Tag Archive: video games


It was announced tonight at the 2017 NHL Awards that NHL 18’s cover athlete this year is none other than Edmonton Oilers superstar Connor McDavid. And much like how the two-year pro from Richmond Hill, Ontario, has breathed life back into one of hockey’s premiere Canadian franchises, NHL 18 has looked to McDavid for inspiration in all the right ways. I was recently able to go hands-on with the game, and there were several major takeaways from my brief time with it that give a spark to the series’ style of play.

The first has to do with the gameplay itself. In an attempt to mimic McDavid, Auston Matthews, and the other tremendous young talents that have permeated hockey, pulling off stylish shots on net has never been easier. The fancy stickwork from previous games returns, but is now easier to do with more simplistic joystick movement which can be learned through a new series of tutorials. More importantly, however, is the increased repertoire for more skillful players. Kicking the puck off your skate to feed a backhand, turning the puck on edge and flipping it over the shoulder of a goalie, and the kind of no-look passes and shots that will leave defensemen and goalies alike befuddled are now represented here beautifully. As well, new reactions from every player on the ice will let you know just how impressive some of these moves are.

Of course, a feature many have long waited for is something to even the ice with all those offensive skill-stick superstars, and for the first time ever, the series is touting a defensive skill stick as well. That means when you’re skating backwards as the lone hope on a 2-on-1 back the other way, you can swing your stick back and forth and try to take away both the shot and the passing lane if you’re good enough. Or maybe just on the power play, by swinging your stick back and forth, you can kill off a few extra seconds as the defenseman on the point has to hesitate before he tries to pass it down low. This is a huge game changer for defensive players, and shows NHL 18 is making huge strides with stick play in the series.

Another major new element is a brand new game mode that feels like a throwback to the Wayne Gretzky or NHL Hitz days of arcade hockey. The brand new NHL Threes combines bone-crunching hits and crazy shots with the three-on-three play of the NHL’s relatively new overtime rules. To amp up the pace of play, the rink is smaller than a normal hockey rink, most penalties are turned off (and the few that are called always lead to a penalty shot), and there are never any faceoffs. If someone scores a goal, the other team automatically gets the puck when the action resumes. Some pucks are special, being worth two or three goals, or can even remove goals from your opposition. You know this mode is different from the second you start it up, with different announcers and a presentation package that resembles a carnival more than a hockey rink.

The 3-on-3 gameplay of the NHL’s overtime hockey rules aren’t just inspiring a new mode, though, as old modes are taking a cue from this faster style of play as well. The long time fan-favorite mode EASHL is now also going to tout a 3-on-3 mode to help accommodate the fans out there who have trouble finding a full squad of players on a nightly basis. This means not only will you have more games full entirely of human players now, but also the fast-paced action of the NHL overtime period will carry over into the entire EASHL experience from the start. If you’re fortunate enough to have a whole squad, don’t worry, the normal EASHL 6-on-6 action is still there—but for those of us with only a couple buddies ever around at the same time, this is exactly what we’ve been waiting for.

If none of these modes appeal to you, and you prefer to go for Franchise still instead, don’t worry, you’ve also got some new tweaks there. You can choose to play right from the get-go as the new Las Vegas Golden Knights and hold a fantasy draft that allows you to build your team out of the 30 pre-existing NHL franchises. Maybe you’ll help even things out by kicking off the 32nd NHL franchise and bring balance finally to the conferences. Or, be like me, and try to create a dynasty out of an original six team (let’s go Rangers). The choice is yours.

Hockey is undergoing a revolution right now in terms of playstyle and the talent that is flooding into the sport. After my brief hands-on time with NHL 18, it is my belief that this series is following suit with the fast, fun, frantic new NHL Threes mode, the new moves available to the game’s most skilled players, and even three-on-three gameplay making it’s way to EASHL. When hockey has a revolution, the NHL series has a renaissance, and it looks like this year is shaping up to be the perfect time for yet another one.

NHL 18 will release on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 sometime this fall.

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.

Last week I had a chance to see the beginnings of Far Cry 5. Set in the fictional Hope County, Montana, players will be dropped into the middle of this rural slice of Americana that is under the hypnotic control of a cult leader named Joseph. This enigmatic figure believes he hears voices telling him that a reaping is coming, and that souls aren’t going to harvest themselves. If you’re not with him, you are most definitely against him—which Joseph is fine with, because he also believes that he and his people must prepare to be tested.

Of course, taking over a town isn’t the easiest of endeavors, and Joseph’s closest kin serve as the lieutenants that help keep everyone in line. Jacob, the eldest brother, is an ex-military specialist who has become disenchanted with the government and the world. John, the youngest brother, is a smooth-talking lawyer who knows how to keep the government from coming down too hard on his dear brother Joseph, and how to snatch up more property to bring under the cult’s control. Finally, half-sister Faith knows how to keep Joseph’s followers in line, a pacifying pacifist that keeps the cult’s rage from boiling over until Joseph is ready to let them loose on the world.

The odds are stacked against you, as they always are in Far Cry. However, you’ll have allies in your war to reclaim the hearts and minds of Hope. Barkeep and lifelong resident Mary May remembers what the town was like before Joseph, and she places sole blame on him for her family falling apart; her personal vendetta against the cult leader will make her a fiery addition to your team. God and guns preacher Jerome is infuriated that life has come to this, and that so much of his flock has been led astray; he hesitantly will resort to force in order to save the souls of his lost people. And finally, there’s Nick Rye, a crop duster who comes from a long line of airplane pilots. His father and grandfather both fought in wars, and Nick reckons it’s time to fight in one of his own.

