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So you’re in the market for one of those console things It used to be fairly straightforward to explain the console landscape to a friend looking for some guidance on how they should be getting into games. In the mid-’90s, Sony’s PlayStation was a certainty to crush Sega’s Saturn from the word go, and it was difficult to recommend an N64 to a dabbler when its cartridges clocked in at £60 a throw. It was hard to put your shoulder behind Sega’s Dreamcast, too, with PS2 on the horizon, poised to steamroller both Nintendo’s rather half-hearted GameCube and Microsoft’s initial stab at this console-making lark. Then, when Sony fluffed its PS3 launch by making many of the same mistakes suffered by its competitors in previous years, it presented Microsoft with an open goal for Xbox 360. Meanwhile, Nintendo’s Wii didn’t even need recommending: a quick go on Wii Sports was enough to persuade millions of people who didn’t traditionally play games that this cheap and cheerful box of fun was something they needed in their homes. And who didn’t see PlayStation 4 smashing Xbox One to pieces from the beginning? Following E3 2016, though, describing the shape of the console scene is more of a head-scratcher. Microsoft has more or less thrown in the towel with the original Xbox One, with a revamped model due soon. Except that one will be superseded itself by something even more capable in 2017. The first of the new platforms will carry the Xbox name, but the second one’s official title hasn’t been revealed yet, although we do know its specs. And every Xbox One game will work on all three models of the console – at least initially. Oh, and all of the titles published by Microsoft will be playable on Windows 10 PCs, too. And a more powerful PlayStation 4 is on its way soon! Why? How? When? Look, we’ll have to get back to you. In the middle of all this, it is comforting to fall back into something you can depend on: a new Zelda from Nintendo, which feels like a favourite old leather armchair that’s not going anywhere. Our story begins on p74. It’s coming to NX next year, too, you know. NX? Yeah, about that…

Exclusive subscriber edition

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games 56

Hype at E3

Play

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108 Mirror’s Edge Catalyst

Sony God Of War, Days Gone, Nier: Automata, Bound, The Last Guardian, Spider Man, Star Wars Battlefront: X-Wing VR Mission, PlayStation VR Worlds, Farpoint, Death Stranding, Resident Evil VII: Biohazard, Detroit: Become Human, Horizon Zero Dawn, Let It Die, Batman Arkham VR

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PC, PS4, Xbox One

112 Monster Hunter Generations 3DS

114 Umbrella Corps

Microsoft

PC, PS4

Forza Horizon 3, Sea Of Thieves, Dead Rising 4, Gears Of War 4, Scalebound, Cuphead, State Of Decay 2, Halo Wars 2, Recore

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116 Star Ocean: Integrity And Faithlessness

Multiformat + PC Battlefield 1, Steep, Final Fantasy XV, Quake Champions, Injustice 2, Abzu, Overcooked, Grow Up, Titanfall 2, Wilson’s Heart, Serious Sam VR, Absolver, Call Of Duty: Infinite Warfare, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Special Edition, South Park: The Fractured But Whole, Giant Cop, Dishonored 2, Mafia III, We Happy Few, FIFA 17, Fe, Feral Rites, Unspoken, Obduction, Star Trek: Bridge Crew, Civilization VI, Dual Universe, Gwent: The Witcher Card Game, Tacoma, Mass Effect: Andromeda, The Elder Scrolls Legends, Pyre, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Ghost Recon Wildlands, For Honor, Oxygen Not Included, State Of Mind, LawBreakers, The Turing Test, Vampyr, Watch Dogs 2, Prey

Explore the iPad edition of Edge for additional content

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PS4

118 Mighty No 9 360, PC, PS3, PS4, Wii U, Xbox One

120 Inside PC, Xbox One

121 Furi PC, PS4

123 Trials Of The Blood Dragon PC, PS4, Xbox One

Follow these links throughout the magazine for more content online

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#296

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sections S EP T EMB ER 2016

Knowledge

Dispatches

8 A sting in the tail

24 Dialogue

Epic Games’ Tim Sweeney tells us about his beginnings in games – and his concerns about the future

Microsoft stumbles into some familiar problems at E3 in LA

Edge readers share their opinions; one wins a New Nintendo 3DS XL

14 Found a cure

26 Trigger Happy

Remedy Entertainment changes tack after two decades of focus

Steven Poole on navigating the complex politics of representation

How Sumo Digital paid tribute to a rich gaming heritage with Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

16 Take control

28 Big Picture Mode

102 Studio Profile

The positive side of Microsoft: a controller just the way you want it

Nathan Brown is just about done with being swept up in E3 hype

18 Soundbytes

129 Postcards From The Clipping Plane

Why nDreams, the pioneering UK studio behind The Assembly, is betting the farm on virtual reality

Game commentary in snack-sized mouthfuls, featuring Yves Guillemot

20 My Favourite Game Pete Donaldson talks homemade hardware and broken games 106

22 This Month On Edge The things that caught our eye during the production of E296

8866

92 An Audience With...

The ecologically minded James Leach on weaponising p g dolphins p

98 The Making Of…

124 Time Extend How much spirit remains in Crystal Dynamics’ gothic romp y y g p Legacy Of Kain: Soul Reaver? r

Features tures 74 Fresh h Air Nintendo o broadens its horizons with Breath ath Of The Wild, the most ambitiouss Zelda game to date

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86 The C Cult Of PICO-8 The ‘fantasy ‘fanta asy console’ inviting a game-makers game-ma akers to search for success by scaling g down their approach

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EDITORIAL Tony Mott editor in chief Nathan Brown deputy editor Ben Maxwell writer Andrew Hind art editor CONTRIBUTORS Mark Brown, Elizabeth Elliott, Alex Jones, Edwin Evans-Thirlwell, James Leach, Emmanuel Pajón, Simon Parkin, Steven Poole, Chris Schilling, Alvin Weetman

ADVERTISING Steven Pyatt account manager (+44 (0)1225 687713 steven.pyatt@futurenet.com) Michael Pyatt advertising manager Andrew Church advertising director Clare Dove commercial sales director

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SUBSCRIPTIONS UK reader order line and enquiries 0844 8482852 Overseas reader order line and enquiries +44 1604 250145 Online enquiries www.myfavouritemagazines.com Email edge@myfavouritemagazines.co.uk

MARKETING Laura Driffield group marketing manager Kristianne Stanton marketing manager

CIRCULATION Juliette Winyard trade marketing manager (+44 (0)7551 150984)

LICENSING Regina Erak senior licensing and syndication manager (regina.erak@futurenet.com) Tel: +44 (0)1225 442244 Fax (yes, really, fax): +44 (0)1225 732275

PRODUCTION & DISTRIBUTION Mark Constance production manager Nola Cokely production controller Jo Gay ad production controller

MANAGEMENT Matthew Pierce editorial director, games, photography, creative & design Rodney Dive group senior art editor Joe McEvoy managing director, magazine division Nial Ferguson content and marketing director Printed in the UK by William Gibbons & Sons on behalf of Future. Distributed in the UK by Seymour Distribution Ltd, 2 East Poultry Avenue, London, EC1A 9PT (+44 (0)207 4294000). Overseas distribution by Seymour International. All submissions to Edge are made on the basis of a licence to publish the submission in Edge magazine and its licensed editions worldwide. Any material submitted is sent at the owner’s risk and, although every care is taken, neither Future Publishing Limited nor its agents shall be liable for loss or damage. While we make every effort possible to ensure that everything we print is factually correct, we cannot be held responsible if factual errors occur. Please check any quoted prices and specs with your supplier before purchase. If you’ve ever lived in an underground bunker, isolated from the stench of modern society, please let us know what it’s like. (Asking for a friend.) All contents copyright © 2016 Future Publishing Limited or published under licence. All rights reserved. No part of this magazine may be reproduced, stored, transmitted or used in any way without the prior written permission of the publisher. Future Publishing Limited (company number 2008885) is registered in England and Wales. Registered office: Quay House, The Ambury, Bath BA1 1UA. All information contained in this publication is for information only and is, as far as we are aware, correct at the time of going to press. Future cannot accept any responsibility for errors or inaccuracies in such information. You are advised to contact manufacturers and retailers directly with regard to the price and other details of products or services referred to in this publication. Apps and websites mentioned in this publication are not under our control. We are not responsible for their contents or any changes or updates to them. If you submit unsolicited material to us, you automatically grant Future a licence to publish your submission in whole or in part in all editions of the magazine, including licensed editions worldwide and in any physical or digital format throughout the world. Any material you submit is sent at your risk and, although every care is taken, neither Future nor its employees, agents or subcontractors shall be liable for loss or damage.

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Specialist Magazine Of The Year


KNOWLEDGE E3 2016

A sting in the tail At E3 2016, Project Scorpio was the big story. If only Microsoft had worked out how to tell it

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messaging back on course; sadly, as we ell, to be fair, it’s a new personal all know, Microsoft’s ‘best’ is to royally best. Three-and-a-half years after cock everything up and just confuse Microsoft messily unveiled Xbox One, everyone even more. Key to Spencer’s it went to E3 2016 and botched the attempted justification of the whole sorry announcement of not one, but two mess was the notion of ‘no one left consoles in one fell swoop. For 85 behind’, an oddly militaristic way of minutes or so, we were excited for saying that Scorpio will play everything Xbox One S, with its smaller, prettier available on Xbox One, and vice versa. form factor and redesigned controller, It sounded fair enough until general its integrated power supply, its support manager of publishing Shannon Loftis for HDR and 4K displays. Then said there could be Microsoft spent the next Scorpio exclusives after all hour and a half explaining Spencer admitted – it was up to developers. that, as part p of its Playy Not so, Spencer insisted. Anywhere initiative, we’d that, unless you Then The Coalition’s Rod be able to play almost own a 4K TV, Fergusson said there was every firstparty game extra CPU and GPU showed on its stage on the “Scorpio is not headroom in Xbox One S PC we already own. Then going to do and his team were taking Phil Spencer – the man advantage of it in Gears who had supposedly anything for you” Of War 4. Definitely not, ushered in a smarter, more Spencer said. focused era for the Xbox Yet Spencer’s biggest cold-water division – closed out the show by pour came when he admitted that, announcing Project Scorpio, the t most unless you own a 4K TV, “Scorpio is powerful console ever made, a sixnot going to do anything for you”. teraflop monster that didn’t so much take Microsoft is making the most powerful the wind out of Xbox One S’s sails as console of all time, yet the extent of its it strike it with lightning before capsizing c ambition for it is an increased pixel count. in the eye of a hurricane. Somewhere Som Spencer, incredibly, would later try to predecessor Don you sensed Spencer’s predece backtrack on that as well, saying some Mattrick, lying on his bed of 100-dollar 1 games could look better on Scorpio even unsold bills in his house made of unso when connected to a 1080p display. Kinects, allowed himself a chuckle. chu Games that use dynamic resolution Why would anyone bother bothe with a scaling on the launch-model Xbox One, new-look Xbox One in 2016 when they such as Halo 5, will be able to run at an will only want to replace it in 12 months’ unbroken 1080p on Scorpio. Others time? Microsoft did its best to get the tim

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will simply look better by virtue of being downsampled from 4K to 1080p. Still he offered little to justify the purchase of what he admits is meant as a premium product for high-end users and will be priced as such. Microsoft refused our exec interview request for E3 this year. Experience tells us that this is rarely a good sign, and so it proved. The company may, in hindsight, wish it had made that a universal policy. Its conference, even ignoring the muddle of the hardware announcements by which it was bookended, had few high points. The Nike iD-style custom controller project (see p16) is a smart idea that was introduced with a very aspirational, Apple-like video. Microsoft’s ongoing work on the Xbox platform yielded news of two excellent system-level features: a Looking For Group function and tournament support. And our friends on the continent will be overjoyed by a new language independence setting, meaning that players across the Low Countries and Scandinavia, most of whom speak better English than we do, will no longer have to suffer through phoned-in localised voice acting. That these are the highlights, however, says rather a lot. It’s often suggested that Microsoft suffers at E3 because it goes first, taking to the stage first thing on Monday morning and so giving Sony the rest of the day to work out how best to pull the rug out from under its rival. This year it decided to also give Sony a year and a half to decide how it is to counter the


AP/Press Association

Phil Spencer is a natural on stage – relatively speaking, anyway. Sadly, Microsoft’s problems this year were born in the boardroom

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Hideo Kojima’s arrival at Sony’s E3 show was a big moment, and not only for the person in the gantry charged with lighting up the floor to match his footsteps

which show-floor feedback was threat of Scorpio, since Microsoft has universally positive, albeit with the caveat been good enough to detail its specs. that no one is entirely sure what the game Microsoft may not have known what is. We’ve heard that before, and it didn’t Sony was going to show this year, but it go well. We hope Rare finds Sea Of had seen the reaction to its rival’s for-theThieves’ heart quickly, lest the game go ages showing in 2015, when it had the way of Fable Legends, and the studio focused squarely on games and fanboy behind it the way of Lionhead. wish fulfilment. Twelve months later, the Xbox maker could still not come up with a response. Sequels were everywhere, Sony, meanwhile, returned after and none raised the pulse. Even five years away to its former E3 home of overlooking the fact that every single the Shrine Auditorium, and employed a game on Microsoft’s stage had somehow live orchestra to add some genuine, leaked in advance of the much-needed atmosphere show, this was a turgid lot. to what is often a drawnWe hope Rare Is there a less inspiring out, very corporate day name for a videogame than of press conferences. finds Sea Of Gears Of War 4? Maybe Yet the company’s true Halo Wars 2. All this would Thieves’ heart masterstroke came the have been easier to forgive week before, when SIE quickly, lest the were Microsoft focusing its president Andrew House game go the way confirmed the existence of resources on Scorpio’s launch lineup, but of course PlayStation Neo but said of Fable Legends there’s no such thing. The that it would not feature at console’s only likely system E3. House would later seller is a 4K TV. admit that this was in recognition of the As the recent cancellations of Fable way Apple has changed our expectations Legends and Project Spark show, the of hardware announcements – something Microsoft of 2016 holds no truck for that Microsoft would have done well to anything but a sure-fire success. Another take note of, too. raft of sequels might look acceptable on With hardware off the table, Sony a Redmond spreadsheet, but on the Los was able to repeat the approach that Angeles stage they make for miserable worked so well in 2015. This year’s viewing. When was the last time this show may have lacked the three-hit company truly took a risk with a game? showstopper of The Last Guardian, Well, Project Spark and Fable Legends, Shenmue III and the FFVII remake, but you really, which rather says it all. Rare’s can’t possibly keep that hit rate up. It had Sea Of Thieves stood out, at least – a its moments anyway, not least the rockstar new IP and an ambitious concept for arrival of Hideo Kojima, there to unveil

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Sony’s show yielded a price and date for PSVR. Due in October for £349/$399, it beats Rift and Vive for affordability, if not for power

Death Stranding. Baffling as his trailer – knocked together in two months and showing a naked, performance-captured Norman Reedus crying and cuddling a dead baby – surely was, it was still easier to understand than the rapturous response that greeted news of HD remasters of the first three Crash Bandicoot games. E3 does these reactions every so often – we will never forget the year an Ubisoft attendee whooped and hollered as a guillotine dropped in an Assassin’s Creed demo – but rarely have we felt like such outsiders.


KNOWLEDGE E3 2016 Q&A

Jim Ryan Global head, marketing and sales, Sony Interactive Entertainment

How do you think the PlayStation conference went over this year? Very well. There are two aspects to it. The first was the format, which I think was rather different to anything that’s been done before. An orchestra, for Christ’s sake, at E3. I wasn’t sure how it was going to work out, but it really made the whole thing. More important, of course, were the games. We felt confident that we had a good roster, but you’re always a bit nervous going into these things. But the reaction in the room was great. I’ve hung out with journalists and publishers and retailers, and everyone’s saying good things. I feel really good. We were struck by how you kept chit-chat to a minimum, too. Yeah. One thing we concluded – and it’s taken us far too long to do this – is that having middleaged man after middle-aged man on stage talking is not necessarily the best recipe for success. If you’ve got strong content, just let that do the talking for you. That’s the approach we took, and it seems to have worked.

felt a little more personal, more about relationships. This generation’s technology does facilitate narrative. For us it really started with The Last Of Us, which would almost be a primitive level of narrative and emotion compared to what’s now possible on PS4. The starkest illustration of that, for me, was God Of War: historically it’s a very credible, highly rated franchise, but there were dimensions in the demo that started our show of narrative, of emotion, the relationship between father and son. That bit at the end where they plunge the dagger in? I’ve spoken to people who were close to tears at that. That’s not an emotional reaction we’ve ever seen in a God Of War game before. Not to disparage what’s gone on in the series previously – it’s just that we’re seeing a completely different dimension to these things on PS4, which is great.

“There are people making rather bold, sweeping statements, about how it’s all changed forever”

Many of the games you showed had a rather mature tone. Not in terms of blood and guts – they just

With many big publishers pulling out this year, some say E3 is on the wane. What’s your take on that? Historically it’s been extremely important to us. There have been times when the industry has tried to walk away from, or diminish E3, but it’s never happened. To me, it’s interesting

Ryan didn’t take Sony’s stage; instead he was seconded to Ubisoft’s conference, where he announced Sony Pictures’ Watch Dogs film (above) and some PS4-exclusive Ubi DLC

that many of the companies who have ‘walked away’ from the show are still very present. E3 is clearly the most prominent event on the calendar, but there are events in the Far East, in Europe... it’s a big fixture in a kind of complicated global picture. Speaking of complicated: you’ve confirmed the existence of PlayStation Neo, and Microsoft announced Project Scorpio. What does this mean for the traditional notion of a console generation? There are people making rather bold, sweeping statements, about how it’s all changed forever and it’s going to be different in the future. Many of those are probably the same people who

The Shrine Auditorium was once again Sony’s home after five years at the cavernous, though rather soulless, LA Memorial Sports Arena, which was demolished in June. It’s a grand old spot, and the ideal venue for a live orchestra, which soundtracked most of the show

predicted the demise of the gaming console four or five years ago. It’s very dangerous to be too certain in any predictions. It’s certainly the case that technology cycles are going to be shorter. Smartphone manufacturers iterating their hardware on an annual or semi-annual basis is making consumers more receptive – indeed expectant – of mid-cycle improvements. But I think our space is rather different. Whether you’re a developer spending three or four years and a great deal of money making a game, or a consumer who bought into PlayStation 4 back in 2013 or 2014, you have a reasonable expectation that this thing is going to have a reasonable lifecycle in front of it. Moving to the smartphone approach is potentially very fraught. We have a responsibility to ensure that expectation of a stable environment in which to develop or play games is met. Finding a way to do that, but at the same time offer an enhanced, differentiated, rather premium experience, is the challenge that lies ahead of us. It’s an area we’re exploring with interest. We’re excited by it. It definitely could be the future. Will it be? We’ll see. In the more immediate future is PlayStation VR. Some developers are calling it the first commercial wave of VR. How do you feel about that? I don’t want to disparage anything that anybody else is doing, but what I would say is that when we go to market in western Europe and the US on October 13, it will be a proper PlayStation launch. There will be significant quantities of VR machines in all the major markets of the world; there will be significant presence at retail. There will be proper marketing, proper in-store presence. It will be a proper PlayStation launch.

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KNOWLEDGE E3 2016

LEFT Andrew Wilson, EA CEO and E3 2016’s most convincing replicant, takes the stage at EA Play. ABOVE Rule one of hiring celeb talent: don’t let them near Snoop Dogg before filming. Jamie Foxx and Zac Efron spent too long in the green room AWARD TOUR By the final day of E3, publisher booths are emblazoned with the Velcro-backed awards doled out by the videogame press. Most are celebrated more by the giver than the receiver – one outlet returned to photograph their Game Of The Show award only to be turned away because they didn’t have an appointment. The real prize is a Game Critics Award, a consensus of worldwide press organised by US journalist Geoff Keighley. To be considered, games must be playable at the show; that very nearly scuppered EA, since it had decamped to EA Play. Cue a rather urgentsounding email the evening before E3 closed to tell us the publisher’s 2016 slate was now playable at the Microsoft booth. Just as well, too – Battlefield 1 received five nominations.

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We’re talking about the same Crash Bandicoot here, right? Still, Sony barely put a foot wrong, and this was its most finely paced show in years, a near-unbroken onslaught of trailers and announcements, the exec chat kept to the bare minimum. Quite when many of these titles will be released is anyone’s guess, of course. Many of the biggest hitters – Death Stranding; the new, personal, oddly paternal God Of War; Days Gone, Sony Bend’s spin on Sons Of Anarchy; David Cage’s Detroit: Become Human – do not even have a release year. Yet that felt more like an acknowledgement of the way E3 has changed. You may need to be part of the trade to attend, but this year killed off, once and for all, the concept of it actually being a trade show. It’s no longer about retail buyers deciding on what will fill their shelves this Christmas. Some of these games may not even make next Christmas. E3 2016 provided absolute proof of its transformation from industry junket to an instant hype machine for a worldwide audience of millions. There’s no finer exemplar of this than EA Play, which saw EA quit its cavernous stand on the show floor for a three-day event spread across a seven-floor conference venue a short walk from E3 itself. While open to the press and the trade, this was as much a fan event as it was an industry one, giving Joe Public a months-early chance to get hands-on time with Titanfall 2, Battlefield 1 and annual

sporting juggernauts FIFA and Madden. Every year E3 prompts a round of handwringing editorials claiming the show is on its way out. With EA, Activision and Disney choosing to escape the show floor, this year the doom-mongers might have had a convincing case. But if EA really wanted to show its disdain for a dying conference, there were better ways to do it than by holding its own event just around the corner from the convention centre during E3 week, thus making the show feel bigger than ever.

This was Bethesda’s second show, and saw it relocate from Hollywood’s Dolby Theater to the cavernous LA Hangar film studios. While the publisher could do with a more engaging frontman than VP of marketing Pete Hines, this was confident stuff by and large, though we were left with concerns. Will Skyrim Special Edition be any better than a heavily modded copy of the original? Will Quake, reborn as a hero shooter, still feel like Quake? Can an outfit with Bethesda Game Studios’ record of bugs and E3 2016 provided track performance issues really Perhaps rumours of be trusted with Fallout 4 VR E3’s demise have been absolute proof of without making everyone greatly exaggerated, then its transformation sick on their virtual Pip– but it’s clear the three-day Boys? And is the number in tradeshow format doesn’t from industry vibe merchants work so well in the junket to an instant afterparty Blink 182’s name now a livestream era. As soon as reference to the band the LA Convention Center hype machine members’ combined age? opens its doors, months of A free bar kept the awkward questions careful planning descend into a free-forat bay until the following morning. all. If you have a message to get out, far While Bethesda is still finding its better to do it on your own terms ahead rhythm, Ubisoft has long since settled into of time. The platform holders and biggest its own groove. Its annual E3 presser has publishers realised this a long time ago, become an exercise in familiarity that of course, but the volume of pre-E3 rather outstays its welcome, which when announcements, and leaks both genuine you think about it is kind of appropriate. and faked, show that the wider industry Still, there were signs here of a publisher is cottoning on too. Hence EA brought that understands its current reputation, forward the start of E3 by 12 hours, and knows it needs to change. This was kicking its show off on Sunday morning, the first public showing of Watch Dogs 2, a year after Bethesda carved out its which Ubisoft will struggle to dramatically own niche in the news cycle with its downgrade in the five months until it Sunday-evening press conference.


Press conferences paid tribute to the victims of the Orlando shooting days before the show. Some wore ribbons; others made tributes to camera. Aisha Tyler admitted her moment of silence, following a colourful Just Dance display, was “incongruous”

releases. But as likeable a host as Aisha Tyler is, the show format of CG trailer, dev reading from teleprompter followed by gameplay snippet is rather losing its appeal. The obviously scripted chatter between multiplayer teammates needs to go, too, because a tax accountant from Delaware unironically saying “tango down” when he headshots a goon in Ghost Recon Wildlands does nothing but make eyes roll. And the South Park segment seemed to go on forever, but then South Park always does. So did E3 itself, in fact, thanks to EA’s extension of the show. By the time the doors opened on Tuesday morning,

the biggest show in games had already been rolling for two days. Everyone seemed exhausted, and the departures of three of the South Hall’s biggest presences – EA, Activision and Disney – meant that this was a quieter, more airy event than in previous years. Suddenly those claims that E3 was a show on the wane held a little more water. Over in the West Hall, though, the quietest company at E3 was carrying out a quiet revolution. Nintendo didn’t hire out an enormous venue from which to livestream a 90-minute press conference. There was no special event for fans to go hands-on with its release slate. Nor did it

use E3 to unveil its new NX hardware, as many had predicted it would, then decried it when it said that it wouldn’t. It simply turned up with a single title, decked out its booth in its colours, and watched as the masses proclaimed it the game of the show. This was a complex, contradictory year for the greatest game show on the planet – of new hardware that isn’t, of apparent departures that weren’t, of changes to the format that didn’t change much at all. How good of Nintendo to show us that business strategies and marketing spend can only take you so far. A great game will always find its way to the top. Q

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KNOWLEDGE REMEDY

Found a cure After 20 years of making one game at a time, change is in the air at Remedy Entertainment

F

ew studios take quite so long to make games as Finnish studio Remedy. After 2003’s Max Payne 2 it was seven years before the company shipped Alan Wake, and it took another six years after that before Quantum Break saw the light of day. But with Remedy entering its third decade, it’s restructured so it can work on two games at once, thus reducing the gap between releases. Here, business director Johannes Paloheimo and head of communications Thomas Puha explain the pitfalls inherent in rebuilding a creative company to better meet the challenges of an ever-changing market.

dominating, and Death Rally was a premium game. It paid itself back in a few days. Then in 2012 the market started shifting towards free-to-play very rapidly. It was a really good learning experience – and learning what you should not do is also a good thing. Now we’re focused, we know what we want to do, and we took a lot from the free-toplay world – we’re utilising it in upcoming projects. They’re not free-to-play, but from a design perspective, building a game as a service… we learnt a lot from the mobile stuff we did.

The speed of mobile-game development must have appealed, given your, well, When did you decide that you wanted historical production schedules. to make multiple projects at once? Thomas Puha It’s fair to Johannes Paloheimo say we took our bad old Well, you have to go back habits into the mobile quite far. We used to have “This is the 21st world, too. a mobile team: in 2011 year of Remedy, we put out Death Rally. and there aren’t But the whole point of We knew we needed restructuring is to get to diversify. We’re many triple-A games out more quickly independent and we independent than in the past, right? take great pride in that, TP Well, that depends on but to be a strong indie studios left” your definition of quick developer you need to [laughs]. But everybody at have flexibility. When we the studio wants to ship faster. And the were making Alan Wake: American scope and scale of the games we’re Nightmare, we had a small team that working on is… well, ‘smaller’ sounds was working on what ended up being bad. They’re still triple-A, but with Quantum Break. There’s a lot of planning Quantum Break there were so many when you transition from one big project things to figure out, tech to be built – to another, and if you only have one team things we have to do less of now, knock then there’s a time during pre-production on wood. where a lot of people are twiddling their JP With Quantum we tried to go straight thumbs. To have them working on another to the moon. Now it’s, ‘OK, let’s build a project in conjunction is more efficient. rocket, and take it step by step, then [eventually] end up on Mars.’ Build on How do you look back on your brief the foundations established in Quantum foray into mobile? Break and Alan Wake, so we don’t JP The market looked very different back always have to start on a white canvas. then. In 2011 the premium market was

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Business director Johannes Paloheimo

PLATFORM GAMES Remedy has not only worked traditionally on one game at a time, it’s often been wedded to a single platform, part-funded by the platform holder. Does the change in studio structure mean a change in that approach too? “Of course, as a creative company, you want to reach as big an audience as possible,” Puha says. “So you want to be out on as many platforms as you can. But when you’re exclusive to one or two platforms, or almost a firstparty game like we were with Microsoft [for Quantum Break], there are a lot of benefits. There are a lot of opportunities these days for independent developers to get funding. It’s a complicated space, sure, but with a lot of opportunities.” Remedy isn’t saying much about its two current projects, but we do know it’s trying something different on one of them, signing up with a publisher it’s never worked with before. Thirteen years on from Max Payne 2, could Remedy finally return to PlayStation?

You’ve always built your own engines, which slows things down. Have you discussed using thirdparty tech instead? TP A lot of it is historical. Remedy has always made its own tech, and when you look at other Scandinavian devs everybody’s using their own tech – it’s just something we do. It’s a sizeable investment, but it also means we have a lot of people in-house who know the tools very well and can use them efficiently. JP Our games look good. They have this cinematic feel to them – that’s enabled by using our own tech. So it’s a competitive edge, but we need to be smart about when to use it, and how much. What are the challenges in restructuring a studio like this? JP Wow, where do I start? You need to get everybody on board. Some understand it right away, but others, especially when we’re talking about creative people and engineers... how can I put this gently? They might be quite independent and have strong opinions. TP Quantum Break was a really big project for the studio – we grew a lot. We started with about 50 guys, but it shipped with around 130. We need to start thinking about the future, building the organisation to support these two teams. That puts a lot of pressure on the business side, doesn’t it? TP Yes. This is the 21st year of the studio, and there aren’t many triple-A independent studios left. But the only constant in this industry is that it’s always changing. It’s been funny to talk to the heads of other studios who are like, ‘We stopped predicting the future a couple of years ago, because we kept getting it wrong.’ Now we’re just going to take things as they come. Q


Remedy announced Max Payne three years before it was released; for Alan Wake the gap was five years. Expect the studio to be a little more patient in future

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KNOWLEDGE CONTROLLERS

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TAKE CONTROL It’s time to play with an all-new spectrum Given that the controller is your point of contact with a game console, the fact that Microsoft’s move to offer Xbox Design Lab – a service that lets you create custom controllers in all sorts of colour combinations – hasn’t happened before now is kind of shocking. The console era has endured for nearly 45 years, and in all that time the best we could hope for with controllers were a few post-launch alternative colour schemes, gimmicky translucent versions, and an unending stream of rush-designed game tie-ins. That’s not to say Design Lab, in the wrong hands, isn’t capable of throwing out monstrosities, but that is the beauty of choice: Microsoft claims that eight million combinations are possible. Design Lab lets you swap the colours of the controller face, back, bumpers and triggers, D-pad, thumbsticks, face buttons and even the View and Menu buttons. There are 15 colour options for the casing and D-pad, a further eight for the thumbsticks, and a handful of choices for the buttons. We’re particularly partial to the Glacier Blue and Oxide Red casing shades,

although there is something gleeful in creating a garish monstrosity to honour the most hideous unofficial controllers of the PS1/N64 era. Once you’ve finished your masterpiece, you can view it as a 3D model to check that all those combinations are working in harmony (or not). The controller in question will be the new Xbox One S pad, which features textured grips and a slightly sleeker design. Preorders are open now for customers in the US and Canada, with shipping set for 2016, but other markets, including the UK, will have to hold on until 2017 – although it’s possible to play around with the design tools today wherever you are. At $80, the pads are a little on the pricey side, and you’ll have to stump up an additional $10 if you want a laser-etched engraving, but given the logistics involved compared to a traditional unit, the hike isn’t surprising. Microsoft hasn’t confirmed whether the Elite controller will follow suit, but given its focus on bespoke customisation and its heavyweight pricetag, it’s surely only a matter of time.Q

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KNOWLEDGE TALK/ARCADE

Soundbytes Game commentary in snack-sized mouthfuls

“The real magic happens when teams are free to create. Because when you are free, there is no failure, there is only forward.” Yves Guillemot closes Ubisoft’s E3 press conference by facing down a rumoured Vivendi takeover with his best Yoda impression

“[In 1080p] Scorpio is not going to do anything for you. Scorpio is designed as a 4K console, and if you don’t have a 4K TV, the benefit we’ve designed, you’re not going to see.”

“I was surprised by the step of announcing something over a year ahead of time. There’s a much heavier emphasis on immediate gratification than there was.”

Phil Spencer proves that Xbox’s PR problem didn’t die with Don Mattrick’s departure

Andrew House glosses over Sony’s out-one-day E3 lineup to have a pop at Scorpio

“For many of us, games are vital. We see it as our responsibility to help [all] people experience play, because we all play to live.” EA CEO Andrew Wilson’s other responsibility: emotively flogging Season Passes

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ARCADE WATCH

Keeping an eye on the coin-op gaming scene

Sega has already dabbled with PlayStation VR at its Tokyo Joypolis centres, but now it’s committing to something more permanent through a collaboration between subsidiary Sega Live Creation and Melbourne startup Zero Latency. The two companies plan to build a permanent ‘warehouse-sized virtual reality centre’ in Tokyo in which players can run about blasting fantastical creatures. Zero Latency’s tech recalls Sony’s PSVR hardware through the illuminated coloured spheres, mounted to headsets and guns, that it uses for tracking, but the kit was actually co-developed with a military contractor to ensure it will be rugged enough to endure a situation involving over-excited men running about in the dark. Players wear a backpack containing the PC needed to drive everything (and minimise tripping hazards). A zombie survival game is already planned, predictably, as well as an unspecified pointscoring challenge, and players can tackle the games alone or in teams. Zero Latency is considering what it calls “out-of-body haptics” to let players feel heat and smell particular aromas. Sega isn’t making games for the launch, but Zero Latency plans to make its SDK available to thirdparties in the near future. There’s no firm launch date yet, but the tech is already up and running at Zero Latency’s own arcade in its home city of Melbourne, Australia.


KNOWLEDGE FAVOURITES

My Favourite Game Pete Donaldson The Absolute Radio host on homemade joysticks, the pleasure of broken games, and Monkey Island tattoos

P

ete Donaldson is a voiceover artist, roving reporter and presenter who currently hosts several shows on Absolute Radio, and is one quarter of The Football Ramble podcast team. He’s played a few small roles in games, helped to judge the BAFTA Video Game Awards, and has two LucasArts-inspired tattoos: one of Ghost Pirate LeChuck, and a more recent rendition of Manny Calavera.

