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If you look at today’s racing game landscape, it’s clear that simulations rule the roost, with franchises like Forza, Gran Turismo, and Project CARS at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Sure, Mario Kart or an old-school tribute to more twitchy arcade racers like Fast RMX still dot the landscape and do well when they emerge, but games like those have become the exception and not the rule. However, developer Supergonk believes that arcade racers are just laying dormant, and is ready to usher in a new age of fast, frantic fun with their unique twist on the genre that gave us games like F-Zero back in the day.

Trailblazers is set in a futuristic world dominated by hover cars piloted by up-and-coming racers looking to soar to the front of the pack. Winning won’t come from just memorizing the best racing lines across the game’s 10 tracks (each with four possible layouts), though, as Trailblazers is unique in that players can change the course by painting on it.

Yes, painting—as if Supergonk crossed Wipeout with Splatoon. Each racer has a meter that fills up over time, and by dropping your team color’s paint on the track, you can create your own boost zones—and from this comes myriad emergent strategies. Do you sacrifice some speed early in the race to paint as much as possible and boost to the finish on the final lap? Should you paint a less-traveled route to minimize the risk of an opponent painting over and nullifying your paint on a more apropos racing line? How about utilizing your paint meter’s offensive capabilities, and fire forward to spin out a nearby opponent but paint less of the course in the process? When playing co-op with friends, will you try to perform some Talladega Nights Shake ‘n’ Bake and have one person paint the path the rest of the team will follow, in order to slingshot into first?

All of these possibilities and more are viable across the variety of game modes in Trailblazers. You can learn a lot of basic strategies in the single-player campaign mode, where you start off as a fresh racer named Jetstream. From there, you’ll meet the eight racers in the game, each with their own strengths, weaknesses, and over-the-top personalities while getting the chance to try them out to see who best suits your needs. Campaign also offers challenges in each race that could be as simple as getting in first place, or might be more involved like beating a time trial or painting a certain percentage of the track. There’s also a local split-screen Custom Race option outside the campaign if you want to play Trailblazers with a friend, where you can tweak a cornucopia of options to make the race of your dreams.

The single-player campaign is also a great way to learn the other major difference between Trailblazers and all the other racing games out there: its scoring system. Players earn points for how much they paint or boost on a track, for taking out opponents with offensive maneuvers, for how well they drift around some of the ridiculous hairpin corners the game offers (which work doubly to keep you on your toes while racing!), as well as where they place when the race finishes.

The scoring system particularly becomes important in team play modes, and can usually see lower-ranked racers flip-flop as time goes on. You get so many points for winning the race that it’ll be pretty hard for second place to overtake first on points alone, but in several of the races that I played during my hands-on time, I saw fourth place and fifth place swap, for example, based on painting versus finishing bonuses.

Once you’ve learned the ins-and-outs of the game offline, the real meat of Trailblazers appears in its online modes. There’s the 3-on-3 Team Racing mode that I alluded to earlier, where you’re not only trying to work as a team to earn the best spots on that racing podium, but the team score at the end will determine which trio comes out on top. There’s also Partner Battle where it’s three teams of two competing, and an All-versus-All mode where six racers are all in it for themselves. There’s also a unique mode to Trailblazers called Gate Chase, where players can only paint the course by hitting special gates on each track, and for the less competitive players out there, there’s an online Time Trial mode where you and up to two friends can work together to try to set the fastest times.

As fun as my time playing with Trailblazers was, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the game is also absolutely gorgeous. You’d expect a game revolving around futuristic racing and painting to blow you away with its visuals—and it absolutely does. With art direction from BAFTA winning animator Will Milton, Trailblazers is a beautiful mix of neon skylines and primary color paint-covered tracks that absolutely jump off the TV. Each track also has a unique song, licensed from indie artists on Spotify that only cement the fun, future vibe Trailblazers is going for.

Although my time with Trailblazers was short, it channeled a lot of the strengths of old-school arcade racers, blending them perfectly with the game’s own unique twists on the genre. It punished mistakes on the track, but never stopped being fun even when I ended up bringing up the rear of the pack. Because of this, I’m looking forward to seeing what Trailblazers can deliver on the whole when it drops sometime in May for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC, Mac, and Linux.

Update: We added the latest gameplay trailer to this preview. You can see it right here:

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I’m sure I’ve said this before in some other reviews, but side-scrolling beat ‘em ups were my bread and butter growing up in Jersey. Whether it was X-Men or Turtles in Time, I would spend the majority of my quarters at the Electric Circuit arcade on those machines (and still fall into the trap at some of LA’s finer barcades that feature those cabinets now). So, it was with a childlike fervor that I jumped into Way of the Passive Fist, a love letter to those old-school brawlers that also offers a few unique twists that help solve the problems those classic beat ‘em ups faced.

Players take on the role of The Wanderer, a product of the volatile but mineral-rich planet of Zircon V who stalks its nearly uninhabitable wastes. Those minerals have lured in many from across the galaxy looking to get rich quick off the planet’s resources, but few are prepared for what the wastes hold quite like our protagonist. You see, The Wanderer has mastered the Art of the Passive Fist—a defensive fighting style that allows him to absorb and channel the energy expelled towards him to wear his opponents down. However, the balance is shifted when foes stronger than any he has seen before arrive on Zircon V—foes which wield enhancements similar to The Wanderer’s own mechanical gauntlet.

Way of the Passive Fist gets right to the point when it comes to what it’s about. Like the cartoons a lot of those late ‘80s/early ‘90s beat ‘em ups were based on, there isn’t a lot of story in this game—beyond telling you right away that you’re an anti-hero of sorts who is forced to save his hellish world because it’s all he’s got. Of course, older games had cartoons and comic books to help flesh out the story for potential players, so filling in narrative gaps wasn’t always a necessary task for the game. We don’t have that here with The Wanderer, and it’s sad, because it feels like a terrific world that would be ripe for further development if it wasn’t so focused on tapping into nostalgia. I could easily see the Wanderer as the star of a Saturday morning cartoon with his own action figure line, or even teaming up with other popular heroes in weird crossovers. As is—and without all the benefit of transmedia—I would’ve loved if Way of the Passive Fist could’ve given me just a tad more than it does in terms of The Wanderer’s tale.

The main reason why I want to know more about The Wanderer and Zircon V is because the rest of Way of the Passive Fist is so good. The bright, bold colors, variety of locations across the game’s 10 stages, zany henchmen that cross The Wanderer’s path, and surprising amount of enemy variety (even with the prerequisite palette swaps to signify a harder variation on each) gave Way of the Passive Fist an authentic cartoon vibe that was a feast for these older eyes. It emulates that early 90s aesthetic perfectly, as does the music, which features a tubular tempo that will get your foot tapping while the Wanderer dispatches the brightly-colored foes in his path.

What’s most impressive, though, is beyond these surface aesthetics. As hinted at in the game’s title, The Wanderer is a passive hero—instead of throwing a flurry of punches, kicks, or offensive special moves at his opponents, he lets the fight come to him. Every time an enemy tries to punch you, your job is to parry it. A successful parry will drain the stamina of the enemy, and if they run out of stamina, they will hunch over exhausted, meaning The Wanderer only has to tap them to knock them out. Some enemies will try to grab you, requiring you to dodge; others will throw things at you, which you can either parry or dodge (though a successful dodge on most of these items will let you throw them back for massive damage). Every enemy (and palette swap) has a different pattern to their attacks, so learning these patterns and how to react accordingly is necessary for success. This idea provides a fresh challenge on what is otherwise an always-straightforward genre.

While you parry your way through the adventure, you’ll also build up a combo counter. Longer combo chains will power up The Wanderer’s power gauntlet, allowing him to unleash rare offensive moves to expedite your fights. For example, a Power Punch is great for taking out a single enemy, whereas the harder-to-charge Super Slam is effective at crowd control. And, later in the game, you can unlock the Gravity Well, a screen-clearing super move that requires a combo of 25 or higher which is best reserved for dire straits. Of course, if you miss even a single parry or dodge, the counter resets, and so does the power meter—making that pattern recognition all the more important and raising the stakes for when exactly to use your special abilities.

