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Huge open world and endless customization define The Crew

Apr 08 // Casey Baker
The Crew (PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One)Developers: Ivory Tower and Ubisoft ReflectionsPublisher: UbisoftRelease Date: Fall 2014 Previews so far have shown that the "world" for The Crew is incredibly vast, as it spans across the entire continental United States. During a small presentation, we were shown the actual, virtual space of their version of the United States easily dwarfs many other open world games. To put it into perspective, the entirety of Red Dead Redemption fit easily inside one or two states. Their virtual version of the United States includes five regions, such as the West Coast, the South, and a mountain region that includes the Rockies. Importantly, virtual world space is worthless if it's not implemented in a way that engages the player, especially in a vehicular game with miles of scenery (Fuel comes to mind as one failed example.) Fortunately, the developers of The Crew are making sure that your mileage matters. When in the game's free roam mode, you can easily access an overhead map that is pretty much like looking at a Google maps version of the virtual United States. You can even zoom down close and see terrain, individual buildings, and cars on the road. When you zoom out, hundreds of little symbols appear all over -- on just about every area of the map. These symbols represent varied missions, short skill challenges, and collectables.  The first race I had a chance to check out took place in Detroit, and included a few key shortcuts, including one that cut along a train track and returned to the road just as a train came to nearly clip my car. The race wound through an old factory ground, and mostly on a dirt road. I first played it solo against AI opponents, and then played with my "crew" of other journalists, who really played dirty and soon pushed me into second place (and themselves into dead last, fortunately for me and unfortunately for our team.) I could quickly see how playing with a trusted friend or two would be a much more profitable affair. At any rate, upon completing the mission I was awarded a car part and sent it back to my garage, since it wasn't at the same "level" of my car. The attainment of car parts upon completing missions and challenges is what makes The Crew have an RPG feel as you're constantly upgrading the overall level of your car while juggling the stats of each part you're given. This is especially important in terms of the chassis and engine, as every part you gain for those respective vehicle sections will help improve the overall speed and durability of your car. Usually, a gold part of a lower level might actually give you a better boost than a bronze part of the level you're currently at. The race in Detroit was a more standard race, though soon after completing it I was introduced to the other "missions" that varied the gameplay quite a bit. One mission that made me nostalgic for Rockstar's Smuggler's Run involved chasing down an off-road vehicle over scenic hills and dunes. The game automatically switched my vehicle to a more off-road-friendly (Raid) vehicle in order to keep up in the race. Another mission involved a checkpoint race where the police caught on and forced me to evade their presence and road blocks as I sped across highways. A couple of the missions I played seemed to be for the sole purpose of advancing the storyline, such as one where I was tasked to bring a character to a specific location within the time limit. After completing this particular mission, I was given a cutscene that continued the whole "illegal street racer taking on the United States" storyline that The Crew seems to be going for. The story itself doesn't seem yet to be entirely memorable, but the gameplay that leads into cutscenes is certainly solid. Granted, I was only given a brief taste of the actual underlying story of the game, though no one I know plays a racing game for a unique and engaging story. It's all about the adrenaline. Driving from mission to mission could get boring easily if you were forced to just look at the pretty scenery. In The Crew, you're likely to encounter several skill challenges along the way. These are events that are triggered simply by driving through them at spots along the map. Some skill challenges task you with careful driving, forcing you to smash through small glass barriers placed closely together and leading you off the beaten track, while others demand you to speed through a certain area of the map while avoiding traffic collisions and obstructions along the way. Interestingly, time of day can really matter for both challenges and missions, as the flow of traffic in a given area changes during certain points of the day, such as during evening and morning rush hours. Although I didn't get a chance to see it, weather such as rain or snow can also play a factor, especially in regions like the Rockies that face heavy snowfall. In terms of online gameplay, at any given time you'll be playing with seven other players, and three of those other players can be your constant crew. The game's server will host eight players in near vicinity while also showing all other players on an overhead map. As players drift in and out of your region, they also disappear from your server, so that gameplay is constantly fluid and fun. Of course, this changes if you're rolling with your crew, who stay on the same persistent server with you. Your crew is also an important component of the game, as you can roam around with them or take on any challenge or mission at any time, and you all benefit from winning. The crew leader usually chooses which events you'll all be playing, and notifications appear that allow you to immediately fast travel to the location where everyone is to race. If you're not the crew leader, you can still run an event by the leader to approve so that everyone can have the option to play the missions they want to play. The vehicles themselves are an incredibly enjoyable part of The Crew, as they should be. At your garage you can apply all sorts of performance and cosmetic changes, including decals, paint jobs, and racing stripes. Of course, some licensed vehicles limit your use of these cosmetic "upgrades" -- so you'll never see pretty pink butterfly stickers plastered all over an Aston Martin, for example. For shame. As you apply upgrades, you're able to take your car porn to an entirely new level. At any time during your customization process, you can manually run the car and steer in "demo" mode. The coolest aspect of this is that if you're working on the engine, the car strips away the outer elements and shows you only the parts of the engine you're working on, and you can actually watch the pistons working away. This is also a great educational tool if you're not a car buff, as it gives actual meaning to different car parts -- especially where they are and what they do within the car. The best part of the cars in my personal opinion is that the developers were thoughtful enough to add a realistic cockpit view, and it's quite nice to use as you race or roam freely around. Some might remember my contentions with a certain game for taking away this feature from its original incarnation. When done well, cockpit view is such a great way to further immerse the player, and I can imagine it becoming a standard feature of all racers as we wade into VR territory. For me, if a racing game allows for a good cockpit view, that's the only way I'll race. A few other features include "collision tolerance" that keeps the game from ruining your experience in traffic so that clipping another vehicle doesn't take down your car, and damage modeling that smashes up the car in realistic detail. I do have to note that in the version of the game I played, there were some collision glitches that caused another car to go spinning off erratically, and graphically the game is still needing a bit of polish as I noticed some pop-in and a couple of ugly textures here and there. However, one thing PlayStation 4 owners might be happy about is that reportedly, anti-aliasing will be used in that version of the game, making for a possibly prettier and smoother version over the Xbox One. Small graphical concerns aside, I came away excited for the fall release of The Crew. I know I will spend several hours with the game, whether roaming around to simply explore iconic areas such as The Rockies or Las Vegas, taking on skill challenges and racing against other players or my own ghost, forming my own four person crew to take down others in races or skill challenges, or progressing through the missions of each region and taking on racers throughout the entire United States. The Crew is truly shaping up to be the MMO RPG of racers, and it will possibly take up more than a hundred enjoyable hours of your time.
The Crew photo
The newest evolution of racing games
The developers of The Crew have an unusual take on their new IP that features fast cars, deep customization, and miles and miles of the United States to traverse across and race within. Ivory Tower and Ubisoft Reflections in...

Preview: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

Jan 20 // Casey Baker
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U)Developer: Retro StudiosPublisher: NintendoRelease date: February 21, 2014 (North America and Europe) If you've seen any of the trailers for Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, you probably are familiar with the basic storyline of the game. Donkey Kong and family are enjoying his birthday when a cold breeze from the north arrives, heralding the arrival of the Horkers of Skyrim...or at least sea lions and other arctic marine animals wearing Nordic equipment, known as the "Snomads." This serves as an intro to an adventure of island-hopping through six distinct islands, rife with platforming challenges and mine cart levels. Also revealed at various shows such as E3 and PAX 2013, the cast of playable characters includes Diddy Kong and his signature jetpack move, Dixie Kong with her helpful ponytail hover, and now Cranky Kong with his walking stick that works rather similarly to Scrooge McDuck's cane in DuckTales. Each level varies with the characters on offer, though often the barrel containing them will be a multi-character barrel that switches between all three, giving you the option to choose how you want to approach a challenging part of a level. Cranky Kong's cane is especially helpful in areas where the ground is filled with spikes, though you do still have to time your jumps well so that you take no damage each time you land. One of the changes that I'm personally most pleased with in this latest iteration is the complete removal of the Super Guide, so players can collectively say goodbye to Professor Chops, the checkpoint pig popping up and annoyingly waving a flag to signal that you suck as a videogamer. In his place is a much more revamped shop, curated by none other than good old Funky Kong and his wifebeater/tight jean shorts combo and rad shades. In HD, you can see his funky fur impressively well, and he kinda comes off as the awkward uncle who never really got past that phase in the eighties when being totally bodacious was in. However, his shop is most excellent, as it carries two new colored balloons -- the green balloon that is essential for saving you from pitfalls at opportune moments in more challenging levels, and the blue balloon that helps you breathe underwater for longer. Another cool addition is a capsule machine that drops out a capsule for a few coins. Each capsule unlocks figurines that you can rotate and view in your Extras menu, including the cast of characters and enemies like the commonly-seen "Tuff Tucks" -- tossable penguins with cute little helmets. The shop has a few other power-ups as well, including extra barrels full of monkeys so that you don't have to go into a level alone if you need that extra help. Though there is no online co-op mode for Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, there will be online leaderboards that are dedicated to speed-running levels, as well as a single-player Hard mode that unlocks after you beat the main game at least once. The representatives on hand were hesitant to divulge much information on what hard mode entails, though more information was promised in the near future. In terms of level variety, Tropical Freeze has it in spades. The first island world, "Lost Mangroves," is a swampland with some really cool levels, including one of the first returns of the Donkey Kong silhouette levels. This time around, if you're traveling with Cranky Kong, his stunning white beard is visible rather magnificently next to DK's bright red tie. The level itself is appropriately swampy, with bright green hues and silhouetted huts. After this world, you're traveling through a pastoral landscape with windmills and giant Alphorns (Alpine Horns) that you must jump across in some really great platforming challenges, as well as a Grasslands/Savannah island that is facing the elements half the time and also a return to the underwater levels in "Seabreeze Cove." As one of the coolest levels I played in Island World 3, "Bright Savannah" involved out-running a windstorm that is tearing the level apart around you, so that your platforms are basically whatever may be blowing about in the wind at any given moment. The game is filled with exciting sequences like this, and even when I lost about 30 of my balloons in one challenging area, I still had absolutely no urge to put the controller down. As in Donkey Kong Country Returns and in the original franchise, each level contains tons of bananas to find, secret areas everywhere, "KONG" letters that open up secret levels, and of course the occasional mine-cart or rocket-barrel section. The musical scores of each level created by veteran David Wise are wonderful, with a great new standout found in level 2-1. The tune is "Windmill Hills," and it evoked the mood of the theme song to Cheers, with a bit of a folksy country vibe. The wonderful score to the underwater levels is back and revamped, and I wished I could listen to it more at the event as I heard it over the sound of other journalists playing on other systems. Surprisingly, one of the biggest joys of Tropical Freeze are the boss battles. All of the bosses, including the Viking Sea Lion of the first island, are in no way slouches, and involve understanding their independent move-sets and weaknesses to lob things at them or jump on them and take them down. They also get more dangerous as you take them down, switching up their attacks in intelligently designed ways that keep you guessing at how to properly end them. One of the bosses actually made me think of boss levels in shoot-'em-ups that require you to avoid incessant enemy fire and find brief safe spots before implementing your attack. There is one small concern that I feel it necessary to air, and that is in playing on the GamePad. As in all of the games before, grabbing onto things requires holding onto the bumpers while manipulating the joystick and jump button, and on the very wide GamePad this is immediately apparent as a recipe for some serious carpal-tunnel, especially since the game is such a challenging and relentless platformer. Furthermore, requiring you to hold down the grab button just feels awkward on the GamePad, and I found myself forgetting to do so several times on tough levels before I'd wise up. After playing for about an hour on the GamePad I had to shake my hands just to give them a bit of proper exercise, and decided it was a good time to switch controls. Fortunately, several control options are available, including the Wii Remote by itself or the Wiimote and Nunchuk combo, though personally I would highly recommend playing with the Wii U Pro Controller, as it just feels right in one's hands and is perfect for challenging platforming situations. The biggest thing I want to stress about my four-hour playthrough is that even though Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze is very similar to Returns in terms of general gameplay design, it is shaping up to be a worthy successor due to its varied levels and smart changes to gameplay design. It also looks beautiful on a huge HD screen and the levels seem to run silky smooth. The challenge has also been increased in only the best way possible, so that deaths are never frustrating because of controls or other problems with level design, but simply because they operate on that addictive "one more try" quality that only the best platformers achieve. I'll definitely be picking up my copy in February to see Donkey Kong and family through to the cold, bitter end.
Tropical Freeze photo
How this 'sequel' improves upon the original return
When Retro Studios' Donkey Kong Country Returns released for the Wii in 2010, I was ecstatic. Since I was 13 years old when I played Rare's original Donkey Kong Country for the first time, I marveled at its solid platforming ...

