Posts with «video games» label

'Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga' will arrive on April 5th

Two years after the game was initially supposed to debut, Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga will finally arrive on April 5th. The long-awaited title from TT Games adapts all nine movies in the Skywalker Saga, and you'll be able to choose which trilogy to start with (so you might want to get the prequels out of the way first).

Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga is coming to PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch and PC. It's said to be the biggest Lego game to date, and publisher Warner Bros. Games provided an in-depth look at what's in store with a gameplay trailer.

There are new combat mechanics, including ways to string attacks together and defend yourself with counter moves "in styles tailored to your favorite characters." Expect fresh blaster mechanics, with an over-the-shoulder perspective and third-person aiming reticle, and a cover system. Of course, there'll be a ton of lightsaber action, space dogfighting battles and many opportunities to use Force powers as well.

Many levels will have multiple paths to explore and you'll be able to take on side missions. Class-based abilities are upgradable and there are more than 300 playable characters to unlock. There's also a Mumble Mode, which will replace intelligible voice lines with mumbling, à la previous games in the series.

Based on the gameplay trailer alone, Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga seems like a huge game. However, despite the lengthy delays, the development team was still required to work long hours (or "crunch"), according to Polygon

Several current and former employees told the publication that TT Games has had a "challenging work culture over the last decade and a half" and that, during crunch periods, work weeks of between 80 and 100 hours weren't rare (though overtime is said to have been limited in recent months). TT Games has also reportedly had a high level of staff turnover since work started on Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga nearly five years ago.

Microsoft consolidating the video game industry is bad for everyone

It was cute at first. When Xbox head Phil Spencer took the stage at E3 2018 and announced the acquisition of five notable studios – Undead Labs, Playground Games, Ninja Theory, Compulsion Games and The Initiative – the air inside the Microsoft Theater turned electric. It felt like the company was righting a wrong in its business plan and finally building an internal roster of exciting games that it could offer exclusively on Xbox platforms. You know, a few friends to keep Master Chief company.

Today’s announcement that Microsoft is buying Activision Blizzard, the largest third-party publisher in the video game industry, doesn’t feel as harmless. Four years on and numerous acquisitions later, the Activision Blizzard deal feels like an extreme escalation of Microsoft’s plans, and it could mark a turning point in the video game industry as a whole, with negative consequences for both players and developers.

So far, public reaction to the acquisition has been mixed, which makes sense for a few reasons: first, Activision Blizzard's sheer size is daunting, and this purchase represents more money and industry power than Microsoft's previous gaming acquisitions combined. Second, Activision Blizzard is currently the subject of multiple investigations into allegations of sexual harassment and gender discrimination at the studio, where CEO Bobby Kotick has been in charge and largely unchecked for the past 30 years. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Kotick is poised to leave the company in a golden parachute once the Microsoft deal goes through.

This is the first time Microsoft has received a confused response to acquisition news, rather than outright praise, and that's because this isn't a standard transaction. It's the clearest sign yet that we're in the video game industry's era of consolidation.

Back in 2017, Microsoft was badly losing the first-party IP fight to Sony and Nintendo. By the end of that year, Xbox had shut down two of its internal studios, Lionhead and Press Play, it had killed a few hotly anticipated projects, and even with the Xbox Series X right around the corner, there wasn’t much to look forward to in the company’s software reserves. The acquisition announcement at E3 2018 was a sigh of relief for anxious Xbox fans.

By February 2019, Microsoft had 13 studios and publishing organizations under the banner of Xbox Game Studios.


And then in September 2020, Microsoft revealed it was buying ZeniMax Media, the parent company of Bethesda, id Software, Arkane Studios and Tango Gameworks. The gaming world generally rejoiced, but a few folks also started glancing around, suspicious. These studios were a big deal – the stewards of Fallout, Doom, Dishonored, Wolfenstein, Deathloop, Starfield and Elder Scrolls – and they were being added to Microsoft’s substantial pile of medium-sized companies, more names in a growing list. That alone was cause for pause.

For most fans, the main question was, what did the acquisition mean for games like The Elder Scrolls VI, which was part of a series that historically hit PlayStation and Xbox platforms alike? Basically, would Elder Scrolls VI come to PS4 and PS5?

