Joseph Knoop

 
For as long as I’ve known her, my mother has been deathly afraid of rats. Even the faintest squeak of the floor is enough to send her into hysterics, a trait my sibling and I have exploited to no end of our own sadistic joy. As a pediatric nurse, my mother regularly witnesses some of the scariest moments of thousands of people’s lives, but these tiny creatures still instill the darkest possible fear in her.
 
A Plague Tale: Innocence is going to melt her gosh darn brain.
 
The developers at Asoba Studio gave a hands off demo exclusive to members of the media featuring the same locations from their E3 teaser trailer, showcasing Plague Tale’s dark Inquisition era and roving hordes of rodents.
 
You play as a young redheaded woman named Amicia, searching through the mucky streets of a 14th century French village for your younger brother Hugo and mother. It’s the middle of the night and the streets are deathly quiet. Amicia happened upon a group of Inquisition soldiers attempting to bust into a residence suspected of harboring criminals or the diseased; I’m not quite sure. What is sure is that these soldiers are definitely bad dudes (they also believe Amicia and her family are a clan of witches), as Amicia eventually comes upon a guarded carriage housing her captive brother. Two soldiers with lanterns are patrolling nearby as a few clusters of rats slink through the grass. Considering Amicia isn’t some hulking swordsman, she has to use her ingenuity and intellect to defeat obstacles. To that end, she’s able to use a sling to whip rocks at both guards, forcing them to drop their lanterns, which smash on impact. In the world of Plague Tale, strong light is able to ward off the rat hordes, as they’re infused with some magical, almost vampiric power that forces them to stick to the shadows; unfortunate for the guards now shrouded in darkness, as each nearby rat immediately swarms them, leaping all over their body and tears their flesh apart. There’s little time to consider the wails of death, as Amicia grabs her brother and flees into a nearby cathedral.
 
 
Plague Tale isn’t all rats and rock slinging, though. Amicia is able to order Hugo to slip into small spaces she’s too tall for, allowing him to retrieve light sources or other resources from unreachable locations and other basic puzzles.
 
Amicia determines that they need to reach the back of the cathedral to find their missing mother, but it’s blocked by another large horde of rats guarding an oddly fleshy crack in the wall. After Hugo retrieves a lantern from behind a nearby gate, Amicia is able to disperse the rats by shooting a rock at a large fire pot hanging from the ceiling and knocking it to the ground.
 
To the horror of Amicia and her brother, the resounding crash of metal on stone attracts more rats than she could account for. From every crack, hole and open wound in the stonework comes hundreds and hundreds of pissed off rodents. This is where Plague Tale’s technology shines through. After the demo, I asked how many rats the developers could fit on screen at once. Their answer: Roughly 3,000.
 
The true beauty of these horrifying hordes isn’t just how many of them can be on screen, it’s how they flow like water, ebbing and gliding over architecture in a deliberate, yet chaotic nature. It’s eerily reminiscent of the zombies in World War Z, as they careened down a market street, flooding every inch from top to bottom with their collective rage. And while each rat beefs up the larger group, each one feels like a relatively independent creature when your light source is able to kill off a few stragglers.
 
From there, Amicia proceeded to clutch Hugo close to her as they pushed forward through the avalanche of rats, directing the light towards any clusters that threatened to get too close. The tension continues to mount higher and higher until the pair make it to the gash in the wall, leading to a disturbingly dark and fleshy tunnel. Hugo, hearing the call of their mother, goes running off into the shadows as Amicia warns him that it can’t be her.
 
A Plague Tale: Innocence definitely fits into publisher Focus Home Interactive’s mostly gothic repertoire and the hook of navigating a grim world beset by rodents is welcome. According to the developer, the entire game will take about 10 hours to complete, which begs the question of just how much this game will depend on rats, stealthing past soldiers, or basic puzzle solving with your brother. Plague Tale’s scope might end up getting a little too wide, but as long as the horrors of the rat horde stay fresh, I’ll be more than willing to bite.
 
