Untitled Goose Game--a game in which you play as a jerk goose who waddles through a small English town ruining everyone's day-- feels like a miniature version of Hitman, but with mischief instead of murder. Like those games, it's all about learning an environment inside-out and figuring out how to play various people and systems against each other to achieve your goals. You wander between four small, quaint locations and tick off objectives from your list by wreaking havoc on the people you encounter and generally being a nuisance. At first, you're annoying a man as he tends to his garden, turning on his sprinklers as he stands over them, stealing the keys to his gate, nicking his produce, and generally getting in his way. The game continues like this, as the goose's to-do list demands that it causes upset to most of the people it encounters. Working through the game means figuring out how each element interacts with everything else and how to corralling various people, who all react to the goose differently.
It's a comedy first and foremost. Figuring out how to complete each objective might be essential to your progress, but the real fun is in seeing how harried you can make everyone. When you need to make a man spit out his tea, steal his shoes, and ruin his garden, you might start to feel sorry for him, but you also won't want to stop terrorizing him. The goose can only run, grab onto things, honk, and flap its wings, but through some combination of these actions you can manipulate the folks you encounter and cause chaos. One character might run in fear if you honk at them; another might bend over if you drop something for them, giving you a chance to steal their hat; another might leave their post if you steal something of theirs and drop it far away, giving you the chance to go back while they're distracted and steal the object you were really after all along.
The humor of Untitled Goose Game is built into the mechanics and animations; seeing the goose waddle along, honking and flapping its wings, is inherently amusing and satisfying even before you start causing mischief because of how perfectly evocative it is of a real bird. The clean, colorful visual style is also a treat. But the reactive soundtrack is what really sells the goose's charms. The music, based on Claude Debussy's Préludes, springs into action dynamically based on the goose's actions, punctuating moments when it shocks someone and adding a buoyancy to any scene involving a chase. It gives the game a feeling of farce; at its best, it's reminiscent of a Buster Keaton film, especially since there's no dialogue.
The objectives you're asked to complete often require some lateral thinking. Getting into the headspace of the goose and figuring out how a few actions can spiral into something that's going to annoy one of your targets is very entertaining. Sometimes it's immediately clear what you need to do, and sometimes the solution is more abstract, but most objectives will name an object that you can find within the environment. In the second location, for instance, you're told to "get on TV"--the solution isn't immediately obvious, but finding the TV you need to interact with is not difficult. Untitled Goose Game lightly leads you towards its puzzle solutions without explicitly holding your hand through them, so figuring out a clever solution is rewarding.
You need to complete all but one objective in each location to advance, which is a nice concession, as it means you can progress to the next area even if one of the puzzles just isn't clicking for you. Sometimes it's just a matter of figuring out what needs to be done and then doing it, but you also need to practice some level of finesse: The goose can't get too close to anyone who's going to try to shoo it away, and you'll often need to be stealthy, sneaking under tables, causing distractions, and hiding behind bushes and in boxes like a long-necked, web-toed Solid Snake.
Each area also features a fetch quest objective, for which you need to gather several items and put them in one place while making sure that you're not caught. These objectives are the least fun, generally, because too much is left to the imagination; the first one asks you to "have a picnic" by dragging a variety of particular items to a picnic blanket, but once you've done so the objective is immediately complete, with no additional vignettes or animations to reward all that effort. Untitled Goose Game's best objectives reward you not only with a feeling of satisfaction, but with a fun, charming bit of interaction between the goose and the people it encounters, whether that means watching a man stumble around with a bucket on his head or watching someone else wearily resign themselves to their favorite hat being gone.
Untitled Goose Game is also extremely short. When I reached the end, I was surprised at how little time it had taken--I had only been playing for about two hours. Thankfully, after the credits roll you unlock a new list of objectives across the now fully unlocked map, but there isn't the same incentive to complete them when you know that you won't be rewarded with a new location to explore, or even, necessarily, new interactions. Most of them are twists on previous objectives or more complicated versions of things you've already done, often involving moving items between different locations.
I'm glad that those extra objectives are there, though, and I had a good time working through them. It's just a shame that there isn't a bit more, because Untitled Goose Game ends far before I felt like I'd had my fill or seen everything the game was going to throw at me. Being short isn't inherently bad, but Untitled Goose Game's playground could stand to be bigger. I wished that I could keep riding the high of unlocking new areas and messing with new people, and it still felt like there was plenty of room to escalate things.
For all the jerkiness I performed, my favorite moment in Untitled Goose Game was the one scene where the game leaned into the goose's charms. I wandered up behind two people having a chat at the pub and hit the button dedicated to honking. The two women turned to look at me, startled, but far less hostile than most of the characters I'd encountered. When I stood in a specific spot they mimed commands for me to perform, fulfilling one of my objectives while absolutely delighting the two women. Untitled Goose Game is a hilariously antagonistic experience most of the time, but I identified strongly with these characters and how lovable they found this horrible goose.
