As I’ve remarked before, the Xbox One is such an odd console. Every exclusive game I want for it is now either available on Windows 10 or will be. Sunset Overdrive is even finally available on Steam for Windows. Still, I keep the Xbox One because of the backwards compatibility features for some 360 and original Xbox discs. However, the 360 games I’d like to play with my family are Kinect games that won’t work on the One.
I don’t know what a disc-less machine really offers anyone picking out a console besides, possibly, being slightly cheaper and more reliable. It will be interesting to see how Microsoft makes the pitch for this revision, if it happens.
An Ape has escaped, but he isn’t a friendly little hominid with a siren. No, this is a vicious one from Gabe Cuzzillo, Matt Boch, and Bennett Foddy, oddly enough. Ape Out is an overhead smash-em-up with noisy drums and it looks like much fun for anyone who enjoys escapism.
The whole game has an algorithmic masterpiece of a score by Matt Boch, frenetic drums that grow louder and faster as the violence increases, or dip into a lull at times of calm. Each death is greeted by a triumphant crash of cymbals, so you feel like a conductor in your own mad orchestra of carnage. You, somehow, feel part of the creative process. The way you smashed three men together, just so, leaving a blush of red over the blue carpet, and adding just a soupçon of orange viscera from your own wounds. “Ah, exquisite,” you think. “Perhaps I was always meant to be a great improvisational artist.” But there is no time to pause and admire your work, for you must knuckle on and create another.
Ape Out is $15 on the Nintendo Switch, and various stores for Windows, like itch.io, Humble, and Steam.
In Steam‘s Early Access program you’ll find multiplayer-only mech stomp-em-up Vox Machinae from the developers of Signal Ops. Vox looks to be severely different from Ops, and they’re calling their mechs GDR‘s or Grinders. They’ve got people in between layers of metal, so I suppose it’s okay to refer to a mech as a meat sandwich.
Ace Combat is a beloved series to me. I have a box full of the collector’s edition joysticks from a decade and a half ago when I found out how great the series was on PS2 and graduated to the Xbox 360 version. Dogfighting doesn’t require those sticks, it’s perfectly fine on any gamepad since the Dual Shock 2, but it felt even more glorious to fly through the arcade dogfighting skies of Ace Combat with joysticks and throttles.
After the ignominious spinoff Assault Horizon distanced the series from the shores of the strangereal eight years ago, Ace Combat 7 is finally available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Windows via Steam after a short period of console-onlyness. Brendan Caldwell called it well, for Rock Paper Shotgun:
…the story explodes outward like an expanding foam, into a complex sequence of nonsense and counter-nonsense. There is a space elevator. There are deadly drones. There is a princess. At one point you, a professional fighter pilot called “Trigger”, are relegated to a prison base, yet still expected (and trusted) to pilot an immensely expensive instrument of war over hostile AA guns. “Your mission,” says your new commander, “is to atone for your crimes.”
I won’t say why this line is uttered to you, because one of the biggest joys here is laughing out loud at the wall of batshittery that hits you with each mission, like a volley of missiles. But I will say this: Ace Combat 7 is the best JRPG so far this year.
The PlayStation 4 version of Skies Unknown also features an exclusive VR mode consisting of an Ace Combat 4-inspired mini-campaign. There are only three missions, and their objectives are less complicated than those of the main campaign, but even so, the experience of flying from the cockpit of a plane is engrossing. The feeling of speed and height is literally dizzying, the ability to freely look around and track a target with your gaze is terrific, and the act of pitching and rolling your plane is so effective at eliciting a feeling of actual g-force that I personally had a hard time doing more than one mission at once without breaking out into a nauseous sweat. It’s a shame that there’s no option to play the main campaign in VR–the head tracking and freelook alone would be incredibly useful–but the mode is a great addition nonetheless.
