Archive for November, 2016


Film Quest – Episode 1

I was cast in a new animated web series called Film Quest. Here is the first episode. I play Dave the Raider, and contribute some background voices, too.

I do a weekly NHL 17 Twitch stream on Tuesday nights (9PM ET/6 PM PT) for a website called HockeyAchievements.com. Here is one of the highlights from Tuesday, November 15, 2016.

Every year, Titmouse Animation (Venture Bros., Metalocalypse, Son of Zorn) throws a bacchanal in Hollywood called the Smash Party, where they invite family and friends to drink, be merry, and smash obsolete appliances with sledgehammers. Television sets, microwaves, potted plants, computers, and anything else that will explode with a satisfying bang when hit with a heavy, blunt object are brought into a batting cage, and revelers take turns letting out any pent up aggressions.

This year marked the tenth anniversary of the event. I was able to attend for the first time, though, because in order to help mark the celebration, Titmouse announced a partnership with Viacom NEXT to bring the idea of the Smash Party to virtual reality.

Smash Party is an HTC Vive free exclusive launching by the end of the year, and just like the real-world festivities, you step into a cage surrounded by pottery and appliances ready to succumb to your barbed-wire baseball bat like Glenn did to Negan (too soon?).

Using one of the Vive’s controllers, you swing at breakable objects, needing to completely decimate everything in the cage in order to advance to the next stage. The game utilizes the bright, beautiful animation style that Titmouse is known for—anyone who is familiar with the shows they’ve brought to Adult Swim will recognize the style immediately—and it gives everything a fitting, surreal feel. With multiplyers and a timer constantly working against you, after playing Smash Party myself I can attest that the game has a satisfying arcade feel. There are even bonus rounds where an enraged squid will break down a wall of the cage and start soft tossing items at you like in an actual batting cage—but instead of balls it’s usually pieces of a tea set—again adding to the insanity of it all. Each experience is also short enough that it could be a fun party game as you pass the headset and controller around, everyone trying to reach that new high score.

While it’s not something that would make me want to run out and buy an HTC Vive, my short time with Smash Party has me feeling it would be another enjoyable group experience that the headset is becoming known for. We’ll have to wait for a release to see what kind of legs the game actually has, but as a free download to let off some steam, Smash Party is shaping up to be my kind of distraction. And I can’t wait to see what Titmouse rolls out for next year’s actual party now.

When I previewed Let It Die—a PS4-exclusive, free-to-play, hack ‘n’ slash rougelike from the twisted minds at Grasshopper Manufacture—for the first time back in April, it was a rough demo that conveyed some interesting ideas and mechanics, but left a lot to be desired. Many of the systems that would really drive home what this unique experience was meant to be were still absent then, and left me hanging onto promises of great things more than any tangible evidence that this experience could be special. After getting to go hands-on recently with a more complete version of the game, though, I can testify that Let It Die might be gaming’s new roguelike craze. To help give you a sense of the insanity this game wants to bring to the PS4, here’s a video of my first hour playing the game, uninterrupted aside for some menu traversal and load screens cut for the sake of time.

I’ve been playing Pokémon games for nearly 20 years now, and have loved almost every second of them. As exciting as all the changes I’ve seen have been over that time, some things have remained steadfastly the same. But, with the release of Pokémon Sun/Moon, many of those seemingly untouchable pillars of the Pokémon universe have been changed—resulting in the freshest game the series has seen since its early days, and possibly the best yet.

Sun/Moon begins like many other games in the series. You wake up at home, and your mom tells you to go meet the local professor to begin what will surely turn out to be another fantastical Pokémon adventure. Unlike in others game, you’re the new kid on the block here, having just moved to the new region of Alola from Kanto (the region from the original Red/Blue Pokémon games). Breaking from what you may be used to from the franchise’s previous locations, Alola doesn’t have eight gyms for you to defeat. Instead, you’ll travel to four islands—each overseen by a Kahuna and their Captains who serve as gatekeepers to the powerful Guardian Pokémon on each island—and conquering them all is your primary challenge.

Because of your character’s roots in Kanto, Sun/Moon has a lot of callbacks to that original region—as well as other previous Pokémon games—with cameos galore from both characters and Pokémon alike. No other Pokémon game up to this point has been as self-aware of the universe in which the games take place, and it makes the region feel bigger than it is because of the influences from each previous game manifesting themselves in different ways. It also drips of nostalgia, giving long-time fans something to get excited about when they recognize obscure references, while potentially filling in the blanks for newcomers that want to learn more about those earlier generations. A perfect example might be the new nefarious group of Pokémon snatchers named Team Skull, who are more incompetent and comical than the original Team Rocket, but whose modus operandi falls alarmingly in line with the Kanto crooks and less with the world changing extremists of later titles.

Alola may take some cues from previous games, but in many ways it has a dynamic all its own that might actually make it my new favorite region in the series. Part of that comes from the fact that Sun/Moon is again pushing the 3DS’ graphical boundaries. While X/Y offered the first polygonal graphics in a Pokémon game, there was still a lot of grid-based movement. Sun/Moon finally does away with this altogether (while also smoothing out some of those rough polygonal edges), giving your character the full 360-degrees of freedom to move around as you would in most modern games. Making most of the game incompatible with the 3DS’ stereoscopic 3D effect likely helped to boost the graphical power, and I, for one, did not miss it. The camera still remains out of the player’s control to help keep items and secrets hidden via perspective shifts, but this was a huge step forward to making the world of Pokémon feel even more alive and vibrant.