Far Cry 5 will give you a bevy of tools to use as well. Everything from flamethrowers to pitchforks, guns and dogs for hire, and almost anything else you can think might be willing to risk getting hit with a few bullets for the sake of a few bucks. And, as always, how you go about tackling situations will be up to you. To get a lot more insight into the inspirations behind what seems on the surface like a radical departure for the series, I sat down and talked with Far Cry 5’s executive producer and creative director, Dan Hay.

EGM: I think the easiest and most obvious question is, why Montana? Although it might appear foreign to a city slicker like myself, I imagine it’s not very foreign to a large portion of the game playing public.

Dan Hay: There are two things that I’ll say about that. It would’ve been easy for us to pick a location somewhere around the world and given people something that would be classically referred to as “exotic”. But I think we had those conversations and we said to ourselves that sometimes it’s the thing in your own backyard that is the weirdest, that is the strangest, and when you scratch it there’s a lot of stuff underneath. That’s the first part.

The second thing is that the cult is something that’s really unique for us. I think people are going to realize that we picked the place because this is a place where it’s believable that some people want to be left alone and they don’t want to be bothered and that if you were going to build a cult, you could probably put it in there. So, we met with cult experts and they talked to us about it.

Whenever I watch a show or movie, part of me wants to watch because they’re offering me an experience that I will likely never have in my life and they allow me for two hours, or however long the show is, to dip my toe in the economy of the world that they’re building. And so when I think about some of the stuff that I watch on TV, I’m never going to be a gangster. Probably. But I get to visit that for a time.

And so I don’t think that a lot of people are going to be most likely in a cult and I think that it’s pretty cool for them to be able to go “Wait a minute, let’s look at this. Let’s meet the Father. Let’s understand what his family is doing. Let’s hear some of the things they are espousing, some of the things they’re saying. Let’s look at the people in Far Cry’s Montana”—and it is Far Cry’s Montana because we built Hope County and it doesn’t exist in the real world—”and see how they are going against the cult and pushing back.” And so it creates a unique experience that I don’t think anyone was expecting and it’s ours.

EGM: When you mention a cult, I think a lot of us jump to the idea of folks in white robes and ponchos drinking Kool-Aid. How are you going to get people past this idea in the game?

DH: I think you keep it simple. Absolutely, when you think of cult you think of a cliché sort of answer to that. I think when you see our characters they aren’t that. We kept it simple. There’s a guy who believes he’s heard this voice and he believes that a collapse is imminent. He believes it. And he’s managed to bring together followers who trust him in that. And when he talks about it, he doesn’t talk about it in ridiculously crazy terms. He says, “Look, there’s going to be a collapse. It’s going to happen. And we need to protect ourselves.” And then what he’s going to say is something to the effect of “You’re not going to believe me. There’s nothing that I can say that will bring you around to this idea. So, I’m just going to take you, and when it happens, you’re going to say thank you.” That’s an idea people can understand. And when an actor with gravitas gives it, when it’s given with great writing, you understand what these people stand for. You understand what’s happening. And you understand why the regular people in this world, the citizens, don’t want to have anything to do with this guy.

EGM: You mentioned an actor with gravitas. Can you give us any hints as to the cast that is playing your principal roles?

DH: I can’t say whom we cast. Casting on Far Cry is really tricky because it’s alchemy. I’ve implied it’s a process before, but the more I do it the less process it is. You get a great writer. Great writers, right? And the other thing that we’re doing is changing some things a little bit, trying to make like a writers’ room where people are pitching ideas and kicking stuff around and riffing off of each other. Then, we go out and cast the net wide and look for people who are going to be able to hold your gaze, people who can make your skin crawl, people who can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. And then, also, letting those people run a little with the material. Because it’s not perfect, we’re not going to nail it 100% perfect the first time. And then making sure it feels believable and that what comes out of their mouths, especially when you’re working with a first-person camera, they have some room to play.

I think that’s how we found some of our characters in Far Cry 3, 4, and Primal. And we know people want that from us. We know that people are looking at this and knowing if the characters are important and whom you’re going up against and who you are. I think that on this one, it’s super-interesting to see that we’re now dealing with a family and you get to meet each one of those people. They’re a chorus and they each have their own jobs. They each have their own micro-agenda. And I think people are going to dig it.

EGM: What can you tell us about the gameplay this time around? Are we going to be putting Bessie the cow out to pasture in order to craft supplies? What can we expect different in terms of gameplay?

DH: Well, you’re trapped behind enemy lines being in the cult territory and you got to use the resources that are available to you. If you’re played the Far Cry games, then you’re going to like what you’re getting and we’re going to give you more opportunity. We found a unique recipe when we built outposts where you got up to an outpost and you could attack it from 360-degrees. And you can see the anecdote factory opportunities and the question was why couldn’t we just do that with the whole game. Why couldn’t we drop you in the middle of the game, give you a little information, and then let you go in any direction and author the experience your way? That’s what we’re building here.

EGM: So are there no more outposts at all?

DH: I won’t go into specifics like that. What I can tell you is that—assuming you enjoyed the gameplay in Far Cry 3, 4, and Primal—when you see that we’re putting in guns for hire that can come with you, and the new inputs we’re putting into the anecdote factory for when you go up to a location that’s owned by the cult and you attack it, you’ll still have that 360-degree approach and that opportunity. But now you have new tools. Maybe you want to fly in and strafe it. Maybe you want to do a bombing run. Maybe you want to call Nick and have him come in and blow it up. Maybe you want to take your dog and send it in and have it tag everything. Those are the things we’re bringing to the game.

