TIME e3 2014

What It’s Like to Be the Kraken in Evolve

In which one monster vs. four hunters makes for a surprisingly even multiplayer match.

Halfway through my hands-on time with Evolve, I could feel the disappointment of the 2K representative next to me. I was still getting the hang of the game, and my gigantic, flying Kraken had taken lots of damage from the four players trying to bring it down. Reading the rep’s face, a comeback seemed like a long shot.

But then, something clicked. I started using the Kraken’s powers more effectively, pinpointing my lightning blasts at exposed monster hunters, while keeping them on the defensive with a barrage of energy blasts from high in the air. I got better at dividing and conquering the hunters, and when one went down, he became bait as the other players tried to revive their fallen comrade. When the last monster hunter fell, I had only a sliver of health left, and my hands were shaking.

Evolve is strictly a multiplayer game, coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC this fall. Four players team up and control the hunters, each with their own special abilities, while a fifth player controls an oversized monster with a handful of super powers. Over the course of a match, the monster can feed on creatures and “evolve” into a more powerful form, so there’s an element of hide-and-seek as the monster tries to become better equipped for fighting the hunters.

It was hard to believe my outcome wasn’t scripted, or at least pushed toward a thrilling conclusion through unseen handicaps. But speaking to Chris Ashton, the game’s design director, he assured me that Evolve’s mechanics are pure, with no extra assistance for ailing players.

“In a racing game, sometimes they’ll make the guy in the back go faster,” Ashton said. “But when you’re a seriously competitive game, you don’t want to artificially give the losing team an advantage or Nerf the winning team at all.”

There are, however, some subtle forces at work. The trapper, for instance, needs lots of time to recharge its containment field, so every few minutes, the monster has a chance to get away and get back to feeding. Meanwhile, the Kraken’s flying ability takes longer to recharge when it’s not in combat, so it’s much easier for the hunters to eventually catch up. Ashton said this creates a roller coaster effect, similar to the Turtle Rock’s use of safe rooms in its previous series, Left 4 Dead.

“We ratchet everything up, and then we ratchet everything back down so you have time to recover,” he said.

Evolve’s sense of balance comes from more than three years of prototyping and testing. The game was bare bones at first, with just a melee attack for the monster and assault rifles for the hunters. As the developers layered on new abilities–such as healing powers for the medic, a containment field for the trapper class, and a slew of special powers for the monsters–they constantly had to rebalance.

The entire studio would play the game for an hour every day, and their matches fed into a telemetry system to help the developers figure out which characters were too weak, or too strong. So by the time 2K started showing Evolve at public and industry events, Ashton expected plenty of close matches.

“We’ve played the game so much that there aren’t really any surprises,” he said.

Still, he thinks this will change when Evolve launches on October 21, and players start learning all the game’s tricks. One of the advantages of the latest game consoles is that it’s much easier to push out updates, so Turtle Rock plans to keep tuning the mechanics long after the game comes out.

“We know that once we release, if we sell millions of copies in the first day, there’s going to be millions of man-hours played,” Ashton said, “And that’s more than we’ve put into the game.”

TIME e3 2014

Shadow of Mordor’s Nemesis System Tells a New Tale of Middle Earth

In Monolith's Shadow of Mordor, any enemy could become your arch foe.

Middle Earth as described in The Lord of the Rings is vast and rich in history and lore. It only makes sense that there are stories left untold.

Monolith delves into Tolkien’s world to bring its new game, Shadow of Mordor, to life, telling the story of Talion, a ranger with wraith-like abilities whose family is killed by Sauron’s army.

In order to get the depth and feel of Middle Earth, Shadow of Mordor introduces the “Nemesis System,” which allows players to shape their own story. Every minion, Orc, and Uruk-hai players fight is named, and if they survive the encounter they will change, grow, and appear later in the story.

As you get better, so do your enemies, and the story takes another turn.

TIME e3 2014

Watch Conan O’Brien Play the New Super Smash Brothers. Horribly

Conan O’Brien tested his fighting skills the latest iteration of his Clueless Gamer series on his late-night show. This time O’Brien tried his hand at Super Smash Bros., an upcoming title for the Wii U. After criticizing Mario’s broken English comparing Samus to Daft Punk, and insulting elven creatures everywhere (sorry Link), Conan proceeded to get pummeled by members of his staff as a host of different characters. In the end, the comedian decided Smash was too complicated. He’d rather play a simpler game, perhaps one about a guy taking a walk to find a cookie. Behold the entire spectacle in the video above.

TIME Culture

Why Assassin’s Creed Killed Off All Its Women

Insiders say creating female characters wouldn't take a ton of effort

More bad news for women gamers—or anyone who wants to play a female avatar in the uber-popular Assassin’s Creed series: Assassin’s Creed: Unity will not have any playable female characters in cooperative mode.

