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Whether it’s a game that has platforming elements like Cuphead, or the standard bearer for the genre making a triumphant return like Super Mario Odyssey, we’ve had a great run recently with platformers. Of course, having these stellar examples also allows for easy contrast when we come across one that does not live up to expectations, and unfortunately, Super Lucky’s Tale is a pretty pathetic example of a platformer.

Like most platformers, Super Lucky’s Tale’s story is a simple one. You play as the titular Lucky, a brave little fox whose dream is to one day become guardian of the Book of Ages. The Book is said to contain tremendous power, and so it’s no surprise that a nefarious group of felines known as the Kitty Litter want it for themselves. Lucky’s sister is typically protector of the book, but while she is away, Lucky is the de facto protector-in-training—a perfect time for the Litter to strike. While working in his sister’s stead, Lucky accidentally knocks the book open when the Litter surprise attacks, and soon they are all sucked within its pages. Now, Lucky must navigate the worlds described in the book if he hopes to stop the Litter’s leader, Jinx, and prove himself worthy of being a true protector of the book.

At the very least, Super Lucky’s Tale does put together a series of fun little worlds to explore. Each represents a chapter in the Book of Ages, and is broken down into a series of stages that can be accessed from that respective world’s hub. Both the stages and hub are full of colorful characters that want to help Lucky, ranging from the worms of Veggie Village to the golems of the Sky Castle. Even the enemies Lucky faces off against seem like they popped out of a children’s story book, including rotund little bumble bees that fire their stingers at you or carnivorous flowers with cartoonish jaws that try to chomp on our foxy friend’s fluffy tail. There are also plenty of nooks to explore in each world that can lead to coins (for one-ups) or four-leaf clovers, which are used to unlock each subsequent world in much the same way stars or moons are used in Mario’s 3D adventures.

There isn’t much beyond this going in the fox’s favor, however. While the worlds are fun, there are just too few of them to really constitute much of an adventure. The game only has four to explore, with about 25 four-leaf clovers to be found in each (there are 99 clovers total in the game). This makes Super Lucky’s Tale feel surprisingly short—even for a $30 budget title—as it clocks in at about four hours to finish.

What’s really puzzling, though, is how the game tries to shoehorn in replayability by instituting some ridiculous barriers between worlds. While the first world only requires 10 clovers to advance, the subsequent worlds need 30, 60, and finally 80 total before the final boss—meaning that you need to snag nearly ever clover in the game before you can complete it. The problem is, collecting them can often be boring, running you through the same tasks over and over such as simply finishing the stage, finding tokens that spell L-U-C-K-Y, collecting 300 coins, or finding a particular secret in each stage. It’s natural that many players will pass up getting all of the clovers on their first time through stages, but that means that, once they hit a certain point, there will be no choice but to go back and grind a little. Fortunately, I was able to find 84 of the 99 clovers in the game on my initial playthrough, but if this is indeed a game intended for younger audiences, I don’t expect those players to have nearly as much patience.

Speaking of the final boss, there’s also a sharp spike in difficulty at this particular point in the game. I personally found Super Lucky’s Tale to be a breeze to get through, so actually being slightly challenged by the end boss was a pleasant surprise for me. The problem is, it’s so inconsistent with the rest of the game that if a younger gamer were to be playing this, I wouldn’t be surprised if they found this frustrating because of how unnatural a bump it was.

Where Super Lucky’s Tale really falls apart is with its gameplay. Movement in a platformer is vital to the experience, and Lucky is one of the worst-handling protagonists I’ve ever played as. His jumps feels extremely floaty, while on the ground he’s plodding and tank-like. This leads to an inability to tell when he’s getting enough momentum for a jump or if he’ll fall short, even with his mediocre double jump. One unique element to Lucky is that he can also burrow under the ground, which is great for solving puzzles or collecting coins. However, as he burrows, you feel like you’re fighting the controller, trying to make Lucky go the direction you want him to while the game seems to have other ideas, leading to an inaccurate zig-zag across the landscape. All these things combined makes Super Lucky’s Tale feel more difficult to play that it actually is given its simplistic puzzles and basic moving platforms. When the controller itself feels like your greatest enemy, you know a game has failed as a platformer.

The other aspect where the gameplay doesn’t stand up is in its camera. Most of the game takes place in a 3D world, but you rarely can adjust to camera for better angles to make critical jumps. These kinds of issues feel like something that was remedied 20 years ago, when game developers were still learning how to operate in a 3D space; it’s absolutely inexcusable at this point to not give the player full control of the camera to line up jumps.

At times, at least, Super Lucky’s Tale seems like it did try to make an effort to be entertaining. The game occasionally mixes up its primary 3D stages with 2.5D side-scrolling sections, and there are even some mini games that were a lot of fun—including an endless runner, and some Marble Madness-inspired sections where you have to roll Lucky around in a ball. These sections were probably so enjoyable, however, because Lucky’s movement was boiled down to the bare minimum in each, with little to no jumping involved.

Finally, Super Lucky’s Tale has a surprising amount of glitches. The most prominent one would be audio cutting out after a load screen, requiring me to restart the game. It only happened a couple of times, but even the uninspired soundtrack of this game is better than listening to nothing at all. Lucky is also poorly animated, leading to moments such as when he seems as if he he’s standing still for a couple of seconds while simultaneously sliding across the landscape as I was moving him with the joystick (until he finally broke into his running animation). There’s also your typical problems such as occasionally getting stuck on the environment, or phasing through what should otherwise be solid objects. Issues like these just seemed like the final bit of evidence of a lack of polish that this game desperately needed.

Super Lucky’s Tale is nothing short of a disappointment. It pales in comparison to contemporaries in the genre and feels like it might’ve been a decent effort decades ago from developers who were just starting to experiment in the 3D space. The world and characters are cute and provide a fitting “fun for the whole family” sort of motif that was clearly a goal with this game, but all the style in the world can’t save something with such little substance. Floaty controls, poor camera angles, and repetitive gameplay all spell doom for Lucky, who becomes just the latest in a long line of failed platforming heroes.

