Thursday, December 31, 2020
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2020 was a challenging year to enjoy the full breadth of the tabletop hobby. Many players were unable to gather with friends and gaming groups to play in person, but it didn’t stop publishers from continuing to pump out some remarkable and incredibly fun games. And many players responded by finding ways to play games remotely, sharing the hobby with partners, family, and roommates, as well as buying and learning new games solo, with the hope of playing again with bigger groups in the coming months and years.
Amid an extraordinary mix of game styles and settings, these were 10 of the very best new releases, each promising the potential for many hours of shared fun.
Atheneum: Mystic Library
Publisher: Renegade Game Studios
On the eve of your magical exam, you have a lot of spells to study, but you can’t forget to re-shelve the books before you’re done. Atheneum is filled with charm and lovely components (including individually named book chips), but it’s the solid card-drafting system that really makes the magic work.
Thematically, Atheneum echoes another wonderful game from 2017, called Ex Libris. Like that game, Atheneum focuses on organization and books in a magical library. But where Ex Libris was very focused on worker-placement, Atheneum employs its ingenious drafting approach to make you carefully consider your next moves, resulting in a series of small puzzles you’re working to solve.
Players succeed not only through their own played cards, but also through the cards their neighbors deploy, leading to a fascinating interplay. Whimsical and easy to grasp, it’s a great fit for fans of wizarding wands and worlds.
Atlantis Rising (2nd Edition)
Publisher: Elf Creek Games
A phenomenal revival of an already excellent game, this cooperative worker-placement game challenges everyone to work together to gather resources and build a cosmic gate to evacuate the mythical city of Atlantis before it sinks beneath the waves. Even as available spaces slip away into the ocean, each player must plan carefully to hold back the tide and balance risk and reward.
Cooperative games in recent years have sometimes struggled to feel novel and simultaneously remain exciting and tense throughout play. That’s not an issue with Atlantis Rising, thanks to especially clever play structure, lovely production values, and a fun mix of mechanics. It’s also especially flexible, with an excellently structured solo mode available, but also ably supporting groups as large as seven players – a relative rarity.
After several essential and important changes from the original version, this is quite simply one of the best cooperative games of recent years. Tense and intricately balanced, only thoughtful teamwork can save the day.
Publisher: Dire Wolf Digital
The worlds of Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi epic are brought to vivid life in this brilliant and complex new game of political machinations, desperate alliances, and outright warfare. With artwork inspired by the upcoming film, along with character powers nodding to the original narrative, this feels like a natural continuation of the fiction.
Players are faced with tough decisions in every round, and everyone must nurture their own plans while actively subverting opponents to have any hope of controlling the spice, and by extension, the universe. The game perfectly captures the special tone of the Dune fiction, and it’s great fun to see each player vying for influence among familiar factions like the Spacing Guild and Bene Gesserit sisterhood.
The original Dune board game was recently revived with a wonderful update, but Dune: Imperium is a wholly new project that deserves its own praise. Deep and challenging, but built around an understandable rules system that demands difficult decisions in every round, this isn’t just a pitch-perfect nailing of the license; it’s a standout strategy game in its own right.
Publisher: Plaid Hat Games
Plaid Hat’s wonderful Crossroads games leverage clever mechanics to create an interactive narrative. Previous games included the bleak survival tales to live out in Dead of Winter, and the deep-space terrors of Gen 7. Both of those games relished in dynamics of complex interpersonal tension and looming threat.
Forgotten Waters maintains the great branching storylines and decisions that define the Crossroads games, but is decidedly more lighthearted and magical. That’s to the game’s benefit, leading to a jovial and mostly cooperative romp into an exaggerated and enchanted world of pirates.
Aided by a robust web app that includes evocative voiceover work, you sail the high seas and make compelling choices that shape the world around you. It’s funny and richly imagined. And while it might be buoyant and frolicsome, it also happens to be one of the best story-focused games in a long time.
Publisher: Leder Games
You’re a kid, making friends and trying to build a better fort than your buddy. That simple premise plays out in this innovative and playfully illustrated deck-building game, which wins points for its approachable learning curve and smart twist on the well-established deck-building formula.
In the suggested mode of play, players gradually build a deck from scratch, made up of friends who are coming along to help you build your fort. But if you don’t use the cards in your deck, otherwise known as playing with your friends, then you open yourself up to someone else stealing them away through the lure of pizza and toys to help with their fort.
Brisk play times and smartly structured rules make this a fun competition for both older kids and kids at heart, and the card art will undoubtedly make you smile.
Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion
Publisher: Cephalofair Games
One of the best games of 2017 was the sprawling Gloomhaven, a rich but deeply complex dungeon-crawling game of tactical combat that featured a persistent world from one session to the next. Jaws of the Lion is a standalone prequel game built from the ground up to be a more casual introduction, and it does so with aplomb. If you fall in love, you can even transfer the four new characters to the original, larger game.
Jaws of the Lion finds success by maintaining the systems that made the original game so engaging, but squeezing everything into a manageable package. The cooperative fantasy adventure is played out through a mostly linear quest with fewer complex branches. Fewer components make it less daunting to get started and know what you need in any moment. Players go through the included scenarios using an included map book that your figures march through. And a smart tutorial gets you into the action, and answers the questions that are sure to crop up.
This new game is a wonderful and rewarding journey all on its own, but it also can serve as a testbed to see if you want to invest the time and money to expand into the full Gloomhaven experience.
A collaborative design venture between Magic: The Gathering creator Richard Garfield and Jeopardy champ Ken Jennings, this party game is an outstanding new twist on trivia gameplay. Humorous, smart, and filled with a tremendous variety of topics and questions, it’s one of the best new party game options to hit the market in some time.
