Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Romero Games
Release: Spring 2020
Rating: Rating Pending
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC, Mac

Chicago. 1922. Prohibition is in full swing, but so is the mob.  Al Capone has just come to town and he’s bringing with him furious ambition and bloodlust to match. Empire of Sin, designed by Brenda Romero, casts you as one of 14 mob bosses (including Capone himself, if you so choose) all competing to take over the most districts in Chicago by any means necessary: diplomacy, bribery, and violence.

We recently had the chance to check out Romero Games’ ambitious attempt to let players live out their 1920s mob fantasy. Here’s why we came away impressed and ready to take Chicago over with an iron fist.

The Player-Driven Storytelling Is Deep

At first glance, Empire Of Sin might strike you as a combat-oriented tactics title. However, that’s only a small slice of what the game actually is. Sure you can rough up and Tommy Gun some ruffians if it pleases you so, but there are so many more options to interact with your new playground, according to Romero Games.

Empire Of Sin doesn’t have a traditional story-driven campaign. Instead, you select your boss from a roster comprised of seven historical figures and seven fictional characters and duke it out with the other bosses. The boss with the most control by the year 1930 wins the game. While this might sound like standard fare, Romero Games says the units in Empire Of Sin have an almost pen-and-paper RPG-level of character depth to them that can systematically create fascinating emergent stories unique to each playthrough.

Alongside your boss, you can recruit an underboss and soldiers to serve under you. As your dynasty grows, you’ll notice just how every unit is presented as a character with traits, flaws, specialties, and even unique relationships with other units. For example, your underboss might be in love with a soldier in another family.  One of several things might happen if these two units meet in battle: your underboss could surrender, their performance could be impacted by their love for the enemy, or the two units might even flee the fight, never to be seen again.

Traits grow and change according to your actions. If you make it a habit to execute foes in battle,  your boss might gain a reputation for being bloodthirsty. That trait will make districts and even members in your own organization more impressed or repulsed by you, which will have consequences on your relationship with those factions and units.

The Combat Looks Bloody Good

Fighting in Empire Of Sin is presented as turn-based tactical battles that take deep inspiration from XCOM. Characters have allotted action points per turn. Certain units, like your boss, will have special moves. For example, Capone’s is to rain fire on his foes with his Tommy Gun from left to right, essentially turning him into a turret.

It’s nothing fans of the genre haven’t seen before, but there’s a bone-crushing level of impact to shots that makes lead exchanges more satisfying. Watching a man’s body slam into a wall and slide down it thanks to Capone’s shotgun makes the action rise above being a game of statistics.

Unique mechanics, such as the cops arriving to a battle if you take too long or the ability to execute downed foes, also make the mode stand out a little more among its peers.

Diplomacy Is Just As Interesting As War

Of course, you don’t have to settle every fight with a bullet. District bosses can form alliances to take on mutual foes. You might have to earn their respect first, knocking over their distillery or bar, to get the chance to meet with them, but it’ll often be in your best interest to try and make friendly with other bosses (at least temporarily).

Sit-downs with other bosses are presented as interactive conversations with branching choices. A boss might be willing to let a slight against them slide by if you take care of a problem for them. Rejecting their offer might, as it did in our demo, result in a bloody brawl in a back alley. You’ll have to approach each opportunity with a keen mind, thinking of the long game, and how you can make alliances with even unsavory fellows work to your benefit.

Racketeering Is A Full Time Job

Beyond battles and courting alliances with other bosses, you’ll need to actually carefully manage your assets. The racketeering options we saw in the demo were truly impressive. Whether you’re upgrading the aesthetics of your recently-acquired bar to keep police raids down or poisoning alcohol in your own distillery to ship to your foes as a Trojan Horse-like weapon, it seems like there’s no shortage of options for both savvy business management and mischief in Empire Of Sin.

Empire Of Sin releases in early 2020 on PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC. For more on Romero Games, head here.

Final Fantasy VII Remake was one the most talked-about games of at E3 this year, and with good reason. It looks to be thorough remake with lots of things to uncover, even if it will take Square Enix quite some time to deliver the game in full to excited fans. One of those fans is a director at Cyberconnect2, the developer previously at the helm of Remake.

Currently, Ryosuke Hara is directing Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, an action-RPG set in the Dragon Ball universe. When speaking to him about that game, we couldn’t help to bring up Cyberconnect2’s history with Remake; it was the original developer on that project before publisher Square Enix decided to bring development in-house after director Tetsuya Nomura expressed dissatisfaction with how the game was shaping up.

