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Science-Fiction Weekly – Horizon Zero Dawn, Power Rangers, BioShock, The Predator

Horizon Zero Dawn isn't out for another week, but reviews are already hitting, and they are mostly glowing. Roughly 50 writers weighed in on Horizon, leading to an average score of 88 on Open Critic. Game Informer's Jeff Marchiafava nearly hit that cumulative score on the head with an 8.75 out of 10 rating.

In his review he complained about open-world tedium and ritualistic looting, but raved about almost everything else developer Guerilla Games threw at him. To quote:

Just when you've mastered the basics, Horizon's massive
world opens up. Aloy's first journey out west provides a remarkable sense of
discovery; the new desert landscape is teeming with different, deadlier
machines, along with new settlements to explore and beautiful vistas to behold.
Horizon's mysteries really sink their teeth in here; while it may lack the
power and meaningful choices of narrative-driven series like The Witcher and
Mass Effect, Guerrilla has crafted compelling lore for its post-apocalyptic
world. Unlike most open-world games, I looked forward to finding new audio logs
and emails that detail the old world's collapse, and the modern-day conflicts
between the isolationist Nora tribe, sun-worshipping Carja, and combative
Oseram give Aloy's quest more meaning and complexity. Most importantly, Horizon
isn't afraid to delve deep into heady sci-fi topics, and the myriad mysteries
it sets up are all answered in a marathon of revelations and explanations
toward the end of the game. Despite its flaws and foibles, Horizon's story
unexpectedly became one of the major driving forces of the game for me.

I've put roughly 10 hours of my own into Horizon, and I'm having a blast with it. I'm most impressed with the combat mechanics. Aloy is a bona fide destroyer of machines, gifting the player with an empowering sense of barbarianism. Meleeing a robo-raptor to death is always exciting and a true test of skill, as is sniping an equally menacing foe from afar. The hunting evolves nicely as the adventure unfolds, forcing Aloy to incorporate traps and bait into her techniques. Leading a lumbering beast along a path to a trap location is immensely satisfying, as is the showering of loot once it falls.

I'm also enjoying Horizon's narrative, which bounces chaotically (in a good way) between primitive society politics to advanced science fiction. Aloy is the key piece of a mystery that is unfolding in the world, and Guerilla does a nice job of rewarding the player with little tidbits as new areas are explored. There's a lot to love about this PlayStation 4 exclusive. I'm more bullish on it than Jeff, but I do share similar thoughts on the need to constantly harvest items. The process of it isn't bad, mind you, but it is a constant distraction in an otherwise outstanding experience. Even if you don't love open-world games, you should give Horizon a look for its combat and story.

If you are in the market for a new board game, you may want to take a quick gander at the recently launched Terminator Kickstarter campaign by Space Goat Productions. With 24 days remaining, the funding goal has already been smashed. The Terminator board game is played simultaneously on two boards, one set in 1984, and the other in 2029. One player takes control of Skynet, and the remainder of players are the resistance. Both boards play differently. The future is about resources, whereas the past focuses on characters and missions. Successes in the past eliminate things in the future. That's a great hook for a board game, and Terminator should make it to production unless something terrible happens during development.

That's it for the games. Again, we're not seeing much movement in the science-fiction space, but at least we get Horizon next week.

In a Reddit AMA, director Gore Verbinski talked about his plans for the cancelled BioShock film. This universe is a great choice for the silver screen, but I don't think the story would work as well in a condensed, non-interactive form. The journey develops in meaningful ways over time, and having a direct hand in dictating those events is what the big plot twist is all about. Yes, it would still resonate in a way, but I don't think it would be as powerful. Verbinski came close to getting Bioshock off of the ground. Closer than I thought. Here's what he had to say:

“It’s an R-rated movie. I wanted to keep it R rated, I felt like that
would be appropriate, and it’s an expensive movie. It’s a massive world
we’re creating and it’s not a world we can simply go to locations to
shoot… We’d be building an entire underworld universe. So I think the
combination of the price tag and the rating, Universal just didn’t feel
comfortable ultimately. At that time also there were some R rated,
expensive R rated movies that were not working. I think things have changed and maybe there will be another chance, but
it’s very difficult when you’re eight weeks away from shooting a movie
you really can see in your head and you’ve almost filmed the entire
thing, so emotionally you’re right at that transition from architect to
becoming a contractor and that will be a difficult place to get back
to.”

One film that looked like it might run into development hell, but has recently started production is Shane Black's The Predator. Filming began in earnest yesterday, and Black celebrated the event with an image of part of the cast. For a gritty film like The Predator, launching with smiles and vibrant lighting is a little weird. It almost looks like a cosplay shoot at a convention. Crossing my fingers for this one, but I'm already seeing that kid as narrative trouble.

Finally, if you were one of the people who said negative things about the first trailer for the Power Rangers reboot (I saw your tweets), you'll love what you see from the second trailer. The camp is back in a big way, and it looks like the film delivers awesome, large-scale CGI battles. I also like what I'm seeing of Elizabeth Banks and Bryan Cranston's characters. This is a day-one film for me. Where do you stand on it now?

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Science-Fiction Weekly – The TV Shows You Should Watch, Divide, Guardians Of The Galaxy

Friends often ask me if they should watch Doctor Who. I believe it's one of the most heartfelt, whimsical, and interesting shows on television today, but I can't in good conscience recommend it to most of the people I know. Why? I don't see an easy entry point. I don't think you need to go back the series' inception in 1963 – even I can't get into those episodes – but to understand what makes this show great, you have to start with the 2005 season, starring Christopher Eccleston as the ninth Doctor. He's the least charismatic of the recent Doctors, but the events that unfold around him carry on into future seasons. To put it a better way, you want to watch the Russell T. Davies era of Doctor Who. He's the showrunner, writer, and director who gave this series new legs. Watching over a decade worth of Doctor Who to "get it" is overkill, and something few people will do, but that's the completionish approach.

The alternative is starting with Matt Smith's run in 2010. This means you'll miss the greatest Doctor Who era (with David Tennant as the Doctor), but Smith's first season is another solid entry point, as it almost feels like a reboot. If you want to see David Tennant's run from 2006-2010, I recommend starting with that Eccleston season first. He was only the Doctor for one year, but his story sets the table for Tennant's reign.

