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Extra Life Tabletop Appreciation Weekend
It's a common misconception that Extra Life is solely a video game marathon, when in reality, we had over 15,000 people participate by playing tabletop games just last year. We’re excited to announce that August 25-26 we'll be hosting our fourth annual Extra Life Tabletop Appreciation Weekend!
Think of Tabletop Appreciation Weekend as the pre-party for the crazy fun that will go down on Game Day on Nov. 3. Thousands of our #EXTRALIFETabletop supporters will be creating Extra Life teams, playing their favorite games and sharing Extra Life with their friends and fans. Join us in recognizing tabletop players everywhere for their relentless support in helping raise $40 million since 2008. Here's how you can participate: 

Make The Pledge
Register for Extra Life 2018 and make the pledge to Play Games, Heal Kids

Tell your community
Host a tabletop event the weekend of August 25- 26 for your friends & community

Help heal kids
Ask for donations to support sick and injured kids at your local children's hospital
Fill out the form below to Grab the event's official Social Media Badge!

Hey Extra Life Community -
We have some exciting news to share! In an effort to help make fundraising more fun, more accessible and ultimately easier, we’ve added two new applications to the Extra Life experience. Now you can fundraise through Facebook or on the go from your phone!

Extra Life Facebook App
Fundraising has never been quicker or easier than with the new Extra Life Facebook App. It installs in just a few seconds and allows you to opt-in to automatic status updates, upload Extra Life profile and cover pictures and ask your entire Facebook network for donations in just a few clicks. To start fundraising through the Extra Life Facebook App, login to to your Extra Life account, and click "Fundraise with Facebook" in the participant dashboard.

Extra Life Mobile App
Manage and share your Extra Life experience on the go with our new Extra Life mobile app. This free app lets you fundraise and connect with others through SMS, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn & Email. You can update your Extra Life page and check your fundraising progress all from the palm of your hand. Learn more in our best practices section!

Download the app here: iPhone | Android
We’ve also spent the last couple of months improving the mobile experience on the Extra Life website so give the new apps a try. We want to hear what you think so send any feedback and ideas to community@extra-life.org or comment below and let us know!
For The Kids,

Mike Kinney
Team Extra Life
Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals

Jack Gardner

Review: Vampyr

By Jack Gardner, in Features,

Dontnod has made a name for itself over the last several years as a publisher willing to try new things and take risks. Mixed reactions to their debut effort Remember Me grew into acclaim for Life Is Strange. Three years have passed since Life Is Strange captivated players; Dontnod used that time to not only craft a sequel, due out this year, but also something completely different. Unlike anything the developer has tackled before, Vampyr takes players into a dark and dirty vision of early 1900s London; a world of death, disease, and vampires. 
Doctor Jonathan Reid, a field medic returning from the battlefields of World War I, awakens in the corpse pits of a London under siege by the Spanish flu, a brutal virus that swept through the real world shortly after the turn of the century. Maddened by a profound hunger and the echoing words of an ethereal entity, Dr. Reid stumbles through the carnage, happening upon a woman looking through the dead. She knows him, embraces him, and in a fit of insanity, he digs his fangs deep into her neck. He drinks, she dies, and he is reborn - sane and in agony at the realization of his crime.
This opening scene strives to capture the unsettling horror of Vampyr on a small scale, giving players a textual stake (har har) in the consequences of their actions. You see, Mary, the woman murdered in the opening minutes of Vampyr happens to be Mary Reid, Dr. Reid's sister. This death haunts Jonathan throughout the game in a way that can profoundly alter the course of events, depending on how players choose to develop the doctor as a character. 

Vampyr tempts players with blood at every opportunity. Completing quests rewards players with nice chunks of experience that can be used on a variety of vampyric and scientific abilities. However, players can take shortcuts to power by manipulating the citizens of London, mesmerizing and taking them to dark corners for a taste of their blood. This kills them, of course, but grants thousands of experience points, more than can be gained by completing quests. The system encourages players to take care of the people they meet, treating their illnesses with appropriate remedies and learning their secrets by interacting with the people in their social circle. The healthy blood of someone more intimately known provides quite a bit more experience than someone almost totally unknown who has been struck with the plague. 
As the primary vampire of Vampyr, players have to be careful how they exercise their newfound power. Some parts of London's communities are more necessary than others. The pillars of each community hold those around them together by their presence and tireless efforts. Killing those people could bring the entire district they live in crashing down under the weight of the epidemic. Not all parts of the community can claim to be aligned with those constructive forces, however. Some proudly declare themselves criminals while others hide dark secrets of murder and abuse. Of course, no matter who Jonathan chooses to feed upon, the community will react. It could leave it a better place, but that act of murder could also plunge everything into chaos, leaving openings for the plague to seep in among the bodies. 
Players who seek to walk a nobler path will be pleased to know that the life of bloodsucking innocents can be avoided almost entirely. However, those who opt out of this staple activity of vampirism will find themselves at a definite disadvantage, making do with fewer and less powerful blood and shadow based powers. The difficulty will definitely have some players looking longingly at the NPC they know to be a murderer, contemplating murder for their extra experience. The point of the difficult path is to tempt the righteous to fall, and the developers certainly play into that aspect of their game. 

Dontnod cleverly leaves the player with the ultimate decision to give Mary Reid's death meaning. Will Jonathan steer the hardest path and make his first steps as a newborn vampire without sacrificing others along the way? Will he pursue power at all costs, slaughtering as many people as London can bare? Or will he walk a middle path, turning himself into the judge, jury, and executioner of London's wickedest denizens? Those are interesting questions to explore over the course of Vampyr and answer for yourself. The system that enables this, the complex net of relationships and dependencies of each section of London that shift with each death, must have taken an incredible amount of effort to create, and stands out as one of Vampyr's best features. 
It's strange, then, that Vampyr does not choose to focus its narrative that core systemic conceit. Instead, the narrative revolves around a series of three acts to which the residents of London play background parts as pieces of set dressing and leveling opportunities - a decision which defangs the whole "needing to kill for the blood needed to survive" aspects of vampires. The first act revolves around Jonathan Reid coming to terms with his role in his sister's death and his new life as an Ekon, Vampyr's term for the beings we traditionally know as vampires. It is here that we are also introduced to the other varieties of vampires. Skals make up the majority of vampires, but are often people who failed to transform into full Ekons, often going mad in the process. They only need to eat flesh to live and don't require blood the way other vampires do. Vulkod are the brutes of the vampire kingdom, possessing superior speed and strength to other kinds, but often losing themselves to blood rages. Other kinds exist, too, but they are left to be mysterious around the edges of British vampire society. 

