TIME Video Games

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Is the Best Metal Gear Ever

The new pinnacle of stealth gaming, and a triumphant farewell from one of the medium's brightest luminaries.

The holy grail of world-building games, it’s argued, is a black box that lets players do as they like with minimal handholding. Pliability with just the right measure of accountability. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, a tactical stealth simulation wrapped in a colossal resource management puzzle inside a love letter to theatrical inscrutability, comes the closest of any game I’ve yet played to realizing that ideal.

That probably sounds a little backwards if you’re hip to Hideo Kojima’s long running Metal Gear Solid series, which launched in 1987 on a Japanese computer platform. We laud Kojima for his contributions to stealth gaming’s grammar, but he’s also loved and, by some, lampooned, for bouts of indulgent auteurism. A self-professed cinephile (he told me in 2014 that he tries to watch a movie a day), he’s notorious for straining attention spans with marathon film-style interludes and epic denouements. His last numbered Metal Gear Solid game, Guns of the Patriots, holds two Guinness records, one for the longest cutscene in a game (27 minutes), another for the longest cutscene sequence (71 minutes). A fan-edited compendium of the latter’s combined non-interactive sequences clocks in at upwards of nine hours.

So it feels a little weird to declare The Phantom Pain comparably cutscene-free. Oh they’re still here, as fascinating, offbeat and abstruse as ever, but restricted to momentary exposition instead of Homeric interruption. It’s like some other mirror-verse version of Kojima helmed production, suddenly obsessed with play-driven storytelling, while most of the grim narrative about the descent of a Melvillian mercenary trickles in through cassette tapes you can listen to at leisure, or ignore completely.

Konami

That turnabout pays dividends. We’re instead treated to a clandestine feast of open world prowling, an unparalleled tactical toybox staged in sprawling bulwarks bristling with eerily sentient enemies. You play as Big Boss, the grizzled, cyclopean soldier of fortune we spent so much of the series reviling, traumatized and left comatose by events in last year’s prologue and prolegomena, Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes. The Phantom Pain is the revenge fantasy entrée transpiring nine years later, a grab-your-bootstraps offshore empire-building exercise and parallel slide into militaristic perdition by way of the Soviet-Afghan and Angolan (civil) wars circa 1984. It’s a Cold War paranoiac’s paradise.

The idea, first articulated in 2010’s Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, is that you’re leading a private nation-agnostic military force from your “mother base,” a concrete and steel-jacketed platform anchored in the middle of the Indian Ocean near the Seychelles archipelago. From there, you execute contracts for shadowy clients in fictional swathes of Afghanistan and the African Angola-Zaire border region, accruing capital to unlock an arsenal of espionage munitions, all the while sleuthing for intelligence on the sinister outfit that brought you to ruin nearly a decade ago.

You’d think a game about private mercenaries would entail managing squadrons of them, and The Phantom Pain does eventually unlock a meta game where, wielding an anachronistic wireless handheld drolly dubbed an “iDroid,” you can deploy groups of soldiers to conflict zones based on probabilistic projections. But this is Big Boss’s story, and the lion’s share plants you in his boots, embarking on missions framed like TV episodes, infiltrating then exfiltrating enemy compounds, mountain fortresses and repurposed ancient citadels to extract some piece of intel, rescue a skilled soldier or assassinate whatever operative. It’s during those tense, punishing, exquisitely crafted sorties that the experience shifts from glorified hide-and-seekery to sublime subterfuge.

Konami

Consider just a few of the ways Kojima lets you poke his anthills. Like how to approach a cliffside fortress teeming with floodlights, security cameras, anti-aircraft cannons, machine gun nests, barbed wire fences, lookout posts, labyrinthine caverns, hovering gunships, weaponized bipedal robots and playgrounds of scalable, multilevel mud-rock dwellings staffed by relentless, hyperaware soldiers. From what angle? At sunrise or sunset? After thorough or slapdash surveillance? In what sort of camouflage? With the aid of a horse for quick arrival and escape, or a canine pal that can spot and mark enemies faster and more completely than you?

Should you wait for a stray sandstorm to blow through, occluding visibility and making direct approaches (or escapes) tenable? Buzz HQ to chopper in a rocket launcher so you can take out an enemy gunship while it’s still on the helipad? Scout for unguarded power hubs to kill lights and cameras (at the expense of raising guard alert levels)? Detonate communications equipment to disrupt radio chatter between field operatives and HQ? Should you slink across a dangerously unconcealed bridge to save time, or clamber down a rocky bluff, scurry across the basin below, then inch up half a dozen flights of steel-cage stairs to pop out at the bridge’s far side? Are you the turtle or the hare?

But it’s the game’s ruthless artificial intelligence that ties it all together so superbly. The Phantom Pain sports the most unpredictable, exploitation-resistant opponents we’ve seen in a sandbox game. Though they run through all the classic Metal Gear-ish paranoia loops, they’re capable of far grander collaboration and topographical awareness. If alerted, they’ll swarm your last known position, then spread out to probe logical escape routes. Favor night ops and they’ll don night vision goggles. Favor headshots and they’ll start wearing metal helmets. It’s as impressive, in its way, as Monolith’s Nemesis system in last year’s Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, turning indelibility into tactical iteration.

Konami

In the background sits your mother base, visually emblematic of Kojima’s fondness for pumpkin-orange containers and pipe-strung sidewalls, everything smooth and orthogonal and gleaming—the Jony Ive of offshore platform design. Once you’re using the Fulton recovery system, an intentionally silly balloon-driven means of quick-firing anything (enemies, weapons, animals and more) you find in the field back to base, you’ll spend hours here developing new weapons, fiddling with staff assignments and snapping on new platforms. Once you grok how battlefield bric-a-brac feeds into base growth, mission difficulty trebles, as you’re incentivized during assignments to track the best-rated foes and gear.

