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F.A.N.G is a poopy pigeon in Street Fighter V

Feb 04 // Steven Hansen
[embed]338701:62136:0[/embed] You see the above image of F.A.N.G seemingly flapping about with his giant sleeves? He does that. Homie will literally go airborne and carpet bomb the entire horizontal plane with poison bombs like an awkward pigeon dropping shits on businessmen. Actually I love everything about F.A.N.G's movement, not just a special that looks like you modded a humanoid character model rigged onto a small bird's animations. Even his walk is a Looney Tunes style creep complete with hunched shoulders and craned arms like a goofy t-rex or Montgomery Burns. What I love less is my inability to use the character to annoy people. You see, F.A.N.G is a charge character, requiring second-long maintained button presses in various directions to properly execute moves and my slow ass just plays Ken in Third Strike so I'm screwed. Look at this hieroglyphic shit.  The only "charge characters" I want to know about are the digits of the credit cards I steal. The good news? I performed admirably with Chun-Li after years of disuse, enjoyed the hell out of Laura (like souped up Yoga Bro Ken and Chun-Li, her kicks are dynamite). Actually, question: is it more or less racist if F.A.N.G isn't Chinese? Because he looks like an XCOM Thin Man, but when I was playing as Chun-Li she noted that his favorite number, 2, was not written out in proper Chinese characters on his shirt and questioned if he's really Chinese at all. We might just have a really big Mickey Rooney Breakfast at Tiffany's fan who really wants to blow Bison for some reason.
First hands-on with FANG photo
Plus move list because I can be helpful
I know what you're thinking with Street Fighter V (PS4, PC) less than two weeks from release: everything is mined. There was the big reveal that Arcade mode will have standard text and art stories to be followed by a post-lau...

Review: COUGAR 450M Optical Gaming Mouse

Feb 04 // Joe Parlock
Product: COUGAR 450M Optical Gaming Mouse Manufacturer: Cougar Input: One USB 2.0+ Port MSRP: $49.90 First, the numbers. With a maximum of 5000 DPI and a polling rate of up to 1000 Hz, the 450M is fantastically sensitive and responsive. Adequate mouse sensitivity is down to personal taste to an extent, but with that 5000 DPI maximum, I severely doubt anyone is going to find this thing too slow. I played about an hour of Far Cry 4 on it, and noticed absolutely no delay between me and the movement on-screen, which is great.  Using Cougar’s UIX software, the 450M can support up to three different profiles that can contain everything from three DPI settings, which can be swapped between using the on-the-fly DPI switch button, to the more advanced settings like angle snapping, lift distance, and polling rate. The amount of control you’re given over how the mouse works is utterly fantastic, and the UI is easy enough that I was able to get it up and running just how I like it within a couple of minutes. There are four extra macro buttons, two on either side, which can be bound to any function you like in UIX. Personally, I have my top left button bound to my screenshot key, and my bottom left bound to a particularly handy ‘sniper’ function, which lowers your sensitivity and allow you to line up shots more easily while it’s held. I’ve seen this as its own advertised feature with a dedicated button on other mice before, so seeing it simply thrown in as an optional extra for any of those four buttons sure is nice. The thing that surprised me the most, though, is how comfortable the 450M is to hold. I have the dubious luck of having huge ham hands, and so far I’ve very few problems with how the mouse sits. It’s big enough for me to comfortably hold it in a full palm grip without my fingers peeking out over the top of the buttons, which is something I’ve never been able to say about a mouse before. The easy-grip texture on the flanks of the mouse aren’t rough enough to be uncomfortable, but provide just enough grip to make sure your hands don’t slip during gaming. Unfortunately, there are three minor negative points which do take away from the comfort somewhat. Firstly, the glossy finish of the mouse means that people with clammier hands may have trouble getting a decent, comfortable hold on it after a while. It also means if you’re a stickler for clean peripherals, you’ll be forever wiping off finger and handprints from it. Secondly, the mouse is pretty dang thin, meaning the sides of my hand couldn’t get enough lift off of my coarse mouse mat and would wind up rubbing up against it. If you have smaller hands, this might not be a problem, but I would’ve liked the mouse to be a bit wider just to reduce the contact area between my hand and the desk. Lastly, the extra macro buttons on either side of the mouse are placed slightly too far forward for me. I have to stretch to hit the top button on either side, which can be uncomfortable if they’re bound to a function I need to use regularly or kept held during gameplay. None of these are major, deal-breaking problems, but they’re things that also could’ve been easily avoided during the design process. Build quality is a bit of a mixed bag, and is honestly where most of my complaints about the 450M lie. It’s not all bad, of course. The Omicron Micro switches under the buttons are really responsive and 'clicky,' with absolutely no smushing feeling when pressing them. The mouse wheel is also one of the best I’ve ever seen, with it being coated in chunky tire-style rubber. The wheel isn’t set inside the mouse, but occupies a gap in between the two buttons, which makes it easy to clean from all angles. I never thought I’d give so many words to something as nondescript as a mouse wheel, but this one is seriously nice. Unfortunately, the 450M feels more cheaply made than others in this price range that I’ve used, being made out of lightweight and glossy plastics that aren’t as resilient looking as I would’ve liked. For £40-50, I would want something strong and chunky that I know would last many intense gaming sessions, but I just don’t think the 450M would be able to stand the test of time. The Cougar 450M Gaming Mouse is really nice in a lot of ways: it’s comfortable, responsive, and has a vast array of customisable settings. It’s just a shame that there are definite areas for improvement, mostly in the build quality. The mouse is the peripheral which gets the most use, so making sure you have one that both feels good and won’t die on you is important. If you spot this on even a slight discount somewhere, I can wholeheartedly recommend you pick one up. At the price range it’s normally at, there are probably better alternatives out there. [This review is based on retail hardware provided by the manufacturer.] Using Cougar’s UIX software, the 450M can support up to three different profiles that can contain everything from three DPI settings, with can be swapped between using the on-the-fly DPI switch button, to the more advanced settings like angle snapping, lift distance and polling rate. The amount of control you’re given over how the mouse works is utterly fantastic, and the UI is easy enough that I was able to get up and running just how it like it within a couple of minutes. There are four extra macro buttons, two on either side, which can be bound to any function you like in UIX. Personally, I have my top left button bound to my screenshot key, and my bottom left bound to a particularly handy ‘sniper’ function, which lowers your sensitivity and allow you to line up shots more easily while it’s held. I’ve seen this as its own advertised feature with a dedicated button on other mice before, so seeing it simply thrown in as an optional extra for any of those four buttons sure is nice. The thing that surprised me the most, though, is how incredibly comfortable the 450M is to hold. I have the dubious luck of having huge ham hands, and so far I’ve very few problems with how the mouse sits.  It’s big enough for me to comfortably hold it in a full palm grip without my fingers peeking out over the top of the buttons, which is something I’ve never been able to say about a mouse before. The easy-grip texture on the flanks of the mouse aren’t rough enough to be uncomfortable, but provide just enough grip to make sure your hands don’t slip during gaming. Unfortunately, there are three minor negative points which do take away from the comfort somewhat. Firstly, the glossy finish of the mouse means that people with clammier hands may have trouble getting a decent, comfortable hold on it after a while. It also means if you’re a stickler for clean peripherals, you’ll be forever whipping off finger and handprints from it. Secondly, the mouse is pretty dang thin, meaning the sides of my hand couldn’t get enough lift off of my coarse mouse mat and would wind up rubbing up against it. If you have smaller hands this might not be a problem, but I would’ve liked the mouse to be a bit wider just to reduce the contact area between my hand and the desk. Lastly, the extra macro buttons on either side of the mouse are placed slightly too far forward for me. I have to stretch to hit the top button on either side, which can be uncomfortable if they’re bound to a function I need to use regularly or kept held during gameplay like. None of these are major, deal-breaking problems, but they’re things that also could’ve been easily avoided during the design process. Build quality is a bit of a mixed bag, and is honestly where most of my complaints about the 450M lie. It’s not all bad, of course. The buttons are responsive and ‘clicky’, with absolutely no ‘smush’ when pressing them. The mouse wheel is also one of the best I’ve ever seen, with it being coated in chunky tire-style rubber. The wheel isn’t set inside the mouse, but occupies a gap in between the two buttons, which makes it easy to clean from all angles. I never thought I’d give so many words to something as nondescript as a mouse wheel, but this one is seriously nice. Unfortunately, the 450M feels more cheaply made than others in this price range that I’ve used, being made out of lightweight and glossy plastics that aren’t as resilient looking as I would’ve liked. For £40-50 I would want something strong and chunky that I know would last many intense gaming sessions, but I just don’t think the 450M would be able to stand the test of time. The Cougar 450M Gaming Mouse is really nice in a lot of ways: it’s comfortable, responsive, and has a vast array of customisable settings. It’s just a shame that there are definite areas for improvement, mostly in the build quality. The mouse is the peripheral which gets the most use, so making sure you have one that both feels good and won’t die on you is incredibly important.  If you spot this on even a slight discount somewhere, I can whole-heartedly recommend you pick one up. At the price range it’s normally at, there are probably better alternatives out there.
Gaming Mice photo
Feels a bit flimsy, but works great
I’ve never had much luck with gaming mice; either there’s too many moving parts and I break it, or the shape doesn’t fit my hands and feels uncomfortable to use. So when I got Cougar’s 450M ambidextrou...

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...

Guitar Hero Live is resurrecting the infamous 'Through the Fire and the Flames'

Feb 03 // Chris Carter
As explained by Coppard, "veterans have risen to the challenge so far which everything we've thrown at them, so bringing this song back is the next natural step. We found that with this challenge, the tracks we've identified as 'difficult' are on the level. We'll be surprised to see full combos for these songs back-to-back, but we know people are going to do it." With the "Rivals" leaderboard feature enabled throughout the challenge, you're also constantly going head to head with other people through this gauntlet. The rest of the event includes Hangar 18, Strife, Ghost Walking, and Cry of Achilles. When asked how the team builds these tracks (particularly the madness of Fire and Flames), Coppard noted that they "start from the top, then work their way down." He says once they have all the notes they need for Expert level, they can then start simplifying it further. But for Guitar Hero Live they had to add in a few new elements, which Coppard says will weed out a lot of players right off the bat. "First off, if you couldn't play the intro to Fire and Flames, you were kicked out, full stop. It's like a right of passage. Now we're using open strums and the six-button layout that wasn't in the original, so it adds a whole new dimension to the song." He calls it the "final boss of all of Guitar Hero." I believe him, as the song caused a bunch of people in my play group in college to quit. The event kicks today, and will run through February 8 at 7AM PT. After the event, Fire and Flames will be added into the normal rotation of GHTV.
Guitar Hero Live photo
For a five-song expert marathon event
Activision has been steadily supporting Guitar Hero Live's TV element for months now, adding constant new content to the game. Although it has microtransactions the system is more than fair, and allows for a ton of songs to b...

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.

Hearthstone photo
'Too daunting'
In case you haven't heard, Blizzard is changing up Hearthstone big time later this year with a major update. There are a few good things coming -- 18 custom deck slots for one, promised balance changes for select cards, ...

