As open-world games have become more commonplace over the past few years, so too have the formulaic activities they offer players to occupy their time. From climbing up towers to taking down bandit camps, and nabbing crafting items every few feet in between, players often know what to expect from open-world gameplay as soon as they strike out in the direction of their choice.

Days Gone drops players in the familiar stomping grounds of a zombie freaker-infested post-apocalyptic wasteland, and while it doesn’t completely reinvent the open-world genre, it does offer enough interesting twists and bold design decisions to stand out from the crowd. In fact, the biggest surprise from our recent hands-on time with the game was how unique Days Gone feels. Here are five reasons why.

1. More Focus On The Golden Path
Most open-world games bombard you with an endless array of quest givers and side activities, a scattershot approach to world building that muddies the main storyline and characters. While Days Gone still offers plenty of gameplay loops to keep Deacon busy, the vast majority of scripted missions and characters are focused on the golden path. Sony Bend is setting a high bar for itself from a storytelling perspective. “Imagine if this were like Uncharted,” says Days Gone writer and creative director John Garvin. “A 20-hour game that is very linear and it has a bunch of setpieces and it goes from beginning to end. We wanted to try to have that, but have that in an open world.”

Days Gone’s main storyline (which the studio says is probably closer to 30+ hours) will revolve around three subplots. The first focuses on Deacon, offering a drip-feed of revelations about who he is and what he’s been through, including playable flashback sequences. The second focuses on Deacon’s relationship with his tattooed biker brother, Boozer. These missions include player-driven choices that affect how Boozer feels about you, and even lead to different endings. The final storyline involves NERO, the National Emergency Response Organization that is researching the infection and its bloodthirsty carriers. Garvin hopes that having multiple avenues to explore will keep players engaged for the long haul. “It’s almost like having these three storylines that intertwine and the player is constantly bouncing between them,” Garvin says. “It’s a classic novelistic technique…when the player starts getting bored with Boozer, boom, that’s when this other thing’s happening. And when they get bored with that, this other thing happens.”

Based on the handful of main missions we played, Days Gone’s story does indeed feel more thoughtfully directed and cinematic than most open-world games, thanks to the liberal use of cutscenes that feature motion-captured performances by professional actors. Whether that translates to a good story remains to be seen, but Bend is clearly swinging for the fences. “There are 20 named characters in the game who are as important as Boozer,” Garvin says. “It’s a big game.”  

2. A Matching Tone For Story And Gameplay
Grim storylines are nothing new for open-world games, but once you’re set free to do as you please, all that tension and drama is usually shoved aside for sandbox shenanigans. Don’t expect Deacon to don a wingsuit anytime during his journey through Oregon. “With Days Gone, it’s a very serious tone,” says lead open-world designer Eric Jensen. “A lot of bad stuff has happened, and we’ve tried to carry that into the open world… We don’t want it to feel arcadey, which a lot of open-world games can feel when you’re away from the story.”

The connection between the narrative tone and gameplay came through loud and clear during our hands-on time with Days Gone, which at times felt more like a survival-horror game than open-world veterans might expect. Even the smaller jobs that Deacon can perform for survivor encampments are faithfully aligned to the tone and story; hunting deer for venison accomplishes the very real-world need of feeding each encampment’s survivors, while hunting down marauders prevents them from preying on other drifters. Deacon in turn isn’t arbitrarily making more work for himself; he must build up trust with the various camps (which operate independently from one another) in order to afford the weapons and supplies he needs to continue making progress. Once again, the focus on the golden path keeps things grounded. “You’re not going to find the guy pushing the cart on the road who needs your help,” Garvin says. “That guy just doesn’t exist in our world, so that kind of a distraction doesn’t exist in our world.”

3. More Difficult Than You Might Think
A big part of capturing Days Gone’s grim and unforgiving tone is the game’s difficulty. While other zombie games like Dead Rising and Left 4 Dead allow you to easily cut a swath through massive crowds of the undead, Days Gone’s infected enemies are a constant and deadly threat. Even a handful of freakers can overwhelm Deacon if you’re careless, and using a firearm to dispatch one can very well attract several more to your location. Leaving your bike to scope out a location on foot immediately ratchets up the tension, and when things do get overwhelming (say by accidentally setting off the loudspeakers at a NERO checkpoint), your best tactic is often to run away. Even when you’re driving, you have to keep an eye out for roadside ambushes or unseen freakers that can pull you off your bike if you’re going slow enough.