Publisher: Microsoft Studios • Developer: Playful • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 11.07.17
4.0
Lucky is unrealized potential. There is always space for a new kid-friendly platformer, and Lucky’s cute and colorful world could’ve served as a great entry point for a new franchise. Sadly, poor controls, a terrible camera, and just overall lackluster gameplay leave Super Lucky’s Tale being a subpar effort not worthy of your time.
The Good A cute, colorful world fit for gamers of all ages.
The Bad Lucky controls terribly, glitches galore, and the game is awfully short.
The Ugly The hope I legitimately had for this game before playing it.
Super Lucky’s Tale is available on Xbox One and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Microsoft 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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In recent years, Forza has surged to the head of the pack in the racing genre. Basically going annual with a steady rotation back and forth between its main series and Horizon spinoff, Forza has become synonymous with top-notch racing. Forza titles have come to be known for delivering highly customizable gameplay that caters to a range of audiences, no matter whether they’re looking for an arcade racer or sim-heavy experience—while also innovating with features like Driveatars. However, with the latest main series release in the form of Forza Motorsport 7, the franchise may have been caught looking in its rear-view mirror at the competition hot on its tail, taking its eyes off the road long enough to make a couple of costly errors that might let that competition close the gap.

Forza Motorsport 7 features a suite of offline and online modes meant to engage players like never before. The game touts 32 tracks—the most ever in a Forza game—with more than 200 different configurations. The game’s only completely brand new track, Dubai (highlighted by features like sand blowing across the asphalt), is joined by dozens of returning tracks from Forza 6 as well as fan-favorites Suzaka, Mugello, and Maple Valley (brilliantly re-created for the first time on this generation of console after being last seen in Forza 4). This balance of tracks from throughout Forza’s history goes a long way to keeping the experience feeling fresh, as players know it’ll be a while before they might see the same track twice.

You’ll get to tackle many of those track configurations in the new single-player campaign that tasks you with climbing the ranks in six different championships, culminating in the Forza Driver’s Cup. There are a variety of different circuits in each championship—usually themed around familiar motifs seen in other Forza games like Hot Hatch or Classic Muscle cars—as you try to collect enough points to stand atop the podium and unlock the next championship. Each championship also has a few Showcase events that will test your driving skills in different and exciting ways. Some, like the car bowling featured in Top Gear, return from previous games; others, like besting professional rally car driver Ken Block in a head-to-head race in identical cars, adds a more personal twist to a familiar racing mechanic, as Block gives you some narration before the race as to why you’re racing those particular cars.

I will say the commentary is a bit weak this go-around from the Forza folks. Whether it’s the game’s general narrator droning on, one of any number of professional racers who sound like they’re definitely more comfortable behind a steering wheel than a microphone, or even some Top Gear magazine editors who are taking themselves a bit too seriously, I’d usually try to skip any audio introductions and get right into each race as quickly as possible.

Fortunately, the rest of Forza 7’s presentation is stellar as usual. The game’s 700 cars—including a ton of Porsches after Microsoft’s latest partnership deal, and some other cars admittedly ported directly over from Forza Horizon 3—still look absolutely stellar on the track. And, to no one’s shock, each car handles as you would expect, with it feeling like you’re fighting to keep some cars on the track as they hit 200 MPH, while others corner like a dream even though their top speed is nothing to write home about.

Also making its way over from Horizon 3 is that game’s dynamic weather system. Night and rain are nothing new on Forza tracks. However, having the sky suddenly open up on a track three laps in on a four-lap race, or starting a race at sunset and having the sky turn pitch black over eight laps at Daytona, is a nice addition to the mainline series here.

Forza Motorsport 7 also upped its game when it comes to personalization. Not only is its vaunted car customization suite, which allows you to paint and modify the look and tuning of your car, back and bigger than ever, but you can also now customize your driver to a degree. Over 100 different track suits are available in the game, and you can make your driver (male or female) wear any of them to really send a message about who they (and, thus, you) are. I’d still love to see this taken to the next level at some point, where we can customize our suits to a level of detail that we can the cars we drive, but this is another step in the right direction for the series.

Not everything that has been added or changed about Forza 7 has been a success, though. To try to lower the barrier of entry into the series even further, a brand new Easy Mode has been added that simplifies the controls to the point where you’re barely even controlling the car anymore. While I don’t mind adding this feature for folks who might feel they really need it, I do mind the fact that the old system of rewarding more credits for those of us that like bumping up the game’s difficulty and turning off any number of assists has been abandoned. Considering how difficult it can be sometimes to purchase the really high-end cars with in-game currency, this change feels like it’s only increasing the grind.

This all leads us into the new Mods system. Mods were introduced in Forza 6 as a way to challenge yourself even further when you played the game. Some Mods would give you speed boosts, but it would come at the sacrifice of handling; others might kill your acceleration, but improve your cornering ability. Each card could be used as many times as you wanted, and were a neat little optional addition that experienced players could use to further enhance their playtime. There were also some limited-use, super-rare Mods that would modify your driving ability, but also reward credit or XP boosts.

Now, all Mods fall into this category. Every Mod you use only has one to five uses depending on rarity, and can reward you with credits or XP, and even occasionally both. In order to get these Mods, you have to spend in-game currency to open loot boxes—the more currency you spend, typically the rarer the Mod. So, you start spending in-game currency to earn more in-game currency, to spend in-game currency, to earn more in-game currency, to spend in-game currency, to earn more in-game currency, and the cycle continues. Unfortunately, it typically costs a lot more to buy those Mods than the credits you earn from using them, especially when you don’t know how many credits a given race will net you. Using a Mod that gives you an additional 30% credits at the end of the race is great, but if you don’t know if you’re winning 10,000 credits or 5,000 credits for a first-place finish means there’s also a bit of a gamble when you use the card. All in all, it makes you wonder why you would even bother with the Mod system at all at this point.

