By restricting traditional movement and thrusting you into carefully constructed 2D mazes, simply getting around Ethereal's levels presents challenging conundrums that are deeply satisfying to overcome. Despite some uneven pacing and technical issues marring the overall experience, Ethereal is a delightful game that contrasts a soothing ambiance with intricate and challenging puzzle designs.
Ethereal's opening is mysterious, but not in the best way. Starting in a monochrome world with harsh black and white streaks across the screen, it's difficult to make sense of your surroundings and options. It's an unnecessarily confusing introduction to Ethereal, which otherwise takes care to slowly introduce new mechanics before nudging you towards increasingly complex puzzles.
Outside of its central hub, Ethereal is wonderfully colorful. Your avatar leaves inky streaks of color behind them as they move, corresponding to a limited but carefully chosen palette that paints the walls around you with bright hues. A fish-eye style lens warps each world near the edges, making it feel like you're traversing a wrapped around globe rather than an endless 2D plane set on top of a harsh white background. Ethereal's stylings are subtle but work well together, producing a distinctive look that never wears thin.
Movement in Ethereal is central to its puzzles. You're restricted to sliding across 2D planes, with carefully placed walls blocking your progress. You overcome them by hopping through the closest wall either above or below you, shifting you into an entirely new row to move across. It's slightly confusing to wrap your head around at first, but getting the hang of seamlessly moving around each stage is satisfying to learn. Identifying patterns in level layouts lets you quickly zip around each of them, allowing you to reach your objectives with ease and comfortably map a route to your exit once you're done.
Each stage tasks you with obtaining a series of color-coded shapes in sequential order. It's easy to see where most are placed as soon as you enter a level, but reaching them in the order required is rarely straightforward. Although levels are small, they are labyrinthine. They are sometimes made overly complicated, with unnecessary routes and obstacles littering the peripheral of the main stage and baiting you into considering red-herring routes. Misdirection is a core principle of well-designed puzzles, but Ethereal doesn't make it easy enough to rectify a foolish misstep. You'll typically have to redo all your previous moves in reverse to get back on track, which is more confusing than it should be. It quickly becomes frustrating, making each error feel more like a waste of time than a constructive learning experience.
Thankfully, Ethereal's 24 unique puzzles don't struggle with variety. Early ones simply rely on the freshness of the game's movement to generate complexity, but it's not long before new interactions change how you think about moving through each level. One will rotate the level by 90-degrees, for example, turning previously insurmountable walls into new points for you to hop between. Another creates a black, negative space that offers a larger range of movement, which gives you the ability to move walls and alter a level's layout.
These mechanisms are introduced intelligently too, by first appearing in the hub world that precede levels designed around them. Their simple introduction whets your appetite while the larger puzzles they're used in build upon their numerous possibilities in inventive ways. At first, each stage is centered around only one of these mechanics at a time, but puzzles get increasingly challenging as Ethereal starts combining them. The difficulty curve can feel a little steep around the half-way point, and remains a little uneven up until the end, but Ethereal rarely feels unfair, only dipping into frustration when technical issues get in the way.
There were numerous instances where, after interacting with one of the aforementioned mechanisms, a bug inexplicably transported me to another end of the level--often in a position that made movement impossible. In these instances, the only solution is to restart the level entirely, which is frustrating given how long some stages can be. Having to tediously repeat numerous movements in order to return to the same spot you were before is frustrating enough, but occasionally encountering the same bug numerous times in the same level is infuriating.
Ethereal's soothing ambient soundtrack and delightfully catchy sound effects do alleviate the frustrations to a degree, while its ever-changing aesthetic is suitably elegant and effective at keeping you engaged with its puzzles and not distracted by unnecessary visual information. The soft water colors of each stage shift with each objective you reach, eventually being diluted into a simple monochromatic theme once you've finished. It's an effective way to measure your progress through a stage and help inform you of what color shape you've just cleared from the stage without the need for a HUD. Ethereal's visual simplicity echoes its ease of control but doesn't compromise its beauty in the process.
Ethereal's 24 puzzles shouldn't take that long to complete, only overstaying their welcome when technical issues force you to repeatedly restart them. Although there are also a few uneven spikes in difficulty, the game's inviting visuals and soothing sound effects dress puzzles that are intelligently designed around your limited mobility. Ethereal is a satisfyingly challenging and unique puzzle game that serves as a delightful way to spend an afternoon.
Back in 2004, Troika Games released an uncut diamond with Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, a moody, choice-driven role-playing game set in the White Wolf pen-and-paper universe. The game released in a state of disrepair, not unlike an energy-drained vampire desperate for blood, but dedicated fans glamoured by its atmospheric world and unique premise gave it new life, rounding out the rough edges and even restoring scrapped content. The game’s reputation continued to grow while the franchise collected dust inside a coffin, but now it’s primed to emerge from the shadows.
