Tag Archive: Xbox One


After a series of lackluster releases, the fortunes of Telltale changed for the better when its landmark first season of The Walking Dead dropped. It was a gritty, moving story that redefined narrative in video games, and it seemed for a time after that, Telltale could do no wrong. There have definitely been more successes than not when taking licensed properties and crafting original tales around their episodic, choice-driven formula since then—the Walking Dead, however, appeared immune to the occasional misstep seen in other series. This leads us to The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, the third full season of the saga which just released its final episode. Although it is still one Telltale’s stronger efforts, it pales in comparison to the previous two seasons.

The character of Clementine, the common thread through the first two seasons, is still present here to keep us connected, but takes a noticeable backseat as players control new character Javier “Javi” Garcia. Javi’s family has a close encounter with a walker early in the outbreak, which proves to be a turning point for him as a person. He takes it upon himself to care for his sister-in-law, niece, and nephew for the next several years as the walker threat spreads. When Javi—with family in tow somewhere between Baltimore, Maryland, and Richmond, Virginia—come across the wrong set of humans in a junkyard, however, they quickly realize the living is just as dangerous as the undead.

Unsurprisingly, the narrative across A New Frontier’s five episodes provides a lot of highs and lows for our characters. Keeping in line with previous Walking Dead games, there are a bevy of heart-wrenching moments, difficult decisions, and surprises to be had as you try to guide Javi and his family to some sort of safe haven. The limited time you have to make decisions ramps up the tension more than ever before, as Javi will often have to think quickly in terms of what to say (or what not to say) and where to go.

The only issue with this system in A New Frontier—and this is something that has crept into Telltale games before—is that sometimes some of the descriptions of what you want to say will cause you to make a choice, but then your character will say something you did not expect at all. If I choose “tell [insert character] off” then I’m expecting a few sentences laced with expletives, not for my character to suddenly reveal private information meant to hurt that individual on a deeper level. The result then may lead to something truly unexpected, but it’s frustrating when it stems from a choice you feel you really didn’t make.

Thankfully, those instances, at least in my playthrough of the season, were relatively few and far between. Something that plagued the narrative far more was the inconsistency of the writing quality as a whole. Each episode, even the double-long two-parter that kicks the season off, had plenty of those great moments I mentioned earlier—but unlike previous Walking Dead games, it felt like there were dramatic tonal shifts between episodes and writing teams. Nowhere was this more evident than in the final episode, which only had one lead writer instead of a full team. This episode had humor pop up in the weirdest places, which seemed to really undercut everything that had happened up until that point. The narrative for this season also relied more heavily on plot devices than in previous games. For example, each episode usually featured a couple of flashbacks. Some were used to fill in the nearly two-year gap for Clementine between Seasons Two and Three; others were trying desperately to add depth to the new cast of characters, who still ended up being far less interesting than any group we’ve previously played as. The device was neat early on, but already felt overplayed by the time episode four rolled around.

Speaking of devices, poor Clementine was relegated to deus ex machina this go around instead of the powerful, beloved heroine she was becoming after Season Two. She would come and go as she pleased during each episode, and it felt like whenever Javi had gotten himself into the most trouble, Clem would show up to find a way to bail him and his bumbling family out before continuing her own agenda elsewhere (which we almost never see). Admittedly, this could be a sore spot for me due to the attachment many of us have developed with this character over the years, but it felt like one of the better characters in video games was being underutilized.

That said, one new device the game added that I enjoyed was that those limited interactions with Clem played heavily into how much she helps you later on in the game. In fact, after seeing how all my decisions affected my playthrough, I was shocked that half of the audience alienated Clem by the end of the game, leading to many questions for potential new seasons that will hopefully switch the focus back to our darling Clementine. This added some much needed weight to the largest decisions you have in the game early on, and was a pleasant surprise.

