Master of Orion is a game with grand scope and massive scale, and more often than not, both work to its advantage. You explore outer space, colonize planets, and swing other leaders on a clandestine dance floor of galactic diplomacy, all with an overarching plan in mind. The problem is, Master of Orion doesn't always make that process fun. It vacillates between moments of exhilaration and periods of boredom.
Commonly referred to as a 4X title (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate), Master of Orion is a reboot of an earlier series of the same name. The first Master of Orion draws easy comparisons to Civilization, another franchise in which you guide a nation from its nascent years to its swan song through various victory conditions. But over time both franchises have drifted apart, introducing their own twists on the empire-building formula throughout the years.
One of the few notable changes in this new Master of Orion is an optional real-time combat system that allows for a more hands-on approach to inter-fleet skirmishes. You can divert individual ships and focus fire on specific enemies, using the agility of your frigates and the firepower of your battleships to pick apart enemy clusters.
This combat system works well on several levels. Primarily, it adds unpredictability to combat that's otherwise based on mathematics and predetermined outcomes. If your small collection of frigates faces off against a hardened group of cruisers, odds are, the "auto-resolve" option will lead to defeat. But if you take the time to direct your fleet on a micro level with daring maneuvers, you have the potential to upend the odds in your favor.
Secondly, this form of combat narrows Master of Orion's focus from what's otherwise a sweeping look at the history of several civilizations. It drops you from the admiral's chair to the cockpit of a fighter vessel. Not only does it change up each playthrough's pacing, but sets the stage for a fine balance between micro and macro managing your people's development.
This bouncing between big picture problems and minute concerns is where Master of Orion shines brightest. You plot the course of an entire civilization, establish your presence in numerous solar systems, and bring about the end of entire alien races--but you also upgrade your frigates' laser cannons. You bribe the Alkari leader with a few billion credits. You build mining outposts on forgotten moons in the outer reaches of the galaxy. There's a vast difference between the bird's eye view of a political leader and the tactical considerations of a hangar bay engineer. But Master of Orion uses that contrast to its advantage. It links strategy and tactics with seamless ease.
This dynamism between the large and small scale can also change up Master of Orion's pacing, which often becomes rote in the mid-game turns of playthroughs. This problem has plagued the best of 4X strategy games, and unfortunately, this reboot doesn't find any way around it.
Unless you're at the outset of your budding civilization, engaged in combat, or guiding your people in the last few years before that exhilarating grab at military, technological, economic, or diplomatic victory, turns become mundane. Colonies often lack individualism, utilizing the same structures and constructing the same military units as the planets in their neighboring systems. Aside from the occasional thrilling space battle, playthroughs are seldom all that different from the ones preceding them.
Master of Orion's chief allure--the promise of exploring uncharted solar systems--is only novel for a few hours.
Furthermore, the game's chief allure--the promise of exploring uncharted solar systems--is only novel for a few hours. It soon becomes clear that, aside from a handful of different biomes, planet sizes, and mineral types, there's not enough variety between planets to encourage exploration for its own sake. Maps also lack many surprising discoveries in the space between systems--you'll come across ancient artifacts, stray clouds of debris, and rogue pirate bases, but again, after a few hours, you'll likely see it all. Exploring can reveal bright spots on the sci-fi game's sprawling star map, but also a lot of empty space.
What Master of Orion lacks in variety, though, it makes up for in fine-tuned design. The galactic map, composed of multitudinous star systems and the quantum warp paths connecting them, leads to interesting strategic quandaries for your scouts and battle fleets. Defending individual star systems means guarding warp points and building defensive emplacements around your key settlements. Managing the interlocking web of colonies and the established lines of travel between them is key to preserving your people, or destroying someone else's. This is supported by the combat system, which pierces through the ennui of Master of Orion's exploration.
There's another web at play here: the diplomacy system is a minefield of bad tempers, interlocking alliances, and cultural pet peeves. The leader of the Sakka Brood, a reptilian race, doesn't value scientific advancement, and because of this, won't trade credits for your advanced technological knowledge. The Skylord of the Alkari Flock is aggressive by nature, and will declare war if you demonstrate too much good will toward the civilization's enemies. Master of Orion's diplomacy system isn't a separate entity from the rest of the game, but the foundation of many other mechanics. It excels in making you consider your diplomatic choices. It lends weight to hefty decisions elsewhere in your unfolding nation.
