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Typically truncated to eight-month development cycles, sports games are known more for granular leaps in gameplay and feature sets. But coming off NBA Live 16, yet another entry that failed to make even a minuscule dent in the market, EA realized this slow and steady progress would never close the gap to make a true contender. To speed up the process, EA Sports granted its Tiburon studio something few sports game developers are ever given – a two-year runway for creating the next game in the series.
With its newfound longer dev cycle more aligned with traditional game development, instead of continually chasing the advancements Visual Concepts makes with the NBA 2K series, the studio took off its horse blinders and looked to the wider industry as a whole for inspiration. As I sat through my first demo of NBA Live 18's new feature sets, the developers continually made reference to fighting games, shooters, role-playing games, and even MMO raids.
NBA Live 18's new The One mode serves as the centerpiece for this new approach to sports games. One the surface, The One sounds like a facsimile of the NBA 2K set-up – you start by creating a player that you then use across the NBA-focused MyCareer, 5v5 sim Pro-AM, and streetball centric MyPark modes. But once you dive into the particulars, the differentiation is clear.
Users start by choosing a play style for their create-a-player. These break down into traditional basketball archetypes like playmaker, slasher, wing shooter, rim protector, stretch four, etc. (you can see the full list here). Each class has different rating limits on specific skills, and as you progress you can choose to specialize in particular skills to customize your play style. For instance, in the "point shooter" build we saw in action, the user had a choice between concentrating on shooting off the dribble or making contested shots. Whichever you choose then has a higher skill threshold.
Players earn two types of currency after each game. XP can be spent upgrading your skills. The skill progressions don't just follow a simple numerical path, such as spending points to increase your dunking from 75 to 76, for instance. Instead, EA has sprinkled the upgrade path with variables like a signature shoe that matches your play style (don't expect to unlock Ewings with your point guard), new animations, and the occasional major jump that boosts your skill by 10 percent. You can always see your min-max options for each particular skill and the upgrades available so you can understand your player build's limitations and plot the best way to make your player better.
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The second type of currency users earn for completing specific objectives is RP, which can be spent on Overwatch style loot crates. These crates are filled with cosmetic and aesthetic enhancements for your player. These are tiered in the RPG standard common, rare, exotic, and legendary classifications. To eliminate some of the frustration players have with randomized crates in other games, EA says you can buy specific crate tiers to improve your chances of getting the items you want. EA plans to offer branded crates for partners like the Jordan brand, and will continue to create new crates when new apparel or shoes become available.
Skills and aesthetics help define your player, but NBA Live 18 has one more element that gives you more control over how your player performs – traits. These special passive abilities are unlocked by performing various objectives across The League and The Street games. Each follows a bronze-silver-gold upgrade path so you can improve their benefits over time. "Metaphorically, the team took a lot of inspiration from FPS loadouts and literally guns – what weapons and armor would I use to go into battle," says producer Mike Mahar. "This is what allows you to extend your character's capabilities into areas that maybe aren’t core to a shooting-first point.”
These trait buffs can play into strategy when forming your team. If you are playing with several strong outside shooters, choosing the playmaker trait buff would boost their catch and shoot bonuses, making your team a formidable outside threat. In classic Destiny or Overwatch fashion, each play style also as a signature ability that acts as a buff and can be unleashed during a game. Certain traits can only be earned playing in the street, pro-am, or NBA, so you may have to excel across all three disciplines to make your ideal player.
In addition to these three modes of play, EA is also creating live events that give you a chance to earn special gear. EA referenced boss battles and raids when talking about these events; for instance, you may have to take on Allen Iverson in Philly to win a unique unlock.
To create harmony between the three modes that encompass The One, EA developed a narrative wrapper that ties the experience together. The framing gives your character a backstory and includes friends, agents, and NBA players you interact with along the way. The interactions you have with them determine the types of quests and outcomes available to you in the long run. You can get your first taste of this story when the Live 18 demo drops in August.
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TAKING TO THE COURT
In addition to our deep dive with NBA Live 18's The One mode, I played a few games to get a feel for how the controls have evolved over the last two years. EA focused heavily on animation quality, animation variety, physicality, and contextual awareness, and all of these things were on display in my short time with the game. You can never get a true feel for how a game will perform in the long run with one hand-on session, but I'm confident the gameplay is taking a strong step forward in the right direction.
Animations in the paint were a big weakness of Live 16, but I saw much more variety in post moves, contact during drives to the hoop, and a level of physicality that was frankly missing last time out. The post game now has shot stick support, counters, fadeaways, turnarounds, and step backs, giving your big man the tools to succeed under the hoop. Defenders have counters to all of these moves as well.
