Undaunted by the gravity of their own legacy, BioWare forges a new path forward. The premise of Mass Effect: Andromeda mirrors the new life of the franchise in more ways than one. Putting behind them one of the most epic science fiction sagas in video game history and all of the characters we had come to love is no small feat, a challenge other industry giants have avoided or outright failed at. Despite the rose colored lens through which the original, decade-old Mass Effect is viewed by many, Andromeda does just this.
Enter Sara and Scott Ryder, youthful recruits who along with their father joined the Andromeda Initiative to seek out a new home for humanity in the Heleus Cluster of the Andromeda galaxy. Scientists, unlike the soldier origins of CDR Shepard, the Ryders are a refreshing new look and feel for main characters. The crew and your squad mates include many races familiar to the original trilogy and a few new ones as well, all brilliantly voiced and brought to life in the stunning Frostbite engine – which is also new to the series. With one of the best team of writers in the industry and more dialog than Mass Effect 2 and 3 combined, Andromeda may be the most ambitious and in-depth story BioWare has attempted yet.
As the experience unfolds and the player is introduced to both new and familiar activities and opportunities for exploration, the more close to home Andromeda feels. It feels like a Mass Effect title should from the outset – wasting no time putting your Ryder twin of choice into action and trusting the player to keep up with the lore and references without letting it get in the way. Returning players will find the new ship, the Tempest, is a fitting tribute to the Normandy, but is also comfortable being itself and has a fresh, elevator free layout. The all-terrain Nomad is even cooler than you remember the Mako being, which is great news because you’ll spend more time than ever behind the wheel in it. It inherits the mining and most of the scanning tasks that used to occur only from orbit in the original trilogy, and has its own tech upgrade tree along with the rest of your gear.
Speaking of upgrade trees, the character advancement and gear research and upgrade paths are an order of magnitude more complex than any of the previous Mass Effect titles. No longer limited to just one “class”, the Ryders can develop multiple combat profiles that cover all of the classic builds like soldier or infiltrator, and now also includes the biotic and tech tree skills once exclusive to the non-playable characters. The build choices are staggering at a glance, but are easy to get the hang of as you go along.
Combat sees a huge update, featuring faster movement, more agility and a bigger emphasis on coordination of abilities between squadmates to defeat difficult encounters. Players looking for a challenge will be pleased to find the harder difficulty settings are a step up from the prior titles, and require a lot more than just cover and ammo management to defeat hard encounters, even for returning veterans. Playing on one setting below “insanity” I died frequently despite a confident hard mode finish in the first three.
My ten hours in the play-first trial of Mass Effect: Andromeda sped by in an instant, just enough time to get my boots dirty and whet my appetite. It is not enough time to judge the story, which I’ve avoided discussing, but from what I have seen so far exceeded my expectations. I had concerns that BioWare would not be able to top what they had completed with closing chapters of Mass Effect 3 – nor fill the boots of an iconic heroine like Jane Shepard. Thankfully, Andromeda is following its own heart and I am looking forward to seeing where it goes.
Like a spring-loaded boxing glove in a shiny wrapped box, For Honor is the gift that keeps on giving well past your second black eye. Equal parts stunning faux-history medieval brawler and cruel test of patience and temper, Ubisoft’s unconventional arena fighter pits Knights, Samurai and Viking warriors in a cycle of never ending war. As unforgiving as it is breathtaking, it will bring out the worst – and occasionally the best – in any team.
The heart of the game is symmetrical, cinematic 1v1 Duels, 2v2 Brawls and a variety of epic 4v4 melee battle modes. Each of the three factions has four classes loosely categorized into well-rounded Vanguard, armored Heavy, nimble Assassins and wildcard Hybrids. However it would be more accurate to just say there are twelve characters, as you can only draw distant similarities between two of the same class, like the Samurai Hybrid and a Knight Hybrid, despite both using polearms. Each of the twelve has a staggering amount of visual and technical customization to further match a specific playstyle or loadout, with gear appearance and performance customization on par with the highest end RPG and way beyond anything I’ve seen in traditional arena games. The feeling of ownership of a fighter as you raise them, unlock feats and collect gear for different loadouts is only further emphasized when you’re thrown into the fray. Unlike some other competitive games where gear stats only matter in top tier combat, the default PvP mode here has gear stats enabled. Battles are brisk, do-or(and)-die trying pace with zero room for mistakes. The melee combat itself is a masterpiece of exact directional blocking, dodging, parries, strike distance, stamina, footwork and oh, learning to avoid any ledge taller than a street curb. Combine light and heavy attacks into Street-Fighter-esque combination moves that must be memorized per hero, each with situational advantages and potential one hit kill uses, and try to survive for the chance to show off a brutal execution move. The difficulty of the combat also makes it very rewarding when you win. I’d dare say this is the skeleton in the closet – the dirty secret, so to speak. If it were easy, it would probably be a lot less fun.
