Editor's note: This review is currently in progress to allow more time to experience more of Valorant in a post-launch environment. We'll update and finalize the review as the author digs deeper and plays more of the game.
Think Counter-Strike with hero elements. That's the elevator pitch for Valorant, Riot Games' first foray into competitive first-person shooters. I say that not to disparage Valorant, though. In fact, that's what I love most about it, especially since it executes on the formula extremely well. Valorant thrives because of tight, tactical gameplay and a mix of character-based abilities that provide a necessary strategic layer. Although it's a slim package with limited features and barren presentation, Valorant has the potential to be great.
The core mode of Valorant revolves around five-on-five matches where one team (defenders) defends bomb sites while the other (attackers) tries to plant at bomb sites, switching sides about halfway through a best-of-25. The stakes are high as everyone gets only one life per round, and the focus on precise gunplay with low time-to-kill leaves little margin for error. You also have to consider the team's economy--depending on performance, money gets distributed to players each round which is used to buy gear before the round commences. This factors into a team's decision to buy better equipment or save for future rounds. In turn, each round ratchets up the intensity as the tide of advantage can shift at any moment or between rounds.
Infinigon Games and Team17 recently revealed Epic Chef, a hybrid life-sim/cooking/adventure game, in which you take a budding cook on a quest to become the best they can be. The accompanying trailer shows off the whimsical PC game in action, and it's as bizarre looking as the genre mashup sounds.
You play as Zest, who is a recent arrival to Ambrosia. You'll need to cultivate crops, master new flavor profiles, and take out rivals in high-stakes, one-on-one cooking battles.
In my original review of The Outer Worlds, one of my takeaways was that it had strong worldbuilding which was enhanced by its audiovisual direction. That was based on dozens of hours with the PC version of the game. The game now has a port on Nintendo Switch, and being able to play a title as expansive as The Outer Worlds on the system is impressive. But naturally, the big compromise that it makes in order to run on the relatively less powerful console is in the visual splendour of its world.
As I've come to expect in Switch ports of graphically-intensive games, the concessions most noticeably come in the form of a very low level of detail, significantly reduced environmental objects, and the absence of many ambient and post-processing visual effects, among other things. The result is a fuzzy, watercolour-like image of a barren world, and you certainly lose a lot of the awe that comes with seeing the game's large, lush open areas and intricately detailed cities. But more importantly, the low visual fidelity makes it more difficult to spot enemy characters--especially at mid-to-long-range, and especially using the Switch's handheld mode; they tend to blend together, often sharing the same muted colour palettes.
It's 3 AM. Your two-person ship, a modest sloop, is anchored at Golden Sands Outpost while you sell off the loot from a five-hour voyage. You've been sailing as an emissary of the Gold Hoarders, and through questing for a lengthy stretch without your ship sinking, you managed to make it to rank 5. Now, every chest, trinket, and gem you sell is worth two and a half times its normal value, but there's a catch: Sailing with an emissary flag, particularly a high-level one, etches a giant red "X" on your back. Any player that sinks your ship and steals your emissary flag will get their own big payday, and pirates sworn to the new Reaper's Bones faction can even see you on their ship's navigation map if they rank up their own emissary flag high enough.
In an instant, your triumphant loot turn-in transforms into a disaster. Another duo's sloop rounds the corner behind your boat, positioning their cannons to lay waste to all your hard work. Adrenaline washes through your body like an icy tidal wave, but you saw them coming too late: An enemy player has boarded your ship with a dangerously explosive stronghold keg, which erupts as you hurl yourself from the deck. There's almost no way to recover from this onslaught; your entire boat is on fire, the hull is punched through with holes that gush water at an alarming rate, your mast is leaning uselessly to one side, your steering wheel is missing several pegs, the capstan (which raises your anchor) is half-broken, and the incoming cannonballs are knocking you around inside your own boat.
