Tag Archive: square enix


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When it comes to my favorite stealth action franchises, Hitman always jumps right to the top. But, when I first heard that the newest Hitman game would be broken up into episodes across the year, I admit my heart sank. I was worried about taking a tried-and-true formula and trying to fix something that in my opinion wasn’t broken. Thankfully, after sitting down and beating the entire first season of Hitman, the series’ new episodic direction may be one of the best things to ever happen to it.

In the prologue to the first episode, we see a rare glimpse of Agent 47’s past, specifically when he first meets Diana Burnwood and joins the ICA. After that, it’s back in the present day, and it’s the usual trek around the world for 47 as Diana continues to assign him high-profile targets that the ICA has been contracted to remove. As 47 is doing this, it soon becomes clear to Diana that these more recent assignments were all connected as part of a larger puzzle—and the deeper she digs, the more she realizes a more sinister force may be at play. With 47 being the only person she can trust, the two must uncover a conspiracy that could shake the ICA to its core.

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Anyone who has played any of the previous Hitman games should be able to jump into this one relatively easily. By using disguises and unique opportunities in the environment, players will be tasked with knocking off multiple targets in every location, with each new locale in this case also representing a new episode. What’s so impressive about Hitman is there has never been more ways to accomplish your goals on each map. You can go with 47’s iconic suit, tie, and silenced silverballer pistols and try to get the perfect shot off before making a quick escape. Or, you could drop a lighting grid on someone. Or push them into a wood chipper. Or pose as a yoga teacher and snap their necks (I guess that part of the body wasn’t meant to be so flexible). The choices are many and varied.

There is one new feature, though, when it comes to how 47 tackles his objectives now: with Diana in his ear constantly monitoring the situation, he’s able to track kill opportunities. From overheard conversations to intelligence documents found on site, you can piece together exactly what you need to perform the best accident kills the series has seen yet, and actually follow objective markers in the world to pull off some of these spectacular hits. And, if you prefer the challenge of figuring it all out for yourself, you can always turn this option off. Even with all my Hitman experience, I still found this extremely useful considering how large each location is. Although, I do admit, there’s also a sick sense of satisfaction when you piece it all together on your own.

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Even being episodic, Hitman still plays out in many ways like a complete game would. Each new location is massive, and throws new challenges 47’s way each time. Paris is likely the easiest of the maps, with plenty of cover, disguises, and opportunities as you crash a fashion show with hundreds of guests. Sapienza, Italy—a fictitious city off the Amalfi coast—gets a little harder, with heightened security and no crowds as you infiltrate a mansion. Marrakesh then puts your two targets in two different buildings with a busy town square between them, while Bangkok boosts the security yet again at a luxury resort hotel. An off-the-grid farm compound in Colorado makes things even harder by limiting cover and disguise opportunities and making you take out four targets. Finally, Hokkaido, Japan, removes all weapons and items before you start the mission inside a hospital for the wealthy. This escalation between episodes—from both a gameplay and narrative sense—coincides both with what you would expect from a game, as well as the heightened stakes of any action-drama TV series.

Of course, I believe this feeling was a lot more evident because I binge-played the season over a weekend. That’s one of the difficult things about episodic content: with weeks between game episodes, it can be harder to carry feelings over from chapter to chapter unless you replay a previous episode before starting a new one. I don’t believe that playing each new Hitman episode as it came out would’ve been able to keep that adrenaline flow I got from doing mission after mission going, whereas I enjoyed the gameplay much more by playing the entire experience in a short period of time.

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Although, I do have to say that there are some negatives to playing it all at once. While Hitman does a good job moving things forward, tying up enough loose ends by the conclusion of the season, and leaving a couple of questions unanswered for future seasons to explore, I felt there wasn’t as much of a connection strung between the episodes. Character development and narrative felt very bare bones, and I wonder if this came across more strongly because of my binge-playing, where I was able to see all the new characters’ short story arcs and minimal story progress very quickly.