Given your tattoos, is it safe to assume you’re a big adventure game fan? Yeah, huge. Huge. I was really into all the Sierra series and LucasArts ones. Police Quest was a really big favourite of mine on the Sierra side – this really dull procedural police adventure. There’s no reason why an eight-year-old should know the correct flare procedure when dealing with a broken-down car on the motorway or how to read people their Miranda rights, but I just liked the authenticity of it. Obviously, my favourite from that genre was definitely Monkey Island. I remember coveting that game for such a long time. I’d walk past the videogames in WHSmith and it was £37, so I could never afford it. But I saved up my paper-round money and finally picked up that one solitary box in the shop and took it home, and, man, what a game that was, even on 11 floppy disks, constantly swapping. That was back when I was on the Amiga. You voiced a character in an unofficial fan-made Zak McKracken sequel, too. Yeah, there was a dev team from Germany who put together a reimagined fan episode of Zak McKracken And The

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PETER, MORE Donaldson started his career as a graphic designer before joining XFM’s The Lauren Laverne Breakfast Show in 2006. He produced a number of shows on the station as well as co-hosting the Alex Zane Breakfast Show and a specialist punk slot called Xpunk. By 2009 he was presenting solo shows, and subsequently moved to Absolute Radio. You’ll also recognise his voice from links on DMAX, Challenge, 4Music and ITV2, and he has fronted music TV shows for both 4Music and The Box.

published by Atari. It was a massive open-world firstperson shooter, and you could drive any vehicle; it had degrading weapons, and it just hadn’t really been done before. But it was unspeakably bad. The wrong voices would come out of certain characters, the collision detection was dreadful, and the first patch that came out – that everyone was hoping would be this wide-ranging, plate-spinning patch job for the multiple problems that that game had – just made the Moon smaller and had no bearing on the game at all. Ah, man, I just love Were adventure games your route into games like that. The Lost tie-in, too – it games, or were you playing before? was dreadful. I like games It was even earlier. My “My dad pulled that are just bad and make dad was an electrical engineer and we had an out the innards of a right dog’s dinner of it! Amstrad CPC6128, and Do you have a favourite he tore out the screen from this machine and an old fruit machine and made me my own game that isn’t fundamentally broken? that was my first colour I’m probably gonna have monitor! And he pulled out bespoke microto go for Shenmue on the the innards of this machine switched joystick” Dreamcast. Your favourite and made me my own games are definitely chosen around a bespoke micro-switched joystick, because point in your life when you’ve got a little back then there weren’t really that many bit more time to play them, and you joystick standards. My earliest memories could sink 150 hours into that game. You are games like Jet Set Willy and Turbo could collect toys and stuff and wander Esprit, and those crappy collections around this beautifully realised – for the where you’d get 100 games for £9.99 Dreamcast – rendition of Japan. It gave from Woolworths and they’d be in the me an intense interest to visit, and I did bargain bin, and they’d be horrible. it finally four years ago when I had But I have a soft spot for games that enough money to go. I’ve been going on overstretch themselves a little, games average twice a year since. I love that that are fundamentally broken. place, and I think I can definitely blame Shenmue for that. Again, it’s a janky Such as? game and not really that much fun to play One of my favourites was a game called when you think about it, but games have Boiling Point: Road To Hell. I don’t know to be like that to get my attention. Q if anyone remembers it, but it was

Alien Mindbenders. It was kind of quirky and, for want of a better word, eastern European in its execution. The jokes didn’t really connect, but it was a long time ago. It’s pretty goofy and my delivery is awful. I’d hate for anyone to have ever heard it! I hadn’t started doing voiceovers at that point, but I just wanted to be in a videogame. I’ve auditioned for a couple, the cancelled Fable game being one of the notable ones, but it doesn’t look like that job exists any more!


Donaldson on his Manny Calavera tattoo: “My tattooist’s colleague kept coming over and trying to subtly get his attention. I was like, ‘Just get it sort of right, and we’ll be fine!’”

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KNOWLEDGE THIS MONTH

WEB GAME

WEBSITE

Happy 20th Birthday, Quake bit.ly/quake20th To mark the 20th anniversary of Quake’s release, game director and designer John Romero has published material from the months leading up to its 1996 launch. The trove includes screenshots showing off some pioneering lighting tech, but of more interest are press clippings, emails and chatlogs from its gestation, including the 1990 reveal of an adventure in which players would wield a “hammer made of thunderbolts” and where every NPC would have a life, personality and objectives. Former business manager Jay Wilbur, speaking to Flux, underscores the process: “Anything I tell you today could be a complete lie tomorrow, because things are changing so rapidly. In all of our games, we take what we learn from the past and we amplify the bitchin’ stuff.”

VIDEO

Adam bit.ly/unityadam At GDC earlier this year, Unity teased a short film running in realtime in the 5.4 version of its engine. Now it has released the full thing and, unlike many tech demos, Adam offers more than just an opportunity to gawp at normal maps and light diffusion (although its primary job is to showcase Unity’s new tools). Telling the story of an android imprisoned for an unspecified crime, the short sets up an enigmatic world in which the lands around a heavily defended human compound are controlled by robots. Unity plans to release an interactive version soon, though no related game is forthcoming.

The Temple Of No bit.ly/templeofno Crows Crows Crows’ latest game is a Twine adventure. Don’t let that put you off: designer Dominik Johann and writer William Pugh approach it with an irreverence that makes clicking on underlined words mostly enjoyable. There’s also plenty of audio, plus Johann’s illustrations, to inject some life into the ten or so minutes you’ll spend with the game. The studio promises something even “better than the beginning of Firewatch”, before setting about the genre with baseball bat. If there is any underlying affection for the form, it’s difficult to detect, but enough of the gags find their target to keep you chuckling (Twine creations are, The Temple Of No asserts, “like a game but for teenagers who want to be in the past”). As with any pastiche, however, The Temple Of No inherits many of its target’s restrictions.

THIS MONTH ON EDGE When we weren’t doing everything else, we were thinking about stuff like this FASHION DOLL

Game Developer Barbie bit.ly/developerbarbie The professionally flighty Barbie now has in excess of 150 jobs on her CV, including chef, architect and several failed bids for president. Her most recent career switch sees her tackling game development, complete with industry-approved bright-red hair, a sensible outfit, and a tablet and laptop. Mattel sought advice from Ker-Chunk Games CEO Molly Proffitt, founder of Black Girls Code Kimberly Bryant, and Google’s Julie Ann Crommett, who ensured that Barbie’s laptop has real Javascript code onscreen as well as a fictional game engine created for the character. And unlike 2014’s Barbie: I Can Be A Computer Engineer book, Game Developer Barbie is more than capable of using a laptop without male intervention.

continue quit

UK video games industry needs unrestricted access to EU talent pool and market of 560 million people. So, goodbye to that. Thanks Brexit. Ian Livingstone @ian_livingstone Co-founder, Eidos Interactive and Games Workshop

Bum noted We’d have cheered for Reedus’s posterior, too, if we weren’t so British

That ‘B’ word Well, it’s one way to drive the UK’s remaining dev talent to Canada

High Cs Despite necking grog in the crow’s nest, we still kept our shanty together

LA dreaming Jetlag-induced random naps are killing our Dark Souls III co-op efficacy

The most fascinating thing about listening to E3 scripts as a dev is how much of it is selling us doing our normal job as revolutionary. Rami Ismail @tha_rami Co-founder, Vlambeer

Henry Ford US car dealer steals Firewatch artwork to hawk hatchbacks

“Through EA Originals we will deliver charming, terrified Scandinavian developers every year, without fail. This is our vow.” Chris Thursten @CThursten Editor, PC Gamer Pro

No S in Scorpio A new record for the shortest time a console has held our interest?

Yay! We finally settled with Sky (they own the word “Sky”). We can call our game No Man’s Sky. 3 years of secret stupid legal nonsense over. Sean Murray @NoMansSky Managing director, Hello Games

Surround sound We’re going to hire a an orchestra for all of our gaming sessions Level headset Oculus backs down a and quietly removes its Revive-blocking DRM

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TWEETS


DISPATCHES SEPTEMBER Oracle of rages

Issue 295

Dialogue Send your views, using ‘Dialogue’ as the subject line, to edge@futurenet.com. Our letter of the month wins a New Nintendo 3DS XL, supplied by the Nintendo UK store

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For once, my letter to Edge is not prompted by an article in your fine magazine. I just watched the PlayStation conference at E3 and I’m so disappointed as to be borderline angry! Not Donald Trump angry, but close… Firstly, the hardware: lots of talk about PSVR but no mention of PS4K (or Neo or PS4.5 or whatever they end up calling it), no confirmation, no specs, not even a hint of a release date. Considering that every serious gamer knows that PSVR will be a subpar experience with the ‘old-spec’ PS4, this is not just clumsy, it’s downright disrespectful. Where did “this is for the players” go? Secondly, the games. Where do I start? Perhaps where they started: for the first ten seconds of the show, I thought I was watching the remastered Skyrim. OK, I had noticed some weird red tattoos on the main protagonist, which seemed odd, but other than that, nothing. The tranquil forest, the snowcapped peaks in the distance, the dragons, the generic Nordic feel of it all… I know that imitation is the highest form of flattery, but this looked so much like total atrophy of the imagination that I actually felt sorry for Sony Santa Monica. The rest of the lineup didn’t exactly fill me with enthusiasm, either: more beautifully rendered environments spoiled by hordes of zombies (Days Gone), and something that looked like The Last-Gen Guardian. As for the clip of Horizon Zero Dawn, what it told me is that for all its aesthetic and (possibly) narrative originality, it would play like something of a frantic crossover between Far Cry and Monster Hunter. It pains me to admit that Call Of Duty: Infinite Warfare looked the best and most innovative game of the bunch, which is rather telling, in a sorry kind of way. Where are the Life Is Stranges and No Man’s Skys of previous E3 conferences? I’ll be

honest, I hadn’t noticed Dontnod’s fantastic title back then, but having played it since, and despite its flaws, it’s easily one the most subtle and intelligent games of the past few years. And notwithstanding its most recent delay, No Man’s Sky still retains the potential to be a truly mind-expanding experience. And this sums up my problem, really: nothing at E3 2016, at least in Sony’s show, displayed any subtlety or intelligence, or gave me any sense of anticipation. It was all mindless, repetitive violence (God Of War, Days Gone, Call Of Duty) or meaningless sentimentalism (The Last Guardian, the baffling teaser for Kojima’s Death Stranding), all covered with some glistening virtualreality frosting. Does the industry only cater for brutal thugs without a brain or equally witless misty-eyed pansies these days? And are we so easily swept off our feet by the latest gizmo that mainstream producers and developers can get away with feeding us increasingly dumb and unoriginal content? Fabrice Saffre

“I fear publishers of smaller ninerated games will diminish and never be heard of again”

If this is how you felt about Sony’s conference, we’d be interested to know what you thought about Microsoft’s. This year’s event did feel a little light on indie breakouts, though. Perhaps this is cyclical, and 2017’s will deliver the goods.

A link between worlds I was worried about VR. Not because I’m 40 or that VR is new or a potentially corrupting influence. I’m not having my videogame ‘old-man-moment’ – I’m pretty sure Twitch took care of that some time ago. Rather, I was worried because I didn’t see the appeal of the software. Videogames are my primary hobby, and I follow all aspects of the industry. Even though my preferred games occupy only a small portion of the market, I take a big


DISPATCHES DIALOGUE

interest in the many directions the industry takes, and I love how diverse it is. Ultimately, though, when I sit down to play a videogame, I’m not always after immersion or story. Sometimes I just want to play a game. Virtual reality’s main selling point is immersion. But a world of cockpit simulations, firstperson walkers and object pushers does not appeal to me. VR is a platform and, in order to be successful, it must support a diverse range of experiences through its software. So I shrugged my shoulders and hoped I might someday find a way that VR and a guy like me could be relevant to each other. And I’m happy to say I did after reading about BigScreen, a free download on Steam that’s currently in Beta for HTC and Vive. At its most basic, it places you in a virtual space and projects your desktop to a virtual screen. With friends. And their screens. For someone like me, it’s essentially a virtual couch LAN. Add in a capture card and you have access to console gaming as well. From here it’s only a small mental leap to a virtual arcade, which, along with other similar social experiences, are what the visionaries must have seen the potential for all along. Long live videogames, and all their diversity. Andrew Low VR is supposed to mean different things to different people, so surely this was inevitable. Don’t turn your back on other applications, though – right now, we’re only a few small steps down the VR road.

A link to the passed I think people are scared. Scared of trying something new. When I looked at Edge 294, I saw your highly scored review of Stephen’s Sausage Roll, and from what I read and what I’ve seen about it, it does look like it deserves the nine rating you gave it. So I went and did some research about the sales that the joint-highest-scoring game in that issue had achieved. I found that 3,254 people own the game on Steam, and an average

of around ten people per day play the game. That’s 3,254 players for a game that achieved a nine from you, and a 90 per cent Metascore. How does this make sense? By contrast, Tom Clancy’s The Division scored six in Edge 292. 774,699 people own the game on Steam, and around 13,000 people are playing the game every day, three to four months on from launch. Over threequarters of a million people have this game on Steam, and Stephen’s Sausage Roll has just about exceeded a couple of thousand players. I don’t think this adds up. The Division is from a popular series, a popular publisher and a popular genre, that everyone knows. Whereas Stephen’s Sausage Roll is a brandnew game, from an unknown publisher, and in a less popular genre. I think this is slightly unfair on Increpare Games. Now, I fear for more games to follow in Stephen’s path. Before, which you previewed in Edge 295, looks gorgeous. However, I can see its sales as decent but not amazing either. Battlefield 1, which you also previewed last issue, doesn’t sound as good, but I can already tell you that it will top the charts on release and will have millions of players. In fact, I fear for games that are different and try something new. I fear that one day, videogames and consoles will always play host to the same, repetitive games. And I fear that publishers of smaller nine-rated games will diminish and never be heard of again. This, sadly, is the heading that videogames seem to be on. James Baldwin Well, the puzzle genre is hardly short of fans – especially on mobile nowadays. How would SSR fare reconfigured as an iOS game? In the absence of a Ubisoft-scale marketing budget, perhaps it would falter that way, too, which is the awkward reality facing so many game creators in 2016.

Spirit tracksuit The older you get, the more the guilt creeps in. Playing games is wasting time. At least

that’s what I thought, until something strange happened: I applied everything I’d learnt from Dark Souls to running. I’ve never been big on sport, IRL or on console; exercise, until recently, was mostly walking or running for the occasional bus. Following a recent bout of illness, something had to change, and it all clicked one afternoon. I was playing Dark Souls III when, after another fateful foray into the Catacombs Of Carathus, something compelled me to put down my controller and lace up my trainers. Like Dark Souls, running is hard. I have tried to make it habitual in the past, but had always given up. This time was different. I set my expectations low and focused on one level – er, circuit – which I add to with successive attempts. Like Dark Souls, there’s no music. I’d rather listen to footfalls and my ragged breath as I kept an eye on the stamina bar. I am yet to find any good item drops on my run, but progress is its own reward, and every time I run a little farther, it feels good. I know my strength stats are increasing, and perhaps my intelligence, too. There is a meditative quality to the Souls games that I’d never have thought would amount to any real-world benefits. There’s virtue in monotony. And now you can find me either on the couch battling Pontiff Knights, or in the park dodging small fluffy dogs. Praise the run! Jonty Bell Ah, if only you could get hold of a Cloranthy ring. In its absence, have this extremely portable 3DS instead, to help you squeeze in some playing time while you train.

Skyward words Regarding the letter titles in E295’s Dispatches section: very good. Alex Whiteside The person responsible has been given a pay rise. (In Great British pounds, sadly.) Q

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DISPATCHES PERSPECTIVE

STEVEN POOLE

Trigger Happy Shoot first, ask questions later

Illustration kaeru.com.ar

H

ow should we encourage the kind of art we like, and discourage the kind we disapprove of? It is an age-old question. For most of modern history some form of official censorship was the norm: you couldn’t just publish whatever you liked, for fear of prosecution. In our age we continue to have a kind of ‘soft’ censorship in the form of age ratings by the British Board Of Film Classification. In theory you can make whatever film you like, but it will be very difficult for anyone to see it if it doesn’t get a rating. Still, the existence of censorship after the fact is a stick: it threatens negative consequences. Can’t we also have a carrot, promising positive consequences to things we would like more of? That is a question the French are currently asking with respect to videogames. According to a report earlier this summer in Le Figaro, the French are considering ways to tackle diversity in videogaming content: in particular, the way women are represented in videogames. France’s digital minster, Axelle Lemaire, released a statement on the subject. “For a few years now there has been a grassroots movement on behalf of women’s place in videogame studios, and at the heart of games themselves,” she said, noting the existence of “violent polemics” on the subject on social media, and Anita Sarkeesian’s analysis of the representation of women in games on Feminist Frequency. But many French games feature decently portrayed women protagonists, Lemaire noted, citing Beyond Good & Evil, Life Is Strange and Dishonored 2. So how should she, on behalf of the French state, encourage “the production of videogames that promote equality between men and women, for example by specifically giving serious treatment to subjects linked to sexism and violence against women”? This raises many questions, of course. One might think of objecting that requiring (or at least encouraging) games to “promote” sexual equality is to oblige art to descend to

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Can’t we also have a carrot, promising positive consequences to things we would like more of? the level of propaganda. (A sober response might be to note that all art is propaganda for something, whether that is obvious or not.) One might feel still less comfortable with government attempts to make videogames address certain particular subjects, however worthy they are of artistic treatment. Two carrots are being considered. Bonus state funding could be awarded to studios that concentrate on diverse representation; and a sticker could be awarded to those games that “respect the image of women”. There is, however, a threat on the agenda too. The idea is that the PEGI rating system for

games could be altered so that games which “incite sexism” fall into the category of “discrimination”, and so cannot be sold to under-18s, or advertised on prime-time TV. Some will respond that none of this should be a government’s business. To return to an analogy with film: should a film be condemned to niche release if it does not pass, say, the Bechdel test? Furthermore, there will surely be controversial cases where reasonable people disagree whether some representation is “degrading” to women or is a celebration of kink; whether a particular game “incites sexism”, or is mocking sexist attitudes, or is doing something else altogether. Consider, for example, a game equivalent of American Psycho: in my view it is the great satirical novel of the 1990s, but it has been decried by others for its relentless depiction of violence against women. A healthy culture can have such arguments without stickers and advertising bans. No, a cultural libertarian would argue, surely the great modern community of game developers and players will ensure organically that less chauvinistic attitudes and representations prevail — as in fact they are doing, more and more? Very possibly. Yet it cannot be gainsaid that there is still a problem here that is embarrassing to a major cultural industry. Since Le Figaro’s report, Sarkeesian herself has recently pointed out, unimprovably in my view, the fact that “Lingerie is not armour”. Of 59 major games announced at this year’s E3, she further notes, only two featured exclusively female protagonists. (Sarkeesian is also disappointed that 81% are “combat”-focused, though one should acknowledge that many women enjoy combat games, and many men enjoy noncombat games.) And so perhaps most observers can agree that, whether or not the French government decides to enact laws on the subject, it is doing everyone a favour by bringing the issue to mainstream attention. Steven Poole’s Trigger Happy 2.o is now available from Amazon. Visit him online at www.stevenpoole.net


DISPATCHES PERSPECTIVE

NATHAN BROWN

Big Picture Mode Industry issues given the widescreen treatment

Illustration kaeru.com.ar

T

here is a saying in this line of work: never read the comments. Ever since some bright spark realised you could boost traffic by letting readers weigh in below the line, writers of all stripes have found themselves mocked, threatened and dismissed. Say what you like about 8chan, Twitter or Stormfront: news-site comment sections are the Internet’s true armpit. Mercifully, my work doesn’t appear online too often, so I work in relative isolation. In the old days, actual physical letters, written on paper – and not always with green ink – would arrive in the Edge office daily, but today there are so many other ways of sharing views that we deal with more of a trickle than a flood. (It certainly makes the hand-written letters from people holed up within the United States prison system – yes, really – stand out a bit more.) And I prefer it this way, I think. Especially around this time of year. To videogame fans, E3 is the most wonderful time; to comment-section moderators, it is a magnet for crazies. As soon as the pressconference reports appear, the console wars begin, but while the majority of fanboy shut-ins are content to trade insults and bullet-pointed lists of forthcoming console exclusives, some prefer to simply line the writer up in their sights. “Your so bias.” “So-called videogame ‘journalist’.” This is why you never read the comments. Confession: I always read the comments. Despite the infinite virtual reams of BTL evidence to the contrary, I still believe in the fundamental decency of strangers. Every so often, in among the spittle and the bile, the bad puns and the knob gags, there is a flash of genuine insight, or some heartfelt appreciation for the writer’s work. During E3, though, there is only aggro. And one particular complaint rings louder than any of the others. They say we are jaded. They claim we’ve been doing this too long; that we get to attend the greatest videogame show on Earth

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During one particularly dreary E3 press conference I had written in my notebook the word ‘bleh’ six times and do nothing but moan the whole time. That we substitute snark for insight, and sarcasm for analysis. We occupy a position that people around the world would kill for, and we have the cheek to call it a burden. Guilty, your honour. I looked back through my E3 notebook this year, and during one particularly dreary press conference I had written the word ‘bleh’ six times. But I promise that it isn’t my fault. Entering from far outside, E3 does everything it can to turn you against it. The 11-hour flight from London to Los Angeles is followed by a leaden trudge through the

planet’s worst immigration system, which this year involved a near-crush that was only averted by a panicked security guard hitting the emergency stop button on the elevator. Now that he’s gone indie, you don’t even get the light relief of seeing Peter Molyneux in the queue, craggy and furious, jonesing hard for a smoke. Then there’s the traffic, already the worst in the western world, which somehow manages to get worse with every passing year (a consequence, I expect, of the unstoppable growth of Uber, putting even more cars on a bafflingly designed network of roads that can barely hold them). Finally, you get to your hotel, exhausted and broken. And you’ve got work in the morning. So, yes, perhaps that can come across in your work. But even the LA local who’s been to every E3 since time began, lives within walking distance of the venue, and has their routine down pat, becomes harder to please with each passing year. It is not a matter of being jaded; it is not even about being furiously hungover. Instead it is the simple fact that, as you become more experienced, you get better at maintaining some essential critical distance. At your first E3, you’re bouncing off the walls with the thrill of simply being there, but after a few years, it takes a little more to impress you. That, surely, is what readers need – now more than ever, in an era which sees publishers and platform holders use YouTube and Twitch to talk directly to players, the press filtered out, the hype undampened. Cynicism? I prefer to call it realism. E3 is the most wonderful time of the year, sure, but it’s essential that we don’t get swept up with the hype. Leave that to the folks below the line, with their knob gags, their bullet points, their yeah-buts and fuckyous. Some of us have got a job to do, and while it may not always seem like it, we do take it seriously. Having said that: heard of any parties going on tonight? Nathan Brown is Edge’s deputy editor. He would like to apologise for everything he was late for at this year’s E3


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#296

H Y P E A T

E 3

THE GAMES IN OUR SIGHTS IN LOS ANGELES

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SONY 34 36 37 37 37 37 38

38 38 38 39 40 41 41 41

God Of War Days Gone Nier: Automata Bound The Last Guardian Spider-Man Star Wars Battlefront: X-Wing VR Mission PlayStation VR Worlds Farpoint Death Stranding Resident Evil VII: Biohazard Detroit: Become Human Horizon Zero Dawn Let It Die Batman Arkham VR

MICROSOFT 42 44 45 45 46 46 46 46 47

Forza Horizon 3 Sea Of Thieves Dead Rising 4 Gears Of War 4 Scalebound Cuphead State Of Decay 2 Halo Wars 2 Recore

MULTIFORMAT+PC

48 50 51 51 51 52 52 52 53 54 54 54 55 55 55 55 56 58 59 59 59 60 60 60 60 61 61 61

Battlefield 1 Steep Final Fantasy XV Quake Champions Injustice 2 Abzu Overcooked Grow Up Titanfall 2 Wilson’s Heart Serious Sam VR Absolver Call Of Duty: Infinite Warfare The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition South Park: The Fractured But Whole Giant Cop Dishonored 2 Mafia III We Happy Few FIFA 17 Fe Feral Rites The Unspoken Obduction Star Trek: Bridge Crew Civilization VI Dual Universe Gwent: The Witcher Card Game

62 63 63 63 63 64 66 66 66 66 67 67 67 67 68 68 68 68 69 69 69 69

Tacoma Mass Effect: Andromeda The Elder Scrolls Legends Pyre Deus Ex: Mankind Divided Ghost Recon Wildlands Sniper Elite 4 Lego Dimensions: Year Two Skylanders Imaginators Mr Shifty Agents Of Mayhem Shadow Warrior 2 Batman: The Telltale Series Tekken 7 For Honor Oxygen Not Included State Of Mind Lawbreakers The Turing Test Vampyr Watch Dogs 2 Prey

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SONY@E3

GOD OF WAR Developer Sony Santa Monica Publisher SIE Format PS4 Release TBA

W

hen we were kids, dads were the superweapons of the console wars. Out on the school playground, someone always had a father in the industry who’d played the new Sega console and it had Mario on it and everything, scout’s honour. Fast forward a generation and dads are once again the bayonets of the fanboy footsoldiers. On one side, Microsoft’s grizzled, crinkled Marcus Fenix. On the other, Kratos, scourge of the Greek gods, a man

34

who has seen the very worst of humanity and its astral overlords but has now discovered something immeasurably more harrowing: a son. There are some surprising parallels between Kratos and Cory Barlog, the creative director who was an animator on the first God Of War. Both quit their jobs and went on journeys of self-discovery. Kratos has ended his in Scandinavia, home to a whole new pantheon of gods to, we presume, fall out with and destroy. Barlog has ended up back


This troll-like creature provides a good opportunity for Kratos to educate his son in the finer points of ripping off heads. The boy isn’t very accurate with those arrows, though

where he started, armed with a host of ideas about how the character can develop beyond what has always been, even by videogame standards, a blank if blood-splattered canvas. So, Barlog has a young son and so does Kratos, and the latter made for a thoroughly unexpected unveiling for a new God Of War. Eventually torsos would be cleaved open and heads loosed from shoulders, as is tradition, but bookending the violence were scenes of something that aimed, at least, for fatherly tenderness. Some of it felt rather forced – a shared XP system is a curious emotional device, and half-filling a rage meter when Kratos Jr does something wrong was a particularly contrived way of showing that Kratos has, like, feelings – but elsewhere lay hints of something deeper. After our antihero

wrapped his hand around his son’s to administer the killing blow to a felled deer, he reached out as if to put a reassuring hand on his shoulder, but stopped short. It was almost touching. The camera has been yanked from its series of zoomed-out, elevated, cinematic moorings and is now tight over Kratos’ shoulder. Combat, as a result, finally has the weighty impact this series has for so long lacked. It makes crowd control harder, but a throwable axe can pin foes to walls before being recalled. Quite how boss battles will be handled from this angle is another matter – the one in the demo appeared heavily scripted – but the biggest challenge facing Barlog and team is telling the emotional story he wants to tell without starving series fans of the god-killing ultraviolence they crave.

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SONY@E3

DAYS GONE Developer Bend Studio Publisher SIE Format PS4 Release TBA

D

doorways and tumbling over each other as your ays Gone’s setting may feel like an bullets cut the head off a writhing beast that uncomfortably familiar blend of The Walking continually replenishes itself. This isn’t simply an AI Dead, The Last Of Us and Sons Of Anarchy, kiting simulator, however, and St John can use the but on first showing Bend Studio’s first new IP since environment and a selection of jury-rigged tools to Syphon Filter manages to carve out a fleshy space increase the distance between himself and a all of its own. Set in the Pacific Northwest that particularly nasty evisceration. Doors can be serves as Bend’s backyard, players are cast as slammed shut and bolted, a hinged conveyor belt Deacon St John, a former biker gang road captain line provides a convenient (if temporary) blockade, who now finds himself scavenging and collecting while an explosive pack placed on bounties in a world raked by an a pile of logs at one point during the as-yet-unexplained pandemic. The majority of demo buries dozens of Freakers While the origin of the disease humanity has under heavy timber. The respite lasts remains a mystery for now, its effects seconds before they begin are horrifyingly clear. The majority of been reduced scrambling over the top, but it’s humanity has been reduced to to predatory enough headroom to plan the next predatory monsters known as Freakers, gnarled individuals who monsters known move. The panicked scramble is punctuated by other environmental move considerably more quickly as Freakers kills, such as the moment St John than you despite their poor health, forces the head of a Freaker and are often encountered in groups unfortunate enough to break through a door first hundreds strong (they’re not zombies – a fact the into a static circular saw blade. team is forced to point out several times to the Your greatest ally is your customised motorbike, rather unreceptive group of journalists in our which functions as a mobile inventory as well as a behind-closed-doors presentation). You can try to rugged mode of transport capable of squeezing run into the wilderness if you want, but you’ll be through narrow gaps and, crucially, outrunning the quickly caught out in the open. This sets up the horde. The machine can be damaged, however, core of Days Gone’s crowd-management combat, and a ‘check engine’ light on your HUD will let in which you must try to impede the relentless you know if a spot of maintenance is in order. onslaught of a swarming mass of killers. You’ll also have to worry about fuel, especially They move like a viscous fluid across the given all the Molotov cocktails you’ll be crafting. landscape, forcing their way through windows and

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NIER: AUTOMATA Developer PlatinumGames Publisher Square Enix Format PS4 Release 2017

Platinum’s stock may have fallen slightly after its abysmal TMNT game and a lacklustre showing for Scalebound, but rest assured, Nier: Automata still looks the absolute business. After Mutants In Manhattan’s glacial pace, the nimble agility of Yorha 2B is a revelation; no doubt there will be some variation across the three playable characters, but the decision to showcase outright speed is a telling one, and welcome too. That said, Platinum and publisher Square Enix say the guiding philosophy for the game is accessibility. Much of that is down to the way the game falls between two stools, as likely to draw in fans of Platinum’s complex action games as it

is those of Square Enix’s JRPGs. Square Enix has supplied the story and advised on world design, enabling Platinum to focus on a more accessible take on what it does best. A three-minute time attack against waves of enemies yields little information beyond the fact that this is, indeed, a Platinum game. The dodge is the beating heart of the game: there’s no Bayonetta-style slowdown, but instead a counter attack that launches foes into the air, taking you with them. It may be more accessible than Platinum’s typical fare, but there’s plenty here to be excited about, not least a boss battle that is the best 3D approximation of bullet hell we’ve ever seen.

BOUND

THE LAST GUARDIAN

SPIDER MAN

Developer Plastic/Santa Monica Studio Publisher SCE Format PS4 Release August 16

Developer GenDesign Publisher SIE Format PS4 Release October 25

Developer Insomniac Games Publisher SIE Format PS4 Release TBA

The low-poly sci-fi aesthetic is, if we’re honest, rather losing its lustre, and it’s tempting to dismiss Bound on sight. Yet screenshots don’t quite do it justice: when you see it moving, it all makes sense. In action, it’s immediately redolent of Journey, a mute protagonist solving a series of oblique little puzzles in a mysterious world, using atmosphere as a substitute for action. Red switches raise doors or bring platforms twirling into reach, some of which will only remain in place for a few seconds. You can run, but you won’t want to: the protagonist moves wonderfully, from the hipswaying sashay of her walk to the graceful ballet that occurs when you press face and shoulder buttons. Presumably these serve some gameplay purpose; right now we’re too busy somersaulting through doorways to give it much thought.

While there was little new to discover at Sony’s booth – GenDesign simply presented a slightly tighter build of the section we played for E294’s cover feature – a brief slot in Sony’s packed conference teased a little more of the game. The Last Guardian’s E3 2016 trailer begins where the demo leaves off, just as Trico jumps down next to the boy after escaping from the cold damp of their prison. After that we see the boy harassed by the game’s enigmatic, spectral enemies as he tries to raise a metal gateway by dragging a coiled chain mechanism out of the wall. There’s also confirmation that Trico will fight those creatures as a quick cut shows it clutching the boy in its beak while smashing them and the wooden bridge that they’re standing on. But the most stirring reveal is the fact that Trico is far from the last of its kind.

With his ability to gracefully cover large amounts of one of the world’s most iconic cities at searing speed, Spider-Man has long felt like the ideal star of an open-world superhero game. He’s certainly deserved better than his back catalogue, whose only shining light is the 12-year-old, Treyarchdeveloped Spider-Man 2. Sunset Overdrive showed Insomniac has the right way of looking at traversal in an open world, and the studio certainly has the sense of humour for it too. It’s a close collaboration between the studio and Marvel – their offices are just a few minutes apart. Details are, like so many of Sony’s E3 games, on the scant side, but Marvel suggests this is a standalone game, rather than being tied in to a forthcoming movie. Given Parker’s recent Hollywood form, that’s probably for the best too.

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SONY@E3

STAR WARS BATTLEFRONT: X-WING VR MISSION

PLAYSTATION VR WORLDS

FARPOINT

Developer Criterion Games, DICE Publisher EA Format PSVR Release 2016

Developer London Studio Publisher SIE Format PSVR Release October

Developer Impulse Gear Publisher SIE Format PSVR Release TBA

With every spare pair of hands within EA’s global network of studios now working on Star Wars, Criterion has abandoned the extreme-sports prototype shown at E3 two years ago to work on the most lucrative intellectual property in the galaxy. Yet, unlike EA’s other Star Wars offerings, it is unlikely to make any money, positioned as it is as a free download for Star Wars Battlefront. Criterion’s few words on the subject suggest that this will be a VR experience, rather than a game. It says we will step into the cockpit of an X-Wing, and marvel at the galaxy around us. But there’s nothing about firing a gun, or even controlling the craft. Still, there are plenty of fully controllable VR space games out there, and if this has a Death Star trench run, you can stick your EVE: Valkyrie up your thermal exhaust port.

In name and concept, PlayStation VR Worlds is the perfect bundle game, short showcases of what Sony’s hardware is capable of. In reality, it’s a standalone package that seems destined to be overlooked, as PSVR’s early adopters are drawn to fully fleshed-out games with more star power. While finely implemented, nothing in Sony London Studio’s five-game bundle particularly sets the pulse racing. London Heist is a Guy Ritchie-style gangland thriller. Into The Deep is an unsettling underwater rollercoaster. VR Luge sends you careening down a California hillside, while Scavenger’s Odyssey has you pottering around an alien planet looking for supplies. Finally, Danger Ball is 3D Pong you control with your head, using flicks and headbutt moves for spin and extra power. The £35 price tag may be optimistic.

Alien FPSes aren’t especially exciting these days, but Farpoint stands out for its peripheral, the PSVR Aim Controller, developed alongside the game by young San Francisco studio Impulse Gear. While it’s not exactly easy on the eye – one onlooker winningly described it as a grey-market knockoff of an Apple sex toy – Farpoint’s gun peripheral is its USP. A VR shooter feels much more natural when you’re holding something with both hands. An analogue stick, meanwhile, nestles beneath your thumb on the stock, and enables free movement. Sadly, Sony’s creaking Move technology isn’t as up to the task as the Vive and Rift equivalents, but it does the job well enough with generous autoaim. Generic as its action is, Farpoint is a fine example of the way VR adds a new dimension to even the most well-mined of genres.

