SolSeraph Review - Play God

Gamespot News Feed - Fri, 07/12/2019 - 20:00

SolSeraph is overtly inspired by the Super NES cult classic ActRaiser. If there was any shred of doubt of its roots given its mixture of action-platforming and sim-style management, that was removed when it opened with a slow spinning first-person view barrelling towards the earth--an homage to ActRaiser's Mode-7 showpiece so specific that it virtually winks at the audience. Curiously, though, it's some of SolSeraph's departures from ActRaiser that let it stand on its own, for better and for worse.

SolSeraph puts you in the divine boots of Helios, the Knight of Dawn, as he helps build civilization and fight against a set of Younger Gods who each manifest as the embodiment of a natural disaster. There is a hodge-podge of religious iconography at play, and Helios looks especially angelic, but this isn't tied to any specific faith. Instead, SolSeraph invents its own mythology, borrowing bits and pieces from world religions.

Each of the five territories consists of two distinct game types. To begin, you fight through monsters to unlock a new civilization. Each one is housed on its own environment type which presents its own set of hazards. An island nation is prone to constant flooding, for example, while the snowy northern tribe has trouble tending farms and needs to rely on livestock instead. You guide the people to manage their population and resources, like food and lumber, while also building defensive structures to fend off attacks from monsters. Then you can build a temple near one of the monster lairs, take part in another action-platforming or arena battle to clear it, and continue until you unlock the final portion that houses the Younger God boss.

This all may sound very familiar to ActRaiser fans, but the focus on defending against waves of monster attacks is actually a wild departure. SolSeraph's approach is more akin to a tower defense game, as the waves of monsters all march on a set path toward a centralized base marked by a campfire. Defeating waves of monsters takes a variety of defensive structures, even earning its own part in the radial menu, along with the godly powers to summon lightning or dispatch a guardian. In short, it takes the formerly minor threat of monster attacks and makes it much more active and central to the experience.

On one hand, this change makes the sim portions feel that much more dynamic. Protecting your people from brutal waves of monster attacks can be much more frenetic than the relaxed, casual sensation of watching your society grow and occasionally guiding your people in the right direction. On the other hand, this approach comes at the expense of what made ActRaiser such an interesting examination of faith.

In ActRaiser, society grew on its own as you mildly steered them, and your tools were limited. You could summon an earthquake to destroy houses and encourage stronger building, but you couldn't meticulously place each individual building on a grid. In some ways, ActRaiser functioned as a reflection on the limitations of divinity. Interactions were indirect, and the stories that played out were sometimes tragic. The people assumed it must be the will of a higher power, but in reality, you were powerless to stop some events that they had set in motion by their own free will. It's a powerful idea that, in SolSeraph, is undermined by having such direct control over everything your civilization does.

The spirit is still there, to a point. The people pray to Helios without ever hearing an answer, so the idea is still present that they're operating on faith and hoping some dispassionate deity will end their struggles. But this is present only in short story sequences, and it's discordant with the mechanics of the game itself. There is no sensation that the culture is flourishing on its own. You aren’t gently guiding as much as dictating, which feels oddly out-of-step with the idea that the people have unproven faith in a higher power.

Functionally, the sim segments are relatively simplistic but often unintuitive. Monster waves come infrequently enough that it's often easy to build up a massive arsenal of defenses before the first attack ever comes. There's no real penalty for failure, and in fact getting a game over screen just starts the monster clock over again from zero while keeping all of your recent building changes. At the same time, it isn't always clear where the monsters will be coming from or in what numbers. Building temples to clear monster lairs relies on meeting a threshold of "Souls," which are gathered from defeated monsters. This can be counterintuitive in a game about a god gathering worshippers, who could also logically be counted as souls and more sensibly connect to building a worship temple. Instead, the population only matters inasmuch as it gives you bodies to assign to defensive structures and farms. There is no counter for your total number of assigned versus idle villagers, which means you may reassign them at a critical moment by accident.

The game’s other half, the action-platforming segments, can be unforgiving. The controls are rigid and monsters come from all sides, which often makes it difficult to turn quickly to take on different threats. Life comes at a premium, with very sparse health regen and a magic spell that only recharges one measly health point at a time. Checkpoints are often nowhere to be found, which is especially frustrating when you accidentally wander into an optional area with a tougher battle that grants some small permanent reward like extra Weather Magic for the sim portion.

Much more problematic in the action sequences is the interplay between the foreground and background. Helios does his battle strictly on one plane, but enemies often approach from the foreground or background. You can see them approaching, but until they reach your plane, slashing with your sword won't touch them. The transition between untouchable and vulnerable isn't clearly signaled, so oftentimes your best bet is to slash wildly at an approaching enemy until it takes damage--but since some of them fly diagonally towards you, this isn't foolproof. The interplay between these areas can present a good challenge when it's just background characters firing projectiles that you'll need to dodge, but the tendency for enemies to cross from one plane to another just creates more frustration than it's worth.

The Younger Gods boss characters are the exception to this rule and where the combat shines. The old-school challenge isn’t hampered by the gimmick present in normal enemy encounters. Better yet, the collection of boss designs are largely a creative mixture of different cultural traditions from around the world, and each one’s power set and attack patterns connect with the natural disasters they have represented for your people. Defeating them grants you a new power, but it’s nearly as satisfying to have defeated the personification of floods, drought, or wildfires, after watching your culture struggle with them.

SolSeraph could have hemmed slightly closer to the conventions of its clear inspiration, and it may have been better for it. The changes to the sim aspect create gameplay depth at the expense of tonal depth, and the action segments can be annoyingly clunky, especially with the unnecessary addition of enemies that are untouchable until an unclear point in time. The willingness to riff on one of the most beloved classics of an entire console era shows a remarkable amount of audacity, and it actually halfway works. It's the half that doesn't that makes SolSeraph such a qualified recommendation.

Categories: Games

198X Review

Gamespot News Feed - Fri, 07/12/2019 - 02:00

198X taps into our love for the games of the '80s, giving you a handful of short gaming vignettes wrapped around a simple story about the pain of growing up. The games themselves look more like '90s SNES games than '80s arcade titles (albeit very handsome SNES games), but 198X's neon aesthetic (and, of course, its name) is clearly trying to evoke a sense of nostalgia for this period. Unfortunately, despite a few nice homages, it's not a particularly transportive experience.

198X features five faux-'80s arcade games to play through, and they're short enough that the whole thing, story sequences included, wraps in less than two hours. They're not quite minigames--they're framed as tiny slices of full games that exist within the narrative's world, the first few levels of five larger experiences. These games, which are chained together sequentially by beautiful pixel-art cutscenes set to a synth soundtrack, make up the entirety of 198X's gameplay. The plot centers on the "Kid" (he's never named beyond this), who lives in a suburb outside of a major city. He watches the highway at night and thinks about getting out of town. He seems generally unhappy with his life, until he discovers an arcade hidden away in an old abandoned factory and discovers a sense of purpose and place amidst the machines and patrons there.

198X suffers from some of the same problems that Ernest Cline's Ready Player One suffered from. If that book's insistence that being a geek is inherently good irritated you, then 198X's vague reverence for arcades and youth will likely have a similar effect. There's something very immature about the game's portrayal of the Kid and the way he talks about his idealistic childhood, while giving limited insight into why things are so hard on him now. "You get to high school and everyone's brainwashed," he says at one point, which is about as deep as the game gets in its exploration of the difficulty of one's teenage years. You're not given enough insight into the Kid to really get a sense of why this arcade is so important to him, beyond a few vague references to his father not being around anymore.

