Section: Video Games

Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode 5: The Door Teaser Breakdown – GameSpot of Thrones
Lucy, Kate, and Dave scour Game of Throne's episode five trailer with a fine-tooth comb to find some tasty morsels about the upcoming episode. Beware: show spoilers!
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Stellaris Review
Serenity and wonder fill my ears when I first open Stellaris. Pulling from the same lived-in future aesthetic of games like Mass Effect, Stellaris opens with an invitation. It wants you to explore, it wants you learn, to unearth secrets your galaxy has...
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Best Stuff in Comics This Week
Every week, we take a look at some of the most bizarre, exciting, and downright unique things to happen in comics. Check out our choices of the strange and wacky things that shouldn't be overlooked from this week's releases.There may be some tiny s...
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Soft Body Review

Soft Body is a playable kaleidoscope, an ever-changing symphony of motion, color, and sound. It’s a mixture of different genres, combining the best aspects of bullet hell games, puzzle games, and Snake to create a challenging and mesmerizing experience.

You control two snakes that either move in unison or independently, dependent on the given level. The control inputs typically only require the left and right analog sticks. Using them, you guide snakes around a geometric landscape filled with angular enemies that emit waves of projectiles. You have to complete a collection of small objectives in order to beat each level, which usually involves moving a small ball or circular object around a maze, “painting” borders by touching or merely coming close enough to them, and destroying nearby enemies. The objectives remain simple and straightforward throughout, but the layout and challenges vastly differ from puzzle to puzzle. Despite their variance, none of the puzzles stray too far from Soft Body’s established rule set, and each design features the similar visual stylings and effects while also introducing new colors and contrasts.

While minimal, Soft Body’s controls can be disorienting, particularly when you have to control each snake independently. It is a game of trial and error, requiring precision and careful navigation. In its worst moments, some puzzles devolve into a series objectives with no apparent connective tissue, including levels with two maze-like objectives located at opposite corners of the screen and divided by a large barrier that needs to be “painted” in order to complete the level. The void in between each of these objectives was basically a minefield of projectiles and enemies that felt added in for sheer navigational challenge alone and gradually grew more tiresome. These moments are rare, but their design still comes across as haphazard when compared to more organized levels whose puzzles follow a more logical flow.

Tiny visual and aural flourishes breathe life into Soft Body's two-dimensional stages. When the snakes under your control come into contact with objects, particle effects spout onto the screen. When you complete your objectives, decorative background shapes spin and shake in excitement. These elements are enhanced by Soft Body's sound design, which is just as minimalist yet striking as the visuals, adding impact to each interaction between snakes and their environment. Every touch, hit, or movement around borders generates electronic chirps, and both the sights and sounds blend together to create a captivating, Zen-like experience.

Visual and aural flourishes breathe life into Soft Body's two-dimensional stages.

For such a bizarre, abstract game, Soft Body has a consistent visual language that communicates when and how enemies will act. Your foes take the forms of circles, squares, and triangles, each of which has a specific animation telegraphing its upcoming attacks. One circular “turret” latches its aim onto your snake and follows its movement for several seconds before the line representing its aim solidifies and the turret fires a projectile. Squares have a core that slowly swells toward the borders of the full shape, releasing a wave of deadly, circular projectiles once it reaches its edges. These enemies never break from Soft Body’s established rule set and language, making it consistent to solve despite its ever-changing presentation.

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Experimentation and identifying the reactions of the environment are essential to solving Soft Body’s puzzles, since new elements are sprinkled in throughout, often without any explanation. In one level, I saw a triangular border surrounding an enemy inside. Despite not having seen triangles in the game prior to that point, I swam up alongside it and discovered I could paint it to be my color. This speaks to the strength of a well-designed puzzle game: when the rules are consistent and the challenge is set up around that core rule set, solving puzzles remains satisfying in the long run. Soft Body embraces that concept while refusing to limit itself to being one predictable string of levels.

Soft Body is captivating. It’s the fish tank to my inner cat, a fascinating display of methodical movement, clever sound, and unusually satisfying puzzle solving. It’s a minimalist, meditative arcade throwback whose simplicity sometimes backfires into chaotic design, but more frequently delivers challenging and beautiful puzzles.

