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Review: Firewatch

Feb 08 // Steven Hansen
Firewatch (PS4, PC [reviewed])Developer: Campo SantoPublisher: Panic Inc., Campo SantoReleased: February 9, 2016MSRP: $19.99 Henry is sad. Why else retreat to the woods of Wyoming to become a fire lookout? It starts in Colorado when Henry, plastered, tries to hit on a woman at a bar. She feels so bad for him she gives him a pity date that turns into a relationship. These bits are done purely with text and music, interspersed by full three dimensional segments of Henry walking out of an elevator into a parking garage and getting into his beat up, fire-engine red pickup. Not unlike Kentucky Route Zero, a high mark in the adventure game genre, Firewatch opens with opportunities for the player to partially define Henry's character. When your girlfriend Julia wants a dog, do you accept the beagle she falls in love with, or insist you get a German shepherd (for protection)? When she asks about children, do you ask her to wait? These choices are not superficial; they are real-life important. More than affecting the outcome of that relationship (you already know he is escaping to the Wyoming woods by the mid-80s), they take on personal meaning in how you sharpen elements of Henry's character.  Mixing these text-adventure-style segments with Henry's dutiful trek into the woods makes them more poignant because you already know how it ends. Badly. Yes. But with a surprising complication. Julia, by then Henry's wife, comes down with early onset Alzheimer's. I didn't expect to be hit that hard by two white text options, but the decision to keep minding her around the house 24/7 or put her in a home was not easy -- and I don't even know what she looks like. While Julia and the relationship are defined in broad strokes, the choice doesn't feel as abstract as choosing to save a character and let another die in The Walking Dead, for example. These are familiar, real-world issues. As Henry settles into his role as lookout, ascending his tower after an eight mile hike, he is met by the voice of Delilah, his boss, who communicates with him via walkie-talkie. This makes up the bulk of the gameplay: walking around, chatting with Delilah via radio. It is a welcomed evolution of the stationary choice-based dialogue trees (you use the triggers so you can walk, talk, and probably even chew gum at the same time). Their conversations are natural thanks to strong dialogue matched by each character's voice performance. Delilah's constant cursing and groan-inducing puns are met by Henry stammering "p-p-p-panties" on the way to keep those aforementioned nude teens from setting off any more fireworks in light of the extreme fire warning. The chemistry is natural as they alternate jabbing back and forth and opening up with one another, though still I found it difficult to bring up my abandoned wife the first few times opportunity arose. Silence is a viable dialogue option. Henry, though, is not just defined through player-guided dialogue. Everything about the production furthers his character. He is not a camera on wheels. You see shorts-clad legs when you look down or his large, meaty hands as he exerts himself clambering up a one meter lip. He is human, average, and the animation work reinforces that. Firewatch is filthy with telling details like these. Some pieces just add flavor (in the confiscated bundle of bottle rockets, one is called the Screaming Wife, and all have original artwork), but it all works towards a cohesive tone. [embed]339920:62167:0[/embed] Art director Olly Moss' color palette is not just pretty to look at. The exaggerated hues work towards the overall tone, from the warm oranges to vivid, dark evenings, while the stylized look is readable, moving away from obfuscating photorealism. I rarely got lost in the unfamiliar woods (though there is a paper map Henry physically pulls up and scribbles notes on). The area is designed and the story paced with just enough backtracking to breed familiarity with the territory, while the relative isolation still leaves it frightening, especially as the story moves away from potential drama-cum-romcom into a thriller.  Most impressive is the thematic cohesion. Firewatch is broadly about guilt, which metastasizes here as isolation-induced paranoia when things turn frightening. After day one on the job Henry comes back to his tower to find the place smashed into. The teens, maybe? Or that silhouette of a hiker spotted on the way back home? While Henry has Delilah on the radio, isolation is what drove him into the woods, perpetuating a cycle of guilt leading to self-imposed loneliness shared by the major characters. The same nagging doubt, decision-questioning, and fear is externalized in the second act as outside forces appear to be stalking Henry and monitoring the conversations between him and Delilah. At which point, incidentally, their carefree, innocent flirting now seems lurid. Something to be ashamed of for the still-married Henry. Let's not forget guilt, internalized anger that can lead to isolation. Ambient sound design shines brightest here, as everything from the weirdly strong rattle of a chain link fence to scurrying in the distance invokes fear -- especially after Henry is sucker punched unconscious on the way to do some fishing. It was here for me Firewatch accessed fear on a Hitchcockian level. No monsters. Only one encounter with some kind of assailant. Still the surveillance, the mystery, the vulnerability and the isolation left me wandering around always checking my six rather than frolicking through gorgeous woods. Music, art, and dialogue quickly established the forest familiar, giving me nostalgia flashes of camping as a kid and first stepping out of the car, dwarfed by redwoods, twigs crunching underfoot. Then that comfort is stripped away. The analog inputs (pulling up the walkie-talkie or map, spinning the same "1234" tumblers to unlock every single park lock box with Henry's paws) combined with unique animation and believable voice work help ground Firewatch, which manages both restraint and maturity in its story without ever going full mumblecore "walking simulator." The warmth of the budding relationship between two voices with natural chemistry is undercut by harsher realities and the drawn out segments of feeling stalked and vulnerable are legitimately stressful. The result is a tight, taut human tale well worth the trek.
Firewatch, with me! photo
A watched fire never kills you
The drunk, nude teens bathing in the lake at sunset summed up Firewatch neatly: "you're just some sad man out in the woods." Kids always know just where to cut. If you could translate the insult quadrant of their brains you'd...

