Well EA and Bioware sure made it tough to enjoy Anthem on their first Demo weekend – labelled as a VIP demo.  But despite the ridiculous technical issues and loading bugs I put a few hours into Anthem and I have concerns, but damn is the game amazing in so many ways.

I have to start my thoughts on the game discussing the many, many, many issues that players, myself included, faced just trying to start the game.  My first foray into Anthem had me sitting at a screen searching for local services for over 5 hours.  Then when I could finally launch the game I kept hitting an infinite loading screen which required a hard shutdown of the client from the task manager.

Eventually I could play and had a great time which I will discuss shortly, but each time I relaunched an expedition I would get the infinite load and then had to restart.  The second day of the Beta I was able to launch smoothly but had ridiculous lag and rubber banding that was not there on Day 1.  Finally on the third day rubber banding was gone, but Infinite loads were rampant.

These types of issues should NEVER happen when the participant numbers are clear, EA and Bioware knew how many users downloaded the demo and should have scaled, planned accordingly.  Instead some things were obviously missed and players had a bad first impression and Bioware/EA employees literally had to work all weekend getting the game playable.

The second Beta weekend was a much smoother experience, I logged on a few times and was able to get in and play right away so that is a good sign the launch will progress smoothly.  I did not have to hard quit the game on the second Beta weekend and I probably did it 30+ times the first one.

Now that the issues were addressed I have to say how epically cool Anthem handles and looks once I was finally able to play.  The Javelins are such fun ‘characters’ to play in this game.  They handle like a dream, fly with crazy finesses and satisfaction and are packed with enough armaments to make Tony Stark envious.

I want to focus on flying for a moment as it was by far the coolest and most useful ability of the Javelins once I leveraged it more often.  At first I just use the flight jets to get from point A and B then I started using them as a battle tactic and my mind was blown.

Some fights even in this demo can get incredibly hard especially solo and just tank running everywhere is basically a death sentence.  Once I started hopping into the air, strafe running, hovering and taking a quick retreat when in danger I realized the advantages my Javelin gives me.

The flight mechanic is really what separates this game from its nearest competitor – Destiny 2.  In Destiny I hated going places as I had to engage enemies all the time and it takes forever, flying in Anthem is so deliriously good it is frankly a joy to travel in this game.

Once the other Javelins are unlocked – which all VIP Demo players got as an apology for the first demo weekend fiasco it was really cool to see how they all handle differently.  My personal favorite is the Storm variant, it travels in such a viscerally cool way I literally flew around for 20 minutes doing nothing else.

The rest of the gameplay revolves around mostly shooting things and investigating marked objects.  The shooting things part of the game is executed brilliantly with two standard weapons, grenade variant, a short reload special power, longer reload typically AoE ability, a shield type ability and a super ability that takes a while to charge.

With all of these options combat can be quite exciting and varied.  Elemental attacks can freeze, harm or diminish the enemies while I whittle them away with blasts and physical attacks.  The ability to hover and fly around at whim makes combat varied and satisfying once understanding of all the tactics are in play.

The various Javelin types follow certain archetypes, the Colossus is the tank, Ranger is – well – the ranger, Interceptor is the speedy fast hitting sort and the Storm is the mage type.  Each Javelin has its strengths and weaknesses and it is nice to be able to pick one that adapts to my playstyles.

Your level is what corresponds to gear that is equipable and each Javelin is a tool you use so as you level all of them do.  Loot I found are sometimes universal or Javelin type specific but shared across your roster.  Once Javelins are unlocked they can be switched at the forge anytime.

This flexibility as well as the deep customization of the Javelins and their weapons are what excites me most about Anthem.  The story, as much as I saw in the demo, is what excites me the least so far and that is surprising as this is a Bioware game.

I hope it is because we were dropped in the middle of the story, or they are shielding plot points/narrative from us but I found the characters boring and unsympathetic so far.  Nothing in the game made me care about doing the missions, I did them because gameplay is so damn fun.

I am hoping the story has much more to it than the little snippets I saw, and that they add some fast travel to the game as well.  I walked, incredibly slowly, through the game hub so many times I am already bored of it and that is not a good thing.