Ace Combat 7 is out now for your typical $60 on Xbox One,PlayStation 4, and Steam for Windows. The “launch edition” for the Xbox One includes a digital copy of the 360‘s Ace Combat 6 and other goodies. The PlayStation 4‘s version of the “please don’t wait until there’s a discount” edition includes the aforementioned VR mode, Ace Combat 5, and the goodies. Sadly, Steam users on Windows only get the goodies and are told to get fucked if they’d like to play the older games. All launch editions expire on the 18th. There are also some kind of season pass shenanigans with three missions exclusive to it.
Somehow, it’s still not as bad as the Anthem purchasing grid. Although Anthem doesn’t support real-world weapons manufacturers, Ace Combat 7 is at least veritably fun. Hm.
Nintendo announced Super Mario Maker 2 for the Nintendo Switch during today’s Nintendo Direct, coming out this June. I’ve been hoping for this one. It’ll have (quoting the press release) “…access to even more tools, items and features.”
More details for Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, exclusive to the Switch, out this summer.
Box Boy + Box Girl announced for Switch, 270 stages, April 26th, 2019. It’s a beloved puzzle game from everyone I know who has played it, this version will have co-op.
Super Smash Bros Ultimate 3.0 Update and new Amiibos. No details on the update yet.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is getting new levels for the Switch version and two-player co-op. Out today. New paid DLC out now as well. More on March 14th.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is out this summer. This was just a video clip telling us about the Miriam character.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 will have co-op and first-person mode when it comes out on July 12th. It’ll also be on the PlayStation 4.
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age: Definitive Edition: S: out this Fall. I fell asleep briefly during this trailer.
Disney Tsum Tsum Festival: I will never understand the tsum tsum thing. It looks a little like Mario Party, but probably worse and with weirdly long, rectangular, characters in the tsum tsum style. No specific release date for this, just “2019.”
Starlink: Battle for Atlas gets an exclusive Switch spring update with new Star Fox missions. April.
Rune Factory 4 Special “Battle along townsfolk and before long you may become more than just friends” out “later this year.”
Rune Factory 5 is announced, no info, just a logo.
Square’s got a new action RPG called ONINAKI. Out this summer.
Yoshi’s Crafted World. March 29th. Free demo out today.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses is anime as heck. There’s two editions out on the new delayed date of July 26th. This trailer just talked about plot details until I fell asleep again. Where is Advance Wars?
Dead by Daylight’s Switch port looks like a PSP port of a PS2 game. It’ll be out this Fall.
Deltarune: Chapter 1 is out on the Switch for free this month, February 28th. I think it’s an Undertale sequel, but I didn’t get far in that game. The trailer reminds us that further chapters won’t be free.
Daemon X Machina gets a free, limited-time to download, “prototype missions” demo today. If you play it you might get an e-mail survey where you get to act as a focus tester for the game. Who doesn’t like doing work for for-profit businesses for free? The game is supposed to be out this summer.
GRID Autosport is coming to the Switch. The framerate looks real bad during certain parts of this trailer, ouch. Summer 2019.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is getting a Switch port this Spring.
Mortal Kombat 11 is out this April 23rd on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and now we know it’ll have a Switch port at launch.
Unravel two is getting a Switch port on March 22nd.
Assassin’s Creed III Remastered also has a Switch port out on May 21st. It’s out for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Windows PC’s on March 29th. “In addition to the full game, Assassin’s Creed III Remastered also includes all of its original post-launch content” […] “Also included is Assassin’s Creed III Liberation Remastered, an enhanced version of Aveline de Grandpre’s battle for freedom in 18th-century New Orleans.” I liked AC3 when I played through it on Windows, but I also got it for “free” by selling all my Team Fortress 2 items.
Final Fantasy VII out on March 26th
Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon Every Buddy! on March 20th
Activision Blizzard, a company of more than 9,000 employees who’ve built some of the world’s most popular games, is a few things. They are a company who bragged about having a “record year,” on an earnings call this afternoon, a quarter where only raking in $2.4 billion in revenue was considered a disappointment. They are a company who granted a $15 million signing bonus and a $900,000 salary to a high-ranking executive who joined last month. And they are a company who just laid off around 800 employees, or 8% (!!!) of its total workers.
