Desert Child is a game of modern ambitions and sensibilities wrapped up in a retro aesthetic. It looks like an early-'90s DOS game rendering of a future where humanity has colonized Mars and built a city that feels like a mix between a Cowboy Bebop planet and modern-day Australia. The game's unique look, chilled vibe, and strong concept make for a great first impression, but unfortunately, by the end of it you'll realize that there's not much more to Desert Child than what you got in those opening minutes.
You play as a young man who leaves Earth in the game's opening, looking to conquer Mars' speeder bike circuit and earn enough money to prove himself in an upcoming championship. At the beginning of the game, you choose between four weapons to have mounted on the front of your vehicle, each with a different difficulty rating depending on how useful they are. All races are one-on-one and play out on a 2D plane viewed from a side-on perspective, which is a strange--but also a strangely enjoyable--way to compete. There are a handful of different tracks, all with unique obstacles, and when you start up a race you'll be thrown into one of them at random. While there are obstacles to avoid, winning comes down to using your boost effectively and firing your weapon at TVs planted around the track. Each TV you take out gives you a speed boost, and to maintain your maximum speed you need to consistently destroy the televisions on the track before your opponent does.
The first few times you race in Desert Child, it's thrilling. Your hoverbike controls well--it's floaty and fast but precise--and blasting away at everything in front of you and timing your boosts well is fun. The game captures the inherent excitement of hoverbike racing, but once it becomes clear that every race is going to be more-or-less the same, that excitement dulls considerably. You can't switch guns mid-game, the tracks all play very similarly, and the only real difference between opponents is that the very last one in the game is more difficult to beat than the others. I couldn't highlight a uniquely cool moment from any of the races I took part in across two playthroughs of the game, or a race where the game showed off a new trick or idea.
Desert Child also has the thin veneer of an RPG system. You spend much of the game's short running time wandering around a Martian city, exploring and poking at its different stores, NPCs, and the odd jobs it offers. There are only a handful of different environments for your unnamed protagonist to mosey through, and while they're lovely to look at the first few times, the game's small scale begins to feel limiting when you realize that the game world never changes in any significant way. After each race or job you take, the day progresses, and while some NPCs shift around and store stocks change, Mars very quickly starts to feel small and static.
Your major objective is to raise $10,000 for a tournament while keeping yourself well fed, your bike in good working order, and not attracting the law by taking on too many dodgy missions in the nightlife district. The goal seems to be to capture some of the tedium of life in this town--there's a lot of walking around, visiting ramen stores, and switching between odd jobs. Some of these jobs are fun, but generally only for the first few times that you play them. For example, you can work as a pizza delivery person, riding a bicycle through one of the game's tracks while shooting pizza boxes at people; you can herd kangaroos, which involves following a group of them through a field and maneuvering your hoverbike behind any slackers so that they don't drop away from the pack; you can enter and intentionally lose a race for the local crime boss.
There are a few different minigames like this, but ultimately none of them really offers anything that feels like a meaningful twist on the existing racing (with the possible exception of the "hacking" minigame, in which you're attacked by floating Windows logos and marble busts--I could not figure out this job's victory conditions). Once you've quickly seen everything Mars has to offer, and especially once you've bought the game's entire soundtrack from the record shop (which is worth doing, because the music is great), there's nothing exciting to find or unlock.
There are a lot of references in Desert Child that will hit harder with an Australian audience. There's a bridge dedicated to the welfare program Centrelink, complete with a job board that you can access different tasks from; the constant casual profanity is very Aussie; and there are little nods to local cultural touchstones dotted around Mars. The "Bring Back Tim Tams" graffiti might not hold the same appeal for all players, but it made me smile.
Before long, your focus will shift to saving up for the tournament, which boils down to racing and completing tasks over and over while storing your earnings in your bank to accrue interest. It's an uninteresting progression model, and the tournament itself is unexciting--you race three times, and if you lose any of them you must start again. You earn huge amounts of money even if you lose the first two races, which lets you buy all your hoverbike's potential upgrades and make things a bit easier on yourself. Winning the third race promptly ends the game, even though, narratively and mechanically, it really feels like things are just getting started.
Desert Child exhibits a number of smaller issues, too. While the numerous misspellings feel like they could plausibly be an intentional part of the game's aesthetic, the lack of a pause option during races feels like an oversight, as does the fact that selecting "New Game" from the menu automatically starts up a new game without warning you that all previous data is going to be erased. Sometimes the equipment I'd put on my bike, like a laser sight for my gun, arbitrarily wouldn't work during a race, and I could never figure out why there were TVs scattered around during the pizza delivery game with seemingly no way to destroy them. Problems like this pop up all over Desert Child, and while most of them are minor, they add up.