Turns out, probably not.

One year after Microsoft’s purchase of Bethesda, Spencer told GQ that he believed the Xbox ecosystem was the best place for all of the franchises in the studio’s repertoire, including The Elder Scrolls VI. He all but confirmed it would be exclusive to Xbox.

“It’s not about punishing any other platform, like I fundamentally believe all of the platforms can continue to grow,” Spencer told GQ. “But in order to be on Xbox, I want us to be able to bring the full complete package of what we have. And that would be true when I think about Elder Scrolls VI. That would be true when I think about any of our franchises.”

Starfield, Bethesda’s sci-fi RPG built for the ninth console generation, will definitely be exclusive to Xbox Series X/S and PC, skipping PS5 entirely. Spencer’s comments make it clear that Xbox is eyeing exclusivity for its franchises, and after today’s $69 billion deal goes through, that’s going to include Activision Blizzard games.


Activision Blizzard is the largest third-party publisher in gaming, and it’s the owner of massive franchises including Call of Duty, Overwatch, Diablo, World of Warcraft, Hearthstone and Candy Crush. As a third-party studio, Activision Blizzard has been able to negotiate with the main platform holders to get its software on the consoles and devices it wants. This doesn’t always equate to same-day launches or in-game item equity, but generally speaking, this position has helped ensure Activision Blizzard games reach as many players on as many platforms as possible. Exclusivity agreements and distribution deals are the main source of competition in the industry at this point, allowing outside developers to advocate for their games without feeling beholden to any console owner in particular.

When a platform holder becomes the largest publisher in gaming, it flips the script completely. It jams the script into a shredder, burns the scraps to ash, condenses the ash into stone, and then throws that to the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

Let’s take Call of Duty, a series with predictable annual installments, for example. Over the years, Activision has shifted allegiances between Microsoft and Sony, offering early access and exclusive game modes to Xbox platforms, then PlayStation, and mixing it up along the way. Among all the backroom talks, bad blood and better offers, it’s always been up to Activision to cut the best deal for Call of Duty, console holders be damned.

After the acquisition, that negotiation looks entirely different, if it even exists at all. As the owner of Call of Duty, Microsoft can tell Sony to screw off, keeping one of the industry’s biggest franchises exclusive to Xbox platforms.

This likely won’t happen right away, but it’s certainly a possibility down the line. In his blog post about the acquisition, Xbox’s Spencer didn’t address Sony or Nintendo platforms specifically, but he alluded to the possibility of cross-platform support for Activision Blizzard’s franchises. 

“Activision Blizzard games are enjoyed on a variety of platforms and we plan to continue to support those communities moving forward,” he said, without detailing what he meant by “platforms” or “support.” Keep in mind, this was the messaging around Elder Scrolls VI at first, too.

Microsoft isn’t the only company in the midst of a studio-hoarding spree: Sony picked up its 13th internal studio, Housemarque, in June 2021, while Tencent is chugging along with ownership of Riot Games, financial stakes in a handful of massive studios, and the purchase of LittleBigPlanet 3 developer Sumo Group in July 2021. Even Valve has scooped up a handful of independent creators in recent years, including the team behind Firewatch and some members of Kerbal Space Program.

MARK RALSTON via Getty Images

Microsoft’s purchase of Activision Blizzard simply feels like the final push into a new era for the video game industry: consolidation.

While exclusivity deals may be the short-term concern, this trend has a longer and more tragic tail. It’s highly likely that there will be more acquisitions by Microsoft, Sony and other major names in gaming, and these deals and subsequent companies will only get bigger with time. With just a few massive studios controlling a huge chunk of the software pipeline, it could instill a sense of homogeneity among new titles, killing innovation as each developer attempts to conform to the corporate environment around them, actively or subconsciously.

Even with “creative freedom” built into their contracts, the acquired studios will all use the same QA process, funding arrangement, marketing plan, management structure and editing cycle; they’ll have the same bosses and face the same oversight. And when all new products are the result of a singular perspective, they’re bound to feel familiar. Stale, even. Boring.

Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard is an escalation of the exclusivity scheme, and it represents a new way of doing business. Now and for years to come, consolidation is the name of the game.