DEATH STRANDING Developer Kojima Productions Publisher SIE Format PS4 Release TBA

From high up in the gods at the Shrine Auditorium, we are not immediately sure what is going on. A curtain rises, a figure steps out of the shadows, and the crowd goes absolutely spare. As he (she? It?) walks towards the front of the stage, the floor lights up beneath him in time with his step. It is a rockstar entrance. Kanye? Nope, Hideo Kojima, here to unveil his baffling, and bafflingly quickly devised, new game. Kojima is such an oddball, and such a tease, that it’s tempting to think he just pulled this idea out of his backside one morning. Get Norman Reedus in a mocap studio for a day, plug the results into a thirdparty engine, and surround it with a

38

load of opaque symbolism that, in five or ten years or however long it takes for Kojima’s latest fever dream to become reality, could reasonably be connected to anything. Job done. Still, it had the desired effect. Tongues wagged furiously about what sort of game Death Stranding, with its naked Reedus, its dead baby, its sea creatures and inky tethers, could possibly be. Kojima gave few interviews and gave away even less about the game behind a teaser which, he admitted, was put together in a couple of months. He insists the concept is in place, though, and that the game will be in full production just as soon as he settles on which engine to use.


RESIDENT EVIL VII: BIOHAZARD Developer/publisher Capcom Format PC, PS4, Xbox One Release January 24

W

become familiar. It’s a surprisingly effective trick riting in a Capcom Unity blog post, that, combined with the fact that you can hang Resident Evil VII director Koushi back while your associates creep around each Nakanishi assured fans that the dark corner, results in a sense of empowerment that game’s recently released demo isn’t representative survival horror games might normally go out of their of the team’s vision for the finished article. Which way to avoid. There are no tank controls here, and is rather a pity given the clutch of smart ideas it we haven’t yet found a gun, so the scarcity of introduces to the horror genre. On coming around ammo isn’t immediately concerning, but there is a after events that are clarified later – but which we bluntly implemented invisible wall used as a crutch won’t spoil here – you struggle to your feet in a to serve one otherwise effective musty old living room as a chillingly simple objective pops up on the Nakanishi wants narrative beat that sees one of your party wander off on their own. screen: “Get out of the house”. We’re curious to see what the A TV screen illuminates the room to create horror on addition of more traditional Resident a little with hissing static and an a more intimate Evil elements will bring to this ominous collection of used syringes scale, populating already heady mix. Herbs and contrasts starkly with the tea set it zombies are both confirmed, but shares the table with. Some nervous the game with Nakanishi has stressed that he wants exploration yields a few items, the fewer enemies to create horror on a more intimate occasional encounter with a halfscale, populating the game with seen figure in a corridor or at a fewer enemies but making each a significant threat window, and eventually a set of bolt cutters. These – and that reach for intimacy is further underscored grant access to a locked cupboard which contains by the fact that, just like the demo at E3, the whole a VHS cassette, and it’s upon heading back to game will be playable using PlayStation VR, which feed it into the video recorder sat on top of the TV makes for a particularly intense experience. While in the first room that the full potential of game’s shift the first Resident Evil has been a significant to a firstperson perspective is hinted at. inspiration for the project, don’t expect to see any Now we get to be the cameraman in a lowfamiliar faces or locations – VII will revolve around rent haunted-house show and watch the presenter a new group of situations and characters, though it and producer break into the same house that we’re still takes place on the same timeline as the other trying to escape from, and begin exploring the games in the main series. rooms and corridors with which we’ve already

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SONY@E3

DETROIT: BECOME HUMAN Developer Quantic Dream Publisher SIE Format PS4 Release TBA

D

a lavish penthouse apartment, where an android avid Cage is at pains to point out that waits on the edge of the rooftop with a gun Quantic Dream’s new game is not a work of pressed to the head of a young girl, Connor science fiction. Set 20 years in the future watches a holographic replay of his target getting where androids walk, talk, live and work among a gun from a bedroom cupboard. In the living us, it has its basis in fact: Cage cites research room, examining the father’s corpse yields a claiming that 40 per cent of jobs will have been playback of the fatal shots being fired, and another delegated to machines by the year 2030. piece of evidence – a tablet on which the man of We doubt those near-future-gazers quite had the house had just ordered a replacement android, the same thing in mind as Cage, though. This first setting these messy wheels in motion. glimpse at Detroit: Beyond Human Time is of the essence, Connor’s in motion introduces Connor, a Cage wants chance of success lowering the highly advanced prototype trained to position the longer he tarries. You can freeze to assist humans in dealing with time by pressing R2 to enter the deviant androids. A small number of androids as ludicrously titled Mind Palace, which mankind’s worker automatons are the good guys, gives Connor free movement through going rogue. Disappearing, committing suicide, turning on their and humans as a static scene, text overlays showing his likely success percentage, and masters; having emotions, despite the antagonists blue dots highlighting every being programmed not to. interactive element in the vicinity. The It’s a setup that lets Cage flip the more evidence he finds, the better his chances. traditional android-fiction narrative on its head: he Out on the rooftop, a series of timed dialogue wants to position the androids as the good guys, choices decide whether Connor succeeds or fails: and humans as the antagonists. The cynic might whether the rogue android dies by his own hand, say it also provides narrative justification for cold Connor’s or the waiting police’s; whether Connor dialogue and robotic delivery. For the player, it dies too; and the fate of the little girl. Outcomes means access to a suite of weird abilities across feel worryingly arbitrary, and if Connor kicks the multiple playable characters. robotic bucket, that’s the end of his story. It would Connor’s power, Reconstruct, involves using the be a great shame if, after expending so much touchpad to move a cursor around a scene to find effort on making the build-up more interactive, individual pieces of evidence that can be Quantic Dream leaves the payoff to chance. combined to form a replay of a crucial moment. In

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HORIZON ZERO DAWN Developer Guerrilla Games Publisher SIE Format PS4 Release February 28

As protagonist Aloy approaches the settlement of Mother’s Rise, built at the base of a snow-covered mountain and defended by rope-tethered palisades, we’re struck by a sudden pining for Skyrim’s frosty climes. It’s an appropriate allusion given Guerrilla’s assertion that Horizon is an open-world action RPG, not just a brawler with ideas above its station. Despite the deep storyline, crafting system and dense world, it’s Horizon’s effortless combat that stands out. Our first hands-on reveals a remarkably assured, and nuanced, system in which we’re able to switch seamlessly between stealth and action as we use Aloy’s extensive toolkit to hunt Grazers from

patches of long grass, tether Watchers before moving in for the kill, and tackle aggressive and agile Shell-walkers. Our encounter with the last of these, a towering, crab-like robot, feels like a memorable boss fight rather than a typical AI confrontation. The Shell-walker throws up a shield with one arm and lunges with the other, quickly closing the gap between us. We hold the right stick to slow the action and loose a shot Robin of Locksley would be proud of, skimming past the shield’s edge and destroying the Shell-walker’s arm. It’s an exhilarating, unscripted moment, which promises much for Guerrilla’s new direction.

LET IT DIE

BATMAN ARKHAM VR

Developer Grasshopper Manufacture Publisher Gungho Online Entertainment Format PS4 Release 2016

Developer Rocksteady Publisher Warner Bros Format PSVR Release TBA

We’re using an iron pipe and trying to stove in the head of a health-giving frog while wearing nothing but a pair of grubby underpants. It’s certainly an unusual situation, but given it has arisen from the mind of Killer7 and No More Heroes creator Suda51, perhaps not an entirely surprising one. His first flirtation with free-to-play is a delirious Roguelike that channels Dark Souls’ brutality and control scheme, but not its majesty. There’s a familiar rhythm of locking on, blocking and strafing, but hacking away at enemies feels lightweight. After each death, you’ll start again as a new character in nothing but your skivvies – though some items will remain yours, not least those you’ve ponied up real cash for – and there’s an intriguing Souls-flavoured twist on Forza’s Drivatars, in which fallen players’ stats generate tough enemies in your world.

A two-stage demo elevated to a higher plane by having you embody the Caped Crusader, Arkham VR opens with you descending on an elevator beneath a grand piano to the Batcave to get dressed, holding a Move controller in each hand as you do so. The second half sees you examining a murder scene for clues. VR-standard teleportation enables you to move around the scene between a few fixed points, but there’s greater innovation on show with a device that lets you link evidence to form a holographic record of the incident. Twisting the Move controller to scroll through the footage, you must identify key moments in the battle to establish how someone broke Nightcrawler’s neck. PS4’s processing ceiling means it’s not a looker – think Arkham Asylum rather than Knight – but the sensation of being the Batman is intoxicating.

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MICROSOFT@E3

FORZA HORIZON 3 Developer Turn 10 Studios Publisher Microsoft Studios Format PC, Xbox One Release September 27

F

orza Horizon 2 took the first meaningful steps towards justifying the series’ name by pulling down the barriers which lined its forebear’s roads, allowing players to freely explore a compact distillation of southern Europe. With Forza Horizon 3, Turn 10 is offering what could be the best skies to ever grace a videogame. These skies were made possible by the hard-done-by portion of the team who had to spend an entire summer in Australia, the setting for

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this latest series instalment, capturing the view above them with a custom-built 12K HDR camera rig. The group camped in a field and took thousands of images which were then fed into the studio’s bespoke tech to be spat out in the game as beautiful, dynamic skyscapes. The results are astonishing, clouds rolling across above as weather fronts form and bring with them wet and stormy conditions. The tech also means that the entire sky functions as an HDR light source (a feature


Horizon 3 features a range of supercars along with the open-wheel racers shown here, so if you’ve ever wanted to trash an F40 on the beach, here’s the opportunity

further enhanced by Xbox One S’s HDR capabilities), lending the game an uncommonly naturalistic look as all those Australian rays bounce off the aluminium and carbon of the game’s 350 cars. The new map is twice the size of Forza Horizon 2’s and, according to a slightly more woolly Turn 10 metric, twice as diverse too. Expect to thunder over rolling hills, across the outback, through rainforests, along beaches and weave your way through the streets of a high-rise city. From our brief stint at the wheel, Horizon 3 appears to have abandoned the previous game’s Forza 5-inspired floatiness for Forza 6’s more planted solidity. It’s all just as accessible and forgiving as you’d expect, though, and abusing a supercar’s suspension on the beach is as intoxicating as bouncing a sturdy pickup along dirt tracks.

An appealing twist places you in charge of the Horizon Festival this time around, giving you the power to decide when and where to set up new venues, which events are included, and even hiring and firing your friends’ Drivatars as star drivers. Their achievements go towards your own progression as festival boss, but since there are only four slots you can decide to give underperforming acquaintances the boot. This focus on customisation spills over into the new Blueprints feature, too, which lets you tweak campaign events and share them with friends. And in a smart move, edited events are given the same weight as the official ones, so you’ll still progress your career if you choose to ignore a Turn 10-created event. Whether or not you’ll be harassed by slighted former employees during the race remains to be seen.

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MICROSOFT@E3

SEA OF THIEVES Developer Rare Publisher Microsoft Studios Format PC, Xbox One Release 2017

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the small task of figuring out how to make it his is the second time we’ve had to bring the do anything other than look pretty. The anchor must ship to a lurching halt by dropping the be raised – a job made significantly quicker if anchor, and it’s for the same reason as more than one person jumps on the capstan to before: one of our crew has gotten so addled on help – and the sails dropped by windlasses along grog that they’ve fallen overboard, and their the edges of the top deck. We need someone on flustered yelps into the headset mic have roused the wheel, of course, but with the sails down our sense of camaraderie. Having an unlimited they’re not going to be able to spot land or supply of booze in your inventory is rather approaching ships. And when you do see another dangerous, it turns out, as we discovered to our vessel, it will be crewed by another cost earlier after filling our boots with five players (inebriated castaways watery rum in the crow’s nest and Having an notwithstanding) who may or may toppling out of it while trying to spot unlimited supply not be friendly. for the navigator. It’s a pirate’s life for In this first hands-on with the us, certainly, but we may have to of booze in game, there’s little chance of rein things in a little. your inventory is encountering the former, so when we Still, if you’re going to make an inherently social game, there’s rather dangerous, do spot another schooner, we draw in close, pull a hard left by quickly bound to be some merriment. Rare’s it turns out dropping the anchor, and then man multiplayer piratical romp seems to the cannons to bombard the enemy. be something of a return to form for Unsurprisingly, they have a similar plan and the air the veteran Twycross studio, which has presumably fills with smoke and cannonballs as each crew tries finally broken free of its Kinect shackles and tossed to disable the other. It’s not long before we’re them overboard. Sea Of Thieves delights from the desperately trying to patch holes in the hull below moment we step into its world as we look around deck as water pours in and fills the hold. Our craft at our new crew and discover that we can all play sits lower and lower in the water until there’s finally a nautical-flavoured cover of Ride Of The Valkyries no option but to abandon ship and swim for together on our selection of musical instruments. nearby land to regroup. We may not have a vessel It’s not long before the five of us make a beefor the time being, but we saved something more line for our shared galleon, which sits resplendent important today. No, not our lives, but the grog. in the sparkling water a little way down the cliff Time to drink and dance, then. path ahead of us. On arriving, however, there’s

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DEAD RISING 4 Developer Capcom Vancouver Publisher Microsoft Studios Format PC, Xbox One Release December 6

We can’t help but feel a warm glow during our opening moments with Dead Rising 4. It’s nothing to do with the crowd of shuffling living dead we’re in the process of immolating using an ad-hoc flamethrower – it’s the multicoloured fairy lights on the Christmas tree standing next to us. A well-decorated tree, it seems, can make any situation feel festive. We’re also in the company of a couple of old friends: Dead Rising 4 sees Frank West return to Willamette for the holidays, along with several-thousand uninvited guests. Taking place one year after Dead Rising 3 (and 16 years after West’s first Willamette run in), you must discover the cause of yet another outbreak in the mall as a shady military organisation attempts to cover it up. This also means a

return for West’s photojournalism (and presumably peeping Tom) skills, and he can also now take selfies which should rival GTAV’s. For some reason, Capcom doesn’t think that the photography mechanic will gel with co-op, so that has been removed, but there will still be competitive multiplayer for up to four. The military presence in Willamette doesn’t just provide a stream of bosses, as the careless soldiers have left a bunch of exo suits lying around which give West superhuman strength. Wearing one, you can fling cars, tear parking meters from the ground for bludgeoning enemies, and use highly destructive advanced military weaponry. Significantly, there is no longer a timer at play, allowing players the freedom to experiment with genocide at their leisure.

GEARS OF WAR 4 Developer The Coalition Publisher Microsoft Studios Format PC, Xbox One Release October 11

Gears Of War 4’s E3 demo is in the grip of an enormous storm. Our sturdy space marines are unmoved – a side benefit to being blessed with the broadest shoulders in the galaxy. Enemies are flung offscreen. An abandoned aircraft slams into a group of foes, killing them instantly, while JD Fenix and his AI comrades look on impassively. At one point they cross a chasm on a narrow pipe, and despite the hurricane the trio roadie-run across without incident. Still, it looks the part, and even more so in a co-op session showcasing the game’s crossplatform multiplayer: one player is on Xbox One, the other on PC in 4K. It also shows us more of

the new enemy faction, the Swarm, whose larval pods can be shot down to provide cover as you advance. The Swarm invite unwelcome comparisons with Halo’s Flood, but evolve into more powerful forms as the game progresses, and there’s a certain visceral thrill to dispatching the onrushing hordes with the new sawblade-flinging Buzzkill weapon. Sadly, like so many of Gears 4’s additions, it feels like a gimmick whose appeal will fade quickly. The appearance of an aged, bearded Marcus Fenix may draw cheers, but it merely reinforces the sense of a game going through the motions, stuck in its old ways, unmoved by the storm raging around it.

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MICROSOFT@E3

SCALEBOUND Developer PlatinumGames Publisher Microsoft Studios Format PC, Xbox One Release 2017

Sony, not Microsoft, normally cops the most flak for filling its E3 press conferences with games that are years from release. Announced on Microsoft’s stage two years ago, Scalebound is still without a firm release date. Platinum says it will be out in 2017, and on this evidence that’s just as well. If its E3 demo is any guide, this will be a game of either standing still and loosing weedy arrows, walking slowly and casting tiny spells, gobbing fireballs from a hovering dragon, or standing in front of an enemy’s weak point mashing the melee button. Halfway through the fight our hero puts on his headphones and shouts, “OK! We’re through messing

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around!” before standing still and firing more arrows, this time to a nu-metal soundtrack. Director Hideki Kamiya says he’s not bothered about whether lots of people like the game, which must have his paymasters at Microsoft doing cartwheels. He’s been candid, too, about the difficulty of showcasing this sprawling, dragonriding, loot-dropping, co-operative multiplayer RPG in an E3-friendly manner, but if that was the case he might as well not have shown it at all. It means Scalebound earns three adjectives that just shouldn’t be associated with a Platinum game: slow, simplistic and, worst of all, boring.

CUPHEAD

STATE OF DECAY 2

HALO WARS 2

Developer/publisher Studio MDHR Format PC, Xbox One Release 2016

Developer Undead Labs Publisher Microsoft Studios Format PC, Xbox One Release 2017

Developer 343 Industries, The Creative Assembly Publisher Microsoft Format PC, Xbox One Release 2016

While Cuphead has become a familiar presence at videogame shows, the impact of those vintage cartoon visuals never diminishes. Up until now, every opportunity to try the game has centred on its charismatic, memorable and tough-as-nails boss fights, but Studio MDHR’s latest build adds in a handful of platforming levels, too. Enemies continually run in from both sides as your slowly edge your way forward, shooting everything that moves. There’s no sense of dynamism or momentum, and we found ourselves wishing they were even briefer than their already short spans. They still look the part, at least – though it was hard to tell levels apart due to some samey design and backgrounds – but feel like gristle forced between the game’s highlights as an afterthought. A disappointment.

Microsoft’s financial backing means this sequel to a lovable shambles should be a rather less shaky implementation of the game’s obvious potential. To that end, Undead Labs promises State Of Decay 2 will be, as sequel-making best practice requires, bigger, broader and, crucially, smoother. It will also feature drop-in co-op for up to four players. State Of Decay was a breakout hit that took everyone – even Undead Labs itself – by surprise. The sequel, however, carries the weight of expectation. The studio is keeping its feet on the ground, at least, paying sincere tribute to the players and streamers that made the first game such a success, and assuring them their criticisms have been heard and are being dealt with. Should the first game’s idiosyncrasies return from the dead, fans may not be so forgiving.

The first Halo Wars was console-only, but as Microsoft’s current strategy mandates, Halo Wars 2 is headed to PC as well. There will be no crossplatform play, however. That, we’re told, is simply a matter of timing and resources, though getting mouse-and-keyboard and pad users to play nicely must surely also be a factor. Still, it does mean Halo Wars 2 feels a bit off the current Xbox pace. An RTS is always going to be a hard sell amid the bombast and breakbeats of E3, and a new, slower resource economy meant Halo Wars 2’s show-floor demo did little to raise the pulse. The beta went down better – a million matches were played during the week it was online – though whether it will capture similar attention in the run-up to Christmas is another matter entirely.


RECORE Developer Armature Studio, Comcept Publisher Microsoft Studios Format PC, Xbox One Release 2016

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twice as much damage. Once we reach busier hen Retro alumni Mark Pacini, Todd rooms with variously coloured robots, the setup Keller and Jack Matthews previously quickens the pace of the game’s already urgentcollaborated with a Japanese feeling combat. Your basic laser feels rather weak, company on an original game, we got the Metroid however, even when correctly matched, and we Prime series. So when the news broke that the soon ignore it altogether in favour of the charged three were heading up new company Armature blast mapped to RB. Some larger enemies can Studio’s collaboration with Mega Man director only be defeated by yanking out their cores with Keiji Infune’s Comcept, there was every reason to your extractor tool (also used to open each facility’s be cautiously excited. Last year’s announcement blast doors). trailer hinted at an enigmatic, heartOver the course of the game wrenching open-world adventure. So You’ll also amass you’ll also amass a gang of robotic it was hard not to be a little disappointed when this year’s a gang of robotic allies, each with different colour and gameplay trailer revealed what allies, each with attack attributes, which can be switched between on the fly by looked like a flimsy action platformer. While we were underwhelmed different attributes, tapping LB. Mack, the dog-like machine from the trailer, can maul by the uncharismatic montage used which can be enemies while dealing electrical to show off Recore during Microsoft’s conference, it proves a little more switched between damage, while the arachnoid Seth fires a yellow laser beam. They also charming once a controller is placed play an important role outside of combat: Mack in our hands. Players are cast as Joule, a member can track and find items, while Seth attaches to a of a terraforming crew working on a distant planet series of rails, flinging us around simple platforming called Far Eden, who is suddenly faced with the challenges. Joule is no slouch, either, with the inexplicable absence of her colleagues, plus the ability to double jump and dash forward. While it’s presence of an army of hostile robots. While you’ll all perfectly serviceable, however, Recore’s spend time exploring the game’s open overworld, multitude of systems fail to gel over the course of much of it takes place in subterranean dungeons our demo, leaving the game feeling unfocused. that tightly blend action and puzzle solving. Even More damningly, despite all of the colours the basic act of shooting has a light puzzle dusting involved, and a large-scale boss fight, Recore’s as you use the D-pad to match the colour of your gameplay ends up feeling disappointingly beige. laser to the enemy being targeted in order to deal

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BATTLEFIELD 1 Developer DICE Publisher EA Format PC, PS4, Xbox One Release October 21

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here’s a darker tone to Battlefield 1 that sets it apart from previous entries in the series, an aspect driven home by a harrowing encounter we experience in the attic bedroom of a ruined house. After moving in cover to avoid snipers and tank fire, we chase an enemy soldier into the building and lose sight of him. After a quick search of the ground floor yields nothing, we creep up the shattered wooden staircase and sweep the first floor. Still nothing. Rifle held in

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front, we creep nervously up the second set of stairs and find our quarry crouched in the corner. A disheartening click reveals an empty chamber, so we resort to a bayonet. But it’s too late, and our failure to keep an eye on ammo means his hatchet punctures our chest first. It’s a confrontation that also serves to illustrate changes made to Battlefield 1’s close-quarters combat: melee attacks can no longer be countered, and if two soldiers charge each other, whoever activates


The Behemoths are an imposing presence and can turn the tide of battle, but the slower pace of planes and tanks combined with the new Tanker and Pilot classes ensures that vehicles play a more important role than ever

their dash first will win. Battlefield 4’s universally equipped knife has gone, and there is now a variety of grim melee weapons. Ballistic weapons are entirely class based and they’re more specialised than Battlefield 4’s to emphasise teamwork. The assault class carries an SMG and shotgun, medics get semi-automatic rifles, support soldiers wield LMGs, and scouts use bolt-action rifles. Engineer class, meanwhile, has been subsumed into the new Medic and vehicle classes: Pilot and Tanker. The latter additions make the relevant vehicle type your primary weapon, to give vehicles more permanence, and more impact. For example, the Tanker can slowly repair damage to his vehicle from within the machine, but the patch-up job will be much quicker – albeit considerably more dangerous – if he hops out.

Despite these tweaks and a new setting, our 64-player Conquest session feels comfortingly familiar as we set about trying to control the five capture points. But this game feels sturdier and more hefty than Battlefield 4’s high-speed scrambles. Battlefield 1 ticks along at a more considered pace, but isn’t any less thrilling – every action is leant greater weight and working well as a squad is more important than ever. If your side is in particularly dire straits, however, you can call in a Behemoth-class vehicle and force the opposition to focus their fire – the arrival of a Zeppelin during our match is a welcome sight. Battlefield stalwarts will also be cheered by the news that enemy spotting now requires you to be looking directly at your target, while the previous game’s exaggerated visual recoil has been toned down.

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STEEP Developer/publisher Ubisoft (Annecy) Format PC, PS4, Xbox One Release December

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actually rather disturbing screaming after e have GoPro to thank for this. The miscalculations. The mountainside is studded with unending stream of YouTube extremechallenges, which come in a variety of forms. sports videos recorded using the Wingsuit proximity flying challenges, for example, company’s rugged action camera led Ubisoft ask you to taunt death by skimming as close to the Annecy to awaken the hibernating winter sports ground and scenery as possible, while one genre. And it is in literally the best position to do freestyle skiing challenge offers nothing more than so: the studio is based in the city of the same a start and finish line on each side of a dense name, which is bordered by mountains from the forest and asks you to reach the latter as quickly as French Alps and Bauges ranges. Steep’s sprawling possible. There are more structured open worlds take in both the Alps and Alaska, and in our E3 demo we Wingsuit proximity events, too, such as checkpoint races which force a circuitous route risk our limbs and life in the former. flying challenges through tricky obstacles, and all can Any game with snowboarding is going to evoke memories of 1080° ask you to taunt be played with friends or strangers in realtime. and SSX, but Steep manages to You can also create your own blend the rush of those arcadey death by skimming challenges using Steep’s slick-looking games with the more contemplative as close to the route tracker. Any line you take is exploration of the Amped series. You can also switch to skis, a wingsuit or ground as possible recorded as a series of orange dots in the pulled-back Mountain View, a paraglider at any time (though it which you can use to navigate between the would be worth noting your altitude first). The game’s various drop points. You pick a particular combination is intoxicating – an immediately jump or the whole thing and then adjust the rules appealing open world built at an angle conducive before uploading the challenge for others to to terrifying speed, and one that further compounds compete in. Given the GoPro inspiration, it’s little this sensation with a faintly ridiculous GoPro view surprise to learn that you can also edit and upload that demands lightning-fast reactions. replays of runs or particular stunts. Since this is an Irrespective of whether you plump for first-ish Ubisoft game, the studio will be crowbarring in person or a chase cam, however, Steep quests tied to both the dropzones and some kind of communicates the danger and potential violence of narrative – we just hope they don’t encroach too your activities with shaking cameras, the much on the dizzying freedom promised elsewhere. thunderous rumble of buffeting air, and some

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FINAL FANTASY XV Developer/publisher Square Enix Format PS4, Xbox One Release September 30

It must’ve seemed like a good idea at the time. The live playthrough of a Final Fantasy XV boss battle was one of the low points of Microsoft’s conference as the unfortunate fellow with the controller in his hand consistently failed to parry the gigantic enemy’s attacks, meaning protagonist Noctis spent a lot of his stage time flat on his arse. Perhaps it was input delay, or a patchy connection – no matter. With this and the cringeworthy announcement of a VR sideshow at Sony’s stage, Final Fantasy XV didn’t have the best of E3s. Until we got to play it, anyway. FFXV has come a long way since the Episode Duscae demo – it looks and runs better now, its UI has been cleaned

up, and a new Dragon Age-like ability to pause time and issue battle instructions to party members means combat is a good deal less messy. It seems that Square Enix is struggling to work out how best to promote a game that takes so many departures from the Final Fantasy template. An RPG is always a tough sell in the context of a three-minute stage demo, but even away from E3, the publisher has laboured in its messaging of this vast, multi-faceted game. There have been two playable demos, countless live streams and, here, a boss battle we’re told may not even feature in the final game. Release is only a few months away; despite its publisher’s travails, FFXV still intrigues.

QUAKE CHAMPIONS

INJUSTICE 2

Developer Id Software Publisher Bethesda Format PC Release TBA

Developer Warner Bros Publisher Netherrealm Studios Format PS4, Xbox One Release 2017

There’s some discontent at the way Quake is being reborn as a hero shooter, but it’s hard to imagine Id’s pacy arena gunplay being reincarnated in any other way. And for all that Doom called back to the twitchy flow of ’90s PC shooters, it came loaded with progression systems, collectibles and a multiplayer mode. Either way, Doom’s glorious return has earned Id no end of goodwill and, for now, the benefit of the doubt, too. As if to assuage any lingering doubts about who Champions is aimed at, Id says it will be PC-exclusive. In fact, it will run at a constant 120Hz, designed to accommodate what the studio describes as the “inhuman” skills of the PC-playing elite. Consider our interest piqued, but there’ll be a wait: character balance is a new challenge for Id and the studio expects the game to be in closed beta for a long time.

On first inspection, Injustice 2 seems to have little to justify its sequel status. It looks much the same as its predecessor, and plays almost identically: there are little tweaks here and there, and new characters such as Gorilla Grodd and Supergirl, but our first match in Netherrealm’s second DC-universe fighting game doesn’t make much of an impression. Then the match ends, and we see Injustice 2 makes one of the most radical innovations in fighting game history: loot drops. And not just of the cosmetic kind, since each piece of arm, leg, chest and head wear carries a buff to some part of your arsenal. In a genre that lives or dies on its character balance it seems to be asking for trouble, especially since gear drops get more powerful the longer you play. Netherrealm’s matchmaking algorithm needs to be faultless for it to work.

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ABZU Developer Giant Squid Studios Publisher 505 Games Format PC, PS4 Release August 2

The comparison is unavoidable: an enigmatic, mute protagonist; a mystery-soaked odyssey; bringing life to desolate locations. Abzu has more than a little of Journey about it. But then that’s hardly surprising given that Giant Squid is led by Journey art director Matt Nava. Nor are those similarities a bad thing. Abzu’s sleek underwater movement invokes the same sense of liberation as Journey’s soaring flight, but here that rush is never tainted by the need to return to the ground. And where Journey put countless grains of sand on screen, Abzu delights with schools of fish 10,000 strong. They react to your presence and the

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environment, adhere to the hierarchies of a simulated food chain, and will swim by your side when you call them by tapping Square. A bespoke lighting engine lends this underwater world a wonderful sense of authenticity and, tucked away in 505’s room at E3, we’re gifted a brief window of zen-like calm as we watch darting shoals brush aside the gently swaying reeds that rise from the sea bed. Later on we encounter a great white shark (which will apparently be a recurring presence), some ancient architecture, and a portal to another realm, though Giant Squid isn’t yet ready to be drawn further on such interdimensional details.

OVERCOOKED

GROW UP

Developer Ghost Town Games Publisher Team17 Format PC, PS4, Xbox One Release 2016

Developer/publisher Ubisoft (Reflections) Format PC, PS4, Xbox One Release August

In the utterly charming Overcooked, up to four players must work together to run an efficient kitchen, while dealing with the additional challenges thrown up by increasingly ludicrous working conditions. Ingredients are plucked out of storage bins and must be prepared on chopping boards, cooked and combined. Onion soup, for example, requires you to chop up three onions, dump the lot in a pot, and ensure it doesn’t burn before you plate up and take it to the pass. Dirty dishes need to be washed, too, and the value of your tip starts to decrease from the moment an order arrives. Simple enough at first, but try doing it on a rolling pirate ship where work surfaces shift position and block routes. Or, for that matter, preparing a burger in a kitchen consisting of two moving trucks that separate and recombine as they drive along. Hilarious, raucous stuff.

Grow Home was one of the most joyous surprises of recent years: a combination of freeform gardening and mountaineering starring a robot, BUD, who moved like a tottering toddler. Tactile and lovable, it felt like a real one-off, so of course Ubisoft is making a sequel. Reflections is taking a sensible approach, building upon the original’s foundations but aiming a little higher. It’s shooting for the moon, in fact, with BUD aiming to rescue the shattered pieces of his parent craft MOM, spread across an alien planet. As well as manoeuvring rapidly growing sprouts to move between floating islands, he’ll be able to call upon a glider, from which he can scatter seeds to lay down fungal trampolines. We don’t make Mario comparisons lightly, but if the original was reminiscent of Gusty Garden Galaxy, the glider could well be Grow Up’s very own wing cap.


TITANFALL 2 Developer Respawn Entertainment Publisher EA Format PC, PS4, Xbox One Release October 28

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corridors. Now it must broaden its level designs to itanfall always deserved better. It launched on accommodate a robot the size of a townhouse, Xbox One amid widespread antipathy to without leaving the on-foot super-soldier trailing in Microsoft’s muddled vision for its new its wake. Its approach to pacing will have to console, and on PC when players still resented the change: in multiplayer the mech is the pacing very existence of EA’s Origin platform. But it was device, but players will expect more than that from also a little ahead of its time. Nowadays players a story campaign. Perhaps the biggest risk of all is are more accustomed to games that are hinted at in the trailer: that Respawn will set out to multiplayer-only and always online, while FPS explore the bond between a man and his robot, players are more welcoming of a futuristic setting, and end up making The Last and console audiences have learned Guardian with a mecha fetish. how to manage cooldowns and use Thankfully the Thankfully the multiplayer puts skills instead of simply shooting the multiplayer puts Respawn on safer ground, and it’s bad guys in the face. as intoxicating as ever. There are Titanfall 2, then, stands a much Respawn on now six Titans, up from the original’s better chance of success. The Xbox One of 2016 is in comparatively safer ground, and three; each now has a fixed set of ruder health. PC players have it’s as intoxicating abilities, with Respawn admitting that the first game’s customisable grudgingly accepted Origin. And as ever loadouts hindered more than they with the Microsoft exclusivity deal helped, since you often didn’t know only covering the first game, the what was going to hit you until it was too late. sequel has access to the largest console audience When on foot, expect a host of new guns and on the market. Tellingly, our E3 demo is played tweaks to returning ones, while a grappling hook using a DualShock 4. expands your movement toolset in intriguing new One of the louder criticisms of the first game ways. Titanfall 2 certainly has everything it needs has been addressed, too: Titanfall 2 will have a to reach the heights its predecessor couldn’t, but it’s full singleplayer campaign. While it’s a decision been handed an awkward stumbling block by its that comes from the right place, it poses several publisher. Launching it a week after Battlefield 1, awkward questions to Respawn. In its Call Of Duty and seven days before Call Of Duty: Infinite days, this group made campaigns that funnelled Warfare, is at once commendably confident and the player along what was essentially a series of just asking for trouble. deceptively open, bombastically explosive

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WILSON’S HEART

SERIOUS SAM VR

Developer Twisted Pixel Publisher Oculus Format Rift Release 2016

Developer Croteam Publisher Devolver Digital Format Rift, Vive Release 2016

Even the most mundane actions are leant significance when using motion controls in VR. In Wilson’s Heart, Twisted Pixel’s striking black-and-white psychological thriller, just leafing through a discarded comic book proves enchanting. But the short demo is packed with revelatory moments, such as when we enter a bathroom and stare at the responsive reflection in the mirror, or the grim occasion we happen across a dead body, suspended on a coat hook, and must search it for evidence by rifling through pockets and clasping the poor soul’s chin to move his head. Set in a haunted ’40s hospital, you play as patient Robert Wilson and awake to find that your heart has been replaced with a mysterious device. It’s schlocky but effective stuff, and Twisted Pixel’s imaginative use of Touch elevates what is already an atmospheric adventure.

