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The Week in Gaming: Xbox taps into 'The Medium'; Tesla gaming; big delays & DICE awards
Awards announcements, a couple of slight delays, a new horror game that’s getting generally good grades, the return of a pop culture gaming TV touchstone…and a little stock market kerfuffle surrounding GameStop that’s so deep down the financial rabbit hole that all we can do is stand back and watch from a safe distance — it’s definitely been a busy week in gaming, which means it’s hard to know where to even start.
So how about we start with an actual game you can play? Bloober Team turned The Medium loose this week to mostly solid — if not gushing — praise from critics, giving the Xbox Series X/S the first of many planned exclusives in a new console generation that finds Microsoft raising its platform exclusive ambitions beyond those of its Xbox One predecessor.
A psychological horror game that gives protagonist Marianne two worlds to play in as she swerves back and forth between the real world and the spirit realm, The Medium clocks in at a relatively lean 10-hour playtime that nevertheless serves up an auspicious start for the Series X’s 2021 gaming lineup. The third-person puzzler borrows ideas and events from real European history to find Marianne retracing the events that left an abandoned hotel with a horrifically high body count (and a dark legend to go with it, of course).
Swapping deep combat mechanics for duck-and-run evasion and light puzzle solving to get you out of harm’s way, The Medium isn’t likely to garner comparisons to direct-encounter survival horror standouts like Resident Evil. Equipped with few ways to fight back and armed chiefly with an ability to see the spirit realm — a sort of dark world suffused with unseen pain and terror overlaid right on top of the real one — some of the game’s biggest revelations happen when in split-screen mode, with the world you see juxtaposed side-by-side with the hidden one; the haunted spectral realm that less-gifted mortals than Marianne take for granted.
Even with little combat and its brief runtime, The Medium is currently sitting at a comfortable 71 percent aggregate score at Metacritic, where reviewers are mostly united in loving the game’s clever use of its alternate-reality mechanic and overall gripping story…while loving less Marianne’s limited tool set and, at times, the bleak graphics (The Medium was originally intended as a last-gen game, before Bloober Team decided the split-world technical challenges were insurmountable on past-gen hardware.)
In any case, it seems like a solid start to a year when Microsoft has a number of higher-profile exclusives lined up for its shiny new family of boxes, including The Ascent, The Gunk, Warhammer 40K: Darktide, and — coming later this fall — Halo Infinite. Releasing on Jan. 28, The Medium is ready to rock the spirit world now on Xbox Series X/S and PC.
Sony exclusives power 2021 DICE awards
Swinging back to the PlayStation side of things, last year’s incredible lineup of Sony smash hits is leading the nominee list for the upcoming DICE Awards. The Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences (AIAS) unveiled its annual lineup of award-eligible games this week, and no matter which ones walk away with the hardware, a pair of big Sony-only titles will be getting a ton of shoutouts at this year’s online-only DICE ceremony.
Set for April 8, the DICE Awards list is headlined by The Last of Us Part II, which picked up an impresisve 11 nominations (including Game of the Year), followed by PlayStation-exclusive cousin Ghost of Tsushima, which rings in with 10 nominations. Hades for Nintendo Switch/PC is on fire with 8 nominations, and a trio of titles — Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, and Half-Life: Alyx — show up with five nominations apiece.
Joining TLOUII on the short list for Game of the Year are a pair of PlayStation exclusives — Ghost of Tsushima and Final Fantasy VII Remake — along with Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Hades. For a full peek at all this year’s DICE nominees (as well as who’ll be doing the voting), check out the AIAS landing page, and stay dialed in to the Academy’s Twitter feed for news on how to catch the awards show as April 8 draws closer.
Tesla levels up its Witcher gameWho’s that peeking out from the media hub of the newly-refreshed Tesla Model S? Why, it’s Geralt of Rivia — and not the Netflix version, either. While Teslas already can stream Netflix and come bundled with a small arcade’s worth of video games, the newest refresh to both the Tesla Model S and Model X will include a bespoke gaming rig capable of “up to 10 teraflops of processing power [that] enables in-car gaming on-par with today’s newest consoles,” according to the Big T.
Elon Musk playfully teased that you’ll be able to both watch The Witcher and, thanks to the new gear, (seemingly) actually play The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and other processor-intensive AAA games in its new rides. That’s a big step beyond the current models’ ability to play more conventional games via its Tesla Arcade system, though in any incarnation, you’ll be treated to wireless controller capability from any seat (no, you can’t play while driving) on the vehicles’ 17’’ widescreen.
We get it: When the asking price scrapes $100k for a new set of wheels that features a beast of a media center and motorcycle-like acceleration to 60 mph, you’re probably gonna want to spend as much time in there as possible. While Tesla’s not given out specifics of how its new gaming hardware stacks up directly against current-gen machines like the PS5 and Xbox Series X, it’s worth noting that — at least in theory — the claimed “10 teraflops” puts it in PS5 territory, according to IGN.
It’s probably also worth noting that, even if you won’t be playing cutting-edge 2021 blockbuster exclusives like Horizon Forbidden West in your Tesla, you’ll still be getting a cool, in-car gaming experience you won’t find anywhere else this side of your living room.
Star Trek Online boldly goes to a 'House Reborn'
Hard to believe, but Star Trek Online is entering its 12th year in MMOPRG space, and developer Cryptic Studios and publisher Arc Games aren’t commemorating the occasion by leaving the Enterprise adrift after more than a decade of story-based campaigns.