If not Doctor Who, what science-fiction shows do I recommend to my friends? I have a handful that I divide up into levels of nerdom. The least nerdy and easiest to follow is Netflix's Stranger Things. The characters are front and center more than the experiments, science, and, well, strange things. The binge-worthy show is set in 1983 and focuses mostly on the disappearance of an 11-year-old boy. The mystery of what is happening at any given time is a driving force for this show. The second season begins on Halloween, so you have plenty of time to catch up. If you were living under a rock during the Super Bowl on Sunday, here's the teaser trailer for season two!

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Sticking on the Netflix theme, I also recommend Travelers, a new show about time-travelers who journey back to the 21st century to save the planet. Their version of Earth in the future is mostly destroyed. They return to the past by entering the body of a human who is seconds away from death. Since that person would technically no longer exist, they aren't altering the timeline too much. Travelers is another show that tells a great science-fiction mystery by focusing intently on each character. The modern-day content is just as engaging as the sci-fi angles.

If a big mystery is the hook you are looking for, HBO's Westworld is one of the best shows on television. The first season doesn't dawdle in ambiguity for long. It delivers just as many answers as it does new mysteries to unravel. This is another easy show to jump into, as the first season just concluded, and it tries to root itself in reality as much as possible. The sci-fi themes are heady, yet are communicated clearly enough that anyone should understand what is happening.

If you are in the market for something a little different, Syfy's The Expanse is a must-watch show. Set roughly 200 years from now, mankind has taken to the stars and populated our solar system. Shocker: We haven't learned much about empathy in the time that has passed. A great social divide still exists, and people are fighting for survival. The show is mostly seen from three radically different perspectives; one focused on a noir-like detective, another on a political advisor, and one following an unlikely starship captain. The Expanse is beautifully shot and hasn't slowed in the slightest on delivering intrigue.

Syfy has another little hit on its hands in Killjoys, a pulpy show about bounty hunters living on the fringe. I'd only go into this show if you have an appreciation for shows like Farscape or Stargate, as the tone often fluctuates between serious themes and camp. Other shows I enjoy are Continuum and Orphan Black, but both have hit rough spots later in their runs. I hope these picks help you find something fun to watch right now. If you dive into one, let me know what you think of it in the comments section below.

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Next to Mass Effect Andromeda, the most exciting development in science fiction right now is Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. The  Super Bowl trailer is fantastic, and highlights new recruits for this ragtag crew. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 opens in theaters on May 5.

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Don't expect to be playing anything exciting this week. The only notable science-fiction game is Divide, a top-down adventure that focuses more on exploring offices designed like rat mazes than anything else. Divide gets off to a strong start with meaningful character development between your character David and his daughter, but quickly loses its story hooks in favor of exploration.

After learning of an experiment his wife was working on, David becomes a stranger in a strange land, trapped in a different reality. Rather than figuring out what this world is, David is quickly tasked to hack computer terminals over and over again. The complex he inhabits is confusing in design. Getting lost is easy. Figuring out what to do next is mostly trial and error given the lack of clarity in the mission and map systems. I wanted to see David reunite with this daughter, but I grew bored of the simplistic gameplay, which sees the player walking from terminal to terminal and door to door. Combat is a part of the equation, but in the early stages of the game, running past enemies is the easiest solution, as their A.I. cannot pinpoint you quick enough. The combat itself doesn't offer anything you are missing. Just point your gun at an enemy and fire.

The science-fiction world in Divide is fascinating. David uses augmented-reality contact lenses to reveal hidden information in his environment. A glistening glass city can be seen on the horizon. Storms prevent you from getting there. This is a rich world that we sadly don't learn enough about in the opening acts. The visuals and score set the tone perfectly, but again, the entertainment isn't there to back them up. I'm only three hours into the game, but it doesn't seem like it's going to evolve at this point. I just keep interacting with computers to unlock more doors, and more of the office complex. Bummer. I really wanted to see where this story went. If you are still intrigued by Divide, check out the trailer below.

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That's it for this week's column, everyone. Thanks again for supporting this silly little editorial. I can't stress that enough. See you in seven days!

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

Science-Fiction Weekly – Pacific Rim, Godzilla Vs. Kong, The Assembly, Dreadnought

A VR experience that launched last summer is now headset free and currently available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. I'm talking about nDreams' The Assembly, a first-person search for answers seen through the eyes of two different characters on diverging paths through a secret science lab. The organization they are investigating is called the Assembly, and their experiments may have gone too far. The gameplay is slow, leaning heavily on drawer opening and computer searching for files and information, but the narrative rolls along nicely, and develops  in interesting ways as more of the lab is exposed. The game also throws simplistic grid-based puzzles at the player, which don't gel well with the setting and are disruptive to the narrative flow, but are relatively enjoyable challenges.

Don't expect The Assembly to blow your socks off, but I'm a big fan of stories that dive into experiments gone awry, and I had a good time seeing this mystery unfold. The weird thing: this version doesn't fully abandon its VR roots, meaning you can still warp through the environment as a means of movement if you want. If you have PlayStation VR, you can experience the PlayStation 4 version both ways.

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From the onslaught of emails you delivered for Yager's upcoming multiplayer title Dreadnought, I lined up another exclusive first look at a ship. Today we are looking at a Hero Ship named The Tonder. Here's Yager's breakdown the vessels lore, vitals, and functionality:

The Tonder

Manufacturer: Jupiter Arms
Class: Light Tactical Cruiser
Tier: IV
Length: 251m
Mass: 111,000t
Crew: 215
Shield Type: Damage Reduction

Info:
The Tonder was the flagship of PCF Captain Keiko Lee and a capital ship in the renowned raid on the Transhuman Battleship Hangars on the Martian Trojans, a turning point in the Great Solar War. It is speculated that the battleships equipped with prototype wormhole warp drive modules were not destroyed during the raid as per Captain Lee's orders, but instead were looted and sold to the highest bidder on the black market.
 
Gameplay:
Different to most other Tactical Cruisers, the Tonder is geared towards aggressive frontline combat. It is able to support itself with surge drones and dish out a surprising amount of damage to nearby enemy ships. Using the blast pulse combined with the Overclock Module can make the space around the Tonder a very unfriendly zone for any hostile that dares getting close to the Tonder.

