The world of Oninaki has a complex and interesting relationship with death. For the people living in this realm, death is not just accepted, but sometimes even embraced, as they believe that they will be spirited onto their next life upon their passing. But sometimes people don't just go peacefully into reincarnation. They have unfinished business, lingering desires, or unbearable pain that prevents them from completing the cycle--and if they can't find relief, they may transform into terrifying monsters called Fallen. That's where the Watchers come in. They are a group of humans gifted with the ability to cross into the parallel realm of death, and they must both guide lost souls to their next destination and deal with those who have become Fallen.
As the Watcher Kagachi, you not only have to help find and guide lost souls, you must fight off the Fallen in both realms. In fact, you'll be doing significantly more fighting than soul-guiding, because there are a lot of Fallen wandering around nowadays. That, combined with issues like a dearth of new births, a weird cult, and a vicious murderer known as the Night Devil roaming about, has the populace worried about the foundations of death and reincarnation collapsing.
This concept is undeniably cool, and it's ripe for storytelling potential about dealing with the inevitability of death and finding peace and acceptance. The beautiful graphics and world design of Oninaki bolster the intrigue of this setting, too; serene fields, plant-filled marshes, elaborate ruins, and craggy mountains have a zen-like quality to them that feels both contemplative and somber, which contrasts starkly with the crowded, anxious mood of the bustling cities, palaces, and other man-made dungeons and structures. When you "cross the veil" to the realm of the dead to search for lost souls, familiar things immediately transform into an eerie miasma of dark shadows and bright neon lights, giving an otherworldly vibe that really makes you feel like you've reached a place far beyond the senses of normal humans. The combination of intriguing setting and visuals really does a lot for Oninaki, and it's one of its strongest elements.
But this beauty is just skin-deep, because once you get into combat, problems start to come to the surface. Kagachi doesn't fight by himself; he enlists the help of lost, memory-devoid souls called Daemons to possess and provide him with weaponry, skills, and combat expertise. There are a wealth of different Daemons you encounter throughout Oninaki, and each one has a unique weapon and combat style they can bestow to Kagachi when possessed. Kagachi can carry up to four Daemons at once and swap between them on the fly, giving you access to different weapons, movement, and fighting styles you can change when needed.
This sounds fantastic on paper, but there's one big problem: Every Daemon you recruit is extremely weak when you first get them. Daemons level up separately from Kagachi, and only gain combat skills--active and passive, offensive and defensive--through a skill tree that unlocks with weapon stones dropped when using that Daemon. When you first get a Daemon, no matter how far along in the game you are, they have next to no skills and no weapon stones, requiring you to grind with their limited skillset to get them to a point where they are maybe, possibly fun and effective to use.
Even then, some of the Daemons are poorly designed. The long-range fighter Dia, for example, tends to get overwhelmed by frequent enemy mobs thanks to her slow startup and recovery on attacks. Acquiring a new Daemon should be exciting, but the struggle to make new ones viable makes it something to dread. Eventually, you'll probably find yourself focusing on a few specific Daemons and ignoring others, which feeds into the larger issue of repetitive and frustrating combat.
There are a lot of enemies roaming both the realm of the living and the dead in Oninaki, and they tend to get reused quite often. Usually they come in large mobs to distract from the fact that it's yet another swarm of walking flowers or scorpions. Sometimes they get changed up a bit (This time the scorpions belch fire!), but their appearances and attack patterns remain similar. Exacerbating this issue is how spongey even the small enemies can get, especially if your current Daemon's not well-levelled yet. Using a powerful Daemon you've been putting a lot into, however, makes combat boring, as you're encouraged to use the same special attacks over and over in hopes that one of them might randomly gain a permanent special attribute. Boss fights can change things up a bit, and there are some genuinely cool and challenging encounters. However, most of the bosses also soak up damage like crazy. Strategy tends to devolve into using attacks with evasive bonuses and quick recovery until you get enough energy to "Manifest" your Daemon for a huge damage boost, then wailing on them with your biggest attacks until that runs out, repeating until dead and hoping you have enough healing incense to make up for mistakes.