Dragon Age: Inquisition photo
Dragon Age: Inquisition

Dragon Age: Inquisition is a major improvement


Making magnificently terrible decisions
Aug 31
// Casey Baker
As much as I love Bioware's style of creating compelling companions and giving the player agency to make choices that ultimately affect the overarching narrative, I have never been able to get into the Dragon Age series, no m...
Disney photo
Disney

Disney Infinity: Action! is an AR toy for mobile devices


See a couple of your favorite Disney characters IRL!
Aug 14
// Casey Baker
  During a recent press event with Disney Interactive, I got a chance to look at how Disney Infinity will translate to mobile devices. The publisher is planning to release two separate apps, one for iOS devices and lat...
Batman: AO multiplayer photo
Batman: AO multiplayer

Batman: Arkham Origins multiplayer mode revealed


Becoming the Invisible Predator
Jul 31
// Casey Baker
A common pattern for when a successful single-player IP has turned into a series is to tack on a multiplayer bit of some form. Unfortunately, when this happens, the multiplayer portion is often a half-assed attempt thrown in...

Cooperative mayhem in Splinter Cell: Blacklist

Jul 11 // Casey Baker
Splinter Cell: Blacklist (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U)Developer: Ubisoft Toronto / Ubisoft Shanghai (Wii U)Publisher: UbisoftReleased:  Ausgust 20 2013 (NA) / August 22, 2013 (EU) / July 25, 2013 (JP)MSRP: $59.99 A group of monitors at Ubisoft's Splinter Cell: Blacklist event were set aside specifically for co-op missions, and as a PR rep pointed me and another random journalist towards opposing monitors, we 'suited up' with our headphones, tested our audio connection, and jumped into the game proper. We had never met before, and now we were to rely on each other's judgements to make it through the mission. Cue immediate anxiety about screwing up and pissing off my teammate, or vice versa. The game started in Mirawa Iraq, and I played as a supporting agent (I believe it was Isaac Briggs, but without any real investment in the character it could've just as easily been Charlie Cole, whose missions revolve around assault tactics) while my co-op partner played as Sam Fisher. We began at the top of a precarious mountain trail leading towards a small outpost and a bridge, tasked with taking out the bridge with C4 after clearing the outpost of hostiles. What immediately became apparent about the co-op missions is that stealth is still pretty necessary, although not to the point of frustration. At one point, as I aimed my gun over a fallen tree to get a clean shot on an enemy -- I somehow misfired, alerting everyone in my area. "Oh. Shit," I spoke over the headset. "We're probably screwed. I alerted them." "I got it," my co-op partner said, and then as I became the perfect decoy, I watched him take down each surrounding enemy one by one, until I could dispatch the last couple near me. A few kills later, and a guy with a riot shield appeared from nowhere and began trudging towards my partner. I took the opportunity to sneak around and snap the guy's neck. This scenario actually replayed itself a couple of times throughout the mission, with our roles reserving each time. After we took down the bridge by planting the C4 on the trucks parked on it, we began heading to a village filled with snipers, and each of us took different routes to distract our enemies. My co-op buddy soon got overwhelmed and cornered from within the village, and I took the opportunity to become Rambo Sam Fisher, blasting enemies from above the rooftops, before slinking off into the shadows to stealth kill the last couple that were giving him trouble. Curiously, the next large segment of this mission became a lot less focused on stealth, even as day turned to night. While one of us was tasked with making our way through a heavily guarded segment of the village, the other was required to support with UAV drone bombings from above. This segment absolutely required one partner to mark enemies for execution, as not all enemies appeared in the UAV radar, and several heavies in the area needed priority marking for a nice bomb blast to deter them. After getting halfway through this area, the roles switched so that each player got a turn at either support or making way through the village. While this area was a lot of fun, it played a lot more like an entirely different Tom Clancy game -- Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, to be exact. While other editors have mentioned the homogenization of genres that Ubisoft seems to be going for in this latest Splinter Cell game, nowhere has it been more apparent than in this particular section that really had little to do with stealth and everything to do with tactical bombing strikes. Soon after this portion of the level, our mission ended and unsurprisingly our approach was deemed primarily 'assault' by the endgame stats meter. My co-op buddy and I congratulated each other on a job well done and wandered off our separate ways. I have to give it to Ubisoft for making co-op accessible and fun enough that two strangers could become strong teammates without either getting overly frustrated at the other's incompetence. While the gameplay may not be the approach to stealth that diehard fans expect out of the series, it's still solid and enjoyable enough on its own merits to be worth a look. Oh, and if you're not a fan of co-op but still want multiplayer in your Splinter Cell, at least Spies vs. Mercenaries is still as tense as ever. I played a couple rounds as both the Spies and Mercs, and found myself dying a ton because of my lack of stealth ability and/or aiming my weapon against my foes. So there's that.
Splinter Cell preview photo
Not quite stealthy, but still fun
In a recent hands-on with Splinter Cell: Blacklist, I had a chance to see exactly what our other editors have been excited about regarding both the game's single- and multiplayer components. I spent a little time with a coupl...

Pikmin 3 preview photo
Pikmin 3 preview

Pikmin 3 is so adorably gruesome


Killing innocent creatures has never been this cute
Jul 11
// Casey Baker
I don't know about you folks, but I don't think I could possibly be more excited for Pikmin 3 right now. Yesterday I had a chance to get a full hands-on with the game at the Nintendo of America offices for an hour-and-half pl...

Review: Grid 2

Jul 02 // Casey Baker
GRID 2 (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [reviewed])Developer: Codemasters SouthamPublisher: CodemastersReleased:  May 28, 2013 (NA) / May 31, 2013 (EU) / July 25, 2013 (JP)MSRP: $59.99 On the surface, Grid 2 is still a beautiful race for the finish line with hot cars and plenty of thrilling matches against aggressive AI opponents that will give as good as they take. Unfortunately, beyond these surface details, the actual game suffers deeply from sequel-itis. Ignoring the glaring issue of a complete lack of cockpit view for the time being, there are many other smaller problems with Grid 2 that surmount to something that falls way short of what the first game even aspired to be. The first thing one has to understand about this game is that it follows more closely in the footsteps of Dirt 3 -- or even the series spin-off Dirt Showdown -- with all pomp and circumstance, and then notches up the douchiness just a bit more to really get on any gamer's nerves. Instead of having the game narrated by managers who give constructive criticism and generally have a positive vibe, you're left with a middle manager of your promoter, the mysterious Patrick Callahan, who might as well be the Illusive Man for all of his underling's dickishness. Your narrator relishes in taking credit for your wins, talks creepily about how he can't wait to get into your new car, and admonishes you for a 'mistake' even when it has actually helped you out in your race. The biggest issue with this new narrator is that he is implemented sloppily -- he's inconsistent and unhelpful throughout. In one race, he told me more than three times that my front wheel was damaged and thus I would have performance issues, even as I crossed the finish line in first. In the next race as I drove my vehicle like a bumper car against guard rails, he was mysteriously silent until he spouted a generic line about getting ahead of the pack early. In fact, the narrator will even spout lines more suitable to a completely different event, such as telling you to get ahead of the pack when you're the only one in a time trial race. Between this shitty, inconsistent narrator and lazy interface issues that show all of your opponent drivers saying the exact same thing about the next race, the game reeks of a certain kind of laziness that its predecessor would not dream of attempting. [embed]256980:49413:0[/embed] Another example of how Grid 2 seems to want to destroy your enjoyment of it comes from the fans in each race except for the World Series Race events. I can't count the number of times I took a sharp turn and noticed that the cardboard cutout fans all seemed to be incredibly bored with anything around them, at times not even facing the track and on their cell phones. I guess this was supposed to be a nod towards realism, but it's the wrong kind of realism as it destroys the whole idea of playing games for escapism where you're supposed to be the rising star, not some asshole on a race track that's being promoted by an even bigger asshole. The noises from the fans themselves are outright bizarre, and I could swear that around just about every other curve was the drunk chick from Family Guy, yelling out a very inebriated "WOOOooOoooo!" I'm not really sure why the fans are as terrible as they are besides a certain kind of cynicism, as the game doesn't rely on winning actual currency but instead garnering social currency, and even at beyond four million fans it seemed like many of my races still had a lot of bored, terrible people. Before the game was released, the new "Liveroutes" system was touted as something fresh and original, an idea that had never been introduced in racing games before. The thought behind this new system of randomized turns in the tracks of certain races was that it would truly test your reflexes and skills as a racer. While I actually did enjoy the Liveroutes racing during my time with Grid 2, I found it to be the easiest event to complete throughout. Even up until the late game I was able to get several seconds ahead of the second-place opponent long before the race ended. At first, I figured it was because I've gotten relatively skilled behind the virtual wheel -- but as I lost tragically to events in other disciplines, I started to get a feeling that the whole Liveroutes thing was still a bit undercooked. I'm not sure whether it was Codemasters' intention to make the AI during these races become dumber to appear to be more 'real' or whether they actually do struggle more with randomized tracks, but in any case, the biggest disappointment I had with the new system was that it didn't really challenge me in the same way other events did. And speaking of the other events, while the one big positive I can say about Grid 2 is that the races are generally still pretty solid and fun, the difficulty curve is all over the place, even within the same discipline. This was also present in the first game, but with so many choices then, the player had a lot of agency to practice or skip certain events altogether until he or she was skilled enough to move on. Here, the first three seasons of races move in a very linear fashion, forcing you to beat a race in a certain discipline before opening up the series. This becomes a barrier to entry for races that aren't even necessarily as challenging as the first race in the first discipline. When the game introduces Togue, that first race is a complete shift in difficulty from earlier races and I nearly threw my controller through the TV screen in frustration at the sudden change. Imagine my surprise when I finally mastered it and decided to try the next Togue event for shits and giggles, only to realize that it was a cake-walk compared to that first one, and not because of my own improved abilities. Further expounding this issue is the unfairness of the AI drivers. While I actually love aggressive driving and really dug the first Grid for the way it was implemented within the spectacle-filled races, I really hate what they've done with it in this game. The drivers now find the absolute cheapest moments to take you out, and their vehicles are ALWAYS heavier than yours, even when you're driving a muscle car and they're in a dinky formula one-type go-kart. I spent hours in several races attempting to repeat the exact same move that a driver pulled on me to destroy my race, only to see myself ping-ponging off the other car's tank-like exterior. I believe it was only once that I actually managed to take down another car, though I took myself down in the process. The car even flipped and as I watched him disappear helplessly in my rear-view mirror, through some black magic he got back on the track and caught up to me, only to take me out of the race completely just before the finish line. Of course, I have to also mention the lack of cockpit view and how it affects the game, because no matter what Codemasters might argue, it changes everything in a fundamental way. The lack of that view from behind the steering wheel really kills the realism of the first game. While hood view is a tolerable enough substitution, for some reason the developers decided to make just about every car hood incredibly shiny and reflective (despite whatever paint job the car has), so that EVERY LITTLE THING is reflected on the car hood. While it's a very pretty idea for a tech demo, in an actual race it is incredibly distracting and doesn't really add anything useful to the game. Added to this is a much floatier handling in just about every vehicle, whether they're balanced or drift vehicles. The game plays a lot more like a Need For Speed/Ridge Racer hybrid than its own roots, and though it makes for a more accessible game, it also disappoints with its further lack of simulation. When the dust settles, Grid 2 serves as a solid enough racing game with generally strong opponent AI. What it does not serve as is a worthy successor to the first game -- instead offering a stripped-down version of itself that is filled with lazy design, unfair AI opponents, special ESPN 'live' broadcasts that no one really asked for, and to top it all off, its bizarrely irritating narrator and loudly drunk or completely apathetic fans. If this is what racing in the modern age is, maybe it's time to hang up the helmet and find another hobby.
Grid 2 review photo
Less cockpit, more douchiness
Codemasters' original Race Driver: Grid was -- and still is -- a pinnacle of automobile racing games. Back when it was released in 2008, I spent literally hundreds of hours with the game trying to rack up cars, medals, sponso...

Wonderful 101 photo
Wonderful 101

Wonderful 101 has room for FIVE in multiplayer mode


Get your Wii controllers ready...
Jun 11
// Casey Baker
During this morning's special E3 Nintendo Direct, Iwata announced that the multiplayer for Platinum Games' The Wonderful 101 will include up to five people playing simultaneously. That's one more than the usual four, for tho...
Indie photo
Indie

Slew of indie titles announced at Sony's conference


Sony holds true to its word this time
Jun 10
// Casey Baker
In step with previous efforts and vocalizations regarding its desire to make its next console open to smaller developers, Sony has announced support for several independent teams and their games on the PS4. A few of the annou...

Review: Go Home Dinosaurs!

