You gotta respect a game that tells you exactly what it is upfront. Within minutes of starting Superhot: Mind Control Delete, you're told, in those now infamous subliminal text cards that pop up from time to time in the previous games, that yes, this game will give you more. No story. No closure. No long-winded explanation of what happened in the last two games. Just more senseless shooting, and then it'll be over. And to Superhot Team's credit, they deliver on their promises. This is, definitely, a lot more Superhot. But it's also a few other things that aren't nearly as welcome.
Mind Control Delete is still fundamentally following the same mantra as the other two games: Time Moves When You Do. It's still a first-person shooter that places you in sparse, stark white, and self-contained little killzones, against a small group of keen-to-kill goons made out of, seemingly, fragile red glass. Your job is to John Wick your way out of whatever wild scenario you've been placed in, using objects in your environment to your advantage. There are guns, but with very limited ammo. So, when you don't have a gun, grab a sword. If you don't have a sword, grab a knife. If you don't have a knife, grab a book, a pen, or a teacup. Even with a relatively limited moveset, the time mechanics at play turn what would be a breathless massacre at full speed into a sort of kinetic chess game, allowing you the ability to plot every maneuver down to the millisecond. While gunplay is certainly your bread and butter in Superhot, there's a maniacal glee that comes with taking out a guy wielding a katana by throwing a typewriter at him in Superhot that makes it truly special. That winning formula is still very much in full effect here in Mind Control Delete, but a few new ingredients have been added to the concoction: rogue-lite elements. And while the formula hasn't been ruined in the least, the effectiveness has been lessened a tiny bit.
For starters, the game's levels, which were once all unique, impeccably staged setpieces, are now relegated to around a dozen or so themed rooms--such as lab, disco, prison, or casino--with enemy/item placement and your own start point randomized each time. There's more variety to be had than one might think in that randomization. The environments are elaborate and full of tiny, devilish design elements for you to mount for a better vantage, mail slot-sized holes to shoot through, or daredevil jumps to make out of windows to stomp an enemy from above. Even despite the minimalist aesthetic, these are still impeccably designed, functional places that still evoke the tense feeling of getting into a shootout in a place clearly meant for public use. The environments follow real world placements for everyday objects, which means using them to your advantage--using an open car door to evade a bullet, grabbing the handle off a slot machine to use as a weapon, or getting behind a DJ booth to take cover behind a speaker. Suspension of disbelief in the sparseness of it all tends to vanish in the moment. There are vast, glorious opportunities for you to surprise your enemies, or vice versa, and it takes hours to get to a point where things start to wear thin.
If a youthful obsession with Japanese samurai cinema and an audiobook version of Musashi have taught me anything, it's that if you want to be a great swordfighter, having a connection to nature is important. Skill with a weapon isn't purely driven by physical strength and technique, but also by the acuity that comes from observing trees, mountains, and rivers. Something like that.
While I can only make guesses as to how inspirational the rural areas of feudal Japan would have been, the scenic island portrayed in Ghost of Tsushima, an open-world 13th-century samurai epic, is one that often stirs something inside me. Beyond being a game centred around flashy sword fights and the journey of Jin Sakai to becoming a proto-ninja, Ghost of Tsushima invites you to lose yourself deeply in its grasslands, forests, and mountains. And though the tasks you're given often aren't as brilliant as the colour of the leaves, there's certainly something wonderfully humbling about just riding your horse through this beautiful environment and taking it all in.
Today, we got our first look at Far Cry 6, the next entry in Ubisoft’s flagship series. This time around, you lead a guerilla revolution, fighting to free the fictional island nation of Yara from its brutal dictator. Ahead of the reveal, Ubisoft shared a presentation and let us chat with narrative director Navid Khavari. While the studio isn’t ready to talk about gameplay specifics, we were able to dive more into the setting and characters.
A Fight For Freedom
Welcome to Yara, a tropical paradise frozen in time, located in the heart of the Caribbean. The island has seen better days. As Ubisoft puts it: “Decades of economic sanctions have devastated the nation, leaving it impoverished and divided.” As its dictator’s practices get increasingly more disturbing (more on that below), you’ll get swept up in a modern-day guerilla revolution. Your journey to burn down this tyrannical regime takes you through the island’s lush jungles, dense cities, and beautiful beaches. Ubisoft is calling it “the most expansive Far Cry playground to date.”
You play Dani Rojos, who you can choose to be male or female. “In terms of Dani, what we wanted to do was explore a character that is fully voiced, fully performance captured and you can play as both male and female," Khavari says. “We also wanted a character that was born and raised on the island of Yara, is a local, and someone who didn't necessarily see themselves as part of a revolution or an uprising, but who gets swept up in the Libertad movement.”
Khavari says a small team went down to Cuba to take in everything for inspiration. “We got to meet with the locals and explore the culture and the diversity, but we also got to talk to actual guerrillas who fought in the revolution there,” he says. “There are all sorts of reasons people will join up and fight in a guerilla revolution. Some want to shoot guns and feel that adrenaline kick, while others are looking to do it for the country and for the flag. I think that dynamic was really interesting narratively, and then also from the gameplay perspective, the idea of this David versus Goliath dynamic. Also, because the island has been under a blockade for about 50 years, having to make do with what you have was really interesting. In terms of gameplay and also in terms of how you approach Far Cry 6.”
Ubisoft says to expect some unconventional weapons due to trying to make do with what’s available on the island in addition to having vehicles and animal companions.
The Antagonist Is Ruthless Dictator Antón Castillo
Far Cry is known for its cunning villains. From radical cult leader Joseph Seed to maniacal king Pagan Min, the series is full of intense personalities. Antón Castillo, played by Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul), certainly fits that bill and has his own complexities. As El Presidente of Yara, he’s kept the country under his tight control, often resorting to brutal methods to achieve what he thinks is the “greater good.” He was elected to return the struggling island to its former glory and will stop at nothing to achieve his vision.
