Posts with «author_name|jessica conditt» label

Online 'Expansion Pack' brings N64 and Genesis games to Nintendo Switch

Nintendo is rolling out a new membership plan for Switch Online, and it'll unlock a library of classic Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis titles. The new subscription tier will go live in October and Nintendo has not shared pricing details yet.

Play a selection of Nintendo 64 and SEGA Genesis games with #NintendoSwitchOnline + Expansion Pack!

This new membership plan launches late October and includes all features of the base Nintendo Switch Online membership. Details on pricing, timing, and more will be shared soon. pic.twitter.com/BMArRe5Vg6

— Nintendo of America (@NintendoAmerica) September 23, 2021

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'Guardians of the Galaxy' is already better than the 'Avengers' game

At this point in the creeping global takeover of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, most people have a clear idea of who the Guardians of the Galaxy are, at least according to James Gunn. There’s the bald dude who’s a tree, Zoe Saldana in green body paint, the other bald dude who isn’t a tree, Bradley Cooper as a raunchy raccoon, and the guy who used to be on Parks and Recreation.

This isn’t the case in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, and that’s a good thing. The game introduces fresh versions of the Guardians and ensures players will get to know them, placing an active emphasis on relationship-building and teamwork, rather than running and gunning. Eidos-Montréal’s interpretation of the Milano crew is familiar but refreshing, and the characters in the game are just as charming as they are in the MCU — if not moreso.

Square Enix

The preview for Guardians of the Galaxy lasted about an hour and dropped me in the middle of chapter five: Star-Lord and his pals are on the Milano, debating whether they should pay a fine at Nova Corps headquarters. They banter and decide to do it, intermittently dealing with a purple-and-orange llama that’s stowed away on their ship from a previous mission. The llama’s name is Kammy. Drax, the vengeful yet simple warrior, calls it “the child.” It’s all very cute.

Star-Lord is the only playable character in Guardians of the Galaxy, but he’s able to interact with and even direct his teammates, taking advantage of their unique skills as needed. For instance, Rocket, the foul-mouthed raccoon, is good at hacking doorways, crawling through vents and fixing things, though he’ll give you an earful while he does it.

By chapter five, Star-Lord has a handful of skills and tools, including the ability to scan his environments for areas of interest or weakness. Using this overlay turns the landscape into an infrared world of neon silhouettes and bright yellow clues. If Star-Lord himself can’t use a particular item, chances are someone on his team can, and he’s able to work with them once he’s found the way forward.

In combat, Star-Lord can instruct his crewmates to use their special moves at any particular time, and they also react automatically to nearby enemy behavior. For example, Star-Lord can freeze an enemy with his ice gun and Groot, the powerful tree creature, will start wailing on the frozen foe, no player input required. There’s also a huddle function that can turn the tide of a big battle — Peter Quill calls the team together and listens to their thoughts on how the fight is going, and then he determines whether to encourage them or check their egos using a range of 1980s pop-rock lyrics. If he picks the right tone, the entire team gets a big boost so they can start spamming attacks; if he picks the wrong words, only Star-Lord gets the damage augmentation.

Fights in chapter five are fast-paced and packed with enemies, meaning the Guardians are often spread across the environment, waging their own tiny wars. Star-Lord’s ability to call in his crewmates’ special powers adds a layer of rapid-fire strategy to the gunbattles, and this system should only become more robust as the game progresses.

Interacting with the Guardian NPCs is a critical component of the game’s non-combat moments, when players have to communicate and solve puzzles to progress. Guardians of the Galaxy uses a Telltale-style narrative system that alerts players with text in the upper-right corner when something significant has gone down — think “Gamora will remember that” — and in conversation, there are often multiple responses for players to choose from, sometimes with a timer attached. Seemingly innocuous decisions, such as whether to respond to an audio cue, can significantly change how the game plays out, for instance jump-starting a battle or creating an opportunity for the Guardians to sneak in.

Relationships are everything in Guardians of the Galaxy. The core theme of the game is grief, according to developers, and even as the Guardians joke their way across the stars, they each deal with a unique sense of loss. This is, ironically, what brings them together. The game's music plays into the emotional mood, with plenty of licensed ’80s hits and an original album from Star-Lord that taps into feelings of being an outcast and finding your chosen family.

