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Fighting games and roguelikes are my personal school of hard knocks

May 26 // Nic Rowen
Titles like The Binding of Isaac, FTL, Nuclear Throne and (my latest obsession) Darkest Dungeon make it their business to stymie and frustrate your futile attempts to get to the credits screen. They delight in throwing a wrench into the works, tearing apart promising looking runs or dungeon crawls with a few merciless rolls of the RNG. They move around the win conditions and goalposts from the traditional idea of “I gotta get to the end and dunk on the last boss!” to “oh God, please just let me survive a little longer this time.” Victory isn't just marked by, well, victory, but by discovery and learning. Seeing a new enemy, figuring out a new trick or strategy, and learning to avoid whatever awful thing killed you last time. Those small successes are what dubs a run a win. It's tough to turn that switch that demands progression off in your brain. It has been dutifully conditioned by years of games where victory is the expected outcome. But it's those wild unfair swings in a roguelike that completely mess you up that makes them so satisfying. The emotional roller-coaster of suddenly losing a beloved party member, or picking up an item that completely gimps your current build, or getting screwed by a few unlucky rolls that leave you facing almost certain doom. These factors that push you out of your comfort zone and force you to come up with new strategies broaden your horizons, you have to think about the game and really consider all of your options rather than relying on one or two recipes for success. Those runs that truly are hopeless? Well, they just let you appreciate the good ones a little more. It took me a long time to realize it, but fighting games are much the same when you get right down to it. While you always want to win a fight, just adding more notches to your W/L ratio isn't, and shouldn't be, the goal. What you really should be aiming for is learning. When Street Fighter IV came out, I was very hot-to-trot for some online play. I remembered dominating at SFII in grade school, all the hours I sunk into collecting every ending in Alpha 3 on the PS1, the times I used to rush through Marvel Super Heroes on one quarter in the arcade. I thought I was good at fighting games, and was looking forward to a chance to prove it. I swagged online like I was O'Hara from Enter the Dragon, obnoxiously breaking boards in front of Bruce Lee like it meant something. My fights ended up going about as well as his did -- Boards, and CPU opponents, don't hit back like the real deal. [embed]292757:58670:0[/embed] I'll be completely honest, I almost quit playing fighting games at that point. Nobody likes to lose, especially when you're losing at something that used to be a point of pride for yourself. Thankfully, despite its rough and tumble exterior, the fighting game community actually has a great attitude about these things. EVERYBODY loses. It's what you take away from those losses and how you come back from them that defines you as a player. Shortly after SFIV came out, I was introduced to David Sirlin's Playing to Win, a book that is all about the philosophy of fighting games and is as close to a bible for the fighting game community that exists. I remember when I first read it I distinctly thought “this guy is an asshole.” Playing to Win can be a very abrasive read if you come from a background of playing fighting games for fun. If you ever thought your next door neighbor was cheap for constantly sweeping in Mortal Kombat 2, or angrily called someone a “spammer” for repeatedly tossing out fireballs from across the screen, or think there is such as thing as too many throws in one round (a philosophy I can no longer recognize except in direct reverse), Sirlin's opinions will probably rub you the wrong way. These self-imposed rules and ideas about how the game should be played are the foundation for what he considers a “scrub mentality,” a mental framework that will always limit how far you can go in fighting games, and ultimately, how much joy you can derive from them. Embarrassingly, I saw a lot of that “scrub mentality” in myself. The way I'd get angry at “coward” Guile players for tossing endless sonic booms, or frustrated with people constantly choosing the blatantly over-powered emperor of Muay Thai, Sagat, for easy wins. But when you stop looking at what other players are doing as “cheap,” and start looking at your losses as learning experiences rather than straight out defeats, a lot of that frustration evaporates. It takes real effort and time, but when you internalize that outlook, fighting games become less stressful, more enjoyable, and infinitely more beautiful. Of course people are going to throw sonic booms as Guile, he's a machine made by the Air Force to do exactly that. It may be true that Sagat (or whatever character) is over-powered and easier to win with and disproportionally popular as a result, but how can you blame people for making a choice that will tip the odds in their favor? You have that choice and opportunity too, and if you decide to stick with a different character you'll just have to make peace with the fact that you'll run into tough matches and try and develop a strategy to deal with them. You can either get frustrated, stomp around, and quit/uninstall the game forever, or you can thicken your skin. Learn how to roll with the punches, and take something away from the mistake. Either figure out ways to avoid it in the future, or come to peace with the idea that sometimes things are out of your control. These are not new concepts, ideally we should always be trying to find the positive side to a set-back or learn from a mistake. But to me, at least, nothing else crystallizes the idea of learning from a loss into a rock hard truth than pitiless rougelikes and fighting games. And after spending so many years immersed in both genres, I like to think that I've been able to take those lessons and apply them to other areas of my life. It's not always easy, and I won't claim to be some kind of Zen master who never gets frustrated, but I know I'm definitely a more patient person now than I was five years ago.
Learning from failure photo
Learning from my (many) failures
The last few years of games for me have been all about defeat. Constant, unending, expected defeat. I think I'm better for it. It wasn't always like that. In fact, for most of my life, games have been all about completion, vi...

LoL bans photo
LoL bans

League of Legends debuts near-instant punishment system for toxic players


Quick draw on the ban hammer
May 25
// Nic Rowen
Just this weekend I was chatting with a friend of mine who told me he recently quit LoL after several years of playing because he just couldn't put up with the scumlords and jerkbags that seem to make up a large portion of th...
Witcher 3 bears photo
Witcher 3 bears

Bears Vs Cyclopes in the Witcher 3


Whoever wins, we lose
May 24
// Nic Rowen
Despite the positive reviews (such as the one by our very own Chris Carter) I've been hesitant to jump into The Witcher 3. It sounds great, but with a potential run time clocking in at 100 hours and up, I don't want to buy a...
Rock Band 4 trailer photo
Rock Band 4 trailer

Live-action Rock Band 4 trailer looking for bodies


Take it on the road
May 20
// Nic Rowen
Are you a Rock Band fan living in the Seattle area with nothing to do for the next few days? Do you mind standing around bored stiff for hours on end while gaffers, grips, and roadies endlessly disassemble and reassemble sets...
H1Z1 cheaters photo
H1Z1 cheaters

Daybreak bans thousands of H1Z1 cheaters


Boo hoo, you're breaking my heart
May 19
// Nic Rowen
Nearly 25000 cheaters just got the permanent boot from H1Z1. According to Daybreak president John Smedley's Twitter, the purge targeted cheaters using ESP hacks, a cheat designed to reveal other player's location and status a...
Nuclear Throne teaser photo
Nuclear Throne teaser

Amazing Nuclear Throne teaser inspired by Doom 4


Fish can lol
May 18
// Nic Rowen
Rami Ismail of Vlambeer was inspired by today's super hot, extra informative Doom 4 teaser to whip up a little something for Nuclear Throne. This tantalizing glimpse of the frenetic early access title (that you can play right now) is a conundrum wrapped in a riddle. I know I'll be spending the rest of the day breaking apart this teaser frame by frame and comparing my findings on reddit.
Silent Hills fan trailer photo
Silent Hills fan trailer

Torture yourself with this fan-made trailer for Silent Hills


Wear your headphones
May 14
// Nic Rowen
I still can't get over the cancellation of Silent Hills, and this fan-made trailer from GLS Machinima isn't helping. It's a short clip and was made a few months ago, but its more than Konami seems interested in giving us and...