Somehow, incredibly, you and your crewmate repair the mast, raise the anchor, put out the fires on your deck, and lower the sails, all the while bailing water, hammering planks over the gouges in the hull, and using your trusty blunderbuss to fend off the other crew's continued attempts to board. By this point, your hands are violently shaking. You sail off and do the only thing you can: With the pursuing ship directly behind, you set your boat on a clear heading, jump off the back, and grab their ladders. Distracted as they are, you slay them both; in the interim before they respawn, you steer their boat onto some rocks, destroy their mast, lower their anchor, and use some handheld firebombs to light the whole thing up like a floating tinderbox.
Flexibility has always been one of the important tenets of the Project Cars franchise. At first, it was nice just to have a series that gave you customization features like a bespoke HUD and weather progression, along with its various cars and racing series. But in the 2017 sequel and the upcoming third title, developer Slightly Mad Studios is not only layering on additions, but doing so in the spirit of the franchise.
Project Cars’ career mode has never been its strong suit, and Project Cars 2 only nudged this aspect of the game forward slightly. For this new title, the career mode has received a big boost thanks to the inclusion of in-game credits (there are no microtransactions) that can be spent on car upgrades. Whether you want to own a fleet of cars or stick with a few favorites, they can be upgraded through the different tiers of racing performance so you don’t have to leave them behind as you climb up the game’s curated ladder of events through 10 car classes.
Experience points and credits are won by completing various race objectives, and these are thankfully not restricted to just grabbing a podium finish. Hitting a certain speed, overtaking a minimum number of vehicles, and good driving confer rewards that move your career forward. Credits can also be used to unlock future events if you just want a change of pace from the current series you’re racing in. Best of all, what you do in other areas of the game earns you XP and credits for your career – a welcome design decision in keeping with the series’ spirit that doesn’t cordon off the game’s various modes.
Even if you’re not the world’s most dangerous racer, Project Cars 3’s online multiplayer has incentives for you to try it out – even if it’s only for XP and credits. The new Rivals MP mode joins the Quick Race (with multiple levels of matchmaking) and Scheduled Events online options to deliver daily, weekly, and monthly challenges. These are asynchronous, so you’re not necessarily racing directly against others, but you are still pushing yourself to perform so you can earn better rewards. It’s the kind of single-player online feature that titles like Madden and FIFA have included.
As good as Project Cars 3 is sounding on paper, we haven’t gotten our hands on the title to see what the cars feel like. I wasn’t completely satisfied with different cars’ handling in the last game, but Slightly Mad says it’s been working on this aspect of the title, and in particular to make racing with a controller a better experience. Shoring up this and other gameplay areas such as smarter and more consistent driving by A.I. cars are important factors in judging exactly how far this series has come.
Bungie has been very quiet about the newest season of Destiny 2, scheduled to begin next week. Previous seasons have had clear names discussed weeks or months in advance, but this summer’s season has consistently been titled Season of the [Redacted]. In addition, the developers have been gradually teasing a number of separate story threads for some time, including the impending arrival of the pyramid ships hinted at in earlier installments of the game, the Drifter’s complicated allegiances, and the current threat of a giant Cabal ship hurtling toward humanity’s last city.
While we don’t know yet if all those (and other) threads are finally coming to a head, we do now know that Bungie plans to hold back announcements until the very day of the new season. Season of the [REDACTED] is scheduled to launch on June 9, and a new teaser, first surfacing on the game’s official Twitter, suggests that the future of Destiny 2 will be revealed on the morning of June 9, at 9am Pacific.
When the Pokémon Sword Expansion Pass and Pokémon Shield Expansion Pass were revealed earlier this year, Game Freak promised to inject two story-based adventures in new areas of the Pokémon world, as well as new and returning Pokémon, into Sword & Shield. While we haven't received much news since, today, we got a new trailer that gives us a refreshed look at the two expansions that are due this year.
The Isle of Armor sees you venturing to an island to study at a prestigious Pokémon trainer school under the apprenticeship of former Galar-region champion Mustard. The Crown Tundra casts your trainer in the role of expedition leader as you venture through the snowy landscape and delve deep into a Pokémon Dens to battle myriad Legendary Pokémon from past games, including Galarian forms of the Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres.