On the perimeter, EA's new approach to defense should help users prevent opponents from blowing right past them every time. Holding the left trigger for auto assistance makes it much easier to stay between the attacker and the hoop, and when they move left or right you have a small timing window to counter that move and shut down their drive. "On the perimeter, it's almost more like a fighting game now where we are going one on one and my timing versus his timing makes all the difference," Mahar says. The counter window is bigger or smaller depending on your player rating.
Offensively, the right analog stick dribble mechanics return, but feel much more fluid than last game. Stars have unique dribbling packages to differentiate themselves from bench players, and EA has created more branch points so users can move more quickly in and out of animations.
Other promising tweaks include a revamped steal system that gives you a better chance of making a wipe when the ball is showing, A.I. controlled perimeter defenders better understanding how to police passing lanes, and a revamped, skill-based shooting mechanic rewards perfect shot release timing.
EA didn't go into much more specifics about other game modes other than to say franchise mode and Ultimate Team will return. When I asked about the inclusion of the WNBA rosters, I got the classic "We are not talking about the WNBA at this time" answer.
NBA Live 18 is scheduled to release on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One sometime this September. We expect to see a finalized release date as we move closer to the August free trial.
Today we've got ourselves a new Agents of Mayhem trailer, and it's just as ludicrous as we've come to expect.
The Bombshells are the most volatile and explosive agents of the bunch, and they come equipped with big weapons and even bigger personalities. The first is Joule, a fashion model who also has a penchant for engineering deadly robot turrets. Next up is Rama, an immunologist who wields a powerful and precise armor-piercing bow. Rounding out the bunch is Redcard, a soccer-obsessed lunatic who blasts away foes with a gun called the Hooligan.
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Agents of Mayhem will be releasing on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on August 15.
We got a chance to play Marvel Vs. Capcom: Infinite at this year's E3, and while we weren't too impressed with its story mode, we still had some fun playing around with the newly-revealed characters and Reality Stone. Although character models have a tendency to look plastic and lifeless in stills, they look much better in motion, and combos still move with a speed and flashiness that many fighters lack. The tag system works fluidly, too, and even though I didn't have time to learn any particular team's combos well, I was able to improvise some decent combos simply by using a mix of auto-combos, basic combos, and tagging. If you think of some cool new combo or set up, you can probably pull it off, and as a result, Infinite feels as malleable as other Marvel games, which I appreciated.
We also got to talk to producer Peter "Combofiend" Rosas about the some of finer details about the game's combat system. The biggest detail we learned was that long-winded combos of Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 are being curbed, to some degree, for Infinite. In high-level matches, it was commonplace for a stray hit to mean death for many characters. For Infinite, touch-of-death combos will be much more rare, thanks to the increased hitstun deterioration (a system where every hit causes the next hit to stun the opponent for a shorter amount of time). When it comes to longer combos, Rosas said, "You're fighting for pixels."
I then asked Rosas about whether one of his favorite characters, Spencer, would retain some his tricks from the last game. Specifically, Rosas told me that one of his signature combo tools, which involved using an airborne version of his claw-grab move to extend combos, would be much harder to use. For example, it's no longer possible to grab someone who's been hit by his Bionic Lancer super. However, due to the way tagging works, players should be able to find new ways to use that airborne claw to grab opponents using another character's moves.
Finally, we asked Rosas several of your burning questions about the series. Here are his answers.
Will there be any improvements coming to the faces for characters like Chun-Li, Dante, or Chris?
We’ve heard the feedback from the community and are looking into it, but we have no specific announcements at this time.
Will we get remixes of the MvC3 character themes? Rocket Raccoons and Nova's in particular?
Character themes in MvCI are different from those in MvC3 as this is a completely new game. Some are completely new, while some carry influences from classic themes.
Can nova still do his elevator combo from MvC3?
Nova’s been adjusted and he can still perform fly combos, but players will have to figure out how they work in MvCI.
Does Dante still have some form of Bold-cancelling?
Can you still “Tiger Knee” certain attacks like you could with Spencer’s hook in UMvC3?
Will there be any sort of character customization (mainly cosmetic customization)?
We have nothing to announce at this time.
Can you still do tri-jumps with certain characters?
Will there be fly/unfly mechanics? Will they be as fast or have more recovery?
They’re still present as the fly/unfly mechanic really opens up creativity with those characters who can fly. It’s pretty fast.
If you go into training room does the announcer say "MUH MUH MUH MAXIMUM" when the bars fill up?
The announcer does say maximum when your meter is full.
Does Spencer's Up Grapple into Reel-in Punch still deal 80,000 damage?