The result of all this is that you never feel completely safe once you venture out beyond the walls of a friendly encampment, and Sony Bend is leaning into that sense of danger. “It’s definitely unforgiving,” Jensen says. “We do stuff in this game that I don’t think other games do, where we screw the player over a lot. But I think it’s a welcome change, and I think our tagline of ‘the world comes for you,’ that’s what we try to embed in the open world. You’re not safe anywhere. If you stand in one place too long, something’s going to come for you.” 

Days Gone’s unflinching difficulty gives the gameplay a different feel than other open-world games. It’s a feeling that players won’t be able to opt out of – Days Gone only features one difficulty level.

4. The Bike’s A Big Deal
Vehicles are surprisingly disposable in most open-world games – if you can’t spawn a convoy’s worth of customized rides in your personal garage or have one delivered to your location, you’ll find plenty of other transportation opportunities littered throughout the environment. Not so in Days Gone. Deacon only has one bike throughout the game, so you’re going to want to take care of it – and remember where you parked. “We’re against freebies, like letting a player throw his bike in a lake and say, ‘Eh, whatever, man, I don’t need it,'” game director Jeff Ross says. 

As we mentioned before, getting stranded on foot in the wilderness can easily be a death sentence, so you’ll want to keep a close eye on your bike’s fuel and health levels – if either reaches zero, you’ll be hoofing it to the nearest encampment. There’s also no gameplay equivalent of whistling for your horse and having it warp up behind you; your bike is going to remain wherever you left it. While managing your bike may sound tedious, it feeds into Days Gone’s distinctly unforgiving tone and provides another layer of tactical choices. Drive up too close to an enemy outpost, for example, and you’re liable to alert the entire camp to your presence (motorcycles aren’t the stealthiest of rides, after all). Parking further away, however, will complicate a quick getaway – which isn’t great if a roving freaker horde decides to drop in and see what all the gunfire is about.

Deacon can earn a wealth of bike upgrades over the game, including new engines, frames, mufflers, and much more, effectively giving you two progression paths to split your time between. After playing the opening hour of the game and then skipping ahead to a later mission with a more upgraded bike, we can confidently say that you’ll feel – and appreciate – the difference. 

5. Beware The Horde
You can’t have a zombie game without teeming masses of feral enemies, and Days Gone is no exception. However, when Sony Bend debuted Days Gone during a 10-minute gameplay demo at E3 2016, its horde technology was so impressive that many gamers questioned if it was even real – an accusation the studio still frequently hears to this day. After facing off against a horde ourselves, we can say that not only are these epic showdowns legit, they are unlike any other zombie game we’ve played to date.

One thing that the E3 debut didn’t reveal was Deacon’s objective during horde encounter sequences. Unlike other zombie games, you’re not just trying to escape freaker hordes or survive for a set period of time. Deacon actually has to kill off the entire mob, each of which is comprised of a finite number of freakers. A bar within the game’s HUD shows approximately how many are left in a given horde, though it’s easy enough to judge yourself by how many grotesque foes you have shrieking and snapping at your heels.

Horde encounters require you to be constantly running and thinking on the fly as you traverse the environment and use it to your advantage to (hopefully) stay one step ahead of the pack. They can also happen at virtually any time – hordes exist as entities in the game world, and wander between locations on the map to feed and sleep. As you may have guessed from the fact that just a few freakers can be deadly on their own, clearing out a horde is a huge undertaking, and is generally considered a late-game activity. It took us several tries with a fully upgraded and well-stocked Deacon to take one down during our demo –only to have game director Jeff Ross tell us that it was considered a “baby horde” of just 300 enemies, and that other hordes get a lot bigger. Trying to avoid a freaker horde is a nerve-racking experience in its own right, so tracking down and dispatching the massive seas of enemies should hopefully offer plenty of late-game excitement during Days Gone’s lengthy campaign.

For much more on Days Gone, check out our month of bonus coverage by clicking the banner below.

Don’t believe the visions of a dystopian future – 2150 is going to be a blast. I can’t tell you the state of the human race or even if we’re still on this Earth, but if the sport in Laser League is around, the bread and circuses will be rich. You may be vaporized by a sweeping laser field or shoved into one by an opponent, but with quick thinking, twitch skills, and strategy, living in a state of constant near-death is more than just feeling alive, it’s exhilarating.

