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  • Game Informer News Feed: Back To The Big Apple With The Division 2: Warlords Of New York

    Publisher: Ubisoft
    Developer: Ubisoft Massive
    Release:
    Rating: Not rated
    Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Stadia, PC

    If you’ve suited up to battle the raging infection in Washington D.C., in The Division 2, it’s time to go back – back to New York, where players first battled the Green Poison plague in the original game. The Division 2’s first full-blown expansion features large system overhauls, a new level cap of 40, and a new antagonist. This expansion hopes to reinvigorate agents that have been playing forever – as well as attract newcomers.

    Haven’t played The Division 2 yet or are way behind? No problem. While you need to own the base game to play, the expansion comes with the option to create a character at level 30, suited and booted for the new content. There’s a serious threat on the horizon: Aaron Keener, a Division agent gone rogue. From his stronghold in lower Manhattan, Keener seeks to destroy everything the rebuilding efforts have accomplished, harnessing a new strain of the virus to take down what he perceives as establishment forces by unleashing an even more virulent plague. Forget looking for bounties in museums and subways around D.C. – it’s time to go back to where it all began and battle this twisted opponent.

    Keener has turned other Division agents to his cause, with NYC under siege by these rogue agents. Players must discover their whereabouts in the city and take them on before attempting to take on Keener himself. These manhunts take players around new areas of the city such as the Civic Center, Battery Park, Two Bridges, and the Financial District. These zones contain Keener’s four lieutenants, five main missions, eight side missions, and other activities to explore as you break through fogged areas on the map and uncover content.

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    If the Green Poison wasn’t enough to level NYC as we know it, a catastrophic hurricane has also altered the landscape and changed the environment on a massive scale. In addition to leveling your character up to 40, Warlords of New York also features an infinite “post-leveling” system called SHD (Strategic Homeland Division) level, which means you can continue to develop by completing activities forever even after you’ve achieved the level cap. This system hopes to keep engagement high as players hit the endgame along with a deluge of variable tasks and hunts. The item system has been simplified and streamlined – you’ll be able to easily identify upgrades immediately instead of spending valuable time scrolling through your bag and stash for powerful gear.

    New skills are available for unlocking alongside exotic options for your equipment, with the goal of increasing build diversity and options along the way – far greater than the ones available in the base game. Not only will players participate in a continuous and growing endgame as they increase their SHD level, but the expansion also marks the beginning of seasons coming to The Division 2. These provide new story beats, objectives, unique rewards, and essentially create an evolving content model at a regular cadence, addressing the lack of activity concerns that players may have had with The Division 2’s core content. I had a blast playing with my crew in The Division 2 when it launched, but found myself falling off hard due to the endgame offerings and content drop schedule, so hopefully this journey to New York brings me back and keeps me there for an extended session as an agent of The Division. 

  • Game Informer News Feed: People Can Fly Releases A New Look At The Shooter/RPG Outriders

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    Publisher: Square Enix
    Developer: People Can Fly
    Release: 2020
    Platform: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

    People Can Fly and Square Enix have released a new trailer for Outriders, which shows off more of the hybrid shooter/action-RPG game in action. The game features three-player co-op, where players take on enemies in fairly traditional third-person, cover-based action. The twist is that these characters have special abilities, which significantly changes what might otherwise be a standard shooter experience.

    Outriders is coming to PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC later this year. 

    We'll have a lot more to say about Outriders over the coming weeks, so be sure to visit our coverage hub (below) for more exclusive information and features.

  • Gamespot News Feed: The Pedestrian Review - A Sign Of The Times

    It’s human nature to be curious about what seemingly mundane and inanimate things get up to while we’re not looking. Such thinking spawned mythos like fairies in people’s gardens, borrowers, and the Toy Story saga, and now we come to street signs. What do those little human figures get up to when no-one is around? If The Pedestrian is to be believed, the answer is 2D platforming, solving lots and lots of puzzles, and taking control of electrical devices in an attempt to escape their confines.

    In taking control of a human figure (either with or without a dress) your adventure in The Pedestrian is mostly confined to various street signs, blueprints, and other 2D surfaces. In the background, blurred into obscurity, are the beautiful 3D landscapes of the world they exist in. You can run, jump, and climb with light platforming maneuvers to get to new areas, but the crux of The Pedestrian's puzzling comes from the ability to zoom out and rearrange the positions of the 2D signs and flat surfaces, creating doorways and new paths. Once you regain control of the person symbol, you can then use these new doorways to access the other signs to complete puzzles and move forward. Rearranging the playing field adds a layer of complexity that will have you thinking about obstacles in two different ways for the majority of the experience.

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    There’s a satisfaction in ordering the panels of a level in your own way, which then allows you to jump back in and complete the puzzle. The process is not totally freeform, as doors and ladders on one panel will only connect to those on another if they are properly aligned, and there are often obstacles in the way that might impede a certain way of doing things. However, there's definitely a very godlike feel to the control it gives you. Occasionally my solutions felt so chaotic that I wondered if they were the intended direction; other times the puzzles felt intentionally crafted to lead me to certain results. But there is overall a nice feeling that you are figuring out things on your own, in your own way.

    Extra difficulty lies in the fact that you can’t make most changes to the arrangement of your 2D platforming world without resetting other things--activated switches will deactivate, and key items will be lost, so you need to go in with a plan. Sometimes resetting is necessary, especially if you hit a dead-end, but later you'll be able to freeze some signs to prevent them from resetting, keeping the elements there active for your next attempt. The concept moves you to start thinking about puzzles in a way that's almost akin to time travel. Having to manage a puzzle board full of different segments filled with switches, keys, and laser beams, among other things, and then literally having to manage time and space to reach a goal provides some surprisingly challenging and satisfying scenarios.

    The Pedestrian serves out these scenarios in bite-sized pieces. Even when presented with a larger puzzle, it’s still broken down into several smaller sections, which certainly makes them easier to comprehend. However, because of this structure, The Pedestrian can begin to feel a little too samey, especially when the reward for completing a puzzle is almost always more puzzles. It works very well as a game to spend half an hour with and then return to later, rather than slog out the whole four-hour duration in one unending sign barrage. I’d often find myself leaving it due to puzzle fatigue or being a little stuck, then come back to it later with renewed inspiration to immediately solve the troublesome puzzle, ready for a little more.

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    The introduction of new concepts and escalation in difficulty are gently paced, and only when new elements are first added does it really ever feel daunting--some of the puzzles I spent the longest on were just working out exactly how a new mechanic worked or could be used since the game doesn’t often provide much direction. Instead, the Pedestrian then gives you plenty of opportunities to explore and understand new features in subsequent levels and encourages you to work things out for yourself. The initial frustration is always made up for by the enhanced understanding and satisfaction of working it out on your own. It also ensured I completely grasped all the concepts, which allowed me to then solve increasingly difficult puzzles I’m sure I would have been stumped by otherwise. The payoff for making me feel stupid for one puzzle allowed me to feel incredibly smart for many other harder challenges.

