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Animal Inspector photo
Animal Inspector

Animal Inspector is like a cute Papers, Please

Well, if euthanasia is cute
Nov 24
// Nic Rowen
Did you play the dystopian Soviet nightmare Papers, Please and think “this is good, but I bet it would be better if I was accepting or rejecting cute pets instead of these dreary Eastern Bloc sad sacks.” If so, you're a lunatic. But, the good news is some other lunatic went ahead and made that game.
Fallout 4 cut weapon photo
Fallout 4 cut weapon

Cut Fallout 4 weapon resurrected by modder

Harpoons thrust into the sky
Nov 20
// Nic Rowen
From the murky brine of cut content and dummied out items, modder xxdeathknight72xx has returned to the surface with a most intriguing treasure. A curious harpoon gun that never made it into the game proper. The harpoon gun ...

'We're drift compatible': My favorite weird co-op games

Nov 19 // Nic Rowen
Bimini Run Bimini Run is one of those old 16-bit games where I wondered for years if it was just some kind of fever dream of my imagination or not. Forget showing up on lists of “classic Genesis games” or anything, I could never find another person who played it let alone had an opinion about it. But it was something special for it’s time. A bizarre Miami Vice meets proto-open world speedboat game with an even more bizarre two-player mode. Bimini Run could be played alone, but if you were young and had an annoying little brother who insisted on playing as well (like I totally did), there was an option to let you both play at once by splitting the driving and shooting between two players. Player one would take the wheel (rudder?) while player two would man the machine gun and mortar launcher (like all speedboats have, right?) and together you’d try and weave around a pixilated coastline and light up other boats, helicopters, and huts. Make no mistake, this was the worst way to play. But it was also the best. For a game that we only rented once and has wallowed in relative obscurity ever since (although some fans did come out of the woodwork when Giant Bomb did a quicklook of it recently), I have fantastic memories of Bimini Run. It was a trial by fire for my brother and I of just how dedicated we were to beating the game in a single weekend balanced against the urge to kill each other out of frustration. I’m pretty sure it started the long-standing tradition we have to this day in co-op games where he’s the designated driver while I man the guns. Quite a legacy for a forgotten game. Lucky & Wild Speaking of driving and shooting, did you know there was an arcade rip off of the ‘80s cinema classic Tango and Cash? It’s true. Lucky & Wild, released by Namco in 1992 was a sit-down arcade cabinet that played like a hybrid shooter/racing game. The player in the driver's seat would drive with one hand, shoot with the other, and try and keep track of everything else going on at once. Player two would shoot and feel jealous/relieved that they only had one thing to do. I suppose driving and shooting is one of the more common types of co-op play out there, but Lucky & Wild added up to more than the sum of its parts. It was an anomaly, offering something completely different from the legion of other lightgun games sandwiched into the dark and dingy recesses of your local arcade. If you were smart, you’d divide up the work; Let player one focus on driving and keeping his gun trained on large, easy-to-hit targets. Player two was on crackshot duty, responsible for shooting down incoming rockets or bombs and making your quarters stretch as long as possible. It was also funny for its day. Lucky & Wild played the braindead buddy cop setup for all its worth, an affectionate parody of the most popular kind of movies from the ‘80s. Lucky & Wild really was wild, and we were lucky to play it. It’s the kind of arcade game that emulation just can’t do justice to. You had to be there, sitting in that cabinet, mercilessly elbowing the hell out of the ribs of whoever just steered you right into another rocket or wall. It’s a co-op experience that would be difficult if not impossible to relive nowadays. I’ll be honest though, Lucky & Wild is a favorite of mine for personal reasons as much as it was a legitimately cool game. One of my favorite dumb memories is convincing my mom and grandma to sit down in behind the wheel and guns to give it try in a food court. After a few minutes they did surprisingly well! What can I say, my grandma loved dumb ‘80s action movies. Battlefield There are plenty of cooperative shooters out there, but let’s be honest, most of them just have two players doing the same thing at the same time. In Gears, Marcus and Dom are both diving into cover, shooting grubs, and chainsawing the occasional unlucky goober. Maybe you’ll divvy up the equipment -- Dom will grip the sniper rifle while Marcus keeps things clean with the shotgun -- but that’s about as diverse as it gets. If I included shooters, this article would be a lot longer and a lot less interesting. There is one big exception I’m willing to make to the rule though, because when it comes to usual co-op strategies I have to give it up for the Battlefield series. Not only does the series promote some of the coolest class synergies and co-op strategies in any game, but it tests you and your partners to make them work in a chaotic shit-show of a massive firefight that is constantly changing. Sure, there are a lot of shooters with the “I’ll drive and you shoot” divide, but none of them do it quite like Battlefield. It’s more like “I’ll pilot this specific type of helicopter and man the dumbfire rockets and flares while you take this specific gunner position and simultaneously repair the bird, man the gun, and occasionally fire a guided missile” or “I’ll drive the APC, you all get out behind the objective, toss out recon probes, and storm the place from an oblique angle while I draw fire.” If you want to make the most out of the vehicles in the Battlefield series, you’ll need at least one teammate you’re in total sync with and ideally a few more for proper Thunder Cloud Formation action. Of course I have to give extra props to Bad Company 2 and BF3 in particular. My brother and I played an unhealthy amount of both of them and had a few techniques down to a science. BC2’s amazing destruction system (pound for pound still the best in the business in my opinion) let us breach and clear like pros -- if by “breach and clear” you mean my bro opening up a hole in the wall with a grenade launcher and me running in and quickly tossing around enough C4 to bring down the whole building. Or when we’d go fly swatting in BF3 with the Recon unit’s laser designator and the Javelin missile system, keeping the skies nice and clear. With some good teamwork, just two players working together in the right way at the right time could make a huge difference in a game defined by its massive player count. Brothers gonna work it out, indeed. Portal 2 Goddamn do I love the idiot robots of Portal 2’s co-op mode. Yeah, GLaDOS get’s all the love (and she should, she’s excellent), but I gotta give it up for P-Body and Atlas, the robotic testing duo of dubious intelligence. You know that trust game where one person leans back until they fall and trusts that their partner will catch them? It’s supposed to reinforce bonds and break down suspicion. Well, Portal 2’s co-op is kind of like that, only instead of leaning back till you tip over, you’re suspended over a massive chasm filled with acid or molten slag, and instead of catching you, nine times out of ten your dickbag partner decides it would be hilarious to make you take a swim. It reinforces resentment, and encourages squabbles and problem drinking. Portal 2’s co-op mode wasn’t long, but it was memorable. It let you play with puzzles that would be impossible in single-player, forcing you and your partner to think laterally and develop all kinds of new strategies and ideas. Especially when you get far enough into the game to play with the frictionless gel and bouncy paint. What I love most about Portal 2’s co-op though was how the addition of an extra player opened up ways to break the game. If one Portal player can come up with weird speedrun routes and unintended solutions to puzzles, two players working together could bust the testing facility wide open. Me and the person I went through the co-op campaign with were so committed to being clever little assholes that I’m still not sure if we ever solved all of the puzzles “properly.” The only thing more fun than playing with your toys is breaking them in some entertaining way. Just like strapping fireworks to G.I Joes behind the school. Left 4 Dead Yeah, yeah, I know I just said no more shooters, and yes, as the default survivors in L4D, you’re pretty much all doing the same thing -- shooting zombies and smacking things with your medpack. But that’s for the boring old humans with their stupid guns and lame one-liners. What I’m talking about is when you play for the other team, when you take control of the zombies. I don’t think L4D ever got the credit it deserved for its multiplayer, but on the same blush, I can understand why. Playing as the zombies in multiplayer was a tense game of peek-a-boo, chicanery, guts, and teamwork. It took three other teammates with a solid understanding of the game, excellent communication, and the wits to make the best of things when the RNG just refused to spawn a freaking Smoker for your team when you really needed one. These qualities were what made it feel so damn good when it all clicked, and what made it fall apart into one-sided stompfests for the humans when it didn’t. Each type of special infected the players could take control of had their own role to play in the zombie apocalypse, and it took careful coordination and skill to make them work. Because you never got to choose your infected type, you had no choice but to get good at all of them if you wanted to take the multiplayer seriously. I spent a long time trying to perfect 25-point Hunter jumps and Smoker skillshots in the winter of 2008. I watched a lot of YouTube videos about just how far Boomer spray could spread or how much it would arc at a distance before becoming ineffective. Learning how to not crack under the pressure of suddenly becoming the frighteningly (somewhat less than his reputation would have you believe) powerful Tank and not just eat a molotov as soon as it spawned. I think it’s a strange and wonderful thing that playing as the drooling zombies became the “thinking man’s” part of L4D. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes Bomb disposal might just be the ultimate co-op game. Who would have guessed that the threat of sudden explosive death could bring friends and family together like Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes does? Turns out that confusing instructions, bad second-hand descriptions of what a device looks like, and the ruthless pressure of a ticking countdown is the perfect recipe for a fun evening with your crew. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is another one of those games that you have to play to really get. The Oculus version is probably the best (I wouldn’t know), but the PC version works just as well so long as nobody cheats and peeks at the screen. For anyone unaware, it's a game where one person tries to disarm an explosive device by relaying a description of what it looks like and what it's doing to his or her team of “experts” who can look things up in a confusing, often poorly organized, printed-out bomb disarming manual. Bonus points if you find a battered old binder to keep the manual in and mess it up with some coffee stains and dog ears for that “authentic” experience. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is a group co-op game. While it’s fine with two players, it’s fantastic with three or four. Not because it will make you more effective bomb disposal experts, more the opposite (at least at first). Getting more hands on the manual means more chaos and squabbling, more people talking over each other and pulling the book away from one another. More sudden BOOMS. Eventually, everyone will pick up on their own tricks or areas of expertise and you can start delegating certain roles to different players. Suddenly you’ll actually start surviving and taking on more and more complex bombs. It’s like watching the Keystone Cops transform into the Hurt Locker crew over the course of an evening. Well, until the drinks start taking their toll. Then it might be time to segue over to Gang Beasts or Jackbox, something a little less cerebral. I'm still waiting for the dream weird co-op game. A kind of Qctodad meets Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes where you and four friends control the different limbs and head of a mech, Voltron style. The day someone comes up with that is the day I'll press-gang all of my friends into the robotic defense force. Until then I guess I'll have to be satisfied with forcing someone into playing Cho'gall with me. I'm always on the lookout for other weird co-op games. If you have some you love that I missed, please share them with in the comments below!
Drift compatible photo
You can always find me in the drift
I’ve been thinking a lot about ogres lately. Specifically, Cho’gall, the recently released two-headed character in Heroes of the Storm. As far as I know, he’s totally unique in the MOBA world as the only her...

