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Could the Future of ‘Star Wars’ Games be in a ‘Destiny’ Style Shared World?

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When Star Wars: Battlefront was rebooted in 2015, fans of the franchise were delighted. It was the first Star Wars game in years, and it was being developed by one of the most acclaimed first person shooter developers in the industry (DICE).

So it was even more heart breaking when gamers realized it was nothing more than a glorified tech demo. Sure it boasted stunning visuals and impeccably loyal sound design, but this glimmering outer shell was hollow within. No single player campaign, multiplayer only, but not even a robust multiplayer. The repetitive skirmishes lost their charm after just a few matches. There was a noticeable lack of game modes, maps, and playable characters. Most insulting of all was a season pass which included virtually the same amount of content as the base game.

EA seemed to believe that they could charge $60 for a bare bones experience, taking advantage of the nostalgia and hype around a beloved franchise.

After a considerable amount of backlash, both fans and EA hoped 2017’s Battlefront 2 would rectify those issues. A single player campaign written by Walt Williams (Spec Ops: The Line), a more robust multiplayer mode, and a significantly larger amount of content to explore. It was going to be a real Star Wars game.

So I’m genuinely disappointed to say, that they fell short, again.

Star Wars: Battlefront 2 is not the Star Wars game we deserve or want.

I barely need to mention the multiplayer, which has created a global uproar due its scandalous microtransactions and poorly implemented progression system. Even when all the drama is stripped away, it still feels shallow and monotonous.

The arcade mode seems tacked on. Play as classic heroes and by the number soldiers, in maps of minuscule proportion, supported by unbalanced combat.  The game will then penalize you for playing split screen, telling you that you can’t earn any more points for 11 hours. This system seems built for a free to play mobile title.

A Great Narrative Driven Star Wars Game.

The games campaign is its only true talking point. Sure it has its issues. The story is not as advertised. This is not a new perspective on the empire. Whether it be EA or Disney, it seems someone was too scared to explore such uncharted territory. Instead it quickly pulls a 180 and transitions into another tale of the rebel alliance.

Yet it does not deserve the criticism it has received. This is the most visually stunning and cinematic gameplay experience you will have in 2017, and one of the most engaging narrative based shooters I’ve played recently. Ignore the critics who show an abysmal amount of interest in Battlefront 2’s campaign. It is well written and well-acted. Sure it isn’t deep or profound, but neither are any of the films. They all boil down to a hero’s journey. With a galactic war here, political struggles over there, and a little bit of romance sprinkled on top. We don’t love Star Wars for its narrative intricacies. We love it because of the grand universe George Lucas crafted around a relatively by the books story. Battlefront 2’s campaign feels just as genuinely Star Wars as any of the movies.

Familiar faces like Han Solo, Kylo Ren and Luke Skywalker aren’t shoehorned in. Their involvement makes sense within the story of the Inferno Squad and helps diversify the gameplay.

I don’t mind short single player games, but if this had been stretched out into a 10 – 12 hour standalone experience, unconnected from the loot box controversy, this could have been a marvellous and well received Star Wars game.

The Death of Visceral Games and What Their Project Tells Us About The Future.

However Battlefront 2 can’t get a free pass for its issues just by having an admirable amount of polish. Despite a satisfying single player experience, this sequel opted for more instead of better. It’s close to being a game, and arguably calling it a tech demo could be viewed as harsh and unreasonable, but it is safe to say that it is not what fans wanted from EA or this beloved franchise.

Yet there is still a silver lining that can be gleamed from Battlefront 2. It shows us the potential of what a Star Wars game could look like on current gen hardware. Battlefront 2 is a shallow overall experience, its visible lack of depth evoking a feeling of tedium relatively quickly. However it looks and feels exactly how it should. It shows us that with a larger focus on story or a more complex gameplay loop, a Star Wars game could be tremendously successful. By looking into which other studios are tinkering away on this franchise, I know there is still hope. So let’s explore the possibilities.

Let us first take a look at Visceral. Both to summarize their demise, but to also examine how their work in progress may lead to other exciting titles.

