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  • Gamespot News Feed: SteamWorld Dig 2 Review

    The first SteamWorld Dig was most notable for its unique blend of mining mechanics and Metroid-style exploration, but it ended right as it began to come into its own. Its sequel is twice as long and puts that added runtime to good use, as both the story and mechanics are given room to flourish. The result is a brilliant and varied evolution of the first game that not only expands upon its hybrid formula, but presents it in its best light.

    SteamWorld Dig 2 takes place in a post-apocalyptic steampunk world where Earth has become a desert wasteland; its remaining inhabitants are small populations of steam-driven robots and irradiated humans. You control a steambot named Dorothy searching for her missing friend, Rusty--the protagonist of the first game. When Dorothy hears that he has been sighted entering the mines of an old trading town, El Machino, she embarks on a journey to find him.

    Dig 2 gives you more than enough to latch onto with its eclectic cast.
    Dig 2 gives you more than enough to latch onto with its eclectic cast.
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    The story is more focused than its predecessor. Events unfold at a brisk pace, occasionally hitting you with unexpected twists and tonal shifts that keep the adventure compelling throughout. Also impactful is the way the story contributes to the overarching SteamWorld universe as a whole (it serves as a bridge between Dig 1 and SteamWorld Heist). By its conclusion, past narrative threads that were once disparate and unclear are finally expounded upon, elevating your attachment to the characters and the world.

    Even if you aren't invested in the series' lore, Dig 2 gives you more than enough to latch onto with its eclectic cast. Dorothy makes for a likable lead and the characters who surround her are humorous and well-written. In particular, Dorothy's Navi-like sidekick, FEN, is one of the game's standout personalities. His sassy, oftentimes snarky, remarks are amusing, but as you progress, he grows into a far more sincere and endearing ally whose presence is irreplaceable.

    Also worth noting is the presentation; both visuals and music are charming and stylish. From the moodily lit underground caverns you explore to the airy and upbeat hip-hop inspired tracks that permeate the various locales, there's an endearing atmosphere that constantly pulls you in.

    Like the first game, you spend time exploring various underground mines. With your trusty pickaxe, you smash through blocks of dirt to reveal passageways, while along the way acquiring precious gems and minerals. You also obtain tools and power-ups that help you burrow even deeper. Once your pockets are filled with treasure, you return to town to sell your materials and upgrade your tools, and then you return to the mine anew.

    Dig 2 encourages you to be methodical, but unlike the original, it gives you more time to be creative, and rewards your cravings to diligently explore and discover new secrets.
    Dig 2 encourages you to be methodical, but unlike the original, it gives you more time to be creative, and rewards your cravings to diligently explore and discover new secrets.

    While the digging process seems repetitive in nature, it never becomes tedious. Exploration feels like longform puzzle solving. You're always strategizing how to take advantage of a mine's terrain and the enemies within to clear tunnels and acquire more treasure. And with the more varied tools you have access to this time around, the methods you employ grow increasingly complex.

    One moment you're using your pressure bomb launcher to create a pathway that you can't reach with your pickaxe, the next you're using your grappling hook to strategically detonate a TNT barrel to kill a group of enemies. These instances are when the game is at its most fulfilling, as you have a great deal of flexibility in choosing how to approach a given area. Dig 2 encourages you to be methodical, but unlike the original, it gives you more time to be creative, and rewards your cravings to diligently explore and discover new secrets.

    New to Dig 2 is the addition of collectables called Cogs, which you can use to enhance your tools with mods. These upgrades are varied and unique, each improving your abilities in different ways. For instance, you can equip a mod that increases your chances of getting two precious materials from one resource block, or you might equip one that occasionally prevents instant death from falling rocks. As you obtain more Cogs, your ability to tailor mods to better suit your playstyle grows, which becomes invaluable when facing difficult obstacles in later areas. And with the varied terrain and hazards you encounter, you always feel an initiative to experiment to better your mining efficiency and chances of survival.

    When you're not spending time digging, you're exploring caves, which are special rooms scattered across the map containing either platforming challenges or puzzles to solve. These brief, well-crafted trials test your mastery of the game's base mechanics: a spike-covered room demands quick execution of your mobility options; a block-stacking puzzle challenges your knowledge of the pressure launcher's limitations; and a room with collapsing boulders has you timing your sprints in different spurts to avoid being crushed. On top of rewarding you with much-needed Cogs, caves provide satisfying opportunities to exercise your reflexes and intellect. You often look forward to discovering them, as their distinct challenges are also entertaining proving grounds to test your upgrades.