THIS ISN'T A JOKE ON-LINE photo
THIS ISN'T A JOKE ON-LINE

BREAKING: Stanley Parable dev promises new 'MMO with poetry mechanics'


BREAKING NEWS THAT IS REAL, NOT A JOKE
Feb 08
// Steven Hansen
Responding to recent reports of Titanfall 2's promises for a single-player component that is "science meets magic," co-creator of The Stanley Parable and director of Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and the Terribly Cursed Emerald: ...

Review: Unravel

Feb 08 // Caitlin Cooke
Unravel (PC, Xbox One, PS4 [reviewed])Developer: Coldwood InteractivePublisher: Electronic ArtsReleased: February 9, 2016MSRP: $19.99 Unravel’s story begins with an elderly woman making her way up to bed as Yarny, the game’s darling protagonist made from red yarn, comes to life downstairs. His adventure begins just outside of the cottage, roaming through the garden and into the beyond in search of lost memories made by the family that once inhabited the house, unraveling himself along the way. Yarny is able to roam freely throughout the cottage, a landing area for the ten chapters in the game which are accessed through framed pictures. Each photo transports our hero to the area it was taken where he encounters fragments of lost family memories, pictures frozen in time. At the end of each chapter he places the memories into a photo album that starts to come to life, weaving pictures into a story. [embed]339641:62166:0[/embed] To capture all the memories you guide Yarny through various terrain and strategize on how to make it past obstacles without unraveling him too much, as he only has limited amounts of yarn before reaching another spool. At first the game throws a lot of yarn techniques and mechanics at you quickly, but with time they start to become second nature. Coming up with clever solutions using environmental props along with grappling, swinging, climbing, rappelling, and tying knots for points of resistance are key to making it through. The yarn puzzles are fairly easy to figure out without being too simple -- each task is fairly small and broken up, not requiring long chains of thought but at the same time being challenging enough to feel rewarded when making it through. There were a few areas I was stuck on for longer than I’d like, but for the most part I found them to be fun and clever. Surprisingly, the levels never felt repetitive and the game was kept fresh by experimenting with the yarn’s mechanics in new environments. Outside influences also give a bit of flavor, requiring additional thought behind the puzzles -- for example, landslides, animal chases, and active machinery all play additional parts to the game beyond the yarn. Because the yarn is finite and will stop unraveling if you use too much, being cautious with solutions is critical to making it past obstacles. Yarny will get visibly distressed and emaciated if you pull too far away -- but don’t worry, you won’t kill him, he just won’t stretch any farther. If you find yourself in a particular bind (literal or no) you are able to reset back to the last save point by holding the down button. This is an extremely useful and necessary feature as it is quite possible to accidentally get yourself in an unsolvable situation. Spools act as save points along with providing the additional thread, and are fairly regular throughout the levels, however there are some small stretches that can wear thin if you’re not careful and make too many mistakes. Unravel as a whole is a whimsical and endearing adventure, pulling you further into the atmosphere through the intricate textures and bright effects. In one of my favorite levels you make your way through a snowy farm, rolling pine cones to make snowballs. The environment was so realistically captured and joyful that I felt I was right there with Yarny rolling around in the snow. Textures and light within the environment are slightly exaggerated, but in that magical way that makes fond memories stand out brighter. Everything from a log to a puddle comes to life beyond what’s contained in reality, almost like watching the most beautiful sceneries replay in your head. There’s a certain sadness to the experience that I can’t quite explain, perhaps lost nostalgia and a lingering familial longing that tugs at the heartstrings. It’s not necessarily "sad" or depressing in the traditional sense, but a thoughtful tale that brings forth various emotions throughout that will vary depending on the player’s personal history and connection to the story. These emotions are certainly drawn out even further by the sepia tones and lovely violin accompaniment, along with the self-discovering nature of the game. Unravel cherishes the best moments in life while recognizing the hard battles we sometimes face as families, all wrapped up within delightful gameplay and stunning scenery. The atmosphere is so compelling that I couldn’t help but feel like a piece of my own story was wrapped up in the game with the rest of the photo album. It’s rare but a special thing when a game manages to impart a story that touches strings deep in the heart, and Unravel manages to meet and exceed this feat. Get ready to have all the feels. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Unravel review photo
Simply beautiful
At first glance Unravel feels akin to LittleBigPlanet with its adorably miniature yarn-clad mascot, but don’t let it fool you. It’s a heartfelt story with little communication beyond imprinted memories, woven with...

Battalion 1944 photo
Battalion 1944

Is it about time to revive the WW2 shooter?