EGM: From what I’ve seen, this feels like it channels the temperature of the US as a whole right now. Like we’re all in a pressure cooker. How much of the game came about before a lot of recent events started to take place and how much did the game maybe be influenced by real world drama?

DH: It’s a chicken or the egg kind of question, right? I get asked, “do we have a specific agenda in this story?” No. We don’t. We’re not saying this is good and this is bad. What we’re saying is that the temperature right now is kind of in the red. The temperature is that people are running hot. They’re nervous and there’s a global consciousness of tension. It’s a pang I had as a kid [during the Cold War] and it’s familiar and I don’t know the answer to your question of what came first. It’s wholly believable that some of the things that had been going on in the world three years ago when we started to kick this idea around somehow influenced us. We can’t say that didn’t happen. But the world has changed so much in three years. Just the fact that we talk about things in the game and the characters in our world are affected by a lot of the things that are happening in the real world in terms of when they talk about stuff, they’re going to be aware and they’re going to be alive. And so yeah, I don’t know if its serendipity or what it is, but we landed on a sweet spot.

EGM: We talked a little bit before about the exotic, and Far Cry tends to always walk right up to the line in terms of believability. Far Cry 5 feels like it is walking more parallel to a familiar, current state of our world. How do you think fans of the franchise will react?

DH: Everybody that we show the game to is like, “Wow. I want to play that.” There’s no question that when you build a world, what you try and do is you try and make it so that that player can go in any direction and you allow them to go and do their thing. Far Cry is known as an experience where you go out and you can just blow stuff up and go crazy and have a great time. Or you can go in and have an earnest moment in the story and have something. All we wanted to do here is make it so this story felt grounded and felt real and be something you would understand and know right away and I think we did it. I think we have the framework for that. I think the older you get, you start to see cycles of things and so there’s going to be people experiencing this for the first time. And it’s going to be new and fresh and they can go out into the world and they can blow stuff up or they can have an experience with the story and it feels very present. And I think it’s going to be great.

Far Cry 5 will release on February 27, 2018, on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

The original Injustice was an epic comparable to any major comic book event, movie release, or series of TV crossovers. It had everything from multiple universes to the kind of fights fanboys spend way too much time on the internet arguing about. Couple this with tight gameplay all around, and it is no wonder the game was such a hit. Topping all this in its inevitable sequel would be no easy feat—and although I enjoyed the first game of the series a tad more, Injustice 2 is still great enough that Batman would offer it a seat at the Justice League table.

Injustice 2 takes place shortly after the events of the first game. The heroes from our universe have mostly returned home (Green Arrow decided to stay and help out) and those in the Injustice-verse must aid the rebuilding efforts now that Superman’s Regime has been overthrown. In its place, however, new threats have arisen. Gorilla Grodd has brought together various villains to form a group called The Society, determined to rule in the Regime’s place. Meanwhile, an interstellar threat from the stars—the world collector Brainiac—has set his sights on Earth after finding out not one, but two surviving Kryptonians reside there. The heroes of this Injustice-verse must again band together, and even forge some uneasy alliances, if they are going to survive this new conflict.

It is now official: it seems the writers of Injustice have a better grasp of how to make a compelling DC Comics universe more than anyone currently behind most of the comics and all of the movies. The overarching story of Injustice 2 is a logical continuation of the first game’s narrative, told in NetherRealm’s now signature chapter-based sequences that follow individual fighters in the universe. It continues to flesh out this Injustice-verse and find, for the most part, natural ways to integrate new and interesting characters. There’s even some chapters that you can replay with different characters, and multiple endings depending on a choice you’re forced to make—although one feels much more like it will stand as canon beyond the other.

The story isn’t without flaws, however. While many characters made sense here in Injustice 2, several seemed to be shoehorned in just to expand the roster number. Firestorm’s ability to create any element was nothing more than a plot device, and the Joker—who appears as a Harley hallucination—was completely unnecessary beyond needing to continue to push that awful Jared Leto-esque Suicide Squad design onto us yet again. The worst, though, might’ve been Green Arrow, Black Canary, and Atrocitus. They all had small—yet interesting—side stories started, but they never came to a logical and satisfying conclusion, leaving us holding onto unfinished B-story threads. That said, I’d still rather have a dozen Injustice stories for every piece of garbage that DC Comics now prints or sends to our theaters.

Where Injustice 2 really stands out from the crowd is in its gameplay. The fighting mechanics are deeper than ever, with an extended specials meter that allows for more special moves to be buffed up, new escapes from combos, or the always-entertaining supermoves that cue a cinematic should they hit. Whether it’s Batman blasting you with the Batwing, Green Lantern obliterating you with a mechsuit construct, or even the Flash literally punching you through time, they never get old to watch—except maybe if you’re always the one being hit with them instead of doing the hitting.

As well, each of the game’s arenas once again feature a plethora of objects you can interact with. From throwing alligators in Slaughter Swamp to knocking opponents into the marquee of the Empire Theater, being aware of your surroundings can be just as important as memorizing combos. The only downside I found in the arena design was that one major feature from Injustice was surprisingly watered down here in Injustice 2: the stage transitions. Whereas we used to be able to knock opponents into one or two other stages on almost every level, many levels in Injustice 2 are self-contained, or only feature one transition. I’m not sure the reason for this, but the transition threat on both sides of a stage is something I sorely missed from the first game, and—considering the roster size—made the lack of overall arenas all the more telling.

A few new characters and a continuing story are expected in a fighting game sequel, though. The biggest change that Injustice 2 introduces is the new gear system. Similar to an action-RPG, leveling up your profile, leveling up a character, or completing certain objectives across all the game’s different modes will reward you with loot, gear, or Motherboxes, which—depending on rarity—rewards two to six more pieces of gear. You can then take the items you’ve earned and equip them into one of five different gear slots on each fighter. It not only changes the cosmetics of each fighter, but also boosts their ability, attack, defense, or health. You can even find new moves for your characters that you can equip, such as a teleport for Scarecrow, or a ground pound for Superman.