    There’s a real freshness to The Pedestrian's take on puzzle-platforming and world manipulation. The constant introduction of new, sometimes surprisingly complex ideas means there’s enough to keep you moving through the nicely segmented challenges. The levels themselves can be quite repetitive in both look and feel, making the game tiresome during long play sessions, but it lends itself well to short-burst experiences and never lets you feel too lost. The Pedestrian executes its charming premise well, with just enough complexity to keep your brain pleasantly stimulated.

  • Gamespot News Feed: Through the Darkest of Times Review - The Good Fight

    I push past a group of brownshirts threatening a Jewish shopkeeper. They're holding placards that read "Don't buy from the Jews!" and accusing the owner of being a parasite on the German community. The woman inside cringes as I enter the shop and warns me the men outside won't like it if I buy anything. But I insist and hand her my grocery list. At the end of the exchange I have three dialogue options: "There will be better times ahead," "I'm so sorry," and "I don't know what to say." All of them feel devastating and inadequate.

    When you're one person trying to resist the Nazi juggernaut in 1930s Germany, your best course of action is not at all obvious; indeed, anything you choose to do can often feel futile. There were so many occasions during Through the Darkest of Times that I questioned whether I was doing the right thing or if anything I did could even make a difference. Frequently, I simply didn't know what to say. All I knew was that I had to keep fighting, keep surviving, keep resisting, and hope that it would be enough.

    Through the Darkest of Times is billed as a historical resistance strategy game and plays out akin to a kind of narrative boardgame as you lead a band of as many as five freedom fighters against the Reich. Its story begins in 1933 as Hitler's appointment as Chancellor confirms the Nazi party's seizure of power. The four-act structure skips ahead to 1936 and the Berlin Olympics, to the occupation of France and invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, and to the final months of the war, before a brief epilogue in 1946, a year after the Allied victory. The time periods it visits chart an emotional journey that feels authentic: Disbelief gives way to anger and fear as the truth about the Nazis' goals is revealed; suffering and grief lead to the steeling of a righteous fury; and finally, glimpses of cautious optimism are tempered by an uncertain future.

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    Each turn you play your hand, as it were, assigning resistance members to undertake missions across a map of Berlin. After ending a turn you see the results come in: Charlotte managed to get those leaflets printed; Arthur collected donations down at the factory but may have been spotted by the authorities; Gerhard was arrested while painting slogans on the campus walls. You're managing assets and resources--we need two people for this job, a truck and some explosives for that job--and getting the logistics in order becomes the primary focus. Always the director of operations, never the operative.

    Strategic decisions are forced through scarcity. A 20-turn limit is applied during each act, which is nowhere near enough time to do every available mission. Major missions often have plenty of prerequisites, too. If you want to eventually bust a group of prisoners out of a torture camp, you're going to need some brownshirt uniforms, and to get those you're first going to have to do a recon mission. Constant is the pressure to stop and think about what you realistically have the time and resources to accomplish.

    Throwing a spanner in the works, certain actions can also trigger new missions that might only be available for a handful of turns. Can you afford to spare someone to tackle a side mission without disrupting your main goal? Meanwhile, you're now running low on funds to get those books printed, so Angelika is probably going to have to ignore that meeting with a British Secret Service contact and instead try to steal new funds from the SA, the Nazi militia. The decisions swiftly pile up over the course of 20 turns and with them comes a growing anxiety that there simply aren't enough turns to get anything done.

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    At times I felt like I was drowning. Aside from a few narrative threads that run through the whole game, and your early choices flowing on accordingly, the start of each act essentially resets the strategic layer. You keep your recruited members and their gained experience, but all your resources--your money, all that paper and paint you'd bought, that precious intel, the medicine, gasoline, bicycles, and so on--are returned to square one. So you've got to build it all up again. With each reset, and, indeed, even on a second playthrough, I'd begin with a clear head, pick one specific goal and tell myself that was my sole focus. But every time, without fail, by halfway through I'd find myself pulled this way and that, only able to partially complete a few mission chains but never managing to pull off something big. It's immensely frustrating, that feeling of there simply not being enough hours in the day to get it all done. Looming over it, the knowledge of all that partial progress going to waste and ultimately counting for nought.

    It wasn't just me feeling this way. The members of my resistance movement, as they met up each week to discuss their next moves, would also find themselves experiencing a similar sensation of despair. Peter would fret about whether they were doing enough. Juliane would worry that the situation was hopeless. I found it reassuring that I wasn't the only one struggling to find the motivation to continue.

    Away from the dry mechanics of the strategic layer, it was during these narrative interludes in between turns that I truly connected with the plight of the German people. One day Rosalinde found out her brother had joined the SA. She was despondent, but I was able to encourage her to take advantage of this and get information out of him. A few weeks later she raised fears that her brother now suspected her of being a resistance member and I had a choice: tell her to leave the group for her own safety or force her stay. The brother had inadvertently given us valuable intel, but I'd grown to care for Rosalinde and couldn't bear the thought of her being discovered. Reluctantly, I asked her to leave.

    On a second playthrough, I decided to run a more ruthless ship, to be the type of revolutionary who would stop at nothing. So when Lotte told me she was pregnant and wanted out in order to protect her imminent child, I demanded she remained with us. Morale in the group plummeted and, one day, Lotte just never showed up for the resistance meeting. Later I discovered she'd lost her baby and fled. It stung, of course, though I was able to coldly characterise her exit as a betrayal of the cause, thanks to the flexibility of the dialogue choices offered during these scenes.

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    Given the particulars of the premise--you're absolutely not doing anything other than fighting back against the Nazis here--I was pleasantly surprised to see how different choices I'd made across two playthroughs could shape two such wildly different personalities. The strategic layer seems readymade for replays, as you strive for efficiency to reach those end goals, but I was initially worried that the story scenes wouldn't withstand repetition. To an extent, that is the case, and on my second playthrough I found myself fast-clicking through conversations I'd already seen. But making different choices allowed me to interpret our struggle in a new light, and as a result, grow attached to a second collection of otherwise randomly-generated characters.

    The tone is bleak, as you'd expect, almost unrelenting in its horror. A trip to a camp where the Nazis have rounded up Berlin's Romani population is grim, especially when you witness children being separated from their parents by brownshirts and taken away for unexplained medical reasons. I met a Russian woman who had escaped a massacre on the Eastern Front and made it to Berlin. She told me of the German army's scorched-earth approach in the east, of the mass graves and hangings of Russian civilians. It was heart-wrenching and, at times, almost too much to handle.

