Final Fantasy XV has gone through a bumpy road for development, but a recent event helped change everything for the better: Uncovered. Located at the Shrine Auditorium near USC in Los Angeles, everything was presented in a beautiful setting which we had the pleasure of attending.
The event played off the theme of revealing 14 items throughout. Here’s what each reveal was:
1. The first unveil, was possibly the most pleasant. Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of Final Fantasy, was in attendance and gave the audience a few words. He expressed excitement in the upcoming game and essentially passed on the torch to the new guys, which was very touching.
2. There was a brand new trailer that was shown off, which helped show a little more variety from the game and most importantly, showed off some giant titan creature at the end!
3. The official logo was then revealed. Being done by Yoshitaka Amano, the same person who has done the logos (and many other designs as well) for the franchise, it has the very familiar elegant style that we come to expect. There was a twist, though! This logo is the first to be completely rendered in 3D, which helped to show a lot more detail and a lot more depth to the design. It was quite stunning. To make matters even more exciting, Yoshitaka was in attendance as well! To escalate even further, Nobuo Uematsu, the composer for the franchise all the way to about Final Fantasy X, had recorded a special message of encouragement just for the event. He wasn’t able to attend due to Distant Worlds scheduling conflicts, unfortunately.
4. From the previous trailer, we were presented with a beautiful cover of the song ‘Stand by Me’. For those who didn’t recognize who performed, it was actually Florence and the Machine. She even had a special message video presented as well.
5. In the next bit, we were presented with…Chocobos! Not only was the car presented as a more dynamic form of travel than normal (complete with a radio station which plays various old Final Fantasy tracks), the Chocobos were presented with some new abilities too. The main neat things were that they can glide now, and they can do a sort of ‘drift’.
6. A nice little trailer was shown off with a presentation of some of the various environments from the game. To help show off the engine and the beauty (and you can bet that it’s gorgeous), we also got to see some different weather effects and various times of the day as well.
7. The next reveal is when things got really exciting. We were presented with a trailer for a brand new anime mini-series called ‘Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV’ which will expand on the relationship of the four main characters prior to the events of the game. It has some really high animation quality and looks really promising. It’ll be released over-time in 5 parts as we approach the release of the game. The first part is already available on YouTube, and is linked above.
8. To continue to keep the ball rolling, they announced a brand new CGI movie called ‘Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV’. This one is a feature-length film that’s being released for free for digital download and for stream. It’s going to run concurrently with the game but cover events involving Noctis’ father and related characters (Noctis is the main character of the game). It’s slated for a release sometime before the game.
9. During the trailer for Kingsglaive, a really awesome Audi car was shown. This special car in the movie is actually going to have a single real-life counterpart built. No details on whether it would ever be purchasable or at least how we could see it were revealed.
10. Three characters in the movie who were prominently featured were Luna, King Regis and Nyx are being voiced by Lena Headey, Sean Bean and Aaron Paul respectively. Lena Headey was present to talk a little, as was Aaron Paul. Unfortunately, Sean Bean could not make it but was able to have a special video presented.
11. Mini-games have been a staple in the franchise, so the new mini-game was shown off. It seemed like some kind of a cross between pinball and Galaga combined together. The twist is that this game, Justice Monsters Five, will be available for download and play on Android, iOS and Windows 10 at some point before the main game’s release. They indicated the mobile game will interact with the main game somehow, but no details were revealed about this.
12. Thanks to Square-Enix’s recent success with releasing demos which show off gameplay while presenting a standalone story (Bravely Default and Bravely Second), Final Fantasy XV will get the same treatment via the ‘Platinum Demo – Final Fantasy XV’. This demo is completely free and is already available for download on both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Completing this demo will also enable the use of Carbuncle in the full game. The game revolves around Noctis as a child with his friend the Carbuncle.
13. Of particular interest was the announcement of two collector’s editions of the game. There’s a Deluxe Edition that comes with a beautiful steelbook case, the game, a Blu-ray of Kingsglaive and some DLC @ $89.99 (https://store.na.square-enix.com/product/398311/final-fantasy-xv-deluxe-edition-xbox-one). The really exciting one is the Ultimate Edition, though. This hefty beast comes with the same things as the Deluxe, plus: a 192 page artbook; another special steelbook case which houses a Blu-ray of Brotherhood (which includes a special 6th episode) and a special soundtrack including tracks from the anime and movie; an exclusive Play Arts Kai figure of Noctis; additional DLC on top of what’s in the Deluxe Edition. This one runs at a hefty $269.99 and was only available on the official Square-Enix store (https://store.na.square-enix.com/product/398306/final-fantasy-xv-ultimate-collector-s-edition-ps4). These went up for order at 9pm PST the night of the event. The Ultimate Edition was limited to 30,000 copies, and sold out within minutes.