So in the end I am cautiously optimistic about Anthem, the gameplay is simply fantastic and the world is amazing in so many ways but I need Bioware to hopefully make me actually care about it. If they can do that then Anthem could be a phenomenal game as long as the technical issues are truly gone.  Anthem Launches Feb 22, 2019 on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.

Insane Robots is a new title from Playniac that features card-based battles but proudly takes the expensive CCG purchases and time-consuming deck customization out of the equation. The end result is a game that is very simple and fun to play but ultimately becomes a shallow experience over time.

Insane Robots is not as, well, Insane as the title would imply. There are no crazy endeavors or world-altering gameplay mechanics; instead the story revolves around a series of Robots labelled insane or dangerous because they do not conform. The odd crew of robots is discovered as each arena is completed and cover a host of archetypes not typically associated with mechanical creatures.
As I played through the game, the characters reminded me of the off-the-wall residents of the movie Robots. I have kids so I watched that one a lot and each one had a tremendously unique personality. In Insane Robots the same is true. There are pet, gold mining, chef, and space probe robots among many others. In all 25 robots can be unlocked.
Each robot has distinct benefits, enhanced defense or other bonuses, but ultimately, as the game mechanics have been tightly focused down to a 22-token deck, it will generally be a battle of strategy, attrition, or a lucky card.
The core of the game is the battles, which occur when another robot is encountered in the arena. Once battle starts tokens are assigned and some can be subbed. These tokens are generally attack, defense, and modification or buff abilities.  One of the neat twists is that two attack or defense cards need to be placed and a circuit established to be able to defend or launch an attack on the opponent.
This twist is further compounded by the fact that these cards have various strength levels, which can be swapped or decreased by your opponent. Carefully managing your attack and defense while watching out for your opponents’ matching stats is a key focus. Many matches were decided by a quick swap just before an attack was launched.
The simplicity of the decks is deceiving, and I have had some matches stretch for countless turns while a back-and-forth dance is engaged. There are ways to buff your robot during an arena to add an edge by visiting the scattered shops on the playing field. These buffs can be extra health, healing from previous battles, or unlocking and enhancing augment slots.
Each arena is a hex grid with various terrain types that sometimes have fog-of-war or limiting movement variables. As enemies are defeated or random events encountered while exploring, money and parts are gained. These can be spent at the shops for perks or new powers for your robot. All money is lost between arenas, as are perks – but unlocks to your robots for new skill slots are preserved. This encourages some replayability with certain robots between arenas.
The issue with this is the large number of different robots and how often new ones are introduced. I always wanted to try the new robot just to see the little story tidbits, such as how the robot rebellion would unfold. This left me not getting very attached to a particular robot, as I was switching over and over again. The story as well is fun but not terribly compelling; it unfolds in bits and pieces at the start of each arena until the greater story is resolved.
In the end the meat of the game is the overland exploration and battles. Exploration is boring and seems to be designed to take too long, and the battles are fun but ultimately become stale and repetitive because the deck is so curated.
Insane Robots is a very neat concept and a game that is fun to play but lacks a lot of long-term staying power, mostly due, unfortunately, to its elimination of CCG mechanics.  When there is a desire to collect more cards or build an Epic deck you keep playing. In this case the battles are interesting and can be very tense, but the compelling collectible side of this game is where Insane Robots falters.
3 out of 5 Stars

One of the best aspects of the Montreal International Game Summit, or MIGS, is the fact that so many industry professionals attend the show not only to push or promote their game but also to educate. I had the distinct pleasure to have a chat with Anne-Sophie Mongeau, a Sound Designer for Canadian videogame developer Eidos Montréal.

Mongeau was at MIGS to give a talk on Designing the Sound of Reality in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Her talk focused on how immersion in the game is enhanced and in fact realized by effective use of audio. This audio also has to be stretched past the boundaries of realism to heighten the immersion of a realistic game like SotTR.