800 people will be without jobs at the end of the day. 800 people head into an uncertain future, wondering how long their severance and health insurance will get them before the next job.
After a recent earnings report announced record revenue, Activision-Blizzard initiated layoffs by handing out boxes to its 9,600 employees that had 8.3% odds of containing employment termination paperwork.
“A lot of companies might just hand out pink slips to a select few, but our ‘layoff boxes’ allow every employee to be part of the overall firing experience,” said Blizzard human resources manager Clint Bullock. “Our employees have all worked hard to make our company so successful over the past few years, so it’s only fair that everybody have an equal chance of having their lives totally upended while we keep making huge profits off their creations.”
Unionization in today’s companies and employee-ownership of new businesses would help prevent mass layoffs.
There’s a new competitor in the Battle Royale genre of multiplayer-only survival shooters, Apex Legends, from Respawn. It’s a free-to-play Battle Royale-style shooter with a risky system that lets you revive your teammates by retrieving an object at the box they leave behind, and a middle-click option on your mouse to let you mark items, enemies, and other important objects on your HUD that you would otherwise have to manually call-out.
The good news is that Respawn are some of the original Call of Duty developers, so the shooting feels good, even though this game lacks the wall-running and mech-suits from Titanfall.
Apex Legends also has different character classes. The first of which drops a healing drone, for example.
There are only 3-player squads in Apex Legends, are no other modes besides a short training mode that doesn’t really explain the now-traditional Battle Royale mechanics of the shrinking battlefield and dwindling players until there is one winning team.
I had a lot of thrilling moments in Apex Legends, mostly around reviving and respawning squadmates. Death isn’t necessarily the end in this game: even if you get killed, your squadmates can pick up your ID tags within a short window and bring you back at respawn points scattered about the map, as you spectate and bite your nails. It’s a feature you wouldn’t see in most battle royales, but it makes total sense in a squad-focused game, and adds great tension to every fight. You can be dead but still rooting on a friend. You could be alive and wonder if your squadmate’s killer is camping their body, waiting for you to come claim their ID. You can make it to a respawn point and stand there activating it, totally exposed, praying you don’t get shot in the back.
No matter what you’re doing, the ping system is just such a great tool for communication. In some cases it’s better than voice chat: you can highlight a specific object, like a door or a gun, and tap middle mouse to make your character say something about it. They’ll call out the name of a gun you might not know. You can double-tap to signal an enemy’s nearby and that’ll show up red for your teammates. After someone pings an item, if you pick it up, a prompt will pop up on your screen to thank them for pointing it out. In the world of horrors that is online gaming, it’s so pleasant (and, honestly, weird) to have a built-in courtesy button. Saying thank you: Somehow, just as thrilling as shooting a guy.
Unfortunately, like most free to play games, Apex Legends has loot boxes and different currency systems. They mostly seem to be for aesthetic choices, like weapon skins, but there are also new characters to unlock with unique skills you won’t get to play without ponying up with either real money or through another currency that might be earned in-game. The free-to-play business is as sad as ever, and many games that cost money up-front have these systems anyway.
If there’s a constant in the gaming universe right now, it’s pixelated side-scrollers. Door Kickers: Action Squad is pixelated, yes, but it isn’t another exploratory metroidvania style adventure. Action Squad is a co-operators special that’s for distant or couched friends to shoot bad guys with the not-at-all-questionable overarching theme of police buddies just busting up mansions and warehouses, going room-to-room, looking for hostages and bombs.
Action Squad doesn’t take itself seriously. There is a progression system of upgrades to purchase between levels. Both skill points on a tech tree of sorts, and among the purchasable gear options are just regular frag grenades that don’t care if you’re hitting a hostage or a hostage-taker and this is what you see if you’re thinking about buying grenades:
I haven’t chosen those yet, but they’re in-line with the type of parody of police work that Action Squad is going for, and there are definitely situations in the game’s levels that call for room-clearing explosives.