14. The final announcement was the release date: September 30, 2016. Amusingly, the hosts poked fun at GameStop for leaking the release date before the Uncovered event.
Finally, the director of Final Fantasy XV, Hajime Tabata, stepped up to give some final words. As was expected, he announced that there was actually a final, fifteenth, reveal. It was another epic trailer, which ended showing that the group’s car in the game actually functions as an ‘airship’ as well, since it can fly. It was a very glorious end to a very exciting event. Thanks to the hosts (who were really funny) and the really good flow of content, the event was a resounding success. There were no hitches during the presentation, and they managed to create a lot of hype. In fact, they even managed to get me immensely interested in the game. I haven’t been interested in a Final Fantasy game since after Final Fantasy X launched, so that was a major feat.
Keep an eye here as we continue to present coverage of all the Final Fantasy XV products as they come out.
A tower defense game... Without towers!? That's how the Malaysian developer Kurechii describes their latest game, "Tiny Guardians". As a big fan of tower defense, and a big fan of cute indie games, this game jumped out at me immediately. "Tiny Guardians" tasks you with protecting a girl named Lunalie on her journey across a bunch of unique and beautiful landscapes. This game was released on mobile devices a few years ago, but this is the brand-new Steam version (and everything is better on PC).
The cards you play to summon guardians have some of my FAVORITE art in the game, though. Every time I level up a guardian in the field I get the urge to take a screenshot just to go back and look at it again. Each level of a card has different art, and they all look absolutely fantastic.
I'm having a lot of fun with "Tiny Guardians". It's semi-casual, but just challenging enough that it hasn't gotten boring or tiring. The tough battles are just hard enough that if you run into something easy, it's a breath of fresh air rather than a disappointment. I will say that after a while I start to wish I was playing on mobile rather than a desktop. It FEELS like a mobile game for sure. The only reason I love the PC version is the high-resolution art that I can't get enough of. You can buy "Tiny Guardians" on Steam for $9.99 or your regional equivalent.
FULL DISCLOSURE: this game was provided to A-To-J Connections free-of-charge by the developers in order to write this review.
Lane-pushing mutliplayer strategic combat games have been all the rage lately. Generally called MOBAs, (a pretty weak genre name in my opinion), these games all build on the concept of Defense of the Ancients (DotA). While most MOBAs take a fairly standard approach (see: Dota 2, League of Legends, Heroes of the Storm) some developers are trying to take it to another level. Enter Epic Games, the developers of the well-loved Unreal Tournament franchise.
"Paragon" is, for all intents and purposes, the next level of MOBA. It combines the classic lane-pushing mechanics, the third-person view of "SMITE", and the absolutely gorgeous graphics of the Unreal Engine. "Paragon" is in early access alpha right now so it's pretty far from an actual release, but I wanted to take a look at it and see how it stacks up to the mainstays of the genre. The short answer? Pretty well, actually. For the most part.
As with every other game in the genre, the map is split into three lanes. Each lane has two towers and an inhibitor and leads straight to the Core. In between lanes is the jungle, full of neutral mob camps which give buffs when killed. There's also the Black Monster and the Purple Monster, the equivalent of League's Dragon and Baron Nashor, respectively. The camps are taken by the Jungler, one of four roles. The other roles are the standard Attack Damage Carry (ADC), Support, Caster/Energy Damage Carry, and Tank. Everyone takes a solo lane, and the support tags along with the ADC.
This game, even in alpha, does all of these things incredibly well. It's not a major overhaul of the genre or anything like that. It's just another fun game with its own unique mechanics to put a slight spin on a popular formula. That said, I really enjoy the game. I love the graphical fidelity of the Unreal Engine, I love the design of the Heroes, I love the vertical movement and the feel of using skills with an actual feedback system. There are, however, some aspects I don't like. One in particular: Cards.