The concept of immersive audio is fascinating to me but I also wanted to know more about Anne-Sophie’s path into this work.
During our chat we touched on all manner of items, starting with her schooling and love of audio and music from childhood. She started playing all sorts of instruments at a young age and early on knew her future would be tied into music or audio in general. In her late teens she discovered digital audio and she was hooked. She completed a degree in Digital Music at the University of Montreal and traveled to Scotland for a Masters in Sound Design.
During school she worked the audio design for some short films as well as some games with an indie studio called Vibe Avenue. I encourage you all to check out Anne-Sophie’s blog, AnneSoAudio, to see some of her work and process.

After obtaining her Masters she was ready to join a studio to be immersed in the culture and process, and an opportunity arose at Eidos Montréal. She was loving Scotland, but an opportunity like that does not come up often, so she returned to Montreal and started immediately on the sound design for Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Anne-Sophie is a self-professed mega-fan of the Tomb Raider series so this was a dream job and one she is clearly passionate about.
One of the more interesting facts I learned about Anne-Sophie is that she carries around recording microphones wherever she goes, as many of us would carry a notepad or camera. If she encounters any interesting audio or sound experiences she is ready to record and archive them. These tactics lent very well into the audio journey for Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
She talked about the process of mixing the audio and how a realistic game like this needs to have audio that veers into the unrealistic to enhance the immersion. It was also interesting to hear how sound and gameplay designers collaborate to make sure each aspect of the game works effectively. Please listen to the whole interview, linked above, to hear all of this and more as I chat with the talented and passionate Anne-Sophie Mongeau at MIGS 2018.
The Montreal International Game Summit (MIGS) is a special type of conference much different from the PAX, E3 or CES style of shows. MIGS does have its share of games to look at and interesting panels, but the expo floor is really centered around recruiting and partnerships. Exploring the summit this year I found a great number of companies recruiting, and organizations offering training in the industry. This reinforces Montreal as a booming gaming centre, and MIGS is right there to focus on that fact.
While the expo floor at MIGS is not a place to see the latest and greatest games, it is a good place to meet a number of large and small studio personnel and learn about what they are working on.
The largest booth was for Ubisoft. The company was showing games that were already out, like Starlinkand Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, but was really focused on speaking to attendees about joining Ubisoft. Beenox’s people were showing the PC version of Blacks Ops 4, but instead of talking about the game they were hoping for resumes or interest in their studio. All of the major publishers at the show had the same slant, eager to grow their teams with fresh talent.
Popping over to the indie pods, the story shifted. The indie developers are looking for interest in their games and potential publishing partners. At other events the consumer is key, but here partnerships, recruitment, and knowledge sharing are the main desires. The games were hit-and-miss, but a few stood out as worth a closer look.
Fission Superstar X: In this game I piloted a bomber with limited crew trying to get to earth for some really odd story reasons involving a nuclear bomb and a superstar character.  Whatever the crazy story, the gameplay is quite fun. It is a scrolling shooter, but with RPG and Rogue-like elements in between levels. Doing well provides money and resources to upgrade/repair the ship and an option to hire more crew. As in FTL, the goal is to last as long as possible.
Spoken Adventures: This is a world on both audiobooks and game books. In this case the stories and games are entirely voice-activated. Think back to the old adventure games where there were options like look around, pick it up, and leave the room. The game contextually acts on spoken commands. The company has several titles out and what I saw was very impressive. They are looking at getting on Alexa and Google Home but currently are on more traditional devices: smartphones and PC.
Children of Zodiarcs: This Square Enix Collective game has been out for a while but was a huge crowd hit. It’s very similar to Final Fantasy Tactics but has a card mechanic for actions, and dice rolls to randomize the results. The dice and cards expand and level up as the game progresses. It was a great game to check out, and the developer told me it was great being part of the collective, but the Square Enix name holds a lot of weight in both good and difficult ways. They are working on another title and based on what I saw I can’t wait to see more.
I also attended a couple of panels at MIGS. The panels are very interesting, very technical and focused on teaching or passing on lessons learned. There were multiple streams, such as Art, Audio, Marketing, and Writing, each with a talk every hour or two.

