My wife calls them "chore games." Day-to-day life simulations such as Stardew Valley, Graveyard Keeper, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons celebrate the mundanity of routine, assigning you daily lists of menial tasks to perform and rewarding you for completing them with another day and another to-do list. Littlewood is most certainly another one of these chore games. Rather than weighing it down, Littlewood's daily grind is leavened by a lean, focused approach to its various labors, the swift turnover of its day-night cycle, and a dash of mystery that elevates its charming setting.
Peace has spread across the land of Solemn in the aftermath of the defeat of a dark wizard. Leading the victorious band of adventurers was a great hero who, in classic video game protagonist tradition, is now suffering from amnesia. He or she cannot remember a single thing about the battle, the triumph, or life beforehand. Nonetheless, at the urging of the friends you apparently fought alongside, you are granted the tiny village of Littlewood and tasked with managing its recovery in a post-war world.
Platform: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Stadia, PC
EA Sports has announced The Yard, a new backyard-football-inspired mode coming to Madden NFL 21. The mode hopes to deliver a fast-paced, customizable experience that feels more like an arcade mode than the traditional NFL games typically delivered by the franchise.
The goal of The Yard is to let players experience the fast-paced gameplay of backyard football. Players create a custom character, choosing form facial hair, hairstyles, and more, then outfit it in unique gear. In The Yard, players can pull off trick plays like behind-the-back throws and double passes, and compete in new field locations all over the world, all with varied rulesets.
Once you step onto the field in The Yard, you compete in 6v6 games with solo, online co-op vs. the CPU, and online head-to-head multiplayer options. The online head-to-head allows for teams consisting of one, two, or three players. The Yard features new animations, and a post-launch plan to include new gear drops throughout the NFL season. Playing in The Yard grants your character experience points and other rewards.
The Yard experience carries into Madden NFL 21 Mobile, where you can create your avatar starting today and compete in a unique version of this new mode called The Yard: Underground. This mobile version features a single-player, narrative experience with 5v5 gameplay. If you connect the same EA account to both your mobile device and console or PC, you can begin earning rewards through Madden NFL 21 Mobile today.
Madden NFL 21 Mobile is available now for iOS and Android. Madden NFL 21 is set to hit PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on August 28. A PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, and Stadia version will launch at a later date.
Stadia), 2020 (PlayStation 5,
Xbox Series X)
Platform: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Stadia, PC
As a rule, Game Informer aims to hold its final critical evaluation of a game until full release, when a developer’s full vision is on display. That remains true with a big multiplayer-enabled online game like Marvel’s Avengers, in which it would be impossible to pull together a comprehensive judgment until we’ve played the full and final game. However, with a large-scale beta for Avengers rolling out this month ahead of a September 4 launch on current-gen platforms, this is likely our last opportunity to help guide purchasing decisions ahead of launch, when we will play the game alongside the community to complete our review. And after several hours in that beta, I’m seeing a lot of concerning signs.
After an early and more limited beta period, the beta is rolling out to pre-order players this week. Barring some significant changes to the nature of that content, players can expect to uncover several hours of missions and leveling to explore, including the oft-seen bridge sequence from the game’s opening, and a later story-driven sequence involving Ms. Marvel and Hulk. From there, the beta opens up into multiplayer-enabled missions, adding Iron Man and Black Widow into the mix, so that up to four players can duke it out together in their battles against Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.). As you fight through the available encounters, you also gradually improve your heroes, both through leveling to gain more skill points and combat moves, as well as with gear that increases their offensive and defensive potential.
There are several things that Avengers ably manages in those hours of play. The hero character models look good (especially in slow-motion animated loading screens), and unlockable costumes help to add some variation to their respective styles. The basics of character control and brawling mechanics feel up to the task, allowing for a familiar range of light and heavy attacks, interspersed with dodges, blocks, and special moves. And perhaps most importantly, the game offers a fantasy that many players have longed for – a chance to hop into the personas of characters like Hulk and Iron Man, and beat up some bad guys in big cooperative throwdowns. Multiplayer sequences easily support up to four friends (or strangers, through matchmaking) joining up and playing together, but also offer options to let companion A.I. characters join in on the fight, so there’s always a sense of a big team-based superhero battles. For some players, that alone will be worth the price of admission.