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There is also the aforementioned Kahunas and Captains, who give a shot in the arm to the old gym system. Instead of just battling your way to the top of each gym and then taking on the Elite Four, Sun/Moon offers up a wide variety of gameplay beyond battling. Each Captain will place you on a trial that involves battling at some point, but which also require you to solve some sort of puzzle, such as collecting the ingredients for a recipe or needing to pass a memory exam. Only then will you be able to take on their Guardian Pokémon in a fierce battle that will reward you with a Z-crystal—proof of you conquering the trial and your proficiency as a trainer, which also unlock more areas of Alola. Once an island’s Guardians and Captains are behind you, you’ll then face the island Kahuna as you try to conquer the four corners of Alola.

Speaking of Z-crystals, they’re just the first of several major changes to the battle system. Besides taking the place of traditional gym badges in how they prove your mettle as a trainer, they also unlock special moves for your Pokémon. While there are Z-crystals representing each of the 18 Pokémon types, there are also lesser ones meant for specific Pokémon like Pikachu, Snorlax, or the three new starter Pokémon. A Z-crystal move can only be used once per battle for your entire team, so choosing when and what Pokémon to use it for adds an extra level of strategy that goes far deeper than X/Y’s Mega Evolutions. My only wish now is that Pokémon could carry two items, because it sure is hard to take a Z-crystal away from a Pokémon unless you definitely know what you’re going up against in the next battle.

Another major change in combat is how the UI now provides a chart showing stat changes (like if you’ve been hit with Growl and your Attack has fallen) and what moves are strong against what Pokémon. The stat changes are depicted via a series of arrows, which could be better if we were given actual number changes—but it definitely helps if it’s a back and forth bout. At first, I admit I was leery about the idea of the game just telling me what moves were effective and what ones weren’t, but I suppose it falls in more in line with what a Pokédex is supposed to do. With so many Pokémon and types changing from game to game, most people were probably heading to Google every few minutes to look up a Pokémon they were unfamiliar with anyway.

My only issue with it is that it doesn’t go far enough. You need to capture or beat a Pokémon first before getting that information on your second encounter with it, whether in battle or in the wild. Why not just give people those stats from the start? Ash’s Pokédex in the cartoon gives him the information immediately upon seeing a new Pokémon. It could’ve, and should’ve, been the same here when Game Freak decided it was going make this change.

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One other major change in combat comes in the form of the removal of Hidden Machines. HMs used to have major traversal or world changing moves like Surf, Strength, and Cut in them. They would take up a normally useful move spot for a member of your team that you couldn’t change, or take up a spot on your team altogether with a Pokémon meant to just know everything useful. Sun/Moon does away with this, although some HMs are still present as normal move-teaching Technical Machines if you want to impart some of the more effective combat moves (like Fly). Instead, you get a pager and can call seven special Pokémon to help you make your way around Alola. For example, you can call a Taurus to break away rocks, or a Charizard to fly you to different Pokécenters. It’s a no-cost service, frees up space on your roster, and might be the most important change yet that Sun/Moon adds to the series. The ease of use was great, and the effectiveness of my party increased tremendously because of it.

Besides the new island challenge and battling mechanics, there are plenty of side distractions to take part in as well. One new aspect is the Poké Refresh, which allows you to pet, feed, and play with your Pokémon outside of battle via the touch screen. A benefit to building up a good relationship with your Pokémon this way is it will offer unique bonuses in battle, but also is a free way of removing status effects on Pokémon. That means items like Awakening (cures sleep) and Antidote (cures poison) are only now necessary during battle—and that means less trips to the Pokécenter or Pokémart for medicines, and more time spent exploring the world and enjoying it.

There are also new places to visit, like your own personal set of islands you discover called the Poké Pelago. Each island in the Pelago can house the extra Pokémon you’d normally keep in Boxes at Pokécenters, which you still use to change your lineup. Now, though, they can train to level up or gather items for you on the side, instead of collecting dust as just another statistic in your Pokédex.

If you’re more about upgrading your trainer, another new feature called the Festival Plaza allows you to talk to people and earn special Festival Currency. This currency can then be used inside the festival to upgrade your trainer’s apparel and offers some much needed trainer customization to the game. Of course, I think it’d be easier if the game just let you customize your character fully from the get-go like every other RPG out there, but at least Pokémon is trying to get with the times when it comes to giving players a bit more expression on that front.

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The Festival Plaza is also where you can trade with or battle players online, or use the new QR scanner via the 3DS’ camera to scan friends’ Pokémon to add their info to your Pokédex (minus the trading aspect). If you’re all about battling like I am, however, then I can attest that—at least in a pre-launch state—I was able to connect to a few folks online, and found there to be minimal issues in one-on-one situations. You can even record your battles and save them to your SD Card to watch and analyze battles later. Besides one-on-one battles, there’s also two-versus-two and the new Battle Royal matches, where four players put one Pokémon in and the last one standing wins.

Unfortunately, it’s in these multi-Pokémon battles that some issues start to arise. Whether playing online, or even offline in the main game, whenever more than two Pokémon appear on screen (yours versus one other), the game starts to slow down a little, load times become more evident, and animation beings to crawl. These issues aren’t enough to ruin the experience, but they are enough to snap you out of your Pokémon reverie for sure—and it’s particularly shocking when this even happens against the computer in the main game.

There’s also a new feature where wild Pokémon can call for help. Sometimes, a wild Pokémon that’s about to faint will call on another of its species, turning a one-on-one fight into a two-on-one (which also triggers the above mentioned slowdown). It offers you, the player, more experience for beating more Pokémon, but—especially if you’re trying to capture one of the two—it can prolong the fight considerably. I once got in a cycle where I had to face seven Zubats because I would take one out and the other would keep calling for help. Finally, I just gave up and ran away because no Zubat is worth that much time. So, this is one feature that I hope future iterations of the game do away with.