Having More Control: Remedy’s Next Game. Remedy is best known for games like Max Payne and Alan Wake. Most people don’t know Remedy is an independent studio that has gone for IPO funding for its new multi-project, multi-platform strategy.  Thomas Puha gave a great talk about how the evolution of Control started and what it means for Remedy to work on a game like this in its new ecosystem.

They hit stumbles, such as needing new engine tech, scope creep, and a launch date further out than they had hoped. But they started with a terrific foundation and more organization than they had exercised before. The game will be their first that is more of a sandbox title – all their previous ones were very linear. It will also have character growth and development from an abilities perspective, which is also relatively new.
The look I got into the process and passion behind this new game was very interesting. Remedy is not a new, inexperienced studio. But every game they make teaches the team many new things and keeps them humble. Control is a third person game revolving around a mysterious bureau of supernatural affairs and its enigmatic and sprawling headquarters. There are powers, weapons, and corrupted agents that will make up the bulk of the experience. Further info is coming later this year or in early 2019 and I can’t wait to learn more.
Paint it Black: The Art and Design of Darkest Dungeon. Darkest Dungeon is one of my favorite games, and its visual style is a bigpart of that love. Creative director and lead designer Chris Bourassa of Red Hook spoke about how the characters and creatures came to be.
One of the key principles he discussed was that he wanted the characters to seem like superheroes, dysfunctional damaged ones but heroes nonetheless. He drew parallels about the head and armor designs and how they matched Iron Man, Batman and others. He also went into iconography and how the torch logo with stress lines appears everywhere so it grinds into our brains.

He went on to go over the creatures and monsters. His goal was to go further and further to see what would stick, and the more demented he got the better the design was. My favorite insight was the gruesome bug-like vampires from the crimson court. He did not want Brad Pitt’s version of a vampire. Instead he imagined what it would be like if a tick or mosquito was a vampire. They love blood too, so why not?
The Red Hook talk was pretty amazing and added even more depth to an already terrific game. I was able to chat with Bourassa while at MIGS and will post that interview shortly. He is a terrifically talented person with a great vision. He could not tell me what is up next for Red Hook but did allude to something great coming. Is it another expansion or Darkest Dungeon 2? Either way I am excited to see what is next.
For me that was the end of the first day of MIGS. I had a chance to check out some games, meet some interesting developers, and enjoy a few really great panels. The Montreal International Game Summit is not a bombastic trade show, but it is certainly a very interesting one.
Antigraviator from Cybernetic Walrus is an independently created high-speed futuristic racer in the style of Wipeout. It uses the Unity engine, and from a technology perspective the game is absolutely outstanding, with truly amazing speeds and pace. Unfortunately, the overall game lacks the magic of the Wipeout series, and ends up delivering an average experience wrapped in an impressive technological package.
Antigraviator is meant to deliver an incredibly fast racing experience, and the developer delivers on that front in spades. The hover vehicles, called Gravs, have no speed limit, so if you maneuver over the tracks cleanly enough using the airbrake and barrel rolls the speed is actually pretty intense. The tracks themselves are imaginatively designed with loops, inversions, crazy drops, shortcuts, and alternate paths.  This provides a great playground to race in, and some tweaks in the form of traps add a layer of light strategy.
Instead of weapons found in many other racers like this, Antigraviator  offers traps that can be triggered or avoided as races progress. When an icon pops up indicating a trap is nearby, a quick button press triggers it and shields your racer temporarily. The traps cause various effects on the Gravs – hover mines, rock slides, rockets. The traps are an interesting idea, but offer only a minimal strategic element, as opposed to what a well-timed weapon can do.
The CPU competitors you race against are competent but very easy to beat if you take care. On top of the traps there are boost pads and a barrel roll that can turn the tide if well timed, as well as alternate paths to choose.
Running through a race is flashy and fast. But ultimately I did not find any truly challenging runs in any of the 16 tracks on offer. The traps offer some variables but never seemed to make or break a particular run. Generally just hitting the boosts as much as possible would guarantee a win.
As I was playing through the game’s various modes and customizing my Grav, I struggled to get engaged. There is a campaign mode, essentially racing through 15 tracks spread through five different worlds. Running through the campaign unlocks new parts, ships, and skins, which was nice but failed to truly interest me. There is a split-screen four-player coop which I tried at PAX East and locally, and it was quite fun. There is also an online multiplayer mode that is relatively smooth, but the ecosystem is sparse with players. In the end, while the game is technologically wonderful, it lacks any real charm, and that is why it failed to hook me.
I thought about why that is and figured it out: Antigraviator lacks the design aesthetics, both visual and musical, of games like Wipeout. The ships are futuristic but somehow incredibly generic, and the music is even more forgettable. Back in the day the Wipeout team had a professional design group create the ships and teams and top EDM acts perform the music. The resulting package was truly magical and Antigraviator simply does not have that same appeal.
As it stands Antigraviator is simply a technologically amazing product that is ultimately forgettable. It is a shame as there is a lot done right in this game and it is truly amazing what developer Cybernetic Walrus has managed to wring out of the Unity engine. Hopefully they can take what they were able to achieve and create future products with more personality to create a standout experience.