While Ryosuke wasn’t able to confirm whether he was one of the people working on Remake at that time, he was able to express how excited he is for Square’s version of the game. “I think as a fan and as a creator, I have very, very high expectations for what this game is going to bring to all these long-awaiting fans as well as the industry,” Hara told us. “I think I’m genuinely just excited to see how it will be packaged, and how this game is going to end up looking in its final form.”

For more on Final Fantasy VII Remake, check out what Square Enix president Yosuke Matsuda had to say about Remake being a cross-gen title, as well as the latest trailer.

Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: CyberConnect2
Release: 2019
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

It’s been a good time to be a Dragon Ball fan recently. Dragon Ball Super rekindled many fans’ enthusiasm for the series, culminating in the film Dragon Ball Super: Broly making over $100,000,000 at the box office in the past year. On the video game side, the Dragon Ball Xenoverse games let fans dig deeper into the wider world of the series, while Dragon Ball FighterZ finally gave fans a deep, rewarding fighting game using its iconic characters.

With all these spinoffs and continuations, it’s easy to forget how long it’s been since we got a proper retelling of the storyline of Dragon Ball Z. That’s what Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot aims to do. “There are a lot of fans that have kind of jumped onto the ship [recently],” says Kakarot director Ryosuke Hara. “So I think this game will be a very good entry point for that new community, if you will, and they’ll get to experience Goku’s life and through this game.”

After playing a short demo of Kakarot, its storytelling is what stood out, both in how Bandai Namco and developer Cyberconnect2 are planning to stick by the established plotline and how they’re planning to deviate. The fighting that ties it all together, however, didn’t shine through.

Kakarot is an open-world action RPG, something fans have been craving for a while. I’ve always wanted to see more of Akira Toriyama’s world than Dragon Ball has shown; it’s a world ripe for exploration, even outside the confines of a shonen fighting series where plot takes a backseat to flashy, over-the-top fights. Kakarot of course stays within those confines, but wants to give us a little more world-building than the series has given us in the past.

My demo begins with a clear objective: Take on Radditz, the first baddie of DBZ’s Saiyan Saga. Although my map shows me I can immediately fly on over to take him on, I’ve got 30 minutes to explore the surrounding area, and it’s not the barren grassland you might remember from the anime: it’s much more crowded with tiny settlements, collectibles, and enemies, with various points of interest dotted on my map.

Kakarot is an attempt to further delve into the world of Dragon Ball Z through Goku’s eyes, which is partially the reason “Kakarot,” Goku’s other name (in the same way Kal-El is Clark Kent’s other name) is the subtitle. “We wanted to shine the spotlight of course not only on the battles, but what happens in between the battles, and what Goku’s day to day life is, so we needed a name that really was representative of this idea and concept of Goku,” says producer Masayuki Hirano.

The other reason is that the name is what Kakarot represents in the series itself. Radditz calling Goku this name, and revelation that comes with it (Goku being a Saiyan) is part of a shift in direction that Z begins to take that separates it from the early Dragon Ball series. “It really kind of cracks the narrative and the possibilities of the Dragon Ball universe wide open,” Hirano says. “So it’s the genesis of Dragon Ball Z, the first time it really opened up that universe.”

I can see what they’re going for as I approach the first dot on my map. Here I find Nam, a character from the original Dragon Ball anime. After a short bit of catching up, he sends me on an escalating trade quest, in which I have to trade one item for another until I’m able to get him something of value for his village. Later in my demo I encounter another Dragon Ball character, Android 8, who again sends me on a similar quest after a short exchange.

Seeing these oft-forgotten characters is a fun surprise, but I leave my talks with them disappointed. The conversations themselves are pretty short and mostly perfunctory, and I wish there were more to them. I’m not asking for a Mass Effect-style dialogue tree or quest line, but I would have liked to see more interesting situations or sequences at play. For all its focus on fighting, FighterZ managed to wring some fun new scenes out of established characters, and I wish more of that showed up here.

For his part, Hirano is hopeful that they’ve been able to portray things other than the series’ bombastic fights, and that this aspect will set Kakarot apart from other Dragon Ball games. “I think Dragon Ball has a very unique sense of comedy,” he says, pointing to one of his favorite quiet moments early on in the series: The episode in which Goku, having died at Radditz’ hand, needs to make King Kai laugh in order to qualify for training in the afterlife. “A lot of those little moments in between the battles, I think, especially the comedic moments for me were really fun, and the fact that we were able to portray this in a game I believe hasn’t really been done before.”