Desert Child has a wonderful sense of style, and there are moments when it clicks. When you jet across the water on your bike firing a shotgun blast that shatters several televisions in front of you, or when you first start to wrap your head around the aesthetic of Mars, the game briefly, but brightly, shines. But Desert Child doesn't quite hang together, and by the end of its very brief runtime the things that seemed exciting just an hour prior have lost most of their luster. This could be a lovely proof of concept for a bigger game; as it stands, it's hard not to get caught up thinking about all that it could have been.
The phrase “a sinking feeling” describes the way your stomach feels when you descend in a roller coaster or a car crests a steep hill, but it’s something that’s hard to emulate without physically moving. While a lot of games end up being capable of bringing about that feeling, none excel at it quite like Ace Combat, and the newest game in the series makes you feel like you’re actually in the cockpit of a fighter jet.
As a series, Ace Combat has been its own roller coaster in narrative over the years. After a fairly disastrous foray into the real world, the series is returning back into the realms of fictious lands and their fictious wars. The opening CG scene for Ace Combat 7 is narrated by a young girl who, over the course of many years, built a fighter jet with her war veteran grandfather and his friends. She remains an ancillary fixture of the story, adjacent to a number of the big events and skirmishes breaking out during the war between the Osean and Erusean armies, serving more as your R2D2 than your Luke Skywalker.
The first mission takes the training wheels off the moment you go wheels up, tasking you with the main goals of your gameplay: shoot things and don’t crash. After being told that there are enemy fighters and bombers in the area, your squad dispatches to a nearby island to get a practical lesson in locking on to enemies and shooting missiles at them. After the mission ends, a cutscene explains that Erusean forces placed drones in shipping containers sent to Osea and remotely activated them to attack, which seems like a pretty good plan.
The second mission has your fighter taking on those drones, jets with the ability to make pinpoint turns into the foggy clouds above. Dogfighting with these enemies as you do your best to dip in and out of the clouds to avoid icing up and finding yourself face-to-face with the ground as you struggle to pull up and not crash straight into the soil is an actually indescribable feeling and feels fresh every single time it happens, which is a lot because I’m a bad pilot.
The VR missions might be the real star of the show, however, and are genuinely impressive. The side missions put players back in the role of Mobius 1, the hero of Ace Combat 4 and general mythological hero of Erusea. The venerated tones with which characters speak about you is probably the second biggest thrill in the game behind the emetic quality of doing loops to dodge missiles in VR. While it is only a side mode, it could stand as proof of concept of how well VR dogfighting can work in general.
We also got a chance to try multiplayer, a point-based online match that puts six planes in a 3v3 fight. Enemies take a lot longer to kill in this mode, so you go for inching you way up with bullets and the occasional missile. At the end of each round, you’re given accolades depending on what you excelled at or failed spectacularly at, such as “Avoided the greatest number of missiles using cloud-cover” or “Fired the most missed shots.”
As someone who has dabbed in Ace Combat before but rarely dove in head-first, I came away from the demo excited to play more, especially with a PSVR in tow. It will also be interesting to see how the fanbase takes to the new game’s narrative hooks and the return to what people liked about Ace Combat in the first place.
Ace Combat 7 releases for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on January 18, then on February 1 on PC.
It's difficult to talk about Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom without discussing Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap and its 2017 remake, because despite being produced by an entirely different development team, this game is, in fact, an official successor in the Wonder Boy series. But even though its history might be confusing, Monster Boy is a fantastic adventure in its own right, one that distinctly builds upon the best parts of Wonder Boy and adds some welcome modern conveniences for good measure.
You play as Jin, a blue-haired young man who must stop his drunk uncle Nabu from inflicting curses upon the kingdom's inhabitants and transforming them into animals. Unfortunately, the plot doesn't really expand beyond that initial premise. With the exception of some moments of levity provided by the cast of interesting supporting characters, the story is uninspired and concludes on a final act that feels shoehorned. But where Monster Boy's narrative lacks in imagination, it more than makes up for it with its well-honed character transformation mechanic.
Over the course of the game, Jin unlocks an arsenal of equipment and gains five animal transformations--pig, snake, frog, lion, and dragon--each of whom has their own unique abilities. Jin's human, frog, lion, and dragon forms are also able to equip a variety of weapons, shields, and armor, all of which can be upgraded. Equipping items unlocks new abilities--one type of boots allow you to walk on clouds, while another allows you to double jump, for instance. Quickly swapping between all these different forms to take advantage of their strengths adds a continually enjoyable layer of thought to the platforming experience, and its strengths are regularly showcased by Monster Boy's excellent puzzle design.
