Tag Archive: ray carsillo


I spoke with CGTN America about the trends at E3 2017.

I speak with CGTN America as E3 2017 kicks off.

I talk about how DLC has changed the nature of buying games in a modern world for this news piece.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ve been waiting for that one killer game to really help virtual reality take off since the technology hit the market last year. Sure, there have been some good experiences, and some okay games, but nothing that really grabs you and makes it seem like you need to run out and buy any of the three major headsets immediately. Farpoint was hoping that maybe it would have what it takes to help launch one of them (PS VR) into the stratosphere, while also bolstering VR in general. Unfortunately, we’re going to have keep on waiting at least a little while longer.

Farpoint takes place in a far-off future during a routine mission to a space station orbiting Jupiter. Everything is normal as you are piloting your ship, the Wanderer, to one of the station’s docking bays. As you begin your approach, however, a massive wormhole randomly opens up just outside the station, sucking it, your ship, and a pair of space-walking scientists into its gaping maw. After coming out on the other side, you crash land onto an alien planet’s surface, unsure of where exactly you are. There is one thing that you do know for sure: you must try to explore and survive the strange world while trying to figure out what exactly happened.

The hook for Farpoint is evident from the second you’re able to take control as the Wanderer’s pilot, stepping foot into the desert sands of this barren world. The appeal of exploring the unknown fits perfectly with the space theme, and when combined with the natural drive to find out what exactly happened in the opening scene, you have more than enough narrative gravitas to carry you through the first half of the game. Furthermore, breadcrumbs are provided in the form of holographic messages left by those space-walking scientists who also survived the ride through the wormhole somehow, fleshing out all the characters in the story except the most important one: yours. Although it’s not the first time a FPS game forgot to make the player’s character interesting, matters only worsen when the mystery is solved at about the game’s halfway point—in a couple of quick cutscenes that spell everything out for you far too neatly no less. When the window dressing of the story fades away, Farpoint reveals itself as nothing more than a dressed-up shooting gallery.

The first red flag with the gameplay is that your character is initially set to a locked forward position. You can move around with the left stick, and easily strafe like this, but you’re constantly looking forward and can’t do anything with the right stick. I imagine this is for people who easily get motion sickness, because there is an option in the menu to unlock the right stick to then aim and move like a more traditional first-person shooter. It’s disappointing, however, that the AI doesn’t respond to what options you choose.

Every enemy you fight against comes at you from your front facing direction, defeating the purpose of occupying a 3D-space like this. In fact, if an enemy should somehow end up behind you, it’ll go out of its way to not attack you until it gets back into your line of sight. A perfect example of this came with the first enemy type you encounter—knee-high spider-like creatures—that likes to leap at you. If I were reloading, I’d duck out of the way. As soon as they got behind me, though, they would skitter back in front of me before making their leaping attack again; the AI was programmed as if you never change the options to spin around. Farpoint isn’t on rails, but that locked forward feature, combined with the fact you can’t jump up ledges, or fall very far without dying, sure makes it feel like an on-rails experience, which really took the wind out of the sails of my deep space adventure.

In a lot of instances, it felt like the developers were trying to keep you in the PS VR headset for as long as possible. The entire campaign is only five to six hours long, and many of the design choices seem as if they were spent worrying about combating motion sickness so players could experience the story all at once (like a really long movie). It would also explain why there are so many infrequent saves. Sure, the game has a pretty solid checkpoint system if you die—but if you want to turn the game off? If you haven’t just beaten one of the game’s arbitrary markers for what it constitutes a level, you might lose a lot of progress—like I did when, after two hours, I needed to get out of the headset. Usually, these are marked by long, drawn out cutscenes, but there’s never any telling when they’re coming, especially with only one real boss in the game. Most sections end with just more and more regular enemies coming after you.

Farpoint also constantly goes back and forth between looking great and looking like a game from two console generations ago. Enemies quickly fade from view after dying, and some will explode into comically large polygonal chunks, or ragdoll ridiculously around in the environment after you kill them; others will spill blood that unnaturally puddles into a matte lump. Or, characters talking with you look like they’re looking just past you, and never right at you. But then, you look at some of the environments, the planet’s indigenous hostile arachnid/crustacean hybrid creatures (before they die), or turn upwards and look at the starry sky of unfamiliar space, and there are moments where you can’t help but be impressed.