When Lumines was originally released for the PSP way back in 2004 it was a game I played obsessively. The visuals, music, and feedback generated from the rhythms and sounds were so satisfying and visceral. Fast forward 14 years and Lumines is being released in a remastered version with the blessing of creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi.
The gimmicky aspects of Trance mode aside, Lumines Remastered is still the amazing game that alternates between zen-like focus and crazy panic as the blocks speed up. The point of the game is to drop four-part square blocks made up in various patterns onto the game field. As in other matching games, colors have to align to be removed, and in this game sequences of four or more are required to clear the blocks.
Despite the impressive lineage of the game and its creator, Lumines Remastered is a pretty vanilla remake of the original, blending components from Lumines I and II into one package. The big addition is enabling haptic feedback from Joy-con controllers on the switch or additionally attached controllers on the PC4 or Xbox One. Mizuguchi has always been interested in generating physical feedback from his rhythm games, dating back to Rez, and this inclusion is odd but interesting if only for a little while.
For the Nintendo Switch version, up to eight Joy-cons (who has that many?) can be activated as well. Eight Xbox One controllers can be activated for that version. The PS4 lags behind, allowing only a paltry four controllers to be synced to the game. Once controllers are present and activated, drape them – well – wherever you want on your body, and activate Trance vibration to feel the bass all across your various chosen body parts. Nothing weird could possibly come of this.
I tried the Trance mode at PAX East with an available Joy-Con belt and the feel of the bass on my hips was really intense and a little unnerving at times. At home I placed an extra PS4 controller on and under my thigh and foot (as per developer recommendations) and it did generate some interesting rumbles that I have to admit were interesting and even therapeutic (for the feet especially). Afterwards I realized I had my foot on a controller, and felt bad for whomever would play with it next.
As the patterns are changing, careful planning of the landing spots is required, and as scores add up, the skin changes, which also effects the colors of the blocks and the music. This shift requires mental realignment and adds tactics and thought needed to play the field just right.
There are a number of game modes, such as Challenge, Skin Edit, and Time Attack, but the interesting ones that shake up the formula are Puzzle and Mission. In Puzzle I was challenged to make a shape out of blocks in a set time frame. Mission was a Lumines IIfeature where a directive is given that has to be completed in a set time frame as well. The basic gameplay is the same, but at least in these modes a more complex task is required, which makes the game more frantic.
The music in Lumines Remastered is probably more important than the visuals, with EDM-style tracks playing in sync with the visuals on screen. When blocks land and matches disappear, tones and beats enhance the experience. The addition of haptic feedback is obviously something Mizuguchi has always wanted, as the screen pulses with feedback that you know he wanted to be physical.
Some of the audio tracks transported me back in time, as I remember the songs from the first games back on the PSP. In this version however the music is sampled at a much higher bitrate. While I had no way to compare them (my PSP is buried somewhere in a lost junk drawer) I can certainly tell the music is crisp and clear with a pleasingly sharp clarity.
In the end Lumines Remastered is a terrific cosmetic re-do of a phenomenal games series, but that is basically all. Adding the haptic feedback options was a nice touch but it is a gimmick few will consistently use. The game was designed to be mobile and despite its being terrifically fun to play at my PS4 I miss being able to take it with me to the couch or park. The switch version would be the perfect middle ground for this game as it can be portable and stationary. On the fixed consoles however it is a fun if fleeting experience.
3 out of 5 stars