No. Damage is calculated differently in MvC:I.
Is damage still measured by the absurdly high numbers of UMvC3?
No. Damage is much easier to keep track of and measure in MvC:I.
Do reflected fireballs deal the same damage as regular ones?
Are Chris’ bullets projectiles when it comes to things you can reflect with Advancing Guard?
For some of Chris’ bullet based special attacks, yes, you can reflect them.
Can fireballs be reflected forever?
Depends on the fireball.
Can you reflect all the fireballs from Arthur’s fireball super?
No. You can’t reflect hyper combos.
Can you still rely on “chicken-blocking” to avoid mixups?
Nope. You can’t block on the first few jump frames. Now, you have to properly guard mixups coming your way.
Will there be a Hot Ryu costume?
We’ve made no announcements about this. That said, there is a cool Evil Ryu costume available if you preorder the game.
Are there any additional ways combo scaling can kick in more quickly, like after throws?
Starting combos with light punch is a sure fire way to have your combos scale greatly.
What character has the highest health of the ones revealed so far? Lowest?
Hulk has some of the highest. Rocket has some of the lowest.
Can you do any other kinds of jumps besides the high jump and wall jumps?
There’s a lower super jump. By pressing down during a super jump, you can use the momentum of the super jump to close in on the opponent faster and attack from new angles.
Can you turn off the auto combos and two-button supers?
Outside of half-circle and dragon punch motions, will there be any special button combinations for certain attacks, like Wolverine’s Drill Claw or Frank West’s roll in UMvC3?
Yes. There will be some attacks that will be performed by pressing two kick buttons together.
Will the final story mode have different difficulties? Will there be in-game rewards for beating it at different levels?
Yes, there will be different difficulties. If a player his having a hard time with a particular fight, they’ll be able to choose whether they want to lower the difficulty or not.
Will the mission mode trials pertain to one character, or will there be two-character combos to try and learn?
The mission mode trials emphasize how to utilize each character’s attacks and how they function within MvC:I. That said, as active switching is part of mastering your character within a team, there will be two-character trials present to give the player a taste of the infinite possibilities that are present.
For more specific details about the game, check out 50 details we learned from our first hands-on with the game.
In a new behind-the-scenes interview, Yasunori Mitsuda and Sarah Àllain detail the meaning instilled in the song, "Eternal Rest." Thematically, the a cappella song revolves around the ideas of death and fear, and the layered lyrics instill the presence of these deeper values despite a major tonal structure that evokes a sense of comfort.
Àllain, an Australian-Japanese multilinguist, wrote the lyrics in a mixture of Latin and English and adapted a religious Gregorian chant-style to further this motif of duality. Her ethereal voice stands unaccompanied, yet delivers all the warmth and texture necessary to produce an interesting and germane performance. In addition to Àllain being featured on the game's main theme, "Azure Revolution," Mitsudo stated his desire to incorporate Àllain's angelic voice into several other tracks before the composition process comes to a close.
You can check out the whole interview and a taste of "Eternal Rest" below.
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Mitsudo also solicited the help of the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra in building the Valkryia Revolution soundtrack. For more on the game's music, click here.
Valkyria Revolution releases for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Vita on June 27.
Over the last two years, EA Sports has continued to improve its NHL franchise, but it still has work to do to recapture the glory years of the last console generation when it was a perennial contender for sports game of the year. The gameplay is close to being where it needs to be and the 6v6 EASHL is dramatically improved over its predecessor, but the Be A Pro, Franchise, and Ultimate Team modes still lag considerably behind contemporary sports games. With NHL 18, developer EA Canada addresses some of these shortcomings, and the studio also plans to expand the game's allure with a new, more arcade-centric mode called Threes.
I recently spent some time with the game and chatted with the development team extensively about changes coming to its various modes. Here is everything we know about NHL 18 thus far.
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BE A PRO
HOCKEY ULTIMATE TEAM
NHL 18 comes to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on September 15. If you want to check out the game before it comes out, EA once again plans to offer a public beta starting July 25. You can register for the beta here.
A new Micro Machines game was announced back in January, and now we have a better idea of how close it will feel to the classic Micro Machines games.
The trailer show plenty of gameplay, a multitude of customizable cars, and one sequence where nine cars drive into a toaster and get launched into the air. It's pretty crazy.
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Micro Machines World Tour is coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on June 30.
Three years after Crytek originally debuted The Hunt: Horrors of the Guilded Age, the project has re-emerged looking quite different. Now titled Hunt: Showdown, the game retains the gothic-horror-shooter motif, but through many iterations, the game has found a unique niche in the "winner take all" competitive survival genre currently dominated by games like PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and H1Z1: King of the Kill.