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Tastee: Lethal Tactics Review
In Tastee: Lethal Tactics, your plan is more important than the action that follows. It's a game of bets and bluffs, and if you telegraph your next move, you'll likely lose. Tastee doesn't always communicate its ideas effectively, and there are frustra...
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Weekly Recap: Star Wars Battlefront 2 Revealed, PSN #1 in April, Mass Effect 4 Delayed, Disney Infinity Canceled

Recap!


Weekly Recap: Star Wars Battlefront 2, April NPD, Disney Infinity Canceled

Did you step away this week? Here is a roundup of all the big news and some stories you may have missed.

Click "Next Image" to get started.


More Battlefront


EA made it official this week, announcing that Star Wars Battlefront 2 is in development and pegged for release in 2017. The company said it hopes to launch at least one new Star Wars game every year for the next three or four years. [Full story]


PS4 On Top


The NPD Group made its month announcement this week about physical sales from the past month in the United States. The PlayStation 4 was again the top-selling console of the month, while Dark Souls III was the No. 1 best-selling game. For more, check out these stories: hardware, software.


To Infinity And....


Disney Infinity is no more. The House of Mouse announced this week as part of its latest earnings report that it was cancelling Disney Infinity and closing developer Avalanche. The company is taking a $147 million hit as a result of the shut down. Additionally, Disney will no longer make games internally at all, but instead license its games out to other studios, like Electronic Arts. [Full story]


Not This Year


Mass Effect: Andromeda, the latest entry in BioWare's spacefaring RPG series, will not make it out this year as previously expected. The game is now due to arrive in early 2017, BioWare announced this week. The delay was necessary to give the team time to "deliver everything the game can be and should be." [Full story]


Incredible


DICE environment artist Simon Barle has created Bloodborne’s Hunter’s Dream location in Unreal Engine 4--in his spare. The results are incredible.


Even Arby's


Even fast food chain Arby's is psyched about the next Pokemon games. This week, after the game's release date was announced, Arby's shared this cool photo:


Huge Update


Ubisoft's team-based tactical shooter Rainbow Six Siege received a huge new update this week that made a number of fixes and balance adjustments; oh, and it also added unicorns. Really. Full patch notes.


Big Sale


The PlayStation Network is currently hosting a big sale on games from Ubisoft and Focus Home, among others. The deals are good for all major platforms, including PS4, PS3, and PlayStation Vita. Here is a roundup of some of the best deals.


What Could Have Been


Some footage of an unannounced and unreleased Star Wars RTS has emerged online. The untitled project would have had stylized visuals and was based on the classic-era Star Wars films. Take a look.


Everything Eventually Gets Remade in GTA 5


Battlefield 1's trailer was really cool and ultra-popular. Now, it's been remade in Grand Theft Auto V, where it can be appreciated in a sillier light. Have a look.


Free DLC Alert


Free DLC alert. EA Sports has added a new course, Banff Springs, to Rory McIlroy PGA Tour. Additionally, the update fixes some bugs and adds new audio lines for some PGA Tour golfers. Full patch notes here.


Like A Phoenix


Prey 2 might be announced at E3 2016, according to a new report from Kotaku. The first version of the game was essentially tossed out, so we’re expecting to see basically Prey 2.0.


Microsoft Nixed It, Apparently


According to former Lionhead Studios developer John McCormack, the developer wanted to put a black woman on the cover of Fable III--but Microsoft nixed the idea.

"They were going, 'You can't have a black person on the cover, and you can't have a woman. And you want a black woman,'" McCormack told Eurogamer. "And I was like, 'Yes, I do, because it's about be whatever hero you want.' [Microsoft said], 'No. It's a white guy. That's just the way it is. We know what sells and that's fucking it. Stop the arguing.' I was like, 'Fuck you!' That was a huge fight.

"They said, 'What's the most unsuccessful Disney film?' I was like, 'I don't know.' They went, 'Princess and the Frog. Work it out.' I was like, 'Fuck you, man." I hated it.


Dated


The Banner Saga 2's console versions finally have a launch date. The game will launch on PS4 and Xbox One on July 26, Stoic and publisher Versus Evil announced this week. A new trailer has also been released. Check it out here.


Success!


