Platform: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Stadia, PC
Following the reveal of what's new to Madden NFL 21, fans of the series' franchise mode were quick to point out that the minimal updates made for Madden NFL 21 felt more like patch notes than upgrades you would expect in the next iteration of a long-running and successful franchise like Madden. Today, EA Sports released a blog post detailing the roadmap not only for Madden NFL 21's post-launch lifespan, but also what improvements the team is exploring for Madden NFL 22.
Following Madden NFL 21's reveal, a social-media movement called #FixMaddenFranchise, as well as other prominent community feedback led to the team rethinking how it approaches franchise mode. As a result, the development team is devoting a higher percentage of team bandwidth to provide updates to Madden NFL 21's franchise mode post-launch, and make even bigger changes for Madden NFL 22's franchise. The plan right now is to operate Madden NFL 21 as a platform, delivering significant content updates through two or three releases over the next few months.
Following launch, Madden NFL 21 players can expect tuning updates to improve the progression and regression of players, new commissioner tools, improved A.I.-driven personnel management, improved playoff and Super Bowl presentation, customizable X-Factor and Superstar abilities, improved U.I. showing historical player performances, better trade logic, better retirement U.I., and updates to the playoff U.I so you can better track the postseason action.
If you're looking for bigger changes, EA Sports is already laying out what it wants to do with Madden NFL 22, saying it's not committed to doing these things just yet, but it's "exploring creatively." The areas the team is currently looking into include coaching and staffing management, scouting improvements, new scenario engine enhancements, new team chemistry systems, more commissioner tool improvements, and additional content like new logos, names, uniforms, and options for relocation. EA Sports says it will share more as the development team gets closer to Madden NFL 22.
While fans of franchise mode are sure to still be disappointed with the meager offerings at Madden NFL 21's launch, hopefully this acknowledgement of the team's neglect of the mode, as well as the commitment provided through the roadmap help ease the tension within the community. Madden NFL 21 launches on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on August 28. It will come to PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X later this year.
Stadia), 2020 (PlayStation 5,
Xbox Series X)
Platform: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Stadia, PC
Marvel's Avengers will follow a core group of heroes – Ms. Marvel, Iron Man, Black Widow, Hulk, Captain America, and Thor – when it launches on September 4. However, the game is also getting free DLC heroes as time goes on (like the recently revealed Hawkeye). Today, developer Crystal Dynamics announced a major new addition to the roster.
In a post on PlayStation Blog, Crystal Dynamics associate art director Jeff Adams announced that Spider-Man will be coming to Avengers in early 2021. The hero will be available exclusively on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.
Also worth noting is that Adam's says this version of the web-slinger is "our own Crystal Dynamics take on Spider-Man," so don't expect any direct ties to Insomniac's acclaimed incarnation. The PS Blog post has much more information on Crystal Dynamics' approach to this legendary figure.
Fight Crab, a game about crustaceans fighting other crustaceans, begins innocently enough. You start as a plucky young snow crab, defending his rock pool from other, invading crabs. The next thing you know, that same snow crab is now kaiju-sized, fighting in city streets against a similarly kaiju-sized lobster wielding a giant knife and revolver pistol. Things, incredibly, only escalate from there.
What if crabs had weapons? That's the ridiculous notion that Fight Crab bases itself on, and it commits to it wholeheartedly with an involved combat system and a variety of scenarios that grow increasingly bizarre. The game often exceeds your expectations of what you might anticipate from a game that pits these hard-shelled creatures against one another. At times the joke can start to wear thin, but it's hard to forget the delightful, laugh-out-loud surprises it continues to throw at you.
A third-person, physics-based fighting game, Fight Crab is reliant on your ability to flip your shelled opponents onto their backs and make sure they don't get up. Damage dealt by striking with your claws, environmental objects, or weapons is tracked by a percentage meter, and higher percentages make it harder for crabs to regain their upright posture--a system that draws from Super Smash Bros., and one that allows for the occasional, unbelievable near-death comeback and matches that come down to the wire.
Editor's note: This review evaluates Grounded based on its early access state. We plan on reviewing Grounded again once it gets a full release.
Think about your favourite survival games. Think back to how they launched. Think of their initial public showing. If your favourites are like mine, you'll notice a trend: None of them were very good when they first launched to the general public.