As I fly around on the Nimbus cloud (you can do barrel-rolls to collect floating items along the way) with Piccolo at my side, to complete these quests for Nam and Eighter, I’m ambushed by enemies resembling the Pirate Robot from the Red Ribbon saga of Dragon Ball. These encounters are what you’ve come to expect from action-oriented Dragon Ball games: From a behind-the-back perspective, I can fly around, shoot ki blasts, or run up and punch these robots, who don’t take a lot of effort to destroy. I can block attacks or have Piccolo help me out, but I don’t really have to engage with a lot of the systems against these enemies; I stick to just mashing the attack button I breeze through it.

I take on several of these encounters in my demo, and even by the end of my short time with Kakarot they lose their luster. These fights are hard to flee from, too, which made them more of a drag than anything else. Sprinkinling in random fights throughout the Dragon Ball Z sagas is what I’d expect from an RPG take on the series, but I wish the fights themselves were more engaging. Right now, they feel like a way to pad out my time in the demo before I take on Radditz.

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My fight against Radditz himself, however is more engaging than the several I had against pirate robots; he doesn’t seem too bothered by my attacks, but I have to think a bit more critically about how I approach him. As I lay into him, he starts glowing red, which is my sign to back away before he unleashes his own attack against me. It’s a spin move I have to dodge out of the way of, and dodging it again leaves him open to more damage. He also has a beam attack I need to duck and move around, and it provides a decent challenge.

These attacks get a little more difficult to dodge during his second phase, which is punctuated by a cutscene depicting a scene many fans already know well. As Piccolo charges up his Special Beam Cannon attack, Goku grabs hold of Radditz’s tail, paralyzing him. After Radditz fools the incredibly gullible Goku into letting him go by promising to turn a new leaf, I have to fight Radditz again in order to pin him down. His spin move now has two follow-up attacks, and his beams move more quickly, and have more blasts surrounding them, making them harder to dodge. It’s a good challenge, but that’s partially because Radditz has 12 health bars, which drag out the fight long after I’ve got his patterns down. Still, it’s a better implementation of combat than the random battles before it, and I hope future fights are like this as well.

My demo ends right after this fight, which raises some questions: With all the emphasis on depicting events we don’t typically see and Dragon Ball video games and sprinkling in some new ones, what’s the scope of Kakarot like? Will it chronicle all of Dragon Ball Z? Unfortunately, Hirano is keeping tight-lipped, and says he can’t reveal exactly where the cutoff will be. “But with that in mind, I think the fans will not be disappointed,” he tells me. “I will leave it at that.”

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is scheduled to release sometime next year on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.


During E3 2019, we had a chance to chat with Square Enix president and CEO Yosuke Matsuda about the publisher’s efforts to make its back catalogue available digitally on modern platforms. Square Enix has been doing an excellent job making its older titles accessible on modern platforms with announcements this week alone for the Mana series, Final Fantasy VIII, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, and The Last Remnant to name a few, but there are still some sizable gaps in its extensive catalog. From only releasing on outdated hardware to being entirely unlocalized, here are some games Square Enix should update next.

King’s Knight

King’s Knight is bad. But it’s also an important part of Square’s history. It was the first game Square published independently, and featured some of Nobuo Uematsu’s first work as a video game composer. The game released in North America on the NES in 1989, and later saw a re-release on the Wii Virtual Console in 2008, but since the Virtual Console’s closed this year, American audiences aren’t able to experience this part of Square’s history without dusting off their NES.

Final Fantasy I & II

While nearly every other numbered Final Fantasy is available on PC or modern consoles, Final Fantasy I and II are hard to track down. The closest you can get is the Dawn of Souls remake, which is unfortunately not available on any current-gen consoles. The first game is part of the NES Classic, but that can still be tricky to track down. The games are a bit outdated and Final Fantasy II tried some mechanics that didn’t really work out, but that doesn’t mean fans shouldn’t be able to easily experience the first two entries in what has become one of the most beloved JRPG series of all time – on a modern platform.

Super Mario RPG

Square Enix and Nintendo have made good efforts to get this game out to more people, but it’s still difficult for most people to get their hands on it. The game was re-released on the SNES Classic, but the console faces similar – if not as dire – scarcity issues to its NES counterpart. It also re-released on the Wii U’s Virtual Console, but that console’s dead as a doornail, and its online services will close sooner or later. It’s unlikely the game will release on mobile or PC with Nintendo’s IP, so the best Square Enix can do is continue porting the game to modern Nintendo platforms. Right now, that means the Switch!