Early Access Review: Black Mesa

May 10 // Nic Rowen
Black Mesa (PC)Developer: Crowbar CollectivePublisher: Crowbar CollectiveReleased: May 5, 2015MSRP: $19.99 Now that I've had a chance to replay the original (selectively edited) Half-Life through the incredible reproduction effort of Black Mesa (which had its first part released roughly three years ago), I'm not sure that choice was so wrong. In the end I think I broke even. Half-Life was a monumental game that will always be rightfully remembered as a masterpiece for its time, but its probably not as fun as you remember it (headshots on the other hand are, and forever will be, a timeless source of joy). First thing's first, the Crowbar Collective has done an astounding job of dragging Half-Life into the modern age. This is not a mere port like Half-Life Source which used all the same assets as the original with a bit of spit and polish added in the form of a higher resolution and some dynamic lighting. Black Mesa is a remake, built from the ground up to fully realize the vision of what Half-Life could be on modern machines. More than a straight remake, the Crowbar Collective has played with the nuts and bolts of the game. Black Mesa rebuilds, trims, and expands different parts of the original for a smoother experience, while still staying true to what fundamentally made Half-Life what it was. There are new puzzles to work through, new and expanded areas to explore, and the availability of ammo and supplies has been bumped and nudged by a team that has spent ages agonizing over the pacing of the game. Action scenes are frantic and aggressive, with plenty of ammo doled out to deal with the additional enemies and larger set-pieces provided by Black Mesa. But when the action slows down and Gordon is guided towards evasion and caution, supplies dip to an almost survival horror level of scarcity. The push and pull of tension and action, going from a rat in the walls to a one-man army was one of the most intriguing things about Half-Life, and Black Mesa nails it better than the original. Some areas like the On A Rail sequence that infamously overstayed its welcome in the original, benefit from editing. Sometimes more isn't always better and Black Mesa makes some smart cuts getting rid of the fluffier and more frustrating aspects of the original. All of the edits are an improvement to the game. In fact, I'd say they could have probably brandished the razor around a bit more. Maybe we were just more tolerant of rampant amounts of bullshit back in 1998. Or, I suspect our memories of Half-Life benefit from a healthy helping of nostalgia and a lofty appreciation for everything that game did for modern game design. Half-Life basically wrote the book on immersive storytelling, first person exploration and strategically minded A.I for enemies, it had to be fun, right? Kind of? There are great times to be had in Black Mesa. When the game works, you can easily tell why Half-Life is so highly regarded as a classic. But then there is a looming dark side; a great number of hours when the game stubbornly refuses to be fun. The overly long underwater sequences that have you searching about in the darkness for some nook or cranny you missed as the last of your oxygen bubbles out of your lungs. The obnoxious clunkiness of trying to just MOVE around on physics enabled debris, let alone when the game demands you try to make a specific jump or escape from a screen rattling auto-turret under those conditions. The arbitrary insta-kill traps and monsters that force you back into loading screens and more than a couple “gotcha” moments that you couldn't hope to avoid without active precognitive abilities. Even with careful editing and a mind towards evening out the pace of the original, Black Mesa still traffics in an almost unconscionable amount of backtracking and finagling. There were several sequences where the solution to the predicament I was in was so awkward and stilted that I was sure I was doing it wrong. Of particular disdain was a protracted sequence set in a waste disposal facility that merged all the “joys” of water exploration, insta-death traps, pinpoint jumping between moving conveyor belts and confusing map design into a single ultra dense black-hole of anti-fun so terribly dark and spirit crushing that I'm still not sure I fully escaped from it. Maybe I'm being tough on it, but I remember Half-Life being smarter. I remember liking its world and characters better. Maybe it's age or maybe games have just moved on, but this time around I was more exasperated than amused by the shenanigans of the Lambda research team. The game has one joke -- you wander up to some poindexter in a lab coat, he says something silly/smug/abrasive, then immediately runs headlong into bullets/fire/devouring jaws (whatever option would make what he said seem more ironic). I like to imagine Freeman giving the leftover blood smear a knowing smirk each time. Granted, it's a funny goof the first two or three times it comes up, but when you're nine hours deep into the game and Professor Egghead is still predictably blundering into the crossfire, the dismemberment gets a little rote. I think its interesting that almost all of my criticism for Black Mesa is directly related to content from the original Half-Life. Every other effort is fantastic. This game looks great, especially considering its roots as a community driven mod. The soundtrack of original compositions is fucking banging. Every edit and change they made to the game was for the better. It almost makes me wish Black Mesa wasn't a remake-with-cuts of Half-Life. I wonder if the team would have been better served making their own thing, or maybe a “inspired by the events of Half-Life” complete re-imagining of the original game. The way I see it, there are two potential audiences for Black Mesa. There are the players who missed the original in its heyday because they were too young, or didn't have a PC, or thought Freeman's goatee on the box art made him look like a barista stooge, but love Valve's other games and want to check out the legendary classic that started it all. Then, you also have the true-blue fans of the original, the generation that cut their teeth on Half-Life and remember it as a wonderful and mind expanding experience who would love to recapture the joy of those heady days. I'm in the slightly uncomfortable position of telling both of those camps that they can probably take a pass on Black Mesa, even though I truly respect the work that the Crowbar Collective team has done with it. If you want to play a great Half-Life game that has aged fairly well, Half-Life 2 and its accompanying chapters are fantastic and Valve practically gives them out every Steam sale. Those games have all the best parts of the original Half-Life, while cutting out most of the chaff that bogs it down. If you didn't play Half-Life back in the day, I can't really imagine someone enjoying it as a game. Maybe as an academic curiosity, but not as a play experience. If you absolutely loved the original, you may very well find something worthwhile in Black Mesa. It really is the singular best way to play Half-Life. That said, you could also find something you don't like. A terrible truth, an awful secret, the knowledge that one of your favorite games is actually kind of a pain in the ass to play. It might be best to leave those pleasant memories as they are. There is still more Black Mesa to come; the game is in early access and right now the story concludes on a cliffhanger right before the Xen levels, where Freeman is thrust into an alien world of annoying platform jumping and floating alien bastards. The Crowbar Collective is actively working on that final chapter and plans to include it in the full release. Considering that even the most stalwart fans of the original generally concede that “the game was perfect (except for the Xen levels)” I don't think those last levels will really swing my personal opinion on the game. I will say this though, I can't wait for whatever the Crowbar Collective does next.
Black Mesa photo
Half as good as you remember
Half-Life was like a magic trick. It was a game you could show to people who weren't gamers and they'd get into it, a gateway drug. A real game (not some glorified puzzle book like Myst) that had the cinematic flair and prese...

FNAF fan film photo
FNAF fan film

Five Night at Freddy's fan film is short and creepy


Small run time, big spooks
May 08
// Nic Rowen
Horror movie trailers always give away the best bits of the film, and this fan made short for Five Nights at Freddy's by Typhoon Cinema is no exception. You've got all the greatest hits, spooky music, fuzzy security cameras,...
P.T. taken off PSN photo
P.T. taken off PSN

P.T. is no longer available for download, even if it's already in your library


Konami has gone full Flappy Bird
May 06
// Nic Rowen
If you thought the story surrounding Konami's falling out with Kojima, P.T.'s delisting off the PSN store, and the cancellation of Silent Hills couldn't get worse, I have some gross news for you. As of now, P.T. has been comp...
MK X PC improvements photo
MK X PC improvements

NetherRealm promises 'huge improvements' for the PC port of Mortal Kombat X


About bloody time
May 05
// Nic Rowen
Mortal Kombat X on PC has been like an extremely tasty looking bowl of soup that is way too hot to eat. Every time I try and take a sip, I get a mouthful of scalding molten pain (laggy, unplayable matches being the metaphoric...

What would your Silent Hill look like?