Maybe one day we’ll get Consolidation 2: Blow It All Up And Make Everything Indie Again, but that one might have trouble finding a publisher.

Microsoft Game Pass tops 25 million subscribers

Microsoft's bid for Activision Blizzard may be the highlight of the day, but the company also revealed a major milestone for its Game Pass service in the process. The all-you-can-play offering now has over 25 million subscribers, a nearly 39 percent jump over the 18 million it had a year earlier. The company didn't say how many of those customers were using the service on Xbox consoles, Windows PCs or both.

It's a significant figure for the service, if not as big as the company would have liked. As Axiosnoted, Microsoft missed its Game Pass growth target for the fiscal year that ended in June 2021 — it hoped for a 48 percent year-over-year jump in members, but 'only' managed 37 percent. While this was still strong and preceded the release of Halo Infinite, the company is clearly eager to improve Game Pass' performance.

That, in turn, explains one of the reasons for the Activision Blizzard deal. Microsoft has made clear that it intends to offer Activision Blizzard games through Game Pass. The $10 or more you're asked to pay each month might become far more compelling if you know you'll always have the latest Call of Duty or World of Warcraft release on top of Game Pass' other titles. Although the merger might not complete until 2023, it could preserve Game Pass' momentum and help fend off looming competition from Sony.

'OlliOlli World' is a friendly but deceptively difficult skateboarding game

OlliOlli and its sequel, OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood, are notoriously difficult to master. These side-scrolling skateboarding games start out easily enough, but if you want to complete every challenge, get ready to play and replay some levels dozens of times over. It can be infuriating, but also extremely satisfying to pull off just the right combo of tricks and grinds needed for a big score.

I was worried that OlliOlli World, a new direction for the series that arrives on February 8th, was going to dispense with that level of challenge. After playing an extended preview of the game over the last week, I’m no longer concerned. Developer Roll7 has made a game that’s significantly more approachable than the original titles — but one that keeps the twitch-response gameplay and score-chasing highs intact for those who crave them.

For the uninitiated, OlliOlli World is a, 2.5D skateboarding platformer where your character simply has to make it from one end of the course to the other while pulling off as many tricks and combos as possible. That’s the same basic formula as the original games, but the scope of OlliOlli World is much greater. The game is split into five different areas, three of which were playable in my demo. The first one, Sunshine Valley, had close to 20 distinct levels, a handful of which were merely training levels meant to introduce the basics of skating, grinding and pulling off different tricks. But even if you don’t count those levels, there’s far more to explore in OlliOlli World than the two earlier games, each of which had 50 levels total.

There’s a host of ways to challenge yourself as you skate through these levels. For starters, you need to navigate grind rails, gaps, ramps and other obstacles to get to the end before you can progress. In a concession to the game’s history of bruising difficulty, though, levels now have checkpoints — so if you blow it 90 percent of the way through the level, you can try that last segment again. Of course, if you had a huge combo going that got interrupted, you’ll lose out on that opportunity for big points. But this at least makes it easier to learn levels and work on problem spots without having to tackle the entire course again.

But the levels are both extremely well designed and visually interesting, so I was eager to play and replay them until I mastered all the challenges and found as many secrets as I possibly could. The world is populated with colorful and fantastical creatures like walking bananas, smiling trees, giant bees holding signs for you to wall ride on, huge frogs (sometimes riding those giant bees) and, of course, the Skate Godz that you meet at the end of each world.


See, your character is on a quest to become the new Skate Wizard, with the help of a goofy and delightful animated crew, including Chiffon, the one-eyed, pipe-smoking current Skate Wizard who’s ready to retire. To take their place, you’ll need to meet all of the Skate Godz that inhabit the five different zones you can play through. Each level has some banter with your crew as well as people you meet on your journeys, full of ridiculous puns and occasional advice on how to improve your scores or pull off new moves. You can skip it if you want, but it helped me get in the headspace of the gorgeous world of Radlandia.