But then, there are also loot boxes that give Mods plus cars or track suits (some of which are only available in said loot boxes). So, some of the fanciest cars and prettiest track suits—not there’s that many of them—are behind this randomizer. You won’t need them to beat the game or hop online to play friends, of course, but if there is a car you really want stuck in a loot box, you’re in a pretty tough spot. There is also a new leveling system for your garage, where buying certain low-level cars will help you unlock high-level cars faster. This all seems to really try to pressure you in some not so subtle ways to buy into the game’s microtransactions system.

Also, surprisingly, a lot of online features for Forza 7 aren’t available at launch. Forza Leagues and, curiously, even the Auction House still aren’t up and running even at the writing of this review. Turn 10 says they’ll get them up soon, but we’re kind of in the dark as to when specifically. The microtransactions and store also aren’t up and running, so we can’t accurately judge how they might tempt people into spending real world cash—just that, like those other features, we know they are coming, like one of those dynamic weather storms I mentioned earlier. The rest of Forza 7’s online features seem to be working fine, and you can still easily race up to two dozen other players online at any given time with no lag thus far in our experience. Beyond that, you can upload race screens from Photo Mode or replays of your races, as well as all of your custom car designs to Forza’s servers with no issue.

Forza Motorsport 7 has done everything you’d want from a racing game sequel—more cars, more tracks, and the return of that tight gameplay—showing why Turn 10’s efforts remain the leader of the pack. The new Mod and in-game currency systems, however, really detract from what is otherwise another great racing experience—and might make you want to think twice before jumping into the driver’s seat again if you’re not big on grinding for those credits.

Publisher: Microsoft Studios • Developer: Turn 10 Studios • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 10.03.17
7.5
Forza Motorsport 7 is a really great racing game—it’s just a shame that changes to the game’s currency system undermine a fair amount of what it does right. It’s made racing feel more like a grind than in years past and no amount of new tracks or cars will change that.
The Good Game looks great and the cars all handle superbly.
The Bad Changes to how you can earn credits and the mod system increase grinding and feel like they’re paving the way for some awful microtransactions.
The Ugly A lot of these new driver suits. Yuck.
Forza Motorsport 7 is available on Xbox One and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Microsoft for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

188 times. 188 times I died while playing Cuphead across the game’s 19 bosses, six run ‘n’ gun stages, and three mausoleum trials before finally beating it on Normal. Never across any of those deaths, though, did I ever become frustrated or angry. I only wanted to dig my heels in deeper, and my addiction for the game only grew as each subsequent boss or level offered up an enticing new challenge. Cuphead’s mix of brilliant presentation, easy to learn but hard to master gameplay, and ever-increasing difficulty has cemented it for me as a personal game of the year contender.

Cuphead tells the tale of two plucky protagonists named Cuphead and Mugman. While exploring their home of Inkwell Isle, they stumble into the Devil’s Casino and are having the time of their young lives. In fact, they’re doing so well at Craps that the Devil himself comes down to watch the boys play—and then makes them an offer they can’t refuse. If Cuphead wins on the next roll, he and Mugman will get all the casino’s riches; if he loses, however, their souls become the property of the Devil. Cuphead can’t resist the temptation, and of course the roll comes up snake eyes. While pleading for their very souls, the Devil sees potential in Cuphead and Mugman, and—more importantly to him—an opportunity. He offers the boys one last chance: serve as his debt collectors and collect the souls of everyone else that owes him on Inkwell Isle, and he’ll let them off the hook. Easy right?

Stylistically, Cuphead is an absolutely gorgeous game. Its visuals harken back to the 1930s cartoons of Fleischer Studios (originally known as Inkwell Studios in the 1920s and paid homage with the name of the world, Inkwell Isle), who were best known for Betty Boop, Popeye, and Superman cartoons. There’s even little scratch marks on each “frame”, much like you would see back in the old days on original animation cels. This classic look came from the fact that everything in Cuphead was similarly hand drawn and then scanned into computers. It’s no wonder then the game was delayed so long, especially when it shifted from primarily being a boss rush title to include some run ‘n’ gun segments, but the wait has been worth it.

Cuphead’s music similarly draws its inspiration from almost 100 years ago. Big band orchestras play fitting themes for each boss and section of Inkwell Isle. More haunting themes fill your ears against ghost trains, while more carnival-driven fare pumps through your speakers against crazed clowns. (My personal favorite theme is King Dice’s, who serves as the gatekeeper between each section of the Isle.) There is even a barbershop quartet that is happy to shortly serenade Cuphead and Mugman if you can put the band back together in the game’s overworld.

Where Cuphead excels even more than its art motif, though, is in its gameplay. As someone who cut his teeth on games like Mega Man and Contra growing up, I immediately felt right at home in the run ‘n’ gun style Cuphead offers up—even if it still leans more heavily on the boss rush aspects of its original premise (whether on the ground or even in the air). Each boss has multiple forms, and there’s definitely a trial-and-error aspect to everything as you learn how the bosses move and attack. But there’s still a real test of skill here that makes it all the more enticing. While each boss has a certain number of attacks—and there are some patterns apparent with each—there is also always some randomness, too, forcing you to still think on your feet.

A perfect example of this comes very early on with the Ribbit Brothers, one of the game’s first bosses. Although their first two forms are rather straightforward, their final form is literally that of a slot machine that will attack you three different ways—but there’s no way of telling what that way will be until the wheels on their face stop spinning. This is the first, but far from the last, example of Cuphead forcing you to adapt to what it throws at you in the moment, going beyond simple pattern recognition.

