NHL 19 Review -- A Barnburner

Gamespot News Feed - Thu, 09/13/2018 - 23:01

With its brand-new pond hockey mode, introduction of legendary players like Wayne Gretzky, superb controls, and multitude of ways to play, NHL 19 successfully and impressively captures the spirit and culture of ice hockey. It has issues, including a lack of meaningful changes for veteran players, but the solid foundation makes NHL 19 an excellent hockey game.

One of the biggest new additions to NHL 19 is "World of Chel." An evolved version of the EA Sports Hockey League, World of Chel is an online hub featuring multiple modes, with character progression for your skater tied together in one place. The most notable mode within World of Chel is Ones, a game of 1v1v1 played on ponds and lakes. With shivering spectators in heavy coats on the sideline, no whistles, imperfections on the ice, and numerous collectibles like hoodies, beanies, and parkas to unlock and equip (that you can only get via regular progression), NHL 19 effectively captures the general aesthetic and vibe of playing outdoors. An over-the-top and colourful announcer who makes many silly quips and references to hockey culture helps the experience feel appropriately lighthearted. The 1v1v1 setup makes each two-minute match satisfyingly tense and highly replayable, though there are some downsides. For example, it's only half-ice, so the puck frequently gets jammed where the walls meet. With matches only running for two minutes, it's frustrating to spend time digging the puck out of corners. It is also disappointing that Ones is online-only; there is no local play, an omission that stands out when NHL 19's numerous other modes support couch co-op.

Returning from last year, and remaining the franchise's most exciting and engaging mode, is the ridiculously over-the-top Threes. This mode pits teams of three against each other in fast-paced and chaotic games with arcade-style scoring multipliers and the ability to play as the league's different mascots. NHL 19's standard modes feature true-to-life professional teams, players, stadiums, announcers, and visuals with an impressive attention to detail, but I kept coming back to Threes more than anything else for its constant action and delightfully wacky tone.

Aside from Ones and Threes, new this year is a Pro-Am mode that lets you take on NHL legends of past and present in a series of challenges. This mode, in addition to the impressively robust Franchise, along with Ultimate Team, Shootout, Be a Pro career, and online head-to-head, combine to give you numerous distinct and compelling ways to play. Be A Pro serves as NHL 19's career mode, and it delivers a satisfying path from low-level hockey to the pros. It lacks the depth found in the story modes of other EA Sports games like Madden and FIFA, but it is rewarding all the same to build your character and grow and expand their skills over time.

Franchise mode returns, and it remains a deep experience. New for NHL 19 is a more involved scouting system within which you can recruit, hire, and fire amateur and professional scouts to look for new talent by player, region, and team. A further layer to the new scouting mechanic is a "Fog of War" system that hides a player's true rating if you don't scout enough. These new features, as well as the numerous returning ones like morale meetings, trades, salary cap considerations, and more, combine to make NHL 19's franchise mode possibly the deepest in the GM experience across EA Sports. Ultimate Team is also back, and with Legends like Gretzky and Lemieux now in the mix, creating a dream-team is even more absorbing, though its inclusion of microtransactions may irk some. Given that there are so many different modes in NHL 19, it's nice that the menu lets you pin four different modes to the home screen for quick access.

The on-ice action in NHL 19 looks and performs better than last year. EA's new Real Player Motion tech that was used in Madden NFL 19 and NBA Live 19 is also implemented in NHL 19, and it helps add a strong sense of realism to the animations and physics. Skating in particular looks incredibly lifelike; some of the standout animations include seamless transitions from forward to backward skating, fluid crossovers, the kick of the leg during a fake shot, and how a player will situationally chop a puck out of mid-air or into the goal. The hitting physics have also been updated; a well-timed open-ice check will now deliver a crushing blow that causes the other player to crumple to the ice. The system is sophisticated enough to dynamically adapt to the awareness of the other player, meaning hits are gnarlier when the targeted skater doesn't see it coming and can't brace for it. On the presentation side, NHL 19 looks like a TV broadcast with finely detailed character models and crowd animations complete with rowdy fans holding red Solo cups, along with NBC Sports hosts Eddie Olczyk and Mike Emrick back providing excellent commentary.

NHL 19 nails the controls with a weighty and responsive feel. Moving the puck around is easy and intuitive, and with vibration feedback for passes and hits. Possessing the puck is critical in NHL 19, and the controls give you the tools you need to do so at a basic level and also with a huge amount of style and skill. The Skill Stick and Hybrid controls provide an amount of depth that allows more dedicated players to show off their skills with superstar dekes like windmills, spin-o-ramas, and advanced toe drags, to get around defenders and light the lamp. These dekes, of which there are many, can be strung together, which creates fun scenarios--especially in online games against other humans--to keep the defenders guessing. Alternatively, the two-button NHL 94 control setup is a fun return to basics for hockey fans looking for a simpler experience. Whatever scheme you're using, NHL 19's excellent controls make it feel wonderful to move players around the ice, complete tape-to-tape passes, dangle around opponents, and rip shots into the net.

NHL 19's drive to become a complete hockey game is further helped by the addition of NHL "Legends" as playable characters. Thanks to EA reaching a deal with the NHL Alumni Association, the names and likenesses of numerous hockey icons like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Patrick Roy, and Mark Messier, as well as even older players like Jean Beliveau, are now in the game. There is a great attention to detail; Gretzky's trademark half-tucked in jersey is replicated in the game, while there is period-accurate gear, too, as players from the '50s and '60s like Beliveau do not wear helmets and use wooden sticks with no curve on the blade. With its use of legendary players, NHL 19 delivers the fun fantasy fulfillment of pitting Gretzky against current NHL superstars like Alexander Ovechkin and Connor McDavid.

NHL 19 further expands its reach by faithfully incorporating and letting you play as teams in other real-world hockey leagues. The AHL, national teams, and numerous international leagues from Europe and other parts of the world at different levels of professionalism are represented. This contributes to help make NHL 19 feel like more of global hockey game that represents the sport at more levels and in more regions.

NHL 19 succeeds mainly because of its best-in-class controls, authentic presentation, multitude of different ways to play, and its overall excellence in capturing the essence of hockey culture. The pond hockey mode is a fun new way to play with friends in beautiful outdoor environments, but it's the only brand-new feature, and that may disappoint veteran fans.

Categories: Games

Frozen Synapse 2 Review - Cool-Headed

Gamespot News Feed - Thu, 09/13/2018 - 17:00

With a futuristic, digitized look and rhythmically pulsating soundtrack, Frozen Synapse 2 is every bit as stylish as its predecessor. It's a deliberately slow and cerebral experience meant to be learned and played at your own pace. While some technical issues and annoying limitations to the campaign result in frustration at points, Frozen Synapse 2's compelling take on tactics and strategy makes up for this. Whether in single or multiplayer, its highly tactical combat requires patience and wit to grasp, but the steep learning curve is worth it, with every engagement brimming with brilliant tension.

While the game's style is undeniable, with gorgeous, procedurally-generated urban environments, Frozen Synapse 2's tactical, turn-based gameplay is the main draw. You control every movement of a squad of up to six Vatform units--repairable humanoid mercenaries hired for use in combat deployments--to take down enemy teams. Units are controlled by the strategic placement of waypoints, which you mark on the battlefield as you plan out your next turn. Once your plans are primed, you hit the play button and watch as the next five seconds of your movements, and those of your enemy, are played out in a real-time concert of bullets and shotgun blasts. It's a violent game of chess where, refreshingly, logical rules dictate the outcome of a gunfight, not the roll of a random number generator.

When making your plans, plotting out waypoints and moving units from one place to another is the easy part. Where the real effort comes in is predicting the movement of your enemies and anticipating what they're going to do next. At any point along a unit's path, you can add any number of commands, from "wait" or "engage on sight” to asking them to duck and stay low when moving. Your options are plentiful, letting you get as complex as you need to. Helpfully, you're able to plot out enemy waypoints as well, letting you test out theoretical counter-attacks that they might set up in response. But there's no certainty in war, and it's this uncertainty that makes each engagement feel wonderfully tense and unique. Even your best-laid plans can go horribly wrong, while at the same time, a hail mary might see things line up in the exact way you needed it to.

The lack of random chance makes planning out your moves more meaningful, as there is always an optimal solution for any given scenario. A stationary unit will always have a faster time-to-kill than a moving one, for instance. However, different units have their own time-to-kill stats, as well as effective ranges and reload times. These need to be taken into account when marking out your next move, as even well-placed units can struggle to make an impact when they're outgunned and vice-versa; shotguns are devastating in close quarters but are sitting ducks when left out in the open. Learning the intricacies of Frozen Synapse 2's combat is an exercise in both dealing with and overcoming the frustration of early mistakes, of which you'll make many. It only makes it all the more satisfying when the mechanics all finally click, which they will after a few hours of experimenting.