Despite everything we know about firstperson locomotion in VR, we couldn’t help but be seduced by the idea of playing Serious Sam in a headset. And on donning the Vive kit it turns out that Croteam has our back, as this version of Sam is happy to only move within a small radius while he waits for the enemies to come to him. Glowing health and ammo icons must be targeted amid the chaos, and you can spend coins on upgrading your arsenal between rounds. Standing in Sam’s world, blasting familiar beasts while duel wielding is initially thrilling, but it’s soon clear nausea should’ve been the least of our worries. Guns feel inaccurate for the most part, and without the ability to move around the levels, the enemies’ entrenched behaviours quickly feel tedious. Serious Sam has never been about subtlety or complexity, but this twist feels a little too dumb.

ABSOLVER Developer Sloclap Publisher Devolver Digital Format PC, PS4, Xbox One Release 2017

One of the highlights of this year’s E3, Absolver offers up a striking mix of elements inspired by Dark Souls, Journey and God Hand. We can think of few headier concoctions. Taking place in the ruins of the fallen Adal empire, players take up the mantle of prospective Absolvers – warriors seeking to maintain world order – and must prove themselves worthy of joining the group. You’ll encounter a mix of NPCs and other wandering players with whom you can trade, form alliances, or scrap. You can form a band of up to three players to fight with, tackling PVE exploration or showcasing your skills in dedicated PVP arenas. Encounters are weighty and deliberate,

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the camera sitting just over your shoulder, and necessitate caution, skill and a little deception. You can feign a move and cancel out of it, ready to parry your opponent’s attack, while a smart system allows you to learn new moves over time. These moves go into your Combat Deck, with which you can build custom, branching combos. Each move ends in one of four stances, and which you choose to combine will alter your fighting style and available moves. Brilliantly, you’ll also have to recognise your opponent’s stance to counter in the right direction. It’s a lot to take in at first, but once you find your rhythm, Absolver is nothing less than entrancing.


CALL OF DUTY: INFINITE WARFARE Developer Infinity Ward Publisher Activision Format PC, PS4, Xbox One Release November 4

Infinite Warfare’s announcement trailer may have set a new record as the most disliked video in YouTube history, but there’s plenty to like about COD’s continuing obsession with the future, which this time sees it breach the stratosphere and head into outer space. This isn’t COD’s first time in near-Earth orbit – Infinity Ward’s previous outing, 2013’s Call Of Duty: Ghosts, had a couple of space shootouts – but Infinite Warfare goes a step further. At the end of an unremarkable on-foot section in which you destroy a succession of disappointingly bullet-spongey robot invaders, you step into a craft and fly straight up into space for a pacey, explosive dogfight. Outside

your craft, a grappling hook gives you some essential control in the weightless environment, either pulling yourself towards nearby scenery or yanking an enemy over for a melee kill. The real reason for all those downvotes is Activision’s decision to limit availability of the long-rumoured COD4 remake to those who buy an Infinite Warfare special edition. An all-too-brief look at the first Modern Warfare’s opening campaign mission, Wet Work, shows it may well be worth the price. And if the blend of space battles and more traditional COD shootouts doesn’t raise the pulse, you can always fire up an old favourite like Crash for a few rounds of Domination.

THE ELDER SCROLLS V: SKYRIM SPECIAL EDITION

SOUTH PARK: THE FRACTURED BUT WHOLE

GIANT COP

Developer/publisher Bethesda Format PC, PS4, Xbox One Release October 28

Developer South Park Digital Studios, Ubisoft San Francisco Publisher Ubisoft Format PC, PS4, Xbox One Release Dec 6

Publisher/developer Other Ocean Interactive Format Rift Release 2016

In fantastic news for everybody who modded the PC version into a devastating crash-to-desktop hole they could never quite be bothered to climb out of – hypothetically, you understand – Bethesda is revisiting its sprawling 2011 RPG. While it seems unlikely that Bethesda’s official overhaul will meet the standards met by its modding community, at least the thing should be playable this time. Hopefully, anyway: that the console versions will support PC mods raises concerns about stability. But even without them this will be a giant leap forward on the original release. New lighting, textures and shaders will give a fresh lease of life to a game whose beauty always lay more in its scale and scope than the quality of its assets. The only bad news is that we’re going to have to find another couple of hundred hours in our schedules.

South Park: The Stick Of Truth may have captured the potty-mouthed spirit of the TV show, but as a roleplaying game it had its shortcomings. The simplicity of its battle mechanics are immediately addressed by Trey Parker and Matt Stone in this superhero-themed follow-up. “It was barely even an RPG,” Cartman sneers. “The combat sucked.” Such frankness is par for the course for Parker and Stone, who’ve teamed up with Ubisoft’s San Francisco studio for a more tactically diverse sequel. Combat employs a grid-based system, letting you knock opponents into scenery for extra damage, or push them towards allies for bonus attacks. Cast once again as the new kid – with the option this time to play as a girl – you’re invited to select your powers (and backstory) from a dozen character classes, while the script takes aim at modern culture.

Other Ocean’s VR debut has already attracted controversy, shifting from Vive to a timed Oculus exclusive without warning and invoking the ire of those who’d preordered it from Steam. Pity, as it’s a fine example of VR’s value as a vehicle for slapstick. You’re not so much the long arm of the law as the disembodied floating hands of it, looking down on the inhabitants of Micro City and delivering swift, powerful justice to ne’er-do-wells. You might, for example, use a magnifying glass to identify a criminal, before swatting them into the distance – well, it’s hard to cuff perps with digits of this size. You can play bad cop, too, picking up citizens and flinging them into the sea, or hurling trucks into a beachside protest gathering. The appeal of interactive physical comedy can wear thin quickly, so giant fingers crossed that it’ll offer some depth.

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DISHONORED 2 Developer Arkane Studios Publisher Bethesda Format PC, PS4, Xbox One Release November 11

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rkane certainly doesn’t do things by halves. Few studios are so meticulous in crafting their worlds; not only has this talented studio built, in Karnaca, a city whose architecture recalls classical continental Europe in stunning style, it’s also striven to ensure that the world makes sense, asking itself how its inhabitants walk to and from their workplaces, where they socialise and take lunch; even what a street might have looked like in decades past. The result is a

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space that looks and feels natural, despite the videogame-ness of its multiple branching routes. Which isn’t to say the French studio is afraid to stretch the bounds of credibility where it suits. Karnaca has a Dust District that’s frequently, and randomly, buffeted by severe storms, providing particle-thick cover for the stealthy. Many of Karnaca’s electrical devices are wind-powered. Emily Kaldwin, now playable in addition to her father (returning Dishonored protagonist Corvo Atlano),


The first game featured equippable Bone Charms designed to complement different play styles. This time they’re procedurally generated, with 400,000 potential charms to pick through, any of which can be combined

zips up to a rooftop to shut down a turbine that’s powering a forcefield that, if left live, will kill her instantly on contact. Early on in Dishonored 2, you’ll choose between Emily and Corvo, adding another layer of flexibility to an already deeply systemic game and giving further weight to Arkane’s claim it will be different for every player on every playthrough. Emily’s main point of differentiation from her father’s toolset is Far Reach, a grapple hook used to zip to far-off ledges, fling objects at enemies, or grab foes and draw them near. It’s a pleasingly physical contrast to Corvo’s Blink teleport. But Emily has plenty of other tricks up her sleeve. Her Mesmerize power lulls guards into a stupor, allowing her to slip past. Shadow Walk offers improved stealth and an extra combat moveset. Domino lets her link a series of

targets together, so what happens to one of them happens to them all. With a single stun mine she incapacitates a room’s worth of guards before Shadow Walking up to her target for the mission-critical kill. Corvo’s moveset will be a little more familiar, but both he and Emily will have greater control over how their powers progress thanks to a redesigned skill tree. Both can use the Outsider’s Timepiece, which lets you slip between two time periods. Emily stalks through a ruined stately home, peering through the Timepiece’s lens to see the manor in better times, creeping behind guards before stepping through time for the kill. Mechanically, Dishonored 2 is a big step forward; visually, it’s a huge stride, thanks in large part to the improved lighting in Arkane’s new Void engine. Few games at E3 felt so complete, coherent, or intriguing.

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MAFIA III Developer Hangar 13 Publisher 2K Format PC, PS4, Xbox One Release October 7

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Marcano. Missions, meanwhile, seem to be genreafia III publisher 2K jumped into EA’s standard games of travel, kill and escape. It’s no grave at E3 this year, taking over its looker, either – facial animation is particularly rival’s usual booth and building an entire disappointing, though far from the only culprit. house styled after the game’s host city of New It seems Hangar 13 has instead focused its Bordeaux. Outside, a live band played jazz attention on the game’s overall structure. New standards during the day, with a free bar setting up Bordeaux is split into ten districts, each run by a later on; inside, bookcases slid aside to reveal different mobster. Clay must first weaken them by meeting rooms while knackered staff took breathers cutting off their cashflow in order to undermine their on plush leather furniture. Among them were standing with Marcano. Then he kills members of the development team at Hangar 13. Some, half-seriously, The game is set in the local boss, assumes control of the area and decides, in an were plotting putting the sofas on the ’68, which, while awkward negotiation, which of his back of a van and driving them the three lieutenants will run it for him. 400 miles to their apparently requiring a Tempers fray and loyalties fracture; sparsely furnished studio in Novato. delicate hand, upset one of them too often and Hangar 13 was only set up in they’ll betray you. 2014 and immediately tasked with is packed with Clay may be the protagonist, but making the third Mafia game, but the team was quickly up and running narrative potential the world looks set to be the star, much more varied and, crucially, – many Mafia II staff crossed the populated than Mafia II’s Empire Bay. The game is Atlantic from 2K Czech to work on the game. set in 1968, a fractious time which, while surely Sadly, despite the move to a new, more powerful requiring a delicate hand, is packed with narrative generation of hardware, little of what we see potential. And the soundtrack is certain to be one suggests things have moved on from Mafia III’s for the ages, the E3 demo calling on Sam And flawed, if likeable, predecessor. Dave, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Janis Enemies, for instance, are simply witless, first as Joplin for a trio of stone-cold classics that are protagonist Lincoln Clay crouch-walks his way into barely scratching the surface of what was one of a motel room to kill a local pimp, then as he fights the most exciting times in musical history. Hangar his way out, and again later on as he storms a 13 may not have much in the way of furniture, but casino boat to dispatch Uncle Lou, brother of the the office turntable must’ve had a heck of a workout. New Bordeaux mafia’s capo di tutti capi, Sal

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WE HAPPY FEW Developer/publisher Compulsion Games Format PC, Xbox One Release 2016

Right now, We Happy Few’s dystopian vision of a divided Britain falling into disrepair as a result of a mass hallucination hits a little too close to home. But despite its newfound topical potency, the game’s evocative blend of Brazil and BioShock flavours remains a spellbinding proposition. And in Arthur, those ’60s period visuals are matched with a pleasingly worrisome protagonist who finds his worldview challenged when a traumatic memory about his brother, Percy, gives him pause enough to come off his state-prescribed dose of Joy. The slick prologue sets up Arthur’s story with so much wit, charm and style, in fact, that it’s difficult not to be disappointed when, on escaping from your

accusatory colleagues and the police, you emerge into a tile-based procedurally generated world. Much has been made of Compulsion’s effort to make its algorithms spit out convincing town layouts, but the grid of crumbling houses we encounter wears its underlying maths a little too obviously. Compulsion is squirrelling away an uncommonly deep storyline in its Roguelike, though, with a large set of special tiles that deliver missions and side quests along the way. And while Arthur’s goal is to escape this particular nightmare, the studio plans to include two other playable protagonists. In the meantime, we’re on the lookout for some real-world Joy to tide us over.

FIFA 17

FE

Developer/publisher EA (Vancouver) Format 360, PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox One Release September 27

Developer Zoink Games Publisher EA Format TBA Release TBA

In an unusually quiet year for celebrity appearances at E3, it was left to Jose Mourinho to provide the star power. Manchester United’s new manager helped promote FIFA 17’s series-first in-game rendering of all 20 Premier League managers, one of a handful of new features. Perhaps the biggest news is that FIFA is now, like just about everything else EA makes, a Frostbite game, giving EA Vancouver tools that can be used for more than simply making a decent game of football. That has led to another series first in The Journey, a story mode in which you play as fictional young talent Alex Hunter. You’ll guide him through various trials and tribulations both on and off the pitch. Inspired by the NBA2K series, it shows that EA isn’t resting on its laurels in making the most lucrative sports game on the planet.

Last year, EA surprised everyone with Unravel, a strikingly pretty game about the ties that bind all living things, introduced by an endearingly nervous Swedish developer. This year, Patrick Söderlund announced the EA Originals publishing programme, a new initiative inspired by Unravel. The publisher, Söderlund said, will seek out a few independent projects each year and provide them with funding and support. The first fruits of this programme can be seen in Fe, a strikingly pretty game about the ties that bind all living things, introduced by an endearingly nervous Swedish developer. Evidently, EA has a type, but this thirdperson adventure appears to have more in common with Journey, with notable similarities in both the wordless communication between the central creature and its woodland allies, and its elegiac, string-soaked soundtrack.

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FERAL RITES

THE UNSPOKEN

OBDUCTION

Developer Insomniac Publisher Oculus Studios Format Rift Release 2016

Developer Insomniac Publisher Oculus Studios Format Rift Release 2016

Developer/publisher Cyan Format PC, Rift Release July 26

Like Chronos, Feral Rites takes a traditional thirdperson adventure template and transposes it to VR. But unlike Gunfire Games’ effort, what we see of Feral Rites struggles to justify its status as a VR title. Playing like a compartmentalised Mark Of Kri, you move between small areas bordered by blue lines, which denote when your viewpoint will switch to the next position, where you solve some simple environmental puzzles while brawling with enemies. Despite its cartoonish aesthetic, the game is surprisingly violent, allowing you to perform grisly finishing moves after softening up enemies with your weak and strong attacks. Insomniac promises deeper use of VR later on in the game, but a bigger problem is the ponderous movement speed, which plods along at a pace seemingly designed to prevent nausea rather than for fun.

Insomniac’s other VR experiment is considerably more successful. An online arena duelling game in which two players face off against each other in an underground, Chicago-based wizards’ fightclub, The Unspoken is another sterling showcase for Rift’s excellent Touch controllers. Spells are cast in various ways: a barrage of paper planes, for example, must be conjured by folding a piece of paper and then touching each projectile to fling it at your opponent. You can also create an energy spear, hurling it in a way that will make you glad of the Touch controllers’ wrist straps, and toss a chargeable ball of lightning, all the while teleporting between the array of podiums that constitute your territory. The finished game will feature different wizard classes and more ways to use the environment to your advantage.

Post The Witness, a new game from Myst and Riven creators Robyn and Rand Miller is an intriguing prospect. In spiritual successor Obduction you’re whisked away to more mysterious worlds full of contraptions, ominous architecture, and a general sense of unease. Two of these worlds, Hunrath and Kaptar, are our demo’s focus. The former feels like a prospecting town on an alien planet, old wooden buildings and minecart rails set among red rock cliffs. There are characters here, too, presented as flickering holograms, who hint at the reasons for their abandonment of this place. And while you can wander around in realtime, another link to Myst comes in the form of an alternative teleportation system, which makes exploring the rusting bridges and foggy canyons of Kaptar a pleasant experience via Rift.

STAR TREK: BRIDGE CREW Developer Red Storm Entertainment Publisher Ubisoft Format Rift, PSVR Release 2016

Spaceteam may have got the jump on Ubisoft with its panicinducing interstellar co-op adventures, but Star Trek: Bridge Crew goes further in its fantasy fulfilment. Handing you and three other players control of the USS Aegis bridge, your mission is to explore a mostly uncharted sector of space with a view to finding a home world for the newly planetless Vulcans. Unfortunately, the Klingons are interested in the area, too. You play in one of four roles: captain, helm, tactical or engineering. AI will fill in for absent friends, but like Spaceteam, Bridge Crew thrives on garbled instructions and the tension inherent in relying on other players to do their job

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well. FTL players should settle into the engineering role quickly as you attempt to manage the power being pushed to shields, phasers and engines. Those on the helm must deal with a confusing array of maps along with throttle and heading controls, and a tempting chrome-plated warp-drive lever. The attention to detail is tremendous, and every button and slider you fiddle with makes a pleasingly recognisable sound. But it’s not until our attempt to rescue some stranded scientists, after responding to a distress signal, quickly devolves into a tooth-and-nail battle against a Klingon Warbird that Bridge Crew’s socially led dynamism reveals its potential.


CIVILIZATION VI Developer Firaxis Games Publisher 2K Games Format PC Release October 21

With each new numbered entry in the Civilization series, the influential strategy game gains scale and complexity. But with Civilization VI, Firaxis has streamlined some of its daunting depth while handing over more choices to the player than ever before. Chief among these changes is the way that cities are handled. Previously, a city would occupy a single tile and offer a zoomed-in view if you wanted to gawp at your improvements in detail. Now, in one of the biggest revisions the series has ever seen, cities can spread out across the map. Each settlement is still based on a single home tile, but you can now surround it with specialised districts, which variously

contribute to the city’s growth, research, culture and production abilities. The change means city placement must be considered more carefully than in previous games, as even districts can get geographical bonuses. Wonders now count as a district, too, and some come with building stipulations, such as the Pyramids, which can only be built on flood-plain or desert tiles. You’ll need to prepare the way, of course, and Worker units, which take several turns to improve tiles, have been replaced with Builders who do the job instantly but disband after three uses, presumably to have a cup of tea.

DUAL UNIVERSE

GWENT: THE WITCHER CARD GAME

Developer/publisher Novaquark Format PC Release 2017

Developer/publisher CD Projekt (Red) Format PC, Xbox One Release TBA

It feels as if the latest crop of space games is engaged in a form of elaborate one-upmanship. No Man’s Sky boasts an infinite universe, while Novaquark’s startlingly ambitious sci-fi MMO now promises a seamless and fully editable sci-fi setting with millions of stars. Influenced by the likes of Space Engineers, Minecraft and EVE: Online, it gives you the ability to create everything from ships to societies – in the first instance, showcasing a realtime building model that lets you bolt on a new cockpit within seconds and hop inside. The reach of some of its features is theoretical: millions of players will be able to share the same world, but whether it reaches that many is another matter, while planetsized constructions are as possible as they are unlikely. Nonetheless, for sheer scope it’s hard to beat – though it probably won’t be long until someone tries.

For many Witcher III players, Geralt Of Rivia wasn’t really the outdoor type, becoming ever more of a shut-in as he indulged his hidden love of CCGs. Gwent was one of Wild Hunt’s unexpected triumphs, a beautifully presented and dangerously compulsive pastime that gave you a tabletop war to wage. Having received thousands of email requests from fans, CD Projekt Red has elected to turn it into a standalone game. It seems a smart move, but while it passed muster as an aside from adventuring, there are questions over its depth and longevity. The studio is making the right noises, however: it’s keeping the accessible core mechanics and building upon them, while offering crossplatform support and what it calls a “monumental” singleplayer campaign. A beta version launches on Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs in September.

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TACOMA Publisher/developer The Fullbright Company Format PC, Xbox One Release 2017

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around the surface-transfer mechanic we saw last acoma has come on a long way since we year, which saw Ferrier disengaging her magnetic first played a rather barebones build last year, boots to leap between walls, floors and ceilings but its core has remained unchanged. Set on solving environmental puzzles. the titular lunar transfer space station, you play But Fullbright has simultaneously deepened your private contractor Amy Ferrier, who has been sent interactions with AR crew recordings and the by Tacoma owner Venturis Corporation to retrieve environment. Rather than simply deciding which sensitive information and the station’s AI, ODIN, thread of conversation to eavesdrop on, now you following an as-yet-unspecified emergency. have the power to pause, rewind and fast-forward Tacoma’s crew are absent and, if protocol playback to excavate every detail was followed, should’ve evacuated, but ODIN tells you that their Now you have the and interaction. Scenes take place over much larger spaces, too, so a whereabouts is classified information. power to pause, couple of characters might pair off Whatever the truth, you’ll be able to witness the events that took place rewind and fast- and head into another room at one point – perhaps to discuss other in the hours leading up to the emergency thanks to ODIN’s rather forward playback characters behind their backs. You’re also granted access to everyone’s intrusive logging of key crew to excavate desktop, an AR HUD where you can interactions. These can be played every detail pore over private emails, information back as holographic recordings, about the environment and other each member of the crew things they might not choose to vocalise. Fullbright differentiated by the variety of body shapes and suggests the order in which you hear the different colour assigned to each person. conversations, and the additional context provided The Fullbright Company has spent the past year by these snippets of information, should profoundly rebuilding the Tacoma station to ensure that it’s a alter how you perceive each character. more convincingly habitable space, and the effort The setup empowers you as a voyeur to these shows. The station’s new centrifugal design still stricken people’s lives, piecing together the story as allows for transitions between zero G and you excavate each thread and slowly make sense standard gravity (managed by nifty ‘vertical’ foot of what’s going on, and their predicament is leant lifts that zip down the long arms which extend from further credibility by some sharp writing and the station’s centre), but the crew’s living quarters effective vocal performances. feel more functional than the spaces designed

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MASS EFFECT: ANDROMEDA Developer BioWare Publisher EA Format PC, PS4, Xbox One Release Q1 2017

Given the response to Mass Effect 3’s ending, it’s no surprise BioWare would want to get as far away from it as possible; in Andromeda’s case, approximately 2.5 million light years. As new protagonist Ryder – a younger, less experienced lead than Shepard – you’re tasked with locating somewhere new for humanity to settle. With a trillion stars for your Pathfinder team to pick from, you may be spoilt for choice. Considering Andromeda’s release date, its EA Play outing gave away alarmingly little. Still, the in-engine footage is a clear improvement. As with Dragon Age: Inquisition, it’s using DICE’s Frostbite 3 tech, but visually this is a cut above

BioWare’s fantasy RPG. The facial animation in particular is exemplary, highlighted in a glimpse at a new Asari character. The Tempest, meanwhile, is your new Normandy, a hub from which to jump to new worlds. These will be more expansive than in previous games, with the presence of manmade structures suggesting you’ll be able to set up a base camp on each planet. To explore that space, you’ll use a new model of the recalcitrant moon buggy, the Mako, which looks more responsive than its antecedent. The return of thermal clips may prove rather less popular, but then it wouldn’t be Mass Effect without at least one element to divide the fanbase.

THE ELDER SCROLLS: LEGENDS

PYRE

DEUS EX: MANKIND DIVIDED

Developer/publisher Bethesda Format Android, iPad, PC Release 2016

Publisher/developer Supergiant Games Format PC, PS4 Release 2017

Developer Eidos Montreal Publisher Square Enix Format PC, PS4, Xbox One Release August 23

Announced at Bethesda’s debut E3 conference last year and in PC beta since April, Legends was the obvious pick for the Fallout Shelter role, but there would be no insta-release of the Bethesda card battler. Legends has already missed one release date – in 2015 – and its publisher will only say that it will launch before this year is out. Perhaps Bethesda is struggling to make a game that wants to hitch a ride on the Hearthstone bandwagon without making it look like quite so brazen a clone. Structurally, thematically and visually imperceptible from its inspiration, save for the way it replaces Blizzard’s cartoony style with The Elder Scrolls’ grimy fantasy, there’s a shocking lack of imagination on display here. The sole saving grace may be the singleplayer campaign, but like Fallout Shelter this feels like a box-ticking exercise.

If Bastion and Transistor were cut from fairly similar cloth, Pyre sees Supergiant stretch its legs a little. OK, a lot: as a party-based RPG, a fantastical road trip and a mystical competitive sports game all in one, it defies easy categorisation. As the leader of a small band of exiles, you travel a colourful purgatorial world, battling other groups for your freedom. Combat takes the form of a team-based game where you collect an orb and launch it towards your enemy’s goal, the titular pyre. You can rely on careful passing moves, or thump the ground and shoot energy waves to tackle and briefly incapacitate approaching opponents. Between matches you’ll need to choose whether to learn more about the world, hunt for supplies or train your allies to be more effective in the strangest genre fusion since Yoot Saito’s Odama.

With plenty of campaign details already out there, Square Enix used E3 as an opportunity to showcase Mankind Divided’s self-contained mission-based mode, Breach. You’re part of a team of hackers breaking into the servers of the world’s most disreputable corporations. Hacking isn’t the most visually exciting of activities, of course, so instead you play as a digital avatar, moving around virtual spaces to retrieve and extract data packets, while avoiding mainframe security. Its stylised low-poly look makes everything look a bit like the physical manifestation of the Internet in Fahrenheit’s ludicrous closing third, though its combat is pacier than the main story mode’s. Here, the publisher re-emphasised the ability to complete the game non-lethally, though Jensen’s low-wattage delivery is one weakness that’s yet to be addressed.

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GHOST RECON WILDLANDS Developer/publisher Ubisoft (Paris) Format PC, PS4, Xbox One Release March 7, 2017

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hen it was revealed at last year’s E3, Ubisoft’s apparent Far Cry-cum-Just Cause treatment of the Ghost Recon series felt like a jarring, rather disrespectful transposition. In action, however, the switch to an open world – Ubisoft’s biggest yet – is revealed to have been handled more sensitively than that brash first trailer suggested, and the expanded spread of tactical choices that emerge from the game’s sprawling slice of Bolivia make for a good fit.

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But it’s the game’s focus on freeform co-op that remains its most appealing draw. You and up to three other players can descend on this cartel-controlled underworld and raise merry hell from the shadows as you extract and eliminate key figures. There’s no player tethering, nor any stipulations on how or in which order you should approach your targets, and the scale and range of possibilities makes planning and executing a daring mission an enjoyably involved process.


Vehicles play an important role in Wildlands due to the daunting scale of its world map. Targets and their henchmen all have daily routines and can move freely, so observing objectives can reveal tactical opportunities

Set just a few years from now, Wildlands reins in the series’ recent futuristic leanings and returns to its near-future roots, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have plenty of gadgetry to deploy. Chief among the toys in your kit bag is a Future Soldier-style drone that can be used to scout out mission locations and mark up enemies. The device has a limited battery life, but can be upgraded over time, allowing you to stay in the air for longer. Flying too low will alert enemies to your presence, but you’ll also be able to add offensive and disruptive capabilities, including the ability to take out power sources. Our target this time is the unpleasant-sounding El Pozolero, known as the ‘stew maker’, who dissolves the bodies of cartel victims in acid. But before we can reach him, we need to gather intel on his

whereabouts. To that end we head to a ranch and gather on a nearby ridge to scout out the place with scopes and drones, then time our first volley of shots to drop four enemies simultaneously. Our target hops into a car and makes a dash for it, leading to a car chase and then a shootout. After interrogating the individual we head to a larger compound and split into two teams – a pair of us remaining in the mountains to provide cover while the other two head inside. Predictably, the stealth mission descends into chaos as we frantically try to take out alarm towers and sniper towers, but we get our man, and manage to escape in a burning 4x4. It’s a promising first showing, but we’re keen to see if Ubisoft can engineer enough variety to ensure that its 100 or so missions remain entertaining.

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SNIPER ELITE 4 Developer/publisher Rebellion Format PC, PS4, Xbox One Release February 14

The Sniper Elite series has bumbled along under the steam of its scrappy, underdog charm for some years now, but with its latest entry it might just have hit its stride. The first in the series to be entirely self-funded, it sees Rebellion going all out to produce the ultimate version of its singular shooter series. Already, Sniper Elite 4 feels considerably more polished than its predecessor and offers a genuine sandbox in which to carry out your macabre business. Even the game’s smallest maps weigh in at least three times the size of Sniper Elite 3’s largest offering. We’re let loose in just a small section of one level during our demo, the area taking in a large military

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compound, some woodland, patrolling vehicles, and a valley across which spans our target – a wooden bridge. Though willing, we don’t manage to fell the German construction on this occasion, but that’s because we’re having too much fun toying with the game’s robust stealth and combat systems. The game segues smoothly between these two modes of play, and enemy AI is considerably more readable and determined. It’s also now possible to mantle over and hang off of ledges, pulling soldiers to their doom if they happen to stray into range and lending the open combat a surprising flavour of MGSV as you outmanoeuvre your enemy.

LEGO DIMENSIONS: YEAR TWO

SKYLANDERS IMAGINATORS

MR SHIFTY

Developer TT Games Publisher Warner Bros Format 360, PS3, PS4, Wii U, Xbox One Release September 27

Developer Toys For Bob Publisher Activision Format 360, PS3, PS4, Wii U, Xbox One Release October 14

Developer Team Shifty Publisher Tinybuild Games Format PC, PS4, Xbox One Release 2017

Warner Bros loves Lego Dimensions because it’s provided a route into the lucrative toys-to-life sector. Yet it’s been of great benefit to the design teams at TT Games, too. Rather than work out how its well-worn Lego-game template can be woven around a new film licence, in Dimensions it need only hone in on how an IP’s defining characteristics might best be used for a handful of levels. The result is a good deal more inventive and focused. The main innovation is adversarial splitscreen multiplayer for up to four players; we play a riff on Capture The Flag where you buy and lay traps by collecting currency strewn about the place. But the real allure lies in another year’s worth of TT Games playfully mining the depths of the Warner Bros archives, throwing in the likes of Gremlins and Mission: Impossible alongside Harry Potter.

Activision is looking to push player creativity as the big selling point of the newest Skylanders. To this end, Imaginators provides hundreds of individual digital parts to build your own hero. You’ll be able to tailor their movesets, special abilities and catchphrases, with further customisation options unlocked through additional figures in the form of Senseis, each of which belong to a different battle class. These include a fire knight, a militaristic penguin and, on PlayStation formats, Crash Bandicoot, presumably hoping for a Spyro-esque career revival. Despite being arguably the best Skylanders game to date, SuperChargers saw a marked downturn in sales; given children’s fickle tastes, it’s hard to know whether or not the decision to turn its back on its central gimmick will prove a shrewd move for an ailing series.

“An all-new kind of action game” trumpets Mr Shifty’s Steam page, a fittingly dishonest description for a game that could hardly be more Hotline Miami if it tried. As the eponymous hero, you’re asked to break into a secure facility using your teleportation powers to take out security goons on each floor. One shot is enough to kill you, but you’re comfortably capable of taking immediate evasive action: dodging bullets, blinking behind assailants and locked doors, throwing enemies through windows and into one another and slowing time when things are looking particularly hairy. Its inky comic-book shadows aside, this is lighter fare than Dennaton’s murky thriller, with a cartoonish edge to the violence: the metallic clang as a thrown pipe connects with an enemy skull will make you grin rather than wince.


AGENTS OF MAYHEM

SHADOW WARRIOR 2

BATMAN: THE TELLTALE SERIES

Developer/publisher Deep Silver (Volition) Format PC, PS4, Xbox One Release 2017

Developer Flying Wild Hog Publisher Devolver Digital Format PC, PS4, Xbox One Release 2016

Developer/publisher Telltale Games Format Android, iOS, PC, PS4, Xbox One Release Summer

This is the logical next step for Volition, a studio that dragged the cast of the Saints Row series ever closer to superhero status and that ended Saints Row IV by destroying the Earth. Having written and designed itself into a corner, it’s choosing to blast its way out with Agents Of Mayhem, a game that owes a debt to the likes of Overwatch and Destiny but has no PVP component, and which gives a single player control over a three-person fireteam. You can switch between characters at the touch of a button, allowing the lone wolf to enjoy the sort of synergistic interplay of a team shooter or MOBA, your every action filling a shared super meter. For better or worse, it seems Saints Row’s personality has been consigned to the bin, but this is an intriguing premise that already feels satisfyingly well implemented.

More than any other aspect, Shadow Warrior 2’s dev team seem most proud of the number of dick jokes they’ve crammed into the game. There’s the suspiciously shaped Demonic Rod artefact we find during our mission, and the Dickus Major constellation in the sky above us, while the lead character is still called Lo Wang. But Flying Wild Hog’s phallic fixation hides a profound overhauling of the original game. Shadow Warrior 2 now randomly generates its levels and bolsters that potential for replayability with a procedural loot system. The first game’s fiddly controls have been simplified, and new dash and climbing moves make getting around a pleasure. Now you can do it with three friends too, in drop-in/out fourplayer co-op, dismembering enemies with an expanded selection of guns and melee weapons.

For what’s surely Telltale’s biggest, riskiest adventure to date, the studio has reunited Tales From The Borderlands leads Troy Baker and Laura Bailey as Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle – a sensible move given its recent uneven record. Smart, too, that it’s spending more time with the man beneath the mask: Telltale has always been better at dialogue than action, and though the QTE-led fights show it’s been working hard to improve its increasingly rusty engine, it can’t compete with Arkham Knight’s slick brawling. Telltale is determined to leave its own stamp on the brand, but it’s not moving away from established characters. Harvey Dent and Carmine Falcone are among those who’ll remember the choices you make. It hopes to have all five episodes out by the end of the year, but we’re not holding our breath.

TEKKEN 7 Developer/publisher Bandai Namco Format Arcade, PC, PS4, Xbox One Release July (arcade), 2017 (PC, PS4, Xbox One)

The big question hanging over Tekken X Street Fighter was how a game that was never designed around projectiles could possibly accommodate characters from a game that was defined by them. Tekken 7 answers that question thanks to the inclusion of SF’s Akuma, and is rather more straightforward than we’d expected. They don’t really matter at all. Akuma has plenty of other tools, of course, and what is most surprising about his implementation in Tekken 7 is how faithful Bandai Namco has been to the source material. He has all of his special moves, including EX variants, his SFIV Focus Attack, and the same cancels and combos; he has traditional

Tekken combo strings too, but a Street Fighter player will feel immediately at home. There’s a further note of SF in the Rage Art, a comeback mechanic that offers a damage boost when your health is low, and the Super-like Rage Drive moves. Other additions include a system that stops your attacks from being interrupted and a slow-mo camera zoom when both characters attack at the same time. Capcom’s Yoshinori Ono may have fulfilled his end of the collaboration with Street Fighter X Tekken, but Tekken producer Katsuhiro Harada has got one over on his friend here: Tekken 7’s cinematic story mode will be ready at launch.