On each card is an unusual category – i.e., “Molecules that have oxygen in them,” or “Star Wars characters who say they ‘have a bad feeling about this’” – and six potential answers, but only three are correct. Lay bets only on the ones you’re sure about; no points if you get one wrong!
Good trivia games live or die by finding categories and ideas that help any potential player feel engaged and clever, with moments to shine. Half Truth manages that challenge with care, including everything from science to pop culture. It's a lot of fun, and deserves to find a home on a lot of tables, reaching beyond the hobbyist crowd to be enjoyed by everyone.
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
The designer of last year’s superb Wingspan, Elizabeth Hargrave, returns to nature themes again, this time examining kaleidoscopes of Monarch butterflies and their remarkable migratory patterns. Beautiful components and board lend the game an idyllic, breezy feel that matches the theme of these creatures in flight.
Players gradually move their butterfly families north and then back south over the course of three distinct seasons, all while collecting flowers, reproducing new generations, and stopping at waystations along the way. Visually and conceptually, the game also nails the feeling of a migration, as the various pieces gradually blossom out across the board in their journeys, only to pull back as the game draws to a close.
While Mariposas is a competitive game, it purposefully stays awake from cutthroat mechanics or fierce “got you” moments. Like everything else in Mariposas, that’s in keeping with the concept of peaceful butterflies going about their lives. It’s a beautiful and approachable game well-suited to a mix of experience levels.
Pandemic Legacy: Season 0
Publisher: Z-Man Games
It’s become a sure bet; if a new Pandemic Legacy game comes out, it’s going to be great. This third installment proves the rule, catapulting players back in time to tell a Cold War-era spy prequel tale about the origins of a horrific Soviet bioweapon that might one day threaten the human race.
The injection of enemy agents and covert operations do wonders to refresh the formula, but the real thrill still arises from the ever-changing game rules and components, which shift from one session to the next in response to your wins and losses. It would be a shame to spoil those moments here, but it’s enough to say that this conspiracy-laden tale has plenty of twists and turns.
Because it’s a prequel, Season 0 can easily be played fresh, without any experience with the earlier games released. While you may be dealing with political incidents rather than outbreaks, and neutralizing Soviet agents rather than wiping out disease cubes, the core of the Pandemic mechanical structure is still recognizable behind the spy story. And, after the year we’ve had in the real world, there’s certainly something deeply satisfying about a game in which your main goal is trying to ensure a terrible virus is never unleashed.
Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon
Publisher: Awaken Realms
Arriving too late in 2019 to be considered last year, Awaken Realms’ rewarding adventure game shouldn’t be overlooked. Exploration, combat, and moments of genuine discovery make up the bulk of this cooperative campaign experience. It also features an incredibly rich narrative that is the match in both ambition and execution to many fantasy novels.
A lavishly imagined and shadowy narrative weaves together elements of Celtic mythology with classic Arthurian legend, and gorgeous miniatures and component art help sell the experience. Build a character through combat and other encounters, and you gradually uncover the mystery lurking at the heart of this dark fantasy. Play unfolds as you fan out across new location cards that are placed onto the table, steadily revealing more about the world and its secrets.
This is a deep, complex, and sumptuous board game that offers session after session of discoveries and challenges, and with a connoisseur’s eye for miniatures and other components, but it’s also a game that requires patience and previous board gaming experience to enjoy to its fullest.
If you’re looking for more great recent board games, feel free to peruse last year’s top picks in the tabletop world. And check back in after the New Year for a second dedicated article looking at the best tabletop role-playing game releases of 2020. If you still need more recommendations, you can peruse the Top of the Table hub to uncover an array of excellent games to bring home to your family and friends. Here’s to the hope we all share that 2021 offers increased opportunities to play some tabletop games together!
Hitman 3 is the highly anticipated finale to IO Interactive’s expansive World of Assassination Trilogy that began back in 2016. The game will take Agent 47 on an adventure across the globe as he eliminates the leaders of a menacing organization that runs the world in secret – and it all begins in the United Arab Emirates. You can now watch the first 5 minutes of Hitman 3’s opening Dubai mission as part of our exclusive coverage of the game, during which Agent 47 descends upon the tallest skyscraper on Earth.
Please note that this Hitman 3 gameplay was captured on PC by Game Informer.
Valve has revealed its Steam "Best of 2020" lists, highlighting the best-selling and most played games on the digital storefront this year. While Valve doesn't rank the games, meaning we don't know what the overall best selling game on Steam is, nor does it include data like overall revenue, it does give a detailed peak at what kind of games trended throughout the year.
Unsurprisingly, Among Us and Fall Guys appear in the Platinum category of Steam's best sellers list, as do competitive games such as Dota 2, Rainbow Six Siege, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. Rockstar Games has two different titles topping Steam's sales charts: Red Dead Redemption 2 and the seven-year-old Grand Theft Auto 5. The most recent game on Steam's Platinum list is Cyberpunk 2077, which was released on December 10. Cyberpunk developer-publisher CD Projekt Red recently revealed that it had sold more than 13 million copies. All in all, of the 12 Platinum selling games, only three came out this year, while the other nine were released in years past. The entire list, sorted alphabetically, is as follows:
- Among Us
- Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
- Cyberpunk 2077
- Destiny 2
- Doom Eternal
- Dota 2
- Fall Guys
- Grand Theft Auto 5
- Monster Hunter World
- PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds
- Rainbow Six Siege
- Red Dead Redemption 2
In the Gold category, Phasmophobia, Borderlands 3, Sea of Thieves, and The Elder Scrolls Online are all present. Hades, Eurotruck Simulator, Microsoft Flight Simulator, and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt highlight the silver category. And lastly, Death Stranding, which came to PC in 2020, Dark Souls 3, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, and Skyrim are among the games that make up Steam's Bronze category.