The game has its share of head-scratchers, like why enemies tagged on your radar stay marked when restarting a mission (convenient, but immersion-killing), or why it takes so much work to unlock the game’s notion of a fast travel system. I’m also conflicted about the buddy system: I wound up abandoning my wolf companion because he made the surveillance game too easy.

The least defensible design choice is probably Quiet, a female warrior-sniper dressed in, well, let’s just say the opposite of practical battlefield attire. There’s a plot explanation for this, but it’s pretty weak, though I found it curious that the men in the game seemed not to notice (okay, a couple yahoos overheard talking about her, but that’s it). It’s Kojima’s directorial eye that lingers voyeuristically here, robbing us of the choice not to leer, daring us not to be titillated.

Konami

But then we know by now that Kojima games mean wrestling with paradox. Thematic gravitas versus silly dialogue. Visual revelation versus graphical compromise. Gameplay versus cutscene. Eroticization versus objectification. Antiwar allegory versus lurid violence.

When I asked Kojima what hadn’t changed about gaming over the past several decades, he told me that while the technology had evolved, “the content of the game, what is really the essence of the game, hasn’t moved much beyond Space Invaders.” It’s the same old thing, he said, “that the bad guy comes and without further ado the player has to defeat him. The content hasn’t changed—it’s kind of a void.”

Loping across The Phantom Pain‘s hardscrabble Afghani-scapes, lighting on soldiers bantering about communism and capitalism, playing tapes of cohorts waxing philosophic about Salt II, Soviet scorched earth policies and African civil wars, questioning who I’m supposed to be—sporting metaphorical horn and tail, both hero and villain—all I know is that I’m going to miss the defiance, the daring, the controversy, the contradictions. This, given Kojima’s rumored breach with Konami and his own affirmations about leaving the series, is all but surely his last Metal Gear game, so it’s poetically fitting that it turned out to be his best.

5 out of 5

Reviewed on PlayStation 4

Read next: Here’s How to Upgrade Your PlayStation 4 Hard Drive

Download TIME’s mobile app for iOS to have your world explained wherever you go

TIME Video Games

Here’s How to Upgrade Your PlayStation 4 Hard Drive

Sony

Want to upgrade your console from its default 500GB to a whopping 2TB? We'll show you how.

Worried your PlayStation 4 might be running short of elbow room? Heard Sony supports hard drive upgrades? Ready to pull the trigger? Have half an hour to spare?

Sony’s upgrade process covers all the basics, but it’s also just the nuts and bolts, begging the question of whether you ought to upgrade in the first place.

Want some help deciding?

First, do you really need to upgrade?

In North America, the PlayStation 4 ships with a 500GB hard drive. You may have seen something about a standalone 1TB “Ultimate Edition,” which just launched in Europe on July 15, but it’s not (yet) available stateside.

The question’s whether you need more than half a terabyte of storage. That’s either too little or more than enough, depending how many games you need at the ready. If you’ve never looked, it’s time to visit the PlayStation 4’s storage allocation overview. You can find it here:

SettingsSystem Storage Management

Take a gander at that top bar, which shows how much space you’ve used so far, then note the number to the right of “Free Space” (bottom right). Do you have more than 250GB free? If so, and you’re running everything you’d want to, the argument for upgrading isn’t as compelling (it’s certainly not as urgent as if your “Free Space” were 50GB or less).

Even if you’re full up, have you cleaned house lately? Do you actively play everything you’ve downloaded or installed from disc? Does your “Capture Gallery” have any discardable photos or videos? Do you have superfluous save games? Don’t remove anything you’d rather keep, but it’s worth taking a look, especially at your list of installed games, which can hog upwards of 50GB a piece.

Assemble your tools

Decided to upgrade and ready to go? You’ll need the following items:

  • Your PS4, with gamepad and microUSB charge cable
  • A medium Philips screwdriver
  • Your chosen 2.5-inch SATA replacement hard drive
  • A 1GB or greater USB flash drive (to reinstall the PS4’s system software)
  • A FAT32-formatted external hard drive (to backup your system and/or saved games)
Matt Peckham for TIME

Pick the “right” hard drive

Two things to help guide your research: one, performance gains are fractional with even the zippiest (ergo priciest) solid state drives—benchmark sites obsess over upticks, but the real world gains here are minuscule. And so two, price and space should be your watchwords.

Not necessarily a recommendation: I chose Seagate’s 2.5-inch 1TB solid state hybrid drive (model number STBD1000400) with 64MB of cache, but only because I had store credit at GameStop, which sells the drive heavily marked up. You can find it for as little as $77, or if you want the version with 8GB of cache, it’s available for as little as $101. But be aware that Seagate, which also owns Samsung’s hard drive business, presently scores the highest in hard drive failure rates, according to online backup company Backblaze. I’ve never had a Seagate drive fail, but the survey’s worth noting.

At the moment, you can find the Samsung Seagate Momentus 2TB hard drive for under $100. For that price, it’s probably the drive I would have picked, if I hadn’t had store credit to burn.

Whatever you decide, be aware that Sony requires a PS4 hard drive to meet the following criteria:

  • 2.5 inch form factor (9.5mm or slimmer)
  • Serial ATA connection

Backup your saved games

Assuming you have more than a game or two installed, and plenty of saved content, skip straight to the full system backup option, which you can find here:

SettingsSystem → Back Up and Restore

Choose “Back Up PS4,” and the process will grab everything (including your system settings) except trophies, which should already be synchronized if your system’s online.

