Tag Archive: microsoft


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

After I got my hands on the first two hours of Forza 6‘s new Career Mode, I sat down with Turn 10 Studios’ Content Director John Wendl, and learned just what adding rain to Forza Motorsport 6 will do to gameplay.

Along with this, my discussion with John touched on changes to the game’s economy, Career Mode, and new additions like Mods and Drivatar AI tuners and what they will bring to the game.

If you want to see more uncut gameplay from our session with Forza 6, check out our qualifying races video.

Forza Motorsport 6 will be available on September 15th exclusively for Xbox One.

When you start up Forza Motorsport 6‘s Career Mode for the first time, you’ll have to prove that you’re ready to handle the tracks it’ll throw at you by taking part in three qualifying races.

These races will show off the game’s newest features, while also giving you a prime chance to get those tires warm again and earn some easy credits to start filling out your garage with the 460 cars that will be featured at launch. Here are those three races, as I ran them, in their entirety.

If you want to learn more about Forza 6 before it comes out, check out our interview with Turn 10 Studios’ Content Director, John Wendl, as we got to talk about how rain affects the gameplay, the new Mods feature, and more.

Forza Motorsport 6 will be available exclusively for Xbox One on September 15th.

A dose of déjà vu

Like many gamers my age, I grew up with a bevy of great and quirky titles developed by Rare. What I didn’t realize until I sat down with Rare Replay—a celebratory compilation of 30 games developed by the company since its inception in the mid-80s—though, was how much they grew up right alongside me. From thumb-numbing affairs like R.C. Pro-Am for the NES to more refined efforts for the Xbox 360 like Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, Rare Replay is a magnificent showcase of one of gaming’s more beloved developers and how they’ve evolved over the years.

At its core, something like Rare Replay is admittedly nostalgia driven. While reviewing the collection, hours flew by in the blink of an eye as I rediscovered titles like Cobra Triangle (my personal first Rare game from 1989) and Battletoads. And in many cases, the games played just as well now as they did back in the day, with muscle memory taking over after only a few moments—which wasn’t really all that hard considering I only had to remember two buttons usually.

Rare Replay even touts an awesome “behind-the-scenes” series of never-before-seen interviews and features that are unlocked the more you play. These fun “Rare Revealed” unlockables give you insight into your favorite titles and how they came to be, and why certain creative decisions were made—like how Conker became the foul-mouthed squirrel we now know and love, or what the genesis of Battletoads really was.

Of course, even while being swept up in the memories of my childhood and teens, it quickly became evident that not every game in the compilation stood the test of time. My rose-colored glasses cracked a bit in particular when playing Killer Instinct Gold or Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll, but that’s also to be expected to a degree when covering such a large swath of gaming history.

Where Rare Replay shines brightest, however, isn’t just in how it lets you take a stroll down memory lane. Since it’s unlikely most people have played every title in this compilation, the best moments are really when you discover a game you might’ve missed the first time around. Suddenly, you have another favorite in your gaming library, even if it’s coming from a game older than you are. In my case, that game was 1983’s Jetpac—technically developed by Rare’s eventual founders Tim and Chris Stamper and not the studio itself—that kicks off the collection with some classic early-80s arcade action.

Now, it would’ve been easy enough for Rare to just pull these games together and call it a day, but Rare Replay tries to offer up a slice of originality, too, in the form of the game’s “Snapshots.” All of Rare’s older titles come with five Snapshots—mini-challenges from a specific slice of each game—that will put a player’s skills to the test. Whether it’s defeating a boss without losing a life, earning a high score in less than a minute, or cumulatively playing a game for a certain amount of time over your career, the Snapshots try to offer up something new to pull you back into the NES era if you need some prompting.

While an interesting idea, I would’ve loved for Snapshots to be more varied. You’ll always have a cumulative one, a high score one, a combat challenge, and then maybe a couple that are more specific towards the given game. The most curious decision with Snapshots comes from the fact that not every game has them, though, and they stop altogether once you reach the N64 generation of Rare’s library. If Rare was going to try to implement something new, they should’ve done so uniformly throughout Rare Replay.

And the same goes for a special “Replay” feature in those older games. Similar to the “Rewind” option you see in games like Forza, by pressing the LT button you can actually replay the last few seconds of your game to avoid losing a life and keep going for that high score. A novel idea—even if it somewhat defeats the purpose of those older arcade games—but it’s only available in the older Rare titles.

As fun and as nostalgia-driven as this collection may be, Rare Replay is actually about a lot more than just Rare’s history. A more subtle benefit of the collection may be how it helps pave the way for the highly anticipated backwards compatibility for Xbox One. While you’re downloading and installing the bulk of the collection, separate downloads then start for games that were on the Xbox 360 like Banjo-Kazooie, Perfect Dark Zero, Kameo: Elements of Power, and more. It ends up being nine separate Xbox 360 downloads, plus the Rare Replay collection of the remaining 21 games for 10 downloads total.

The one downside to this is, for the time being, you can only access the Xbox 360 games via Rare Replay, which acts as a sort of emulator launcher—even though each game takes up space separately on your hard drive (close to 50GB for all 10 downloads). That’s supposed to change when backwards compatibility fully comes to Xbox One sometime this fall, and in the meantime, if there are Xbox 360 games you don’t want, you can delete them apart from the main collection. At the very least, the transition between Xbox One and Xbox 360 is quick and relatively smooth after the first time you try it, and by simply holding the menu button, you can switch back to Rare Replay and the Xbox One whenever you want.

