Tag Archive: sony


When Knack II was announced at PSX 2016, I admit that I was probably one of the loudest groans in the auditorium. Knack had left a bad taste in many people’s mouths, coming across more as a tech demo for the newly-launched PS4 than an action game any of us wanted to play—and definitely didn’t feel worthy of a sequel. Yet here I am, ready to eat my words, because Knack II has made me a believer. It’s not without issues, but for the most part, it’s a fun romp for gamers of all ages.

Knack II takes place three years after the original game. It kicks off in medias res, with the capital city of New Haven being attacked by giant killer robots, and our plucky protagonist Knack needing to again save the day. Just before Knack takes on the biggest of all the robots, we flashback to six months prior to find out how we got to that point, facing off against foes old and new as we start an adventure that will take us across a variety of locales in Knack’s world.

It needs to be said that the self-contained plot here is an improvement over the first game’s story. It’s twists, turns, and bombastic moments—although somewhat predictable—elicited a Saturday morning cartoon vibe at times that I enjoyed. If there should ever be a third Knack game, this is a direction the series might want to lean into more, considering our colorful hero and his perceived target audience. Even with help from God of War writer Marianne Krawczyk, however, a lot of the characters in Knack’s universe still feel very one note, especially the titular hero.

In the first Knack, the goblin boss, Gundahar, called Knack a tool—and in many ways, that single line of dialogue was telling of many of the problems Knack still has now as a hero. Previously, Knack was always being bossed around by Dr. Vargas (his creator), and although the good doctor has thankfully taken more of a backseat this go around, his assistant, Lucas, has taken up the role of barking orders, telling our hero exactly what to do and when to do it. This depicts a feeling of subservience that isn’t fun to play. I understand that Knack isn’t exactly Kratos when it comes to backstory, but him having a bit more say in the adventure—and feeling like he’s on the same level as the characters around him (it is his game after all)—would go a long way to making our protagonist a more likeable hero that people would want to play as.

Of course, I also understand that Knack II is first and foremost an action-platformer and is primarily gameplay driven. In that regard, Knack II is light years ahead of its predecessor, and would stand on its own as an impressive action game even without the first Knack to compare it to. One of the biggest—and most important—changes comes in the form of Knack’s original gimmick: the ability to change his size.

In the first game, Knack would constantly be forced down into “small Knack” size, typically around the size of a child with a diminutive health bar to match. Almost every level started with Knack at this size, and it was often frustrating to go through all the work of building him up only to be broken down again at every story beat. In Knack II, Knack usually starts around “normal Knack” size, somewhere in the five to six foot range, and many new gameplay mechanics branch out from this single decision. As a side note, we can tell exactly how big he is with the new size counter next to Knack’s health bar, which initially seems like a minor addition but really adds a nice sense of scope to things.

This starting size allows Knack to control like most action game heroes. Knack now has elaborate punching and kicking combos that weren’t present in the first game; he can parry projectile attacks, or just block in general; he has new moves like block-breaking strong punches, stunning boomerang attacks, a gap-closing hookshot, and even a “secret technique” that looks a whole lot like a short-range hadouken. We’ll forgive Knack for borrowing some of these moves from other franchises, because it adds so much in terms of both how you attack enemies and the variety of said enemies the game can throw at you. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery after all.

There is still a use for “small Knack,” though, and with a tap of the R1 button, Knack can shrink almost instantaneously. There are many obstacles and hidden paths in Knack’s world that only a smaller-sized Knack can navigate. With another tap of R1, Knack can use the magical abilities that allow him to control relics (the particles that make up his body) to call those pieces back, so he can return to whatever size he was before. Even when Knack grows to his giant sizes—he maxes out at 32 feet tall—he can still instantly shrink to just under three feet when he needs to. This was a critical gameplay component the original Knack lacked, and it offers chances to explore an otherwise linear world while still showing off the game’s powerful particle effects.

Even with all this, there’s still a lot more gameplay variety to Knack II. There’s a new experience meter, which you can spend your accumulated experience on four different branches of a RPG-inspired skill tree where Knack can upgrade his speed, power, and other stats. There are tank-driving levels, plane-piloting segments, platforming puzzles, puzzles based on Knack’s weight, and quicktime events. All of those except for the last one were a ton of fun. The QTEs were used too heavily, especially when Knack would learn new moves and they would weirdly happen before tutorials. They were also too frequently used as level transitions, but understandably tried to give a more cinematic flair to some of the action that Knack wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.