New players will do well to enjoy the story mode first, which is not too short and teaches most of the class basics along the way. It can be played alone or co-op with a friend. Ratchet up the difficulty and the story mode is also nearly impassible challenge on “realistic” mode, at least towards the last few chapters. The AI in both the story mode and the Player vs. AI versions of the multiplayer modes is often surprisingly clever, although prone to predictable patterns in some situations. I find it fascinating in either case, as the different bots seem to have assigned behaviors. Also as they seem to also have a set of pre-assigned names (a few which are just as ridiculous as some real names I run across), you soon start to recognize some of them from prior battles. Some are notably more aggressive, others will flee a fight to find help, and some are just as cheap as their human counterparts can be. I’d love to chat with the team that worked on the AI to see how they make the magic work. In mixed AI and PvP modes, the game auto tunes the AI bots for the skill ranking average of the teams. In custom modes you can select the difficulty level of the bot AI to better test yourself as you practice for the apex predators of For Honor; the other real players.
Even in game modes like elimination where it is a series of four not-quite-isolated 1v1 duels (4v4 total on the same map), it is more or less guaranteed that as soon after the first body drops, someone will find themselves defending in a 1v2 fight, likely injured. Even though there is a scoring mechanic that gives extra points for honorable 1v1 kills, most matches center around uneven fights. A skilled player can survive being outnumbered, but in an even match the odds are definitely with the mob. This encourages some very bad tactical behaviors, and combined with working knowledge of ledges and natural bottlenecks in a specific map can turn a lot of fights into a slaughter by the better coordinated or plain dirty tricks. Class balance is arguably imperfect, specially in certain modes with characters that have easy-to-perform block breaking or body tossing chains yield a lion-vs-lamb advantage if a ledge or spike wall is nearby. An easy, legitimate counter argument may be to try and squeeze the classes into rock-paper-scissors classifications, which feels super accurate if you are playing paper against a scissors class in a 1v1 duel. Is that balanced? Maybe. For Honor treats the entire concept of dirty fighting and unfair situational advantage as the last rule of the battlefield: victory to the team that wanted it more.
Despite its glitches and numerous flaws, it remains highly engaging to play. It gets under your skin, for the better or worse. You’ll find out for yourself if you are comfortable being the plus one in an unfair fight, or if you can muster the respect to let your ally live or die on their own merit on principal alone, even risking a loss to let your opponent settle his affairs one honorable fight at a time. Or maybe you’ll cackle with glee as you finally behead the ledge kill spamming Heavy at any cost. This is a game for both types.
If I wasn’t clear, this game is a blast to play. It is easy to pick up, difficult to put down and worth hundreds of hours to master. It will definitely be a candidate for Game of the Year and is one of the more ambitious Ubisoft multiplayer games to date. With an optional season pass and another six fighter types coming in future expansions plus an innovative seasonal faction vs. faction persistent score, their intentions for this to be supported for the long haul are well entrenched.
Agent, you’ve been activated. It is time to take back New York City. After breaking radio silence on their upcoming openworld shooter RPG “The Division”, Ubisoft invited fans who had pre-ordered the game to participate in closed beta this weekend. Beta for Xbox One began one day ahead of PC and Playstation, which will run through Sunday evening. My wife and I sat down to run through it today and had a really good time of it. What follows are some of our observations, feedback and most of all; praise.