Consortium sequel The Tower's Fig crowdfunding campaign wrapped up this week. It raised a total of $348,538 from 3,046 backers. The developers only asked for $300,000, meaning it was a big success. The Tower is now Fig's fourth successfully funded game. You can read more about it here.


Coming Soon


Time Machine VR, a new exploration adventure game, will launch on May 19 for HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, developer Minority Media announced this week. You play as a time-travelling scientist who is tasked with going back to the Jurassic era to face dinosaurs who to find the answer for a plague that is destroying earth in the modern day. You can get the name now, an Early Access version, on Steam.


Sneak Peak


Want a behind-the-scenes look at the upcoming Warcraft movie? Director Duncan Jones filmed himself on Periscope walking around the set, showing off props, and more. You can re-watch the video here.


Stumped (Kinda)


Stephen Colbert is something of a wizard when it comes to his knowledge of JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. But now, he's finally been stumped. Actor Ryan Gosling recently appeared on his show and asked him a question that Colbert had no answer to. You can probably imagine there is some trickery going on here. Watch the full video here to find out how it went down.


Lego Dimensions Expands


Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment this week released three new fun packs for its toys-to-life game Lego Dimensions. They are for characters include Bane (DC Comics), Slimer (Ghostbusters), and Lego Ninjago. These are Wave 5 Fun Packs. You can learn more about these and others at the Lego Dimensions website.


Say Hello to Riley


The crowdfunding campaign for robot security device Riley, described as the "world's smartest home companion," is entering its final hours. The Indiegogo campaign has already cleared its $50,000 goal (funding stands at more than $163,000 right now), but you still have time to make a pledge, as the campaign ends later today. Head to the Indiegogo page here to learn more.


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Doom $120 Collector’s Edition Unboxing Gallery
Unboxing HellAs you'd expect, id Software's Doom launched with a collector's edition. We were recently able to get our hands on one, so you can get a closer look at what it comes packed with. Priced at $120, the set includes the game, a steelbook c...
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Then & Now: WWE Wrestler’s First Appearances
The current superstars of the WWE Universe all had to come from somewhere. While many of them have their characters crafted and molded in the developmental system known as NXT, many of these wrestlers have appeared in WWE before as someone complet...
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Every Marvel Movie, Ranked From Worst to Best

39. Fantastic Four


The Marvel universe is vaster than just a team of Avengers. But instead of listing every film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we've taken the liberty of ranking every single Marvel movie in the universe (including those outside the MCU) according to Metacritic's unique score system.

Let's start with one we'd rather forget. It’s not very often Marvel is involved in a movie that so blatantly swings and misses. Shackled by horrible reviews, bad dialogue and lackluster action scene, 2015's Fantastic Four reboot is the lowest-rated Marvel movie ever.

The film received a 27 on Metacritic.

(Photo: 20th Century Fox)


38. Punisher: War Zone


The 2008 reboot of The Punisher is filled with a bunch of gratuitous violence, but little else. Punisher: War Zone is still the worst-performing Marvel film at the box office, with a worldwide gross of $10.1 million.

War Zone earned a 30 on Metacritic.

(Photo: Lionsgate)


37. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance


In this 2012 entry, Nicolas Cage reprised his role as Johnny Blaze, the devil’s bounty hunter. The sequel to 2007's Ghost Rider was largely panned by critics, but it was a box-office success nevertheless. In 2013, Cage said that he is finished playing the role of Ghost Rider, and a second sequel was subsequently canceled.

Spirit of Vengeance received a 32 on Metacritic.

(Photo: Columbia Pictures)


36. The Punisher


Back in 2004, the unstoppable vigilante known as The Punisher emerged following the brutal murder of his family. After Thomas Jane, the original Punisher, left for creative reasons, the planned sequel was scrapped for the previously mentioned 2008 reboot, Punisher: War Zone.

Jane's Punisher earned a 33 on Metacritic.

(Photo: Lionsgate)


35. Elektra


In this Daredevil spin-off, Jennifer Garner reprised her role as the assassin Elektra. The film was so unpopular that a companion video game was never released because developers feared it would fail. Ouch.

Garner's Elektra was panned, with a mark of 34 on Metacritic.

