Tag Archive: sony


Before getting into video games, I always thought sports would be the ultimate end goal of my media career—who knew you could make money playing and writing about video games—because all I ever wanted as a kid was to get into every game at Yankees Stadium for free. Obviously, my career took a different turn, but I still have an undying love for baseball (and still think I’m better than 90% of the play-by-play broadcasters out there). So, it is with renewed joy every spring that the baseball season gets underway, and with it my two loves of video games and baseball come together with the annual release of MLB The Show—and this year’s entry into the series is enough to have both gamers and sabermetricians alike excited.

MLB The Show 17 is a year where it feels like everything has come together for the franchise on the PS4. Whereas last year was a big focus on new modes and really expanding the series’ repertoire, this year was refining everything into a mold as perfectly cast as a Cooperstown plaque. While graphical improvements, ball physicals, and fielding animation improvements may not sound as exciting as brand new modes, they lend themselves to help make this the most realistic experience the series has yet provided for baseball fans. And, all it took was one full game in Franchise mode for me to be immediately blown away.

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My New York Yankees were opening up the season at Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays, and I was locked in a 0-0 tie in the fourth inning. Yankees second baseman Starlin Castro was stepping to the plate with one out when I ripped a changeup I was a little out in front of down towards third base. Evan Longoria made a dive to stop it. In previous years, this ball would often have been shot on a straight line, likely into Longoria’s glove—but right after the first hop about halfway between home plate and third base, the ball was clearly curving. In fact, it had curved in a way I had never seen before in a game, bouncing between Longoria’s outstretched glove and the bag, and into the Trop’s exposed bullpen area. A satisfied smirk crossed my face when the umpire pointed that the ball was fair. As my time with The Show 17 continued, I would have more moments like this, both on ground balls on the infield and fly balls down the line. I bring this up specifically because it provided a sense of realism—of true simulation—that I had never seen before from a baseball game.

Of course, just because the ball moves how it might in a real game now doesn’t mean it’s uncatchable. At the time of my writing this review, I’ve come a long way from that first game, and am well into the dog days of summer with both my Franchise and Road to the Show created player. Since then I’ve fielded dozens, if not hundreds, of ground balls, and a new tweak to throwing runners out on the basepaths is that you can now pre-load your throw by selecting the base before actually catching the ball. This allows not only for a more fluid and natural looking animation from when your player catches the ball to when they release it, but prevents a lot of the cheap infield hits that plagued previous entries in the series due to that extra delay caused by not being able to throw until obtaining possession of the ball.

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Besides the smoother animations this year, new character faces and models—coupled with three brand new presentation packages—provide a sleeker look to The Show as well. MLB Network now lends its entire graphics package, including all sorts of hit-tracking effects and replays, to The Show alongside two more “regional” looking setups for those games that aren’t necessarily game of the week caliber matchups or for those minor-league days in RTTS. Matt Vasgersian returns to do play-by-play (he’s one of those 10% who are better than me) with brand new lines, but is now joined by three-time gold glove winning second baseman Harold Reynolds and 18-year journeyman relief pitcher Dan Plesac from the MLB Network team. The commentary has been something I’ve been able to come down on for quite some time for The Show, but the addition of Reynolds and Plesac, along with their situational banter, really kept things fresh for far longer than normal this year on the announcer side of things.

Now, when playing The Show, I admit I am usually one of those control freaks who loves playing every single game from start to finish. Yet, even I admit a 162-game regular season can be a bit of a grind. And, in an attempt to mimic other sports games out on the market such as Madden that have added similar options in recent years, there are two new additions to Franchise to help speed up that process. One is called Critical Situations, and allows you to simulate large sections of a team’s schedule with The Show dropping you into individual games during moments that can decide the outcome. It’s a great way to circumvent that summer grind, and really move from game to game quickly. My only issue with this option thus far is that most of those moments seem to come sometime in the ninth inning, which takes a little bit of the impact out of the situation if you always know what’s coming.

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If you still want a touch more control when simming, there’s also the new Quick Manage and Player Lock options. Player lock has you follow key moments for an individual in the game and provides an experience similar to RTTS where you only follow your created player. Your chosen player’s fielding opportunities and at-bats are all you play. Meanwhile, Quick Manage gives you a more top-down approach, similar to just managing a game. You decide when to hit, bunt, steal, hit & run, pitch to a hitter, pitch for contact, pitch around them, change pitchers, and more. Every major decision can be done batter to batter from both sides of the ball, but unlike a straight CPU sim, you can drop in whenever you want. I found myself dropping in a lot because one negative I discovered with this option is that the AI is lacking, often stranding runners on third with nobody out, or failing to get them over in appropriate situations, even when calling for more situational hitting. Also, I’d love if I could more easily see match-up numbers, like how opponents do hitting against lefties or righties, from the main screen in this mode without having to navigate lots of menus or jump into the game to decide what substitutions I should make. It would help with the flow—and again plays into my micromanaging style—but I found this Quick Manage as a whole the best way for me to get through my season at a much more decent clip.

The other major offline mode for MLB The Show 17 is, of course, Road to the Show. In another attempt by The Show to mimic its sports game contemporaries out there, RTTS this year has focused on adding a stronger narrative direction while maintaining much of the gameplay from years past, streamlined by a cleaner user interface. This story, where an omnipresent narrator talks over new cutscenes that feature sit-downs with your manager and coaches in the clubhouse, along with branching dialogue paths that can dictate the future of your career and what your team thinks of you, is meant to help give a more human feel to what has become in years past a methodical grind to the top of baseball-dom. It’s not nearly as in depth as what is seen in NBA 2K or even what FIFA added last year, but it does add a lot of personality to the mode, and I hope this serves as the foundation for something deeper in later years. I found myself wanting to interact with my coaches more, and even looking for boosts or rewards of some sort stemming from my answers, so hopefully this is just the first step in taking an already great mode to a new level.