This week marks the launch of Star Trek Online — House Reborn, the beginning of a new story event that puts your Discovery-era Klingon character at the center of the ongoing epic conflict leading up to the finale of the game’s current "Klingon War" saga. “Your new Klingon will be embroiled in a mysterious story, hunting down Enemies of the Empire for a shadowy benefactor,” Arc teases, dangling new characters, more voiceovers, and in-game unlockables like an exclusive T6 Ship that, once you’ve made it to level 65 or beyond, will ferry you (as with every other ship in the game) to any location you’ve already visited.
The new content brings a new pair of story episodes that follow House Reborn from the point of view of Star Trek: Discovery's L'Rell (voiced in the game by Mary Chieffo) and Tenavik (voiced by Sam Witwer). House Reborn went live for PC players earlier this week, with Cryptic promising that a PS4 and Xbox One update will be available soon. Get the full details over at the event’s announcement page.
- Hitman studio IO Interactive hasn’t revealed too much about its much-buzzed James Bond game, which is early in development as Hitman’s "World of Assassination" trilogy draws to a close with Hitman 3. But the developer did let one new tidbit drop this week when studio director Hakan Abrak told the Danish Broadcasting Corporation (via IGN) that the game will feature “our own digital Bond, which will not lean on a Bond actor [from the movies].” In the same interview, Abrak also hinted that a first Bond game may be just the start of something much bigger if things go well. “[Y]ou could easily imagine that a trilogy could come out of it,” he teased.
- As of Thursday, Jan. 28, Nintendo’s rollout of the previously-announced free Festivale event update for Animal Crossing: New Horizons is live, as the trailer above teases. But what caught our eye comes at the end of the trailer, which teases some kind of Super Mario-themed event set to kick off in March when the current Festivale cycle comes to a close. It’s the first noise the Big N has made about a Mario-themed crossover in ACNH since first teasing an island visit from its mustachioed mascot last September — but sadly, it looks like we’ll still have to wait a while for more details.
- Even as MGM locks in the key pieces for the next movie entry in the Tomb Raider franchise, developer Crystal Dynamics is hinting about the game series’ future. While no new game announcement is on the immediate horizon, Crystal Dynamics posted a neat Twitter video this week that, among other things, forecasts that future titles will “unify” Lara Croft’s old-school and present-day gaming timelines, according to game director Will Kerslake.
“Our origin trilogy told the story of Lara’s early days — where she was forged into a survivor, became a hero, and, ultimately, a tomb raider; while the classic games contained a seasoned and competent adventurer,” said Kerslake. “We envision a future of Tomb Raider unfolding after these established adventures, telling stories that build upon both Core Design’s [older] games and Crystal Dynamics’ games, and working to unify these timelines.”
Just don’t expect a new Tomb Raider game anytime soon as the team figures out the path forward: “We don’t have plans for a major game announcement in the near future,” Kerslake said.
- We’ve been talking about THQ Nordic and developer Experiment 101’s upcoming action-RPG Biomutant since 2018, with early looks at the game showing off a wild menagerie of playable animal characters that wouldn’t look out of place squaring off against the likes of Groot and Rocket Raccoon. At long last, THQ has given the game a release date of May 25 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC — though there’s no word yet on when, or if, Biomutant will touch down on the PS5 or Xbox Series X/S.
.- Delays, pt. 1: Sony and developer Housemarque are pushing back the release date for procedurally-generated space-horror shooter Returnal from March 19 until April 30. When it arrives, Returnal will be among the early entries in the PlayStation 5’s ever-growing library of console exclusives.
- Delays, pt. 2: While it had only been given a general release window that would’ve put it on consoles sometime in 2021, developer Daedalic’s upcoming The Lord of the Rings: Gollum has been pushed back until 2022, via GamesRadar+. We wants the precious! — but if the finished game has what it takes to whet even Sméagol’s envy, we can patiently wait.
- Hitman 3 is just bananas — literally. Consider these clips the least fruitful part of this whole column — the little leftover bit of ridiculousness that is the play-your-way shenanigans that Hitman 3 leaves up to you and your slippery assassination ideas.
With the game out in the wild (and getting great reviews), players are peeling apart all the insanely open-ended ways that IO Interactive has devised to let you run through a level toward your final target. Previewing Hitman 3 last month, MinnMax's Leo Vader left this glorious video account of how he KO’d everyone in the game’s first level, set amid a swank party at the top of the world’s tallest skyscraper, armed with nothing more than one or two surprisingly durable (and potent) bananas.
Yes, Agent 47 definitely does have bananas — and thanks to his unabashed takedown technique, so does everyone at the ball. But if a 1-2 banana split upside the head raises too much of a clamor, there’s always a place to stack all your snoozing victims until you’ve cleared the level and your Agent 47 avatar is long gone. That’s what streamer RTGame Daniel had on his mind when he managed to cram the population of an entire town into a single meat freezer, gingerly dragging one sleepyhead after another to chill for a while until it was wakey-wakey time. Tweeting the 6-hour marathon feat, which unfolded as a livestream on Twitch, RTGame Daniel even got the developers’ attention:Hey, at the end of the day, the only way to be sure your assassination-minded intentions won’t be discovered is to just eliminate everybody — even if it gets a little crowded in the process. We’ve been having a blast with our playthrough of Hitman 3 on a good old-fashioned PS4, but — just like all the ways to approach your target — there’s an almost unlimited number of places to play. Check out Hitman 3 now for PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.