Using a powerful Daemon you've been putting a lot into, however, makes combat boring, as you're encouraged to use the same special attacks over and over in hopes that one of them might randomly gain a permanent special attribute. Boss fights can change things up a bit, and there are some genuinely cool and challenging encounters. However, most of the bosses also soak up damage like crazy. Strategy tends to devolve into using attacks with evasive bonuses and quick recovery until you get enough energy to "Manifest" your Daemon for a huge damage boost, then wailing on them with your biggest attacks until that runs out, repeating until dead and hoping you have enough healing incense to make up for mistakes.
One might be willing to put up with gameplay flaws if the setting and story are good enough, and while Oninaki's world is fantastic, the game frequently falters in storytelling. Kagachi is a very bland and uninteresting protagonist, and his shy little-girl partner Linne isn't much better. The game has a wealth of NPC characters, but they don't have much to offer; their interactions with Kagachi are brief and uninteresting, and you don't get much on their backgrounds and personalities. As a result, when the game tries to deliver an emotional payout--it's a game about death, so there's a lot of dying in the story--it feels toothless, because you aren't connected to these characters and lack a reason to care about their pain and grief. The pacing of the overall story is poor, as well; it often feels like a lot of nothing happening, then a really big event, and then back to something that's distracting from the plot thread you're actually interested in. It's very frustrating to see the story finally living up to its potential and going in interesting places, only to be interrupted by a mandatory fetch quest that feels like pure padding.
Oninaki is a game that frequently sabotages itself. Its beautiful environments and mood are dampened by annoying hordes of samey enemies. Its amazing concept and world design are wasted on a story that's poorly paced and doesn't give you an adequate reason to care. Its varied and interesting combat styles get dragged down by the need to grind Daemons and uneven difficulty overall. There's certainly some beauty to be found in Oninaki's tragic world, but these flaws make this a circle of life that you can skip over.
It's not difficult to pick out Remnant: From the Ashes' many influences. It mimics the format and grueling difficulty popularised by From Software's Souls series, pitting you against increasingly complex bosses and teaching you through failure. It mixes up its combat encounters with AI direction similar to Valve's cooperative shooter Left 4 Dead to make skirmishes exciting and unpredictable. Third-person shooting ties these two ideas together in a surprisingly cohesive way, which makes Remnant: From the Ashes a joyous action-adventure through a far less compelling world.
The world as you know it has been overrun by The Root--a force of sentient fauna with glowing red roots commanded by a single hivemind--driving humanity to the brink of extinction as they search for a miracle to end the nightmare. Washed up on a dark and gloomy island and torn down to the brink of death, you are the hero that one of humanity's final settlements, Ward 13, has been searching for. You're let loose on the world overrun by monsters to search for the Ward's former leader in the hopes that the knowledge lost with him might help expose the core of The Root's power and give you a fighting chance against the insurmountable foe.
Although its opening moments hold promise initially, Remnant's world isn't interesting beyond the surface. Its characters stick too closely to familiar tropes and feature little to no development as you fight their war for them. The distrustful mechanic will happily craft new items for you but never shrugs off her off-putting demeanor, while her partner has nothing deeper to share beyond his initial backstory, for example. Inhabitants in the Ward congratulate you on your actions outside of its walls, but it never feels like you're progressing your relationships with any of them. This lack of personality makes Remnant's big revelations fall flat, too, and by the time it starts collecting all of its stray stories into an understandable thread you'll probably not care enough to take much notice.
The sheer visual variety of its world is more exciting. You visit four main areas outside of Ward 13, with each new one being strikingly different from the last. You start out in the desolate streets of an abandoned cityscape, exploring its dimly lit sewers and engaging in tense firefights on street corners. From there, things get far weirder. You travel to a blistering hot desert with oppressive metal labyrinths underneath just before you cut away the brush of a thick, dark forest illuminated by bright neon fauna. Remnant's visual themes are all over the place, which doesn't help its already confusing story. But while disjointed, the visuals are extremely well presented and beautiful to behold.