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MULTIFORMAT+PC@E3

FOR HONOR Developer/publisher Ubisoft (Montreal) Format PC, PS4, Xbox One Release February 14

We knew last year, when For Honor was announced, that Ubisoft Montreal’s game of multiplayer swordplay would have a singleplayer campaign, but it was the weighty, patient, deeply satisfying PVP combat that made it stand out. This year the focus shifted to the campaign, and the game’s great conceptual flaw was brought to the fore: for all that Dark Souls Deathmatch is an intriguing proposition, the minute you transplant it to a singleplayer mode you invite comparison with one of the finest series ever. The results are unflattering. They’re also a thematic mess, one that Ubisoft’s writing staff have their work cut out to justify. Medieval knights,

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Japanese samurai and Norse vikings doing battle in a multiplayer game of thrones? And there’s actually a story behind all this? Still, co-op – either online or in local splitscreen – will at least mean you can share a laugh. Regardless, the combat system still sings, with quick flicks of the right stick changing the angle of your approach, and good decisions met with heavy, satisfying blows and squirmworthy finishing moves. Multiplayer remains the main draw, and so long as the development team manages to escape the wearying trappings of the contemporary Ubisoft game, it could be on to a winner.

OXYGEN NOT INCLUDED

STATE OF MIND

LAWBREAKERS

Developer/publisher Klei Entertainment Format PC Release 2017

Developer/publisher Daedelic Entertainment Format PC, PS4, Xbox One Release 2017

Developer Boss Key Productions Publisher Nexon Format PC Release 2016

Klei is a studio on an extraordinary run: Mark Of The Ninja, Don’t Starve and Invisible, Inc are three very different games, but equally polished, characterful and successful in their aims. Oxygen Not Included sees this versatile team shift genres again, this time to a colony simulation game. You’re tasked with building and maintaining a subterranean asteroid base, ensuring your army of apparent humanoid clones are kept busy. You’ll be able to set priorities, inviting them to focus on building, harvesting, researching or cooking, while regular popups alert you to imminent problems or recent disasters: frozen mercury, dead crops, power outages, bed shortages and stressed workers. It looks like a winningly frantic plate-spinning act, as you attempt to manage an ever-widening variety of crises while keeping your workforce happy.

We’re hardly lacking for bleak near-future settings, nor utopian virtual worlds, but State Of Mind, whose story comes from the pen of author Martin Ganteföhr, presents a potentially thoughtprovoking duality. Playing as a Berlin-based journalist, you chance upon a clandestine VR project, to which your mind and those of your wife and son have been transferred. But the data transfer for your own upload hasn’t fully worked, leaving you existing in both the real world and as a fragmentary identity within another reality. With the ability to switch between both realms, your objective is to locate your family and reunify your two existences. The angular art style is striking, while the choice of soul singer Faada Freddy to soundtrack the trailer suggests this will be a more distinctive kind of dystopia than we’re used to.

LawBreakers’ latest mode, Turf War, is a twist on Domination that proves just as capable of setting up late-game steals as Overcharge. Here, there are three points to take control of, but rather than an ongoing tussle as possession goes back and forth, capturing a location locks it for the remainder of each short match. Each objective you capture earns your team a point, but locking down all three with just five players requires strong communication and coordination as the opposing team positions itself to attempt the same. Once all objectives are spoken for, there’s a short period in which teams can score kills, in turn accelerating your capture speed in the following round. Like Overcharge, Turf War’s spin on a classic mode type feels strikingly fresh, especially when combined with the game’s roster of idiosyncratic hero characters.


THE TURING TEST

VAMPYR

WATCH DOGS 2

Developer Bulkhead Interactive Publisher Square Enix Format PC, Xbox One Release August

Developer Dontnod Publisher Focus Home Entertainment Format PC, PS4, Xbox One Release 2017

Developer/publisher Ubisoft (Montreal) Format PC, PS4, Xbox One Release November 15

The folks behind the flawed curio Pneuma: Breath Of Life are sticking with what they know, with an austerely attractive firstperson puzzler that sees astronaut Ava Turing on an ISA mission to Jupiter’s ice moon of Europa. Rather than following her directive, however, she’s certain this research facility is hiding some kind of secret, to which end she finds herself facing a series of puzzles designed in such a way as to be only solvable by humans. What looks like a standard-issue space rifle is actually a tool, used to transfer energy from and to a variety of outlets, letting Ava control machines and AI bots as she attempts to dig deeper into the ISA’s research. By passing these Turing tests, you’re essentially proving the actual Turing test could not be passed. Unless… well, let’s hope not. Such a twist seems so obvious, it must be a red herring.

With a similar interest in cause and effect, Dontnod’s latest shares more in common with Life Is Strange than you’d think. As a doctor-cumbloodsucker in a grimy, post-WWI London caught in a Spanish flu outbreak, you’re torn between staying true to the Hippocratic Oath and slaking your thirst for the red stuff. The more civilians you kill, the more XP you’ll earn and the stronger you’ll become. You can try to compensate for the few you kill by saving more, or fully embrace your dark side, but you can’t neglect your medical duties entirely, nor snack on everyone you see. Individual kills, however, have a smaller, but still tangible, impact: bite an extortionist and his orphaned son will abscond, but his merchant victim will subsequently carry better items. Fascinating stuff, though the scrappy combat still needs work.

Watch Dogs 2’s E3 coming-out party was largely covered off by E295’s cover story, but did yield further confirmation of the way in which Ubisoft Montreal’s world-hacking sequel subverts our expectations of a modern Ubisoft game. The largest remaining concern is a tonal one; technology moves at such a pace that basing an entire game on it means running the risk of being obsolete before it even launches. Hopefully Ubisoft is canny enough to have not filled its game with two-year-old imageboard memes, but we’ll see. Hopefully it’s learned from its musical mistakes, too – the Chicago-set Watch Dogs featured tracks by artists from Chicago, with Chicago in the title and, winningly, the band Chicago – though the announcement trailer’s use of a song by Pharrell Williams’ old outfit NERD isn’t cause for optimism.

PREY Developer Arkane Studios Publisher Bethesda Format PC, PS4, Xbox One Release 2017

Having canned Human Head Studios’ sequel to its distinctive 2006 FPS, Bethesda has turned to Arkane’s Austin branch to reboot the series, with veteran designer Chris Avellone on board too. It’s a pity we’ll never get to see the game Prey 2 might’ve been, not least since its story aimed to make good on part one’s cliffhanger ending, and its universe seemed ripe for further exploration. Likewise, it’s a shame all we’ve glimpsed of Arkane’s work so far is a slick CG teaser. Still, as new beginnings go, this feels like a promising start. It posits a near-future Groundhog Day scenario wherein new protagonist Morgan wakes up several times in a lavish

penthouse apartment: not a bad day to repeat, you’d think, except in this instance the whites of his eyes appear to be filling with blood, and he finds himself increasingly unsteady on his feet. It’s soon revealed he’s a test subject for some kind of psychological experiment which, inevitably, involves plenty of running away and shooting at fast-moving creatures. Beyond the presence of extraterrestrial forces and an apparent fondness for unconventional ordnance, there’s seemingly little connective tissue between this and the original. It’s unclear why Bethesda would bother retaining the name, but given the pedigree of all involved, we’re cautiously optimistic.

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#296

VIDEOGAME CULTURE, DEVELOPMENT, PEOPLE AND TECHNOLOGY 86

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124 12

102 10 02 74

Fresh Air

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The Cult Of PICO-8

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An Audience With… Tim Sweeney

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The Making Of… Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

102 Studio Profile: nDreams 124 Time Extend: Legacy Of Kain: Soul Reaver

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ABOVE The clash of the Shrines’ sci-fi and the natural world is a key theme for Breath Of The Wild, Aonuma says. BELOW Link can swing this leaf to put wind in a raft’s sail, though its effect is no match for the real thing

elda, as you can see, has changed. It has done so in multiple, wonderful ways – but the Japanese, inevitably, can distil what Nintendo has done to a single word. The closest translation for katayaburi is ‘breaking the mould’; literally, it means to tear, rip or destroy it, but its everyday use expresses the unconventional nature of something. “There’s a form of Japanese theatre called kabuki,” series producer Eiji Aonuma tells us. “A kabuki master would say, ‘In order to break the mould, you have to know the mould’. Often, when I speak to Mr Miyamoto about a problem, that’s the feedback he’ll give me: ‘You don’t understand the mould here. That’s why it’s no good’.” E3 is one mould Nintendo knows inside and out. It has had a presence at the show every year since the event’s inception in 1995. These days it no longer holds a bombastic press conference, preferring instead to filter out an increasingly critical press and speak directly to players through its Nintendo Direct broadcasts and Treehouse livestreams. But it still decamps to LA for the videogame calendar’s biggest week of the year.

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I T R E P R E S E N TS T H E G R E AT E ST SHIFT IN NINTENDO’S APPROACH TO ITS WORK SINCE MARIO 64

AMIIBO SELECTOR Breath Of The Wild may not arrive on shelves until next March, but the game certainly feels ready for the main stage already – and so, inevitably, are its tie-in Amiibo. Yet while you wait for Breath Of The Wild and its associated plastic figures to arrive, you could do worse than fire up Twilight Princess HD. The Wolf Link Amiibo released alongside Nintendo’s remake of Link’s GameCube and Wii outing can also be used in Breath Of The Wild, spawning a lupine ally that fights alongside you, and alerts you to nearby enemies and resources. You won’t be able to use it right at the start of the game, since you must acquire a rune for your Sheikah Slate before Amiibo functionality is unlocked. And with good reason: Wolf Link offers quite the boost. In Twilight Princess it gives access to a challenge dungeon, the Cave Of Shadows; completion data is saved to the Amiibo, and carries over to Breath Of The Wild, your remaining hearts in Twilight Princess dictating your new pet’s health bar.

This year, it broke the mould. Its announcement weeks before the show that it would have one game, and one game only, playable at its cavernous booth in the LA Convention Center’s west hall was roundly criticised. Almost inevitably, it was a staggering success. The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild, running on a four-year-old console with a mediocre sales record, was the runaway game of the show. Within an hour of the show floor opening on the final day of E3, Nintendo was already at capacity for the day, and turning people away from a booth that had been entirely decked out in Zelda style. Scenery – a Red Bokoblin on a guard tower, a stove full of ingredients, a laser-eyed Guardian – was built to scale so that visitors would see the world as Link would. A gigantic, curved watercolour painting of the distant mountains of Hyrule ran around the perimeter. There was a day/night cycle; the booth would darken and crack with thunder as mock storms rolled in. Beneath the faux-grass carpet lay pressure points which, when stepped on, would trigger environmental effects: a rush of wind, the thwip of a volley of arrows, the sizzle of food on the stove. And around it all, 140 stations – surely a record – devoted to a single game. Some interpreted Nintendo’s decision to only bring Breath Of The Wild to E3 as further evidence of a former titan turning its back on the greatest videogame show on Earth. In the end, it might just have redefined it. All of which is rather appropriate. As well as Nintendo knows its E3 mould, it is nothing compared to its knowledge of The Legend Of Zelda’s. Breath Of The Wild, Link’s 18th full outing in almost 30 years, is arguably the most ambitious dismantle-and-rebuild job Nintendo has conducted since the day it decided to get out of the playing-card business. It represents the greatest shift in Nintendo’s approach to its work since Super Mario 64. A company that is frequently, and fairly, accused of resting on its laurels has thrown out the style guide and started again, expanding, refining or redefining every component part of what was once the greatest RPG series on the planet. From what we’ve seen, it might well be about to reclaim its throne.

“We got a lot of feedback from the people that played Skyward Sword,” Aonuma tells us. “There were these pockets of worlds that players were able to dive into, but they really wanted to see what was in between those worlds – all the hidden elements they weren’t able to see. I thought that was really natural for Zelda fans, who like to explore, to uncover little secrets. We realised that we needed to make this free, open-air world.”

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And so they did: Breath Of The Wild’s Hyrule is simply enormous. Pausing the game, we bring up the world map; it’s not been filled in yet but we can zoom out and assess its overall size relative to Great Plateau, the game’s starting area and the setting for its two E3 demos. It occupies, we’re told, just two per cent of the map. The game is set across an expanse that spans 360 square kilometres – 12 times the size of Twilight Princess. If that reference isn’t modern enough for you, think of it as more than two-and-a-half times the size of The Witcher III. The Plateau itself is sparse, airy and quiet. There’s the odd crumbling ruin, a moss-hewn Temple Of Time, small Bokoblin encampments and the occasional Shrine – the blue, sci-fi-styled puzzle chambers that dot the landscape and give focus to the rural sprawl in between longer, more traditional Zelda dungeons. Nintendo limited the E3 experience to the Great Plateau for story reasons, of course – in the space of 20 minutes, there is only so much you can take away about where Breath Of The Wild fits into the knotty Zelda timeline. But its elevation, high above the rest of the land, means it is the ideal spot to assess the extent to which Breath Of The Wild’s Hyrule dwarfs that of its predecessors. Yet for all Great Plateau’s apparent solitude, it is simply packed with things to do, thanks in large part to the many layers of systems that bob beneath the game’s surface. After three decades of cutting down grass and smashing pots to find bombs and rupees, Link is now a master hunter/gatherer, either downing his own prey or scavenging it (a Bokoblin camp may have meat roasting on a fire, for instance). Heart pickups have been consigned to history: Link heals himself by eating, the contents of his knapsack pantry becoming more effective when combined and cooked. A raw steak will refill a single heart of Link’s lifebar; putting it on a stove yields a seared steak, which heals a heart and a half; cook it in a pot and the resulting steak skewer will restore two hearts’ worth of health. Experimentation is key here, certainly early on, since certain combinations of ingredients produce dishes which grant temporary buffs – an overshield, perhaps, or improved stealth. Yup, stealth. Click an analogue stick and Link enters a crouched stance, the new noise meter in the bottom corner of the screen showing a quieter step and reduced chance of detection. Hyrule’s day/night cycle means enemies set up camp and snooze through the night, so you can sneak up and dispatch them without a fight. That’s not to say Link has an easier time under cover of darkness, however: new, tougher nocturnal enemies roam, and simply finding your way in the dark is a challenge both to the player and the developer.


ABOVE The cooking is playfully handled: ingredients bounce in the pot, and there’s a sweet jingle when the dish is ready. RIGHT Magnesis feels elastic and weighty, as if you are barely in control of your target

RIGHT At first, aiming Link’s bow felt shaky and imprecise. Then we realised that the stampede of E3 attendees below us was throwing the gyro aim off course

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T H E G A M E S PA N S 3 6 0 S Q UA R E KILOMETRES – 12 TIMES THE SIZE OF TWILIGHT PRINCESS

The first Legend Of Zelda was a strong influence, Aonuma says. A mountain range on the horizon first appeared as an illustration in the NES game’s manual

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FRESH AIR

“ E V E N BAT T L E S H AV E A P U Z Z L E E L E M E N T. T H E R E A R E A L O T O F ST R AT E G I E S, N OT J UST BAT T L I N G ”

The Legend Of Zelda series producer Eiji Aonuma has been working on the series since Ocarina Of Time

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Aonuma admits that designing a game with a day/night cycle for the first time has been “extremely hard. We didn’t want to create something that was dark and scary. I’ve been up a tall mountain at night and seen the stars; it was completely dark, but the starlight made it brighter. I wanted our nighttime environment to be something like that. And when it’s dark, there are elements in the environment that glow, so the player can use those to find their way.” When all else fails, Link has a torch, but good luck sneaking up on an enemy with a great big flaming club in your hand. Especially if you should accidentally swing it on your approach and watch in horror as the grass around you catches fire, the new dynamic weather system causing a sudden rush of wind that sees the flames spread off towards the camp you’re creeping up on, alerting the previously oblivious enemy force to your presence. As fine as each of Breath Of The Wild’s new systems is in isolation, the real magic is in the way those systems collide and intermingle. The cooking experiment that yields a dish that raises Link’s body temperature to let him withstand the game’s colder regions. The arrow aimed through a campfire towards a stack of explosive barrels. The boulder or bomb sent down a slope towards a group of enemies, an accurate physics model dragging it off course at the last minute. For a series whose instalments have been almost entirely linear, despite the size of their worlds, this has necessitated quite the change of thinking for Nintendo. Aonuma, for his part, is just relieved that some of Zelda’s established design principles still apply. “If they didn’t, I wouldn’t have anything to offer,” he says with a laugh. “I do question the staff about whether the way we did things in the past is really the right way to go this time. ‘Is this the path we want to take?’ That’s the question I ask them. The stuff we did in the past, we did for a reason. But a lot of the new staff on our team don’t know the real reason for why those things are there – they’re just so used to having them that they just kind of fit them in. We wanted to make sure they know why they’re doing something before they do it.” Despite all this, it still feels, unmistakably, like a Zelda game. Yet if there’s a defining element to this series, Aonuma doesn’t know what it is. “Whenever I ask Mr Miyamoto what Zelda is, he says, ‘Well, Zelda’s greatness is that it’s unique’. So we focus on what we weren’t able to do in other games.” That is the sort of conundrum that only presents itself in the creation of a handful of videogames. The Legend Of Zelda’s longevity means that the most appropriate points of comparison for each new instalment are the games that preceded it. While Breath Of The Wild’s morass of systems

are new to Zelda, they are hardly new concepts for the industry as a whole. Were Ubisoft to announce a vast openworld RPG with a day/night cycle and weather, with hunting, crafting and stealth elements, no one would bat an eyelid. For Zelda, and for Nintendo, it feels transformative. “Of course we play a lot of games,” Aonuma says. “Especially the staff – they play whatever they like. When someone says, ‘Hey, I’d really like to put this feature in the game,’ someone else may say, ‘No, actually, that’s already been done [in another game]’. We try not to focus too much on whether it’s already been done. We think, OK, it’s been done before, but how can we implement it in our game and make it our own, unique experience?”

So while Link can climb now, he’s limited by a stamina bar that will make him fall if it empties, forcing you to plan your route. The patient, weighty combat system evokes the likes of Dark Souls and Dragon’s Dogma, but is very much its own beast: weapons have numerical attack values, so you can take a giant leap up the power curve by beating a powerful enemy early on and using the weapon it drops. The jump button recalls Skyrim, since it shares its button mapping – but then you realise there has never before been a jump button in a mainline Zelda game. In the context of a 30-year-old series, innovation is relative, seemingly borrowed ideas feeling as fresh as the cold night air in a game that has previously trodden much the same path in every new instalment. Yet in addition to writing new chapters in the Zelda rulebook, Aonuma and company have had to revise some older entries too. “In the past titles, if a player found a different solution to the one we’d intended, we’d call it a bug,” the director says. “But for this title we created puzzles with multiple solutions. Even battles against enemies have a puzzle element: you can push a rock off a cliff and defeat them that way, or have bees chase them away so you can sneak up and take their weapons. Even if it’s a strong enemy, there are a lot of strategies, and it’s not just about battling.” This new freeform approach to puzzle-solving is finely showcased in the Shrines. While the early examples are brief, linear puzzle rooms designed to foster understanding of a single ability, later variants are larger, longer and a good deal more flexible. Abilities are styled as runes, found in Shrines and bound to the tablet-like Sheikah Slate. Magnesis lets you move metallic objects; Stasis lets you freeze time; Cryonis creates a pillar of ice from a pool of water. Bombs – the new square one a necessary addition given how often the physics system ruins your best-laid explosive plans – are rune powers too.


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FRESH AIR

ABOVE The art style can seem like a bit of a jumble at times, but the game’s explosions are a sight to behold. LEFT Many of Link’s new powers are bound by cooldown timers. It means you’ll never run out of bombs again

LEFT A powerful Guardian lies in wait in the game’s opening minutes. A direct hit from that eye beam will kill Link instantly

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FRESH AIR

IF NINTENDO HAS SOMETHING NEW UP ITS SLEEVE FOR NX, THERE’S LITTLE EVIDENCE HERE In one Shrine, you must free a boulder from a long, cylindrical cage on a see-saw in order to destroy a wall. We see two solutions. You can use Magnesis on the fulcrum to tip the boulder out, or activate Stasis and whack the stationary wrecking ball with your weapon. Each blow landed while time is frozen stores energy within the target; when the power expires, that energy is released and it flies off in the direction in which it was struck. This sort of flexibility in approach is a necessary inclusion in a game that is, after the opening couple of hours, freely explorable. But it also chimes perfectly with the theme of the game: it is not about where you have to go next but where you want to, and what you want to do when you get there.

Nintendo has been uncommonly open about the struggles it has faced in adjusting to the demands of development in the HD era. Breath Of The Wild’s delay to 2017 is in part a business decision: this is a game made for both Wii U and NX, Nintendo’s new console which the company has confirmed will be out before the end of its fiscal year in March. But developmental headaches have played their part too, despite the increase in core team size and the assistance of 100 staff from Xenoblade Chronicles developer Monolith Soft (which also helped out on Skyward Sword). Indeed, Aonuma admits that, but for one mistake, the game might have been ready much sooner. “We have these milestones during development,” he explains. “I play the game, then give staff my comments, my advice on what direction they should be heading in. At one of the milestones, the game was fantastic. There were so many great elements. But at the next milestone, that was all gone. “I’d made a lot of comments about what they needed to add, but I never told them what I thought was good about the game at that milestone. So they added stuff that I’d recommended, but they also added some other elements they thought would work well – and that ended up breaking all the good parts of the previous build. I learned that, when it’s good, I have to say so. If I’d managed that well, maybe development wouldn’t have extended quite so much!” Even had that been the case, you suspect Nintendo would have sat on the game until NX debuts next year. While the E3 demo was limited to the game’s opening hours, livestreams on Nintendo’s Treehouse channel showed much more of Breath Of The Wild, suggesting that the game is already as good as finished. Confounding expectations, Nintendo declined to use E3 to unveil NX to the world. But it did show a game that will launch alongside it, and there

is much to be inferred about the way the console has been designed. The GamePad screen, for example, is next to useless, used only for offscreen play. There are no touchscreen interactions; the gyroscopes are used for fine aiming of Link’s bow, and in one Shrine to change the angle of a ramp. But at its core this is a traditional game played with sticks and buttons. There is no suggestion here that NX will depart from that proven formula. Thankfully, in a game whose creation has required so much fresh thinking, Aonuma has made one game for two platforms before: Twilight Princess released on both the outgoing GameCube and, at launch, Wii. “When they told me about [Wii’s] motion controls, I was kind of surprised,” he says. “But I’ve been with Nintendo for a long time. At first they would say, ‘Hey, we made this new platform. Make a game.’ The next step was, ‘Is there anything you want to add to this new platform?’ Now I’m involved in creating the hardware. They’ll ask me what would be a good feature to add. I’m not so taken aback by it any more.” Aonuma admits he felt “fulfilled” by his work on motion controls with Skyward Sword, and would be happy to try it again. “But I really like anything new,” he says – something that’s hard to reconcile with the familiar way in which Breath Of The Wild is controlled. Perhaps Nintendo does have something new up its sleeve for NX, but there’s little evidence of it to be found in this game. It is even harder to reconcile Aonuma’s apparent love of novelty with the man who has worked almost exclusively on Zelda games for a quarter of a century. For all that is new about Breath Of The Wild – in the context of its series, at least – does he not hunger for a completely new challenge? “Actually, Nintendo has been telling me to create a new IP,” he says. “But then, they’re also telling me to make more Zelda games.” He has ideas, however. “I can’t really share much; I’m not sure I’m allowed to say anything. But I really like the idea of a game where I can live as a thief. That’s all I’ll say.” As the kabuki master would admit, Aonuma understands the Zelda mould. With Breath Of The Wild, he has broken and rebuilt it to remarkable effect. Perhaps the next logical step is for him to make a brand-new one, but in the meantime, he will have to be content to have helmed the most ambitious game Nintendo has made in 20 years. It means the troubled, misunderstood Wii U is going out with a bang. About NX, it poses more questions than it answers, but one thing’s for sure: Nintendo’s next console, while still nine months away, is off to a cracking start. Q

FOUND F O O TA G E Regular E3 observers are no strangers to the concept of a trailer that ends up bearing little resemblance to the final product, and Breath Of The Wild’s unveiling two years ago risked precisely that. While running in realtime and in-engine, Aonuma admits it was a scene created especially for the trailer. Its climactic moment – where Link fires a couple of arrows at a laser-eyed enemy from horseback, before jumping off and aiming the killing blow with his bow in mid-air – was not, at the time, possible in the game itself. “After creating the trailer, I really wanted to put that in the game,” he tells us. “So I ended up making it come true.” Indeed, not only can Link fire arrows on horseback, but if he jumps and draws his bow, time slows as you line up your target. “There’s a lot I learned from that trailer,” Aonuma says. “Once we’d put that element in the game, it made us think: what else can we do with this enemy? How else could we fight it? It expanded to new story ideas as well. The trailer became the basis for the whole game.”

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The ‘fantasy console’ inviting game-makers to search for success by scaling down BY MARK BROWN

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ICO-8 has everything you’d expect from a console. It has technical specifications, cartridges, developer tools, a dedicated fanbase, and console-exclusive games. All that’s missing is the console. Creator Joseph White calls PICO-8 a ‘fantasy console’. In reality, it’s a piece of software that runs on your computer, or in a browser, or on a tiny computer such as a Raspberry Pi. The cartridges, meanwhile, are actually just cute pixel-art images of cartridges that secretly hold all of the game’s code, including graphics and audio, in their metadata. Like a console, PICO-8 has strict limitations on what it can deliver. Games output at a boxy 128x128 resolution, which is slightly smaller than the original Game Boy screen, while the 32-kilobyte cartridge size is identical to that of Sega’s old Master System cards. Because it can display just 16 colours, which come from a predetermined palette, and output music from only four channels, games made for the console have a distinct, instantly recognisable feel, reminding you how NES and Master System games felt unique, while PS4 and Xbox One games are practically indistinguishable. The specific limitations are inspired by the technology White grew up with. “I pinched ideas from various older machines,” he explains, “and the choices were driven by a combination of seeing how those formats panned out over time and also just what intuitively felt right”. The 16-colour palette is inspired by his Commodore 64, the four-channel audio is based on an Amiga music maker he used called Protracker, and the resolution “was inspired partly by a particular old blurry seven-inch TV that I use to play Famicom games”. Playing PICO-8 software is a straightforward process: just download a PNG of the cartridge, put it in the right folder, then type “RUN” followed by the game’s name on the PICO-8 command line. But the fantasy console also houses a full set of developer tools, allowing you to create games of your own design. The built-in studio is

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THE CULT OF PICO-8

A BRIEF HISTORY OF PICO-8 In 2003, White made poido (‘Pointy Dough’): an in-house tool for his indie studio, Lexaloffle, which provided a way to make sprites, palettes, models, UV maps, audio and more in one editor. All the different assets for a project could be stored in a single file, called a pod, which set the stage for PICO-8’s allencompassing cartridges. In 2004, White worked on his first fantasy console: LEX500. It booted into a BASIC interpreter, and had a low-resolution display and a fixed 16-colour palette. White says it was an “unfinished concept mostly driven by the desire to recapture something I felt had been lost in most modern software environments: a playful, cosy space to make small things just for the sake of making them”. In 2010, White released Voxatron, which features tiny games made out of voxel cubes. It fully realised the cartridge metaphor as a standard, shareable game file and, like PICO-8, it integrated tools to make games on the system. Voxatron has a simple engine for making games, and White wanted to add code and audio-editing tools, so he resurrected LEX500 as PICO-8. “It quickly became a separate thing with its own identity, and seeing PICO-8 and Voxatron side by side, I could eventually see that they should both be the same type of thing: a ‘fantasy console’.”

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adorably minimalist: there’s a simple text area for writing code (based on the programming language Lua), a tiny paint program for drawing sprites and tiles, an area for turning those tiles into a map, and a tracker for making music alongside another for sound effects. Everything is strictly limited – most stringently the code, which forces you to fit your entire game into about 8,000 tokens, or words. “I spent most of my programming time trying to optimise my code so I could fit new features in,” says Sophie Houlden, creator of the enigmatic PICO-8 adventure Dusk Child. “Often I would add a feature and find myself way over the token limit, so I would have to decide which features I really wanted to keep and which had to go”. That isn’t a complaint, though. “I think it was a case of the console helping rather than hindering,” Houlden says. “It limited what I could do, but it also forced me to decide which features were most important to me, so the game is more honed than it otherwise would have been.” White likens the token limit to a haiku – a form of poetry with a restrictive word count. This acts as a starting

“THE LIMITATIONS FORCED ME TO DECIDE WHICH FEATURES WERE MOST IMPORTANT TO ME” point for creators, and provides them with a unique challenge. “And if enough people do it,” White says, “you end up with this shared experience between authors and readers about what it means to write poetry in that format. But the subspace of possibilities in the format is still huge and interesting”. And for Towerfall creator Matt Thorson, who worked with Noel Berry on the standout PICO-8 platformer Celeste, “it puts to rest that part of my brain that wants to make the best game ever and lets me just make a game that’s good at what it does. It forces me to zero in on a small idea and explore what I love about it at a fundamental level”. The game took only four days to make, but Thorson says “making Celeste in PICO-8 was so inspiring, and left us with so many ideas, that we’re making a much larger, full-featured version of Celeste outside of PICO-8, for PC and consoles”. The limitations also let developers avoid things that few coders want to deal with, such as compiling and importing, and futzing with shaders and settings – parts of the process that can stress out some designers. “For me, when I’m working in, say, Unity, I can do just about anything, which also means all the things I don’t do are my responsibility

The $50 PocketCHIP comes with PICO-8 installed, and features a 480x272 LED backlit display, a QWERTY keyboard, a hole that turns a pencil into a handy stand, and space for a lanyard so you can sling it round your neck

too,” Houlden says. But with PICO-8, “I spend more time worrying about what I need to cut to make a game acceptable than what I need to add”. Limitations also naturally encourage the smartest coders to push against – and through – the boundaries. “Old-school programmers and demosceners immediately jumped on the chance to do ridiculous things with PICO-8 like making 3D engines and video encoders,” White says.

If you’re a

new programmer, though, don’t despair. One clever aspect of PICO-8’s approach is that every game is open source, so you can open up the code of anything you download to see how it’s put together. If Celeste is too tough, you could crack open the game, find the code for the game’s gravity, and reduce the number to give you a much higher jump. It’s cheating, sure, but it gives you insight into how Thorson and Berry put their platformer together. Or you could turn to the PICO-8 zine: a popular PDF and print magazine stuffed with tutorials and example code, charmingly reminiscent of the type-in programs listed in home computer magazines of the ’70s and ’80s. Editor Arnaud de Bock curated the articles after facing “a blank console with a blinking cursor, and a readme


PICO-8 GAMES TO TRY TODAY

DUSK CHILD

HUG ARENA

PICO-MAN

By Sophie Houlden

By Benjamin Soulé

By Urbanmonk

An enigmatic adventure that uses almost every available pixel to present a winding, nonlinear cavern to explore. Puzzles often come in the form of finding items in some far-off corner of the map, which can then be used to grant access to a new area. An eerie atmosphere, and cryptic signposts that spell out a mysterious backstory, give Dusk Child a haunted feel.

It feels a bit like Robotron with its claustrophobic battlefield and bullet-spewing baddies, but Hug Arena isn’t about blasting anyone to bits: it’s about hugging everyone until they love you. But going in for an embrace will enrage nearby foes, giving the game a feisty back-and-forth rhythm of trying to sneak in a sly cuddle, then breaking off before you get attacked.

Putting aside the curious lack of music or sound effects, this is an almost perfect port of Namco’s seminal arcade game – right down to the unique behaviour of each coloured ghost where one traps, one chases, and so on. Considering PICO-8’s philosophy of opening up and breaking down other games, it’s fitting that creators take inspiration from one of the greats.

PICO RACER 2048

P.A.T SHOOTER

CELESTE

By impbox

By Benjamin Soulé

By Matt Thorson and Noel Berry

This WipeOut-inspired game is not just a fun racer, with slick cornering and a terrific glitch-out effect when you hit the sides, it’s a technical showpiece. Break open the cartridge and you’ll see that the game has no sprites or maps. Everything in the game is rendered with lines, meaning the game can carry way more track (and even an editor) than could fit within a tiled approach.

No console is complete without a space shmup. P.A.T Shooter is simple and sparse, but no less fun for it. Enemies charge in from all sides of the screen, and each carries its own health bar and range of attacks. You can unleash a barrage of missiles to take down tough enemies – all of which are capable of killing you in a single hit. What does ‘P.A.T’ stand for? Nothing.

Perhaps the defining PICO-8 game (for now), this testing platformer has you leaping, wall jumping, and mid-air dashing to overcome obstacles. “The real challenge was space,” Thorson says. “We filled up all the tilemap memory with levels and maxed out the code limit. We had to get creative with the code near the end to get all the features in that we wanted.”

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NAUGHTY PAINTERS

PICO RACER

STORIES AT THE DAWN

By Ryosuke Mihara

By Kometbomb

By YellowAfterLife

PICO-8 can also do multiplayer games, as seen in this playful party game about spreading ink. Two players and an AI competitor try to cover the battlefield in their colour, and activate bombs to create explosions. Also check out Mihara’s PICO-8 cartridge Shode for an experimental app about drawing Japanese letters.

No relation to PICO Racer 2048, but equally impressive. This time, games such as Buggy Boy are the influence, and this faux-3D arcade-style racer hits the target. The track bends and warps as you avoid opponents, collect flags, and bump beachballs. Don’t ask us how this was made – the code is incredibly complex.

A striking miniature adventure about a pair of explorers helping each other cross a weird, fractured landscape. The silhouette foreground on the murky background calls to mind Limbo, but the mood soon changes when the sky shifts from thick black to cool magenta. Stories At The Dawn has four endings to find.

STRAY SHOT

TRANSDIMENSIONAL BUTTERFLY

SUCCER

By Benjamin Soulé If PICO-8 is a place for trying out fresh ideas, then Stray Shot is a perfect example. This bizarre arena shooter sees you both spawning and killing enemies, as any stray bullet you fire transforms into a new foe. A clever scoring system and a timer encourage you to overwhelm yourself with baddies, giving the game an engaging risk/reward setup.

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By Joesph White This trippy cartridge sees a psychedelic butterfly pulsate to a rocking soundtrack, reminiscent of Amiga demoscene releases. It’s not a game, more a demonstration of White’s skill, and just how much you can get out of the limitations of PICO-8.

By Rylauchelmi

Sensible Soccer, eat your heart out. This pixel-art football game might start to strain the framerate of the fragile PICO-8 when too many players are on the screen simultaneously, but it’s still a small marvel. It handles both AI and human opponents, and somehow the four-track synthesiser manages to sound eerily like a crowd of chanting football fans.