    Yet there is some respite. Angelika got married and we celebrated with a party in the park. We managed to track down Monica's missing husband and reunite her family. Even as I fled to an underground train station to find shelter from an air raid, I was able to stop and help a Jewish man who was trying to hide the star on his coat that would preclude him from accessing the shelter. Such moments of community, of kindness, of hope that there's still something worth fighting for, are peppered throughout Through the Darkest of Times, seemingly appearing just when the desperation of the strategic layer had left me at my lowest ebb.

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    The twin aspects of the game could be better integrated. The narrative scenes are vividly realized despite the minimal presentation, often profoundly moving, and filled with choices that carry weight that can be felt weeks and occasionally years later. But outside the story interludes, there's a frustrating lack of specificity. You distribute "leaflets" and paint "slogans" and smuggle "books" and recover "intel," but none of it is described in any detail. The content is void on the strategic side, its components reduced to mechanical symbols. True, there is some overlap--a story scene might prompt a new mission on the map--but it's all one-way traffic, and your choices in one sphere are of disappointingly little consequence to the other.

    Through the Darkest of Times paints what feels like an accurate portrait of life in Nazi Germany. Cherry-picking major events, like the Reichstag Fire or the opening ceremony of the Olympics, it convincingly places you at the scene, putting you in the shoes of a regular German trying to come to grips with how one person--or even five people--can respond in the presence of evil. It depicts everyday life, and everyday people, both those seduced by ideology and those finding the strength to rally against it. I'm not sure it offers any answers--indeed, I suspect my frustrations with futility were intentional. One person alone can't change the world. But that's no reason not to fight for it.

  • Gamespot News Feed: Kunai Review - Seeing Red

    Kunai's premise is a familiar one. Humankind has reached the pinnacle of technological advancement and brought about their own downfall, inviting an army of AI-controlled robots to nearly wipe out all life on earth. A small resistance of remaining humans and conflict-averse droids begin fighting back, but without a miracle, that battle is all but lost lost. Tabby, a cheerfully emoting tablet in ninja robes, is that miracle.

    Kunai is both outlandish and endearing, starting squarely with its odd protagonist. Tabby--a dexterous tablet in a world dominated by robots with CRT-like heads and barely any traces of humankind--is on a quest to extinguish an AI uprising and prevent humanity's extinction. Kunai's world is fragmented into varied areas, giving you multiple paths to explore in its opening hours, with your growing toolset opening up new avenues to explore as you progress. Kunai features the familiar DNA of action-platformers and Metroidvanias, combining satisfying platforming and engrossing combat to great effect.

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    You start out with just a sword, and you can use it to quickly carve through the metal exteriors of robot foes and stylishly protect yourself from projectiles with a flurry of swings. You have a generous jump, too, that allows you to attack from above and continuously bounce between enemies after each swipe. Getting into a rhythm of bouncing off one enemy and directly onto the next while not missing an attack in between is both easy to grasp and satisfying to pull off. Kunai's combat scenarios generally feature only a handful of enemies at a time, too, giving you ample space to feel like a kickass ninja consistently.

    Adding to your airborne maneuverability early on are the kunai, a pair of grappling hooks equipped in each hand that let you swing around environments with ease. Augmenting standard movement with the aerial freedom of your kunai injects combat with a captivating sense of flow. It's effortless to chain together swings to maintain airtime while bouncing between enemies to attack.

    A variety of layouts from screen to screen challenge you to use your tools creatively. More open expanses let you freely hop around, but don't offer many points for you to hook your kunai into. Cramped pathways limit your aerial maneuverability, encouraging you to deflect more projectiles and choose your attacks wisely. Each area throws in unique elements that supplement this--the dense forest features vines that you can use to climb on while mines feature fragile walls that crumble if you swing from them--keeping platforming and combat entertaining throughout.

    You're free to explore the multiple areas of Kunai's large map as far as your equipment will take you. Each new item you find doubles as both a weapon and a tool to navigate the world in new ways. Your dual machine guns, for example, act as both a powerful medium range attack and a creative means to float over large gaps, since you can use downward fire to sustain your jump for as long as you have bullets to fire. Each new item's use is also easy to understand from the get-go, calling to mind locked doors or obstructed pathways that can now be cleared with your new abilities, making it easy to decide where to push onto next.

    Each new item expands your limited moveset in exciting ways, but navigating to each specific part of the map where they might be useful becomes taxing quickly. Individual segments in Kunai's areas offer up enough variety in their construction to encourage different combat strategies, but they don't coalesce in a way that makes navigating the same spaces as interesting on return visits. In some cases coming to the end of a critical path and reaching its respective goal is deflated by the realisation that you need to navigate all the way back to where you started, sometimes without anything new in your arsenal to shake up the return journey. It's disappointing to brush through an area with a fine comb only to be contacted over radio and redirected without any real narrative progression, especially when there are no fast-travel systems to alleviate the backtracking.

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    This is exacerbated in some later stages in which it can be unclear where your next objective lies, with all possible paths requiring a tool you don't yet have. The aimless wandering is especially tiresome because poking around Kunai's world isn't incredibly rewarding either, even with optional chests hidden throughout each area for you to uncover. Some contain cosmetic hats for some visual variety while others hold valuable in-game currency for upgrades, but it's the few featuring parts of a health upgrade that are worth seeking out. The issue is that the majority of the chests lie at the end of passageways hidden entirely from view, only revealing themselves when you accidentally brush close to their entrance and cause the textures obfuscating them to fade away. It's a disappointingly basic way to hide them, making your discoveries feel more lucky than well deduced.

    Although navigating each area multiple times isn't as fun as it should be, the gorgeous visual shifts between them are a delight. Kunai's limited color palette is used to accentuate its varied areas with subtlety. Each of the areas features different muted colours for their backdrop, such as the flat greys and dim blues of its opening factory and the bright greens of its AI-infested forests. The variation makes shifting between each area not only clear but visually delightful too. While most colors are muted, bright reds are especially prominent. Not only does it help make enemies and points of importance stand out from the background, it imbues each slash of your sword and subsequent connecting strike with a powerful punch that bathes the screen in sharp, contrasting red hues. It works in tandem with a well-measured screenshake effect that gives Kunai's combat a stylish look in motion.

    This sense of style doesn't transition, however, to Kunai's limited story. It sets up an initial premise and gives you an understanding of what you're fighting for, but doesn't leave much for you to uncover about its world beyond that. The only avenue for learning more about Kunai's world is through limited but surprisingly entertaining interactions with other resistance robots. Usually denoted by their chunky CRT monitor heads and calming blue shading, these side characters add some levity to the setting by making light of disastrous events with silly puns and small, humorous anecdotes. Although there are other important named characters that are meant to add more to the narrative, they don't stand out as much as each brief interaction you have when arriving at a new camp.

