TIME Video Games

Here’s The New Mortal Kombat Trailer

"Get over here," Mortal Kombat X

The next installment of the Mortal Kombat video game series is coming. Mortal Kombat X’s title was announced on Twitter by the series’ co-creater Ed boon on Twitter.

The game is slated for a 2015 release, according to a new trailer, for the Xbox One, the Xbox 360, Playstations 3 and 4, PC. Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment promised it will deliver “the most brutal Kombat experience ever.” We just hope that impatient fans won’t have to yell “Finish him!” if there are any delays.

TIME technology

This Is the Best Home Arcade Ever

Our games, ourselves

$32,000 buys you a lot of video games, but not happiness.

It’s fair to say that Chris Kooluris is obsessed. Though as a professional marketer he doesn’t fit the traditional profile of a geek, the 37-year-old Kooluris has spent $32,000 outfitting a small bedroom in his home into the world’s best retro arcade, complete with bubble-gum machines. His collection includes $3,000 arcade cabinet versions of hit games like Donkey Kong and Ms. Pac-Man (for the ladies, he says).

A fascinating Wired story tracks the development of this shrine to video-game history. Kooluris grew up playing arcade games, especially Street Fighter II. He even got a copy of the game at home as a kid. He was compelled to recreate some of his childhood fascination in the home arcade, a plan that his girlfriend supported—at least at first.

Kooluris got engaged to his girlfriend, but as the arcade took over his life, she was pushed away, and eventually broke things off. He got what he was looking for in video games, but not in love. Then the video games began to sour as well, with support from fan forums waning. When the story ends, Kooluris has just spent his highest amount ever for an individual game—$6,725—but on a pinball machine, which seems to be slated for his new obsession.

In many ways, this is the story of fandom. Being obsessed with a particular video game, or comic, or superhero, is less a concern about the wider culture and more a pursuit of something within ourselves. Video games might capture that elusive sense of play and creativity found in childhood, harder to come by in real life. Of course, that fix is only temporary.

TIME Video Games

This New Mercedes Super Mario Bros. Ad Is Pretty Weird Alright

This couldn’t be more bizarre, or unexpectedly amusing, or kind of clever if you squint with your brain just so: Mercedes plus Nintendo plus Super Mario Bros. plus a sequence halfway in where that’s all reimagined as a live action thing, complete with realistic flagpole, castle, rocky wasteland and no-legged Goomba.

That Mario’s too tall though. Anyone can see that. And what’s with the lazy because-I’m-bad, Goomba toe-stubbing saunter from the car? What’s the message here, “Mercedes makes you steely-eyed, big-nosed and oblivious”?

From the school of “squirrel!” ad design, it’s hard to know what made Mercedes opt to do this now, with Nintendo’s game system (the Wii U) struggling, if not on the ropes. E3 2014 in a week-and-a-half? Maybe. They probably wanted to get people talking about it. And here we are talking about it.

TIME technology

What Does the Pokémon World Eat? Pokémon. 

Pokemon.com

Would you like a Bulbasaur salad with your Pikachu steak?

Anyone who grew up in the 1990s (or any time after that, basically) is familiar with the basic, addictive premise of the Pokémon video games: the world is full of fantastical creatures that “trainers” can collect and make fight each other—kind of like animals, but more easily tamed. But that world, designed for tweens and teenagers, might be far creepier than it appears.

Modern Farmer published an article that analyzes the mysterious food politics of the world of Pokémon and comes to a conclusion: “Simply put, it is a fact that people eat Pokémon.” Collating creatures from the games and comments from the world’s non-player characters who chat up the protagonist, it becomes clear that Pokémon produce the basis of the world’s existence. Miltanks, a cow-like Pokémon, produce milk, while the tail of the Slowpoke, an exceedingly dumb Pokémon, is a delicacy. The poison of the serpentine Arbok makes a delicious cheese.

So how does this change our view of the games? In battle, Pokémon don’t really die, they just faint and have to be brought back to life. But if Pokemon are actually raised like chickens, for food byproducts and meat, then presumably they are fully capable of death. It’s a gruesome food-chain that sees trainers eating the very pals they depend on in battle.

Real animals have popped up in the Poké-universe in early art and comic books, but they gradually disappear in later games. When a character eats a hamburger, one has to assume it’s more of a Poke-burger. Thankfully, no reference to eating Pikachu has yet been made—you don’t have to eat ‘em all.