Jun 08 // Casey Baker
Go Home Dinosaurs! (iOS [reviewed], PC)Developer: Firehose GamesPublisher: Firehose GamesReleased: May 9, 2013 (iOS) / March 14, 2013 (PC)MSRP: $4.99 (iOS) / $9.99 (PC) In Go Home Dinosaurs! you are an adorable little gopher tasked with protecting your barbecue from those dastardly prehistoric monsters of the game's namesake. Each level can earn you up to three steaks from your barbecue, and each hit you take from the incoming dinosaurs causes you to lose a steak through the dynamite rigged next to it as a last stand against the opposing forces. In many cases and especially in the later levels, the player will find great challenge in figuring out exactly how to preserve every one of those three delicious steaks. Why a gopher is cooking steak for his family or why he even coexists with dinosaurs is questionable, but irrelevant for the sake of the incredibly fun gameplay. The game has tons of humor and charm to spare, as each unit you place on the battlefield to help protect your barbecue spouts lines paraphrased from cult classic and popular movies  such as Full Metal Jacket, The Warriors, Aliens and even a few references to other videogames (some groan-inducing, such as the 'arrow to the knee' riff from the gopher in the game's store). At times, the game threatens to be cloying because of the constant repetition of these lines by your gopher squadrons, but thanks to the constant progression and inclusion of new units, you're mostly treated to more fun references as you get further along. The gameplay itself is incredibly fast-paced for a tower defense title. The little gopher you control can actually defend against dinosaurs by throwing rocks when you move him close, but you'll be spending most of your time with him (her?) collecting coconuts from trees in much the same way that you collect sunflowers in Plants vs. Zombies. The dinosaurs move along a pre-determined path, and it's your job to set up defenses along this path to properly eradicate the giant lizard menace. The dinosaurs themselves are cute and dopey, they come in a wide variety of Stegosauruses, T-Rexes, Pterodactyls, and others with varying attack patterns and speeds, and they can be absolutely relentless in their single-minded determination at times. The defense units you receive also vary widely and take up a certain amount of space and a type of shape on the battlefield, so it's necessary to plan carefully before each round to make sure you get the right kind of defense units that will actually provide useful against the dino onslaught. For example, in one of the later stages, I found a great strategy against the dinosaurs by setting up a couple of 'snow-thrower' gopher units that damage and slow down incoming forces and come in the most aggravating tetromino (zigzag) size for the battlefield, as well as a couple of 'boombox' gopers that slowly deplete enemy health within a certain area. With little room to spare, I chose to use my favorite instant power-up, a robotic gopher team that pops up wherever needed to attack enemies and collect coconuts for a limited time. Truth be told, for a good number of the levels I relied on this team for that extra little push, especially during moments in most levels when the dinosaurs rush the BBQ in great numbers. In a way, the instant power-ups you earn primarily through collecting coins at the end of most levels feel a little like cheating, as they don't require too much strategy beyond when to use them. In this sense, the game might seem to appeal more to a younger audience who may need the extra help. Don't be fooled however, as there are certain levels in the late game where surviving with all three steaks truly relies on timing your use of the power-ups in conjunction with the defense units and which ones you decide to use. Go Home Dinosaurs! will last you at least eight to ten hours if you're a skilled player, and certainly more if you're a younger or less familiar gamer. With its 4.99 asking price for a total of 60 levels, the game certainly gives you enough bang for its buck, and with adorable characters and often smile-inducing one liners, you'll be returning to it often for a tower defense experience that starts out casually and then truly challenges your brain and reflexes.
Go Home Dinosaurs! photo
You're drunk at our BBQ...
Go Home Dinosaurs! is a game that will draw immediate comparisons to Plants vs. Zombies. From its cutesy art style, to its carefully constructed tower defense-based gameplay, much of this iPad experience will recall hours pla...

Frozen Synapse photo
Frozen Synapse

Impressions: Frozen Synapse for iPad


Hardcore strategy with the simplest of interfaces
Jun 06
// Casey Baker
When Frozen Synapse arrived on PC in 2011, the indie game wowed strategy enthusiasts with its incredibly compelling tactical gameplay. Complex strategy arose from a very simple interface and the most rudimentary of graphics, ...

OUYA impressions: Hands-on with the early backer unit

May 07 // Casey Baker
Right out of the box, the OUYA is a device that quite literally screams, "Give me a chance!" The moment an early backer opens their little shoebox, they are greeted with a large red insert with lettering that tells you in bold white, "THANK YOU FOR BELIEVING." While it's a nice gesture, believing and seeing are two completely different realities. As soon as you pull away this insert, you're greeted with the sleek little console and the controller. The controller is positioned in such a way as to make it appear broken, the intent obviously to show you that the batteries go beneath the controller's faceplates -- but the vibe it immediately gives off is that you've just purchased a third-world country knockoff of other, more popular consoles. The Console: So far, so good The OUYA itself is a small, quiet little device. Etched on the side of the early backer units is a list of the largest contributors to the Kickstarted project, including Minecraft's Notch. So that's pretty neat. The console has an HDMI port, a regular USB port, a micro USB port, an Ethernet port, an audio out jack and the adapter plug socket. It's a relatively simple little piece of hardware, and turning it on is as straightforward as pressing the button that takes up most of the real estate on top of the device. I actually like the design and simplicity of the console. It fits in well among my other beastly devices, and it doesn't demand that its presence is known every time I boot it up. If I had one nitpick to make, it might be that my chosen Blue Rigger heavy-duty HDMI cable makes it pretty difficult to keep the tiny console standing normally the way it's supposed to, but this is more of a personal complaint since the box it came in provided a perfectly good, albeit somewhat short HDMI cable. I just happen to prefer my own more durable, longer cables. The OUYA Interface: Not quite sophisticated... Unfortunately, the 'cheap knock-off' vibe of the OUYA never really goes away upon boot-up. While the console provides you with everything you need to get started for the first time, including the requisite adapter, HDMI cable, and even batteries for the controller -- the initial boot-up after a required ten- to fifteen-minute update reveals an interface that is so simple and so laggy that it calls back the early days of the Xbox 360 dashboard. You are given four main options: Play, Discover, Create, and Manage. These are pretty self-explanatory, and have also been covered before so I won't bore with all of the details. Most importantly to gamers, within the Discover option you're given various categorizations of downloadable games, such as Staff Picks, Genres, Favs, and finally the Sandbox which are basically games that are either recently uploaded or haven't really gained the attention of other games. In my experience, a lot of the games in the Sandbox section are probably not going to garner much notoriety except maybe for how terrible they are. But I'll get to that later. The upside of all of this is that downloading games and apps is a relatively painless process, and it unsurprisingly resembles the same sort of process of downloading games to a Droid phone and instantly launching them. The majority of games on offer are also pretty small affairs and don't generally go beyond 100 MB except in cases where the Tegra 3 chip is using its graphical processing power to output some relatively impressive graphics -- if you set your expectations within reasonable limits. The Controller: Lag and then some After first booting up my OUYA and launching into my first couple of games, I quickly learned a few of the controller's fatal flaws. The first is the fact that it's a Bluetooth wireless controller, and not an incredibly great one at that. There is noticeable lag in most games, and it can be really frustrating in downloads like Canabalt that require fast-paced manipulation of the buttons to get through the never-ending obstacles. The lag isn't even totally consistent, either -- in some games it is a constant issue, though in others (e.g. Beast Boxing Turbo) it is barely noticeable except for when anything blocks the path between the controller in your hand and the device itself (such as, oh I don't know, a coffee table, or this computer I'm writing this on...). Completely weird issues with control due to lag also pop up from time to time and threaten to completely ruin the experience. Lag issues seem to be improving day by day, though after extended play the interface and some of the games still seem to get bogged down by lag. The second big issue with the controller is how the magnetic faceplates sit upon the main body of the thing. Because of the looseness of the faceplates, the face O, U, Y, and A buttons tend to stick under them, causing an immediate issue that disrupts way too much playtime. The faceplates themselves do a good job of staying in place, but the controller's design fails because of the extra space in the faceplate button holes that allows the buttons to stick under them. Julie Uhrman has noted this issue and has promised the the company is working on further renovating the controller for launch to deal with it, but only time and the hands of more enthusiastic (read: younger) gamers will tell if the magnetic faceplate thing is even a good idea to begin with. A final issue with the controller is the touch sensitivity of the front pad. The pad works as a barely functioning fingerpad, with an onscreen cursor only sort of following your finger movements. You can certainly get through menu prompts with this pad by double tapping on them, but just getting the cursor to hover above the menu prompt is a huge fight to get it to do what you want. The one positive thing I can say about the controller is that the company definitely got down the basic form and correct heft of the thing. It feels good to hold, and because of the aluminum faceplates, it has a heaviness that is just about right on target with other console controllers. Besides the actual functionality issues, the controller avoids most  pitfalls that would continue the 'cheap knock-off' theme. So that's good, I guess? Moving on. The Games and Apps: triumph or tribulation of the indies For having 104 games available at launch, it's rather disconcerting that about 10 of those games currently on display are at a level that actually seems feasible for enjoyable play. A great deal of the games that you'll find on the OUYA (primarily in the Sandbox section) feel similar to so many Xbox Live Indie throwaways. They're games made by beginning developers that are barely playable and not very fun. In a way, I suppose this should be expected as par for the course -- one can only hope that if the OUYA does succeed financially, more good indie developers will be attracted to the thing and thus much better choices will be available. This isn't to say that there are no good games available. The problem that comes with these valid choices falls in the free-to-play model that the OUYA has adopted. In some cases, you'll get a chance to play a few minutes of the game before it begins demanding money from you, whether through in-app purchases or in simply asking you repeatedly to buy the full game even before the demo is over. In many ways, playing OUYA games reminds me of when I was a kid and I'd buy a floppy disc of 101 shareware games from Fry's Electronics, and most of them would be total shit but then you'd find Commander Keen, and it'd be fun until the demo session expired and you'd either have to figure out how to get money out of your parents to pay for the game, or you'd learn from a friend how to crack the game and get the full version by other means. In other words, the pay model used feels like taking a few giant steps backward. Speaking of illicit means of downloading games, the OUYA offers a few emulators for systems such as the NES, the SNES, the Nintendo DS, and the N64. Admittedly, I did check out the SNES and N64 emulators, though only for SCIENCE and only with roms of the games I own already on the Wii and Wii U's Virtual Consoles. The N64 emulator outputs gorgeous HD visuals though as expected it functions erratically and has severe sound issues, while the SNES emulator works pretty well save for the controller lag rearing its ugly head yet again. Regardless, there have certainly been better options in the past on the old Wii's homebrew channel for those really into the whole emulation scene. Among all of the mediocre to terrible choices for gaming, a few diamonds do shine through. Oddly, the games that I find myself returning to still are the games that keep it very simple yet have great gameplay mechanics and no noticeable controller issues. A few of these games that I'd personally cast the spotlight on are Vector, an already free flash runner on PC that feels very much like a two-dimensional Mirror's Edge, and my personal absolute favorite, No Brakes Valet, a hilarious experience with incredibly simple DOS-like graphics that tasks you with parking a ton of cars in a lot by trying to both control them and slow them down as they go careening in from the left of the screen. No Brakes Valet is especially notable because it exemplifies what I believe the OUYA should be all about -- games that can be played with friends on your TV that focus on having fun and aren't too concerned about impressing you with graphical prowess. Similarly, there is another experimental 'game' that I can imagine being great fun with a group of drunk friends (and one that caused my partner to repeatedly declare that it was 'possibly the stupidest game he had ever played') called The Amazing Frog? -- an experience in which you try to guide a frog around his world of bouncy castles, fans, and explosive cars/barrels with often hilarious results. Your frog can either run forward or jump, and pretty much everything it does is incredibly clumsy. The point of the 'game' is to try to get the poor guy to go flying as far as possible. It's weird and purposeless in the same way as Noby Noby Boy, but also can be pretty hilarious. Currently, there are only a couple notable apps on the system, but I'm happy to report that they work rather well. Twitch.tv has an incredibly quick boot-up and streams pretty nicely, though the interface leaves a bit to be desired. Tune In Radio shines as a really great app to find both radio stations and podcasts, and it works as expected. The apps on the OUYA get me excited for what will be released after launch, as this little system may become my go-to for Netflix and other streaming services. Conclusion: Maybe we should believe harder... If the OUYA can truly improve its sloppy, inconsistent, and ultimately laggy controller and work on professionalizing its interface a little bit, there may be hope for the cheap little console yet. The open-ended developer friendly nature of the device is enticing, not so much for me developing anything personally as I threw my programming coat up on the rack at the age of 13 with the advent of C++ over QBASIC, but for anyone else with an interest in developing and releasing games without dealing with evil publisher overlords. The possibility of developers releasing awesome, simple experiences on the machine in the future excites me to no end, and I hope that the OUYA does succeed if for no other reason than to allow talented devs another outlet to rise from obscurity. About the lag, though -- it's simply got to go or the thing's going to most certainly crash and burn when released to a wider, less tolerating audience.
OUYA impressions photo
Lagging behind the finish line
When the OUYA was first revealed on Kickstarter last July, my curiosity was instantly piqued. Being the kind of gamer who values sheer fun and general style and aesthetic over pure graphical processing power, the more I read ...