(Photo: 20th Century Fox)


34. Ghost Rider


Aside from the stellar special effects and usual greatness of Nicolas Cage, this movie a mess, littered with bad jokes and hammy dialogue. That didn’t stop Ghost Rider from being a success as the box office, however.

Cage's Ghost Rider drew a 35 in Metacritic's rankings.

(Photo: Sony Pictures Entertainment)


33. Blade: Trinity


The third entry in the Blade saga is also the most unwatchable. Even with a decent cast that includes Wesley Snipes, Jessica Biel and Ryan Reynolds, Blade: Trinity lacks a much-needed narrative direction.

The worst entry in the trilogy earned a 38 on Metacritic.

(Photo: New Line Cinema)


32. X-Men Origins: Wolverine


For years, fans of the adamantium-clawed Wolverine were clamoring for a stand-alone film. They finally got one, but this 2009 prequel did not live up to the immense hype. Although Hugh Jackman turned in another top-notch performance as James “Logan” Howlett, the actor expressed how unhappy he was with the film’s final product.

Wolverine's first solo film was awarded a 40, per Metacritic's score.

(Photo: 20th Century Fox)


31. Fantastic Four (2005)


The first feature about Marvel’s famed superhero team to actually get a theatrical release had rousing action scenes, but little else.

The 31st-ranked Marvel film scored a 40, per Metacritic's rankings.

(Photo: 20th Century Fox)


30. Daredevil


This 2003 feature stars Ben Affleck as Matt Murdock, a blind lawyer who fights for justice as the masked vigilante Daredevil. Despite Daredevil's success at the box office, the superhero film was filled with generic dialogue and a lack of character development. But we did get one stellar performance from the late Michael Clarke Duncan.

According to Metacritic, Affleck's first superhero film scored a 42.

(Photo: 20th Century Fox)


29. Blade


In 1998, Blade became the first Marvel comic-book hero adapted to the big screen. The success of this film also helped popularize both superhero and vampire films, which are two of the most successful movie genres today.

Wesley Snipes' first turn as the quasi-vampire earned a 45 on Metacritic.

(Photo: New Line Cinema)


28. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer


Rise of the Silver Surfer is one of the rare sequels that’s actually (slightly) better than the original, according to critics. This film still suffers from a failure to maximize the potential of its talented cast, including Laurence Fishburne as the voice of the Silver Surfer. While the film had some box-office success, a follow-up was canceled in lieu of a franchise reboot.

According to Metacritic's scores, this flick scored a 45.

(Photo: 20th Century Fox)


27. Blade II


Here's another sequel that critics believe is better than the original. And moviegoers agree, as Blade II is both the best-reviewed and the highest-grossing film in the saga. What’s more, this flick helped introduce Americans to the talents of director Guillermo del Toro, who would go on to helm Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy.

Blade II received a 52 on Metacritic.

(Photo: New Line Cinema)


26. The Amazing Spider-Man 2


While this 2014 film might have been a bit overstuffed with plot lines, set pieces and villains, Amazing Spider-Man 2 was still a commercial success. The movie was originally envisioned as a springboard for a shared universe, but it performed below expectations and all subsequent installments were canceled. Spider-Man will instead join the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The final Amazing Spider-Man movie earned a 53 on Metacritic.

(Photo: Columbia Pictures)


25. Hulk


Ang Lee’s 2003 art-house rendition of the Hulk is one of the most ambitious Marvel films, with its poignant themes and beautiful cinematography. But it wasn't a good match for the source material. Ultimately, this film just needed more HULK SMASHES!

Hulk scored a 54, per its Metacritic score.

(Photo: Universal Pictures)


24. Thor: Dark World


Poor Thor. The second installment in the god of thunder’s saga sits toward the bottom of the Marvel Universe in terms of critical reception. Despite the fact that most of the characters in The Dark World merely seem to be going through the motions of saving the cosmos, when it comes to entertainment value, it could be much, much worse.

(Photo: Disney)


23. Iron Man 2


Following the breakout critical and commercial hit Iron Man, this sequel left much to be desired. Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash couldn’t quite reach the level of Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane.

The second Iron Man installment received a mark of 57 on Metacritic.