The rest of the gameplay in A New Frontier was rather by the book otherwise. Telltale has gotten away from the puzzles of point-and-click adventures of the past, relying far more heavily on quick time events now. Although this helps greatly with the pace of the story, it removes almost any challenge from the game, making it feel less like you’re playing a game at all. Depending on how much you’ve invested in the narrative, this could be a potential turn-off if you’re looking to test your brainpower more than your reflexes. It also needs to be said that Telltale’s proprietary Telltale Tool game engine continues to show its age in the worst ways. There is nothing more immersion breaking than when someone is hurt in the game and the animation jumps when the blood splatters. I understand that Telltale has become a well-oiled machine in terms of being able to crank out episodes at a breakneck pace compared to just a few years ago, but it’s clear the game engine can no longer support the creative engine.

The Walking Dead: A New Frontier isn’t the best season we’ve gotten of Telltale’s The Walking Dead—it’s strong narrative, although inconsistent at times, is still one of the more compelling and well-thought stories Telltale has produced, however. It took some chances with new plot devices, many of which I felt did not work, but this will hopefully provide opportunities to try other ideas that might work better instead. If you’re a big fan of these Walking Dead games, you’ll be happy you’ve played this, but like me, it’ll probably only make you want a new season as soon as possible where the focus shifts back to Clementine.

Publisher: Telltale Games • Developer: Telltale Games • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 05.30.17
7.5
It’s a solid third season for The Walking Dead, but we’ve seen so much better. Cheap plot devices and inconsistent tones in the writing hurt the overall quality of the narrative, and the Telltale Tool continues to show its age in the worst ways. And, for diehard fans, Clementine will still find a way to steal the show from the new cast.
The Good A New Frontier continues to show why The Walking Dead is Telltale’s most compelling property.
The Bad The Telltale Tool continues to show its age; writing inconsistency between episodes.
The Ugly My crying face—Telltale is too good at making you care about a character and then killing them off.
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier – The Complete Third Season is available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, iOS, and Android. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Telltale Games for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

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.

Like many gamers around my age, my gaming prime came on the Nintendo 64. Those late adolescent/early teen years of my life were spent pouring hour after hour into the medium’s first 3D worlds, and few experiences hold as special a place in my heart as the action-platformers on Nintendo’s system. Driven to grab every collectible, I’d spend hours watching counters go up as I crossed items off, only to start a new save file and do it all over again. One of my particular favorites was Banjo-Kazooie, and so I was nothing if not intrigued when I found out many of the minds behind that classic from my youth had started a new studio, and successfully Kickstarted a throwback to that era titled Yooka-Laylee. While it was fun to walk down an updated memory lane, Yooka-Laylee is also a reminder in some ways of how far we’ve come in gaming, and how some things are better left in the past.

Yooka-Laylee follows the titular duo of a chameleon (Yooka) and his best bat friend (Laylee) as they enjoy a relaxing day at their new home Shipwreck Creek, which is just outside the corporate Hivory Towers. Meanwhile, the head honcho of the Hivory Towers, Capital B, sets in motion a plan to steal all the world’s literature as he looks for one special, magical book. It should shock no one that the book is actually in Laylee’s possession, and she and Yooka don’t take kindly to having it suddenly taken away from them. The book’s pages—dubbed “Pagies” in the game—don’t take to this idea either, ripping themselves from their bindings and scattering about the tower. Now, Yooka and Laylee must race to collect all 145 pages, put the book back together, and stop Capital B’s plans once and for all.

Yooka-Laylee is a textbook spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie. The names have changed, the worlds have changed, and even some of the powers have changed, but playing Yooka-Laylee is like forcing yourself to feel déjà vu for 10 to 20 hours depending on how many collectibles you go after (a one-hundred percent run took me almost 20 hours) and if you ever played those original games. For me, this was great, because I love the colorful characters, the tongue-in-cheek British humor, and the puzzle solving and platforming gameplay that served as staples for Banjo-Kazooie (and continue here). But, after wiping the nostalgia from my eyes like crud caked onto them after oversleeping, I realize there are also some problems with living in the past like Yooka-Laylee does, since the game largely ignores the 20 years of progress games development have made.

CapitalB1160

The first (and most) evident problem is the camera. Even after the day one patch, I still felt like I had to wrestle with the damn thing like it was 1998 all over again. Here I was, swearing at the TV that the angle wouldn’t let me see what I wanted to see, or that it had pulled in too close while Laylee was using her flying power, or that the perspective suddenly shifted, and so too did the controls. The good old days, right? It was a common and accepted occurrence back then, but we’ve progressed past that as an industry for the most part—yet here was this nuisance from the past cropping up once again.