In terms of Steam's Most Played games of the year, again, the categories are broken down by Platinum, Gold, Silver, and Bronze. Platinum, meaning a game had over 200,000 concurrent players, has some crossover with the Platinum sales category, featuring Grand Theft Auto 5, Cyberpunk 2077, Among Us, and Dota 2, among others. Terraria, Life is Strange 2, and Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord are also among Steam's most-played games of the year.
One last bit of Steam news: According to Steam 250, which combines data from a game's overall number of votes and percentage of positive votes to assign a score, Hades was the best-reviewed game on Steam in 2020. As of this writing, Hades currently has 98,546 user reviews on Steam, of which 98-percent are "overwhelmingly positive."
On this week's episode of The Game Informer Show, All Elite Wrestling's project coordinator and referee extraordinaire Aubrey Edwards joins us to talk about some of the best games of 2020, including: Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Half-Life: Alyx, The Last of Us Part II, Streets of Rage 4, Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Final Fantasy VII Remake, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Carto, and Cyberpunk 2077. It's a good, long talk, but of course, we sneak in some time for another fantastic round of community emails. So please join Jeff Cork, Joe Juba, Marcus Stewart, Aubrey Edwards, and myself for another wild and ever-entertaining episode!
Thanks for listening! Please make sure to leave feedback below, share the episode if you enjoyed it, and follow me @benjaminreeves to let me know what you think. You can watch the video above, subscribe and listen to the audio on iTunes or Google Play, listen on SoundCloud, stream it on Spotify, or download the MP3 at the bottom of the page. Also, be sure to send your questions to email@example.com for a chance to have them answered on the show!
Our thanks to The Rapture Twins for The Game Informer Show's intro song. You can hear more of their music at their website.
To jump to a particular point in the discussion, check out the time stamps below.
Aubrey Edwards Intro: 00:00:40
Best Games of 2020: 00:05:55
Streets of Rage 4: 00:08:56
Cyberpunk 2077: 00:10:41
Animal Crossing: New Horizons: 00:14:42
Ori and the Will of the Wisps: 00:18:28
Immortals Fenyx Rising: 00:19:18
Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time: 00:22:03
Final Fantasy VII Remake: 00:25:55
Half-Life: Alyx: 00:34:32
Yakuza: Like A Dragon: 00:36:15
Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales: 00:40:39
Assassin's Creed Valhalla: 00:44:13
Pikmin 3 Deluxe: 00:48:23
The Last of Us Part II: 00:53:04
Community Emails: 01:02:15
Katsuhiro Harada, most well known for his work on the Tekken fighting series, is heading up development for a new project at Bandai Namco that just might have the highest development budget in the company's history.
Harata, who currently serves as general manager, director, and producer, for Bandai Namco, recently hinted at the new project during the "Piro Live! New Year’s Eve Special 2021" livestream event (translation via Gematsu). While he didn't reveal any specifics about what the game is, aside from saying it's not a fighting game, Harata did express surprise that company higher-ups approved a project of this scale.
"Well, honestly I think this might be the most costly development project in Bandai Namco history,” Harada said during the event. "I think its incredible that the higher-ups approved of this. Well, the approval has passed, its just that due to the coronavirus, we haven’t really been able to properly start the project."
When we'll learn more about this new project is currently unknown. As is just how expensive this new game is. It's worth pointing out, according to the market research company Newzoo, Bandai Namco is the third largest video game maker in Japan, behind only Sony and Nintendo. It currently develops and/or publishes series such as Dark Souls, Smash Bros., Tekken, and Soul Calibur. It's also publisher of Elden Ring, FromSoftware's next game, and the winner of "Most Anticipated" game at the 2020 Game Awards.
Additionally, Harata revealed that aside from this new project, he is working on new games that aren't fighting games. He also added that he doesn't think he'll work on a fighting game series that isn't Tekken in the future. In the past, Harata served as producer on the Pokemon fighting games Pokkén Tournament and Pokkén Tournament DX, released in 2015 and 2017, respectively. He also directed Tekken 7, released in arcades in 2015 and on consoles in 2017.
For more on Harata and his work, check out our review of Tekken 7. We also have two different interviews with Harada from 2017 you can read, such as how he tries to keep Tekken relevant and his role in Dragon Ball FighterZ.
Cyberpunk 2077 will begin receiving free DLC early next year, as discovered by a new update to the game's official website.
While no details were given, including specific release dates or what the DLC would entail, the official Cyberpunk 2077 website has been updated with the news. The page can be seen here at the link, which reveals only that the DLC will be free and released early 2021.
Whether or not this is news might depend on how closely you watched the Cyberpunk 2077 launch trailer, released on December 8. As PC Gamer points out, at the end of the trailer, behind the game's logo, text flashes on screen revealing CD Projekt Red's plans for Cyberpunk DLC.
"Our planned expansions will take you even deeper into the world of Cyberpunk 207, offering substantial, story-driven content that'll give you tough choices to make through impactful narratives that you won't soon forget," CD Projekt's message reads (via PC Gamer).
"But before we get there, we'll first be kicking off our free DLC program in early 2021. Just like with The Witcher 3, expect an assortment of free DLC packs to begin hitting Night City, dropping a bunch of cool stuff that'll inject even more life into the world of the dark future."
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, CD Projekt Red's game before Cyberpunk 2077, received 16 pieces of free DLC on top of two paid major story expansions, Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine. If this is anything to go off of, Cyberpunk's DLC may feature new cosmetic and gameplay options. For example, Wild Hunt didn't have New Game Plus until it was added as DLC. As of this writing, Cyberpunk also doesn't have New Game Plus.