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The final staple of The Show’s repertoire is its online modes. The card-collecting Diamond Dynasty mode returns, and is addictive as ever if you get as involved with collectibles as I do. The single-player Conquest section of this suite, which features three-inning games with you using a team you build from those collected cards, also returns largely unchanged if fantasy match-ups are more your thing. There’s then online seasons and the returning Battle Royal mode that is basically baseball’s version of Madden and NHL’s Draft Champions, where you draft a fantasy team before taking on random opponents. The biggest issue with MLB The Show 17, however, is one that has plagued the series for years now: the fact that, at least thus far in the first week since launch, the online issues are ever-present. Although connecting with people seems to have resolved itself over the past few days, tremendous lag and online glitches are still constant. Balls getting stuck against the wall, players not leaving the batter’s box on hits (and subsequently being thrown out at first on shots into the gaps), and lag to where you can barely even see the ball, leave the online play again wanting.

Luckily, as I’ve lain out, there’s plenty to do offline, but it’s still disappointing that online play remains The Show’s bugaboo. And, while I focused primarily on the improvements to the series’ staple modes, there is one new mode that can also provide some local play if you’re looking for a throwback and still need that human competition. It’s honestly a bit of a throwaway mode really, but it’s a nice nod to cover athlete and new MLB Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr., and the early baseball games Griffey championed back in the NES, SNES, and N64 days. Retro mode, which features an 8-bit filter if you so choose, touts old-school sound effects and UI, and even two-button gameplay that out R.B.I. Baseball’s R.B.I. Baseball. After years of so many more complex button schemes, I admit it might’ve been the hardest thing to get used to in this year’s version of The Show—but it’s a nice little bonus for those of us old enough to remember the “good ol’ days”, although Junior’s weird, deadpan commentary on some plays and between innings was definitely not necessary.

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MLB The Show 17 is easily the pinnacle for the series thus far. It continues to add depth to its staple modes, and find new ways to increase the realism of its simulation experience. The narrative addition to RTTS could lay the foundation for even more exciting and immersive things in the future, while online play continues to nag the series at launch—but, with so much depth of play in the offline experience, some might not even notice. If you love baseball as much as I do, you’ll no doubt love MLB The Show 17, too.

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment • Developer: SIE San Diego Studio • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 03.28.17
9.0
MLB The Show 17 sets a new pinnacle for the franchise. It creates more depth for its tent pole modes and polishes everything else to a terrific gleam. Some online issues and glitches still continue to plague the series at launch, but you might get so engrossed in Franchise or RTTS that you won’t even notice until they’re fixed.
The Good New ball physics, quick manage mode, and the RTTS narrator are great additions to The Show’s best modes.
The Bad Consistent server and online issues. Again.
The Ugly How the heck did we ever see anything back in the 8-bit days?
MLB The Show 17 is a PS4 exclusive. Review code 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.

When I previewed Let It Die—a PS4-exclusive, free-to-play, hack ‘n’ slash rougelike from the twisted minds at Grasshopper Manufacture—for the first time back in April, it was a rough demo that conveyed some interesting ideas and mechanics, but left a lot to be desired. Many of the systems that would really drive home what this unique experience was meant to be were still absent then, and left me hanging onto promises of great things more than any tangible evidence that this experience could be special. After getting to go hands-on recently with a more complete version of the game, though, I can testify that Let It Die might be gaming’s new roguelike craze. To help give you a sense of the insanity this game wants to bring to the PS4, here’s a video of my first hour playing the game, uninterrupted aside for some menu traversal and load screens cut for the sake of time.

When we did our launch line-up roundup for the PlayStation VR, it was hard not to be a little disappointed. Most of the games were glorified tech demos, with little to no replay value and almost never lasting more than 90 minutes. A couple of them even made some of us nauseous due to control schemes that just didn’t work well in VR. But, there was one game we had put to the side because of its heavy online multiplayer aspects, knowing we’d have to wait until PS VR was in the hands of consumers to properly test it: RIGS: Mechanized Combat League. Not only should it be separated from the rest of the PS VR launch line-up because of its online play, but also because I think it’s the only one of those launch titles that’s truly worth your time.

RIGS: Mechanized Combat League is equal parts Mechwarrior and Blitz: The League. In a far off future, the main sport of choice for people to watch revolves around two three-person teams that face off in a variety of competitions while piloting giant mechs. Similar to international soccer, the winning team nets three points in the standings, and the team at the top at the end of the season is the league champs.

As the game begins and you first approach the Mechanized Combat League about turning pro, the crew chief in charge of keeping your rig in top fighting shape gives you the lowdown on how everything works. Unlike a lot of other PS VR games, RIGS offers you two methods to control your mechanical behemoth, giving extensive tutorial time to both. It may feel rough to have so much of a tutorial standing between you and the game—around 30 minutes in total—but if you’re new to RIGS, or VR in particular, those lessons are a welcome experience.

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The first control scheme is a common one in VR, but it also tends to make people a bit nauseous (including yours truly): the left stick moves your unit, and you use your head to turn and aim your mech. The second option is more akin to a first-person shooter, making it easier for more experienced gamers to pick up and learn. Playing that way, your head only controls the aiming reticle, while the right stick controls what direction you face and the left moves your body independently. This third degree of control cut out my motion sickness almost immediately, and still gave me the precision to be extremely effective at the game. Including more options in these early days of VR is definitely a smart move, especially considering we’re still learning what will make someone uncomfortable while playing.