The controls are also looser than all the bowel movement jokes worked into the game. While they’re rarely bad enough to ever actively get in the way of you beating the game, they can get frustrating—especially with Laylee’s flying or Yooka’s roll move that allows you to traverse steep inclines—when trying to grab collectibles as you just barely over or undershoot your target because it feels like you’re fighting the controls more than you should be.

Another favorite problem is the game-breaking glitch. Banjo-Kazooie had one that was never fixed (even when it was re-released with Rare Replay) called the Bottles Puzzle Glitch. This would make it so if you did a particular puzzle before collecting all 900 music notes in that game, some of them would magically disappear, and you’d be stuck just shy of 100-percent.

Pagies1160

In Yooka-Laylee, there seems to be a similar glitch in world four, the Capital Cashino. In order to obtain most Pagies in the level, you need to collect 10 coins on various casino-based mini-games, a fun change of pace that adds variety to the experience. I discovered late in my playthrough that by destroying out of order slot machines, you could grab a bunch of coins at once. Thanks to that, I wound up cashing in four Pagies worth of coins at one time, after which the little auto-save icon popped up and then faded away. I ran around for a few more minutes looking for (but never finding) more coins, and then I proceeded to turn my game off for the night. To my horror, when I returned to Yooka-Laylee the next morning, not only did I not have all four Pagies I had cashed in my coins for (I only was credited with two of them), but the coins and the out of order slot machines themselves were gone from the world. So, too, was every other coin I had already collected from the world.

Now, this wouldn’t stop me from beating the game, but it’s clearly a glitch that prevents you from getting 100-percent in the end (like the Bottles Glitch). I believe the autosave point happened in-between the Pagie counter increases but after I cashed in all the coins at the same time. It was unfortunate, and it’s—admittedly—a lot of speculation on my part to the hows and whys of the matter, but after several hours I resigned myself to starting a new game, beginning from scratch, and cashing in 10 coins as soon as I got them every time in Capital Cashino—then getting my full clear on that playthrough.

Yooka-Laylee does do a fine job of following in its ancestor’s footsteps on the positive side of things as well, however. The worlds are absolutely gorgeous, with colors that you didn’t even know existed just popping off your screen. As well, the soundtrack is amazing; I’m still humming the opening theme while writing this, and honestly you’d be hard-pressed to get the Capital Cashino theme out of my head.

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The worlds are also absolutely massive. There may be only five of them—six if you count the main hub—and they may start out at a size comparable to what we were used to in the N64 days, but Yooka-Laylee adds variety by allowing you to spend Pagies to quadruple the area of each world, offering up hours of additional puzzle-solving and keeping each world from growing stale as a new cavalcade of characters are introduced with even more quests to complete.

And, my glitch notwithstanding, each collectible feels challenging, but not ever unobtainable. This is a difficult balance to strike to get people to keep playing and not be bored of the collection process, yet Yooka-Laylee makes it feel effortless. There’s also a great open-endedness to each challenge, which is something I had forgotten I loved about these games. You can bend the rules once you have the proper tools at your disposal in order to circumvent some of the difficulty. In fact, I’d recommend doing the bare minimum to open up each basic world and concentrate on obtaining the full repertoire of Yooka and Laylee’s moveset. Once you unlock all their abilities, you’ll be able to find faster, more efficient ways of solving puzzles and beating bosses when you subsequently backtrack.

Speaking of powers, Yooka and Laylee also have a bevy of transformations courtesy of a character named Dr. Puzz that would put Mumbo Jumbo’s magic to shame. Plant, animal, and even vehicle forms allow the duo to explore every nook and cranny of each world. There’s also an additional power you can utilize over the course of the game called Tonics that offer everything from more health to more special ability meter, or even just fun stuff like giving Yooka familiar-looking blue pants to wear—but you can only ever have one active at a time.