With Troika long since disbanded, franchise rights owner Paradox Interactive handed the resurrection duties to Hardsuit Labs, which includes Bloodlines writer Brian Mitsoda among its ranks. This makes the studio well-suited to handle the delicate work of updating the series with new hooks while maintaining the elements that have earned the original loyal fans.
Rather than pick up where the original game left off 15 years ago, Hardsuit instead chose to tell a new tale set in a city never really explored by the World of Darkness fiction – Seattle. With its pervasive cloud cover, unceasing rainstorms, and vibrant nightlife, it’s a perfect city for bloodsuckers to take residency. The setting may be new, but the politics among the various vampiric clans should be familiar to anyone who played the first game.
The story follows an innocent protagonist swept up into this supernatural subculture when a group of vampires go rogue and illicitly perform a Mass Embrace, descending on a bunch of pedestrians in Pioneer Square in the middle of the night and converting them into vampires. This action goes against the vampiric code, so the Camarilla wants to hunt down these “thinbloods” to learn what happened and put them out of their misery. As one of these targets, you must evade capture and navigate the faction wars to learn who turned you into a vampire and why.
The world of Bloodlines 2 operates much like the original, with certain parts of the city and its outskirts operating as hubs ripe for exploration and story missions. These spaces feature plenty of vertical spaces and alleys to keep your nefarious deeds in the shadows, and even a series of underground passageways and basements that were actually the ground level of the city in the mid 19th century before the Great Seattle Fire swept through and the city planners decided to build on top of the ruins.
As a fledgling vampire, you start off with a small suit of supernatural powers. Activating your heightened senses highlights points of interest like the investigation mode in Batman, which is also helpful for identifying prey when it’s feeding time. Depending on the choices you make, you can also learn how to levitate and glide through the air, control bats, manipulate objects with your mind, or even turn into a mist cloud to move through pipes to new areas. You don’t start as a member of any particular vampire clan, but as the story plays out you can align yourself with certain factions and even learn new vampire powers from them. Make certain decisions, however, and you may alienate another clan and cut off an entire progression path.
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Vampires are formidable predators, and this prowess is on display during first-person combat sequences. Much of the skirmishes are focused on hand-to-hand combat, with players taking advantage of their supernatural agility to dodge incoming attacks and close the gap between them and their opponent quickly. Guns are occasionally interjected into the mix, but most of the time you’re relying on your supernatural gifts to survive these scraps. During our demo, we saw the player pull off impressive feats like running up a wall to pounce on an enemy from above.
You can always choose to cap off your fights by feasting on the weak, but you need to be careful about how much blood you drink at any given time. If you mortally wound a person during feeding you can take on other accruing effects like madness. Over time, you could eventually compromise your humanity and make your hunger more uncontrollable. Going down this beastly path will also have implications with your dialogue choices.
After years of thinking a Bloodlines sequel was an unrequited dream, it’s nice to see the franchise get the sequel it long deserved. We hope to learn a great deal more about how Hardsuit Labs hopes to live up to its legacy in the coming months.
Agent 47 will soon be able to add a few new targets to his hit list with the release of a new Sniper Assassin map. Next week, players can a shipping yard in Singapore, with the goal of thwarting a hostage transfer.
Sniper Assassin is a separate mode in Hitman 2, in which players trade mobility for methodical, creative kills. As a sniper, players have to complete objectives – in this case, stopping the Heavenly Guard from moving hostages to a cargo ship – at long range while (hopefully) remaining undetected. This map doesn't seem to have much at all in common with the extravagant party level Hitman 2 shipped with, but it also rewards players who make use of their environment and seek out hidden objects.
While at GDC 2019, we got a chance to speak with The Red Latern game director Lindsey Rostal from Timberline Games about the narrative-survival game coming to the Nintendo Switch in the summer of 2019. “It was a pretty great way to unveil something that I've been toiling away on in the dark... of Los Angeles," Rostal says about appearing in the latest Nintendo Showcase. The game tasks players with journeying with your dog sled team across a (procedurally-generated) harsh Alaskan landscape, where you get lost while training for your first Iditarod race.
“We have a strong narrative background," Rostal says of Timberline Games. "I’ve made branching games and I wanted to find a new way to have a more dynamic narrative. Something that worked more in a streaming context and for a larger variety of audiences." You aren't racing in the game, you're struggling to survive against the wildnerness. Due to the randomization of the game's elements, your runs through the game vary wildly, but you can definitely get lucky.
"It’s a fun way to write. You don’t know what’s really going to happen. There’s likelihoods and there’s relationships between animals in the environments and everything like that," Rostal says. "But things are changing all the time. The unexpected nature of the world is really exciting. You’re like, 'This is likely to happen, but [then again] this squirrel might murder me... It can happen."