Weapons & Modules
Primary Weapon: Heavy Beam Turrets
The JA-N120-Blight can deal significant damage to enemies at long ranges, but cannot be used for repairs. The Blight was a result of Jupiter Arms’ failed attempt to develop their own nano-repair technology. Instead, they engineered the first beam weapon on the market.

Secondary Weapon: Tesla Turrets
All that we know about this unreleased weapon comes from scraps of megacorp marketing literature: "The Vajra-TT400 turret deals high damage against targets at extremely close ranges."

Primary Module: Surge Drones
A module that deploys a drone which replenishes the energy of the launching ship and its nearby allies.Adapted from Oberon’s REV-2 Repair Beam, the REV-9C Surge Drones are designed to follow the vessel that launches them, while also regenerating its energy.

Secondary Module: Wasp Missiles
(classified)

Perimeter Module: Blast Pulse
The module fires an explosive pulse that deals massive damage to ships within its radius. This design variant is completely overclocked and sacrifices safety for power—part of the pulse will get absorbed by and affect the vessel that deploys it. Given the amount of damage the Blast Pulse can do to surrounding ships, many captains believe that using this module is a risk worth taking.

Internal Module: Overclock Module
This module drastically reduces module cooldowns. A modification of the Overclock Pulse Generator, it affects only the ship it is equipped on. The unorthodox use of ultra-ferrafluid pushes the Overclock Module beyond the performance of the  previous model. The significant reduction of module cooldown time not only allows captains to use modules more frequently, but also creates many strategic possibilities for the versatile Tactical Cruiser class of ships.

Now we just need Yager to deliver a release date. Dreadnought can't come soon enough, although Overwatch's seasonal events continue to steal away my nights (and a new one is upon us today).

Neither G.I. Joe live-action film was particularly good, but they did deliver on over-the-top action. Will we see a third entry? Paramount wants to make one, but the date keeps getting pushed back. The ideas are also changing. One of the wildest ones comes from director D.J. Caruso, telling Collider that the next film was almost a crossover between the G.I. Joe and Transformers. “They’re not ready to do [G.I. Joe meets Transformers]
yet," he said. "That’s exactly what they should do, but they’re not ready to do that
because the script I was developing, the two worlds sort
of collided at the end, and when they read it, they were like, ‘We’re not
ready to do this yet.’ They will eventually collide – those two worlds –
and it’s probably when [Michael] Bay decides he’s done with Transformers.”

This crossover battle has already happened in comic books numerous times, and is one of the most exciting developments I've heard for both both film franchises. Perhaps the most exciting part of it is hearing someone say "Bay" and "done" in the same statement, but I do like the idea of the Decepticons teaming up with C.O.B.R.A.

One crossover that received the green light and an official name is Godzilla vs. Kong, and it's coming sooner than you would think, currently slated for a May 29, 2020 release. This showdown comes on the heels of two standalone films: Kong: Skull Island, hitting cinemas on March 10, 2017, and Godzilla: King of Monsters on March 22, 2019. Don't stop, Warner Bros. Monster movies are always welcome, you just need decent scripts to make them fun.

John Boyega hasn't held back from talking about his involvement in Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim: Uprising, and shared a photo on Instagram that shows the potential return of the Jaeger Gipsy Danger. I didn't expect to see any Jaeger return, but ask yourselves this: Why would this powerful weapon be decommissioned after winning a war? The return makes sense, even if the pilots are different. Pacific Rim: Uprising opens in theaters on February 23, 2018.

That's it for this week, folks. As always, all feedback is welcome, so please share your insight in the comments section below.

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

Science-Fiction Weekly – Dead Effect 2, Exclusive Look At New Dreadnought Ships

If you consider yourself a big mobile gamer, you may be familiar with the name Dead Effect. According to the series' developer, Bad Fly Interactive, Dead Effect 2 has been downloaded over seven million times on mobile devices since its launch on October 28, 2015. Don't worry, I had no clue this series existed either, which is unfortunate since I'm loving the hell out of the Xbox One port. The game hit Xbox Live and PlayStation Network last week, and I think it's worth a look, but not for typical reasons.

Don't read too much into Dead Effect 2's name; it isn't an amalgamation of Mass Effect and Dead Space. Bad Fly has paved its own path into the science-fiction world with a zombie-killing experience that embraces camp to a degree we rarely see. As much as Dead Effect 2 tries to deliver intense run-and-gun action, the real fun comes from the hilarious spoken dialogue. The type of humor that is deployed is hard to read, but that's part of what makes it fun. I honestly don't know if this game is supposed to be comedic or not. Did Bad Fly try to make cool characters
and missed the mark entirely? Or do they have masterful command of all things cheese? No matter what the intended result was, if you love watching low-budget Syfy movies,
this game is fired from the same Ion Cannon.

That's not to say the gameplay isn't fun. It's a little sloppy control-wise, and the A.I. loves running into bullet showers, but the gunplay feels nice and the action rarely has a lull in it, delivering nicely in enemy variety and making each conflict feel like a real fight.

Don't expect much from the story, however. Yes, it's technically science-fiction, but outside of the outer-space setting (on the Spaceship ESS Meridian), and a lab experiment gone awry, killing is the name of the game. The tight corridors don't offer much in terms of maneuverability, but swinging swords or using high-powered weapons to down zombie dogs and brain-eating astronauts is oddly satisfying. I'm four hours into the adventure, and it's holding my interest nicely. Along with the humor, the game offers a surprising amount of depth in its weapons (of which there are over 300), as well as the various upgrade systems. Implants deliver combat boosts like strength bonuses, improved accuracy (through new eyes), and other things that can enhance your potential. The player also levels up, and points can be exchanged for new class-based abilities. If you choose a melee character like I did, you can equip one special such as a ground slam or the ability to pull or throw enemies. Points can alternatively be used to activate 14 special abilities, as well as general or weapon abilities. Like I said, it has depth, but camp remains the star.

I haven't said "Xbox record that" this much while playing a game before. I couldn't believe the ridiculous stuff my character was saying, and the people around him are just as silly and hard to believe. Here's how a typical conversation unfolds in Dead Effect 2:

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And I know you want to see more of Minikin, so here he is in action:

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Finally, take a look at a boss fight. I have no idea why he explodes at the end, but I approve. Why not make him explode is the real question here.