And if you think the game’s co-op feature (where a second player controls Mugman) will make things easier, you’d be mistaken. It makes sense that a boss’s health scales upward with two characters on screen, so both players need to be on their game to try to get past each boss. One neat feature if one character dies, though, is there’s a last chance to save them where you can parry (pressing the jump button again at the perfect time) off the ghost of your fallen comrade to give them one health point back. However, I’m saying this from experience: be careful when choosing your co-op partner. If all you’re doing is jumping on them to save their life, it gets old quick.

Cuphead also succeeds in giving the player agency enough to find their own way of beating bosses. Although you start the game with the straightforward Peashooter, you can purchase weapons and powers from coins found usually in hard to reach places in the game’s six run ‘n’ gun stages from Porkrind the Pig’s store to expand Cuphead and Mugman’s arsenals. I personally found the Spread Shot—which fires short-range projectiles in three directions, sort of like a shotgun—to be my personal favorite, but there are also homing shots, bouncing shots, and even shots that fire in one direction and then turn around like a boomerang to sail back the way they came. You can also get special boosts at Porkrind’s, like coffee that will continuously fill your special meter, or extra health that comes at the sacrifice of attack power. Mixing, matching, and finding your favorite combinations to fit your play style is critical to beating Cuphead, but it’s also part of the fun.

One of my most pleasant surprises with the game, though, came in the form of the Mausoleum challenges. There are three haunted mausoleums on Inkwell Isle, and the only way to bust all the ghosts inside is to use the parry move on each of the pink poltergeists. It’s a great way to really perfect this important move that you’ll need later against the game’s hardest bosses, and clearing each mausoleum rewards you with one of three special moves (like temporary invincibility) which are only available when your special meter is completely full. I just wish there were a few more of these around the island, because even more than the six run ‘n’ gun stages, they were a really fun change of pace given no shooting was involved whatsoever.

The only issue I ever had with Cuphead was that there were a couple of small glitches. Over my 188 lives, there were exactly two instances (about 1.1% of the time) where a boss would freeze up in the form that it was in. That allowed me to just wail away as it didn’t attack me for some reason until it shifted to its next phase, unless it was already in its final phase—at which point it just died. It was a weird hiccup when this happened for sure, and I don’t know what ever caused it. I’m sure I’d probably have a handful more deaths, too, had this not occurred twice, but it never really took away from the fun of the game, nor did it affect my score against each boss negatively. But since you unlock Expert mode after beating the game on normal, I had more than enough reason to come back to try to beat each boss properly anyway.

Cuphead is an absolute gem of a game. My playthrough on normal only took about eight hours to finish, but there’s replayability with trying to get high scores on each boss and coming back to try out the three difficulty levels. The gameplay is incredibly tight, and each boss offers up a new challenge whose addictiveness is only trumped by that feeling of accomplishment once you beat it. The art style is absolutely magnificent, and the world is full of little secrets that will have you searching every nook and cranny. There may be a glitch here or there, but they’re never something so frustrating that will make you want to turn the game off. In fact, I may never turn Cuphead off, period. It’s been a long time since I’ve had this much fun with a game, and in my book, Cuphead is an instant classic.

Publisher: Studio MDHR • Developer: Studio MDHR • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 09.29.17
9.5
Cuphead is an addictive mix of fun and frustration that will constantly keep you coming back for more. It’s amazing combination of terrific gameplay, tremendous style, and an original concept immediately catapults it into every game of the year discussion.
The Good The art style, the music, and the addictively difficult gameplay.
The Bad The occasional glitch that suddenly makes those difficult bosses incredibly easy.
The Ugly How much power I waste now keeping my Xbox One on and the game playing so I can listen to its music all night long.
Cuphead is available on Xbox One and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Studio MDHR for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Loyalty and hard work still pays off sometimes, folks. Phil Spencer, who has been with Microsoft since 1988, has again risen through the company’s ranks. After taking over as head of Xbox in 2015, Spencer helped guide Microsoft’s gaming interests past a rough Xbox One launch to again become competitive this latest console generation. Microsoft’s gaming division officially turned a corner recently when it saw its operating income increase by 34 percent last reporting period.

His new title is that of executive vice president of gaming and joins Microsoft’s senior leadership team as its 16th member. Spencer now reports directly to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Before the promotion, Spencer reported to Terry Myerson, who is also on the leadership team and serves as executive vice president of the Windows and Devices Group. Spencer will likely still work closely with that group, as they share several resources.

Spencer thanked the fans for their support and tweeted that this was a “great show of commitment” by Microsoft to the gaming division, which at one point many believed might get spun off or sold. This would appear to be the final nail in the coffin for that idea.

This was only one of two moves this week by Microsoft, though, as they do a little internal reshuffling. Their Enterprise Mobility and Security team has now also been moved into the aforementioned Windows and Devices Group, likely to help with security features for all Windows 10 devices.

When Forza Horizon first launched four years ago as a spin-off of Forza, many of us were pleasantly surprised by how it was able to tone down the seriousness of the main series while still making an extremely competent racing game. As time has gone on and we’ve fallen into an annual cycle of Forza followed by Forza Horizon, what once was a spin-off has now turned into a series all its own—one that now rivals its parent in every way. And, with the release of Forza Horizon 3, it may even surpass the mainline series in key areas.

For those who might be unaware, the Forza Horizon games are set up around a traveling fictional festival called Horizon that’s like a cross between Woodstock and Top Gear, and this year’s game is headed to a land down under. Whereas the original saw you rise up the ranks to dominate the event, and the second one had you as king of Horizon from the start, Forza Horizon 3 basically just makes you the festival’s God this go around.

From what radio stations can be heard at the festival’s hubs throughout Australia, to what part of Australia Horizon will expand to next, all the decisions are yours. You can even customize your license plate and what your assistant will call you via a list of names. Yes, I admit I enjoyed the fact that my assistant actually called me Ray and all my cars’ license plates said “Carsillo” on the back—it’s a little thing, but that added hint of personalization was a nice touch. Unfortunately, it also made the fact that you can then only choose from a dozen or so generic, hipster-looking avatars to represent your “face” just as disappointing as the license plate customization was fun.