In most MOBAs, you have items. Items are purchased in stores to give you stat increases. "Paragon" doesn't have that. Instead it has card packs. You open a pack and you get what's inside, and those are your items for the game. You choose a pack, or deck, when you first spawn in. As far as I can tell, that's all you get. If you want to change up your strategy mid-game, tough luck. I hate this! The idea of pre-set decks of items is pretty cool, leaving you with less clutter to sort through for new players, but you NEED the ability to switch up builds throughout games. What happens when that tank you weren't worried about becomes a bit tankier than you'd hoped? You built yourself up to fight the ADC but now you've got a tank mowing you down and you can't alter your build at all! I think the deck system is neat in theory, but it needs a lot of work before it can properly take the place of an item shop. I have this same problem with the Hi-Rez game "Paladins", but that's for another day.
Other than that, the game is pretty solid. It's fun and surprisingly smooth. It's a bit slow (games can take up to an hour most of the time) and jungle mobs are hilariously unskinned. With a few changes this game could be a major contender in the MOBA scene for it's verticality and sheer graphical fidelity. Plus cross-platform capability. It has that! PC to PS4 anyway. No word yet on the X-bone. I'm not sure if it's worth buying into a Founder's Pack at this early stage (unless you're REALLY into the concept, or writing about it like I am) but the Summer 2016 open beta will be free-to-play. Probably best to wait until then.
Platform(s): Nintendo DS
Having heard some exciting things about the Advance Wars franchise, I decided to pick up this game on a whim. I wasn’t even slightly disappointed!
The game starts off with a few nice little tutorial missions that do a fairly good job of getting you used to the game. The premise is basically you have a bunch of buildings on a given map, and you get money depending on how many cities you have under your control. You have to create units and take turns moving toward the enemy and destroying their units along with capturing their buildings. It seems like a simple concept but it can get strategically complex very fast. When broken down to its core it is like a very advanced game of chess. The thing that makes this game really fun is that you really have to think your way through each move, thus giving a great sense of accomplishment when you win. When you lose you usually understand why and can learn from your mistakes.
The main thing that can draw from the fun is the very mediocre story. It’s extremely forgettable and over-the-top. On the other hand, the silliness of the game actually helps to give it this really exciting contrast between war and cartoon. The silly story plays off of this contrast, but there is nothing really grabbing you in. Still, they needed something to drive the missions forward, and it gets the job done, at least.
Dual Strike also makes very good use of the touch screen, making the game very simple to play without having to learn button actions. It is basically a point-and-click type of deal. Even better is that it still allows you to play with the buttons, for those of you that have played the previous two games on the GBA and don't really want to adapt to a new play style (my friend who introduced me to this game is like that). In a day when so many games tend to force you into a specific control style (especially on the unique Nintendo systems), I found it very endearing that this game assured that everyone could enjoy the game how they like.
Considering the power the DS has over the GBA, I was actually a bit disappointed in the aesthetics of this game. Don’t get me wrong, the art style is very bright and fun. Everything is distinguishable and the animations are decent. But let’s be honest, the game looks like a very slight upgrade over its GBA predecessors. This may not even be a bad thing to some, since the simple visuals get the job done, and it isn't like the game is hard to look at because the graphics are horrible. The colorful animations and sprites are simple to the point that you can't help but like them, and it really fits the mood. I wish they had tried a bit harder. Maybe add in pre-rendered animated scenes for story-telling? Among a number of other ways they could have made better use of the hardware.
The sound in the game is thankfully noticeably better in quality than the GBA games, due to the stereo speakers and better hardware. The effects are simple but effective and each Commanding Officer has his or her own theme song, which is quite nice. Personally, I found some of the themes to be a little grating, but not everyone will feel that way. Nonetheless, the music is actually catchy and well-done.
This game will likely last you a very long time. There is a lot to do after you beat the Campaign (which has a really well-done progressive difficulty). As you win missions you get Experience Points for your used CO (Commanding Officer) that levels you up and allows you to use various power-up abilities in battle. There are many CO's to choose from too so there is a lot of levelling to do if you want to max out everybody’s level. Since each mission is ranked, coming back to get S-ranks in all missions is very fun. There’s also two new modes exclusive to this game called Combat and Survival. Survival is exactly what it sounds like, a war of attrition based on varying conditions. Combat is a real-time mode where there are no turns. The game still plays the same functionally, but with the added twist of not having turns to think out your strategy. Plus there are various maps to unlock to play in a skirmish type of scenario. That’s not even everything! You can also create your own maps to enjoy. This game is almost endless in its fun.