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That's Dead Effect 2. If you enjoy watching Game Informer's Super Replay series, I have a feeling you enjoyed the clips I shared and want to see more. The entire game is filled with content just like this. It's currently retailing for $ 20 on Steam, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

Now let's talk about Dreadnought. I raved about piloting a capital-class ship in this game a few weeks ago, and now we're getting an intimate look at several new vessels, along with "Hero Ships" that should be available when the game launches later this year. Hero Ships are uniquely designed, giving players instant access to high-end weapons and modules. The catch: These beefed-up alternatives are micro-transactions. As developer Yager points out, "While Hero Ships don't give you an outright advantage in battle, they do offer more specialized options."

Yager provided Science-Fiction Weekly an exclusive look at six vessels. The first three fall into the Dreadnought-class designed by Jupiter Arms, a manufacturer of weapons and defense systems. As Yager points out, "[Jupiter Arms'] employees live and work
in pursuit of a common purpose: to build the best, most efficiently
destructive tech in the Solar System."

Jutland
Tier IV
Length: 591m
Mass: 2,570,000t
Crew: 2,600

The Jutland was taken to the frontlines of all post-War raider skirmishes in the Jovian system, crushing its enemies with its heavy-caliber guns. Commissioned by Jupiter Arms' Shiphead Machia, the Jutland is one of the biggest, slowest and sturdiest ships in the Jupiter Arms fleet and it is still a mystery how it the well-guarded monster ship ended up on Sinley Bay.


Monarch
Tier V
Length:
664m
Mass: 3,590,000t
Crew: 2,700

The Monarch is a true behemoth. Solid and armed to the teeth with Heavy Ballistic Cannons, its close-range power is second to none. While the Monarch packs guns that can decimate the sides of any vessel, it is the slowest, least-agile ship in the Solar System.
This gargantuan Dreadnought was originally captained by Shiphead Rout as the flagship of Jupiter Arms’ fleet. Its strength and durability have since been pushed to unrivaled levels.


Trident (Hero Ship)
Tier IV
Length:
692m
Mass: 4,276,800t
Crew: 2,400
This Monarch-class Dreadnought is a weapon of vengeance. Commanded by Captain Melville Blanco under the banner of the Pan-Colonial Fleet, this flagship represents its captain’s crushing defeat at the hands of a Transhuman Dreadnought—and obsessive pursuit of retribution.

The final three ships are tactical cruisers from Akula Vektor, which Yager describes as a "combination of two megacorps: Akula, a defense
manufacturer, and Vektor, a producer of anti-gravity systems and other
civil tech. Its members are unsophisticated, no-nonsense realists, but
their ultimate goal is steadfastly optimistic: to create a battleship
that is incapable of being destroyed."


Koschei
Tier IV
Length:
270m
Mass: 384,920t
Crew: 280

Legend has it that the audacious Ambassador Spinoza Dek always flew the Koschei right to the front of skirmishes, although the traditional position of a Tac Cruiser is at the back. As a tribute to Captain Dek's hubris, this ship was converted into an ironclad tactical cruiser right at home on the frontlines.


Okhta
Tier V
Length:
303m
Mass: 428,800t
Crew: 350

The slow, thick-armored Ohkta is designed to do two things: heal allies, and soak up damage like a tank. Its healing-only primary weapon makes it perfect for repairing teammates from a safe, defensive position.

The Ohkta was commissioned by Akula’s Director of Ethical Hacking, General Reid Guth, who sought to create “the queen of all support vessels.” After Guth defected to Sinley Bay, he pushed it far beyond its original specs.


Kali (Hero Ship)
Tier IV
Length:
318m
Mass: 490,100t
Crew: 540

The Kali is the Flagship of Commodore Rajesh, head of security at Akula’s refinery moon Phoebe. Rajesh is notorious for his cruelty and the crews in his fleet are famous for their efficiency. The Kali is a legend amongst mercenaries who have attempted to attack Phoebe and survived – they tell tales of a seemingly indestructible fleet, made almost invulnerable by the Kali's unstoppable support prowess.

Out of these six ships, the I'm looking forward to flying the Trident the most. That's a nice looking ship, and it's called a "weapon of vengeance." You can't really top that.

That's it for this week's Science-Fiction Weekly. I can think of no better way to end this column than with more Minikin. Enjoy!

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Science-Fiction Weekly – Star Wars: Episode VIII, Rebels, Thor: Ragnarok

This week's editorial is starting on a strange note, but I feel it's something we all need to discuss. I'm beginning to think movie director Zack Snyder has homed in on my childhood and wants to destroy everything that I loved. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is one of the worst movies I have ever watched. I'm not exaggerating here. I struggled to get through it, and wondered how a film could miss the mark by such a wide degree, especially given we're in the golden age of awesome superhero films. Warner Bros. recently released an image from Snyder's forthcoming Justice League film, and it looks great from this pulled-out angle.

Seeing all of these characters together in a big-budget film is
something I never thought would happen (anything with Aquaman is a long shot, after all). Now let's see what happens when we zoom in on The Flash…

WHAT. THE. F—… Seriously, what in the blazes is going on with this costume design? Are those wires all over his body? It looks like a pile of random parts I'd expect to see at Watto's junkyard. We often joke about video game characters being overly designed with trinkets and scars all over their bodies, but this is just madness. Stop, Zack. Please for the love of all that is nerdy, stop!

Why not update this costume? I still think it looks great.

Or better yet, bring this character (actor, costume, lore, and all) over to the cinematic universe. The CW is doing great things with the DC properties. Tying the two universes together would have been a great way to get the films back on track. Arrow and The Flash are both excellent shows (disclaimer: I haven't watched Supergirl or Legends of Tomorrow yet).

Now let's talk about something that is actually doing well. Star Wars Rebels continues to improve with each passing season, and the latest trailer makes the second part of season three look ridiculously awesome. I won't ruin the surprises for you, but I'm guessing an episode that shows what the Rebels characters were doing during the events of Rogue One and A New Hope isn't too far off. I hope the show goes there, and doesn't end right before either movie. Seeing the Ghost and Chopper in Rogue One makes me think the timelines will intersect. If not, revealing some of the characters are alive and well is a huge spoiler for the end of the series. Check out the trailer below, but avoid viewing it if you aren't caught up on the most recent episodes. Spoilers abound.