Final Fantasy Tactics

The mainline Final Fantasy games aren’t the only ones worth playing, as Tactics is some fans’ favorite game in the franchise. Released in 1998 on the original PlayStation, the game got a remake with The War of the Lions in 2007 for the PSP, and was eventually re-released on iOS and Android. The mobile versions apparently aren’t bad, but fans deserve to play the classic games with real buttons.

Xenogears and the Xenosaga trilogy

With Nintendo now owning Monolith Soft, rights to the studio’s Xenogears and Xenosaga may be a bit tricky, but the games are so beloved that we believe it’s worth figuring out. Xenogears released on the PlayStation in 1998 and has never gotten been re-released. Xenosaga I and II saw a Japan-exclusive compilation on the DS, but I through III are stuck on the PlayStation 2 for American audiences. With the growing popularity of the Xenoblade Chronicles series, now is a good time for Square Enix to let fans check out Monolith Soft’s previous work.

The Parasite Eve Trilogy

Parasite Eve had its ups and downs, but it’s still a series worth experiencing. The first game is available for streaming on PlayStation Now and on Vita, but there’s no way to own the game on any platform but the PlayStation. And Parasite Eve II doesn’t even have the streaming option so it’s stuck exclusively on its original PlayStation disc. The Third Birthday, the series’ last installment in 2010, released on the PSP and is similarly stuck on the system.

Brave Fencer Musashi

Square’s fun and expressive action RPG, and its sequel, are stuck on the PlayStation and PS2, respectively. Square Enix shouldn’t be on the fence about porting these gems!

Chrono Cross

The more beloved Chrono Trigger was re-released on PC recently, and while it initially was pretty rough around the edges, Square Enix fixed its most egregious issues, making it a pretty faithful port of the original. Chrono Cross, the game’s loose sequel for the PlayStation, was not so lucky. It launched in 2000 in the west, and the closest place to a modern console you can play it is on the Vita.

And while we’re talking about Chrono Cross, remember that time we matched All 45 U.S. Presidents to all 45 Chrono Cross party members? That was weird.

Vagrant Story

Vagrant Story continues to receive critical acclaim to this day, but the most recent platform you can play it on is the Vita. It is certainly deserving of a PlayStation 4 or Switch release.

Most of the Dragon Quest series

Nearly every entry of the Dragon Quest series is available – on mobile. We’ve done this song and dance before, and mobile just doesn’t cut it for most classic games, even if it’s better than nothing. The first three saw re-release on the Game Boy Color, IV through VI saw re-release on DS, and VII and VIII released on 3DS. The more recent the platform, the less of a problem this is, but we’d still love to see these games on PC or modern consoles. The same goes for IX, which released on DS exclusively. And while the MMORPG X is available on nearly every platform on the planet, it remains entirely unlocalized.

Bahamut Lagoon

The rest of the games on this list were suggested by Game Informer readers! Like Dragon Quest X, Bahamut Lagoon has seen some quality re-releases, but only in Japan. The game remains entirely unlocalized outside its country of origin.

Einhänder

Another PlayStation game, another lack of ports. We’d have to imagine there’s something about PlayStation games that make it hard to translate to other platforms.

Terranigma

This game released in Japan and PAL regions on the SNES, but has never made its way to North America, nor seen any re-releases since.

The Valkyrie Profile series

The original Valkyrie Profile saw re-release on PSP and mobile, but again, Square Enix can do better than mobile ports. The rest of the series – Silmeria, Covenant of the Plume, and The Origin – are stuck on PS2, DS, and mobile, respectively.

Secret of Evermore

This game released on SNES and remains a secret to other platforms… evermore.

We don’t want to come across as ungrateful. Square Enix has consistently released quality ports of its classic games, and announced quite a few more during this week’s E3. Even mobile ports are better than nothing, and some of them are quite good. But this list highlights how much more work the company has to do if it want everything available. And that’s not even counting the games that are on PC but not console, and vice versa!

We also know this isn’t anywhere near a complete list, so let us know which Square Enix games you want ported to modern platforms!

Publisher: Rebellion Developements
Developer: Rebellion
Release: 2020
Platform: PC

So many games put you in the shoes of a brave hero attempting to infiltrate an maniacal mastermind’s secret base. Evil Genius 2: World Domination turns the tables, putting you in control of your very own criminal overlord. In this role, you build a base, hire and train minions, and lay out traps in hopes to make your lair impenetrable en route to taking over the planet.