Many were judgmental and grief stricken upon hearing of Visceral games closure. The team behind Dead Space and the writer behind Uncharted had been working on a narrative driven action game set in the Star Wars universe – that is until EA unexpectedly shut the studio down on October 17th 2017. However, it is not as clear cut as the masses would believe. Whispers of the games rocky development had been swirling for months, with Visceral quietly bleeding employees for some time.

The projects vision pivoted several times. Originally Visceral was approached to continue development on the Boba Fett focused Star Wars: 1313. After declining that offer they set to work creating an open world title focused on a group of unruly pirates who plundered other ships within the Star Wars universe. When Amy Hennig joined the studio things changed once again. What is commonly now known as project Ragtag, told the story of a squad of Han Solo-like criminals within an Uncharted inspired linear action game. With ambitious hooks such as 5 playable squad members. Each character had their own traits and abilities, and a “sabotage” style approach to combat. They could hack aspects of the environment to distract, kill, and toy with the emotions of enemy A.I. These were all concepts that proved too ambitious for this small studio.

There is blame on both ends of the spectrum. According to several ex Visceral employees, EA asked too much of the studio. EA demanded they make a game that outsold and was critically received better than Uncharted 4, but lacked belief in Hennig’s vision, and constantly questioned why familiar characters and force related tropes weren’t being included in the game. They also diverted just under half of Ragtag’s staff to Battlefront 2’s single player campaign.

But Visceral also had its own short comings. Many of the staff were not adept at using the game engine, Frostbite, Hennig seemed to lack trust in her team and clashed with them frequently, and the studio itself was situated in San Francisco. San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities to live in in the world. For a full account I recommend you read Jason Schreier’s breakdown of events.

A Destiny Style Star Wars Game Has Real Potential.

However, it isn’t all doom and gloom. EA Vancouver is taking over the project, although admittedly starting from scratch. They are instead choosing to create an open world action game. Perhaps they will implement elements of the story or gameplay Visceral envisioned. Perhaps a fresh pair of eyes can make their concepts work, although it will doubtfully be exactly what Hennig planned. I share Visceral’s story because there could be hints at what EA Vancouver’s eventual Star Wars title might include.

There are also rumors that EA Vancouver’s game will feature similar elements to Destiny and other shared world shooters.  Before you get up in arms about EA trying to shoehorn in micro transactions and multiplayer over single player, think about it. You may start as a rebel or a storm trooper or a smuggler. Choosing the faction of the war you want to side with. Like in Destiny, you explore various environments across several planets. You take part in public events like bringing down a Rancor or AT-AT. Instead of the Warlock, Titan and Hunter classes, you could eventually choose a Jedi, Sith or Bounty Hunter Class. You would level up your abilities, whether they be force powers or bounty hunter sabotage techniques, like those planned for Ragtag. You could even rework Hennig’s script to fit the campaign of this shared world action game.

That doesn’t sound half bad to me. In fact that sounds like a truly intriguing Star Wars experience, enjoyable for the player and profitable for EA.

Star Wars: 1313 and Force Unleashed Live On.

EA also recently acquired Titanfall developer Respawn, who have been working on a Star Wars title for some time. Now Visceral may have declined to work on Star Wars: 1313, but Respawn could offer a spiritual successor to the unreleased title. Respawn have demonstrated that they know how to create a gripping single player campaign and robust multiplayer, within the Titanfall franchise. If you really think about it, Titanfall’s jet pack and wall running traversal, futuristic weaponry, and Titan combat, would fit well into a Boba Fett game. Just switch out the Titan for Slave-1. So with the success of their own I.P. and the obvious hype that surrounded 1313, EA may have trusted Respawn to take this direction.

With the confirmation that the Titanfall franchise will continue (in the probable form of Titanfall 3), it may be simple minded to think Respawn would make two very similar games. One of them their own I.P, the other connected to the Star Wars license. God of War 3’s director Stig Asmussen is leading the charge on Respawn’s Star Wars project. EA has also announced that the game will be a third-person action-adventure game. Perhaps Respawn were looking to make a title similar to Visceral’s Ragtag and EA had more faith in Respawn’s vision than Visceral’s, or considering Asmussen’s God of War heritage, could we receive a modern Force Unleashed styled game. At this point, with so little information, it’s hard to tell.

Hope is What Keeps the Rebellion Alive.

