Tag Archive: hands-on


As an Indie developer, it’s hard sometimes to advance through the stages of game development, especially when compared to the pace of the AAA and AA powerhouses on the gaming scene. So, even though the alpha version of Outer Wilds was able to take home the 2015 Seumas McNally Grand Prize at the Independent Games Festival at GDC 2015, it’s not really surprising that its developers decided to go quiet for a while in order to focus on building towards an inevitable release. Well, just about three years after that landmark win for Team Outer Wilds—now a part of developer Mobius Digital—and on the heels of a publishing deal with another relatively fresh face on the scene in Annapurna Interactive (What Remains of Edith Finch, Gorogoa), Outer Wilds was ready to be shown off again. Thus, I happily headed down to Mobius Digital’s LA-based studio to go hands-on with Outer Wilds and see first hand just how far it had come.

Outer Wilds is a stellar space mystery with a Majora’s Mask time-repetition mechanic that will have you racing against the clock as you try to piece together various conundrums around your solar system before the day resets. You start off as a humanoid creature on your home planet, the latest brave astronaut in the early days of your species’ space program. Everything has a fitting cobbled together feel—like a cross between the Wright Brothers and NASA—but it’s more than enough to get your little one-man ship hopping around the solar system in pursuits of knowledge. As you visit each new planet, you’ll uncover relics from a lost civilization, as well as converse with the handful of other astronauts in your program as you try to better understand your little slice of the universe and what caused the extinction of those that came before you.

All this happens while also trying to figure out what triggered a time loop that only you and a couple other astronauts are remotely even aware of. Fortunately, because of this, every clue you find is recorded on your ship’s computer, and you can begin connecting the dots in the galaxy’s biggest mysteries in hopes of finding a way out of this Groundhog Day in space.

Although it sounds simple enough on the surface, Outer Wilds has so many moving pieces that it might be hard to wrap your head around where to start at first. Abandoned space stations and moons orbit around the system’s several planets, which themselves are explorable right from the get go and filled full of secrets to uncover. They’re also extremely diverse, ranging from your Earth-like home to sandy desert worlds, barren rocky landscapes, and even a gas giant with a liquid core that you can splash around in. (Oh, and pro-tip: be sure not to forget your spacesuit before you try any of those moonwalks—atmosphere is important, kids.) Playing the role of part-astronaut, part-detective allows you to approach everything with a patient methodology as you take on each new challenge, testing your analytical skills as you uncover more clues and begin to realize how small you really are even in this fictitious slice of cosmos.

Though I only got to play through a couple of “days” in Outer Wilds, it already started to suck me in. After fiddling with the controls and getting a grasp for how my one-man ship maneuvered in space, each new discovery filled me with a childlike wonderment I haven’t felt in puzzle games since maybe the original Myst way back when. Adding in the ticking clock before the galaxy reset also instituted a sense of urgency at first, but I learned quickly how to use it to my advantage (along with how not to panic). After all, everything would end up just where I originally found it—and the knowledge I had accrued would stay with me.

My brief time with Outer Wilds only reaffirmed why this game was an award winner back in its alpha phase. If you love mysteries, exploration, and have an affinity for time loops, this is looking like it might be a game for you. I can’t wait to hop back in my spaceship again when Outer Wilds finally launches onto our PCs sometime later this year.

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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:

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had a chance to go hands-on recently with Yager, Six Feet, and Grey Box’s Dreadnought on PlayStation 4. It was my first time playing the game since PSX 2016 and I was able to pull down a decent K/D in this match of Team Deathmatch. Dreadnought is currently in beta on both PC and PS4 and the full game is coming sometime later this year to PC and PS4 and will be free-to-play.

When Knack launched alongside the PlayStation 4 back in 2013, it didn’t exactly take the world by storm. Although it was a pretty game that showed off some of the power of the system—with Knack being able to shrink and grow as he absorbed or lost relics over the course of a level—many found the gameplay severely lacking. So, when I had a chance recently to go hands-on with Knack 2—and have the game’s director, PlayStation 4 architect and legendary game developer Mark Cerny serve as my co-op buddy—I was curious to see firsthand what changes the series had undergone from its initial entry (and hear about them from the man himself).

