Games

Elex Review

Gamespot News Feed - 2 hours 40 min ago

As a big, open-world RPG, Elex shows great ambition. The world of Magalan is a fractured yet beautiful place, having spent the last 150 years recovering from the devastating impact of a comet. It’s not your typical post-apocalyptic world, showing the signs of rejuvenation that makes exploring its heavily scarred, mountainous surface an enticing and occasionally captivating proposition. But despite this, a disjointed story, unresponsive controls, and frustrating combat mechanics consistently suck the life out of Elex, making its 30-hour campaign too arduous to recommend.

You play as Jax, a widely feared former Commander within the Alb faction, the game’s main antagonists. Albs are known for their addiction to Elex, an element that has permeated through the planet since the impact of the comet, which makes them both immensely strong and emotionally void; the perfect soldiers. Driven by their dedication to their leader, The Hybrid, and his directive to gain control of all the Elex in the world, they begin an aggressive reclamation of the planet, waging war on the other factions and building giant Converters to rip the Elex from the ground.

The Alb Directive demands the punishment of death for failing a mission, and when Jax is deemed to have failed, he is put down, albeit unsuccessfully, by another Alb commander who leaves him for dead. Having woken up some time later--a fact that is poorly communicated through the course of the intro--with his armor stolen and the residual Elex gone from his body, Jax begins his search for a new place in the world. The Alb’s savagery is a gripping premise of its own accord, but it never really lives up to the potential of its setup.

Where Jax goes from here is entirely up to you, though you are given a little direction by way of Duras, a Berserker warrior who leads you to Goliet, the main Berserker settlement. Peaceful settlements dot Magalan, as do raider camps, mutants and other assorted creatures who have been transformed into ghastly beasts by the Elex that has ravaged the land.

You can learn unique abilities from each faction, like casting magic or suggestive mind control through dialogue, once you’ve proven your worth. The Berserkers retreat to nature, transmuting Elex into Mana for magic and using it to revitalise the scorched planet, while the religiously bound and technologically advanced Clerics utilise Elex-powered technology built upon remnants of the old-world. The lawless Outlaws live off the scrap of the desert, while all three factions live under the threat of the Albs' aggression. Appeasing their needs is no easy feat, though, largely due to the balance of difficulty in the game’s opening chapters.

Starting on the 2nd hardest of the four difficulty levels, it didn’t take me long to wind it back to normal, and then to easy. But regardless of difficulty level I felt hopelessly underpowered, even against enemies that appear early on, so much so that the only way I felt I could make significant progress was to run from as many encounters as I could. However, avoiding combat doesn’t help in the missions where you’re forced to fight.

Feeling under levelled in an RPG isn’t the problem here, rather it's that there's no real way around it. Any time I would find a newer, stronger weapon, I’d try to equip it only to be denied by my lack of certain skills. There are five main attributes you can pour your skill points into, and most weapons require you be at a minimum level with at least two of those attributes.

Upgrading weapons feels equally trivial, as doing so also affects their stat requirements and can put them well beyond your character’s capabilities, rendering it a pointless pursuit. This becomes less of a problem in the late game, but it wasn’t until around 20 hours into Elex that I felt marginally comfortable jumping into a standard, open-world encounter.

Even then, there are still some real issues with the game’s controls and combat that present themselves early; something Elex never truly recovers from. Melee combat feels cumbersome, with Jax’s quickest attack requiring a hefty wind up before the swing. The auto-targeting function doesn’t differentiate between friend or foe, and when combined with poor hit detection and slow animations, it causes all manner of problems when fighting next to groups of friendlies. Ranged combat is a little better, but similarly suffers from some problems with hit detection.

Most frustrating is when you successfully hit an enemy with either a melee or ranged attack and it does no damage whatsoever, at least until you’ve hit it three or four times. Initially I thought this had something to do with my stamina meter being drained, but that just stops you from attacking in the first place. I never did work out the precise reason why this happens, but it’s stunningly frustrating as it makes nearly every engagement feel horribly unbalanced, overshadowing Elex's better qualities.

While character models and faces leave something to be desired, much of the environmental art is incredible. Separated into distinct regions, Magalan is gorgeous. From the green, flora draped lands of Edan and the canyon laced deserts of Tavar, to the volcanic region of Ignadon, the layout of its heavily cracked and damaged surface feels superbly hand-crafted. The details can lead to occasional frame rate drops, especially with lots of characters onscreen, but it’s hard to deny Elex’s wonderful art design. The addition of a jetpack to help you traverse mountainous regions, despite feeling a little clumsy, is also a nice touch.

Some of the inter-factional rivalries are interesting on the surface, with politics between clan leaders and in-fighting providing a bit of fun through dialogue and faction missions, but the overarching narrative rarely proves to go anywhere significant. Some of these missions touch on thought-provoking themes, like the idea that, despite being of the same faction, one person’s morality doesn’t always equate to another’s. Despite the interaction of different factions being a running theme through many of the game’s quests, Elex doesn’t have much more to say on the topic.

The main story quests aren’t quite as interesting, and are riddled with bugs in their presentation. Jax’s back story is slowly pieced together through memories presented as cutscenes during moments of exposition, though the transitions between these are jarring at best, with some cutscenes occasionally not playing at all. Numerous times did I come out of a cutscene only to find the world tearing itself apart and my character falling through the floor, either crashing the game or requiring a full restart and forcing me to replay the same section over again in the hopes that it wouldn’t fall apart.

Elex's world is no doubt enticing, but the good moments are heavily dispersed among some rough technical problems and odd designs that only serve to frustrate. The game offers an incredibly designed world and the basis of a compelling RPG that disappointingly fails to live up to its potential in almost every way. For a game that relies heavily on its combat for progression, it feels overwhelmingly geared against you, and with the added technical issues and lack of a compelling story to tell, Elex takes the wind out of its own sails at nearly every turn.

Categories: Games

WWE 2K18

Gamespot News Feed - Thu, 10/19/2017 - 16:22

Spectacle and showmanship are as vital to professional wrestling as its storylines and in-ring action. Fans will fondly remember a Superstar's distinctive mannerisms, or the pageantry of a glorious entrance, just as much as a five-star match. WWE 2K18 takes this aspect to heart with a substantial leap in visual fidelity--further complementing developers Yuke's and Visual Concepts' adherence to wrestling authenticity. However, the game's cosmetic advancements fail to cover up stagnant gameplay mired in technical issues.

WWE's superlative lighting, character models, and motion captured animations bring each star of the squared circle to life with startling accuracy. And while there are some disparities between the poor saps at the bottom of the card and those at the very top, the gap isn't as significant as it has been in previous years, with entrances remaining a dazzling highlight. Small details, like stretch marks and surgery scars, also contribute to WWE 2K18's graphical showcase. Muscles are defined and flex when a Superstar heaves an opponent over their shoulders, veins bulge under the strain of submissions, and even Finn Balor's demon paint gradually peels off over the course of a match. As a visual representation of the product we see on TV each week, it's definitely impressive, and this devotion to realism extends to the gameplay, too. This is nothing new, of course, and if you haven't enjoyed the series' methodical pacing and restrictive over-reliance on counters in the past, WWE 2K18 is unlikely to change your mind. This is essentially the same game as it was last year, with a few incremental additions edging the needle closer to the authenticity the series strives for.