The presentation of these various alien races, and the emotions motivating them, drives home a personal touch in a game that otherwise focuses on sociological management and technological progress. The voice acting grounds the alien leaders and makes them feel like real characters. After several full playthroughs, I know to never trust the silver tongued Darlok. I know to be on the defensive around the Terran. I know the Bulrathi are valuable allies in a tight spot. Master of Orion succeeds in depicting intergalactic events in a smaller, more intimate context, and it lends compelling reasons to steer your civilization one way or another.
And that's the thing about Master of Orion: there are plenty of weighty decisions, risky maneuvers, and impactful events to consider. But they often take place in repetitive playthroughs in galaxies that don't always differentiate themselves from the next. Master of Orion shows signs of brilliance, but it's bogged down by boredom, and sometimes, the allure of the stars wanes too much to beckon us onward.
Your enjoyment of Alone With You depends largely on how much you value narration. As a homage to classic 80s-style Sierra adventure games, this is first and foremost a piece of interactive storytelling. It bears thematic similarities to a lot of other science fiction stories, but the personal nature of the story gives Alone With You a somber yet relatable presence .
The basic premise of Alone With You is this: the lone survivor of a disastrous terraforming operation is trying to repair an escape pod before the planet in question explodes. This survivor, who wears their space suit through the whole game, is never really identified. You give them a name at the start, but never see any of their defining characteristics. This enables you to easily project your own identity preferences on the character. It’s a clever move in a game largely about conversation and developing deep relationships with others.
Alone With You is billed as a “sci-fi romance adventure,” which sums it up nicely. At the start, your only companion is an AI that's desperate to find a means of escape before it’s too late. A rift has formed within the structure of the planet, possibly caused (or at least exacerbated by) the mining and terraforming operations. Acid rain and earthquakes pummel the landscape amidst huge storms, causing immense damage to the various facilities on the surface.
Since time is short and you’re just one human with indeterminate skillsets, the AI does something rather radical to get the expertise necessary to repair the one remaining space ship: it creates four holographic AI representations of technicians from the former colony. These four represent the skills needed to repair the fuel, engines, food, and communications systems. More than that, however, they also provide your only link--however artificial--with humanity.
These four technicians might be simulations, but they’re seemingly conscious and human in their behavior. Since they were generated based on monitoring records, their memories only extend to the moment right before the rift occurred, stifling all outside communications. With believable emotions, your holographic comrades suffer from self-doubt regarding the nature of their being.
Alone With You isn’t a personality simulation or AI experiment, though. It’s a fairly linear interactive novella. The game moves in days, and each day you can visit one location. Each location is associated with one of the four holographic crew members. Conversations are often one-sided, as you listen to characters talk about their work, their lives, and their relationships. At certain times, you’ll be prompted to select one of few responses, which convey positivity, negativity, or ambivalence.
The rest of the game revolves around exploration, item hunts, and puzzles. Each location contains logs, journals, and even stories to discover that add depth to the characters and your dire situation. You’ll have to find specific items necessary to repair the ship, ranging from crystalline fuel and ship parts to viable sources of food. It's a simple task unfortunately made time-consuming due to how difficult it can be to spot key items in environments filled with potential objects of interest.
The characters, including the base’s AI, are all fully realized individuals that lend surprising emotions to the simple interactive experience.
In a particularly old school nod, I found myself having to pay far more attention to all those notes and logs to solve puzzles. None of the puzzles in the game are overly challenging, but there’s no quest log and you never find a handy list of texts. As a result,I frequently had to take notes to remember clues, names, and numbers needed to figure out passwords and door codes.
Of the artificial men and women you interact with, you can bond with whomever you wish, leading to once-a-week private rendezvous with subtle romantic undertones. These dialogue sequences add depth to the characters and overall story, and do a great job of it. The holograms’ main goal is getting you off the planet alive, and while their self-confidence wavers, they never veer from that objective. Alone With You is remarkably well-written, even when it delves into dangerously melodramatic waters. The characters, including the base’s AI, are all fully realized individuals that lend surprising emotions to the simple interactive experience.
