Tag Archive: sports


Madden NFL 18 New MUT Squads

I had a chance to check out the new MUT Squads mode in Madden NFL 18, which adds 3-versus-3 gameplay and co-op gameplay back to the franchise for the first time in years. Madden NFL 18 is out now.

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I had a chance to play “The Rise”, the new prologue in EA Sports’ The One mode in NBA Live 18. NBA Live 18 will drop on September 15th for Xbox One and PS4.

I had a chance to play some of NHL 18‘s new Threes mode early and dominated the competition. Check out the new arcade-like mode below. NHL 18 will be available from EA Canada and EA Sports on September 15th.

When I first started playing Madden NFL 18, I was pleasantly surprised. For the first time in several years, the legendary coach, commentator, and namesake for the franchise, John Madden, lent his voice back to the game. It was only the opening title screen animation, but he briefly waxes poetic—as much as anything John Madden says could be considered poetry—about the greatness of cover athlete Tom Brady, just like he was back in the broadcast booth.

Hearing his voice again brought back a lot of good memories for me, because when Madden was at his best, there were few better at conveying football to the masses. It also brought back some rough ones too, however, because when Madden was at his worst, he was a bit of a laughing stock that distracted from the games he broadcast. It’s somewhat apropos then that his voice is there at the start of this year’s Madden entry, because in many ways, this is a perfect symbol for Madden NFL 18. Some things about the game are very good; some just had me shaking my head.

Easily one of the brightest spots of the game was also the most surprising. Partially made possible by the Madden team switching to the Frostbite engine, and partially because FIFA’s “The Journey” mode was so well received and helped pave a path, Madden added its own story-driven mode this year called Longshot—and it’s one of the freshest and most enjoyable things the Madden series has ever done.

Longshot could best be described as one part Madden, one part Friday Night Lights, and maybe two parts Telltale storytelling. You play as Devin Wade, a one time blue-chip QB prospect who hung up his cleats shortly after beginning his college career and took a couple of years to find himself after personal tragedy left him shaken as a young man. Working through the regional combine and taking advantage of a unique opportunity that comes his way, Wade is the very definition of a longshot, with one last chance to make it in the NFL. Alongside his best buddy and number one wide receiver, Colt Cruise, Wade’s determination will be tested just as much as his athletic ability.

The story that Longshot tells could be placed alongside all the best football stories we’ve seen, from Rudy to Remember the Titans to the aforementioned Friday Night Lights. Not only do you see his story unfold, but often times you’ll be asked to step in and choose Devin’s words or actions in various situations that will guide him down dozens of different branching paths (a la a Telltale game). Depending on those choices—and how you perform on the football field—Devin could be drafted, Colt could be drafted, neither could be drafted, or both could be drafted.

Besides dialogue choices, Devin will also suit up. You’ll get to relive some of Devin’s glory days in high school, as well as be put to the test in combines and game scrimmages. Your performance here has a direct effect on what makes Longshot truly unique, and that’s Devin’s draft grade page. Every major event you partake in can affect Devin’s grade, football IQ, how his personality is perceived, and more. Even bigger, every NFL team is watching, and you can instantly see how every one of these events affects the score directly.

Longshot could truly change what draws people to Madden, and might even appeal to those not typically interested in a football sim. There are a couple of drawbacks to what should otherwise be a highly-celebrated new mode, though. It’s not bad that Longshot should only take you three to five hours to beat, and it’s damn impressive that there are no load times whatsoever once you jump in—you can play the entire thing straight through if you so choose. I just personally wished there was a better balance between those critical gameplay moments that affect your score, and the sometimes long cutscenes that take place in-between to drive the story forward. Also, it was jarring how the biggest moments of Devin’s on-field life at times get boiled down to quicktime events. It heightened the drama, but definitely not the gameplay.

