Games

Layers of Fear 2 Review - Ghost Ship

Gamespot News Feed - Fri, 05/24/2019 - 21:21

Peel back the layers and there's a clear connective tissue tying Layers of Fear 2 and its predecessor together. Both games are centered around an artist gradually losing their grip on reality. While the original game focused on a struggling painter in an opulent Victorian mansion, Layers of Fear 2 shifts art forms to tell the story of a Hollywood actor during the Golden Age of cinema, as he embarks on a new role in a movie being shot aboard a decadent ocean liner. Developer Bloober Team has created something more varied and ambitious than its past work, taking inspiration from iconic film directors like Georges Méliès, Fritz Lang, and Alfred Hitchcock. And while it is a visually striking horror game, Layers of Fear 2 struggles to establish its own identity and explore its themes of anguish and despair in meaningful ways.

The story itself is like a jigsaw puzzle; some of the pieces come together as the narrative unfolds, but others are scattered across the environment as notes, optional puzzles, sound recordings, and paraphernalia that provide new details on your character's troubled past. You might not be able to put the whole picture together before the game's conclusion, but it's a familiar and clichéd tale that isn't too difficult to discern once events begin to wrap up. Childhood trauma is the key motif, built around the relationship you had with your sister, but Layers of Fear 2 regularly uses routine horror tropes as opposed to something more personal. This decision doesn't coalesce with the story to provide a sense that your character's state of mind and past anguish are shaping what's happening. During the first act you catch spectral forms out of the corner of your eye, and this eventually evolves into frequent appearances from crudely assembled mannequins and a formless monster that stalks you through much of the game. These creatures are unnerving, but they're not really specific to the game or this character, failing to capitalize on the strengths of psychological horror and the inherent importance of a character's fears and trepidations in manifesting intimate threats.

Similarly, much of Layers of Fear 2's art design is wrapped around the classic films that inspired it, which doesn't always come together in a consistent way. Saying it takes place aboard a ship is a tad disingenuous, as the setting is constantly shifting and transporting you to a variety of disparate environments. Overt homages to films such as The Wizard of Oz, A Trip to the Moon, and Nosferatu are littered throughout the game. Some of them are deftly woven into the narrative and the game's own art style, but others lack context and fail to rise above being mere visual spectacles, foregoing any semblance of cohesion with the rest of the game. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, particularly if you have an appreciation for this era of cinema, but it also makes Layers of Fear 2 feel like an inconsequential mishmash of film references without any clear significance to the story it's trying to tell.

Much of Layers of Fear 2's art design is wrapped around the classic films that inspired it, which doesn't always come together in a consistent way

Your interactions with the world are very tangible, which helps ground you in the game's setting even when the threads of reality are stretched thinner and thinner. The majority of your time is spent simply exploring each space, gathering knick-knacks to fill in the story, and solving puzzles to progress. The conundrums it places before you are never particularly challenging or memorable, whether it's using a dial with 10 numbers to multiply up to a specific digit or manipulating a roll of film to create a doorway. Some of them are in keeping with the tone of the game and its cinematic feel, but others are so inane they just feel out of place.

What Layers of Fear 2 does do well is build atmosphere and an ever-escalating sense of dread. The score is ominous, utilizing string instruments to send a chill down your spine. But there are also plenty of opportunities for the sound design to breathe on its own, too. The creaking of wooden floorboards, rats scurrying past your feet, and the plip-plop of dripping water create tension despite their mundanity. It also makes you hesitant to simply turn around, as the environment toys with impossible spaces, distorting the world around you when you're not looking. When you walk into a room and find a locked door with nowhere else to go but back the way you came, the suspense hits, tapping into that fear of the unknown--of what's waiting to greet you once you turn your head.

Unfortunately, these anxiety-inducing feelings diminish as the game progresses and it leans too heavily on tried and tested tactics. The aforementioned mannequins are consistently impressive due to their creepy stop-motion-esque movement, but they're featured so heavily that their effect as something to be scared of is severely diminished. This is a problem with Layers of Fear 2 as a whole; the protracted playtime of around 10 hours struggles to maintain its early momentum through the last couple of chapters. The formless creature that oftentimes stalks you adds some urgency to what is otherwise a methodical affair, but the most terrifying thing about the chase sequences is the threat of having to redo them if you fail. Sometimes the monster's arrival comes so suddenly that you're dead before even realizing what's happened, and these cheap insta-kills mean you're frustratingly subjected to the same death animation over and over again.

There are remnants of an excellent horror game submerged just below the surface of Layers of Fear 2. Horror icon Tony Todd--of Candyman fame--lends his bassy growl to the disembodied and omnipresent voice of the film's eccentric director. Each word he bellows is a sonorous treat, no matter how terrifying his performance is. The art design, too, while disjointed, conjures some breathtaking imagery that you can't help but marvel at. It's just a shame that Layers of Fear 2 frequently pays lip service to the films and games that clearly inspired it while struggling to find a voice of its own. The story is too hazy to latch onto until the latter stages, and then nothing about it is particularly engaging, with its central mystery building towards something we've seen numerous times before. It occasionally hints at interesting themes but fails to go anywhere with them, falling back on telegraphed jump scares rather than delving deeper into the psychological horror it can only tease at. For every piece of good work there's an analogous aspect that lacks focus and direction. Layers of Fear 2 feels lost at sea.

Categories: Games

Dead Cells Releases Rise Of The Giant DLC On Consoles With New Animated Trailer

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 05/24/2019 - 00:25
Publisher: Motion Twin Developer: Motion Twin Release: August 7, 2018 Rating: Teen Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC

There aren't enough animated game trailers out there and I genuinely appreciate that Dead Cells provides them at weirdly regular junctures that are pretty fun. This one is to celebrate the release of the Rise of the Giant DLC, a free semi-expansion that has been available on PC for some time. It's now on PlayStation 4 and Switch, so players can enjoy the new bosses and new areas it provides.

You can check out the animated trailer below.

Click here to watch embedded media

In addition to the trailer and the DLC, Motion Twin has confirmed that Dead Cells has sold two million copies across all systems. This is a pretty unqualified success for Motion Twin, which functions somewhat experimentally as a developer with a flat structure in terms of hierarchy. In absolute terms, two million in the indie market is huge, and speaks to how a critically successful idea can take off.

Dead Cells is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC, and soon mobile platforms. Rise of the Giant will also be coming to Xbox One, but a last minute bug in the certification process delayed the release on that platform, which Motion Twin says will "come a bit later."

Categories: Games

X-Men Legends

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 05/23/2019 - 22:45
Publisher: Nintendo Developer: Team Ninja Release: July 19, 2019 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: Switch

You might have noticed that we have Marvel fever this month at Game Informer thanks to our cover story of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, the upcoming Nintendo-published Switch exclusive. We've already had a bunch of exclusive features, footage, and discussion of the game, but Nintendo's also supplying some new trailers, like this one focusing on the X-Men.