May 03 // Nic Rowen
I'm preoccupied with dementia. It runs in my family, both my grandparents have it, their parents had it, and so on. It's a terrible disease, a spiritual vampire that sucks the light and life right out of its victims while dooming them to shamble on as shadows. I've written about it before, but I tend to read into games and movies that deal with instability and uncertainty as allegorical to Alzheimer's. The darkest thoughts that creep into my mind when I can't sleep are about my own parents someday showing symptoms of the disease, or the looming threat that it may (likely) happen to me as I age. Which is why my Silent Hill would have to be a shitty, confusing, dump of a place. A maze that was always fading and rebuilding behind you, filled with asshats you don't recognize, or recognize as someone else. It couldn't not be. Silent Hill as a series has always leaned heavily on the psychological aspects of horror. Sure, there are jump scares, dark corners, and sharp rusty blades like any other horror game, but the real terror of Silent Hill has always come from within. The town, or realm, of Silent Hill is a crucible of sorts that directly confronts its visitors with whatever nasty shit they have floating around their head. It tips the subconscious over and lets all the sticky neurological puss ooze out. Out of all that guilt, anger, fear, and trauma, the city rebuilds itself into a brand new personal hell for whatever unfortunate soul happens to be trapped within it. Silent Hill 2's James Sutherland had to deal with his sexual frustration and the guilt of resenting his ailing wife. These issues physically manifested as Pyramid Head and the grotesque/sexy nurse monsters. Heather in Silent Hill 3 had to deal with her split identity as the poor, tortured Alessa and her messed-up, unstable life on the run. Shattered Memories, a reimagining of the events of the first game, finds Cheryl struggling to reconcile her idealized memories of her father with the bitter reality of their lives. Murphy Pendelton had to fight weird ghostly blow-up dolls in Downpour (still not sure what the deal with that was). Those games offered a look into the minds of their protagonists, but I bet they also crystalized some of the deepest fears and uncertainties of the creative minds on Team Silent (and the lack of that honesty is probably why the series has fallen off so hard in recent years). It's one of the reasons I'm upset that Konami took the promise of a Silent Hill headed by Kojima and del Toro and dunked it in a bucket of horse piss. With auteurs like those two at the helm, I bet Silent Hills would have let us peek behind the curtains of their psyches. I bet they would have brought their own personal fears with them to Silent Hill; they would have brought back the honesty of terror. Yes, P.T. wasn't even a demo. It was a teaser, a shadow of a reflection of what Silent Hills might have been. But when I look at the themes and ideas in P.T. and I look at del Toro and Kojima's past work, I can see connections, overlapping ideas to work they've done before. P.T. was set in a home turned into hell. It hinted at dark family trauma -- domestic abuse, fathers committing murder-suicides on their entire family (and worse). Del Toro is no stranger to those horrors, and he's blurred the lines between the unfortunately all too real and common trauma of domestic abuse and the supernatural before. I look at his movies he's directed like The Devil's Backbone, and Pan's Labyrinth, or as an executive producer on Mama, all of which swim in similarly murky waters. There are also glimmers of Kojima's trademark post-Cold War paranoia to be found in P.T.. The unsettling voice from the radio, constantly repeating a sequence of digits over and over like a haunted numbers station, hypnotically spurring the listener to violence. There are possible allusions to mind control and manipulation, themes found again and again in his games. YouTuber RagnarRox recently posted a video exploring links between some of P.T.'s most disturbing elements with the real-life (and extremely chilling) MKUltra experiments conducted by the C.I.A in the 1960s. It may seem out there, but the material would certainly jive with other ideas Kojima has dove into with the Metal Gear series. [embed]291456:58421:0[/embed] We have no idea of knowing exactly what Kojima and del Toro's Silent Hills would have been like, in the end. However, I look at what those two men have done before and what we saw a peek of in P.T. and I feel like I can make out its shape behind the fog. Something disturbing and vulnerable, a Silent Hill that is at once deeply, uncomfortably personal, but also shrouded in conspiracy. How could either of them resist the chance to clean out their mental cellar spaces with the psychological dust broom of Silent Hill? It makes me sad to think of what we missed out on thanks to Konami's bungling, but it also makes me curious. I wonder about what other people's version of Silent Hill would look like. If you wandered into Silent Hill and the Otherworld was being built on top of the fault lines of your psyche (or if Konami lost its shit and suddenly tossed you the reins as the next creative director of the Silent Hill series), what would it look like? What would your fears made manifest be? Maybe I'm the only one who thinks of this kind of stuff, but I'd be super interested to know what kind of Silent Hill some of our community members would create. Feel free to share your ideas in the comments, or better yet, write a blog about it. We might never see Kojima and del Toro's Silent Hills but we can still speculate on our own dreams, or in this case, nightmares. They might be all we have if Konami keeps up like it has.
Your Silent Hill photo
Konami could probably use some ideas
My Silent Hill would be a place you couldn't trust. Doors would disappear behind you the moment you turned your back, hallways and staircases would loop back in impossible ways, main streets would abruptly end or lead to a pa...

Isaac Eternal Edition photo
Isaac Eternal Edition

Binding of Isaac: Eternal Edition update is a free helping of torment


The Devil's in the patch notes
May 03
// Nic Rowen
A free update for the original Binding of Isaac has been released today for anyone who has the Wrath of the Lamb expansion. The new Eternal Edition will let you relive all of the glory of the original game's choppy flash base...
Afterbirth update photo
Afterbirth update

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth expansion to feature new transformations, ruin my life


Norman Bates chic
Apr 28
// Nic Rowen
Well I'm doomed. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth expansion, Afterbirth, is going to include a whopping eight new transformations to discover, experiment with, and obsess over. I'm already addicted to transforming into Guppy the...

The beauty and tragedy of a perfectly planned character

Apr 27 // Nic Rowen
I spent way too much time looking at screens like this. City of Heroes probably holds the dubious distinction of having the most skewed relationship in terms of “time spent planning characters VS time spent playing characters” in my life. I spent entire nights pouring over different power sets, ability combinations, and team synergies for a game that doesn't exist anymore. I devoted hours upon hours to figuring out the perfect stat progression for super villains that I knew in my heart of hearts I'd never take out of the starter area. The only crime they'd ever commit would be loitering. However, City of Heroes wasn't the only game to trigger this kind of obsessive cataloging, not by a long shot. I have a stack of character builds and ideas as thick as the Yellow Pages for Dark Souls PvP set-ups, gimmicky X-Com squads, and Darkest Dungeon dream teams. I have concept characters (complete with embarrassing back stories) sketched out for both of the modern Fallout games. All of their would-be perks, S.P.E.C.I.A.L stats, and fashionable item accessories already plotted out -- all that’s left would be to actually wander out in the wastes and find them, but who could be bothered after so much work? This goes way back, long before I had easy access to the internet where character planners and clever apps make it simple to plot these things out. Go back to the Precambrian era of high school days, dig through the fossil records of my notebooks and I'm sure you could find Diablo 2 skill trees scribbled in the margins of my English homework. The cave wall painting blueprints of a Hammerdin specced holy warrior looming above my predictable observations about MacBeth (probably, hopefully, accompanied by a cool doodle of a flying hammer crushing a zombie's skull).   When I step back and look at the sheer amount of go-nowhere ideas and try to tally up the time I've sunk into them compared to the relatively meager hours I've clocked into some of the games they're for, it dawns on me -- maybe this is kind of messed up. Maybe I've been living all wrong. Looking at it from a distance, it all seems quietly sad. I've spent more time in my head with some of these games (some of my favorite games, I might add) than I have playing them. There's a small critical voice in the back of my mind that is furious with me for squandering those hours, for not doing something more productive with the time -- both in the sense of actually playing the fucking games, and in the broader and more judgmental “what are you doing with your life?!” sense.  I have perfectly good reasons (or maybe I should call them “justifications”) for all the obsessive plotting and scheming. For one thing, there are just too many cool ideas out there and not enough time to see them through. For as much as I beat myself up for the papery death of my stillborn characters, I never really would have had the time to convert those dreams into reality even if I had the work ethic of John Henry. How long does a full play through of Diablo 2 take anyway? How many trips through Hell do you need to make to grind through the necessary experience points? If you're after a certain item set (and you know you are because you're the kind of crazy person who didn't stop reading three paragraphs ago) you'd probably need to go online to trade and wheedle your way into a full set to see it done. It's a hell of a lot more of a time investment than goofing off in English class, that's for sure. Sketching out those ideas for gimmicky Paladins and upstart Mages let me stave off the temptation to roll another character while I took my (unfortunately less imaginative) Barbarian to kick the shit out of the Prince of Lies. In a weird (insincere) way, I could even argue it helped me save time. Besides, an immaculately planned character can be satisfying in its own right. It's always good to get your intellectual hands dirty, to put your fingers into the putty of an idea, to roll it around and shape it. As far as pastimes go, you could do worse. Let's not forget all the situations where actually playing a game would be impractical. You can goof off a little at the office and play around with the Borderlands skill editor without causing much of a scene. But try and boot up your lv 30 Gunzerker at your desk just once and you'll never hear the end of it. Human Resources takes a dim view on bringing akimbo guns blazing justice to the wasteland during company hours, apparently.  Still, I look at the swollen and poorly organized folder where I dump all of my character ideas, filthy with PDF character sheets, webpage saves from online builders, .txt documents imported from PC to PC for games I'm not even sure I own anymore, and I wonder if I have a problem. I can justify all the characters I cooked up sitting in class or during lunch breaks? I know I spent just as many perfectly fine nights sitting in front of the same machine that actually displays and runs the games I was thinking about, tapping away at some poorly conceived concept character while utterly ignoring the game itself. At the same time though, I love those characters, I love those ideas. Yeah, most of them never made it out of the gate, but those characters had character. If videogames are mostly an exercise in mental stimulation, of burning off stressed out braincells and decompressing after a long shitty day, does it really matter if the satisfaction you get from them is through play or by tinkering with the ideas they present? If I could swap those hours around, gut about a quarter of that folder and take the time spent on the fantasizing about those ideas to actually playing out a few of them, would I be more satisfied? Or would it shake out to be about the same? I honestly have no idea. What I do know is that while writing this article, I did have an idea for another Dark Souls 2 character, and it's been all I could do to keep myself from drifting over to a wiki to start putting him together. There may be no hope for me.
Character building photo
I'm the man with the plan (and little else)
I've probably spent more time creating characters, builds, and dreaming up party compositions in my head than I have actually playing games. It seems odd to think of it in that way, but if I could somehow tally it all up I be...

