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Narcosis explores the horrors of the deep ocean with intense VR gameplay

Apr 14 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]283983:56360:0[/embed] Narcosis (PC)Developer: Honor Code, IncPublisher: Honor Code, Inc  Release: Fall 2015 Set at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean at an underwater research center, you play as an industrial diver who must fight for survival after a sudden and catastrophic accident leaves him stranded and alone. With the research center mostly destroyed and its crew killed, the lone survivor must retrace his steps and find a way to the surface. But with horrifying underwater predators roaming the surroundings, and a damaged diving suit with diminishing oxygen, the diver must keep a strong head -- or else nature or even his own wavering psychological state could overcome him. Referred to as a "slow-burn" experience by the creatives behind the game, this 'survivor-story' features a more atmospheric take on traditional horror titles, blending the show-don't-tell school of storytelling from Gone Home with the dread and somewhat other-worldly feel from Silent Hill. Humanity has only explored a small percentage of our planet's oceans, and with many aquatic environments and creatures left undiscovered, it's an incredibly interesting and captivating place to explore for a horror experience. On the surface it seems just like the film Gravity set underwater, and while that's not too far off, there's a strong focus on setting and interaction with the elements. We don't really get too many games set in the depths of the ocean, let alone a horror game taking place on the sea floor. And Narcosis definitely does a lot to play up the mystery and isolation to a very tense and anxious effect. Speaking with David Chen, the lead writer for Narcosis, he spoke at length about how they sought to convey their interpretation of survival horror. "We're kinda struggling to label the game, as it has many of the hallmarks of survival horror," said lead writer David Chen. "There are no zombies or a viral outbreak, it's really about seven or eight hours of this guy trapped at the bottom of the ocean. So we think it's a really, relatively unique premise for a game, as a lot of other titles have you saving the world, revenging your family, or bottling up some ancient evil -- but here, you're trapped alone in the dark on the bottom of the ocean." While underwater gameplay is almost notoriously awful in most games, Narcosis does the smart thing by keeping it simple. Movement is slow and hulking, which makes sense as you're wearing a heavy diving suit under large amounts of pressure from the ocean. Walking is your top-speed, but with the aid of charge pack, you can boost for short-distances. As you maneuver around the ocean floor and the ruins of the research center, you'll have to be mindful of your surroundings as there are many dangers ahead. With only your suit lights and some flares giving you clear vision, you'll often times find yourself in total darkness. Moreover, you'll have to monitor your oxygen and health levels, which can be restored by pickups found in the debris. By far the biggest threat is the presence of underwater predators. Resembling nightmarish squids and over-sized crabs, these creatures stalk for prey, and they see the diver as their next target. Some creatures are large in size, which may require you to evade their gaze. While you have a knife to defend yourself, attacking with it is slow and somewhat clunky -- which of course is by design, as the weight of the ocean and your suit makes movement slow. During one encounter, I came across a squid creature that nearly destroyed the diver's helmet with its powerful tentacles. Using a well-timed knife attack, I was able to strike it down as it charged at me. But of course, there's yet another issue to contend with. Given his perilous situation, and the fact that the diver only has his thoughts to keep him company, his psychological and emotional state can often become compromised. As you maneuver through the disturbing, alien landscape of the dark and claustrophobic ocean floor, and through the horrific aftermath of the destroyed research center, the diver's mental state will begin to decay, which gives rise to horrifying hallucinations. During my exploration of the research center, I had to trek through the remains of the station to look for clues to reach the surface -- all the while avoiding predators that have taken up residence, and finding the floating remains of the scientists and divers that died in the accident. With oxygen getting low, and finding many empty diving suits eerily standing up in hallways, as if they were looking at me, I finally came to a small room which housed four suits. Once I stepped in, I looked around for any clues, but I soon realized that the door had disappeared, and I was suddenly surrounded by diving suits, all staring back at me with their blank and empty helmets. As I kept turning, looking for a way out, I found that the room had suddenly given rise to a narrow hallway, with parallel rows of diving suits on each side. Each of them were facing each other in a somewhat ceremonial fashion, as if they were greeting me or welcoming me back home. Once I reached the end of the hallway, I finally found my destination: a small room housing computers with sensitive data. Once I turned around, the hallway and many diving suits weren't there; the lone survivor had just simply stepped into the room. Referred to as "Narcosis moments," there will be times when the diver's paranoia warps his perception, resulting in surreal moments that blur the line between reality and imagination. Bare in mind, I playing with the Oculus Rift during the demo, which made me so incredibly anxious. Moreover, this was all happening in real-time with no cutscenes or breaks. It was like witnessing some strange trip that wouldn't end. As I got more nervous, the sense of dread kicked up significantly, which made exploration all the more tense. While Narcosis is totally playable without the use of virtual reality, the developers found that the new technology helped to amplify a lot of the visual and atmospheric moments they created. "We describe it as a very understated use of VR, as in it's not flashy or flamboyant, but the core fiction of the game really lends itself to the use of VR as it accurately shows your limitations," said Chen while discussing their use of the tech. "It really lends itself to the sense of immersion, a sense of place, and the feeling of suspense." "It's a narrative-driven game, it's a story-based game, so we want to have appropriate emotional beats," Chen continued. "It's not intended to be a relentless freakout, but as the game has developed with VR, we discovered ways to try new things with it, as opposed to the more obvious 'aaaaaahhh' [motions jump-scare] moments. [...] While we definitely have some freaky stuff, we're trying to be more tasteful." Even during my fairly brief session with Narcosis, I was quite impressed with the VR. As opposed to relying on horror tropes and gimmicks, such as jump scares or stalking foes that appear all-knowing and invincible, this title lets the environments and its clever visual tricks do all the talking. I felt nervous during key sections, and knowing that only a few hits from predators could destroy my suit, simply hesitating and watching my oxygen meter sink was stressful. Set for release later this year, Narcosis is an intellectual and subdued take on survival horror. Which isn't all that common today, given that we're often using guns and other gadgets to overcome enemies. Going more for a general experience rather than a super 'gamey' affair, it seeks to show that the horrors of the deep ocean, and nature itself, are an uncaring and unwavering force that outmatch man on nearly every level. And there's certainly no greater foe than nature itself.
Narcosis preview photo
Deep deep down
Last year during Game Connection Europe, Steven had some special hands-on time with developer Honor Code, Inc's upcoming underwater survival horror title Narcosis. As a psychological-horror survival game, players find themsel... read feature

Killing Floor 2 is hectic and gory, and will be on Early Access this month

Apr 07 // Alessandro Fillari
Killing Floor 2 (PC [previewed], PlayStation 4)Developer: Tripwire InteractivePublisher: Tripwire Interactive Release date: April 21, 2015 (Steam Early Access)MSRP: $29.99 Set sometime after the zombie pandemic that swept England, the virus has now crossed over to Europe, creating chaos and destruction in its wake. Returning from their exploits in England, the survivors travel to Europe in order to continue their fight against the swarms of the undead and the mutated scientists that gave rise to such horrid creations. As you battle waves of foes, you'll acquire the cash to expand your arsenal and skills to take on greater challenges that await. For those unfamiliar, Killing Floor 2 continues with its predecessor's focus on fast-paced cooperative action set on several maps across zombie- and monster-infested locales. Starting off with the basics -- pistols, knives, and healing and welding tools -- each kill earns you dosh (in-game currency), which can be spent at stores in between waves. As you clear waves, the challenges become far more difficult, as common zeds will be in greater numbers, and special elite monsters will also come into the mix (beware the Sirens and Flesh Pounds!). You'll have to learn the layout of the levels to know certain choke-points to take out the hoard, and which doors to keep welded shut in order to slow their movement throughout the map. With the announcement of Early Access, the devs wanted players to get their hands on KF2 to not only experience a sizable taste of the eventual final release, but to also allow for hardcore fans to give their thoughts and feedback, which they hope to implement into future updates. At launch on April 21, players will have four classes to choose from -- such as the melee-focused Berserker, the assault class Commando, the back-up unit Support class, and also the Field Medic. Each class focuses on the core functions of the team, and ranking them up will unlock special perks and upgrades that can be chosen to create builds. Though keep in mind, there will be another six classes to choose from in the final release. Many of the characters from the original game, such as Mr. Foster, DJ Skully, and Reverend Alberts have returned, along with a new set of characters joining the struggle. Not only is there a stronger focus on diverse characters of different genders and nationalities, they're each far more fleshed out and given more presence. Instead of just flavor text accompanying their character art like in the original, each character has detailed dialog in-game, which sees the survivors have banter with one another during battles. I stuck with the gas mask wearing Mr. Foster for most of my session, and I was pleased to see that there any many different clothing and accessory options for him. Which is reassuring, as he's one of the most popular characters and the different options will be sure to help players differentiate. "For the characters in this game, we wanted to give each of them their own unique personality," said art director David Hensley while discussing the roster. "We also wanted to add in female characters from the start, so every character has their own unique voice and script. We put a lot of time into concept art, developing their character and back-stories." Unfortunately the one character than many loved to hate, The Trader, didn't make it over the course of the epidemic. After realizing how reckless it was to have traders keep shops open in heavily infested battle zones, weapon manufacturers have sent several 3D printing pods down to the warzones, which allow for easy and quick access to their merchandise. The shop menu feels much more refined. Not only that, the selection of gear feels way more diverse. Of course, you have your selection of pistols, shotguns, rifles, and melee weapons. But the arms dealers have some new toys to show off to the humans battling the horde, such as a medic machine gun that will heal allies and kill zeds with the same rounds, and a heavy weapon that fires off buzzsaws. The developers took a lot of notes over the years from the KF community, which they applied to its sequel. In many ways, this is a culmination of years of work from Killing Floor and even the Red Orchestra series. Many tweaks and upgrades made to the game and its engine are from direct feedback they've gotten, and with the Early Access build, they plan on adding another layer of refinement. For instance, the difficulty modes have been tweaked. Beginner mode has been removed, placing Normal as the lowest setting, while a brand new mode called Hell on Earth is now the highest difficulty to choose from. In the latter, swarms are increased and they take more damage. While the gameplay is very much the same, it feels far more polished than in the original title. For instance, the visuals on display are a massive upgrade. Not only is combat chaotic, and incredibly gory -- seriously, the levels were caked with blood and guts during the later waves -- the pace feels much faster and to the point. No more having to travel great distances to the battles, as the layout feels tighter. Moreover, the super stylish but somewhat jarring slow-mo Zed Time (which triggers when players get a critical hit) has been slightly reworked, and only comes into effect when you trigger it or are within range. Furthermore, the melee attacks have be upgraded somewhat. Not only are there new melee weapons to use, there are also situations where your character will be grabbed by enemies, either boss characters or common zeds, and you'll have to use your melee moves to free yourself. In addition to these upgrades, server browsing has been upgraded, allowing for easier searches through the browser, and will even work with the brand-new Party feature. This was in response to the original's server listing, which the devs admittedly said wasn't all that great, and they also wanted to stick together instead of coordinating outside the game to find a place to play. With the party option, a group of six can join as a party, which will keep you together while looking for servers to play your next game. During our session, we played on several maps on a variety of different difficulties. On the Burning Paris map, we took to the streets of France's capital city to fight off zeds from a number of semi-secure locations. With the Support class, I was able to help weld doors much quicker than other players, which only served as a temporary solution to an overarching zed problem. I was cleaning house with the AA-12 shotgun, which allowed me to mow down foes quickly. And yes, activating Zed Time with it was super satisfying. After surviving the final wave, we managed to make it to the final round against the boss monster. Though the Patriarch was the recurring boss monster in the previous title, Killing Floor 2 aims to switch it up with several randomly-chosen boss characters to battle against. This new one, which unfortunately I am unable to describe specifically due to the developers wanting to keep it as a surprise, was certainly different than the Patriarch. The fight was brutal and rough, and I'm sure many fans who've longed for a new boss to fight will enjoy it. But as you could probably guess, we didn't make it. The new boss overpowered us easily, and we only got him whittled down to half health before he took us all out. We had quite a bit of time with the Early Access build, and I'm inclined to think that many fans are in for something special once this is out on the market. Thankfully, the folks at Tripwire listened to the community and didn't stray too far from what the made the original such a blast to play. And not only that, the developers have been keeping an eye on modded content from the original game, which prompted them to incorporate official Steam Workshop support for Killing Floor 2. So go nuts, modders! I've played quite a bit of the original Killing Floor, and I had a blast experiencing what the developers have in store for the next installment. Initially, I was pretty worried that it would be exactly the same game with just a fresh coat of paint, and while that's true to an extent, it truly doesn't need all that much change to make it a solid follow-up. At its core, it's a game about shooting stuff up and working with a group to take down impossible hoards in gory over-the-top fashion. And Killing Floor 2 definitely succeeds in that. With Early Access, there will be three maps, four classes, eleven unique monsters, eight playable characters, a new boss monster, and also mod support for custom levels and the like. With their "Early Access done right" mantra, Tripwire feels that giving players a good chunk of the game along with the tools to reconfigure and customize it to their liking is what fans want. I'm definitely excited to see what's next for Killing Floor 2 in the coming months.
Killing Floor 2 photo
Dosh! Grab it while it's hot!
It's been a good while since the release of the original Killing Floor back in 2008. Over the years, its been sitting on the Steam best-sellers list for quite some time, and built a loyal and dedicated following. While hoard-... read feature

The Perils of Man photo
The Perils of Man

New adventure title from former LucasArts dev comes to Steam later this month


The Perils of Man releasing April 28 on PC and Mac
Apr 03
// Alessandro Fillari
Last year, I got the chance to chat with the developers behind The Perils of Man, an episodic time-traveling adventure title from the minds of Bill Tiller and Gene Mocsy. With a pedigree of work ranging from classic adv... read
Assassin's Creed photo
Assassin's Creed

Travel to India and Russia in future episodes of Assassin's Creed Chronicles this fall


Fan-favorite Assasins finally have their time to shine
Mar 31
// Alessandro Fillari
Recently, I got to go hands-on with Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China. For this downloadable title, Ubisoft redesigned the AC experience to fit within a 2.5D perspective. With China releasing next month, players will finally... read

Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China gives the series a fresh perspective