Not a Hero nearly broke me

Feb 02 // Jordan Devore
I wasn't sure how I'd like cover-based shooting in a 2D game, going in, but in the case of Not a Hero, I'm quite fond. This isn't so much standing still, popping out to take a few shots, and retreating back into hiding as it is shuffling between safe spots to close the gap, sliding right next to (or into!) enemies, and racking up split-second kills. Think Vanquish more than Gears of War. Cover is plentiful, but you won't stick to it for long unless you're nervously waiting on your few precious health points to restock or your gun to reload. Death comes quickly and repeatedly, both for you and for the hundreds of criminals you're meant to wipe out across three city districts. A single hit can be enough, especially in the later Yakuza-ish levels with samurai chasing you down. That's where I started to lose my cool over the lack of checkpoints. It's also where Not a Hero almost broke me with two overly long, overly demanding levels. (The exact same ones Steven struggled with.) By the time I hit the credits, I felt exhausted, not accomplished or elated. Getting up to that point was great fun, though. Still an experience I'd recommend. The story isn't as successful. Basically, you're helping an anthropomorphic rabbit claim his rightful spot as mayor by, uh, killing loads of people. The tone is Internet Silly to the point of going way overboard, at times, and the humor didn't consistently land for me. But on the whole, I admire the effort that went into the presentation -- particularly the funny graphics in the interludes. Great tunes, too. The story is there, if you want it, but otherwise you're only a few button presses away from getting into that next level. As far as this specific port goes, I don't have much to say. Despite being a PC/Mac exclusive until now, Not a Hero has always struck me as something of a console-style, couch-sitting experience meant to be played with a gamepad. Aside from a couple instances of glitches (my character going invisible once; the occasional floating dead body), there wasn't anything out of the ordinary. Existing fans won't find meaningful extras in this version to warrant double dipping, but it is a solid port of a surprisingly fresh little game. I'm glad I found my way to it. Shame about the canceled PlayStation Vita port, though. Not a Hero would've fared well there. [This impressions piece is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Not a Hero PS4 photo
Impressions of the PS4 port
Thank you, Roll7, for reminding me what an utter joy it can be to slide around in video games. I'm not sure what I was so wrapped up playing last May, but it wasn't Not a Hero, the studio's cheeky side-scrolling take on cover...

Podtoid 321: Witness the Rise of Bombshell

Feb 01 // Kyle MacGregor
[embed]338048:62073:0[/embed] Recent Episodes: Podtoid 320: Grandma is a Climate Denier Podtoid 319: Kangaroo Hotdish Podtoid 318: Oculus Butt Plug Podtoid 317: Sad Christmas Podtoid 316: My Bowels Are Strange Want to help the show? Send questions to [email protected] or leave a comment below.
PODCAST photo
ソーセージ トイレ
Subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or download it here. This week, the Podtoid cabal is once again joined by our dear friend Hayden Dingman to chat about The Witness, Street Fighter V, and Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Bombshell. 

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...

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...

Horror movie characters I want to see in MKX

Jan 30 // Nic Rowen
Chop Top Leatherface is cool, but let's be honest, he was the most obvious choice (which is a slightly veiled way of saying the most boring choice). NetherRealm used up the most recognizable faces in horror and instead of getting creative, it aimed low, called up the second-best, the also-ran. The sad thing is, it was so achingly close to finding a great sideways pick from the same franchise. Chop Top from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 would bring a great mix of carnage and comedy to the tournament. Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 isn't your typical horror movie (it has a much lighter tone than its predecessor), and Chop Top isn't your typical psychopath. He's from the same murderous hillbilly family as Leatherface (and is every bit as unhinged as him when you get right down to it), but he has a gentler side. He's a music lover and hippie cliché who seems just as excited about touring the local radio station as he is about murdering random teenagers. How multidimensional! Chop Top gets his name from the metal plate in his skull, a souvenir he claims is from a tour in Vietnam. But he's out of his fucking mind, so I'm not sure how much stock I'd put in that. Occasionally he'll scratch the plate with a heated coat hanger for, um, I guess “relief” would be the most polite way to put it? Long story short, I feel like he'd have a lot to talk about with Kano. Let's be honest, anyone can be scary with a chainsaw. It takes a special kind of creepy to be menacing with a coat hanger. “Lick my plate, you dog dick!” Ash There's no reason to limit ourselves to horror movie bad guys, a guest character could just as easily be a good guy. Or in the case of Ash from The Evil Dead, an okay guy. Or maybe a “he'll do in a pinch I guess” guy, if we're being honest. You know what I mean anyway. Ash is such a ready-made video game character I'm a little shocked we haven't seen more games from him (there are a few, but I'd avoid them if I were you). He's got a chainsaw arm, a shotgun, and a penchant for inappropriate quips, he's like 70 percent of the way there already. And hey, if you're gonna put a dude with a gun in the game you might as well get your full value out of it. Give him a Stryker-inspired secondary costume, so all the police brutality fans that had to go without in MKX can finally feel validated. Putting Ash in the game would also close the spiritual loop on a film project that never-was. Years ago, Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema kicked around the idea of making a Freddy Vs Jason Vs Ash film that would have seen the three icons go chainsaw to machete to weird-knife-fingers-glove (which I feel is a little low in the deadly-weapon pecking order to hang with this crowd). The project was eventually killed, but it apparently got far enough along to get a script treatment (which you can read for yourself, care of Bloody Disgusting). A comic of the story was even produced, but that's some weak tea compared to what could have been. Getting Ash in MKX would be the closest thing to seeing that fight happen. Well, at least the Ash on Jason part (which sounds like a horrifying slash-fic when I put it like that). Pyramid Head Who says we have to pull from horror movies? Horror games have some pretty damn big icons of their own. If NetherRealm had the sheer balls to include Kratos as a console exclusive character in MK9, why not bring Pyramid Head to MKX? Show a little class and make him available on every platform (well, other than PC of course, NetherRealm already buried that version of the game in a shallow grave and covered it with dissolving lye). Besides, it's not like Konami is doing anything with him now, other than sticking him on the side of pachinko machines. Pyramid Head is perfect for an MKX conversion. He's big, he's angry, he already loves dismembering people with an intimidating, but probably unwieldy, weapon. What's one more giant shirtless guy in a skirt and a ridiculous headpiece on the roster? (Just kidding Kotal, you know I love you). He could have a Fatality called “helloooo nurse!” where he... Um, this was a bad idea. Never mind. The Spooky Girls This one is more conceptual, a way of sneaking in more than one character. Hey, if they can do it with Triborg (who they should just rename to Quadborg at this point) they can do it for someone else! The horror world is chock-a-block with evil spooky little girls and while I'm pressed to think of one that could carry a fighting game character on her own, their combined powers could properly represent the trope in MKX. I'm thinking a base spooky girl (long hair, ghostly voice, the usual) with variations based on the twins from The Shining , Samara from The Ring, and everyone's favorite spider-walking, projectile vomiter, Regan from The Exorcist. The Twins could have projectile special moves based on a duplicate (shout-outs to Noob Saibot), Samara could do her creepy implacable walk and burning hands thing, and Regan could have the most foul fight introduction quotes of any character in the game! Seriously, have you watched The Exorcist recently? Girl has a mouth that would put Jimmy Carr to shame. Freddy Fazbear I don't actually think Freddy Fazbear would make a particularly great Kombatant. I just want to see the internet burn to the ground when they announce him. These are my picks, but there are plenty of other possibilities. You could get Jack Torrance looking all fashionable with his plaid jacket and handsome fire axe. The, uh, Thing from The Thing could be a crazy monster and a kind of ghetto Shang Tsung with his copycat abilities. Hell, get Norman Bates in the mix swinging around his mummified mother. If you could have your druthers, which horror movie icon would you see in Mortal Kombat X?
MKX horror photo
If they're gonna do it, do it right
When NetherRealm announced it was going to put Freddy Krueger in Mortal Kombat, I thought it was a cheap cash in. And, as much as I hate to admit it, I also thought it was the coolest thing ever. I don't consider myself ...

The Silent Hill Retrospective: Homecoming

Jan 30 // Stephen Turner
Homecoming starts with an intentional bang; no dreaded slow burn, no setup, giving away all its secrets within the opening cutscene. The sounds of war give way to the harsh clatter of gurney wheels and slamming double doors. Alex Shepherd demands answers and receives a gory rebuttal, before waking up on a hitch-hike back home, after many years away. The déjà vu of Alex’s search for his missing brother is just too familiar, caught up in this mandated movie tie-in veneer. Homecoming’s biggest sin is that it’s sketchy. Not purposefully vague, just sketchy; from its supporting cast to its sparse locations and even loose endings. Whereas Silent Hill was fully imagined in its first appearance, Shepherd’s Glen is completely faceless, hard to differentiate from the infamous town during Homecoming’s final act. Despite Josh’s disappearance being a key motivator, Alex only has two memories of his brother – one good, one bad – and the rest are doled shown, oddly enough, without his presence. A sign of numerous redrafts, if we're being honest. It’s never enough to make you care, busy as it is with telling certain events with biased awe. Pyramid Head makes a fleeting appearance, spied on like a creature in the wild. Later, Deputy Wheeler talks about Silent Hill with mystical reverence. Gone are the days where the town was just an unassuming name on the road map, somewhere you wouldn’t think twice about passing by. [embed]337353:62057:0[/embed] Especially with concerns to the latter, Homecoming showed how Silent Hill’s fundamentals had radically changed under the Western gaze. It’s still a Silent Hill game at heart – any accusations can easily be applied to previous efforts – but one that looks inward at its own country’s history of horror. It’s all there in the way Alex and his companions stick together, make plans over the radio, survive sieges, and get too close to the truth. Yes, it’s insular, but one shouldn’t be critical of Homecoming’s influences for not being Eastern or spiritual. America produced some amazing horror tales in the '70s and '80s; a reaction to cinematic stereotypes, increases in violent crime, and the scars of Vietnam. Homecoming tries to at least update those themes with its protection of small town values and allusions to Iraq and Afghanistan. Alex Shepherd is seen as this well groomed soldier with a flashy fighting style, which at first plays well towards the critics of the game. Despite his all American values, it’s really his jacket that lends us this weight of authority and self-made heroics. But keen eyes will notice that the jacket doesn’t really fit him; too long on the arms, a little broad on the shoulders. When the twist hits, we learn Alex is merely living up to his father's legacy. That symbol of duty, their only connection, is really just a reminder of their estrangement. Duty and sacrifice are prevalent themes in Homecoming. Even the title itself recalls more to do with warriors than prom queens, especially in this day and age. The self-preservation of Shepherd’s Glen is a ludicrous compromise, where an unbridled fear of those across the waters (in this case, Toluca Lake and the Order of Silent Hill) ruins more lives than it saves. Heinous acts are committed by those in charge, fearful of religious retribution. And when the balance is finally upset, a reactionary Otherworld returns at its most vengeful. Shrieking monsters with impotent forms feverishly scale fences and walls, only wanting blood. The town’s sacrifices are reimagined as furious deities; their porcelain skin fractures and drowning lungs a reminder of their once frail former selves. They do lack the macabre, tumorous puzzles of Masahiro Ito’s designs, but we must remember that Homecoming was Silent Hill at its most casual. But more importantly, this was a Silent Hill title that lacked the time to go deeper. Even if it did, with the story it had, where exactly could it have gone? When you look at the games, post-The Room, they’re all variations of stories told; parental fears and domestic worries, a coming of age and religious interpretation, suburban loneliness, all filled in with mistakes and regrets. Nearly everything that Homecoming picked up on was already said in Silent Hill 2 and 3. It’s a cherry picker of ideas, hoping the best ones fit together. And maybe that’s why, beyond the more obvious debate of Eastern vs. Western quality and the terrible plot holes involved, Homecoming has a division of fans, rather than outright hatred. It’s a B-movie horror film within a B-tier game, nothing more, nothing less. As for the future of the franchise, we would never hear from Shepherd’s Glen ever again, but the past was worth revisiting. Silent Hill would take centre stage, once more. Though it would be very different from the one buried in our memories.
Silent Hill photo
'These people are your responsibility!'
Homecoming was the Hollywood take on Silent Hill. All crisp and clean, with a Jensen Ackles-type in the lead, and a straightforward plot that paid more homage to Dean Koontz’s Phantoms than Koji Suzuki’s Dark Wate...

