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I spoke with CGTN America about the trends at E3 2017.

I speak with CGTN America as E3 2017 kicks off.

I talk about how DLC has changed the nature of buying games in a modern world for this news piece.

The WWE 2K series has been trending in the wrong direction in recent years. Visual Concepts and Yuke’s have tried adding new features to the franchise to help enhance its simulation feel, but often there has been an overall lack of polish that has held them back, or just a general disinterest in how these ideas were being presented. So, the development team turned to their audience and asked for help. Thousands of posts came in with suggestions—some more helpful than others—on what future iterations of WWE 2K needed, and it appears, at least at this early point, 2K listened. I had an opportunity last week to go and visit 2K’s headquarters up in Novato, California, and sit in on a presentation from WWE 2K executive producer Mark Little on what he and his team were bringing to WWE 2K18 this year to put the series back on track.

One of the most important things Mark said right off the bat was that they are finally abandoning last-gen consoles. Working on the Xbox 360 and PS3 was holding the team back as they were concentrating on virtually two different games at the same time. Now, being able to focus on just Xbox One and PS4, the team really honed in on their presentation. Visually, their graphics engine has been completely re-written. Mark showed a short comparison video of Randy Orton’s entrance between this year and last year, and I can attest there is already a marked improvement. New lighting, and how it reacts with different materials, already gave everything a more realistic look compared to years past, trying to emulate the visual product seen over on the NBA 2K side of things. Unfortunately, the team working on WWE 2K wasn’t quite ready to show much more of the game yet beyond this, and definitely wasn’t ready to let us go hands-on. But there were other promises made that at least has me hopeful for when it does come time to step back into the squared circle.

Continuing with presentation, there is new commentary. I nearly did a backflip when Mark said that a suite of dialogue from Michael Cole, now alongside Byron Saxton and Corey Graves, was being recorded as we spoke. There were also efforts being made to try to get all the men in the same room together so that they don’t repeat last year’s effect of it sounding like JBL was off in the distance somewhere. Jojo was also confirmed to be the new ring announcer for WWE 2K18 and new crowd chants are also being added to the game.

In terms of customization, there are more base models in create-a-wrestler and better logo mapping. Create-a-video was also highlighted, as now when you want to cut your match highlight to use in your entrance video, you can use a free camera to change angles in the post-production process. Custom creations are getting improved search functionality online, and a new “create-a-match” feature is also being added where you can save stipulations on your favorite matches for easy access in local versus or Universe mode.

Gameplay was also talked about in a variety of ways. New 8-man (and woman) ladder and tag matches are being added, while the backstage areas from last year’s game are now three times larger, with more interactivity and different objects. You can now even do one-on-one backstage brawls against friends online. There’s also a new carry and drag system being implemented, so you’re not just always grabbing someone by the back of the neck when you want to steer them towards a big spot. If strong enough, you can carry someone in a variety of positions now, even holding them in a powerbomb position on top of your shoulders before walking them over to a turnbuckle for example.

In terms of game modes, a new mode called Road to Glory was announced, but no details on that were given. Returning options like Universe mode will see some tweaks, with stories now being able to carry across and past pay-per-views before concluding at a natural point, rather than just at the end of a big show. Plus, Career mode is also being revamped to offer a shorter, more serious story-driven experience.

Finally, there’s the roster. As was announced last week, Kurt Angle is the pre-order bonus for WWE 2K18 and he was the only one confirmed in the game outside of cover athlete Seth Rollins. The team is looking to continue its tradition of increasing the roster every year, however, and is aiming for more than 170 wrestlers this year—an increase of about 20 roster choices from last year’s release.

As tremendous as all this sounds, this is also a lot to add to a game year-over-year, and beyond a little bit of the new graphics engine, I must re-iterate that we weren’t able to see or play any of these things. However, the fact that Visual Concepts and Yuke’s are listening to the community, and acting on many of their suggestions, is a great sign that at the very least WWE 2K18 should make strides forward from last year’s game. Whether or not they can follow through and deliver on all these promises, we’ll have to wait for when WWE 2K18 drops on October 17 for Xbox One and PS4 to find out.

It was announced tonight at the 2017 NHL Awards that NHL 18’s cover athlete this year is none other than Edmonton Oilers superstar Connor McDavid. And much like how the two-year pro from Richmond Hill, Ontario, has breathed life back into one of hockey’s premiere Canadian franchises, NHL 18 has looked to McDavid for inspiration in all the right ways. I was recently able to go hands-on with the game, and there were several major takeaways from my brief time with it that give a spark to the series’ style of play.

