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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.
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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.

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.

“And it’s another ambush.” This innocuous, almost throw-away line of dialogue near the end of a side mission on the ice planet Voeld was one of the most compelling moments in my time with Mass Effect: Andromeda. Not because the situation or even the line itself was particularly thrilling, but because the exasperation with which the line was delivered was exactly how I had felt for about the first 30 hours of the 65 it took me to finish the campaign. The seeming self-awareness by Ryder was the first time I found myself able to finally relate to the new hero of one of gaming’s most beloved series, and yet succinctly summed up one of the main reasons why I was not enjoying myself.

Mass Effect: Andromeda is of course the fourth main game in BioWare’s epic space-faring RPG franchise. This latest chapter technically begins between the original Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, where a former N7 named Alec Ryder and his children sign up for a program known as the Andromeda Initiative, a space-exploration mission that sends them—and nearly 100,000 others from select races—off towards the Heleus cluster in the Andromeda galaxy while frozen in cryo-stasis upon special ships aptly called Arks. The journey is set to take just over 600 years, and the hope upon arrival is they will be able to colonize “golden worlds,” planets that appear hospitable for life from the Milky Way. Taking control of one of Alec’s fraternal twin children (male or female), you soon realize that the worlds you had hoped to forge a future on are no longer golden, and the ill-timed death of your father makes you inadvertently the tip of a new spear that must be forged if civilization is to thrive on this new frontier.

This task of finding and terraforming new worlds is one of your two major objectives in Andromeda as the newly designated “Pathfinder” for the Initiative—and I quickly grew to despise it. Ryder must make five planets viable for life to live on, but the process is the same each and every time: activation of ancient technology on each world to expedite the terraforming process while completing mundane tasks for people on or wanting to go to the planet. It’s bad enough the worlds can be boiled down to “ice world,” “jungle world,” “sandy desert world,” “rocky desert world,” and “hive of scum and villainy.” Combine them with monotonous, circuitous fetch quests that have you bouncing around the galaxy and suffering through long, unskippable interstellar travel scenes before getting just a couple of lines of dialogue and a green check mark in your menu, or being sent to an outpost to kill all the bad guys, and I honestly almost wanted the Initiative to fail. They’re the most transparent and dull quests an RPG can provide, especially with minimal main story involvement, and it all just felt like a mechanism to bloat the game’s length from the 30-35 hours it could’ve been—which would have fallen in line with previous games in the series—to the 65-75 hours you’ll likely need to do everything now, should you choose to do so like I did. If ever there was an argument that bigger isn’t necessarily better, Andromeda makes it.

The other major issue with this task is that it makes the universe feel like a knockoff of what the original trilogy had provided, as your job is just building this galaxy up to original Mass Effect levels.  When I landed on the Citadel in the original Mass Effect, the alien races and the scope of everything blew me away. When you land on the Nexus (wannabe Citadel) in Andromeda via the Tempest (wannabe Normandy), many alien races like the drell, quarians, elcor, hanar, and volus—to name just a few—have all been cut. Only the krogan, turians, salarians, asari, and, of course, humans, have supposedly made the trip from the Milky Way. To replace nearly a dozen other species from the original trilogy, all we get are the new enemies (the kett), one new ally (the angarans), and the references to a long dead race whose technology plagues Andromeda (the remnant). In a game that felt like it was trying to sell itself on exploration and new experiences, it’s depressing how little there was in Andromeda to genuinely explore and get excited about, since it all felt so familiar and barebones. BioWare should have streamlined the side quests, not the Heleus cluster.

Archon1160

Luckily, your other main objective in the Andromeda galaxy will feel a lot more familiar, and is a lot more fun. Along your viability journey, you’ll come across the aforementioned kett, a ruthless alien race bent on conquering every species in the known universe. While not focused on all-out destruction like the reapers were in the original trilogy, the kett are interested in assimilation, and they are very curious in everyone who just appeared from the Milky Way. This conflict makes up the majority of the game’s story beats, and the missions associated with stopping the kett not only provide more variety than the viability ones, but are heavily grounded in the dialogue and character development we’ve come to expect from a BioWare game. The leader of the kett, the Archon, is the epitome of the ruthlessness that embodies his people, and my only complaint on that front is I wish there was more of him—and more length to this storyline in general—as he worked from the shadows most of the game.

