Category: EGM (Electronic Gaming Monthly)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wargaming: “I love strategy and war.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last week I had a chance to see the beginnings of Far Cry 5. Set in the fictional Hope County, Montana, players will be dropped into the middle of this rural slice of Americana that is under the hypnotic control of a cult leader named Joseph. This enigmatic figure believes he hears voices telling him that a reaping is coming, and that souls aren’t going to harvest themselves. If you’re not with him, you are most definitely against him—which Joseph is fine with, because he also believes that he and his people must prepare to be tested.

Of course, taking over a town isn’t the easiest of endeavors, and Joseph’s closest kin serve as the lieutenants that help keep everyone in line. Jacob, the eldest brother, is an ex-military specialist who has become disenchanted with the government and the world. John, the youngest brother, is a smooth-talking lawyer who knows how to keep the government from coming down too hard on his dear brother Joseph, and how to snatch up more property to bring under the cult’s control. Finally, half-sister Faith knows how to keep Joseph’s followers in line, a pacifying pacifist that keeps the cult’s rage from boiling over until Joseph is ready to let them loose on the world.

The odds are stacked against you, as they always are in Far Cry. However, you’ll have allies in your war to reclaim the hearts and minds of Hope. Barkeep and lifelong resident Mary May remembers what the town was like before Joseph, and she places sole blame on him for her family falling apart; her personal vendetta against the cult leader will make her a fiery addition to your team. God and guns preacher Jerome is infuriated that life has come to this, and that so much of his flock has been led astray; he hesitantly will resort to force in order to save the souls of his lost people. And finally, there’s Nick Rye, a crop duster who comes from a long line of airplane pilots. His father and grandfather both fought in wars, and Nick reckons it’s time to fight in one of his own.

Far Cry 5 will give you a bevy of tools to use as well. Everything from flamethrowers to pitchforks, guns and dogs for hire, and almost anything else you can think might be willing to risk getting hit with a few bullets for the sake of a few bucks. And, as always, how you go about tackling situations will be up to you. To get a lot more insight into the inspirations behind what seems on the surface like a radical departure for the series, I sat down and talked with Far Cry 5’s executive producer and creative director, Dan Hay.

EGM: I think the easiest and most obvious question is, why Montana? Although it might appear foreign to a city slicker like myself, I imagine it’s not very foreign to a large portion of the game playing public.

Dan Hay: There are two things that I’ll say about that. It would’ve been easy for us to pick a location somewhere around the world and given people something that would be classically referred to as “exotic”. But I think we had those conversations and we said to ourselves that sometimes it’s the thing in your own backyard that is the weirdest, that is the strangest, and when you scratch it there’s a lot of stuff underneath. That’s the first part.

The second thing is that the cult is something that’s really unique for us. I think people are going to realize that we picked the place because this is a place where it’s believable that some people want to be left alone and they don’t want to be bothered and that if you were going to build a cult, you could probably put it in there. So, we met with cult experts and they talked to us about it.

Whenever I watch a show or movie, part of me wants to watch because they’re offering me an experience that I will likely never have in my life and they allow me for two hours, or however long the show is, to dip my toe in the economy of the world that they’re building. And so when I think about some of the stuff that I watch on TV, I’m never going to be a gangster. Probably. But I get to visit that for a time.

And so I don’t think that a lot of people are going to be most likely in a cult and I think that it’s pretty cool for them to be able to go “Wait a minute, let’s look at this. Let’s meet the Father. Let’s understand what his family is doing. Let’s hear some of the things they are espousing, some of the things they’re saying. Let’s look at the people in Far Cry’s Montana”—and it is Far Cry’s Montana because we built Hope County and it doesn’t exist in the real world—”and see how they are going against the cult and pushing back.” And so it creates a unique experience that I don’t think anyone was expecting and it’s ours.

EGM: When you mention a cult, I think a lot of us jump to the idea of folks in white robes and ponchos drinking Kool-Aid. How are you going to get people past this idea in the game?

DH: I think you keep it simple. Absolutely, when you think of cult you think of a cliché sort of answer to that. I think when you see our characters they aren’t that. We kept it simple. There’s a guy who believes he’s heard this voice and he believes that a collapse is imminent. He believes it. And he’s managed to bring together followers who trust him in that. And when he talks about it, he doesn’t talk about it in ridiculously crazy terms. He says, “Look, there’s going to be a collapse. It’s going to happen. And we need to protect ourselves.” And then what he’s going to say is something to the effect of “You’re not going to believe me. There’s nothing that I can say that will bring you around to this idea. So, I’m just going to take you, and when it happens, you’re going to say thank you.” That’s an idea people can understand. And when an actor with gravitas gives it, when it’s given with great writing, you understand what these people stand for. You understand what’s happening. And you understand why the regular people in this world, the citizens, don’t want to have anything to do with this guy.

