Monthly Archives: September 2014

The Loot Cave Situation

The Loot Cave Situation

If you’ve played Destiny, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the Loot Cave. Or maybe it’s successor, Loot Cave 2.0. (Not very creative with names, are they?) The gist is this: the way Destiny‘s loot system works is primarily based on Engrams, or little bundles of categorical rarity that you have to have decoded into actual loot. The color scheme should be familiar to nearly all of you, starting with white and going to green to blue to purple and finally to gold.

Destiny, in its pseudo MMO-ness, has a similarly standard respawn structure. There are particular entrance points into the world where enemies can enter. Sometimes they are dropped by massive teleporting alien ships and other times they seems to blip and bloop simply into and out of existence. And then there are the times they come scurrying out of a literal hole in the ground. But they will only appear if the game thinks no one is watching.

This is where the Loot Cave comes into play. The first was located in the Cosmodrome area of Old Russia. With a legion of Guardians huddling around a slab of rock and shooting into a cave, it was a puzzling sight. But combine the two aforementioned aspects (loot drops and enemy respawns), and you have a Loot Cave. From that rock formation, you are far enough that the game thinks you can’t see the furtive birthing of foes. But with a zoom scope and a few friends, you can fire endlessly into that hole and be massively reward for your efforts. We’re talking kaboodles of blues and purps here, guys.


In a recent patch, though, Bungie saw fit to nerf the honey pot—among other things. But just as quickly as they did so, another cave popped up. Also in Old Russia, this was even easier because the enemies had a tendency to seek you out if they got past your wall of hot death. And something tells me it’s only a matter of time until they patch this one as well.

The interesting thing, though, is that Bungie seemed to genuinely understand the grassroots thing borne by their game. From a blog post regarding then-impending changes: “The social experience of a cave farming run is amazing…The speed at which the community organized around this activity was inspiring and humbling to us.”

But then further along, they also say, “shooting at a black hole for hours on end isn’t our dream for how Destiny is played.” These words very literally translate to the fact that players broke the system, counter to some opinions that it’s a feature and not a bug. While making good points and well written, the developers are straight-up saying that this was not intended.


Of course some people will always choose the path of least (interesting) resistance. Shooting into a dark cave that spits out goodies? Bingo bango. But really the problem here is that the progression after level 20 is so incredibly boring that the best option all around is to join the ammo dump fest into a Loot Cave. That’s why you are so rarely alone at the caves. Even when instanced into separate realities of a handful of players, you will still find people at the caves.

There are other influencing artifacts to this treasure hunt, though. Namely the formerly cryptic rewards coming from the Cryptarch (the guy who decodes your Engrams for you). Bungie had to deliberately drop an injected element of randomness to the decryption, a choice previously made seemingly to only obfuscate the value of any given piece of loot.

The color of the engram didn’t always coordinate to the item it would result in, bringing about many bouts of frustration and rage and tweeting, especially (and usually) when a legendary drop only ended up being a rare piece of armor. The patch that removed the first Loot Cave also forced every engram to decode to its colored value or higher. It additionally forcibly downgraded all legendary engrams to rare ones, with the patch notes suggesting players decrypt before the patch while admitting “but let’s be honest–even if you don’t, we all know they were blues already…”


Strangely enough, neither of are the true wrench in the works of Destiny, merely symptoms. Truly, the main problem that sprouts these smaller albeit more visible problems is that Bungie missed a vital part of designing an MMO: communication. It’s fine and well that your mission’s objectives are always delightfully highlighted on your screen but the game lacks communication in regards to how it should be played.

Alternatives to the intended design are usually taught to be less-than-viable. Dark Souls, for instance, teaches you that lesson through severely brutal deaths. But the alternative to Destiny‘s proper way to grind for gear is entirely too sustainable, which is to say shooting for hours on end into a dark Russian hole. Nothing teaches you otherwise because you are rewarded for you efforts eventually. The science checks out.

But much like World of Warcraft, the preeminent product of effective MMO design, late-level progression comes easiest in the form of faction alignment. You earn reputation and currencies and then you get your big rewards. That concept is rather alien to a console game and fighting an uphill battle against the ever so inviting fallacy of uncertain but immediate rewards. Turning in bounties gets you substantial gains in experience and faction points as well as afford you the occasional opportunity to engage with exotic bounties for exotic-level loot.