Another addition that was hit-or-miss is the new Alolan variants of Kanto Pokémon. For example, there’s now a dark-type Rattata (originally a normal-type), or an ice-type version of Sandshrew (originally a ground-type). For the most part, I like the idea of collecting different types of the same Pokémon, especially since only one is needed to unlock the Pokédex entry. What I don’t like about it is when those Pokémon are used in battle. When an enemy trainer is about to throw out a Pokémon, it only says “Ace Trainer is about to use Ninetails. Do you wish to switch Pokémon?” Normally, Ninetails is a fire-type, and I would counter with a water-type. The game never tells you what variant is being thrown out until it actually appears on your screen. If it’s the ice-type Ninetails, I basically wasted a turn needing to switch out my water-type for a fire-type. It’s a minor thing, but considering how serious some of us take our battles, wasting a turn isn’t something to be taken lightly.

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Pokémon Sun/Moon provides the series a shot in the arm we might not have realized it needed. Battling is more efficient than ever, and that cranks the fun up to levels we haven’t seen since the early days of the series—even with the occasional slowdown issue. New and old Pokémon come together to symbolize the balance this game has struck between Pokémon’s past and its future, providing nostalgia for us franchise veterans and some history for newcomers. Combine all this with more side content than ever before, as well as a beautiful 3D world, and Pokémon Sun/Moon is nothing short of an instant classic.

Publisher: Nintendo/The Pokémon Company • Developer: Game Freak • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 11.18.16
9.0
A couple technical issues aside, Sun/Moon might be the best Pokémon game yet. It freshens up a formula some of us PokéManics might not have realized was growing stale until now. Trials and Grand Trials provide variations on familiar gameplay, and the removal of HMs and telling players how effective their moves are rejuvenates battling.
The Good The island trials will make you never want to battle in a gym again. Ride Pokémon doing away with Hidden Machines from previous games.
The Bad Some slowdown in battles involving three or more Pokémon.
The Ugly Why is my character always smiling? Even when things take a turn for the worst in the game, my character’s facial animation never changes.
Pokémon Sun/Moon are Nintendo 3DS exclusives. Primary version reviewed was Pokémon Sun. Review copies were provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

When it comes to my favorite stealth action franchises, Hitman always jumps right to the top. But, when I first heard that the newest Hitman game would be broken up into episodes across the year, I admit my heart sank. I was worried about taking a tried-and-true formula and trying to fix something that in my opinion wasn’t broken. Thankfully, after sitting down and beating the entire first season of Hitman, the series’ new episodic direction may be one of the best things to ever happen to it.

In the prologue to the first episode, we see a rare glimpse of Agent 47’s past, specifically when he first meets Diana Burnwood and joins the ICA. After that, it’s back in the present day, and it’s the usual trek around the world for 47 as Diana continues to assign him high-profile targets that the ICA has been contracted to remove. As 47 is doing this, it soon becomes clear to Diana that these more recent assignments were all connected as part of a larger puzzle—and the deeper she digs, the more she realizes a more sinister force may be at play. With 47 being the only person she can trust, the two must uncover a conspiracy that could shake the ICA to its core.

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Anyone who has played any of the previous Hitman games should be able to jump into this one relatively easily. By using disguises and unique opportunities in the environment, players will be tasked with knocking off multiple targets in every location, with each new locale in this case also representing a new episode. What’s so impressive about Hitman is there has never been more ways to accomplish your goals on each map. You can go with 47’s iconic suit, tie, and silenced silverballer pistols and try to get the perfect shot off before making a quick escape. Or, you could drop a lighting grid on someone. Or push them into a wood chipper. Or pose as a yoga teacher and snap their necks (I guess that part of the body wasn’t meant to be so flexible). The choices are many and varied.

There is one new feature, though, when it comes to how 47 tackles his objectives now: with Diana in his ear constantly monitoring the situation, he’s able to track kill opportunities. From overheard conversations to intelligence documents found on site, you can piece together exactly what you need to perform the best accident kills the series has seen yet, and actually follow objective markers in the world to pull off some of these spectacular hits. And, if you prefer the challenge of figuring it all out for yourself, you can always turn this option off. Even with all my Hitman experience, I still found this extremely useful considering how large each location is. Although, I do admit, there’s also a sick sense of satisfaction when you piece it all together on your own.

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Even being episodic, Hitman still plays out in many ways like a complete game would. Each new location is massive, and throws new challenges 47’s way each time. Paris is likely the easiest of the maps, with plenty of cover, disguises, and opportunities as you crash a fashion show with hundreds of guests. Sapienza, Italy—a fictitious city off the Amalfi coast—gets a little harder, with heightened security and no crowds as you infiltrate a mansion. Marrakesh then puts your two targets in two different buildings with a busy town square between them, while Bangkok boosts the security yet again at a luxury resort hotel. An off-the-grid farm compound in Colorado makes things even harder by limiting cover and disguise opportunities and making you take out four targets. Finally, Hokkaido, Japan, removes all weapons and items before you start the mission inside a hospital for the wealthy. This escalation between episodes—from both a gameplay and narrative sense—coincides both with what you would expect from a game, as well as the heightened stakes of any action-drama TV series.

Of course, I believe this feeling was a lot more evident because I binge-played the season over a weekend. That’s one of the difficult things about episodic content: with weeks between game episodes, it can be harder to carry feelings over from chapter to chapter unless you replay a previous episode before starting a new one. I don’t believe that playing each new Hitman episode as it came out would’ve been able to keep that adrenaline flow I got from doing mission after mission going, whereas I enjoyed the gameplay much more by playing the entire experience in a short period of time.

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Although, I do have to say that there are some negatives to playing it all at once. While Hitman does a good job moving things forward, tying up enough loose ends by the conclusion of the season, and leaving a couple of questions unanswered for future seasons to explore, I felt there wasn’t as much of a connection strung between the episodes. Character development and narrative felt very bare bones, and I wonder if this came across more strongly because of my binge-playing, where I was able to see all the new characters’ short story arcs and minimal story progress very quickly.