Remnant's gameplay is recognizable thanks to its blend of familiar genres and tropes. On paper, the combination of Dark Souls-style high-skill combat with the ranged-focused gameplay of a third-person shooter sounds incompatible, but Remnant brings its own flair to its influences that ties them together in an interesting way. Procedural combat encounters are at the core of this. Enemies don't have fixed placements in areas, with Remnant instead using a system to dynamically adjust both their positioning and density every time you enter an area to consistently provide a challenging skirmish. The unpredictability adds an enticing layer of tension to each combat encounter, where even small mistakes are punished by quick deaths at the hands of hordes of smaller, weaker enemies.
It's initially frustrating to not be able to learn enemy placements and patterns, but Remnant's forgiving approach to death balances this out. Although enemies hit hard and death is just a handful of mistakes away, you don't lose tangible progress when you die. You don't drop items or lose experience; instead, you simply respawn at your last checkpoint (large glowing red shrines similar to Dark Souls' bonfires), with the route ahead re-rolled and changed to present you with a new challenge.
The emphasis on ranged combat changes the pace you might be familiar with from games of this ilk. You're given the choice to get as up close and personal as you choose with short-range shotguns and submachine guns or remain as far as possible with slow-firing but powerful sniper rifles. Each weapon type makes you consider the encounter they're best used for, but for the most part Remnant's combat favors aggression. The number of enemies it throws at you and the cramped design of its dungeons make longer ranges difficult to work with, while highlighting the devastating stopping power of medium- to short-range weapons. This undercuts a lot of the weapons you're able to purchase and craft, especially when taking into account the grind required for some resources you need to upgrade them. It was easy for me to stick to one loadout for the majority of my playthrough, incrementally improving damage instead of experimenting with new weaponry. Despite the dynamic combat, the stagnant nature of Remnant's loot works against it.
Weapon mods alleviate this to an extent. Mods give your weapons an alternate firing mode, ranging from simple healing effects to devastating AOE attacks that can inflict a number of status ailments on enemies. Most weapons let you exchange mods freely, allowing you to experiment with a combination across your two equipped weapons to find a synergy that works best for your playstyle. The number of mods you can both find and craft is plentiful, but their variety is what makes them impressive, making experimentation fun. Their effects are even more important when playing Remnant with friends (up to two other players can join your game), where the collective group build is important to counteract the increased difficulty associated with group play.
In both the case of weapons and mods you can craft, boss encounters play the biggest part in providing you with the most exciting options. Each boss drops a unique item that can be used in a recipe for either, bestowing you with either the unique abilities of the foe you just overpowered or a weapon to mark your momentous achievement. Both of these require rarer resources to craft, and even more to upgrade, which makes investing in them a difficult decision to make. But it's impossible to not curiously venture back to your Ward after each boss encounter to see what new toy awaits, and even more satisfying to take it out into the world and fall in love with the power that was recently used against you.
Bosses also provide the best moments of Remnant's combat, pushing you into new strategies that can force you to reconsider your current loadout. Some bosses make good use of ranged attacks, sticking as far away as possible and using small tells to telegraph dangerous attacks that can quickly kill you. Others are overwhelmingly aggressive, chasing you down and closing gaps that make it difficult to get shots off in between a flurry of dodging rolls. Although some bosses share some behavioral traits, each of them features unique attack patterns and abilities that make each encounter dangerous to tackle and equally satisfying to overcome. The order in which these bosses populate the world is also randomized, making new playthroughs different to an extent. It's a confusing choice in practice, though, preventing you from predicting what boss-specific gear you can depend on at certain points during repeat playthroughs.
Confusing accurately describes Remnant: From the Ashes a lot of the time, especially when its combination of established ideas doesn't mesh. But for the most part, the experiment is a success, resulting in deeply satisfying combat against creative and challenging enemies. Remnant struggles to effectively transfer that success over to an engaging loot system and an interesting story to wrap it all up, but when you're blasting away foes with weapons crafted from the remains of your latest boss kill, it's hard not to do so with a wide smile on your face.
With Age of Empires 4 remaining mysterious for a while now, a group of developers led by Xbox Game Studios has been steadily creating definitive editions of the classic Age of Empires titles. Age of Empires: Definitive Edition launched earlier this year, and now developers Forgotten Empires, Tantalus, and Wicked Witch are turning their attention toward creating the best version of Age of Empires II.