Subnautica had me on the edge of my seat at launch, but it ran terribly. Four years later and its 1.0 build was one of my favourite games in a year that included God of War and Red Dead Redemption 2. The Forest, similarly, launched a mere shadow of the terrifying adventure it would eventually become. No Man's Sky was near-universally criticised at launch, but it eventually reached its potential and went beyond. Grounded, from Obsidian Entertainment, is currently in the early part of the aforementioned Early Access phase, and is lacking in many respects. But, like the games mentioned above, it has what feels like the potential to grow into something much, much greater.
A revival of the classic Battletoads franchise had been rumored for years before the game's official announcement at E3 2018. It was originally scheduled to release in 2019, but got delayed to uncertain point in the future. Except that point isn't uncertain anymore, because today Xbox revealed the new release date: August 20.
The latest trailer emphasizes Battletoads' mash-up of various genres, including elements of brawlers, platformers, and top-down shooters. The game has three-player couch co-op, and will be releasing on Xbox One and PC, and it will also be available on Game Pass on both platforms.
We weren't completely sold when we played the game last year, but with the extra development time, hopefully developer Dlala Studios has made the experience more enjoyable.
Some people think of death as an ending, while others view it as a beginning. Spiritfarer explores the latter scenario, putting you on a boat full of deceased spirits to befriend as you ferry them to the next phase of their existence. That might seem a little grim for a simulation game, but Spiritfarer isn’t a typical entry in the genre. Yes, it takes inspiration from games like Harvest Moon and Stardew Valley, but developer Thunder Lotus Games isn’t afraid to allow Spiritfarer to sail into melancholy territory.
I’ve been intrigued by this narrative-driven sim since I first saw it at E3 last year, but I recently had a chance to play a demo for myself, guided by Spiritfarer creative director Nicolas Guérin. I take control of ferrymaster Stella, while Guérin accompanies me as Stella’s cat, Daffodil. Spiritfarer can be played solo or co-op, but if you team up, both players can interact with the environment and access a shared inventory.
I explore the boat, admiring its sprawling town-like quality; multiple levels of structures are built on top of each other, and they all have specific purposes. Some are for growing vegetables, some are for crafting, and some are homes for the various spirits who have favors to ask. You place these buildings yourself with a surprising degree of freedom, so the layout of everyone’s floating settlement will be different.
Guérin has jumped me to a point about 30 hours into the game, so I’m seeing a well-developed boat. Stella and Daffodil don’t start with all these amenities; your options are limited at first, but as your needs and capabilities grow, so does the settlement on your ship. Players progress gradually by exploring islands, gathering resources, and completing requests from spirit friends – most of whom take forms drawn from the natural world. Some of my passengers include anthropomorphic versions of a deer, a mushroom, and a lion. They each have different needs, asking Stella to do things that ultimately help them reflect on their lives and finish their journeys. I didn’t see a wide variety of these quests from my time playing, but I did go ashore briefly to complete one request that involves picking some flowers in a public park.
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The gameplay structure has a familiar loop of collecting and crafting, but with defined arcs for the characters and the main story. After Stella completes a spirit’s requests, that spirt is ready to move on. And once they enter the afterlife, they leave your boat for good. I witness the final goodbye of a spirit named Gwen, and though I won’t spoil the specifics, Stella clearly helped Gwen gain some perspective on her life and how to approach whatever comes beyond it.
Stella’s journey will eventually end as well. This finite, narrative-focused approach is a big part of what makes Spiritfarer so compelling. Many other sims are designed to go on endlessly, with players watching the days and months go by without meaningful changes. However, finality is built into Spiritfarer’s story; you meet spirits, befriend them, and say goodbye. You can’t stay together forever, so you just make the most of the time you have.
From my brief demo, Spiritfarer’s themes seem sad and complex. However, they are wrapped in colorful visuals and striking animation, emphasizing the notion that death needn’t always be dark and dramatic. In this game, death is surrounded by a cozy aesthetic, friendly faces, and a curiosity about what comes next. Fortunately, we don’t have to wait long to see what awaits in the great beyond; Spiritfarer is slated to release later this year on PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Stadia, and PC.