The important thing is that Untitled Goose Game is a hoot. It's a comedy game that focuses on making the act of playing it funny, rather than simply being a game that features jokes. Wishing that it was longer speaks to how much fun I had with it. There's nothing else quite like Untitled Goose Game; it's charming and cute despite being mean, and both very silly and very clever. It's also probably the best non-racing game ever to feature a dedicated "honk" button.
Ahhh, FIFA. Like the setting of the sun, the drawing in of the nights, the putting on of an old winter coat, there's both an inevitability and a level of comfort that comes with the release of a new FIFA game. The football season is properly back. The squads are correct again. A couple of new features to keep us occupied through the long, dark nights. All is right with the world.
FIFA 20 might not be the series at absolute peak form--so far, Volta doesn't seem like the revolution it perhaps could have been and Career Mode still feels underdeveloped--but modern FIFA is such a broad, deep, and complete offering that it remains a must-buy for football fans.
Set pieces, have, however, received a bit of a makeover--specifically direct free kicks and penalties. In a throwback to the halcyon days of FIFA 2003, both now have you aim a reticle at the precise location you want to place the ball. Then, incorporating last year's genius timed finishing mechanic, you'll need to press shoot again at the right time, while also adding curve in the case of free kicks. Both take a little time to get used to, but they offer greater depth and satisfaction when you smack one into the top corner.
In another nostalgic move--and in an attempt to offer greater improvements off the pitch--FIFA 20 introduces a new mode, the FIFA Street-like Volta Football, bringing street soccer to the main series for the first time. You control a squad of street superstars aiming to become the world's best in a journey that takes you across various unique, exotic locales. These three-, four-, or five-a-side matches are shorter and more chaotic than a standard 11-a-side game, and they feel sufficiently different and entertaining to become a worthwhile staple in FIFA's roster of modes. Fancier tricks and flicks and simplified tactics make it a mode that feels a little more focused on, well, fun, than the more traditional game types--but don't expect the depth FIFA Street gave us all those years ago. There are no Gamebreaker shots here, and it's not as easy to utterly humiliate your opponent with outrageous nutmegs and rainbow flicks. Volta League, the mode's online portion, hasn't been populated enough to find a match so far, so we'll bring you more on that in the days ahead--but the ability to play against human opponents, recruit opposition players, and kit your created character out in new gear means this will almost certainly present more longevity than the mode it replaces, The Journey.
Volta's campaign mode, meanwhile, is a single-player, uh, journey in which you'll face off against AI teams. The world tour structure is compelling and those locations are well-realized, with unique personalities and play styles of their own. However the characters you share your travels with are so irritating, and the writing so aggressively How Do You Do, Fellow Kids, that it becomes a bit of a chore to play. Hopefully, more time with the mode will lead to these characters endearing themselves a little more. In a final, strange note, Volta requires an internet connection, even when playing the single-player mode, for reasons that remain unclear.
Career Mode is FIFA's other main single-player offering, and it comes with a raft of new features. Proper conversations between manager and players are finally possible, for example; players will come to you to complain to or thank you about their game-time, as they have for many years, but you now have the opportunity to reply, with the aim to keep their morale--and hence performance levels--high. The system is shallow, with the morale bar seemingly the only variable you can affect, and messages still repeat far too often, but it at least feels a little more interactive than the stagnant old email system.
Similarly, pre- and post-match press conferences have been overhauled, and they now appear more like those seen in The Journey in previous seasons. Again, the objective here is to maintain your team's morale, and again there isn't much more to it, but it is more visually and intellectually stimulating than a simple menu screen, as it was before. The final big new feature is dynamic player potential, which I haven’t gotten deep enough into a save to test just yet, but I’ll report back on its effects soon.
Disappointingly, despite all the changes, Career Mode still feels a little barebones so far, and it still contains a number of inaccuracies. The transfer window ends erroneously late for English clubs, for instance, while VAR and short goal kicks are yet to be introduced into FIFA at all. Transfer negotiations are unchanged, save for two new background locations in which to hammer out a deal, and scouting and youth teams are the same for yet another year in a row. Career Mode has taken some steps forward this year, but a revolution is needed.
Ultimate Team, meanwhile, continues its expansion and is now bigger and better than ever. The adoption of a Fortnite-esque battle pass model in FUT Seasons--not to be confused with FUT Seasons, the sub-mode--is somewhat confusing, but a masterstroke. It essentially manifests itself as an expansion of the existing daily and weekly challenges, with new tasks you can work towards over multiple weeks. Rewards include packs, players, new cosmetic options including tifos and balls, and more. It all adds another way to be rewarded and another objective to work toward--especially useful for those who struggle to compete in the weekend league (which, by the way, is unchanged and hence remains as moreish, and as grindy, as ever).