Laser League is a sport in the future where two teams of up to four players win by surviving multiple rounds in an arena of deadly lasers. These lasers emit from moving, rotating nodes that activate according to whichever team touches them first. Touch a laser field of the other team and you die. Thus, the playing field is like a bullet-hell shooter with discernible patterns and often little room for error. Running around activating and reactivating nodes (new ones drop and old ones switch off) or reviving teammates is fun as the balance of power often switches from team to team within a round. But avoiding lasers is just the beginning of Laser League’s addictive gameplay.

Automatically dropped power-ups change the simple premise by switching all your lasers over to your opponent, speeding up the nodes, stunning the other players, etc. Power-ups and the everchanging landscape give you more to react to, but don’t make the game more complex, per se. The game layers on clear strategic avenues not cumbersome, superfluous baggage, allowing players to always remain nimble in mind and movement.

Above and beyond this premise, Laser League works because it’s well balanced. The six player classes have their own abilities (with a cooldown). Strong ones, like the lethal dash attack or invincibility, might be better suited to a particular map, but I’ve won matches with different permutations of classes, boards, and power-ups. An ability like steal, which changes all the active lasers to your team’s color, can be a gamechanger, but not all power-ups turn the tide or should be played as soon as they appear. Even when you’re down, you’re never really out. You can rely on your stick skills to maneuver your way to safety, or activate new nodes to put your opponent on the defensive.

This balance makes the multiplayer less intimidating while still retaining its competitive spirit. The game has a single-player experience which lets you mix-and-match up to eight local players, but it’s a training ground not a campaign by any stretch of the imagination. Here A.I. bots can be used if you don’t have enough real bodies, and the A.I. is competent, going about its job utilizing whatever class you’ve set up for it and reviving fallen players. Overall in both modes, If there’s a shallow point of the game, it’s that while the class abilities cater to different play styles, the classes don’t have deep progression, limiting players’ rewards to cosmetic customization options.

I was occasionally killed by a laser I swear I wasn’t touching, but for the most part the gameplay delivers with necessary precision. Movement is tight and responsive, allowing you to stop and turn fluidly on a dime when you a laser threatens to shave off your face. I also had lag-free sessions with players way over in Europe. This helps the aforementioned balance, because while the dash attacks of the Blade and Smash classes are powerful, if those classes don’t line up their attacks precisely or you dodge out of the way, they’ll end up eating empty air or unintentionally vaporizing themselves into a laser like you planned it all along.

This sold gameplay is augmented by necessarily spartan visual and sound design that is as helpful as it is stylish. Even when you’re running around in a panic, you can detect thin lines at the base of nodes that indicate which direction lasers will emit from when the node is activated. A sound cue and controller rumble tells you when your class ability is charged up so you don’t have to keep looking at your icon to see if the bar is full. An announcer and text on the arena wall informs you which power-up has just dropped. These small things convey very important information without being distractions.

While the game comes with 16 varied maps in four venues, its multiplayer structure doesn’t give players enough options now at launch. The game offers no lobbies or playlists where you can play a particular map or sequence of maps. Instead, it’s rotated by the developer. Similarly, you can’t tweak parameters such as the frequency at which power-ups appear or even how many points are in a round or how many rounds comprise a match. There is no persistence to your team, not even a team leaderboard. The lack of options doesn’t make the game less fun, but having more choice would prevent you from having to play the same map twice in a row, for instance.

As I played Laser League people walked by my desk, saw the vibrant colors and figures scurrying around, and told me that they had no idea what was going on. Play the game for just five minutes, however, and its addictive frenzy will become readily apparent. The future is dangerous, chaotic, and unpredictable, but it’s full of exciting possibilities.

(Please visit the site to view this media)

The figure in the distance has spotted my camp. I know because I can hear him chittering. I move slowly to the side, hiding myself within the bushes as the humanoid approaches the bonfire near my log cabin. I consider waiting the whole thing out but realize he’ll just bring a war party to my doorstep if I let him leave. I creep up behind him. He turns just in time to get an axe to the face. My camp and I are now both safe. And, moreover, I also finally have a grisly meal for dinner.

The Forest is a perverse, often grotesque game, delving into themes of abuse, cannibalism, and what it means to survive in a meaningless world. It’s also never boring. The game puts you in the shoes of a father who’s crash-landed on a mysterious island. Your job is to survive long enough to find your son, as well as the other passengers of the plane, which is easier said than done. Not only do you have to contend with your hunger, thirst, and stamina, but bloodthirsty tribes of cannibals are roaming these woods as well.