When I was at PAX East this year I had the chance to catch up with Square Enix to check out Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age and I learned a very interesting fact.  Did you know that the last major North American console release of a mainline Dragon Quest game was way back in 2005 with Dragon Quest VIII?  I know, that fact blew me away, but looking at the history the other titles were released on handhelds or skipped North America entirely.

There were a few spinoff games that game out, but a numbered Dragon Quest game has not come out in North America for over 13 years.  The team at Square Enix are very aware of this fact and are trying to make this release special and one that stands out from everyone's perceptions of a Dragon Quest title. What I saw convinces me they just may have created something that feels enough like Dragon Quest to be familiar but different enough to attract a larger audience.

The goal of the team was to create a truly new experience in the Dragon Quest universe that focused on a huge single player experience.  They also wanted to deliver a complete experience day one so there will be no post release DLC, the adventure on release day is the vision of the developer. They also wanted to deliver a more mature experience by designing the characters in a more photo realistic meets cel shaded manner.  The end result from what I saw in the demo is a game that feels like a grown up Dragon Quest adventure which is exactly what the developer had in mind.

The story in Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age focuses on a young man who is hailed as the legendary Luminary. He faces his destiny and travels to the capital joined by an old friend to see what he can do to realize his destiny.  Once there the story takes a huge u-turn and our hero is betrayed by the king and his adventure starts in earnest. Like other Dragon Quest titles many companions will be met and join the Luminary on the adventure to stop the resurrection of the Dark One.

The developer has said that relationships with the many companions will be complex and extremely rewarding.  As the story progresses your companions will have their own motivations for joining the quest and may not be what they seem.  The roster we were shown seems quite interesting with a wide variety of companions to enrich the experience as the story progresses.  One of the things I found very interesting was the mature tone of the game which I typically did not associate with Dragon Quest.

Gameplay has come a long way since 2005 with many modern touches to the classic JRPG formula being added to this release.  Combat is turn based but very fast and the character can move around freely during combat (but that does not affect the actions).  Wandering monsters are all skipable as they are visible on the field and can be avoided, but if combat is chosen striking them first gives an advantage.  There is also a great horse mechanic (horses area available from the start) that allows the horse to ram monsters as you ride.  This gets rid of monsters (within a certain level of you) but nets no experience.

The combat is aided by skills and abilities unlocked via a grid system.  This system allows each character to choose what skills to prioritize as they progress in levels.  This customization has some shared and unique traits between all the characters.  The main character has some additional choices unique to him to explore.  This customization will enable some great variety in the combat as specific roles are selected.

The main quest is fairly linear from what I saw at the demo, but the world has an open structure and there are literally dozens of sidequests to keep the adventure dynamic.  The themes of the story are far more mature than previous entries, but I noticed some specific Dragon Quest humor sprinkled through the narrative.  What interested me right away was the depth of voice acting in the game which is greatly expanded from the Japanese release - which had mostly text dialogue.

Other additions to the North American release are a very welcome dash function for quicker overland movement, enhanced menus and UI as well as a new harder Draconian mode.  The dash is something I could instantly see as a huge advantage and the improved UI adds a much higher quality experience to the entire system and experience.  Overall the game is truly stunning as well with amazing visuals, especially the open spaces and landscapes.

I have to confess I have only peripherally dabbled in the Dragon Quest games in the past due to the kooky and often kid like nature of the characters and themes.  From what I saw in the extended demo at PAX East this game really tries to break the mold and get more of a mainstream North American audience interested.

There are still some concerns in my head - such as some annoying characters and some legacy gameplay that may get repetitive - but I am keen to see more before I make final judgement.  Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age is coming out with a very rare simultaneous release on PC and PS4 on September 4th.
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