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Combofiend talks Street Fighter V, and the importance of community

Jun 11 // Alessandro Fillari
In many ways, Street Fighter V seems to represent a culmination of many different aspects of the series as they're reaching a fever pitch. With the developers spending many years honing their craft, and the growing popularity of a community of fans that share their passion with others, the genre seems to be in the strongest state yet. In the last decade alone, popularity for the fighting genre exploded thanks to the Internet, and the sharing of many great moments from tournaments. During our chat, Peter "Combofiend" Rosas spoke about how Street Fighter V will bring together many different eras of SF fans, as this new installment will features elements they've come to love over the years. "Everyone is ecstatic about this game; the responses to the character reveals have been immense," said Peter Rosas while discussing the growing fan base. "The series has such a history, you have people from my era, the Street Fighter II dudes, the people from the Street Fighter III era in the early 2000s, and the people from 08-09 that started with Street Fighter IV -- we're all excited for this game. I'd say the excitement for Street Fighter is at an all-time high." Understandably, when there's a new installment to a popular series coming, people are curious about the changes and upgrades. While they're excited at the prospect of the new entry, there's still the budding anxiety of having to master a brand new system that may or may not contradict strategies they've spent years improving. In order to cushion this a bit, the developers took a long look back at the series and decided to incorporate elements from the past and re-contextualize many strategies and tactics into the new system in place here. Rosas elaborated that each character will feel more unique because of it. "What we did was look at all the good things we've done over the years versus all the things players didn't necessarily like, so there are SO many good things, positive mechanics that people loved over the years," explained Rosas. "So we wanted to focus on that aspect, while also having the game feel new and fun. We thought the speed from Super Street Fighter II Turbo was appropriate, so we sped the game...but then, we also wanted each character to feel like a unique experience. When we looked at the V-Skills, we saw an opportunity to see how each character will feel different." One of the more shocking announcements from Capcom, aside from the return of Nash, is that Street Fighter V will be a PS4 exclusive release on consoles. Understandably, this upset many fans who haven't taken to the new hardware yet, or just simply own an Xbox One. Though the title will also be released on PC, there's still that air of unrest, despite knowing that this title is developed with a partnership from Sony and Capcom. Thankfully, the folks working on the game hope to remedy things with the cross-play feature. Players will be able to compete against each other regardless of their platform, and do so seamlessly. "That was extremely important to us, to make sure that all the players are together," said Rosas. "Because previously, you had people on one console, then on another console, then 'PC master race' over here, but the way it goes is that that's never been possible before, and our partnership with Sony has allowed us to do so. We definitely want people to finally be able to compete; everybody is going to be able to play everybody and we'll truly see who the best Street Fighter is." Over the years, the FGC has grown in a big way, bringing together long-time and new fans to the series. However, there are many who feel daunted by the complexity of the genre and competing against more seasoned fighters. In Street Fighter V, the developers hope to balance things out as they focus on accessibility while maintaining the hardcore element. Rosas spoke about the brand new Variable System, which not only features a lot of nuance, but also gives newcomers more options to use against the vets. "[Accessibility] was the one thing we wanted to maintain. For this one, we wanted to make sure everyone could access all the cool stuff. That being said, V-Skills are just two button presses, but they are unique for each character. The V-Trigger is the strongest unique ability that's accessed by pressing heavy punch and heavy kick together, so anyone who may have been intimidated playing Street Fighter because they couldn't access all the things that guys with high dexterity could, they can now do that. It goes back to that old-school feel where a fireball and an uppercut and pressing a few buttons could win you a few games. It goes back to the basics where you can just concentrate on the core mechanics, where it becomes a mind game versus more of a dexterity game." Obviously, one of the most talked about aspects of any Street Fighter is the roster. And with this title setting itself at an interesting point in the SF timeline -- and yes, I tried to ask when but they wouldn't spill the beans -- it's making everyone very curious to see who will pop up next. The folks at Capcom have clearly been listening to what fans want to see, especially after conducting surveys and other forms of outreach. Though they obviously can't say who will show up next until they're ready to, Combofiend did share some thoughts on the developers' rationale and thought process behind the roster for SFV. "We looked at a variety of sources,  but we wanted to make sure that with the roster we selected, it was characters that people would enjoy and it would be fighting styles that would be properly represented in the game, and also to make sure that everything put into the game had meaning. " He elaborated that even the returning characters, some of whom have been present since the beginning, will feel new in the fifth installment. The Variable System aims to reinvigorate the classic SF formula substantially. "We wanted all the characters to feel fresh, and to feel familiar," he explained. "Ryu still has his fireballs, Chun-Li still has her hundred kicks, but at the same time, we wanted [them to be] unique to Street Fighter V. So when were looking into the V-Triggers, we thought 'What would be really appropriate for the characters?' [...]We made sure that all the abilities played to the characters and their personalities." I was pleasantly surprised by his frankness regarding the scope of the game's ambitions, while also discussing the importance of community. Given his deep ties to the FGC, and that they've been helping to keep the series relevant for all these years, there's a clear respect for the fans who have spent so much time with the titles. While there's still many details we don't know about, the folks at Capcom assured us that it's important to keep things a surprise. Though it's still a ways out, Street Fighter V is shaping up to be an exciting title. I was eager to go hands-on with the title before E3, and I wasn't alone in saying that they've got quite a title on their hands. The fans are going to have a field day analyzing all the details and speculating what's in store. I'm very anxious to see what Capcom reveals next. For more info on Street Fighter V, check out my hands-on impressions of the game. 
Street Fighter photo
Variable System aims to change the game
In case you missed it, I had a blast playing Street Fighter V. I spent three hours playing against other journalists and developers from Capcom, and I learned so much about what this new title is all about. Given that they've...