Unfortunately, I can’t escape a sense of plodding sameness and tedium at the center of the action. Avengers frequently reminds me of the brawling comic-book movie games of the late 2000s, in which button-mashy battles, canned animations, and too-often repeated quips failed to elicit laughter or engagement. Here, that style of action features the addition of potential other players joining in on the fight, but more often than not, those extra onscreen characters lead to exchanges that are confusing to look at, and all blur together, as an array of animated sequences fire off all at once, with little sense of reactivity between the characters I’m looking at. Even when enemies sometimes do respond to my punches, I usually feel like the battles are simply a matter of me moving from one bad guy to the next, tapping wildly on the attack buttons as I watch a health bar deplete. Recent years have given us the melee combat systems of games like God of War and Spider-Man, and by comparison, Avengers often feels archaic.
Lighter and faster characters, like Black Widow and Ms. Marvel, feel floaty as I move them around the environments. But the worse offender is the plodding Hulk, whose sprint is painfully slow and disconnected from his supposedly overwhelming athleticism. In any case, the actual fistfights lack the visceral punch I want in a comic-book-inspired exchange. Attacks don’t feel like they carry any weight behind them, and a seemingly endless series of flashing icons lead to a sense of being overwhelmed and disoriented. Flight, for characters like Iron Man, is handled relatively well, with controls that successfully allow for transitions between ground and air. But even here, I found targeting of enemies to be a notable problem, and the environments often ill-suited to the large spaces needed for freeform aerial battles.
I’m hopeful that the final game offers a more robust and interesting set of environments, but the levels in the beta were uninteresting, and didn’t feature the crafted touch I’d expect in a triple-A game in 2020. Whether it is an underground base of interconnected rooms, or a more open outdoor setting of towering trees in the Pacific Northwest, many of the environments lack verticality or variation. Worse still, both hero characters and enemies fail to “pop” within the gameplay spaces, further accentuating a sense of visual confusion from the already hard-to-track battle sequences.
Both during missions, and in cinematic sequences between those missions, Avengers also aims to weave a narrative appropriate to these incredibly popular characters. I’m eager to see the full scope of that story when the final game releases, but the beta content simply didn’t suck me in. Ms. Marvel, while a wonderful character in the comics, feels ill-suited to carry the role of point-of-view character. Her breathless fangirl exclamations about how cool it is to be hanging out with the Avengers just never land, and instead come across as grating. Meanwhile, the rest of the characters, with their almost-but-not-quite photo-realistic faces, can’t escape the doom of feeling like copycats trying to fill the shoes of film versions of the same leads. In-mission, attempts at levity rarely work, because lines are repeated too frequently. Hearing Stark shout: “Who you gonna call? Hulkbuster!” the first time didn’t really make me chuckle, but it definitely didn’t on the 10th time I heard it.
I enjoyed unlocking new combat moves as I leveled, and I like that individual gear sets can help you prepare for certain mission modifiers. For instance, if you know you’re facing a bunch of cryo-enabled baddies, you can equip items that help defend against the cold. But I am deeply worried about the long-term engagement that such gear provides. In other living games like this, such as The Division or Destiny, the focus on distinct weapons and armor that fundamentally change your playstyle is a big part of the appeal to continue playing. I don’t see any indication of that approach in Avengers, but I’ll be the first to acknowledge that the beta simply may not reveal that level of depth within the equipment experience.
I’m a dedicated Marvel comic-book enthusiast, and have been since childhood. And living games like Destiny have emerged as a big part of my gaming hobby in recent years – a formula that Avengers is clearly trying to emulate in some regards. I am squarely in the target audience for Marvel's Avengers video game. And yet, my early hours with Marvel’s Avengers left me cold. The combat feels stale, the art style is generic, the storytelling didn’t grab my attention, and the sense of character development didn’t leave me excited to move forward. There’s no doubt that Crystal Dynamics is a talented development studio, and the team has already been active in discussing plans beyond launch. And these kinds of games are always changing and evolving, so I absolutely wouldn't write off the game as a whole. But even as I plan to play more of the public beta in the coming days, I’m forced to offer caution at this juncture. A month before actual launch, the Avengers need a lot of work to be ready for the big fight ahead.
PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Stadia, PC
September 4, 2020 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Stadia, PC), 2020 (PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X)
Night School Studio is the team behind unique, story-driven games like Oxenfree and Afterparty. Today, the studio announced via Twitter that it has another project called Next Stop Nowhere in the works ... and won't have to wait long to see it.
Couldn't we all use a galactic road trip right about now?
According to the trailer, Next Stop Nowhere stars a courier named Beckett and a criminal named Serra as they fly through space and explore the stars in search of Serra's son Eddy. This initial reveal doesn't give us too much beyond that, but the trailer's soundtrack and visuals establish a stylish sci-fi vibe.