Of course, this news comes in the midst of a disastrous launch for Cyberpunk 2077, which was released buggy across all platforms and nearly unplayable on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Since Cyberpunk's December 10 release, CD Projekt Red has offered refunds to frustrated players, had the game pulled from the PlayStation store, and is now facing a class action lawsuit from investors. Despite these issues and controversies, in a recent investor's report, CD Projekt Red revealed it has sold 13 million copies of Cyberpunk 2077.
At this point in the studio's history, the Hitman series has been with IO Interactive longer than anyone working in its office; no one at the company has worked on every single entry in the franchise. For 20 years, the name IO has been synonymous with Hitman and its protagonist Agent 47. While the developer has made other games, such as the Kane & Lynch, Freedom Fighters, and Mini Ninjas games, the vast majority of its releases have been Hitman games. But Hitman 3 is the end of an era. Capping off the World of Assassination trilogy it started in 2016 with its episodic Hitman reboot, IO is walking away from its most iconic franchise – at least for the time being. And there are a lot of emotions tied up in that fact.
In a lot of ways, the story of Hitman is the story of IO Interactive – especially considering the company's last few years. Always a niche, cult series, when 2016's Hitman didn't make the return IO's then-publisher and parent company Square Enix wanted, as CEO and co-owner Hakan Abrik puts it, the company "lost faith" in the franchise – though, admittedly, he seems to understand Square's decision.
"It was called a Trojan Horse strategy, just get people in and if they like it, they will upgrade," Abrik says. "Maybe we’ll get a whole lot bigger volumes in the start and hopefully we can convert these people if they like the game. That was the strategy. The skepticism and, ‘What is this?’ and ‘Is this early access from a big publisher?’ and whatnot, it ended up being historically low sales – a historically low start."
"And over time, even our publisher – and owner – back then lost faith," he says.
In May 2017, Square Enix announced it was selling IO Interactive as part of a restructuring of "resources and energies on key franchises and studios." Rather than wait to be purchased by a new company, IO negotiated a management buyout with Square, announcing in June 2017 that it was, for the first time in its history, a fully independent developer, and that it would retain the rights to the Hitman intellectual property (IP). We'll have a more detailed story on IO as an independent studio on the website in coming weeks.
It was IO's faith in the Hitman series and itself as a developer that has shepherded them both to success post-buyout. According to IO's co-owner and chief creative officer Christian Elverdam, between Hitman 1 and 2, thanks to more than 350 weekly and monthly updates, the games have gone on to reach more than 40 million players.
Hitman 3 is the company’s first release as an independent studio, but it’s also IO’s last Hitman game for a while. It marks the end of this chapter of Agent 47’s story and the end of this chapter of IO’s history.
"I think I’m going to cry when it’s done," Hitman 3's game director Mattias Engström says. "It’s been a ride and a joy to work on this for this long."
"I think for me, the nostalgia is not so much about the game being done, because it will live and it will be live and people will play it," executive producer Forest Swartout Large adds. "It’s more about the privilege of getting to make the third iteration with this group of extremely talented, really excellent people who just care so much about their jobs. I don’t know if it will ever get better than this."
In November 2020, IO announced it was working with the James Bond license on a 007 game, specifically focused on Bond's origin story. Project 007, as its currently called, is the first publicly known non-Hitman game IO has worked on since Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days launched in 2010, and its first new IP as an independent studio. Even though it’s done other IP in the past, Abrik and Elverdam both recognize their company is seen as the Hitman studio. A game like Project 007 is a way to move beyond that, they say.
"Hitman and IO Interactive are very, very closely knit, obviously," Abrik says. "But I think, moving forward, IO should not necessarily be mentioned as ‘The Hitman studio IO Interactive,’ but first and foremost, people should think about IO Interactive as IO Interactive first, creators of different IPs and a place of creativity where Hitman is definitely one of our children, but there are going to be more children in the future. And one of them is 007."
"If you think about the future of Hitman as well, if you think about the future of the Bond franchise, we’re in a place where we feel curious and hungry, creatively," Elverdam adds. "If you think about what would Bond be, what would Hitman be in the future, hopefully you’ll think, ‘hey these guys certainly seem like they … are interested in trying to take the games new places.’"
Elverdam pushes back on the idea that IO is leaving Hitman behind. In fact, he says it's not the end of the Hitman IP "at all." As he points out, the recent run of Hitman games, which started in 2016 with the Hitman reboot, was always billed as a trilogy; Hitman 3, as the name would imply, is the conclusion of that part of Agent 47's story. There's no real reason to think IO won't return to Hitman in the future; it's perfectly reasonable to think the studio will, given how iconic the series is for IO. But given what the developer has gone through in recent years, walking away from Hitman for the time being, closing this chapter of Agent 47's story with Hitman 3, feels fitting, Elverdam says.
"In a way I think it’s poetic that Hitman, in its prime in a way, was the beginning for IO as an independent company," Elverdam says. "Right now, it’s also the beginning of IO as an independent company, because the first title that we launch is the ending of this conclusion. And that feels super good, to be honest. I think the world of the Assassination trilogy, because it will be a whole when you look at it; I think it’s super strong. I’m super proud of it. I’m super proud of what we achieved. That this is the first thing that we launch makes me feel really good and really comfortable about the future."
Wednesday, December 30, 2020
This wasn’t the type of year any of us could have anticipated and we were all forced to make changes in our lives due to COVID-19. We had to get creative about how we worked, socialized, and met other daily needs. The quarantine is necessary to stop the spread of the virus, but that doesn’t mean feeling confined to the walls of our home isn’t difficult to deal with day in and day out. I’ve often turned to video games as a way to unwind and socialize, but this year, they became essential in battling the isolation of not being able to interact with others on a daily basis. It wasn’t a normal year, and therefore I wanted to end 2020 by sharing a special appreciation for the games that got me and many others through these past few months of quarantine.