And if you’re looking for replayability, Knack II has it in spades. Sure, there are 100 new secret chests to find, much like the first game, but there are also 143 different secondary challenges across the campaign—like beating a level in a certain amount of time or smashing all of a particular kind of crate to earn bonus points (those bonus points are great for trying to get the best online high score for each level). There is also a time trial mode with online leaderboards for speed runs, and an arena mode where you can fight wave after wave of enemies. Knack II even added drop-in, drop-out co-op where a second player can take control of a blue-tinted clone of Knack, and the difficulty scales appropriately when there are two players versus only one.

It may seem like I just rattled off a bunch of stuff there—and I sort of did—but the point is that in the four years between Knack and Knack II, Sony’s Japan Studio obviously took a lot of time to look at what people wanted from an action game, and what many of their contemporaries were doing, and tried to accommodate that. I believe they not only succeeded, but also far exceeded expectations, not only putting their own entertaining twist on familiar things, but actually turning Knack into a viable action franchise that could be fun for the whole family.

Knack II doesn’t re-invent the wheel, but it is a very solid, very sturdy wheel if you’re looking for an action fix—while with its predecessor, many of us were tempted to throw out the entire cart. Whereas the first Knack often had me asking myself “when will it ever end,” Knack II held my attention throughout, and I was happy to play it all the way through. The story and universe of Knack could still use some work (and some much-needed fleshing out), but the gameplay has come so far from its predecessor that I won’t be groaning the next time I hear that Knack is back.

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment • Developer: SIE Japan Studio • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 09.05.17
8.0
Knack II fixes many of the problems of its predecessor, delivering a fun action-platformer worthy of giving this series a second chance. The story is still a bit bare-boned, but the gameplay alone will be enough to keep you going until you see the end credits.
The Good A large variety of gameplay and Knack’s expanded moveset allows you to tackle bad guys in a plethora of ways.
The Bad Too many QTEs; all of the characters in terms of their personalities, especially Knack, still feel very one-dimensional.
The Ugly I feel like there’s been some retconning between Knack games that none of us were made aware of.
Knack II is a PS4 exclusive. A retail 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.
Advertisements

Developer Housemarque has cultivated some of the best action-packed arcade-inspired experiences of this console generation. Fans of old-school bullet hells and chasing high scores have been exposed to treat after treat in this genre by the team, so when I found out at E3 that they were making a side-scrolling platform shooter called Matterfall, I was on board before I even tried it out. And—after actually dashing, jumping, and blasting my way through the game at this point—I can say that this is another solid experience dying for you to try reaching the top of its leaderboards.

In Matterfall, players assume control of Avalon Darrow, a soldier-for-hire type that is dropped into the worst situations mankind can cook up and asked to fix them for the right price. In this case, Avalon finds herself on a human colony on the outer reaches of space, where a sprawling megalopolis has cropped up around the red matter mines. Red matter is a highly volatile substance that has become a source of energy in this space sector, not to mention a key driving factor of the area’s economy. Once red matter starts being used to power war machines to protect the colony, however, things take a drastic turn. The machines powered by the substance begin to gain a semblance of sentience, and soon start trying to eradicate all of the humans living there. So, while the colony is in the midst of the largest evacuation in history, Avalon is running into the fray with her trusty hand cannon, looking for the source of the epic disaster so that she can put an end to it.

Like many of Housemarque’s games, Matterfall is simple enough on the surface: Run and gun with Avalon through the game’s 12 different stages, with an end boss waiting in every fourth stage. One of the negatives of Matterfall is 12 stages is definitely not a lot, and you can probably get through the entire experience on normal difficulty in less than five hours. How you get through those 12 stages will be entirely up to you, though, as Avalon will unlock a variety of weapons that change how you may approach a situation. Of course, your score will also be important, so along the way you’ll constantly be trying to keep your multiplier at max, gain bonuses based on how fast you complete a stage and whether you died or not, and find the three or four humans who have been trapped in every non-boss stage.