That’s right, none. How come, you ask?

Ubisoft creative director Alex Amancio told Polygon in a recent interview that the team ran into “the reality of production.”

“It’s double the animations, it’s double the voices, all that stuff and double the visual assets,” Amancio said. “Especially because we have customizable assassins. It was really a lot of extra production work.” He went on to explain they started the process of creating female avatars but had to stop because it would require 8,000 extra animations.

Women gamers are no stranger to discrimination in the industry: even though 45% of all gamers are women, too few games feature playable female characters. And those games that do have women are often misogynistic (see: sexism in Grand Theft Auto) or objectify women (see: Lara Croft’s measurements). There was even a recent controversy over a sexual assault scene in the new Castlevina game.

The lack of playable women characters is particularly disappointing in this instance considering that previous Assassins games did include female avatars. Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation featured the series’ first female protagonist, Aveline de Grandpré, an African-French assassin in 18th century New Orleans.

Which may explain why Jonathan Cooper, who was the animation director on Assassin’s Creed III, took to Twitter to explain that adding female characters would not have been as labor-intensive as Amancio says.

Ubisoft responded with the following statement:

We recognize the valid concern around diversity in video game narrative. Assassin’s Creed is developed by a multicultural team of various faiths and beliefs and we hope this attention to diversity is reflected in the settings of our games and our characters.

Assassin’s Creed Unity is focused on the story of the lead character, Arno. Whether playing by yourself or with the co-op Shared Experiences, you the gamer will always be playing as Arno, complete with his broad range of gear and skill sets that will make you feel unique.

With regard to diversity in our playable Assassins, we’ve featured Aveline, Connor, Adewale and Altair in Assassin’s Creed games and we continue to look at showcasing diverse characters. We look forward to introducing you to some of the strong female characters in Assassin’s Creed Unity.

TIME e3 2014

This Vest Vibrates Your Chest While You Play Video Games

Jared Newman for TIME Shahriar Afshar, President and Founder of Immerz, wears the KOR-FX haptic gaming vest at E3 2014.

KOR-FX aims to emulate that deep bass feeling

It starts with a tiny twitch across my chest, triggered by some gunfire in the distance. Then, there’s an explosion, and my left side starts rumbling. I fire my assault rifle, and it’s like a couple of smartphones are strapped to my upper body, vibrating in unison.

All this is coming from a small vest called KOR-FX. The $150 device translates sound to rumbles by connecting wirelessly to a small transmitter box, which then plugs into any audio source. A pair of transducers in front create rumbles on either side of your chest. I tested a prototype at E3 in a round of Call of Duty: Ghosts.

Immerz, the company behind KOR-FX, says the vest is more sophisticated than it seems. Instead of just basing vibration strength on volume, KOR-FX uses a filtering algorithm to guess which frequencies should produce the most rumble. The idea is that when you hear a sound with deep, chest-thumping bass, you’ll really feel it, even if you just have a set of headphones on. (Shahriar Afshar, the company’s president and founder, came up with the idea in response to some noisy gamer neighbors; he wanted to give them a way to feel the vibrations while maintaining some peace and quiet.)

In practice–with the vest on and pair of headphones over my ears–KOR-FX didn’t quite feel like a stand-in for a Monster subwoofer. I was too aware of this thing on my chest, and the sharp vibrations it created. It was interesting, though I can’t say it was as immersive as the company claims.

But maybe there’s something to the idea. The device isn’t on the market yet–it’s only available for pre-order on Kickstarter for now–but Immerz is already thinking about second-generation hardware. The company may also release a software development kit, so game makers can fine-tune the vest’s vibrations. To start, Immerz is hoping to get some vests out in the wild and gather more feedback from users.

TIME e3 2014

Dragon Age: Inquisition’s New Take on Its Classic Formula

Dragon Age: Inquisition's new Frostbite engine is changing up the game, but not what you love about it.

Dragon Age: Inquisition is the third installment of the Dragon Age saga, but the upcoming game differs from its predecessors thanks to its new Frostbite game engine.

With the new technology, gamers can look forward to a more explorable word coupled with the storytelling they’ve grown accustomed to in Dragon Age. More importantly, Frostbite allows for more nuanced battles with your party. Spells and attacks will now exist in real space, affecting only the targets that they look like they should affect.

The new additions all come back to the idea of playing in a party, and with recurring characters being confirmed in the game, Bioware is bringing something new to something old.

TIME e3 2014

This Is What the New Batman Villain Looks Like

Batman’s rogue gallery is host to some of the most famous comic book villains of all time – Two-Face, Catwoman, The Joker – but video game developer Rocksteady’s final installment in the wildly successful Arkham trilogy is introducing a new villain: The Arkham Knight.

While prequels Arkham Asylum and Arkham City confined Batman to just parts of Gotham, Arkham Knight will allow players to explore all of the city. That much space calls for an extra villain — and a new set of wheels.