You're eased into each new animal form and piece of equipment with some basic obstacles and enemies before being set loose to explore the titular Cursed Kingdom. Puzzles scattered throughout require some thought; on several occasions, you'll be forced to combine the use of several different powers and abilities in creative ways in order to progress forward or reach a treasure. It might be juggling two different animal forms, using particular equipment abilities, or taking advantage of environmental items, and when you eventually figure out how to get there, it always feels rewarding. Puzzles become increasingly complex, the variety of enemies becomes tougher, and the platforming sections feature additional obstacles that require more precise timing as you progress, but the growing challenges are balanced out well by a forgiving number of checkpoints, which help you keep motivated to give things another try.
While the game is primarily linear, the Cursed Kingdom itself is enormous and features several different secret-filled areas (discovering everything will likely blow out your playtime to roughly 15-20 hours), and the variety of puzzles and charming locations that you find in far corners of the world are themselves an attractive incentive to reach. The experience is doubly rewarding when you unearth new paths while revisiting a previously-discovered area armed with a bigger arsenal of animal forms and skills, and Monster Boy even implements a teleportation mechanic to alleviate frustrations of excessive backtracking.
Monster Boy also boasts a brilliant visual and audio presentation that makes the Wonder Boy aesthetic shine, featuring a meticulously detailed hand-drawn art style. Each character is beautifully realized with their own delightful animation--little details, like the pig's sheepish look as he farts after eating a power-up plant or the frog eyeballing some flies as part of his idle animation, adds volumes to Jin's characterization and the game's charm. Every area of the Cursed Kingdom is also visually distinct and beautifully animated, and a couple of superb anime-style sequences that bookend the game help give it a slick, cohesive feel. The game's strong soundtrack helps round out the package and features both original pieces influenced by Wonder Boy's soundtrack, combined with new, rock-influenced arrangements of Wonder Boy's most memorable tunes, making it a great collection of music both new and old.
Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom not only pays faithful homage to Wonder Boy, particularly The Dragon's Trap, but by refining the solid foundations of its spiritual predecessors with modern affordances, it becomes a rich platforming adventure in its own right. With a well-realized world filled to the brim with secrets and excellent platforming mechanics that always keeps things interesting, the Cursed Kingdom is a place you will want to discover every corner of.
Bandai Namco has announced that their newest Tales of game, a mobile title named Tales of Crestoria, will be coming stateside in 2019. While not quite dubbed the next mainline or flagship Tales of game, Crestoria has all the resources of one and will be releasing in 2019 on iOS and Android.
"Tales of Crestoria takes place in an oppressive dystopia where every citizen must carry with them an all-seeing 'Vision Orb' that monitors for criminal violations," Bandai Namco writes. "The game follows protagonists Kanata, a naive boy blindly accepting of to the Vision Orbs’ justice, and Misella, an audacious orphan unbridled in her dedication to defending Kanata. Due to the horrific events of one fateful night, the duo find themselves branded “Transgressors”, and condemned to death by society’s popular vote—the draconian system of justice by which their world is governed. With eyes now opened to the injustices of society, a chance meeting with Vicious, “The Great Transgressor,” gives Kanata and Misella a defining choice: Own your fate, or let fate own you."
To celebrate, Bandai Namco has released a concept movie to show off the themes of that description in a fairly cool artstyle Check it out below.
Like most recent Tales of games, the title will be a collaboration between artists Mutsumi Inomata and Kosuke Fujishima.
Despite Bandai Namco traditionally releasing one mainline Tales of game a year, they have slowed down considerably in the last few years, not releasing a new title since 2016's Tales of Berseria. Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition, a remaster of the decade-old classic with additional content for English-speaking players, will see release on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC on January 11.
Capcom has made a few announcements about the future of Monster Hunter: World, including a new expansion, Iceborne, which comes out next fall.
Iceborne brings with it new quest ranks, monsters, and more – all within its own story that takes place after the base game.
Early next year, however, hunters will be able to play as Geralt of Rivia from The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, featuring his own quests and gameplay.
In other Monster Hunter news, to celebrate the game's one-year anniversary, in January there is an Appreciation Fest, including a newly decorated gathering hub and special quests.
Before then, starting tomorrow (4 p.m. PST), a free trial (PS4, Xbox One) of the base game is available to those who haven't played it through December 17 (3:59 p.m. PST), and if you decide to buy the game outright, your progress transfers to the main title.