Also, even if you should get your grade to be extremely high (I ended up with a 9.7/10 score), you won’t be drafted where you should be as a player of that caliber. I think a couple more endings would’ve been warranted, because even with all the drama surrounding Devin, if you score that highly, one NFL team would take a flyer on you early. Considering how often teams take risks—like the Bucs wasting a second-round draft pick on a kicker, or the Broncos when they took Tim Tebow of all people with a first-round pick—somebody should snatch up Devin if you end up turning him into a true superstar. Otherwise, I absolutely loved this mode, and hope to have more adventures with Devin next year.

As good as Longshot is, there are some misses on other fronts this year in Madden. The past several years saw major gameplay overhauls, focusing on offensive/defensive line play, the running game, and the passing game. Now that such major components of football have been looked at, EA Tiburon seemingly wanted to use this year to start focusing a bit more after such broad endeavors.

The first (and worst) of these new mechanics is something called Target Passing. It has to be said that Target Passing is completely optional, but after trying to use it several dozen times, I chose to never use it again, and hope it goes the way of QB Vision a decade ago—as in it never comes back. Target Passing borrows a little bit from some of the drills in Longshot, where you can bring up a targeting reticule on the field and move it into position. By pressing the corresponding button while holding the trigger, you can throw the ball not where the computer wants to throw it, but to where the reticule specifically is, and the receiver will break their route to best try to catch the ball.

The idea was to offer the kind of precision we see on any given Sunday in an NFL game—for example, aiming for a receiver’s outside shoulder to guard against a corner, or to aim for the corner of an endzone that only your tight end can get to. What it ends up doing is adding an overly complex layer to Madden’s passing game, and throws even more information at you to process in the brief amount of time you have to get rid of the ball. I’m sure there are some pro-Madden players out there who will jump for joy over this mechanic, and I admit the idea was a sound one, making perfect sense on paper. But QB Vision was also a sound idea that was poorly implemented, and I believe that’s the case here again. Target Passing’s not fun to use, and will take far longer to figure out than it is worth for most players.

Of course, no matter how you end up throwing the ball, you always need someone to throw to, and so wide receiver versus cornerback play has also fallen into EA Tiburon’s crosshairs this year. Here, however, I found the new controls to definitely add something to the experience. Now, it’s easier than ever to jam wide receivers if you play with corners by using the right joystick and simply pressing against the receiver, trying to guess correctly which way they’ll try to run. Conversely, receivers can also use the sticks and shoulder buttons to roll around from potential jamming, and can more easily break their routes off or make sharp cuts to get to the inside or outside of the numbers depending on what the situation may call for, adding a welcome layer of realism to one of the most important battles on a football field.

This new gameplay in particular comes in handy within a new wrinkle in one of Madden’s most popular modes, Madden Ultimate Team. Yes, the card collectible game that allows you to buy packs of players and create your own fantasy team is unsurprisingly back, but with it comes a lot of changes. For example, there are now special fantasy packs that allow you to see an entire selection of amazing players, and then choose the best one of that group (while forcing you to discard the rest of the pack). There is also the brand new MUT Squads, bringing big time online co-op to Madden.

MUT Squads allows for 3-on-3 online matchups to take place, with one player serving as the offensive coordinator and providing the offense, one player doing the same for the defense, and another acting as head coach, who basically controls the timeouts (a role potentially great for less-experienced Madden players). MUT Squads is a bit of a double-edged sword for Madden, however. It is great that Madden can support larger groups online, and that buddies who have always wanted to play together now can. One player can be the QB throwing to a receiver who, using the new controls to get away from receivers, is fighting to get open for his team.

The downside to MUT Squads is that it’s very hard to get on the same page in Madden. Much like real life football, it will require a lot of time to get in sync with someone, especially when most folks at this point are used to playing Madden alone, where the entire team works together as an extension of the player. Another disappointment is that the 3-on-3 co-op is only in MUT Squads, when I know there are many out there who would probably rather just play as their favorite team with their buddies without having to rely on the randomness of MUT to provide them with good players in order to be competitive.

And that’s the real rub of MUT and a lot of Madden NFL 18 in general: It feels like all of the game outside of Franchise is just trying to funnel players into MUT, where you either need to grind for the best players, or be forced to spend real world money on microtransactions. (Even Longshot will “reward” you with MUT items if you beat it.) The microtransactions are all optional, of course, but the more times you put temptation in front of someone, the more likely they are to bite.