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One other minor addition sees Yooka-Laylee borrow something from the modern era: multiplayer. A polygonal dinosaur character named Rextro is the purveyor of old-school arcade games inside the main campaign, and he also offers up some local co-op and versus multiplayer options for up to four players on one couch. It’s a nice touch from a crew that supposedly always wanted to add a multiplayer component to the Banjo games, but could never do it back in the N64 days.

Finally, there’s the writing. Personally, I loved much of the tone of this game. It never takes itself too seriously, and the toilet humor finds an interesting sweet spot between what we saw in Conker’s Bad Fur Day and Banjo-Kazooie—including in the very first level, where you need to loosen the bowels of a talking cloud in order to get it to rain or snow in the world to unlock new challenges. I also liked many of the characters, like the aforementioned Rextro, and Trowzer, the special move-selling snake. Heck, even the loading screens make fun of the game itself, or how games used to be back in the N64 era. You could potentially alienate some of your younger audience with references back to the days of memory cards and cartridges, but I found it to be charming.

Yooka-Laylee was a fun stroll down memory lane, but it also serves an unintentional purpose: It reminds us how much better things have gotten in games over the years. While still being solid in its own right as an action-platformer, its humor and style won’t resonate with everyone, and there are definitely some technical issues holding it back. However, for those of us who grew up with Banjo-Kazooie, our rose-colored glasses can remain mostly intact as we hunt for countless collectibles, even as our tastes have matured along with the industry. Hopefully, those unfamiliar with the roots of this game will be able to forgive that, sometimes, we older gamers just wanted a talking, constipated cloud to change the world around us, and focus on the platforming instead.

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Publisher: Team17 • Developer: Playtonic Games • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 04.11.17
7.0
Some long-forgotten issues from way back in the day crop up again in this throwback action-plaformer, but even if you aren’t playing it through the nostaliga of someone who grew up with Banjo-Kazooie or other adventures like it, you’ll still find a solid game to play in Yooka-Laylee.
The Good It’s a love-letter in every imaginable way to classic 3D platforming adventures of the N64 days.
The Bad It stays too true to form from the N64 days, and carries over a lot of the issues with those games as well.
The Ugly The save glitch in the Capital Cashino world that required me to start my entire game over if I wanted to make a one-hundred percent run.
Yooka-Laylee is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC and coming later for the Switch. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Team17 for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

People are always trying to combine things to make better and more interesting things: Peanut butter and chocolate; Batman with Superman—in comics, not in the movies; pineapple on pizza. Okay, the jury’s still out on that last one. In the case of Agents of Mayhem, though, all the best action of the 80s is being slammed together with the over-the-top humor and situations the Saints Row series was known for in a spin-off that takes place in the same universe. I recently got to go hands-on with Volition’s latest open-world foray, and it’s shaping up to be a love letter to everything great from GI Joe to Knight Rider.

In our demo, we got to play as nine of the 12 members of an elite super fighting force called Mayhem who, simply put, could care less about being heroes—the fact they’re saving the world from people even worse than them is a side bonus. They’re in it to win it for sure, but mostly just for themselves. It’s sort of like the enemy of enemy is my friend; they’re our friends just because they hate the really evil guys from a group called Legion a lot more than all of us. Each character fills a role on the team, offering up weapons and powers that make them great for different situations.

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Hollywood, for example, is the team’s pretty boy who loves nothing more than, well, himself. He wields an assault rifle for great medium range damage, and can fire a grenade from his groin—don’t ask. Then there’s Hardtack, who immediately comes across as a more narcissistic Shipwreck from GI Joe. Hardtack is a shotgunner who can take a licking and keep on…errr…shotgunning. What’s great about Agents of Mayhem is that before most missions you take on, you can choose three of the 12 characters on the roster, then switching between them on the fly. Finding a balance is often the best strategy, but depending on your style, you can specialize and go heavy offense, defense, or the like.

The game takes place primarily in Seoul, South Korea. Exploring the open world to find collectibles and side missions is critical to leveling your characters, which leads to better skills and stronger survivability stats like higher defense or health. Even moving about the world provides options, as you can utilize your powers, every character’s built-in triple jump, commandeer a car from the world, or call in one of your nitrous-outfitted Mayhem cruisers (including some with Kitt-like robot voice) should you so choose to.