Of the five games you play through in 198X, only two really touch on the boy's struggles in a meaningful way. Playing through the five games in order, then, doesn't tell us a lot about more about the Kid's private life, and there's little real sense of why they are important to him beyond a general sentiment that games are powerful and important by default. Much of this narrative assumes your own investment in the power of an arcade, and the game doesn't put much effort into selling you on why this particular arcade, and these particular games, mean so much to the Kid.

Your first foray into the arcade comes through Beating Heart, a Final Fight-style brawler with a simple two-button control scheme. It's the most basic game included--you can punch, do a jump kick, or perform a spinning kick, and if you die while facing off against the handful of enemy types, you can immediately respawn without penalty. It's a simple introduction, with a lovely period-appropriate midi soundtrack that does a great job of evoking the arcade classics it is paying homage to (in fact, this is true of every game in 198X). But it doesn't offer anything interesting or unique in its mechanics, nor does it contribute much to the narrative of the Kid.

Next is Out of the Void, a shooter clearly inspired by R-Type, which only runs for two levels. You fly from left to right, collecting ship upgrades and firing regular and charged shots to take down your enemies. It's solid fun, if nothing spectacular, and things get quite hairy in the second level. It's one of the more enjoyable games in 198X simply because it actually feels pretty close to a decent arcade space shooter. Alas, it's over very quickly, and while it's relatively enjoyable, it's certainly not as inventive or intense as the best games in the genre--the final boss, for instance, is a pushover. A more challenging experience, or some unique mechanics, would have better represented the games from this period that we have actual nostalgia for.

After this comes The Runaway, an OutRun-style driving game that lacks the arcade classic's sense of speed and whimsy. The lack of gear changes and sharp corners makes this one a bit of a snooze, although it's also the game in the collection that achieves the most resonance with the narrative--at a certain point, elements of the world you've seen in the cutscenes blend into the game. It's a neat trick, but it's in service of a plot that isn't particularly gripping..

Shadowplay, a "ninja" game, is the standout of 198X. It's the longest game in the collection (although you'll still likely finish it in about 20 minutes). You play as a fast-running ninja across a series of automatically-scrolling screens. You can move left and right, jump, slide, and slash your sword at enemies ahead of you. It's got the feel of an involved auto-runner, and timing your jumps and slashes to avoid enemy attacks and traps is engaging, with ever-changing level designs and interesting challenges that hit the right balance of difficulty where the game is challenging without being frustrating.

The platforms, spikes and pits you encounter make you read your environment and think about how you time your movements as you run through each level slashing at your enemies. You can collect power-ups to give your sword a greater reach, and there are more levels here (and more gameplay variety) than in the other games. There's even a great boss fight at the end where you have to dodge between multiple platforms as a demon shoots tendrils at you, and reaching the end feels satisfying in a way the other games don't. As much as 198X feels like a gimmick, Shadowplay stands out as an experience that feels like it could work as a full title. It feels disconnected from the overarching narrative, but it's the most enjoyable part of the 198X.

The final game, Kill Screen, is a simple first-person RPG. It's aiming to be weird and creepy rather than particularly challenging, and on that level, it works fairly well. It's meant to represent the mental state of the protagonist, who has, up until that point, spent every cutscene moping. It works as a mood piece, and there's some cool weird imagery in there, but the gameplay, which involves hunting for dragons in a maze full of random encounters, is very simple. There's a neat Paper Mario-inspired mechanic where you can time button presses on attacks to do more damage, and the weird enemy designs are inventive, but it's fairly one-note in both its gameplay model and its commentary on the Kid's state of mind.

198X ends with a "To Be Continued." This feels appropriate because the game, which is not being explicitly billed as episodic on its Steam page, feels not just short, but incomplete. As neat as the concept is, 198X doesn't do enough to sell you on the connection between the metanarrative of the Kid and the arcade games he is playing--or spend enough time investing you in why any of this matters. There's promise in some of these short genre riffs, but the game doesn't give you many reasons to care about the Kid and his desire to get out of the suburbs.

198X is a great idea with middling execution. While its games offer some brief enjoyment, there's not enough here for the game to feel like a proper ode to '80s arcades, nor does the Kid's plight, and his longing to escape his current life, totally connect. There's definitely a spark of something here--and Shadowplay, in particular, is a lot of fun--but 198X feels more like a proof of concept than a final product.

Categories: Games

Greedfall Gets A Release Date In Its Swashbuckling New Trailer

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 07/11/2019 - 20:30

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Publisher: Focus Home Interactive Developer: Spiders Studios Release: 2019 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Developer Spiders has released a new trailer showing off their newest game, Greedfall, and it won't be too long until we get to chart the mysterious island of Teer Fradee ourselves.

Greedfall's focus seems to be designing a completely player-driven experience, including character customization, romance options, and faction alliances, while also delivering a solid single-player campaign. The takes place on an uncharted island in the 17th century, where magic and mystical beasts are everywhere.

"Player freedom and choice are core to GreedFall, as your decisions will build friendships, break alliances, diffuse conflicts and shape the future of the island," according to Spiders. "Exploring a brave new frontier, your search for lost secrets will rely on more than just skill in combat. Everything, whether a dialogue option, choosing a stealthy approach, or even your choice of companion in a given situation may alter the outcome."

We were impressed with the game when we saw it at E3 2018, and we won't have to wait too much longer until it's in our hands. Greedfall launches on September 10 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.

Categories: Games

The Bard's Tale IV Is Coming To Console Later This Year

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 07/11/2019 - 18:28
Publisher: Deep Silver Developer: inXile Entertainment Release: August 27, 2019 Rating: Teen Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

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When The Bard's Tale IV, a successor to the original 80s RPG trilogy, was released in 2018, it stood as a love letter to the old RPG classics of earlier days. In a few short months, you can play that love letter in its expanded and improved form. 

The Director's Cut is coming fully stocked with more enemies, weapons, and character customization options, a new end-game chapter to the story, additional difficulty settings, and a whole host of improvements to the game's balance and interface. 

While The Bard's Tale IV originally only released on PC, The Bard's Tale IV: Director's Cut will release digitally on Xbox Game Pass, PlayStation 4, and PC on August 27. Physical copies of the game for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One will release on September 6. If you already on the base game on PC, you will receive the Director's Cut as a free update. 

For more on Bard's Tale IV, check out our review of the original version of the game here.

Categories: Games

Your First Look At Gunfight

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 07/11/2019 - 18:05

Publisher: Activision Developer: Infinity Ward Release: October 25, 2019 Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Details about Infinity Ward's new take on its popular Modern Warfare subseries are still scant, especially when it comes to the multiplayer. Today, Infinity Ward pulled back the curtain just a hair to show off a snippet of one of its new modes, Gunfight.

Gunfight is a 2v2 mode where each team has 40 seconds to kill the other. After 40 seconds pass, a flag will spawn on the map and teams will need to capture and defend it for three seconds to score a point. If nobody scores a point within the time limit, the team with the most health wins that round. The first team to six points wins the match.

For more on Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare, check out our thoughts about the reveal here.