Even Draft Champions—an inclusion we first got back in Madden NFL 16 that has been a tremendous addition to the series—is now locked behind a level wall in MUT, and you need MUT tickets to play against people online.

Admittedly, you only need to put around 20 to 30 minutes of time into MUT challenges to unlock access to MUT Draft (the new name for Draft Champions), but the fact that one of the most popular aspects of Madden has been absorbed under MUT and put behind a wall of any kind is frustrating. The worst of this is that the balance of the randomness from previous years feels lost, because not only are the players you can choose from in each round of MUT Draft random, but so are their overalls, since MUT can feature the same player with different stats each time. Frustratingly, it feels like EA Tiburon ruined Draft Champions by turning it into another way to try to keep you around longer in a mode that tempts you into spending more real money.

And of all the things that aren’t linked to MUT—Franchise mode—there’s a part of it which could be. In that mode, you can train with your team before each game as part of a scouting report against that week’s opponent. Meanwhile, there’s also the Skills Trainer option on the main menu, which is where all the scouting report drills are pulled from. Completing tasks in Skills Trailer rewards free MUT packs; completing those tasks in Franchise does nothing for MUT. Why those two things aren’t linked makes no sense, aside from the fact that Madden loves making you grind. It’s the digital equivalent of two-a-days.

While speaking of Franchise, there have at least been some minor improvements to it outside of the drills. The user interface was cleaned up some, particularly when it comes to scouting and drafting college players. As well, animations are better than ever now that they’re powered by Frostbite. Using the hit stick and making open-field tackles has never looked cleaner, and you can almost feel the impact in your favorite gaming chair. There’s still the occasional rag doll glitch, but the visuals at least seem to be the most polished Madden has had in a long time. That said, some member of the team must’ve had a brain fart, because they messed up the New York Giants’ and Los Angeles Chargers’ schedules, giving the Giants nine road games and only seven home games and the Chargers the inverse—in real life, the Chargers are going to Metlife, the Giants aren’t going to StubHub—and hopefully that is fixed immediately in an upcoming patch. These were the only two teams I saw with incorrect schedules, but the fact I even had to check this was irritating to say the least.

Unintentional errors bring me to my final point of Madden NFL 18: the online servers. I played several online games literally just a few hours before this review went live. Several thousand people were supposedly already online and finding a game wasn’t an issue. Neither, for the most part, was maintaining a connection. That said, there were a couple of random disconnects from the EA servers, which could be a sign of instability—and if that’s the case here in this limited pre-launch scenario, that worries me. Of course, the game doesn’t release worldwide for another week even though we were told the servers should be good to go, so there is always hope that this was simply a last second hiccup, rather than a portent for worse things to come. Considering how critical online play is to Madden, it’d be surprising to see any real long-term issues, but we’ll see when the servers ramp up to some real strain in the coming days.

This year, it seems Madden NFL 18 is all about taking the good with the bad. There is more good than bad for sure (highlighted by the new Longshot mode), but things like putting Draft Champions into MUT and the new Target Passing mechanics should make a lot of folks at least a little bit wary. We’re not quite back to the “annual roster update” days, but after the roll Madden has been on in recent years, if you’re looking to take a break, this might be the year to do so.

Publisher: EA Sports • Developer: EA Tiburon • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 08.25.17
7.0
Although the new Longshot mode shines, Madden misses the mark with a few of its gameplay additions this year—so if you don’t immediately take a liking to them and choose to ignore them, the experience will feel a lot like last year’s. Meanwhile, the additions to MUT feel unnecessary, and like a desperate attempt to get more people playing—and potentially investing in microtransactions.
The Good I think Longshot hits its mark for the most part in trying to add a compelling football narrative to Madden.
The Bad I believe new target-passing controls are going to go the way of QB vision; the ever-increasing focus on MUT.
The Ugly Tom Brady is admittedly the G.O.A.T. after last year, but let’s remember that along with those five Super Bowl wins, he has two GIANT losses. Let’s go G-Men.
Madden NFL 18 is available on Xbox One and PS4. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by EA Sports for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