When the quarantine first started, I really didn’t want to deal with what was going on around me. The world suddenly became frightening; COVID-19’s reach was growing, killing more and more people and we still didn’t know much about it. As someone with a chronic illness, I had to strictly quarantine, and this meant that I couldn’t even do simple things like go to the grocery store. It was all too risky, and my anxiety was growing. I hated just sitting in the uncertainty of it all.
A few weeks later, Animal Crossing: New Horizons launched, and it was the shot of joy many of us needed in our lives – a perfect distraction if you will. What it came down to is you were building your own world – a safe place where COVID-19 didn’t exist. Your only goal was taking care of your avatar and other residents by growing your island into something better. Better yet, you could invite your real friends to your island to just hang out and make memories. Watching social media blow up with heartwarming and silly stories about Animal Crossing was a bright spot in a dark year, showcasing how powerful this game was in bringing people together. Suddenly, we were all just helping each other play the “stalk” market, sharing cool clothing designs, and showing off our creative endeavors with pride.
Animal Crossing would be the first of many games that would thrive in these unexpected times. People were looking for ways to socialize with others in unique ways, allowing a slew of games to earn a place in our social circles. Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout was the lighthearted free-for-all competition we all needed for a dose of adorable antics and silly strategies – all in the name of winning a crown for the ultimate bragging rights. Something about being the best out of 60 is a high that can’t be topped, and your little jelly bean-like avatar looks absolutely ridiculous trying to achieve victory. It was a game that brought laughter, cheering, and most importantly, everyone felt like they had a shot at the crown.
For those who like to be a little more cutthroat and calculated with their friends, Among Us served up the utter delight of outsmarting your buddies, and if you were the impostor, delightfully getting away with murdering them. It blows my mind that Among Us originally came out in 2018, but it took a pandemic for us to all discover its brilliance. For those not in the know, it’s a social deduction game where a team of crewmembers must complete tasks to win, but you have individuals designated as impostors trying to sabotage your progress and kill your group along the way.
Among Us is my favorite game to play with friends, because it brings out the most laughter in our theories and ways we think we know each other’s tells for lying. Plus, it’s always hilarious when someone just royally screws up and vents or murders someone in front of you, blowing their cover. Catching someone red-handed is a joy, but I still can’t help but evilly cackle as I slyly kill my friends and get away with being an impostor. Every week I host Among Us games and I always end the night being in a better mood, even when things take an ugly turn and I totally get blamed when I’m not the damn impostor. Seriously, this game will test your friendships but also bring you closer together at the same time.
Similarly, if you’re looking for something cooperative but more in the scary vein, you can’t go wrong with Phasmophobia, which is currently in Early Access. Four people cooperate as ghost hunters, using equipment such as an EMF Reader and Spirit Box to locate the deceased who just won’t leave this world. The best part, however, is how you can use your voice to lure out the apparition and have it respond to you, and they’ll interact with objects such as a ouija board or journal to add some extra eeriness to the situation. At the end, you must correctly guess what type of ghost it is, which can be everything from a banshee to yurei. I love the hunt of trying different tools to figure out what deadly being you’re dealing with, but hands down the best part is watching these ghosts sneak up on you and your friends unexpectedly for screams. When we’re not making our own audio, the sound effects are top notch and always send shivers up my spine.
Of course, I spent the year also getting lost in open-world games like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Ghost of Tsushima. And it was nice being able to get my sports fix from NHL 21 and NBA 2K21. I also spent an ungodly amount of time on runs in Hades, constantly telling myself “just one more try!” Video games have always been a big part of my life, but this year more so than others just due to our circumstances. I felt like I needed unique ways to socialize with my friends that deviated from my normal play, which is why I wanted to call out some games that really helped me along the way. So here’s a toast to these special games that made a really difficult year just a little bit easier to bear.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: In-Engine Gameplay Teaser[ignvideo url="https://www.ign.com/videos/2020/12/30/stalker-2-official-in-engine-gameplay-teaser"]
Hitman 3: The Opening Cinematic[ignvideo url="https://www.ign.com/videos/2020/12/14/hitman-3-official-opening-cinematic"]
Praey for the Gods - PS5 Boss Battle Gameplay[ignvideo url="https://www.ign.com/videos/2020/12/22/praey-for-the-gods-ps5-boss-battle-gameplay"]
Resident Evil Village (aka Resident Evil 8) UpdateWe've got a brief update on the first next-gen Resident Evil! Click the image or click here to find out more. [caption id="attachment_2453249" align="aligncenter" width="720"] Click the image to read a brief update from Capcom and see two more new RE8 screenshots.[/caption]
Psychonauts 2Check out a pile of new concept art from Double Fine's upcoming telekinetic sequel, and don't miss our exclusive 40-minute interview with Double Fine boss and Psychonauts mastermind Tim Schafer: [ignvideo url="https://www.ign.com/videos/2020/12/22/1-on-1-with-double-fines-tim-schafer-psychonauts-2-being-acquired-by-microsoft-and-more-unlocked-475"]
Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond - The Final Preview[ignvideo url="https://www.ign.com/videos/2020/12/04/medal-of-honor-above-and-beyond-the-final-preview"]
TunicWe finally have an update on this hotly anticipated Xbox exclusive! Click the image or click here to find out more. [caption id="attachment_2447903" align="aligncenter" width="720"] New screenshot of Tunic (taken December 2020).[/caption]
John Wick Hex: Making Wick Work as a Strategy Game[ignvideo url="https://www.ign.com/videos/2020/12/02/john-wick-hex-making-wick-work-as-a-strategy-game"]
King of Fighters 15: 3 Characters Detailed[ignvideo url="https://www.ign.com/videos/2020/12/03/king-of-fighters-15-official-character-announcement"]
King of Seas: 15 Minutes of High-Level Developer-Led Gameplay[ignvideo url="https://www.ign.com/videos/2020/12/01/king-of-seas-15-minute-gameplay-walkthrough"]
A Wake Inn: 15-Minute Developer Commentary[ignvideo url="https://www.ign.com/videos/2020/12/09/a-wake-inn-15-minutes-of-developer-gameplay"]
Every Wednesday, I travel to my local comic book shop to pick up nearly a dozen books, most coming from Marvel and DC. I'm a big fan of the classic superhero formula, and have been reading about capes and masks every week since I was eight years old. My first ongoing series was Captain America, which was soon followed by Batman, and then I got my hands on everything. I wanted to read as much as I could, and I haven't stopped doing that in the decades that followed.