P.T. delisting photo
P.T. delisting

You only have a few days left to be spooked by P.T.


There was a Playable Teaser here, it's gone now
Apr 25
// Nic Rowen
It's time to “shit your pants,” get off the pot, and download P.T. if you haven't already. Because come April 29, its going to disappear from the PlayStation Store.  P.T. may only be considered a demo or teas...
Roguelike Sale photo
Roguelike Sale

Surrender your will to the pitiless RNG with Steam's roguelike game sale


I wasn't doing anything with my life anyway
Apr 23
// Nic Rowen
From now until April 27, Steam is slapping a discount on a wide selection of roguelike games. You can get 20% to 80% off titles like Abyss Odyssey, Risk of Rain, Spelunky, FTL: Advanced Edition, and more. If you were ever cur...

PC Port Report: Mortal Kombat X

Apr 20 // Nic Rowen
Mortal Kombat X (PC)Developer: NetherRealm Studios, High Voltage Software (PC)Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive EntertainmentMSRP: $59.99Release Date: April 14, 2015Rig: Intel i7-920 2.70 GHz, 12GB of RAM, GeForce GTX 770 GPU When I first installed Mortal Kombat X it was unplayable. I don't mean in some sort of prissy, PC elitist "anything less than 60 FPS burns my eyes" kind of way (although you could make a strong argument that if any genre of game has the right to demand a consistent and high frame rate, it's competitive fighting games). I mean in the "this game doesn't work" way. Things went south as soon as I hit the character select screen and the fighters started drawing themselves in one painful frame at a time. Actual fighting was impossible, with the action portrayed like a garish, bloody View-Master reel. I have a fairly decent gaming PC. My processor is admittedly old, but I have plenty of RAM and a muscular GTX 770 to help it power through. I run plenty of modern multi-platform games with nary a hitch. There is no reason for Mortal Kombat X to perform this badly. My situation is far from uncommon, with mobs of flustered would-be-warriors with top-end gaming rigs complaining they were in the same bind in the Steam discussion pages. After some rooting about in support forums, I altered my settings, manually installed some drivers, and fussed about until I got the game in working -- but far from ideal -- order.  I managed to get the game running smooth enough to fart around in the practice mode and work on some combos. Even still, certain stages caused noticeable stuttering and after a few minutes the game would start to hitch and falter no matter where I fought. Oddly, when the performance dipped like this I found that performing an X-Ray move (which automatically locks the action to 30 FPS) seemed to jar the game out of it, restoring a smooth 60 FPS after the move finished (for a short while anyway). I'm about as far from a programmer as you can get, but to me this suggests the problem is less to do with system specs and more with how the game is coded. Something just isn't working right. While being able to unclog the frame rate with an X-Ray was handy during my protracted training sessions, it's also vaguely frustrating to know that a functional game is trapped somewhere inside of this rickety port job, but only accessible by jumping through hoops. Of course, the reason I spent so much time in the training mode this weekend is related to the second major problem with the PC port. The entire online component of the game was up on cinder blocks for most of the time I've played.  Online Kombat was down for the majority of weekend. Either the game would entirely refuse to access the online component, saying it couldn't retrieve my stat card (and therefore refused me entry), or it would simply leave me perpetually waiting to "find a match." Even during the periods where I was able to find regular ranked and player matches (still with large five minute plus waiting times between opponents) other features wouldn't work. The room lobby system, useful for finding similarly skilled or geographically local opponents, was up and down all weekend. Mostly down. The Faction War nonsense has been offline since I installed. Not that I thought that aspect of the game was particularly meaningful, but it's still annoying to have to wait through one more loading screen as the game fails to find the faction server and informs you of such. More annoying still, trying to view the progress of the on-going war effort locked me in an inescapable loading screen. Fun times. Of the online matches I got to play, lag seemed to be a total crapshoot. Some fights were buttery smooth like me and my opponent were shoulder to shoulder in the arcade. Others started fine but eventually de-synced and broke down. Still others were like wading through molasses from start to finish, becoming a game of chicken to see who would blink first and have the dreaded black mark of a Quitality branded upon their house. When the room feature was active, I managed to find a neighboring Toronto player and stuck through a series of humiliating, but silky, matches against a terrifying Liu Kang who outclassed me in every possible way. I worried I wouldn't find another decent online match that night and would rather face his burning fists than chance it, a fear that came to pass when he left the room (no doubt in disgust of my pathetic Kotal Kahn). A succession of smaller quibbles nip at the heels of those catastrophes. Trying to re-configure a control pad or joystick crashes the game (to turn off negative edge I had to pull every USB device out of my computer and go into the menu with the keyboard). Timed features in the Krypt are reportedly not working right. I was mildly irked to notice that the post-character-select animations (Jax slamming his fists together, Cassie snapping her gum and flipping the bird, and so on) are absent in the PC version. I suppose you could say they thought the faster loading times on the PC version would make them obsolete, but the game still drops you to a loading screen before the fight. Why not chew up those few seconds with something to look at? (I realize this is the smallest complaint of all time but this port ripped my heart out of my chest so bear with me.) Maybe this shouldn't come as a surprise. Both Mortal Kombat 9 and Injustice had troubled ports with similar problems. Distressingly, many of those issues never got sorted out. With a simultaneous day and date PC release for Mortal Kombat X though, you would have hopped they would be ready to go this time. Motal Kombat X deserves better than this slipshod port. I want to believe that NetherRealm and High Voltage Software will do right by its fans and iron these problems out, that this rough first week is an unfortunate debacle. Given its track record though, part of me fears the worst. I'll be keeping an eye on this port and will post an update in a few weeks or so to see if the situation improves. As it stands now, I can't put it any plainer: do not buy this broken port of a great game. [This review is based on a retail code purchased by the reviewer, a PC review copy was not made available by the developer.]
PC Port Report: MK X photo
Never-ending Brutality
I have never played a game that I've wanted to love so badly that seems so set and determined to antagonize me than the PC port of Mortal Kombat X. In the abstract, Mortal Kombat X is a great game. The single player content i...

Bloodthirsty Wayne Brady photo
Bloodthirsty Wayne Brady

Wayne Brady will rip out your spine in MK X


He's laughing just thinking about it
Apr 17
// Nic Rowen
Normally a celebrity event like this Mortal Kombat X launch tournament would be the sort of thing that makes my skin crawl. A slimy affair of glad-handing B-list celebrities on the downslope of their careers trying to appear...

What would a Daredevil game 'look' like?

