The original Civilization came out in 1991. I was five years old at the time. I didn't fully grasp the game's historical underpinnings or strategic subtleties, but I do remember playing with my dad and racing to build catapults before other leaders had a chance to expand their empires too far. Because even though the first game laid the groundwork not just for future Civ titles but for the strategy genre as a whole, it was, essentially, a glorified arms race.
Yes, you could found cities, build world wonders, and unlock new options through technological research, but inevitably, combat played a central role. Just like a real civilization, however, the franchise evolved over time, gradually grafting new ideas onto its classic framework--a process that’s now culminated in Civilization VI: the deepest, most well-rounded base game the series has ever seen.Regardless of how you feel about the "cartoony" art style, its detailed animations make busy areas easier to parse.
More than ever, every win condition feels equally rich and equally viable, whether you’re pursuing culture, religion, science, or domination. You can build arts districts that allow you to more quickly accrue culture points and attract great artists. You can create new religious units like apostles to more efficiently spread your gospel to world. You can use the builder unit in new ways to better capitalize on the resources that surround your cities, accelerating humanity’s ascent into space.
And of course, you can still amass a formidable army, but even warfare presents new considerations that force you to lean on other systems beyond battle tactics. Maintaining military units, for example, is expensive, but picking trade routes with a high gold yield helps mitigate the financial impact. War weariness will eventually lead your population to revolt, but using diplomacy to squeeze luxury resources out of your allies can quell rebellion. And espionage, now deeper than ever, lets you not only place spies but pick specific missions for them to carry out.
Civ 6 is packed with added nuances that enrich existing systems, but it also makes some major changes, the biggest of which is “unstacking” cities. Rather than occupy a single tile on the world map, cities now sprawl outward, allowing you to capitalize on each city’s specific surroundings--assuming you exercise some serious foresight. Certain structures, for example, function more efficiently on specific types of land, while others can only be built if certain typographical demands are met. Not only does this change the way you consider the board, it also adds a new strategic layer that fills a gap and creates greater variety in the types of thinking Civ demands.Barbarians were less of an issue than I initially feared, but it's still frustrating they can instantly spawn advanced units anywhere hidden by the fog of war.
Along with planning each city’s long-term development, you must also manage its housing and amenity needs. These replace the global food and happiness levels of previous Civilizations and make individual turns more engaging in the process. Where previously you could mentally check out for a few turns while waiting for your big picture decisions to pan out, you must now actively monitor and improve each city’s condition. It can be a little exasperating and tedious, but ultimately, I realized each and every city contributed to my overall success and, consequently, provided unique opportunities for strategic gain.
You’ll find a host of slightly smaller but equally smart changes as well. You can now tailor your government to your specific playstyle by earning various policy cards that impact everything from war weariness to cultural output. Civics replace social policies and now function identically to technologies: pick one from an expansive tree, spend a few turns researching it, and unlock new cultural possibilities like theocracy or globalization. And with the addition of active research, you can cut research time in half by meeting specific, logical conditions tied to individual Techs and Civics--settling next to a coast will boost your research in sailing, for instance. This practice ensures an advantage for vigilant players.
Smart though these changes may be, they are accompanied by several notable imperfections. Tourism, for example, is the metric by which Cultural Victories are measured, yet the math behind it is esoteric at best. Missionaries and other religious units are similarly opaque. Though I did manage a Cultural Victory during one match, it required some frustrating trial-and-error guesswork, and Religious Victories seem slightly too easy to achieve once you uncover the ideal method for maximizing your output. And while you could argue that commerce and diplomacy facilitate every win condition, it’s a shame neither serves as a win condition itself.
The UI could also use a few refinements. There's absolutely no rhyme or reason to "Unit needs orders" notification, for example. Rather than directing your attention to units already on screen, it arbitrarily whips around the map, seeming highlighting units at random. I experienced a few performance hitches as well, like noticable delays between selecting the Civics menu and the menu actually appearing on screen. Nothing I experienced ever became intolerable, thankfully; my frustrations generally topped out at "annoyed." And other aspects of the presentation--most notably the instrumental score and Sean Bean's excellent voice work--definitely won me over.
Perhaps most crucially, though, opponent AI proved to be a bit of a mix. Catherine Medici was clever enough to preemptively declare war against me when she saw my troops massing at her border, and even brought anti-cavalry units to take down my tanks. Cleopatra, on the other hand, seemed to capriciously switch strategies--from religion to domination and back again--and just floundered uselessly as a result.
If nothing else, the new agenda system does imbue each leader with a discernable playstyle, and when one denounced me, the game explicitly told me why, making diplomacy a more straightforward affair. And even on higher difficulties, none of opponents broke a treaty or attacked me arbitrarily. In fact, I spent an entire match trading with Norway without issue.You can now link support units like Medics with most military units, allowing them to occupy the same tile. And while you can't rename cities, you can rename units.
Of course, you can avoid the AI altogether by playing online--just one of Civ 6’s many options. There’s a tight, well-executed tutorial for newcomers that briskly runs through the game’s major mechanics, as well as a “New to Civ 6” tips option that focuses specifically on everything that's changed since Civ 5, which should soften the learning curve for veterans looking to jump straight into the deep end. There's a lot to account for, but the fact that every new system slots logically into Civ's established structure makes the game relatively accessible despite of its depth.
Adjustable match parameters return as well, allowing you to adjust not only the difficulty but also the number of opponents, the presence of barbarians, and the overall map size. That last one is especially crucial since the "standard" size has decreased, most likely to force more interaction. Playing on larger maps with fewer opponents seems to work just fine, though. International trade takes longer and territorial expansion is far easier, but the game still plays largely the same.
Civ 6 has a few rough edges, but they’re pushed far into the periphery by spectacular strategic depth and intricate interlocking nuances. Any frustrations I experienced were immediately eclipsed by my desire to continue playing. Just one more turn, every turn, forever.
Titanfall 2 is a game about momentum. It knows when to rush forward at a breakneck pace. It knows when to give us time to breathe. Both in its single player campaign and its multiplayer modes, Titanfall 2 has a more measured pace than its predecessor, making the build-up to its climactic battles just as enticing as the events themselves. It's every bit as kinetic and fluid as the first Titanfall--but in many respects, it's a much better shooter.
As with the first game from Respawn Entertainment, Titanfall 2 revolves around two layers of combat: conventional firefights between human combatants, and clashes between massive bipedal mechs. As a boots-on-the-ground pilot, Titanfall 2 feels more like a traditional shooter--albeit one with pristine controls and a fluid traversal system. The first Titanfall sparked the trend of shooters focused on movement, and with its sequel, the series reestablishes its place at the head of the pack. The loop of sliding, double jumping, vaulting a ledge, and running along a wall to flank an enemy feels invigorating and intuitive.
Then it comes time to call in your mechanical ally from orbit, and everything changes when it hits the ground. Because it's when these two layers engage in a tug-of-war that Titanfall 2 reveals its true brilliance. What was once an even fight becomes a David versus Goliath scenario: a pilot rushes to cover, fires off a rocket, glides along a nearby wall, avoids a missile salvo from her robotic opponent, activates her cloaking device, and enters a nearby ravine to order a Titan of her own.
This sequence is intense, but in Titanfall 2, it's commonplace. Momentum often shifts as one team gains control of the battlefield, only to lose ground when the other notices a weak spot, and attacks it.Multiplayer maps are wider, and more open, resulting in a more methodical pacing to matches.