After learning how to shoot, boost, and figure out which aiming system you respond best to, you then get to choose from four different mech classes: the flying Tempest; the strong all-around Hunter; the double-jump equipped Mirage; and the ground-pound enabled Sentinel. Each choice’s options differentiates enough between them in a way that is comparable to other class-based shooters, and the manufacturer of the mech type you choose decides which extra abilities and weapons it features. All told, there’s over two-dozen mechs to pick from, and you can unlock more by playing the game and earning digital credits by winning matches.

A match in RIGS always falls into one of three game modes: Team Takedown, Endzone, and Power Slam. Team Takedown is basically Team Deathmatch, while Power Slam and Endzone have elements of real-world sports in them. Power Slam is like basketball, but requires you to actually throw your entire rig through a giant hoop once it reaches Overdrive mode (a more powerful state your rig can obtain by doing well in match). If you make it through the hoop while powered up, your team scores. Endzone, meanwhile, is much like football, where a ball carrier tries to cross an opponent’s goal line to score, but can drop the ball if the rig is destroyed, leaving it open to be picked up by anyone on the field.

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Also similar to other online shooters, RIGS offers up a challenge system. Presented in the form of fictional sponsorships, meeting certain conditions in each match can earn you cosmetic pieces for both your pilot’s suit and your mech. It’s a great way to not only incentivize certain playstyles, but also adds a nice layer of customization, so that you can really make your mech stand out from the crowd when you hop online. Before all of that, however, RIGS introduces you to its offline season mode. Playing solo against the computer is a great way to learn the game modes, test out strategies in some of the fictional arenas, and earn credits or complete conditions for new rigs and customization options.

Whether playing online or offline, though, there’s really not a lot beyond all of this to RIGS. Yes, it handles surprisingly well, and it’s a ton of fun to team up with a couple of buddies (or even some strangers) to blow up giant robots. In regards to the online play, there was never an issue finding a match or connecting for us, by the way. But, unless you hope that RIGS becomes the first VR esport—which, admittedly, it has the potential to do, depending on how much Guerrilla and Sony support it post-launch—it remains somewhat shallow. It checks off a lot of boxes when it comes to shooters in regards to customization and classes, but with only three match types at launch and a storyless season mode offline, the game might lose its luster quickly for some.

RIGS: Mechanized Combat League is the first great VR experience. Despite not having a lot of depth, giving players multiple control options means there’s a greater chance to find one that will fit your playstyle and help with an immersive experience. Although what’s there isn’t very deep, it’s extremely fun to jump into combat with friends online—especially if you’re as competitive as I am. If you’ve invested in PlayStation VR, there’s not a lot out there that is worth your time; RIGS: Mechanized Combat League, though, is on a short list of must haves.

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Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment • Developer: Guerrilla Cambridge  • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 10.13.16
8.0
RIGS is the first great PlayStation VR game. It can be a bit shallow with a lack of match types and game modes, but I cannot deny how great it feels to pilot my own mech into competition—and to do so with a natural-feeling control scheme that immerses players in the experience.
The Good The first really great game if you’ve invested in PS VR.
The Bad There isn’t a lot of depth to the online or offline content.
The Ugly It must be really expensive to keep replacing all those giant mechs between matches.
RIGS: Mechanized Combat League is a PS4 exclusive. PlayStation VR is required. Review code 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.

It’s been a great summer for smaller titles and indie games. Right before the deluge of AAA games kicks off the impending fall rush, though, Sony was able to squeeze in one more heart-wrenching tale for us to play in Bound. What this game lacks in length, it more than makes up for in how long you’ll be talking about it after you’re done.

A large part of what makes Bound so interesting is its story. Players take on the role of a small girl who uses dancing to traverse and overcome the obstacles of a colorful world. I’d love to go into more detail about the narrative itself, but developers Plastic Studios and Sony Santa Monica specifically requested we don’t talk about the story so that my personal thoughts on the game’s overarching themes and metaphors presented here don’t potentially affect someone who hasn’t played just yet. Just know that it is a tale meant to be open to interpretation, with deep dramatic tones that should strike a chord with anyone with even a hint of empathy in their being.

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Part of what makes the story’s impact so meaningful is the game’s visuals, as Bound tells its tale in a minimalistic approach. The world itself is made up of simple shapes that move and vibrate to the dancing girl’s beat as she spins by, her ribbons twirling around her along the way. Few words of dialogue are ever spoken, with the game just shifting from its standard third-person platforming view to first-person when appropriate for certain scenes.

Because of the lack of spoken words, music also plays an integral role in setting the tone of each of the game’s few levels. You wouldn’t be much of a dancer if you didn’t have any music to dance to, and I could listen to the melody that plays at the end of each level—where the girl skates along what looks like a yellow brick road of sorts, possibly signifying her victory over previous trials—all day long if you’d let me. It expertly helps accent each and every scene in the best ways possible.

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For as moving as Bound’s story is, and as beautiful as the world is, the game stumbles in the gameplay department. Although a platformer at its core, there is no challenge at all to be found here. Occasionally you’ll need to time your jumps, or there may even be a fall-away platform or two, but for nearly the entirety of the game, the jumps are simple and really meant for nothing more than to give the dancer another maneuver to perform as she glides through the world. Even the game’s few hazards, like fire or vines, are never really a threat, shrugged off by the shield that the girl’s rhythmic gymnastic ribbons create as she pirouettes, serving up more symbolism than danger.

There’s also that lack of length I previously mentioned, with my first playthrough clocking in at just over 90 minutes. There are only a handful of levels, and while the length works for the story the game wants to tell, there’s very little to bring you back once you see the ending. A speedrun mode unlocks when you do complete it that first time, and there are shortcuts that allow you to cut each level down to only a few minutes each if you can find them. In the end, the lack of challenge presented by the pedestrian platforming means you’ll really have to fall in love with this tiny dancer to keep coming back to this sad tale again and again.