Apparently so
Feb 07
// Kyle MacGregor
Years ago, World War II shooters were everywhere. Then the bubble burst. Activision, EA, and all the pretenders trained their sights on more contemporary settings, quickling transitioning series like Call of Duty, Medal of Ho...

What's so great about Undertale and The Witness?

Feb 07 // Ben Davis
That's unusual though, right? It seems like a new phenomenon. I don't usually come across games where I can't discuss some of the core mechanics without ruining it for others. The Witness creator Jonathan Blow made a point to warn prospective buyers that some reviews were full of spoilers, and I can definitely understand why he did. On the other side of the coin, in Destructoid's review of the game, Brett Makedonski was noticeably vague and short on details, and I know exactly why he wrote it that way. When I wrote my Undertale review, I had to dance around the parts of the game that excited me most. But Undertale and The Witness can't be the only games like this. While trying to think of other examples, the first that came to mind was Frog Fractions. Now, that's kind of an extreme example for a number of reasons, but I think the point still stands. If you've completed Frog Fractions, think about how you might describe the experience to someone who hasn't played it. It would be a challenge. You would likely have to convince them to try it without saying anything about it other than, "You're a frog, and you eat bugs to make fractions. Just play it!" Admittedly, Frog Fractions is a little different than Undertale and The Witness. There are many interesting aspects of those games one could discuss without giving everything away. But at best, I can imagine only being able to describe what sounds like an average to above-average video game. And then someone would (understandably) ask, “Well that all sounds okay, but what exactly makes it so special?" And that's a question you couldn't answer, even if you really wanted to, with anything other other than "Just believe me." It's even more onerous to justify the high praise to players who actually completed Undertale or The Witness, and somehow missed their hidden strengths. This could easily happen with either game. Even though I managed to discover Undertale's most unique element before even leaving the tutorial area, I've spoken to other players who had no idea what I was talking about, or had only noticed it in the game's final few boss battles. It's much more apparent once you start a second playthrough, but a lot of people that didn't get it the first time around probably wouldn't have much interest in playing the game again, so they might never know about it. In The Witness, I still hadn't discovered the coolest thing the game has to offer before the end. Brett actually had to nudge me in the right direction, and, when I finally found it, I was blown away. I was actually surprised I hadn't figured it out myself somewhere along the way, as it seems like something I should have noticed at one point or another, even if by accident. But it's certainly no surprise that, once again, many players will never stumble upon it. Some might argue this is bad design. 'Why hide an experience's greatest strengths to such a degree that some players might never find it?' you might ask. However, I've come to believe the reason these games leave such an impact on players is precisely because these secrets can be difficult to find. Undertale and The Witness start off as great games (or average, or bad, whatever your view), until something unexpected happens that elevates them to another level. And suddenly they might have you thinking, "Whoa, what?! This changes everything!' and make you want to excitedly tell everyone about how amazing they are before realizing, "Wait, maybe it's best to let them discover this on their own." If I've had a conversation with someone about Undertale or The Witness and it seemed as though I was deliberately vague or leaving out information, this is exactly why. I want to talk about them so badly, but at the same time, I know I shouldn't and it kills me. They really are amazing experiences, but unfortunately you'll just have to take my word for it!
Spoilers photo
It's a secret!
In the last few months, two games were released that I feel might be among my favorite games of all time, Undertale and The Witness. But what exactly makes them two of the greatest gaming experiences I've had in recent m...

Binding of Isaac photo
Binding of Isaac

Apple rejects The Binding of Isaac for depicting child abuse


How do they explain Candy Crush then?
Feb 07
// Jed Whitaker
Remember the other day when we reported The Binding of Isaac is coming to iPad? Well, looks like that may not be the case now, as Apple has rejected the game. Apple apparently doesn't allow software depicting violence t...
Art photo
Art

Indie G Zine hopes to be 'A huge encyclopedia for indie game lovers'


Indie Game: The Movie: The Magazine
Feb 07
// Jonathan Holmes
Physical game magazines may be getting smaller, but that doesn't mean they're dying. In fact, becoming more niche has only made fans of the medium more passionate. I know this from experience, thanks to three years of work on...
PS4 photo
PS4

Bit.Trip Runner2 jumps to PS4 this month


Cross-buy with Vita version
Feb 07
// Kyle MacGregor
Runner2 is coming to PlayStation 4 on February 23, Choice Provisions has announced. The auto-run platformer will support cross-buy compatibility with the Vita port Choice Provisions released a couple years ago. Unfortunately,...