Rostal describes the tone of the game as "darkly comedic". While there's the tension ice might break beneath you, you're running low on med packs, and a moose might stomp on you, she says a lot of the game's lighter moments come from the narration. The main character (voiced by Horizon Zero Dawn's, Ashly Burch) will be editorializing the world and contextualizing situations like the tension between a squirrel and your team of dogs. “It’ll probably be an entertaining and weird game," Rostal says about the fact that the character will be talking for their dogs in a lot of situations.
The announcement trailer for the game ends with a bear attacking a sled dog, which was shockingly grim for a Nintendo Showcase. "The horrible thing is I don’t think I realized that it was as dark as it was… I probably should have put a trigger warning on the trailer," Rostal says. "We wanted to set the stakes. When you're going up there to change your life and you're setting out to do something that’s a little naïve and a little crazy."
The small team at Timberline games have fallen in love with their game's environments, saying they joked about creating a “screensaver zen mode" to let players soak in the scenery while using the gyro controls when the Nintendo Switch is in handheld mode. When bringing up the idea of creating a version of the game compatible with Labo VR Rostal says "You never know! If they give me a parka version I’m in."
While Bloodborne tweaked the combat dynamics of Dark Souls to encourage aggression, Sekiro rewrites the rules of engagement. The building blocks of its combat are recognisable, but this only serves to lure Soulsborne veterans into a false sense of security. Sekiro's combat is incredibly demanding, asking you to study your opponent, find the perfect moment to engage, and execute a split-second follow-up that, if done right, will end the battle in a matter of moments--or if done wrong will end you just as fast.
This might sound akin to what every other From Software game asks of you, but Sekiro pushes these demands further than Dark Souls and Bloodborne ever did. Over the years, From Software fans have become accustomed to the language of Soulsborne games; we recognise scenarios and are wise to the tricks, we can identify viable strategies more quickly, and since the skills are transferable, we can execute these strategies with a measure of confidence. But Sekiro challenges this expertise. It invites you to try and then shows you how little you're actually capable of. Sekiro is affirmation that From Software hasn't lost its bite; that its games can make you feel vulnerable and strike fear in a way few others can. It's a heart-pounding, palm-sweating, and nerve-wracking gameplay experience that instills tension the likes of which I haven't felt since first playing Demon's Souls.
Souls players predominantly hide behind shields and adopt a hit and run approach to combat, and Bloodborne's attack-focused dynamic was a response to this. Similarly, the crux of Sekiro's combat has its origins in Dark Souls. The Poise stat was used to govern how resistant a player was to being staggered or stun-locked by an attack. Sekiro reworks this into a defensive attribute called Posture and uses it to underpin its engagements. Attacks chip away at Posture and will eventually break through the defense, leaving an enemy open to a Deathblow or to having their health attacked directly, which in turn makes their Posture slower to recover. However, this is a very laborious way to wear enemies down, and they will often defiantly counterattack to deal big damage to you. Instead the goal is to deflect an attack the moment before it hits you, which wears down Posture considerably faster.
For low-level enemies it takes just a few encounters to get into the rhythm of it, but as more foes are introduced, it becomes much trickier. Each one has a variety of attacks that have specific tells and counter timings, so spending the time to learn how they all behave and how you should react is vital. Thematically, this style of combat is also coherent with the subject matter of the game in a way that I really appreciate. Battles are measured--a ballet of back and forth movements, the outcome decided by a deadly flourish--swift and precise, as any contest between swordsmen should be.
However, the true test is when you're faced with Sekiro's boss enemies. Calling these encounters "challenging" would be a severe understatement. The attacks these enemies unleash are deadly, to the point where just a single blow can often be enough to kill you. Their moves can be as erratic as they are diverse, and for some of them parrying is simply not an option. Occasionally a red kanji symbol will briefly appear to signal that an unblockable attack is on its way, and in this situation the options are to either jump, dodge to the side, or hope you can sprint away fast enough. In a single second you'll need to identify the attack and execute the appropriate action to save yourself. Bosses have the most Posture and usually require you to land multiple Deathblows on them before they fall, so attempting to simply chip away only draws the battle out. The longer you spend in the battle, the more mentally taxing it becomes. The stress of repeatedly nailing split-second counters begins to mount and just a single slip-up is all it takes to lose everything. As a consequence, these boss battles feel designed to force you to engage with the enemy, to take the fight to them and hope that you've got what it takes. In the moment it can feel unbearably frustrating to keep banging your head up against the challenge, but that frustration pales in comparison to the sheer exhilaration of finally breaking through. After almost every boss battle I completed, I was so overwhelmed by the adrenaline that I had to put the controller down and give myself the time to settle.