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And if you enjoyed that, Lucasfilm released a small clip from from the next episode titled Warhead. I always love seeing new droid types, and this episode looks like it focuses intently on introducing a new robotic being into the Star Wars universe.

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If you were one of the people who wasn't bothered by Rogue One not having an opening text crawl, how do you explain Episode VIII getting one? Lucasfilm hasn't said the movie will have it yet, but has said before that the opening crawl is for the numbered entries in the series. Episode VIII's director, Rian Johnson, confirmed with USA Today that Rey and Luke's confrontation at the end of The Force Awakens would be the beginning point of his film. "I don’t want to skip ahead two years. I want to see the very next moment of what happens," Johnson said. He also pointed out the obvious; the film will focus intently on Rey learning the ways of the Force. So that begs the question: Will the opening text be a recap of The Force Awakens? Will it shed light on different developments occurring at the same time? Or will it simply say "Luke stared intently at Rey…."

The final bit of news I have for you is for Thor: Rangarok, which opens in theaters on November 3. I know we're all eagerly anticipating the release of a trailer (likely attached to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2), but Marvel did give us something just as good: a plot synopsis to ponder. It confirms Hulk is in the film, but in a way you likely wouldn't expect. Here's the plot outline from Marvel:

"Thor is imprisoned on the other side of the universe without his
mighty hammer and finds himself in a race against time to get back to
Asgard to stop Ragnarok – the destruction of his homeworld and the end
of Asgardian civilization – at the hands of an all-powerful new threat,
the ruthless Hela. But first he must survive a deadly gladiatorial
contest that pits him against his former ally and fellow Avenger – the
Incredible Hulk!”

It sounds like Marvel is combining the comic series for Ragnarok and Planet Hulk into one film. That sounds like a bit of a mess, but a fun one that puts war and combat front and center.

Let me know what you think of the news from this week's column. I have an exclusive look at new content from Dreadnought in line for next week's editorial. I'm also hoping to see a few new science-fiction titles during Nintendo's Switch event on Thursday. See you in seven days.

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

Science-Fiction Weekly – Rogue One Changes, Darth Vader, Power Rangers: Mega Battle

My holiday break consisted mostly of game playing and friends asking me if I wanted to go see Rogue One: A Star Wars Story again. I ended up seeing it a second time and was able to study it more, resulting in a greater appreciation of the little details that director Gareth Edwards put into the film. It's a hell of a ride, especially the final act where it all hits the fan. A few things still bugged me, like Lucasfilm shying away from including an opening crawl of text. I know it's a silly, little thing to get hung up on, but every Star Wars game has it, and it just seems like a Star Wars necessity. In an interview with Empire, Edwards also voiced frustration in not getting to tack one on the beginning of his film.

"The first screenplay that Gary Whitta wrote had a crawl in it – and you
learn doing that that ‘a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away’
has four dots in it, not three," he said. "You get extra marks for that. And then
at some point, probably like six months before we were filming, we were
in a meeting, and they talked about not having an opening crawl, because
these are standalone films, not part of the sagas. And if I’m honest,
there was an initial kind of like, “Whaaaa? I want the crawl!” The
opening sequence is kind of the crawl of our movie. It’s like the setup.
And our film is also born out of a crawl – the reason we exist is
because of a previous crawl, so it feels like this infinite loop that
will never end. It’s a small thing to give up to get to do Star Wars."

Edwards also said different cuts of the film have the classic transitional wipes that George Lucas used, but they decided not to use them because "the film is supposed to be different." The Darth Vader bacta tank sequence was inspired by a a Björk music video for the song "All is Full of Love." They wanted to show him in a milky substance to humanize him. " He’s really a burns victim, and it’s not going to be fun for him when
he’s not in the suit – he’s going to be uncomfortable," Edwards said. "I love the idea
of showing that he’s vulnerable as well. Vader’s very, very bad, and so
you try and just glimpse something of him that gives him some humanity,
or it makes you empathize with him."

Saw Gerrera is one of Rogue One's most interesting characters, and you'll be able to learn more about him through an upcoming episode of Star Wars Rebels. He originated in The Clone Wars cartoon, and we saw him late in life in Rogue One, but now we'll see how he formed a tie with the Rebellion. The trailer below gives you a little taste of what we can expect from this slightly younger version of him.

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The always reliable Stupendous Wave has more details about Vader's Sith castle that debuted in Rogue One. We knew Ralph McQuarrie dreamed up a home base for Vader for use in The Empire Strikes Back, but it never made it into the film. Lucas then drew inspiration from that image for Revenge of the Sith's finale. Edwards again referenced this image for Rogue One, but as the video shows, it was constructed on Mustafar, not only as a disturbing reminder for Anakin, but also for its connections to an ancient Sith secret. His castle is built over a Sith cave, and this location could be a place Jedi are brought to be tortured and killed.

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In other Star Wars rumblings, Episode VIII's director, Rian Johnson, took to Twitter to support Lucas' prequel movies, which you can see below. I haven't looked at them as kids movies, per se, and don't really buy that idea given how dark Anakin Skywalker's story gets (hell, Revenge of the Sith was even the first Star Wars film to earn a PG-13 rating). It's an interesting topic to explore, though. The films were different in tone than the original trilogy, and Jar Jar Binks was clearly created to win over kids, not adults. I'll turn the question over to you: What do you think of the prequels as films for kids?

 

In a strange bit of Star Wars news, a young version of George Lucas will appear in a forthcoming episode of the DC's Legends of Tomorrow. The story explores a different version of reality where Lucas quits film school and doesn't make Star Wars. That decision greatly affects the future. Legends of Tomorrow's executive producer Marc Guggenheim jokingly voiced his concern about this story to Entertainment Weekly. "It's going to be the episode where we’ll say that the show found a new
gear in terms of how zany it can be, or it’s the episode that’s going
to get us all fired,” he said. Lucas won't appear in the episode, and is instead portrayed by actor Matt Angel.

On the video game front, we're just two weeks away from one video game I can't wait to play: Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: Mega-Battle, a new side-scrolling brawler from Bandai Namco. We're due for a great brawler, and I hope this is it. I'm worried how little Bandai has promoted the game, but the trailer makes it look like a good, ol' throwback to the TMNT arcade games. Let's cross our fingers and hope this turns out to be a fun four-player cooperative game.