Humble Monthly Bundle has 70K subscribers

Feb 05 // Jordan Devore
Graham says subscriptions are at a point where "we can make meaningful deals with game developers to secure great content, we get to write our featured charity a $30,000+ check, and, because we can predict revenues fairly accurately, we've even started funding some small gaming projects, Humble Originals, that you won't find anywhere else and that our subscribers will get to play first." Supporting charities is a big part of the company's identity, whether it's giving back ten percent of proceeds from the Humble Store, five percent from Monthly subs, or left up to the user to decide in name-your-price bundles. I asked how they arrived at that amount for this service. "It's always tricky to craft a new business model," said Graham. "When we launched Humble Monthly, we had to do a lot of guesswork about the best way to frame everything so that we could get the product off the ground. By giving ourselves more flexibility with which we can use to pay for game content, I think we have helped the product be more successful and more sustainable, which I believe will actually mean more money for charity in the long run." Today is the first Friday of the month, which means February's games are unlocked for existing members. The full lineup is Alien: Isolation, Titan Souls, Broken Age, Volume, Penarium, Dropsy, Elephant in the Room (one of the "Humble Originals" made specifically for subscribers), and a "sneak peek demo" of Planetoid Pioneers with custom content. The early unlock for next month's bundle is Ark: Survival Evolved, that open-world game with ridable dinosaurs. Folks who sign up now will get immediate access to the title, but it's too late to secure February's offerings.
Humble Monthly Bundle photo
February's games revealed
Last year, Humble began a new monthly bundle service. The basic idea is that on the first Friday of each month, subscribers receive a batch of undisclosed PC games. One of the featured titles is always announced and made avai...

Review: Tachyon Project

Feb 05 // Chris Carter
Tachyon Project (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)Developer: Eclipse GamesPublisher: Eclipse GamesReleased: July 15, 2015 (PC, Xbox One), Jan 19, 2016 (PS4)MSRP: $9.99 Tachyon, as the name probably suggests, is housed upon a foundation that involves a cheesy cyberpunk hacking plot. Players are placed into a dystopian future of sorts, hacking police stations and corrupt governments by way of a tiny ship. In a way, it's kind of like the setup for the Sly Cooper spinoff Bentley's Hack Pack, but a lot more serious. And really, there is a bit of charm there, especially if you dig the cyberpunk aesthetic. I commend Eclipse Games for trying something other than the "menu to shooting" approach, and it helps ground the campaign a bit and give the whole affair meaning. Some light commentary during missions also helps make things interesting while you're blasting away. The soundtrack, like the story, has a muted, chill feeling to it, which I dig. While Happy Hardcore songs during bullet hell dodging is great, I like the low key electronica soundtrack here, as it meshes well with the game's dark hues and not-too-bright neon visuals. Gameplay-wise, Tachyon operates on a twin-stick control method, with two sets of power-ups mapped to two buttons. That's all you really need to know, and once you start progressing on your journey, more options will open up. The shooting bits in general work well, and I like how using your normal cannon has a recoil effect (but not jarringly so) -- forcing players to course correct and get to know their ship a bit better. Players can also min-max stats by choosing a new chassis to suit their own style of play. I'm more of the defensive health-conscious player myself. Levels primarily stay engaging because of interesting enemy types. It's mostly stuff you've seen before, but black holes that suck up bullets, kamikaze ships, and generally aggressive AI will keep you on your toes. It's also easy to tell everything apart and identify its logic, so you don't have to constantly guess what a specific enemy type is. Tachyon Project isn't a remarkable shooter, but it's well-designed on several levels. There's no multiplayer to speak here, but with a decent campaign, lots of customization, and New Game+/Endless modes, you'll be perfectly fine going at it solo. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Tachyon Project photo
Hackin' like Jonny Lee Miller
While the shoot 'em up genre isn't the king it once was, more and more gems are coming out every passing year. New development studios are taking to Steam and mobile, and even Cave is coming out of the woodwork to become rele...

Destructoid Rocket League photo
SW33T!
Mr. Destructoid has been around for almost 10 years now (!!), and in that time his cold steel frame has graced a few video games. First there was Bomberman Live, then came Raskulls and BurgerTime World Tour. Heck, the green m...

Undertale photo
Undertale

Indie dev offers support for bringing Undertale to Wii U


The more platforms the better
Feb 05
// Chris Carter
Even though just about any PC can run Undertale, folks are still wanting to play it on consoles. It turns out that a Wii U port just isn't in the cards though for now, as the developer isn't exactly sure how to go about ...