TIME Video Games

New Quantum Break Footage Makes Me Wish I Had a Time Machine

Remedy's third-person Xbox One-exclusive shooter won't be out until next year, but to paraphrase the slightly creepy-sounding Dan Hartman 1980s tune, we can dream about it.

Quantum Break looks really, really good. Better than Heavy Rain good. Better than a lot of CGI films good. Assuming Microsoft’s showing us actual Xbox One footage in the trailer above and not something running on a supercomputer-like PC render-farm, Xbox One owners have something special to look forward to, visually speaking, when Remedy’s third-person shooter drops in 2015.

Yep, I said 2015. That’s new. If you missed the earlier news, the game, which was due sometime this year, just got officially bumped to sometime next year. That’s okay, we’ll wait. And while we’re waiting, the trailer above — narrated by Remedy’s enjoyably stentorian creative director Sam Lake — offers a peek at what Remedy’s planning to show, more expansively, at Gamescom 2014 in Europe this August.

I could do without the buzzy “fusion of a cinematic action game and a top-of-the-line live-action show,” because that tells me nothing you couldn’t say about all kinds of games we’ve been playing for years. My advice to Remedy’s PR team, who’ll doubtless just laugh at me, would be to lose that stuff and just have Lake tell us, “We’re having a blast making this thing,” then let the video deliver the message. Because from 1:19 on, it’s doing some pretty persuasive talking.

TIME Video Games

TwoDots Is the Sequel to one of Last Year’s Smartest Mobile Games

Betaworks

Betaworks puzzler-sequel to last year's viral iOS and Android hit heads in a wild-sounding new direction, letting you "traverse arctic tundras, navigate fiery jungles, and plunge the ocean depths."

Meet TwoDots, the sequel to Dots, one of the biggest mobile games of 2013. Developer Betaworks just released the game for iOS Thursday and says an Android version should follow later this year. It’s available now for free (with optional in-game purchases) from Apple’s App Store.

The original Dots, subtitled “a game about connecting” and released a little over a year ago, was about lining up two or more same-colored circles at 90-degree angles. The parameters were simple: you couldn’t do diagonals, if you scored four-in-a-row all dots of the same color on the screen vanished, you could use power-ups to remove certain dots or extend the clock, and that clock lasted 60 seconds per round. It was neat and pretty and pastel and in view of iOS 7′s clean-lined, polychromatic vibe, the kind of game you’d expect someone like Apple’s Jonathan Ive to design.

TwoDots, which makes me think of that lyric in the Peter Gabriel song “Growing Up,” where he’s singing his way through abstract levels of existence, is apparently like and not like Dots. “Join two brave dots as they traverse arctic tundras, navigate fiery jungles, and plunge the ocean depths. Sharpen your skills across 85 challenging levels while uncovering many exciting new features along the way,” reads the pitch on the App Store.

Wait a second, is this Dots or Temple Run?

“The TwoDots gameplay looks much more derivative of Dots then it actually is,” says Patrick Moberg, one of the first game’s creators. “As you dig deeper, you realize TwoDots simply tips their hat to our first game Dots, but quickly takes the player down a very different and fun path.”

So there you go, now it’s a mystery game, too — just the sort of lure the company needs to entice its base. And that base sounds massive: the first game is still played more than 500 million times per month, says Betaworks.

TIME Video Games

Dragon Quest 8 Is Now Playable on an iPhone, iPad or Android Device

Square Enix

One of Japanese game studio Level-5's most critically acclaimed roleplaying game is now available for $20 on iOS or Android phones and tablets, and includes tweaks to both the gameplay and graphics.

I’m looking at Dragon Quest 8 on my iPhone 5 as I type this. Hard to believe a game as grand and clever and open-ended and now going on a decade old can exist on a device this slender and elegant and totable, a device no one was really thinking about in 2005 (save Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ive), but that now goes hand in glove with millions everywhere.

But when you think about the decade thing, it makes sense. The PlayStation 2 version arrived in 2005, about a year ahead of Final Fantasy XII and in the vicinity of Xenosaga 2, Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga, Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, Gothic 2 and Freedom Force vs The 3rd Reich. Good times.

But now I’m babbling. What I mean by “makes sense” is that Dragon Quest 8, being a PS2 original, ran at lowish NTSC and PAL resolutions, whereas the horsepower in your average iOS or Android mobile these days hangs out in Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 territory.