Frozen Synapse 2's single-player mode adds an intriguing real-time strategy layer to the game's strong combat systems in the form of the city map. The city is broken up into several districts, with the different factions operating within them. Both the districts and factions directly contribute to your overall budget, increasing funding as you complete contracts on their behalf, and decreasing it if those actions affect them negatively. Contracts are also time-sensitive, so if you fail to act in time or ignore it completely, another faction will jump at the chance, costing you precious funding and faction reputation. It feels like you're forever on the back foot, which can be a jarring experience at first.

Aside from the occasionally menu-heavy UI, the city has a gorgeous cyber-minimalist look to it. This is backed by a superbly written futurist sci-fi story, told through smart and occasionally funny character dialogue between Mettem, chairman of the city municipal council, your gleefully dry AI helper named Belacqua, and the various faction leaders, each with own clear sense of purpose. You are given the reins of the city's security forces as it deals with an increasing level of factionary violence as well as the outbreak of a sentient AI named Sonata that's also causing a fuss.

The campaign has some issues, though. It struggles to maintain stability at times, unexpectedly crashing to the desktop on rare occasions. Checkpoint contacts involve keeping a squad deployed on a street corner for an allotted time period, except immediately after a deployment, you're prompted to send the squad back to base. If you're not aware of this, you'll fail the contract and your time spent in combat there will be for nothing. There's also no autosave prior to mission deployment, so if your squad's too small or underpowered on a mission where failure is not allowed--a condition that isn't explained beforehand--you're forced to choose between trying to progress through impossible odds or restarting your campaign entirely. This mode is made to be replayable, but given the relatively slow pace of progress, a forced restart is a hard pill to swallow.

Thankfully, the game's superb multiplayer makes up for this. While single player AI is a good challenge, nothing quite beats the feeling of out-thinking a human opponent, and there's far more pressure to plan out your movements with total precision. Multiplayer is also built intuitively into the UI, allowing you to request opponents with a single mouse click or move between multiple games you have going on at the same time. The load time between each game is short, so if one opponent is taking their time, you can always run along and start a new game with someone else, mitigating any frustration at being made to wait while someone plots out their next move.

It's hard not to be drawn in by Frozen Synapse 2's style, but it's even harder to pull away once the game's combat gets its hooks in you.

There are six different modes to choose from, each with a light (enemies are always visible) and a dark variant (enemies are invisible unless they're within your unit's line of sight). While there's the standard deathmatch mode called Extermination, other modes are much more interesting. In Hostage, one squad attempts to hold the hostages placed in a square in the middle of the map while another moves in to free them. Charge sees the battlefield laid out like a football pitch; both players bet how far they think they can get their squad to the other side of the field, and the winning punter gets the chance to prove themselves while the other defends. No matter the game mode, every multiplayer encounter is fantastically suspenseful, with a palpable air of uncertainty surrounding the few seconds prior to your plan's outcome being played back.

It's hard not to be drawn in by Frozen Synapse 2's style, but it's even harder to pull away once the game's combat gets its hooks in you. While the single-player mode ambles through both high and low points, the multiplayer remains a steadfastly enjoyable experience. The anticipation as squads approach in preparation for battle is both thrilling and nerve-wracking, and the ability to switch between multiplayer games on the fly makes tracking multiple games elegantly simple. Technical hiccups aside, Frozen Synapse 2's incredible style and strong tactical combat make it wonderfully gratifying.

Categories: Games

Nintendo Labo Vehicle Kit Review: The Most Fun Labo Yet

Gamespot News Feed - Thu, 09/13/2018 - 14:00

Nintendo Labo's Vehicle Kit is the latest variant available for the Switch's paper crafting/video game hybrid, a separate retail product that features completely new builds, games, and activities. You could, if you wanted to, describe it as the series' latest piece of DLC--if DLC stood for Da Latest Cardboard, that is.

If you thought that last dad joke was bad, it's at least appropriate, given Labo remains an outstanding shared activity between parents or caregivers and the little squirts in their lives. At times intricate and yet appealingly simple, Labo sits in that gaming gap between juniors just starting to evolve beyond simple experiences on a tablet and jaded pre-teens who laugh at you for not knowing what the Fornite floss is. Its mix of real-world cardboard crafting and on-screen activities remains a winning one to experience with a child, although as with the first two Labo kits (the Variety Kit and the Robot Kit), there's really not much here for grown-ups to latch onto.

That's because, despite Vehicle Kit's stronger focus on more traditional gameplay-like modes, what's included still leans more onto the simplistic side and is more geared towards appealing to younger kids (both in scope and gameplay challenges). As the name implies, vehicles are the focus for this Labo experience, and you'll be building your own cardboard controllers for three different vehicles: a steering wheel for the in-game car, a flightstick for a plane, and a… third one featuring rotating dials to control a submersible. You'll also have to build an accelerator pedal, which is used across all three vehicles to control your speed.

Nothing has changed when it comes to the quality of the components you're working with in this latest Labo kit compared to the previous two, which is to say that putting together these cardboard complexities is as satisfying as ever. There's something immensely gratifying about handling the crisp sheets of paper, punching them through their perforated edges, and assembling them using the clear, concise on-screen instructions. As a grown-up, it's meditative to spend the hours needed to build the most complex creations in Vehicle Kits, but it can be slightly less so if you're building it with a junior partner (and how capable, amenable to instruction, or grumpy due to a lack of naptime that junior partner is). That said, while putting together the various Joy-Cons (the term Nintendo uses for the various cardboard creations) can be a fun solo project, it really shines as a shared activity with a child. Most of the builds are just complex enough that some adult supervision will be required, so there's real joy to be had in making Vehicle Kit a joint project with someone younger.

While the Vehicle Kit creations may literally just be stiff pieces of paper, they're still remarkably durable. In our hours of testing, all of the various Joy-Cons managed to survive the overexcited attentions of a nine-year-old and a four-year-old without breaking. And it really is impressive to see a thing you just put together from various pieces of cardboard work as a fully-functioning steering wheel or as an accelerator that detects even slight amounts of pressure. But while the tech and build behind these Joy-Cons are neat, they're still DIY creations, so there's not as much control finesse or nuance here that you would otherwise expect from dedicated, manufactured steering wheels or flightsicks.

This lack of fine control suits Vehicle Kit just fine, however, as the games and activities included don't really ever require you to pull off things like hairpin manoeuvres at high speeds around rain-slicked roads. To its credit, Vehicle Kit is a leap forward compared to other Labo variations, as there's actually a decent amount of gameplay to be found here (as opposed to tech demos as was the case with the Variety Kit). There are racetracks to compete on, rally modes to enter, and more. Vehicle Kit's main game is dubbed Adventure Mode, and is a fairly expansive, open world area that can traversed by car, plane or submersible. Dotted throughout this world is a substantial amount of tasks: you may be asked to fly your plane through five clouds in quick succession, use your submersible's hook to break open a cage, or drive a curious tourist around many of the world's sights. None of these challenges are particularly taxing, with most solutions presenting themselves after a little careful exploration. The challenge level--along with Adventure Mode's bright yet basic presentation--is aimed squarely at younger gamers, and there's probably not much here that will prove engaging in the long run for anyone older.

But if you're in that target demographic, then these otherwise rote activities become a little more engaging. My nine-year-old son was my primary partner in this review (occasionally joined by his four-year-old sister, who just really wanted to fly that plane), and from his perspective, the gentle pace and steady exploration afforded by Adventure Mode was immensely appealing. Nintendo Labo's Vehicle Kit certainly isn't for everyone. But if you have a curious, excited child, then it might be just for you.

Categories: Games

Lamplight City Review - Cold Case

Gamespot News Feed - Thu, 09/13/2018 - 05:00

Lamplight City is a high-concept adventure game that will win some players over on premise alone. You play as Miles Fordham, a former detective turned disgraced private investigator following the death of his partner, Bill, during a case. The game is set in 1840s New Bretagne (a borough of Cholmondeley, England) and follows Miles as he takes cases off-the-books to try and keep busy--and block out the voice of Bill, which now haunts him wherever he goes. There are five cases to solve over the course of Lamplight City, but there's an interesting twist: It's possible to either accuse the wrong culprit or find that the case is unsolvable because of errors you've made.

Lamplight City is not the first game to do this--Frogwares' last two Sherlock Holmes games, Crimes and Punishments and The Devil's Daughter, tried something similar--but this time it's all wrapped in a comfortingly familiar adventure game aesthetic, with pixel graphics, a simple point-and-click interface, and great-looking environments. The script is socially progressive and critical of the racism and homophobia of its 1840s setting, and Miles, for all his faults (he takes sleeping pills and drinks heavily to shut off Bill's voice in his head), is a likeable character. What the game lacks, unfortunately, is depth. It's full of great ideas, but isn't quite able to pull them off effectively.

The ability to fail a case is an interesting mechanic that is never actually explained or really commented on in-game. I accused the wrong suspect in the first case, having exhausted my other options; I said the wrong thing in a conversation and a character that could have given me vital clues stopped talking to me, meaning that I only had one suspect to accuse. For the rest of the game I saved regularly so that I could reload and avoid a situation like this again, but the only concrete indication that I'd arrested the wrong person was their denial during the arrest cutscene. Later, in the third case, I wasn't able to enter a certain area because a family member of the formerly accused threatened me, but otherwise, there were no repercussions or even explicit confirmations that I'd made the wrong accusation. I only know for sure that I picked the wrong culprit because of a Steam achievement I did not get.