It’s hard to sum up in words what makes the individual levels in OlliOlli World so compelling, but they mix serious challenge in with moments that let you really get into that elusive flow state, where you’re just pulling off tricks, riding rails and generally tearing through a course without thinking too much about what you’re doing. The music, sound effects, art style, level design and variety of moves you can pull off all contribute to this vibe — and even though the game looks entirely different from its predecessors, the end result is the same: skateboarding bliss.

My skills from the original OlliOlli games translated here, but there are plenty of new things to challenge long-time players. The game isn’t straight 2D anymore, which means there are multiple paths you can discover through many levels, something that seriously adds to replayability and challenge of these levels. Each level has multiple goals you’re presented with at the beginning, and meeting them all will almost certainly require multiple plays, especially as the game goes on and the tracks get more complex. 

Indeed, by the time I got about halfway through the third world in the game, I was seriously struggling to check off all of a level's goals. The good news is you can keep progressing without beating all three challenges, nor are you penalized for using checkpoints, but the game is so well designed that I wanted to keep going back and trying to best my earlier scores and nail those goals.


There are plenty of new moves like grabs to pull off, and quarter-pipes let you change the direction your skater is going in. It sounds simple, but having your skater go right-to-left instead of the opposite really threw me for a loop, but I also audibly cheered the first time I skated into one of those quarter-pipes. They add a whole new dimension to the game that I wasn’t expecting.

It’s also worth mentioning some of the other ways Roll7 made this game more approachable than the earlier ones. Besides the aforementioned checkpoints, it’s a lot harder to wipe out now. Earlier games required you to press a button when landing, or else you’d lose all your momentum as well as the points you accumulated from a trick. Now, you can land without having to worry about that step — but pulling off so-called “perfect” landings increases your speed and score.

The main game is a deep experience, but Roll7 added new features for those who love to chase high scores. Every time you finish a level, you’ll see a rival player’s score that you’re then challenged to best. It’s subtle, just showing your rival’s high score beneath your best score — but these challenges taunted me into playing a few extra rounds to try and beat that challenge. OlliOlli World is smart enough to match you with players of your own skill level, so if your high score tops out at 100,000, you won’t be challenged to beat someone who got 1 million on a level; the rival scores are usually around 20 percent higher than your own best. It’s good encouragement to push yourself even harder through a level.

OlliOlli World also offers daily challenges through the Gnarvana League, which you unlock once you finish the game’s first area. Here, you join a league where you’re pitted against nine competitors who again skate at a similar skill level to you. The levels change every day, and you’re simply trying to put up the best score in your group. As you play, you can get promoted to other leagues, where the courses presumably will get trickier. I’ll readily admit that after putting up a score that put me on top of my group, I kept my eyes on the league throughout the day to see if I’d have to replay it and improve my score to keep that top spot.


Finally, there’s a random level generator that you can use to challenge your friends or strangers to put up their best score. The Gnarvana Portal is extremely simple, letting you pick a level’s “style,” which is based on the five main worlds in the game. You can then choose one of four difficulty levels and set the course’s length. Once it’s generated, you can share that course via an eight-digit postcode. That code lets anyone else try your level, regardless of what platform they’re playing on, and you again compete to see who can put up the highest score. The fun thing is that anyone can try this, so you can give the postcode to a few close friends, or post it online and challenge anyone you want.

For the first time in an OlliOlli game, you can also customize your character to your heart's content. There are a ton of clothing options, hairstyles, skateboard designs, skin color options and much more here, and you'll unlock much more as you check off the different challenges each level offers. Unlike the first two games' single, generic male skater design, you can make a character here that truly fits your personality.

There’s a ton of game here for $30, and the Roll7 team has at least two DLC expansions planned for later this year (both of which are included if you order the $45 Rad Edition). If you have even a passing interest in skateboarding or platformer games, OlliOlli World is absolutely worth your time. It’s deeper, brighter, bigger and more fun than the original games, and I expect it’ll be a hit with hardcore OlliOllli fanatics as well as a much bigger new audience experiencing the thrill of this meditative skating series for the first time.

OlliOlli World will be available on the Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One and PC on February 8th.

Microsoft is buying Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion

Microsoft just made one of the largest-ever bids for a game studio. The company has announced plans to acquire Activision Blizzard for $95 per share, valuing the all-cash deal at an enormous $68.7 billion. The deal would make the combined entity the "third-largest" game company by revenue, according to Microsoft, and would put titles like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft under the company's wing. Microsoft plans to add Activision Blizzard games to Game Pass as part of the deal.