Though no specific release has been announced, Night School Studio's tweet claims the game is coming exclusively to Apple Arcade "very soon."
Just as career mode is the most popular mode in the EA Sports UFC franchise, created fighters are far and away the most popular characters in the game. That's been the talking point used by developer EA Vancouver as the team members discussed why they've scrapped modes like Ultimate Team and doubled down on innovating and evolving gameplay, career mode, and Create-a-Fighter. We caught up with EA Vancouver one last time ahead of launch to chat about what changes were made in the Create-a-Fighter space.
The big change this time around is that rather than going in and tweaking every single aspect of the fighter's attributes and skills, you now choose from 12 distinct archetypes. According to creative director Brian Hayes, this is less about restricting player choice and more about ensuring that the online experience is balanced. "Previously, we had a system where most people would just create a fighter and give them 100 everything and level five everything, and they'd all be very O.P.," he says. "We're taking an approach where we want to make sure people can use their created fighter in as many modes as possible because it's a very popular fighter for people to use. We needed to find a system that makes these fighters fair, competitively balanced against other licensed fighters in the game. That's why we came up with the archetypes."
Early on, the studio toyed with the idea of a point-allocation system, where the higher you raised attributes, the more costly they would be, but the team figured out that a system like that is highly exploitable. "We had considered doing other things like a development-point limiting system," Hayes says. "What you end up having is people will find a way to min-max the system and find the way that is the most slightly O.P., so everybody will go do that. It's not the same as having 100 OVR created fighters everywhere, but you still end up with basically every created fighter being just one thing. We could still end up in a situation where the game comes out and we find out week one or week two that these two or three archetypes are a little bit O.P. Well then we have the ability to go in and tune those things like we would with a licensed fighter. So we're going to bump these archetypes up, we're going to turn these other archetypes down so that those 12 archetypes still have great variability, but competitive balance, which is a positive for people using created fighters against licensed fighters or against other created fighters online."
Another positive side effect from the archetype system is it makes the fighter-creation process much more streamlined. No longer do you have to go in and tweak every last attribute for each fighter you create. Now, you simply go in, choose the fighter's type, enter their vital information, and craft what they look like. However, just because the process of defining a fighter's skillset is more efficient doesn't mean the cosmetic side has been pared down.
In fact, the sculpting tools from UFC 3 made the trip to this fourth entry, plus there are more hairstyle and facial hair options, as well as new body types, hair colors, and tattoos. In addition, UFC 4 adds new categories for clothing and emotes. Clothing ranges from tame items like custom shorts and gloves to over-the-top cosmetics like animal masks, heavy chains, "anime hair," superhero masks, unicorn t-shirts, and royal crowns. The emotes let you give your fighter a bit more personality in the pre- and post-fight sequences, as well as in-fight taunts.
As you create your stable of fighters (up to 20 total, according to Hayes), you can designate one fighter to be your Universal Avatar. That fighter follows you across modes and can conform to whatever weightclass you are playing. That means that if you create a fighter at 170 pounds, if you set him as your Universal Avatar and want to use him in a 135-pound bout, he'll shrink proportionately to that size and associated skillsets. Universal Avatars are also able to swap out their archetypes on the fly, meaning that if you're a kickboxing archetype and you want to counter a jiu-jitsu or wrestling specialist, you can swap out your skills with ease.
PC), TBA (PlayStation 5,
Xbox Series X)
Platform: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Like any competitive team, FIFA 21 is looking to consistently improve and shore up its weaknesses. Sometimes, that means looking at the core fundamentals and making some adjustments in order for the team to function in better harmony. EA Sports turned to two key places for inspiration on what to tweak for its game plan: the real-life sport and community feedback. This resulted in bettering the creativity, responsiveness, and fluidity of its gameplay for FIFA 21.
After going hands-on with FIFA 21, we experienced additions that put you in more control of the action on the pitch, and they’re all for the better. Don’t expect any drastic changes to the formula, but these are welcome improvements and address some nagging issues. Whether it’s new techniques or improved A.I., FIFA 21 is making sure you’re better able to create the plays you want. Here’s what stood out for us.
Agile Dribbling Takes The Game To A More Competitive Level
Dribbling is a fundamental part of the game, and this skill can be make-or-break when it comes to achieving victory. We’ve seen players’ fast footwork trick defenders, providing an opening for them to blow past their cover for a satisfying scoring chance. In FIFA 21, the standard dribbling has been improved to be more responsive and quick, but a new, more refined technique called “agile dribbling,” is also being added to your arsenal.