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Hot tags have been modified to be a more natural, momentum-injecting part of tag team matches, and a new carry system gives you more options on offence, allowing you to forcefully haul your opponent around the arena and execute a variety of context-sensitive actions with ease. This is particularly enjoyable if you're playing as a giant like Braun Strowman, since you can hoist smaller opponents over your head and launch them directly out of the ring--which is certainly impactful in Battle Royales and the Royal Rumble. Speaking of which, eight-person matches are also new this year, adding an element of chaos to any over-the-top-rope shenanigans. The only downside is that so many Superstars duking it out at the same time has a negative impact on the game's frame rate, with the slowdown enough to disrupt your timing on counters.

This isn't WWE 2K18's only technical issue either. While the AI is passable at best and dim-witted at worst, there are also myriad glitches spread throughout its various match types and game modes. From Superstars getting trapped inside inanimate objects and being teleported around the arena; referees not counting pins in eight-person tag matches; the Royal Rumble completely breaking due to Superstars failing to appear when their number is called; or the way the Elimination Chamber acts as a proverbial cooking pot for a concoction of ludicrous glitches, WWE 2K18 is a messy experience. Sure, a number of these mishaps are funny, but there are others that actively ruin the experience on a larger scale, whether it's the game crashing every single time there's a promo in Universe mode, or the way MyCareer struggles to keep track of your allies and rivals, even forcing you to wrestle yourself in championship title matches. This series has always suffered from its fair share of glitches, but they're especially egregious and plentiful this year.

Meanwhile, MyCareer still tasks you with creating a character and climbing the ranks of the WWE, however, there's still no option to create anything but a male wrestler, which is disheartening. Some light RPG elements do at least attempt to spruce up the action in-between matches, and you're now free to explore the backstage areas, chatting to your fellow Superstars and picking up side quests that will further your alignment as either a face or heel, unlocking specific perks for each. The aforementioned glitches create problems here, however, as you might be asked to cut a promo on Enzo Amore, only to call out Cesaro instead, and then be told backstage that Dean Ambrose knew your plan. It's a mess, and a struggle to keep track of. These backstage segments are overly lethargic due to the regularity and length of their loading times, which mean you'll often spend more time watching the game than playing it.

This series has always suffered from its fair share of glitches, but they're especially egregious and plentiful this year.

Beyond these issues, the writing in MyCareer remains its biggest problem. Even if you excuse the juvenile insults and complete lack of voice acting, there's nothing here that carries any weight or interest. The writing lacks character and individuality, so it doesn't matter who you speak to backstage. Bray Wyatt might be an occultist hillbilly with an anomalous promo style, but he'll still speak with the same verbiage as Seth Rollins, who will in turn sound just like John Cena. And this carries over into the promos, too. These work much the same as they did last year, tasking you with picking from a number of dialogue options, and then trying to maintain a cohesive tone throughout to achieve a high score. The dialogue options aren't quite as vague as they were before, so it's easier to craft a coherent promo, but the terrible writing and silent pantomiming rob these moments of any impact. Last year, the promo system felt like a flawed first draft with room to grow, but there's been very little progression one year later.

MyCareer's online counterpart, Road to Glory, fares much better than its single-player brethren. By following the real-life WWE calendar, it allows you to take your created character online to compete against others in daily match types in order to earn enough stars to qualify for pay-per-view events. This adds some purpose and impetus to online brawls, and the netcode this year is surprisingly good, with smooth matches and no noticeable input delay, even when you bump it up to a fatal-fourway.

It's fun seeing everybody else's created Superstars, but customisation in MyCareer is disappointingly limited by the inclusion of loot boxes. There are no microtransactions in WWE 2K18, so 2K isn't trying to urge you to part with more cash. But, honestly, that just makes this approach all the more baffling. The vast majority of customisation options, from hairstyles and T-shirts, to wrestling tights and even the vast repertoire of moves, are locked behind these loot boxes. You earn virtual currency throughout the game, and Road to Glory also has weekly loot boxes to unlock, but you're still at the whim of a randomised draw. If you want a specific beard or a finishing move, you're just going to have to hope luck falls on your side.

Fortunately, the creation suite outside of MyCareer is as exhaustive as ever, with everything unlocked from the get-go. You can tinker with every single facet of a Superstar's design and create new title belts, custom matches, and arenas, and download other users' creations to, say, fill out the NXT roster with the likes of Adam Cole, Drew Galloway, and Kairi Sane.

WWE 2K18's in-ring combat is fundamentally flawed, and will be as divisive as it often is. Yet there's no denying the inherent joy derived from performing your favorite Superstar's signature moves. Whether it's cracking your opponent over the head with AJ Styles' Phenomenal Forearm, or pounding the life out of Asuka's latest victim, there are moments of pure pro wrestling enjoyment to be found here. It's just compounded by too many frustrating issues, disruptive glitches, and a dearth of engaging single-player modes. This series has remained stagnant for far too long, and WWE 2K18 doesn't change things.

Categories: Games

Hands-On With Star Wars Battlefront II's Single-Player Campaign

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 10/19/2017 - 15:00

Few series have lineages as storied as Star Wars, which can be a burden for every new project that attempts to pull from its universe. For decades, Star Wars games have tried to retell the stories from the movies or diversify and explore the outside periphery of the galaxy far, far away. The story campaign of Star Wars Battlefront II charts a middle ground between the two, teetering on the edge of the movies we know and love without being directly involved.

The last Battlefront game that released in 2015 alongside The Force Awakens was a multiplayer-only affair that focused on back-and-forth battles across Star Wars history. However, one of the major complaints from fans was the lack of a single-player campaign, prompting EA to bring a high-budget campaign for the sequel.

Developed by EA Motive, the studio headed by former Assassin’s Creed producer Jade Raymond, the campaign puts the player in the shoes of Iden Versio. As a lifelong servant of the Empire, she has dedicated to the cause of wiping out the Rebel Alliance as commander of the Inferno Team. When the game starts, Iden is captured by the enemy and has to remotely control her backpack droid to free her. From there, she’s one blaster rifle and a hundred Rebels away from escaping the ship.

The prologue mission introduces you to all the basic game mechanics. Iden can use her droid to zap enemies into unconsciousness, which is good for stealth approaches. This skill requires a cooldown that can be lessened by killing enemies or making headshots, so Iden can’t avoid fighting for long.