Fallout 4 armor photo
Fallout 4 armor

If you're using power armor in Fallout 4, you'll want this torso piece

Radiation for the nation
Nov 18
// Nic Rowen
I've been really trying to break the “too good to use” curse in Fallout 4. Now that power armor consumes (semi) rare fusion cores whenever you use it, my natural instinct is to tinker and craft myself the perfect ...

Hotline 2 level editor photo
Hotline 2 level editor

Hotline Miami 2 level editor beta hitting next month

Happy murder maze designer
Nov 17
// Nic Rowen
It's been a little while since we last heard about the “almost ready” level editor for Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number. But good things come to masked murderers who lie in wait and our patience has finally been rewa...
Street Fighter X G.I Joe photo
Street Fighter X G.I Joe

Cobra and Shadowloo join forces in new Street Fighter X G.I Joe comic

It's the early '90s all over again
Nov 17
// Nic Rowen
Comic book publisher IDW released its first solicitation blurb for its upcoming Street Fighter X G.I Joe comic and it's exactly as campy and dumb as previous collaborations between the two franchises have been. Destro and Bi...
Bubsy on Greenlight photo
Bubsy on Greenlight


I didn't even know he was sick
Nov 16
// Nic Rowen
Almost did a spit-take when I saw this slide into my inbox today. Apparently, Retroism is on the quest to save Bubsy (yes, the platforming feline with radical CATtitude) and wants your help to do it. They're re-releasing two ...
Heroes Cho'Gall photo
Heroes Cho'Gall

