Archive for September, 2017


I had a chance to play a new demo of South Park: The Fractured But Whole from Ubisoft, Ubisoft San Francisco, and South Park Digital Studios. Here, we fight some priests and red necks. Check it out. South Park: The Fractured But Whole will be available October 17 for Xbox One, PS4, and PC.

Advertisements

I had a chance to check out the new MUT Squads mode in Madden NFL 18, which adds 3-versus-3 gameplay and co-op gameplay back to the franchise for the first time in years. Madden NFL 18 is out now.

I had a chance to play “The Rise”, the new prologue in EA Sports’ The One mode in NBA Live 18. NBA Live 18 will drop on September 15th for Xbox One and PS4.

I had a chance to play some of NHL 18‘s new Threes mode early and dominated the competition. Check out the new arcade-like mode below. NHL 18 will be available from EA Canada and EA Sports on September 15th.

I had a chance to at E3 2017 to take on one of the new features in Assassin’s Creed Origins–The Gladiator Arena. After two waves of enemies I then got to take on a hulking brute called The Slaver. In this video you can see some of the new combat in the game. Enjoy.

When Knack II was announced at PSX 2016, I admit that I was probably one of the loudest groans in the auditorium. Knack had left a bad taste in many people’s mouths, coming across more as a tech demo for the newly-launched PS4 than an action game any of us wanted to play—and definitely didn’t feel worthy of a sequel. Yet here I am, ready to eat my words, because Knack II has made me a believer. It’s not without issues, but for the most part, it’s a fun romp for gamers of all ages.

Knack II takes place three years after the original game. It kicks off in medias res, with the capital city of New Haven being attacked by giant killer robots, and our plucky protagonist Knack needing to again save the day. Just before Knack takes on the biggest of all the robots, we flashback to six months prior to find out how we got to that point, facing off against foes old and new as we start an adventure that will take us across a variety of locales in Knack’s world.

It needs to be said that the self-contained plot here is an improvement over the first game’s story. It’s twists, turns, and bombastic moments—although somewhat predictable—elicited a Saturday morning cartoon vibe at times that I enjoyed. If there should ever be a third Knack game, this is a direction the series might want to lean into more, considering our colorful hero and his perceived target audience. Even with help from God of War writer Marianne Krawczyk, however, a lot of the characters in Knack’s universe still feel very one note, especially the titular hero.

In the first Knack, the goblin boss, Gundahar, called Knack a tool—and in many ways, that single line of dialogue was telling of many of the problems Knack still has now as a hero. Previously, Knack was always being bossed around by Dr. Vargas (his creator), and although the good doctor has thankfully taken more of a backseat this go around, his assistant, Lucas, has taken up the role of barking orders, telling our hero exactly what to do and when to do it. This depicts a feeling of subservience that isn’t fun to play. I understand that Knack isn’t exactly Kratos when it comes to backstory, but him having a bit more say in the adventure—and feeling like he’s on the same level as the characters around him (it is his game after all)—would go a long way to making our protagonist a more likeable hero that people would want to play as.

Of course, I also understand that Knack II is first and foremost an action-platformer and is primarily gameplay driven. In that regard, Knack II is light years ahead of its predecessor, and would stand on its own as an impressive action game even without the first Knack to compare it to. One of the biggest—and most important—changes comes in the form of Knack’s original gimmick: the ability to change his size.

In the first game, Knack would constantly be forced down into “small Knack” size, typically around the size of a child with a diminutive health bar to match. Almost every level started with Knack at this size, and it was often frustrating to go through all the work of building him up only to be broken down again at every story beat. In Knack II, Knack usually starts around “normal Knack” size, somewhere in the five to six foot range, and many new gameplay mechanics branch out from this single decision. As a side note, we can tell exactly how big he is with the new size counter next to Knack’s health bar, which initially seems like a minor addition but really adds a nice sense of scope to things.

This starting size allows Knack to control like most action game heroes. Knack now has elaborate punching and kicking combos that weren’t present in the first game; he can parry projectile attacks, or just block in general; he has new moves like block-breaking strong punches, stunning boomerang attacks, a gap-closing hookshot, and even a “secret technique” that looks a whole lot like a short-range hadouken. We’ll forgive Knack for borrowing some of these moves from other franchises, because it adds so much in terms of both how you attack enemies and the variety of said enemies the game can throw at you. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery after all.

There is still a use for “small Knack,” though, and with a tap of the R1 button, Knack can shrink almost instantaneously. There are many obstacles and hidden paths in Knack’s world that only a smaller-sized Knack can navigate. With another tap of R1, Knack can use the magical abilities that allow him to control relics (the particles that make up his body) to call those pieces back, so he can return to whatever size he was before. Even when Knack grows to his giant sizes—he maxes out at 32 feet tall—he can still instantly shrink to just under three feet when he needs to. This was a critical gameplay component the original Knack lacked, and it offers chances to explore an otherwise linear world while still showing off the game’s powerful particle effects.