FUT's other new addition is Friendlies, which are a new way of playing casually within Ultimate Team. There are no great rewards for playing FUT Friendlies, but you do still earn coins, and, crucially, player injuries, contracts, fitness, and your playing record remain unaffected. The community has been crying out for a place to go when they can't face the pressure of Rivals or Squad Battles, and finally they have it. It also contains the same in-depth stat tracking and bizarre mode variants as was introduced in FIFA 19's Kick Off mode, along with new House Rules options. They're a weird, entertaining place to go to have fun with friends and they mean that, if it wasn't already, Ultimate Team really feels like its own game now. You might understandably disagree with its pay-to-win tendencies--yes, spending more money on packs means you're still more likely to get Lionel Messi than someone simply grinding for in-game currency--but FUT is as compelling and complete as game modes come, and I am horribly obsessed once again.
Completeness appears to be the ethos FIFA lives by, and despite the omission of Juventus (forza Piemonte Calcio), this year's game feels more complete than ever. The same goes for its aesthetics and licensing, which continue to offer the closest virtual approximation of real-world football--or, more accurately, Sky Sports' version of football--available.
Flawed and iterative, but comforting, complete, and compelling, FIFA 20 is as frustrating and as essential as ever. The Journey and FIFA Street will continue to be missed, but Volta offers a genuinely different option for those who want to dip in and out across FIFA's smorgasboard of game types, while Ultimate Team continues its route to world domination. It's just a shame Career Mode continues to stagnate--even if EA has finally remembered it exists.
Editor's note: With servers online but currently unpopulated before release, we'll bring our final verdict on FIFA 20 soon, once we've had more chance to test out Pro Clubs, Volta League, and Ultimate Team.
Every victory in Overland, no matter how small, is won by the skin of your teeth. That's a feeling any good turn-based tactical strategy game gives you, of course. But Overland's pared-down options, compact maps, and fast-rising stakes mean that nearly every decision--the car you drive, the company you keep, where you move, what you carry--feels vital and could potentially have major ramifications. A mysterious and omnipresent race of creatures (I think) has ravaged the USA, and for the characters under your care, road-tripping from the East Coast to the West Coast seems to be the best course of action. The journey across Middle America is a beautiful but difficult one, filled with life-or-death obstacles right from the get-go, and Overland's roguelike structure means you will see dozens, if not hundreds, of ordinary people (and dogs, all of them good) perish in fraught situations. But the high risk makes its small victories, like finding a cool item or escaping an area unharmed, feel all the more rewarding, more motivating. Overland is filled with bite-sized doses of relief that feed you with the encouragement you need to continue helping these poor folk on the off chance that maybe this time, you might make it all the way.
The post-apocalyptic survivors of Overland don't possess the combat expertise of XCOM or Fire Emblem soldiers. The randomly-generated personality traits for characters are simple in nature, but make them feel more grounded and sympathetic than your typical strategy soldier, perhaps emboldening them as a good yeller, or informing you that someone “really misses their family.” Attacking and killing the unnerving and aggressive rock-like creatures that stalk you in each area you traverse is an option (if you happen to be carrying a makeshift weapon, at least), but clearing the playfield of hostiles isn't really the objective here. In fact, the noise that you make in attacking the creatures only attracts more, and in the game's densely packed maps, consisting of a 9x9 grid filled with buildings and solid obstacles, it will quickly create a scenario that is impossible to escape.
Overland is instead a game that centers around your roadtrip vehicle. The vehicle you drive is your lifeline, and as you move from area to area on your trip west, your main priority is to keep that four-wheeled machine fueled and in good shape. You start with a simple hatchback but will eventually stumble across different models, and your type of vehicle will inform your strategy--vans let you transport more survivors than your standard car should you encounter them and pickup trucks provide plenty of storage for items but sacrifice seating. SUVs are a late-game godsend that marry the best of both worlds. Escaping an area on foot is possible, but as you'd expect, it's impossible to make any cross-country progress--your characters will be funneled into an area with a beat-up car to try and salvage in order to move forward.
Keeping your engine running is the game's central challenge, and it's a demanding one. You need to scavenge new areas for fuel canisters, perhaps finding them in dumpsters or slowly siphoning gas from abandoned cars, and you might find some useful tools and items to assist you along the way. But where Overland creates its challenge, and in turn, its compelling high-risk decision making, is in the strict limitations it puts on what you're actually able to achieve. Restrictions characterise every aspect of the game: Your characters can only take two actions per turn and two hits before dying, and getting injured reduces your actions per turn to one; your vehicle can only take two hits before exploding, and its movement is limited to the two-lane road down the middle of the map, which will often be littered with junk; each character can only hold one item, meaning scavenging is an onerous task that potentially means giving up the ability for a character to defend themselves, and the compact maps mean you're always one square away from either narrowly slipping by or getting skewered by a creature. The lack of choice and options available to you in the overall moment-to-moment makes the ones that are there feel intimidatingly important--one misstep can cause serious havoc.