It’s hard to say if Eidos-Montréal has captured the right balance of emotion and action throughout Guardians of the Galaxy, but the preview is encouraging. The developers aren’t afraid to let dialogue and puzzle-solving breathe for long stretches of the action, while battles themselves are full and frenzied. At any rate, it already feels way better than Marvel’s Avengers.

Guardians of the Galaxy is due to hit PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and S, PlayStation 4, and PS5 on October 26th.

'Deathloop' is an exhilarating, innovative, time-bending mess

Deathloop is the coolest escape room I’ve ever experienced. That may not sound like much, considering plenty of escape rooms are cheesy monuments to corporate team-building exercises and gentrification, but I mean it as a compliment. Deathloop uses the fundamentals of old-school locked-room mysteries to deliver a rich and stylish universe driven by intrigue, action and strategy. The main difference between Deathloop and an actual escape room is, well, all the death.

Unsurprisingly, there’s a fair amount of dying in Deathloop. Dying is a core mechanic of the game, and it’s the first thing players actually do in the campaign, called Break the Loop. The opening scene has Colt, the main character, on his back with a murderous woman called Julianna sitting on top of him, pressing a massive blade to his chest. After some banter, she plunges the knife into Colt’s heart, and he sputters and dies.

Bethesda

And then the game begins. Colt awakens on a cold, empty beach littered with bottles, and he makes his way to a compound built into the side of the sea wall. As he walks, glowing words appear around the environment, as if a loved one is leaving words of encouragement and warning for him. Colt is confused — he doesn’t even know his own name at this point, let alone how he got here or who’s trying to talk to him.

The identity of the message-writer is just one of a dozen or so core mysteries in Deathloop, and these are the driving force of the campaign. Colt’s job is to explore Blackreef, the island where he’s been trapped in an infinite respawn cycle, and learn as much about its leaders and technology as possible, in order to burn it all down. Blackreef is a retrofuturistic bubble populated by residents who split their time between partying and violently defending their consequence-free way of life, and Colt can either sneak or shoot his way through their ranks.

In action, Deathloop feels a lot like Dishonored (of course), with a chaser of We Happy Few and Quadrilateral Cowboy. It’s mechanically mature and narratively dense, but best of all, it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Bethesda

Deathloop is one of the few first-person action games that I can successfully play in stealth mode, silently taking down enemies, hacking turrets and sniping from the rooftops in order to stay alive. Usually with games like this — I’m thinking Deus Ex and Far Cry — I intend to play stealthily, but it doesn’t work out. I get too close to an enemy, or miss my headshot, or forget about that security camera, and I end up just throwing a grenade and emptying my magazine, recklessly running into danger.

Deathloop invites the kind of stealth that I can sustain. The environments are endlessly climbable, offering plenty of vantage points for Colt to survey and mark his enemies, tracking their movements and revealing the kinds of weapons they’re carrying. If something in Deathloop looks scalable, it likely is, opening up the game world in all directions. Additionally, if I accidentally alert the enemies in one location, I don’t feel like I have to abandon my plans and roll in guns blazing. Generally speaking, I can find some cover, pick off the folks that follow me, and return to the rest of the mission in stealth mode. My favorite weapons in these moments are the Tribunal and the PT-6 Spiker, both of which are silent and deliver instant-kill headshots.

I’d like to blame the success of Deathloop’s stealth mechanics on my own skills or the masterful sense of level design coming out of Arkane Studios, but it might just be the game’s hit-or-miss AI. There are times it feels too easy to sneak up on enemies, and moments when they fail to react appropriately to Colt’s presence, standing still for seconds too long, piling up in hallways or ignoring nearby scuffles. It’s not every encounter, and there are still plenty of moments when I’m bested by the NPCs, but it’s enough that I’d classify the enemy AI in Deathloop as OK, rather than good.

Along his way, Colt picks up a variety of weapons and ultra-high-tech artifacts that grant him special abilities and perks. There are Trinkets, which are small glowing items that enhance whatever gun they’re attached to, and Slabs, which give Colt — and his enemies — superhuman powers like invisibility, telekinesis and short-distance teleportation. Once collected, the Slabs are swappable in Colt's loadout, and they tend to be tons of fun.