THE CULT OF PICO-8

file as my only guide” upon starting his first game. “I knew other people will have to go through the same trouble in order to learn PICO-8 from scratch. And I knew lots of them will stop during the process because it will feel too complicated.” The zine also supports a bustling forum, frequent game jams, pixel art and audio made to the console’s limitations, video tutorials, and even a podcast.

“Although it was fun to think about what a real PICO-8 might look like, I never felt it would benefit from having an official physical form,” Joseph White says on the PICO-8 website. “Choosing specs was more about encouraging a certain design culture and development experience rather than being realistic or plausible.” Now, however, his fantasy console has turned into something of a reality thanks to a quirky piece of kit called PocketCHIP, a $50 handheld computer with a touchscreen, keyboard and injection-moulded case. It runs Linux, and comes preinstalled with PICO-8. The device and the gaming platform fit

“THE FIRST PICO-8 ALPHA WAS VERY ROUGH, BUT THE USERBASE SPREAD ORGANICALLY” together almost perfectly, sharing the same DIY sensibility, a utopian ideal of playing and making in the same space, and the ability to tinker with pre-made stuff. Just like how PICO-8 lets you see and mess with the code that powers any game you play, the transparent PocketCHIP shell and exposed solder points let you see how the device is put together, and encourages you to fiddle. The PocketCHIP hardware doesn’t have a speaker, but you can attach one directly onto the circuit board with a little knowhow. If you don’t like the mushy keyboard, you can plug in a new one. And if you don’t like the stylish crystal case, you can pop it off and 3D-print a new one. “Across the board, it was designed to encourage users to make it their own, in any way they choose,” says Richard Reininger of Next Thing Co, the company behind PocketCHIP. “It runs Debian Linux so you can install tons of open-source software and add your own uses. You can extend the hardware by adding a speaker or 3D-printing a Pockulus bezel to make it a VR headset.” At the heart of the device is Next Thing Co’s CHIP: a computer that sports a 1GHz R8 ARM processor, 512MB of RAM, and 4GB of eMMC storage – yet looks like a matchbox and costs just $9, following a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2015 . “The moment everyone heard ‘$9 computer’, we were always asked the same two questions: ‘Is it like a laptop?’

‘Does it have a screen and a keyboard?’” Reininger says. “The answer at the time was no. But hearing the same questions over and over got us thinking. If we designed a screen and a keyboard for ourselves, what would that look like? Throwing around ideas always circled discussion back to our childhood, and it became clear that PocketCHIP was a thing we’ve always wanted – a cool, fun thing that encouraged tinkering rather than preventing it”. At launch, CHIP joined a fleet of low-cost computing devices made for users to tinker with, such as the Raspberry Pi series, which is now the UK’s best-selling personal computer, having sold over eight million units. Then there’s Arduino’s tiny programmable circuit board, designed to be laced with sensors and outputs, which was at the heart of the Kickstarter project for Arduoboy, a monochrome-display game console that’s literally the size of a credit card. This maker movement isn’t just the outcome of incredibly cheap components, according to Reininger – it’s about easy access to knowledge. “With everything becoming smart and software-driven, access to the tools to learn hardware and software skills becomes ever more important,” he says. “Coding education, electronics training and home project tinkerers are all separate communities that are taking these things and pushing them in new interesting ways. With that push comes a great sharing of knowledge.” Social networks are one source of knowledge for coding and tinkering, and it’s clear that PICO-8 is inextricably linked to one in particular: Twitter. The community gathers around a hashtag, games can be shared through an image in a tweet, and bylines in the zine are often just Twitter handles. The token limit in PICO-8’s coding area, meanwhile, mimics the character count in a tweet. “Twitter was definitely a catalyst for PICO-8 early on,” White says. “The first PICO-8 alpha version was very rough and never formally announced, but the userbase spread organically, mostly from screenshots and GIFs of people experimenting with PICO-8 bouncing around Twitter.” The social network also affected how White thought about creative work, and that influenced the overall goals of PICO-8. “I used to work mostly in secrecy, trying to keep projects inside a chrysalis until they were fully formed and beautiful,” he explains. “Using Twitter to some degree changed that, and I started to enjoy showing some halffinished, failed or messy ideas without worrying too much about what would become of them.” That’s a large part of PICO-8’s appeal for coders, veteran and newcomer alike. A place to test ideas, challenge your abilities, and then instantly get a game in front of others to play. That player can then rip the game open – to see how the sprites are assembled, how the chiptune soundtrack is composed, and how the gameplay is coded – and become inspired for their own work. “In PICO-8, there is no real reason to make a distinction between the player, the consumer and the maker,” de Bock says. “If you can play, you can also make.” Q

At the heart of Next Thing Co’s PocketCHIP is its CHIP computer, which is also available on its own for just $9. In keeping with Next Thing Co’s DIY ethos, the CHIP element can be easily removed from the PocketCHIP housing and used in another context

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AN AUDIENCE WITH…

TIM SWEENEY From BASIC to VR: Epic’s founder talks us through a life dedicated to videogame technology BY SIMON PARKIN

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pic Games founder Tim Sweeney has the look of the prototypical nerd engineer, with thicklensed specs, a nervously twitching nose, and a wardrobe full of black hoodies. Where Sweeney breaks from cliché, however, is in his arch outspokenness. “[Microsoft is] subverting the rights of developers and publishers to maintain a direct relationship with their customers,” he wrote in The Guardian earlier this year of what he sees as the company’s anti-consumer policies. It’s fighting talk from a man who has made millions from Gears Of War, a series published by Microsoft. Sweeney, however, can afford to be bolshy. His company, which he founded in 1991 at the age of 21, has produced not only some of the best-selling blockbusters of the past 20 years, but also Unreal Engine, the middleware that’s been licensed by other game developers to power hundreds more. Where did you grow up? In Maryland, on the outskirts of Potomac. I got a computer, an Apple II, when I was 11 years old. I completely fell in love with it. The sheer power of that thing… To see what other people were building with it and to think that I might be able to do it myself if I could just learn the commands – that was hugely empowering. For the next ten years I spent more time at my computer than I spent at school. I’d say it took about a decade before I felt like I was actually getting good at it. What convinced your parents to buy you one? It was around the time of the computer revolution and my brother, who is 15 years older than me, was living in San Diego, where he was working for hi-tech companies. I visited him and he showed me his garage, which was full of computers. He taught me how to program BASIC while I was staying, over the course of two days. He worked at IBM at the time but, even so, he bought me an Apple II that Christmas. Soon enough I found that BASIC was too slow, so I taught myself machine code and Assembler instead. I programmed that way for 14 years. I made some pretty major programs that way – some games and also a basic bulletin board. I was super into bulletin boards at the time. What sort of games were you creating in those early days? All kinds of things – probably about 50 games in total by the time I switched to a PC. The very first game I made

was a Pong clone. I didn’t know how to create graphics so I just used hex symbols to form the bats and an asterisk symbol for the ball. I started writing another game and it was going well, so I invited all of the neighbourhood kids over to play it and see what they thought. How did it work? It was an action RPG that used text instead of graphics. A little like NetHack, you could say. Anyway, I had all of these kids coming over – some were younger than me and some were older than me; they ranged from age five to 25. I watched them playing and tweaked things and, over the course of a few weeks, I began to feel like everyone who played the game could figure out what they were supposed to be doing and have fun. So I put it out as shareware. I copied the model that 3D Realms and Apogee used at the time, whereby you give away one episode of the game for free and then people can buy new episodes via mail order. The model has come full circle nowadays with online episodic games. Exactly. I made about $300 that way and thought to myself: ‘Oh my god, I’m rich.’ Soon after that I wrote ZZT. How did you teach yourself graphics programming? I read the documentation and taught myself that way. What were you studying at college at the time? Mechanical engineering at the University Of Maryland. I’d been programming computers for half my life by that point and I felt like computer science would have just been a waste of my time. Mechanical engineering turned out to be a good major because I got to learn all kinds of mathematics that’s almost impossible to learn on your own. By the time it came to writing 3D for Unreal, it was critical. There was like a Karate Kid moment, a day that I realised: ‘Oh, wow! I need to represent a point in 3D space as a vector. And for a vector to work I need a matrix’. I learned all of this seemingly useless math and then it turned out to actually work. So you graduated with a mechanical engineering degree – how did you move from that position to becoming a full-time game-maker? I actually didn’t graduate. Epic was growing so fast, and I was one credit short after four years. I didn’t follow through and get the degree. I’d put out two games by

Sweeney’s MS-DOS title ZZT was released in 1991, just prior to his game company’s transformation from Potomac Computer Systems to the less modest-sounding Epic MegaGames

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AN AUDIENCE WITH…

that point. But I’d also recruited some other people via bulletin boards and other early communication tools of the Internet like Usenet. How were you getting online in those days? Mainly via the university networks. I recruited about five other developers from around the world in this way, and was helping them with their projects as a kind of producer. I’d provide advice with game balance and so on.

CV

As a wunderkind programmer, designer and ambitious entrepreneur, Tim Sweeney is a rare hybrid, even in an industry defined by a confluence of art, technology and commerce. After creating more than 50 Apple II games, Sweeney’s first major hit, ZZT, offered a premonition of the popular game engine that would define his career, allowing players to create their own levels. After a string of shareware hits, including Jill Of The Jungle, Solar Wind and Cliff Bleszinski’s Jazz Jackrabbit, Sweeney and his Epic team began work on Unreal, a competitive 3D shooter that would also launch the studio’s engine licensing business. A string of hits such as Gears Of War and Chair’s Infinity Blade have, over the years, shown off Unreal Engine’s evolving capabilities. With free-to-play arena shooter Paragon, the studio aims to continue the tradition.

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Were you always planning to publish their games? Yes, I was kind of setting up a company, although nothing that formal, really. I was still working out of my parents’ garage. By the time I graduated college I was spending my time in that garage copying disks and mailing them out to people, while working with these other developers virtually around the world. It was a very rudimentary publisher setup, you could say. That’s how Cliff Bleszinski got involved – I met him over the Internet when he was working on an adventure game called Dare To Dream. It wasn’t a very big hit but, after that game, I put Cliff together with a brilliant programmer I knew, Arjan Brussee, and they built Jazz Jackrabbit together. It’s funny: after years of separation, they’ve recently got back together again. You’d started out as the somewhat dry-sounding Potomac Computer Systems. Yes, I did. At the time I had thought I’d become a computer consultant. Were you called Epic by the point at which you had multiple shareware games coming out? No, in the early days the operation was called Epic MegaGames. I thought that made me sound like a serious, major company – some kind of big operation. Once we actually became successful, I decided to drop the ‘MegaGames’ from the company name. It sounded a bit much. How successful were these games that you were putting out? At their peak, some of these games were making severalhundred dollars a day. They more than paid everyone’s meagre sustenance at the time. I was just super-happy to be in a position where I was able to make a basic living making games. We had no central office or anything like that. Everyone was working from their homes, garages and bedrooms. It worked well. Then the industry started changing really quickly. During this time, Wolfenstein 3D came out. Videogames started to grow larger and larger. At some point it became clear that I wouldn’t be able to support teams of the necessary size on a shareware model. I struck a publishing deal with GT Interactive, and

we had to rethink the way that we did business entirely. We took all of our best developers who were working on smaller projects and put them together to work on a much more ambitious game. None of us had done anything in 3D before. I had to learn 3D programming and Cliff had to learn 3D level design. How many of you were there on staff at the time? There were actually about six of us, which quickly grew to 25. It was a period of major growth. We started without knowing what we were doing. About a year into production we had a playable demo and we started showing it around as we needed funding – we needed a publishing deal and publicity for it. Soon, developers started contacting us saying they were interested in using our engine. I was like: “What’s an engine?” That’s when we started to license the use of our tools. It provided us with some income that in turn helped to fund the development of Unreal. We started in 1995 and shipped in 1998. Three and a half years’ development for a game that we never thought would take longer than six months to make. Did these other developers get in touch because they’d seen your engine in magazines? Yeah, we had good press contacts from our shareware days, so we used those to get publicity. We had a cover on PC Gamer, which was really the first legitimate 3D screenshot to be used full-page on the cover of a magazine, I believe. Were other companies trying to do a similar thing with the business model at that time? Id Software had licensed the Wolfenstein engine, but engines didn’t really exist as a concept until 3D came along. 2D is so simple that you don’t really need an engine to handle it. Everybody wrote their own stuff up until that point. And then it became hyper-specialised. For about 20 years now, that has been our business model at Epic. What do you think was the reason for Unreal’s success? Presumably the timing helped, in terms of the technology you’d developed. It was about nine months before Half-Life. That was important timing. Half-Life completely changed expectations of firstperson shooters – it offered a story that you’re a part of. They broke down barriers that neither Id nor we had ever really attempted before. Until that point, the story was basically: you’re some badass with a gun shooting at stuff. If we’d have come out after Half-Life I think people would’ve said that our game looked pretty but had no substance to it. So in that regard we were fortunate.


“NONE OF US HAD DONE 3D BEFORE. I HAD TO LEARN 3D PROGRAMMING AND CLIFF HAD TO LEARN 3D LEVEL DESIGN” The negative aspect, however, was that we shipped with completely broken network code. We’d only tested the game on our local network. This forced us to work on that aspect of the game for months after release. We created an addon to fix its problems, with a bunch of new multiplayer maps. That grew and grew until it became a standalone product, Unreal Tournament, which came out in 1999. That turned out to be a lot bigger than the original game. Was that due to the gap that Id Software left when it went on to try other things? An opportunity appeared in the multiplayer market? Yeah. It’s funny. Every company has been founded on core principles. Every step of the industry’s evolution has completely challenged those, and companies have to change. The medium went through so many rapid changes while people were figuring out the rules and the boundaries. The move from 2D to realtime 3D graphics was seismic. Then story’s influence. Then online multiplayer. These major shifts, constantly closing and opening opportunities for game companies. How did that grow into Gears Of War? We had a real problem. The Internet became vast. There was no Steam at the time, so it became really, really convenient to pirate games [on PC]. Without a major channel through which to sell games online, we were finding that, for every one copy of a game we sold, ten more were pirated. That ratio made it impossible to compete with the consoles, where piracy rates were so much lower. This led us to sign a deal with Microsoft to make Gears Of War. It took about three years. Then, during that period, Steam came along. Piracy became a lot less convenient than buying games legitimately. Multiplayer became much more important. And so PC gaming became viable once again. Just prior to Steam’s launch there were endless articles proclaiming PC gaming dead or dying. It was a very quick turnaround to the landscape we have

today. Was Unreal Engine licensing the core of your business by that point in terms of revenue? It bounced back and forth. In years when we haven’t had a major game on the market, the engine has been the number one revenue earner. It’s stabilised us and has enabled us to fund the company when, without the engine, we might otherwise have gone under. At what point did you decide to change the business model for your engine licence to allow companies to use the tech for free? Was that mainly in response to Unity, where you hadn’t been challenged in the marketplace before? It just shows the value of competition. We’d gotten fat on the licensing model with blockbuster developers. The indie revolution really started with mobile app stores. Unity happened to be at the centre of that. Suddenly everybody was using its engine for these independent mobile projects. That really democratised access to game developers. We’d always nurtured a community around Unreal Tournament modding, but it wasn’t really a commercial thing; it was more under the umbrella of the game. Whereas Unity had the same concept: you could use this engine for anything, including modding other products. That forced us to open up our engine to everybody. Our deal is straightforward now: for three years after the game’s release, we take a five per cent royalty on revenues. That way we’re not a tax on people’s income before they make a profit – we only make a profit if the game’s successful. It’s also been crucial to open up the engine to customisation by making it open source. In blockbuster game development, the first 80 per cent of technical development is straightforward; later, you really need to have the opportunity to be able to go in and modify parts of the engine.

Like his one-time competitor John Carmack, Sweeney is committed to VR: Epic’s Bullet Train demo was conceived as a showcase for Unreal Engine 4 in the context of an Oculus Rift shooter

In April 1998, Unreal saw Sweeney’s coding skills unleashed in the 3D action game arena for the first time. It was, the programmer says, good timing

You’ve recently made highly critical statements about Universal Windows Platform. It’s unusual for a highprofile figure to attack a high-profile company in such a public way. What agitated you to that extent? I could see that something very bad was happening

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and, likewise, I perceived that there was a chance to make people aware of what was happening and possibly force a change. I’ve been creating PC games and shipping directly to customers for more than 25 years. The freedom that we have is incredible. We don’t have to get Apple’s approval. We don’t have to convince Sony to allow us to release a game onto their platform. With PC, we can just do it. It means that anybody can get into game development. Anybody can make any game that they want to this way. It’s a free-speech issue. If you can’t make software, how do you speak in the future? The trouble started when Microsoft began shipping some PCs and regular Surfaces that were so locked down that you couldn’t run Win32 apps; you could only run apps that had been bought from their store. That is a complete travesty. With Windows 10 they removed some more capabilities. They’ve been able to do this via some sneaky PR moves. They make a bunch of statements that sound vaguely like they’re promising openness, but really they’re not promising anything of the sort.

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How exactly do you think Microsoft is locking down the PC to make it a closed platform? There are two programming interfaces for Windows and every app has to choose one of them. Every Steam app – every PC game for the past few decades – has used Win32. It’s been both responsible for the vibrant software market we have now, but also for malware. Any program can be a virus. Universal Windows Platform is seen as an antidote to that. It’s sandboxed – much more locked down. The risk here is that, if Microsoft convinces everybody to use UWP, then they phase out Win32 apps. If they can succeed in doing that then it’s a small leap to forcing all apps and games to be distributed through the Windows Store. Once we reach that point, the PC has become a closed platform. It won’t be that one day they flip a switch that will break your Steam library – what they’re trying to do is a series of sneaky manoeuvres. They make it more and more inconvenient to use the old apps, and, simultaneously, they try to become the only source for the new ones.


AN AUDIENCE WITH…

Given that Steam is so widespread and so popular, how could Microsoft truly win that battle, in terms of games, at least? Slowly, over the next five years, they will force-patch Windows 10 to make Steam progressively worse and more broken. They’ll never completely break it, but will continue to break it until, in five years, people are so fed up that Steam is buggy that the Windows Store seems like an ideal alternative. That’s exactly what they did to their previous competitors in other areas. Now they’re doing it to Steam. It’s only just starting to become visible. Microsoft might not be competent enough to succeed with their plan, but they’re certainly trying.

“I’VE BEEN CREATING PC GAMES FOR MORE THAN 25 YEARS. THE FREEDOM WE HAVE IS INCREDIBLE. WITH PC, WE CAN JUST DO IT”

Isn’t it the case that Microsoft is simply mimicking Apple’s model, given how lucrative it’s proved to be for software distribution? Sure, that’s the motivation. They’re trying to copy Apple’s model, but they realise you can’t just flip a switch. It has to be achieved in smaller step changes.

photorealistic degree. That’s become hugely important for dealerships. In another few years I can imagine on Amazon, instead of a crappy screenshot, we’ll be using WebGL or WebVR to preview the item in 3D, complete with moving parts that you can interact with in virtual reality and so on. It will revolutionise that whole process, in just about every segment, from pens to cars to oil rigs.

Moving away from Microsoft and back to Epic, what do the next five years look like? Today we’re a multiplatform, PC-focused game developer. We build games ourselves, we publish them ourselves, and we sell directly to customers via our website. There’s no middleman. There’s no publisher. The next five years is about ramping our games up, and making them reach a larger audience. On the engine front, we’re at the very beginning of a revolution that’s going to be defined by a combination of realistic facial animations and body movements, virtual reality, and much finer control inputs.

How do you monetise that kind of setup? McLaren isn’t selling games you can profit-share on, after all. They’re licensed to use it royalty-free so long as they’re not shipping the engine in a runtime form. There’s no cost to anyone. We can provide training, support and custom work for companies that require it. It’s funny – that market is always surprised by the idea. They’re used to working with companies that try to charge them a huge amount of money. When we showed McLaren an early version of the car configurator on a basic PC, they asked about its specs and they couldn’t believe it. It’s a very different mindset for them.

What about outside of games? It feels like there’s a lot of interest in Unreal Engine from companies that you wouldn’t have dealt with traditionally. It’s become mainstream now because of photorealism. Every company that designs products with design visualisation has an interest. Product design involves a process of designers sketching ideas, the serious CAD phase, the manufacturing phase, pitching it to investors with cool renderings, and so on. A photorealistic game engine can provide benefit at every stage of the process. You can visualise your design in early stages. As you move to production, you can look at physics. You can render marketing presentations for retailers. It even benefits at the point of sale. For example, McLaren have high-end cars that are sold with a huge variety of options. There’s no way that a local dealer can carry examples of every colour or trim option, so now we have one car in a dealership and then an automobile configurator that allows you to configure the car and so on, to a

You’ve spent your entire career working in videogames, so you’ve been there for every major step change – from 2D to 3D, from competitive shooters to storytelling, and so on – but how do you feel about what’s coming next? I think the next stage is going to be more revolutionary than any before it. From the early days of computers to today, graphics capabilities have doubled about every year, while the interface has remained the same: a keyboard and mouse. Virtual reality is a major change. You’re no longer just pointing at stuff on a screen. Once you can scan the entire player’s body movement at a precise level, then you can create a simulation where you can reach out and interact with objects at a fine level of granularity. That’s never happened before. When you add in the capability to do that socially – when we could have this conversation, not over a table in a restaurant, but via the Internet, with no loss of presence or closeness – that’s going to be huge. Q

Epic’s core game interest in 2016 is focused on free-to-play arena battler Paragon, which recently launched on PC and PlayStation 4

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T H E M A K I N G O F. . .

S O N I C A L L - S TA R S

& R A C I N G

T R A N S F O R M E D To make a racer this good took AGES BY CHRIS SCHILLING Developer Sumo Digital Publisher Sega Format Android, 360, 3DS, iOS, PC, PS3, Vita, Wii U Origin Japan/UK Release 2012

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ogue’s Landing is one of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed’s best and most beloved tracks. Paying homage to Overworks’ Dreamcast classic Skies Of Arcadia, it’s a nostalgic jaunt that sees you gliding past air galleons during the magic hour. But when the time came to show the track to one of its creators, Sumo Digital surely couldn’t have anticipated the response it received. The RPG’s co-director Shuntaro Tanaka sat in silence during Steve Lycett’s presentation, and remained quiet after it had finished. Suddenly, he began to cry. But he quickly explained these were tears of joy. “He said, ‘It’s brilliant – you’ve perfectly captured what the original game was like. You’ve made me really, really happy,’” Lycett recalls. It’s a moment that was emblematic of the game’s development, a journey of highs and lows that began when Craig Duncan and Simon Woodroffe, both now at Rare, first conceived an idea for a follow-up to the warmly regarded Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. “It was basically, ‘What if we had vehicles which transformed and [travelled across] land, air and sea?’” Lycett says. “That was the initial back-of-a-fag-packet idea that became the basis of Transformed.” With Sega prepared to pour plenty of money into the game’s budget, Sumo was keen to pull out all the stops, adding features that were missing from the original Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing along with characters fans had been requesting, while canvassing forum opinion to gauge the most popular ideas. “We made everything fourplayer; we made sure every single track had its own individual [style]. In a way, we almost didn’t care what Sega thought, as long as the fans were happy,” Lycett says. “We said we wanted to deliver absolutely everything we could, and we never pulled back from that, to the point where we were sneaking updates and various bits and pieces under the radar.” But that original concept caused its fair share of problems, as art director Andy Ritson explains. “It was already being discussed with Sega before they actually put it to the team!” he laughs. “When we found out, it was a very scary proposition, because it meant having to create three lots of landscapes for every track.” Newly arrived design director Gareth Wilson, meanwhile, found himself in a similarly daunting position. Having emerged from the chaos of Bizarre Creations’ closure, he found himself involved in building a racing game of a

Sega was delighted with the finished game, eventually asking Sumo to produce a version for release in Japan. “It was the biggest honour we could imagine,” Lycett says

very different kind to the Project Gotham games he’d helped to design. “It took me about four or five months to get my head around how to build a track,” he concedes. “We had to rub the rough edges off one another,” Lycett agrees. “There was a period of adjustment,” Ritson diplomatically concludes, prompting raucous laughter from Wilson and Lycett.

“IT TOOK ME ABOUT FOUR OR FIVE MONTHS TO GET MY HEAD AROUND HOW TO BUILD A TRACK” The team settled on a summary that would define the game: rollercoaster, not racing. This helped establish a design methodology for tracks that was unlike anything Wilson had previously encountered. Rather than tight hairpins, tracks would have long, sweeping corners with large, recognisable landmarks and plenty of verticality. For Ritson, this meant placing “something fantastic-looking” over the brow of every hill. “It was always about trying to create memorable moments,” he says. “So when you went around a corner, the next vista would open up in front of you on the straight just afterwards.” In other words, the tracks would look quite simple from a top-down perspective, but the complexity would come from power-ups, boost pads and alternate routes. Even if all corners could be taken without braking, Sumo was keen to ensure that players would be kept busy at all times. Lycett: “You’re always either drifting, or

firing weapons, or dodging. You’re always trying to boost or roll or do something. Like on the radio, they have dead air where nobody talks – it was like that: having the player doing nothing [but accelerate] was a cardinal sin to us.” Though the handling model was tweaked from its predecessor, Sumo found getting the land vehicles up and running comparatively straightforward. The water sections were another story. The original plan was to make the water feel as authentic as possible, with wave physics that would affect the movement of each vehicle’s aquatic form – much like Nintendo’s Wave Race games. It didn’t work. “Fun and accurate were diametrically opposed, really,” Ritson tells us. “You could make it really ‘sim’-like, but it just wasn’t fun.” After producing 47 different prototypes, eventually the team settled upon something similar to Midway’s Hydro Thunder and its XBLA successor, though only after trying “pretty much everything” else. “We worked through big waves, small waves, tidal waves, whirlpools, you name it,” Lycett says.

This was, however, nothing compared to solving the problem of flight. At first, players had the freedom to fly anywhere; naturally, most would take the shortest possible route as the crow flies to the finish line. “We tried forcing them into tunnels, we had them running along a spline, we had a fly-by-wire [system], but it was just awful,” Wilson recalls. “You never felt like you had proper control, so that didn’t work.” Months of work were about to go to waste. Sumo had built a course based on Seaside Hill from Sonic Heroes, attempting to slot land, sea, and air sections into a circuit where they perhaps weren’t a comfortable fit. Eventually, a decision was taken to write it off and start again. “The tricky part was trying to make it feel like they were all part of the same ‘family’,” Wilson explains. “Because when we started, the car felt like one game, then the boat felt like a completely different game, and then the planes felt like a completely different game again.” After a great deal of experimentation, the three disciplines eventually began to coalesce into a consistent whole. “We’d been faffing with the controls for about a year and a half!” Wilson laughs. “Everyone was getting really annoyed because we couldn’t finish it.” In the end, it was a change of location that saved the day. Having scrapped Seaside Hill, the team 99


THE MAKING OF...

began to build what would eventually become Dragon Canyon, based on cult favourite Saturn rail shooter Panzer Dragoon. “The course helped us out,” Lycett says. “The way we solved flying for that one was to put you in a canyon. The road was dead easy, then the water was in the bottom of the canyon, so you could only follow the river, and the flight [section] was within the sides of the canyon, so you couldn’t get out of the bloody canyon, no matter what! Now we had a track that supported [all three], we could actually start to put it all together.” It had taken a long time, but finally the core design was taking shape. Not that it stopped Wilson and his design team from tinkering further. Now land, sea and air racing were working together, shortcuts, stunts and alternate routes could be added. Still that wasn’t enough. “You started that project, didn’t you?” Lycett asks him. “What did you call it – Project Unicorn or something stupid like that?” Wilson laughs: “It wasn’t Project Unicorn, but it was something [equally] ridiculous. But the idea behind it was that you could ace the whole of the track, so you could go through the entire track and boost the whole way around.” Having spent so much time and money building the tracks, this had to be a clandestine operation. “We had to keep it a secret, didn’t we?” Lycett recalls. “We did it on the sly so you could get all this set up and make it really playable without anyone catching us out on the senior management kind of side.” Eventually, time ran out on the idea. “It had to be the way it was, because everything was slowly getting built around it,” Wilson says. Ritson and the art team had, after all, been creating tracks around a handling model that wasn’t even fully functional. “Though we knew where it was going, really, even though we didn’t have anything finalised,” he admits. “By that stage I think we’d proved to ourselves we were [on the right track]. After the first course, which was a bit of a failure, and a real learning process, we really got it right on the second.” Yet if Sumo was hoping to avoid the Mario Kart comparisons the first game had attracted, it was out of luck. The team gathered to watch Nintendo’s E3 2011 briefing, having heard whispers that the latest Mario Kart would also feature land, sea and air racing. As the footage of Mario Kart 7 was unveiled, Sumo found its worst fears realised. “It destroyed us,” Ritson says. “We were gutted,” Wilson adds. “Of all the

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Q&A Steve Lycett Executive producer

Did you approach working with Sega differently this time? With [Sega Superstars] Tennis, we never had direct contact with Sega Of Japan; we only had feedback via an intermediary. For [Sonic & Sega All-Stars] Racing, I’d flown out at the start to try to get all the IPs approved there, and again towards the end. For this one we said we’d like to work much more closely together, so we made a trip once every couple of months. It worked really well, to the point where if I ever did it again I’d follow exactly the same process. They love their games and they love their IP. People probably look at Sega and say, ‘Why don’t they make the old games again?’ They’d love to keep making those games! [Laughs] Was Sega surprised at any of the properties? Burning Rangers did throw them a little bit. The main reason we picked that was because I’d been to see Richard Jacques and he was desperate to do the theme tune for it! From the start, we wanted to get that in just for the music. How was the AGES vehicle conceived? What I wanted to do was actually have a selection of different [transformations]. So the car would be the Daytona car, or the Ferrari from OutRun or the Super Hang-On bike. The plane was always going to be the After Burner jet, or maybe the Space Harrier guy or the Galaxy Force II spaceship. It’s really easy to find racing games and flying games in the Sega universe, but the boat was [harder]. Andy wanted a Virtual On robot on a surfboard, but nobody understood why he was surfing. We even had a design based on Sega Bass Fishing where you were a guy fishing for a bass and it was pulling you along!

versions of Mario Kart to do the land, sea and air thing, they had to do it now!” But once the initial shock had died down, Sumo realised its game held a few advantages over Nintendo’s. Mario Kart 7’s gliding sequences were not so much about flying as falling with style, and its underwater racing amounted to little more than sub-aquatic sections of track. “They weren’t doing the same thing,” Wilson says, “but it was a bit of a shame, because ours was coming later and it looked like we’d copied them. We never thought they’d do something like that.” And, perhaps, Nintendo may have been more inspired by Sumo’s efforts than the reverse. “I also

thought they’d never move away from just Mario IPs,” Lycett notes, “but they did that for the most recent Mario Kart.” With a chuckle, he continues: “I thought if I ever saw Mario Kart [feature] a lot of different IPs, they’d be treading on our turf!”

With the possible exception of Smash Bros, it’s hard to imagine another game matching Transformed’s level of fan service. Sega needed to make sure it had the right studio for the job, and tested Lycett on each of his visits to Japan to see exactly how far his knowledge of the company extended. “It felt like an exam!” he admits. One creator in particular liked to keep Sumo on its toes. “The absolute worst one – and I love him to bits – was Iizuka-san, who’s in charge of Sonic Team,” Lycett says, affectionately. “We were doing the Summer Of Sonic [fan convention], and we’d finally got the character design for NiGHTS signed off. We’d been through a million processes, but he always loved to let me just dangle a little bit. In this case, we’d finally got vehicle renders done and we were going to show it, and literally just before I went on stage I had to get his approval because he’d not seen the final design. And by god did he make me sweat!” Stuffed with cameos and hidden secrets – the celebratory Race Of AGES track has unofficial nods to Segata Sanshiro and Ecco The Dolphin – Transformed has everything a Sega acolyte could possibly need, though Sumo thinks there’s plenty of ground still to explore in a potential follow-up. “We could definitely do another one,” Wilson says. “For this one we’d just got into our stride in the last couple of months of production. We really knew exactly what the game was; we’d got all the tracks and all the tools.” A remake for PS4 and Xbox One is, Sumo admits, one of the most popular fan requests. “We could probably run it on the PS4 in 120 frames a second in 3D,” Lycett says, clearly excited. “Can you imagine that?” Or perhaps something totally different might be in order. “If we ever do another one, we should have a fighting game where the characters are inside mechs of themselves, so you’ve got Sonic pulling Eggman’s arm off and beating him to death with it,” Lycett muses. Ritson concurs: “Yeah, that way you could do damage without damaging the character.” Wilson adds, simply, “Genius.” There’s a brief pause as this trio of Sega fans considers the wisdom of such an idea, before Lycett says, “Shall we sack off what we’re doing now?” You sense he’s only half-joking. Q


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1 The original game, Lycett says, was to take place on foot, until Sumo realised the hedgehog had an unfair advantage. 2 The Super Monkey Ballthemed Temple Trouble track was one of the first to be shown off. 3 4 Sumo conceived the idea of floating islands as a way to incorporate a wide variety of games from Sega’s catalogue. 5 Metal Sonic’s Metal Booster underwent a few changes. 6 “Getting the vehicles right was a very iterative process,” Ritson says. “Some of them were scrapped three or four times.” 7 Initially, Sumo aimed to have transformations that were physically feasible, before deciding it would compromise the design of each form. 8 The PC version has the largest roster, boasting DLC characters including the Pyro, Spy and Heavy from Team Fortress 2

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STUDIO PROFILE

NDREA MS The UK outfit that made its mark in PlayStation Home is betting the farm on VR BY CHRIS SCHILLING

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here is no shortage of people in the videogame industry who believe in the vast potential of virtual reality, but few companies are quite so heavily invested in it as nDreams. Its future product slate is focused exclusively on VR platforms, from Oculus to PSVR, HTC’s Vive to Google’s forthcoming Daydream. So what prompted an established UK studio to go all in on a niche, nascent sector like this? CEO Patrick O’Luanaigh, an industry veteran formerly of Codemasters and SCI Games, was already excited by the prospect of VR – he enthusiastically recalls his Virtuality experiences at London’s Trocadero all those years ago – but it was a more recent incident that convinced him this was where his company’s future lay. “One member of the team, a real horror fan, played a basic [Rift] DK1 demo,” O’Luanaigh explains. “And he found it terrifying, just being immersed within that world.” If a man with such a strong nerve could be turned into a quivering wreck, he reckoned, then it was obvious this technology was something special. The company began to play around with the early hardware, producing a series of demos that never saw the light of day (O’Luanaigh refers to these quickfire experiments as “miniature play”) before releasing SkyDIEving in 2013, a free Rift tech demo on that attracted plenty of attention, partly as a result of prominent YouTube channels. NDreams has certainly earned its moment in the spotlight after several years of unheralded work; indeed, this year it’s celebrating a decade in the videogame business. Following its founding in 2006, it was involved in a number of minor projects before it entered into a partnership with Sony, setting out to create games and other features for PlayStation Home. Sony’s virtual world didn’t have too many vocal champions at the time, but nDreams quickly became one of its biggest and most successful publishers. It was a pioneer elsewhere, too, releasing the world’s first console-based alternative-reality game, Xi, in 2009. It ran for over three months, attracting more than five million visits, as players collaborated to decode clues and solve puzzles, both in the game and outside, with clues scattered across a network of websites. It was, O’Luanaigh says, “a brilliant experience,” but by the time it was over, nDreams was already looking to try something different. It built themed apartments and minigames for Home owners, and by 2011 it hit new heights with Aurora, a floating archipelago which was visited by almost two million players. By the time Sony called time

Founded 2006 Employees 45 Key staff Patrick O’Luanaigh (CEO), Tom Gillo (VP of development), David Corless (VP of publishing) URL www.ndreams.com Selected softography Xi, SkyDIEving, Perfect Beach, Gunner Current projects The Assembly

O’Luanaigh is keen to ensure nDreams employees don’t burn out, with an office culture designed to avoid heavy crunch

on Home in March 2015, it had proved very profitable for nDreams. “Home was ahead of its time, really,” O’Luanaigh says. “It was painted as a flop, but we did very well out of it. And it had a very loyal and passionate fanbase.” The closure of Home could easily have been a significant setback for a company that had come to rely on the service; instead, O’Luanaigh saw it as an opportunity. With such extensive experience with virtual worlds, nDreams found itself particularly well positioned to pivot to VR.