Review: BADLAND

Apr 05 // Casey Baker
BADLAND (iPhone, iPad [reviewed])Developer: Frogmind GamesPublisher: Frogmind GamesReleased: April 4, 2013MSRP: $3.99 BADLAND draws you in from the beginning with a trippy silhouetted art style and an ambient soundtrack -- both vaguely reminiscent of the eeriness of Limbo. The colorful, bizarre background flora that stands as a stark contrast to the bleak foreground silhouettes and some of the spacier music choices are also reminiscent of the obscure '70s animated film Fantastic Planet. You're not given much of a story to go on, except that you seem to be a furry little hedgehog/popple (remember those?) creature that almost comically flaps its futile little arms/wings to get across each stage. There's something else about a dead rabbit creature hanging upside down and his friends hidden in the background and some sort of race of robot creatures that look like giant metal eggs, but that's all simply background detail and doesn't ever truly get explained. The first couple of levels seem straightforward enough, as they see your character barely scraping by deadly spikes and dangerous plant life to get to the vacuum pipe at the end of the stage. However, it only takes a few more levels before you start to witness the various power-ups that completely change up the gameplay and at times almost ditch the endless-runner style to focus more on quick-paced puzzle platforming. One of the most notable power-ups that aids you throughout the game is the ability to instantly clone your character, either into one other little fuzzball or several others, all huddled together and at the beck and call of your finger taps. Think of your clones as your community of species. As you pass through giant spinning razor gardens and stomping machinery bits, you're going to watch in horror as a few of your community is sacrificed so that the faster and better controlled may live to see another difficult puzzle. In the beginning, this seems like an obvious handicap in completing the harrowing levels, as you watch a massive slaughter of your community only to notice a plucky one or two always survive and get funneled through the deadliest traps. Yet as you make your way through your first day of existence from dawn to night, you start to come across more devious setups that require you to split the paths of your communities in myriad clever ways. For example -- you may be forced to let one of your fuzzballs sacrifice itself for the greater good by taking a path that means certain death, but also opens a switch to release the rest of your community from a blockade ahead. Add to this the great variety of power-ups you'll receive and traps you'll desperately try to avoid, and you quickly get an idea of the tense and fun puzzles you might face in a single level. A few of these power-ups include some that make your fuzzballs grow larger or smaller, some that make them bouncy or sticky, and others that slow down or speed up time. The levels themselves are designed in a manner so that no power-up is wasted; nearly every one of them is one you'll need to use somehow, or at least will make the next section a little easier to get through. Much of the fun that comes from BADLAND is from the anxiety it will cause you in narrowly avoiding an insane deathtrap with your last fuzzy after watching a whole mess of clones explode throughout a rough patch of poisonous plants. LocoRoco this game ain't, as it's nearly impossible to save ALL of your community and so it becomes quickly necessary to focus on the ones that you just might be able to save and let the stragglers fall by the wayside or get burst into pieces by razors blades, gears, or javelin spikes. The game itself isn't exactly lengthy; I was able to finish the main set of stages in a few sessions. As mentioned before, it's split up into levels that go from dawn to night. This equates to four worlds with different art styles (dawn, noon, dusk, night) and ten levels in each. However, there are two important elements for replayability after getting to the credits. Namely, the three-egg challenges in each level, and the ridiculously fun multiplayer. The challenge eggs are like how stars are handled in games like Angry Birds, where you are awarded more for doing better in the stages. However, these particular challenges tend to be more specific to stages, from egg challenges that demand you to best the level in one single try, to others that ask you to keep a set number of clones alive by the end of the level-- not nearly as simple a task as it would first appear. Beyond this is the multiplayer, which is handled on a single screen and seems best suited for an iPad. Up to four players can pick a fuzzball of their very own, each with silly names and cute or weird characteristics, such as the one-eyed Cyclo or the irritated looking Fury. These fuzzballs are thrown into a level together, with each quadrant of the screen serving as the player inputs. The goal of the multiplayer is survival of the fittest, with the fuzzball that actually makes it the longest getting the lion's share of points, as well as added points for all for power-ups and clones picked up. I played the multiplayer more than a few times with my partner, and it proved to be a fun and addictive diversion that depended on skill just as much as on sheer luck. Though $3.99 seems like a high asking price for the typical iOS game, BADLAND is more than worth it with a beautiful, challenging single-player and fun multiplayer component, and the added bonus of more levels and a furthering of the mysterious story coming in a later update.
BADLAND review photo
Adapt or be squished
The Apple App Store seems to be filled with a glut of endless-runner/platforming games and their ilk these days. From excellent ventures such as Canabalt and Rayman Jungle Run to more suspect knock-offs (Here's lookin' at you...

NFS Most Wanted U photo
NFS Most Wanted U

Feeling the Rush in Need For Speed: Most Wanted U


Smooth like butta'
Mar 30
// Casey Baker
After smashing a few hundred cars and winning a fair share of brutal races in the hours of time spent in Need For Speed: Most Wanted for the Xbox 360, I was more than happy for the opportunity to check out the recently releas...

Preview: The four major gameplay tweaks in GRID 2

Feb 14 // Casey Baker
GRID 2 (PC [previewed], PlayStation 3,  Xbox 360)Developer: Codemasters Southam Publisher: CodemastersRelease: August 20, 2013 My hands-on preview involved three separate styles of races. These included an elimination-style street race in Barcelona, a BAC Mono car Red Bull Ring track race in Europe, and a checkpoint street race in Chicago. I spent a good deal of time with each race, as I was determined to come in first each time. It took quite a while to get back into the feel of the GRID series with its realistic physics modelling and aggressive A.I. opponents, but once I got back into the swing of things, I felt right at home. The races felt very familiar to those found in GRID in terms of high-speed tension and careful maneuvering around hairpin turns. In fact, the biggest and most exciting notable difference that I found throughout the races came in the opponents' artificial intelligence. If you thought the other drivers were aggressive in the first game, be ready for some very clever moves by other drivers. In both of the street races, I was knocked out a few times by a well-aimed nudge while taking on a turn. You can bet that I used every hairpin to my advantage for this exact same purpose. Beyond this, much of GRID 2 remains incredibly faithful to its predecessor. However, some important tweaks to the formula have been made, and whether these work for or against the game really may depend on your own preferences. The new Liveroutes system As Clive Moody puts it, "Liveroutes is a mechanism by which we can -- in real time -- dynamically and seamlessly change the route that you're driving. The corners change [so] as you're going around a circuit you come back to what may have been a left turn, now it goes straight on, or now goes right -- so you get a real unpredictability with the racing." The core principle behind Liveroutes is that it keeps the "unpredictability of open-world races" while still focusing on the close and aggressive nature of the GRID series. During my playtime, I didn't notice the Liveroutes system in action though I did notice that there were a lot of points in streetbound races (Chicago and Barcelona) where I could choose between two lanes that broke up the drivers. At the same time, this caused the tension to ramp up even more as the drivers that I faced off against now scraped my bumper into some pretty hairy turns. Sponsorships remain, Teammates are gone The structure of GRID 2 differs greatly from GRID primarily in its focus on a fictional character known as Patrick Callahan who is a self-made multimillionaire looking to kick off an exciting new Motorsports series. With help from the player and sponsorships, the idea is that you're the star being promoted by Callahan as you make your way (thanks in part to broadcasting by ESPN) to becoming world famous. Due to this structure, GRID 2 will not have the same focus on teammates. In fact, teammates have been taken out completely, so gaining money through a teammate's better driving skills is no longer an option. In my discussion with Moody about how sponsorships work, it became increasingly clear that GRID 2's structure seems to be aping the structure found in the DiRT series, most notably in DiRT 2 and 3. Much like in that franchise, as you gain prestige, you also gain access to better sponsors with higher payouts and better liveries to flaunt on your chosen vehicle. Personally, I don't mind this structural change too much. While I did enjoy the process of hiring and firing teammates based on their skills and how much money they made me when I failed to do well in a particular race, I trust in Codemasters to still retain a similar sponsorship model that doesn't focus primarily on winning. As Moody reassured me later, sponsorship challenges focus once again on a variety of goals, from taking no damage to overtaking a specific opponent within the race regardless of final standings. I also asked about whether 24 Hour Le Mans would be making an appearance, and Moody told me that it was something the team was still tossing around, dependent on fan reaction. Personally, I wouldn't miss its absence. As much as endurance races are great for hardcore racing fans, GRID is the most enjoyable when taking on different styles of racing with tough opponents. More Realistic Damage Modeling In a European Red Bull Ring race that featured small, lightweight, and barely street-legal vehicles known as BAC Mono cars (think Formula 1 meets go-kart), I took a few misjudged turns and really smashed up my vehicle. Moody took the opportunity to demonstrate how the damage modelling system in GRID 2 has really advanced since the first game. In the first GRID, a lot of emphasis in damage modeling was focused on body deformation. However, the developers came to the realization that not all vehicles are made of the same material and therefore they won't fall apart in the same way. In the carbon-fiber vehicle I was racing in, I witnessed large chunks and smaller pieces of the vehicle simply break away and fly off. I asked Moody if the damage modeling would be only cosmetic or if it would be internal as well, and he explained that unlike the first game, GRID 2's internal damaging would be entirely optional, though he suggested the best experience involved putting full damage modeling on. No Cockpit View One of the biggest draws of the first GRID that really appealed to hardcore racing fans was the excellent cockpit/driver's seat view that allowed you to see from directly behind the driver's eyes, rather than out on the hood of the car or as some floating viewpoint in front of the car. Though this view had been implemented in racing games before, GRID really brought it home with the way the driver reacted and certain camera tricks to make you really feel the impact of collision or an awkward turn. Sadly, GRID 2 is lacking this feature and it is certainly no accident. As Moody told me, "We knew we'd get fan backlash ...they need to just get their hands on the game and play it...the core principles of GRID 2 are still there, and we're sticking by it." In the preview of the three different race types (road, street, track) I was able to check out, I couldn't argue this fact. The racing is still aggressive with improved A.I. and the game still straddles that perfect line between all-out arcade racer and pinpoint precise simulation. I spent a good 20 minutes just racing before I even realized that I hadn't switched between views to get an idea of what was there. I have to admit that I will miss having that amazing driver's seat view and I find its absence a little curious. I just hope that the developers really have focused great effort into the thrill of the races themselves in lieu of designing a cockpit view for each and every car, and that this isn't just an excuse for focusing efforts on more onerous ideas, such as a future deluge of DLC that would've already been on the disc in GRID. From an overall impression, I'm optimistic about GRID 2 and can't wait to get back into some thrilling races all over the country, including my own favorite place to drive: the California coastline. The first GRID provided a racing dream for me, as I absolutely loved a game where being an aggressive driver is not just encouraged but essential as the A.I. reacts realistically and will take you out on a hairpin turn. From what I previewed in GRID 2, this same core element remains perfectly intact, with even smarter A.I. opponents.
GRID 2 preview photo
If it ain't broke...
Five long years have passed since the original Race Driver: GRID offered racing fans an excellent hybrid racer with edge-of-your seat thrills in a great variety of racing styles. While the DiRT series has branched out a bit i...

Hands-on with Aliens: Colonial Marines

Dec 12 // Casey Baker
[embed]239080:45874[/embed] Aliens: Colonial Marines (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, Wii U)Developer: Gearbox SoftwarePublisher: SEGARelease: February 12, 2013 Aliens: Colonial Marines takes place sometime after the third film, though it sticks much closer in theme to Aliens. The game begins with your team responsible for investigating the Sulaco after it reappears above the atmosphere of LV-426. Upon investigation, you come across Weyland-Utani mercenaries lurking throughout the doomed ship. Immediately this turns into all-out warfare between your ship and the Sulaco, and you and your crew end up crash-landing on the moon right near the presently overrun Hadley's Hope colony. Fans of Aliens will immediately take in many details that tell the chronology of events, such as the turrets used by the original Colonial Marines, now spent of their ammo, or the computer used by Bishop (who is back again, of course) to try to gain access to more of the colony's interface. It's all there, and it's all certainly neat to take in. But then, the Xenomorphs arrive. The single-player campaign starts to give a sense of Déjà vu to any seasoned FPS player. The aliens themselves are not really frightening, not even in the "monster closet" sense like the creatures in Doom 3. This may be because much like the original marines, you have a ton of firepower. Of course, the demo I played had nearly everything already unlocked -- though as per suggestions, I stuck with the weapons you would normally have at this moment in the game. While the aliens certainly looked cool, they didn't necessarily act with any sort of real predatory A.I. as I mowed them down and cleared the area a couple of different times while running back and forth to finish objectives. Going further into the ruined depths of the colony had both high moments and low moments. After helping Bishop set up motion trackers and defending the main comms area, my character and one other marine were tasked with going even deeper into the colony, at which point I was given a smart gun to take down any of the Xenomorphs we might come across. Of course, a huge Xenomorph attack was pretty much telegraphed at this point, so when the swarm came I wasn't exactly shocked. The smartgun also took down so many Xenomorphs with auto-aiming ease that I felt like I was playing any number of other shooters that involve heavy guns and swarms of enemies. Yes, the Xenos were dropping from the ceiling and leaping from dark corners, but they were essentially cannon fodder for a short period before the objectives changed and urged me to move on. The H.R. Giger style of Alien constructs really came into play soon after this point though, as our characters ventured deeper into the infestation and got a good look at the strange squirmy shiny looking metallic "architecture" of the Xenomorphs environments. The demo soon ended after this point, just as soon as things were starting to get truly fresh and interesting. To be fair, slowly making our way through this environment with the motion tracker had it's fair share of tension. The biggest issue I have with what I've seen so far is in the fact that the human menace of the Weyland mercenaries seem to be more of a challenging opponent than the Xenomorphs. The aliens don't seem to have very adaptive A.I. and don't really hide out so much as wait for you to chance upon them. They seem at this point to exist solely to jump at you and quickly get mowed down. This is allayed quite a great deal within the multiplayer structure of the game where I had a chance to play two similar modes: Escape and Survival. I came away much more excited for the multiplayer than the single-player and its desire to feed so much fan service while somehow forgetting to add fresh elements of game design to the mix. In both of these objective-based modes, you play as either a team of human marines (with one spawn and you're out unless revived quickly by a teammate), or a team of Xenomorphs bent on killing the humans before they can finish their objectives. The marines play as expected with the usual weapon loadouts and upgrades we've seen with many other FPS games, just set in the Aliens universe. The Xenomorphs, however, have three different classes -- soldier, spitter, and lurker -- and they're all generally based on closer quarters combat. As the Xenomorphs, you can jump to ceilings and walls and crawl through vents while your vision is altered to see the marines in the level very clearly. You also have special upgradeable moves depending on your class that integrate a little strategy into the different modes. Soldiers are your basic melee-based attackers, while lurkers leap from the shadows, and spitters live up to their name, spitting acid like the hissing Xenomorphs in Alien 3. The gameplay in multiplayer is fast-paced and genuinely fun, and playing as the marines can actually be a much more tense experience than what I witnessed in the single-player campaign. You're constantly ambushed by the opposing Xenos if you're not looking over your shoulder. Getting killed feels especially punishing, as you're forced to watch the comrades you've let down get picked off by the opposing team, one by one. Perhaps the reason the multiplayer appeals to me so much more than what I witnessed of the single-player campaign relates back to personally liking the movie Alien more than Aliens. I prefer my Xenomorph horror of a less blunt and in your face kind, and more of a psychological thriller wherein you're faced with some dangerous unknown and must actually struggle to find a way to survive. As for Aliens: Colonial Marines, as a total package this should be a solid enough shooter to appease all sorts of fans of the series, but it's also a retread of many outdated and familiar gameplay mechanics. Maybe some day, Gearbox will make an open-world thriller of a game based off exploration of LV-223 in Prometheus. But until that time, I believe that if nothing else, Aliens: Colonial Marines will at the very least be a decent franchise tie-in that continues the canon of the series.
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Chestbursting excitement!
Before going out to view Prometheus, I felt it necessary to watch the first three Alien movies again to get a more cohesive feel of the universe. After coming away from this marathon viewing, I noted once again how different ...