The first has to do with the gameplay itself. In an attempt to mimic McDavid, Auston Matthews, and the other tremendous young talents that have permeated hockey, pulling off stylish shots on net has never been easier. The fancy stickwork from previous games returns, but is now easier to do with more simplistic joystick movement which can be learned through a new series of tutorials. More importantly, however, is the increased repertoire for more skillful players. Kicking the puck off your skate to feed a backhand, turning the puck on edge and flipping it over the shoulder of a goalie, and the kind of no-look passes and shots that will leave defensemen and goalies alike befuddled are now represented here beautifully. As well, new reactions from every player on the ice will let you know just how impressive some of these moves are.

Of course, a feature many have long waited for is something to even the ice with all those offensive skill-stick superstars, and for the first time ever, the series is touting a defensive skill stick as well. That means when you’re skating backwards as the lone hope on a 2-on-1 back the other way, you can swing your stick back and forth and try to take away both the shot and the passing lane if you’re good enough. Or maybe just on the power play, by swinging your stick back and forth, you can kill off a few extra seconds as the defenseman on the point has to hesitate before he tries to pass it down low. This is a huge game changer for defensive players, and shows NHL 18 is making huge strides with stick play in the series.

Another major new element is a brand new game mode that feels like a throwback to the Wayne Gretzky or NHL Hitz days of arcade hockey. The brand new NHL Threes combines bone-crunching hits and crazy shots with the three-on-three play of the NHL’s relatively new overtime rules. To amp up the pace of play, the rink is smaller than a normal hockey rink, most penalties are turned off (and the few that are called always lead to a penalty shot), and there are never any faceoffs. If someone scores a goal, the other team automatically gets the puck when the action resumes. Some pucks are special, being worth two or three goals, or can even remove goals from your opposition. You know this mode is different from the second you start it up, with different announcers and a presentation package that resembles a carnival more than a hockey rink.

The 3-on-3 gameplay of the NHL’s overtime hockey rules aren’t just inspiring a new mode, though, as old modes are taking a cue from this faster style of play as well. The long time fan-favorite mode EASHL is now also going to tout a 3-on-3 mode to help accommodate the fans out there who have trouble finding a full squad of players on a nightly basis. This means not only will you have more games full entirely of human players now, but also the fast-paced action of the NHL overtime period will carry over into the entire EASHL experience from the start. If you’re fortunate enough to have a whole squad, don’t worry, the normal EASHL 6-on-6 action is still there—but for those of us with only a couple buddies ever around at the same time, this is exactly what we’ve been waiting for.

If none of these modes appeal to you, and you prefer to go for Franchise still instead, don’t worry, you’ve also got some new tweaks there. You can choose to play right from the get-go as the new Las Vegas Golden Knights and hold a fantasy draft that allows you to build your team out of the 30 pre-existing NHL franchises. Maybe you’ll help even things out by kicking off the 32nd NHL franchise and bring balance finally to the conferences. Or, be like me, and try to create a dynasty out of an original six team (let’s go Rangers). The choice is yours.

Hockey is undergoing a revolution right now in terms of playstyle and the talent that is flooding into the sport. After my brief hands-on time with NHL 18, it is my belief that this series is following suit with the fast, fun, frantic new NHL Threes mode, the new moves available to the game’s most skilled players, and even three-on-three gameplay making it’s way to EASHL. When hockey has a revolution, the NHL series has a renaissance, and it looks like this year is shaping up to be the perfect time for yet another one.

NHL 18 will release on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 sometime this fall.

I imagine when the folks from Wargaming met with Creative Assembly it went something like this:

Wargaming: “I love strategy and war.”

Creative Assembly: “I love strategy and war, too!”

Wargaming: “Did we just become best friends?!”

And thus the partnership that’s led to Total War: Arena started. (Okay, not really.)

The Total War series isn’t known really for its multiplayer options. It’s single-player has always shined, of course, with players reliving the campaigns of history’s greatest conflicts against the computer. On the multiplayer front, though, all you had were two human players standing at the heads of their respective armies in a one-on-one setting, or more recent iterations maxed out with a four-on-four offering.

Total War: Arena changes this by offering a full, 10-on-10, free-to-play showdown, with each player allowed to select their own legendary general from the annals of history, like Rome’s Julius Caesar or the English barbarian queen Boudica. Players can then bring into battle three different unit squads appropriate to their general, like foot soldiers, cavalry, siege weapons, or even war dogs. Each general also features a bevy of passive buffs and abilities you can activate in order to better assist your army.