Antón believes the island was at its best 50 years ago before the first revolution. When we sat down with Khavari, he revealed that Antón’s own father was in charge of the country during that time. “The revolution actually took over and ended up executing Antón 's father right before his eyes,” he explains. “So right from the beginning, Antón has grown up with this perspective and mindset and worldview that the island was stolen from his family. And because Yara over the years experienced this economic decline, I think Antón saw that as proof that only the Castillo family can really save Yara. So when he's elected to power, he does so on the promise to rebuild paradise, to bring Yara back to the money it had 50 years ago. But what he doesn't say is that that paradise isn't for everyone, that those who dare speak out against his methods will be rounded up into essentially a forced labor state, one that is forced to work at gunpoint to see his vision of the country.”
Antón And His Son Diego’s Relationship Takes Center Stage
The trailer made clear that Antón’s relationship with his son would be an important aspect of Far Cry 6; he’s essentially grooming this young man to succeed him. But will Diego follow his lead? That’s for us to discover when we play. It’s also what makes Antón one of our most interesting villains to date. One minute he’s a cunning leader, the next a caring father.
“The touchstone for us was having this character who was born amidst revolution and developed a very twisted worldview after the execution of his father, but also someone who is a father himself," Khavari says. "I think there's just something interesting about what it’s like to be in the room with the dictator and see how they try to justify what they're doing and see things from their perspective. On top of that, seeing Antón as a character who not only is running a country but is also as a father, trying to pass down these lessons to his son that are twisted and basically brutal and offensive. At the same time, the layer on top of that is he loves Diego. He wants him to grow up safe and secure, and he actually believes he's doing the right thing. I think that's something that Giancarlo, who is playing Antón, really keyed in on right from the beginning.”
So where does playable protagonist Dani fit with these two characters and what types of relationships will he have with them? Ubisoft isn’t ready to talk specifics yet, but we did get Khavari to tease more about this aspect of the game. “That triangle of characters between Antón, Diego, and Dani is absolutely crucial,” he says. “What I can say is that with Diego what we found really interesting was this idea of this is a 13-year-old teenager. I think a lot of folks can remember what it was like being 13, at least I do. It’s hard enough to figure out who you are and what you're gonna do in this world and what does it all mean? But try doing that while also being the son of a dictator who is running a country. We really wanted to create a character in Diego that is riding a razor's edge – that you don't know exactly where he's going to land. Is he going to follow in his father's footsteps? Is he going to be a brutal dictator himself? Or is he going to forge his own journey, his own path? So I'm excited to see what players think of that.”
The World Has More Verticality Than Past Games
For a first in the series, Yara houses a sprawling capital city, Esperanza. You can navigate the area more stealthily or go guns blazing in firefights through the streets. “Right from the beginning, we knew that we would want to do a capital city,” Khavari says. “We are going to be talking about a lot of the gameplay elements at a later date, but it definitely changes the way you play and approach things. When you have a city, there's definitely verticality involved… and you really get the sense of a revolution. Because a guerrilla revolution usually starts in the jungles and in the farmlands, but you sort of circle and approach Antón. And when you attack a city, you just feel the weight of oppression, just in the scale of the buildings, being able to navigate rooftops and alleys. It not only changes the way you play, but it changes how the narrative feels.”
“Guns For Hire” Returns
One of the most popular and successful elements from Far Cry 5 is back. This time around, it’s called Amigos For Hire, where you can pair up with A.I. companions to help you. From a jaded ex-KGB spy to an adorable wiener dog, you can call in some backup to your missions. Ubisoft wouldn’t get into specifics, except to confirm this feature is back. According to Khavari, wiener dog Chorizo is the favorite among the dev team. “I can say maybe as a little tease, he kills with kindness, so I’m excited for people to experience that.”
It Already Has A Release Date
Far Cry 6 is set to release on February 18 for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Stadia, and PC. Ubisoft confirmed if you purchase the game for PS4 or Xbox One, you can upgrade to a next-gen platform at no additional cost after the launch.
PC), TBA (PlayStation 5,
Xbox Series X)
Platform: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Stadia, PC
The King is dead … but for the Vikings, that’s merely a chance to build something new. When the Norse warriors first entered England in 873 CE, they discovered a land at war with itself. Several warring groups of Anglo-Saxons vie for power in a wild and untamed country. The Viking people may be fierce, but in England, they are also outnumbered. In order to survive, this band of Scandinavia settlers must make new alliances and friendships. To them, war isn’t a hardship, it’s an opportunity.
Leading The Charge
The tip of the Viking spear is a young warrior named Eivor. Players guide this capable hero throughout England to help them establish a new settlement for their kinsmen. As with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, players choose Eivor’s gender at the beginning of the game and then guide him or her as they learn new abilities and acquire a nigh unending supply of weapons and armor.
Eivor’s journey eventually takes them to the territory of East Anglia where they make a pollical alliance with a would-be king named Oswald of Ellmenhind. Unfortunately, before Oswald is crowned, a rival clan of Danes led by a man named Rued invade and reportedly kill Oswald, leaving Eivor’s clan in the middle of hostile territory. Naturally, Eivor can’t let this stand. If Rued’s clan wanted a war with the Vikings, they got one.
Still, before Eivor leads an assault against Rued, they must rally more troops to their cause. To win the support of a local township, Eivor leads a raid against a group of bandits. These raids function a bit like the Fortress assaults in Odyssey, and Eivor can tackle them head-on with a bloody ax or skulk through the shadows, cleaning house with a hidden blade.
During my first playthrough, I took the stealthy route. In the last couple Assassin’s Creed titles, your success as an assassin was based on your skill level and the quality of your gear, so you could easily run into situations where you performed a stealth takedown only to watch your victim stand back up. In Valhalla, stealth attacks are more likely to take down enemies in one hit. I still encountered a few stronger opponents who shrugged off my hidden blade, but this was rare. Even so, when you initiate a stealth attack against a strong enemy, you have the chance to complete a timed button press that does extra damage, meaning you can still assassinate these hardy enemies without raising the alarm.
