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I had a chance to play some For Honor at an Ubisoft pre-Gamescom event, and capture some sweet 4K resolution footage off their pumped up PCs. This is Dominion mode, first revealed at E3 2015, and is a 4v4 mode that combined Domination with a MOBA. It’s obviously seen some upgrades in a year. For Honor will be available on February 14, 2017, for Xbox One, PS4, and PC.

I’ve had mixed feelings when it has come to the GO series of mobile games from Square Enix. I loved Hitman GO, but was disappointed with Lara Croft GO. So, when it was announced that Deus Ex would be getting similar treatment, I obviously was hoping it would channel the former more than the latter—and it seems my hopes were answered.

Deus Ex GO opens with series protagonist Adam Jensen on a mission for Task Force 29. He must infiltrate an office building under attack by terrorists and save a man named Novak who is being held hostage. Jensen is too late, however, and Novak is executed. But, as is often the case in the world of Deus Ex, there’s more going on than meets the cybernetic eye. As Adam’s detective instincts kick in, he starts asking questions and pulling on loose threads, uncovering a dastardly plot that he must put a stop to.

It’s hard to tell exactly where in the timeline Deus Ex GO lands, but considering Adam is already working for Task Force 29, it has to at least be close to the beginning of Mankind Divided. If so, this serves as a nice way to help flesh out the universe even more, offering another way to bring some light to the lesser characters around Adam and the state of the world in 2029.

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Just like in previous GO games, Deus Ex GO plays out across dozens of levels. In this case, every new location is comprised of a few levels that Adam typically has to infiltrate as he digs deeper into this latest conspiracy. Each one has an overlay of dots on it, and Adam can move to them one at a time like spaces on a board game. Enemies and obstacles move at the same time as our hero, however—and if Adam moves the wrong way into the path of either, he dies and has to restart the level.

What I loved about Deus Ex GO is that, right from the start, it lets you know it’s not pulling any punches. Even putting aside the couple of times you’ll likely die when new enemies or mechanics are introduced (and you learn via some trial and error), Deus Ex GO is challenging, forcing you to re-think strategies often. There were even a few moments where I admit to getting suck and using one of the two “hacks” the game starts you off with, which can be used to automatically solve a level (with more available for purchase via microtransactions). It’s a brilliant brainteaser of an experience, and I enjoyed figuring out how to turn turrets, soldiers, and robots against each other—and to my advantage—as the game went on.

Of course, what’s also so great about Deus Ex GO is that it plays into the themes of the main series well. Stealth and hacking are at the core of Deus Ex, and Adam’s repertoire is built around this. By collecting well-placed charges around levels, Adam can activate powers—more of which he acquires as the game goes on—that assist him in advancing past each stage. From remote hacking terminals that change paths or turn turrets friendly, to making Adam invisible for one movement, or even later on to a gun that removes an enemy from the field, it felt like Square Enix Montreal was able to boil down the core of Deus Ex and put it in this neat little package.

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There’s also a lot of content here considering how long it might take you to figure out some of the puzzles if you don’t use the hacks. There are literally dozens of levels, plus daily bonus stages with rewards if you can beat every bonus stage during a particular week. It’s sad that the map editor didn’t make the launch of Deus Ex GO, but being able to build my own maniacal deathtraps and share them with friends adds way more replayability than previous GO titles, and I can’t wait until that arrives.

Unfortunately, like a poor stealth run in Mankind Divided, Deus Ex GO does trip a few alarms. The most noticeable (from a technical standpoint) is that the game crashes relatively frequently. It seemed around every few stages or so I’d be catapulted out of the game and back to my iPad main screen. I’m sure bugs like this will be smoothed out in the future, but it did become annoying after the third or fourth time it happened.

There’s also the fact that this is the GO series’ third game, and I think it’s time to start upping the presentation a little. The simplicity of a board game worked for Hitman GO, because it felt like Square Enix Montreal went all in with that motif. As they moved away from that in Lara Croft GO and here, and started crafting scenes that look like they belong in their respective character’s worlds, I can’t help but feel they then should go full boar with the presentation if that’s the way they want to go. It was so dull just looking at a static picture of Adam Jensen as single lines of dialogue popped up on a gray screen—give us some cutscenes between stage shifts, record some voiceovers, offer up a motion comic or two, or something.

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Deus Ex GO might not be running perfectly here at launch, and the presentation is a tad lackluster, but the gameplay provides a fun and challenging experience worthy of the franchise. With dozens of stages available at launch, along with weekly challenges, and the post-launch map editor on the way, there’s plenty of content that’ll keep you coming back for more once all the pieces are in place. As is, Deus Ex GO is a solid puzzler that should serve as a nice fix for those Deus Ex fans always on the move.