Despite the shaky year Star Wars and EA have collectively endured, there is still hope for this franchises place within the games industry. Star Wars: Battlefront 2 like its predecessor is not the Star Wars experience we deserve.  Some like myself may even refer to it as a glorified tech demo, but the limited amount that is there, and the pedigree of studios that also have an opportunity to create something with this license, gives me hope for the future. The hope that sometime soon, I will experience a truly amazing Star Wars game.

Feature Writer/ Reviewer for Goombastomp and founder of Quiet Stories For more info on upcoming books, podcasts, articles and video games follow me @OurQuietStories on Twitter. On a more personal note i'm a beard fanatic, calamari connoisseur and professional fat guy.

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‘New Super Lucky’s Tale’ is Polished, Pleasing Platforming

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Streamlined, focused, and tons of fun, New Super Lucky’s Tale is a fantastic reworking for the Switch that absolutely nails the lighter side of Nintendo-style 3D platforming. Tight controls and a nearly flawless camera support running and jumping challenges which more often than not emphasize creativity over complexity, and it’s all set against a colorful, pun-filled, charming world full of quirky characters and light satire. Though the experience is not as epic or razzle-dazzle as something like Super Mario Odyssey, developer Playful has wisely trimmed the collect-a-thon fat that so many others in the genre employ in order to pad play time. The result lasts long enough to satisfy, yet also instills a fervent desire to see more adventures from its fearless, furry hero.

New Super Lucky's Tale carnival

In the fine tradition of its gaming ancestors dating back to the N64 days, the basics of New Super Lucky’s Tale revolve around acquiring arbitrary objects sprinkled through various stages in order to unlock doors and move on to the next area. This time it’s pages from the mystical Book of Ages, which contains the power to travel between worlds, and is the endgame of an nefarious cat sorcerer named Jinx and his gang of cartoonish thugs, the Kitty Litter. As part of a secret organization sworn to defending this kiddie-friendly Necronomicon knockoff, it’s up to Lucky to track down as many of these clover-embossed pages as he possibly can, and hopefully complete the book before his nemesis can get his claws on it.

It’s doubtful that the story will be what compels most players to keep going, and to that end, New Super Lucky’s Tale‘s simple setup also fits right in with its genre brethren. Still, Lucky is an amiable and upbeat fox to follow around, and Playful does an excellent job of surrounding him with a cast of gibberish-spouting weirdo goofballs that includes hayseed grub worms, supremely zen Yetis, loyal rock golems, and slick carny ghosts. Though their dialogue does little to drive any sort of narrative, it is endlessly amusing and often witty in its cheesy wordplay. In other words, the writing has a very Nintendo-like feel in its eccentricities that adds to the overall fun.

New Super Lucky's Tale factory

Those jokes would be less endearing without fantastic gameplay, but New Super Lucky’s Tale delivers some of the best running and jumping this side of Mario. Though this fabulous fox can’t quite match the plumber’s precision, Lucky does feel extremely responsive, and has a nice sense of weight and momentum that never feels out of control. He also comes out of the den with a well-rounded moveset, including a nifty double jump, a swishy tail (a la Mario’s spin punch), and the ability to burrow under ground. These moves can be chained together to create a satisfying flow both when exploring 3D stages and side-scrolling ones alike, and will surely inspire players to use them in creative ways in order to access seemingly out-of-reach spots.

And they’ll have to if they want to find all four pages hidden in each stage. New Super Lucky’s Tale requires a bare minimum of these leaflets to be found (and simply beating the stage merits one as a reward), but it’s in rooting around those nooks and crannies where much of the fun lies, and it gives the developer a chance to squeeze every ounce out of the unique mixture of environments they’ve created. From the assorted carnival games of a haunted amusement park to a beach party dance-off, there are a surprising amount of different things for Lucky (and players) to do here, with hardly any two stages ever feeling alike. One 3D level might task Lucky with casually exploring a farm as he gathers up the members of country jug band, while a side-scrolling obstacle course sees him dodging canon fire from an airship piloted by a feline Napolean. Some stages have a platforming bent, while others emphasize searching out secrets tucked away in mini puzzles.