One definite positive that comes from playing each episode as they come out, though, is the replayability. There’s more content here than ever before—both from the community and from Io Interactive—which keeps people playing each episode, and which no doubt helps keep them fresher in people’s minds. Once again, being able to create your own contract returns, allowing you to share with the community your own challenging hit orders. There’s also escalation missions from Io that add new targets and bump up the difficulty at a player’s discretion.

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Even more than that, however, is the new Elusive Targets. These are timed contracts, usually over a weekend, where players are given a single opportunity to take out the most difficult targets given by Io Interactive. Most of these are unique NPCs with their own parameters to be eliminated within, but there has even been guest stars (akin to a TV show) like Gary Busey and Gary Cole inserted into these one-off missions. Whether you succeed or fail, these missions are done after that one attempt and then lost forever, with the game keeping track of your success rate on its stats screen. If you’re playing the game piecemeal as it comes out, these are great ways to keep you engaged. If you’re like me, though, and waited to play it all at once, or are waiting for the disc with everything on it coming in January, you’ll have missed out already on nearly a dozen Elusive Targets. The game still has a lot to keep you coming back for more, with loads of challenges per map and worldwide leaderboards for you to try to climb, but seeing how far behind I am on escalation missions, and the fact I’ll never get a shot at any of the previous Elusive Targets, makes me feel like I missed a huge part of what made this game special by waiting, even with more Elusive Targets coming in the future.

Either way you play Hitman – Season 1, whether all at once or in pieces as it came out, something small is lost from each. Some of the replayability and story enjoyment suffers by binge-playing, but that natural escalation of difficulty and feeling like a complete experience comes through more strongly when playing it all at once. These are minor things all told, however, and when you boil Hitman down, it is one of the most complete and enjoyable experiences we’ve had yet from the series. And now, I can’t wait for Season 2.

Publisher: Square Enix • Developer: Io Interactive • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 10.31.16
8.5
If you played it as each episode came out, or binge-played it all at once, something is lost each way from Hitman – Season 1, but not enough to detract from what is as a whole one of the most enjoyable and entertaining Hitman experiences we’ve ever had.
The Good Everything you love about the Hitman series has been boiled down to potentially its purest form.
The Bad Depending on how you experience the game—either through binge playing or as each episode comes out—something is lost
The Ugly What’s left of that guy in Italy who “accidentally” fell in the wood chipper
Hitman – Season 1 is available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Square Enix for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

I had a chance to go hands-on with the brand new Just Cause 3 Sky Fortress DLC recently and was able to put Rico’s new Bavarium powered wingsuit through its paces. As you can see in the hands-on video above, the wingsuit is equipped with a jetpack, rocket launcher, and machine guns, basically turning Rico into a mini-fighter jet. You can also take everything you acquire in the DLC into the main game of Just Cause 3, meaning that new wingsuit can be used to take out bases on land as well as the new Eden Airship over the western skies of Medici.

The Sky Fortress DLC is the first of three DLC packs for Just Cause 3, and will be available on consoles and PC sometime in March. It will be followed by the Land and Sea DLC featuring mech-suits and a heist on the high seas—completing the Air, Land, and Sea expansion pack for the game—by the end of the summer.

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With movies, TV, comics, and video games all being highlighted at the same time, New York ComicCon can easily bombard and even overload your senses. Even so, I was able to maintain my focus for just long enough to elbow my way through the massive crowds and get my hands on some awesome games—and here are my top five picks from this year’s show.

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Mirror’s Edge Catalyst
Developer: EA DICE • Publisher: EA

I wasn’t the biggest fan of the original Mirror’s Edge, and I think part of the reason was that while it had a lot of great ideas, some of them fell flat on their execution. My first time getting hands on with its reboot, however, has me as excited as fans who were head over heels for the original. While I only got 15-minutes of playtime, I’ve never felt more free while running through an open world as I did when controlling Faith. Dare I say, it even felt natural sliding through ventilation shafts, running up walls, and climbing over ledges in fluid, seamless motions that never took away my momentum?