Publisher: Square Enix • Developer: Square Enix Montreal • ESRB Date: N/A • Release Date: 08.18.16
7.5
Does a great job of channeling the core of the Deus Ex series into a fun and challenging mobile title. Glitches and poor presentation hold the game back, though, at least here at launch.
The Good Puzzles are no pushover, while staying true to the Deus Ex universe.
The Bad A lot of crashing and instability. Presentation needs work.
The Ugly How much I want to see the map builder feature, which isn’t coming until a future update.
Deus Ex GO is available on iOS and Android. Primary version reviewed was for iOS. Review code was provided by Square Enix for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

The original Watch Dogs tried some interesting new ideas for incorporating multiplayer, and at the top of the list might’ve been the ability to invade a friend’s game in order to try and hack them (leading to a cat-and-mouse chase between players). Building on that idea, Ubisoft has unveiled the new Bounty Hunter mode for Watch Dogs 2, which I recently had the chance to try for myself thanks to a pre-Gamescom event at their San Francisco office.

Watch Dogs 2’s Bounty Hunter mode allows players to put a bounty on their own head. Doing so automatically sends the cops after you, but it also allows up to three friends to join your game and team up with the police to hunt you down. However, one of your friends can join your side if they so choose, turning the mode into a 2-vs-2 (with AI police) in addition to the possibilities for a 1-vs-1 or even asymmetrical 2-vs-1 or 3-vs-1 confrontation. If you don’t feel like being hunted, you can also do an online search to see if anyone else is on the lamb in order to join the police hunting them if you want.

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I had a chance to play as both the hunter and the hunted, and on both sides of the coin, it was nice that all my tools from the game’s single-player portion transitioned with me. I could hack cars and steam vents, use my automatic rifles, or even fly drones and place remote mines, just like in the single player, all helping to provide for a variety of options every time I played—making it so each time I tried the mode it never felt the same. Sometimes as the hunter, I would get a lock on the target, steal a car, and simply run them over when they were trying to escape on foot; other times, I would sneak up on them and snipe them from a distance.

Meanwhile, during the times when I was being hunted, my strategies shifted drastically. With my position immediately given to my enemies as soon as they signed in, I just tried to flee as fast as I could at first, hoping to lose my pursuers through back streets or by going off-road with a car. One time I had a friend drive the getaway car as I used my rifle to shoot out the tires of those hot on our tail. Sometimes, crippling would-be captors was more effective than trying to kill them outright.

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At a certain point, though, I got tired of running. On my final shot at the mode, I found high ground and planted mines near locations I thought people would try to come at me from. Unfortunately, most of the mines went to waste, as my enemies took unforeseen angles. Luckily I could remote detonate them though, and I was able to pick off another player who wasn’t close enough to trip the mine, but who was definitely within the blast radius when I set it off.

All told, I spent probably about a half hour with Watch Dogs 2’s Bounty Hunter mode, and got in maybe six matches (victorious in all of them)—which means the mode is also pretty quick. You don’t have to worry about a long time sink, and with the hunters always knowing where the hunted player is, it usually promotes quick and decisive confrontations, perfect if you want to get in and get out with the multiplayer, or really mess with some folks and go on a bounty-collecting spree.

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It’s nice to see Ubisoft continuing to support the multiplayer aspect of Watch Dogs, and this new mode feels like the natural evolution of invading someone else’s game while staying true to the tenants of the original’s gameplay. I can’t wait go collect some more bounties for real now when Watch Dogs 2 drops on November 15.

It’s hard to believe it’s been about nine months already since Just Cause 3 launched, but time flies when you’re blowing up parts of an oppressed nation. Because of the episodic release schedule of the Air, Land, & Sea Expansion for the game, we’ve been causing chaos pretty consistently over that period of time. And now, with the release of the Bavarium Sea Heist DLC—the third and final chapter in that expansion—we can say there’s not much of Medici left for us to decimate at this point. Much like the previous chapters in the expansion, however, Bavarium Sea Heist just doesn’t hold a candle to the main game.

The DLC opens with Rico getting a call from Annika (his mercenary buddy from the main game) as she’s planning on putting together the heist of the century. It seems Stingray, an old eDEN research facility in the middle of the ocean that was trying to harness the power of lightning and mysteriously disappeared into a portal after their last experiment went haywire, had amazingly reappeared. Annika wants some Bavarium devices that were being developed there and calls on Rico, Tom Sheldon (Rico’s American handler), and Looch (Medici resistance member) to help her out, as the Black Hand—the evil mercenary group Rico has dealt with countless times before—has already established a base of operations there. With promises of new weapons and a new boat from Looch, Rico can’t refuse.

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That new boat just so happens to be the Loochador (named after its creator), a vessel loaded up with machine guns and rocket launchers that’s twice as fast as any other ship already existing in the game. Since release, the sea gameplay for Just Cause 3 was always lacking. I’d often forgo all the boats available to me and use helicopters instead to wreak havoc on the oil refineries that I’d need to obliterate in order to liberate certain regions of mainland Medici. The Loochador finally makes splashing around in the waters of Medici tolerable. It’s a boat that can withstand the offense of most any enemy at sea—a necessary given the DLC adds five new watery outposts along with the Stingray base. And, since you can take it back with you into the main game, I’m sure the Loochador will be a great tool in finally getting all the gears in those pesky water challenges and boat races.

