TIME Video Games

Here Are the 15 Best Games of 2014 (So Far)

As we slide pass the year's halfway mark, let's glance back at some of the strongest games to grace 2014 so far.

With E3 in our rearview mirrors, everyone’s laser-locked on up-and-comers like Destiny, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Grand Theft Auto V remastered this holiday, but 2014’s been a pretty solid year for gaming so far. Here’s our list of picks so far.

  • Bravely Default

    So what if it’s basically Final Fantasy V reimagined, or that the game’s latter half has serious shortcomings if you’re not a fan of repetitive filler? Bravely Default stands as a love letter to fans of fantasy games that eschew restrictive D&D-style class systems and make no apologies for combat mechanics that unfurl turn by turn, though in Bravely Default‘s case, the latter design vamp seems novel enough: a hedging system, whereby you can either save or deficit spend battle points against enemies.

    Nintendo 3DS

  • Child of Light

    Ubisoft’s budget-priced side-scrolling fable — told using poetic stanzas — riffs on roleplaying tropes while serving up an evocative, hand-drawn fantasy pastiche with traces of Yoshitaka Amano and Hayao Miyazaki. It’s an experience that deftly melds its painstakingly painting-like environs and allegorical fable-inspired narrative to a first-rate battle system: one unapologetically inspired by Final Fantasy-style roleplaying games, but with its own hidden depths and wrinkles.

    PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii U, PS Vita

  • Dark Souls 2

    Does it matter whether Dark Souls 2 is the greater (or lesser) Dark Souls? It shouldn’t — not when it’s this good. Series newcomers Tomohiro Shibuya and Yui Tanimura recapture most of what makes Dark Souls feel like a Dark Souls, scaffolding to foundation, the world swathed in plaintive John Barry-ish piano strains, melancholy lighting and baffling alien architecture. Ironically risk-averse, the sequel plays like an extended version of the original moody hack-and-slash.

    PC, PS3, Xbox 360

  • Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

    Everything’s lovably off-kilter and kaleidoscopic in Nintendo’s throwback Donkey Kong Country platformer, which tills well-plowed ground, but deftly. It’s not the breakthrough Wii U game Mario Kart 8 turned out to be, so much as a reminder that games like this can still be guilty pleasures if you’re not allergic to throwback side-scrollers replete with clever puzzling twists.

    Wii U

  • Entwined

    You can’t really lose in Entwined, you just swing back and forth along a tug-of-rope-style progress meter, which fits the game on a shelf somewhere between “relaxation exercise” and “pattern puzzler.” The goal is to unite an origami-like fish and a bird, which you do by piloting each discretely with left and right thumbsticks through target chains. The trick is getting your single-tasking brain to coordinate those left and right actions simultaneously.

    PS4, PS3, PS Vita

  • Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft

    Part of the allure of Blizzard rolling its bejeweled horse carriage through the hoof-tramped mud of a played-out genre is the Blizzard name. And that’s what you’ll get in this free-to-play confectionary: an otherwise vanilla collectible card game wrapped up in Blizzard’s trademark audio-visual razzle-dazzle. Playing Hearthstone is too easy and compulsive not to play Hearthstone, which is why the game’s clocked over 10 million accounts since it launched in March 2014.

    PC, iPad

  • Infamous: Second Son

    Infamous: Second Son gets unfairly compared to Grand Theft Auto V because they’re both lazily categorized as “open world” games. But Infamous: Second Son is about letting you do crazy, cathartic, building-bounding superhero stuff in the best-looking metropolis-playground yet devised for a video game (until GTA V remastered arrives late this year, anyway). That, and developer Sucker Punch spins a decent yarn with more than passing emotional resonance, thanks in part to visual technology that allowed it to craft character performances even more lifelike than the ones being touted in Activision’s ballyhooed Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare spots.

    PS4

  • Mario Kart 8

    Imagine a carnival of race tropes, a grab bag of driver profiles, tactics and race types, a melange of little gameplay iterations and configuration tweaks and “Holy crap, I’m racing up and down that?” moments jammed into a single game. To sum up my affection for this best-of-all-Nintendo’s-Mario-Karts-to-date in a few words: lavish, kaleidoscopic, gasp-inducing, ingenious, exotic, balletic and — let’s switch from words to statements — something worth playing for a long, long time.