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That's it for this week, folks. In seven days I'll have a meatier post, including a review of the side-scrolling shooter Steel Rain X, which you'll want to hear about. See you then!

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Science-Fiction Weekly – Looking Ahead To 2017

Many of you are likely playing the living hell out of new games obtained over the holidays, or are trying to chip away at the towering backlog that grows taller each year. After looking at what's on the horizon for 2017, my advice is to stay up a little longer each night to play more. The year ahead is looking great for science-fiction enthusiasts.

The fun (hopefully) begins in February with the releases of Halo Wars 2 (February 21) and Horizon Zero Dawn (February 28). The video game industry is in desperate need of new intellectual properties, and Horizon Zero Dawn is easily the most exciting one slated for next year. The concept of hunting robotic dinosaurs with primitive weapons is enough to make Horizon a day-one purchase for me, but intrigue also stems from how little we know about this game's story and world. The latest Horizon trailer teases a mystery deep beneath the planet's surface. I don't know much about what is happening in the forests and cities, and now Guerilla is teasing an underground? Kick ass. I'm glad that we're getting another Red Dead Redemption, but I'm more excited for Horizon, just because it's a new series and experience.

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Halo Wars 2 is a sequel that I never expected to see, but I'm glad it's coming, because, again, it delivers a different type of experience. In other words, it isn't another first-person shooter. Don't get me wrong, I had a blast with Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Gears of War 4, and Titanfall 2, but holy hell, the back-half of 2016 was dominated by shooters. Throw in Battlefield 1, and my need to play more Overwatch (which is technically a science-fiction game, and the topic of a future column) and I felt like I always had a gun in my hand this year. All of these games succeed in different ways, but they still hit that same note of shoot, shoot, shoot. Again, we need more variety in our triple-A games. Rant over. Before you write off Halo Wars 2 as "just another RTS," take a look at the trailer below. It looks like story will play a big role in it. Looks promising.

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March 7 brings a bit of a sci-fi curveball in Nier Automata. I haven't covered this action/RPG in this column before, and, well, I should have put it on your radar months ago. For whatever reason, my brain views this franchise as fantasy (perhaps from its ties to the Drakengard games), but make no mistake, it's as sci fi as sci fi gets. The focus is on a war between man and machine, with far-fetched technologies, robots, and aliens making up most of the world. I enjoyed Nier's combat quite a bit, but grew disenchanted with the journey, which was often sidelined by meaningless quests. If new developer Platinum Games (which replaces Cavia) can strengthen this element of the game, and deliver combat that is just as frantic and fun, this could be a nice surprise for PlayStation 4 and PC players this spring.

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I know many of you aren't investing in virtual reality yet, but one of the of most promising examples of this technology arrives on March 14 with Star Trek: Bridge Crew. Let me temper that enthusiasm a bit: I only played through one of the game's missions, but I thought it did a remarkable job of replicating the Star Trek experience, making each player feel like a vital part of the Star Trek crew. It also showed that VR can be a great cooperative experience. If the full campaign is as fun as the demo I played, expect to hear me talk about this one in the future, not just from a review or impressions standpoint, but out of the need to recruit some of you for my starship. If that sound fun to you, come back here on March 14 for my thoughts on the final version of the game (and to join me in playing it).

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Since the video game industry does a terrible job of setting release dates and informing people when games are coming, no other science-fiction video games are locked in to specific months or days yet, but we do know that Ultra Ultra's Echo is coming "spring 2017." Slated for release on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, Echo is a stealth game that looks absolutely wild. Players suit up as En, a character who just woke up from a century of cryo sleep in a palace that is as alive as she is. The palace, also known as Echo, studies En, learns from her, and tries to destroy her with her own tactics and observations. In fact, many of the enemies are exact copies of En. The way you control En shapes the enemy A.I. Echo looks to be this year's The Turing Test. The gameplay looks familiar, but the setup is unique.

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What comes next in 2017 is anyone's guess. I'm hoping Detroit: Become Human hits this year. I know Beyond: Two Souls was a big swing and miss, but I like what David Cage and Quantic Dream are trying to achieve in their games. Heavy Rain was fantastic, and Detroit's choice-driven gameplay reminds me of that title. Sony hasn't said much about Detroit lately (and it was a no-show at PlayStation Experience), so that may mean it's further out than I hope. Time will tell.

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Farpoint, Tacoma, Prey, System Shock, and a handful of other exciting titles are on the way next year, but the spotlight is mostly on Mass Effect Andromeda. I've said Mass Effect is one of gaming's most important series, and I hope Andromeda kicks it into hyperdrive again. I'm glad BioWare took a break with the series. Enough time has gone by that I'm itching to suit up again. Hell, even the return of the Mako has me excited.

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Which 2017 release are you most looking forward to? What unannounced games are you hoping for?

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Science-Fiction Weekly – Ranking The Star Wars Films

My original plan for this week’s column was to review Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, but I decided to shift gears after a number of people on social media asked me where I thought this new prequel ranked among the other Star Wars movies. There are technically 12 Star Wars films to consider for this list, but if we throw out the garbage (the Holiday Special and Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure), stick to the live-action format (which knocks The Clone Wars off), and remove The Battle for Endor since it was only on television (but was decent), that leaves us with eight solid entries. Don’t roll your eyes – I said “solid” not “good.”

Before I dive into the ranking that you are about to tear to shreds, I want to point out that I appreciate elements of each of these films. They all strengthen the core Star Wars story in their own unique ways. The Phantom Menace is a movie most people mock for Jar Jar Binks, but without it we wouldn’t have gotten Darth Maul or that awesome scene where Qui-Gon Jinn melts a metal door with his lightsaber. Return of the Jedi delivers one of the coolest space battles in all of cinema, but also a fight in which the Empire is trounced (handily even) by tiny bears.

Additionally, film technology evolves at a rapid rate, and each Star Wars film embraces it for good and bad. Rogue One’s visual effects are top tier, with the exception of a couple of CGi characters who may look worse than anything in Attack of the Clones (let’s debate this in a future column).