In 2013, Age of Empires II: HD Edition released with both expansions, better visuals, and new features in tow. However, Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition takes things to the next level: Multiplayer has been redone, the team has added the ability to adjust zoom, and the A.I. has received a boost with a strong eye toward attack logic. In addition, players can swap between classic and modern A.I. and user interface, and one of the most tedious tasks from the original game, reseeding farms for crops, can be automated. Of course, with Xbox Game Studios publishing, another update is direct integration with Mixer, Microsoft's streaming platform.
According to Microsoft, the team has been working with Age of Empires 4 developer, Relic Entertainment, to see what kinds of advancements the team could include in the definitive versions of the classic games. Relic has found new ways to approach multiplayer, security, and anti-cheat, causing Xbox Games Studios to look at ways of implementing those advancements into Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition.
While the ability to zoom might sound like a minimally challenging addition, the fact that it's a tile-based sprite engine means zooming in can cause massive pixelization. To remedy this, Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition improves the visual fidelity to ensure it looks good from any zoom level, but this also accomplishes another goal for the team: historical accuracy. With higher fidelity visuals comes the ability to see more details, which allows for more authenticity with the historical civilizations depicted in the game.
The changes made to the A.I. have the potential to fundamentally change how matches play out. The A.I. in the original game cheated; the characters could see the whole board even if it was still undiscovered and was even the benefactor of resource bonuses players couldn't access. However, the new A.I. is so smart, the dev team pitted seven of the old A.I. against one new A.I., and the new A.I. obliterated the old ones.
Microsoft recognizes that many of the hardcore Age of Empires players likely already own Age of Empires II: HD Edition, so it is giving those who own that version a 25-percent discount on the Definitive Edition on Steam.
While the topic of my meeting with the team was focused on Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition, Xbox Game Studios is really excited for the jump in visuals players will experience with the announced Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition. When I ask about Age of Empires 4, Xbox Game Studios teased to me that X019, which happens to coincide with the release of Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition, should have exciting news for Age of Empires fans.
Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition launches November 14 on PC.
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC, Mac
One of the most pleasant surprises of E3 was Romero Games’ strategy/RPG hybrid Empire Of Sin. The isometric game casts you as one of 14 gangsters (some historical figures like Al Capone, others fictional characters) trying to rule over Chicago during Prohibition. Whoever controls the most territory and cash at the end of 13 years emerges the victor.
While the E3 demo put on a strong show, which you can read about here, I wasn’t convinced that all of the elements would mix well together or that the final version might be too complicated, given this is a game that juggles tactical combat, resource management, and even RPG-lite traits for your characters. However, I got nearly 45 minutes of hands-on time with a demo and came away impressed with Empire Of Sin to the point it’s my personal game of the show.
The game starts you off in Chicago’s Little Italy neighborhood. You fight your way up by taking over rackets (casinos, bars, distilleries), often by force, raiding the building with your gangster and whatever mob of henchmen you’ve recruited.
Battles play out like a crunchy version of XCOM and Jagged Alliance with turns where units can move into cover and blast at at foes, using action points to shoot, reload, and move. Enemies slam into surfaces and walls in ridiculous, bloody fashion when they’re killed by gunfire. If an enemy is fatally wounded but still breathing, you can even have your character brutally execute them to terrorize whatever faction they belong to. It’s all gory tactics and a blast to play through.
Outside of combat, the most interesting element is the emergent storytelling that rises out of the character’s traits, which occur based one your choices. Have one of your characters execute foes too often and they can gain the cruel trait, becoming a serial killer who offs one of your other gang members. If you have two gang members that fight alongside one another, they could fall in love or develop unrequited affection that has an impact on combat. For example, if one character sees her lover perish in action, she might (free of the player’s control) fly into a murderous rage and empty a clip into the killer.
The compelling character traits and fun combat are married by the micromanagement strategy, which has you upgrading your various establishments to extend your rule over Chicago. You can bribe the police to keep raids away, make your bars fancier to attract richer clientele, and hire security to fend off other gang members. You can also call a sit down with other bosses you’re having trouble with to try and end things peacefully (or by force). You can even poison your own liquor and sell it to allied factions to weaken them for your own gain. Even in this small slice of the game, there was a ridiculous number of options I got to play around with that made this fantasy of being a 1920s gangster feel meticulous and enthralling.