In addition to seeing several returning Pokémon roaming the green pastures and desert expanses of the Isle of Armor, we also got a look at Galarian Slowbro and many of the new characters we'll be encountering, including Klara, Avery, and Mustard. The trailer below also gives us glimpses of Gigantamax Venusaur and Blastoise, as well as new Legendary Pokémon like Kubfu (and its evolved Urshifu forms) and Calyrex.
Check out the new trailer for the Pokémon Sword & Shield expansions below.
The Last of Us Part II is set in a post-apocalyptic world in which a mutated fungus has turned most of humanity into creatures called Infected. That premise may sound like familiar zombie fiction, but anyone who played the original can tell you that developer Naughty Dog has elevated the world of The Last of Us beyond easy genre classification. The story of Joel and Ellie was emotionally complex and raised ethical questions with no easy answers , and that doesn't appear to be changing for The Last of Us Part II. In advance of the sequel's impending June 19 release, we talked to creative director Neil Druckmann about how Ellie is evolving, being grounded versus realistic, and creating a believable world for players to explore.
GI: One of the earliest details about the story you revealed was that Ellie is on a quest for revenge. What do you see as the most fertile ground to explore within the themes of a revenge story?
Druckmann: When we started work on the game, there was an excitement to make Ellie the protagonist and to explore her character further – in the same way that I’m sure the people who worked on Breaking Bad were excited to explore Walter White for many years. We started with this girl who was so innocent in the first game, and we know this world is one that makes you make choices. As a survivor, you lose some of that innocence, shed it, evolve, and change. To take that further was exciting.
We played with ideas that were interesting from a plot standpoint, but never quite captured that emotional pull that we thought made that first game special. So then it was like, “Do we want to go back to this world if we don’t have that emotional pull?” We were starting to really debate that until we landed on this idea that felt like, “Oh my god, that’s almost like a mirror image. A mirror theme of what we had in the first game.” The first game was so much about love – can we, through the experience of a video game, get you to start with these two character who don’t quite like each other, and by the end of it, you get to feel the unconditional love that a parent feels for their child? And you understand how far that love can go, both in its beautiful aspects, and its very dark and almost insane aspects. So you understand why Joel does what he does.
In [The Last of Us Part II], it’s almost a similar question. How far would you go for love? Except the setup now is that the person you love has been hurt badly, and how far are you willing to go to bring the people responsible to justice? The motivation is still love. And when you look around the world, it’s stuck in this cycle of violence because the people they care about got hurt. And what do they do to the other side? How do they dehumanize then? How do they attack them? That all felt like fertile ground that raises the interesting philosophical questions that we had with the first game. It was like, “There’s the core. That’s the thing we’ve been missing. Now we can hang the whole story around this core idea.”
Revenge stories usually follow a formula – an inciting event, followed by going down the checklist of people along the way, and then a final confrontation. Do you think the established formula makes it harder or easier to surprise players?
You’re kind of describing genre, and almost every genre has already been told. Every kind of story has been told. When people say, “I’m telling a genre story,” that genre has been told a lot. There are certain tropes to it, and I think as a writer, it’s important to have an author’s knowledge of that genre – of all the different things that can exist in that genre. Sometimes, a revenge story can be a power fantasy, and you see the people who wrong the protagonist at the beginning of the game or movie or book, and it’s about the thrill of bringing those people to justice. The certain satisfaction, the cathartic release that happens.
And then there are ones – with maybe a more nuanced approach – that say, “There’s a cost to this. When you go and hurt someone else, even if you’re in the right, it takes something away from you.” There’s a primitive part of our brain that wants to tip into that, but whether through society or evolution, we suppress it so we can live normal lives. I think if you give into that, sometimes it changes you irreparably … and then to make a character-driven experience where every mechanic that we’re building puts you the shoes of Ellie and you feel the evolution of that character as she becomes more lethal, but also as she’s losing more of her innocence, it begins to affect not only her, but the people around her.
