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WRC 8’s transfixing career mode makes it a rally contender to remember

Let’s get this on the record first: WRC 8 is a very challenging racer, even with big-time driving assists like full traction control, in races against the easiest AI setting. It also has an outstanding career mode that makes me want to keep trying.

Sure, I gnash my teeth when the slightest thumbstick correction sends me into an irrevocable fishtail. I have so much car revving underneath me, it’s like only half of the right trigger accelerator is available for use. Counter-steering, such that I can sustain it, is the finest of lines between an intentional drift and a prolonged spin-out, making a lot of tight corner exits seem like luck more than skill.

After about six hours of driving, though, I felt like I had at least a clear idea of what could keep the car on the trail, which, thanks to the third-person camera position, always looks to be rail thin until you’re right over it. But I can count on two hands the number of times I’ve been in fourth gear, dry pavement or not. While you can play WRC 8 on a gamepad (it’s available for PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One and Windows PC) and have a good time with it, I feel like a full blown driving wheel rig is necessary to get the precision this game demands. Understeer at high speeds and oversteer at low is more way more pronounced than in other driving games, for example. It makes recovering the vehicle, whether in motion or crashed out at a stop, difficult and perilous.

Luckily for KT Racing, I happen to be in a transitory period with my gaming where I actually like the reward of repeating a task until I get it right. And there is a real sense of ownership in the time I post at the end of a stage, whatever it is and particularly if it comes with no penalties for resetting to the track. The two dozen or so stages I’ve raced so far are all legitimately breathtaking, and the lighting, as much as anything, delivers a sense of time as well as place. An early afternoon winter sunset in Scandinavia and the sun-dappled seclusion of a Corsican hillside greet newcomers in the first two races on the career calendar. Dirt Rally 2.0 had a sameness problem with its stages, which reconditioned, reversed, or made different excerpts of about a dozen base courses. Thanks to a dynamic weather system (making a series debut) you never feel like you’re in the same place with WRC 8, which sports 14 real-life rallies offering seven or eight stages each.

From my first stage I could tell this is a game with a lot of polish, and that’s been a crapshoot for this series. Not to disparage past entries, but even with the FIA rally racing license, the WRC series has been largely a nominal competitor to Codemasters’ more established Dirt franchise, which launched Dirt Rally 2.0 earlier this year. The gap is smaller than ever this year, because Dirt has nothing like WRC 8’s career mode. F1 2019, also by Codemasters, doesn’t have anything like it, for that matter.

In career, I am in charge of all aspects of team management — from my relationship with the car’s constructor (and others, should I want or need a new ride) to hiring roles as granular as a booking agent (gets me more events and training) or meteorologist (deeper and more accurate reads on upcoming weather). There’s no such management layer in F1, where my attention is more focused to a perk tree of car development. WRC 8 has a perks tree for career advancement, too, but it can be molded more to a player’s style and priorities, rather than just be a linear arms race of development like F1.

Perks that smooth out dents in my team’s morale for a middling finish, or boost it for the times I really bring the groceries, are just as important as those that affect vehicle performance, I’ve found. That’s because even a respectable top-10 finish runs the risk of dinging my team’s morale by -2 — and my relationship with the constructor even more. This kind of arbitrary, severe punishment is really tough to accept, but there are ways to ameliorate it. My unhappy constructor can be pleased by meeting some kind of performance goal, such as coming in under a dollar figure for repairs in one race, or using only one type of tire for another. But players have to keep an eye on what incentives they have active, because the short-term objective and long-term incentive can sometimes conflict. WRC 8 lets drivers choose from a list of goals, rather than feed you one at a time, and I appreciated this twist on a common progression tool for sports video games.

