Archive for January, 2017


The Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences announced their nominees for the 20th annual D.I.C.E. (design, innovate, communicate, entertain) awards yesterday. The D.I.C.E. Awards annually celebrate the biggest gaming moments of the year, and this year is no different with 56 different titles getting at least one nod.

Leading the way is Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End with 10 nominations, followed closely behind by indie darling Inside with nine. This year also marks the addition of two new categories: Immersive Reality Game of the Year and Immersive Reality Technical Achievement Award. Both of these are meant to shine a light on the emerging VR/AR platforms that took center stage in many gaming conversations over the course of 2016. This brings the total categories for the show up to 24. All other categories and nominations can be seen below.

Nominees and winners in each award category are determined by the Academy’s peer panels. These panels—one for each category—are comprised of the game industry’s most experienced and talented men and women, and who are experts in their chosen fields. Winners are determined as part of a confidential voting process, with every panel member getting a vote for Game of the Year along with their field of expertise, and the results of this voting process is kept top secret until the night of the show.

“On behalf of the Academy’s Board of Directors and its 33,000+ membership, I’d like to congratulate all the nominees,” said Mike Fischer, President of the AIAS. “For the past 20 years, the Academy has made the core of its mission to honor and celebrate the highest achievements in game making. We look forward to celebrating our 20th anniversary milestone, and look forward to celebrating many more years to come!”

Along with all the awards, legendary game director Todd Howard will also be honored as the 22nd member inducted into the AIAS’s Hall of Fame on the night of the show.

This year’s show will be streamed in its entirety live from The Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, via live.interactive.org starting at 7 PM PT/10 PM ET on Thursday, February 23rd. It was also announced that this year’s show would be hosted by Kinda Funny co-founder Greg Miller, and Nerdist News host Jessica Chobot. Here now is the list of nominees at this year’s show.

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN ANIMATION

  • Inside
  • The Last Guardian
  • Overwatch
  • Street Fighter V
  • Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN ART DIRECTION

  • Battlefield 1
  • Firewatch
  • Inside
  • The Last Guardian
  • Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN CHARACTER

  • Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare – Nick Reyes
  • Firewatch – Delilah
  • Firewatch – Henry
  • The Last Guardian – Trico
  • Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End – Nathan Drake

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN ORIGINAL MUSIC COMPOSITION

  • Abzu
  • Battlefield 1
  • DOOM
  • The Last Guardian
  • Titanfall 2

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN SOUND DESIGN 

  • Battlefield 1
  • Inside
  • The Last Guardian
  • Quantum Break
  • Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN STORY

  • Firewatch
  • Inside
  • Oxenfree
  • That Dragon, Cancer
  • Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

OUTSTANDING TECHNICAL ACHIEVEMENT

  • Battlefield 1
  • No Man’s Sky
  • Overwatch
  • Titanfall 2
  • Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

ACTION GAME OF THE YEAR

  • Battlefield 1
  • DOOM
  • Gears of War 4
  • Overwatch
  • Titanfall 2

ADVENTURE GAME OF THE YEAR

  • Firewatch
  • Inside
  • King’s Quest: The Complete Collection
  • The Last Guardian
  • Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

FAMILY GAME OF THE YEAR

  • Dragon Quest Builders
  • LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • Ratchet & Clank
  • Rock Band Rivals
  • Super Mario Maker 3DS

FIGHTING GAME OF THE YEAR

  • EA Sports UFC 2
  • Guilty Gear Xrd -Revelator-
  • Killer Instinct: Season 3
  • Pokken Tournament
  • Street Fighter V

RACING GAME OF THE YEAR 

  • Driveclub VR
  • Forza Horizon 3

ROLE-PLAYING/MASSIVELY MULTIPLAYER GAME OF THE YEAR

  • Dark Souls III
  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
  • Hyper Light Drifter
  • Tom Clancy’s The Division
  • World of Warcraft: Legion

SPORTS GAME OF THE YEAR

  • FIFA 17
  • Madden NFL 17
  • MLB The Show 16
  • NBA 2K17
  • Steep

STRATEGY/SIMULATION GAME OF THE YEAR

  • The Banner Saga 2
  • Deus Ex GO
  • Fire Emblem Fates
  • Sid Meier’s Civilization VI
  • XCOM 2

D.I.C.E. SPRITE AWARD

  • 1979 Revolution: Black Friday
  • Firewatch
  • Inside
  • Superhot
  • That Dragon, Cancer

HANDHELD GAME OF THE YEAR

  • Dragon Quest Builders
  • Fire Emblem Fates
  • Kirby: Planet Robobot
  • Pokemon Sun & Moon
  • Severed

MOBILE GAME OF THE YEAR

  • Clash Royale
  • Crashlands
  • Gardenscapes – New Acres
  • Pokemon GO
  • Reigns

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN ONLINE GAMEPLAY

  • Battlefield 1
  • Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
  • Overwatch
  • Titanfall 2
  • Tom Clancy’s The Division

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN GAME DESIGN

  • I Expect You To Die
  • Inside
  • Overwatch
  • Owlboy
  • Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN GAME DIRECTION

  • 1979 Revolution: Black Friday
  • Battlefield 1
  • Inside
  • The Last Guardian
  • Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

GAME OF THE YEAR

  • Battlefield 1
  • Inside
  • Overwatch
  • Pokemon GO
  • Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

The finalists for the 19th Annual Independent Games Festival have been announced and 30 different titles are up for awards this year.

Leading the pack is Virginia with four nominations out of the seven panel-chosen, software-related categories, including the Nuovo Award for innovation. Hot on its heels are Hyper Light Drifter, Inside, and Event[0] with three noms each. Nominations in all categories can be seen below.

Besides the seven software awards, there is also an Audience Award that is left open to the public (voting will begin by the end of January), and a new award this year called the ALT.CTRL.GDC Award. This new award is being given to the most creative and unique controllers that some developers have created to go along with their games. All awards besides the Audience Award are judged by a group of 340 judges, who looked at over 650 entries this year. After paring down the entries, expert juries comprised of members of the gaming industry are then formed specializing in distinct disciplines for each category and they choose the winners.

It was also announced that this year’s show would be hosted by Nina Freeman, level designer for Fullbright’s Tacoma, and a Nuovo-award winning creator in her own right for her game Cibele.

The IGF Awards will precede the GDC Awards on March 1, 2017, at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco. Here now is the list of awards and nominees at this year’s show.

