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  • Game Informer News Feed: Adventure Academy Is An Educational MMO Teachers And Students Will Love

    Developer: Age of Learning
    Platform: PC, iOS, Android

    As an elementary school student, I loved computer class for the video games our teachers worked into the curriculum. One game taught me typing skills. While we played, our teacher covered up our keyboards with orange, plastic slips that shrouded the keys, but when she wasn’t looking, I would lift the slip to peek underneath, giving me an edge over the other students on the leaderboard. Playing these games, and the competition that spawned from them, gripped me much more than sitting in a classroom, listening to a teacher drone about math and geography.

    Adventure Academy takes these types of learning games and presents them within the context of an MMO. You still practice your typing skills, read in-game books, expand your vocabulary, and solve basic math problems, but you experience all this within the context of an MMO developed by Age of Learning, the team behind ABCmouse. We spent some time with the game’s beta learning about Beowulf and Joan of Arc while exploring a charming 3D campus.

    Each wing features an exhibit for players to interact with. In the library, students can read about the printing press and learn about Joan of Arc.

    Character creators are part and parcel of many games today, but its inclusion in an educational game might feel novel to a third grader. After sculpting a Lara Croft-inspired character with brown pants and a long braid, the game dropped me into the titular academy. You’re encouraged to explore the campus, featuring wings for each major discipline: science, literature, history, and math. One thing kids will appreciate in Adventure Academy is that it allows them to focus on activities they enjoy. Don’t like math? You can read full-length books like Titanicat. Does history bore you? There’s a library of videos you can watch to learn science.

    You participate in these activities by interacting with kiosks in each wing of the academy, and they take the form of simple flash games. I tried a number of games myself – they’re mechanically simple, and they don’t look as flashy as the game’s 3D world, but each one plays differently, which is another great way the game caters to different players. Some will like the drag-and-drop matching games while others enjoy Jeopardy-style vocabulary activities.

    Most of the exploration-based quests we tried took the form of easy fetch quests, like this one that tasked us with planting trees in the garden.

    A teacher oversees each area, and they issue you a variety of quests to explore on campus. Some take the form of fetch quests, like finding the missing finger bone of the T-Rex on display in the history wing or planting trees in a hidden mulch bed. One interesting quest asks players to locate pages of lore detailing the academy’s history, which are scattered around the building. While these quests were the type of mission I don’t like to see in MMOs, I think their inclusion might excite kids the most. Other players mill about completing quests, and there’s an in-game chat feature that third-grade-Hunter would have loved to use in a classroom. My best friend Jimmy’s assigned seat is across the classroom? Ha! I’ll just message him on Adventure Academy!

    I expect the game to be some players’ first exposure to video game progression systems. You earn experience for completing each activity, and new quests open when you level up, as well as entirely new areas for kids to explore. New wardrobe options, like butterfly wings, backpacks, academy-branded sweaters, and infinity scarves, unlock at higher levels, which are incentives for kids to complete the game’s more educational activities at the kiosks. I was thrilled to see I could unlock a sword for my Lara Croft-themed avatar, and I know with certainty that, in elementary school, I would have obsessed over earning new cosmetic items long after class time.

    Cosmetic items get more unique at higher levels. We saw top hats, cowboy hats, and every type of backpack in the marketplace.

    While the bevy of unlockable cosmetics will stir competition within classrooms, I’m surprised Adventure Academy doesn’t include leaderboards for its skill-based games. The ability to rise through the ranks of your peers is a feature that lends itself naturally to a game that’s otherwise pretty social. Another head-scratcher is the decision to make the game download while kids play; traveling to new wings or hub spaces for the first-time requires long load times. These moments weren’t unbearable, but I imagine they could be for a teacher with a class of twenty students who just want to play the game. I’m curious to see if players can download the game entirely at launch instead of having to confront these first-time loading screens.

    Gripes aside, I think Adventure Academy has the potential to be a great educational tool for classrooms or a fun kid-friendly MMO that parents could introduce to their children. There’s course material for every type of student – from the bookworm to the kid who just wants to earn a bunch of experience watching science videos. Adventure Academy launches on May 1 for PC and on Android and iOS devices. You can purchase a monthly subscription for $9.99 or an annual subscription that comes out to less than $5 per month when you pay up front.