Even with all this, there’s still a lot more gameplay variety to Knack II. There’s a new experience meter, which you can spend your accumulated experience on four different branches of a RPG-inspired skill tree where Knack can upgrade his speed, power, and other stats. There are tank-driving levels, plane-piloting segments, platforming puzzles, puzzles based on Knack’s weight, and quicktime events. All of those except for the last one were a ton of fun. The QTEs were used too heavily, especially when Knack would learn new moves and they would weirdly happen before tutorials. They were also too frequently used as level transitions, but understandably tried to give a more cinematic flair to some of the action that Knack wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.

And if you’re looking for replayability, Knack II has it in spades. Sure, there are 100 new secret chests to find, much like the first game, but there are also 143 different secondary challenges across the campaign—like beating a level in a certain amount of time or smashing all of a particular kind of crate to earn bonus points (those bonus points are great for trying to get the best online high score for each level). There is also a time trial mode with online leaderboards for speed runs, and an arena mode where you can fight wave after wave of enemies. Knack II even added drop-in, drop-out co-op where a second player can take control of a blue-tinted clone of Knack, and the difficulty scales appropriately when there are two players versus only one.

It may seem like I just rattled off a bunch of stuff there—and I sort of did—but the point is that in the four years between Knack and Knack II, Sony’s Japan Studio obviously took a lot of time to look at what people wanted from an action game, and what many of their contemporaries were doing, and tried to accommodate that. I believe they not only succeeded, but also far exceeded expectations, not only putting their own entertaining twist on familiar things, but actually turning Knack into a viable action franchise that could be fun for the whole family.

Knack II doesn’t re-invent the wheel, but it is a very solid, very sturdy wheel if you’re looking for an action fix—while with its predecessor, many of us were tempted to throw out the entire cart. Whereas the first Knack often had me asking myself “when will it ever end,” Knack II held my attention throughout, and I was happy to play it all the way through. The story and universe of Knack could still use some work (and some much-needed fleshing out), but the gameplay has come so far from its predecessor that I won’t be groaning the next time I hear that Knack is back.

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment • Developer: SIE Japan Studio • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 09.05.17
8.0
Knack II fixes many of the problems of its predecessor, delivering a fun action-platformer worthy of giving this series a second chance. The story is still a bit bare-boned, but the gameplay alone will be enough to keep you going until you see the end credits.
The Good A large variety of gameplay and Knack’s expanded moveset allows you to tackle bad guys in a plethora of ways.
The Bad Too many QTEs; all of the characters in terms of their personalities, especially Knack, still feel very one-dimensional.
The Ugly I feel like there’s been some retconning between Knack games that none of us were made aware of.
Knack II is a PS4 exclusive. A retail copy 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.

There is no more ubiquitous character in video games than Nintendo’s mascot, Mario. He’s raced go-karts, he’s played baseball and soccer, he’s taught kids how to type, and yes, there’s that whole saving the Mushroom Kingdom from Bowser a couple dozen times, too. So, the thought of Mario doing something new once again isn’t really that new at all. When it was revealed that his latest activity would be teaming up with Ubisoft’s anti-mascot the Rabbids in a tactical-RPG, however, I admit that seemed as random as the Rabbids themselves. But as is often the case, Mario can do no wrong, and with the Rabbids wreaking their usual brand of havoc, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle sees each group of characters play well off the strengths of the other to deliver one of the most fun tactical RPGs you’re likely to play.

The game begins in the real world, where a genius girl has invented a device called the SupaMerge. Just by looking at two items through a pair of fancy goggles, she can merge their molecules together into something useful, like looking at a flower and a lamp to produce a plant whose flowers are actual lightbulbs. The device is littered with bugs, though, and after packing it in after another night of troubleshooting, the girl goes to bed. It’s at this moment, riding in their iconic time-traveling washing machine, that the Rabbids randomly appear, and instantly start wreaking havoc in the girl’s workshop. It’s not long before one finds the SupaMerge, merges with it himself, and then can’t stop looking around at everything around him, including various Mario Bros. memorabilia. Soon, the Rabbids and their washing machine are catapulted into the Mushroom Kingdom, where the panicked Rabbid with the goggles (later dubbed Spawny) continues to merge things he shouldn’t—leaving Mario and friends having to team up with several Rabbids dressed in familiar Mario gear to try to restore a semblance of order.