Just the manner in which KT Racing presents the management layer of WRC 8 makes me want to fuss around with it and role-play Mr. Big Rally Driving Bigshot. It’s an isometric, Sims-style cut-out view of an office and a garage. There’s the shop floor, what looks like a live-streaming studio, and a truck backed up to the loading bay when you’re ready to haul off for the race in Chile. WRC 8 may not be accessible to newcomers in what the racing model expects of you, but if it didn’t have this kind of detailing and was just a hard-as-hell off-road racer going from event to event, I would write it off as a niche product for the hardcore as opposed to something worth checking out.

And after all, I suppose it does get boring when, even in an F1 career where I’m 11th in the driver standings for lowly Alfa Romeo, everyone still has a high opinion of me and I can sign with Ferrari at the drop of a hat. Ford, on the other hand, is an implacable presence in my WRC 8 life, with my dismissal always on the table. So there really is no stage where ninth-is-good-enough-this-time. It has me restarting my stages a lot — hell no, I am not taking this game’s perma-wreck option where you can’t — but the best thing I can say for WRC 8 is that it’s worth that kind of frustration.


New Freebie For Nintendo Switch Online Subscribers Now Available

Nintendo is offering another freebie to Switch Online subscribers. The company is giving away a bundle of 100 Gem Apples for its new free-to-play Kirby title, Super Kirby Clash. Gem Apples are Clash’s form of in-game currency, and they’re used purchase items, craft gear, and open new levels in the game.

To claim the freebie, head to the Switch Eshop and highlight the Nintendo Switch Online option on the left sidebar–you’ll find the Gem Apple bundle listed under “special offers.” You can only claim the freebie if you have a paid Nintendo Switch Online subscription, so you won’t be able to download it during a free trial.

Super Kirby Clash was one of the games surprise-released after this month’s big Nintendo Direct presentation. Unlike traditional Kirby titles, Clash is a cooperative game in which up to four players–each controlling a different colored Kirby–can team up to battles bosses and other large foes. You’ll receive materials after each job you complete, which you can then use to craft new weapons and gear for your Kirby.

That isn’t the only freebie available right now for Switch Online subscribers. Nintendo is also giving away a second Spirit Board Challenge Pack for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. That pack can likewise be claimed through the Switch Eshop, and it contains a handful of helpful items for the game’s Spirit Board mode.

Switch Online subscriptions are available for US $4 / £3.49 / AU $6 for one month, US $8 / £7 / AU $12 for three months, and US $20 / £18 / AU $30 for one year. Nintendo also offers an annual Family Membership for US $35 / £31.49 / AU $55, which covers up to eight Nintendo Accounts across multiple systems. In addition to occasional freebies, the service gives you access to online play, cloud saves, and other perks, such as a library of classic SNES games with added online play.


Yakuza 7 Mini-Games Include Go-Karts, Slot Machines, And Boring Movies

You’ll be able to race go-carts, play PachiSlot, and try to stay awake during movies in Yakuza: Like a Dragon–when you aren’t summoning a crayfish to help you through a battle. The latest issue of the Japanese magazine Famitsu (via Gematsu) shares a slew of new details about the upcoming action-RPG.

We already knew the game would adopt a turn-based combat system, and now we have a little more info about how those battles will take place. When a fight breaks out, the regular citizens will transform into RPG enemies, sporting mohawks, wearing different (or less) clothing, and brandishing weapons. If you need a hand in battle, though, you can pay some money through your smartphone to summon help. A few summon examples include Gary Buster Holmes, Gonda Wara, and a crayfish.

When you aren’t beating up hooligans, you can relax with the new suite of mini-games. Those include a “Dragon Kart” mini-game where you race through the streets and pick up boxes with weapons like a rocket launcher or Gatling gun. Another game has you pressing buttons to stay awake during a traditional movie. Finally, you can play PachiSlot machines, a specialized Japanese slot machine.

Yakuza: Like a Dragon, aka Yakuza 7, stars Ichiban Kasuga, after Yakuza 6: The Song of Life wrapped up the story of the previous protagonist Kazuma Kiryu. Sega is adopting a turn-based battle system as homage to Dragon Quest. To match thematically, the new hero is canonically a huge DQ fan. he game is due in January in Japan, and sometime in 2020 in the West.