You can check out the latest Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 trailer below.

Click here to watch embedded media

While we've known Wolverine is in the game since its initial reveal trailer at The Game Awards last year, but Marvel's recent attempts in the last few years to tap down on publicizing the other X-Men made their appearance in Ultimate Alliance 3 somewhat dicey. Thankfully, this trailer confirms that a number of the mutants are making it in, including Nightcrawler and Psylocke.

You can check out our coverage hub of all things Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 right here, which has the roster so far and a few exclusive character reveals like Ms. Marvel and Hawkeye, not to mention our gameplay impressions.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 releases exclusively on the Nintendo Switch on July 19.

Categories: Games

Observation Review - Space Madness

Gamespot News Feed - Thu, 05/23/2019 - 00:00

In Observation you play as SAM (Systems Administration and Maintenance), the AI assistant of a space station that represents the joint efforts of Europe, China, and Russia. Your abilities are limited by your absence of a corporeal form--for most of the game you're controlling the cameras dotted around the station and interacting with any computers or digital panels within their range of vision. You have access to a station map that expands over time, and you're able to jump between cameras across the entire ship at will. It might sound like a limiting conceit, but Observation uses your unique position of omniscient claustrophobia to craft a compelling, creepy, and extremely original narrative experience.

The year is 2026, and you're on the station with Emma Fisher, a European crew member who awakens at the game's beginning to find that she has no contact with the rest of her crew on board. It's immediately clear that something catastrophic has happened; the station is no longer in Earth's orbit, and no-one is answering her attempts at communication. To say much more would be to spoil elements of a plot that are best left to surprise you--the first major twist happens within about 20 minutes. Suffice it to say that Observation's narrative unfurls slowly across the entire length of the game, with its mysteries growing all the more complicated and your sense of dread deepening as the game goes on.

Observation absolutely nails its distinct lo-fi, sci-fi aesthetic. The cameras crackle and jump as you shift between them, and the stylistic film grain and distortion over every visual emphasizes your slight removal from the reality of the situation Emma is facing. Like many science fiction works of the last forty years, Observation is indebted to Ridley Scott's Alien--some of the tech aboard the space station feel like antiquated products of a decade long past. This aesthetic, paired with the game's too-near future setting, gives Observation the pleasant feeling of an uncovered classic or remake of an ambitious, older piece of work. SAM is far and away the most advanced piece of technology on the station, and even when you load up your own system menu (which lets you view the map, check system alerts, and perform other functions that unlock during the game) you're treated to some pleasantly analog and retro buzzing and whirring sound effects.

You experience most of the game through the slow panning and zooming cameras, an effective tool at creating a creeping sense of tension, although the occasional cutscene is used to better capture action at a crucial moment. It's not about jump scares or personally being in danger; again, to say too much more would be to spoil the game's clever pacing, but it's a game that's incredibly effective at building dread more than overt terror.

The actual gameplay is, for the most part, pretty simple. You need to explore the ship as much as you can from your various vantage points, scanning every document and inspecting every laptop you encounter, opening and shutting hatch doors, and interacting with the station's equipment. The bulk of the puzzles boil down to figuring out how to operate SAM's interface, finding schematics to help you operate certain programs, and learning the necessary procedures for the instructions you are given.

The game does an excellent job of taking complex ideas and procedures and presenting them as simple operations. Everything from opening the airlock to securing the doors between sections of the station boils down to a few button presses; occasionally you'll have to take part in what is essentially a timed mini-game, but for the most part, you're just following basic instructions. The main challenge comes from figuring out how the different parts of the ship all work together, and reasoning through the impact of your actions and what information you do and don't currently have access to.

At certain points, you'll need to control a spherical droid that can float around the station--and, more excitingly, outside the station--freely. It's a bit of a pain to control in tight spots, and it's easy to lose your bearings because the concepts of up and down are relative in zero-gravity environments. But there's a real thrill in breaking free from the static cameras and floating through the station, and in getting used to the sphere's limitations. Observation doles these sections out expertly, using the droid when it needs to make you feel more a part of what is happening. It plays on the droid's symbolic sense of place extremely well; it's the physical element of SAM that sells Emma's growing friendship with him.

Often what you need to do next, and how to do it, will be spelled out extremely clearly, though the game's instructions could stand to be a tad clearer in a few sections. One time it seemed like I had hit a particularly abstract puzzle, but it turned out that I'd actually encountered a glitch where a certain event didn't trigger properly, which necessitated a quick checkpoint reset. This was a pain, as the game's checkpointing can be a bit strict--you keep any information you've collected through scanning objects, but it doesn't save after major actions, so it's hard to know exactly what you'll have to redo when you exit out. But it's not too big an issue, as I never lost more than a few minutes of progress.

Slowly discovering every system on board, inspecting every room, and unlocking more menus and commands within SAM's UI is an absolute treat. Observation is a visual stunner, with only the odd lip-sync issue occasionally distracting from the level of polish and craft on display. Later events ramp up the inherent creepy isolation of a space station perfectly, too. The story is compelling and exciting right up until the credits roll, and the game doesn't let up on revelations, twists, or the increasing tension of knowing that the game is building towards something wild. Observation also achieves the extremely rare feat of containing audio logs that are both compelling and make sense within its world.

Observation is a wonderful example of how to do focused, self-contained science-fiction storytelling in a game. It's well-written and clever, and nails the sci-fi tropes and aesthetics it both plays to and builds upon. It's a game that demands to be analyzed and thought about further once you're done with it, and while the internal world of the game is small, inhabiting it is a real pleasure.

Categories: Games

The Ghostbusters Are Coming To Planet Coaster

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 05/22/2019 - 19:21

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Publisher: Frontier Developments Developer: Frontier Developments Release: 2016 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PC

Frontier has just announced its ambitious Planet Coaster: Ghostbusters DLC for PC. The studio seems to be going all out for the new content pack to bring players an authentic Ghostbusters experience.

The content pack is said to include a fully-voiced, narrative campaign, featuring Dan Aykroyd and William Atherton themselves. It also comes with new in-game items such as, the interactive ghostbusting ride called 'The Ghostbusting Experience' and a slimer-themed kiddie coaster called the 'RollerGhoster'.

Classic Ghostbuster characters also make an appearance, including Raymond Stantz, Slimer, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, and a few more surprise faces. Lastly, it includes authentic scenery pieces and sounds right out of the original film, such as the Ghostbusters HQ, Ecto-1, and Ray Parker J's unforgettable Ghostbusters theme.

Throughout the campaign, Dan Aykroyd mentors the players and helps them build their park and fight off ghostly issues that are thrown their way. Though nostalgia is a key factor in this DLC, players who have grown up without the classic movie can still find satisfaction in the campaign and build a strong coaster park with the new items.

Planet Coaster is no stranger to creating eccentrically themed parks, check out our cover of YouTuber Brad Hamilton's Dishonored Planet Coaster build.