There are two major parts to Mario + Rabbids gameplay: world exploration and battles. Each of the game’s four worlds is broken down into eight chapters, with a ninth if you count the boss at the end of each one. It may not sound like a lot of worlds, but the number actually works out pretty well in terms of providing legitimate length to the game (considering my first playthough pushed the 20-hour mark), and falls in with the Mario theme of eight stages per level. During most chapters, there will be sections of the world ravaged in some way by Spawny’s goggles that will require some puzzle solving in order to progress. Usually these consisted of having to press switches to move massive sections of the world, or place pipes to try to build a way forward, but the puzzles fit well in the vein of the Mario series and offered a nice break from the one to three battles in each chapter.

Battles break down in a way very similar to what you might see in a game series like XCOM, and you can see them coming as the camera shifts from a more cinematic one during exploration to a more tactical-driven isometric cam. Mario and two allies will take the field and be given one of four tasks: escort a fourth, unarmed character to a safe zone; get one of their own teammates to a safe zone; kill all enemies; or kill a certain number of enemies. I could’ve used a little more variety in my mission objectives, but there was enough to keep things from being monotonous at least.

Each character is able to move a certain number of spaces per turn, and can actually tackle enemies during this phase, or jump off of teammates to move farther than normal on the battlefield. However you move, or wherever you land, it’s recommended that you take cover, with shield icons representing how much protection your characters actually have at the moment (since cover can also be destroyed by enemy or friendly fire). You can then activate one offensive attack and one power per character; what’s impressive about this is many powers and attacks will have special effects when they crit, and if you smartly set your team up, you can stack these for some truly chaotic effects.

In one instance, I fired Rabbid Luigi’s Bworb weapon (it’s an energy orb projectile thing) and set an enemy on fire. This enemy then proceeded to run all over the battlefield until his behind cooled off, but while doing so, triggered Mario’s Hero Sight power (basically, Overwatch in XCOM, which allows players to shoot enemies that cross the player’s line of sight, even when it’s not that character’s turn). That attack’s crit caused bounce—which launched the enemy high into the air—and then activated Peach’s Royal Gaze—her version of Hero Sight/Overwatch—and she shotgunned the enemy and froze them. Let’s just say that particular enemy didn’t know what hit them, and was no longer a threat.

Once completed, each battle is given a grade based on how many characters of yours were knocked out and how many turns it took you to beat the battle. Better outcomes in battle leads to greater rewards upon successfully completing each chapter, with the team then being bestowed with coins to purchase new weapons and XP in order to power up some surprisingly deep skill trees of each character.

Speaking of characters, though, one of my few issues with the game is that there are only eight characters total here, you can only choose three at a time, and you don’t even get the last character for your party until only a couple of stages before the game actually comes to an end. You also must always have Mario in your party, and there must always be at least one Rabbid. This was all really limiting on the strategy front because, particularly towards the end of the game, I felt I was being forced to put out a team that wasn’t necessarily my best. It might be a way to create artificial challenge, and I get the hesitation to allow Mario to be put on the bench, but the characters should then really have been better balanced, or should have offered up some greater variety between their abilities.

I think the general lack of powers for each character, no matter how strong your characters might get, was also a bit of a limiting factor. Each character only gets two weapons and two powers, and although they can earn stronger versions of everything as the game progresses, I would really have loved it had each character had more abilities they could learn instead of just powering up what they already had. It would offer more strategic nuance—especially when you’re so limited on how you can create your team—as well as give you something more tangible to work towards, considering you’ll at least have the base version for everything unlocked for each character by world two.

The set-up is clearly there for a classic adventure fitting of both these franchises. The story finds a way to incorporate the humor of the Rabbids, yet still deliver an adventure worthy of Mario. When it came to gameplay, admittedly Mario + Rabbids had to strike a difficult balance. Typically, Mario and Rabbids games are easy to pick up and play for gamers of all ages—tactical RPGs, however, are usually far more involved, and boast an intricate set of rules that only grow more so as the game progresses. Marrying these two concepts would not be easy, and unsurprisingly, Ubisoft erred on the side of accessibility over complexity. This isn’t to say Mario + Rabbids is a pushover if you’re looking for intense strategy sessions. It’s quite the opposite actually, especially in the game’s later stages, and you’ll be tempted at times to turn on the game’s easy mode (which gives your characters a 50% health boost). Still, I felt like the game only scratched the surface of some concepts, not willing to dig too deeply for fear of isolating certain audiences. If anything, my complaints for wanting more from these systems only hammers home the fact that there is a solid core strategy game here, which I would love to see evolve and grow stronger in the future.