The most telling part of how far the series has come since its original iteration, however, was combat. Having a full head of steam allowed me to pull off some insane one-hit takedowns on armed guards. The only time I had trouble was when I messed up a jump and slowed down my momentum. While I still closed the distance quickly between myself and my assailant—and proceeded to use punches and a spin kick finish to take them down—it took precious time that, had the individual not been alone, would’ve left me as a sitting duck. Situations like those further drive home the point that stopping likely means death in this new Mirror’s Edge, and flight is almost always a better option than fight.

 

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Unravel
Developer: Coldwood Interactive • Publisher: EA

My penchant for puzzle-platformers means that Unravel and its unlikely protagonist Yarny have jumped towards the top of my most anticipated games list. It’s heart-warming story retelling an old woman’s life, and those she’s lost touch with, is your only motivation to guide Yarny through a world wrought with peril around every corner.  Taking advantage of the fact that Yarny is made of—well, yarn—you can build makeshift bridges, lasso up to grapple points, and find inventive ways to traverse the wide-open world set before you.

In the demo I got to play, Yarny had to find its way through a forest and then past the ocean. The forest required careful precision as I leapt between small branches before finally tying Yarny to the end of a kite, using his weight to guide my unlikely vehicle down to the shoreline. There, the tide was my greatest foe, as timing momentum-driven jumps between the oncoming waves was far more difficult than it may sound. It was only a taste, but the more demos I play of Unravel, the more excited I become to see what other obstacles can be thrown in my path—and how I can overcome. If what we’ve so far is any indicator, Unravel will be a can’t-miss platformer next year.

 

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Indivisible
Developer: Lab Zero Games • Publisher: 505 Games

I didn’t play Lab Zero’s first game, Skullgirls, choosing instead to appreciate its beautiful art-style from afar. Hearing how much fun folks in the office had with it, though, I resigned myself not to make that mistake twice when the studio recently announced its latest game, Indivisible. This adventure sees a young girl named Ajna seeking revenge on local warlords who have ravaged her rural country town. When she decides to go on this classic quest, however, Ajna finds she can absorb certain individuals into her being, and let them out to help her battle when she needs to (thus comprising your four-person party with Ajna always at the front).

I was able to play Indivisible up through its first major boss fight, and it reminded me in many ways of newer titles like Dust: An Elysian Tail and Child of Light. Its side-scrolling exploration and art design aren’t anything new to gaming, but require tight platforming from the beautifully drawn characters. And, should you contact an enemy, the world seamlessly transitions into combat, where Ajna and her crew have to each wait for their individual time meters to fill before they could attack—and, while doing so, also possibly interrupt the time meter of their opponents. Depending on the direction you’re holding when you attack, as well as how much meter you let accumulate, your characters can do a variety of different moves. Some focus on singular opponents, while other moves perform area of attack damage, which are great for crowd control.

Even with only having played Indivisible for a half-hour, I could see the depth the combat had, and I couldn’t put my controller down. If Ajna’s story is even half as compelling, it looks like Lab Zero has another hit on their hands—should they hit their Indiegogo target, that is.

 

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The Guest
Developer: Team Gotham • Publisher: 505 Games

We’ve seen a lot of first-person exploration games recently, but Team Gotham’s The Guest creates a terrifying atmosphere that gets your heart racing and makes you question how much further you want to go from almost the very first puzzle. I was only able to explore a couple of rooms in my short demo, but hallucinations, ominous warnings, and evidence that your character isn’t the first person to become trapped in this foreboding hotel in the middle of nowhere were enough for my curiosity to power through my fear.

Relying on your wits, you’ll have to solve a slew of riddles on the way to piecing together the bigger picture of what is keeping you there. While those I saw in the demo were nothing more than finding the broken pieces of an item and putting them back together, or combining items to make something new, promises of more complex conundrums down the line have me excited to see what The Guest can do when finished. The only question now will be whether to experience The Guest in virtual reality, or with a keyboard and a mouse.

 

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Rise of the Tomb Raider
Developer: Crystal Dynamics • Publisher: Square Enix

With only weeks until Rise of the Tomb Raider releases on Xbox One, I still had yet to experience any of my dear Lara Croft’s newest adventure for myself. Demos and events had always seemed to conflict with other appointments, so I’ve been relatively in the dark when it comes to how Lara has changed since her recent reboot on the last-gen consoles. But, at NYCC, I was finally given a chance to play a small snippet of the game in a segment called “The Prophet’s Tomb.” Much like riding a bicycle, the new mechanics from the last game—and the familiar gameplay the series has long been known for—came flooding back to me.