The iOS/Android version isn’t cheap: Square Enix usually charges $10-$20 for its phone/tablet ports, and Dragon Quest 8 sits at the pricey end of the spectrum, or $20. But then you’re getting a higher-resolution version of the game, a “reworked” combat engine that supports “one-tap” battles and “more complex play,” and an overall interface redesigned for touchscreens, though it uses an on-screen directional pad for navigation, one of those interface-shoehorning tricks I’ve never cared for. That’s the price you pay to see the thing converted without having to radically reimagine it.

It’s a shame Square Enix isn’t doing more HD ports of games like this to consoles like the PS4 or Xbox One (or handhelds like the Vita). I’d rather play a game this expansive and time-consuming with a gamepad (if you haven’t played it, it’s a mammoth thing that can easily consume over 100 hours). But I’ll take what I can get, and close by noting that the game supports iOS 6 and above (the iPhone 5 or a 3rd-gen iPad are recommended) as well as Android 4.0 and higher.

TIME technology

3 Ways Video Game Companies Are Getting Your Kids Hooked

A seven year old boy plays with a Microsoft Xbox 360 on March 22, 2014 in Göttingen, Germany.
A seven year old boy plays with a Microsoft Xbox 360 on March 22, 2014 in Göttingen, Germany. Swen Pförtner—picture-alliance/DPA/AP

Jaden Darnell, 10, of Southbridge, Mass., plays video games on an Xbox 360, a PlayStation 3 and an iPhone. At times, he says, it can be hard to tear himself away from the action, especially when he’s playing NBA General Manager on his phone. Whether it’s because he wants to get to another level or earn more points, “sometimes, I just don’t want to stop,” says Jaden.

Long gone are the days when playing video games was synonymous with gathering around a console in the family room. According to the NPD Group, a market research firm, kids ages 2 to 17 are shifting more and more of their gaming to mobile devices. Many start playing games on phones and tablets when they are toddlers, and by the time they are in their teens, they are on average spending seven hours a week playing mobile games.

Mobile game designers are playing an active role in making this happen. Many mobile games are free or nearly free to download, but the game companies rack up revenues by charging users for in-game enhancements such as “boosters” that make winning easier or “extra lives” that let you stay in the game. In this model, the potential revenue from a user is strongly correlated with the total time they spend playing the game. Games as a result are being designed with an emphasis on keeping users hooked — and wanting more.

What are some of the common tactics being used by game designers?

1) Positive reinforcement makes people play longer.

Take one popular game, Peggle. It blasts a rousing, operatic rendition of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” every time you succeed at beating a level. “This gives us a strong sense of agency, like what we’re doing has made a difference,” explains Raph Koster, author of A Theory of Fun for Game Design. Since Peggle is a game that mostly depends on luck, “it’s an example of insanely over-the-top celebratory feedback for fairly minor achievement,” says Koster. “But it gives you this amazing amount of celebration, and as a result, you feel awesome.” And you tend to stay with the game longer.

2) People like to finish what they started.

Extended play alone doesn’t automatically motivate users to pay for the experience. Game makers know that once players have put in the time and effort to achieve a certain goal, they don’t like to give up. That’s why many games start out easy, then suddenly become more challenging. At that point, the player may be offered a resource that makes it easier to progress to the next level. “The game creates a problem that it offers to solve for you in exchange for cash,” explains Ian Bogost, a video game designer, critic, and professor of interactive computing at Georgia Institute of Technology.

3) Sometimes the game is smarter than the player.

The more we play, the better game makers get at roping us in. Mobile games by their very nature are played on devices that are more often than not connected to the Internet. This enables developers to keep tabs on players’ choices in order to find out what keeps people plugged in and what makes them most likely to buy things. “It’s very easy for us to get data on every user and build a statistical picture of what is working,” says Koster.

While adults may be aware of these tactics, some people worry about how the experience of playing this type of games impacts kids. “They’re not old enough to understand that the free part is just a come-on and that the game is in fact rigged to get them to spend money,” says Josh Golin, associate director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. Golin believes that games designed for kids under 13 should not have in-app purchases. “You should pay one price for the game, and it should not try to manipulate you into spending more and more,” he says.

Currently, age rating systems do not take into consideration whether a game pushes in-app purchases. This means that even Candy Crush, the famously addictive game that grossed more than a billion dollars in 2013, receives the most inclusive ratings: Ages 4+ in the iTunes store and Everyone in the Google Play store. Golin thinks this is misleading. “If it is designed to get more money out of you, that should be factored into the rating, just like if it has violent or sexualized content,” he says.

Golin also says that surveillance of kids should not be allowed. “[Developers] should not be collecting information about how to make them more vulnerable, more frustrated,” he says. “It’s outrageous that that’s occurring with games kids are playing.” That’s something to think about the next time the game-playing child in your life asks for your credit card.