While Destiny intends for you to earn Vanguard and Crucible points to buy gear from the respective charter’s dealer, it doesn’t really communicate to you that is the end game of this point gathering. From the outset, it appears as if you are collecting points for each faction just to collect points. And then along the way you chance into access to engrams and special quests and the like. But through hyperbolic discounting, you trick yourself into playing into the Loot Cave’s hands.

It’s clear that Bungie has its shooting down. Destiny feels as good as Halo ever did. (The similarities between the two games are striking and honestly somewhat disconcerting, but we’ll get to that later.) But it’s also clear that in all that time of hewing one hand into a finely tuned gun, Bungie forgot to shape the other into an MMO, driving you to both loot and understand the loot. Maybe it’s something patchable and maybe it’s something too base to be smoothed over. We’ll soon find out.

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Trailer Roundup: Final Fantasy XV, Silent Hills, and More

Trailer Roundup: Final Fantasy XV, Silent Hills, and More

How’s your schedule looking? If it’s not somewhere between Wide Open and Totally Available, then you might want to look elsewhere for your ephemeral jollies. Gearbox alone this week can fill a half-hour block of your time. Like, when does “extended” just not cut it anymore?

Also, I just watched I Know That Voice on Netflix, so if even after this series of epics of trailers you still have more time, maybe give that a go. Then we can talk about it. There’s a whole bit on video games and Comic-Con, and you’ll definitely be in awe of how few voice actors stretch across so many iconic voices, TV or otherwise. Anyways, time for those ridiculously long trailers!


Coming out from the biggest news of the previous week, Phil Spencer attempts to spend four minutes assuaging you with the idea that Microsoft is acquiring Mojang, the studio behind Minecraft. It’s a strange move; I’m not even sure how many people associate the game with this particular studio. Surely a sizable amount, but the percentage of total Minecraft players is likely miniscule. Who is Spencer trying to placate here? Is Minecraft simply too large to even steer now?


I think those You Don’t Know Jack games are pretty fun. They’re a great way to get friends that don’t necessarily play games to play some god damn video games. Now the developers Jackbox Games have Fibbage, a game where you attempt to fill in the blank on a tidbit you most likely don’t know the real answer to. It reminds me a bit of Deck Around, except digitized. Either way, it’s already out for Xbox One, PlayStation3, PlayStation 4, and, uh, Amazon FireTV.

Assassin’s Creed Unity

Another week, another triple-A game from Ubisoft putting out a reminder that It’s Happening. Really, this trailer doesn’t show any gameplay—like, at all—but it does have a pretty cool song playing, so that kind of makes it worth it. I think. Either way, Assassin’s Creed Unity comes out on November 11 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.

Final Fantasy XV

Now that’s a way to open up a trailer. It’s an excellent reminder of what made that first Final Fantasy Versus XIII trailer from back in 2006, namely the stupidly enticing blend of modern aesthetics with knights and monsters and magic.

It’s also, unfortunately, an excellent reminder that Final Fantasy XV has been basically in development for over eight years with no end in sight. Kotaku has a cool feature with the new solo director (formerly co-director with Tetsuya Nomura) Hajime Tabata that you should read. It’s fairly enlightening. Also, this trailer is pretty cool.

Silent Hills

So that was weird and totally fucked up, which is what I hope the entirety of Silent Hills is going to be like (and, more or less, was what P.T. was as well). Honestly, if I had to choose between a giant baby monster woman and going down into an ominous basement, I’d probably choose the basement, too.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!

Like, why. It’s not even a question. It’s a statement. Why is this video so long? How does this help anyone? Maybe once Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! comes out, this would make more sense as a series of in-game tutorials spread out across a sequence of tutorial missions, which sounds pretty bad outright but is relatively tolerable compared to this nine and a half minutes of swing-and-a-miss humor. Comes out October 14 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, OSX, and Linux.

I can’t believe I watched all of that.