Leaping away from collapsing floors, shooting out spike traps, and using levers to raise or lower the water level to obtain my encrypted prize has not only never felt so good, but also never looked better. The dynamic lighting of torches flickering against stones covered with a thin slime caused by the humid conditions of Lara’s environment was a sight to behold, and the slight nuances her expression would convey made her more lifelike than ever. My only disappointment was that, like many of the games I experienced at NYCC, my time with Rise of the Tomb Raider was short.

If you’d like more of a chance to experience Rise of the Tomb Raider, however, be sure to check out our own Emma Schaefer’s preview from a couple weeks ago, where she played an extended demo of the hands-on I got, as we all wait patiently for what is shaping up to be the best Tomb Raider game yet.

A temple better left untapped

Last year, Hitman GO’s board game aesthetic and challenging puzzles provided a breath of fresh air for everyone’s favorite bald murder machine while still channeling the stealth and tactics the main series is known for. Not satisfied with just giving Agent 47 the tabletop treatment or continuing to build new boards for the burgeoning spin-off franchise, Square Enix Montreal decided Lara Croft could use her own GO-style makeover. Unfortunately, they should have stuck with the assassin.

Lara Croft GO sees the titular tomb-raiding heroine in search of an item called the “Atlas of Beyond”. While exploring a temple that supposedly houses the artifact, Croft accidentally awakens the Queen of Venom, a gargantuan snake so large that it could slurp Lara up whole with one snap of its massive jaws. She must now find the Atlas while dodging both the Queen and the temple’s many traps if she has any hope of telling the tale of her latest adventure.

Lara Croft GO is almost nothing like its predecessor, making it all the more curious that it carries the GO name brand. The change you’ll most likely notice immediately is the scrapping of the board game motif. Even though it is broken up into stages, the tomb that Lara is exploring is one world that tries—and often fails due to a lack of general explanation—to convey a continuous narrative. The characters are no longer simplistic tokens, but fully realized models that move like you’d expect from more traditional games. The stages themselves have lost all notion of being part of a tabletop setup besides the path lines drawn for Lara to follow as she and the enemies she’ll encounter move one spot one finger swipe at a time. This gives the game an art-style more reminiscent of a cheap Tomb Raider knockoff than something that has an entirely original look to it like Hitman GO did.

The only other gameplay aspect besides movement that carries over between the two GO games is that Lara can only kill enemies from the side or from behind. Giant spiders, snakes, and humanoid lizard people are some of the creatures Lara will encounter while searching for the Atlas. Confusingly, though, Lara carries her iconic dual pistols throughout the game. It makes little sense for her to be wielding them if she can only attack from the side or from behind. And if she finds a spear or a torch, then she can approach enemies from the front or from a distance. Since when are torches and spears more powerful than guns? I found it to be an odd choice to say the least that this was the one rule brought over.

Lara Croft GO also at no point feels like it tries to do justice to the Tomb Raider games. Hitman GO’s strategic requirement lined up perfectly with what Hitman is known for. My hope was that LC GO would find a way to incorporate some sense of exploration, or branching paths at least, to pay homage somehow to Tomb Raider. If Square Enix Montreal had kept pushing the board game feel of everything, maybe they could have gone with a Betrayal at House on the Hill style, with random tiles being added to the world mid-stage the more Lara explored instead of everything being laid out on a single path for you from the beginning. This also could have helped with replayability, but as is, Lara Croft GO is too linear an experience to be that enjoyable, and completely ignores what it means to be Lara Croft.

While on the subject of replayability, this is something that Lara Croft GO sorely lacks. Hitman GO offered up multiple objectives per stage, allowing players to continue forward if they wished after accomplishing the hit, but rewarded players who could master every stage, which often required multiple playthroughs. LC GO has rewards, too, with alternate costumes for Lara if you find the various hidden items on each stage. The problem is that all 120 of them are in plain sight as you advance, and only need a fourth-wall breaking tap—as in Lara doesn’t need to be anywhere near the collectible—to retrieve them, making them nigh-impossible to miss.