All of these factors help guarantee that every new run of Overland you play will be filled with memorable narratives born out of the natural flow of the game. One time, I was eking through a road blockage by having two characters clear debris as a third slowly snaked the car through a narrow passage, all while dozens of creatures bore down on us. A larger creature shoved debris between the clearing crew and the car, leaving me no choice but to escape on foot and leave the driver behind to a grizzly fate. In another situation, my crew of three stumbled across a brand-new, well-equipped pickup truck. But it could only seat two people, and after some consideration, I purposely drove away with my two favorites, abandoning the weakest member of the group. Later on in the run, that person would come back to try and get revenge. In one of my favorite scenarios, one of my human characters was cornered, unarmed, by a creature while scavenging. In a moment of desperation, I commanded her two other companions, both dogs, to race to the car, grab a wooden pallet from the trunk, and work to pass it to her relay-style so she could block the hit she was about to take. Overland is filled with these kinds of thrilling, dire scenarios where you need to improvise an immediate solution or resolve to just drop everything and get the hell out of there.
There is a caveat to a game with so many difficult decisions, however: The risk of getting yourself stuck in a bad situation with no obvious way out and a feeling of merely perpetuating your eventual demise. You'll likely have many forlorn campaigns in Overland, especially when starting out, where the difficulty and hopelessness can feel overwhelming. Perhaps you're constantly driving on fumes and finding it's too difficult to obtain fuel from any of the areas presented to you, or perhaps your survivors are all injured and movement-restricted, making it feel impossible to achieve anything meaningful. Overland does present you opportunities to crawl back from these hopeless brinks--believe me, it's possible. But it can sometimes feel like the procedurally generated aspects of the game are stacked against you--especially when you have a crew equipped with debuffs like "Bad Driver" and "Clumsy,"’ guzzling up gas at an increased rate and making a racket with every action they take.
But Overland's brutal, minimalist design is tough to stay away from. The bite-sized victories you narrowly eke out with each new area are incredibly moreish, and the game feels very well-suited to portable play on both Nintendo Switch and on iPhone through Apple Arcade. The game's clean, stylish art direction and somber, eerie soundtrack help to build the intriguing sense of mystery, too--whatever is happening in this post-apocalypse is likely much bigger than you or your survivors will ever have the chance to fully understand.
But all that matters is getting your survivors to the West Coast and making it through seven different biomes filled with an increasingly distressing variety of threats and hardships with whatever tools you can scrounge together. Overland perfectly captures a feeling of being helpless, of only just getting by, and of being afraid to venture too far away from your car into the pitch-black dark of night. Every movement you commit, every action you command, and every item or character you sacrifice for another will be an apprehensive decision. But taking each of those tough steps makes you even more grateful to hear the soft chime of your car's open-door alarm when you make it back, and the rev of the motor when you escape down the highway, relieved to leave another pack of abnormal creatures behind.
Developer: Good Shepherd Entertainment, Mike Bithell Games
Platform: PC, Mac
Bithell Games' John Wick Hex is just weeks away, releasing exclusively on the Epic Games store on October 8 for both PC and Mac. John Wick Hex is described by Bithell Games and Publisher Good Shepherd Entertainment as "fight-choreographed chess brought to life as an action-oriented timeline strategy game." You can get an idea of what that means from a gameplay perspective in the new trailer.
We'll have to wait for release to see how Troy Baker's Keanu Reeves impression is for Hex, but this trailer gives us a bit of story context, and also shows us some of the environment variety, not to mention a lot of action. Ian McShane reprises his role as Winston, as does Lance Reddick as Charon.
Every second counts in John Wick Hex, which tasks players to consume ammo, time reloads, and use every tool in their arsenal to track down Hex, a new foe who is gunning for Wick. For a deeper dive into this fascinating action game, check out Joe Juba's impressions.
Terminator characters are making cameo appearances in Gears 5, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, and Mortal Kombat 11, but come December 3, you will see them in their own environment in Terminator: Resistance, a new game developed by Teyon and published by Reef Entertainment. Terminator: Resistance is a single-player shooter set 30 years after Judgment Day. You assume the identity of Resistance Pacific Division recruit private Jacob Rivers, and are tasked to combat Skynet in the streets of Los Angeles.
Rivers can either mow down the robot foes with guns a blaze or use stealth techniques to knock them offline, both in critical path missions and side quests. Depending on how you do, you'll change your the outcome of the world, which is shown through multiple endings.
This isn't Teyon and Reef's first trek through licensed game waters. The studio also put out Rambo: The Video Game, which netted a 4 out of 10 review from Game Informer.
The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening is a trip back to a simpler time, when handheld game systems had monochromatic screens and two buttons were all you needed to go on a grand adventure. The new Switch remake marks the second revival of the Game Boy classic, and it brings the quirky Koholint Island back to life in style. Without taking any wind out of the original game's sails, the revisions drastically enhance the look and feel of the environments and characters, all the while map layouts and puzzle designs remain incredibly faithful to the source material. Nintendo has implemented a few other new features and some new collectibles that will keep veteran players on the hunt, but the renewed presentation is easily the star of the show.