What might be the most impressive thing about this parry-only system, however, is that it solves long-time issues found in those old-school beat ‘em ups. There is nothing more frustrating in these types of games than to think you have an opponent lined up for an attack, only to whiff because your character is slightly out of alignment with your opponent, with poor hit detection meaning your attack was for naught. Instead, enemies always having to attack you means the AI takes care of this as the enemy is always going to be aimed right at you, and all you have to do is time your button presses properly. And, even if you break that line, most times the enemy will reset, or a different, closer enemy will move in to attack. It’s a simple solution to a problem that has plagued beat ‘em ups for as far back as I can remember, and it was welcome because it really allowed me to focus on my timing more than anything.

There were a couple of hiccups with the system, however. When looking to go on the attack myself with a super move that wasn’t Gravity Well, I’d still occasionally miss if I didn’t wait for the enemy to come to me. Also, when you get later in the game and start dealing with enemies with more complex patterns, you might be tempted to position yourself so that weaker enemies with easier patterns can be used to build that combo meter again. Sometimes multiple enemies would activate, however, and two enemies would attack me simultaneously. While The Wanderer is very adept with Passive Fist, it does have the drawback that you have to always be facing your opponent to properly parry, and can only parry one move at a time. It’s a small glitch, and it didn’t happen often—but when it did, it was frustrating.

Way of the Passive Fist also solves another problem those old-school quarter munchers have had in recent years: replayability. When ­X-Men and Turtles in Time were recently re-released on home consoles with unlimited continues as an option, the charm and replayability that came about due to a lack of lives went by the wayside, leaving their lack of depth to become startling apparent. There’s already a lot more depth of gameplay in Way of the Passive Fist to start with, but it goes so far as to also offer four special sliders that can change the way you play each and every time.

I beat the game on “Way of the Warrior”, which is basically as “Medium” as you can get in Way of the Passive Fist. But, if I wanted, I could’ve cranked the Enemy Strength and Enemy Encounters number way up and turned it into “Way of the Bold Eternal Warrior” where each chapter would have extra scenes (each chapter’s smaller sections) and enemies with stronger stamina bars. I could also have made achieving combos easier by turning down Combo Mastery, so that even late parries add to my combo meter, or turned down Resourcefulness, which would have given me more health items and checkpoints. There’s any number of combinations between these four meters that make each time you play Way of the Passive Fist different than the last. And, once you beat the 10 chapters in Story (including the somewhat disappointing final boss fight), you also unlock Arcade Mode, which channels those quarter-munching days of old by giving you only a certain number of lives to try to complete the game, adding more challenge and replayability to the experience for us arcade veterans.

Way of the Passive Fist is a beautiful ode to a genre whose glory days are behind it. It’s inventive solutions to problems that have been around for generations should be appreciated, and it’s a terrific opportunity for those of us who grew up in arcades to experience something new that would’ve fit right in three decades ago. I’m not sure if the new generation of gamers will be as into it, but it made me crave a slice of greasy pizza and a soda while basking in a sense of nostalgia like few games have been able to give me recently. So, if you love beat ‘em ups like I do, Way of the Passive Fist is a unique challenge that you should definitely check out.

Publisher: Household Games • Developer: Household Games • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 03.06.18
9.0
Way of the Passive Fist is a game out of time (in a good way). It feels like it would’ve fit right in alongside arcade cabinets from 30-years ago, with its cartoon color scheme and over-the-top soundtrack. But it’s got a modern twist that solves a lot of old-school beat ‘em ups’ biggest problems and delivers a terrific overall experience with a cornucopia of options to keep you coming back for more.
The Good Interesting twist on the classic beat ‘em ups of the early ‘90s with some surprising replayability.
The Bad Some technical hiccups, especially in later stages when the enemies really start to ramp up in difficulty.
The Ugly How easily this would have gotten a 13-episode order from DiC Entertainment—if only they were still around.
Way of the Passive Fist is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Household Games for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Following the initial excitement that VR brought to the gaming world a couple of years ago, the peripheral gaming technology has hit a bit of a lull in recent months. While new and inventive software continues to be made for the headsets on the market, many still have that “tech demo” feel, leaving gamers waiting for fully fleshed out experiences that will bring the immersion potential of games to an entirely new level. So, admittedly, it had been some time since I had used my PS VR headset, and after dusting it off, I began playing one of the more anticipated titles for the hardware since its launch. Moss falls into some traps and gameplay difficulties we’ve seen from other early VR games, but it also pulls the player into the story in such an effective way that it’s easily become my favorite non-shooter game for any VR headset.

In a sense, you play as two characters in Moss. One is Quill, our mouse heroine who emerges from the titular magical holloway of Moss on a quest to save her uncle from an ancient evil; the other is known as “The Reader”. Represented by a masked being who is briefly seen as a direct representation of the player in watery reflections and whatnot, The Reader must guide Quill while turning the pages of a storybook not yet written. As those pages turn, Quill’s adventure continues, and The Reader literally creates her story in the magical tome.

It’s a little detail that goes a long way towards your immersion as an onlooker and overseer in Quill’s world. The fact that your bond is talked about as legendary, and that you and Quill have become “Twofold”—where a Reader and a Hero have bonded to move as one—resonated with me, helping suck me into Moss. Quill even turns to you and cheers you on when you influence her world in positive ways, sometimes even demanding a high-five from your ethereal presence in her world when you complete major story beats. Each section of Moss, otherwise just another room in any other puzzle-driven game, thus feels like you’re actually turning pages as each chapter progresses, the sound of flicking paper each time the screen fades to black further enhancing the fantasy.

This relationship extends to Moss’s gameplay as well. Not only can players peer around the world—looking for some of the game’s limited collectibles or for a hidden path past an obstacle, using your unique vantage point to guide Quill where she must go—but you can “reach in” with your energy and move boxes, pull levers, or even control any of the three kinds of enemies that will try to impede the path ahead. Sometimes, I’d just grab the last enemy so Quill could effortlessly hack away with her sword. You also heal Quill by picking her up and petting her. By using the bumpers to grab, and the control stick to move Quill, you can even have multiple parts of the world moving at once—which will be necessary for some late game puzzles—to help bypass or expedite your progress.

Of course, as novel a mechanic as this can be, there are also times where you’ll be focusing more on the controls themselves instead of the puzzle or the story, as balancing several moving pieces can be difficult. There are also some larger set pieces that are harder to manipulate with the DualShock controller, as you attempt to spin or pull them with larger movements that it seems are harder to detect. It’s also easy to get pulled out of virtual reality when, if you’re like me, you get up to start looking more closely at an occasionally complex scenario, or more likely trying to better line up a couple of the game’s more difficult jumps, only for your headset to remind you that you’re out of the play area. It’s in those instances where you remember the limitations of the hardware and slink back into the chair.

Those moments are few and far between, however, because for the most part, Moss is a very limited and linear puzzle-game. There are very few instances where your objectives differ from defeating every enemy in the room or making it from the left side of the screen to the right. Sure, there are those aforementioned moving pieces I talked about earlier, but many times all I wanted to do was have Quill enter one of the many locked doors along a corridor that are obviously only there for show instead of focusing solely on the task at hand.

Moss hints at a much, much larger world with other fantastical creatures that come out of the woodwork, including fairy-like creatures called Starlings, nymph-like warriors hiding in the Mire, or the villainous serpent Sarrfogg. The landscape is littered with human-sized armor and weapons, hinting at a society long since forgotten, relics whose origins are barely touched upon in the opening cinematic and never again. I fell in love with Moss, but I wanted to know so much more about it by the time the game came to a much too abrupt and quick finish.

And this is where VR might have hurt Moss the most. The entire game only took about three hours to complete, which is about average for a VR game, but is very short comparing to games as a whole. Even with its budget price tag, and the promise of “future adventures” (this was only “Book 1” of Moss), I was left feeling unsatisfied. The game tries to play it off at the end that you came a long way on your journey, but as a veteran gamer—especially in the puzzle and adventure genres—I felt like I was just getting warmed up when the credits started to populate the last pages of my book.

Moss is a beautiful effort in VR. It’s an immersive world that finds a way to fit the player in seamlessly while not dominating the world they inhabit. It may be a bit short and simple, but its sweet story more than makes up for that. Moss isn’t reason enough alone to go out and get a PS VR headset if you’ve been on the fence, but if you already took the plunge and you’ve been looking for a high-quality VR game that’s fun for gamers of all ages, look no further than Moss.