    Many of our editors at Game Informer are parents themselves. Read Javy’s column on what it’s like to be a gaming parent in a gaming world, or Matt Miller’s column on great tabletop games to play with your kids

  • Game Informer News Feed: Mad Mad World
    Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
    Developer: SIE Bend Studio
    Release:
    Rating: Rating Pending
    Platform: PlayStation 4

    With Days Gone only days away from release, there are still a lot of questions about how the world functions. The open-world zombie game is meant to be freely traversed on a bike, but there's always danger around every corner, and behind every tree.

    The newest Days Gone video is meant to convey that world and how it was created straight from the developers.

    Click here to watch embedded media

    You get a good look at all the various things that will kill you, including the various types of Freakers out there, but also humans who worship the Freakers and try to act like them. The video also explains how something as simple as the current weather might make or break your entire escape strategy, so having contingency plans will be important for Deacon St. John.

    Days Gone releases on PlayStation 4 on April 26.

  • Game Informer News Feed: One Piece: World Seeker's First DLC Makes Zoro Playable

    Click here to watch embedded media

    Publisher: Bandai Namco
    Developer: Ganbarion
    Release:
    Rating: Rating Pending
    Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

    Bandai Namco announced ambiguous DLC and free update plans for One Piece: World Seeker late last month, but today it has provided some more concrete details for the first piece of paid DLC.

    The Void Mirror Prototype will make Zoro a playable character and you will be able to, "engage in intense battles using his Santoryu battle style as he works to uncover the secrets behind a mysterious robotics factory." It will be available early summer and is part of the game's season pass, but can also be purchased standalone for $9.99.

    For our review of One Piece: World Seeker, head here.

  • Gamespot News Feed: Katana Zero Review - Slow-Motion Samurai

    The neon-soaked hallways and dirty streets of Katana Zero do a great job of sucking you into its broken world. Gangsters operate unhindered as society is still reeling from a devastating war, one whose loss has littered the streets with homeless war veterans and bars with resentful and drunken citizens looking for a fight. You are that fight--a ruthless sword-wielding assassin with the ability to slow down time--and Katana Zero gives you delicately designed scenarios to slice and dice your way through. Its abrupt ending is an unwelcome surprise, but the riveting action is complemented by an intelligently presented narrative with a variety of captivating themes that is difficult to pull away from.

    Katana Zero puts you in the shoes of a nameless assassin haunted by the fractured misdeeds from the past war. This war forms the backbone of Katana Zero's central mystery, which does take time to unravel. What starts out as straightforward assassination missions ordered by a shadowy organization slowly unfurls to encapsulate themes of post-traumatic stress, war crimes, and government killings. This plays out across multiple acts, comprised of small side-scrolling stages containing violent and thoughtful combat throughout.

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    Genetic experimentation and drug use are central to both Katana Zero's story and gameplay. Thanks to a steady supply of a blue serum, you're able to augment your simple sword slashes with the ability to slow down time. This lets you pull off some incredibly stylish maneuvers and experiment with a malleable dynamic to the otherwise straight-forward combat. Slow-motion rolls can be combined with precise movement to quickly close distances, and your sword is not just for close-quarter slashing--it can be used to perfectly time a bullet deflection back to its sender. When combined with stage-specific items that can be used as long-range projectiles and security systems that can be transformed from a deterrent into an environmental weapon, Katana Zero doesn't struggle to keep its combat exciting.

    It helps that each stage is thoughtfully compact given how dangerously fragile you are. A single hit will send you back to the beginning of a stage, with fast respawns making the transition almost instant. This not only avoids the sting of detrimental progress loss, but also gets you back into the engrossing action quickly. There are a few stages that feel excessively long and end up being frustrating, but they're thankfully few and far between.

    The variety of enemies keeps each encounter from feeling repetitive, gently introducing more dangerous foes that will force you to change up your comforting strategies. Enemies with shields will push you away before swiftly firing at you on the ground, while knife-wielding gangsters can stagger you and delay your attacks for a brief (but deadly) moment. The ways levels combine these different enemies turns each of them into clever combat puzzles, where your twitchy instincts need to be supplemented by thoughtful planning and careful consideration of who to target first.