Review: Fortified

Feb 04 // Jed Whitaker
Fortified (PC, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: ClapfootPublisher: ClapfootMSRP: $14.99Released: February 3, 2016 Fortified's story is quite familiar; robotic martians come to Earth and start destroying every living thing in their path, and it is up to four heroes to stop them. In this case, the heroes are made up of four different selectable characters ranging from a spaceman, a rocket scientist, a secret agent and, of course, a handsome captain of the team. For my playthrough, I chose to play as mostly the rocket scientist as she was the only female character available. Each character has special abilities that they can do for a brief time upon filling a meter, and the rocket scientist's allows her to fly around the map with endless clips of ammo and invulnerability. Her starting weapon is a grenade launcher that knocks enemies in every direct with each explosion, which is a nice way to delay the advancement of martians. Each level plays out in a varying number of waves of enemies. Before each wave, players have the ability to stage defenses along the path enemies will be following as they attempt to blow up your base, or, in this case, rocket ship. Some stages only have one rocket; others have multiple and if any of them are destroyed, the level is lost. During waves, players can freely attack with their weapons of choice which have unlimited ammo but varying reload times. After completing stages, characters gain experience points and upon leveling up gain points to unlock and upgrade weapons and defenses. Each character levels independently and has their own set of unlockables, though it appears there may be some crossover between characters. XP is only gained when completing levels for the first time on each difficulty, or by grinding the endless waves of Invasion mode, so you can't cheese the system and grind the first level to unlock everything quickly. This keeps the game from being a total cakewalk, but it certainly isn't hard. [embed]338092:62075:0[/embed] I was able to complete the 12 stages on offer without much of a challenge. I believe I had to retry three or four levels, but that was typically caused by loading into the levels without needed defenses. Specifically, early on in the game, I was given the choice between unlocking a couple of options, and I didn't choose the auto-turret that fires at flying enemies, therefore I got quickly bested in the next stage. Luckily, you can redistribute your points between levels as you see fit, and unlock the necessary equipment without any hassle. While there are two other difficulties available -- hard and the unlockable insane difficulty -- they don't feel like what I was hoping for. Hard limits you to 15 seconds between waves with a 15-second respawn timer, but otherwise felt the same as the normal difficulty. Insane only has five seconds between waves, enemies can kill you in one or two hits, and respawns are only at the start of each wave. The time between waves doesn't matter so much as you can place defenses whenever, nor does an extended respawn timer for the most part. Insane mode felt mostly unfair and cheesy. Multiplayer, on the other hand, is a bit more difficult in the sense that enemies take far more damage before keeling over. I would have preferred to see more enemies instead of having them be proverbial bullet sponges, but I guess this is intended to encourage players to work together -- if only players did that. Can't blame the developer for your teammates not communicating or working together, though. Overall the online experience was smooth, with no noticeable issues. Playing Invasion mode with a high-level character felt far too easy, as I was able to build enough defenses to sit back and let them do all the work for me. That said, it is a nice addition, but only has three different maps to play on, so unless you plan on using it to grind XP, I don't think it adds much longevity to the game. While 12 levels may seem like a low amount, it felt just right to me. The game didn't overstay its welcome and the levels were varied enough to remain interesting. Some of these levels have over 700 enemies to kill, with tons of them on the screen at the same time. Impressively, the Xbox One version didn't have any noticeable framerate issues or slowdowns, keeping a pretty nice 60-ish frames per second. While the graphics aren't all that spectacular, the art style stays true to the films of old that it is based on. As far as audio goes, get ready to hear the same song over and over, as apparently there can be only one. Somehow, I still found myself both humming it and hating it by the time the credits rolled. Overall, I enjoyed my time with Fortified, but it is hard to recommend as a single-player-only experience due to it being too easy, and with no split-screen on offer, you're going to have to make friends or play with randoms online. The entire story consists of three short cutscenes, so those wanting a deep narrative need not apply. If you're looking for a campy romp with some friends and a few thousand martians, though, Fortified is easy to recommend. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.] Fortified (PC, Xbox One)Developer: ClapfootPublisher: ClapfootMSRP: $14.99Release Date: February 3, 2016 If you're familiar with any of the campy 1950's sci-fi flicks, then Fortified's story will be quite familiar; robotic Martians come to planet earth and start destroying every living thing in their path, and it is up to four heroes to stop them. In this case, the heroes are made up of four different selectable characters ranging from a spaceman, a rocket scientist, a secret agent and, of course, a handsome captain of the team. For my playthrough, I chose to play as the rocket scientist as she was the only female character available. Each character has special abilities that they can do for a brief time upon filling a meter, and the rocket scientist's allows her to fly around the map with endless clips of ammo and invulnerability. Her starting weapon is a grenade launcher that knocks enemies in every direct with each explosion, which is a nice way to delay the advancement of Martians. Each level plays out in a varying number of waves of enemies. Before each wave, players have the ability to stage defenses along the path enemies will be following as they attempt to blow up your base, or, in this case, rocket ship. Some stages only have one rocket; others have multiple and if any of them is destroyed the level is lost. During waves, players can freely attack with their weapons of choice which have unlimited ammo but varying reload times. After completing stages, characters gain experience points and upon leveling up gain points to unlock and upgrade weapons and defenses. Each character levels independently and has their own set of unlockables though it appears there may be some crossover between characters. XP is only gained when completing levels for the first time on each difficulty, or by grinding the endless waves of Invasion mode, so you can't cheese the system and grind the first level to unlock everything quickly. This keeps the game from being a total cakewalk, but it certainly isn't hard. [embed]338092:62075:0[/embed] I was able to complete the 12 stages on offer without much of a challenge. I believe I had to retry three or four levels, but that was typically caused by loading into the levels without needed defenses. Specifically, early on in the game, I was given the choice between unlocking a couple of options, and I didn't choose the auto-turret that fires at flying enemies, therefore I got quickly bested in the next stage. Luckily you can redistribute your points between levels as you see fit, and unlocked the needed equipment without any hassle. While there are two harder difficulties available, the hard and unlockable insane modes, they don't feel like the difficulty I was looking for. Hard limits you to 15 seconds between waves with a 15 second respawn timer, but otherwise felt the same as the normal difficulty. Insane only has five seconds between waves; enemies can kill you in one or two hits, and respawns are only at the start of each wave. The time between waves doesn't matter so much as you can place defenses at any time, nor does an extended respawn timer for the most part. Insane mode felt mostly unfair and cheesy, but might be the best way to play if the difficulty doesn't scale with multiplayer; I hope that is the case. Playing Invasion mode with a high-level character felt far too easy, as I was able to build enough defenses to sit back and let them do all the work for me. That said, it is a nice addition, but only has three different maps to play on, so unless you plan on using it to grind XP I don't think it adds much longevity the game.
Review: Fortified photo
Domo arigato Mr. Martian Roboto
The 1950s were considered the golden age of campy sci-fi films, with aliens often invading Earth alongside giant animals, and, of course, robots.  Fortified tries to recreate the feeling of those films in a third-pe...