Update: Although video capture sharing is disabled for the Xbox One version of the beta, I had an opportunity to try it on PC. Here is a link to some footage: The Division PC Beta – 1080p Ultra
A well built beta experience
The new player briefing and developer commentary was specially prepared for this beta audience. It explained, accurately, that there would be bugs and more specifically what kind of bugs to expect. It also provided guidelines as to what content was not included in beta, and finally a quick guide to surviving. The result was something that seemed fully built – most of the missing features were visible but labelled as not included.
“Always On” multiplayer
Although most of the city is “squad only” multiplayer in terms of encountering other players, your friends who are playing are also shown on the map with an option to join them even if they are not currently in your squad. Furthermore, the quest hub areas and competitive PVP/PVE “Dark Zone” are dynamically filled with other players without any interaction from the player, and except for the pause when you join a squad, there are no loading screens going between these two types of game areas at all. Included is a matchmaking service, conveniently also located at the quest hubs.
The two enemy factions we encountered in the beta included looters and the flame-thrower wielding “cleaners”. Promotional footage suggests at least two more major factions that are not featured in the beta. Each of the factions bring their own twist to an encounter depending on which “class” or type of that enemy are present, and if any of them are elite or named opponents with special abilities or weapons. For example, most groups of looters will have at least one melee equipped “charger”, and frequently another that is equipped with tear gas or another type of grenade. Most of the enemies that have a weapon that should be fired from cover will use cover and line of sight to their advantage (but not always). Contrast this with a chance encounter with the cleaners, where threat of sudden fiery death from their flame thrower equipped heavies requires different tactics than a shootout with lightly armored looters. From go, I found this creates a believable and engaging atmosphere.
Huge, haunting play area.
Despite beta being fenced into just one portion of the total play area, I was immediately struck by the sheer size of the environment. This is one thing really not evident in the pre-beta footage until you see it for yourself – moving around down town New York conveys an intense sense of scale and catastrophe, better than probably any other shooter I have ever played. Exploration opportunities abound, whether you choose to jog directly to your active mission marker or sweep carefully street by street, there are countless details, alleys, underground entrances and rooftop access that make the map seem even larger.
Solid RPG Shooter foundation
The Division is first and foremost an RPG in a cover-based 3rd person shooter’s clothing. All of the players skills are designed to compliment small team tactics against a variety of challenging situations. Advancement, talents, gear customization and specialization further allow the player to tailor their agent to their preferred role in a team, or survival as a lone gun. There are no classes, so one agent can technically fill any role on the fly just by changing their active skill selections and gear.
All those bullets
One caveat and constructive feedback I find in The Divisions’ RPG roots is the dramatic health scaling of difficult AI opponents, although this is a common trait to most RPG Shooters like Borderlands or Fallout. Many elite or boss opponents are tough because of the sheer amount of armor and hit points assigned to them – you’ll empty magazine after magazine into headshots against them unless you are quite over-geared for the encounter. If this has ever bugged you in another game, it’s going to bug you here. I didn’t find it to take anything away from the game or sense of difficulty, and may even make the game more accessible to fans who enjoy that pace over headshot-galleries like Call of Duty and Battlefield. Your milage may vary.
Saving the best for last – we loved the Dark Zone. Ubisoft has a smoking hot recipe for a rich multiplayer challenge on their hands with how well cooperative PvE challenge and PvP mayhem blend in the Dark Zone. Every aspect of the game leads to it, and the best loot and toughest AI (and living) opponents are found there. You’re welcome to journey in alone but most of the encounters encourage or require cooperation, and the inevitable shootout between player squads ups the fun factor substantially. I found most players were helpful, specially given how frequently they may need to be revived while exploring PvE challenges or just trying to escape. Some seemed to be trying their boundaries with attacking vulnerable players, but the “rogue agent” flagging system tends to get the inexperienced griefer quickly executed. On the other hand, organized teams of rogue agents are a force to be reckoned with. Once they reach “rogue status five” for repeat aggression all nearby players get a bounty mission to kill them; they get a corresponding mission to survive for a set amount of time. The death penalty corresponds to how much “dark zone loot” and currency you’d managed to collect in that trip – you lose a portion of it when you die – and I felt it was “just right” to not feel overly punished for getting killed while still feeling the sting when you get iced right before an extract with a full pack. It’s bold and highly satisfying.