The one saving grace Lara Croft GO has is its puzzles. About 40 different stages will test your mental acuity as you navigate through winding temple paths, looking for the proper solution to the problem placed before you. Switches that control moving platforms, trap doors and crumbling pillars, even large boulders that roll after Lara and timed doors that threaten to cut you off from advancing will all need to be overcome if you hope to escape. The stages are broken up into five different sections of the temple and ramp up in difficulty at a steady pace that will push you, but should never break your will to keep going. All told, I was able to one hundred percent Lara Croft GO in just over four hours, so even the most complex puzzles weren’t the greatest of challenges.

Lara Croft GO is a decent puzzle game to kill a few hours with, but lacks all the finer things that made its predecessor in the GO series so much fun. It abandons the GO aesthetics, and at the same time, fails to channel anything about the Tomb Raider series beyond the setting—making me question why Square Enix thought Lara would adapt at all to this format to begin with. Even for the mobile price of $4.99, I’d be hard-pressed to recommend this to anyone but the most fervent of Lara loyalists.

Developer: Square Enix Montreal • Publisher: Square Enix • ESRB: N/A • Release Date: 08.27.15
5.0
Lara Croft remains a poor choice that never fit for the GO-style that was established with Hitman GO last year, even if you can find a bit of fun in the short, simple puzzles.
The Good Inventive puzzles that ramp up nicely in difficulty.
The Bad A lack of overall challenge. Fails to capture the essence of the Tomb Raider series or continue what was started with Hitman GO.
The Ugly It’s been so long since we’ve seen Lara made of so few polygons.
Lara Croft GO is available on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. Primary version reviewed was on iOS using an iPad 2. Review code was provided by Square Enix for the benefit of this review.

During E3 2015, I had a chance to talk to principal designer Francesco Antolini for Walmart Gamecenter about Avalanche Studios’ upcoming open-world game Just Cause 3!

The Just Cause series is known for its over-the-top, insane action sequences that see protagonist Rico Rodriguez wreak havoc across lands plagued by despotic regimes. Rocket launchers, C4, machine guns and other weapons are often perfectly suitable means for Rico to go about his business causing mayhem, but in Just Cause 3 his classic grappling hook might trump them all.

In Just Cause 2, Rico could tether two objects together and cause them to snap into one another, like explosive barrels to soldiers, to help Rico achieve his objectives, especially if running low on traditional ammo. Just Cause 3 has enhanced Rico’s grappling hook to a degree that explosive barrels and soldiers is thinking far too small.

While I played the game, I discovered two new attributes to the grappling hook. First, Rico can fire up to three grappling hooks at one time., allowing him to manipulate larger objects in the environment. Second, the grappling hooks start off with slack, but you can control the tension with the right stick of your controller. Thus, you can properly place your hooks before trying to take down a large object, or set traps in areas where you know enemies might soon arrive.

At first, I used these mechanics to take down statues of Medici’s dictator, General Di Ravello. Statues are just one of many destructible objects in the environment, and they must be destroyed to free Medici from Di Ravello’s rule. I fired my three hooks at Ravello’s face, which was as large as Rico’s torso, and connected them to the ground below. As I cranked up the wires, the full body statue began to crack around its kneecaps. Then it started to twist and turn. Finally, when the crack expanded, the statue broke off its base and smashed onto the ground with a gloriously satisfying crash.

Soon after, I moved onto propaganda towers, then to large projectors playing Ravello’s greatest hits in piazzas. But my crowning achievement came with a large, round oil container and a police station at the bottom of a hill.

The oil container, itself was the size of a small building, was propped up off the ground by six key supports. Using a rifle, I carefully blasted out three supports. I then fired the grappling hooks into the container and latched them onto the ground about halfway down the hill. Slowly, I cranked up the tension.