There is one main point I left out though: Multiplayer. This game is great because you can play with one game pack on one DS (by taking turns, essentially hot seat) or with multiple DS's and game packs. The multiplayer is just as fun as most of the best RTS games I have played and never gets old. I’d actually be quite embarrassed to admit to the amount of time I’ve spent in the multiplayer alone.
Overall this game is exceptional and if you own a DS and you enjoy strategy, this should be in your collection no matter what. I never left home without this game for years, and the fact that it allows you to save mid-battle is a very mobile-friendly touch.
Have you ever wanted to be a Gremlin? A capitalist gremlin? Perhaps you want to send all your friends to jail while you reap the monetary benefits? "Gremlins, Inc." might be for you! This game plays like a steampunk Monopoly, but with loads more depth than America's favorite capitalism simulator ever had. You play a Gremlin (of course) and move around the board do make money, avoid the cops, and build your political career.
Mechanically, there's a lot going on in "Gremlins, Inc." Your goal is to get the most Score within the round limit. In order to get score you have to complete different challenges and dice rolls to earn Gold and Votes. Gold is used to buy things, naturally. Votes are your chances of winning political elections, with the goal of becoming Governor. The Governor has immunity from the police and never has to pay bribes.
For non-Governors, there's also the risk of getting caught by the cops and landing in jail, or even being hit by a Misfortune. There are about 30 Misfortunes in the game which have varying negative effects on the player who picks one up. The other resource you have is Malice, which has negative effects based on card effects. Malice also lowers your chances of being voted into office and forces you to pay more for bribes. More malicious players may end up in jail more often if they're losing a lot of Gold to bribes.
On the subject of jail... You actually don't necessarily have to avoid jail at all costs, unlike games like Monopoly. In "Gremlins, Inc." jail can actually be a good thing. While in jail you can level up and earn bonuses, and generally control your criminal empire from behind bars. It's not always the best option, but jail isn't a "sit and watch" simulator either. You can choose your behavior each turn you're in jail, having different effects depending on how you decide to play it.
The way you move around the board in "Goblins, Inc." is actually pretty unique. Rather than a dice roll, you have a hand of six cards. While each card CAN be used on corresponding tiles to get you various bonuses and effects, the cards also have a movement value. You can discard the card in order to move that many squares. Every time you use a card you immediately draw another. To use cards outside of movement, you have to pay a cost. That cost can be anything from a few hundred gold to picking up a Misfortune. There's tons of tiles to land on as well. You can run into the police, who have a chance to take you to jail if you don't pay the bribe. You can lose or gain money just by passing over certain tiles (no landing required). There also areas where you can gamble away some gold in hopes of picking up even more gold. Capitalism has never been so much fun.
There's a special set of tiles at the ends of the roads, called Locations. These Locations allow you to choose an effect, and many cards can only be played from a particular Location. They're basically the tiles you're moving between throughout the game and could be considered a goal in many ways. Locations include the Bank, the Court, the Jail, and a bunch more. Locations are the only tiles where players are allowed to stand together without a penalty.
If you land on the same tile as another player, a Conflict begins. During a Conflict, each player bids an amount of Gold. The one who pays the higher amount stays on that tile, while the loser is shipped off to jail to do hard time for daring to walk on the same part of the street as their clearly very rich competitor.
If you ever have a question about the numerous cards and mechanics, there's a convenient tab called "Gremlinopedia" which essentially acts as an in-game wiki. There are also a handful of tutorials which you should NOT skip. There are a lot of mechanics which you might have trouble getting the hang of without a bit of training.
For 1000 Gold, this card will give you 13 Score, but also 5 Malice
Aesthetically, this game is awesome. It's a seedy steampunk underworld of crime and politics. The art is really nice as well. I wouldn't call it "beautiful" but that's only because it's not really aiming for that. It's more grungy and rusty, with lots of browns and yellows and greys. I really dig it since there's not a lot of good steampunk-style games coming out these days. The card art is super comical fantasy-style. The whole thing has a little bit of a Harry Potter vibe, but with a decent helping of crime. The music is... well... I've heard it described as "porn music". I don't disagree.
I'm SUPER into this game. It's rare that a digital board game actually manages to be fun and keep player interest high after more than a couple games. "Gremlins, Inc." succeeds. There are some typos here and there, but nothing too bad. I DO recommend getting a group of friends together since this game is best enjoyed with other people you know. Playing against AI can get stale after a while. This game isn't gonna change the future of video games or anything like that, but if you're into board games I HIGHLY recommend you pick it up. It's super fun. You can pick up "Gremlins, Inc." on Steam for $15 or your regional equivalent.