Speaking of characters, it wouldn’t be Mass Effect without a ragtag group of aliens and humans coming together to represent the diversity this fictional galaxy is supposed to be all about. I was a little shocked that the group just seems to be thrown together rather quickly and haphazardly—you’ll have your entire squad by the start of the second planet—but I couldn’t help but develop strong emotions towards each and every one of them. In fact, the long chains of events that culminate in their loyalty missions might have been my favorite objectives in the game. And, because all of the characters don’t know the fate of the Milky Way since they left after the original Mass Effect, it is interesting to see them wonder about what might’ve happened, how old prejudices like those between salarians and krogans are still running strong here in Andromeda, and how they sort through the mysteries and baggage they brought with them which often prompted them to leave everything they knew behind in the first place.

What strengthens these relationships the most, though, is dialogue. Although some of the dialogue—and the acting in general—is hit or miss, more options than the Paragon/Renegade choices of the original trilogy have been offered to help provide a better, more rounded Ryder than Shepard. Some answers are more professional, while others more emotional. Some are guarded; others show a softer side to Ryder, and in turn, possibly your teammates. It’s a welcome bit of nuance for one of the series’ core mechanics. There’s even an opportunity within some cutscenes—almost like a Telltale game—where pressing a trigger button will have Ryder act impulsively, which could profoundly affect relationships down the line.

Of course, you’re not just talking in Mass Effect: Andromeda. The third-person shooter gameplay from the main trilogy returns with some tweaks to them. A new cover mechanic has been added that really doesn’t work as well as it should—most of the time, you’ll hug a corner you didn’t mean to, and even then you’re often still at least partially exposed. And, credit to the AI here, if you do stay in cover for too long, the enemy will quickly try to flank you. So, your best bet is to keep moving. A new jetpack that gives you some pure jumping ability has also been added that allows you to float when aiming, but really, flying above all your cover just makes you a prime target.

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The jetpack also introduces some teeth-grindingly frustrating platforming sections to the game. Exploring the ancient ruins you need to navigate in order to turn on each planet’s terraforming machines is a torturous exercise in futility. Adding jumping to a game with an emphasis on exploration makes sense, but it lacks the finesse necessary to keep the mechanic—and vertical navigation in general—from becoming nothing but a chore. Ryder never sticks a landing after a long jump, often times leading to him tumbling off an edge, and it is very difficult to judge distance here because the camera is positioned far too closely to your character. It’s perfect for a third-person shooter, not a third-person platformer.

The last major addition to gameplay is that four of the five planets you need to make viable require you to traverse them in the Nomad, the new version of the original Mass Effect’s Mako. Simply put, the Nomad sucks. You need to change gears to climb even the slightest incline on every planet, it lacks any sort of weaponry—which would have made the more bad guy-ridden planets a lot more fun instead of constantly having to leave the vehicle to shoot people—and even when you are able to climb up a mountain that should be accessible, you’ll find blue neon walls appear to signify the edge of the world, forcing you to take the long way around every mountain. Driving was almost as much of a chore as jumping.

As you complete missions, explore the landscape, and take out kett and remnant, you’ll level up like in any RPG. Much like the more nuanced dialogue options, there are many ways to make Ryder truly unique to you here in Andromeda. Dozens of power options fall under combat, technology, or biotics, with three non-passive choices being able to be carried into battle at a time (though they can be switched out on the fly via the menu screen if a situation should change). By spending points in each category, you’ll also unlock profiles, which give boosts depending on your playstyle. For example, the Soldier profile is exclusively combat tree-heavy in its bonuses, while others mix and match two of the three trees in its bonuses, with one profile skewing to all three. I preferred the Vanguard personally, which was a mix of combat and technology.

For as easy as leveling up is, though, the new crafting system is as much of a chore as a lot of the other systems added to this game. You can’t craft on the fly, having to either find a tucked-away research & development console somewhere on a planet, or return to your ship, which always takes back off into space for some reason whenever you return to it. I really don’t know why you can’t just go into the ship without it leaving dock and triggering the same annoying cutscene—trying to cover up the game’s awful loading times, perhaps. Collecting resources is easy enough, but building and equipping items is so bothersome I only touched the R&D consoles when I absolutely, positively had to make a change or craft a quest item.