Spooky Space Survival photo
Spooky Space Survival

It's you versus the planet in The Solus Project


Early Access in two weeks
Feb 04
// Jed Whitaker
This new trailer for the sci-fi single-player survival game The Solus Project shows off a lot of new content, and confirms some details that will surely make more than just me happy. Specifically, the developers co...

Review: Blitz Breaker

Feb 04 // Chris Carter
Blitz Breaker (PC [reviewed], iOS)Developer: Boncho GamesPublisher: Boncho GamesReleased: February 2, 2016 (PC), TBA (iOS)MSRP: $2.99 Blitz Breaker doesn't waste any time. Within seconds, you're in, learning the game's ins and outs, which are comprised of a sole jump button and directional inputs (with support for a keyboard or gamepad). Your player character can't move traditionally, and therein lies the gimmick. Instead, pressing a button will allow you to dash in any one of the cardinal directions. Jumping is a tertiary function, only used in specific cases, because trying to actually control your leap will only result in a wild dash. Here's the most interesting part of the game, mechanically -- once you commit to a direction, you have to see it through until you hit something. Since you can't just course correct constantly, it becomes part puzzler in that sense, especially when rooms start filling with spikes and conveyor belts. Smashing against a wall is commonplace, with the resulting force often catapulting you into danger. You'll need quick reflexes to get through this one, but paying attention to your surroundings is key too, so there's a balance. Some of my favorite puzzles involve multi-screen sequences, which force players to recall layouts to unlock doors and smash barriers that are required to reach the exit at the end of every stage. There is some trial and error involved though, as dashing into another unknown screen can result in an instant death. It's not too frustrating given the lenient level restart option, with the exception of boss gauntlets, which can get pretty tough and lengthy. [embed]338811:62114:0[/embed] The simplicity and relatively small rooms are clearly made with a mobile audience in mind, which makes sense after I realized that it's coming to iOS at some point in the future. Thankfully, pesky IAP (mobile DLC) is nowhere to be found, and you're getting the whole enchilada with your purchase. There is an "arcade" mode, but it's basically just a different delivery system for the campaign. With no multiplayer component, there isn't a whole lot there after all 101 levels are completed -- and once you get the hang of the game, they go by quickly. Blitz's art style is reminiscent of a bygone era, but the design team puts its own spin on it, and the soundtrack is one of the best indie productions in recent memory. Blitz Breaker will bring a smile to your face if you enjoy games like Super Meat Boy, though the experience isn't nearly as deep. Once you've blazed your way through, there isn't much there to coax you into staying, but you'll have fun with the ride all the same. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.] 
Blitz Breaker photo
Gotta bump fast
I've said it before, but I really enjoy this era of gaming. Sure, there were a lot of classics in the retro era, but many were few and far between from the same usual suspects. Now we have talented developers ready and willin...

Hidden Folks photo
Hidden Folks

Modern Where's Waldo-like Hidden Folks is mesmerizing


This could be a screensaver
Feb 04
// Darren Nakamura
Certainly, the drawings shown here are works of art on their own, but Hidden Folks really comes alive in motion. It's a far cry from the last Where's Waldo game I remember playing, which featured a series of low-res pixel art...
Undertale Port photo
Undertale Port

Toby Fox is looking into a Wii U Undertale port


Would need help remaking the game
Feb 04
// Laura Kate Dale
Undertale, that bullet hell RPG meme fuel that the Internet loves or loves to hate, has so far only been available for PC gamers, but that has not stopped gamers from clamouring for information about possible ports. Talking o...
Indie Games photo
Indie Games

Telepaint is the Titan Souls team's next game


'Portal meets Lemmings'
Feb 04
// Kyle MacGregor
And the follow-up to Titan Souls is... a puzzle game for iOS. Bet you didn't see that one coming! Described as "Portal meets Lemmings," Telepaint is about moving buckets of walking paint through increasingly co...
PS4 photo
PS4

Doujin hack-and-slash coming to PS4 this month


Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae
Feb 03
// Kyle MacGregor
Doujinsoft studio Zenith Blue's Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae is coming to PlayStation 4 in North America on February 16, Japanese indie game publisher Playism announced today via the PlayStation Blog. A word of warning, as someone w...
Broken  photo
Broken

Ex-Blizzard devs develop new episodic horror game, Broken


Another post-apocalyptic zombie world!
Feb 03
// Vikki Blake
Ex-Blizzard developers have banded together to produce new episodic horror game, Broken. Said to be inspired by games like The Walking Dead, The Last of Us and Half-Life, the new studio - Kollide Entertainment - wants to...