Sound: HILARIOUS (the porn music that is) (otherwise, GREAT)
Gremlins Menu Music
FULL DISCLOSURE: this game was provided to A-To-J Connections free-of-charge by the developers in order to write this review. Please keep this in mind while reading the review.
Available on: Windows, Xbox One and PlayStation 4
While Arkham Knight was a complete adventure, Rocksteady still decided to provide some extra content for those who wanted more out of the finale. Interestingly, depending on what you're looking for in the content, this may be an amazing deal or it may be a terrible one. If you're strictly interested in story content, you may be disappointed. I'll lay out everything the Season Pass comes with.
To begin with, it comes with 30 skins spread between Batman, the Batmobile and a handful of other characters. This is the least compelling reason to purchase the pass (a small handful of these are available free normally anyway), though it's a nice bonus, especially considering the steep price tag to purchase them separate. They don't really add anything beyond look, and some of them aren't even fully functional (for example, some of the Batmobile skins can only be applied to races).
The bulk of the fun, to me at least, comes in the form of 45 brand new challenge maps (and 6 new AR missions) which are spread across various styles (stealth, race, normal combat, Batmobile combat, etc.). Covering different themes and scenarios within the Arkham universe and within the DC comics themselves, these offer a lot of really fun challenges and extra content to the game as a whole. Considering the amazing quality of the challenge maps in the base game, adding almost 50 more at this quality helps to add a lot of value. This is by far the bulk of the entertainment within the Season Pass.
There a few independent story missions you acquire from the Season Pass. There's the Harley Quinn story, which involves her trying to free Poison Ivy shortly before the events of Arkham Knight. This was actually quite fun, mainly because all of her takedowns and combat involve loud noises. This means you can stealth all you want, but when you need to take down an enemy you will always attract attention. There are a couple other quirks to her play style that make her the most interesting new character from the pass. Next up is the Red Hood story, which is also before the events of the main game. His style is actually very similar to Batman, with the addition of guns as his gadgets. His mission wasn't too enticing, with it being a standard combat and stealth section. The Batgirl story is one of the longest of the DLC, but also the one with the most missed opportunities. It takes place before Arkham Asylum (the original game), with her and Robin trying to capture the Joker. This is the only one with collectibles as well, since you get to explore a small area freely as you tackle a very small handful of missions. Batgirl plays very similar to Batman. Her missed opportunity is in her technical prowess. They could have made some really fun tech sequences to show off her genius, but this was bastardized by some repetitive and simple hacking. The actual missions she has to accomplish offer some mildly fun scenarios, but ultimately leaves you wanting more. On the bright side, her story is the most interesting of the story DLC. The cool thing is that each of these characters are playable in almost every challenge map as well, giving you some fun options for exploring more ways of tackling the various challenges.
Following those prequel stories, there is a trio of post-game content revolving around Robin, Nightwing and Catwoman. Each of these is painfully short, considering how fun each of these characters is to play. They revolve around pacifying Two-Face, Penguin and Riddler respectively. I emphasize that they are each extremely fun due to the unique nature of each character, but so short that it's almost frustrating (maybe 30 minutes each). The final story pack actually provides some extra side-quests within the main story (rather than having to load up a separate level). These side-quests help give closure to most of the remaining villains that haven't been addressed via the main game or the rest of the content. Namely, Killer Croc, Mr. Freeze, R'as Al Ghul and the Mad Hatter. These are all fun, though each mission suffers from the same short length problem as the post-game trio.
If you're purchasing it specifically for story content, here's where you might be slightly disappointed. It's not necessarily that the content is boring, it's that it is all extremely short. Across all the story content in the pass, I spent about 6 hours completing everything at 100%. Depending on your skill this may range from 4-10 hours realistically. The price of buying the story content on its own is only a dollar or so cheaper than the $29.99 price tag asked for the Season Pass. At that point, you may as well buy the Season Pass. It's unfortunate that the pricing structure isn't a little more balanced. Despite the short length of each story pack, the entertainment value is definitely high, even if there isn't really much innovation.
That being said, as a whole the Season Pass offers a lot of content, with a decent amount of it being high-quality. If you're looking just for story content though, you'll likely be disappointed. That should, ultimately, be your deciding factor on whether you get it or not. Make the decision, and take the plunge, if you so choose.