Before you can do that, you need to select from one of four evil geniuses to play as. Right now, Rebellion is only talking about two of them: Maximilian, the star of the first game, and Red Ivan, the explosive henchman from the series’ debut. Maximilian is an all-around style of play, while Red Ivan goes by the motto of “might is right” and has an unhealthy love of explosives. 

Once you choose the right genius for the job, and the island you want to base your operations out of, it’s time to set up your lair. Each lair starts with a front – something to put on a friendly face and put in the minimal effort to try to look like a legitimate business. In my demo, the front is a resort-casino. Once you get that out of the way, it’s time to get to work constructing the heart of your lair.

As you build your hallways and rooms, you can build training facilities for your minions, as well as various specialty rooms that can bolster your defenses. Want to make your minions stronger? Build a super serum room. Want to ensure that any potentially dangerous inspectors return an “all-clear” report to their superiors? Maybe a brainwashing station is the right call. You can even build video game stations and barracks to improve minion morale. Minions are split into three classes, which affect their attributes and effectiveness in certain situations: science, muscle, and deception.

In addition to minions, you also have stronger, named characters that serve as your henchmen. The first henchman we know about is Eli Barracuda Jr. These characters are better at facing off against super spies that infiltrate your base, and they’re the only characters you can give direct orders to outside of your evil genius.

Before the Forces of Justice find out what you’ve been up to, it’s a good idea to not only train your minions and henchmen, but also set up trap networks. While some traps are fine on their own, linking various traps together makes sure the nimble spies that enter your lair are in for a real challenge. In my demo, the trap network consists of a narrow hallway with a giant fan at the end. Once the spy enters it, the giant fan activates and a laser grid turns on. The agent is blown through the laser grid, stunning them as they reach the end of the hallway. They think that’s all that’s going to happen, when suddenly the floor opens up and they fall into a shark tank. Countermeasures like this network are crucial to maintaining your lair and preventing the Forces of Justice from foiling your evil plans.

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The Forces of Justice are just as diverse as your minions, however, consisting of soldiers, saboteurs, and super agents. While making sure your henchmen are around to deal with any pesky super agents is a good idea, it’s an even better idea to diversify your traps to deal with any threats. Thankfully, Evil Genius 2 gives you plenty of trap options with which to find the best combination. From the aforementioned laser grid and shark tanks to a pinball device and a perfectly named Venus Spy Trap, you have plenty of ways to catch a secret agent.

While defending your base is important, the ultimate goal is the subtitle of the game: world domination. To accomplish this, you can participate in various objectives, with potentially hundreds to choose from. Some of these wacky objectives include destroying the Forces of Justice, selling the British royal family, kidnapping the governor of Maine, or literally baking Alaska. 

However, if your evil genius dies, it’s game over and your campaign run comes to a sad, anticlimactic end. Thankfully, with so many customization options and objectives to choose from, the next campaign attempt should be just as lively as the first. I love the oddball humor Evil Genius 2 looks to bring to the table, and the wacky customization options has my mind churning out potential trap networks and layouts of my lair long before the game even releases. Evil Genius 2: World Domination launches on PC sometime in 2020.

Publisher: Frontier Developments
Developer: Frontier Developments
Release: November 5, 2019

Platform: PC

A good zoo isn’t just about giving paying customers a fun afternoon with the family. Looking past the fancy animal displays, shiny souvenirs, and themed restaurants, every great zoo works toward a mission of conservation. To accomplish this goal, the zoo and its employees must get everything perfect, right down to the very last details. Frontier knows this, and the result looks to be the most detailed, customizable experience the genre has ever seen.

As I sit down to meet with Frontier, the developer opens up a zoo they’ve created and soars over a river of people walking along the paths. Sure, each person has expectations and desires when visiting a zoo, but this facility isn’t just about catering to the visitors. According to Frontier, Planet Zoo is just as much about conservation and education as it is about building the perfect zoo for your customers. Every animal has wants and needs based on its species, and its up to you to design habitats for these beautiful creatures in ways that also attract patrons.

Planet Zoo understands how daunting the task at hand is, but it has provided players with an impressive customization suite to help them achieve it. The first step is assembling the walls however you want them. From there, you need to take into consideration the kind of animal that will live inside the habitat, then make sure the correct terrain is laid; alligators have different needs than giraffes.

