Wednesday, 9 September 2020

Gears Tactics is Coming to Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Xbox One on November 10

gears tactics

Microsoft recently confirmed that both the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S will be launching worldwide on November 10. This was followed by several launch titles being confirmed for the next-gen duo, including the likes of Watch Dogs: Legion, Assassin's Creed Valhalla, DiRT 5and Tetris Effect Connected. Now, we have another name to add to that list.

Taking to Twitter via the official Gears of War page, The Coalition recently confirmed that Gears Tactics, the turn-based strategy title that launched for PC earlier this year, will also be a next-gen Xbox launch game. It will release on November 10 for Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, and Xbox One.

Gears Tactics launched for PC in April merging the world of Gears of War with the turn-based strategy of XCOM, and was met with solid critical reception from critics and audiences alike. In our review, we said, "Gears Tactics works as a tactical game and a Gears of War title, merging the best of both into a package that feels unique." You can read the full review through here.


Tetris Effect: Connected Out on Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S on November 10th

Tetris Effect Connected

As with Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed Valhalla and Codemasters' DiRT 5, Enhance Games' Tetris Effect: Connected will be a launch title for Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S. However, it will also be coming to Xbox One, PC and Xbox Game Pass on November 10th. This will mark the surreal puzzler's debut on the Xbox family of consoles.

Of course, Tetris Effect: Connected isn't a simple port. Along with native 4K/60 FPS support on Xbox Series X and PC, it also adds new multiplayer modes. There's "Zone Battle" which makes for one-on-one games featuring the Zone mechanic and "Connected" mode for three players to work together against AI bosses. All of this is in addition to the base game's single-player modes and 30 stages.

Those looking forward to playing the new content on PS4, PC via Epic Games Store and Oculus Quest will need to wait. It's coming as a free update in Summer 2021, which could mean a release as late as September 2021. As always, stay tuned for more details and check out our review for the PS4 version here.


5 Video Game Studios Sony Should Consider Buying

The strength of Sony's first party portfolio is clear for everyone to see. It's been a crucial factor in PlayStation's long and continued success for years, and that holds truer than right now, given its excellent output during the course of the PS4 generation. It looks like things will be continuing in the same vein with the upcoming PS5- in fact, they might even get better.

Sony recently talked about wanting to invest in and acquire more studios to add to its Worldwide Studios lineup (which will be known as PlayStation Studios soon enough), and like many others, we've been thinking about the possibilities since then. With the likes of Insomniac, Naughty Dog, Sony Santa Monica, Sucker Punch, Guerrilla Games, and so many more, Sony's first party lineup already has some heavy hitters, but if they were to add another studio to it, what would it be?

Here, we're going to look at five possibilities- five studios that Sony should consider acquiring. Some of these are likelier to happen than the others, of course, so let us know what you think in your comments.

BLUEPOINT GAMES

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Bluepoint Games has had a great working relationship with Sony for almost as long as it's been around. Having aided with the development of games such as PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale and worked on God of War Collection and The Ico and Shadow of the Colossus Collection in its earlier years, in recent years, the studio has cut its teeth on larger and more ambitious project, including the likes of Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, the Shadow of the Colossus remake, and, of course, the upcoming Demon's Souls remake

And the quality of their work, too, speaks for itself. The Nathan Drake collection was an excellent remaster of a great trilogy, the Shadow of the Colossus remake is an absolute technical marvel that retains all the greatest strengths of the original game it modernizes, and Demon's Souls is looking like it will do just the same. Given all that, the likelihood of Sony considering an acquisition for Bluepoint Games seems pretty high. And if that were to happen, we really hope they won't just be pigeonholed as the "remake studio" and will actually get to work on something entirely of their own.

KOJIMA PRODUCTIONS

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Hideo Kojima has been synonymous with PlayStation for over two decades. Metal Gear may have started out on the MSX, but the franchise's growth has gone hand-in-hand with the growth of PlayStation. In 2016, Kojima's split from Konami meant that he was allowed to go independent, and that he no longer had to work on Metal Gear– which, of course, is something that he'd been trying to get away from for a long time. And what publisher did he immediately align himself with for the new Kojima Productions' first game? Sony, of course.

As much as a merger of Sony and Kojima Productions would make sense, it has to be said that it looks rather unlikely for now. After having spent years and years at Konami, Kojima probably really values his independence right now, and it's clear that he wants to keep experimenting with weird, new ideas just as much as he wants his studio to grow. That said, even if we don't see Kojima Productions officially joining the PlayStation family anytime soon, we will probably see the two entities' collaboration continue long into the future.