    Caves provide satisfying opportunities to exercise your reflexes and intellect. Caves provide satisfying opportunities to exercise your reflexes and intellect.
    Caves provide satisfying opportunities to exercise your reflexes and intellect.
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    Alongside the mechanical improvements, it helps that there's a greater variety in level and objective design. From an ancient temple surrounded by lava to an ethereal jungle, each location you explore goes beyond the standard underground mine you might expect. Not only are levels thematically different, they're also structured in distinct ways from each other. At one point, you're tasked to dig horizontally instead of vertically, only to be led to an area that has you completing a gauntlet of caves in order to open a gate with multiple locks. These changes in design frame the mechanics in captivating ways, challenging you to do more than just strategically carve out tunnels. Dig 2 meticulously uses its assets to great effect, continually changing up the pace from beginning to end.

    Every advancement Dig 2 makes to its story and mechanics strengthens your initiative to progress. There's an overwhelming sense of momentum that runs through the adventure; as if developer Image & Form sifted the original in a pan, removing its redundancies while expanding upon what made it so fun to persistently play. In your quest to acquire every upgrade and explore every nook and cranny, there's no shortage of hidden collectables to discover. And with post-game content that unlocks after you unearth every secret, the desire to keep digging intensifies. Dig 2 manages to not only be an exceptional successor, but a great adventure in its own right. Where the first game was a diamond in the rough, Dig 2 is a polished jewel.

  • Gamespot News Feed: Project Cars 2

    My first race in Project Cars 2 was a learning experience, to say the least. After a couple of years away from the wheel of Slightly Mad Studios' simulation racing series, getting reacquainted with its uncompromising style was no easy feat. The blind turns and fluctuating elevations of Scotland's Knockhill Racing Circuit played havoc with my rusty skills, as I spun out myriad times throughout my first practice session, making the trackside gravel my undesirable home. It was not the start I had envisioned, and I could have let it get to me--thwarted, as I was, by a quick sprint around the Scottish countryside. But this is where the tinkering began.

    I started tuning my Formula Rookie car to adjust to the particularities of this charming British track, softening the anti-roll bar to limit oversteering, and adjusting gear ratios to get a tad more speed down the straights. With each passing lap I gradually became more accustomed to Knockhill's tricky corners, learning how to approach each one with guile and gusto. Before long I wasn't just completing laps without incident, but setting competitive times to rival the competition, and fondly recalling similar moments throughout my time with Slightly Mad's first game in the series. It's a singular, almost assuredly niche thrill; yet it was this focus on learning and adapting to the various intricacies of both car and track that made Project Cars so appealing--and which still rings true in its sequel.

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    Click image to view in full screen
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    For all its strengths, however, the first Project Cars was hindered by some notable flaws. Inconsistent handling, inadequate gamepad support, dim-witted AI, and numerous, disruptive bugs regularly plagued the experience. Thankfully, these issues have been mostly addressed in Project Cars 2. For one, the physics and driving model have been much improved, with less disconnect between your actions and those of your car. There's an increased weightiness to these fuel-guzzling beasts that firmly plants them on the road, and a pliability that makes pushing them up to and over the limit a viable strategy, resulting in some incredibly tense and exciting moments.

    Gamepad support is also marginally better. Where playing with a pad was once perplexingly unapproachable, it's now manageable at least--albeit significantly lagging behind the fidelity and one-to-one feedback of a dedicated racing wheel. Out of the box, the handling is quite understeer heavy, too, so you'll probably want to fiddle with the settings until it feels more comfortable. And there are some difficulties communicating exactly what the car is doing without the advantages of force feedback, particularly when the back end starts to spin out from underneath you. There's a distant, almost loose feel to the handling, and this makes playing without stability control more difficult than it would otherwise be. Racing with a gamepad is still nowhere near perfect or even close to the likes of Forza, but these adjustments do enough to make it more playable than the first game. With this in mind, I would still hesitate to recommend Project Cars 2 to anyone without a racing wheel.

