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If the Halo franchise is gaming's definitive sci-fi space shooter, then the Mass Effect franchise — despite having a more muted gaming presence in recent years — is probably the definitive sci-fi space RPG. EA BioWare's epic series will forever live rent-free in the hearts of millions of fans, especially the Xbox 360 players who were there from the start, as a sweeping saga that carved out a place for a proper Western RPG in territory far beyond high fantasy; of old-world mages, knights, swords, castles, and dragons.
At the time of its release in 2007, the first Mass Effect went farther than just about any other original sci-fi game to date in committing to building an original and totally unique sci-fi world. From alien races to cleverly-adapted RPG tropes that received tech-y makeovers to suit their spacey setting, BioWare packed a ton of believability into what, at its core, was in many ways a conventional role-playing game with an ambitiously novel and fresh change of venue.
That's why the artistic stakes probably feel so high for Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, the upcoming remaster of the first three games in the series that form the essential Mass Effect experience (with apologies to 2017's less well-received Mass Effect: Andromeda, which isn't included in Legendary Edition's do-over). Though eager fans already knew the remaster was on the way, it wasn't until this week that BioWare and publisher Electronic Arts shared a first look at how they've given the entire three-game cycle a thorough touch-up.
As the reveal trailer below shows, this is definitely still the Mass Effect that you remember…but if the artistic upgrades here are anything to go by, it's also something more:
For many who missed the genre-defining buzz that surrounded the trilogy's original release, Legendary Edition will mark their first point of entry into Mass Effect's rich and sprawling RPG journey. But even for those who know every story beat by heart, it's a reason to savor the whole experience all over again on modern game platforms that feel more suited to BioWare's ambition.
Project director Mac Walters told Polygon this week that the idea was to bring changes that tickle longtime fans' sense of what Mass Effect should feel like — even if it means making some substantial creative swerves away from what the old-school games actually showed on-screen. "We really stayed true to everything that you would remember in your mind's eye, like your nostalgia of the game had to be consistent," he explained. "…It is like playing it for the first time again."
For the hardcore fans who can evoke every line and feature in Commander Shepard's visage from mere memory, that's a bold claim. But if this week's first look is any indication, EA and BioWare haven't shied away from putting it to the test. And for newcomers, it's an open invitation to launch headfirst into an extremely well-crafted space RPG world that, nearly 15 years on from the first game's release, really hasn't been duplicated since.
Completely remastered and rendered in 4K Ultra-HD, Mass Effect: Legendary Edition releases on May 14 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, and will also be playable the same day as a backwards-compatible title on both PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S platforms.
The best of the rest
Sony — like, the entire company — boosted by PS5 sales
Good grief, the PS5 is selling like crazy. In fact, the only thing that seems to be limiting Sony's next-gen console from outstripping its PS4 predecessor (we're gonna have to start calling the PS5 "current-gen" pretty soon, aren't we?) is Sony's ability to make them fast enough to put in the packaging and get the still-scarce hardware out to (mostly) online retailers.
Despite releasing nearly midway through on Nov. 12, the PS5's first-quarter sales for the period between October and December were reported this week at 4.5 million units, matching both the PS4's 4.5 million-selling debut quarter as well as Sony's own expectations. Via CNBC, the hot start has been enough to raise all of Sony's expected full-year profit forecasts on the strength of a 9 percent increase in revenues versus the same period in 2020.
Within the PlayStation gaming division itself, profits are (get this) up by roughly 50 percent over last year — all thanks to the launch of the PlayStation 5 and a strong launch lineup headlined by Spider-Man: Miles Morales, which across both PS4 and PS5 platforms sold an amazing 4.1 million copies during the same 1st quarter. Considering the fact that Sony's reportedly selling the PS5 at a loss, in order to balance player demand against creating a robust install base, those are pretty dizzying numbers — especially when they're boosting Sony (the entire company; not just PlayStation) revenues by that 9 percent figure.
What's even crazier is the fact that the PS5 would probably be selling even faster — perhaps much faster — if only there weren't a pesky bottleneck in the supply chain. "It is difficult for us to increase production of the PS5 amid the shortage of semiconductors and other components," Sony CFO Hiroki Totoki said in this week's earnings briefing, via Ars Technica. "We have not been able to fully meet the high level of demand from customers [but] we continue to do everything in our power to ship as many units as possible to customers who are waiting for a PS5."
If you're among the players who've yet to get your hands on either flavor of PS5, we feel your pain. Most of us at SYFY WIRE are still hitting refresh on our browsers, hoping to snag Sony's elusive next-gen beast in the next retail restock…while catching up on our PS4 gaming backlog while we still can. Who's up for some Bloodborne?
The elusive GoldenEye 007 saga of Bond... James Bond
Earlier this week, we learned that a full video playthrough of the Microsoft-remastered version of GoldenEye 007 had gone up online, seemingly giving longtime fans of Rare's N64 classic the ultimate glimpse of a much-craved HD-enhanced makeover that might've been — but never was.
As it turns out, though, that was only an appetizer, at least to PC players who know a thing or two about how to play ROM games via an emulator. No, we're not here to serve up the link to a leaked game that Microsoft and the handlers of the James Bond gaming franchise had their own good reasons for never releasing; we're just here to say that the game somehow has been leaked to the internet over the past few days — and judging by the Twitter reactions, fans are definitely finding it.
VGC reported this week that a "near-final ROM of the [GoldenEye 007] remaster is being actively circulated on file sharing sites," including the upgraded game's full story campaign (but not the previously-teased multiplayer mode, achievements, or leaderboards.) The ROM version does reportedly include the ability to switch between the 1995-vintage Nintendo 64 graphics of the original game and Microsoft's HD upgraded version — but again, anyone who takes advantage of the leak may be treading into seriously sketchy legal territory.