I wonder how much of this was Andrew Goldfarb, content editor at Gearbox Software, fighting his journalistic roots to ask probing and dangerously inquisitive questions. Either way, Battleborn looks decent. I love the look of it. Super colorful and fluid like whoa. I do feel like the jokes and gags are once again swing-and-a-miss

The actual gameplay looks competent with the cooperative slant definitely making it more interesting. Thorn seems like she’d be super boring to play but Rath might be fun. I don’t know. I’ve basically eradicated all expectations of this game from my brain.


And now, I leave you with this delicious bit of nonsense. This trailer sums up the whole of what Roundabout from No Goblin has to offer, and that is I Have No Fucking Idea. Check out this badass description from its press page: “Roundabout is a ’70s B-Movie game where you drive a constantly revolving limousine!” Awesome. Just Awesome. Roundabout is out now for PC, OSX, and Linux and will be out for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in early 2015.

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Destiny Review: Bun Gee Whiz


There’s no way around it. Bungie is Halo, and the other way around. Despite the Marathon series and Oni, the two are inextricably tied to one another. Even after their last involvement in a Halo title way back in 2010, the storied franchise has left a lingering space marine taste in all our mouths when the word “Bungie” comes into and leaves our ears.

That means even as an exercise of critical analysis, it’s an irresponsible task to remove Destiny, the studio’s latest release, from the context of Master Chief and his multi-planetary shenanigans. Destiny, if it hasn’t been mashed into your skull with marketing over the past few months, is a game that actually takes place well within our world, if several centuries in the future. We, as humanity, live in a Golden Age.

This era of prosperity and peace was brought about by a giant floating planetoid known as The Traveler a few hundred years prior, empowering us with a longer lifespan and the ability to reach out into the cosmos and colonize faraway worlds. There is a thing, however, known as The Darkness, following The Traveler, ostensibly hell-bent on destroying our beneficence. Luckily, The Traveler has created and sent out little autonomous and intelligent robots known as Ghosts to find Guardians to fight back.

That’s where we step in as players. We are the collective Guardians, spread out all over the world in this pseudo-MMO setup. You see, the entire universe of Destiny is structured as literal worlds containing hundreds of instances, each one of which contains several players at a time. It’s all fairly seamless—even remarkably so—where you don’t even notice leaving one area and a batch of friendlies only to enter another with a new set, intellectually understandable as a new load but visually (and impressively) indistinguishable as the sizable landscape unfolds before you.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t make a sizable impact on the game either way. Much of your time in Destiny will go something like this: 1) start mission, 2) see another player icon, 3) ignore it and continue with your mission. Bungie attempts to combat this obvious and solitary loop by adding world events. For instance, drills may drop into the ground and you have to eliminate them before they finish drilling. Or you have to kill a miniboss-sized tank thing within 10 minutes. It’s rare, though, that it feels like anything more than adding another hose to the firefight.

The aforementioned landscape, however, is definitely worth mentioning again and more thoroughly. Destiny, through and through, looks exceptional. It sports wide, rolling vistas of both old Earth and distant planets, all of which appear meticulously sculpted and realized to look as close to living digital art as possible. Almost all that you see invites you to go there and touch it.


That doesn’t really get you anywhere, though. For as beautiful as the container is, the contents are exceedingly bland. While the player interactions are structured to be an MMO, the moment-to-moment gameplay is all shooter. And I do mean all shooter; your actions are largely limited to those centered around shooting, throwing grenades, punching things, and jumping. That’s not a terrible setup considering that the mechanics of those actions are well within Bungie’s wheelhouse, many of which were nearly perfected over the course of the Halo games.

What comes packaged with the shooting is the problem. The missions are distinctly MMO-ish: fetching any number of a certain thing over a huge territory, killing a certain number of bad guys over a huge territory, delivering an object across a huge territory, etc. I never felt all that accomplished from any particular task I completed. It all just seemed so hollow.

That has a lot to do with the story, which is especially disappointing when the opening moments and establishing lore are simply rife with potential. Humanity’s struggles, its fortuitous encounter with an alien entity, our immaculate growth, and now the inevitable and dramatic decline. It’s all so delectably sci-fi. And the way it’s presented is topnotch, from the distinctly Marty O’Donnell swelling score to the haunting visuals.