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While on the subject of load times, now is also perfect to talk about how broken Mass Effect: Andromeda is from a technical aspect. Animation has never been a BioWare strong suit, but there were many instances while I was playing that the animation was busted or weird on another level. I’ve seen three different Drack (your krogan ally) walk into the galley on the Tempest at once; I’ve seen PeeBee (asari ally) blink out of existence in the middle of a conversation; I’ve seen the Nomad spawn in places it shouldn’t, like inside buildings; I’ve fallen through the world on fast travel points, and had Ryder randomly give speeches from cutscenes in missions that I completed hours prior. I’ve seen some shit in this game, and that’s not even including the long load times, the awful draw distance, and the instances where the game literally comes to a complete halt if you drive too fast in the Nomad as the planets you are driving on struggle to load into your game. This game is going to be getting patches for a long time.

Besides the campaign (which comprises the overwhelming bulk of Andromeda) there is also a multiplayer component. Andromeda basically borrows the wave-based, horde-like multiplayer from Mass Effect 3 and updates it with new maps, new enemies, and some new objectives. There’s also dozens of new loadouts available that can be unlocked, but I personally would rather just be given a couple characters that can be more deeply customized than all these starting templates that need to be unlocked. There are also microtransactions to purchase credits to unlock items, but going that route is wholly unnecessary. (Of course, I think the multiplayer part of Mass Effect is unnecessary to begin with, though.)

Fighting seven waves of enemies with friends to obtain items—some of which can be carried over to the campaign, like credits and crafting materials—loses its luster very quickly to me. That’s especially the case now that the single-player campaign allows you to send CPU “Strike Teams” to do the missions instead, getting you all the gear you want without the time commitment of having to find friends to play with and stepping away from the story. Managing these teams from a console on the Tempest was a lot more fun and a lot less time consuming than the multiplayer, but if wave-based survival with some objectives is your thing, there are also a lot worse choices out there than what Andromeda provides. Also, I had no issues connecting or finding people to play with, so that’s a plus at least.

Mass Effect: Andromeda isn’t a bad game—but it is far from what we expect from the series. Poorly written fetch-quests, a dead universe that requires the player to bring any semblance of life to it, and more glitches than can be found tolerable in a game like this horribly mar the experience. There is a strong foundation of characters and story that is being laid down here, which gives me hope for the future, but this new chapter of the Mass Effect saga is a high price to pay in order to reinvest in a universe so many of us had come to love.

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Publisher: Electronic Arts • Developer: BioWare Montreal • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 03.21.17
6.0
There is a strong core of characters and story bedrock laid down in Mass Effect: Andromeda, but between questionable design choices, boring missions, and glitches galore, it’s hard not to view BioWare’s journey to a brand new galaxy as anything less than mission failure.
The Good The main story and new cast of characters are often as compelling as those left behind in the Milky Way.
The Bad Lots of busy work fetch-quests, a sense of everything being too familiar for being 600 light years away, and bugs—so many bugs.
The Ugly I fell harder for PeeBee than I expected.
Mass Effect: Andromeda is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by EA for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

I got to guest host on Nerd Alert this week with Kim Horcher. We talked about myriad topics, including the newest love interest in Mass Effect: Andromeda!

With the 2016-17 NHL season ready to start next Wednesday, October 12, EA Sports used NHL 17 to simulate the entirety of the season and predict major awards, including who will in it all.

Starting in the Eastern Conference, six of last year’s eight playoff teams return, including the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins after a second place Metropolitan Division finish. Only the New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings are predicted to miss the playoffs. It’s the first time the Red Wings would miss the playoffs in a quarter century. NHL 17 also says the Philadelphia Flyers and Toronto Maple Leafs will take their place. The Tampa Bay Lightning get the number one seed in the east, but their Atlantic Division rivals, the Montreal Canadiens, will win the conference.

Meanwhile, in the Western Conference, seven of eight teams return to the playoffs, with only the Anaheim Ducks missing out this year after a slow start. They are replaced by the Edmonton Oilers. The Nashville Predators are expected to take the one seed in the west, along with the franchise’s first ever Presidents’ Trophy with 110 points, and also the conference championship.