Heroes of the Storm's two-player hero in action

Power couples only please
Nov 16
// Nic Rowen
Cho'Gall looks every bit as delightfully ridiculous as I was hoping he'd be since his announcement during BlizzCon. The two-headed Ogre is a giant of a hero with a massive health pool and an assortment of wild attacks and ski...
Transistor photo

Transistor now available on the Apple TV

Back to the city
Nov 15
// Nic Rowen
The Apple TV hasn't exactly set the world of gaming on fire, but with the recent release of Transistor to the platform, I'm officially more interested in it than ever. Like 1% interested, but still. This version of the game h...
Fallout 4 Pornhub photo
Fallout 4 Pornhub

People too busy playing Fallout 4 at launch to visit Pornhub

Too much time crafting on your workbench
Nov 15
// Nic Rowen
Well, this is awkward. Pornhub, a site that I'm sure many of you are completely unaware of but happens to be one of the most popular sources of adult entertainment on the internet, took a noticeable hit to their traffic on th...
Afterbirth ARG photo
Afterbirth ARG

Binding of Isaac's ARG is over, unlocks new character

Dug up a lost boy
Nov 14
// Nic Rowen
The craziness and drama surrounding the release of The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth has been almost as fun as the game itself (which in my opinion is pretty damn fun). As reported two weeks ago, the initial launch of the expa...

These maniacs actually made the shishkebab from Fallout 4

Seems like a bad (awesome) idea
Nov 13
// Nic Rowen
Fallout's shishkebab might not be the most practical of weapons out there, but it will always score top marks for style. Caleb Kraft from Make, along with Platinmfungi tapped into the spirit of the wasteland and cobbled toge...
MWO moving to Steam photo
MWO moving to Steam

MechWarrior Online is coming to Steam in December

Stomping on up
Nov 13
// Nic Rowen
After what seems like years of rumors and speculation, the free-to-play shooter MechWarrior Online is finally making the move to Steam. According to a news post on the MWO website, the Steam launch will happen on December 10,...

Figuring out which of the usual suspects I'll play in Fallout 4

Nov 13 // Nic Rowen
Character creation is something I love in games, maybe a little too much. As I’ve talked about before, I have a tendency to slip into an eternal planning mode -- sketching out possible character builds, ideas, and dorky little stories -- while never actually sitting down to play any of them out if I’m not careful. Or I end up chain-smoking characters, making one, playing around for an hour or so (which barely counts as playing at all when you’re talking about the Fallouts and Dragon Ages of the world), and wandering back to the “new game” screen to try out another one. Pretty soon, I’ve had the game for over a week and have only managed to see the tutorial area. Not a great use of one’s time. What I’ve come to over the past few years has been a system of recycling a few characters over in different games in different genres. I take the same characters with the same basic preferences and attitudes and run with them. Building around a few personality traits like “loves sneak attacks and charms his way through conversations” or “always goes with the most aggressive combat option available and never tells a lie” and try to fit them into whatever game I’m playing. Sometimes that means running straight at the enemy with a two-handed sword, other times it means teleporting to them with a nuclear-powered shotgun in hand. To me, it’s been the best middle ground between ruthlessly planning out my characters and pointlessly faffing about. Not only do I have a rough idea of what kind of skills, equipment, and storylines I want to lean towards with a character, but by having clearly defined characters with their own weird ways of going about their business, it also keeps the gameplay fresh. I’ve made characters based on myself in the past, or just gone with the generic hero type they start you with, but you know what? That’s boring. When I call a character Nic, curse him with a mop of red hair, a slightly round face, and send him out to save the galaxy or tame the wasteland, he always turns out to be a real fence-sitting drag about it. Because I can’t help but start approaching the game the way I would in real life, as a kind of generally decent guy who doesn’t want to set off a nuclear bomb in the middle of a crowded settlement, or really stick his nose in other people’s business either. I end up equipping weapons and armor based on stats and efficiency because it’s not like I have a strong preference in real life. Left to my own devices, things tend to be a little drab. But if I put myself in the shoes of Jabberwalk, a bomb-chucking madman, it’s a different story. Or Sophie, a de facto serial killer who always takes the most backstabbing or underhanded “solution” to a problem possible and has a real love for stilettos and straight razors. Or Gershom, a lumbering old man driven by his principals to help the weak as best he can, and grind the wicked into a fine paste with the biggest hammer or piece of unwieldy artillery around. Or maybe Piss-Pot, a disgusting lizardman who is always a treat to try and build in games that don't include lizardmen as an option. Things get interesting fast with those weirdos. Their baked-in preferences force me to approach the game differently, to play around with different perks, conversation choices, and gear that I might not touch otherwise. Which leads me to Fallout 4 and trying to figure out which of my little rotating cast would fit the game best. Fallout 4, annoyingly enough, starts out presupposing the player character is the type to have successfully held down a pre-war job and a working relationship, not exactly traits a lot of my characters tend to fit in with (which maybe says a little bit more about myself than my characters). I plan to spend a lot of time wandering the Boston wasteland, and I want to make sure I’m doing it with a character that will enjoy it as much as I’m hoping I will, so it’s not a decision I take lightly. I’m leaning towards a sneaky type of character; the villainous side quests in Fallout are always the best, after all. I’d love to know how other people do it. Do you make a fresh character out of whole cloth every time you start a new game? Brew up a self-insertion character and stab orcs or shoot super mutants as a slightly cooler version of yourself? Or is this the most obvious thing in the world and everybody has their own set of recurring characters like me and I’m the last one to know about it? Did Fallout 4’s implied backstory change the way you made your character this time around? Let me know in the comments!
Character creation photo
A man's character is his fate
I never walk into a character creation screen alone. Every time I start a new RPG where you have to brew up a character to spend the next 30-80 hours with, I bring a few familiar faces with me. A small cast of characters I&rs...

