Latest Hitman 2 Trailer Shows Off Wetwork Weaponry For Your Contract Killer

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 10/02/2018 - 21:56

Agent 47 may work on a different team than James Bond, but they both share an affinity for deadly gadgets. The latest Hitman 2 trailer shows off the array of wetwork weaponry you can take on the job this time around. 

The teaser showcases remote exploding cell phones, proximity tasers, concussion grenades, remote audio distractions, and disposable scramblers. How you use them will determine if you successfully terminate the target. 

Hitman 2 is scheduled to release on November 13 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. 

Categories: Games

Battlefield V's Weapon List Has Some Curious Omissions

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 10/02/2018 - 19:02

Today, Electronic Arts and DICE revealed the list of weapons, gadgets, and vehicles appearing in Battlefield V at launch. With 30 primary weapons, 7 sidearms, and 9 melee weapons, 16 gadgets, and 24 vehicles the initial arsenal sounds decent. You can read all about them here. Many guns should be intimately familiar to Battlefield 1 players considering roughly half of them appeared in that game as well. But when you start to dig into the details, there are some interesting omissions. 

Two of the weapons most associated American forces during the war – the M1 Garand and BAR M1918 – are nowhere to be found. This shouldn't be too surprising since EA previously announced the game is launching with only the British and German factions. DICE plans to add more factions (and presumably weapons) as it rolls out new theaters of war in its Tides of War post-launch campaign. 

Battlefield V releases on anywhere from November 9 to November 20 depending on what version you purchase for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, or PC.


EA's plans to follow the historical trajectory of World War II over multiple theaters of war after the launch of Battlefield V sounds interesting, but it's created a nonstop series of announcements with problematic optics. People are going to gripe when you ship without critical factions, iconic weapons, and famous battles. Most surmise DICE plans to add most of this content after launch because frankly, you'd have to be insane not to release a remaster of the classic Wake Island map from Battlefield 1942. But the continuing cascade of "not at launch" omissions has left many (myself included) wondering if there will be anywhere close to the amount of content a regular Battlefield game has upon release.
Categories: Games

New Red Dead Redemption II Hands-On Impressions From The Opening To Its Open World

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 10/02/2018 - 15:34

Dutch van der Linde’s gang is on the run. The notorious band of outlaws pressed their luck in Blackwater, and the resulting fallout from a failed boat heist has been devastating. A few dozen stragglers have retreated from the territory of West Elizabeth to the Grizzlies, and the situation is looking grim. Winter has laid claim to the mountainous region and ravaged the wounded. Morale is lower than ever. Through it all, Dutch has done his best to maintain control of a group that, even in good times, resists a guiding hand. Things are going to get worse before they get better – if they ever do.

Red Dead Redemption II is set in 1899, more than a decade before its predecessor, which leads to an obvious question: Don’t we already know how this all ends? Former gang member John Marston hunted down his old friends, including Dutch, before he met his own tragic fate. That still holds true, but after playing the game from the beginning for more than five hours, it’s clear that there’s still plenty of story to uncover – and it takes place in Rockstar’s most fully realized world yet.

On The Run

The wagon train inches up the mountain, while a blizzard shoves it back. There are rumors of an abandoned mining town, which is enough to keep the group limping their way ahead. When they finally reach the camp, they’re spent. One man, Davy, is dead. From what they can tell, the law has called off their pursuit. It would be suicide to attempt travel in this kind of weather. Once inside a dilapidated building that once passed for a lodge, Dutch displays the leadership that explains why anyone would bother to follow someone through this kind of frozen hell.

“We’re going to ride out and find some food,” he tells the group. “We’re safe now. Nobody is following us through a storm like this, and by the time they get here we’ll be long gone. I need you to turn this into a camp and make it easier for a few days. Everyone get warm, stay strong, stay with me. We ain’t done yet. C’mon Arthur.” And with that, Dutch and I head out into the unknown.

Before our wagons made it to camp, Dutch sent out a couple of scouts. We get onto our horses with the hope of finding them, and, God willing, supplies to keep our group alive a few more days. Visibility is next to nothing, and there isn’t a formal trail to guide us along. I take it on faith and follow Dutch, holding a button to match his pace. There’s a reason Dutch picked Arthur to accompany him on this critical part of the journey: He’s part of a core group who has run with the leader for the past few decades. By the time we ran into John Marston in the original game, he had broken old alliances for the sake of his family. At this point at least, Arthur is a true believer, even if he is just as confused about how the gang got here as I am.

“What really went down on that boat?” Arthur shouts over the wind.

“We missed you. That’s what happened,” comes the reply. If answers about Blackwater are coming, they aren’t coming anytime soon.

We press on for a bit, eventually coming across gang member Micah Bell. He says there’s a homestead not far from our location, and it sounds like they’re having a party. Sure enough, after a short ride, we find the cabin. A fiddle plays, and people are laughing and shouting inside. We hitch our horses, and Dutch tells Arthur and Micah to stay out of sight. “Let me handle this,” he says. “We don’t want to spook these fine people.”

The following exchange feels more like a standoff than an introduction, as the people inside warily regard Dutch. They aren’t falling for his weary traveler routine, even though he’s selling it with everything he’s got. Micah gets my attention, and it becomes clear that something’s amiss; a corpse is inside the wagon he’s been hiding behind. With that, we draw our weapons and prepare for the worst. The worst comes soon enough. One of the men appears to recognize Dutch, blurting out “It’s god damned—” before we cut the conversation short with our triggers. The gunplay is familiar, and snapping between targets in and out of the cabin is simple. Arthur is at the peak of his powers, too; he doesn’t need to drink a miracle tonic before he can tap into his time-slowing Dead Eye ability, which ends the encounter with a pair of deadly accurate shots.

Inside the cabin, we forage for provisions. I find a horse in the barn, but am attacked by a man before I can calm the animal. After a quick beating, we learn the men were members of Colm O’Driscoll’s gang, who are in the region to rob a train. Dutch and O’Driscoll have history, and it isn’t good. Dutch tells me to do what I want with the man, but to bring the horse when I’m done. I let him go. Arthur may be an unrepentant outlaw, but he’s not a straight-up murderer – at least not for now.

The Great Train Robbery

The next few days are eventful. The gang isn’t completely in the clear, but they seem to be settling into a new routine. Javier Escuella and I head out to find John Marston, who has been missing since Dutch sent him to scout with Bell earlier. “I know if the situation were reversed, he’d look for me,” Escuella says, unaware of how prophetic his words are. 

Marston’s role in Dutch’s gang is one of the most interesting aspects of Red Dead Redemption II. We knew of John as a loyal, dependable man with a dark past. Here, a dozen years before our introduction, he’s seen as a bit of a joke. At one point, Arthur calls Marston “as dumb as rocks and as dull as rusted iron.” We find John, and during the rescue learn how he got his distinctive facial scars.

There are a lot of people to get to know in Dutch’s gang, and unlike characters like Escuella, Bill Williamson, and Dutch himself, we don’t have the benefit of having known most of them from the first game. Rockstar does a remarkable job getting players up to speed through dialogue and interpersonal moments, most of which take place in-game as opposed to breaking them out in cutscenes. In the opening hours, Arthur goes on several excursions with a variety of different gang members. On those rides, they talk about Blackwater, share their thoughts on the current state of things, and even discuss the possibility of going straight someday. The conversations feel natural and don’t seem as though you’re listening to “Exposition Moment #4.”

Even though each gang member has their own criminal specialty, they share one common love: money. Dutch has been looking for another lucrative opportunity after the disaster in Blackwater, and it comes after the gang raids an O’Driscoll hideout. There, he finds more information about their planned train robbery, as well as the explosives to pull it off. Our gang also manages to take an O’Driscoll member alive, though the man downplays his involvement. Dutch tells his men to tie up this Kieran Duffy fellow, before giving a chilling speech: “I’ve got a saying, my friend: We shoot fellas that’s need shooting, save fellas that’s need saving, and feed ‘em that’s need feeding. We are going to find out what you need.”

Duffy isn’t saying much, but that’s fine; Dutch has what he needs for the time being. He calls a group of us together to head down the mountain to pull off what he hopes will be a big score. The steady descent from the Grizzlies is transformative. For hours of game time, Arthur has had to push his way through knee-high snow and had his view obscured by blizzards and blinding reflections of the sun on snowdrifts. As the wagon train rattles its way down, packed white trails give way to paths of dirt and mud, and green foliage peeks from between the pines. There’s an accompanying sense of relief, and I appreciate the fact that, for the first time since I pressed start, it looks like our gang might actually catch a break.

The job seems simple enough. We survey the tracks from a hill beside the train tunnel. Dutch sends Williamson out to plant the explosives, and I help by stringing the wire between the dynamite and the detonator. Of course, these things rarely go as planned. The detonator fails, and the gang scrambles to salvage the opportunity. Lenny Summers and I manage to dive atop the train as it passes by, and we work our way to the engine. Along the way, Lenny asks what I think we should do next. Pulling the left trigger, I bring up options, such as having him move ahead or stay back as I clear out the cars ahead. 

Arthur is part of a seasoned gang of killers, and that’s reflected in the action. The A.I. doesn’t hang back and let me get all the glory. Instead, characters like Lenny do their damndest to cut down any enemies they see. There are plenty of times where I’m about to dial in a kill only to see my target cut down by a partner’s shot. It’s a different sensation from a lot of other games, where your teammates often feel as though they’re shooting blanks.