Mar 31 // Alessandro Fillari
Assassin's Creed Chronicles (PC, PS4, Xbox One [previewed])Developer: Climax StudiosPublisher: Ubisoft Release date: April 21, 2015 (Episode One) / Fall 2015 (Episodes Two and Three) "It's a very exciting and very challenging project to work on," said lead game designer Xavier Penin. "[Ubisoft] had a pretty [sizable] pitch for the project and wanted them to be short, episodic, and each of the stories would have their own specific artstyles that fit the character and time period. We knew we had to focus our efforts on making something that didn't just feel like a smaller Assassin's Creed." For the first episode, Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China, players take on the role of female assassin Shao Jun, who fans might recognize from the animated film Assassin's Creed Embers. Picking up some time after the events of Embers in 1526, Shao Jun returns to China after her training with Ezio Auditore and seeks revenge against Emporer Jiajing of the Ming Dynasty after the massacre of the Chinese Assassin Brotherhood. During her exploits, she'll acquire new abilities and contacts that will help in her quest, and revitalize the Assassin presence in 16th-century China. China has been a top requested location from fans, along with a playable Shao Jun, and seeing it come to pass is exciting. In the three levels I played, set in The Forbidden City and Fujian Province, we got to experience a starkly different setting and visual palette not seen from the series. Moreover, the brief taste of the India and Russia episodes we saw also feature their own art styles and aesthetic. Granted, the nature of this downloadable title allows them to try different settings, but I was blown away by the potential AC has in such lush environments. This enthusiasm was also shared by the folks behind the title. [embed]289710:57987:0[/embed] "When we were going to do this game with [Shao Jun], I was really excited about it and wanted to get all the information about background and her story, but it was actually pretty thin," said Penin. "So eventually we decided to come up with new ideas and settings, beyond Embers, and we came up with a story that AC fans will enjoy." Understandably, the switch from 3D to 2.5D has brought some changes to the action-stealth gameplay. For the most part, players will still traverse the environment with free-running maneuvers while avoiding detection, and only using combat as a last resort. Players will run and leap across obstacles in the environment and move between the foreground and background during traversal. I was impressed with the depth shown in the environments, and I was quite surprised that areas shown off were largely interactive. In one section during a prison escape, I had to find my gear before making an exit, which meant having to search for a guard's keys. After traveling through a hallway, I entered a large cavern housing dozens of prison cells. Off in the distance in the background, there were several guards making their rounds near a number of prisoners. From the foreground, I jumped onto a fallen pillar, which allowed me seamlessly run across to the background of the environment, which had its own unique layout and design. It was neat to be able to see how much depth the levels have, and the later levels show off much more intuitive and clever design. The stealth gameplay has had a bit of change, however, and the assassins now have to rely more on shadows and darkness to slip past their foes. Instead of the line-of-sight design from past titles, Chronicles utilizes a vision cone system. Similar to Mark of the Ninja's gameplay, all enemies can see and hear only a certain distance ahead of them, which gives you the means to figure out the best way around them. While it's still very much AC, the new design feels different. The lead designer elaborated a little further with how they went about re-designing AC stealth for 2.5D. "We had a lot of work to find the right recipe because this is the type of gameplay that require precise signs of feedback," said Penin. "We experimented a lot with the detection system, which focuses on cones of vision that work really well because it shows accurately in the 2D perspective. While some people initially thought [the visual representation of enemy line of sight] got in the way of the art style, ultimately the function allowed for us to design the stealth for players to be more interesting." Though you can easily avoid all conflicts by sticking in the shadows or hiding inside doorways or off the sides of ledges, there are a whole assortment of gadgets that Shao Jun has at her disposal, such as the rope dart which can sling enemies and help her traverse to new heights. The action and pace of the stealth from past games is present, though there seems to be much more thought put into it. Some sections felt like actual puzzles more than action-stealth gameplay, and I mean that as a good thing. The narrowing of the perspective put a lot more depth into this facet of gameplay, and it was refreshing to have a more refined approach to it. I'm also quite impressed with the visual aesthetic of Chronicles. The developers have stated that each episode will have a unique look to it, and China's style is stunning in its representation of perpetual autumn and uses of inkblot-style visuals and palettes. The colors are vibrant and lush, and the shadows and darkness show a certain roughness, as if it's a place that only the Assassins, history's wet-workers, can venture to. These still-images do not do this title justice -- it's quite gorgeous in action. While I was enjoying myself throughout the China setting, a part of me wished this was a fully 3D title rather than a downloadable side story. Nothing against this game, as it's really solid and makes some clever choices in regards to approach to stealth in a limited perspective, however I feel that such rich settings would be better used for full-fledged 3D Assassin's Creed titles. In any case, Assassin's Creed Chronicles is looking to be a nice surprise for the franchise. Though we can undoubtedly expect to see another main entry in the series this year, Chronicles will serve to be a nice change of pace for those looking for a different take on the series. For those who bit on the Unity season pass, you'll get the first episode on day one. The bite-sized nature of these titles will make them easy to get into, but they're sure to surprise players with how much depth is present.
2.5D Assassin's Creed photo
Stabbin' necks through history in 2.5D
It's not often we see a major player in the big leagues of yearly releases reinvent itself in a more modest and distinct way. With Assassin's Creed titles expected every year, it's been a bit of a challenge for Ubisoft to kee... read feature

Space Sluggers photo
Space Sluggers

Space Sluggers is chaotic and so incredibly cheesy


Everyone fights, no one quits
Mar 27
// Alessandro Fillari
I'm quite a fan of old-school action shoot-'em-ups. Back in the day, I used to venture off to an arcade at my local pizza place and just chill out. With particular titles like Ikari Warriors, Smash TV, and Commando focusing o... read

Dirty Bomb aims high with its focus on hardcore FPS action

Mar 26 // Alessandro Fillari
Dirty Bomb (PC)Developer: Splash DamagePublisher: Nexon Release date: March 26th 2015 (Open Access) "For us, we were kind of accustomed to shipping packaged products and retail games, so that within itself was a different mentality to production,"said Splash Damage co-founder and chief branding officer Richard Jolly while discussing their transition to developing a free-to-play title. "So you essentially get the game to what is considered open beta, which is pretty much the final game in most cases, and then the players will play it, release a few updates and a bit of DLC, and then you walk away from it. But with Dirty Bomb, we're kind of back to mod-making. It's constantly evolving, and the game we had in the alpha with our fans is completely different than what we had now. It's interesting to have that level of transparency with our fans, and that's really helped us because we're still actively developing the game." [embed]289520:57922:0[/embed] Set in near-future London, the city had been plunged into chaos after a mysterious "dirty bomb" released toxic gases and large amounts of radiation. In the years since, London is now an abandoned husk of its former self, and the only ones willing to venture into the decaying remains of England's capital city are mercenaries who see the opportunity where others do not. With valuables and other fortunes to find in London, those crazy enough to set foot inside will have to fight for their riches in order to make it out on top. While on the surface it feels like a grittier and more mature take on Team Fortress 2, there's certainly a lot more going on with Dirty Bomb than at first glance. In total, there are several unique characters with their own arsenals and backstories. While many of them share a similar archetype, such as the sniper, medic, and assault classes, they each have access to their own particular set of skills and weapons that are specific to them. There's a lot of humor and humanity found in Dirty Bomb, and the accompanying flavor text that describes each character and their motives for merc work did a lot to bring me in. When in battle, you can select a squad of three characters. These three are the characters you can switch off from during the game, so you'll have to choose wisely. I mostly stuck with Phoenix, Vassili, and Arty, a medic, sniper, and support group. Though I initially was confused on how exactly I could switch off between the character gear, I quickly picked it up after a few minutes of play. Essentially, the members of your squad are loadouts, similar to those in Call of Duty or Battlefield, and you'll have need to switch between them in order to stay ahead of your foes. During a match in the game mode Stopwatch, a neat mix between the standard demolition and capture the flag modes, I was able to switch off between the characters when they were needed. Set on the map Terminal, the attackers have to plants charges on a wall within the quarantine zone in order to gain access to the train station that houses valuable documents that the attackers need to destroy -- but of course, the data is being protected by another group of mercs who aim to keep them intact. Playing on both sides, I found that I needed to switch up my classes more often, as when I was attacking I had to stay healed more often. While on defense, I needed to pick off the oncoming threat from afar. I was really impressed with how the flow of the game motivated me to switch things up more often, as I usually just stick with one class in other titles. I felt I experimented more often in this title than in most other shooters. This aspect of experimentation was something that the developers wished they players would explore. "Games are always an evolution, right? Especially since we were making this for ourselves, before the publisher stepped in," said lead designer Neil Alphonso. "We wanted to really bring out the characters of the mercs. They look really cool, and we wanted to reflect that in the gameplay more. So far it's worked really well, we've had players come up with combinations that we would've never expected in closed testing that we never would've expected, and of course we're gonna have to keep adjusting to that." When you win matches and collect cash, you can purchase cases that yield merc cards that offer a different variation for each character. Spanning across different rarity types, each type of card will offer that specific character a new loadout and special perks. For instance, I found a found a bronze card for Vassili, which not only gave him a new sniper rifle with higher rate of fire, but also gave him the ability to throw his melee weapon. As you find rarer cards, you'll gain access to new abilities and weapons for your characters. Though lead and bronze cards are very common, silver and gold cards really change the game for your characters, as they turn your merc into an elite badass decked out with perks and other special gear. While it's possible to the find much of the content on your own without ever spending a dime by combining junk cards and turning them into rare ones -- there are many different options to take advantage of if you feel as though you want get content quicker. As credits can be acquired pretty easily, you can always be comfortable with what you have, and the developers were clear that Dirty Bomb is a game that will not be "pay-to-win." "If you're making a competitive shooter, something that's hardcore, then the first thing people want is a fair playing field," said Alphonso. "The way I look at it, and it's a bit idealistic, but you just have to make a game that people enjoy enough, that they want to give you money. Rather than they feel like they need you to in order to compete." It's not too often that we see a F2P title with so much openness and transparency from the developers. Generally, the free-to-play genre has somewhat of a bad reputation because of poor practices from certain titles. And while it's understandable that many players feel a bit apprehensive for upcoming ones, I can say that Dirty Bomb was a pretty rad title in the hours I spent with it. Though I kinda wished that the developers stuck with Brink's traversal system, because that'd be such a welcome fit for this game, I found the action in DB to be pretty hectic, bombastic, and super satisfying to take part in. Not only did I feel like I got in some great action moments, going on a seven-kill streak was pretty damn great, but I also felt like I was a pretty integral part of the team as a healer and support unit. With the game available on Steam, now's your chance to get involved with the game that's been in the works for quite some time. And since it's still an on-going process, the developers have continued plans to roll out new features and content in the coming months, such as new maps and other cool content. I had a blast (no pun intended), and the folks from Splash Damage haven't lost their touch for fast and frenetic FPS gameplay.
Dirty Bomb photo
Rule 1: Don't be a dick
The folks at Splash Damage have been busy over the last two years. Since the release of Brink and a stint on Batman: Arkham Origins' multiplayer, they figured it was time to return to their roots with a heavy focus on PC... read feature

StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void seeks to conclude the trilogy with an exciting finale

Mar 18 // Alessandro Fillari
StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void (Mac, PC [previewed])Developer: Blizzard EntertainmentPublisher: Blizzard EntertainmentRelease date: TBA 2015 "Not only is this the conclusion of the StarCraft II trilogy, but also the conclusion to the StarCraft story," said lead game producer Tim Morten. "It really ties together the storylines we've had over the years, and this particular installation will focus on the Protoss." With the previous campaigns focusing on the exploits of the Jim Raynor and Sarah Kerrigan of the Terran and Zerg factions, Legacy of the Void shifts the point of view to the Protoss and its leader Artanis. With the looming threat of the fallen one, Amon, the Protoss and the other factions must ready for battle as the malevolent being seeks to corrupt the galaxy with its powers. As the conclusion to the StarCraft II trilogy, everything has come to this moment, and the upcoming battles will decide the fate of the entire universe. Much like the previous installments, Legacy of the Void is a standalone release that won't require the other entries to play. Though players who've invested time in everything that is StarCraft II thus far will surely have a greater experience, Legacy is a title the developers at Blizzard hope will be accessible for newcomers as well. Though rest assured, Legacy of the Void has every intention of maintaining the high-level play and nuance the series is known for. However, the developers wish to offer newcomers a way to ease into the experience rather than take the trial-by-fire approach. With the new expansion, there's a larger focus on team and cooperative play this time around. Debuting in the expansion are two new gameplay modes called Archon and Allied Commander. For the former, two players will work together to build a base and defend it against enemies. This is essentially co-op mode for the standard competitive mode. While it's exciting for high-level play -- there's twice the efficiency and output -- the developers also hope it'll prove to be an effective learning tool for new players. With an experienced player working as a helping hand alongside a newcomer, they'll be able to learn the ropes much faster. In Allied Commander, players will be able to control the various heroes of the StarCraft universe including Jim Raynor to Sarah Kerrigan. The mode, which lets you take them on a unique campaign as they level up and boost their forces, seems to pull in the best parts of the story mode with the hectic action found in multiplayer battles. Of course, with the new expansion Blizzard has added a whole slew of tweaks and additions. Given such a sizable time between releases, the team was able to gather a lot of player data and make necessary changes. For instance, each faction has new units and upgrades to existing stats and attributes. As the community manages to push the game to its limits, the developers have to try and experiment with new upgrades and tweaks to gameplay. The in-game economy has been altered to encourage expansion and movement, for example, which will yield greater rewards for your base. Moreover, attack damage and range have been tweaked a bit to allow players to use existing and new units in different ways. And speaking of the new units, the folks at Blizzard went all out with upgrades for the factions. The Terran now have access to the Cyclone tank, which can link up with other like units to deal bonus damage. The Zerg has a long-range unit called the Ravager that can deal poisonous area-of-effect damage and disable Protoss shields. And finally, the Protoss can now call forth the Adept, which focuses on close-range combat. The unique thing about the Adept is its shade ability, as it allows the unit to summon a player-controlled ghost of itself to move around the battlefield. After a set amount of time, the Adept will teleport to the position that the shade was in previously. There's impressive potential for these units, and it'll be interesting to see how players experiment with new strategies. Admittedly, I'm a novice when it comes to StarCraft, but I've been an admirer of the series for a long time. I've found a lot to like with this brief taste of the expansion, which will have some of the biggest additions the series has seen in a long time. The changes I've mentioned only scratch the surface for what's been added, such as movable Siege Tanks, new abilities for the existing units, and tweaks to movement and attack damage to name a few. With the upcoming beta, Blizzard hopes to test the waters with these new changes in order to get player feedback on what they would like to see happen in the expansion. Obviously, the series owes much to its fanbase, so it's great as always to see the developers open up with invites to the beta on March 31 to give them a deep and thorough look. Although the official release date is still unknown at this point, it'll be exciting to see how the game evolves from here.
StarCraft II finale photo
Invites for beta on March 31
Where were you when that debut trailer for StarCraft II popped up online? It made its announcement all the way back in 2007 at the Blizzard Worldwide Invitational in South Korea. Much has changed since then. With the release ... read feature

Woolfe: The Red Hood Diaries is a dark reinvention of classic fairytale fiction

Mar 16 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]288994:57765:0[/embed] Woolfe: The Red Hood Diaries (PC [previewed], PlayStation  4, Xbox One)Developer: GRIN Game StudioPublisher: GRIN Game StudioRelease date: March 17, 2015 (Part I)MSRP: $9.99 "It's a very exciting time," said CEO of GRIN Game Studio Wim Wouters. "Two years we've been working on this title now, and for our first big title it's certainly a crazy position to be in." In the span of six months, the developers successfully funded Woolfe through Kickstarter and is already set for release this week. Of course, GRIN already spent years developing the title on its own, but the studio needed the extra funds to push through development. With the support the team found from crowdfunding, it was able to expand its vision and create a deeper game. With this relatively quick turnaround, the CEO of Grin felt it was important to live up to the setting of its game in a timely manner. "We wanted to keep our promise [to the backers]. And even though it's a split release, the first part coming in March and the next coming later this year, the backers were very supportive of our decision," he said.  Set in a radically altered take of the Little Red Riding Hood fairytale, Woolfe brings players into a world filled with magic and conspiracy. Taking place in an era vaguely reminiscent of the 1800s during the Industrial Revolution, you take on the role a young axe-wielding Red Riding Hood who must navigate the city and surrounding wilderness to uncover the mystery behind her parents' deaths, and how other characters from fairytale lore might be connected. Along the way, she'll come into conflict with Woolfe, the human leader (and alternate incarnation of the big bad wolf) of an army of clockwork soldiers that wishes to rule the land. Of course, many people saw instant parallels with American McGee's Alice. Which is fair, as Woolfe shares its darker aesthetic and approach to fantasy fiction. Though despite that, the two games are totally different from one another. Wouters and the developers at Grin would get the comparisons often, and while they see it as flattering to be compared to a game they admire, they also expressed that it put a lot of pressure on them to make sure they could deliver. As Red, you'll explore a variety of different environments in 2.5D fashion. Though it looks purely like a side-scroller, you're able to explore the backgrounds of the levels to uncover clues and find switches to advance your path. Along the way, you'll encounter creatures and other foes that must be dispatched with Red's axe or magical abilities. In some cases, you'll have to use stealth to maneuver past foes and other obstacles to find clues. Combat plays a large focus in Red Hood Diaries, as you'll have to battle waves of enemies often. Controls are simple for the most part, but the game feels accessible and smooth. Woolfe does a good job of handling both combat and platforming, and it's all paced pretty well. During my session, I traveled through the streets of the city while on the hunt for the Pied   Piper, who's been abducting the children of the city. Finding his trail within the sewers, Red explored the depths of the city to uncover the lair of the traveling child abductor. This interpretation of the character was a man who was gangly and disgusting in appearance. His new look matched the creepiness of his character's origins, and seeing Red track him through the sewers and confront him was big and exciting moment to take part in. By far, the most striking element of Woolfe is the visual design. The environments are stunning, both vibrant in terms of color, but also detailed enough to show that the world is filled with many denizens and lived in. Though a lot of devs are moving on to Unreal Engine 4, UE3 is still putting in a lot of work and shows off some impressive designs. It's very much a chaotic mix between the prose and detail of the Brothers Grimm's fairy tales, with the style and tone of the films from Tim Burton. Which is everything I'd want to see in a dark fairytale. It was certainly an intriguing title to play, though the build I was playing was slightly older than the complete one and featured some bugs and minor platforming and graphical quirks, particularly with somewhat janky animations. Still, I was totally drawn in by the world that GRIN Game Studio created. It's not that often we get such a unique reinterpretation of fairytale fiction, especially for that of Red Riding Hood. And for $9.99, it's a nice way to get a proper introduction into the world of Woolfe before venturing off into the second part of the adventure set for release later this year. If you're into grim fairy tales and want a nice little adventure title to explore, this is definitely one you'll want to keep on your radar.
Woolfe photo
My, what a big axe you have!
Over the last three years, Kickstarter has totally changed the game for many developers. With the option to crowdfund projects, cut out the middle-man (publishers), and communicate directly with fans to help create the game, ... read feature