Having been transformed from little pixelated people to shiny, cartoony toys come to life, everyone in Link's Awakening brings newfound energy. It's equally true for monsters and bad guys as well. Game Boy games have retro appeal, but the remake casts aside ancient aesthetics for something entirely different that works on its own terms. That which existed only in our imagination before comes through in new animations, accompanied with lively sound effects and music that make you feel like a kid again. It's the sort of look that grows even more attractive over time, and you might, like I did, start to imagine what other Nintendo properties would benefit from a similar visual upgrade.
It can, also, be the one thing about the game that irks, as the frame rate takes a noticeable hit when most scenes load into memory. The problem seems to be tied to the game's pronounced depth-of-field effect, which employs an exaggerated blurring effect to enhance the miniature-toy feel of the presentation. Don't get me wrong, this is more of a minor annoyance than anything--which should tell you a lot about the quality of everything else.
Link's Awakening will no doubt feel old-fashioned, which is fair considering the original version is over a quarter century old at this stage. It feels wrong to make any comparisons between it and Breath of the Wild, but in the case that 2017's game of the year was your first foray in Link's boots, kiss the open-ended quests and sprawling Hyrule goodbye. Link's Awakening is a tightly designed adventure on a small but dense map. Eight puzzle-filled dungeons comprise the bulk of your journey, but you're also required to meet and greet the inhabitants of the quirky island. Link washes ashore after a calamitous boating accident to find himself stranded in paradise--or it would be, if not for the Nightmares residing in the aforementioned vaults.
This setup suggests that Koholint is but a trite land compared to the embattled and sacred Kingdom of Hyrule--an inconvenient pitstop for old Link, if you will. Yet, Link's Awakening never feels like it's trying to butt up against the series' more epic entries. It works, instead, as a fanciful side story, and it ultimately stands out for its playful attitude and moments of bittersweet melancholy.
By and large, the flow of the game is managed in a clear fashion. A sage-like owl helps guide Link from one primary task to the next. With each dungeon comes a musical instrument, and with them all, says the wise owl, Link can secure his way off the island. It always appears at just the right time, when one task ends and the other is about to begin, but you're also afforded advice from a shy man named Ulrira. Chat with him at any of the numerous phone-booth trees scattered around the island; just don't bother him in person--he will sheepishly ask that you stick to the phone, anyway. For the remake, you also have the new option of revisiting past conversations via the map menu, and the ability to mark locations on the map using a small selection of different icons.
This may prove useful for several reasons, most notably while you're hunting for collectible items like seashells and pieces of heart. There are more of each in the Switch remake than in the original Game Boy game, and though you may have a clear sense of where some are, many will remain inaccessible until you discover new gear that extends Link's capabilities.
With the Switch's expanded button count, Link's Awakening is a lot easier to play now because you have access to more items at once without jumping in and out of your inventory. In the past, you could only have two items in hand at any given moment. On Switch, Link's sword, shield, dash, and Power Bracelet strength are always ready to use, and two configurable slots for other items let you juggle even more in any given moment. This greatly diminishes the annoyance of constant menu-flipping and can make certain boss encounters feel easier than ever. For players that want a challenge in battle, a Hero mode exists, where enemies don't drop health replenishments and Link takes twice as much damage as usual.
Largely, however, the more manageable enemy encounters aren't to the game's detriment. Link's Awakening is primarily focused on testing you with its circuitous dungeons and an overarching item-trading quest line that requires you to take a closer look at the people who call Koholint home. Their identities and stories aren't all that deep, but your interactions and exchanges help shape the identity of the locale and brighten up your time spent outside of dark and dreary dungeons. Some of the multi-floor dungeons can take the better part of an hour to figure out, with fluctuating obstacles and subtle environmental cues ensuring that the final stages will either test your memory of the original game or your present observation and deduction skills. There are times when you suspect that you've explored every option yet can't find the path forward. As is par for the course, you probably need to take a closer look at your tools and surroundings. Even if it won't test your fighting spirit, Link's Awakening's most challenging puzzles will test your intellect in surprising ways.
Like many of the best Zelda games, Link's Awakening gives you a sense of purpose, motivates you with discovery and growth, and delights you with its charming personality. These qualities, unfortunately, don't carry over to the remake's other big addition: the dungeon maker mode. Here, with the help of the series' favorite gravedigger, Dampe, Link can create virtual dungeons derived from rooms seen throughout his adventure. Amiibo can also factor in, either as portable storage for sharing your dungeons with other players--no, you can't upload them online--or as a means of unlocking special additions for your custom dungeons. The Link's Awakening Amiibo, for example, will introduce Shadow Link as a mini boss. Defeating him, or simply playing dungeons, will net you extra consumables, like bombs and arrows, and a bounty of rupees. These are good options to have, and there's some delight that comes with laying out your own dungeon, but because you are limited to premade room tiles and disposable rewards, the dungeon maker mode is easy to dismiss. It's a curiosity at best, and definitely not the Zelda Maker you might be waiting for.