Before going on, we should note that the icing of yet another woman in the opening minutes of a video game for dramatic effect, a trope with a long tradition (I'm looking at you, Shadow of Mordor), is getting so old. It doesn't help that this is the game's cold open; as players, we have no investment in Jonathan or his sister within those few minutes, which robs even more drama out of this storytelling cliche. The cliche compounds in the closing minutes of the first act as it practically repeats itself. This is lazy writing, and it doesn't sit well in 2018. We can and should do better than going for cheap shock value and character motivation. 
The second act expands the world with more details about the various factions: The Guards of Priwen, the Ascalon Club, and the Brotherhood of St. Paul's Stole. The Guards of Priwen act as a human check on vampire activity during the epidemic, wandering the streets and killing any kind of mutated beast they come across. The Ascalon Club operates as an exclusive group of vampires who seek to control the wider world, a kind of shadow government based on blood purity. Finally, The Brotherhood of St. Paul seems to mostly be a group of holy researchers who are more pragmatic than the Guards of Priwen and prioritize the greater good over any vampire vendettas. This act is also when many of the pillars of each London community have to be addressed by the player, often in ways that could doom the communities if handled poorly - but perhaps that's what a less scrupulous Dr. Reid desires?

The third and final act introduces a lot of esoteric lore that was barely hinted at throughout the preceding sections of Vampyr. The final twenty or thirty minutes of Vampyr possesses an energy lacking in the earlier segments of the game as secret after secret comes tumbling out and the narrative pieces all begin coming together. To say much about these closing minutes would spoil quite a bit, but suffice it to say that a Vampyr 2 would be incredibly welcome as Dontnod veers far afield of what might be considered the classical vampire stylings they had adopted up until that point. 
Overall, the narrative takes an understandable detour around its core system based around vampyric feeding and winds up with a tale composed of many interesting parts when taken on their own, but without much of a through line keeping it all connected. Mary's death recedes into the background after the end of the first act, replaced by a lot of factional drama that doesn't ultimately get resolved or have many consequences in act two. The third act concludes the plague plot and possesses the strongest focus of the three parts, but doesn't have much to do with the themes of previous sections.  
The feeding mechanic further muddles the themes of the game. Doctor Jonathan Reid makes a distinction between killing average citizens and those those who oppose him. For example, when it comes to one of the in-game factions called the Guards of Priwen the good doctor seems to have carte blanche to drink their blood and kill without mercy. This leads to moments throughout the game where Dr. Reid claims to have not killed anyone, provided the player has not fed on one of the civilians of London, despite the massive trail of bodies left behind him as he tore through the Priwenites in the streets of the city. This isn't an active impediment to enjoying Vampyr, but it represents a larger problem of mixed messaging that erodes Vampyr's story structure. 

The combat mechanics also present a fun, flawed opportunity that needed refinement. There are a handful of abilities to choose from, each of which can be upgraded, eventually into diverging paths. These include defensive moves, like creating a shield of blood, attacks, like creating a large area of exploding darkness beneath enemies, utility maneuvers, like invisibility or leaping into enemies, and your garden variety carry more of bullets or serums and increase health/stamina/blood. More variety would have been welcome, as after initially deciding which skills to take the system encourages you to stick with those until the end. There's not much room for experimentation or really a need for much as almost any offensive skill will carry you through to the end of the game.
On its own, the combat serves its purpose. When everything is going well, it feels serviceable. Dashing out of combat range to set shadowy traps, whirling through enemies with one of the small variety of interchangeable weapons, powering up an ultimate maneuver, it all can be exciting. That is, at least, provided technical issues or strange design decisions don't get in the way. Some of the enemies have variable attack ranges, will sometimes land a hit without actually hitting anything, and many powers don't feel all that effective. Enemies are often made more difficult by giving them more health and damage rather than interesting mechanics to play around and counter with your own growing arsenal of vampy powers. 
One of the most consistently irritating aspects of Vampyr's combat is that if you die in battle, you return to a section just outside the area where you died. That's fine, but any consumables you used in the fight disappear. Struggling through a boss fight only to die at the last minute? Well, good luck trying it again with out any healing items, stamina boosts, or additional blood transfusions. Alternatively, have fun trudging back through the areas you just battled through to make more of those items because you have to craft them all yourself at specific crafting stations and can't store more than you can hold in your inventory at any one time. That means that if you can only hold two serums for use in battle, you can only craft and hold two serums of each type at any given time. 
The other issue that plagues Vampyr boils down to mobility. As a vampire, Jonathan Reid can shadow dash and teleport himself to higher vantage points. This seems like it would be a particular useful ability to escape combat situations or navigate the world. Unfortunately, once Dr. Reid enters combat, he loses the ability to travel vertically to escape his assailants. The game simply won't allow that to happen until everyone in the area has perished. This becomes irritating when you realize that often these optional fights simply take up time and resources without giving much in return. 
The flipside of this issue rears its head when it comes to world traversal. Mobility stands out as one of the defining aspects of vampires both in the myths and legends of our world and in the game itself. Characters routinely disappear out windows or appear seemingly out of nowhere. Our protagonist doctor doesn't seem capable of this outside of very specific circumstances. This attaches Jonathan firmly to the ground, no doubt as a means of gating player progress from more dangerous areas in the opening portions of Vampyr. In the absence of a fast travel system, players constantly find themselves backtracking across districts and areas that had previously been cleared, but enemies constantly respawn. It becomes one of the most tedious aspects of Vampyr and probably a large reason why the middle act seems to sag and lose so much momentum. Running freely along the rooftops of London or flying through the air as a cloud of shadow bats could have gone a long way toward easing this frustration, even if it only became accessible later on. Instead, we are left with a system that grants freedom of movement, but only on its own constrictive terms.   