Bat-fans can now drive the Batmobile (as well as drones and tanks) in order to stop the Scarecrow and mysterious Arkham Knight from turning Gotham into rubble.

TIME e3 2014

Pac-Man Chomps His Way Onto Super Smash Bros. Roster

Mario and company will face a hungry challenger in the upcoming Super Smash Bros. games: Pac-Man was announced as a playable character for both the Wii U and 3DS versions at a Nintendo E3 event Tuesday.

The iconic yellow orb will mostly play as his anthropomorphic version from the Pac-Man World 3D platformers, but the original 2D version will also make an appearance for some special moves. Pac-Man’s attacks will include the ability to hurl fruit and, of course, chomp down on his opponents. No word yet on whether Ms. Pac-Man will make a cameo as well.

Pac-Man, a character created by Namco, joins a growing cast of non-Nintendo characters that will be featured in the new Smash Bros., including Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog and Capcom’s Mega Man. The 3DS version comes out this summer, while the Wii U version will release during the holiday season.

TIME e3 2014

What It’s Like to Play Destiny Competitive Multiplayer

Destiny's "Crucible" mode feels familiar, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

It feels like Halo.

I’d heard this even before laying hands on Destiny for the first time, and wondered if it was a lazy comparison.

But with Destiny’s competitive multiplayer (known as “Crucible”), the similarities to Halo are easy to notice. You’re still an armor-clad soldier with regenerating health that can absorb more than just a shot or two to the gut. The pace is slower compared to twitchy shooters like Call of Duty, allowing cat-and-mouse games to emerge as players chase each other around corners and into hidey holes. You’ve got a couple guns, some grenades and a mêlée attack, and you may need to use some combination of them to bring another player down.

I could use the same description for Halo, which Bungie worked on for over a decade before moving on to build Destiny under publisher Activision. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as Halo is one of the most revered first-person shooters of all time. But clearly, Bungie isn’t reinventing any basic mechanics. Instead, it’s offering a slightly different take on the style of shooter it created in 2000.

In a demo at E3, I played a couple rounds of Control, in which two teams tussle to maintain command of three zones. It’s the kind of mode you’ll find in lots of shooters, and the flow wasn’t much different here. The winning strategy, as always, is to pick a base and stick with it, finding a good vantage point to fend off foes as they approach. I would’ve happily played more if Activision let me.

While there are differences from Halo, they’re subtle. You can see how much health your opponents have, which takes some guesswork out of deciding your next move. In larger maps, you can summon a personal hovercraft, called a “Sparrow,” to help you zip to your objective. And instead of picking up weapons scattered around the map, you bring your own preset arsenal to the fight. (The occasional “heavy ammo” drop allows you to use your most powerful weapon, so the mad scramble for rocket launchers or chainguns is essentially intact.)

I may be understating what could be Destiny’s biggest distinguishing trait: In Halo, everyone has the same abilities and the same choices in weaponry, but in Destiny, every character is different, based entirely on the weapons, armor and special abilities they’ve unlocked in the main game. Halo was almost religious in making sure everyone fought on a level playing field–the ability to customize your loadout didn’t happen until Halo 4, which Bungie didn’t work on–but Destiny appears to take the opposite approach. Having the story mode influence the competitive multiplayer is something few games have attempted, and it’ll be interesting to see if Destiny can pull it off.

Still, I couldn’t get a sense of how this actually affected the game just from a short, standalone demo. In my brief experience, Destiny’s competitive multiplayer was easy to fall into, as if it was something I’d already spent hundreds of hours of my life playing. If Destiny’s character-building hook makes a meaningful difference, I think I’ll be okay with that.

TIME viral

This Mean Girls 8-Bit Video Game Is So Fetch

Your mission, should you choose to accept it: Survive high school

A decade after the Tina Fey comedy debuted, Mean Girls got the 8-bit video game treatment.

The clever clip from YouTube channel CineFix covers all the major plot points of the legendary (make that, mythological) Lindsay Lohan classic, complete with pixelated Plastics, an anime Rachel McAdams, and an 8-bit Mathlete competition set to an ’80s soundtrack.

The NES-inspired game is sadly not playable, but it is still fun to watch as fresh-out-of-Africa Cady navigates life in her new high school. She collects points, stocks her inventory (here’s a pencil, Aaron! here’s a weight loss bar, Regina!), makes friends, destroys her enemies and learns the rules (“On Wednesdays we wear pink!”).

The clip is fun to watch, but it would be more fun if, say, you could make Glen Coco point and laugh at Gretchen Weiners or have Janis go all Heathers on Regina George. We know we can’t make fetch happen, but what about a real Mean Girls video game?

MORE: A Sonic the Hedgehog Movie Is Happening

MORE: ‘Mean Girls’ Is Not a Comedy. It’s Mythology.


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