Review: Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth

Nov 06 // Nic Rowen
Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth (PC)Developer: Nicalis, Edmund McMillenPublisher: NicalisMSRP: $9.99 (DLC),  $24.99 (Bundle with Rebirth)Released: November 4, 2015 Afterbirth's “back of the box” bullet points are impressive – 120 new items, new level variations for every floor, a pack of new bosses and enemies, a new character, and an entirely new game mode to round it off - but those numbers only tell half of the story (maybe only a quarter). Any game can just add a bunch of new stuff, a crate of duplicate items, a pack of palette-swap enemies, a few coats of paint on some old levels, whatever. What makes Afterbirth so special isn't just how many new little doodads have been dropped into the game, but how perfectly the new additions entwine themselves into the experience. How they fit right in, but at the same time dramatically warp and twist the classic Isaac experience into an entirely new entity. Afterbirth takes a lot of risks to introduce new wrinkles and mechanics. Almost every new item does something wild, or weird, or aggravating. The Glass Cannon lets you fire a powerful mega shot every few seconds, at the cost of depleting your health down to a perilous single half-heart. The Fruitcake randomly changes the type of tears you fire with every shot, constantly shuffling between spread shots, homing tears, holy bolts, and the occasional randomly exploding fire shot (always a treat when you’re not expecting it). Items like the Scalpel, an infinite use ability that lets you make portal style tunnels between two points (either in the same room or different ones) complete changes the way you approach room exploration and some boss fights. Things like the occasional “Item Recycler” in an item room that will let you pay coins to change the offered item to another random selection, lets you make smarter, more interesting choices about how you play. This isn’t just “more stuff;” it’s all different, surprising, and exciting stuff. As someone who spent an ungodly amount of time with the original game, one of the things I've enjoyed the most about Afterbirth is finding new combinations and synergies with old items. There is more of an emphasis on layering and blending items rather than just replacing them in this expansion. An old standby like Mom's Knife can now be combined with the laser beam spewing classic Brimstone to create a spray of butcher knives that will travel across the screen. Or a mix of old and new, like the freshly introduced Incubus pet, a little demon that will mirror Isaac's tear effects, combined with a traditionally poor item like Soy Milk to scrub a room clean with hundreds of tiny, but rapid, tears. Further encouraging fresh experimentation with old items are a slew of new transformation effects. Collecting certain items that belong in the same set will result in a character-changing new look and a bonus ability or two. Rebirth only had two transformations (including the much beloved Guppy transformation that would change Isaac into brokenly powerful manifestation of his dead cat). Afterbirth comes correct with nine entirely new transformations to mutate poor Isaac. The effects of these transformations are weaker on average than the Guppy buff, but are sourced from item pools that are far more common, including several junky items. It's a smart change, instead of being monomaniacally focused on becoming Guppy, there are now potential advantages to picking up so-called dud items, encouraging smart play with a long-term vision. Or they can just serve as a consolation prize for a few limp item rolls. The new boss enemies follow the same philosophy, not just “new,” but “new and different.” Some of them are entirely fresh Afterbirth originals, while others are revamps of classic monsters. All of them are humongous jerks (often to the point of feeling overly difficult and imbalanced compared to the original cast of bosses) and they're all pitching curve balls. Even lightweights like Little Horn, a mere first floor boss, introduce crazy new tricks. He's a diminutive imp who spontaneously creates cartoon black holes for you to fall in which he'll try to herd you towards with slow moving tracking shots like a devilish sheep dog. Bigger bosses (telling would be spoiling) get even crazier, assaulting Isaac with entirely new mechanics as well as blatantly unfair levels of firepower. One particularly crazy fight involves a boss that will buff himself and summon allies if you don't destroy the icons he is constantly spiting out, making it a frantic race to stay on top of them before things gets out of hand. The new fights are wacky, crazy, and occasionally frustrating, but most of all, they're all fresh. Greed Mode, introduced in Afterbirth, turns the traditional Isaac dungeon exploration experience into a much more tightly focused, wave-based horde mode. I like to think of it as Isaac for the person who only has 15 minutes. Get in, kill a few waves, get some money, try to cobble together a build, and get out (by death or by victory) before your lunch break is over. I don't know if it will have a ton of staying power, but it is a fun alternative to getting deep and dirty in the basement. New floor variants and room layouts keep things fresh. Themed floors like the Burning Basement or Dank Depths have their own flavor, unique obstacles, enemies, and (universally killer) soundtracks. There are plenty of new room types, varying in all manner of size, shape, and hazard, making the dungeon crawl feel more natural and less like moving through a grid. Many of these layouts introduce new trap and puzzle elements, confronting players with spike floors that rise and lower in alternating patterns and need to be shut down by pressing different buttons, or explosive TNT chambers that need to be set off in the right order to avoid damage. Again, smart and exciting. There are also innumerable smaller changes to go into, some of which are obvious niceties (like expanded HUD options to display collected items without pausing) while others you can't discuss without sounding like a crazy person to non-Isaac nuts. Little things like “Devil Deal rooms will convert to soul heart prices automatically if you sell your last red heart!” or “the co-op baby can place bombs again, hallelujah!” I know, it sounds like gibberish, but to the diehard Isaac fanbase, these are big deals and welcome changes. Like many roguelikes, Isaac has always had a slightly masochistic bent. I've always said that the unforgiving and random nature of the game is something you have to lean into, have to embrace to really enjoy Isaac. Sadly, Afterbirth takes that bent and presses on it until it breaks, reaching a peak of difficulty that has even an roguelike-apologist like me throwing up my hands in frustration on a regular basis. For every clever, interesting, and fresh idea Afterbirth has, it also has some dickish, spiteful, little aggravation to throw at you as well. Those handy item room recyclers I mentioned earlier? Sure, you could get one of those in an item room, or you could get an item surrounded by spikes, or a “bonus” room infested with monsters, what a cute joke! Those new rooms and traps? Neat, until you wind up in a boss room the size of a closet with TNT barrels or spike blocks in all four corners, have fun with that! The new bosses? Sure, they all have new and clever mechanics, but many of them also flood the screen with nearly unavoidable shots and a legion of minions in addition to whatever fresh hell they're also bringing. I imagine the idea was to challenge seasoned players with this expansion, to push the skills of hardcore Isaac players to their upper limits. But the difficulty in Afterbirth goes so far it loops back around on itself, ending up with a game that feels more luck based than ever. In Rebirth, I used to feel that any run, no matter how unlucky, could be saved by smart play and excellent dodging. In Afterbirth, I’ve had several rounds that felt so hopelessly stacked against me that instead of galvanizing me to play better, they just demoralized me into throwing in the towel, hoping for better items in the next run. That's not a great way to feel after 200 hours of experience in a game. The nastiness of the difficulty spike leaves me in an uncomfortable position with this review. I think that the vast majority of changes made in Afterbirth are superb. The astounding creativity of the new items, modes, and rooms is flat out inspiring, as is the sheer amount of new additions. Afterbirth has found ways to significantly add to and improved on a game that I already considered to be a nearly flawless. I don't want to diminish that accomplishment at all - in a perfect world, this is what all DLC would be like. I'm still having tons of fun with the game and I'll probably be playing it for another hundred hours or so, but I'd be lying if I said I was having as much fun with Afterbirth as I did with Rebirth. It found my limit. You should absolutely play Afterbirth. If you're already an Isaac diehard, or someone fresh to the genre, Afterbirth has hours upon hours of genuine joy in store for you. But you should know it will also have moments of soul-annihilating frustration. Maybe that's the price for flying so close to perfection. [This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]
Afterbirth review photo
Deal with the Devil
The Binding of Isaac has always been a game of contradictions to me. It's both a game that embraces the fickleness of chance and the purity of skill. That encourages you to play around, explore, and experiment, but also rewar...