But there was no room for misunderstanding in the other four cases. If you put in the work, you'll likely never find yourself in a position where there are multiple plausible suspects--it's very clear who the culprit is once you find all the evidence. The game will reward you, sometimes, for going the extra mile--if you locate the culprit in the second case before reporting their guilt, for instance, you'll earn a new lead in the fifth case--but doing so isn't particularly challenging, and a wrongful accusation is more likely to come from impatience than incompetence. These cases are fairly staid, and lack the spark of a good Agatha Christie mystery or the lunacy and twists of something like Phoenix Wright. While the final case--which sees you, inevitably, on the trail of Bill's killer--is a bit more exciting than the others, Lamplight City squanders a very good idea on mediocre cases where there's little room for error.

With this gimmick deflated, you're left with an okay adventure game that's low on exciting puzzles. You can brute force your way through most cases, visiting each location and clicking on everything and everyone to see if new interaction options have opened, with few real puzzles to solve. There's no inventory management, so you don't get to use 'X' on 'Y'--everything is context sensitive, and Miles will use items or ask questions automatically if it makes sense for him to do so. This means that it's easy to miss objects that can only be examined at first--signified by a magnifying glass when you mouse over them--but which become collectible after an objective is reached. The game's sense of logic is extremely fair, and there are no ridiculous or irritating solutions, but it's easy to disengage when cases involve asking the same questions of each character to see what turns up.

The characters are interesting, at least. The game's dialogue is mostly well-written, and having Bill's ever-present snarky voice in Miles' head is a smart way to provide flavor to endless item descriptions as you click on everything in a room. Miles' wife, Adelaide, is also a great character, and a subplot about their marriage issues is one of the more compelling strands. Sometimes the game asks you to make changes that have a proper payoff, and how you handle Miles' marriage is a prime example.

There are many little aspects of the world of Lamplight City that exist mostly on the periphery of your experience. You often encounter characters engaged in steampunk experiments, looking to harness a new form of energy called "aethericity," and there's an undercurrent of political turmoil running throughout much of the dialogue in the fourth and fifth cases. The divide between the working class and the aristocracy comes up often too, but a lot of the observations the game makes only skim the surface. These details flesh out the game's sense of place and give some context for the wider world Miles lives in. It's a shame that few of these end up being important to the actual cases, though--there are running plot threads that ultimately go nowhere and cases that seem to involve some of the game's kookier elements ultimately end up having mundane explanations behind them.

Lamplight City has a hell of a concept behind it, but unfortunately, the cases don't deliver on its promise. When you strip away the idea that the game will let you fail, and that you need to pay particularly close attention to what's happening, you're left with an adequate adventure game that is low on great puzzles. It's certainly not without charm, but the game's inability to make a strong delivery on its fantastic central gimmick casts an unfortunate shadow over its unique setting and likeable cast.

Categories: Games

Timespinner Launch Trailer Channels Symphony Of The Night

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 09/13/2018 - 02:50

Timespinner, a 2D indie game heavily inspired by Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, was Kickstarted in 2014 hoping to marry the structure of SOTN with the gameplay of something like Mega Man X. The original hope was to get the game released in 2017, which it missed, but it finally has a release date of September 25.

The game is about manipulating time to go back through time and dismantle the empire that killed her family. You can check out the launch trailer below.

Timespinners releases on PlayStation 4, Vita, and PC on September 25. While the Kickstarter reached the 3DS stretch goal, a version for that platform has not been announced for release.

Categories: Games

428: Shibuya Scramble Review - When Fates Collide

Gamespot News Feed - Thu, 09/13/2018 - 00:14

The past few years have seen a rise in popularity for narrative-driven games in the West. Many of these games owe a lot to Japanese adventure and visual novels, which have enjoyed a long history in their home country. One of the most revered examples is 428: Shibuya Scramble, which originally released in 2009. Now, almost a decade later, players in the West can see what all the fuss was about--and that it was very much worth the hype.

428: Shibuya Scramble takes place in the titular Shibuya, a major area of Tokyo. It's a routine day for most people, but for five individuals, what's happening is anything but ordinary. Young detective Kano is currently caught up in the midst of a mysterious kidnapping case: Maria, the daughter of reclusive scientist Kenji Osawa, is missing. As Kano sets up Osawa's other daughter, Hitomi, to deliver the ransom money, a street punk named Achi wanders into the picture, fleeing with Hitomi when the sting goes awry. Meanwhile, freelance reporter Minorikawa is called by a suicidal editorial manager who needs to put together a magazine by day’s end to save himself from financial ruin, and a young girl named Tama finds herself trapped in a cat mascot suit, hawking dubious diet drinks for a scam artist at the famous Shibuya Crossing.

The story's five central characters--Kano, Achi, Minorikawa, Osawa, and Tama--all find their fates intertwining through five unique stories told over the course of a single day. What begins as a routine kidnapping soon reveals itself to be something far more sinister, turning into a thrilling story of colliding fates, character drama, and international intrigue. It's up to you to put together the pieces and save these characters, and perhaps all of Japan, from a potentially terrible (and occasionally ridiculous) fate.

428 is a visual novel game in the same vein as Ace Attorney and Danganronpa. However, the emphasis here is definitely more on the "novel" part; the game is written out like a lengthy story, with most of the gameplay centering around multiple-choice branches that influence how the characters behave in certain situations. What's also noteworthy is that multiple stories from different characters' points of view run parallel with each other, and if two characters witness the same event, it may affect them in very different ways.

This ties in with the multiple-choice system; sometimes a seemingly insignificant choice you make can have far-reaching effects. For example, if one character runs into the street to avoid pursuers, another character might wind up in a traffic jam caused by resulting car accidents and be late to a meeting. You can also "jump" into the thick of another character's story by highlighting certain onscreen words that tie two characters' stories together, even if they're not in the same location. While zipping around the stories is fun, you also have to be mindful of your decisions, as incorrect choices can often lead to a Bad End that'll force you to jump back in time a bit.

What makes this work so well is that all of the characters are engaging and well-written. Kano is a hardworking, earnest cop who is being distracted by a surprise visit from his would-be father-in-law. Achi's hotheadedness and desire to help Hitomi stems from family drama and his falling-out with a local gang. Minorikawa's a colossal jerk, but he's a jerk that gets results, and his brashness disguises a genuine passion and desire to aid those important to him. Osawa finds himself in a very dark place, questioning his relationships with his family and his business partners in some tense, introspective moments. And Tama… well, her particularly bizarre situation leads her to some unexpected places.

One of the particularly unique and memorable elements of 428 is its use of still photography to illustrate much of the story text. The thousands of real-life photos taken to illustrate the story accentuate the text perfectly, as does the impressive staging and use of close-ups, color, and camera pans. The text is delivered in a way that can't be replicated on the printed page: big, loud words appearing suddenly for emphasis, slow text crawls or fade-ins for tense moments and terrifying revelations. Music and sound effects are also used to highlight particular scenes and events. Occasionally, a clip of FMV or an animated image might show up to emphasize something, such as a serious event or a more comedic moment.

The wonderful blending of text, photo imagery, and sound in 428 is showcased especially well in several scenes throughout Osawa's scenario. Osawa is unbelievably stressed due to Maria's kidnapping and a conflict with his wife, and the combination of clever photo staging, sparse use of sound, and careful text presentation really helps to communicate the anguish he's going through. As he finds himself becoming irritated with the frequent butting-in of a police detective stationed in his home, you start to see intense colors and extreme close-ups in the photos that emphasize the rapidly increasing annoyance he feels. It's an excellent example of how the visual novel genre can transform the written word in an engaging way.

It's an excellent example of how the visual novel genre can transform the written word in an engaging way.

The vast majority of the time, the storytelling in 428 is top-notch, drawing you into the character drama and adding an air of tension to your choices. Occasionally there are parts that take you out of the narrative--an oddly misplaced comedic bit after an emotional or action-laden sequence, or a plot contrivance that feels a little too convenient. The game's interface can be a struggle at times as well. If you go back in time to fix some of your bad choices, you may wind up having to replay a chunk of certain scenarios to reach a stopping point you had previously opened, and whether or not the game lets you skip past already-read text seems arbitrary. There are also a fair few text display bugs, a handful of which cause serious formatting problems, and one I encountered actually softlocked the game.

A few bugs, however, don't ruin the game. 428 is a truly rare beast, a special and unique experience that would have once been completely passed over for a Western release. While it's not without its flaws, it's hard to think of many other games that blend text-driven storytelling and well-constructed visuals and sound this well. From the first hour of the in-game day, you'll be riveted by this story's unexpected twists and turns. If you want a story- and character-driven game with a presentation you won’t see anywhere else, 428 is a game not to be missed.