I am very encouraged by what I’ve seen so far, and look forward to the full release in March. See you in New York!
Five teenagers set out to explore a spooky island’s mystery, what could possibly go wrong? Night School Studio’s charming high school horror adventure “OXENFREE” turns out to be more than just a little scary and a whole lot of fun. It’s also one you won’t soon get out of your head. You’ve been warned.
With a running length of “just right” for a not-too-short side-scrolling puzzle adventure, you’ll be tempted to stay up late to finish it in a single sitting… in the dark. In addition to the rich watercolor environments and adorably tiny protagonists, brilliant writing and exceptional voice acting bring this breakout title to life. The believable and complex inter-character dialog is faster paced than some other story-driven tales. It’s no-pausing pace demands quick thinking and reaction from the player to choose how the heroine Alex might respond, or not respond, to a situation. Her choices drive much of how the story unfolds – one that you’ll be left thinking about long after the credits roll.
Blink at your own risk, this clever puzzle has numerous possible endings and a trove of well-guarded secrets. Nearly all of the game’s achievements are at least moderately hard to obtain, to the delight and horror of the completionists among us. The level of detail and thought put into OXENFREE is amazing, cementing its place as one of the best this year.
Remember back when a good puzzle could transcend fiction? Think way back. Moon Studios’ Ori and the Blind Forest is a trip to an era that birthed gaming masterpieces that would forever set a high bar for an exploration rich, difficult, secret-filled puzzle jumpers. Ori begins at a gentle pace to establish the tone, setting and controls, but once the plot is set in motion it is clear the tasks at hand are far from easy. Beneath the disguise of the adorable heroine and stunning locations is the heart of a true challenge.
Along with clever implementation of classic abilities like double jump, wall jump and air stomp are some innovative new tricks that will put your skills to the test. At times daunting or even heart pounding, the difficulty ramps up quickly and makes no apologies for demanding exact timing and deep respect for character controls. It balances well a sense of wonder and exploration with a vast, detailed map stuffed with secrets and shiny things you cannot-yet-get-to, and is well populated with a colorful cast of menacing critters. To top it off, the musical score is outstanding – ranging from deeply emotional to energetic and dramatic orchestra.
Ori includes more than a few hat tips to venerated predecessors in the “metroidvania” genre, and plays as well as we remembered these games to be. Yet at the same time it is something quite new, fresh and thought provoking. It is also very, very hard. A glance at some of the toughest achievements in the game are some of the most insane I’ve seen. The top include a speed run achievement, an achievement for completing it without leveling up any of your abilities, and the highly improbable completion in a single life. Good luck with the last one – that’s some serious bragging rights, given how frequently you are likely to die (hint: repeatedly)before figuring out some of the more cruel traps and puzzles.
Ori is a love letter to the games we grew up with. I played through the first quarter of the game in one sitting over the course of hours – not only had I lost track of the time, I had been transported back to a part of my gaming youth. I’m thankful Moon Studios took the extra time they needed to put the finishing touches on this game – the delay from last year was well worth the wait.
Morning, minions. It’s moving day for the hunters, and we are going to throw them a going away party. Whether you face it on day five of Evacuation or randomly in quick match, Defend mode as the monster is one of the hardest matches to win against a good team of hunters. Not only is it the only mode in which slaying all of the hunters counts for no gains – they return from the drop ship at full life almost immediately – the match timer counts down to a hunter win if the monster does not completely destroy both stage generators and the power source before the timer expires. It gets worse. Despite starting the match at stage three, and having a near continuous stream of Goliath minion pairs to help, the generators are defended by both the hunters, bottleneck terrain and armored turrets. Destroy a generator, and some time is added back to the clock. Here are seven tips for monster players hoping to crush the hunters and destroy the evacuation ship in one of the funnest, most difficult map modes in Evolve.
This might sound obvious, but I’ll dare oversimplify the match with the first do-or-die tip. Prioritize the turrets. Your minions are quite capable of carrying the match all the way to the final power source with little assistance but stand no chance against the turrets and will not attack them. You and your minions will face high, sustained damage as long as they are standing – so when the match starts, eat as quickly as possible to shield up and try to take out at least one turret along side the first set of minions. Flee ideally before your shield is depleted and feed again, you are unlikely to regenerate any real health via food buffs in Defend. Return as soon as possible to finish wrecking turrets, and your second and third wave minions will do a lot more damage to the generator before getting killed.