The system is one of the deepest rewards systems I’ve ever tried, and saying I became hooked by it would be an understatement. After every fight, I had to compare and contrast what my fighters were wearing, and it kept me playing far longer than I might have otherwise. It basically means that mirror matches are far less predictable, and even if you don’t like the idea of gear changing your stats, you can turn off the effects before every battle if you so choose. As characters level up, new gear becomes available to them until you hit the level 20 cap per character, and even if you should find a piece of epic gear at a lower level, you can earn regeneration coins that allow you to recast those items at your current level.

Sure, there are microtransactions that can speed up this entire process—including leveling up all your characters to max if you so choose. Honestly, though, I am having way too much fun fighting for every piece to make me potentially more powerful. I’ve never felt this direct connection between my hard work and the loot I earn so strongly before, even if the numbers are all randomly generated. My only complaint would be how I wish there was an easier way to earn epic loot for characters you don’t play with in the story. For beating a respective character’s story chapter, you’re rewarded with a piece of level 20 epic loot; it then made me really sad that half the roster was one piece of loot behind everyone else, even though there’s still the process of getting everyone to level 20.

Still, you can earn gear in every mode. Whether you’re trying to climb the online leaderboards (which are all operating smoothly at last check now a week after the game’s launch) or watching your characters duke it out in the new AI mode (where you pick three of your custom fighters to fight other custom teams and let the computer decide the winners as you watch), the gear and loot is always coming. My personal favorite way to get new gear, especially of the epic variety, is the new Multiverse mode.

The next step in MKX’s Living Towers system, these time-based events are portrayed as Batman keeping an eye on all the different worlds he learned about after the first game. Picking a planet affords players the opportunity to tackle special challenges against the AI; should you complete all the objectives on each one of these Elseworlds, you’ll be rewarded with some of the best gear in the game. Each planet, though, has a variety of stipulations. Some might help you, like having characters from the last game—such as Ares or Raven—offer their assistance as an AI ally that you can call on with a button press. Others will hinder you, as maybe you take damage every time you do a special move, or your opponent will have armor on, allowing them to absorb a certain number of hits before you can actually chip away at their lifebars. Either way, these challenges are constantly cycling in and out every few hours, and will keep you on your toes while keeping your coffers stuffed with loot and gear. The only one not set to a schedule is the “Multiverse Battle Simulator,” which is the well-hidden equivalent to Injustice 2’s arcade mode.

Injustice 2 is everything fans of DC Comics would want from a game like this, and then some. The gear system is surprisingly balanced and delightfully addictive in a way that will keep you coming back to this game long after you’ve seen every arcade ending and both endings in story mode. The story itself is very good, and even with a few holes and cheap gimmick characters thrown in for the sake of expanding the roster, is easily the best writing any DC property has seen since the first Injustice came out. And, most importantly, the gameplay remains top-notch, and is deeper than ever with new escapes, meter burns, and those fantastic supermoves. Even in a year that seems to be full of fighting games, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one better than Injustice 2.

Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment • Developer: NetherRealm Studios • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 05.16.17
9.0
Injustice 2 is one of the most complete fighting games you’ll ever play. From the story to the Multiverse Mode, there is something for everyone here to enjoy. And with how addictive the gear system is, you’ll be hard-pressed to put it down.
The Good The gear system is as addictive as advertised, and the Multiverse concept only feeds into this.
The Bad Story tries too hard to shoehorn some characters in. Less stage transitions than previous game.
The Ugly The new Joker design. Stop trying to push the Suicide Squad movie on us Warner Bros.!
Injustice 2 is available on PS4 and Xbox One. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

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.

My last review left a bad taste in my mouth, as I had been dying for a puzzle-driven adventure yet had been sorely disappointed. I needed something fast to help forget about that experience and move on—and then a voice started whispering in my ear that I should play Pinstripe. After doing a little research I was willing to give it a shot, and boy, was I glad I did.

Pinstripe puts players in the shoes of a disgraced ex-minister named Ted. When Ted’s three-year-old daughter, Bo, is kidnapped by a shady figure named Mr. Pinstripe, Ted will literally have to travel to hell and back to save her. And, maybe he’ll redeem himself in the process.

I’m amazed at how often one-man Indie devs blow me away, and Thomas Brush should be commended for being the latest to do so. Serving as designer, programmer, artist, writer, and composer, Brush has crafted a beautiful world with a touching story about life and loss, guilt and grief, repercussions and redemptions. Ted’s story is a moving one, because even in Brush’s fantastical version of hell, he finds a way to tell a relatable story about one man’s mistakes and how they have come back to haunt him in a quite literal way. It’s poignant in its simplicity, but maintains just enough mystery revolving around Ted and his past to keep you pushing forward to the end.

Part of what helps that story is the world Ted finds himself in. From the moment you start playing Pinstripe, you’ll be amazed how it visually blends gloom with serenity, begging you to explore its world, but also providing a creeping sense of dread as you never know what new obstacle Ted will have to overcome next. The only thing that tops the arresting art style used here is the voice acting of all the characters. Although the world is sparsely populated, each new inhabitant you come across reflects the dichotomy of the world around Ted, with many toeing a line between being chipper yet sad, hopeful yet defeated.