This is crucial in Titanfall 2. Now more than ever, combat requires forethought and intelligence. Humans may be careening across the map with grapple hooks, while phase-warping ninja mechs cut through laser-powered robot warriors--but beneath all of this is a hidden nuance. Despite the bombast and spectacle, Titanfall 2 is a thinking person's shooter.
The sequel's new Titans embody this sentiment. In place of the basic light, medium, and heavy variants from the first game, Titanfall 2 employs six distinct walking battle tanks with arsenals of their own. They're almost like superheroes: one attacks with a thermite launcher and flame attacks, while another fires a chest-mounted laser cannon at unlucky opponents.
Each of the Titans' abilities are easy to learn, but difficult to master, as the saying goes. Their loadouts immediately make sense, and it's easy to see that Northstar's low armor and long-range railgun make her an ideal sniper--but new layers reveal themselves the more you play. Take Scorch, for example. His flame shield dissolves incoming projectiles, providing extra protection while he tries to back away from close-quarter engagements. But the flame shield has other uses: at one point, an enemy pilot came flying at me on a grappling hook. By igniting my fiery barrier, I melted him just as he came close to my cockpit.
There are elements of fighting games or MOBAs here--each Titan has a tell, and a way to counter it.
Learning the intricacies of each Titan is paramount not just for offense, but defense, too. Each mech has a distinct aesthetic, so as you round a corner and see a Ronin approaching you, you know to put distance between your Titan and the shotgun-toting enemy. There are elements of fighting games or MOBAs here--each Titan has a tell, and you only have a few brief moments to counter it to your advantage.
The new Titans lend a very different pace to multiplayer matches. While the first Titanfall was always turned up to 11, so to speak, with smaller maps and cookie-cutter Titans focused on dealing damage, Titanfall 2 understands the value of breathing room. It doesn't burn you out with an onslaught of firefights--its maps are focused on exterior environments, and are often on the larger side, giving you time to plan out your attack with the intricate Titan loadouts. The plan may go awry, but it lends more weight to each enemy encounter. There's a sense of build-up as you approach a capture point, knowing full well which Titans occupy the area, and thinking through each step in your head.
Each multiplayer mode is tailored to facilitate Titanfall 2's interwoven combat systems, but also to twist the formula in creative ways. Bounty Hunt is my favorite--you gain currency by killing the enemy team and AI grunts that litter the map, and at the end of each wave, you're given the option to deposit your loot in one of several banks. But here's the wrinkle: you have to leave your Titan in order to do so. What's more, clever players will camp near banks to pick off unsuspecting Pilots as they approach their goal. It's a frantic game of cat and mouse that increases in tension as the banks open and each team knows exactly what the other is doing, or trying to do.The campaign follows Jack Cooper and his Vanguard-class Titan, BT-7274.
Then there's Last Titan Standing, a match that ends when the last mech is destroyed. It's the most methodical mode, as team members assess the enemy team composition and approach firefights carefully, considering there are no respawns. Pilot vs. Pilot eschews the titular robots, opting instead to focus on the fluid human against human combat--but even without its hulking behemoths, Titanfall 2 is frantic and exhilarating.
That expert attention to pacing and momentum carries over into Titanfall 2's single-player mode as well. While the first Titanfall consigned its story to a specific story driven multiplayer playlist, the sequel places you in a discrete campaign with its own plot, characters, and set pieces. It follows Jack Cooper, a Militia rifleman-turned-pilot, and his sentient Titan BT-7274, as they battle the Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation and the Apex Predator mercenary group.
Unfortunately, the writing here is lacking. Your main enemies are outlandish villains, and the plot ends abruptly, before it feels like it should. And while there is often humor and sentiment to be found between Cooper and BT, the jokes become rote when they focus too much on the Titan's inability to understand human sayings and turns of phrase. There are moments where I felt a real connection to my Titan, and there is heart to be found throughout this story. But those moments are few and far between
The single-player campaign gradually increases in velocity and scope, coalescing in mid-air ship battles and frantic Titan charges.
Yet in terms of design and pacing, the five-hour campaign is fantastic. It begins with a botched mission on the planet Typhon, and although it takes a little too much time to do anything out of the ordinary, the missions then increase in velocity and scope, coalescing in mid-air ship battles, frantic Titan charges, and old-school boss fights.
These boss fights pit you against the other Titan variants, and as you progress through the missions, you'll unlock all of Titanfall 2's Titan loadouts, gaining the ability to swap between them on the fly. This grants the campaign a dynamism not entirely present in multiplayer. You can enter a battlefield, discern the situation, and choose a different Titan based on the scenario, all in the span of several seconds. Coupled with the quality of Titanfall 2's missions--my favorite plays with time in a way I won't spoil here--the ability to change Titans on the fly gives the campaign a pacing of its own.
Titanfall 2 accomplishes several things. It introduces seemingly minor changes to its multiplayer sphere, but results in more fluid pacing and an intelligent gameplay loop. It adds a single-player campaign that builds in momentum with each mission, culminating in a grandiose battles that makes use of both Pilot and Titan combat.
And lastly, Titanfall 2 demonstrates a vitality that its predecessor couldn't. Whereas the first Titanfall kept up its breakneck pace throughout the entirety of every match, Titanfall 2 understands that sometimes, dialing things back for a few moments can make the long run much more enjoyable. In many ways, Titanfall 2 feels like the game Respawn should have made in 2013. It's a fantastic sequel. It's a fluid shooter. It's a spectacular game.
It's a rare thing in this day and age when everything you need to know about a game is right there in the title--and even rarer that said title is such an instantly appealing concept like 100-foot robots playing golf. And yet, even if 100ft Robot Golf is an inspired concept, the actual game is anything but.
That's an unfortunate thing, too, because everything that isn't gameplay overflows with charm and quirky, self-aware personality. It all starts with the game's overarching presentation: 100ft Robot Golf is presented as if it's the crappy American dub of a mid-'90s anime (complete with Dragon Ball Z-inspired cutscenes with fake watermarks that note the shady torrent site from which it was downloaded) about a post-apocalyptic world where humanity has just finished crawling back from the brink, building massive biodomes and skyscrapers to house their remnants.
Golf, the gentleman's sport of the age, is now played entirely by massive mechs, driven by all manner of eccentrics--pudgy car salesmen, hijab-clad skateboarding teenagers, and five corgis driving five dog-shaped mechs who come together to form one giant mech, Power Rangers-style. A Corgizord, if you will. The cutscenes give some context for why and how these folks get roped into the golf tournament, which veer into such goofy non sequiturs that it's almost worth the asking price of the game just to watch these folks interact.
Thing is, the only scrap of that bonkers setup that makes its way into the actual golf portion of the game comes from the running commentary of the McElroy brothers (of My Brother, My Brother And Me podcast and Adventure Zone fame). Their commentary ranges from the knowingly cheesy--bad golf puns about Ryan Gosling in Drive and Smash Mouth's All Star, for instance--to the darkly hilarious. One particular line about Kermit the Frog not surviving the apocalypse is probably the deepest, most guilty gut laugh I've ever gotten from a game. The full-on breakdown over the aforementioned corgi mech joining the tournament is the most I've laughed at a game that doesn’t include Saints Row in the title.