Categories: Games

New Monster Hunter World: Iceborne Trailer Debuts Two Terrifying Subspecies

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 07/11/2019 - 15:11

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Publisher: Capcom Developer: Capcom Release: September 6, 2019 Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

The Monster Hunter World: Iceborne expansion gives fans a new region to explore in which variants of known monsters and all-new beasts test the upmost of your abilities. The game's new trailer features two such variants: Fulgur Anjanath and Ebony Odogaron, as well as a look at the Seliana home base.

Fulgur Anajanath uses lightning instead of fire, and Ebony Odogaron has a wider attack range as well as a dragon-elemental attack. The new trailer also shows off Glavenus, with its sweeping tail attack.

Before you go out and tackle these fearsome beasts, you can recharge and stock up at the Seliana base in Hoarfrost Reach, complete with a streamlined gathering hub, gear-crafting smithy, resource center, gardens, and more. Players can also customize their My Room in Seliana, and after the game's launch Capcom says players will be able to visit each other's rooms.

Monster Hunter World: Iceborne comes out September 6 on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One (the PC version is planned for the winter). For more on the expansion, be sure to check out the exclusive stories in our cover-story hub (click below).

Categories: Games

A Three Hour Tour

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 07/11/2019 - 14:59

Publisher: Bandai Namco Developer: Supermassive Games Release: August 30, 2019 Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

When Man of Medan was revealed a year ago, fans of Supermassive’s Until Dawn on the PlayStation 4 naturally expected a successor to that game’s mechanics and narrative. Everything that has been shown from the title until today reinforced the belief that the Dark Pictures Anthology, beginning with Man of Medan, was going to be a standard narrative adventure within the horror genre based mostly on choice. During a demo event, Supermassive revealed that there was still one more feature about the game they had kept hidden since the game’s reveal: online multiplayer.

It probably sounds a little strange and, in a way, it very much is. The game still has its single-player portion that allows a branching narrative that fans of Supermassive have come to expect, with quick-time events and decision-making driving the story. Man of Medan, and all further games in the Dark Pictures Anthology, can also be played in a new “Shared Story” mode online with one other player. Together, you and a friend participate in the story by controlling different characters as the story dictates.

In the demo I played, I was paired up with another player from a different outlet and started the game from the beginning. While we weren’t able to use voice chat, players who play online will be able to, which is going to be fairly important to the dynamic the game wants. Throughout the narrative, the two players take control of different characters at once, sometimes interacting and sometimes splitting up, and make their own decisions.

In the setup for the game, two soldiers wake up from a drunken stupor on a battleship, allowing the players controlling them to either split up or stay together, as you do in a horror movie. The pair discover that the entire ship has been either killed or is slowly dying, and there’s a lot of creepy imagery that players might see differently depending on which character they’re playing.

After a time skip, players take control of a group of friends looking to do some deep sea diving looking for a World War II airplane that has gone undiscovered for years. Two brothers, Alex and Brad, are preparing for the dive by having a conversation about their upcoming venture, with one player taking each side of the conversation and choosing the dialogue options from a radial menu. Brad can choose to be nervous, prompting the way Alex responds, and maybe telling you a little bit about how the players would view this situation outside of the game.

There are also times where players will split from each other entirely. When Alex’s girlfriend, Julia, joins in alongside her brother Conrad, portrayed by Shawn Ashmore, players can have entirely separate scenes. When Julia and Alex dive underneath the water’s surface, Conrad and the ship’s captain, Fliss, stay on the boat. Conrad attempts to flirt with the young captain, who can either be receptive to it or shut him down, while Alex proposes to Julia down below. As the possibly-engaged pair come back up to the boat, they see a small explosion of fire coming from the surface, and have to decide whether to risk decompression sickness to go help. From the other perspective, Conrad overzealously gases up the grill, and it fires back into his face.

Does the player on the boat tell the other player not to worry? Is it even worth mentioning while they have their own fires to put out? Would someone want to save their own character above the other player’s favorite? There’s a lot of different considerations that make the narrative adventure more than just competitive or cooperative.

The game also has a local mode called Movie Night, which allows up to five players to get assigned a character in the story and play through it together with one controller. Supermassive says that Movie Night is inspired by the feedback they got from Until Dawn, which told them people tended to play the game together by passing the controller around and sticking to characters for specific players. Movie Night goes through the single-player path of the game, so you’ll see a bit of different scenes, like some of Fliss and Conrad on the boat and some of Julia and Alex diving below.

Overall, the path Supermassive chosen to bring multiplayer to what is essentially an interactive movie is a promising one. It may not be everyone’s preferred way to play through the game, but there’s different options for however someone wants to go through the narrative. You can be spooked alone, spooked online, or spooked with friends.

Categories: Games

Psychonauts 2 Delayed To 2020

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 07/11/2019 - 01:20
Publisher: Double Fine Productions Developer: Double Fine Productions Release: 2020 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

At E3 this year, Psychonauts made its first big splash in some time by coming out with a gameplay demo and trailer at Microsoft's press conference. Developer Double Fine also announced that the studio is joining Microsoft's umbrella as one of their first party developers. While this doesn't affect where Psychonauts 2 is releasing, when Psychonauts 2 is releasing has seemingly changed, as Double Fine has announced a delay to next year.

The news comes in the form of a backer update through Fig, which Psychonauts 2 was crowdfunded and Double Fine head Tim Schafer is part-owner. After mentioning that the game is confirmed to still come to every platform it was promised for, the post mentions a delay for Rasputin's next adventure.

"There really shouldn’t be too many other noticeable changes for you at all, at least not for a while...with one notable exception: We’re now targeting next year for release," the post reads. "We know it’s always disappointing when you have to wait a bit longer, but we also know that you are an amazing, supportive bunch, who - just like us - want the game to be as good as possible. So we’re hopeful you’ll understand! <3"

It's likely this has nothing to do with the Microsoft's acquisition and more just the realities of making a bigger game at a smaller studio, but hopefully the title hits more toward the beginning of the year than the end of it. When it does release, Psychonauts 2 will come to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

Categories: Games

New Haven Trailer Shows Off An Adorable Romance

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 07/10/2019 - 18:23
Publisher: The Game Bakers Developer: The Game Bakers Release: 2020 Platform: PC

Haven was announced earlier this year with a few simple screenshots and a short description of what to expect from the game. "You play as two lovers who escaped to a lost planet. The only thing that matters to them is to stay together."

As an RPG from the developers of Furi, this description and the gorgeous screenshots were enough to intrigue. Now, a gameplay trailer has been released to give players a firm grasp on what the game will be like. 

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From an update to the game's Steam page, the full description now reads, "Haven is a story-rich adventure, with touching characters with whom you fall in love as you follow them through their challenges and everyday life. But it’s also a (J)RPG with an innovative combat system that lets you play the two characters at the same time, and chain actions using tactics and timing." 

Fans of the art style and killer soundtrack of Furi will be pleased to discover that Haven will follow closely in its footsteps. The narrative driven adventure is described as a primarily solo experience, but can be played in local co-op. Haven will be launching on at least PlayStation 4 and PC with a planned release window of 2020. 