Expect maximum hunter force – a good team will take huge risks to make stage one generator as hard for the monster as possible. As this point they can afford multiple full wipes and still pull out a win later if they damage the monster enough, prevent it from feeding, trap it away from the turrets, or any other super nasty harassment the hunters can dream up.
Follow your nose
If you haven’t developed a habit of continually smelling as the monster, now is a good time to start. Smell as you eat, smell as you change facing, smell before you attack, smell before you retreat. Smell everything. Otherwise you’ll never spot harpoons, most mines, and potential snacks hunters left for you. If you haven’t seen what an overlooked harpoon and a few cleverly hidden mines in your escape route can do to a monster that needs to get away fast, I’ll give you a hint – it’s not pretty and can completely blow the match.
If you are just out of line of sight but within smell range of the generator as you feed to get shields back, you can safely spot the hunters and keep an eye (or nose) on your minions and have a pretty good idea of how the fight is going. Hurt minions will usually turn on the hunters before they die, which can be an excellent opportunity to quickly incapacitate a vulnerable hunter.
Know when not to kill a downed hunter
During the fight keep in mind an incapacitated hunter is more or less out of the fight minus his or her sidearm. Most of time time this will also take a second hunter partially out of the fight to revive the down hunter unless they have Daisy, but killing a downed hunter can take more time than you want to spend if they have someone shielding or healing them or you are taking fire in the back. A dead hunter might make a good quick snack in a pinch, but is also back in the fight startlingly soon. Consider just incapacitating them unless you know they will go down quick and you’ll be able to eat them without being shot at.
Know your opponents hand
No matter if you are facing the classic four hunters or a mix of higher tier hunters, be familiar before the match with how their abilities can be used to ruin your day in Defend. Assault may have mines (super effective), long range toxic grenades, or potent burst damage. Ditto your other three hunter types, as each has similar abilities that can stack slow effects at range, trap or defend a location, or cause immense burst damage – usually in that order. The play area is very small compared to normal hunt maps, and with basically no fear of death any number of hunters can break off generator defense to chase you when you try to feed – even just slowing you down or pelting you when you feed is enough to keep the fight in their favor. Beware clever cat and mouse tactics. If you get distracted from feeding, turrets or generators for very long and it won’t matter how many times you kill the hunters – when the time is up they win.
Listen for audible callouts (or turn on subtitles) for when the hunters use key abilities. You’ll hear “switching to mines!” before Markov places a mine, which at close quarters gives you only seconds to avoid or destroy the mine. The same is true for most hunter special abilities.
Watch the clock
Keep a close eye on both your minion wave spawn timer (it also has an audible sound) as well as the match timer. If or when the match timer reaches two minutes, you need to know how much health the generator or power source has left and move to assist your minions. Use the minion timer to gauge if you should attack the generator yourself or wait for a wave. If you time it right, you can destroy the generator with the minions and have them survive to charge the next target – even though they are likely to die almost immediately to turret fire they might do a little damage if they weren’t too badly injured.
At the power source, feed and do your best to dismantle the front turrets first without getting overwhelmed, and feed as often as possible until the final two minute warning. At that point you’ll need to have also destroyed the rear turrets and be ready to engage the power source with everything you have left and push for the hard earned win.
In this last phase food is dangerously close to the fighting area, making it easier for hunters to deny your snacks when you flee. While the turrets are still up they can easily kill your minions and have a lot time to focus on you before the next minions spawn. This is where a lot of matches end in a hunter win and if you took a lot of health damage in earlier risky fights, it will be that much harder to survive.
Don’t die to wildlife
I see you laughing, but the “food” in Defend usually bites back. Those annoying (and yummy) electrified tentacle faced raptor critters can take a huge chunk out of your shields if you aren’t on your A game and are usually in pairs. This can cost you almost all of the shield you hoped to get by eating them – a costly delay when seconds matter and hunters might be bearing down on you. For the same reason, if you have no shields choose a less violent food first when possible or at least be very sure to get a clean kill when you engage them.