This means EA Sports is calling the Montreal Canadiens versus the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Final, marking a match-up between two teams that conducted one of the most head-scratching off-season trades we’ve seen in some time, when Montreal exchanged PK Subban for Nashville’s Shea Weber. Even more surprising, though, is the prediction that Nashville will win the Cup in six games, with Filip Forsberg taking home the Conn Smythe trophy.

Other notable predictions is Carey Price of Montreal getting the Vezina for best goaltender, and Vladimir Tarasenko of St. Louis getting the Rocket Richard trophy for most goals from an individual over the season.

While those individual awards are definitely possible, and you never know what can happen in the playoffs, Nashville over Montreal in the Final sounds ridiculous in my mind. I think EA Sports needs to go back to the drawing board with these simulations.

NHL 17 is available now for Xbox One and PS4.

Like most annual sports games, EA Sports’ NHL franchise has gone through some growing pains over the past couple of years as it transitioned onto new hardware. With each new iteration, however, the series has taken huge strides forward—and this year is no different. With EA Canada looking to their sports game cousins over at EA Tiburon and Madden for a little extra inspiration, NHL 17 adds a ton of new features, and by continuing to iterate on their own systems, EA Canada has produced the most authentic on-ice experience to date.

The most obvious element taken directly from the gridiron guys at EA Tiburon is the fact that NHL 17 now boasts its own version of Draft Champions. Instead of picking coaches and schemes, though, your first major decision here involves selecting a general pool of players. Do you want perennial all-stars? Or maybe only players that were born north of the border? How about just Stanley Cup winners? Each choice will net you an impressive base team no matter what, but will also dictate the players and legends available to you according to the theme. For example, no one would argue picking Hall of Famer Mike Modano early on to center your first line—but if you choose the Canadian-born player pool, you’ll never see him come up.

The actual draft part of the mode is shorter—down to 12 rounds instead of 15—due to the fact that there’s far less players on a hockey team than a football team, but it’s still enough that every gamer should have an outstanding group. There are also four player choices each round instead of three, making each pick more painful as you get deeper and deeper into the draft.

I found myself enjoying NHL 17’s version of the mode more than Madden’s. Here, each team is chock full of superstars, unlike the Madden side where each team has myriad scrubs filling holes at too many positions. My only issue with the mode lies in the fact that Madden allows you to have both an offline gauntlet against the computer for practice and an online one against other players going on at the same time. With NHL 17, you can only pick one or the other, which sucks if, say, you were playing online and your internet goes out. You either have to re-draft and forfeit the remaining gauntlet, or wait until you get back online.

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The other new mode NHL 17 touts this year is World Cup of Hockey. Replacing the old tournament mode, the World Cup of Hockey pits the eight authentic teams from this year’s international tournament against each other in round robin, and then elimination play. It’s not the longest or most intense mode, but it’s a nice way to try out players you might not normally use in other modes. For those of us who live and breathe the sport, you can’t help but try to take your home team all the way—and, yes, I took Team USA to the final where I swept Team Sweden.

New modes are always fun to mess around with, but the core four pre-existing modes—Franchise, Be a Pro, Hockey Ultimate Team, and EA Sports Hockey League—have seen such major renovations that you’d almost think they were brand new, too.

EASHL has added a plethora of customization options for building your own arena and team in order to give yourself the truest home ice advantage possible online. As your arena evolves and levels up over five different tiers, you’ll unlock everything from being able to mix up what color seats you have on each bowl level, to customized scoreboard and entrance effects when your team takes the ice for the first time. In terms of gameplay, the mode also adds new player classes for your skater, like hitting sniper and jumbo forward, so you can have a more refined role when you actually do take the ice.

Hockey Ultimate Team has seen more drastic changes than just some customization features. When you start, no longer will you be saddled with a team full of scrubs. They won’t be superstars either, to be clear, but you don’t have to worry about minor leaguers from the OHL mixing with pros at the NHL level anymore, as you’ll be given a roster full of NHL-level talent. You can always improve your squad through skill boosts or finding better players in packs or the auction house, but you’ll be competitive as soon as you start now, which is great if you’re like me and don’t consider grinding for online currency part of a quality play experience.