But that’s all it achieves. Those first 10 minutes are the best the game has to offer from its mythos. With each mission completed, you have the potential to see more of the story unfurl, but it’s usually The Speaker (the appointed proxy for communications between humans and The Traveler) narrating your goals. Just the goals, though. Your impetus rarely surfaces. (And then the ending confusingly arrives and leaves just as strangely.)

I wish I could say at least the other half of the equation was engaging to make up for the intellectually unstimulating narrative. But many of the encounters with enemies take place in MMO mob-style setups, where they hang about a certain area in predetermined numbers with generous respawns. They obey a patrol fence, too, where you can engage them and retreat and they won’t follow, allowing you to take potshots over and over again. It’s a loop you’ll find yourself in, like, a lot.

This is because there are sections of missions that are arbitrarily labeled as “respawns restricted.” Anywhere else, your death means you respawn somewhere nearby and continue on your merry killing way. In these parts, justified with the presence of The Darkness, your death means you have to start the mission over from the beginning.


This compounds multiple problems. The first, which was present in all the demos as well, is that boss battles already take a long time (think somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes, owing to the fact that everything is a god damn bullet sponge). Now, however, with the added punishment of having to start the lengthy mission entirely over, it makes a lot more sense to take the cheap route than the heroic route, adding to the exhausting battle time. (The latter, however, doesn’t feel that much more accomplished anyways.)

The second problem is actually quite symptomatic of a systemic issue. Or rather, it’s a problem with the systems of the game: it’s bare. That’s not to say there are enough to weave an economy of systems together to make a game but that there’s nothing disguising and layering them. There’s no discovery. After your opening missions and you make your way back to The Tower (the social hub of the game), you will have experienced the maximal range of mechanics and systems Destiny has to offer.

The only thing you have to look forward to is latent confusion. Distilled in a single parody Twitter account, the underlying spinning cogs that power loot drops is nigh inscrutable. And in-world elements have collisions with the naming schemes of systemic parts of the game, e.g. The Crucible, which can either be the PvP portion of Destiny, a source of bounties, an area in The Tower, or maybe even something else I’ve yet to discover.


And as what seems like a grasp at redemption, there’s the Thrall. They are a particular class of enemy of the Hive species, which are undead aliens looking to, well, I’m not sure. But they’re there, and they are essentially the Flood from the Halo games. When they first show up, it comes across as a yell from deep within Bungie. “Look, we can do this right!” But you only whisper back, “no, you can’t.”

There are a lot of disappointing components to Destiny’s gestalt form. Peter Dinklage’s phoned-in performance as the Ghosts, the poor writing (yes, Speaker, tell me more how the children no longer need horror stories to be scared), uninteresting enemy encounters. It all combats the promise of the game, from the backstory to the continued excellence in Bungie’s shooting mechanics.

But really it comes down to the fact that Destiny is nothing more than a barebones shooter combined with a barebones MMO with not enough of either to make the whole anywhere near compelling. Few parts of it are terribly constructed, but few parts are exceptionally built either. Destiny, such as it is, has found its own fate: mediocrity.


+ Gorgeous landscapes of dilapidation and alien worlds
+ The mechanics of shooting and moving are still a strong suit for Bungie
+ More fantastic music from Marty O’Donnell
– Enemy encounters are bland and bosses are predictable bullet sponges
– Systems are shallow and uninteresting (and some are even confusing)
– Categorically poor writing and an uninteresting/unmoving story

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Game Review: Destiny
Release: September 9, 2014
Genre: First-person shooter
Developer: Bungie
Available Platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Players: Online-only multiplayer
MSRP: $59.99

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Surprisingly Cooperative

Surprisingly Cooperative

Travel is a supremely solitary experience. Or at least it can be. Almost every component of it is made to isolate you from the throngs of people that surround you. Airport security processes you as singular threats, not as companions. Plugged into a seat, you are a capsule in a tube of pills. Face forward, watch the TV, and don’t mingle.