After she makes her escape from the rebel frigate, Iden meets with her team to discuss the Empire’s counter-offensive on Endor. The then game leaps into the future to the forest moon just before the climactic moment where the Millennium Falcon blows up the Death Star as Iden and the rest of the Inferno Team try to fight their way back to their command post. Interestingly, some of the firefights here can be skipped, if you are feeling too moral to shoot some celebrating Rebels from the grassy knoll.

While the larger space of Endor does not quite have a Halo-like quality of tackling encounters any way you see fit, there is a lot less linearity to the level design than in the cramped hallways of the prologue chapter. You can sneak around the enemy, attack from behind, or lead a group of pursuers into a small enough space where you can take them all out with a grenade.

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Iden commandeers a TIE Fighter and heads into space, looking for her Admiral and father to reconvene. She finds his ship being bombarded by Y-Wings, forcing her into a space battle. The full space battles lack the strategic element of 1994’s TIE Fighter, but they are as fast and frantic as you would hope. Chasing an X-Wing through the remains of exploded Death Star as you both weave through debris is exciting and leaves you gasping at every near miss.

The chapter ends with Iden receiving posthumous orders from the Emperor, who left one final mission for his subordinates and was maybe better at predicting the future than people gave him credit for. The goals of the mission aren’t clear, but the objectives are, and Iden is more than willing to rebuild the empire that she believes is a force of good in the world.

The third chapter starts with a slightly more involved space battle, allowing Iden to dock into enemy ships, shoot up their bay, and then proceed to their main computers on foot.

Battlefront II’s story campaign is likely the best Star Wars has ever looked in video game form. During some moments I squinted and was unable to tell the difference between the game’s cutscenes and the movies themselves. Space battles are visual treats, and I occasionally found myself being so distracted by what I saw that I crashed into the broad side of a Star Destroyer.

I ultimately walked away from Battlefront II wanting to play more of the campaign, but also hoping that the rest of it becomes more interesting. I worry that Iden’s story will follow too many familiar tropes of confusion, redemption, and eventually rebellion, which would be disappointing if it does not subvert expectations. The gaming landscape has had Titanfall II and Doom’s campaigns since the last Battlefront released, so Battlefront II's campaign has big shoes to fill if it wants to impress when it releases on November 17.

Categories: Games

Fire Emblem Warriors Review

Gamespot News Feed - Wed, 10/18/2017 - 14:00

Fire Emblem Warriors brings heroes from the revered Fire Emblem strategy series and drops them onto the chaotic battlefields developer Omega Force's Warriors games are known for. These knights, paladins, and mages are a natural fit for medieval clashes against swarms of hapless enemies, but their influence on the Warriors formula is otherwise fleeting. However fun it can be in short spurts, Fire Emblem Warriors feels like plenty of other Warriors games before it: a simple joy plagued by repetitive and shallow encounters.

Like more recent Fire Emblem games, you're introduced to a new pair of protagonists--Lianna and Rowan. Sibling heirs to the Aytolis Kingdom, their land comes under threat with the appearance of an evil dragon and thousands of otherworldly fiends who've slipped through a rift in space and time. In a similar fashion, characters from various Fire Emblem timelines (The Blazing Blade, Shadow Dragon, Awakening, Fates, and Echoes) come to Lianna and Rowan's rescue. It's a thin narrative that leads to plenty of awkward exchanges and cliche events. And though this may be par for the course for the Warriors series, Fire Emblem games are typically heralded for their captivating stories and deep characters, so it's hard not to be a little disappointed to see very little of that transition over to this experimental outing.

If you’re at all familiar with the Warriors games, then you already know what to expect as Fire Emblem Warriors follows the formula very closely: Playing as one of the many available heroes, you venture onto the battlefield and slay hundreds, if not thousands, of enemies during a single mission through hard-hitting yet simple-to-execute combo attacks.

Attacks and combos are input via a two-button system for light and heavy attacks, and you have access to a flashy special ability once your damage meter is full. The weapon triangle system pulled from Fire Emblem dictates how effective one character is against another depending on their default weapon, but weighing the advantages of individual face-offs slows the rapid and enjoyable pace of combat. Likewise, the pair up system, where you do your best to create a bond between two characters, doesn't make this game significantly different from other Warriors spin-offs.

Apart from feeling somewhat shallow, Fire Emblem Warriors plays smoothly, and it’s enjoyable to watch favorites like Chrom, Marth, and Lyndis break free from their turn-based ways to slay massive swarms of low-level enemies in real time. Sadly, not every beloved Fire Emblem character made the cut, with notable protagonists like Alm, Eliwood, Ike, and Roy missing in action.

Given the potential impact Fire Emblem's demanding nature could have had on the Warriors series' straightforward hack-and-slash engagements, the diminished classic mode is another source of disappointment.

In keeping with Fire Emblem tradition, you have the option between “casual” and “classic” game modes, though the rules work differently, eschewing classic permadeath for something a little less punishing. During a casual playthrough, fallen allies are easily revived at certain checkpoints; however, they can also be revived on the classic difficulty provided you have enough gold and other relevant items. In other words, no character is ever truly dead. It's also rare that you ever need to worry in the first place, as you’re free to switch between any one of the up to four characters you can take on a mission, allowing you to quickly control and heal allies that may be on the verge of death. Given the potential impact Fire Emblem's demanding nature could have had on the Warriors series' straightforward hack-and-slash engagements, the diminished classic mode is another source of disappointment.

The same can be said for your AI partners, who are nearly incapable of autonomy, even when given a direct purpose such as attacking or defending a chosen person or location. They rarely take the most efficient route following your order, and often end up simply standing in place once they reach their destination. With such unreliable partners, you're ultimately left to do everything yourself as missions unfold.

And because Fire Emblem Warriors is a Warriors game, there are hundreds of enemies on-screen at once. The frame rate takes a notable hit from time to time, almost chugging as the game attempts to render both the enemies you've defeated and their replacements spawning into battle. The same issue occurs when characters are introduced during missions in short, voiced cutscenes, causing the game to throttle down to stop-motion like speeds. These performance issues don’t hinder your ability to succeed, but they are obtrusive enough to be annoying.

Fire Emblem Warriors doesn’t radically change the formula of the two-decade-old Warriors franchise, nor is it concerned with attempting to do so. At best, it's a decent vehicle for Fire Emblem's characters, a chance to flex their muscles in a new venue without the limitations of turn-based combat holding their abilities back. There are signs of potential left unrealized, and the thought of what a Warriors game with truly dramatic character relationships and permadeath could have been lingers. For now that remains out of reach as Fire Emblem Warriors is yet another collaboration where Omega Force's tendencies dominate the finished product.

Categories: Games

Join The Resistance In The Launch Trailer For Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 10/17/2017 - 16:29

The launch trailer for Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is out, presenting the option "German...or else!" We'll take the latter, thank you very much, and so will many others.

The trailer's Nazi killing looks like a fun proposition, and be sure to stick around until the end when Hitler himself presents himself as an attractive target.