It also needs to be said that Mario + Rabbids offers up some fantastic replayability. There are dozens of collectibles to be found, many of which can only be acquired by returning to worlds previously visited after your guide throughout the adventure—the detached user-interface for Spawny’s goggles named Beep-0—powers up after each boss battle. Each world also gains an additional 10 challenge battles when you beat it, and there’s an extra four challenges to be found in the game’s central hub of Peach’s Castle, too. There’s also Amiibo support, but not nearly as much as in many other Nintendo games; only Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Yoshi amiibos are necessary here and using them once will net each character an extra weapon and that’s it.

Finally, there’s also a 2-player local co-op campaign separate from the main story to be tackled. Here, players can each choose two characters, and must work together by taking turns to overcome the heightened challenge thrown at them. Careful teamwork is required here, because it’s very easy for each player to try to do their own thing, only to be ambushed by enemies and see your game end in a quick and humiliating defeat.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a game that none of us knew we wanted, but should be happy is here. It again shows that you can stick Mario into any multitude of situations and he’ll deliver a high-quality experience that everyone can enjoy. As a tactical RPG, Mario + Rabbids does leave a little bit to be desired in terms of depth of gameplay, but overall provides a fun experience that will have you racking your brain as you try to overcome the scenarios before you—and belly-laughing at the hijinx Mario’s unlikely new sidekicks, the Rabbids, bring to the Mushroom Kingdom.

Publisher: Ubisoft • Developer: Ubisoft Paris/Milan • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 08.29.17
8.5
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle may not be the deepest tactical RPG, but it delivers a solid all-around experience that takes advantage of the strengths of both Mario and the Rabbids—making for one of the most surprisingly enjoyable game experiences you’re likely to have this year.
The Good An odd team-up on paper turns into one of the better tactical RPG experiences out there.
The Bad I wish that some of the great ideas here had been given a little more depth.
The Ugly The constant fight against the want to turn on easy mode when facing off against some late-game bosses.
Mario+Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a Nintendo Switch exclusive. 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.

Last year was considered to be a down year for 2K’s annual WWE wrestling franchise. You’ve got to break a few eggs to make an omelet, though, and many of us hoped that last year’s game would at least lay the groundwork for a better product in the years to come. To help support that train of thought, some of us were invited up to 2K’s Novato, CA, headquarters last month to talk with WWE 2K Executive Producer Mark Little about the changes that were coming to the series—and almost everything sounded like what we wanted to hear. So, when it came time for WWE 2K’s annual first hands-on preview event on the eve of SummerSlam, my hopes were unsurprisingly high. After spending an hour with the game this past weekend, I can honestly say that, in some ways, WWE 2K18 looks to deliver on the promises made to us last month—but in others, the series still has a ways to go.

The build we played on PlayStation 4 Pros was admittedly limited in scope: it only featured 10 male wrestlers in TJP, Seth Rollins, Samoa Joe, Randy Orton, Neville, John Cena, Eric Young, Bobby Roode, Baron Corbin, and AJ Styles, with three match types in 6-man Elimination Chamber, 10-man Royal Rumble, and the standard one-on-one normal match. I began with a standard one-on-one match to get back into the rhythm of a WWE game, and almost right from the get-go, the visuals as a whole seemed much improved over last year’s game.

Entrances have visuals and choreography so real you almost can’t tell the difference between the game and real life. Bobby Roode’s entrance in particular was—for lack of a better word—glorious. Things in the ring were just as impressive. How wrestlers move in the squared-circle does a great job of mimicking how they would on TV, with the way their bodies reacted to hits—both during and after a strike—being as realistic as we’ve seen yet. Downed wrestlers crawl into better positions for follow-up strikes on the bottom turnbuckle, or roll to a perfect place on the mat whenever you climbed to the top rope for a special move. It was the most realistic we’ve seen WWE 2K possibly look ever. Clearly, rebuilding the game’s engine from scratch, and not having to focus on making an Xbox 360 and PS3 versions, has helped free up the necessary resources to get this game looking as good as it does. That isn’t to say there weren’t a few issues, however.

While there have definitely been improvements, there were also still a lot of old bugs cropping up. Weird clipping against the ropes; wrestlers somehow missing moves on one another when right next to each other, or vice versa in getting hit with phantom strikes when they shouldn’t have. And, although many of the character models looked phenomenal, some were just a bit off—like Neville with his dead eyes.

The commentary, which had also seen a marked improvement (for the most part) with the new team of Michael Cole, Byron Saxton, and Corey Graves, also had its issues. In my one-on-one normal match, Cole made a comment about this being a No-DQ match when it wasn’t. There were also clear delays between comments sometimes, with Graves or Saxton giving a follow-up unnaturally late after Cole’s call.