It would be a grave oversight to not talk a bit about the visuals of Vampyr. London has never looked so dingy, squalid, and vaguely post-apocalyptic (in video games, obviously) than in Dontnod's bloodsucking adventure. Drainage water sits tepid in the streets, reflecting the shining moonlight from between damp cobblestones. Candle light filters through boarded windows. Each NPC has a distinctive face, model, and animations that sets them apart from everyone else (if you don't count the enemies that you meet in combat). Everything looks grim, dirty, and that can all come together to resemble the locations sought out by urban explorers for their decaying beauty. The effort that went into making London an interesting locale shows; despite all the backtracking, it doesn't wear out its welcome. 
The voice acting does quite a bit of work to sell the various characters. Notably, Anthony Howell turns in an incredible performance as Dr. Jonathan Reid. You can feel the sorrow and pain in his voice, a character who has seen and done horrible things on the battlefields of Europe and now must contend with the twisted homeland to which he has returned. Dr. Edgar Swansea, an eccentric doctor who treats with vampires and mortals alike, helps to expand and explain the world with the aid of Harry Hadden-Paton's performance. People might recognize Hadden-Paton as the voice actor behind the male Inquisitor's voice in Dragon Age: Inquisition or his role in Downton Abbey as Bertie Pelham. Katherine Kingsley manages to create a compelling and mysterious character with her role as Lady Ashbury, a centuries old vampiress whose every line drips with the weight of history. It is a difficult role and Kingsley plays it perfectly. In the hands of these capable professionals, what could have been a campy story about vampires turns into a tale filled with genuine drama and memorable exchanges. 
Dontnod deserves to be applauded for taking risks in a time during which many developers opt for the sure thing time after time. The world and characters they have created in Vampyr could easily be continued in future games, something I very much hope that they do. They took concepts that many might have thought done to undeath and made them their own. The visuals and sense of place that London will take players on a wild journey filled with horror and vampire shenanigans. Even the ideas that don't necessarily work perfectly are at the very least interesting or have the potential to be used more effectively in the future. A few kinks in the machine show a number of narrative and mechanical hiccups that occasionally cause player momentum to screech to a halt, but those setbacks are always temporary. For those who persevere, a rewarding experience offers something you can't find anywhere else. Vampyr is ambitious, flawed, and I loved it.
Dontnod, a sequel would be excellent. 
Vampyr is now available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. 
Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!

Marcus Stewart
Tropico 6 gives fans another opportunity to live out their power fantasies. Once again taking up the mantle of El Presidente, their goal is to stay in power as either a benevolent ruler or ruthless dictator. Like previous entries, accomplishing this involves building an island empire across multiple historical eras. Players manage their land resources, the economy, and the individual lives of citizens, to to maximize their profit. Kalypso walked me through Tropico 6’s new twist during E3 and here’s what I came away with. 

Expanded Scope
Previous Tropico games gave players control of a single island. Tropico 6 expands that control to several archipelagos. These satellite islands come with their own challenges as well as building features. For example, players connect islands using a new bridge-building mechanic. Additionally, bridges act as additional production chains for efficiently transporting goods and citizens. 
Players can now implement new transportation modes such as bus stations and taxis. Bus routes give Tropicans that lack their own cars a speedier method of getting from point A to B (ideally point B is their job) as opposed to walking. Tunnel construction allows players to reach new secluded areas and provide another alternative method for transporting goods. Tunnels become available in modern eras. Cable cars ferry citizens people up Tropico 6’s increasingly elevated areas, such as tall plateaus. 

Deeper Control and Customization 
Work Modes, a feature absent in Tropico 5, makes a return in 6. It allows players to adjust how buildings operate in terms of what type of Tropicans can access them. For example, a building open to all citizens can be changed so that only upper class residents can access it. Work Modes affect population happiness. Too much emphasis on only pleasing the wealthy could cause the lower classes to become unhappy and even riot. 
It’s also possible to adjust existing buildings to emphasize a certain Happiness Value. During my demonstration, the developer wanted to increase the budget of a tavern. However, an edict prohibiting alcohol was negatively impacting the business. By removing that edict, the tavern’s efficiency increased. The developer then changed the Work Mode to all you can drink in order to to further raise the building’s revenue. 
For the first time, El Presidente’s palace can be customized. Players can mess with the building’s color, general layout, and add gaudy touches such as swimming pools, helipads, and even a giant hologram of the leader himself. The palace can also be relocated, which has been a community requested feature.  

A Change of Scenery
Visual variation is a key point of focus for Tropico 6. The tropical setting remains the norm but new areas include arid, hostile environments. I saw active volcanoes, jagged cliffs, and a significantly wetter swampy marsh. Time-of-day changes, backed by new lighting effects, add another layer of visual shine. Weather changes along with disasters such as thunderstorms not only look impressive but can impact gameplay by destroying buildings.  
Environments have gameplay implications as well. In one mission, El Presidente realizes that a particular island is too inhospitable to produce the necessary resources for his expanding his empire. Thus, he responds by sending out citizens as pirates to roam the seas and plunder other islands for their goods. This lead to the next key point.

El Presidente can now order his underlings to pilfer resources from foreign lands. I watched a scenario set in the Colonial era where the player’s pirates needed to make rum. The rum distillery required sugar to function but the infertile island couldn’t support a sugar plantation. Instead, the player sent out a band of pirates locate a nation with sugar ripe for swiping. Sure, players can trade or find other means of gathering resources. However, pulling off a successful heist feels satisfying.
Tropicans can even steal landmarks from other nations. Offering monuments such as a Mayan pyramid or the Taj Mahal to El Presidente allows players to build them on their island. Landmarks not only look cool but offer various, unspecified gameplay effects. Fulfilling these heists requires players to first complete a series of quests. 
Be careful though; stealing too much from another superpower may invite their wrath. A new Relationship Rating displays El Presidente’s standing with other countries. The Warfare feature, a staple of the series, allows powerhouses like Russia to attack if players anger them too much. 
Additionally, Tropico 6 ships with 15 mission maps that all have unique stories attached to them with their own timelines and narrations. The four-player multiplayer introduced in Tropico 5 makes a return as well. Tropico 6 launches for PC, Mac, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One later this year. 
Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!