If you need help, you can open up a tab to see what that animal needs; making sure your alligator has enough space to swim, as well as a nice plot of dry land to lay out in the sun is important. This menu shows the needs of animals across four welfare categories: nutrition, social, enrichment, and habitat. You can also assign research tasks to your staff to learn more about the animals – improving your zoo’s knowledge of the animals even unlocks additional text on educational signs you can post around the park.

Once the animals are placed, they’re nothing short of impressive. You can zoom in close enough to see individual hairs on lions, and those alligators basking in the sunlight have intricately designed scales. At one point in my demo, the developer zooms in on a chimpanzees eyes to show how captivating they are in Planet Zoo. Species like giraffes and zebras have unique patterns that are passed down based on the genetics of their parents; no two animals are ever the same.

The creatures in Planet Zoo behave dynamically, meaning you can expect unpredictable moments in line with how the species actually behave in real life. For example, in the chimpanzee habitat I’m shown, an unexpected rainstorm sent many of the apes scurrying for cover under a shelter in their habitat, while some stayed out in the rain to enjoy sloshing around. Also, in the first five minutes of my demo, nearly every habitat featured an animal that decided it was a good time to clear their bowels.

In line with that dynamic behavior, the animals in Planet Zoo breed, and you witness entire lives of animals from birth to death. Each time an animal is born, the zoo celebrates, and each time a creature dies, the zoo mourns its loss. Animals even have fertility traits that measure how capable they are to breed, and keeping animals from inbreeding is important to prevent sterility. Alphas emerge in herding species, and animals can develop herding behaviors that cause them to follow those dominant animals around.

In addition to catering to animals’ individual needs, you can also match up certain species that co-exist in the wild. In the demo I watch, I see giraffes and springboks living in the same habitat, as well as zebras and black wildebeests. These kinds of pairings enrich the animals lives if done right. You do have to be mindful of these pairings, however. Matching a chimpanzee with a crocodile won’t end well for the ape.

Other ways to improve animals’ lives is to install enrichment items in the habitats. For big cats like lions, tigers, and cheetahs, this includes giant scratching posts, while you can add a device that makes chimps solve puzzles to get their food. If something isn’t quite right in a habitat, you can easily fix it by placing a new item or painting the ground with grass, sand, or soil to match their needs.

One big way to cater to the chimps’ needs is to build climbing frames for them to spend their energy. Just like the walls and paths in Planet Zoo, these frames are custom built to your specifications. Not only are the frames set up however you want, but the chimpanzees run across them seamlessly regardless of how you set them up. 

Of course, a zoo doesn’t run itself. You need to hire employees to run the park. During my demo, I was only shown the zookeeper employee type, but it was neat to watch them go about their business. Zookeepers clean habitats and feed animals, but base their operations out of keeper huts, a special building type you can create. Keeper huts must be placed near the habitats to allow keepers to be efficient, but they should be hidden from guests’ views, as most guests don’t want to see behind the scenes. To do this, you can designate employee-only paths.

 As the keepers get to work, watching the animals react to them is awesome. In my demo, the zookeeper entered the dog habitat with a bucket of food. The instant the door creaked, announcing his presence, the dogs’ ears perked up and they got excited for feeding time. Small touches like that defined just why I was so impressed by Planet Zoo.

While not everything is focused on the customer, they are your source of income. To make sure you’re treating your patrons right, you can add restaurants, souvenir shops, bathrooms, and more in order to react to their needs. It’s also important to make sure they have good views and plenty of educational signs around the exhibits. If you want to give them even better access, you can set up a 4×4 track so they can go on a mini safari through the animals’ habitats; whether you choose to charge for the ride is up to you.

The zoo-sim genre has been largely dormant for several years, but Planet Zoo looks to revitalize it. With stunning attention to detail, dynamic ways to react to your animals’ wants and needs, and all the simulation mechanics you’ve come to expect from games like these, I can’t wait to play Planet Zoo when it launches on November 5.

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In this excerpt above from The Game Informer Show podcast, Matt Kato, Ben Reeves, and Imran Khan talk about seeing the behind-closed-doors gameplay demo for Crystal Dynamics’ The Avengers at E3 2019. If you prefer to listen to the discussion, you can click here to subscribe to Game Informer’s podcast. You can also read Andrew Reiner’s full preview on The Avengers here.

Publisher: Team 17
Developer: Playtonic Games
Release: 2019
Rating: Rating Pending
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC

Playtonic Games’ stable of veteran developers made its debut two years ago with Yooka-Laylee, a faithful spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie. Since Playtonic consists of many former Rare employees who created Banjo-Kazooie, the team effectively captured what many fans loved about that series. Now, that same team, which also features former members of the studio behind the original Donkey Kong Country games, is tackling the 2D platformer genre in Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair.