BEST STUDENT GAME

  • Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor
  • Lily, Colors of Santa Luz
  • Un Pas Fragile
  • FAR: Lone Sails
  • Frog Climbers
  • Bamboo Heart

EXCELLENCE IN AUDIO

  • The Flame in the Flood
  • GoNNER
  • Virginia
  • Hyper Light Drifter
  • Everything
  • Inside

EXCELLENCE IN DESIGN

  • Imbroglio
  • Ultimate Chicken Horse
  • Duskers
  • Overcooked
  • Event[0]
  • Quadrilateral Cowboy

EXCELLENCE IN NARRATIVE

  • Ladykiller in a Bind
  • 1979 Revolution: Black Friday
  • Virginia
  • Orwell
  • Event[0]
  • One Night Stand

EXCELLENCE IN VISUAL ART

  • The Flame in the Flood
  • Inside
  • Virginia
  • Old Man’s Journey
  • Hyper Light Drifter
  • She Remembered Caterpillars

NUOVO AWARD (INNOVATION)

  • Islands: Non-Places
  • Close
  • Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor
  • Oἶκοςpiel, Book I
  • Everything
  • Virginia
  • Mu Cartographer
  • Lieve Oma

SEUMAS MCNALLY GRAND PRIZE

  • Inside
  • Stardew Valley
  • Quadrilateral Cowboy
  • Event[0]
  • Hyper Light Drifter
  • Overcooked

Yesterday, organizers for the 17th annual GDC Awards announced their nominations in 10 categories recognizing the top games, studios, and developers from around the industry.

Leading the way is my personal pick for Game of the Year, Playdead’s sophomore effort Inside with six noms, including GDC’s Game of the Year. Blizzard’s Overwatch and indie Campo Santo’s Firewatch (no relation) come up next with nods in five categories, also including Game of the Year. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (four nominations) and Dishonored 2 (two nominations) round out the Game of the Year field. Nominations in all categories can be seen below.

It was also announced that the legendary Tim Schafer, founder of Double Fine Productions, would be returning to host the show this year. This will be Tim’s sixth time hosting the show, continuing a pattern of him hosting every other year since 2007.

The GDC Awards are determined each year by the International Choice Awards Network, an invitation-only organization started by the folks behind GDC, and which is comprised of leading game creators from all parts of the industry. Any video game released via any medium within the calendar year of 2016 was eligible for this year’s awards. All ICAN members can nominate games, and when combined with the votes of a 22-member awards advisory board, lead to the nominations and winners in each category.

The GDC Awards will be held on March 1, 2017, at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, starting at 6:30 PM PT. Here now is the full list of nominees at this year’s show.

BEST AUDIO 

  • Battlefield 1
  • Thumper
  • DOOM
  • Inside
  • Overwatch

BEST DEBUT

  • Heart Machine (Hyper Light Drifter)
  • Campo Santo (Firewatch)
  • ConcernedApe (Stardew Valley)
  • Drool (Thumper)
  • Night School Studio (Oxenfree)

BEST DESIGN

  • Overwatch
  • Dishonored 2
  • The Witness
  • Inside
  • DOOM

BEST MOBILE/HANDHELD GAME

  • Super Mario Run
  • Clash Royale
  • Pokémon GO
  • Reigns
  • Pokémon Sun/Moon

INNOVATION AWARD

  • The Witness
  • Inside
  • No Man’s Sky
  • Firewatch
  • Pokémon GO

BEST NARRATIVE

  • The Last Guardian
  • Oxenfree
  • Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
  • Inside
  • Firewatch

BEST TECHNOLOGY 

  • Battlefield 1
  • No Man’s Sky
  • Overwatch
  • DOOM
  • Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

BEST VISUAL ART

  • Firewatch
  • The Last Guardian
  • Overwatch
  • Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
  • Inside

BEST VR/AR GAME

  • Rez Infinite
  • Superhot VR
  • Job Simulator: The 2050 Archives
  • Pokémon GO
  • Fantastic Contraption

GAME OF THE YEAR

  • Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
  • Overwatch
  • Inside
  • Dishonored 2
  • Firewatch

It’s extremely difficult to appease Batman fans, and I’m admitting right from the get go that I count myself amongst the most hardcore of them. It’s almost tradition now for every new version of The Dark Knight to suffer some backlash—especially from those of us who are as obsessed with Batman as he is with fighting crime. Fans of Bill Finger and Bob Kane’s original gun-wielding, rooftop leaping lunatic from the late ‘30s and early ‘40s hated Adam West’s camp-filled romps in the ‘60s. Those fans in turn disliked when the comics crafted a noir vibe and turned back towards some of Finger/Kane’s roots in the ‘70s with Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’ take on the character. Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, and Tim Burton’s film version of the Caped Crusader in the 80s all had their haters, too. So, when it finally came time for me to play Batman: The Telltale Series, I was both excited and worried about what the latest take on Batman might bring to us, knowing it would be extremely difficult for me—even though I’d like to think of myself as a more open-minded fan—to come away satisfied.

Batman: The Telltale Series is best described as a transitional adventure between “Year One” and “Year Two”. What this equates to in Batman’s history for those unfamiliar with comic book parlance is that he’s taken his lumps in that first year of crime fighting, and just now is starting to come into his own as “The Batman.” It’s also when the supervillains start to show up; classic foes like Catwoman, Penguin, Two-Face, and the Joker all make their presences felt by the end of the game, along with the traditional mobsters that Batman had to deal with in his early days. The bulk of the game’s narrative, however, centers on Bruce Wayne needing to clear his family name after a new bad guy reveals that Thomas Wayne (Bruce’s father) wasn’t the philanthropist that Gotham necessarily saw him as.

Being a Telltale game, the narrative does a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of one’s enjoyment of the product—or lack thereof. And right from the start, this was a decision that started to turn my opinion sour. With writers running out of ideas now that Batman is wrapping up his eighth decade of print, the idea of questioning his origins and casting doubt on the sanctity of his purpose has been done countless times in recent years of the comics. The easiest way to do this is to attack Bruce’s parents, and I have always taken issue with this.

One of Batman’s greatest appeals is his mission; his obsession is one that we as fans mirror back onto him. He makes a vow on his parents’ graves to wage an unending war on all criminals as a child, and the fact he follows through on it and lets it dictate his life is twisted and unhealthy, but in an odd way also very pure. It’s a child lashing out against a cruel and unjust world for the love and security that was ripped away from him in a random act of violence. When you remove this, you simply have a maniac in a mask. Yes, that’s what Batman really is at his core, but you greatly lessen his appeal when you strip away one of his founding dimensions, and undo a lot of the great work that those came before had laid out. Simply put, if something isn’t broke, stop trying to fix it.

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And I understand the appeal of wanting to do it. Attacking Bruce’s family also attacks his money source—Batman’s true greatest superpower. His inherited wealth has always been Bruce’s deus ex machina, allowing him to get out of more situations than I could count no matter the era. It’s like putting Superman under a red sun; it’s a classic comic book gimmick to take our hero out of his comfort zone. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But when your powers are so closely tied to your origin like Batman’s are, it’s more apt to blow up in your face.