One definite positive that comes from playing each episode as they come out, though, is the replayability. There’s more content here than ever before—both from the community and from Io Interactive—which keeps people playing each episode, and which no doubt helps keep them fresher in people’s minds. Once again, being able to create your own contract returns, allowing you to share with the community your own challenging hit orders. There’s also escalation missions from Io that add new targets and bump up the difficulty at a player’s discretion.

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Even more than that, however, is the new Elusive Targets. These are timed contracts, usually over a weekend, where players are given a single opportunity to take out the most difficult targets given by Io Interactive. Most of these are unique NPCs with their own parameters to be eliminated within, but there has even been guest stars (akin to a TV show) like Gary Busey and Gary Cole inserted into these one-off missions. Whether you succeed or fail, these missions are done after that one attempt and then lost forever, with the game keeping track of your success rate on its stats screen. If you’re playing the game piecemeal as it comes out, these are great ways to keep you engaged. If you’re like me, though, and waited to play it all at once, or are waiting for the disc with everything on it coming in January, you’ll have missed out already on nearly a dozen Elusive Targets. The game still has a lot to keep you coming back for more, with loads of challenges per map and worldwide leaderboards for you to try to climb, but seeing how far behind I am on escalation missions, and the fact I’ll never get a shot at any of the previous Elusive Targets, makes me feel like I missed a huge part of what made this game special by waiting, even with more Elusive Targets coming in the future.

Either way you play Hitman – Season 1, whether all at once or in pieces as it came out, something small is lost from each. Some of the replayability and story enjoyment suffers by binge-playing, but that natural escalation of difficulty and feeling like a complete experience comes through more strongly when playing it all at once. These are minor things all told, however, and when you boil Hitman down, it is one of the most complete and enjoyable experiences we’ve had yet from the series. And now, I can’t wait for Season 2.

Publisher: Square Enix • Developer: Io Interactive • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 10.31.16
8.5
If you played it as each episode came out, or binge-played it all at once, something is lost each way from Hitman – Season 1, but not enough to detract from what is as a whole one of the most enjoyable and entertaining Hitman experiences we’ve ever had.
The Good Everything you love about the Hitman series has been boiled down to potentially its purest form.
The Bad Depending on how you experience the game—either through binge playing or as each episode comes out—something is lost
The Ugly What’s left of that guy in Italy who “accidentally” fell in the wood chipper
Hitman – Season 1 is available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. 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.

There was a lot of pressure on developer Infinity Ward leading up to this latest Call of Duty. Not only was the studio coming off of what was probably their worst-received game in Ghosts, but this was their first time on the new Call of Duty three-year development cycle—meaning many were expecting the team to pull out all the stops, even more so than usual. This wasn’t necessarily an easy task that could just be solved with more time, however, especially with the fact that Sledgehammer and Treyarch have continued to raise the bar for the series over the past couple of years. Even with taking all that into consideration, it can’t be denied that it seems like Infinity Ward has lost its touch, as Infinite Warfare marks another down year for Call of Duty.

Set off in a distant, yet unspecified time in the future, humanity has become split into two factions. The United Nations Space Alliance, made up of the nations on Earth, looks to peacefully explore and colonize the cosmos. The Settlement Defense Front, a group of radicals who make their home on Mars and look to consolidate the galaxy under an iron fist, was a militant faction within the UNSA that broke away in the early days of space exploration. Our solar system is now split between the two, with a flimsy peace treaty keeping everything in balance. At least, until the SDF declares war and attacks the UNSA in Geneva during Fleet Week. Now, a rag tag group of remaining soldiers must rally around Captain Nick Reyes, bring the fight to the SDF, and turn the tide of this new war back in Earth’s favor.

I understand that a large section of the Call of Duty community will likely jump right into the multiplayer and never leave it when Infinite Warfare drops. But for those who will look to play the campaign, at least once, it will be hard not to come away disappointed. Almost everything about the story itself, and some of the new gameplay revolving around space combat, left a sour taste in my mouth.

Admittedly, some of the space sequences are quite good. There are times where you’ll be floating through the void and have to use an asteroid field to sneak up to a capital ship and infiltrate it, or need to use your grappling hook to work your way to space debris as you’re pinned down with few options due to limited cover—all while enemy soldiers swarm your position in zero-g. There are other times, though, where you’ll be absolutely lost as to where you have to go or what your goal is. In those moments you feel completely helpless, dying for a piece of dialogue, cutscene, or new objective marker to guide you since you could theoretically just float off in any direction aimlessly otherwise.

Then there are the sequences where you pilot a Jackal, Call of Duty’s version of a space snubfighter. You’ll have flares, missiles, machine guns, and other armaments that you can customize your own personal Jackal with. You’ll soar into dogfights and fly around space arenas completely off rails, which can also be great fun at times.

Unfortunately, I grew up on games like Wing Commander, X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, and the Rogue Squadron series, and while Infinite Warfare gets close to giving me the sort of space flight sim experience I’m always looking for, it never quite lives up to where I needed it to be. Part of that has to do with the fact that the Jackal can turn on a dime, or hover and strafe—almost like a VTOL aircraft—and then switch instantly back into dogfight mode. I understand this was to minimize the learning curve for people and make it feel like it does when you’re running around on foot, but that’s not the experience I want when getting into any sort of airborne vehicle in a game; I want it to feel like I’m flying a damn plane.

In regards to the length of the campaign, a frequent point of contention for Call of Duty titles, if you don’t do any of the optional side missions—which you select by looking at a Mass Effect-esque map and plotting your space course from the bridge of your ship—it’s probably the shortest offering from any Call of Duty yet. You could likely buzz through the experience in about three hours if you pushed it. But you’ll probably want to rush because Infinite Warfare has one of the worst-written narratives I’ve had to suffer through in quite some time.