Like most things happening in 2020, the comic book industry had a strange year. When the pandemic took hold, comics ceased to be. New release racks had nothing on them. For a few months, physical comic books were no longer being released, and digital distribution hardly had a footprint. The industry just shut down, and there was a fear that it wouldn't come back the same.
Not getting my weekly fix of stories was one of the hardest things for me to adapt to during the pandemic. I can shelter in place with the best of them, but not having a book on hand to read during lunch or any time gap was a habit I struggled to alter. I didn't realize how huge of a role comics played in my life until they were stripped from me.
When the wheels of most entertainment industries started spinning again, comic stores reopened, and new books slowly trickled back onto shelves, making Wednesdays important and fun again.
Given how many comics release each week, it's impossible to get an accurate read on everything, but for the superhero books from DC and Marvel, I think the year was ruled by one person: Donny Cates. His writing has been inspired and has given the Marvel universe an exciting pulse that isn't predictable.
Along with Cates' outstanding work, here are the 2020 books I recommend every comic fan or aspiring reader checks out:
Now 10 issues deep, Cates' handling of the God of Thunder has been nothing short of extraordinary. His run begins with Thor as Galactus' herald in "The Devourer King." This means he gets a new look and powers to go with it. Thor isn't as accepting of his duties as Silver Surfer, and what happens next shapes one of the year's best comic book stories, which also doubles as one of Thor's all-time great arcs. Cates' next big Thor story, "Prey," is now two issues old, and is proving to be every bit as clever, twisted, and unexpected. Thor is easily my favorite comic of the year, and takes this age-old hero into new territory that also adheres to his rich history.
This is another Cates book that has been on fire. Yes, "Venom Island" was a silly read, but with Eddie Brock away playing Rambo, his son Dylan came into his own as a important character who is linked to Knull, the big bad in the Marvel universe both this year and next. Knull's arrival on Earth was teased most of the year in brilliant ways that showed just how big of a threat he is. His arrival in King in Black is living up to the wait, and has touched almost every major Marvel hero. It reminds me of Thanos showing us what he's truly capable of in The Infinity Gauntlet. Venom also just concluded a fun alternate-reality arc that opens the universe up to new possibilities. Keep going, Mr. Cates. Keep doing what you're doing. It's brilliant stuff!
For most of the year, James Tynion IV had some fun with with the Caped Crusader's rogues' gallery, and rounded most of them up for the long arc "Their Dark Designs." Riddler and Joker were excellently penned, but they didn't crowd the spotlight. New villains emerged from Gotham's shadows, and could have staying power in the Batman universe. The artwork from Jorge Jimenez is also outstanding. This is one of the best core Batbooks in quite some time.
Unapologetic and bloody as hell, Tom Taylor's take on Suicide Squad is a real page-turner, and it's sadly over. This Suicide Squad imprint only lasted 11 issues, but it rarely had a lull, and Taylor was given a surprising amount of freedom in being able to off heroes and villains. As the body bags line up, Taylor also tells a wild story of revenge that sets the stage nicely for a new team with a new name.
The Amazing Spider-Man
Peter Parker is having a terrible week in a story called "Last Remains." Kindred, Sin-Eater and other old threats beat him bloody. The entire Spider-Gang is in the crosshairs in this sprawling story that bounces between two different ongoing Amazing Spider-Man books. With each passing issue, the story becomes more personal to Peter and the conflict at hand all the more gasp worthy. We still don't know how "Last Remains" concludes, but it would appear this chapter in Peter's life won't be forgotten quickly.
CD Projekt Red is having a catastrophic month, and Cyberpunk 2077 has been at the forefront of industry scrutiny since its controversial release at the start of December. Even though the game's sales have already exceeded its costs, investors have taken heavy monetary losses. One such investor - Rosen Law Firm in New York - filed a class action lawsuit right before Christmas in order to recover damages made by misleading statements.
According to the lawsuit, CD Projekt Red "failed to disclose (1) Cyberpunk 2077 was virtually unplayable on the [last-] generation Xbox or PlayStation systems due to an enormous number of bugs; (2) as a result, Sony would remove Cyberpunk 2077 from the PlayStation store, and Sony, Microsoft and CD Projekt would be forced to offer full refunds for the game; (3) consequently, CD Projekt would suffer reputational and pecuniary harm; and (4) as a result, defendants’ statements about its business, operations, and prospects, were materially false and misleading and/or lacked a reasonable basis at all relevant times. When the true details entered the market, the lawsuit claims that investors suffered damages."
In response to Rosen Law Firm's lawsuit, CD Projekt Red issued their own regulatory announcement, stating that it would "undertake rigorous action to defend itself against any such claims." Bloomberg reported that the founders cost of the myriad issues surrounding Cyberpunk 2077's release totaled $1 billion which also negatively affected CD Projekt Red's stock.