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HUT also boosts several new systems borrowed from the Madden franchise. A new metagame for you to focus on in NHL 17 is the completion of sets. Collecting every player from a team and placing them in a HUT set will net you one of that franchise’s legendary players. There’s also a new Synergy system borrowed from Madden, which replaces the old Chemistry meter. This means you no longer have to hope for finding a “change team” card when opening packs so you can get all of one team on a line. Instead, each player will fall into certain categories, and when a team has enough of those players, they’ll all receive a boost. As one example, Mats Zuccarello and Rick Nash of the New York Rangers have the “Wicked Wristers” ability; put them on a team with two others with that ability, and all four will have a plus-three rating to their wrist shot. It’s a big boost, and trying to mix and match Synergies adds a welcome level of strategy to putting your ideal online team together.

If online play isn’t your cup of tea, Franchise has you covered. This year’s Franchise mode not only allows players to control every facet of the team, but also the front office. I’m not just talking about contract negotiations like in previous years, but also having to meet certain owner goals to keep your job. You’ll have to decide on a marketing budget (who wants a Derek Stepan bobblehead the first time the Penguins come to MSG on November 23rd?) and stadium upgrades (hell yes we need more ice cream stands at the Garden). These moves permeate the mode so much that even the commentary from the returning Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, and Ray Ferraro reflects these changes to the arena (those three guys do another fantastic job calling the games as part of possibly the best presentation package in sports games, by the way). It’s not the first time we’ve seen this level of team management detail in a sports game, but how it affects you staying in control of your favorite team is a nice added detail if you love to micromanage your team like I do.

If the idea of actually playing on an NHL team is your dream, Be a Pro mode also returns. There are two major changes here, with the first being that there are now three timing options to speed up the process of being a pro. Whereas it used to take upwards of 30 real-world minutes to play each game with authentic 20-minute periods (that’s with skipping to your next shift), the new 10-minute and 5-minute period options speeds up each game experience considerably—but come at the sacrifice of playing time for your pro. This double-edged sword really came back to haunt me, because your coach—who offers points on how he wants you to play between shifts—is also a lot more harsh this year.

While I appreciate the solution to speed the game up, I really felt my player was screwed when he didn’t make the team, and was sent down to the AHL to start the season. My rookie had eight points—three goals, five assists, and a plus-five rating to boot—in seven games and you couldn’t even stick me on the fourth line? It’s called Be a Pro, not Be a Minor Leaguer. With that kind of production and that end result to my pre-season, it still seems this mode is very unclear on what exactly it wants from you to be successful, leaving this still as one of the series’ weaker modes.

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Of course, these new bells and whistles in the modes are all well and good (mostly), but the thing that brings it all together is the gameplay. Some major changes to the all-around AI make this experience more realistic than ever before, and yet it feels completely different from years past. As impressive as puck physics and player movement always were, there were always moves and soft spots in the defense that you could find and take advantage of. Whether it was skating in a large circle from behind the net, taking slapshot bombs from the point with defensemen, or even just camping at the top of the slot, these strategies always worked because the AI players and goalies didn’t react in a way that actual NHL players do.

That’s changed, starting with the goaltenders. AI goalies will now more realistically play the puck, with shoulder shrugs and smaller, more nuanced movements. They’ll deflect a puck purposefully into the corner, headbutt it out of the sky, and scramble like never before if a puck starts to slowly trickle in behind them. They are also more susceptible to screens, deflections, and dekes on breakaways, though, to give them that sense of realism. Of course, should you decide to play as one of them in exhibition, Be a Pro, or EASHL, it’s still near impossible to be effective. I feel there needs to be a deep goalie tutorial mode, because as great as the visual trainer is—especially after this year’s upgrades will now teach skaters more pro-level moves like windmill dekes and spin-o-ramas—it doesn’t do enough for goaltenders. I often feel lost in the crease, that movement is sluggish, and that I’m always out of position.

The AI improvements also extend outward from the goalie, with defensemen now getting into battles with forwards in front of the net, and forwards moving into positions to better get rebounds and score those critical ugly goals down low, or block passing lanes on defense. Those soft spots I mentioned before are now gone for the most part; while they will occasionally pop up because a blown coverage will always happen here or there and a goalie will have to bail out his team, they are a rarity. The AI takes better angles and covers passes more aggressively now—instead of every AI player just blindly chasing the puck, often pulling themselves out of position.