Afterbirth secrets photo
Afterbirth secrets

Isaac devs Edmund McMillen and Tyrone Rodriguez are a couple of monsters

Sadists delight
Nov 04
// Nic Rowen
[Update: The plot thickens. Edmund has taken to Twitter over the past few hours saying the missing items were the result of a post-launch bug and not part of some nefarious plan to punish dataminers. Cagey as ever, Edmun...
N7 gear photo
N7 gear

BioWare store celebrates N7 day with new gear and a 20% discount

Galaxy saving PJs
Nov 02
// Nic Rowen
Remember when BioWare declared November the 7th a worldwide celebration of all things Mass Effect? Yeah, me neither. This year however, it might be worth paying attention to the faux-holiday. To hype up the event, the BioWare...
BattleTech photo

BattleTech Kickstarter stomps to the homestretch

PVP for a few dollars more
Nov 01
// Nic Rowen
The BattleTech reboot Kickstarter launched a little more than a month ago and by all appearances has been a total success. Harebrained Schemes smashed through the original funding targets, and now in the final days of the cam...
Crowtel photo

Crowtel is cute and pay what you want

Pay for it with a (bird) song
Nov 01
// Nic Rowen
I've only spent about 15 minutes with Crowtel and it's already winning me over. Released earlier today by indie developer Sinks, Crowtel is a sweet little platformer about a Crow trying to tidy up his surreal hotel before a p...
FNAF World photo
FNAF World

Five Nights at Freddy's World looks... strange

So horrifically cute
Oct 31
// Nic Rowen
Creator Scott Cawthon has revealed his plans for the Five Nights at Freddy's series and it seems he's taking things in a different direction. Ditching the horror, jump scare craziness that has defined the Freddy's experience,...