Those three units are all that is available to players, though. Your three units and general will need to coordinate with the units other players on your team is bringing into battle in order to hopefully rout your opponents, or capture their base and ensure victory. It can lead to glorious multi-front chaos only available in a large player setting like this, but still relies heavily on the classic tenants of real-time strategy games in terms of how your units move and attack. It even touts the classic Total War morale system, where if you break an opponent unit’s spirit, they may just start a hasty retreat and give you the victory.

With any free-to-play offering, the question always comes up about how a game will monetize itself. There are some limited customization options you can pick up for each of your generals, but Total War: Arena leans more heavily on the highly successful World of Tanks model. This allows players to spend real world money to expedite levels, which in turn unlocks new and more powerful units for each of your respective generals.

Even though you’re in control of a legendary general, you’re really just one piece of a much larger army in each match you play, and in that regard Total War: Arena looks to capitalize on the greatest strategic endeavor there is: working as a team. If players can successfully come together, not only will you have a variety of legendary generals working together for a common goal, but also the strategic possibilities are endless. From blitzkriegs to pincer maneuvers, the 10-on-10 scenario feels like it is bringing true war to Total War, and is shaping up to be an excellent alternative for people looking for competitive multiplayer without the need for twitch reflexes.

Total War: Arena is currently in closed alpha on PC and is moving to closed beta later this year.

It’s not easy being an annual franchise in video games, and sometimes even sports franchises need to take some time off to reevaluate and regroup to deliver the kind of game players are looking for. So, when it came time to take a long hard look at the NBA Live franchise, EA Sports decided that it’d be better to spend a little extra time trying to retool and rebuild than keep throwing the same product out on the court every year that would only disappoint its fanbase. (You know, like the New York Knicks do.) From what we saw at EA Play this past weekend, I can confidently say that it at least appears the franchise is moving in the right direction.

One of the hardest things to get right in basketball games is defense, and the new systems that NBA Live 18 is incorporating as part of a completely revamped control scheme will finally make players just as excited to play the game when the ball isn’t in their hands, as when it is. With a simple trigger press and use of the right stick, you can easily follow and block the path of any offensive player who has squared up to the basket. Doing so will impede their path, break up their dribble potentially, and possibly force an errant pass or poor shot. It doesn’t always guarantee a turnover, but this simple roll of your thumb adds a sense of realism to the game that more accurately mimics how basketball is played in real life (unless you’re either of the teams in this year’s NBA Finals).

The more realistic defense also translates to the animation for NBA Live 18. Players like LeBron James tout new signature animations, like when they block balls against the backboard, or emphatically snatch loose balls from the air and cover them up before starting to force pressure back the other way.

All these new defensive features don’t just favor the defenders, though. Players who used to love spamming the steal button will be punished more frequently with reach-in foul calls if they’re not careful. If they can block a player’s path, however, like mentioned before, they can expose the dribble of an opponent more. This in turn increases the chances of successfully pulling off a steal, making players reach in only when it realistically makes sense for them to do so, and thus delivers a more realistic and authentic NBA experience.

Defense may not be the sexiest part of basketball. But when done well, the game is a more enjoyable experience and can ramp up the tension. Especially late in a close game when you never know what will happen next instead of the game devolving into a shootout. EA Sports delivering these new defensive mechanics to NBA Live 18 similarly may not seem like an integral part to the game, but is helping to provide a deeper, more entertaining and thrilling experience that NBA fans can be proud to play.

The Need for Speed franchise was once one of the great racing series in video games. Its regular releases and fast-paced, arcade action helped set the standard that many other racing franchises would mimic. As the series has precipitously fallen out of favor in recent years, though, Need for Speed now lags behind, watching as other series basically lap them in areas the series once excelled in, particularly narrative. It is no longer on an annual release schedule, taking its time in trying to regain the winning formula it has lost. And it appears that the series’ newest upcoming entry, Need for Speed Payback, is still having something of an identity crisis.

Borrowing inspiration it seems from the most prolific racing movie franchise ever, Fast and Furious, Payback follows a trio of drivers who must put their unique skills—Tyler is all about speed, Mac is all about stunts, and Jess is all about control—to the test against The House, an evil cartel that controls their home of Fortune Valley.

The demo we played feels exactly like a heist cooked up by Vin Diesel. Tyler must drive Jess to a tractor-trailer transporting a supercar. Jess, via cutscene, will then jump onto the roof of the trailer, escape with the car out the back where our perspective shifts, and must then evade the police on the way to claiming the car for our triumvirate of protagonists.