One thing Telltale did do a fantastic job of, though, was trying to pay homage to a lot of great Batman media over the years. The font in the title graphic evokes memories of Batman: The Animated Series, and the superb voice acting from this cast is on par with the legendary voices from that groundbreaking series. Although still well within the parameters of Telltale’s signature cel-shaded art-style, Two-Face’s design is largely based on that seen in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, and Penguin’s feels more akin to what we’ve been given on FOX’s Gotham. And, several gameplay elements like Detective Mode—more on that in a bit—borrow from Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham games. One other element that Telltale touched on from the Batman: Arkham series is taking a previously-established comic book canon character and trying to pass them off as a new villain. The worst of it, though, is this character was never a Batman villain to begin with.

This leads us to the main villain of the story, a new character dubbed Lady Arkham, which I will try to refer to as vaguely as possible to avoid giving away her true identity. Even with my distaste for the Thomas Wayne bashing, the first two episodes of Batman: The Telltale Series were actually quite compelling. When Lady Arkham reveals her true self in episode three, the series takes a marked turn for the worse. I don’t know if it comes from Batman’s license holders at Warner Brothers, or if there’s just a general fear of introducing new villains into the Batman universe outside of the comics, but the disappointment at the revelation of Lady Arkham was even worse than when we all realized within the first 15-minutes of playing Arkham Knight that our foe was Jason Todd. At least, at that point, he was a villain in the comics.

Lady Arkham’s true identity was always a close ally of Batman/Bruce Wayne, and twisting her like this felt like it was just cheap shock value for us hardcore fans who never suspected her because of our familiarity with the character. If Telltale had created an entirely new character with Lady Arkham, keeping her network seemingly as powerful as Batman’s and as long-standing as Bruce Wayne’s—but minus the preconceived notions from her true identity’s long history in Bat-media—I think she and her Children of Arkham could’ve been a welcome addition to the Rogues Gallery (in the same way Talon and the Court of Owls was a few years ago, and Ra’s Al Ghul and the League of Assassins was in the ‘70s). As is, she feels like a throwaway character used simply to establish Telltale’s new universe while not wasting any of the classic villains, thus weakening the entire story arc as a whole.

BatmanVsLadyArkham1160

The series also takes a turn for the worse on the technical side of things starting around her reveal. Telltale’s game engine continues to show its age, and does so markedly as this series progresses. The first couple of episodes are mostly glitch-free, but by the time we reach episode five, the choppy cutscenes, dropped audio lines, and general lag after decisions are made make finishing the game almost a chore. I understand that Telltale prides itself on its products coming out on every playable device imaginable. At some point, however, the studio needs to take some of this licensing money and invest back into tech that is optimized for modern consoles, and stop giving us this lowest common denominator garbage.

From a gameplay perspective, the bulk of the game remains around Telltale’s iconic choose-your-own-adventure multiple-choice scenes that change character interactions and dialogue depending on the decisions you make. Some additions we haven’t seen before in a Telltale game, and some that are even exclusive to Batman: The Telltale Series, were included here, though.

Detective mode, the special lenses that paint the world in a blue hue and allows Batman to recreate crime scenes, makes an appearance here. Similar to the Batman: Arkham games, examining clues will help Batman figure out what exactly happened in and around a crime scene, and piecing things together properly will help him decide what to do next on a case. Telltale also smartly allows you to link clues together this way to make it feel more like you’re actually solving the puzzle yourself. You also use Detective mode before certain ambushes, allowing Batman to plan out how he wants to clear a room before starting the quicktime button-mashing fest that helps him to defeat thugs unscathed. It’s just different enough from the Arkham games, but it still feels very much like you’re Batman while using it, and was a pleasant surprise.

Unlike a lot of other Batman projects, this game also does a great job of balancing life as Bruce Wayne and Batman. Whereas the Bruce Wayne parts of most movies, TV shows, and even comics can lean towards the mundane, the sequences here were just as intense and action packed as those where you’re dressed as Batman. Sometimes, they were even more difficult, since you don’t want to give away your secret identity. I loved the idea of there being branching paths, and you can even choose to confront certain individuals as either Batman or Bruce Wayne, which results in the dialogue obviously changing drastically. I only wish there were more of these choices as well as more Detective mode sequences, with it feeling like there was only maybe one per episode of either of them.

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Batman: The Telltale Series had a lot of potential. There were some clever ideas, and some nice tribute Easter eggs to Bat-media of the past. Unfortunately, they aren’t enough to overcome aging, glitch-ridden technology and some weak narrative decisions in a narrative-centric experience. Therefore, it’s now time for me to try to find some Bat-Telltale repellant and see if I can’t get this game off of my bat-addled brain.

Publisher: Telltale Games • Developer: Telltale Games • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 12.13.16
6.0
The bigger a Batman fan you are, the less you’re likely to enjoy Telltale’s take on The Dark Knight. Combined with the obvious age Telltale’s engine is showing, this simply isn’t their best effort.
The Good Weaves elements from so many different Batman iterations over the years into one cohesive product.
The Bad Cheap plotline twists will leave some fans unhappy. Telltale’s engine is really starting to show its age.
The Ugly Selina Kyle’s apartment. I can’t stand a messy woman.
Batman: The Telltale Series is available on PS4, Xbox One, PC, Mac OS, iOS, Android, Xbox 360, and PS3. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. 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.

It’s very hard to whittle down a year’s worth of games to a list of merely five. EGM had almost 120 games up for best of the year voting this time around, of which I personally beat 87 at the moment of my writing this. (Who needs a family anyway? So overrated.) Nevertheless, some games took weeks, almost months to get through; some barely took more than a lunch break. But at the end of a grueling and arduous processing period that would have broken lesser men, I emerged with a list of my personal top five from 2016. I give these games my highest recommendation, and hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

#5
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: The Coalition
Platforms: Xbox One, PC
Gears of War 4
I was cautiously optimistic when it came to Gears 4 prior to release. The original trilogy had wrapped everything up so nicely, and the prequel was so lackluster, that I really wasn’t sure if an adventure that followed Marcus’ son could capture the magic of the original three. But, thankfully, my fears were quickly assuaged. New enemies, a Sera wracked by new natural disasters as a result of Gears 3’s ending, and a new cast was just what the doctor ordered to put Gears of War back on top. Along with the thrilling campaign, the multiplayer was a return to form, too. New weapons, maps, and modes, plus the card system to reward players for playing certain ways, gave it a much-needed shot in the arm. If I ever find the time, this is the one multiplayer I’m returning to.