Publisher: Polyarc • Developer: Polyarc • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 02.27.18
8.0
The wonderful relationship between a brave little mouse and the player character will ring as a bright spot in early VR development. Although the adventure is short-lived, and those looking for a challenge will be left wanting, Moss still serves as a great excuse to dust off your PS VR headsets if you haven’t done so in a while.
The Good A touching story and beautiful world that’s easy to get wrapped up in.
The Bad Linear and short, there’s so much more of the world of Moss I wanted to see.
The Ugly I learned the hard way that Quill couldn’t swim.
Moss is a PS4 exclusive that requires PS VR to play. Review code was provided by Polyarc for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

The Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences held its 21st annual D.I.C.E. Awards at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, celebrating the tremendous year in gaming that was 2017. The D.I.C.E. Awards are the only peer-voted award ceremony in video games, where developers from around the industry cast ballots on 24 different categories that recognize the best of the best in gaming.

Not surprisingly, Nintendo had a huge night, which mirrors the success they had with the launch of the Switch in 2017. With games nominated in 14 of the 24 categories, Nintendo-published games won in a whopping 10 categories (Mario+Rabbids also won an award but is technically a Ubisoft game). The bulk of Nintendo’s success was due to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild‘s four awards, the most for any game this year, and which includes the coveted Game of the Year Award. The next most awarded game was Cuphead, winning in three categories. Horizon Zero Dawn, whose 10 nominations were the most of any game at the show, walked away with two awards.

“Every year, the D.I.C.E. Awards brings the global interactive entertainment industry under one roof to recognize and honor the very best in video games – the games that captivated and inspired us, and kept us entertained for hours on end,” said Meggan Scavio, president, Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences.  “On behalf of the Academy, I am thrilled to congratulate this year’s winners of the 21st D.I.C.E. Awards.”

Considering Nintendo’s success, it was only fitting that the D.I.C.E. Awards would also recognize Genyo Takeda of Nintendo with only their seventh ever Lifetime Achievement Award. Takeda was a critical figure at Nintendo for decades. One of his first major accomplishments included creating the save-system in the original The Legend of Zelda that would revolutionize games on the NES. From there he helped design the N64’s analog stick on its controller, worked on peripherals with the Gamecube, and was a key architect of the Wii.

The winners of this year’s D.I.C.E. Awards categories are below. Nominees are listed in alphabetical order, with winners in bold.

Outstanding Achievement in Animation

  • Cuphead
  • For Honor
  • Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
  • Horizon Zero Dawn
  • Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction

  • Cuphead
  • Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
  • Horizon Zero Dawn
  • Little Nightmares
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Outstanding Achievement in Character

  • Bayek – Assassin’s Creed Origins
  • Senua – Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
  • Aloy – Horizon Zero Dawn
  • Iden Versio – Star Wars Battlefront II
  • Chloe Frazer – Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

Outstanding Achievement in Original Music Composition

  • Call of Duty: WWII
  • Cuphead
  • Horizon Zero Dawn
  • RiME
  • Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

Outstanding Achievement in Sound Design

  • Destiny 2
  • Injustice 2
  • Star Wars Battlefront II
  • Super Mario Odyssey
  • Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

Outstanding Achievement in Story

  • Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
  • Horizon Zero Dawn
  • Night in the Woods
  • What Remains of Edith Finch
  • Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

Outstanding Technical Achievement

  • Assassin’s Creed Origins
  • Hellblade: Senua’ Sacrifice
  • Horizon Zero Dawn
  • Lone Echo
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Action Game of the Year

  • Call of Duty: WWII
  • Cuphead
  • Destiny
  • PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds
  • Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

Adventure Game of the Year

  • Assassin’s Creed Origins
  • Horizon Zero Dawn
  • Super Mario Odyssey
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
  • Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

Family Game of the Year

  • DropMix
  • GNOG
  • Just Dance 2018
  • SingStar Celebration
  • Snipperclips

Fighting Game of the Year

  • Arms
  • Injustice 2
  • Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite
  • Nidhogg 2
  • Tekken 7

Racing Game of the Year

  • DiRT 4
  • Forza Motorsport 7
  • Gran Turismo Sport
  • Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
  • Project CARS 2

RPG of the Year

  • Divinity: Original Sin 2
  • Middle-earth: Shadow of War
  • NiER: Automata
  • Persona 5
  • Torment: Tides of Numenera

Sports Game of the Year

  • Everybody’s Golf
  • FIFA 18
  • Golf Clash
  • Madden NFL 18
  • MLB The Show 17

Strategy/Simulation Game of the Year

  • Endless Space 2
  • Halo Wars 2
  • Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
  • Total War: Warhammer II
  • XCOM 2: War of the Chosen

Immersive Reality Technical Achievement

  • Lone Echo/Echo Arena
  • Robo Recall
  • Star Trek Bridge Crew
  • The Invisible Hours
  • Wilson’s Heart

Immersive Reality Game of the Year

  • Lone Echo/Echo Arena
  • Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin
  • Robo Recall
  • Space Pirate Trainer
  • Wilson’s Heart

D.I.C.E. Sprite Award

  • Everything
  • Gorogoa
  • Night in the Woods
  • Pyre
  • Snipperclips

Handheld Game of the Year

  • Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King
  • Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth
  • Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia
  • Metroid: Samus Returns
  • Monster Hunter Stories

Mobile Game of the Year

  • Cat Quest
  • Fire Emblem Heroes
  • Gorogoa
  • Monument Valley 2
  • Splitter Critters

Outstanding Achievement in Online Gameplay

  • Call of Duty: WWII
  • Destiny 2
  • Fortnite
  • PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds
  • Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands

Outstanding Achievement in Game Design

  • Gorogoa
  • Horizon Zero Dawn
  • PlayerUnknwon’s Battlegrounds
  • Super Mario Odyssey
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Outstanding Achievement in Game Direction

  • Gorogoa
  • Horizon Zero Dawn
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
  • Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
  • What Remains of Edith Finch

Game of the Year

  • Cuphead
  • Horizon Zero Dawn
  • PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds
  • Super Mario Odyssey
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

When it comes to game development nowadays, a lot of time and thought are put into not only making a great game, but often times making it a social success. Speed runs, let’s plays, and shoutcasting are just some of the ways that games have exploded across streaming services and video providers. It has now gotten to the point where some developers first approach the idea of making an experience around these social elements and bringing people together before they even know what kind of game they want to make. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not necessarily a bad thing when done well—and the folks at Outpost Games look to be one of those social-focused developers with their new game SOS.

SOS is what you would get if you crossed TV’s Survivor with the old Nickelodeon show Legends of the Hidden Temple and a Battle Royale mechanic. Sixteen players are airdropped onto the fictional La Cuna Island where they must search for one of several scattered relics. These relics are guarded by Monster Men called Hupia that populate the island. Using whatever weapons and gear you can scrounge up, from old WWII-era pistols to knives, axes, or even blunt weapons like old skulls, you’ll need to earn your relic by defeating a Hupia as best you can. Once you have a relic, you’ll need to fire off a flare gun to signal for a helicopter to take you off the island.

Where things get most interesting is that there are only three chairs on the escape helicopter, five to seven relics on the island, and again, sixteen players. Only by escaping on the helicopter do you win the game. You can team up with as many players as you want by soliciting a high five from them. But even should you team up with every other “contestant” and collect all the relics on the island before the timer runs out, there are only so many seats available, leading to some fun Mexican standoff scenarios or some well-planned betrayals along the way.

What SOS’s devs really think will help this game stand out from other last-man-standing style games is that while you start alone, by using your microphone, you can communicate with other players and really try to win them over to your side. That’s not to say a smart lone wolf can’t just bide their time and pounce on a relic carrier when the helicopter arrives—I saw it happen a half-dozen times over the several matches I got to play. But, if you can put together a team of people bent on working as a group, your odds of survival and winning go through the roof.

Communication amongst players isn’t the only way SOS takes advantage of modern tech. SOS is banking on people watching players play the game, and have built their own system called Hero.tv. This tech will act as a sort of Twitch overlay, and allow viewers to vote on their favorite players and personalities, send them airdrops, and generally root them on. It leads to two very distinct leaderboards within the game: one for wins—how many times did you survive La Cuna Island—and one for fame, tabulated by people sending emoticons to your players over the course of a game as they watch you. It makes it so that players who might not be great at killing people can still make a name for themselves based on their personality.

As well and good as this seems, there are still a couple of question marks for me with SOS, the first of which is that there is obviously going to be a bit of a tech hurdle for some. While more and more gamers than ever have their own webcam and microphone just for these purposes, I’m sure there are still some people out there who would probably rather not talk at all—and thus, this game likely won’t appeal to them from a player standpoint. I suppose they can always just watch and cheer folks on, though, through Hero.tv.