In mere moments, the container broke free of the other three supports and began sliding towards the other end of the hooks. Once it reached a certain point, however, gravity did the rest of the work. While the container began sliding down the hill, Raiders of the Lost Ark-style, toward the police station, I fired several more rounds into its side, setting off a stream of white-hot flame. The container collided with the station wall, exploding in a blast that nearly took up my entire screen and leaving nothing but charred bodies and rubble in its wake. It was beautiful.

This was not an in-game objective. This was the freedom Just Cause 3 and the tools, specifically the new grappling hook, afforded me. I wondered if I could do something, tried it, and it worked out beautifully in my favor. I was limited only by my imagination and desire to cause wanton destruction. And I get the sense that there are a lot more insane explosion opportunities around Medici, waiting for players to discover them. I, for one, cannot wait.

Just Cause 3 will drop this holiday season for Xbox One, Playstation 4 and PC.

The Just Cause series has always tried its best to make getting around in its world just as fun as blowing it up. Rico’s iconic grappling hook allows him to get to places cars and copters can’t easily reach. Using the parachute with the hook lets you gain altitude while covering distance. At the same time, the combination makes Rico a harder target to hit and gives him a unique angle from which he can take out his enemies.

The new wingsuit adds a new wrinkle to how Rico will get around in his home country of Medici. Once Rico reaches certain heights, whether using the parachute or via the numerous flying vehicles in the game, the wingsuit allows Rico to get to almost anywhere on the island quickly  without losing elevation. In some ways, I’m reminded of how Batman gets around in the Arkham games; Rico can dive at great speeds, then pull up at the last instance to increase his time and speed. However, Rico can go farther than Batman can in the Arkham games. Here, it’s closer to actually being able to fly without a vehicle.

The speed and ease with which you can use the wingsuit to get around, though, would’ve made the parachute almost useless. So the parachute and how it works has been completely revamped. While you can still use the parachute to gain some height, it also slows Rico’s descent.

With these new tools, Rico can pull his chute above an area he wants to infiltrate or blow up, tether his grappling hook to the ground and slowly circle above his targets. During my time playing the game, I tried this technique while staging a prison break on top of one of Medici’s hills. Rico lost only minimal height while I shot at the guards and every red cylinder I could see, causing as much chaos and havoc as possible. The parachute slowed by descent so much that I  almost become a mid-air mobile weapons platform. I happily had the height advantage, but didn’t have to worry about losing it until enemy choppers scrambled, at least.

These movement options and changes are just a sample of what designers have done with Just Cause 3. They want to give players as much freedom as possible in Avalanche Studios’ sandbox, all in the name of causing as much destruction as possible. During my extended hands-on, flying through the air and firing rockets at enemies never got old. I can’t wait to do it all again when the game hits store shelves.

Just Cause 3 will drop December 1 for Xbox One, Playstation 4 and PC.

Spelunking in the sand

When you have as much history as Tomb Raider, it’s always a big risk to deviate from the gameplay that’s defined the series and helped it last as long as it has. But four years ago, that’s just what Crystal Dynamics did when they decided to take Lara Croft out of the third-person action-adventure world and introduce her fans to some old-school, twin-stick-shooter gameplay.

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light ended up being a huge success as an ancillary adventure, smoothly blending the puzzle-solving from the main series with top-down shooting and co-op. So, it’s no surprise that while we wait for Lara’s next big action-adventure, Crystal Dynamics decided to revisit their spin-off and give it a sequel.

Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris starts off with our titular heroine doing what she does best: discovering relics and ruins. Lara’s searching for the Temple of Osiris in Egypt—a long-lost pyramid dedicated to the Egyptian god of the dead. She’s not alone, however, as she’s racing against Carter Bell, a young upstart in the field of archeology. Edging out Lara, Bell grabs Osiris’ fabled staff upon entering the tomb, ignoring Lara’s pleas for caution, and unknowingly breaking the magical seals holding back Set, the Egyptian god of war who murdered Osiris. With the help of the seals’ guardians—Osiris’ wife Isis, and their son Horus—Lara and Carter must drive Set back and prevent darkness from consuming the world by piecing together the remains of Osiris—just like Isis did thousands of years ago, according to legend.