Unfortunately, the Loochador doesn’t solve every problem. It’s still difficult to aim and control the ship, especially in the middle of a firefight with other vehicles or soldiers stationed on the platforms you need to destroy. Bouncing up and down on the waves is not conducive for battles. The worst of it all, however, is that when you’re stuck inside the Loochador, trying to cover the ridiculously huge distances between objectives as quickly as possible, you’re taking me away from one of the best parts of Just Cause: traversing with Rico’s grappling hook and parachute. Just like the other DLCs leading up to this, you’ll spent the majority of your time within the new super vehicle. That’s fun for a little while, but gets tedious rather quickly—which is saying something considering the DLC as a whole should only take two or three hours to beat.

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There’s also the new “eDEN Spark” lightning gun that you get at the very end of the DLC. It’s basically a Gears of War Hammer of Dawn rip-off, but with the much clearer sightlines of Just Cause 3, it’s a more viable weapon when trying to eliminate enemies from a distance—even if it does wreck the balance of the main game.

The best thing that Bavarium Sea Heist does do is it adds 18 new audio logs for Rico to discover. These audio logs fill in the backstory for not only this DLC, but the entire expansion pack, detailing the rise and fall of eDEN and fleshing out some of the characters in much the same way Di Ravello’s audio logs did in the main game. Just Cause 3 may never be known for its story, but it’s nice when a little effort is made to round out and give more depth to the characters in this insane, over-the-top universe.

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Bavarium Sea Heist looks to bring our time in Medici to an end, but does so not on the best of notes. When compared to the main game, it ran into the same problem as all the other DLC in that it weakened what were some of the game’s strengths. At the very least, though, this one makes my time in the water a bit more palatable.

Developer: Avalanche Studios • Publisher: Square Enix • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 08.18.16
5.5
Bavarium Sea Heist runs into a lot of the same problems as the previous DLC packs for Just Cause 3. It confines you to the new super vehicle you acquire, nullifying Rico’s grappling hook and parachute, and is already over by the time you start getting warmed up. At least here there’s a little more story than before, but it’s not enough when comparing this to the main game.
The Good The most fleshed-out DLC in the expansion pack in terms of narrative.
The Bad Just Cause 3’s water combat is one of the weakest aspects of its gameplay, and it only gets slightly better with a tricked-out boat.
The Ugly All that bouncing up and down on the waves made me seasick.
Just Cause 3: Bavarium Sea Heist is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Square Enix for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

It’s been a great summer for smaller titles and indie games. Right before the deluge of AAA games kicks off the impending fall rush, though, Sony was able to squeeze in one more heart-wrenching tale for us to play in Bound. What this game lacks in length, it more than makes up for in how long you’ll be talking about it after you’re done.

A large part of what makes Bound so interesting is its story. Players take on the role of a small girl who uses dancing to traverse and overcome the obstacles of a colorful world. I’d love to go into more detail about the narrative itself, but developers Plastic Studios and Sony Santa Monica specifically requested we don’t talk about the story so that my personal thoughts on the game’s overarching themes and metaphors presented here don’t potentially affect someone who hasn’t played just yet. Just know that it is a tale meant to be open to interpretation, with deep dramatic tones that should strike a chord with anyone with even a hint of empathy in their being.

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Part of what makes the story’s impact so meaningful is the game’s visuals, as Bound tells its tale in a minimalistic approach. The world itself is made up of simple shapes that move and vibrate to the dancing girl’s beat as she spins by, her ribbons twirling around her along the way. Few words of dialogue are ever spoken, with the game just shifting from its standard third-person platforming view to first-person when appropriate for certain scenes.

Because of the lack of spoken words, music also plays an integral role in setting the tone of each of the game’s few levels. You wouldn’t be much of a dancer if you didn’t have any music to dance to, and I could listen to the melody that plays at the end of each level—where the girl skates along what looks like a yellow brick road of sorts, possibly signifying her victory over previous trials—all day long if you’d let me. It expertly helps accent each and every scene in the best ways possible.

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For as moving as Bound’s story is, and as beautiful as the world is, the game stumbles in the gameplay department. Although a platformer at its core, there is no challenge at all to be found here. Occasionally you’ll need to time your jumps, or there may even be a fall-away platform or two, but for nearly the entirety of the game, the jumps are simple and really meant for nothing more than to give the dancer another maneuver to perform as she glides through the world. Even the game’s few hazards, like fire or vines, are never really a threat, shrugged off by the shield that the girl’s rhythmic gymnastic ribbons create as she pirouettes, serving up more symbolism than danger.

There’s also that lack of length I previously mentioned, with my first playthrough clocking in at just over 90 minutes. There are only a handful of levels, and while the length works for the story the game wants to tell, there’s very little to bring you back once you see the ending. A speedrun mode unlocks when you do complete it that first time, and there are shortcuts that allow you to cut each level down to only a few minutes each if you can find them. In the end, the lack of challenge presented by the pedestrian platforming means you’ll really have to fall in love with this tiny dancer to keep coming back to this sad tale again and again.

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Bound is a wonderfully-told story that uses heavy metaphor, minimalistic visuals, and a unique movement system to get its point across. Unfortunately, the gameplay lacks any sort of complexity, and while that is clearly a choice by the developer, it also leaves the experience as a whole wanting. It feels like the story of Bound could’ve been told through any other medium and been just as impactful and effective, but that the writers behind it chose a game as their vessel instead. If you’re looking for something dramatic, visually stunning, and a bit on the simple side, Bound is a fine pickup. If you’re looking for more game in your gameplay, however, then this one will likely disappoint.