EGM: You mentioned an actor with gravitas. Can you give us any hints as to the cast that is playing your principal roles?

DH: I can’t say whom we cast. Casting on Far Cry is really tricky because it’s alchemy. I’ve implied it’s a process before, but the more I do it the less process it is. You get a great writer. Great writers, right? And the other thing that we’re doing is changing some things a little bit, trying to make like a writers’ room where people are pitching ideas and kicking stuff around and riffing off of each other. Then, we go out and cast the net wide and look for people who are going to be able to hold your gaze, people who can make your skin crawl, people who can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. And then, also, letting those people run a little with the material. Because it’s not perfect, we’re not going to nail it 100% perfect the first time. And then making sure it feels believable and that what comes out of their mouths, especially when you’re working with a first-person camera, they have some room to play.

I think that’s how we found some of our characters in Far Cry 3, 4, and Primal. And we know people want that from us. We know that people are looking at this and knowing if the characters are important and whom you’re going up against and who you are. I think that on this one, it’s super-interesting to see that we’re now dealing with a family and you get to meet each one of those people. They’re a chorus and they each have their own jobs. They each have their own micro-agenda. And I think people are going to dig it.

EGM: What can you tell us about the gameplay this time around? Are we going to be putting Bessie the cow out to pasture in order to craft supplies? What can we expect different in terms of gameplay?

DH: Well, you’re trapped behind enemy lines being in the cult territory and you got to use the resources that are available to you. If you’re played the Far Cry games, then you’re going to like what you’re getting and we’re going to give you more opportunity. We found a unique recipe when we built outposts where you got up to an outpost and you could attack it from 360-degrees. And you can see the anecdote factory opportunities and the question was why couldn’t we just do that with the whole game. Why couldn’t we drop you in the middle of the game, give you a little information, and then let you go in any direction and author the experience your way? That’s what we’re building here.

EGM: So are there no more outposts at all?

DH: I won’t go into specifics like that. What I can tell you is that—assuming you enjoyed the gameplay in Far Cry 3, 4, and Primal—when you see that we’re putting in guns for hire that can come with you, and the new inputs we’re putting into the anecdote factory for when you go up to a location that’s owned by the cult and you attack it, you’ll still have that 360-degree approach and that opportunity. But now you have new tools. Maybe you want to fly in and strafe it. Maybe you want to do a bombing run. Maybe you want to call Nick and have him come in and blow it up. Maybe you want to take your dog and send it in and have it tag everything. Those are the things we’re bringing to the game.

EGM: From what I’ve seen, this feels like it channels the temperature of the US as a whole right now. Like we’re all in a pressure cooker. How much of the game came about before a lot of recent events started to take place and how much did the game maybe be influenced by real world drama?

DH: It’s a chicken or the egg kind of question, right? I get asked, “do we have a specific agenda in this story?” No. We don’t. We’re not saying this is good and this is bad. What we’re saying is that the temperature right now is kind of in the red. The temperature is that people are running hot. They’re nervous and there’s a global consciousness of tension. It’s a pang I had as a kid [during the Cold War] and it’s familiar and I don’t know the answer to your question of what came first. It’s wholly believable that some of the things that had been going on in the world three years ago when we started to kick this idea around somehow influenced us. We can’t say that didn’t happen. But the world has changed so much in three years. Just the fact that we talk about things in the game and the characters in our world are affected by a lot of the things that are happening in the real world in terms of when they talk about stuff, they’re going to be aware and they’re going to be alive. And so yeah, I don’t know if its serendipity or what it is, but we landed on a sweet spot.

EGM: We talked a little bit before about the exotic, and Far Cry tends to always walk right up to the line in terms of believability. Far Cry 5 feels like it is walking more parallel to a familiar, current state of our world. How do you think fans of the franchise will react?

DH: Everybody that we show the game to is like, “Wow. I want to play that.” There’s no question that when you build a world, what you try and do is you try and make it so that that player can go in any direction and you allow them to go and do their thing. Far Cry is known as an experience where you go out and you can just blow stuff up and go crazy and have a great time. Or you can go in and have an earnest moment in the story and have something. All we wanted to do here is make it so this story felt grounded and felt real and be something you would understand and know right away and I think we did it. I think we have the framework for that. I think the older you get, you start to see cycles of things and so there’s going to be people experiencing this for the first time. And it’s going to be new and fresh and they can go out into the world and they can blow stuff up or they can have an experience with the story and it feels very present. And I think it’s going to be great.