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Impressions: Trine 2: Director's Cut on the Wii U


Oh, glorious GamePad
Dec 08
// Casey Baker
When Trine 2 was initially released, I was excited to check it out on Xbox Live Arcade as I had heard many good things about the first one and its open-ended, puzzle-platformer gameplay. Unfortunately, as much I was entranced...

Review: The Last Express (iOS)

Oct 20 // Casey Baker
The Last Express (iOS)Developer: DotEmuPublisher: DotEmuReleased: September 27, 2012MSRP: $4.99 In The Last Express, you take on the role of Robert Cath, an American adventurer who is dashingly handsome, fluent in various languages, and burdened with a questionable criminal past. In many ways, Cath fits into the Indiana Jones archetype -- even to the point that in one very Indiana Jones-ish combat scenario I could've sworn I heard the Wilhelm scream as an enemy died. Cath boards the Orient Express as an unknown, sneaking onto the train via motorcycle and quickly discovering that the friend he was expecting to rendezvous with has instead met his own mysterious demise. The game quickly sets you off onto a sort of choose-your-own-adventure, where you find yourself wandering the various corridors of the train and becoming either a passive or active participant of the events taking place around you. Even when playing casually on an iOS device, The Last Express will easily draw you into its immersive and self-contained universe. Characters pass by in narrow hallways, giving you a look and their pardon as they pass. People mill about in their rooms or in the restaurant car. And at various times you can eavesdrop on their conversations or actively become part of them. Of course, you don't actually have options as to what you will say -- Cath as a character is pretty self-assured and needs no help from our fourth-wall prodding -- though your choice to engage in conversations or ignore key characters will have a direct effect on your playthrough. [embed]236967:45496[/embed] The graphics are incredibly simplistic and the animations aren't even full-frame at times. Somehow, this simplicity is actually to the game's benefit. As you move about the train and watch characters interact, movements and gestures seem incredibly lifelike because of their familiarity -- it sort of feels like watching a simplified Renoir come to life. I know this sounds a bit pretentious, but I was honestly surprised by how such basic palettes and colors could tell such a deep and at times even emotional narrative. Normally, games that contain a murder mystery plot with overarching political intrigue really bore the shit out of me, but where The Last Express succeeds is in truly putting you in the moment. Every minute that passes is another minute towards your last destination, after all, and that final stopping place may change with your decisions from moment to moment. I can honestly say I have never felt the immediacy of my surroundings and actions in the same way as I did while playing through The Last Express. In one playthrough you may develop a love interest, help to defuse conflicts both petty and political, and develop alliances and enemies with various key players onboard. Granted, even though there are multiple ways to end the game, it seems that there is only one true sequence of events that leads to the "good" ending. Honestly, though, I'd be hard pressed to call any of the endings "happy." I've spent a lot of time gushing about the game itself -- I admittedly missed this gem the first time around, so it was exciting to play it in whatever format was available. However, the particular platform it's been released on has some incredibly frustrating issues, and I can't brand the game with a glowing review without considering the worthiness of it as a port. Touch sensitivity is a tricky beast for games ported to iOS, though successfully ported point-and-click adventure games have certainly come to mobile devices before. In complete honesty, I simply can't consider The Last Express among them. This may change with an update down the line, but as of now the game has an incredibly finicky touch control system. I played The Last Express on a 3rd generation iPad and found myself practically fighting with the controls at nearly every juncture. Icons on the screeen represent directions for your character to turn, though they could have been wingdings for all of the worth they had in actually getting my character to move properly. If I pressed on the button signifying "right," half the time the game would do the exact opposite. Pressing the button to move forward one frame would often send my character into a sprint, bypassing everything until the next traincar. These controls were especially frustratung during combat sequences, which play as proto-QTEs where you have to press the right direction with proper timing to survive dangerous fights. I nearly gave up in frustration during one of the late game battles because of this system. It took not only proper timing but bashing on the on-screen directional arrows and hoping they registered with the intended move. People often generally complain about touchscreen control and how awful it is for most mobile games. I argue stongly against this contention, as I have played so many awesome games with incredibly responsive controls that run the gamut from simple puzzle games (Ichi) to more complex adventure games like Swords & Sworcery that have the same familiar point-and-click interface. The Last Express falls on its face with the port's touch implementation, and this is really a shame. While I certainly accepted a certain amount of archaic control scheme frustration, I was surprised at how little work it seemed was actually put into making sure the game worked -- at least on an iPad. This was especially surprising given I was playing through on a device with ample screen space. Fortunately, The Last Express does have a good checkpoint system that even allows you to rewind time and play from an earlier train stop if you failed or missed something along the way. I suppose this and the newly implemented hint system are the major saving graces of this frustrating port. In every other way, it remains faithful to the original -- at least as far as I could surmise. I'm torn on this game, as I would normally give a game of this scope and brilliance a perfect 10, but my constant fight with the controls really did mar my enjoyment. Perhaps it's because the game is supposed to be playable on both iPad and iPhone, though from others' responses I've noticed it really only works on a smaller device. At the end of the day, I'd highly recommend picking up this relatively inexpensive version of The Last Express regardless, even if that means biting the bulllet with the control scheme and dealing with those frustrations. It's a piece of videogame history and a shining example of what can be done to create an experience so much more immersive than the Heavy Rains of today. I just can't rate the port as highly as I'd rate the core experience itself.
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Amazing game, touchy port
When The Last Express was first released in 1997, it was considered an incredibly engaging mystery set on the Orient Express as it traveled from Paris to Constantinople on the eve of World War I. In many ways the game was far...

Preview: How cassowaries saved my life in Far Cry 3

Oct 10 // Casey Baker
Far Cry 3 (PC [previewed with 360 controller], PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)Developer: Ubisoft MontrealPublisher: UbisoftRelease: December 4, 2012 Far Cry 3 starts with a bang -- quite literally, as M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" accompanies a montage of your character and his friends having an "extreme" vacation at a tropical island named Rook Island, the environment you'll be spending your next several hours in. The montage ends suddenly with a seeming graphical glitch, and the camera pans away from a smartphone where the montage was running as a movie that you're being shown by Vaas, the island's resident psychopath. You find yourself caged like an animal next to your brother, Grant. Apparently a former marine, he quickly takes control of the situation as soon as Vaas turns his back. Grant loosens his shackles and frees you from yours, and as Vaas leaves Grant distracts the posted guard to come over and then brutally kills him. Pretty soon, you find yourself sneaking through an encampment of Vaas' guerrilla soldiers. This section of the game plays as a tutorial of sorts, teaching you how to throw rocks to distract guards and sneak through areas without being seen. Admittedly, the PC build I played crashed a few times through this part because of unforeseen graphic driver compatibility issues -- though this turned out not to be too bad, as each run through afforded another look at the incredibly detailed environment. Graphically, the game shines the most in all of the seemingly insignificant things that the developers have crammed into each area, and this especially shows throughout the intro tutorial. As you hide behind walls and under boulders, you notice both mundane things such as chickens running about or the minutiae of the small village you're in, as well gruesome events such as hanged prisoners and at one point in the distance you see Vas himself picking off the rest of the survivors with a handgun point-blank. I won't spoil too much about what happens after this, but some time passes and you wake up and find yourself under the concerned care of Dennis Rogers, a Liberian National who has found community with the warriors of Rook Island and your allies. At this point, the game opens up and I feel this is where I really got a sense for how Far Cry 3 plays. One of the first real missions I played involved finding a nearby broken down radio tower and fixing the signal for the village that has taken you in. The mission was simple enough -- I had to find a way to the radio tower and then climb up it to repair the main electrical box. Of course, on the way there I got a little distracted with the local fauna and picked a fight with a few wild hogs. After getting my arm nearly bitten off, I managed to kill this small group of hogs and skin them for their hides. You're even treated to a skinning animation that's just a touch more gruesome than the one found in Red Dead Redemption, though it seems to go by much faster. Climbing up the radio tower presented one little concern I have about the game. While normal movement including running and jumping around seem to be pretty fluid, there are certain areas where you climb upwards and the only way to actually access them is to get to special points where you can press a button to go into an animation. This is a little archaic in terms of character movement -- especially among so many games including even the most recent Zelda where climbing up a surface is incredibly fluid, but at least it did generally work well enough that I wasn't too bothered by it in my playthrough. It's certainly been the same way in past games of the series, but I suppose I was a little surprised that stilted movement like this hadn't been taken away completely. The radio tower mission revealed itself to be the start of several similar side missions that I could embark on later. Similar to Assassin's Creed, each time you make it to the top of a new radio tower you open up more of the map. This includes points of interest and routes to your next checkpoint. This was definitely a helpful mission, as it cleared the way to later missions involving collecting various wild plants and animal hides. Collecting these sorts of things is a much more focused and rewarding affair than in the past. Various plants can be mixed to give you herbal health remedies, as well as boosts to your defensive capability and to your accuracy when hunting. Animal hides are great for upgrading your backpack, as well as strengthening your weapons and supplies. Some collectibles -- often called "fetish" items in the game -- are good mainly for selling at your home base or any market for a pretty good price in order to upgrade weapons and armor or buy new ones. Soon after a few introductory missions in the game, Dennis guided me towards Dr. Earnhardt's mansion to possibly rescue Daisy -- one of the friends from the beginning of the game who had also been kidnapped. Earnhardt is a bit eccentric himself, a possibly mad scientist who sends you on a mission involving finding a mushroom in a cave full of toxic fungi. This is definitely one of the trippier sequences in the game, and after playing through it, I hoped there would be more varied missions involving the good doctor. One thing I noticed pretty quickly as I traversed the map is that Ubisoft is really making an effort this time to fill the map up with -- well, just more of everything that the last game lacked. There are side-quests to be found all over the place, including ATV checkpoint races to deliver supplies and small self-contained story missions like one I played involving two star-crossed lovers and a whole mess of pissed off monitor lizards. There are all kinds of possibilities for emergent events, as all sorts of animals roam freely and actually obey the laws of nature. The most exciting event in the game happened during one of these emergent moments. I had just finished a pretty meaty mission involving tons of combat in a rusted out ship. After using some stealth and then later a whole lot of molotov cocktails (I'm happy to say that the realistic burning effect is still present), I had completed the mission successfully and was just sort of wandering around when I happened to wander right into an enemy encampment. As I hid under a deck so as not to alert the guards, I noticed a little icon on the screen informing me that if I shot at cages, I'd let the animals in them out. I didn't really see any cages, so I crept closer until I was right underneath a guard. Finally, I noticed some sort of tropical and probably useless ostrich-looking bird sitting in a cage. Just as the guards became aware of me, I shot the cage for the hell of it and watched as one pissed-off cassowary wreaked havoc on the guards and was soon joined by a couple others. I took this momentary distraction to high-tail it out of the camp and made it about a half mile away before I was joined again by some soldiers in jeeps. At this point my health was waning, so I popped a few shots with a semi-automatic I had looted from a guard earlier and then waited for sweet death. The screen was turning red and my breathing was becoming more labored. I crawled to a bush to let myself breathe my last breath and suddenly the guards seemed to focus their attention at something else. As my health began to regenerate, I crept closer and realized that the pack of cassowaries had followed the guards and were once again dishing out vengeance! I honestly knew little about cassowaries before Far Cry 3. After playing the game and watching them literally kick the shit out of guards and then later kick me nearly to death, I learned from Wikipedia that they are in fact just as dangerous as depicted in the game and have even been known to disembowel other animals. I think cassowaries are my new favorite animal now, replacing the honey badger. Emergent moments like this popped up throughout my playthrough and made the game that much more compelling and fun to play, whether I was focusing on one of the main mission objectives or just running over animals because I was on a wild killing spree. Far Cry 3 seems to offer a very dark and possibly somewhat complex story about a ruthless psychopath and many other dangerous characters around the island. It also offers one of the more entertaining open-world experiences I've played in awhile. I was chased by sharks, spit at by monitor lizards, bitten by wild hogs, and kicked in the guts by cassowaries while passing through areas of both allies and foes and picking up supplies and new missions along the way. The game does a great job of blurring the line between what are the "important" main missions and what are entertaining side missions that you might wander into simply because you happen to be close by. The game also features a huge variety of upgradeable weapons and many ways to travel about the island, as well as areas where enemies will attack you and areas where you can just chill at with your allies and buy new stuff. I came away from my playthrough believing that above all else, the Far Cry series has returned to its roots in terms of offering a great number of creative ways to cause chaos and have a ton of fun while doing so.
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The original Far Cry was an incredibly fun experience, with a varied deadly tropical landscape and relatively intelligent A.I. opponents for the time. The gameplay was both challenging and continuously engaging, and made me a...