    Wii U

  • Nidhogg

    Remember Karateka? Nidhogg feels kind of like that: a game about dueling to your left or right with some light environmental (walls, ledges) vamping. Part of the charm’s in the pixellated look, of course, coupled with the overblown kinetic scenery and crazed, oscillating backgrounds teeming with strange, wriggling creatures.

    PC

  • Shovel Knight

    Shovel Knight would have been a winner had it arrived back in the 1980s alongside obvious inspirations, like DuckTales for the original Nintendo. Bask in its unabashed genuflection to 1980s game design tropes. Bathe in its classic NES color palette. Chuckle at the notion of a horn-helmed knight nobly brandishing a sharpened spade he can bounce on like a pogo stick. William Faulkner said it best: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Faulkner would have understood (and probably played) Shovel Knight.

    PC, Wii U, 3DS

  • South Park: The Stick of Truth

    No one expected much from this oft-delayed South Park tie-in, but Obsidian delivered the goods: a comedy roleplaying game that lets you explore the looney, deftly satirical world Trey Parker and Matt Stone built. And the funny stuff’s really funny for a change, not just funny-for-a-video-game.

    PC, PS3, Xbox 360

  • Titanfall

    Titanfall is for that certain kind of highly competitive someone with more of an e-sports mentality. If that’s you, Titanfall plays like hitting the jackpot. It’s not a galvanic shift in shooter-dom, it’s about placating highly competitive, multiplayer-only, twitchy shooter wonks with an oiled smorgasbord of shooter tropes and tactical wrinkles.

    PC, Xbox One

  • Transistor

    Transistor may not be quite up to Bastion‘s sky-high standards, but it’s still an interesting foray for developer Supergiant Games. In some ways it’s bolder, shifting its focus from Bastion‘s clever narrative payouts to a complex turn-based battle system that reads, literally, like a stack of math equations. The tactical engine suffers slightly in asking that you make exacting choices using an inexact isometric interface, but on balance, it gains more than it loses for trying.

    PC, PS4

  • Watch Dogs

    Watch Dogs was supposed to be this grand genre-bending hacking game, but you’ll do almost nothing of the sort. 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. The reason to play Watch Dogs isn’t its forgettable story, its boring lead character, or its dull side-activities, but the battles, where you’ll hop around the field disembodied, zipping 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, and a blast every time.

    PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii U

  • Wolfenstein: The New Order

    At times, Wolfenstein: The New Order feels as calculated and observant as BioShock, if in the end, less ambitious. When it swerves from camp to cool cogitation, it does so knowingly, the latter moments unfurling during interludes spent wandering a resistance base chatting up other resistance members, your patriotic gusto threatened by a mirror MachineGames keeps holding up. It’s that unexpected attention to The New Order‘s world-building that makes this single-player-only game more than just a shooting gallery with a few new tricks — the sort of camaraderie and reflection in adversity, steeped in creeping dread and philosophical exposition, that made something like The Matrix more than just an expo for bullet time.

    PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360

TIME Video Games

Virtual Reality and Eye Tracking: Sony’s Vision of the Future

Sony envisions a future where virtual reality is king

+ READ ARTICLE

After Nintendo’s “smash hit” Wii, Sony realized that raw horsepower wasn’t necessarily the be all, end all for a video game console. Jump to the beginning of 2013, when Playstation formed Magic Lab: a special R&D arm at PlayStation tasked with dreaming up the next generation of gaming experiences.

“We had the concept in 2012 for this group which would use technology to really explore new experiences,” said Richard Marks, Director of PlayStation’s Magic Lab. “We really focused a lot on technology in the past, and [now] we really want to focus more on the new experiences that technology enables. One of the things that we believe strongly in is actually prototyping things; we call it: experiencing engineering.”