Categories: Games

Extremely Angry Pirate Cervantes Revealed For Soulcalibur VI

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 09/12/2018 - 22:10

Every single returning Soulcalibur VI character so far has leaked early and Cervantes is no exception. Bandai Namco has decided to stop holding the door closed despite everyone knowing Cervantes is behind it and has released a trailer for the undead pirate's appearance in Soulcalibur VI.

Cervantes is one of the former wielders of the evil Soul Edge, which has given him everlasting life, though that matters less in a reboot. Cervantes is not DLC and will be included in the base roster of the game, making Tira the only announced DLC character so far. Judging from the initial leak that revealed Cervantes, it seems likely Raphael is due to be revealed next.

Soulcalibur VI releases on October 19 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

Categories: Games

NBA 2K19 Review - Another Year, Another Baller

Gamespot News Feed - Wed, 09/12/2018 - 14:00

Every year, NBA 2K comes around to hype up basketball fans for the upcoming season and provide an avenue for living out dreams of dominating the court; this year’s iteration is no different in that regard. NBA 2K19 dishes out what you'd expect from the franchise: accessible yet deep core mechanics that often work just right and occasionally falter. Beyond that, there’s a full roster of ways to enjoy the sport thanks to a robust package of game modes. Unfortunately, microtransactions loom over everything, much like last year’s game, with a problematic system of virtual currency. Still, 2K19 remains an admirable representation of basketball itself.

NBA 2K19 is a basketball simulation at its heart. As with previous games, you're given nearly full control of footwork, ball handling, and defensive maneuvers with the Pro Stick scheme that puts both analog sticks to use. If there's a fundamental move in the sport of basketball, chances are you can pull it off in the game. Moreover, it's advantageous to understand when these fundamentals are most effective. For example, driving to the basket from the post with a quick quarter-circle on the right stick in the proper direction could help you blow by an inside defender; if a big stands in your way in the paint, knowing how to put up a floater gives you a better chance for a bucket than a simple layup. Pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops are simple to draw up and an important tool for executing plays, but they don't guarantee success on every possession; the best players have to adapt to how the field develops.

Much of the game is in your hands, from game plan customization when controlling an entire team to execution on the court when assuming the role as an individual player. It induces a high skill ceiling, especially when playing competitively. Momentum is also manifested in the new Takeover mechanic; if a player catches fire, a few extra moves become available and slight stat boosts are applied for a short time, depending on the player's archetype/position.

We're still getting used to seeing LeBron James in purple and gold.

While it's good to know that you have so much control considering the potential for challenge, it's disappointing when things break down. Of course, you should be punished for mistakes, like over-committing on defense while the opponent exploits an opening with a quick pivot or cut towards the basket. But frustration starts to settle in when there's a lack of responsiveness. Cutting across to lead the defender into a crowd is smart basketball, and if you're the defender, getting stuck on other players without controls appropriately responding to a change in direction highlights some inconsistencies and overall sluggishness in player movement. There are more hits than misses in how NBA 2K19 functions, but the times when it falls apart hold it back from true greatness.

Much of the game is in your hands, from game plan customization when controlling an entire team to execution on the court when assuming the role as an individual player. It induces a high skill ceiling, especially when playing competitively.

NBA 2K19 has the advantage of including top personalities from professional sports media; this includes renowned sideline reporter David Aldridge and the iconic voice of sportscaster Kevin Harlan. It's unfortunate, however, that while 2K has TNT's charismatic crew of knuckleheads from Inside The NBA--Kenny Smith, Shaquille O'Neal, and Ernie Johnson--their part in the game's presentation fails to capture what makes them great broadcasters (it's also missing Charles Barkley). Generally, commentary gets redundant even with specific anecdotes and callouts to players' history. The soundtrack curated by hip-hop artist Travis Scott includes a few of his own songs along with other artists/groups like SOB x RBE, Migos, P-Lo, and Toro y Moi make for a fun vibe throughout the game.

As for game modes, MyCareer takes the spotlight again, combining a personal narrative and an RPG-like progression system around a player you create. Not only do you have to choose your position wisely, but you'll pick out a primary and secondary skillset that carves out specific strengths for your player, much like character classes in an RPG. This new story, dubbed The Way Back, tries for a more heartfelt tone this time around. Your created player goes undrafted after college, and you have to prove yourself in China and in the NBA G-League--it's worth noting that the chapters in China feature authentic Mandarin dialogue and commentary. An old college teammate acts as a throughline, drama follows you everywhere, and betrayal is just around the corner. While it's more gripping than last year's journey at times, it often falls flat due to nonsensical story beats with superficial drama permeating pivotal moments. Despite this, the performances and voice acting from the likes of Haley Joel Osment and Anthony Mackie are top-notch and frequently strike a natural conversational tone; it's a good execution of a bad script. At the very least, it breathes life into your player, providing a backstory that's carried on throughout your time in MyCareer.

There's something special about having your player succeed on an NBA team.

The story mode is just an appetizer in MyCareer, and if you want to get straight to the main course, you can skip cutscenes and simulate outcomes for games. After signing to an NBA team and getting a house to call your own, you're dropped into a slick MMO-like social hub known as The Neighborhood with random players online. From here you have access to several ways to build your player and ball up. Continuing the journey through the NBA will put you through full NBA seasons that sprinkle in a bit of personality by incorporating events from The Way Back--this includes sideline interviews and faux-taped conversations that look true-to-life. You'll work your way to the starting lineup over time after riding the bench for limited minutes on the floor, and it feels pretty good to see my player work up the ranks of the Lakers roster and drop dimes to LeBron James for clutch baskets in close games. Between each game, there are also team practices where you run drills to fine-tune your ability to execute in certain in-game situations, driving home that sense of being part of the team.

Building out your player's stats and rising up in overall rating is satisfying nonetheless, especially since you can't strictly buy your way to maxed-out stats.

Outside of becoming an NBA star, you'll use The Neighborhood to customize your player with sweet tattoos, new kicks, or fresh outfits at shops. More importantly, street ball in The Playground has random roaming players or squads matched up in 2-on-2 or 3-on-3 pick up games. These are a ton of fun with a grounded atmosphere that'll feel home to amateur ballers, but there aren't sensible matchmaking tools to help players join in a snappy way. You can hop into the Jordan Rec Center, which is just as enjoyable, to get matched up, but it can take a while to get going.

The MyCareer ecosystem all feeds into character progression, so you're constantly working towards something and earning rewards whether you spend time in the NBA season or grind away in street ball. But at the end of the day, virtual currency (VC) rules everything around NBA 2K19--VC is used to upgrade stats, buy cosmetics, and purchase boost cards that provide a temporary ratings bump. Despite a slight shift towards rewarding those who grind for VC compared to 2K18, the system still feels as if it prefers you engage in microtransactions and buy VC with real money. It's also a bit tasteless that players can wager VC in basketball matches in the lavish casino-like Ante-Up building that is bordering on gambling.

Building out your player's stats and rising up in overall rating is satisfying nonetheless, especially since you can't strictly buy your way to maxed-out stats. When the general experience bar (MyPoints Cap Breaker) fills up, you unlock the potential for higher ratings in certain skills. But you're required to spend VC to actually acquire those stats, as if VC were skill points.

For something a little different, MyGM offers a visual novel-esque story experience that picks up right where 2K18 left off. It takes your player model and puts them into the role of general manager to essentially build a team from scratch (ahem, or basically bring back the Sonics). MyGM can be a nice change of pace with some hilariously hammy moments and conversation options, but be prepared to read a lot of inane dialogue as none of it is voice acted. You'll make personnel decisions and manage the team's location, but it's less than glamorous with a few inconsequential playable scenarios on occasion.

For those who are into card collecting and building a fantasy team, the MyTeam mode is another avenue to play ball. Here, you start with a modest pool of players from a few card packs to create a lineup, then use them in challenges scenarios and games against NBA teams. You'll earn MT coins, a currency only earned by playing, which is used to purchase additional card packs. But because you can buy card packs with VC, a lot of the grind can be undercut. Aside from that, an extra layer of objectives are set to earn tokens which give you options to pick up NBA stars from the past. It's another significant time investment, but it's neat to make the most of what you're given under the mode's unusual circumstances.

It's impressive that the game of basketball has translated to controllers and screens in the way it has. If you want to immerse yourself in the sport and culture, NBA 2K19 has you covered with a breadth of content. But even that has its limitations after several years of iterations. Although those willing to grind for everything will eventually get rewarded, the system of VC still comes off as exploitative. But there's a lot of fun to be had in NBA 2K19 despite its flaws, especially if you have a strong love for the sport.

Categories: Games

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Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 09/11/2018 - 01:35

In the latest monthly developer diary for the upcoming Forza Horizon 4, developer PlayGround Games introduced a crossover with Microsoft's preeminent shooter franchise for the open-world racing game. Who says Mario gets to be the only mascot that takes to the road?

While simply adding the Warthog, Halo's most famous utility vehicle, would have probably satiated fans, PlayGround really went above and beyond with the massive amount of Halo content added. 