Where Pinstripe falters a bit, however, is in its gameplay. Many of the puzzles are really quite simple; while some will provide that satisfying “a-ha!” moment when you solve them, most are relatively straightforward, and shouldn’t require a lot of brainpower. There’s also the issue that some late-game obstacles will force you to backtrack to the beginning of the game just for the sake of gathering collectibles that were unobtainable at the start. Although the hell Ted finds himself in isn’t a very large world, this retracing of steps felt forced, like Brush was trying to cram in some sort of metroidvania element that really wasn’t necessary. Instead, it made it feel like he was trying to forcibly lengthen an experience that still only amounted to about a three-hour romp in the end.

Also, for an ex-minister, Ted sure gets around well. Although there isn’t a ton of platforming to be had, there are some occasions where you’ll have to use momentum to swing platforms around and Ted will have to perform some quick, crafty jumps to get to where he needs to go on his quest to save Bo. There’s even the occasional enemy that Ted will have to bop on the head with a jump in order to progress. Enemies that can’t be jumped on can be taken out by Bo’s slingshot, an item Ted finds very early on his journey, but combat as a whole is limited to only a few sections of the game—and the slingshot is mostly another tool to overcome the game’s puzzles. Combat was clearly not a major focus for Pinstripe, which makes sense given our protagonist’s religious background; this is primarily a puzzle-adventure game through and through.

This all seems pretty straightforward for this type of game, but Pinstripe had one more surprise for me at the end of my initial playthrough, and that was a shot of replayability rarely found in this genre. Typically, once you beat the puzzles in a game like this, there’s little to draw you back to it again. Pinstripe, however, makes new items and secrets available for you to collect and find only after your first playthrough of the game. This was a nice way to get me to repeat an adventure I had moved pretty quickly through the first time, and added a nice extra layer of depth to the experience.

Pinstripe was a Herculean effort by one man, and it provided one of the more interesting worlds and better stories I’ve played in quite some time. The drawback it seems of this passion project, however, comes in its length and its simplicity. Even though everything wrapped up neatly in the end, and I think the story was perfectly told, I would’ve loved if the world of Pinstripe had even more depth and characters to it, and if the complexity of the puzzles were greater. That said, you would be missing out if you passed up this narrative experience, even if the game lacks any real challenge for anyone familiar with this genre.

Publisher: Atmos Games • Developer: Atmos Games • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 04.25.17
7.5
What it lacks in length and complexity, Pinstripe makes up for in narrative. It’s a compelling story set in a beautiful world full of interesting characters, and that alone should be worth a look for most—even if there’s really not much challenge to this puzzle-adventure game.
The Good An interesting world driven by a moving story.
The Bad A bit on the short and simple side.
The Ugly The thought that hell doesn’t have to be all fire and brimstone in order to be torturous to someone.
Pinstripe is a Steam exclusive, available on PC, Mac, and Linux. Primary version reviewed was for Mac. Review code was provided by Atmos Games for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

You’d be hard-pressed to convince me that I didn’t grow up in a golden age of cartoons, as there was always animation inspired by video games, movies, comic books, and action figures to be found. Shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Super Mario Bros., Batman: The Animated Series, Spider-Man, GI Joe, Transformers, and more would serve as constant imagination fuel, but often only in half-hour increments at a time. Because of this, there was a clear king of the animated landscape: the Disney Afternoon block. Not only was the animation and antics top-notch, but we also got shows for two solid hours. Four different cartoons crammed back-to-back, and we didn’t have to wait until Saturday morning for it—we got it daily. Since a lot of animation at the time took inspiration from other media, it should come as no surprise that the osmosis worked both ways, and it wasn’t long before Capcom was working with Disney to crank out games based on the Afternoon shows. Those days of my childhood are long gone, and those cartoons can no longer be found on TV. But the games—the games are back.

The Disney Afternoon Collection takes six of the most beloved NES-era side-scrolling video games inspired by the Disney Afternoon block, polishes them up real nice, and presents them to us in a single package. DuckTales, DuckTales 2, Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers, Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers 2, TaleSpin, and Darkwing Duck all make triumphant returns on modern day consoles with an assortment of bells and whistles, including an HD coat of paint or the option to stick an old-school CRT TV grain filter over everything.

Each one of the six games is basically a side-scroller with minor variations thrown in. For example, DuckTales is primarily a platformer and TaleSpin a shooter, while Darkwing Duck is both. Whatever the case may be, I always consider myself a bit of a savant when it comes to these old-school games, and if you’re like me, you’ll be thrilled to know that all the challenge and difficulty that these titles were known for back in the day remains largely intact. Enemies will respawn when you walk off screen and then back, collapsing platforms still only give you the narrowest windows for success, and health recovery items are as hard to find as health bar extenders. But, if you’re also like me, you’re big enough to admit when you’re a little rusty, and everything might not be exactly in the same spot mentally as it was nearly 30 years ago.

Luckily, in case you’ve never played these games before, or you just need that gentle nudge in the right direction until your timing comes back, there’s a brand new “rewind” feature. By tapping a bumper button, you can reverse time and save yourself from a perilous pitfall, sharp spikes, or bouncing baddie that just won’t get out of your way. Each game also has a single save state, so you can save mid-playthrough if you need to turn the game off for some reason. Of course, both of these remove a lot of the original challenge, thereby shortening each of the six games to an under two-hour experience should you resort to using those options. And I will say, removing the challenge of these games is like sucking the life out of the games themselves, since it’s not exactly like you got a ton of story back in the days of the NES. The choice of how you play is entirely up to you, though, and that is always appreciated.