There are a couple other distinct aspects to Alone With You. The retro, heavily pixelated artwork is strangely atmospheric despite the lack of fine detail. There’s a lot of grim imagery and the overall tragic tone feels a bit more bearable without graphic depictions of death and destruction.
This is a game that warrants repeated playthroughs to see both endings and experience other relationship choices. Alone With You bears some heavy thematic overlap with recent games like SOMA, Everyone’s Gone to Rapture, and other story-centric releases that focus on the nature of what makes you human, the importance of relationships and contact, and mortality. It’s different enough to feel new despite its retro roots, delivering impactful scenes that shine thanks to a stellar script that brings its few, but emotionally charged, characters to life.
It's been a while since we last heard from Q Games about its title The Tomorrow Children. The game has players pool their efforts to rebuild a city in an alternate version of '60s-era Russia following a weird disaster. A new trailer shows off the PS4 game and also features studio founder Dylan Cuthbert sharing his love for Japan.
Cooperation is critical in the game, and players are grouped together to rebuild a new city. Q Games wants players to feel as though they're part of a community, and that their actions are contributing to larger goals. Take a look at the clip below to learn more.
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The Tomorrow Children is set for a Sept. 6 release. For more on the game, take a look at our hands-on impressions back from when it was first announced. We also spoke with Cuthbert a while ago on the Game Informer Show, where he talked about The Tomorrow Children and his experiences working with Nintendo back in the '90s – including on the Star Fox series.
Players who were looking forward to a completely open-world experience in the upcoming Final Fantasy XV should recalibrate their expectations. In an interview with Famitsu, the game's director says that the open-world structure is present for about half of the game, but that it becomes more focused and linear as it goes.
Director Hajimi Tabata told Famitsu – in an interview that was translated by Siliconera – that the game was structured that way so that players wouldn't get bored "as the rest of the game tightens." He went on to say that players who focus on the critical path can expect to spend between 40-50 hours with the game.
Tabata was hesitant to characterize the game as being open world when we spoke to him during our earlier cover story. “From the start of development, we set out to not make something that was free-roaming, open-world," he told us.
Dontnod's upcoming game Vampyr transports players to London during a 1918 outbreak of the Spanish flu. To further complicate the situation, your character, Dr. Jonathan Reid, has to wrestle with the infection and its effects on the city as a whole while also coming to terms with something far more personal. He's a newly converted vampire, and how he balances his duties as a surgeon and his newfound blood lust is largely up to the player. The studio has released a 15-minute walkthrough of the game's early moments, which show off a bit of the game's combat, exploration, and overall gameplay flow.
The demo is quite similar to what was shown at E3 and Gamescom, but it's still a great slice of gameplay. Keep in mind that the footage is pre-alpha, so what you see may not be completely representative of the final game when it comes out next year. Still, you'll be able to see how Reid uses his powers of perception to search for potential victims and stays alive while being hunted by people who are doing their best to eliminate the vampiric scourge. Spoiler: Their best isn't quite good enough.
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Vampyr is set to release on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
You don't have to wait until September 20 to get your hoop on in NBA 2K17. Today 2K Sports announced a demo releasing September 9 that allows you to play through the college portion of MyCareer.
After going through the new player customization process (which works in concert with a mobile face-scanning app) that this year forces you to choose between different playing styles, you start your top prospect's career right before national signing day. It's your choice which of the 10 college he plays for (Kansas, Louisville, UCONN, Georgia, Arizona, Michigan State, Illinois, Wake Forest, Georgetown, Oklahoma, and Georgia Tech are all in the game). From there, you play through the key moments in his first college season, from Midnight Mania to the national championship. How you perform under the bright light determines your draft stock.
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The Prelude also includes the new basketball tutorial 2KU, which is narrated this year by Team USA/Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. The demo is available on both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
The gruesome, sometimes disturbing anime and manga series Attack on Titan has gained worldwide popularity since the comic's launch in 2009. There have been only a handful of video game adaptations, with varying success--the last one, Spike Chunsoft's Humanity in Chains which released in 2014, was an action game with an uninspired layout, a half-baked rehash of the main storyline with simple, dull gameplay. Koei Tecmo's take, on the other hand, does a bit more with the Attack on Titan property; it grafts the series' elements onto the musou genre, in which core gameplay is a series of isolated maps that must be cleared of enemies. But although Attack on Titan painfully lacks combat variety and includes a host of technical disappointments, its use of Attack on Titan's strange world makes it a unique, and sometimes genuinely exhilarating, experience.
