TIME Video Games

Star Wars Is Coming to Disney Infinity

Even characters from The Force Awakens will make it to the game

Toy-game wonks, listen up: Disney’s Infinity video game series will, as rumored, mark its third outing by packing Luke, Han, Leia, Darth Vader and many more into all new Star Wars-themed play sets when version 3.0 arrives for all the current and last-gen consoles, PC and mobile (iOS, Android) platforms this fall. With Star Wars: The Force Awakens debuting this December, I’m sure you’re totally surprised!

Disney, which harbors some of the world’s most iconic entertainment franchises (Star Wars, The Muppets, Marvel, and of course all the core Disney IP), announced Tuesday that Disney Infinity 3.0 will hit this fall. The Star Wars: The Clone Wars-focused starter pack, which includes a “Twilight of the Republic” play set, Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano, will set you back $64.99. That’s a little lower than its typical asking price, says Disney, and all of the 1.0 and 2.0 figures and power discs will be compatible with 3.0.

Disney says it plans to release three Star Wars play sets, the first (above) set during Episodes I-III, the second during the original trilogy (Episodes IV-VI) and the third, available a bit later this winter, based on Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In addition to those, expect new 3.0 play sets that tie into Infinity‘s previous Pixar- and Marvel-angled installments, a few tweaks to Toy Box mode (new gameplay types, including racing, platforming and farming) and new characters, including Ultron (The Avengers: Age of Ultron), Sam Flynn and Quorra (Tron: Legacy), Mulan (Mulan) and Olaf (Frozen).

Back to Star Wars, because that’s why you’re here, Disney says that in addition to the Clone Wars-themed “Twilight of the Republic” play set, another dubbed “Rise of the Empire” will check various original trilogy boxes, letting you play as Luke, Leia, Han, Chewbacca and Vader, pilot X-Wings or the Millennium Falcon in space battles, or poke around planets like Tatooine, Hoth and–wait, sorry, not a planet–Endor.

And that’s just for starters. Disney says to expect more figure and play set announcements in the lead up to the game’s release.

TIME Video Games

The 10 Best Star Wars Games

That you can play right now... May the 4th be with you

Happy Star Wars day! Want a trove of games—released a long time ago, but in a galaxy just down the way—to help you while away the nearly 5,500 hours that stand between today and the ballyhooed debut of Star Wars: The Force Awakens on December 18?

Here you go then, a compendium of gaming’s brightest vamps on George Lucas’s Campbellian space opera, now living in what Disney calls its “Star Wars Legends” line (formerly the “Expanded Universe”). That, if you hadn’t heard, is Disney’s controversial wave-of-the-hand relegation of everything not the films, TV shows or recent books to “maybe it did/didn’t happen” status. So much for Luke Skywalker rubbing elbows with Kyle Katarn, or you usurping a 4,000-year-old Sith Lord to become one yourself.

But never mind that, because games are innately anti-canonical—subversion’s in their DNA. And while some on this list were more genre acolytes than pioneers when they first appeared a decade or more ago, a few managed to be exemplars of the medium for their time.

My only guideline in culling these 10 from the record books, was that they had to be playable on currently available platforms. So think of these as less a “best Star Wars games ever” lineup (though they’re nearly that) than the best you can sample without having to track down the original hardware or software.

  • Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

    Arguably the apotheosis of all the Star Wars games, Bioware’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic transported players thousands of years into the galaxy’s past, folding iconic lore like Jedis, Sith Lords, lightsabers and droids into a baroque reinterpretation of Lucas’s science fantasy verse. You’ll find some who’ll swear Bioware’s take on Star Wars bests even the original trilogy (including The Empire Strikes Back), and given the caliber of games Bioware was releasing at the time (both Baldur’s Gate installments), it’s easy to see why.

    How to play: Android, iOS, GOG.com, Mac, Steam

  • Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II – The Sith Lords

    Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II – The Sith Lords was a bug-riddled and unfinished mess when it first arrived in late 2004. Time and sufficient patching have thankfully rectified most of its shortcomings, allowing players to experience one of the most insightful and reflective Star Wars stories on the books. Credit design lead Chris Avellone (Planescape: Torment, Pillars of Eternity), whose exhilarating vamp on the Star Wars universe simultaneously deconstructed it.

    How to play: GOG.com, Steam,

  • Star Wars: The Old Republic

    What if the esteemed studio that gave us Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic crafted a modern MMO that revisited the era’s storied 4,000-year-old playground? EA’s Star Wars: The Old Republic, released in 2011 and still going strong, capitulates to MMO tropes (like fetch-and-deliver quests ad infinitum), but dressed in better-than-average, more personalized storylines.

    How to play: swtor.com

  • Star Wars: TIE Fighter

    Sure, 1993’s Star Wars: X-Wing was terrific, but it took 1994’s TIE Fighter to catapult developer Totally Games’ series to legendary status. For the first time in gaming history, players could campaign for the other side, exploring the Empire’s strangely compelling machinations–peace by the sword–through ingenious white-knuckled sorties, piloting vulnerable Imperial star fighters without combat backstops like deflector shields. TIE Fighter remains one of the best flight simulations ever made, a tour de force of mission design, plausibly brutal Newtonian deep space dogfighting and subversive storytelling.

    How to play: GOG.com

  • Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga

    My favorite moment in the friendly, rollicking, collection-angled Lego Star Wars games happens early on, in Lego Star Wars itself when you’re poking around Mos Eisley, playing co-op with a friend. At one point you come across a pile of unassembled Lego bits and bobs. You don’t have to do anything. You can just walk on by. But tap a button to whip the mess together, and you’ll find yourself staring down an Imperial AT-ST. At which point my companion yelled: “We just built our own boss monster!”