Though the remake has a couple of blemishes, it's still an easy game to recommend. People speak of Link's Awakening as the secret best Zelda game. That's a tough call to make, but it's definitely one of the best. If you haven't touched a classic Zelda game in a while, Link's Awakening will almost instantly transport you back to the '90s. It's simple, in many ways, but the orchestrated journey still conveys a sense of adventure, and this new version is without question the best way to experience it. And more than anything else, it will put a smile on your face. Remakes are a dime a dozen nowadays and often easy to overlook. Don't make that mistake with Link's Awakening.
The gruesome opening of Blasphemous bluntly sets the stage for the type of game you're in for. After awakening amongst a sea of deceased worshipers, the silent protagonist, known only as The Penitent One, slowly makes his way through a long-abandoned citadel. Blocking his exit, however, is a so-called warden who wields a golden chandelier as a club. After dodging its attacks and striking when its most vulnerable, The Penitent One removes his helmet near the slain beast, fills it with the blood of the defeated foe, and immediately pours it over his head.
It's undoubtedly an over-the-top intro, yet its feats pale in comparison to the other horrors that await. Blasphemous is an exceedingly bleak adventure with strong religious undertones throughout. What's driving you as The Penitent One is your goal to find the source of the mysterious Miracle, a supernatural force that has created tangible manifestations of people's guilt throughout the land. The structure for Blasphemous' peculiar narrative and hack-and-slash gameplay pays hearty tribute to the Souls series and metroidvania subgenre. Though this reverence for established formulas can come off as derivative, the concepts are suited perfectly to the macabre atmosphere.
Despite its grim nature, however, there is an alluring quality to the dark setting. It can often be oppressive with how unrelenting it all is, yet I still felt intrigued by it all. Some of the most fascinating and exciting moments come from unraveling more locations and minor storylines that fold back onto themselves, reconnecting forgotten areas and characters in unexpected ways. Blasphemous has an array of stoic NPCs with unique motivations and stakes--whether you're trying to ease the suffering of afflicted peasants or assisting a pilgrim struggling to complete his ill-fated pilgrimage, there's an emotional investment in figuring out how this nightmarish reality came to be. This investment is bolstered by the game's stunning visuals, which convey a sense of dread that feels increasingly palpable as new areas are introduced.
Blasphemous' impeccably detailed sprite artwork gives a greater presence to the grotesque monsters and locales that you'll come to know well throughout the journey. Nearly every area of the game features a climactic battle, which has you face off against some lavishly designed boss that offers a fun and challenging change of pace from the long hallways filled with monsters and spike-filled pitfalls. Most of these boss battles are a real standout in Blasphemous, which pit you against extravagant and grotesque monsters--like the giant baby who will rip The Penitent One limb from limb if you get too close to it. Many of these clashes are where the heavy religious imagery reaches its peak, making for some particularly gruesome fights that pull upon larger themes of repentance and sacrifice.
There's an impressive level of world-building in the game, and several essential items and artifacts throughout also feature unique bits of lore that flesh out the land's history. A few of the characters also have minor quests that can span an entire playthrough, some of which are entirely missable given how loose the game's sense of direction is. From the opening, and all the way to the climax, Blasphemous leans heavily on that familiar loop of exploration, discovery, and the ensuing trials by traversal and combat.
It's simple enough to get into the rhythm of trading steel with foes and leaping across perilous jumps, though you'll most certainly suffer from an inevitable death at some point--often in gruesome fashion. There are a generous amount of spawn points, and without the loss of currency upon death, death isn't as taxing as it seems. However, repeated deaths will accrue guilt, weakening your mana bar and currency gain. If you don't shake off the guilt by returning to your death-point or spending the funds to purge at guilt statues, your character will become significantly disadvantaged. This system is lenient enough that you don't feel too discouraged about death, yet it still inspires anxiety in life or death situations, such as a leap of faith across a bottomless pit.
Blasphemous' impeccably detailed sprite artwork gives a greater presence to the grotesque monsters and locales that you'll come to know well throughout the journey.
While these mechanics surrounding death are undeniably influenced by From Software's Souls games, Blasphemous isn't just a 2D Dark Souls experience. It shares more blood with classic action games like Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden, putting less of a focus on RPG mechanics and more on the in-the-moment action and platforming. The core combat and traversal systems are lean and very reflex-driven, and you'll spend most of your time honing your limited, yet still refined skills. One of the more satisfying moments can come from successfully parrying strikes with your sword, opening up a gory execution attack on your opponent. To give you more of an edge, you can boost your attributes with collectible relics and other upgrades, allowing you to stand against the tougher challenges with greater ease.
As you rack up new abilities, access to new areas opens up, revealing pathways from previous locations that can give you a renewed sense of appreciation for the world itself. However, while these new skills and tools present some change, the core gameplay of running, jumping, and slashing from the opening hour to the closing act remains mostly the same. Without any significant advancements to your skillset, later sections of the game come across as incredibly repetitive and, at worst, dull.