At the very least, the gunplay in the game actually felt really good, even if it was little more than glorified target practice. Aiming down my sights to pick off enemies, or running around as waves of spider creatures moved towards me and I had to blast them back with my shotgun, felt as good as any other experience I’ve had from a FPS game in VR. I played the beginning of the game with a standard PS4 controller, and once I unlocked the options, it felt like just playing another FPS. But then I switched to the Aim Wireless controller, and that took the experience to another level.

The Aim Wireless VR controller is actually one of the best-designed peripherals I’ve ever used, and succeeds in adding a sense of realism to the experience. Bringing the gun to your face to actually look down the sights and snipe hostile targets is fantastic, and the peripheral is light enough to use for long periods of time but still feels natural in your hands. Excellent button and joystick placement only seal the deal, and makes it a far smoother experience than you might expect. You can buy Farpoint on its own for fifty dollars, but without the Aim Wireless controller, it feels like you’re missing one of the more important elements of the experience. But—since it’s not being sold separately yet—if you really want just the controller, you’ll be dropping eighty dollars on a mediocre game and a toy that we’re not even sure what other games might use it yet.

Should you be looking to Farpoint to be your excuse to put your PS VR headset back on, it does at least offer a few replayability options. Besides the campaign, there’s a challenge mode that pushes you to get through levels of the game as quickly as possible, with an arcade-style scoring system for every enemy you kill along the way. There’s even a high score leaderboard you can etch your PSN handle onto if you rack up enough points. You can also play the game in co-op with a friend online, which ups the intensity, but also lets you be a bit more reckless since your buddy can revive you if you focus on just running in guns blazing.

Farpoint is like so many other early VR games that came before it. There are some solid ideas being kicked around here, and even a couple of gameplay aspects that might wow you, but not enough comes together into a cohesive package to make it a truly compelling experience. The gunplay is good, and the new Aim Wireless controller is great, but beyond that, Farpoint quickly comes undone. All we’re left with in the end is an excuse to try some target practice with Sony’s newest peripheral—and that’s only if you choose to spend the extra thirty dollars on that bundle. As it is, Farpoint is just another experience that can be chalked up to the growing pains of new technology, and should be looked at warily because of it.

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment • Developer: Impulse Gear • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 05.16.17
6.0
Farpoint is another perfect example of a VR game with solid ideas and spotty execution. There is a core of good gunplay and decent story, but the game quickly becomes one-dimensional in its approach, and finds a way to feel like a grind despite its short campaign.
The Good Strong narrative start, solid gunplay.
The Bad Gameplay quickly devolves into a cheap shooting gallery.
The Ugly That moment when I realized I could move around on the menu screen and smash everything around me, which led to me accidentally doing just that with a nearby glass of water in real life after I wildly swung the Aim Wireless controller around.
Farpoint is a PS4/PS VR exclusive. Review copy was provided by Sony 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 go hands-on recently with Yager, Six Feet, and Grey Box’s Dreadnought on PlayStation 4. It was my first time playing the game since PSX 2016 and I was able to pull down a decent K/D in this match of Team Deathmatch. Dreadnought is currently in beta on both PC and PS4 and the full game is coming sometime later this year to PC and PS4 and will be free-to-play.

Square Enix released the results of their fiscal year that ran from April 1, 2016, until March 31, 2017, today. Despite finishing in the black and reporting record net sales—with 20% growth year over year largely attributed to the releases of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Final Fantasy XV—the company also officially filed an “extraordinary loss” on March 31, 2017 of 4.9 billion yen ($43 million US dollars). In a separate statement, Square Enix detailed this loss came in the form of a “withdrawal from the business of” IO Interactive, the Danish developer behind the Hitman and Kane & Lynch series of games. Simply put, Square Enix is getting rid of them, not quite Agent 47 style, though.