“We brought back a couple of stealth mechanics,” says assistant level-design director Laurence Letalien. “You can disguise yourself in certain areas where there are civilians. Guards are less likely to notice you when you have your hood up, and won’t notice you at all in crowds. Even if you’re in an area you shouldn’t be, you can disguise yourself so it’s harder to get detected. We also brought back some social stealth elements, like the monks from old Assassin’s Creed games, so you can navigate the world a bit while being stealthy.”
During my stealth raid, I cleared out an entire encampment without alerting anyone, but the end-boss encounter almost did me in. On my second playthrough, I led my fellow warriors into battle, and we completed the raid in about half the time. My soldiers did an exceptional job distracting the boss, which made that encounter much easier. You can complete most missions with a mix of stealth and aggressive combat. During one botched stealth encounter, I blew my war horn and called my men into battle, and they helped me clear out the rest of the encampment and finish the mission. Valhalla's mission design is flexible enough to let you complete each conflict as stealthy or aggressive as you like.
After completing my first Raid, I discover a Book of Knowledge, which unlocks a new ability called Dive of the Valkyrie. Most abilities are learned by finding these tomes hidden around the world. However, these texts are often heavily guarded or at the center of a military camp. Valhalla’s world contains multiple copies of each ability book, but if you find two of the same volume their associated ability grows stronger.
I immediately put Dive of the Valkyrie to the test, and it soon becomes my go-to move in combat, allowing Eivor to launch into the air before landing ferociously atop a single foe, crushing them underfoot. Another useful ability has Eivor grabbing an enemy and then kicking them to the ground, which stuns them and opens them up for a finishing blow. Meanwhile, Throwing Axe Fury allows Eivor to throw a series of axes that hit any opponent within a set range, which comes in handy for managing large crowds.
Many of Eivor’s abilities are great in combat, but some have other uses. One bow ability called Thorn of Slumber puts enemies to sleep, and I find it instrumental for completing encounters without causing a ruckus. A handful of other bow-based abilities have Eivor dipping arrows in poison, calling down a raven to distract foes, or marking multiple enemies before releasing a volley of arrows.
In addition to abilities, Eivor has a massive skill tree. Using points earned after each level, you’ll empower Eivor with an assortment of passive skills. “The progression system is pretty new,” Letalien says. “We have three main character routes that you can take. They are called the bear, the wolf, and the raven, and those correspond to the warrior, the hunter, and the assassin ways of playing.”
Valhalla’s skill tree is big and its edges are obscured by fog, so you won’t be able to see all your options until you begin unlocking nodes leading down each path. Naturally, these skills run the gamut and allow you to buff your various attacks, increase your resistances to things like fire, and otherwise improve your stealth capabilities.
The final element of Valhalla’s progression system is the collection of random loot Eivor amasses during their journey. As with the past couple entries in the series, players gather resources, such as leather and iron, which can be used to upgrade this gear, so if you find something you really love, you won’t necessarily need to swap it out when something better comes along.
During my session, I played around with an assortment of various weapons, from two-handed spears, long-range bows, and a spinning flail that delivered a series of small rapid-fire attacks. Eivor can dual-wield one-handed weapons – in fact, you can dual-wield shields if you’re so inclined. However, my favorite combo was an ax/shield combo, which allowed me to parry most enemy attacks and set my opponents up for instant takedowns.
Making New Alliances
After completing a couple of raids and leveling up Eivor, I’m ready to attack Rued’s stronghold and end his tyranny. I march my army up to the front gates of his castle and begin the assault. As with my previous raids, this assault is an all-out bloodbath, but once Eivor finally confronts Rued, I'm faced with a moral choice: Do I take Rued as a prisoner so he can be tried properly for his crimes, or do I take justice into my own hands and execute him on the spot? Choices like this impact your experience. If Eivor kills Rued, some of our friends might be unhappy, but if we let Rued live there is a good chance he could escape and seek revenge down the road.
“In every major story arc, we want there to be at least one major choice,” McDevitt says. “Those choices actually have ramifications down the road because you have these alliances that you've made. Those relationships need to be good for something, so at certain points in the story, you might have to call on those alliances. You'll see those friendly faces again, or some of them anyway.”
When it comes to Rued and his clan, you’ll have to wait until Assassin’s Creed Valhalla launches on November 17 to experiences the full fruits of Eivor’s alliances, but our time with Ubisoft’s latest open-world RPG left us excited for the full journey. Fans of Assassin’s Creed Origins and Odyssey likely already know what to expect from Valhalla, but Ubisoft has refined its formula and crafted another massive sandbox that looks to deliver on the Viking fantasy.
“You don't have to say much more than Viking to get people dreaming,” McDevitt says. “But it's our job to disabuse you of some of those dreams. Like, Viking’s didn't wear horned helmets, and even though they have a reputation for ferociousness, they were also settlers and explorers. They came to England, not to colonize England, but to settle down because they needed land … We want to go to the source and drag up all of the historical details and give you a complete Viking experience. It’s not just the big axes and the longship. Although that stuff is fun, too.”
If you ask any UFC champion how they compare to their former self, they're likely to bring up the term "evolution." Fighters are constantly in pursuit of knowledge and improvement as they seek to not only become the best in the world, but continue to build their legacy as among the greatest to ever do it. As the only UFC-licensed video game in town, EA Sports UFC 4 doesn't need to worry about outpacing the competition, but rather demonstrating that it still deserves to be the de facto champion. EA Sports UFC 4 looks to evolve the areas that worked with UFC 3, while completely revamping the areas that didn't to create a game worthy of carrying the franchise forward.
Making a Career of It
As players fire up UFC 4, they have several options of where to go if they want to step into the Octagon. However, analytics showed the team of EA Vancouver that career mode has long been the most popular mode for players, so in order to get players right into the action, the first time you turn on the game, you start by creating your own fighter and working through your amateur career.