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Bound is a wonderfully-told story that uses heavy metaphor, minimalistic visuals, and a unique movement system to get its point across. Unfortunately, the gameplay lacks any sort of complexity, and while that is clearly a choice by the developer, it also leaves the experience as a whole wanting. It feels like the story of Bound could’ve been told through any other medium and been just as impactful and effective, but that the writers behind it chose a game as their vessel instead. If you’re looking for something dramatic, visually stunning, and a bit on the simple side, Bound is a fine pickup. If you’re looking for more game in your gameplay, however, then this one will likely disappoint.

Developer: Plastic Studios, Sony Santa Monica • Publisher: SCEA, Sony Interactive Entertainment • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and older • Release Date: 08.16.16
7.0
A powerful, poignant story that utilizes a brilliantly crafted world and movement mechanic to help get its symbolism across. Its short length and lack of gameplay depth hold the experience as a whole back, however.
The Good A sad story told beautifully through the design of the world, the music, and most importantly, the movement of the character.
The Bad The gameplay isn’t nearly as deep as the story.
The Ugly All the ribbon dancing kept making me want to hum the Olympics theme song.
Bound is a PS4 exclusive. Review code 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.

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Take me out to the ballgame

I’ve loved sports all my life, and while football and hockey have earned copious amounts of my attention over the years, my first love remains baseball. Many of my earliest sports memories revolve around playing, watching, and studying the game (my 1995 MLB Almanac that began my obsession with statistics still holds a special place in my personal library). So, it’s no wonder that I get an extra spring in my step when Opening Day begins to roll around once more. I start studying rosters, rotations, scouting reports, schedules, and more with the tenacity of an FBI manhunt for a most wanted criminal.

In recent years, my annual routine has slightly shifted to include playing MLB The Show. I’ve picked up every copy of the game since 2010, and have found it is a great way to prepare for the season—even if it’s never exactly been perfect. But each year I still return to the only true baseball simulation on the market to help take the edge off when I need a fix of America’s pastime.

This year’s entry into the annual franchise, MLB The Show 16, looked to enhance the game in every aspect and mode while also adding a bevy of new features, especially in their online suite. Some of these changes add a lot to the experience, and I can say Sony San Diego knocked them out of the park. Others, however, are clear swing and misses.

Visually, the game is stunning. More realistic lighting, and a whole slew of new hitting, running, and fielding animations makes this easily the prettiest entry in the series thus far. Even after putting nearly two-dozen hours into the offline modes, there wasn’t a glitch to be found.

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The core modes of MLB The Show—Franchise and Road to the Show—have also seen upgrades. Franchise mode, which gives you total control over your favorite MLB team, has more stats than ever before, and finally gives a player’s full career history when you look at their numbers. Baseball is a stats driven game, and it’s about time this was included.

Also, taking a page out of EA Sports’ NHL franchise, players now have morale indicators based on a variety of factors. These influence their performance, as well as the likelihood of them signing or re-signing a contract with your team. Whether your team is located close to their home, how much money you’re offering, the coach, your team’s position in the standings, and much more will affect the player’s happiness level, making contract negotiations a more involved process than just throwing more money at players.

Road to the Show, which gives you a chance to create a player and live out your own major league aspirations, has added even more new features than Franchise. One new aspect in particular hugely changes gameplay here, and it’s called “Showtime”. This special meter allows players to slow down time and focus on really big moments. Need to make a diving catch to save a run? Stepping to the plate, down by three with the bases loaded and wanting to walk-off in style? Slow down time, hone in on the moment, and come through in the clutch. It takes a fair amount of time to get used to—especially when you slow down your at-bats at the plate—but when you get the timing down, it’s a fun new wrinkle to help accelerate your player’s growth from AA-prospect to MLB-superstar.

Another way that RTTS accelerates your development is that you can play entire series after one load screen. Sitting down and fast-forwarding to each of your at-bats and moments in the field in three or four game clips really zips you through the minors if you’re good enough. I polished off my first month of the season in just a couple hours, a process that used to take much longer in previous years.

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Besides this, new training tools allow you to add perks to your players as they improve, like better contact when hitting to cut down on strikeouts in high-pressure situations, or increasing the likelihood of opponents making errors in the field so you always get on base. The mode even kicks off with a chance to play in the Bowman Scout Day, helping define your player the second you start down the path to a major league career.

The biggest changes that came to MLB The Show 16, though, easily fall under Diamond Dynasty, MLB’s online fantasy mode that lets you put together a dream team by collecting different player cards. More cards are available than ever before, and that’s because of a new category called “Flashbacks.” These cards feature superstar players who might be in the twilight of their career, but with statistics from different chapters of their MLB playing time. Texas Rangers MVP Alex Rodriguez, and Oakland Athletics rookie Kurt Suzuki are just a couple of the new cards featured, and Legend cards also return featuring the likes of Nolan Ryan, making it so you can turn your online team into a juggernaut in no time.

To help flesh out your rosters, there are also more ways than ever to get cards, using either the franchise’s traditional in-game currency earned by playing the game known as “stubs,” or the brand new ticket currency added to MLB The Show 16. When you start the game, you’ll be allowed to pick from one of six special captains from around baseball: cover boy and reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson from the Blue Jays; Mets pitcher Jacob DeGrom; retiring Red Sox slugger David Ortiz; defending world champion Royals first-baseman Eric Hosmer; Astros speedster second baseman Jose Altuve; and Cubs superstar first-baseman Anthony Rizzo. By playing different modes in MLB The Show 16, you’ll earn experience towards each captain. In a way, the six captains work as a form of prestige for the game itself, because by leveling up each captain to their max, you’ll have a chance to buy special cards associated with each one at higher levels. Each captain also offers unique challenges towards earning those award tickets, which can then also be redeemed for special reward cards.