(Photo: Paramount Pictures)


22. Thor


This film is quite the rousing action-fest, notable for its imaginative take on the breathtaking world of Asgard. However, Thor is slightly flawed, with a plot bogged down in backstory. But it’s worth a watch for fans of the Norse, hammer-wielding god.

The first Thor film notched a 57, per Metacritic.

(Photo: Paramount Pictures)


21. X-Men: The Last Stand


The final chapter in the original X-Men trilogy is also the worst-reviewed in the saga. The action scenes in The Last Stand were impressive, but the flick was too absurd even for a superhero film.

The third X-Men film received a 58 rating, per Metacritic.

(Photo: 20th Century Fox)


20. Spider-Man 3


Yes, Spider-Man 3 featured everyone’s "favorite" character: Emo Peter Parker. But this film was still somewhat entertaining. Tobey Maguire’s final appearance as Spidey was the most successful in the franchise’s history, with more than $890 million grossed worldwide.

A fourth installment was originally planned, but director Sam Raimi and Sony had creative differences, and a reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man, was developed instead.

According to Metacritic, the third Spider-Man film earned a score of 59.

(Photo: Columbia Pictures)


19. The Wolverine


Wolverine’s second stand-alone film moved at a glacial pace, but it was still a critical and commercial success. The sixth film in the X-Men saga, and the first without the name “X-Men” in the title, ultimately couldn't live up to its immense potential.

The Wolverine notched a 60, per its Metacritic score.

(Photo: 20th Century Fox)


18. The Incredible Hulk


This reboot came out just five years after Ang Lee’s rendition of the Hulk. The new entry did a considerably better job at depicting the spirit of the green Goliath, and, at the time, its visual effects were unrivaled.

The 18th-ranked Marvel movie received a 61, according to Metacritic.

(Photo: Universal Pictures)


17. Iron Man 3


Following the disappointing Iron Man 2, Marvel bounced back with the third film in Tony Stark’s saga. While this movie never quite reached the heights of the original, it definitely injected some much-needed heart that was missing from the previous entry. Robert Downey Jr. has floated the idea that he might reprise his role for a fourth Iron Man film.

The third Iron Man movie scored a 62, per Metacritic.

(Photo: Disney)


16. Ant-Man


Yes, he's Marvel’s smallest superhero, but Ant-Man more than makes up for it with his big heart and super strength. Ant-Man, and the affable Paul Rudd, were easy to root for in this fun popcorn flick.

The 2015 film scored a 64 on Metacritic.

(Photo: Disney)


15. X-Men


This 2000 film gave the world its first live-action X-Men flick, and it did not disappoint. Director Bryan Singer’s first choice to play Wolverine was Russell Crowe. The actor turned Singer down, but Crowe then suggested his friend, Hugh Jackman, for the role. And the rest is history.

The inaugural X-Men movie received a 64, per Metacritic.

(Photo: 20th Century Fox)


14. Deadpool


The fourth-wall-breaking antihero has been a sensation ever since his film, Deadpool, was released. The foul-mouthed film has set a number of box-office records en route to becoming the highest-grossing R-rated comic book film of all time. And a sequel is already on the way.

The Ryan Reynolds-starring movie notched a 65, according to Metacritic.

(Photo: 20th Century Fox)


13. X-Men: First Class


First Class represented a fresh revival for a franchise that desperately needed some new blood. The 2011 prequel brought together a perfect combination of stylish directing, a strong script, and powerful performances to create one of the best origin stories in any comic book feature.

First Class kicked off a fresh franchise with a score of 65, per Metacritic.

(Photo: 20th Century Fox)


12. The Amazing Spider-Man


The reboot of the popular Spider-Man franchise was met with generally favorable reviews from top critics. However, many reviewers believed that The Amazing Spider-Man reused the same plot points from 2002’s Spider-Man. Nevertheless, Andrew Garfield's witty one-liners made this one of Marvel's more entertaining films.

Garfield's first turn as the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man scored a 66 on Metacritic.

(Photo: Columbia Pictures)


11. Avengers: Age of Ultron


While the second Avengers adventure couldn't quite top their first film, its genuine sense of fun and camaraderie helped make Age of Ultron one of the better Marvel movies.

According to Metacritic, the second ensemble Avengers movie scored a 66.