    Katana Zero doesn't shy away from telling its story through scenes of unsettling torture and vivid violence, yet it successfully contrasts this with delicately quiet character moments and some heartfelt relationships that help ground a protagonist that would otherwise be impossible to empathize with. It works incredibly well thanks to a creative approach to character conversations, which are often just as important as your violent exploits outside of them. Instead of just being given choices for responses, conversations allow you to interrupt characters to alter both the tone and direction of the scene. Characters react intelligently to your manners during an exchange, expressing disgust at your audacity to cut them off or surprise at your unexpected courtesy.

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    Depending on how you respond, certain small narrative changes can take place too. In one instance I found myself pretending to love anime to convince a hotel receptionist to let me pass, which later helped me avoid the police as she corroborated my alibi. The same conversation played out differently the second time, as my short temper with the same receptionist led her to turn on me when getting questioned about my blood-soaked clothing. Small diversions like this don't have an impact on the trajectory of the main story, and there are a handful of scenarios where you'll be forced into a specific response in order to progress. But Katana Zero mostly handles your branching conversational decisions with grace, eloquently incorporating them into small but inconsequential changes to its excellently written dialogue.

    Each character moment lands thanks to the sublime pixel artwork. There's an immense amount of detail packed into each sprite, bringing the colorful yet distressing world around you to life with its sheer variety. Character sprites are the most impressive, featuring delicate animation that lends a lot of emotion to each conversation and story beat. These extend to the thoughtful effects applied to simple dialogue bubbles, which use a combination of flashing colors, moving parts, and aggressive screen shake to allow important interactions to hit hard. Katana Zero doesn't just use its retro-inspired style to pull on nostalgic strings. It elevates the style entirely with a sense of depth and detail that is difficult not to appreciate.

    Katana Zero doesn't shy away from telling its story through scenes of unsettling torture and vivid violence, yet it successfully contrasts this with delicately quiet character moments and some heartfelt relationships.

    The real pity is that despite its slick presentation and enthralling dialogue, Katana Zero's story just doesn't wrap up in a satisfying way. It starts introducing its central themes about halfway through and only increases in momentum from there, seemingly building to an enticing climax. But it swerves unexpectedly at the end to reveal that this entry is only the first chapter in a larger tale. After four or so hours you're left with a number of unhandled narrative threads and an unsatisfying conclusion, which dampens the exciting momentum that was building up. It's a deflating and abrupt end to the proceedings, with no promise of more to come in the future.

    The uncertain future of the story that Katana Zero so brilliantly sets up is concerning, but that shouldn't deter you from diving into this compelling introductory chapter. Its combat provides an exciting challenge that tests both strategy and reflex, while also giving you clever abilities to make it as stylish as possible. The narrative contextualization of both your abilities and role within Katana Zero's world is expertly written, with a clever dialogue system letting you inject personality into character interactions. Katana Zero is bloody and brutal, but it's also a heartfelt tale that you shouldn't overlook lightly.

  • Gamespot News Feed: Falcon Age Review - High Flying

    Having an animal retrieve something at your command is one of the great joys of being a pet owner. It's difficult to put into words. My girlfriend's daschund hardly listens and doesn't know any tricks, but when you ask him to fetch his plum-sized orange ball, he finds it, wherever it is, and brings it to your feet, tail wagging delightedly. Falcon Age, a first-person action-adventure game for PlayStation VR, understands the special fellowship that exists between a person and their pet, and it expresses beautifully the trust and affection that caring for an animal can make you feel. Besides robust combat and fine crafting, it captures that simple, precious thrill of playing fetch--and captures it so well that, after a few hours in the company of this bird, you may feel you've adopted a new pet.