Obscure Video Games: Top 5 Bosses of Ninja Baseball Bat Man

Jan 30 // Obscure Video Games
Makeshift Villain This mafioso makes quite a statement with his lavender trench coat and bowed-up hair. It's a fashion crime. Hit him with a bat. Windy Plane It's a plane with teeth. He cries a lot. Hit him with a bat. Ghost Buffalo You know that freaky deer head in Evil Dead 2? Well, what if he was a buffalo head? What would you do if he jumped off the wall and started biting you? You'd hit him with a bat; that's what you'd do. Mechanical Alligator This muscle-bound hunk of luggage wants to snap you in half. Before he does, you need to strip him down to his scales, once piece of armor at a time. Try hitting him with a bat. King Babe The final boss is Babe Ruth on steroids. A swing of his weapon creates pink tornadoes of destruction. Want to see the end credits? Hit him with a bat. Ninja Baseball Bat Man is a great game, especially if you like hitting things with bats. Unfortunately, the arcade machine is quite rare, and it's never been released on a console. If you can swing an emulator, you won't regret it. [embed]333518:61839:0[/embed]
Obscure Video Games photo
Hit them with a bat.
Ninja Baseball Bat Man is not a baseball game. It also has nothing to do with Batman. It's actually a wacky arcade beat-'em-up released in 1993 by Irem (maker of R-Type). You might assume it's just another example of Japanese...

Lupe Fiasco is going to kick Daigo's ass in Street Fighter V

Jan 29 // Steven Hansen
And, finally, onto our story, our ostensible reason for reading (you) and writing (me) this article, other than to put content online for pay, to pal around with my friends about music on a lazy Friday, but mostly to talk about Kanye lying about not liking his ass eaten. Rapper Lupe Fiasco's last album, a return to form, is called Tetsuo & Youth if you want to check the standard millennial nerd bonafides. He also he drops Lupin the III and Thundercats references in his verse on Kanye's "Touch the Sky" over a decade ago. Someone asked Lupe on Twitter if he watches EVO, to which he replied, "Only to study Daigo..." Mad Catz' Mark Julio -- who loved my recent dispatch from the Mad Catz Street Fighter V tournament, by the way -- asked Lupe if he was down to fight Daigo, who is sponsored by Mad Catz, in Street Fighter V. Lupe confirmed, "It would be an honor to lose to Daigo-San." Good week, all. See you Monday. [embed]337545:62043:0[/embed] [embed]337545:62044:0[/embed]
Rapper v pro gamer photo
This is Rocky VIII
Things are popping off in the hip hop world this week. Kanye lied about not liking his ass eaten after a deluge of tweet beef with Wiz Khalifa. Kanye eventually deleted the 20 or so tweets aimed at Khalifa, but they still ex...

Review: Bombshell

Jan 29 // Steven Hansen
Bombshell (PC)Developer: Interceptor EntertainmentPublisher: 3D RealmsReleased: January 29, 2016MSRP: $34.99 The most surprising thing about this 2016 heir to the Duke Nukem throne is how toothless it is. The Duke's puerile shtick is beyond dated as 2011's tragedy Duke Nukem Forever might remind us, but save for a rocket launcher called the "PMS" -- haha, menstruation! -- Bombshell is tonally distinct, and instead goes for a nerfed "ooh rah" à la Independence Day. It even opens with a Fourth of July alien invasion of the White House and kidnapped president (whose American flag eye patch is, admittedly, hilarious). The result is a milquetoast lead whose repeated, constant combat barks like, "I never thought aliens would land on the White House lawn" or "You're not worth the metal you're made of" or "Die, alien scum" do disservice to a solid acting performance. Making an old-school, character-led action game with a boring character is a huge misstep. In the opening cutscene, Shelly's jeep is blown up. It's on screen and blown up in a few seconds. There are two combat barks devoted to complaining about her lost car and they're totally unearned. I forgot there even was a car until roughly the 25th mention. At one point an enemy must've fallen off the map without dying because I had to hear his robotic droning about his shield every five seconds for the next 45 minutes.  [embed]337527:62042:0[/embed] In addition to being boring, Bombshell is a bit broken. I fell through the level and died three times. Shelly got stuck in place on a couple occasions, necessitating a restart to accompany the countless times she hitched on the environment. Enemies get stuck, too, or at least some choose to lay down arms and not attack until I kill them, anyway. Sometimes the map, which is uncovered as you explore, completely erases itself and leaves you with no sense of direction. The latter was far more annoying than I thought it could be, especially given that it was coupled with archaic level design. There are three distinct areas in Bombshell, including an ice stage, because this is a video game, and they're all designed like someone cracked a sheet of glass and traced the sprawling result. There are constant dead ends, fetch quests, and side quests that actually require backtracking to turn in. The mini-map, on the other hand, is incredibly useful because the camera is kept so tight that you will regularly run face-first into bullets if you navigate by watching Shelly move rather than watching the blips on the mini-map. Apparently fixed isometric perspective shooters were also missing a huge thing all these years: platforming. Most of my deaths came after falling into a pool of water or after walking over a nonsensical hole in the ground like some Wile E. Coyote shit, like the architect of the alien home world had a debilitating Swiss cheese fetish. But it isn't just that there is platforming, it's that it is floaty and unsatisfying. One of the reasons Shelly's lines bomb (besides that they're vacuous and repeated a hundred times) is that they're so disconnected from the character in the isometric view, and similarly there isn't anything to ground or give weight to her jumps. Even her walking animation is like a hockey puck on ice. That missing weight is a big part of why Bombshell's most redeeming factors, the twin-stick-style shooting, also falls flat. The weapons (rapid-fire machine gun, shotgun, flamethrower, and so on) have little stopping power. Enemies don't seem to react when shot, but instead absorb bullets like sponges until their HP empties and they limply rag doll to the floor. The first two worlds accost you with loads of pain-in-the-ass tiny enemies that poison (damage over time) or freeze you (slow movement speed) while the last just goes full bore and sends out six Gundam-sized robots at a time. I appreciated being able to see them more clearly than the ankle-biters, but seeing giant robot after giant robot go weak in the knees after getting hit with a laser beam was almost pathetic. Also, the last level theme (it goes alien, ice, metal) looks exactly like the end of Mass Effect 2 down to the Terminator-cribbed robots. Which reminds: Bombshell has some of the worst boss fights I have ever played. Sticking to conventions, they tend to be of the three-phase fare and toss regular enemies into the mix to make things more difficult. By the last form of the first boss I was out of ammo save for Shelly's default, infinite-ammo weapon. I beat it by standing pissing distance in front of the boss and holding the trigger for a few minutes while scrolling through Twitter. The same thing happened with the boss of the ice world, which decided it just wasn't interested in attacking me during its final phase. Every once in a while, during a taut firefight that actually necessitates mixing and matching weapons (the shotgun alt fire, a stun gun, is possibly too useful), there are glimpses of a solid shooter let down by everything else around it. As it stands, playing Bombshell for more than an hour at a time is like ingesting a sedative, save for flashes of rage as you fall through the map one more time or are asked to find six more crystals. [This review is based on a build of the game provided by the publisher.] 
Bombshell reviewed photo
Dud Nukem
"It's so hard to believe this is real. It's like a video game or something." A random soldier told me this in Bombshell and it's not the worst meta dialogue in the game. Shelly "Bombshell" Harrison is quick to complain about ...

Review: Rise of the Tomb Raider - Baba Yaga: The Temple of the Witch

Jan 29 // Laura Kate Dale
Rise of the Tomb Raider - Baba Yaga: The Temple of the Witch (PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Crystal DynamicsPublisher: Square EnixMSRP: $9.99Released: January 26, 2016 Baba Yaga: The Temple of the Witch is a short, story focused piece of Tomb Raider DLC that focuses on creepy supernatural elements, tough environmental puzzles, and exploring the complex relationship between Lara Croft and her father. Set in the Wicked Vale, a new region exclusive to the DLC, Baba Yaga tasks Lara with hunting down Baba Yaga, a witch who has allegedly terrorised locals for generations. Gone are the enemies that make sense, replaced by ethereal tormentors. While these foes and obstacles may be mechanically very similar to enemies in the base game, they feel very tonally different in practice and work well to emphasise the game's narrative themes. Oh, and the fact the DLC culminates in an over the top awesome supernatural boss battle, which provides satisfying amounts of conclusion to the plot, is fairly impressive. While most of the DLC is set in the Wicked Vale, an environment that was fascinating to explore, one section does throw you back into a combat arena from the main game. With the DLC only clocking in at two hours long, it's disappointing that any of it was retreading old ground. [embed]337554:62045:0[/embed] While the gameplay in Baba Yaga is unchanged from the main game, the difficulty of environmental puzzles is nicely ramped up, paced for progression from the end of the base game. Completing it unlocks a new weapon that fits nicely with the themes of the DLC as a bonus, but the lack of any new post game challenge tombs meant I had very little incentive to try my new weapon out. So, here's the deal with Rise of the Tomb Raider's newest DLC. If you're looking for several hours of story content that's supernatural in nature, yet offers very little additional content post story? Well, Baba Yaga: The Temple of the Witch is probably your thing. Just be aware it reuses some assets in that two hour length and offers very little in the way of options for using your weapon once the story is over. [This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.] 
Rise of the Tomb Raider photo
That's one freaky temple
Rise of The Tomb Raider's main campaign, while lengthy, tries to keep its gameplay grounded for the most part in realistic threats. The game's first story DLC, Baba Yaga: The Temple of the Witch, turns that on its head, repla...