You can alternately back up your saved games to the PlayStation Network if you’re a PlayStation Plus subscriber. But Sony only gives you 1GB of space, so you may have to squeeze to get all your stuff in.

Matt Peckham for TIME

Download the PlayStation 4 system software

You can grab a copy of the latest version from Sony here. Just follow the instructions at the bottom of the page, under “Update using a computer,” to download the correct full system install file—it’s nearly 800MB—and create the requisite USB install key.

Crack open your console

It should go without saying, but make sure your PlayStation 4 is completely powered down (the indicator light should show black, not orange, or any other color), then unplug the system from everything.

Now perform the following steps:

  1. Slide the PlayStation 4’s hard drive cover left (the glossy strip on the console’s left, when laid flat).
  2. Extract the old hard drive by first removing the sole Philips screw at lower left, then gently pull the hard disk drive cage forward (toward the front of the system) and out.
  3. Remove the four Philips screws from the hard disk cage, pull the old hard drive out, replace it with the new one, then slide the cage back into the PlayStation 4 and re-secure it with the remaining screw.
  4. Replace the hard drive cover, and that’s it!
Matt Peckham for TIME

Install the PlayStation 4 system software

Connect your PlayStation 4 gamepad (with microUSB cable) and plug the USB stick you just created into the console’s second USB port, then power on the system. You’ll be prompted to install the new system software and initialize your system. Confirm, wait a few minutes for the process to complete, and your PlayStation 4 will finish by rebooting and launching the first-time setup screen.

Now put all your stuff back

Once you’re logged in, you can restore your games, saves and settings from that external drive backup (connect the drive, go back to SettingsSystem → Back Up and Restore, then choose “Restore PS4”). Or, if like me you like to rebuild clean and don’t mind re-installing or re-downloading your games and apps, you can take the time to do that instead, then as noted earlier, pull your saved games down from online storage (the latter has to happen in that order, by the way—it’s an inexplicable Sony quirk that you can’t download a saved game you’ve stored online unless you install the full game first).

TIME

After 30 Hours of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, I’m Nowhere Near Finished

Konami

... and I'm loving every minute of it

12 missions completed, 73 times spotted, 72 tactical takedowns, 215 neutralizations, 75 interrogations, 93 recruits added and 30 hours of play time total. That’s the dossier on my experience so far of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. I’m still pretty far from the finish line, but 30 hours is a lot of time to spend with anything, and so I can say this much—not a moment of it has been less than thrilling.

What do any of those metrics mean? With 30 hours of nose-to-the-grindstone play, the game tells me I’ve completed around one fifth (19%) of the missions where the philosophically convoluted, drowning-in-acronyms story plays out. But that 19% isn’t counting the barrage of compulsive distractions Team Kojima fastballs at you, including: photo gathering, luring and extracting animals to safety, and a daunting barrage of “side ops” you’ll have to chip away at to accrue the resources and personnel necessary to shore up deficiencies (and advance the mainline missions) in The Phantom Pain‘s elaborate base building game. Taking everything into account, the game tells me I’ve completed a tiny 7% overall.

Am I just slow? Methodical I’ll cop to, but I finished the story in Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs and Assassin’s Creed Unity in less time. You can’t rush missions here, or slop your way through them. Even if you ignore the optional stuff, the physical space where the missions transpire is so vast, the dozens of enemies patrolling the areas so shrewd, and the penalties so severe if you lumber in guns-a-blazin’, that pulling off your primary objective can take hours, planning to execution to extraction. Whatever intimidated Kojima about Grand Theft Auto V a few years ago, The Phantom Pain is no less sprawling than Rockstar’s open-world opus.

But the label “open world” is all both games share. Rockstar’s expansive Los Angeles burlesque may look visually denser, but it feels brittler, an ocean of urban beauty that collapses if you want to do more than harass its vagabond citizens or play hide-and-seek with the cops.

The Phantom Pain takes the opposite tack, placing you on an offshore platform in the Indian Ocean, then letting you helicopter in to a craggy, population-zero rendition of Northern Kabul, Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan war (circa 1984), and eventually prowl around a swathe of Africa’s Angola-Zaire border region. (I haven’t unlocked the latter area yet, but judging from the pack-in map, it’s just as big as the Afghanistan one.)

Imagine several village-sized nodes connected by roads surrounded by rocky hills you can’t go over, only around. That’s how The Phantom Pain keeps you semi-corralled. You can move between areas along these roads on horseback or in vehicles, bumping into military outposts and skirmishing with Soviet soldiers, but most missions involve picking a landing zone, surveilling the target area from afar (to mark enemies on your map), then executing whatever tactical approach you care to.

All that between-space is there to provide a semblance of openness, in other words, but almost all of the action transpires in the map’s labeled spaces, be they outposts, occupied villages, or repurposed ruins. That’s a good thing, because it’s also a focus thing: everything I was talking about taking hours to complete above takes place in those spaces.

The stealth stuff isn’t new, let’s be clear about that. You’re still doing the same basic thing you’ve been doing for decades in these games, sneaking around enemy haunts or in conflict zones, trying to creep up behind and dispatch your foes (ideally, as always, by knocking them out, not killing them). It’s just never been attempted on anything like this scale, or when it comes to your opponents, with this much behavioral granularity. The Phantom Pain has some of the brightest, meaningfully collaborative, and thus relentlessly hostile opponents I’ve ever battled.