When EA Sports revealed UFC 4 earlier this month, it promised major changes across its career mode, which is far and away the most popular destination for players when they start up the game. While the goal of becoming the greatest of all time (GOAT) remains intact, how you pave your path to that ultimate destination is more in your hands than ever before.
To become the GOAT, you still need to break records related to performance and promotion. These range from how many fights, finishes, and wins you get to how many fans you have. Of course, before you can become the greatest in the UFC, you have to make it into the UFC. Like UFC 3, you begin your career in a smaller promotion, and if you perform well enough, you're invited to appear on Dana White's Contender Series (in UFC 3, it was Dana White's Lookin' For A Fight), where you can earn a contract by delivering a strong performance.
However, unlike UFC 3, you don't have to make the leap to the UFC when the big show comes knocking. In fact, you can stay in the regional WFA promotion your entire career if you want. However, staying in the WFA won't get you to your ultimate goal of becoming the greatest fighter, nor will it pit you against the best competition. If you want to complete the GOAT goals to reach the pinnacle of the sport before it's time to retire, you should strive to get to the UFC as quickly as possible. "The GOAT goal is the end game of the UFC, but your goal in career mode is to win that belt, stay champion as long as you can in the UFC," career mode producer Raman Bassi says. "But it's your choice: Do you want to go for the GOAT goals? Or do I just want to have a fun career mode in the WFA, stay there, improve my fighter, then get to the UFC? You want to get to the UFC quick if you want to break those GOAT goals."
As you go down your preferred path, you must work to improve your skills. In UFC 3, the training was largely menu-based, but UFC 4 revamps that system to emphasize sparring more than menu-driven exercises. Now, to boost your attributes, you use particular moves and skills in sparring and fights; the more you use the associated skills, the better you get at it. The sparring isn't aimless, however, as each sparring session gives you challenges and certain moves that receive accelerated boosts during that session. You do have to monitor how hard you go, though, as you can get injured if you take too many shots; injuries range from lasting until the end of the round to lingering and hindering your performance for the rest of your career.
There are also different kinds of sparring sessions to choose from. As you get ready for a fight, you can choose to focus your session on boxing, kickboxing, jiu-jitsu, wrestling, and one that just features heavy bag work. This allows you to train specific attributes to counter what your upcoming opponents bring to the table. "The decisions you make about how you fight determine how you will develop as a fighter," creative director Brian Hayes says. "If you stay very one-dimensional, you'll become a very capable one-dimensional fighter, but it's up to you to broaden your horizons if you want to have a diverse toolset and be able to take on all different kinds of challenges."
You can also invite other professional fighters to train with you. Doing this will let you learn new moves and skills, but you can't just invite everyone. A new relationship system, which factors in how you interact with each fighter lets you develop training partners and rivals. "If you build a connection with a fighter, your relationship will increase," Bassi says. "If you don't build a relationship, or you invite these guys to train and you hurt them or they injure you, your relationship will decrease."
One of the key ways to influence your relationship with other fighters and even your fans is through maintaining a social media presence. Social media played a big role in UFC 3, but it's an even bigger part of UFC 4. New diverging storylines allow you to craft different relationships with different fighters. In UFC 3, your social media presence was largely based on how you responded to other fighters or members of the media. Instead, UFC 4's social media system reacts to your choices in other facets of the mode. For instance, if you decline a fight, that fighter could take to social media to call you out for that move. From there, you can either lie about it and make that other fighter even angrier or be truthful and potentially improve your relationships.
Once a fight is booked, you can trash talk your opponent in the lead-up, but it won't develop into a full-on rivalry in your first clash. However, if you get to a rematch with that opponent and you double down on trash talking in the follow-up match, it becomes a rivalry due to your bad relationship with that fighter. "Once you get a rival relationship with a fighter, that's when we start kicking off the rival storylines," Bassi says. "There's diverging storylines with a rival fight, and these rivals aren't set out like in UFC 3 like, 'Michael Bisping was the middleweight champion in UFC 3, so Michael Bisping is your rival through career mode.' That does not happen in UFC 4."