#4
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Playground Games, Turn 10 Studios
Platforms: Xbox One, PC
Forza Horizon 3
As much as I love racing games,—and the Forza series in particular—it’s hard to believe it made my top five. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m saying it snuck in here. On the contrary, I just can’t believe how much I loved it. Sports and racing games sometimes get forgotten, or left in a category all their own (or weirdly mashed into one category). When it comes time for Game of the Year, for me anyway, everything is on the table. And hands down, no doubt, Forza Horizon 3 is one of the best all-around experiences I’ve had in 2016. If it wasn’t for the fact that my job requires me to play dozens of games a year, my tires would still be warm on my precious dune buggy as I bound over the hills of the Outback. With tons of championships still to be won, I can’t wait to dive back into this one over winter break.

#3
Publisher: The Pokémon Company
Developer: Game Freak
Platforms: 3DS
Pokémon Sun/Moon
I’ve said it a hundred times I think at this point, but I’ve been playing Pokémon since it first hit these shores almost 20 years ago, and I don’t think since that original entry has a game in the series made me so happy. Pokémon Sun/Moon’s removal of traditional gym battles, reimagining of friends and rivals, integration of legendary Pokémon into the story, and multitude of side activities to do blows away every previous entry. The fully-realized 3D world and movement make a huge difference when roaming around the islands of Alola, and the removal of HMs and adding ride Pokémon to get from point A to point B quickly make the chore of traversal a thing of the past. Almost every issue we’ve had with previous Pokémon games has been addressed, and the game still has all the great battle strategy and training we’ve come to expect over the years. I can’t wait to see where Pokémon goes next.

#2
Publisher: EA
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Titanfall 2
If you want to see a master course in level design in action, play Titanfall 2. Rectifying one of the major gaffs of the first game by including a campaign this go around, Respawn Entertainment turned my world on its head and inside out, and I loved every second of it. If you told me I was going to cherish the relationship between a pilot and his robot at this start of this, I’d have laughed you out of the office. Now, though, I think it’s one of the strongest bonds conveyed in a game. It’s not the best written, since gameplay definitely still takes the reigns most of the time here, but if you want a non-stop, adrenaline-fueled roller coaster ride with giant robots, then you need to play this game. Plus, the multiplayer is just as tight this go around as in the first one. It almost doesn’t get better than this.

#1
Publisher: Playdead
Developer: Playdead
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Inside
I’m just as shocked as anyone that I picked indies as my game of the year in back-to-back years now, but the truth of the matter is that I absolutely adored Inside. There was no other game that I was talking about well after I beat it more than this near-perfect little puzzle platformer. The adventure of trying to escape a world making its best attempt to crush you in every way imaginable surely has more metaphors buried in it than I can uncover here in this blurb, but throw that in with an insane ending that you’ll never see coming, and I’m still excited about it even just writing this. I did not know how Playdead would be able to top their first amazing effort with Limbo, but they did, and if anyone believes in the sophomore slump, they clearly never played Inside.
The 6th Annual “The Colors, Duke! The Colors!” Award for Most Colorful Game presented by Popsicle (not really)
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Continuing my annual tradition, for as many great looking games as were out there this year, none looked as good to me as Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. From the animation for all the characters to the remote locales that Drake explored, the game was simply gorgeous. Driving my jeep through the mud, boating on crystal clear waters, and climbing through overgrown jungles are all things we’ve seen in games before, but I don’t think any game has ever done them better. So, it may not have made my Top 5, but I needed to at least shine a small light on the beauty of this visual gem.
The Michelle Obama Award for Battling Obesity
Pokémon Go
Although strides have been made with motion controls and virtual reality, gaming has always been, and really remains, a pretty sedentary activity. Then Niantic released Pokémon Go this summer, and millions of people got up out of their chairs and started walking around—including yours truly. Heck, even to this day it affects my lunch habits, as I’ll walk places now in order to hatch eggs and get candy in the game. I met new people, found new places in and around Los Angeles, and spent more time outdoors than I had in a very long time. I’d still love to see battling and trading implemented at some point, but for now, kudos to Niantic for doing what almost nothing could for me for a long time: giving me a reason to get up and go outside.
The “Reality Sucks, Let’s Go Somewhere Else” Award
Robinson: The Journey
2016 will be remembered as the year VR really hit mass-market, and so it seemed fitting to shine a light on one of the best games out there for it. While many games successfully brought the sensation of piloting mechs or planes to life, my favorite experience was when I got to explore a strange new world on foot. Robinson: The Journey revolves around a spacefaring boy lost on a strange planet filled with dinosaurs. Avoiding Velociraptors, T-Rexs, and Pterodactyls was invigorating, and got me using my PS VR headset probably more than any other game out there. This experience, more than any, other has sold me on the future of VR.
EGM’s Best of 2016 Coverage
We’re taking a look at the best games of 2016 all week, from Christmas day through December 30th. Check back every day for our Top 25 Games of 2016, as well as our personal lists for the games we loved most this year. Check here for everything that’s been posted so far.

I’m sure like many gamers of my generation, stomping on Goombas and Koopa Troopas with Mario was the first video game experience we had. Over 30 years later, Mario’s moves and looks may have been consistently upgraded, but the simple joy of jumping on an enemy’s head and running for the flagpole goal remains ever satisfying no matter the system. So, with Mario appearing over on a mobile platform for the first time ever in Super Mario Run, I’m sure a lot of us were more than willing to make the leap with him. While the game may have the look and feel of a proper Mario, however, there are enough questionable decisions here to have made this one of my least-favorite trips to the Mushroom Kingdom.

Like the start to almost every Mario adventure, Princess Peach invites Mario over to her castle, and Mario arrives just in time to see Bowser kidnap his beloved. Again. This time, Bowser also proceeds to lay waste to the entire Mushroom Kingdom, reducing it to rubble and scattering the Toad population to the winds before he escapes to his fortress.

The bulk of Super Mario Run is comprised of 24 stages across six worlds in the game’s Tour mode. The first three stages are free to everyone who downloads the game, which I appreciate because it gives you a pretty solid taste of the game before you decide if it’s something you want to drop $9.99 for—a steep price to pay when talking about mobile games usually.

As the name would suggest, the game is an endless runner—Mario never stops moving normally, and all you have to do as the player is tap the screen to make him jump. There are special blocks carefully placed in the game that will pause everything, but if Mario misses them, he just keeps running and jumping at your command. The only other time he’s not sprinting to the right is in certain Ghost Houses and Boom Boom battles, where a wall jump will start Mario heading in the other direction.

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Despite Mario’s legs always churning like a locomotive, a lot of the classic platforming challenge we’ve come to love from the series remains, and never being able to stop actually adds a new layer of difficulty to the gameplay. Of course—as Super Mario Run has more of a casual flair—there are no lives to lose or no real consequences for failure (unlike Mario’s console outings). Still, there is challenge here, since you need to beat a stage in order to advance. Timing your jumps on or over enemies becomes critical as moving platforms and other obstacles are added to each subsequent stage. And, in order to collect the three sets of five special coins (pink, purple, and black) that are scattered in each stage, you’ll need to use every trick the game gives you to grab them successfully. Since only one set of coins appears at a time, if you’re obsessed with collectibles, you know you’ll have to play through each stage at least three times to nab them all.