Aside from the commentary, however, the game itself is fairly basic. The fundamentals are easy enough to pick up: You walk to the ball, hit X, choose one of your three clubs, use the left stick to adjust your shot, and swing away. Given that you're playing as a giant robot, you'll tromp through courses derived from crowded cities, desolate mountain villages, and underwater wastelands. If you want to be a jerk, you can use your body to block your opponent's shot or knock down buildings and bridges with your club. Your robots have special abilities, too. Pressing L1 might fire a barrage of laser fire or missiles, unleash a giant sword instead of a club, or let your mech skateboard to their next shot in style. Robots can also occasionally unleash a special effect on the ball to gain an edge, such as making the ball bouncier to go further than where it was aimed, or turning it into a bomb that can destroy obstacles in its path.
That's more exciting in writing than in practice, however. Aside from the admittedly well-designed mechs, the graphics are rudimentary blocky polygons, and destroying buildings doesn't reduce them to smoldering rubble so much as it breaks them apart like giant Lego pieces that scatter around and then disappear over time. People and cars are in your path in the city, but they don't react to the robots laying waste their surroundings.
Yes, you have special abilities, but the game has nothing in the way of a tutorial, so virtually everything is trial-and-error. But even when you do learn how to use these abilities, the vast majority are entirely unnecessary thanks to the poor abilities of your opponents. The AI in the single-player campaign is almost medically fascinating in its ineptitude, with more than one match won in my playthroughs because the AI opponent kept deliberately driving their ball into the ocean. Matches against humans are, of course, trickier, but none of the extra abilities are game-changers. It's simply more enjoyable to play the game as a straight up mini golf title with your friends than it is trying to futz around with ineffective and poorly implemented superpowers.
The best idea in the game involves a twist on the traditional video game golf swing mechanic: Each mech is designed so that charging up your swing is a completely different little minigame with each character, making your choice of mech a much more personalized affair than the minutiae of overly technical PGA titles. There's also PlayStation VR support that places your point of view in the cockpit of your mech. This gives the game an extra sense of scale, but even that feels like a slapdash affair, often obscuring your view below. What’s more, it makes some tasks--such as changing your club or seeing the arc of your ball before swinging--difficult, if not impossible.
Coincidentally, much of the game's voice cast is plucked from the Youtube comedy/gaming community, which seems oddly self-fulfilling, since the game is likely to be more enjoyable watching other people comment and play rather than actually playing it. 100t Robot Golf is an elaborate, even hilarious, joke, that rather perfunctorily has a game attached to it.
If Suda 51 represents one of a scant few auteur game designers, The Silver Case, finally released on Western shores in this remastered form, is basically his student film, a statement of intent and trajectory rather than its own cohesive masterwork. As such, The Silver Case has a few of the elements that fans have come to recognize in a legitimate "Suda 51 Joint", but those elements are obscured by convoluted point-and-click gameplay, and a story that meanders, rants, and rambles getting where it needs to go.
The overarching narrative involves the return of an infamous serial killer named Kamui Uehara to a futuristic Japanese city known as the 24 Wards--and the efforts of a small investigative team to take him down. The game features two scenarios: In the first, Transmitter, you play as a mute detective who is somehow spared by the killer Kamui on the night he first reappears. In the other scenario, Placebo, you take on the role of a freelance reporter whose tale runs parallel to the first mode, as you sort through the mess after the cops are done.
The Silver Case's gameplay uses bog-standard adventure game mechanics. You can walk around your environment from one specified point to another by just turning, looking, and pushing up on the keyboard/gamepad. Once at a specific point, noted with a technicolor star indicator, you can use the Check option to get more details or activate the next scene. Some moments and puzzles require special tools in the Implements menu, but these moments are rare. For the most part, you're basically just following the dialogue around a room to get to the next scene. It's always when it's least expected or necessary that the game finally cottons to the fact that you might want to play it, and then it has the player knocking on doors, asking witnesses questions, wandering aimlessly around an environment to find the trigger for the next scene, or, in some cases, solving tricky little ciphers to open a door. Still, you can go long stretches without ever getting a button tap in. Some scenes literally have the protagonist walk two steps ahead, then trigger a long dialogue that may not let up for 10 minutes.
The game is framed like episodes of a television show, with each taking maybe an hour and a half to two hours to complete each--assuming you don't get tripped up by an obtuse puzzle or have to re-check every door and contact point looking for the one action prompt you missed; or assuming you don’t get confused by the controls altogether, where just getting to the point of moving forward through the first-person space is a three-step process instead of just pressing forward. The same goes for looking up, down, investigating an object, or talking to someone in the room, all which involve an overly convoluted, clunky menu.
Even if you gain some sort of finesse with the controls, the game's length remains a sticking point due to some terrible pacing and difficulty parsing new story details. Bad controls in a '90s point-and-click adventure can be tolerated if the stories are well paced and brilliantly executed, but each Silver Case episode is padded with filler. Every detective seems to have a philosophical ramble on every small decision they have to make in the field, and none of these characters are interesting or layered enough to make this stuff compelling. Most fall into the category of thinking that their job is dumb, and anybody putting in effort is a loser.
This, of course, is one of the hallmarks of Suda 51's work: apathetic heroes treating a completely insane, terrifying scenario as a nuisance keeping them from a good nap. The main issue with The Silver Case, however, is that--some bizarre minor details aside--the scenarios here are grounded in reality more than anything Suda made afterward. The usual fuzzy logic and unnatural human interactions that add to the “playable dreamscape” feeling of most of his games is an ill fit here. These are plausible scenarios, worked on by implausible characters.
When the game does get to the business of actually presenting the gory details of each case, it fares better. The overarching narrative of the Kamui case is the glowing red seed of abstract madness that has come to define Suda's work, and the horrors presented whenever the plot progresses are chilling and effective. Some of the other scenarios, including a hilariously dated (yet sadly, still prescient) case based around cyberbullying are just dead-weight slogs to get through. Others, however, such as a case that revolves around a man held for ransom while his businesses are completely dismantled by a mute terrorist, are breezy and captivating-- that one employs a beautiful black-and-white noir-ish art style.
The Placebo scenario as a whole gets some points for having an active, talkative, interesting protagonist to tag along with. Even the good cases are sometimes hard to get a solid grasp on, however, and the fact that so many different art styles--CG, anime, live action, still manga panels--are employed willy-nilly to tell the tales doesn't help. While some of the varieties in art direction are compelling, there are often too many to get a firm grasp on what the game aims for as a whole. For this remaster, Suda enlisted his longtime collaborator Akira Yamaoka to help remix the score, and while the music by itself is a fun, jazzy throwback most of the time, it, too, flies in the face of whatever of import is happening onscreen.
More than anything, The Silver Case is more interesting in the context of Suda 51's career than it is as a standalone game. It shows an ambitious floating of new ideas past the player, and much of how the story is presented would later find a more welcome home when surrounded by much weirder, wilder worlds. Stranded in the framework of a police procedural, however, the game fails its best concepts. The Silver Case's unusual take on human conversations, its indecision about whether it wants to be just a visual novel or an adventure game where the player is a full participant, and its lack of focus in tying up any sort of cohesive plot, all add up to a mess of a game.
Since the shift to current-generation consoles, 2K's WWE series has steered away from the arcade-style formula of its extensive lineage. It's clear that developers Yuke's and Visual Concepts want to forge their own unique path to a simulation style of wrestling video game, iterating further and further in this direction with each passing installment. Much like last year, matches in WWE 2K17 have a distinctly measured pace, focused on capturing the look and feel of the current WWE product as closely as possible. It's an acquired taste, for sure, and if you haven't enjoyed this deliberate style previously--and perhaps yearn for the days of old--2K17 isn’t going to change your mind.