The WWE 2K series has been trending in the wrong direction in recent years. Visual Concepts and Yuke’s have tried adding new features to the franchise to help enhance its simulation feel, but often there has been an overall lack of polish that has held them back, or just a general disinterest in how these ideas were being presented. So, the development team turned to their audience and asked for help. Thousands of posts came in with suggestions—some more helpful than others—on what future iterations of WWE 2K needed, and it appears, at least at this early point, 2K listened. I had an opportunity last week to go and visit 2K’s headquarters up in Novato, California, and sit in on a presentation from WWE 2K executive producer Mark Little on what he and his team were bringing to WWE 2K18 this year to put the series back on track.

One of the most important things Mark said right off the bat was that they are finally abandoning last-gen consoles. Working on the Xbox 360 and PS3 was holding the team back as they were concentrating on virtually two different games at the same time. Now, being able to focus on just Xbox One and PS4, the team really honed in on their presentation. Visually, their graphics engine has been completely re-written. Mark showed a short comparison video of Randy Orton’s entrance between this year and last year, and I can attest there is already a marked improvement. New lighting, and how it reacts with different materials, already gave everything a more realistic look compared to years past, trying to emulate the visual product seen over on the NBA 2K side of things. Unfortunately, the team working on WWE 2K wasn’t quite ready to show much more of the game yet beyond this, and definitely wasn’t ready to let us go hands-on. But there were other promises made that at least has me hopeful for when it does come time to step back into the squared circle.

Continuing with presentation, there is new commentary. I nearly did a backflip when Mark said that a suite of dialogue from Michael Cole, now alongside Byron Saxton and Corey Graves, was being recorded as we spoke. There were also efforts being made to try to get all the men in the same room together so that they don’t repeat last year’s effect of it sounding like JBL was off in the distance somewhere. Jojo was also confirmed to be the new ring announcer for WWE 2K18 and new crowd chants are also being added to the game.

In terms of customization, there are more base models in create-a-wrestler and better logo mapping. Create-a-video was also highlighted, as now when you want to cut your match highlight to use in your entrance video, you can use a free camera to change angles in the post-production process. Custom creations are getting improved search functionality online, and a new “create-a-match” feature is also being added where you can save stipulations on your favorite matches for easy access in local versus or Universe mode.

Gameplay was also talked about in a variety of ways. New 8-man (and woman) ladder and tag matches are being added, while the backstage areas from last year’s game are now three times larger, with more interactivity and different objects. You can now even do one-on-one backstage brawls against friends online. There’s also a new carry and drag system being implemented, so you’re not just always grabbing someone by the back of the neck when you want to steer them towards a big spot. If strong enough, you can carry someone in a variety of positions now, even holding them in a powerbomb position on top of your shoulders before walking them over to a turnbuckle for example.

In terms of game modes, a new mode called Road to Glory was announced, but no details on that were given. Returning options like Universe mode will see some tweaks, with stories now being able to carry across and past pay-per-views before concluding at a natural point, rather than just at the end of a big show. Plus, Career mode is also being revamped to offer a shorter, more serious story-driven experience.

Finally, there’s the roster. As was announced last week, Kurt Angle is the pre-order bonus for WWE 2K18 and he was the only one confirmed in the game outside of cover athlete Seth Rollins. The team is looking to continue its tradition of increasing the roster every year, however, and is aiming for more than 170 wrestlers this year—an increase of about 20 roster choices from last year’s release.

As tremendous as all this sounds, this is also a lot to add to a game year-over-year, and beyond a little bit of the new graphics engine, I must re-iterate that we weren’t able to see or play any of these things. However, the fact that Visual Concepts and Yuke’s are listening to the community, and acting on many of their suggestions, is a great sign that at the very least WWE 2K18 should make strides forward from last year’s game. Whether or not they can follow through and deliver on all these promises, we’ll have to wait for when WWE 2K18 drops on October 17 for Xbox One and PS4 to find out.