Once you're into the meat of career mode, your goal is, once again, to become known as the greatest of all time (GOAT). Much like in UFC 3's career mode, to become the GOAT, you must complete a combination of performance and promotional goals before you retire. However, while the ultimate goal is the same as it was in the most recent iteration, the way in which you progress your fighter is completely different. "Our big focus this year this year is really making sure that the players had lots of choices and that those choices matter," creative director Brian Hayes says. "That comes down to the choice of literally every move you make inside training or inside the Octagon"
Through a new Fighter Evolution system, your attributes level up based on how much you use those moves in fights and sparring. To get a leg up on your fighter's progression, you can now invite other UFC fighters to your camp to help you train certain things; the higher profile you are, the wider the selection of fighters that will be willing to come train with you is. Fighters you invite not only help you improve your skills, but also help teach you new moves through sparring drills. Unlocked moves are initially appear as one-star moves, but the more you train and use a given move, the more it will develop and level up.
When you're not training, you can develop relationships and rivalries with other fighters through improved social media mechanics, contemplate which fight you want to accept (or decline), or even study film of your next opponent. If you develop a negative relationship with a fighter through social media trash talk, they're less likely to join you in your training camps if you invite them. Just like with UFC 3, you can also use your finite time to take part in promotional activities. If you invest a ton of points into scouting your upcoming opponent through watching tape, you can learn information like their overall rating, their fighting styles, or their best moves.
All of these systems culminate in giving you more ways to (hopefully) achieve your goal of becoming the UFC GOAT. As someone who played through the UFC 3 career mode four times, I'm excited to see how different the experience truly feels, with particular attention paid to the training camp experience – that became especially stale after repeated playthroughs. Hopefully these new progression methods and camp activities will allow for better interactivity, more dynamic situations, and more replayability. However, while EA anticipates that career mode will continue to serve as the centerpiece of the experience, it's far from the only offering, as players have a ton of different ways to get into the Octagon.
In addition to career, EA Sports UFC 4 continues to deliver a large suite of other modes for players to fight their way through. The mainstays of past games are well represented, with standard Fight Now, Stand & Bang (no grappling), Knockout mode (set health bar), and custom fights available for local play. When you're selecting your fighter, the new selection screen features animated character models, new UI, and combined weight class settings for even more matchups available across different divisions.
For a bit more structure, you can create your own custom event, which lets you set up your own fantasy fight card down to choosing the fighters, bout order, and more. UFC 4 also brings back tournaments featuring either 8 or 16 fighters with progressive damage from match to match. Those who want to hone their skills can also jump into the franchise's practice mode.
If you want to expand your competition to the online pool, Online World Championships serves as the ranked multiplayer, letting you compete using either licensed or created fighters in skill-based matchmaking. Based on your performance, you experience division progression and regression. This time around, rather than asking you which weight class you want to compete it, the division rotates, giving you a fresh roster of fighters to choose from.
EA Sports UFC 4 also introduces Blitz Battles, a new 64-player online tournament mode that operates under special rules to get you through the matches quickly. The matches within these tournaments rotate their rulesets; some operate under traditional MMA rules, while others use the Stand & Bang or Knockout mode. These matches also feature shorter rounds to not only expedite the fights within the tournament, but also encourage the action to be a little higher paced. To come out on top, you need to win six fights in a row, and if you lose, you can quickly join another tournament if you want.
If you don't want to play either of those new or revamped modes, you can still jump into Quick Fights, which doesn't use skill-based matchmaking, but does offer standard, Stand & Bang, and Knockout modes, plus online leaderboards for wins and finishes. And, of course, you can always invite your friend to join you in the Octagon over PlayStation Network or Xbox Live.
While forging your skills in the flame of online competition is alluring to many, looking good is just as important to others. Thankfully, EA Sports UFC 4 takes the Create-a-Fighter customization to a whole new level.
Looking Good, Fighting Good
Over the last several years, the UFC fightkits have been largely homogenized due to the apparel deal with Reebok. While the real-life licensed fighters in UFC 4 stick to the strict uniform code of the UFC, EA Sports is having a little fun with the Create-a-Fighter options. In past games, you could create a fighter to add to your roster alongside the officially licensed athletes, but outside of custom tattoos and a limited selection of hairstyles and facial options, you couldn't really get too creative.
With UFC 4, EA Vancouver is giving you more ways to customize your fighter than ever before. From additional hairstyles, facial hair, and tattoo options to a ton of over-the-top vanity items that help your created fighter stand out in unprecedented ways, it's safe to say your personalized fighter can be the most unique fighter on the UFC roster. These vanity items let you equip shorts, tops, gloves, accessories, and even animal heads to your fighter to really go wild. These items are purely cosmetic; they offer no effect on gameplay, and are only available to equip on created fighters. You can also equip pre-fight, post-fight, and in-fight emotes for your fighter to perform.
Rather than giving you complete control over your created fighters' attributes like in previous years, UFC 4 gives you several archetypes to choose from. "There are 12 Create-a-Fighter fighting archetypes that you get to choose," Hayes says. "Those are meant to be competitively balanced ... fair and balanced against all the other licensed fighters in the game and all other created fighter archetypes so we won't have to worry about players going into Create-a-Fighter and creating what is essentially just a roided-out, 100 overall, level 5 every single move Create-a-Fighter that is totally O.P. in online competitive gameplay."
This year's title also allows you to create one Universal Avatar. This created fighter is pretty much set as your main custom fighter and follows you up and down to different weight classes, so you can always choose them when you're setting up a fight regardless of mode or division. Every other fighter you create, however, adheres to traditional weight classes.