There is also the fact that I think a lot more features need to be added to the game for it to truly have the social appeal Outpost Games is looking for, most notably director features. The lack of options to shoutcast a game that so clearly lends itself to that is disappointing. Then again, the game also just only entered Early Access on Steam on PC last week, so the hope that those tools will be added at some point is high.

SOS could be the start of an interesting new trend in games, a more interactive sort of game show, where personalities and prizes are as important as gameplay. I know that in my limited time with SOS, I enjoyed watching it more than even playing it, especially as I started to recognize players in the small pool available to us as people who shouldn’t be trusted. In just a few sessions, I had started to assign myself people to root for and against, just by watching how they played. It’s this aspect that could make SOS more than just another Battle Royale game, and I’m curious to see how well it does in its time in Early Access.

Since EA Sports took over video game rights to the UFC, they’ve had issues trying to find that perfect balance between making a fun fighting game and simulating the actual action that takes place within the Octagon. In the past, with two fighters standing, trading fists and feet, the series has done a bang-up job of representing MMA. Everything outside of that, however, has been varying levels of disappointment, and I’m here to tell you not much has changed with EA Sports UFC 3. Some new bells and whistles add depth to the things that worked before, but there is still a fair amount fundamentally wrong with the game—and not all of the changes introduced this year have been for the best.

Building on one of the strengths of previous games is the striking. A larger, more customizable moveset for any created fighter helps you craft the type of combatant you want to be. And, when you step into the Octagon to deliver those blows, it looks like an actual fight in some instances, with incredibly fluid movement, startling realistic body contortion, and accurate impact (that is reflected by both your fighter and his health bars). Keeping an eye on these health bars, which pop up upon proper impact, are also critical to your strategy.

If you notice your opponent has weak legs, you might try to TKO them by focusing on—and potentially breaking—the limb. Or, you might focus on blows to the head if they have a particularly weak “chin,” a new stat added this year to more accurately assess damage your noggin can take. You can also see how close you are to potentially “rocking” an opponent, an event that is triggered when you or your opponent are at particularly low health for a body part, and thus more susceptible to KO. Knowing what parts of the body to focus on (and when) are a critical part to any MMA fight, and the feedback in UFC 3 does a stellar job of telling you what is going on moment to moment.

You also can’t spam moves, even if your opponent seems susceptible to one or another. The stamina bar for your fighter, looming overhead at the top of the screen, might be the single most important factor in each fight; if you become gassed, there’s almost nowhere to run in the cage. The seconds it takes to recover feel like an eternity when in the ring with Conor McGregor, Jon Jones, Minotouro Noguiera, or Daniel Cormier, who will press that advantage.

As realistic as this aspect of the game is, there are also moments where the game tries too hard to be realistic, which can shake you loose from the immersion you may have experienced. Two of the first moves I unlocked for my fighter were the spinning back fist and the Superman punch. Suffice to say, they became staples of my repertoire, even after adding some leaping Muay Thai knees and leading uppercuts. Playing on PS4, performing these moves required a combination of a shoulder button and square for the back fist, or triangle for the Superman punch. Often times, however, the game would over-contextualize based on my position in the Octagon, and instead perform a different move despite my very obvious button presses—or simply be slow to respond to my inputs.

It may have been the game’s way of trying to say “a back fist would be better here than a Superman punch because of how close you are to your opponent,” but I didn’t care. Yes, it may not have been proper because it left me open, but at the end of the day, I’m the one with the controller in my hand. I wanted my guy to leap into the air and try to clock my opponent, distance be damned. Don’t change the move; don’t slow down my momentum like a cable-service provider throttling my internet. This happened frequently in each fight, and with other moves as well. It may have made for a better-looking match, but it definitely soured my experience some.

These delays didn’t occur just in the striking. Half of MMA can be boiled down to the “ground game,” where you tackle or throw your opponent to the mat and attempt to beat them senseless and/or submit them with any number of maneuvers (like triangle holds and armbars). For the uninitiated, though, it can often times just look like two guys rolling around, trying to get a better position on the other. Once again, when trying to desperately to adjust my fighter into half guard, full guard, north-south, or just get the heck up, the controls felt sluggish.

Of course, to make matters worse, the ground game and submissions remain a minigame fest, making the drag feel even worse. Desperation quickly sets in when you find yourself in an unenviable position on the ground as you try to rotate the right stick the right way to slip out of a submission, lock one in, or just adjust position. The game does tell you in still all-too-brief tutorial screens that you can block your opponents’ moves when you find yourself in that situation, but it still feels like there is information missing—and whether playing career or online, everything has a long trial and error sense to it in terms of “mastering” the ground game. I still don’t know how I escape holds half the time, and I retired with a 29-2 record in career and 3-0 in online matches.

Now, there is supposed to be a more in-depth tutorial section—it’s a tile on the main menu—but it was completely empty when I tried reviewing the game over the past week, again forcing me to rely on the game’s random prompts mid-fight. A true tutorial mode, one that goes over every single aspect and lets you actually get a feel for things with the controller, giving players something more than just text on a screen, would serve this franchise a lot better.

There are three difficulty modes when you start, with a fourth—Legendary—unlocking after completing the Career. If you’re familiar with the series, Normal is a good place to start and refresh your memory, as you’ll still be punished for being overly aggressive or cautious, and developing a strategy is a must as you fight. If you think bumping the difficulty down would be a good way to learn the game to work around the trial-and-error feel of everything, however, you’d be sorely mistaken. Easy mode is basically asking for the game to just roll over for you, and the few fights I admittedly tried on Easy to speed up my playthrough (and see if I couldn’t get a better grasp of the ground game) all ended in 45 seconds or less. It felt like a really huge drop-off, and it wasn’t long before I went back to Normal mode in order to feel some satisfaction when I won (but again, this all stems from the fact that game does a pretty poor job of teaching you how it all works).

If you can make sense of all this and become a competent competitor in the Octagon, there is a fair amount of things to do in UFC 3. The new career mode, called G.O.A.T. mode, tasks you with 12 arbitrary goals, and if you complete eight of them over your career, you’ll be dubbed the “Greatest of All Time,” someone who changed the game of MMA forever that will live on in songs and such. After picking your weight class—I went light-heavyweight—you’ll be asked to create your fighter. There aren’t as many options as I personally would like for create-a-fighter (you can’t even make your own last name, instead choosing from a list of predetermined choices), and ended up using the EA’s Game Face feature again. That jaundice-looking fellow at the top of the review is my guy. If you want, however, you can also import a current UFC fighter’s look from easily the largest roster the series has featured to date, and build up your favorite fighter instead.

As you win and move up in UFC, you’ll be tasked with trading barbs with pre-determined rivals on social media, gaming with fans on streaming services (so meta, eh?), and training your character at one of a dozen possible gyms to learn new moves and get in better fighting shape. All of this is done on menus and at most you’ll get a pre-recorded Megan Olivi-hosted UFC Minute where she talks about the fact you changed gyms. (Considering how often you’ll have to change gyms as you move up to learn better moves and get stronger, it gets old fast.) The only interesting aspect of training before your actual fights is when you spar with someone who has a similar moveset to your opponent. After a minute of this, you’ll learn a secret as to how best to defeat them, like they’re susceptible to ground and pound, or can’t ever escape a rear-naked choke.

If career isn’t your thing, there are also some offline options like the new Tournament mode, which anyone who used to watch old-school Bellator might appreciate, as you try to advance in an offline bracket of your creation. There’s also options in offline fights like Stand and Bang, where you basically have to trade strikes and try to knock the opponent out, or the opposite Submission Showdown where you have to wrestle your opponent to the ground and make them tap.

Finally, there’s the online suite of modes. You can play ranked or unranked matches online and try to earn online championship belts if you can succeed enough against various opponents. It was difficult finding people to play with online due to the pre-launch state of the game, but when I did, the game was stable and I never experienced a drop or lag in my limited time playing. I’d have like to have spent more time testing the online, but again, opponent availability was sparse, so it’ll be interesting to see how the servers hold up once players actually start to populate them.