    How to play: Android, iOS, Mac, Steam

  • Super Star Wars

    I’m skirting my platform stricture here, but if you’re still rocking a Wii, you can pull this platforming run-and-gun down via Nintendo’s Virtual Console for 800 points ($8). Take note of the game’s first-person, pseudo-3D levels, where you can zip around flattened Tatooine landscapes in Luke’s land speeder, lobbing energy balls at enemies. Nintendo called this “Mode 7″ back in the day, and while it looks dated today, seeing it in games like F-Zero and Super Star Wars in the early 1990s was a revelation.

    How to play: Virtual Console (Wii)

  • Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II

    Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II stands as the first Star Wars game that let you experience, however crudely, the combat life of a Jedi Knight. Other games had let you swing the franchise’s iconic lightsaber or pull off Force tricks from sidewise perspectives, but Dark Forces II put that lightsaber (and those force powers) in your hands, then leveled the camera where your eyes would be, propelling you through puzzle-filled levels flush with enemies you could optionally choke or throw or envelop with tendrils of bluish lightning.

    How to play: GOG.com, Steam

  • Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast

    Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast may harbor lower lows (uneven level design) than its predecessor, but it’s also packing higher highs (lightsaber play, force powers). And it remains an essential play if the whole “be a Jedi Knight” thing ranks high on your list of Star Wars-ian fantasies.

    How to play: GOG.com, Mac, Steam

  • Star Wars: Empire at War

    No one’s yet produced a Star Wars strategy game to rival the genre’s best, but Star Wars: Empire at War comes the closest. Developer Petroglyph, harboring designers who’d worked on pioneering the real-time strategy games Dune II and Command & Conquer, folded competent terrestrial and space-based real-time strategy battles into a galaxy-spanning meta campaign that gave players control of heroic figures like Leia, Han Solo, Darth Vader and the Emperor himself.

    How to play: GOG.com, Mac, Steam

  • Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds

    Yes, developer Ensemble slapped a coat of Star Wars paint on Age of Empires II, but worse things have happened in gaming. The result was a respectable, reasonably deep real-time strategy game that offered just enough Star Wars flavor—albeit steeped in prequel lore, fair warning—to make it passably more than Age of Empires 2.5.

    How to play: GOG.com

TIME

Why the Halo Xbox One Tournament Was Just Canceled

Microsoft

It crashed and burned this weekend

Ground control to Master Chief: you haven’t made the grade, and you’re continuing to leave scads of Halo fans in the lurch.

That’s the sentiment the folks at Halo developer 343 Industries must be seeing a lot of the past 48 hours, after having to cancel a Halo tournament this weekend because of connectivity issues. The tournament was part of the Halo Championship Series (HCS), the official eSports moniker for the sci-fi shooter franchise. It’s been active since November last year in partnership with the Electronic Sports League (ESL), a global eSports outfit that boasts some 5 million members worldwide.

The Halo mothership tweeted the cancelation (the first cup of the second season of the HCS) Saturday night:

So what gives? Here’s everything we know.

This was supposed to be the HCS’s Season 2 kickoff

As reported by Eurogamer, this weekend should have seen the HCS’s inaugural Season 2 cup rolling through two days of matches. While Saturday’s events apparently transpired without hitches, Sunday’s lineup ran into connection issues that ultimately scuppered the tournament’s finale.

The issues were apparently surfacing already Saturday afternoon

An unofficial HCS Twitter account reported “a lot of protests going on late Saturday afternoon,” attributing it to possible “connection issues.” The official Halo Twitter account cancelation appeared a few hours later.

It’s because the Halo: The Master Chief Collection is still broken

The Halo: Master Chief Collection was supposed to be Microsoft’s Halo magnum opus, an Xbox One-optimized smorgasbord of Halo goodies for completists wanting a fresh look at Microsoft’s iconic series. Instead, it’s turned into more of an embarrassing memento mori.

The trouble lies with the compilation’s ballyhooed online features—in particular, fundamentals like matchmaking—which have been glitchy since the game’s launch on November 11, 2014.

Microsoft and 343 have been releasing patches for the game for months

No one knows why the collection’s matchmaking remains broken six months on, but after forcing players to download multiple, occasionally mammoth post-release patches for half a year (including a few recent patches everyone thought had rectified the issues), the game still isn’t tournament ready.

It’s probably nothing to do with Halo 5‘s multiplayer systems, but it’s certainly not helping the brand

Halo 5: Guardians lands on October 27 this year, and looks to be the most important Xbox One game Redmond’s going to release (as in ever, thinking about it’s importance in relation to console life cycles and install base buildup). If the game fails to bolster Xbox One sales, with Sony’s PlayStation 4 way out ahead of the Xbox One in global sales, it could be catastrophic for the entire Xbox platform.

TIME Video Games

Everything You Need to Know About Call of Duty: Black Ops III

The next massive Call of Duty game comes out in November

Will Black Ops III be the best Call of Duty yet? Will it bring female characters to warfare in a way that doesn’t feel trite? Or meaningfully differentiate itself from prior installments, gameplay-wise? What about finally escaping the scourge of witheringly negative Metacritic user reviews? Will it be fun? There are lots of questions bracketing a space filled mostly with hypotheticals (and truckloads of publicity hype). Here’s what we know so far, fresh off Activision’s worldwide reveal.

It’s coming November 6

The first/second week of November’s been a Call of Duty mainstay since Call of Duty 3 nudged the series out of late October, when it launched on November 7, 2006.

It’s no longer a single-person campaign experience

Prior Call of Duty installments swapped out characters across their campaigns, but Black Ops III will be the first in series to emphasize multiple protagonists simultaneously experiencing the game’s story-driven modes.

Meaning up to four people can play for the same team, online or local

That’s “four-player cooperative” in gamer lingo, and it means up to four players can play the game together, on the same side, from start to finish, either online or locally with a split screen.

It’s headed even further into the future

The Call of Duty series went science fiction back in 2012 with Black Ops II‘s cyber-jargon-laced near future jaunt to 2025. Last year’s Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare bumped the year out to 2054, and now Black Ops III looks to tour a grim-sounding cyborg-ish version of the 2060s, where “bio-technology coupled with cybernetic enhancements has given rise to a new breed of Black Ops soldier.”