Even though the heist didn’t work out as planned, the results are the same. We blast open an armored car and end up with valuable bearer bonds – a great haul, for sure, but one that will require some effort to reap. Whether it’s the result of the spring air or the feeling of a successful score, one thing’s certain: It’s time for Dutch’s gang to get back to what it does best. 

Planting Roots

Our gang heads down the Grizzlies, and the mood is completely different from our ascent. People are in good spirits, and the weather is beautiful. That doesn’t mean that everything is perfect, however. Arthur rides with Hosea, and the old man is still nursing a grudge. Hosea reminds Arthur that the two of them had a lead in Blackwater that the gang could have pursued, and that they both knew that the boat job didn’t feel right. “It just isn’t like Dutch to lose his head like that,” Hosea says. Arthur tries to smooth things over, saying he figures they must have gotten more right than wrong over the years. 

The gang sets up their new camp at a place called Horseshoe Overlook. “I’ve been through a couple of times,” Hosea says. “There’s a livestock town not too far from here called Valentine. Cowboys, outlaws, working girls, our kind of place.” Now that things are settled down, I get to see what the gang does on their own time. Members fan out into the world, each with their own schemes – with the understanding that they keep low profiles and kick a share back to the camp coffers. One of the first to go is a studious looking man named Leopold Strauss, an Austrian loan shark. Valentine is his kind of town, indeed.

Now, for the first time since I started, the world is truly open. The camp is bustling with activity, as characters go about their various routines. I talk to Dutch and then grab a bowl of stew from the camp kitchen. The camp has its own needs – ammunition, medicine, and food – and I can choose to help pitch in whenever I want or ignore it altogether and let someone else deal with those chores. Morale improves the more I help, however, which is just one of the incentives to do so. For now, I want to head to Valentine and see what it’s like. I run into our gang’s resident drunk, Uncle, taking a nap against the wagon. I ask what he’s doing, and he says he’s thinking. “So. While the rest of us are busy stealing, killing, lying, fighting to try to survive, you get to think all day?” Arthur asks. “Yeah, it’s a strange world we live in, Arthur Morgan,” he responds. Uncle wants to head into town, and so do Karen Jones, Tilly Jackson, and Mary-Beth Gaskill. The ladies sing a bawdy song on the wagon ride down the road, giggling and messing up the lyrics at times. 

Halfway there, we come upon a man whose horse has bolted away. I get off the wagon and lasso the animal, leading it back to its grateful owner. Arthur tells the man he was only trying to impress the women. Heading down the road, Uncle is clearly not impressed, and says Arthur is turning into a regular fairy godmother.

Players have their honorable and dishonorable deeds tallied as they play, though Rockstar says it’s not as linear a system as it was in the first game. The effects of being a hero or scoundrel are both subtle and far-reaching. Players who go out of their way to help others are rewarded with higher bounty rewards and townsfolk that don’t flee on sight. On the other hand, if you prefer to become a highwayman and rob people who pass by on the trail, you’ll get better prices at illicit fence operations and respect from fellow outlaws. In addition, the musical score shifts to reflect your moral alignment, and your character’s posture and facial animations change. Even your killcams highlight different aspects of your moral character – heroic slow-motion for the good guys, and more brutal actions if you choose to black hat your way through life.

Valentine is a mid-sized town surrounded by hills. It looks like there’s a lot to do, and my passengers waste little time finding it. I stick with Uncle, and we go to the general store to pick up some supplies. You can choose to browse the shelves, similar to how Ammu-Nation works in Grand Theft Auto V, or flip through a catalog. The catalog is a little easier to navigate, and it’s filled with period language and illustrations. It includes a large section of clothing options, too, such as hats, vests, pants, coats, and more. If you like playing dress-up in games, the cosmetics appear to run far deeper than the handful of outfits offered in Red Dead Redemption.

In addition to the general store, there’s a gun shop, stable, and street vendor to lighten your wallet, as well as a few watering holes. People mill around, adding to the feeling that it’s a bustling town and not just an NPC dumping ground. 

Dutch implored us to stay out of trouble, but sometimes trouble seeks you out. I see Charles and Javier in the saloon, where they’re trying their best to impress a couple of working girls. Arthur isn’t much of a charmer, opening their interaction by asking how much they cost. “Well, ain’t that a nice way to talk to a lady,” one responds. “Oh,” Arthur shoots back. “I didn’t know I was talking to a lady.” And with that, the trio drinks alone. It wouldn’t be a saloon without a fight, and soon enough our friend Bill Williamson gets into it with some locals. It’s a classic western fight, with broken tables, smashed chairs, and a piano player who scurries out at the first sign of trouble. I’m able to hold my own, but then a bruiser stomps down the stairs and throws me through the window. Hand-to-hand combat is more involved than in past Rockstar games, and it offers a fair bit of depth. After a few minutes of blocking and parrying his attacks and getting in a few solid counters, I knock him down to the muddy street – to the amusement (and horror) of the assembled crowd of onlookers that has dynamically drawn close to watch the show.

Rockstar says that if I’d gotten into trouble in Valentine before accepting the saloon mission, Charles and Javier would have come out to help – the characters are in the world, and not just spawned in for the sake of missions. In that instance, the saloon mission might not have been available afterward, thanks to whatever chaos we may have caused in the streets.
Arthur is caked with mud, so I take him to the hotel for a bath before checking out a quick movie. While I could have let it dry, there’s something undignified about catching a flick covered in mud. The film is a glorified slideshow, but it’s still an entertaining diversion.

Black Belle, And A Bad Loser

In a bar down the street, I run into a man who’s trying to write a biography about a famed gunslinger, Jim Boy Calloway, known as the fastest left-handed draw who ever drew breath. Calloway has obviously seen better days, as he’s slumped onto the bar, blacked out. I agree to help the biographer out with his plan B, which involves tracking down some other gunslingers and getting their stories about Calloway.

I start by finding a woman named Black Belle. Her last-known location is in a swamp, and I set my waypoint on the map. It’s about a 10-minute ride, even at a steady gallop. The world is big and beautiful, but more importantly there are things to do. During the trip I watch a guy get kicked in the head by his horse (and lose honor points by looting his body), help a man stuck in a bear trap, and get my fortune told by a man called Old Blind Man Cassidy. “Just as evil begat evil your whole life long, so good may begat good,” he says. 

While larger-scale missions are denoted with easy-to-see icons on the map, these diversions pop up around me without much to-do. I’m able to choose whether to engage with these vignette-like gameplay moments or keep riding along. Since the rewards can be lucrative – financially and morally – I’m more inclined to participate.

Red Dead Redemption’s campaign had a serious arc, but there were moments that leaned more toward the Weird West end of things. From my time with Red Dead Redemption II, things seem significantly more grounded. That’s not to say that it’s not funny, but that the humor is more about the funny things that the characters are saying than in leaning into weird characterizations such as body-defiling prospectors. If that kind of silly stuff is in the game, I didn’t see it.

I won’t spoil what happens with Black Belle, but she’s a great example of a character delivering humor without being a punchline. Suffice it to say, it’s a case where that biographer may have picked the wrong subject.

On the ride back to camp, I swing by a ranch to see what’s happening. There isn’t much activity, aside from a few cattle and sheep, and a friendly game of dominos is what passes for excitement. I pull up a chair and join in. One of the best things about Red Dead Redemption was the slow, almost meditative, pace exploration embodied. You’re traveling predominantly on foot or horseback, which has a significantly different feeling from whirling a car around corners at 90 miles an hour. In this kind of world, a relaxing game of dominos is just the ticket. At least until I lose.

I was about ready to walk away with a smile on my face, when the winner made a little gloating remark. I look at him, and then pull up an interaction menu. When you see an NPC, you can choose several different ways of engaging them, if you want. In addition to friendly greetings, you can rob them or try to intimidate them. I try to talk him into fighting, and he obliges. After a few punches, I knock him out and take on his friend for good measure. I riffle through his pockets for the $4 pot – not my biggest score, but it’ll have to do. I also take his hat for good measure.

Unfortunately, the remaining player sees it all go down and alerts the law. I get on my horse and hoof away from the crime scene, but soon get a notification that there’s now a bounty on my head. And, to add insult to injury, it’s $5. 

Hunting Party

Back at camp, I meet up with Hosea. He says he’s been itching to go hunting, ever since learning about a legendary bear who stalks the woods nearby. Going after a beast that’s purportedly 1,000 pounds doesn’t exactly sound safe, but what do I have to lose at this point? 

We head out, stopping by Valentine to sell a horse that Hosea has recently “acquired” during his travels. Since we don’t have the paperwork on it, I’m unable to get top dollar for the animal, but I do get enough in the transaction to buy the stable’s cheapest option. At first, I think the mare is covered in freckles, but I realize it’s just filthy. I dismount and clean her with my brush, making her look about as good as can be. “Interesting choice,” Hosea sniffs, though he says that if I spend enough time with her I could make something out of her. Indeed, the longer you spend on your horse, the tighter your bond grows, through four levels. Each level provides a new riding ability, like being able to rear up on command, perform dressage, and eventually pull off the equine version of drifting with a slide turn. 