The Hitman trilogy comes to Game Pass on January 20th

On January 20th, IO Interactive will celebrate the first anniversary of Hitman 3 in a style befitting Agent 47's sharp suit. It will release a bundle of all three World of Assassination games on PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and PC. What's more, the bundle will be available to Xbox Game Pass, PC Game Pass and Game Pass Ultimate subscribers at no extra cost.

Hitman 3 will debut on Steam on the same day, one year after it arrived on Epic Games Store. Epic's one-year exclusivity window on PC might have caused issues for those who wanted to pull in locations from the first two games. In any case, you'll soon be able to access the whole trilogy on Steam

Later this month, PC players can check out Hitman 3's virtual reality mode. Given that owners of the previous two games can access locations from those titles, you'll be able to play the entire trilogy in VR. The virtual reality mode has been available on PSVR since last January.

— Eskil Møhl (@Eskil_IOI) December 17, 2021

IO has also laid out some of its content plans for Year Two of Hitman 3. In Elusive Target Arcade, each contract will challenge players to take down multiple Elusive Targets in a certain order, with some complications added for good measure. 

Unlike standard Elusive Targets, which you only get one shot at, Arcade contracts are permanent additions to the game. The twist is that, if you fail a contract, you need to wait 12 hours before you can try again. IO says this will help Arcade contracts retain the high-stakes spirit of Elusive Targets. Three Arcade Contracts will be added on January 20th, with more to follow later in the year.

Another new mode called Freelancer is coming to Hitman 3 this spring. It includes a customizable safehouse where you can plan out missions. That's important, because the mode has roguelike elements. If you take gear out on a mission and don't return with it, that equipment will vanish from your inventory. However, you'll be able to acquire weapons and items from Suppliers that you find in mission locations.

Later this year, IO will add a ray-tracing mode to the PC version of Hitman 3, which will work with locations from the other games. The studio also plans to harness XeSS (Xe Super Sampling), Intel's answer to NVIDIA DLSS and AMD FSR upscaling tech, as well as variable rate shading to boost performance.

Even though IO Interactive has another exciting project in the works in the form of a James Bond game, it's nice to see the studio giving Hitman fans plenty to look forward to as well.

Ubisoft's 'The Settlers' reboot finally arrives March 17th

Ubisoft's The Settlers revival is finally here... almost. The company has revealed that its reboot of the classic build-up real-time strategy game will be available March 17th for Windows PCs through the Epic Games Store and Ubisoft Connect. The developers are also whetting appetites with a five-day, registration-only closed beta starting January 20th that will include two of the game's three factions as well as two multiplayer Skirmish modes (one- and two-player teams).

The rebuilt game is "mostly" derived from The Settlers III and The Settlers IV, and looks decidedly nicer than many RTS titles thanks to the use of the same Snowdrop Engine you find in games like The Division series and the upcoming Avatar release. While it won't compete with the latest first-person shooter in looks, it might be more visually appealing than its competitors. There is a story-driven single-player campaign, but Ubisoft is clearly banking on the eight-way multiplayer to help with longevity.

However well the game plays, Ubisoft's main challenge is simply revitalizing the franchise. There hasn't been a brand-new game in the series since The Settlers Online in 2010, and the decade since has only led to a cancelled game (Kingdoms of Anteria) and four years of development for the imminent reboot. While there will certainly still be fans, it's not clear how many of them were willing to wait a decade for a follow-up.

Archivists have preserved a long-lost McDonald's Nintendo DS training game

Digital sleuths have obtained one of the most elusive video games to date. According to Kotaku, game conservationists Forest of Illusion have obtainedeSmart 2.0, a very rare Nintendo DS training game distributed to Japanese McDonald's employees in 2010. As enthusiast and game hunter Coddy Trentuit explained, the cartridge popped up in multiple frustrating online auctions and required an alliance of generous contributors (including Forest of Illusion) before it reached people willing to share the title with the community.