Sure, it has its moments, but most of the dialogue is throwaway at best—and due to the short length of actual story-driven events, every character’s arc is rushed to an uncomfortable degree. For example, Staff Sergeant Omar is introduced as a hard-edged Marine who is a bit of a Luddite; he hates robots, and is particularly uncomfortable when Ethan, a fully autonomous robot soldier, joins the group. At least, for the first mission you all take together. By the time you’re ready for the next mission, suddenly Omar loves robots! Ethan is his best friend! The player never sees why this change of heart happens, but we’re just expected to swallow this pill that Omar and Ethan worked things out over lunch or something, as if someone whose beliefs are clearly deeply ingrained in them has had a change of heart over a sandwich and a soda.

The weakest aspect for Infinite Warfare’s story, however, is the villain: Rear Admiral Salen Kotch. I don’t know why Call of Duty can’t produce even passable villains anymore, nevermind good ones. Maybe part of it was Kit Harington’s lifeless acting. Or, maybe, the fact that he—like Omar and every other major character in the story that isn’t the player character, Nick Reyes—really doesn’t have any sort of progression or arc. What a coincidence that the co-lead writer for the game, Brian Bloom, was also the actor for the only character that had any depth in the game. The fact of the matter is, I didn’t like or dislike Kotch as a villain—he was just there. Like a painting hung up in a dentist’s office, he felt completely inconsequential to everything going on around me, and that’s the worst thing you could want from your primary antagonist.

If, somehow, you can look past all this, there are small positives to take away from the campaign. Even with the space setting and combat continuing the general trend of pushing Call of Duty more towards the science fiction realm and making it less relatable to its audience, the game still plays well when its just boots on the ground and you’re running around the beautiful surfaces of far-off worlds. The new futuristic weaponry walk a fine line between the guns of today and how technology might evolve them into the combat tools of tomorrow. You can also fully customize your loadout before each mission, and unlock new items by finding hidden armories around each world you explore. Several other additions—like the aforementioned side missions, and stealth sections—offer up some nice variety when you’re playing, and compliment the ever-present bombastic action sequences we expect from Call of Duty and still receive here in abundance. The side missions, as repetitive as some of them can become, do extend the experience to nearly eight hours if you do all of them. It’s never a good sign, though, when the meat of your single-player mode is found in optional objectives.

There is also replayability in that beating the game unlocks YOLO mode (where, like the acronym suggests, you only live once) and Specialist mode (where your equipment and body can take damage on missions, affecting things like your movement speed or aim stability if you’re not careful). There is also a theme to Infinite Warfare that I, for one, appreciated: a soldier’s duty and the difficulties that arise from it. Of course, like everything else, it loses some of the punch of its potentially powerfully impact because the short narrative ends up seeing you beaten over the head with it in the last hour or so of game time. Maybe that’s Infinite Warfare’s true theme: a lack of tact and storytelling finesse makes potentially good stories suffer.

While this campaign holds the franchise back in some ways, the multiplayer likewise lifts it up. Call of Duty has always been one of my favorite multiplayer experiences out there, and Infinite Warfare at least lives up to the series’ legacy here. Smaller maps lead to faster confrontations and less camping as a whole, really pushing you to take full advantage of the wall running and double jumping mobility afforded to you. Infinity Ward utilized Treyarch’s Pick-10 system this go around, and it lends itself to a much more balanced experience overall. They also built on Treyarch’s Specialists and created Rigs, Call of Duty’s first true class system. Unlike classes in other games, Infinite Warfare still allows players to completely customize the loadout via the aforementioned Pick-10 system. What Rigs do instead is offer three options for Payloads and Traits, abilities that can change the battlefield when they charge up, or passive ones that make you a more effective killing machine.

For example, the Merc Rig has a Payload called Bull Charge, which lets you pull out a Riot Shield and charge at your enemies, delivering instant kills to anyone caught in your path. Or, you could take Steel Dragon into battle, which gives you a powerful beam weapon that can incinerate enemies from afar. With Traits like Man-At-Arms that make this heavy class move faster, or Infusion that boosts your health regeneration speed, you can mix and match to best suit your play style and the mode you’re playing. That’s just one of the six Rigs available, and not even all of the Merc’s options—experimenting in different scenarios adds a whole new level of fun and customization to this year’s multiplayer.

Multiplayer also adds two new modes this year, but I only really enjoyed one of them. Defender is a spin-off of Uplink, but instead of trying to throw a data node through a hoop somewhere on the map, the player holding the node has to run around defenseless for a minute until the node resets, or they are gunned down and the ball can be picked up by someone else. The first team to collectively hold a node for five minutes wins the game. It’s a neat little take on a Guardian-style multiplayer mode, and especially on some of Infinite Warfare’s smaller maps, can be a hectic back-and-forth that pushes your traversal abilities to the max while requiring some epic teamwork to truly succeed.

The other mode, Frontline, is a take on Team Deathmatch, but with each team having a single locked spawn point. Players will have extra armor when they respawn on the map to help counter campers, but unfortunately it still promotes this hated multiplayer tactic far more than any other map or mode has in Call of Duty in a long time. I appreciate trying something new, but this mode left me more frustrated than anything, and feeling like I’d rather just play regular Team Deathmatch.

There are also a couple metagame additions to the multiplayer suite this go around, the first of which is Mission Teams. Players will be able to unlock and choose from one of four different factions that offer extra rewards in a multiplayer match for completing bonus objectives. For instance, the Wolverines are a no-nonsense sort of group that is all about picking enemies off, so lots of kills usually means lots of points with these guys. The Orion group, on the other hand, is more objective based, and rewards you for holding or capturing points. You can switch between the factions at your leisure as you unlock them, since obviously different groups are more effective in different modes—but Mission Teams help keep things interesting by giving you a game within the game.