    It's disappointing that there isn't more to dig into when it comes down to Kunai's set dressing, especially when it's paired with such a striking visual style and engrossing combat. Kunai's level design pushes you to keep adapting while affording you the space to finish off a group of enemies with a series of pinpoint grappling hook swings, precise double jumps, and intelligently integrated swings of your sword. Kunai loses some of its momentum far too frequently, but when it hits a balance between its engrossing combat and satisfying platforming, it's difficult to put down.

  • Gamespot News Feed: Kentucky Route Zero Review - Where The Streets Have No Name

    There's always something deeply unnerving about a gas station at night. Depending on the road, it can be the only point of light for miles and miles, and beyond is nothing but an infinite abyss of curves and strange noises in between you and your destination. That Kentucky Route Zero's very first image is a gas station at twilight is apt. The game knocks you off-kilter in the first seconds, placing you in the last fading glow of sunlight before nightfall on a threadbare stretch of road. Even when the game's at its most peaceful and gentle, it never quite feels stable or permanent, like everything good, bad, strange, or affecting that happens in the next five acts could disappear into the darkness at any moment.

    That sense of impermanence is such a crucial part of Kentucky Route Zero, more so now that it's a complete work with a full arc and definitive ending. Beyond the various oddities and nonsensical moments, at its heart it's a game about American progress and the corpses it leaves in its wake, a pensive Wizard of Oz-like point-and-click adventure through a country whose yellow brick road is built on futile hopes and unanswered prayers. Its version of Kentucky is a nothing-place of American dreams breathing their last, if they're not already dead. Its protagonist, a grizzled, tired delivery truck driver named Conway, is headed in the same direction.

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    Conway ends up here making his final delivery for his friend Lysette's antique store, after which he intends to retire. However, the road to the delivery address on 5 Dogwood Drive takes him through the Zero, an abstract Kentucky highway where, it seems, all things obsolete--people, places, objects--come to make residence. The Zero is, essentially, America's purgatory, a place that looks like cubist paintings of Silent Hill, and sounds like detuned radios and the white noise of old TVs. Hiding behind all of it are old creaky workers lamenting that they never earned enough to move away and coal miners crushed to death after giving their blood and sweat to a corporation they will never stop owing money to. Their stories are underscored by soul-shaking music that only the wrinkled and withered remember or perform. Every major beat of Conway's journey is punctuated by American requiems, ranging from mournful bluegrass elegies about people time forgot, sung by shadowy riverfolk, to ethereal love songs so powerful the skies literally open up over the stage to accept them.

    You navigate the Zero--in all of its fever-dream weirdness--primarily through dialogue trees and old-school adventure game mechanics. It's fairly linear when it comes to the particulars of making progress; either a tiny box will come up at your destination telling you to click on it to proceed, or you can simply run through every option until you proceed anyway. But staying on task is harder than it seems. Every area has one interaction that will advance the story, but there are a dozen other objects to examine, a dozen other NPC stories to hear, or a dozen other switches and buttons and context-sensitive areas to walk that shift the perspective of the entire area. All that added potential context really takes effort to ignore.

    In the first area of the game, Conway has a talk with a friendly gas station attendant about the road, about old age, about poetry, even. Then the power goes out, and Conway has to make his way into the gas station's mineshaft-turned-basement after the lights suddenly shut off. There, while flipping the circuit breakers, you come across and invisibly assist in grabbing some fallen dice for what appears to be a D&D game in progress in another dimension. Why, exactly, is there a D&D game happening in another dimension? You never quite know--there are, admittedly, some long threads to pull on in this game that lead nowhere, and although that's deliberate, it is occasionally frustrating--but that deceptively simple task is what passes for a tutorial in Kentucky Route Zero. It shows you exactly how it's going to try and sway you from the end goal time and time again.

    The vast menagerie of characters Conway meets on this journey contain multitudes; their dwellings and belongings are full of histories and unresolved relationships. These things beg for your attention and curiosity, urgent gold boxes waiting to be clicked on your way to the next critical step in the story. Often, they create more questions about these people and their world than they answer, but it becomes clear over time that there are answers, in every area, begging for you to chase them down. The entire game is a minefield of curiosity, where the only way to plow through to the end of each Act is to either thoroughly exhaust your curiosity or have absolutely none of it. The former is much more rewarding, and the game excels at making you want it, always placing the next narrative breadcrumb or the next leading question or the next inquisitive line of dialogue within easy reach, even if the payoff is miles down the road. However, it also means it's very easy to lose the main plot in the process.

    That's especially true since much of the poignancy and power of the main plot often requires you to proactively listen to and learn from the world. The stories being told along the way can take many forms--from homespun wisdom to analytical science theses to ordinary phone conversations between loved ones--but the game bets the farm on you being comprehensively thorough about engaging with all of it. With no way to rewind and play specific scenes over again without replaying the entire Act, missing a specific bit of information can leave entire portions of the game as obtuse, and not in the intentional way some scenes are.

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    To play Kentucky Route Zero means having to be present and honed in on the world in a way that doesn't happen often in games. That frequently means hearing information relayed in a vast rainbow of ways, the game subtly training you to hear other people whose voices and experiences we are often trained by the modern world to tune out. The sharpness of the dialogue is so crucial and executed so well in that regard. Information is conveyed through every interaction, but even with the minor NPCs, the game emphasizes their worth as a character first and a mechanical function of the game second. Whether their next line opens the way to the next scene or not, there's a sense in every line of dialogue in the game that lives have been lived, this character has a history here we will never know, and their weariness is on display and palpable. It makes the world of this game feel real and tangible and lived in, which accentuates the disquieting fact that there are people who actually live in such desolation.

    Lines of dialogue from side characters can inform another character's major decisions to take the journey of their lifetime later. A stray line during a radio broadcast can tell you why Conway wound up at a particular location or why a road is blocked, or why the history of a place matters. But as engaging as it all is, especially in the later Acts of the game where you start having more control over which character to follow into the next scene, new information and character development can happen in a scene that you might've missed entirely. Still, the solution is to play that Act again, and there's so much to see and hear in the game that it's possible to have a very different and equally worthwhile experience next time.

    Sometimes the new information comes from choosing the dialogue in a straight one-on-one conversation; sometimes, you get a totally different perspective out of nowhere, like a segment where you select dialogue between museum researchers as they talk about your present actions in the past tense while watching you on a security camera playback. It forces you to think about how others view Conway and the companions who come to ride with him along the way with some level of psychological distance, a storytelling risk that pays off the more we start to learn about why these characters are who they are.