From a storytelling perspective, how often do you struggle with what needs to happen in service to the story, versus what you want to happen? Like, do you ever just want to give Ellie or Joel a break?
I think that wouldn’t be The Last of Us if people just got a break. That’s not what the story really explores. It explores the beauty of relationships, and the horror of relationships. It deals with the bonds that get formed, and relationships that fall apart, whether that’s through injury, death, or people just growing apart. Those are kind of what’s ripe for exploration with The Last of Us. But how do you explore all those facets and philosophical questions? I think what made the first game successful was that it presents ideas, and the characters have strong feelings about those ideas – or dilemmas – but the story doesn’t. The story doesn’t judge; it doesn’t say Joel was right or wrong. Joel feels righteous. I’m sure the Fireflies feel like he wasn’t.
Likewise in this game, Ellie feels righteous, but I’m sure the people she’s doing this stuff to don’t agree. So much of the story is about empathy and trauma. And sometimes feelings that are unique to video games, like guilt and shame – can we make you experience those things through the actions you are taking part in? You are complicit in what’s going on in the story when you’re taking part in it. And that became exciting, like, “How far can we push those ideas?” Can we push the wall of the kind of story we tell at Naughty Dog, but even as an industry? If we can pull it off, it will feel like something I have never experienced in a story, and especially in a video game. It could be something really special.
You’re telling a story, but you’re also making a game that people play. That means players might see a disturbing and brutal cinematic one minute, and the next they’re scrolling through skill trees spending medical supplements to buy skills. How do you approach that tension between game elements and story elements?
That’s where it’s important early on to establish: What is the vision for this thing? We knew we wanted to put you in the shoes of Ellie and take you on this really long journey where each death has weight and consequence … Exploration has meaning to it … And then one of the things with The Last of Us more than other games we’ve done is that it needs to be grounded – despite there being Infected and the state of the world. How can we make you feel like a character is like someone you know? That doesn’t always mean realism, one-to-one. Like, you’re describing mechanics that don’t exist in the real world – crafting things, leveling up and improving attributes. But what those systems do is they make you feel the growth of Ellie as a capable killer, which speaks to the story. Sometimes you’ll give up realism for the sake of getting a certain feeling. Something I’ve discussed in the past is: With Ellie’s size, it’s not realistic that she could take on as many people as she does. We want every encounter to feel engaging, and make the enemies feel smart – but the reason we have the numbers we do is because it creates a certain feeling of survival and tension. If we were to lower the numbers, you wouldn’t get the same feeling. So we’re sacrificing some realism for authenticity of feeling.
So, once you define those constraints – I have the privilege of working with some of the most talented people in the industry, and they are constantly coming up with great ideas. Often, we have more ideas than we can fit in a game; you have five people coming up with five ideas that are all great on their own. Sometimes you might not go with the greatest idea – you need to go with the idea that’s most appropriate for the game. So once the vision is well-defined, people can go off on their own and come with ideas they think is appropriate for the game. And that’s kind of the beauty of video games – it’s such a collaborative medium, it becomes greater than any one person’s contribution. And we’re all working with the same goal of achieving a particular feeling.
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The places players explore, like shops and restaurants, are incredibly detailed and unique. Can you walk me through the process of creating an area?
We first come up with the structure of the game, the core story idea. And then we start putting notecards up on the wall representing each section or level – whatever term you want to use. Then we break down what is happening narratively in the scene. How is the character changing? Every part needs to evolve and take us toward the end – no part should just exist because it’s cool. We want cool ideas! But they have to work toward what we’re trying to move forward. If they’re just cool for the sake of being cool, that’s the first card that gets tossed.
For example, when you first reach Seattle, we want Ellie to feel a little frustrated, a little lost. We do that by – based on stuff we did with Uncharted 4 and Lost Legacy that let us play with a much bigger level size than we have in the past – we create a really large space. We put you in downtown Seattle. You don’t know where to go. The character doesn’t know where to go. We want you to feel lost and start moving around. Again, authenticity is what’s going to help immerse you. If you’re moving through a space that doesn’t look good, that doesn’t look believable, it’s going to pull you out of the experience.