My first three hours with Street Fighter V were immensely satisfying

Jun 11 // Alessandro Fillari
Street Fighter V (PC, PlayStation 4 [previewed])Developer: CapcomPublisher: CapcomRelease date: TBA 2016 Once Street Fighter V is released, it'll be looked back on as a point in the series for many firsts. For starters, SFV is the first title in the series that will be available on only one console, but will also feature cross-play with the PC release. This is a big thing, as each platform for the previous installments tended to build its own microcosm of players. Not only will they play against each other, they'll share the same patches and updates, which will keep them together and competing regardless of the platform they choose. Moreover, Capcom is ensuring that online play will smooth and swift as ever with its new proprietary netcode called Kagemusha. Using some sophisticated rollback-based netcode, the developers are invested to ensure that the online play is consistent and hassle free. This is also the first in series to utilize the new and ever-versatile Unreal Engine 4. Though there were some concerns about whether or not Unreal could handle a title as twitch-based as SF, given the past iterations of the engine had difficulties with rendering and maintaining a solid frame rate, thankfully my time with the new fighter has made me a believer in the tech employed here. Not only are the visuals incredibly sharp and full of vibrant colors and details, the performance is rock solid. Simply put, this is the best Street Fighter has ever looked, and these images, nor the trailers, can match having the game played right in front of you. But enough about the fancy visuals; you want to hear how it plays. Of course, with every follow up to a massively popular and well-loved title, there comes the ever important question: what did they change? As you could likely tell from the trailers, Street Fighter V looks very similar to its predecessor, taking advantage of the same mechanics, like EX moves for instance, but also the similar focus on defensive gameplay (SFIV's Revenge Gauge). Street Fighter V definitely maintains those elements, but does them in a way that makes them feel unique to this installment. For instance, the Super Moves have now been upgraded to the new Critical Arts, which still require full EX Meter. While many of the signature moves are the same (Ryu's Shinku Hadoken and Chun-Li's Hoyokusen, for instance), the Critical Arts are more deadly and flashier than the supers of past. What I was surprised most by was that it goes further and features echoes to past SF titles -- even some influences from Street Fighter III and the Alpha series. While I initially thought they were just call-backs relevant to the characters (particularly the appearance of Nash), I found that the developers have essentially incorporated many elements that were successful from past titles, sometimes re-contextualizing them in interesting ways. After playing SFV, it was readily apparent that the previous trailers and footage we've seen haven't done the game justice one bit. Especially when you realize that they've been keeping one of their game-changing mechanics a secret. And it's one of the most interesting, engaging systems the series has seen in a long time. With the new Variable System, fighters can take advantage of multiple tactics and abilities that stem from the V-Gauge, an evolution of the Revenge Meter. As they build up bars of the gauge from taking damage or executing special V-Skills (character-specific support moves activated with MP+MK), they can use moves such as the V-Reversal, a powerful counterattack activated while blocking and pressing all punch or kick buttons (at the cost of one V-Gauge bar). But once you max out the meter, you can activate the special V-Trigger (HP+HK), which brings out the fighter's true potential. Despite some speculation, V-Triggers are not stance changes. The Trigger puts the fighters in a unique state for a short amount of time, where they can take advantage of unique buffs and some modified moves. Each character has their own unique take on the Variable System, which not only adapts to their own style, but does a lot to flesh them out. During my three hours of play, I got the impression that Street Fighter V is planning on enhancing the in-game narrative a bit by reflecting more of personality in the gameplay than ever before. For instance, Ryu's take on the system is influenced by his experience as a world-traveled warrior, and during his time, he's educated himself on different fighting styles, giving him the knowledge on how to best confront whoever he faces. In order to give you a better idea of what the Variable System is like, I'll be giving you an overview of things for the four playable characters we know of so far. Starting with Ryu, his V-Skill, called Mind's Eye, brings the return of the legendary Parry mechanic from Street Fighter III. For the novices out there, Ryu can time his skill at the exact moment of contact to block off enemy hits with no chip-damage -- and yes, it can be used for successive hits. Though in order to keep it balanced, it's unusable in the air. Once his V-Gauge is maxed out, he can activate his V-Trigger Denjin-Renki, imbuing him with a powerful aura for a limited time and grants him the ability to charge up his fireballs, giving them guard break potential. Also, his fireballs are given lightning properties, and when they connect you'll see brief flashes of the enemy's skeleton. It's a neat visual callback to SFII. Chun-Li's Variable mechanics focus on her maneuverability and dexterity during battles. As one of the more agile and aerial gifted fighters in the game, her Variable moves play on her strengths in a big way. For instance, her V-Trigger ability Ren-Kiko puts her in a powered-up state and gives her special moves extra hits. Her V-Skill, called Ren-Kyaku, is essentially a command jump that allows her to manually jump in any given direction. While this may seem like an odd skill, this command jump causes damage while leaving the ground and gives her ease of movement for some exceptional cross-up potential. The guys from Capcom I played against used Chun-Li quite effectively, and I left in awe of her acrobatics. It even made me want to shout out 'eh, eh, eh!' during her air juggles. Next up, we have the return of Guile's mentor and best friend Charlie. Since his last appearance in Alpha 3, things aren't the same for Charlie, who now goes by Nash. His new look shows that he's a changed man after his experimentation and torture by the hands of Shadaloo, and many of his former abilities have been modified, adopting a focus on swiftness and gap-closing maneuvers. His V-Skill, known as Bullet Clear, allows for him to absorb incoming projectiles and turn them into energy for his V-Gauge. For his V-Trigger, Nash does something a bit different. While many other characters enter a timed state that enhance moves, his trigger allows him to instantly teleport to a desired direction at the cost of his V-Gauge. Though this may seem a bit hefty of a cost for a teleport move, his V-Trigger can open up foes to a world of hurt if timed during a barrage of projectiles, leaving them vulnerable from behind or even in the air. By far, I had the most fun with Nash. He feels totally different from before, as his previous incarnations borrowed from Guile's moveset, and I'm pleased to say that he's truly come into his own for SFV. Lastly, we have M. Bison. As the main villain for much of the series, he's seen a bit of an upgrade since his last appearance. While older and a bit slower than his previous incarnations, he's still got plenty of tricks up his sleeve. With a far more menacing appearance, the leader of Shadaloo uses his Psycho powers to a far deadlier effect. With his V-Skill, called Psycho Reflect, he's able to conjure up a field of energy to bounce back projectiles and force them back at his enemies. As a charge-focused character, also sporting a modified movelist, this comes in handy when dealing with projectile-heavy opponents. With his Psycho Power V-Trigger, his abilities come into full effect, granting him increased speed and damage for special moves, and replacing his standard dash with a short-range teleport. I was impressed with what the Variable system brings to the table. In Street Fighter IV, the Revenge Gauge was only used to build your Ultra Combos, which for a lot of the skilled players often went unused. Thankfully, Street Fighter V makes better use of the mechanic here by making it a more active element during fights. The system added a whole layer of nuance to an already tried and true system, and I was super pleased with how easy it was to pick up. Though you've likely seen the phrase "easy to learn, difficult to master" thrown out a lot for games, I feel SFV lives up to that in a big way. I suspect many of the pros and hardcore fans will have fun analyzing the depths of the Variable System. It should be stated again at how gorgeous this game looks in motion. The frame rate was solid, and the new visuals have given the characters a greater level of detail. Though in some spots, it's clear that the game has still got things to work on. During the London stage, which looks incredible by the way, the background visuals didn't quite match up with what was going on in the foreground. For one, the frame rate was a bit off with the background action, which became a major distraction during battles running at 60 frames per second. But of course, this title is still a ways off, and it'll likely be cleared up before release. I have fond memories of growing up with Street Fighter II back in the day, and although I've kept with the series since, there were only a few titles that really blew me away and actively got me to up my game in order to compete with friends. Now am I saying that SFV matches those moments I had as a kid? Of course not. I only played a few hours of an unfinished build without the complete roster, after all. But what I did play showed a ton of promise, and honestly, I haven't felt this excited about Street Fighter in a long time. It's a great feeling having a new game in the wings, and I'm just itching to get back into the thick of it. Be sure to check back with Destructoid during the week of E3. We'll likely see more exciting titles from Capcom at the show. It's certainly going to be a good lineup this year.
Street Fighter V photo
Kick, Punch, it's all in the mind
After nearly thirty years, the Street Fighter series has still been going strong. With more incarnations than most people can remember, the series is seen by many as the quintessential example of what the fighting game genre ...