The perspective shift was an interesting aspect of the demo, although I personally would love a choice where you can follow either Tyler or Jess and add some real nuance to the narrative, which is a clear focus for Payback. The racing also felt solid, with the cars performing in a way you’d expect from any modern arcade racer. It’s when the demo got overly cinematic, though—taking control away from me and the other players who tried the demo at EA Play—that everything really fell apart for me.

Mid-level cutscenes are nothing new in games, but in racing games, the flow of the race is as important as finishing first (or escaping in this case). It was particularly jarring whenever you faced off against guard vehicles from The House. Marked with spades and lifebars above their cars on the HUD, you need to ram so many House cronies off the road before Jess make her death-defying leap onto the tractor-trailer. Every time you took out one of these cars, the camera would jerk away from your car and focus on the slow-motion crash of your enemy. Every. Single. Time.

Not only did this break the immersion of the moment, but the camera swinging around at uncomfortable speeds and settling into an unfamiliar angle for a few moments made it difficult to settle back into the mission at hand when control was finally returned to my thumbsticks. It looked cool, and would play great in a movie. In a video game, it felt unnecessary and destroyed the moment.

When your franchise is floundering, it’s understandable that you would want to try different things. It also makes sense to look at similar things to your genre for inspiration in improving your own product. But not being able to recognize what people do or not enjoy about your game and borrowing the wrong elements could spell doom. And as long as Need for Speed Payback cares more about looking like a movie than a video game, then it looks like it’ll do something that is universal to both film and games. It’ll crash and burn.

There have been a lot of Dragon Ball Z inspired fighting games over the years. Usually, the visual style has always relied on cel shading over 3D models to convey a sense of style similar to the cartoon. This would provide a facsimile that was good, and definitely worked for video games, but always fell short of the high bar set by the anime.

Looking to try something new with the DBZ license, Bandai Namco tapped Guilty Gear fighting game developer Arc System Works to see what the studio could come up with. Known for its gorgeous characters models that emulate sprites that look like they were ripped straight from an anime, Arc System Works analyzed DBZ and pushed even its own art style to a new level with a visual motif it’s referring to as “extreme animation” for the upcoming Dragon Ball FighterZ. Just like their other games, Arc System Works has created character models in its signature style, six of which we saw at E3: Gohan, Goku, Vegeta, Maijin Buu, Cell, and Frieza. Like no other game before it, Dragon Ball FighterZ is able to capture the look and feel of the show.

Part of what makes the characters pop off the screen isn’t just the anime-esque designs of each individual fighter, but that the backgrounds are more muted, making your eye focus on the fighting that’s taking place in the foreground. Sure, the two arenas we saw were taken straight from the anime, but this purposeful choice to not color them in the same style as the fighters only helps differentiate FighterZ even more from other fighting games currently on the market.

The other major aspect of the extreme animation is the speed at which the characters can fight. Characters can blink in and out of existence, moving faster than the eye can see. Flurries of punches and blocks can be thrown in seconds. And juggling your opponents higher and higher into the air can lead to 100-plus hit combos almost effortlessly and seamlessly. What makes it all the more beautiful is the animation doesn’t lag for a second and if your reflexes are fast enough, its almost like you’re choreographing or storyboarding a fight straight out of the anime.

If you’ve ever wanted a game that could recreate the feelings you would get while watching Dragon Ball Z, then Dragon Ball Fighter Z is a game to keep an eye on. It’s character design and animation is the most beautiful recreation of the characters that we’ve seen and would make even Akira Toriyama proud.

Dragon Ball Fighter Z is coming sometime in 2018 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.

After a series of lackluster releases, the fortunes of Telltale changed for the better when its landmark first season of The Walking Dead dropped. It was a gritty, moving story that redefined narrative in video games, and it seemed for a time after that, Telltale could do no wrong. There have definitely been more successes than not when taking licensed properties and crafting original tales around their episodic, choice-driven formula since then—the Walking Dead, however, appeared immune to the occasional misstep seen in other series. This leads us to The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, the third full season of the saga which just released its final episode. Although it is still one Telltale’s stronger efforts, it pales in comparison to the previous two seasons.

The character of Clementine, the common thread through the first two seasons, is still present here to keep us connected, but takes a noticeable backseat as players control new character Javier “Javi” Garcia. Javi’s family has a close encounter with a walker early in the outbreak, which proves to be a turning point for him as a person. He takes it upon himself to care for his sister-in-law, niece, and nephew for the next several years as the walker threat spreads. When Javi—with family in tow somewhere between Baltimore, Maryland, and Richmond, Virginia—come across the wrong set of humans in a junkyard, however, they quickly realize the living is just as dangerous as the undead.