The art team traveled many times to Seattle to study architecture, the materials, the vegetation that grows in that part of the country. That kind of detail is going to immerse you in the world. Likewise, our tech team has to find a way to optimize it on the PS4, because again, if the level of detail drops because the area is big, that takes you out of the experience. Everything is in service to put in you that place, evoke a certain emotion, and put you on a journey with Ellie.
You’ve previously mentioned the Last of Us Part II broadening its narrative focus beyond Joel and Ellie. When you look at The Last of Us as a property or franchise, how much do you see it as the focused story of particular characters, and how much is about the world they inhabit?
Yes. [Laughs] Meaning, when we finish a game, our process is to look at every idea on the table. It might be an idea for a sequel [to that game]. It might be an idea for a sequel to an old franchise we haven’t touched in a while. It might be ideas for new IP. Everything gets explored, and we exhaust all of the ideas, because you’re going to go on this journey for many, many years. You want to make sure you pick something you’re really excited by, because four years into it, you’d better be as excited as you were at the beginning. Otherwise, if it’s something you’re ho-hum about, players are going to feel that. They’re going to feel your lack of excitement.
So, for The Last of Us Part II, it was exciting to come back to Ellie and explore more facets, more dimension to this character. Other ideas that didn’t have Ellie and Joel became less interesting – building characters from scratch or going to another part of the world. We talked about them. They just weren’t as exciting … But there were a lot of questions early on, like, “What is The Last of Us? Is it Joel and Ellie? Is it a particular set of themes?”
We knew we wanted to continue the journey of Joel and Ellie pretty early on, and then you need themes with an emotional core to ask philosophical questions – that became another pillar. The other thing we said was that we want to explore factions and how different people survive. Now we’re 25 years after the outbreak – what are they doing to form societies? And how do those societies speak to the high-level theme? Here we’re dealing with a cycle of violence, which is why we’ve crafted the WLF and Seraphites – groups that are locked in this everlasting conflict trying to reclaim Seattle … Everything has to speak to these high-level themes. And there’s just the Naughty Dog value: We want to challenge ourselves. We want to tell stories that we’ve never told before. We want to push the boundaries of the technology. We want to figure out pipelines of how to build games more efficiently. And – this shouldn’t be controversial, but it is – we want to have a diverse cast of characters that reflects the world we live in and helps us tell more unique, interesting stories. Those are things we value that come back into the game as well.
The original Last of Us enjoyed pretty widespread acclaim, but it wasn’t without criticism. Was there a particular piece of feedback from the first game you wanted to be sure to address for the sequel?
Pallets and ladders. We knew even when we were working on the [first] game that we wanted a wider breadth of mechanics, and we wanted those mechanics to go deeper. That’s one of the challenges we set for ourselves for this game. The challenge there is that The Last of Us isn’t a sci-fi world where you can have a gravity gun or grappling hook or something that is easily marketable, like, “Here is the brand-new feature.” So it’s really the sum of the parts.
Going prone might seem simple on paper, but with the fidelity we have, how intricate the layouts and art are, and with all the mechanics Ellie can do while prone, it’s a hugely complicated system to look as good as it does and be as effective as it is. Likewise, adding grass that looks good, as well as the effect it has – you’re also not completely hidden, so it’s the idea of analogue stealth – creates a level of tension that would be different if it was black or white, hidden or not. Which again, is a complicated system. Redoing our A.I. where they have vision and hearing. Every person has a name, every person has a heartbeat that is being tracked, which affects their audio cues – they might breathe harder or shout more. They have an emotional state that can change if you kill their friend next to them. Again, it’s a lot of small – “small” – things that, when you play it, hopefully you’re feeling much greater tension. Because Ellie can jump, climb, and we have better physics, the puzzles become more interesting. The exploration becomes more interesting. All of that, again, is done in service to putting you in the world, giving you more variety, and giving you more depth of mechanics.