Blackreef is controlled by eight Visionaries of the AEON Program, one of whom is Julianna, and the only way to escape the island is for Colt to kill them all in a single day, breaking the loop. However, it’s not as simple as speedrunning through Blackreef in order to take them all out. Colt has deep ties to the AEON Program and the Visionaries all keep their own schedules, meaning a successful assassination run will require hours of information-gathering and strategizing. And, it turns out, dying.

Once he gets going, Colt is able to die twice during any playthrough with few consequences; he’s simply transported to a previous location and allowed to keep going, health restored. On the third death, however, he’s sent back to that bottle-lined beach, resources depleted.

He also loses his gear after a full day of activity, regardless of progress. Deathloop is divided into four times — morning, noon, afternoon and night — and after each complete sequence, Colt is beached. Certain missions can only be completed at specific times of day, so players have to plan their attacks accordingly, either shifting time forward or simply delaying until the next loop.

Bethesda

Eventually, Colt gains the ability to carry some slabs, trinkets and weapons with him between loops, though he has to infuse the items he wants to keep with a resource called Residiuum. Colt can harvest Residiuum from the shiny, glitched-out objects in Blackreef, or by killing visionaries and absorbing their energy. Residiuum can then be applied to specific items in Colt's kit, holding them for good.

With all of these trinkets, slabs, weapons, Residiuum, visionaries and loops, there’s a lot to keep tabs on in Deathlooop. The amount of stuff in the game is overwhelming at times, and it’s complicated by an intense plot filled with overlapping, time-bending mysteries. Small scraps of paper and brief audio recordings often contain crucial bits of information, rewarding players who obsessively explore every bookshelf, desk and dead-end with reams of notes and leads. The game does a good job of organizing all of these details in the resource-management screen, but overall, Deathloop demands full and complete attention, lest you completely lose the plot.

For those who pay attention, the story and environment of Blackreef unravels beautifully, with important secrets hidden in plain view, and new parts of the world opening and closing depending on the time of day. From this perspective, the density of things to collect, use and learn in Deathloop makes perfect sense. This game is built on the idea of replaying the same four maps again and again — Colt needs something new to do every time.

Bethesda

Julianna is a charming constant in Deathloop, generally talking shit and fleshing out the background of Blackreef. She’s also the star of the game’s second mode, Protect the Loop. Here, players are able to invade the games of friends or strangers, playing as Julianna and hunting down Colt as he tries to complete a mission. She has her own loadout, trinkets and slabs, including a masquerade ability that lets her trade appearances with allied NPCs — meaning, everyone except Colt.

Protect the Loop is marked by long periods of silence and inactivity, followed by furious gunfire and death. Colt can take any route he wants through the various maps, and Julianna has to actively hunt him down or wait for him to appear near the objective. She may be able to disguise herself, but she only has one life, while Colt has to die three times to make it final. This results in a delicious cat-and-mouse game that’s different with each new player.

That said, Protect the Loop is also where I’ve encountered the most technical issues. I played on PS5, and one round crashed fully right after launching, while two more were completely unplayable from my end, repeatedly setting my Julianna back a few frames until Colt finally showed up and shot her. That’s in comparison with four glitch-free rounds. My recommendation here is to use an ethernet cable, rather than Wi-Fi, and make sure your friends do, too.

Deathloop is incredibly dense, but it’s also inherently forgiving. Relying on death as a mechanic in Break the Loop takes the sting out of failing a cycle or two, since retrying is built into the narrative. Colt uncovers helpful information in most of his runs, even when he ends up dead — like, dead dead — and it feels like there’s always something new to uncover in Blackreef, no matter how many times he returns to the same location. If it does ever get old, there’s always the option to Protect the Loop.

And then Break the Loop. And then Protect the Loop. And then Break the Loop.

You get the idea.

Sony's PlayStation Showcase was a banger

Sony's September PlayStation showcase was juicy. In just under an hour, the studio showed off more than a dozen upcoming, highly anticipated games heading to the PS4 and PS5, complete with some major surprises and plenty of trailers.