There’s a very fine line between parody and cringing, and while I think that Action Squad earns its comedic violence, I also cringe every time I hear the unfortunate suicide-bombing character charging and yodeling what is probably nonsense at the forgettable player characters.That’s a stereotype best left behind.
I won’t be reviewing Action Squad, but I can recommend it for anyone looking for a good game to play with a friend. It isn’t perfect, Action Squad has crashed once or twice over the three hours I’ve spent with it so far, but I like that a studio called “Killhouse Games” can prove they don’t take themselves entirely too seriously by working with PixelShard Labs on this project. The music is good, the sprite work is good, the gameplay is fun. I love almost everything about this game. It even seems to revel in your loss, because you still earn experience points towards leveling up your characters and then it throws out an exclamation mark that seems to indicate an excitement in your SWAT team dying:
Once you restart the mission, the level layouts are the same, so you will sometimes need to figure out how you’re going to do things differently the next time. One level in particular stands out where I had to kick a corpse through the odd skylight in a room with another room above it. Dropping the corpse lured enemies to one side of their basement. Every time I dropped down through the basement’s skylight without first luring the two other murder-men waiting below, I would almost always cause a stray bullet to hit a door, that would then open and bring in two more killers which was about one too many to deal with. Even once I figured out this piece of the murder-puzzle I had to remember to turn on the generator and press the elevator call-button. Otherwise opening the door to the elevator shaft would release the two bonus slayers.
In a world where we need to get the people who enjoy the knowledge that the doors of the powerless are kicked down all the time, this is a good start for Killhouse Games to pivot away from the serious tone in the original Door Kickers. Oh, what’s that? You say they’re working on Door Kickers 2? Well, good luck to them on that.
One more unfortunate note, while Door Kickers was on Windows, macOS, and Linux, the Action Squad is only available for Windowsthrough Steam at the moment. However, Action Squad‘s price is right at $14, and there are a ton of other modes, including one infinite Die Hard-esque tower with procedural generation
There are family-friendly classics like Katamari Damacy getting remastered this year, and then there are the games we played as teenagers who thought that the coolest thing in the world was getting a little bit violent with our incredibly ridiculous games that just look silly compared to more modern gorefests like Soldier of Fortune. Blood falls into the latter category of goofy gore games.
For all of the once-youngsters who enjoyed it in 1997, Blood is being re-upped for modern systems by the old game professionals at NightDive. Here’s part of what their Daniel Grayshon had to say about the update, which sounds like it won’t be a big bloody change to get Blood on modern platforms:
Regarding the upgrading effort, Daniel said: “Blood stood up extremely well over time and we are taking care to preserve all the qualities that made the game so special. It really only needs minor updates to provide a better user experience for contemporary audiences. By using some of the functions of Nightdive’s KEX engine, we’ll be able to provide compatibility with today’s video standards, with DirectX and Vulkan support.”
He continued: “Similarly, we’ll provide compatibility with the current audio standards. We’ll add support for modern networks, Steamworks, and GOG Galaxy to bring this original game to more players. As part of this, we will preserve the accuracy of the game behavior. While these upgrades are relatively minor, we are confident that they will provide fans with a better, current generation gameplay experience.”
The only disappointing about this update is that the improvements won’t be open-source. Other games that Nightdive worked on have made it to other operating systems and platforms, and they do good work. However, like the original Blood this work will be frozen in time once Nightdive moves on.
That’s true for all commercial updates, releases, and remasters, but other games that were originally using the BUILD engine, like Duke Nukem 3D, have had commercial and unofficial support through open-source projects once their individual game source code was released. Blood has never had it’s source officially released, which makes any work on it a little bit more crucial for preserving the game than other big BUILD engine games like Duke Nukem 3D and Shadow Warrior.
Nightdive hasn’t said when you’ll be able to check out their modern port of Blood, but you can also play the original unmodified version (and the sequel Blood 2) through Steam ($5) or gog ($6).