You mentioned marketable features. Let’s say we lived in a world where it wasn’t necessary to have things like trailers and gameplay demos prior to release. Would you prefer to just set a date and launch the game, or is it fun to build the mystery?
I’m trying to imagine a reality where you don’t have to market your game. [Laughs] I think I have a pretty good imagination, but that’s a really hard one. I think there’s something that is exciting, especially when you work on something for so long and you have to be secretive, about moments where you’re like, “Okay, we’re going to show some of the game.” There’s something different about internal deadlines and external ones. External deadlines, you know the public is going to see it, and this pressure starts building. All of sudden, you’re making all these calls; you might have been doing all this exploration, and it helps you just lock some of the game down.
When people react positively, with conversations and excitement around it, you can just feel that energy on the team. You walk around and you can feel it from people, “We’re doing the right thing. This thing that has been super-challenging that we might have had doubts about, it feels like it’s clicking and starting to work.” Those are things that would be hard to give up.
But there’s something nice about trying to preserve the experience. That’s the push and pull: Trying to reveal as much possible without spoiling the final experience. But at the end of the day, nothing can spoil actually getting your hands on the controller, playing as Ellie, hearing the dialogue, seeing how the mechanics are adding to the tension of the world, and experiencing those beats.
For more on The Last of Us Part II, read our impressions from two hours of hands-on time with the final version of the game.
After years of waiting (and a couple recentdelays), The Last of Us Part II will finally release in a few short weeks. Though Game Informer has its review copy in hand, we’re still limited in how much of the experience we can discuss. For now, we can give spoiler-free impressions based on a two-hour stretch that concludes with Ellie infiltrating a hospital in Seattle – the focus of Naughty Dog’s State of Play demonstration last week.
Instead of running through this sequence step by step, I’m going to share an eclectic selection of my thoughts during these two hours. Encompassing details I found helpful, interesting, and amusing, here are 15 things that stood out to me in this specific section of The Last of Us Part II.
1. Ellie is angry. While she’s still recognizable as the character from the original game, it’s clear that her quest for revenge is taking a toll on her. As a small example: I made Ellie stealthily assassinate a patrolling Washington Liberation Front (WLF) soldier, and though he had done her no specific wrong, she spat a disgusted “F---er” at him as he died.
2. Ellie can be funny. Though the tone is generally pretty grim, Ellie occasionally says some entertaining things while talking to herself. After trying an improbable (but effective) puzzle solution, she congratulates herself with, “That was pretty smart, Ellie.” After a harrowing sequence that has one thing after another going wrong, she finally catches her breath and says, “F--- Seattle.”
3. Stealth is satisfying. I enjoyed the original The Last of Us, but it seemed like most encounters were destined to become firefights; though going full stealth was possible, the limited options meant that I would usually end up alerting the bad guys eventually. In The Last of Us Part II, it seems more feasible to remain undetected through an encounter. One part has Ellie evading Scars – a faction at war with the WLF – through a park. By staying low in the grass, using stealth kills, and wielding quiet weapons like my bow and silenced pistol, I was able to take out all of them without being detected.
4. The "Survivor" difficulty is available for your first playthrough. It's appropriately brutal.
5. Difficulty is highly customizable. I played through the hospital infiltration on a few different challenge settings, and the gulf between them is noticeable. However, you aren’t bound to defined modes like easy, normal, or hard; you can also fine-tune specific elements of the experience, like how much damage Ellie takes, how perceptive enemies are, and how plentiful resources are in the world.
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6. Being thorough pays off. As I advanced through Seattle, I saw a handful of places off the critical path, like a liquor store and an apartment complex. Exploring these spots carries some risk, since they can be full of Infected or other humans. But they also give rewards in terms of gameplay and side stories. In the liquor store, I learned the Infected there were once WLF soldiers looking for a group of deserters. In an apartment, I found that group of deserters, along with a rare manual that unlocked a new skill tree to improve Ellie’s explosives.