The other match types had issues as well. Although climbing to the top of an Elimination Chamber cell (and then flying off said top) was impressive, that match saw some tremendous slowdown from frame rate drops when all six wrestlers were in the match. In fact, until there was only three opponents left, the match felt like we were playing in slow motion most of the time. I questioned Mark Little about this directly at the event, and he assured us the team was aware of the issue, and that it would be worked out by the game’s launch, I still can’t help but be concerned, though, and promise you the first match I play will be a 6-man Elimination Chamber to see if the frame rate drops still persists.

The Royal Rumble similarly saw some slow down as the ring filled up. I’m also concerned over the new elimination mechanics in the Royal Rumble; although it definitely offers a more realistic take on one of WWE’s most iconic match types, there’s a new element of randomness that mimics the chaotic nature of the match well, but which didn’t feel as fun to actually play. A wrestler with low health now can more easily be eliminated with a strong Irish Whip or clothesline, and will be instantly thrown out of the ring. While playing, if felt like there wasn’t an exact science to when a wrestler was vulnerable in this state and more likely to be easily eliminated. There’s also the new button-mashing mechanic, where you and your opponent must mash the same button in a tug-of-war type scenario to try to eliminate/avoid elimination when in that predicament against the ropes. When this popped up, at least then you felt like you had greater control over your elimination chances.

There really wasn’t much else to the demo beyond what I’ve covered here. There was no customization for us to try out just yet, we couldn’t make our own matches, and we didn’t see any of the new Career mode. WWE 2K18 does look better at this stage from a visual standpoint for sure, but there were still enough bugs and glitches to give cause for concern considering how close we are now to the game’s launch. Hopefully, there’s enough time left to polish the game so it reaches its fullest potential—because it doesn’t seem to be there just yet.

WWE 2K18 will be available on Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch on October 17.

When I first started playing Madden NFL 18, I was pleasantly surprised. For the first time in several years, the legendary coach, commentator, and namesake for the franchise, John Madden, lent his voice back to the game. It was only the opening title screen animation, but he briefly waxes poetic—as much as anything John Madden says could be considered poetry—about the greatness of cover athlete Tom Brady, just like he was back in the broadcast booth.

Hearing his voice again brought back a lot of good memories for me, because when Madden was at his best, there were few better at conveying football to the masses. It also brought back some rough ones too, however, because when Madden was at his worst, he was a bit of a laughing stock that distracted from the games he broadcast. It’s somewhat apropos then that his voice is there at the start of this year’s Madden entry, because in many ways, this is a perfect symbol for Madden NFL 18. Some things about the game are very good; some just had me shaking my head.

Easily one of the brightest spots of the game was also the most surprising. Partially made possible by the Madden team switching to the Frostbite engine, and partially because FIFA’s “The Journey” mode was so well received and helped pave a path, Madden added its own story-driven mode this year called Longshot—and it’s one of the freshest and most enjoyable things the Madden series has ever done.

Longshot could best be described as one part Madden, one part Friday Night Lights, and maybe two parts Telltale storytelling. You play as Devin Wade, a one time blue-chip QB prospect who hung up his cleats shortly after beginning his college career and took a couple of years to find himself after personal tragedy left him shaken as a young man. Working through the regional combine and taking advantage of a unique opportunity that comes his way, Wade is the very definition of a longshot, with one last chance to make it in the NFL. Alongside his best buddy and number one wide receiver, Colt Cruise, Wade’s determination will be tested just as much as his athletic ability.

The story that Longshot tells could be placed alongside all the best football stories we’ve seen, from Rudy to Remember the Titans to the aforementioned Friday Night Lights. Not only do you see his story unfold, but often times you’ll be asked to step in and choose Devin’s words or actions in various situations that will guide him down dozens of different branching paths (a la a Telltale game). Depending on those choices—and how you perform on the football field—Devin could be drafted, Colt could be drafted, neither could be drafted, or both could be drafted.

Besides dialogue choices, Devin will also suit up. You’ll get to relive some of Devin’s glory days in high school, as well as be put to the test in combines and game scrimmages. Your performance here has a direct effect on what makes Longshot truly unique, and that’s Devin’s draft grade page. Every major event you partake in can affect Devin’s grade, football IQ, how his personality is perceived, and more. Even bigger, every NFL team is watching, and you can instantly see how every one of these events affects the score directly.

Longshot could truly change what draws people to Madden, and might even appeal to those not typically interested in a football sim. There are a couple of drawbacks to what should otherwise be a highly-celebrated new mode, though. It’s not bad that Longshot should only take you three to five hours to beat, and it’s damn impressive that there are no load times whatsoever once you jump in—you can play the entire thing straight through if you so choose. I just personally wished there was a better balance between those critical gameplay moments that affect your score, and the sometimes long cutscenes that take place in-between to drive the story forward. Also, it was jarring how the biggest moments of Devin’s on-field life at times get boiled down to quicktime events. It heightened the drama, but definitely not the gameplay.