Mortal Kombat X brings back some familiar faces for Story Mode

Mar 12 // Alessandro Fillari
Mortal Kombat X (PC, PS4 [previewed], PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360)Developer: NetherRealm StudiosPublisher: Warner Bros. Interactive EntertainmentRelease date: April 14, 2015 I think we were all pretty shocked by the culling of the majority of the Mortal Kombat roster in the last game. Many of the central characters that have been with the series for the long haul were killed off unceremoniously during the story, which was crazy because it was permanent. And although descendants and new variations of the characters are set to return, the cull was about giving Mortal Kombat a fresh roster for its next installment. During our hour spent with MKX, we saw quite a bit of the game's content, and even a few surprises that we can't share at this point. But I'll let Abel explain his thoughts on the future of MK. Abel: So let's get the big news out of the way: Johnny Cage is back! NetherRealm hasn't lost its touch with Story Mode. Like Mortal Kombat before it, Mortal Kombat X breaks its story into chapters, each following a specific character. It's absolutely the best storytelling in the genre, allowing you to play with most of the roster while delivering a cohesive narrative. We've come a long way from beating arcade modes with every fighter and trying to piece together the events. During our preview, we only got our hands on chapter one starring Johnny Cage. It was a great chapter though, packed with character reveals -- we got to fight against Scorpion, zombie Jax, and Sub Zero, as well as Shinnok. Oh, and Fujin is back, tearing armies up with his bestie Raiden. If I had to pick a gripe though, I was not a fan of all the choreographed fights in this chapter, some of which dragged on to the point of annoyance. I'm all for kicking back and watching Johnny Cage beat the stuffing out of Scorpion as a helicopter goes down, but there came a point where these scenes would drag on so long as to actively annoy me that the real fight hadn't started yet. The quick-time events didn't help much either, especially considering that success or failure in them had no bearing on the real fight, like they did in Injustice. Here's to hoping Johnny's chapter is the only one like this. [embed]288771:57744:0[/embed] Alessandro: I was a big fan of the previous MK's Story Mode, so it was exciting to see them continue on with that. What surprised me most was that chapter one with Johnny Cage essentially served as the epilogue for what happened in the ending with Shinnok and Quan-Chi in MK9.  It only takes place about a year or so after that story, and by the chapter's end it seemed to have the MK9 storyline wrapped up for the most part, which will lead the way for MKX's central story (which is set over the course of 25 years). But I suppose this goes along with this game being a somewhat clean break from the mythos into something new.  Abel: A new mythos will definitely be welcome, and from the recent story trailer and what we've played, it seems headed firmly in that direction. If I had one fear before playing Story Mode, it's that MKX would retread the stories of MK4 through Deception, the same way MK9 covered MK1-3. Alessandro: After Deadly Alliance, I felt that the series maybe got a bit too away from itself, and just went for a more 'kitchen-sink' approach. As in they threw in everyone from past and present into the story at once. A lot of the content and characters felt like filler, and catered more to the ridiculous side of Mortal Kombat. That's not necessarily bad, but I appreciate that the series is going for a more leaner and refined approach now. MK9 did a lot to help bring it back, and I'm really pleased with MKX following suit with its gameplay. Abel: HEY!!! I liked Chess Kombat, but you're right, combat is king in MKX. This was my third time playing MKX, and what struck me most was how comfortable the combat felt. None of the combos you spent time mastering in MK9 will translate, but familiarity with those games will be a leg up. With returning characters, a lot of the special moves either have the same input as MK9 or a similar logic. Down-back-something for a teleport, down-forward-something for a projectile, etc. What has changed the most though are projectiles and teleports, both of which feel much more punishable. Projectiles in generally all feel much slower than MK9, with lots of telegraphing to boot. Make the mistake of missing with your opponent nearby, and you're open for a big punish. Same goes for teleports which, when thrown out in a pinch, more often than not led to me and Alessandro trading hits.  Alessandro: I basically stuck with my favorites, Sub-Zero and Ermac. The variations system made them feel familiar, but still pretty fresh. I think this system will add a lot of nuance for the characters, as each style will completely change their modus operandi. Interestingly enough, the variations were locked during Story Mode, so it seems like they'll switch between the styles during the chapter's narrative for specific moments. I also really dug the fact that it's taking cues from Injustice for the meta-leveling system. You got experience and koins for completing matches in Story Mode, which could be invested towards factions and other rewards. I appreciate that it's all connected together. Abel: Speaking of connectivity (SEGUE!), NetherRealm announced a Mortal Kombat X iOS version, not unlike what was done for Injustice. By "not unlike" I really just mean "the exact same thing." Combat is the same tap for light attacks, swipe for heavy attacks, then build up meter to unleash a super move or X-Ray attack. Characters all come as cards and fight in teams of three with bronze, silver, and gold variations of each. You upgrade your cards, improve their stats, and fight your way up increasingly difficult ladders. Again, it's exactly the same. The monetization plan is the same too, offering a store to purchase new characters cards or energy to fight. The most interesting thing are the unlocks you can get by linking your WBID to your app and full game. The Batman Beyond suit in Injustice was amazing, so here's to hoping MKX will have similarly cool rewards. ----- Our time with the MKX came to a close after our hands-on with the mobile devices. We definitely wanted to give the versus mode another shot, as we obviously only scratched the surface of the game's content, but it's probably best we left at that point. Thankfully, the game is not too far off. I'm hoping that NetherRealm keeps a tight lid on what's in store for Mortal Kombat X till release. With new characters being shown off so often, I worry they're likely giving away too much. Regardless, we're plenty excited about what MKX has to offer. Abel totally geeked when Fujin appeared with Raiden to fight off Quan-Chi's forces, and I can tell that there will be plenty of those fan-service moments that diehard MK players will enjoy. For me, Story Mode in MK9 was the best the fighting game genre has ever had, and with the upcoming game pushing that even further, it's looking like we're in for something really special next month.
Mortal Kombat X photo
Heeeerrre's Johnny!
It's been less than a year since its reveal, and we're already rapidly approaching the release of Mortal Kombat X. After its predecessor essentially rebooted the franchise with a return to 2D-style combat, many fans got a new... read feature

Sega brings back OutRun with style for the 3D Classics Series

Mar 11 // Alessandro Fillari
For those not quite familiar, OutRun is an arcade-style racing game that tasks players with racing their shiny Ferrari Testarossa across a stretch of land. At several points, you'll be able to choose which path you'd like to take, which will take you to a brand new setting that you'd likely not see in previous playthroughs. This nonlinear gameplay was rather unconventional for a racing title, which made it quite popular with arcade goers who wished for repeat plays. Over the years, it's developed quite a legacy for Sega, and it has even inspired musicians like Kavinsky for its portrayal of style in high-speed. It was a rather seminal title for Sega, earning a lot praise and finding much success in the arcades. Developed by Yu Suzuki, the creator of Shenmue, Virtua Fighter, and After Burner, it focused on fast gameplay while giving players a soothing and equally pulsing soundtrack to listen to. It even got several followups over the years. But with this remaster of OutRun, the folks at Sega had to put in extra work to retain the the original's style and feel without watering down the experience. "OutRun and After Burner II are two games that were the most important games in Sega’s history through the 1980s. However, due to a number of reasons, there was a time when there were no opportunities to port these two titles to other platforms," said producer Yosuke Okunari. "The most important thing for these kinds of games, and this is apparent from a video of the game you may have seen, is not to take these important games and try to remake them completely from scratch, but rather to recreate the playstyle as faithful to the original as you possibly can. And because the game preserves the feeling of the era it was made in, that history and the memories of those times can be communicated to everyone." During my playthrough, I immediately noticed how much smoother it felt. I played a bit of game when I younger in the arcades, so seeing this in action on a handheld was kind of a trip. And with the 3D enabled, the game doesn't lose performance one bit. It was impressive to see that a super fast racing game like OutRun would be able to make the transition so well. Honestly, it felt a bit hypnotic going over 200 km an hour. Once you're in the zone, you're kinda in a trance. Okunari-san explained that with the success of the previous titles on 3D Classics, they were able to tackle the necessary hurdles porting OutRun would take. "The 3DS is a notable piece of hardware, but it’s not a console that’s particularly well suited for creating faithful ports," he explained. "And so we were not able to include these two titles when we first began the development for the Sega 3D Classics. Only through the success of the first batch were we able to obtain the technical know-how and development budget to work on these two titles. It’s because of all the fans’ support." Often times, the 3DS tends to have some trouble with handling ports of classic or even recent titles. Which made porting the game, despite its age, somewhat of a challenge. One of the techniques that titles like After Burner and Space Harrier use is a way of presenting 2D sprites as pseudo-3D visuals, which is done with unique sprite-scaling designs. But in order to keep it consistent with other titles, the developers had to double the performance on OutRun, upgrading it from thirty frames per second to sixty. "Tying to get squeeze out more performance that the original title supported was a very difficult undertaking," said the producer. "Simply straight porting the game as is would prove to be a challenge in and of itself, but we had to optimize and improve the programming so it would run twice the speed as the original. Also, we added two new songs to the game, and made a point that they had to blend naturally and feel completely natural in the game, which was also a great challenge. Essentially using the same sound sources as the original, while ensuring that they would sound different and unique compared to the original three songs. New songs in the style and feel of the era when the game was originally released, back in the '80s." It's certainly eye-opening to see the amount of work that goes into remasters for classic titles. I supposed with the technology we have now, it's easy to think of products and software from the past as easy to make, or even easy to transition onto current hardware. Given the limitations they had and parameters they had to work within, I'm very impressed with what I played. I spent a good amount of time with OutRun on the 3DS, and it played like a dream. I highly recommend giving it a shot, especially if you're a first-timer. The sense of speed is just as sharp as it was back in the arcade days and experiencing it within the palms of your hands is real rush.
Sega 3D Classics photo
Race with flair on March 12
One of the great things about Sega's ongoing 3DS Classics series is that it allows retro games from the publisher's past to find a new audience. And given its rich and diverse history of quirky and fan-favorite titles, there'... read feature

The DmC Devil May Cry: Definitive Edition changelog is extensive

Mar 10 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]288866:57701:0[/embed] With Hardcore Mode being the highlight of Definitive Edition, you'll want to enable that as soon as possible, especially if you're quite familiar with the game or are otherwise up for the challenge. Though if you enjoyed DmC before as it was and just want to be able experience it with a new visual fidelity, you can by all means do so. Ninja Theory's Rahni Tucker, who was the combat designer on the original title and now serves as the creative director on Definitive Edition, commented on a number of the upgrades DmC gained. "The point of HCM is to create an experience that [is] still [Ninja Theory's] DmC, but with a bit of a throwback to the classic DMCs in terms of balance," she said. "We didn't make these changes to the default game, because there are a lot of players who enjoy the current balance; and we didn't want to alienate those players. This way everyone has the option to play the game with the difficulty/balance that suits them. The hardest felt changes in this mode are those to the style system. Getting a SSS, and keeping it, is a lot more difficult in Hardcore Mode. Devil Trigger also throws-back to original DMCs with HCM active, so the player will need to stay on their toes after activating it." Here are a few examples of what's been altered for Hardcore Mode. General Toggle-able on all difficulty levels, for both Dante and Vergil. Does not affect mission unlocking Unique style pars and leaderboards for Hardcore Mode on every difficulty Style Rank Style Rank System re-balanced for HCM Style Rank decay rate on hardcore mode increased further. On hardcore mode, penalties on the Style Rank gain for repeating the same move multiple times is significantly increased. Balance No auto-parry from prop/shredder. Only the 1st strike in an attack can perform a parry. + 5% damage for all enemies. Dreamrunners can parry the Arbiter Flush projectile 3 times on DMD.  One of the biggest changes in Hardcore Mode that I'm sure many will appreciate are the infamous color enemies. With the modifier enabled, players can use whatever weapon they want against these specific enemies, however the like-element weapon is still best for the situation. Red/Blue enemies Frost/Hell Knights can be struck with any weapon. They take reduced damage, and do not react, when hit by weapons that do not match their color (unless Devil Trigger is active)  Ghost/Hell Rages can be struck with any weapon. They take reduced damage, and do not react, when hit by weapons that do not match their color (unless Devil Trigger is active). They are still partially invisible unless in the correct mode.  Hell Rages have 10% less health to accommodate use of any weapon against them. "This was always a controversial point," said Tucker. "On the one hand, DMC is all about variety and being able to creatively mix combos, and the red/blue enemies deflecting Dante's attacks went against that; however, we found during focus testing that players were confused about which weapons to use, so for clarity and feedback purposes the deflection was much better. In the end, after seeing fan feedback, we've changed it for DE so you can hit any guy with any weapon. Using the correct weapon causes hit reactions (they don't get interrupted by the wrong weapon) and still deals more damage." And that's just the tip of the iceberg. You can find more info about the changelog on Capcom-Unity's blog, featuring details about parry windows, Vergil gameplay, and the finer benefits of having an increased frame rate to work with. After reading through the changes, and getting a sense of the developer's view on DMC, I have an even greater appreciation for the game. It's not often we got a detailed look like this with developer commentary, so it's definitely something I respect Ninja Theory for. Also, the launch trailer is excellent. '80s gothic rock from The Lost Boys is such a great fit for DmC.DmC Devil May Cry: Definitive Edition - Change Log [Capcom-Unity]
DmC Devil May Cry DE photo
Sans fedora and color keys
With DmC Devil May Cry: Definitive Edition out now, fans of the series have another title to keep them satiated till the next one is ready. As you've likely read, Chris gave his impressions of the game earlier. He was im... read feature