Very Quick Tips: Darkest Dungeon

Jan 27 // Nic Rowen
Hamlet and roster management Pay attention to mission goals and rewards. Don't just pick whatever mission – look at what heirlooms and trinkets they reward and think about what would benefit your party the most. Prioritize missions that reward Deeds early on, as you'll need them to upgrade the Coach and the Blacksmith. Both are essential. On the same tip, organize your party according to the mission. Make sure to avoid obvious problems like characters who have a phobia of a certain enemy types or primarily attack with a damage type that is heavily resisted in an area. On the contrary, you should be looking for damage types and quirks that will help you. Take characters that do Unholy damage in the Ruins, anti-beast damage in the Weald, bleed for the high-HP monsters in the Warrens, and blight for the Cove monsters who resist bleed damage. Think strategically and don't bring the same compositions to every fight. Don't be afraid of taking on long missions. With the right camping skills, you can often end up with less overall stress on a medium-length mission than a short one if you rest near the end of the run. Several characters also have buffs they can apply during a camp that will make a mission much easier if used early-ish or in the middle of a dungeon. Resting right before a boss and stacking buffs is also an obvious but effective strategy. Make sure to cultivate at least a handful of warriors in your roster that have repositioning skills. It's easy to focus on flashy, easy to understand classes like the Crusader, Man-at-Arms, and Vestal, but don't underestimate classes like the Jester, Highwayman, and Gravedigger. Skills that let characters make a useful action (attacking/debuffing enemies, buffing themselves, etc.) while moving forward or back are AMAZING. If you stack your team with too many position-dependent classes (Lepers, back-line Vestals), you can easily be killed by even weak monster parties if they can shuffle you around. With a few flexible characters though, you can realign your party order without wasting turns on pure movement or *gasp*, passing. Be thoughtful about trinket usage. They can make a huge difference if used intelligently, but can also sabotage your team if you equip them with abandon. For example, many early game trinkets provide a mediocre benefit at the cost of a speed debuff. Is it really worth an extra 1-2 damage on an attack if it guarantees your Crusader will go last every single round? No. Be smart and only equip trinkets when the benefit outweighs the negative. Pack heavy for missions. Think about the cost/risk value. A few hundred extra gold on torches, shovels, and bandages may save the life of a soldier you have invested several thousand gold into upgrading and equipping – it's worth it. The dark side of this is you can gamble with weak links or burn them out. If you have a bunch of disease-ridden neurotics you plan to boot anyway, run them into the ground with a suicide mission or two and let them collect loot for you before you fling them out into the cold. Cut 'em loose when they're ruined. Yeah, it's cruel, but we're in the dungeon business, not the hugs and snuggles business. If a low-level character picks up multiple damaging quirks or diseases that impede your ability to complete missions, it is better to dump them than to invest thousands of gold and weeks in the Sanitarium trying to work out every kink. Dungeon and battle strategy Blight and bleed will do you well, especially in the early game. On enemies with high protection stats, stacking bleeds and blights on them can work wonders. Melt an enemy away with unblockable damage instead of trying to chip through their defense. Focusing down targets is almost always a better idea than spreading damage around. Save your AoE attacks for when an enemy is on the brink of death and you might as well chip away at his buddies while you finish him off. Don't become attached to the same old skills. If you find you're never using your AoEs because you're (wisely) following the above advice, trade them out for a self heal, a repositioning skill, a debuff, or a mark. Trade them out based on the enemies you face, too. For example, I like my Hellions super aggressive, but when fighting in an area with a lot of enemies that cause bleed, I'll drop Breakthrough and take Adrenalin Rush so I'm not chewing through bandages every round. Prevention is greater than healing. Don't crutch on a Vestal or Occultist to heal every bit of damage your team takes – it's a losing proposition. You're better off preventing damage with quick kills, stuns, and high dodge/protection stats than trying to swim upstream. Use heals as a tool to keep soldiers away from death's door and focus more on skills that undermine the enemy's ability to do damage in the first place. Back-line enemies tend to be insidious dangers. Snipers who fire on your vulnerable party members or use AoE attacks, wizards with stressful incantations who push your team to the brink of insanity, or spotters who mark your team for extra damage – all assholes. Killing them can be difficult, but don't forget about skills that can pull them to the front or push other enemies to the back. Just like your party, enemies tend to lose access to their best skills when out of position, so it can often be worth spending one or two attacks shuffling them around before focusing them down. Stress is every bit as dangerous as damage and harder to heal. Prioritize enemies that cause extra stress. Don't stick in a death spiral. If one of your party members hits maximum stress and picks up an affliction like Irrational, Paranoid, or Masochist, it's best to abandon the missions than press on unless you're on the very last fight or two. Afflicted party members have a tendency to pull the other party members down with them, piling on stress, disobeying orders, refusing heals, and so on. It's better to suffer some group stress and rally than to lose an entire team.
Darkest Dungeon tips photo
When the abyss stares, don't blink
Darkest Dungeon is a terrifically difficult game that delights in torturing the player. You could spend hours fine tuning the perfect party only to encounter a new enemy type or area that absolutely demolishes them. It's a na...

Review: Darkest Dungeon

Jan 27 // Nic Rowen
Darkest Dungeon (PC)Developer: Red Hook StudiosPublisher: Red Hook StudiosReleased: January 19, 2016MSRP: $19.99 Darkest Dungeon is an absolutely merciless exercise in roguelike themes. It is all about micromanagement, skillful use of scarce resources, determination in the face of insurmountable odds, and the ability to press on after a particularly bad roll of the RNG wipes out your All-Star squad of heroes. Make no mistake, it can be frustrating. Unlike other roguelikes you may have played where the whims of fortune sabotage a 30-minute run or one mission, Darkest Dungeon has no problem with wiping out hours of investment in a character or trinket. If that sounds like the kind of thing that would make you break your keyboard over your knee, consider a trip to the dungeon carefully. If you have a dark streak of sadism in you though, you may have just found your game.  While the game is certainly fiendish in its difficulty and brutal with its punishments, you're not totally helpless to luck and chance. Darkest Dungeon is a game played in two distinct portions. The first is a sort of management and strategic level where you direct resources to different parts of your ancestral hamlet and roster of warriors. The other is the actual dungeon dive, the tactical application of all that planning and building, the individual choices of which hallway to go down, which darkened corner to peer into, and which enemy should be brought low in what order. Through skillful manipulation of both levels, victory can be snatched from seemingly impossible challenges. In the hamlet, you are the omniscient master of the land, deciding who to hire, who to send on adventures, and which institutions to upgrade. Each aspect of the hamlet plays a crucial role in fighting the dark. The Stagecoach ferries fresh meat and raw recruits to bolster your ranks and replace the fallen. Services provided at the Guild and Blacksmith can improve your warriors' skills and equipment. The Sanitarium will remove diseases of the mind and body (for a steep fee) that may otherwise render a hero useless. Of course, the Abbey and Bar are necessary to provide comfort, meaning, and solace to your men. Whether they relax through quiet meditation, or through the fleshy pleasures of the neighborhood brothel, paying for a few nights worth of recuperation can save them from breaking in the next dungeon. Properly investing in the right aspects of your hamlet at the right time is just as important as making wise decisions in battle. All of the different services are desperately necessary and, especially at the beginning of the game, you'll never have enough coin or heirlooms (different upgrade resources needed for different buildings) to maintain them all. You need to be crafty and shrewd, making your meager wealth stretch as far as it can go while knowing you are compromising in one area to prop up another. The same merciless economics apply to your roster. Heroes cost a fortune to upgrade with better weapons and higher-level skills – an investment that can be lost in an instant to a bad battle. Otherwise potent warriors can also slowly become crippled by afflictions and phobias after too many trips to the dungeon, and while all maladies can be cured, the cost sometimes outweighs the benefit. Knowing when it's best to spend money to rehabilitate a Crusader who picked up a drinking habit and fear of the occult after his last disastrous mission, or when to spend that money equipping and upgrading his replacement, is the pitiless key to progression. In the dungeon, the emphasis switches from the overarching, to the granular. In the 2D side-to-side lineup of the characters, it is of the utmost importance to carefully consider where each of your heroes stands. Every hero and monster possesses skills that can only be used from one position or another that will only effect a foe standing in specific spots. Some of these can be quite general, for example being anywhere in the first few rows will generally let a Bounty Hunter attack anyone in the opposite first three rows. Contrarily, the Hellion with her swooping spear has a move that she can only use in the very first rank to attack the very last opponent. While it sounds needlessly obscure, that single move became one of my favorites in the entire game.  With 14 different classes to choose from, each of whom have seven possible combat skills that are all limited in terms of where they can be used and what they can hit, experimentation is key. There is no ideal team or strategy to be found. Different adventurers do better or worse in specific areas based on their damage type and common skills and you need to adjust. You can crutch on the Crusader and Vestal to wade through the skeletons of the Ruins with their extra damage against the unholy and the lack of nuance in the skeleton's attack plan. When you get to the twisted mermen and giant crabs of the Cove however, you'll want a strong Man-at-Arms to defend the front-line while a Plague Doctor hurls poison blight that will do more damage than any sword trying to pierce their scales. While in most RPGs the heroes are never in danger from rank-and-file monsters, in Darkest Dungeon, every battle holds the potential for defeat – either from a splashy total party wipe, or the slow erosion of a party's ability to press on. Healing is an uphill climb. There are only a few classes capable of restoring other party members and their heals are meager or rely on swings of luck. Some characters are capable of healing themselves, but these are often front-line warriors who are better off attacking a monster than trying to frantically repair damage. You don't recover anything after a battle, so a victory in the moment can set your party up for total defeat in the next if the enemy undermines you enough. Knowing when to abandon a quest and when to stick it out is an important judgment call, but while retreating may save your life, it also burdens the party with the stressful shame of coming back to town empty handed. Stress is a significant factor in every battle. Some of the most dangerous and insidious monsters in the game have very weak attacks, but can do things that cause your party stress. When a hero reaches a critical point of stress, their resolve will be tested in a moment of truth. Sometimes a hero will have a moment of valiant triumph and when the abyss stares into them they will not blink, becoming stronger for the experience. All the more common though, the frailty of man is revealed and a warrior will suffer a psychological break. An affliction of the mind is a terrible thing. Party members afflicted with paranoia, masochism, selfishness, or those who turn their abuse outward will drag the party down. They'll disobey orders, refuse heals or buffs out of distrust and fear, hurl insults or sing mad ramblings that unnerve the other fighters. If you let them, a broken fighter will hamstring healthy ones. You either need to cure them or cut them loose. Exploring each dungeon is done in a slightly odd manner. You always move across the screen in a straight line from left-to-right when traveling from hallways to rooms. A map grid lets you choose your route and with a little luck and a few stat-boosting skills, the occasional scouting report will let you see your opposition and potential treasure in advance. A torch light system dynamically changes the difficulty – the more well lit you keep the dungeon, the easier it is. Keep the light low and your party will quiver with fear and you'll encounter stronger monsters, but the treasures to be found will be that much greater to reward your bravery. Simply moving through these dungeons takes a toll on your adventurers. Stress accumulates as you dive deeper into the beast's lair, and retreating only causes more. Traps litter each area. The observant explorer can disarm them with a little luck, but even the most wary party is likely to stumble into a few. Curiosities like ancient scrolls, pagan shrines, and freshly dug graves tempt the party to test fate as each oddity they encounter has the potential for reward or affliction. Reading an old scroll is as likely to provide insight as it is to shatter the mind with a grim revelation. Properly provisioning your party with supplies helps tilt these odds in your favor. If you pack holy water, you can cleanse occult talismans. A shovel will let you pass an obstacle of rubble without stressing your party out by making them dig by hand. Bandages and medicinal herbs can staunch bleeding, remove debuffs, and allow the safe handling of unsanitary crevasses or torture equipment one may find in a dungeon. At this point, I'm fine with everything Darkest Dungeon has to offer, even where I can see elements that will bother other players. I think the management aspect is interesting and I like that is pushes you to cultivate diverse teams and experiment even if some players will likely be annoyed that they can't focus on a favored team composition. The battle system is fantastic, despite the occasional bad turns of luck that can feel unfair and some of the cheaper enemies that become more frustrating than thrilling. Unfortunately, even while I enjoy those mechanics, Darkest Dungeon manages to wear out its welcome due to the sheer grind demanded of the player. At certain points, when ascending to a new level plateau or encountering a new sort of boss, the difficulty spikes to a degree that is way out of hand. You'll be thrilled when you get your first squad of adventurers to level three and they will no longer bother themselves with lower-level missions. A new challenge! Sadly, you'll likely find that team totally unprepared for the newfound challenge and probably beat a hasty retreat or lose a few of them. With them now too weak to do the missions they are leveled for, and too haughty to deign running an easier mission, you'll have to park them for hours as you grind other teams trying to find trinkets to give them the edge and upgrade the guild and blacksmith to a point where they can reach full potential. The amount of busywork needed to prop up more valuable heroes and expand the hamlet becomes too much. Running squads of lowly heroes you have no intention of keeping just so you can get enough heirloom scrolls to level up the Blacksmith quickly devolves into tedium. This is especially pronounced at the very end of the game where you need several fully leveled teams of four to take on the last series of missions. Not only are the missions tremendously difficult, but retreating from one guarantees one member will die. Adding to this, once a warrior successfully completes one of the final missions, they won't go on another. You end up in a situation where you can easily burn a team or two to a party wipe, easily lose one or two members to a retreat, and then end up with nobody suitable on the roster left to take on the next mission. Instead, you're expected to grind yet more characters up to full level for another run. God help you if you lose your last Vestal and need to take a fresh healer from level zero to six. Eventually, the economy tends towards abundance and you'll have plenty of gold to streamline the process as much as possible, but you'll still need to run more than a dozen missions to get them fit for duty. This is where Darkest Dungeon stumbles and my own mind turns to darkness. When I start the mental arithmetic of how much work it will take to just to make another attempt at the final dungeons, I reel and sputter. Hours and hours of stress and suffering just for a chance at the end? This is no way for rational people to spend their time. You'd have to be mad. And yet you'll do it. You'll do it because at this point the game will have its hooks in you and you won't be able to let go. If you've stuck with it to that point, you might grumble and moan like me, but you'll press on. Maybe the developers meant for it to be so. A commentary on unhinged ambition, a way of making you feel as weary and beaten down as that Crusader nursing his second week in a row at the bar, dragging his feet towards another inevitable damned expedition. Despite the grind, despite the perhaps undue commitment to brutality, and despite what I feel is a joke at the player's expense at the end, Darkest Dungeon still manages to be one of the most engaging and intriguing roguelikes I've ever played and I'll probably still be diving dungeons and trying new party compositions weeks from now. After all, it would be madness to stop at this point. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.] 
Darkest Dungeon review photo
What we are in the dark
Most games gloss right over the psychological effects of combat and stress. RPGs see parties of cheery young adventurers slaughter their way through entire countrysides worth of kobolds and giant rats for the sake of justice ...