Another batch of PS Plus games have been set for the first month of the new year. The collection includes two PS4 games - Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Greedfall - and the PS5 version of Maneater.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider builds upon the story of Rise of the Tomb Raider and chronicles Lara Croft's journey to the treacherous South American jungles where players are tasked with preventing a predetermined apocalypse. The fluid stealth and gunplay from previous contemporary Tomb Raider games returns as well as the multi-layered puzzles that the series is known for.
Greedfall is a narrative-based, choice-driven RPG set in an expansive open world filled to the brim with creatures and ruffians that want to kill you. Based on the skills you invest in, conversations can branch off into multiple outcomes and exploration can be limited. We enjoyed Greedfall's soundtrack, simplistic combat, and writing but felt that the game could use some more polish. Andrew Reiner likens it to early Elder Scrolls and Witcher games (which is solid company).
Finally, Maneater stands out as an interesting oddity. Comically considered to be a ShaRkPG, Maneater is all about being the seas greatest shark. Players must learn how to survive in their environment until they are formidable enough to climb the food chain. Diverse encounters (with fish and humans alike) will allow players to customize their playstyle and potentially create an all-powerful apex predator.
Subvert an ancient prophecy, romance your companions in a world of fantasy, or simply eat your enemies. 2021 will be off to an interesting start for PS Plus members.
Tuesday, December 29, 2020
If you play Apex Legends, then you know Pathfinder. He's a high-mobility character with incredibly cheery voice lines. Even when he obliterates entire teams, it's hard to get mad at the lovable oaf. Despite being one of the game's most popular personalities, Respawn has never released an official backstory description for him. Based on in-game loading screens as well as his boxing glove heirloom, many fans suspected that Pathfinder was a ring fighter long before he took part in the Apex games. Today, however, these speculations were finally laid to rest. It turns out that Pathfinder worked as a custodian and waiter in his early years.
In a new "Stories from the Outlands" cinematic, Pathfinder gets in trouble with the local mafia and somehow ends up fighting a multitude of MRVN robots atop a high-speed shuttle in the pouring rain - I mean, what did you expect? Pathfinder not only helps a retired cop make strides in his investigation of the legendary criminal, Caustic, he also discovers that he's no ordinary robot (we already knew this, of course). Watch the ridiculous trailer above.
The Halo Infinite gameplay footage proved to be lackluster to large number of waiting fans. In response to the graphical complants, 343 Industries got to work optimizing their game for next-gen players by delaying the game to Fall 2021. Neill Harrison, director of art management at 343, stated "Much of the feedback we heard from the community aligned with our own views and work we were already committed to doing around things like indirect lighting, material response, foliage and tree rendering, clouds, level-of-detail transitions, and character fidelity." He would go on to say that "the feedback was humbling, and it also pushed us to look at additional opportunities for improvement."
343 Industries studio head Bonnie Ross added that the delay is completely worth it in a holiday blog post published on the Halo Waypoint website, "I realize the wait has been difficult, and I assure you that the team wants the game in your hands as soon as possible, but they also want to deliver something special…the Halo game you deserve...the team is making tremendous progress and is SO eager to show you more."
I personally can't wait to dive back into Halo again. Like Liana, I thought the gameplay trailer was exciting and the gorgeous vistas of Infinite were particularly enticing; I can't wait to explore the game world and unearth more Halo lore! The year-long delay will hopefully give 343 enough time to fine tune the visuals and have the game ready for its Fall 2021 release.
When it comes to Hitman VR, IO Interactive owes a lot to the game Firewall: Zero Hour, the PlayStation VR game from First Contact Entertainment.
As Eksil Møhl, a senior game designer at IO, tells it, the studio's interest in VR started two years ago with his coworker Oliver Winding, a senior writer at the company. One day, Winding approached Møhl, asking him to come over. He wanted Møhl to try out his new PlayStation VR. Møhl was taken with the system, going out and buying his own as a Christmas present to himself. And that's when he played Firewall. Like Winding, Møhl wanted to show off the PlayStation VR headset. He took it to the IO office, showing his coworkers, and having them play Firewall. As luck would have it, people at IO Interactive shared his enthusiasm, including lead game designer Sidsel Hermansen, who recalls that people at the office "couldn’t stop playing."
"We just had to play, play, play," Hermansen says.
This past August, IO announced it was bringing the World of Assassination trilogy to the PlayStation VR, updating the first two games, Hitman 1 and 2, to support the technology, as well as developing the upcoming Hitman 3 with VR in mind. According to Møhl and Hermansen, it was the excitement the studio had over games like Firewall that led the team to making its own VR mode for Hitman.
Within IO, the Hitman VR team is small – only 10 or 12 people plus QA. It's a low headcount, especially considering three games worth of content is being updated to support an entirely new way of play, but IO isn't building a new game from the ground up; it's updating existing software. One of the surprising things the team found when beginning its work on Hitman VR was, even though none of the previous games were made with VR in mind, the levels that were built naturally lent themselves to the new perspective.
"It’s environment art, it’s the character art, it’s sound design – sound design, I get goosebumps just thinking about it, the sound design is so f---ing beautiful," Hermansen says. "The A.I., even the systemics as well, it just works."
"And we found s--- like one of the levels 47 has to pick up this USB stick. It’s an intel item, something you pick up and you just go, ‘Bloop!’ The prompt is like this big," Mohl adds, gesturing the size of a thumb drive. "So in VR you can go in and actually look at it like this," he puts his face close to the table he's sitting at, "and some weird guy or girl has made the most insane USB stick. Like, the little light on it and a little wrapper around it that’s sort of dirty. It almost had fingerprints on it."
Another thing Møhl brings up are the guns in Hitman. When they started working with VR, they assumed they'd need to go in and add holo-dot sights for aiming in first person. Despite the fact Hitman games are in third-person, whichever artist modeled those guns had already done that for them.