Skyworld takes unique advantage of Valve's new virtual reality tech

Mar 06 // Alessandro Fillari
For our demo, the developers led me into a closed-off room which housed Valve's virtual reality hardware. Around the room were two cameras that tracked movement and set the boundaries of the VR environment by scanning the dimensions of the room. They then handed me the headset, which still looked as if it was in the prototype phase. Wires to the headset were numerous, which required a belt around my waist to hold all of them down. Honestly, it felt like I was wearing something from '90s cyberpunk like Ghost in the Shell or Johnny Mnemonic. It was weighty, but had a number of devices working at once. I actually almost tripped over one of the wires before our demo even started. But any apprehension I had for the device soon faded once I tried out the interface and witnessed it in action. With the headset on, I was in a home menu showing a number of games and applications. The controllers they gave me, which were also connected with wires, were two wand-like devices that were somewhat like a mix between the Sony Move and Wii Remote. Similar to the headset, they were in early form. Using trackpads on the controllers allowed me to cycle through options. And just for fun, pressing down the trackpad caused a balloon to inflate from the controller in the digital space, which was amusing. It felt intuitive, and surprisingly accurate. I could look around to see the menu system with its grey, almost minimalistic background, but the Valve engineer instructed me to look towards the floor. On the floor was a box, which represented the center of the space. Once I started walking forward outside the box, I made it a few steps before a grid popped up in front of me. This grid represented the physical wall that I was about to walk into, which the camera picked up and visualized within the VR space. It was pretty cool stuff, and I felt that I could've spent plenty of time exploring the home menu, but of course, they had a game to show. [embed]288675:57632:0[/embed] Last year, the developers of World of Diving showed off an impressive demonstration for their underwater-exploration sim. The use of the Oculus Rift was well designed and featured impressive depth and range. With the success and buzz they generated with that title, they attracted the attention of Valve, leading to a partnership. But the new VR technology they were presented meant having to design something a bit different. "When they asked to work together with us to make a demo for the GDC announcement, the first thing that came to mind was that we should do something like World of Diving," said creative director Richard Stitselaar. "But that title was designed around the first Oculus, and then the DK2 came along, we had to ramp it up to seventy-five frames per second, then Valve came along and said 'guys, it needs 90 frames per second.' So we had to do a lot of optimization on the game, and we figured we should use our knowledge with VR and apply it to a new game instead." Skyworld is totally different from World of Diving. Set on a floating island that houses a small civilization, you play as an omnipotent ruler that must wage war on the opposing side. As a quasi tabletop turn-based strategy title, players use both Steam controllers as wands in game to conjure up creatures and interact with the world. Over time, you'll build your defenses and expand your resources, which will allow you to send infantry and even dragons to attack your enemies. With the left controller, I was able to pull up a magic book, which housed unit info and spells to cast. Using the right controller allowed me to interact with the elements on the table. Whether picking up units to reposition them or interacting with blacksmiths or dragons, each controller had its own separate uses that complemented the other. "First we had this interaction model where you would look at something as this dot in the middle and then select it," said Stitselaar. "It feels natural to have something in your hand that could enhance the world itself." When you think of VR, you're probably thinking of something that's a bit action-y or fast-paced, and likely not a turn-based strategy title. But Skyworld definitely makes great use of the technology. I was able to view all aspects of the environment with clarity, as zooming simply meant stepping closer. Of course, I had to let go of some very basic certainties when playing with the demo. For instance, we all know that if there's an object in front of you, then you'll likely have to move if you want to get around it. I spent much of the demo walking around the 'table,' never thinking to actually walk up to whatever object I wanted. Eventually, the engineers from Valve and Vertigo Games instructed me that it was okay to walk through the table -- it wasn't real. After attacking enemy installations and moving my infantry around, my time with the demo ended. It was fairly brief, and I felt I only scratched the surface of what I could do. Valve's technology was easily the most impressive use of virtual reality I've seen in a long time, though. Moreover, Vertigo Games' work impressed. I was pleasantly surprised to experience a title that used VR in an original way. While the technology has a ways to go before it will get in the hands of consumers, I'm excited about what the future of VR holds.
Valve VR photo
Vertigo Games talks the future of VR
We got a big shock at the beginning of the week when Valve announced its partnership with HTC to produce a new virtual reality headset. We all knew the company had ambitions to enter the console market with Steam Machines, bu... read feature

Elite: Dangerous has bold plans for the future

Mar 05 // Alessandro Fillari
"It's always brilliant to see how many people were supportive of the game," said lead designer David Braben as he reflected on the initial debut of Elite. "So many people helped us do that, and one of the great things about Kickstarter is that it brings together a crowd of people who all have very similar goal. So it's worked overall very, very well for us -- I'm actually very proud of what we've done. And another thing, we've not only shipped the game, but we've continued support of the game." As one of the early Kickstarter success stories, Elite: Dangerous grabbed a lot of attention for its vision as a space-exploration title across a massive and ever-growing universe. As a sequel to the '90s space sim Frontier, many fans of the genre yearned for a return, which they got in Frontier Developments' crowdfunded title. Despite its scope and breadth of content so far, the creators already have much of the development mapped out for the next few years. [embed]288572:57606:0[/embed] "I see [the vision] for a very, very long time growing, and it'll keep us occupied. We said there would be paid updates, and some of the things we said you could do in those is going down to planet surfaces, get up out of your chair and explore the cockpit, boarding other ships, big-game hunting, driving other types of vehicles on the surface to explore cities; but designing each one is like a whole new type of game. We have to be careful, but to me those are the perfect types of game experiences." With the success of previous updates and expansions, such as patch 1.1, the developers fully plan continue support with new patches and paid content packs in the future. With the Wings update, which seeks to add more PvP content, co-op play, and other enhancements to matchmaking, there is a sizeable amount of content on the horizon. "We've had amazing dedication from a lot of players, many players have played a significant amount of time -- more than a thousand hours. We're listening to a lot of players and quite a few of the people who've played that length of time are saying 'oh, I've seen everything now,' and they actually haven't. The great thing with this model is that we can add content continually, such as the Wings update and the community events. We've only been out for around three months, and people are already sinking so much time into it." The most surprising announcement from this week was that Elite would be making its way to consoles. Though the space sim genre is somewhat notorious for its complexity and dense gameplay, the developers were adamant that the title would not only feature all the content released thus far, but also that it would not be watered down for consoles. "I don't want to dumb it down," said Braben rather bluntly. "I'm an Xbox gamer, and I love games on my Xbox, but there are some games I feel that have been dumbed down a bit [for console port]. I get sick of tutorials, that are giving you very obvious instructions. So overall, I'm very excited about the console. It'll offer a different feel for players where you're sitting back on a comfortable chair or siting up close to a desk." Of course, with the recent trends seeing virtual reality as the future of games, the developers wanted to get ahead of that by being among the first to officially support the device. Which certainly plaid off, as it's one of the most used games for the Oculus Rift headset. As more companies are announcing devices, Braben is optimistic about the potential VR has for gaming. "[Working with VR] has been a good experience," he said. "The great thing about being independent is when we first released [a beta] in 2013, there was Oculus Rift support five or six days later, which we added. We were always excited abut it, and we thought our game would make great use of it. What's good to see now is that the number of new head-mounted displays coming out, and I think that's exciting -- what's interesting is that I think there aren't any other triple-A titles like Elite: Dangerous that are officially supporting it right out of the box. We see lots of demos, but it's surprising to see there isn't a consumer release VR headset." It's great to see that a hardcore space sim has been so widely accepted by fans. And as the game grows every few months with its updates, players will have plenty of content to dive into. The future looks bright for Elite: Dangerous, and with the console releases on the horizon, the barrier for entry is much lower now for those looking to dive into interstellar exploration.
Elite: Dangerous photo
The developers talk content updates and VR
Things have been going well for Frontier Developments. With the success of Elite: Dangerous, which features a sizeable and passionate community of space explorers, and having won the prestigious Audience Award from the 2015 G... read feature

GDC photo
GDC

Creative Assembly reveals inital pitch video for Alien: Isolation


See the never before shown video that started development
Mar 04
// Alessandro Fillari
Alien: Isolation was one of my biggest surprises of last year. As huge fan of the film series, I always wanted to play a title that emulated the original movie's tone and style. Though the action of the James Cameron-he... read
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GDC

Never seen Alien: Isolation third-person footage shown at GDC


Gameplay showing abandoned alternate camera set-up shown during panel
Mar 04
// Alessandro Fillari
One of the great joys of attending GDC is going to panels conducted by developers talking about your favorite games. Not only will you learn new and exciting details about the development, but you might even see somethi... read

Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide goes all in with hectic co-op action

Mar 03 // Alessandro Fillari
Set during The End Times, Warhammer's take on the apocalypse, the world has been plunged into chaos as war breaks out, forcing the many factions and groups to take up arms and fight back. Set within the city of Ubersreik, five heroes must defend the massive metropolis from the hordes of Skaven, a race of quasi-rat creatures, that wish to sack one of the remaining bastions of the world. As a co-op action brawler, players will be able to select a class of hero and take them through several stages throughout Ubersreik. Each with their own weapons and abilities, the characters feel unique from one another. Some classes can jump into the fray, while others might be better off at a distance. The four classes that have been announced so far -- the Witch-Hunter, Imperial Soldier, Wood Elf, and Pyromage -- have an individualized backstory and arc, which unfolds as you move across the city. During my session, I got to play as the Soldier and Wood Elf, and each had their own banter and point of view regarding the End Times. [embed]288516:57596:0[/embed] In case you haven't quite picked up on it, Vermintide channels a lot of Left 4 Dead, which is actually a really good thing. Gameplay-wise, players will travel from one end of the level to other while using melee and ranged abilities to fight off waves of foes and complete objectives -- and on a narrative level, the story happens in real time. While on one hand it feels a bit more subdued and smaller in scale than what Warhammer tends to dabble in, the focus on these characters in such a smaller setting creates a greater connection to them, which was also one of Left 4 Dead's greatest strengths. I'm looking forward to exploring the city with these characters, some of whom don't seem to get along that well. As you travel though the city, you'll come across many different variations of Skaven that seek to eliminate those remaining in Ubersreik.  Often times you will come across the common types, which can be killed with a single blow but can easily overwhelm; there are tougher variants, such as the gatling rat and heavy-armor Skaven, and rats wielding poison bombs that aim to separate your group. What's impressive about these encounters is that the A.I. will randomly spawn enemies and special hordes. During my two rounds of play, the types of encounters were different, and we even got ambushed much earlier than expected. This dynamic aspect of Vermintide is very interesting, and will definitely keep repeated play exciting. As you clear levels, you'll be able to acquire loot for your characters, such as new weapons and trinkets. Each class has their own type of drops, which encourages experimentation. If you're especially adventurous, replaying stages on higher difficulties will lead to much greater rewards -- though be warned that the encounters are much more perilous and the foes are far more cunning. It's refreshing to experience a Warhammer game with a deep focus on action. While the strategy and online games were fun, I always kinda wanted a game set in the universe that allowed you to get up close and personal. Though there's definitely still much work to be done here -- what I played was in pre-alpha -- there is certainly lot for Games Workshop fans to look forward to in Vermintide.
GDC 2015 photo
Warhammer: Apocalypse Edition
I've long been an admirer of the Warhammer franchise. While a lot of people seem to put more of their attention towards the 40K universe, the high-fantasy setting of the former is so rich and features such... read feature

The Flock is an intense, scary game of flashlight tag

Mar 02 // Alessandro Fillari
In The Flock, you play as a hunter living amongst other hunters in a desolate, ruined city. One of the hunters soon discovers an artifact imbued with light that transforms his gangly and horrific appearance into something different. But the other hunters feel threatened by the artifact, and wish to take it for themselves. With a single hunter on the run with the artifact, the others must chase him down before the wielder can discover the secrets that the ancient tool possesses. Much like the recent Evolve, The Flock focuses on asymmetrical multiplayer where one player battles against others. The wielder of the light must make his way through the ruins activating ancient relics to strengthen the artifact, all the while evading the hunters. Though his movement and agility is limited, the light will keep him protected, and any hunter who's touched by the light's reach will be scorched to a cinder. Unfortunately, it's only effective within line of sight. If the hunters get the jump on the wielder from behind, where it is most vulnerable, then it's all over. [embed]288476:57585:0[/embed] Despite their vulnerability to the light, the hunters possess an assortment of abilities to use against the rogue player. Hunters are very fast and make great use of their jumping and sprinting abilities to reach areas the lone player cannot. Moreover, if the hunters remain still, they will turn to statues, making them immune to the light. In addition to this, they can even make duplicates of their statue form to create decoys and blindside the wielder. Initially, I found it very difficult to make any progress against the wielder, as the light's reach goes far -- it's deadly in the hands of a skilled player. Fortunately, my team of hunters made use of the environment to catch him by surprise. It was great getting the best of him just as he was about to clear the level. The Flock is a neat take on traditional horror titles. I didn't really think horror and multiplayer could mix well, but I found that this title was able to retain the best of both genres.
GDC 2015 photo
Three versus one in the dark
With so many horror titles out, it's difficult to keep things interesting for players. While some focus on throwing countless monsters at you, others seek to make players feel nearly powerless against a limited number of foes... read feature

Megaton Rainfall is superhero action on an epic scale

Mar 02 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]287535:57294:0[/embed]I's up to you as the Earth's sole superhero to defend cities against an alien invasion. As the mothership sends out waves of flying drones and attack ships, you'll have to take advantage of enemy weak points to inflict massive damage, all while keeping the cities protected. Though the hero is invincible, civilization is not. The health bar of the city is displayed, showing current damage levels done by the aliens and any collateral damage done by the player. If the bar is depleted, the city is leveled and the invaders succeed. One thing that was very apparent was the sense of scale. Right from the beginning, our hero is floating above the Earth's atmosphere, where he can pinpoint danger from around the world. Once he's needed, he rushes down to the planet's surface, a la Superman, and faces the invading forces head-on. Keep in mind, this was all seamless and featured no load times whatsoever. As you race towards the planet's surface, the terrain begins to magnify and the detail of the land comes into focus. It was immensely satisfying being able to move so freely and quickly, and players will be able to explore the Earth in their own way. Moreover, Alfonso Del Cerro even plans to have players move to different planets and satellites across the universe. In some cases, you'll have to confront the alien forces in space or on the Moon and Mars. It's a real wonder how one person was able to develop such a grand game on his own, but Cerro cites procedural content as one of the big ways to make up for the lack of manpower. I do realize that the word ambitious is thrown around a lot, and it's often used lightly. With that said, I really found the sense of scale very impressive. Moreover, Megaton Rainfall's approach to superhero action, where you're more protector than warrior, is refreshing. Hopefully we can learn more about this unique superhero game soon. I'd love to see more of what this universe holds.
GDC 2015 photo
A one-man Earth Defense Force
Last month, we got a tease from an upcoming indie action title that will put players in the role of a superhero during an alien invasion. The trailer certainly inspired a lot of interest, as it was more somber and earnest, no... read feature

Etrian Mystery Dungeon is a quirky spinoff in line with series legacy

Feb 26 // Alessandro Fillari
Etrian Mystery Dungeon (3DS)Developer: Spike ChunsoftPublisher: AtlusRelease date: April 7, 2015MSRP: $39.99 For those unaware, Etrian Mystery Dungeon is a spinoff of its mainline series Etrian Odyssey. Playing as adventurers seeking fame, fortune, and glory, you must explore dangerous monster-filled dungeons while helping out local townsfolk in need. In and around the village of Azlarga, you build your reputation amongst the locals who come to rely on you for help. Over the course of your adventures, you'll acquire new weaponry, abilities, and and party members that wish to join in on your successes, and hope to conquer the more nefarious and deadly dungeons that remain untouched by explorers' hands. In similar vein to last year's Persona Q, EMD takes several of the series' concepts and gameplay ideas, and injects them into a brand new setting. In Mystery Dungeon, the action is moved to the tried-and-true roguelike dungeon crawler school of thought. With an overhead third-person angle, you have to keep watch of your party members and their surroundings as they venture through the environment. Utilizing grid-based movement, positioning is everything. Certain party members use either ranged or close-range abilities, and must be placed accordingly. With only four characters to bring with you into the field, you'll have to choose wisely from the several classes that EMD has to offer. While exploring, you'll want to monitor the status of your party members. As some traps poison people, or debilitate movement, you have stay stocked up on recovery items. For every step you take, you also drain FP (food points), which affects stamina and combat prowess. Once that's completely drained, your party leader will sustain damage for every move you make. In order to stay ahead of this, you'll have to keep them well-fed, or have another member of the group take point. This puts an interesting spin on exploration, as often times you'll have your tank lead. But if he's too tired to take charge, then you might be forced to escape or have one of your more vulnerable members lead. [embed]288216:57511:0[/embed] Fortunately, there are many different ways to stay on top in dungeons. Certain classes can scout ahead and spot traps and monsters, while others can keep the party buffed and in good health. Also, there are several areas within the labyrinths that are fairly safe, which can be fortified by your group. In these forts, you'll remain safe, and they can be used for quick travel back to the outside. Forts are run by members of the guilds you can join back in Azlarga, and they help monitor your resources. Loot, minerals, and other special resources found in the dungeon can be taken back to the forts, though, keep in mind, they can be still be attacked and destroyed by monsters in the dungeon. So it's important to make sure if you want to invest the time and money to build one, especially in a dangerous location. The Etrian Odyssey series is known for its tough challenges, and EMD definitely retains that for dungeon exploration. Every dungeon you travel to is randomly generated, which not only keeps things interesting, but has you on your toes. In some cases, the first few floors of the dungeon might be a cake walk, but traveling to a fresh location might have you walk right into several traps and powerful foes. Despite the challenges, there are many opportunities to save yourself and your crew. If you for instance wipe, you can send in rescue units for your team for evac back to town. Unfortunately, you'll lose out on items and currency found at that location. So it's always best to keep a fresh save at all times. I'm usually not that partial to dungeon crawlers, but I found Etrian Mysery Dungeon to be charming, despite its difficulty. The visuals and art style are vibrant and colorful, which is a welcome departure from the common brown and grey aesthetic of roguelike dungeon crawler RPG titles. I found the presentation to be fun, and the world is one I would love to explore again. I expect players to be quite taken with Mystery Dungeon. With its release in April, it should also scratch an itch for fans eager to play Etrian Odyssey V, which is still a ways off. Granted, this is a bit different than previous EO titles, but that's actually kind of a good thing. It's another approach to dungeon crawling, sure, but at its heart it's a similar experience fans will love.
Etrian Mystery Dungeon photo
Hardcore dungeon crawling with a new perspective
Over the years, Atlus has become one of the more endearing presences in gaming. One thing fans appreciate is its tendency to switch things up. The publisher has a handle on the niche gaming scene, and it's reassuring to know ... read feature

