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Reviews

NBA 2K21 Review – New Polish On The Court

Any athlete will attest that you can do all the right things in the off-season and still come up short. Visual Concepts clearly worked to up its game with NBA 2K21 and deliver better results. However, this wasn’t a typical off-season for Visual Concepts; the team wasn’t just trying to take NBA 2K to the next level, it was trying to take it to the next generation, being the first sports game to go all-in on the new console power of the PS5 and Xbox Series X. The result is a valiant effort, full of great new features and impressive visual leaps, but it’s clear there’s still some seasoning and adjustments to the playbook that need to be done. 

Visual Concepts released a version of NBA 2K21 back in early September (for PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Stadia), but this next-gen edition was built from the ground up to harness the power of the new hardware. Some things from the earlier release carry over, like the bulk of Junior’s MyCareer story, but it also has new modes, as well as important tweaks such as smoother movement and more realistic contact. Most importantly, the long load times that have plagued the series are a thing of the past. Games load in seconds, getting you right into the action. The only hiccups I noticed were when my player went to the bench for a substitution and between periods; sometimes your player just stands stoically for a few moments during this transition. It breaks the immersion since everything else functions just like you’re at an actual arena, including a lively crowd and staff performing various tasks.

Minor issues aside, Visual Concepts continues to deliver stellar gameplay that looks and feels straight out of the NBA. The new-gen tech has only added more authenticity and variety to the on-court action. Being able to change up the speed of your dribble and size-up moves makes ball-handling feel great and gives you tons of options. I loved being able to use hesitations, escapes, stepbacks, and crosses to throw off defenders, and this new dribbling quickly became my favorite upgrade. Passes also look more realistic, especially alley-oops off the glass to teammates. A new lead-pass mechanic, alongside the addition of bounce-touch passes, makes it so you always have varied ways situations can play out. 

As with past entries, certain players have signature moves, and Visual Concepts has only added to the realism with new skills like LeBron James’ suspended dribble. It’s cool that players move or play differently depending on who they are, their position, and how they’re built. I was constantly wowed by the level of detail in every player model, from their likeness to their real-world counterparts right down to their facial expressions and dripping sweat in intense moments. NBA 2K21 is easily one of the best-looking games on the new consoles. 

Another high point is the addition of The W, which allows you to can create your own WNBA MyPlayer for the first time and build your own path to stardom by playing for one of the league’s 12 teams. The level of detail in this mode is great, as I loved learning more about the league and its players from the announcers and games feel different from the NBA with a more technical and team-centric style. The W doesn’t have a cinematic experience like the main MyPlayer mode, but you do get to build up your popularity, wealth, team chemistry, and progression by choosing between different things to do on your day off, like volunteering for a youth program or streaming NBA 2K21. 

You have to fill in the blanks to your own story through these small choices, interacting with other players via text messages, and your social-media feed, but the crux is focused on being a visible role model and bringing other young girls into the sport, which I think is fantastic. I just wish it had its own self-contained storyline, and I’m disappointed that your female MyPlayer cannot be brought into the main multiplayer space: The City. You can play with other players in The W Online, but playing in a small gym isn’t the same experience as having tons of shops and courts at your disposal. 

The City is an evolution from The Neighborhood, where players come together in a multiplayer space with their created MyPlayers to play pick-up games and shop. The City is a big attraction, and exclusive for this next-gen version of the game. It’s clear Visual Concepts has some big ideas for it, as you get assigned an alliance and help build up its reputation by participating in events. I enjoy walking through this massive metropolis, stumbling upon special vendors selling unique apparel, and unlocking special challenges like teaming up with cover star Damian Lillard to take on legends Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter. You even get to spin a wheel for a daily log-in bonus that gives you cool freebies. Most recently, I scored a free tattoo, which made me happy because spending VC (which you can earn in-game or spend real money to acquire) isn’t my thing, especially for cosmetic items. Unfortunately, if you’re like me, you’re most likely going to be grinding to get anything cool or hoping your luck serves you well when you spin the wheel – though I have yet to get a high-tier item that way. Good items are very expensive, and grinding for them requires an unreasonable amount of patience; it feels like a blatant effort to drive players toward microtransactions, which feels gross. 

The City is a cool idea, but it is also where the biggest problems surface. To enter The City, you must first get your rank up by grinding out wins in Rookieville. This is miserable, as you’re in a sequestered area where you can’t access any part of The City and must just wait for games and play with others. Losses don’t do much for your rank, so every game feels like you’re fighting for entry to the show. I encountered many players who had clearly bought VC to boost their character’s stats and put themselves at the best advantage – which makes it even harder to win if you don’t pay real money yourself. 