With that being said, however, I wouldn't hesitate to call WWE 2K17 a better video game than its immediate predecessors. For one, singles matches have seen some incremental refinements that improve the ebb and flow of each contest. While the reversal system, pin/kickout mechanics, stamina management, and submission minigame remain relatively unchanged, there's some welcome fine-tuning sprinkled throughout.
Counters, for instance, now feature a much more generous timing window and come in two flavors: minor and major--with the latter eating up two reversal slots but dishing out damage to your thwarted opponent. There's also an alternative submission minigame that ditches the swiveling red and blue blocks for much more intuitive button mashing. And taunting now provides mid-match buffs, which makes sense and gives these gestures the same measure of importance they carry on TV.
For the first time in a few years, you can take the fight backstage, too. With the gorilla position, a hazardous hallway, locker room, and Authority office ready to be demolished, this isn't as gargantuan a space as it was in the halcyon days of WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw, but there's no denying the joy to be had powerbombing your opponent onto a sturdy oak desk while Vince McMahon stands by, undeterred. Sure, backstage brawls are nothing groundbreaking, but it's an anarchic addition that's entirely welcome.
Similarly welcome are some of the improvements made to multi-person matches. Previously, these scuffles were a noxious mix of the chaotic and the frustrating. With everyone stuffed inside the ring at the same time, moves were constantly disrupted, and matches would extend far beyond their expiration date as one pin after another was irritatingly broken up. WWE 2K17 fixes this issue and injects a dose of realism into proceedings at the same time. Much like actual multi-person matches, the action is still mostly confined to two warring combatants. As damage is inflicted to various superstars, they'll roll out of the ring and lay on the outside to recover for a short time, making the in-ring action a lot less disorganised. Mechanically, this gives you time to regain lost stamina, but you can also cut this process short if you want to get up early and try to stop someone else from getting a three-count.
Switching between targets is, thankfully, a lot less cumbersome this year, too. A simple tap of R3 cycles through each wrestler involved in the bout, with the name of your target appearing above your wrestler's head for a short moment. Ladder matches have also seen some ease-of-use adjustments. Now, you'll never have to suffer the ignominy of setting up a ladder--only to climb it and find out it's not in the exact right position required to grab a dangling briefcase. Ladder placement is now restricted to specific positions dotted around the arena, which certainly makes things easier but does rob these matches of some spontaneity.
All of these changes, however incremental, move the needle in a positive direction. But some nagging issues still drag down the overall quality of the in-ring action. Now, I'm not expecting this series to suddenly adopt the fast-paced, arcade-style sensibilities of its forebears, but something slightly more sprightly wouldn’t be amiss, either. The pace of the action is still far too plodding, and the game is overly reliant on disconnected reversals dictating the outcome of each matchup. Maybe it's implausible, with such a bevy of moves available, to somehow coalesce the reversal system with the excellent motion-captured animation, but simply tapping a button when a prompt appears above your head feels far too rigid and detached from the action. These issues aren't game-breakers, and some will appreciate the deliberate pacing. But the series is still a long way off from being a king in the ring.
Online matches are effected by the same latency problems that have plagued the series for years. The general flow of each fight is fine, but the timing window for reversals is impacted, so kicking out of pins becomes nigh on impossible. I was constantly defeated minutes into fights purely because the timing of counters gets knocked so far out of whack that it's incredibly difficult to react with the necessary precision. In most instances, it felt like my button presses weren't even registering.
I wouldn't hesitate to call WWE 2K17 a better video game than its immediate predecessors.
The lack of 2K Showcase mode this year puts a damper on the proceedings as well. By offering a guided tour through some of the most memorable moments in WWE history, 2K Showcase was a nostalgia-fuelled romp of recreating famous matches and being treated to WWE’s wonderfully reverential video packages. It’s absence this year can’t help but strip WWE 2K17 of much of its personality, and that leaves MyCareer to pick up the slack.
Much like year’s previous, MyCareer is still an incredibly tedious slog, as you use a created fighter to wrestle your way through the roster, ever so slowly grinding your way closer and closer to a title fight. It’s bland and lacks character, neglecting all of the pomp, spectacle, and engaging storylines that encompass the actual WWE. This is an odd issue, considering how 2K’s own NBA series has embraced the idea of sporting narratives in MyCareer. Wrestling should be an obvious choice for similarly scripted stories, but WWE 2K17 is far more interested in presenting meaningless matches and monitoring T-shirt sales than in aping its real-life counterpart. Even the ability to become a Paul Heyman Guy boils down to fulfilling a few insipid objectives with minimal payoff.
One interesting aspect of MyCareer is the introduction of interactive promos. These exist elsewhere in Universe mode, but they make much more sense as a tool to shape your own created character. The aim of promos is to essentially play up your heel or face persona in order to achieve a positive or negative reaction, depending on how "smarky" the crowd is on any given night. You have four options to choose from for each stage of the promo, but these choices are incredibly vague and rarely reflect what your character is actually going to say. This proves problematic when you’re trying to lean a certain way, especially if you want your promo to be the least bit cohesive. The writing here is also terrible for the most part, which can’t help but break the immersion when Bray Wyatt says "You hate me because you ain’t me" or Brock Lesnar complains about a bad smell backstage. With no voice acting to speak of--just superstars moving their mouths to abject silence--this mechanic feels like a first draft that still needs plenty of work. I appreciate the effort, because it's about time a wrestling video game tried to capture one of the industry's most important aspects, but the implementation is lacking.
Other presentation issues persist throughout. The commentary is as atrocious as ever. It's stilted and regularly irrelevant--which some would argue is entirely true to life. Replays are universally awful, too, often showing pins rather than the moves that preceded them. And the whole game is considerably outdated. This isn't 2K's fault, mind you. At some point, the developers have to lock down their content and actually finish the game. They're just in the unenviable position of releasing a game a couple of months after a vast upheaval in the WWE, with the brand split resulting in a wave of NXT callups, new teams forming, shifting character alignments, new commentary teams, and new sets. Fortunately, if you're a stickler for accuracy, WWE 2K17's exhaustive creation suite means that many of these issues can easily be rectified, with the community already creating plenty of near-perfect new attires, wrestlers, and set designs.
No matter how you spruce it up, however, WWE 2K17 isn't the substantial leap forward I was hoping for. The in-ring action is still serviceable, and refinements to various aspects of its combat make for a more enjoyable game than in previous years. But there are still a myriad of niggling issues holding it back, and the absence of 2K Showcase only compounds these problems. If you’ve had previous reservations about this series, WWE 2K17 is unlikely to change your mind--and, at this point, it feels like 2K would be better served taking a page out of Seth Rollins' book for next year’s installment. Time to redesign, rebuild, and reclaim.
Eagle Flight is a first-person VR shooter set in a dilapidated version of Paris where you pilot an eagle using your head. If that isn’t quirky enough for you, it’s also a multiplayer-centric game where you shoot other eagles with supersonic screeches.
I’m susceptible to virtual reality motion sickness and can gladly say that I felt completely comfortable playing Eagle Flight. There are a few tricks that Ubisoft implemented in the game to mitigate nausea. For instance, you turn using only your head, rather than a joystick. It feels pretty intuitive, too. The only thing that takes a little getting used to is tilting your head to make sharp turns, since this is not a movement that you’re likely to do in every-day life. Luckily, it took me less than an hour before it became second-nature. While the game requires a controller, you’ll only use it to slow down, speed up, attack, and shield yourself.