New Super Lucky's Tale farm

It’s an absolutely delightful mix, and that sheer variety keeps New Super Lucky’s Tale fresh all the way through to the epic battle with fat cat Jinx himself. And though platforming veterans might find the overall challenge a bit too much on the friendly side, a few of the later bosses and and bonus stages may make that 100% goal a little tougher than it at first seems. And yet, it’s hard not to want to go back to incomplete stages or that block-pushing puzzle that stumped the first time around; the brisk pace and clever design will likely compel many players to find every scrap of paper out there.

No, Lucky isn’t the second coming of Mario, but there are few 3D platformers that offer such a polished, concise, joyful experience as New Super Lucky’s Tale. It may have taken a couple of efforts to get there (and for those who have played the original Super Lucky’s Tale, levels and bosses have been reworked here), but Playful has nailed a balance between creativity and efficiency that begs for more. 

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How Do ‘Pokemon Sword and Shield’s’ Max Raid Battles Measure Up?

Max Raid Battles are one of Pokemon Sword and Shield’s premier new features. Do they live up to their full potential? Let’s find out.

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max raid battles

One of the most heavily promoted new features of Pokémon Sword and Shield have been their Max Raid Battles. These gargantuan fights are both a key part of the online experience and likely the first taste most players will get of Dynamaxed Pokémon in-game. So, how’d this take on Pokémon Go’s raid system pan out in the series’ first mainline entry on console?

Well, on the plus side, getting into the thick of a raid is super straightforward. After the opening hour or two, players are introduced to the Wild Area and can access Max Raid Battles straight away by walking up to a pillar of red light on the field. From there you can invite others, challenge the raid with NPCs, and choose which Pokémon you want to use.

Real Friends Raid Together

Playing with friends online, though, is a bit more convoluted. There’s no “Invite Friends” option to be seen. Instead, all social features are handled through the Y-comm (literally accessed by pressing the Y button). It’s here that players can Link Trade, Link Battle, exchange player cards, and more.

After actively connecting to the internet–which has to be done each play session and each time the Switch is put into sleep mode–it’s up to the host of the match to find a portal and send an invitation to everyone. A notification will pop for friends on the side of the screen, and then it’s up to everyone to join the match directly through the Y-comm interface.

If players want real people to fill in any remaining slots (all raids are four-person affairs), they’ll need to join before the room fills up. Setting a Link Code avoids this hassle by creating a room but, unlike Salmon Run in Splatoon 2, only computer players can fill remaining spots after friends finish joining this way.

After some experimenting and fudding about, my buddy and I were able to hop into matches fairly quickly without much issue. Nonetheless, it’s hard to shake the feeling that creating friend lobbies is only such a headache because it had to be tied to the Y-comm. Pair this with the fact that battling while waiting for a friend to create a room can cause the notification not to pop, and getting a group together is a bit more painful than it should be.

Max Raid Battle Rundown

The raids themselves are a surprisingly engaging twist on the classic Pokémon battle formula. Groups of four challengers work together to take on a Dynamaxed raid boss. Each raid boss has a different star rating, and even the 1-star battles are no joke the first few times around. These boss Pokémon are merciless, and regularly one-shot lower leveled ‘mons with ease.

To combat these monstrous foes, one random trainer in every group is granted the ability to Dynamax their chosen Pokémon and lead the charge. The Dynamaxed Pokémon gets the benefit of having extra-powerful moves and increased HP, though it’s rather disappointing that there only seems to be one Max Move per move type (one Grass move, one Dark move, and so on). Each of these has a secondary effect on the battlefield; some trigger sandstorms, others trigger a health regeneration field that heals everyone a bit each turn. Regular moves with type advantages deal a significant chunk of damage, but it’s Max Moves that can truly turn the tide of battle.

If one of the group’s Pokémon faints, that trainer has to sit out for a turn before it automatically gets revived (a smart design choice to keep all trainers actively involved). However, the fainting of each Pokémon triggers the storm above to become more and more vicious. After four faints or ten turns, everyone is booted out of the raid sans rewards.

max raid battles

The Fruits of Victory

Two of the easiest ways to better your odds are 1) Choose a Pokémon with a type advantage going into battle, and 2) Manage who Dynamaxes when. Each trainer’s Dynamax meter grows periodically and, though only one trainer can use it at a time, multiple players can activate it over the course of a raid. It also seems like each raid’s star rating is tied directly to the raid boss’ level, so bringing a generally powerful Pokémon to a lower-level raid is another viable strategy for success.