Finally, the Kulve Taroth Siege special event quest returns on December 20, featuring an Arch Tempered version of the monster as well as more powerful rewards.
Below is a roguelike about exploring a series of descending caves on a mysterious island that seems to dare adventurers to come and see if they can survive its challenges. You can craft food and potions, hunt wildlife, and if you die, another adventurer will make their way to the island to quite literally pick up where you left off by acquiring the lamp you dropped on the ground when you died. Despite the density of mechanics and the vague story about a mysterious island that seems to draw in those courageous enough to find it, Below does not offer much on-screen text or tutorial. Alongside the challenge of surviving, figuring out the game’s myriad mechanics, and how to take advantage of them, is one of the things developer Capy Games hope players embrace.
“I am worried about it,” creative director Kris Piotrowski says, “It is a decision that has risks to it, for sure.” Piotrowski recalls the first time he played Minecraft with a wiki open nearby explaining how the game worked, and that was part of the reason he enjoyed the experience. The community was there to help. “I remember when I first played Dark Souls, there was so much to it that wasn't explained and I feel like communities can be built around players helping each other learn and figure out things out,” Piotrowski says. That of course lead to a familiar comparison.
“I think Dark Souls is a brilliant game and the comparison is nothing but complimentary from my perspective,” Piotrowski says regarding the familiar refrain that many games receive these days: it’s like Dark Souls! And in some ways it is. You open shortcuts to the islands assorted lower levels as you play, combat is precise and challenging and when you die, there is incentive to go back and picked up what you dropped, but Below certainly has an identity of its own. “This is a weird game that has a lot of weird little things in it, but it's also a game where you have a sword and shield and it has combat that sort of feels like Zelda or Dark Souls,” Piotrowski says.
Despite his worry about the ambiguous nature of the game, Piotrowski is confident players will be able to figure out the game. “There is a bit of an entry-level starting point that I think players kind of wrap their heads around. I think games have gone very far in the direction of hand-holding and telegraphing and rewarding players continuously. That kind of slow dopamine drop of gameplay cycles that are finely tuned to keep you in the game and sort of spoon feed you every little detail. I think most games do that and I think certain game fans like to just approach a game and try to figure it out,” Piotrowski says. “I think there is pleasure in trying to figure out the mechanics. When a game tells you, ‘Hey, you're on your own!’ a different part of your brain turns on.”
Yesterday, Obsidian and Private Division announced The Outer Worlds, a sci-fi RPG that looks to please Mass Effect and Fallout fans. In The Outer Worlds, players take on the role of a colonist who has just awoken from a long interstellar hibernation then sets off to explore a solar system with the ultimately goal of getting to the bottom of a corporate conspiracy that threatens to destroy everything humanity has built.
Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky are the game’s two co-directors, and both designers worked on the original Fallout as well as titles like Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, WildStar, and Diablo III: Reaper of Souls. We talked with Cain and Boyarsky and spent a day at Obsidian learning all we could about their special new project. Here are six reasons RPG fans should keep The Outer Worlds on their radar.
1) A Unique Take On Sci-Fi
The Outer Worlds is an epic sci-fi opera, but Obsidian’s take on sci-fi is a bit quirky. If you watched the game’s debut trailer, you might have picked up hints of BioShock, but Irrational’s classic wasn’t a direct inspiration. The team was initially inspired by Art Nouveau and Victorian sci-fi from the late 1800s. The Outer Worlds isn’t exactly steampunk, but its universe is filled with a lot of clunky technology and its environments feature a lot of heavy cables and piping.
“We like doing stuff that’s a little bit different,” says Boyarsky. “We wanted to make a sci-fi game, because we’re both big sci-fi fans. You can say Fallout is sci-fi, but it’s post-apocalyptic, which is a bit of a sub-genre. This seems like a good opportunity to go pure sci-fi, so we started to talk about corporations and the way they brand everything. We wanted to explore a future world in that vein. As we talked more, we were drawn to the robber barons of the late 1800s and how they controlled every aspect of people’s existence. That just felt like a really good fit for this.”
2) You Explore An Entire Solar System
Obsidian’s universe isn’t as big as a Mass Effect galaxy, but in The Outer World’s players will fly around an entire solar system aboard their own spaceship. We only got a taste of a few of these environments, but they seem sizable in their own right, and this diversity of locations gives Obsidian the opportunity to create a wide variety of ecologies.