While the main draw of the game is multiplayer, there is a single-player story mode. Eagle Flight takes place sometime in the future when Paris has inexplicably been abandoned by humans. Animals and vegetation have overrun the city. You’ll learn a little more about your environment from the game’s narrator, who is well-acted and takes on a nature documentary-esque tone.
There are dozens of short, simple missions. Some will make you fly through consecutive floating rings scattered throughout the city, while others will have you racing against the clock through treacherous underground parts of Paris, like obstacle course-laden subways and catacombs. The game can get challenging because you can’t stop flying forward, and if you crash, you die and have to start missions over. As you progress through the game, you’ll be introduced to the aforementioned eagle screech attack, which you’ll use against other birds in escort-type missions. These levels can feel a bit unfair at times, as you quickly have to dispatch of numerous predators within a relatively short period of time.
The campaign is pretty pedestrian overall and can be beaten in under four hours.
The campaign is pretty pedestrian overall and can be beaten in under four hours. It ultimately feels like an elaborate training ground for the multiplayer, which is where the game is really able to spread its wings. Eagle Flight is a capture-the-flag game at its core. Two teams of up to three players must grab the carcass of a rabbit and bring it back to a nest. There is a surprising amount of depth. Because your screech attacks move slowly through the air, you’ll have to learn how to lead your shots. Diving down from above gives you a temporary speed boost. You can also fly into jet streams and between buildings to avoid enemy screeches. The environment can be just as dangerous as your enemies. Carelessly flying around may cause you to crash into a wall and drop the prey. You can also activate a temporary barrier to block attacks. It’s a silly and unrealistic mechanic, but it’s a fun and useful tool that adds a layer of strategy.
Teamwork is also essential in Eagle Flight. When an ally has the flag, it’s important to fly close to your carcass-carrying ally to kill nearby enemies. Multiplayer can be thrilling, and as odd as it sounds, weaving between buildings at high speed while dodging enemy fire made me feel like Luke Skywalker piloting an X-Wing through trenches of the Death Star.
Weaving between buildings at high speed while dodging enemy fire made me feel like Luke Skywalker piloting an X-Wing through trenches of the Death Star.
The multiplayer isn’t perfect, however. Despite being modeled after Paris, the trees and buildings don’t feel very distinct. Eagle Flight’s multiplayer also lacks voice support, which is an odd omission given how important it is to work together. Finally, while Eagle Flight’s multiplayer is really fun, there’s only one mode to sink your talons into.
Eagle Flight initially sounded like a kooky concept to me, but I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun playing capture-the-flag. The game has a surprising amount of depth, and it’s highly competitive as a result. There were multiple occasions when I couldn’t help but scream when an enemy eagle killed me as I was a beak’s length away from victory. And while the graphics aren’t amazing, just being able to quickly zip around Paris can be breathtaking. If you’re looking for a really fun multiplayer VR game, you should fly like an eagle.
Battlefield 1 wastes little time in conveying the savagery of World War 1. The inevitability of death is the focus of the bleak story prologue. A burning man’s screams can be heard at the start of every multiplayer match in the Argonne Forest. It’s ruination on a multi-continental scale, a conflict so large that its location menus showcase a large portion of the Earth. EA DICE splendidly interprets the early 20th century as a world in technological transition while humanizing the war's participants through well crafted, albeit fictional, narrative vignettes. Combined with an enthralling multiplayer component, the overall result is the studio’s best work since Battlefield: Bad Company 2.
The horrors and heroism of The Great War are well told in War Stories, Battlefield 1’s campaign. It’s a more focused experience compared to prior Battlefield story modes of globetrotting and one-note powderkeg narratives. These new tales are organized in a non-linear anthology format that doesn’t need to be played in any particular order. You are exposed to a variety of perspectives from the characters you play, each with their own motivations, from altruistic to self-serving. And each tale is presented with distinct narrative flavor. The exploits of the mostly unlikeable Clyde Blackburn, for example, represent the stories that get mixed up in the chaos of war. This gambler and swindler leaves the events of his alleged adventure open to interpretation. His tale is an effective contrast to the somber post-war account of Luca Vincenzo Cocchiola, an armored Italian soldier tasked with protecting his twin brother from everything from bombers, shock troopers, flamethrowers, and more.The beauty of nature in the background, instruments of death in the foreground.
Beyond these heartfelt tales of brotherhood and solemn reflection, War Stories gracefully complements the multiplayer scenarios as a glorified yet effective training mode. Along with practice time commanding vehicles and heavy artillery, it provides an opportunity to learn melee combat, as well as how to survive against high concentrations of enemy forces. It also presents scenarios that you wouldn't find online, such as valuable lessons in the ways of stalking enemies and how best to move wounded allies to the safety of cover.
The vehicular sections of War Stories introduce you to the first generation of tanks and fighter aircraft that were the advanced warfare of their time. In “Through the Mud and Blood,” a Mark V tank is its own character, endearingly nicknamed Bess by its crew. Short on space though tanks may be, a carrier pigeon joins you for the ride, and proves to be a valuable passenger during one of the campaign’s most touching scenes.
Battlefield 1’s multiplayer stays faithful to the series’ roots of open-space combat, now marvelously tailored with World War 1’s weapons, vehicles, and terrain. Its centerpiece, Operations, finds one side pushing forward while the other holds them back in conflicts that can last an hour. It’s not an emotionally draining endurance match, however; the changes in environments as the battle progresses keeps the fight fresh. A match can move across up to five areas across the same region, which is analogous to playing five different small maps. As a cavalry-inspired twist, the losing side gets two last ditch opportunities to win with the help of an airship, attack train, or a dreadnought.EA DICE’s interpretation of T.E. Lawrence isn’t quite Peter O’Toole and that’s okay.
Operations also offers a surprising amount of historical context thanks to informative pre- and post-match voice over. For instance, the Kaiserschlacht operation not only broadly educates players on the 1918 Spring Offensive, it also hypothesizes what could have happened had the Germans won.
Like a band of brothers reuniting, the reprise of Conquest, Domination, Rush, and Team Deathmatch delivers the goods for the Battlefield devotee. Beyond amassing the highest kill count or earning the best kill/death ratio, there’s a thrill in adapting to changing circumstances mid-battle. This is especially true for team players, who must constantly try to figure out how to be the best contributor. That could mean protecting a capture point or stopping an enemy charge by assaulting them from an airship. Lastly, War Pigeon--which has the hallmarks of a throwaway novelty mode--shares some fundamentals with Capture The Flag, where the bird serves as the flag. The challenge comes in finding a safe place to write a message for the bird to deliver, releasing the pigeon outdoors, and ensuring it doesn’t get shot down.
A mode is only as good as the map it's based in and Battlefield 1's maps are all smart and interesting in their own ways. Peronne, with its mix of small town in ruins and untended fields, requires bit more time to memorize its layouts and strategically advantageous points. From the vacant French palace in Ballroom Blitz to the labyrinthine streets of Amiens, every locale has its own sense of character. This is aided by the inclusion of armed gargantuan machines like the airship and train. The Argonne Forest in particular--with its light mist, detailed vegetation, and man-made ruins--is one of the most gorgeous multiplayer maps ever conceived. Compared to the many near-symmetrical maps in Battlefield: Hardline, these new fields of operations feel natural and, more importantly, inviting.
With Battlefield 1, EA and DICE have proven the viability of World War 1 as a time period worth revisiting.