Since joining Sony, Richard Marks has been responsible for the development of Sony’s PlayStation Eye, PlayStation Move controllers and now Sony’s foray into virtual reality: Project Morpheus, a wraparound headset designed to work with the company’s PlayStation 4 games console. The headset’s revelation came in tandem with Facebook’s high-stakes maneuver to put virtual reality on the map for non-gamers per its recent $2 billion acquisition of Oculus Rift.

So far, Sony’s touted Morpheus to game designers at shows like the Game Developers Conference and E3 to drum up development interest (though the technology’s still far from a commercial product — it currently has no release date). Morpheus’ display still has a few issues, too: there’s a stutter effect on some demonstrations caused by high latency, and Morpheus’ Field of View (FOV) doesn’t cover everyone’s vision completely. The technology also has various critics predicting that it lacks a mass market appeal. But then again Morpheus is only a prototype, as are the various Oculus Rift iterations.

“There’s a trade-off. There’s a fixed amount of resolution. So you can either give that to a really wide field of view or you can make [the resolution] feel higher, but the [field of view] narrower. We’re trying to get a good balance of that. Right now we’re still working on the issue of the display. Right now we have a great prototype system for our developers … [but] for the commercial system, we’re still working on that.”

And as a prototype, Project Morpheus is an amazing portal into what VR could look like for the future. The technology is so electrifying that creators and entrepreneurs outside the games industry are seeing VR’s potential, which is why Facebook put up the cash in the first place. For instance, currently Sir David Attenborough is creating a VR nature documentary, companies are looking into how VR can impact education and Hollywood is looking into virtual reality movies.

Whether VR will succeed as a mass market product or not remains to be seen; in the meantime, PlayStation’s Magic Lab is tinkering with its notion of what the future of gaming might look like.

During the launch of the PlayStation 4 in November 2013, Marks and fellow Magic Lab researcher Eric Larsen were demoing their eye tracking or “gaze tracking” technology. “A lot of different people are looking at how to track your eyes. Our focus is more on, if you can track your eyes, what do you do with it?” Marks said.

The technology has a lot of potential applications, like as a targeting assistant for shooter games, as Marks and Larsen demonstrated with the game Infamous: Second Son. One of the more interesting applications Marks noted is the ability to pick up on subtle, non-verbal communication cues. “Where someone is looking conveys a lot of information about what the person is interested in, what they intend to do, and it’s a very unconscious thing that people do,” Larsen said.

In the demonstration, the player interacts with a computer store merchant who’s trying to sell the player different products. The eye gazing technology detects what products the player is looking at and uses that information to decide what products to pitch the player. “You can make the characters smarter because they kind of react in a way that is more intelligent because they know what you’re looking at,” Marks adds.

On top of that, Magic Lab is also looking into biometrics, partnering with UC San Francisco to research brain waves as a feedback mechanism for how a game affects players.

Magic Lab, like Google X — responsible for the creation of Google Glass and Google’s Driverless Car — seems to be Sony’s take on “experiencing engineering” without the red-tape. Whether Magic Lab will create products with the same hype factor as Google X’s ideas is anyone’s guess, but if Morpheus is any indication, Marks and his team are off to a promising start.

MORE: What Gaming Industry Professionals Think of Virtual Reality:

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Video Games

PlayStation Owners Can Hop Into Bungie’s Destiny Beta on July 17

Xbox owners have to wait until the following week, and the everyone has until July to 27 to blast each others' faces off.

+ READ ARTICLE

Bungie’s official Destiny beta has a date: July 17 at 10:00am PT. That’s a Thursday, so you might as well take Friday off and make a long weekend of it. Just pretend it’s Labor Day come early, or the Fourth of July come late.

The catch is that it’s only available on the PlayStations 3 and 4 on July 17. If you want to mess with it on the Xbox One or Xbox 360, you’ll have to wait slightly less than a week longer for those versions to drop: July 23 at 10:00am PT.

To be fair, PlayStation owners won’t have it for a full week. According to Bungie, the beta will be offline on July 21 and 22 for “scheduled maintenance.” And then it’ll only run through July 27 at 11:59pm PT. When I spoke with Bungie at E3, my understanding was that they were planning multiple beta phases, so this probably won’t be the last chance you’ll have to play Destiny before it launches on September 9.