The game comes out on October 27 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

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Categories: Games

Trailer Promises 'This Isn't The Alola You Thought You Knew'

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 10/17/2017 - 16:23

The latest trailer for Pokémon Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon outlines a looming battle between darkness and light.

Along with its good versus evil allegory, the trailer also reveals new Pokémon you can ride (was that Solgaleo?), what appears to be a Star Fox-style flying sequence (was that Lunala?), as well as a promise that, "This isn't the Alola you thought you knew."

Pokémon Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon are coming to 3DS on November 17.

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For more on Pokémon Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon head here. To read a recent opinion piece about what Andrew Reiner wants from the future of Pokémon, head here.

Categories: Games

South Park: The Fractured But Whole Review

Gamespot News Feed - Mon, 10/16/2017 - 12:00

In South Park: The Fractured But Whole, the fantasy theme of its predecessor gives way to the equally popular subject of superheroes, parodying the current state of comic book-to-film oversaturation we see today. This shift is complemented by the change in the combat system, which proves cerebrally satisfying despite the juvenile sight of your main character using flatulence to overpower and outsmart everyone from ninjas to a red wine-enraged Randy Marsh. And when you add town exploration that awards practical character benefits, the resulting game is a delightfully fart-tinged journey that delivers satisfying gameplay and surprising absurdity in equal measure.

Like many South Park episodes, The Fractured But Whole's story kicks off with Eric Cartman cooking up a self-serving scheme: the search for a missing cat so he can use the reward money to fund a movie franchise for his troupe of superheroes. Yet, this is South Park after all, so it shouldn't surprise anyone that what develops goes way beyond a simple feline rescue. We're talking about police corruption with Lovecraftian twists and having to stomach debased attacks by pedophile bosses. As you once again play as the New Kid, you promptly join Cartman's team, Coon and Friends, engaging in a host of bizarre stories that play fast and loose with crude humor and sensitive topics alike.

This is South Park through and through, where outrageous and unpredictable plot developments contrast against the day-to-day goings on of seemingly normal suburbanites. There's also the typical smattering of references to recent real-life events, from the Black Lives Matter movement to Morgan Freeman running a taqueria. But the game follows the franchise blueprint of lampooning pop culture and society without in-depth commentary, typified by the non-combat difficulty slider where being black is supposedly the hardest setting, and being white is the easiest. It's an opportunity to present something meaningful left half-realized as a flyby gag.

Seemingly more care was put into the game's more benign comedic touches, starting with game title itself. 'The Fractured But Whole' isn't a mere excuse to hide 'butthole' in a game title; it's also a clever take on Captain America: Civil War, relevant since the game's story involves two rival superhero teams. The Fractured But Whole is a consistent chucklefest where genuine laugh out loud moments are spread thin, which is forgivable for a playthrough that can last over 20 hours. Thanks to fast travel, completing missions comes at a steady pace, which means you're only minutes away from a new scene that would warrant a chortle at the very least. That could be Mr. Mackey's disturbing inquisitiveness about your sexual preferences or the City Wok staff moonlighting as ninjas. And even in the more private settings of a stranger's bathroom, the minigame of dropping a deuce offers its own flavor of hilarity.

Your arduous rescue mission is filled with hostile encounters against everyone from sixth graders to the elderly. As a welcome change to the precision demands of the Stick of Truth's RPG-inspired mechanics, Fractured But Whole employs tactics-style combat, prioritizing strategy-driven thoughtfulness over adept reflexes. While those new to tactical RPGs won't have to worry about the intricacies of terrain effects or improving chemistry between squadmates, you're nonetheless rewarded for thinking a couple turns ahead. Moreover, the modestly sized combat grids give the initial false impression that only rudimentary battle planning is needed for success. In actuality, these sometimes cramped spaces force you to think carefully on how to efficiently navigate your characters around the field, ideally to capitalize on their powers.

It's a superbly balanced combat system that values smart thinking while also offering the flexibility of personal preference when choosing your character's class and abilities. Whether you like supporting and buffing friends or want to be the most powerful tank possible, you can complement your strengths with the many superfriends you amass over time. While it's a stimulating challenge trying to make a great team, it's even harder to come up with a bad one. For every hero that has a potent attack that can knock back enemies, there's a buddy who can heal and buff. Another advantage is the accessibility of craftable health-restoring mexican food. This can turn the bulk of encounters into easy victories, though The Fractured But Whole offers its share of optional encounters above your fighting weight--as measured by your squad's Might level--not to mention a number of challenging boss fights.

Growing your team's Might is inextricably tied to every bit of forward progress you make, whether that's wrapping up a story goal or completing the myriad side quests assigned by familiar townsfolk. From building a follower count on social media via the Coonstagram app or collecting gay romantic manga for Mister Tucker, experience earned through those missions accumulate to increase your levels and unlock slots for Might-boosting artifacts.

As you head to any map-marked objective, the various unexplored homes and businesses along the way are well-peppered with practical crafting items and side-mission collectables. Thanks to a number of quality-of-life conveniences, exploring seldom feels like a chore. Accessible drawers are well-marked with yellow handles, backpacks you've sifted through remain open, and when you've completed various collection missions, you're rewarded by the quest giver immediately, saving you the trip to physically hand the goods. These benefits far outweigh The Fractured But Whole's slight annoyances such as not knowing what attacks in battle result in friendly fire and the tiny font of your app updates.

Aside from exploration and battles, South Park is loaded with environmental puzzles that--while hardly brain teasing--can elicit more than a giggle depending on how a hurdle is overcome. The most challenging obstacles are surmounted by your legendary farting abilities and select friends you can call in for an immediate assist. By combining your flatulence with the flight ability of Human Kite (aka Kyle's superhero persona), you can reach higher, previously inaccessible areas. Toilet humor transcends to depravity when you fire Butters' rodent out of your butt, launching it to reach and sabotage open electrical panels. While The Stick of Truth had its share of gassy gags, this sequel doubles down on farting as an essential multipurpose game mechanic, powerful enough to bend space and time at your whim. Not only does it prove useful in solving puzzles, it's also invaluable in preventing enemies from using their turn in battle.

Much like The Stick of Truth, The Fractured But Whole can be appreciated as a standalone adventure, accessible to those who've fallen off the TV series over a decade ago. Fans who have kept up will appreciate the handful of recent call backs to the show plus at least one timely spoof that creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone previous said they would not tackle. And if there's one aspect of the show that hasn't changed in its 20-plus years, it is the endearing qualities of the kids' reality-breaking imaginations. This is best exemplified in the classic pronouncement that the floor is lava, which is represented by initially impassible red building blocks strewn throughout the town.

Fractured But Whole succeeds as an interactive South Park mini-series, while effectively emulating the show's current style of adult-targeted entertainment and satirization of political correctness. In other words, it's consistently amusing and provocative without the edginess the series used to be known for. Both the game's combat and explorative strengths effectively bridge the many comical plot developments, which range from mildly amusing to downright hilarious. It's an accomplishment that this game will wholly entertain devoted fans while delivering a heap of jokes that won't fly over the heads of casual viewers.