The biggest piece of UFC 3’s online suite, though, is Ultimate Team. Since MMA is a one-on-one sport, instead of building a full team here, you have a sort of stable here, much like in wrestling. You have four fighters—three men and one woman—from different weight classes, and you can try to advance each in their respective divisions to online glory, fighting with one at a time. Just like in other EA Ultimate Team modes, this is a clear cash grab, attempting to get you hooked to the mode in the hopes you’ll spend real-world money on card packs to more quickly advance your fighter’s stats, or get a rare or legendary fighter to bolster your stable. Even some relatively common moves require special cards to unlock, leaving your fighter predictable in their offense if you don’t either grind in offline Ultimate Team challenge or drop actual cash, and it’s nothing short of infuriating.

EA Sports UFC 3 looks good on the surface, but has far too many flaws buried underneath. Sure, every fighter looks great, and how they move in the Octagon is the most realistic we’ve seen yet in any game. Striking feels good, but the ground game remains a mess, career mode has no heart, and Ultimate Team feels shoehorned in. If you really love MMA, it’s frustrating that it seems that EA Sports still can’t seem to create a game that is a true simulation while also being fun—and I think it might be time for UFC to just tap out.

Publisher: EA Sports • Developer: EA Canada • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 02.02.18
5.0
EA Sports UFC 3 feels like one step forward and two steps back. Striking is more realistic than ever, but submissions and the ground game remain convoluted. The new G.O.A.T. Career mode has flashes of brilliance, but bogs you down in menus while losing the human side of fights. As well, Ultimate Team just feels like yet another cash grab. There is a decent core in UFC 3, but it needs a lot more time in the gym to become champion material.
The Good Striking is more realistic than ever.
The Bad Ground game remains a mess, sluggish controls.
The Ugly My created character’s face looks like it’s been through a fight before the first round even starts.
EA Sports UFC 3 is available on PS4 and Xbox One. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. 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.

It has been a great year for games overall, and one of the best in recent memory. I can’t remember the last time I had to wrestle with my top five as much as I had to this year, because there were honestly 15 or so games out of the 89 that I beat before official EGM game of the year voting that I could’ve slipped into these slots. After much internal deliberation, however, I hammered out a list that I think provides a variety of incredible experiences that are all more than worthy of your game-playing time.

#5 Publisher: Bethesda
Developer: MachineGames
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
There were literally three games rotating in and out of this spot for me before I finally decided that talking about how great it is to kill Nazis—and in such a variety of ways—was worthy of a nod. There have never been a more disgusting or vile people on the Earth than the Nazis; they are the ultimate evil. And, reigning havoc on this fictional Reich was cathartic at a time when people seem to be forgetting just how heinous they were. If this game weren’t already in my top five, it’d be getting a special award just for being able to kick Hitler in the face. Throw in a terrific end credits scene that should get every patriot’s heart pumping, along with just how amazingly smooth the game’s gunplay was, and there’s no doubt that Wolfenstein II should be near the top of everyone’s lists.
#4 Publisher: Supergiant Games
Developer: Supergiant Games
Platforms: PS4, PC
Pyre
The folks at Supergiant Games are nothing if not expert storytellers. In each of their games, they’ve created unique worlds that you can’t help but get sucked into, and Pyre does that again here. It finds a way to make you care about the characters in your caravan right from the get-go, and as your party grows, the roots you place in this world only become stronger until it’s almost painful for you to leave it. What’s even more amazing is that the gameplay’s main mechanic—besides chatting with your party members in standard RPG fashion—is to basically win 3-on-3 basketball games. Of course, boiling this mechanic down like that to its very core peels away the stakes that surround each game. There’s a real sense of risk here, as well as loss should you fail. Pyre is a gorgeous game, both visually and content wise, and is a can’t-miss experience.
#3 Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Platforms: Switch
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Breath of the Wild is no doubt a game-changer for one of Nintendo’s most popular flagship franchises. It was a bold choice to focus more on puzzle-solving and world interaction than combat, and it paid off. People are still discovering new ways to interact with this latest iteration of Hyrule and its inhabitants, and it again proves that few companies are as good as Nintendo at just making games that are pure fun. Plus, there is plenty of fun to be had considering how massive the game’s world is, not to mention a tremendous amount of customization here, with Link being able to wear just about anything. I could’ve done without my weapons breaking so often, and I worry about Nintendo embracing the idea of DLC with this game, but even still, this is an instant classic.
#2 Publisher: Studio MDHR
Developer: Studio MDHR
Platforms: Xbox One, PC
Cuphead
It’s rare in today’s world for something to be hyped for as long as Cuphead was, and for it to then live up to that hype. And yet, somehow, it did. After 188 deaths, I had completed this game and was thrilled for every second I got to play with it. There is a randomness to each boss fight that tests your reflexes in ways few games like this can, as you can’t just sit back and memorize patterns. It’s an action-shooter, but there are definitely moments where this feels like a bullet hell, too—especially in the flying levels. On top of this, the art and musical style of 1930s cartoons is a surprisingly fresh take for a video game, and proves that sometimes what is old can be new again. Combine all this with tight controls (especially around the parry system), and Cuphead sits as one of the year’s most complete experiences if you’re like me and don’t mind the difficulty.
#1 Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Resident Evil VII
It’s rare for a game that releases in January to hold throughout the year at the top of my list, but Resident Evil 7 surprised us all in a lot of ways in 2017. It’s both a return to form and a strong step forward for the franchise. The atmosphere and intimateness of the Baker compound down in the bayou harkens back to earlier games in the series, helping to set up some truly horrific moments. The move to first-person was controversial for some, but for me I found it to be a smart step into the future that only enhanced the terror the game instilled in me. When you include the clever traps and puzzles, the unforgettable characters that were the Baker family, and the new enemies in the Molded, Resident Evil 7 quite simply might’ve saved the franchise. It also, though, was the first full game to completely support VR. Sure, the graphics took a hit, but playing with that headset on is a true test of anyone’s fortitude.
The 7th Annual “The Colors, Duke! The Colors!” Award for Most Colorful Game presented by Popsicle (not really, but I wish)
Assassin’s Creed Origins
Continuing my annual tradition of giving an award to the prettiest game of the year, Assassin’s Creed Origins’ visuals blew me away. This was one of the toughest years yet to judge for this award, but when everything was working—whether you were perched atop one of the Pyramids of Giza, or just soaring over the Nile with Senu—Assassin’s Creed Origins could take your breath away. The diversity of the landscape also played a huge part in Origins coming away with the win here, as there was so much more to explore than just the desert you likely first think of when thinking of Egypt.
The Rick Astley “Never Gonna Give You Up” Award
Injustice 2
For as great a year as it’s been in video games, few games have got me coming back for more as consistently as Injustice 2. Earning new gear in the game’s Multiverse mode has become something of an addiction, as I’m constantly trying to make my favorite characters stronger through the system. Online play has been solid—I’ve got a .540 winning percentage with my main, Batman—and the steady flood of new monthly DLC characters has kept things fresh with all these new characters to learn and arcade endings to discover. In a year full of memorable experiences, Injustice 2 just might be the most addicting.
The Don’t Let It Fall Under Your Radar Award
The Sexy Brutale
There have been a flurry of AAA-blockbusters that took our breath away this year, but we can’t forget to give indies their proper amount of love. While some smaller projects were fortunate enough to catapult themselves into the limelight from their first showing at fan expos and trade shows, others have toiled away hoping to breakthrough. The Sexy Brutale is a terrific murder-mystery with the added caveat of time-travel thrown in to help you relive the same day over and over in order to solve all the murders taking place around you. Throw in a stellar soundtrack and The Sexy Brutale is a game you might not have heard of until now, but is one you must go back and experience if you find the time.
EGM’s Best of 2017 Coverage
We’re taking a look at the best games of 2017 all week, from Christmas day through December 30th. Check back every day for our Top 25 Games of 2017, as well as our personal lists for the games we loved most this year. Check here for everything that’s been posted so far.

Lego games are nothing if not consistent, and in today’s gaming world that’s an accomplishment. Here is a series that typically has multiple releases a year and yet still finds a way to maintain a certain level of quality in terms of its gameplay and its humor. Sure, there’s a really simple base to work from, and it’s not like the graphics will push modern hardware to the brink, but the Lego games always deliver an experience the whole family can enjoy from beginning to end. The latest game, Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2, once again maintains the course for the series, and although it also adds a few new bells and whistles, there are a few new issues that crop up along the way, too.

Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 revolves around classic Marvel villain Kang the Conqueror. Kang has decided to stitch together a world from across both time and the multiverse and dub the resulting mishmash Chronopolis, with all the worst characters from across the timeline pledging fealty to him. Of course, in all these worlds happen to be heroes, too. Now, Marvel’s finest (minus the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and all their related characters) must find a way to band together to stop Kang and his army, and send each part of Chronopolis back to their respective place in the multiverse.