IO Interactive began in its current form back in 1998 and released their first game, Hitman: Codename 47, with publisher Eidos Interactive in 2000. In 2003, IO became a subsidiary of Eidos, who were then in turn acquired by Square Enix in 2009.

“To maximize player satisfaction as well as market potential going forward, we are focusing our resources and energies on key franchises and studios,” Square Enix said in the press release. “As a result of this, the Company started discussions with potential new investors and is currently in negotiations to secure this investment. Whilst there can be no guarantees that the negotiations will be concluded successfully, they are being explored since this is in the best interest of our shareholders, the studio, and the industry as a whole.”

With all signs from IO Interactive up to now pointing to the first season of the episodic Hitman experiment being a success, this development might explain why they’ve been quiet since announcing season two was already in development back in November 2016. If they were on the verge of changing owners/publishers, they would want to stay quiet for as long as possible for legal reasons. Square Enix’s press release also points out they’ve been shopping IO since March 31, and the language of the release makes it sound like they’ve got some potential buyers, at least for the moment. If negotiations can be worked out, IO Interactive should, theoretically, end up no worse for wear.

Should negotiations fall through, however, Square Enix will likely shut the studio down. In that case, I would imagine Square Enix would retain the rights to IO’s IP, like Hitman, and could then sell those off individually to potential buyers, assign them to another studio, or let them languish until the time is right to potentially bring them back. Of course, even should negotiations that successfully save IO occur, there’s always the chance Square Enix tries to retain some of those key IP.

In terms of what spurred all this, we have no specifics on how profitable Hitman was for Square Enix. Although it seems to have had a solid install base with the first episode, it is hard to tell how many people carried through for the entire season, and we have no sales numbers on the full season disc release that occurred in January. This development, however, leads us to believe the game clearly underperformed, and likely did not sell as well as IO’s previous game, Hitman: Absolution, which sold over three million units in its first five months back from the end of 2012 through early 2013.

If we were to speculate on potential candidates to be IO’s new parent company, there’s definitely a few—particularly if the IP can be secured along with the studio. Surely the Hitman brand would be a great asset in most publisher portfolios. European publishers THQ Nordic and Deep Silver have both made it a habit of snatching up unwanted studios and IP in recent years, and their relatively close proximity to IO’s Copenhagen headquarters could make them very enticing. Someone like EA could also look at Hitman’s episodic nature and the potential for microtransactions and start licking their chops.

There could also be first-party interest for such a well-known brand. Square Enix has worked closely with Sony for many years, but the smart bet if first-parties got involved might be Microsoft. A second episodic season of Hitman would be a great steal away from Sony, could easily offer cross-play with PC, and serve as a potential exclusive reveal at E3 2017 for a company desperate for software this year—although that would assume Microsoft and Square Enix were actually close to an agreement considering we’re only a month away from the event. But the buzz potential that could surround the first episode of a new Hitman season launching alongside Microsoft’s new Game Pass program sure would be enticing.

Be sure to keep coming back to EGM for more as this story develops, and hopefully IO Interactive doesn’t end up like so many NPCs that have crossed Agent 47’s path. In the meantime, feel free to check out my review of the full first (and maybe only) season of the episodic Hitman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve gushed over puzzle-platformers enough times at this point that it should come as no surprise that when I see a new one on the horizon, my interest is immediately piqued. So, when I saw the trailer for Little Nightmares, the same feeling of wonder and curiosity that usually comes over me again returned. Once I actually played Little Nightmares, however, any good will this game had garnered by crafting itself around one of my favorite genres was quickly lost, never to recover.

Little Nightmares follows the plight of a small girl named Six who is trapped in an underwater ship called The Maw. Six must try to escape this prison before she becomes the next snack for one of the Maw’s many hungry residents, and she will have to use all her ingenuity to outsmart her captors and earn her freedom.

I will say one thing that Little Nightmares does well—and which is evident almost from the very beginning—is the mood and atmosphere it established. The chilling music and sheer emptiness of the world that Six starts her adventure in immediately lets you know the odds are stacked against you. Her bright yellow tunic serves as a stark contrast against the mechanical, muted tones of each of the game’s five levels, providing a beacon that constantly pulls your eyes to it, similar to how Six’s singular tool—a small lighter—lights her way through some of the game’s more cramped corridors or ventilation shafts.