Categories: Games

New Footage And Closed Alpha Revealed For Nioh 2

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 05/22/2019 - 18:21

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We haven't heard much about Nioh 2 since its announcement at last year's E3, so it was a pleasant surprise to see Koei Tecmo and Team Ninja release new footage of its highly anticipated sequel today. This is our first big look at the gameplay, which shows plenty of quick dodging, cool special moves, and larger-than-life bosses. Oh yeah, and expect to see a lot of a bloodshed, but that's a given at this point. 

Alongside the trailer, which you can watch in full above, Team Ninja also announced a Closed Alpha via Twitter to gather feedback. It starts on 5/24 and goes through 6/2, but details are scarce on how to get in on it as the tweet says only "some PS4 users" will be invited. You can read the full tweet below.

https://twitter.com/TeamNINJAStudio/status/1131228228868292608

The original Nioh turned heads for its punishing difficulty alongside its fast and fluid combat. Our own Dan Tack said in his review: "Nioh will break you down (and note this clearly, this is an uncompromising game that does not mind crushing your dreams) before it lifts you up, but you soon crave the thrill of mastering a new weapon or toppling a titanic boss." 

Categories: Games

This Is No Hallucination

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 05/22/2019 - 16:00

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Publisher: Bigben Interactive Developer: Frogwares Release: June 27, 2019 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Detective Charles Reed travels to the water-logged town of Oakmont looking for answers, but all he finds are hallucinations and the town's particular terror. In the latest trailer for The Sinking City (out June 27 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC) Reed reaches through the fog and the madness.

The trailer not only gives you the unsettling atmosphere of Oakmont, but also a look at some of the puzzle-solving, investigative, underwater, and weapon gameplay. 

For more from the title, check out this episode of New Gameplay Today where we wade through some of the mysteries of The Sinking City.

Categories: Games

The Deadly Daemons Of Oninaki

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 05/22/2019 - 15:26

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Publisher: Square Enix Developer: Tokyo RPG Factory Release: 2019 Platform: Switch

Even lost souls have their use in Oninaki, Square Enix's action-RPG from Tokyo RPG Factory and Chrono Trigger director Takashi Tokita. The game comes out this summer (PS4, Switch, and PC) and its latest trailer shows off how protagonist Kagachi uses souls as powerful weapons known as Daemons.

Daemons are lost souls that cannot be reincarnated. Kagachi, who is a Watcher ferrying souls to the next world, puts them to work on his behalf in battle. Each one can be used as a different type of weapon (as well as assist Kagachi defensively) and they can be swapped in and out in real time. 

For more on Oninaki, check out the game's debut trailer.

Categories: Games

Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons Is Coming To The Nintendo Switch Very Soon

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 05/21/2019 - 19:49

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Publisher: 505 Games Developer: Starbreeze Studios Release: August 7, 2013 Rating: Teen Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons has been available for nearly every platform imaginable since its launch in 2013, and now it's coming to Nintendo's latest console. Directed by Josef Fares, the action adventure title tells the story of two brothers going on an emotional fantasy journey. 

Exclusive to the Switch version of the game is a new co-op mode, where each player controls one brother with one Joy-Con. In all previous games, the player would control both brothers with each analog stick, an option that also returns for the Switch version. The game will also feature director commentary and a concept-art gallery, both of which were also present in the PS4 and Xbox One versions.

Brothers will run at 30 FPS, with a 720p resolution in handheld mode and 1080p resolution docked. The game has previously been available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, iOS, Andriod, and PC.

The game lands on Nintendo Switch next week, on May 28. The game retails for $14.99, but there's a 10% discount for those who pre-order. For more on Brothers, check out our review for the game, or Fares' subsequent project, A Way Out.

[Source: 505 Games, Nintendo via Nintendo Life]

Categories: Games

Supermassive Drops New Trailer And Release Date

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 05/21/2019 - 19:48

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

Man of Medan is the first installment of Supermassive's upcoming anthology series, The Dark Pictures. Today the Until Dawn creators released a new trailer for the game, alongside the announcement that Man of Medan releases on August 30. 

Like Until Dawn, Man of Medan is filled with a plethora of choices, ranging from simple to intense. But no matter how little the decision seems, there will always be consequences, and the new trailer from Supermassive stresses just how important they are. 

For more information on Man of Medan, check out Kim's preview for it here.

Categories: Games

Everybody's Golf VR Review - Bogey

Gamespot News Feed - Tue, 05/21/2019 - 18:46

The latest title in Sony's long-running golf series, Everybody's Golf VR is the first to bring the series to virtual reality. The transition isn't without its bumps, with the biggest being a lack of Everybody's Golf's traditional competitive modes. But the PSVR golf game does deliver a fairly realistic golfing experience that's both accessible to play and fairly challenging to master.

Everybody's Golf VR abandons the franchise's usual third-person view for a first-person perspective. The three-click swing mechanic (commonly seen in most of today's golf games) is also gone. Instead, you swing your clubs with a PlayStation Move or DualShock 4 controller, hopefully in one smooth motion. The direction of the ball is determined by the angle you hit it, and distance is calculated by how hard you swing. There are other factors to consider when you're on the course as well, such as wind direction and your elevation in relation to the hole.

Actually swinging your arms to hit the ball takes a bit to get used to, but the motion controls are remarkably responsive with a DualShock 4 controller. Once you've got the form down on your swing, you'll be able to reliably hit the ball the way you want to. The same can't be said for the PlayStation Move controller. Occasionally, the Move controller works fine, but I found myself more often than not being unable to even reach the ball with my club while swinging the Move. I ultimately just had to stop using it, as it became too frustrating to play a near-perfect hole only to be stopped short just because my club would not reach down far enough to hit the ball no matter how much I crouched.

In Everybody's Golf VR, the golf balls behave as they're expected to, obeying the laws of gravity when it comes to the arc of your shot or elevation of a slope, and their roll realistically heeds to changes in friction when terrain is affected by different weather patterns, like rain. As previously mentioned, the motion controls are pretty precise. The camera measures whether your swing misses the ball, glances off of it, or makes full contact, and then takes the angle and power of your swing into account. Shifting too much of your body weight to one side or curving your swing typically results in a lousy shot, while maintaining good form sends your ball flying straight as an arrow (provided there are no environmental factors to take into account as well). The game isn't an exact representation of reality--you don't have to swing nearly as aggressively as a professional golfer to achieve distances like one--but Everybody's Golf VR sells you on the experience that you're actually playing golf in your living room.

There's a welcome variety of customization options in Everybody's Golf VR, allowing players of all skill levels to enjoy time on the course. If you're having trouble putting, for example, you can turn on vacuum holes--which suck the ball in provided you get your shot close enough. For a more challenging experience, you can tee up on longer versions of the courses where it's harder to hit par. There are some nice accessibility options as well, such as the choice to play while standing up or sitting down, the option to change your dominant hand from right to left, and the freedom to choose between several sets of clubs--including one that makes it easier to hit the ball straight if you have limited mobility in your arms. There's plenty in Everybody's Golf VR to make the experience appealing to all types of players, and helpful tutorials give newcomers a chance to grasp the basics of the sport until they can get the swing of things.