It’s not easy being an annual franchise in video games, and sometimes even sports franchises need to take some time off to reevaluate and regroup to deliver the kind of game players are looking for. So, when it came time to take a long hard look at the NBA Live franchise, EA Sports decided that it’d be better to spend a little extra time trying to retool and rebuild than keep throwing the same product out on the court every year that would only disappoint its fanbase. (You know, like the New York Knicks do.) From what we saw at EA Play this past weekend, I can confidently say that it at least appears the franchise is moving in the right direction.

One of the hardest things to get right in basketball games is defense, and the new systems that NBA Live 18 is incorporating as part of a completely revamped control scheme will finally make players just as excited to play the game when the ball isn’t in their hands, as when it is. With a simple trigger press and use of the right stick, you can easily follow and block the path of any offensive player who has squared up to the basket. Doing so will impede their path, break up their dribble potentially, and possibly force an errant pass or poor shot. It doesn’t always guarantee a turnover, but this simple roll of your thumb adds a sense of realism to the game that more accurately mimics how basketball is played in real life (unless you’re either of the teams in this year’s NBA Finals).

The more realistic defense also translates to the animation for NBA Live 18. Players like LeBron James tout new signature animations, like when they block balls against the backboard, or emphatically snatch loose balls from the air and cover them up before starting to force pressure back the other way.

All these new defensive features don’t just favor the defenders, though. Players who used to love spamming the steal button will be punished more frequently with reach-in foul calls if they’re not careful. If they can block a player’s path, however, like mentioned before, they can expose the dribble of an opponent more. This in turn increases the chances of successfully pulling off a steal, making players reach in only when it realistically makes sense for them to do so, and thus delivers a more realistic and authentic NBA experience.

Defense may not be the sexiest part of basketball. But when done well, the game is a more enjoyable experience and can ramp up the tension. Especially late in a close game when you never know what will happen next instead of the game devolving into a shootout. EA Sports delivering these new defensive mechanics to NBA Live 18 similarly may not seem like an integral part to the game, but is helping to provide a deeper, more entertaining and thrilling experience that NBA fans can be proud to play.

I appeared as a special guest on the Scott Seidenberg Show on July 8 to talk Overwatch League on NBC Sports Radio.

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.

Back before Wayne Gretzky exploded on the scene in 1979 to deke defenders into submission and spin-o-rama his way to a career highlighted by the most points in NHL history, hockey was brutal. Teams like Philadelphia’s Broad St. Bullies epitomized the rough and tumble style that fans came to love, and every team that had success in that era had at least a “goon” or two on the bench. It’s a mentality that has since all but left the NHL, but is still immortalized in old footage—and, now, a little arcade-style video game by the name of Old Time Hockey.

More than anything, Old Time Hockey is really a love-letter to the all-time classic comedy Slap Shot (which also focused on the brawling era of hockey). You control the Schuylkill Hinto Brews, one of ten teams in the Bush Hockey League. The Brews were primed for a great season—right up until the first regular season game when the Widowmakers went gunning for and subsequently injured the Brews’ three star forwards for the entire season. Wallowing in last place now, you take over the Brews just before Christmas when you get the news you have to make the playoffs. Otherwise, there’s a good chance the team will go under, alongside the nearby Hinto brewery from which they get their name.

The style of Old Time Hockey is as much a throwback as its premise. The game looks like it would fall more in line with the Wayne Gretzky arcade games on the N64 from 20 years ago than anything on the modern generation of consoles. The simple cel-shaded character models might be off-putting to some, but it served as a reminder to me of how things used to be, and worked well for a game that clearly wanted to go for a vintage look as much as possible. Simple blood effects splattering on the ice from every jaw-breaking fight and bone-crunching hip check only continues to emphasize the cartoony nature of the game.

The audio is great as well. I was almost tempted to just let the soundtrack play on repeat, with organ renditions of “The Addams Family Theme” and “Hava Nagila” really driving home the point of rundown local hockey arenas, along with Stompin’ Tom Collins’ “The Hockey Song” and The Donnybrooks’ “Old Time Hockey” setting the theme for when the puck finally drops. My only gripe came with the commentary, which becomes very repetitive very quickly, and lacks the charm or excitement a game like this would warrant from hockey fans.