The Halo-themed skybox sits above you while Cortana chats your ear off about the banshees pursuing you and flying around while you drive. The race, much like the races against planes and boats from the Forza Horizon game, pits your Warthog against a Pelican gunship.

Your avatar becomes Master Chief in this mission, which I'm really hoping also carries over to the main game.

Forza Horizon 4 releases on Xbox One and PC on October 2.

Categories: Games

First Trailer For Cygames' Action Fantasy Game Project Awakening Showcases Fantasy Gameplay

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 09/11/2018 - 00:30

Earlier this year, we reported about a closed door meeting where we got to see Cygames' Project Awakening for the first time. Ahead of TGS this year, Cygames has released a trailer for the action RPG title that we saw for the first time at E3, and it looks even more impressive than it did then.

The trailer shows a fantasy knight fighting a scaled beast inside a coliseum, preceded by a voice over booming platitudes in an echoed wave. The fight scenes are intercut by other cutscenes from the game and the trailer ends with the main character standing in front of a mist-filled horizon where shadows of giant armored enemies slowly approach.

Details are sparse about the game, but a previous listing of the game's staff showed talent from games like Metal Gear Solid V included. While the game has been announced for PlayStation 4, I have my suspicions after seeing it in person that PS4 would be ambitious at best.

Project Awakening currently has no publicly known target date.

Categories: Games

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Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 09/10/2018 - 23:15

Koei Tecmo and Team Ninja have announced today that their newest fighting game, Dead or Alive 6, will be releasing on February 15. A new trailer released to announce the date shows some returning characters as scenes from the game's story mode, as well.

The trailer shows returning characters Ayane, Marie Rose, and Honoka, who will be joining the game's base roster. Nyotengu and Phase 4 will be DLC, with the former being a pre-order bonus and the latter being in the game's special edition. It is unknown if they will be added to the game as separate purchases, as well.

The trailer also shows the game's story mode, which looks to be fairly similar to Dead or Alive 5's, which the director commented to us was "very hard to understand," so it seems likely it will undergo some structural changes.

Dead or Alive 6 releases on February 15 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

Categories: Games

Left Alive's New Trailer Showcases The Three Playable Protagonists

Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 09/10/2018 - 17:18

A year after its reveal at Tokyo Game Show, the Square Enix survival shooter Left Alive is still a mysterious project we don't know a ton about. The latest trailer introduces us to the characters and story driving the action.

Led by Armored Core director Toshifumi Nabeshima and former Metal Gear artist Yoji Shinkawa, Left Alive is a Front Mission spin-off set during a war-ravaged future where mechs roam the streets taking out anyone stupid enough to walk into their crosshairs. Players take the role of three different characters struggling to survive the Invasion of Novo Slava.

Left Alive comes out February 28 in Japan, but won't head to North America until later in 2019.

Categories: Games

Latest Sekiro Trailer Shows Off Tenchu-Like Stealth Mechanics

Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 09/10/2018 - 16:45

Amid the flood of early Tokyo Game Show trailers in advance of the show, Activision and From Software dropped another look at their punishing ninja game Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. 

The latest trailer serves as a strong showcase for the gameplay, showing the revenge driven shinobi sneaking through environments with the help of his grappling hook, grabbing a badass looking sword known as The Mortal Blade, and facing off against a variety of big baddies. Check out that blood mist! 

Sekrio: Shadows Die Twice releases on March 22 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC. To read more about the game, check out Ben Reeves' hands-on preview from Gamescom

Categories: Games

New Kingdom Hearts III Trailer Featuring Big Hero 6

Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 09/10/2018 - 15:46

Square Enix has released a new Kingdom Hearts III trailer before this year's Tokyo Game Show, and it features Baymax and Hiro from Big Hero 6, showcasing what is a theme of the game – teamwork.

Kingdom Hearts III comes out here on January 29 on PS4 and Xbox One. For more on the title, check our time talking with director Tetsuya Nomura.

Categories: Games

Valkyria Chronicles 4 Review - Soar High

Gamespot News Feed - Mon, 09/10/2018 - 14:30

Valkyria Chronicles 4 marks a forceful but necessary return to the franchise's strategy roots, much in the vein of resetting a broken bone. The most recent Valkyria Chronicles game in the industry's memory is Valkyria Revolution, which had a decidedly action-RPG outlook and ultimately paid the price for its experimentation. Revolution was a jagged pill to swallow, but Valkyria Chronicles 4 more than redeems the spin-off’s mistakes. It retreads the central thematic conflict of the original Valkyria Chronicles, which makes for a story that is poignant and comedic in turns without losing sight of what made the series so popular to begin with: guts.

You're deposited straight into the hot-seat of the Second Europan War as a Federation soldier, Claude Wallace, with your rag-tag bunch of friends including an adorable dog and a number of potential anime love interests. Unsurprisingly, your enemies are the Imperial Alliance, who all sport quasi-Germanic or Russian names and have an overwhelmingly burgundy color scheme for their uniforms. Any real world resemblances here are likely intentional; this is a fictional take on a world war that we've all read about in some way, shape or form in our own history books. Valkyria Chronicles has always drawn from a hodge-podge of WWI and WWII to create its own canon, and that mix is more pronounced than ever here. The timeline broadly overlaps with that of the first Valkyria Chronicles game, so be prepared to notice mentions of conflicts that series veterans will already be more than familiar with.

The similarities between the two games are much more substantial than that, however. Valkyria Chronicles 4 is alike in almost every single way to the original except in name. The series continues to stay true to its blend of classic artistic European landscapes; there's rolling hills, snowy mountains, and vast bodies of water. The gameplay is still a unique take on traditional strategy RPGs which does away with the grid movement system of stalwarts like Fire Emblem, instead preferring to rely on a mix of turn-based tactics and real-time movement and fighting, creating ample room for reactive play and tense skirmishes. You deploy your troops in advantageous positions, move them until their action points are depleted, and fire at the enemy--it's a satisfying cycle.

Valkyria Chronicles 4 also hones in on the way that the war affects a core group of childhood friends and former innocents, simultaneously decrying violence whilst also thrusting you headfirst into situations where it's unavoidable. It's in those moments, where you're backed into a corner with nowhere to go but through faceless enemy ranks, that the senselessness of the conflict really stands out, and those are some of the game's strongest moments.

Accordingly, making sure that you have a squad that will be able to survive those skirmishes is key to your enjoyment of Valkyria Chronicles 4. You'll take command of a whole host of different soldiers throughout your journey, and each of them is special in their own way. Whether it's a brash Shocktrooper who gets an attack buff when he's around the ladies, or a timid Sniper who can't quite shoot straight when she's alone, each person that you deliver orders to is unique in some way. Soldiers have a chance of activating Potentials based on those personality quirks, which are buffs or debuffs affecting anything from unit accuracy to how terrified they are in the heat of the moment. This leads to plenty of friendly chatter on the battlefield that adds depth to your interactions with troops; in the absence of a formal social link system, these moments feel honest and raw when set against their backdrop of percussive gunfire and chaos.

Chaos is really the name of the game when it comes to the broader military campaign, and your first few fights will probably feel that way until you get used to how the game's battle system handles. Valkyria Chronicle 4's first few hours serve as a lengthy tutorial, and you'll still be learning things even after you're multiple chapters into the main story. Troops work the way you'd expect them to--snipers, anti-tank units, and grenadiers do what they say on the tin, and there will be almost no surprises to those who have played similar Japanese-flavored military titles before. Mechanics are built around things like cover, return fire, and ammo management, and balancing all of those are key to victory. There are some improvements from the original Valkyria Chronicles, primarily in troop variety and quality-of-life niceties, but it isn't a significant overhaul. Getting accustomed to the way the quirks of your soldiers work in battle is the primary challenge of the game, and figuring out just how you can push the combat system to its limits is another. Those who know the system will find it easy to create overpowered combinations of troops, which can trivialize the early to mid-game experience to a point, if you can be clever enough.

The overarching chaos also comes from the enemy's single-minded pursuit of the Federation's destruction, and you'll meet this beast at every turn possible. The Alliance is both an immediate, militaristic threat and an ideological one that overshadows every encounter and every non-combat interlude. It's not just a matter of turning the tide on the SPRG field and winning. The narrative drives you into increasingly hostile and inhospitable situations with odds that appear ever tipped in the Alliance's favor.

You don't have the luxury of picking which battles to fight, and loading into a battle with flames as high as a barn licking at your troops and screaming coming through the static whirr of your communications device is confronting each and every time. On Nintendo Switch, HD rumble is employed smartly with vibration patterns changing depending on the type of weapon used, and sounding off both on impact and when you fire. Immersion can be affected somewhat by small issues with hitboxes, pathing, and line of sight displaying oddly in cramped conditions, but these instances don't really detract from the weighty atmosphere that the game works hard to perpetuate.