SUPERMASSIVE GAMES

In the early years of the PS4, Until Dawn was on of its biggest successes. Developed by Supermassive Games, it was a technical showcase that showed off the console's technical prowess, the potential of the Decima Engine, and just what Supermassive itself was capable of when it received proper backing to develop the kind of games it wanted to develop.

Supermassive's deal with Sony took a disappointing turn after that though, with the studio having to work on VR releases that weren't exactly the sort of follow ups we'd all been hoping for. Now, with a new deal in place with Bandai Namco, they're working on their own project with The Dark Pictures Anthology. An acquisition by Sony looks unlikely, though it given the success the two enjoyed with Until Dawn, it wouldn't be a stretch to see it happening someday.

HOUSEMARQUE

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Housemarque has been around for a long, long time, and though they've had a history with plenty of publishers in the industry over the course of the years, in recent years, they've enjoyed a stronger working relationship with Sony than with any other publisher. With games such as Dead Nation, Resogun, Alienation, Nex Machina, and Matterfall, the studio has had a steady output of PlayStation exclusive titles.

Their next game, Returnal, is another Sony-published PlayStation exclusive, and supposedly it's their biggest and most ambitious game ever (to the extent that they actually put all of their other projects, including Stormdivers, on hold). Given all that, it's not at all a stretch to imagine that both Sony and Housemarque would be interested in the studio joining the PlayStation Studios lineup. In fact, we'd say this one is likelier to happen than perhaps any of the other matchups we've mentioned in this feature.

FROMSOFTWARE

FromSoftware are, by now, a massive studio. As such, them being acquired by a major publisher doesn't seem as likely as some of the other developers we've talked about in this feature- but this is a studio that Sony should definitely consider acquiring from Kadokawa nonetheless, if they are serious about expanding their first party portfolio.

FromSoftware's track record speaks for itself, and their output over this past decade or so has been nothing short of stellar, with multiple games that can easily rank as some of the best and most influential games ever made. To top it off, another crucial factor is FromSoftware's relationship with Sony, which has been excellent for a while now. The likes of Demon's Souls and Bloodborne are counted as Sony first party titles, and are some of the best games to have ever released on PlayStation, while there's also Deracine, which may not have that same pedigree, but was published under the Sony Interactive Entertainment banner exclusively for PSVR.

As I've mentioned, given how large FromSoftware has become, it's not entirely likely that they'l be acquired by anyone, specially given that they are already owned by Kadokawa – but they would fit Sony's portfolio like a glove, and if it were to ever happen, they would immediately become one of their biggest, most prolific, and most important first party studios.

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.


15 Things Players Dislike About Marvel's Avengers

Marevl's Avengers is out now, but sadly, it's not the game we'd all hoped it would be. There have been countless examples of live service games suffering poor launches over the course of this generation, and this superhero game is one such game as well. It does have some things going for it, like enjoyable combat and a decent campaign, but the list of issues that weigh it down is a bit too long. Here, we'll be talking about some of the biggest issues players (ourselves included) have had with Marvel's Avengers since launch.

LOOT

Avengers' loot-driven approach is something that a lot of people have looked at with skepticism for a while, and sadly, at least at launch, it's proven the skeptics right. Perks from gear feel too incremental, and when you do finally get something that's worth sticking with, it quickly becomes under-leveled. Those two aspects together mean that the only purpose gear serves is to make the numbers go up, rather than giving you cool gameplay benefits. It's not until you're close to hitting the Power cap with a character that the gear starts to make a difference, and by that time, the repetition of the missions most likely will have worn you down.

Speaking of which…

MULTIPLAYER MISSIONS

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Marvel's Avengers doesn't have a shortage of things to do once you're done with the campaign, but missions just don't have enough variety. On paper, it sounds like there's tons of different kinds of missions to go around, with threat sectors, villain sectors, war zones, drop zones, eliminations, and what have you, but once you're a few hours into the endgame, you realize that they're all just words. The game has a pool of about half a dozen objectives that it repeats ad nauseam, to the point where all missions start bleeding into each other. It's not like there's anything interesting going on from a narrative perspective to keep you hooked either.

CAMPAIGN MISSIONS

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The campaign is much better than the multiplayer, thanks to there at least being some notable narrative strengths (such as Kamala as a protagonist) to keep you interested for its duration, but if we're only talking about the mission design, the campaign suffers as well. Rather than putting you in unique situations that properly leverage the unique abilities of whatever character you're playing as, campaign missions, too, devolve to just "beat this wave of enemies" more often than not, and it keeps on happening again, and again, and again, right up until the very end.