A Plague Tale: Innocence doesn't have a release date yet, but it is planned to hit PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.
Marcus Stewart

 
God of War's Norse setting, family-focused story and presence of an AI companion in Krato's son aren't the only big changes for upcoming sequel. The game also features a dramatically altered presentation thanks to a single, behind-the-shoulder camera that replaces the series' fixed camera angles. 
 
In an interview with Eurogamer, Game Director Corey Balrog, who lead the animation for God of War I, directed God of War II and wrote the script for the third game before departing Santa Monica, discusses in-depth why the change in cameras was 
 
"The aspiration when I got back was to tell a much more personal story," Balrog said. "God of War is traditionally known for these cinematic, pull back cameras, which I think are fantastic. But trying to get in there and really get to know the character a little more, I realized it'd be interesting if we got closer." 
 
On the team's response to the change: "There was big resistance, but I have probably one of the best teams in the business, so as much as they were pushing back, I think they all kind of wanted this crazy challenge."
 
Balrog also addresses concerns about the player's control over the camera.  "The player won't always have control, although that was the aspiration at the beginning. We eventually got hit by the sobering reality that sometimes you just have to nudge the player and let them see what you want them to see, but it's always a nudge. You always give them a little bit of a sense of freedom, so that it does feel like you're experiencing all of this in real time." 
 
Balrog's motivations are radically shaking up the God of War formula for the next entry, defying fan expectations and how leaving Santa Monica during God of War III's development helped mature him as a writer and director. 
 
God of War releases in March 2018. You can watch the game's latest trailer from Sony E3 2017 presentation here. 
Marcus Stewart

 
Outreach takes the narrative-focused space exploration of titles like Adr1ft and injects a hefty does of historical accuracy and an unshakable eeriness. Pixel Spill’s four-man team has been cranking away at the project for about two years, and during E3 last week I got to play the game's unnerving first 20 minutes. 
 
 “I love sci-fi. I watch Star Trek on my lunch breaks,” James Booth, producer and writer, said. “But something I wanted to do differently with Outreach, I wanted it to be steeped in the history of space travel rather than being alternate history or future.”
 
Outreach draws inspiration from the space race between the then-Soviet Union and the United States and how the Soviets beat the Americans by sending the first human, Yuri Gagarin, into space. Chiefly, Outreach explores the “lost cosmonaut” conspiracy theory that alleges that prior to Gagarin, the Soviets secretly launched cosmonauts into space. However, all of them perished and the government covered up the mission. Additionally, espionage films such as The Hunt for Red October provided further influence.
 
Set in 1986, players control a lone Soviet cosmonaut (voiced by The Wolf Among Us’ Adam Harrington) sent in orbit to investigate a space station and determine the fate of its crew. Booth says that while Outreach plays off events from the 1960's, the game takes place a few decades later to allow for the existence of a full space station. Pixel Spill values historical accuracy above all else. Archival footage and historical designs were referenced during development. The composition was made using actual Soviet-era synthesizers, creating a soundtrack that captures the authentic sound of the period.  There are no jetpacks – Soviet cosmonauts didn’t have them at the time – so players must push themselves off objects to move around.
 
“It’s literally set in 1986. All of the technology is era-specific.,” Booth explained. “The space station is based on pictures of the real thing. You can look at the two side by side and you probably couldn’t tell the difference apart from the fact that one’s a game.”
 

 
While Outreach can be classified as walking simulator sub-genre, Booth refers to it as a “floating simulator” due to the zero gravity exploration. The unique control scheme took a fair bit of trial and error for me to adapt to. One shoulder trigger pushes forward while the other halts movement. Moving the left analog stick spins your view. I bounced against the station like a pinball before I got comfortable enough to navigate the station somewhat competently. Although movement felt strange and mildly nauseating, it did a decent job of selling the sensation of being suspended in zero gravity.
 
You might think Outreach would be a perfect fit for VR. However, Booth cites the occasionally stomach-turning traversal as the primary reason Outreach won’t be coming to headsets. “It works [in VR], but don’t do it. We’d have to ship it with a branded sick bag.”
 