Developer: Plastic Studios, Sony Santa Monica • Publisher: SCEA, Sony Interactive Entertainment • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and older • Release Date: 08.16.16
7.0
A powerful, poignant story that utilizes a brilliantly crafted world and movement mechanic to help get its symbolism across. Its short length and lack of gameplay depth hold the experience as a whole back, however.
The Good A sad story told beautifully through the design of the world, the music, and most importantly, the movement of the character.
The Bad The gameplay isn’t nearly as deep as the story.
The Ugly All the ribbon dancing kept making me want to hum the Olympics theme song.
Bound is a PS4 exclusive. Review code was provided by Sony for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

When you think of PC gaming, shooters and RPGs may be some of the first genres that come to mind. For me, though, PC gaming has almost always centered on real-time strategy games. Most of my gaming experiences growing up were on console, but releases like Age of Empires and Command & Conquer gave me my first taste of what it meant to play on a PC. Thanks to that, I’ve always had an appreciation for the genre, even as it’s taken a backseat to more fast-paced and narrative-driven experiences in recent years.

This is why I was particularly intrigued when Kalypso recently announced that they were bringing back the Sudden Strike series with Sudden Strike 4, the franchise’s first full entry in nearly a decade. I recently got to go hands-on with this newest chapter, and I can attest that Sudden Strike 4 maintains all the best elements from previous entries while pushing the series steadily forward (like the Allies across the Western Front).

For those unfamiliar with its legacy, Sudden Strike has always been about reliving the greatest battles of World War II. Unlike traditional RTS games, Sudden Strike focuses on tactics, leaving behind the bother of resource collecting and unit building. Instead, it gives you a pre-determined force that likely would’ve taken part in World War II, occasionally providing reinforcements when appropriate and pushing your strategic acumen to its limits.

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Just like in previous entries, Sudden Strike 4 is broken down into three campaigns spread across 20 chapters, as you follow along with the Allies (United States/Great Britain), the Germans, and the Russians. What differentiates the campaign here from previous installments is the addition of a new feature allowing players to choose a commander. Every faction has three unique commanders, each providing stat boosts and special abilities depending on who you choose. For example, the Allies have Omar Bradley, George Patton, and Bernard Montgomery; Patton and Bradley give certain benefits to tank units, while Montgomery favors foot soldier boosts.

Another new addition is a star system based on points. The better you do in a mission, the more stars you’ll earn. Stars unlock greater abilities and boosts for each of your commanders, allowing you to start missions with an advantage and making it so you can mix up your strategies on mission replays.

In our demo, we played from the perspective of the Allies in the Battle of the Bulge, the iconic 1944 German offensive on the Western Front in the latter stages of World War II that is directly attributed to lengthening the war by several months. We also played the Battle of Stalingrad, another German offensive, this time playing as the Germans as they pushed towards the Volga River in 1942.

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If you’re not intimately familiar with these battles, a lot of the scenarios that Sudden Strike 4 throws at you can be something of a shock. Covering the retreat of heavy artillery, holding ground against wave after wave of enemy tanks, minefields on city streets, and more were on display in the two missions shown to us. Surprise objectives like rescuing soldiers trapped in a factory, or forces occupying nearby buildings for ambush pinch attacks also forced me to adjust tactics often and quickly on the fly. Without the potentially unlimited resources seen in other RTS games, though, this meant that a wrong choice would often lead to defeat—or, worse yet, an impasse with the units you may have been left with.

Although frustrating at times, Sudden Strike 4’s limitations also give a truer sense of war that you often don’t find in games anymore—nevermind the RTS genre. You could always restart, but with each mission lasting upwards of an hour, there is also a heavy sense of commitment with every move you take on the field. It caused me to think and re-think every maneuver several times, and even then I ended up with a skeleton force at best surviving each encounter.

In this sense, if you’re looking for a true test of your strategic ability, it appears Sudden Strike 4 is ready to deliver. With detailed environments and accurate representations of World War II’s greatest conflicts, Sudden Strike 4 is a welcome addition to a genre that needs a shot in the arm. The only other question I have with the game is if it can transition to console. Real-Time Strategy titles have a history of faltering when they move away from PC, and the fact that the game is being made for both PC—where our demo took place—and PS4 has me concerned. It’ll be interesting to see if it can roll to victory on both platforms in Spring 2017.

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With the final piece of Just Cause 3‘s three-part DLC expansion, Bavarium Sea Heist, on its way, we took the opportunity to chat with Marcus Andrews, the lead designer on the entire Air, Land, & Sea Pack. We discussed with Marcus what challenges the water theme brought to the dev team, what that meant for Rico Rodriguez, and what new weapons and vehicles he’ll get to use and how they will affect the world of Medici.

EGM: Just Cause 3‘s previous DLCs seem to have been building to this final add-on. What can you tell us about the story of the Bavarium Sea Heist?