If you want your initial playthrough to be about re-learning the games without the temptation of using these tools, Time Attack mode removes all potential assists. Here, all that’s changed is the addition of a clock, pushing you and your reflexes back to the 80s and taunting you with leaderboards to see just how skilled you are. If replaying the entire game sounds like a bit of a time sink, there’s then the Boss Rush mode, which also removes assists and touts leaderboards while catapulting you right into (arguably) the most memorable parts of each level. It’s still so satisfying beating that damn Moon Rat in DuckTales.

There are a few other downsides to the rewind feature beyond the lessening of the challenge, however. Sometimes, if you don’t hold it down for long enough, or if you use it in short bursts in quick succession, the entire game you’re playing will slow down (because it’s trying to catch up to the changes you’re making, but you’re making them too quickly). I actually had Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers 2 completely freeze up on me while rewinding during the final boss against Robot Fat Cat, because I was micromanaging the battle in preparation for my Boss Rush run (which I was going to do afterwards while the boss fights were fresh in my mind). So, that is definitely something to keep an eye out for.

If you are at all a Disney nerd, the biggest addition The Disney Afternoon Collection might bring isn’t even in any of the six games. Instead, it’s the Museum mode, where design documents, box art, never-before-seen concept art, and all the music for each game is available for you to check out at your convenience. Seeing the access Capcom had to the Disney vault, and now finally being able to share in some of that, is really something special.

Whatever served as imagination fuel for you as a kid tends to turn to nostalgia fuel as an adult—kind of like how dinosaur bones turn into oil. It’s clear that a huge part of the appeal of The Disney Afternoon Collection for a gamer such as myself is that I get the chance to relive a large part of my gaming childhood with this assortment of games, and even get to play some of them for the first time (I missed out on the sequels originally because I had already switched to the SNES by then). Besides a few hiccups with the rewind feature and the occasional crash, this is a great way to relive the past or to use it as an introduction to a new generation of Disney fans—as long as they can appreciate the 8-bit “vintage” look.

Publisher: Capcom • Developer: Digital Eclipse • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 04.18.17
7.5
It’s pure nostalgia, but if you loved these games as a kid, there’s just enough new features to bring you back to it again—and they hold up well enough if you have someone you’d like to introduce these games to for the first time
The Good New optional rewind features and save states serve as nice crutches while you shake the rust off.
The Bad Occasional crashes and lag caused by liberal use of the rewind feature.
The Ugly Your realization of how skewed time was as a child, when you find out none of these cartoons made it more than 100 episodes (DuckTales’ 100th was its final, while no others made it that far).
The Disney Afternoon Collection is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Capcom for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

It’s never easy to try to find a foothold in an established field like racing simulators. Despite entering a market already dominated by Forza and Gran Turismo, however, the original Project CARS was able to not only compete from a technical perspective in terms of the racing experience it provides, but offered up a unique enough take on how you would approach races to carve out a slice for itself amongst gearheads. Building on that initial success, Slightly Mad Studios went to work on a sequel, and after my hands-on last week at CXC Simulations here in Los Angeles, Project CARS 2 is primed to move into the pole position of this genre.

It needs to be prefaced that my time with the game will likely not be quite indicative of the final experience most people will have, since I got to try the game out via Oculus VR on a $50,000 simulation rig that CXC offers to professional racers to prepare before big races. (That was the beauty of this demo, however.) Already loaded and ready to go for us was one of the brand new tracks featured in Project CARS 2, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, just days ahead of the actual race itself was to be held. While being jostled around as if I was taking hairpin turns at breakneck speeds was definitely new, the immersion I felt from the VR was even more intense, showing off the meticulous detail Slightly Mad has given to this new track.

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I also got to run the course in two different cars—the Acura NSX GT3 and the Dallara Honda Indycar—and moving from one car to the other was a tremendous extreme. It was hard enough learning a brand new track in VR (although I was able to adapt after a few laps), but the Acura’s top speed paled in comparison to when I sat in the driver’s seat of the Indycar, as turns came up faster and I had to be far more cognizant of my shifting as I reached higher speeds more quickly. But while new tracks and cars are always expected with any racing sequel, it was the last machine I hopped in that was particularly exciting.

Projects CARS 2 unveiled Rallycross mode to us for the first time. Yes, the off-road sprint-oriented series of races will debut this go around in Project CARS 2, and that means not only even more new cars and tracks, but new paths for your career drivers to take and brand new surfaces to drive on. Gravel and dirt will combine with asphalt on these tracks just like in real life, and although Rallycross tracks are smaller that most other tracks, the shifting terrain combined with how differently the cars handle will provide entirely new challenges for players to overcome—and I can speak from some limited experience.

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If going from the Acura to the Indycar was night and day, going into a rally-fitted Honda Civic Coupe was like going from April to August. Drifting at high speeds is a must here, and as unintuitive as it may be, taking corners almost sideways can actually be beneficial (and even preferred) in order to best position yourself for the next straightaway. But knowing how to take those turns is only the beginning, as your car will handle completely differently on dirt than gravel or asphalt—and it’s extremely easy to spin out if you’re not careful or underestimate the ground beneath your wheels.

When you combine this new mode with the realistic tire degradation and fine vehicle tuning of the first game, you’re starting to get into the grittiest of details that will have you almost smelling the engine grease on your hands. Adding Rallycross on top of new tracks and cars is a huge boon for Project CARS 2, and if Slightly Mad gives this mode as much attention as they gave everything from the first Project CARS, then this racing series will have more than earned its place at the table alongside Gran Turismo and Forza—and may even be in position to get ready to overtake them.

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.