"DEFEND THE AREA" MISSIONS

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One mission type in particular has drawn the ire of quite a few people. Some missions in Marvel's Avengers task you with defending a specific area, which entails you having to stay within the bounds of a blue circle on the ground- which sounds fine on paper, but is an absolute nightmare when you're actually playing. Avengers is a very combat-centric game, and so, too, are these specific missions. That means you always have to stay on the move, either to attack enemies, or dodge attacks, or maybe because you take some hits that force you to move. Often (too often), this stuff takes you out of that blue circle you have to defend, which is just incredibly annoying.

ENVIRONMENTS

marvel's avengers

Given the fact that it takes place across multiple mission areas, and that the game could have literally taken you around the globe (which it occasionally does) for its missions, you'd think that Marvel's Avengers might have some environmental variety… but it doesn't. There's a forest, a badlands area, a snowy tundra, a city environment, and… that's it? These areas themselves feel rather dry and lifeless, and given how often you have to visit them to undertake missions (which, as we've discussed are also quite bland and repetitive), the feeling of repetition becomes a bit hard to ignore. Indoor environments in particular are reused excessively.

ENEMIES

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It's not just the environments in Marvel's Avengers that are lacking in variety- the enemy design suffers from this issue as well. There are about 9 or 10 main archetypes that each differ from each other meaningfully, but within these archetypes, they all have minor variations that don't actually seem that big of a deal when you're in the middle of combat. Most of enemies you fight or bots or androids of some kind, which makes them all feel even more similar, and their visual design doesn't help them stand out either. Given just how many enemies you're constantly fighting in the game, eventually they all just start bleeding into one another.

THOR

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One area where Marvel's Avengers succeeds to a surprising extent is the way it portrays its main characters, with Kamala Khan in particular being a standout, but it stumbles a little bit in this area as well. For instance, Thor is far too underutilized in the story. He comes into the picture more than halfway through the game, following which he's just sort of there. Unlike the other Avengers, he doesn't have any personal stakes in the story, no personal conflicts, and the game by and large doesn't focus on him too much. Hopefully we'll get DLC missions down the road that put more of a spotlight on him, because in the campaign as it exists right now, Thor is perhaps the most unnecessary main character.

IRON MAN

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Iron Man is another character that hasn't been portrayed very well in the game, much to the disappointment of many. Out of all the Avengers, it feels like he's the one who's most in the shadow of the MCU. He's constantly rattling off quips and one-liners and sarcastic jokes, and while that is of course what you want Tony Stark to be doing, here it just feels like he's trying too hard to look and sound like Iron Man. It feels like he's trying to do a Robert Downey Jr. impression, but not doing a very good job of it. 

FLIGHT

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When Anthem launched last year, people talked about its flight controls often, and how good it felt to be flying around like Iron Man (when the game let you do it, at least). Well, in Marvel's Avengers, you literally get to fly around like Iron Man… but it doesn't feel very good. Flight controls aren't as smooth as they should be, and they really show their cracks when you're in closed spaces, which happens often. Both Thor and Iron Man have flight controls, but Thor is much more viable as a melee fighter, which means Iron Man suffers from this issue much more noticeably. 

MATCHMAKING

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Given its emphasis on multiplayer, you'd think that Marvel's Avengers would have a solid multiplayer framework in place at launch. Sadly, that isn't the case. Matchmaking in particular is quite troublesome. Finding players to play with can take quite a while. You can always look for a quick match if you don't want to wait that long, but doing so means that you don't get to decide which mission or character you want, and you often get paired with characters and in missions that might be nowhere close to your current Power level. 

FRAME RATE

marvel's avengers

Marvel's Avengers is probably one of the worst optimized game launches we've seen in a while, which is really saying something. Out of all of its technical issues (of which there's plenty), the most egregious is definitely the frame rate. When there are multiple characters and various on the screen (which happens often), the frame rate tanks hard, often to the extent of making the game unplayable. With all the particle effects and business on-screen, it's understandable that performance can't remain the most stable, especially on the PS4 and Xbox One's outdated hardware, but even so, the performance issues can get a bit out of hand all too often.

LOAD TIMES

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Long load times might not be a thing once next-gen consoles roll around (or so we hope), but in the here and now, they're still very much a nuisance. Marvel's Avengers is one of many games that suffer from this issue. Loading into missions, traveling back into the hub areas, restarting checkpoints when you die (or when you're forced to because of glitches), and more means that there's no shortage of instances when a game has to enter loading screens, and every time, you end up looking at these loading screens for far, far too long.