Think soldiers with robotic limbs, in other words.

Yes, that makes it another triple-A game with an elevator pitch plot that lags at least half a century behind the best books, movies and TV shows, but who knows—maybe developer Treyarch will surprise us with its take on the “man vs. machine” trope.

You’re neurally connected to your squadmates

Activision calls it a “Direct Neural Interface,” and says you’ll play as black ops soldiers “that are interconnected, faster, and more lethal than ever.” With any luck, that’ll translate to something more novel than Ventrillo plus d-pad communication shortcuts.

Women will be just as common on the frontlines as men

Gender equality on the battlefield sounds like as huge step in the right direction, though it may court controversy if (and I stress if, since we don’t know yet) Treyarch’s rationale for doing so involves cybernetics-as-prerequisite.

There’s a new movement system that sounds vaguely Assassin’s Creed-ish

Activision describes it as a “momentum-based, chained movement system that allows players to move fluidly through environments and maintain constant control of their weapon.”

Call of Duty parkour?

You can customize up to nine soldiers

It’s called the “Specialist” system, and it’ll let you tweak their physiques, personalities, backstories, weapons and abilities.

There’ll be a Zombies mode

A signature Treyarch component, Activision says it’ll have its own story and experience point progression system.

It’s for PC and new-gen systems only

No surprises here: make that PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles, and you’ll presumably need a PC with a high-end GPU if you’re rocking a desktop or laptop.

Update: Activision contacted us to note that while the game has been announced for PC, PS4 and Xbox One at this point, the company hasn’t formally ruled out other platforms.

It spent three years in the cooker

Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg says this is developer Treyarch’s first thee-year project. Longer development times don’t always yield great games, but it’s a promising metric.

Treyarch’s saying it’ll be the best Call of Duty game yet made

To be fair, they always do.

TIME Video Games

12 Ways the New Guitar Hero Live Reinvents the Series

Activision

First Rock Band and now Guitar Hero are making bids to resurrect the music-rhythm game category

What’s the one thing missing from the Guitar Hero games, aside from their somehow magically transmogrifying you into a bona fide, string-sawing, fret-shredding, tremolo-slapping Rock God?

How about live stadium-sized audiences? Okay, so let’s assume there’s no way you’re luring thousands of people to watch you hammer tiny plastic buttons in tandem with onscreen cues while mugging for your webcam. But what if you could conjure an audience of real (as in not computer-rendered) concertgoers who looked and acted live instead?

This is Guitar Hero Live‘s big idea, and I’m not sure how it works, or even if it works. But the idea is definitely going to turn heads, if only because it seems so completely at odds with what you’d expect from this sort of experience in 2015.

FreeStyleGames demoed Guitar Hero Live for me last week in New York. Here’s what they’re saying about the game, due this fall for $99 with controller.

It’s the first new Guitar Hero game in five years

Guitar Hero Live marks Activision’s first mainline Guitar Hero since 2010’s Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock, and it’s as clean a break as you’re liable to see in the category. For one, its existence depends counterintuitively on full motion video, weirdly shelving it alongside games like The Seventh Guest, Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within, Mad Dog McCree and Wing Commander III.

Activision

The timing of the game’s announcement couldn’t be weirder, either. Activision claims it had no idea category rival (and original Guitar Hero creator) Harmonix was going to announce a new Rock Band game last month. I guess enterprising minds think—and subconsciously schedule—alike.

It’s the world’s first “first-person rhythm” game

In Guitar Hero, you tap buttons on a faux-guitar controller in step with onscreen cues that signify rhythmic divisions of the beat. Get a solid sequence going and the audience will cheer you on, or flub your part and they’ll break into choruses of boos.

But in Guitar Hero Live, instead of watching a camera pan around cartoonish avatars and concertgoers rocking out, the game sticks the camera on your shoulders, then shoves you onstage alongside filmed live action drummers, singers, bassists, keyboardists and the like, gazing out over a sea of expectant, all-too-easily disappointed fans. It’s first-person Guitar Hero, in other words, only without the option to move around on your own—a wise choice, since having to ambulate while interpolating rapid-fire rhythmic cues sounds nightmarish.

“You never see yourself in Guitar Hero Live, you never really hear yourself talk, because the whole idea is for you to imagine that you’re there,” says FreeStyleGames studio head Jamie Jackson. “It’s about getting you to believe that you’re on that stage, and to be completely swept along by the whole thing. That’s our vision for the game.”

The pretend-guitar control scheme is totally different

The original Guitar Hero games had players tapping up to five uniquely colored buttons along the top of a faux-guitar fretboard. The more difficult the song, the more the fourth and fifth buttons were used. Guitar Hero Live increases the button total to six, but eschews primary colors for just two—black and white—then stacks them at the top of the guitar neck as two rows of three, giving one a unique crisscross texture to help you sense (without looking) which row each finger’s in.

“What we’re trying to tell you, in design language, is ‘Do you hit the top row, or the bottom row?'” says Jackson.

Activision

The idea’s that casual players who maybe want to jam with at lower difficulty levels can do so by fingering just one row of buttons (three) at a time, whereas more sophisticated tappers will have to access both rows of three simultaneously. In practice, it’s a hair more like playing chords on a real guitar, your hands challenged to operate in two dimensions (simultaneously horizontal and vertical) instead of one.

The buttons (and onscreen cues) are now black and white

It sounds drab, and at first it does look bland, but FreeStyleGames says the decision to strip out the series’ trademark orange, blue, yellow, red and green buttons for black and white ones came about because it realized, belatedly, that those colors were throwing up informational roadblocks.

“In early development, we actually had the buttons using the original Guitar Hero colors,” says Jackson. But then one of the studio’s user interface designers came up with the idea to reduce the button colors from five to two, one for each button row. Jackson thought it was a terrible idea at first, but after giving the idea a try, he found he was able to play even more accurately.