After receiving my orders from my commander, I set out on the search for the crew. I soar from room to room, inspecting floating objects including letters and audio tapes, which can be played on a recorder. Booth promises that although the game is story-focused, Outreach will feature more gameplay than the average walking simulator thanks to richer mechanics, puzzles, and mini-games. At one point, I interacted with a terminal that featured a working game of Pong.
 
After exploring the pods and finding no trace of the crew, only one area remains for inspection. Unfortunately, I break the latch off the door trying to open it, leaving me locked out. The only way around is to exit the station and reach the area from the outside. This is where Outreach’s intensity took really off.
 

 
Since jetpacks aren’t a thing, the only way to make my way across the outside of the station was by a series of rungs on the station’s hull. The process involved kicking myself off a platform and carefully steering myself close enough to a rung to grab. It was an extremely nerve-wracking segment thanks to how little control you have in maneuverability and the intimidating ambiance of space. Unlike many walking simulators, players can die in Outreach. In order to allow this, Pixel Spill needed to tweak the facts a bit.
 
“Historically, you would have a tether that would connect you to the station,” Booth said. But we took that out. It’s kind of one of the only things we don’t do realistically because we wanted that fear of death.”
 
Missing a rung and veering into orbit led to a very intense scene of the character quickly panicking as he realized he’d be helplessly hovering for the rest of his life. That emotional performance completely sold the terror of being stranded in space and only raised my anxiety about screwing up. I held my breath with every leap to a new handhold.
 
 
After a few more trips to the scary death scene, I finally reached my destination, where the demo concluded. I welcomed the chance to calm my nerves, but I felt I’d just gotten the hang of the controls enough to inspire me to play more. On top of being an effective thriller, Outreach feels like it could be a great period piece of 1980's space travel thanks to its painstaking attention to detail. Most importantly, I left my play session wanting answers to the game's primary questions. What exactly happened on this ship? Are any members of the crew alive, and if so, where are they? These answers will have to wait until later this fall when Outreach launches for PC and Mac.
Marcus Stewart

 
The concept of creating cinema in virtual reality is still in its infancy, but those interested in the format's potential can check out the first short film from London-based VR studio, Breaking Fourth. Titled Ctrl, the film is coming to PlayStation VR and centers on a young e-sports player named Liam, who competes in a strategy game tournament where viewers have "front row seats" to the action.
 
However, Liam may be fighting for much more than just a tournament victory. According to Breaking Fourth, Ctrl aims to explores "themes of power, control and escapism...whilst forcing you to confront the unrelenting nature of the character’s reality – and as the plot develops, you may find yourself reflecting on your own experiences…"
 
The film was shot in full 360 degrees, offering watchers a completely immersive experience. You can get a feel for Ctrl by checking out its trailer below. 
 
 
PlayStation VR owners intrigued by the project will be able to download Ctrl from the PlayStation Store this Friday, June 23rd. You can read more about the movie by reading Breaking Fourth's PlayStation Blog post. 
 
[Source: PlayStation Blog via Eurogamer]
Marcus Stewart

 
If you were a Sega fanatic back in the day and have been searching for an inexpensive (read: free) way to relieve those memories, Sega just might have something for you. Sega Forever, which launched today, is a free collection of classic games for download on iOS and Android devices. 
 
The collection's library spans the Master System to the Dreamcast and everything in between. Each title features wireless Bluetooth controller support, leaderboards and saves. The site promises new releases every month, and kicks off with Sonic the Hedgehog, Altered Beast, Phantasy Star II, Comix Zone and Kid Chameleon. 
 
You can find out more about Sega Forever by visiting its official website. If you want to experience an insane blast from the past, check out the website's hyper-90's launch trailer. 
 
 
What do you think about Sega Forever? Let us know how you feel about playing your favorite Sega classics on the go.
 
Naomi N. Lugo

 
Alongside the quick reveal of a major update to its gyms, and announcement for the Solstice Event, Pokémon GO also set the stage for their first ever live get together: Pokémon GO Fest. The celebration will commemorate the first anniversary for the mobile game and takes place July 22 at Grant Park in Chicago.
 