Overall, the horse riding is a marked improvement over Red Dead Redemption’s. The horse obeys commands but also acts with its own kind of intelligence; it doesn’t feel like you’re on the back of a four-legged robot. At one point I’m getting fancy with the camera, and don’t realize that I’m heading toward a rock. The horse bucks me off, and I flop onto the ground. Lesson learned. If you want to focus on the game’s breathtaking visuals, you can have the horse stick to the trail automatically while the camera cycles through a variety of different cinematic angles. It’s a great option for when you tire of looking at your horse’s rear. If you prefer, you can also use first-person mode. 

Hosea and I ride down the trail for a while before we break camp for the night. I hunt down some rabbits for supper, which is easy to do thanks to an Eagle Eye vision mode. It’s similar to the alternate-view mode you see in a lot of games now, where colors momentarily desaturate and points of interest – animals in this case – are highlighted. Rockstar’s take is a little different, however. When you use the view, animals and their tracks are highlighted. If you look at their trail and press a button, it highlights the trail for a period of time when you return to normal vision. It’s a clever way to provide the benefit of an alternate vision without forcing you to see the game through a distorted lens for longer than you need to.

Rockstar has done a particularly great job in replicating the outdoors – no small detail, considering just how much time you spend there. Forests get appropriately dense, and wildlife is abundant, with more than 200 different types of birds, beasts, and fish. And while the game features a score that has more than 100 different pieces of music, the sounds of nature are a big component of the audio landscape. At several times during the demo, I was certain that a persistent fly was near my head, but it was just part of the game.

I take down the rabbit with a bow, and then skin our dinner. Unlike the last game, the camera doesn’t pull away during this action. Arthur holds the creature with one hand and pulls its hide off in one smooth motion with the other. Skinning deer is a more complicated process, with Arthur sliding his knife down the creature’s belly and methodically removing the hide. Hides can be sold or used to craft apparel, and meat can be eaten – such as the rabbit, which Arthur roasts on their campfire. After eating, we go to bed in our makeshift camp with full bellies. That’s an important new element to the game, since Arthur needs to eat and sleep. When he’s full, for instance, he can regenerate health more quickly. It didn’t seem like a fussy component to the game, but I dipped into my in-game satchel to eat a few oatcakes or other foods that I scavenged to keep Arthur full.

The next morning, we craft some bear bait with fish and berries, and try to track down the legendary beast. I’m able to track it using clues, such as a half-eaten fish, pile of scat, and broken branches. Hosea says we’re close, and I’m given the choice between splitting up or dropping the bait and staying together. Splitting up seems like a bad idea, so I drop the stinky bait and we hide behind some boulders. Less than a minute passes before Hosea starts fussing about the bait. Did I mix it correctly? Did I put it in the right spot? We move out, only to realize just how effective it was – just a few feet away, the bear appears, raising on its hind legs and roaring. I enter Dead Eye and paint its massive body with targets. It’s enough to scare the beast off.

Hosea is grateful for saving his life, and he gives me a book of maps in gratitude. “A man in a bar gave it to me,” he says, adding, “well, I stole it from him, but that’s another story.” He heads back to camp, giving me the option of going back with him or seeing if I can finish the bear off. I tell him I’m going to try my luck and see if I can’t finish what I started. And with that, Hosea rides out of sight.

Who Is Arthur Morgan?

The biggest takeaway from my time with Red Dead Redemption II – and Arthur – wasn’t centered around any kind of revelatory character moments. I’m sure those will come later. What struck me most is how rooted he was to the world around him. Rockstar has pioneered the open-world genre for decades, and with Red Dead Redemption II, they’ve outdone themselves. It’s a role-playing game in the truest sense of the word. You are inhabiting this role in ways that few, if any, other games have attempted.

You won’t end up with a Level 38 Arthur Morgan, or anything like that. Instead, there’s a feeling that you inhabit the world. A lot of open-world games fill the screen with icons representing things to do, and that’s fine. In this game, you’re given things to do between those activities, which are small but meaningful. The game isn’t attempting to be a simulation like Don’t Starve, but you need to eat and sleep. You can make your firearms more effective by maintaining them with gun oil. Even something as seemingly insignificant as being able to say hello to a passing traveler adds to the overall tone – even if they look at the gut-shotted deer carcass stowed on the back of your horse and sarcastically ask if it’s your first time hunting. 

Arthur Morgan is still surrounded with mystery, which is why it was so interesting to step into his boots. We know what happened to Javier, Bill, Dutch, Abigail, and other members of the gang, but Arthur’s fate is unknown. Did he manage to get out and start a life away from Dutch’s crew? Was he killed in another failed heist? Arthur may be an outlaw, but hopefully he’s able to find his own kind of peace along the way.

Categories: Games

Mega Man 11 Review - Robots Ride Again

Gamespot News Feed - Mon, 10/01/2018 - 16:00

Things haven't been easy for Mega Man fans in the 2010s. Between the cancellations of Mega Man Universe and Mega Man Legends 3 and the disappointing spiritual revival Mighty No. 9, it felt like every hope of seeing the series' beloved, classic action gameplay return was dashed in some way. So it was to great anticipation and expectations that Capcom announced Mega Man 11, the first all-new Mega Man game in over eight years. And while the game does deliver on its promises of being a charming, challenging action game with a rogue's gallery of robots to scrap, it makes a few puzzling choices that keep it from true greatness.

Those who have been enjoying our blue buddy's adventures within the last three decades are probably familiar with the gameplay formula here: You go through eight themed levels in the order of your choosing, claiming the weapons of the end-stage Robot Masters you defeat--and which can be used to exploit weaknesses in subsequent boss encounters. Once the eight robots are beaten, you advance to a tiered fortress with a final Dr. Wily showdown waiting at the end.

The big new feature this time around, however, is that our hero has been fitted with the Double Gear System, which allows him to increase his weapon power or slow down the environment for a limited time. The Power Gear can increase the output of the standard Mega Buster or enhance special weapons with more potent effects, while the Speed Gear can help you in tricky spots where timing or moving quickly is crucial. However, these effects only last a few seconds, and once time runs out you have to wait for a cooldown period to end or collect a special item before you can use them again, preventing you from relying too heavily on them. You're also not the only one using this new power, as you'll find Wily's machines are also putting it to use.

One thing you'll notice right off the bat is how well the game manages to nail the overall feel and charm of the series in its visual presentation. The 3D character models of Mega Man, his friends, and his Robot Master foes are on point, with subtle visual flourishes like Auto's exasperated expressions and robot bird Beat struggling to lift Mega's weight adding a little bit of humor. The stages themselves are packed with the sort of strangely cute, googly-eyed robot enemies that have come to define the franchise, and background elements like Blast Man's self-advertisements or Block Man's strange hieroglyphs add a spark of personality to each of the stages. With visuals this nice, it's easy to overlook the soundtrack, which is pleasant but wholly unmemorable.

Unfortunately, the early-game experience in Mega Man 11 is a trying one. Veterans will certainly notice how unusually long each of the stages are. While you might assume that more Mega Man action is good, the stage length serves to make the game far more frustrating than it should be, as checkpoints are sparsely placed and extra lives are few and far between. Making things worse, you often hit the most challenging parts of a stage in rapid succession, affording you little time to catch your breath. The stage design also tends to put trial-and-error areas like a labyrinth of instant-kill spike walls or a series of rapid-fire jumps at the end of these lengthy levels, making game overs especially demoralizing.

In other Mega Man games, failure feels more like a learning experience than a setback; here, however, the prospect of redoing a 10-minute level laden with strict checkpoints, instant-kill elements, and a mid-boss brawl often feels painful. The Double Gears help somewhat in navigating the more difficult sections, but they always seems to run out of power too quickly to be reliable. Progress gets better once you manage to build up a repertoire of boss weapons and purchase upgrades with collectible bolts found in the stages, but there's still a small degree of frustration at certain stage design elements, like Torch Man's three stretches of instant-kill flame wall pursuit, that never quite goes away. And while you can play the game on a lower difficulty, giving you more lives and checkpoints to make the stage hazards more manageable, it overcompensates by severely lowering damage to the point where boss battles become a dull pushover.

Of course, the levels--overly long as they are--aren't entirely bad, and there are a lot of enjoyable and interesting ideas. Blast Man's stage has you blowing exploding robots into crates and other mechs to create chain blasts, while Impact Man has some reflex-testing areas where you need to dodge a series of drilling robots that fly out in quick succession. The mid-stage bosses are all pretty great, as well; my personal favorite is the robotic, icicle-summoning mammoth skeleton in Tundra Man's stage. The Robot Masters themselves are also a lot of fun to fight, and they'll actually change up their patterns by using their own Double Gears as their health depletes, keeping you on your toes. The collected boss weapons are also tons of fun to use, and the Power Gear variations are a neat touch that calls to mind the Mega Man X series.

Still, it's easy to forget how much fun you had in other stages when you're stuck getting nailed by yet another spike trap in the tail end of Acid Man's stage or struggling with the springy walls and obnoxious slappy-hand platforms present in Bounce Man's miserable abode. It culminates in a final set of levels that are both awesome and underwhelming: awesome in that they have some really fun gimmicks and bosses, underwhelming in that it doesn't feel like it's as significant of a skill test because you already dealt with some of the game's biggest obstacles in the stages prior.