The series’ best maps are those that encourage you to play outside your comfort zone, to spend time with things you typically ignore and to play around with the available vehicles. The FAO Fortress in Mesopotamia and Monte Grappa in the Alps, for instance, are ideal maps to acquaint yourself with the exhilaration of sniping. The outstanding expansiveness of the maps and the abundance of routes in a given area create myriad opportunities to circumvent bottlenecks and camping spots.
Challenges in navigation are found in the multiplayer menus. Getting into a match isn’t a problem, but the online UI isn’t very intuitive, particularly in defining some of the categories of unlockables. Furthermore, it’s disappointing that it’s not possible to leave the multiplayer mode in between matches; you actually have to wait until the next match starts before you can exit. But these minor issues do not dampen the overall experience.A scene from ‘The Runner,’ which is set during the Gallipoli Campaign.
The robust and satisfying progression system is how you customize your online experience, where much of your arsenal is built on whatever you spend your level upgrade rewards on. Growing a collection of firearms is rewarding for veterans while the simplicity of most of the antiquated weapons makes the conflicts accessible to newcomers. It’s meat-and-potatoes 20th century combat; no drones or heat seeking bullets to concern yourself with. Every meaningful action is recognized--even dealing a flesh wound earns you experience points. You’ll have more armaments to choose from than your average World War I soldier, though, which is indicative of the creative liberties Battlefield 1 takes.
However accurate or inaccurate Battlefield 1 is--lite J.J. Abrams lens effects notwithstanding--the immersive production values superbly amplify the sights and sounds that have previously existed in other war shooters. Examples include the distinct clatter of empty shells dropping on the metal floor of a tank and the delayed sound of an exploding balloon from far away. The brushed metal on a specific part of a revolver is the kind of eye-catching distraction that can get you killed. Beyond the usual cacophony of a 64-player match, salvos from tanks and artillery guns add bombast and bass to the large map match. And many vistas are accentuated with weather-affected lighting with dramatic results, like the blinding white sunlight that reflects off a lake after a rainstorm.
With Battlefield 1, EA and DICE have proven the viability of World War 1 as a time period worth revisiting in first-person shooters. It brings into focus countries and nationalities that do not exist today while also shedding light on how the outcome of that war has shaped our lives. As World War II shooters proved many years ago, no game can truly capture the entirety of a global conflict. This is why the focused structure of the War Stories anthology works well. Moreover, Operations succeeds as an effective educational primer on the battles that this gripping adversarial mode are based on. Battlefield 1 is just an introduction to one of the deadliest world events in history, but it is an outstanding, feature-rich package in both its emotional stories and strong multiplayer.
Virtual reality has the potential to make some game types better: storytelling can be more immersive, the jump scares of horror can be more frightening. However, fast-paced first-person games in VR have generally only succeeded at making me feel nauseated. But the PlayStation VR-exclusive RIGS Mechanized Combat League proves even that genre can work in the confines of a headset. RIGS has serious flaws in execution, but it nails the fundamentals of movement in VR in a way no other game I've experienced has.
At its core, RIGS is a first-person shooter where you pilot a robotic mech through sprawling, multi-tiered arenas across three primary modes: Team Takedown (team deathmatch), Endzone (a capture-the-flag-meets-American-football variant), and Power Slam (the game's unique and most interesting mode). In Power Slam, you destroy opponents or collect orbs scattered around each arena to enter a powered-up Overdrive mode, after which you can jump through a large ring in the center of the map to score points for your team. The concept sounds complicated and weird, though the deathmatch-meets-basketball mashup is genuinely fun.
But the number of camera and comfort options are what truly make racing across the game's maps and leaping through the air to score aerial takedowns feel so natural. When you turn and look around, the field of view around you, but without diminishing your peripheral view too drastically. When you get ejected from your rig, you can enjoy the flight up in the air where you'll choose your next respawn point, or just let the game momentarily black out the background while you soar upwards. And the ability to use your head to move around and aim, while disconcerting at first, is what makes the entire VR experience come together. You can always opt for a more traditional twin-stick controller setup, but the responsiveness of the game's head-tracking allows for almost mouse and keyboard-like precision (and the fairly generous aim-assist helps too).
There's both a single-player and multiplayer campaign, and both are built around completing a set number of matches to complete a "season." The overall rank you earn--designated by the number of new fans you acquire after each match--carries across both online and off. And through increasing your rank, you can hire stronger AI teammates (though they also demand more of the reward pot for each match). But the matches too frequently felt lopsided. I faced computer opponents who sometimes offered an exciting challenge, while others either completely crushed my team or fell to double-digit losses. But the pace of the matches are perfect--an endless, unpausing march of the game's clock that gets you in and out of the action in 10 minutes.
When you can find a match, the game really shines mode. It's more fun to play against human opponents than the game's inconsistent AI, you can actively coordinate with your real-life teammates, and, you can swap out your RIG in-between matches (in the offline mode, you have to back out to the game's garage to change your RIG). And, outside of sometimes seeing a delay between the start of a match and my teammates appearing, there's no noticeable lag or similar technical issues when playing online. However, actually getting into a match can be an insurmountable chore; I haven't been able to start a full 3v3 match on any mode except Team Takedown since the game's launch. The wait might not be so bad if there was something to do while you waited, but there's nothing to do on the loading screen except look around the main menu hub--and that oppressive wait is compounded by the fact that you're isolated inside a VR headset. It's funny that the part of RIGS that forces you to take a break with the headset off isn't the intensity of combat, it’s the boringness of the loading screen.
RIGSs combat is about quick matches and intense shootouts, but lots of little additions continually drag down that sense of speed. Each match starts with the same laborious screen where you and your teammates get loaded into your mech, and every single time after you finish a match, you're forced to watch a completely pointless dance animation from the MVP of the match. Every. Single. Time. Regardless of whether it's you, a teammate, or the opposition, you can't skip it, and it just gets more and more irksome when you're itching to jump into another match.
And RIGS shows that same lack of urgency in the way you unlock the game's mechs. RIGS seems to keep things simple by giving you four core models to choose from: the small and agile Hunter, the airborne Tempest, the tank-like Sentinel, and the balanced Mirage. But then for each mech type, there is another subset of classes, each with a separate perk--like leaving leaving a martyr-like bomb behind when your RIG explodes or regaining health for taking down enemies. Then on top of the perks, the weapon loadout for each mech is different and locked to that specific mech.
Outside of the first mech you earn, you have to purchase each additional one with in-game funds. You earn funds pretty quickly both online and off--every few matches you earn enough to buy another mech--but it's a tedious system that makes nailing down which mech combination is right for you unnecessarily complicated. And it also makes figuring out exactly how weapons work more of a chore, since there is such a wide assortment of different armaments; after purchasing a new mech, you have to go into a separate training room to test it out. As a game that focuses on online competition, it just doesn't make sense all of the various mech types, abilities, and weapons aren't available from the beginning.
The game's upgrades are equally ill-conceived. From the home menu, you can select "sponsorships" that task you with things like "complete five melee takedowns" or "earn MVP twice" and reward you with cosmetic upgrades like visors, uniforms, and helmets. But the rewards are only for your pilot, not your mech. And you can only choose two sponsorships at a time, one for your online campaign and one for offline; after completing a sponsorship, if you want to swap it out (and thus get a new reward), you have to back out to the main hub and cycle through another menu. You still earn lesser rewards for meeting the stipulations of the sponsorship a second time, but you only earn the bigger cosmetic one once. On top of that, you don't get a preview of the cosmetic rewards you can earn--basically, you don't know what you're working towards (beyond "new visor" or "new suit") until you earn it.