As I walked around Rookieville, I rarely came across a player who wasn’t rated 86 or higher. Badges only further complicate this, because badges can let you make unrealistic shots or avoid easy steals. This has made me hate online play, because the games don’t unfold fairly or realistically. They’re just not fun. Visual Concepts needs to figure out a better way to reward teamwork, because players don’t want to pass the ball and just shoot all day long with these modifiers. It’s becoming more of a problem, especially as online play continues to be a focus. 

Outside of these frustrations, you can still expect the other basic modes and some tweaks. My NBA is now an all-encompassing franchise mode, combining MyGM, MyLeague, and MyLeague Online. It gives you more customization options than ever before, from toggling certain league rules to bypassing some of the annoying role-playing elements. MyGM is still in need of a complete overhaul, even if I do appreciate the revamped boom/bust system and more variation in player potentials. I also enjoyed that there are some little variations from the old-gen version, such as a new path in Junior’s MyPlayer story, where you can join the G-League and brush shoulders with some familiar players from the series’ fiction. 

NBA 2K21’s full-team on-court action plays the best it ever has, and the graphical leap is impressive to boot, but it still comes up short in some key areas. Visual Concepts still hasn’t figured out a great way to elevate its online play, and microtransactions continue to destroy what should be a fun part of the experience. I love creating specular plays and the thrill of sinking a buzzer-beating three, but the moment I walk into the online space, that feeling evaporates. It becomes about the money, not about the love of the game. 






The full-team on-court action plays the best it ever has, and the graphical leap is impressive to boot, but it still comes up short in some key areas.

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PS4

The new Demon’s Souls is the old Demon’s Souls, but shinier

Twelve hours into the new Demon’s Souls for PlayStation 5, I’m starting to realize how much developer Bluepoint Games has blurred the line between remaster and remake. There is no doubt that Demon’s Souls is a graphically stunning recreation of the original PlayStation 3 game — and little doubt that Sony and Bluepoint were hesitant to change almost anything about FromSoftware’s sacrosanct role-playing game.

Sometimes that works to my advantage. The PS5 game’s enemies may be occasionally powerful and terrifying, but they remain as predictably brainless as they were in 2009’s Demon’s Souls. To wit: A pair of Black Phantoms who hide at the bottom of Stonefang Tunnel’s underground mines looked intimidating as they jogged toward me. “Surely, I’m dead,” I thought, because I was still using my starting weapon. But thanks to muscle memory, and the developers “keep[ing] the core of the game untouched,” those phantoms were easily dispatched with a handful of backstabs.

In that sense, nothing has changed since 2009. Every enemy is in the exact same spot in the new Demon’s Souls as it was in the old Demon’s Souls. Every enemy still behaves identically. Every landmass is unchanged, and therefore intimately familiar to someone like me, who platinumed the first Demon’s Souls. (This is less of a brag than a reassurance that I spent a lot of time exploring the game’s kingdom of Boletaria. I remember almost all of the shortcuts, but in the PS5 version, I’m still trying to take my time and see every new coat of paint.) The same tactics I used to beat Demon’s Souls a decade ago are still applicable here.

Everything I see in Demon’s Souls is now gorgeous, from the glow of the giant Armor Spider to the stained glass of Fool’s Idol’s church to the blood-filled ticks in the Valley of Defilement. What was once drab and sparse is now hyper-detailed. The Tower of Latria prison is more foreboding because of its stunning lighting effects and its pitches of black. The Shrine of Storms now has, well, actual rain storms, and the scale of its final demon, the Storm King, dwarfs the player to the point of cosmic terror. Boletaria ranges from lived-in to decrepit to decaying. It truly feels ancient.

Image: Bluepoint Games/Sony Interactive Entertainment

What has changed is minor, and is mostly welcome. Storage is much easier; you really don’t have to worry about how much weight you’re carrying, because it can all be magically teleported back to the friendly man who watches over your stuff. Moving from archstone to archstone takes just seconds, thanks to the PS5’s speedy SSD storage. That makes a world of difference.

I’m also loving what the DualSense brings to the experience. Through Sony’s new controller, I can feel the thrum of a giant demonic heart in one level, and a soft hum when my sword is imbued with magic. I’ve played with both wireless headphones and with TV speakers paired with sounds coming from the DualSense speaker. I might prefer the latter.

The stuff I’m quibbling with so far comes down to small aesthetic choices that homogenize portions of Demon’s Souls’ original design. There’s a redesign of an enemy here, a change to a name of an item that used to be called Sticky White Stuff there. Edges have been sanded down, but not at the expense of the game’s groundbreaking mechanics or depth. I find it easier to control, because the DualSense is a far better controller than the DualShock 3. I have yet to slip off the edge of the world, which I credit to the precise controls of the DualSense.