At the event, attendees will be fully immersed in the augmented digital Pokémon world through day-of perks. These include an increase in Pokémon sightings "including some that have never been seen before in Grant Park." Also, there will be challenges banding trainers around the globe together, the ability to unlock an exclusive Pokémon GO Fest Chicago medal (in-app only), "special" PokéStops, and team lounges. 
 
Tickets went live on June 19 and sold out in less than an hour. Niantic assured that the unfortunate souls unable to attend "will still be able to participate in rewards unlocked at the event." Tickets went for $20 each, but many are being upsold for significantly more. 
 
Do you still play Pokémon GO? Were you lucky enough to get a ticket to the event?
Naomi N. Lugo

 
The Banner Saga released in 2014 to positive critical response and fan adoration. Fans will have the chance to showcase their love of the tactical RPG with Banner Saga-themed IndieBox, which will be The Definitive Physical Edition of the first game.
 
This special collector's edition, pictured in the header above, includes the disc and case, soundtrack, instruction manual, and a 6 1/2" bust of Ubin. IndieBox is a monthly subscription service that focuses on, as the name would suggest, indie titles. Many of the games IndieBox partners with only received digital releases, so the company gives fans a chance at obtaining physical copies and merchandise of their favorite download-only titles. 
 
If you're itching for more Banner Saga, Stoic announced plans for a third installment to round out the trilogy. The Banner Saga 3's ETA is December 2018. Check out the game's Kickstarter video below. 
 
 
The Banner Saga Definitive Physical Edition IndieBox is available from June 20 to July 18. You can grab yours by visiting the IndieBox site. 
Marcus Stewart

 
Though I’ve only dabbled in virtual reality since it hit the market, I haven’t played or seen much to get me truly enthused with the concept. That was until I gave Blasters of the Universe a go during E3. The project began as a game jam between an artist and developer at studio Secret Location before larger vision focused on bringing the challenging and reflex-focused bullet hell genre to first-person VR. So far, I believe Secret Location is one the right track. Blasters of the Universe got my adrenaline racing like few VR experiences I’ve encountered.
 
Playing with the Oculus Rift and Touch controllers, I held a gun in my right hand and a shield in my left. One of two loadouts were available. One was big, powerful gun paired with a durable shield and a missile barrage special attack. The other was a smaller gun with faster firing rate that can split into a pair of firearms as a special attack. It also came with a smaller shield that deflects bullets back at enemies. I opted for the former. The full experience will boast full weapon customization with players outfitting arms with a selection of parts (like a laser sight) and modifier, such as bullets that rebound off walls. Shields also come in different types, such as one that can be split into three static barriers to take cover behind.
 
Soon after I plunged into the neon-tinted techno world, a squad of robots and weird floating heads converged upon me from all sides and opened fire. The player’s head is the only area that receives damage, so identifying gaps in the elaborate bullet patterns and aligning your noggin so that it slips through is crucial. Shields block a limited number of attacks before it has to recharge, meaning players must be mindful of when to block and when to dodge.
 
The opening minutes saw me getting wailed on from above and blindsided elsewhere since I kept focusing only on what was in front of me. After taking a rain of bullets to the face, I learned to fully scout my surroundings. Before long, I found a nice rhythm of bobbing and weaving around bullets, throwing up my shield to catch incoming attacks, and blasting enemies into oblivion. I even crossed my arms at points for maximum style points.
 
The sensation felt extremely cool and empowering–it really felt like my entire being against the world, and I licked my chops at each new wave that dared to challenge me.
 
 
Taking damage and interrupting a great groove feels devastating in traditional bullet hell games and it’s even more jarring here with bullets hitting you square in the face and halting everything for about a second. However, this only got my blood pumping more as I immediately wanted revenge against my polygonal transgressors. This was my first time using the Touch controllers, and they felt comfortable and sported great responsiveness. 
 
The level’s boss was a large, teleporting robot that unloaded missiles like no tomorrow. My defensive skills got a serious run for their money, and the boss' constant warping between positions made it a challenging foe to take down. I eventually toppled it with the help of my handy missile barrages. Once I took off the headset and returned to reality, I needed to catch a breather but wanted nothing more than to jack back in and keep blasting.
 