Categories: Games

Comical Live Action Trailer Invites You To Reassemble Your Squad

Game Informer News Feed - Sun, 10/15/2017 - 18:54

Activision released three new trailers today for the upcoming Call of Duty: WWII. Instead of teasing in-game footage or revealing a cinematic trailer, the video is a lighthearted live action trailer that invites players to reassemble their group of friends to prepare for the game's release.

Three teasers were revealed for different regions: US, France, and UK. Each are slightly different with varying actors, but all have a similar amusing tone and message. You can view them all below:

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For more on Call of Duty: WWII, you can take a look at our cover story hub that includes exclusive videos, interviews, and more. Call of Duty: WWII releases on November 3 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

Categories: Games

Shuhei Yoshida And Other Executives Reflect On The Series 20 Years Later

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 10/13/2017 - 19:40

Sony and Polyphony Digital are celebrating Gran Turismo’s 20th birthday a few months early in preparation for the launch of Gran Turismo Sport next week.

A video released today features executives from Polyphony and Sony explaining a bit of the history of the series and what it’s been like to work on the games. President of Sony Worldwide Studios Shuhei Yoshida also explains how Polyphony CEO Kazunori Yamauchi’s always optimistic attitude encouraged the team during the development of the original Gran Turismo.

There are a lot of interesting quotes about the series’ development and how it’s changed over the years, including tidbits about the scale of Gran Turismo Sport and the effort that has gone into developing it. Be sure to check out the video below.

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Categories: Games

The Evil Within 2 Review

Gamespot News Feed - Fri, 10/13/2017 - 03:24

Innovating within the bounds of horror's familiar tropes and rules is a difficult task, but one that The Evil Within 2 handles with grace. Developer Tango Gameworks cleverly introduces old-school horror design within the confines of a semi-open world that ultimately makes for a refreshing trip into a world of nightmares.

Picking up several years after the first game, we find the former detective Sebastian Castellanos in dire straits, still wracked with guilt over the loss of his family and haunted by his last visit into a nightmare version of reality. When a shadowy organization gives him the chance to set things right with his past and rescue his daughter from the dangerous and unstable world of Union, he willingly re-enters the haunting realm despite his residual trauma.

Right from the beginning, there's a sense of deja vu as Sebastian wanders the eerie and unreal locations in Union. Despite being one of the few survivors from the first game, he oddly finds himself falling for the same tricks and set-ups that the world and its inhabitants lay out for him. While this could be chalked up to a simple retread, much of these instances make a point of illustrating some key differences from this game and the last.

There's generally more of an adventurous feel compared to the original's isolated levels. With more side characters to interact with--opening up moments of dialogue that flesh out the story--and optional events scattered around the world, there's a level of freedom and variety in The Evil Within 2 that was largely absent from the first game. However, there are a few notable sections where backtracking is required, which slows the pacing and sense of progression to a crawl.

Despite this, exploration is consistently enjoyable, rewarding treks to the places tucked away, where you can find details about Union's history and meet other characters looking to survive the nightmare. With so many little details that add a lot to atmosphere, there's a clear respect for The Evil Within's world. The many nods to original game feel more impactful for it, giving a renewed appreciation for Sebastian's previous adventure.

Compared to its predecessor's singular levels in unique chapters, The Evil Within 2 possesses a more organic and interconnected set of places to explore--focusing on several large maps with multiple points of interest. While there's still plenty of mind-bending and perspective-skewing set pieces, such as a tentacle creature with a large camera for an eye, the explorable spaces are the real standout. In many ways, it's like traversing through a demented amusement park filled with hideous creations, forcing yourself to face past horrors. Adventuring to places not marked on the map often yields valuable resources, and also leads to some surprising encounters with obsessive ghosts and multiple unnerving, fourth-wall breaking events.

It takes more than just going for the head to take out some of the tougher enemies.

Over time, environments descend into chaos when Union inevitably grows unstable, turning a small town into a horrifying and unnerving shell of its former self. Streets vertically upend, and fire and blood exude from places they shouldn't. The visual design of The Evil Within 2 successfully juxtaposes vastly different settings and aesthetics, and presents them in a bizarre package that illustrates the erratic and unpredictable nature of the world.

While Sebastian felt more like a mere sketch of a hardened and weary protagonist in his first outing, he feels better realized and more grounded in this sequel, giving a certain gravitas to his struggle. Showing bewilderment and confusion throughout the first game, he's more confident and determined this time, even throwing in some fitting one-liners that poke fun at some of the dangers in the last game. The supporting cast of villains also feel more active in the ongoing events, and have a greater sense of place this time around--particularly with the eccentric serial killer artist who photographs his victims upon their deaths.

The Evil Within 2 successfully juxtaposes vastly different settings and aesthetics, and presents them in a bizarre package that illustrates the erratic and unpredictable nature of the world.

While there's occasional moments of cheese and humor throughout--such as the inclusion of a goofy shooting range and collectible toys related to other Bethesda games--the levity never feels out of place, which is an accomplishment considering the game's pervasive macabre atmosphere.

Putting a greater emphasis on the survival aspect of survival horror, The Evil Within 2 demands resource management and bravery in its relatively spacious world. While common enemies are fewer in number compared to the original game, they're far more threatening alone and can easily manhandle Sebastian. There's a thoughtful approach to engagement and progression this time around, which means you'll have to think twice about whether or not to engage a group of enemies. With that said, you have a sizable arsenal of weapons and gear--including the return of the Crossbow with six different ammo types--to take on the enemies as you see fit.

Some encounters will pull out all the stops to prevent Sebastian from making progress.

Throughout his journey, Sebastian carries a communication device, allowing him to keep track of main objectives, along with points of interest and intel on the fates of side characters in the area. How you go about dealing with these characters and exploring is up to you. Similarly, whether you avoid conflict with enemies or take out as many as possible along the way is down to your preferred playstyle. The Evil Within 2 accommodates those that prefer action as much as those that like to be stealthy. Combat is robust, thanks to improved weapon handling and character upgrading that allows you to focus on the specific areas of Sebastian's skillset to enhance stealth, combat, and athleticism.

Sebastian can return to the safe haven of his mind to upgrade weapons and skills, and review case files and intel on various characters. With the Green Gel collected from fallen enemies--and the new Red Gel that unlocks upper tier upgrades--the core upgrading system has been greatly improved. Going beyond simply increasing damage of melee strikes and stamina length, new special perks can be unlocked such as the ever-useful Bottle Break skill that uses bottles as self-defense items when grabbed by enemies. Along with the expanded weapon upgrade system, using only weapon parts, the systems of progression feel far more nuanced and open.