The show started with a bang — the reveal of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, a remake of the classic BioWare RPG being built exclusively for the PS5. This is a big deal, considering the original never came to PlayStation platforms. From there, Sony highlighted a handful of release windows and extended trailers for games including Tiny Tina's Wonderlands, the Alan Wake remaster, Forspoken, GTA V on PS5, Ghostwire: Tokyo, Project Eve, Gran Turismo 7 and God of War Ragnarök.

That wasn't even the end of it. The trailer for tropical, open-world sandbox Tchia ended with a beach full of adorable, pettable crabs, and it was an absolute dream.

Oh, and Spider-Man studio Insomniac Games revealed it's working on two new titles in the Marvel universe: Wolverine and Spider-Man 2, featuring Venom. The Wolverine game was a total surprise and Insomniac didn't share many details, but the teaser trailer was succinct and stylish — much like the show itself.

'Far Cry 6' post-launch drops include Stranger Things, Rambo and Danny Trejo

Far Cry 6 doesn't even come out for another month, but Ubisoft is already hyping all the things players will get to do (and pay for) after launch. Far Cry 6 will feature Danny Trejo, Rambo and the Stranger Things crew in a series of additional missions, available for free in the coming year and playable in co-op or solo. 

Trejo's mission involves delivering tacos across Yara with the game's protagonist, Dani, by his side. It's called Danny and Dani vs Everybody. The Rambo-inspired mission is called Rambo: All the Blood, and it features a heavily armed, cosplaying superfan in a story straight out of a 1980s action flick. The final free mission is a Stranger Things crossover called The Vanishing — players have to find their loyal weiner dog, Chorizo, in the Upside Down.

From the jump, Far Cry 6 will also have weekly insurgency challenges and special ops missions available for free. Now, on to the paid content.

The Far Cry 6 season pass will go live in late 2021, and it'll feature three missions starring villains from the series' history, detailing their backstories through die-and-retry mechanics. These missions are playable solo or with a friend, just like the main game. The popular Far Cry 3 spin-off, Blood Dragon, is also included in the season pass. The season pass comes with the gold edition of the game, which costs $100 on PC and $110 on Xbox One, Series X/S, PlayStation 4 and PS5. The standard edition runs $60. 

Regardless of the version you want, Far Cry 6 lands on October 7th.

'Wolverine' is getting his own PS5 game from Spider-Man studio Insomniac

Insomniac Games is working on Marvel's Wolverine, a standalone game coming exclusively to the PlayStation 5. There's no release date nor many details about the project for now, but the studio showed off a teaser during today's PlayStation showcase. Check it out here:

Insomniac is the studio behind Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Sunset Overdrive and other iconic franchises. The studio is known for building agile, rapid-paced games with slick movements and gorgeous environments, so we'll see how that translates to Wolverine.

Insomniac's head of franchise strategy Ryan Schneider shared how Wolverine came to be greenlit in a PlayStation Blog post directly following today's showcase. 

"Our goal here is to not only respect the DNA of what makes the character so popular, but also look for opportunities to make it feel fresh and truly reflect the Insomniac spirit," Schneider said. "Even though Marvel’s Wolverine is very early in development, from what I’ve seen of its emotional narrative and cutting-edge gameplay (see what I did there?), the team is already creating something truly special." 

Of course, he would say that.

Take a good, long look at Korean action RPG 'Project Eve'

Project Eve is a futuristic action RPG built for the latest console generation, and today Korean studio Shift Up provided the longest look yet at how it'll play. From today's trailer, it feels like a cyberpunky blend of Nier, Devil May Cry, Bayonetta and God of War, with an energetic undercurrent. And bonus, some of the enemies are truly horrifying.

Shift Up showed off the new trailer during today's PlayStation showcase. The studio didn't provide a release date, but the game is certainly looking closer to completion.