You won't want to fire up eSmart 2.0 for the riveting gameplay. As you'd expect, this really is a training exercise with game elements. You learn to complete orders for counter and drive-thru customers, with videos illustrating the finer points of making Big Macs and Chicken McNuggets. It's better than a dry training video, but you'll want to fire up a game like Overcooked if you want a genuinely fun restaurant experience.

We wouldn't count on the training game being easily available for long given that it wasn't meant for the general public. That it's in the hands of any archivists is still notable. As with unofficial releases for SimRefinery, PS2 game prototypes and similar projects, this is ultimately an attempt preserving little-known chapters of gaming history that could easily disappear forever.

'S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2' is delayed until December 8th

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. fans will need to wait several more months than expected to get their hands on the latest game in the series. Developer GSC Game World has pushed back the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart of Chernobyl release date from April 28th to December 8th.

— S.T.A.L.K.E.R. OFFICIAL (@stalker_thegame) January 12, 2022

"These additional seven months of development are needed to fulfill our vision and achieve the desired state of the game," GSC Game World wrote in a statement. "S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 is the biggest project in the history of GSC and it requires thorough testing and polishing." Perhaps it needs a little more time to get characters' teeth just right.

The studio noted that, although the decision to delay the survival horror game wasn't an easy one, it believes "development should take as long as necessary, especially in the case of such a project." It plans to provide more details about S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 in the coming months.

The first-person shooter, which will be the first entry in the series since 2009, will initially be available on Xbox Series X/S and PC — it'll debut on Xbox Game Pass. Reports suggest Microsoft has a three-month exclusivity window for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2.

GSC Game World recently came under fire over its plan to include NFTs (non-fungible tokens) in the game. Just one day later, the studio said it would "cancel anything NFT-related in S.T.A.L.K.E.R 2" following a major backlash.

Wordle' clones are taking over the App Store

If you’ve spent any time on Twitter in the last week, chances are you’ve seen the grids of emoji boxes taking over your feed. That’s thanks to Wordle, a new puzzle game that’s become somewhat of an obsession for many since The New York Timeswrote about it just over a week ago.

Like other viral games, Wordle is deceptively simple: you have six chances to guess a new five-letter word. And that’s… pretty much it. There’s just one puzzle a day, and it’s free to play with no ads . Its creator, a software developer named Josh Wardle, is apparently “overwhelmed” by his game’s popularity. But the fact that the game doesn’t have an app has allowed developers to create their own knockoff version of the game.

One particularly egregious example comes from developer Zach Shakked who created an app called “Wordle - The App.At first glance, the app, which is subtitled “Word Game Everyone's Playing!” could easily be mistaken for the original. The word grid looks almost the same, and it even uses the same color scheme. But Shakked’s version also asks players to sign up for a “pro” subscription that costs $29.99 after a three-day “free trial.”

But between naming the app “Wordle” and running search ads against the term in the App Store, Shakked seems to have succeeded in profiting off the popularity of the game originally created by Wardle. “This is absurd. 450 trials at 1am last night, now at 950 and getting a new ones every minute,” he wrote in a tweet that has since been made private. “12K downloads, rank #28 word game, and #4 result for "Wordle" in the App Store. We're going to the fucking moon.”

Screenshot via Twittet

Shakked and Wardle didn’t respond to questions from Engadget. But Shakked isn’t the only developer trying to cash in on the popularity of Wordle. His app is one of at least six Wordle clones launched in the App Store in the eight days since the original New York Times article about Wordle. Another, called “What Word - Wordle” which charges a $0.99 in-app purchase to remove ads, claims to be the “No. 1 Word game” in its App Store screenshots. (It is actually ranked No. 7 in word games, according to its App Store listing.)

Scammy knockoff apps capitalizing on the popularity of a viral game is nothing new, of course. Game developers have been complaining about the practice for years. Apple didn’t immediately respond to questions about Wordle clones in its store. But, thanks to emails released during the Epic v. Apple trial, we do know that copycat apps have long been a source of frustration for Apple executives as well. “Is no one reviewing these apps? Is no one minding the store?" Phil Schiller wrote in a 2012 email. Three years later, he complained that “I can’t believe we still don’t” have automated tools to find scam apps.