What the news does reflect is just how fondly regarded Rare's original N64 game remains, even if the remastered version, which was largely finished at the time, never made it onto Xbox Live Arcade. "The main reason it didn't happen was because there were too many stakeholders," GoldenEye 007 composer Grant Kirkhope, a former Rare employee and a pretty iconic name in gaming's musical circles, told VGC. "Microsoft, Nintendo and EON [owners of the Bond license] could never agree on terms, and that's before you even start to consider getting all the original movie actors to agree to have their likenesses used again."
If we wanna step into Pierce Brosnan's shoes and suit up as Special Agent 007 all over again, we'll be playing it safe and digging out our old N64s. Besides, it's not like the James Bond franchise is done with video games: There's a big new Bond origin story title in the works right now from Hitman developer IO Interactive.
Stadia endures... but not as a game maker
Google is shutting down its game development ambitions for the versatile Stadia platform, retrenching its efforts on evolving the hardware itself while abandoning plans to develop Stadia-exclusive games.
The tech giant this week announced that it's closing both of its Stadia Games and Entertainment studios in Montreal and Los Angeles, effectively halting any development on 1st-party Stadia titles that might've been in the works (and we never really knew how far along any of those were.) Stadia VP Phil Harrison explained the decision in a blog post, stressing that Stadia as a platform isn't going anywhere and that the company is only getting started as a go-to destination for games streaming.
"With the recent successful launch of Cyberpunk 2077 on Stadia, gameplay on all types of devices, including iOS, growing our slate of YouTube integrations, and our global expansions, it's clear that Stadia's technology has been proven and works at scale," he wrote. "Having games streamed to any screen is the future of this industry, and we'll continue to invest in Stadia and its underlying platform to provide the best cloud gaming experience for our partners and the gaming community."
Harrison added that Google already has plans to enrich its streaming integration with established 3rd party publishers, saying Google believes that's "the best path to building Stadia into a long-term, sustainable business that helps grow the industry." If you've already embraced the Stadia hardware and its accompanying subscription service, those won't be affected by the change. From here on, Stadia just won't be featuring any Google-developed platform exclusives — a limitation that's hard to notice, when fans hadn't gotten the chance to get hooked on any in the first place.
- Destruction AllStars seems to be gaining speed as the latest and greatest thing to crash casual console players' attention, debuting this month as part of Sony's three-game feature bundle for PlayStation Plus subscribers. It's "controlled chaos" on a grand scale when it comes to car-on-car combat, demanding "timing, tactics and skills to cause carnage behind the wheel or create havoc with your parkour skills," as the PlayStation Blog puts it. Though AllStars arrives to PS Plus as a launch title, it's not the only game on the February menu, though: Also be on lookout for Concrete Genie and the sleeper sci-fi action adventure Control, which arrives to the service in its DLC-expanded "Ultimate Edition" form.
- Fortnite's all but certainly teasing something G.I. Joe-related as one of the next wild franchise crossovers for its ongoing Chapter 2, Season 5 battle royale island fracas. Dropping a (not really) cryptic Tweet this week, complete with "Target Description: Ninja Master" in the log transmission, Agent Jonesy hints that Snake Eyes may be sneaking up on Epic Games' perennially popular free-to-play melee with a tidy little "knowing is half the battle" zinger at the end. Hey, at least Snake Eyes will be in good company: the Terminator and Sarah Connor, the Mandalorian and Baby Yoda, and the Predator are all watching the skies…and waiting.
- If you like your Warhammer less 40K and more Total War-flavored, now's the time to celebrate: SEGA and developer Creative Assembly announced Total War: Warhammer III this week with the most metal-magic, Total War-y trailer you can possibly imagine. "[E]ach choice you make will shape the reality-shattering conflict to come; from the mysterious Lands of the East to the daemon-infested Realms of Chaos," SEGA teases, and of course we know they mean it. There's no firm release date set yet, but Total War: Warhammer III is expected to smash onto the Steam and Epic Games stores sometime this year.
- We admit it: Until this week, ROBI Studios' Blue Fire wasn't anywhere on our gaming radar. But after checking out the strong Zelda vibes in the new game's launch trailer and catching up on a handful of solid reviews, this may be the game we link up with this weekend. A 3D action platformer with light RPG underpinnings, it's a visual feast that seems to fall somewhere between the cel-shaded art style of Wind Waker and Breath of the Wild, and it's available now for Nintendo Switch and PC (and coming soon to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One).
Even as Apple reportedly plots to unleash a pricey AR headset on the world sometime in the months to come, we haven't fully realized the gaming potential of what augmented reality can do. This week, Red Bull is staking an early claim to a piece of the present-day AR gaming zeitgeist by launching Discover Your Wiiings — a new series of dynamic AR games that feature some pretty recognizable faces, including omnipresent gaming celebrity Tyler "Ninja" Blevins and motorsports legend Travis Pastrana.
The idea behind Discover Your Wiiings sounds pretty intriguing, though we haven't had a chance yet to load up the game's AR app and check it out firsthand. Red Bull describes the extreme sports-oriented adventures — five in all, each featuring a different athlete in a different sport — as leaning on the power of AR to deliver "a life-like visual effect, transporting the player onto a course designed specifically to each sport including gaming in an e-arena, surfing epic waves, skateboarding through a street skate park, racing across a dirt track and mountain biking through the rugged forest."
To get in on the action with your smart phone (while we all wait for Apple's souped-up rumored headgear), download the app for iOS or Android devices, and check out the full details at Red Bull's Discover Your Wiiings landing page.