It's enough to deaden the mood rather quickly. It's a rare instance of Dontnod eschewing that aforesaid restraint to somewhat negative results. Thus far, the developer has done a great job keeping everything in check so as to not go off the rails. The time-rewinding mechanic still doesn't feel as if it's taken over the game nor does it serve as a permanent crutch. Instead, it's mostly sparingly used, usually to glean more information from a tight-lipped witness. Similarly, Life is Strange hasn't yet gone full-out on the paranormal aspect that clearly hangs over the entire story. This reserved approach is appreciated, as it lends weight to the characters and their personal circumstances rather than spotlighting the supernatural. There may be an imminent deviation from that pattern in the very near future, though. In the waning minutes of Chaos Theory, Max discovers a new ability that could easily shift the narrative focus. Chaos Theory is effective in that it's the first time Life is Strange asks the player to evaluate the net benefit of Max's ability to alter time. Until now, it's mostly dealt in small affairs where the results are immediately noticeable. Episode three finds a way to work on a longer timeline and with more at stake. In all honesty, it's the first time I've felt that exact heart-wrenching emotion that I experienced eleven years ago when watching The Butterfly Effect. The cliffhanger that Chaos Theory ends on is so perfect for this portrayal of the fictional Arcadia Bay, Oregon where nothing's ever perfect. However, it's also scarily dangerous in that it very well might render most of the world-building a moot point. It'd be such an absolute shame if that were to happen. We have to wait to see if that's the case. But, Life is Strange now has me in its grips, and if I'm worried, it's only because I care. I finally really, truly care. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Life is Strange review photo
Tornadoes in Texas
I'm worried about Life is Strange. But, it's not the same concern usually expressed when a game's teetering dangerously close to mediocrity or worse. It's the type of uneasiness reserved for a title that's taken three install...

Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition brings the gang back together

May 18 // Alessandro Fillari
Now this isn't the first time that the original DMC series has received the Special Edition treatment. A year following the release of 2005's Devil May Cry 3, Capcom released an enhanced version that made a number additions and tweaks -- most notably the inclusion of a playable Vergil with his own moves and levels to play through. Now with the release Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition coming, nearly eight years after the original, the creative minds at Capcom sought to rekindle the same enthusiasm found in Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition for this supped up re-release. And much like the recent Definitive Edition for DmC, they looked their well-received PC release as the base."There was content in the PC version of the original DMC4 that was not possible for consoles at the time due to hardware limitations. We have always wanted to provide these features to more DMC fans, most notably Legendary Dark Knight Mode," said DMC producer Takashi Fujii. "We wanted to provide a good action game that really gives the player a lot to sink their teeth into. With the features I’ve mentioned previously, and the addition of three new playable characters we’ve designed, I think fans will be very happy with all the content we’re offering in DMC4 Special Edition. With the hardware capabilities introduced in the new console generation, it proved this was the right time to revisit DMC4 and provide all of these features that we had been thinking about."Back when Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition was revealed last year, we all got a nice tease showing that Vergil was going to be making a return. But who would've thought that DMC's leading ladies, Trish and Lady, were going to get in on the action as well? While the ladies were already present in the core DMC4 story, Vergil's campaign in the Special Edition features his own unique story taking place many years before the events of DMC3 and 4. In addition to these new characters are several tweaks and upgrades made to the core game. Such as higher texture and graphical quality, auto-saves, rebalanced orb and proud soul economy, official trophy support across all platforms (take that early generation seven architecture!), and also some tweaks to puzzles -- such as the infamous dice game. It's a pretty meaty package. You might as well call it "Super Devil May Cry 4." The larger cast was a way for Capcom to offer variety in a convincing and fun way that stayed true to its combat heritage."Everyone plays Devil May Cry games a bit differently, and so with Devil May Cry 4 Special Edition in particular, it was important to us to give players more ways to enjoy the gameplay experience," explained the producer. "It was important that these characters each had distinctive combat styles, so fighting a boss you may have fought as Nero, for example, will feel very different from doing so with Lady or Vergil." In the two hours I spent with the game last month, it was quite clear that a lot of work went into the new characters. Though of course they're still going through the same areas and fighting the same bosses from the original game, that didn't really bother me all that much after getting settled with the new characters. Any fan will tell you that the combat is the crux of the series, and the new characters offered a lot depth and complexity that are totally unique to them -- which really set themselves apart from both Dante and Nero. And yes, for those who've gotten really comfortable with Dante and Nero over the last seven and half years, you'll be please to know that they're largely untouched (aside from general gameplay tweaks). "No changes have been made to Nero or Dante," said the producer rather bluntly and with the utmost clarity. So please, use high-level tricks such as guard flying and intertia to your heart's content. And with the sharing functionality on PS4 and Xbox One, showing off your high-flying antics and finger acrobatics will be much easier than before.For those who read my long preview last month, you could tell that I was quite smitten with this title. Devil May Cry is easily my favorite Capcom IP, and seeing it return this year with two really cool titles was a total joy for me. Checking out the new characters in DMC4SE was a complete blast, and I can't wait to dive back in from the beginning. I'm telling you guys, Trish and Lady are not to be messed with. Vergil's got some serious moves, and his concentration mechanic is a total game-changer, but these ladies are total bad-asses. I cannot wait to see some high-level exhibitionist videos later once people get them in their hands.With the release next month just after E3, you'll have the opportunity to get some quality time with the gang again. We all remember that tease at the end of DMC4 with Dante, Lady, and Trish teaming up to battle more demons, so it's definitely exciting to see that it's finally coming to fruition. So don't let this slip past you. If you've been screaming for a chance to return to these wonderfully goofy characters in this over the top world, you finally got it.And by the way, be sure to check out Capcom's weekly twitch livestream on Wednesdays for sessions with DMC4: Special Edition  by Capcom staff.
Devil May Cry photo
Capcom Producer talks revitalizing DMC4
In case you missed it, Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition is now a thing. Following up on their release of the excellent DmC Devil May Cry: Definitive Edition (seriously, it's great), Capcom are readying their second hit o...