Marcus Andrews: While the packs can be enjoyed stand alone, it’s true that the overarching narrative reaches its conclusion in the Sea pack. We even felt we had more to say about eDEN and The Black Hand than would fit in the mission narrative so we included audio logs in this pack. I really recommend finding and listening to them. They conclude the narrative and will hopefully give rise to some theory crafting.

The story revolves around the last of the eDEN stations, “The Stingray” and how the character Annika has a plan to cheat The Black Hand on some valuable tech in a daring heist. Rico is not hard to persuade when he realizes he will get the prototype weapon “eDEN Spark” as a reward for his contribution.

EGM: Will most of the DLC take place in the water? If so, could this be a hindrance to Rico’s grappling hook/wingsuit/movement abilities? 

MA: Water in videogames is notoriously unforgiving. It often sounds great at first when you throw around ideas for water gameplay, but bread and butter stuff like what Rico can do, how enemies move, what you can interact with, and all the explosions and stuff become problematic if you don’t have solid ground. All that led us to take an approach with a combination of sea combat and normal combat in a sea setting. I think the new outposts are a great example of water gameplay in Just Cause. You have a powerful and agile boat to do lots of the heavy lifting, but you get out of it and do some complimentary work on foot/wingsuit/parachute/hanging upside down from your companion drone or what have you. We didn’t want to disqualify that type of gameplay just because this was the “Sea” theme.

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EGM: What went into crafting a DLC primarily around the water region of Medici? How difficult was it?

MA: There were a lot of novel challenges to overcome, that’s for sure. One particular headache is that water is flat. If you think about Medici, it has very varied topography with mountains and valleys. Even small hills and buildings will obscure the horizon and hide objects behind them. On the sea there’s none of that; you see everything from everywhere. Part of the reason why the new boat is so insanely fast is because the drive from point A to B on a flat sea becomes quite boring. This is also part of the reason we increased the size of the waves during the driving sections of the mission, to basically create something resembling a landscape.

EGM: What new gameplay will the Sea Heist introduce? New vehicles? Weapons? Gear challenges? 

MA: The pack includes two new missions, 18 audio logs, the Stingray base, five new outposts, and the eDEN Spark, an insane new weapon that brings down a lightning beam from the sky that follows your crosshair around. There’s also the Loochador, the fastest, by far, boat in the game capable of going over a hundred knots for extended periods of time. It’s also equipped with machineguns and homing missiles that target all vehicles and chaos objects. And finally, there’s the new Boat Invaders challenge, which allows you to hone your skills with the eDEN Spark and mod it with gears.

I think this adds primarily two new experiences to the game. The fact that you can be really competent with the boat and defeat air, land, and sea enemies without leaving it is fresh. The eDEN Spark is the obvious new thing though. A giant death beam from the sky!

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EGM: Did the team ever consider going underwater with Sea Heist? Like with submarines or other submersibles?

MA: During the concept phase everything was on the table in one way or another, but we decided against underwater for the reasons I brought up earlier. If we ever go underwater, this wasn’t the time or place for it.

EGM: Was there anything that you wanted to include in the DLC but couldn’t fit in?

MA: It’s the nature of making games that you want all the cool things, and each thing will be mind-blowingly awesome. What separates a good team from a bad is the ability to adapt the scope to the realities and pick the right focus.

EGM: The other DLC packs allowed you to bring vehicles and weapons over to the main game. Does Sea Heist do the same? Were there any balancing issues that came up trying to make sure everything could fit properly into Medici? 

MA: Yes, all the things you get in Sea Heist will be useable all over Medici. We decided that the DLC vehicles and equipment would be allowed to be very powerful but HEAT is a very good mechanic in this regard because even if a vehicle is very powerful, you rack up 5-star HEAT and you will eventually be outmanned regardless.

We thought a lot about how the new toys would integrate with Medici, but balancing power was only a part of it. Making sure that main missions didn’t break and that the main game content reacted properly to them was also part of that.

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With the release of Gears of War 4 right around the corner, I had a chance to talk with Chuck Osieja, creative director at The Coalition, to get a little more insight into this newest chapter in the franchise.

EGM: Did you ever entertain the thought of having Gears of War 4 pick up more closely after the end of Gears of War 3?

Chuck Osieja: Sure. We explored a wide range of ideas of where in the timeline we wanted to set the game. The Gears of War universe has such a rich history, and such a great cast of characters with interesting personalities, that we were really unlimited to where we could go with a new story. The question really became “how do we create something new and interesting that still feels grounded in the Gears universe and is familiar to fans of the franchise?”

After a lot of discussion, we all got really excited by the concept of exploring what Sera would be like after 25 years of peace. What does the world look like now? How does it recover from years of war and destruction? How does it rebuild when most of the population has been wiped out? What does a new generation of characters look like, and how do they deal with a new deadly threat when they’ve never faced conflict in their lifetime?  Telling the story of JD Fenix and his relationship with his father Marcus is one of the central narrative themes of Gears 4, and to be able to explore that and take this franchise in a new direction was something we found very intriguing and inspiring.

EGM: Can you tell us about The Swarm?

Osieja: Fans are going to love the Swarm. They are a brand new enemy in the Gears of War world and they bring a whole new feeling to the combat. The variety in the Swarm is like nothing players have seen in Gears before. They come in a wide variety of styles, and each brings a unique threat to each combat encounter.