 

TIME Video Games

Bethesda’s BattleCry Sounds a Little like an MOBA, but It’s Not

Bethesda would like you to know it’s going to release a free-to-play online game sporting 32-player battles somewhere down the road, and that it’ll be showing it off at E3 in a few weeks. No, not Robotech: Battlecry, or Warlords Battlecry, just BattleCry, capital C, and no, it’s no relation to The Elder Scrolls: Battlespire.

It takes its name from its eponymous design studio, launched in 2012 under owner ZeniMax Media’s wing and helmed by a ex-Bioware-ite Rich Vogel (who’s also worked on Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies, so he’s been around the MMO block).

Bethesda calls BattleCry a “multiplayer action combat game,” which you’ll note stands for MACG, not MOBA. It’s intended to be a team-based combat game in an alternate history version of the early 20th century without guns (or gunpowder, anyway) designed by Viktor Antonov (the guy behind Dishonored, and before that, the art director for Half-Life 2). Instead of messy world wars, you settle your grudges in “warzones” led by teams of warriors trained for the occasion (in other words, Hugo meets The Hunger Games).

That’s the official revelation trailer above, and here’s Bethesda on the gameplay:

Choose your faction and progress your warrior through the ranks. Each rank unlocks new abilities and effects allowing deep strategic builds for your warrior on every level. Risk life and limb as the powerful Royal Marines or the fearless Cossacks in imaginative WarZones each designed to combine positioning, spacing and verticality to redefine your core combat experience. Fight with transformative melee and ranged weapons that harness iron and energy and eviscerate your opponents with swords that transform into shields, bows that can punch an arrow straight through an armored skull or electrocute your foes with high powered blades crackling with electro-static energy.

TIME Reviews

Watch Dogs Review: City of Interest

Watch Dogs was supposed to be this grand genre-bending hacking game, but you'll do almost nothing of the sort. And that's a good thing, though what you do instead -- mostly shooting, sneaking and speeding around a fantasy version of Chicago -- dithers between inspired and imitative.

There’s the node I’m looking for. Swivel. The smartphone-controlled security camera sights my target across the industrial yard, but can’t quite home in. That target — a hackable security access panel — lies behind corrugated steel sprayed in graffiti, obstructing my view by inches. I’m stuck. But then I notice a security guard with a portable camera patrolling nearby. Lucky!

I aim, tap a button and leap through space, soaring over rusted containers, witchgrass, hunks of concrete, wood-slat pallets, through thrumming rain, nesting at last in the guard’s camera and pivoting to my new vantage — his vantage. He turns and walks a few steps in the direction I need him to. There we go. Swivel. The panel’s now an arm’s length away. Jackpot.

That’s Watch Dogs when it’s in the zone, when I was in the zone playing it, and where Ubisoft’s action-stealth game — starring you as the sort of MacGyver-ish antihero you’d get if you merged Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson’s characters in Person of Interest — starts to feel like it’s firing on balletic cyber-cylinders, delivering on its promise to make me the World’s Coolest Hacker. It does that for maybe two-thirds of its five-act story. And as the song goes, two out of three ain’t bad.

But then it heads in the other direction, the one you see overambitious games sometimes go, backpedaling on its promises and permutations, under-delivering on a story that sparks and fizzles toward its sequel-ready ending, and worse, sacrificing all those tactical gains to the gods of gameplay clichés. Hoo-boy, that ending. If you’re observant, you’ll see it coming a mile away, and I mean that both figuratively and literally.

I don’t want to sound too glum a note, because some of the online stuff’s a hoot, and Ubisoft’s world-building is second to none at a time when the bar’s been set pretty high. So let’s talk about the world-building.

Network-connected cameras glass every inch of this paranoid, scrupulously designed rendition of Chicago: the flat, skyscraper-lined lakeshore metropolis you know, as well as the one you don’t — the one surrounded by forests, cliffs, waterfalls and antigovernment militias. Ubisoft’s imaginary Chicago is the Windy City by way of Portland or Seattle, all its flat suburban sprawl swapped for hilly timberland perimeter — less simulation than homage, and the studio’s way of ensuring its playground’s full of stuff to look at or do, whether you’re rubbernecking the Willis Tower or screwing around miles from downtown.