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker is devilishly difficult, set for release on May 5

Feb 18 // Alessandro Fillari
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker (3DS)Developer: AtlusPublisher: AtlusRelease date: May 5, 2015MSRP: $49.99 Set in near-future Japan, the world is facing an invasion from a demonic force known as the Septentriones. As the protagonist, you soon discover that a cellphone app called Nicaea sees the possible future deaths of friends and allies, which may also have clues on to how to stop the invaders. With only seven days to defeat them, the protagonist and his allies make a pact with a demon who dubs them the Devil Messengers, granting them the abilities and strength to fight back. The fate of the world now rests on the group to take down the Septrentriones, but along the way they'll have to manage the responsibilities of controlling an army of demons while handling teenage drama that can distract from the reality of their situation. As stated previously, Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker is an enhanced version of the original game in addition to a substantial amount of new content. Including the original game's Septentrione arc, which features a new script and dialog, cutscenes, updated voice-work and music, and new demons to recruit -- it also has a brand new campaign taking place after the events of the original story known as the Triangulum arc. For those who are familiar with the original arc and want to jump into the new story, you can do so right from the get-go. The Triangulum arc features many parallels to the original story, such as the foreshadowing Nicaea app and returning characters, but there any many deviations that'll surprises returning players. Not to give too much away, but certain characters and events will be entirely different, and will even have players looking at established characters in a new way. Though no progress will be carried over from the original campaign, the new content will take anywhere from 20-30 hours to complete, which also includes more demons and characters to recruit. [embed]287802:57378:0[/embed] Much like its predecessor, Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker tasks players with interacting with party members to forge friendships and create teams to battle armies of demons invading Tokyo. Battles take place in turn-based strategy format, where characters have to maneuver around the field to make their move against the enemy. Bringing four teams into battle, each ally leads their own unit with two demons fighting alongside them. Players will have to think ahead and use their strengths and special skills to outwit enemies. The importance of character interaction is one of the hallmarks of MegaTen, and Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker expands upon that with strategic gameplay. Character interaction and forming friendships is important to succeed, and you'll even have to make deals with the devil (literally) to get your own demon army ahead. Over the course of seven days, you'll have to the strengthen bonds of allies with the Fate System (similar to Persona's Social Links), and recruit powerful demons to stand a chance against the enemy forces. I had a nice amount of time with Record Breaker, and it seems to retain the heart and fun that SMT fans adored from the original title. There's a rabid following for Devil Survivor 2, and it feels that this enhanced version is very much a love letter to the original game that seeks to give it a much more exciting and satisfying finish. I got quite a laugh with the new voice work and script, which remains as self-aware and humorous with its characters than ever. Though there's been some concern about the premium price tag ($49.99), there's definitely a lot more content to go around with this entry. With the updated Septentrione arc along with a sizable epilogue campaign in the Triangulum story arc, Record Breaker is the most robust package in the Devil Survivor series, and it will see even more content with future DLC. It'll certainly tide you over until Persona 5 will be released.
Shin Megami Tensei photo
More than a remaster
What a busy year this is going to be for Atlus. With the release of Persona 5 in the coming months, there are a lot of expectations for what's ahead with the Shin Megami Tensei franchise. In order to keep fans satiated till t... read feature

Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin is more than just a remaster

Feb 05 // Alessandro Fillari
Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin (PC, PS3, PS4 [previewed], Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: From SoftwarePublisher: Bandai Namco GamesRelease date: April 7, 2015MSRP: $59.99 "It's about the rediscovery of the Dark Souls II experience, from the director's perspective," said Yoshimura during his presentation on Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin. "That was something that the team at From Software in Japan really wanted players to experience." The developers and publisher Bandai Namco have kept many details close to the vest, in part due to the studio working on another Souls-esque experience with Bloodborne, and wanting to keep fans in suspense. It's easy to think of this as nothing more than a remastered game-of-the-year edition, which is totally fair, but From Software wanted to set the record straight. In the cursed kingdom of Drangelic, you play as an afflicted traveler looking to find a cure to end their suffering. With the kingdom filled with monsters and other nefarious foes, you'll discover that the curse, and those crazy enough to remain in the defiled lands, are all linked in the fate of Drangelic. Granted, you know this if you played the original Dark Souls II. You might even be comfortable with what lurks in the cursed lands. But what if I were to tell you that things are a bit different with the coming of Scholar of the First Sin? With this release, From Software wanted to spice things up by adding characters as well as overhauling and retweaking gameplay. "If you played Dark Souls II on Xbox 360 or PS3 all the way through, then you would think of this game, Scholar of the First Sin, as roughly the same game with all of the DLCs," said marketing director Brian Hong. "But what we're really trying to get across with players is that with [current-generation systems], we have a completely different experience for Dark Souls II." A common criticism of the original release last year was that it was much easier than its predecessor. While there is an argument for that case, even though it was still an immensely challenging game, the folks at From Software want to address those concerns head-on. Scholar of the First Sin is to Dark Souls II what Master Quest is to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It's not only for newcomers looking to see what the Souls experience is all about, it's also for those who may think they've mastered Dark Souls II. In my brief time with the game, it was apparent the game wanted me to feel very uncomfortable with what lied behind the corner even though I've already cleared the previous title. But of course, the feeling of discomfort is a normal part of the series' experience. One of Scholar of the First Sin's most apparent changes is that enemy and monster placements have been reworked. Foes you encountered at certain points in DSII will appear much earlier, and in greater numbers. During my session in the Forest of Fallen Giants, Ogres were wandering throughout, and Hollow Infantry are in larger groups. Surprisingly, the Heide Knights were nowhere to be seen, as they've been moved to other locations. With the increased number of foes, and different placement of them, I found myself having to effectively relearn aspects of areas I was quite familiar with. What's even more surprising was that the A.I. was not only improved, but the enemies of Dark Souls II had also lost their fear of Bonfire spots. They will have no qualms about chasing players down to their safe havens. To put it simply, you're more vulnerable in Scholar of the First Sin than in the original, which means you'll be using your hoards of lifegems far more often. As any fan of the Souls series will tell, mastering your environment and knowing the limits of your enemies is everything. So it was especially interesting to see that Scholar of the First Sin pulls the rug from under the players. From Software has especially had fun in placing monsters in areas that were not present in the original game. For instance, elevators that lead to bosses or shortcuts now house enemies that lay in wait for the player. With the technology that the current-gen has brought, the developers were very keen on getting the title out on the new hardware. With the increased horsepower, From Software was able to bring a visual boost to the Souls experience. In addition to the title running at 60 frames per second and at 1080p, the texture quality and lighting are improved to give the atmosphere an extra kick. Moreover, online multiplayer has also seen a boost with a maximum of six players during engagements. Much like another upcoming remaster, the developers were also inspired by much of what PC modders were able to accomplish, and wanted to offer the same level of content boosts (like textures and lighting) to the console releases. "Thanks to those players online, we were surprised by what they came up with," said Yoshimura. "Just one week after the release of [Dark Souls II], we saw all these mods being released, and the team at From Software were surprised and like 'This mod is awesome!'" Surprisingly, the producer was candid about the state of parity between each version. As there was some controversy over the differences in the original game to the one that was ultimately released, Bandai Namco was very adamant about what's in Scholar of the First Sin. "All [current-gen] versions will run at 1080p and 60 frames per second, including the Xbox One. So it is not 900p blah-blah-blah, it's 1080p and 60 FPS for all three platforms. Though some people said that it is worse to play the game on PC without DirectX 11, and the answer is yes. I'm really confident about clarifying this, because the improved lighting and shadows, clothing effects, and etc. -- this is only available on DirectX 11 technology, and not on DirectX 9." If you have the PS3, Xbox 360, or PC (DX9) versions of Scholar of the First Sin, then you might find yourself surprised to see that nothing has been altered visually or tech-wise, though you'll definitely experience the gameplay enhancements and new content. I dug what I played of the PlayStation 4 version. Though I was a little disappointed that no new areas were implemented, it's exciting to see that the developers sought to redefine what Dark Souls II was. The graphical boosts are very apparent -- quite stunning in person, even -- and the smooth 60 FPS combat is immediately noticeable. Though it's a bit disappointing that only those with new hardware will be able to experience it (without mods, of course). It's an interesting experience to re-learn Dark Souls II. Coming off of its predecessor, it seemed to have gotten flack for not quite living up to that standard while wanting to try something different. But with Scholar of the First Sin, which the folks at From Software consider the definitive edition, it feels like the game has gotten a much-needed invigoration -- especially with Bloodborne coming out the month before. It's not often you get to experience a game like this for the first time all over again, and that's something fans should love.
Dark Souls II photo
Prepare to die harder
I'll be the first to say it: it's going to be the year of Souls. With the release of Bloodborne only a month away, which looks to redefine the experience along with its wonderful change of setting, From Software has been... read feature

Battlefield Hardline goes all in with final beta release

Feb 02 // Alessandro Fillari
Battlefield Hardline (PC [previewed], PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: Visceral GamesPublisher: EARelease date: March 17, 2015MSRP: $59.99 "It's challenging in the sense that with making videogames you kinda open yourselves up to a lot of feedback," said Executive Producer Steve Papoutsis while recalling the reaction from fans after the release of the previous beta. "Some of it warranted, others just hypothisizing about what you're doing, but our approach was from day one was to give the players the game and let them try it -- and with their help, build a better game." Coming off of their official reveal back at E3 2014, the developers at Visceral Games unveiled the release of a playable beta for all to play. While a lot of people were excited to see a different and pretty unique take on Battlefield, there were definitely concerns with seeing another title so soon after its predecessor. And with the reaction to their beta being a bit mixed to say the least, the information and affirmations they acquired from fans proved to be highly beneficial for them. The following month, they decided to delay launch for several months to fine-tune the game, and get it to where it needed to be. In light of what happened to the launch of Battlefield 4 back in 2013, which a lot of people still remember and hold a grudge for, it's certainly respectable, if bold, for the massive giant that is EA to hold off on releasing its next tent-pole title. But Papoutsis cites current leadership at the publisher and the developer's desire to go beyond what was expected as a major source for their decision to hold off on releasing. [embed]286881:57095:0[/embed] "When we announced at E3, we did something pretty different and we were pretty adamant about showing and letting people play it," said the executive producer. "Instead of just announcing it, we wanted to put it in people's hands, because we knew there were just a ton of Battlefield players and there were would be a lot of questions and skepticism. [....] And honestly, I kinda look at the feedback with a lens of these are passionate people about what the team is doing -- and that's really special to have people out there who are really invested in what the team is doing." "We got a ton of great feedback  [from the first beta], and we got so much feedback that when we sat down as a team and look at it all, we quickly realized that we wouldn't be able to action upon it at all with our original ship date (back in October)," said Papoutsis. "And when we realized that, we had a great conversation with Andrew Wilson (CEO of EA), and part of his vision for EA right now is to really put our players first. So once he understood that we as a team didn't have time to action on that feedback, he and the company were very supportive in giving us more time." A number of these changes are both sweeping and subtle. For instance, movement is much faster, vehicles are a bit more vunerable, weapons have more weight to them and damage output has been tweaked, class and perk abilities have been tweaked for balancing, and entire gameplay modes (such as Heist) have been given revisions to find an even stronger element of fun. And now on the eve of their final beta release, Visceral Game certainly feels confident that its title has gotten 'there'. 'There' being the place that all Battlefield players want the game to be. During our time with the new beta, we got the opportunity to play through several 32 player matches set across three modes, Hotwire, Heist, and Conquest.  In the four hours I had with Hardline, I found Heist and the tried and true Conquest modes to be my favorite. Like past BF games, Conquest pits players against each other on large maps as they battle for control of territories. This mode feels great with 32 players (and even better with 64), and the new style and personality that Hardline goes for really shines. Set on the Dustbowl map, which is a large desert community that occasionally gets hit with sandstorms, police were raiding the criminal's meth operation and had to secure the territory. There's a stronger narrative context to missions, which is something I really dug. With the Heist mode, you can finally recreate the same thrill of Heat's bank heist scene. Set on the Bank Job map, the crooks obviously have to plan out their attack and raid a bank, while making it to drop off points and securing them for helicopter pickup. Of course, the cops have to make sure they don't succeed. Heist was a real blast to play. I got a serious rush from blasting open the vault doors, while covering my exits from the police. And the other side is an entirely different experience. With police having the outside of the bank to mostly themselves, they can organize and keep an eye on the drop off points to take out wandering crooks. It definitely felt like the most complex mode in the beta, and it'll be interesting to see how heists turn out for different players. Unfortunately, I didn't find myself enjoying Hotwire too much. In this mode, you have to secure vehicles, which serve as mobile capture points that give teams respawn tickets. In theory it seemed cool, and I was excited to get into chases, but in my experiences I often found myself making laps around the map in the stolen vehicle without anyone on the enemy team coming after me. The dynamic seemed to focus around the hot spots and choke points on the map, and if you stay away from the action, then they'll likely ignore you for closer targets (and there are plenty of cars to go for). Don't get me wrong, there were definitely fun moments and I certainly had a rush t-boning an enemy controlled vehicle and having my teammates pump it full of lead, but the 'down time' during Hotwire felt really weird and a bit awkward. One aspect of Hardline that feels especially unique is that there is a stronger difference between the two factions. Stylistically, cops are far more by the book and stoic in the line of duty. While the criminals use harsh language and exude more attitude while on the job. Moreover, the type of weaponry and gear they use differs from the other side. The cops use high-tech weaponry and military-esque gear, while the criminals use makeshift gadgets and black market gear to get the job done. Of course, one side isn't at any particular advantage over the other, the differences here show of a greater level of personality not found in previous Battlefield that featured generic soldiers. "The idea of cops and robbers is something that a lot of people play, so we had a goal when developing this game was to make it feel very different.," said the executive producer. "A traditional military game takes place in military engagements, and they often put players at very far distances from each other, and there's no communications between opposing sides. But a lot of the interesting cop movies and TV crime dramas, a lot of what makes them interesting is the dynamic between the two factions [Police/Criminals]. It creates interesting dialog, sometimes humorous, sometimes really tense, but that shows an inherent difference between the settings." Customization is a staple of Battlefield, and Hardline definitely keeps with the tradition of allowing players to model and define their own character loadout. One of the criticisms from the previous beta was that factions could use weapons from opposing sides, as in a police officer could bring an AK or molotov cocktails to a fight. Which doesn't make too much sense considering the type of firepower they have. To remedy this, the developers introduced the Weapon License feature. As you rank up and gain proficiency with gear, you'll be able to unlock the right to use weapons from opposing sides and other rare guns for your character. You want your criminal to be decked out in SWAT weaponry? You can do it, but you gotta earn it. Another returning feature from previous games is the Commander mode. Now called Hacker mode, players can take position as an overseer within the battles, helping their team with boosting scores, hacking control points, spying on the enemy from security cameras, and even hindering the opposition with jamming skills. Playing Hacker wasn't really my thing, nor was it in the previous games, but anyone who's comfortable with Commander will feel right at home here, as the challenge of balancing skills and keeping an eye on your team is still there. Just make sure you know what you're doing. There's nothing worse than having a newbie on overwatch. With the beta period lasting only six days, this week is your last chance at giving Hardline a shot before its release in March. The folks at Visceral Games have certainly put in the work, and with the amount pressure on them now, especially considering it's coming after the ill-fated BF4, they certainly feel the need to deliver. I had a blast with the beta, and I definitely would've put in more hours if I could. Hardline feels much faster, and far more tighter than previous titles, while still retaining the scope and 'epicness' that the series is known for. And no, this doesn't feel like a mod or re-skin. Perhaps its first beta did, but now it certainly feels like a title that can stand on its own. While I wished I would've liked Hotwire more, since its one of the original features that's coming with Battlefield Hardline, the remaining modes certainly live up to the series' pedigree. Playing Hardline's conquest mode with 64 players was an incredible rush, and experiencing the map specific changes was incredibly fun. If you were one of the many who just couldn't get down with the original beta, then this new and improved take might just win you over. The changes were like night and day compared to the original, and it's very reassuring to see the game in pretty polished state. And that's a lot more than could be said about Battlefield 4's launch state.
BF Hardline preview photo
Here comes the fuzz
It's not too often we see a major publisher humbled. With the announcement of Battlefield Hardline last year, EA and Visceral Games were ready to release another entry in the epic and grandiose Battlefield series. But soon af... read feature