Jack Gardner
Survival? In my zombie game? Wha- wha- whaaaaaaat? That's right, this week we are tackling State of Decay! Released in 2013 for the Xbox 360 and since released on PC and Xbox One, State of Decay garnered a cult following over the years. Developer Undead Labs' created its first game with the goal of carving out a niche in the saturated zombie game market by adding permadeath, individual survival elements, and larger, group-oriented goals. How well did they succeed at doing this? And does the game as a whole stand as one of the best games of all-time? Take a listen and share your thoughts!  
Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative.

Outro music: Undeadline 'Marching Towards Roshufa's Spirit' by Jorito (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03475)
You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it!
If you want to have your opinion heard on air, share your opinion in the comments, follow the show on Twitter, and participate in the weekly polls: @BestGamesPeriod 
New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday
Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!

Zak Wojnar
One of the biggest surprises of E3 2018 was the long-awaited formal reveal of the remake of Resident Evil 2. Twenty years after the launch of the original game back in 1998, and the time has come to rebuild one of the most legendary games of all time, from the ground up. In addition to a cinematic in-engine trailer, the game was also playable on the show floor. There are still a lot of questions about the game, how it feels, how it plays, and from which entries in the series' past it takes the most inspiration. After spending significant hands-on time with the game, I have some answers.
Obviously, the first and most immediately apparent inspiration for this remake is the original Resident Evil 2. The E3 demo begins with Leon Kennedy in the lobby of the Raccoon City Police Station, early in the game, but after the original's explosive opening sequence on the streets of Raccoon City. Presumably, that chaotic scene will be represented in the remake, but it was not present at E3.
Visually, I was surprised at how easily I recognized the iconic locations from the original game. Everything, from the lobby's maiden statue, to the white and green walls of the station's hallways, and individual rooms within the station, were all distinctly recognizable. However, rather than resting on nostalgia and being a copy-paste HD remaster of the original, the remake shifts the perspective to behind Leon's camera, as seen in Resident Evil 4, 5, 6, and the Revelations games. Don't be fooled, though: the feeling is nothing like those titles. To casual observers, RE2 looks like a slower version of Resident Evil 6, or even akin to Revelations 2, but it feels totally different, more akin to a much more recent entry in the long-running saga.
In terms of tone and gameplay, this remake borrows the most from the latest entry in the series, Resident Evil VII: Biohazard. From the looks of things, RE2 is going for a full-on horror experience; even the HUD is taken straight out of RE7. While the environments are recognizable from the original game, the remake runs on the RE Engine created for RE7, and thus supports its filmic, photorealistic style. The police station is no longer well-lit; it's almost pitch black at times, meaning Leon has to make use of his flashlight to see anything more than two feet away from his face. This creates a palpable tension and an overwhelming – but welcome – sense of dread.
After a section of deliberately-paced exploration, I finally came face-to-face with a zombie, and was not disappointed. My immediate, visceral reaction was one of fear, and I was surprised and how I welcomed the terror. Much has been made of Resident Evil's infamous straying from its survival horror roots. After RE7 brought things back to basics with a straightforward horror title, many fans were skeptical that RE2 would be a step backwards due to its over-the-shoulder camera lending it a superficial resemblance to Resident Evil 5 and 6. Fortunately, this is not the case.

The controversial over-the-shoulder, third-person camera from the series' most divisive era returns, but it's not here to facilitate high-octane shooting action and breakneck pacing; instead, it's here to offer a cinematic perspective with kinetic movements and dynamic zooms. At first, I chose to stand my ground and fight the zombie, and was surprised by just how intense the encounter truly was. Leon's Matilda sidearm has a slow rate of fire, the undead take a ton of bullets to bring down, and Leon lacks the martial arts prowess he exhibits in later titles. Lining up headshots isn't easy, but it's certainly rewarding, even if they're not an instant kill as they often are in zombie-focused media.
Zombies are an irrepressible bunch, and I ultimately wind up opting to flee, rather than fight, which brings us to another significant change from the original game: since the environments are all interconnected, rather than separated by loading screens, zombies can follow Leon throughout the police station, although it seems the main lobby area is a safe space... During the demo, at least.
The slow, deliberate pacing is akin to RE7, and the combat truly feels like every bullet has value. The final game will have an ammo crafting component, though I didn't get the chance to fiddle with it during my time with the game. I did, however, get to use the combat knife. While it's unclear whether the weapon has limited durability or if there are multiple knives to collect throughout the game, this new feature combines the defensive weapons from the 2002 Resident Evil remake with the classic combat knife fans have known and loved since the beginning. The knife can be used to open objects locked with heavy duty tape, from doors to cabinets. It can also be used in combat, either RE4-style or as a defensive item. Upon being grabbed by a zombie, Leon can counter their bite by plunging the knife into his attacker's head, which looks fantastic, but leaves Leon without a knife. Fortunately, it can be recovered by killing off the zombie and retrieving the blade from their corpse.
One change which some fans have not enjoyed is the new faces and voice actors for the entire cast. While Leon sports his trademark "beautiful boy bangs" hairstyle, his face is noticeably different from what we've seen in the past, although it's certainly not as drastic a change as Chris Redfield's unexpectedly svelte appearance in RE7 and its "Not a Hero" DLC. Likewise, Marvin Branagh, who had only a minor role in the original game, seems to behave more like an ill-fated mentor here, giving Leon his combat knife, dispensing advice, and acting as something of a guide during the early stages of a game... Still, he's already bitten by the time Leon finds him, and he knows he's not long for this world.
A few other changes include the reworking of famous "moments" from the original game, at least for the demo. In my time with RE2, I didn't encounter a single Licker enemy, though I did see its giant claw marks, and I also crossed paths with at least two of its unlucky victims, who had been violently torn apart. There's no doubt this game will earn the decidedly family-unfriendly M for Mature rating. There's also a new item, "Wooden Boards," which Leon can use to block enemies from breaking in through the police station's windows. Likewise, the game seems to be riddled with all new puzzles, as well as new twists on familiar tasks, offering new challenges to RE2 fans who think they'll be able to breeze through the new game just because they've spent 20 years mastering the original.
This new take on Resident Evil 2 is not the game you knew. To call it a remaster would be extremely reductive, but it's not a straightforward remake, either. The 2002 Gamecube version of Resident Evil added new scenarios, characters, enemies, and twists to the classic Mansion incident of the original 1996 game, but it still retained the fixed camera angles, tank controls, 2D backgrounds, and most of the basic gameplay of the original. By comparison, RE2 is aiming to be an even more radical departure from its source material than the previous Resident Evil remake.
Resident Evil 2 isn't a stop-gap release meant to hold over fans until the next game. It isn't an extended piece of obligatory fan service to act as counterprogramming to RE7. No, Resident Evil 2, despite being a remake which returns to an established place on the timeline, is the next Resident Evil game. RE2 is the next evolution for the series, combining the jaw-dropping terror of RE7 with the established story of RE2, creating a whole new beast. There's certainly an element of nostalgia at play here, but RE2 is clearly aiming to an unrelenting horror masterpiece without peer. It's not "Resident Evil for a new generation," but the latest evolution for a series which is constantly growing, changing, looking back, and moving forward. We'll find out for sure when Resident Evil 2 launches, on January 29, 2019, for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!