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Get acquainted with the allies of Far Cry 3 in this video


Oct 09
// Casey Baker
The trailer above details two of your main allies in Far Cry 3. Dennis Richards is a Liberian National who has found a home among the Rakyat tribe that lives on Rook Island. During my own playthrough that will go up tomorrow...

Preview: Strike Suit Zero and space-based mech warfare

Sep 07 // Casey Baker
Strike Suit Zero (PC)Developer: Born Ready GamesPublisher: DoublesixRelease: TBD You may have seen the trailers for Strike Suit Zero floating around here and elsewhere on the Internet, and the glimpse of giant mechs may have gotten your mind to imagining some heavy duty ground combat sections. This may be a bit misleading, as I was informed by the developers that Strike Suit Zero only takes place hovering thousands of miles above any sort of solid ground, if anywhere near it at all. However, I would definitely urge you not to be disappointed by this news, as the primary transforming mech suit more than makes up for it with its incredible versatility in space warfare. Even with a pre-beta build that we had a chance to play, the combat was both challenging and engaging. In the first mission we previewed, the first large-scale battle took place against a great deal of smaller ships. This helped me get a feel for the basic controls, which are generally mouse and keyboard controls with a few adjustments relating to boosting and extra movement in the Strike Suit. Gamepads and joysticks are also supported, though I stuck with the typical PC controls. The mission's storyline involved coming to the aid of a destroyed Earth base in the midst of a massive civil war between colonists possessing a powerful technology and those still remaining patriotic to the planet. The sense of a large battle taking place was in full effect, as ships on my side engaged in dogfights while I tried my best to keep hordes of enemy ships in my line of fire. With a press of the spacebar, my ship would quickly transform into its mech state -- provided I had enough "flux." In this mode, I could hold down the right mouse button to paint several targets and release it to let go of a barrage of missiles that destroyed several targets at once. The Strike Suit also can dash quickly out of the way of incoming enemy projectiles in full 360-degree movement, and shoots powerful machine gun bursts as its primary weapon. Flux is gained by taking down enemies in chains, and it is entirely possible to stay in this more powerful mode provided you can keep chaining kills and refilling your flux bar. At one point during the session, a comparison was made regarding the space combat to Max Payne -- which I found a little strange at first, but as soon as I figured out how to effectively use the Strike Suit, this comparison completely clicked. As you're battling enemies, you learn quickly to switch back and forth in rapid bursts between your mech suit and your regular ship to effectively store flux and keep enough power stored for stronger enemies. One of the biggest strategies -- especially in the later parts of the second mission we previewed -- can be found in quickly switching to your mech suit to paint a few targets and dodge a few missiles before switching right back to your normal ship mode and boosting out of harm's way. This definitely did give off a similar vibe to Max Payne's bullet-dodge mechanic, as it was all about the best timing to get into a special mode before painting several targets and leaping out of the way. As mentioned before, the game was still in a pre-beta stage so although there was narrative and storyline built in, it was given to us by a hastily Photoshopped and distorted picture of a young and much maligned male pop star as a space commander with a robotic female voice. Of course, we were told to ignore this early build stuff, but in a weird way, it sort of worked. Granted, I'm sure the actual narrative will be handled much more professionally but like early screenings of movies where character dialogue has some odd kinks to be worked out, it was still sort of fun to see some effort put into getting the story and dialogue at least set into place. Overall, I really believe Strike Suit Zero will do an awesome job in reviving the space combat genre for those who grew up with and loved games like Wing Commander. It has intelligent, tough enemy AI and a great Strike Suit advantage that prepares you for the challenges ahead with powerful defensive and offensive abilities. The eerie, otherworldly soundtrack is certainly no slouch either.
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Born Ready Games has a vision to revive large-scale space combat as a viable genre in the vein of games like Wing Commander and Freelancer. With their new PC venture Strike Suit Zero, the company is poised to do exactly that....

Preview: Solving simple puzzles in The Cave

Sep 07 // Casey Baker
The Cave (PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade, PC)Developer: Double Fine ProductionsPublisher: SegaReleases: Early 2013 The Cave is a game that features seven eccentric characters: a Hillbilly, a Knight, Creepy Twins, a Time Traveler, an Adventurer, and a Monk. You play as three of these characters, and apparently in the actual game your choices in this matter will affect the kinds of caves you'll be exploring, as each character is looking for something special to them (such as the twins seeking out their lost mother). Therefore, you may have to play through the game more than once to solve all of the puzzles and play out the characters' stories. You control a single character at a time, and as you progress through levels, you'll find yourself switching between them in a style reminiscent of Gilbert's Maniac Mansion in order to solve puzzles with appropriate timing. When I began the demo, the cave for which the game is named gave me a brief welcome and tutorial, and I was free to wander around the vibrant, beautifully rendered environment. Based on first impressions, I noticed that all of the characters moved around at a pretty quick pace that isn't usual to an adventure game, and that solving puzzles generally relied on finding objects in the environment and using them on other objects to progress deeper into the world. There is no real inventory management and the game plays like a platformer rather than a point-and-click adventure game. A good example of this: as I ran around with my knight, I found a fuse box that was powering a sort of claw machine over a pit of spikes. I knew from earlier in the level that I needed the fuse itself to power up some vending machines, though I wasn't entirely sure what good this would do me. Getting the active fuse required first finding something to stop it from being live and dangerous, and so I went to an earlier point in the level and grabbed a bucket from a well to come back and catch water that was dropping onto the lively fuse. Once I got to the vending machines with the fuse, one of them dropped a hot dog. My knight picked this item up and carried it with him. At this point, the need for your other characters starts to come into play. I knew that I couldn't go further into the level without getting eaten by a giant monstrous lizard creature, and I also knew that the tasty hot dog would play into this whole equation somehow. Between myself and the giant lizard was a deadly pit of spikes, so I decided to climb up and see if I could lure the beast right into the pit. Before using the hot dog, I realized I could possibly use the claw machine to grab the lizard when it came out to investigate. I brought my knight up to the top level of the cave where the mechanics for the claw machine sat. I quickly realized that without the fuse, the machine was no longer active, so I got my second 'set' of characters into play, and brought the twins back to the vending machine to retrieve the fuse. I knew better than to drop the hot dog now, though I could imagine that if I had and needed another one, I'd have to use my third character to bring it back before taking the fuse out of the machine again with the twins. It's this sort of item management that will surely play a key part of solving puzzles in the game. Once the fuse was back in place, I threw the hot dog onto the spikes. Still no dice. The monster needed to be alerted to its meal. Fortunately, at the same level as the spike pit was a bell that could be rung. The solution to the puzzle lay in bringing the knight up to the mechanical claw's main gearbox while using another character to ring the bell. As soon as the lizard was alerted by the twins and wandered out to investigate, the knight pulled the lever, the claw descended, and soon one bellyaching lizard hung high in the air -- safely granting the characters passage. This is where the demo ended, and it didn't exactly give me a great idea of the exact scope of the game. I solved the puzzles pretty quickly and they tended to feel like the sort of puzzles we've come to expect from both the adventure and puzzle-platformer genres. Having said that, my time with the game was certainly enjoyable and the brief demo left me intrigued as to what the cave itself will symbolize for the various characters and their quests. The Cave will be released in early 2013 for PC, PSN, and XBLA.
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At the Sega Booth during PAX Prime 2012, I was able to get a quick demo preview of The Cave, an upcoming puzzle platformer coming to both consoles and PC by Ron Gilbert and Double Fine. From first impressions, I immediately a...

PAX: State of Decay is not just another zombie game

Sep 03 // Casey Baker
State of Decay (Xbox Live Arcade, PC)Developer: Undead LabsPublisher: Microsoft StudiosRelease: TBA 2013 From what I've read about State of Decay around the net, a lot of comparisons have been made in terms of gameplay to Day Z, the well-received mod built off of the Arma 2 engine. While the game has simulation aspects that may hearken back to the Day Z mod, the similarities generally end there. Also, the game has gone through a name change and turned into a completely single-player experience since it initially began. The story of State of Decay begins when your character returns from a fishing trip only to realize that the world he once knew is gone, and in its place is a nightmare of hungry undead corpses. As soon as your character finds and befriends a survivor, you're able to switch between your main character and the survivor, and as you discover more survivors, you begin to build a community that may fend off the zombie apocalypse together. A death in State of Decay is permanent; when a survivor dies, there is no retry button. This survivalist element affects everything in the game -- just about every resource is finite, though as soon as you have enough survivors, you can begin to build an actual, physical community and stock ammo and defenses. The world in State of Decay is persistent. You can leave the game and your survivors only to come back later and learn that your need for food and ammo has increased dramatically, forcing you into an emergent side quest. The game will have a general story arc with about 10 to 15 hours of play in the main quest line, and an infinite number of hours (depending on luck and skill in surviving) in the emergent open world. Different survivors have varying skills as well as character attributes that affect their friendship with you and with the other people. An example of this was explained to me in the form of a character who might have the trait of being a selfish asshole and a supply hoarder, but he's your best sharp-shooter so you sort of need him on the team. With my hands-on PAX preview, I took control of a female survivor named Maya. The build I played was still early, so the graphics weren't super polished, but the intent and gameplay were certainly there. I decided I wanted to get into some trouble, so I jumped into a police car and drove past my community safe zone into the wilderness. The first thing I learned about killing zombies in vehicles is that an open car door is a great way to take down a few extra walkers, provided you're not driving slow enough to let one of them grab on. After running through zombies for a few rounds, Maya's police car was nearly totaled, so I ditched it in some bushes and found myself wandering through the underbrush -- right into the eager arms of several moaning corpses. Using my character's melee weapon (an axe), I chopped and sliced several zombies before deciding that if I didn't move soon, I'd be overwhelmed. Maya made it back onto the main road and jumped into a car just as it began to rock with a ton of zombies crawling all over it. I steered her further away from the zombies and got back out into the open with a few molotovs in hand. During my scuffs with the zombie hordes, I saw one huge brutish zombie and was told by the PR reps that he was certainly one to watch out for. He began to advance towards Maya before he freaked out and started attacking what looked like other zombies, until both I and the developer on hand realized his object of "affection" was actually other survivors. Watching the brutish zombie pummel one of the poor survivors was rather brutal, even when it glitched a little and the survivor was frozen against a lamppost in a near fetal position for a little while until the brutish zombie managed to grab him again and play with him like a cat's toy. I was so mesmerized by the plight of the other survivors, I didn't notice the zombies that had shambled up behind me, and very soon I was overwhelmed. Watching the zombies feast on Maya was also gory, and it signaled the very end of PAX and consequently the end of my hands-on time. Everything I saw and heard about State of Decay made it sound and feel like an incredibly promising title. The game is still in a relatively early stage and, as such, definitely showed some very rough edges, though the most important aspect for now -- the pure intent of the developers' vision -- shines through even after just a few minutes of gameplay. With help from a developer who has an intimate knowledge of the MMO structure, State of Decay is looking to offer a completely novel, persistent open-world experience. The fact that this is planned to be released as an Xbox Live Arcade game in the interest of working towards an amazing MMO experience further in the future is just icing on the cake.
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As PAX wound down to its final hour, I happened to walk by the Microsoft booth once more on my way out and noticed the Xbox Live Arcade game State of Decay finally had some space for me to get a quick runthrough as the conven...