Activision’s using the beta announcement to highlight its collectible tiers, which I won’t bother detailing here (I dislike collectibles, mostly because companies often send them my way unasked for, stuffed with generally forgettable junk). Suffice to say, you can pay $60 for the base game, $90 for the “Guardian Edition,” $100 for the “Limited Edition” or $150 for the “Ghost Edition,” each with various physical or digital download additives — the full details are here.

TIME Video Games

Kinect v2.0 for Windows Will Cost Half an Xbox One on July 15

Microsoft

Microsoft's revised motion-sensing peripheral will run you $200 -- half the price of a $400 Xbox One -- when it goes on sale later this month.

Wisdom was Microsoft removing Kinect from its Xbox One, but for all our ennui with the peripheral as a home theater interface, we’re quick to forget where the real Kinect story played out: Microsoft’s motion and voice recognition sensor bar was a boon for armchair tinkerers who figured out how to use the peripheral to control real-world robots, play Heart and Soul like Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia, open toilet bowls without touching the lids or play World of Warcraft without a controller.

You hear about that stuff less the last year or so, in part because the Kinect v1.0 is now three-and-a-half years old, and Kinect v2.0 hasn’t been available apart from the Xbox One. That’ll change on July 15, when Microsoft begins selling its “Kinect for Windows v2 Sensor” as a standalone part for $200.

That’s right, $200, making it roughly twice the presumptive price of the part based on Microsoft’s subtractive Xbox One pricing. The Xbox One dropped from $500 to $400 on June 9, and the only difference in the SKU was the removal of the Kinect sensor.

To be clear, there’s no official Kinect for Xbox One standalone SKU. You can’t go out to Amazon or GameStop or Microsoft’s own product store and purchase Kinect for Xbox One separately (Microsoft’s said such a part is coming, but not how much it’ll cost). Assuming Kinect v2.0 for Windows was going to be $100, therefore, was simply that: an assumption.

But $200 does seem a little spendy, even if it’s $50 less than what we initially paid the first time around for Kinect v1.0 for Windows (back in 2012). For $200, you get Kinect v2.0, that’s it — no software, nada. If you want to develop anything for it, you’ll have to hook up with the Kinect for Windows SDK 2.0, which Microsoft notes is licensed separately.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

 

TIME Video Games

There’s a New Civilization Revolution Game on the Block

2K

The sequel to 2K's populist reimagining of its turn-based strategy Civilization franchise is out now for iOS, with an Android version to follow later this year.

Somehow this slid under my radar: Civilization Revolution 2 exists, a sequel to 2008’s Civilization Revolution, and it’s available as I’m typing this for $15 on the iOS App Store (with an Android version to follow later this year).

It’s hard to know what to make of it, since it had so little pre-release press. Who devised this stealth-sequel anyway? Firaxis?

Not this time. Firaxis designed the original, which shipped for consoles first, followed by mobile phones and Nintendo’s DS later. 2K China handled the iOS port of that original game, and it seems they’re in the driver’s seat for the sequel. That may be neither here nor there, but if you want to scan their development history for yourself, see here. They’re mostly known for doing ports of games someone else created.

2K’s standalone Civilization Revolution site makes no mention of the game (in fact, the page hasn’t been updated in years). There’s an official sub-site for it off the trunk Civilization site, indicating what it’s compatible with (iPhone 4S+, iPad 2+, iPad Mini 1+ and iPod Touch 5) and offering this description (my emphasis):

The sequel to one of the most successful strategy games on mobile is here! Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution 2 challenges players to build a glorious empire that will stand the test of time. This is the first game in the Civilization catalog to be developed and available exclusively for mobile devices. Civilization Revolution 2 offers mobile strategy fans a brand new 3D presentation and more tactical depth than ever before! Find out if you have what it takes to rule the world!

And then there’s the feature checklist: a few new units (Aircraft Carriers, Jet Fighters, SpecOps Infantry), some new tech (Lasers, Medicine, Information Tech), new buildings and wonders (Nuclear Power Plant, The Red Cross, Silicon Valley), 3D graphics (the original mobile versions were 2D) and some history-minded scenario challenges.