This change, more than anything, has made NHL 17 feel like a brand new game. While it may be frustrating at first for long time players who have gotten used to how the game used to handle (admittedly, myself included), know that it’s better for the authenticity of the game in the long haul. And, if it really bothers you that much that you’re not scoring half-a-dozen goals every single game, you can always dumb down your opponents via the options menu.

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NHL 17 is another step forward in the hockey sim’s ever-continuing evolution. Better gameplay serves as a shining star in this year’s product, bolstered by new modes and important tweaks to existing ones. And, even if some of those are borrowed from other EA Sports games, NHL makes them all its own. Not every change was for the better, and there are still a few snags that hold it back, but overall it’s harder to get a better hockey experience than this outside of lacing up a pair of skates and gliding across a frozen pond.

Publisher: EA Sports • Developer: EA Canada • ESRB Date: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 09.13.16
8.5
NHL 17 takes a step forward with the series in terms of more authentic gameplay, but has lost its edge in a couple of its long-standing modes.
The Good New goalie and defensive AI makes the on-ice product feel more realistic than ever before.
The Bad Playing as the goalie is still a nightmare. Be a Pro mode needs to be sent down to the minors.
The Ugly It was a bad idea to put my controller in the freezer overnight to “enhance my simulation experience” the next day.
NHL 17 is available on Xbox One and PS4. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by EA Sports for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Madden NFL 16 saw the incremental changes of the several previous titles finally culminate in probably the best year-over-year improvements the series had seen to date. Therefore, it was only natural to assume that this might prove to be a down year. After all, how could they top the effort that changed the passing game and saw the addition of Draft Champions? Well, there may not be anything as flashy as brand new modes added this year, but Madden NFL 17 amazingly builds upon what last year’s game did, and may be the most polished entry I’ve played from the annual series in a very long time.

For me, Madden’s greatest mode has always been Franchise mode. Since I first started playing the series 21 years ago—don’t mind me as I take a moment and remember how old I am now, shedding a single tear at the thought of my own mortality—the idea of taking your favorite team to the Super Bowl was what drove you in the days before the advent of online play. When Franchise was introduced and I could then take my team repeatedly to the Super Bowl, I was hooked forever.

The mode has been tweaked countlessly over the years, but never before have we had so much control over our team I think. The addition of practice squad players and being able to focus experience points towards developing draft picks shows a better commitment to how an actual NFL team prepares for the future. Combine this with the returning college scouting system, where you spend points each week to see where potential picks should really fall in the draft, and if you’re likely to play at least several seasons worth of Franchise mode, then building up your team has never felt easier or more natural.

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Franchise isn’t just about building towards the future, though. In the here and now, new coach goals and predictions can determine your future with a team—as in if you don’t win now, you might not have that future to build towards. There’s the ability to practice and gameplan each week before your next opponent, and doing so successfully provides in-game bonuses to key player stats. For example, practicing Flood patterns on offense and Cover 2 on defense will boost your players when calling plays that fall in those categories in the game that week. Making legitimate game prep an actual part of Madden surprised me—first for being there, and then for being as enjoyable as it is.

The hardest part of turning any team into a dynasty, though, is keeping them together. New mid-year contract negotiations help make that a breeze, as you see how much a player could want before even getting to the off-season and potentially extend their contract right there. (It’s especially effective with those players who want to negotiate earlier in the year.) Sometimes you’ll realize it’s better to trade away a player who wants too much money, and you can get some sort of return before it’s too late. Sorry middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley; the Ray Carsillo-run New York Giants organization appreciates your service with the team, but we’ve traded you and a draft-pick to the Packers for Jake Ryan, someone just as good as you, who comes at a cheaper price tag, and is seven years younger than you. Welcome to the National Football League, folks.

It’s not just managing a team that has been beefed up, though. Once you take the field, several noticeable changes have made Madden NFL 17 feel like the most realistic game the series has produced yet, starting with the look. A new presentation package gives us more realistic camera angles on replays, and to my delight, the fewest animation bugs I’ve seen in Madden in years. There’s still the occasional hiccup, but the days of players glitching in and out of existence or running off the field and into a replay booth headfirst seem to be gone.