Death isn't necessarily the end, however, as Sekiro gives you the option to either submit and die to respawn at a checkpoint, or revive on the spot and continue fighting. This mechanic makes the game just a touch more forgiving by allowing you to recompose yourself and get back in the fight, but it comes at a cost. Each death and each revival has an impact on the world around you. More specifically, it has an impact on the characters you've met on your journey. To explain exactly what that is would be to spoil one of the most interesting parts of Sekiro, so I won't do that--and also, at this point I'm not completely sure what the ramifications and consequences are, such is the mysterious nature of it all. However, the fact that death has a consequence beyond making you lose experience and money is fascinating.
In battle, your character, Wolf, has his fair share of tricks. He's equipped with a prosthetic arm that is capable of having different sub-weapons grafted to it, and they're essential in giving yourself an edge in combat. There's an axe that, while slow to swing, can break through shields; a spear that allows you attack from further away, and can be used to pull weaker enemies towards you or strip armor; firecrackers which can stun enemies; or a flamethrower that can inflict burn damage.
Using these prosthetics comes at a cost, however, as they consume Spirit Tokens. These are scattered around the world and can be purchased using Sen, the in-game currency awarded for killing enemies, but you can only hold a limited quantity of them while in the field. This limitation reinforces the idea that they are to be used as part of a strategy instead of relied on as the primary way to defeat enemies. Using them unnecessarily could mean that they're not available when you need them most. Resources such as scrap, gunpowder, and wax can be found to upgrade your prosthetic arsenal and open up new ways to use them.
Wolf's own shinobi abilities can also be developed by spending experience points gained from killing enemies. Unlike previous From Software titles, there isn't a steady stream of new weaponry; the katana is your mainstay throughout, but new Combat Arts flesh out how the sword can be used, and they have a more active role in skirmishes. Whirlwind Slash, for example, lets you control space, while Ichimonji is a heavy overhead strike that has a long windup but dishes out big posture damage. Again, they're designed as an additional strategic consideration. Only one of these can be equipped at a time, so this forces you to think about what you're taking into battle and be methodical in utilizing it. Shinobi Arts, meanwhile, allow you to access skills such as mid-air deflections, vaulting over enemies to deliver backstabs, and specific counters for deadly special moves that enemies will occasionally execute. These various upgrades aren't diverse enough to support dramatically different playstyles, but they do offer just enough room to find a favourable loadout and then develop its effectiveness.
Wolf also has a suite of Innate Abilities, some of which come into play outside of combat. It's here that Sekiro really distinguishes itself from previous From Software titles by revealing itself to be a stealth action game--one that proudly wears its origins as a spiritual successor to the Tenchu series. Most areas have a heavy enemy presence so the odds are stacked against you. Engaging in open combat will draw attention to your presence, so the smarter strategy is to thin out the opposition by systematically picking them off. In previous From Software games, this would involve an awkward kiting process where you edge closer to a single enemy and use items or ranged attacks to lure it into a safer zone to do battle. However, Sekiro has mechanics to support stealth play more directly. You can use your grappling hook to take to the rooftops and scout out a location, taking a note of enemy placements and watching their patrol patterns. You can skulk around buildings, pressing yourself against surfaces to peek around corners. You can shimmy up walls and hang of ledges to reposition, leap off elevated points to plunge your katana into enemies below, or slither under raised buildings and into grass, creeping towards unsuspecting victims. Innate Abilities such as Suppress Presence will make your footsteps quieter, while the ceramic shard item can be thrown to make noise and manipulate movements to your advantage. Being effective with stealth can allow you to circumvent standard combat encounters entirely, so it's in your best interest to take it slow and steady. Enemy behaviour can be inconsistent, however. Sometimes they'll stare through you as if you're not there, and other times they become hyper aware and capable of perfectly tracking your movements during an alert phase, even when you're behind walls or hiding on roofs. They're not particularly sophisticated, but their lethality means they're not to be taken lightly.
The absence of modern stealth conveniences means you place greater scrutiny on your surroundings, and you'll notice just how thoughtfully they've been constructed
There's a simplicity to Sekiro's stealth mechanics that is refreshing. There's no Detective Mode or on-screen indicators to signify how much noise you're making, and instead you're entirely reliant on your basic senses. The absence of these modern stealth genre conveniences means you place greater scrutiny on your surroundings, and you'll notice just how thoughtfully they've been constructed.
The geography of From Software's game worlds are much lauded, with praise heaped upon the way seemingly disparate locations slowly reveal themselves to be interconnected and part of a cohesive whole. That strength of world design is present in Sekrio, and the fact that it's more immediately visible within these contained locations makes taking the stealth approach even more satisfying. Buildings are placed together to encourage exploration and reconnaissance, with roofs almost touching so that you can leap between them and scope out all angles. They overhang just enough that you can take a running jump and use your grappling hook to swing up and across for better vantage points. Pathways diverge and reconnect, creating that satisfying feeling of venturing into the unknown and then emerging into the familiar. Thick tree branches protruding out from the side of mountains can be grappled to and used to sneak into the heart of an area undetected, or around it entirely. There were more than a few occasions where I spotted a temple in the distance, traced the pathway there back to where I was standing, and followed it to discover a hidden area.
