Tag Archive: video games


I had a chance to play a new demo of South Park: The Fractured But Whole from Ubisoft, Ubisoft San Francisco, and South Park Digital Studios. Here, we fight some priests and red necks. Check it out. South Park: The Fractured But Whole will be available October 17 for Xbox One, PS4, and PC.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment • Developer: SIE Japan Studio • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 09.05.17
8.0
Knack II fixes many of the problems of its predecessor, delivering a fun action-platformer worthy of giving this series a second chance. The story is still a bit bare-boned, but the gameplay alone will be enough to keep you going until you see the end credits.
The Good A large variety of gameplay and Knack’s expanded moveset allows you to tackle bad guys in a plethora of ways.
The Bad Too many QTEs; all of the characters in terms of their personalities, especially Knack, still feel very one-dimensional.
The Ugly I feel like there’s been some retconning between Knack games that none of us were made aware of.
Knack II is a PS4 exclusive. A retail copy was provided by Sony for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.