I wanted to be The Wizard

Oct 31 // Nic Rowen
Anyone else remember the movie The Wizard? You know, that piece of shameless Nintendo product placement released to the public under the guise of entertainment? The film where we learned to “love the glove?” Well I do. Frankly, it was a real piece of shit of a movie, but I saw at an impressionable time and it will always hold a small special place in my heart. The Wizard was a weird movie. It was a cynical exercise in co-marketing that waffled between cheesy narm and uncomfortable self-seriousness. It told the story of a traumatized autistic child but also featured a pubescent Fred Savage uncomfortably flirting with some poor 13-year-old girl.  At the time though, the only message I took away from The Wizard was about being wicked sick at video games. About being so unbelievably good that people would stand up and cheer when they saw you stomp on a goomba, that they would lose their shit when you set a record lap in Radmobile. That the solution to fixing everything wrong with your life was as simple as finding the the warp whistle. I was in love with the idea. I was never a cool kid, never popular. Even in the context of our lame-ass church youth group, I was pretty low on the old totem pole. But with this game competition I knew I’d been given a golden opportunity. I was good at games, way better than anyone else I knew. While the details about the competition were a little sketchy, the one thing they were sure of was that it would culminate with a big screen performance projected on the theater screen in the camp’s main auditorium (just like the end of The Wizard!) and the winning group would receive a brand new Sega Genesis console. This was my chance stand out and impress everyone. To win a prize for our group and be a big shot. To show them who I really was. And for better or worse, I did. I remember being so thrilled the morning of the competition. The tournament had a weird structure. There would be some preliminary games played during the afternoon to whittle down the herd a bit (which for the life of me I can’t remember) and for the main event that evening to determine a winner, we’d be playing Sonic the mother fucking Hedgehog. The fools were playing right into my hands. It was like it was meant to be. Sonic was practically my best friend. I was a fucking EXPERT at Sonic. In fact, I’d already won a small competition at a local video store years ago (a story I blogged about back in the day) playing Sonic. A little piece of trivia I decided to slyly keep to myself that whole afternoon, only sharing it with a few members of my group. I let them know that so long as we made it to the finals we were good. A few years before this, I pretty much spent a summer of my young life playing Sonic 1. It was the only game we had for the Genesis at the time and rentals for the system were scarce in my area, so I just ended up replaying it over and over again. My obsessive knowledge of the Green Hill Zone had served me before, and it looked like it was set to pay off again.   That evening we slowly filled the auditorium/theater room. The councilors, bless them, had done a really great job of making it a cool event for the kids. They’d wired up a system to play on a small monitor at the back of the room while the action was projected across a surprisingly professional movie screen for the spectators. They were even handing out bags of popcorn. As an uber-geeky 11-year-old who practically worshiped games, seeing the Sonic title screen displayed 30 feet wide and hearing the familiar music piped through a theater sound system was practically a religious experience (I mean, probably not the one the councilors intended, but still). They'd rigged up some kind of scoring mechanism that rewarded both time and points. Each group would pick someone to play for them and it was up to that kid to set as high a score as possible. Truth be told, I ignored them shortly into the whole explanation because I knew that in Sonic, time and points were the same thing. The person who finished the level the fastest and cleanest would always outscore everyone else, regardless of how many robots they popped or rings they collected. In fact, it seemed almost misleading to even separate the ideas (not that I was going to tell the other kids that). We were slated to be the third group up to bat. The way the competition was set up one member of each youth group would represent their little tribe for this final confrontation, and of course I was the designated hitter. I'd talked up my Sonic skills and knew I was the one to do it, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit to a little last minute doubt, some panic. I mean, it had already been a few years since I was really into Sonic, what if I was rusty? What if I choked? This whole thing could backfire. As soon as I saw the first two teams take their turn, I knew how mistaken such doubts were. Please know that I’m not trying to brag when I tell you how badly I beat the other kids. I’m not trying to hold up my skill at Sonic when I was 11 years old as some kind of point of pride. It is just the plain fact that I annihilated the other kids as soon as it was my turn. In whatever block of time they gave each of us to rack up points, I made it all the way to Robotnik, killed him, and started on the next zone before they told me to stop. None of the other kids made it that far -- some of them didn’t even clear the first stage. The worst part about it? I wasn’t even all that happy with my performance. I knew that if I had practiced I could have done A LOT better (#humblebrag before it was cool). You have to understand, the other kids were not “gamers” like I was. They were there to play around, see the hedgehog jump over the spikes and collect a few rings. For them, the definition of being good at the game was “not dying too much”. At the height of my Sonic obsession, I was measuring success by milliseconds. It was straight up rhino versus baby stuff. Shockingly, most of the kids weren’t exactly stoked by my performance. Instead of the cheers I expected, there was a decidedly uncomfortable atmosphere. A few scattered (begrudging) applause here and there amidst a whole lot of murmuring. Even the kids from my own youth group were kind of quiet. They were excited to win of course, but they took the temperature of the room and knew it probably wasn’t the best time to bust out in jumping jacks. I saw a couple of the adults running the event talking to each other. I got the distinct impression they were talking about me, like this was a problem. Like they thought I cheated somehow -- if not in actuality, at least in the spirit of the competition. I was a little 11-year-old ball of indignity, utterly galled at the injustice of it. Nobody thought it was cheating earlier in the day during the Shirts and Skins basketball match (FYI, I was a Shirt by insistence) when the kids that played youth league basketball scored easy rebound after easy rebound on me. Why should they have? The basketball kids put in the work, practiced, and were (way) better at basketball than me. But when I got a chance to take them on in the one weird arena where I excelled, suddenly it was somehow a trick? They were acting like I conned them when really I was just incredibly over-specialized at a game they were unlucky enough to turn into a competition (and yeah, I could have probably stood to branch out a bit more with my hobbies, but shut up). In the end, our group was declared the winner. I mean, what were they going to do, say my turn didn’t count? Much to my disappointment, there was no parade. The competition just kind of petered out as the last few groups took their (pathetic) turns and shuffled off. Our youth minister took the stupid prize Sega and I never saw it again. Either he kept it for himself, or decided that video games weren’t appropriate for a religious environment, or maybe the whole boondoggle just left him with a sour taste. After that, I was pretty sure I was doomed. I had my big chance and somehow blown it by being too good (which I thought was the whole freaking point of a competition, but what do I know). I started to wonder if there was anyone out there who loved games the way I did. This was 1994, way before I would even learn what the Internet was. The only other real game enthusiast I knew was my brother. It was the heyday of Jack Thompson and the popular idea that Mortal Kombat was turning kids into crazed serial killers. Magazines like EGM and Nintendo Power let you know you weren't completely alone, but it all felt so far away and removed from real life. It was a weirdly lonely time to love games. The deflated balloon of my misguided childhood dream is why I can’t get mad at modern YouTube stars who make 4 million a year screaming at the screen while they play games, no matter how much I don’t personally like the content. It’s why I don’t sneer at eSports, even when they struggle with growing pains and identity crises. It’s why I try to book days off every year in the summer to watch EVO. For as silly as it can be, I love the growth of games as a spectator event. The now-reality that people really will gather to watch talented players being wicked sick at games, to cheer them on and lose their shit with every big play and comeback. The fulfillment of The Wizard’s promise, delivered 25 years late, but finally arrived. If an 11-year-old were to stumble on The Wizard today, he or she could take it the same way I did, but they wouldn't be so wrong. The idea of a video game tournament people give a shit about isn't some Hollywood fantasy anymore, it's a daily reality. Now, The Wizard (however dated and cheesy) would play like any other movie about garage bands making it big, or underdog athletes with a lot of heart triumphing against the odds. Hollywood schmaltz of course, but the same kind that inspires some kids to pick up a guitar, or start running extra laps before school. The kind of schmaltz that sets some kids on an arc that will take them beyond dabbling in a hobby or pastime and take it further, to see if they can turn their passion into a profession. I was too early to be The Wizard, but there is a whole generation of apprentices out there just waiting for their shot.
The Wizard photo
Games as a spectator sport
When I was a kid in the ancient days of the early ‘90s I was part of a church youth group. Obviously this was before I morphed into a surly, foul-mouthed teen (and then an even more profane adult). Every year the youth ...

Fallout 4 artbook photo
Fallout 4 artbook

The Art of Fallout 4 is so bright you gotta wear shades

Mighty fine looking apocalypse
Oct 28
// Nic Rowen
Bethesda is offering a sneak peek at The Art of Fallout 4, a massive 386-page art book now available for pre-sale at the Bethesda store for a cool $50 and an estimated shipping date of December 22. Not exactly cheap, but after taking a look at the preview images, I think I'm sold.
Noct impressions photo
Noct impressions

Noct has potential but there isn't much to it yet

Just shapes in the dark
Oct 26
// Nic Rowen
Noct is a top-down survival game with a killer hook. Set in the ruins of earth after some kind of Pitch Black-like doomsday event, the action is viewed from a grainy thermal camera far removed from danger. You play the part o...
Darkest Dungeon photo
Darkest Dungeon

Darkest Dungeon is coming to crush your spirit Jan. 19

Out of the darkness of Early Access
Oct 14
// Nic Rowen
Sometimes it's easy to forget that Darkest Dungeon is still in Early Access. I've been “enjoying” the brutally difficult tactical-roguelike since last February and for months it's felt like a solid package, despit...
Halloween games photo
Halloween games

What are you playing this Halloween season?