There will naturally be some comparison between the Locust and Swarm—this occurs mainly in the “mirror” enemies, though. These are enemies that act like the player, or mirror their abilities. This makes up the foundational layer of enemies in a cover-based combat experience. Then you start to branch off into more unique units and abilities. This is where the similarities between the two ends, and the Swarm become very unique and distinctive.

The way they act, strategize, and fight in encounters adds a whole new dimension to the game. A big emphasis for some of the Swarm was to design enemy characters that really leverage cooperative gameplay. Gears has always been at its best when you play with someone else, and we wanted to really emphasize teamwork between players when fighting the Swarm.

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EGM: Will wind flares be a recurring obstacle for JD and his crew, as opposed to Razorhail or the Kryll, which were limited to small sections of their respective games? How else might weather affect gameplay?

Osieja: Wind flares can impact game play throughout the Campaign. Rod has always talked about how Gears turns everything to “eleven.” We don’t have bats, we have murderous Kryll; we don’t have hail, we have Razorhail. So, when it came to designing something like the wind flares, we knew we needed to really turn up the intensity, and create something worthy of the Gears franchise. Wind flares are a system in the game, not a scripted event, so they can happen anywhere–and at varying intensity–so you really have to pay attention to the environment as well as the encounters.

Wind flares are almost like a “tidal wave” of wind that crashes onto the battlefield, affecting everything in its path. It can impact character movement, and it can actually lift cover out of the encounter, or send new cover crashing onto the battlefield. Clever players can dislodge loose cover with their bullets, causing the wind to send obstacles hurtling into—and crushing—entrenched enemies. The intensity of the wind does effect some of your weapons, with the air currents changing the flight path of grenades, Boomshots, Buzzkills, and Dropshots, so a little extra precision is needed when using them in a full force gale.

When a Wind flare peaks, it unleashes the “Storm wall” which contains lightning flurries. Think a forest of lightning, which pack a powerhouse of electricity as they touch down, and then wander aimlessly across the battlefield crackling with intensity. Lightning flurries are unpredictable, and can easily take out unsuspecting enemies—or you—if you aren’t careful.

EGM: Are there any major differences between playing the campaign co-op versus solo? Are there branching paths like in previous games?

Osieja: Cooperative play has always been a focus of Gears of War, and it is again in Gears 4. Like previous Gears games, there are branching paths throughout the campaign. The player will be able to select which route they want to take. The paths are designed to create different experiences based on the choice of path, but they are all designed to be cooperative. This means that, even though you will have your own unique encounters, you’ll also need to work with the players on the other path—sometimes providing support or executing specific tasks—to successfully complete the branch.

Siege Beast

EGM: What has the addition of the combat knife and new close-quarters combat kills done for the flow of gameplay?

Osieja: Introducing Close Cover Combat moves to Gears of War 4 has introduced a new layer of strategic play and unpredictability. It encourages players to stay mobile, making for faster and more spirited play, as well as changing the dynamic when players find themselves on the opposite side of the same piece of cover. Close Cover Combat maneuvers can be used to counteract anyone who relies too much on cover, by vaulting over cover, or yanking an enemy to your side of cover, stunning them, and opening them up to a combat knife execution.

One of the crucial aspects of the Close Cover Combat was making sure it was a fair mechanic in Multiplayer matches. When you execute a Close Cover Combat move, there is a brief moment where the intended victim is prompted to “counter” the move, completely turning the tables on the attacker and opening them up for a combat knife execution. As you take on the harder difficulty levels in Campaign, Horde, and Versus modes, you’ll see the AI attempting Close Cover Combat moves as well.

EGM: What can you tell us about Gears 4‘s Horde mode?

Osieja: Horde is one of the modes I’m most excited about. Gears of War invented Horde game play, and now we’re taking it to a whole new level in Gears 4. The new Horde 3.0 is really about empowering players to choose the way they want to play and discovering emergent strategies over the course of a session. By putting choice in the player’s hands, you can now completely choose how you want to build, and how you want to solve the problem of each of the 50 waves of enemies. We are unshackling the player to allow them to approach the waves however they want. Horde 3.0 is the ultimate team experience, and players who coordinate and work together will be the most successful. I’m really excited to watch the videos of how players conquer Horde, because the way you can set up your defenses and outfit your character is nearly limitless.

Execution

EGM: Can you tell us more about the bounty-card system being introduced to multiplayer? How do you expect it will affect how people will play?

Osieja: In competitive play, Gear Cards will have no effect on gameplay balance, as they offer cosmetic items such as weapon and character skins. Bounty cards allow players to set a personal challenge in the match based around a specific task. Successfully completing the Bounty in game gives the player the XP reward that is listed on the card. Don’t worry though, you only consume the card when you successfully complete the bounty.

Bounty cards come in a wide variety of types, and can be specific to a particular character, completing a number or specific type of kill, or it can be based on particular game mode. Bounty cards come in a variety of rarities as well, with the more rare cards giving a larger XP bonus when you complete them—which in turn enables you to level your character that much quicker.

EGM: Gears has always had a strong competitive community. What measures are you taking to help support Gears 4’s eSports potential?