Valkyria Chronicles 4 really excels in those sobering moments where it makes tough choices and leaves you to pick up the pieces. You feel like a cog in the Federation war machine because you are merely a cog in the war machine, and the story does a good job of hashing out age-old debates around ethics in wartime, necessary sacrifices, and whether or not there are truly any victors. That being said, the day to day operations of the game doesn't always carry the same big-picture weight, and the pacing is stronger for it. Much of your active time will be spent embroiled in a military conflict of some kind; your superiors point your squad in the direction of something that needs killing, and you do it. Some may see this as a lack of opportunity for true role-playing, but the absence of freedom of choice is arguably necessary in a game where the military hierarchy is a key component of the history that it seeks to reinterpret.

Ultimately, this is a return to form for the Valkyria Chronicles series as a whole. It stays so true to the franchise's first iteration that it'll feel as if almost no time has passed in the decade or so since the original game first came out. In revisiting the concerns and the environments of the first, it makes the most of those parallels and invites comparison in a way that highlights its strengths. Valkyria Chronicles 4 doesn't necessarily tell a new tale, but it doesn't have to; for all of its clichés and expected twists, there's a charm to the game's unwillingness to let up as it drives you and your friends forward at a rapid clip towards its bittersweet end.

Categories: Games

Shadow Of The Tomb Raider Review - Guerilla Girl

Gamespot News Feed - Mon, 09/10/2018 - 14:00

The Lara Croft who appears in Shadow of the Tomb Raider has made a ton of discoveries, lost a lot of friends, and killed countless living beings. She has incredible drive and self-confidence, and her enemies fear her. It's taken a lot for the character to get to this point, and if you've been along for the ride since her excellent revival in 2013's Tomb Raider, you may be pleased to hear that Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the same style of experience we first saw in 2013, only bigger and with more added to it. In fact, there's seemingly very little, if anything, that's changed dramatically or been discarded from the formula. But while that means Shadow retains a lot of the components that give Tomb Raider that fantastic, timeless sense of wonder and discovery, it also means that Tomb Raider's interpretation of blockbuster action-adventure mechanics is starting to feel half a decade old.

It's a little unnerving to spend time with the seasoned Lara of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, because her experience has changed her into a hardened, obsessive, and selfish individual. She's reached true colonizer form, determined to get the game's McGuffin, blind to the collateral damage, much to the concern of her lovable partner Jonah. Her demeanor is reflected in a renewed focus on stealth, where the new mechanics and the jungle setting give Lara the opportunity for Predator-style ambushes. She can cover herself in mud for additional camouflage, string enemies up from a tree, and craft Fear Arrows, which cause humans to freak out and attack each other. You're also now able to transition back into stealth after being discovered, provided you can get away and break line of sight. There's a big emphasis on these new abilities, as tooltips throughout the entire game will continually remind you that they exist. But while her expanded skillset gives you more options to confidently and quietly hunt everyone on the map, it also highlights the cracks and inconsistencies in Tomb Raider's enemy logic and the limitations of the game's relatively unsophisticated core stealth mechanics.

Sound still does not play a significant factor in Tomb Raider's stealth. While firing at someone and throwing objects will draw attention, moving through rustling vegetation and making loud footsteps don't seem to phase anyone even though the game suggests that it will, nor will taking out a soldier right behind another with his back turned, but those rules also seem malleable. There were times when my attempted stealth approach went wrong, a gunfight broke out, and after the dust settled I was shocked to discover an additional patrol of guards in the same area, only a few seconds away from the action, carrying on with a conversation as if nothing had happened.

Lara's Survival Instincts ability once again will give you information on which enemies are safe to quietly take down without alerting others, but it can also reveal puzzling inconsistencies in enemy AI. There were too many times where I was able to get away with taking out a guard with one of his coworkers staring right at us, only meters away. Other times, the game will tell you it's unsafe to take out an enemy because of someone with line-of-sight halfway across the arena. You can't always trust your own perception of the map, even if it seems obvious, and using Survival Instincts feels necessary to constantly verify that the game agrees with your idea of what is safe or unsafe--expect to be taking out a lot of bright yellow men in monochromatic environments. When playing on Tomb Raider's hard combat difficulty, which removes enemy highlights, this uncertain behavior makes stealth tougher than you might think.

The new abilities also have their quirks. Though camouflaging yourself with mud rightly makes you harder to notice, you can abuse it to the extent where you can roll right under the nose of a guard--it's thrilling for you, but makes you pity the enemy. Mud is also typically available at the onset of major stealth sections, or very close to hiding spots that require it, making the mechanic feel more like an innate ability rather than a tactical option you need to seek out. Fear arrows have disappointingly varied results, too. More than a few times I would find myself stalking a patrol of men from a tree, shoot a fear arrow at the shotgun-toting soldier, and watch as he proceeded to miss every point-blank shot.

There's still some satisfaction to be gained in Shadow's stealth, though. Waiting with bated breath for patrols to move on, and figuring out the order in which to eliminate guards like some kind of violent logic puzzle, is still enjoyable. But the new mechanics don't really add anything significantly interesting to that baseline experience--the big spotlight on them suggests a more sophisticated stealth system that isn't there. You get the feeling that Lara is a cold-blooded predator, that much is true. But it's not satisfying when the prey is so dumb and easy.

There's a cutscene in Shadow of the Tomb Raider that mirrors Lara's first kill in her 2013 outing--in both, she's caught off-guard by a soldier and is thrown to the ground. But despite being at a severe disadvantage, the 2018 Lara confidently blocks and counters his attacks, and when she eventually kills him, there's no emotion on her face. She barely even sighs. The game wants you to know that this Lara is fearsome. However, this depiction is betrayed by her actual abilities in the game's toe-to-toe combat, where it's often tough to get Lara to act like that efficient killing machine.

The game's guerilla angle calls for more close-and-personal encounters, and the greater number of small combat arenas means that when things get hostile, soldiers close the distance quickly. Additionally, there are new melee enemies who focus on rushing you down with overwhelming numbers. Tomb Raider's existing combat mechanics do not service this particular style of hostilities well. Lara's dodges are still the hurried scuttle and roll from her early days as an amateur survivor, and her climbing axe is still largely ineffective as a melee option--most enemies will simply dodge her knockdown attempts, especially on harder combat difficulties. Melee doesn't become a viable close-quarters tactic until you unlock a dodge and counter skill later in the game, and most of the weapons in Lara's arsenal are inefficient as close-range keep-away tools until the events of the story give you a shotgun.

Additionally, Shadow of the Tomb Raider still doesn't communicate damage direction--if you're getting overwhelmed and are being attacked from the sides or behind, you won't know exactly where from, meaning it's more difficult to make smart evasive maneuvers on the fly. With so few certainties and reliable tools to assist you in close-quarters combat, these encounters typically result in making Lara scurry clumsily in whichever direction doesn't have enemies coming from it and frantically trying to create enough space to effectively use your weapons.

When Shadow throws you into its few mid-range combat encounters, though, the difference becomes clear. Fighting suppressing fire, scampering from cover to cover, throwing improvised Molotov cocktails, and pinging out headshot after headshot after headshot feels empowering. The combat mechanics feel much more suited to these scenarios, as was the case in previous games, and it's only here where Lara can feel like the ice-cold killer queen she has become.

But the game keeps reverting back to close-quarters encounters, and there is one battle that's particularly frustrating and seemingly never-ending. One enemy will charge at you relentlessly, teleport if you create distance, and has a large, damaging area-of-effect attack which Lara's double dodge will only just avoid. Other enemies in this battle can also, unfairly, knock you off the side of the level, but you can't do the same to them. The environment is not your friend, and it's an infuriating way to remember a grand adventure.

What the environments are, though, is beautiful. Shadow of the Tomb Raider is nothing if not a gorgeous game, and it features some stellar level design, both aesthetically and mechanically. Exploring the impressively dense locations in Mexico and Peru is a joy. Jungles feel imposing and endless, ruined tombs are intricately detailed, hub cities are enormous and lively, and it's easy to be completely distracted by discovering new paths and areas. Hunting down the game's artifacts, treasure chests, and numerous other collectibles--however meaningless you might think they are--is also still enjoyable, as they give you a reason to go sightseeing. There's a lot of emphasis on underwater exploration in Shadow, too. And while underwater sections can be frustrating as part of story missions (instant-kill piranhas that require you to hide in seaweed get old fast), it's hard to resist swan-diving into a huge body of water when you get a chance to explore on your own.

But it's Shadow of the Tomb Raider's numerous challenge tombs and crypts that are the undisputed stars of the show. The impressive design of ancient mechanisms and the obscure solutions to using them and unlocking the path forward feel amazing to decipher after minutes of head-scratching. Some of the answers can appear straightforward if you've tackled a number of these in the past, but it's always satisfying to watch the complex parts come together regardless. Shadow of the Tomb Raider also rewards you for completing these activities with exclusive skills and gear, making them more than worth your time.

Traversing the treacherous environments in these tombs, as well as during the game's story missions, is thrilling in its own right too. Despite there always being an expected sense of peril, the designs of Lara's foolhardy paths between locations never gets old--there's always some kind of dicey maneuver at a terrifying height that makes you hold your breath.