The other addition is trying to collect salvage. Salvage is a new currency that allows players to unlock amped-up versions of some of their favorite weapons, with each having a different level of rarity. Players can earn salvage via unlock boxes from keys earned in multiplayer, leveling up, or trading in duplicate guns found via these other two methods. As per usual, players can also spend real world cash to buy boxes that might either have the next level of the gun they want or more salvage—and that’s where I take issue with this new system.

It’s one thing to spend real-world money on cosmetic items: calling cards, weapon camos, things like that. It’s another when buying boxes can lead directly to a currency or to a new gun altogether that is definitively better than the one you may be currently using. A perfect example is the first level unlock for the default assault rifle, which offers 20% more ammo; later unlocks include more damage and stability on top of more ammo. Yes, you can grind for salvage. Yes, you don’t have to sink a single penny into Infinite Warfare and still get all the weapons. But buying boxes does offer the chance to potentially speed up the process of acquiring weapons that are statistically better (the salvage shop even assigns a numerical value to the increases you’d get) than those available from the start or via straight leveling up, offering players with those guns clear advantages in gameplay. This is where microtransactions are a negative part of the experience, and for me this is unforgivable.

In terms of online stability, I played multiplayer in a limited review environment on a live server with the day one patch already in effect (but just before the official worldwide launch). The several hours I put in saw minimal issues in terms of matchmaking, although there were a couple of pockets of lag when we switched out of the regular playlists and into the 18-player Ground War playlist. While everything worked for the most part, the true test of online stability won’t come until the game hits the masses and is stressed far beyond what myself and a few dozen other reviewers could do.

Besides playing multiplayer online, I also played a fair amount of Zombies. I teamed up with three strangers, and was impressed with the fact that even with the wacky new setting of being trapped in an 80s B-movie, this take on Zombies felt just as strong and full of surprises as anything Treyarch had concocted over the years. New Fate and Fortune cards replace the Gobblegum from Black Ops III, and offer arguably better powers and abilities to help you survive the zombie horde. There’s also a new feature where the first time you die in the mode, you’re sent to an arcade where you can try to win your life back by playing classic Activision arcade games. Set the high score, and you’ll rejoin your team—assuming they all survive long enough but don’t beat the round to bring you back to begin with. Either way, it definitely makes dying a little less tiresome than in previous years. The four stereotypical movie characters—nerd, jock, rapper, valley girl—all add some humorous color to the mode. This was definitely a fun cast to play as, although I still think Black Ops III’s noir cast was second to none.

Normally, this is all there is to a Call of Duty game. However, an extra special bonus is included to those of you who jumped on the Legacy edition of the game. We’re not doing a full review of Modern Warfare Remastered, as currently you can only get this bonus through purchasing Infinite Warfare. As it is part of the package, however, I do want to give a few words on it.

It was a shock to my system to play the original Modern Warfare again after not having touched the game in nearly a decade. The new graphics has the game looking beautiful on new systems, and it plays much like how I remember it. It’s like digging up a time capsule—comparing and contrasting it to what we have today—and we can see both how far Call of Duty has come in some regards, and how far it has fallen in others. The campaign is one example of the latter. At the time, Modern Warfare was pushing the envelope for storytelling in FPS games, while in Infinite Warfare, we’re spoon-fed drivel. I do believe the multiplayer of today is better, though. Playing MWR’s competitive suite—which now also includes newer modes like Kill Confirmed, which I love—felt great. Then, unfortunately, campers, the old scorestreaks, and the map design reminded me that as beloved as it was back then, Call of Duty’s multiplayer has truly been pushed to tremendous heights over the past 10 years—and I wouldn’t change that for anything. Still, it was still nice to go back and replay Modern Warfare after so long, and it was definitely a worthwhile bonus.

That pretty much sums up how I feel about Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare in a nutshell. Call of Duty’s multiplayer continues to innovate and improve in ways that fans will absolutely love and adore with this game—minus the microtransaction pay-to-win garbage that’s trying to be snuck in. Meanwhile, this version of Zombies could stand against any other one we’ve seen over the years. The campaign, however, is a low point for the series. From almost the very beginning, it just never grabbed me the way a lot of other stories in the series did, with flat and poorly-written characters that I was left unsympathetic toward. I never felt like I had a stake in this galactic battle of supposedly humongous proportions. All we can hope is that by looking a little harder at its past with Modern Warfare Remastered, maybe Infinity Ward can still save its future as storytellers.

Publisher: Activision • Developer: Infinity Ward • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 11.04.16
7.0
Infinite Warfare is one step forward; two steps back for Call of Duty. The multiplayer is still fun, but suspect microtransactions have left me wary. The campaign also gets more wrong than right with shoddy storytelling overshadowing the usually tight FPS gameplay. At the very least, we got a Zombies experience comparable to what we’ve seen in the past—and Modern Warfare Remastered was a fun stroll down memory lane.
The Good Multiplayer and Zombies are as fun as ever.
The Bad Main narrative feels rushed, and side missions try too hard to expand what may be the shortest CoD campaign yet. Also, there looks like a pay-to-win scam is going on in multiplayer.
The Ugly SAG-AFTRA would be wise not to use this game as an example of how Hollywood talent makes video games better.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. A review copy was provided by Activision for the benefit of this review. EGM also took part in a review event that Activision provided room and board for to maximize our time with the game prior to release. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

When we did our launch line-up roundup for the PlayStation VR, it was hard not to be a little disappointed. Most of the games were glorified tech demos, with little to no replay value and almost never lasting more than 90 minutes. A couple of them even made some of us nauseous due to control schemes that just didn’t work well in VR. But, there was one game we had put to the side because of its heavy online multiplayer aspects, knowing we’d have to wait until PS VR was in the hands of consumers to properly test it: RIGS: Mechanized Combat League. Not only should it be separated from the rest of the PS VR launch line-up because of its online play, but also because I think it’s the only one of those launch titles that’s truly worth your time.