SUBTITLES

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This one is a nitpick, but boy is it annoying. For starters, when you pick subtitles, the game automatically forces closed captions on you as well. There isn't an option to turn them off and just keep subtitles for now. Then there's the fact that these closed captions are ridiculously bad, and often, rather than just describing the audio, they flat out reveal character motivations and their inner thoughts, which seems a bit… strange, to put it mildly. The subtitles themselves also have issues, such as their speed not matching the audio, placeholder text appearing in the game, and often not even being close to matching what's being said by the characters in a scene. 

OTHER TECHNICAL ISSUES

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Choppy frame rate, long load times, and weirdly bad subtitles are far from the only technical issues Marvel's Avengers suffers from. Audio is also quite troublesome, and often glitches out completely, from dialogue not being spoken or being cut off to audio effects being entirely mission during gameplay. Lip syncing is often off, characters regularly don't animate as they're supposed to, glitches might force you to restart missions, there's excessive texture pop-in… the list goes on.

COSMETIC PRICES

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Marvel's Avengers is a live service game with cosmetic customization options, which, of course, means that its a gold mine for Square Enix in terms of monetization. And monetized it they have. All in-game purchases are cosmetic, of course, and while you can unlock skins and emotes and costumes through gameplay, that requires way too much grinding. If you just want to purchase those cosmetics, you're gonna have to pay up a ridiculous amount of credits, the in-game currency. Add to that the fact that all post-launch characters will each have their own individual $10 battle pass, and what we have on our hands is yet another aggressively monetized game.


DiRT 5 Out on November 10th for Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S

dirt 5

Codemasters' DiRT 5 saw a delay from October to November for its current-gen release but that lines up quite nicely release for Xbox Series. The racing sim will release on November 10th alongside the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S. Those who purchase the Xbox One version can avail of a free upgrade to Xbox Series X/S via Smart Delivery when the latter versions become available.

In addition to those, the developer has released a new gameplay video highlighting ice racing in New York. Set on Roosevelt Island, Ice Breaker events can involve up to 12 cars. The video below sees a mix of Ford and Peugeot vehicles battling for supremacy with fireworks going off in the background.

Other locations and layouts have been confirmed for Ice Breaker events so there should be even more frozen fun to look forward to. DiRT 5 is slated to release on November 6th for PS4, Xbox One and PC while the Stadia version is out in early 2021. The PS5 version doesn't have a release date but is expected later this year.


Watch Dogs: Legion Confirmed as Xbox Series X, Series S Launch Title; Promises Ray-Tracing, Visual Enhancements

watch dogs legion

With Microsoft now having officially confirmed November 10 as the launch date for the Xbox Series X and the newly-revealed Xbox Series S, information on the games that will be coming to the two next-gen consoles is also beginning to flood in. Ubisoft, for instance, have now confirmed that Watch Dogs: Legion – which was already primed for next-gen – will be a launch title for the two new Xbox consoles and be available on them on November 10. 

On the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S, Watch Dogs: Legion will also be leveraging the more powerful hardware for various technical improvements. For instance, the game will feature hardware-accelerated ray-tracing, as well as other graphical improvements, such as high resolution textures and improved shadow quality.

On top of that, Ubisoft also states that it will be leveraging Xbox's Direct Storage technology for faster streaming of the world, making for a smoother traversal experience, as well as much faster load times. Finally, cross-saves and cross-progression will also be supported across both generations of Xbox consoles. 

Watch Dogs: Legion will be launching on November 10 for the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S alongside fellow Ubisoft open world title Assassin's Creed Valhalla.

Before that, Watch Dogs: Legion will launch for PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Stadia on October 29. The game's PS5 release date is unknown for now, and will remain unknown until Sony officially announces the console's launch date.


Assassin's Creed Valhalla Launch Brought Forward to November 10, Touts 4K/60 FPS on Xbox Series X

assassins creed valhalla

Ubisoft have announced in a recently sent out press release that Assassin's Creed Valhalla will be launching earlier than expected. Previously slated to release on November 17, Ubisoft have now confirmed that the game's release has been brought forward by a week. The open world action-RPG will now launch on November 10.

This follows directly from Microsoft's official confirmation that the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S will be releasing worldwide on November 10. Ubisoft confirms that Assassin's Creed Valhalla will launch on the same day for the Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Xbox One, PS4, PC, and Stadia.

Meanwhile, Ubisoft also confirms that Assassin's Creed Valhalla will run in 4K and at 60 frames per second on the Xbox Series X. Meanwhile, the game will also have other graphical enhancements on both the Series X and Series S, including improvements to clutter density, shadow quality, higher resolution textures, and more. It will also be "taking advantage of the Direct Storage" for faster load times and smoother traversal. The game will also support cross-saves across both generations of Xbox consoles.

The exact release date of the game's PS5 version is unknown, and likely will remain unknown until Sony officially announce the console's launch date.