The Magic Circle tackles game development with clever satire

Jan 28 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]286461:57041:0[/embed] The Magic Circle (PC [previewed])Developer: QuestionPublisher: QuestionRelease Date: TBA 2015 To say that The Magic Circle is quirky and unique in its take on the adventure genre would be an understatement. With independent games on the rise, many of which look to the past to stand out in the present market, it can be difficult to attract an audience -- especially as a brand new studio. Four guys with experience on such franchises as Thief, Dishonored, and BioShock figured their history and perspective on such high-profile titles would be a good place to start for an idea. "We're three people (just now four with Pat Balthrop), trying to say something new -- in part because we're restless after years of very traditional games, and in part because finding some mutant platypus niche is our best shot at survival in the crowded indie market," said lead writer and designer Jordan Thomas, who served as creative director on BioShock 2. "So we decided to skew 'artfully imbalanced' in the player's favor -- both in the narrative and in the game design. Letting them not just inside the joke, but to an extent, inviting them to rewrite it." Set in a fairly by-the-numbers fantasy role-playing game, you fill the roll of "The Hero," who's on a quest to vanquish evil. But you soon realize that you're one of a long series of ideas within the production of the longest-developed game in history. Its creator, Starfather, who is in reality a legendary game developer named Ishmael "Ish" Gilder (voiced by the always wonderful James Urbaniak), is seeking to release a follow-up to his old adventure title (The Magic Circle) from decades past. Unfortunately, production has been plagued with uncertainty and madness. With major revisions and changes happening on the fly, and his producer planning a mutiny of sorts, Gilder's project has long been trapped in the dreaded development hell. Soon after having his family sword stripped away and being sent to the cutting-room floor, a long-abandoned character from the game's past makes contact with our Hero, and involves him in plans to get revenge on the "gods" of the world. Using the game's programming against its creators, The Hero will manipulate the design and code of the game to suit his needs and strike back against the Starfather.  During The Hero's journey, he'll travel throughout the barren and clearly work-in-progress landscape in search of allies for their cause. Stylistically, the visuals resemble half-finished sketches or concept art by artists trying to figure out what they want. Not only does it look as if the creators are chaotic in their vision, but that anything in the world looks like it could be wiped away at a moment's notice. While exploring Gilder's game, players will discover the ruins and relics from past incarnations of the troubled title. One moment, you'll be trekking through caves and deserts of a fantasy land, then in another, you'll come across a door to an abandoned space station that transports you to a retro sci-fi world filled with robots and rogue A.I. programs, all of which are rendered in low-res 3D graphics. The art style feels schizophrenic, but still thematically consistent with the tone of the story. As sci-fi and fantasy are two of the most common genres in gaming, it's no surprise that the "gods" tried their hand at both. It truly felt like I was in a world made by a fickle creator unable to stop chasing new ideas. But of course, that's exactly what The Magic Circle is going for. If you're an enthusiast gamer, and I know you are because you're reading this, then the plot might have struck a chord with you. After all, our hobby is to discuss and analyze the workings of our escapist entertainment. I have no doubt that some are probably thinking of a few famed developers that might fit the bill for Ish. But make no mistake, this isn't some loose expose about a particular figure. At its heart, The Magic Circle is a game about unfocused ambition in the realm of game development. And that's something its creators can relate to. "As an artist, I am constantly fighting with the part of me that wants to try another avenue, because you can always come up with another idea," said lead artist Stephen Alexander. "It is a double-edged sword, more time almost always results in a better end result, but you can talk yourself out of any direction when a newer one pops into your head. The game is kind of a vision of what it would be like if that impulse was indulged endlessly, which at least to my mind is what lies behind any of the famous examples of vaporware over the years. The word that's often used to describe The Magic Circle's humor and its narrative design is meta. Meaning "beyond," TMC recontextualizes troubled game development as the backdrop for a 'world' in chaos. For the characters within the game, the 'talent' working on the game are referred to as the "gods" and appear as giant neon mono-eyes in the sky. Ish and his executive producer Maze Evelyn bicker constantly while observing their troubled creation in flux. Think of it as a mix between the themes of creation and creator from Frankenstein, the philosophical take on perspective from Plato's The Allegory of The Cave, and a dash of the batshit craziness of Too Many Cooks. It's one of the rare existentialist games we've had, and I welcome others to try their hand at it. I got a thrill seeing our hobby, and player agency, as the focus of satire. The topic of game development is something that many enthusiast gamers, press, and of course actual developers are very familiar with. With hardcore gamers treating it as some sort spectator's sport where they worship 'celebrity' developers, how the press manages to latch onto a particular story of a troubled developer, or even the chaos surrounding game development with improper management, The Magic Circle covers the whole gamut of gaming. Its meta approach is something that's not frequently used as a major focus for games. "On the meta front you touched on, the other thing that is constantly in my mind as a writer is that meta framework is so often used as a kind of cowardly pre-apology, a way of saying 'it's a joke, so please don't hurt me.' And I want no part of that," said Jordan Thomas. "So most of the characters definitely don't know they're in a comedy, and as a script I've tried to make it earnest to a fault. What excited us when we started all this was the idea of devs as deeply flawed people with total creative control over an evolving world -- gods with feet of clay. And then, heh...there are the fans. This story is by no means 'devs: stupid! Players: smart / right / beautiful.' That would be too easy. So, the hope: while the premise is meta by nature, the execution -- for better or for worse -- is from the heart." There's a lot of respect for the topic, and especially for the players as well. Though non-gamers might feel lost at the jargon and topics discussed, at its heart this is a story about ambition gone awry. And a lot of that is conveyed by the wonderful voice cast, featuring James Urbaniak, Ashly Burch, Karen Dyer, and Stephen Russell. Urbaniak in particular stands out as the delusional villain Ishmael Gilder. Imagine if BioShock's Andrew Ryan was a game developer who was in massive debt and resorted to several crowdfunding campaigns to keep his vision afloat, all the while chasing trends and upsetting his development staff. In one of many nods, you'll find several audio logs, referred to as Audio Commentaries, throughout your adventure, which illustrate Gilder's decline from respected developer to desperate hack banking on nostalgia. Despite the characters' disdain and contempt for the "gods," I still felt a connection with them, especially the fangirl-turned-game-producer Coda Soliz, voiced by the always chipper and upbeat Ashly Burch. In many ways, her optimism and reverence for the product represents the perception of fandom within the gaming community, which I found refreshing considering how popular cynicism with the audience is. Her character not only shows how the audience has grown up with games, but how it has matured when it comes to the discussion of the medium. "As far as accuracy and thoroughness goes, we do dive deep into the discipline of systems design, but there is a lot of tedium and complexity to game development that we gloss over in favor of focusing on relationships between creators, the audience, and the game itself," said lead programmer and designer Kain Shin. "As a result, we’ve hyperbolized our own flaws and wrapped it in a layer of situational dream logic in the hopes of bridging that emotional gap between the various sides of our developer selves and our player selves." As The Hero has no means to defend himself against the enemies within the world, he is bestowed with hacking abilities that allow him to break the fourth wall and reprogram enemies and other objects to do his bidding. If you're devious, you can simply strip foes of their programming and leave them in a vegetative state, but if you're a forward thinker, you can reprogram them to fight for you and help solve traversal puzzles. Initially, you'll be using common enemies known as Howlers to meet your needs, but hacking rocks and other objects in the world can give The Hero abilities to outfit the various creatures you've recruited. For instance, finding a simple rock allowed me to hack it and take its 'Fireproof' ability, which I used for my howler that served as the Hero's muscle. The Howler was able to barrel through Flamer enemies with ease. Keep in mind, these are usually the simple solutions --- with the amount of variety given to you, you can absolutely come up with clever solutions to puzzles. In one instance, I used a bunch of gecko-turtle creatures (all of whom were fireproof) to jump across a stream of lava. Not sure if that was the accurate solution, but it certainly felt like I broke the game (which is the point). That's always fun to do. As you travel to different areas, from fantasy to sci-fi genres, recruiting monsters and other NPCs, you'll assemble an army of creatures so totally and stylistically different from one another (some of which are rendered in different graphical qualities), you'll feel like the game has completely lost its mind. Between fighting a giant alien hive queen with a squad of feral wolves and insects, and visiting a space station that seemed to be populated by the dumb robots from RoboCop, I can totally see why The Hero was recruited to put an end to this madness. With that said, I got pretty close to my Cyber Rat, which I found in the abandoned Space Station. Even though he's not much use in combat, it's always nice to have a mascot around. I had a blast playing the beta build of the title, and with such a rich subject to explore, I'm excited to see what's in store for the final release. Though that's still a ways out, there's a lot of discussion to be had for this game. It's not too often we get to experience comedy games, especially ones that put the spotlight on the chaos of game development. As gamers, we've perhaps unintentionally added a layer of mythology to game creation, making them feel that they're more than they really are. While that's not bad per se, the human element can often be lost in that. With The Magic Circle, the focus is placed on the humor and insanity that game development can inspire. Granted it's a very absurdist and surreal take, yet there's an inherent and relatable element to it. In this trek through a game world gone out of control, its refreshing to have a title that presents players the opportunity to take charge and fix the damage done by its indecisive developers. And to be totally honest, it might just be the game we need now. 
The Magic Circle photo
It takes a lot to make a stew...
You ever wonder what it's like to be a character in a videogame? Most people would think of something pleasant like Mario or Sonic the Hedgehog, not someone from Resident Evil or Silent Hill. But what would it be like to be i... read feature

Resident Evil: Revelations 2 brings Barry Burton and Raid mode center stage

Jan 27 // Alessandro Fillari
Resident Evil: Revelations 2 (PC,  PS3, PS4 [previewed], Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: CapcomPublisher: CapcomRelease Date: February 24, 2015 (Episode One) MSRP: $5.99 per episode / $24.99 season pass (including DLC) / $39.99 retail disc Taking place between Resident Evil 5 and 6, Claire Redfield and Moira Burton (daughter of S.T.A.R.S veteran Barry Burton) have been kidnapped and trapped on an abandoned prison island filled with deadly creatures known as the Afflicted. Using their wits and teamwork, they fight their way through the facility and manage to send a distress signal to the mainland. Realizing that his daughter has been kidnapped, Barry Burton journeys to the island ready for battle. Once he reaches shore, he meets a young girl named Natalia, who possesses strange powers and close ties with the mysteries on the island. Barry and Natalia's story picks up about halfway through Episode One. Once Claire and Moira reached a certain point in the plot, the perspective switches over to the second duo. Though Barry is definitely up to the challenge, he'll have to combat with nastier variations of the Afflicted. Similar to Resident Evil's crimson heads, these new creatures are more aggressive and are far more mutated than the ones Claire and Moira encountered. Some use neat tricks such as invisibility, and some have pustules that explode after being damaged. Like its predecessor, Revelations 2 will show different perspectives to the story. With Claire and Moira leading the charge while Barry and Natalia witness the aftermath of their ordeal and make their own unique way through the island, you'll experience multiple sides of the story as it unfolds. Additionally, decisions and actions made throughout the story will have an impact on the other team. For instance, while in a room filled with traps, Claire and Moira used to them cover their escape from the Afflicted. Unfortunately, as Barry and Natalia enter the facility in an different way, and they find themselves on the receiving end of the traps and must deactivate them to proceed. Much like the dynamic between Claire and Moira, Barry and Natalia use their own unique skills together to overcome the odds. With one focusing on all the fighting, the other offers support with finding items and reaching spots that the first cannot. Things are a bit different for the second duo. As Barry has come to the island prepared and ready for battle, he brings with him a lot more firepower than Claire had. Moreover, Natalia possesses mysterious abilities that allow her to track nearby enemies, even through walls. One moment during Barry's trek outside the facility showed just how important teamwork was. While moving through a seemingly empty wooden storage house, the duo senses another creature nearby. Not knowing where its coming from, Barry pressed on. Once we got to a wooden door that was jammed, the creature began to get closer. Though I could have ignored it and continued with the door, I chose to investigate the surroundings. Eventually, I discovered the creature in the ceiling, which was a mutated version of the Afflicted known as the Revenant. Using Barry's arsenal, including his trusty Python, I was able to take down the creature. It was a pretty tense moment, and if I had chosen to ignore the creature, then it would've gotten the jump on Barry and Natalia. At this point, my time with the campaign came to a close. It was incredibly exciting to finally play as Barry Burton in a legitimate entry in the series. Yes, there's Resident Evil Gaiden, but that's regarded as non-canon, largely ignored on account of it being unceremoniously released on the Game Boy Color. Barry is such a bro, and seeing him take charge and kick ass was pretty great. Even though his side of the story feels largely the same as Claire's, it was still pretty exciting stuff.  My time with Revelations 2 didn't end there. After switching off the campaign, we moved right over to the new and improved Raid Mode. As one of the biggest successes with the original Revelations, Raid Mode was something of an experiment to see if they could try something new with the standard RE bonus mode. As an alternate take on the popular Mercenaries mode, Raid Mode tasks players with battling through a gauntlet of enemies while leveling up, acquiring buffs, and collecting new weapons. Think Monster Hunter, but with Resident Evil shooting and waves of enemies to take down. It was easily the most time I spent with the original game, and Capcom has decided to expand upon it in a big way. Now featuring a light story to offer some context to the chaotic battles, you play as an A.I. within a battle simulator from the Red Queen Alpha database. Within the digital HUB area, represented as a vestibule within a mansion, you're tasked with collecting data from different characters while running simulated battles against challenging foes. As you complete tasks, you'll find audio-logs that reveal more about Red Queen Alpha and its connection to the outside world. As you conquer challenges, the A.I. gains gold which can be spent on upgrades, new weapons, and new missions to engage in. Moreover, the A.I. can take the form of many different characters from RE's past and present (including Wesker and Hunk), and use their unique skills in digitally recreated areas from the main campaign, and even from previous Resident Evil titles. Instead of just running through a single gauntlet of missions, there are several different types to select from. Main Missions are the central focus in Raid Mode, but cost currency to take part in. In order to prevent players from repeated loot runs on specific missions, you'll have to take part in daily missions and event challenges to gain more cash to re-enter the main missions. Each main mission pack has six levels to fight through, each with their own medals and rewards to find.  Every playable character can level up (maximum level 100) and has individual perks to acquire and strengthen. Much like the previous titles, you can find new weapons and upgrades for existing gear. Just like the original, Raid Mode spices up the cannon fodder by making the foes a bit beefier. Some of them possess buffs that increase speed, strength, size, and even bestow them with force-fields that soak up damage. The stages I played in were set in Tall Oaks and Edonia from Resident Evil 6, and the objective was to clear waves of enemies while making it to the end goal. I had a blast playing through the Raid Mode in Revelations 2. Not only is it far more comprehensive than Mercenaries mode, but RE:R2 ups the ante with new features and content. It was great fun battling through Tall Oaks with Barry, and the variety of different enemies I faced kept things pretty interesting. Though I'm a bit worried that repetition could detract after the long haul, and that Raid Mode will not have online co-op play available until sometime after the release of the final episode, Capcom seems to be pretty headstrong with supporting the game. The idea of daily challenges and updates makes me look forward to what's to come. With the release of the first episode of Resident Evil: Revelations 2 next month, it's going to be interesting to see how Capcom's experiment with episodic gaming will turn out. The plot certainly feels as though it wants to evoke discussion and debate among fans, and coming off the win the publisher just had with Resident Evil Remastered, it's looking like there's a bright future ahead for the once troubled Resident Evil franchise.
Resident Evil photo
Sans Jill Sandwich
Capcom has been on quite a roll lately. With the announcement of Street Fighter V, new releases in the Devil May Cry series coming, and the recent success of its HD Remaster for Resident Evil, it seems like the once trou... read feature