Buggies1160

These are only minor details, however. The heart of Forza has always been the cars, and Horizon 3 does not disappoint. Over 350 cars are available at the game’s launch—the most in Forza Horizon history—and, as always, plenty of car packs will be coming in the future. The game also maintains the series’ high standard of stunning car models that contrast terrifically against the picturesque backdrops inspired by an amalgamation of Australia’s coasts, forests, and deserts. The big additions this time around aside from the usual list of new supercars are dune buggies. Since a quarter of Horizon 3’s mashed-up rendition of Australia is the Outback, dune buggies are great for crossing the desert terrain at high speeds and pulling off crazy stunts to fill up your score meter.

At first, the buggies took some time to get used to, because they handle completely differently from any other car in Forza’s long lineage. By the time I was done with the game, though, I was hooked. I couldn’t get enough races inside these off-road masters, bobbing up and down through the countryside, and was actually disappointed when I was placed back in a luxury car or sporty speedster depending on what race I was doing.

Speaking of racing, it remains at the core of what you’ll be doing in Horizon 3. There are 63 tracks set up across the game for you to unlock and play through, with more unlocked by expanding and growing the festival. This is done by earning fans, which you can do through winnings races, completing one-off special objectives in 30 brand-new bucket list courses, winning showcase events against unusual race opponents like speed boats and fighter jets, and completing “PR stunts” like daredevil jumps and burning rubber through drift and speed zones.

OffRoadRainforest1160

Each individual race location not only has the standard single race, but later you can also unlock three-to-five race championships with new themes for each course. For example, a single exhibition race in the Outback might have you racing off-road trucks like the Ford F-150 Raptor, but the same course’s championship might be themed around rally legends like the Suburu Impreza, giving each track more replayability as you race different vehicles.

If that wasn’t enough, Forza Horizon 3 also introduces the new Blueprint feature to both racecourses and bucket list events, which allows you to set your own stipulations that you can then share with the Forza community. You could create a perfect storm of racing nothing but high-end supercars like the Lamborghini Centenario along the curving coastline, or punish people by sticking those same sports cars on an off-road track in the rainforest and see if they can’t maintain their traction. The same goes for the bucket list Blueprints, but like most other games where you can create your own courses, you have to be able to beat your own challenges before uploading for others to play. In theory, you could have an endless stream of fresh content coming into Forza Horizon 3 long after this initial launch window.

Another major addition to Forza Horizon 3 comes in the form of its online multiplayer. You’ve always been able to take on friends head-to-head, but Horizon 3 adds it so that you can now experience the construction of a Horizon festival from the ground-up together. Campaign co-op, which is also available in cross-platform play, allows you to join a friend’s game or vice versa in order to help each other complete objectives or find hidden bonuses like landmarks or barn finds to fill out your worlds. Any progress made in each other’s games carries over to your single-player game as well, so there’s no need to do something twice if you don’t want to.

GoldMineRace1160

The emphasis on co-op doesn’t end there, however. Even if your friend isn’t online, the new Convoy feature means their Drivatar can ride with you and help you, too. By winning street races against specifically marked Drivatars, you can add up to three Drivatars to your Convoy. And if you want to replace someone in your lineup, simply street race another person and fire one of the old drivers. Having and riding with a full Convoy means not only a better chance for you to find hidden secrets and earn more credits, but your friends will be earning credits even while offline.

Of course, more online-driven endeavors has meant more server strain that normal in the Forza community. Even a week after launching, there are still occasional connection issues in regards to things like leaderboards, some of the Blueprints, and finding strangers online to race with or against. Groove Music—Microsoft’s digital music streaming service that has been added to the game to allow players a chance to finally have custom music playing while driving—works only about half the time, too. I’m driving a million dollar car, and the damn radio is broken.

These online hiccups aside, Forza Horizon 3 is a racing lover’s dream. The insane stunts and off-the-wall challenges remain hugely entertaining, and being able to incorporate your friends more into that has only added a new wrinkle of replayability to the game. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more complete racing experience than this one, and in many ways has possibly eclipsed the mainline Forza series in terms of fun and enjoyability.

CityRacing1160

Publisher: Microsoft Studios • Developer: Playground Games • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 09.27.16
9.5
Forza Horizon 3 pulls out all the stops to provide one of most fluid and enjoyable racing experiences out there. A must have for casual car fans and hardcore gearheads alike, Forza Horizon 3 may even surpass the mainline series in terms of fun with this effort.
The Good Gorgeous looking, excellent handling, and more content than ever before in one package.
The Bad Occasional issues with connecting to people and features online.
The Ugly Constantly forgetting that Australians drive on the other side of the road and getting into lots of head-on collisions because of it.
Forza Horizon 3 is available on Xbox One and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Microsoft for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

When I beat Gears of War 3 a couple of days after it came out five years ago, a thought dawned on me: Gears of War has some interesting parallels to another series I adore: Star Wars. Just like Star Wars, the original trilogy is amazing, with the second game being the best (just like Empire Strikes Back) because of its victory at the end coming only after numerous sacrifices. Since then, Judgment was released, and it wasn’t as bad a prequel as what Star Wars received, but it was definitely forgettable and weak by comparison to the main trilogy. And now we have Gears 4—which, in many ways, is similar to Episode VII. It retreads a lot of old ground, but it does so in a way that fans of the series should love, while setting up repercussions and implications for future games, paving the way for even better stories to come.

Gears of War 4 takes place 25 years after the Imulsion Countermeasure. Sera has slowly begun to rebuild with the Locust being wiped out, but as humanity’s numbers stand at less than a million, the COG have taken it upon themselves to wall off huge segments of the population while they continues to bounce back. Not everyone agrees with the COG way of life, though, and they live outside the walls as aptly named “Outsiders”. Such is the life JD Fenix, war hero Marcus Fenix’s son, has chosen for himself. Of course, when JD and his friends Del and Kait stumble upon a conflict between the COG and an unknown group of bodysnatchers, we shouldn’t be surprised that a Fenix suddenly finds himself caught in the middle of a much larger plot that could have humanity on the brink of extinction once again.