You can even take the trash-talking to the next level with storylines inspired by real-life rivalries like the one between former trainer partners and bantamweight champions T.J. Dillashaw and Cody Garbrandt. "You can go in and knock [your training partner out]," Bassi says. "You've knocked out this guy you invited to your camp and then you'll get a message from your manager saying, 'Hey, do you want to save this footage or do you want to throw it out?' And then eventually down the line when you actually get to fight that person you trained with and you knocked them out, your manager will ask you, 'Hey, you want to leak this footage?' So you can make that choice and that's going to affect your relationship with other fighters. You can be that bad guy in UFC 4 where nobody likes you and you're leaking all this training footage, you're inviting people, you're knocking them out ... you can knock out everyone you want! It's all up to you and how you want to play this year."
Despite the ability to be a jerk, you can also choose the path of being a good, respectable martial artist. "You also have the ability in training camp to spend time – your weekly points – just building connections with other fighters to strengthen the relationships," Hayes says. "It's not just a decision of whether to knock people out and be a jerk. You also have the ability to be a positive martial artist and be respectful and go that way too ... just make it so everybody loves training with you and teaching you stuff. You can go both ways."
To top it all off, UFC 4 also reintroduces simulation mechanics into the mix, addressing one of my biggest complaints of UFC 3: the fact that the champions don't rotate over the course of your career. Now, champions rotate over time based on simulated matchups. Unfortunately, despite the simulation mechanics taking place, they aren't surfaced to you in a fight-by-fight capacity, so you'll have to keep your eyes on the movement in the rankings if you want to keep your finger on the pulse of what's happening in your division beyond your own career.
With so many new ways to interact with an already-solid foundation built in UFC 3, I can't wait to jump into the career mode of UFC 4 and see just how much you can truly make your career your own. EA Sports UFC 4 hits PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on August 14. For more on the entirety of the game, check out my in-depth preview here.
As Microsoft’s longest-running software franchise, Flight Simulator has accrued a dedicated following of those wanting to take to the sky in a realistic way. With the most recent entry launching in 2006, the technological leaps forward in the new edition are staggering. Not only has developer Asobo Studio mapped the entire world, but the team’s attention to detail even has those of us with no interest in aviation keeping our eyes on this title.
You can visit any city or town on Earth, and Asobo went the extra step and rendered 400 of the world’s cities with Bing Maps’ telemetry to add an absurd amount of detail. Additionally, the team handcrafted up to 30 airports (depending on which version you buy), with the other 37,000 airports available via automatic generation through the mapping of the planet. In fact, the planet is so vast that it could take 14 years of continuous flight to see everything in the game. All this data would be too much for anyone to download, so Microsoft streams it to players using its Azure cloud technology. If you have a slow connection or plan on being without internet access, don’t worry; you can download parts of the world.
Once you’re in the sky, the world looks stunning. This is not just due to the photorealistic nature of things on the ground, but also thanks to three-dimensional clouds and rain that accurately scatter light, realistic water reflections, and intricately detailed lighting in cities and suburbs. Perhaps most impressive, you can set the weather to whatever you want, or you can pull in the current weather in that specific location in real-time.
Whether you’re soaring through clear skies, braving a nearby thunderstorm, or dealing with deteriorating snowy conditions, the faithful aviation experience is at the heart of Microsoft Flight Simulator. Using advanced aerodynamics calculations, the software ensures you deal with the various elements and variables that real pilots must take into account every day. From a hot day producing added updraft to a realistic simulation of air mass changing how your plane handles under different conditions, Asobo has left no box unchecked when compiling the data for an accurate simulation; the studio even went so far as to calculate how the air coming out of the propeller hits the tail of the plane.
While Microsoft Flight Simulator is already impressive, Asobo has grand ambitions for the post-launch product. The current plan is to release something significant every single month going forward; these updates could include free world additions such as more handcrafted airports and landing challenges, new simulation features, and paid DLC for things like adding helicopters to the software.
With so much impressive technology behind it, Flight Simulator could be the strongest case yet for the power of Microsoft’s Azure cloud technology. If this software is truly able to stream the entire planet, complete with live weather, dynamic elements, and accurate flight simulation to anyone with a decent internet connection, Microsoft’s latest Flight Simulator could take the franchise to new heights.
Microsoft Flight Simulator hits PC on August 18. An Xbox version will arrive at a later date.