Aside from the chance to capture the raid boss itself (and some Pokémon are Max Raid Battle-exclusive), winning a raid nets players some very worthwhile rewards. These include everything from EXP candies and berries to nuggets and TMs. It’s not so much of a haul that it hurts the overall balance of the game, but there’s enough to make getting a few friends together and grinding raids for a couple of hours worth it.

max raid battles

Though Max Raid Battles are just a small part of the overall Sword and Shield package, they’ve ended up being a rather fun take on Pokémon’s traditional multiplayer offerings. For as unnecessarily complicated as playing with friends is, there are also a few cool ideas here, like being able to join a raid from anywhere on the map as long as the host is at the raid pillar. There’s some good fun to be had here if you prefer to battle alongside your friends instead of against them.

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15 Years Later: ‘Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater’ Is Kojima’s Espionage Love Letter

On November 17th, 2004, ‘Metal Gear Solid 3’ was released, marking the first entry in what would become a major part of the Metal Gear Saga.

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Metal Gear Solid 3

“After the end of World War II, the world was split into two — East and West. This marked the beginning of the era called the Cold War.”

On November 17th, 2004, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater released in North America and Japan marking the first entry in what would later become a line of prequel games within the Metal Gear Saga. Big Boss’s story would finally be expanded upon in the Hollywood action game that forever changed the course of video game storytelling.

The legendary mercenary’s journey began in Kojima’s espionage love letter to the ’60s that broke the primordial gaming standards of both interactive design and visual storytelling through immeasurable gameplay depth piled onto a mind-boggling top-notch origin story. Snake Eater was only the beginning of a tale of how one of gaming’s greatest heroes descended into a villain through what is not only arguably the most compact and well-executed Metal Gear story, but Kojima Productions story ever conjured up to date.

Taking the Narrative Back

Metal Gear Solid 3
“Snake, try and remember some of the basics of CQC.”

Snake Eater ditched Solid Snake and Raiden’s current predicaments in a postmodern world to provide audiences with background knowledge and explanations for the previous chapters that came before it in what was intended to be Hideo Kojima’s final Metal Gear game at the time. Cold War political fiction and espionage thrillers from the game’s time period such as the Sean Connery and Roger Moore James Bond 007 films became the foundation for this entry’s story and tone; a balance of both goofiness and seriousness that is simply unmatched when compared to the rest of the series.

Metal Gear Solid 3 marked the beginning of a prequel series of games that would later proceed to continue after Solid Snake’s story had concluded in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the PatriotsSnake Eater threw players back in time to tackle the story of Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake villain Big Boss, who was formerly referred to as three different names being John, Jack, and of course the iconic codename Naked Snake — the first character to take on the reptilian infiltration name.

Revolver Ocelot’s gun-slinging pre-boss cutscene was completely animated through motion capture footage.

Whereas Metal Gear Solid and Sons of Liberty questioned the fantasy aspects of the story, Snake Eater fully embraced the campiness that it provided. A gun-slinging, cat-growling GRU Major or a man who is able to manipulate bees are never questioned by the game’s characters. Nothing feels out of place due to how accepting everyone is of what is going on in their interpretation of history. The first fantasy aspect that players encounter is during the opening 5 minutes of the game when Naked Snake makes the HALO jump. The location the game takes place, Tselinoyarsk, is not the actual name of the location and isn’t an area of the world that has jungles.

Political fiction often comes into play during the story by incorporating real figures and the game’s characters into events that actually happened during the height of the Cold War. For example, Eva and Ocelot are depicted as the two NSA codebreakers, Martin and Mitchell, who defected to the Soviet Union. Weapons and designs featured in the game such as the hybrid screw-propelled metal gear, the Shagohod, are based on real blueprints for military weapons of the time period. While the story incorporates science fiction and fantasy aspects, the story still remains grounded and has its own limits even in gameplay.

A Whole New Meaning to Survival

When Hideo Kojima and Yoji Shinkawa saw the 1987 movie Predator, one concept from the film that stuck with them was how the technologically advanced alien Predator used camouflage within the jungle setting to stealthily take out a military rescue team lead by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Camouflage became part of the foundation for Snake Eater‘s gameplay that delved into the realism and campy side of the series. Players could swap outfits and face paints at any given moment to adapt to their current surroundings. The top right-hand corner has a camouflage index that constantly keeps track of how well-hidden you are in the environment.