Jack Gardner
If Dan Smith isn't a name you know in video games, you should fix that mistake as soon as possible. At 18 years old, Smith won a BAFTA in 2016 for his work on a game called SPECTRUM, a solo project he had been working on since age 15. Ripstone Games saw the potential in Smith's game and offered him the backing necessary to fully flesh out the title that earned him such a prestigious award. Now, two years later, SPECTRUM has been renamed The Spectrum Retreat, fleshed out with puzzles, and given a more concrete narrative. With an impending release in a matter of weeks, I sat down with Smith to talk about and play his first commercial video game. 
The Spectrum Retreat has something of an odd story premise. Without giving too much away, players wake up in the spacious and immaculately ordered Penrose Hotel. Slowly explore the surrounding area reveals that it's a vast complex, empty save for a number of very polite robots that handle the day-to-day maintenance of the facility. However, no matter what you do, the robotic refuse to let you leave the hotel. As this reality begins to sink in, someone contacts you over the phone, a woman who seems to know that something is going on, something bad. She begins giving instructions on how to escape. Unfortunately, the easy way out becomes impassable and she guides you to a restricted area blocked off by color coded force fields. It's here that the puzzle-solving truly begins. 
The core conceit of The Spectrum Retreat, based on the mechanics from SPECTRUM, revolves around color. Players are able to absorb a color and use it to walk through barriers of that color and then swap it out for a different color. It's a simple mechanic, Smith even said it was one of the first puzzle concepts he learned when he dove into programming, but it's one that has fascinated him enough to build an entire game around the complex puzzles that can be constructed with it in mind. I saw the color swapping create bridges over chasms, walls, and can easily imagine that the uses only become more complicated as crazier geometry and gating mechanisms combine in future puzzles.  

The opening levels slowly introduce new twists in how space and the color mechanics can be used to create more elaborate scenarios in a slow, accessible way. The goal, according to Smith, was to make a tutorial that didn't feel like a tutorial, with players discovering how to proceed on their own. This approach certainly worked for me; I enjoyed the dopamine tickle across my brain as I discovered new ways to overcome each challenge. 
A large part of what makes The Spectrum Retreat so interesting is how the color mechanic works with the non-euclidean space of its world, an unnerving aspect of the hotel that carries over into the puzzles. Sometimes dropping down a hole will bring you back to the beginning of a level, but it could also bring you to an almost identical version of the level with a story hint or clue to the puzzle. Certain hallways repeat endlessly, but how sure can you be that its not part of the puzzle when you turn back and find yourself in a new location? Combine this uncertainty with more concrete areas that feature maze-like layouts and the potential for some truly stimulating scenarios becomes apparent.  
After the demo areas were completed, my character had to return to the hotel to "keep up appearances." However, Smith told me that as the game progresses, the comforting art deco world of the Penrose Hotel will begin to merge with the strange, sterile puzzle rooms, creating an unnerving sense of dislocation. He said that the overall theme of the game would be one that grapples with the downsides of escapism, how we can run so far away from our problems that the methods used to run can actually create far more issues with which we eventually need to grapple. 
The Spectrum Retreat launches on July 10 for the PlayStation 4 and on July 13 for Xbox One and PC. A version for the Nintendo Switch will launch later this summer. 
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Marcus Stewart
Quite a bit changed over the year since I last saw Insurgency: Sandstorm. Creative Director Andrew Spearin (who I interviewed at E3 last year) departed New World Interactive. Its highly-touted story mode has been cancelled. New World narrowed the focus to double-down on what brought Insurgency to the dance: its brutally realistic multiplayer.
I had a chance to play a few rounds of multiplayer alongside seven other teammates. Our objective was to secure a checkpoint, but that was easier said than done. Insurgency’s focus on realism means taking one or two good shots ends the player’s life. The intelligent AI regularly flanked and swarmed us when we least expected it. Teamwork became a necessity; lone wolves rarely lasted long trying to reach the objective on their own. Although the game was rough around the edge, fans of the original Insurgency should be glad to know that Sandstorm, thus far, continues the series’ reputation as a grounded, skill-based shooter. 
After my session concluded I had the opportunity to speak with Insurgency’s lead designer, Michael Tsaroushas. We chatted about the various changes and roadblocks to hit the project in the last year, translating the PC experience to consoles, and the reason behind the story mode’s cancellation. 