“What we realized when we broke it down was, by having these as colors and trying to tell you whether to hit top row or bottom row, your brain was having to read color first, then top row or bottom row,” explains Jackson. “But it didn’t need to actually read color, because your fingers never actually move out of position. You always know which is left or right or the middle, that was a given piece of information. We just didn’t realize we knew that. So by taking out that process of your brain having to read the colors, everyone’s reactions got quicker. And that’s why we took the colors away.”

“Live” doesn’t mean actually live, but you’re not supposed to be able to tell the difference

That’s the promise, anyway, and it hinges, bizarrely, on fully filmed play-spaces.

So how did the studio keep the filmed reactions from looking artificial and the seams sufficiently seamless, since you can veer on or off course at any point in the midst of a song? The studio isn’t saying yet (expect more coming out of E3 in June), but claims their technology allows for the sort of reactive dynamism you’d expect from any of its prior titles.

Activision

“Your experience can change at any point,” explains Jackson. “There are no gates where the crowd’s reaction switches. You might get a song wrong in one place, one time, but the audience will have a totally different reaction if you get it wrong in a different place the next time. It’s entirely down to your performance.”

When I asked if this involved shooting epic volumes of video, the studio, which isn’t yet offering precise figures, was nonetheless emphatic that it involved “a lot.”

The studio wants to scare you

A little, anyway. FreeStyleGames says part of its design discovery process involved identifying the psychological rituals band members often go through before heading onstage. Imagine the sort of stage fright you might be grappling with, however accomplished or seasoned you are, if you’re playing a festival in front of a hundred thousand people. To that end, Guitar Hero Live supports multiple venue types, from intimate hundred-person clubs to sprawling stadiums.

The studio didn’t film any real bands

Imagine how expensive that might have been. But no, while FreeStyleGames says it’s using the original masters for the game’s hit lists, all the bands you’ll play in were created ad hoc.

Call it “Cover Band Hero,” then.

The audiences aren’t generic

Make no mistake: the musicians you’ll jam alongside in each song are playing the song you’re hearing, nor are they merely actors faking instrumentally out of sync performances. FreeStyleGames says that all of the musical performances line up visually with the master track, and even the audiences have been tailored to match the style of music you’re playing.

Activision

“Each song has been crafted to fit with a certain audience, and that audience will look like it’s there to experience that genre of music,” explains Jackson.

You can’t import your old Guitar Hero song library

The new Rock Band game, whatever else it turns out to be, supports most of the old Rock Band songs. For better or worse, Guitar Hero Live, because of the nature of its shift to handcrafted filmic experiences per song, supports none.

But the song list sounds massive

Activision says it’s positioning Guitar Hero Live as tantamount to playing a “modern music festival, with rock, folk, EDM, hip-hop, country and pop acts sharing the same stage.” The initial lineup (which Activision says amounts to “hundreds of playable tunes”) includes: The Black Keys, Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, Gary Clark, Jr., Green Day, Ed Sheeran, The War on Drugs, The Killers, Skrillex, The Rolling Stones, The Lumineers, Pierce the Veil and Blitz Kids.

So what’s on “Guitar Hero TV?”

Guitar Hero TV, or GHTV, is Activision’s shot at a self-hosted, 24-hour music video channel. At this point there’s still a lot we don’t know about it (save that it doesn’t involve Twitch), but the idea is to let players play along with official music videos, or compete with friends, whether local or online.

Activision

You won’t need a console to play

Paralleling the Skylanders franchise’s recent leap to mobile device, Activision says Guitar Hero Live will be playable on tablets and smartphones—all you need is the guitar controller—as well as PlayStations 3 or 4, Xbox 360 or One, and Nintendo’s Wii U.

Read next: Rock Band 4 Exists and It’ll Be on PS4 and Xbox One This Year

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TIME Video Games

The Next Call of Duty Is Apparently Black Ops III

We'll know for sure on April 26

Call of Duty: Black Ops III, anyone? That’s the presumptive punchline at the end of Activision’s trippy teaser for a new game, which not-so-cryptically sports the hashtag #backinblack, making this either the third installment in the mega-publisher’s storied spy-thriller shooter Call of Duty sub-series, or a really weird promo for a joint endeavor with AC/DC.

But surely the Roman numerology at the end (“III”) gives it away, if not the callout to “Mason” (as in Black Ops mainstay Alex Mason) at the beginning. And the line “Everything you know is wrong” makes it sound like the game’s going to be bouncing Mason off the whole introspective ret-con trope.

Symbols, GPS coordinates and looping lines of letters and numbers fill the screen as sinister Dr. Evil-ish voices threaten and goad. It’s an Internet sleuth’s dream come true, even if the end result of all the busywork’s something like “Mother may I have the next clue, please?” We should know more on April 26, the game’s official worldwide reveal.

As for the question “The numbers Mason, what do they mean?,” someone get Damon Lindelof or Carlton Cuse on the horn.

Update: Activision has now confirmed Call of Duty: Black Ops III is happening, longtime developer Treyarch’s helming, and we’ll see it this year.

TIME Video Games

The 15 Biggest Video Games Coming Out This Spring

Check out our springtime list of PC, console and handheld video games to keep an eye on

These are the biggest games for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U and Nintendo 3DS out this spring, including Bloodborne, Mortal Kombat X, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Xenoblade Chronicles 3D.

  • Mario Party 10

    Nintendo’s jamboree four-player Mario Party series comes to the Wii U, harboring its peculiar melange of boardgame-like mini-games, with this particular batch crafted to avail itself of both the Wii U’s unique second-screen controller and Nintendo’s wirelessly programmable Amiibo figurines.

    Wii U

    March 20

  • Bloodborne

    The popular line on developer From Software is that the studio makes counter-culturally punishing hack and slash games. That’s too easy. Once you isolate each game’s patterns, they’re relatively simple to crack. The difficulty’s in sussing the patterns, it’s true, but these games trade as much on their ambience, and Bloodborne‘s no different: an abattoir of the arcane that’s as gratifying to rubberneck as unravel, piece by bloody piece.