Temple of Osiris will immediately feel familiar to fans of Guardian of Light. Just like before, the camera is locked far overhead at a three-quarters angle, and in terms of gameplay, Lara solves puzzles with her grappling hook and shoots bad guys using her guns and grenades.

One immediate difference you’ll notice with Temple of Osiris, though, is how much larger and more detailed the world is. Exploration stems from a massive hub area, and Lara will be able to investigate a dozen tombs themed after key members of Osiris’s court, like his silversmith, architect, or ferryman, each holding a piece of the god’s form. The tombs are meticulously detailed, and the dynamic lighting effects are truly impressive, considering how far away the camera sits from the action.

Besides the story-related ruins, though, the game also includes five challenge tombs that will push your puzzle-solving skills and a half dozen massive bosses that include corrupted Egyptian gods that have thrown in with Set, like Khepri, god of the sunrise, and Sobek, god of the Nile.

There’s also a customization system this time around. In Guardian of Light, gems were merely present as a way to increase your high score. Now, these precious stones have another purpose beyond points, since they allow Lara to unlock scattered treasure chests that bestow her with rings and amulets, which can augment her abilities. The more gems you have to spend on a chest, the more likely you’ll receive an item that will give Lara multiple positive benefits.

The puzzles in Temple of Osiris are far more involved this time around as well. Some remain simple timing puzzles, while others require Lara to actually change the seasons and put into effect a day-night cycle in order to open up different paths in the world. The game also includes a variety of puzzles that require nimble platforming, and Lara will need to use the Staff of Osiris to move columns or reflect light around darkened rooms.

The most impressive thing about the puzzles, however, might be how they change in co-op. You’re more than able to beat Temple of Osiris by yourself, as Lara will take the Staff of Osiris and be outfitted with all the abilities needed to overcome the challenges of the tombs. But if you play co-op, only the Egyptian characters, Isis and Horus, can use the Staff, and only Lara or Carter Bell can use the grappling hook, changing the dynamic of many puzzles and requiring teamwork to advance through the story.

Speaking of co-op, one big change we see is that now with the introduction of all these characters, up to four players can come together locally or online, instead of only two as in Guardian of Light. I couldn’t find any co-op games in the wild due to the limited number of players with their hands on the game before launch, so I can’t speak to the matchmaking, but I was able to gather the EGM Crew together, and two of us were playing locally, joined by two others via online. The game ran smoothly from a technical standpoint, but I felt that four players didn’t really add more to the gameplay than two did. If anything, it only made things more hectic, since we kept getting in each other’s way. The only times we were able to come together was against bosses—which, disappointingly, don’t scale with the extra players. With four guns firing away, the combat sections of the game were vanilla at best and a breeze to overcome.

The minimal differences between Lara versus Carter and Isis versus Horus were also disappointing—it felt like there were two unique characters and two clones who not only felt unneeded in co-op, but also unneeded in the story. The entire experience would’ve been better off had just Lara and Isis teamed up, and the game would’ve flowed more smoothly both in terms of co-op and the loose story that ties this arcade-style endeavor together.

Temple of Osiris builds on the foundation of what Guardian of Light started, giving us more levels, more puzzles, and more detail in the world that Lara has to explore. Unfortunately, it also gives us more co-op, and the game would’ve been better balanced with just two-player co-op again. Despite this, Temple of Osiris is still a fun, worthwhile adventure that shows why Lara Croft is such a great character, no matter the camera angle.

Developer: Crystal Dynamics • Publisher: Square Enix • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 12.09.14
7.5
Another fun twin-stick-shooter romp for Lara Croft, Temple of Osiris finds a way to go bigger and better in most regards, but four-player co-op was just too much on my TV screen—this one would’ve been better off with only two main characters instead of four.
The Good Lots of interesting puzzles that dynamically change in co-op; solid twin-stick action.
The Bad Locked camera can be a nuisance. 4-player co-op is more of a detriment than a boon.
The Ugly Our news editor, Chris Holzworth, trolling the rest of the EGM Crew during 4-player co-op.
Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Square Enix for the benefit of this review.

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