Many entries in the survival genre often feel like grinding acts of repetition to satisfy various meters. While The Forest does have those survival staples, the game avoids frustration by smartly presenting them in consistently interesting ways. For example, instead of a generic crafting menu, you’re presented with a giant blanket that reveals all of your inventory items. In the center of the blanket is your crafting area, where you drag various items to combine them into something better (like a bow with a flashlight or severed human head stuffed with a bomb) making the crafting process feel more intimate.

(Please visit the site to view this media)

The survival meters are optimized in a way that they don’t feel like an overbearing master you have to constantly please. Yes, you need to feed yourself and drink from streams, but there’s more than enough resources around in the environment wherever you go to keep those things in check as long as you look around. Crafting gear, like more bags to carry sticks and berries, also makes this exponentially easier as the game goes on.

Despite my initial weariness at the idea of playing yet another survival game filled with hunting resources and building structures, I soon fell in love with the core loop of The Forest. The structures you can build are predominantly wooden and thus draw from the same currency, meaning you don’t have to chase 20 different kinds of rocks. This makes building your first base a quick, satisfying quest. Every structure has a useful and defined purpose. Your cabin gives you shelter but you need other structures too, like the rack, which lets you dry out the meat you harvest so it never spoils and you can carry it with you anywhere. You can also use a turtle shell to build a water collector that holds rain droplets and sticks to make rabbit traps and cages. All of the survival elements of The Forest are satisfying, especially in how well-tuned they are, but they become special when they coalesce with the horror elements.

The Forest is about more than just survival, as there’s a fantastic story for you to progress through. You do this by discovering various caverns littered throughout the hand-crafted island. Spelunking into them, you find narrative clues like keycards for hidden doors, the bodies of your fellow passengers, and the helpful resources they’ve left behind. Every underground jaunt is terrifying as you start out with only a finicky lighter to show the way forward and help you spot cannibals, as well as other nasty surprises that lay waiting for you in the dark. Not only are the creatures and scenes that lurk the caverns below terrifying and gruesome, but the rewards are rich, too. Beyond the treasure trove of booze bottles and circuit boards (used to make molotovs and bombs), you can also find secret weapons that make cutting down enemies an easier task, both underground and on the surface.

Once I was belaying down a dark cavern. I used my lighter to get a look around, and suddenly saw the decimated face of a corpse swinging gently in the space next to me, a rope around his waist. This was not an on-the-rails moment, but instead one I found through playing with the game’s systems. It’s the sort of experience that pops up over and over again during the course of the campaign. This experience feels like the pitch-perfect video game adaptation of The Descent that I never knew I wanted.

Perhaps the highest praise I can give The Forest is just how natural the game ties together. A lot emergent storytelling games often end up having a novelty that overstays its welcome by the end. The Forest often succeeds in instilling terror because its A.I. is legitimately unpredictable. The cannibals don’t just surge at you. After a feint attack, they’ll laugh and run past you, like some sick juvenile joke. Often they’ll peek at you from afar and then turn back after sizing you up, returning with an entire group 10 minutes after you’ve already forgotten about them.

For those who want co-op delights, a multiplayer mode exists. The mode more or less breaks the game, putting the odds overwhelmingly in your favor when it comes to squaring off against adversaries. But that doesn’t meant it’s not fun, as you and your pal can get up to a number of dark-yet-wacky shenanigans as you romp around. Just don’t expect to be scared nearly as much.

The Forest is a triumph, both for the survival genre as well as gruesome horror. It gives players just the right amount of freedom to enjoy the challenge of this hellish nightmare

Stardew Valley has done well both commercially and critically on the platforms it has already released on, and there is no reason to believe its arrival on Vita would do anything but extend the string of successes. Chucklefish today revealed the game will come to the Sony handheld on May 22. 

In addition, we learned that the game will support cross-buy, meaning that players who own Stardew Valley on PS4 will be able to download a copy on their Vita and take their farming adventures on the road. In addition, Chucklefish revealed that the 1.3 multiplayer update for the game won’t be available on PS Vita, but it will be coming to PS4. 

For more about Stardew Valley, check out our original review of the PC version, and a more recent look at the Switch version of the game. 

 

Our Take
Stardew Valley is a particular favorite for many of the Game Informer editors. While the Vita library hasn’t developed the library that many fans might have wanted, Stardew Valley is a nice addition, as the game is ideal for playing in short chunks while traveling away from home. 