“THE TO

CONSTRAINTS

LOOK

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very different types of gameplay. Cal’s [tale] involves a lot of detective work, while Madeleine has to pass elaborate initiation tests”. The game has been written by Tom Jubert, the pen behind titles such as The Talos Principle, Driver: San Francisco and FTL, and should be available to buy as you read this. While profits from Home have kept the company buoyant, nDreams wouldn’t have had the time and space to explore the possibilities of VR without the help of investment firm Mercia Technologies. O’Luanaigh recognises the role Mercia investment director – and former CEO of Sega Europe – Mike Hayes has played in funding its recent expansion: “He knows the games industry,

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and very soon it will release its biggest game to date. The Assembly is a firstperson, narrative-led adventure for Rift and Vive (and PSVR when Sony’s headset launches in October) which casts you in a dual role as a pair of inductees to the titular establishment, an underground organisation of scientists conducting morally dubious experiments. “It’s a story told from two sides,” O’Luanaigh explains, “with two

FORCE

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After SkyDIEving, it set to work on two Samsung Gear VR products that were almost diametrically opposed. The intense turret shooter Gunner used an intuitive look-to-aim system, as players gunned down enemy ships; Perfect Beach, meanwhile, was much more soothing, a meditative tropical experience designed to simply let you sit down and soak up the ambience of a blissful virtual paradise. Such disparate results weren’t necessarily by design, O’Luanaigh tells us – it was simply a case of “trying things out to see what worked and what didn’t”.

The studio’s current plans are ambitious,

VR

US

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OBSTACLES”

he’s very supportive of us, and believes in what we’re doing.” As a result, the studio’s headcount has grown from 20 to 45, which has helped to facilitate the creation of more expansive projects such as The Assembly. Yet the process of building an adventure game in VR hasn’t been easy. For VP of development Tom Gillo, one of the biggest challenges has been solving the issue of world traversal. “It’s kind of the holy grail, because everyone wants to play their favourite FPS in VR,” he notes. “But traditional twin-stick movement in VR is nausea-inducing, and strafing is a complete no-no.” And yet it’s clear he finds the limitations of the tech invigorating rather than frustrating: “The constraints of VR force us as developers to look at creative and innovative ways of solving these obstacles.” Gillo’s experience has held him in good stead to provide the answers. Prior to joining nDreams, he was a game director at SCE London Studio, and grew familiar with the early Morpheus tech before it became known as PlayStation VR.

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STUDIO PROFILE

Thanks to Mercia’s investment, nDreams will turn publisher next year, co-funding the debut VR title from Chester-based indie Paw Print Games. Known for its gesture-driven titles for iOS and Android, the studio was founded by former Traveller’s Tales programmers

“[Games] like Street Luge where the player lies horizontally on a luge-board, or London Heist where in a section of the game the player is a passenger in a car, would not have come about if we hadn’t been trying to solve movement and world traversal in VR,” he says. For The Assembly, that process has led to a movement system the studio is calling Blink Mode, which enables players to project a marker and then ‘blink’ to it – not entirely unlike the similarly named power in Arkane’s Dishonored. Just don’t call it a teleport. “It’s not a teleport!” Gillo insists. “It’s a very fast movement that just registers on the brain, but so fast [that] it doesn’t cause nausea – somehow it just feels right and doesn’t break immersion in the same way a straight teleport [would].” It’s a solution that works for The Assembly and is increasingly common in VR games, but Gillo’s well aware that it won’t necessarily fit everything, and nDreams is investigating alternatives such as ‘tunnelling’ for future titles. “If players’ field of view in VR is partially occluded with a vignette at the periphery of the headset,” Gillo says, “it can reduce or maybe even eliminate nausea when using standard movement systems.” He hasn’t yet explored the solution – previously incorporated most notably in Three One Zero’s space adventure Adrift – and isn’t certain about the effectiveness of the approach, but it’s evidently something he’s looking forward to testing. “We’re constantly evolving [our approach] and looking at innovative ways of overcoming the obstacles that the technology throws at us,” he explains. “That’s [part of] what makes VR development exciting and engaging – it’s a new medium with new rules for us all to help define.” In the meantime, nDreams has been focused on ensuring The Assembly doesn’t leave anyone clutching their stomach or their head: after all, O’Luanaigh says, players will be better able to

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immerse themselves within its world as long as they’re comfortable. The blink mechanic helps, but the structure is equally crucial – the story is told in manageable chunks, with chapters of around 20 minutes each. He hopes players will be absorbed enough to play for longer, but recognises that’s not feasible for everyone. As VR continues to evolve, so does nDreams: it’s bigger now than it’s ever been, and it isn’t about to stop growing just yet. Its reputation within the industry has made it relatively easy to attract staff, though O’Luanaigh isn’t interested in expanding for the sake of it. “It’s not just about hiring more people,” he says. “It’s about the calibre of employee.” The

subscribe to the notion that it’s a relative unknown, but is hopeful that The Assembly in particular will help put nDreams on the map. “It feels a bit like we’re exiting stealth mode,” he says. And while the experiences the studio is working on might appear very different from one another, they share the same driving principles. “We’re just trying to create different kinds of experiences; what they hopefully have in common are quality and innovation.” Even in the unlikely event The Assembly flops, it should still turn out to be the most profitable 12 months of nDreams’ decade in operation. The company’s future is bright, O’Luanaigh asserts, and he’s confident the same will be true of VR.

“WE’RE

LOOKING

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I N N O VAT I V E OBSTACLES

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studio has recruited talent from a number of major developers, with the CEO admitting his aim is to match the likes of SCE London Studio. Once it’s finished work on The Assembly, nDreams will turn its attention to the two projects it has in the pipeline for Google Daydream, though it won’t be drawn on what they might be. We prod for more information, and learn they’re original properties rather than ports, and very different from one another. This year is set to be the company’s biggest by some distance, then. In one respect, it’s the beginning of a new era for nDreams, but it’s also a culmination of everything it has been working towards since its inception. O’Luanaigh sees it as a landmark moment for a company that in some ways feels like one of the best-kept secrets of UK game development; he doesn’t necessarily

AT

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“It’s going to grow and grow,” he says. “The headsets we’re using now aren’t going to be the ones we’re using in five years.” He envisions virtual reality becoming more social and inclusive, as opposed to the more solitary experiences being created at the moment. That vision of inclusivity extends to the company itself, with a new recruitment policy that demonstrates an admirable effort to promote diversity among its workforce. Forty-two per cent of new hires to the studio this year have been women, with two already appointed to senior positions. O’Luanaigh acknowledges that this can only help from a creative perspective, too: a wider variety of voices should be particularly valuable for a company that’s already looking to expand its horizons with the games and the spaces it’s building in VR’s brave new world. Q


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1 SkyDIEving is a fairly rudimentary base-jumping tech demo, but an undeniably effective one. 2 Gunner lets you target enemies simply by looking at them. 3 ARG Xi inspired over three million visits to its PlayStation Home space alone. 4 The Assembly is nDreams’ most expansive game. 5 Aurora, the popular public space within Home

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REVIEWS. PERSPECTIVES. INTERVIEWS. AND SOME NUMBERS STILL PLAYING Rainbow Six Siege PS4 Buffs for Kapkan and Mute have made the underused characters far more appealing to defenders. Kapkan can now place his trip mines at different heights on doorways and windows, while the telltale bolt that protruded from the other side of a boobytrapped doorway has been sawn off. Mute, meanwhile, has had the effective range of his jammers extended, making him a potent counter to explosive breaches – something nobody wants to have to deal with. Street Fighter V PS4 SFV’s cinematic story mode is exactly what we wanted: camp as Christmas, daft as a brush, and largely incomprehensible. While clearly inspired by Netherrealm’s Mortal Kombat story modes, sadly Capcom has failed to notice the value of controlling the same character for a number of consecutive fights. Switching rapidly from one hero to the next, you’ve no time to get a real handle on any of them. Still, better late than never. Overwatch PS4 Blizzard’s admission that it would need to individually balance the PC and console versions of Overwatch has already borne fruit: Torbjorn’s turret damage has been toned down on console, but left alone on PC. All platforms now have Competitive mode, so all those organised pre-made teams have finally fled Quick Play. If only Blizzard could nerf them too, hmm?

Explore the iPad edition of Edge for extra Play content

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REVIEWED THIS ISSUE 108 Mirror’s Edge Catalyst PC, PS4, Xbox One

112 Monster Hunter Generations 3DS

114 Umbrella Corps PC, PS4

116 Star Ocean: Integrity And Faithlessness PS4

118 Mighty No 9 360, 3DS, PC, PS3, PS4, Vita, Wii U, Xbox One

120 Inside PC, Xbox One

121 Furi PC, PS4

123 Trials Of The Blood Dragon PC, PS4, Xbox One


Shoot out Adversity is a key element of many good yarns. But too many developers still reach for a simplistic shorthand, letting violence stand in for something more nuanced where it’s not required. It can even happen in a game, it turns out, whose developers have made a concerted effort to remove gunplay. DICE’s Mirror’s Edge Catalyst (p108) trades on agility and momentum, never placing a weapon in your hand or forcing you into cover, and even helping you avoid affray altogether. But this otherwise progressive design still forces players to endure the game’s undercooked, awkward hand-to-hand combat in progresshalting arena encounters. A desperate scrap to clear the way makes sense, but these walled-in moments add nothing to our understanding of Faith’s struggle. At least DICE’s misstep can be blamed on genre hangovers – RedLynx has a great deal more explaining to do after crowbarring some truly abysmal gunplay into Trials Of The Blood Dragon (p123). There’s shonky platforming and an assortment of other poorly judged additions, too, but it’s heartbreaking to see a team so capable of melding adversity with satisfaction serve up a bullet-driven debacle. Even games built around guns can make a mess of things, as Capcom proves with Umbrella Corps (p114). Though in this case, it’s actually a selection of other elements that serve to undermine what could have otherwise been an inoffensive tactical shooter. Perhaps the real problem here is a market-led fear of letting a good idea stand unsupported. Thank goodness, then, for Inside (p120), a mesmerising adventure that neither wavers from its focused vision nor resorts to violence as a narrative crutch. Instead, stripped entirely of fat, it conjures its horror from the lightest of touches, and it’s all the better for its clarity of vision. 107


PLAY

Mirror’s Edge Catalyst

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ach time you die in Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, protagonist Faith lets out a final breath while the game reloads. It’s an exhalation that echoes your own exasperated sigh as you come to terms with yet another frustrating death resulting from either hectoring enemies, poorly signposted pathways or the game’s occasionally argumentative controls. In a world that offered so much potential, it’s crushing to find so much of it in disarray. Catalyst is at its most confused when it comes to combat. DICE’s well-meaning attempt to avoid the turgid gunplay of the original game has resulted in a melee system that, while workable against one or two enemies, collapses in on itself when larger groups of aggressors come into play. A simple setup allows you to combine light and heavy attacks with directional inputs and locomotion to provide a range of moves with which to wrong-foot or down your opponents. Pushing left or right while swinging for an enemy will send them lurching off in that direction, allowing you to topple them into walls, each other or over balcony railings, while a simple multi-directional dash manoeuvre keeps you out of range of any retaliatory swings. Bullets, meanwhile, can be dodged for as long as you keep moving, building a shield from your momentum that makes you invulnerable to projectiles if you don’t come to a halt or run into the business end of a baton. It’s usually advisable to avoid combat altogether if feasible, and light traversal attacks support this by allowing you to stagger enemies on the way past without breaking your flow. Reserved as a last resort in this way, hand-to-hand encounters can feel meaningful and, on the occasions when you kick a soldier’s head into the wall and shatter his helmet visor, genuinely enjoyable. But for reasons we can’t fathom, DICE insists on sprinkling the campaign with inescapable fights in which you must kill every enemy before you’re allowed to move on. It’s in these moments that the piecemeal, attritional nature of the game’s combat system reveals itself. Fights break down into slapstick chases as you run around in circles trying to set up a convenient wall run from which to launch into a flying kick, all the while chipping away at some meaty health bars as enemies stumble into and over each other in response to your attacks – often clipping through the environment in the process. Once the Sentinels – aggressive enemies whose right hooks and roundhouses can catch you middodge, and who follow up their staggering thumps with a flurry of additional attacks before you can recover – arrive, you’ll be sighing long before you’re dead. In a game so focused on momentum and freedom, it’s baffling to encounter such deliberate restrictions on your movement. Some scuffles later on in the game stay more in step with the spirit of free-running, allowing

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Developer DICE Publisher EA Format PC, PS4 (tested), Xbox One Release Out now

DICE, nervous about Catalyst’s idiosyncrasies, has deferred to traditional progress gating despite it being inappropriate

you to ignore the fight and attempt elaborate parkour escapes while under fire (one particularly enjoyable mission sees you outrunning mounted turrets as the building site around you splinters in the hail of bullets), but they can’t paper over the mechanical weaknesses exposed by more prescribed fights. It feels as if DICE, nervous about letting Catalyst’s idiosyncrasies speak for themselves, has deferred to traditional progress gating despite it being an inappropriate fit. The same is true of Faith’s upgrade tree, from which you can gain new and faster moves, combat advantages and additional gadget functionality. It’s a half-hearted inclusion in a game where a remarkable amount is unlocked from the start, making you feel like you’ve joined a game in progress and need to catch up on missed tutorials.

You’ll acquire Faith’s new gadgets in short order, too, both of which allow you to access more of the city. The first, a Disruptor, shuts down fans so that you can pass through their blades unharmed, while a later upgrade allows you to overwhelm enemies with audio and visual noise, as well as destroy cameras which might alert reinforcements of your position. While its later uses are intriguing, if throwaway, the former option becomes an annoyance as you’re forced to disrupt certain fans every time you need to travel through them. The MAG rope fares slightly better, promising an exhilarating method of crossing larger gaps or zipping up a few storeys in seconds. Later, you can also use it to yank pieces of wood from blocked doorways. The MAG rope will only attach to a handful of predefined points in the city, however, and while using it to swing across multilane motorways is a rush, it ultimately feels like a cheap way to make areas inaccessible rather than another string to Faith’s bow. But shorn of these fumbled components, Catalyst’s firstperson parkour can be joyful. Faith’s physical presence in the world is expertly communicated through DICE’s exemplary audio work and the rush of colour which saturates the screen whenever you’re in full flow. Wall runs, death-defying leaps and breathless slides down the angled facades of glimmering glass buildings feel as wonderful – and unusual – as they did the first time around, and the way you segue between considered route-planning and instinctual reactivity remains an intoxicating draw. This interplay is fully showcased in the Gridnode runs which must be undertaken to unlock fast travel and additional safe houses in each area. Each one-off challenge tasks you with ascending a convoluted, dizzyingly tall server room in order to reach a console at the top, negotiating security lasers, precariously thin walkways and retracting server banks in order to reach your goal. They even make reasonable use of the MAG rope, by allowing you to pull out platforms (some of


ABOVE When the subject of a K-Sec alert, the game’s equivalent of GTA’s five-star wanted level, it’s best to outmanoeuvre goons rather than face them. The supporting aircraft that hunt you behave inconsistently, sometimes being shaken off when you duck into a vent, while on other occasions managing to track you when you’re hundreds of feet underground. LEFT The difference in visual quality between the PS4 and PC versions is extreme at times, the Sony option featuring lower-resolution textures and issues with pop-in and aliasing

BELOW Sliding into an enemy lets you deal a significant amount of damage to aggressors while also avoiding the risk of a counter attack. You’ll need plenty of clear space and a good run-up, however

ABOVE Fallen enemies clip through and get stuck in the scenery often, and despite the combat system revolving around using the environment to cause extra damage, they rarely feel as connected to it as Faith does

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which will retract after a time limit has expired) in order to continue your ascent. Essentially puzzleplatforming sections, Gridnode runs provide respite from the problems elsewhere and demonstrate that – focused level design permitting – Catalyst’s exploratory parkour would be more than capable of carrying a game on its own. There are flashes of the same brilliance in the layout of DICE’s open-world reimagining of the City Of Glass, too. Certainly, when you’re first let loose in it, the metropolis is a wonder-filled playground as you scout out potential sequences of moves and thunder across its rooftops. But before long, over-familiarity takes its toll as you’re forced to traverse the bottlenecks which link the city’s hub areas over and over again, slowly climbing up long ladders and tall staircases that quickly become a chore. Since the appearance of Gridnode challenges is tied to your progress through the campaign, you’ll have a long old wait until all fast-travel options are available, but of more concern is the fact that a game all about the pleasure of locomotion should make us want to use them in the first place.

Your initial forays around the city are best attempted with Runner Vision switched on, which returns in upgraded form and provides an in-world GPS that highlights in red the jumps, pipes and obstacles along your route. But while this system is designed to help you maintain an unbroken flow, it’s somewhat unpicked by the game’s infuriating refusal to forgive even mildly inaccurate leaps: get your launch angle wrong by a few degrees and you’ll miss or overshoot whichever platform or handhold you were aiming for and instead plummet to your death. This problem also

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While this new take on the City Of Glass won’t inspire quite as many intakes of breath as the first game, it has its moments. Some of the later districts are undeniably beautiful, although everything feels sterile

SCATTERED SHARDS

The City Of Glass is riddled with collectibles, including GridLeaks, Security Chips and Secret Bags. The former are glowing orbs, some of which are placed in locations that hint at potential routes. But while a few will require a little planning and skill to reach, most are scattered thoughtlessly across the world. There are fewer Secret Bags to locate, but each requires a more concerted effort, making for an enjoyable series of challenges.

manifests itself when the game decides that you were attempting to scramble up a wall, rather than run along it, usually resulting in yet another embarrassing demise. Such wobbles result in little more than a minor, if frustrating, setback during campaign missions, but they become ruinous when it comes to the timed side missions and dash runs. The City Of Glass’s rooftops are populated by a variety of citizens with too much time on their hands, all of whom have delivery missions to offer. Miss your goal by a split-second, even if you’re feet away from the recipient, and you fail. In one particularly galling instance, a fragile package we were delivering was damaged in the final seconds by bullets fired from a randomly generated patrol as we clambered up a drainpipe. Even so, the game’s huge assortment of side missions and time trials, along with Gridnode runs, represent its most appealing offerings as you hone your route and – for the most part – focus on nothing but running. And this aspect is further supported by Catalyst’s distinguished asymmetrical online options which allow you to create time trial runs at the tap of a button and then upload them for friends or strangers to attempt. Explorers can also place Beat Location Emitters (LEs) in hard-to-reach places, setting them down like flags on top of a mountain, taunting players who haven’t yet figured out how to get to them. It is in this more abstract form that Mirror’s Edge really comes alive, offering up a dazzling, vertigoinducing sandbox that demands agility, poise and 6 skill. If only the rest of the game was as graceful.


PLAY

Post Script Forget the city, and focus on the lines

O

ut in the open, away from the perplexing chokepoints that link its hubs, the City Of Glass is a masterclass in environmental sandbox design. This gleaming, towering metropolis has been hand built to showcase Faith’s parkour move set, offering a multitude of potential routes in any direction you choose to set out. But while it’s a remarkably accommodating space, it fails to be a believable one. It’s a surprising regression from Glass, the setting for the first Mirror’s Edge, which feels considerably more convincing as a city. Despite its sparsely populated rooftops and streets, Glass feels lived in and constructed for daily life in a way that City Of Glass, in all its grandeur, simply can’t replicate. But it’s not for want of trying. DICE seeds the city with eavesdropping encounters in which you’ll happen across a pair discussing some pressing matter in a house or glassy corridor. There are dozens of potential customers hanging out, oddly, on roofs waiting for you to deliver a package for them. You’ll bump into fellow runners near the bases you frequent. And you’ll even occasionally encounter a crowd of revellers, albeit from a distance. But this relative surge of activity only serves to highlight the empty sterility of the world. It feels like the buildings only exist as facades on a movie set. Take Ocean Glass View, one of the city’s five overground districts. A shimmering playground for the rich, it’s tinted pink and purple by blossom trees and grape-coloured paint. Here you’ll gain access to the penthouses and rooftop domiciles of the area’s affluent residents, and move through rooms decked out in what must be award-winning interior design. Rather than a movie set, here buildings feel like show homes for the kind of people who never smile or eat anything that might break into crumbs. But while it’s one of the hollowest locations in terms of its sense of humanity, it’s one of the more enjoyable playgrounds to gad about in thanks to a series of spectacular balconies, pompous garden structures, and plenty of opportunities to taunt other players with some awkward-to-reach Beat LEs. An early mission in the Downtown-based Elysium Labs makes good use of the game’s disquieting sense of an abandoned city as you break into the building in the evening and work your way through its remarkably inefficiently laid-out interior. There’s a certain thrill to silently navigating the nearly empty building after even the cleaners have left, but when every space in the city you enter feels similarly closed for business irrespective of the time of day, this early impact is undermined. Almost every location is a fun climbing frame, sure, but they rarely feel like anything more. Of course, the game’s fiction depicts a humourless conglomerate in the process of remodelling a city after

its own austerity, and DICE intends there to be an air of detachment in the culture hinted at by its barely noticeable brush strokes. But it forgets the humanity needed to make the city feel like a real place, and so undermines your investment in it – even your passionately rebellious co-conspirators live in a manner that would appease a Habitat catalogue photographer.

The one place where the city does feel real is

It’s no surprise Catalyst’s best moments coincide with the times it focuses on the simple purity of movement

Development Zone G, an area the ruling conglomerate is yet to cover with shiny new skyscrapers. Disassembled, the district exudes more character and, like the afterhours Elysium building, thrives on the shortfall of life. The district plays host to two of the game’s most enjoyable set-pieces, and navigating the remnants of the Old City in a state of transition feels like peeking behind the broken panels of a malfunctioning wall in Portal, offering a glimpse into the outside world long since forgotten by the city’s supposed residents. But all of this only matters if you invest in the story in the first place, an effort that, despite some strong central performances, there’s little reason to commit to. Better, then, to let Catalyst’s bold, minimalist design soften into abstraction as any pretensions of a functioning city melt away to reveal only potential paths through its geometry. And it’s in these moments, underpinned by the Runner’s Vision’s shimmering red path-marking, that DICE’s creation reveals its majesty. It’s telling that the first game’s most celebrated component was its Pure Time Trials DLC, which dispensed with storylines and urban textures in favour of brightly coloured, abstract obstacle courses. And it’s no surprise to discover that Catalyst’s best moments coincide with the times it sets aside world building and yarn spinning and instead focuses on the simple purity of movement. The game’s self-contained Gridnode runs are a particular highlight, offering Portal-esque platforming challenges, which take place in nondescript rooms wrapped in white panels and server banks, and in which it’s possible to forget about everything but the task at hand. Similarly, tackling the game’s time trials or creating your own shifts your focus to nothing other than your path through the world, and we’ve lost several hours to perfecting our lines through the challenges. The concept behind the Mirror’s Edge series’ utopian dystopia is laced with potential, but DICE has now missed the mark twice when it comes to doing it justice. Along with Catalyst’s unfortunate compulsory battles and awkward environmental gating, the studio is still shackled by a desire to shore up its groundbreaking mechanics with more recognisable, heavyset design traditions. The result is that it weighs down what could be an exceptional game under a city’s worth of clutter. Q

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Monster Hunter: Generations

T

he lesson comes surprisingly early. The Great Maccao is Monster Hunter Generations’ Jaggi: an underarm serve of an opponent designed to acclimatise new players to the rhythms of combat against larger beasts. We’ve softened it up with a few whacks from our hammer; the Maccao’s speed has allowed it to strike back once or twice, but we’ve got plenty of potions in reserve. Then we make a fatal miscalculation as it rears back and launches itself forward at an alarming velocity, leaving us trapped between monster and tree line. We pick ourselves up, but it’s too late, and with a whip of its tail it flattens us once more. Shamefully, we’ve fainted at the first hurdle. Our vengeance is swift enough, but the embarrassment lingers. As ever in Monster Hunter, there’s no greater adversary than your own complacency. In our defence, we were using an unfamiliar weapon, and a hunting style we quickly decided wasn’t for us. With no additions to the 14 weapon types in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, Capcom has opted instead to give players more choice in how they wield them. The Striker style we soon ditched offers a simplified moveset, which can be customised with three Hunter Arts, special moves and buffs that can be triggered once their meter has been filled by landing attacks. Guild style will be immediately familiar to anyone who played the previous game, with the addition of two Arts. The aptly named Adept style, meanwhile, gets just the one, and demands a keen eye and responsive digits, with deftly timed evasive manoeuvres letting you launch devastating follow-up attacks. As we discovered, however, it’s best reserved for monsters whose attacks are slower and more clearly signposted – at least until you’ve crafted an armour set that lets you withstand plenty of hits while you learn a creature’s tells.

Aerial style proved to be our new mainstay. Here, a tap of B can be used to vault off a monster’s tail, its back, a Felyne companion, or another hunter’s weapon, launching you high into the air. It’s a useful way of setting up attacks from above – and escaping incoming projectiles and tail swipes – but also a much less fiddly way to mount a monster than luring it towards a climbable wall and leaping off onto its back. Dual Blades, we’ve found, are very useful for more mobile beasts, but it’s the Longsword we’ve come to truly cherish. Once it clicked, we dismantled an Arzuros with such brutal efficiency we surprised even ourselves – though a later, much faster and more aggressive Deviant variant exacted revenge for its fallen cousin. As the name suggests, Generations is a game that isn’t afraid to look backwards. Three of its four hubs are taken from previous games, while much of its menagerie is familiar. Smartly, it tends to borrow from much earlier in the series, ensuring those who’ve been playing 112

Developer/publisher Capcom Format 3DS Release Out now

As ever in Monster Hunter, there’s no greater adversary than your own complacency

MH4U recently shouldn’t experience too much déjà vu, and its selections are mostly sensible ones – even if we could have happily done without Cephadrome and Nibelsnarf. Of the newcomers, only the elephantine Gammoth disappoints, with the remaining three signature monsters offering something new, and the owlish Malfestio presenting a stern test for a mid-level encounter. The graceful Mizutsune boasts the most distinctive battle theme, while Astalos’ electric attacks provide real visual drama to a fast-paced fight. Then there’s Glavenus, an awe-inspiring design resembling an Allosaurus with a sword for a tail – which, in a hair-raising flourish, it sharpens between its fangs. Its introduction is a classic: an outwardly straightforward mission to collect fungi is laden with heavy portent, so it’s no real surprise when you’re dumped straight into a moonlit encounter with this fearsome beast without a map. Survive, and the village chief apologises for the inexplicable blunder that left you far from base camp, as the Gal who sent you there pleads innocence before admonishing you for not capturing it. It reminds you just how playful Monster Hunter can be; likewise your initial meeting with Astalos, where you discover to your horror that it’s only slumbering for your first visit to its nest. With gathering spots yielding more resources and slain creatures leaving more parts behind, this is the most generous, accommodating Monster Hunter to date. Capcom’s desire to make it more approachable is undoubtedly behind the addition of Prowler mode, which lets you play as a Felyne hunter with nine lives, and no kit or stamina meter to worry about. Healing is handled via equippable skills, while difficulties in battle can be temporarily dodged by burrowing underground for respite, giving novices the time and space to ponder a fresh approach. It takes a significant time investment, however, to reach a stage at which a four-legged hunter can match its human counterparts. It’s easy, too, to imagine some players being overwhelmed by an opening that’s all too eager to highlight its abundance of options and information. And for all the hints and instructional text, it’s still not great at communicating the nuances of combat: tutorials amount to little more than ‘here’s what the buttons do; now kill this monster’. Generations might not be the perfect starting point it threatens to be, then, and nor do the four distinct styles quite amount to the sea change they first appear to be; once you’ve settled on a weapon and a new technique, the game’s rhythms begin to feel familiar. Yet if it fails to reach the larger audience Capcom seeks, veteran hunters are unlikely to resist another call to arms. Monster Hunter still offers some of the most exciting and handsomely staged thirdperson combat you’ll find in any game – and, if only by a small 8 amount, Generations has raised the bar again.


RIGHT Generations has probably the gentlest difficulty curve of any Monster Hunter game, though you might struggle if you skip too many quests. But by the time you reach the five- and six-star missions, it’s as tough as past entries. MAIN Regular visits to the village chiefs are worthwhile, as you’ll gain access to missions that boost your standing within the village, unlocking various rewards. BOTTOM Of the four signature beasts, Astalos is worth tackling first, if only for its striking armour set. Gammoth may be easier, but you’ll need lots of stamina recovery items since it can absorb plenty of hits before it finally lies down

ABOVE With four distinct combat styles to work with, the list of potential combinations for multiplayer hunts has become exponentially longer. A game with already substantial depth just got a heck of a lot deeper

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Umbrella Corps

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ou’d be forgiven for thinking Umbrella Corps is a shooter, but much of the time it isn’t. While plenty of guns are available, they’re often not the best choice. The standard melee attack will down a zombie in one, and a grisly axe-like weapon, the Brainer, is the easiest way to win online matches. Players can take so many bullets before dying that it’s a perfectly workable tactic to charge head-on at an opponent with your Brainer – which increases your running speed – because you’ll have it lodged in their skull before their bullets take you down. Unfortunately, now the playerbase has figured this out, Umbrella Corps has descended from clumsy but serviceable cover shooter to abysmal thirdperson brawler. That’s a shame, because the concept – Counter Strike: Global Offensive but with zombies – is an intriguing elevator pitch. On occasion, that vision is delivered as you creep down a corridor, snaking between zombies and coordinating with your team of three to flush out the enemy. All too often, though, Umbrella Corps finds ways to undermine this vision, and not only by planting a Brainer between its eyes. Cover is presented as a core tenet of good play, and each available position of supposed safety flashes incessantly as you pass it, urging you to snap to the walls at every opportunity, belying how ineffective it is. Snapping in and out is clumsy and leaves you open to fire, and while in cover you have little freedom to move, meaning crouching next to a wall is often more useful than the provided system. In fact, crouching and even going prone have such high movement speeds that it rarely makes sense to stand upright at all, unless you’re on a Brainer rampage. That sense of fighting against the game’s mechanics is pervasive – after just a few matches you will likely understand Umbrella Corps better than it understands itself. The worst offender is the mechanic of grabbing a nearby zombie for use as a makeshift meat shield. Doing so reduces your vision drastically, the zombie can attack you at any moment, and any defensive boost is negligible. It’s useless, really, an idea flung into the mix and left there with no thought of balancing. That the tutorial skims over its existence is telling. If the game’s ideas are poorly conceived, their implementation is worse. Although shooting feels weighty and impactful, readability is such an issue that it doesn’t matter. Screen clutter is the main culprit, from the needlessly complicated HUD which has no issue presenting huge, screen-obscuring messages at crucial moments, to the in-game environs themselves. The latter issue is compounded by muddy textures, poor visual contrast between environmental elements, and the constant presence of zombies, all of which make it needlessly challenging to pick out a target. Even worse is the choice of a camera angle that hovers tight

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Publisher Capcom Developer In-house Format PC, PS4 (version tested) Release Out now

There’s little satisfaction in downing an enemy who can’t see you, less in getting flattened by an unseen assailant

THE BITTER SPEND

Umbrella Corps doesn’t bear the Resident Evil name – a wise decision for the brand, as it turns out – and also doesn’t include any classic RE characters unless you’re willing to hand over £11.99 for an upgrade pack featuring skins of Wesker, Chris, Hunk et al. For another £2.49 you can buy six new colours to paint your gear and weapons. Given that the base game doesn’t do enough to justify its own price tag, if feels rum for Capcom to ask for more money on top, but you’ll spend so long loitering in game lobbies that you might just be desperate enough to crave a few more customisation options with which to pass the time.

behind the character’s shoulder, meaning your avatar eats up an enormous amount of screen space, leaving you with a horrendous blind spot. Deaths often come from a shooter you can’t see, and the lack of a killcam means you’re regularly left clueless about the cause of your demise. It’s frustrating for both parties: there’s little satisfaction to be found in mowing down an enemy who can’t see you, and even less in getting flattened by an unseen assailant.