Sekiro takes place in Japan, in a land known as Ashina. As a consequence, it is by and large more grounded in reality than the likes of Lordran or Yarhnam. The location remains both striking and memorable, however. Encircled by an ever-visible snowy mountain range, Ashina is built up of dilapidated temples scattered around, housing mercenary warriors and corrupted monks, among other dangerous foes. Man-made pathways dissolve into perilous valleys, where mountainsides must be scaled to reach remote forests patrolled by club-wielding ogres. Fortified castles tower above abandoned towns seized by an army. Ornate statues fill the homes of royalty, while questionable characters linger in the dungeons below. Without spoiling it, Sekiro also takes the opportunity to delve into the supernatural and pull from Japanese mythology.
That juxtaposition of the real and the fantastical is echoed in the story Sekiro tells. It begins simply, with a shinobi that is called into action to save his kidnapped master and uphold his iron oath. But beneath the surface there's more at play--Ashina is a nation on the brink of collapse, its people beset by a mysterious stagnation, and you have the power to decide its fate--familiar themes for From Software. However, the story quickly moves from the realm of warlords driven by ambition to one of mythical bloodlines, demonic monsters, and otherworldly spirits. While the story is undoubtedly told in a more direct fashion than Dark Souls and Bloodborne, there are still numerous nuances to explore, and mysteries to solve, perfect fodder for a rampant community that has built up around From Software's games to mine. Softly muttered lines from Ashina's denizens hint at turmoil from days gone, while item descriptions speak to arcane practices. Talk of far off lands colours in the world around Ashina, while vague mentions of enigmatic figures leaves you questioning what unseen forces are involved in the events that are transpiring.
The unflinching way Sekiro punishes you for missteps and the repetition of trial and error are clearly suited for people of a certain temperament and with a very specific, slightly masochistic taste in games. These are the people that are willing to endure devastating defeats for hours on end and watch as their progress is undone time and time again, just so they can have the intoxicating thrill of overcome a seemingly insurmountable challenge that awaits at the end. In that respect, Sekiro is unmistakably a From Software game--but one unlike any we've had so far. When all is said and done, though, it's the combat that has left the deepest marks on me, for better and for worse.
Atop Ashina Castle I stood before a swordsman. It wasn't my first attempt at the duel; we'd been trading steel for close to six hours, and each time the swordsman ruthlessly cut me down. I became desperate. I started making bad decisions. The losses were really getting to me. But I persevered.
My plan was a familiar one, honed through years of repeated Dark Souls and Bloodborne play: observe, dodge, wait for a slow attack, and use the opening to strike--it never fails. He swung his sword and I was out of range. The recovery on the attack was slow so it was the perfect opportunity to land a blow--I'd done it hundreds of times by that point. Except, this time it was different. As I charged in, he quickly corrected himself and fired an arrow, then chased behind it to close the distance and delivered a crushing blow. I lost my composure and finally snapped.
I picked myself up off the ground and rushed at him. He began an onslaught of attacks and, after six hours of learning his style and developing the muscle memory, I just started parrying on instinct. Each one of his swings and each arrow he fired was met with a perfectly timed raise of my sword. Every unblockable attack he lunged at me with was sidestepped or hopped immaculately. I watched as his Posture deplete, edging closer to the breaking point, and at the same time I could feel my breathing become more rapid, my thumbs beginning to tremble. I wore him down and delivered a Deathblow, backed away, and did it all over again, and a third time. In that final moment when I pierced through him with my katana, I was completely overcome with emotion. After six gruelling hours of failure, the winning battle lasted just six minutes. I'm not too proud to admit that I cried, and I'd do it all over again.
Sekiro marries From Software's unique brand of gameplay with stealth action to deliver an experience that is as challenging as it is gratifying. At the time of publish I haven't completed Sekiro. While I have invested upwards of 30 hours into it, there are still a few more locations I need to explore and bosses I need to beat before the credits roll, and I'm excited to do it. This review will be finalized in the coming days.
As a developer, Double Fine may have one of the most consistently diverse portfolios in gaming. The studio has virtual reality games, graphic adventures, real-time strategy titles, 3D platformers, RPGs, and more. Double Fine constantly changes genres to work on new things and give their own spin on existing ideas. If only by the theory of diminished options, Double Fine would eventually find themselves ready to tackle the roguelite action genre, which they’re applying their trademark charm and personality to with their announcement of Rad.