Review: The Next Penelope

Jun 10 // Chris Carter
The Next Penelope (PC [reviewed], Wii U)Developer: Aurelien RegardPublisher: Plug In DigitalMSRP: $12.99Release Date: May 29, 2015 (PC) / TBA (Wii U) It's the year 3044, in Ithaca. Odysseus has been away at sea for 10 years, and his kingdom is now under attack by Poseidon, father of the Cyclopes race. As a result, it's up to Odysseus' wife Penelope to find him. If you couldn't tell by the year marker, all of this is set to the tone of a futuristic epic -- spaceships are prevalent throughout Penelope's universe, and Poseidon is basically a member of an alien race. A lot of people probably won't even pay attention to the ties to Homer's Odyssey, but it works for the most part. All of this setup brings us to the main event -- racing. Yep, somehow, someway, this is a classic top-down racer reminiscent of the Micro Machines games or Blizzard's Rock'n'Roll Racing. As such, the visuals are retro-centric, and I have to say, they look excellent. Everything from the animated anime-like portraits during cutscenes and the colorful, flashy in-game graphics are painstakingly detailed. The controls take no time at all to learn, as they mostly consist of just altering your direction by way of the arrow keys or the gamepad's triggers, but they'll take quite a while to master. Acceleration is automatic, but weapons and power-ups can be enacted by pressing a specific button (in the case of a keyboard, the up arrow). These range from things like boosts to bullets, which you'll often need to blow away enemies or blast through hazards like boulders. They're fun to use, but since the general gameplay is so fast, they don't have as big of an impact as they should. [embed]293674:58914:0[/embed] Power-ups also bring another classic racing mechanic into play -- energy zones from F-Zero. While micromanaging your abilities, staying on track, and fighting off foes, you'll also have to occasionally steer yourself into the way of energy areas to sap up more power-up meter. It's fast, frantic, and fun, especially since individual stages are roughly a minute or two long. What's amazing to me is that The Next Penelope hosts a four-hour campaign. Heck, with its old-school flair it didn't even really need to go this extra mile, but it did. The campaign is even further augmented by a full galaxy map, the power to choose what stats to level-up (including upgrades to steering, defensive capabilities, and more outwards camera zoom). Boss battles on top of all this madness make things even more interesting, turning the game into a full-on shooter. It's crazy how much variety there is. The four-person multiplayer mode also has a mini-story involving Penelope's suitors, who are battling each other for glory. It's not a fully-fledged campaign or anything, but it's a neat little way to justify its inclusion. The gist is that all four racers, CPU or player-controlled, are attempting to blow each other up while they struggle to stay on one screen. If you're left behind, you're dead, and the last ship standing takes it all. It's a good old-fashioned slugfest across nine maps, and given the way it works, all four players can feasibly share the same keyboard. It's important to note that no online play of any kind is supported. The Next Penelope is a blast to play on PC, and will probably be a massive hit at parties when it arrives on Wii U later this year. It's a shame more old-school racers aren't around, but with games like this and 90s Arcade Racer, the scene is seeing a revival that brings a huge smile to my face. [This review is based on a retail build provided by the publisher.]
Next Penelope review photo
My, how mortals take the gods to task
If I told you that I wanted to mix Greek mythology with the racing and shoot-'em-up genres, you'd probably call me crazy. But that's just what developer Aurelien Regard did with his one-man show The Next Penelope, and for the...

Abzu preview photo
Swim with the fishes
Decades of classical conditioning have trained us to abhor water levels. The likes of Super Mario Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and Ocarina of Time hold strained memories of great games gone awry, if just ever-so-temporar...

Sneak king: 14 hours of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Jun 09 // Steven Hansen
[embed]293558:58900:0[/embed] There is a reason I am excited about Snake's horse having a poop button and it is not only that I am a dumb idiot. While I never managed to confirm, I am sure that you can do something like strategically place poop so an enemy walks into it and stops, or maybe slips. Because things like that are what elevate Metal Gear Solid V above typical stealth and/or open-world titles. It's the idiosyncrasies, like calling in a supply drop from Mother Base right onto the head of a stationary guard, knocking them out. It's knowing winks like hiding in a PS4 cardboard box, or the ghost from PT being an item, or a spoken, in-universe tutorial where you're told fourth wall breaking things like "press X" while under extreme virtual duress. The opening segment, which has mostly been covered in diced up trailers, stuck with me in hindsight for how long it goes on with you controlling a crawling, limping Snake in the under siege, burning hospital. It's a while before you're given any power back (guns or even the ability to walk properly), which I appreciated. Kojima ratchets up the direness here, too, as loads of hospital patients get brutally murdered all around. The meat of Phantom Pain opens after this mix of spectacle and terror with a trip to dusty Afghanistan to save Miller that ends in a frightening [redacted]. This plays similarly to Ground Zeroes, of course, but with a horse and more scouting and enemy tagging to do. I wormed my way up to where Miller was captive, climbed up a crack in a building, and jumped from one roof to another to neatly sneak in. Carrying a less-limbed Miller out did get me plenty shot up, but a whistle for my buddy D Horse got both of us out of there quickly. Back on Mother Base, the structure becomes clear. There are main missions you must travel to (by helicopter to a nearby landing zone, or on horseback/by ground vehicle) and they are not all story heavy, though you're always treated to beginning and ending credits, as if each mission was a TV episode, just in case you forgot that this was directed by Hideo Kojima. One mission simply tasked me with rolling up on a compound and assassinating three Russian officers. I fulton'd them all -- attached balloons to them to send back to Mother Base -- against Miller's wishes instead, which proved wise as the officers had some high statistical aptitudes. These poached soldiers fill out your private army and get cool names like Blue Mastadon. Eventually you can scan them ahead of time to know which have high stats, or you can sometimes interrogate soldiers into informing you if an en elite operative is nearby (provided you've acquired a translator for your support team, as Snake's language skills are limited). [embed]293558:58893:0[/embed] It's a lot of contract work in addition to the narrative goal of stopping the Hamburglar-masked Skull Face and generally figuring out what the hell is going on with things. I was actually a bit surprised by how infrequently missions came with cutscenes or main story ties. Sometimes they open up three at a time and you can take them on in any order. You can also choose to repeat a mission at any time if you want to aim for a better performance ranking. I did this with a prisoner extraction mission I had previously finished, but barely. Turns out using the Phantom Cigar to speed up until nighttime, coupled with the night vision goggles, made that particular mission a five minute cakewalk. Going at it in the day led me to enough deaths that I was offered the Chicken Hat, which makes things easier and slows down enemy reaction time. Other dynamic weather events -- rain or sandstorms -- can also come into play, sometimes not at opportune moments. The low visibility caused by sandstorms helped me a few times, but also led me to walk right into an enemy soldier, once. There are also useful side missions that pop up for you take at your leisure, often en route to the next mission point. The Afghan desert is huge, but much of the terrain is empty or cordoned off by mountainous areas or steep cliff sides that encourage you to use the main roads. These roads are littered with enemy outposts, however, often with small platoons of three to four and a watch tower. Sneaking through them isn't too tough, because often you can take a longer loop around them, but they often house collectables (you can pinch a huge assortment of music from enemy tape players) and valuable resources that tie into the upgrade system. Oil, alloys, raw diamonds for straight cash, plants to upgrade the sleeping toxin in Snake's tranquilizers or the time-shifting Phantom Cigar -- you'll be scooping up all of it, though other means of acquisition open up when you can start sending squads out on missions. Plus, those posts are full of soldiers to abduct and, after you upgrade your Fulton balloons, things like heavy artillery to nick. [embed]293558:58895:0[/embed] Everything you Fulton, barring bad weather or bad luck with nighttime visibility, ends up back at Mother Base, which is large enough, especially once you get construction going, that you can actually take a helicopter to other parts of it. Or you can take a long, straight drive in a jeep. Going back to visit helps your troops' morale. They're also proud and happy to have you practice your close quarters combat on them at any time. During my lengthy hands-on, I never got to the point where my Mother Base came under attack, though that's supposed to be a big part of it, up to the point where you can consider nuclear capability as a defense. It's worth noting that 14 hours or so with Phantom Pain and I didn't feel close to finished. Back at Mother Base, I was still building an animal sanctuary (necessary to house all the wandering sheep and other creatures I kept bringing back) and trying to get an imprisoned, sun-bathing Quiet as a deployable buddy like D-Horse and Diamond Dog (the adorable wolf pup that grows into a super-scouting badass). She just sat in the cell, face down, top undone (got to watch those tan lines) listening to tunes from an eclectic, amusing soundtrack. Adorably, construction scaffolding on Mother Base is all stamped with a picture of a dog in a hardhat with a pick axe. It's the little things. Like changing my Diamond Dogs logo from a boring, stencil font "DD" to a cool ass octopus emblazoned with the words "VENOM WOMAN." You can even paint Mother Base if that Giants-orange is too much for you. I find a tasteful dark blue goes well with the sea. My favorite Mother Base quirk so far, though, is the giant shower Snake can jump into to come out feeling refreshed. It also washes off all the blood that accumulates on him while out on missions (if you end up getting shot, at least). [embed]293558:58891:0[/embed] While there are reasons to return home, you can manage a lot of Mother Base, like troop allocation and base development, while out in the field through the iDroid. It also acts as Snake's cassette player, useful for Codec-replacing heaps of exposition, which is just about the only place I heard Snake do much talking.  From the iDroid you can also develop new or better versions of weapons and items. There are upgraded critter traps, different abilities for Snake's robot arm, enhancements to the binocular scanner, extra Fulton balloons to heft heavier weight. I mostly played with a stealthy approach so I didn't dabble much with the vast assortment of snipers, machine guns, or rocket launchers you can call in. Nor did I ever run up on a lack of funds that would prevent re-supply drops of my own essential Fulton balloons and tranq darts, but the fact that you have to call in and then get to the supply drops means that the feature rarely made things too simple. Especially because missions often end up in close quarters or indoors where a supply drop would be useless anyways. I was impressed by how naturally set piece sort of areas exist in Metal Gear Solid V's world. There are long tracts of dusty road, vast open desert, but suddenly you stumble upon an enormous, imposing compound. In the case of one early mission, it was an Uncharted-style winding, honeycomb-esque historical labyrinth, which you get to by creeping through an excavation camp. There are mission areas that would feel like obvious "levels" elsewhere, but here they mesh cleanly with the open world. Just starting or ending a mission (the latter, usually by reaching a helicopter and flying out in real time) is seamless and the day/night cycle persists in cutscenes. I did hit one snag with this open-world structure, though. When you start a mission (or side-mission), you're then restricted to a "mission area." Leaving it ends the mission. I only ever noticed after one challenging mission that ended with [redacted] and [redacted] coming up on [redacted] and holy hell [redacted] -- anyway, towards the end I tried to hightail it on my horse, but I ended running clean through the mission area and having to start from way, way back. It wanted me to sneak to a nearby chopper extraction point instead of just racing to safety and calling one in. This is, incidentally, when I noted the cutscene and subsequent segment I originally did at night now took place during the day. [embed]293558:58892:0[/embed] Phantom Pain feels like the freshest, most distinct use of an open world since Far Cry 2 and it does this without sacrificing the cozier feeling of the series' past level design. While I can't say anything about the story, I don't actually know much at this point, either, besides various "holy shit" moments that have only raised questions. It's appropriate, then, that this Sutherland-voiced Snake speaks sparingly. He always seems sad and a little bit confused, retreating into the rote, work-like task of soldier stuff hoisted upon him by Ocelot and Miller, who seem to be a bit at odds with each other as well.  While Ground Zeroes' sadistic storytelling might raise concerns over how this extra grim tale will play out (Snake is basically a devil what with the horns, the intro is pure brutality before giving way to surreal insanity, there's still a whole thing about child soldiers at some point), I've come away nothing but impressed with Phantom Pain. I don't miss codecs, I don't miss Hayter. I've embraced the open world, I love the tangible Mother Base. And I feel like I've only scratched the surface. There's so much more to do. I've barely used the cardboard box -- you can leap out the sides or hang out in delivery zones and actually have enemies unwittingly pick you up and drive you into outposts. I haven't used to inflatable decoy to bop someone off a cliff. In a world of blockbuster clones and genre convention, Metal Gear Solid V manages to feel fresh. I can't wait to get someone to slip on my horse poop.
First hands-on! photo
First hands-on with Metal Gear Solid V
Trailers from as far back as two years ago offer evidence enough, though. Do you all remember the giant, on-fire man supplanted in malevolence seconds later by the even more giant, on-fire whale careening through the sky to ...