What is clear, before I’ve finished the game, is that Demon’s Souls is a rare thing to see at a console’s launch: It’s a game that shows off the graphical, audio, and other technical capabilities of Sony’s new PlayStation 5, and it’s also a game that will likely be played for years to come, instead of for a month before being forgotten. I’m still wondering if Bluepoint has changed too little about the original Demon’s Souls blueprint, which is laborious in stretches, but that’s a battle I’m having with my own inner demons.

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News

Watch Dogs: Legion Is Taking Over All Other Ubisoft Games

Watch Dogs: Legion is out and highly interactive adventure is all about hackers, revolution, and the freedom to play how you want. In a clever marketing move from Ubisoft, Watch Dogs: Legion is hacking its way over onto other Ubisoft big games like Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, and more. 

Our own keen-eyed Brian Shea noticed something was a little off with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s cover art when looking through his gaming library and upon that discovery, there was a rabbit hole of hilarious marketing and Watch Dog crossovers to be found. 

Watch Dogs: Legion places the player smack dab in the middle of a near-future London where they will join the resistance. Unlike the previous two games, there is no main protagonist. Instead, players can recruit from hundreds of NPCs, all with their own skills, personalities, and even voice lines. Hacking, as is the franchise’s staple, is key and what better way to showcase that than to have Ubisoft’s latest game “hack” all others? 

Not every Ubisoft title got the Watch Dogs: Legion makeover, but plenty of them did. Take a look at the photo gallery above to see some of our favorite Legion takeovers from the Xbox Games Store.

Watch Dogs: Legion is available now and is a drastic pivot from the series thus far. We gave the latest hacking adventure a 9 out of 10, and for good reason. While not a flawless game, Legion offers a healthy blend of familiarity with the franchise and newness to keep it fresh, and we couldn’t get enough. You can check out our full review here as well as a small blurb from it below: 

While Watch Dogs: Legion mostly sells the fantasy of a wholly unique populous, hearing the same handful of voice samples or viewing similar character portraits with slight variations sullies that vision a bit. Another small but regular annoyance comes in the load time while switching agents (at least on current-gen hardware). While not egregiously long, it’s just enough of a delay to break your stride.

Legion feels like the realization of the hacker fantasy the first Watch Dogs tried to capture. Between the fun team-building, fantastic mission design, strong narrative, and a gorgeous world, everything comes together in a largely entertaining and cohesive package. Whether you’re controlling a trained super spy or a gassy grandmother, Watch Dogs: Legion is a ton of fun.

Watch Dogs: Legion is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Google Stadia. It will also be available on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X when those systems launch later next month. 











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Categories
eSports

Stack Sports and Battlefy to offer tournament solutions to sports organisations – Esports Insider

Online tournament platform Battlefy has partnered with software company Stack Sports to offer esports tournament and event management solutions for sports organisations.

According to a press release, the collaboration will help organisations deliver professional and safe esports programmes to kids globally by providing an ‘all-in-one’ solution. 

RELATED: BC School Sports, GameSeta bolster Canadian esports

Jason Xu, CEO of Battlefy, commented on the announcement: “It’s really amazing to see the world of sports and esports coming together.

“I was an active kid growing up, playing soccer and badminton competitively. I learned a lot of life lessons on the field that I applied to playing esports and vice versa. Battlefy and Stack Sports have the opportunity to bring out the best of both worlds, and help kids continue to experience competition and sportsmanship in these trying times.”

Stack Sports’ existing clients, which include FIFA, the Bundesliga, and Turner Sports among others, will be able to use Battlefy’s platform to enhance its esports output. 

This includes being able to create, manage, and market competitions on the tournament platform, which can be used for a variety of titles and competitive formats.


RELATED: Riot Games adds EA veteran Jason Bunge as Chief Marketing Officer

Battlefy’s platform features automated scoring, match stats, and solo/team competition modes to enhance the tournaments. Sponsorship management, loyalty programs, and full-service event management capabilities are also integrated into its platform. 

“Following the addition of esports to the Stack Sports ecosystem and CaptainU recruiting platform this year, we’ve seen consistent growth in these programs,” added Jeff Brunsberg, Stake Sports’ Chief Revenue and Strategy Officer. 

“We intend to continue to invest in this space and offer sports organisations the very best tools available and we believe Battlefy will help us do that.”

Esports Insider says: The collaboration continues to strengthen the relationship between traditional sports and esports. Stack Sports will now be able to provide a greater esports offering to its clients, whilst the partnership also increases Battlefy’s global reach and appeal.

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