PAX: Avatar Motocross Madness is actually decent

Sep 03 // Casey Baker
The main game mode I checked out involved a race in an Egyptian desert environment, called Dynasty City. The full game will have three different main locations -- Egypt, Australia, and Iceland -- and about four races at each location, for a total of 12 races. What immediately struck me during my hands-on was that the vehicle handling was pretty tight, and that steering and performing tricks felt natural. In Avatar Motocross Madness, you gain boost through performing tricks in a simplified version of the trick/boost reward system seen in games like Pure. The tricks generally seem to be your standard motocross set, though getting in a timely landing does play an important role lest you face a nasty crash and penalty that halts the game for a moment before letting you get back into the race. The racing seems fairly well balanced, as I felt like I was being challenged enough to keep things interesting throughout the track. It took actual skill to keep up, rather than the sort of rubber-banding A.I. that games of this nature often employ. Avatar Motocross Madness also has a free-roam mode that immediately brought to mind hours I once wasted driving around in Smuggler's Run or even the earlier MX vs. ATV series for PS2. In this mode, you wander around the desert environment grabbing coins and collectibles. I was told that although there was a time limit in the demo shown at PAX, the actual game would have no such restriction. Another mode absent from the demo that is sort of like the free-roam mode is called Trick Session, where you compete against the ghosts of other players or against A.I. bots to get the most tricks in a timed free-roam session. While Avatar Motocross Madness certainly doesn't seem to stray from an expected formula, I came away from the demo actually enjoying my time with it. To be completely honest, I stopped by the neglected booth a couple more times during the weekend just to get a quick fix of a genre that I tend to love as a pick-up-and-play experience. As much as I absolutely hate most titles I've seen that incorporate Xbox avatars into their gameplay, I feel it'd be a shame not to mention this game as a genuinely enjoyable one that's not too casual and not so hardcore that it gets to be frustrating. Let's just hope the price point will match the experience when the game releases in 2013.
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The Xbox 360 indie scene is filled with a ton of throwaway games and "experiences" that incorporate your Xbox Avatar into the gameplay. It's not surprising that Microsoft's own Avatar Motocross Madness for Xbox Live Arcade si...

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PAX: Borderlands 2 Mechromancer character unveiled


Sep 02
// Casey Baker
At a closed-door screening, Gearbox's Mike Neumann officially unveiled the previously described fifth character class, Gaige the Mechromancer. Unsurprisingly, Gaige more or less looks like her concept art as realized in the c...

Interview: Defining 2D stealth in Mark of the Ninja

Aug 23 // Casey Baker
Destructoid: So I've seen a few preview trailers for Mark of the Ninja and from what I can tell, it's stealth game with a sort of Assassin's Creed vibe set in a two-dimensional environment. Where did the idea for this come from? Nels Anderson: Well, 2D stealth games -- they don't really exist, right? There are like, maybe three others ever. Only one of which even existed when we started [Mark of the] Ninja. So, we had to do a lot, a lot, a lot of design work to just figure out how to do this stuff, because, what's the fundamental hiding action of a 3D stealth game? "Like, oh a guy is coming my way, I'm going to go hide in a corner." Except in 2D, of course, you don't have any corners. Ha, yeah exactly. So for me, the initial design process was really about looking at 3D stealth games -- the kind of games that I love -- and then deconstructing them almost, like figuring out why they made the decisions they did, and then pulling that up a level, and then translating that back down to 2D. A lot of these games are about control of space -- where is the space that I have access to and am affected in versus the space that's controlled by the guards, by their control paths, or vision or whatever. So it was kind of like, "How do we do that in 2D instead?" So it just ended up being a lot of iteration, experimentation, "Oh look, a thing doesn't work!" Just turning that over and over again until we finally got the thing pointed in the right direction. In the preview trailer, I noticed one of the big things you do for example is use a grappling hook to get out of the way... Right. So one of the main stealth "things" -- because you don't have stuff on the same plane to break up line of sight (no corners) -- one of the ways we got at good stealthiness was giving the player's ninja a lot more movement abilities than the other agents, so things like the grappling hook where I can do very precise point-to-point movement. You can climb on the walls, you can climb on the ceilings, all that kind of stuff. You can't break line of sight by, say geometry; we can get you out of line of sight instead by you being way more navigable than the enemies are. Right. Kind of on that same note I noticed light and shadow came into play in the trailer -- how much does that affect gameplay? Yeah, that comes into play as well. Like I said, I like stealth games a lot. But, I also understand how they can be inaccessible for some folks because a lot of those core stealth elements that you really need to understand to effectively play the game -- they're all kind of opaque. It's like, "I'm going to make a noise ... is that guy over there going to hear me?" You just try it and then, ope, he does, and then he shoots you in the face. Yeah, it's a lot of trial and error at times ... Even with light and darkness, it ends up just being some HUD element, right? Like, there's a light jam or some kind of meter or whatever. And that's fine, that works, but kind of because the game is in 2D, it's already a little more abstract. You're not embodied in the character if it's first-person or even third-person 3D. So we can put things in the world that may be a little more abstract without it seeming like this exogenous element that's really artificial. So things like light and darkness, for example: we wanted to make it very very explicit when you're hidden and when you're not. Whenever you're in darkness, the whole character's build is completely different so he's mainly black with a few red highlights and a white outline all around him. In light, you can see all the dark blues in his costume, there's no white outline, you can see the flesh tones, so it's really really obvious.  We did the same thing with all the noise systems in the game -- that's a big part of the enemy's perception model. They have what they can see, but also what they can hear. Visualizing what someone can hear, which is a weird thing to think about, is tricky, right? Most games don't bother, or like, there will be a "Ring!" in the world or something. We wanted to make it really really explicit, so that any time a noise is made in the game that the enemies can hear, we literally put an effect on the screen that's this big blue expanding ring that goes out the distance that's how far the noise is going to travel. So you break a light, this thing comes out of it ... So it's like more of a visualization then. I see how the two-dimensional aspect of it makes it so it's much more of that kind of visualization rather than relying (strictly) on spatial aspects. That sounds really interesting, like a nice twist on the formula. Right. Because it's in 2D ... I don't know how you could visualize that in 3D, it'd be like a big, weird dome or something. Anyhow, because it's more abstract you have a little more space to play around with there. Part of the reason I like stealth games is that you can play very intentionally. That's what those games are about. Fundamentally, you're undetected and the world is just kind of running. It's up to you to poke and perturb it as you see fit. Which means you end up formulating plans, "I'm gonna go over here, then this guy is going to react and start walking this way, so then I can go over because now he's over there, blah blah blah." But to get to that point, you have to have a pretty good understanding of how all the systems of the game are working.  So it's kind of like, let's just get people to that as quickly as we can -- not to make the game easy, but we wanted to make an understanding of those core fundamental stealth system just a tool you have at your disposal along with the grappling hooks and smoke bombs and stuff like that. So it's like, these are things I can use to play and to solve these problems in ways I personally find interesting. That was a major design objective where we didn't want to make the game seem like puzzles where you have to find the "one" solution -- the only solution that works. It was very very edifying because we had to playtest the everliving hell out of this. We did more playtesting on this -- by order of magnitude -- than any other game we've made ever. Which is good, but it was edifying near the end, when one of my buddies was playing it; he's not a developer but just a good friend of mine who plays a goodly amount of games. When he played it he was like, "When I finished that bit, it felt like there were lots of other things I could've done." So, hopefully there are lots of other people who feel that way because that was sort of the goal. It's like, "Here are these tools you have your disposal. Use them as you wish." It seems like Dishonored is coming at that from kind of a similar point. It seems like Harvey [Smith] and Raph [Colantonio] and I come from a similar place -- really intentional play, player empowerment, and all of that. "Here's how stuff works. Use it as you see fit." So then, what is learning curve as far as level progression goes? Is it going to be pretty quickly that you're given a lot of tools, or ... ? It's definitely not the case that two levels in you've got everything. Things get more and more doled out. From the first two or three levels, you get the core things you're going to get. The way we approached the game, there aren't like explicit easy, medium and hard settings. When all of the enemies die in one hit because you're sneaking up and stabbing them, you can't just give them more hit points, it doesn't work, right? So instead, what we ended up doing is that every level has three sets of explicit optional goals. They're totally optional but they kind of encourage you to experiment with other mechanics systems in the game that you might not come into if you're just playing it straight ... So what's an example of these kinds of optional goals? One thing might be "Get from point A in this level to point B without ever breaking a light." Other ones are like "Find a way to terrify this guard using this particular item." Oh I see, so those kind of specific stealth goals ... Yes. Some of them are broadly, "Any time in the level, do this" while others are more specifically "in this chunk of a level, do a thing." So those are what we call the "Seals." There are also ... every level has three hidden scrolls ... The game does have explicit levels with a start and end point, it's not like a full, open, totally connected Metroidvania thing -- but there is a good amount of branching and diversity in the paths within any particular level, sort of to reward being explorative ... Explora-tative? Exploring ... Uh ... (laughs) To do more exploration, every level has three of these hidden scrolls in it which kind of tell some of the backstory in an audio log sort of way. Except they're all written in haiku, which I think is totally awesome. And then every level has point-scoring tiers, "For one star ..." so to speak, this many points then that many points, etc. Even in designing that, I wanted to make sure there wasn't a dominant play style in terms of how the game rates your performance. Because that's basically what points do no matter how you gussy it up or change it. When the game gives you points for doing a thing, that's basically the game saying you did the "right thing." I thought it very important that we didn't bias the game toward one particular play style or another. So whenever you stealth kill an enemy, you receive an amount of points but by the end of the level, for whatever enemy you didn't kill you could potentially receive a similar amount of points. You aren't penalized for trying to play the game a single way.  It ends up being, "Approach this thing in the way you find it interesting ..." not "Do it this way because that's the way we point you to ..." Right, so then what is the main storyline? I haven't really ... Yeah, we haven't been talking about the story a lot just because mechanically there's so much to explain up to this point, but we definitely want to talk about it from this point going forward. The high-level is you're part of a ninja clan that has survived until the modern day. Obviously back during Japan's warring states period ninjas really existed but after that they sort of ... they went back to farming or whatever. We had this notion that there was one clan that survived and the did it because they found this strange flower. And what this flower does is, it can be ground up and made into tattoo ink. And whenever someone receives tattoos they get strange powers. It's nothing like ninja magic supernatural powers, more like height of human possibility -- like you're an Olympic athlete in fifteen events. But what they also unfortunately discovered is that anyone who receives these tattoos is also slowly driven insane.  So they end up ritualizing this so someone only receives these tattoos in times of great crisis, like when the clan's very survival is threatened. And then after the clan's survival is assured, whatever champion is selected is asked to ritually kill themselves to ensure they don't become a danger to the clan. Of course, the game opens with you -- the player character -- being the one selected to receive the tattoos because the clan is facing those times of crisis. So that's kind of the narrative thrust that carries through the game. So will that play into the story itself, like as far as when you get further in the levels will the tattoos sort of affect you at all, or can you talk about that ...? Obviously, I don't want to get into pure spoiler territory, but we very intentionally made the decisions we did with respect to all of that stuff. It's not like just a throw-away, "This in a cut scene!" sort of thing. It certainly plays to ... games like Shank and Shank 2 are super pulp, they're like a Rodriguez/Grindhouse action game, which they're totally what they're supposed to be, but with this, we wanted to have something still very stylized but with a little more dramatic heft. With the mechanics and game dynamics and narrative and the tone, all that stuff fit together very nicely. That core power dynamic in stealth games is about this interplay between strength and weakness. When I'm in my element, I'm strong, I'm powerful -- but when I'm not, I'm also very vulnerable and exposed. That's what that whole tattoos thing are about; it gives you all these abilities, but ultimately at this great, terminal cost. So it's like, let's make sure all this stuff points in this good, cohesive direction. [Mark of the Ninja comes out on Xbox Live Arcade on September 7 and may possibly later arrive on PC.]
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I've always had a complicated relationship with stealth games. On the one hand, I love sneaking around and plotting out how I'm going to take out every enemy in a given room. On the other, I get frustrated easily when a game ...