I like the idea behind the captain system, but I think, as it is, it’s a bit too convoluted. Trying to keep track of what challenge you’re going for and introducing a second currency feels like a ham-fisted attempt at trying to jam more overarching content into the game. Plus, limiting the system to only these captains—instead of offering less levels to max each one out, but representing each team around baseball—feels like a missed opportunity. Not to mention, you can always find a lot of the cards being offered in random packs or the game’s online auction house. The inside track this mode offers doesn’t really expedite anything, considering the grind to max each captain out to get to the best cards available.

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There are also two new modes in MLB The Show 16’s online suite of games.

Diamond Dynasty is no longer limited to just playing people in head-to-head matchups, as there’s now also a weird RTS Risk-style game where you take your team online in an attempt to conquer all the other MLB teams across North America. By playing and winning repeated games, you’ll earn more fans and your influence will grow. When you completely absorb the fan base of another team, you’ll conquer their region.

I love the concept, but as is, even with each game being limited to 3-inning exhibitions, this mode is a grind to play. It might take you days to beat Conquest even once, and considering the game forces you to play on higher difficulties when you have fewer fans (or your fans are too spread out between multiple fronts), the reward for playing feels minimal compared to the time investment.

The other new mode is Battle Royale, which takes a page out of EA Sports’ Madden playbook in that it comes off a lot like their Draft Champions. You begin the mode by drafting a 25-man team from current and hall of fame baseball players. After setting your line-up, you have to hop online and play 3-inning games against human players. If you win, you’ll earn more player cards. The more you win, the better cards you get, and the stiffer the competition you’ll face as online rankings start being taken into account. If you lose twice, the mode is over and you have to re-draft and start over, trying to win crappy cards again before moving on up. The mode is also a gamble as it requires 1500 stubs to play. That isn’t a monumental amount, but it’s enough for most folks to take pause before jumping right in—and the rewards don’t feel like they justify the time sink.

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Unfortunately, I ran into one major issue with these new modes during my time with MLB The Show 16, and that’s the fact that they require you to be online in order to play them (unlike RTTS and Franchise). Lo and behold, just like almost every other year, the game’s servers have been completely unstable at launch. In fact, in the first 48 hours of playing post-release, I’ve had more full disconnects from MLB The Show’s online servers than I’ve been able to connect and finish a 3-inning game with people. And even when I do connect, the lag is atrocious.

Talking with friends and even the strangers I’ve played online, I’ve found they are experiencing the same issues. I’ve played other online games without a hitch, again pointing to the fact that just like every year, Sony San Diego could not get their online act together in time for launch. It’s a huge disappointment, especially considering these new modes are all tied directly to online play.

There also seems to be a tendency on Sony San Diego’s part to fix things that aren’t broken instead of fixing things that are. I’m sure the servers will get to a better point sooner rather than later, but minor things like UI changes to the menus and stat cards for players—including player stamina meters now being a circle bar instead of a more clearly readable long bar like in last year’s game—just seem wholly unnecessary when you have these sorts of netcode problems.

A part of me wonders if it all stems from the fact that MLB The Show 16 maybe tried to offer too much new stuff this go around. Had they focused on making a couple of the new features they included as polished and user-friendly as possible, and for once had a smooth online launch, this could’ve been a very special baseball sim. As it is, it is very good, with some solid ideas being added, yet you can’t help but knock them for botching online play again—especially when the majority of new features are connected to it. You can’t win the World Series in the first month of the season, but you can lose it with a slow start, and there’s no doubt that MLB The Show 16 at least stumbled out of the gate on that one. That said, if you need a baseball fix and find you spend most of your time playing RTTS and Franchise modes anyway, MLB The Show 16 delivers in spades on those fronts.

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Developer: SCEA San Diego • Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 03.29.16
8.0
MLB The Show 16 continues to find innovative ways to push the series forward by adding new features and improving on old ones. Some new problems have arisen, however, and old ones—most notably the horrendous stability of online play—continue to persist and hold the series back.
The Good Deeper Road to the Show mode, better visuals, and the concept of new online modes.
The Bad The online play itself is as atrocious as ever.
The Ugly Even with thousands of new lines of commentary recorded, Steve Lyons, Eric Karros, and Tom Vasgersian still started to repeat themselves after only a half-dozen games or so.
MLB The Show 16 is available on PS4 and PS3. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code 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.

The Launch Day crew talk through some of their favorite games at E3 2015, including Sony’s line-up led by Uncharted 4’s incredible demo and more VR insight (now with more zombies!).

Hell ain’t a bad place to be

The twin-stick shooter is one of gaming’s oldest game types—and one of the hardest to make stand out among its contemporaries, especially given the genre’s recent resurgence in the Indie scene. Helldivers unique metagame feature, though, helps separate what would otherwise be a rather generic game from the pack.

Helldivers puts players in control of a run-of-the-mill soldier fighting for the glory of the unified Super-Earth. Ruled under one “managed democracy”, the inhabitants of Super-Earth feel it’s their duty to expand and spread the message of this way of life to all they come across in the universe. Several races, however, wish to stand in the way of Super-Earth’s all-powerful government, so conflict erupts on an intergalactic scale.

It’s here where the metagame aspect takes place. Besieged on three fronts, the Helldivers branch of Super-Earth’s military must perform missions on a series of planets, pushing each enemy race back across several sectors of space, until finally reaching a homeworld in the hopes of conquering it.

Each respective planet in those sectors is procedurally generated, which means that you’ll never play the same mission on the same terrain twice. The game offers almost a dozen different random missions types no matter the planet, such as demolishing enemy fortifications or setting up and protecting oil pumps to help support the war effort. Combine this with the dozen different difficulty rankings among the planetsfrom Level 1’s “Dive in the Park” to Level 12’s “Helldive”and Helldivers features possibly the most variation you’ll find in a top-down, twin-stick shooter. Only when everyone pitches in to successfully complete missions can you make any real progress in the campaign.