Categories: Games

Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers Review

Gamespot News Feed - Tue, 07/09/2019 - 10:50

Whereas previous Final Fantasy XIV expansions grappled with broad-brush concepts in corruption, religion, and imperialism, the path you tread in Shadowbringers is a distinctly personal affair. The central conceit is the battle between good and evil, and between the dual concepts of Light and Dark, but at its core is a story about a protagonist who's been left adrift and has to come to terms with their identity alongside long-time companions against the backdrop of a dying world. This harkens back to the sort of character treatment that the non-MMO Final Fantasy games have prided themselves on for decades, but even with the familiar subject matter, the journey here feels distinctly forward-looking. The question for a lot of fans was whether the longevity of the game post-Stormblood would last. When you roll the credits on Shadowbringers, it'll be hard to envision a world where the answer to that is anything other than a resounding "yes".

Shadowbringers hinges on a revelation. The quests between Stormblood and the new content do a great job of laying down a narrative foundation rife with inter-faction politics, intrigue, and shadowy figures pulling strings with hidden consequences. As the new expansion opens, however, that particular nest of vipers is upended by way of a forced jaunt through time and space. What starts as a quest to save your friends takes a life-altering turn; you're thrown into the heart of a conflict between Light and Dark that strikes at the core of the hero mythos that the game has built around your character since A Realm Reborn.

As the Warrior of Light, you're tossed rather unceremoniously into the realm of Norvrandt: a world ravaged by the very element that you've chivalrously championed all your life. Like any erstwhile hero facing the unknown, your job initially is to search for some clarity and a way to save your friends back home from eternal slumber. It soon becomes very clear that your impressive deeds in Eorzea mean next to nothing here. No one knows of your previous accomplishments, there's a distinct distrust from the locals, and your usual non-verbal charm gets you nowhere.

The kicker is that any mention of the Light will make you public enemy number one; it's rampaging through the land and leaving death and destruction in its wake. You're unmoored and as good as stranded in an unfamiliar world where your values and beliefs could get you killed. Starting a new MMORPG expansion can often feel like slipping into a pair of worn shoes that have stood the test of time; there's a certain sense of security afforded to you because of your established Chosen One status. With the story's rocky start, Shadowbringers takes a decidedly discomforting approach by doing the narrative equivalent of taking those shoes off your feet and getting someone to beat you with them. The solution it offers in its opening minutes is simple: Set aside everything you know and become the Warrior of Darkness.

In practice, this is more difficult than it sounds. Norvrandt is home to all manner of dangers, and the most insidious aren't the ones that come at you with sharp teeth and sharper claws. There's a seething undercurrent of wrongness that permeates everything, as beautiful as the lush forests and the wide, open fields of this realm may be. These sentiments are felt throughout the design of Shadowbringers' new locations and dungeons: the debaucherous Eulmore where the rich are willfully ignorant to the suffering of others, the deceivingly dangerous riot of fae and fancy of Il Mheg, and the apocalyptic wastelands of times long destroyed by the Light, to name a few. Each new environment is twisted violently in some way, whether it's the presence of monstrous enemies or the cruel ways that its inhabitants have chosen to eke out a living.

The main story quests ferry you from location to location at a decent clip, though ample time is devoted to you experiencing the horrors that the Light has wrought about the realm. Having to go back to what feels like the equivalent of Hero School affords you some breathing room; it's clear that the expansion wasn't going to live and die on the Warrior of Darkness' shoulders alone, and a large part of the narrative is actually devoted to fleshing out popular supporting characters from Final Fantasy XIV canon. You're not the only one who's had to make some difficult adjustments, and Shadowbringers doesn't shy away from tough questions about sacrifice, honor, and duty (or their tougher answers).

The dungeons and trials are an excellent way for Shadowbringers to hammer those points home, and to deal with important narrative beats. It's a credit to the game's development team that the dungeons are much more than just a means to keep you occupied or to give you enough experience to move on to the next big thing in the world. They function like little pockets of insight into the decayed state of Norvrandt, complete with harrowing bosses and crumbling ruins. These dungeons see you racing through castles fighting seraphim and diving into fae realms making desperate pacts to secure your future. And it all plays out to a distinctly operatic soundtrack that leans heavily into dramatic strings and modern vocal frills, creating a perfect atmosphere to underscore the urgency of your character's mission. Every new encounter of this fashion drives the Warrior of Darkness closer to their goal of restoring balance to the world, whether it's driving a sword through the heart of a friend now-twisted by Light or unearthing the origins and primal motivations for this conflict. Dungeons have always been a part of the main story's requirements in Final Fantasy XIV, but here they feel just as crucial to your enjoyment and understanding of the tale as the new quests do.

Quests place you directly in the shoes of these supporting characters, and playing as them is both a welcome change of pace and a chance for newer players to deepen their understanding of the game's lore. That being said, not all quests are made equal, and there are some confusing mechanical decisions that may frustrate. For example, the end of the expansion requires a player to have completed a max-level quest before picking up a lower-level one to progress to the grand finale. In other cases, optional quests that share a common thread can sometimes be spread out across different locations on a map and aren't signposted any differently from unrelated ones. This can make you feel like you need to slog through every mundane errand in the hopes of finding a diamond. Luckily, these instances are few and far between; just like its predecessor, Shadowbringers brings to life a number of humanizing stories through its side quests and manages to make you care about the day-to-day lives of new characters who initially have nothing but scorn for what you stand for.

It's not solely about capitalizing on known factors, though. The expansion introduces plenty of unfamiliar delights to sink your teeth into--the Trust system is perhaps the most important addition for accessibility that Final Fantasy XIV has seen since its rebirth. It allows players to take a fully-formed party of NPCs from the main story quests into dungeons with them, eliminating the need to wait 20 minutes in the queue if you were trying to go through matchmaking. This is the perfect solution for players who don't want to play with strangers and ensures that no one is gated from progressing in the story just because they may have to wait an inordinate amount of time to find the necessary party. These NPCs are drawn from a pool of the familiar faces of the Scions of the Seventh Dawn and from some noteworthy new acquaintances, so using them in the Trust system is a pleasant nod to the value that the Shadowbringers narrative places on friendship and sticking together in the face of adversity.

On the matter of the new classes and races aside, servers are currently teeming with Viera and Hrothgar avatars ready to take on the world. While the new race models look as spectacular in motion as one would expect, the Gunbreaker and Dancer classes are still a relative unknown that players are puzzling out at this early stage in Shadowbringers' life cycle. Gunbreaker packs a hell of a punch as a high-damage job, suited for an off-tank role that trades in axes and greatswords for something a little less traditional. Dancer's primary focus other than looking absolutely enchanting in combat is to provide buffs for party members, and it appears to be trying to fill the utility ranged DPS role previously occupied by Bards who have now had their party-wide buffs removed.

Gunbreaker currently feels a little too much like it was originally meant to be a DPS class. It does a ridiculous amount of damage, managing to hold its own against the likes of Black Mage and Samurai. This seems a little antithetical to the tanking philosophy imbued within the other role options, where the thematic focus on survivability and protection is much clearer. Healers in particular will have to get used to managing cooldowns around Superbolide, one of the key Gunbreaker abilities that reduces their HP to 1 whilst preventing further fatal damage. Playing as a gun-wielding tank is novel but hard to master as it takes a higher-risk approach to putting your life on the line for your party members and also requires those partied with you to be familiar with your new tricks.