Yes, much of it is iterative, and we caught a glimpse of some of those iterations in Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. It’s also not trying to be ultra-realistic. Metal Gear Solid games have their own kinetic peculiarities. This isn’t stealth à la Splinter Cell‘s sinuous slinking, or Assassin’s Creed frenetic parkour. The protagonist still crouches, gracelessly sprints and clumsily belly-crawls just as he has in The Phantom Pain‘s predecessors for decades.

But some of the changes feel monumental in how they impact the design. Interrogating enemies can produce intel on both items or personnel of interest, as well as the positions of other soldiers. Day and night cycles prompt different patrol patterns and change the places guards tend to hangout. Sandstorms roll in suddenly, turning dangerously open space into advancement opportunities or escape routes. Tech upgrades eventually let you suss the abilities of potentially employable enemy soldiers, turning battlescapes into talent-scouting exercises. And as promised, the game tries to frustrate your tactical habits by adding little wrinkles, like putting helmets on enemies in subsequent missions if you’re fond of headshots. (Word of your activities gets around, and you’ll even pick some of that up in overheard soldier-to-soldier confabs as time passes.)

All that adds up to an anthill I can’t stop poking. And that’s without saying a word about the base-building game, a vast (and at my 30 hour mark, only getting vaster) resource bulwark you have to ply to manufacture better weapons, intel scopes, mobile communications devices, balloon extraction systems, bionic limbs, camouflage duds, horse armor, helicopter armament and more. Even camo-boxes, a longtime series joke, have their own upgrade paths.

If I had to grade it now, 30 hours in, with 80% of the story yet to come, most of the equipment still locked away, my base still a nascent thing, and only a handful of the side missions complete, I’d give The Phantom Pain full marks, easy. But if you want to see whether another 30 or more hours changes my mind, I’ll be back with a full review before the game launches Sept. 1.

 

 

TIME Video Games

How to Stream Crazy-High Xbox One Graphics to Windows 10

Microsoft

The visual improvements are significant, but is it smooth enough for primetime?

If you own an Xbox One and Windows 10, you can stream Xbox One games to your Windows 10 PC, this much we knew. But an intrepid Reddit user just discovered there’s something Microsoft’s not showing us: namely, a sequestered “very high” quality streaming option, for those with fast enough home networks. I just verified this works myself, and it’s a snap to implement, but fair warning your mileage is going to vary.

Before we get to any of that, here’s how to enable the setting:

  1. Ensure you’ve connected your Xbox One to your Windows 10 machine and test-driven a streaming session (if you haven’t, the file you’ll need to modify won’t exist)
  2. Close the Xbox App on Windows 10
  3. Navigate to the following directory (copy/paste the following in File Explorer): C:\Users\%USERNAME%\AppData\Local\Packages\
  4. Open the long name folder that begins “Microsoft.XboxApp”
  5. Open the folder “LocalState”
  6. Use Notepad to open the file “userconsoledata” (right-click, choose “Open With”)
  7. Find the tag “IsInternalPreview” and change it from “false” to “true”
  8. Save the file
  9. Open the Xbox App on Windows 10, and once you have a streaming session going, click the upper right broadcast settings button and select “Very High”

Back to performance. By default, Microsoft sets Xbox-to-Windows-10 streaming quality at “Medium.” They also include a “Total Bandwidth” view that puts streaming metrics at your fingertips (you can enable it by clicking the icon left of the broadcast settings button).

On my system, just sitting at the Xbox One’s menu screen doing nothing on “Medium,” I can zip left or right through Metro’s tiles with virtually no audio or visual stuttering. My average bandwidth at this setting clocks 1-2 mbps, and quick shifting bumps my max up to 14 mbps, though we’re talking quick, manageable spikes.

Hopping into a Destiny session, visiting the tower hub, knocks my average bandwidth up to 6 mbps (though the max stays at 14 mbps). The visual quality at “Medium,” needless to say, is pretty much as advertised: middling quality, with distant details visibly blurry and a refocusing effect that kicks in each time you twist the camera. Even with your network performing optimally, the visuals look like they’re being upscaled from a significantly lower resolution.

Upshifting to “Very High,” by contrast, appears to offer native 1080p streaming. The Xbox One menu looks pristine at this level, and feels nearly as responsive as in “Medium” mode. My average bandwidth at this setting was slightly higher, about 2-3 mbps, with quick shifting bumping the max up to over 20 mbps, but still completely usable.

On “Very High,” Destiny appears to be visually near-flawless when stationary, though the average bandwidth leapt to 10-11 mbps (I still saw no spikes above 14 mbps during my brief test in the tower). That said, at those speeds, on my otherwise quiet 802.11n home network, once you start moving around you get into trouble. The audio cuts in and out frequently, and the visual feed drops too many frames—the curse of every game streaming service I’ve used, ever, from OnLive to Gaikai to PlayStation Now (it’s why, being enough of a visual snob to care about native graphics and smooth frame rates, I won’t stream games).

In summary then, it’s probably not worth the effort, save as a kind of visual curio—something to fiddle with while we wait for Microsoft to confirm and deliver what everyone’s really after: streaming PC games to the Xbox One.

TIME

Why Everybody Should Play Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

The Chinese Room / Sony

An interactive storytelling experiment that at times works wonders

Is Sony’s PlayStation 4-exclusive Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture a game? An interactive narrative? An open-air museum? All three at once?