But these exciting traversal puzzles also feature their own unique moments of frustration, because though the locations have changed since 2013, Lara's platforming ability has seemingly not. Her jumps across gaps still feel floaty and inconsistent, meaning she'll sometimes get a mysteriously divine boost in the air to make sure she latches onto a faraway edge, but sometimes she might not grab onto a ledge at all even if she's easily cleared the gap. The same goes for tool-related maneuvers--there were enough instances where Lara completely (and amusingly) whiffed a grapple axe or zip-line that caused her to plummet to her death, prompting me to check that my controller was still connected and that I still had my primary motor functions. Her jumps and traversal maneuvers still feel loose in general and lack a strong sense of weight, which makes them feel imprecise--the way she unconvincingly flops her climbing axes directly into solid rock faces after jumping onto them always raises an eyebrow.

Altogether, these elements bring a dire uncertainty to Shadow's more demanding traversal sections--every time you try and make a jump, it's a gamble. The result you get after jumping the first time might not be the one you're supposed to get. But while that adds to the perilous nature of the task, and everything works out fine most of the time, it's annoying when it doesn't. It's especially demoralizing while playing on the hard exploration difficulty, which completely removes the subtle white paint that hints at the forward path. This difficulty setting is great--having to pay such close attention to your surroundings is engrossing, and there's a small pang of delight and relief every time you discover the first step. But sometimes you'll try a jump, the right jump, and Lara won't latch onto the ledge for whatever reason. Because you don't know any better, it discourages you from trying the jump again until you've pointlessly tried every single other option and decide to come back to it. When you can't completely trust Lara's abilities to jump and grab a ledge that she's supposed to jump and grab, that's a problem. It's these kinds of moments make you incredibly frustrated that Tomb Raider's core platforming mechanics don't seem to have been refined in the past five years.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider adds so many more pieces to the formula of previous games, but there are also so many little things that it just doesn't quite land. The game's obsession with collecting crafting materials has only become more profuse--there are now 21(!) different items to gather--causing everything to seem less valuable and the act of gathering them to be more of a chore. The side quests are poorly paced, as each will lead off with roughly 10 minutes of fetch quests across the game's huge hubs and watching talking heads before getting to the meat of things, making it easy to lose motivation. The game has an option for immersive voiceovers which causes NPCs to speak in their native languages, but Lara continues to speak to everyone in English, which feels like a missed opportunity.

And perhaps most sad of all is the fact that Lara herself, with her single-minded selfishness, is a harder character to empathize with in Shadow. Her attitudes and obsessions are intertwined with the game's plot, and you might find yourself in disagreement with her a lot, which is a big deal when trying to overlook the flaws in her abilities. Jonah is the one you'll be rooting for in this game because he acts as Lara's centre, he'll likely echo a lot of your own sentiments, and he has a more sympathetic arc. It's a shame that the Lara you grew so incredibly fond of in the Tomb Raider reboot, and the scrappy skills you used to help her survive Yamatai, have both grown to be some of the most frustrating parts of her latest adventure. Shadow of the Tomb Raider makes you long for the days of a Lara that was easier to empathize with, where being inexperienced and imprecise made sense, and there was only one crafting resource to gather.

Thankfully, the parts of Tomb Raider that make it really fantastic--uncovering the mystery of ancient ruins, solving impressive challenge tombs, and exploring exotic environments--are still here in Shadow, and they are just as outstanding as they have always been. But the core mechanics that have been with the series for half a decade are starting to show their limitations. Making the journey to Shadow of the Tomb Raider's peaks is certainly an attractive goal, but like the challenging terrain Lara needs to traverse, the path there is getting rougher and more unpredictable.

Categories: Games

Mega Man 11 Introduces The Newest Robot Master Bounce Man

Game Informer News Feed - Sun, 09/09/2018 - 18:00

Mega Man 11 is arriving on the scene incredibly soon, to the point where you can download a demo for the three console versions right now. Now Capcom is continuing to rock and roll forward with another new robot master reveal for the game. This time, it's the clown-themed Bounce Man, who you can see in the trailer below, as well as review the robot masters revealed so far.

Bounce Man has an unsurprisingly balloon motif going on in his level and also a genuinely freakish toy frog as a miniboss that I don't want to ever see again.

Mega Man 11 releases on October 2 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC.

Categories: Games

Shadow Of The Tomb Raider's Xbox One X Enhancements Detailed

Game Informer News Feed - Sun, 09/09/2018 - 16:00

Square Enix and Microsoft have released a trailer showing the Xbox One X enhancements of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Lara Croft's upcoming globe-trotting adventure from Eidos Montreal.

Xbox One X enhancements include 4K at a constant 30 FPS, or a framerate mode of 1080p at 60 FPS. If you don't have a 4K TV, you'll still get general visual quality enhancements that aren't available on the base Xbox One. Check out the trailer below.

You can also read Microsoft's post about the enhancements in the game and why the team chose to focus on what they did. Shadow of the Tomb Raider releases on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on September 14.

Categories: Games

We Find Out How Star Fox Integrates Into Starlink And How Ubisoft Made The Collaboration Happen

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 09/07/2018 - 13:00

This past E3, Ubisoft’s press conference was full of projects they had already announced beforehand, coming into the show with very little in the way of surprises. As the trailer for their toys-to-life space game Starlink rolled, an update from the game’s fairly featureless announcement the previous year, Ubisoft proved that they did have one more surprise up their sleeves. The beeps and boops coming over the ship’s communicator were instantly recognizable to any classic Star Fox fan, as Nintendo’s vulpine star warrior and his crew joined Starlink in a fairly extensive collaboration.

Since that announcement, Ubisoft has been coy about the game, not divulging too much about the Star Fox integration, or really much about the game itself. Was Star Fox merely a guest that leaned toward a cosmetic and superficial or would he be integrated into the storyline itself? Ubisoft gave me time to sit down with the first chapter of Starlink on the Switch and also talk to the game’s producer Matt Rose about how this collaboration came to be.

The Switch version of the game starts identically to the other versions. A CG cutscene introduces the cast of characters, a Saturday morning cartoon crew of different ages and personalities manning a spaceship and its small cadre of starfighters. The story begins with the father-figure doctor waiting on a delivery from one of their own, a smuggler named Shaid, when she begins taking fire from an unknown enemy. The Starlink crew mans their fighters to help engage, which is where the similarities to the other versions end.

When playing on the Switch, another CG scene intercedes the beginning of the engagement. The Star Fox team, pursuing his rival and criminal Star Wolf, comes across the scene and puts the idea of helping the besieged Starlink crew to a team discussion. After listening for one or two seconds, Fox rushes in anyway, and players take control of the hero of the Lylat system to fight off the enemy invasion.

The Arwing And Fox Toys

While this would have been interesting integration on its own, and certainly far more effort than I would have expected for single-console bonus content, it doesn’t end there. Fox and the Starlink crew are hurled to a foreign planet together, where the two teams work as one to repair their ships and blast off, complete with frequent voice acting and banter between the groups. As Fox blasts back into space in a scene that should set everyone who ever dreamed of breaking through the atmosphere’s hearts aflutter, he realizes that Star Wolf might have something to do with what is happening with the Starlink crew, and volunteers to join in while he pursues his own quest in another CG cutscene.

When I asked if this is the level of integration I should expect for Star Fox within Starlink, I was told it was only the beginning. Not only is Fox a big part of the Starlink storyline, he has his own missions and his own storyline to get through, as well, with some other familiar faces appearing along the way. If the developers are not overstating his role, then Starlink has the makings of being more of a crossover than a host for a cosmetic guest.

You can watch a video below of the game’s introduction and first mission in the commentary-free video below.

When I sat down with Matt Rose about how all this occurred, he was more than happy to tell the story.

“It started at E3 2017, where we announced the game and we had a closed-door demo of the game that we were doing and showing people. A small group of people came by from Nintendo of America and asked if they could see the game and of course we were happy to show it to them. The game was coming out on Nintendo Switch and we hadn’t really demoed for Nintendo people yet. So they came by to take a look and there was very much a poker face as we showed them the game. Then at the end of the demo one of them went, oh do you mind if we bring back a couple more people? And we said yeah, totally, that sounds cool.

“Then they came back and they stared introducing people and were saying, this is the director of Mario Odyssey, here’s the director of Mario Kart 8, here’s ARMs, the creator of Animal Crossing…so we did another demo for the new audience, it did well, and after that they said oh do you mind we come back with a couple more people? So we started going up these ranks and meeting all of these legends and we did four or five demos for them at that E3 and ultimately at the end [Nintendo of America president] Reggie came with another group from NOA and we showed them the game. It went really well and so we thought, okay, something’s gotta be up here, this has been pretty amazing having this kind of interest from Nintendo.

“After that, we started talking with them back and forth and we got an invitation to go out to Kyoto and discuss a potential collaboration, which was kind of a dream come true. Myself and a couple of people from the team got to make that trip to do the pitch to Mr. Miyamoto and, when we arrived, he had brought a few more people than expected. He started introducing everyone else and it turned out to be the entire Japanese side of the Star Fox 1 [SNES] development team still at Nintendo. So we presented the game to them and we presented our ideas for a collaboration. It went really, really well, they loved it, and the rest is history. We started working on that and it was unbelievable to get to reveal that to the world at this past E3.”