Halcyon is the name of The Outer World’s solar system. It is the furthest colony from Earth and features two main planets humanity initially intended to colonized. However, once the colony ships arrived in the system they realized that only one of the planets as good for habitation, so while one planet is full of sleek technical marvels and gleaming skyscrapers, the other is a barren wasteland teeming with wild monsters. In addition to these two planets, players can explore several moons, asteroids, and space stations spread across Halcyon.
3) Goofy, Dark Humor
If you have any question about The Outer Worlds’ brand of humor, just know that you can play through the entire game as a dumb guy – literally, there is a dialogue option labeled [Dumb] that will let you role-play as a clueless brute. Halcyon is also filled with fat snakes that were bred for their leather, missions about diet toothpaste, and a rare weapon that works like a shrink ray to miniaturize your opponents.
“I think humor is really, really hard to do in a game, but games that go pure dark are hard to take in every night,” says Cain. “I play games that skew dark, and after a while I just don’t want to play them anymore. We like this kind of dark humor where we can put something in the game that also looks silly, but when you dig into it, you find out it’s really horrific.”
“You can actually get a lot darker and a lot deeper into things if it’s fun and humorous,” adds Boyarsky. “Getting deep into the human condition can be a little overwhelming, but if you are having a fun time and laughing and then we sneak in some of that depth and darkness, it actually resonates a little better.”
4) Open-Ended Problem-Solving
Obsidian looks to allow players to tackle The Outer World’s missions in a variety of ways. Charmers might work their way out of firefights with the right words, while thieves can bypass combat by finding a backdoor into most outposts. Those who choose to engage in The Outer World’s first-person combat will have the option to slow down time with a feature called tactical time dilation. This slow-mo feature allows players to look closely at enemies to gain information such as their level of health and other stats. Attacks made during tactical time dilation also do extra damage, but ultimately players will be able to approach every problem in their own way.
“We always ask ourselves, ‘How are people going to react in the game and what do we think they’re going to want to do,’” says Cain. “We added a lot of different playthrough paths. For combat, we have both melee and ranged, but players also have stealth and dialogue options. Then we have all the hybrids like what if you want to sneak through part of the map and then talk your way out of a jam. Or, what if you just want to kill everybody? We’re happy to say that you can kill everybody in the game and still finish the main story arc. You’d be a psychopath, but you could do it.”
5) Embrace The Fear
The Outer Worlds is constantly watching players and recording their actions. Ultimately, it will present new events that could leave lasting scares on your hero. At various times, the game will invite you to select a fear for your character. These fears are based on things that have happened to you. For example, if you take a lot of damage from a certain enemy type, you may be invited to develop a fear of that enemy, which means you will take extra damage those foes. In return to taking a fear, players will get to pick an extra perk to buff their character in other ways. This creates an interesting risk reward dynamic where players can choose to have some weaknesses in order to make themselves stronger. Once these fears have been chosen, they are locked in, but players can also choose to opt out of this fear system entirely.
“If you’re familiar with the works of Joseph Campbell – The Power of Myth and The Hero with a Thousand Faces – he always talks about how heroes are more interesting because they have flaws, so we incorporated the fear system,” says Cain. “The game’s flaws can be anything from a fear of heights to a fear of the dark, or you can be susceptible to different damage types. So the game might go, ‘Hey, I noticed you catch fire a lot. Do you want to be susceptible to flame damage?’ People are like, ‘Why would ever want to be susceptible to flame damage?’ But if you’re one perk away from something really cool, it can be really tempting.”
6) Companionship On The Spaceship
During your journey through Halcyon, you will meet a host of characters who will join your crew. These characters feature their own unique abilities, motivations, and ideals. As you get to know them, they will give you personal companion quests, and completing these missions could change their character. Companions will interject in the middle of conversations and buff your skills, but they might also leave your crew if they don’t like what you’re doing. We encountered one companion named Ellie, who is a tough, no-nonsense sharpshooter. Another companion, named Felix, is a sarcastic melee brute with a good intimidation skill. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to romance any of your companions.
“You encounter all the companions in the first third of the game, because it’s no fun getting a companion in the last hour,” says Cain. “They are designed to touch most of the major skills, so they are all different, but there is some overlap so there’s not just one guy who is really good at ranged attacks or one person who’s a good doctor. They also play off all the different ways a player can play. Like, if you’re playing a psychopath, we show how all these companions react to that. If you’re being really nice, not all the companions are going to be like, ‘Oh great, you’re a hero.’”
Given Obsidian’s lineage working on games like Fallout: New Vegas, South Park: The Stick of Truth, and the Pillars of Eternity, The Outer Worlds looks like the kind of game that RPG fans have been waiting a long time for. We enjoyed our brief taste of Obsidian’s unique spin on sci-fi and the studios bizarre humor, and we can’t wait to get our hands on the game in 2019 when it releases on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. For more, be sure to watch our New Gameplay Today video preview or watch the announce trailer.