Everybody's Golf VR's courses are populated with everything you'd expect to see in a golf game, like sand traps and trees, as well as a few things you might not, like dinosaurs. Occasionally, a bee flies in your face or the sound of a wave crashes onto a nearby beach. These sights and sounds are never distracting, but via a PSVR headset and headphones, they do make it feel like each golf course is full of life. Decide to look closely enough, however, and you'll notice the golf resort's reception area and each course is always eerily empty save for your character and either the receptionist or your caddie. It's a tad unsettling.

Though it runs out of steam quickly, Everybody's Golf VR is fun while it lasts, and there are satisfying goals to chase for a time.

Each distinct environment provides more than just a cosmetic change, as a course's aesthetic translates into different environmental hazards to deal with; the Seaside Course is very windy, for example, and its holes have a lot more sand and water traps for your ball to be blown into. A course's hazards aren't enough to force you to drastically change how you play, but they do provide just enough of a welcome challenge to encourage out-of-the-box thinking. It's fun learning about how a new course works, and satisfying to successfully deduce how to adapt to it. In the Seaside Course, for instance, you can risk timing your shot to a powerful gust of wind in hopes it will send your ball flying over an out-of-bounds area--which could save you an entire swing in the long run.

Unfortunately, there aren't many courses for you to play on. And other than Practice Range, the only game mode in Everybody's Golf VR is Course. In Course, you do have the choice of whether you play a random three holes from a course, the first nine, the last nine, or all 18. But with only three courses total, you'll end up replaying the same holes repeatedly in order to unlock all the in-game rewards. It gets tedious after a few hours.

The lack of additional modes in Everybody's Golf VR is a step back in comparison to previous titles in the series, many of which have one or two modes where you can face off against NPCs. As is, the only thing you can do in Everybody's Golf VR is play a course by yourself while your nearby caddie yells words of encouragement. Everybody's Golf VR does lessen some of its tedium with those caddies, though, as the eagerly helpful Riko and teasingly friendly Lucy help make your repeated trips out to the same collection of courses far less lonely.

Replaying courses allows you to unlock additional outfits for your caddie to wear, which is a fun cosmetic reward to chase after. You can also unlock a handful of Events by partnering with a caddie long enough. Some play out like romantically-charged mini dates, but most are just goofy distractions good for a laugh or two. Each caddie has her own unique set of four Events, and though their unlock rates are spread out enough that it will take you a few hours to see them all, once you do there's nothing compelling to work towards in the game.

Despite the lack of different activities in Everybody's Golf VR, the one thing it does do--provide a means of playing golf without actually having to go outside--is relatively enjoyable. Though it runs out of steam quickly, Everybody's Golf VR is fun while it lasts, and there are satisfying goals to chase for a time. Everybody's Golf VR's best feature is its assortment of customization and accessibility options, though, as they allow both golf newbies and veterans to curate their desired experience and just enjoy playing a round.

Categories: Games

Here Are All The Ways I've Died In Outer Wilds (So Far)

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 05/21/2019 - 18:25

Publisher: Annapurna Interactive Developer: Mobius Digital Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PC

The release of the kooky space adventure The Outer Wilds is nearly upon us, with the game launching on both Xbox One and Epic Game Store on May 30. I've been spacefaring within the game in the meantime, discovering sights both awe-inspiring and bizarre, as well as meeting my demise. Uh, quite frequently, truth be told.

The Outer Wilds revels in its dark humor, often giving you more than enough tools for you to dig your own grave. Instead of being a source of frustration, it left me laughing at the memorable and grisly results of my own stupidity.

Come with me, reader, on a journey through the mangled, suffocated corpses of myself that I've left through time and space and in the belly of massive fishes.

1. I forgot to put on my spacesuit before I left the ship for the cold embrace of space. I promptly asphyxiated like a champ. Go me.

2. I flew into the sun by accident. It hurt.

3. I carefully navigated a series of asteroids only to find myself staring down the face of a literal angler fish the size of the moon. Reader, he ate me.

4. I was spelunking into the heart of a planet filled with many caverns. I miscalculated a jump and promptly fell to the bottom. The crack of my helmet and skull announced my doom.

5. I set my autopilot to lead me to a planet. It collided with another planet on the way there and bounced off, severely damaging my spaceship. I got out to fix my spaceship without turning off the autopilot only to watch my ship continue to zoom away, leaving me adrift in space. Crap.

6. I went in for a rough landing on a small moon. I got out before we came to a full stop but my spaceship kept going. It bounced around the moon, came back, and somehow knocked me out into the further reaches of space where, once again, I died.

7. I boarded a mysterious shuttle on an alien planet. Messing with some levers, I somehow initiated the shuttle's autopilot. With much ceremony, it lifted off the planet and into the stars... shortly before flying directly into the path of a flaming asteroid. Given I just straight up committed some interstellar grand theft auto, I probably deserved this.

8. While exploring the belly of a mysterious planet, I uncovered a big dark sphere. I got too close and it sucked me in and teleported me to the other side of the planetary system, where I floated helplessly until I smashed into some space debris and died.

9.  While I was walking around a small cavern filled ancient stone texts to decipher, some insect things on the floor electrocuted me to death.

10. I found a volcano that my scanner said was hiding a secret within. I slammed into the side of it, damaging my landing gear and camera systems. I went to leave my ship to repair said systems only to find that my door was hovering above the abyss next to the volcano: my ship hadn't landed fully on the rim. I fell fast and far and soon was still and dead. R.I.P. me.

I've still got quite a bit more exploring to do before I'm anywhere near done with Outer Wilds. I'm sure that all of the above are just a grisly appetizer of what's to come for my poor space-faring fellow.

For more on The Outer Wilds, check out our preview here.

Categories: Games

Codemasters Announces New Entry In The Grid Racing Franchise

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 05/21/2019 - 15:29

Codemasters has announced it is rebooting the Grid racing franchise, with a new title expected on September 13 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC. This is the series' debut on this generation of consoles after starting out as story-based racer TOCA Race Driver in 2002.

The game's reveal trailer (which you can see over at IGN) highlights extensive car damage as well as a nighttime street circuit involving different types of cars/racing disciplines. The Grid franchise has always been about multi-discipline racing involving sponsorships and teammates (check out the review for the last one, Grid Autosport), and the reveal trailer suggests it is continuing on this course.

The race is on. GRID - coming September 2019.