Missed opportunities are everywhere. The Zombie Jammer, for instance, keeps the undead from attacking you unless another player manages to damage it, at which point you’ve got zombies and the opposing team to contend with. It’s a neat concept that could’ve added a much-needed layer of tactical death-dealing, but again it makes little practical sense. Damaging an opponent’s jammer is a dice roll – they might be swamped by hungry zombies instantly, or they might be able to avoid or kill any attacking undead without much trouble, depending on the map, the player’s location within it, and the whims of the ropey AI. A damaged jammer is only ever a by-product of shooting to kill anyway, which means there’s little if any tactical impact on how you play. Precise aim is near impossible anyway – shooting from the hip is needlessly twitchy, while peering down the sights slows your reticule to a crawl. A single sensitivity setting governs both, so you can only ever rectify one by worsening the other. These issues span the entirety of this barebones release’s three basic modes. One Life Match is a threeon-three deathmatch with no respawning; MultiMission mode is an alternative setup with changing objectives; The Experiment, meanwhile, is a singleplayer offline campaign. The latter is the worst of the bunch, a series of achingly repetitive challenges that usually boil down to loitering around zombie spawn points until you’ve killed enough to progress, with poorly written diary entries in place of any meaningful plotting. This is a game that is targeting the esports scene, and though it’s unlikely to be successful in that aim, it is appropriately at its best in competitive multiplayer. But none of its modes will hold the attention for long, and its prospects as a competitive game are poor, especially since an enormously frustrating respawn system often places you directly into enemy fire for an instant death. Some of this can be blamed upon the maps which, while offering some nostalgic locales for Resident Evil fans, are far too small. One Life Match has its moments, and its three-minute rounds should keep things pacy and tense, but the underlying game just isn’t strong enough to support it. There are sparse moments that hint at Umbrella Corps’ potential, but these are mere glimpses of a better game, lost 3 beneath a stampeding horde of design mistakes.


ABOVE The Brainer can be heated to prevent counters, but doing so ruins the element of surprise. Even if you try it, it stays charged for such a short amount of time that it’s hardly ever worth doing

TOP The Cerberus dogs will be familiar to Resident Evil fans. While they’re probably the most dangerous zombie type, the fear factor is reduced somewhat by how frequently they get stuck on walls. MAIN Environments certainly have the Resident Evil feel, with most of them taking inspiration from previous entries in the series. Spencer Manor is coming as free DLC, for those who stick around. RIGHT The piles of gore signify a spawning point for enemies. In rounds where killing zombies is the aim, camping near one of these is always an easy path to victory

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Star Ocean: Integrity And Faithlessness

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ome way into Integrity And Faithlessness, we’re invited to look for something ‘a little off’. We already have a few suggestions, but for the sake of the mission we set them aside and begin the hunt for goodness knows what. Thankfully, our objective quickly becomes less vague, as we’re told to locate a physical impediment where none appears to exist; an invisible wall, in other words. And yet, when an unmistakable ‘no entry’ sign prevents us going farther, our colleagues tell us to search elsewhere. Confused, we trot off in the opposite direction, only to suddenly slow to a trudge. Our companions confirm that this time we’ve found the right barrier, and a hidden doorway is revealed. Bumping into the wrong kind of invisible wall may not be a major problem, but it is symptomatic of the failings of this unusually compact JRPG. It’s a game that promises much more than it can deliver, hinting at a wider world but keeping you firmly within its boundaries at all times. As often as it threatens to break the shackles of convention, it’s just as content to fall in line with JRPG custom, while occasionally lapsing into the genre’s worst habits. And its best ideas are consistently hobbled by inconsistent execution. The game’s opening moments are a prime example. Though keen to get a move on, the first hour is trial by tutorial box, as the action is crudely interrupted by large text overlays. And while it establishes a likeable, if generic, lead pairing in swordsman Fidel and healer ally Miki, much of the first three hours or so is spent between the same few locations. Having established a conflict between two neighbouring territories, you’re essentially pressed into menial busywork between the more exciting sequences where you’re asked to defend your hometown from invading forces. Integrity And Faithlessness’s realtime combat is frequently the glue that holds it together – though it’s a binding that’s not always fit for purpose. There’s an appealing effortlessness to random encounters, at least. It’s pacey and accessible, requiring you to simply tap one of two buttons for quick attacks, or to hold them down to spend MP on more powerful moves. Gradually, you’ll unlock better alternatives, giving you a choice of four attacks at any one time, depending on whether you’re firing from range or engaged at close quarters. As your party swells to six, with the ability to switch control to any party member in an instant, you have a wide range of options to deal with any threat. You might reasonably imagine this would let you pull off spectacular combo strings involving several characters. Think again. In practice, the ability to swap is only useful on rare occasions. If a particular party member is in danger and you’re in no position to toss them a healing item – or your healer is down – then it’s time to assume control and manoeuvre them out

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Developer Tri-Ace Publisher Square Enix Format PS4 Release Out now

of harm’s way. Otherwise, you can simply stick to your favourite hero and whale away. Only during boss fights do you need to think a little more strategically, though this barely amounts to more than ensuring you’ve hoarded enough restoratives and revives. There’s a brief cooldown timer on hitting pause to use items, but it’s short enough that you’ll rarely see more than one HP gauge reduced to zero.

There’s an exception to this in the form of

As often as it threatens to break the shackles of convention, it’s just as content to fall in line with JRPG custom

FIDEL ABOUT

So long as you’re not actively avoiding battles, you’ll rarely find yourself underpowered at any stage, though at times it’s worth wandering off the critical path. You needn’t go too far: this is the kind of JRPG in which you’ll visit a bulletin board to pick up extra jobs only to find you’ve completed five or six objectives already. When you’re in a town, meanwhile, approaching a whistle icon sees your party split up: talking to individuals at this stage will often trigger optional conversations that can lead to unlocking some of the more esoteric roles. If the game’s lightweight challenge means you hardly need to seek out extra buffs, it’s still worth doing for the sake of fleshing out characters that otherwise feel thinly sketched.

battles that require you to keep someone protected, with enemies naturally turning their full force on the vulnerable. Despite this being a fairly easy game, these can mean game over unless you’re well prepared, which usually amounts to storing up your special meter, and allocating buffs to the right characters. These buffs come from investing points in Roles, which allow you to influence the combat behaviours of the party members you’re not controlling. While you can encourage weaker characters to defend more often and instruct ranged attackers to focus on accuracy over aggression, you can’t prevent them from blundering into an AOE attack. Switching might let you pull someone out of range, though often the character you swapped from will dumbly wander into the gap and take the hit. Elsewhere, the decision to do away with cutscenes where possible is something of a mixed blessing – which is to say, heaven help us, we actually missed them. A good portion of the story is told as you walk along with others, occasionally coming to a halt within a small radius, with a red barrier appearing should you stray too far from the talker. It’s the JRPG equivalent of Marcus Fenix pressing his fingers to his ear, but worse: unless you keep turning the camera, the cast will deliver their lines while facing away from you and, with no subtitle identifiers, at times you’ll be unsure who’s talking, or who they’re addressing. While the cast are mostly archetypes, they’re likeable enough that you’ll be glad when it reverts to form and finally brings its camera closer to their doe-eyed faces – even if a verbose script leads to moments of unintended comedy. Hackneyed though it is, the central thread of a young girl with mysterious powers tries hard to haul you through to the end. But too often Integrity And Faithlessness is simply a drag, nowhere more so than the moment a tacit promise of new worlds is revealed to be cruel chicanery. True, that’s almost certainly the result of ambition colliding with budgetary constraints; likewise, the way attractive character models clip through one another, and the sumptuous scenery that occasionally masks some pretty rudimentary textures and geometry. But the disappointment lingers all the same. A series whose name promises much has under-delivered once again: this galactic 5 adventure is far too keen to keep you earthbound.


LEFT Oddly, we unlocked the ability to emote before being able to craft items or cook food. It’s an ability you can level up too, though you can have fun with the default options, which let Fidel sit down, laugh or cry into his sleeve. BELOW Switch to Emmerson and you can fight every battle from range, which is particularly useful during boss fights. Either way, sticking to heavy attacks is by far the most effective tactic. MAIN The idea of melding sci-fi and fantasy themes is an appealing one, though the game doesn’t properly follow through on exploring such a clash of cultures

ABOVE If the quality of the visual design is inconsistent, the soundtrack from veteran composer Motoi Sakuraba is a reliable constant: never knowingly understated, his lively themes are nonetheless a highlight

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Mighty No 9

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o this is what $4 million gets you these days. Comcept might have asked for a more modest sum of $900k, but with Keiji Inafune in charge and a promise to combine the best of vintage sidescrollers from the 8- and 16bit eras with contemporary ideas, Mighty No 9 quickly became something of a standard-bearer for crowdfunded games. The pressure of such an elevated status seemed to have taken a toll on production; the game missed its original due date and a succession of updated deadlines. Now, more than a year late and with portable versions still pending, it’s finally with us – and we find ourselves wondering what exactly was causing the delay. Inafune, if you believe Hideki Kamiya, might be more businessman than creator, but this is very much his baby: it’s his name on the Kickstarter campaign, his name at the very top of the credits list. Beyond the concept, it’s hard to gauge exactly how heavily involved he was in the day-to-day development – and this clearly wasn’t the only project on his slate. Regardless, this is very much Inafune by numbers, a Mega Man game in all but name, and not a particularly good one. A forgiving opening stage sets the scene with reasonable efficiency: the world’s robots have turned hostile, including protagonist Beck’s former allies, Mighty Numbers 1-8. The robot designs are often rather characterful – it’s a rare and amusing treat to find yourself under attack from a rampaging recycle bin – though they’re the visual highlight of a game that otherwise falls well short of that initial promotional image. Perhaps its simple aesthetic was informed by a need to efficiently scale to less capable hardware; either way, it says much that 3DS should be able to handle this quite comfortably. Even with that in mind, the presentation is often second-rate. Story sequences are sparsely animated and poorly voiced. “You are. All set. Then?” is your stilted introduction to each stage. Mighty No 9 rarely deviates from the Mega Man formula, paying uncomfortably close tribute wherever it’s able: Beck’s allies include a genial professor and a friendly female robot (in Mega Man it was Roll; here, we have Call). Once past the opening City section, you can tackle the levels in any order, obtaining transformations from defeated guardians that can smooth your progress through other stages. If all this is emblematic of the general lack of invention, it does at least boast one smart idea. Rather than simply shooting enemies until they explode, you’ll weaken them with a volley or two and then dash into them to assimilate their energy. With a combo chain that builds the more times you successively achieve 100 per cent absorption, increasing your score total and your subsequent stage ranking, it’s an incentive to speed through levels, with Beck’s languid movement offering more encouragement to get a wriggle on. You may also receive an item that can be

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Developer Comcept, Inti Creates Publisher Deep Silver Format 360, 3DS, PC, PS3, PS4 (tested), Vita, Wii U, Xbox One Release Out now (360, PC, PS3, PS4, Wii U, Xbox One), TBC (3DS/Vita)

This is very much Inafune by numbers, a Mega Man game in all but name, and not a particularly good one

used to top up your health with a tap of the touchpad – often best saved up for the end-of-level boss. Assuming you can survive that long, of course. Mighty No 9 has appropriated the high difficulty of its inspiration, but it’s applied inconsistently, and often confuses fussy, exacting design with a firm but fair challenge. Some sections are alarmingly straightforward, but then you’ll hit a spike and lose several lives all at once. You’ll find a single, needlessly tight gap midway through an extended descent between two walls of spikes that kill you on contact. We lost count of the number of times lone projectiles nudged us off narrow walkways and collapsing platforms. It’s the kind of game that asks you to leap between moving vehicles on a highway chase, while a robot hovers just out of comfortable attack range, launching tiny drones that barely touch your health meter but do just enough to prevent you making the jump, even with an attempted mid-air recovery dash. When you know what’s coming, these elements are easily overcome; they’re not designed to challenge, but to frustrate. And in a game designed to be sped through, triggering a fatal hazard near the entrance of a room is simply bad design.

Even tuning out the annoying dialogue of the boss battles – and you’ll have to press a button to skip through their preamble during each subsequent attempt – there are some that are profoundly tedious to beat. One has a series of one-hit-kill attacks; thankfully, it telegraphs them clearly enough that they’re easily avoided, though we discovered to our horror it also has a fatal explosive attack if you don’t defeat it quickly. Others are attritional in Beck’s regular guise, but rendered trivially easy once you’ve unlocked a specific power. Making the effort to obtain a new ability should earn you a tangible advantage, but going from a steep challenge to one that’s barely there betrays a glaring lack of balance. An energy meter theoretically limits the use of your powers, but that hardly matters when the fight is over before you’ve exhausted even two-thirds of it. Despite a crushingly generic ‘training room’ aesthetic, a suite of challenges offers a more consistent level of difficulty, often enforcing certain restrictions as you race a strict timer, or attempt to defeat several enemies with a limited number of shots. It’s here that Mighty No 9 fulfils a little of its potential, but are these flashes of ingenuity enough to satisfy its investors? This may have been a game with relatively humble aims, but such startling lack of ambition is even more baffling in light of the accusations its figurehead has levelled at Japanese publishers. Inafune spoke of a culture of complacency, of a reliance on repackaging old ideas and selling them as new. His criticisms ring all the more hollow when he’s just spent $4 million of 4 backers’ money doing precisely that. Mighty? No.


RIGHT Cryo’s Freeze ability lets you put regular enemies on ice, slowing the depletion of their energy and allowing you to rack up absorption combos with relative ease. Alas, it’s not much use in boss fights. MAIN You can increase the number of continues, which we’d recommend for the sake of your blood pressure – at least until you’ve unlocked a few suits to make things easier. BOTTOM One suit lets you transform into a miniature bulldozer by holding the attack button. In this mode, you can charge into enemies; if you’ve shot them first, they’ll turn into handily large projectiles

ABOVE The sniper, Countershade, hides within a stage that must be traversed back and forth several times before he’ll agree to battle you. It’s a rather dull process, though his invisibility power comes in handy

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Inside

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t does hold up on a second play, then. Inside’s mesmeric climax is such a fearless shift – where escaping suddenly means breaking out rather than getting away – that it’s easy to forget that much of what precedes it displays a similar degree of confidence and craft. In many respects Playdead hasn’t strayed far from its previous game’s successful blend of side-scrolling exploration with physics puzzles and light platforming, but this is much more than Limbo 2.0. There is a poise here that Limbo often possessed but occasionally lost in its desire to provoke and challenge. Its traps betrayed a certain callowness; its puzzles could be finicky and overly demanding. Inside may require thought, care and occasionally a sharp sense of timing to progress, but its obstacles never feel unfair. Its world has a similarly disquieting tenor, but if anything it’s even more darkly enveloping. After several minutes of low-level noise that never gets louder than the throaty rumble of a truck’s engine in the middle distance and the gentle crunch of leaves underfoot, the first time its young lead is spotted is heart-stopping. A bark pierces the silence like a gunshot, as the gap between hunter and hunted narrows and you realise you’re wading through water and can’t move any faster.

There are several optional puzzles, each netting you an Achievement. Some are extremely well-hidden: after a second playthrough spent poking at every suspicious-looking piece of scenery, we’re still missing one or two

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Developer/publisher Playdead Format PC, Xbox One (tested) Release Out now

ADULT ASSISTANCE

Periodically, the boy will stumble across glowing helmets that allow him to guide the otherwise immobile avatars in the background. As the boy flails a little way off the ground, you essentially assume control of these brainwashed characters, guiding them to push or pull objects. It’s a clever twist that allows PlayDead to vary what might otherwise be repetitive environmental puzzles, eventually leading to a stirring sequence where they’re able to assist you more directly.

It all feels frighteningly real, amplified by the boy’s convincing reactions in every situation; he’ll hunker down behind rocks, windmill his arms, and duck his head. This is all automated – there’s no crouch or run button – and yet you still feel responsible. That in turn makes each death hit all the harder. These could so easily feel crassly exploitative, particularly given the protagonist’s youth, but Playdead doesn’t linger. Each demise is appropriately repulsive, and shocking because it is so sudden and violent; enough, perhaps, to make you recoil. It may have no lasting impact, but it enforces a careful approach, if only because you don’t want to have to see the boy’s light extinguished so brutally again. Every element here feels as if it has been pored over obsessively, each individual moving part nudged carefully into place so that the whole can tick with metronomic precision. You alone are the anomaly, and at times it feels as if that’s why you’re being chased. Against a backdrop of adult automatons who shuffle along with zombie-like mindlessness, this courageous youngster represents a rare flash of colour, energy, even humanity: a potential catalyst for change in a world of horror, death and grim obedience. Inside, too, stands apart. It’s an audacious, singular vision that delivers a message to the many pretenders that followed 9 in Limbo’s wake: this is how it’s done.


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Furi

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ne-on-one combat is a game of taking turns. You evade, block or repel your enemy’s attacks until your moment comes, that little window of opportunity inviting you onto the front foot. This is the most vital component of any fighting game, of any boss battle. You should have to work for your turn, and when it comes – when to becomes fro, back becomes forth – the outcome should feel like a just reward for your efforts. It’s a concept The Game Bakers has failed to grasp entirely. This game requires a tremendous amount of input, but gives precious little output. Still, it does not lack spectacle. Furi tests the memory, the reflexes and the thumbs. It looks sumptuous, sounds terrific and has an intriguing, oddly affecting story. And there are moments where everything works as it should, as a plan is finely formed, perfectly implemented and the antagonist who’s had hold of your goat for a few teeth-gnashing hours is finally put to the sword. Sadly, for much of the rest of its runtime, it’s just kind of annoying. Furi’s great conceptual trick is that it blends the balletic to-and-fro of a melee brawler’s boss fight with the pattern recognition and precision of a bullet-hell shooter. And, when those two elements Enemy bullets are smartly colour-coded. These standard orange projectiles can be shot away, while a green variant contains a health boost. Blues can be parried, while purple ones will home in on you, forcing you into cover

Developer/publisher The Game Bakers Format PC, PS4 (tested) Release Out now

A LIFE LESS ORDINARY

Each boss fight is split across multiple phases, dictated by their stock of health bars: empty one meter, and you move onto the next phase, your health bar restored to full and an extra life awarded. Lose, however, and the phase resets, restoring your enemy’s health; lose all your lives and it’s back to the start of the battle. Death comes frequently as you learn each fight, but we suggest you resist the temptation to lower the difficulty: doing so turns fights into two-minute cakewalks.

actually blend, it’s intoxicating. But by and large, rather than elegantly combine its two core concepts, Furi strobes between them. Dodge these bullets; parry these attacks; blink through these lasers. Then do it all again, with slightly more to contend with, or slightly different timing. Eventually, you’ll be given a small window in which to deal some damage. We’re happy to dance to an opponent’s tune, so long as we get to lead at some point. Unfortunately, even when the advantage is yours, Furi calls the shots. You’ll close in and start up your standard four-hit melee combo, but the boss will backflip away from the third hit, then parry the fourth. You’ll find a gap in an attack string and quickly strike, only for them to cancel their current animation and knock you away. Weaving in and out of a bullet curtain, you’ll line up a charged shot with your laser pistol, only to find that your enemy is invincible. There’s no room for creativity, for improvisation or self-expression; all that matters is proving you’ve committed an entire fight to memory. It’s a tremendous shame, because the bosses themselves are a finely conceived, smartly designed and varied bunch. The creative health system (see ‘A life less ordinary’) adds tension and elegance to the way fights progress from a simple, accommodating first phase to an insanely punishing climax. Were it 6 not so restrictive, Furi might have been a classic.

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Trials Of The Blood Dragon

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ith Trials Of The Blood Dragon, RedLynx – keen to distance itself from the accusations of mechanical homogeneity and repetition so often levelled at publisher Ubisoft – seems to have gone out of its way to ensure Trials fans no longer have to endure a continual procession of brilliantly conceived bike-based platforming challenges. The problem, of course, is that this is the one Ubisoft-published series where any distraction from the core mechanic is grating. So, in the name of innovation and diversity, we’re offered a selection of spirit-sapping gameplay modes whose only thread of commonality is that they’re poorly suited for Trials’ ageing, bike-focused engine. On-foot sections deliver floaty, vague controls that make it feel like your character is entirely disassociated from the environment – and you’ll have to exchange fire with awkwardly positioned enemies along the way. An infrequently piloted remote-control car sucks all of the joy out of the game’s obstacle courses, while a brief stealth section does much the same for any twitching remnant of your sense of momentum. And then there are the jetpack portions in which you’re gifted a propulsion device that feels simultaneously underpowered and erratic. RedLynx even takes the The Blood Dragon treatment is erratically applied, giving an inconsistent aesthetic that, while delivering pleasing artwork and live-action cutscenes, is let down by a scruffy game engine and an overuse of brown and beige

Developer RedLynx Publisher Ubisoft Format PC, PS4 (tested), Xbox One Release Out now

TRIAL HARDER

RedLynx has, at least, learned from the terrible implementation of voiceovers in Trials Fusion. Here, the game’s underwhelming performances play out to their conclusion, and don’t repeat, even if you skip back to a checkpoint (though you’ll still have to listen to it all again if you restart the track while going for an A+ rating). But this solution to a problem that needn’t exist underscores the increasing liberties RedLynx is taking with the series.

time to sully the memory of Trials’ excellent skill challenges by making you drag a vibration-sensitive bomb across the surface of a mountainous, wreckagestrewn alien planet. Rather than an inessential distraction in which you see how far you can get against increasingly long odds, however, here it’s on the critical path and immediately followed with the game’s most galling jetpack segment. The greatest annoyance in all of this is that there are some truly memorable Trials moments buried underneath the rest of the tosh. A drug-fuelled trip down the side of a building stands out, as does a brief pinball-inspired obstacle course. Shooting at targets while on the bike inspires the occasional grin, and the introduction of a grappling hook shows flashes of potential – though here it falters thanks to the lack of convincing applications. And every instance of enjoyable Trials biking is weighed down by inseparable – and insufferable – variations on the theme. Given the promotional Trials Fusion video included in the package, this offshoot is presumably intended to bring curious players into the core series’ fold, but we can’t think of a less appealing introduction. In fact, we’d much rather play the awful unicorn levels in Fusion’s Awesome Level Max DLC, which probably ranks among the most damning things we’ve ever 3 said about a game.

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How much spirit remains in Crystal Dynamics’ gothic tale of realm-shifting wraith Raziel?

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Legacy g y Of Kain Soull Reaver Developer Crystal Dynamics Publisher Eidos Interactive Format PS1, PC Release 1999

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ending sequences to account for the missing content. In the run-up to the final struggle with Kain, a magical apparatus grants you visions of an overwritten timeline, with encounters and twists that never took place. If Soul Reaver’s butchered geography complements an in-game history of genocide and destruction, its tale of treacherous fathers and vengeful offspring speaks to the developer’s war of succession with Silicon Knights, creator of the Legacy Of Kain universe. Crystal Dynamics agreed to fund development of the original Blood Omen: Legacy Of Kain in 1994, but the partnership was brief and acrimonious – according to Crystal Dynamics designer Jeronimo Barrera, the police had to be called during one especially heated exchange with Silicon Knights founder Denis Dyack.

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uried in the mountains of Crystal Dynamics’ tortured, courageous The Legacy Of Kain: Soul Reaver there’s a city that, while not exactly lost, definitely seems out of place. Here you’ll encounter the world’s few surviving humans – a pathetic band of crossbowmen and engineers, scraping a living behind colossal iron bulwarks and polluted moats. The city is proof against the vampires that have overrun the land of Nosgoth, but it offers no defence against a creature like Raziel, the game’s protagonist, able to glide on shredded wings and pass through doors and barricades as a wraith. The area layout courts intrigue, as you descend from redbrick alleyways through the sewers to a mysterious shrine, dominated by a sultry female effigy, but exploration peters out abruptly with the discovery of an optional magic attack and a handful of health upgrades. It’s a curious addition, an anti-climactic detour in the midst of an otherwise relentless quest for vengeance on Kain, the vampire lord who destroyed Raziel’s original body many centuries before. The human Citadel was, in fact, supposed to be the threshold to an enormous, gaslit undercity of pillars linked by rickety wooden bridges, redolent of the descent to Blighttown in Dark Souls. It’s the tip of an iceberg’s worth of cancelled material, ranging from boss fights through additional dungeons to character abilities. All games have their share of cut content, of course, but Soul Reaver is notable for how this material lingers in the texture of the world – a sign of the sheer brutality with which the game was hacked down to size, which lends itself conveniently to the portrayal of a broken civilisation. The game’s crumbling cathedrals and boneyards are rife with objects that entice yet resist inquiry – building facades that hint at areas beyond, ledges you can’t quite reach, a forge where you can imbue Raziel’s blade with elemental properties that feels like it should be the first of many. So farreaching were the edits, carried out against the backdrop of a torrid legal brawl, that Crystal Dynamics wasn’t able to alter the

In 1997, Silicon

Knights sued Crystal Dynamics for allegedly withholding royalty advances, hiring third parties to ‘shadow’ its operations, and passing itself off as the developer after selling certain publishing rights to Activision, among other accusations. Crystal Dynamics countered by claiming that Blood Omen’s development had ground to a halt, and that it had been forced to fly in its own staff to help redesign much of the world and story. Blood Omen was both a critical and commercial success regardless, but litigation continued into development of the sequel, which saw Silicon Knights and Crystal Dynamics competing for Activision’s approval. Though unconvinced by the latter’s initial pitches, the publisher eventually greenlit a Legacy Of Kain adaptation of a new IP created by Amy Hennig, now better known for her work on the Uncharted series. Silicon Knights promptly filed an injunction to block promotion of the game, arguing Crystal had stolen its intellectual property, a suit that was settled out of court. As a result, Dyack agreed to wash his hands of the series. It would be facile to label Soul Reaver’s plot a direct commentary on all this, but there’s a whiff of satire to how it pits the player’s character against Blood Omen’s protagonist Kain, in a battle not just for Nosgoth but the concept of free will. A disgraced vampire lieutenant, hurled into a watery chasm for the crime of evolving

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wings, Raziel began life as the star of the aforesaid new IP, Shifter – a gnostic parable loosely inspired by John Milton’s Paradise Lost, in which a fallen angel sets out to overthrow a malicious pretender god. In reimagining the latter as Kain – a character who was supposed to bring balance to Nosgoth, before he succumbed to vampirism – Hennig made wresting control of the universe from Silicon Knights the crux of Soul Reaver’s narrative. The game itself is an impressively wellunified bag of tricks, a sprawling 3D Metroidvania title that is worth revisiting chiefly for the ability to switch in realtime between physical and spectral dimensions. Other games have experimented with parallel realities – foremost among them Soul Reaver’s close contemporary Silent Hill, with its corridors that flake away to reveal

to vertices in the geometry, allowing the designers to warp an object’s shape and lighting with relative ease. Plane-shifting also forms part of the combat design, though less intelligently. Most of your enemies are vampires, the offspring of Kain’s surviving lieutenants. To kill these creatures you must first destroy their bodies by impaling, burning or drowning them, then devour their souls,

THE GAME’S MOST ENTERTAINING PLATFORMING CONUNDRUMS ASK YOU TO SHIFT PLANES REPEATEDLY

Zephon has evolved into a monstrous insect, his flesh now fused with the brass and masonry of his lair

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mosaics of ruined flesh – but few burrow into the concept quite as cleverly. While Raziel is in the spectral realm, water has no heft, objects such as rope lifts are static, and layouts twist repulsively, creating routes while cancelling others. The audio changes, too, acquiring a dreary, aquatic echo. The game’s most entertaining platforming conundrums ask you to shift planes repeatedly, proceeding as far as you can in one dimension before warping to the other. The ability also leads to some wonderful surprises, such as a mausoleum floor that collapses into a funnel, dropping the player into a hidden chamber. Achieving all this using PS1’s limited memory was, needless to say, an uphill struggle. After deciding against morphing the textures by hand, Crystal Dynamics came up with the idea of attaching alternative ‘spectral’ values

restoring Raziel’s health in the process. Allow a vampire’s jettisoned soul to fade into the spectral realm, and it will lie in wait for you there. Allow that soul to reinhabit its body and it will resurrect with the ability to drain Raziel’s own spiritual energy. The designers don’t do nearly enough with these promising ingredients – impaling vampires is too straightforward, and boss fights turn on simple patterns. But it’s an eye-catching setup that delivers the odd satisfying duel, and the various vampire sub-breeds are fairly inventive. In the necropolis of Melchiah, lop-sided ghouls lurk in ambush beneath the soil. Among the organ pipes of Zephon’s lair, meanwhile, you’ll face arachnid bloodsuckers who dart sideways to nip at Raziel’s flanks. Some of the most engrossing virtual worlds are governed by a single motif, or

Kain would go onto star in a number of Blood Omen sequels, but his ability set lacks the mystique and sophistication of Raziel’s. He is, however, a more involved character, where Raziel is driven simply by revenge


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Soul Reaver’s Nosgoth is modelled on late Victorian industrial London, while its take on the spirit world evokes the jagged silhouettes and eerie perspectives of German Expressionist cinema. This was a departure from the medieval vampire fantasy of Blood Omen, but the script retains the latter’s silly yet diverting Shakespearean monologues. The game is also memorable for its voice acting, with Tony Jay supplying an especially baroque and resonant performance as the Elder God. In terms of videogame influences, there are parallels with Looking Glass Studios’ original Thief, from 1998. The Silenced Cathedral area, in particular, seems worthy of master pickpocket Garrett’s attention.

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sets working in harmony. Destiny has its shimmering diamond designs, for instance, The Witness its all-pervading circles and lines. Nosgoth is held together by the figure of the spiral. It is also, however, a world somewhat in thrall to the square. While not especially laborious, the block puzzles that fill time between exploration and fighting in Soul Reaver are its least inspired elements – the output of a team working against the clock to meet the expectations of a genre, rather than natural extensions of a concept. Many of Soul Reaver’s scrubbed ideas would find their way into Soul Reaver 2 for PS2, and Amy Hennig has suggested that chopping back the original, more conclusive ending has worked out for the best, since it opened up more directions for sequels. If none of these sequels has come close to surpassing Soul Reaver or Blood Omen – certainly not Square Enix’s now-shuttered

free-to-play multiplayer game Nosgoth – the series has kept up its reputation for development difficulties.

Ritual Entertainment’s

Legacy Of Kain: The Dark Prophecy was written off after an intense few months in development during 2004. Climax’s Legacy Of Kain: Dead Sun fared rather better, enduring from around 2009 to 2012 before the publisher decided it wouldn’t meet sales expectations. Going by leaked footage, Dead Sun appears to have been a full reworking of the Soul Reaver template, with a larger and more colourful open world, twitchier combat, and a more sophisticated relationship between spectral and physical planes. It’s unlikely at this stage that any of Nosgoth’s innumerable ghosts will be laid to rest. Crystal Dynamics has long since moved on to Tomb Raider, and with 3.5 million sales on record as of 2012, the Legacy Of Kain series presumably isn’t much of a priority for Square Enix. This is a shame, because few games are more deserving of a remake than Soul Reaver, an eldritch, eccentric yet coherent effort that’s too palpably scarred by the circumstances of its creation. With Nathan Drake, Amy Hennig helped to set the tempo for thirdperson action blockbusters, and her forthcoming contribution to the Star Wars universe under EA is sure to be worth watching carefully. But in terms of how it lets you bend a world to your will, Soul Reaver remains uncharted territory indeed. Q

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DISPATCHES PERSPECTIVE

JAMES LEACH

Postcards From The Clipping Plane

I

t’s always a pleasure to visit developers whose HQs are in city-centre business tower blocks. One reason is they’re usually easy to find – once you rock up, there’ll be no more than four similarly faceless monoliths, and the signage will be good. But the teenager in me loves walking across a huge marble-andchrome vestibule to see a smart selection of receptionists, who have to be professional. Looking like a toddler who’s dressed himself in the dark, I shamble across, past smart businessfolk, and I say I’m here to see, not the Zinc Insurance Corporation, but Fat Grinning Monkey on the seventh floor. I announce this loudly, wanting all the assorted suits to think, ‘Damn, he has the best job in the world, where he can dress like a skater and help do whatever Fat Grinning Monkey do.’ As I wait, a trickle of people dressed like me enter, usually carrying unhealthy food and drink. It’s 10am and they’re still wandering into work. I hope all the suits are doubly impressed. Then, when I get ushered up to the meeting, I get all excited because I’m going to see something brand new. It happened again recently. The game was set in a world which had been realised to a level of detail I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. Lush jungles, swamps, rolling forests all spread before me. Cities, bases, castles and spaceports dotted the huge landscape like, well, Earth. But with more spaceports. I was taken on an ecological tour of the planet. I learnt how the sentient beings had impacted on it, and how the wildernesses contained delicate, dynamic foodchains which had led to the diverse flora and fauna. I was in awe; I was expecting a sci-fi combat game. They showed me oceans packed with life. Apex shark-like predators hunted in packs, driven by food, temperature and currents. It was breathtaking. I asked the team how I could kill these creatures. They looked pained. “Why would you want to? Your goal in the game is to conquer the world, ridding it of the evil, ecologically unaware enemies.” “But can I hunt those shark things using

Zinc Insurance

Corp

If a game gives me a hammer, I will use it on everything I see, whether it looks like a nail or not hoverships? Do they explode if I fire rockets at them? Could I even kill them from space?” “Well, yes, but these creatures are part of the planet. They’re like your friends.” I think I got it then. “So I can enslave them and train them up to take out enemy submarines? Can I do that with the swamp creatures? Train them to knock out tanks?” It was as if someone had spun the dial of the air conditioner to ‘icy’. The team had laboured long and hard to create a sumptuous world which they were sure players would consider worth fighting for. Astonishing coders and artists they might be; 14-year-old gamer

boys they were not. In a game world at war, everything is either an asset or a target. Their medieval castles weren’t something people would fight harder to preserve; they would be seen only as garrisons for shock troops. Those beautiful birds eternally riding the thermals by the coast? Can we use them to drop bombs on people? And could a squad of troops wipe out that enclave of snow tigers, thus providing a safe route through the mountains? The team were visibly upset, so I told them I don’t think like this in real life. I don’t think anyone does, to be honest. It’s why I am unconvinced that games have a perceivably negative impact on society. But if a game gives me a hammer, I will use it on everything I see, whether it looks like a nail or not. In an effort to provide a solution, I proposed that there be rewards for not kicking seven bells out of the ptarmigans and ocelots and pygmy marmosets and so on. The gang were unconvinced. Saving the planet should be its own reward, was their opinion. But I started to wonder if there was another factor at play here. I have, in the past, written hundreds of lines for game characters who, under the right set of circumstances, might actually get permanently killed before much of these could ever be delivered. It’s never bothered me because I take pleasure in the idea that two players of such a game might discuss it, with one saying that the character had some amazing dialogue, while the other grimaces, knowing that they didn’t get to hear it owing to a badly placed railgun shot on level three. However, maybe these guys had simply invested such care, time and love into their ecology that they couldn’t comprehend that others would see it differently to them. It didn’t end in stalemate. I did get to write for them, and they did consider my points, but victory was mine because I walked out of their blonde-wood-and-steel cathedral-like reception without handing my visitor pass back in. It had a nifty lanyard and everything. James Leach is a BAFTA Award-winning freelance writer whose work features in games and on television and radio

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Edge september 2016 uk