The groundwork is here for an amazing first-person experience in VR. RIGS controls are top-notch, and aside from the grating, repetitive announcers, the arenas are colorful places that I love competing in. But the smaller details that RIGS stumbles over make it hard to justify continuing after completing an initial season. RIGS is a great showcase for how to make a VR shooter, but it's also a game that could learn from the "less is more" mantra.
Shadow Warrior 2 nails many important aspects of being a first-person action experience. It allows you to move quickly and precisely as you shoot a wide variety of enemies with powerful guns and slice them up with piercing blades. But as a game that puts such a large focus on comedy, it stumbles and falls with jokes that are more lame than they are funny.
Of course, dick jokes--which are the basis for a lot of the humor here--aren't automatically bad, but Shadow Warrior 2 delivers entry-level one-liners that don't strive for more than reading thesaurus entries for male genitalia. You play as Lo Wang, a foul-mouthed assassin who makes constant dick jokes and works for whoever pays him the most. This time around, he's hired to save a girl named Kamiko from an insidious corporation. The premise sounds simple, but it quickly takes a turn for the absurd. Kamiko's body becomes possessed and her soul ends up inside Wang's head via an act of mysticism to protect her. She can't stand him or his terrible jokes, and they both want her back in her own body, so you set out on a quest to do exactly that.
Shadow Warrior 2 infuses quests, skill trees, and loot into its first-person action. You level up, upgrade your skills, and find new and stronger weapons you equip through the game's vast, clunky menus. These menus are overwhelming with the amount of information they present, but once you get accustomed to the clumsy UI, you get to the main focus of the game: killing a substantial number of baddies with guns, blades, and chainsaws.
Enemies run the gamut from gargantuan demons to small, levitating drones. Many of Shadow Warrior 2's enemies rush straight at you, forcing you to act quickly. There are a number of movement options, such as dashes and double jumps, that allow for quick movement around environments. And instead of just contributing to fleeing tricky situations, these dashes add to the combat in thrilling ways. Dipping in and out, then sticking a foe with your blade when they leave themselves open makes you feel like you're faster and more skilled than your enemies. Some enemies attack you from afar, and simply shooting them with a rifle is an effective-yet-unsatisfying method to deal with them. A more exciting approach? Dashing from side to side to dodge an enemy's ranged assault as you close the gap and punish them with your katana.
The more you put into Shadow Warrior 2's combat, the more you get back. Spending the entire game relying solely on one sword will make its numerous combat scenarios wear thin fast. Trading the strike of a katana for a devastating shotgun blast, on the other hand, will keep things fresh, and the game provides plenty of tools in your arsenal with which to experiment. Just about every weapon feels good to use, too, whether it's the fast flurry of the glaive-like blade or the slow-but-destructive path of the railgun. The chainsaw is equal parts grotesque and awesome; pulling the motorized weapon through an enemy delivers just enough resistance to make this slower, more damaging melee option exciting to use.
Shadow Warrior 2 is at its best at higher difficulties, when death is more likely to be an arm's length away. Adding a friend in co-op mode delivers a similar experience to what you get in solo play, but it allows you to bump up the difficulty even higher, which makes the game more exciting (especially when you're up against bosses and tougher enemies). Playing quests that the game warns might be too hard is also a gripping experience, not one littered with overwhelming annoyances.
Once you beat the game, you start over with all the skills and upgrades you've collected, and you can play whatever sidequests you may have missed out on during your initial run. The game's movement and combat is a lot of fun to play around with, but the story ends much more quickly than expected, with a boss fight that's uncharacteristically tedious and frustrating, requiring you to run around in circles while you shoot a stationary target.
Shadow Warrior 2 is peppered with lame one-liners and awful jokes that almost always revolve around a penis. The jokey dialogue delivered by an obnoxious cast can veer off into other vulgar topics, but it always comes back to a pun on the word "wang." Some of the one-liners you'll hear frequently in combat include, "Mess with the bull, you get the wang" and "This is my rifle, this is my wang." More jokes await you in the cutscenes, and the pause for them in every conversation makes the already interminable sequences feel like they take twice as long.
It's the lack of creativity--and the fact that every character is unlikable--that hurts this game the most. Thankfully for Shadow Warrior 2, it's still a great game to play. Picking off enemies one-by-one with a railgun, demolishing them point-blank with a shotgun, and ripping through them with a chainsaw are just a few of the exciting moments that make it hard to put down. However, if you want to experience its action-packed highs, then disregard its groan-inducing lows and skip the cutscenes.
VR gaming, by its very design, encourages you to look beyond what is in front of you, to soak in your 360-degree surroundings. Tangentlemen's Here They Lie provokes similar degrees of neck craning, though the compulsion to look back is mainly motivated out of survival and terror. The game's misty towns more than echo Silent Hill; ripples of Konami’s psychological horror series can be felt in this game’s unabashed symbolism and themes on the fallibility of man. These attributes combine to qualify Here They Lie as a notable and occasionally frightening title in what is a packed PlayStation VR launch lineup.
Here They Lie wastes little time in preparing you for emotional whiplash. It begins in an idyllic, almost dreamlike setting, with a heartfelt goodbye at a train station with woman named Dana. That endearing scene is followed by a tense, stressful subway ride, surrounded by a dark presence--and punctuated by the screeching metal-on-metal sound of wheels grinding on the track. Here They Lie is a mystery in the sense that your travels lead you to clues on who you are and the backstory of your imperfect relationship with Dana. It's also an unorthodox investigation in that very few of the interactable objects offer clear evidence on the meaning of your trek. Both the game's predominantly linear path and apparitions of Dana--with her lovely smile and vibrant sundress--guide you toward some of the answers.
From this initial ethereal scene to the game's many darker moments, you're never short of metaphors and imagery to try and make sense of. The clarity of the messages range from blunt to abstract--there's a lot to parse when you're witnessing a couple fornicating on a television while wearing horse heads, after all. Two interludes in particular have the scenic vibe of a Yes album cover come to life. Scenes of charred human remains and a visit to an urban wasteland in a desert setting even call to mind co-director Cory Davis' prior work on Spec Ops: The Line, another game steeped in symbolism and themes of morality.
Unsurprisingly, there’s a constant itch to try to figure out the point of everything. Does the appearance of a lone ferris wheel supported by two tiny rock islands in a vast sea represent the remoteness of a life of leisure? Is a 100-foot-tall burning man in a suit representative of the oppressive, soul-crushing life of a salaryman? You press forward in the hopes that the last few chapters will connect the dots. Thankfully, the endgame payoff is substantial and satisfying, one that’s tied to the choices you make on your journey as well as a final decision you must confront at the end. Not all the images are explained, but given the high degree of imagination on display, it’s easy to admire the game's less-threatening surroundings without the urge to find meaning at all times.
Here They Lie offers very little in way of instructions--which, unsurprisingly, results in a trial-and-error loop on how to deal with the game's homicidal creatures. You’ll lose lives when trying to deduce whether you should retreat or rush past these gaunt beasts. This would normally be a point of frustration, but even the Game Over screen--with its blood-red sun and mysterious men that appear in growing numbers with every death--is just as visually enthralling as any of the game's notable scenes.