A New Division 2 Update Lets You Target Specific Loot

Developer Massive Entertainment seems to be addressing concerns of randomized loot drops in Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 with a new update, adding greater transparency about the loot you receive.

Title 6 Update, scheduled to launch just before the looter-shooter’s second episode releases this fall, will allow you to target specific loot as you replay missions, complete open-world activities, and tackle the Dark Zone. According to a post on The Division 2’s official website, every mission and named zone will feature specific loot associated with it. Areas and missions with targeted loot will drop items as normal, with targeted loot getting a guaranteed chance to drop from named bosses and a smaller chance to be obtainable from all NPCs and containers.

The same loot drop rules apply to the Dark Zone, but be aware that you must extract loot before it’s added to your arsenal. Check below for an idea of what targeted loot looks like on the map and in the game world.

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The Divison 2’s second episode, titled Pentagon: The Last Castle, is scheduled to launch on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One sometime this fall. The looter-shooter’s first episode, DC Outskirts: Expeditions, was made public to all owners of The Divison 2 earlier this summer. DC Outskirts: Expeditions added two new main missions and a new Expeditions experience, which introduces weekly, exploration-driven challenges.

In other Division 2 news, Massive outlined its DLC roadmap for the looter-shooter during E3 2019. Currently, The Division 2 has three pieces of post-launch content planned, which sees you heading back to New York City, the setting for the first Division game.


The Nintendo Switch Is Getting Overwatch Pro Controllers

In a recent Nintendo Direct, the company revealed a slew of new games coming to the Nintendo Switch in late 2019 and 2020. One of the most exciting announcements was Overwatch: Legendary Edition, which releases on the Switch October 15. To celebrate, PowerA is adding two new Overwatch-themed controllers to its enhanced wireless Switch Pro controller collection, which we’ve written about previously and highly recommend as a more affordable, third-party option. PowerA will also offer a protective Overwatch-style Switch case. All three Overwatch accessories are officially licensed by Blizzard and Nintendo and will be available this fall at major retailers in North America, Europe, and Australia.

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The first controller features Reaper and has a black-and-red design. You can pre-order the Reaper controller for $50 USD at Amazon, which lists the release date as September 20.

See Reaper Switch controller at Amazon

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The second controller is for D.Va fans, featuring pink buttons, D-pad, and thumbsticks against a baby blue background. So far, it’s only listed at the EB Games Australia website for $89.95 AUD and is slated to release in October. According to PowerA, the D.Va controller should appear at more retailers in other countries soon.

See D.Va Switch controller at EB Games AU

PowerA’s enhanced wireless Bluetooth controllers have a similar ergonomic design to the first-party Pro controllers and are comfortable to use. While there’s no rumble or NFC reader, these controllers do allow for motion controls and custom button mapping. The main drawback is that they use two AA batteries, but that still provides up to 30 hours of gameplay and isn’t a huge loss if you use your Pro controller only occasionally or need a backup. The PowerA enhanced wireless Switch controllers always launch at $50 USD, but you can get this black-and-red design for only $35 on Amazon right now.

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If you’ve yet to buy a protective carrying case for your Nintendo Switch, you now have another option available: this new Overwatch-themed pouch. With a hard outer shell, padded screen protector, and game card storage, this travel case will shield your Switch from any damage when you take it on the go. It costs $25 USD and will be available on September 15, according to Amazon.

See Overwatch protective Switch case at Amazon

Overwatch: Legendary Edition is available to pre-order now for $40 USD and comes bundled with 15 character skins and a three-month Switch Online membership, which you’ll need to play. Anyone who pre-orders the game will also receive the bonus Noire Widowmaker skin. Note that this is a digital download, so there won’t be a physical game card with your purchase.

See Overwatch: Legendary Edition at Best Buy


Apple Arcade’s most promising game now has a release date on Switch and PS4

Sayonara Wild Hearts, a highlight from this week’s annual Apple iPhone event, now has a release date. The stylish romp will arrive on Apple Arcade, Nintendo Switch, and PlayStation 4 on Sept. 19.