Attack on Titan recounts the events of the anime and then some--the story slips past the show's season one finale, telling tales from the ongoing manga series and foreshadowing the show's upcoming second season. Each chapter is broken up into a handful of missions that set you down on a map with specific objectives. These range from simply hacking titans to bits, protecting a specific structure on the map, or escorting soldiers from point A to point B. This is as complicated as things get. The latter half of the game, which includes narrative content past the show's first season, is unfortunately padded out; to add some length to the campaign, you are forced to complete dozens of small, formerly-optional side missions before you can advance the story. These are just as monotonous as the main missions, and after a while the campaign begins to feel like a parade of chores.
You spend most of the game slinging through towns and forests like Spider-Man using Omni-Directional Mobility Gear, special machinery used to move through the air and scale heights quickly in order to attack titans. Attacking titans requires you lock onto one of the giant's limbs and use your ODM Gear to gain speed as you fly towards it--the faster you're moving, the greater the damage you'll do, and hopefully slice off its meaty leg or arm with one stroke. If you can get a titan down on the ground, or you've propelled yourself high enough, you can kill the monster for good by aiming for the nape of its neck. It takes some getting used to, and there is some nuance in learning when to deploy your anchors and when to use gas canisters to propel yourself forward or up.
I had a good time with Attack on Titan's traversal system. It feels so good to sling between buildings, nailing titans in the nape of their neck for the one-shot kill as you fly from objective to objective. I felt powerful and free, like I was actually living in the Attack on Titan universe. The ODM gear is such a hallmark of the show, and having it done justice in the form of a gameplay mechanic was thrilling to experience.
There are some other things you can do when fighting titans, like drop fire or smoke bombs, but you'll spend almost all of your time in battle targeting and slinging towards titan limbs. There is a severe lack of variety in mission structure as well, and if you've played a musou game the drill will be familiar: defend certain points on a map, escort AI allies to other points on the map, and kill as many enemies as you can before they overwhelm your own forces. Once you've completed all of a map's required objectives, one final "boss" titan will appear for you to take down. This boss titan doesn't feel any different from the smaller monstrosities you encounter and it's an easy kill. Even the different types of titans--big, small, beastly, and armored--can all be taken down in the same way with little strategy. Even on harder difficulty levels, Attack on Titan presents rather simple challenges, making for rote gameplay through the latter half of the campaign.
This mission layout is the same for the multiplayer Expedition Mode, where you can team up with three other players to take on optional challenge missions. But there is no incentive to team up and take down a titan; you can simply zip to opposite sides of the map and route the enemy more quickly, with little fanfare or reward should you decide to work cooperatively. Multiplayer mode is just as cut and dry as single player mode, except now you have two other non-AI characters running around the battlefield.
Cutscenes are heavily pared down and aren't as dramatic as the show, but the visuals themselves are impressive, like cells taken straight from the anime. This includes the horrifying titans, which look like someone took the heads of full-grown men and attacked them to oversized chubby baby bodies or alternatingly emaciated and bloated corpses with long, flailing limbs. And even more disturbingly, their sexless bodies are entirely naked; more than once I found myself hurtling towards the ground with a giant butt directly in front of my face, or trapped beneath the quivering belly of a downed titan. Most of the time the framerate held up, but when the screen started to fill up with titans, things became muddy. The action slowed down and the lag prevented me from landing hits. In one horrible instance, my character got stuck between the rear-ends of two titans, one of which had clipped into the geometry of a nearby building and was stuck there. Unable to land an anchor on any part of either one, I managed to frantically jettison my way out after a few awkward seconds.
Attack on Titan also includes an over-simplified equipment upgrade and modification system that makes your blades slightly more powerful or grants you longer aerial time--or lets you buy a better horse for open field missions. Upgrading your gas canisters for better aerial control and your blades for toughness does make you feel more powerful, but I completed long stretches of the campaign without upgrading anything, and found missions several chapters apart didn't vary terribly in difficulty. Thus, I never felt compelled to spend time buying materials and upgrading my gear. After a certain point you are able to choose your own character, and playing as the the powerful Levi, quick-footed Mikasa, or as Eren in his Titan form is fun in its own right for fans of the series.