I’m not sure. I’m also not sure I care that I’m not sure. The whole “is this a game?” back-and-forth seems as silly as the “is this art?” debate. Either way, there’s a frame of mind angle involved in appreciating what developer The Chinese Room is up to. You have to be receptive to its calculated bell curve throw. There’s nothing to fight here, no puzzles to solve, no heads-up display, no larders to stuff (no inventory management) and no scores to settle. As far as I can tell, the game lacks PlayStation phphies, too. [Update: The pre-launch version I played had no trophies, but the launch version will.]

What you can do, is inch along at the speed of a snail, open and close doors and fences, and listen to cryptic audio clips that issue from ringing phones and portable radios droning strings of mathematically ominous numbers. That’s it. It’s “interactive” at roughly the level of an intricate museum exhibit with stations and those little buttons you can push to conjure audio vignettes.

The Chinese Room / Sony

Like Dear Esther, its spiritual predecessor, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture invites you to explore—or maybe the better verb here would be haunt—an uninhabited tract of bucolic Shropshire, U.K., conjuring memories that gradually brick together an elliptical sci-fi-tinged yarn, employing sharp-eared dialogue and promising buildup. Imagine the audio diary portions of BioShock, except here they’re the pièce de résistance, a trickle of tales that meld the terrifyingly inexorable with the inexorably personal. The end of the world isn’t really about the end of the world, but how, given time enough to brood, we’ll go about reacting to it.

But is Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture artful enough in its telling? The title alone seems to be telegraphing that it’s more than a mere sci-fi potboiler, what with its reference to apex eschatology. But is that reference symbolic? Ironic? Literal? I’ve finished the thing and I still couldn’t tell you.

I can tell you the world wrought here looks as beautiful as a this-gen console game should, a sometimes linear, sometimes open swathe of blissful countryside you stroll freely through, espying mist-capped valleys punctuated by bus stops, phone booths, smoking ashtray-filled pubs, vast barns, spooky-looking domed towers, unpeopled flats, golden pastures choked with gently swaying strands of wheat and towering windmills. The weird stuff tends to happen as you amble along and trip (or interact with) trigger points.

The Chinese Room / Sony

In Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, that weird stuff mostly involves light that looks a little like the special effects circling Persis Khambatta and Stephen Collins near the end of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Balls of apparently sentient effulgence prowl intersections like terrestrial comets. Approach one and you’ll hear a susurrus of voices, like the doleful whispers in Lost. Are these the ghosts of the town’s unaccounted inhabitants? Often they’ll lead you to static spheres of energy. Twist the gamepad sideways (I’m not sure what this signifies, it just moves the sphere) and you’ll conjure a spectral memory, the sky blackening to starlight as a cyclonic stream of photons reenacts the scene, the actors physically unknowable save for their voices, which ring loud and clear as they recall a moment leading up to the “event” that culminated in their disappearance.

At first I assumed I was Kate, the first voice you hear as the game opens, a scientist with the laboratory partly responsible for the bit of scientific adventuring that gets the ball rolling. I gradually began to wonder whether I might be nobody, a bodiless phantom gliding from one slow-drip revelation to the next, poring over paranoid bus stop graffiti, the mishmash of artifacts in houses, bloody kleenexes, naturalist books on birds, old Commodore 64-style computers, black and white TVs, sky charts stippled with constellations, and “You are here” maps of the area as I worked out, mostly by following the beckoning balls of light, where to wander next.

Who you are may be a question the developers never answer. A disembodied witness? The actuating medium through which the roving souls of the transformed tell their tale? To what end? Perhaps simply this: to convey a straightforward story slightly out of sequence, with firmer visual parameters, the world and peoples our imaginations might conjure reading a book fully reified and continuously inhabitable here—mental flexibility versus imagistic holism.

The Chinese Room / Sony

That said, the navigational aids can be mercurial to a fault, and it’s easy to get lost once the areas open up. Couple with an inchworm’s gait, and if you mistakenly backtrack or veer off somewhere the little balls of light aren’t tracking, it can take more than a while to find your way back. Mountains of patience and an appreciation for romanticized English scenery are mandatory to seeing the four or five hours it takes to complete Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture through.

What worked least well for me, I hate to admit given my affection for Dear Esther, was the story. Not because it was unclear or poorly told, but because I’d argue it was handled with far more nuance and emotional resonance just last year in writer Jeff Vandermeer’s superlative Southern Reach trilogy. The twists and interpersonal tragedies and vaguely philosophical takeaways that should have been knocking my socks off here thus played more like the echoes of Vandermeer’s more affecting and weirdly analogous ones.

The things I like about Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture are many: the self-paced discovery and chronological asymmetry, the significance of entangling yourself in a visually “complete” environment, the poignance of a well-crafted, well-delivered character exchange. I’m just not sure how often I’d want to repeat the experience. It feels more like a playful experiment (there’s the “game”!) than a breakthrough approach to storytelling, though I admire the attempt, and the skill with which the tale, told in fragments, unfolds.

3 out of 5

Reviewed on PlayStation 4

TIME Video Games

This Is World of Warcraft‘s Monumental New Expansion

The world's top subscription game is getting its 6th extension

You’re going toe to toe with the Burning Legion in the next expansion, World of Warcraft wonks. On a mammoth green-backlit stage, wearing black button-ups with arcane symbology, Blizzard’s creative leads unveiled the studio’s sixth expansion to its 11-year-old online fantasy opus at Gamescom 2015 in Cologne.

It’s called World of Warcraft: Legion, and the usual expansion upticks apply: a 10 level character ceiling bump to 110 (and the option to boost one character to level 100), the obligatory new dungeons, raids and world bosses, overhauled PvP progression, new “artifact” weapons (36 total, one for each specialization, customizable, and they get more powerful as you do), class order halls, a new mobility-focused hero class (Demon Hunter, can glide-attack and double-jump, ) and a new continent to explore.