Mega Man 11 is a good action game that you can easily identify with, but it's far too uneven and bumpy to hold up against some of the best installments in the venerable franchise. At its best, it's a terrific retro romp with exciting boss encounters and unique gimmicks. At its worst, it's a frustrating experience whose too-long levels toss out infuriating obstacles to progress at the worst times. But even with these issues, it just feels good to see Mega Man back in action, and Mega Man 11 will hopefully be the start of many new robotic adventures to come.

Categories: Games

Fist Of The North Star: Lost Paradise Review - Be The Tough Boy

Gamespot News Feed - Mon, 10/01/2018 - 14:30

"You are already dead" is a familiar refrain from Fist of the North Star's protagonist, Kenshiro--often said after he effortlessly pokes the death-triggering pressure point of a hulking bandit. It's a hokey yet empowering catchphrase delivered with infectious confidence. Even more satisfying is what follows, as Kenshiro's foe implodes into a bloody mess--a gruesome punishment dealt upon those who harm the innocent. This classic power fantasy has captured the imaginations of anime and manga fans for decades, pulling in countless people with its over-the-top martial arts justice. It's a quality that the Yakuza developer, RGG Studios, captures so well in Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise--and there's plenty for newcomers to FotNS to enjoy, too.

From the start, Lost Paradise gives you a wealth of tools to make short work of desert bandits and criminals in a fight, performing devastating executions upon enemies who all clearly underestimate you. All the while, an expert handling of melodrama and absurdist humor ensures the series' epic dramatics are conveyed, while also pushing them in exciting new directions. There's great ambition in Lost Paradise's take on FotNS, and while it may not always realize its full potential, the game is exceptional at placing you in the shoes of its messianic martial artist.

Lost Paradise decidedly crafts its own take on the series’ characters and events, telling a story set in an alternate timeline. While its plot is nowhere near as dense or complex as the Yakuza games, there’s more than enough action and intrigue to hook you into the tense drama on display. The supporting cast is endearing, each possessing struggles and aspirations that are easy to empathize with. You're often thrown into moments where you are fighting alongside them and even up against them. As new foes enter the fray, it's difficult not to get caught up in the peril that befalls Kenshiro and his allies--despite some characters and themes not being as deeply explored as they could be.

The game doesn’t completely change everything, however, occasionally lifting elements from the series and inserting them into the framework of its narrative. The game feels like a collection of new and old, which sparks excitement when witnessing iconic moments set against the backdrop of a new setting. There’s something special about how Lost Paradise seamlessly incorporates classic characters into its narrative, though it’s difficult not to be disappointed by how little it sometimes develops them. They often exist for the sake of giving Kenshiro a tough opponent to fight rather than fully implementing their arcs into the narrative. Other times, some characters appear to fight and never show up again. This may disappoint fans who desire the context that the series gives these characters and more than likely will leave some newcomers confused.

Despite this, there’s still plenty of memorable moments that preserve the series’ signature storytelling for both fans and newcomers. However, where Lost Paradise truly excels (and surprises) is in its use of levity; RGG Studios adds its own style to the mix, including a suite of absurdly comedic substories that regularly poke fun at the source material. This level of self-awareness should come as no surprise to Yakuza fans, but it makes for an amazing fit that helps balance out FotNS’s traditionally dire tone. You might save innocent citizens from local bandits or even join up with Kenshiro's closest allies on a quest to help a nearby village. But it's the less traditional side-activities that delight the most, putting you into light-hearted scenarios that redefine what's possible in the FotNS universe. For example, one substory addresses the morality of Kenshiro's frontier justice in humorous and heartfelt ways, while another jokes about the prevalence of shoulder pads in the series' character designs. Have you ever wondered what it would be like if Kenshiro worked as a bartender? Better yet: how about Kenshiro as the manager of a hostess nightclub? Lost Paradise works in these side-activities for laughs, and it's presented in a way that brings to light just how ridiculous yet endearing Kenshiro can be.

To accommodate this shift, Kenshiro is much more expressive than usual. Historically a protagonist of few words, the increase in his dialogue and internal thought process is a welcome change that reshapes him into a more charming and noteworthy presence. While you won't come out of Lost Paradise understanding Kenshiro from a new and meaningful perspective, his more exaggerated personality at least highlights what makes him so captivating and likable.

The writing properly sets the stage for the power fantasy of being Kenshiro, but it's Lost Paradise's delivery of his over-the-top fighting style that brings it all home. The Yakuza series' uncomplicated beat 'em up-style approach to combat works well with FotNS, offering you easy access to a flashy and deadly arsenal of attacks and techniques. You'll constantly gain new abilities as you progress that demonstrate Kenshiro's God-like fighting prowess against enemies. The impact of his punching flurries, swift kicks, and graceful acrobatics are all faithfully brought to life. There's a destructive and mesmerizing force to each blow that somehow never manages to grow old no matter how much you exhaust each possible combo.

Combat isn't especially difficult, but that's precisely what makes it so gratifying. Enemies are always a combo or QTE away from turning into a crimson fountain. With such power at your fingertips, you’re always encouraged to play with your foes--whether it be launching them into an air juggle or sending them flying across the stage with a well-placed kick. Before long you'll find yourself emulating Kenshiro as you fight, effortlessly dispatching groups of enemies with speed and grace.

It helps that every activity feeds into your sense of progression too. The world may be smaller than those from the Yakuza games, but every corner is rich with opportunities that reward you with items and experience points that'll increase your strength. Whether it’s a fun mini-game to play for a while, a shop system you pour resources into stocking, or a bounty-hunting system with its own overarching story arc, there’s usually something worthwhile to tackle. And more often than not, you're pulled into unexpected directions thanks to how random substories seem to trigger.

It’s worth noting that Lost Paradise is a little rough around the edges. Despite its cel-shaded art style, low-resolution textures give the game’s visuals a dated look that’s plain ugly at times, while stiff character animations accompany most cutscenes. Not only that, but there are some pacing issues scattered throughout that have you going from point A to B and back again that can be outright laborious. However, these are only minor complaints in the grand scheme of what Lost Paradise ultimately succeeds in, and that’s understanding and capturing what makes FotNS so special.

Lost Paradise may replicate the Yakuza series' format, but it's filled with a passion for FotNS that makes it fantastic all on its own. While previous games based on the property have adapted its story and characters with some success, few have managed to not only nail the style and tone but redefine what's possible with its world and characters. RGG Studios has done a splendid job at evoking the justice-fueled power fantasy Kenshiro represents, succeeding in revealing more about the historic and beloved character in amusing and unexpected ways.

Categories: Games

Assassin's Creed Odyssey Review - Wonder And Glory

Gamespot News Feed - Mon, 10/01/2018 - 12:00

The soft reboot that was Assassin's Creed Origins introduced a new approach to the series' brand of stealth-action gameplay, along with an expansive and vibrant open world with many dynamic systems at work. In this year's follow-up, Assassin's Creed Odyssey, developer Ubisoft Quebec builds upon its predecessor's pillars, and in the process shows greater confidence in the series' new direction.

Set in Ancient Greece, Odyssey predates the previous game by several centuries. During the Peloponnesian War in 431 BCE, you take on the role of either Alexios or Kassandra, siblings and former Spartans-turned-mercenaries. In keeping with series tradition, Odyssey features parallel storylines, with the main narrative taking place in the distant past and the overarching plot set in the present day. After pivotal moments dealing with political intrigue and wartime conflict in Greece, you'll jump back to the modern day to continue the story of Layla Hassan, introduced in Origins, who's working to uncover the secrets of the first civilization. Throughout your travels in Ancient Greece you'll uncover lost tombs, engage in naval warfare on the high seas, and assassinate the key members of a shadowy conspiracy seeking control of the known world.

In your trek through the Greek mainland and the islands of the Mediterranean sea, you come across diverse locales that showcase lush environments that pay tribute to the old gods, while rubbing shoulders with the many historical figures of the era looking to make their impression in Greek society. The amount of detail packed into each location is impressive, tied together by an active and dynamic ecosystem where local wildlife and civilians keep their territory. But as you dive further, you'll see the many hardships and realities of life in Ancient Greece firsthand, including the horrors of slavery and the ever-present war between the military-driven Spartans and the bureaucratic Athenian army.

Featuring a map that's more than double the size of the previous game, Odyssey is built to be explored and has incidental content to reward your wanderlust. You get the sense that your actions will have a lasting impact wherever you go, and Odyssey offers up a wealth of content that fuels your growth at a steady pace. Though the issue of level-gating comes up occasionally, preventing you from actively exploring any region as you wish, you can take a break from the main story and dive into the breadth of side content at your leisure. Several side quests offer a surprising amount of depth and heart and feature some of Odyssey's more standout moments.

Throughout the main story and in side-quests, you'll make several key decisions that affect the game's narrative and your character's journey. While many of the choices you make are largely inconsequential and result only in slightly different endings for quests, the fateful decisions that do matter can lead to drastic turns of events, with some storylines and characters meeting their end prematurely. In moments you'd least expect, you'll see the payoff for decisions made early on in the story, for better or worse. With nine different possible outcomes at the main story's conclusion, there's a surprisingly large amount of cause and effect that can make the narrative feel all your own.

The different protagonists also offer up some of Odyssey's most endearing and entertaining moments. Despite the grim nature of the game, jokes and fun gags often break the tension, even during serious events. Though both Kassandra and Alexios share the same dialogue and story beats, their differing personalities, gender, and points of view offer unique flavor, making them stand apart--with some scenes and questlines feeling more appropriate with a particular character.