    PlayStation 4

    March 24

  • Pillars of Eternity

    A bona fide old-school PC roleplaying escapade inspired by several popular turn of the century Dungeons & Dragons computer gaming hits, Pillars of Eternity resurrects bygone staples like isometric (top-down, off-center) camera angles, round-driven tactical combat and an almanac’s worth of statistical esoterica. But it’s all thoroughly modernized here, and as friendly as this sort of world-building exercise is likely to get.

    PC

    March 26

  • Axiom Verge

    Give Petroglyph (Command & Conquer) developer Tom Happ five years to fiddle in his spare time with a side-scrolling platformer, and you get Axiom Verge, an homage to games like Metroid and Castlevania, but one that layers in its own curiosities and inventions, adding to a growing chorus of recent, deceptively throwback games that bristle with progressive surprises.

    PC, PlayStation 4, PS Vita

    March 31

  • Story of Seasons

    A Harvest Moon-like (developer Marvelous Entertainment is known for its work on the long-running Harvest Moon series), Story of Seasons lets players raise ye olde crops and livestock, but in this case you can peddle your wares in an online market composed of various “countries,” each with unique trade-related demands.

    Nintendo 3DS

    March 31

  • Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin

    Another Sisyphean From Software ordeal, Scholar of the First Sin packages last year’s Dark Souls II with all of its expansion content, upgraded for the latest consoles and sporting new enemies, items as well as support for more simultaneous players in online sessions.

    PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

    April 2

  • Etrian Mystery Dungeon

    The dungeon-exploring Etrian Odyssey series meets the roguelike Mystery Dungeon games. It’s not clear yet how that mashup’s going to distinguish itself, but it presumably involves random-generated dungeons, three-dimensional environments and chess-like (I go, you go) combat.

    Nintendo 3DS

    April 7

  • Affordable Space Adventures

    2015’s list of Wii U games feels worryingly sparse with The Legend of Zelda slipping to 2016. While you’re waiting, there’s Affordable Space Adventures to think about, a clever-sounding Wii U exclusive that hands you control of a tiny spaceship with discretely playable and granular systems, allowing friends to crew aspects of the ship like thrust, stabilization or scanning in concert.

    Wii U

    April 9

  • Xenoblade Chronicles 3D

    One of the smartest roleplaying games in the genre’s history comes to the New Nintendo 3DS (and only to the New 3DS–it’ll be the first that taps the new handheld’s souped up processor). This is your chance to play what by all accounts looks to be the definitive version.

    Nintendo 3DS

    April 10

  • Grand Theft Auto V

    It’s a shame a studio as stately as Rockstar’s made players on the most popular and generationally resilient video game platform around wait a full year and a half to play the company’s 2013 magnum opus. If you’re one of PC gaming’s many slighted, however, the Windows version appears to be definitive (that is, if you have a PC powerful enough to crunch it).

    PC

    April 14

  • Mortal Kombat X

    It’s another Mortal Kombat for the latest-gen hardware, meaning a compendium of even more graphically intricate carnage erupting from the business end of whips, chains, bows, swords, hats, hammers and various weaponized limbs.

    PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

    April 14

  • Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China

    Assassin’s Creed Unity was the first critical misstep in Ubisoft’s annual stealth-parkour franchise, in part because the company oversold it as its boldest rethink since the series debuted in 2007. Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China, a downloadable 2.5D platformer (it’s a 2D side-scroller with 3D elements), will be the first in a trilogy of diversions designed to fill the space between Unity and the series’ next installment, ostensibly due this year and reportedly set in Victorian London.

    PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

    April 21

  • Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker

    Sporting the world’s weirdest name and likely bound to scare off anyone not in the tactical roleplaying Tensei-series know, Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker revisits the acclaimed 2012 Nintendo DS game (of the same name, sans the “Record Breaker” appendage) by way of a new scenario that picks up where the original game left off.

    Nintendo 3DS

    May 5

  • Wolfenstein: The Old Blood

    You won’t need a copy of Wolfenstein: The New Order (reviewed here) to play developer MachineGames’s standalone prequel expansion, which takes series protagonist William “B.J.” Blazkowicz back to Hitlerian climes circa 1946, canvassing two pivotal alternate history events leading up to the last game’s break with World War II and Man in the High Castle-ish leap forward.

    PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

    May 5

  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

    You may want to take the rest of the year off to play The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Polish developer CD Projekt Red’s apparent bid to eliminate every other game from your playtime schedule. Imagine Skyrim multiplied by Skyrim and you’re in the ballpark of this East European-inspired fantasy-verse. And if hundreds of potential hours of freeform gameplay isn’t enough to sate your Heisenbergian appetites, the studio just announced two expansions due for release over the course of this year into early next, totaling some 30 hours of additional content.

    PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

    May 19

TIME Video Games

5 Reasons You Need to Check Out Cities: Skylines

Colossal Order

The city-building genre is alive and kicking, thanks to an unabashed SimCity tribute by Finland-based developer Colossal Order

It used to be, the video game everyone played (if they played video games) was SimCity. This was back when PC gaming ruled the roost, and you called computers “desktops” because they actually sat on your desk and doubled as monitor stands. SimCity would eventually fall behind The Sims in terms of sales—now one of the top 10 gaming franchises in history. But for most of 1990s and early 2000s, SimCity was one of those series folks who’d never identify as gamers might, if you brought up gaming in conversation, cop to playing obsessively.

Over the last decade, the “sim” aspect of SimCity has vectored off toward steadily fuzzier, un-simulation-like pastures. Blame the success of The Sims, or the presumption that softer, friendlier, social-angled gameplay is some sort of Platonic gaming ideal. Whatever the reasons, by the time Maxis rebooted SimCity in 2013, the game felt very little like its acclaimed forerunners. You didn’t build cities so much as towns, monitored abstract symbols and color bars in lieu of meaningful metrics, and Maxis’ stumbling conflation of mandatory online play with a bunch of glitchy, not-ready-for-primetime servers — many couldn’t play the game at all, prompting Amazon to yank it from their e-shelves — wound up alienating hardcore and casual players alike.