While you can take your created fighters all over the globe to compete in various arenas that real-world UFC fighters throw down in, players can also venture into four new venues. While the UFC Apex (where Dana White's Contender Series and all pandemic-era UFC cards in Las Vegas take place) and a fictional amateur fight promotion called Action Avenue, where the cage is under a tent, lead the charge, the EA Vancouver team is carrying its "let's have some fun" mentality into the other offerings. To play off cover athlete Jorge Masvidal's well-documented past as a backyard brawler, players can choose to duke it out in a yard full of barbecuing spectators and crude chain fences. Additionally, you can take to the underground arena and compete in a special Kumite venue, complete with torches and a special presentation suite.
Of course, all these upgrades would mean little if the gameplay doesn't offer new and exciting upgrades as well. While I thoroughly enjoyed the fighting of UFC 3, EA Vancouver recognized several places for improvement and turned those notes into action by revamping several key areas of the in-the-Octagon gameplay.
Improving on the Fundamentals
With the studio having a little fun with the customization, you may think the team is taking the series in a more arcade-style direction or not focusing on the style of gameplay players have come to expect from the series. However, EA Vancouver overhauled several aspects of the gameplay to deliver more realistic exchanges between the two combatants. UFC 3 featured solid striking, but the ground and clinch games still felt robotic. By further implementing EA Sports' Real-Player Motion technology, UFC 4 hopes to deliver the changes fans have been wanting from the series.
Every round starts on the feet, so while the UFC 3 striking was good, EA Vancouver wasn't satisfied. New dynamic striking introduces a tap/hold system that lets you determine if you want to throw a quick strike or a more powerful one based on how long you hold the button. Hayes says this new system was designed to be less complicated for players and should be more intuitive when trying to throw a variety of strikes.
In UFC 3, the clinch game felt more like an extension of the ground game than an extension of the stand-up competition. With UFC 4, that changes; a new fluid clinch system that uses the same Real-Player Motion tech now takes into account locomotion in addition to positioning, attributes, and timing when deciding how a clinch exchange plays out. This also means players can use movement and momentum to not only escape the clinch, but also press their opponent and deepen their clinch.
Takedowns also now use Real-Player Motion technology, with locomotion determining the outcome and success of a takedown attempt. Because of this, a fighter can drive a struggling opponent into the cage, while the defending fighter can use their footwork to escape the attempt. In the course of a takedown defense, a fighter can also get the upper hand by using throws or trips.
Once on the ground fighters have several new options, including new postured combos for the top fighter and new defensive measures like head movement and counters for the fighter on the bottom. The annoying submission minigame from UFC games past is now gone, replaced by two simpler minigames that activate depending on if you're going for a choke or a joint-manipulation submission. On top of that, fighters can now strike one another during submission struggles to soften up the target, while defending fighters can utilize slams to escape some submission attempts.
For those who have always struggled with the grappling game, UFC 4 adds a new Grapple Assist mode, which gives you more approachable controls using the left stick to get up, submit, and perform ground and pound. Players can choose from three styles of grappling controls: Grapple Assist, hybrid, and legacy.
The most exciting moments of any fight come when one of the athletes connects with a high-amplitude combination or a big strike that wobbles their opponent. For these moments, UFC 4 delivers new presentation elements to further highlight the moment. In addition to better facial and body ripple effects to better showcase the impact of the strike, a new red border appears around the screen to indicate a hurt fighter and the sound temporarily gives off an echo effect. If you are able to finish the fight, an improved instant replay system shows off your handiwork at the conclusion of the match.
While all of these new gameplay elements and improvements give fans plenty to look forward to, EA Vancouver hopes to improve the experience through removing certain elements in the name of adding others.
Addition By Subtraction
Many of the upgrades present in EA Sports UFC 4 are improvements, evolutions, and iterations over what was in UFC 3, but by stripping out one of the mainstay EA Sports modes, developer EA Vancouver was able to add a new way to reward players for engaging with the game how they want. For UFC 4, EA Sports removed Ultimate Team, the card-collection mode that lets players earn or purchase packs of virtual cards to build your team or, in the case of UFC 3, your fighters. EA Sports noticed lower-than-desired engagement for that mode, so the team reallocated resources to implement a new way to incentivize you to keep playing: Connected Player Profile.
"It's just not something that ever really jelled well in a 1v1 fighting game quite as much," Hayes says. "We decided to take the resources that we would have invested in trying to keep building and altering the experience and a lot of those shifted to the Connected Player Profile, earning rewards there and leveling up your global player profile. There's also a challenge system with daily challenges and mode-specific challenges. There's always something I can go in and do like, 'complete a gameplay challenge in career, Blitz Battles, Fight Now' ... and by completing challenges, you earn more XP for your profile and earn more in-game rewards. That's opposed to having Ultimate Team, which is like a walled garden where there's progression there that only applies to Ultimate Team. We tried to create a system where there is a progression system across the entire game that rewards every user no matter what mode they're playing."
With Connected Player Profile, UFC 4 enables players to spend time in whatever game mode they want, while the daily challenges nudge them to branch out a little bit to earn some extra experience points. By earning this profile experience, you level up your profile to unlock things like vanity items for your created fighters, profile items like backgrounds, icons, and flair, and premium coins to use for buying in-game items like fighter customization options.
Ultimate Team wasn't the only thing removed from the series in order to provide a better experience; longtime UFC commentator and world-famous podcast host Joe Rogan has also been removed for this iteration. Rogan was unable to record new voiceover for UFC 3, so the team had to rely heavily on play-by-play man Jon Anik for that title, while any new Rogan commentary had to be harvested from actual UFC broadcasts. However, for EA Sports UFC 4, Rogan has been removed entirely. Instead, former two-division UFC champion and color commentator Daniel Cormier steps into the role. Not only did this change give UFC 4's commentary a fresh feel, but Cormier's ability and willingness to record alongside Anik in the voiceover booth gives the series more fluid commentary.
"This has allowed us for the first time in this entire franchise to do two-man recording sessions," Hayes says. "Without getting into the reasons why that was not possible previously, being able to do it now allows us to get a lot more organic, a lot better chemistry between both commentators. So the reaction to big moments that happen in gameplay is that much more realistic, authentic, and immersive for the gameplay."