Run through what's changed with Insurgency since I saw you guys last year.
Michael: As you know we cancelled our story mode that was going to be for release. That is something we're going to reconsider after launch. We're focusing on a multiplayer experience, which includes cooperative multiplayer, 5v5 competitive matchmaking, adversarial traditional multiplayer, which is 16v16. Included in that are a lot of different improvements, a lot of new stuff since Insurgency, our previous game; new fire support mechanics, calling in helicopters, airstrikes, artillery, vaulting, door breaching, improved ballistic system. It's a hybrid between hit-scan and simulated ballistics depending on the distance of the bullet. Vehicles, character customization, a lot of different things we've been working on the last year.
How was it designing that AI? I just finished playing a few rounds of the 8-player squad against a team of bots to try and capture an objective, and that AI is rough. 
I'm glad you feel that way. That's what we're going for [laughs]. In Insurgency, we had cooperative modes. We started out way back in the day with an adversarial game, but we explored all this cooperative play, and it ended up working really well. So, we dedicate a lot of resources in making sure our cooperative experience is just as fun as our adversarial- just as fun as our competitive experience. And you can see just in Checkpoint Mode, which is what we played today, [the AI] come at you, they’re very aggressive. They die just as fast as you, and I think when you have that, a high lethality game, the stakes are really high and you need to be really careful. And that's what make it fun.
Are they especially reactive? I noticed I would kill one and then all of a sudden I would turn a corner and there's five of them just coming at me. 
Yeah, it's that kind of intensity that we want. That kind of fear, that kind of tension that we want. Like, “oh no, I have to be careful”.

Have you guys added any new vehicles? I know last year you guys specifically mentioned jeeps and other vehicles. But you guys were also stressing that you weren't trying to be like Battlefield.
Correct. We don't have tanks, we don't have any heavy vehicles. All of our vehicles are light. Trucks with machine guns on them. They're really interesting to play with because they're kind of like mobile turrets in a way. Not a lot of games do their vehicles that way but we found that that works pretty well for us. You have a shield for your turret. If you place it in the right position and watch, then you can screw them up, mess their day up real bad. We also have the fire support vehicles I was talking about. Those you don't drive, though. The trucks you drive. It's like when 2-player classes come together they can call in an airstrike, they can call in a helicopter. 
Has anything changed in the last year in terms of looking at other shooters and trends that have arisen–battle royale specifically?
[laughs] It's hot right now. You know, we've talked about it in the past on our team. "Hey, I think we could do a cool battle royale". But it's not really what we want to do right now. It's not important to us at the moment. I don't think it's important to our community either. So maybe we'll explore post-release, but right now we don't have any plans for that. We'll see. As far as other trends go, I think we've been pretty solid with our vision for the past year. Since we cancelled the story mode for release we've been really focused on polishing and refining the multiplayer experience and expanding too.
Can you talk about what brought about the cancellation of that story mode? When did that decision happen? It was still, at least this time last year, very much a thing. I watched a big trailer for it. What happened with that? 
Well frankly, we bit off more than we chew. We are a small studio. We're doing a lot of new stuff here [with a] new engine. We worked on Source, which came out in 2003. We're on Unreal Engine 4, which came out very recently, and we had to account for that. We had to account for the fact that we want to be on console. We had to account for the fact that we were really building a whole new platform, and we're a small team. There's like 36 of us, and we're spread all around the world. We have a couple different studios in Denver, Amsterdam, and we came to a realization that if we really want to deliver the experience people know us for, we should focus on it. And that led us to the decision. 

And you said it’s not a totally done thing? It could return in the future?
After release we're going to reconsider it. At the moment we're just focused on the multiplayer. 
How's it been working on consoles for the first time?
It's been interesting. It's been a challenge, of course. We don't have any experience on consoles. There's TRC's, there's certifications that you need to know, and that's been interesting to learn. That console release is also going to be split. That's going to come out in 2019. PC is going to be September, and that has helped us to make sure we focus on one thing at a time. 
Let me ask you in regards to the shooting. I think last year one of the devs described it as "The Dark Souls of shooters"
I like that. It is a good way to describe it, at least in the brutality. The unforgivingness. 
Yeah, or the realism to a degree. It plays well with mouse and keyboard, but for a controller, have you guys had to pull back on that a little bit for a controller? How has that been translating that control setup?
We definitely maintain the experience. Nothing changes [when] you play with a controller. Honestly, people play Insurgency right now with a controller. We have partial controller support for the Source version of Insurgency.
I played it with a controller.
It feels pretty good, right? It an experience that you can't have on a controller, and by doing that, seeing that in the original Insurgency, that led us to believe “hey, this could work for console.” So we don't really change much from that. We're obviously refining it, we obviously have to take into account key binding space and stuff, maybe do some aim dampening when you analog over something. Other than that, the experience is very similar. And we want that, we don't want to sacrifice our gunplay. 
It's kind of your identity as well.

Insurgency: Sandstorm is available now for pre-order on Steam. Doing so gains access to a future beta. To try it out even earlier, New World Interactive is currently taking sign-ups for an upcoming closed alpha. The game arrives in September for PC and comes to consoles in 2019. 
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Jack Gardner
The Binding of Isaac has released in several different versions across a staggering number of gaming devices over the years. Now, it is making the leap from digital to physical with The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls. Edmund McMillen, the developer behind The Binding of Isaac, launched the project on Kickstarter with the help of Studio 71. The game found itself fully funded in only an hour and a half. It currently sits at about $865,000, more than 17 times the base cost of creating the game.
It seems like Four Souls plays somewhat like a darker, more competitive version of Munchkin. Up to four players take turns fighting monsters and gaining treasure. Occasionally, boss monsters will be pulled and players who defeat them will harvest their soul. The first player to reach four souls wins the game. Of course, other players can help or hinder the defeat of a monster, so while cooperation might dominate the early game, the final soul will be a truly tricky prize to obtain. Optional rules add in bonus souls for players who are able to save up enough money or horde enough items.
McMillen stated that the game ideas came to him and to an extent some of the cards and systems are still in flux. He's been trying as best he can to translate the varied mechanics from The Binding of Isaac into a card game, no small task for a game that has seen expansion after expansion that have kept fans coming back over the past seven years. "It was really fun to take a well known item or monster from the game and think up ways to convey stuff like, How could I show that the carrion queen takes damage when you hit her butt?" said McMillen, "Or how could I represent the rng aspects of cursed floors or troll bombs only using a deck of cards?" 