Also, even if you should get your grade to be extremely high (I ended up with a 9.7/10 score), you won’t be drafted where you should be as a player of that caliber. I think a couple more endings would’ve been warranted, because even with all the drama surrounding Devin, if you score that highly, one NFL team would take a flyer on you early. Considering how often teams take risks—like the Bucs wasting a second-round draft pick on a kicker, or the Broncos when they took Tim Tebow of all people with a first-round pick—somebody should snatch up Devin if you end up turning him into a true superstar. Otherwise, I absolutely loved this mode, and hope to have more adventures with Devin next year.

As good as Longshot is, there are some misses on other fronts this year in Madden. The past several years saw major gameplay overhauls, focusing on offensive/defensive line play, the running game, and the passing game. Now that such major components of football have been looked at, EA Tiburon seemingly wanted to use this year to start focusing a bit more after such broad endeavors.

The first (and worst) of these new mechanics is something called Target Passing. It has to be said that Target Passing is completely optional, but after trying to use it several dozen times, I chose to never use it again, and hope it goes the way of QB Vision a decade ago—as in it never comes back. Target Passing borrows a little bit from some of the drills in Longshot, where you can bring up a targeting reticule on the field and move it into position. By pressing the corresponding button while holding the trigger, you can throw the ball not where the computer wants to throw it, but to where the reticule specifically is, and the receiver will break their route to best try to catch the ball.

The idea was to offer the kind of precision we see on any given Sunday in an NFL game—for example, aiming for a receiver’s outside shoulder to guard against a corner, or to aim for the corner of an endzone that only your tight end can get to. What it ends up doing is adding an overly complex layer to Madden’s passing game, and throws even more information at you to process in the brief amount of time you have to get rid of the ball. I’m sure there are some pro-Madden players out there who will jump for joy over this mechanic, and I admit the idea was a sound one, making perfect sense on paper. But QB Vision was also a sound idea that was poorly implemented, and I believe that’s the case here again. Target Passing’s not fun to use, and will take far longer to figure out than it is worth for most players.

Of course, no matter how you end up throwing the ball, you always need someone to throw to, and so wide receiver versus cornerback play has also fallen into EA Tiburon’s crosshairs this year. Here, however, I found the new controls to definitely add something to the experience. Now, it’s easier than ever to jam wide receivers if you play with corners by using the right joystick and simply pressing against the receiver, trying to guess correctly which way they’ll try to run. Conversely, receivers can also use the sticks and shoulder buttons to roll around from potential jamming, and can more easily break their routes off or make sharp cuts to get to the inside or outside of the numbers depending on what the situation may call for, adding a welcome layer of realism to one of the most important battles on a football field.

This new gameplay in particular comes in handy within a new wrinkle in one of Madden’s most popular modes, Madden Ultimate Team. Yes, the card collectible game that allows you to buy packs of players and create your own fantasy team is unsurprisingly back, but with it comes a lot of changes. For example, there are now special fantasy packs that allow you to see an entire selection of amazing players, and then choose the best one of that group (while forcing you to discard the rest of the pack). There is also the brand new MUT Squads, bringing big time online co-op to Madden.

MUT Squads allows for 3-on-3 online matchups to take place, with one player serving as the offensive coordinator and providing the offense, one player doing the same for the defense, and another acting as head coach, who basically controls the timeouts (a role potentially great for less-experienced Madden players). MUT Squads is a bit of a double-edged sword for Madden, however. It is great that Madden can support larger groups online, and that buddies who have always wanted to play together now can. One player can be the QB throwing to a receiver who, using the new controls to get away from receivers, is fighting to get open for his team.

The downside to MUT Squads is that it’s very hard to get on the same page in Madden. Much like real life football, it will require a lot of time to get in sync with someone, especially when most folks at this point are used to playing Madden alone, where the entire team works together as an extension of the player. Another disappointment is that the 3-on-3 co-op is only in MUT Squads, when I know there are many out there who would probably rather just play as their favorite team with their buddies without having to rely on the randomness of MUT to provide them with good players in order to be competitive.

And that’s the real rub of MUT and a lot of Madden NFL 18 in general: It feels like all of the game outside of Franchise is just trying to funnel players into MUT, where you either need to grind for the best players, or be forced to spend real world money on microtransactions. (Even Longshot will “reward” you with MUT items if you beat it.) The microtransactions are all optional, of course, but the more times you put temptation in front of someone, the more likely they are to bite.

Even Draft Champions—an inclusion we first got back in Madden NFL 16 that has been a tremendous addition to the series—is now locked behind a level wall in MUT, and you need MUT tickets to play against people online.