Earth Defense Force 5 is a clear culmination point for a series that’s been around since the PlayStation 2, reaching a scale that could surprise even the most hardened of EDF veterans. While it retains many of the familiar tropes from the franchise--four player classes, a huge variety of missions, unlockable weapons and items, and obscenely terrible in-game dialogue that's so bad it’s good--EDF 5 ratchets everything up to 11 and remarkably pulls it off. With bullet-hell style action and massive, open battlefields where every building is destructible, it feels like there’s no better time to get out there and save the world from rampaging space insects and their alien masters.
You play a nameless civilian who gets caught up in the invasion as the giant bugs start pummeling an EDF outpost. As you emerge from the underground base the scale of the attack becomes apparent, with you eventually joining the EDF and rising through the ranks to become Earth’s best hope for survival. It’s a fun, if typical, premise that plays out through the cheesiest in-game dialogue I’ve ever heard. It takes numerous hard turns, culminating in one of the most outlandish and audacious boss fights imaginable. Watching the story weave as it tries to connect the dots is like watching a slow motion trainwreck you cannot take your eyes away from--it’s so brash and ridiculous that you can’t help be charmed by it. Though while the dialogue and story can have you gritting your teeth at the levels of cringe, the action is something else entirely.
Before getting out onto the battlefield, you’re given a choice of playing through each mission with one of four character types, each with different play styles and their own customisable loadouts. The Ranger is the stock standard soldier type and by far the easiest to use in direct combat, while the Wing Diver is fast, good for close combat, and can fly herself out of dangerous situations. While you can play through any missions as any player type, some choices certainly made for an easier time than others. Choosing an Air Raider, a character who can request long-range cannon fire and vehicle drops, for an underground mission isn’t the best use of its skills. But the game will let you do it anyway, happily letting you test things out and work it out for yourself. Loading times are quick, so if you make a poor choice of loadout, it’s only a quick hop back to the menu to change it up before getting back out there.
Fighting the alien hordes can be a completely overwhelming experience. The scale of everything is imposing, especially when faced with a swarm of very angry bugs that are clawing and climbing over not just themselves but apartment buildings, factories, and homes to get at you. The maps are huge, giving you a wide playspace to enact your destruction, and for the most part they use that scale and space well. Calling in a bombing run as an Air Raider will zoom the camera out to show a wide shot of the area, with the sky lighting up bright orange as the bombs carpet the landing zone. Various vehicles like tanks and armored suits can be called in or found scattered around, and although they can feel pretty loose and unwieldy at the best of times, they are at least a good way to move from one side of the map to another or to put some space between yourself and the horde.
Player movement also feels a little sloppy. Moving from a standard run into a dash feels more cumbersome than it should, as does general running about. Thankfully, aiming feels snappy and tight, so regardless of whether you’re in tight space or out on a mountain overlooking a wide-open beachside, combat always feels more rewarding than not.
Replayability is encouraged through battle. As you chew through swarms of giant ants, spiders, carpet bugs and more, blasting them apart in a flurry of brightly-colored blood and chunks, and downed enemies will drop armor as well as weapon and health pickups. While the health pickups heal both you and your nearby AI allies--who you can find out in the battlefield and enlist under your supervision--weapon and armor pickups both manifest after the mission is over, giving you access to new and upgraded weaponry and a higher base HP number respectively. The difficulty level you play will also influence your rewards, with higher difficulties giving you stronger weapons with higher base stats, encouraging you to come back on a higher difficulty level to grind out better gear.
Although the offline single player is fun, EDF 5 and the differing play styles of each character type really come into their own in the cooperative multiplayer, where up to four people can join together and take on the entirety of the 110-mission-long campaign. Although offline and online campaign progress is separated, which annoyingly means you’ll need to play through the missions twice to unlock and access them in each, blasting through aliens with others takes the core gameplay to a new level. In one session, my Wing Diver went down while I was standing atop a large tower while attacking a mob of giant hornets. My co-op partner couldn’t reach me to revive me and instead resorted to destroying the tower, bringing me down with it so I could then be revived. Similarly, a guided missile weapon they were using as a Ranger took on a whole new level of lethality when combined with my laser sight to guide it for them, increasing its range far beyond its normal capability. Classes are balanced so they can helpfully support each other in unique ways, which you simply don’t get in the single-player mode where everything is put squarely on your shoulders.