League of Legends roundup: Azir, Kalista, Rek'Sai, Bard, and Ekko

Jun 09 // Chris Carter
Azir's whole gimmick is that he summons Sand Soldier units, which are statues of sorts. They're not really their own entities with health bars, however -- more like extensions of Azir, who is a mage first, marksman second. His soldiers cannot be targeted, which makes him fun (or a pain against) in the laning phase. He's also great at chasing as he can dash to his soldiers using his E. One of the best things about Azir is his innate ability to summon Sun Discs in place of destroyed towers, which creates a mini-tower for a limited period of time. He's very hard to get used to, but a worthy addition to League. I have a lot of fun using him in ARAM, but I believe he is a viable competitive Champion with the right composition. Kalista is a weird character, with a variety of different ranged attacks as a marksman. She can become "Oathsworn" with another ally, essentially boosting her stats and her damage while they are near each other or attack the same target. As you can probably tell, this requires a ton of communication, or at least, a lot of trust with one other player. While winding up her standard skillshot, you can cancel with a quick click to lunge in a direction -- think of it like a free dash. She can also send a ghost out to sentry, and her ultimate can "call" her Oathsworn player to her if they so choose to answer said call (with a range limit), which is also a knock-up. All in all I wouldn't say that she's a particularly interesting Champion, but going in with another friend and laning as Oathsworn buddies can be fun. She's also considered one of the most competitive Champions in recent months, though I won't be using her consistently. Rek'Sai is a bug who fulfills the fighter role, and does what many bugs do best -- she burrows. As one of her chief abilities, burrowing will modify all of her other powers. For instance, an ability that would buff her next three basic attacks is now a skillshot, and she can create tunnel exits to burrow back to, but burrowing does negate basic attacks, and thus, your damage output. Where Rek'Sai excels is mobility. She can quickly get from place to place, allowing her to assist in teamfights, small skirmishes, and when necessary, jungle situations. I enjoyed her as a whole more than Azir and Kalista, and it seems as if the community has taken to her as well. She was re-balanced shortly after her release, and a new nerf is on the way that may take her down a peg overall. Bard the support has an awesome aesthetic to him that fits League of Legends quite well. His Q is a standard skillshot that slows, but the sound and visual effects have a real pop to them. As a support ability, he can drop shrines that boost movement speed and heal -- this simple move is pretty deep, as Bard can place them strategically behind towers to reduce time away from laning or just put them on the ground below him to immediately heal. You'll also need to pay a bit more attention playing as Bard, as you'll be required to periodically grab unique chime icons on the map to buff your auto-attacks. His coolest ability though is the power to create a portal through terrain, which both enemies and allies can use. It looks cool, and it's an effective way of crashing in on enemy creep kills. Bard's ultimate puts everyone in a circle in a stasis, including all heroes and minions -- much like Zeratul's Void Prison ult in Heroes of the Storm, or many other similar MOBA abilities. All told, Bard is by far my favorite champion that I've played in months, and I highly recommend picking him up for fun. It's appropriate that Ekko, the boy who shattered time, has most of his abilities linked to movement speed. As an assassin, it's Ekko's job to pick out individual targets and burst them down rapidly. His passive allows him to build up stacks on a foe, slowing them after three stacks and dealing damage. Like most new heroes these days he has a token skillshot (that creates a slowing field), an area-of-effect slow dome, and a dash. His ultimate is where things get more interesting. Chronobreak is basically an "oh shit" button, making him invulnerable and transporting him back to his location four seconds ago. It allows him to get out of a sticky situation and continue picking off other Champions as well as deal some damage at the location. Ekko is a pure assassin, no frills -- and that's a good thing. While all Champions aren't created equal, I'm excited to see what Riot Games has in store for us in 2015 and beyond.
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Time to play catchup
It's been an eventful past six months for League of Legends. While I've been covering new Champions since 2013, I slipped a bit since Gnar late in 2014, as a few other major MMOs as well as fellow MOBA Heroes of the...