Apr 14 // Nic Rowen
Illustration by Reynan Sanchez From the darkness So the Batman games give us a great formula to follow for a third-person superhero action game, but Daredevil isn't Batman. He doesn't have the tools, the armored suit, or the resources to throw himself into the fray like the Dark Knight can. I'm picturing a more restrained affair -- a crawl through the shadows more focused on stealth and surprise than taking on massive scrums of 20 thugs at once. I would like to see a game that rewards patience and observation for Daredevil, a world that only reveals itself when you take the time to focus on it. I'm thinking of something like Joel's concentration ability from The Last of Us, but turned to the max. A black and white world with occasional splashes of color that resolves in increasing detail the quieter and calmer Matt is, allowing the sounds, smells, and feel of his environment to paint a picture for him. A world you can navigate and use to your advantage to get the drop on criminal scum, but one that can also turn against you. If you blow the element of surprise and end up in a scuffle, Daredevil's attention shifts to the most obvious threat. While the attackers you're trying to subdue come into greater focus to let you get your knife-deflecting, arm-breaking kung-fu on, the environment around you would slip away, evaporating into an impressionistic haze. Only the most obvious and loud elements of the environment (a subway car racing by, an industrial air conditioning unit clattering away) would be left to provide you an anchor point. Fighting on a rooftop would suddenly become a treacherous guessing game as you try to remember just how close you were to the ledge before you had to start dodging gunfire. Again, I'll admit that I don't know much about the comics, so I don't know how true the Netflix series is to the source materials, but I like the tone and the limitations it sets. I like that Matt is not all that superpowered, that a group of four or five thugs are a credible threat to him. I think a stealth-action game that grounded itself on that level would work well. Besides, it would be a great chance to bust out something similar to the Nemesis system from Shadow of Mordor. Daredevil doesn't have a supercomputer in his cowl or a genius hacker in his ear to solve crimes for him. He has to go with his gut and old-fashion legwork. A game that would let you target individual members of the underworld and threaten them into giving up their bosses would fit Daredevil's aesthetic. An open-world version of New York, where you play gangsters and criminals off each other to work your way up the food chain. By taking every criminal as a serious threat, there would be a real intimacy and sense of accomplishment when you manage to bring a mob boss or trigger-man to heel. So, my idea is to make an open-world game based on a complicated, always changing, sense-memory representation of New York, filled with individual criminals and characters that interact with each other in complex ways. When you get into a fight, the game becomes a frustrating, chaotic scramble. There might be a reason I don't make games. Murdock Mysteries (or Hell's Kitchen Noire) Matt Murdock is a complicated character defined by his paradoxical position as both a criminal defense lawyer and a brutal vigilante. I think it would be a shame to miss that element of his character in a videogame. I mean, we can safely ignore Bruce Wayne because who really wants to spend time as a billionaire playboy driving fast cars, explaining away suspicious bruises, sleeping through investment meetings, and flirting with supermodels? Actually, that sounds like an amazing idea and I immediately regret throwing shade on it. What if you had a game that focused on made Matt's identity as a lawyer? As an investigator and seeker of truth? I want to play “blind superhero L.A. Noire” if only as an excuse to say the phrase “blind superhero L.A. Noire.” It would be an interesting experience to arrive at a crime scene completely blind. A black screen as the door shuts behind you or the car engine slowly cools. As Foggy Nelson, Matt's lawyer sidekick, describes the scene and known facts of the crime, a picture slowly comes together piece by piece. As Matt uses his super senses to take in the environment around him, more details emerge that you can follow up on. The crime scene resolves based on not only the observations you make and questions you ask, but the way you interpret that data. Focus on the wrong elements and you may end up chasing down pointless leads and compromising your defense strategy (or worse yet, wind up defending a guilty man). Interviewing clients and cross examining witnesses could also take advantage of Matt's senses. Small clues like a tiny quiver in a person's speech, a slight nervous tapping of the foot, or an increase in perspiration could help guide your questions. But again, it would still be on you to determine what that data means – did his heart skip a beat when you asked your last question because you caught him in a lie, or is he scared of something else? If they don't answer your questions like you want them to, you can savagely beat them within an inch of their life later. Just like I always wanted to in L.A. Noire. Fuck it, let's just blind the player You want to know what it's like to live in Daredevil's world? Fine, just put out your eyes. Well, okay, maybe that's going a step too far. But if we're going to talk about completely unmarketable ideas, a sensory-deprivation based game like Deep Sea that encloses the player in darkness and makes them rely on their sense of hearing might be the truest expression of the Daredevil experience. If you've never heard (har) of it before, Deep Sea is an arcade game/art project of sorts made by Robin Arnott, one of the creative talents behind the mind-screwy Antichamber. To play it, you strap on a gas mask that has a pair of binaural headphones that provide excellent 3D sound, but no screen. You play the game blind. It simulates a deep-dive-gone-wrong experience, forcing you to listen for unseen terrors amidst the low rumbling noises of the unknown deep. You try to locate these creatures with echolocation and blindly fire at them hoping to hit your mark in the darkness. It's a game about vulnerability, isolation, and oppressive fear. Daredevil has mastered those forces. He's the man without fear. Could you learn to master them too? To be so confident and sure in your sense of hearing and touch that you could live in that world as well? Hell no! But it would be a great gimmick game to take to PAX and NARPS. I'm sure Marvel will see the wisdom in my decision and hand over the license immediately.
Daredevil ideas photo
Do we dare envision it?
I've been watching the Netflix Daredevil series and so far it's good. It's so good in fact, it's made me rethink my entire opinion on Daredevil -- which prior to this last week had been an exaggerated shrug with maybe a sarca...

Fatal 8 Results photo
Fatal 8 Results

Mortal Kombat X Fatal 8 tournament ends with a bang


Good? Bad? I'm the guy with the gun
Apr 12
// Nic Rowen
Dominique “cR|Sonic Fox” McLean shot and stabbed his way through the competition to become the first official Mortal Kombat X tournament winner this weekend. Sonic Fox dominated the ESL hosted Fatal 8 tournament a...

Which low tier character will I waste my time on in Mortal Kombat X?