“And it’s another ambush.” This innocuous, almost throw-away line of dialogue near the end of a side mission on the ice planet Voeld was one of the most compelling moments in my time with Mass Effect: Andromeda. Not because the situation or even the line itself was particularly thrilling, but because the exasperation with which the line was delivered was exactly how I had felt for about the first 30 hours of the 65 it took me to finish the campaign. The seeming self-awareness by Ryder was the first time I found myself able to finally relate to the new hero of one of gaming’s most beloved series, and yet succinctly summed up one of the main reasons why I was not enjoying myself.

Mass Effect: Andromeda is of course the fourth main game in BioWare’s epic space-faring RPG franchise. This latest chapter technically begins between the original Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, where a former N7 named Alec Ryder and his children sign up for a program known as the Andromeda Initiative, a space-exploration mission that sends them—and nearly 100,000 others from select races—off towards the Heleus cluster in the Andromeda galaxy while frozen in cryo-stasis upon special ships aptly called Arks. The journey is set to take just over 600 years, and the hope upon arrival is they will be able to colonize “golden worlds,” planets that appear hospitable for life from the Milky Way. Taking control of one of Alec’s fraternal twin children (male or female), you soon realize that the worlds you had hoped to forge a future on are no longer golden, and the ill-timed death of your father makes you inadvertently the tip of a new spear that must be forged if civilization is to thrive on this new frontier.

This task of finding and terraforming new worlds is one of your two major objectives in Andromeda as the newly designated “Pathfinder” for the Initiative—and I quickly grew to despise it. Ryder must make five planets viable for life to live on, but the process is the same each and every time: activation of ancient technology on each world to expedite the terraforming process while completing mundane tasks for people on or wanting to go to the planet. It’s bad enough the worlds can be boiled down to “ice world,” “jungle world,” “sandy desert world,” “rocky desert world,” and “hive of scum and villainy.” Combine them with monotonous, circuitous fetch quests that have you bouncing around the galaxy and suffering through long, unskippable interstellar travel scenes before getting just a couple of lines of dialogue and a green check mark in your menu, or being sent to an outpost to kill all the bad guys, and I honestly almost wanted the Initiative to fail. They’re the most transparent and dull quests an RPG can provide, especially with minimal main story involvement, and it all just felt like a mechanism to bloat the game’s length from the 30-35 hours it could’ve been—which would have fallen in line with previous games in the series—to the 65-75 hours you’ll likely need to do everything now, should you choose to do so like I did. If ever there was an argument that bigger isn’t necessarily better, Andromeda makes it.

The other major issue with this task is that it makes the universe feel like a knockoff of what the original trilogy had provided, as your job is just building this galaxy up to original Mass Effect levels.  When I landed on the Citadel in the original Mass Effect, the alien races and the scope of everything blew me away. When you land on the Nexus (wannabe Citadel) in Andromeda via the Tempest (wannabe Normandy), many alien races like the drell, quarians, elcor, hanar, and volus—to name just a few—have all been cut. Only the krogan, turians, salarians, asari, and, of course, humans, have supposedly made the trip from the Milky Way. To replace nearly a dozen other species from the original trilogy, all we get are the new enemies (the kett), one new ally (the angarans), and the references to a long dead race whose technology plagues Andromeda (the remnant). In a game that felt like it was trying to sell itself on exploration and new experiences, it’s depressing how little there was in Andromeda to genuinely explore and get excited about, since it all felt so familiar and barebones. BioWare should have streamlined the side quests, not the Heleus cluster.

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Luckily, your other main objective in the Andromeda galaxy will feel a lot more familiar, and is a lot more fun. Along your viability journey, you’ll come across the aforementioned kett, a ruthless alien race bent on conquering every species in the known universe. While not focused on all-out destruction like the reapers were in the original trilogy, the kett are interested in assimilation, and they are very curious in everyone who just appeared from the Milky Way. This conflict makes up the majority of the game’s story beats, and the missions associated with stopping the kett not only provide more variety than the viability ones, but are heavily grounded in the dialogue and character development we’ve come to expect from a BioWare game. The leader of the kett, the Archon, is the epitome of the ruthlessness that embodies his people, and my only complaint on that front is I wish there was more of him—and more length to this storyline in general—as he worked from the shadows most of the game.

Speaking of characters, it wouldn’t be Mass Effect without a ragtag group of aliens and humans coming together to represent the diversity this fictional galaxy is supposed to be all about. I was a little shocked that the group just seems to be thrown together rather quickly and haphazardly—you’ll have your entire squad by the start of the second planet—but I couldn’t help but develop strong emotions towards each and every one of them. In fact, the long chains of events that culminate in their loyalty missions might have been my favorite objectives in the game. And, because all of the characters don’t know the fate of the Milky Way since they left after the original Mass Effect, it is interesting to see them wonder about what might’ve happened, how old prejudices like those between salarians and krogans are still running strong here in Andromeda, and how they sort through the mysteries and baggage they brought with them which often prompted them to leave everything they knew behind in the first place.

What strengthens these relationships the most, though, is dialogue. Although some of the dialogue—and the acting in general—is hit or miss, more options than the Paragon/Renegade choices of the original trilogy have been offered to help provide a better, more rounded Ryder than Shepard. Some answers are more professional, while others more emotional. Some are guarded; others show a softer side to Ryder, and in turn, possibly your teammates. It’s a welcome bit of nuance for one of the series’ core mechanics. There’s even an opportunity within some cutscenes—almost like a Telltale game—where pressing a trigger button will have Ryder act impulsively, which could profoundly affect relationships down the line.

Of course, you’re not just talking in Mass Effect: Andromeda. The third-person shooter gameplay from the main trilogy returns with some tweaks to them. A new cover mechanic has been added that really doesn’t work as well as it should—most of the time, you’ll hug a corner you didn’t mean to, and even then you’re often still at least partially exposed. And, credit to the AI here, if you do stay in cover for too long, the enemy will quickly try to flank you. So, your best bet is to keep moving. A new jetpack that gives you some pure jumping ability has also been added that allows you to float when aiming, but really, flying above all your cover just makes you a prime target.