The idea of working together to win goes well beyond just Helldivers’ metagame, though. With four-player local and online co-op, it’s easy for players to team up with friends or strangers to tackle the game’s objectives. Unfortunately, you’ll be forced to if you want to have any hope of completing the hardest difficulty levels. I found it impossible to beat anything beyond a Level 4 difficulty by myself, and we couldn’t beat anything past a Level 6 without a full four-player complement of Helldivers.

It was here where I found myself the most frustrated, as often, I couldn’t find enough players to successfully conquer the game’s hardest terrain and objectives. Sometimes, I couldn’t find enough players willing to take on the Level 12 worlds and was forced to muck about in the lower-level ones. Even though they’re procedurally generated, locations started to feel simple and repetitive as I quickly mastered the necessary techniques to use to finish my missions. The lack of an option to play with botsand allow me to play how I wanted to playmade the game feel way too reliant on co-op, and I found my progress severely restricted by who was or wasn’t online.

Of course, sometimes even when I found a full group of players, the mission would still be doomed from the start. Similar to Arrowhead Game Studios’ first project, Magicka, friendly fire is a constant threat and can’t be turned off. This does offer an extra nuance to the game’s substantial inherent difficulty when you find a competent team of people who want to work together, but someone with an itchy trigger finger who wasn’t the greatest team player would often ruin the mission for us. We could’ve booted them, but then we’d be back to being down a person in a game that doesn’t lend itself well to fewer than four players.

If you can get that right mix of players together, though, Helldivers provides a memorable twin-stick-shooter experience. Whether it’s the unusually fleshed-out universe for this type of game—including Super-Earth’s propaganda being pumped across the news feed in your home base and a full encyclopedia’s worth of baddie rundowns—or the responsive controls, Helldivers shows the potential of how great this ancient gaming genre can still be, even on modern consoles.

There’s also a strong strategic element that you don’t always see in shooters like this. Figuring out where to drop in pre-mission and which objectives to tackle first were often just as important as working well as a team. Sure, there were moments when one player would have to act as a decoy to expose the weak point on the rear of a tank enemy, and without that teamwork, the day would’ve been lost. But dropping in away from known enemy encampments, using the terrain to protect one side when defending a point, or just bringing the right gun to the fight were as critical as working well with other players.

And while Helldivers may be classified as a twin-stick shooter, there’s also more to the gameplay than just pointing and shooting at one of the three alien races. The game incorporates several RPG elements into the experience to help your individual character still feel unique enough among the thousands of other faceless soldiers.

Each Helldiver is mildly customizable, with a handful of different armor pieces given to you at the start, and more can be unlocked as you level up. The armor is purely cosmetic, though, and actually, so is the process of leveling up. The game doesn’t offer any stat boosts—not even for HP. All you can get is a new gun, cosmetic armor piece, or access to a harder set of worlds.

The real rewards for playing the game actually come from conquering planets, which allow you to earn new Stratagemsthe equivalent of special powers. Each Helldiver can carry four into battle, and these could be as simple as calling in an ammo drop or as game-changing as having a vehicle, turret, or mech-battle armor delivered in order to help turn the tide of a battle or beat a hasty retreat. The Stratagems add some real diversity to the gameplay, and being able to utilize them at opportune times often means the difference between defeat and victory.

And since the balance relies so much on four-player co-op, that means the best Stratagems are unlocked mostly behind the game’s hardest worlds. These are easily the most interesting part of customizing your character, but tying them to planets instead of levels makes the RPG elements feel somewhat worthless.

I found issue with how much of Helldivers’ accessibility and difficulty is balanced for the four-player co-op experiencewhen, realistically, it’s not the easiest thing for everyone to pull off. If you’re fortunate enough to have that tight-knit co-op crew you can always go to, Helldivers is one of the better top-down, twin-stick shooters I’ve seen in a while.

Developer: Arrowhead Game Studios • Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 03.03.15
7.0
Helldivers’ metagame campaign and variety of gameplay are more than enough to keep you entertained, but only players with a tight-knit group of co-op buddies will be able to get the most from the experience.
The Good The metagame aspect makes you feel more like an actual soldier in an army, working toward a greater goal.
The Bad Tacked-on RPG elements; lack of AI bot options.
The Ugly Getting ambushed by alien bugsbut you’re too distracted by twirling your cape around to fight back.
Helldivers is available on PS4, PS3, and PS Vita. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Sony for the benefit of this review.

I can see for miles and miles and miles…

While plenty of news came out of GDC this year, the topic on everyone’s mind was virtual reality. With both Oculus and Sony making VR-headset announcements within a 12-hour span, the race is on to see which one can first transport players to another world. Luckily, I was able to wrap both peripherals around my head this week, and I’m ready to decide who has the early lead.

 

Round 1Demos

The Oculus DevKit 2 showed off the Epic-developed “Couch Knights.” To start out, you plant your butt in a chair in both real life and the virtual world (such a stretch of my imagination). You then control a medieval-garbed, toddler-sized avatar and hop around a virtual living room, trying to kill a similar-looking puppet controlled by a second player.

Sony gave us a pair of demos. The first was Sony London’s “The Deep,” an underwater-diving simulator with minimal controls that goes horribly wrong when a great white shark mistakes your cage for dinner. The second, “The Castle,” sees players use the PS Move to wield medieval swords and a crossbow against some targets and practice dummies…and then eventually being swallowed whole by a dragon.

 

WinnerMorpheus

While I’ve seen some really impressive demos from Oculus in the past, I was a little shocked that they didn’t bring out some bigger guns to show off the new specs for DevKit 2. Sony, meanwhile, tried their best with their demos to highlight everything we’d need to know about their headset and give us a range of experiences.