Osieja: Earlier this month, we announced the Gears Pro Circuit for Gears of War 4, in partnership with MLG and Gfinity, with a starting $1,000,000 in cash prizes. Amplifying the success we had with Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, the Gears of War 4 Pro Circuit will invite players from around the world to earn Gears Pro Points to qualify for the international open events, and we’re keen to kick things off this November in Columbus, OH.

In terms of development around Gears of War 4, we’re focused on building Gears of War 4 Versus Multiplayer from the ground up with eSports as a foundation, with modes like Escalation and specific maps that are designed with competitive play in mind.

We’re also adding features to make broadcasting of matches more interesting and dynamic, with two dedicated spectator slots. There are new overlays for spectating that give a more in-depth view of the action, including what weapons all players are using at any moment during a match. There are also a variety of camera positions that can be quickly switched to, while spectating, to see elevated views of the battles and watch strategies play out from a new perspective.

We look forward to sharing even more details and announcements about Gears of War 4 eSports in the coming months!

Kait Knife Battle

Where’s your head at?

There was a period when the metroidvania was a forgotten category of game, with few developers wanting to take on projects in the vein of two of gaming’s more classic franchises. But times have changed, and with the rise of indies and small teams following through on big ideas, the genre has seen a resurgence in recent years—to the point where we’re getting multiple games in the category a month. So, I was tasked with looking at my second metroidvania of July in as many weeks when a game called Headlander rolled into my office. The genre doesn’t get old for me, though, especially when the game is done well—and Headlander is proof of a metroidvania done well.

HeadlanderGreenBody1160

In a far off future, humanity as we know it is extinct. In a bid to live forever, people have transferred their personalities into robots, and anytime something happens to their metallic body, their personality is simply shifted to another bot. But Methuselah, the computer program tasked with maintaining this process, has taken things a step further. Methuselah suppresses people’s personalities with special chips, making humanity trapped in a prison of its own design. So, what happens when a lone human head, still feeling and made of flesh, wakes up in a self-sustaining thruster-propelled space helmet? It becomes the Headlander, and must find out why humanity fell so far while trying to fix this haywire program once and for all.

Developed by Double Fine, Headlander carries all the trademark humor and insanity their games are known for. Starting with the visual design, I imagine Headlander is what would happen if Tim Burton decided to make a retro-futuristic film in the 1970s. Neon lights, groovy dancing robots, and twisted security bots with laser beams called “Shepherds” flood many of the rooms you’ll explore on your outer space journey. Even the sideburns on the Headlander—unless you choose the female head—made me flash back several times to Logan’s Run.

FloatingHead1160

The real joy in Headlander comes from its gameplay. Set up as a side-scrolling shooter, the Headlander’s greatest ability is that he can use a small suction device on his helmet to remove the head of any given robot and screw himself onto the remaining body to move through the world. Citizen robots have access to general areas, but removing the heads of a rainbow-assortment of Shepherd security bots (thus taking them over) provides offense with their respective laser cannons, along with access to different parts of the world depending on their color. Red robots can only access red rooms, but purple robots can access all rooms because of where they sit on the color spectrum. You can also detach your head at any given moment to access air ducts or hidden passageways, sometimes finding power-ups, other times finding recordings that fill in holes of the story, and the Headlander’s missing memory.

Finding the right robot body to advance past the world’s various traps, puzzles, and locked doors plays right into the best parts of most metroidvanias: the exploration. Backtracking with new robots or the Headlander’s floating dome (after some upgrades) to get new power-ups or complete the game’s handful of side quests allows you to both become familiar with the game’s world, and bolster that sense of accomplishment when you clear an area of every secret. One of my favorite moments came when a side quest had me take over the body of a robot dog, having to work my way back to its owner without any of the special abilities that come from humanoid robot bodies. Moments like those highlight some of the Double Fine humor we’ve come to expect, and some of the interesting challenges the game posed on a regular basis.

DogBody1160

Of course, as fun as exploring the world in Headlander is, and how ingenious a lot of the puzzles are, it does become a bit stale after a while. Part of this, I think, is because even though the Headlander has a massive upgrades tree with four separate paths that you can max out by game’s end, you’ll rarely find yourself ever needing to do more than the mechanic given to you at the beginning of the game—popping robot heads off bodies and putting your own in their place. Some upgrades for the Headlander’s helmet do come in handy later—and are even required to collect all the items in the game—but when it comes to combat, really all you ever need is to just jump onto a Shepherd’s body and start blasting away with its laser. And, considering you won’t die if the robot body dies, evading laser fire via cover or rolling (I’d say jumping, too, but oddly enough you can’t do that in the game) you can just snatch another body and continue to mow down Methuselah’s mindless minions.

Headlander is a prime example of the greatness that can come from metroidvanias done right. It’s zany setting, retro-futuristic design, and tight gameplay come together in a nice package that should please all fans of the genre. It might lack the replayability of some games after you one-hundred percent it, and the gameplay can get a tad tiresome when you start approaching the endgame about six to eight hours in, but Headlander is a great summer pick-up if you love exploration or old-school side-scrolling shooters. Just don’t lose your head over it.