Review: Schrodinger's Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark

May 18 // Darren Nakamura
Schrödinger's Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark (PC, PlayStation 4 [reviewed], Xbox One)Developer: Italic PigPublisher: Team17Released: May 12, 2015MSRP: $9.99 Raiders of the Lost Quark takes place in the quantum world, zoomed in so far the elementary particles of matter are visible. Previous knowledge about quantum physics is not required to play, though it does enhance the experience a bit. For instance, there are six flavors of quarks: up, down, top, bottom, charm, and strange. Schrödinger's Cat uses the first four flavors of quark in his platforming adventure (charm and strange are much rarer), and just like in real life, the quarks combine in groups of three. This central mechanic is smart. It allows Schrödinger's Cat to employ a lot of different abilities, using only the four shoulder buttons. It starts off with basic combos: three up quarks form a propeller that will carry the cat upward, three down quarks form a drill that will destroy terrain downward, three top quarks form a protective bubble to safely pass through hazards, and three bottom quarks form a platform to stand on. From there, quarks of different flavors can be mixed and matched. Two ups and a down (or two downs and an up) will form a missile that can be fired in any of the four cardinal directions. It ends up being one of the most useful abilities. With all of the combinations, there are 14 different abilities. Though it sounds confusing, it all comes fairly naturally, and there is a helpful quick reference on the pause screen detailing all of the different constructs. [embed]292295:58563:0[/embed] At its best, Quark takes the quark combination mechanic and applies it to a puzzle platformer. Half of the levels are designed, giving the player a specific set of quarks to overcome a specific task. Though several quark groupings can achieve similar outcomes (the copter, base, and bounce constructs will all help Schrödinger's Cat move upward), a limited supply of quarks means having to choose wisely, considering what will be left for other tasks. If it were just the puzzle platformer levels, Schrödinger's Cat would a tight little game that does its thing well. It's unfortunate that between the puzzle levels are procedurally generated filler areas. Though they still make use of the quark combination mechanic, the abundance of quarks takes away any sort of interesting decision making or a need for much forethought. Though there are 14 different abilities, I found myself mostly using the same 4 in these sections. There's no need for creative problem solving when the copter, missile, bubble, and net can do everything that needs to be done. It highlights the drawbacks of procedural generation. It can be a powerful tool for two types of games: enormous sandboxes that would be unreasonable to hand-design (Minecraft) and short, replayable experiences that reward experience over memorization (Spelunky). Raiders of the Lost Quark is neither of these. The procedural levels aren't interesting enough to merit a huge open world and aside from some new dialogue there isn't a whole lot of reason to replay it after going through once. Another downfall that stems from the procedural generation is in the environmental art. The destructible terrain and the chunky grid look outdated in the best cases. At worst, the environments are almost nauseating in their color choices and design. This come in stark contrast with the character artwork. Cutscenes have a sharp cartoon look, and the animations are smooth and visually interesting. Schrödinger's Cat's movement and combat animations are particularly good. The supporting cast members have really inventive designs, bizarre enough to fit well in the weird and wonderful subatomic universe. The art for the quark combinations is noteworthy as well. Looking closely at each construct, players can pick out which quark is performing which function, as they all stretch, bend, and combine together. It even helps from a gameplay perspective, where each design is memorable enough on its own that it helped me recall which quarks to summon for a particular ability. Even with the ones I used less frequently like the parachute, I can picture which colors go into it and use that to activate one without having to pause for the reference. Though the overall story is silly, the writing is good. Comedy in games is difficult, but Raiders of the Lost Quark had me laughing out loud a few times. That said, I'm a science geek, so your mileage may vary when it comes to the physics jokes. On a more disappointing note, I did run into a handful of notable bugs during my play through. On multiple occasions I got stuck in the level geometry. Sometimes there would be a creature listed for capture but that creature wasn't actually present, leading to unnecessary time wasted scouring the area. The Bosons were especially hard to work with; they are supposed to attack one another when brought too close, but I had several that wouldn't budge. None of these issues were gamebreaking; a reset to the last checkpoint or leaving and returning to an area fixed all of them. They still hurt the experience through wasted time. None of those waste as much time as the procedurally generated levels, which are easily the biggest flaw in Schrödinger's Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark. They take up about half of the play time, present very little worthwhile gameplay, and feel like a drudge by the end. If it cut all the fat and featured only the smart puzzle-platforming found in the hand-designed levels, Raiders of the Lost Quark would be a leaner, more engaging, and ultimately much better game. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Schr÷dinger's Cat review photo
A superposition of good and bad
"Schrödinger's Cat" refers to an old physics thought experiment that highlights the weirdness of the quantum theory. Though it generally applies to very small particles, a device could be designed that leverages the prob...


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