7. Locked doors don’t mean you can’t get in. To gain access to one apartment, I just needed to break a window and jump in to circumvent the locked door … but it’s not always that easy. In a conference center, I saw a bunch of ammo and upgrade parts sitting on a table in a seemingly inaccessible room. I won’t spoil the full solution, but getting in there involved using the environment and the objects Ellie finds around her.
8. The environments are incredibly detailed. Places like the apartments, liquor store, and conference center don’t just feel like they are copied and pasted from a bank of assets. It’s not just about looking good graphically; each one feels like a considered space that once served its purpose in the world. From decorations on the walls of a bedroom to the desk arrangements in an office space, Ellie’s surroundings feel authentic. They don't feel like areas created to fill space in a video game.
9. Stalkers are just the worst. As in the previous game, these Infected are difficult to detect as they attempt to sneak up on Ellie, and the tension is terrifying. In one memorable section on the way to the hospital, Ellie needs to cross a series of rooms full of these brutal hunters. Though I successfully maintained stealth past several of them, a shrieking Stalker eventually jumped me and alerted its friends, which triggered a panicked frenzy of gunfire from me that ended with a pile of dead Stalkers and a shortage of shotgun shells.
10. The accessibility options are broad. They include a wide array of adjustments you can make to the visuals and gameplay. Colorblind mode, HUD magnification, remapping controls, and infinite breath while swimming are just a handful of options that illustrate how Naughty Dog has kept players with disabilities in mind.
11. Transitions are relatively seamless. The actions flows smoothly between cutscenes and player-controlled sections, without lots of load screens breaking up the action. For example, I watched a cinematic sequence of Ellie being tossed around underwater, and when she emerged, I was back in control. The only obvious loading screens I remember seeing were when I died and had to respawn, and when I was saving or loading my game.
12. You can have 20 manual save slots. Plus one autosave.
13. The personal touches work. Most video games don’t ask you to think twice about killing dozens of gun-toting guards, but The Last of Us Part II makes the violence feel personal. Beyond the fact that all of the enemies can call out to each other by name (along with their dogs), they also have interactions with each other that hint at their lives beyond being an obstacle to Ellie. Right outside the hospital, I catch two guards in mid-conversation as they walk by. “I got my girl waiting for me at the FOB,” the first one says. The second replies, “Are you s----ing me? They put you with Jo again?” They keep chatting as they pass, but it’s hard not to think about Jo and her reaction as I sneak up on her partner with my knife drawn.
14. Killing dogs is rough. They don’t feel like the mindlessly aggressive animals that players often encounter in other games; they feel like someone’s pet. My approach to the hospital was definitely made more complicated by my reluctance to kill a dog named Bear who was patrolling there.
15. This isn’t all. Obviously, a lot of the context that informs this whole two-hour sequence is missing here, especially since it’s set partway through the game. But even if we could talk about story stuff now, we wouldn’t want to. The less you know now, the more you will enjoy the experience when you’re playing it for yourself on June 19.
Surveillance is out of control, technology is numbing the minds of the masses, and the government (or corporations, or some combination thereof) has become fascist and corrupt, stripping freedoms and assassinating dissidents in the name of security. That familiar premise has been utilized again and again in works ranging from 1984 to Westworld, and it's also the state of the world in Liberated, a cyberpunk-ish side-scrolling action game that's as much comic book as video game. The tech dystopia is well-worn territory in movies, books, comics, and video games, and Liberated offers little that hasn't been done better elsewhere.
Liberated's story is pretty much a carbon copy of its more interesting inspirations. The same is true with its frustrating side-scroller gameplay, which is both overly simplistic and often frustrating. It's unfortunate that the playable parts and the story that are meant to drive the game can't match up to its gorgeous, comics-inspired art style--paging through all those great-looking panels will make you wonder if Liberated wouldn't have made a pretty good comic, instead of a lackluster game.
To be fair, Liberated's story is mostly a comic book. The game is presented as though you're reading through four volumes of a graphic novel of the same name. As you pass over panel after panel, you'll occasionally pause on one that becomes a playable side-scrolling level, where you're generally tasked with shooting a lot of enemies, or hiding from them and breaking their necks as they pass by.