Challenging For Its Own Belt
While EA Sports UFC 3 was arguably the greatest licensed UFC game of all time (I personally think it finally dethroned THQ's UFC Undisputed 3), EA Vancouver looks to one-up itself with UFC 4. While the upgrades in UFC 4 don't seem to be as dramatic as the jump from the second entry to the third, the iteration and overhauls the team has implemented appear to be meaningful ones. However, the true determination of how successful UFC 4 is will lie in the execution of these ideas. Thankfully, we don't have long to wait to see how these changes and improvements affect the overall product, as EA Sports UFC 4 launches on August 14 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Arkane has made a name for itself with the gameplay freedom, creative abilities, and detailed worlds in the Dishonored and Prey franchises. Now Arkane Lyon is working on a new IP called Deathloop, bringing together the studio's strengths with some new twists. The first-person shooter tasks you with eliminating eight targets in a single day to break a time loop. But beware! A rival assassin, who can optionally be a PVP opponent, also hunts you. Deathloop was announced at E3 2019, and we got our first look at the gameplay in action recently. However, there’s still a lot we don’t know about this intriguing sci-fi experience. We recently sat down with Arkane Lyon to get some clarity on what to expect.
On What’s Different From Past Games
If you watched the gameplay trailer, it was easy to see the echoes of Arkane’s previous properties, especially Dishonored. When asked about what’s being carried over from previous games and how Deathloop will have its own identity, game director Dinga Bakaba didn’t shy away from the familiarity. “Something we are bringing back that we care a lot about is the flexibility of the gameplay, the flexibility of the worlds - the player being able to sneak past situations or go in action-heavy to find creative and intuitive solutions to challenges,” he says. “We care about world-building and placing players in a world with a lot of interesting lore elements and little stories to uncover. There are also some abilities that we have in the game that you might have seen in the gameplay reveal that do resemble some that we had in the past.”
While it looks like Deathloop is speaking to the studio’s strengths, Bakaba also assured us there’s plenty of new lifeblood. “This project was really started on the premise of doing something different, to experiment with different concepts after eight years of doing Dishonored, he explains.
“I would say the story is more player-driven than [anything] we ever did before. You can do things in almost any order. That’s something new for us. The time loop itself is something very different in terms of the structure of the game and how you approach, for instance, dying in the game. And lastly, I would say another key element that is new is the multiplayer elements. Colt is trapped in a one-day time loop and in order to escape, he has to kill eight targets before the end of the day. One of those targets actually can be played by another player. The fact that the main antagonist of the game called Julianna can be played by another player is also one of the key novelties on display here.”
On How Arkane Keeps The Time-Loop Structure Engaging
Deathloop centers on its Groundhog Day-like structure; if you die before reaching the end of the day (or fail to meet certain objectives), you relive it until you beat all eight targets. But how does that stay interesting for a player beyond the challenge? Loops invite repetition, and that’s not always fun in games. We asked Bakaba how the structure stays engaging for the long haul.
“The story progresses along with your actions and the knowledge that you piece together about the events,” he explains. “It's something that progresses iteratively, but as it progresses, the world resets. You're really trying to solve this impossible situation by learning more about your targets and the place, and once you know something, it’s knowledge you can act upon.” Bakaba uses the example of finding the code for a safe that holds important information, but it’s located in another district and can only be assessed in the morning. Obviously, you’d have to wait for the day to start anew to unearth those details and use that information.
The island is divided into several districts. By entering them at different times of the day, you see different events and routines. “Depending on where you are, different things happen,” Bakaba says. “Just exploring all the permutations of those districts through the day is something that's exciting to do. And then starts the experimentation: But what if I do this? What happens then? Can I prevent this character from dying? Oh, wait a minute, I killed that character, but he was digging a hole, what if I don't kill him and come back in the afternoon and then maybe this opens the passageway to something else. It is really about this clockwork; pushing a domino here, pushing a domino there, and then seeing the ripple effects.”
Bakaba also confirmed there is “no such thing as a perfect day,” meaning there will be some slight variations and differences each time a day resets. For instance, maybe a character wears a different color shirt, eats something different for breakfast, or begins the day in a different mood. The main events are always the same, but little details may change. “[The experience is] more about what the player is throwing into this and how they’re making it change. So there is all this exploration and then experimentation, you know, trying different things and taking a different approach.” Bakaba spoke about giving players more agency to either avoid certain challenges until they’re ready or just discovering different ways to approach things that might offer new or better results.
At the end of the day, your goal is to find “the golden loop,” a way to complete this eight-target puzzle. How many times players repeat days before they find it will vary. “How you get to that knowledge is really freeform,” he explains. “Even though this is about Colt being on the clock to take out the targets before midnight, we didn’t want the experience to be a race, so time in that sense is a bit abstracted. If you want to spend all your time in one district and read every note before you go on to the next day, you’re welcome to do that. I am sure some players will try to make a super-optimized version of the campaign where they take fewer loops to be able to complete the game. I think that would be interesting to see what speedrunners do with this game.”
On Creating Cool Weapons And How Progression Works
Arkane has a flair with creating nifty abilities and weapons that open up different ways to pursue situations. That’s not changing here. In fact, one of the big things the studio was excited for creating a first-person shooter and creating interesting guns.
“This is the first first-person shooter we are doing since two of our projects, Return to Ravenholm and The Crossing, never shipped,” Bakaba says. “So it’s been a long time and we just wanted to make really big guns and really look awesome and have those nice toys for the player. Our approach here was to go for an arsenal that was accessible, so I would see it and immediately be able to say, ‘Okay, that's a shotgun, that's a precise pistol, that’s an automated assault rifle.’ We wanted to have those tent poles of first-person shooters, but give them their own vibe visually in terms of gameplay. We also wanted to make a few little bit crazier weapons.” Bakaba pointed to one of the guns we saw in the trailer as a good example, where you can use two guns that shoot two bullets, but can combine them into a full rifle that fires off four bullets in one burst. “It's a nice weapon, it's stylish, it allows us to do those cool animations when you combine the gun. It’s one of my favorites.”