Dancer, for all of its beauty, currently lacks some fire in the damage department. You have to manage two class-specific stances--Technical Step and Standard Step--each with its own set of moves to master. You also have access to Closed Position, which lets you choose a dance partner to benefit from your buffs and your skills. Pulling off a perfect performance will buff the Dancer's DPS overall, and the key to doing damage is through graceful move combinations that ultimately let you unleash AOE attacks upon unsuspecting foes. The strength of Dancer shines through in prolonged encounters where their deadly chakram slice and dice at enemies, giving them the chance to use skills from both stances for a significant payoff. That being said, setting up these balletic massacres takes time; without enough breathing room to perform a routine, the Dancer can feel a little more frumpy than flamenco, especially in the majority of the game's legacy content where breathing on something is as good as a killing blow.

Both classes have a distinct identity, though the streamlining of the other jobs has muddied the waters a little in respect of the existing classes enjoying the same individualism. You used to have to pick up quests specifically for your chosen job to learn new skills. Now, Shadowbringers has replaced these with role quests for DPS, tanks, and healers, and these exist mostly to provide experience and to further the overall narrative than to improve any existing affinity with your character's chosen profession. While some job questlines were more involved than others (Stormblood introduced a particularly heartfelt Samurai one), to do away with them entirely seems like a waste. Role actions also have been further simplified, with changes to tanking and healing in particular removing some bloat but also making them more homogenous. While this makes it easier for newcomers to plug and play, it feels like it's come at the cost of the unique class identities which past expansions have been so careful to cultivate.

Some of its changes to the player experience are still causing a little discomfort during this teething phase, but Shadowbringers makes a strong case for itself as the game's most engaging expansion. It's not just the sheer scale and strength of the narrative weaving in years of old lore without cheapening the experience for new players, or the immaculately designed boss fights replete with spectacular music and thematic touches. It's also the implementation of the Trust system and the chance to truly feel the impact of the Warrior of Light's decisions over the past expansions through exploring the stories of your companions. For a story that starts with a laser focus on your character's motivations and misgivings, it tells a tale that ends up being the biggest and the best that Final Fantasy XIV has ever told. Equal parts redemption, vengeance, cruelty, and sassy Elezen, Shadowbringers promises a hell of a lot when you take your first steps into Norvrandt and delivers a truly spectacular finish even if it stumbles a little along the way.

Categories: Games

Kill La Kill: If Demo Available Now On PS4

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 07/09/2019 - 01:05
Publisher: Arc System Works Developer: A+ Games Release: July 26, 2019 Platform: PlayStation 4, Switch, PC

Arc System Works has a pretty good track record with anime adaptations and fighting games, but is still relatively unknown in the field of publishing them. It makes sense, then, that fans would want to try out a new game merely published by Arc System Works but developed by APLUS before committing to buying. If that's you, and you own a PlayStation 4, you can do so right now!

The demo takes you through the game's introductory chapter of the story mode, which presents an alternate universe story to the Trigger-created anime show. You can also take part in the game's local versus mode with a limited set of characters to get a sense of how the game plays against people.

While the demo is only on PlayStation 4, the game is also releasing on Nintendo Switch and PC, as well. All three versions release on July 26.

Categories: Games

NASCAR Heat 4 Hits The Track This September

Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 07/08/2019 - 17:39

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Publisher: 704Games Developer: Monster Games Release: September Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Publisher 704Games and developer Monster Games have announced the next iteration in the NASCAR Heat series, NASCAR Heat 4, which is scheduled to hit the PS4, Xbox One, and PC this September. Although details on the game are light at the moment, new tire models for the different track types and more career mode flexibility are highlighted among other additions such as a needed graphical upgrade.

NASCAR Heat 3 added dirt racing, and although that may be a big draw for some (legend Tony Stewart is featured on the game's cover), one of the new features of career mode is the ability to start in any of the game's four racing series – dirt, trucks, the Xfinity series, and the Monster Energy cup series.

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Whether this is the mode's main addition for the year remains to be seen, but 704Games president Colin Smith says that the game, "[incorporates] a number of features and improvements recommended by the NASCAR Heat community."

Hopefully this includes more in-depth car customization options, improved A.I. and online performance, more career mode depth, and improvements in other areas.

NASCAR Heat 4 is now accepting pre-orders for its standard and gold editions (featuring Jeff Gordon on the cover), and the latter includes three-day early access to the game and other goodies. Everyone who pre-orders can play Martinsville at night early. Find out more about pre-orders as well as both editions of the game here.

Categories: Games

The Bigger The Better For Gigantamax Pokémon In Sword and Shield

Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 07/08/2019 - 16:25

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Publisher: The Pokemon Company, Nintendo Developer: Game Freak Release: November 15, 2019 Platform: Switch

At the E3 Nintendo Direct for Pokémon Sword and Shield (out on Switch on November 15) we learned about the Dynamax phenomenon for some Pokémon in the Galar region, and today's new trailer for the game introduces a similar form called Gigantamaxing. 

Gigantamaxing is a rare situation for certain Pokémon species, enlarging them and imbuing them with a special G-Max Move particular to that Gigantamax species that even regular Dynamax Pokémon can't use.

Drednaw, Corviknight, and Alcremie are examples of three Gigantamax Pokémon, with formidable G-Max powers. For example, Drednaw's Stonesurge causes damage to the opponent as well as any Pokémon entering the battlefield. Meanwhile, Corviknight's Wind Rage similarly causes damage as well as removes effects of moves such as Reflect and Electric Terrain.

The trailer also shows off the Galar Region Pokémon League. Here you'll collect eight gym badges (and get a special slightly customizable uniform, see below) after being endorsed by prominent people in the region like Chairman Rose or Oleana. Complete the Gym Challenge and you'll be invited to the once-a-year Champion Cup in the region where you can take on reigning champ Leon and his partner Charizard.

Nintendo and developer Game Freak have also announced a slew of additional announcements for Pokémon Sword and Shield, including each version's exclusives. Sword exclusively features Pokémon Deino and Jangmo-o and Gym leader Bea, while Shield has Pokémon Larvitar and Goomy and leader Allister.

Meanwhile, take a look at more Pokémon of the Galar region, the pre-order keychain, the double pack of both Sword and Shield, and the digital version that contains a dozen Quick Balls that help you catch Pokémon if used early in battles.

Categories: Games

Save Tokyo From Eggman By Clearing Literal Hurdles

Game Informer News Feed - Sun, 07/07/2019 - 21:36

Publisher: SEGA Developer: SEGA Release: 2020 Platform: iOS, Android

Throughout his history, Sonic the Hedgehog has had to foil myriad ridiculous evil plots from his adversary, Dr. Eggman. This time, Sonic and his crew are in Tokyo for the 2020 Olympic games, when they're suddenly forced to intervene in an all-out Eggman invasion. In a bizarre twist, the best way for Sonic and his friends to battle with the maniacal doctor is to compete against him in Olympic events. 

Once you accept that odd premise, Sonic at the Olympic Games looks to deliver fun action centered on fanciful versions of traditional Olympic events. During my demo, I had the chance to see multiple events in action and play one for myself to learn a bit more about what this new mobile version of the long-running minigame series brings to the table.

A look at the Tokyo map that houses all the events and minigames.

Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games 2020 Tokyo was designed from the ground up exclusively for Switch, meaning it has more complex controls in addition to Nintendo's stable of characters. For Sonic at the Olympic Games, Sega wanted to prioritize simplicity. "We would like everyone to play, so the controls are designed to be really easy to do that," creative producer Eigo Kasahara says.