Certainly not intentional and absolutely not all encompassing, but it is a definitive summation for many of the trips you, I, and others have had. That’s why we bring books and iPads and laptops along with us to entertain us as we soar through the sky or plod along the road or skim across the rails. It’s to distract us from the numbing silence surrounding the act of transit. Stories and games often do that, after all.

To transport us to a place much more exciting or interesting than where we currently are. That’s an interesting idea not because of its core conceit but rather that it’s usually interpreted as a gesture towards a world that simply doesn’t exist, one full of spies or elves or space marines. You are transplanted.

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine

But consider what it would mean if it were to simply keep you where you are and that world were to come to you. That reality where people congregate as a whole of vitality and joy or drama and heartbreak. That would be a truly surprising turn of the tables.

I have been traveling a lot lately. That, among other reasons, is why this bubbled up in my brain as something worth crunching. As Foursquare was kind to depressingly remind me, I spent the past two months going from hotel to hotel, airport to airport, isolation to isolation. Finally coming home and faceplanting into my bed felt as alien as entering room 1835 at The D or any other number of cold, anonymous, numbered rooms in a building full of rooms just like it.

And somehow, by the graces of internal desperation made external (and a dash of randomness), the last flight back to DFW was one that left me thinking maybe it’s not so bad. It was a late flight leaving Las Vegas and I just couldn’t sleep. Pulling out my iPad, I began to run through the games.

I’d just played Super Hexagon for a solid hour at the terminal. I’d beaten The Room Two on the way in. Going through more than two or three drops at a time in Ridiculous Fishing had become a rote exercise. But Hundreds. Well that I hadn’t even come close to finishing, or even opened in the past year.

Hundreds, if you aren’t familiar (and you should be), is a mobile puzzle game. Your goal is to tap any number of gray circles, inflating them and their numeric value until the screen’s total is 100. The complication comes from the fact that you can’t be actively pumping up the dots when they touch another dot, otherwise it’s game over. Some deflate over time, some freeze other dots, and some stop time.

It’s a wholly gnarly game. I made it through about 70 levels by myself before giving up on completing anything beyond because god damn is it hard. But after the 60+ days of shuttling from city to city, I guess I was in a bit of a masochistic mood, wanting to see how more blood I had to give to the winged beasts of the American Airlines skies.


Jumping right back to where I left off, I’m reminded of why I gave up. Like, hard. Attempts are lasting in the range of mere seconds. My frustrations begin to manifest physically to the point where the fellow on my left takes notice. “What are you playing?”

The flash of red subsides as I think better of slapping this inquisitive man in the face for interrupting my downward spiral into madness. So I tell him. I explain to him the general concepts of the game as I continue to fail over and over again. Nodding along, he suddenly reaches out. He moves a puck piece, blocking a sizable dot from bursting over a bladed cyclone of resetting demonry. I physically and literally pause.

It was incredible I hadn’t seen this before. This game, ostensibly single-player, was made for cooperative play. A few more attempts—he playing defense against the razors and me playing offense with the rapidly deflating dots—and we beat it. We cheered. It was one of the few truly jubilant moments of the past handful of weeks I’d had.


So we continued. We sighed. We yelled. We slouched in defeat. And we emerged victorious. It drew the eye of those around us, eventually piling up the attention of the rows in front and behind as well as the other man to my right. (Yeah, I had a middle seat. WELCOME TO MY LIFE.) By the time we landed, we had, as a collective of half a dozen heads and a dozen hands, gotten to the final stretch of levels. The ones where you can’t even see the circles as they float about.

Travel is made to be solitary. Face forward. Don’t talk. Stand at the line. Now stand in the line. But what if you make a turn. What if you do talk. What if you take the individuals all around you and form something better than the systemic isolation built into boarding a plane or finding parking or huddling in the back of the bus.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m supposed to be playing Destiny with the two aforementioned flanking fellows.

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Trailer Roundup: NBA Live 15, Persona 5, and More

Trailer Roundup: NBA Live 15, Persona 5, and More

Yeah, I’ve been out of it for a while. Honestly, all the stuff about Gamer Gate had me put off the idea of even talking to another person, least of all not even bothering with PAX Prime. It was a terribly destructive period of the industry that morphed from slander to verbal assault to a fundamental debasing of reasoning and decency.