Apr 11 // Nic Rowen
When it comes to NetherRealm's fighters, I've been in top form. I took one look at Noob Saibot, the ninja-by-way-of-Darth-Vader, and decided to main him in Mortal Kombat 9. He was fiddly and awkward at close range, while being outclassed by more dynamic zoners at full screen where he was supposed (?) to dominate. Sure, his X-Ray move was undeniably dope, but when would you ever get a chance to use it when you were so busy eating Cyrax bombs and Kabal's aerial energy blasts? In Injustice, I mained Lex Luthor from day one and never looked back, even when facing ten game (and higher) losing streaks. Lex was a giant lug of a fighter with all the size and sluggishness of a grappler and none of the damage to back it up. He was a finesse character, based on set-ups and smart use of his hyper armor in a game where the most popular characters could evaporate half a health-bar with one combo and had moves specifically designed to ignore hyper armor. I doomed myself to living under Kryptonian tyranny and had only myself to blame. So which piece of deadweight will I pick up in Mortal Kombat X? Which character will I fall in love with early and stick by, despite it becoming increasingly apparent that they are absolute garbage? What kind of destructive co-dependent relationship will I get tangled up in this time? Quan Chi Quan Chi is a dark sorcerer shitbag that nobody likes, both in the fandom and in the series' narrative. He is a universally reviled toady, unsuccessfully scheming behind the back of whatever master he is currently serving like an incompetent, bald Starscream. The contrarian streak in me that identifies with underdogs finds these qualities strangely endearing (this is also why I'm doomed to fail). Quan has a couple of bizarre fighting styles that rely on the clever use of a summoned bat-demon or cheeky portals to force the opponent into mix-up situations and generally be an annoying jackass. He also has a variation that uses weird glyphs and symbols on the ground for a variety of effects, such as nullifying projectiles or pumping up his damage. Because that kind of gimmick couldn't possibly be a pain in the ass to try and use while Lui Kang pelts you with fireballs and bicycle-kicks right? Another trick-based finesse character that requires a lot of momentum to get going and can be shut down with a strong offense? Sounds like Lex all over again -- sign me up? I don't know, maybe I just have a thing for bald guys.   Jax MK 9's Jax had quite the character arc in the meta-game. He was one of the weakest members of the roster on release, but a few, possibly heavy handed, patches and buffs suddenly thrust him to the top of many tier lists. A real rags-to-riches story (or a great example of why fighting game players hate patches). Skilled Jax players could be a nightmare to deal with, hassling opponents from a distance with earthquakes and projectiles while utterly dominating up-close with powerful grabs and terrifying damage. Later patches toned him down a bit and in the end Jax retired as a respectable, but not spectacular kombatant. I'm not really interested in any of that. I honestly have no idea if Jax will be a ridiculously powerful demigod of command grabs in MK X, reduced back to his meek early MK 9 low tier hero status, or find some middle balance between the two extremes. I just think he looks awesome. Jax is a guy who pummels ninjas to death with a pair of robotic arms, which has been scientifically determined to be the coolest possible way to beat a ninja to death. He has a distinguished dash of salt and pepper in his beard, and the kind of preoccupation with cigars that I'm sure Freud would have something to say about. Or maybe not, considering he likes to alternatively snuff those cigars on his robotic fists, or the bloody neck-stump-turned-ashtray of his opponent. Jackson Briggs has it going on. If I can age half as gracefully (and cybernetically) as Jax, I'll die a happy man. I know it's an odd criteria, but if basing my fighting game character choices on aspirational life goals is wrong, I don't want to be right. Kotal Kahn Kotal Kahn is my wild card. He's a new character, so there's no telling if he'll be good or bad. On one hand, he was built with MK X's unique systems and play style in mind instead of being re-tooled to fit the mold. It's entirely possible he'll be an utter wrecking machine of sun-worshiping bad-assery. On the other, he hasn't had umpteen iterative appearances to figure out his place in the food chain, so maybe longtime favorites like Kung Lao will mop the floor with him using established fundamentals (such as -- hat throw, hat throw, hat throw, dive kick). This is all irrelevant. I've got my eye on Kotal because he looks like some kind of Aztec war-god, and that's pretty tough to beat aesthetically. Why would I want to throw a silly bladed hat at someone when I could fry them with divine sun beams, or cut their heart out with one of those cool wavy cult daggers? Kotal also as a variation where he carries around one of those crazy tribal swords that is basically a wooden board with a row of razor sharp sharks teeth inset along the edges, which seems like the worst thing mankind ever devised to cut another person in two with. It would be like being paddled by a frat brother and devoured by Jaws at the same time, two of my recurring nightmares condensed into one horrific device. I don't know how Quan, Jax, and Kotal will shake out. Going by my track record, the fact that I'm expressing any interest in them at all pretty much dooms them (so maybe you'll want to take this article as a cautionary tale and stay clear of them). Or maybe they'll turn out to be awesomely powerful specimens and I'll be retroactively accused of tier-whoring whenever I select them. It will be interesting to find out in a few months when people have had a chance to dig into MK X and test their might. Until then, I'd be interested to hear what characters you're excited about. Do you plan on sticking with the tried and true like Scorpion and Raiden? Will you embrace the next generation of fighters and take selfies with Cassie Cage and her crew? Or are you going to be that one freaky dude who mains Ferra/Torr from day one and beats everyone down Master Blaster style? At the end of the day, tier placement really doesn't mean much, what matters is your skill and enjoyment. As long as you're having fun and improving your game, any character is the right choice.
Low tier heroes photo
You do it to yourself, you do, and that's what really hurts
They say you should never marry for love, but I always do. Every single damn time. I guess you could call me a romantic. If you felt like being less charitable (and possibly more accurate), you could call me a scrub. I couldn...

Won't somebody think of the children?

Apr 09 // Nic Rowen
[embed]290207:58107:0[/embed] Thankfully, I had a secret weapon to get MK off the black list in my home. Aside from being a nightmarish murder simulator, I knew that MK was also fucking ridiculous; a fact all those self-serious senators stumping on the public decency ticket always seemed to forget to mention. Despite all the media hubbub, my mom was, thankfully, still inclined to give me the benefit of the doubt and listen to reason. We struck a deal, I'd be allowed to rent the neutered, bloodless SNES version under the condition that she would watch as my brother and I played it. If she felt it was too violent for our sensibilities or somehow mentally damaging, she would banish it straight back to the Netherrealm of Blockbuster Video and the veto would stand. In the end she didn't watch for more than an hour before realizing that MK was just too stupid to be considered harmful. When you break it down, MK is a game about karate men fighting each other one-on-one to save the world from a four-armed claymation monster and his boss who looks suspiciously like Lo Pan from Big Trouble in Little China. Even the famed gore of the series, when not breathlessly described by a dour parental advocacy spokesperson, was too dumb and cheap looking to take seriously. The production values on those original fatalities were a joke, character sprites awkwardly sticking into and through each other at angles and depths that don't line up quite right. The obvious cost-cutting steps of re-purposing animations and sprites stole a certain degree of gravitas from the executions. MK 1 has the same disarming flimsiness of a student film effort about zombies. It's hard to take stumbling freshmen in thrift store clothes splattered with red food coloring seriously -- the effect is more slapstick than sinister. My brother and I were left alone to throw fireballs and exchange uppercuts with the understanding that we weren't to tell anyone we were allowed to play MK (because who wants to have to explain that to the other moms) and that any attempt to actually rip a sibling's heart out would result in a summary grounding. I thought it was a pretty fair compromise. I felt mature. I was proud that I was able to hold my ground and defend a piece of media I thought was being unfairly vilified. But more than that, I was gratified that my mom believed in my ability to separate fantasy from reality. To know my own boundaries and limits and be able to compartmentalize what was totally rad in a game, but horrific in real life. Which is why I feel like the biggest, shittiest hypocrite in the world when I worry about kids playing MK X. It makes me feel like a crusty old man shaking his fist at those damn kids for doing the exact same thing he did when he was younger. I want to be able to extend the same charity, the same vigorous defense I gave MK 1 to MK X of the difference between fantasy and reality. But holy shit, have you seen this game? It is CRAZY. The way bones snap and break during x-ray moves, how skin will peel and tear to reveal musculature and ligaments, the fully detailed models of organs and intestines that are ripped apart and strewn about during fatalities, it's just so -- ewww. You can't say the game is too silly to take seriously anymore. If anything, if I were a kid now trying to convince my mom to let me play MK X, I think I'd probably focus on how it would be a great way to study up on human anatomy for biology class. Now don't get me wrong, this isn't the twist ending where I say it turns out all those senators and other finger wagglers from back in the day were right all along. They were wrong (and hysterically stupid) then, and they're wrong now. I still don't think MK X is intrinsically harmful. I don't think that the kids who weasel their way into playing it (and I absolutely guarantee they will) and watch Scorpion cut Sub-Zero's face off to let his brains slide out on the pavement will turn into a generation into of serial face-slicers. But I also know I'd hesitate to let a nine-year-old play MK X, especially a nine-year-old I was in charge of raising and ensuring didn't turn into a complete sociopath. I also know I'd probably feel a certain brand of ugly judgmental smugness, a lofty “tsk, tsk,” over any parent or guardian who didn't. There is a disconnect there that I can recognize but have trouble explaining, even to myself. Because at its core, I don't think MK X is really all that different from MK 1. Ed Boon is honestly just making the same game he has been making for 20 years. I don't think he is a different person now, that over the past two decades he really has taken the villain's part and is trying to corrupt young minds. The tone and intention of the MK series hasn't really changed at all, it's still all about silly ninja-men killing each other in completely ludicrous ways. But the technology behind that intention HAS changed. With two decades of graphical advancement and a production budget that dwarfs the cost of anything imaginable in 1992, MK X has reached a point where the fatalities and violence really ARE as gory and disturbing as the moral hand-wringers always claimed. This is the source of that disconnect for me. I've always defended the MK series as campy fun under the guise of gritty violence, and I still absolutely believe that is true. While the fatalities are not as outwardly silly as Johnny Cage uppercutting a guy so hard three heads pop off, they still rely on a completely over-the-top kind of violence that goes so far it loops back to comedy. When Kano cuts open his opponent's ribcage mid-match, only for his victim to promptly stand back up and continue fighting like nothing happened, I think there is still a sort of winking-at-the-camera comedy there. “Don't worry, none of this is too serious.” But the joke isn't as plain to see anymore, and it's even more difficult to articulate to others. There is a small shitty part of me that worries that kids won't “get it.” Ironically, part of the technological advancement that has made MK X slightly uncomfortable compared to its predecessors also ensures that there has never been an easier time for kids to circumnavigate any attempts to keep that material away from them. I mean, not that any of those efforts have ever worked. When I was a kid trying to play MK in 1992, my back-up plan if mom did ban the game was to just sneak off to the arcade or go over to a friend's house who had slightly less strict parents and play it there. Now, thanks to downloads, YouTube clip reels, and streaming Let's Play series, kids won't even have to leave the house to sneak a peek at a few fatalities. And overall, it's probably for the best. You can't stop culture or technology. Games will get gorier and crazier, and kids will find their way to them younger and younger. If little Johnny is going to eventually see a bisected brainpan or a perforated liver in full anatomical exactitude, he might as well see it in MK X; a game that is ultimately stupid and non-hateful (and I mean that in the most affectionate sense). So won't somebody think of the children? Well I have, and it's complicated and uneasy and difficult, but at the end of the day the old tricks are probably still the best tricks. Kids will play MK X, and it's going to be a little fucked up. But with proper parental oversight and a good explanation of boundaries and the divide between fantasy and reality, it shouldn't be anymore harmful than watching a 16-bit Johnny Cage awkwardly stick his foot kinda, sorta, into another digitized sprite. With that off my chest and out of my brain, I can get back to feeding Quan Chi to a buzzsaw-hat -- guilt free.
MK X Gore photo
Decapitations for the YouTube generation
When I was a little boy, Mortal Kombat was a tough sell around my home. Like most pre-adolescents of the era, I was darkly attracted to the idea of ninjas and movie stars decapitating each other in bouts of gladiatorial comba...