Round 2Controls

As with most of their demos in the past, Oculus continued to use a wired Xbox 360 controller with the DevKit 2. Sony, on the other hand, used a PS4 controller for “The Deep” and a PS Move for “The Castle.”

 

WinnerOculus

“The Deep” and “The Castle” had significant syncing issues with their respective controllers that resulted in some haphazard playtime, which Sony blamed on Bluetooth interference around the Moscone Center. When the controls worked, it felt great. When they didn’t—about half the time—it left me frustrated and eager to take the headset off as quickly as possible. My least-favorite instance? The crossbow arrows in “The Castle” would sail off into the sky at cartoonishly ridiculous angles, even when I was aiming straight down the sights. It seems that Sony has too many moving parts right now with all those light sensors, so until they work out the bugs, Oculus wins by default with the old reliable wired controller, which worked perfectly.

Round 3Graphics/Image Quality

Both DevKit 2 and Morpheus display in 1080p and have a 90-to-100-degree vision range (depending on whether you wear glasses or not). High framerate and low latency are critical in getting the best picture across, and Sony and Oculus’ numbers mirror each other there as well.

 

WinnerMorpheus

On paper, the headsets should be producing similar visuals. Due to Sony’s years of experience with displays, however, everything on Morpheus was just a little clearer and crisper—and it was noticeable enough to edge out the DevKit 2.

Round 4Atmosphere/Immersions

This is a big one. Sony Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida spent several minutes preaching about the importance of immersion during Tuesday’s Project Morpheus reveal, and it’s been one of Oculus’ defining pillars from the start.

 

WinnerBoth

A bit of a cop-out, I know. Each had issues that put them on the same level to me, even if they were different problems. Oculus’ older demos, and its new one, “Couch Knights,” never made me feel like I was in a different world. I always felt like I was just playing another game. DevKit 2 produced an extremely realistic illusion, however, and the headset fully pick up all my motions thanks to its new camera and sensors as I turned my head to peek behind a couch or end table.

Sony made me forget about being in a game—but only for a little while. Holding the PS4 controller with both hands helped “The Deep” pick up my full range of body motions. Due to the nature of the experience, however, I was holding the controller with two hands and moving around, but the game would only move one hand, instantly bringing me back to the real world.

“The Castle”, meanwhile, ran into problems with space. The demo made it so I had to step backward or forward a lot for the sensors to pick me up (before they completely lost sync). I stepped too far back once, though, and ran right into a wall (nothing like bruising your back to break the immersion). So, one demo started immersive but then lost it due to its controls and limitations, and the other never really tried. It’s a tie right now for negative reasons, but I’m fairly confident than with more time, both can nail this element properly.

Round 5Comfort

Oculus has added a plastic layer over its main components to protect your hands from the sensors, and it only has one cable before it splits into HDMI and USB plugs. The same cloth and adjustable straps from previous models remain when adjusting it to your head. Project Morpheus features a rubber seal that cushions the headset against your orbital bones, and it also has an adjustable front piece and straps as you place it over your head.

 

WinnerOculus

While I liked the way Sony’s rubber cushion felt against my face, and the adjustable visor was great for getting my sight lines right where I needed them to be, it also feels much heavier than the Oculus and has so many cables coming from it that you’ll be hard pressed not to trip over the rat’s nest sprouting from your head. The DevKit 2 is lighter and easier to put on as long as you remember to put your eyes in the lenses first and then pull the straps over year head, like a pair of swimming goggles. And you won’t be worried about tripping over a bunch of wires, either.

Round 6Side Effects

Reports of nausea after using the DevKit 1 were somewhat common among first-time users, but with the lack of motion blur in DevKit 2 thanks to HD graphics, higher resolution, and lower latency, Oculus hopes to lessen or even eliminate this effect. Sony had warnings plastered all over their demo booth explaining that their headset could induce similar nausea-like symptoms to those seen in DevKit 1.

 

WinnerBoth

This was a much easier tie to call, since neither headset left me with any feelings of nausea, dizziness, or anything else we’d been warned about. I was one of the people first affected by DevKit 1, and after my longest VR session yet with DevKit 2, I can report both no motion blur and no feelings of sickness. Sony’s headset also left me feeling completely fine.

Overall WinnerTie

I know. In a world where we’re constantly looking for definitives, a tie is a hard pill to swallow. The fact of the matter is, though, that after trying both headsets, I see them being in a virtual dead heat. If Shuhei Yoshida is to be believed, Sony’s been working on something like this just as long as Oculus, but they’ve just waited longer to show it, so it makes some sense that the two are so close in many ways. You could argue that Oculus is ahead, because even after they’ve poached talent from studios like id and Valve, they still don’t have nearly as many resources as Sony. On the other hand, Sony hasn’t had the community feedback like Oculus to help with their iterations.

If what I’ve found at GDC 2014 holds true and continues throughout the development of these devices, the decision will have to come down to much simpler things: retail price, accessibility, uses besides games, and whether you’re a PC person or a PS4 one. So, as much as I hate to say it, we still need to take a “wait and see” approach to this VR thing.

China has temporarily lifted their ban on foreign consoles, the BBC reports. Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft will now be able to build their consoles in a designated free trade zone in Shanghai, where Chinese government officials will then inspect the consoles before they are allowed to finally go on sale.

Back in September 2013, the Chinese government announced its intentions to lift the ban, but no one knows how long its current suspension will last. Many speculate that the announcement and subsequent lift are the byproduct of an economic slowdown in China after years of rapid growth.

Another theory is that this policy change—possibly serving not only as the next step in China’s globalization, falling in line with other, wider economic reforms and liberalization in recent years—could be a response to the illegal gaming trade.