Rather than mimic the popular battle royale formula beat for beat, Hunt remixes concepts like Evolve's monster hunting, The Dark Zone's unsteady alliances in The Division, and the horror setting to create a game unlike any we've seen before. Here are five reasons why fans of the survival genre should pay attention to the Crysis creator's new shooter:
Rounds Begin By Tracking Monsters
Hunt begins with a central goal shared by all 10 players in the map – hunt down one or many A.I. controlled monsters across its sandbox map. To do so, you need to use detective vision to track down clues that may reveal the location of the monster. By touching one of the dark-energy pools you find, you get a brief glimpse of the monster's whereabouts via a momentary vision. If you still haven't pieced together its location by the third clue, the monster's location is marked on your map. Since everyone is searching for the same targets and stumbling across the same set of clues, you occasionally run into other players while tracking. This creates uneasy moments similar to The Division's Dark Zone, where you're not sure if you should trust the other team. Do you keep to yourself and slide by undetected or take them out before they have a chance to train their sights on you?.
You need to use caution when engaging other players or the legions of A.I. monsters littering the map because sound carries far. The second you fire your weapon, other players will have a rough idea of your location, so sometimes it's smarter to use stealth kills.
Players Team Off In Pairs
Rather than leave you to your own devices during the monster hunting, Hunt pairs you off into five teams of two. This creates an interesting new dynamic, as you can coordinate flanking moves, create diversions, and better defend entrenched positions should all hell break lose. If one of you goes down in combat, you have a window to revive them as well. This is especially important because the rounds are permadeath. Once you lose your hunter, you lose all their weapons, gear, and skills. Escaping with your partner also imparts a valuable team bonus. Crytek says you could try to play solo as well, but it's much tougher.
Once The Monster Is Vanquished, The Round Becomes PvP
After locating the target, the team we watched in our demo made its way to a barn where the monster was holed up. The gigantic tarantula scurries quickly, darting through windows and climbing along walls to avoid gunfire. After the frantic battle, the players made the killing blow. But vanquishing the monster isn't the end game of Hunt: Showdown, it's just the appetizer.
After killing the monster, players must banish its evil spirit. Once this timed process starts, a beacon goes out that broadcasts your location to every player on the map. The incentive for other players to hunt you down? They can grab the bounty from you and claim the reward. Some may choose to engage head on, but others may just booby trap the doors to take you out if you try to flee. After the banishment concludes, then it's time to head toward one of the exit points on the map. This chaotic skirmish is ripe for stream broadcasts, as the high tension is palpable whether you are playing or viewing.
The Atmosphere Drips With Tension
Using the excellent CryEngine, Hunt: Showdown is gorgeous, leveraging its high-resolution textures and lighting system to create creepy swamps, forests, and villages in the one-kilometer map. Set in the darkness, it's hard to know whether that movement up ahead is simply the wind blowing foliage, an A.I. zombie, or a team of players tracking the enemy. Because sound carries far in this world, players are encouraged to stay in the shadows. For instance, if you accidentally brush by a chicken coop, their clucking may alert enemies and other players to your position.
Hunt Is Permadeath, But You Don't Lose Everything
Knowing you're going to lose your beloved character, weapons, and skills during a survival game amps up the tension, but that doesn't mean it's not frustrating to start from scratch every round. Hunt: Showdown introduces a "bloodline" concept to alleviate some of this irritation. Any passive skill that you have unlocked with a hunter (like speed shooting, being able to carry more supplies, and dual wielding) can be passed down to your new hunter as a purchasable skill using the in-game currency. You can also keep a stable of hunters with different skill loadouts.
Hunt: Showdown has no planned release date yet, but Crytek plans to involve the community in fine-tuning the game. Whether that means early access, closed alpha, or pubic beta is yet to be known, but expect to hear more in the coming months.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole has seen several delays, but it's finally coming this October. This follow up to 2014's The Stick of Truth parodies Marvel, where the kids form a superhero group called Coon and Friends that rivals with another group, the Freedom Pals. At E3 2017, Ubisoft showed off more gameplay, and I was able to get my hands on a rather raunchy part of the game.
The demo I played takes place in a strip club. Protagonist the New Kid and Captain Diabetes (also known as Scott Malkinson), sneak into a strip club through a window. The two are in search of a dancer with a crude tattoo, who will help lead them to their next goal. Trying to speak to the stripper, however, becomes an adventure of its own. You begin by having to converse with the different dancers, in search for the right one. As you do so, you can explore the club at your leisure. A lot of amusing interactions occur simply by talking to customers, and you can also get interesting reactions by farting or throwing firecrackers.