Agile dribbling gives you more advanced ways to outsmart your defender and assert yourself on the pitch. All you need to tap into it is press the right bumper while moving the left stick in the direction you want. This allows you to move the ball side to side and back and forth with ease, and it’s a great tool to have to prevent yourself from getting tackled and blowing past a defender when they overcommit in a certain direction. However, keep in mind, the dribbling attribute of the player you’re controlling will determine how successful you will be with this technique. Players known for their dribbling like Mbappé and Messi will be much faster and effective than most.
Testing this during our hands-on proved this much; the controls are easy enough to activate, but agile dribbling does require some mastery. It’s easy to lose the ball if you’re not careful, but it’s also satisfying to boot when you outsmart a defender with your sweet moves. This is one technique we expect to really see shine in competitive play, especially those who are just gunning for their big stars to embarrass their opponents.
Improved A.I. Intelligence Makes For More Realistic Interactions
A lot of effort has gone into elevating the A.I. and ensuring it’s making more realistic and intelligent decisions on the field. One of the most promising new features is called “positioning personality,” which strives to make players feel different depending on their position and skill attributes. From striker to fullback, every position plays differently and requires different intelligences, and likewise, every player has their own personal strengths and weaknesses.
For some examples of how this functions in FIFA 21, top forwards are less likely to get caught offside and recognize when they need to create a passing lane. Defenders are overall more likely to cut off passing lanes and the more skilled ones will recognize runs earlier, giving them a better chance to break it up. “This means that players that are good tactically are going to have a bigger impact in FIFA regardless of their pace, dribbling, and shooting attributes, which for years have been the most impactful ones,” says lead gameplay producer Sam Riviera.
EA Sports also worked on its collision system to make the physical action on the pitch much more natural. Now players won’t run directly into other players, trying to avoid unnecessary contact, like jumping over a sliding player. If there is a collision, EA worked to improve the physics so players wouldn’t get stuck together in large groups like in previous entries. This may seem like a minor improvement, but it does create more space and less pileups, making for a smoother experience.
For players looking for a challenge but feel like the CPU has been too predictable and easy in the past, a new competitor mode, which replicates the playstyles of some of the best FIFA professionals in the world, is for you. In this difficulty mode, teams will use all their skill moves, aggressively pass, and find the best ways to score. Expect the A.I. to pull out all stops, and it’s a lot of fun trying to stay one step ahead of them.
Creative Runs Is A Difference-Maker
Of all of the tweaks and additions, the one that felt the most impactful and promising is creative runs. You now have more control over telling your A.I. players where you want them to go. This is a godsend for getting your players in the best spaces to execute on your game plan. Now right after a pass, you can flick the right stick in any direction and the passing player will start moving there, such as sending them to the wing or requesting they do a diagonal run. This is the first time you have 360-degree control of the run, giving you plenty of options for ways to create chances.
Before, we often felt at the mercy of our A.I., but being able to ensure they go where we need them with ease really lessens this frustration. With directed runs, you can send your player to a better area with more space in the heat of the moment. This allows you to create a lot of different types of plays that weren’t possible before.
Another way to better create the plays you want is the ability to stay locked to a player, so after you make a pass, you aren’t automatically swapped to that player. This is great if you want to stay on the attack and spot an opening, but need to make a pass before you can get there. All you need to do now is press both sticks at the same time to stay locked to a player, and the CPU will take control of the player you just passed to.
FIFA 21 is giving players more options and control to ensure they can play how they want. During our hands-on we noticed a slew of tweaks, such as more consistent blocking, accurate tackles, and improved player passing, which just made everything on the pitch feel much better. Having the ability to tap into new tactics like agile dribbling and creative runs provided more spectacular ways to create plays, resulting in those special moments where you feel like you’ve earned a play on the highlight reel. None of this rewrites the formula, but they are all positive changes. We can only hope that these tools give players even more unique and creative ways to have success on the pitch. Time will tell, but the improved A.I. alone makes for a better experience.
Platform: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Stadia, PC
Following the reveal of what's new to Madden NFL 21, fans of the series' franchise mode were quick to point out that the minimal updates made for Madden NFL 21 felt more like patch notes than upgrades you would expect in the next iteration of a long-running and successful franchise like Madden. Today, EA Sports released a blog post detailing the roadmap not only for Madden NFL 21's post-launch lifespan, but also what improvements the team is exploring for Madden NFL 22.