The good news is that it’s $15, not a buck or free plus in-game purchases. Once you’ve bought it, it’s simply free-to-play. The bad news is that the game ships without multiplayer — just as Civilization Revolution did, true, but the latter wound up getting it down the road for $2.99. If history repeats, that means Civilization Revolution 2 is really free-to-play-solo, with a pay-for multiplayer update to come.

TIME Video Games

Android TV Could Actually Succeed as a Game Console

Jared Newman for TIME

Google's new platform for TVs and set-top boxes puts games in the spotlight, but don't write it off as another Ouya.

On some level, it’s easy to laugh off the gaming element of Android TV, Google’s new living room platform that will arrive later this year.

The notion that a small, cheap set-top box could threaten large, expensive game consoles seemed popular a year ago, when “microconsoles” like Ouya and GameStick were hitting the market. But these devices haven’t taken off, and while the traditional game console market appears to be contracting, it’s still a big business, with sales in the millions for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

Still, after seeing more of Android TV at last week’s Google I/O conference, I think Google’s gaming efforts have a chance to succeed. Along with whatever Apple is reportedly working on, Android TV could be the disruptive force in living room gaming that pundits–myself included–have been predicting for years.

Ouya’s main problem was that it occupied an awkward middle ground between high-end game consoles and cheaper all-purpose entertainment boxes. It was marketed as a gaming product, but its catalog wasn’t meaty enough to attract core gamers. Meanwhile, as a media streamer, Ouya didn’t have a lot of essential apps, further limiting its appeal to people who were considering an Apple TV or Roku.

But Ouya’s approach did have some flashes of brilliance. It has some great small-scale games that you can pick up quickly and play in short bursts, and the experience of rifling through Ouya’s digital store and sampling a dozen free-to-try indie titles is something you can’t get from the big consoles. While Ouya’s gaming experience is hard to justify on its own, it could work as a supplement to a low-cost streaming media device or a smart TV.

That’s the approach Android TV is taking, and while it’s not the first set-top box with gaming–both Amazon Fire TV and Roku offer some games as well–it puts a greater emphasis on games than any other device I’ve seen. Instead of being relegated to a sub-menu, games appear on the same main screen as Android TV’s apps and recommendations. When you scroll down to the apps list, the games list pops into view, getting an equal amount of space, so it’s impossible to ignore.

Google has even built in some hooks for people who play games on Android phones and tablets. Because everything’s coming from the Google Play Store, you’ll likely be able to buy a game once and play it across all devices. Google is also supporting achievements, friends lists and cloud saves through its Google Play Games service, so you can switch between a phone, tablet and TV without losing any progress. The only console maker that could offer something similar is Microsoft, and it has bungled every opportunity to do so.

Will Android TV appeal to core gamers? I’m skeptical, but the involvement of gaming hardware maker Razer suggests that Google at least wants to try. Meanwhile, Nvidia’s K1 processor is the first chip to support Android TV, appearing in the reference device that Google is giving to app developers. If Nvidia brings GameStream and Grid to Android TV, it could allow for high-end gaming on cheaper set-top boxes and smart TVs.

Regardless, I suspect that the bigger prize is the demographic of users who enjoy games, but won’t take the plunge on a pricier console–the people who say “I like games, but if I bought a PlayStation 4 I’d never leave the house.” I’m 31 years old, and I can’t tell you how many people my age have said that to me when I tell them about my gaming habits. If Google and Apple can lure those people in with streaming video and music, and then show them a world of games that are easy to pick up and put down, the microconsole might not be such a joke.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

 

TIME Video Games

Go Ahead, Wirelessly Connect Your PS4 Controller to Your PS3

Sony

The DualShock 4, which ships with Sony's next-gen PlayStation 4, now works wirelessly with Sony's last-gen PlayStation 3.

It’s finally happened: Sony just made it possible for players with PlayStation 4 DualShock 4 controllers to connect them to their PS3s without tethers.