Li-Ming is a powerhouse in Heroes of the Storm, but not overly so

Jan 27 // Chris Carter
[embed]337067:62020:0[/embed] I took her for a spin in PTR this week, and I have to say I'm impressed. Her magic missile ability is really fun to aim, as it alters its skillshot path depending on the amount of heroes present. It allows for a unique kill potential that a lot of players won't be expecting when she's fresh on the roster. Her Arcane Orb is also really fun to use, especially on objective-heavy maps like Cursed Hollow. Throwing a few of those bad boys in will definitely disrupt things more than most characters, and if you score a kill, Li-Ming's passive refreshes your cooldowns. A five second cooldown on teleport also makes her quite the mobile character, especially on maps with lots of twists and turns to phase through. She's fun to play if you're quick with your fingers, as she can both chase and escape (or dodge) damage on a near constant basis. Think of her first Heroic as a modified Diablo Lightning Breath, as she remains stationary for an angled beam attack. It's damage on top of damage, and it works with her passive. But where Li-Ming falters is utility and crowd control. Unlike Kael'thas who has a killer stun, zoning Phoenix Heroic, and a similar kit, Li-Ming is pure damage. Her teleport is self-serving, as is her passive. Her second Heroic can be used as a minor zoning power of sorts with a forgiving 20-second cooldown, but it just isn't enough, and takes insane coordination to really set up a kill like a stun can. As a result, I think Li-Ming is in a good spot balance-wise. Sure she seems overpowered at first glance, but I can already think of a few counters, and she just hit the PTR. Since their debut, Artanis and Morales (the latter especially) have climbed in winrate, as Blizzard tends to favor newer creations first when it comes to balancing. As such, Li-Ming seems like a safe bet to buy when she arrives in early February -- at the very least, she'll be a competent pick. There's also a few big changes coming, as Nova and Rehgar have been completely reworked (nerfs and buffs respectively), and a ton of new stuff is on the way.
Heroes of the Storm photo
Up now on PTR
The last two characters in Heroes of the Storm have ended up with rather disappointing when it comes to rankings. After two weeks, Greymane is the fourth worst hero in terms of win-rate, and Lunara is the fifth worst. That's ...

Nintendo 3DS's spring is an oasis of JRPGs

Jan 26 // Steven Hansen
Project X Zone 2 is full Japanese gaming fan service with appearances by the likes of anyone from Street Fighter's Ryu to Devil May Cry's Dante and Vergil to Shenmue's Ryo Hazuki to SPace Channel 5's Ulala. It's coming to 3DS February 16. Bravely Second: End Layer hits Europe on February 26 and the states on April 15. There are 12 new jobs in this old school JRPG from Square Enix, including Catmancer, a class that trains cats to use enemies' skills (like the past game's Vampire). Another involves throwing cake at people. It also tried to "take the pain out of the grinding" with a "let it ride" system where random battles will flow into one another so you don't have to run back and forth to trigger another. The caveat is that if you finally lose, there goes all the accumulated experience from those battles. It also "might be longer than Bravely Default." Plus, here are some actual lines of dialogue from Bravely Second: End Layer. Note: "Ba'als" is pronounced "balls." Like balls. "She studies Ba'als." "Ba'al buster Magnolia Arch is on the job." "A new Ba'al is headed this way and it's my job to bust it." "It's...it's huge [referring to a Ba'al]." "I'm Magnolia Arch and it's time to bust some Ba'als." The localization team went Ba'als to the wall with this joke. Oh, hey, Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow -- yes, the originals -- are coming to the 3DS eShop on February 27? Time to find out how well that game is actually balanced 20 years later. Also to argue over which version's sprites were best. Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King and Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past are also coming to 3DS in 2016, with Dragon Quest VII coming first. It won't have random battles, instead getting treats like Dragon Quest VIII with enemies on a world map and other additions.
JRPG spring lineup photo
Six within a month
Fire Emblem Fates is just a few weeks away (February 19) and I'll finally have a reason to re-glue my face to my 3DS and play nosy match-maker. But the two versions of Fates are just, uh, two of the JRPGs (and adjacent genres...

Do you care about the story in fighting games?

Jan 26 // Nic Rowen
Personally, I'm of two minds on the idea. I enjoyed MKX and Injustice's story modes (cheesy as both of them got on occasion) and I think some of the character representations in those storylines probably influenced my decision of who to main. Those single-player stories made me look at the characters differently, got me legitimately interested in the worlds of the game (I actually bought the first volume of the Injustice comic series), and gave me something to hold on to when the online matchmaking was broken on PC (yes, I'm still salty). On the other hand, I've played hundreds upon hundreds of hours of SF Alpha 3 and MvC without every giving a single solitary thought about the story. If you asked me what the key plot points of Alpha 3 were, all I could tell you is that Zangief pile drives Honda into M. Bison's world domination machine because that is almost all I can remember. When you put it like that, it seems like the cost and effort of putting a story in a fighting game is completely optional if the core fighting is good enough to stand on its own. What do you think? Are stories important in fighting games?
Fighting game stories photo
Talk, talk, punch, punch
As Steven reported yesterday, Yoshinori Ono and the team at Capcom are taking the story mode of Street Fighter V seriously. Sure, they'll have the usual arcade mode intro/wrap-up for every character like Street Fighter has ha...

Ono: Street Fighter won't see a SFIII-style reboot 'as long as I'm involved'