It’s the post-post-apocalypse, meaning that the world has been ended twice over, and isn’t in a good shape. Despite the toxic poison covering the wilds and the inevitable monsters produced by it, hope springs eternal. Thanks to effigies strewn about the wasteland called Respirators, there is a small chance that humans can once again move out of their settlements and encampments back into the rest of the world. To do that, however, requires brave youth sacrificing themselves by agreeing to activate those Respirators and fighting off the monsters along the way.
To survive the poisoned atmosphere, the teenagers sent outside have to undergo an overhaul to their DNA which makes them susceptible to mutations from the radiation affecting the world. These mutations are essentially perks, giving the adventurous teens extra power in completing their quest. These mutations may manifest in ways like giving your player a cobra head which spits poison, a third arm that can be thrown and returned like a boomerang, eggs that hatch followers to attack your enemies, and more. During each run, you max out at three active mutations, each assigned to a button at your fingertips. You could end up with mutations that synergize extremely well together and destroy everything in your path or you could end up with three mutations that barely help you. The mixing and matching of possible mutations can have unforeseen effects, like becoming a Cobra person means your egg-babies also have tiny cobra heads, too.
In addition, you can obtain an unlimited number of passive mutations that can also change your build up in different ways. Some passive mutations might add health, but only against certain elements like fire, and just remains on the side until or unless needed. Like other run-based roguelites such as Binding of Isaac, players can hope for the best, but it’s going to be skill that gets you across the finish line in the end.
When a player dies, the run starts over back in the game’s origin town named the Fallow. One teenager didn’t make it, so another teenager takes up the mantle, but can buy supplies, buy upgraded weapons, or withdraw from the bank before they go. In concert with the various shops throughout the game, players will see progress between runs to help do things like forge and create better baseball bats to have less reliance on the randomness of mutations.
One side effect of the DNA blending machine the teenager becomes is that, as they traverse the wasteland, grass grows under their feet Okami-style. The grass stays on the ground for the entire floor, meaning you can always tell where you have been without having to memorize each procedurally-generated map. The grass also helps in battle – the teenagers move faster when walking on grass, which means that you need to move and strafe around enemies rather than stay in one place.
Rad has an immediate and obvious 1980s rock ‘n’ roll style, aggressively bouncing between Mad Max and Heavy Metal in its influences. Director Lee Petty explained that he simply loves that style and era and it definitely fits with the aesthetic of a radioactive wasteland. According to Petty, the game also has a bit of a message about the older generation sacrificing the younger one for their own mistakes with society and the environment. While it’s relevant in modern times, Petty points out that it was relevant in the 1980s, too. It is the kind of trope that unfortunately never really goes out of style.
Over the course of the game, the environments will vary, so you won’t just me crossing the desert for the entire journey. While I didn’t get a chance to see the other biomes, Double Fine explained that venturing further into the game will start revealing lore about the game’s prior two apocalypses. A mysterious teenage girl narrates your expedition, which will also be explained more as you proceed to unlock respirators.
Much like the player backtracking over the grass trail behind them, Double Fine’s Rad is certainly not reinventing anything in the genre. It is very much in the same vein as games like Binding of Isaac or Dead Cells, but with enough personality that it will probably keep players interested for the length of the adventure. It won’t be long until everyone can find out how rad it is for themselves when Rad releases this summer on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC.
Even three years after release, Overwatch is still regularly adding new characters and drawing huge crowds, so players are clearly interested in well-made, character-driven shooters. Drifters is being developed by Blind Squirrel, a studio that has previously worked on ports for several popular triple-A games like the BioShock Collection and Prey. Its first original game, Drifters, is a free-to-play hero shooter that is hoping to mesh the serious competitive nature of Overwatch with the more arcadey experience of Super Smash Bros.
A 5v5 team game, Drifters is all about knowing your roles. The goofy loot-hungry marauders you play as all have their own strengths, weaknesses, and playstyles that are important to understand if you want your team to make off with the biggest haul at the end of a match. You’ll have characters that run the usual gamut of classes: tank, healer, assault, sniper, and support.
Much of the game’s charm lies with its characters. Five were on display, but three more are still being added. All the heroes look diverse and interesting:
Sumo is your tank – a large fish with a wrecking ball for an arm. He gets in close with his shotgun and keeps enemies at bay with his AOE ultimate that has him swinging his wrecking ball and knocking players around like pinballs.
Ziggy is a cartoonish purple wisp whose ultimate rains down lightning blasts from the sky in an overhead strike. He likes to hang back and pick people off from a distance with his sniper rifle.
Zola, a healer, wields a burst-fire energy weapon and can see enemies through walls when she stands still. Her ultimate removes that restriction and gives you free rein of her abilities to make quick work of unsuspecting foes.
