If ever the phrase “Problematic Fave” was to mean something, it would be to describe Sega’s Yakuza series. The acclaimed series of intense action, crimes, and large men being lumpy and glowering at each other is riddled with tropes that can range from irritating to uncomfortable, yet the care and thought that went into its writing can generally shine through.
Yakuza 6, due out worldwide later this month, continues this tradition by quickly fridging Haruka Sawamura to motivate the long-running protagonist Kazuma Kiryu back into the world of large angry men being large angry men at each other. Again. Next verse, same as the first.
Still, I wouldn’t have referred to it as a “Fave” if I didn’t think this sort of thing was worth it. Because it is very much Yakuza, for all the bad and especially all the good things about it. Older, slightly wrinklier, ostensibly wiser, Kiryu is still a great character to assume the role of. In this installment, you will take the Dragon of Dojima through his old stomping grounds of Kamurocho to look for his lost daughter-figure, the recently-retired idol Haruka.
He’s Also A “Kickman”! (Image Provided By SEGA)
Being a Yakuza game, this will involve less searching as much as it does punching people very hard, kicking people very hard, throwing people very hard, and hitting people with nearby objects very hard. Which, in a way, provides some insight into what makes Kiryu so compelling even though he inhabits a series that contains so many cringeworthy tropes.
Kiryu is, for all his compassion and well-spoken mannerisms, not the most capable problem solver in the world. He can only truly address situations in three ways – violence, crimes, and violent crimes. Yet he keeps encountering situations that he cannot reasonably handle in these ways. And that’s how what could easily be a “boring punchman” protagonist becomes someone you want to follow for seven games of punching mans.
Surprising no one, Kiryu finds out that Haruka’s disappearance may involve some form of treachery and deception and just maybe, crimes. Thus, he heads off to the fishing town of Onomichi, in the Hiroshima prefecture. Not to give away too many spoilers, but in Onomichi, Kiryu may have to punch some people. He may also wind up wearing a mascot costume with a bowl of ramen for a hat. And then punching people.
(Editor’s Note: If you’re going to punch people VERY hard always make sure to do it in a mascot costume!)
Microsoft’s ID@Xbox team returned to GDC for another year and brought with them some of the most promising new games coming to their console. Last year, I bemoaned the lack of effort towards securing exclusive titles for the Xbox One, as evidenced by their indie showing at GDC. But now Microsoft appears to be on the road to recovery, starting to cherry-pick several PC darlings as console exclusives. Cuphead, Ooblets, and the Ori series were the big Microsoft-allied indies of past years, so let’s take a look and see what software they have brought to the table in 2018. Welcome to GDC – this is ID@Xbox.
Folks gather around various demo stations during GDC’s ID @ Xbox event.
Starting out, we have My Time at Portia, an ambitious game of many hats that recently launched on Steam Early Access and is now being scouted for an Xbox release. Portia features a stylized visual aesthetic inspired by European animation and some captivatingly peaceful environment design. The main problem with the game at this stage, however, seems to be the opposite of its many early access peers. Portia features such a large number of mechanics and gameplay systems, all fighting for the player’s attention, that I am honestly not sure what the focus of the game is meant to be. At some moments, it feels like a crafting game or Harvest Moon-style farming game, while the combat system’s depth and third-person 3D camera angle suggest a more action RPG approach. We will see how this one develops and if it can find its niche over time.
Next up, there is the PC MMORPG Black Desert Online making its way to Microsoft’s console. The push to get more computer MMOs on consoles has been a long one with mixed results, but it certainly illustrates that there is a market for it. Black Desert Online looks to continue this trend and provide a consistent experience across both PC and Xbox. The team in particular noted Xbox One X compatibility as a major factor in them bringing the game to the platform, as the extra power allowed them to manage the game’s systems at a more reasonable framerate. Overall, this port’s presence was not terribly exciting, but at least should allow existing BDO players more options on how they can play.
Virgo Versus the Zodiac was a welcome presence on the show floor – a turn-based JRPG about mythology with some rather pleasant surprises. The battle system is reminiscent of Paper Mario, with timed button press prompts comprising much of the engagement factor in a fight, as well as some delightful Socialist overtones in the story, with the protagonist Virgo looking to overthrow the corporate greed of her peers. Such themes are more apt now than ever, and VVtZ looks to deliver a one-two punch between that and its solid gameplay inspirations. This is one to watch out for.
Finally on our featured games list, we have Trailmakers, a vehicle-building game reminiscent of contemporaries such as Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts and Beseiged. Trailmakers banks heavily on its aforementioned vehicle-creation system, hoping to make a tool that allows for radical experimentation within the game’s physics and world constraints. Sadly, while the tool’s open-ended construction system allows for a great deal of freedom, it does a poor job of teaching players the basics of making a functional vehicle. A booth representative acted as a tutorial without my request, while I just wanted to explore the game on my own terms. I have high hopes for Trailmakers, but it needs to implement better tutorial systems before it can meet them.