For everything that’s happening on screen, with bullets, missiles, bodies and debris flying every which way, you might expect EDF 5 to experience frame drops on occasion. But only once did performance slow to crawl during an especially busy scene involving a mothership, a crumbling city, hundreds of enemies and a rainstorm. Some of the grimier textures and character models give it a dated look, though while it’s not the best-looking game around, it has the headroom to handle the sheer volume of things happening around you without severe performance hits when the action gets out of hand.
Despite the series' long-running nature, Earth Defense Force 5 is a standout action game, revelling in its own absurdity while crafting a brilliantly fun and lively action game around it. Its huge battles are a joy to watch play out both from up close and afar, and the wide variety of weapons and play styles with each player type offers plenty of reason to come back for more after the final bullet has been fired.
After launching Far Cry 5 in 2018, Ubisoft Montreal is bringing players back to that game’s Montana setting. However, this direct sequel is far from a retread. The Hope County you explore in Far Cry New Dawn is drastically different, as a global nuclear apocalypse has destroyed most of human civilization. You step into the shoes of a new character hoping to help the residents of Hope County in a unique twist on the franchise. I recently visited Ubisoft Montreal to learn more about the game, and here are 12 key takeaways I had from my day in the offices.
Far Cry New Dawn Comes Out Soon, And It’s Cheaper Than A Standard Game
Far Cry New Dawn is priced at $40, but creative director JS Decant says that doesn’t necessarily indicate that players should expect a budget experience. “I think Far Cry 5 was a huge, tremendous experience, so this is slightly smaller in scope in general,” he says. “But if you’re looking for an action-driven adventure with things you like in a Far Cry, it’s there. If you’re someone who likes to explore and discover all the details of the previous world or if you’re into having the best weapons and optimizing, the game is going to be large.”
Far Cry New Dawn looks to be a fun spin-off entry in the Far Cry franchise with an interesting take on the post-apocalypse. With the title launching on February 15, we don’t have to wait long to find out if Hope County is truly worth saving.
New Dawn Is A Standalone Title, But You Probably Want To Play Far Cry 5 First
Though Far Cry New Dawn is meant to be a standalone title, players who worked through the campaign of Far Cry 5 will notice definite continuations from that story. Many of the cult’s structures have been repurposed in this post-apocalyptic world, and we even got a glimpse of cult leader Joseph Seed, the primary antagonist of Far Cry 5, at the end of the reveal trailer.
“The world is in the place where [Joseph] wanted it to be,” Decant says. “He wanted the world to be there so he can start something fresh, something new, something far from what we did with our societies. […] It was a tricky thing because on one hand we wanted to continue with these characters that we loved in Far Cry 5, but at the same time, we wanted to make sure this was a post-apocalyptic game that could be accessible for anyone.”
This Nuked World Doesn’t Look Dead
Rather than going for the stereotypical gray and brown aesthetic many people associate with the post-apocalyptic concept, Ubisoft Montreal researched how the planet would react to and recover from an actual nuclear war. According to their research, the first six years would be a nuclear winter featuring low temperatures, a dead landscape, harsh winds, and new biomes forming everywhere. After the first six years, the sun and rain returns, leading to a “super bloom” event that leads to vegetation reclaiming the planet beginning at year 10. Far Cry New Dawn takes place during the super bloom, 17 years after the nuclear war of 2018.
Because the planet is in the midst of this super bloom, Hope County is colorful and warm, with flowers and vegetation growing from the death and destruction of nearly two decades prior. “Everybody has an idea of what a post-apocalypse setting should look like,” art director Isaac Papismado says. “We really wanted to avoid the dark and grim environments. We saw that 17 years is the perfect time where life and vegetation could come back. That’s something we really wanted to take advantage of.”
While the vegetation is thriving thanks to the meteorological shift, the radiation has infected and mutated some of the wildlife. I didn’t see many examples of this, but I’m interested to see what the team does with this idea.
You Can Launch Saws At Your Enemies
Another theme Ubisoft Montreal is pursuing with New Dawn is the idea that nothing is being manufactured anymore, so everything from buildings to weapons has a makeshift feel. This is most evident in the series’ zaniest weapon yet: the Saw Launcher. This device uses circular saws for ammunition, launching them at your targets. It starts out shooting one saw at a time, but you can upgrade it to shoot multiple at once; the highest I saw was three saws, which all ricochet off objects and into enemies in a satisfying manner.
“We wanted to bring something to the table that would be believable, but also crazy,” says Decant. “We started to think about this thing that would throw little discs, and the team went wild, and we got the Saw Launcher.”