The cantankerous creatures that roam these oversized areas only punctuate the vastness of the Maw. Gluttonous, disgusting humanoids intended to elicit the most negative of reactions from all who glimpse their bloated forms will chase Six at the slightest hint of her presence for much of the game. Outsmarting them and, more commonly, outmaneuvering them is the only way to survive.

Unfortunately, these “people” also serve as the only form of real challenge in an overly simple game, and they are a paltry one at that. Almost no thought is required in order to overcome many of the obstacles of the Maw, with usually only a couple of well-timed jumps getting the job done, or Six sneaking by an unsuspecting denizen guarding the path. It feels like someone confused a running simulator with an actual puzzle-platformer.

The only small semblance of difficulty comes from the camera and controls, and their technical limitations. The camera feels like it’s constantly swaying, as if it’s attached to the hull of the Maw’s ship and sliding along as Six works her way up and out of its different levels. This swaying, however, is not conducive to the platforming that often needs to be carried out to get by the pits that provide Six’s most common obstacle. It also feels at times like the camera is lagging behind her, catching Six at an odd angle instead of seeing her perfectly perpendicular from the side. This causes the controls to slightly shift depending on where the camera is positioned, and walking across thin beams can become a nuisance as forward is no longer perfectly to the right or left on your joystick, and you slightly start to veer off course through no fault of your own. There’s nothing more frustrating than slipping off the edge of a small platform that you thought you were walking straight on, or making a jump that you had the distance for, but find Six hitting the edge and falling because the depth made the next platform look like it was on a different jumping line.

Well, there might be one more frustrating thing. Six has very limited abilities in the game and therefore, in order to try to fill up buttons on the PS4 controller, simple traversal abilities that are often assigned to only one button in more complex games are divided up amongst the other buttons. If you’re an Assassin’s Creed fan, you’re likely familiar with the “claw grip” of the early games, where your hands are basically locked onto the X and R2 buttons (A and RT on Xbox controllers) in order to parkour through the world. Similarly, you must hold Square and R2 with Six in order to not only climb, but also grab ledges when you make jumps across pits. If you’re not holding both, Six will hit the ledge at her waist, and instead of latching on, fall to her death. This is made all the more complicated by X being the jump button, forcing three simultaneous button presses to be made to traverse most obstacles—and I just don’t understand why run and grab are on two different inputs. It felt like it was a desperate attempt to make the simplest game controls more complex in an attempt to cover up the game’s actual lack of challenge.

Some of this could potentially be forgiven if the mystery of the Maw and Six’s plight could pull you in, but sadly it failed to do so for me. I wonder if it’s because I never felt truly in danger traversing the environment, my only failures ever coming due to the shortcomings of the controls and camera. What’s worse is when the game finally starts to feel like it’s ramping up its stakes, Six’s plight, and the game’s underlying messages, it pulls the plug. I finished the game in just under three hours; while there are plenty of experiences of comparable length more than worthy of your time out there, like last year’s Inside for example, Little Nightmares felt like it was just scratching the surface of what it wanted to be when it runs out of steam.

I believe the most obvious message the game tries to convey is the evils of modern consumerism, portrayed by the gluttony of the Maw’s patrons, and Six’s own poignant near-starvation that crops up near the end of each level. Little Nightmares could’ve gone so much further than a buffet table and a kitchen, however; gambling, alcohol, sex, and other vices could’ve all had their chances to shine on the Maw, and would’ve lent length and weight to a game that feels incomplete as is. Even the weird lord of the Maw’s seeming obsession with beauty and physical perfection is barely touched upon with more than a few symbols.

Little Nightmares tries to surround itself in symbolism and mystery, and succeeds in painting a bleak and moody atmosphere at least. At the same time, it failed to find a way to make me care about the main character’s plight. What’s worse is that its poor controls and camera, and utter lack of challenge, had lost me by the time it started to feel like it was finally going somewhere. My only relief came when the end credits began to roll on this poor attempt at a puzzle-platformer.

Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment • Developer: Tarsier Studios • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 04.28.17
4.0
A stellar atmosphere is not enough to save such a puzzle-platformer that completely lacks any sort of challenge. While the story of Six is a sad one, it’s not for the fact that her adventure begins in a cage—but that the developer failed to find a way to make me care about it at all.
The Good Beautifully crafted, atmospheric world.
The Bad Controls poorly and the overall game lacks any sort of challenge.
The Ugly Is being eaten a really scary thing for European children? I don’t get it. That was never a thing for me as a kid.
Little Nightmares  is available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Bandai Namco for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

What Remains of Edith Finch was announced late in 2014 as the sophomore effort from Giant Sparrow, the developers behind The Unfinished Swan. After some twists and turns in the development process, we’re now on the precipice of this highly anticipated game finally being released. Before it drops at the end of April, though, I got a chance to go hands-on recently with one more new demo from the game.

For those who don’t know the game’s basic premise, What Remains of Edith Finch follows the titular Edith through her familial home. The house serves as a gateway to Edith’s family tree, with new rooms being added—and subsequently cordoned off—as family members are born and later pass on. As you explore with Edith, you’ll learn of some of the more fantastic ways her family members passed from this world via diaries and other mementos, learning about the Finches alongside her.

This latest demo touches upon Lewis, Edith’s brother and most direct relative we’ve seen to date. Like many of the other stories that have been revealed, Lewis’ tale is a sad one of big dreams that are dashed as he lives out his life, working daily at a fish cannery plant up in Washington state. It continues the superb storytelling I’ve seen from the previous demos, and has me chomping at the bit for this title even more. As I try to avoid spoiling the game too much, unlike the other demos we’ve seen, Lewis’ story purposely tries to divide your attention, making you more vulnerable emotionally via mundane tasks before it hits you with the gripping finale.

I also had the chance to sit down and speak with the game’s creative director, Ian Dallas, specifically about this demo, the game as a whole, and get some background on what went into the making of What Remains of Edith Finch. The transcription of that conversation is below.

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EGM: This is the third different demo I’ve played of What Remains of Edith Finch, and the bittersweet quality to every short story is really evident at this point. How do you go about making it so that you still have these emotional moments that end on a down note, but keep players playing? 

Ian Dallas: Well, we hope in some ways that each of these is also a triumph, but especially after playing a couple of them in the game, yeah, it’ll dawn on players that everyone is going to die. And then going into each of these stories you might be a bit reserved, but hopefully you’ll get lost in the moments before getting back to that point where you’re like, “Oh, right, this is going to happen again.” But, the journey’s a more joyful version of that.

EGM: Each story thus far that I’ve seen is drastically different from the others. How was it to develop each one of these, and what was some of the process?

ID: For each story it was really different. It all started with whatever the kernel was of that story. Like Calvin’s story on the swing, for example, it was really just asking what is it like to be on a swing, and for that one the team knew early on it wouldn’t be a 20-minute story. It would be something punchier, and we wanted to make sure that the pacing matched where we wanted it to be. Sure, we could’ve made it longer or shorter, but we wanted people to have just enough time to get acclimated, but then not overstay our welcome.

We’re also always trying to keep people on their toes and never settling into a routine. There’s this weird thing that happens with games where, at the beginning, most players are always really open to whatever it might be, and experimenting, and trying new things. And then there’s a point where it switches over to thinking about how to maximize the tools given to you, and finding the optimal path here. We wanted to prevent players from getting into that mindset and always, right when they’re about to get comfortable, throw them into a new thing. But, at the same time, we also had to make sure that wasn’t frustrating, and that was the hard part for us. How to keep throwing new things at people without them getting frustrated, because we also found that there’s a really short fuse that people have when you’ve given them a new thing to do and it’s slightly difficult.

If it’s the very beginning of a game and the player just paid $60 for it, they’re more open to accepting something might be a bit complicated, and feel it’s on them to figure it out. If they’re halfway through a game and you change the mechanics on them three times in a minute and they can’t figure it out, they shift the blame onto us, the developers. So, in trying to balance that, but not make it too simplistic, the answer we found was always to make it more complicated, and then simplify it after.