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Also, thank goodness the commentary team has been changed. Phil Simms and Jim Nantz sounded so repetitive and canned (just like in real life!) that I played the game on mute most times. Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis sound like they’re actually enjoying the game, making the recording sound fresh and inspired. Even little touches, like Gaudin taking note when you decide to skip the Larry Ridley halftime show and get back into the action, makes the product feel more alive and far more enjoyable.

In terms of gameplay, since last year had a focus on the passing attack, Madden NFL 17 turned its attention to the ground game. First up is how players will fight for extra yards. In certain one-on-one situations, a button prompt will appear on a defender or runner. If you’re the runner, it means you’ll most likely shed a would-be tackler, leading to a bigger gain; if you’re a defender, you’ll emphatically slam the runner down, halting their forward momentum. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, it can be a game-changer, keeping you on the lookout for those shining moments.

Another tweak to the running game has been special moves. They’ve long been a part of Madden, but even after all these years, getting the timing down for spins, jukes, and stiff arms has never been an exact science. So, sort of taking a page out of the NHL series’ tutorial overlap, Madden now tells you exactly what button to press—and when—to help you learn the moves you’ll need to turn average runs into game-breaking touchdown scampers.

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As a heads-up, though, this feature is set to automatic as the default setting. I found after only a couple games that I needed to turn it off, because as much as it was great when my receiver or back would juke a defender out of his shoes and go for a big gain, it was frustrating when they would try to do a spin move around a wall of defenders. I’d rather just run forward at that point and try to churn my legs for an extra yard or two, instead of being spun down in the spot I’m standing. Besides, by then I had rediscovered my personal timing anyway. So, just as a word of advice: you might need to tweak the settings on this for it to fit your play style the best.

As great as this has been to help balance the running and passing game, the biggest gameplay changes may have surprisingly come from special teams. The third phase of football has long been overlooked by Madden, but this year they’re getting their due, starting with kicking. Borrowing the three-input system from the PGA Tour series, kicking field goals and punting now requires you to press a button three times before sending the ball (hopefully) sailing. The first press starts your power meter, the second sets power and starts to swing the meter back down for accuracy, and the third sets that. It finally adds challenge to what is an integral part of football, and one that had surprisingly become relatively automatic in Madden.

There are two sides to every kick, however, and defending kicks has changed as well—in that you can actually block kicks now. Jumping snap counts and actually being able to run around defenders makes it so that playing the other side of the ball on field goals and punts isn’t automatic anymore. More realistic blocking AI means mistakes can happen, and there are few things in football more exciting than a blocked kick. I’d blocked one kick in my entire Madden career—Madden 2004 with Osi Umenyiora of the Giants in a Super Bowl against the Bengals in franchise mode—up until this point. I’ve already blocked three field goals, and had one of my own field goals and punts blocked in only a couple dozen games in Madden NFL 17.

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Of course, this could use some better balancing, especially in online modes like Madden Ultimate Team and Draft Champions. In Franchise, it’s still hard enough to block a kick and it happens about as often as it does in real life, to say not very. In these online modes, since you start with lesser players—and, in the case of Draft Champions, may not fill all the holes you need to in the fantasy draft—it’s much easier for high-level corners to work around low-level linemen. This turns Madden NFL 17 almost into Madden 97 when it comes to playing against others—no one wants to kick the ball.

Speaking of these online modes, Madden’s online suite remains as vibrant as ever. Ultimate Team brings the “Chemistry” feature back (which I’m thrilled about), with clear markings on each card you earn telling you what system those players will best fit. Fill up your chemistry meter with enough players of a particular style (west coast offense, run defense, balanced offense, etc.) and gain bonuses for them in matches. This makes it easier to focus on how you want to build your team and how best to counter your rivals. New solo challenges—now with instant win conditions—expedite the team building process. Last year’s new mode, Draft Champions, also returns with new legends to bolster your roster. As of writing this review, servers appear stable and it’s been quick and easy to get into Draft Champion and head-to-head matchups.