Knack was a very different concept. I was focused on making a game that was accessible to people who had never played a video game before, and thought that would be an interesting part of the PlayStation 4 as a launch title,” explained Cerny as we loaded up the first level. “That ended up being a pretty heavy focus, which meant no platforming and a fairly small moveset. Knack 2 is very different title from that; the focus here is more squarely on gameplay.”

And Cerny wasn’t kidding about that. He ended up showing me seven sections of the game in our demo that highlighted not only a wide variety of different gameplay challenges, but also an expanded moveset for Knack punctuated by four skill trees. It should be noted that some moves are story based, and only by advancing so far in certain levels will Knack unlock them—like a super-strong punch that can shatter enemy shields. Collecting energy in each level can unlock many others, however, and then you can invest that energy into new moves or improve upon those you’ll obtain via progress.

Easily one of my favorite things I experienced in the demo was how expanded Knack’s moveset had become as a whole. Knack can now create a shield that, if timed properly, will deflect bolts and blasts back at enemies. He also has a bola-like projectile weapon that can ensnare foes, making them easy targets for a combo or removing them temporarily from a fight as you focus on other targets. Kicks, body slams, and yes, even more punches round out Knack’s repertoire. One of my favorites was a Fist of the North Star-style flurry of fists that sees Knack move super quick, rapidly punching an enemy several times.

Co-op also sees some combat improvements. Cerny mentioned in our conversation that something he and his team noticed amongst younger players is they’d often take a whack at each other as often as they would Goblins. So, a new move incorporated into co-op is if you hit your buddy, a single relic will fly off like a bullet at an enemy. This way, even if you’re simply messing around, movement isn’t wasted, and can still serve a purpose in gameplay and combat.

As great as it is to see the depth of combat now present in Knack 2, the biggest additions probably come with the breadth of gameplay now available to you. Entire sections of levels are dedicated just to true platforming, exploring, and puzzle solving. In fact, by changing sizes at will, I would have to shrink to Knack’s smallest from to fit into onto smaller ledges and platforms to reach certain areas, and then quickly switch back to a larger from for combat. Knack’s smallest from is all necessary to navigate tiny crevices in cliff sides or Goblin fortresses and discover energy for leveling up, or pieces of technology that can bestow Knack with even more in-game abilities.

There’s a bit of a lottery to the item pieces you’ll discover, however, so there’s even a social aspect added to discovering treasure. If friends of yours have received items you’d rather have from the same treasure chest in their playthrough of Knack 2, you can trade what you received to get the same item they snagged. And, if you don’t have a lot of friends playing Knack 2, don’t worry: there will be some computer explorers that can offer up some options, too.

Other levels, meanwhile, add a stealth element. For example, you’ll have to push crates around with Knack to avoid searchlights while hiding in the shadows to prevent alarms from being set off as you infiltrate a certain someone’s home. You’ll also have to use the size-changing ability—which now features the added bonus of always letting you know just how tall Knack is at a given moment thanks to a height counter in the game’s HUD (if visuals weren’t enough for you)—to shrink and hide under awnings or canopies to avoid robots on patrol.

Knack 2 even brings driving segments to the series. One section of our demo saw Knack get in a tank and drive around destroying enemies and encampments; when playing co-op, one player drives the tank while the other operates the turret. Some other levels also have turret emplacements scattered about, and Knack can climb into one to really whittle down Goblin forces with some green energy blasts.

As the demo was winding down, I admit I was sad to see my time with Knack 2 coming to an end. I hadn’t had this much fun with an action-platformer in a while; the variety of gameplay was stellar, everything handled very tightly, the game looked great, and the writing had me chuckling in my chair. Cerny was quick to point out that bringing on Marianne Krawczyk, writer of the God of War series, to write Knack 2 was a critical move. Although the game is still very much gameplay-driven, having her veteran hand come in for key narrative moments—like where an ally of Knack makes fun of him (and the first game) for only having three punches—was a big boost, and allowed Cerny to focus on directing the gameplay that has made such hugely evident strides.

Although it’s scheduled to release during what’s looking like a very busy second half of 2017, if you’re searching for a fun, high-quality action-adventure that the whole family can enjoy, don’t sleep on Knack 2. With its new depth of gameplay and tight controls, it’s like Knack has finally found all the pieces to turn itself from a pipsqueak PlayStation 4 exclusive into a game to be reckoned with—one that can hold its own with the big boys of the system.