    Falcon Age places in your charge a baby falcon whose mother is killed protecting it, and over the course of a roughly four-hour campaign you feed it, train it, nurture it, lead it into battle, and otherwise act as its full-time caretaker. This can be done conventionally, on a television and with a DualShock 4, or in virtual reality, with a PSVR headset and a pair of Move controllers (or in VR with a DualShock, if you so prefer). Falcon Age was designed expressly to be played in virtual reality, though, so the traditional, non-VR gameplay feels like something of an afterthought. It's adequate in two dimensions with familiar first-person controls, but the game's best qualities are appreciable only with the headset on and the Move controllers in your hands. If you want to really bond with your bird, you need to be able to reach out and touch it.

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    You play as Ara, one of the few humans left on a planet ravaged by robot colonizers. As the game opens, Ara is imprisoned, forced to follow a monotonous daily loop of "reeducation" in the form of morning quizzes and hard labor mining ore by pickaxe outside. Soon enough, she escapes, and the story follows her efforts to adopt the ancient traditions of her near-extinct people while fighting alongside the scrappy resistance that aims to take the planet back from its unwelcome invaders. Interestingly, the story begins near what seems to be the end of the colonization; the planet has already been exhaustively ransacked for resources, and as we arrive it looks long-since despoiled. The air of late-stage devastation--evident in every bleak vista and arid valley--makes fresh a premise that might otherwise feel too familiar.

    It also makes clear the game's politics, which are as central to Falcon Age as the bird is. The background of the story--a sprawling, rapacious colonial superpower ransacks a planet of its valuables, strong-arming the natives into wildly unjust obedience--is obviously meant to suggest certain real-world analogues, and it's hard not to keep the historical parallels in mind when hearing this tale from the perspective of the oppressed. Even the falcon is poignant here; you're told early on that falconry is part of the traditions of the native population, rapidly disappearing under tyrannical rule. It's a simple parable, but it's relevant, and it lends the game a seriousness that belies the impression of a game about an adorable bird.

    As you and your falcon make your way through the desolate landscape, attacking robot outposts and learning to practice farming on the recaptured soil, you discover encampments, encounter other survivors, and, in keeping with the demands of an adventure game, meet merchants with things for you to buy and people with errands for you to complete. The world itself feels well-realized and intriguingly stark, as you chart vast plains of barren rock depleted of verdure and pitted with fixtures of sleek, ominous steel. The conversations you have with its inhabitants, on the other hand, tend jarringly slangy and sarcastic, with dialogue that clangs as oddly careless. Your hero, in particular, often talks like an angsty teenager, with options to sass in practically every exchange with other people. The snarky one-liners struck me as totally inappropriate to the setting.

    Communication with your feathered friend is, thankfully, much more natural--perhaps because it's entirely unspoken. For your troubles, it's at your command. The mechanics are simple, modeled on the basic techniques of falconry. Your bird's default state is airborne, circling the sky above you. Bringing a fist to your lips calls it to you, and raising a hand invites it to land on your wrist. While perched, it can be fed, stroked, played with, or tended to if wounded--more on that later. The Move controllers are very responsive to even subtle movements, and the bird AI is sharp enough that I almost never had trouble getting it to follow my commands or fly to me when needed. It feels like a natural extension of your own body in an elegant, smoothly integrated way.

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    You can dress your bird, equip it with items and armour, and direct it toward points of interest in the environment before you. Sometimes this takes the form of a kind of problem-solving, as in certain AI-companion puzzle games such as The Last Guardian. A drawbridge out of reach can be lowered for use if you direct your falcon to cut the string holding it aloft, for instance. Other times it's a matter of getting along as partners in the wild. Your falcon will hunt animals, pick fruit from trees, or collect bits of ore for you if so instructed; stronger creatures, such as big armoured beasts who burrow in the sand, you can tackle together, taking turns striking and jockeying for advantage. While you are bereft of beak or talons, you are equipped with an electric baton and whip, which isn't too shabby. You may have to whip plates of shell off the back of a lumbering animal to expose a weak point where your falcon can swoop in.

    It's at robot basecamps that the hunt becomes a full-blown battle--and it's here, too, where the surprising depth of the game's combat system reveals itself. The basic strategy involves tagging enemies and standing back while your animal does his thing, but in more challenging skirmishes you're obliged to be an active, nimble participant. Your falcon can pin certain enemies in place for you to attack their weaknesses; it also relies on you, in some cases, to attack first, and it's enormously satisfying to work out the right approach to a new situation. At their most complex, these are battles of wits and reflexes--a challenge that's gratifying rather than frustrating, thanks to precise, intuitive controls with the Move setup, especially with free roam on.