Much like the platformer duo’s debut adventure, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair sees the eponymous chameleon and bat combo working through 20 2D levels with the hope of getting enough help to defeat the ultimate challenge: Capital B’s Impossible Lair, an extremely difficult level that’s four times as long as any other stage in the game with no checkpoints. Yooka-Laylee can take just two hits – the first hit sends Laylee the bat flying off, and Yooka has to try and recover her before she vanishes (much like Yoshi in Super Mario World) – so I didn’t last long in the early version I attempted. Thankfully, you’re able to bolster the heroes by finding 40 bees scattered throughout the 20 levels.

You can actually go straight to the Impossible Lair at the start if you want, but you won’t have much luck. Unless you’re a masochist, you’re going to want to collect as many bees from the various stages as possible. Each bee you find joins you in your Impossible Lair run, absorbing one hit for you. In the early version I tried (Playtonic tells me it may change by the time launch rolls around), the lair starts off with a difficult boss battle before dumping you into a moving-platform hell full of enemies, laser-focused flamethrowers, and other deadly obstacles. I didn’t even make it out of the first room, even with the six bees that joined me.

Over the course of the 20 stages, you travel across diverse locales like forests, towns, and even a blimp in the sky, and encounter all sorts of obstacles and baddies. Thankfully, Yooka-Laylee attacks these challenges with a strong moveset inspired by the 2D platform superstars of yesteryear. Yooka the chameleon can jump, roll, and lash his tongue out to grab objects. Laylee the bat can do a twirl-jump, a ground-pound, and boost Yooka’s roll. You always control the two in tandem though, as I mentioned before, Laylee will fly off if you take a hit, leaving Yooka without Laylee’s special abilities if he can’t catch her in time. 

Between stages, you can explore the overworld. While normally just a hub to get you to your next level, in true Yooka-Laylee fashion, the overworld map, which changes the view to an isometric perspective, is dense and full of secrets. In one sequence I saw, Yooka blew up a wall with a bomb to open a new area. Though there is much to do in the overworld, Playtonic intends this area to be a chiller experience than the mainline 2D levels. Still, however, exploration is greatly rewarded.

In addition to finding quills, the main form of currency in Yooka-Laylee that can be used to buy items to bring into the 2D stages, you can also unlock special second states of the stages. These new versions of the stages fundamentally alter the level you’ve already beaten, and offer up a new bee to find within that course. One second-state version changes the orientation, so you’re climbing vertically instead of going left to right, while another floods the forest so it becomes a water level. These add new twists to the game, and I’m excited to see what else Playtonic can dream up to mess with players hoping to collect all 40 bees.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Playtonic game without collectibles. The original Yooka-Laylee went a little overboard with its collectibles, and often frustrated players with how hard it could be to grab everything. Thankfully, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair tones down the overall number of collectibles, with quills and bees found in the stages serving as the most important ones. While old-school fans of Banjo-Kazooie may lament the death of the collectathon elements found in the first Yooka-Laylee, I greatly welcome this scaling back.

Playtonic, despite having its DNA rooted firmly in the original Donkey Kong Country, sees the game as inspired by modern games, directly mentioning Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze as inspiration. After playing through three levels and attempting the Impossible Lair, that’s obvious; Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair plays tight and modern, with challenges that feel new and exciting, rather than ripped out of the ’90s like the first Yooka-Laylee game sometimes did.

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Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is set to launch sometime this year on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC.

Publisher: Improbable
Developer: Midwinter Entertainment
Release: 2019
Rating: Rating Pending
Platform: PC

When we first learned about Scavengers from the team at Midwinter Entertainment, it was hard to understand exactly what kind of game it was without getting my hands on it. Midwinter’s goals certainly sounded ambitious; the idea of creating mutual goals in a multiplayer match that would create more nuanced multiplayer scenarios (ones where players wouldn’t always immediately shoot at each other) sounded promising, as did the mix of PvP and PvE elements. After finally having a chance to play a match at E3 this year, however, I have a good idea of what Scavengers is and while its premise is interesting, some of its ideas don’t live up to their promise right now.