The Photo Mode in Assassin's Creed Odyssey allows you to capture some of the game's most breathtaking views.

Romancing side characters is also possible in Odyssey. While some of these scenes can be amusing, they're mostly just bizarre shows of affection that have no real purpose. These scenes almost always result in a shallow aside during the conversation, with the characters slinking off-screen before returning to the conversation without skipping a beat. Most often, these awkward romance opportunities appear immediately after (or during) otherwise harrowing events. Aside from seeing some additional scenes with certain characters, there's really no benefit to engaging in romance at all. The inclusion of these scenes feels cheap and can sully otherwise interesting conversations.

As you unravel more of the world and advance in the main story, new gameplay mechanics and side opportunities will reveal themselves, adding even greater incentive to explore. When the conspiracy that threatens Greece makes itself known, you'll be able to keep track of the major players through a large interconnected web in the game's menu, showing their connections to other targets and how to find the intel to track them down. But in one of Odyssey's more involved quests, you'll encounter several mythological beasts hidden within the world, offering up some of the game's most inventive and memorable encounters, where brute force isn't always the answer.

The world in Ancient Greece feels much more reactive compared to previous Assassin's Creed games, and you get the sense that your actions will have a lasting impact wherever you go. When you start causing too much trouble, you'll attract the attention of rival mercenaries looking to collect a bounty. Similar to Shadow of War's Nemesis system, though not as sophisticated, Odyssey presents a seemingly endless set of antagonists with their own backstories, strengths, and potential loot. If you find yourself with a bounty on your head, mercenaries are often quick to appear--leading to some annoying encounters where they arrive at the worst possible time, even during some story missions. If the heat from the encroaching mercenaries feels too much, you can lay low long enough for the bounty to clear, assassinate another wanted criminal, or pay off your own bounty in the game menu.

With nine different possible outcomes at the main story's conclusion, there's a surprisingly large amount of cause and effect that can make the narrative feel all your own.

One of Odyssey's more clever features is the new Exploration Mode. With this optional mode enabled, you're challenged to use your observation and deduction skills to find your next target, without the support of icons or waypoints. By engaging with quest-givers and friendly NPCs, you'll learn details about your surroundings and slowly piece together your next steps. Exploration Mode heightens the pride that comes from solving puzzles, and this makes each step of your investigations feel all the more rewarding.

When it comes to combat, Odyssey keeps up with the recent trend to incorporate stat-based mechanics into its core gameplay. Compared to previous games, there's now a greater focus on allowing you to customize your character to approach the challenges ahead. You can also build your character to specialize in stealth, long-range, or melee combat, and you're able to respec at any time. If you want to build your character as a powerful Spartan warrior wielding a legendary spear and use your Spartan Kick to boot enemies off cliffs, you can, but you are also free to stick with the traditional Assassin archetype.

This opens a lot of opportunities to experiment with special moves and gear, the latter of which can also be customized with special perks that offer unique bonuses. Odyssey no longer features the shields introduced in Origins, and as a result, combat flows at a brisker pace. By placing the emphasis more on dodging and parrying incoming blows from enemies, fighting feels more involved and dynamic. While there are times where Odyssey can run right into the awkwardness of its RPG mechanics clashing with the action gameplay--such as being unable to assassinate enemies outright due to being under-leveled--it makes up for it by giving players the options to avoid such clumsy engagements.

Your ship, The Adrestia, can be upgraded to deal greater damage and move faster while out on the open waters.

Naval combat and sailing make a return in Odyssey, opening up exploration on the high seas. As you build up resources and find new members to join your crew, you can customize and upgrade your ship, The Adrestia, to take on more daring challenges. Much like in Black Flag and Rogue, seafaring offers up some of the more exciting and visually pleasing moments of the game, finding lost sunken ruins in the oceans depths or facing off against increasingly aggressive rival ships. Over the course of your travels, you'll be able to recruit new lieutenants to add buffs to your ship, giving you more of a fighting chance against the sea's greater threats.

The scope of Odyssey is enormous, and for the most part, it's presented well. But some of the new innovations that seek to fit within the scale of the world, however, feel somewhat lost in the grand scheme of the game. With the ongoing war between the Spartan and Athenian army, you can choose to take part in the conflict and dismantle a faction's influence in a region. In these Conquest battles, you'll pick a side and cripple an army's hold by assassinating their leaders and taking their resources--culminating in a large-scale battle against their forces.

While this is a solid way of gaining resources and improving your standing with a faction, the mechanics and implementation into Odyssey's general systems make it feel half-baked at best and pointless at worst. In some of the more bizarre cases, the game and its narrative don't seem to take Conquest seriously, especially when the main story has you helping a particular faction, despite the side content in the area actively hurting them. This in turn can create a jarring and noticeable feeling of dissonance throughout your adventures. The game often struggles to make sense of the actual war gameplay within the context of its core narrative, which is disappointing.

When looking at Odyssey in the bigger picture, it can often feel like too much game for its own good. There are numerous moments where the loop of exploring, completing missions, and traveling can slow the pace significantly. This is exacerbated by the expansive map, which can sometimes feel excessively big and a chore to travel through. There are also some notable bugs and hitches that crop up throughout, including those that prevent progress in missions to outright crash the game. Several times throughout my journey, progression was somewhat exhausting, which made some of the more impactful and exciting moments in the story feel like a drag.

Despite this, Assassin's Creed Odyssey's ambition is admirable, which is reflected in its rich attention to detail for the era and its approach to handling the multi-faceted narrative with strong protagonists at the lead. While its large-scale campaign--clocking in at over 50 hours--can occasionally be tiresome, and some features don't quite make the impact they should, Odyssey makes great strides in its massive and dynamic world, and it's a joy to venture out and leave your mark on its ever-changing setting.

Categories: Games

The Bard's Tale IV: Barrows Deep Review - Lament

Gamespot News Feed - Sun, 09/30/2018 - 20:59

InXile Entertainment's resurrection of this long-lost series from the age of Ronald Reagan and Max Headroom takes the role-playing genre back in time for better and worse. The Bard's Tale IV: Barrows Deep's visuals are a charmingly nostalgic reminder of the origins of 3D role-playing games, but most of the game's features are too outdated to hold up to today's standards.

Actually, the first challenge here is remembering what the Bard's Tale franchise is all about. The plot is supposed to follow 1988's The Bard's Tale III: Thief of Fate, although most of us will have to take their word for it given the 30 years between major franchise installments. Skara Brae and a rogues' gallery of familiar villains from the original Bard's Tale trilogy are the main hallmarks here, along with new live-action cutscenes that brings to life the iconic cover art from those '80s RPG classics. They are beyond cheesy, but these clips provide plenty of old-school atmosphere.

Other shout-outs to RPG history are evident in the core design, which is minimalistic by comparison to modern role-players. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as the straightforward character development and combat systems are easy to learn. Your group is depicted via portraits in the "party bar" along the bottom eight slots (for the six party-member maximum plus two for summoned allies) on the screen. Movement is handled fluidly with the party being directed as one in real time while exploring. Encountering enemies switches the game over to turn-based combat where you give orders to attack, cast spells, and so forth based on objective and spell points. Overall, it's a tried-and-true system for a retro RPG experience, especially if you want something basic.

But with that said, Bard's Tale IV is too simplistic. Characters come with just four core stats (strength, constitution, armor class, and intelligence) that can basically only be adjusted with equipment and skills earned when leveling up. If you want to raise your constitution (which functions here as hit points, unlike a more traditional D&D system), for example, you need to put on armor, wield a bonus-granting weapon, or take a skill that gives a corresponding buff.

Serious customization is hard to come by. There aren't a lot of character choices provided beyond standard fantasy races like humans, elves, dwarves, and the goblin-like trow, and classes like fighters, practitioners (mages), rogues, and bards. Bards do feel somewhat unique due to their ability to power skills and magic in battle by chugging booze. Leveling up provides some ability to tweak your heroes, but choice is limited because you're allocated just a single point with each advancement to distribute among the four skill trees

Combat has a narrow focus. A handful of objective and spell points are given to the party to use collectively each turn, and you have to spend them on just four selected skill masteries from your overall pool of abilities. Attacks always hit, so strategizing involves looking through each hero's masteries, choosing what does the most damage, and deciding on the best enemy target. You can deal physical damage via melee and ranged attacks or mental damage via spells.

Masteries deal with one type of damage or the other, which causes problems as there is no way to switch them up once a battle has begun. As a result, readied masteries regularly don't match up with what enemies bring to the table. For example, heavily armored foes are vulnerable to mental damage, but if your ready-to-go masteries don't have enough mental attacks, you're out of luck. You can try to build a balanced party, but many masteries aren't shared across classes, so there's not a great range of options if you want a group that's prepared for everything. Because of that, combat feels gimmicky, with you failing at times through no fault other than not guessing what the game is about to throw your way.

The one positive aspect of combat--and it's a positive with definite drawbacks--is that every region is populated with the same four or fives types of enemy. So once you take on the first mob of goblin fire archers, cultist sorcerers, skeletons, assassins, or whatever in a particular location, you know what to expect in that entire area and can go on autopilot when it comes to battle strategizing. Enemies help out by not being very bright, either. They waste their own objective points on moving around unnecessarily, do nothing in the back row, ignore wounded heroes and threats like spellcasters, and so on.