Head over to IGN to watch the announcement trailer now ➡️ https://t.co/KfVAqUs1jj pic.twitter.com/2dGlb9Mstw

— GRID (@gridgame) May 21, 2019

[Source: Codemasters, IGN]

Categories: Games

Outer Wilds Releases At The End Of This Month

Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 05/20/2019 - 20:15
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive Developer: Mobius Digital Rating: Rating Pending Platform: PC

Ever since Annapurna Interactive announced Outer Wilds, an adventure title that charts a middle path between Majora's Mask and No Man's Sky, we have been eagerly awaiting the chance to take the full game for a spin. It seems we'll get out chance sooner than we thought, as Outer Wilds releases in just ten days, May 30, on Xbox One and PC via the Epic Games Store.

The game is about all about exploring a pre-designed galaxy with planets that take different shapes, forms, and environments. As an alien explorer, the protagonist is eager to get off his small backwater rock and explore the galaxy in a spacecraft, but space is as dangerous as it is vast. We have played the game at a number of events over the last year and it always manages to surprise us and pique our curiosity.

You can check out the launch trailer below.

Click here to watch embedded media

Annapurna Interactive is releasing Outer Wilds as a console exclusive on Xbox One and a timed exclusive on the Epic Games Store, though it will eventually filter out to other storefronts. On the Xbox One, it will be a day-one Game Pass title, so subscribers to Microsoft's game download service can start playing it for no extra cost on that first day. 

Hopefully you do not get caught in a time loop between now and May 30.

Categories: Games

Your Marvel Comics Reading List Ahead Of Ultimate Alliance 3

Game Informer News Feed - Mon, 05/20/2019 - 18:00

Publisher: Nintendo Developer: Team Ninja Release: July 19, 2019 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: Switch

For many fans, part of the fun of the previous Marvel Ultimate Alliance games is seeing all the character cameos, in-jokes, and other nods to the expanded Marvel fiction. From what we’ve seen of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, that kind of encyclopedic knowledge of the fiction certainly isn’t necessary to have a good time. But, if you’d like to tap into that part of the experience, your go-to source is a deep dive into the backlog of the many comic stories referenced within the game.

We asked Marvel to help us curate a list that would help you do exactly that. Rather than trying to add in our two cents, we’d like to let Marvel’s team speak for themselves to introduce their suggested reading list.

But before we pass the baton to their prepared written thoughts on the subject, it’s worth sharing that all of the titles below can be tracked down through your local comic shop, often in either single issue or trade paperback format. In addition, you can find any and all of these entries available as digital comics, or you can purchase a subscription to Marvel Unlimited; that app is available on the App Store and Google Play, and opens up access to over 25,000 comics for a regular monthly subscription fee.

Here’s what Marvel Games VP and creative director Bill Rosemann had to share to introduce the reading list. “Just as the huge roster of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order unites characters from across our sprawling universe, the game’s story similarly assembles and remixes awesome scenes, locations, and moments from throughout Marvel’s 80 years of storytelling. Packed with Easter Eggs and character rich dialogue, the swiftly moving story is both accessible to new fans and deeply rewarding for longtime True Believers. But if you want to earn bragging rights by dropping Marvel knowledge on fans and noobs alike, may we humbly suggest you dive into our Recommended Reading List (selected by game writer Marc Sumerak and arranged in suggested devouring order by Yours Truly)? From the mean streets of Hell’s Kitchen to the gleaming spires of Asgard, these classic tales by Marvel’s best creators will make you feel worthy enough to lift Mjolnir itself!“

And here’s the full reading list, as written and summarized by Marc Sumerak:

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, & Paul Pelletier

In the wake of Annihilation, a team of unlikely heroes unites to protect the cosmos.

SPIDER-VERSE
by Dan Slott, Olivier Coipel & Giuseppe Canumcoli

Spider-Men (and Women) from every alternate Earth join forces to save all of reality.

DEFENDERS
by Brian Michael Bendis & David Marquez

To keep the streets of Manhattan safe, Marvel's street-level heroes must band together to become a new force for justice.

DAREDEVIL SHADOWLAND
by Andy Diggle & Billy Tan

When Daredevil turns to the dark side, his fellow heroes must return him to the light.

AVENGERS
by Kurt Busiek & George Perez

The Avengers must shut down their android arch-nemesis, Ultron, and his army of mechanical soldiers.

UNCANNY X-FORCE
by Rick Remender & Jerome Opena

Wolverine assembles an elite team of X-Men willing to do whatever it takes to save mutantkind.

DOCTOR STRANGE
by Donny Cates, Nick Spencer & Rod Reis

A new group of Midnight Sons must rise to stop a literal Hell-on-Earth scenario.

INHUMANS
by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee

Explore the wonders of Attilan with Marvel's most mysterious royal family.

BLACK PANTHER
by Ta-Nehisi Coates & Brian Stelfreeze  

A new age is dawning in Wakanda, and the Panther must find his place in it.

INFINITY GAUNTLET
by Jim Starlin, George Perez, & Ron Lim

 

The legendary battle between Thanos and all of Marvel's mightiest heroes!

AVENGERS ASSEMBLE
by Brian Michael Bendis & Mark Bagley

The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy team up to defeat Thanos once again.

NEW AVENGERS
by Jonathan Hickman & Steve Epting

Marvel's heroes form a secret alliance to prevent the end of all that is.

INFINITY
by Jonathan Hickman, Jim Cheung, Jerome Opena & Dustin Weaver

The mad titan Thanos makes his world-shattering return, in a galactic war that will be fought both on Earth and in deep space, with our heroes caught between both battles!

THE BLACK ORDER
by Derek Landy & Philip Tan

Thanos's own ultimate alliance takes the spotlight in a tale of death and deceit.

For more on Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, check out our dedicated gaming hub by clicking on the banner below for gameplay impressions and video, exclusive character profiles, and more.

Categories: Games

Exclusive Hawkeye Gameplay Details In Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 05/17/2019 - 18:00

Publisher: Nintendo Developer: Team Ninja Release: July 19, 2019 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: Switch

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order looks to have a massive roster of supercharged heroes. We already know about 27 playable heroes, and there are more announcements to come, stretching across the Marvel universe and including characters from The Avengers, X-Men, Spider-verse, and more. As part of our month of coverage, we're highlighting a few of our favorites. Today we take a deeper look at one of Marvel's expert bowman: Hawkeye.

Alias: Clint Barton Comic Debut

Tales of Suspense #57 (Sept. 1964)

Bio

Raised by an abusive father, Clint Barton eventually ran away from home and joined a traveling circus where he learned how to be swordsman and trick bowman. After a short stint as a star carnival attraction, Barton was inspired to fight crime after seeing Iron Man in action. As Hawkeye, Barton eventually join both the East Coast and West Coast branches of The Avengers, and even took a turn leading the team.

Powers

Master archer; peak human conditioning; excellence eyesight; what else do you want?

Game Abilities

Exploding Arrows: Clint shoots several explosive arrows into the air that then rain down on the enemies and deal fire damage. Players can hold the attack button to aim.