You could previously mate a DualShock 4 to a PS3 by plugging the former into the latter directly, using the USB cable, but the PS3 wouldn’t recognize the DualShock 4 absent that cable. Now that’s possible using good ol’ Bluetooth, to the extent that tapping the DualShock 4’s PlayStation button will even wake up the PS3 properly.

The “fix” arrived unceremoniously with a low-key PS3 firmware update (version 4.60, which dropped on June 24), or at least that’s the presumption some are making at Reddit, though there was also a PS4 firmware update to version 1.72 released around the same time, which for all we know did something to the DualShock 4 controller itself.

Here’s the blow-by-blow:

  • Under “Accessory Settings” on your PS3, locate and select “Manage Bluetooth Devices.”
  • Select “Register New Device.” The PS3 will begin Bluetooth scanning.
  • Simultaneously press and hold the DualShock 4’s “Share” and “PS” buttons until the controller’s light bar starts blinking. The controller should appear in the PS3’s list as a “Wireless Controller.”

Trouble is, that designation — “Wireless Controller” — means the PS3 still sees the DualShock 4 as a generic controller, thus neither SIXAXIS nor haptic feedback nor its DualShock 4-specific features (like the touchpad) are going to work properly, meaning you’re liable to run into compatibility problems with certain games.

The other piece to bear in mind is that the DualShock 4 can only sync with one device at a time, so if you pair with your PS3, you’ll have to re-pair with your PS4 and vice versa if you frequent both. All told, wonderful as the DualShock 4 gamepad is (it’s my personal favorite on any platform at the moment), I’m not sure it’s worth the trouble. But if you want to fiddle anyway, no strings attached, now you can.

TIME Video Games

There’s a New Underworld Game in Town, but It’s Not an Ultima

OtherSide Entertainment

Paul Neurath co-founded Looking Glass Studios in 1990 and helped create the groundbreaking Ultima Underworld series. Now he's launching a new studio, dubbed OtherSide Entertainment, with plans to rejuvenate the Underworld franchise.

If you never played Ultima Underworld back in 1992, you arrived late to the party. Doom, schmoom: id Software’s slick little demon-shooter was a high-octane shooting gallery, an endless hallway filled with closet-monsters. Doom won the popularity contest a year-and-a-half later, but Ultima Underworld was miles ahead gameplay-wise: something else entirely, and a portal to somewhere else that actually felt like a world simulation instead of a technology showcase.

Sadly, Ultima Underworld isn’t coming back — EA owns the rights to Ultima, and that’s that. But one of the original game’s co-creators, Paul Neurath, just announced he’s founded a new studio in Boston, OtherSide Entertainment, and he’s making a new Underworld game, dubbed Underworld Ascension.

Don’t worry, it’s no relation to that other poor, unfortunate game with the word “Ascension” in its title. And don’t let OtherSide’s initial dispatch confuse you when they say they’re “bringing back the classic Ultima Underworld franchise.” They’re bringing back the spirit of the Underworld franchise, true, but as noted above, not the Ultima part.

And that’s all we know at this point, beyond promises to show “more and more … in the weeks to come.” I do like that the name OtherSide’s a play on Looking Glass (Neurath’s original studio, responsible as well for Thief, System Shock, Flight Unlimited and Terra Nova). And Neurath’s apparently pulled in people who worked on the original Underworld games, so the promise, at least in terms of street cred, is there.

TIME Video Games

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain’s Live E3 2014 Demo Is Now Watchable

Konami was touting Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain's tactical infiltration gameplay behind closed doors at E3 a few weeks ago. Now you can watch the full demo.

It was one more made-up E3 theater-in-a-theater warehouse, a vaguely roundish room that was dark and full of benches and people jostling for elbow room on those benches, squeezed tight as matchsticks.

But then that amazing song by Mike Oldfield kicked in, the one that sounds like it was lifted from a classic 1970s rock album (it wasn’t). The E3 trailer for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain played, and everyone stopped caring. See for yourself.

That’s not the live demo, by the way; it’s the E3 trailer, which has been out for awhile. If you want the experience we had at E3, you’ll want to watch the trailer first, then the 30 minute demo — that’s the new bit — below.