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    That risk starts to pay off starting in Act III, where you can control the other side of a conversation, selecting responses for both Conway and the other participant. After seeing a doctor about an injury, and seeing the nightmarish remedy for that injury once he's awake, you can choose to let Conway be out of sorts from the anesthesia or perfectly lucid. Through the next line of dialogue, you can let him and the doctor talk about continued treatment, let Conway stew in bitterness or very justifiable fear, or hop right into the worrisome particulars of the bill. It's a captivating game of conversational tennis against yourself. You wind up experiencing and creating the story all at once, which makes the game more mechanically dream-like than anything. Combined with just how abstract many of the concepts and emotions you bounce back and forth can be, it's not just a difference of agency so much as using that agency to form a group perspective, a collective conscience these characters will never know, but you do.

    Very little in the overarching story of the Zero happens necessarily by your choice, and that's a hard fact of real life that has been translated admirably here. No matter how much you tell your companions that your injury is fine or dodge questions about how deep in debt you are to those who help you, as Conway himself says, every man eventually has to settle up. And in that respect, the larger beats of this story will occur regardless of the choices you make. The intricate control you have over many of the game's conversations isn't about changing your fate, but how you parse it and accept it. That dovetails beautifully into the larger themes of the game, of getting to the acceptance stage of all the grief each character has endured. In that acceptance, you do have complete control. People in this game will get ill, you will miss your chance to tell someone you loved them, you won't quite know what their last wishes were, and the world outside the Zero will often intrude and make life just a little harder for its residents once again. You can be angry, or petulant, or morose, and you can let that be the story of this world, but that's a choice you can make in every scene. To sit with each interactable character is to sit with and have empathy for their failures.

    That empathy is important given how alienating and lonely Kentucky Route Zero can feel. Much of the game's interpretation of Kentucky life is portrayed in a very spartan, angular style of giant polygons meticulously fit together like puzzle pieces until they resemble minimalist facsimiles of human beings, trees, houses, and the like. It's often stark and eerie, which makes the moments where it's striking and stunning all the more effective. An early transition from the outside of a house to its interior occurs by watching the vector lines that form the building's exterior move aside like shrinking geometric vines. One of the most powerful examples is a simple scene of Conway and Lysette sitting at a breakfast table. The geometric white streaks at Conway's temples and his slouching back hint at his exhaustion, informing his decision to make this next delivery his last; Lysette's face blank, but held wistfully, and framed by square glasses pointed blankly towards the outside world even. It's an abstract picture that still speaks volumes.

    It should be said that Act V ends not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with the kind of deep sigh you hear from working folks at five o'clock on a Friday after a hard week.

    The game's aesthetic is capable of portraying breathtaking Midwestern landscapes, stark monuments to the coldness of industry, unfeeling research rooms, and cathedrals to forgotten American ephemera, bolstered ever so slightly by some new and subtle graphical grace notes added to the game since Act IV's release. New lighting effects have been added, with specific scenes being brightened, and, most notably, a dazzling starfield effect during the game's stand-out musical number, “Too Late To Love You.” Those scattered moments of warmth and wonder have been sweetened all the more by the changes, making the scenes of respite even more welcome and memorable. Still, it all pales in comparison to what awaits you in the long-anticipated Act V: a heavenly place of sun and grass, demolished by the raging storms and flooding. The visually exhilarating elements of the final landscape make the horror of all the death and destruction hit even heavier.

    Despite that initial visual gutstab of Act V, it should be said that it ends not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with the kind of deep sigh you hear from working folks at five o'clock on a Friday after a hard week. I assumed, going into that final Act, that we'd be looking at a story of rebellion, a day of reckoning for the marginalized and downtrodden. I should've known better. Kentucky Route Zero isn't screaming for vengeance against all that America has lost, though there is an undeniable righteous anti-capitalist streak running throughout.

    The game doesn't so much resolve all the seething tensions and unfulfilled promises seen prior, but demands that you shoulder some of the weight of remembering and honoring what you've seen and heard. The overall point of the game is that not everyone's life will be paid off in a way that provides catharsis, or comfort, or satisfaction. Sometimes it just ends, sometimes it keeps going whether we're there to see it or not, and sometimes it's just disappointment. Conway has debts to pay, and there is a chance he drops dead working to pay them back. That is as American as it gets in the 21st century. What Act V does, though, is give everyone one last chance to rail against that fact, mourn it, continue to have hopes regardless which, too, is what it is to live here. Kentucky Route Zero has been priming us for seven years to recognize that life isn't fair, though we'd gain so much if it was, and sometimes we're lucky enough to make it as fair as it can be. But just as often, we're not. Kentucky Route Zero is ultimately a story about America's ghosts, literal and metaphorical. It's a story about entire ways of life coming to one singular place to die quietly, hopefully with dignity. In all of its oddity, it never backs down from the fact that all that is now dead will stay dead, and for those who have settled in along the Zero, that includes the American dream.

  • Gamespot News Feed: Kingdom Hearts 3 Re:Mind Review - Not Simple Or Clean

    Kingdom Hearts 3 Re:Mind's title doesn't lie. It's more of an addendum to Kingdom Hearts 3 than a meaningful addition. In some ways, it's fitting that a franchise as labyrinthine as Kingdom Hearts received such a strange expansion. Re:Mind is a brief but laborious retread of events we already experienced last year, dressed up with new details that only make the already maddeningly elaborate story all the more obtuse. The DLC also brings back Replica Data bosses, which provide a ridiculous challenge that requires inordinate level grinding. [Editor's note: This review contains spoilers for the ending boss and area in Kingdom Hearts 3.]

    Kingdom Hearts 3 ended with Sora going off on his own to search for Kairi. Re:Mind takes you on that quest in typical Kingdom Hearts fashion: neither simply nor cleanly. It runs synchronously with the events at the Keyblade Graveyard, meaning you actually have to replay the climax again from the Keyblade Graveyard maze all the way to the showdown with Xehanort. Though the explanation for how this is possible is very silly, Re:Mind is essentially a director's cut.

    As a reminder, the Keyblade Graveyard doesn't really feature any exploration. It's a series of boss fights separated by lengthy cutscenes. Luxord still hides behind a playing card taunting Sora, and cutscenes stop the action in similar spots. Some of the dialogue and cutscenes are reworked while others are new, but the biggest difference is the option to play as Riku, Roxas, Kairi, or Aqua in several fights. Unfortunately, playing as these characters actually makes the slick and stylish combat less fun. All of them feel like weaker versions of Sora with limited movesets, and it also doesn't help that the Keyblade Graveyard itself is the blandest world in Kingdom Hearts 3, devoid of the colorful and pleasant trappings of the Disney worlds that made the majority of original campaign hum.

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    Even the new content that's spliced into the repeated events largely fails to make the journey worthwhile. Scala ad Caelum opens up to reveal a new section before you square off against Xehanort. Though the area is fairly big, it's desolate and exists only as a space to complete a rather banal fetch quest. It's filler content in a story filled with recycled fights. There's a fan service sequence that's actually pretty enjoyable, however. Without spoiling it, it's the type of scene that will make fans fondly remember the decades-long journey that brought us to this point. It's a brief event that doesn't make up for five hours of deja vu, but it still stands out.