Unsurprisingly, the narrative across A New Frontier’s five episodes provides a lot of highs and lows for our characters. Keeping in line with previous Walking Dead games, there are a bevy of heart-wrenching moments, difficult decisions, and surprises to be had as you try to guide Javi and his family to some sort of safe haven. The limited time you have to make decisions ramps up the tension more than ever before, as Javi will often have to think quickly in terms of what to say (or what not to say) and where to go.

The only issue with this system in A New Frontier—and this is something that has crept into Telltale games before—is that sometimes some of the descriptions of what you want to say will cause you to make a choice, but then your character will say something you did not expect at all. If I choose “tell [insert character] off” then I’m expecting a few sentences laced with expletives, not for my character to suddenly reveal private information meant to hurt that individual on a deeper level. The result then may lead to something truly unexpected, but it’s frustrating when it stems from a choice you feel you really didn’t make.

Thankfully, those instances, at least in my playthrough of the season, were relatively few and far between. Something that plagued the narrative far more was the inconsistency of the writing quality as a whole. Each episode, even the double-long two-parter that kicks the season off, had plenty of those great moments I mentioned earlier—but unlike previous Walking Dead games, it felt like there were dramatic tonal shifts between episodes and writing teams. Nowhere was this more evident than in the final episode, which only had one lead writer instead of a full team. This episode had humor pop up in the weirdest places, which seemed to really undercut everything that had happened up until that point. The narrative for this season also relied more heavily on plot devices than in previous games. For example, each episode usually featured a couple of flashbacks. Some were used to fill in the nearly two-year gap for Clementine between Seasons Two and Three; others were trying desperately to add depth to the new cast of characters, who still ended up being far less interesting than any group we’ve previously played as. The device was neat early on, but already felt overplayed by the time episode four rolled around.

Speaking of devices, poor Clementine was relegated to deus ex machina this go around instead of the powerful, beloved heroine she was becoming after Season Two. She would come and go as she pleased during each episode, and it felt like whenever Javi had gotten himself into the most trouble, Clem would show up to find a way to bail him and his bumbling family out before continuing her own agenda elsewhere (which we almost never see). Admittedly, this could be a sore spot for me due to the attachment many of us have developed with this character over the years, but it felt like one of the better characters in video games was being underutilized.

That said, one new device the game added that I enjoyed was that those limited interactions with Clem played heavily into how much she helps you later on in the game. In fact, after seeing how all my decisions affected my playthrough, I was shocked that half of the audience alienated Clem by the end of the game, leading to many questions for potential new seasons that will hopefully switch the focus back to our darling Clementine. This added some much needed weight to the largest decisions you have in the game early on, and was a pleasant surprise.

The rest of the gameplay in A New Frontier was rather by the book otherwise. Telltale has gotten away from the puzzles of point-and-click adventures of the past, relying far more heavily on quick time events now. Although this helps greatly with the pace of the story, it removes almost any challenge from the game, making it feel less like you’re playing a game at all. Depending on how much you’ve invested in the narrative, this could be a potential turn-off if you’re looking to test your brainpower more than your reflexes. It also needs to be said that Telltale’s proprietary Telltale Tool game engine continues to show its age in the worst ways. There is nothing more immersion breaking than when someone is hurt in the game and the animation jumps when the blood splatters. I understand that Telltale has become a well-oiled machine in terms of being able to crank out episodes at a breakneck pace compared to just a few years ago, but it’s clear the game engine can no longer support the creative engine.

The Walking Dead: A New Frontier isn’t the best season we’ve gotten of Telltale’s The Walking Dead—it’s strong narrative, although inconsistent at times, is still one of the more compelling and well-thought stories Telltale has produced, however. It took some chances with new plot devices, many of which I felt did not work, but this will hopefully provide opportunities to try other ideas that might work better instead. If you’re a big fan of these Walking Dead games, you’ll be happy you’ve played this, but like me, it’ll probably only make you want a new season as soon as possible where the focus shifts back to Clementine.

Publisher: Telltale Games • Developer: Telltale Games • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 05.30.17
7.5
It’s a solid third season for The Walking Dead, but we’ve seen so much better. Cheap plot devices and inconsistent tones in the writing hurt the overall quality of the narrative, and the Telltale Tool continues to show its age in the worst ways. And, for diehard fans, Clementine will still find a way to steal the show from the new cast.
The Good A New Frontier continues to show why The Walking Dead is Telltale’s most compelling property.
The Bad The Telltale Tool continues to show its age; writing inconsistency between episodes.
The Ugly My crying face—Telltale is too good at making you care about a character and then killing them off.
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier – The Complete Third Season is available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, iOS, and Android. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Telltale Games for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.