I scribbled notes in Konami’s E3 theater, half-blind because the house lights were off and the theater screen was often dark or dimmed. Some of those notes became questions I posed to the game’s creator, Hideo Kojima, in a one-on-one interview after the demo that focused more on the series’ broader themes. Others were hypotheticals based more on my time with the prequel, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes — some significant gameplay issues that have me concerned about The Phantom Pain‘s attempt to put one foot squarely in 2015 while holding another stubbornly in 1998.

Remember, as you watch the demo below, that you’re looking at a pitch for a game whose premise, at least in part, is that it’s the most realistic-looking game you’ve ever seen. Never mind the Fulton recovery system hijinks or the inanity in a game this lifelike of a dude scuttling around crablike under a piece of cardboard in lieu of executing actual stealth tactics. I can get past the absurdity of some things in a Metal Gear Solid game because they’re absurd for a reason, and that reason makes sense to me and the mechanics dovetail with all the rest of the game’s stealth-oriented idiosyncrasies.

But sometimes they don’t. In the demo, for instance, (watch from about 5:00), you’ll come galloping up to a cluster of structures, pull up maybe a hundred feet away from a guarded adobe building, whip out your binoculars and start marking enemy militia.

So… the guards couldn’t see you kicking up dust a mile away (in full daylight, mind you)? Couldn’t hear your horse running full bore? Couldn’t see you riding high in the saddle like a flag? Didn’t notice you rolling from the horse, then rising to a crouch and aiming — just a few dozen feet to their left — at their heads with a gun? What’s Big Boss wearing (that Konami’s said nothing about), a horse-and-rider-masking Crysis-style stealth suit?

It’s that sort of basic weirdness, that sense of flagrant implausibility where the world’s not working the way you have a right to expect a world this realistic and lifelike to work, that starts to put me off The Phantom Pain‘s game (at least in the demo). I don’t need guards that can spy me coming a mile off, but come on: There’s a dude on a horse galloping along a dry path on a mostly flat approach to a guard-flush clutch of buildings and he might as well be the invisible man. Someone tell someone at Konami to hire better guards before The Phantom Pain ships (presumably next year).

TIME technology

New Study Says Playing a Terrorist in Video Games Might Make You More Morally Sensitive

Sony Holds News Conference Ahead Of Annual E3 Gaming Conference
Men fight to the death in the violent PlayStation 3 game, The Last of Us David McNew—Getty Images

Latest research fuels the debate on the impact of violent video games

Can playing a terrorist in violent video games make you an all-around better person? As counterintuitive as it may sound, truly “heinous” behavior in a virtual environment might make players more morally sensitive, according to a new study to be published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.

“This may, as it does in real life, provoke players to engage in voluntary behavior that benefits others,” co-author Matthew Grizzard said in a release.

Researchers at the University of Buffalo had 185 participants randomly play two different video game scenarios — either as a terrorist or as a UN peacekeeper. After playing the games, those who played as terrorists were asked to recall what “real-life acts” induced guilt, and the UN soldiers were asked to recall which acts didn’t make them feel guilty. They then completed a 30-item moral foundations questionnaire.

“An American who played a violent game ‘as a terrorist’ would likely consider his avatar’s unjust and violent behavior — violations of the fairness/reciprocity and harm/care domains — to be more immoral than when he or she performed the same acts in the role of a ‘UN peacekeeper,'” Grizzard said. According to the University of Buffalo, “The study found significant positive correlations between video-game guilt and the moral foundations violated during game play.”

This study has some limitations, however. Researchers’ associating guilt with terrorist actions (and lack of guilt with the “heroes”), for example, might have shaded the lens with which they viewed their actions during the game.

It is the latest in a series of studies that attempt to assess the impact that violent media has on its consumers. Ever since two high school students rampaged through the halls of Columbine High School, debates have raged about whether violent video games, like those played by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, lead to violent behavior. An August 2013 study argues that violent video games do not cause high risk youths to bully, while a March 2014 study argues that over time, violent video games make children more aggressive. Inconsistent finding even inspired Obama to put a call out for more comprehensive literature on the subject.

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