All of these things come into play in my ranking, but I’m mostly weighing my picks on the impact they had on me, both when I originally viewed them and today. As always, I appreciate your feedback in the comments section below, but above all else, would love to see your ranking of the films. Without further delay, on to the list…

8. Episode II: Attack of the Clones

While establishing the foundation and tone of the excellent Clone Wars animated series, Attack of the Clones is a mess of a story, struggling mightily to tie a large-scale, green-screen war to a chemistry-free love story. George Lucas has a knack for strong beginnings, and Attack of the Clones is no different with its excellent (and clever) assassination attempt on Queen Amidala via space centipedes. The film quickly unravels from here, but does give us a great look at Coruscant in the process. The sequences that follow are shockingly bad: a bug army, Jedi looking foolish while battling the bug army, Amidala starring in a platforming game, C-3PO losing his head, "I don't like sand. It's coarse and rough and irritating and it gets
everywhere," and floating fruit. Oh god. Make it stop! The bombardment of awful is constant, but there is some good stuff amid the blasts. Jango Fett, Count Dooku (terrible name, great character), Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi's playful chemistry, senator Palpatine, every second on Kamino, and less Jar Jar Binks. Attack of the Clones is easily the worst Star Wars film, but there's still a wealth of great content for fans to appreciate.

7. Episode I: The Phantom Menace

I don't think there's much debating Star Wars' lowest point: Jar Jar Binks. This wacky abomination of CGi completely derails the story when he is introduced. Would the film have been better without him? Absolutely, but the narrative would still suffer from odd logic. Journeying through the center of the planet to reach Queen Amidala's palace makes little sense, and Lucas ended up putting too much emphasis on a kid being able to do amazing things. The podracing bit was cool character building for Anakin (which would be infinitely better without the announcers), but watching him win the space battle was cringe worthy. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon Jinn were fantastic, as were Darth Maul and Palpatine. The Phantom Menace is a rocky ride through a fascinating (and beautiful) new era of the Star Wars universe. Lucas had the right idea; the story just got away from him.

6. Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

I went into this film expecting Darth Vader to be the best part, but he ended up being the worst. It was the "Nooooooo" heard around the world, and it was terrible. Outside of this one moment, and that often horrible prequel CGi, Revenge of the Sith is a respectable Star Wars film. I'll even get the hyperbole train rolling by saying Order 66 is one of Lucas' biggest successes as a director. That particular sequence is beautifully shot, and the story it tells is as dark as Star Wars gets. Palpatine's seduction of Anakin to the Dark Side is also disturbingly good. The big payoff of Anakin versus Obi-Wan is exciting and captured nicely in a few moments, but sadly suffers from a need to focus on the environment for goofy action. The film ended the way it needed to, with great, little moments showing the Skywalker twins and Anakin transforming into Vader. On a different day, I may say Revenge of the Sith should be in the five spot instead of Return of the Jedi, but not today. Gasp all you want, but these films are neck and neck, in my opinion. Here's why…

5. Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

The picture above brings back a flood of awesome memories from Return of the Jedi. Luke, Vader, and the Emperor are electrifying. I didn't want those scenes to end, but they did, and Lucas and company knocked them out of the park. I couldn't think of a better way to conclude this saga. The redemption of Vader is beautifully told, unlike the rest of the film. Yes, I love the visualization of Jabba's Palace and Endor as a battleground, but even as a little lad, I had issues with the events at hand. The Rebels send their top brass into Jabba's Palace one by one to save Han Solo…really? Why not send a trained assassin instead of Leia? As much as I love the idea of Ewoks eating humans for lunch, they took the punch out of the final battle. The Empire looked silly going against them. It was almost like two movies were playing at once; a dark story on the Death Star, and a goofy one on the moon. People say Lucas lost his touch of Star Wars with the prequels, but I think it started in Return.

4. Episode VII: The Force Awakens

I loved The Force Awakens. Loooooved it. Sure, we can criticize it for having a similar story arc to A New Hope. J. J. Abrams went too far with the love-letter approach. Most of the content that doesn't fall under that umbrella is new, exciting, and damn good. Rey, Finn, Poe…what an ensemble! Each brings something different to Star Wars. I'm also a huge fan of Kylo Ren and Snoke. They specialize in a different kind of evil, and I can't wait to see where it goes. The Force Awakens is a film I periodically reflect on, mostly because it brings mystery back to Star Wars. Who are Rey's parents? What is Snoke up to? Why did Luke leave? Even side characters like Maz Kanata are brimming with intrigue. Remove the Starkiller Base angle, and that feeling of "I've been here before" would largely be gone.

3. Episode ?: Rogue One

I know, I'm just as surprised as you are. When I first heard Lucasfilm was making a prequel movie about the Rebels who stole the Death Star plans, I thought it was a terrible idea. Although the story ends exactly how we all expected it would, director Gareth Edwards turns it into an enthralling and action-packed affair. The battle scenes are intense, dark, and exactly what I wanted to see as a huge Star Wars fan. Lose the camp. Make the battles have impact, just like the Battle of Hoth. Edwards nailed this tone. Rogue One is a fine story on its own, with a wonderful cast of characters, but its biggest success is how it makes me appreciate A New Hope more. I also view that film differently now. Rogue One doesn't shy away from painting the Rebels as terrorists capable of evil acts. The only thing I would change: Pull the camera back from the CG characters. They looked like they belonged in Shrek more than Star Wars.



2. Episode IV: A New Hope

Should A New Hope be number one? I debate this question all of the time. When it comes to stories that embrace good-versus-evil or David-versus-Goliath tones, A New Hope is a towering success. You can't help but root for Luke and the Rebel Alliance. Within the first act, Lucas did a phenomenal job of establishing evil, and making it seem like all was lost. Our only hope was a farm boy, an old man, a princess, and a scoundrel and his wookiee friend. Vader emerged as the ultimate bad guy, using a mystical art with precision to kill his enemies and even his own people. The journey that unfolded was exciting and unique, and filled with suspense and unexpected surprises. It's the perfect film that somehow was bested by a film that wasn't quite as good.

1. Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

That's right, The Empire Strikes Back is worse than A New Hope, but is still the best Star Wars film to date. How is this possible? The storytelling evolved. What began as a tale of hope turned into a story of no hope. Lucas flipped the script on his heroes, but still managed to grow them as characters. Luke went off on his own to explore a gift from his father. Leia and Han began falling in love. The biggest change of all, Lucas humanized Darth Vader with one line of dialogue: "I am your father." The Empires Strikes Back kicked off with an exciting battle on Hoth, but slowed significantly to develop its characters. It wasn't as high octane or as much of a spectacle as its predecessor, but the decision to change the tone payed off handsomely, making The Empire Strikes Back a masterpiece, the kind of which we rarely see.

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Science-Fiction Weekly – Rogue One, Avatar, Star Trek Discovery, Guardians Of The Galaxy

Two days. That's all I have to wait until I return to my favorite universe. Two days until Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opens in theaters. A few of my friends attended the world premiere last weekend, and immediately texted me with praise for the film, going as far to say "you should be really REALLY excited." Film critics are not so bullish on it, delivering mixed reviews equating to an early 79 rating on Rotten Tomatoes. My friends, however, say that it will make me appreciate Star Wars: A New Hope more, and that I should pay close attention to the quieter moments for a couple of clever cameos and ties to other Star Wars stories. They say it's  a love letter to fans of the original trilogy. In previous columns and podcasts, I've voiced my concern over Disney turning Star Wars into an annual franchise. I know George Lucas dragged it through the mud with the prequels, but there's a chance Star Wars can be something special again. Yearly releases may be overkill. Then again, every Marvel film turns to gold, and I could see the same thing happening with Star Wars.

Rogue One is obviously the big talker this week. I would tread on the Internet cautiously, as spoilers will be everywhere. Yes, it sounds like there are some huge unexpected moments in this film, and it's more than just a story about how the rebels obtained the Death Star plans. If you want to know a little more about what to expect, but don't want anything big ruined for you, check out the two "making of" videos below, which give us a look at a location, the tone, as well as a new character I couldn't be more excited about.

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In terms of video game news, there isn't anything notable to report this week, other than Star Wars Battlefront's Rogue One: VR Mission, which you can play for free if you already own Battlefront and PlayStation VR. If you want to watch me live out a dream (and make a damn fool of myself), I play through the entire mission with Kyle Hilliard, who provides insight into the game, and perfectly timed nervous laughs as I geek out far too much. The mission is quite cool, and I hope it ends up being the proof of concept needed to get a full game off of the ground. We desperately need a new X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter game, and I think this experience could be it (both for VR and standard gaming).

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Star Trek, the other big science-fiction universe that isn't nearly as cool as Star Wars, is picking up steam. The forthcoming Star Trek Discovery television series is casting up a storm, including three actors signing on to play Klingons. Chris Obi will play a character named T'Kuvma, the Klingon leader. Mary Chieffo is going to be L'Rell, a battle deck commander for a Klingon vessel. Shazad Latif rounds out the casting as Kol, the commanding officer. These actors join Doug Jones, who plays a science officer named Saru, who is said to be a new alien in the Star Trek universe, and fellow science officer Staments, played by Anthony Rapp. Stamets is the first Star Trek character to be announced as gay. The lead actor in this show has not yet been announced, but we do know it will be the lientenant commander aboard the Discovery. That's right, the main perspective will not be from a captain. The first episode of Star Trek Discovery will air on CBS on May 17. The first season consists of 13 episodes.

James Cameron has said he wants to make a billion more Avatar movies, and although production on the first sequel has been underway for a while, we still haven't seen anything from it. That isn't stopping the world from wanting more, however. Disney's Animal Kingdom park will soon be getting a Pandora: The World of Avatar section, and Taipei, Taiwan just opened a new Avatar: Discover Pandora exhibit. You can watch the exhibit come to life in the video below, which even suggest that it will change the way you look at your own world. Oh boy. I enjoyed Avatar for what it was, but come on. It's not a life-changing thing. Not even close.

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Guardians of the Galaxy fans have plenty of reasos to rejoice. Not only is Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 on the way next year, Vin Diesel teased a potential third film. In an interview with Screen Junkies News, he mentioned the idea of a post-Infinity War film that focuses on Groot (his character) and Rocket. "if it’s up to James Gunn, you are going to see a
Groot and Rocket movie after Infinity War," he said. "I think that’s highly possible." He also teased a Groot versus Hulk battle in a future movie.

If you already saw the War of the Planet of the Apes trailer, be sure to check out the first international trailer below for new footage. It's a shorter look, but the focus is much different.

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That's it for this week, folks. Here's hoping we have more science-fiction game news in the days ahead. It's been quiet. Too quiet. I know the video game industry is closing down for the holidays, but we still need to know what's coming next.

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Plants Vs. Zombies Heroes Adds Weekly Events And Holiday Content

The collectible card game starring PopCap's massive Plants vs. Zombies franchise has introduced weekly events. Plants vs. Zombies Heroes players can now take on weekly in-game events in both single- and multiplayer matches to unlock a new card each week.

As players win matches, they earn tickets, which can be redeemed for new cards. Winning in single-player earns you 10 tickets, while a multiplayer victory nets you 15. If you don't earn enough tickets to unlock that week's card, you can pay for the rest using the game's gem currency. This seems like a likely solution, as the current card for this week's challenge costs 2,000 tickets (or 500 gems). Players can use the featured Hero class of the week to boost the number of tickets earned.

To add to the content drop today, Plants vs. Zombies Heroes is getting in the mood for the holiday season with new Feastivus packs and an all-new card. The Jolly Holly card is an amphibious member of the smarty class with the effect of freezing zombies next door when played. The Jolly Holly is included in the Feastivus Bundle and the Feastivus Mega Bundle. The former includes a Valkyrie, a Winter Squash, and 15 additional cards, while the latter packs in four Feastivus Bundles plus a bonus Kernel Corn. Each Feastivus Bundle costs $ 4.99, while a Feastivus Mega Bundle is $ 19.99.

To learn more about the events system, including tips from the developers, head over to the Plants vs. Zombies Heroes blog.

 

Our Take
In the crowded space that is the CCG section of the App Store, it takes a lot to stand out. Weekly events and new content is always gives players an excuse to drop in and pour some time into a game, so this is a good start for PvZ Heroes. I liked the game when it first launched, so this is good incentive for me to add it back into my rotation of daily games to check in with on my phone. That said, the price for the weekly event card is super high as it stands now. Here's hoping that gets adjusted.

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