Xbox Series S Receives In-Depth Video, Has 3x GPU Performance of Xbox One

xbox series s

Microsoft had confirmed the existence of the Xbox Series S after its sudden leak yesterday, debuting its first trailer and even dating it for November 10th. Another video is now available which delves into greater detail on the console and what fans can expect in terms of features. Check it out below.

Additional details have been provided in an Xbox Wire post, noting that with the console's Xbox Velocity Architecture, it can deliver 40 times the I/O bandwidth of the Xbox One. Quick Resume is also fully supported, just like with the Xbox Series X, along with support for Dolby Atmos at launch.

Though there's a difference in resolution with the Xbox Series X outputting games at 4K and the Xbox Series S running games at 1440p/60 FPS (with support for up to 120 FPS), the latter is no slouch in performance. Its GPU performance is three times greater than the Xbox One. The good news is that the development tools and environment is the same across both consoles, making it easier for developers to "build and release their content across consoles more easily while still taking advantage of the unique hardware capabilities of the next generation."

The Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S are both out on November 10th. The former retails for $499 while the latter will cost $299. Pre-orders will open on September 22nd so stay tuned for more details soon.


Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1+2 Review – The Birdman's Still Got It

Tony Hawk landed a 900 at the age of 48. You can watch the video of it on YouTube. He doesn't do it on the first try; he takes a lot of nasty falls and you can see the pain on his face when he pushes himself back up. At one point, the camera captures him from behind: he's visibly upset and exhausted, hands on his knees, head down. Then he gets up, and tries again. And this time, he lands it, slides down the ramp, and throws his helmet to the ground with so much force that a piece of it flies off. The joy on his face at this moment is only equalled by his obvious exhaustion. Hawk has claimed that he will never attempt the 900 again.

Booting up Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1+2 feels a lot like watching that video. We're all older now. Things are a little bit harder. But I'll be damned if these games don't feel just as good as they did 20 years ago. If there's one thing that these remakes prove, it's that you can go home again. Things just might look a little different.

"The levels have been beautifully recreated while adhering closely to the geometry and layout of the originals. They're obviously much prettier, having been stuffed with detailed textures, improved lighting, and some fantastic art, but Vicarious Visions has nailed the fine balance between keeping the original feel of the levels intact while updating them for a modern audience."

As the name implies, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1+2 is a remake of the first two games in the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series and another entry in Activision's long legacy of selling its back catalog back to us. This is their third attempt with these titles, having first done it in 2001 with Tony Hawk's 2X on the Xbox and again with Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD in 2012. The long and short of this is Activision has tried this before and their incessant milking of the Tony Hawk fanchise is what killed it the first time. I don't blame anyone for looking at this release skeptically. But this is the first time in years that Activision has gotten Pro Skater right. Credit for that goes to Vicarious Visions, the developer behind this remaster, who knew that to change – and more importantly, what to leave intact.

The changes are the most obvious. All of the character models have been rebuilt from the ground up and several new faces have joined the lineup. The returning skaters look they do now rather than how they did in 1999, and it's a smart touch, while the game's opening cinematic does a good job of establishing the skateboarding superstars of today alongside the returning legends. Nothing about it feels out of place; instead, Pro Skater feels like a celebration, blending both past and present into a unified whole.

The other immediate change is the levels. They've been beautifully recreated while adhering closely to the geometry and layout of the originals. They're obviously much prettier, having been stuffed with detailed textures, improved lighting, and some fantastic art, but Vicarious Visions has nailed the fine balance between keeping the original feel of the levels intact while updating them for a modern audience. Some of the visual changes are especially appreciated: Mall is an abandoned ghost town that looks like its been recently flooded, while Hangar has become a shrine to original developer Neversoft and the Tony Hawk games of the past. Even School has seen an update, featuring a billboard that directly acknowledges our coronavirus-fueled reality. It's impossible to overstate how much Pro Skater 1+2 benefit from these visual updates. The characters look themselves and the added visual fidelity helps sell the environments that you're moving through.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 and 2_02

"The games play the same as you remember them. You select a level and get two minutes to complete its various challenges,"

What hasn't changed is how the game plays. The default controls are closer to Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 and 4 than the original games, although you can toggle the original controls from either 1 or 2 back on if you're looking for a classic experience that doesn't include things like reverts, wall plants or manuals. Beyond that, however, the games play the same as you remember them. You select a level and get two minutes to complete its various challenges, which range from score requirements that get progressively higher or hitting a score requirement in a single combo to finding collectibles or doing specific tricks in certain areas. Mastering a level means learning how to move it in the best possible way, and it will take some trial and error. That's fine, because these levels are designed to be replayed and they're so excellent that you'll want to even if you don't have anymore challenges that need doing.