The season of the witch
Oct 14
// Nic Rowen
Halloween is my favorite holiday. Aside from being a great excuse to dress up like an idiot, party with friends, and drink terrible pumpkin-flavored booze (that any other time of the year you’d dump into the nearest gut...

Review: Jackbox Party Pack 2

Oct 13 // Nic Rowen
Jackbox Party Pack 2 (PC [reviewed], PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Amazon Fire TV)Developer: Jackbox Games Inc.Publisher: Jackbox Games Inc.MSRP: $24.99Released: October 13, 2015 The Jackbox Party Pack 2 includes five games in the collection, two of which are returning Jackbox favorites. Fibbage 2 keeps the same great format of creating believable (or hilarious) lying answers to trivia questions to bamboozle your friends while adding in a few new tricks (the new one-time use “deFIBrilllator” gives you a 50/50 chance between the right answer and a single lie instead of seven) and more than doubling the number of questions of the original. While Fibbage still supports 2-8 players, it has borrowed the audience feature of Quiplash to allow audience members watching on a stream or through the web based game client to vote on their favorite answers, sliding even more points to the most entertaining or diabolical players. This feature is particularly great for streamers and folks with large social media circles, just send out the room code and anyone who is interested and join in and see how clever you and your friends are free of charge. Quiplash, which was separately released last summer as a stand-alone title, returns as Quiplash XL. It's identical to the original, but includes the DLC question pack and an extra 100 prompts to spice things up (nice to have after starting to run into rerun jokes after playing a lot of the original). Quiplash is by far the most free-form of the games, simply setting up jokes and asking the players to fill in a punchline. Your friends then judge “WHO IS MOST FUNNY” and vote on which answer tickled them the most. It's quick, easy, and endlessly entertaining.   The only flat note I can think of is that it doesn't seem as lovingly reworked as Fibbage 2. While Fibbage 2 features new art, new tricks, and the freshly adopted audience system, Quiplash XL is just “more Quiplash” with no added bells or whistles. Not a bad thing, but not thrilling either. While the new questions are definitely welcome, if you just bought Quiplash and the DLC question pack a few months ago, it may damage the value proposition of the pack. Fibbage 2 and Quiplash XL are the anchor games of the pack and likely the two titles most groups will spend the majority of their time with, especially as the night wears on and a combination of exhaustion and inebriation make the other games a little too much to handle. Fortunately, they're so good that they basically justify the cost of the pack on their own. But don't count out the rest of the collection. The other games in the pack are a little more daring in design and show that Jackbox Games isn't afraid to venture out of it's comfort zone, for better or worse. Next is Earwax, which unfortunately seems like the lame duck of the pack to me. Earwax prompts players with a question or leading statement and asks them to answer not with words, but with two random sound effects from a selection that is different for each player every round. “What is this party missing?” Maybe it's an “awooga horn” and a “metallic crash.” Or maybe it's a “(female voice) Oh yeah” and a “very long, wet fart.” Are these jokes working? No? Yeah, I thought so too. And that's the sad part about Earwax. While some rounds shook buckets of laughs out of my group, most were met with nervous tittering and awkward silences. You don't know what the choices will exactly sound like, so often the inflections on a line will be different from what you intended, or what seems like a cute joke will just fall flat. The pace of the game is off too, with everything between introducing new prompts to playing sound effects taking just slightly too long, bogging down the experience (especially after a dud round). The concept is interesting, but the execution just didn't pan out. Thankfully, the other new additions to the Jackbox family fit in much more smoothly.   Bidiots, the spiritual successor to Drawful, is a drawing game with a bidding and bluffing element that is surprisingly engaging. At the start of each game, each player is given two prompts to (poorly) draw with their finger tip, a budget of $3000 to bid with, and a few tidbits of secret information other players may or may not have, like how much a certain piece is worth. Where things get interesting is that multiple players will likely have prompts that are vaguely similar to each other. Three separate players may have “day at the beach,” “getting a tan,” and “sunburn.” Your goal is to finish the game with the most cash possible, cash you earn by driving up the price of pieces you made, and successfully winning bids for high value pieces -- a trick easier said than done with the number of thematically similar pieces going around. “Sunburn” might be worth a cool $3800, but what if you confuse it with the near worthless “getting a tan?” To help guide you, rich art patrons will occasionally text you throughout the game with tips like “Player 2 knows the exact value of the next piece” and if you get really stuck, you can always take on a predatory loan, easy cash now that you'll pay back with interest at the end of the game. Bidiots is a ridiculously great time. While it may take a little more explaining than the other games in the previous collections, the result is a mix of the same goofy fun of Drawful with a sly layer of strategy underneath. Really great if your friends are used to playing competitive boardgames or otherwise enjoy a little bit of mental warfare with their games. Definitely the standout of the new games. Last is the off-kilter Bomb Corp, a game that plays like a faster, less complex version of Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes. Bomb Corp ditches the faux game-show trappings of the other games with the odd premise of being a new worker in the poorly run office of a bomb factory; your job is to disarm all of the accidentally activated bombs by referring to the instruction manual. Of course this is a party game, so the instruction book will be divided between up to four players with each player getting one or two (often intentionally contradicting) rules. Each bomb presents increasingly complex logic puzzles to solve as the rules get more byzantine. Rule #1 might say to disarm by cutting all the wires from right to left, Rule #2 says that no green wires can be cut even if another rule says to do it, Rule #3 stipulates that only Player 2 can cut odd numbered wires, while Rule #4 is a correction to Rule #2 that says green should have been written as “blue” all of which you try to frantically communicate as the timer clicks down. *Boom* Bomb Corp is a surprising addition to the pack with a distinctly different feel from the rest of the games. I see if as a great option to get folks who may be a little nervous about the more creative games into the swing of things with a more structured experience. That said, the later levels of the game have to potential to stall out a group if you keep getting blown up on the same section. It should also be noted that Bomb Corp can be played by a single player, which gives the pack a smidgen more value for those times when you don't have a group around, but doesn't seem a huge addition either way. Brass tacks, the Jackbox Party Pack 2 made me and my friends laugh our asses off, and that's what it's all about. I can't think of an easier or quicker way to reduce a room to a giggling mass of hysteria, just toss it at a group of people and go. Party Pack 2 is a ridiculous value that is sure to provide you and your friends with a lot of laughs and great memories, exactly what every party game should aspire to. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Jackbox Party Pack 2 photo
A jacked up good time
Last year, The Jackbox Party Pack showed everyone how to do party games right. It served up quick, punchy laughs, and did it all with zero hassle. This was thanks in no small part to the game's innovative interface that allow...