Far Cry 5 will release on February 27, 2018, on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

The original Injustice was an epic comparable to any major comic book event, movie release, or series of TV crossovers. It had everything from multiple universes to the kind of fights fanboys spend way too much time on the internet arguing about. Couple this with tight gameplay all around, and it is no wonder the game was such a hit. Topping all this in its inevitable sequel would be no easy feat—and although I enjoyed the first game of the series a tad more, Injustice 2 is still great enough that Batman would offer it a seat at the Justice League table.

Injustice 2 takes place shortly after the events of the first game. The heroes from our universe have mostly returned home (Green Arrow decided to stay and help out) and those in the Injustice-verse must aid the rebuilding efforts now that Superman’s Regime has been overthrown. In its place, however, new threats have arisen. Gorilla Grodd has brought together various villains to form a group called The Society, determined to rule in the Regime’s place. Meanwhile, an interstellar threat from the stars—the world collector Brainiac—has set his sights on Earth after finding out not one, but two surviving Kryptonians reside there. The heroes of this Injustice-verse must again band together, and even forge some uneasy alliances, if they are going to survive this new conflict.

It is now official: it seems the writers of Injustice have a better grasp of how to make a compelling DC Comics universe more than anyone currently behind most of the comics and all of the movies. The overarching story of Injustice 2 is a logical continuation of the first game’s narrative, told in NetherRealm’s now signature chapter-based sequences that follow individual fighters in the universe. It continues to flesh out this Injustice-verse and find, for the most part, natural ways to integrate new and interesting characters. There’s even some chapters that you can replay with different characters, and multiple endings depending on a choice you’re forced to make—although one feels much more like it will stand as canon beyond the other.

The story isn’t without flaws, however. While many characters made sense here in Injustice 2, several seemed to be shoehorned in just to expand the roster number. Firestorm’s ability to create any element was nothing more than a plot device, and the Joker—who appears as a Harley hallucination—was completely unnecessary beyond needing to continue to push that awful Jared Leto-esque Suicide Squad design onto us yet again. The worst, though, might’ve been Green Arrow, Black Canary, and Atrocitus. They all had small—yet interesting—side stories started, but they never came to a logical and satisfying conclusion, leaving us holding onto unfinished B-story threads. That said, I’d still rather have a dozen Injustice stories for every piece of garbage that DC Comics now prints or sends to our theaters.

Where Injustice 2 really stands out from the crowd is in its gameplay. The fighting mechanics are deeper than ever, with an extended specials meter that allows for more special moves to be buffed up, new escapes from combos, or the always-entertaining supermoves that cue a cinematic should they hit. Whether it’s Batman blasting you with the Batwing, Green Lantern obliterating you with a mechsuit construct, or even the Flash literally punching you through time, they never get old to watch—except maybe if you’re always the one being hit with them instead of doing the hitting.

As well, each of the game’s arenas once again feature a plethora of objects you can interact with. From throwing alligators in Slaughter Swamp to knocking opponents into the marquee of the Empire Theater, being aware of your surroundings can be just as important as memorizing combos. The only downside I found in the arena design was that one major feature from Injustice was surprisingly watered down here in Injustice 2: the stage transitions. Whereas we used to be able to knock opponents into one or two other stages on almost every level, many levels in Injustice 2 are self-contained, or only feature one transition. I’m not sure the reason for this, but the transition threat on both sides of a stage is something I sorely missed from the first game, and—considering the roster size—made the lack of overall arenas all the more telling.

A few new characters and a continuing story are expected in a fighting game sequel, though. The biggest change that Injustice 2 introduces is the new gear system. Similar to an action-RPG, leveling up your profile, leveling up a character, or completing certain objectives across all the game’s different modes will reward you with loot, gear, or Motherboxes, which—depending on rarity—rewards two to six more pieces of gear. You can then take the items you’ve earned and equip them into one of five different gear slots on each fighter. It not only changes the cosmetics of each fighter, but also boosts their ability, attack, defense, or health. You can even find new moves for your characters that you can equip, such as a teleport for Scarecrow, or a ground pound for Superman.

The system is one of the deepest rewards systems I’ve ever tried, and saying I became hooked by it would be an understatement. After every fight, I had to compare and contrast what my fighters were wearing, and it kept me playing far longer than I might have otherwise. It basically means that mirror matches are far less predictable, and even if you don’t like the idea of gear changing your stats, you can turn off the effects before every battle if you so choose. As characters level up, new gear becomes available to them until you hit the level 20 cap per character, and even if you should find a piece of epic gear at a lower level, you can earn regeneration coins that allow you to recast those items at your current level.