    For die-hard fans, the Limit Cut Episode that unlocks after watching the same closing cutscene from the base game is the meat of the package. Those who played Kingdom Hearts 2 Final Mix will be familiar with the mode, which sees Sora in a computer simulation fighting data versions of Organization XIII members like Xigbar, Ansem, and Xehanort. It even features cameos from the long-lost Final Fantasy characters.

    Unfortunately, the barrier for entry is extraordinarily high, because Limit Cut bosses are exponentially more challenging than any of the fights in the base game. If you didn't grind near or all the way to the level 99 cap in the main campaign--and there was no need to--Limit Cut will probably feel like an insurmountable challenge. I'm still working my way through the bosses, and I seriously doubt that I'll ever actually beat them all. The ocean that exists between the difficulty of the base game and the data bosses is jarring.

    It's of course impossible to separate the DLC from the game it builds off of, and Kingdom Hearts 3's best moments came in the Disney and Pixar worlds--the individual stories of friendship and love and good conquering evil that could almost be appreciated as self-contained short stories. Re:Mind seeks to tell a very specific story, but along the way it becomes blindingly clear that Kingdom Hearts' strengths lie in its pieces and parts, not its convoluted sum that threads through and disrupts the franchise's magical moments.

    Even as a longtime fan of the series who adored Kingdom Hearts 3, it's hard to muster up any sort of enthusiasm for Re:Mind. What's more, Re:Mind made me understand Kingdom Hearts 3's story even less, which is a testament to how bonkers it really is. It's not all that surprising this happened; after all, it's Kingdom Hearts. Nevertheless, Re:Mind is an incredibly peculiar expansion that simultaneously falls flat and partially obscures the brilliance of Kingdom Hearts 3.

  • Gamespot News Feed: Lenna's Inception Review - Fresh Start

    In the southwesternmost corner of the overworld map sits a building that houses a slot machine. You've seen this sort of mild gambling den in any Zelda game; pull the lever, match three heart pieces and you win. Here, though, row upon row of slots are being played, their skeletal victims under permanent house arrest by the one-armed bandits. The building is, in fact, a bank. Betting on the slots requires you to purchase shares in various enterprises, all of which are owned by the bank that is manipulating the odds; the financial system is a casino and the capitalist always wins. This isn't your typical Zelda clone.

    Lenna's Inception is a top-down action-adventure that is--ahem--very heavily inspired by the Legend of Zelda. Mechanically it is extremely similar to Link's early adventures, but thematically and through a couple of mechanical surprises it finds its own voice. The result is a playful and inventive homage to a classic series of games that manages to distinguish itself from its inspirations.

    The setup immediately departs from Zelda tradition, with schoolteacher Lenna roped into saving the world after the prophesied hero--and clear Link analogue--succumbs to an unexpected demise in the tutorial dungeon. Elsewhere, an evil banker has imprisoned the prince of the land, archangels are signalling the end times, glitched-out pixels are spreading across the world, and somewhere a mysterious fridge is on the blink. This is weird Millennial Zelda, touched by creepypasta yet restrained enough to not go full internet meme.

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    My opening paragraph was a little misleading. In my game the bank was to be found in the southwest corner, but in your game--or indeed my subsequent games--it may not be. Lenna's Inception generates its maps procedurally, shuffling the contents of its world to ensure a new route through the quest each time you start a new game and to allow players to share "seeds" of maps they particularly enjoyed. There's a daily challenge seed, too, further encouraging the sense of a shared experience.

    Experiments with the map generation revealed that it's not just the overworld being reconfigured. All but one of the dungeons you enter are unique to your playthrough, from the overall layout to the design of individual rooms, from the critical-path boss dungeons to the small secret lairs you might find hidden away behind a bush or a rock. Further still, the key items you collect along the way are shuffled to the extent that one playthrough might hand you the bomb item immediately while the next might make you wait for it until near the very end.

    In itself this doesn't necessarily have any bearing on the quality of the level design, though in general the suspicion is always that a compromise must have been made somewhere, that a procedural level could never be as good as one that was hand-crafted. The trade-off seems acceptable here: We forgo one painstakingly intricate design for the prospect of near-endless hopefully good variations. Certainly the overworld I played through (seed “ystreath” if you want to try it yourself) felt consistent and well-designed--no jarring sections that felt obviously untouched by a human hand. It had a mazelike quality that demanded exploration and was crammed with teases of just-out-of-reach areas I'd have to note to return to later and that in any other non-procedural game I'd credit to smart design.

    Dungeon design is mostly solid, with an emphasis on having the right item to allow you to bypass obstacles and finding the various coloured keys to open their respective doors. Save for the final dungeon, they all lack the light puzzle elements you would find in a typical Zelda dungeon, and are poorer for it. The last dungeon, however, takes full advantage of the environment-altering ability of a late-game item to push puzzle design to the fore. Perhaps not coincidentally, it's the only hand-crafted dungeon in the game. Where the procedural generation truly detracts is in the little side dungeons that throw you into a handful of random rooms, lock the doors until you've killed all the monsters, and then reward you with a health or weapon upgrade. They're not terrible in isolation, but they are all essentially the same and wear out their welcome long before you've acquired all the pick-ups they house.

    As you find new items--such as a spring that enables you to bounce over gaps or a cigarette lighter that lets you melt ice--you can unlock new regions of the map or return to previous areas to find secrets in classic Zelda fashion, a facet of the genre that is as inherently compelling here as it so often is, even if the execution is slightly off. The random order in which items are acquired does have a tendency to flatten out the experience. Some items have multiple uses, lending a degree of redundancy that diminishes the impact of obtaining a new piece of gear. Still, it's rewarding to nab a new ability and start mulling over all the possibilities, the new places you can now explore. It's a high that never diminishes.

    Perhaps as a consequence of the non-linear item progression, fighting regular enemies doesn't require you to use items other than your sword. They can be damaged by several of your items--the lighter sets things on fire and does useful damage over time while the bow, hammer, axe and bombs can all be effective--but there isn't a single enemy that, for example, must be staggered with the hammer before taking damage from your sword. With little variation it's sufficient to mash the attack button in order to survive any non-boss encounter.

    Bosses themselves are smartly designed even if they hew closely to the Zelda archetype. The rule of threes applies here, as each boss requires you to perform the same set of steps three times in order to beat it. And each one demands the use of a certain ability you've picked up, though the precise execution tends to not be telegraphed. Quite a few of the bosses had me puzzling things out for several attempts before the eureka moment hit and I knew exactly what I had to do. Fortunately in such instances, death isn't a hassle and you find yourself respawning in the chamber before the boss room.