    Despite the improvements made behind the wheel, Project Cars 2's most eye-catching aspect might just be the sheer breadth of cars, tracks, and motorsports on offer. With 180 cars to choose from, 60 tracks, and 29 motorsports, you can easily go from kicking up dirt and gravel in a Rallycross event in Hell, to careening around Imola in Enzo Ferrari's magnificent namesake. Maybe you'll race wheel-to-wheel in white-knuckle stock cars for the full 500 miles of the Indianapolis 500, usher a Formula X car around the twisting turns of Monaco's opulent street course, or precariously rip through the historic 8.75 miles of the original Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in an Aston Martin DBR1/300. The extensive variety on-hand is sumptuous, and almost every track and car is intricately detailed, with phenomenal audio design bringing each bottled-up rocket of horsepower to life with a delectable symphony of shifting gears, screeching tires, and roaring engines.

    The weather effects in Project Cars 2 are best-in-class, and the palpable effect they have on each and every race proves they're not just for show either

    Meanwhile, a dynamic weather system that encompasses everything from emphatic thunderstorms and blizzards, to a hazy summer's day--plus an impressive day/night cycle--complements the action, and turns an endurance race at Le Mans into a keen test of attrition and strategy. As the sky cracks open and unleashes a torrent of rain, puddles will gradually form on the track and must be avoided lest you aquaplane into the nearest wall. Survive this brush with death and the hot asphalt will dissipate any pools of water, yet your relief won't last for long as the sun begins to disappear behind the trees. Suddenly corners aren't quite as recognisable as they once were as shadows cast blind spots over the track; and before long you're driving in nothing but pitch black darkness, with only your headlights to guide you. The weather effects in Project Cars 2 are best-in-class, and the palpable effect they have on each and every race proves they're not just for show either.

    The best way to cycle through this plethora of motorsports is in the career mode, which takes you globetrotting from one racing discipline to another. You're still free to choose where you begin your driving adventure--whether it's in the lowly rungs of kart racing or maybe in the more potent brutes of GT4--but there's added structure this time around. The high-end championships are locked away until you've made at least some progress, and single-race invitationals mix up the pacing so it's less of a slog. The career mode is, however, surprisingly restrictive when it comes to competing in these various championships. If you finish outside of the top three, it's deemed a failure and you're asked to retry the entire championship again. This can be utterly demoralising when you've just completed ten races or so, and I'm not sure why leading the midfield pack comes with such a harsh punishment. It actively discouraged me from raising the AI difficulty until I knew I could consistently place in the top three, and it feels like a completely misguided decision. If you've started a championship and don't quite fancy it, it's also needlessly difficult to quit. The only way to do so is by starting each race and retiring to the pits, which is very time-consuming.

    While these issues are disappointing, Project Cars 2's most glaring faults lie with the AI and the vast number of bugs that constantly crop up. The AI is slightly improved over the first game; it's less rigid, has more spatial awareness when racing wheel-to-wheel, and will make human-esque mistakes, particularly in adverse weather conditions. But for every moment of fair and balanced racing, there's another example where they'll nudge you off the road, shunt you in the backside, or cause an 18-car pileup on the first corner. I can't count the amount of times the AI has spoiled a race by mindlessly crashing into each other at the very first hint of a bend in the road. It's absurd.

    The AI is also a constant nuisance in qualifying. It will set consistent lap times when you're out on the track, but as soon as you skip to the end of a session after a seemingly good job, it will inexplicably gain a good five seconds on your best lap time, even if there's not enough time left to do so. I've also encountered a few notable instances where I've qualified in first, only to get bumped into last place as soon as the race begins. The race director is inconsistent, too, dishing out penalties for no discernible reason. If you play in the rain at Monaco, the tunnel will flood with water and is almost impossible to drive on. And any cosmetic damage you sustain will remain after restarting a session, even if that includes missing wheels.

    All of these issues, whether they're disruptive or comical, paint a picture of a game that wasn't quite ready to come out of the oven. Multiplayer races mitigate some of these flaws, and are arguably the best way to play, but the online servers are sparsely populated, resulting in a lot of waiting around to race maybe four or five other people, if you're lucky. I also suffered multiple crashes that only occurred during, or when trying to join, multiplayer sessions.

    When it all works as intended, Project Cars 2 is a brilliant simulation racer--provided you're playing with a wheel. It's ambitious in scope and depth, and the sheer breadth of available motorsports almost guarantees there's something for everyone to sink their teeth into. It's a shame, then, that there's always this nagging feeling in the back of your mind that a bug or moment of AI madness will disrupt the whole thing--and more often than not, it will. These issues may be ironed out in the coming weeks and months, but with potentially stiff competition on the very-near horizon, Slightly Mad Studios might not have enough time to capture the hearts and minds of video game racing fans before they move on to pastures new.