Unlike its console counterpart, Sonic at the Olympic Games leaves Mario and the Nintendo squad behind in favor of focusing just on Sonic the Hedgehog characters. During my demo, I see numerous characters, including Sonic, Knuckles, Tails, Shadow, and Silver, in action. While you start out with Sonic, your roster expands as you progress through the map of Tokyo and its several Olympic events and minigames. "The playable character depends on the event," vice president of product development and head of Sonic Team Takashi Iizuka says.

Within Sonic at the Olympic Games, you play through various events based on actual Olympic events. During my demo, I saw the 400 meter hurdles, archery, the hammer throw, the 200 meter dash, badminton, trap shooting (seeing Shadow holding a gun definitely brought back some memories), and spring board diving. However, Kasahara says there will not only be more events than what I saw, but also more to do. "We're thinking of implementing more than 15 events right now," he says. "Other than the event games, we have minigames on the UI map. They're not true event games, but they're more like mini fun games."

While the vast majority of my demo was hands-off, I did have the chance to try out the 400 meter hurdle event. With simple swipe-to-jump controls that are more concerned with timing than precision or technical mastery, I'm able to hop right in and perform respectably in my first attempt at the event. If this event is any indication, the team's desire for simple and approachable controls is well on track. While the 400 meter hurdles event has already reached an acceptable level of approachability, Kasahara tells me that the team isn't particularly happy with how badminton controls just yet, so they're still refining how it plays.

In addition, many events have EX versions, where the rules are twisted to make things more difficult. For example, in hammer throw's EX version, your hammer must land in a narrower section of the field, while the EX mode of trap shooting gives you multiple targets to shoot at once instead of just one. Sometimes, the events themselves are completely fantastical. This is on display in my favorite thing I saw during the demo: the EX version of spring board diving. Instead of simply performing tricks using the touchscreen controls as you would in the standard version of the event, the EX version presents almost a puzzle-like layout. In this enhanced version, you must plan your route collect the most rings, picking the best times to perform double jumps in hopes of racking up the best score. This event, which looks like a lot of fun, is exclusive to the mobile version, meaning it won't appear in the Switch's Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games 2020 Tokyo. 

Mobile games, including other Sonic mobile titles, often encourage players to come back for long periods of time through continued updates. While it's almost a foregone conclusion that a big-name mobile game these days will adopt the living-game model, Sonic at the Olympic Games will not follow that trend. "It's made for the Olympics period, so we won't add any new features after the Olympics, but we are thinking about adding a classic Sonic BGM song in there, so people can download it and listen to that music," Kasahara says.

Sonic at the Olympic Games is set to launch on iOS and Android next spring. 

Categories: Games

All The Ways I Killed Time

Game Informer News Feed - Sun, 07/07/2019 - 19:32

Publisher: Deep Silver Developer: Ys Net Release: November 19, 2019 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation 4, PC

At long last, Shenmue III is finally in the home stretch of development. The revenge saga of Ryo Hazuki, who witnessed his father's murder at the hands of Lan Di in 2000's Shenmue on Dreamcast, is finally ready to continue. Announced at E3 2015 as a Kickstarter campaign, Shenmue III picks up after the events of 2002's Shenmue II, meaning that by the time the game launches, it will have been 17 years between releases. I had a chance to play a brief demo of Shenmue III and speak to series creator Yu Suzuki about how development is going.

At the onset of my demo, Ryo says he needs to find a bookie. Obviously, this would be a part of a story mission. However, I'm not here for that. I'm here to see how the side activities – the updated versions of the ones that kept me glued to my screen in middle school, much to the confusion of any onlooking friends – feel in this new entry in the Shenmue saga.

I immediately go to an area that loosely fits the definition of an amusement park. As I enter an area full of small games, I decide to sample what the local game masters are offering. Ryo approaches a woman, who pitches him on playing peg-based marble-drop game Lucky Hit. After a few rounds of watching the marble narrowly veer away from the jackpot slot at the bottom of the board, I decide to move to something else: dice. Watching my demo intently, Yu Suzuki eggs me on to bet higher with each successive roll. I take the bait after winning a couple of consecutive rolls, but this method isn't sustainable in games of chance, and soon Ryo's pockets are much lighter and he's expressing his disdain in his trademark dry voice delivery.

After depleting a good chunk of Ryo's funds in luck-based minigames, I decide to try and build his bankroll back up through something only the most skilled of players can win: turtle racing. Believe it or not, the turtle racing minigame is a test of endurance for the player. As the turtles make their ways down the course, you're responsible for mashing the button that appears on screen. Doing so builds up the radial meter in the upper right corner, which provides a boost for your turtle upon filling. After a long, tiring race, my turtle comes out on top, giving Ryo a good chunk of change. Following my hard-earned victory, I decide to quit while I'm ahead and see what else I can do with my spare time.

Yu Suzuki points at the monitor and instructs me to go up a slight incline to a dojo. This sounds like a more exciting way to spend the remaining hands-on time I have with the demo. While at the dojo, I'm given the chance to train, spar, or fight one of the monks. Training is done by completing minigames. The one-inch punch, for example, has you strike a training dummy in a timing- and rhythm-based game. After that, I move on to horse stance, an Asian martial arts posture where the practitioner maintains a low squat. In this minigame, I must press a button to keep a meter marker within a small range.

After wrapping up my training, I head into the dojo and challenge the Red Tiger monk. Fighting in Shenmue III is much smoother than that of its predecessors. Ryo moves with more fluidity and his attacks feel much less stiff. After trading blows with the monk, I come out of the encounter victorious, and my skills meter rockets as Ryo ranks up. Next, I decide to spar, which gives me specific button commands to use in battle in order to learn new combinations and moves.

Despite various modernizations to the Shenmue formula, the third entry feels faithful to how Shenmue was for players in the early 2000s. "My team was not necessarily trying to provide innovative things," Suzuki says. "Because it was created through Kickstarter crowdfunding, my main focus was to make Shenmue III to make fans happy to play a sequel to Shenmue. That was the first thing I wanted to make sure. Probably nothing I'd call innovative, but there are many, many new elements."

As mentioned before, fans waited many years for the announcement of Shenmue III, and then additional years for its release. However, Shenmue III was delayed from its original August 27 release date to November 19. Suzuki tells me this is delay isn't indicative of any problems, but rather necessary time to make sure the game is in a good state when it launches. "With the title very close to the end, I'd like to brush it up as much as possible for the fans in order to make sure it's as good as possible," he says.

With fans having to wait so long for release, Suzuki says he has a mix of feelings, which seems to include a little anxiety, as launch nears. "I not only feel relief because the game is very close to release, then I also started wondering how the people are going to think and particularly how the new players are going to think," he says. "As such, there is some other feelings I started feeling."

While players have often thought of Shenmue as a trilogy, Suzuki tells me Shenmue III will not conclude the story. In fact, we may have a ways to go. "For Shenmue, I have 11 chapters in the story," he says. "My problem is, of those 11 chapters, how much do I want to put into Shenmue III? In other words, it's not the end of the story; it will continue. It's still going. Shenmue III comes out of chapters three to six."