Paste has a nice bookend to the whole ordeal, though the problematic existence of bullies and bigots extends far beyond the terminative boundaries of the end of a bookshelf. That’s all I want to talk about it. Others have spoken on it far more eloquently than I ever will and I don’t want to get dragged into a flamewar.

In fact, let’s just get back to what we do best on a Monday. Let’s watch some god damn trailers.

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

NSFW. Maybe? I have no idea. I don’t have a single solitary clue about what most of this trailer is but it certainly feels NSFW even when you take the somewhat naked burlap sack head people out. As weird as The Binding of Isaac actually is (and as weird as this port The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth will similarly be), this trailer takes the cake. Comes out November 4 for PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PC, Mac, and Linux.

Slender: The Arrival

Slender: The Arrival is a game that you kind of have to buy fully into to get any joy out of it. It’s very easy to play it, get bored, and stop after about five minutes. And even if you last long enough to encounter a thing to run away from, you have to be willing to play along and get perturbed. This is, however, a rather good trailer, though I’m not sure if you haven’t played this game before, what would convince you to do so now. Comes out September 23 for PSN and September 24 for Xbox Live Arcade.

Assassin’s Creed Rogue

This is an absolutely fantastic trailer for Assassin’s Creed Rogue, and for some reason, I just can’t get behind it. While Black Flag was a great game, it was kind of all I needed to cap off with the best of the series’ gameplay (mostly) and realize that without the Desmond story, I’m just not that interested anymore. I’ll probably still play Rogue since that’s how this job works, but the desire is lacking. Comes out November 11 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

Hatoful Boyfriend

Basically, if you like this trailer, you’ll probably like what Hatoful Boyfriend has to offer. It’s a weird game. Like, super weird. It’s a visual novel game about being the only human at a school for sapient pigeons. It’s strange and funny but also surprisingly deep with a branching storyline and complex motives for relationship building. It’s out now on Steam, so maybe give it a try.

Ancient Space

I really like how surprised the voiceover sounds when he says “PEGI 12.” I also really like what Joe Fricano, senior producer on the project with Paradox Interactive, said about Ancient Space being more like NASA and less like Star Wars. I like Star Wars, don’t get me wrong, but I like this idea of a clinical take on a deep space mystery. Sounds cool. Comes out September 23 for PC and Mac.

Wasteland 2

The problem with Wasteland 2, the $2.9 million Kickstarter success from April of 2012, is that the prospect of playing it isn’t very inviting, but playing it will undoubtedly be wholly encompassing. I mean, look at this trailer for combat. It’s a seven-minute trailer about just the fighting portion of the game. That being said, I probably will be one of those people playing. Comes out September 19 for PC, Mac, and Linux.


Now that’s a doozy. No idea what Firewatch is but I’m totally into it. Just read this description and tell me you’re not in, too: “Firewatch is a mystery set in the Wyoming wilderness, where your only emotional lifeline is the person on the other end of a handheld radio.” What a hook. Even the website is slick enough to make you want to find out more. Comes out sometime in 2015 for PC, Mac, and Linux.

Persona 5

God dammit, Persona 5, give me something to work with. I feel like that weird chair teaser from February was more informative than this thing. It has my interest piqued, sure, but at what cost, man, at what cost. Comes out in 2015 for PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4.

NBA Live 15

The NBA Live franchise doesn’t die easily, huh. It basically stopped after NBA Live 10 until NBA Live 13 got canceled and then was officially revived with last year’s supremely disappointing NBA Live 14. Considering that the NBA 2K series has been alive and kicking in the intervening years, I wonder if NBA Live 15 will even have enough legs to run and not shit the bed again like 2013. I can’t tell if the song in the trailer is more wishing or telling. Comes out October 7 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

WWE 2K15

Boy, wrestling games seem like a lot of fun to motion capture. Even if you’re still beating the shit out of yourself while actively trying to not quite beat the shit out of someone else, it must be super cool to do all those acrobatic super slams and then watch it go into a game like WWE 2K15. Also, how is Goldberg still alive? Like, as a person. Comes out October 28 for PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.

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