Blasters of the Universe will feature four campaign levels, each with their own endless version for players to return to and fight for bragging rights across the cross-platform leaderboard rankings. Per the norm with bullet hell games, the challenge raises exponentially as the game progresses (to my surprise, difficulty was scaled back in my decidedly tough demo). Despite the difficulty, I had a very fun time with Blasters of the Universe. If you want to try it for yourself, the game is available now on Steam Early Access for Oculus Rift and Vive. The full release is slated for later this year.
Naomi N. Lugo

 
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn received its latest expansion June 20 with the release of Stormblood. A journey and the warrior of light are the focal points in Stormblood story. New features include additional jobs such as the red mage and samurai, a level cap increase, new enemies, new areas to explore and more content additions. 
 
In true Square Enix fashion, there's no skimping on the epic high-fantasy vibes of the expansion's trailer.
 
 
Reportedly, there were a plethora of issues for any players trying to play the game during the early access period that began on June 16. Gamers were stuck with long wait times to log into the game and still had issues while in the game. Early access will end this Friday, June 23.
 
FFXIV: A Realm Reborn itself is a MMORPG that launched in August 2013 to Windows and PlayStation 3. Currently, it is available on PlayStation 4 and Mac. A Realm Reborn acts as a remake of the original FFXIV which was released in 2010 but was plagued with many issues.
 
Are you playing FFXIV? Are you excited for Stormblood?
Marcus Stewart

 
Ubisoft Toronto unveiled an action-adventure space shooter titled Starlink: Battle for Atlas. Set in a “massive, open living star system,” players construct custom starships from a variety of collectible parts to explore space and visit seven unique planets in search of ancient secrets and confront outlaws. 
 
The kicker is that not only are there in-game ship parts, but physical parts as well. The trailer shows players assembling miniature model ships by hand and docking them to to the controller, meaning it may have some sort of toys-to-life component. 
 
 
Starlink: Battle for Atlas is slated to hit PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch in the fall of next year. Ubisoft Toronto has promised more surprises in the coming months. 
 
 
Naomi N. Lugo

 
After setting the record straight on the future of the company earlier this month, developer Io-Interactive announced June 20 that the beginning of Hitman would be free to play on all platforms. 
 
The move appears to be a celebration on securing the rights to the company's signature series. "I'm proud to announce that our first hello as an independent studio is to invite all gamers to play the beginning of Hitman for free," Hakan Abrak, CEO of Io-Interactive, said in a press release. 
 
 
Io-Interactive had been dropped by former owner Square Enix citing "extraordinary loss" as their reasoning for letting go of the team. With that news, it was uncertain where Io-interactive would head and whether or not they would be able to retain control over the Hitman IP. The Danish studio seems to be recovering, securing a buyout from Square Enix and retaining Hitman.
 
The ICA facility, including all the content released for the area, is free to download now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. 
 
What do you think the future holds for Agent 47? Will you be playing the beginning of Hitman for the first time now that it is free?
Marcus Stewart

 
Atari was once the standard-bearer for the video game industry, helping establish the home console market into what it is today. But after a decline in business and a constant reshuffling of executive leaders (among other factors), the company fell from its lofty perch in favor of publishing and other ventures. But after two decades, Atari has apparently gotten the itch to leap back into the home console scene with its new Atari Box.  
 
A 21-second teaser offers no information, showing only close-up glimpses at what could potentially be the hardware's form factor. Most notable is the wood paneling, a design trademark of the Atari 2600. The Atari Box would be the first Atari console since the Jaguar, which released in 1993 and discontinued in 1996. 
 
 
Plans for the new console were confirmed by Atari CEO Fred Chesnais during an exclusive interview with GamesBeat reporter Dean Takahashi during E3. “We’re back in the hardware business,” said Chesnais. 
 
What do you think about Atari re-entering the console business? What does the Atari Box need to do to compete with modern hardware? What games do you hope will be released with the new console?