Surprises still happen, though. Difficulty jumps around. You can be steamrolling all comers for ages and walk into a brutal fight against an all-new creature with a never-before-seen ability like regeneration, or undead that revive unless you send them all back to the afterlife in one turn. You learn how to fight different creatures as they appear, but because there's no save-on-demand feature--you instead save at totems strewn around the landscape--this can lead to frustrating trial and error.

Making matters worse is the inaccuracy of the enemy warning system. Look at a mob of foes and they highlight green, yellow, or red. To try to make matters even clearer, party members chime in by assessing the potential bout as a cakewalk, a challenge, or suicide. None of this is very accurate, though. While green scraps always seem easy, some yellow are murderous, and some red are a lot more painless than expected. As a result, you can get a nasty shocker and get killed in a fight that looks like no problem--which is a major pain if you haven't been able to save in a while.

Stability is a also problem. Crashes are a frequent occurrence, especially at the end of battles. Usually the game went down with an error message, but a few times it froze up at the end of a fight while looking at the loot that dead foes left behind. Because of these crashes, it's wise to save constantly--even when you have to run back significant distances to find a save totem after a tough battle.

More serious issues arise due to problems with the level design and structure of the game's locales. The maps are huge and labyrinthine and that's befitting the history of dungeon crawlers, of course, but the game is too loaded with narrow corridors with minimal incentives. Despite the maze-like appearance, you are led in a linear fashion from Point A to Point B in the dungeon ruins of Skara Brae, the forest of Inshriach, or the tundra of Stronsea. There is little room for creativity, as both plot and maps run on rails from start to finish. Inaccessible areas are crudely blocked off with rubble or piles of crates, as well, reinforcing the feeling that you're playing a game of connect-the-dots with extra steps.

While there is a good variety of brainteasers in the game, ranging from switching gears to moving blocks to shoving faeries around an obstacle course to routing blood into connected streams, there are far, far too many of them. Puzzles are used to pad out levels too often. Instead of having to face one or two of these innovative enigmas at a time, you get five or more in a row, almost always of the same type, which gets very monotonous, very fast.

Aspects of the map design appear unfinished. While loads of NPCs are ready to chat, these encounters generally lead to dead ends. Some wayward monk or lovelorn peasant will tell you a story of woe that seems to be leading somewhere, as their conversations tend to revolve around boilerplate RPG quests like hunting for an artifact or finding a lost girlfriend. But then these talks either come to an abrupt halt or the guy or gal turns into a merchant. Your only response to somebody pouring their heart a lot of the time is to ask if they've got any stuff to sell.

Most areas offer little beyond solving puzzles and fighting. Loot drops are limited. You collect the same swords, helmets, and armor constantly from defeated enemies and the crates and barrels scattered across the landscape, along with various types of food and drink that both recover hit points and can be used in crafting. There is little sense of reward. For every cool sword you discover, you smash open 50 barrels and chests filled with vegetables and bottles of water. There's nothing like taking 10 minutes to solve a puzzle leading to a chest…and then finding nothing in it but three carrots and a potato.

The visuals aren't technically impressive and cause even the best systems to chug and stutter when moving the camera on all graphics settings. Character faces have an oddly disturbing appearance in the middle ground between a mannequin and a melted candle, and animations are stiff and jerky, both in real-time dungeon delving and in turn-based battles. Still, the look of the game remains charming. Everything is given a Celtic/Scottish look that could have been taken from Braveheart, and a bright color palette evokes an '80s RPG mood recalling the vivid hues of classic D&D art.

Audio is hit and miss. Well-acted dialogue perfectly handles the Scottish brogue of most characters. Enemies repeat cheesy taunts in combat, though, and party chatter consists of juvenile insults. Some audio effects don't fit with what's taking place on-screen. Gulping down water triggers the same crunching and lip-smacking that accompanies eating a cabbage or apple. At least the music has a beautiful Celtic flavor with plucked strings, fiddles, and choral odes that make the game sound like Enya outtakes.

Other quirks add aggravation. Load times are long and frequent; it takes over a minute to transition between areas, even when leaving a tavern to hit the streets. Level maps can be misleading. Key items like save totems aren't included, and you can't make notes. There is no way to sort character inventories, leading to tedious item management.

Common wisdom and clichés aside, The Bard's Tale IV: Barrows Deep proves you can go home again. But why would anyone want to? While the game re-creates what we played in the 1990s, misty water-colored memories of hours spent with Eye of the Beholder are not enough to fix numerous design miscues, performance problems, and bugs. This is a tough sell to all but the most dedicated and patient retro fan.

Categories: Games

Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition HD Review - Nintendo Switch

Gamespot News Feed - Sun, 09/30/2018 - 20:28

On platforms where the full experience exists, Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition is in a strange position. The version of Final Fantasy XV released two years ago is a sprawling behemoth of a game where it's fully expected and encouraged for players to just meander around for the first three to five hours, getting to know Noctis and his friends, toying with the mechanics, and meeting the people of Eos. It's one of the scant examples of a game where an extremely pared-down experience--which is, ultimately, what Pocket Edition is--remains as engrossing and immense an experience as the average 30 hour JRPG designed to be such.

The main story and the fundamentals of the game’s combat are reproduced here, save a few minor narrative beats and some of the fancier gameplay flourishes, like Link Attacks. But regardless, it's still the story of the warring kingdoms of Insomnia, Niflheim, and Altissia. The three countries are on the verge of a peace that will only be solidified if Insomnia's King Regis signs a treaty with Niflheim and if the prince of Insomnia, Noctis, enters an arranged marriage with Lunafreya of Altissia. Noctis, still immature and lackadaisical about his future, is fond of Lunafreya, but not necessarily ready for the responsibilities that come with marriage, and as such, decides to take one last road trip with his three best friends, Prompto, Ignis, and Gladiolus, toward the altar. When the signing of the peace treaty turns out to be a trap, leaving Insomnia devastated and the prince without a home to go back to, Noctis is forced to gain the divine blessings of his ancestors and claim his birthright ahead of schedule.

Like most demakes, a lot of Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition's charm is largely in seeing how it compares to the original game. In this case, FFXV's stunning locales and photoreal CG have been redone in a bright, abstract, cartoon aesthetic, akin to watching the game acted out by Funko Pop figures. There's an element of warm, familiar nostalgia to it all. Having to fill in the visual blanks of a heavy scene being played out by these expressionless dolls gives you the feeling that you’re just playing a souped-up 32-bit Final Fantasy game. The visual dissonance of blocky, polygonal Cloud mourning an equally blocky Aeris can very easily vanish when you're swept up in the moment. It's much the same here, watching giant-head Noctis grieve his father and the fall of Insomnia. It only stands out as dissonant because unlike, say, Final Fantasy VII, you've likely seen what a photoreal version of these same scenes looks like.

Really, losing nuance from the world itself is more noticeable than losing out graphically. One of Final Fantasy XV's greatest strengths was leaving a lot of narrative details about the world of Eos to the environment, hearing stories from the people you meet, overhearing gossip, and taking on sidequests. The vast majority of that has been stripped away. Also, the wide-open world has been pared down to an ongoing series of linear top-down maps. Pocket Edition's quest is, quite literally, a critical path only that only communicates the essentials, with very little ability or reason to wander off. Yes, that means no fishing, no photography, no Hunts, no Justice Monsters Five, no Formouth Garrison, no Pitioss Ruins, no messing around. Ignis' recipes are still part of the mix, but in a much more limited capacity. It says a lot about just how dense and layered Noctis' journey was to begin with that even having so much of the original game and its narrative jettisoned off still leaves enough material for a very traditional, linear JRPG to take place.

With these limits in mind, it's rather impressive how meticulously the most vital locations and story beats in the game had been reproduced. Having played the main game twice, it's a delightfully surreal experience seeing how much of the world I was able to move through by sheer memory, knowing where traps, shop, and enemy ambush locations would be long before the game decided to point them out. A new player will likely have to refer to the map fairly often, but each area, even the more twisty dungeons in the game, is small enough where the potential to get lost is diminished relative to the original game.

Combat is similarly streamlined, though this is the one area where the main game's depth is deeply missed. The fundamentals are, as mentioned, the same: hold the attack button and Noctis will spam attacks until you let go. You can dodge and roll out of the way, and you also have the Warp Strike, allowing you to close great distances and strike hard against a target clear across the screen. The arsenal is here, but there's far less actual thought that needs to go into the majority of encounters in the game. Only one magic spell can be held at a time, and there's a strange delay before Noctis can even cast it. Weapons like the Greatswords and polearms only vary in terms of striking speed, but generally do the same damage. And even when Noctis dies, with only a few exceptions later in the game, it's so much easier to either throw yourself a potion or wait for an ally to revive you. For most of the fights in the game, you're just holding attack and the left stick in the vague direction of the thing you want to kill. That likely made sense when Pocket Edition was solely a mobile title, but it's a bit undercooked on consoles.

Thing is, though, as flashy as it could be, combat wasn't exactly a shining example in the genre in the full game either. Final Fantasy XV's brilliance shone forth in the interactions Noctis had with the people of Eos, friend and foe. Family friends reappear in Noctis' life to offer guidance and comfort. Locals in every town have their own inner lives, surviving under the occupation of the Empire, and will gladly take Noctis on a tour of their town to see what life outside his kingdom is really like. The bounty hunter who tries to kill him while on a secret mission will later escort Noctis' group through a dungeon and speak honestly about her own government job for the first time. The characters, their stories, and how they all contributed to Noctis growing into the man he needs to be to become king were the soul of Final Fantasy XV.