Gears 4’s campaign will be nothing new to series veterans. With finding just over half of the story’s collectibles, I beat all five acts on Hardcore in 9-10 hours. While actively trying to avoid spoiling anything, let me say the story succeeded in getting me to care about all the new characters it introduces in that time, making the emotional ups and downs Gears games always have that much more poignant. It also carefully used familiar faces from the original trilogy, who are all much older (but not necessarily wiser) now, fleshing out and grounding me in a world very different from the one I became accustomed to in the original games. Admittedly, the pacing hits a couple of snags along the way, and there’s a few plot holes that a Corpser could crawl through, but a lot of the missing information feels deliberate—especially as certain revelations by game’s end open up entirely new possibilities for future entries in the series.

While some of Gears 4’s characters have been around before, its enemies are totally new. The Swarm may have some units that look similar to those seen with the Locust, but Carriers (with their one-hit kill strength), Pouncers (with their incredible range), and Snatchers (enemies able to cut off areas of the field with their acid spray) each bring something fresh to the series, requiring a drastic shift in tactics when they enter the fray. The same can be said for the DeeBee robots; trackers might remind you of Tickers, and the soldiers can be broken down similarly to the Swarm and Locust, but the flying, shielded Guardian DeeBee or the rocket launcher helicopter drones change any fight they are a part of.

In terms of gameplay, Gears 4’s campaign might be the best yet. Never have we had such a diversity of action sequences in a Gears game before, and it helped keep me going during those moments when the plot pacing started to slow a bit too much. Unlike Kryll or Razorhail from previous games, Windflares—Sera’s newest natural disaster phenomenon courtesy of fallout from the Imulsion Countermeasure and that are basically giant fire and lightning tornados—are a constant threat almost every time the game steps outdoors. They make even moving around the field a struggle, but finding different ways to overcome my slowed mobility was exciting. Interacting with the environment and shooting collapsible construction set ups, watching as brick and mortar or giant piping came crashing down on the Swarm—sending them all up into the Windflare’s maelstrom in a mix of blood and metal—never got old. And, dancing around the Windflares’ chain lightning always kept me on my toes.

Besides these larger set pieces providing variety, there’s also the brand new CQC mechanics introduced. By positioning yourself behind cover opposite from an enemy, if the cover is small enough to reach over, you can now perform a “yank-and-shank”. Honestly, it drastically changed how I approached several game situations. For example, if a Swarm or DeeBee robot was entrenched behind cover and I couldn’t get a good shot easily, I’d break into a roadie run almost every time, reach over with the X button, and quickly mash the Y button to get a combat knife execution. Or, if I wanted to keep my momentum up, I’d swiftly jump over the cover with a kick, and mash Y again to do a similar execution. It seems like such a minor thing, but it helped with the pace of combat tremendously, and can be just as effective in multiplayer as in single player. Just be careful, however, as the moves can be countered with a well-timed melee attack or shotgun blast, giving the move a risk-reward flavor to it that makes it all the more satisfying when pulled off successfully.

Speaking of multiplayer, much like how the campaign didn’t re-invent the wheel, but instead refined and improved in several key areas, the multiplayer suite for Gears 4 did much the same thing. Added to the multiplayer playlist alongside the Ranked and Social options is now a Competitive selection. If you’re thinking of wanting to possibly make a run at being a professional Gears player, that’s the tab you’re going to want to head for due to very specific weapon tuning there, bringing an even heavier focus on skill than other modes where a power weapon in the right hands can change the tides more quickly.

In terms of what you’ll be playing in multiplayer, there are still classic modes like Team Deathmatch and Warzone to choose from, but there are also three new offerings called Escalation, Arms Race, and Dodgeball. Dodgeball has that one-life-to-live stipulation you’ll see in Execution or Warzone, with the added caveat that if someone on a team gets a kill, one of their dead teammates gets to respawn. It leads to a very interesting back and forth, as a single person can single-handedly turn the tides of a battle back in their team’s favor.

KaitVsDBs1160

Meanwhile, Arms Race feels like it channels the spirit of Call of Duty’s Gun Game, just with a team-oriented twist. Each team is equipped with a weapon, and when that team reaches three kills as a collective, their weapon changes to something else in the Gears of War armory, with the team to move through all the guns first winning. The problem I had with this mode (in my limited time playing it) was it felt like if a team got a big lead, it was very difficult to come back from—unlike Dodgeball and other modes. With only three kills needed, if there’s a weak link on either team, they can be exploited very easily to advance through the weapons.

Escalation is exclusive to the Competitive playlist and is the next evolution of Annex. Players must try to win rounds by either capturing all three points on a map, or by holding two points for the longest amount of time. Respawn time is increased with each successive round, and more power weapons enter the fray as time goes on (with each team only starting with Lancers and Gnashers). Escalation is nothing short of intense, but also a huge time commitment. If players are thinking about Gears esports, though, this will be a must play.

If playing with others and not against them is your cup of tea, then Gears 4 still has you covered there. Two-player online and local co-op is available for the story, and stepping away from the four-player co-op campaign of the past not only makes it easier to play with just your best buddy, but also gave the team more flexibility in terms of the storytelling and what characters are with your group and when. There’s also Co-op versus mode that pits you and some friends against bots, which is a great way to learn the multiplayer maps and test out new strategies. And, of course, Horde mode also returns, putting you once again in a team of up to five people against 50 CPU-controlled waves of Swarm and DeeBees.