Jan 25 // Steven Hansen
"What we actually learned through from Street Fighter III and putting in all those new characters we found out that the really hardcore people really enjoy it," Ono said through a translator, though pantomiming enough that I understood about 30% of every answer before the English came in. "They really enjoyed playing all the new characters and figuring out how to use them, but it was very difficult to bring back the old generation of players who played Street Fighter II because they weren't sure, 'Who is this character? Why should I care about them? Why should I play this game?' "Now I've reached this super high point in the Street Fighter series...I can very safely say that as long as I'm involved in the game we won't be taking that approach, of a lot of brand new characters." Hopes dashed. The me who sells his last good kidney for a PlayStation 5 is going to be crestfallen. Still, fair. Ono helped resuscitate the franchise with SFIV and the steps forward with SFV are all admirable. There's the "completely different direction" for post-launch content. Balance updates are all free for everyone, forever instead of tied to a new release with more confusing naming conventions ("it ended up segmenting everyone"). The first of six DLC characters is coming in March and playing through all characters' stories, survival, or online should earn enough Fight Money to get that first character for free. Then the in-game store opens up for the first time ("SFV does not have any day one DLC") along with new "Daily Challenges," the long-term method for players to generate Fight Money. It's a straightforward system that's good on paper, one instance where "games-as-service" doesn't leave me shuddering. The big news today is that there are individual character stories, per usual ("we always felt that that was kind of enough"), but also a big story with over an hour of in-engine cinematics coming in June as free DLC. "In Street Fighter IV we set out to try and bring everything together," Ono said. "We wrote each of the character's stories so it all kind of makes sense. But even after doing that there was a lot space in between where we finished off in Street Fighter IV and where Street Fighter III was. We're finally going to be encapsulating the entire Street Fighter universe." While the pro scene helped carry Street Fighter IV further than those of us who sniffed around its first iteration based on name alone, "a lot of the casual fans were speaking up" with regards to more story (be it in a new game or as a new anime series). "We came back with that feedback and thought about it," Ono said. "We saw that Ubisoft's got these immersive, awesome story experiences like with Assassin's Creed; we have it with Resident Evil; and looking at Mortal Kombat in recent history, they're trending that way as well." Erhm -- Assassin's Creed's story? Ok. That's where the June story expansion comes in to offer "a very clear picture of the Street Fighter universe" up to that point, with characters' individual stories cluing them in on other finer details. "We're really hoping people are going to become new Street Fighter fans throughout that process." A story isn't the only consideration for new players, for new potential fans. The word the team most frequently uses to describe Street Fighter V is a "reset," an even playing field. Ono notes that the SFIV player base "narrowed very quickly," likening it to the best baseball players working their way into the pros, and other onetime-players petering out. So you get characters like Rashid, meant to be an easy choice for new players. "The director was nice enough to design the character that way," Ono said. "After he designed Rashid he came up to me and said, 'Oh, I think this is someone even Ono-san will be able to use.'" It goes beyond that, though. There are the new V-Skills, which are unique to each fighter, opening up a network of metagame possibilities. Parrying was a core mechanic in Street Fighter III. Here, that entire mechanic is only used by Ryu.  "How do we keep Street Fighter's DNA and at the same time have characters have their own personality," Ono asked rhetorically. "This time, in order for Ryu to have his own personality" beyond the classic signifiers of hadoken et al, it's the parry. "Adding personality to the characters was a really big deal for us." In Ryu's case, that's provided you can execute. "Even for somebody like me, or Matt sitting next to me, [the Mind's Eye parrying] is also too hard for us to use," Ono giggled. The point, though, is not just accessibility, but to "reset the playing field and invite as many new players as possible." The V-Skills offer opportunity beyond that, "we understand that there are people who are out there who are playing neighborhood baseball." There will also be leagues in online play to try and keep matches competitive by skill level. Of course, Street Fighter V is also the "first product developed from the ground up with eSports in mind," according to Capcom's Matt Dahlgren. It will be balanced around the Capcom pro tour (where the game will run on PS4), meaning large balance updates will come during the offseason (January-February), giving pros enough time to react and train for EVO and the following Capcom tour. The goal is to, "stick to our guns for a whole season," though if any particularly egregious balancing problem presents itself (complete leaderboard and tournament dominance), there are quick fixes. "Knee-jerk reactions can stifle the community, it doesn't give the respect it deserves to players who came up with those tactics, and it prevents the meta game from forming where players can come up with counter tactics," Dahlgren said. I asked Ono if the individual V-Skills made this the hardest Street Fighter to balance and they did seem to be a factor, but "balancing is always hard. It's hard every single time." Especially with the lack of an arcade release this time around. Ono sees Street Fighter as a "a fighting tool" where the one on one battling reigns despite more effort put into single-player content. And so from designing characters that are a bit easier to use to, "input leniency we put in place so people feel like they can do what they're trying to do with their characters," the feel is important. "We're offering bats, balls, and gloves," Ono explained, with what must've been the fourth baseball metaphor, at which point I had to veer off course and ask if it was pure idiom or if Ono loved baseball. "I really like baseball," he laughed "It just happens to be that Capcom is moving offices next door to AT&T Park [in San Francisco, where the Giants play] and as a result I'm super-looking forward to this move because now I'm going to have even more chances to see baseball games here in the US. But if this gets out into this article and people from Capcom USA read this then people internally at Capcom might think, 'Hey, man, we got to do this freaking move just because Ono likes baseball!?' So there's a potential where I could be getting some complaints internally." The metaphors do go beyond a love for the sport a bit, though, as Ono praised the Major Leagues (be it Major League Baseball or the National Football League), which have done well in cultivating "sports as entertainment." Versus shit people do for sport, like hunting or seeing how long they can look at local real estate pricing without eating a gun. And Street Fighter can be entertaining to watch. Especially if Ono gets his R. Mika wish. "I kind of bought her way into this game by paying a bonus to the director and telling him, 'Put R. Mika in,'" Ono laughed. He is "really looking forward to, at next year's Capcom Cup, someone using R. Mika and doing the mic performance long enough to unleash the super powerful move to beat their opponent. Everyone's going to get up and cheer, but at the same time they're cheering they'll be laughing their asses off." Just about the only people not cheering and laughing are folks carrying water for characters that have yet to be announced. Skullomania. Q. Sakura. Dan. Dudley. Blanka. Ono talked about unveiling Laura at the Brazil Game Show where, "everyone realized, 'Oh, so, Blanka really isn't in the game, is he?'" He gets the question more often than any snub, likely because of the toy Blanka he carries around. Whether Blanka even fits in the Street Fighter V roster is, apparently, "quite uncertain because Laura herself has electric-based attacks so it maybe doesn't leave a whole lot of room." Ono picked up the Blanka figure from the table and asked: "Is there any hope for you?"
Yoshinori Ono interview photo
His fav fighter, reason for Capcom move
Aside from the immortal Street Fighter II and the clever (in a "Die Hard is my favorite Christmas movie" kind of way) Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo nod, Street Fighter III is probably my favorite in the series. The number of ...

Podtoid 320: Grandma is a Climate Denier

Jan 25 // Kyle MacGregor
[embed]336366:61968:0[/embed] Recent Episodes: Podtoid 319: Kangaroo Hotdish Podtoid 318: Oculus Butt Plug Podtoid 317: Sad Christmas Podtoid 316: My Bowels Are Strange Podtoid 315: Happy Wife, Happy Life Want to help the show? Send questions to [email protected] or leave a comment below.
PODCAST photo
Bless her heart
Subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or download it here. Podtoid is back with another 56 minutes of witty banter spanning lovely topics like The Big Short, Hollywood racism, unwanted Steam gifts, Darren's grandma, Lost Odyssey, Oxenfree, The Witness, Destiny, Donski's bizarre yearning for a Guitar Hero remaster, and other things too, probably.

News roundup photo
Also included: Kirby's penis
Another week, another wave of gaming news that’s almost impossible to keep up with! Last week we had dog poo, this week we have Jonathan Blow’s wee. I kind of hope that bodily waste doesn’t become a running ...

The evolution of doujin brawler Croixleur

Jan 24 // Kyle MacGregor
To say Croixleur has come a long way since I first encountered the game three years ago would be a massive understatement. The original PC release, or at least the localized version boutique publisher Nyu Media released in January 2013, was light on content and rough around the edges. Inspired by Devil May Cry's Bloody Palace mode, the game initially starred the red-haired Lucrezia, a young noblewoman on a quest to fight her way through a gauntlet of arena battles known as the Adjuvant Trial. While the story was largely inconsequential, the experience of fighting my way up the Nitro Towers and racing against the clock (the story mode must be completed in fifteen minutes or less) was a downright enjoyable, arcadey romp -- and one hell of a challenge. While it certainly took me more (much more) than one attempt to successfully complete the main campaign, once I did, I discovered there wasn't much else to the game other than bonus modes, like score attack and survival, to flesh out the package. It left something to be desired. [embed]336428:61974:0[/embed] That situation improved when Souvenir Circ. debuted the initial version of Croixleur Sigma at Comiket 85, introducing a new playable character, more weapons, a second story mode, two-player co-op, a new challenge mode, voice acting, online leaderboards, and mild visual upgrades. Don't get me wrong, it was (and still is) a simplistic game, but that extra content went a long way toward making Croixleur feel less like a severed bonus mode and more like its own game. The recent PlayStation 4 and forthcoming PlayStation Vita versions improve the experience even more, though, giving the game a dramatic facelift, both in terms of content and visuals. Souvenir Circ. went back and gave the game a completely fresh lick of paint, adding shine and detail to what was once a dull-looking game. Lucrezia and friends certainly clean up nicely. Speaking of those friends, the PlayStation version also includes a pair of new faces, both of which come with 30-minute campaigns that make the original game feel like a cakewalk. Between those and the new 50-floor dungeon mode, the game is definitely no longer hurting for content. And on top of that, there's a myriad of useful new equipment to collect, incentivizing repeat playthroughs. Pulling up the original game and playing it side by side with the new PlayStation release, it's nice to see how far Croixleur has come over the years. And I'm happy to have been along for the ride.
Doujin Dojo photo
From Alpha to Sigma
Doujin Dojo is a sporadic column dedicated to spotlighting independent games from Japan and the people that make them. In the years I've been following Comiket, Japan's biannual indie media festival, one thing ...

The Division has unexpected accoutrements on PC

Jan 23 // Zack Furniss
If you wish, you can also switch back and forth between the controller and keyboard without any re-calibration. Text chat also allows for communication between players if you don't want to role-play like the actors in the game's initial announcement. All of these little things sound like basic features in an MMO, but they're usually forgotten in multi-platform titles, and it's great to see them incorporated here. Of course, you can make it look real purdy, too. The Division supports multiple video cards, 4K resolution, unlocked frame rate, HBAO+, and three monitors. I played it on two, and dealt with an amusing problem where my aiming reticle was between the two monitors whenever I used a scope, so I became the most useless sniper ever. Other than that, the PC version ran flawlessly, and the extra frame rate afforded by the more powerful hardware gave the game a punchier feel. The only downside is that there will be no mod support. The team told me "Since The Division is an online, open-world action-RPG, its genre makes modding support technically challenging." We'll see what crafty players can come up with. Tom Clancy's The Division is planned for release on March 8, 2016.
Tom Clancy's The Division photo
Thank goodness for a good inventory
A couple weeks back, I went to a Ubisoft event to play Tom Clancy's The Division. You can find my overall impressions here (Choice quote: "There are quite a few options that assist in your eradication of the homeless and dise...