As for abilities, Bakaba said to expect some familiar ones from Arkane’s previous work, pointing to the shift ability, which functions similarly to Dishonor’s Blink, where you’re teleported to an area nearby. A new one he shared was Julianna’s signature ability. “Colt and Juliana have a vast set of abilities and weapons that they can access, which they share for story reasons, but each has a few specificities and one of Julianna’s is a power we call masquerade,” he says. “Masquerade allows you to take the appearance of any character on the island, any of the NPCs. You can play a mind game on Colt and make some kind of ambush. There is a number of things you can do with this power and we think it will be very exciting to see what players will do with it, especially the kinds of mind games and the kind of surprises that will arise from this.” Bakaba reiterated the abilities always make sense for the character and reflect their personality in some way.
One part that especially has us curious is how progression works in a game where you’re literally starting each day anew. “When you're playing through the campaign, especially in the beginning, it's a time loop, right? So anything that you pick up whenever the day resets is gone," Bakaba says. "You have to really deal with the fact that this is a time loop. But somewhere in the story, there is something important that happens, and the Colt finds some kind of loophole, so to speak, and he's able to keep some of those abilities across loops. From then on, the progression becomes a bit closer to what you'd expect from a modern action/RPG, where you can unlock those abilities. So, it's interesting because we go through this phase where we're really subject to the rules of the time loop, and then more and more, we start breaking those rules and Colt starts taking ownership of this world.”
On How The Story Is Told And The Assassins' Unique Relationship
The story takes you to the island of Blackreef, a mysterious, chaotic place stuck in an eternal time loop. For the inhabitants, the island is a never-ending party and breathtaking wonderland. For Colt, it’s a prison – a world ruled by decadence where the delinquents keep him captive while their party never stops. Colt must find answers to why the time loop exists and discover a way to break it, but that’s only scratching the surface of this sci-fi tale. “In all of our games, we've been trying to toy with the concept that the world is much bigger than what you see,” Bakaba teased.
Bakaba said Arkane wanted a really focused experience, so expect something more on the order of Prey’s space station. “We are telling much less of a linear story than we did in something like Dishonored, where you would go from one place to the other and have emotional beats along the way that we could control like a blocking cutscene,” he says. “Here, the player will really piece together the story at their own pace. And there are a number of narrative design elements that go into supporting that; there's non-linearity and the fact that we have multiplayer components”
Bakaba said there’s an element here they can’t talk about, but one he could mention was the relationship between Colt and Julianna. These two are at odds. Colt desperately wants to break the time loop, since it’s not the best day for him playing on repeat. Julianna will do everything in her power to keep it going, as she sees this as the ultimate playground with no consequences. Colt and Juilianna’s rival relationship is a core element of the narrative, as she’s the main person you’re conversing with during the adventure.
“They talk with each other very often during the story, which is a bit reactive based on what you just did, where you are, and with what you've uncovered with the narrative up until now, Bakaba says. “It’s a relationship that is built. Trying to draw a comparison, it's something like you would get in something like Firewatch where you're very often on the radio with Delilah and you have this relationship growing and taking left turns.”
Bakaba said it’s a more freeform narrative, and while Arkane certainly has some new tools for how it’s telling Deathloop’s story, it also brings in its signature environmental storytelling that invites exploration to uncover Blackreef’s deeper mysteries. “I think it's the most player-driven narrative that we've done in a game until now,” he says.”
On What The Eight Different Targets Bring To The Table
Deathloop has its own cool, retro, ‘60s-inspired world, and it’s safe to say interesting people inhabit it. But what makes these eight targets special? More importantly, how do they impact the gameplay and environments we visit?
Bakaba said the team will take more about this at a later date, but he did divulge a bit about the first target named Alexis, who was shown off in trailers. “One thing I’ll say about him is he’s not a very likable character, and he’s hosting this crazy party at night where everyone is dressed as a wolf,” he says. “There’s this strict dress code to the party and figuring out which one is Alexis is definitely part of the challenge in how you approach the mission, especially the first time when you don’t have any clues.”
Bakaba didn’t go into specifics about the rest of the cast, but he did leave us with this on what to expect: “The only thing I can say is that we really try to have a diverse cast of targets. They are all part of a group called The Visionaries. They are the people that are responsible for the time loop - the physical anchors of the phenomenon. That's why they have to die. We have targets that have different views and different beliefs about the events.
"One of them might be seeing all of this as something more spiritual, or even religious to an extent. One of them will be more about seeing all this endeavor as a scientific experiment. For another one of them, it’s a moral thing, where the time loop is the only way we can be free because there is no consequence. They all have different reasons for kickstarting this whole crazy program together. As we do in our games, the environments in which you find them is really a reflection of who they are and what they bring to the program.”
As you can see, Deathloop has plenty of mysteries to uncover, and we can't wait to see what's in store. Hopefully, we'll learn more in the coming months before release, but our chat certainly left us more intrigued. What do you think so far?
Deathloop launches this holiday season for PS5 and PC.
Imagine being able to take back every mistake you make, instantly, reliving each moment over and over until it plays out as you hoped. In less astute hands, it could feel like an exercise in trial and error. In Desperados 3, however, it unfolds in masterful fashion, providing ample scope for you to dream up a multitude of creative plans alongside the ability to reset the board in a flash should the plan fail. It's a rapidfire process of forming an hypothesis, testing it and tossing it aside. By encouraging experimentation at every turn, Desperados 3 proves a stealth tactics game where invention thrives.
Stealth games can often degenerate into a loop of quick-saving and quick-loading. Desperados 3 is built around that loop, an aspect reinforced by a tutorial which instructs you on how to quick-save and quick-load before it tells you how to deal with an enemy. It's hammered home by regular pop-up notifications informing you of the time since you last quick-saved. You can customise this reminder--tweaking the delay or disabling it entirely--but the fact the default setting is to nudge you every 60 seconds ought to stress the importance of quick-saving.