Facing the titans, too--no matter how derpy some of them look--also provides some grotesque thrills. It's one thing to watch them chomp people in half in the anime. It's another to find yourself face to face with these grinning menaces, fighting to slip from their grip and slicing their legs from underneath them like so many haunches of meat. I actually felt like Mikasa or Levi. Attack on Titan gets you up close and personal with the terrifying beings that make Attack on Titan so great, which is reason enough to give the game a shot.
Attack on Titan may be systematically simple and has some visual issues, but I still had fun playing within its world. Well-trod musou layout aside, battling titans and swinging through the skies with futuristic military gear can be an enjoyable experience--if you can look past its glaring flaws. It's not a work of art, that's for sure, but the freedom of flight and the thrill of unease that comes with fighting a titan make it entertaining.
With such a large cast of eccentric characters and fighting styles, it's no wonder the cult favorite manga and anime series Jojo's Bizarre Adventure has repeatedly gotten the fighting game treatment over the years. The series' latest adaptation, Jojo's Bizarre Adventure: Eyes of Heaven, keeps the trend alive. But rather than retain the Street Fighter-esque fighting system from its predecessors, it goes for accessible team-driven combat in 3D free-roaming environments. While its new fighting system may throw off players of past Jojo games, Eyes of Heaven remains an entertaining platform for hardcore fans to engage with the series, as well as reenact or reimagine the greatest battles it has to offer.
Unlike past Jojo games, Eyes of Heaven utilizes a fighting system akin to the Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm series, putting its focus on easy-to-perform combos above highly technical play. However, Eyes of Heaven takes its own liberties with the established formula, emphasizing two-on-two matches where you and an AI-controlled teammate duke it out against an opposing team in a frenzied brawl.
Special moves are now performed with simple button combinations subtly displayed on-screen; removing the need to memorize or understand complicated inputs. There's also the addition of a combo breaker move that can stop an opponent mid-combo and launch them away, giving you time to breathe during a challenging match. These mechanical changes make combat straightforward and accessible, creating an experience that's far easier to pickup and play compared to the more complex and abstract fighting systems of previous Jojo games.
However, this doesn't mean that the fighting system is overtly simplistic; its intricacies are far more measured and understated. Each of the game's 53 characters has their own unique moveset packed with special moves that often yield a distinct execution property or effect. For instance, one character has a knockback at the end of his punching flurry attack, while another can inflict a bleeding status effect on an enemy when he hits them with his projectile move, causing their health to slowly drain over time. When used methodically, these attack properties can be strung together to create a multitude of powerful combos and setups. Despite the fact that advanced moves are easier to pull off than before, wielding them effectively requires a fair amount of practice. It's just unfortunate that there's no training mode available to better hone your skills towards executing these moves.
Battles in Eyes of Heaven are hectic and satisfying, keeping you constantly engaged as you perform one damaging flurry of attacks after another. And as you get a knack for the pace and flow of combat, your string of successes are rewarded by special achievements when you reenact moments or character behaviors from the series. These inside joke-infused achievements earn you bonus points that increase your overall ranking at the end of a fight. This adds a layers of enjoyment to your growing competency of the mechanics, aligning you further into the role of your respective character through association and context.
Once you've grown confident in your fighting abilities, you can take on Eyes of Heaven's story mode. Thankfully, it doesn't repeat the mistake of its predecessor--All Star Battle--by attempting to haphazardly retell the 30-plus year ongoing saga of the Jojo series with limited characters and assets. Instead, it tells an original crossover story that throws its multi-generational cast of protagonists into a conflict against a mysterious foe known as the "Noble One." (Be wary: if you haven't watched or read far into the series, there are major spoilers of key plot points for later arcs.) While the addition of a fully-fledged story mode with an original narrative is an inviting notion for longtime fans, its execution is tedious and lacks pacing. The story comes across more as mediocre fanfiction, displaying none of the over-the-top and dramatic qualities that makes Jojo's arcs so captivating.