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    The procedural aspects of Lenna's Inception lay a solid foundation upon which to build. On top you'll find a handful of NPC quests to follow, some of which test your lateral thinking as you chuckle along with the mischievous sense of humour of the writing. Moments of oddness abound. I found what the game described as a "urine potion" before cheerfully informing me that I would have to drink it to discover what effect it had. My first follower companion was a chicken that would relentlessly peck enemies to death. My last was a librarian who could hurl books with pinpoint accuracy. At one point I donned a growth tunic and ran around as a giant Lenna until she couldn't fit through the door to escape the dungeon. Surprises like these are scattered throughout the entire game and are never less than a joy to discover. There's even an option to play the entire game with either 8-bit or 32-bit graphics.

    Lenna's Inception is a lighthearted Zelda-style adventure fuelled by levity and a taste for the bizarre. At its heart, though, it's a testament to the powers of procedural generation. On balance it gains more than it loses, delivering an endlessly rearrangeable, replayable quest that suffers only slightly from the lack of a guiding human touch.

  • Gamespot News Feed: Journey To The Savage Planet Review - A Pulpy Sci-Fi Romp

    Journey to the Savage Planet is a fantastic name for a pulpy sci-fi game, but is a bit of a misdirect when taken at face value. A "savage planet" conjures up thoughts of hostility and survival, tapping into the inherent dangers of life on the frontiers of space. Sure, there are things that want to kill you in Journey to the Savage Planet, but they're only a minor inconvenience rather than the main focus. Instead, developer Typhoon Studios places the emphasis on exploration, coupling this with genuine humour and a charming tone to present a lighthearted and singularly focused chunk of sci-fi adventuring.

    The entire game takes place on a single planet located deep in uncharted space. You're strapped into the space boots of an employee of Kindred Aerospace--a rinky-dink outfit that's so proud of its standing as the fourth-best interstellar exploration company, it'll make you shudder to think of how bad the fifth-best must be. Once your feet touch the planet's surface, you'll begin to catalog the flora, fauna, and life located across the various biomes of planet AR-Y 26 to determine if it's fit for human habitation, what with the whole climate change thing ruining Earth.

    Journey to the Savage Planet excels when it comes to the assortment of tools and equipment you can gradually craft and use to reach every nook and cranny of the planet's surface. You're immediately free to explore as you see fit, but it doesn't take long to discover plenty of inaccessible areas. As such, much of the game is spent scanning the flora and fauna to reveal whether they have gameplay benefits or are just there to contribute to the planet's vibrant and colorful aesthetic. Some plants may contain seeds that restore your health or produce projectile explosives, while most of the planet's hodgepodge glossary of alien critters are filled with resources you can gather if you're heartless enough to put a laser blast between their eyes. Gathering these resources and locating items that can be reverse-engineered using your ship's 3D printer allows you to craft equipment like grappling hooks, double-jump upgrades for your jetpack, and other tools that make traversal and deeper exploration possible.

    The whole game latches onto this palpable sense of momentum, as each new upgrade opens up more of the planet for you to probe. Your feet may be firmly planted on the ground in its opening stages, but by the end of the 10-hour adventure you'll be gliding across natural ziplines hundreds of feet in the air, propelling across perilous chasms with a triple jump, and using a powerful ground pound to unearth new passages. Journey to the Savage Planet adopts the classic Metroidvania formula and executes it wonderfully, presenting you with an ever-growing arsenal of tools that are satisfying to use and feed into the game's inherent focus on exploration.

    Of course, the other side of this equation is the planet itself, which is well worth turning inside out. AR-Y 26 is split into three distinct biomes. Each one is moderately sized, resulting in the planet's scale feeling manageable and allowing you to explore freely without fear of getting lost. When presented with multiple paths, it's easy to choose one over the other because you know getting back to that initial fork in the road is going to be relatively easy. This encourages you to poke your nose in every crevice, travel to every far-away cave, and check behind every waterfall. You're often rewarded for doing so, with extra resources or important upgrade items hidden throughout the planet--not to mention the visual treats that are on offer in each disparate biome, whether you're navigating through the craggy icy caves and glaciers your ship landed on, walking amongst the overgrown pink and turquoise mushrooms of the Fungi of Si'ned VII, or jumping between the floating islands of The Elevated Realm.

    Journey to the Savage Planet isn't a completely leisurely tour, though. Your first order of business is to develop a futuristic blaster pistol, but combat is a means to an end rather than a major part of the game, and it ends up being a drag. While most of the planet's creatures are docile, there are outliers that become hostile as soon as they spot you. Defeating these aggressive predators involves a rinse and repeat pattern whereby you use a nifty sidestep or jump to avoid an attack before following up by shooting one or multiple weak points. There are only slight deviations on this back-and-forth that require you to lob an explosive or poison cloud at the enemy before you can pepper its weak spot. The pistol never feels quite accurate enough for the job, especially because you're usually being asked to hit small targets, and each of the combat's faults comes to a head during the game's closing moments as you're thrown into one fight after another before facing off against the final boss.

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    You can play the whole game cooperatively with a friend, which does make combat slightly more bearable, but co-op doesn't alter the moment-to-moment gameplay in any significant way. Conflicts are easier with two people, sure, but there's nothing about the co-op experience that's intrinsically built for more than a single player. You can explore the planet together or opt to split up and cover different ground, but that's about it.

    Playing with a friend can result in moments of emergent humour, but Journey to the Savage Planet is also genuinely funny due to the abundance of FMVs located on your ship. These short and incredibly eccentric videos mock and parody everything from exploitative corporate practises to the video game industry. There's a commercial for a new game elegantly titled MOBA MOBA MOBA Mobile VR V.17 Golden Fleece; its main selling point is having more microtransactions than any other game, with one of its features being an in-game "Custo-mi$er" for your created character. The humour is somewhat frontloaded, but this does help the game's irreverent charm establish itself early.

    Journey to the Savage Planet borrows plenty of familiar elements from other games, yet it does so in a carefree way that sets it apart from other sci-fi exploration games, settling on a relaxing playstyle that's informed by its single, vivid planet and tightly focused design. It only takes a couple of hours to reveal its humdrum combat, but this is the only significant damper on what is an entertaining slice of lighthearted planetary exploration.

  • Gamespot News Feed: Frostpunk: The Last Autumn Review - Winter Is Coming

    In Frostpunk's main campaign, you already know the stakes. A winter of biblical proportions has descended upon Industrial Revolution England, driving its citizens into the frozen unknowns to seek out life-giving generators. In The Last Autumn, you are in charge of making one of those very generators a reality--one that will hopefully save lives in the future. Winter lies in wait on the periphery, so you have to worry about new means of resource gathering, timed objectives, and social challenges rather than staving off the flu. It dresses the familiar gameplay elements of Frostpunk up differently, demanding a new type of strategic thinking that reinvigorates the already satisfying formula at its core.