When the NES Classic came out during the holidays in 2016 it sold out immediately thanks to low supply on Nintendo’s part and high demand from the public. Nintendo has since committed to bringing the 30-game all-in-one unit back, and it will go on sale again on June 29.

Despite the release date announcement and the expectation that the NES Classic will be available through 2018, the company did not say how many units it is releasing starting in June or if it will be made indefinitely.

On a related NES note, Nintendo recently announced that the paid Switch online service includes an NES games program, and that the Virtual Console is not coming to the system.

[Source: Nintendo] 

Video games are often obsessed with lore and backstories. They build worlds that, at their best, feel like they could not only be real, but exist outside the confines of the adventures of whatever story you’re participating in at the time. And when the game ends, the best worlds entice you to dig deeper, to learn more about their worlds through in-game lore, videos, and sometimes, even books. So we want to know: How many of these books have you read?

I’ve definitely read my share. Around the time StarCraft II came out, I devoured a few of the ancillary novels that recontexualized the events of the original StarCraft, delved into the backstory of Arcturus Mengsk, and even told me who Nova was before she made her official debut.

More recently, however, I’ve started reading some of the Witcher books. Now, that’s cheating a bit, because really, the Witcher games are based on the books. But the games are the reason I took interest in them, and they flesh out the world of a series I love, so I’m counting them. And they’re really good! They can be a little dense and I’ve had to look up several jargon terms specific to their world, but the themes and lessons at their heart have been good so far. I’m two books in and I’ll probably continue on to the third.

So what video game books have you read? Did you actually read the Mass Effect novel that came with the special edition of the first game? Have you ever read one of the Halo books? Is that Dante’s Inferno adaptation any good? Let us know in the comments!

Since the Switch made portable console gaming a real possibility, many have tried to build ways to make that possible for every platform. Strapping a bunch of consoles to a boombox might not be the most practical method to achieve true portable gaming, but it’s definitely one of the coolest.

Youtuber My Mate Vince, who previously brought us games running on a really weird old television and an XL Switch, has done exactly that. Taking an old Radioshack boombax with a Portavision TV built into it and hooking up a SNES Classic, Wii mini, PlayStation TV, and Switch sounds like a tall task, and honestly, not really worth it. I mean for one, the Switch is already portable, so the boombox seems unnecessary. Connecting modern consoles to a CRT TV is hard on its own, but doing it all on boombox and making the whole thing portable is extra-hard.

The process of building this relatively useless monstrosity requires a few converters, figuring out how do use the analog signal dial to “tune” into the game channel. The radio even works, and it has a Wii IR bar hooked up to it, which means the pointer actually works. It’s worth watching how this thing is built and functions, even if its portability is debatable.

(Please visit the site to view this media)

Wargroove is shaping up to be a neat little tactics game, and the game’s recently announced weather system should make battles a little more harrowing and dynamic.

According to Chucklefish, the weather system consists of three weather types: sunny, windy, and severe. While the first two are self-explanatory, what “severe” depends on a particular map’s biome, and can consist of rain, snow, or sandstorm (so no snow in the desert and now sandstorms in a forested village).

How do these effects change battle? When it’s windy, boats will be able to move further, archers will be able shoot farther, and flying units like dragons will deal more damage. Severe weather instead limits units, meaning would-be commanders will have to be more careful when building their gameplan.

Chucklefish is still messing around with individual effects and settings, but you can see weather in action in gif form on the company’s official site or below. If you’d rather just keep it simple, you can turn off weather entirely in the game’s multiplayer settings.

GameTomo, a Japanese indie game developer and publisher, has announced it’s working on “Superhot JP,” a new entry in the series set in Japan.

Although Superhot Team worked on the first and VR titles in the series, that team is only guiding the development of JP, which GameTomo itself is developing. “Superhot JP” is a tentative title, but it’s an apt descriptor for the game, which GameTomo says is a new entry in the series “using Japanese environments, from samurai castles and hot springs to karaoke bars and bullet trains,” on the game’s official page.

Whatever its name ends up being, JP is standalone release which GameTomo says will comprise of about 15-18 levels, as well as 3-4 endless levels. It will include new weapons, see-through shoji doors, and “some other surprises…” Though it’s currently only slated for release in Japan right now, GameTomo says it could possibly release the game worldwide.

 

Our Take
Superhot is a great concept, and while I’ve had my ups and downs with the series, I’m up for another adventure with its unique slow-motion gameplay. I’m curious what kinds of twists GameTomo has in store for fans.