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During our demo, we were able to check out five different missions. Two helped forward the story of the game as we took down high-ranking lieutenants inside Legion by blowing up basically everything in sight. Two other missions, meanwhile, were solo objectives that introduced us to new characters like Daisy, the roller derby girl with a Gatling gun and an alcohol problem (who ended up my favorite). Beating those solo missions unlocked new characters and gave us some critical backstory beats about the world and the team itself.

The last mission might’ve been the most interesting, because it was easily the most open-ended and tasked us with capturing a tower in the middle of Seoul. Capturing towers is great for experience, while also freeing areas of Seoul from Legion control. It’s a common video game activity at this point, but it definitely gave us a lot more reasons to explore the world. The mission also showed off some of the verticality of the game, as we had to climb several buildings to get to the capture point. It also highlighted the fast & frantic pace of combat, especially when swapping teammates as swarms of Legion soldiers attacked our position.

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My time with Agents of Mayhem might’ve only been a small cross section of the variety of scenarios the game promises to throw players into, but it was enough to pique my interest for sure. Its cutscenes and interstitials look like they could’ve aired as part of a Saturday morning cartoon block—with more adult themes, mind you—while the action felt like a cross between what we’ve seen before in Saints Row and something like Crackdown. There’s not as much customization as some would expect from Volition, with each character having a limited number of skins for themselves, cars, and their weapons—but that’s because the cast fits more carefully into a story that pays homage in its own weird way to a bygone era. If you ever wanted to see what might happen if GI Joe took a turn for the adult, then maybe got spliced with Archer or something along those lines, Agents of Mayhem looks like it’s ready to deliver just that in the package of a fun, open-world action game.

Agents of Mayhem is dropping on August 15 for Xbox One, PS4, and PC.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Publisher: V7 Entertainment • Developer: V7 Entertainment • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 03.28.17
3.0
Old Time Hockey is more style than substance. Its heart was in the right place, but shoddy controls, glitches, and poor gameplay design make this an arcade-style game hockey fans just don’t need in their lives.
The Good The style and soundtrack is a throwback in the best ways possible.
The Bad Stiff controls, repetitive commentary, random game crashes, and oddly gated gameplay abilities via story mode.
The Ugly Those classic hockey player smiles.
Old Time Hockey is available on PS4 and PC, with versions coming for Xbox One and Nintendo Switch later. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by V7 Entertainment for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

“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.

Great ideas are born all the time in the video game industry, but not all of them reach fruition—and fewer still achieve their fullest potential. It seems Ubisoft’s For Honor, at least at this moment in time, falls into the latter category of a game that just isn’t where it needs to be. After conquering the campaign and playing well over 100 multiplayer matches over the past week since it’s launch, I’m sorry to say that For Honor just seems to be another in what is becoming Ubisoft’s calling card of the past several years: a tremendous idea that falls short due to lackluster or questionable technical execution.

For Honor puts players in a fantasy world that mashes up regions and time periods, placing three of the world’s greatest factions of warriors together on one limited landmass. Samurai, Knights, and Vikings fight in perpetual war over scarce resources in this fictitious world, unwittingly serving as pawns in the plans of Apollyon, a particularly ruthless black knight who feels that only in war can people maximize their abilities.

The campaign takes you through each of the three faction camps as you begin to piece together Apollyon’s plot. There are 18 chapters (six for each group), and all told the campaign shouldn’t take more than 4-6 hours to finish. There’s some replayability here, with collectibles and multiple difficulty levels (including the hardest “Realistic” difficulty that completely removes your HUD), but not much else. It’s also a bit on the repetitive side, with occasional surprises to keep you pushing forward, but what serves as the brightest spot for the campaign is that it is an excellent teaching tool. As a de facto proving ground, it gives you plenty of opportunities to test strategies and learn more advanced combos with particular classes against the computer before you take those skills into the online world.

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One glaring flaw with the campaign, though, is the fact that if one of its major purposes is as a way to familiarize yourself with the game’s 12 distinct characters and it’s unique combat system in a safer offline setting, then it should give you an opportunity to play as all of the character choices. Only eight of the 12 are featured in the campaign, with the Berseker (Vikings), Conqueror (Knights), Shugoki (Samurai), and Nobushi (Samurai) being exempt.