Empire Of Sin is due out Spring 2020 and I can’t wait to play my hand at becoming Chicago’s new kingpin.
Games inspired by the 8-bit era aren't rare these days, but it's always nice to see one from an indie dev that so obviously has an abundance of love for the genre. That appears to be the case with Cyber Shadow, a game from Mechanical Head Studios. Combining the gameplay and level design of Ninja Gaiden with boss battles directly inspired by Contra, Cyber Shadow has landed firmly on my radar.
I played through two stages of Cyber Shadow, an early one with relatively little resistance, and a stage from the middle of the game with turrets and enemies galore. Tight gameplay, well-designed 8-bit visuals, and a terrific soundtrack contribute to making it feel like a worthy spiritual successor to Ninja Gaiden.
Swinging the ninja's sword feels good, and I loved using the various powerups. From powerful shuriken to a unique circular blade that whips around you as you move and attack, you uncover various ways to augment your combat. My favorite was an upward slash that sent fireballs hurtling above.
The enemies range from flying creatures to mechanical dragons, but the main attraction is the boss battles. The two I took on felt like a strong mix of Ninja Gaiden and Contra. The first one, Smasher, could have fit right in as the first boss of a game in Konami's popular side-scrolling shooter. I had to avoid projectiles from above, as well as shockwaves, while waiting for the devious machine to reveal its weakpoint. The second boss was a heavily-armored ninja mech with multiple forms. Slashing him and throwing fireballs with reckless abandon, I almost lose sight of my own health as I watch his bar plummet. However, I dodge his final thrust and counter with a flurry of slashes to finish him off.
Cyber Shadow looks to deliver exciting challenges and fun gameplay based on the popular formula for decades ago. If what I played today is any indication, I'm on board.
When it releases, Cyber Shadow will hit PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC.
After a successful crowdfunding campaign, Indivisible has been catching eyes with its incredibly beautiful hand-drawn and hand-animated aesthetic. The game comes from Lab Zero Games, the developer behind beloved fighting game Skullgirls. While Indivisible is hardly a fighting game, the DNA is indisputable.
Indivisible combines action, platforming, and role-playing elements to create something unique, challenging, and fun. While various fantastical settings are explorable over the course of the story, my Gamescom demo takes place in Tai Krung City, a bustling metropolis under the thumb of a ruthless crime lord.
Making your way through the city is straightforward, but you're going to need some platforming chops. From simple jumping across platforms and pogoing like Scrooge McDuck across dangerous electrified blocks to pole-vaulting upward to reach higher levels and sticking her spear into the ceiling to cross large gaps, protagonist Ajna has an eclectic and ever-growing arsenal of moves to help her tackle the obstacle courses that make up Indivisible's levels.
Platforming may be an integral part of getting to Ajna's destination, but it's not the only core mechanic. When you run into an enemy, you enter the battle screen and your party emerges. You bring three companions to fight alongside Ajna, but choosing your allies likely won't be easy; there are more than 20 recruitable characters, each with their own abilities, to add to your party. My demo party consists of Ajna, a support character, a mage, and a brawler.
In battles, each character is represented by a face button. When you want to attack with that character, you press that face button. Energy refills any time the character isn't attacking or blocking, with some party members having longer recharges or more attacks they can store up. When you attack with a character, you can modify using the d-pad for upward or downward strikes. When you get locked in an intense battle, it feels like you're executing loosely improvised combos in a fighting game, harking back to Lab Zero's fighting-game expertise.
The characters also have super moves, which use a shared super meter in the upper corner of the screen. Each time you land an attack, the meter charges incrementally. Finally unleashing a super is satisfying and powerful. I'm excited to figure out how to work them seamlessly into combos as I master the combat in the final game.
While we've covered the game on multiple occasions since its 2015 reveal, we're getting to the point where we're just ready to play the long-awaited RPG. Thankfully, the finish line is in sight; Indivisible launches on October 8 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC, with a Switch version coming some time after that.