Admittedly, you only need to put around 20 to 30 minutes of time into MUT challenges to unlock access to MUT Draft (the new name for Draft Champions), but the fact that one of the most popular aspects of Madden has been absorbed under MUT and put behind a wall of any kind is frustrating. The worst of this is that the balance of the randomness from previous years feels lost, because not only are the players you can choose from in each round of MUT Draft random, but so are their overalls, since MUT can feature the same player with different stats each time. Frustratingly, it feels like EA Tiburon ruined Draft Champions by turning it into another way to try to keep you around longer in a mode that tempts you into spending more real money.

And of all the things that aren’t linked to MUT—Franchise mode—there’s a part of it which could be. In that mode, you can train with your team before each game as part of a scouting report against that week’s opponent. Meanwhile, there’s also the Skills Trainer option on the main menu, which is where all the scouting report drills are pulled from. Completing tasks in Skills Trailer rewards free MUT packs; completing those tasks in Franchise does nothing for MUT. Why those two things aren’t linked makes no sense, aside from the fact that Madden loves making you grind. It’s the digital equivalent of two-a-days.

While speaking of Franchise, there have at least been some minor improvements to it outside of the drills. The user interface was cleaned up some, particularly when it comes to scouting and drafting college players. As well, animations are better than ever now that they’re powered by Frostbite. Using the hit stick and making open-field tackles has never looked cleaner, and you can almost feel the impact in your favorite gaming chair. There’s still the occasional rag doll glitch, but the visuals at least seem to be the most polished Madden has had in a long time. That said, some member of the team must’ve had a brain fart, because they messed up the New York Giants’ and Los Angeles Chargers’ schedules, giving the Giants nine road games and only seven home games and the Chargers the inverse—in real life, the Chargers are going to Metlife, the Giants aren’t going to StubHub—and hopefully that is fixed immediately in an upcoming patch. These were the only two teams I saw with incorrect schedules, but the fact I even had to check this was irritating to say the least.

Unintentional errors bring me to my final point of Madden NFL 18: the online servers. I played several online games literally just a few hours before this review went live. Several thousand people were supposedly already online and finding a game wasn’t an issue. Neither, for the most part, was maintaining a connection. That said, there were a couple of random disconnects from the EA servers, which could be a sign of instability—and if that’s the case here in this limited pre-launch scenario, that worries me. Of course, the game doesn’t release worldwide for another week even though we were told the servers should be good to go, so there is always hope that this was simply a last second hiccup, rather than a portent for worse things to come. Considering how critical online play is to Madden, it’d be surprising to see any real long-term issues, but we’ll see when the servers ramp up to some real strain in the coming days.

This year, it seems Madden NFL 18 is all about taking the good with the bad. There is more good than bad for sure (highlighted by the new Longshot mode), but things like putting Draft Champions into MUT and the new Target Passing mechanics should make a lot of folks at least a little bit wary. We’re not quite back to the “annual roster update” days, but after the roll Madden has been on in recent years, if you’re looking to take a break, this might be the year to do so.

Publisher: EA Sports • Developer: EA Tiburon • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 08.25.17
7.0
Although the new Longshot mode shines, Madden misses the mark with a few of its gameplay additions this year—so if you don’t immediately take a liking to them and choose to ignore them, the experience will feel a lot like last year’s. Meanwhile, the additions to MUT feel unnecessary, and like a desperate attempt to get more people playing—and potentially investing in microtransactions.
The Good I think Longshot hits its mark for the most part in trying to add a compelling football narrative to Madden.
The Bad I believe new target-passing controls are going to go the way of QB vision; the ever-increasing focus on MUT.
The Ugly Tom Brady is admittedly the G.O.A.T. after last year, but let’s remember that along with those five Super Bowl wins, he has two GIANT losses. Let’s go G-Men.
Madden NFL 18 is available on Xbox One and PS4. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by EA Sports for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Developer Housemarque has cultivated some of the best action-packed arcade-inspired experiences of this console generation. Fans of old-school bullet hells and chasing high scores have been exposed to treat after treat in this genre by the team, so when I found out at E3 that they were making a side-scrolling platform shooter called Matterfall, I was on board before I even tried it out. And—after actually dashing, jumping, and blasting my way through the game at this point—I can say that this is another solid experience dying for you to try reaching the top of its leaderboards.

In Matterfall, players assume control of Avalon Darrow, a soldier-for-hire type that is dropped into the worst situations mankind can cook up and asked to fix them for the right price. In this case, Avalon finds herself on a human colony on the outer reaches of space, where a sprawling megalopolis has cropped up around the red matter mines. Red matter is a highly volatile substance that has become a source of energy in this space sector, not to mention a key driving factor of the area’s economy. Once red matter starts being used to power war machines to protect the colony, however, things take a drastic turn. The machines powered by the substance begin to gain a semblance of sentience, and soon start trying to eradicate all of the humans living there. So, while the colony is in the midst of the largest evacuation in history, Avalon is running into the fray with her trusty hand cannon, looking for the source of the epic disaster so that she can put an end to it.