Enter Cities: Skylines, a PC game by a totally different studio (interlopers!) that’s singlehandedly revitalizing the city-building genre. And not in a “Look, here’s something more clever than SimCity!” way, so much as a “Hey, why not just do SimCity old school?” one. Here’s a look at some of the reasons why.

It’s an unapologetic city-building simulation

“[Developer] Colossal Order delves deep into what Maxis and EA once made so popular with a traditional city-building approach,” writes GameSpot. “Few surprises or even significant innovations can be found here: There is just a standard single-player mode of play in which you choose from a handful of maps representing territory types ranging from flat plains to tropical beaches. You may also play the game with standard conditions, dial up the difficulty, and/or turn on sandbox and unlimited-money mods.”

And it’s ultimately about getting your city’s thoroughfares right

“Each stretch of road, every bus stop, every link in the transport network is important, and even small changes can have meaningful results,” writes PCGamesN, later adding “Everything in Skylines starts with a road. The very first thing you do is drag out that first stretch of tarmac from the highway, the first little piece of the city. Eventually that will connect up with elevated intersections, roundabouts, bridges and other roads both small and huge. Everything grows up around them.”

But it’s not overly complex, or byzantine for the sake of bean counting

“In addition to managing the physical aspects of your city, you’ll have to keep an eye on your bank account and supplement it with loans, decide what to budget for various utilities and services, and tweak taxes for residents and business,” observes PC Gamer. “None of this feels deep, simulation-wise—it’s mostly fiddling with sliders and finding a balance between keeping a positive revenue and annoying residents with steep taxes—but nothing about Skylines’ simulation feels terribly deep, at least economically, and apart from focusing on specific types of industries, or choosing office towers over factories, none of my cities have felt particularly specialized. That suits me just fine, though players looking for a deeply complex city simulation might be a little disappointed.”

Rejiggering your cities isn’t a pain in the butt

“[This] is arguably the heart of Cities: Skylines, which does a fine job making urban renewal as painless as possible,” writes Quarter to Three. “Because so much of the gameplay is premised on the traffic model, Colossal Order knows you’re going to have to widen streets, or put in subways, or deal with railways intersecting roads. So it gives you plenty of smoothly implemented options for one-way traffic, elevated roads, public transportation routing, and especially moveable service buildings. I can’t emphasize enough what a game changer it is that you can relocate an expensive university or hospital instead of having to demolish and rebuild it.”

And the game supports mods that already remedy potential annoyances

“Citizens will let you know what they think of your mayoral skills through the social network Chirper, with new ‘chirps’ appearing under the blue bird logo either criticising or praising your work,” explains God is a Geek. “Despite its helpfulness, this bird can get bloody annoying at times – especially when your population has expanded into the thousands and everyone wants to get their two-pence in. Unfortunately, the option to break the birdie’s neck isn’t available in the base game but mods are already available to combat this incessant feather vertebrae and turn him off completely. Hooray for the internet.”

TIME Video Games

Bloodborne’s 10 Quirkiest Ideas So Far

From Software's PlayStation 4 exclusive does just enough to walk the studio's unique action-roleplaying ideas forward, but it could have done more

That I’m nowhere near finished with Bloodborne says as much about From Software’s PlayStation 4 lycanthrope-mauler as anything. I’ve had the game since late last week and clocked at least 40 hours through Monday night — just shy of what some claim it takes to beat the game. I’m still working through the first few areas. Chalk my sluggishness up to being a slower, more methodical player.

But it’s also because Bloodborne carries forward the Souls’ series back-breaking pedigree: this is a game about pushing the proverbial ball up something more like a mountain, millimeter by grueling millimeter, looking for meaningful perspective on your progress. From Software’s great triumph as a studio — and Bloodborne epitomizes this — is in making that feel like something you want to do, not that you have to.

Here’s what I think of Bloodborne so far, absent the multiplayer angle, which I’m waiting to futz with until the game’s launch tomorrow, March 23.

The new “regain” system changes everything

From Software’s entire developmental oeuvre trades on simplistic sounding gameplay ideas that wind up having monumental depth. To wit, in Bloodborne the studio’s added what it calls a “regain” system to combat.

It sounds trivial: after an enemy damages you, you have a few crucial seconds to strike back and, if you connect without taking further damage, replenish your flagging health bar. They hit, you hit. On paper, it’s as nuanced as a pugilism seminar.

But Bloodborne packs its Grand Guignol zoo with deft, spontaneous enemies who make it incredibly difficult to land reciprocal blows before the regain timer runs out and the damage to your health bar becomes permanent. Regain is thus another dare (in a game about daring), goading you to act recklessly, to make split-second tactical choices that, if you’re not thoroughly versed in an enemy’s attack patterns, often result in your taking even more damage.

Multiply by the barrage of new enemy types, each with unique attacks, and how you dispatch them — the crux of these games, requiring methodical thought — is easily the most nuanced of any of the prior Souls installments.

So does the game’s loot-hunt twist

The Souls games are basically risk-reward abattoirs wrapped around hack-and-slash chutes. You haul around souls (the games’ version of cash), but drop them if you die, after which you have just one shot to bash your way back to the spot you croaked and reclaim your booty. Die before you get there, and those dropped goods vanish forever, forfeiting all your hard work to that point.

Bloodborne continues in the same vein (instead of souls, it calls your cha-chings from enemy kills “blood echoes”), but with a fascinating wrinkle: now, if you die in the vicinity of enemies, they can snatch up your lost treasure and go for a stroll.