This feeling is magnified by how tedious exploration can be after getting settled with the lay of the land. While fast-travel points are present, they're few and far between, meaning you have to hoof it through long stretches of treacherous dungeons you've come to know inside and out. During these backtracking sessions, you continue to fight the same enemies with the same abilities. Moreover, you can easily fall prey to a stray projectile from an out-of-sight enemy, sending you careening down onto spike traps. This can be especially frustrating when handling particular tasks that require you to avoid death in order to complete them.
The lack of change in the overall flow is noticeable, especially when approaching the mid-to-late portion of the game. As the plot escalates, showing off increasingly spellbinding visuals, your tactics and the general flow see little change. This is disappointing for a game that prides itself on a core loop that's about revealing hidden details around you and overcoming more challenging foes. Still, I can't deny that Blasphemous presents an evocative setting that becomes far grimmer as it progresses.
Though it can be frustrating that its core gameplay never evolves past the often one-note rhythm of hacking and jumping across different levels, keeping it from reaching greater heights, I still came away impressed with how much Blasphemous stuck close to its haunting, dark storyline. To that end, playing through this send-up to metroidvania games was a satisfying trial to overcome in its own right.
A hot topic in the conversation surrounding Call of Duty: Modern Warfare to this point has been how Infinity Ward will handle crossplay. The team has said the highly anticipated shooter will feature full crossplay between platforms, but further details have been scarce. Today, we learned a lot more about how the feature works.
First and foremost, anybody playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare needs to have a Call of Duty account. You can go here to create one using your PSN, Xbox Live, Steam, Activision, or Battle.net account. Once you get you get your hands on the game, you choose to opt in or opt out of crossplay. Choosing to enable crossplay means players can play with others on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Once you have your Call of Duty account and you enable crossplay, you can create cross-platform friends lists and parties comprised of players from PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
One of the largest questions fans have had about this feature is how Infinity Ward will balance keyboard-and-mouse players with controller players. PlayStation 4 players can decide to use a keyboard and mouse. PS4, Xbox One, and PC players can all play with each other as long as they all use controllers, or all use keyboard and mouse. However, you can also join lobbies where there are no control-scheme filters, meaning you can play with players across all platforms with controllers and keyboard and mouse.
Infinity Ward has also announced that it intends to demonstrate its commitment to this crossplay initiative by delivering most post-launch content (maps, modes, Spec Ops missions, etc.) simultaneously across all three platforms. Despite this, the franchise maintains its partnership with PlayStation, with the studio stating that PS4 players will have "an exciting Day 1 advantage." The team did not provide details about what that means, but says information will arrive soon.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare launches on PS4, Xbox One, and PC on October 25. For more on the upcoming shooter, check out our coverage hub by clicking the banner below.
Children of Morta is a game about family. Mechanically, it's a satisfying dungeon crawler where you grind through bad guys, level up your characters, and unlock better abilities so that you can face off against a series of increasingly difficult bosses. But really, at its heart, it's a compelling game about what it means to be a part of a family, and how being surrounded by loved ones can make you a better, stronger person.
The Bergson family, six of whom you're able to play as, is made up of warriors, mages, and inventors all tasked with holding back the Corruption--which has, at the game's opening, started to spread across their homeland. Their house sits atop a shrine, and to battle against the evil forces of the demonic Ou they need to travel through portals and conquer dungeons, in order to awaken three spirits that can guard against the Corruption.
It's a cliched fantasy setup, but Children of Morta makes the most of its tropes by making sure that you're invested in the Bergsons and their plight. Between runs of the dungeons, you're treated to cutscenes and vignettes of the family interacting with one another, and you get to know the beats of their lives and what they get up to when they're not enduring dungeons. You start with two playable characters, family patriarch John and his eldest daughter Linda, but the other four are introduced within the game's opening half. Seeing them train and grow in cutscenes, and getting a sense of their place within the family, means that you're already attached to the characters before you get your hands on them.
Gameplay in Children of Morta involves battling your way through hordes of enemies to reach each dungeon's boss, exploring thoroughly and nabbing as many temporary boosts as you can along the way. Each character has three main abilities they'll unlock as they level up: a standard attack that can be used continuously, a special attack with a cooldown, and a more defensive ability (although some of these can still do damage). The combat isn’t necessarily super deep, but it’s a lot of fun thanks to some extremely satisfying animation and the strategic possibilities that become available as you level up. Dungeons consist of multiple levels and are generated anew each time you enter, so finding the entrance to the next level will always require some exploration. Occasionally I’d find myself frustrated when the path to the exit ended up being very elaborate, but this also kept the game feeling fresh when some dungeons took a long time to clear.
There's an imbalance between the number of melee and ranged characters--four melee to two ranged--which is a shame, because playing the ranged characters changes the rhythm of the game significantly by encouraging a slower, more thoughtful playstyle, and only having two of them feels like a missed opportunity. I found that Linda (who uses a bow and arrow) was the character I most often managed to beat bosses with, since so many bosses are primed to punish you for getting too close, and I would have loved to have another option beyond her and Lucy, the family’s youngest daughter.