Sebastian will have to scavenge for supplies and other materials to make up for the lack of ammo boxes and health items. While this may seem like it can make things easy, efficient crafting can only be done at dedicated workbenches, whereas crafting in the field via the radial inventory menu should be done a last resort as it costs twice as many materials. This crafting element adds a bit of a survivalist feel to The Evil Within 2, where you're scrounging around corners to find materials, all while avoiding packs of enemies looking to pummel you.

Though the game is challenging even on its standard difficulty level, it's not unfair, and there are options for multiple playstyles. The standard Survival difficulty mode is manageable, and you won't find yourself hitting a way due to lack of resources. However, the Nightmare mode raises the stakes, featuring slightly altered combat encounters, harder enemies, and fewer resources to find. If you're up for a challenge of a different kind, the unlockable Classic mode will disable auto-saves, upgrades, and limit you to a finite amount of saves. In addition to extra unlockables for completing the tougher difficulties, the experiences they offer is more in keeping with the true survival horror experience, where resources are hard to come by, and the enemies are deadlier than before.

There's a clear respect for the horror genre in The Evil Within 2, with a number of references to classic films and games. The game channels that style and tone into combat that feels brutal and raw, stealth that has an air of suspense, and unsettling confrontations with dangerous, otherworldly creatures. The Evil Within 2 doubles down on the core of what makes survival horror games great: the focus on disempowerment and obstacles, and the ensuing satisfaction that comes with surviving a harrowing assault.

Though there's some occasional technical hiccups that result in some particularly frustrating moments and weird pacing issues, this horror sequel elevates the tense and impactful survival horror experience in ways that feel fresh and exciting. What this cerebral horror game does isn't totally new, but it rarely feels routine, and offers plenty of surprises. Coming in at a lengthy and surprisingly packed 15-hour campaign, the sequel does an admirable job of ratcheting up the tension and scares when it needs to, while also giving you the freedom to explore and proceed how you want. It's a tough thing to balance, but The Evil Within 2 does it remarkably well, and in a way that leaves a strong and lasting impression after its touching conclusion.

Categories: Games

The Flame in the Flood Review

Gamespot News Feed - Thu, 10/12/2017 - 23:00

Survival games challenge you to gain control of treacherous worlds. You typically start with very little, and need to scavenge for supplies and resources in order to craft the tools needed to help you avoid death. Success usually means having enough power to establish yourself in a higher place on the food chain, or hunkering down and building a fortified space strong enough to keep the rest of the food chain out. The Flame in the Flood doesn’t allow you to achieve either of those goals and is a consistently gripping experience as a result.

Set in a rural post-societal America, The Flame in the Flood is a procedurally-generated survival game that focuses on constant movement and improvisation. The entirety of the game’s world consists of a large, overflowing river that has engulfed the countryside, destroyed man-made infrastructure, and isolated parts of the geography, turning them into islands.

The Flame in the Flood’s audiovisual presentation is integral to establishing its strong sense of place. The art direction invokes the aesthetic of a gothic storybook. The atmospheric sound design is ever-present. The rush of the flowing river is refreshing, and the heaviness of the thunderstorms is frightening. The musical score is an excellent array of Americana, ranging from mournful blues harmonica, cheerful acoustic guitar fingerpicking, wistful mandolins, and rough alt-country vocals. Together, they give The Flame in the Flood an aura of both despair and quiet beauty.

Your protagonists are a seemingly immortal dog and a survivor whose main concerns are keeping her hunger, thirst, body temperature, exhaustion, and any major injuries under control. Because the survivor can die from neglecting any of these concerns, players must keep them at bay by either scavenging or by crafting a variety of items using resources obtained from the land. But because of the game’s narrative conceit, you’re only able to scavenge on small islands with severely limited offerings. Finding the right components to create items you need often means exploring multiple islands as you traverse the river on your makeshift raft.

Your raft can be upgraded at marinas, provided you have the right components.

There are two major constraints that make this task both interesting and difficult. The protagonist can initially carry only a dozen items in her backpack, and you’ll only be able to dock at one or two islands in a cluster of many before the current pulls you further downriver. This design is frustrating at first--the impulse to grab every item and explore every area will cause you to waste far too much time and energy rearranging your backpack and paddling against the current. But once you embrace the idea of “going with the flow” so to speak, The Flame in the Flood becomes an engaging exercise of short-term prioritization and impulsive decision-making.

Though it will take a number of failures to understand the ecosystem, learning which items are universally useful and avoiding long-term hoarding are the key to staying alive. For example, keeping uncommon fire-starting materials in order to have a method of staying warm, dry, and being able to build a safe place to sleep is more vital than hoarding food--food eventually spoils, and edible flora is common enough in certain ecosystems to snack on as you come across it. Working out your priorities and having the courage to leave valuable things behind is a stimulating challenge. The Flame in the Flood keeps you on your back foot at all times. This feels like true survival.

Unfortunately, the user interface can prove to be a source of frustration. Essential tasks, like sorting your inventory and getting a broad idea of your current crafting options feel unnecessarily taxing because of the number of steps required. All pertinent information is kept within multiple subcategories accessed from a single screen. Inventory management and crafting existing in separate subcategories, and the recipes for different kinds of craftable items are separated into subcategories under that. Finding out what components are missing for a particular tool can be tedious because of the need to flip between menus and scroll through multiple entries to reach the information. Even after hours of play, I was still wrestling with the menu system, especially when using a controller. In fact, I began switching to mouse and keyboard exclusively for menus to make navigation a little easier.

Sure. I'm cold, wet, starving, exhausted, and lacerated all over. But man, what a view.

But switching to mouse and keyboard is not something I want to do because movement, especially piloting your raft, is far more precise and satisfying with a controller. Travelling to new locations via raft requires deft avoidance of rock formations, remnants of human infrastructure and floating debris. Lightly flowing waters regularly turn into violent rapids, which are as treacherous as they are fun to navigate--impacts are devastating on both your raft’s integrity and your own vitals. Using the last of your stamina bar to push your raft just shy of a large, jagged outcrop is consistently thrilling, and when things quiet down, gently steering your raft through the remains of drowned towns at sunset while a haunting lap-steel melody plays is a sublime experience.

The Flame in the Flood encourages you to put long-term goals aside and live in the moment, to make choices and overcome short-term problems with risky but satisfying spontaneity. Despite the awkward menu system, it’s an absorbing game that lets you experience a journey in the present, and fully appreciate the sights, sounds, and joys of floating down the river in its alluring world.