Shock Value: Clint fires electric arrows in front of him dealing extra shock damage to characters in a row.

Scattershot: Clint shoots a barrage of explosive arrows at nearby enemies.

Piercing Shot: Clint's arrows pierce enemies in front of him. Players can hold the attack button to aim and hidden the attack area.

Click here to watch embedded media

Playstyle

Hawkeye is all about flexibility in combat. His specialty is ranged combat thanks to his arsenal off arrows. Hawkeye isn’t considered one of the most powerful avengers, but he’s pretty equally skilled in most things. He can hit his targets from across the battlefield, attack enemies in a line, rain down fire from the sky.

Come back throughout the month, because we'll have more exclusive features and character profiles on Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order. Click the banner below to visit our hub. 

Categories: Games

Mojang Unearths A Bit More Info

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 05/17/2019 - 14:01

Publisher: Microsoft Developer: Mojang Release: 2019 Platform: PC

Mojang revealed a new Minecraft spinoff at last year’s Minecon event, then seemingly took it back underground. Minecraft: Dungeons seemed like an interesting idea, with teams of four battling monsters in classic dungeon-crawler style adventures, but since that announcement we’ve heard virtually nothing else about the project. Fortunately, that’s about to change. Mojang is ready to share more information about Minecraft: Dungeons, and we were able to sit down with executive producer David Nisshagen in Mojang’s Stockholm studio and pick his brain for details.

Development on Minecraft: Dungeons began about three years ago, when an internal team of a few developers was working on a small single-player campaign. As it turned out, the team thought they were onto something fun, so they expanded its scope to include up to four players. That doesn’t mean you have to party up when you want to play, however. Solo players can venture out against the evil Arch-Illager and his monsters, and friends can drop in and out – with difficulty adjusting accordingly.
Players aren’t locked into particular combat roles, even though archetypical styles such as mages, rangers, and melee attackers are present. Rather than having innate skills and abilities, players can change their role every time they don a new piece of gear. Put on heavy armor, Nisshagen says, and you’re a tank. Or put on something lighter, and you’re faster and might excel with ranged weapons. “It’s like, do you want that cool thing? Go find it and wear it or wield it,” he says.

Minecraft: Dungeons is focusing on action and adventure, so players aren’t going to be building or mining as they quest. Other elements are drawn from the main series, when appropriate, such as enchanting. Originally, Nisshagen says the team experimented with having players use the system that’s in the base game, but it proved to be unwieldy and complicated for the faster pace they were aiming for. They’ve come up with a compromise that gives players agency over how enchantments fit within their playstyle without grinding things to a halt with excessive menu manipulation.

“Think of it like this: A sword drops. The sword has a couple of different enchantments options,” Nisshagen explains. “You pick one of them and enchant it with that. The next sword drops. It has the same look and feel and combat animations and all of that stuff, but it has different randomized enchantments attached to it. One of them can be super powerful for area of effect attacks. The other could be, I don’t know, poisons enemy over time. Even if it’s the same base item, they have vastly different properties on them.” Players can also purchase weapons and gear with emeralds they pick up from defeated foes. Some items grant defensive abilities for the whole team, too, such as healing auras that protect party members – provided they stay within range of their friends. 

The original trailer showed subterranean dungeons, but Nisshagen says the game takes advantage of the variety Minecraft is known for. “There are some levels or some biomes that are on the surface that are more open and sprawling.” I wasn’t able to completely pin him down on the overall structure of the game, but he said players could go back and explore areas that they’d already visited, and that there’s something similar to a hub world.

Click here to watch embedded media

Levels are procedurally generated, which made me wonder if players would be able to share particularly interesting world-generation seeds with friends, as in Minecraft or The Binding of Isaac. He said that there are some passionate speedrunners on the team, and they recognize the importance of being able to have some kind of even playing field to accommodate that playstyle. He said he couldn’t make any promises, but it’s something they’re considering.

Even without the building, Minecraft: Dungeons manages to capture the silly essence of what makes traditional Minecraft such a joy to explore. In addition to battling familiar monsters like skeletons and spiders, Nisshagen says players will get to see some all-new mobs as well. It didn’t look particularly threatening, but one little guy seems like he’s going to both delight and frustrate players: an adorable little key, who jogs away when he spies the heroes coming. You have to hit him a few times before you can pick him up, which looks like a task that’s going to be easier said than done.

We’ll know just how fast that little guy can run later this year, when Minecraft: Dungeons comes to PC.

Categories: Games

Team Sonic Racing Review - Something Borrowed and Blue

Gamespot News Feed - Fri, 05/17/2019 - 14:00

Team Sonic Racing is a wonderfully varied, fast and frenetic kart racer that, while a little derivative on the surface, successfully carves out its own space with a focus on team racing. Although Sonic, Tails and the gang might not carry the same weight as their mustachioed counterpart in red, and despite a few technical hiccups, Team Sonic Racing stands tall on the podium as a fun and colourful arcade racer that’s easy for anyone to enjoy.

There are numerous types of races to kick things off with, including your standard four-race Grand Prix, Quick Races, Time Trials and both local and online multiplayer. However, most of the characters and circuits are locked behind progress in the game’s Team Adventure mode. Oddly, this mode features a fully-voiced, yet conveniently skippable story that you have to hit a specific button to see (on PS4 you hit Square to play the story at the start of a race or X to skip to the race only) making it very easy to miss entirely. But while the accompanying story is quickly forgettable, the mode itself gets a lot right in terms of variety and structure, which is great, because that's where you'll spend the majority of your hours trying to progress.

In Team Adventure, completing objectives throughout each event will unlock the next event along the overworld path, along with more of the story. But the real focus is obtaining new car customizations, characters to race with, and tracks to race on in single-player mode. Car upgrades are gained by spending credits earned through races on Mod Pods, an unexciting form of loot box that reward you with vinyls to paint your car with, or new parts to change its handling characteristics. The system feels tacked on and arbitrary; a simpler structure of doling out upgrades as rewards post-race would have been more fulfilling.

There are 14 different race variations altogether, and Team Adventure uses a mix of them all, breaking up the eventual monotony of the standard races. There are more hits among these modes than misses, like an excellent car handling challenge where you need to skim star gates on the track while drifting, without hitting them--the closer you get to each gate, the higher your score goes. Another highlight is a mode where your only goal is to take down as many of Dr. Eggman’s Eggpawns on the track before time runs out. But others, like a timed race where the checkpoints move around on the road while you dodge traffic, lack the enjoyable flow present in the stronger circuits due to a stop-start nature. Team Sonic Racing feels its best when it’s moving fast, not when you’re trying to get back up to speed.

There are seven worlds with three tracks each, and they each have their own sense of place and vibrancy. Casino Park is a maelstrom of colors, music, and slot machines, while Seaside Hill shows off circuits by the sea, replete with wildlife like a giant mechanical squid or a massive flipping orca. Many of Team Sonic Racing’s 21 tracks feature branching paths, with some opening up shortcuts or secret areas to discover. Stumbling across these always feels fruitful as they’re often filled with rings to collect, as well as helping you gain a few positions on the track.