MORE: 11 Things We Learned By Trying Every Virtual Reality Headset Out There

Blizzard says that continent, dubbed the Broken Isles and extant in the lore, lies at the heart of Azeroth, calling it a “long forgotten graveyard continent” and “formerly a bustling Night Elves civilization.” It’s draw is the tomb of Sargeras, another throwback lore point harboring the well-known creator/leader of the Burning Crusade, last seen in a convoluted flashback circa Blizzard’s pre-World of Warcraft real-time strategy entry Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne. Sargeras’s tomb is apparently an active gateway to endless legion worlds, a demonic invasion Blizzard described as bigger than the War of the Ancients, and “the biggest demonic invasion of Azeroth ever.”

The studio also highlighted what it called a bridging cinematic (video below), linking the last expansion, Warlords of Draenor, to Legion. In it, you can see Gul’dan (the hooded orc) exploring the tomb and unearthing Illidan himself, locked in that giant semi-translucent block of green.

World of Warcraft subscriptions have fallen dramatically over the past few years, most recently dropping from 7.1 million to 5.6 million players. In a recent earnings call, Activision said the game is still the top subscription-based title in the world.

We’re still waiting for Legion‘s release date or timeframe. If Blizzard announces one when this presentation is over, I’ll add it here.

Update: The original version of this story incorrectly referred to Illidan as Sargeras.

TIME Video Games

Here’s Why Destiny May Finally Be Coming to PCs

Bungie

Why the online shooter, which boasts over 20 million registered users, isn't on PC yet is anyone's guess.

The implications are guesswork, but the possibilities…well, we can hope, right? Destiny creator Bungie is hiring a PC-compatibility tester, and that much is certain, because it says so right here on Bungie’s career page.

What that page doesn’t say is what said tester would be working on. A game? A peripheral? Something virtual reality related? Or the fabled maybe-yes-maybe-no PC port of Destiny?

“Are you kept up at night by the fear that your drivers might be out of date?” asks Bungie in the job listing. “Do you get more excited than it’s seemingly reasonable about good cable management in a computer case? Do static bags and zip ties have a calming effect on you? If the answer is a resounding “YES!”, then I believe we have a job for you at Bungie.”

The head-scratcher here is why Destiny wasn’t on the PC from the start. There’s no technical reason Destiny couldn’t soar on the platform. The game already lacks cross-platform-brand play, so that’s not the sticking point. And the demographics are a slam dunk: Valve’s Steam, now synonymous with PC gaming, boasts more than 125 million registered users on a platform that’s terra firma for online shooters.

Bungie itself hinted a few years ago that a PC version might be in the offing, admitting “We haven’t said yes, and we haven’t said no.”

Is it just a time and resources issue, as Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg implied last summer when he told Polygon: “You know, developing on PC is a different animal than developing for consoles and so we just want to make sure that we’re putting one foot in front of the other and getting it right, and that it’s of the highest possible quality”?

You’d think a game with more than 20 million registered users—nearly twice World of Warcraft‘s peak figure—could muster developmental support for what even Hirshberg admits would be a “natural fit.”

TIME Video Games

Check Out the New Halo 5-Themed Xbox One

It's the ultimate Halo 5 bundle, and not cheap.

Though sadly not a rethink (and shrink) of the bulky Xbox One games console, Halo enthusiasts have a new, albeit pricey, piece of memorabilia to consider when Halo 5: Guardians arrives in October.

For $500, you can kit out your entertainment center with Microsoft’s “Limited Edition Halo 5: Guardians Bundle.” It’s a special version of the Xbox One etched with metallic blue accents and Halo-inspired military symbology, all wrapped around a 1TB hard drive and connected to a similarly skinned Xbox One gamepad.

You can preorder the system now, and it’ll be available on October 20, one week before Halo 5: Guardians ships on October 27.

You’ll also get Halo 5: Guardians (though only as a download), the Warzone REQ Bundle (basically a bunch of unlockable weapons and armors, skins and assassination animations for the new Warzone multiplayer mode), FOTUS-class armor (think spiky duds) with a special multiplayer emblem, a metallic Guardian model, the complete Halo: The Fall of Reach animated series, dossiers for the game’s Blue and Osiris warring factions, a Spartan themed SteelBook and the classified orders given to Spartan Locke, the newly introduced playable character who’s hunting for an AWOL Master Chief at the game’s outset.

For Master Chief buffs, take note that the Limited Edition’s gamepad is styled after Locke’s blueish armor. You’ll have to spend another $70 if you want the separately sold gold-and-green accented Master Chief gamepad.

TIME Video Games

5 New Things Xbox One Owners Should Be Excited About

Microsoft just made a bunch of announcements

The annual Gamescom 2015 conference in Cologne feels like the other shoe dropping after the barrage of E3 revelations in June. Microsoft led off Europe’s five-day video gaming trade fair (the show officially launches Wednesday and runs through Sunday) with a 90-minute Xbox-centric presser that included world premiere first looks at Quantum Break, Crackdown 3 and Scalebound, three keystone Xbox One exclusives due next year.

Here’s a recap of the press conference’s top revelations.