The neon-colored action game blends rhythm mechanics with racing games. But that’s not all. When we laid hands on an early version for Switch in March, we found elements common to beat-em-ups, arcade shooters, and even skateboarding games. It’s a wild amalgam of different systems, linked together with a throbbing soundtrack, “a world of cavorting, jesting joyfulness.”

But to hear publisher Annapurna Interactive tell it, that’s only just scratching the surface.

Sayonara Wild Hearts follows a young woman as her heart breaks and the balance of the universe is disturbed,” it says in a press release. “Players take control of her other self, The Fool, a masked biker on an interdimensional quest to find the harmony of the universe.”

The game is in development by Simogo, known for its award-winning puzzle game Device 6 and the meditative and mysterious Year Walk. Annapurna says the final product will include a custom-written song for every stage.


Second Fire Emblem: Three Houses DLC Now Live, Adds New Outfits, Auxiliary Battles, And More

A new Fire Emblem: Three Houses update is now live. Alongside the patch, Nintendo has released the game’s second wave of Expansion Pass DLC, and it includes new outfits for protagonist Byleth and other characters, additional auxiliary battles, and more.

First, Expansion Pass holders can change Byleth and the students into new loungewear based on their respective houses, while Byleth also receives an additional accessory: glasses. You can take a look at the new outfits below. However, Nintendo notes the loungewear is “only wearable inside the monastery, or for specific unit classes during battle.”

In addition to the outfits, Nintendo has added a handful of new auxiliary battles to take on. There are five new battles in total, and they may reward you with special status-up items such as Ailell Pomegranate and more Gold. You can see the full list of new auxiliary battles below:

  • Battle at Lake Teutates
  • Battle in the Forest
  • Battle at Gronder Field
  • Battle at the Sealed Forest
  • Battle at Conand Tower.

Finally, Expansion Pass holders have received another pack of helpful DLC Supplies. You can receive the following items from the bed in Byleth’s personal quarters:

  • Sacred Galewind Shoes (Movement +1)
  • Sacred Floral Robe (HP +7)
  • Sacred Snowmelt Drop (Strength +3)
  • Sacred Moonstone (Speed +3)

This marks the second wave of DLC Nintendo has released for Fire Emblem: Three Houses since its launch this past July. The company still has two more waves of additional content in store for the game. The next is slated to arrive sometime by the end of the year, and it will add new quests and costumes to the game. The fourth wave, meanwhile, will launch by April 30, 2020 and is introducing new story content, including additional playable characters and locations.

All four waves of DLC are only available as part of Fire Emblem: Three Houses’ Expansion Pass and cannot be purchased individually. The pass runs for $25 USD / £22.49 / $37.50 AU. You can read more details about it on Nintendo’s website.

Beyond the new DLC, the new Fire Emblem: Three Houses update adds a new, more challenging difficulty mode for all players: Maddening. It also makes a few other changes to the game; you can read the full patch notes for Three Houses’ latest update here.


Reggie Fils-Aimé’s next gig: SXSW speaker

Earlier this month, Reggie went back to college. Now, now we’re learning that the former Nintendo of America honcho will give his next lecture at SXSW 2020.

Reggie Fils-Aimé will give a keynote address at the annual conference on technology, film, and music, to be held March 13-22, 2020 in Austin, Texas. A statement from the conference organizers notes that Fils-Aimé oversaw Nintendo of America “during its most successful era,” including three console launches. Fils-Aimé’s topic category will be “convergence,” the conference said.

Since Nintendo, Fils-Aimé has gone on to start a consultancy based in Kirkland, Washington, and last month was named Leader in Residence for the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University, where Fils-Aimé graduated in 1983.