That includes the city’s cybernetic thoroughfares, every byway, building and mobile device slaved to a single operating system you can hack and manipulate in real time as your skills grow. Sure, the notion’s more the wishful thinking of a Franken-CEO built from the egos of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg. But Watch Dogs isn’t concerned with being politically insightful, and the rare moments it tries feel more like anvils dropped on your head. We get that nothing’s impregnable, don’t we? That whatever we put in the cloud isn’t really secure? Turning control of your city’s infrastructure over to a monolithic operating system would be suicidal…or a necessary gameplay conceit, if you want to give players godlike powers without the pointy hat and staff.

Not that any of those powers resemble actual hacking. Whatever’s been made of Ubisoft working with security outfit Kaspersky to ensure the game’s story was plausible, hacking’s smoke and metaphor here. That’s not criticism. Real-world hacking — the sort companies like Sony, Facebook, Microsoft and most recently eBay have been subject to — is tedious and complex. It has no business being in an open-world action game. Hacks in Watch Dogs are like crossing the finish line without having to run the marathon. They’re just spells from a spell book.

Take hacking cameras, which you do by aiming and tapping a button. That’s all there is to it, which is so you can focus on what Watch Dogs is really about: sneaking around and spooking the bad guys. Cameras are insertion points for tactical tableaus, the contrivance being that you have to be able to see what you want to hack.

You’ll thus spend much of the game disembodied, hopping around the battlefield camera to camera like a cyber-poltergeist, triggering hazards or distractions — like cranking the volume in a guard’s headset to ear-splitting levels or pulling the virtual pin on someone’s belted grenade. It’s combat through a laboratory lens.

You can clear a battlefield without firing a shot, for instance, or prep a battlefield before initiating gunplay, or ignore the battlefield outright in some instances. What happens if you disrupt that guard? Distract another? Can you get two or three to walk under that droppable shipping container? Send the lot off to one side of the field so you can sneak down the other side? And failure’s never a penalty. It’s a reward, an opportunity to poke the beehive with a different stick. Battles — the ones that take place as walled-off tactical vignettes, anyway — are the best parts of Watch Dogs.

The hackable city-scape makes less of an impression. The idea here’s that you’re playing Grand Theft Auto, racing cars, trucks and motorbikes around the city, usually to get away from the cops or enemy fixers (the game’s slang for hackers), only you’re able to hack canal bridges, traffic lights, security gates, helicopters in pursuit, steam pipes, spike strips and “blockers” that erupt from the street like jail bars. It’s cool the first two or three times you confound a scrum of pursuers, but enemies in the game are dogged enough that hacks only slow them down a bit — even at lower notoriety levels, they’re incredibly hard to shake. And once you realize the A.I. can’t swim or do much over water, every chase becomes a beeline to the lake (someone forgot to give the police speedboats).

The rest feels pretty much like any other Ubisoft game, the world filled with optional activities — most of which you’ve seen before — when you’re not working through the story. The obligatory augmented reality and QR code games put in an appearance, the latter one of the Riddler’s line-of-sight matching puzzles lifted from the Batman Arkham series. There’s Assassin’s Creed‘s city tour mini-game as well as the same old towers you’ll have to breach to unlock regional content. You can follow side-investigations down their little rabbit holes, intercept convoys, thwart random crimes, infiltrate gang hideouts, play chess, and of course buy clothes and weapons and crafting supplies that’ll let you jury rig IEDs and grenades or scramble police scans.

But even there, the stuff that sounds cool is just technospeak for old school gameplay shenanigans. Take blackouts, which cut the power to parts of the city and give you a chance to get away from your opponents. Entire skyscrapers go dark when you do this, flickering to blackness for half a minute, which looks cool, but in the end it’s a getaway gimmick. You might as well be tossing a smoke pellet.

That leaves the game’s hybrid online modes, which let you invade other players’ game sessions and try to tail them for a period of time unobserved, or race against them, or play a timed game of hide-and-seek, or compete on teams to find a hidden object. You’ve seen most of that in games before, too, but it’s done unusually well and white-knuckled here, the game wisely forcing you to risk all or nothing: You either have online mode enabled, slowly accruing (or losing) notoriety points that unlock new skills while remaining vulnerable to invasion at any time, or you have it off, which zeroes out your notoriety point tally.

It’s just a shame that so much about Watch Dogs feels like Ubisoft playing catchup to Rockstar — like a cover band with one or two originals. City homage games might as well be their own genre now, but they’ll need more than car chases and gunplay and clothing stores and weapon shops and all their little lookalike diversions if we don’t want “open-world” to become another pejorative term we use to express our boredom with a genre, like “first-person shooter.”

3 out of 5

PlayStation 4

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