Review: Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy

Jun 09 // Chris Carter
Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy (PlayStation TV, Vita [reviewed])Developer: Experience Inc.Publisher: MAGES, 5pb. Games (JP) / NIS America (EU, NA)MSRP: $39.99Release Date: July 24, 2014 (Japan) / June 5, 2015 (EU) / June 9, 2015 (NA) Operation Abyss opens up with a bang -- your character has just woken up in the "gloomy darkness," next to multiple severed, bloodied bodies. Holy shit, right? It gets a little bit goofier from there, as a hooded man suddenly appears and tells you "basically, you've been kidnapped," as an army of half-human zombie monsters attack. You're immediately offered a choice: trust the man or not, which doesn't really end up mattering. Then a Magical Girl shows up and fights a giant crocodile. It pretty much never lets up from here. New Tokyo Legacy is set in a near-future version of Japan. Those creatures? They're called Variants, and it's up to the government-funded Code Physics Agency, which you've just been forcefully inducted into, to save the day. It must be said, if the silly intro wasn't any indication, the art for the game is incredible, and full of life. A lot of scenes may feature static portraits, and the dungeon designs might be on the bland side, but the art style (and by proxy, the main cast) is always colorful and interesting. Likewise, the darker elements of the game are just that -- dark. Creatures look suitably horrific, the narrative can go darker when it needs to, and on occasion, I was straight-up creeped out. There's also a ton of weird story elements like the blood of Florence Nightingale, Leonardo da Vinci, and Hanzo Hattori used for "Blood Codes," to gain abilities and special powers. No one can say that Tokyo Legacy isn't unique. [embed]293318:58901:0[/embed] Like most lengthy dungeon crawler experiences (this one is roughly 40 hours), it takes about six hours of walking until it takes off sprinting, and by then I was sucked into the world. Dungeons aren't obtuse, but as previously mentioned, they are on the bland side. After about 10 hours of play some of them started to blend together, and there isn't enough indication on-screen to denote hidden areas or locations of interest. I definitely don't want a streamlined "go here" indicator, it would just be nice if there was an inkling of uniqueness to the dungeons, since everything else is painstakingly crafted. There's lots of customization involved, including equipment and ability choices and statline tweaking. In terms of choices in relation to the narrative, there's not a whole lot here. This is an old school dungeon crawler through and through, and although there are some light forks in the road, none of them are emotional or engaging. Your key plan here is to go and defeat monsters to further the overarching story -- not your personal one. That's partially because each playthrough uses randomly generated characters, which can be customized, but don't necessarily play any real role. That extends to a lack of any real romantic element, since your party is essentially a collective. Unlike Demon Gaze, Operation Abyss' recent predecessor, Legacy is a bit more forgiving. For instance, you can now go freely back to your base if you wish, which is where you'll level up and sort through your massive inventory. The good news is that there's no "rent" or statistical hit to worry about, and if you're having trouble, heading back to rest up isn't a terrible idea. There's still a lot of menus to wade through and stats to painstakingly tweak back and forth, but it's more accessible than a lot of other crawlers since it doesn't penalize you at every turn. Because of that design decision though, it loses a bit of its edge. Despite the fact that Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy can be a bit by-the-numbers inside dungeons, it's anything but in nearly every other facet of the game. While I probably won't be rushing to complete it again anytime soon, it was a lengthy enough adventure that will stay fresh in my mind for some time. [This review is based on a retail build provided by the publisher.]
Operation Abyss photo
The Walking Variants
One of the very first PC games I ever played was a dungeon crawler. It was called MadMaze, a title released on 1989, playable on the Prodigy internet service -- yep, it was during the dialup era. While crawlers may not be one...

Sonic Boom photo
From out of nowhere
Sonic Boom didn't do too well on 3DS and Wii U. They were two of the worst performing Sonic games in history, and were rated very poorly across both platforms. Despite that, the cartoon series is doing very well. Sonic B...

Horror and secrecy need to be better bedfellows

Jun 08 // Zack Furniss
[embed]293479:58861:0[/embed] Don't Do This In this year's Resident Evil: Revelations 2, Capcom felt the need to release videos that focused on the various beasties players would be facing throughout the episodes. Any surprise or confusion that should have been reserved for a first encounter is squandered by any fan wishing to keep up with a product they are excited for and have most likely already decided to purchase. Though some consumers make the decision to go on media blackouts to prevent this exact situation, it shouldn't be on them to decide not to watch. This effectively renders these marketing efforts useless. Another title that gave away too much before anyone played it is last year's The Evil Within. One of the bosses, an amalgam of limbs and hair, was arguably the most unique creature in the game. It could teleport from corpse to corpse by climbing out of their coagulating puddles of blood and your best bet was to flee. This made for a thrilling moment in a mostly monotonous survival horror, but by the time The Evil Within came out, anyone who had been following it knew exactly what to do to survive. So what do we about this? Publishers want to make money, and the best way to do that is by showing the most exciting, gruesome sections of their newest product. But is that the only way? There are a few successful games from the last couple of years that prove there are other viable methods. So What Can Be Done? This is the part where I talk about P.T. (you knew it was coming). On August 12 of last year, P.T. was released alongside a short teaser at Gamescom. The teaser only showed reaction shots of people afraid of whatever they were playing. I immediately downloaded it out of curiosity and found the best horror game of last year. That it ended up being a teaser for the now-cancelled Silent Hills was icing on the bloody cake (I can already hear DashDarwin fuming in the comments). P.T. diffused through gaming media like a drop of blood in a glass of water; even with (and, let's be honest, because of) its utter destruction by Konami it will be remembered for a long time. I'd be foolish to deny that P.T. being free had no bearing on how often it was downloaded. However, I think if a new game came out of nowhere for only a few dollars it would have a chance of replicating this viral success. It's worth a shot at least.  Next up, we have Bloodborne. Sony spared no expense with providing images and videos of From Software's latest, but players had no idea what was lurking in its back half. BLOODBORNE SPOILERS FOLLOW, SKIP THE NEXT PARAGRAPH AND IMAGE TO KEEP YOURSELF SAFE. Though Bloodborne started off with beast-like enemies and Gothic environments, its latter half brought enough Great Ones, cosmic horror, and tentacles to merit numerous comparisons to the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Most players would likely have been content with fighting lycanthropes in their various forms throughout the dark descent, but this unexpected tonal shift provided an identity that separated it from the studio's previous work with Dark Souls.  Providing media only from the first half (quarter, eighth, whatever) could be a way for publishers to keep the horror skulking about in the shadows and allow room for players to be surprised. An example of the downside to this method would be Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and its Raiden fake out. Though I appreciate that surprise now, Hideo Kojima earned a well of ire for that back in the day. There's definitely a risk here, but Bloodborne is proof that it can pay off beautifully. The last idea I have isn't exactly for releasing new games, but for adding content to them. The wonderful Lone Survivor: Director's Cut added extra endings, a new enemy, and fresh music to the original, yet no one could find them upon release. Creator Jasper Byrne teased this, and mentioned looking forward "to hearing your thoughts about the new edition, and interpretations of the new content… especially the secret endings!" And so began a mad hunt to uncover anything new, and no one could find anything for a few weeks (and if they did, they didn't tell the internet). Byrne created more excitement by doing this than he would have if he had just said "here's how you get the new ending, and here's where you fight the new monster." Though it isn't explicitly a horror game, Batman: Arkham Asylum did something similar. Just around the time the sequel Arkham City was announced, it was discovered that there were hidden blueprints for the Arkham City itself in the original game. How cool is that? Rocksteady Games waited until time had passed to expose this and it made players go back to see it for themselves. I understand that developers want everything they've made to get some time in the sun, but this delayed gratification can be just as, if not more, impressive. I'm not a marketing expert, and I won't claim to be. But in a time where the Internet can be used as a tool to spread information via experimental methods, we may as well try to change things up. P.T. and Bloodborne show that these risks can be well worth taking. Here's hoping some of these ideas are implemented next week at E3. Please don't show us everything!
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We can do better
Horror games, as much as I love them, have a serious problem right now.   In the modern-day media maelstrom, almost every scare, monster, and plot twist is given away or hinted at before a game is released. Of course, us...