Veterans of these games will likely blow through these challenges in a couple days. This is a faithful remake, so everything is exactly where you remember it, though Vicarious Visions had added challenges to the levels in Pro Skater 1 to bring them in line with the longer lists from Pro Skater 2. They add some welcome wrinkles to these older levels, and the universal hub means that you can switch between each game's levels whenever you're looking for a change of pace. By far the biggest content boost can be traced to the enormous list of overarching challenges that can be completed in any of the levels. These tie into a leveling system that earns you unique decks, as well as cash that can be spent in the game's store. If you're worried about microtransactions, don't be. There aren't any. You can unlock everything you see by just playing the game and the sheer amount of challenges mean that you're always unlocking something, whether you mean to be or not.

That said, these aren't easy games, especially if you're new or rusty. If things get a bit too hectic, you can always flip on cheats that provide perfect balance, prevent you from bailing, or offer infinite special meter. Purists might scoff at these options, but as someone who hasn't played a Tony Hawk game in a decade, I found them an invaluable help as I relearned the game. The only thing more '90s than these cheats are the soundtrack. Activision has managed to bring back almost every tune from the original games and Vicarious Visions has augmented the original soundtrack with several new picks. All told, the new soundtrack is double that of the ones that appeared in the original games. Vicarious Visions has done a good job here, ensuring you can still find (almost) all the classics while introducing new tunes that will be rocking your playlist for years.

tony hawk's pro skater 1 and 2

"Create-A-Park is an exceptionally robust creative mode that gives you access to about everything you could want to make your own skate park."

If you get tired of the Skate Tour, you can also go into Free Skate, which unlocks all of the levels from the get-go and additional ranked challenges. If you're still not satisfied, you can head to Create-A-Park, where you can make your own maps and share them online. It's an exceptionally robust creative mode that gives you access to about everything you could want to make your own skate park. Vicarious Visions has already uploaded several of their own levels, and the community is doing fine work, too. Best of all, if you find a park you like, you can download it and make your own tweaked version. If there's a downfall here, it's that some customization options are locked in the game's store, and you'll need to be certain levels to purchase them. Otherwise, it's pretty much perfect.

The game's multiplayer supports local and online play, as well as casual Skate Jams and competitive ranked matches. There are a variety of modes, from score attack to best combo to HORSE. In one, you mark your territory with graffiti by performing tricks on certain objects. You can take something an opponent has marked, too – provided you can land a higher score. The multiplayer modes add a lot of replayability to the game, but however you decide to spend your time, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1+2 has a lot to keep you occupied for a long, long time.

The sad fact is that the first two Tony Hawk games could not be made today. There's no story mode, overarching narrative, or segments where you character gets off the skateboard. It's not the kind of game that supports a live service model. There's no good way to add a season pass to it, no way for constant revenue by selling skins and other cosmetics. Activision learned that years ago, as yearly release after yearly release diluted what made the series special and ultimately ran it into the ground.

tony hawk's pro skater 1 and 2

"These games feel more like arcade releases than modern triple-A games. The appeal lies in the perfection of a single run, the mastery over an environment, in achieving the highest score and executing the best combo. "

These games feel more like arcade releases than modern triple-A games. The appeal isn't in some narrative about a sad dad who regains some portion of his humanity by running around with a child, a boundless open world, or an endless stream of content. It's in the perfection of a single run, the mastery over an environment, in achieving the highest score and executing the best combo. It feels like a self-contained thing, and in an era where almost every game is designed to keep you playing forever so it can wring as much money out of you as possible, that's a pretty special thing to be. The fact that it embodies the punk rock nature of skateboarding itself is just a bonus.

Playing Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1+2 brought me back to my afternoons skateboarding around in the endless summer trying to nail a kickflip, or passing around a controller at a friend's house as we all competed for the high score on his memory card. Everything I loved about those days – about these games – is still here. It just looks and sounds a lot better. Like Tony Hawk, we're all a little older. These levels are old friends now, not new acquaintances. But like The Birdman himself, what here's still holds up, and landing a 900 feels just as incredible as ever.

This game was reviewed on PS4.


NBA 2K21 Review – Losing a Step

When it comes to sports game franchises, the NBA 2K series is one of the most consistent and important annual releases. It's so perennially popular that it's almost synonymous with the name "2K" itself, boiling down a big-name publisher to a single game. In a lot of ways, even though EA has a stranglehold on a handful of other sports, the NBA 2K series is the genre leader, pushing gameplay innovation, broadcast design, and mode differentiation that have become universal in sports games. For 2K21, though, a few quality-of-life improvements and tweaks to existing modes aren't enough to overcome the feeling that it's mostly unchanged year-over-year, and gameplay changes range from unnecessary to downright detrimental. While the characteristics of the franchise are still present for NBA 2K21, it doesn't put itself in Hall of Fame contention compared to its predecessors.