NOTE: I played this game in its entirety on the PC using an Xbox One controller. Having played it after the big updates, I ran into no technical problems. As it currently stands, your experience should be similar across all three platforms.
I don't know about you, but I'm getting sick of the retro-style hardcore RPG revival. Every game proclaims itself to be "the Dark Souls of ______", which means nothing at this point. Devs just throw together some lazy 8- or 16-bit graphics, artificially increase difficulty, and rake in profit. If "Moon Hunters" had been sold to me based on the premise alone, I would never have given it a second look; it is, after all, a retro-style hardcore RPG. Well, sort of.
Described by some as Zelda-Meets-Diablo, "Moon Hunters" manages to set itself apart with its writing and art style. While it does seem inspired by an older generation of games, the art is actually gorgeous. There's nothing derivative here; it's actually quite unique. I love the character designs most of all. The plot is simple, and the story is extremely short. Like, 30-45 minutes short. The point of the game is to play through the story multiple times, unlocking more secrets, characters, and plot points. You choose your class and tribe of origin, then set out on your adventure. The game takes place over about four or five days, and you camp after each one. While in camp, you can complete a short activity to upgrade the stats of your choice.
Where a lot of people seem to be leaving negative comments is the mechanical fidelity of the game itself. This is an indie game, and plays like one. There are bugs. There are objects you can get stuck in and watch helplessly while you die. If you're playing a ranged class, the aiming is way off, and sometimes the animation will hit an enemy but the skill itself won't. Thankfully, the melee combat is just fine. Not incredible, but fine. The enemies can take a hit, but it's not as hardcore as some people made it out to be. Dying is pretty easy though, especially if you're a caster-style class. Keep in mind that this is meant to be a co-op game and for the purposes of this review I played alone.
(minor story spoilers ahead!)
The thing about "Moon Hunters" is that those mechanical issues can be patched. The game is still playable, and I finished the story twice before sitting down to write a review. I really love the art style and the lore! The story centers around a group of tribes who worship the moon as a goddess, until one day the moon disappears from sight. You, the hero of whichever tribe you choose, have to try and find out what happened to the moon, while fighting off the Cult of the Sun (which worships the sun, naturally). There's a whole bunch of backstory and lore to be found in every nook and cranny of the locations you visit. The game culminates in a single boss fight, some story stuff happens which changes each time depending on who you are and what you did, and the credits roll. Then, you start a new character and do it all over again.
(end of spoilers)
I have to admit that I'm not in love with this game, due to the mechanical problems mentioned before. The story, however, is keeping me interested enough to go back. The soundtrack is beautiful as well, and I think I might just buy it. This game has a lot going for it, and I would hate for it to fall into obscurity just because of a couple problems that can be patched right out of the game. I do recommend that you check it out!
"Moon Hunters" is available on Steam for $14.99 USD (with 10% off at the time of this writing, to end on March 17th). Give it a try, you might just like it after all.
This is a very long article. If you want a tl;dr: the business model sucks, but the game is incredibly fun. Buy at your own discretion.
UPDATE 4/28/16: The second mission has been released, and has been added to the review. Scroll to the bottom if you'd like to read that.
Ah, Hitman. A classic series, and a well-respected one at that. Remember "Blood Money"? I remember "Blood Money". That was possibly one of the best stealth games of all time. And how the Hitman franchise has fallen! "Hitman: Absolution" was seen by many as a piece of hot garbage. It doesn't end there, though! Square Enix announced that the latest title would be released... episodically? Feel free to groan.
Episodic release schedules have long been the realm of a particular kind of story-driven game, ones where each chapter felt like an episode of a TV show. Ones where the developers could drop in a cliffhanger so you'd HAVE to buy the next one! And if the story takes a turn you don't like? Well, just DON'T buy the next one. "HITMAN" is not this kind of game. The Hitman franchise is known to be much more mechanically-focused, giving players the opportunity to carry out the missions in creative ways. While there is a story, it's usually not the centerpiece. A large (or at least very vocal) group of gamers has been understandably upset since the day this model was announced.
Skip to today; the first episode is out. I'm going to try and look at this as a review-in-progress; while I strongly disagree with the business model, I will review only what the game has to offer right now. Future updates will come as episodes are released.