If collectibles aren’t your thing, then one downside to the full game of Super Mario Run is that even with the challenge steadily ramping up, it shouldn’t take you more than two or three hours to knock out all 24 stages. Drabbing all those aforementioned collectible coins does change the stages slightly (platforms and enemies move to make the new coins challenging to reach), but if you’re not a collectible fiend, you’re likely to end up disappointed at those coins being the driving force behind the main game’s replayability.

There are two other modes that do try to keep you coming back outside of the Tour mode, with the first being Toad Rally. In order to try to lure the scattered Toads back to the Mushroom Kingdom, Mario can spend a Toad Ticket—easily earned via a daily bonus and completing stages—to take on the ghost of another player in a particular stage. If Mario can outperform the ghost by collecting more coins, defeating more enemies, and just generally progressing farther than the ghost in the time given, then Mario will lure Toads back with his impressive feats and bolster the population of the player’s particular Mushroom Kingdom. If Mario loses, some Toads may leave your Kingdom, so there is a risk involved—but luring back more than you’ve lost helps level up your game, potentially leading to expansion.

Why would you want to expand it, you ask? Well, Mario can also spend collected coins to help rebuild the Mushroom Kingdom in Build mode, where you’ll use Toad Houses, statues, hills, flower fields, and other items to help bring the Kingdom back to its former glory. Build enough structures, and have enough Toads, and you can expand the Mushroom Kingdom via Rainbow Bridges. You can also unlock new characters this way, such as Luigi or Yoshi, and each handles a bit differently than Mario in the main game. If world building is something that appeals to you, Toad Rally and Build mode work together to offer an interesting alternative to just replaying all the levels again and again.

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Personally, though, I didn’t find this to be enough to make me want to keep coming back to Super Mario Run. World building really isn’t what draws me into a Mario game. I admit I could see myself grinding for all the collectible coins to get more playtime out of each stage, but Super Mario Run has some technical shortcomings that really came to be fatal flaws which would keep me from doing this.

The first is something that I’ve been noticing with more and more mobile games lately, and that’s the fact that they have trouble performing on older mobile devices. I originally started playing the game on my iPad 2, and the game would lag terribly and crash after every few stages. I talked with some friends who had also tried it on older gear, and they had the same issues. When I switched to my iPhone 6, however, everything changed for the better. The lag and crashing issues dissipated, but let this serve as a warning to anyone without a more recent phone or tablet to play on.

The other technical issue is absolutely unforgivable in my book, and really soured my opinion of this game: the fact that it requires you to always be online. I think Nintendo has gotten a lot of their priorities confused lately; Super Mario Maker for the 3DS doesn’t let you go online to share stages you’ve created, and then you’ve got Super Mario Run, a mobile game, requiring you to always be online. I even put my phone in airplane mode to double check, and sure enough, you can’t even get past the title screen if you’re offline—an error message just keeps popping up, even if you paid for the entire game and not just the three demo stages.

I understand that you need the online aspects for the Toad Rally mode and the ghosts present there, but the fact you can’t play the main game offline is puzzling at the very least. With the holidays coming up, I thought Super Mario Run was going to be releasing at the perfect time considering all the long plane flights and car trips I’ve got coming up, and I’m sure I’m not the only one traveling over the next couple of weeks. The fact that I can’t play the game in a car, subway, or bus if I’m using a device without cell service, or on a plane at all—places where people are most apt to want to play mobile games—feels like Nintendo shooting Mario in his foot. This is one of the worst examples I can find of always-online gameplay, and it really hampers Super Mario Run and the potential enjoyment of it tremendously.

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Super Mario Run has a solid core as a mobile game. The endless runner style is nothing we haven’t seen before, but adding Mario’s classic platforming challenge created an extra degree of difficulty we don’t always get with the genre. Unfortunately, this was the brightest spot for this game. Even with all 24 stages, the main game is short, and relies heavily on collectibles and side options like rebuilding the Mushroom Kingdom to keep you coming back for more. Couple this with the fact that it needs to always be online to even be playable, and I think Nintendo really misses the point of what mobile games are supposed to be. Super Mario Run isn’t the worst mobile offering I’ve seen, but it could—and should—have been so much better.

Publisher: Nintendo • Developer: Nintendo EPD/DeNA • ESRB: N/A • Release Date: 12.15.16
6.0
Super Mario Run does a nice job of capturing the feel of a classic Mario game. The fact that it needs to always be online in order to play deters me from grinding through its collectible driven-gameplay, however, since it limits when and where I can actually play the game—defeating one of the primary purposes of playing a mobile game in the first place.
The Good Challenging platforming that will instantly remind you of other Mario games from over the years.
The Bad The always-online aspect is infuriating how much it can hinder when and where you play.
The Ugly All the times I wanted to say, “that’s what she said” whenever someone mentioned you can play with it with just one hand.
Super Mario Run is available on iOS platforms and coming later to Android. Primary version reviewed was for iPhone 6. Review code was 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.

The Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences announced this morning that Bethesda Game Studios’ Executive Producer and Game Director, Todd Howard, would be welcomed into their Hall of Fame at the upcoming 20th annual D.I.C.E. Awards. Howard is the 22nd individual to receive the honor, and will be presented the award by his long-time colleague, Pete Hines, Bethesda’s VP of Public Relations and Marketing.

As described by the AIAS themselves, the Hall of Fame honor is bestowed on game creators who have been instrumental in the development of highly influential games and moving a particular genre forward. These individuals demonstrate the highest level of creativity and innovation, resulting in significant product influence on a scale that expands the scope of the industry. Past AIAS Hall of Fame recipients include: Hideo Kojima (2016), Leslie Benzies (2014), Dan and Sam Houser (2014), Tim Sweeney (2012), Dr. Greg Zeschuk (2011), and Dr. Ray Muzyka (2011).

Todd Howard is likely best known for being integral to the growth and direction of The Elder Scrolls and Fallout franchises. Howard began his video game development career at Bethesda in 1994, with his first game development credit coming in 1995 with The Terminator: Future Shock. From there, Howard would join the Elder Scrolls team as a designer on The Elder Scrolls: Chapter II – Daggerfall. He has remained with the series ever since. In 2008, serving as executive producer and game director, Howard was also integral to ending the decade long dormancy of the Fallout series with Fallout 3.