Microsoft’s GDC showing has certainly improved since last year, but they still have a long way to go before making the Xbox One be the go-to platform for independent developers. Courting them with hardware power doesn’t make much sense in the indie scene – a market full of games that lean more on aesthetic than technical overhead, but at least some developers seem to be finding uses for the Xbox One X’s muscle. Here’s hoping Microsoft can continue to make strides in areas of true significance to indies, such as licensing terms, hardware costs, and generous revenue splits.
The Yakuza games have always been a peculiar mix of gritty crime drama, bombastic martial arts, goofy side stories, and lots of minigames. Yakuza 0 is no exception, blending its cinematic storytelling with an almost overwhelming amount of side content to distract you from the game’s harsher elements.
As the title suggests, the game is a prequel to the long-running franchise, set back in the 80s and showing off the early days of series protagonist Kiryu Kazama and his recurring rival Goro Majima. The two characters operate in different cities, and their gameplay while similar, are stylistically different enough to keep the variety going.
Kiryu, when not partaking of the various diversions offered in Kamurocho, does a lot of muscle work – many of the problems he faces are solved through liberal applications of violence. He does this work both for the Yakuza and later as part of a real estate business. Fortunately, Kiryu is essentially the god of war with devastating combos to chain together into brutal finishers.
Combat is a spectacle with exciting martial arts manoeuvres and styles shown off, and each weighty punch and kick knocking piles of cash out of the recipient. Being able to change styles mid-battle makes for some fun strategizing, enhancing the martial arts movie feel the combat thrives on.
Majima has his own set of styles, which are in general a bit more stylish than Kiryu’s, though no less brutal – indeed, one of his styles, “Slugger”, is focused entirely around baseball bat fighting. To contrast, the similar style that Kiryu learns is “Beast”, which involves improvised weapons ranging from from boxes, furniture, or motorcycles, depending what is handy. A common refrain from defeated foes is “What are you?” which, given the ridiculous violence that can be pulled off, is a reasonable question.
Majima’s chapters take place in Sotenbori, where he manages a popular night club. When he’s not dealing with some very shady dealings and seedy characters that come with his job, the town offers more distractions, though it feels a little less overwhelming than Kamurocho. Oddly, it is here that the crafting system exists. Why there is crafting system I’m not sure, but it includes a system of dispatching agents around the world to find materials and recipes. This is something I’ve always had a soft spot for, so I welcome the opportunity.
Presentation is a strength of the game. It looks great, and features some great sound design. There’s a lot going on that screams 80s, including some familiar sound-alike music, parody characters, and, of course, brick-sized mobile phones. In a curious decision there are multiple styles for cutscenes, with some being simple cinematics, while others are sort of motion-comic styled vignettes.
Yakuza 0 is no exception game that attempts to blend over the top action with some gritty, and often uncomfortable, drama. Inferences and threats made to characters can and do approach some difficult territory – torture, mutilation and sexual violence are brought up, and some people may be understandably turned off from the game because of these, as well as some of the ways women are portrayed.
John Bridgman is a Canadian games journalist who has freelanced for various publications, and a host of the Downloadable Concept podcast (http://dlc.invincible.ink is our URL). He can be found on Twitter @JEBWrench. Yakuza 0’s publisher, SEGA, provided Broken Joysticks with a single download code for Yakuza 0 for our consideration.
Warhammer Inquisitor Martyr was one of the games I most wanted to see at E3. I am a massive fan of Warhammer 40K and this game has a custom physics engine on board, to make everything look awesome, and be able to be destroyed. I was unsure of how cover would work in an ARPG styled game, but it turned out I didnt really need it at all. Check out the trailer below for a good idea of how the game plays.
I found Neocore Games booth way in the back of South hall, as I approached and saw just a few computer and a TV screen, I wondered if i was in the wrong place. Luckily for me I was not, the large display TV clearly showed that the title of the game and a nice set of B roll footage playing in the background. After a presentation about the world, the physics engine, and the eventual scope of the game. I was allowed to sit down and play for about 30 minutes, I had access to one level, and one of the games three planned classes, but even with these limited options, I had a hell of a lot of fun.
Right away I noticed that this was a very pretty game, Neocore games have cooked up their very own new graphics engine for this game and it shows. Lighting is very important in the 40K universe, it is literally a GRIM DARK, universe. Martyr does a great job with this aesthetic. Everything is dark, but also looks like it’s in the future. Much of the galaxy of 40K is 10,000 years or more old, made up of lost technology, and often in ruins. This is very clear in the tile sets that the developer have chosen. Most of environments I saw looked ancient, to the point of being ready to crumble. I was only able to play on one tileset and indoor metal based one, but earlier trailers have shown other more open or outside tile sets will be in-game.
This is the kind of crap inquisitors have to deal with
The custom designed engine takes good advantage of that terrain. It is all fully destructible, and this is one the things that the developer is very invested in this destructible cover system, as you can see from this video. The environment also provides another layer, offering cover for you or your foes to hide behind. These covers can then be destroyed. The system works all right, but felt a bit out-of-place in an ARPG.