The jokes are lewd and often involve toilet humor, but it feels right at home in the South Park universe. You can create explosions by mixing farts and firecrackers, and crude collectibles can be found in creative ways, such as making a condom fall from the ceiling. Most dancers and customers treat you with disdain, as if they have no time for your childish nonsense, but that's what makes creating havoc that much more fun.
At one point, you try to squeeze information out of two men, but to find out the answers to your questions, you have to entice them with a lapdance first. But this isn't any kind of lapdance; this one plays out like a minigame, where you time your moves correctly to give your unfortunate victim a fart-fueled lapdance. You manage to interrogate them to find out the name of the dancer you're looking for, but this also forces you to engage in combat with them.
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The combat system is more in-depth this time around, leaving behind The Stick of Truth's more simplified approach. I really enjoyed The Stick of Truth's turn-based system, which was reminiscent of Paper Mario. Although I felt the combat system was on-point in the first game, the reinvented system is refreshing and more involved. While still turn-based, you now move around on a grid. During combat, there is a fair bit of movement that happens across the board. Some attacks can push a foe backward, others can cause status effects. Each character in your party has different skill sets, such as Captain Diabetes acting as a tank who can deal a lot of damage. Your attacks have various effects and ranges, which requires tactical thinking and trying to predict what the enemy will do in response to your moves. It's a short fight which only gives a glimpse at how combat works, but from our previous sessions with the game, we have felt that some characters can be overpowered.
Afterwards, you must search around for ingredients to make a gin and tonic. This isn't just your average gin and tonic, however: it has some "special" ingredients, such as rat poop. The demo ends following giving the drink to the DJ.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole is outrageous, comical, and ridiculous. The combat system is more involved this time around, and just how well it plays in the full game remains to be seen, but we enjoyed seeing more of what ludicrous adventures our favorite wannabe superheroes get up to. For more on The Fractured But Whole, click the banner below to check out exclusive features, videos, interviews and more.
When I first played LawBreakers last year, I thought it was a fun shooter that I wasn't certain would hook me over the long-term. I had a chance to play the recently announced PS4 version, and came away more positive on the experience.
I played the Blitzball mode, which is a similar mode to Capture the Flag, but with one flag that teams must fight over. The object is to escort the ball to the enemy spawn point into their goal. If you kill the ball carrier, they drop the ball. It's a simple mode, but when you combine the two teams comprised of the various classes, it's a fun and frantic experience.
I enjoyed the different characters I played, but I gravitated toward the gunslinger class, which gave me two different kinds of pistols (one revolver and one burst-fire gun), as well as a blink ability like Tracer's speedy maneuver in Overwatch. I liked using the right trigger to fire my revolver for precision shots, while using the left to layer on the damage with the burst-fire. When my character's ultimate comes ready, both of his pistols turn into machine guns for a short period, dealing massive damage to anyone in my path.
While the comparisons to Overwatch are inevitable, director Cliff Bleszinski says that there are a number of differences between his hero-based shooter and Blizzard's. "Overwatch is a great game," he says. "[It] did a lot of things to deliberately expand the market with regards to allowing a more casual user to get in. A lot of the ultimates feel like 'Press 'Q' to win.' Ours you actually have to aim. It's one of those things where I'm not going to freeze the player, I'm not going to have Roadhog's hook, I'm not going to have Hanzo's arrow collision. We're very much a one-to-one ratio where what you see is what you get. What I like to say is that this is a shooter that also has abilities and characters, and Overwatch is a great game that has characters and abilities that's also then a shooter. We are very much gunning for the Counter-Strike crowd."
Of course, one of the selling points of LawBreakers is its leniency with the laws of gravity. The center part of the map I played had very little gravity, which means characters fly through the air, providing unique gameplay moments rarely found in other shooters.
Initially, Bleszinski was concerned about how gamepads would handle this, but he has since figured out ways to make it work. "if you play the game on PC, it's bats--- insane," he says. "That actually might be a bit much for people. The console version is still pretty crazy, but it's about 85% as crazy. So it's one of those things where you can only have an FPS be so crazy with a controller."
While I was not particularly hot on the game at first, LawBreakers has slowly won me over more with each time I've played it. Bleszinski says that this was the impression many players had due to the team taking the game too public too early. "We wanted to be very transparent with our development, however we found out that's not very good for PR and press beats," he says. "If I could go back in time, I would have the alpha that we did not be public because it was okay, but it wasn't really what the full game turned out to be. But we did learn a lot of things from it."
Though other hero-based shooters make it so LawBreakers has an uphill battle, I'm excited to get more time with the game when it launches on PS4 and PC August 8.