Experience Points .30: Dragon's Dogma

Jan 23 // Ben Davis
Mount your foes Ever since Shadow of the Colossus came out, I've always wondered why climbing on monsters never really became a thing. It's an effective strategy for dealing with massive enemies, and it really opens up options for interesting combat as well. But these days, it seems like monster climbing is relegated to quick time events, like in God of War and Bayonetta, where the majority of combat takes place on the ground or in the air, but every once in a while Kratos or Bayonetta jump up onto a giant foe to chop off its body parts, as long as the player remembers to press X at the right moment.Dragon's Dogma revisits the idea presented by Shadow of the Colossus, allowing players to grab onto enemies and climb around them in the heat of combat. This often makes it easier to deal tons of damage in a short amount of time. I could just latch onto one of that Hydra's heads and hack away for as long as my stamina allowed, or until the creature decides it's tired of being poked by some insect and tries to dislodge me. Even smaller enemies could be grabbed, but usually this was only useful for holding them in place while the pawns attacked freely. My favorite thing to do is to climb atop a flying enemy, such as a Griffin, so that I could keep stabbing it even when it tries to fly away. Some of my most thrilling moments involved slashing away at a vicious Griffin's back as it soared through the sky, its feathers catching fire thanks to my mages, until it finally plummeted back to the ground all bloody, singed, and ragged as I hopped off triumphantly to finish the deed. Those kills were always the most satisfying! Pawn to King 4 The pawn mechanic is an idea unique to Dragon's Dogma, or at least I can't think of another game that has done something similar in quite the same way. Along with creating a main character (the Arisen), players also get to create a pawn, their primary sidekick throughout the game. Pawns act on their own, but the player can choose their equipment, combat strategies, personalities, and so forth. And for a game with such a robust character creator, being able to make two different characters in any given playthrough was a godsend. I made my fighter pawn, Demetrius, a thin, muscular, bald man with a full beard. Eventually, I got him equipped with a huge, rather intimidating spiked mace, and gave him an incognito mask and a golden belt. He basically looked like an executioner who had just won a wrestling championship. Not sure what I was going for, but I thought he looked pretty cool anyway.Pawns also act as the primary way to interact with other people online. By entering a Rift Stone, players can browse through pawns created by others and enlist up to two into their own party. These pawns will have all the equipment and stats provided by their creators, and they might even know some strategies for defeating certain enemies or info about specific quests that the player has yet to encounter. Once a player is done using someone else's pawn, they can send along ratings, messages, and gifts to the original creator. I had a lot of fun simply viewing everyone's pawns to see what they came up with, from the beautiful to the grotesque.I always enjoyed logging back in every now and then to see how my own pawn was doing and find out whether or not he had been helping other people on their adventures. Demetrius received above average ratings and seemed to come back with a lot of different gifts for me, so I'm glad at least a few people got some use out of him. I figured his wrestler/executioner style might get him noticed in the Rift due to his bizarre, yet menacing demeanor. I wonder if someone is still using him today. Three heads are better than one I'm very fond of the enemy designs in Dragon's Dogma. They're based on classic depictions of mythical beasts, so even though they're not particularly fantastic or unique, they have a certain traditional charm to them. They almost look unusually realistic, at least compared to most other video games that contain the same types of monsters. My favorite enemy was the Chimera, one of the more common giant beasts to be found in the game. A chimera is simply a hybrid monster made up of different parts from more than one kind of animal, most commonly depicted as a lion with a goat's head protruding from its back and a snake for a tail. And that's exactly what the Chimera in Dragon's Dogma looks like.Chimeras are so fun to fight because of all the different tactics that can be used to defeat them. Each of its three heads have their own specialties; the lion primarily uses physical attacks, the goat casts magic, and the snake can inflict poison. Each head can also be “killed” independently, so its up to the player to decide which part of the Chimera to destroy first. Personally, I liked to take out the snake first, followed by the goat, and finish with the lion. The best part is seeing the effects of damage in action. The snake head can be chopped off entirely, leaving a severed, bloody stump of a tail flailing around. The goat head will remain attached to the body, but once it's been defeated, it comically flops around like a limp rubber toy. It's even possible to kill the lion head first, in which case it sort of droops and rolls around sadly while the goat and snake keep up the attack. It's a bit unsettling how much I enjoy watching a Chimera suffer, really. Your Dragon Aside from the pawns, another way for players to interact with others online was through the dreaded Ur-Dragon. This massive, undead dragon is the most powerful enemy in the game. While playing online, it's simply not feasible for any one player to defeat it on their own. Instead, the battle employs an asynchronous cooperative component, meaning players from around the world will be working together to slay the beast. Damage from each individual player will slowly stack over time until the Ur-Dragon has finally been defeated. Players lucky enough to be fighting during the killing blow will have the chance to earn some nice rewards, and any other player who contributed to the Ur-Dragon's death can enter the Chamber of Lament later to claim some loot as well. Afterwards, the next generation of the Ur-Dragon will spawn as an even more powerful foe than the last. This type of idea isn't anything new, as similar things have been done in some MMOs, but they're still fun to participate in every now and then. I fought a few of the earlier generations of Ur-Dragons, but never managed to land a killing blow (aside from offline). Last I checked, the PlayStation 3 Ur-Dragon was around Generation 800, so it's pretty cool that people are still fighting them. The legendary Hot Pants, forged in dragon's flame This one may seem a bit random at first, but it has to do with one of my funniest moments. There is a ton of equipment to choose from in Dragon's Dogma, ranging from practical, to stylish, to revealing. While there is some gender-specific clothing, most pieces can be worn by either gender – even some of the more revealing ones. Whenever I play games like this, I tend to choose equipment that I think looks good on my character, so I go for the highest possible stats while still trying to look nice.In my first playthrough, I left the first town with not much armor to speak of, since the shops didn't really have much to offer. Since I was playing a Strider, I wanted light armor anyway, so I was dressed in cloth wrappings and a pair of short pants, which basically look like denim hot pants. Not gonna lie, my beefy adventurer could really rock those short pants! I figured I would find better armor later, but eventually I was in Gran Soren and still wearing those short pants. Everything else I could find was either worse stats-wise or just plain ugly. And then I began adventuring farther north and encountered my first Drake. Why mention the Drake? Well, upon defeating a Drake, or any other dragon-type enemy, there is a chance for a piece of equipment to become “dragon forged,” meaning it automatically reaches the highest level of enhancement, past the normal three-star level. And it just so happened that the one piece of equipement to become dragon forged was my pair of short pants. Suddenly, this silly piece of sexy clothing was one of my most powerful possessions. It was a sign – my Arisen was born to wear these short pants. I never switched them out for the remainder of the game, because it was too perfect that they were the first thing to become dragon forged. Plus, by that point, they basically provided more defense than the majority of other pants anyway. My Arisen gets to show off his well-toned legs and can still take a beating doing it. That's definitely a win-win in my book! What is love? Romance options in games have never really interested me all that much. This is partly because there are usually no gay options, but even when it is an option (Mass Effect, Dragon Age), the romance subplots still feel weird, stiff, and out of place in context with the rest of the game for whatever reason. Romance in Dragon's Dogma is also really weird. Like, super weird. So weird that I actually kind of enjoyed it. You see, at a certain point in the game, a character is chosen as the player's “beloved.” Grigori, the antagonistic dragon (dragon-tagonist, if you will), kidnaps the beloved, supposedly as a way to get the player all fired up for revenge and rescue of the character they love most. However, most players won't know who they'll be rescuing until the big reveal. It's like a surprise love interest, and given the romance options provided by the game, the results can be hilarious.Almost any character in Dragon's Dogma can become the beloved. This includes characters of any gender or age, even children and the elderly. That's right, a player might get to the end of the game only to find out that their handsome, burly Arisen is in love with a frail, elderly woman. Or a small child. Or the court jester who bears a striking resemblance to The Legend of Zelda's Tingle (*shiver*). The perceived randomness of it all, while surely annoying to some, was very entertaining to me. I never knew who I was going to romance, and I always looked forward to the eventual reveal.Of course, there are ways to increase the chances of getting a specific beloved, primarily by completing certain quests and giving lots of gifts to increase affinity. However, even knowing that, it's still rather difficult to get who you want. I always had my beefy, bearded Arisen flirt with the armory merchant, Caxton. He may have some annoying catch phrases, but at least he has a nice beard! Apparently, my copious amount of gifts were not enough to woo him, though, because I always ended up with either the young witch, Selene, or the sultry merchant, Madeleine. Dammit, Caxton, quit leaving me with all these ladies! They're nice people, I'm sure, but you're the masterwork of my heart! Where did I go wrong? Past Experience Points Level 1: .01 - .20 .21: Katamari Damacy.22: Tomb Raider.23: Mother 3.24: Deadly Premonition.25: Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars.26: Dark Souls.27: GoldenEye 007 .28: Pokémon Red/Blue .29: Skies of Arcadia
Dragon's Dogma photo
Masterworks all, you can't go wrong!
Experience Points is a series in which I highlight some of the most memorable things about a particular game. These can include anything from a specific scene or moment, a character, a weapon or item, a level or location, a p...

Blade & Soul reminds me of TERA, which is both good and bad

Jan 21 // Chris Carter
From the screens alone, it's easy to see that Blade & Soul is a beautiful game, and that has translated very well into the localization. The western version even features fully-voiced cutscenes in English (even the screenshot feature gives you a vocal confirmation, with widescreen support to boot), which is a nice touch and adds to the already impressive in-game engine. I actually don't even mind the voice acting at all, but it's nice that said scenes can be skipped. Everything on the UI can also be customized, for those of you who yearn for full control. It's important to note that this is a free-to-play game, where real money purchases will net players items, more skill build slots, and extra character slots. "Premium Memberships" grant you increased XP, more gold, and in-game discounts. For reference, a 365-day membership costs roughly $125, and many bonuses are not cosmetic in nature, including faster death recovery time, crafting items, and the aforementioned XP and gold bonuses. The game is playable in its free incarnation without feeling like you're entirely missing out, but keep that all in mind. I'm surprised at how smooth the game runs in general, which helps as the combat system is more action-oriented than most games in the genre. Combat is much, much faster than most MMOs, sporting a full-on action system inspired by fighting games. The default control scheme uses left mouse button for standard attacks with a built-in combo of sorts, with right-click and additional buttons (1-4 by default) reserved for alternate abilities. Blocking and dodging is a key mechanic in Blade & Soul, which gives combat situations a lot more weight than your average MMO (just like TERA). Playing as the Blade Dancer class, I had to time my two-second block to essentially counter and riposte at the exact moment, which allows for even small skirmishes to be pretty engaging. Grinding for abilities actually has more of a point, as you're not just gaining new powers that are essential for a slugfest-based rotation, but situational abilities that can be used to gain a tactical advantage. I particularly enjoy sprinting, as it's done by pressing the shift key, instantly putting a pep in your step, while triggering an impressive super leap when jumping. The fact that you get a flying squirrel-like glide after a few minutes really drives home how mobile this game really is. The endurance meter is rather generous, too. [embed]335735:61948:0[/embed] Controller support exists, but it's not ideal. Face buttons are tied to abilities by default, which works, but additional tasks like talking to NPCs is triggered by pressing RB+RT on an Xbox controller. It's strange, and the developer really needs to take note of how well Square Enix translated Final Fantasy XIV with its cross-hotbar system for gamepads. After acquiring just a few new abilities, I promptly switched back to mouse and keyboard -- which thankfully can be done instantly without having to swap between the two in the main menu. Xbox One remotes work by the way, wirelessly and wired. Did I mention it looks great? Because from the very first moment I stepped out of the starting area I gazed up at a gigantic floating monolith, complete with breathtaking eastern architecture and flowing waterfalls. The designs for the supporting cast don't really stand out to me per se, but the actual models have so much care put into them it's crazy. Under that glitzy surface, however, is a tried and true old school MMO. Hours upon hours are going to be spent questing for menial items, and gathering bear pelts for some dude. It's...exhausting after doing it for years, but as someone who is always playing at least one MMO, it's something I'm willing to put up with to enjoy a good combat system, and possibly spark up some dungeon runs with friends. Like most MMOs these days there have been massive launch issues, though I first jumped in shortly after NCSoft added more servers to the game. Players are still experiencing long queues for the more popular choices and maintenance is happening on a daily basis now, but expect things to get better as more people trickle out of the game. In fact, it's noticeably better now if you haven't created a character yet and want to play on a new server. One thing that hasn't been fixed however is the major gold spamming problem in chat -- it's actually one of the worst cases I've seen in years (since the launch of Aion Online, actually), and NCSoft needs to address it immediately. At the moment I'm enjoying myself, but I'm wondering if I'll hit a grind wall like I have with many other Korean MMOs. Time will tell, but for now, it's fun.
Blade & Soul photo
First impressions
Do you have time for another MMO? NCSoft sure hopes you do, as the long awaited localization of Blade & Soul has finally arrived this week. It was released in Korea in 2012 and took the country by storm, and now, nearly four long years later, it's available in the West. I took it for a spin, and found a mix of both fresh ideas and stubborn legacy concepts.