LeavingBody1160

Developer: Double Fine Productions • Publisher: Adult Swim Games • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 07.26.16
9.0
Headlander is a great metroidvania whose retro-future style, humorous story, and tremendous exploration come together in one of the summer’s most complete experiences.
The Good Clever puzzles, tons of exploration, and a retro-future world that is nothing short of groovy.
The Bad Lots of powers, but not much need for them.
The Ugly The Headlander’s sideburns don’t belong in any decade.
Headlander is available on PS4 and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Adult Swim Games for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Where’s your head at?

There was a period when the metroidvania was a forgotten category of game, with few developers wanting to take on projects in the vein of two of gaming’s more classic franchises. But times have changed, and with the rise of indies and small teams following through on big ideas, the genre has seen a resurgence in recent years—to the point where we’re getting multiple games in the category a month. So, I was tasked with looking at my second metroidvania of July in as many weeks when a game called Headlander rolled into my office. The genre doesn’t get old for me, though, especially when the game is done well—and Headlander is proof of a metroidvania done well.

HeadlanderGreenBody1160

In a far off future, humanity as we know it is extinct. In a bid to live forever, people have transferred their personalities into robots, and anytime something happens to their metallic body, their personality is simply shifted to another bot. But Methuselah, the computer program tasked with maintaining this process, has taken things a step further. Methuselah suppresses people’s personalities with special chips, making humanity trapped in a prison of its own design. So, what happens when a lone human head, still feeling and made of flesh, wakes up in a self-sustaining thruster-propelled space helmet? It becomes the Headlander, and must find out why humanity fell so far while trying to fix this haywire program once and for all.

Developed by Double Fine, Headlander carries all the trademark humor and insanity their games are known for. Starting with the visual design, I imagine Headlander is what would happen if Tim Burton decided to make a retro-futuristic film in the 1970s. Neon lights, groovy dancing robots, and twisted security bots with laser beams called “Shepherds” flood many of the rooms you’ll explore on your outer space journey. Even the sideburns on the Headlander—unless you choose the female head—made me flash back several times to Logan’s Run.

FloatingHead1160

The real joy in Headlander comes from its gameplay. Set up as a side-scrolling shooter, the Headlander’s greatest ability is that he can use a small suction device on his helmet to remove the head of any given robot and screw himself onto the remaining body to move through the world. Citizen robots have access to general areas, but removing the heads of a rainbow-assortment of Shepherd security bots (thus taking them over) provides offense with their respective laser cannons, along with access to different parts of the world depending on their color. Red robots can only access red rooms, but purple robots can access all rooms because of where they sit on the color spectrum. You can also detach your head at any given moment to access air ducts or hidden passageways, sometimes finding power-ups, other times finding recordings that fill in holes of the story, and the Headlander’s missing memory.

Finding the right robot body to advance past the world’s various traps, puzzles, and locked doors plays right into the best parts of most metroidvanias: the exploration. Backtracking with new robots or the Headlander’s floating dome (after some upgrades) to get new power-ups or complete the game’s handful of side quests allows you to both become familiar with the game’s world, and bolster that sense of accomplishment when you clear an area of every secret. One of my favorite moments came when a side quest had me take over the body of a robot dog, having to work my way back to its owner without any of the special abilities that come from humanoid robot bodies. Moments like those highlight some of the Double Fine humor we’ve come to expect, and some of the interesting challenges the game posed on a regular basis.

DogBody1160

Of course, as fun as exploring the world in Headlander is, and how ingenious a lot of the puzzles are, it does become a bit stale after a while. Part of this, I think, is because even though the Headlander has a massive upgrades tree with four separate paths that you can max out by game’s end, you’ll rarely find yourself ever needing to do more than the mechanic given to you at the beginning of the game—popping robot heads off bodies and putting your own in their place. Some upgrades for the Headlander’s helmet do come in handy later—and are even required to collect all the items in the game—but when it comes to combat, really all you ever need is to just jump onto a Shepherd’s body and start blasting away with its laser. And, considering you won’t die if the robot body dies, evading laser fire via cover or rolling (I’d say jumping, too, but oddly enough you can’t do that in the game) you can just snatch another body and continue to mow down Methuselah’s mindless minions.

Headlander is a prime example of the greatness that can come from metroidvanias done right. It’s zany setting, retro-futuristic design, and tight gameplay come together in a nice package that should please all fans of the genre. It might lack the replayability of some games after you one-hundred percent it, and the gameplay can get a tad tiresome when you start approaching the endgame about six to eight hours in, but Headlander is a great summer pick-up if you love exploration or old-school side-scrolling shooters. Just don’t lose your head over it.

LeavingBody1160

Developer: Double Fine Productions • Publisher: Adult Swim Games • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 07.26.16
9.0
Headlander is a great metroidvania whose retro-future style, humorous story, and tremendous exploration come together in one of the summer’s most complete experiences.
The Good Clever puzzles, tons of exploration, and a retro-future world that is nothing short of groovy.
The Bad Lots of powers, but not much need for them.
The Ugly The Headlander’s sideburns don’t belong in any decade.
Headlander is available on PS4 and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Adult Swim Games for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.
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