(Photo: Disney)


10. Captain America: The First Avenger


This movie absolutely scratches the itch for those looking for a classic World War II comic-book tale. With a pulpy style similar to Indiana Jones, The First Avenger finds that healthy balance between action thrills and nostalgia.

This film earned a 66, per Metacritic.

(Photo: Disney)


9. X2: X-Men United


Here’s one sequel that is definitely bigger and better than its predecessor. The follow-up to X-Men features a tight script, solid acting, and the best cliffhanger in any comic-book movie.

X2: X-Men United received a 68 on Metacritic.

(Photo: 20th Century Fox)


8. The Avengers


Director Joss Whedon brings together an all-star cast of fan favorite Marvel characters in this raucous adventure. Not surprisingly, The Avengers is one of the most entertaining Marvel movies to date, with its witty script and playful acting.

Marvel's first Avengers soared to a 69 on Metacritic.

(Photo: Disney)


7. Captain America: The Winter Soldier


The second entry in the Captain America saga barely edges out The Avengers in a surprising upset. The Winter Soldier also has huge ramifications on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with the dismantling of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The Winter Soldier scored highly, with a 70 on Metacritic.

(Photo: Disney)


6. Spider-Man


This 2002 film signaled the beginning of the avalanche of superhero films, which are ubiquitous today. At the time of its release, Spider-Man had the highest-grossing opening weekend ever; it was the only film to eclipse $100 million in its first weekend. And that upside-down kiss between Spidey and Mary Jane Watson is one of the most iconic smooches in recent memory.

The sixth-highest ranked Marvel film scored a 73, per Metacritic.

(Photo: Columbia Pictures)


5. X-Men: Days of Future Past


It's the best-reviewed X-Men film in the series and one of the rare movies to actually make time travel work. Days of Future Past also has the distinct honor of being the only X-Men film in the series to be nominated for an Academy Award (Best Visual Effects). On top of that, the sequel to First Class serves as a resolution to the original trilogy’s messy storyline.

The time-traveling feature notched a 74 on Metacritic.

(Photo: 20th Century Fox)


4. Captain America: Civil War


An adorable new Spider-Man and a wickedly suited-up Black Panther freshen the MCU lineup, but the fight scenes alone are worth the price of admission.

Captain America: Civil War soared to a score of 75 on Metacritic.

(Photo: Disney)


3. Guardians of the Galaxy


This fun film delivers a breath of fresh air to the overly serious universe of comic-book franchises. Guardians of the Galaxy features a bevy of lovable losers, along with an upbeat soundtrack that will get your nostalgia juices flowing. This rousing film is simply a Marvel classic.

Guardians earned a score of 76, according to Metacritic.

(Photo: Disney)


2. Iron Man


Surprise, surprise: The film that kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe comes up slightly short of the top spot on this list. The first Iron Man simultaneously resuscitated Robert Downey Jr.’s career while helping to make comic book movies super cool once again.

The inaugural Iron Man blasted its way to a 79 on Metacritic.

(Photo: Paramount Pictures)


1. Spider-Man 2


This Academy Award-winning 2004 sequel to Spider-Man is the best reviewed Marvel film, and it’s not particularly close. All the big players reprise their roles in Spider-Man 2, but what elevates this feature is Alfred Molina’s brilliantly complex portrayal of Doctor Octopus.

The top Marvel film scored big with an 83 on Metacritic.

(Photo: Columbia Pictures)


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The Magic Circle: Gold Edition Review

The Magic Circle is another entry in the burgeoning but fascinating subgenre of games about the process of making games. Most games in that niche tend to aim small, often taking up the perspective of underdogs struggling to make tiny personal games in an industry filled with multimillion-dollar productions. The Magic Circle, on the other hand, aims big. It’s the product of AAA veterans, evidenced by some impressive technical wizardry, but also by the tone and timbre of its commentary, which pointedly deconstructs the egos of business types that tend to rip creativity up by the roots during big-budget game development.