Magne is all about crowd-control, armed with saw blades and turrets that work great in tandem. The blades magnetize the enemies and the turrets home in on the magnetic targets. Magne’s ultimate whips up an AOE vortex of magnetic energy.
Resistor is a punk-rock robot with a rocket strapped to his back. He is all about controlled chaos. His shots tend to scatter and only hit the general area you’re aiming at, but he can be deadly in the right hands. He puts that rocket to good use for his ultimate where you get to control it in flight to find a target on the other team.
We only had the chance to see these five characters, but eight will be available at the game’s launch. The characters all had a fun, irreverent charm, and they mesh well with the spacey environments reminiscent of Insomniac’s Ratchet & Clank series.
With a rogues gallery of characters to choose from, the game has plenty of variety. They might not necessarily have deep lore guiding them like in Overwatch, which speaks to Drifters’ Smash Bros. inspirations, but those inspirations extend beyond its characters.
“The thing we like about Super Smash Bros. is how the characters react to the action” says creative director Haydn Dalton. “We have a lot of stuff that either knocks you back, causes you to skid out of control, or sends you 40 or 50 meters away. Players can use their jetpacks to recover and do all these acrobatic feats, and when you knock people into walls you really feel it. There’s almost a cartoony aspect to it. We want to make sure there is a little bit of comedy to the game.”
Drifter’s mobility is its hook – quite literally. Characters come equipped with a grappling hook and jetpack that lets them not only close the gap between players but also make a swift getaway. Grappling seems useful for getting around quickly when you need to get across the map to a new objective or to get into the firefight, and the jetpack, as you’d expect, is good for giving you that little extra distance when you’re trying to make a jump. It’s also good for simply getting a new vantage point on the opposing team. This added momentum looks to bring a fresh approach to the hero shooter.
The map we saw was a large space freighter floating through an asteroid field, and it looked fairly expansive, but not so large that navigation was a burden. One fun feature of the game was that every time you respawn, instead of being plopped down somewhere in the level, you are loaded into a cannon on a nearby ship, and you aim at the level to pick where you’d like to launch yourself. It was silly, but in keeping with Drifters’ attitude.
Drifters will feature five different game modes at launch including variations on the standard deathmatch, king of the hill, and capture the flag. The mode we saw, Plunder, was a twist on capture-the-flag. You are tasked with exploring the map to locate treasure hidden in breakable objects littering the area, which, once captured, must be deposited at a drop point. You then need to hold off the other team before your “plunder” is cashed in. The first team to manage this five times wins the match.
Speaking of loot, when you successfully airlift your cargo, your team members are all rewarded with small cosmetic bonuses after the match. You can also unlock different loadouts for the characters that don’t necessarily make you stronger, but do alter the play style. Characters have different attacks and weapons with their own strengths and weaknesses that you can tailor to your preferences along individual skill trees.
“There will be some vanity stuff in there, but we’re actually going to focus on a tech tree-style upgrade system, so you can invest in the way each character’s guns work,” says Dalton. “For example, you can change what type of shotgun your character carries. Guns will all ultimately do the same amount of damage, but they will deal it out in different ways, which might fit your play style. So, some shotguns might blast wider but not as far, and some might do a little less damage but fire faster.”
The world of Drifters is rich with detail, and to support that world, Blind Squirrel has teamed with Vault Comics to flesh out the characters in a tie-in comic series. This frees up the team to focus on creating characters with cool abilities that are first and foremost fun to play. If the setting has you wanting more, then the comic can fill in the blanks.
Drifters will have three maps (Blind Squirrel aims to roll out more if the game does well) and five game modes. The game shows a lot of promise; the characters were visually distinctive and the action looked frenzied and fun. Blind Squirrel is still looking for a publisher, so much of this game is subject to change by the time the game finds its way out on PS4, Xbox One, and PC by the end of the year.
Today at the Nindies showcase, Nintendo revealed a semi-sequel/spinoff to the indie hit Crypt of the Necrodancer set in The Legend of Zelda universe. Titled the incredibly wordy Cadence of Hyrule – Crypt of the NecroDancer Featuring the Legend of Zelda, the game takes Necrodancer's gameplay and puts a Legend of Zelda skin over it in terms of music, monsters, and graphics in general.
Not a whole lot was shown of the game, but it does appear to star Cadence from the original game with Link and Zelda as separate playable characters. Cadence has been transported to the unfamiliar land of Hyrule, but there are still some familiar people and mechanics for her even in the new kingdom.
Necrodancer's gameplay puts the player in a procedurally-generated dungeon that they have to explore by moving and attacking at the beat of the music. The game has been fairly popular on PC and even got a Switch version fairly recently, which Switch owners can check out if they're curious how this new Zelda-themed spinoff is going to play.