At least part of the answer to that question seems to have involved creating a large number of cards to represent the various monsters and mechanics of the digital game. The Four Souls comes with several hundred cards, with additional character and ability cards unlocking as reward tiers are passed and backer challenges are completed. One of the most recent challenges involves nine people finishing the first boss on camera while blindfolded. Those who back the game at $35 or higher can receive an expansion pack bonus of 68 cards, pushing the number of cards close to 400. 
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Marcus Stewart
The mountain of battle royale games continues to rise with Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds dueling at the summit. For developers beginning the climb, reaching the top feels nigh impossible. However, Fear the Wolves by Vostok Games aims to establish a cozy, nuclear-powered base camp near the top instead. 
Fear the Wolves comes from the minds behind the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise. That series’ harsh survival elements and bleak setting bleeds into their new battle royale. 100-person bouts take place in the infamous Chernobyl nuclear zone. Gameplay also takes a decidedly hardcore approach. Speaking with Oleg Ruslan, a key mind behind the project, he describes it as, “less arcadey stuff, no cartoonish things. More realistic, more hardcore–a grim reality that sucks.”
Unlike other battle royale games, Fear the Wolves gives players a lot more to worry about than the 99 other combatants. Chernobyl contains irradiated areas that harm players who lack protective equipment. On top of that are Anomalies, danger zones on the map that further challenge the player. 
“Some of them are invisible, some of them are pretty interesting to really understand and explore how you deal with them.” says Ruslan. “For example, a type of Anomaly which hurts you if you're standing but if you're running you're fine. You need to try and find a way out of it, and [these are] little puzzles that the players will need to solve.” 

In another twist, a dynamic day and night cycle along with changing weather conditions directly affect gameplay. Ruslan explains “ For example, in strong wind you can not shoot very accurately. Your bullet physics [are] affected or in dense fog you cannot see other players very well.” If the elements weren’t enough to deal with, mutated animals such as vicious wolf packs stalk players throughout the match. Ruslan states this adds another layer of unpredictability to matches. Players who run into these beasts without the proper weapons will become a gruesome meal long before any human does the job.  
With added dangers, however, come new ways to emerge victorious. In addition to winning matches by being the last person standing, players can instead opt to hop aboard an escape helicopter. The lucky soul who manages to climb aboard this single-seat aircraft automatically wins the match–regardless of the number of players left. The helicopter only appears during the final leg of the round and gives new meaning to the phrase, “get to the chopper!” It also struck me as one of Fear the Wolve’s most intriguing features. 
“That's our little touch that will make it a little different experience, we think.” says Oleg. “Instead of people sitting in the bush [and] waiting for someone else to snipe and just win the match, here it's a possibility to actually just avoid the company. Anyone can be elusive and just jump on that helicopter and escape the map and win. So this definitely gives more room for tactics and possibility for winning the game.” 

Vostok Games also want to incorporate streaming features into Fear the Wolves. Twitch and Mixer users viewing matches in progress will be able to vote in real-time which in-game mechanics occur such as the weather effects. This appears to be a work-in-progress, with Oleg stating that the team has plans to expand on audience integration in the future. 
At the moment, Fear the Wolves will feature solo, survival, and squad play. An unannounced fourth mode will, in Oleg’s words, be “fresh to the genre”. All in all, the game has a lot going on between modes and gameplay, and I asked how the team decides when its doing too much and to scale back. Oleg told me that while the studio has plenty of ideas, they’re currently focused on how players react to what’s already present. Everything Vostok Games does must be “in line” with the community’s preferences. 
Speaking of community, Vostok wants Fear the Wolves to find its own, hardcore niche in the deepening pool of battle royale titles. It’d be nice to supplant Fortnite and PUBG as top dog, of course, but Oleg believes merely copying the competition would be insane as that would require crafting a product that’s twice their quality–a tall order for any team.  “It makes sense to be different, and offer the market something different, and see if people have [a] response.” explains Ruslan. “...We would go crazy headbanging against the wall fighting against guys like Fortnite.”
We won’t have to wait too long to see how Fear the Wolves fares. The game enters Steam Early Access this month and the full PC release is scheduled for later this year. Vostok Games plans to launch the console version in 2019. So far, the game offers a slew of unique ideas and a hardcore appeal. I’m keen to see if Fear the Wolves can take off like its opportune escape helicopter. 
Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!

Jack Gardner
Dontnod, the developers of Vampyr and Life Is Strange, released The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit for free just a few days ago. The narrative adventure follows Chris, a young boy who lives with his dad, throughout an afternoon of his life. It has a lot of heart, occasionally channeling the spirit of Calvin & Hobbes, and also quite a bit of darkness. It walks a thin line between the joyful attitudes of youth and the stark realities of adulthood, with all of the trauma and pain that entails.   
Sit down, kick back, and listen as we parse out the details of this interesting lead up to Life Is Strange 2. A correction: At the end of the episode, there's some mention of this free piece of content being the first episode of Life Is Strange 2 - that is not the case. It's a free prequel to the events of the five episodes that comprise the full game. The first episode of Life Is Strange 2 will release on September 27. 