    Like deflecting a bullet with a knife in Superhot, looking down the sights of a sniper rifle in Killing Floor Incursion, or slashing a block in half in Beat Saber, interacting with your bird in Falcon Age has a tactile pleasure that is truly satisfying. The bird itself, meanwhile, looks great, behaves believably, and feels on the whole like a coherent, fully realized character; more than a sidekick or ally, you come to think of it as a companion, like a cat or dog at home. The highest compliment I can think to pay Falcon Age is that it evoked the same feeling I get caring for my real-life pets--including the real wince of bone-deep alarm I felt anytime my bird was at risk of injury. This is about much more than a cute animal. It's about a bond, and one Falcon Age nails.

  • Game Informer News Feed: Nintendo Releases New Trailer For Switch Version Of Mortal Kombat 11
    Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
    Developer: NetherRealm Studios
    Release:
    Rating: Rating Pending
    Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC

    Nintendo released a new trailer for Mortal Kombat 11 today, ahead of its release in just a week's time.

    The video shows off some never-before-seen story scenes, and it's also interesting that the backgrounds in fatal blows look noticeably different than they did in past entries.

    Watch the entire teaser below.

    Click here to watch embedded media

    Mortal Kombat 11 arrives on April 23 for Switch, PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

  • Gamespot News Feed: Pathway Review - Pulp Friction

    When you're struggling, Pathway sends you a dog to help out. It's that kind of game. You might have seen your squad massacred in the North African desert, but look! Here's a cute puppy called Donut. He's even got sharp teeth and the "Anti-Fascist" character trait that means he does +20% damage against Nazis. In moments like these, Pathway picks you back up and says maybe you can still complete the mission after all. Pathway is generous like that.

    Heavily indebted to the genre of mid-20th-century pulp adventure of which Indiana Jones is the obvious cultural touchstone, Pathway depicts a world where the Nazis are plundering ancient artifacts to harness their powers in occult experiments and so must obviously be stopped by an international band of mercenaries. It's a light, breezy, knock-about game of turn-based combat that understandably always wants you to succeed at killing Nazis, with or without a surprise canine companion. However, it lacks tactical depth and, while killing Nazis is a noble pursuit, its moral stance is less sure-footed when it steps into the territory of tired colonialist tropes.

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    The core of Pathway is in its XCOM-style combat. Every encounter is preceded by a planning phase in which you place each member of your squad onto the battlefield. Smart players can take advantage of this head start by positioning their squad to, say, rush an exposed enemy on the first turn. In an early sign of Pathway's charitable spirit, you get this planning phase even when your squad has been ambushed and, unlike in XCOM, you'll never see an enemy already in cover on the first turn of a fight.

    During combat, each squad member can typically perform separate two actions--move and shoot, heal and reload, or some combination thereof--and much of the time an encounter consists of outflanking an enemy to get off a shot at them around whatever cover they happen to be hiding behind. Characters can also perform special actions depending on the weapon they carry and, in some cases, the skills they possess. Pistols, for example, allow for a special double-shot action that can target two enemies, while characters require specific skills to use items like grenades or medkits in combat.

    And that's about as deep as it gets, unfortunately. Aside from minor variations in clip size and range, all the guns function in much the same fashion and can drop most enemies in one to two shots. As a result, a character with an assault rifle plays no differently to one with a shotgun. The only meaningfully different weapon is the knife, not merely the game's only melee weapon but the weapon with the highest damage potential. Since there's no "zone of control" or "attack of opportunity" mechanic (outside a special action reserved for sniper rifles), it's perfectly feasible to run right up to enemies, jump over their cover and attack from the adjacent square. In fact, it's often the most effective approach, no matter how silly it looks or tactically uninteresting it becomes.