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When we first started working on the demo you played, we had it ridiculously complex. There was a boss in the fish factory constantly checking on you, checking to see if you were chopping the fish the right way, and initially, you could chop your fingers off if you weren’t careful. On paper it made sense, because we wanted you expending more mental resources and have players thinking about these things and have some real risk, you know. Then, once we got all these things together, we realized no, we don’t need that.

We talk about cognitive load a lot. How much are people dealing with—and it’s hard to know when people are playing the game—how much are they thinking about the story that just happened, or maybe the story before that, or the bedroom they were just in. So, I think we consciously tried to simplify a lot of these stories a year or two ago when they were all on their feet, and we could play through and test the game from beginning to end, and we realized it was too much. In order to keep the focus not completely on the mechanics and struggling, but instead have them feel like they’re falling down a rabbit hole, or this spiral that’s going faster and faster. There was a lot of tuning to make it not too difficult in a weird way. We didn’t want to make it too easy, either, but I think we ended up in a nice place where people are engaged, and it feels like there are so many things going on, but it’s actually a relatively simple path through the game. It’s the illusion of all this stuff going on, and I think it was better for us ultimately instead of giving some open-world sandbox thing considering the brevity of a lot of these stories.

EGM: More than the other stories I’ve played so far, the fish cannery plant with Edith’s brother, Lewis, seems to purposely focus on dividing my attention. There’s a strong emphasis on the narration and story being told here, combined with two distinct, yet simple gameplay elements that carefully split my focus. It actually made it feel like the story was more powerful this way. Can you talk to how the gameplay informs, but also emphasizes the story in a seemingly subtle way?

ID: The hope in this case is that it does feel monotonous after a while. You don’t want to make it so monotonous it’s boring, but yeah, we found just that hint of monotony does help with the processing of this particular story. In this case, we’re telling the story of someone at work doing a kind of boring thing, and the monotony can trigger similar feelings. Almost like a smell can remind you of a time in childhood per se. And, in the case of the fish cannery plant, doing this monotonous thing hopefully reminds you of times where you yourself might’ve been in similar situations.

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EGM: That’s kind of the game in a nutshell, no? Of the three stories I’ve played, it starts off as normal situations that quickly turn fantastical. That start makes them instantly relatable, though. Was that a goal for you in developing this game?

ID: Yeah, and actually that’s what the house is there for really. I look at it sort of like with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy with Arthur Dent where if it’s just Zaphod Beeblebrox and it’s an interesting story, but it’s not something you can connect to. Being able to see through a lens of the familiar into the bizarre really helps to bring things into focus. So, the house is a way for us, no matter how crazy we go, and I think Lewis’s story is one of the crazier ones, you’re right back into the bedroom of someone who died. This is Edith’s brother. This is someone who was referenced in other stories. In this world, he’s a real person and he had a life and hobbies. And we had to balance that. But it also allowed us to just go even crazier the next time. It’s peaks and valleys. You don’t want everything to be at the high point because then nothing is really the high point. Balancing and mixing things up, making sure it’s not all surreal crazy fever dreams, making sure there’s some of you just walking around looking at things.

EGM: You mentioned Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy. Would you consider that an inspiration for the game? What might you consider some of your other inspirations for the game?

ID: Hitchhiker’s Guide was one for sure, although I wouldn’t say it was the inspiration. I just think Arthur Dent is this nice character that is inconspicuously in the middle of this insane world and in terms of Edith, Arthur Dent was one figure we looked at. Brazil, too, where the whole world is crazy, but the central character in that is pretty sensible. One Hundred Years of Solitude was a big influence. It’s hard to tell the story of a family and have these arcs that interweave without it being completely impenetrable. Twilight Zone was an influence and then just weird fiction in general. Things like Lovecraft, or modern writers like Neil Gaiman where it might be a little scary, but it’s really more about the feeling of being in a universe where you as a human cannot understand, and suspect you will never understand. It’s beyond comprehension and dealing with that.

What Remains of Edith Finch will be available on PS4 and PC on April 25.