Update: The Flame In The Flood’s arrival on Nintendo Switch as a “Complete Edition” comes with the mechanical refinements and feature upgrades that have been added since the game’s initial release. These include quality-of-life tweaks to crafting, an insightful developer’s commentary, and more importantly, an alternate dog companion to choose from. While the visual fidelity noticeably lower on the Switch and there are some minor hiccups in performance that aren’t present on other platforms, The Flame In The Flood still remains a unique and absorbing survival game. We have updated the score to reflect our experience with the Switch version. - Edmond Tran, Fri. October 13, 2017, 9:00 AM AEST

Categories: Games

Cosmo The Spacedog Sets Up The Story In New Trailer

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 10/12/2017 - 16:21

Even though it's typically obscured beneath a haze of slapstick and rubber-duck jokes, TT Games' Lego titles do actually contain narrative strings that tie the experiences together. Really! If you don't believe us, a new trailer for Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 will certainly dismantle your skepticism. It highlights the main conflict between a massive roster of heroes and their time-travelling foe, Kang the Conqueror. Also, it's narrated by Cosmo The Spacedog, who is a good boy.

You may recognize the voice of Kang the Conqueror, too. Actor Peter Serafinowicz, who plays TheTick on Amazon's The Tick voices the villain.

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Warner Interactive revealed a slew of characters at New York Comic Con, too. They include: Grandmaster (Thor: Ragnarok), Valkyrie (Thor: Ragnarok), Arizona Annie, Blade, Captain Avalon, Charlie-27, Chipmunk Hunk, Dormammu, Ghost Rider & Hell Cycle, Hellcow, Hobgoblin, Hulk 2099, Koi Boi, Lady Spider, Luke Cage, Misty Knight, Morbius, Phantom Rider, Red Wolf, Living Totem, Squirrel Girl, Super Adaptoid, and Ursa Major.

Players can expand the roster further by purchasing either the $14.99 season pass or the game's deluxe edition, which will add 60 additional characters and six levels. The levels are based on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and The Wasp, Cloak & Dagger, and The Runaways

Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 is coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC on November 14.

Categories: Games

Need For Speed Payback's Sweet Revenge Story Trailer

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 10/12/2017 - 15:22

When The House – a syndicate controlling Need For Speed Payback's Fortune Valley – goes after Tyler, he assembles a crew and hits back.

Take to the streets, win races and earn respect, and go on set-piece missions to take down the organization.

For more on the game, check out Jeff's hands-on impressions from Gamescom.

Need for Speed Payback is out November 10 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

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Pokémon Ultra Sun & Moon Z-Moves Trailer

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 10/12/2017 - 15:07

A new trailer for Pokémon Ultra Sun and Moon has come out, showcasing the Z-Moves of Dusk Mane Necrozma and Dawn Wings Necrozma, as well as a powered-up Rotom Dex.

Pokémon Ultra Sun and Moon are out for the 3DS on November 17. For another look at the game, take a visit to Ultra Megalopolis.

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Categories: Games

Launch Trailer Reveals Horrifying Sights

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 10/11/2017 - 16:01

Tango Gameworks' upcoming sequel to The Evil Within launches in a couple of days, and a new trailer highlights some of the game's horrific creatures and setpieces.

Take a look at the clip below to see a host of monstrous enemies, weird hallucinatory imagery, and a fair bit of gore. Don't worry – it's all in Sebastien Castellanos' head. Or is it?

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For more on The Evil Within 2, check out our earlier preview, which features 40 minutes of the game's second chapter.

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Watch 40 Minutes Of The Evil Within 2's Second Chapter

Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 10/09/2017 - 22:11

The Evil Within 2 launches this Friday on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. We still don't know exactly how this sequel begins, but you can take a look at Sebastian Castellanos' first steps in a new version of STEM, the device that links minds together and brings horrors to life. This 40-minute clip does contain small story spoilers, but more so serves the purpose of showing how the new free-form exploration works in the city of Union.

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Categories: Games

Watch A New Level From The Nintendo World Championship

Game Informer News Feed - Sun, 10/08/2017 - 22:30

The Nintendo World Championships were yesterday and hosted a number of Nintendo-themed gaming challenges for some of the world's best players to take on. The entire event (embedded below) is worth watching, but the final challenge is the most interesting, since it features a brand-new level from Super Mario Odyssey.

The challenges (which you can watch starting at the 4:34:54 mark in the video) had the final two competitors for the event, John Numbers and Thomas G, fighting for a five-second head start in the final challenge, which featured a boss fight from Odyssey. The new levels featured several 2D-platforming segments, some tricky flicking using Cappy, and an ice level featuring deadly rings and rotating platforms.

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Categories: Games

The Sequel Is Coming To The West

Game Informer News Feed - Sun, 10/08/2017 - 19:27

Bandai Namco has announced God Eater 3, a new title in the action-RPG series. The game's brief first trailer (below) features the same tactical weapon-switching that's become a staple of the series, as well as the big ol' bosses (named Aragami). The plot involves the main character breaking free from comically thick handcuffs in order to continue their mission of killing giant baddies with their transforming weapons, called God Arcs. The official press release also hints at a growing conflict within the God Eaters themselves.

Bandai Namco has not announced platforms for the game. However, judging by the look of the game and the Vita continuing to trail off worldwide, this could be the new game in the series (besides God Eater: Resurrection, a remake of God Eater Burst which made its way to the PS4) to land on modern consoles, which could help the series find a new audience.

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Categories: Games

Overview Trailer Shows Off Delightfully Wacky World

Game Informer News Feed - Sat, 10/07/2017 - 18:01

As we inch towards Super Mario Odyssey's release later this month, Nintendo is trickling out new details surrounding the highly anticipated platformer. The newest trailer gives fans an overview of Mario's capture ability, along with new game modes including Assist Mode and co-op.

The trailer gives a lot of raipid-fire information about Mario's powers, such as how Cappy can help him reach higher places and the numerous beings he can capture. With the Odyssey, a giant hat-shaped flying ship, Mario can traverse the world to reach its many kingdoms. We also see more of the photo mode in action, where you can pause gameplay to take a snapshot, as well as a quick overview of several minigames that are scattered around the world.

Co-op is shown briefly in the video, where you can pass a joy-con to a friend to play together. In this mode, one player controls Mario while the other takes control of Cappy. We also learn about Assist Mode, which gives players some guidance through the campaign, such as arrows pointing you in the right direction and second chances if you fall to your death.

To see all of this in action, check out the video below.

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For more on Super Mario Odyssey, read our hands-on impressions and watch this video to see how wacky this platformer can get. Super Mario Odyssey releases on October 27 for Nintendo Switch.

Categories: Games

Stardew Valley Review

Gamespot News Feed - Fri, 10/06/2017 - 22:17

On the surface, Stardew Valley is a game about farming, but there are more adventures awaiting curious players beyond cultivating a rich and bountiful garden. From mining and fishing to making friends and falling in love, Stardew Valley's Pelican Town is stuffed with rewarding opportunities. As modern day woes give way to pressing matters on the farm and within your newfound community, Stardew Valley's meditative activities often lead to personal reflection in the real world. It’s a game that tugs at your curiousity as often as it does your heart.

Your journey begins in the field, cleaning up a neglected and rundown farm. Plotting and planning your garden requires care and attention to detail. What fruits and vegetables do you grow? How much room does each plant need? How do you protect your crops from nature's troublemakers? You learn through practice, and while the basics are easy to grasp, you quickly need to figure out the best way to outfit your budding farm with new tools and equipment.