My first four hours with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Jan 26 // Alessandro Fillari
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (PC [previewed], PlayStation 4, Xbox One)Developer: CD Projekt RedPublisher: CD Projekt / WB GamesRelease Date: May 19, 2015MSRP: $59.99 It's clear from the recent delay, and the numerous CD Projekt Red members present at the event, that they wanted the game to be at its best. Even though it's largely finished, the studio plans to spend the next few months finding and fixing bugs and tweaking the experience. "It's all very exciting," said senior environment artist Jonas Mattsson while reflecting on the development of Wild Hunt. "We're confident in our game, but you know, it's your baby, and we're very curious to see how people will react to it." Set some time after the events of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, we find Geralt of Rivia in dire straights. With the Northern Kingdoms in conflict and a marauding demonic force known as the Wild Hunt leaving destruction in its wake, the world has seen better days. With fellow Witcher and mentor Vesemir by his side, Geralt searches for his long-lost ally Yennefer, who might know the location of Cyri, a young Witcher who may be able to stop the conflict and save the world. Much like its predecessors, The Witcher 3 features a rich, dense plot that is backed by a considerable amount of lore. Referred to as somewhat of a realistic take on medieval fantasy by its developers, the key aspect of its approach to storytelling, which is loved by so many, is the focus on verisimilitude. Throughout his journeys, Geralt will encounter characters from different cultures and walks of life, all the while plotting his next move and earning some coin along the way. Similar to Game of Thrones, there is a clever balance of stoicism and macabre humor, as the people living in such troubling times have to keep a straight face and endure. Geralt embodies the anti-hero archetype, and his devil-may-care personality makes for an interesting foil for his world. "It's been a challenge, but we like a good challenge," Mattsson said of the open-world design. "We wanted to make sure that when we did an open-world game, it would be done our way. Not a generic open world, but a crafted open world with side quests and main quests would blend in seamlessly with natural exploration. It's not in the sense of 'side-quest number five is starting' and 'you got this amount of EXP points,' but it's more like this organic experience. For us, we achieved something quite unique." Without giving too much away, the prologue of Wild Hunt does well to get players up to speed with the gameplay and plot. During an opening tutorial set in Kaer Morhen, you're given a quick refresher on the controls, and reintroduced to returning characters. After about twenty minutes of exposition, you're thrust into the open world on the trail of Yennnefer. This will be appreciated by many, as the previous titles' tutorials were often criticized for being too drawn out. Straight away, the most impressive -- and most obvious -- aspect of Wild Hunt was its sharp, gorgeous visuals. Playing on a fully decked-out PC running the game on maximum settings, I got to see the title at its best. As impressive as the series' visuals are, Wild Hunt is several leagues ahead of what was released back in 2011. Not only was the terrain lush, and the world felt lived-in and active, but the voice work and motion-capture details were also astounding. The characters conveyed an earnest understanding of the situation, while at the same time showing humanity and emotion for the moment. It's some of the best work I've seen in a game in a long time. Being able to explore such a rich world freely and without limits was exciting, and the talent behind this adventure has made good on plans to allow players to do so at their own pace. Though the exact design of an open-world game seems to vary from developer to developer, The Witcher 3 felt bit more focused in quest design, while also offering a massive playground to explore. Instead of large hub areas that connect to each other through load screens, you'll be able to seamlessly travel from one major territory to the next. Though Skyrim is often seen as the standard for open-world gameplay, Wild Hunt feels unique in its approach and visual look, and blends a lot of different environments together. With wildlife to hunt, plants and other roots to collect for your alchemy (which allows you to craft potions and tonics), and many other dangerous foes and creatures populating the swamps, forests, dungeons, and many other locales, the world of Wild Hunt is one that keeps things interesting for players. With fast-travel available -- which can only be done when standing near sign posts -- and along with Geralt's trusty stead Roach, you'll be able to freely explore the bounds of the world with ease. Of course, with the world in chaos, Geralt must always keep himself several steps ahead of foes. Advancing upon the free-form combat from The Witcher 2, Wild Hunt refines the system to make it feel more dynamic and fluid. With his knowledge, combat prowess, and cunning as his greatest weapons, Geralt's arsenal of abilities can be freely used on the fly. For instance, your stamina bar, which controls sprinting outside of combat, allows for Geralt to use magic, such as blasts of fire and telekinetic energy, along with hypnosis and trap magic. He also makes use of bombs and other gadgets to take down foes at a distance. The crossbow in particular is useful for flying foes, and can even be used when fighting creatures underwater. There's a lot of respect and trust given to the players, and the developers were keen on letting them go at their own pace. In the starting territory of White Orchard, Geralt found word that the local garrison commander knew the location of Yennefer, but would only reveal it if Geralt and Vesemir could eliminate a large griffon terrorizing the country side. Of course, this is for the main story. If you choose to stray from the path and mingle with the locals, like I did, you'll discover side-quests and other oddities that could use your attention. As you perform quests and slay monsters, you'll acquire crowns and experience points. Crowns purchase supplies and other tools for Geralt, which he'll need for his adventures. With every level gained, you acquire skill points which can be spent on buffs for the Witcher. Unlike past games, you can allocate points and set skills without the need for Meditation, which is still used to restore health and move the passage of time. With every skill and buff acquired, you can place them in slots that make them become active on Geralt. Though you'll acquire more slots as you level, you cannot have every skill or buff active at once, so you have to build him out to your preferences. Beyond this customization, there's an increased number of weapons and armor types to find. Though previous games largely had you use a small pool of equipment that could be upgraded over time, Wild Hunt takes things further. With well over 100 unique types of gear ranging from swords, crossbows, and pieces of armor, you'll find Geralt quick to change his look. Moreover, there are varying types of gear, such as rare and legendary types that are found from exploration, questing, and advancing the main story. Though you are totally free to venture off to areas unknown, you might find that even Geralt will be unprepared for what he faces. "We have a unique version of the open world in our game," said Mattsson. "We don't want to restrict players to certain areas for the long term, but with that said there are many areas that can be completely deadly, because monsters do not scale. They will not level up with you. If you wander off to the wrong neighborhood, then you're going to get yourself killed. It's open world, completely, but you really have to be careful." There were many distractions and other events to uncover during my session. For instance, you can visit the notice board for side jobs to earn some extra coin, or you can visit the tavern to mingle with the commoners, some of whom will challenge Geralt to a game of Gwent. In this new mini-game, similar to Hearthstone or Magic: The Gathering, players will use a deck of cards to battle the other player in a game of wits and strategy. It's a pretty addictive game, and the developers even plan on releasing a real-life version of Gwent for collector's edition purchasers. While exploring a small village, I came across a man in need of protection for his young daughter. Knowing she had a curse placed upon her by a wraith, he asks you to venture to an abandoned village nearby and exorcise the vengeful spirit. Once at the village, Geralt uses his skills for deduction and tracking to discover the source of the disturbance. I was expecting a simple track-and-kill-the-monster quest, but I ended taking part in a Sherlock-esque investigation with some exploration of the underground caverns underneath the village. It culminated in a battle with a Noonwraith, a spectral demon that summoned multiple phantoms for assistance. This totally caught me by surprise. Not only was this an entirely optional quest, but it was still very early during my session. "There are several points of interest scattered throughout the game," said Mattsson. "Whether they be a tower in the distance, some ruins, or even a house in the woods, there these areas throughout the game you'll see as you're questing or just exploring. If you explore the points of interest, you can be swept up in a unique side-quest. Of course, this is something we don't force upon you, if you're not interested then you can continue on your way. We have a fifty-hour main story, and another fifty hours of side-quests, in addition to time spent exploring the landscape, it's just crazy how much content is there." When I turned in the quest, I was given the choice of taking a reward from the man or allowing him to keep it for his family. Though Witchers are required to take payment of some sort for their services, there are several points where you have to a make a moral choice. Sometimes there will be consequences for taking or refusing a reward, and many decisions will come back to haunt you. After the end of the side-quest, I went back to the main story and followed the trail of the griffon. In order to prepare for his battle with the beast, Geralt had to acquire intel from local hunters to find its nest, in addition gathering some bait. Once those tasks were finished, I was ready to take it down. In the meeting spot with Vesemir, we readied our trap to force the griffon to the ground. It was one of the tougher battles during this stage of the story, and I had to utilize my parrying and dodge skills to withstand his massive strikes. Eventually he reacquired use of his wings and flew off. I jumped on my horse and gave chase, using my special sight (which can be used to find clues and collectibles) to keep track of his bloody trail. Keep in mind this was all within the open world, and I rode past several monsters while trying to keep up with the griffon. Soon after, I tracked the beast down and dealt a final blow, severing its head and delivering it for my reward. It was a tense moment, and very satisfying, particularly taken as part of the open world and not in an instanced location that would soon be forgotten. "Bigger doesn't always mean better. For us, bigger meant we had to be more ambitious about [designing the open world]," said the CD Projekt Red artist. "For us, The Wild Hunt made it a natural step for us to scale the world to suit the needs of narrative. If we tried to make it smaller [than its predecessors], then it wouldn't make sense. If we make it too big, it would be too empty. We wanted to give it the space it deserves, and we didn't want to compromise our vision." At this point, the developers let me move ahead several hours in the plot. We then found Geralt on the Skellige Isles to the west, where he is caught up in a murder-mystery plot following the most bizarre assassination attempt I've ever seen in a game. Suffice it to say, you'll never look at bears the same way again. The Skellige Isles were a totally different area compared to White Orchard.  In similar style and geography to the Scottish Highlands, Geralt's adventures took him to an entirely new region with its own culture and rich history. I barely even scratched the surface of White Orchard, and I was already trying to acclimate myself to this locale. And I mean that in the best way. This area felt altogether different from the previous territory, and though I knew I had some unfinished business in White Orchard, the pull of the Skellige Isles was too strong. Though exploring the world of The Witcher 3 was gripping, there were several issues I had with the experience. In my several hours with the title, I could see why the developers wanted to hang on to it further fine tuning. The folks at CD Projekt Red were adamant that we report any issue to them, and this press event also doubled as a QA testing period for those who were largely unattached to the game. I found myself caught in a lot odd bugs, some of which were humorous, like a man floating beside a horse, but others were nasty. Some folk at the event experienced game crashes, and I sometimes got stuck on terrain and had to revert to earlier saves to get out. Moreover, the new swimming gameplay, which was a great addition to the adventure, felt sloppy in execution as the controls were not so accurate and a bit touchy. With that said, I came away largely impressed. From what I played thus far, which was a small portion of a hundred-hour game, Geralt of Rivia has transitioned into the open world beautifully. It truly felt like I was on an adventure in a world that not only had variety, but a sense of a danger and possibility. While I was bummed that I couldn't see what the gameplay for Ciri would be like, I can understand that they'd like to keep that as a surprise. The recently announced PC specs might scare some people off, but with simultaneous releases on multiple platforms, there's plenty of opportunity to experience it in the coming months. And did I mention how massive this game world was? Just one territory seems larger than most games in the open-world genre, and the seamless design here is nothing short of extraordinary. With its release set for May, CD Projekt Red seems to playing it safe here in its last few months, which is smart. As ambitious and massive this game is, it's also the one title you don't want to see these developers screw up. If they manage to fix the major bugs, and hopefully tighten up the controls, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt could go down as one of the boldest and most satisfying titles the genre has seen in a very long time. [Disclosure Notice: The Witcher 3 was demonstrated at an event hosted by CD Projekt Red in San Francisco. The event took place at The Alchemist Bar & Lounge, where they offered us a nice spread of Italian cheeses and meat, along with a swag bag filled with The Witcher 3 apparel. It was a fun event, and was a nice opportunity to mingle with the developers of the game and other members of the press.] 
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt photo
Not all who wander are lost
It's an exciting time to be into role-playing games. With the release of heavy hitters such as Dragon Age: Inquisition, Dark Souls II, Divinity: Original Sin, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and Wasteland 2 in recent years, the ... read feature