The first teaser trailer for Project Eve hit in 2019 and the game has garnered a small yet fervent group of followers, mainly drawn to the impressive-looking graphics. Shift Up published a second trailer in November 2020 and provided the following description: 

"The video depicts 'Eve' and the battle against unknown invaders, NA-tives, to reclaim the lost Earth after its collapse. Intense battle scenes were realized with overwhelming live-action-grade graphics, showing advanced technology of SHIFTUP since the title’s first trailer video. SHIFTUP now operates an independent studio for console games, utilizing technology such as high-density 3D scan system and performance capture system. Development is in progress to show maximum performance on various platforms including consoles."

Hints about the arthouse horror game created by a NIN guitarist and AAA veteran

There are secrets buried in the first video from Eyes Out. It’s just two minutes long and filled with overlapping shots of drums, mics, guitars and snakelike cables packed into a lonely desert hideaway, all while an unsettling, ambient score gathers layers of sound. Over time, the scenes are flooded with red and the film is overcome by a horrendous groaning scream. Thin white text flashes across the screen, telling a disjointed story about burying bones and walking with the bloom of a burgeoning universe.

Among this vibrating chaos, there are hints about the kind of studio Eyes Out will be and even what the team’s first game might look like. Or, more aptly, what it might sound like.

Eyes Out is the new video game studio founded by Nine Inch Nails guitarist Robin Finck and veteran AAA director Cory Davis, and the team is already hard at work on its first title, a mysterious horror game with an emphasis on experimental audio.

“We want to create mind-bending experiences that cause you to question reality,” Davis said. “That's what we're really excited about. We’re all fans of horror, but specifically this kind of — it's a new and emerging space that doesn't just sit within the extremely violent and dark and terrifying, but also reaches into the vibrant and even surprises you with moments of bliss or self-reflection. Horror really has a lot of room to grow.”

Finck added on to that thought, saying, “We're playing in this field that provides an emotional and psychological response, which really, I feel, is heightened as a singular experience. And we're really fortunate to be attracting developers who are so genuinely passionate about these types of conversations.”

Davis has built a successful career as a video game designer, directing and crafting high-profile titles including Spec Ops: The Line and Here They Lie, but he’s also a composer. In fact, the first word of his Twitter bio reads, “musician.” Meanwhile, Finck’s Twitter bio has just two tags, both of which speak for themselves: @eyesoutofficial and @nineinchnails.

Note which one comes first.

Eyes Out

Finck got involved in the video game industry about six years ago, after striking up a friendship with Devolver Digital co-founder Mike Wilson at Burning Man. Finck ended up handling the soundtrack for Noct, a top-down horror game published by Devolver in 2015, and his interest in development was piqued. He dove further into the video game industry, attending conventions and connecting with creators.

“I was just really inspired by people and their enthusiasm, the forward tech of it all, and the collision of art and music, design, agency, narrative, and also the experience of really becoming immersed in all of this,” Finck said. “It really feels like the most focused and the most highly attuned experience to imbibe this sort of storytelling. And that continues to turn me on. And this led me, fortunately enough for me, to meet Cory as he and his team were completing Here They Lie.”

Eventually, Finck found himself at Sony Santa Monica, playing an early version of Davis’ VR horror title, Here They Lie. He was floored by it. Finck and Davis got to talking, and they haven’t stopped since.

“We immediately were talking about sound and music and the weight of that and the experience,” Finck said. “And we kept on in the coming days and weeks and months. And then eventually were working together on music for projects that Cory was heralding. We have a simpatico workflow and creatively sync in a lot of ways.”

Davis remembered feeling a spark at that first meeting, too.

“We started to go down the rabbit hole of distortion pedals and different synthesizers and stuff like that,” he said. “But that led us to this other type of discussion where I really felt this connection in terms of an understanding of the power of games as a medium and the impact and the possibility of what the medium holds for the future.”

Davis and Finck were both interested in building a single-player experience around music and tone, rather than starting with a narrative or visual style and applying sound later on in the process.

“From the first conversation with Robin, I could feel that he's this other type of creator that wants to be driven by his passion and his soul, rather than maybe what's trendy or what's even necessarily gratifying,” Davis said. “I just felt this kind of depth of possibility of what we could do together. I had other prototypes going on at the time at my old studio, but every time I got back together with Robin, our conversations would go deeper. And they'd go beyond the music and they'd go to places where I'd been hoping to go my whole journey as a game developer.”