Just as gadgets are a critical part of James Bond’s arsenal of weapons, Snake Eater saw the Metal Gear Solid series expand on the variety and utilization of items. The number of different ways to tackle standard environmental obstacles and boss battles was exponentially increased due to how many ways one could actually use their equipment. Grenades, lethal firearms, night-vision goggles, cigarettes, and even cardboard boxes all inherited a multi-functional philosophy that most players would never even discover unless they had experimented during their playthrough or were told to do a specific action. Even food became a weapon of war that could be used to poison and distract guards if it had gone spoiled.

On the topic of food, alongside the standard health bar, Snake has a stamina meter that must be ministered to constantly by eating foods found on-site and administering proper medical treatment. Animals, fruit, medicinal items, and various packaged resources must be collected and watched over throughout the game. All food items ran on a real-time clock leaving food to go unsanitary and rotten after a matter of real-time days.

The Beginning of Product Placement

Fun Fact: Kojima has gone on record saying that Naked Snake’s favorite CalorieMate Block is the chocolate-flavored line (rightfully for promotional reasons!).

The Metal Gear Solid series kickstarted Hideo Kojima’s constant usage of product placements within his games that are still ongoing today. These products include but are certainly not limited to clothing, accessories, toys, household items, and of course, food. Snake Eater began a trend of future Kojima Production games featuring real-life items that are purchasable in many small scale and large retail stores throughout Japan through the brand of nutritional energy bars and gels, CalorieMate.

The chocolate-flavored CalorieMate Block appeared in the original version of Snake Eater, while the maple-flavored kind replaced it in the HD Collection due to it being the latest flavor release at the time. Advertisements for CalorieMate during the game’s release showed Naked Snake holding a chocolate-flavored Block saying “If you wanna survive in the jungle, your going to need one of these.”

When initiating a Codec call with Paramedic after eating a CalorieMate Block, the character will question the legitimacy of the food. In reality, CalorieMate first released in 1983, contradicting the 1960’s setting of the story, therefore, making its placement in the game an anachronism; an object or person that is displaced in time.

A Legacy Worthy of The Big Boss Rank

At the time of Snake Eater’s release, although the game garnered a completely positive reception from critics with a 91 Metacritic score, it was highly debated whether the sequel-prequel was superior to the entries that came before it. Critics commonly praised the graphics and cinematics the game had to offer but questioned whether the gameplay was too complex for its own good. Snake Eater also had to ride the coattails of unsatisfied audiences originating from the previous entry’s lack of Solid Snake being the protagonist which ultimately lead to sales of the game being significantly lower than the previous Solid entries.

Over time, Snake Eater became the fan-favorite entry of the series and would go on to receive the most re-releases out of all the Metal Gear games to date. Most notably, in 2006 Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence expanded upon the online mode in the game and added a completely new third-person controlled camera system that enhanced the overall experience and became the right analog stick standard for future entries. Buyers of this version were also treated with the original two MSX Metal Gear games found on the main menu- the first time the original Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake had ever been localized outside of Japan.

Snake Eater 3D Limited Edition Bundle included a ‘Snake Skin’ themed standard 3DS (only released in Japan).

2011 saw the release of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collectiona compilation title that included an updated version of Subsistence — arguably the best way to play Snake Eater today. In 2012 the game also saw a release on the Nintendo 3DS dubbed Metal Gear Solid 3D: Snake Eater which included a new real-life camera camouflage system and multiple gameplay changes inherited from Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker to accommodate the 3DS’s lack of dual analog sticks.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a true patriot that definitively holds its ground against the rest of the series today due to its creative liberties that the series never quite revisited in complete depth. Hideo Kojima and his team of masterminds behind Kojima Productions are well deserved of a salute for the tremendous efforts they put into creating a groundbreaking title that forever changed what it meant to be a cinematic video game. From its action-packed plot to its cinematic orchestra inspired-score, even after 15 years the pure indigenous nature of creativity from the studio never ceases to amaze audiences.

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