    With the cold weather encroaching on Liverpool, you lead a handful of workers and engineers on an expedition to a cove on the edge of the country. Near-freezing sprays from the nearby ocean splash against treacherous rocky beaches, with only a small space to build upon peering through the thicket of trees outlining the coast. This limited space is immediately stressful--a massive generator needs to be built, resources around you already seem scarce, and the space you must work with doesn't allow for many placement mistakes. The odds are stacked against you from the start of Last Autumn's campaign, but some new tools provide reprieve in distinct ways.

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    Instead of gathering resources from deposits around you, you can build new harbors on limited coastline spaces to collect what you need. You have to choose which spaces are dedicated to fishing for food and which others can be set up as large ports, allowing ships with stockpiles of wood, coal, or steel to dock and unload. Shipping resources in is only one part of the supply chain, too. With new depots staffed with workers, you can quickly supply your main city with resources nearly as fast as they're unloaded, which vastly improves upon having workers manually carry them from the docks. Each of these structures requires some of your more limited resources, though, making each micro-decision carry more weight than before. When each ingot of steel feels as precious as the last, you'll rarely find yourself overwhelmed as was the case in some previous scenarios, escalating the overall tension as a result.

    Other new structures are intrinsically tied to your new objective of building a central generator, each of which are used to build specific pieces of the giant contraption. You have a total of only 45 game days to achieve this goal, without any preparation time to make provisions for a stable resource supply line and citizen housing. It makes each of the four impending milestones immediately stressful, but it's all initially more confusing than it needs to be. The Last Autumn features the same useful tutorials from the main campaign to make picking up its new mechanics easy, but it doesn't do a good enough job surfacing the menus you can utilise to measure your progress towards the next milestone. It ultimately ruined my first run--I missed my first milestone without realizing that it even existed, making it impossible for me to hit subsequent ones on time before being fired. For all the good The Last Autumn does surfacing nearly every other facet of its new mechanics, it's frustrating that it takes some lost progress to truly understand its overall tempo.

    Once you come to grips with the time limits imposed on you, you can focus more on The Last Autumn's new Motivation meter, which joins the returning Discontent meter from previous scenarios. Each is fairly self-explanatory--the first one measures how much motivation your workers have to get the job done, while the other indicates how unhappy they are with their current living situation. Unlike previous campaigns, though, letting either one get too high or too low doesn't end your game. Instead, Motivation determines just how efficient your workers are at the jobs they're assigned to, while Discontent alters how likely they are to put down tools entirely and walk out on strikes. Keeping Motivation high and Discontent almost non-existent at first is easy, but as the impending winter approaches and the realities of your encroaching deadlines loom, unavoidable, scenario-specific modifiers to both make their upkeep a true challenge.

    Strikes are a new social aspect you'll need to contend with, going hand-in-hand with new metrics measuring the safety of workplaces in place of worrying about their overall temperature (given that winter hasn't yet arrived). Workplaces that are consistently dangerous and staffed with workers working either long or double shifts will quickly drive their occupants to down their tools and picket outside, forcing you to negotiate before returning to work. Worker requests will require you to pass new laws affecting either their work hours or living conditions, often demanding more resources from you or a tolerance for their slower pace of work in order to get them back into their factories and mills. The knock-on effects of these decisions can sometimes feel absent at first but come back around days later to haunt you, making each strike negotiation important to carefully consider. Even simply delaying your decision with handouts of rations often results in more strenuous demands from your workers, turning strikes into worthy headaches that compound the satisfyingly stressful symphony of systems present already.

    With new mechanics to contend with and different ways to approach Frostpunk's strategic formula, the new laws that it introduces make tackling both as morally challenging as ever. Your base set of laws returns from previous scenarios, but the branches that come with siding with either labor or your engineers expand on them extensively. In one of my successful runs I passed laws in the engineering path that allowed me to ship in prisoners for cheaper labor, while constructing oppressive security towers and multiple penitentiaries to keep everyone in line. The authoritarian approach didn't sit well with most citizens, but it made sense to grow my workforce rapidly without needing to worry too much about the needs of my new laborers. Eventually I unlocked an ability to turn regular citizens into criminals without trial, giving me the chance to boost efficiency in workplaces solely staffed by criminals as a result of their supposed disposability.

    None of these decisions are easy to make. Frostpunk has always made each of your decisions feel like choosing between two evils, and The Last Autumn maintains that. When shipping in criminals I was constantly reminded of how terrible some of their crimes were and how they might introduce problems to my other citizens if not policed correctly. But even introducing a growing security force presented issues. Empowered citizens imposed their authority incorrectly at times, which in one case drove one of my citizens to death after consistent harassment that I ignored so that my criminals could be kept in check. Seeing small stories like this emerge from decisions I made hours before was equal parts gut-wrenching and fascinating, encouraging me to explore new laws and regulations to see what effects they might have.

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    Because bad Motivation or Discontent don't end a run and only the stress of missing deadlines to contend with, The Last Autumn allows for more flexibility in your strategy. It lets you stretch the boundaries of what its new laws offer, offering you the chance to drive forward with increasingly morally dubious decisions if all you're focused on is getting the job done. It doesn't come without consequence, though, especially when the cold arrives near the end of the run and introduces further restrictions on resource gathering as well as the familiar temperature monitoring in workplaces and citizen residences. By the end of my own run I was furiously converting citizens into criminals to increase my workforce without new shipments of workers coming in, exponentially increasing the size of my required security force too. The last few days felt like a battle of attrition--I wasn't allowed to let up on longer shifts but also incapable of dealing with the living needs of my population without diverting resources from the work on the generator. Within just a few days nearly half my society had succumbed to illness and died, eventually allowing me to reach my goal but with hardly any of the people responsible for it alive to see the fruits of their labor.

    Outside of small stories that your decisions generate and influence, The Last Autumn does attempt to conclusively confront your choices by its conclusion. With the generator built and your citizens sent to the next site that needs work, you're presented predictions for how effective your generator might be and just how many citizens it could save in the future. Based on how many milestones you missed, how many concessions you had to make to get there, and the number of people you lost along the way, the hard-fought victory might be met with depressingly low odds of success in the long run. It stings to have that presented to you after making sacrifices for what you assumed would be a greater good, forcing you to reevaluate your overall strategy and try again for a better outcome.

    The Last Autumn demands a lot from you, but it's also a deeply engrossing evolution of the formula that Frostpunk is made up of, changing the core rules just enough to make all your previous strategies feel insufficient. Whether it's deciding on which resources to order and how to distribute them or which parts of your workforce to push just hard enough before they reach their breaking point, The Last Autumn maintains the morally challenging and consequence-riddled decision-making of the core game while giving you new laws to experiment with and master. It's a welcome return to an already fantastic strategy game that shouldn’t be glossed over.