When I ask Suzuki if that means more games or if the story will continue in other media, he says, "Whatever I can do, I will."

The first two games were published by Sega, and the influence of the publisher was inescapable. In Ryo's travels in those first two games, he encounters all kinds of references to other Sega properties, including capsule toys of characters from the Sonic the Hedgehog universe, and arcade machines like Space Harrier and Hang-On.

Since Sega isn't the publisher of Shenmue III, you likely won't find as many references to Sega in this game. However, all hope is not lost for fans wanting to see some nods to the publisher. "You can find some," Suzuki says. "There is one cabinet called Astro City, which is from Sega, and you can find some of the posters in it. I'll say that for the Sega fans, you will find some things you can appreciate and will smile."

Sega also published HD versions of Shenmue I and II on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC last year. While Suzuki didn't have anything to do with those games coming to modern platforms, he does feel as though that Sega release probably helped him to build excitement for the release of Shenmue III.

My time with Shenmue III is likely representative of how I'll play the game when it comes out later this year: delaying story missions in favor of the many diversions scattered throughout the world. That's alright, as that's how players have experienced the Shenmue games for years. This sequel to Shenmue I and II has kept fans waiting for nearly two decades, but the wait is almost over, as Shenmue III hits on November 19 for PlayStation 4 and PC.

Categories: Games

One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 Announced

Game Informer News Feed - Sat, 07/06/2019 - 04:00

Bandai Namco has officially announced One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4, the next iteration of the Dynasty Warriors and One Piece mashup series.

The Musou spin-off game will feature the same kind of action we've come to expect from developer Omega Force, which means beating up huge groups of bad guys at a time, except you're doing it with your gummy limbs instead of weapons (for the most part, anyway). Bandai Namco didn't offer too many details beyond that, other than Whole Cake Island, a locale from a more recent arc in the anime and manga (Pirate Warriors 3 released way back in 2015 in Japan, though it didn't make its way to US shores until 2018) will be a new location this time around.

One Piece: Pirate Warriors 4 does not yet have a release date, but is coming to PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC via Steam. In the meantime, we have a spiffy new trailer to look at.

Click here to watch embedded media

Categories: Games

A Look Inside Monster Hunter World: Iceborne’s New Outpost, Seliana

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 07/05/2019 - 17:00

Publisher: Capcom Developer: Capcom Release: September 6, 2019 Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

There’s a reason that “hunter” is half of Monster Hunter’s title: Admiring monsters from afar might be satisfying in its own way, but the whole point is getting in the faces of these giant beasts and battling against seemingly insurmountable odds. Once you’re done, you get to take your trophies and craft new weapons and armor to do it all over again. And for that, you need a base of operations. Monster Hunter World: Iceborne introduces an all-new region to explore, as well as a place to call home. Seliana may not have a whole lot of history (yet), but Capcom relied on its experience – and player feedback – when it came time to build this outpost on the edge of the known world.

Iceborne takes place after the events of the main campaign, when the expedition notices a mass migration from the New World to an unknown destination. Shortly afterward, it’s clear that the monsters are flocking to an undiscovered continent – and with that, we’re off. Unlike Astera, the hub world in Monster Hunter: World, this new base of operations is just getting started. Astera is an established outpost, having been built up over several generations. Seliana was largely constructed in advance and flown out via enormous balloons.  

“You start off in the old headquarters of Astera, and as the story of Iceborne progresses you’re going to be able to transition to this part of Seliana, and you’ll see how this village grows and what develops in the storyline in relation to this new base,” says Kaname Fujioka, Iceborn’s executive director and art director. “Basically, it’s going to be a smaller base that they want to take to the Hinterlands.”

The expeditionary force built Seliana with the knowledge it acquired over decades of experience, which isn’t unlike how Capcom approached designing the new hub world. The team took player feedback into consideration when it came time to build Seliana, along with its own expertise in designing spaces. Director Daisuke Ichihara says that one of the big takeaways the team learned from that feedback was that Astera could be difficult to maneuver around and that certain NPC facilities were spread too far apart. “[W]e took great care when creating the new base, Seliana, in Iceborne to address some of those concerns,” Ichihara says.

“Especially the gathering hub,” Fujioka adds. “That was kind of a main focus point of some of the adjustments we made based on player feedback. For example, we really wanted to make the gathering hub a more fun gathering place, a more social-gathering environment for people, so they could communicate a little easier and have a little more fun there. And sort of use it as a social-networking space.”

We were able to explore Seliana a bit during our hands-on time with the game, and it’s striking how different the space feels from Astera. It’s smaller and has a bit of Nordic flair, and it generally has the vibe of being a place that’s on the edge of a frontier. There’s a lot of fun ambient detail, such as the various Palico helpers who carry parcels around the camp or the Poogie who wanders around in a sweater – a tiny icicle dangling from his snout. On the edge of town, you can watch wagons getting loaded before disappearing down the road. These are largely inconsequential details as far as gameplay goes, but they go a long way in selling the illusion of a bustling new community. NPCs like the chef and forge aren’t quite as far away from one another, which is at least partially due to Seliana’s smaller footprint. 

“There are reasons from both the visual design and the game design as to why it’s more compact,” Fujioka says. “If we wanted to make something that, in terms of game design, was super easy to access everything, then we’d just put all of our facilities in a straight line and call it a day – it would be an easy thing to do. But we want something that’s a lot of fun to walk around in, so you can walk around and find interesting little things here and there. That’s also part of our design philosophy. But we did take into consideration what players want, like all the room services that were in World that you had to access in your room can now be accessed in Seliana itself; you don’t have to go inside your room anymore.”

One of the things I like about the Monster Hunter team’s approach to game design is how they put a lot of thought into the underlying logic in their worlds, whether or not players wind up noticing those details. As fantastical as the monsters are, for example, the designers make efforts to come up with logical explanations as to why they’re able to use elemental attacks or have adapted to better survive in their home environments. That philosophy extends to Seliana as well.

“The basic concept of Seliana is that they’re building a base on undiscovered land – no one has been here before,” says environment artist Sachiko Fukuda. “With Astera, it was basically facing the open sea, and it was a place with a lot of rich nutrients and stuff like that. It was easy to grow stuff. With Seliana, it’s surrounded by mountains, and they’re trying to figure out they want a place where people help the hunters. They want a place where you can forge weapons, so they need that energy to power the whole place. One of the main reference points was Iceland. We did some research on cities in Iceland and how they operate, and a lot of the cities there get their energy from thermal energy.”

Iceborne’s Hinterlands are home to a variety of underground hot springs, which the residents of Seliana have been able to tap into. On a more personal level, hunters can take advantage of the springs’ healing powers to regenerate their health and stamina by taking a quick dip. That’s only one of the ways players can stay healthy and strong. Eating is another constant presence in the series, and Seliana introduces some fun new cuisine – and a new cook.

“The first concept we had was moving the Meowscular Chef to Seliana, and it was an outdoor canteen in the freezing cold; and everything was covered in snow,” Fukuda says. “We decided to move away from the first design and move the canteen indoors and make it a little warmer and more cozy. We got more advice from Fujioka that instead of just a grill of meat and everything we had in World, because it’s a cold place, to replace that with a big pot of stew, where you add things that will warm up your body because you’re in this freezing cold area. The design kept building on top of that, and as we started finalizing designs of the Grandmeowster Chef, we were going for something that resembles your grandma’s house.”