RIGS: Mechanized Combat League is equal parts Mechwarrior and Blitz: The League. In a far off future, the main sport of choice for people to watch revolves around two three-person teams that face off in a variety of competitions while piloting giant mechs. Similar to international soccer, the winning team nets three points in the standings, and the team at the top at the end of the season is the league champs.

As the game begins and you first approach the Mechanized Combat League about turning pro, the crew chief in charge of keeping your rig in top fighting shape gives you the lowdown on how everything works. Unlike a lot of other PS VR games, RIGS offers you two methods to control your mechanical behemoth, giving extensive tutorial time to both. It may feel rough to have so much of a tutorial standing between you and the game—around 30 minutes in total—but if you’re new to RIGS, or VR in particular, those lessons are a welcome experience.

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The first control scheme is a common one in VR, but it also tends to make people a bit nauseous (including yours truly): the left stick moves your unit, and you use your head to turn and aim your mech. The second option is more akin to a first-person shooter, making it easier for more experienced gamers to pick up and learn. Playing that way, your head only controls the aiming reticle, while the right stick controls what direction you face and the left moves your body independently. This third degree of control cut out my motion sickness almost immediately, and still gave me the precision to be extremely effective at the game. Including more options in these early days of VR is definitely a smart move, especially considering we’re still learning what will make someone uncomfortable while playing.

After learning how to shoot, boost, and figure out which aiming system you respond best to, you then get to choose from four different mech classes: the flying Tempest; the strong all-around Hunter; the double-jump equipped Mirage; and the ground-pound enabled Sentinel. Each choice’s options differentiates enough between them in a way that is comparable to other class-based shooters, and the manufacturer of the mech type you choose decides which extra abilities and weapons it features. All told, there’s over two-dozen mechs to pick from, and you can unlock more by playing the game and earning digital credits by winning matches.

A match in RIGS always falls into one of three game modes: Team Takedown, Endzone, and Power Slam. Team Takedown is basically Team Deathmatch, while Power Slam and Endzone have elements of real-world sports in them. Power Slam is like basketball, but requires you to actually throw your entire rig through a giant hoop once it reaches Overdrive mode (a more powerful state your rig can obtain by doing well in match). If you make it through the hoop while powered up, your team scores. Endzone, meanwhile, is much like football, where a ball carrier tries to cross an opponent’s goal line to score, but can drop the ball if the rig is destroyed, leaving it open to be picked up by anyone on the field.

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Also similar to other online shooters, RIGS offers up a challenge system. Presented in the form of fictional sponsorships, meeting certain conditions in each match can earn you cosmetic pieces for both your pilot’s suit and your mech. It’s a great way to not only incentivize certain playstyles, but also adds a nice layer of customization, so that you can really make your mech stand out from the crowd when you hop online. Before all of that, however, RIGS introduces you to its offline season mode. Playing solo against the computer is a great way to learn the game modes, test out strategies in some of the fictional arenas, and earn credits or complete conditions for new rigs and customization options.

Whether playing online or offline, though, there’s really not a lot beyond all of this to RIGS. Yes, it handles surprisingly well, and it’s a ton of fun to team up with a couple of buddies (or even some strangers) to blow up giant robots. In regards to the online play, there was never an issue finding a match or connecting for us, by the way. But, unless you hope that RIGS becomes the first VR esport—which, admittedly, it has the potential to do, depending on how much Guerrilla and Sony support it post-launch—it remains somewhat shallow. It checks off a lot of boxes when it comes to shooters in regards to customization and classes, but with only three match types at launch and a storyless season mode offline, the game might lose its luster quickly for some.

RIGS: Mechanized Combat League is the first great VR experience. Despite not having a lot of depth, giving players multiple control options means there’s a greater chance to find one that will fit your playstyle and help with an immersive experience. Although what’s there isn’t very deep, it’s extremely fun to jump into combat with friends online—especially if you’re as competitive as I am. If you’ve invested in PlayStation VR, there’s not a lot out there that is worth your time; RIGS: Mechanized Combat League, though, is on a short list of must haves.

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Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment • Developer: Guerrilla Cambridge  • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 10.13.16
8.0
RIGS is the first great PlayStation VR game. It can be a bit shallow with a lack of match types and game modes, but I cannot deny how great it feels to pilot my own mech into competition—and to do so with a natural-feeling control scheme that immerses players in the experience.
The Good The first really great game if you’ve invested in PS VR.
The Bad There isn’t a lot of depth to the online or offline content.
The Ugly It must be really expensive to keep replacing all those giant mechs between matches.
RIGS: Mechanized Combat League is a PS4 exclusive. PlayStation VR is required. 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.

I see what’s going on here. A Mafia game comes out and everyone just assumes the Italian guy from New Jersey needs to be the reviewer, like he knows something that everyone else doesn’t. Well, I might, but I’m no rat. The only thing I know and am willing to talk about is that Mafia III looks like it knew something, too, and somebody roughed it up a lot trying to find out what—because this game isn’t in great shape. If it had a mob nickname, it’d be called “Pretty,” but only in that ironic kind of way in which it really isn’t, you know what I mean?

Mafia III follows the story of Lincoln Clay, an African-American Vietnam veteran in 1968. After his final tour of duty, Clay returns home to New Bordeaux, developer Hangar 13’s take on New Orleans in much the same way Mafia II’s Empire City was based on New York and Chicago. Even amid all the racist glares, Clay is thrilled to be home, meeting up with his adopted family and father-figure Sammy—a mafia lieutenant in control of the predominantly African-American section of town called the Hollows in crime boss Sal Marcano’s empire. It’s not long before Lincoln is putting his military training back to use for Sammy, which catches Marcano’s eye. After pulling off the heist of the century to help square away Sammy’s debts to Marcano, the crime boss turns on them all and burns Sammy’s bar to the ground. Clay survives the double-cross, however, and after being nursed back to health, plans to burn Marcano’s crime empire to the ground like the mobster did to Sammy’s bar.