All these things have been admirably translated, in a way far less intimidating to newcomers and logistically fascinating to veterans. You get the parts of that experience that count the most towards the narrative from Pocket Edition, and the gameplay, rudimentary it may be, has been as elegantly streamlined as possible to obtain that experience. This is still, ultimately, Final Fantasy XV, and while there's a lot of the game that you might want out of Pocket Edition, there's an argument to be made that this version of FFXV will serve you just fine.

Categories: Games

Dragon Ball FighterZ Review: The Fast And The Furious

Gamespot News Feed - Sat, 09/29/2018 - 22:30

Despite the countless Dragon Ball games that have appeared since the manga debuted in the mid-'80s, the series has never needed them to sustain its popularity. Most are forgettable, some are good, and even fewer are truly great. Thanks to developer Arc System Works' particular talents, Dragon Ball FighterZ is one of the great ones, if not the best yet. Even if you think Dragon Ball is old hat, and even if you're intimidated by fighting games, there's a good chance you'll be drawn into the explosive action and personalities that expertly evoke the anime's infectious spirit.

Arc's prowess for making 3D assets look like 2D cel animation is as strong as ever, and its artists display a clear understanding of Dragon Ball's characteristic details. The screen is constantly filled with saturated colors and special effects, and super attacks are framed in a way that pull you out of the fight and into a momentary state of awe. Whether still or in motion, FighterZ's art looks like Dragon Ball at its very best, adhering closely to the standards set by the series creator, Akira Toriyama. And no matter how you may have watched the show, the option to choose between Japanese and English voice acting makes it easy to feel connected to the events on-screen.

Within the convincing Dragon Ball shell lives a fast-paced 3v3 tag-team fighting game that will feel familiar to Marvel vs. Capcom 3 veterans. But despite a few familiar parallels, FighterZ is distinctly Dragon Ball. Characters can jet through the air in a flash at any time, toss energy blasts like it's nothing, and unleash a flurry of smaller punches and kicks to stagger a hesitant opponent. Every fighter emphatically shouts at the top of their lungs (in a good way) every few seconds while attacking, and you understand why: these super beings are incredibly powerful, and FighterZ translates that energy to the screen perfectly. It also makes it easy for anyone to tap into that power, with relatively short special attack lists and one-button or two-button activations for universal mechanics. Not that it's recommended, but you can theoretically play with one hand and capably close the distance to your opponent to kick their ass in style regardless of the character you choose--all without any directional inputs.

Like any great fighting game, FighterZ doesn't lose depth just because it's accessible. Super attacks and teleports are easy to pull off, but they come with timing and combo conditions that allow for expert-level analysis and strategic play. It's also important to properly manage the lone meter that fuels most of your special abilities, a setup that makes a fighter's next move more unpredictable than usual, compared to some games with multiple, ability-specific meters. With seven levels of charge that feed into both offensive and defensive moves, it's never exactly clear what someone will do next, but you know a full meter means trouble, and a potentially chaotic back and forth between two crack fighters.

It also means fun is just seconds away. Being that it's so simple to cover ground, participate in mechanical mind games, and look impressive while doing it, there's practically no barrier to enjoyment provided you are fighting with opponents of a similar skill level. When the balance of skill in your opponent's favor, with no means of escaping a combo once you're trapped, there are times when you have to accept fate and wait for them to finish their onslaught--or until your current character dies--again, not unlike MvC3. Thankfully, online matchmaking is set up to auto-match you with players of similar experience, and lopsided fights are (so far, based on the open beta) few and far between.

You also don't need to be an aspiring online competitor to enjoy FighterZ, as it includes a significant story mode that can last a dozen hours or more if you seek out every possible cutscene. While a bit drawn out in places and relatively easy until the conclusion, it's still a treat for Dragon Ball fans with plenty of new vignettes staring classic characters. Though the plot is split into three arcs, you are technically seeing one arc from different perspectives, with a few alternate events to keep things interesting.

The gist is that a bunch of clones of the planet's strongest fighters are running amok, Dragon Ball heroes and villains (some who have been resurrected from death) must work together to stop them, and a new character, Android 21, is somehow at the center of it all. Because there's practically zero time spent introducing you to characters or their world, it's difficult to imagine how a newcomer to Dragon Ball would understand things like the Ginyu Force's proclivity to pose dramatically or the reason why Krillin doesn't have a nose, let alone the broad concepts of Super Saiyans and Dragon Balls. Then again, the mix of oddball antics and hyper-serious face-offs is inherently appealing for the confident cartoon expression on display.

As in combat, Arc's capable design skills make the 3D models and environments in cutscenes look stunningly close to actual 2D animation. There are moments when it feels like you're watching a new episode of Dragon Ball Z. But there's a catch: you're forced to press a button to advance dialogue, rather than allowed to kick back and watch the show. When FighterZ gets achingly close to recreating the look of the anime, the forced interaction feels like a step in the wrong direction, albeit a minor one in the grand scheme of things. Generally speaking, story sequences often elicit a smile or a laugh, only occasionally feeling like filler made to advance the story. One of the most strange yet likable qualities is the way the game contextualizes you, the player: a spirit that has randomly inhabited Goku (or another character depending on the arc in question) and can be passed to other fighters. It's unexpected and weird, but you have to give Arc System Works credit for pulling you into the room as opposed to simply breaking the fourth wall.

FighterZ is complex and distinct enough to be enjoyed by fighting game competitors, but there's no question that it's been designed to tap into the hearts of Dragon Ball's most dedicated fans...

Story mode's only real downfall is how repetitive it becomes--you fight clones of only a portion of the game's overall roster ad nauseam. Each chapter is presented like a map with locations connected by a branching path. In order to get to the chapter boss, you have to navigate the board and pick and choose your fights along the way. Given that there are optional pathways in each chapter and that you can concoct your own team, it's not surprising to learn that there are optional cutscenes to unlock depending on these conditions. Despite the rewards being largely enjoyable, after a handful of hours fighting lackluster opponents, the idea of replaying story chapters to see a quirky character interaction is unfortunately one that's easy to sideline.

Similarly, the game's basic, small overworld feels unnecessary even though it attempts to add value. Modes are divided among spokes around a circular hub, and you can run around as small versions of the game's characters, sometimes in alternate outfits. While cute at first, you soon learn to just hit the quick menu button and avoid running around at all as there's no benefit other than visualizing visiting a different venue for each mode.

The game tries to incentivize you through unlockable avatars for the overworld, but even if this sounds good, you can only earn them through randomized loot boxes. You earn money as you fight and complete story mode milestones and these can be cashed in for a capsule which turns into a random cosmetic item, be it graphics for your fighter profile, the aforementioned avatars, or alternate color palettes for in-combat outfits. The premium currency in the game can be earned when you open a capsule to find a duplicate item. Spending premium currency will simply net you an item that you don't already own--not one of your choosing. Rather than harm the game, the system feels a bit unnecessary as none of the rewards are critical to enjoying what matters most: participating in explosive battles and enjoying interactions between Dragon Ball's lovably bizarre characters.

Though merely a small piece of the overall puzzle, the rare Dramatic Finishes are perhaps the most respectable and impressive nod to fans in FighterZ. Anyone who's spent years watching Dragon Ball Z unfold over nearly 300 episodes will gasp the first time they trigger one, which will only happen with certain matchups under particular conditions. They have nothing to do with FighterZ's story, but they have everything to do with the revered history of the series at large.

Any concerns that FighterZ might feel lackluster on Switch are immediately dashed once you begin your first battle. Fights remain ruthlessly kinetic, and the power behind every blow, sprint, and scream is as palpable as ever. There's an inherent disadvantage to overcome when playing handheld if you favor using d-pads over analog sticks, but otherwise FighterZ is immediately recognizable. It's partially due to the Switch getting a great port, but it's also a credit to FighterZ's efficient and flexible combat mechanics. Even if you're rusty it's easy to regain your flow in a matter of minutes. Despite mildly optimized graphics, FighterZ feels every bit the invigorating fighting game it was on other platforms, and it has the distinct advantage of bring portable.

FighterZ is complex and distinct enough to be enjoyed by fighting game competitors, but there's no question that it's been designed to tap into the hearts of Dragon Ball's most dedicated fans, and no doubt those same qualities will win people over who've never given the series a chance. Where past games attempted to get there through huge character rosters and deliberately predictable trips down memory lane, FighterZ has bottled the essence of what makes the series' characters, animation, and sense of humor so beloved and reconfigured it into something new: a Dragon Ball fighting game that can go toe-to-toe with the best of the genre.

Editor's note (Sept. 29, 2:30 PM PST): Additional text has been added to reflect our impressions of the Switch version of Dragon Ball FighterZ.

Editor’s note (Jan. 30, 12:38 PM PST): Shortly after release, Bandai Namco's servers were inundated with eager players, to the point that it was at times difficult to get into a lobby at all. This no longer seems to be an issue, though even when servers behave as they should, the hub world at the center of it all proves to make matching up with friends a more complicated process than it ought to be. Rather than simply inviting a friend into a match, you have to coordinate to make sure you both log into the same server, and the same lobby, before finding each other's avatars and creating a private match locked with a password. It doesn't take long to get used to, but it's also another sign that the hub world is an unnecessary complication.