The giant sloth beasts or other aggressive wildlife may actually help you if you pass them up as a snack without enraging them. Better they attack a pursuing hunter than you, and if you’re super lucky the hunter’s team is distracted and you get a free incapacitated hunter.
Win day four in Evacuation
Days one through three of evacuation are a wash once day four arrives. As a monster this is your semifinal, lose this and on day five the turrets get extra armor. What started as an uphill fight now borders on impossible, as the turrets no longer crumble after a few hits and will make trapjaw food out of your minions. Know your map modes, and if you luck out you might get Nest on day four for a relatively good shot at a win. Succeed, and instead of turrets with extra armor, your minions have extra armor. Now, it’s a party. Time to evict some hunter scum!
“Clearly, we are dealing with something far beyond ordinary wildlife.”
Welcome to planet Shear. Following an amazing launch day and boasting improvements to nearly every aspect of an already exceptional game, 2K and Turtle Rock Studios “Evolve” shows beautiful things follow a well executed beta test. Not only did they incorporate some feedback from their testers, the release included finer tuned the play controls, quicker matchmaking times, numerous graphics improvements and tighter-than-ever hunter vs monster balance. The results are epic.
The beta was an outrageously good time, despite some rough edges at the time I was already sold on the sum of it’s virtues and flaws. As I mentioned previously in my beta review blog, one of the coolest things about the game can at times be one of the most frustrating – it’s hard – but I’ve come to see this is no accident by any measure. The balance between four hunters and one massive monster necessitates tight teamwork on the part of the hunters to stop the match from quickly turning into a quick, often comical snack for a skilled monster. Since beta, fine tuning of hunter abilities and some key monster abilities has narrowed the gap, and in practice has made it less likely for a match between players who are trying to become overwhelmingly one sided. Yes, there is a learning curve, and the game is not as easy as some other traditional space shooters, but the end product dares to be different for all the right reasons.
Weather you queue alone, with a full team of friends, or with a mix of strangers and AI controlled hunters, if you spend the time to learn your hunter or monster abilities you’ll see no match is truly over until the last body drops. Each map abounds with seemingly innocuous details ranging from elevation changes, low clearance tunnels or overpasses, ambient wildlife, buildings and other terrain that if used correctly can turn a massacre back into a close fight for either side. A clever monster learns to ignore carnivorous plants and certain critters, knows when to hide her tracks, and which corners of the map she’d rather not get caught in. Hunters in turn must learn acute situational awareness of their own in addition to working together, and not a whiff of this is force fed by game mechanics. No glowing arrows, no dialog hints – just prior experience, careful observation and intuition.
In addition to the intense pure PvP online modes, Evolve includes a very cool looking campaign mode “Evacuation” which can be played competitively, cooperatively or solo. I haven’t taken a break from PvP “Hunt” mode yet to try Evacuation but from what I have seen it looks solid enough to stand as it’s own game. I am interested though, as the character dialog, personalities and plot opening hint at a very creative and enjoyable story. This was one of the best surprises about Evolve – a competitive “battle arena” style romp that could afford to go light on the plot and writing – instead the opening sequence alone manages to fit in more clever characters and plot potential than some other “story driven” shooters manage in their whole span.
During my first night, I had the pleasure of playing with and against the same group of similarly skilled players – all folks I had met randomly via the matchmaking system. Not all of us had the special edition, so we saw a pleasant mix of tier 1 and tier 3 characters and monsters. I found my losing matches to be just as invigorating as my wins (ok, nearly as..), largely due to the fact that most of the matches were close ones that could have gone either way – a balance I believe Turtle Rock and 2K worked hard to achieve. Finally, while I haven’t played Evacuation mode yet to say for sure, if it is anything as cool as PvP Hunt mode I think Evolve stands as the best candidate yet for Game of the Year.
And yes, Daisy.. you are my favorite trapjaw. See you on Shear.
For the most part, although the graphics for “Life is Strange” did not vary much between the PC version and Xbox One, some scenes with effects or dramatic lighting did seem to look better on PC. Below is an example from one of the latter scenes in Episode 1. Mild Spoilers.