DmC Devil May Cry: Definitive Edition goes above and beyond

Jan 22 // Alessandro Fillari
DmC Devil May Cry: Definitive Edition (PlayStation 4 [previewed], Xbox One)Developer: Ninja TheoryPublisher: CapcomRelease date: March 10, 2015MSRP: $39.99 In this remaster of the Devil May Cry reboot, players take on the role of Dante, a young rebel who learns that the world around him is not what it seems. With demonic and angelic powers at his disposal, along with a serious talent for combat, he'll have to team up with his long-lost brother Vergil to battle hoards of demons that have invaded the real world. Along the way, he'll come to terms with his family's past, and face the demon king behind it all. Though these remasters, revisits, and enhanced releases seem all the rage nowadays (Capcom just released one this week), Definitive Edition has been making the most of the opportunity. Besides offering the complete DmC experience (all DLC packs included), uprezzed graphics and sharper visuals, and new costumes for both characters, Ninja Theory also jumped at the chance to put its action-brawler through a heavy round of retuning. We're talking Street Fighter-level rebalancing, here. The studio even flew out DmC combo video masters to its offices to offer some feedback on the new build of the game. In many ways, this is the Director's Cut. As much of a fan I was of Ninja Theory's take on Devil May Cry, I can't deny that it certainly had issues. Not only was the difficulty knocked down several pegs, which wasn't in keeping with series tradition, but many of the combat design choices, like the elemental-specific foes, added more annoyances than challenge. But Definitive Edition aims to remedy many of those problems. No more instant SSS ranks from mashing the same moves, no more easy parries, and no more infinite flights in Angel form to be had here. You wanted DmC to play by DMC's rules? You got it. But let's get this out of the way: anyone expecting a complete reworking of DmC and its gameplay system to fit exactly how the previous games felt will be disappointed. Despite what many of the more cynical fans assumed, this is not DmC: Apology Edition (Haha, so clever). DmC: Definitive Edition is still very much Ninja Theory's Devil May Cry. Capcom producer Rey Jimenez spoke with me at length about the reception DmC had, and how this remaster might even make the harshest cynics look at the game in a new light. "I think a lot of the negative reaction from the game came from the early announcement, which there were definitely problems with," Jimenez said while reflecting on the infamous debut at TGS 2010. "The end product was something that definitely appealed to a wider base -- but we really wanted to do this particular game [again] because it would really benefit from the jump [to current-gen]. There was some performance lacking that really affected the previous systems," he explained."This was something that could be revisited." According to Jimenez, "The guys at Ninja Theory always had confidence in their work, and [...] the reaction we've seen so far has been encouraging. [The developers] are very proud of the work they've done, and Capcom has been behind this product since day one." On new tech, DmC runs at a brisk 60 frames per second. Understandably, the original release on Xbox 360 and PS3 ran sluggishly, especially when put side by side with the superior PC port, which Ninja Theory used as the base for Definitive Edition. Moreover, the developers wanted to take advantage of the PS4 and Xbox One's social functions to allow players to share combo videos and other exhibitionist gameplay more easily. Jimenez called working on the port "a fairly quick process," but noted there were challenges. For starters: "Getting it to 64-bit, and adjusting the framerate and physics changes. Since Unreal 3 isn't officially supported yet on PS4 and Xbox One, we had to do a bit of modifications to the engine to make run on the new systems. On the new consoles right now with social integration as a default, anyone can make a great combo video, and since you don't need to capture footage, I think that will be phenomenal for players." In the hour I spent with the game, I was completely taken with it. DmC: DE felt sharp and on point. Though some changes are fairly subtle, such as the complete removal of Vergil's fedora (which Ninja Theory hated, by the way), many others will be instantly noticeable, particularly during combat. I constantly felt as if I was rediscovering aspects of the game I was already comfortable with, which was an awesome feeling. While the folks at Capcom were not keen on sharing the complete changelog just yet (it's apparently over six pages long), they were glad to talk about the success they had with the PC release. Did I mention how great the PC version of DmC was? Capcom and Ninja Theory thought so too. More importantly, they loved all the cool mods players created, such as Turbo Mode (increasing game speed by twenty percent) and a number of unofficial patches and tweaks like the removal of weapon-specific enemies. A number of these mods were so well received by the developers they decided to implement them for this remaster. The work put into the Definitive Edition was equal parts developer iteration and incorporation of fan feedback. Among these are the inclusion of the much-demanded lock-on targeting (complete with hold or toggle options) and a remappable button layout. For the latter, you can swap around most every action and ability. Want to recreate the layout for classic DMC? Go right ahead, and what better way to put the lock-on to use? Though initially it felt a bit jarring as the free-camera setup had to readjust itself, I quickly got my bearings. I still found myself going without it for the most part, but the addition of the lock-on became useful during encounters with elite enemies. By far the most impressive feature added to Definitive Edition is the Hardcore Mode. Intended for combat enthusiasts who clamor for classic DMC, the new gameplay system addresses a number of criticisms from the original while also incorporating modifications to the current system. Firstly, Hardcore Mode is not a standalone difficulty mode akin to Dante Must Die or the brand new Gods Must Die modes, but an optional gameplay modifier activated before mission start. If you weren't a fan of the original's design choices for combat and wish for things to be a bit more akin to the original games (such as no enemy launch on devil trigger), this mode is for you. "All of the changes and tweaks we've made, we've done them into two categories," said Jimenez. "A bunch of tweaks that are for the default game make it a better title -- and all the other changes that make it more like the classic DMC series are all placed into Hardcore Mode. We did this to allow people who loved old DmC to continue on with the same mechanics, but also have a title that has the best of old and new DMC. We definitely didn't want to have people adhere to new changes if they enjoyed the original game itself." In addition to Hardcore Mode, another challenging option is Must Style Mode. With this modifier active, players need to reach S rank and above to damage enemies. Initially, I found this to be a simple affair given the number of enemies to take on. But then things changed once I was alone with a chainsaw-wielding Ravager. Each hit takes you back several ranks, and you have to work your way back up to S level while switching up moves to keep style growth healthy. This encounter took me several minutes, and it was a real wake-up call that I had to step up my game. These modifiers add a whole new layer of depth. Without Hardcore Mode active, DmC reverts to its original combat balancing (save for a few additions and tweaks). Enabling it felt like stepping into a new game, and coupled with turbo mode, combat was bombastic and intense. DmC's Hardcore Mode brings out the best in Ninja Theory's game, and its level of refinement and polish shows great potential for combat exhibitionism. Not content with just rebalancing the combat engine, the studio also added a brand new Bloody Palace mode for Vergil. Just like the original mode for Dante, you'll have to fight through a gauntlet of enemies and bosses while dealing with varying conditions and obstacles. Interestingly, Vergil's take on BP mode only features 60 levels as opposed to the standard 100 for Dante. While this may sound disappointing, several levels have multiple phases that require you to warp to different areas and fight extra waves of enemies. While the number of stages are shorter, there is definitely a lot of variety to be found here. And yes, you can now turn the timer off in Bloody Palace. It's definitely reassuring to see the game in such solid shape, though I'm a little perplexed about the lack of a PC release being announced so far. Its absence is strange given how much of an influence the PC port of the original DmC was for Definitive Edition. While this recent trend for bringing ports to new tech has gotten somewhat of a bad rap, it certainly has its advantages. Not only does it allow newcomers to get their hands on a spruced-up version of the game on their new consoles, it also allows games to have a second chance at being something truly exceptional. As much fun I had with DmC on PS3 and PC, there were a number issues I wished were ironed out by the developers. And now with the release of Definitive Edition, it's finally coming to pass. It's an exciting time to be a Devil May Cry fan. Despite what you may feel about DmC, its developer, or what Capcom's true focus should be for the franchise, it's hard to deny that a considerable amount of attention and care went into this remaster. If you were one of the many who couldn't come around to giving the original a shot, then Definitive Edition will be your best opportunity to do so. Say what you will, but it's easily the most content-rich Devil May Cry game released in a very long time. And that's nothing to turn your nose up at. 
DmC Definitive Edition photo
Reach out and touch faith
It's been just over two years since the release of one of last gen's most polarizing titles. Back in 2010, Capcom made a bold and wildly unexpected decision to hand one of its most-loved franchises to a Western developer, and... read feature

JumpJet Rex revels in old-school charm, hits Early Access January 14

Jan 13 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]286050:56864:0[/embed] JumpJet Rex (PC [Previewed], Linux, OSX)Developer: Tree FortressRelease Date: January 14, 2015 (Early Access)MSRP: $9.99 "I always refer to it as the 'golden age of gaming,'" said Tree Fortress CEO Grant Skinner while discussing the team's influences. There is a clear respect for the 8-bit and 16-bit era in JumpJet Rex, and the developers wanted their take on an old-school 2D platformer to keep with the style and design of the period. During Early Access, which will feature the first dozen stages, they plan to keep a close eye on the community's reactions, which they see as a key part of the title's success. Taking control of the titular space exploring dinosaur, players will travel through the galaxy visiting unique planets that feature their own challenges and scenarios to tackle. With his jet boots, Rex will be able to hover, dash, and boost through stages while collecting coins and dodging obstacles. Along the way, Rex will encounter baddies and other nefarious foes that'll task players to use quick thinking and clever use of the jets to get the best of them. And, depending on performance, stars are acquired which unlock new planets to explore. "I have a lot of respect for the early '90s," said lead designer Shawn Blais. "They really had a refined mastery of platforming in 2D games." Much like titles in the vein of Mega Man and classic Sonic, JumpJet Rex features a simple control scheme that is easy to get into, but difficult to master. While the early planets were rather elementary, the difficulty quickly ramped up as the environments and enemies became more devious. As the jet boots also work as a weapon which fire blasts of energy toward enemies and boost Rex at high-speed, platforming skills are the player's greatest asset. To further add to the challenge, some planets feature secret rooms that yield great rewards but will lock the player out upon death. Though its love of the period is evident, the developers were keen to show off features that are common place in modern games. Taking inspiration from the community's interaction and sharing of content on their previous game, the folks at Tree Fortress implemented an extensive level of customization and co-op features. Players can compete against the ghosts of others in stages for the best times or work together in co-op to conquer challenging planets that will put anyone's jumpjet skills to the test. With every coin collected, players can purchase new outfits for their character and decorate their home base with knick-knacks and other oddities. Many of the outfits and designs are clever nods to classic 2D titles, and with over three-million unique combinations, the devs hope that players will share their designs and outfits for others to see. In addition to customization options, there are also plans to offer challenges to the streaming community with the upcoming (and appropriately named) Ragequit Rex mode. In it, players are given only three lives and must complete the entire game (over 40 stages in the final release) without checkpoints. After its Early Access launch, the developers plan to gradually release more content and modes until its official release. After that, Treehouse anticipates a slew of post-launch updates. One feature the devs were excited to talk about is Arena mode, which pits players against each other a la Smash Bros. Moreover, holiday themed content packs are also in the cards as well. Even though titles that seek to relive the early period of gaming are increasingly more common, JumpJet Rex does an admirable job of blending the best of old and new. To see a throwback title implement online modes and other neat customization options is really special. I had a blast during my time with it, and if you're one that's missing the style and design of old-school platformers, then you might want to keep this one on your radar. JumpJet Rex - Early Access [Steam]
JumpJet Rex photo
Dino ride through outer space
There's just something about the 8-bit and 16-bit eras of gaming. Even after decades, it's still a remarkable and enduring period that's managed to stand the test of time. With a slick focus on charming visuals and deeply ref... read feature

Alessandro Fillari's personal picks for Game of the Year 2014

Dec 31 // Alessandro Fillari
5. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor Who would've thought that during the period where Peter Jackson made a trilogy of middling Hobbit movies, Monolith Games would come of nowhere with one of the most original takes on Middle-earth? Granted, on the surface it looks like a cross between Assassin's Creed and Batman: Arkham Asylum set in the Tolkien's universe, but its approach to narrative, specifically player-made narrative, shows that even those established brands could learn some things from Shadow of Mordor.The much-hyped Nemesis system turned out to be the real deal, and even offered some truer storytelling than the main narrative. It's one of the rare games where actions forge a personal nemesis. With Talion's quest for vengeance feeling like background noise, I was far more invested in his moves to undermine the legions of Orcs. However, my true appreciation for the system came after the end of the main story. I realized I felt more of a connection to a particular warchief, who was the most ruthless and cunning foe I faced in the game, than I did with the game's final boss. Seeing him grow from a peon to major player in Sauron's army, who somehow knew my own weaknesses and dislikes, made me feel a bit sad that such a worthy foe had bit the dust. Uthra The Mad, if you're out there: I miss you, man. 4. Diablo III: Reaper of Souls I was one of the many who got swept up in the Diablo III craze before its release back in 2012. With the series' status as a major influence to PC gaming, it was a quite a treat to be a part of the next installment right when it was released. But man, vanilla Diablo III was not the game I had in mind. Even though I had a lot of fun in the 60 hours I spent with it, it was padded out with phases that felt like I was doing chores. After only a few months, I ditched the game and barely touched it for a long time. But that all changed once Reaper of Souls was released.To me, this expansion represents a culmination of nearly two years of outreach and addressing player criticisms. Reaper of Souls basically fixed everything corrosive with Diablo III, starting with the removal of the game killing auction house, and adding much needed content outside of the main story. It simply made the game satisfying and fun, just like its predecessors. Blizzard did a remarkable job of giving new life to a game that many wrote off, while showing that they've still got it when it comes to loot-focused action-RPG titles. 3. P.T. This is definitely the strangest of my picks, but it's well deserved. Obviously, the enigmatic title released during gamescom turned out to be a teaser for the upcoming Silent Hills project. But even when the surprise came out only a few hours after its unveiling, people still kept playing it. If anything, its relation to Silent Hill brought more attention to this perplexing and haunting downloadable title. While it's often referred to as just an advertisement for a bigger game, the impact P.T. had will certainly make it one to remember.Using a minimalistic approach to storytelling and design, players simply had to make it through a door at the end of the hallway. It was truly one of the few titles that felt like an actual event for the audience to take part in. Communities online began to formulate their own theories and tips on how to solve each 'loop' while avoiding the presence of Lisa, who will easily go down as one of the scariest enemies in gaming. Even when Silent Hills will eventually be released, I'll certainly still remember the rush I got from playing P.T. in a dark room with friends for the first time. 2. Wolfenstein: The New Order In a time where first person shooters emulate Call of Duty and other generic military action games with drab storylines and scripted moments, Wolfenstein: The New Order returns to the roots of the genre and shows that it's okay to just let players cut loose. Made by former developers from Starbreeze, Machine Games' new take on the classic Wolfenstein gave me a somewhat iffy first impression, but getting my hands on the title made me realize how wrong I was. Despite the meathead-looking protagonist and the cliched Nazi alternate history storyline, there's a lot more going with the spectacle than you might think.The New Order is very much a throwback title trying to reconcile its place in the modern area, and that comes out in the best way possible. Instead of conforming to the standards of the present, it recontextualizes the sterile conventions of today to fit its bombastic and high-octane nature. Featuring a storyline that channels the ultra-violence of Inglourious Basterds with extra cheese and a surprising amount of heart and humanity for its characters, Wolfenstein blends the best of big-budget FPS games of today with the pure action-oriented gameplay of the past. It's truly the best of both worlds, and it offered the most fun I've had with a first-person shooter in a long time. 1. Alien: Isolation I almost lost hope for games based off of the Alien franchise after the release of Aliens: Colonial Marines. But who would've thought they'd rebound so quickly after such a misfire? Helmed by Creative Assembly, and modeling itself after the original film (which is the best), the developers wanted Alien: Isolation to feel very much like a cleansing of all the tropes found in videogame sci-fi, while restoring faith in what the franchise can aspire to be. And it all starts with humbling the player and instilling fear for the Alien once again. With no space marine in sight, and firearms as the least useful tools, players have to rely on wits and careful planning to evade the gaze of the lone Xenomorph stalking the halls of the space station Sevastopol. Though the reception has been somewhat polarizing for its uncompromising stealth gameplay and save system, no other game has inspired so much dread and terror from deciding whether to make a run for it or waiting another agonizing moment for the creature to leave the area. Even the smallest of victories feel like a triumph, and getting the best of the Alien is immensely satisfying. Not only is this one of the best examples of doing a videogame adaption of a movie justice, it's also one of the best things to happen to the Alien franchise in a long time.Honorable Mentions: This War of Mine, Far Cry 4, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, The Evil Within, Valiant Hearts The subject of war was given a lot of attention with the releases of This War of Mine and Valiant Hearts. Though the latter was one of the smaller titles released by Ubisoft this year, it's definitely the one with the biggest heart. I had a great time chatting with the developers of both games this year, and seeing games tackle the subject from a different perspective was incredibly refreshing. Here's hoping these two titles have inspired others to treat the subject a bit differently.Games for my 2015 backlog: Bayonetta 2, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Mario Kart 8, Shovel Knight, Super Smash Bros. Wii U I'm not kidding when I say this, but the original Bayonetta was not only my favorite game of 2010, but also my favorite of console Generation 7 (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii). Though it breaks my heart that I wasn't there to give her the first dance on Wii U, I'm super delighted to hear that Bayonetta 2 has found new life on Nintendo's console. Once I get the system, she'll be the first I spent my time with.And the game I'll still play despite hating on it: Destiny Was Destiny a disappointing title? Yes. Does it feel like a virtual Skinner box? Oh yeah. Am I still playing it? Yep. Despite feeling like a newly released free-to-play title lacking content and leaving a lot of players disappointed, Destiny is still a fun and well polished shooter. Even though I'm still trying to figure out what the hell happened to the game that was shown off in the pre-release trailers, the ground work for something wonderful is still there. Here's hoping they can someday get to it.
Alessandro's GOTY picks photo
I was dreamin' when I wrote this
What a ride 2014 has been, right? There's definitely been a few ups and downs for everyone, including some that wanted to get their last licks before the year closes out. Still, we got to see some pretty exciting titles relea... read feature







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