The ban was first instituted in 2000, with Chinese officials growing concerned about the effects of games on young people. Since then, Chinese gamers have had to acquire consoles via black market exchanges, which remains active and thriving despite governmental attempts to hinder it. Even with a gaming black market, most people in China have simply turned to PC gaming, which reportedly comprises two-thirds of the estimated $13 billion dollar market that China represents.

No matter the reason behind it, the question now is how Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft will take advantage of this lift respectively, and what it means if and when China decides to re-institute it.

“We recognize that China is a promising market,” Sony told the BBC after the news broke. “We will continuously study the possibility, but there is no concrete plan at this stage.”

Carving out a decent slice of a $13 billion dollar market could easily offset any initial losses caused by setting up shop there. But if the ban were to come back down quickly, this potential new branch could prove to be a costly error, something The Big Three are surely considering.

Should one, or all of the big companies decide to make a play here, though, Sony and Nintendo’s proximity to China provides an obvious advantage. Others believe that Microsoft, based on its history outsourcing hardware, could be in the best position. In theory, they could quickly team up with a third-party electronics contractor to set up shop in Shanghai and start producing the consoles. Either way, this could mark a significant day in the gaming industry’s economic history if China decides to keep its shores open.

Road Ready

As the series celebrates its 15th anniversary, Gran Turismo has had plenty of experience with both sequels and success. With just over 70 million combined copies sold (primary and secondary releases), it’s the single most lucrative exclusive brand under the PlayStation banner. But now, with all its success, it feels like Polyphony Digital is scared to change too much about a series that’s become such a massive institution—and it shows. Gran Turismo 6 feels more like a polished copy of Gran Turismo 5 than a true sequel.

This isn’t to say that GT6 is a bad game. It still wields the pedigree of one of the most applauded racing sims ever made, and in regards to the actual racing, it handles itself very well. Consistently smooth controls remain a highlight, now carried across the most cars ever in the series (1,200, over 100 more than in GT5), and 37 tracks that can be configured into 100 different layouts, including new ones like Silverstone and Willow Springs Raceway. The physics are also more realistic than before, since the game’s engine has been overhauled with an even greater focus on your car’s tires and suspension in mind. Of course, you can always take any one of your cars to the garage and tweak them yourself if you’re afraid of little extra tire burn when drifting or you want to loosen your shocks to really feel that “oomph” when you bump another car.

The career mode is also still a delight to work through as you move up through six different classes, each with their own set of special challenges unlocked in the middle and end of their respective gauntlets to keep things fresh. At the completion of each class, you’re also awarded a special car not normally attainable—such as a GT-themed go-kart—that you can then place in Photo mode (along with any other cars in your garage) and take pictures in digital re-creations of scenic locales.

But while these aspects that serve as cornerstones for a good racing sim remain, the flaws of the past linger in the experience as well—most markedly the awful visuals. Some minor improvements have been made, such as the convoluted user interface of past games being overhauled. Once you get into a race, however, the photorealistic backgrounds in the distance may look nice, but everything on or around the immediate track area looks like something from the start of the PS3 generation—not the end of it. You’d think that, by now, with the access and knowledge they have, Polyphony would produce better results than this. Maybe we can take a little solace in the fact they’ve already started work on GT7, so hopefully they’ll figure out the PS4 before this new generation is over.

And the screen tearing! Dear god the screen tearing! My head started to hurt after about an hour, due to the out-of-sync refresh and framerate drops, especially when hitting higher speeds or in stormy weather. Flaws like this feel amplified in a racing game because of the split-second decisions players have to make. I had to call in a couple of the other EGM editors to confirm that this was what I was seeing, since these problems–prevalent in GT5—still clearly plague the series three years later. What’s more, the real-time damage effects remain barely noticeable. I can’t believe a series that takes such pride in its attention to detail would allow these blemishes to remain in two straight games.

Gran Turismo 6 does offer a few new elements, though not many. Load times are much faster than what we saw in GT5, and the difference between Standard and Premium cars is a thing of the past, both welcome changes. The limitations on performance tuning or race mods have also been removed, with all 1,200 cars brought up to PS3 specs, unlike GT5’s PS2 imports comprising half of the car lineup.

Unfortunately, Polyphony also felt it necessary to include an obnoxious tutorial mode that forces players to take part in a race that teaches the controls. It can’t be skipped, and at the end, you’re forced to buy a crappy Honda Fit to play the first few races of your career. I’m an ill-tempered Italian from New Jersey. The only thing a Honda Fit is good for is burning it like the piece of garbage that it is.

I understand the need to cater to possible new players, but it’s highly unlikely GT6 will be the first racing game someone’s ever played—and, even if it is, I think gamers will be smart enough to figure out that X means “GO” and Square means “STOP.” By their very nature, racing games are supposed to be relatively easy to figure out but difficult to master, and a tutorial mode feels like the devs are blatantly talking down to us.

The bottom line is that Gran Turismo 6 feels like nothing more than a stopgap release to keep fans appeased until Polyphony’s new-gen offering is ready. Problems that persisted in GT5 remain, and the most noticeable difference—the mandatory tutorial mode—is an insult to anyone who’s ever played a racing title. Still, there is a solid racing game at GT6’s core, as the game does offer an unprecedented amount of cars compared to other racing sims, and the team keeps finding ways to make the physics better and better.

Developer: Polyphony Digital • Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 12.06.13
7.5

GT6 feels like a rushed effort, and many problems from GT5 remain unresolved. But the classic GT base remains intact, since the actual act of simulation driving remains very tight—and it’s coupled with a tremendous amount of choice when you consider the 1,200 cars that come on the disc.

The Good Solid career mode; plenty of cars and tracks to choose from; great controls.
The Bad Lackluster presentation; screen tearing; framerate drops.
The Ugly Most buildings in the foreground.
Gran Turismo 6 is a PS3 exclusive.