Review: Evolve: The Hunt Evolves Update

Mar 31 // Nic Rowen
Evolve: The Hunt Evloves Update (PC [reviewed], PS4, Xbox One)Developer: Turtle Rock StudiosPublisher: 2K GamesReleased: March 31, 2015MSRP: $24.99 Hunting Season Pass (includes all four hunters), $7.49 individually, $14.99 for Behemoth (or included with pre-order Monster Expansion Pack) The update includes four new hunters, one for each class. These characters are included in the $24.99 Season Pass, or can be bought individually for a dubious $7.49. Of course they are included in the ridiculous $99 PC Monster Race Pack if you bought that. Each new hunter is a fully fleshed out character with fresh abilities, new lines of dialogue, and new ways to take on Shear's wildlife. The new Trapper, Crow, reeks of edgy mid-'90s design sensibilities. He's dark, broody, and has a pet bat-thing to help him track the monster. So spooky. Crow's massive sniper rifle can shoot rapid-fire bursts, or charge up a single power-shot that will bypass the monster's armor and rip into its permanent health. Very nasty. Similarly, his stasis gun can be fired willy-nilly to slightly slow the monster down or stop it in its tracks with a charged shot. Knowing when to charge and when to spam seems to be key to playing Crow well. 50% robot and 100% MANLY, Torvlad is the new Assault character. He sports a no-nonsense beard, tattoos over his shirtless chest, cybernetic limbs, and wears a gigantic twin mortar launcher on his back. The dude means business. Of all the new characters, Torvlad's play style jived with me the least. While his mortar launcher does tremendous damage, its indirect fire takes a moment to land which can be fiddly and difficult to aim on a rampaging monster. I imagine with some great teamwork and practice he could be a beast, but when compared to Parnell's point-and-click rocket launcher, Torvlad seems like more work than he's worth. Slim is the new Medic and I really love his design. The result of genetic experimentation, he's got a total Cronenberg thing going on, looking more insect than human. Despite his odd appearance, Slim acts and talks like a normal affable dude, setting up some of the funniest interactions in the game. Slim's whole gimmick revolves around his healing burst, which has a far greater range than the other Medics. Successful hits from his default weapon reduce the cooldown time on his burst, and because of its long range he can generally heal the entire group in a fight, encouraging him to play aggressively. He also gets a nifty healing drone that can tag along after a hunter. It's squishy, but can heal while on the run or revive downed friends remotely. I can easily see Slim becoming the new go-to Medic for random games. Lastly, Sunny, representing the Support class, is a real treat. Another character that seems to borrow abilities from other characters, but adds a fresh twist to make them her own. She has a grenade launcher similar to Caira but with a lot more oomph, and can generate energy shields like the Duck Dynasty dude, but has a drone to do it for her -- freeing her up to lob more grenades, yay! She can also supercharge her teammate's jetpacks with an energy beam, perfect for giving your Trapper the extra lift he or she needs to get the mobile arena up over the monster. Sunny seems super handy and is probably my favorite of the new hunters. Also, her extra robot arm/glove is adorable. The new monster, Behemoth, is a rock creature with a passion for squishing things and a serious aversion to heights. Unique among the monsters, Behemoth has no leaping or flying ability and must trundle his way around the map on foot. His mobility is supplemented by the ability to climb up almost any sheer surface, and by occasionally curling up into a boulder and rolling around like a giant petrified Sonic the Hedgehog. Still not super speedy by any means, Behemoth must rely on smart use of his attacks and other abilities to stay ahead of the hunters. Players hoping to get their money's worth out of Behemoth are going to want to learn how to use his rock wall ability ASAP. Slamming both fists into the ground, Behemoth can spontaneously generate a fairly large wall of rubble in front of him. This is good for creating an impassible barrier in choke points to get away from the hunting pack, or for separating one unfortunate hunter from the others for a beatdown. His lava bombs function on the same idea, allowing him to create damaging pools of fire that further restrict the hunter's movement. Rounding out his tool set is an area-of-effect shockwave attack that will travel up walls, and a tongue lash that can capture prey at a distance and drag them in close, Scorpion style. Overall, he seems like a monster that relies more on positioning and using the environment than raw force. While billed as the "tank" of the monsters, trading mobility for sheer tenacity, Behemoth went down disappointingly quickly in my games against him. That's not just a #humblebrag -- a TRS producer confirmed during a livestream that the beast is suffering from some bugs that are curbing his survivability at the moment. The leading theory is that the hitbox of his weak point is too big and is getting clipped by shots that should be striking his more protected areas. This is an issue that should be fixed in the near future, but is still disappointing for players who ponied up the cash for Behemoth expecting a fearsome monster only to get a broken bird. Personally, it was hard to tell if this bug was the problem, or if Behemoth's size and sluggishness was the real culprit. Hitbox and health issues aside, Behemoth's lack of mobility seems to be a real Achilles' heel. While most monsters are able to avoid the full brunt of an orbital strike or Torvlad's mortars, Behemoth, especially if hampered by tranqs or traps, just gets hammered by them. Smart rock monsters will definitely want to pick their battles inside caves and buildings to avoid the worst of these attacks and play to his strengths, but considering most map objectives are outside this may be difficult. Behemoth, surprisingly, is not included in the Hunting Season Pass. If you want to play as this new beast, you'll either need to have the pre-order bonus Monster Expansion Pack, or pay out another $15. I'm not an accountant, but shelling out almost a quarter of the cost for a full game for ONE character seems like a tough sell. In fact, this entire update is incredibly pricey. If you want to get everything (and didn't pre-order) you're looking at another $40 for a game that barely felt worth $60 at launch. There are some free bells and whistles included in this update as well. A new Observer Mode has been added that will allow players to spectate matches from a variety of angles and perspectives. It's a very robust spectator mode, with support for shoutcasting and variable HUD options to best keep track of everybody's condition. I'm sure there are some hardcore fans of Evolve who will love this mode, but for most of us it will be firmly relegated to the "oh, that's nice I guess" pile. There are also two new maps out apparently. However, they are exclusive to the Xbox One version of the game for now and will only be available for PC and PS4 players next month. Sadly, as a PC player, I haven't been able to test those maps out yet, and while the idea of timed exclusives makes me grumpy, it's great to see Turtle Rock Studios add content to the game for everyone and not fracture the community behind paywalls. Kudos where kudos are due. I love these new characters -- they're undeniably fun to play and drip with personality. I think Behemoth could be cool (when he gets patched at least). But at the cost they are commanding, I can't recommend them in good conscience. This entire pack, hunters, monsters, and all feels like it should cost $15, or be the first installment of the Season Pass, not the entire thing. If you're a diehard Evolve fan still playing regular matches, then maybe consider the new hunters. I wouldn't even think about Behemoth until he gets fixed, and even then I'd advise waiting, both to see how his metagame plays out and for a price cut. There is nothing here that should attract new players or even bring back lapsed hunters who have already moved on to other titles. I don't usually soapbox about prices for game content, but the cost-to-value ratio for these packs is borderline insulting. If you already bought the Season Pass at launch, chalk it up to a lesson learned and enjoy the new hunters. If you haven't, don't support this kind of fleecing. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Evolve update review photo
Caught in a snare
More than a month ago Evolve came out to tepid reactions and muted fanfare. Today's release of the game's first major content update, delivering on the Hunting Season Pass and the pre-order Monster Expansion Pack, might have ...