Though, it could argue that some of these class styles are covered in other chapters. For example, the Vikings’ Warlord—who does get his own chapter—is classed as a heavy, which Shugoki and Conqueror also both fall under. However, there are enough differences between each choice and their playstyles that not being able to figure out how to fit playable sections for all 12 characters into 18 chapters—especially when many campaign chapters have all the characters in them already as NPCs—is bothersome. For example, the Nobushi has probably the most range of any character in the game (plus some attacks that can poison an enemy), while the Shugoki is the only character that can actually absorb a hit without flinching—but you need to experiment in multiplayer to find all that out. You can play the online modes against AI to get some experience with characters, and I admit that For Honor’s bots are some of the most intelligent you’re likely to find in any online game, but I believe that wrapping your training around a story and a tutorial increases your retention of learned skills, as opposed to just button mashing against a bot that falls into predictable patterns.

A big reason why it’s particularly frustrating having to learn characters in multiplayer, instead of more ideally just honing and mastering your skills against humans, is For Honor’s aforementioned combat system. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic system, but it has a steep learning curve and can be incredibly complex at times. The core of For Honor is three-way directional blocking/attacking. If you are swinging from the left, and your foe blocks in that direction, nothing happens; if they leave themselves open, you do damage. It looks like a simple third-person hack ‘n’ slash mechanic, but once you get past this, you’ll find there’s more to this game—and, again, each character’s specific nuances only diversify and add wonderful depth to the gameplay. Throws, stuns, parries, specials, and unblockable attacks all must be learned if you’re to have any success in campaign or online. The beauty of it, though, is how all of this plays off that initial mechanic, which requires you to lock onto an opponent in one-on-one “honorable” combat while trying to predict their movements.

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Combat is like a miniature chess game, with strategies forming and coming undone in an instant as your strikes hit, miss, or are blocked by your mark. Even positioning on the field, with one-hit kill obstacles like spikes or ledges, play into the combat, requiring you take in far more information than just which direction your opponent is blocking. I honestly couldn’t get enough of it all, and found my adrenaline pumping during the thrill of combat, screaming into my headset as cowards ran away from my Raider’s axe. (Of course, it also makes it frustrating to learn on the fly when your K/D may be on the line.)

There are some flaws to combat, though. While the game is surprisingly well balanced—with a smart player able to overcome most any other character’s strengths and exploit their weaknesses—there are those infuriating moments when it looks like the game’s physics or hit detection isn’t where it needs to be. A perfect example is when trying to throw someone off a ledge; a great way to overcome situations where you are outnumbered. Sometimes, a character will barely clip the edge of a rock or wall, and slam up against it as if a full support was there, saving the person from going over the edge and potentially falling to their doom. Or, you’ll get situations where a thrown body lands with half of it not on solid ground. You’d expect the body to slide off the edge—since that’d be the natural result—but instead the character just stands up as if their body had been fully supported. It reminds me of the original Super Mario Bros. way back in the day; as long as you had just one pixel of edge, Mario would never fall off. It’s not nearly as charming here, and definitely breaks immersion and draws my ire.

The crux of For Honor, though, is of course the multiplayer, which I’ve touched on briefly already a couple of times. The first thing everyone has to take part in is the War of the Factions. Similar to what was seen in Mortal Kombat X’s Faction War, as soon as you start the game, you choose one of the three factions to align yourself with for the entirety of a season (this doesn’t limit what characters you can play as, to be clear). By playing online you’ll earn war assets, and the better you perform, the more assets you’ll receive. Unlike MKX, you’ll get to personally assign where your assets go as you try to move the front lines of a never-ending assault against the other two factions on a satellite view of the game’s map. The faction that has procured the most land at the end of the season will receive special in-game bonuses. You can also change your faction mid-season, but at the penalty of lost rewards at the end of the season. Surprisingly, it’s one of the more addictive features of For Honor, as it gives players a sense of actually taking part in a living, breathing conflict.