Review: Massive Chalice

Jun 08 // Steven Hansen
Massive Chalice (Xbox One, Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: Double Fine ProductionsPublisher: Double Fine ProductionsMSRP: $19.99Release Date: June 1, 2015 A talking cup with the alternating voices of an old man and younger woman gives you a "Hello Commander," informing you that you, an immortal being tied to the chalice, are the only one who can navigate humanity to victory against the encroaching, monster-filled Cadence. With that brief set up, you pick five pre-generated families to serve as your starting vanguard of fighters. It's an aesthetic choice. Try and pick families with distinct flag colors (and fun surnames) because otherwise keeping track of them is a mess. The Fab Five have different stat-affecting traits (bred) and personalities (learned) and three different base classes that can be combined to make sub-classes with slightly different abilities. You're also seemingly bound to get stuck with an asthmatic early on whom you can rightly cast off into the scary orange mist because they will be useless and the life of an individual isn't worth much in a 300 year war effort. Massive Chalice operates on two levels. Combat is turn-based with grid movement and two actions per turn. Walk a bit and then attack, or walk further and leave yourself unable to attack are the big ones. The latter has a chance of leaving a character screwed if they wander into the obscured battlefield Fog of War and reveal a pack of waiting enemies. Outside of combat, there is scant decision-making and a lot of hitting the Advance Timeline button as you try to make it to year 300 to destroy the Cadence by building kingdoms for your characters to bone in to produce better soldiers and advance the bloodline. [embed]293482:58868:0[/embed] Combat, however, feels one-dimensional, perhaps appropriate for the rote meat grinder that is 300 years of war. There's no cover or overwatch, never objectives beyond kill everything within line of sight. Inch forward, kill, inch forward, kill. I often had to double back through the sometimes obnoxiously routed, procedurally generated levels to off one last monster that was content to, I guess, walk around in circles in the far off map corner for all its turns. Enemies are impressively distinct. Ruptures create a wide berth of corrosive tiles upon death, Lapses sap soldiers' XP, Wrinklers age soldiers on contact. But Massive Chalice only metes out these highly specialized enemies and facing them over and over, in larger and beefed up quantities, gets tiring. Its turn-based strategy feels brute forced and basic. Even with the addition of sub-classes and the tips screen advising carrying members of every class, I still felt like fielding a team of five Hunters to SOCOM its way through fights was ideal and borderline easy (on Normal mode). The Alchemist's volatile, limited projectiles killed more of my own troops than enemies in my last run and sending the melee-focused Caberjack into the fray always feels too dangerous. This, though, raises a huge problem with the lengthy final fight that I've found unwinnable without the area of effect moves of the other classes. Nation management, too, feels simple and sterile. You are asked to choose between research projects which take years to finish. The most obviously necessary are the Keeps, which is where you retire soldiers to and appoint a mate on the grounds of eugenics. I find that once I get Keeps built and Übermenschs screwing, research becomes haphazard. A couple pieces of gear (mainly for Hunters), the experience raising item, and then I'm mostly choosing something at random and slamming on the "Advance Timeline" button until someone else dies of old age and needs to be replaced at their post. It is clinical and the soldier stat effects feel slim (so long as you avoid breeding a handful of proper blights, like asthma). The idea of bloodlines is a good one, but the sparse overworld (the same Simon panel of territory and occasional, stoic look at a throne) does not support any narrative or connection in the vein of a Crusader Kings-like strategy game. All there is are brief, occasional text adventure events that have you make a decision (how will you settle a squabble between two troops?) that might affect some mild stat. Meanwhile, the short shelf-life of fighters doesn't support any connection to individual troops in combat, save for the one or two fights you'll have a high-level troop with a funny nickname. The most attachment I felt was to a flag color. This becomes a weird problem with the ending, which tries to suddenly loop back around and deliver an unnecessary story element that, at best, would "explain," in-universe, subsequent playthroughs. It is odd, unnecessary, and even robs you of basic world-saving catharsis. It also reminded me that, on Normal, I've yet to come close to my kingdom falling, which belies roguelike claims, while on the other hand I sort of dread playing 300 more years (plus failure restarts) on higher difficulties because of the simple combat. Massive Chalice is both beautiful and approachable, somewhat rare qualities in the genre. But its 300 year arc bends toward apathy and inhumanity. By mid-game, what was novel and enticing becomes a slog. The nation and bloodlines are mostly built out, ending the high level tactics, and battles become more brute force as the same enemies double in HP, power, and quantity. I felt like middle management making the same position appointments that a computer could make more quickly and all I got for my click click clicking was combat with bigger numbers on the same handful of stages. There is some payoff with the bloodline idea at the end, but it is not worth the rote meat grinder to get there. [This review is based on a retail build provided by the publisher.]
Massive Chalice review photo
Great fighter with a glass jaw
Double Fine's less scrutinized Kickstarter success, Massive Chalice, has been formally released half a year since entering Early Access. Along with Invisible, Inc., it formed a one-two punch of time-eating, XCOM-tinged turn-b...