There’s a lot more to Horde 3.0 this go around than just new enemies and maps, though, starting with a new device introduced in the campaign called the Fabricator. Essentially a glorified 3D-printer, if the Fabricator has power, it can make almost anything: guns, fortifications, turrets, etc. While this mechanic is used in several campaign sections, it really shines in Horde 3.0, and serves as the focal point of wherever you decide to make your stand against the oncoming waves. Defeating enemies in Horde mode will reward you with the power you need to make the Fabricator work, and therefore stand a better chance against each subsequent wave. The Fabricator will also revive a player mid-wave—for a price—if a buddy can grab your COG tags.

Horde 3.0 - Turret

While tying something from the story into Horde mode and vice versa was a great idea, not everything added to Horde 3.0 makes sense to me: specifically, the inclusion of a class-based system. There are five classes to choose from in Horde mode, and while multiple players can choose one class, it clearly makes more sense for everyone to take a defined role. Each class has specific bonuses and weapons tied to them, and can earn greater bonuses the more you level up a class. For instance, the Engineer gets bonuses to constructing fortifications, while the Soldier gets better guns and more ammo. My issue with this is that the system feels limiting in a lot of ways. While Horde has always been about working as a team, this feels like it forces you into a role with very little wiggle room. It also means you’ll have to rely on certain roles depending on the situation—and if one person dies, your team might have a harder time coming back than they already would with a man down.

I should also take this time to point out that I put several hours into both multiplayer and Horde, but of course, the Gears 4 servers were in a pre-launch state. While there were a couple of lag hiccups, nothing too major occurred during my time online with the game. Considering there was probably never more than a few dozen people on at once, though, it’s hard to judge how things will shake out once the servers are properly bombarded by thousands of people trying to get on at the same time.

Customization was another huge focus for Gears 4, and in many regards it works great. A new card system shows off dozens of skins for your characters and weapons available at the game’s launch for you to acquire. There are also Bounty cards in both Horde and Multiplayer, where you can try to meet certain requirements on a card for XP boosts. I love the idea of adding personal objectives to your online experience, and you can get the cards by buying special crates with coins you earn in-game or with real world money. Although I feel you can more easily grind here than in other titles when it comes to getting what you want, I’d be remiss to not mention the microtransactions. Of course, spending money doesn’t guarantee you’ll get what you’re after, just that you’ll get more crates. You can also craft certain cards with scrap, which you earn when destroying duplicate cards. So, there are definitely options that get you around dropping more money down and praying the crates give you what you want.

Gears of War 4 looked at what the series did in the original trilogy and decided to give its fans more on every front. In most cases, this was a resounding success, providing a complete experience that perfectly channels the spirit of the originals. New characters, mechanics, and plot twists distance it enough to make us appreciate the homage it pays even more, though, while giving us new lore and a new adventure to enjoy. If you enjoyed the original trilogy as much as I did, Gears of War 4 is the continuation we’ve all been waiting for.

JDvsDBs1160

Publisher: Microsoft Studios • Developer: The Coalition • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 10.11.16
9.0
Gears of War 4 looked at the series’ core formula and figured that if it wasn’t broken, don’t fix it. Most of the additions The Coalition put onto that core simply helped enhance and refine something that was already great. A couple of missteps were made, but this is still a great overall entry in the franchise.
The Good Handles just as good as the old games, while the new “yank-and-shank” and other fresh CQC mechanics add a lot to combat. Local co-op!
The Bad Class system in Horde mode.
The Ugly I think Marcus Fenix is my spirit animal. R.I.P. Marcus’s tomatoes.
Gears of War 4 is available on Xbox One and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Microsoft for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

I had a chance to play Gears of War 4‘s multiplayer a few days before the beta launch and this is a montage of all my Lancer Chainsaw Rifle chainsaw kills. I also use the new Oscar Mike knife kills over cover, pull off a couple executions, and threw in one nice headshot hip shot with Longshot.

Gears of War 4 launches on October 11 exclusively for Xbox One.

I had a chance to play Gears of War 4 before its upcoming beta. This was a Team Deathmatch match on Foundation, one of nine new maps launching with Gears 4‘s multiplayer.

Gears of War 4 is an Xbox One exclusive dropping on October 11.

I had a chance to check out Gears of War 4‘s multiplayer a few days before the beta launches. This video shows off the brand new Dodgeball mode. Similar to execution, players only have one life to live, but when a teammate kills an opposing player, dead players can respawn.

Gears of War 4 launches exclusively on Xbox One on October 11.

Leaving the competition in its dust

Forza has become the Call of Duty of racing games. Every autumn for the past five years, a new entry in the franchise—counting the Horizon spin-offs—has been released. So, I was worried this year’s entry would simply be another mediocre improvement over the past couple of games, and that it might grow boring without the open-world gimmick or festival backdrop of Horizon. I was wrong. Just like how Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, or any other annual franchise is sometimes able to overcome the limitations that inherently pop up from a 12-month release cycle and knock one out of the park, Forza Motorsport 6 similarly takes the series to new heights.

As soon as you start the game, you’ll be introduced to the first major change in Forza 6: its Career mode, which is broken up into two separate parts. The first is “Stories of Motorsport.” Here, Forza 6 takes it upon itself to explain how much racing touches our lives, while guiding us on a tour through the world’s greatest tracks and hottest automobiles. Beginning with street legal sports cars, Career moves through five separate volumes. In each, you’ll race through three different series comprised of four to six tracks before being allowed to advance to the next volume, which feature progressively more impressive and powerful cars.

A nice touch in helping to get the message across is the history you’re given of the cars you’re driving, why they appeal to people, and what to expect over the course of your circuit—all narrated by guest commentators ranging from Top Gear’s Richard Hammond and James May to winners of IndyCar or the 24 Hours of Le Mans. I came to look forward to the little tidbits of info each intro gave me before a race, like Watkins Glen holding the first pro race post-WWII in the US, or that the tower at Circuit of the Americas is 251-feet tall.