Isaac shirts photo
Isaac shirts

Bind yourself in Isaac shirts


Show your naked crying boy pride
Mar 22
// Nic Rowen
These Binding of Isaac shirts from theyetee.com combine the terror of Isaac with nostalgic love for Zelda, creating something that is making me reconsider my “no game t-shit” policy. The three new shirts include a...
Three-hour Dota match photo
Three-hour Dota match

Record breaking competitive Dota 2 match lasts over 3 hours


The last Hobbit movie was shorter (and less entertaining)
Mar 22
// Nic Rowen
Dota matches have a reputation for becoming grindy slogs, but I'm pretty sure they aren't supposed to resemble the intractable grind of WWI trench warfare. On Friday a qualifying match between competitive teams Cloud9 and SFZ...
Hawken aquisition photo
Hawken aquisition

Rise from your grave! Hawken might not be dead after all


What dark mechromancy is this?
Mar 16
// Nic Rowen
Free-to-play mech shooter Hawken may have a new lease on life with the announcement that it has been acquired by Reloaded Games, the publisher behind APB: Reloaded. “Hawken is here to stay” says Joshua Clausten, t...

What can save Titanfall 2?

Mar 14 // Nic Rowen
Fine, just go ahead and make a single player campaign As someone who almost never bothers with the single player campaign in a shooter, I applauded Respawn's decision to axe any kind of bloated, roller-coaster ride of narrative mode like I was a 18th century French peasant cheering at the guillotine. I looked at all the stats and figures showing how most CoD players never touch the SP game and thought of my own history of aggressively ignoring most shooter stories since Quake 3 and thought it was a savvy move. A good way to cut down the cost of development while making sure the full focus of the project was placed on the most important part of the game, the multiplayer. And I was wrong. Well sort of. Personally, stubbornly, I STILL think it was a good idea. I was fine with the window dressing of the “campaign multiplayer” mode which added a few lines of story-based radio chatter over the usual MP action, leaving the player to draw in the details. But given the massive popular backlash against the decision, it's clear that the absence of a SP campaign hurt the reputation and perception of Titanfall more than whatever dollars they saved in the process could have. It may be silly, but so many people were offended by the lack of a SP campaign (that they were statistically unlikely to have played) that it killed a lot of enthusiasm for the title. It made Titanfall feel like half a game sold at the price of a full title. Even as just an optics thing, the trade-off wasn't worth it. As much as I hate to admit it, Titanfall 2 should have an SP campaign. Whether it's fair or not, it is something that is seen as part of the complete package for a first-person shooter. They gave it a shot without one and it didn't work, to stick to that stance on principle would be foolish. Besides, I don't know about anyone else, but I could probably stand to learn a little bit more about the history behind the development of the Titans and the lives of the colonists living on those monster-infested planets. Ironically, Titanfall's world is probably one of the only FPS settings that actually could get me to sit through a five-to-eight hour campaign! For God's sake, give us more robots Surprising nobody, the biggest draw about Titanfall was the mechs. I thought they looked cool, had a satisfying weight in the world compared to the pixie-like pilots, and had an intimidating presence on the battlefield. They were powerful and desirable without making the average pilot on foot feel useless. I just wish there were more of them. Three Titans aren't enough. Not by a long shot. I get why, from a gameplay perspective, Respawn might have wanted to keep it simple and stick with “the fast one, the Ryu, and the big one” so players could clearly see the trade-offs of each and easily size up the opposition while wall-running down a four story building trying to aim a rapid-fire rocket launcher. Maybe that was the right call for the first game, but this is the sequel. It's time to add some more wrinkles, some more complexity, some more crunch. I want to see weirder, more specialized Titans. Robots with particular abilities and roles, or weapons that can only be equipped on specific chassis rather than one-size-fits-all solutions. Maybe mechs that can use larger cannons or launchers by deploying in a static position, making themselves an easy target temporarily while they break out the big guns. Or maybe a Titan that has less offensive power but a sophisticated sensor system to compensate, creating a more tactically minded option for coordinated teams. I don't want to get bogged down in imagineering up robots (that's a rabbit hole I could waste an entire day in), but you get the idea. The Titans are supposed to be what sets the game apart against all of the other “hold left-trigger, squeeze right-trigger” shooters out there, they should be front and center and there should be plenty of them. Robot bling  While emblems and custom AI voice options for your Titans were eventually added into Titanfall with a patch almost half a year after release, it was a classic case of too little, too late. It's mind boggling to me that those options weren't in the game from the start and that Respawn was so timid with them when they finally added them in. I mean, one little patch on the shoulder of your three story tall robot? Nuts to that. I want to be able to paint my Titan hazard yellow with orange and gold trim, people should recognize me when I come stomping. I want to be able to select between a few different types of leg joints and shoulder pads, give my robot just the right swagger. I want to be able to adjust the look of my individual pilot characters by class and type, deck out my own imaginary crew of jetpack-wearing badasses. This is a futuristic sci-fi setting, why not have some fun with it? Adding in a ton of unlockable cosmetic gear isn't just fun for players, it also solves another problem Titanfall had -- content and progression goals. While I personally liked that there were only so many guns and attachments in the game and they were all relatively quick to unlock, a lot of players complained that it felt like there was nothing to “do” in Titanfall, that they were never working towards a goal (like you need more incentive to climb into the cockpit of a missile spewing robot? I don't understand people). Cosmetic gear could be used to give progression minded players something to shoot for without messing up the pace of weapon unlocks or stuffing the game full of useless sights and foregrips just for the sake of having them. If Respawn sticks to its admirable “no micro-transaction” policy, fancy helmets and mech bling could be a nice long-term carrot for players that who don't hold robot brawling as a self-justifying reward. What do you think? As I said before, I loved Titanfall, so while I have plenty of suggestions on how to improve the game, maybe I'm not seeing what turned everyone else off. So what do you think? Is there anything Titanfall 2 could do to make you interested in a jet-pack/robot deathmatch, or is Respawn doomed to repeat history a second time out?
Titanfall 2 wishlist photo
I've got a few ideas
I absolutely adored Titanfall, but going by the comments and blogs I've read over the past year, it seems like I'm the only person on Earth who did. Every article, news post, or blog written about the game invariably becomes ...

MK X ballpunching photo
MK X ballpunching

Johnny Cage proves he can still do the splits in 7-minute slice of Mortal Kombat X's story mode


Still a cocky son of a gun, too
Mar 13
// Nic Rowen
If you hate spoilers, you might not want to watch this clip. But, for anyone curious about Mortal Kombat X's story mode, this seven-minute chunk of decapitations and helicopter acrobatics should give you an idea of what to e...






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