Experience Points .15: Super Mario Sunshine

Jun 06 // Ben Davis
A nozzle for every occasion Ahh, the FLUDD. By far the most unique tool ever to be in Mario's possession, the FLUDD is a water-powered contraption which can be used to spray like a pump, clean up messes, hover through the air, dash or slide quickly across land and water, and rocket-jump straight up into the sky. It's immensely useful, and easily sets Super Mario Sunshine apart from any other game in the series. Every time I replay Sunshine, I can't help but be amazed at how fun it is to use the FLUDD. Hovering as a platforming mechanic feels wonderful. It allows Mario to cross huge distances, reach crazy heights, stop himself in midair to make a precise landing or correct an erroneous leap, and more. In addition, the Rocket and Turbo nozzles allow him to cover great distances both vertically and horizontally in record times, making it a piece of cake to traverse large levels or recover from a fall. I especially enjoy using the waterslide technique, which involves spraying water in front of Mario and then diving onto it so that he slides quickly across the ground on a layer of water. It's very useful for the levels where he has to chase Shadow Mario or race against Il Piantissimo, and it's simply a ton of fun to do as well. I also can't help using the FLUDD to annoy everyone around Mario by spraying them in the face with water. Drenching the Toads, Piantas, and Nokis on Isle Delfino and watching them shake it all off and throw a fit -- it never gets old. Some of them were asking for it anyway, makin' me break my back cleaning up all this gunk. Why don't I clean up your FACE while I'm at it? Dude, where's my FLUDD? While the FLUDD adds some interesting new mechanics to Mario's platforming, the game still manages to shine even without it. During specific levels, Shadow Mario will appear and steal the device right off of Mario's back, leaving him to rely on his excellent jumping abilities to finish the level. These FLUDD-less stages feel like a throwback to the Super Mario 64 style of Mario platforming. They all take place on floating platforms above a bottomless pit, so any misstep could end in a swift death. Most of these levels involve rotating platforms and other moving obstacles, and traversing them requires a lot of skill and careful observation. These areas manage to feel completely different from the main game, yet equally challenging (if not more so) and just as fun. It's a great way to change things up and keep the gameplay interesting by dropping the core FLUDD mechanic entirely, taking players out of their comfort zone by removing the ability to hover safely and testing their true platforming prowess. Some of these stages are the most difficult areas of the game, and it always feels nice and rewarding to emerge victorious and then promptly return to hovering around like normal. Sittin' on the dock of the bay All of the levels in Super Mario Sunshine are island-themed, but even so, they do a good job of providing diverse tropical locations. The beachside hotel, the theme park, and the village surrounded by giant palm trees and mushrooms are a few of my favorites, but for me, the coolest location is Noki Bay. Noki Bay is a quiet little area situated on the side of a large cliff, with a beautiful waterfall, towering seashell structures, and hidden ruins to explore. There are so many memorable moments in this level: spraying water along the cliff faces to reveal secret passages, discovering an ancient tomb, riding around in the mudboats, jumping from the top of the waterfall, diving to the depths of the bay to confront a giant eel... everything about this level appealed to the explorer in me. People often ask which video game world you wish you could visit or live in, and for me that would definitely be the world of Super Mario Sunshine. I've always had a soft spot for the sea and tropical locations, and the areas in Sunshine are some of the most beautiful and exciting examples of tropical places in a video game. I would love to live in Noki Bay, going for dives, taking in the sights, and visiting the other locations on Isle Delfino whenever I wanted. It would be such an amazing world to inhabit (as long as it was goop-free)! Climbing the giant palm tree Another thing that helped make the world of Super Mario Sunshine stand out was the giant, scalable set pieces. The shine sprite tower in Delfino Plaza, the windmill in Bianco Hills, the Ferris wheel in Pinna Park, the enormous palm trees in Pianta Village -- many of these things look nearly impossible to climb at first, but eventually Mario gains the means of reaching those formidable heights, and it feels incredible to be able to scale such impressive landmarks and look down at the world below. Aside from Noki Bay, my favorite place in Super Mario Sunshine is at the very top of the central palm tree in Pianta Village. This tree is so gigantic that it takes several rocket jumps to be able to reach the top. Not only that, but the leaves are so huge that Mario is easily able to run all over them without fear of falling off. He's like a tiny little red bug to this impossibly large tree. The extreme height might freak out some acrophobes, but those brave enough to make it up there are rewarded with a stunning view of the sky and the entire village far below. The Piantas even built a small wooden tower at the top of the palm tree, possibly to sit and look up at the clear night sky from a quiet, secluded place up in the clouds. Well, that's what I like to use it for, anyway! An apple a day keeps the ghosts away Super Mario Sunshine has some crazy boss fights. There's a giant flying Piranha Plant named Petey, a huge Gooper Blooper with delicate tentacles, and a massive eel with a poor dental plan. There's also a King Boo, an enemy we've seen before in other Mario games, but even so, he manages to be one of the most enjoyable bosses of the bunch. King Boo hides beneath the casino of Hotel Delfino. The fight takes place on a gigantic roulette wheel with three circular segments spinning in different directions, which can be dizzying and confusing until it stops moving. Water does nothing against this ghost, but after a while he'll bring up a slot machine out of nowhere and give it a spin, causing objects to appear depending on the result. If the slot machine lands on three fruits, then Mario is in luck! Just start chucking fruit at King Boo and see what happens. Most of the fruit will splash juice all over his face, which he'll happily lick up (that always makes me laugh). But toss a chili pepper at him, and he'll become so overwhelmed with the heat that a hit from any other fruit will send him reeling. It's such a bizarre fight, but that's why I love it. Killing a ghost by throwing fruit at it? Why not? It brings back memories of defeating Wart by forcing him to eat delicious veggies. Mario's foes sure don't like their healthy foods, do they? Big bad dad Bowser is one of my favorite Mario characters, and a lot of that love stemmed from his portrayal in Super Mario Sunshine. Granted, Bowser doesn't get much screentime in the game; the first time he shows up is for the final boss sequence, and he also has a short cutscene before the credits. But Nintendo manages to pack a lot of personality into him during such a small amount of time. Bowser never really had much of a personality until the Mario RPGs, where he was often shown to be a bit of a goofball and a softie (especially in Paper Mario). Super Mario Sunshine offers a completely new side of Bowser's personality. Sunshine introduced Bowser's son, Bowser Jr., revealing the mean old Koopa to be a father figure and a family man, a side of him we've never seen before. Sure, there were the Koopalings before Jr., but their relation to Bowser was often rather murky. In Sunshine, Bowser and his son are on vacation causing mischief, when Jr. kidnaps Princess Peach because his father told him that Peach was his mother. Jr. just wants to reunite his family so they can enjoy a vacation together. Of course, Peach being his mother was just a lie told by Bowser. After a rather bizarre boss fight against Bowser and his son in a giant hot tub, Bowser finally sits down to have a talk with Jr. and tell him the truth. Jr. isn't surprised by this, and instead of fretting, he vows to one day get revenge on Mario. The two Koopas share a nice moment of father-son bonding over their mutual hatred of the plumber. I really enjoyed seeing this side of Bowser, and it made him seem like an almost sympathetic character. He's still the bad guy, but he's also living his own life in the background, trying his best to raise a son and keep him happy. If only he could think of a way to do that without kidnapping princesses... Past Experience Points .01: The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask.02: Shadow of the Colossus.03: EarthBound.04: Catherine.05: Demon's Souls.06: No More Heroes.07: Paper Mario.08: Persona 4.09: Final Fantasy IX.10: Mega Man Legends.11: Rayman Origins.12: Metal Slug 3.13: Animal Crossing.14: Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King
Super Mario Sunshine photo
Shine!
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...