Disintegration takes a familiar conceit from tactically oriented games – the shot-caller who monitors the action from above – and adds a clever twist. “What we wanted to do was turn that camera in the sky into an active participant in combat,” says V1 Interactive’s co-founder, Marcus Lehto. The result, which we played at its Gamescom debut, smashes together FPS and tactical action to create a fascinating, fast-paced hybrid.
Players control a crew of A.I. companions, while monitoring the action from above. You’re not just an observer, though; your vehicle, known as a grav cycle, is kitted out with both offensive weapons and defensive capabilities. As your crew of mechanized buddies scrambles on the ground below, you direct their actions by issuing commands via beacons and button presses while also taking out rivals with your own attacks. It’s a tense feat of juggling, but it became second nature after only a few minutes of hands-on time.
Lehto says the sci-fi game features a complete single-player campaign, but that’s not what we’re playing at the show. Instead, we’re dropped into one of the game’s multiplayer modes, a take on capture the flag called Retrieval. Here, two teams of four take turns on attack and defense, trying to nab volatile power cores and deliver them past enemy lines before the payloads explode.
Players can choose between several themed crews, which Lehto likens to motorcycle gangs. These have their own cosmetic flair (the Sideshows are like maniacal clowns, while the Warhedz look like they were pulled straight out of Mad Max’s world), as well as gameplay specializations. From the six crews I see in the demo, I pick the King’s Guard, which gives me the ability to fire charged bolts as well as drop a mine that provides a slow healing trickle to allies that come within its range.
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The match takes place in what looks like a refinery, with choke points to guard and side passageways to slip through if you’re lucky. I hang back at first, doing my best to support the team with heals and taking shots when I can safely take them, but that strategy gets old after a bit. I find that I’m able to be far more aggressive than I initially thought, focusing on enemy grav cycles while my A.I. buddies provide solid backup. Both matches end in a draw, but I’m eager for more. Unfortunately, we’re out of time.
V1 Interactive is a small team of about 30 developers, which Lehto says is important. He says he’s seen what can happen when studios get too large (he left Bungie in 2012), which is an experience he doesn’t want to repeat. If this multiplayer demo is any indication, his team not only has some great ideas, but can potentially deliver on them, as well.
Fans of Sir Daniel Fortesque had a lot to be excited for when Sony revealed earlier this year that it had a remake of the first MediEvil in the works. Flash forward to Gamescom 2019 and we've finally gotten some hands-on time with this nostalgic return to Gallowmere. And from what we played, those looking for a more scenic trip down memory lane are going to be very happy.
Like the recent Crash and Spyro remakes, MediEvil is a gorgeous and (obviously) massive upgrade over the original game when it comes to visuals. The first game was inspired by Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas and the remake does an excellent job of making everything look more akin to that stop motion class. The textures are smooth, the models more realistic than oddly shaped polygonal models, and the moon-adorned skybox is enchanting.
The simple gameplay from the original is more or less retained. Weapon impacts land with a heavy thud and you can feel the weight behind your sword every time. You can attack foes with a close encounters weapons like sword or Daniel's arm, which he can pop out of his socket. Long-range weapons like throwing knives help to whittle zombies and other foes down before you run in for the kill.
So far, MediEvil seems like it's going to be a real treat for players who adored the original game or those in search of a goofy, colorful hack & slash adventure when it comes to PS4 on October 25.
There’s little doubt among fans that Need For Speed is also in need of some new life. The series' past few entries have been bogged down by intrusive microtransactions, poor storytelling, and lackluster settings. However, a beautiful new Miami-inspired metropolis called Palm City – as well as a particularly chaotic implementation of NFS’s classic boogeyman, the street-racer hating police force – might do just enough to propel the series back to the top.
During Gamescom 2019, we got to spend 30 minutes fiddling with customization options and competing in two street races. There is a large array of customization options for those who want to deck out their rides. We were given a sleek-looking Mercedes AMG to play with in a garage before the first race, and I spent a few minutes switching out various models of canards, wheels, splitters, and skirts just to see how it would change the car’s look. Stance tuning, paint and decal options, and even modifying the sound of your exhaust are also options you can tweak. Alongside your car, you can customize your driver's hair, clothes, and shoes. There weren’t that many options in the demo, but they did run the gamut from mundane (like curly hair) to wacky – including being able to don serial killer masks.