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Unfortunately, while Old Time Hockey has style in spades, it truly lacks any real substance, caused by a bevy of questionable decisions and poor design. In a rarity for any sports game—arcade or simulation—the bulk of the game is centered on the story mode, which ends up being both the greatest boon and biggest detriment for Old Time Hockey. Continuing the love affair it has with Slap Shot, as you progress through the story mode, you’ll get little peeks at the character of your team—with newspaper clippings talking about beating up a mall Santa, drinking on the team bus, and trading a washing machine for a new enforcer—which flesh out the narrative of what you hope will still be a Cinderella season. This was a ton of fun to see, and even collectible trading cards talking about the personalities of the stars in the league can be earned to further flesh out these fictional skaters.

Once you actually get onto the ice, however, everything quickly falls apart. The controls are alarmingly stiff, and even with an early patch quickening the time that you get the puck off your stick, it’s still extremely slow by the standards of anyone who has played recent hockey games. There’s always the excuse that it was more accurate for hockey back in the day, but it’s a lot less fun when one-timers are nigh impossible, you lose possession because it takes so long to pass that an opponent knocks the puck away, or you whiff on a slap shot attempt because the follow-through takes forever. And, the lack of responsiveness with the controls permeates the defensive side of the puck as well. Hits can be extremely difficult to line up, and even with being able to hook and trip opponents with the ref sparingly blowing a whistle, it still feels like you can’t skate quickly enough to ever effectively corral that ever-elusive loose puck.

Part of this might stem from the simple animation most players have. Every player shares the same set of animations, and once you start picking up the patterns, it’s easy to spam certain maneuvers in order to try to at least give yourself an advantage. A perfect example is the goaltenders, who can never be controlled by a human. They only have two passing animations, making it easy to predict where they’ll send the puck after making a save—which allows you to gather it before your opponent and get an unintended second-chance opportunity. It’s one of those moments where you appreciate how far games have come over the years, because even though “glitch goals” have never been completely eradicated even in modern hockey games, blatant gameplay tells like this are something I haven’t seen in decades, and would rather stay in the past.

Another aspect that had me scratching my head was the control scheme options. It’s great that Old Time Hockey offers an arcade-y two-button system, a more sim-heavy NHL game style scheme, and even a one-handed “beer mode” where everything is assigned to one side of the controller so you can drink with the other. The problem comes with the fact that you have to play story mode with the NHL-style system, and until you beat story mode, you can only play exhibition with the arcade or beer controls. It just seems pointless to have this content be separated by the mode you’re playing.

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And, that leads me to the worst aspect of Old Time Hockey and its story mode: each game in that mode has objectives for you to overcome. A few are optional, but most are mandatory, and unless you beat every mandatory objective in a game, no matter whether you win or lose, you have to replay the game over and over again. Some of the objectives are easy, like get two hits with one of your players, or take eight slap shots over the course of game. Others can be infuriating, however, and you’ll often have to replay games repeatedly, forcibly increasing the length of playtime with little to no progress being made. The worst for me was trying to provoke the opposing goalie into a fight, particularly because—again, pointing back to the shoddy controls—it’s not as easy to score in Old Time Hockey as you would think.

Part of this also stems from the fact that basic hockey abilities like slap shots, hip checks, and even fighting at one point are all locked behind objectives and tutorials that you don’t get until later in the story. I thought the game was honestly broken when I started playing, when all I could do was pass and take wrist shots. It’s damned near impossible to win—and definitely not fun to play—when you have to grind for the most basic of abilities that any hockey player should be able to do.

The only thing more maddening than all this, though, is when it seems you’re finally going to overcome an objective—and then, the game crashes. Old Time Hockey crashes a lot; the day-one patch allayed this a little bit, because they frequently would happen off faceoffs, but as of writing this review they still happen in the middle of the action, like when taking a slap shot from the point or making an epic hip check in neutral ice. It’s absolutely soul crushing when you’ve finally achieved every objective, are winning the game, and are basically waiting for the clock to hit all zeroes when you get booted back to the PlayStation UI with an error number. Hopefully another patch can help the stability of the game, but right now it’s a nightmare waiting to happen.