  • Game Informer News Feed: Futuristic Sci-Fi Action Game Coming To VR This October

    As of this October, Raw Data is exiting early access and officially launching on HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and PlayStation VR. This action-packed VR title takes place in far future, where you play as a special operative from a hacker organization who embarks on secret missions.

    You can choose from four heroes: Bishop, a "gun cleric" who wields dual pistols; Saija, a cyber ninja who defeats enemies with an electric katana; Boss, an ex-street mercenary with a large shotgun; and finally Elder, an elderly but proficient archer.

    The official release will feature a solo campaign, co-op, and multiplayer. Cross-platform play for online co-op is supported, meaning that friends can team up despite owning different headsets.

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    Raw Data arrives for HTC Vive and Oculus Rift as of October 5, and comes to PlayStation VR on October 10.

  • Game Informer News Feed: New Trailer Reveals Caeda And Tiki As Playable Characters

    Nintendo has released a new trailer for Fire Emblem: Heroes, revealing that Caeda and Tiki (two classic characters from both early Fire Emblem games and the more recent Awakening) will be playable characters.

    The trailer also has footage of characaters we already knew about, such as Lyn and Camilla, pulling of their special moves and destroying waves of enemy soldiers (spoiler: that's what you do in Warriors games).

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  • Game Informer News Feed: Latest Trailer Mixes Cutscenes and Dark Souls Gameplay

    Bandai Namco has released a new trailer for its Dark-Souls inspired anime game, Code Vein. Like Dark Souls, Code Vein pits you against difficult, ghastly opponents in the midst of a hellish, desolate landscape. Unlike Dark Souls, Code Vein is very anime.

    The latest trailer makes this clear, as gameplay segments are intercut between scenes thick with dialogue and anime camera angles, which is something Dark Souls tended to lack. Though the trailer is in Japanese, you can get a vague sense of the story Code Vein has to tell by watching the trailer below.

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  • Game Informer News Feed: Watch gameplay of Tien, Yamcha, Android 21 in story mode

    Bandai Namco has dropped a trio of trailers for Dragon Ball FighterZ, each featuring one of the game's most recently-announced characters in their native environment.

    First, we have the first gameplay footage of Tien and Yamcha, which premiered during a Bandai Namco stream at TGS last night (or today, in Japan time? timezones, am I right folks?). You can watch the two trailers back-to-back starting at 23 minutes into the video below.

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    Additionally, Bandai Namco released a separate trailer featuring footage of Android 21 in one of the game's story mode sequences. The dialogue is in Japanese with English subtitles.

    (Please visit the site to view this media)

  • Game Informer News Feed: The Zombie Spin-Off Is More Fun Than I Expected

    The spin-off Metal Gear Survive rightfully has its skeptics. After series mastermind Hideo Kojima departed Konami in a messy separation, fans questioned if Metal Gear games would ever be the same. When Konami announced Metal Gear Survive, it was a surprise – a survival action game with zombies? Even Kojima commented on how he didn’t see how zombies fit within the series. I went into my hands-on session for Metal Gear Survive just as doubtful as any fan about the game being something I’d even want to play. While I don’t think Metal Gear Survive will be an earth-shattering experience for the series, I walked away having more fun than I expected. 

    While Metal Gear Survive does have a single-player campaign, Konami isn’t ready to give many details on it, except that a wormhole opens in the sky, absorbing all MSF soldiers, transporting them to an alternate reality. You must survive a harsh environment overflowing with dangerous creatures by collecting resources and building a base camp. Time will tell if Konami takes a more zany approach and tells an interesting story considering the premise or makes the single-player very straightforward with a focus on gameplay. 

    At Tokyo Game Show, I played a section of the co-op in which you work with three other players in missions. My mission was to protect a generator from waves of zombies. I chose to play as a fighter, but you could also choose a shooter. You basically want to level your character up and find better gear by completing missions; after every mission, you get new loot depending on your success. Metal Gear Survive uses the same controls scheme from Ground Zeroes and Phantom Pain, and they’re as responsive and intuitive as you remember. However, even if you haven’t played the recent games, the controls are easy to pick up and understand. 