Fox's Arwing on the Pedestal

I also asked Rose if meeting Shigeru Miyamoto, one of the most well-known and respected game designers in the history of the industry, was at all intimidating.

“It was extremely intimidating,” Rose said without missing a beat. “He’s such a very, very sharp guy. Incredibly smart, very to the point. When we showed him the game, our creative director was asked a gauntlet of really specific game design questions. He was asking about things like how we were maintaining the sense of speed when blasting off with FOV changes and I guess we answered them well enough to get through. So, yeah, intimidating, but really amazing.”

While the toy ships and pilots are all cross-compatible across every version of the game, Star Fox and his Arwing are the exception. Trying to use them on the Xbox One version only produced an error saying that it wouldn’t work with the game. While I asked if there would be extra content on the Xbox One and PS4 versions to make up for the content the Switch version was getting, Ubisoft demurred and insisted that those versions are complete games, the Switch version just has extra content for Star Fox fans.

Starlink: Battle for Atlas releases on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Switch on October 16.

Categories: Games

NBA Live 19 Review -- Dribbling Forward

Gamespot News Feed - Fri, 09/07/2018 - 05:01

With tight controls, a more engaging career mode, numerous reasons to invest in your character, and fine attention to detail, NBA Live 19 is a surprisingly big drive forward in many aspects for EA's pro basketball franchise. However, its numerous animation and AI issues and lack of significant updates to Franchise mode make the newest entry ultimately feel like only an iterative update on last year's game.

Basketball is a fast and fluid game, and NBA Live 19 excels in replicating this on the court. The game uses the Real Player Motion technology that EA implemented in Madden NFL 19, and this helps make player movement and animations look better and more realistic. There are a number of impressive details that NBA Live 19 replicates authentically, including the transition from jog to run to sprint, how bodies collide when you drive the lane, and the way a player falls to the ground in embarrassment when they get their ankles broken by a well-timed crossover. Players jockeying for position in the post or making a quick cut to get free for a shot look better than ever, while defenders closely guarding an opponent with their hands replicate the kinds of motions you'd see on TV. What's more, player-specific moves, like Steph Curry's step-back jumpshot and Joel Embiid's windmill dunk are all brought into the game with a fine attention to detail. The player models are for the most part more realistic-looking.

The animations have their ugly side, though. Bounce-passes almost never look right, with the ball zipping to the recipient at an inhumanly fast pace and sometimes at impossible angles. During some free throw animations, the player may grip the ball in a way that science says would prevent them from releasing it cleanly or at all. There are also odd sequences related to AI logic. AI players can make strange decisions like fouling on threes consistently and making obviously errant and silly passes. There were also times when AI players would stand in the paint and get called for three-second violations as if they didn't know it would get whistled. These abnormalities are unfortunately common, and take you out of the game.

On the brighter side, NBA Live 19 impressively captures the atmosphere of professional games and basketball culture in general. In professional games, the crowd noise soars when you make a big shot; shoes squeak as players enter scramble for position; players slam into the stanchion after a big play; and you hear the announcer talking about everyone getting free pizza or tacos if the home team scores X number of points. It's impressively close to what you'd see on an NBA broadcast. Street games also faithfully capture a very different subset of basketball culture. There is something special about playing outdoors, and NBA Live nails the presentation of its blacktop courts and atmosphere of fans crowded around the edges trying to get a glimpse. One of the nice new tweaks is that the camera cuts to a cell phone video of someone in the crowd livestreaming the game after big plays. These changes and improvements contribute to an impressive presentation package that pulls you in.

The controls in NBA Live 19 are relatively simple but contain enough depth to give you ample opportunity to play with your own style. Moving the ball around to create scoring lanes is a fine way to play, but there's room to emphasize more stylish and exciting moves. Ankle-breaking crossovers, behind-the-back dribbles, step-backs, and spin moves can all be performed with the flick of a stick in the right direction at the right time. It's also nice that the game recognizes when you're in the paint or when a hole opens up, and it guides you toward making the right play under the circumstances at hand. In past games, you might have pulled up for a jumper two feet away from the rack, but now the game better understands where you are in the key and turns it into a layup or dunk. Executing a play requires strategy and timing, and it all feels fluid as your teammates will, for the most part, make smart cuts to get free. It's up to you to recognize those cuts and runs and make a pass at the right time. NBA Live 19's on-the-court gameplay is the best it has ever been.

NBA Live 19's broadcast presentation is one of its strongest components. The game continues to use the ESPN license, which brings the big-time sports network's graphics, trademark music, and commentator Jalen Rose to the game for halftime highlights and breakdowns in a further bid for realism that enhances the experience. What's more, EA brought in a new commentary team for NBA Live 19 composed of Ed Cohen, who does play-by-play for the New York Knicks in real life, and former Chicago Bulls player Jay Williams. They have a natural-sounding and mostly pleasing back-and-forth, with Cohen making precise comments about statistics, positions, and schemes in his play-by-play role and Williams on color making quips that draw from his years of playing experience. The commentary eventually grows stale, sadly, and this is particularly apparent when playing in Franchise mode where you stick with the same players all the time. Did you know that Boston Celtics center Aron Baynes grew up in Australia playing rugby, and that contributes to the physical nature of his play style? You will, as Williams repeats this line again and again. As it does with the Madden series, EA plans to update NBA Live 19's commentary throughout the season to keep things fresh, and that's fortunate because new and different lines are what the game needs.

One of the most substantial and noteworthy additions to last year's game was the career mode, The One, where you create an amateur player and build them into a superstar. It returns in NBA Live 19 and genuinely feels like it has improved with a globe-trotting story, a deep new mode called Court Battles and the ability to create your own court.

Your journey in The One takes you to notable real-world street courts like Tenement Square in the Philippines, Cherashore Playground in Philadelphia, Quai 54 in Paris, and Parque De Rio in Brazil. The diversity of courts and their related aesthetics--like the Eiffel Tower in the background and colourful structures in Brazil--give you the sense that you're going on a journey as you try to become, well, the one. There are also some fun narrative choices you can make with your mentor and agents, including playful banter about your performance on the court as well as more substantial decisions, like where you want to compete next. This kind of control helps you feel more connected to the player you create and more attached to their journey.

Progression in The One is akin to an RPG where you'll spend skill to increase attributes like passing, rebounding, dribbling, and shooting. In the early stages, you'll notice deficiencies in your player; they might lack dribbling skills to blow by a defender with a finesse move or be unable to catch-and-shoot as fast and effectively as a more accomplished player could. Toughing it out and cutting your teeth in early games, then eventually upgrading your skills to become a more well-rounded player, makes The One's progression system feel rewarding. On the customization side, the character creator finally lets you make a female character, which was a notable absence from last year.

Winning tournaments in The One lets you recruit NBA and WNBA players to your team, and it's a wonderful fantasy fulfillment for basketball fans to build a team of players that can be comprised of any professional player. Another noteworthy element is The League, which sees you taking your created character through the NBA Combine to Draft Day and eventually to the NBA where you can play a full season as your fantasy character on any team you want, and it's exciting to play as your created character alongside NBA superstars.

One of NBA Live 19's deepest modes is the card-collecting Ultimate Team, which fans of EA Sports games will know well. There are a mountain of fantasy challenges available right at the start--more than one thousand in all. had fun earning new players and completing the challenges, but the overall experience feels very grindy. To build your team you can slog away at these challenges or pay real money for "NBA Points" to buy new players that you can use immediately. The Store page where you can buy NBA Points is front and center in the Ultimate Team menus, and this feels like an unnecessary and gross, if unsurprising, push towards microtransactions.

Franchise mode sees some noteworthy new updates, including a pre-draft preview, while the introduction of "Bird Rights" expands and improves on last year's shallow contract negotiation options. However, with no player editor or online functionality, Franchise remains a barebones experience that comes nowhere close to what EA's other sports games offer.

NBA Live 19 also offers numerous online modes including the standard head-to-head matches and deeper, more interesting ones such as Live Run and Live Events. In these, you team up with other players online to take on co-op challenges like winning street court games in 3v3 and 5v5 setups. In addition to acquiring more progression points for your character, you can earn customization items for yourself and your court by completing these challenges. Part of what I like so much about playing basketball in real life is the community aspect of playing together with friends--or strangers--on a court down the street. NBA Live 19 captures that feeling and delivers a rewarding experience for engaging in it.

NBA Live 19 is a capable and competent basketball game that offers a multitude of different ways to play and numerous reasons to keep coming back. Its impressive attention to detail complements the strong foundation set by its presentation and gameplay. However, the AI logic and animation problems are impossible to ignore given they're at the heart of the experience the entire game is based on. These issues, combined with a lackluster franchise mode and a push towards microtransactions, detract from what is an otherwise solid basketball game.

Categories: Games