Similar to the previous Lego Marvel game, the story unfolds chapter by chapter from a hub world, in this case the aforementioned Chronopolis. Kang’s powers served as the perfect opportunity to stitch together some favorite alternate Marvel universes like Spider-Man 2099’s Nueva York, Spider-Man Noir’s Noir Universe, Captain America’s Hydra Empire, and current Marvel locales like the Inhumans’ Attilan, the Guardians of the Galaxy’s Knowhere, and an Asgard on the brink of Ragnarok. Each world has its own dedicated story chapter and is full of the kind of childish humor that’s always punctuated the series, with the heroes constantly bumbling over themselves. Throwing in the different universes only adds to the topical humor—fourth-wall breaking references to the Noir world’s sepia tone palette, for instance, and the obligatory mummy jokes in Ancient Egypt. Plus, with 18 different worlds across 20 story chapters this is easily the longest standalone Lego game yet crafted.

Chronopolis is also the largest hub world TT Games has ever created for a standalone Lego game. It’s chock full of hours of content, including racing in the streets, stopping crime—petty criminals as well as villains ranging from well known rogues like Electro to relative unknowns like Sentry-459—taking quizzes about the game, and more. Succeeding at these bonus challenges serve as extra ways to earn classic gold bricks, which can then be used to unlock even more content in the game like bonus levels, and more of the heroes on what is easily the largest roster shipped with any Lego game.

To be fair, though, due to Disney and Marvel’s recent push against promoting the X-Men and other movie properties they don’t control, the roster is a bit artificially bloated with multiple versions of Iron Man, Captain America, Spider-Man, and the like as well as some really obscure heroes and villains from Marvel’s history. As a long time fan of Marvel’s properties, these other characters are sorely missed at times. You can give me as many superhero versions of Gwen Stacy as you want, but I’d still much rather have Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, or Cyclops.

Of course, the lack of X-Men is more a matter of personal preference than something that seriously detracts from the gameplay. As in many of the previous games, there are few differences between a lot of the characters besides aesthetic or personal appeal and maybe a different voice actor. Gameplay-wise most characters fall into only a few categories. The different Captain Americas are somewhat unique because there are switches only their shields can hit, but other characters like Dr. Strange can also reflect energy when the situation calls for it. The family of Hulks are usually fine for whenever you need to smash a wall. And you have your pick of characters that can blast or blow things up with energy: Iron Man, Captain Marvel, Thor, and even Rocket Raccoon. And with the new Ms. Marvel replacing the likes of Mr. Fantastic, and Wasp and Ant-Man’s shrinking abilities, there’s very little from the original Lego Marvel that hasn’t been replicated with different heroes here.

There are a few new gameplay mechanics at least to also take advantage of new heroes, though. There are special mazes that only Ms. Marvel can stretch through, Dr. Strange can use his magic to open up special portals with a line-tracing mechanic, and Lockjaw can teleport to normally unseen parts of a level. This comes on top of the classic Lego mechanics of smashing anything and everything in sight, occasionally rebuilding some of the stuff you’ve destroyed into something new and useful, and collecting the in-game currency, studs, to purchase more heroes and vehicles. Collecting minikits and saving Stan Lee from obvious peril also return as extra ways to earn those precious gold bricks.

Besides the massive scope of Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2’s world and its predictably large roster of characters, the game also introduces levels where as many as five characters can be in your party at once. There are several levels where you’ll be working with the entire Guardians of the Galaxy team, or the entire family of Inhumans. This allows for more complex levels and puzzles with more elements than we’ve seen before. Each character in your party can bring something new to the team to help you progress through a level. For example, Star-Lord can fly, Drax has super-strength, Rocket has beam weapons, Gamora can use her swords, and Groot could turn into a ball and roll on certain switches. By switching back and forth between them, you have different characters interacting with different parts of a stage at different times more than ever before.

There’s a downside to this, however. Back when there were only ever two characters to your team, you knew exactly whom you were switching with when playing the game solo. With five characters on a team, even when you’re facing whom you want to control, you may bounce to entirely the wrong character. This only gets worse when, after leaving a character you were just controlling, the AI decides to run off away from where you left them, or worse yet, get stuck somewhere in the environment that you can’t get them out of without restarting the level. While the added complexity to the levels that the larger teams bring is an obvious way to up the ante from prior games, it’s clear that more bugs have made it through as a result. If TT wants to keep these bigger partiers for the next major Lego adventure, it needs to iron out some of these issues first.

The AI also bugs out with the villains on occasion, with cutscenes either being slow to trigger or boss battles not entering their next stage at all for some reason. With most levels being relatively short—few should take more than 20-30 minutes to complete offering up the game in nice bite-sized chunks for those strapped for time—there are few mid-level checkpoints. Although these bugs were few and far between, they were present enough to warrant a warning here. Having to restart large portions of a level because the game glitched is always frustrating.

The Lego games aren’t just solo experiences, though. Local two-player co-op has been with the series for as far back as I can remember and it returns here and is as solid as ever. When you get too far from your partner, the awkward split-screen returns, compounding the issue of a sometimes already too static camera, but it’s nothing some solid communication can’t correct. Depending on the age of who you’re playing with, though, good luck with that.

There’s also a new addition this go around with a four-player competitive mode for multiplayer. You can now communicate with the Grandmaster at Avengers Mansion in the game, and he will welcome you into one of two games. The first is a take on your standard Deathmatch, but with the added bonus of Infinity Gems falling occasionally from the sky and boosting a player or team. The second requires players to try to paint the ground in their color by walking over blank spots. It loosely resembles something from Splatoon, but quickly can devolve into confusing chaos as players desperately try to score in the tiny arenas. Each mode has four arenas to them as well, and although this isn’t the deepest multiplayer, it makes for a nice addition to the formula. It also raises the question, however, as to why there is still no online functionality in the Lego games.

Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 is easily the largest and most entertaining standalone project the series has produced yet. There are literally hours upon hours of fun Marvel-themed content to keep games of all ages occupied for long periods of time. Some of the drastic expansion of the gameplay and world size, however, has led to some bugs that can become frustrating at times. If you can look past some of these new technical issues added on top of some pre-existing ones, Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 should still be a fun action-adventure that the an entire family of Marvel Merry Marching Society members can enjoy.

Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment • Developer: TT Games • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 11.14.17
7.5
Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 is easily the largest undertaking, outside of Dimensions, for a Lego game yet. More characters and more worlds to explore are punctuated by a humorous story that’s enjoyable for gamers of all ages. Increasing the scope of the Lego games has opened the door for some less than enjoyable bugs to sneak their way at times, though.
The Good Tons of content to keep you busy in Lego Chronopolis for hours on end. The story is fun, and the local versus multiplayer mode was a pleasant surprise.
The Bad Some AI glitches for characters you don’t control, and then trying to switch to those characters, belie some uncharacteristic tech issues from TT.
The Ugly I’ve played way too many Marvel property games this year without the X-Men in them now.
Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 is available on PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch. 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.

Telltale’s latest interactive story marks their first foray with a Marvel property, and it’s somewhat fitting that it would be Guardians of the Galaxy. After all, Telltale is becoming so adept at collecting licensed properties to make games about maybe they should change their name to Taneleer Tivan. This new tale offers up some pleasant surprises by smartly blending elements from both Marvel’s movies and comics featuring the Guardians, while returning to Telltale’s own roots some when it comes to gameplay and weighty decisions. It still carries many of the issues seen in more recent Telltale games, though, as Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is plagued with bugs, glitches, and inconsistent writing.

The first episode begins with the Nova Corps once again begging the Guardians for help. Thanos, the Mad Titan, isn’t hunting for Infinity Gems this go around, but instead is after a Kree artifact called the Eternity Forge. No one knows what power the Forge would bestow, exactly, but the fact that Thanos is after it means it is definitely something that should be kept away from him at all costs. Thanos isn’t the only one who has eyes on the Forge, however, as one of the last remaining Kree in the galaxy, Hala the Accuser, sees it as a way to enact revenge on Thanos for pushing her people to brink of extinction.