Review: AIPD - Artificial Intelligence Police Department

Feb 02 // Chris Carter
AIPD - Artificial Intelligence Police Department (PC, PS4 [reviewed])Developer: Blazing BadgerPublisher: Mamor GamesReleased: January 29, 2016MSRP: $9.99 One part Geometry Wars, one part...Geometry Wars, AIPD is a shmup that sports interesting neon visuals and a bumpin' soundtrack. It's relatively easy to pick up given its twin-stick nature, as the only nuances you'll need to learn are the differences between the scant few powerups at your disposal. There's gadgets like slo-mo, shields, and the like to choose from, most of which you've seen before. Despite the lack of innovation, AIPD succeeds at a base level with tight controls and a fun aesthetic. I also like how it occasionally switches objectives after clearing out specific waves, and presents players with a choice of challenges -- something like picking between "enemies do more damage," or "players earn less points." It keeps you on your toes constantly. And since there's several difficulty levels available, the top of which is actually challenging, it mixes things up even more. But once you realize that those challenge nodes are basically there as a smoke and mirror effect to hide the fact that there's one level (a circle), the formula starts to falter. There's just a few enemy types in total to do battle with, and only two -- the laser-blasting Battleship and the snake-like Bouncer -- are truly unique. The rest feel like fodder, and wander around aimlessly without any real rhyme or reason. Even though there's two colors (red and purple) to differentiate them, most of the time I couldn't tell them apart. [embed]338525:62101:0[/embed] As time goes on, you have the options to unlock new weapons and starting loadouts, but that's about it. Mechanics like the heat meter, which halts fire momentarily to jettison a bomb that can harm the player, are cool in theory (it sounds cool just talking about it), but they only serve to break up the pacing. The few modes that are available feel too similar, and the "creation" mode that I was initially excited to dive into only allows players to choose custom rulesets from a strict table, so you aren't actually given a lot of freedom. The good news is that AIPD supports up to four players locally, so if you have three other friends who are die-hard shmup fans, it's worth checking out. Otherwise you can steer clear and pick up the heap of other great shooters on Steam or PS4. Those platforms have no shortage of them. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
AIPD review photo
Yes, that's the actual title
Who polices the AI Police? Good question.

Knights and Bikes photo
Knights and Bikes

Former Tearaway, Ratchet and Clank devs team up for action RPG Knights and Bikes


EarthBound sensibilities
Feb 02
// Darren Nakamura
I could write up a basic synopsis of Knights and Bikes right here, but honestly, readers will benefit most from just watching the video below. If you want to skip the obligatory "two dudes sitting in front of a camera talking...
Review pending photo
Review pending

I shot martians to death and lived to tell about it in Fortified


Impressions of a solo playthrough
Feb 02
// Jed Whitaker
One part third-person cooperative shooter, one part campy 1950s sci-fi, Fortified releases today for PC and Xbox One. I've had the chance to play through the single-player mode and will be doing a full review once t...
Rocket League photo
Rocket League

Expect Rocket League on Xbox One later this month


It's about time!
Feb 02
// Vikki Blake
Rocket League developer Psyonix has confirmed that game will be coming to Xbox One later this month. Replying to a fan on Twitter, the developer said that the game was in the process of being certified with ID Xbox, and it ho...
Crashlands impressions photo
Crashlands impressions

Crashlands is much longer than it needs to be


I get it, let's move on
Feb 01
// Darren Nakamura
It's easy to settle into playing Crashlands. To start, it takes on the fairly well-trodden survival genre, where players start with nothing, punch some trees, harvest resources, and eventually build fantastic items. It most c...