Review: Rainbow Moon

Aug 23 // Casey Baker
Rainbow Moon (PSN)Developer: SideQuest StudiosPublisher: EastAsiaSoftReleased: July 10, 2012 MSRP: $14.99 Rainbow Moon's story begins rather abruptly with the main protagonist, Baldren, getting warped through a magical portal into a new world by his arch-rival Namoris. Baldren is blamed by the locals for all of the monsters appearing lately, and it becomes his duty to find his rival and most importantly, get back to his home. In several hours of gameplay, the main story never really deviates from this, nor does it add any sort of intrigue or wonder to the world as a whole. One of the biggest crimes of Rainbow Moon's story is that characters you gain along the way are generally collected unceremoniously through fetch quests, and aren't really given any sort of interesting backstories. In fact, the game generally progresses through a series of fetch quests that make the mechanics of Rainbow Moon show through early on and wear thin quickly. There isn't much voice work in the game, either, though the little bit of it you'll find can get grating and old before long (the healer, who you'll rely on throughout the game, is an especially irritating example of this). Of course, story isn't the primary draw of strategy RPGs and where Rainbow Moon does admittedly shine is in the actual battle-to-battle gameplay. The combat takes place on large grids where each character has a basic attack and special attacks gained through scroll purchases and leveling up. Like most SRGPs, the combat plays out like an ever-shifting game of chess, where each attack needs to be planned intelligently in order to maximize hits and defend properly. Sometimes enemies drop bags of loot, and a risk/reward system comes into play in moving characters to the loot locations while still in battle in order to maximize the potential of the type and amount of loot you gain through battles. Loot plays a big part in Rainbow Moon, as a good chunk of the game is devoted to managing your resources so that you use raw materials to upgrade your weapons and equipment, or simply sell the materials to get better equipment. There are many other more passive factors that may come into play during a battle, such as the type of weapons your characters use and their viability against enemy weapons, or your positioning on the battlefield and skills that may enhance your party through smart placement. The game has an incredibly gradual learning curve; passive skills barely even play an important role in the first few hundred battles. In fact, the biggest downfall of Rainbow Moon is that it takes it just a bit too easy on the player. You can save absolutely anywhere as long as you're not engaged in a battle, and if you do die, it becomes not much more than a slap on the wrist, as you aren't really punished for death beyond having your health and mana points completely drained and forcing you to seek out a healer to spend hard-earned "Rainbow Coins" to bring your condition back to normal. This might provide its own challenge if the healers weren't nearly always within very close vicinity; tougher dungeons generally become frequent returns to the closest healer instead of any sort of strategic stocking of your supplies. Despite all of my complaints, there is certainly something to be said about Rainbow Moon's main gameplay: like comfort food, it is easy to digest and always reliable. I found myself going back to the game for second and third helpings not necessarily because I believed the game would show me something new and innovative, but because the familiar strategy and loot grab elements made the gameplay generally engaging and dare I say it -- even fun. However, after around 20-30 hours of a repetitive grind-quest that found me repeatedly leveling up to take out enemies in a given area and defeat a boss only to approach new enemies that would require another few hours to once again level up and do the same, I still saw no engaging story in sight and my interest waned. I had acquired several characters in my party and had even leveled up their skills and given them new skills, and yet knew of no interesting backstory for any of them or any truly compelling reason to why they were aiding me on my quest. Admittedly, I don't believe I got anywhere near finishing the game in my hours of playtime, though in many ways, the game feels a lot like a casual iOS title in that it doesn't demand too much of the player other than their time. If the game had an engaging story and actually felt more like a "game" than a procedural chore, I would have been committed to finishing it properly. Instead Rainbow Moon offers you the gameplay you love, with none of the charm or interest.
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Tactical role-playing games gained a more mainstream momentum with titles such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Fire Emblem on the Nintendo DS due to their bright, friendly graphics and user friendliness. After more notable hardc...

Preview: Worms Revolution brings a deluge from the past

Jun 29 // Casey Baker
[embed]230262:44236[/embed] Worms Revolution (PC [previewed], PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade) Developer: Team17 Software Ltd. Publisher: Team17 Software Ltd.Release: End of September (PC), TBD (PSN, XBLA) Genesis of Worms: In the Beginning... The earliest genre of a strategy game in the vein of Worms appeared sometime in the '70s, with a simple demo program on the Apple II known as Artillery. This early prototype featured two pixelated squares meant to represent tanks facing off against each other on a very simple battlefield. The game featured actual physics that showed the trajectory of your projectiles as you shot at the opposing tank. Meanwhile, across the pond, a slacker student was designing his own form of Artillery on a graphing calculator while trying his hardest not to sleep through his mathematics class. As Andy Davidson tells it, "...The earliest form was on a Casio graph-plotting calculator -- we were meant to be doing maths lessons and everything, and I had a little bet with my mate. He said, 'I bet you can't make a game on that.' and I said, 'I bet I can.' ...it was just a basic artillery game, similar to the ones on the Commodore 64...and I showed it to him and he said, 'How the hell did you do that?' and looking back, I'm not sure how I did it -- but that's how boring maths was at school." When Davidson got his hands on an Amiga computer -- especially popular in the UK in the '80s -- he ported over his little project onto his school computer, and even began to add his own features, such as the bottomless water pits that caused instant kills, and "little things running around" that you could individually name. As his game ideas expanded, fellow students became obsessed with the game -- often to the frustration of his teachers. "It was purely a game for me and my mates rather than to do schoolwork; college-work and everything ... eventually it got people skipping lessons to play it. The corner of the art room was basically anarchy -- all you had was people shouting at each other, explosions going off. My form teacher eventually banned it, he just went, 'I never want to see that bloody game in school again.'" At this point, Andy Davidson decided his dream was to get his game published. "So then instead of going to university, I thought -- this is what I want to do. And with it being banned, I knew there was something in there. If a song's been banned, it's usually good. If a film's been banned, it's usually good. So I told them, 'I'm not going to go to University, I'm going to get my game published.'" My form teacher turned around and said, 'Andy, you're good -- but not that good.' Which was, you know, Cheers for the encouragement. So that drove me on as well..." From this point onward, Davidson rewrote and tinkered with his pet project while working in an Amiga shop. He chose to use worms instead of tanks because at that point in game's history worms hadn't been featured as characters yet, and because Davidson knew he could keep it simple and retain humorous animations using the annelids. Davidson offered his customers a chance to play his game, making them unwitting testers who would often spend hours in the shop just to keep playing "Total Wormage." "...I wanted people to like the game who hated video games, I wanted to create a really social thing -- because that's what it was, for you to play with your friends." At a London Computer Show known as the ECTS (European Computer Trade Show), Davidson brought his game forward to be considered for publishing and found a home with Ocean Software and development Team17. The original Worms was published in 1995 on the Amiga personal computer, and later ported to other electronic devices. Worms Revolution: The Approaching Flood Davidson left Team17 after working last on Worms Armageddon for PC because he didn't really like where the series was going. Some time after his departure came the first (somewhat disastrous) foray of Worms in 3D, and then several reiterations of Davidson's basic formula. Interestingly, exactly 17 years have passed since Davidson has returned to work on the series, and with Worms Revolution he and Team17 hope the game will appeal to a larger audience through its new gameplay engine and polished graphics. I had a chance to play a round with Davidson to get an idea of what this next iteration will add to the series. The first immediate noticeable change is the sense of scale in the game. With three-dimensional implementation, the worms appear in an environment more suited to their size while animals and people wander around as giants in the background. One of the first environments I saw was sort of an underground bunker in a mound of dirt at a farm. Other environments include within a sewer, on a beach, and in a scientist's "spooky backyard." The 3D implementation will also be important for a few special weapons, such as one that Davidson showed me where one of the original Worms of the series zip-lined into the foreground and was able to aim at a specific area of the map to blast the opposing team with a grenade. The environments are still structured very similarly to earlier games for strategic purposes, though with a new water physics implementation they're formed in such a way to make it fun to let water splash around and flow fluidly through tunnels and across barriers. The water physics are the biggest new mechanic draw to the series, as two of the water-specific weapons included a water-balloon grenade and an air strike of water balloons that can flood an area, sometimes washing nearby worms into the ocean depths. During my preview, I pelted Davidson's team of worms with several water balloons, slowly drowning at least one of them while pushing the rest just barely to the brink of death. The water physics add an interesting new wrinkle to the strategy as you can try to push the opposing worms towards explosive objects, chemically noxious beakers, or the bottomless sea itself. The water moves fluidly and realistically through the map, flooding areas and causing turn-based damage to worms who sit mindlessly under it. Another strategic implementation is the use of different classes of worms. When the player customizes his/her team of worms, they can choose between four classes for each worm. These classes include a tank type that can both deal and take a lot of damage but moves very slowly; a scout type who moves quickly through the level and can tunnel through dirt quickly but is highly vulnerable; a brainy type who offers health to his teammates and also can set up turrets; and finally, the stock soldier type that most players are already quite familiar with. The worms seem even more expressive than before, as they squirm and wriggle a bit more realistically through the environment and make hilariously dumb faces at the realization of imminent death. The new engine makes everything seem more cartoonish and expressive, including the background animations and player deaths. Worms Revolution includes four basic game types, including a campaign mode with about 40 specific missions, a deathmatch mode, a classic mode for hardcore gamers who want the original weapon set, and a new "Fort" mode, where each team has their own uniquely themed fort, and the strategy is found in deciding whether to infiltrate the enemy fort or defend your own as you lob projectiles at one another. I played a single deathmatch round with Andy and we both blasted each other with a few well-aimed shots of water and shrapnel and misfired a few others with often hilarious results. Though the match was a close one, Andy proved his worth as both a gamer and a developer and won by taking my team down with some incredibly well-aimed hits. The new water physics proved to be a blast to mess around with, and the overall gameplay still retains the same addictive sense of strategic mayhem that has made the Worms series such a lasting gem from the earlier days of gaming. Worms Revolution is planned to be released at the end of September on Steam for around $15.00 and later on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network for an equivalent price.
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The history of the Worms franchise is a long and storied one, spanning all the way back to the very early days of gaming. In an interview with Andy Davidson, the main creator of the original Worms game, I was given insight in...

Preview: Sleeping Dogs may be a sleeper hit

May 24 // Casey Baker
Sleeping Dogs (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [previewed]) Developer: United Front Games Publisher: Square EnixRelease: August 14, 2012 (US) / August 16, 2012 (AUS) / August 17, 2012 (EU) The demo I played kicked off with a quick tutorial in which I practiced a new move I was given in a martial arts school (collecting jade statues throughout the world gives you access to more moves.) I learned pretty quickly how fluidly combat works in Sleeping Dogs, as most moves are handled with a certain number of presses/holds of a single button, and grappling and countering both relying on their own button assignments. The simplicity of the combat mechanics helps a lot when facing off against the different enemy types that your protagonist Wei Shen must deal with as he infiltrates the Triad underworld. In one of the early missions I got to check out, Wei's childhood friend Jackie (and low-level Triad) knows of an inside deal where the two of them can boost some stolen goods from a rival gang to impress the higher members of the Triads. As I faced off against various thugs, Wei Shen fought with some awesome martial arts moves. At times, you can use environmental objects to shove enemies into, such as trash bins, supply boxes, etc. When special types of enemies can't be grappled, using the counter with the correct timing yields successful beat-downs. The enemies provided a healthy challenge, though, before the mission ever started I had already visited a few shops to buy food and items that helped give me special perks, such as increased defense and more attack power. I really appreciated this new take on the old "eat things to get health" idea. The perks last for a specific amount of time, as represented by little icons on the top left of the HUD with radial bars that slowly deplete over a period of time. At the end of the mission, Wei is disappointed to learn that Jackie has been concentrating their efforts on stealing some fake designer watches. At least the player is rewarded with some points towards either Triad or Police bonuses for their troubles. These are perks that give you more abilities and weapons in your arsenal as you progress through Sleeping Dogs. Back on the road again, I had to keep reminding myself that everyone drives on the left side of the road in Hong Kong, which made getting from point to point just a little more challenging. The vehicles all handle more loosely than the weighty vehicles in games like Grand Theft Auto. Getting on a fast motorcycle provides some thrills driving through the tightly packed city streets, as the camera shakes realistically and blur effects are used to give a real sense of speed. While riding a motorcycle, you can pop a wheelie and start a mini-game of holding your wheelie as long as possible for points, which are then uploaded to a leaderboard for competing with friends or the global network. Instead of going to another campaign mission, I chose to try one of the 150 side missions the game has to offer. In this case, I was tasked with doing some sight-seeing for a tour guide to capture some scenic shots of the city. The first point I had to stop at was within an ancient Chinese temple, where I quickly went in and shot a photo of a few monks praying. After shooting a good photo of the monks, I was sent off to another point overlooking the coast to take a photo of a beautiful sunset. As I made my way to the coastal overlook, the sun began setting as I aligned myself to take the photo. Looking through the viewfinder, I noticed some wasted dude waving cutesy signs at the camera and generally making an ass of himself. The game then tasked me to "take care of" the drunk dude and so I gave him a swift beat-down before resuming with my task. Before I had a chance to finish the mission, I ran into some thugs on the boardwalk who were guarding a lockbox. The thugs were tougher than the ones I had previously faced, and it was a good struggle before I managed to defeat them all. After finally using various kicks and punches to take down the entire group, I nearly forgot about the lockbox until I was reminded by the developer to go take a look at it. The lockboxes reward the player with all sorts of goodies, from character bios, money and weapons. Another ongoing side mission I checked out involved hacking into a CCTV system with a cool mini-game that involved guessing a set of four numbers by process of elimination. Once the system was hacked, I could go back to my home base and check different cameras around the city to initiate drug busts to help raise my status as a police officer. The drug busts are generally pretty easy little mini-games. After a minute watching gang members hanging around through the security system, the HUD uses an arrow to point out who is making the deal and thus must be arrested. From the very beginning of my demo, one thing I noticed about Sleeping Dogs is that the developers took great care to make the world feel really alive. As you walk around, people are going around their daily tasks in a very convincing way -- so much so that I thought for a moment I was still watching a cutscene when I first had control of my character. The biggest take-away that I got from Sleeping Dogs though was that the developers really care. From the glimpse of the intriguing storyline I got to the incredibly fun combat and living world of the game's version of Hong Kong, Sleeping Dogs is shaping up to be a game that will take a great deal of players by surprise.
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The road Sleeping Dogs has taken since first inception has been a rather rocky one. After starting development as its own beast, Activision took up the game in the interest of creating a third iteration in the (admittedly med...


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