Sure, there are microtransactions that can speed up this entire process—including leveling up all your characters to max if you so choose. Honestly, though, I am having way too much fun fighting for every piece to make me potentially more powerful. I’ve never felt this direct connection between my hard work and the loot I earn so strongly before, even if the numbers are all randomly generated. My only complaint would be how I wish there was an easier way to earn epic loot for characters you don’t play with in the story. For beating a respective character’s story chapter, you’re rewarded with a piece of level 20 epic loot; it then made me really sad that half the roster was one piece of loot behind everyone else, even though there’s still the process of getting everyone to level 20.

Still, you can earn gear in every mode. Whether you’re trying to climb the online leaderboards (which are all operating smoothly at last check now a week after the game’s launch) or watching your characters duke it out in the new AI mode (where you pick three of your custom fighters to fight other custom teams and let the computer decide the winners as you watch), the gear and loot is always coming. My personal favorite way to get new gear, especially of the epic variety, is the new Multiverse mode.

The next step in MKX’s Living Towers system, these time-based events are portrayed as Batman keeping an eye on all the different worlds he learned about after the first game. Picking a planet affords players the opportunity to tackle special challenges against the AI; should you complete all the objectives on each one of these Elseworlds, you’ll be rewarded with some of the best gear in the game. Each planet, though, has a variety of stipulations. Some might help you, like having characters from the last game—such as Ares or Raven—offer their assistance as an AI ally that you can call on with a button press. Others will hinder you, as maybe you take damage every time you do a special move, or your opponent will have armor on, allowing them to absorb a certain number of hits before you can actually chip away at their lifebars. Either way, these challenges are constantly cycling in and out every few hours, and will keep you on your toes while keeping your coffers stuffed with loot and gear. The only one not set to a schedule is the “Multiverse Battle Simulator,” which is the well-hidden equivalent to Injustice 2’s arcade mode.

Injustice 2 is everything fans of DC Comics would want from a game like this, and then some. The gear system is surprisingly balanced and delightfully addictive in a way that will keep you coming back to this game long after you’ve seen every arcade ending and both endings in story mode. The story itself is very good, and even with a few holes and cheap gimmick characters thrown in for the sake of expanding the roster, is easily the best writing any DC property has seen since the first Injustice came out. And, most importantly, the gameplay remains top-notch, and is deeper than ever with new escapes, meter burns, and those fantastic supermoves. Even in a year that seems to be full of fighting games, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one better than Injustice 2.

Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment • Developer: NetherRealm Studios • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 05.16.17
9.0
Injustice 2 is one of the most complete fighting games you’ll ever play. From the story to the Multiverse Mode, there is something for everyone here to enjoy. And with how addictive the gear system is, you’ll be hard-pressed to put it down.
The Good The gear system is as addictive as advertised, and the Multiverse concept only feeds into this.
The Bad Story tries too hard to shoehorn some characters in. Less stage transitions than previous game.
The Ugly The new Joker design. Stop trying to push the Suicide Squad movie on us Warner Bros.!
Injustice 2 is available on PS4 and Xbox One. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

We were like sardines in a tin can. Every influencer, member of the press corps, and Activision staffer had been crammed into a stuffy aircraft hangar down in Hawthorne, California, fittingly right next to SpaceX’s headquarters. While Elon Musk’s company was nearby trying to help pioneer space travel, we had all huddled together to see the first gameplay of Destiny 2—the highly anticipated sequel to Bungie’s 2014 MMOFPS sci-fi space opera.

Fortunately, it wasn’t long before Luke Smith—likely one of the more visible and successful examples of game journalist turned game developer, and now director for Destiny 2—had taken the stage to highlight and guide us through the series of video vignettes we were about to watch. To kick things off, Luke surprisingly talked rather candidly about the fact that the original Destiny had lost a significant chunk of its audience after release. Although 50% of Destiny owners had invested in the expansions, crafted their own adventures with friends, and saw firsthand the universe Bungie so desperately wanted to create finally come together and take shape late in Destiny’s life, there was another 50% of the audience that hit that initial level cap, and never returned. The fun had simply been buried too far beneath the surface, and not everyone was willing to go digging for it.

Admittedly, I fell into that latter group. Although a perfectly competent and polished shooter, the first Destiny never grabbed me. I couldn’t sink my teeth into its lore, and what it had done in that initial effort just wasn’t enough to warrant me sticking around—and definitely would not get me to open up my wallet again for its expansions. However, at least Bungie was aware—or claimed to be aware—of folks like me. It’s often too easy for developers to continue to cater to the people they already have locked in, chalking up those lost over time as simple passersby, paying them no heed.