Cadence of Hyrule – Crypt of the NecroDancer Featuring the Legend of Zelda releases on Switch this Spring.
For those of us who already spend our entire waking life tethered to the internet, the concept of Hypnospace will seem like both the logical conclusion to our always-online existence and its literal nightmare scenario. Hypnospace, the titular technology of Hypnospace Outlaw, is a social network you can access while you sleep, thus solving the problem of its users failing to update their status due to having to close their eyes for eight hours a day. It's both ingenious and terrible, and serves as the all-too-horrifyingly-plausible premise of this quite clever, quite funny, simulated '90s web browsing puzzle game.
Log on to Hypnospace and you find yourself jolted back to the late '90s internet age where every page belonged to a webring, had a visitor counter, and blared tinny MIDI music on loop every 15 seconds. The Hypnospace web portal is a walled garden, to use the modern term, split into themed zones that play host to whatever it is people make websites about. Or rather, what people used to make websites about.
It's 1999, the frontier era of the internet, before it was dominated by corporations, where random people stole some HTML and threw up a page dedicated to whatever random things interested them at the time. There's a kind of ramshackle energy at play--whether it's in Bill Aldrin's House of Sound and his raw music reviews or Gus' Temple of Serenity and his earnest new age-isms--that will make those of a certain generation (i.e. me) nostalgic for the looser, weirder, more experimental, yet more innocent internet that we seem to have lost in the years since.
You navigate these sites as a kind of moderator in the employ of Merchantsoft, the startup behind Hypnospace. You're dispatched jobs to track down incidents of content infringement, harassment, illegal activity, and so on, removing the offending text, images, or links from the pages you find them, and issuing warnings to the users who posted them.
Initially, you're assigned specific zones to monitor, and early cases are a simple matter of browsing the pages in each zone until you encounter the relevant material. The pages themselves are mostly spot on in terms of their portrayal of late '90s amateur internet culture and reading through each new page becomes a source of constant amusement. What you're being asked to do as a mod in these early cases isn't especially interesting, but that's fine, because the writing across the board is so sharp.
Things soon get more complicated, and fulfilling each new task requested by your manager becomes more of a puzzle that you really need to work to solve. These puzzles are mostly satisfying to work through. You'll be plugging in search terms to track down potential leads, cross-referencing data and Hypnospace user IDs, reading blog entries to identify clues that might suggest how you could try to crack someone's password, exploring unlisted zones and installing new kinds of software. It quickly becomes a game of internet detective where you're saving documents to your virtual desktop and bookmarking pages of interest to return to later.
Where it suffers is when this sleuthing distracts from the writing. Getting stuck and browsing through the same pages again and again rarely makes any of the jokes funnier. As you progress through the cases, weeks and months pass and you'll see the passage of time reflected as users update their pages--occasionally even in response to your moderating actions--while new pages appear and old ones close. Such updates are welcome, and remarkable given the sheer quantity of pages you're able to browse by the game's end, but you're still going to be looking at the same stuff many times over before you're done.
Hypnospace Outlaw loves the internet, warts and all. It loves how the internet is really still all about weird online communities and their rivalries, feuds, and splinter groups, and how one person's ideas--both good and bad--can gather momentum and spin out of control. It also loves how trivial much of the internet really is, and how we should both celebrate all this made-up nonsense and acknowledge how much of our time with the internet is just frittered away on garbage. It also very accurately simulates that "down the rabbit hole" journey where one click leads to another, and before you realize it, you've spent the night chasing links and can't remember whatever it was that prompted the expedition in the first place.
There are glimpses of darkness through the nostalgic haze, and it's in these moments that you realize that this isn't really just about the internet of the '90s. The cowboy arrogance and shady dealings of Merchantsoft is analogous to many tech startups of today that promise to liberate but only oppress. And in a frightening near-future vision of the gig economy, you're paid in Hypnocoin, a virtual currency accepted at Hypnospace's commercial partners, and only receive payments for reporting violations of Hypnospace's code of conduct. These elements may feel ahead of their time for a game set in 1999, but they make a fair point about where we've taken the internet in the intervening years.
As an exploration of early-ish internet culture, Hypnospace Outlaw demonstrates how far we've travelled online over the past 20 years while at the same time asking whether we've gone anywhere at all. The bandwidth may have improved since 1999 but the content can look all too familiar today.
Generation Zero, the open-world cooperative shooter set in 1980s Sweden, launches next week. As players gear up to take back the countryside from the mysterious mechanical invaders, developer Avalanche Studios has released a launch trailer highlighting some of the intense firefights you can expect when the game launches.
Set in the 1980s, you and your group of friends return to your quiet countryside hometown in Sweden to find that everyone is gone and giant robots have taken over. Your mission is to fight back alongside up to three friends to not only take back your home, but also discover what has happened.