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Game Informer News Feed - Sat, 09/29/2018 - 20:14

Valkyria Chronicles 4 is a great return to form for the series, but between the first and fourth entries, it's likely you've missed some of the backstory behind the game's geopolitical conflict. 

If you're a fake history buff or just want to get caught up on the world of Europa, Sega has you covered. The company has released a documentary-style trailer covering the history of Europa (not to be confused with Europe), covering the plots and backstories players need to know before diving into VC4.

Categories: Games

Minecraft: Dungeons Is A Co-op Dungeon Crawler Coming To PC Next Year

Game Informer News Feed - Sat, 09/29/2018 - 17:56

 Minecraft is all about imagining a new worlds and going on adventures within them. Minecraft: Dungeons takes the first part out of the equation and instead focuses on dungeon-crawling with your friends.

Announced at this year's Minecon, Dungeons is a four-player dungeon crawler using Minecraft's iconic blocky art style, but emphasizing the loot-hording and exploration aspects of the original game. This won't supplant Minecraft, however, as Dungeons is being made by a smaller team at Mojang. "This has been a passion project for them, and is inspired by their love of classic dungeon crawler games," the announcement post says.

You can watch the first trailer for Dungeons, which hits PC next year, below.


Categories: Games

FIFA 19 Review - A Game Of Two Halves

Gamespot News Feed - Sat, 09/29/2018 - 01:10

FIFA 19 runs the gamut with ways to enjoy the game of football. Kick Off modes and on-pitch enhancements, as well as the ever-engaging Ultimate Team, make up the core of FIFA 19, and the new Champions League license adds a neat touch the package. Sadly, Career Mode and Pro Clubs remain stale and are in dire need of a refresh, on top of repeated missteps from previous entries. Regardless, it comes much closer to properly representing the game of football.

FIFA has struggled on the pitch in its past few iterations, with matches deteriorating to frustrating slogs. For years we've been unable to play FIFA like football is played in real life--instead we've been zig-zagging the ball up the pitch and abusing pacey wingers to breach the opponent's defence to swing in an unstoppable cross for an equally unstoppable header. FIFA 19's matches are more natural and more varied in the way they unfold, in large part because EA finally has all the pieces needed to make it so. Although it introduced a slower pace in FIFA 18, the newest iteration finally makes this work by tightening up players' responsiveness. Through passes work again, and they (along with player pace) seem to be in a good place in terms of balance--neither under- nor overpowered, as has been the case for too long. FIFA 19's ball still doesn't feel as satisfying as PES 2019's, but it does at least feel something like the real-life sphere it's imitating.

FIFA 19 includes new tactical options for wannabe managers to fiddle with, such as how many players you want to commit at corner kicks and whether you want your full-backs to over- or under-lap. These are undoubtedly welcome, and tactical changes in your defensive technique--press after possession loss, constant pressure, and drop off are among five options on that front--make a tangible impact in-game, allowing you to further tailor your play style.

However, the much-vaunted new feature of game plans is a bit of a mess. You can set up different tactics for various in-game situations before a match and then quickly switch between them on the pitch, but any change to one game plan, including your default starting plan, is not automatically reflected in your other four plans. So say you decide to switch your wingers over for one particular match or tweak your formation to counter an opponent's star player; that change will be lost if you change to attacking or defensive during a match. This isn't a dealbreaker of course, but it inevitably ends with you spending more time in the team management menu, which is exactly the kind of admin work this feature should have eradicated. And despite the added depth of options, the vast majority of AI teams still behave in a broadly similar (and often unrealistic) way--Wigan Athletic managing to pass their way out of my press with sublime one-touch football was a difficult one to take.

FIFA's brand of football is more physical this year, with strength becoming a far more important stat and crunching collisions feeling much more realistic. You can see and feel players battling for the ball, and goalkeepers are not quite as invincible from crosses as in previous years. Long ball tactics are slightly more viable than last year as a result--including, mercifully, from free kicks--and it feels satisfying for your target man to knock one down for your striker to smash in from 12 yards. Despite this, and the new tactical options, there's still no way to determine which players go up for corners and free kicks, meaning your 6' 6" center-back will still frequently be found on the halfway line at set pieces rather than getting his elbows out in the box where he should be. Timed finishing attempts to add more depth to FIFA's pitchwork for expert players, and while it can be a little temperamental and fiddly, it does add a nice risk-reward layer to what was an afterthought run on muscle memory.

Meanwhile, EA's implementation of the newly-acquired Champions League and Europa League licenses is excellent, with the official branding, specific commentators, and authentic atmospheres adding to the feel of this being club football's biggest event. The competition has its own mode in FIFA 19, as well as implementation in The Journey, Ultimate Team, and Career Mode, and to its credit EA utilizes the license in a much more comprehensive way than Konami ever did.

Unfortunately, that's pretty much it in terms of new Career Mode features, and this is where FIFA 19 suffers. Career Mode is the most in-depth single-player mode remaining in FIFA, and yet it has seen almost no meaningful improvements for years. This year the mode has not been touched at all, save for the implementation of Champions League, and the cracks are showing. That means you get the same "Boss, I was hoping you might be experimenting with the team?" messages; the same bugs and problems (such as the inability to loan out newly purchased players); the same typos and grammar errors in news reports; and the same lack of depth when it comes to club strategies like hiring and firing of staff or stadium expansions. Similarly, Pro Clubs is exactly the same this year as it was in FIFA 18, and it's hard not to sympathize with those who speculate around EA's shifting priorities, given how much ongoing attention the microtransaction-driven Ultimate Team receives in comparison. Frankly, two modes as big and popular as these receiving no new features or even any quality-of-life improvements is unacceptable, and EA needs to up its game in this regard next year.

Kick Off is where most of EA's offline attention was focused this year, with the introduction of detailed stats and some interesting new sub-modes contained within House Rules. These allow you to turn off fouls and offsides, turn on the battle royale-like Survival Mode--in which a goal results in one of your players being sent off--or disallow any goal not scored from a header or volley. These modes are shallow, and being available in local play only is a baffling decision, but they offer a nice change of pace for when you're playing with a friend. It's surprising how much rewiring of your football-addled brain they require; after 23 years on this planet appealing for offsides, it's quite hard not to scream "REF!!!" at the TV when my brother scores his fourth of the game, even when the traditional rules have been thrown out.

FUT's major addition this year is a new sub-mode named Division Rivals, a replacement for the now-cut online seasons mode. It's another, shorter way to qualify for the FUT Champions weekend event, and it adds to the ever-growing and -evolving behemoth Ultimate Team has become. Otherwise, Ultimate Team remains largely the same year-over-year, but the mode's strength lies more in its constant live support over the course of a season, which is shaping up to be exemplary once again. Champions cards, limited-time packs, daily and weekly objectives, special events and tournaments--Ultimate Team has something to draw you in every week, and it is truly the lifeblood of FIFA 19.

The Journey's third year sees the conclusion of Alex Hunter's story, but sister Kim and best mate Danny Williams join him in a GTA V-like three-pronged story. You can switch between the trio to play their individual storylines at any point, though there is a recommended path to follow that keeps their narratives vaguely in line with each other. Each character also has their own special features, such as Alex's choice of mentor squad at Real Madrid (spoilers!) or Danny's choice of advert he wants to take part in. The Journey's scripting and acting isn't exactly outstanding, but it remains a unique way to play, and I hope EA continues it after this Champions League special episode concludes.

Ultimate Team has something to draw you in every week, and it is truly the lifeblood of FIFA 19.

As impressive as FIFA 19's recreation of broadcast football is, there are a surprising number of details that remain inaccurate. You still don't get a fourth substitute in extra time, for example, and the double jeopardy rule--where a red card cannot now be shown inside the penalty area if a player is deemed to have attempted to play the ball--is still not applied in FIFA, despite these law changes having been introduced over two years ago now. Transfer deadline day still comes on August 31 in Career Mode, despite English clubs having the earlier close date of August 9 this season, and many teams that are not deemed one of the "big" clubs do not get third kits or away 'keeper kits. When the rest of FIFA's presentation package is so impressive, it makes these smaller, incorrect details stand out, especially when they appear to require small tweaks to fix.

It's promising that EA is listening to its community. FIFA 19 is much more responsive on the pitch than last year, and the company continues to evolve FUT to keep it fresh. However, the lack of progress in Career Mode and Pro Clubs is sorely inadequate. Thankfully, The Journey's continued entertainment, FUT's long-lasting nature, and some inventive new Kick Off modes mean I'll likely still be playing FIFA 19 by the time next year's game rolls around.

Categories: Games

Multiplayer Horror Game Last Year: The Nightmare Gets Its First Bloody Trailer

Game Informer News Feed - Sat, 09/29/2018 - 00:50

Last Year: The Nightmare is a recently announced multiplayer horror game for PC, putting five players as survivors and a sixth as a murderer. The group of teenagers that comprise the survivors wake up to find themselves in a mirror version of their sleepy home town, which itself contains a supernatural force taking the form of psychotic murderers to hunt them down. You can check out the reveal trailer for the game below.

The game seems similar to other asymmetrical horror titles like Friday the 13th or Dead by Daylight, but seems to put a bit more agency into the hands of the survivors.

The title is one of the First on Discord launch titles, meaning it will be releasing on PC later this Fall. 

Categories: Games