The Hitman games are already, to some extent, about roleplay; players can choose how they want to assassinate their targets, down to what outfits Agent 47 wears and what items he uses. Bringing these games into VR amplifies this. It brings out people's personalities, Hermansen says. Some people will play super cautiously. Others will take every opportunity to mess with the world and bother NPCs.
"[If] you’ve played Miami [in Hitman 2], there’s an underpass with a guy playing the drums," Hermansen says. "And he’s like a street musician. And there was this one day where I was like, ‘I’m going to play around a bit,’ and I realized I could f--- him up. I could pull his hands away … I would take his hand up and then," she begins mimicking the motion of a hand falling down on a drum. "There are so many awesome surprises, where it’s like, ‘Oh, this is just in there. What the f--- is going on?’"
One thing that is very different in Hitman VR is the way it reduces your distance from the game's violence. By design, virtual reality eliminates a lot of separation a player has from what's happening on screen, effectively tricking your brain into thinking you're really in this location doing these things. The Hitman games can be brutal; there are ways to kill people that are extremely violent. It's something the team says it thought about during the making of Hitman VR, and while it has changed some kill animations in the game to better fit VR, it hasn't changed any of the game's content. That said, players may take it upon themselves to make their experience less bloody, if Hermansen and Møhl’s experiences are anything to go off of.
"We have a ton of different faces and stuff, but when you’re in VR you notice, ‘Oh, it’s that guy!’" Møhl says. "He’s also being used over here. And he’s also the butcher in [Hitman 2 level] Sapienza. I remember I had to do something brutal to somebody, and Kurt was there and I was like, ‘All right, I’m going to kill him.’ But he was like, ‘Hey!’"
"‘Hey, how’s your day?’" Hermansen replies.
"Yeah! Then I was like, ‘There’s no way I can kill him now," Møhl adds.
"In that way, it actually feels more personal, the stuff you do," Hermansen says. "If you f--- up, if you have to murder some innocent civilian, then for me, personally, I feel pretty bad. I’m not going to do that again. Like, next time I’m going to do better, because it’s on me to be a good assassin. Because it’s so much more personal and intense, and it feels like I’m the one stabbing some poor woman with a knife."
Talking to the Hitman VR team, there's an infectious excitement behind everything they say. In the course of just an hour, I went from being not particularly interested in Hitman VR to Googling how much it'd cost to buy a PlayStation VR setup. Considering Hitman 3 is the first game IO is releasing since it became an independent studio, it's easy to get the impression this is a passion project for the small team; a labor of love made within a larger company.
"It’s always fun to make games – oh my god, not always, that’s bulls---; it’s also sucky sometimes – but I think because us as game designers and them as gameplay coders, we like to do new s---," Hermansen says. "Everyone gets super excited. The coders also got super excited, like, ‘We could do this!’ and ‘Actually, we usually wouldn’t go there, but aw, f--- we have to do it,’ right? So that excitement has really driven us and we’ve done much more than should be possible on a relatively small team because of the excitement. I don’t know if that was surprising, but it’s been a beautiful thing."
The Resident Evil movie reboot is one step closer to being ready for its 2021 premiere. In a tweet posted on the official Resident Evil movie page, the filming has finally been completed. The reboot was announced in 2017, and despite 2020 being an unprecedented year (and particularly harsh on both the cinema and video games industries), the Resident Evil movie is still going strong. In previous months the ensemble cast was announced and exciting set photos emerged. Additionally, a release date was revealed with the movie slated for a Fall 2021 launch.
That’s a wrap in Raccoon City. 🎬— Resident Evil (@ResidentEvil) December 28, 2020
diREcted by Johannes Roberts pic.twitter.com/9HdIf7shs2
According to director Johannes Roberts, the reboot film looks to draw on the horrifying atmosphere and settings of the video game franchise, "With this movie, I really wanted to go back to the original first two games and re-create the terrifying visceral experience I had when I first played them whilst at the same time telling a grounded human story about a small dying American town that feels both relatable and relevant to today’s audiences."
Now that filming has wrapped ahead of the reboot's premiere, are you excited to dive back into the cinematic universe of Resident Evil? Let us know in the comments.
On the Talking Games with Reggie & Harold podcast, Former President of Nintendo of America Reggie Fils-Aime talked about his brief meeting with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian-West. Apparently, Kanye stopped by the Nintendo booth at E3 many years ago, spent time with the legendary Shigeru Miyamoto, and asked to meet with Reggie. The two visionaries sat down with each other in Kanye West's fashion office in Calabasas, California where the famed rapper-producer would ultimately voice his interest in partnering with Nintendo to create a new video game.
Reggie recalled that the meeting was "interesting" and felt that "Kanye [had] such a passion for the video game space." Despite this praise, Reggie politely declined Kanye's pitch. "We had so many different projects at Nintendo going on, the possibility of doing something with Kanye just wasn't there, and so I had to find a way to politely decline this opportunity to work with him." Reggie remembered telling West that Nintendo would be incredibly difficult to work with because of its commitment to high quality content and West replied enthusiastically stating, "Reggie, you're exactly the type of partner I want because of that reason!"
"Part of it was talking about what he was up to," Reggie recounted. "He was experimenting with a piece of video game content; he wanted reactions to it. He comes out and says, 'I want to work with Nintendo.'" Reggie didn't go into too much detail on what the prospective project was about, but Kanye West is no stranger to the games industry. In 2015, West revealed Only One, a game dedicated to his late mother Donda where players would be tasked with guiding Donda to heaven. Even though a trailer (below) was eventually released for the game, there has been no further news surrounding the development of Only One.Click here to watch embedded media