"HITMAN" is, for all intents and purposes, a Hitman game. You're a hitman. You have a target. You use disguises and clever tactics to sneak past guards, hit your mark, and leave the scene without a trace. "HITMAN" succeeds in all of these aspects. The game gives you a good number of opportunities to try levels over again for different results and strategies. It doesn't run perfectly, but it runs better than many other AAA games these days. It hasn't crashed, and I haven't hit any game-breaking bugs. Audio does occasionally drop out, though. There are also frame-drops during some autosaves.
UPDATE 3/15/2016: I've been experiencing server failures. As mentioned above, this game is online-only. Your only option is to stop playing until you can reconnect. Once again, online-only is a terrible design decision and should never be utilized in a singleplayer game.
I have to admit that, by the end of the tutorial, I've been having fun with this game. There's an interesting overall story, which I'll touch on in the mission review segments. Gone are the linear levels and checkpoints of "Absolution", hopefully for good. I'm happy to say that "HITMAN" is a sandbox once again.
If you want a taste of the individual missions, that's down the page. If you just want to know now whether I think this game is worth buying, well, the short answer is that I do... to an extent. Again, I am strongly opposed to the business model here; I absolutely do not believe Square Enix should have made that decision, and it definitely affects my overall opinion of the game. It's not a BAD game, though. The mechanics and mission structure and map layouts - they're all exactly what I wanted from a Hitman game. I'm having a good time! I actually spent the time to complete every single challenge in the open training section, and the first *real* mission? It plays like something straight out of "Blood Money". I actually am loving this game right now. If you disagree with the business model like I do, you should wait for the full release. If you want a quick bite of Hitman right now? $15 will get you a small but satisfying chunk.
UPDATE 3/15/2016: There is one non-story feature I failed to mention in this review, given the sort of unfriendly menu interface. There's a contract system in which players can enter a level and mark targets, give specific goals related to those targets, and share them online for other players to attempt. This is a really amazing detail that I can't believe I missed out on during my initial review!
Just a reminder, though; Square Enix? I really wish this was a full game. I want to move on through the missions, and I know that once I've completed what's here I won't be able to progress until the next episode comes out. This is where the business model fails, and I sincerely hope that no AAA developer makes this mistake in the future. I wish I could say you should hold off buying, just to show Square Enix the error of their ways... But it really is fun.
Now, on to the fun part. A Hitman game lives and dies based on the structure and quality level of its missions. For the rest of this review, and reviews of future episodes, I'll be focusing on the missions that are currently available. Naturally, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS.
(This review will be updated for each release; we'll share the article again every time this happens.)
Available on: Windows, Xbox One and PlayStation 4
"This is how the Batman died." From the moment the game opens up, you know you're going to be in for a rollercoaster of a ride. As the final entry to the Batman Arkham series, Rocksteady delivered a worthy conclusion to the series.
The game opens up with a scene presenting the burning of Joker's body, who had died in the previous game. From there, we flash to Commissioner Gordon, who is in a diner when there is a Scarecrow fear toxin attack. You play this section in first-person, which is a first for the series and really helps add a very heavy impact to the beginning of the game. The game eventually gives you control of Batman, and you jump into an exciting adventure. The story revolves around a trio of concepts, all of which collide together in a beautiful set of storytelling: it takes a focus on Batman's deteriorating condition due to the Titan formula (from the previous two games); Scarecrow's return and obsession with his fear toxin terrorism; and this mysterious new villain (the Arkham Knight) who seems to know everything about Batman. The story progresses with some nice developments and a couple of unexpected (or expected, if you're good at predicting this sort of thing) twists. I was especially happy with the way that most of the major villains that have been presented in the series thus far were given reasonable closure through this game.
To help propel the story forward, the game features an amazing cast who does a beautiful job in their roles. The sound effects are extremely exciting and the music is on point as well. The only downside, which seems to be a common problem in most any open-world game, is the slightly repetitive dialogue from normal grunts who you will often be caught fighting with. The game also looks absolutely stunning. From the detailed animations of Batman's cape to the vast environment to the amazing effects, the game usually never ceases to amaze. There are some occasions where the game's amazing detail is contrasted horribly against some low resolution textures or a low resolution backdrop, but this doesn't happen often enough to be a complete hindrance.