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Then there are five different game modes under three different umbrellas. In Deathmatch, you’ll find the 4v4 single-life-to-live Elimination mode and the point-based Skirmish mode, where you can respawn until the opposing team reaches 1000 points (where points are awarded on a variety of factors, but killing human opponents always racks up the biggest points). Then there are the Duels, offering up 1v1 matchups and 2v2 Brawls, and which I personally recommend you start off with since they’re a great way to hone you skills. Finally, there is the 4v4 Dominion mode, which combines the point scoring of Skirmish with capturing zones like you’d see in a Domination mode for other games.

Although there are only a few maps, sections of each one are cordoned off depending on the mode you’re playing, and each map has multiple times of day available to offer some visual variety. The game is also graphically stunning as a whole; the detail of each character and the world around you is absolutely breathtaking, and makes you feel at times like you’re in a real medieval fantasy. For Honor’s customization is also something that should be lauded. While each character’s face is a given, you can change the sex of most characters (some are permanent female or male), earn ornaments, victory poses, and executions, and each character’s weapons and armor, piece by piece, can be changed out or given new paint and pattern schemes. It’s just enough personalization to make you stand out on the battlefield while making sure you still come across as your character class. Of course, it needs to be mentioned that a lot of items are locked away behind certain achievements or the game’s “steel” currency, but many of these can be bypassed by buying resources through microtransactions. This isn’t necessary, since you can easily grind for a lot of items, and most of them are cosmetic anyway, but that’s entirely up to you.

Despite the issues I’ve already laid out, when For Honor works, it works supremely well. When For Honor doesn’t work, though, it’s one of the most frustrating experiences I’ve had to date with an Ubisoft game. While the campaign was mostly issue-free, there have been tremendous connectability issues with the game since launch. In fact, part of the reason I’m so late with this review is that I tried to see if these issues would work themselves out or if we’d get a patch of some kind. Even as recent as last night, however, I was still seeing matches drop and disconnect on a regular basis—if I could even connect in the first place. As I stated at the start of the review, over the past week I’ve played and finished well over 100 matches—there was probably another 200 times, though, where the match would never connect or drop midway through.

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If this weren’t bad enough, because For Honor doesn’t have dedicated servers, not only does the game suffer frequently from lag, but every time someone else drops, the entire game freezes up, as it often has to re-instance. Half the time, it is unable to, and boots the remaining players back to the multiplayer lobby. I don’t understand how, after launching so many games in a row with shoddy or broken netcode before this, Ubisoft has yet another game—one that is so multiplayer heavy in particular and has had so many betas—come out in this condition. It’s absolutely unforgivable to launch in such a sorry state, and Ubisoft should be embarrassed.

For Honor could’ve been one of the best games of this young calendar year; instead, it’s riddled with issues, particularly on the technical side, which hold it back. It might still bounce back and become the game it has the potential to be thanks to its solid gameplay core—but if you were looking for something to play right now, I’d tell you to take a wait-and-see approach with For Honor in hopes the bugs, in particular the connectivity ones, end up getting worked out.

Publisher: Ubisoft • Developer: Ubisoft Montreal • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 02.14.17
7.0
An inventive premise and surprisingly deep combat system sits at the core of what could’ve been a great game—if so many technical issues didn’t surround it and detract so much from the whole of the experience.
The Good The inventive new combat system takes some getting used to, but rewards players who put the time in with it.
The Bad A litany of technical issues and questionable decisions keeps it from reaching its fullest potential.
The Ugly This is now a thing and I can’t stop watching it: For Honor—Call on Me
For Honor is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Ubisoft for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

I got to guest host on Nerd Alert this week with Kim Horcher. We talked about myriad topics, including the newest love interest in Mass Effect: Andromeda!

Rise & Shine is one of those games that almost slipped under my radar, but I’m glad it didn’t. Releasing in early-mid January is a risk sometimes, as gamers are usually still working on their holiday hauls, and reviewers like myself take the typically slow time of the year to catch up on our mountainous backlogs. Luckily for me, though, I actually eliminated my backlog early this year, and had to go searching for something else to play—leading me to this enjoyable little action-platformer.