Madden NFL 17 bucks a trend for annual franchises by showing that it can not only find new ways to continue to innovate, but maintain a high-level of consistent quality. Some new features may require more balancing for online play, and there will always be the occasional graphical or audio glitch, but considering where Madden was even just a few years ago, it has come a long way towards showing off its sports dominance and is much more than just a roster update like titles from its past. If you love football, Madden NFL 17 may be the best football game yet.

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Publisher: EA Sports • Developer: EA Tiburon • Release Date: 08.23.16 • ESRB Rating: E – Everyone
9.0
New features may need a little more balancing to be effective online, but overall, Madden NFL 17 is the most polished and enjoyable Madden yet, magnificently avoiding a potential regression after the successes of the year prior.
The Good Special teams, Franchise mode, and ground game tweaks make it feel like the most authentic football sim yet.
The Bad The occasional graphical glitch. The online balancing of the new features needs some work.
The Ugly That opening LA Rams vs Washington simulation. You really think that’s going to be a Wild Card Round playoff matchup EA Sports?
Madden NFL 17 is available on Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, and PS3. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by EA Sports for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

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As part of today’s livestream and presentation, EA DICE revealed that the future of Battlefield is going back to the advent of what we might consider modernized warfare with a World War I setting. Besides a single-player campaign with multiple protagonists, Battlefield 1 is looking to provided the most robust multiplayer suite the series has ever seen.

The first aspect of this is the largest maps yet. Arabia, the Italian Alps, and the muddy fields of France from the western front have already been confirmed and are just as destructible as anything we’ve seen before. Massive battleships can pepper coastlines and reduce them to clusters of smoldering craters, while tanks can rolls through narrow alleyways in urban France, leaving buildings in heaps of rubble behind them. One unique vehicle, though, will be cavalry horses. Riding horses can provide speed in multiplayer, while also giving players access to places normal vehicles cannot get to.

The battle for air supremacy has also taken a distinct turn in Battlefield 1. You can try to channel your inner Red Baron (the pilot, not the pizza) by hopping into biplanes. Some of these old-school aircraft will also offer players a chance to dominate with friends, as they’ll seat two people, meaning one person will pilot while the other will man the guns. Whether or not you can accidentally shoot your own plane like in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is yet to be seen.

The core of Battlefield 1‘s multiplayer, though, will remain with the troops on the ground. Players will be able to choose from one of four classes: Assault, Medic, Scout, and Support. Assault is great for taking out enemy vehicles, Medics are the healing experts, Scouts specialize in picking off single targets with sniper rifles or the like, and Support uses heavy guns to mow down infantry that cross their path. There are also vehicle-specific classes being introduced for the first time, like tank drivers and biplane pilots. While anyone can drive vehicles in multiplayer just like in previous games, these special classes will get boosts if piloting their vehicle of expertise.

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Personal weaponry is also a massive aspect of the new Battlefield. While flamethrowers, mustard gas, and zeppelins were teased in the presentation, we can confirm era-accurate ordnance of all kinds. Pistols, rifles (bolt-action, semi-auto, and fully-auto), and machine guns will be usable by players. You can also call in artillery strikes. Your melee weapon may be just as important as your gun, however, for the first time in the series.

In true World War I fashion, getting your hands dirty in the trenches and getting up close and personal with your enemies is going to be a large part of the gameplay. Knives, sabers, shovels, and trench clubs all offer up distinctive advantages and kill scenarios for players, while a special power called the bayonet charge will also be available for some particularly gruesome close-up kills.

One final change Battlefield 1‘s multiplayer is introducing is a heavier emphasis on team play. Lone wolves beware as charging blindly into battle should spell certain doom as EA DICE has admitted to trying to reward more strategic, team-oriented gameplay. How exactly this will manifest itself is yet to be seen.

And due to EA DICE failing to offer hands-on opportunities before EA Play in June, it’s difficult to tell just how all these changes will actually feel in Battlefield 1. The grounded, reality-based scenario definitely has me excited again, and the potential for even more varied locations not yet announced—like Prussia on the eastern front, maybe—has me wanting to know more. At the very least, it appears like Battlefield is taking a step forward by going back in time.

Battlefield 1 will launch on October 21st for Xbox One, PS4, and PC.

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