PC – manually set to 1080p for best results:
Xbox One – manually set to 720p for best results:
Update: Finally sorted why it seemed I could not get my raw nvidia shadowplay files to stay at 1080p when I uploaded them to YouTube. One, lowering the shadowplay bitrate slider to 10Mbps from 50 made the file size more manageable without major impact to quality and two, most importantly I had to wait quite a while past the time YouTube said it was done processing before it allowed the HD resolutions to be selected. Whew.
As the credits began to roll, I sat stunned. Far more detailed and complex than the choice-driven story games it might be compared to, DONTNOD’s first episode of “Life is Strange” doesn’t hold back. Even as I poured over the myriad of choices and characters I had interacted with I wondered what I may have overlooked, or how differently my conversations might have gone had I gone down a different route, been a little less cautious, or explored more.
Pushing the limits for even the detail obsessed like myself, the lovingly crafted, vibrant world draws you in. As you explore, patience and curiosity are rewarded with new dialog options and choices, not all immediately for the better. Thankfully our protagonist “Max” has an uncanny ability to rewind time, even if just briefly, to relive a moment and retain cognition of what is to come.
Way cooler than just for puzzle solving, Max’s unexpected gift is at the heart of the story and drives much of the masterful character development that unfolds. Many dialog and story options only unlock after you’ve rewound a situation at least once, after which you may second guess yourself anyway. Even after making what seemed to be ideal choices in the majority of situations, I wondered if I had painted myself too narrow of a picture of the characters I had met or if I had missed something critical by playing it safe. Before it was done, I knew I’d need all of my save files to explore the full range of consequences that lay hidden in the incredibly rich story and environments.
Not too long, and not too short, Episode 1 of Life is Strange is a beautiful, fresh take on a “tell tale” style story with excellent writing, a fantastic original music score, and compelling characters. It is evident everywhere that much care and passion went into perfecting each nuance by the team at DONTNOD, and I am thankful that Square Enix gave them the creative room to let it become a title you’d want to rewind, many times.
When does poor teamwork become a game flaw, and not just the burden of the player? In Evolve – an insanely fun 2K / Turtle Rock production that pits four hunters against one player controlled boss monster – the answer is far from clear.
Spoilers – I had a blast playing beta. Despite some rough edges, most of my matches were vigorous and rewarding no matter which side I played, win or lose. The graphics are fantastic and the combat is over the top, but what surprised me the most was that the characters, simple plot and dialog were actually very clever for a game that doesn’t really need much of a story. The short prologue fit in more character and plot than some games manage in their entire span, and the evacuation story mode shows much promise. Character advancement and unlock options within a given role (medic, trapper, support and assault) add a rich layer to team building possibilities, just as the multiple types of monsters and abilities each have very specific strengths.
Evolve’s most unique feature can at times be the most frustrating one. Balancing the main abilities of each type of hunter against a single, far more powerful foe necessitates tight teamwork on the part of the hunters. I’ve only been in *one* winning match where not all of the hunters were on task, and it was a close match against a monster who’s heart might not have been in the fight, either.
I cannot overstate the discouragement felt when I enter a match as a medic and one or more of the party randomly breaks off from the party hunting dog’s lead or trail to go fight random wildlife, explore, or just go AFK. This match turns into either a very short or painfully long but easy win for the monster. As a hunter you are at the mercy of the match-making system unless you always game with a premade team of friends.
With all that said, is this an actual flaw in the game design? In some cases, simple fixes like a “vote to kick / downrank player” party match making feature might help with chronically bad teams, but it might come with its own problems. Furthermore I’d be wary of any enhancements that also benefit a good team, since four competent hunters are exceedingly difficult to kill as a relatively new monster.
To be fair, this problem is shared to a lesser degree by any multiplayer RPG/Shooter with raids or dungeons. Also, Evolve does have a solo play mode although I am not certain if progression there carries over to multiplayer, which may or may not be a good thing if it did.
In the end, the sum of Evolve’s flaws and strengths turns out to be outrageously fun, most of the time. The thrill of a properly executed hunter team victory is matched only by the feeling of devouring a worthy team of opponents as the monster. I look forward to wrecking havoc when it is released February 10 – with friends. 🙂