Return to the spot of your demise, and you’ll often find it bare. Instead, you have to scan nearby enemies until you identify one with glowing eyes — the telltale sign it’s the creature schlepping your goods. And the only way to retrieve them is to defeat the creature in combat. Suffice to say I’ve lost a lot of hard-earned moola overzealously rushing blood echoes thieves flanked by lethal helpers. (Woe to anyone who loses their trove in battle with a deadly mini-boss, and has to fight it to get their blood echoes back.)

From Software

It’s all about crowd control

The Souls games generally involve engaging enemies one and sometimes two at a time. Bloodborne by contrast opens the battlefield up to whole squadrons of horrors, each creature bristling with different weapons, hit ranges and attack sequencing, making them pretty much phalanxes of anarchic insanity.

Figuring out how to break down a crowd, maybe by luring away one or two enemies at a time (you can toss pebbles, Shadow of Mordor-like), is thus as crucial as leveraging the game’s new arsenal of crowd control weapons. If you’re into observation-related strategizing, and I am, Bloodborne forces you to pause and study groups of enemies before engaging them far more than in From Software’s prior games.

You can scan enemies from a distance — and you’ll need to

Demon’s Souls and both of the Dark Souls games opened on vast panoramas, but blurred their beautifully bleak far-off scenery for technical reasons. Bloodborne makes no such compromises, spotlighting ever exquisite distant detail of its Boschian nightmare-scapes, allowing you to eyeball enemy mobs (and their shambling trajectories) from several stories up, so you can plot your approach vectors accordingly.

It’s the apotheosis of From Software’s ultra-creepy visual aesthetic

I’ve loved the bleak, convoluted, almost Peake-ian feel of the Souls games for years, but Bloodborne ratchets that up another order of magnitude. In the starter areas, you’ll prowl gorgeously macabre coffin-choked cobblestone streets, observing flamboyant gothic tableaus framed by cathedral structures with coruscating stained glass windows and knuckled spires, while a fat, apocalyptic star baptizes the landscape like something out of a Jack Vance yarn.

I imagine you’re going to see the adjective “Lovecraftian” slung around a lot here, and fair enough, since he’s clearly an influence. But after reading Jeff Vandermeer’s hypnotically weird Southern Reach trilogy last year (if you’ve read it, I’m thinking specifically of the tunnel/Crawler sequences), I have a new word to describe how these games work on me: Vandermeerian.

From Software

Access points are just access points (again)

Dispensing with Dark Souls’ “campfires-make-it-all-better” approach to vitality replenishment, where you could heal by tagging the nearest bonfire, Bloodborne’s lantern-lit checkpoints are simply I/O ports to and from the game’s safe hub (that is, they’re more like Demon’s Souls’ bonfires). If you want to heal, you instead have to quaff blood flasks swiped from defeated enemies.

The only problem: so far, those blood flasks are pretty easy to come by. You can carry up to 20 on your person off the bat, and store another 100 in the safe hub (they’re a lucrative business, too: I’ve probably sold half as many as I’ve gulped). I have yet to run short of flasks during the toughest boss battles, where when I’ve died, it’s because I didn’t drink them fast enough.

And the levels cross-connect in fascinating ways

I’m not sure we’ll ever see an open-world From Software game (or that we’d even want to), nor is Bloodborne in so much as the same hemisphere as those sorts of games. But the levels I’ve plumbed are far more intertwined, and in cleverly concealed ways, offering, among other things, the option to take on certain bosses out of sequence. If you enjoy hunting for secret avenues or byways, some that lead to secret items, others that open up shortcuts or ways of cutting ahead, Bloodborne is flush with them.

But some of the boss fights are too pattern-enslaved

Maybe this changes further along, but all the end-area creatures I’ve battled have been tediously bipolar: you’re either destroyed quickly for lack of pattern recognition, or winning almost effortlessly once you’ve sussed the latter.

The most interesting thing about Bloodborne (so far, for me) is the crowd-control dynamic that coalesces spontaneously in the midst of a level, defying rote approaches. The boss fights, by contrast, come off too much like the same old static puzzles: once you’ve solved for X, you’re just going through the motions.

From Software

It really is Dark Souls with shotguns (but they’re not the main attraction)

That’s what a Sony community manager called it. It sounds glib, but only because it misses Bloodborne’s real star: its transformable arsenal of melee weapons. Brandish the game’s cane, for instance, and you’ll execute a series of fast, nominally damaging hits at short range. But pull one of the gamepad’s triggers and, after rapping the cane on the cobblestones (transformations aren’t instantaneous), it’ll change into something Castlevania’s Simon Belmont would appreciate: a jangling whip that, while slower to strike, deals pain at much greater range and lets you tag entire swathes of enemies.

Projectile weapons, by contrast, are more adjuncts to your melee armory, used offhand to stun or drive back enemies before you launch the coup de grace from your main hand. They’re helpful, in other words, but only as blowback tools. There’s no ballistic finesse involved, and since the main action’s happening in your other hand, that’s as it should be.

The chalice dungeons are kind of boring

The idea with chalice dungeons is that you stumble on goblets in the main game, then perform a “chalice ritual” in the game’s safe zone to spawn mini-dungeons from random seeds, which you can then visit at leisure to practice or level up. Each time you perform the ritual, the layout of the dungeons — including creature placement, trap arrangements and boss finales — gets rejiggered.

Random generated dungeons are already dull by design, but here they feel doubly so. After slogging through Bloodborne’s handcrafted main levels hundreds (and eventually thousands) of times, who wants to plow through haphazardly computer-built ones?

As an alternative to grinding out the same choreographed battle maneuvers in the primary areas to level up, introducing optional mini-dungeons isn’t a terrible idea. And the way the game mashes up enemy types and difficulty levels makes for a curiously asymmetric (and in that sense, unique) experience. But so far, they’re too arbitrary to hold my interest, though perhaps that’ll change once I’ve had a chance to try them in cooperative or player-vs.-player modes.