Following Madden NFL 21's reveal, a social-media movement called #FixMaddenFranchise, as well as other prominent community feedback led to the team rethinking how it approaches franchise mode. As a result, the development team is devoting a higher percentage of team bandwidth to provide updates to Madden NFL 21's franchise mode post-launch, and make even bigger changes for Madden NFL 22's franchise. The plan right now is to operate Madden NFL 21 as a platform, delivering significant content updates through two or three releases over the next few months.
Following launch, Madden NFL 21 players can expect tuning updates to improve the progression and regression of players, new commissioner tools, improved A.I.-driven personnel management, improved playoff and Super Bowl presentation, customizable X-Factor and Superstar abilities, improved U.I. showing historical player performances, better trade logic, better retirement U.I., and updates to the playoff U.I so you can better track the postseason action.
If you're looking for bigger changes, EA Sports is already laying out what it wants to do with Madden NFL 22, saying it's not committed to doing these things just yet, but it's "exploring creatively." The areas the team is currently looking into include coaching and staffing management, scouting improvements, new scenario engine enhancements, new team chemistry systems, more commissioner tool improvements, and additional content like new logos, names, uniforms, and options for relocation. EA Sports says it will share more as the development team gets closer to Madden NFL 22.
While fans of franchise mode are sure to still be disappointed with the meager offerings at Madden NFL 21's launch, hopefully this acknowledgement of the team's neglect of the mode, as well as the commitment provided through the roadmap help ease the tension within the community. Madden NFL 21 launches on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on August 28. It will come to PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X later this year.
Stadia), 2020 (PlayStation 5,
Xbox Series X)
Platform: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Stadia, PC
Marvel's Avengers will follow a core group of heroes – Ms. Marvel, Iron Man, Black Widow, Hulk, Captain America, and Thor – when it launches on September 4. However, the game is also getting free DLC heroes as time goes on (like the recently revealed Hawkeye). Today, developer Crystal Dynamics announced a major new addition to the roster.
In a post on PlayStation Blog, Crystal Dynamics associate art director Jeff Adams announced that Spider-Man will be coming to Avengers in early 2021. The hero will be available exclusively on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.
Also worth noting is that Adam's says this version of the web-slinger is "our own Crystal Dynamics take on Spider-Man," so don't expect any direct ties to Insomniac's acclaimed incarnation. The PS Blog post has much more information on Crystal Dynamics' approach to this legendary figure.
Fight Crab, a game about crustaceans fighting other crustaceans, begins innocently enough. You start as a plucky young snow crab, defending his rock pool from other, invading crabs. The next thing you know, that same snow crab is now kaiju-sized, fighting in city streets against a similarly kaiju-sized lobster wielding a giant knife and revolver pistol. Things, incredibly, only escalate from there.
What if crabs had weapons? That's the ridiculous notion that Fight Crab bases itself on, and it commits to it wholeheartedly with an involved combat system and a variety of scenarios that grow increasingly bizarre. The game often exceeds your expectations of what you might anticipate from a game that pits these hard-shelled creatures against one another. At times the joke can start to wear thin, but it's hard to forget the delightful, laugh-out-loud surprises it continues to throw at you.
A third-person, physics-based fighting game, Fight Crab is reliant on your ability to flip your shelled opponents onto their backs and make sure they don't get up. Damage dealt by striking with your claws, environmental objects, or weapons is tracked by a percentage meter, and higher percentages make it harder for crabs to regain their upright posture--a system that draws from Super Smash Bros., and one that allows for the occasional, unbelievable near-death comeback and matches that come down to the wire.
Editor's note: This review evaluates Grounded based on its early access state. We plan on reviewing Grounded again once it gets a full release.
Think about your favourite survival games. Think back to how they launched. Think of their initial public showing. If your favourites are like mine, you'll notice a trend: None of them were very good when they first launched to the general public.
Subnautica had me on the edge of my seat at launch, but it ran terribly. Four years later and its 1.0 build was one of my favourite games in a year that included God of War and Red Dead Redemption 2. The Forest, similarly, launched a mere shadow of the terrifying adventure it would eventually become. No Man's Sky was near-universally criticised at launch, but it eventually reached its potential and went beyond. Grounded, from Obsidian Entertainment, is currently in the early part of the aforementioned Early Access phase, and is lacking in many respects. But, like the games mentioned above, it has what feels like the potential to grow into something much, much greater.