A fan favorite among Nintendo’s vast audience, Fils-Aimé stepped down as president and chief operating officer of Nintendo of America in April, succeeded by the perfectly named Doug Bowser. (We are still awaiting the appointment of Doug Thwomp, however.)


SHODAN’s here to creep you out in System Shock 3’s latest trailer

SHODAN is back to taunt and torment you in the latest gameplay reveal for System Shock 3. The footage is listed as pre-alpha, but it shows that the realm and the ruler of a 20-year-old classic is coming along quite nicely for more modern hardware.

In it, we see a motion-capture animated SHODAN, a look that excited fans and shows some strong progress over OtherSide Entertainment’s last trailer, a brief teaser from GDC 2019.

Warren Spector, the celebrated pioneer of narrative game design, returns to the franchise he founded for System Shock 3’s development. But System Shock 3, announced at the end of 2015, still doesn’t have a launch window. Presumably OtherSide is still looking for a publishing partner, although the studio said it has the means to self-publish System Shock 3 if one isn’t found.

OtherSide bought back the publishing rights from financially troubled Starbreeze in February. Starbreeze’s prior involvement had meant the game would be ported to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, but now it is only listed for a Windows PC release.


This board game has you play as Afghan leaders subverting imperialist ambitions

Pax Pamir: Second Edition was created by Cole Wehrle, the designer of John Company and Root. It’s set in Afghanistan in the 19th century, at a time when European powers were competing to win control of central Asia. Unlike most conquest games, Pax Pamir is played from the perspective of the locals, in this case, Afghan tribal leaders seeking to capitalize from the chaos of imperial pretensions.

When he pitched his game, Wehrle wrote that the game attempts to “reverse the standard tropes about games about empire” and “offer new perspectives on complicated problems.” Certainly, this game offers an innovative and engrossing take on the colonize/conquest genre. It’s a long way from the expand and exterminate basis of many colonization-era games.

Survival and victory is entirely down to cunning and strategy. It’s about understanding and manipulating power, in the moment. The rules are pretty straightforward, but understanding the game deeply is a thornier issue. The interactions between cards, pieces, map and players can become fantastically complicated, calling for a deep understanding of the game’s intricacies, and of its capacity to surprise and perplex.

Tactile and pleasing

A court member awaits orders
Wehrlegig Games

From the moment I open Pax Pamir: Second Edition’s box, I know I’m dealing with a special board game. Its various resin and metal pieces are crafted with love and care, sitting heavily in my hand. Its cards are lavishly illustrated. Its board is a tactile, pleasing roll-up cloth map.

Up to five players work with and against one another to control the country, shifting their allegiances to coalitions that back Russian, British and Afghan power blocks. A single-player campaign is also available, using a simulated player which can also be drafted into multiplayer games.

Pax Pamir is a tableau-building historical simulation game in which I use coins to buy cards from a central marketplace, building up a “court” of characters. I also manipulate player pieces to populate different regions of the map with loyal tribes, armies and roads.

My cards are usually individual historical figures who wield various powers that affect the map, the pieces, and rivals. Choosing these cards, paying the right price, and playing them at the right time, is the central challenge.

The cards have so much sway that they can persuade a player to change allegiances, multiple times, in the course of a game. Players seek to manipulate one another in order to gain influence points. Cards have multiple potential actions, including going to battle against rivals.

Domination moves

These resin pieces are especially lovely
Wehrlegig Games

Pieces called “spies” can be placed in rival players’ cards, affecting or negating their power. Players can also bribe and tax one another, depending on their influence over the map.

Random event cards lob crises and opportunities into the fray. The game is won when a player becomes significantly more dominant than the others. This presents many opportunities for betrayal as individual players sell-out other coalition members for their own gain. But, of course, without the help of coalition allies, personal glory is much more difficult to achieve.

Pax Pamir: Second Edition costs $85 and comes four years after the release of the original game, which is significantly less lavish. Some of the game’s rules and designs have been streamlined. It’s definitely aimed at historical simulation board game aficionados who want to lose themselves in a world of bluff and treachery.