“Todd is revered by legions of fans not just for his creative leadership over the years but for his humility and humor,” said Ted Price, CEO and Founder of Insomniac Games, and Vice Chairman of the AIAS. “Despite the fact that he’s helmed several of the most successful franchises in the history of our industry, he consistently defers praise to others and is the quintessential team player. Yet it’s Todd’s vision and strong direction that has brought Tamriel and the Commonwealth to life for millions around the world. I’m in awe of his accomplishments and am proud to call him a friend. I can’t think of anyone who deserves this honor more than he does.”

The 2017 AIAS Hall of Fame Award will be presented to Howard during the 20th annual D.I.C.E. Awards on Thursday, February 23rd, 2017, at the Mandalay Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. For those unable to attend in person, stay tuned to EGM for details on how you’ll likely be able to stream the awards on that date.

It’s been a long time since an extreme winter sports video game has really resonated with gamers. After the genre saw quick success with games like SSX, many companies have tried and failed to get a foothold in the category and capture a bit of the magic some of those early games had. But even with bigger mountains, deeper customization, and more realistic physics, many have fallen like a boarder unable to stick the landing after a 1080. However, I went into Steep, Ubisoft’s new attempt to fill that winter sports game void, with hope—only instead to find myself feeling like someone having fallen into a snowdrift, believing there to be something more solid underfoot when there was not.

Steep starts off well enough, with a quick tutorial that introduces you to the four different disciplines available right from the start: skiing, snowboarding, parasailing, and wingsuit flying. From there, your extreme athlete of choice will be able to explore the Alps via any of these methods or by scouting out locations with their binoculars, unlocking drop zones or challenges that they can then fast travel to by helicopter. By performing various death-defying feats at these spots, you will level up and unlock more of the mountain range’s peaks for exploration until you’ve conquered them all.

As soon as you set foot on your first mountain top, you’ll have to give Ubisoft Annecy some credit. This game looks gorgeous, and each mountainside has character to it. Frozen lakes nestled in valleys serve as ice bridges between crags, pine forests play the role of natural course boundaries, and cozy villages jutting out of rocky cliff sides are ready to welcome you as you explore. And, when your character sinks knee-deep into the snow as you wade to an edge to jump off, or you notice the light reflecting off of cabin windows at different angles as the dynamic day/night cycle proceeds, it’s hard to deny that Steep does a stellar job of making you feel like you could actually be in the Alps.

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The attention to graphical detail doesn’t just permeate the mountain, though. Your athlete is fully customizable, and the more tasks and events you complete, the more gear you can potentially unlock. Helmets, jackets, skis, boards, parachutes, wing suits, goggles, boots, beanies, and more can all be switched on your person. Of course, some items are also heavily labeled with brands like RedBull and GoPro, but they’re some of the most prolific advertisers for winter sports—so while some may find it obnoxious, it’s entirely realistic.

For as polished as Steep is visually, I’m afraid it’s hard to get excited about too much else here. That’s not to say there’s not a lot to do; on the contrary, there are over 100 courses, plus 30 “mountain stories” that give some more life to the area—ranging from ringing a bell in one of the village churches to just following another boarder through a winding path as she recounts some local mythos. The problem is the game doesn’t do a very good job of leading you through all these different challenges, or in giving you a reason to seek them out.

It flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but Steep actually opens up its world to you too quickly. After beating the first few challenges and leveling up your athlete, almost the entire world can unlock at once. The fast travel map does an awful job of clearly labeling what events are old and what you just opened up. Most times you have to hover over a point to see if you’ve already set a best time or score to know if you’ve played it or not, because from that bird’s eye view, everything looks exactly the same. There are also no clear goals that you’re aiming for besides win every challenge. There’s some bigger-name competitions going on, but you can stumble on them just as randomly as some no-name experience-boosting challenges. So, you never feel like you’re working towards something—there’s no real end goal.

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Should the thrill of the race be enough for you, though, Steep does try to inject a little replayability into each course to lengthen the life of this experience. First, another way for GoPro to work its way into the game was to be the foundation for a new replay system that allows you to cut together a highlight package, similar to how you would if you were really shredding down the Alps like one of these pro athletes. GoPro cameras are all over extreme sports now, usually attached to the heads and boards of athletes, and offering up new and interesting angles on non-contact sports we wouldn’t otherwise get. So, if putting together a highlight reel of your gaming prowess is something you like to do, Steep has an impressive suite of tools at your disposal here.

Another way Ubisoft Annecy tried to make Steep replayable—and something I found particularly interesting—is the fact that the game is always online and always in multiplayer. Like a real mountain, you’ll see other players taking on the courses as well, and depending on your settings, you can even bump into them. With a press of a button, you can group up with others to add a little more competition to things, giving you purpose beyond just racing once and getting gold. You can also carve out your own path in free roam and then set it up as a challenge to others online, giving you a rough create-your-own course feature that is extremely easy to upload to others.

Of course, there is an issue with this needing to be online all the time: If you can’t connect, you can’t play the game. During my time with Steep, it happened once where I couldn’t play at all for almost an hour, and kept getting bumped back to the title screen. This can be a huge hindrance to the game and its community, especially considering Ubisoft’s history of issues with server maintenance and stability to begin with. The fact I can’t play the game offline at all is unforgivable, showing an overabundance in relying on the social aspects to keep what is clearly a barebones experience interesting.

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Steep’s greatest sin, however, might be its most damning: The game simply doesn’t control very well in most of its categories. I found the wing suit sports to be the most responsive, and therefore ended up trying to curtail the final hours of review time towards those to make what was an otherwise frustrating experience somewhat palatable. Parasailing felt like I had no control whatsoever, praying for updrafts to keep my parachute properly open and moving in the direction of the finish line.

Skiing and snowboarding were the most prevalent sports, and were as fun as wingsuiting—when everything worked. Unfortunately, there were times where I’d be trying to pull off stunts and it’d feel like the controls were locking up. Even hurtling down the mountain with a bat outta hell’s worth of momentum, I’d hit the jump perfectly and instead of performing the twists, turns, and rolls I’d expect, my athlete would almost listlessly drift in the direction I was jamming the thumb stick. The worst of it all would then be when I’d land, thinking I had at least gotten my rider adequately back to center, but instead he breaks every bone in his body as he tumbles head-over-end down the mountain. The rag doll physics were at least humorous, but it felt like the game should’ve just focused on two sports instead of four and tried to perfect those as much as possible.

Steep had a lot of good ideas at its core. Some, like its replay and social features, are a dream when everything is running smoothly. Unfortunately, the game is more frustrating than fun due to its lack of focus and execution in both controls and overall scope. What many were hoping would be a smooth ride down the mountainside instead feels like smacking into pine trees repeatedly. I wouldn’t be surprised if fans of the extreme winter sports genre again feel like they’re left standing out in the cold from this one.