The titular Magic Circle, in-game, is an old-school series of text adventures whose reboot has been mired in development hell for years. It’s finally beginning to take shape as a triple-A, first-person, Skyrim-like RPG, but the creative direction of the game is being split three ways. The game’s original creator wants to go ambitious and artsy; the game’s creative director just wants to push out a game that will actually sell in the current landscape; a scheming, passionate intern with the support of the series' fanbase wants to put out a game that’s basically the original series, repackaged, and will do whatever it takes to see that happen.

In the middle of it all is you, a lowly tester, forced to play a constantly changing rudimentary build, all while watching the creators float around the landscape, squabbling over the game’s minutiae. A playable demo is set to appear at a thinly-veiled version of E3 in mere days, and the creators are trying to push out something that will keep everybody happy, to virtually no avail. Their game is barely functional: the planned painterly landscape is still rendered mostly in black-and-white; creatures and objects lack proper behavorial programming; and the persistant remnants of a previous, cancelled build from the 32-bit era remain in place. One of the team's older testers, however, has decided to take action, and since you’re the only player with boots on the virtual ground, he grants you access to a few developer tools. Your task is to explore the unfinished game world in hopes of finding a way to lock the actual developers out of the game and craft something playable out of the mess.

With the in-game creators calling the state of the unfinished build a disaster, the irony here is that it takes serious ambition and programming chops to render a game world like The Magic Circle, which has to come across as broken, lazy, and unfinished, but still functional enough to suit a playable fourth-wall breaking experiment. Despite a long initial load time, the fact that you can transition between three distinct aesthetics without so much as a stutter is truly impressive. But even then, not as impressive as the game’s bread-and-butter mechanic: the developer tools.

You’re given the ability to recode the attributes of any object or enemy in the game, changing the names, movement, attacks, AI, and elemental weaknesses/affinities. The number of possible combinations allows for a lot of creativity. If you want to strip some of the mean little dog-like enemies of all their powers so they wander around aimlessly, you can. If you want to give a stationary rock the ability to walk and set its “Ally” setting to yourself so you have a literal pet rock following you around, you can do that. If you want to arm a bunch of spider-like enemies with laser rifles and the ability to fly, that’s also an option.

Remember this next time an E3 presentation glitches up on stage.

Most of the fun of The Magic Circle stems from the sheer joy of experimentation, solving the game’s tricky environmental puzzles in an open-ended God Mode. That mandatory experimentation does have a tangible downside, though, as the game does a poor job of explaining how to weild your control over the world early on. There also a number of seemingly unintended technical issues. Reconfiguring attributes is a mechanic that feels like it would be far more suitable to control with a mouse and keyboard rather than a controller, as the UI for making edits can get terribly twitchy since the same button you use to jump is used to make selections on the edit screen. With automated characters getting stuck behind walls or turning invisible when there’s too many onscreen, there are glitches that you have to contend with. But none of these complaints are enough to dilute the overall joy of flexing your creativity as a virtual developer. Most of the games of this ilk tend to settle for being rather linear interactive narratives. The game is better for executing something new and distinctly enjoyable in how it ties its gameplay and story together.

The only major disappointment is that there’s not enough of either. Only about half of the game is built around exploration and the edit function, though an extended climax does something unexpectedly magical with the idea. But even if you get meticulous about the endgame, The Magic Circle is on the short side, and just when the game truly settles into a groove, the narrative kicks into high gear and your time with the development tools is stripped away.

If only this was a menu for people.

Thankfully, the narrative is well-crafted, often funny, and salient about how much strife goes into even the smallest decision about a game’s design. The game’s storytelling apex is a five minute rant by the in-game Magic Circle’s creator about the impossible expectations of the industry, presented through an ingenius interactive gambit. There’s irony in the fact that the actual game’s greatest idea is eventually overtaken by an overambitious story, especially considering that one of the characters argues that the game’s audience doesn’t care about story to begin with.

It’s hard to definitively say if The Magic Circle succesfully achieves its high-minded aims. Those expecting to play around with the physics of an open video game world will find themselves lamenting the lack of control and additional objectives after a short period of time, and those wanting nothing more than to find out where the narrative goes will be discouraged by how frustrating the gameplay can occasionally be. The essence of The Magic Circle is somewhere in between. As a piece of work meant to comment on modern game design, it’s wholly successful at creating a scenario perfectly illustrating just how Herculean a task it is for developers trying to create a game with a perfect balance.

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