Putting the Meowscular Chef in this cozy new environment felt a little weird, so they designed a new character based on Russian nesting dolls: The Grammeowster Chef. Unlike the gung-ho attitude that Astera’s chef brings, this new Palico cook is a soothing presence, with more relaxing cooking animations than those of her protégé. Her food looks great, too. “We put a lot of thought and effort into making you be able to taste the food when you see it,” Fujioka says. “For example, the beef stew and the melted cheese. It’s something that you know there’s a lot of good taste behind it. We wanted something different from just a slab of meat in the Chef’s canteen.”

The Meowscular Chef is holding down the fort back in Astera, but not everybody stayed back. For instance, the smithy who works the forge has left that task to someone else and moved over to Seliana. If you miss anyone, don’t worry – you won’t be moving to this frontier on a permanent basis. “All the facilities that are in Astera are in Seliana, but in terms of story there will be reasons to go back to Astera,” Fujioka says. “There are going to be some changes in the new world in terms of stuff that’s happening, so you’ll have to go back and forth a couple of times to figure out what’s going on.” That said, I’m looking forward to spending more time in this new area, as well as the rest of Iceborne.


We'll have more Monster Hunter World: Iceborne coverage throughout the month, so be sure to check out the hub page linked in the banner below.

Categories: Games

Sea Of Solitude Review - Adrift

Gamespot News Feed - Fri, 07/05/2019 - 14:01

Loneliness exists on a broad spectrum that isn't always synonymous with simply being alone. It's a state of mind, an overwhelming feeling of isolation that can still affect a person even if they're surrounded by loved ones and friends. Sea of Solitude understands this all too well. Its opening cutscene begins with a poignant musing: "I have family. I have friends... And yet here I am, feeling lonely. Again." Sea of Solitude is a game about loneliness that's very personal for the 12-strong team at German developer Jo-Mei Games, and it shows. It tackles the subject matter with a deft touch, exploring the myriad ways these feelings of isolation, sadness, and anger can impact people's lives in a refreshingly authentic way, using the backdrop of a puzzle-platformer to tell its story.

Click image to view in full-screen

You play as Kay, a young woman who inhabits a world where lonely people are transformed into monsters. Kay is a monster herself, so she's desperately trying to find out why this happened and how can she can return to her human form. The rest of the narrative spirals out from this core concept, forcing Kay to confront her past and her relationships with the people around her. Loneliness affects different people in different ways; a lonely child who's struggling to make friends at school has different needs than someone going through a breakup or someone who's just moved to another country where they don't know anyone, for example. Sea of Solitude shines an introspective light on the various ways loneliness can affect people, doing so through Kay's interactions with other characters and the monsters that reside in this world, whether they're antagonistic or seeking help.

The voice acting in these moments is uneven amongst the small cast of characters, however, the consistent writing is a strong point throughout. Conversations feel very raw and are oftentimes uncomfortable, yet Sea of Solitude manages to sprinkle in moments of levity to offset the otherwise bleak subject matter. The ending lacks closure in a very realistic and human way, but the story's profound throughline of self-discovery and healing naturally reaches an empowering conclusion.

The story's profound throughline of self-discovery and healing naturally reaches an empowering conclusion.

Each aspect of Sea of Solitude has some kind of underlying meaning, and these are frequently conveyed through the use of both literal and figurative metaphors. The sea is one of the more blatant allegories at its disposal, as the entirety of the game takes place upon the undulating waves of a flooded city. Being alone on a small boat is inherently isolating; you just have to imagine the terrifying feeling of being marooned or adrift at sea, far away from civilization in an unpredictable environment that can deviate from being calm to violent at the drop of a hat. Kay uses this small vessel to traverse the flooded streets of the Berlin-inspired city, utilizing some basic platforming to get around when on dry land. Her interactions with the various monsters that populate the city are the catalyst for everything that follows. There's a familiarity to each monster's design, with the vast majority of them being reminiscent of specific animals, albeit in a fantastical way. Each one shares a mutual feature in the form of jet black fur and unsettling red eyes, but they're often human at their core, transformed into monsters due to their disparate struggles with loneliness and anguish.

You spend much of the game coaxing the human side out of these ghoulish beasts by confronting Kay's own past and dispelling the corruption that's seeped into the city. Corrupted areas are bleak and coated in muted shades of grey and black, with the night sky lashed by swirling winds and torrential rain. Removing the corruption in an area by finding and inhaling it into Kay's backpack introduces light to the world, revealing the incandescent vitality of the sun and turning the sea as blue as the sky. The stark contrast between night and day accentuates the daytime's beauty, while the painterly art style--not to mention the nautical theme--can't help but bring to mind the vivid aesthetic of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. It's in these moments that the "Solitude" of the game's title is captured, presenting the positive side of being alone.

Dispersing the corruption is a task fraught with danger, however, and not just for Kay's mental well-being. Some of the monsters are aggressive and will attack on sight. Death isn't really an obstacle, as you're immediately placed back right where you left off, but Sea of Solitude does manage to wring moments of tension out of these interactions. The problem is that, despite a brief three-hour playtime, it introduces new mechanics every few chapters and then drags them out until they're nothing short of monotonous. There are numerous occasions where you have to lure spectral children into light by running close enough to aggro them, for lack of a better term, before dashing away. It's all relatively straightforward, which isn't a bad thing on its own, but the act of playing Sea of Solitude is never particularly engaging and mostly consists of dull mechanics that far outstay their welcome.

The story, and the way it confronts a universal but often misunderstood part of life, is Sea of Solitude's biggest draw. The gameplay is passable at best and tedious at its worst, but this is still a journey worth experiencing because of the way Jo-Mei Games has managed to weave a heartbreaking tale out of genuine characters and believable grief. Kay wants to know why she turned into a monster, and this is the driving force behind the whole game. What could have triggered it and why are these monsters so intrinsically linked? Despite some missteps along the way, Sea of Solitude is difficult to put down until you can answer those questions for yourself.

Categories: Games

Tencent Mobile Auto Chess Game Chess Rush Out Today

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 07/03/2019 - 22:15

Tencent has further entrenched itself in the Auto Chess market today by launching Chess Rush, a mobile take on the genre with faster matches.

Although it already owns Riot, the company behind the League of Legends spin-off Teamfight Tactics, Chess Rush is a mobile-only title that promises to cut down on match times, which in other games can take as long as 40 minutes or more. Of course, the basic tenants of the genre remain; as you nab pieces from a limited selection, you want to build up a powerful army by combining three of the same unit to produce one stronger unit, and combine class archetypes to win.

Chess Rush is out today on iOS and Android.

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Categories: Games

The River City Girls Take To The Streets In September

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 07/03/2019 - 21:30

Arc System Works may be known for fighting games, but that doesn't mean they don't release other kinds of game. For example, the company will be publishing a new take on the River City Ransom license called River City Girls.

Developed by Shantae series developer WayForward, River city girls stays true to the series' beat-'em-up roots, but modernizes the look of the classic franchise, featuring two new protagonists, Kyoko and Misako, who must battle it out on the streets of River City to rescue their boyfriends, Kunio and Riki. RPG mechanics, side quests, shops, co-op, and the ability to recruit enemies should hopefully spice things up.

River City Girls launches on PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Switch on September 5.

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Categories: Games