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    Fights can still be challenging, even on the default normal difficulty. A way of evening the odds is to have the enemy greatly outnumber you. Unimaginative, sure, but it gets the job done. At other times, some enemies will have access to special abilities that you don't, while others can move further than your squad. These factors create situations where you're encouraged to think several turns in advance, coordinate attacks between your squad members, and time your limited special actions.

    But still, most of the time you're not really feeling that pressure. Most of the time you're just moving and shooting, moving and shooting, with the odd moving and knifing thrown in. Where the lack of depth is truly exposed is in the slim variety of actions on display, a failure that can be attributed to the derivative nature of each character's skill tree. Indeed, when leveling up characters don't earn new abilities, they merely improve existing ones; they'll boost that chance to for a critical hit, perhaps, or beef up their HP. True, you can unlock the ability for a character to use an additional weapon, so that they can now carry a shotgun as well as a pistol, but it's hard to get excited about that when, again, weapons don't function in any meaningfully different way.

    The lack of variety extends to the maps on which the battles take place. There is barely a handful of scenarios--Nazi camp, desert village, underground temple--and you're served up a seemingly randomly-generated version assembled from stock parts each time you enter combat. A benefit of this approach is that you never know exactly what you're going to get, but on the flip side, it means that none of the individual battlefields are ever memorable and they all end up blurring into one by the end of a campaign. That's not to say the arenas are poorly designed; they're serviceable and little more.

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    Linking one encounter to the next is a campaign structure that sees you plotting a pathway across a network of nodes. At each node, you hit a narrative event that could be anything from following some Nazis into a mysterious mineshaft to finding an oasis at which you can rest. Sometimes you might end up in a fight, sometimes you might find some treasure or a trader with whom you can buy and sell, and sometimes nothing happens at all. It's a bit like FTL, really, except instead of zipping across space you're driving a jeep across the Sahara.

    These narrative moments are fun and typically well-written. They often allow for choices that can lead to surprising results and occasionally let you utilize the skills of one of the squad characters you've opted to take on the journey. But they do a poor job of depicting the African people whose countries, from Morocco and Egypt and beyond, have been invaded by the Germans. The locals you meet are helpless simpletons, peaceful goat herders at best and, at worst, cowards hiding in ruined villages and collapsed caves until you wander by to hopefully rescue them. These poor people can't do anything until saved by a globetrotting band of wealthy adventurers.

    Further, throughout the entire game, you're collecting treasure, much of it ancient religious and cultural relics of the people you're ostensibly helping. Literally the only thing to do with this treasure is sell it to fund the purchase of more fuel for your jeep and ammunition for your guns. Retrieve an ancient inscribed vase from the altar room of a secret temple? That goes for $250 at the next trader stop. The suggested idea is you're keeping these precious relics out of Nazi hands, but surely there's a better option than looting them for yourself and then selling them back to the people you stole it from.

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    Pathway looks and sounds great, it nails the pulpy attitude it's aiming for, and, of course, it's always fun to shoot Nazis. But the more I played, the more the cracks started to show, the more samey it all became, and the more uncomfortable some aspects of its design made me feel. I still enjoyed much of my time with Pathway. There's a pleasure to be had in both its aesthetic choices and the frictionless grind of its structure, but I came away wanting more--more tactical meat in its combat and a more thoughtful approach to the way it chose to represent its world.

  • Game Informer News Feed: Surprise Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Direct Details Joker And 3.0 Update
    Publisher: Nintendo
    Developer: Sora, Ltd
    Release:
    Platform: Switch

    A Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Direct dropped today out of nowhere, showing off Joker and the Super Smash Bros 3.0 Update.

    Joker arrives tomorrow on April 17 and includes Persona 3/4/5 music and themes for the Mementos stage. In his basic form, Joker has a gun, a grappling hook, and uses his knife for most of his attacks. As he takes damage, however, Joker builds up the ability to summon Arsene, the Persona he summoned in Kamoshida's castle in Persona 5. Arsene either powers up or completely changes Joker's moves.

    Joker's Final Smash is the All Out Attack, which mimics Persona 5 completely. He also has the Shujin Academy uniform as his alternate costume. The pack of Joker, Mementos, and the 11 music tracks are part of the fighters pass, but can be bought for $5.99.