Retro throwbacks that take inspiration from classics of a bygone gaming era can be found all over the various download storefronts that exist in today's console landscape. Taking inspiration from past masterpieces is one thing, but doing it well--and making a game that feels fresh and fun in the process--is another. Panzer Paladin borrows ideas and aesthetics from a variety of NES classics ranging from Blaster Master to Zelda II, but it mixes them all (with a dash of mech anime styling for flavor) into a curious new concoction. The result is a fun and engaging adventure that 2D action fans old and new would do well to check out.
Panzer Paladin's premise and visual style feel lifted straight out of a cult-classic retro game from the early '90s. As spunky, jump-suited android lady Flame, you are tasked with piloting your giant sentient mech exosuit buddy Grit in an effort to fight off a massive race of bloodthirsty, war-hungry interstellar monstrosities called the Ravenous. You trek through seventeen stages, some on Earth and some in the Ravenous's stronghold, filled to bursting with enemies, hazards, hidden treasures, and lots of weapons from the aliens' corrupted forge.
And by lots of weapons, I really do mean lots of weapons. Hammers, knives, lances, daggers, swords, staves, hockey sticks, giant bones, ultra-hard frozen ice pops--every level in Panzer Paladin is rich with a variety of implements to cut, poke, and smash with. While Grit's fists pack a mighty punch, weapons are the way to go for any serious combat, adding range and power to the mech's strikes. However, the intensity of battle wears weapons down, and all of them will eventually break--but that's okay, because there are always plenty of new and unique armaments to be found from defeated enemies and hidden away in walls and crevices that you can stockpile.
Stadia), 2020 (PlayStation 5,
Xbox Series X)
Platform: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Stadia, PC
As Crystal Dynamics has said, the launch of Marvel’s Avengers is just the beginning. Once the game is out, the team will add new heroes, villains, missions, story arcs, and more, free of charge. Shortly after release, Hawkeye will be available as the first post-launch hero. Since the bow-and-arrow-wielding Avenger is considered a core member of the traditional Avengers team, the in-game story isn’t just going to ignore that he was missing throughout the main campaign.
“He was lost track of at the end of [the attack on A-Day],” studio head Scot Amos says. “There’s an entire story pack that comes with him that tells what he’s being doing for these last five years. What you get is a full story that you can, uniquely, play his story as a full co-op experience. Then you can go back and replay all the stuff that comes out on day one in the Warzones with Hawkeye now, as well as all the new stuff that comes with him. He also has some unique story threads that tie up a few gaps that you might have noticed in some of the campaign but also throw out some new threads for the future.”
Given Crystal Dynamics’ history with the Tomb Raider series and Lara Croft's satisfying bow combat, Hawkeye seems like a perfect fit for the studio. However, it’s not a one-to-one translation, even if some of the gameplay mechanics were transferrable to this new character.
“Lara was designed as a character in a much different world," Amos says. "She's always about survival and she’s not a superhero, but she’s smart, and she’s resourceful. And she’s always that character that has to overcome through her cleverness and through some very specific tactics. Hawkeye is a superhero, so while we have these good mechanics that we’re used to, you have to put them in a very action-forward kind of experience. The way he plays is different than Lara hunting and pecking and looking for optimal sniper ranges. You’re jumping in it to win it with a bunch of these enemies coming at you very fast and very real time, so we had to actually improve it. Lara had some trick arrows like her explosive arrows and gas arrows, so we had a few tricks up our sleeves, but Hawkeye has a much broader palette. There’s just so much fun stuff we can do. And it’s not just a bow and arrow: It’s literally this thing that gets to launch these devices that cause all kinds of unique explosions and debilitating effects.”
If Hawkeye isn’t your heroic cup of tea, don’t worry; more updates are on the way, offering a variety of new opportunities to players. “I think people will be surprised,” Amos says. “We have new regions and new expansions … and we haven’t even talked about villains! ... Yeah, Hawkeye is coming. But who is Hawkeye fighting and what's happening in the story? We can't wait to tell you!"
Marvel's Avengers launches on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Stadia, and PC on September 4, with PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X versions coming at a later date. For an in-depth look at what the game brings, head here.
PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Stadia, PC
September 4, 2020 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Stadia, PC), 2020 (PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X)