Review: Rebel Galaxy

Jan 20 // Nic Rowen
Rebel Galaxy (PC, PS4 [reviewed])Developer: Double Damage GamesPublisher: Double Damage GamesReleased: October 20, 2015 (PC), January 5, 2016 (PS4)MSRP: $19.99 Rebel Galaxy puts you in the boots of a space-faring renegade just looking to make a buck at the edge of the known universe. I mean, yes, you're estranged aunt mysteriously gifted you her old ship which was weird, and she also left you in possession of an alien artifact which, wouldn't you know it, happens to house an ancient A.I (don't they all) and you should probably look into that at some point -- but you also have to stack that paper! The main plot can be safely tackled at your leisure while you put time into building your personal net worth and outfitting the ship of your dreams. How you do that is up to you. As a kind of spiritual successor to Freelancer, Rebel Galaxy allows you to make your way through life on the rim anyway you like. As long as it involves shooting people. At every space station there is a mission board brimming with contracts from the various factions in the game. You can run drugs for a criminal cartel, bust up a pirate siege for the militia, provide some armed backup for the merchant guild, or pick up shady dead-drops for a cloak-and-dagger agency. Of course, let's not forget the most classic of all fictional space-faring economies: the glamorous world of asteroid mining. While there is plenty of outward variety in contract types, almost all of them will result in an inevitable shootout. Even the mining. Especially the mining. This is my ore and you can't have any of it. *pew pew* Thankfully, the space combat on tap is pretty damn cool. As I mentioned earlier, your ship in Rebel Galaxy performs more like a boat than a spaceship, locked on a single two-dimensional plane that you can steer around on left and right, but not up and down. Other capital ships are locked to the same plane, making standoffs with them feel like large naval battles (your most powerful weapons are actually broadside cannons, hammering home the effect). Meanwhile, smaller ships -- such as enemy fighters and your hired wingman -- zip around in a fully 3D space. They'll be coiling and wrapping around your larger vessel as you try to train your various mounted turrets on them, worry about the exposed shielding on your portside, and prepare to deflect an incoming volley of torpedoes. The battles become frantic, glorious displays. When you aren't manually aiming weapons yourself, the shipboard A.I will take over the unoccupied ones, making your ship a floating little ball of hell that is constantly spewing fire in all directions during a brawl. When you finally get a decent vessel that can mount a variety of laser turrets, homing missiles, and a full rack of broadsides, the spectacle of lights, colors, and exploding ships can be downright jaw-dropping. Active abilities like deflector shields and manually locking weapons (to make sure you don't just let auto-pilot do all the work) and different equipment set-ups can encourage some downright risky strategies if you like to roll the bones.  [embed]335426:61927:0[/embed] A reputation system governs how much each faction loves/loathes you. Taking a job from one faction pretty much always means screwing someone else over, so it is impossible to make friends with everyone. That said, it also never really came to much in my game. Space pirates hated me, the militia were kinda dickish but not overtly aggressive, and pretty much nobody else cared that I existed. It's a lot of numbers and systems that don't seem to really amount to much -- a theme that is repeated in many of the game's mechanics. Rebel Galaxy is built on a mountain of minutiae that seems important and interesting, and I suppose on an intellectual level it is, but amounts to little. For example, a living economy governs commodity trading at different stations. Not only do stations buy and sell different space tchotchkes and doodads, but the type of government that rules the station, current political situation, and other special events have an effect the market. Conditions like an arms race will bump up the price of salvaged munitions and weapons tech, for example. Where it gets really crazy, however, is that condition also spawns a treaty ship that will eventually make its way to the station to put an end to the arms race. If you'd rather keep hocking guns on a seller's market, you can go out and destroy that ship to prolong the conflict. That's all super cool but also, sadly, pointless. Those situations don't affect the plot or change anything else about the world. They just rearrange the stats on one of several dozen identical stations. While playing the market seems like a neat idea, it is also time consuming and inefficient compared to just going out and blowing stuff up. If I had to describe Rebel Galaxy in one word, it would be "broad," not "deep." There is a ton to do and all kinds of interesting interacting systems, but they only exist as curiosities. For a game that borrows so much from the likes of Firefly and the Millennium Falcons of the world, I was somewhat disappointed that there didn't seem to be any great options to play as a scoundrel, a lawbreaker with a heart of gold. You can take on illegal work and choose hardball dialog options of course, but I wanted to smuggle contraband and slick talk my way out of double-dealings. In Rebel Galaxy, walking the outlaw path has you trafficking space slaves and murdering random traders for their shitty cargo of worthless ceramic plating. It's good guy or Reaver, without a lot of gray in between. Speaking of the Firefly tone, Rebel Galaxy has a very distinct soundtrack of Kid Rock-esque tunes in an effort to capture that same space-western mystique. For the first little while I was really digging the vibe. A "dirty south meets final frontier" kind of thing. But as my time with the game stretched on and I was treated to the same three or four songs about being a "bad man" and sharing a train seat with Satan over and over again, I felt a little part of my soul chip away and drift into the void. The game constantly blares butt-rock at full volume, and every single song sounds almost exactly the same. Imagine being stuck at a NASCAR after-party that never ends and you'll get the picture. The soundtrack isn't the only thing that wears out its welcome. For as much as Rebel Galaxy wants to be a sort of deep-space simulation where you can be and do whomever and whatever you want, it all too quickly blurs together into a mushy pile of "bleh." Every mission is essentially the same, the only difference is the number and strength of the ships you'll be fighting. Every distress call is a fight with pirates (imperiled trader or "unexpected" trap, flip a coin). Every dialog interaction with bartenders, traders, and pirates run the same options and same canned responses. Enemies have such a limited arsenal of combat barks and threats I was actually hearing them in my sleep after spending a week with the game. The worse sin is that it somehow expects you to dig all of this repeated content for hours and hours on end. The game is every bit a treadmill as a typical MMO, only there is no one else to talk to and you can't make your ship dance. Every ship and piece of equipment costs exponentially more than the last. Small upgrades take half a dozen missions or more to earn, and you can forget about the high-end gear. You travel around the galaxy in real time, manually going to warp speed toward every destination, and coming to a dead stop every time a random piece of space junk floats in your way.  For a single player game that already has plenty to see and do, it feels needlessly padded. In space, no one can hear you grind. Yet, despite my many complaints, Rebel Galaxy did put a smile on my face. It's an ambitious little game that regrettably tries too hard to grab something out of its reach, but what it does get its hands on is excellent. The combat is spectacular, the atmosphere is charming (prolonged exposure to the soundtrack aside) and while there isn't as much depth to the game's systems as it would like you to believe, they are fun to poke and prod at when you get tired of blasting people with your lasers. Rebel Galaxy is the kind of game I'd want save for a rainy day when all I want to do is set my brain on auto-pilot and lose a few hours watching pretty colors and dreaming about being Han Solo. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Rebel Galaxy review photo
Aim to misbehave
I've heard people say space is an ocean. I've also heard it called the wild west of the future. With a background track of dirty butt-rock, a cast of colorful miscreants, and a movement system that feels more like steering a ...

Zack Furniss' favorite moments of 2015

Jan 18 // Zack Furniss
Bloodborne's Bagmen Hot diggety, there are so many moments I could choose in Bloodborne. I wrote this awkwardly-titled piece about how From Software so effectively used misdirection throughout the game's marketing (give it a read, that's one of my favorites!), but one particular enemy encounter immediately comes to mind. The first time you meet the Bagmen/Kidnappers, they're most likely going to kill you in just two hits. That's terrifying enough already, but instead of the regular loading screen taking you back to the last checkpoint, you're greet with a cutscene. At this moment, you watch through your Hunter's eyes as he or she is dragged into an entirely new area, the Hypogean Gaol, where you're even more lost and confused than previous environments. It doesn't help that there are enemies in this area that can slit your throat, probably killing you instantly.  When dying over and over has become routine, changing the rules and subverting your deathly expectations is a smart way to discomfit the player. Well done, From Software. SOMA's second survey For some reason or another, I kept putting off SOMA. While I had enjoyed Frictional Games' previous work, the first few hours of its new underwater horror game put me off. I'm glad I came back and finished it a couple weeks ago, though, because the themes of transhumanism and body horror are probably permanently hard-wired into my brain now. Playing as a man who wakes up in an aquatic base long after the world should have ended, you soon realize there's no point in trying to save humanity in its current state. Instead of attempting to rescue the few remaining vestiges of mankind, you turn to the ARK. This device allows people's consciousnesses to to live on in a simulated utopia by way of brain scans, feeling for all intents and purposes like real humans.  After learning about the ARK, you take a survey that asks you questions, such as "Do you think this new existence will be worth living?" and  "How would describe your current mental condition?" Since you've recently found out that you're an imprint in a robotic suit, these questions are uncomfortable, but thought-provoking. You find new hope in the idea that you will, in a way, be able to regain your body and live in this new paradise. When launching the satellite, you try to transmit your consciousness to the scan on the ARK. However, you lose the coin flip, and remain in the body in an empty base, with no one to talk to and no reason to live. Even though you just "saved" humanity, there's a lump in your throat because you didn't get to save yourself. Puts things into perspective, doesn't it, you monster? The credits roll. But it gets worse. After the credits, you awaken in the serenely beautiful simulation of the ARK as the brain scan of your duplicated consciousness. On your way through an idyllic forest, a computer monitor nonsensically juts out of the soil. You can take the same exact survey as before, but knowing that you left part of yourself down to rot underwater on Earth, it's amazing just how much your answers will most likely change. Usually, games are more interested in altering the questions of the game, so watching Frictional Games morph your answers was a delightful surprise. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt's Snowball Fight From an outsider's perspective, Geralt of Rivia sounds like a try-hard Dungeons & Dragons character made by an obnoxious friend: he has rippling muscles, wields two swords, is a mutant, has long, flowing white hair, and a magical penis that can't make babies or contract sexually-transmitted infections. Playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt with expectations of him being that simple is a mistake, though. Sometimes he has an annoyed half-grin plastered on his face; he's not above getting drunk, or trying on women's clothes, and he has a paternal, caring streak that makes him want to protect Ciri. Ciri's constantly imperiled, but can handle herself. As her father figure, you can keep defending her and trying to shelter the girl from the evils of the world, or you can accept that she's going to face danger head-on just like you've taught her. In a poignant moment, when she's struggling to learn how to use her abilities, Geralt can choose to either give her yet another lesson, or take her mind off things with a surprise snowball fight. Better yet, this is a playable moment, rather than a cutscene, and you can either beat Ciri or let her win. Sure, Geralt seems like an amalgam of clichés at times, but throughout The Witcher 3 you get to see him from all sorts of perspectives. This tender moment was a welcome respite from the monster hunting and Gwent playing (Gwent is awesome, shut your mouth). Undertale's Photoshop Flowey So, like SOMA, I only played Undertale once this New Year started. I was apprehensive because some things were spoiled for me and people who love the game fucking love it. It's hard not to go in with inflated expectations in a situation like this, but somehow Toby Fox's little creation completely won me over. Just like Bloodborne, Undertale is filled with moments that could go on this list. But the final boss of the Neutral Route edges out everything else out for me. I've always enjoyed games that hide horror elements under a false veneer, like Eversion. So when you think you're about to get a somewhat upbeat ending and a small Flower ends up being a terrifying Photoshopped monster that can destroy in seconds, I was sold. Photoshop Flowey looks especially disturbing considering the rest of the game is simple pixel art. Sure, the music is wonderful throughout, and Undertale plays around with RPG mechanics in fun ways, but this boss (and the way he toys with you and your save file) will stay with me the longest. So that's my little list! Here's to a memorable 2016!
Best of 2015 photo
Well, a few of them!
I know, I know. The first month of 2016 is halfway done and I'm still writing about 2015. Well it was a damn good year for games, okay? Back off, Mom. Instead of talking about my top picks from last year, I'm going to tell yo...


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