    You can watch the Smash Direct below.

    Click here to watch embedded media

    The Direct also detailed some new content for the 3.0 update like the Stage Builder, which has been in previous Smash Bros. games. The Stage Builder supports both a controller and the touchscreen. Players can add different layers to stages when creating them, as well. The update adds video editing, which can be shared in the game. The Smash World, the social service announced last November, also supports video sharing and level sharing.

    In addition, the 3.0 update includes new Mii costumes like Morgana, Persona 4's protagonist, Persona 3's protagonist, Tails, and Knuckles.

  • Gamespot News Feed: Heaven's Vault Review - Come Sail Away

    On the face of it, Heaven's Vault sounds like chaos: It's a planet-surfing science-fiction adventure game in which you play as an archaeologist who gets caught up in a doomsday prophecy. But it's a much calmer experience than you might expect--you play as Aliyah, an archaeologist employed by a university on Iox, the wealthiest, most opulent planet within her nebula, to track down Renba, a professor who has disappeared. Throughout the journey, you'll peel away at the complex and ambitious lore of the world and meet the interesting characters who inhabit it, but not without some slow sailing.

    You spend much of the game hunting for clues to determine not only Renba's fate, but also the nature of his research and the discoveries he was making in his travels. For most of the game, the exact details of Renba's mission are pleasantly unclear, and major theories the player concocts early on can be proven incorrect by later discoveries. To get to the bottom of things, you'll need to investigate various moons throughout the nebula, some settled, some abandoned. You'll also build and maintain friendships or trade alliances with folks who can provide you with assistance, collect artifacts and clues, and mess around with the game's neat translation mechanic.

    Throughout the game, Aliyah will encounter many passages written in "Ancient" script, which require translation to decipher. This will begin as guesswork, but as you progress you'll develop a better understanding of what different glyphs within longer words might represent. There's a two-tiered system in place for translating words: If you encounter an inscription of a full phrase, you can guess any of the words you're not certain of until you have a full, hopefully coherent sentence. If you find what Aliyah will describe as a part of a longer phrase, a list of potential words you've already translated or guessed will appear on the screen, and you must see if the part of text matches up with any of the words you already understand or have guessed at. These partial texts can confirm your definitions--if you've decided that a word means 'water' in a previous translation, for example, and it pops up again as part of a longer phrase, Aliyah might declare that she is either now confident in the translation of that word or believes it's wrong. After a while, you'll build up a much bigger vocabulary of translated words, making it easier to fill in the gaps.

    Across the game's somewhat excessive running time, I lost track of what the actual advantage of all this translation was to my progression, as correct translations tend to prompt conversation options rather than key clues for where to go next. But it's still an interesting and exciting mechanic, as so much of the pleasure of Heaven's Vault is about uncovering the lore of the world you're in and the characters who occupy it. You're dropped in largely unaware, and while the game builds an exhaustive timeline of events, stretching right back to ancient times, it's mostly on you to figure out the nuances of the occasionally abstract game world.

    Heaven's Vault opens near its own ending--the very first scene tells you where your adventure will end, which is a curious structural choice for a game that is so contingent on player choice. It's meant to indicate, perhaps, that your story is always going to end up the same way, although how you reach that ending will differ dramatically between players.

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    This seems to be a fair claim, too. During my playthrough, I compared notes with another player to make sure that our choices mattered, and we discovered that our paths diverged completely at several points. Heaven's Vault unfurls in substantially different ways depending on how you play it and which choices you make. You can miss entire characters and plotlines, or experience hugely different relationships with the game's small but well-developed cast of recurring figures. The writing is mostly strong throughout, with dialogue flowing naturally and feeling in line with decisions you've made, and the moment by moment plot of Heaven's Vault genuinely feels like the culmination of your choices. There are some strange issues with character development--at one point a character demanded I come to visit them so that they could tell me about a major discovery and let me in on "certain confidences," only for them to reveal nothing when I visited with them, and a major character stopped trading goods with me for reasons I don't fully understand, substantially slowing down my progress through the game.