Stories is a great twist on Forza’s Career, and the loose narrative really helps pull you through the mode—especially when the same tracks start to repeat. For me, though, the real fun began with the second part of Career: the new Showcase events. Showcase events originally debuted in Horizon as special one-off races in ridiculous but fun scenarios where you’d race planes, trains, as well as automobiles.

In Forza 6, the Showcase events are actually 10 different series of themed challenges. Some, like those inspired by Top Gear, are more light-hearted, such as bowling with a Jaguar F-Type or racing against the “Digital Cousin” of the Stig. Others are more purely race driven, such as passing challenges or turning trials inspired by those you’d see at the Bondurant High Performance Driving school. There are even endurance challenges where you’re asked to go literally dozens of laps in one race. Similarly to Horizon’s showcases, each of these special challenges will put your skills to the test in ways that are anything but dull.

Forza 6 didn’t just focus on the single player when it came to changes, however. Multiplayer remains a big aspect of the game, and it starts by making the online experience a lot less intimidating for folks. While there will always be those in the online community who care more about crashing into other players than actual racing, Forza 6 is trying to help serious racers find better-quality races through a new online mode called Leagues.

Leagues run races over a period of time and will be broken down into a variety of car types. The more you race in a given league over the time period it’s open for, and the better you place, the more likely you are to win the league and get a nice payout of credits. The main difference between Leagues and traditional multiplayer is that everyone in these league races are ghosts. You are still racing live players, but the fear of an untimely collision costing you a pedestal position is gone. Leagues offer players a chance to still play other like-minded racing fans, but the competition falls squarely on how well you can or cannot drive, without affecting anyone else around you.

This is a brilliant move for Forza, and should only help the competition aspects of its online features. Leagues also shouldn’t affect the traditional multiplayer audience too much, as they’re locked into certain car types when created. Traditional multiplayer, meanwhile, will let you customize each individual race on the fly, still giving players a sense of freedom—even if all they want to do is see a BMW M3 T-bone a Corvette.

These changes to single- and multiplayer should add a lot of replayability to the game. But, they’re only one part of what makes this a great racing package. Forza 6 continues the series’ legacy of great driving physics and gorgeous graphics. Plus, the game is launching with 460 cars and 26 tracks on disc, far more than were available at release for Forza 5. Each race can now support 24 cars both in online and offline modes, making for some epic 24-player multiplayer League sessions—which I tested and saw working without any issue whatsoever. Of course, this was a week prior to the launch of Forza 6, so it’ll be interesting to see if everything holds up on day one.

The most impressive part about the gameplay now, though, has to be the night and rain aspects. Although both were introduced in Horizon 2, they’ve been revamped for Forza 6 in ways to make each track that supports them feel completely different in those variants. Puddles now accumulate on asphalt, forcing you to brave plowing through them or altering your course to steer clear, as hydroplaning is a legitimate concern. The gleam of headlights in your rearview mirror at night can become a distraction, with light sources acting dynamically in ways we’ve never seen from a racing game before. And different surfaces will react in distinctive ways to each one, as dirt becomes muddy in the rain, and track barriers may throw off unexpected glare depending on what angle your headlights catch them at. For those tracks where these new options are available, driving in the rain or at night keeps the experience feeling fresh, and makes each track variation feel like an entirely brand new course.

Not every track supports rain or night, however—and since many tracks are being carried over from Forza 5, you’re likely to get an unwelcome case of déjà vu with courses like Laguna Seca that remain entirely the same. Sure, some such as Rio have reverse versions, and it’s more realistic since not every track will run at night or in the rain, but it would’ve been nice to pull back on the sim a little and give every track at least one of those variations.

Speaking of toning down the sim, also returning is the bevy of assist options to help customize your racing experience, boosted with two major additions. First, you can now adjust Drivatar AI when racing offline. This means that if you don’t feel like facing particularly aggressive drivers, you can now dumb down the Drivatars so you have a more civil racing event.

The other major addition comes in the forms of Mods, which can be purchased as packs in the same way as you would new cars. Some Mods make the race more difficult, like lowering a car’s stats but rewarding you with more credits and XP at the end of a race. Others give cars boosts to stats or improve payouts. How you utilize them is up to you, and depends on what experience you’re looking for.

And while on the subject of credits, the final major change we see in Forza 6 this go around is with the game’s economy. There are no microtransactions at launch; whether or not this means they’ll be added later is another story, but at the very least, everything you get on day one is earnable in Forza 6. And with the Horizon 2 prize spinner coming over—now with a Press Your Luck game show flair instead of a slot machine motif—it’s easier than ever to earn credits, with huge bonuses coming your way when you level up both your driver and your car affinity. Admittedly, it still takes some time to grind for those really expensive, seven-digit price tag cars like a Bugatti Veyron or a Chevy IndyCar, but it’s not nearly as bad as it was in previous games.

By taking and improving on elements from the Horizon games, re-vitalizing the Career mode, introducing new modes like Leagues, and adding night and rain to the gameplay, Forza Motorsport 6 is without a doubt the best game the series has seen yet. If the franchise continues to grow and change at this rate, then it’ll be a welcome sight on the annual list of autumn game releases for years to come. For this season, though, Forza 6 is a must-play for all racing game fans.

Developer: Turn 10 Studios • Publisher: Microsoft • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 09.15.15
9.5
Forza Motorsport 6 is a welcome shot in the arm for the series. Easily the best entry the franchise has produced, Forza 6 introduces tons of new online and offline gameplay that should make players want to stay in the driver’s seat for as long as possible this fall.
The Good Rain and night provide enough variation and new challenge to forget about the repetition in tracks. Superb graphics and physics.
The Bad Can still feel like a bit of a grind when saving up for the most expensive cars.
The Ugly Having someone other than a member of the Top Gear team introduce The Stig.
Forza Motorsport 6 is a Xbox One exclusive. Review code was provided by Microsoft for the benefit of this review.