TIME Video Games

8 More Fascinating Things Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata Told TIME

Nintendo President Satoru Iwata And DeNA President Isao Moriyasu Joint News Conference As The Companies Form Capital Alliance
Akio Kon—Bloomberg/Getty Images Nintendo President and CEO Satoru Iwata, left, speaks while DeNA Co. President and CEO Isao Moriyasu listens during a joint news conference in Tokyo, Japan, on March 17, 2015.

Why he hates the term "free-to-play" and why the New 3DS almost didn't make it to market on time

Last week, Nintendo President and CEO Satoru Iwata spoke exclusively to TIME about the company’s plans to develop games for smart devices, sluggish Wii U sales, rumors of a live action Netflix Zelda series and why a last-minute feature for the company’s New 3DS games handheld nearly sabotaged its debut.

Here’s the rest of that interview’s takeaways in Iwata’s own words.

Nintendo’s plans to develop games for smart devices is still about bringing different generations of players together

“One thing that we have found over the years is that video games themselves have a tendency to be difficult to break out of a particular segment,” says Iwata. “But what we have found with some of our most successful products, is that they tend to be ones where people are playing them together and the communication is spreading much more broadly and easily than standard word of mouth communication. And what you start to see is people of different generations playing together and talking with each other, and sometimes you even see grandchildren talking with their grandparents about a video game.”

“So with the plans for our smart device efforts, that will also take on this theme of giving people opportunities to learn from one another about games, and giving games an opportunity to spread across different generations of people, and give people more opportunity to communicate with one another about games,” explains Iwata. “And I want to say that we’re going to be putting forth some effort to be able to provide some factual data that supports these viewpoints.”

Iwata thinks Nintendo can overcome free-to-play’s stigmas

“I do not like to use the term ‘Free-to-play,'” says Iwata. “I have come to realize that there is a degree of insincerity to consumers with this terminology, since so-called ‘Free-to-play’ should be referred to more accurately as ‘Free-to-start.'”

“The thing that concerns me most is that, in the digital age, if we fail to make efforts to maintain the value of our content, there is the high possibility for the value to be greatly reduced as the history of the music industry has shown,” he continues. “On the other hand, I have no intention to deny the Free-to-start model. In fact, depending on how we approach this model, we may be able to overcome these problems.”

But Iwata doesn’t view free-to-play as a progressive development

“I do not believe it is an either-or situation between Free-to-start and packaged game retail business models,” argues Iwata. “There are games which are more suited for the Free-to-start model. We can flexibly choose between both revenue systems depending on the software content.”

“However, because there are games or types of games which are suited for the existing package model, and because there are consumers who appreciate and support them, I have to say that it is a one-sided claim to suggest that a complete transition to a Free-to-start model should be made because the existing retail model is outdated.”

Nintendo was “forced” to sell the Wii U at a higher cost than it might have otherwise

“I think, to be honest, we were in a difficult situation,” says Iwata. “Because for the home console our biggest market opportunity was in the overseas markets in the U.S. and Europe, but because of the valuation of the yen and the exchange rates into dollars and euro, it made it a difficult proposition for us to capitalize on that, because of the cost that we were forced to sell the system at.”

The New 3DS’ “Super-Stable 3D” feature nearly torpedoed Nintendo’s latest games handheld

Nintendo’s New 3DS (reviewed here) employs a special eye-tracking sensor that improves the way the handheld conveys its eponymous 3D trick. But according to Iwata, the feature emerged as the device was about to head into production, prompting an eleventh hour scramble.

“I think you’re probably familiar with the tales of how, in the late stages of development, Mr. Miyamoto always upends the tea table,” said Iwata. “So a similar thing happened this time. The hardware developers had designed a piece of hardware that they felt was at the final stage of prototyping, and they were bringing it to us for approval to begin moving forward with plans for manufacturing. But Mr. Miyamoto had seen that super-stable 3D just one week before, and he asked “Why aren’t we putting that in this system? If we don’t put this in it, there’s no point in making the system.”

Iwata says he was personally asked many times by his internal engineers, “Are we really going to do this?”

“But Nintendo is a company of Kyoto craftsman, and what we don’t want to do, is if we know we can make something better, we don’t want to leave that behind,” he explains. “So we were able to bring the super-stable 3D to reality by looking technically at what we can do to solve those challenges and finding those steps along the way to make it happen. This is where my background in technology is quite helpful, because it means that the engineers can’t trick me.”

Iwata doesn’t see Amiibo as a Skylanders or Disney Infinity clone

“At first glance it may look like we’re a trend follower with amiibo,” says Iwata. “But really what we’re doing is, we have introduced amiibo in a way that is new and where amiibo do things in our games that they can’t do anywhere else. From that perspective, we feel that we are a trendsetter.”

“It’s true that if you go into a retail store, and you see the retail shelves, that from a retail perspective, we’re leveraging the structure that’s in place for how the toys to life category is being sold. That’s a hurdle that’s hard to overcome in terms of differentiation. But in terms of how the amiibo are used in games, we do feel that we are taking the lead in terms of broadening what toys to life can be.”

And the Smash Bros. characters have been toys all along

“What’s interesting about the Smash Bros. games, is that the Smash Bros. games do not represent the Nintendo characters fighting against one another, they actually represent toys of Nintendo characters getting into an imaginary battle amongst themselves,” explains Iwata. “And frankly that has to do with a very serious debate that we had within the company back then, which was, ‘Is it really okay for Nintendo characters to be hitting other Nintendo characters? Is it okay for Mario to be hitting Pikachu?'”

That story about a new live action series Zelda series coming to Netflix in Japan may not be accurate

In early February, the Wall Street Journal reported that Netflix was developing a live-action series based on Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda franchise. But Mr. Iwata says those rumors are inaccurate.

“As of now, I have nothing new to share with you in regard to the use of our IPs for any TV shows or films, but I can at least confirm that the article in question is not based on correct information,” says Iwata.

Read next: Exclusive: Nintendo CEO Reveals Plans for Smartphones

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