Each character plays differently, and you'll no doubt have your favorites. Lucy can shoot a continuous wave of fireballs while standing still, and can be upgraded to withstand three hits without damage; Kevin, the youngest son, can dramatically increase his speed and strength by building up "rage" with continuous knife attacks, but he needs to get very up-close to do so before using his power of invisibility to get out of danger. Some characters are less interesting; for the life of me I can't figure out how to make Joey, who swings a huge hammer, effective. But it's still fun trying out a character you haven't played for a few runs and getting into the groove with each of their distinct rhythms.
You need to switch characters regularly, too, as any member of the family who is used too many times in a row begins to suffer from corruption fatigue, which lowers their overall health until they're given time to recover. Each member of the family can also unlock new abilities that benefit every other family member as they level up (like higher rates of critical attack or even assists in certain situations), and later abilities in their skill trees can be very useful--I initially dismissed John for being too slow but found his shield and wide swing arc extremely useful later in the game, and was ultimately glad that the game encouraged me to use every character and discover their strengths (in five cases out of six, at least).
The plot's focus on the family, paired with the tremendous art and beautiful animation, makes it easy to love the Bergsons. Lucy is so full of energy that she'll jump in the middle of her run animation (which doesn't interrupt your pathfinding at all but adds personality to her sprite), while eldest son Mark's Naruto-style run is a perfect complement to his martial arts fighting style. Charming touches like this are everywhere, and they give the characters more personality. You feel those unique traits come through in combat, too; there are few things more satisfying than seeing Kevin shimmer with rage and rip through a huge mob of enemies.
And as with any family gathering, Children of Morta will encourage and then test your patience. It's a grind-heavy game; it was very rare for me to beat a dungeon on my first shot, as most required that I level up and learn the boss' attack patterns, which requires storming through the dungeon to get to them a few times. You can get away with running right past most enemy mobs, but to stand a chance against the boss at the end, you want to be armed with powerful buffs, and growing stronger requires farming experience and gold to unlock new abilities and improve your stats.
However, it takes a long time for the grind to start wearing you down. The combat is meaty and intense, and the allure of growing stronger is so compelling that dealing with huge crowds and collecting all the gold they spill can hold your attention for hours. There's a sharp increase in difficulty right at the end, but I could always identify what had gone right--which fights I'd avoided, which charms I'd made use of, how I'd thought about my character's relative strengths and weaknesses to the boss--and adjust my strategies accordingly to continue to do well. The grind helped make me a better player, instead of simply acting as a level gate.
There are special buffs that are only active for that session, and you have a much better chance of beating the boss if you go in after thoroughly exploring the dungeon and powering up. There are many different kinds of buff you can unlock, some temporary, some permanent; I found that I did far better against bosses when I went in with a lot of them active. You can find the various items and objects that make you more powerful throughout each dungeon, or buy them from shopkeepers that pop up, and I found myself getting excited whenever I found a good combination. Going up against a boss that has beaten you several times, now armed with a combination that you think will give you an advantage, is a great feeling.
Your dungeon runs are also broken up by numerous subquests that can appear throughout each dungeon, which expand on the game's lore, introduce new NPCs, and result in significant upgrades or rewards. A few even have major narrative impact--there are a series of quests early on that end with the Bergsons adopting and raising an adorable puppy, for instance. But if one dungeon is really giving you grief, eventually it can feel like the game's ready for you to move on before you're ready yourself--you'll stop getting cutscenes and character vignettes after missions, and you'll find that you've run out of subquests to complete. But then, the feeling of eventually taking down a boss that was troubling you is extremely satisfying, especially knowing that you're going to get more lovely character moments as you try to beat the next one.
You also have the option of playing the whole game in co-op, and the game balance differs depending on whether you're alone or not. However, I found myself preferring to stick to solo play--it's annoying for a friend to talk over cutscenes and the difficulty scaling makes co-op more complicated.
Children of Morta's fantastic art style and enjoyable storytelling take what would have been an otherwise fun roguelike dungeon-crawler and elevate it a great deal. Taking down enemies and eventually triumphing over bosses is enjoyable, but what kept bringing me back was the connection I felt to the Bergsons, and my sincere desire to help them push back against the Corruption. After all, it's a lot easier dealing with dungeons full of monsters when you have a family to come home to.
Developer Deck 13 Interactive promises plenty of violence and a brutal challenge in The Surge 2, which launches on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC next Tuesday (September 24). You've seen plenty of Surge 2 videos that show heads flying, and you'll see that aspect of the game again in this short video, but this time it's a little different.
The violence is set to a cover of the song 'The End of the World,' which was originally penned by Skeeter Davis in 1963. The cover is done by Sharon Van Etten in what Deck 13 is calling the "Symphony of Violence" trailer.