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Let me start by saying that Mafia III’s main plot is one of the best-written stories I’ve played through in a very long time. At times it’s humorous, emotional, poignant, and with its willingness to tackle the subject of race during a tumultuous time in our nation’s history head-on, even reflective and analytical of the society we live in today. Its use of in medias res hooked me right away, dropping me right into the action, and then slowly developing the characters of Lincoln and his associates through well-timed flashbacks. Thus, allowing me to quickly care about or despise them depending on their relationship to our protagonist before smoothly merging Lincoln’s past with his present and moving forward from there.

A huge part of what made the main story so great was the audio aspect of the game. From tremendous voice acting by the cast, to one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard from a game, Mafia III is a joy to listen to. The soundtrack specifically is so deep and varied, compiling countless hits from the 1960s, that across the game’s three radio stations, you’ll be shocked when you’re still hearing new songs come on even halfway through what could easily turn into a 30-hour experience—not to mention their timing during story missions is a great way to help emphasize the emotion of the moment. Throw in original radio talk shows created for the game to reflect what’s going on both in the world at the time and the fire and brimstone Lincoln is bringing down about New Bordeaux, and driving around with the radio on has potentially never been better in a game.

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Unfortunately, as good as the game is audio-wise, it falls off a cliff at times visually. In those rare instances where everything comes together, New Bordeaux is a vibrant, diverse city that is a joy to drive through. More often than not, though, it feels like a ghost town. Even during one of the early flashbacks that has Lincoln escaping police through a Mardi Gras parade, the city never feels as alive or populated as it should, and that scene made it all the more telling with only scattered handfuls of revelers celebrating.

Also, the glitches that occur are far too frequent and major to be forgivable. At times, Lincoln was hit with some sort of latency bug, so a weird particle-shadow appeared behind him as he moved. Others, like in the screenshot below, you’d see two models of the same character in one place. In this instance, Cassandra, one of Lincoln’s own lieutenants, is both sitting while reading a book, and staring at the back wall for some reason. Sometimes NPCs would pop in and out of existence in a blink, or merge with the cover they are taking in shootouts. Once, the sky even flashed different colors rapidly as if the day/night cycle had suddenly broken (and I’m not talking about the instances before certain missions where it does accelerate so that a mission is taking place during the proper time).

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The worst aspect of Mafia III, though, has to be the liberation of districts gameplay. There are 10 districts in New Bordeaux, and as part of his plan to take down Marcano, Lincoln will recruit three lieutenants of his own —Cassandra, head of the Haitian mob, Vito, Mafia II’s protagonist, and Burke, head of the Irish mob—that he can then assign parts of the city to. There’s an interesting metagame where if you play favorites, the lieutenants might turn on you, but by evenly dividing up the districts amongst the three (the tenth district, the Bayou, cannot be assigned because no one tames the Bayou) you can avoid this.

By killing high-ranking Marcano goons and destroying valuable property, you’ll draw out racket bosses, and when you bump off enough of those, you’ll draw out Marcano’s nine lieutenants and capos one-by-one. Once you kill them, you’ll win the district. To do all this, however, you’ll have to complete these same objectives over and over again, just in different parts of the city.

This lack of mission variety turns the open-world aspects of Mafia III into a grind. There isn’t even fast travel, so for many missions you’re constantly forced to just drive needlessly back and forth across the city—again, made a little better by the radio, but still annoying enough—bringing the game’s pacing to a crawl. And while it’s cool the first few times Lincoln basically goes into special forces mode, moving through warehouses to silently slaughter unsuspecting mobsters like he was again wading through Vietnam’s rice paddies looking for NVA officers, I was done with it after a few times—even though I then had to still do it another two dozen times or so. Of course, you can also go in guns blazing, but the numbers are against Lincoln, so it’s not recommended. Similarly, the game’s handful of side missions boil down to one of two types: steal a car and drive it back to your lieutenant for more money, or kill someone on Vito’s special hit-list.

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It’s funny how one of the major complaints people used to make about the earlier Mafia games was how linear they were. Mafia III is definitely open-world, but the lack of variety in mission design really makes me wish the game had stayed narrower in scope. If as much thought, care, and originality had been put into all the game’s missions—instead of just those revolving around when you finally hit the story’s main beats where Lincoln claims a territory—this could have been something special. As is, though, I’d say 20 of the game’s 30 hours are a grind, and there’s only 10 hours of really worthwhile content here that could’ve been streamlined into a really stellar experience.

Mafia III tells a terrific main story. The problem is the experience is bloated by repetitive, yet necessary busy work that requires a huge time commitment to draw out would-be targets to get to the next great story beat. This dichotomy is reflected in the audio and visual aspects of the game as well, with it being a joy to listen to, but chock full of glitches that snap you out of what would otherwise be an immersive experience. This review mob boss wouldn’t put a hit out on Mafia III—it’s not that offensive—but it sure would need to do some big favors to get back in my good graces after wasting so much of my time.

Publisher: 2K Games • Developer: Hangar 13 • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 10.07.16
6.5
Mafia III’s main plot is one of the better-written stories I’ve played in recent history. The problem is the gameplay is bloated with a lot of busy work and weak side content that detracts from this great tale.
The Good Tremendous writing and great storytelling.
The Bad Tons of visual glitches and extremely repetitive gameplay.
The Ugly I spent way too much time collecting the vintage Playboys in the game. I swear it was only for the articles, though.
Mafia III is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by 2K Games for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.