    When you're bouncing easily between locations, making discoveries and having interesting chats with Aliyah's friends and co-workers--not to mention your robot companion, Six--Heaven's Vault is a pleasure. It's perhaps too easy to lose track of the spine of the plot, but in the first half especially, there's a constant influx of discoveries and revelations that give the game a propulsive hook. But the scope and ambition of Heaven's Vault get the better of it in the back half. It took me 22 hours to finish the game, and it felt like a lot of those last 12 hours was spent on busywork--particularly when it comes to the game's sailing mechanic.

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    In one of the lore's weirdest elements, traveling across the nebula necessitates that you "sail" the rivers between moons, steering your ship across literal bodies of water that act as pathways between locations. They only flow in one direction, so the only meaningful control you have comes when paths diverge in two directions and you must choose which way to turn. There's little to do out on the waters--you can steer left and right, fold your sails in to go slightly faster, stop to observe any interesting landmarks you pass, and check your map. Sailing isn't particularly exciting, yet it makes up a huge portion of Heaven's Vault.

    For the first half of the game, sailing feels like a mildly irritating distraction with moments of beauty, taking up a few minutes at a time. But in the back half, the sailing mechanics come perilously close to ruining the whole experience. The sites you need to visit in order to progress are marked on the map as large areas to explore, and while you can make the search areas smaller by finding more artifacts throughout the game, at some point you're almost definitely going to have to find it by scouring those areas yourself. The layout of the river can become infuriating at this point. When you're traveling to a moon you've been to before and miss a turn, you're given the option to rewind to a point just before the turn; however, when you're searching for an unknown site, no such option exists, and a wrong turn can mean a long, slow course correction as you follow the one-way rivers back to where you just were, potentially eating up to half an hour.

    The game has additional pacing issues throughout--Aliyah moves very slowly, and there was a section of the game where I found myself bouncing repeatedly between the game's two main locations, Elboreth and Iox, in the hopes of triggering new dialogue options between characters that would make the search for the next site easier. (Thankfully, you can skip the rigmarole of sailing to these two particular locations by asking Six to do it for you.)

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    Heaven's Vault can be a fiddly experience--although patches hit during the pre-launch period that cleaned up most major issues, I continued to encounter a lot of camera problems throughout, and at one point, a site that took half an hour of sailing to find failed to load when I reached it. When I eventually sailed back there, it ended up being the least interesting site in the game. While some of these places you're searching for are teeming with plot development, others can feel like a chore.

    There's plenty to be charmed by in Heaven's Vault. The art style is pleasant, and the orchestral soundtrack is often beautiful. The writing and lore can occasionally make the game feel like an adaptation of a book that doesn't exist, and it's hard not to get invested in learning more about the game's world. It's just a shame that there's so much tedium to get through as well, and that the experience doesn't always reach the greatness it occasionally shows itself to be capable of. Heaven's Vault excels in creating a well-constructed, branching narrative, but expect long sections of it to feel like a slog.

  • Game Informer News Feed: First Screens And Video For Judgment's New Actor For Hamura

    Judgment

    Publisher: SEGA
    Developer: SEGA
    Release: Summer
    Platform: PlayStation 4

    One interesting thing about video games is how much of a product is made up of different moving parts and gears that could, theoretically, be swapped out without everything else falling apart. In practice, a lot of things are a lot more interdependent than you'd like, but in the case of Sega's Yakuza semi-spinoff Judgment and the drug scandal with one of its actors, replacing the character was both doable and a seeming priority for the team. Just weeks after Judgment actor Pierre Taki has been arrested for cocaine use, Sega has already replaced the actor and we have the first look at the new Hamura.

    You can check out a short video of the character below with Judgment's English dub.

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    Here's also a few new screenshots of the actor replacing Taki as Hamura.

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    In English, this effectively makes zero difference, as the west has never had Pierre Taki as Hamura and the voice acting has not been changed. In Japan, however, Sega is likely eager to get the game back on sale as quickly as possible, so it seems that placing the new actor in is happening at a lightning pace.

    The western release of Judgment has reportedly not been affected at all by this change. The game still releases on June 21 on PlayStation 4 for digital pre-orders and June 25 for the physical release.

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