Besides story mode, there is also a local versus option for Old Time Hockey, but it lacks and sort of online play. This could, again, be part of the throwback style, forcing you to experience the game with a friend on a couch, but I’m not sure I want to force my friends to experience this. Otherwise, they might not be my friends anymore.

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Old Time Hockey was a great idea, but it has way too many shortcomings once you actually start playing the game to be enjoyed. It handles poorly, the story mode objectives are ridiculous, and the game crashes make the headaches far outweigh the little fun to be had here. If you really want to experience hockey from a bygone era, your time and money would be better spent watching Slap Shot again.

Publisher: V7 Entertainment • Developer: V7 Entertainment • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 03.28.17
3.0
Old Time Hockey is more style than substance. Its heart was in the right place, but shoddy controls, glitches, and poor gameplay design make this an arcade-style game hockey fans just don’t need in their lives.
The Good The style and soundtrack is a throwback in the best ways possible.
The Bad Stiff controls, repetitive commentary, random game crashes, and oddly gated gameplay abilities via story mode.
The Ugly Those classic hockey player smiles.
Old Time Hockey is available on PS4 and PC, with versions coming for Xbox One and Nintendo Switch later. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by V7 Entertainment 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 long time since an extreme winter sports video game has really resonated with gamers. After the genre saw quick success with games like SSX, many companies have tried and failed to get a foothold in the category and capture a bit of the magic some of those early games had. But even with bigger mountains, deeper customization, and more realistic physics, many have fallen like a boarder unable to stick the landing after a 1080. However, I went into Steep, Ubisoft’s new attempt to fill that winter sports game void, with hope—only instead to find myself feeling like someone having fallen into a snowdrift, believing there to be something more solid underfoot when there was not.

Steep starts off well enough, with a quick tutorial that introduces you to the four different disciplines available right from the start: skiing, snowboarding, parasailing, and wingsuit flying. From there, your extreme athlete of choice will be able to explore the Alps via any of these methods or by scouting out locations with their binoculars, unlocking drop zones or challenges that they can then fast travel to by helicopter. By performing various death-defying feats at these spots, you will level up and unlock more of the mountain range’s peaks for exploration until you’ve conquered them all.

As soon as you set foot on your first mountain top, you’ll have to give Ubisoft Annecy some credit. This game looks gorgeous, and each mountainside has character to it. Frozen lakes nestled in valleys serve as ice bridges between crags, pine forests play the role of natural course boundaries, and cozy villages jutting out of rocky cliff sides are ready to welcome you as you explore. And, when your character sinks knee-deep into the snow as you wade to an edge to jump off, or you notice the light reflecting off of cabin windows at different angles as the dynamic day/night cycle proceeds, it’s hard to deny that Steep does a stellar job of making you feel like you could actually be in the Alps.

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The attention to graphical detail doesn’t just permeate the mountain, though. Your athlete is fully customizable, and the more tasks and events you complete, the more gear you can potentially unlock. Helmets, jackets, skis, boards, parachutes, wing suits, goggles, boots, beanies, and more can all be switched on your person. Of course, some items are also heavily labeled with brands like RedBull and GoPro, but they’re some of the most prolific advertisers for winter sports—so while some may find it obnoxious, it’s entirely realistic.

For as polished as Steep is visually, I’m afraid it’s hard to get excited about too much else here. That’s not to say there’s not a lot to do; on the contrary, there are over 100 courses, plus 30 “mountain stories” that give some more life to the area—ranging from ringing a bell in one of the village churches to just following another boarder through a winding path as she recounts some local mythos. The problem is the game doesn’t do a very good job of leading you through all these different challenges, or in giving you a reason to seek them out.

It flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but Steep actually opens up its world to you too quickly. After beating the first few challenges and leveling up your athlete, almost the entire world can unlock at once. The fast travel map does an awful job of clearly labeling what events are old and what you just opened up. Most times you have to hover over a point to see if you’ve already set a best time or score to know if you’ve played it or not, because from that bird’s eye view, everything looks exactly the same. There are also no clear goals that you’re aiming for besides win every challenge. There’s some bigger-name competitions going on, but you can stumble on them just as randomly as some no-name experience-boosting challenges. So, you never feel like you’re working towards something—there’s no real end goal.

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Should the thrill of the race be enough for you, though, Steep does try to inject a little replayability into each course to lengthen the life of this experience. First, another way for GoPro to work its way into the game was to be the foundation for a new replay system that allows you to cut together a highlight package, similar to how you would if you were really shredding down the Alps like one of these pro athletes. GoPro cameras are all over extreme sports now, usually attached to the heads and boards of athletes, and offering up new and interesting angles on non-contact sports we wouldn’t otherwise get. So, if putting together a highlight reel of your gaming prowess is something you like to do, Steep has an impressive suite of tools at your disposal here.

Another way Ubisoft Annecy tried to make Steep replayable—and something I found particularly interesting—is the fact that the game is always online and always in multiplayer. Like a real mountain, you’ll see other players taking on the courses as well, and depending on your settings, you can even bump into them. With a press of a button, you can group up with others to add a little more competition to things, giving you purpose beyond just racing once and getting gold. You can also carve out your own path in free roam and then set it up as a challenge to others online, giving you a rough create-your-own course feature that is extremely easy to upload to others.

Of course, there is an issue with this needing to be online all the time: If you can’t connect, you can’t play the game. During my time with Steep, it happened once where I couldn’t play at all for almost an hour, and kept getting bumped back to the title screen. This can be a huge hindrance to the game and its community, especially considering Ubisoft’s history of issues with server maintenance and stability to begin with. The fact I can’t play the game offline at all is unforgivable, showing an overabundance in relying on the social aspects to keep what is clearly a barebones experience interesting.

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Steep’s greatest sin, however, might be its most damning: The game simply doesn’t control very well in most of its categories. I found the wing suit sports to be the most responsive, and therefore ended up trying to curtail the final hours of review time towards those to make what was an otherwise frustrating experience somewhat palatable. Parasailing felt like I had no control whatsoever, praying for updrafts to keep my parachute properly open and moving in the direction of the finish line.

Skiing and snowboarding were the most prevalent sports, and were as fun as wingsuiting—when everything worked. Unfortunately, there were times where I’d be trying to pull off stunts and it’d feel like the controls were locking up. Even hurtling down the mountain with a bat outta hell’s worth of momentum, I’d hit the jump perfectly and instead of performing the twists, turns, and rolls I’d expect, my athlete would almost listlessly drift in the direction I was jamming the thumb stick. The worst of it all would then be when I’d land, thinking I had at least gotten my rider adequately back to center, but instead he breaks every bone in his body as he tumbles head-over-end down the mountain. The rag doll physics were at least humorous, but it felt like the game should’ve just focused on two sports instead of four and tried to perfect those as much as possible.

Steep had a lot of good ideas at its core. Some, like its replay and social features, are a dream when everything is running smoothly. Unfortunately, the game is more frustrating than fun due to its lack of focus and execution in both controls and overall scope. What many were hoping would be a smooth ride down the mountainside instead feels like smacking into pine trees repeatedly. I wouldn’t be surprised if fans of the extreme winter sports genre again feel like they’re left standing out in the cold from this one.

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Publisher: Ubisoft • Developer: Ubisoft Annecy • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 12.02.16
6.0
The multiplayer and replay ideas that Ubisoft implemented in Steep were great, and the game looks terrific. It’s held back as a whole, though, by listless controls, a directionless world, and an always-online requirement that brings everything crashing down like an avalanche when the servers decide to act up.
The Good Great visuals; the create-a-challenge and multiplayer help keep things fresh.
The Bad Controls feel inconsistent and unforgiving. Always online except when you aren’t and can’t play.
The Ugly Breaking every bone in my boarder’s body when failing to stick a landing.
Steep is available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Ubisoft for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.