The difference between the two races in the demo are night and day – literally. The first race has you gunning around Palm City’s harbor, passing ships and dockworkers in a giant circle. Heat leans more in the direction of arcadey than realistic, with turbo-boosted collisions and spectacular particle effects creating the sorts of crashes that wouldn’t be out of place in The Fast And The Furious. Hitting the nitro, which slowly refills over the race, sends you barreling ahead at breakneck speed for a brief instance of time, letting you hit trees hard enough you rip them for their roots and smashing small walls to pieces. The nitro is also practical, with careful uses of it letting you overtake other racers at a critical juncture. Admittedly, outside of the spectacle and how satisfying it is to pull off a tight turn and eclipse your opponents, the day race is traditional, without any notable modifiers or hooks to make it stand out. The next race, which takes place at night, is anything but and does a great job of demonstrating the tension and surprising amount of emergent storytelling that Heat is aiming for.
The race which took me and the A.I.-controlled racers through the middle of Palm City, crossing through busy intersections and tearing across bridges, started normal enough. We zipped down the road, ramming into one another as we vied for an early lead. However, once I hit the nitro, cop cars showed up out of nowhere. Unlike the cops in Payback and the 2015 reboot, these officers were much more relentless – usefully so. Bumping into cops calls in more cops. When I realized that, I started ramming every one I saw, creating an influx of police cruisers that were smashing into my opponents’ cars and sending them flying off the road. My agent of chaos strategy eventually backfired, as one plowed right into me and forced me to lose the race. However, in the moment, the thrill was so exciting that the loss wasn’t even close to being a bitter pill.
That’s not where the fun ends either. After a night race concludes, the police will chase you, forcing you to evade them and seek out a safe house. This might sound like a chore on paper, but I found the experience immensely entertaining as I darted through alleyways and crashed through barriers in a desperate attempt to evade cruisers and SWAT vans as they tried to bounce me around like a ball. Hearing the officers have detailed, convincing conversations over the police scanner about what me and the other racers were doing also added to the tension and made the chase feel particularly cinematic.
In the end, the justice brigade got me with a spike strip and a fantastic pile-up spectacle that rivals any of the police chases I’ve had in Grand Theft Auto V thanks to the overwhelming aggression and limited means to fight back. There is no other means of defense except your skills behind the wheel. Be crafty or get caught, losing whatever prize money (used to buy upgrades for your car) you gained during the race while also gaining some reputation currency. It’s not clear yet what reputation affects in the game.
There remains a number of questions about how Heat will handle progression and storytelling. However, the strength and intensity of the demo we played as well as EA’s confirmation that Heat is ditching lootboxes entirely after Payback’s grindy inclusion of them has our hopes up that this entry might be the one that puts the series back on track.
Yesterday, Sega simultaneously announced the existence of The Yakuza Remastered Collection and released the first part. The collection, which is initially available as a sort of season pass, includes remastered versions of the PS3 games Yakuza 3, 4, and 5, running at 1080p and 60 fps on the PlayStation 4.
I asked series producer Daisuke Sato why the games aren't getting the full Kiwami treatment, and he says it came down to a question of time. If his team were to fully remake those games, it would require their full attention and would take more than three years. Since the games featured in this collection were originally released on PlayStation 3, the visuals hold up significantly better than their PlayStation 2 predecessors.
Yakuza 3 is available now, and the next games in the series will be unlocked automatically as the team completes the remastering process. Yakuza 4 is slated for an October 29 release, and Yakuza 5 should be unlocking February 11, 2020. February 11 is also the release date for a limited run of physical copies of the game – the first time Yakuza 5 is available as a physical release in North America. To mark that occasion, the Day One Edition of the game includes a PS3 case for Yakuza 5, to let collectors fill the gap on their shelves.
I played a bit of the Yakuza 3 remake, and while it's a noticeable step down from the Kiwami games – crowds have a tendency to pop into view and the UI is a bit clunky – it's fairly easy on the eyes overall. More than anything, as someone who got on board with the series when Yakuza 0 was released, I'm excited to finally fill in an important gap in Kiryu's saga.
The Yakuza Remastered Collection is available for digital purchase now for $59.99, which is the same price as the Day One Edition.