    Before each wave, you can prepare for the onslaught of baddies coming your way, by putting up barriers, spinning blades, and even mini turrets. The best strategy is to look for any opening the zombies may be able to exploit and put down some traps to thwart them. Once they break through, you can shoot, punch, throw molotov cocktails, and anything else you come equipped with. In between waves, you can take on side objectives to get better resources to protect you from the next wave. 

    I loved the chaos and strategy of it all. One minute, you’re prepping by thinking ahead, the next a horde is overflowing the area, forcing you to think on your feet and use what you have at your disposal. The resource management part is a nice touch. You have a limited amount of all your items, from barriers to ammo. You must use them judiciously if you want to make it through every wave. Setting up the perfect trap or throwing a molotov cocktail to torch a zombie horde is satisfying. Even more so, working with a team to make the best of all your resources and help each other out in a bind makes for a fun co-op experience.

    Because I only played one mission, I can’t speak to the variety of content or if this game has legs beyond a few matches. Metal Gear Survive has a tough tassk ahead of convincing players it’s worthy of their time. Survival games have become more popular in recent years, but convincing people to abandon those like PUBG is a hard feat. That being said, the game is a lot more enjoyable than I was expecting, providing me that rush I get when I play games like Left 4 Dead or Mass Effect’s multiplayer. Now it’s up to Konami to see if they can attract a strong player base and win back fans. Something tells me this won’t be enough, but Metal Gear Survive is nice a diversion if you’re looking for something in this vein. 

    Metal Gear Survive hits in early 2018 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC. 

  • Game Informer News Feed: Five Things You Should Know About The New Edition

    Square Enix recently announced a remake of the beloved classic, Secret of Mana. The action/RPG for SNES made its mark for its fun co-op, vibrant visuals, and fantastic music. This remake includes 3D visuals, voice acting, and a newly arranged score by original composer Hiroki Kikuta. While in Japan, I had the opportunity to speak to producer Masaru Oyamada about what we can expect from the remake and the design decisions behind it. Here are some of his biggest revelations.

    How Co-op Works

    As fans will remember, Secret of Mana had three-player co-op, which was rare for the role-playing genre at the time. Oyamada says the co-op functions in the remake exactly like the original, meaning it’s offline couch co-op. “You have three players sitting next to each other on the couch with three controllers – all playing at the same time,” he confirms. “I think a lot of the enjoyment that people have in their memories of the original game relies on that playstyle. We felt it was best to have that recreated in the same way.” 

    A Few Improvements But Sticking To The Original's Core

    Every remake holds the danger of changing too much for longtime fans or not updating enough for a modern audience. Oyamada gave more insight into the team's approach and the changes. “The overall construction of the game and the content of the game is the same as the original – nothing has been cut,” he says. “The additions and tweaks we’ve added the game are more subtle, more for accessibility and ease of play. For example, dashing and the run button used to only work in a single direction, now you can do it freely. The other thing for ease of control is controlling the ring commands for allies used to be very difficult for one person, but we’ve made that a lot easier.”

    Cutscenes and more detailed character interactions are also new features. “In the original, it was really left to the imagination of the player to figure out what the main party was doing and how they were talking to each other between the adventures they went on,” Oyamada says. “You now get to see conversations between [the party members] and little scenes that add to the story.” 

    Adding Voice Acting And 3D Graphics

    This also marks the first time characters are voiced for the game, but Randi, Primm, and Popoi have appeared in other Square Enix collaborations using voice actors to say their iconic lines. “When I saw [those], it actually felt very natural,” Oyamada says. “It didn’t feel out of place at all, so when it came to doing the remake of the game, I thought we should go with voices from the start.” If you want to experience the remake like the original, there is an option to turn the voice acting off, too. 

    Secret of Mana’s art style has always been core to its identity. Unsurprisingly, the shift to 3D visuals has been met with mixed reactions from fans based on the first glimpses. “It’d be very difficult actually from a technological perspective these days to do development in the old pixel style graphics,” Oyamada explains. “And I think the other thing is if we did decide to go along with that, we wouldn’t be exceeding the original. We thought it’d be better to go for an evolution – a more modern update of the graphics for 3D. But, we did very much pay attention to make sure they were not something that would put off the original fans, that they wouldn’t feel too out of place.” 