In its off-the-court presentation, NBA 2K21 is as impressive as always. The broadcast is as true-to-life as ever, and players are immediately recognizable in both their character models and their signature shooting motions. While animations are mostly familiar, and it did sometimes feel like I've seen these halftime shows before, there are a few new touches like James Harden's one-legged three-pointer and some new pregame introductions.

"While the characteristics of the franchise are still present for NBA 2K21, it doesn't put itself in Hall of Fame contention compared to its predecessors."

It's also surprisingly up to date with the issues affecting the NBA in real life. Some courts have "Black Lives Matter" printed on them as they do in the bubble, and, while it doesn't have the courts from the current playoffs, there are references to current events everywhere, from missions in MyTeam to recreate Jamal Murray's 50-point outing from this year's first round to acknowledgements of next season's delay due to the pandemic in future seasons of MyGM. Its inclusion of the WNBA in both Quick Play and Season modes, too, while not brand new for the franchise, is a nice way of including the women's game and its superstars.

On the court, gameplay is pretty similar to past iterations, but there is a mixed bag of noticeable changes. Most prominent is the evolution of the shooting meter to the Pro Stick. On the surface, this change makes a lot of sense. The right stick doesn't just mirror the face buttons anymore. Instead, it's a way to emphasize release point. The meter starts centered, and the right stick controls a line along the meter. You want to move the line so it's at the center of a grey area, which changes depending on the type of shot you take and the amount of coverage. If you're at the center when the player shoots, you get a perfect release.

This forces you to be more cognizant of where you're shooting from and adjust accordingly. If you do opt to use the face buttons to shoot, the mechanic is closer to past games, but it still requires you to adjust to your situation and notice timing. I really like this idea in concept because it offers both a more realistic way to look at shooting and a new learning curve for experienced players to overcome. And when you get a perfect release, it's a rewarding sign that you made it work and had a release point that mirrors something that would work in real life.

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"On the court, gameplay is pretty similar to past iterations, but there is a mixed bag of noticeable changes."

But in practice, the new way of shooting is too clunky and inconsistent for its own good. For starters, the on-screen meter is incredibly small, and the area to get a perfect release is almost invisible. The grey area that constitutes the "slightly left" or "slightly right" release is noticeable, but a lot of times even the best shooters miss the easiest shots with a release just off of center. It had me guessing where the best spot was and, more often than not, getting frustrated that I missed yet another open three where I thought I released well. While it does make you buckle down and learn its quirks, the new system changes a lot of the dynamic of how the game is fundamentally played, and it often took my focus off of the strategy of the game to focus on something that should be less important.

Even with my best shooters, I lost confidence that they could make any given shot because the Pro Stick is so inconsistent, especially in online games. Even after over 15 hours with the game, I was still struggling to consistently make shots I would undoubtedly make in past games, which forced me to push the ball to the post and force unintended drives for higher percentage shots that move away from both what I want to do on a given possession and what the real game looks like right now. It's frustrating to have a change alter how a lot of games are played, and, while you can change this in the options menu, it's clear that this is how the game is intended to be played.

Elsewhere on the gameplay front, there aren't many other changes. Its best aspects are still as good as they've always been, and it's still as realistic a basketball sim as you'll find on the market. The AI is usually smart, balancing a delicate line between allowing you to make plays for yourself and not letting it feel like you're the only player, though it can become noticeably unrealistic at points. AI-controlled defenders on your team rarely fill the lane to stop fastbreaks, and teammates will almost never set a screen for you unless called for, resulting in weird interactions where the two of you run parallel for a bit too long. Also sometimes inconsistent is your teammate grade, which can be finnicky in its determination of a defensive breakdown or a bad shot selection. With that said, the teammate grade is still mostly impressive, rewarding even small positive actions that may not show up on the stat sheet but are invaluable to the team nonetheless.

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"In practice, the new way of shooting is too clunky and inconsistent for its own good."

As is expected from a new 2K, the MyCareer mode has a brand-new story that takes you through your academics and to the Association. This year's story, titled "The Long Shadow," puts you in the shoes of the son of a former NBA star. After not having played basketball until your senior year of high school, you take the reins to lead your school to a state championship before choosing one of 10 NCAA programs, from which I chose Texas Tech. The college journey is the longest stretch of storytelling, where you'll rise from a low second-round pick to a top draft prospect, alongside choosing an agent, dealing with your dad's legacy, and managing a relationship. Along the way, you'll have a handful of choices to make. Some, like a dialogue choice here or there, are relatively insignificant to the plot, but some, like choosing your agent or answering questions at the Combine, have tangible impacts on your future as an NBA player.