Archetypal gunslinger John Cooper and his friends are rather fragile, even on the normal difficulty setting, while the cadres of thugs, gunwomen and assorted rifle-toting outlaws they find themselves up against are very much of the "shoot first, ask questions later" mindset. So when a plan heads south--as even the most meticulously observed ones are wont to do, usually when one of the gang gets spotted or occasionally a carelessly discarded body is found--it's very much a case of the quick-load and the dead.
It's been a long, long road for CrossCode to finally hit consoles. The 16-bit throwback RPG started life as a widely praised 2012 tech demo, enjoyed a super-funded 2015 Indiegogo campaign, and then arrived on Steam in 2018. Two years later, it's hard not to feel that all this runway has caused CrossCode to be overly ambitious and complicated--even for veteran genre players. As I was sailing into my 20th hour and still trying to not second-guess my shaky strategy for the vast amount of stats that can be customized and stacked, the game was still unspooling tutorials and rolling out new wrinkles. CrossCode is a lot of game to wrap your head around, and one whose expansive menu screens and tutorials double as a mechanically overbearing strategy guide that cannot be skimmed to even start to get your bearings. Playing CrossCode can be a bit like going on a road trip without GPS: Every few miles, you have to pull over and unfold an unwieldy road atlas.
CrossCode, at its heart, is not a retro-styled hollow homage to Super Nintendo titles like 1993's Secret of Mana and 1995's Chrono Trigger. Instead, it's something more like a full-throated continuation of their tradition of exploring massive worlds full of side quests, puzzles, colorful characters, and gear to collect--while also building on their thornier, more tactical contemporaries. CrossCode's fondness for this era of action role-playing games is clear out of the gate: Both the opening menu screen and introductory sequences set the tone with plaintive piano, chiming bells, and an oozing chiptune soundtrack that wouldn't be out of place on one of those "lofi beats to relax/study to" YouTube playlists that lean more heavily into nostalgia. The pixel art style doubles down on all this.
The above is in sharp contrast to the game taking place in a fictional, modern MMORPG called CrossWorlds. That is, CrossCode is a single-player game taking place in an in-game MMO where other characters speak and behave either as other players or NPCs. It's a world filled with guilds, griefers, and other player characters running through, too busy questing and level-grinding to hold still and talk with you. And just like in a real MMO, the other players you make your way on with will chat and open up about their lives--and give you due notice when they feel they've been playing way too long and need to log out and take a break.
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, Stadia, PC, Mac, Linux
Superhot delivered a unique twist on the first-person shooter when it originally launched in 2016, making it so that when you stood still, everything else in the world did as well. The formula led to a new, more tactical way to approach shootouts, with the cherry on top being the intriguing lore found in the world of Superhot. While players could expand the experience in virtual reality through Superhot VR, an all-new title called Superhot: Mind Control Delete has been announced, and best of all, those who buy the original Superhot before the new title's release get the game for free.
Superhot: Mind Control Delete began development three years ago as a free expansion to Superhot, but the scope of the game quickly expanded to become larger than that of the original. What started out as a rogue-lite experience quickly turned into something else entirely. Mind Control Delete features similar gameplay to the original, but the levels are far less linear. This entry adds new enemy types, weapons, abilities, and power-ups. According to a PlayStation Blog post from co-director Cezary Skorupka, it features a, "'non-existent' story that is waiting for you to explore and experience rather than being rammed at you in high-speed like in the original Superhot."
According to Skorupka, every time the team tried to add new features and implement new ideas, it felt like it set the project back. Superhot Team went back to the drawing board multiple times, rewriting the story, redoing the upgrade system, changing the U.I., and removing things like rotating challenges, boss fight arenas, a progression-based in-game currency, and even a fake internet app. After several years of fine-tuning Mind Control Delete, the team feels as though it has something special. The finished project, according to Skorupka, will take dozens of hours to complete.
Those who purchased the original Superhot (or buy it prior to July 16), can get Superhot: Mind Control Delete for free. Those who purchased it on PS4 will find Mind Control Delete automatically added to their games library at launch. Those who bought it on Xbox One should be on the lookout for a system message around Mind Control Delete's launch with a voucher for the new title. If you purchased the game on any other platform, you can email your receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org to receive a DRM-free copy of Mind Control Delete for PC, Mac, or Linux. It's important to note that this offer only applies to those who purchase the game (giveaways or vouchers do not count) prior to July 16, so if you want to take advantage of the deal, you need to buy the original Superhot on your platform of choice before then.
Superhot: Mind Control Delete hits July 16 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, and Linux.
Deck-building can prove intimidating. Trying to determine synergies and strategies when starting out is a tall task, and pairing that with a roguelike--where failure in battle will send you back to the start of another randomized dungeon--might seem downright overwhelming. Yet thanks to a setup that encourages experimentation and is rewarding to play even when you're failing, Slay the Spire marries roguelikes and deckbuilders beautifully--and it's easy to see why it's helped to popularize this burgeoning mix of genres.
Slay the Spire sees you take part in a series of battles, amassing a collection of cards that dictate your every action in combat: There are cards that launch attacks, allow you to defend yourself, buff you, or nerf enemies. Most cards in and of themselves are relatively simple, consisting of a straightforward action and an associated cost. Battles see you ascend the titular spire and acquire new cards, relics, and single-use potions, and you'll need to weigh the various routes as you go, opting in or out of mini-bosses that promise great rewards but threaten to bring your run to a halt. Whether you make it to the end or not, you'll then start all over again, only to face another randomized set of encounters with a fresh loadout.
The structure is familiar, and it's easy to assume that your early runs (which can last up to two hours or so) show you all that Slay the Spire has to offer. Making progress permanently unlocks additional, more complex cards that you can encounter and integrate into your deck during future runs, which expands your range of choices, but it's in the relics system that the game reveals its true depth.