    What Makes An Old Classic Work For A Modern Audience

    Secret of Mana is a great game, but some elements are archaic. I was surprised to see how close Square is sticking to the original. I have a lot of nostalgia for the game, as it's one of my personal favorites, but what about fans who don't have that experience? What makes Oyamada confident they'll enjoy it? "There are not really many games that have that classic JRPG feel and these structures anymore," Oyamada says. "You don't really see it that much, and even going further seeing a game with a more modern 3D style and essence to them. I think Bravely Default is the only series that really does that. So in some ways, it feels really fresh and new in just doing that in itself – the classic style with the new 3D graphics."

    Wanting To Rekindle People's Love For The Mana Series

    The Mana series has struggled in the last decade or so compared to its early days. Last year, the team remade Adventures of Mana (previously known as Final Fantasy Adventure in North America) to a mostly positive reception. Could this be a push to revive people's passion for the series and carry forward to newer entries? “I very much think about the series and the remake in that way myself,” Oyamada shares. “If we can hear the same kind of opinions from fans, I really think that will link through into the future of the series.”

    Secret of Mana launches on February 15 for PS4, Vita, and PC.

    For ore on Secret of Mana, you can check out Dan Tack's hands-on impressions.

  • Gamespot News Feed: Tooth And Tail Review

    Tooth and Tail is a bizarre cocktail of a dozen great ideas. It's a minimalist RTS that tosses out complex tech trees in favor of action-packed but accessible play. It's set vaguely in Eastern Europe in the 1910s, with both the Russian Revolution and World War I in full swing. Playing up the grim tumult of the era, Tooth and Tail also casts itself with all manner of cute--though ragged and crestfallen--critters. With so many disparate items, it's a wonder that Tooth and Tail manages to work at all, but it excels with but a few minor blemishes.

    Superficially, Tooth and Tail looks the part of a standard RTS, but familiarity with genre staples isn’t required. Yes, you still have resources and units, and a "base," of sorts, but the similarities end there. Instead of using a cursor to drag and select groups of units, for example, you play a sole critter twirling your team's battle standard. Tooth and Tail simplifies a notoriously complex genre into a few fundamental, direct rules.

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    You need a gristmill to build farms. Farms are used to grow food. Food is spent on units, making more farms, and claiming more mills to make more farms. Before each match, you pick up to six units you want to be able to use from a pool of 20. You can only build near a gristmill. Finally, you marshal units to destroy your enemies' mills.

    That simplicity is marvelous. Tooth and Tail distills strategy games to its essentials--building out armies, growing stronger, and the dynamic, puzzle-like nature of play--and gets rid of nearly everything else. That means ludicrous actions per minute no longer matter.Randomly-generated maps keep others from gaining an unfair advantage with terrain knowledge. The playing field is almost always as level as it can be, leaving commanders to compete on raw strategic/tactical prowess.

    Instead of building out specialized scout units and sending them to collect telemetry on the map, your commander does it on their own. The cost, of course, is that if you're scouting, you can't build because you wouldn't be near the mill. You can't attack on your own, either. This keeps you from rushing or spawning tons of machine-gun-toting squirrels near your foes' farms and claiming victory. You can, however, burrow back at any time to queue up more soldiers before heading out again. This guides a core pace to the game--rush out and study before retreating to build. It's a simple pattern that's welcoming to new players.

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    Strategy veterans may balk and think that this takes streamlining a step too far. After all, without unit upgrades and heavy micromanagement, it would seem that there's not much else you can do, leaving skilled folks idle and bored. That issue doesn't come up much in play, though. Because maps are random, and you never know which six units other players will bring, most start off with similar levels of knowledge. Advanced players will, of course, have a deeper understanding of which units can cover for what weaknesses, but they won't be able to use that to counter pick either the roster or the map. Instead, their play becomes much more reactive. They have to scout like anyone else, and they have to adapt to whichever assortment of woodland animals hit the map.

    All this does not make expertise meaningless. When the only thing under your control are which parts of the map you can see, what you're building, and whether or not you're advancing or retreating, each of those choices carries much more weight. Food also isn't unlimited, and unless you were nabbing territory in the early game, you'll run dry (and starve) in short order. This keeps the pace brisk, and, when combined with the limitations inherent in controlling one commander vs. having a nigh-omniscient view of the map means that the action almost always hits at the edge of what feels manageable. Tooth and Tail supports up to four players, and when everyone's in, things get chaotic. With all four of you fielding armies of tiny, skittering squirrels and badgers or hawks and owls, things get messy fast. And, this is where Tooth and Tail begins to shine.