Quantum Break

The whole “best looking game you’ve ever seen!” thing may be one of gaming’s most tiresome cliches, but our first look at Remedy Entertainment’s temporally unhinged third-person tactical shooter Quantum Break suggests it’s a visual powerhouse. It stars Shawn Ashmore (from Marvel’s X-Men movies) both voicing and lending his exquisitely captured digital likeness to protagonist Jack Joyce, a guy who’s come unstuck in time. Think Max Payne (also by Remedy), only with a grander arsenal of tactical maneuvers when time slows or freezes, sort of like the “Time in a Bottle” sequence from X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Creative lead Sam Lake describes Quantum Break as “a game as well as in-game live action show, fused to form an entertainment experience that’s more than the sum of its parts.” Yeah, I know, we’ve heard that sort of claim endlessly, so wait and see. What’s most important is how it plays. I still have no sense for that, watching the trailer’s confusing, time-slowing special effects as they render the game’s battlefields both beautifully but at the same time chaotically malleable. Look for Quantum Break on April 5, 2016.

Crackdown 3

Next up, we caught our first glimpse of the Crackdown superhero sandbox franchise’s third installment, which confirmed it’ll be another sprawling bash-a-thon staged in another futuristic metropolis overrun by another destructive army of thugs. Microsoft’s trailer described the city as a “dynamic ecosystem with multiple moving pieces, a criminal hierarchy to be dismantled any way you choose,” which sounds as promising as such claims always do on paper.

The surprise takeaway involved the game’s revamped multiplayer mode: if you play Crackdown 3 online, the environments become “100% destructible,” rendered with “20 times the power” of a single Xbox One—a feat Microsoft’s apparently managing by channeling the cloud. And we’ll be able to test-drive those multiplayer claims starting next summer, says Microsoft.

Scalebound

I suppose someone telling a dragon to “use its words” in a fantasy comedy was inevitable. Looking past Scalebound‘s awkward narrative hipsterism, the demo confirmed that the game will indeed be a buddy-play hack-and-slash in which you control a human (with bow, magic abilities and dragon-like body armor) while issuing tactical orders to your dragon pal.

You’ll be able to “free explore a vast and mysterious world” on foot or from the back of your dragon (which we already knew), as well as play cooperatively with up to four others (which we didn’t). Look for Scalebound “holiday 2016,” says Microsoft.

Full DVR functionality on Xbox One

Finally! Microsoft’s adding full DVR functionality to the Xbox One, letting you record live shows on the fly. Better yet, the Xbox app on Windows 10 will let you stream DVR’d shows to any Windows 10 device as well as download said content to mobile devices for viewing on the go. You’ll even be able to schedule recordings (via the app) away from the Xbox One. Best of all, Microsoft says all of this will comprise a subscription-free service when it launches sometime next year.

Windows 10 on Xbox One

We knew it was coming this year, just not when, and while we’re still waiting for a firm date, at least we now have the month: Microsoft confirmed what it’s calling the “New Xbox One Experience,” powered by Windows 10, finally arrives this November.

TIME Video Games

10 Reasons Gamers Will Love Windows 10

Or if you need just one reason, it's called DirectX 12.

Whenever I think about Windows 10, I hear Russell Watson belting the Star Trek: Enterprise theme song: “It’s been a long road, getting from there to here…” The muchballyhooed new iteration of Microsoft’s flagship operating system is indeed here, available July 29 for anyone bold enough to make the leap.

It’s a compelling proposition on paper: A free upgrade for anyone running Windows 7 or 8, and an interface overhaul rife with snazzy new features and tantalizing curiosities, many of them aimed squarely at gamers.

I use Windows for high-end PC gaming and that’s it. If you share that conception of Windows — as the beating heart of a souped up, console-shaming, uber-gaming powerhouse — you’re in good company.

But should gamers upgrade right away? To break that down and explore some of the less well-known angles, I spoke with Stardock CEO (and Windows insider) Brad Wardell, the guy behind recent PC games like Galactic Civilizations III and Sorcerer King, as well as up and comers Offworld Trading Company, Ashes of the Singularity and Servo. Here’s what he told me.

The number one reason gamers should consider Windows 10

DirectX is how games talk to your computer, the crucial “application programming interface” that rests like a byzantine traffic signal between the way a studio wants a game to look and play and the hardware under the hood. DirectX has been with us since Windows 95, and Wardell says DirectX 12, the dozenth iteration of the toolset, is as crucial a rethink as Windows 95 itself was when it debuted two decades ago.

“DirectX 11 and before were all made before we had multicore CPUs,” say Wardell. “So at the end of the day, all your games were talking to your video card via one core.” That, for modern CPUs now readily sporting four, six or eight cores, creates an enormous bottleneck. However fast your video card might be, that single-core limitation means games often wind up log-jammed by the CPU. It’s a head-scratcher Wardell says Microsoft’s finally solved with DirectX 12.

“In DirectX 12, every single one of your cores can talk to your graphics card simultaneously,” says Wardell. “So in our benchmarks, going from DirectX 11-optimized games, we’re seeing between 85% and 300% performance boosts.” Those kinds of leaps, any way you want to slice them, are huge.

Mind you, the game has to be written for DirectX 12, something you won’t see much of as Windows 10 launches. In fact Wardell believes his upcoming Kurzweilian homage, Ashes of the Singularity, a real-time strategy game and potential genre-upender that can juggle thousands of units simultaneously, will be the first. It’s due to be playable via Steam Early Access next month (It’s also, incidentally, the first game with a DirectX 12 benchmark, adds Wardell.)

But it’ll likely have company very soon. Wardell says it’s “not hard” to go to DirectX 12, and that his developers made the shift with relative ease. “These high-end games, like Unreal Engine or CryEngine, you know, your first-person shooters and such, they will probably have DirectX 12 versions very shortly. And when they arrive, we’re talking about a pretty huge, instantaneous performance boost.”