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The jetpack also introduces some teeth-grindingly frustrating platforming sections to the game. Exploring the ancient ruins you need to navigate in order to turn on each planet’s terraforming machines is a torturous exercise in futility. Adding jumping to a game with an emphasis on exploration makes sense, but it lacks the finesse necessary to keep the mechanic—and vertical navigation in general—from becoming nothing but a chore. Ryder never sticks a landing after a long jump, often times leading to him tumbling off an edge, and it is very difficult to judge distance here because the camera is positioned far too closely to your character. It’s perfect for a third-person shooter, not a third-person platformer.

The last major addition to gameplay is that four of the five planets you need to make viable require you to traverse them in the Nomad, the new version of the original Mass Effect’s Mako. Simply put, the Nomad sucks. You need to change gears to climb even the slightest incline on every planet, it lacks any sort of weaponry—which would have made the more bad guy-ridden planets a lot more fun instead of constantly having to leave the vehicle to shoot people—and even when you are able to climb up a mountain that should be accessible, you’ll find blue neon walls appear to signify the edge of the world, forcing you to take the long way around every mountain. Driving was almost as much of a chore as jumping.

As you complete missions, explore the landscape, and take out kett and remnant, you’ll level up like in any RPG. Much like the more nuanced dialogue options, there are many ways to make Ryder truly unique to you here in Andromeda. Dozens of power options fall under combat, technology, or biotics, with three non-passive choices being able to be carried into battle at a time (though they can be switched out on the fly via the menu screen if a situation should change). By spending points in each category, you’ll also unlock profiles, which give boosts depending on your playstyle. For example, the Soldier profile is exclusively combat tree-heavy in its bonuses, while others mix and match two of the three trees in its bonuses, with one profile skewing to all three. I preferred the Vanguard personally, which was a mix of combat and technology.

For as easy as leveling up is, though, the new crafting system is as much of a chore as a lot of the other systems added to this game. You can’t craft on the fly, having to either find a tucked-away research & development console somewhere on a planet, or return to your ship, which always takes back off into space for some reason whenever you return to it. I really don’t know why you can’t just go into the ship without it leaving dock and triggering the same annoying cutscene—trying to cover up the game’s awful loading times, perhaps. Collecting resources is easy enough, but building and equipping items is so bothersome I only touched the R&D consoles when I absolutely, positively had to make a change or craft a quest item.

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While on the subject of load times, now is also perfect to talk about how broken Mass Effect: Andromeda is from a technical aspect. Animation has never been a BioWare strong suit, but there were many instances while I was playing that the animation was busted or weird on another level. I’ve seen three different Drack (your krogan ally) walk into the galley on the Tempest at once; I’ve seen PeeBee (asari ally) blink out of existence in the middle of a conversation; I’ve seen the Nomad spawn in places it shouldn’t, like inside buildings; I’ve fallen through the world on fast travel points, and had Ryder randomly give speeches from cutscenes in missions that I completed hours prior. I’ve seen some shit in this game, and that’s not even including the long load times, the awful draw distance, and the instances where the game literally comes to a complete halt if you drive too fast in the Nomad as the planets you are driving on struggle to load into your game. This game is going to be getting patches for a long time.

Besides the campaign (which comprises the overwhelming bulk of Andromeda) there is also a multiplayer component. Andromeda basically borrows the wave-based, horde-like multiplayer from Mass Effect 3 and updates it with new maps, new enemies, and some new objectives. There’s also dozens of new loadouts available that can be unlocked, but I personally would rather just be given a couple characters that can be more deeply customized than all these starting templates that need to be unlocked. There are also microtransactions to purchase credits to unlock items, but going that route is wholly unnecessary. (Of course, I think the multiplayer part of Mass Effect is unnecessary to begin with, though.)

Fighting seven waves of enemies with friends to obtain items—some of which can be carried over to the campaign, like credits and crafting materials—loses its luster very quickly to me. That’s especially the case now that the single-player campaign allows you to send CPU “Strike Teams” to do the missions instead, getting you all the gear you want without the time commitment of having to find friends to play with and stepping away from the story. Managing these teams from a console on the Tempest was a lot more fun and a lot less time consuming than the multiplayer, but if wave-based survival with some objectives is your thing, there are also a lot worse choices out there than what Andromeda provides. Also, I had no issues connecting or finding people to play with, so that’s a plus at least.

Mass Effect: Andromeda isn’t a bad game—but it is far from what we expect from the series. Poorly written fetch-quests, a dead universe that requires the player to bring any semblance of life to it, and more glitches than can be found tolerable in a game like this horribly mar the experience. There is a strong foundation of characters and story that is being laid down here, which gives me hope for the future, but this new chapter of the Mass Effect saga is a high price to pay in order to reinvest in a universe so many of us had come to love.

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Publisher: Electronic Arts • Developer: BioWare Montreal • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 03.21.17
6.0
There is a strong core of characters and story bedrock laid down in Mass Effect: Andromeda, but between questionable design choices, boring missions, and glitches galore, it’s hard not to view BioWare’s journey to a brand new galaxy as anything less than mission failure.
The Good The main story and new cast of characters are often as compelling as those left behind in the Milky Way.
The Bad Lots of busy work fetch-quests, a sense of everything being too familiar for being 600 light years away, and bugs—so many bugs.
The Ugly I fell harder for PeeBee than I expected.
Mass Effect: Andromeda is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by EA for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.