In that regard, Matterfall offers up a ton of replayability if you’re as fanatical about high scores as I am. With none of the stages really needing more than 20 minutes to complete, you can quickly jump in, customize your loadout beforehand, and really try to plot out the best run possible in order to maximize your score. Upping the difficulty also increases multiplyer potential, meaning mastering harder difficulties will be crucial to maintaining a top spot on the leaderboards. Everything might start to feel a bit repetitive due to the overall lack of stages and enemy types, but finding the best path is usually enough of a distraction to both keep you on your toes and take your mind off that 50th wave of missiles that have appeared overhead, raining down in an attempt to destroy your multiplyer.

Where Matterfall really tries to differentiate itself is in its gameplay. The controls are locked in to try to optimize moving and shooting at the same time; thus, shooting is done with the right stick, and jumping and dashing are done with the shoulder buttons. Admittedly, it took a little while to get used to not having to press “X” to jump on a PlayStation controller, but the risk paid off. The second stick allows you to keep firing Avalon’s hand cannon with pinpoint accuracy as you use the left stick and triggers to move through enemy-infested hallways, duck behind cover, dash over enemies, or even float around in the game’s unique zero-gravity sections. In those areas, you’ll drift around in a full 360-degree radius, giving the game brief moments of feeling like some of the space shooters Housemarque has done in the past while still serving that fast and frantic arcade feel that is critical in games like this.

Matterfall’s dashing mechanic is also vital to completing the game. Not only does it let you pass through certain walls, but you’ll also let off a shockwave upon completion that can stun nearby enemies with blue matter (in this world, blue matter beats red matter). Destroying stunned enemies leads to score bonuses, while the shockwave can negate bullets that are heading for Avalon—a lifesaver in the midst of firefights that you simply can’t shoot your way out of. Matterfall offers up a bevy of gameplay styles that appeal to both risk/reward players or those who play more cautiously that want to destroy every single enemy on screen (like yours truly) before moving on.

There’s also a cornucopia of secondary weapons and abilities for you to choose from in Matterfall. While you can unlock four secondary weapons and eight passive powers, you can only choose three from the entire list to be active at any given time. Grenade launchers and homing missiles can be great when dealing with singular foes with a lot of health, but a bigger health bar, faster weapon recharge rates, and more passive abilities could mean the difference between life and death in the long run.

Between the weapon choices and the dashing mechanic, Avalon gives off the sense of a homogenized Samus Aran (the hand cannon-wielding bounty hunter) crossed with Beck from Mighty No. 9 (the hero with a dash maneuver critical to defeating enemies big and small). It’s an interesting take on the genre, but it works. I only wish that we could get to know Avalon a lot more than what we get in the game’s opening and ending cutscenes (the only ones in the entire game), but we know that’s not necessarily Housemarque’s forte.

Matterfall’s action and gameplay is a throwback in many senses. It’s focus on speed and scoring will have you coming back to it again and again as you try to climb higher on the global leaderboards, yet I wish that the levels offered more variety (as well as there being more of them period). If you’re looking to see if your twitch reflexes are still up to snuff, or simply need a quick experience that doesn’t require a major time commitment, Matterfall is more than deserving of a look.

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment • Developer: Housemarque • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 08.15.17
8.0
Although a bit short and repetitive at times, the fast and frantic action of Matterfall is a delight if you prefer your gameplay more arcade-y and your goals to be focused on high scores and conquering leaderboards rather than saving the world.
The Good Fast-paced, side-scrolling shooter action that will test your reflexes and force you to break from gaming conventions (or die).
The Bad Not a lot of content, and levels outside of boss battles can feel repetitive.
The Ugly I’m sure there’s a message about natural resource wastefulness in here somewhere.
Matterfall is a PS4 exclusive. Review code was provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

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.

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.

CrapField1160

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.

StinkEyeSlide1160

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.

RTTS1160

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.

DiamondDynasty1160

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.

Retro1160

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.

RIGS_prematch1160

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.

RIGS_powerslamgoal1160

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.

RIGS_BeamCannon1160

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.

BoundBack1160

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.

RidetheRibbon1160

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.

BoundLeap1160

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.

MLB16ReviewHeader

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.

Hosmer

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.

YankeeStadium640

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.

Orioles640

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.

Ortiz640

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.

Tanaka640

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.