Like many of Housemarque’s games, Matterfall is simple enough on the surface: Run and gun with Avalon through the game’s 12 different stages, with an end boss waiting in every fourth stage. One of the negatives of Matterfall is 12 stages is definitely not a lot, and you can probably get through the entire experience on normal difficulty in less than five hours. How you get through those 12 stages will be entirely up to you, though, as Avalon will unlock a variety of weapons that change how you may approach a situation. Of course, your score will also be important, so along the way you’ll constantly be trying to keep your multiplier at max, gain bonuses based on how fast you complete a stage and whether you died or not, and find the three or four humans who have been trapped in every non-boss stage.

In that regard, Matterfall offers up a ton of replayability if you’re as fanatical about high scores as I am. With none of the stages really needing more than 20 minutes to complete, you can quickly jump in, customize your loadout beforehand, and really try to plot out the best run possible in order to maximize your score. Upping the difficulty also increases multiplyer potential, meaning mastering harder difficulties will be crucial to maintaining a top spot on the leaderboards. Everything might start to feel a bit repetitive due to the overall lack of stages and enemy types, but finding the best path is usually enough of a distraction to both keep you on your toes and take your mind off that 50th wave of missiles that have appeared overhead, raining down in an attempt to destroy your multiplyer.

Where Matterfall really tries to differentiate itself is in its gameplay. The controls are locked in to try to optimize moving and shooting at the same time; thus, shooting is done with the right stick, and jumping and dashing are done with the shoulder buttons. Admittedly, it took a little while to get used to not having to press “X” to jump on a PlayStation controller, but the risk paid off. The second stick allows you to keep firing Avalon’s hand cannon with pinpoint accuracy as you use the left stick and triggers to move through enemy-infested hallways, duck behind cover, dash over enemies, or even float around in the game’s unique zero-gravity sections. In those areas, you’ll drift around in a full 360-degree radius, giving the game brief moments of feeling like some of the space shooters Housemarque has done in the past while still serving that fast and frantic arcade feel that is critical in games like this.

Matterfall’s dashing mechanic is also vital to completing the game. Not only does it let you pass through certain walls, but you’ll also let off a shockwave upon completion that can stun nearby enemies with blue matter (in this world, blue matter beats red matter). Destroying stunned enemies leads to score bonuses, while the shockwave can negate bullets that are heading for Avalon—a lifesaver in the midst of firefights that you simply can’t shoot your way out of. Matterfall offers up a bevy of gameplay styles that appeal to both risk/reward players or those who play more cautiously that want to destroy every single enemy on screen (like yours truly) before moving on.

There’s also a cornucopia of secondary weapons and abilities for you to choose from in Matterfall. While you can unlock four secondary weapons and eight passive powers, you can only choose three from the entire list to be active at any given time. Grenade launchers and homing missiles can be great when dealing with singular foes with a lot of health, but a bigger health bar, faster weapon recharge rates, and more passive abilities could mean the difference between life and death in the long run.

Between the weapon choices and the dashing mechanic, Avalon gives off the sense of a homogenized Samus Aran (the hand cannon-wielding bounty hunter) crossed with Beck from Mighty No. 9 (the hero with a dash maneuver critical to defeating enemies big and small). It’s an interesting take on the genre, but it works. I only wish that we could get to know Avalon a lot more than what we get in the game’s opening and ending cutscenes (the only ones in the entire game), but we know that’s not necessarily Housemarque’s forte.

Matterfall’s action and gameplay is a throwback in many senses. It’s focus on speed and scoring will have you coming back to it again and again as you try to climb higher on the global leaderboards, yet I wish that the levels offered more variety (as well as there being more of them period). If you’re looking to see if your twitch reflexes are still up to snuff, or simply need a quick experience that doesn’t require a major time commitment, Matterfall is more than deserving of a look.

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment • Developer: Housemarque • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 08.15.17
8.0
Although a bit short and repetitive at times, the fast and frantic action of Matterfall is a delight if you prefer your gameplay more arcade-y and your goals to be focused on high scores and conquering leaderboards rather than saving the world.
The Good Fast-paced, side-scrolling shooter action that will test your reflexes and force you to break from gaming conventions (or die).
The Bad Not a lot of content, and levels outside of boss battles can feel repetitive.
The Ugly I’m sure there’s a message about natural resource wastefulness in here somewhere.
Matterfall is a PS4 exclusive. Review code was provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.