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is an interesting venture. Similar to its Batman series, Telltale has decided to step outside what is perceived as canon in either Marvel’s comic or movie universes with this property and tries to forge its own iteration of these characters. In doing so, the team throws off some of the potential creative shackles from pre-established canon, like how they use characters and organizations like the Nova Corps, Yondu, The Collector, Hala, and Thanos. For even a casual Guardians fan, this had all the parts needed for an epic space adventure, and it was a mostly fun one, too. Telltale was able to capture much of the humor and light-heartedness of the Guardians successfully, and utilized each character pulled from Marvel lore to their fullest.

There was a cost for this creative freedom, however, and it came up quickly. Operating outside of known canon meant this adventure couldn’t stand as well on its own, adding problems like having to lengthily explain a lot of the universe since pre-established backstories and encounters no longer necessarily apply. Constant flashbacks into character histories, and even a section that explores how the Guardians first got together, often derailed the pacing of the adventure. Just when it felt like you were going to hit an interesting payoff for whatever “B” or “C” plots that particular episode of the series had introduced, you were derailed by yet another scene of Star-Lord camping with his mom.

These flashbacks also felt like desperate attempts at fleshing out characters who border on being somewhat flat to begin with, since the Guardians’ dynamic and appeal relies so heavily on the group as a whole being polar opposites of one another. Telltale’s writing was at its finest when the group was together and arguing like lunatics. When they inevitably were separated at various points in each episode, the lengthy exposition that would soon follow came off as weak—a problem that is often seen in other Guardians of the Galaxy related-media as well.

The writing also suffers from a lack of consistency, an issue that has become more and more evident as Telltale’s games have become more popular. This has resulted in the company attempting to keep up a breakneck pace to meet a once-high demand. Part of the solution to this is multiple writers working on different episodes. What ends up happening is drastic shifts in tone from episode to episode that can be jarring, particularly when you marathon the episodes once the entire season has been released like I do. Other examples of this include callbacks to previous episodes, which often feel tacked on and out of place. It gives the sense they were added in late, shoehorned into an episode that might’ve been being worked on at the exact same time as the one before it.

What Guardians of the Galaxy does well, though, is help Telltale return to its puzzle-solving roots. Many of its more recent games have shied away from allowing players to actually move around a lot in the world, and instead all the action has been increasingly  heavy on quicktime events. While there are still a fair amount of QTEs here, you also get some time in Star-Lord’s jet boots and get to walk around ancient Kree temples and other places in the universe as you try to figure out some puzzles. There’s even an elevation element, where Star-Lord has to fly in certain rooms to reach potential clues.

The other major gameplay aspect of Telltale games is, of course, making choices. At this point, everyone knows each choice you make can potentially affect gameplay, and I think Guardians did a stellar job at providing branching paths, particularly from episode three onward. There, you have one major decision that causes a drastic shift and can lead directly to many different characters living or dying. In fact, I triggered an ending that only 5.9% of other players received based on my choices. And no, that doesn’t mean just that 94.1% of other players got a different ending. There are multiple endings and results based on whom you befriend and how each situation becomes resolved. This was the first time in quite some time where it felt like my choices really had some weight with a Telltale game.

Of course, this was when the game was working properly. I feel like I’m beating a dead horse each time I review a Telltale game now, but their engine, the Telltale Tool, has not aged well. And because of it, it feels like each subsequent game the company tries to make has more and more technical issues with it. Some are comical, like Star-Lord’s weird speed-walking animation. Why not just let him break out into a run? Others are annoying, but far from game-breaking, like NPCs at the Knowhere bar blinking in and out of existence in the background of a scene with characters talking. But then there are others that are unforgivable.

One glitch nearly made it so I couldn’t finish the game. In chapter four of episode three, right before you make that aforementioned big branching decision, all the Guardians meet with a new friend to discuss how they’ll proceed going forward. No matter what choices you make, the game will glitch here and you won’t be able to talk to the people you need in order to trigger a cutscene that moves the game along. You’ll be stuck, forever, unable to talk to anyone, waiting for a scene that will never happen. I reloaded the checkpoint half-a-dozen times, even going back through all my conversations right before that moment hoping a different path would resolve the glitch, but to no avail.

This is a bug that Telltale is well aware of, is present in both PC and console versions of the game according to some digging, and that still hasn’t been patched even since episode three’s release at the end of August. Luckily, during my digging on the internet, I was able to find that completely quitting out of the game and then starting back up from the last checkpoint should resolve the issue and it did. Anytime a bug requires you to restart your game or your system, though, there’s clearly some technical shortcomings that need to be dealt with, and hopefully, what with all the changes going on currently at Telltale, that ends up happening in future games.

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series is not Telltale’s best work. Like most of its other recent projects, its engine is really showing its age, and it’s getting to where the games are almost unplayable at points. The writing for Guardians is also clearly handcuffed by wanting to do something different with an established property, instead of working in pre-determined boundaries, and ended up causing more creative problems than solutions in the long run. That said, there are a lot of touching and even humorous moments in this particular series, showing Telltale’s writers had a strong grasp of the material. Being able to explore the world and walk around as Star-Lord was also a nice throwback to earlier Telltale games, instead of the more quicktime driven ones from recent times. Still, you’d have to be a pretty big fan of Guardians of the Galaxy to occupy your gaming time with this one.

Publisher: Telltale Games • Developer: Telltale Games • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 11.07.17
6.5
There are points where Guardians of the Galaxy is barely playable because of how terrible the engine is. Yes, the story at least has some heart to it, and at key points your decisions feel like they matter. But it mostly feels like Telltale was creatively backed into a corner with this property full of oddball characters, and the end result is far from the studio’s best work.
The Good More gameplay directly in the hands of the player; a decent story that borrows successfully from both Marvel’s comics and movies.
The Bad Game-breaking glitches that really detract from the experience.
The Ugly My spontaneous dancing a la Star-Lord when some amazing songs started playing.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series is available on Xbox One, PS4, PC, iOS, Android, and Switch. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by xxx for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Need for Speed once led the pack in terms of the arcade racing scene. In recent years, though, it has lost what made it special while simultaneously being eclipsed by other racers in the genre. A reboot two years ago was supposed to pave the way for the series to once again find traction within the racing world, but whatever hopes EA had have likely been dashed with Need for Speed Payback, which serves as evidence that the series may just be too far off course to comeback at this point.  

Need for Speed Payback follows a small racing crew in Fortune Valley, a fictionalized version of Las Vegas built on sin and street racing. Tyler specializes in drag and traditional races, Mac in off-road and drifting, and Jess is their runner, great for getting away from the 5-0 when they crack down on the trio’s driving antics. The game starts with Tyler’s crew getting an offer from an old friend named Lina that they can’t refuse: help steal a supercar and get a payday that could set them up for life. The only ones being set-up, though, are Tyler and gang. Now, they’re out for revenge against Lina and her boss (the mysterious Collector), but will have to work their way up through Fortune Valley’s 10 car gangs to even have a shot at Lina—and maybe getting that big payday after all.

Looking to their contemporaries and racing movies for inspiration, Need for Speed Payback tries to tell a revenge story we’ve seen almost a half-dozen times already—it’s just missing Vin Diesel giving some stupid speech about family. That said, its major story beats, which mark the conclusion of each of the narrative’s five acts, are actually a lot of fun and keep things moving in an entertaining direction. Ridiculous car chases, sudden perspective switches, and Michael Bay-worthy explosions will have you slowly inch forward in your chair. And, of course, everything looks gorgeous as usual in the Frostbite engine. The cinematic approach to a lot of the scenes worked, and the only times they didn’t—when you forced other cars to wreck—is now an option that can be thankfully turned off if you’re like me and hate taking your eyes off the action. Unfortunately, it’s everything around those major beats that really let this game down.

From a story standpoint, the hardest part to get behind is the cast of characters. The bad guys were infinitely more interesting than the good guys, and I’m not sure if the voice over sessions for this were done during the recent voice actor strike, but I think you could’ve walked down Hollywood Blvd and randomly asked people to audition for this game and gotten better performances. What’s worse is it sounds like several of the actors had to perform numerous roles (which is more common than you might think), but none of them even tried to do a different voice, resulting in long conversations where it almost seems like characters are talking to themselves.

And speaking of talking to oneself, the writing in-between the major story beats is the worst kind of filler, trying desperately to distract you from the grind of the gameplay. Some of the banter between Tyler’s crew is entertaining, but most of the time you just get a desperate attempt at filling time in the quiet moments driving from mission to mission, with each character at random times seemingly breaking the fourth wall and talking to the player for no good reason. It only further illustrated from a narrative standpoint that all Ghost Games really had here was an interesting skeletal structure and not much more.