Teams are made up of three drivers each, one from each available class: speed, technique, and power. Speed drivers can repel enemy projectiles by timing their boosts to perfection. The Technique class is more handling-focused and drive over different surfaces without experiencing any slowdown, while Power class characters can knock opponents out of the way more easily as well as crash through any structural obstacles without slowing down or being damaged. There is a tangible difference to how each class and character feels in terms of speed and handling, meaning there's an advantage to picking a more favourable class for different individual events, but that’s not to say you can’t get it done with whichever character you like. Overall car handling feels wonderful, and drifting between corners flows like a breeze.

Out on the track, while your overall focus is on your own performance, the added element of team racing gives you a lot more to think about while sliding through corners and dodging rockets. If you spot a teammate stopped on the track, you can skim past them to give them a speed boost and get them back in the race, and you can follow the visible wake from your team’s leading driver to get a slingshot past them. If each member times it right, it’s possible for your team to leapfrog to the front of the pack in convincing fashion, and that feels excellent. Annoyingly, it’s nigh on impossible to practice something like this outside of multiplayer, as the AI aren’t quite up to pulling off this kind of strategy with great reliability.

Special items and boosts--known as Wisps--are laid across the track in various places, giving you an item to help your team or hinder your opponents with. Mechanically, many of these items and boosts bare a strong similarity to what you find in Mario Kart 8. While they achieve their purpose of helping you gap the field or compress the pack all while looking flashy, none of them are as amusing or fun as the Grey Quake, an item that flies out in front of the leader and grows huge rocky spires out of the ground, blocking the track.

There’s also a neat sharing mechanic that lets you request or share spare items with your teammates, and it comes with several cool advantages. Shared items are stronger and can often be used more than once, plus they fill your Team Ultimate meter. When this meter is full, you and your team can each unleash a powerful boost that not only makes you invincible, but also a wrecking ball, pushing anyone and anything out of your path to the front of the field. Timing the activation of the ultimate with your teammates also increases boost power, furthering the importance of keeping in sync. I did notice some consistent graphical stuttering whenever triggering the ultimate, but it only lasts a few frames and doesn’t really disrupt the action that much.

There’s both casual and ranked multiplayer, and while it remains to be seen how busy the ranked servers will be, our testing of the casual matchmaking prior to the game’s release was as smooth as expected. It could be a little snappier between races, but aside from having to be a little patient while the scores tally, it’s everything you can expect from an arcade racer. What is a little disappointing is the game’s performance in couch co-op. While not unplayable by any stretch, the framerate while playing two-player split screen on the PlayStation 4 Pro was surprisingly inconsistent, never feeling as smooth as you’d want, and certainly never matching its reasonable single-player performance.

The essence of Team Sonic Racing is good; its handling feels tight and smooth, drifting has a good flow to it, and the items are fun to use, as are the tracks to race on. It doesn’t bring much new to the genre, but it delivers where it counts. The racing is fast and fun, and the team aspects offer enough of a change to the formula to make Team Sonic Racing the endearing arcade racer it is.

Categories: Games

Exclusive Wolverine Gameplay Details In Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3

Game Informer News Feed - Thu, 05/16/2019 - 18:00

Publisher: Nintendo Developer: Team Ninja Release: July 19, 2019 Rating: Rating Pending Platform: Switch

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order looks to have a massive roster of supercharged heroes. We already know about 27 playable heroes, and there are more announcements to come, stretching across the Marvel universe and including characters from The Avengers, X-Men, Spider-verse, and more. As part of our month of coverage, we're highlighting a few of our favorites. Today we take a deeper look at one of Marvel's biggest heroes: Wolverine.

Alias: James “Logan” Howlett Comic Debut

The Incredible Hulk #180-181 (October 1974)

Bio

Oh boy, this is complicated, but we’ll do our best. Raised in Cold Lake, Alberta, Canada, sometime between 1882 and 1885, Logan was the illegitimate son of a wealthy plantation owner and a grounds-keeper. Logan spent most of his childhood in a sickly state, until his mutant powers activated during puberty. Later, he enlisted in the military and spent years wandering the globe before he was kidnapped by the Weapon X Program, which encased his skeleton with unbreakable Adamantium. Logan eventually breaks free and finds a family in the X-Men.

Powers

Regenerative healing factor; superhuman strength, stamina, and reflexes; heightened senses; retractable claws

Game Abilities

Claw Strike: Wolverine slashes forcefully with both sets of claws, then finishes with one last big slash.

Adamantium Assault: Wolverine jumps and performs a spinning uppercut that draws enemies closer and slices them to pieces.

Berserker Barrage: Wolverine jumps forward while spinning and slashing at anything in his way. Players can hold the attack button to aim this attack.

Primal Rage: Wolverine get angry. His attack power increase for a short time and he glows with rage.

Click here to watch embedded media

Playstyle

Wolverine has a lot of health and durability as well as a natural healing ability that makes him an ideal tank. He loves to mix it up close range, but he also has a few moves that allow him to dart across the battlefield. This knucklehead is great for managing large groups of enemies and giving other players some room to breathe.

Come back throughout the month, because we'll have more exclusive features and character profiles on Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order. Click the banner below to visit our hub. 

Categories: Games

Total War: Three Kingdoms Review - A Dynasty Of Warriors

Gamespot News Feed - Thu, 05/16/2019 - 15:00

You're facing down the scattered remnants of the last, great Han warlords, and your entire adult life so far has been building to this moment. Ever since you first took up arms at the age of eighteen against the corruption bleeding China dry, vengeance has been the one thing driving you forward. People call you the Bandit Queen, spitting the title at your feet in battle before your twin axes cleave their heads from their shoulders. As your forces pursue routed, scarlet-clad warriors, you feel the gaze of one of your lieutenants upon you, pivoting almost too late to meet their steel with your own. However, you're resigned to this by now, and he meets a gurgling end like so many before him who disagreed with your methods. No general suffers any threats to their rule, even when the peasantry starts to mutter about you and the old tyrant, Dong Zhou, in the same breath. There are no saints in Total War: Three Kingdoms, just a castell of death and destruction with its apex pointed squarely at the throne.

The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is essentially the Chinese version of The Iliad in construction. Larger-than-life characters, an at-times heady mix of romance and intrigue, and a hell of a lot of fighting are what define it. However, it's almost entirely unique as a text because of the fact that it is widely treated as a reasonable record of the events of the turbulent period of 169 AD to 280 AD in Chinese history, despite embellishment. The Total War franchise is no stranger to adapting the militaristic trials and tribulations of our world's past, but Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a work that has at times straddled the dual worlds of academia and fantasy.