    Short, mediocre campaign aside, there's little here to muck with the essential beauty of this streamlined RTS.

    As mentioned, at any point there could be 20 different units on the field. Unlike your StarCrafts or your Sins of a Solar Empires, though, your arrangement of units are unique each round. You pick your commander--who will hail from one of four factions--and then you select your roster. Neither option has any impact on the other, but which critters you pick will have a huge impact on strategy.

    Unit types range from defensive artillery to flamethrowers and run the gamut of classic military roles. Medics, transports, gun nests, heavies, engineers, etc. get their due. But big decisions hinge on being able to read the lay of a battle in an instant. You only have a couple of buttons with which to command your troops. One order will have them pressing forward, another will pull them back. The ability to understand, at a glance, which armies have what units and who has the advantage is essential. Lacking the simple visual cues of a uniting theme or aesthetic as in other strategy games, Tooth and Tail has to make each of these figures clear and recognizable in the heat of battle. And, thanks to stellar art and crisp animations, that's never an issue. Each unit has its own heft--or lack thereof--and they're all recognizable by silhouette with the possible exception of a handful of the smaller scrappers. All you need do, then, is worry about a small band of critical choices.

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    Because of that purity, playing with a controller feels as tight if not better than a standard mouse and keyboard. The analogue stick is a touch more responsive than otherwise limiting WASD keys. This also makes it one of the few games to nail real-time strategy on the console. And, like with Pikmin, the relative straightforward approach to tactical challenges doesn't come with any costs.

    Tooth and Tail picks the right premise, with the right pacing, and the right amount of streamlining to keep every second of a match feeling heated. Games run their course in 10 minutes or less, and that brevity feels revolutionary. Matches in most other RTS games run half-an-hour or longer, limiting who can pick up and play a round here and there. That doesn't need to be, though. Tooth and Tail shows that you can have a zippy, engaging strategy game that's satisfying, nuanced, and accessible.

    My only real complaint is that, while the game is deep, you'll want to play with friends. A single-player campaign gives you a basic introduction to the world through a tongue-in-cheek presentation of different political factions. There's a civil war on, and the throngs of fluffy animals are all fighting to be the one who doesn't get chomped by the rest. Each loosely aligns to a real-world political philosophy, but they are all pushed so far into the realm of the ridiculous that none of them come as either mean-spirited or pointed critiques of anything tangible. These characters are fodder for the game's morose sense of humor, and it works. It is not, however, as groundbreaking as the bulk of play, and it doesn't amount to much beyond progressive, contextualized challenges.

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    Campaign maps are procedural, which keeps things from getting stale but, given the more specific mission objectives for the campaign, it also isn't as balanced as its free-for-all multiplayer counterpart. You will, at some point, end up with a map that feels stacked against you. And, luck of the draw though it may have been, it still frustrates. Then again, all you need do is wait out the 5-8 minute match and you'll get a new map to try again.

    Short, mediocre campaign aside, there's little here to muck with the essential beauty of this streamlined RTS. Nothing else in recent memory offers quite the same white-knuckle thrills. Scouting and modifying your unit composition with up-to-the-minute info on enemy forces, rallying them into battle, continuing to grab up new farmland to fuel your fluffy hordes, and switching between them every fifteen seconds is divine.

    Rotating through the band of 20 fighters will offer plenty of depth on its own, too. There's plenty of room to fake out foes by overbuilding one type and feinting a foe into countering that so you can sweep them with your own reserves. If you don't have quite the squads you need to deal with enemies in the best way, you'll have to adapt -- and strong variety will give you the tools to come up with unique combinations and tactics on the fly.

    When all of that comes together in a tight, four-player battle royale, it is a thing of beauty.

  • Game Informer News Feed: New Trailer Sets Up The Story

    Sonic is back, again! After the retro love letter that was Sonic Mania, fans get another game this year starring the hedgehog, Sonic Forces. The latest trailer puts story in the spotlight, setting up the characters and the conflict for the game.

    Does Eggman like Sonic, or not? Does one find strength only in numbers? Is the power of friendship good for overcoming adversity? You'll have to play Sonic Forces when it releases on November 7 to find the answers to these mind-bending mysteries. 

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    For more Sonic the Hedgehog, read about his recent comeback in Sonic Mania. Or if you'd rather glory in him at his worst, watch our Sonic '06 Super Replay