Far Cry: New Dawn's boxart gives us a glimpse at twin sisters Mickey and Lou
The Main Conflict Is Between The Survivors And The Highwaymen
You control a character who was a part of a group that was moving up the west coast to rebuild civilization. Unfortunately, the train they’re on is ambushed by a marauding gang called the Highwaymen and the dream of this group rebuilding the civilization is squashed for the time being.
Far Cry New Dawn centers on this conflict between the survivors, who are building a community for the future, and the Highwaymen, who don’t think the world is salvageable. Instead, they move from city to city consuming all the resources and living for today. As you might imagine, your character aligns with the survivors at their home base of Prosperity. The survivors decide that in order to survive and rebuild civilization, they need to run the Highwaymen out of town.
The Highwaymen are led by twin sisters Mickey and Lou. Their families secured the docks shortly after the apocalypse, giving them access to abundant resources. However, the resources didn’t last long, and the two fought to be at the top of the food chain. Mickey and Lou are currently in Hope County, but the Highwaymen are spread across the entire country.
You Don’t Spend The Whole Time In Montana
Since the nuclear event wasn’t localized to Montana, the bombs affected other parts of the world. If you’re in need of resources, you can embark on expeditions, which take place in other areas of the country. During a live gameplay demo, I saw one expedition take place in a Louisiana swamp. An abandoned theme park serves as the setting as I watch the character infiltrate a camp and recover resources. Over the course of the game, players can also travel to another location on the west coast of the U.S., as well as an Arizona location. These additional areas are reused throughout the game, so the Louisiana expedition I saw isn’t the only mission taking place in that region.
“We tried to pick places that felt super different [from Hope County], but also with iconic elements,” Decant says. “We even have one where we refer to another Ubisoft game. [Expeditions] were an opportunity to create areas that felt very different from Hope County.”
The Standard Activities Will Feel Familiar To Far Cry Fans
While you’re in Hope County, many of the standard Far Cry activities are at your disposal. You can embark on treasure hunts, which often involve a twist of some sort; the treasure hunt I saw has you infiltrate a wolverine nest to retrieve a key, but wolverines are the least of your worries once the barn you’re inside goes up in flames. You can also work across the map and clear outposts where the Highwaymen are stationed.
Outposts Bring An Additional Twist This Time
While outposts are nothing new to the Far Cry series, New Dawn adds a new gameplay loop to them. Once you take down an outpost, it becomes a fast-travel location for you. However, you can choose to send those in that outpost to scavenge for additional materials, essentially abandoning it and allowing the Highwaymen to retake it in exchange for resources. Once they reclaim the outpost, you can take it back, but it will be more difficult the second time around.
Enemies Have Designated Difficulty Levels
Enemies now have difficulty levels ranging from one to three to indicate how hard it will be to take them down. If you stir up too much trouble and raise the alarm level, high-level enforcer enemies will join the fight to present extra difficulty.
Using the survivor's Prosperity home base, you can upgrade weapons and train companions
New And Familiar Companions Are There For Your Support
If you need some help, you can play cooperatively or bring a Gun for Hire or animal companion into a fight. These characters unlock as you play through the story, and can learn additional abilities as you use them more. For example, one of the Guns for Hire is a grizzled, elderly woman named Nana, who happens to be the sharpest shot in Hope County. This sniper is an ideal companion for stealth missions, as she can unlock abilities like using a silencer or being able to shoot through cover. The other Gun for Hire I saw was Carmina, who is the daughter of Nick and Kim from Far Cry 5. Since she’s only 17 years old, she doesn’t know of a world without the apocalypse.
While I didn’t get to see the other Guns for Hire, Decant says there will be familiar archetypes and even some known characters among the lineup. “There is an RPG, there is a bow-and-arrow character, and a shotgun,” Decant says. “We took some of the most appreciated archetypes and some of the more appreciated characters and created some new ones.”
You Can Still Recruit Animals And Your Pup Can Ride Shotgun
Two new animal companions are also unlockable. Though Boomer the dog from Far Cry 5 is long gone, Timber fills his role as the new canine companion. Timber not only has some new takedowns, but he can also ride in vehicles and scare away larger animals. I also saw Horatio, a giant boar. This monstrous beast draws the attention of the enemies in the area and can be a tank to take down.
The Weapon Wheel Screen Is Streamlined
A simplified weapon and item wheel screen helps streamline the process of getting to the object you hope to use. Now when you open the weapon wheel, the consumables and crafting menus are listed on the sides of the screen. This means you no longer need to flip between wheels to choose the item you want.