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Publisher: Ubisoft • Developer: Ubisoft Annecy • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 12.02.16
6.0
The multiplayer and replay ideas that Ubisoft implemented in Steep were great, and the game looks terrific. It’s held back as a whole, though, by listless controls, a directionless world, and an always-online requirement that brings everything crashing down like an avalanche when the servers decide to act up.
The Good Great visuals; the create-a-challenge and multiplayer help keep things fresh.
The Bad Controls feel inconsistent and unforgiving. Always online except when you aren’t and can’t play.
The Ugly Breaking every bone in my boarder’s body when failing to stick a landing.
Steep is available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Ubisoft for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

The third annual PlayStation Experience took place this past weekend, and this year was the biggest and best yet for Sony’s year-end celebration. More announcements than ever before were made at the show—but more than that, the show floor had more games than ever before, too. I was able to go hands-on with nearly two-dozen titles while at the show, and I’ve whittled those experiences down to the 10 best games that I think you should be chomping at the bit for.

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Developer: Metalhead Software
Publisher: Metalhead Software
Super Mega Baseball 2

The original Super Mega Baseball was the kind of arcade-y experience that baseball games started out as back in the day. Due to its initial December release back in 2014, it might not have gotten the love it deserved, but it was good enough to easily cement its status as a cult classic. Clearly, the love was heard loud and clear from the folks over at Metalhead Software, as they’re now working on a sequel planned for 2017. Super Mega Baseball 2 features more stadiums, more players, and more modes than the original, while still bringing over its 1-4 player couch co-op/versus play. Its controls remain easy to pick up but difficult to master, as your pitchers have every possible pitch imaginable, and knowing when to swing for power—and getting the timing right—or swing for contact is critical to success. If you love baseball, and are looking for an alternative to the more serious simulation that is The Show, Super Mega Baseball 2 is all set to knock it out of the park again.

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Developer: Yager Development
Publisher: Grey Box
Dreadnought

We’ve been hearing about Dreadnought for a while now, and on the precipice of its 2017 release, we got the awesome news that it’s also coming to PlayStation 4. For those unfamiliar with the game, you take control of one of a series of massive starships, waging space war against those who would stand against you. Each ship has different statistics based on their size, speed, and armaments, and playing what best suits your style—and what can best help your team win—will be critical, as the planning stages are just as important here as the actual combat itself.

My one worry with the PS4 announcement was how the controls (based around a mouse/keyboard) would transition to a controller. Luckily, the team found a way to do it. The PS4 controller’s touchpad is utilized when choosing to divert extra power to shields, engines, or guns, picking up the slack of the lack of buttons on the controller face. And, after playing a couple matches this way, I found using a controller to be just as intuitive—if not more so—than the PC controls. Now, it’s just a matter of time before we can get access to the beta and become captains of our own starships.

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Developer: PlayTonic Games
Publisher: Team17
Yooka-Laylee

If you loved the original Banjo-Kazooie games, then Yooka-Laylee is not only a love letter and spiritual successor to them, but to all the platformers of the N64 era. During my PSX demo, I was introduced to a massive world chock full of collectibles, puzzles, and colorful characters that shared the British tongue-in-cheek, fourth-wall breaking humor that made us all smile a little wider back in the ‘90s. The single area I saw required Yooka and Laylee to change the seasons in order to collect every single Pagie they could as they try to save all the world’s literature from nefarious forces. Besides the seasonal puzzles, Yooka the chameleon can also eat special berries that changed his attributes. For example, one makes him turn to stone in order to withstand high winds, while another allows him to spit ice and freeze platforms. Laylee the bat also gets in on the action, shooting out a sonic scream that can wake up sleeping totems and reveal new platforms to hop across. Simply put, the gamut of gameplay on display here—from shooting to platforming to puzzle solving—made me feel like a kid again in all the best ways.

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Developer: Supergiant Games
Publisher: Supergiant Games
Pyre

I love games. Always have, always will. Being a games journalist for nearly a decade now, however, means I love them differently. I appreciate them, but it’s rare I ever get outwardly excited anymore. There is an exception to every rule, of course, and I admit I absolutely mark out for anything Supergiant Games makes. So, when they officially announced that Pyre would have a local versus multiplayer mode at PSX (something we speculated when we first saw the game earlier in the year), and I got to play it? I went bonkers. And, it turned out, with good reason, because it seems Supergiant has taken the time and care they always apply to their worlds and their narratives, and have successfully done the same with multiplayer.

Much like the main game, Pyre’s multiplayer has two teams of three face off as you try to get a special orb into your opponent’s base—like a game of celestial basketball. The strategy and intensity that emerges from playing another human, however, takes the gameplay to an entirely new level. It’s difficult to predict these things, but I could easily see Pyre turning into a couch versus phenomenon. Supergiant told me at the show they’re trying to get online to work, but would rather no online than broken online. I think that’s entirely the way to go, because even as is, this game is primed to be a slam dunk.

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Developer: Sloclap
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Absolver

Following E3 2016, I had heard from fellow EGMer Matt Buchholtz how amazing Absolver was. After finally getting to try it out at PSX, I don’t think Matt gave the game nearly enough credit. On the surface, Absolver is an arena fighter where your character moves through a world, taking on opponents, growing stronger, and learning new moves in the process. Dig just a little deeper, however, and you find a game that celebrates fighting as an art form, a complicated dance of fists and feet and force that when perfectly flowing together creates a performance unparalleled elsewhere. This is where Absolver makes itself special.

Its visuals are already beautiful; the character designs remind me fittingly a bit of the dancer from Bound. But when you start to understand the timing of moves, your fighter’s four different stances, how you can properly chain moves together, and even customize your own combos from dozens of moves, there’s a level of detail here rarely seen in any fighting game—and which has me equally excited for both the campaign and its versus modes.

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Developer: Whitemoon Dreams
Publisher: Sony
Starblood Arena

When I saw Starblood Arena announced at the PSX 2016 showcase, the first thing that came to mind was how it would it compare to RIGS—another game involving players shooting each other while piloting mechs that was, to me, PlayStation VR’s best launch title. After playing it, Starblood Arena might be even better.

Right off the bat, Starblood Arena provides a cast of colorful characters and mechs of different shapes, sizes, and stats to differentiate itself from other early VR shooters (and inject some personality into the game). It also provides a full six axes of motion, meaning your mechs are constantly flying through the air and that threats can come from any angle. What Starblood Arena also does smartly is provide standard FPS controls with the two sticks on a controller, and then have finer aiming done by moving your head. This not only gives most gamers a control scheme they’ll be familiar with, but also reduces nausea-inducing situations down to nothing for most. Although I only took on bots in the limited demo—19:1 K/D by the way—the game features deathmatch and other standard shooter-fare modes. If Starblood Arena can build a solid player base, it could be the next great multiplayer game for PS VR.