Eyes Out is the result of this creative magnetism between Davis and Finck. They’ve attracted other developers, too, and have hired 15 collaborators from the industries of visual art, film and games to work on their first project.

“That's really what I've been looking for since way back in the Spec Ops: The Line days, was to build a team that has a diverse enough approach to both things like the difficulties in game development, as well as their acceptance and embrace of people that are from different parts of the world, from different backgrounds, that are of any kind of personality, and especially people that have been downtrodden and haven't had opportunities in the past,” Davis said. “We see those opportunities allowing us to have so much more depth in the types of stories that we're able to tell.”

There’s no name or release window for the studio’s first game, but Davis and Finck are dropping hints about how it’ll play and what they want players to feel. It’s not a VR game, it’s designed with complete immersion in mind, and it features creatures that behave strangely in response to generative audio cues. The team is playing around with rhythm mechanics and figuring out how to build creeping tension through sound.

“The type of horror that we're building has a lot to do with the horrors of the universe and the horrors that you kind of go to sleep with at night, the ones that are just around the corner and outside of our purview, but exist,” Davis said. “And the technology for building those types of soundscapes, the localized audio and reverb and the realism behind that, coming from VR before, I had a lot of opportunity to work with that stuff.”

The debut game from Eyes Out will be a focused, single-player horror experience built around sound — and silence.

“I'm really excited about the nuance and the subtlety of coming from silence, like a really impactful silence, and beginning to emerge from that silence towards an impactful embellishment of some sort, however great or greater,” Finck said. “And that play between the diegetic soundscape of the world within the tangible, physical space inside the game, and where it blurs with the score, the music of the game, can be really challenging and inspiring.”

Eyes Out's first project is poised to be otherworldly, introspective and experimental, just like the studio itself.

Google and Microsoft will invest $30 billion in cybersecurity over the next five years

Following a meeting with President Joe Biden today, Google and Microsoft promised to invest a total of $30 billion in cybersecurity advancements over the next five years. Google pledged $10 billion, while Microsoft pledged $20 billion. 

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said on Twitter that $150 million of that money will be used to expand Microsoft's training network and help US government agencies upgrade their digital security systems. The White House described that particular investment as follows: "Microsoft ... will immediately make available $150 million in technical services to help federal, state, and local governments with upgrading security protection, and will expand partnerships with community colleges and non-profits for cybersecurity training."

Google, meanwhile, will focus on extending the zero-trust security model, securing the software supply chain, building out open-source security, and offering more training opportunities to Americans. Specifically, Google said it will help 100,000 Americans over the next three years earn Google Career Certificates in cybersecurity fields.

Today, President Biden met with technology companies and cybersecurity thought leaders to discuss threats like the recent SolarWinds attack and how the US can better defend its digital systems. In addition to Google and Microsoft's financial infusion, Apple will establish new, widespread supply-chain protocols in the name of tighter security, and Amazon will offer its internal cybersecurity training to the public at no charge. Other organizations, including IBM, Girls Who Code and Code.org, made plans to expand cybersecurity defenses across government, society and industry.

It was unclear what would actually shake out of today's White House cybersecurity meeting, and $30 billion (and then some) certainly isn't a bad place to start.

'Jurassic World Evolution 2' brings dino world-building to PC and consoles November 9th

Jurassic World Evolution 2, the next installment in everyone's favorite dinosaur-based park-management franchise, is heading to Xbox Series X and S, PlayStation 4, PS5 and PC on November 9th. Pre-orders are open now, and buying the game early will net players three vehicle skins inspired by the 1997 film, The Lost World: Jurassic Park.

Jurassic World Evolution 2 allows players to build, manage and mess around in a world of Spielberg-inspired dinosaurs. There are four modes: campaign, chaos theory, challenge and sandbox. Campaign mode takes players through a narrative arc set after the events of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the 2018 movie. Chaos theory presents classic moments from the film franchise, but with a twist, playing out "what if" scenarios. Challenge is the mode for folks who want to test their dino-rearing skills, while sandbox is the creative way to play.

Jurassic Wold Evolution 2 is made by Frontier Developments, the studio that handled the 2018 game Jurassic World Evolution.