While the popular Dynasty Warriors games have very successfully depicted the fantasy, it's not been as easy to capture the intricate, personal stories of now-recognisable figures like Cao Cao, or to capture how they played into the wider scheme of the world as we know it. Total War: Three Kingdoms focuses keenly on those key figures and their motivations, using the literature's extensive canon as fodder for your own strategic in-game actions. Thrown into the thick of the battles and diplomacy of 190 AD, you'll need guts, gore, and perseverance to either unite China or to break the chains of oppression that hold its people fast, and Creative Assembly has succeeded in translating the themes from a decades-long, larger-than-life epic into a form that will appeal to both Total War enthusiasts and rookies alike.

For the uninitiated, Total War is a mix of turn-based strategy and real-time battles where you take full control of squadrons of warriors and watch them duke it out against your foes on a picturesque patch of blood-stained grass. When you're not exerting military might on everyone else, entries in the series have historically focused on strategy elements akin to those that you would see in traditional 4X games like Civilzation. You have to balance expanding cities with diplomacy, manage population growth and happiness, and also deal with the very real concerns of keeping enemies off your tail. You do this by managing a series of complex, interconnected systems that influence everything from your inner circle to what a certain township might have to trade in winter. Give a town a governor with a green thumb and see trade flourish, or marry off a dissenter to an enemy and see previous peace treaties wither. As with every strategy title, the consequences of your choices are far-reaching, and Total War is an exercise in choosing wisely.

The first thing that will stand out with Three Kingdoms is how it puts its best foot forward on its production values. Dynamic weather, lighting, and beautiful watercolour environments--ranging from mountains to besieged cottages--paint a striking backdrop for the conflict and bloodshed to follow. Your generals themselves remain rendered larger than life and in great detail, and their idle chatter (fully voiced in Chinese, if you so choose) lend them a lot of personality when you're taking your time deciding on your next move. The UI is also clean and well-designed; Three Kingdoms is a return to the usual gamut of interactive windows providing the minute details and statistics seen in older Total War titles, but information can be pinned and dismissed at will so you aren't fighting a battlefield of clutter.

Detailed mechanics from previous titles return, which means a lot of information for more recent Total War fans to contend with. This is particularly noticeable when wrangling your allies, which is now essentially a full-time job. Managing relationships within your own coterie is no longer as easy as paying them to look the other way, nor are the effects almost instantaneous. It's now a long game of min-maxing retinues, victories, ideal reforms, and placation. While you're picking a general, faction identities are not as set in stone in practice as they may have been in previous titles. Playstyles ranging from expansionist and war-mongering to diplomatic can all be found in the same faction, and this translates nicely to create a dynamic inner circle.

Some of the streamlining done in recent Total War titles has been walked back, potentially to emphasize Three Kingdom's focus on cults of personality in adherence with the source material for the game; your advisors and family members are all fully-fledged characters of their own with personality traits that will conflict, sometimes fatally, with your ethos. Making concerted decisions over a long period of time that are in line with your vassals' beliefs are necessary to keep them keen, lest you cop a challenge and a sword in the back when you least expect it. The threat of defection from your wider allies is always on the horizon too; the factions fighting over China are as fractured as the land itself. Where Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia invited you to ruminate upon keeping your faction cohesive so as to ensure that your reformations would live on, diplomacy and faction politics in Three Kingdoms feel much more like putting pressure on a bleeding wound. Everyone starts at each other's throats, with the major balance of power being in favour of the Han Empire.

Whether you were part of the Yellow Turban rebellion, an independent warlord, or a former seneschal of the Empire, everyone at the time was clamoring for a piece of the pie, and having that reflected in Three Kingdom's mechanics is a nice touch. But you can sometimes feel pigeon-holed into conflict in a way that restricts your agency as a player. War declarations come hard and fast, with AIs as mercurial at decision-making as their portrayals in the source material. Sure, you can suggest marriage or pay a tithe, but taking the peaceful road often shakes out to be incredibly costly in negotiations. By the time you're staring down a line of cavalry encroaching on your territory, you can often feel like you only have one real option: to fight to the death.

Combat in Three Kingdoms' main campaign has two distinct strains depending on which mode you're playing in: Romance, or the more traditional Historical option, which is more reminiscent of how Total War usually operates. While you can delegate combat to a dice roll of AI-generated auto-battling odds, getting bogged down in the minutiae of the battlefield is incredibly thrilling. You'll marshal your forces and pit them against those of your foes' in the pseudo weapons triangle of cavalry, infantry, and assorted others, all in real time. Whether it be a relentless siege against a settlement, meeting the Han empire in open combat, or simply trying to hold it together as someone else knocks on your gates with axe-wielding bandits, Total War's depiction of battlefield conflict is where it has always excelled, and Three Kingdoms is no different.

However, the distinctive, much-trumpeted difference between Three Kingdoms and previous titles is the aforementioned Romance mode. This is where the fantastical merges with the historical in a way that offers you a new way to dominate opponents on the battlefield. In this mode, your generals stand head and shoulders above the rest, capable of single-handedly taking out entire squadrons on their own even as they yell out orders to the men rallying around them. In Romance mode, the strength of said generals grows in epic scale and scope over time, much in line with the fantastical deeds they perform in the source material. Generals also have the option to engage in duels with each other, which provides a spectacular, clash of the titans-style combative satisfaction. Three Kingdoms also lets you take these types of confrontations one step further in the new Battle mode, which lets you reenact famous skirmishes from Chinese history as these storied generals. It's both nicely educational and a refreshing change of pace.

The game's tutorial is decent at helping you parse the essential mechanics from the math soup, but it feels like a large expository information dump as Three Kingdoms attempts to get you up to speed on both the world's ingrained politics and what to do with all these damn menus and buttons. You're given a crash course in everything from how to wage war to how to manage the people under your rule within the first 20 turns, which is mechanically almost a lifetime in-game, but not very long at all for someone who isn't familiar with Total War or the Three Kingdoms story to get properly acclimatised. But to its credit, Three Kingdoms does provide plenty of helpful supplementary material and difficulty adjustments to help rookies learn what they need to know to succeed, given enough time--from instructional videos to the pace in which the game unravels its conflicts on Easy difficulty, as well as the ability to streamline processes like waging war and building prosperous townships (the latter mostly through a one-size fits all approach to reformation). With enough patience, it's easy to be infected with Total War once you finally get your mouth around that first, overly-large bite.

Three Kingdoms feels like a breath of fresh air. By harkening back to the intricacies of older titles and builds on some of the foundations laid by Thrones of Britannia, it offers a distinctly contemporary and thorough experience. This is the most ambitious that Total War has ever been, from the variety of different ways that you can enjoy the game to the sheer scope of the stories that they've weaved around each unique character's playable experience. Three Kingdoms feels like the rightful evolution of the series, pulling from its roots in historical military tactics to come up with an engrossing modern strategy game that is always a delight, even in its less well-oiled moments.

Categories: Games

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