The problem with story mode lies in its repetition; you're thrown into a predictable cycle throughout the 20-hour campaign, slogging through a multitude of repeated battle encounters under the same premise. The premise is as follows: your group of characters meets brainwashed versions of a couple of their old allies; you reluctantly fight them and once they're down, you cure them of their affliction and they join your team. This repeats until you obtain all 34 protagonists of the story mode's character roster. There are encounters that attempt to add variety to the monotony you're thrown into, such as fighting against waves of zombie vampires or playing a poker mini-game. But these moments are fleeting and do little to improve the tedium, as the story instantly turns around and repeats on the same old tired premise to push its plot forward. As an unfortunate result, the constant repetition also ends up detracting from the enjoyment of combat, rendering it a middling affair due to the dull framing of the narrative.
In the face of such a mundane story mode, it helps that Eyes of Heaven's visual presentation is so vibrant and endearing. Characters are faithfully rendered with an attention to detail that expertly captures the dynamic art of series creator Hirohiko Araki. A large number of the character models and animations have been recycled from All Star Battle, but they hold up well here, retaining a sharp aesthetic appeal thanks to a slight boost in detail and graphical fidelity. Each character is also brought to life with a pitch perfect cast of Japanese voice actors, whose performances elevate the plethora of fanservice moments they're thrown into. Eyes of Heaven contains far more banter between matches than All Star Battle, and it's an absolute joy to hear some of the series' most beloved characters speaking to one another with full authentic voice acting. From hearing a young Jotaro instruct his future daughter how to find the best punching angle, to hearing Dio acknowledge the fighting prowess of a certain italian-born fighter; moments like these heighten the excitement and add weight to the battles that ensue.
Aside from Story Mode and Free Battle--a mode that allows you to partake in one-off matches against the CPU--Eyes of Heaven also offers you the ability to play against others online. However, the netcode is incredibly unstable, featuring heavy input lag and erratic frame-rate. It's unfortunate that there's no local multiplayer options to compensate for the near-broken online mode, as the rare moments where competitive play did work amidst the lag proved to be energetic and tense.
Eyes of Heaven's issues hold it back from being as refined as other fighters, but I kept finding myself coming back to play more long after completing its story mode. The ability to play as such a large number of the series' most iconic characters, chaining their famous attack techniques into destructive combos, is a powerful and mesmerizing experience that serves as a fulfilling recompense that eases the frustrations elsewhere. And with a slew of single-player bonus fights, and countless character costumes and poses to unlock, there's a wealth of content available to maintain an ongoing sense of satisfaction. When Eyes of Heaven allows itself to simply deliver on the quality of its fan-serving premise and accessible combat, the game shines even during its lowest moments; and for the most dedicated lot of fans, this can be more than enough to absolve its biggest flaws.
Those unfamiliar with Jojo are likely to be bewildered playing Eyes of Heaven; the game pulls no punches in declaring its priorities with its thick layer of fanservice, pleasing only those who've read far into the series' three decade long run. It's an unfortunate misgiving to newcomers, but for fans, it's unequivocal bliss. Eyes of Heaven's foibles can be inexcusable to many, but it remains an entertaining, accessible fighter that fans shouldn't hesitate to try: "Do you understand?"
Rebellion Developments, creators of the Sniper Elite series, have released a new trailer for Battlezone, a launch title for the PlayStation VR.
Battlezone was originally a first-person tank game released by Atari for arcades in 1980. Rebellion looks to take a lot of inspiration from that original title, replicating its first-person perspective and sharp, angular aesthetic.
You can watch the new trailer, which outlines some of the features of the new title, below. Battlezone is expected to release for PlayStation 4 and PC on October 13.
World of Final Fantasy is an adorable take on the franchise that gives players a chance to interact with classic characters and monsters. More familiar faces have been revealed, including Boko, Terra, Bartz, and Gilgamesh.
The upcoming spinoff includes a number of legendary monsters (called mirages), including Mega Mirage Bahamut and Bismarck. Players will travel to a number of Final Fantasy worlds, encountering characters like Quacho Queen and miscreants like Final Fantasy VI’s Ultros.
World of Final Fantasy will be out on October 25 for PlayStation 4 and Vita. You can read more about it in our previouscoverage.