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Developer: Lightbulb Club
Publisher: Lightbulb Club
Games of Glory

The PS4 has been offering some interesting free-to-play fare recently, starting with the announcement that Gung Ho’s Let It Die was launching right there at PSX 2016 for everyone. Another F2P game that’s coming exclusively to the PS4 is Games of Glory, which could prove to be immensely popular among the multiplayer crowd. Combining MOBA elements with a Guardian mode, Games of Glory splits six players up into two three-person teams. Your team must attempt to win a best-of-9 series by holding the center of a map and keeping your designated captain alive for the entirely of a round. Who fills the role of captain always rotates between rounds, so every player could potentially be the captain three times. Each character has moves and roles similar to what you would see in your typical MOBA, including tanks, DPS, healers, and so on. Coming up with a strategy and combination of players to overcome your opponents isn’t easy, but it sure can be fun. Although only a few characters and only the one mode were available for play at PSX, some variety here could easily see Games of Glory catch on with its ease of play.

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Developer: Giant Sparrow
Publisher: Sony
What Remains of Edith Finch

I saw What Remains of Edith Finch a couple of years ago at E3, and have been waiting to find out the final, sordid history of the Finch family tree with bated breath ever since. Players are tasked with exploring the Finch family home, where whenever someone in the family meets with a tragic end, their bedroom is sealed off. By discovering new rooms, you also discover new tragedies and tales as you try to uncover the secret of the Finch legacy. With a release finally coming supposedly right around the corner, I played through one of the shorter stories on the tree, that of a twin brother who wanted to fly in the worst way—and got his wish.

What Remains of Edith Finch is the next step in interactive storytelling, providing players with fantastical experiences that also find ways to tug on heartstrings. The two stories I played through on two separate occasions took me places I never thought games might go, but when the game is finally done and we play through this entire collection of short tales, I think we’ll all be happy they did.

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Developer: Prideful Sloth
Publisher: Prideful Sloth
Yonder: The Cloud Chaser Chronicles

Imagine a Legend of Zelda game minus the enemies, and you’ll have a pretty rough idea of what to expect from Yonder: The Cloud Chaser Chronicles. Here, you play a boy or girl who, after waking up in a mysterious world, sets out both to figure out how they got there and help purge a mysterious force that is consuming the land. To do that, you’ll have to find fairy-like creatures on your journey that can help you purge the encroaching darkness. Along the way, you’ll also be able to build your own farm, befriend a variety of animals, collect resources, or go on quests for nearby villagers to earn the tools needed to open up more of the world. You can fish, chop wood, mine stone, and more to gather resources, which—when combined with your farming aspect—gives the game a bit of an open-world Harvest Moon feel as well. I admit, normally I prefer a bit more conflict in games of this ilk, but I’m curious as to where the story could go. As a change of pace, the peaceful open-world quests of Yonder might be just what we need as gamers.

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Developer: Exploding Tuba
Publisher: Exploding Tuba
Divide

The twin-stick shooter is a pretty common video game staple; rarely has it ever been tied to a complex narrative, however. Enter: Divide. It’s a science-fiction action/adventure game that will demand every second of your attention. Every bit of information needs to be taken with a grain of salt as you work your way through a futuristic dystopia in search of your missing daughter.

What makes Divide even more interesting is its control scheme, which uses none of the PS4 controller’s face buttons. Instead, everything is mapped to triggers and the control sticks. Whether hacking a terminal to open a door, or aiming down the sights of your gun when in confrontations with soldiers or security bots, you’ll have to master this simple control scheme to work your way out of some complex jams as you dive deeper into the story.  Much like the story itself, Divide may look simple at first glance, but when you start to get past the surface, there is so much more to discover.

We here at Hockey Achievements started our own EASHL team shortly after NHL 17 was released in September. Following up on our 6-week update from last month, we’re now taking a look at the mode and our own team in an EASHL 2016 Year in Review. We’ve put quite a bit more time into the mode over the last quarter calendar year, and here are our thoughts on the mode and how better to improve your game if you’re struggling.

POSITIONING: Since Hockey Achievements intern Travis joined the team; one important aspect of hockey has become startlingly clear and that is the aspect of positioning your players on the ice. Sure, the computer and human opponents will usually tend towards chasing the puck, but if your defenseman decides he’s going to pinch in on every play, your opponents will learn from this and often take advantage of it. Travis loves pinching as a defenseman because Hockey Achievements isn’t really known as an offensive powerhouse, winning most of our games by narrow 1-0, or 2-1 margins. Getting caught behind enemy forwards via some clever passing, however, can often lead to odd-man rushes back the other way. Luckily, we’ve been bailed out a few times via patch improvements made to our next observation.

GOALTENDING: November’s NHL 17 patch helped boost the goaltending AI and this has been critical to providing a more realistic sim experience on the ice. A deke master can still find the opening on the short side, but an elite goaltender won’t be caught out of position as often. Of course, nothing is perfect and neither are goalies, as Hockey Achievements has also been burned by soft goals on slapshots taken from outside the faceoff circles in our defensive zone. While these softies are few and far between, this makes them all the more backbreaking when they do occur. Smoother animations and movements in the crease for human players playing as goalies have also been added, but the only person to have braved stepping between the pipes thus far has been Ryan Sheehy and he’s still a bit shellshocked from the overall experience.

CUSTOMIZATION: The final aspect that has become evident as Hockey Achievements have clawed their way up the online standings and we have turned our team into a little beer-league level powerhouse has been the customization. More fonts, team colors, jersey designs, and arena additions have become available as we level our team up and that personal touch has helped the sense that we’re actually playing for something more than just your amusement dear readers. More options in these categories have also been added since NHL 17’s last patch. Although EA will likely never allow full graphic design options to help keep the game family friendly (and its ESRB rating at just E10+ for everyone 10 and older), more options to help each team define themselves and their personalities is always appreciated and is a just reward for those clutch victories you obtain online.

Hockey Achievements is nowhere near done with the EASHL, but we are more than confident in saying the changes and additions made to the mode since the game’s launch have provided a more realistic experience and a more enjoyable one. To see all of these features in action, be sure to tune in every Tuesday night at 6 PM PT/9 PM ET to watch Hockey Achievements’ weekly Tuesday Night Hockey as Ray Carsillo goes online and broadcasts games live on Twitch at twitch.tv/hockeyachievements.

Also, be sure to stay tuned for opportunities to try and join Ray, Ryan, Travis, and the rest of the Hockey Achievements crew in the EASHL as Hockey Achievements looks to fill some slots on their team as the season progresses, or face them in head-to-head competitions. Until next time, be sure to keep it tuned to HockeyAchievements.com and The Gaming Zone in particular for you all your NHL 17 needs, and we’ll see you on the digital ice.