Sitting down and playing it, the cover system honestly doesn’t feel like its needed. I say this with trepidation in my heart because developing a major system just for a game like this is really a great thing, but an ARPG is by its design action based. I don’t want to hide behind cover, I want to jump in to a pile of enemies and kill them all. You can do that, but since enemies also have good AI, they will use the cover to evade you, and you will spend more time chasing if you don’t play the way the developers want. That being said the Warhamer universe is as good as any for an ARPG to be set in. With weapons like chain swords, and psykers who can throw powerful attacks there is no shortage of material for an ARPG . Even with just the small slice of the game I was shown I could see some of that and the developers spent a lot of time stressing that we have only seen a small amount of it so far.
At the E3 demo we were also treated to video and explanation of a new class. The assassin class looked rough around the edges, since it seemed to have only a snipe, and a few stealth abilities, but nothing to really do much damage. I hope this class was still in development and will look a bit more polished when the game is finished. It does have promise, but since the game is a single player experience im unsure why anyone would chose not to play the heavily armored tank of a champion that is the crusader class. The Crusader is the games tank and is who we have seen in other gameplay videos, and who I was able to play in the demo. There will be a third class (I am hoping for a magic user) which has yet to be revealed as well. Each class will have different weapons, and each weapon will have different attack “modes” meaning that your sword will be able to do things that aren’t just swing pointy end at enemy. I saw a bit of this when I played, being able to use my sword as a finisher after shooting a bunch with my bolter.
This is you, you are a bad ass, you kill xenos.
At its core this is an ARPG, you will take on the role of one super powered Inquisitor from the Space Marines faction of the 40K universe, you will then hack, shoot, and explode your way through purifying the aliens, mutants, and heretics of the 40K world. Neocore are going to give players a whole sector to play around in, and have promised that players decisions will make major changes to the sector. Two types of campaign will exist in game. In the first mode your character will fight alone in massive sector, but special events will tie the various missions together. When you finish the story, which is promised to be a classic 40K story with a mystery as old as the inquisition itself at its core, you will then have access to the open world of the sector and be able to play endless levels with procedural generated maps and objectives. In this open world sandbox is where Neocore have promised that your actions will effect the larger sector.
I was only able to play one mission, with the objective of killing a boss at the end. It was pretty much the most basic ARPG style game play you could imagine. I had a series of abilities, triggered with the numbers on the keyboard, I could shoot my gun with right click and move with left click. The class I was playing had two weapons choices. The first was a sword and bolt pistol, this combination is fairly balanced, and gave me the ability to both shoot at things far away, and chop things that got close to with my sword. While using my sword I had access to some neat finishing moves that could be triggered when an enemy’s health was low. I could for example behead an enemy soldier, or stab him through the chest. My secondary weapon was a Lascannon, which shot a single target with a high damage slow-moving projectile. The Lascannon also had a AOE ability that I found myself abusing quite a bit, it launched a slow projectile that landed and cause a large amount of damage. This was my only AOE that I was able to find. As far as I could tell the only other place I could get AOE damage from was grenade. While this wasn’t as much as a problem as it would be in say Diablo, Inquisitor Martyr did still throw groups of enemies at me, so I would have been quite happy for another AoE ability. I mean I have a sword, let me swing it in a wide arc or spin it or something!
this is about as crowded as one room will ever get, enemy density is very light. Also notice the ever present ARPG red health globe.
So as I got started on the mission that I was allowed to play, I was dropped in to a grim room, with a lot of gothic flare, if I had to guess I would say I was one of the massive space ship hulks that feature in the 40K universe. I was allowed to wander down a few hallways, which the developers told me were procedurally generated, and fought a few enemies. I seemed to be fighting the chaos faction, and at saw at least 5 enemy types even in this early prototype of the game. The destructible cover works, you can destroy almost everything people hide behind, but I mostly spent my time kiting enemies out of cover to kill them, so I found the cover mechanic at best annoying. Now is the part where I have to say that this is not a typical ARPG, as fast as something like Diablo is with huge swarms of enemies coming to you and you hitting them and using abilities on them, this is the opposite. The game moves slowly, you feel like a giant terminator, walking slowly along shooting and faster enemies who you are forced to either try to kill before they get to you. I did not feel like I was close to dying anywhere, but it was a demo designed for press, so it may have been toned down.
Overall I enjoyed the game, I think it really captures what I feels like to be a super powerful terminator alone and arrayed against the whole galaxy of Xeonos. I could have done without the cover mechanic I never used, and I think the difficulty needs some tweaking for sure, and since the demo build I played had no loot in it, I really didn’t get that ARPG feel that comes with say Diablo or other games like it. The developers did say that they were working on loot, diversity of enemies, and whole slew of more weapons from the 40K universe. This is a game to keep on your radar as it gets closer and closer to done. As of today the game has no release date, and the developers are still calling it an alpha product, so I would expect that there is a ton of work to still be done on the game, but when it is done, I think it will be a worthy entry in to the 40K video game cannon.
I leave you with this one final trailer by the developers about mass destruction, and my thoughts on the game. In order for this to work as an ARPG loot needs to come in to the game. The developers were adamant that they were working on it but wanted the loot to “make sense” before it went in to game. The rest felt quite good, and I plan to play and review this game when it comes out sometime in 2017.