Bungie wants to get to the fun parts faster with Destiny 2 in the hopes of luring people like me back to the franchise. After both the presentation and then the ensuing hands-on with the game, though, I was left shaking my head, because it appears that very little has actually changed. In only the franchise’s second game, Destiny 2 feels like a glorified add-on—or, worse yet, a soft-reboot.

Some of the additions that were highlighted during Bungie’s presentation would of course be impossible to show in a venue like this. Building clans and the improved matchmaking is something that we will need to wait for final code for before we properly see it, but it is definitely something the game has long needed. While chatting with others at the event, it was common for the more diehard Destiny fans—the ones who easily fell into the 50% opposite me—to be extremely happy about this change. Still, many also lamented that it’s something that should have been in the game from the get-go, or at least earlier than this. This was one of two common reactions I found throughout the day: that the changes Destiny 2 were bringing should’ve been in the original.

There was also grief expressed over the fact that those loyal to the franchise would not see any boons or the like carry over from one game to the next. Destiny has been propped up by its fanbase believing the game would continue to improve, investing time and money into it constantly, and they are being “rewarded” by having to grind all over again. It almost feels like, in trying to win back folks like myself with a fresh start, that Bungie may have taken their entrenched audience for granted to some degree.

The other reaction that was far more common throughout the day was simple—this is it?—and many in both halves of Destiny’s potential audience shared it. Only one new raid, no new classes, and three new worlds (four if you count the new areas opened up on Earth) were teased. Sure, you have the new subclasses and powers for heroes, but if you’re going to make everyone start over, why not go hog wild and expand the gameplay, customization, and class options?

The worst of it is that Bungie showed us so little that whatever new content might’ve been there felt buried in the demos. Here we were, digging to try to find the fun of it all again. All heroes we played with—whether it was on the one Strike mission, one new 4v4 PvP mode, or the Homecoming campaign mission (which had been shown to us during the presentation already)—were prebuilt. Most of this was available on both PC and PS4, and I can attest that the PC version of the game looked and handled great. But, the demos that Bungie gave to us failed to make me care whatsoever, just like with the original game.

For example, allowing us to play a mission you literally just showed us during your presentation did nothing to expand on the idea of the fresh story you’re trying to set up. Dominus Ghaul is stealing the Traveler for himself; if I didn’t care about the giant gumball in the sky from the first game, how is this going to suddenly compel me? Thanks for dropping me into a firefight, with a prebuilt character, that I don’t want to be a part of after walking me through it literally 30 minutes prior. Let me explore a little; show me something new. If you’re trying to convince people to come back to Destiny, this wasn’t the mission to do it with.

The Strike Mission was similar. Although there were some new and interesting environmental hazards like giant mining drills, the Strike seemed to play just like the ones in the previous game: work your way deeper into an exotic location with your team—in this case a mining asteroid—kill the boss, get out with some loot.

Also, if you’re promoting connectivity and community, maybe give us some headsets with microphones in PvP or the Strikes. It’s hard to coordinate if you can’t communicate, and handcuffing everyone demoing the game like this made no sense even if you weren’t stressing how the game brings people together—but since you are, this came off as extra moronic.

The most interesting section of the day for me was easily the PvP, which at least showed us the new Countdown game mode. Even that didn’t feel exactly new, however, as it is best described as being exactly like Search and Destroy in Call of Duty, just with a Destiny-colored coat of paint. Every player has one life to live; one team has a bomb and a pair of targets. If that team kills everyone on the opposing team or successfully detonates the bomb, they win. Conversely, the other team is also trying to kill everyone, or can defuse the bomb before it goes off to achieve victory. The small map we played on was conducive to the mode and offered up some fast and frantic action. I would have loved to see other modes as well, though, especially to see how shrinking the standard 6v6 of most Destiny modes to 4v4 in Destiny 2 would affect them.

Activision and Bungie have just less than four months before Destiny 2 launches, and if they’re trying to find fuel for whatever hype train they want to get started, this was not the way to do it. I was left unimpressed by what was shown to us; like the first game, Destiny 2 came off as a perfectly competent and polished shooter in my hour or so hands-on with it, but it is an uninteresting one. My hope is that this was merely Bungie keeping their best cards close to the vest, and that more intriguing and nuanced gameplay will emerge over the summer. Otherwise, no matter how much the game has improved, it’s going to be hard to push onto players a fancy expansion that serves as a reset button for a franchise—no matter what 50% of the audience you fall into.