The easiest way to think of Scavengers is to use battle royale as a base. Four teams are dropped onto a single, giant map that takes place on an Earth that has become an eternal wasteland after a meteor crashed into the moon. Without supplies, you’re forced to scrounge up resources, weapons, and items in the early minutes of the game. One major difference between Scavengers and battle royale games, however, is that you’re not fighting to be the last person standing, and there’s no circle closing in on you. Instead, you’re collecting DNA samples for Mother, the A.I. which sends you into the eternal tundra in the first place. 

It’s a mutual goal, too; every squad was working to gather a total of 60 samples in our match. Once those have all been collected, Mother sends down a dropship. Your goal is to board that dropship and get out before you’re overtaken by the cold. There’s also hunger and cold meters to contend with, which you have to fill by finding warm areas and feeding off wildlife. Storms also roll in from time to time, giving matches some natural urgency. These factors give you a constant motivation to move forward; hiding out in a settlement and waiting for the player count to drop isn’t going to do much for you here.

Although your three-person squad is made up of individual character classes with distinct roles and weapons, you still need resources to unlock your class’ true potential. I played as the melee-oriented Jae, who could use his character ability to disrupt groups of enemies from up close, but in order to unlock my signature weapon (a halberd-like blade) and reinforce my armor, I needed to collect a certain number of materials to craft them. I like that you’re working towards a static goal instead of praying you get a lucky drop; it reminded me of a MOBA in the way that you’re working your way through a character build each match.

Another aspect of Scavengers that might feel familiar to MOBA fans are encounters with A.I. opponents. Littered across the map are camps of enemy factions, who act as a way to build yourself up before you find and take on human opponents. These encounters are akin to killing creeps in MOBAs; they don’t pose much of a threat, but you need to mow them down if you want to stand a chance against human foes later on. You do have a more solid motivation for attack them, however; these camps usually host the samples you need to collect before Mother will let you back on the ship, so it’s a primary goal.

As a gameplay loop it works, since you slowly start to feel better equipped and ready to take on other players, but fights with A.I. opponents doesn’t reinforce the harsh, survivalist tone the game is going. Some enemies packed more of a punch than others, but I never felt threatened by these foes, who were completely oblivious to obvious flanks and simply stood there as I wailed on them. Enemies don’t seem to react to being shot and don’t put up much of a fight, either, which made working them over and raiding their encampments for supplies feel more like a ritual than a fight. 

That’s not necessarily a bad thing; neutral enemies in MOBAs work the same way. These fodder enemies also introduce a bit more flair the looting aspect of a battle royale game. Considering there’s only a handful of squads on the field, they liven up matches, too. I just wish these encounters were more interesting; the gunplay is functional, but not all that exciting on its own.

Fights with human foes are different story. Our team didn’t have a real encounter with another squad up until the very end of our match, after we’d collected all the samples and Mother had sent down the dropship and a powerful storm began to roll in. They came at us as we were clearing out an A.I. hideout and the storm came in from the direction of the dropship. Pincered, we decided to stand our ground atop a hill a few feet away from the camp. The high ground didn’t give us the protection we might have wanted, however, and we wound up backed into a corner and wiped out. 

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We could have made our way to the dropship instead, however, and I’m curious about how the match would have turned out had we made a run for it. But because our confrontation came at the end of our match, with a storm barreling down on us, the tension and stakes were high, so I didn’t get a good sense of how Scavengers might let you engage with other players beyond combat. It’s hard to know if things might have been different if we’d encountered another squad earlier on, but I still think it’ll be hard for most players to get over their shoot-on-sight instincts, and I never felt the motivation to do so.

Still, Scavengers offers enough deviations from what we’ve come to know about battle royale games that, despite some rough edges and some lingering questions about whether this setup can deliver on its promises to offer something new in the multiplayer arena I’m intrigued by what it has to offer. There are some fun ideas at work here, and with a playtest rolling out this year before the title properly releases in 2020, there’s plenty of time for Midwinter to iron out the kinks and mold the game into something unique.

 

This week Amazon has laid off “dozens” of its Amazon Game Studios employees, who have 60 days to find another job within Amazon proper or receive a severance package on their way out.

The news comes from a Kotaku article that reports the layoffs were made during the week of E3, and that AGS has also canceled some unannounced games.

In a statement to Kotaku, an AGS spokesperson confirmed the layoffs, saying the move was made to consolidate development on its upcoming New World and Crucible games. “These moves are the result of regular business planning cycles where we align resources to match evolving, long-range priorities,” the spokesperson said. The company would not confirm the exact number of employees affected.

Amazon Game Studios hasn’t had the best run. It recently canceled its upcoming multiplayer game Breakaway.