Outro music: Kirby's Epic Yarn 'Blue Lava, Grass Landing' by The Hit Points (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03754)
You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it!
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New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday
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Zak Wojnar
One year ago, publisher Activision released the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, a remake of the original three PlayStation classics with next-gen graphics. Gameplay-wise, the Crash Trilogy attempted to perfectly replicate the original games, and it came extremely close, but ultimately fell short of making the PlayStation 1 originals completely obsolete. A few seemingly minor changes – such as adjustments to enemy hitboxes and the ill-advised choice to use the jump physics from Crash 3 in all three games –  kept the remake from fully living up to its potential. Still, developer Vicarious Visions put in a ton of work to make the game feel authentic to the hardcore fans, and for the most part, they succeeded.
Sony's other big 1990s franchise was Spyro the Dragon. Like Crash, Spyro starred in a trilogy of universally acclaimed PlayStation games (Spyro, Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage, and Spyro: Year of the Dragon) before fading into obscurity during the PS2 era. In the long run, the little purple dragon is arguably more successful than Crash; while the plucky marsupial had been largely absent from the gaming scene following the failure of 2008's Crash: Mind over Mutant, Spyro managed to eke out a measure of success in the cult favorite Legend of Spyro trilogy and as a key player in the best-selling Skylanders series. Now, Activision is wisely bringing the character back to his roots with a remake of Insomniac's original titles, Spyro Reignited Trilogy, developed by Skylanders developer Toys for Bob.
Like with Crash, old-school fans have significant questions about the gameplay of this new take on Spyro's classic adventures. Will it feel absolutely perfect to the PS1 originals? At E3 2018, I got extensive hands-on time with two levels from the original 1998 title, remade for PS4, and came away with some distinct impressions which may be surprising to longtime fans of the franchise.
As a lifelong fan of Spyro's original adventures by Insomniac (I can proudly say I never played anything after 2000's Year of the Dragon, the third and final game on this collection), I knew that I would notice if everything wasn't absolutely perfect, just like how I noticed when the Crash Bandicoot trilogy was good, or even great, but not quite perfect compared to its progenitor. Upon getting my hands on the controller and booting up Toasty, the first boss level from Spyro's original adventure, the first thing I noticed was how gorgeous it all looked. Spyro's character model, in particular, is a sight to behold. Stylishly angular and youthfully emotive, the pint-sized dragon, simply put, has never looked better. Similarly, the environments, while apparently geometrically identical to their PS1 counterparts, are full of tiny visual details which add up to a fully believable environment. With a tap of the circle button, Spyro shoots a short geyser of fire from his mouth. The flames, while still as cartoonishly stylized as the rest of the revamped visuals, have a deviously visceral impact; they light the environment in a way which was simply impossible back in 1998, and they even scorch the grass in front of Spyro, to say nothing of what a plume of flame can do to his numerous and dangerous enemies.
Of course, Spyro's newfound visual flair doesn't mean much if the gameplay doesn't stack up to the original. In that respect, unlike Crash Bandicoot, Spyro Reignited Trilogy doesn't attempt to play exactly like the original. Back in the PS1 days, Spyro felt very heavy, a bit slow, and had a noticeably wide arc when it came to turning, making sudden changes in direction a bit difficult. It wasn't insurmountable, and shouldn't even be described as a fault; it was just the way Spyro moved. He was different from Crash, from Mario, from Banjo, and all the other 1990s platforming heroes, who each had their own respective and distinct "feel."
Immediately upon nudging the analog stick forward, I noticed how different Spyro feels from his heyday. At first, it was a bit distracting, being able to turn on a dime and run circles around enemies, but I quickly realized a shocking truth: Spyro Reignited doesn't play like the original game; it plays better. Back in the day, camera control was mapped to the shoulder buttons, which was the standard, but would be downright archaic today. Now, the camera is controlled with the right analog stick, which lets the player see more of the environment, and see it more quickly than ever before.
The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and I could sense my enhanced control as I tackled the enemies in the Toasty stage. As I looked around me, I saw other E3 attendees getting mauled by the big grey dogs who populate the levels. I don't blame them, since those enemies are notoriously pesky, especially to untrained players who haven't yet realized that it takes two bursts of flame to bring them down, and they always counterattack after the first hit. On the PS1, it took a while to figure out the rhythm of the movement, and it was always tough to get out of range of their counter. Here, it was as easy as pulling back on the left analog stick. Spyro's movement is stunningly smooth and I was weaving through the level with a newfound fluidity and speed which is entirely different from the much heavier motion of the original. It's a bold change, but having played it myself, I must admit, it was the right move.
After making short work of Toasty, I moved on to Tree Tops, one of the more infamous levels in the first game, due to its supercharge ramps and tough-to-reach secret areas. In this level, the visual acuity of this next-gen remastering is even more apparent than in Toasty. The dark, earthy palette of the level, which left much to the imagination in the original, really comes alive in this remake. In particular, the enemies, originally rendered as somewhat nondescript blobs of polygons, look like actual creatures this time around.

Testing out the supercharge ramps, it only took me a couple of tries to make it to the secret area on top of the final island, and I was pleased by how smooth the controls felt... Although I had a bit of trouble knowing when to transition from the jump to a glide, leading to a couple of deaths before I found the precise moment to get the most distance out of the supercharge jump.
The main collectable in the game is trapped Elder Dragons. Trapped in cages of green crystal, Spyro breaks them out of their prison, at which point they give him a brief word of advice before disappearing. While the original game had a degree of variety in dragon designs, assigning different body types to each of the first five worlds (the sixth, Gnasty's World, features a mixture from the previous settings), Reignited appears to be taking things a step further, making every single dragon unique and full of character. In the original, some of the dragons lacked fun dialogue, instead offering a simple "Thank you for releasing me!" It's unclear if that will be retained in this remake, or if any new interactions will be written for those dragons.
At this point, I'm happy to report that Spyro Reignited Trilogy feels good, and I can't wait to get my hands on the complete game. I'm eager to embark on an odyssey through the worlds of Spyro, Ripto's Rage, and Year of the Dragon, combining my nostalgic memories of classic settings and enemies with the remake's significantly revamped gameplay mechanics. Of course, there are still questions remaining to be answered. Will Year of the Dragon's additional playable characters be as smooth to play as Spyro? Agent 9's first person shooter levels, notably, haven't aged very well. What about the numerous minigames from parts two and three, like Ice Hockey, boxing with Bentley the Yeti, and the numerous attractions in Dragon Shores, the bonus level from Ripto's Rage? Will these all be preserved/remastered for this new release? Spyro 2 opened and closed each level with a brief cutscene. Will they be remastered here? Year of the Dragon suffered from lacking these fun vignettes. Will developer Toys for Bob be bold enough to unify the sequels by creating brand new cutscenes for Year of the Dragon? One can only hope.
One final question involves Year of the Dragon's main collectable, Dragon Eggs, which would hatch upon being rescued. While they each possessed unique names, many designs and animations were frequently repeated, robbing the baby dragons of their individuality. Will this HD remake go the extra mile and make sure every baby dragon feels like a unique character with their own custom animations?
So far, all of Spyro Reignited Trilogy's marketing has focused on the original game, with only brief, fleeting glimpses of the sequels. Hopefully, they'll peel back the curtain soon. They have to; after all, the game is slated for release on September 21 on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
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