Cryptark impressions photo
Cryptark impressions

Cryptark is the sci-fi roguelike you've been waiting for (if you don't own a PS4)

Interstellar small business woes
Oct 10
// Nic Rowen
I’ve always loved space truckers. Working Joes plugging away at what amounts to a mundane job for them in a fantastic sci-fi setting that seems crazy to us terrestrial-bound 21st century cavemen. I also harbor great aff...
Ark: Survival Evolved photo
Ark: Survival Evolved

ARK: Survival Evolved adds tundras, swamps, and giant frogs

Exciting new places to die in!
Sep 30
// Nic Rowen
ARK: Survival Evolved has added some variety to its tropical, Jurassic Park-with-no-guardrails, vibe in its latest update. Two new biomes, including a snow covered, mountainous tundra filled with huge direwolves and towering ...
BattleTech photo

BattleTech Kickstarter begins, immediately secures funding for 'stage 1'

Turn-based stompy robots live again
Sep 29
// Nic Rowen
[Correction: Contrary to what I reported earlier, Harebrained Schemes did not fund the initial $250K goal of basic funding on its Kickstarter. All of those funds came from backers. Harebrained has invested $1 million into the...

Heroes of the Storm 101 for new players

Sep 20 // Nic Rowen
General tips When you first start, focus on not dying more than getting kills. Heroes might not be as prone to hopeless snowballing as other MOBAs, but it can still happen if you have a teammate who is constantly feeding the enemy easy XP and free lanes. Don't be that teammate! Kills and #BigPlays will come with time, there is no need to dive towers and chase people all over right away. Play the objectives! Heroes is unique in that it has a variety of maps, each with a different gimmick. One may have you collecting gems or coins and depositing them in a central area to summon NPCs that will attack enemy forts, others may have you rushing to an area to defend, attack, or claim a certain objective for other benefits. It's almost always a good idea to prioritize objectives over pushing a lane or grabbing a mercenary camp or whatever else you might be doing (you'll learn when it's a good idea to break that rule with time). Watch the mini-map. The mini-map is your friend. The mini-map is life. The mini-map will show you where the objectives are on a map, where your friends are, any revealed enemies, any active merc camps, and so on. It's also the best way to quickly communicate in a random quickmatch (where you'll likely be cutting your teeth). Ping the map when you need your teammate's attention, pay attention when they signal for backup, and keep an eye on those sneaky, sneaky assassins who keep popping in and out of the fog. Play around with different characters. Try to make a point of touring every free character you can. Not only is this a great way to earn gold (as Chris pointed out, you gain a tidy sum for each character you take to level 5 and it's a fairly quick process), but it will also give you an idea of what each other hero is capable of. Important to know when sizing up a fight, and something that is much easier to learn by doing rather than just watching. Character tips Stick with Honest Jimmy. Jim Raynor is the tutorial character for a reason; he's super easy to use. That said, he's also surprisingly strong. He has a simple, but useful toolbox that lets him score high hero damage and push lanes while staying fairly safe. He's one of the cheapest characters to buy with gold as well as being included in the $5.00 starter pack if you don't mind making a small investment. You can learn the ropes, and the maps, with him and eventually move to more nuanced characters. Don't get too strung out about top-tier picks or “playing the meta.” You're new, the people you're going to be matched with will likely be new as well. Nobody in your cohort is going to know how to properly take advantage of the best characters anyway. Hell, I've been playing a ton of Gazlowe (supposedly one of the worst characters) and I've been topping the scoreboard for siege damage and team XP in most games (sometimes even hero damage!) Can Gazlowe hang in a competitive meta? Probably not. But down in the slums with all the other newbies, he plays just fine -- as does almost every other character. That said, you should probably stay away from the Lost Vikings, Abathur, and Chen. These are not bad heroes, but they're more complex and require advanced knowledge to properly use. Grow into them later (Murky has a rep for being a tricky character as well, but honestly he seemed pretty easy to use to me, so your mileage may vary depending on play style). Playing with others This is probably the most “duh” tip ever, but the game is much more fun when playing with people you know! You don't need to fill out a full five man team, even having just one or two wingmen can let you be a more complex and tricky with your teamwork, setting up coordinated attacks, or trading off lanes while someone heals or secures an objective. A little simple teamwork goes a long way! If you have a dependable partner or two, try to play complementary characters that can support each others efforts. Have a friend who likes aggressive melee characters like Thrall or Sonya? Try pairing up as the monk, Kharazim, who can heal nearby characters in melee range and deal respectable damage in his own right. You can be bash brothers chasing down foes together far more effectively than you would on your own. Diablo and E.T.C are walking meat slabs who can bully other players with multiple stuns and repositioning attacks when they roll together. It might not be complicated, but other new players will probably have trouble dealing with the pair. Even better if you have another friend playing a high-damage clean up character like Jaina to take advantage of the chaos. When all else fails, just play Li Li. She's dead simple to use and can drag otherwise hopeless teams through nasty brawls with her prolific healing. Hey, if you and your friends are all new, you might occasionally need a crutch to lean on as you learn. Again, these are fairly basic tips, but they might just make your entry into the world of Heroes and MOBAs a little bit smoother than it would have been. I've been completely blown away by how much I've enjoyed my time with Heroes so far and would encourage you to try it for yourself if you've been interested but haven't taken the plunge yet. Of course, if you have some more knowledge bombs new players should know, or some tips for more advanced players, please feel free to share!
HotS tips photo
By a noob, for noobs
As you might have read, I recently got into Heroes of the Storm in a big way. I'm super late to the party, and our own Chris Carter has already written a great list of quick tips you should definitely read if you're intereste...

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