Arkham Knight follows the same overall format as Arkham City. You are presented with a main story to which you can pursue at your leisure, while given a multitude of side-stories to seek. Each side-story revolves around a certain character (generally a villain), such as the Riddler, Two-Face or Penguin. One of the things I really enjoyed was the fact that each side-story has a different type of gameplay quirk in order to add variety to the game. To help propel these stories forward, you are given the ability to explore all of Gotham City, which is a bit larger than Arkham City (which only covered a part of Gotham). For you collectors out there, there are over 200 Riddler trophies to acquire, which rewards you with a final showdown with the Riddler himself. In fact, you can't actually get the complete ending unless you finish all the game's quests, including capturing the Riddler. I found this a bit irritating that seeing the complete ending requires doing something that many people would rather not do. The worst part is that this ending actually adds a lot of clarity to the conclusion, rather than just dropping a fun easter egg. This is great (completion actually rewards something substantial to the player) while being terrible at the same time (for people who just want to play the game for the story, the somewhat tedious item collection will be frustrating in order to see the complete conclusion). On the bright side, the challenge maps are plentiful, fun, varied, challenging and do not reflect on actual story completion requirements. You can even compete for scores with others if you feel compelled to do so.
In order to traverse the city, you are given a couple new tricks. The first, is the ability to do a faster and further gliding grapnel boost. When you use your grapnel to traverse the side of a building you can press the dodge/run button twice to boost yourself over the ledge straight into a glide. You can upgrade this ability a few times to increase the height and glide length as well as speed. The second is actually the main dynamic that sets this game apart from the others: the Batmobile. The Batmobile takes on a similar design and function to the one presented in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. It functions as a sort of tank-car hybrid. This means that not only do you have the ability to travel on the ground faster, but you are also given the ability to participate in vehicular combat as well as vehicle races. In fact, most of the major boss battles in the game are actually done via the Batmobile. This does not mean that face-to-face battles are missing, it merely means that the majority of the new types of fights are done in the Batmobile. While some may complain that this takes away from the experience, I really enjoyed this new dynamic and it really helped add a new breath of life into this franchise. The first two games covered a pretty good variety of boss battle situations, and it would be challenging (and likely boring) to try and keep that as the focus again. Having the Batmobile as the focus opens up doors for all new types of situations. While I may sit here and praise the Batmobile, the normal combat situations did get repetitive pretty fast. Even though the normal combat is pretty repetitive, the Batmobile combat (which has the same amount of variety as normal combat) got stale faster. I don't understand why it felt this way and I really can't explain it.
Regarding the normal Batman combat and scenarios, the game takes what was presented in the previous two entries and refines it to perfection. The free flow combat is precise and beautiful; the stealth is varied and satisfying; the traversal is simple and responsive. There are, of course, a small handful of new abilities and gadget uses, but for the most part the Batman sections are merely a refined version of what we got in Arkham City. This is in no way a bad thing, but it is not exactly new or fresh (hence why I welcomed the Batmobile sections). One thing I did like was that there were more partner sequences than in the previous entry. There are a few quests that pair you with Robin, Nightwing and Catwoman which makes for some really fun and flashy fight sequences.
The controls for both the Batmobile and Batman sections are actually as good as I imagine they could be. Everything is responsive and there is a very seamless flow between combat and movement and stealth in both Batman and Batmobile modes. It's actually quite impressive how perfect the controls are in the game. Of particular note, especially for veteran players in the series, is how much better the gliding controls are. As fair warning, though, I played this game completely with a controller. My experience with the previous game's keyboard and mouse controls made me not even want to try that control style for this game. I ended up not regretting my decision even a little.
While Arkham Knight doesn't reach the same pinnacle of innovation, balance and narration as its predecessor, it still manages to create an extremely alluring adventure that will leave you satisfied. It's an extremely worthy conclusion to an extremely top-notch series. The addition of the Batmobile helps keep things fresh enough to keep the somewhat familiar gameplay from becoming stale. For Batman fans or narrative driven open-world fans in general, this is definitely a game worth checking out.
NOTE: I played this game in its entirety on the PC using an Xbox One controller. Having played it after the big updates, I ran into no technical problems. As it currently stands, your experience should be similar across all three platforms.
Blizzard's latest franchise Overwatch has been on gamers' radars for almost two years now, with hundreds of thousands of players clambering to get into the much-sought-after closed beta test. After what felt like ages of waiting, we finally have a solid release date for the game; May 24th, 2016!
For those of us who can't wait, an open beta event will begin May 5th, with anybody who pre-ordered able to get in early on May 3rd. The game comes in a ton of different editions, but the standard edition can be yours for $40 on PC, and $60 on consoles. Make sure to choose your favorite hero now, so you're ready to jump into the action. Personally, I'm partial to the Arctic researcher Mei.