A weak narrative could’ve been overcome had the gameplay been good, but yet again, Need for Speed Payback falters almost right from the get go. Fortune Valley feels comparable in size to other Need for Speed games, but when compared to its competition in the genre like the Forza Horizon series or The Crew, things feel small. Although the world does have a nice bit of diversity with the urban downtown area, and some evergreen mountainous paths, it all feels artificially segmented at times, with so much desert serving as an unusual border for it all.

There is a lot to do in this world, though. Blatantly borrowing from Forza Horizon, Payback adds Derelicts (barn finds without the barn basically) that can be found throughout the world, built up, and customized in your garage. There are now also speed traps, drift challenges, and jumps all around the world for a way to earn “Rep,” Need for Speed’s take on an in-game leveling system that rewards you each time your status increases. You can also earn Rep points—similarly to Forza Horizon—simply by performing tricks in the world or smashing things up.

Still, the core for Payback tries to remain the racing, and moving up in Fortune Valley and knocking off the 10 gangs isn’t easy when each gang specializes in something different. Drag, drift, traditional racing, and off-road serve as the core of the story experience, with additional runner challenges available with Jess that try desperately to set up a backstory for the world—what with EA already (sadly) talking about bringing many of these characters back for a sequel.

In order to be able to compete with these racers, you need to have the right car—but complicating your attempts is the fact that those cars handle a little too loosely, especially compared to other games currently within the arcade racing genre. So, it can require a lot of time to get used to each car because of this. However, the stock cars themselves won’t do you much good for long. Your first three cars are given to you, but after that, you need to either get parts to increase your cars’ ranking (100 is the minimum, 399 is the maximum) or buy new cars outright, with many of the best ones in each category only unlockable by winning races to begin with. So, finding new parts is the way to go, but actually getting those parts is where Payback’s most frustrating feature becomes prominent.

There are tune-up stores scattered around Fortune Valley, and in these stores you can buy and equip different parts for your cars in the form of Speed Cards. As you win races, you’ll earn a random Speed Card, which you hope will offer a better part than something you already have, thus raise the ranking. If that doesn’t work—and it usually doesn’t—you can also take in-game money you earn from winning races and buy new parts at the tune-up stores. Unfortunately, these also rarely offer you anything much better than what you currently have, and if they do, they’re exorbitantly expensive compared to your usual race winnings. This leads you to one of two routes.

The first is that any race you beat, you can re-race for more money and more random Speed Cards, and this becomes an obvious grind. It’s such a grind that what should’ve been a 10-12 hour experience ballooned to almost 20 hours for me by the time I reached the game’s end. It’s a horribly cheap way to force you to keep playing a game, especially with all the side content crammed into Payback that you might rather spend your attention on. It’s such a grind that there’s even an achievement/trophy for “grinding” through another race.

Of course, there’s also a way around that grind. That’s right, it wouldn’t be an EA-published game if it wasn’t polluted with microtransactions, and these might be some of the worst yet. When you get a Speed Card you don’t want, you can either sell it for in-game currency, or exchange it for what is called a Part Token. Three Part Tokens will allow you to spin a slot machine (yes, the mechanic is literally a slot machine) with you locking in one of the three spinners—car part (engine block, gearbox, etc.), manufacturer, or boost (nitrous, braking, acceleration, etc.)—and then crossing your fingers. With luck, you’ll get just the part you need and it’ll be a higher level than what is currently available to you in either the store or through races.

Payback does offer myriad ways to earn Speed Cards and Part Tokens. Leveling up your Rep or finishing Daily Challenges that are available will earn you Shipments, which usually carry a vanity piece for your car (colored smoke for when you burn out, novelty horns, etc), some in-game currency, and a few Part Tokens. Three Tokens per spin, though, can see you burn through Tokens quickly. So, there are also Premium Shipments that you can acquire by spending real world cash. If you don’t do this, you’ll end up like me, grinding for extra hours in a system that is purposely balanced to tempt you into those microtransactions. Oh, and to add insult to injury, when you reach the halfway point of the game, you need to buy brand new cars and do the entire building process all over again if you aren’t using a Derelict.

It’s a broken system and it’s offensive that they didn’t even try to hide the fact that it’s all one big slot machine. The Speed Card/Part Token system is by far the worst part of this game—it makes the game almost unplayable—and the alternative grind is so frustrating that I literally started to grind my teeth so badly while playing this I needed to put in a mouth guard.

What’s really sad is once you do raise your car’s level, the races themselves aren’t that difficult. They’re only challenging if you’re not at a level equal to what is recommended; I tried avoiding the grind and absolutely could not win. You also develop a familiarity with the tracks due to the aforementioned smaller world, where by the end of the game almost all the locations repeat. So, you’ll learn the best ways through a particular track, but likely end up a little bored racing through it over and over again.

Also, I found the AI to be sorely lacking. I played the game on Medium, but as long as I had a car worthy of the race, I saw the AI go haywire more often than actually try to give me a competitive challenge, almost giving me the win. Sometimes my opponents would even take themselves out of the race by making weird turns and drive themselves off cliffs; other times I saw them so focused on trying to just ram me off the road that I could easily pass them and cruise to the finish. Of course, in the runner missions against the cops, this was their primary directive, and sometimes it would be frustrating to get rammed through a barricade that was supposed to be impenetrable, leaving me unable to get back on the right side of things to finish my getaway.

All of that leads me to the glitches. Even with a day-one patch that seems to have smoothed a few things out and added some nice UI enhancements, there were still plenty of glitches to be seen. Whether the aforementioned pushing me through a barricade I wasn’t supposed to go through, or cop cars randomly spawning right in front of me, there were some moments where I wrecked and there was simply nothing I could do. I once even saw two cop cars literally spawn right on top of each other, riding each other like some horrific nature documentary.

The worst glitches came when respawning after a wreck, however. One thing Need for Speed didn’t borrow from Forza Horizon was the rewind feature; instead, when you wreck, the game puts you back on the road, usually at a speed close to what you were going before your crashed. Unfortunately, when this occurs on tight turns, sometimes you’ll spawn going at top speed right next to the wall or oddly-placed rock you initially crashed into, and then keep crashing into it. Repeatedly. So much so that you have to restart the race because there’s simply nothing else you can do to escape this infinite loop.

If you do make it through all of this, one of the few decent things about Need for Speed Payback is the multiplayer. If you’ve done enough grinding to earn yourself a top-tier car (ranked matches require cars 300 or above, casual matches can be any level), you can join the online Speedlists, a popular returning feature from 2015’s Need for Speed’s final update. This was actually a lot of fun, because it was just four to eight players going through a series of five races from the main campaign, with points being dished out a la Mario Kart at the end.

At the end of a five-race circuit comprised of either off-road or regular races (each race is voted on beforehand), the winner gets a currency and Rep prize that can be carried back to the single-player campaign. (So, this could be another way to grind, too.) The online was entirely stable in my time playing it today during the game’s launch, and the races against people were fun because actual humans performed way better than the AI did. As great as the online competition was, however, considering the narrative revolves around three best friends, it sure does feel like campaign co-op not being included was a missed opportunity.

Need for Speed Payback feels like a haphazard mess. The core of this tire fire is the progression system that tries to funnel you into microtransactions—at best, it’s a cheap way to inflate the playtime required to beat the game, and at its worst, it’s a desperate cash grab from a floundering franchise. The world is littered with glitches, the characters created are uninteresting, and the racing itself still needs work when compared to the contemporaries in the genre. The only saving grace is the major story beats at least provide a cheap adrenaline rush to wake you up from the lull the rest of the game will settle you into, and the multiplayer—if you can get a good enough car—works well, and racing human players is way more fun than grinding against this AI for 20 hours. As I crossed the finish line for the final time, though, Payback was nothing but another disappointing chapter from a once great franchise.

Publisher: Electronic Arts • Developer: Ghost Games • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 11.10.17
4.0
Need for Speed Payback might be a new low point for the franchise. A horrendous progression system compounded by uninteresting characters and terrible AI only illustrates how far behind this series has fallen compared to the other arcade racers out there. The multiplayer is solid, but that’s like saying at least the car wreck didn’t cause a fire, too.
The Good Speedlists work great for multiplayer.
The Bad Small world, weak characters, and the progression system is an awful grind.
The Ugly When you accidentally drift into oncoming traffic.
Need for Speed Payback is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Electronic Arts for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.