Rise & Shine takes place on the world of Gamearth. Here, many of the great video game characters we’ve come to know and love over the years live in peace, and maintain the safety of the planet’s less-famous denizens. When the hyper-violent armies of planet Nexgen decide it’s time to invade, the forces of Gamearth are no match. Thus, a new hero must rise, and the magical gun Shine—which bestows infinite respawns—must be taken up by a new champion. In this case, it’s a young boy named Rise. Now, Rise and Shine must travel across Gamearth looking for the means to stop Nexgen’s invasion and save their world.

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While the story of Rise & Shine is pretty straightforward no matter how you look at it—kill all the bad guys, save the world—where it excels is in its unique setting, which allows the writing to both poke fun at and celebrate gaming. Rise complaining about how much it hurts each time he dies and respawns, the king’s throne being made of SNES consoles, and even the stereotypical leader of the Nexgen army offer some fun tongue-in-cheek humor that makes you want to keep pushing forward.

And there will be times you need that something to keep pushing forward, because Rise & Shine’s gameplay can be punishing. Although there are a fair amount of puzzles that bar your progress forward, none are as testing of your patience as the moments when your screen will fill with enemies and you’re forced to duck behind cover and pray. Being a child, Rise has very limited health, and will often fall after only a direct hit or two—whereas the force he is facing can fill the screen with projectiles almost like a bullet hell. It requires some trial and error before patterns become evident, and even then, Shine’s limited ammo before having to reload (you have infinite bullets, but you start with only being able to have 10 in the chamber at a time) can come back to bite you at the worst times. I personally didn’t mind that it harkens back in many ways to the early days of gaming, but the degree of difficulty will surely be an acquired taste for some.

At the very least, you’ll always look good while dying. One of Rise & Shine’s most impressive aspects is definitely its colorful, cartoony art style that pops off the screen, featuring comic book panel-style cutscenes tying everything together. The cute, rounded features of all the characters give it the aesthetic of a Saturday morning cartoon aimed at younger audiences. The stark contrast against the blood and gore from killing enemies or being killed, and the dark undertone of a planetary invasion, then made this design choice all the more striking.

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I only wish the game’s mechanics had grabbed me as forcefully as the art style did. Whether you find the gameplay difficult or not, it quickly tends to become rather one dimensional either way. Using the right stick to aim and right trigger to fire worked well enough within the parameters of an action-platformer—even one as punishing as this—but Shine only gets a couple of forced upgrades over the course of the game to go along with optional clip upgrades. These upgrades—an electric bullet to power terminals in puzzles, guided bullets to hit buttons down narrow passageways, and a grenade launcher to arc shots over barricades—are extremely situational in most cases. Sure, the electric bullets can also be effective against robots, but I found myself defaulting back to my original bullets most of the time. And, with no real powers in regards to Rise, dodging and shooting the same handful of enemies became tiresome after awhile, especially when failing in those trial-and-error shooting scenarios.

Rise & Shine also has the unfortunate distinction of being another Indie game that just feels like it ends abruptly. Three hours into the game, it felt like the bottom fell out, and that I was only scratching the surface of what Gamearth had to offer. It also made certain sections of the adventure, like the barrage of mini-games on “NPC Island,” feel all the more random and out of place. Sure, it could be going back to that overarching commentary on games of this ilk in general, but it didn’t change the fact that because of the compact nature of the game, elements like this felt like they came out of left field.

Even with these rough edges, though, I found I enjoyed most of my time with Rise & Shine. I would’ve loved a longer, more thorough visit to Gamearth, but its strong writing, attractive art style, and solid—if not shallow—gameplay were more than enough to keep me going until I had turned Rise into a hero worthy of carrying Shine. Now, excuse me as I try to go figure out how to build my own throne out of SNES consoles.

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Publisher: Adult Swim Games • Developer: Super Awesome Hyper Dimensional Mega Team • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 01.13.17
7.0
Rise & Shine isn’t the deepest action-platformer you’ll ever play, but the tongue-in-cheek nods to the gaming industry at large, along with its stunning art style, will push you to the finish line even when the gameplay starts to let you down.
The Good Visually arresting and smartly written.
The Bad Mechanics wear thin after some time; ending feels abrupt.
The Ugly I think I died less in Dark Souls.
Rise & Shine is available on Xbox One and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Adult Swim Games for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.