Like solving puzzles with little to no help? INFRA might be for you

Feb 01 // Jed Whitaker
Long story short, some rich guy bought up a lot of businesses in town and financially bankrupted them and is in cahoots with the local government, or so I gathered in my time with the game. While I enjoyed a lot of what I played in INFRA, I also found that it isn't a game for me. So instead of doing a full numbered review, these are my impressions for those of you who would surely love it. Most of your time in INFRA will be spent solving puzzles involving buttons, levers, and even some platforming. When those things work, they work great, but other times it can almost feel like you're glitching the game. For example, at one point I came across a saw mill and couldn't find a way through it. I did, however, find some crates that were able to be picked up and stacked, so I did just that to get on the roof and jump across to continue the game. Was this the solution the developers had intended or had I just "cheated" my way forward? I have no idea. "I have no idea" is a great way to describe many of the puzzles. I like to think of myself as a person of some intelligence, yet many times I felt I was just randomly pressing buttons or levers till I stumbled across the solution. Other times I'd piece together tidbits of information found on stationary or posters nearby to give me an idea of how to complete a puzzle, but most of the time there was no hand holding, for better or worse.  INFRA runs on the Source engine, but it makes good use of it; crumbling buildings, murky water, vibrant caves, and green foliage stand out while not being wholly impressive. For an indie title from a team that no one has ever heard of, it gets the job done and didn't make me want to tear my eyeballs out. If anything the graphics not being top of the line and striving to be realistic help set the tone of a city falling apart. I had hoped for a story driven mystery, but the story presented suffered heavily from a shoddy localization with bad grammar abound. On top of that, INFRA has some of the most unintentionally funny and awkward voice acting I've heard in a game. Upon starting the game, you'll be greeted with a boardroom where your boss is going over assignments with you and coworkers, and everyone is fully voiced in a scene that I'd call the video game equivalent of The Room as seen below. That is a both a compliment and a complaint by the way. If the original trailer hadn't had such wonderful voice work that got me to play the game in the first place, I wouldn't be writing this, but I also kind of love how awful it is.  [embed]336879:62074:0[/embed] After six hours, I got to the point that I felt I couldn't be bothered with stumbling through any more puzzles by chance. I don't think INFRA is a bad game by any means, just not one that I'm not ready for. It made me question whether or not I'm stupid or if some of the puzzles just didn't make sense, but it was often enjoyable. If you're looking for an interesting take on the first-person adventure puzzle game that will make you scratch your head, this is for you. Otherwise, maybe wait for a sale.  INFRA launched on Steam with the first part of the game available now, and the second part to be released later this year for free. Judging by the very positive Steam reviews, you'll get between 12 and 15 hours out of what is currently released for $15.  [embed]336879:62074:0[/embed]
INFRA IMPRessions photo
Voice acting equivalent of The Room
Some games just hand out answers to puzzles -- if you can even call them that -- with numbers or solutions written nearby. While the first-person adventure INFRA does this a bit, it certainly isn't holding your hand most...

Kickstarter photo
Kickstarter

Ant Simulator dev quits, claims partners spent money on 'bars, strippers'


Game is canceled
Feb 01
// Chris Carter
[Update: Game Informer managed to get the other side of the story, which you can read here. Either way, Ant Simulator is dead.] For the past few years, fans of VR have been keeping an eye on Ant Simulator -- a promi...

Review: Shadow Puppeteer

Feb 01 // Laura Kate Dale
Shadow Puppeteer (PC, Wii U [Reviewed])Developer: Sarepta StudioPublisher: Snow Cannon GamesReleased: January 28, 2016MSRP: $14.99 Shadow Puppeteer is a puzzle-platformer about a young boy whose body and shadow become severed by an evil figure, and their quest to become one again. You use one analogue stick to move the child in 3D space, while using the other stick to control his shadow on a 2D plane. The boy can move items around, altering the locations of shadows, and can pass through obstacles like smoke that cast a solid shadow, blocking movement for the shadow child. The first thing to note about Shadow Puppeteer is its lack of technical polish. Cutscenes have visible compression artifacting, the menus are poorly produced, every move to another small environment involves a lengthy loading screen and the beautiful art style is let down by the quality of the in-game models when compared to the visual design of the cutscenes. In short, it looks and feels very rough around the edges. [embed]338045:62072:0[/embed] While playing Shadow Puppeteer, I couldn't help but compare it to Contrast and Brothers, the two games whose mechanics it poorly mimics. Where Brothers' use of dual character control felt seamless and responsive, SP frequently felt loose, unresponsive, and fiddly. Where the shadow manipulation puzzles in Contrast were thematically tied and provided impressive visual spectacle upon completion, those in Shadow Puppeteer often felt basic, simplified, and unconnected to the world of the narrative. Oh, and the game is terrible at proper checkpointing. There were times where I died, had to replay multiple rooms, each with a load time between them, and re-watch a cutscene to return to making progress. This did not feel challenging; it just felt tedious. Shadow Puppeteer tries to do interesting things, but ultimately comes off as unpolished, bland, repetitive, and mediocre. I really tried to enjoy it, but I just couldn't bring myself to care about it. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Indie photo
The worst of both worlds
Shadow Puppeteer; a game that takes the shadow-manipulation mechanics of Contrast and the dual character control of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and wraps them in a Tim Burton aesthetic… and doesn't do any on...

Superhot release date photo
Superhot release date

Superhot releasing on PC February 25, Xbox One in March


Trailer gets me superhot and bothered
Feb 01
// Darren Nakamura
Superhot has been looking supercool for a while now; those immediately sold on the initial concept have had to wait for a superlong time. The wait is set to be over supersoon; Superhot will release on Linux, Mac, and Win...
News roundup photo
Strangely lenient towards cock fighting
I am very pleased to announce that this week is 100% bodily fluid-free. There’s no wee, no poo, no nothing. It’s been a totally wholesome, family-friendly week in gaming news! The most NSFW thing you'll find is th...


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