While it's not the best NBA 2K story mode of all-time, it is surprisingly well-written and was the one thing I wanted to keep coming back to before I got to the NBA. Some of the subplots are relatively underbaked: the love interest plot comes and goes in a matter of a few cutscenes, and a series of flashbacks doesn't really make an impact. But it does a great job at letting you relate to your character and see how he's affected by his dad's legacy and his surroundings. Cutscenes, though often predetermined regardless of your actual performance in past games or at the Combine, are top-notch, and they expectedly draw a few high-profile cameos from the likes of Damian Lillard and Zion Williamson. Once you get to the NBA, the journey is a pretty standard fare of reaching higher goals, both on and off the court, but the path to get there is one of 2K21's highlights.

On the flip side of MyCareer is MyTeam, NBA 2K's answer to the Ultimate Team modes in EA's sports games. If the MyCareer mode is the story, this is the endgame, and there are a bunch of improvements over last year that make MyTeam relatively fresh to restart. You can still play online against real people in either pickup games or in structured tournaments and leagues, or you can play offline against computer-controlled teams to complete challenges or unlock bigger and better stars. I came to enjoy the offline Triple Threat mode because of its laid-back, Blacktop-style 3-on-3 matchup and its flashy neon court. MyTeam's major new addition is Seasons, which works like it does in most other service-based games – think Fortnite or Apex Legends. You have events and challenges that reset on the start of a new season, and each season has its own unique rewards. Lifetime challenges carry over, but it rewards repeated play without making the game unplayable for anyone who takes a little while off.

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"On the flip side of MyCareer is MyTeam, NBA 2K's answer to the Ultimate Team modes in EA's sports games. If the MyCareer mode is the story, this is the endgame, and there are a bunch of improvements over last year that make MyTeam relatively fresh to restart."

Also new is MyTeam Limited, which takes another hint from other service-based games. These are weekly modes that require certain parameters to play, like having a team filled with players from current playoff teams. These offer even more unique rewards, and the parameters to play are different every week. I really like the way MyTeam allows you to play many different ways, though it can get a bit overwhelming at points. There are countless ways to customize your teams, and, though it often feels lacking in direction for where to go next if you don't have a particular route in mind, it's certainly one of the best ways to keep progressing in this game for a longer period of time.

One thing to note regarding MyTeam, and much of the rest of 2K21 as a whole, is its continued heavy reliance on microtransactions. Many challenges in MyTeam require a particular type of player, and upgrades in other modes require a certain number of coins. If you don't have them, you're out of luck until you can get them. I had trouble playing the very first MyTeam Limited mode because I didn't initially have 5 players from current playoff teams, and, while it is possible to gain packs and coins through gameplay, the game doesn't shy away from leading you to the store to buy more card packs, which it seems to favor over organic gameplay.

Though it does organize them neatly into four umbrellas, 2K is not lacking in modes. From Quick Play to MyLeague, each umbrella leads to endless possibilities for playing basketball. Unfortunately, outside of MyCareer and MyTeam, the updates to almost any mode are pretty negligible compared to last year. The biggest change comes in The Neighborhood, which is huddled under the MyCareer umbrella. This year, The Neighborhood has moved to the 2K Beach, giving the whole thing a beachfront makeover, but mechanically it's still just a place to play a bunch of online pickup games or roam around the impressive open world. MyGM and MyLeague are also relatively unchanged, and the Quick Play modes are almost identical to past iterations. That's not to say that any of these modes are bad; I really like almost every single one of these modes, especially The Neighborhood, and I think they're all innovative ways to play the game. However, it seems disingenuous to have all of these modes effectively copied and pasted from last year without significant improvements.

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"One thing to note regarding MyTeam, and much of the rest of 2K21 as a whole, is its continued heavy reliance on microtransactions."

Because of its consistently great gameplay and impressive array of features, there's effectively a floor that the 2K series can hit with its quality. With 2K21, though, it's starting to come close. Additions to MyTeam and the brand new MyCareer story are welcome improvements, but the lack of changes to other modes and the unsuccessful new shooting make it difficult to put this iteration above past years. Despite its problems, I still really enjoy playing a game of 2K basketball, whether it's a pick-up game or an NCAA championship, but it's beginning to feel like the series is losing traction. It's fitting that the NBA is playing its current games in a bubble, because the 2K series might be just about to burst.

This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.


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