Rare Replay is a tremendous collection of great games that show how integral Rare has been to game development for the past 30 years. It may not offer up a lot that’s new gaming-wise, and it may lack some of the company’s biggest hits due to licensing issues (most notably Goldeneye 007 and the Donkey Kong Country series), but there’s plenty here that should still be celebrated. If you’re a Rare fan, there’s no better way to do so than with this compilation.

Developer: Rare Ltd. • Publisher: Microsoft • ESRB: E – Everyone to M – Mature (varies by game) • Release Date: 08.04.15
8.0
A great collection of classic games. Whether you’ve been a fan of Rare for three years or for thirty, there’s something here for everyone, with plenty of gems waiting to be discovered for the first time.
The Good Whether a Rare game junkie or a relative newcomer to their brand, everyone should find something to enjoy.
The Bad Snapshots don’t provide a lot of variety and aren’t available for all titles. Not every game stands the test of time.
The Ugly Even after nearly 25 years, I still can’t beat the Clinger-Winger stage in Battletoads. Damn you, Hypno-Ball!
Rare Replay is a Xbox One exclusive. Review code was provided by Microsoft for the benefit of this review.

Just the two of us

When I first saw Kalimba at last year’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, it was still called Project Totem, but what started out as a quirky side project meant to entertain guests at the Press Play holiday party a few years back quickly intrigued me with its potential as a full-blown puzzle-platformer.

I’ve always had a penchant for this genre, with friends from college still referring to me as an idiot savant when it comes to effortlessly working my way through any number of twisting, trap-filled corridors. But Kalimba is novel in that you’re never controlling just one protagonist, but two—and the duo must work together in myriad ways in order to progress.

On the surface, even with the duality twist, the game seems simple enough. You find yourself on a tropical island named Kalimba, which has been protected for generations by the magic of a totem pole. An evil shaman appears one day, however, and shatters the monument, looking to cloak the island in his unique brand of dark magic. The totem pole’s guardian realizes that she can control remnants of the old pole, two pieces at a time, in the hopes of building a bigger, more elaborate magical ward. Taking control of these pieces is where players step in. With guidance from an aloof talking pink bear named Hoebear, players must work their way through 24 levels, collecting intricate wooden carvings on the way to sealing the dark shaman away forever.

The most impressive thing about Kalimba is how smoothly the difficulty scales. You start off with minimal obstacles to demonstrate how the two characters work in unison, but the action ramps up. You’ll begin by just pressing the A button to jump, but you’ll eventually swap your characters back and forth, acquire special amulets that let one of your totems walk on the ceiling or change their size, and even obtain the power of limited flight.

Even with all these new mechanics building on top of each other as the game progressed, I never felt the challenge was too much to handle. That’s partly because some levels include themed minigames based around your new powers, which give you the chance to perfect your new skills before continuing on. Not once did I feel frustrated by a puzzle—instead, I welcomed each new one with glee, and even the handful of times I had to resort to trial-and-error, the checkpoint system was generous enough that I never found myself having to replay huge sections to get back to where I’d initially gotten stuck.

The levels also feel distinct enough that there’s never any sort of repetition. Each puzzle is carefully crafted to push you to explore new ways to use the increasing range of your abilities—and this makes each successful solution all the more satisfying.

What’s more, the simple-yet-colorful art design ensures there aren’t any unnecessary distractions to take you away from the task at hand—which I appreciated, since the puzzles only get more intricate in the game’s limited local co-op mode. While this option only consists of eight levels, having four totems bouncing around the screen (with each player controlling two) requires some intense teamwork and concentration.

These level designs also succeed because of the tight controls. It wouldn’t be much of a puzzle-platformer if they stunk, but there’s a precision here that veterans of the genre can appreciate. All the jumps (particularly in the later levels, once it becomes ingrained how far your little totem avatars can go) are spaced out just perfectly, and the obstacles are set up just right so that you can make some impressive runs through each course as you start to master them.

Kalimba’s primary fault is its length—or lack thereof. Between co-op and single-player, the game offers 32 levels in total. Yes, some of the charm in a game like this lies in mastering the levels, collecting every item, or performing a speedrun courtesy of an always-running clock, but it shouldn’t take players more than three hours to get through that initial playthrough, and then it’s diminishing returns after that.

Some extra options do enhance the replayability—like “Old Skool” mode, which places you at the start at the first level with three lives, and from there, you must get through the whole game in one sitting. But again, I can’t imagine Kalimba continually drawing players back again and again, because once you solve the puzzles, it’s much easier to replicate your results the second and third time through.

When a game leaves you simply asking for more, though, it’s hard to be too disappointed. What Kalimba lacks in substance, it more than makes up for in style. With inventive puzzles, tight controls, and colorful worlds, there’s more than enough to keep those twitch reflexes sharp, and Kalimba should prove to be plenty of fun for gamers looking to put their puzzle-platforming skills to the test.

Developer: Press Play • Publisher: Microsoft • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 12.17.14
9.0
I only wish Kalimba were a bit longer, because its inventive puzzles, charming art style, and tight controls equal a winning combination for this quaint puzzle-platformer.
The Good Inventive, fun twist on the puzzle-platformer; the challenge steadily ramps up; excellent co-op mode.
The Bad A very short experience.
The Ugly Hoebear making fun of me for Achievement hunting. That hurts, dude.
Kalimba is a Xbox One exclusive. Review code was provided by Microsoft for the benefit of this review.