The older your system, the more DirectX 12 matters

It sounds counterintuitive, but Wardell told me the performance gains with DirectX 12 will be greater the slower your CPU is. That, to put it simply, is just a reflection of how big a deal activating all those idle cores turns out to be.

“The older your box, the better Windows 10 is,” says Wardell. “So if you have like a Core i5 [Intel’s mid-range CPU series] with a decent video card, you’ll actually see a bigger gain than if you have some monster Core i7 high-end CPU.”

Again, the game has to be DirectX 12 aware to benefit, but it’s a fascinating, hugely ironic Windows 10 wrinkle that its chief beneficiaries may be gamers running older multicore hardware.

DirectX 12 uses a lot less power

“Because it’s using all your cores, DirectX 12 uses a lot less power,” says Wardell. “Whenever you max out a core, you’re using a lot more power overall than if you’re distributing the load across multiple cores. So that means big power savings, especially for laptop gamers where battery life becomes a vital factor.”

The unanticipated flip side of this, Wardell tells me, is that DirectX 12’s core repurposing could actually harm extreme-end overclocked PCs. “Here’s a sneak preview of the first scandal,” jokes Wardell. “All these people who overclocked their machines could in theory wind up frying their computers, because with all those cores going all out, your PC’s going to run way hotter.”

Windows 10 turns your single video card PC into a twofer

How many video cards do you have in your PC? Think carefully (I didn’t, and told Wardell, who asked me the same question, just one). Wardell reminded me most modern PCs have at least two (not counting extremely high-end systems with cards run in tandem, in which case the number would be three or more).

“Everyone forgets about the integrated graphics card on the motherboard that you’d never use for gaming if you have a dedicated video card,” says Wardell. “With DirectX 12, you can fold in that integrated card as a seamless coprocessor. The game doesn’t have to do anything special, save support DirectX 12 and have that feature enabled. As a developer I don’t have to figure out which thing goes to what card, I just turn it on and DirectX 12 takes care of it.”

Wardell notes the performance boost from pulling in the integrated video card is going to be heavily dependent on the specific combination—the performance gap between integrated video cards over the past half-decade isn’t small—but at the high end, he says it could be as significant as DirectX 12’s ability to tap the idle cores in your CPU. Add the one on top of the other and, if he’s right, the shift at a developmental level starts to sound like that rare confluence of evolutionary plus the letter ‘r’.

DirectX 12’s benefits are going to be greater for PCs than consoles

Microsoft’s Xbox One is supposed to get Windows 10 at some point yet this year, but Wardell says DirectX 12’s benefits are mostly PC-centric. “This is going to make the PC pull away from the consoles quite a bit,” says Wardell. “It’s not that Windows 10 is so great, by the way, but that Windows 8 and below were nerfed. When the benchmarks start showing up in a week or so, it’s going to be so extreme, I think a lot of people are going to think they’re fake.”

It boots much faster than Windows 7

Windows 8 gamers—the small percentage who made that leap, anyway (Wardell says it’s around 23%)—you can just skip this one, because you’re already enjoying lightning-fast Windows boot times. But if you’ve been living on Windows 7 all this time, Windows 10’s startup times are slightly faster than Windows 8’s, and dramatically faster than Windows 7’s.

It handles windowed gaming much better than Windows 7

In the old days, PC games ran full screen or bust. Attempts to allow windowed gaming were slow or outright glitchy. Not so in Windows 8, and now, for those who’ve been biding their time running Windows 7, Windows 10.

“One of the things that’s a little subtle and not super-sexy, but I care about it, is that with Windows 10, and this is also a Windows 8 thing, you can run your game in a window and enjoy it with full performance,” says Wardell. “That’s a big deal for me, because let’s say I’m playing a game that’s not an action game, I can run the game as a full-screen window and just alt-tab and just instantaneously you’re on the desktop.”

You can stream Xbox One games to Windows 10 PCs

This one works day one, letting you pipe Xbox One games to a Windows 10 PC using Microsoft’s new game streaming technology (and also, like the Xbox One, capture your gameplay DVR-style in compatible games, then upload it to video sharing sites). Microsoft has also announced it’s working on the reverse, letting gamers stream PC games to the Xbox One console.

“I would totally be into that,” says Wardell. “I mean can you imagine what Fallout 4 for the PC is going to look like? Assuming [Fallout 4 developer] Bethesda doesn’t intentionally nerf it, the difference between the PC and console versions should be massive.”

You can see all your Xbox Live stuff

I have mixed feelings about this as a reason to upgrade, because it’s really just a social networking add-on: the option to scan your Xbox Live profile, gamerscore, achievements and so forth using the new Windows 10 Xbox Live app, as well as chat with your Xbox Live friends from your Windows 10 PC.

The downer, at least for me, is that it reinforces the distance Microsoft’s fallen from its lofty, now bygone Games for Windows push, back when the company boldly aspired to merge its Windows and Xbox ecosystems. Steam, at this point synonymous with PC gaming, pretty much eliminated hopes of Windows games feeding achievement stacks and gamerscores. Windows 10’s arms-around-the-Xbox-One strategy is still, in the end, about peering into the latter’s vibrant ecosystem from the outside.

It’s free

I’ve saved the most obvious and broadly hyped perk for last: If you own Windows 7 or Windows 8, upgrade versions or full, you can pick up Windows 10 for nada, so long as you do so by the end of July 2016 (it’s free to Windows 7 and 8 users for one year, in other words).

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com