Upgrades help speed up essential tasks like tilling the earth and watering your plants, but advanced equipment becomes a necessity when the time comes to break down large rocks and stumps that stick out in your garden. The crafting menu also entices you with optional time-saving tools; automated sprinklers that water the crops every morning, artisan equipment to make preserves or beer out of your harvest, and refineries, such as a furnace for turning ore into metal bars. If you want something, you can make it, you just have to scour your environment for the necessary components.

As your farm improves, you gain the ability to raise livestock. Animals are expensive to buy and maintain, and the barn they live in isn’t cheap either. You start small, with a barn just big enough for a few chickens and ducks. But if you run an efficient and bountiful garden, you can eventually afford to upgrade to a bigger barn and keep hearty livestock like pigs, cows and sheep.

You have to feed your stock every day, which can get expensive, but they will eventually begin to produce eggs, milk and other rewards for all your hard work. Beyond their monetary value, animals are simply endearing to be around. Give them a name and work a little petting time into your routine; before you know it, your commodities have become your friends. Like your crops, the goodies livestock produce give you a sense of accomplishment, but their companionship is a different yet equally valuable reward.

The goodies livestock produce give you a sense of accomplishment, but their companionship is a different yet equally valuable reward.

When your farm is healthy and your equipment set, Stardew Valley opens up and your routine expands: after you water your plants, feed your animals and tidy up in the morning, you get to head out in search of adventure and friendship. There’s a mine north of Pelican Town with a seemingly endless bounty of buried treasure, but also danger. Combat is simple--a plain swipe of a sword will brush back most common monsters--but the dangers you face grow as you delve deeper into the mine, pushing your basic tactics to the limit.

There’s a risk/reward relationship to seeking out valuable treasure, as it becomes increasingly more difficult to defend yourself from procedurally generated creatures the deeper you go. You hit checkpoints--in the form of elevator stops--every few floors, which both encourages you to keep going and to return in the future in search of grander rewards as checkpoints allow you to skip past the mine's early levels. The precious gems you find can be sold for profit, donated to a museum that will conduct and share research, or simply hoarded in a chest to be fawned over down the road.

When you grow weary of toiling underground, you can also spend time fishing on lakes, streams and coastal beaches. Fishing in Stardew Valley is straightforward--you use one button to reel in a fish and let go when the line is tense--but it gives you a chance to soak in your surroundings and experience the joys of catching a wide array of fish unique to specific seasons and locations. It’s a calming experience at sunset after a long day that gives you a chance to reflect on your progress and daydream about adventures to come.

Stardew Valley constantly encourages you to explore, be it mining, foraging for fruit in the woods, or collecting seashells, and your curiosity is amply rewarded. Every hidden area you find, every train track you follow, leads to new sights and discoveries that add detail and color to the world around you. Yet as fulfilling as farming and exploring are, visiting Pelican Town's community center pulls you ever deeper into your new life. Like your farm at the beginning of the game, the community center needs a little attention at first: you’re sent out on fetch quests to gather the necessary materials to fuel its reconstruction.

Outside of the community center, the rest of Pelican Town's inhabitants also need your help. In working together to achieve small goals, you grow to understand your neighbors' personalities and identify what makes them tick. Some are pursuing their hopes and dreams, while others fight day to day to overcome personal obstacles; others are quirky creatures of habit that round out the community's overall identity.

Relationships are gauged by a heart meter, and getting to a certain number of hearts results in a cutscene that offer a closer look into your new friends' lives. Offering gifts and completing tasks from a board in the center of town are easy ways to increase your connections, and slowly but surely you’re allowed in the inner circle of people’s otherwise private lives. You may befriend a father named Kent who’s dealing trauma after years at war. He’s working on his temper and trying to bond with his child after being away from home. The child, whom you meet in hiding in his parent's basement, is quiet and introverted. But when you put the time in to get to know him, he reveals that he actually doesn't mind being alone, even though he believes that he's at odds with his parents. These personal moments are touching, and encourage you to spend more time getting to know the people around you.

And if you decide to enter Pelican Town's dating scene, don't be surprised if you end up with butterflies in your stomach. Giving your crush the right gift and seeing the joy on their face makes you genuinely happy, but you have to put yourself out there first. Sure, working with townsfolk in general is a good way to understand the ins and outs of potential suitors, but no amount of preparation diminishes the impact of anxiously delivering a heartfelt gesture. Because you've invested so much time and energy into forging relationships, you get nervous when you expose your feelings, regardless of the fact that you're courting a pixelated crush. Through strong writing and characterization, Stardew Valley stirs up surprising feelings: when your date shares his umbrella in the rain, you know he's the one.

Through strong writing and characterization, Stardew Valley stirs up surprising feelings

Romance often buds during community events that take place each season. In spring you’ll attend a dance and try to get someone to be your partner. At the summer luau you’ll have to bring something delicious from your harvest for the community potluck. At each of these events you’ll have time to get to know the people within the community and see them in a different light than usual. Although it’s lovely to see them outside of their usual activities, it’s a shame year after year the comments and actions of the villagers remain the same. Still, you can learn from previous years, adding better food to the potluck and finally earning the affection of your favorite dance partner.

Mastering farming and earning the affection of your special someone in Stardew Valley are fulfilling journeys filled with surprising and rewarding challenges. But when you have those accomplishments under your belt, it's hard to know where you go from there. Divorce is an option, but if you put a lot of yourself into finding a spouse, dumping them merely to extend your game doesn't seem like an attractive path. Besides, with your money-making farm, cash isn't a concern either.

Ultimately, Stardew Valley's eventful world is so inviting that you may opt to simply start from scratch and forge a new life. For anyone who played Stardew Valley earlier this year when it launched on PC, the new console ports capture the same magic that made the game special all those months ago, and allows you to play from the comfort of your couch. Controls on console are essentially identical to what you get from the PC version's controller support. Console versions also get the fully updated version of Stardew Valley, which includes the aforementioned divorce option, new farm maps that focus on different skills, and a handful of new mechanics that add appreciable wrinkles to life on the farm and about town.

The sheer number of things to accomplish in Stardew Valley can keep you interested beyond the original three in-game years you need to reach the end of your story--you may just want to start over rather than continue on. You’ll work quite hard to gather enough money for your first horse, so that you can quickly move to the mines to get a mineral to complete a bundle at the community center. It’s all centered around whatever it is you want to accomplish that day. And that’s truly what makes Stardew Valley such a lovely experience, it encourages you to go out and be the best you can be, in whichever task that brings you the most joy. Stardew Valley motivates naturally, with blissful optimism.

Editor's note: After further testing, GameSpot has updated the score to reflect the Nintendo Switch version of Stardew Valley. - Oct. 6, 2017, 2:17 PM PT

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