Tangentlemen's artists and level designers are worthy of commendation for crafting surroundings that create the illusion of being more labyrinthine than they really are. One area specifically calls to mind the alluring density of Hong Kong's Kowloon Walled City and other urban areas with loose (or nonexistent) zoning laws. Its vacant, decrepit alleys are as dreadful as they are inviting. Choosing where to go first at a four-way intersection can be intimidating, but these settings often provide subtle visual hints on which routes are dead ends. The game's skeletal, deer-headed hostiles--which you can't kill, by the way--often guide you to the main route just by virtue of being lethal obstacles.
Heightening the suspense are the game's thoughtful, event-triggered camera tricks. Here They Lie takes advantage of one's natural tendencies to focus on what's directly in front. Tangentlemen laid numerous scares designed for maximum impact when you're forced to turn around--whether you've reached the end of a road or a room with only one exit. It's an anxiety-laden thrill reacting to every unexpected sound. You're regularly tormented with the liquid audio of gurgling, unnerving clicking noises. It's a sense of dread reminiscent of encountering the Infected in The Last of Us.
Here They Lie is an otherworldly addition to PlayStation VR, a platform that isn't bereft of on-foot exploratory experiences. Assuming that its myriad noises don't distract and provoke you, it's easy to take in your surroundings, particularly by looking up and down. This is a controller-based PSVR game, and while it's playable when sitting down, it's best experienced while standing. It's an unsettling sensation to feel weak in the knees or even vertigo when peering down and through the gaps of an unstable fire escape. The same goes for the simple act of leaning over a balcony and looking into a bottomless pit.
Here They Lie pulls you in by appealing to your curiosities of what's around the corner--but you're also motivated to stick to the main path, because a part of you just wants to get the hell out of this urban nightmare. As a dark, well-crafted psychological journey in VR, the game captures the distinct duality of being a curious observer--and, conversely, a participant who simply wants to survive and escape. Its enigmatic visuals, choice-driven narrative, and provocations on morality are the driving forces that warrant multiple playthroughs, and all of those aforementioned elements combine to make Here They Lie one of the standout offerings among the PSVR's launch lineup.
I've always thought of the Skylanders series as gateway titles for the next generation of gamers, with the series' kid-friendly aesthetic and forgiving difficulty serving as gentle introductions to the wider world of games. Skylanders Imaginators is, in that sense, an obvious, almost inevitable next step. With Imaginators, the Skylanders go further along along the gaming evolutionary path, adding RPG-like staples such as full character customisation, loot drops, and a more complex stats system for your weapons/gear. It's a welcome move for the franchise, as it adds a compelling twist to the tried-and-true Skylanders formula.
It's an twist that's ended up being the redeeming quality for for this latest instalment. Imaginators is, at its core, a pretty standard action platformer, and it comes up lacking when compared to the more varied and vividly imaginative recent games in the series (Superchargers and Trap Team). But that new level of customisation and the ability to constantly tinker with your character makes it feel like a different experience. This makes Imaginators the most interesting Skylanders to play in years, even if it's not the most fun.
It all starts with characters, or in this case, the ability to create your own Skylander from scratch. To create a Skylander, you're going to need a creation crystal, one of the new sets of physical toys that will debut with this year's game. Like other Skylander toys, placing a creation crystal on the real-world Skylanders portal will bring whatever character is saved onto the crystal into your game. Each crystal has a specific element attached to it (such as life, earth, undead, and so on), and the first thing you'll have to choose is what class you want your new Skylander to be. These classes fit gaming's broad archetypes such as brawlers, ranged specialists, mages, and more, and are forever locked once you make your initial decision (you can, however, change your character's looks at any time).
This is where the tricky topic of commerce in the Skylanders series enters the conversation. Choosing a character class is actually a pretty big decision in Imaginators, as the classes are distinct enough that your playstyle will be impacted by class. I played most of the game as a Bazooker class, which specialises in ranged explosives, and switching over to a more melee-focused Brawler class at certain points forced me to significantly alter my approach to combat situations. Of course, with your class locked to a creation crystal, you'll need to buy more if you want to play as any of the others. Buying new toys to experience more of the game is a Skylanders tradition, and while there's a huge amount of content here that can be accessed with just the basic starter packs, that commercial element of the franchise remains the same.
To its credit, the game doesn't limit your ability to change how your character looks at any point. Imaginators doesn't quite have the same level of customisation depth as say, something like a WWE 2K17 or a Skyrim, but what is there is pretty expansive. You can choose body parts from a wide selection of preset choices, tinker with the coloring of individual pieces, select the pitch and tone of your character's voice, change their battle music, and more. All of this customisation makes for a system where you can create a Skylander that feels pretty unique, and that you can easily get attached to because of the level of care you can pour into its creation. My favorite piece of customisation was the ability to change catchphrases; it always brought a smile to my face every time Nuggets, my Bazooker character, screamed out "I'm crazy for my muscles" before heading into battle.
Your created characters can equip weapons and gear, and while gear isn't anything new in a Skylanders game, the frequency of drops has significantly increased, making the loot experience here more akin to a less intense version of a Diablo or Destiny. Defeating bosses, completing objectives, or even just making it to certain areas all result in dropped chests that contain loot (ranked common, rare, epic, or ultimate), and this loot isn't restricted to just gear. New body parts, catchphrases, and even sound effects will also drop, giving you the option to continually tinker with your character's look if you feel the urge to do so.
My seven-year-old son--who I played a lot of the Imaginators campaign with--certainly did, and he would continually (or more accurately, annoyingly) stop to equip a new shoulder guard, or swap in a new tail for his character, or change the size and shape of said character completely. As for me, the tinkering became fairly infrequent as the game wore on. Outside of the novelty of a cool new body part, I found little reason to swap out gear and weapons (the only things that actually make a difference to your character's stats) after the halfway point in the game, thanks to generous drops that bestowed several ultimate-level pieces of loot fairly early on. A better, more restrictive loot drop system would make Imaginators a more compelling experience for grown-up gamers, but from my focus group of one (ie, my son), the target audience seems to be in love with the constant stop-and-swap feel that this game provides.One of the new Skylander Creation Crystals.
It's a pity, then, that all of this customisation is limited to your created characters, and not to the wider cast of both new and existing Skylanders. There's no way to equip any of the dropped gear or weapons on any non-player created characters, so any old Skylander toys you may have don't benefit from the most significant additions that Imaginators brings. The new range of figures released for this year's game--called Senseis--do feature special ultimate moves that are both flashy and impactful, but compared to the cool new personalisation options you have with created characters, the Senseis and any plain old Skylanders come off as rather dull.
If it wasn't for the customisation options and the constant allure of what the next loot drop will bring, Imaginators too would come off as a little dull. That's not to say it's boring; Imaginators' lengthy campaign is a pleasing enough romp, but it's one that leans a little heavily on tried and true action platformer tropes. Simple puzzles, basic platforming, and multi-stage boss fights abound, and there are only a few instances where Imaginators breaks out of this traditional mold. It's not groundbreaking in any sense, and certainly feels like the most rote Skylanders experience in a while.
A better, more restrictive loot drop system would make Imaginators a more compelling experience for grown-up gamers.
But that new level of character personalisation elevates Imaginators from being decidedly average. The game also allows you to take your character into the real world, with a phone app that allows you take your console creation and order actual t-shirts, physical cards (that contains your character data and act like a Skylander toy when you place it on a portal), and even a 3D-printed toy (apparently in very limited quantities). It's not something I've tried yet, but given the close bond I feel with my character Nuggets, it may be something I do soon. With Imaginators, the Skylanders series isn't pushing any gaming boundaries, but at least it has character.