In a better world, these games exist

Jun 06 // Nic Rowen
Street Fighter vs Mortal Kombat Released on the Dreamcast in 2002 to belatedly settle the fighting game rivalry that defined the 90's arcade scene, Street Fighter vs Mortal Kombat remains a legend in the fighting game community. Still considered the finest example of 2D sprite art and animation from its era, the silky smooth and obsessively detailed characters of SF vs MK set an impossible bar to follow. The almost decadent use of special purpose one-off animations and frames only adds to the visual splendor. Vega's sublimely gory “Shadowloo Slicer” fatality still elicits screams from the audience at EVO. As fierce as the fighting between the World Warriors and the forces of Outworld got, the battle behind the scenes is said to have been even bloodier; a runaway budget, arguments over almost every aspect of the design, and frequent shouting matches characterized the prolonged five year development cycle. Despite the astounding success and popularity of the title, a sequel has never been attempted. Ed Boon and Yoshinori Ono refuse to even speak to each other to this day for reasons neither of them will discuss. The licensing snake-pit of copyrights and legal redtape has prevented any other ports or remakes from ever being produced, spurring a cottage industry of Dreamcast re-sales and custom made fightsticks for the console, supported almost entirely by SF vs MK's diehard audience. Alan Wake: The Fear That Gives Men Wings One has to imagine the lengths Sam Lake and his team at Remedy had to go to to protect their secret, their lips held firmly tight, unable to tell anyone what they were really up to. Keeping things under wraps despite the kind of scrutiny placed on what would be the flagship launch title for the Xbox One. The kind of pressure they must have been under to tease even a bit of what they had up their sleeves. But, somehow they managed it, and the fourth wall shattering reveal of Max Payne as a playable character in the second act of the game will go down in history as one of the most surprising and surreal moments in gaming history. Max is every bit as cynical and bitter as ever. But this time he isn't raging against an indifferent and unfair universe with a vague sense of living a cliché. This time he can direct his anger against the very man who wrote the script of his sorry fate. The scene where he crushes Alan's writing hand with the butt of his pistol is almost unbearable to watch. Reportedly, Sam Lake spent the night of the launch locked in his office suffering an intense panic attack, a crisis of artistic confidence. He spent the last five years of his life calculating this surprise, this single plot twist. If the game failed it wouldn't just be the end of his career, it would end his self-image as an artist and writer. Hideo Kojima, no stranger to pulling a controversial character rope-a-dope called him that night and consoled him in his hour of need. From that experience, the two men formed a bond that eventually led to them collaborating on Snatcher 2, another smash success. City of Heroes: Issue 25 “Messages from a world ending” In the waning days of City of Heroes' lifespan, most of the development and design talent in Paragon Studios carefully made their exit to greener pastures. As everyone else was jumping off, one man climbed aboard the sinking ship to take over as lead designer. There would be no budget, a small (and rapidly shrinking) team to work with, and low expectations from fans and critics already aware of Paragon City's impending doom. He was supposed to be just folding up the socks and towels, putting the game to bed. Instead, Austin Grossman created one of the most memorable final chapters to an MMO ever seen. Relying on his background as a writer, Grossman set out to recast the tone of CoH to better fit the looming ennui of a world coming to an end. CoH's final storylines were not the Silver Age dust-ups that characterized most of the game's lifespan. Instead, Grossman wrote introspective questlines laced with sharp humor about heroes and villains looking inward. What compels someone to point a laser at the moon? What drives someone else to put on a cape and jump in front of that laser? And who gives a shit about the moon anyway? Couldn't these miracle men born of science and magic be doing something better with their lives and isn't this all a little bit silly and embarrassing when you step back from it? With no money to craft new areas or other big gameplay draws, Grossman had to get clever to generate new content. Flipping the familiar Giant Monster concept on its head, instead of creating new and impressive Godzilla-esque monster for players to rally against, he instead turned a single random player into an unstoppable force of destruction. An artifact known as Mournblade, a cursed black sword, would be “gifted” to a player once a month, immediately giving them an exponential boost to their stats, constantly depleting health that could only be regenerated by killing with the sword, and flagging them as a PvP target no matter what zone they were in. When the player fell, the next nearest player would inherit the blade, and the carnage would continue until a heroic sacrifice was made -- the deletion of the character currently holding the blade. In the final hours of the game's life one lone hero remained, wielding the Mournblade against a cataclysmic invasion of blatantly overpowered alien invaders. The beauty and value of struggling against inevitable darkness was CoH's final message. A fitting tribute for the beloved and fondly remembered MMO. Springfield Rockstar has always played it's cards close to it's chest but no one could have guessed that the schoolyard based Bully was a testbed for a much more ambitious project several years in the making. When Rockstar announced it's partnership with Fox to make an open-world Simpson's game where nearly every single NPC in the game was a known and beloved Simpsons cast member, the response was a mixture of unbridled excitement and raised eyebrows. Those eyebrows stayed raised as Rockstar made design choices so bold they bordered on absurd. Rather than make Bart or any of the other predictable Simpson family members the protagonists, Rockstar reached back to its tradition with mute characters and allowed players to make their own avatar, a recent transfer student to Springfield Elementary known only as “The Kid.” The game was structured similar to GTA and Bully, but with a Simpsons twist with “The Kid” taking on all kinds of missions from notable Springfield residents. Hijinks ranging from helping Comic Book Guy try to woo a regular customer (it ends poorly), to covering up an accident at the nuclear plant for Mr. Burns (it ends poorly), to trying to elevate Bumblebee Man's stature as an actor (you guessed it, it ends poorly). 400 hours of dialog, quips and jokes make Springfield a real, living place filled with the characters you know and love. Most precious of all, though, were the inclusion of previously unused and forgotten recorded performances from the late Phil Hartman, allowing a final farewell for beloved characters such as Lionel Hutz and Troy McClure. [embed]293426:58849:0[/embed] Those are games I see when I close my eyes at night. Games that I know could never have existed for a number of perfectly sound reasons, but still can't shake the feeling that we should have had them. Do you have any games like this? Titles that stick in your imagination and make you wish things had happened differently?
Dream games photo
All great ideas go to Heaven
Silent Hills was a dream game. Specifically, it was my dream game. If you asked me before P.T. crept onto the PSN servers what series I'd most like to see rejuvenated in a bold new way, I would have probably told you Silent H...

Dark Souls III photo
Supposedly releasing next year
Following a report that Bandai Namco would announce Dark Souls III later this month at E3, The Know has come out with a slew of supposed screenshots and information for the game. This is the same group responsible for that s...

In case you missed it: The Fallout 4 debut trailer is live

Jun 06 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]293232:58797:0[/embed] In the press release, game director Todd Howard spoke briefly about the current development of Fallout 4. "We know what this game means to everyone," he said. "The time and technology have allowed us to be more ambitious than ever. We've never been more excited about a game, and we can't wait to share it." We also have official word about its presence on consoles. Before its debut, there was some concerns about it being a cross-gen title. Meaning, it would be released on current and past-gen consoles. Thankfully that's not the case, and Fallout 4 will be developed for current tech only. I'm glad to see it finally revealed. It felt like the worst-kept secret in the gaming industry, so it's good that the shoe finally dropped. And it's so wonderful have Ron Perlman return.
Fallout 4 photo
You know what it is
No talking, here it is. Fallout 4 is being developed for PS4, Xbox One, and PC. 

Very Quick Tips: Heroes of the Storm

Jun 05 // Chris Carter
General tips: Regeneration globes drop from the mage minions in each creep wave. It took me forever to realize this, but you can use it to your advantage with characters like Kael, and the Mana Addict skill. Do you see the eye above your character when you're hidden? If it turns red, you've been spotted by some source. You do not need to kill creeps to get XP for your team, nor do you need to last-hit them for more rewards. You just need to be near them. Likewise, you don't always have to go after objectives, even though you should in most quick matches where you can't communicate. For instance, it's advantageous to lane for the first tribute spawn on the Cursed Hollow map, and have one player poke the enemy team while everyone else lanes. That way you're outleveling your opponent's team, and giving up one tribute isn't a big deal. Tactics like this require communication however. Ever wonder what the "Bribe" statement is for neutral mercenary camps? Only certain heroes can do this if they buy that ability when leveling up or at the start, like Falstad and Brightwing. Right clicking  on your profile in the top right-hand corner of the main menu can yield a ton of information that's worth reading, like win rates on certain maps and your affinity towards specific heroes. Additionally, you can sometimes locate hidden heroes that haven't launched yet in the Hero Collection screen. Abathur can  be tricky when controlling a stealthed unit. Almost nothing will actually break the cloak, but any ability, including the shield, will sort of show their location to enemies. Any skillshot or AOE can take a unit out of a cloak, and you can see said cloak a bit by way of a shimmering effect. Likewise, Rehgar's chain heal can jump to an "empty" spot -- be aware of every ability that can expose a stealth character. If you see someone with a flaming health bar, it means they're on a killing spree. Depending on that character's build, they may have the skill that adds ability damage for consecutive kills. Death with reset some of this progress. You can swap your active abilities (the bar right above your core Q through R keys) by holding down left click and dragging them. Destroying a keep (the big fort) in a given inner base will spawn super minions (catapults) in that lane. If you hold alt while left clicking, you can bring up an extended ping menu with options like "on my way" and "need assistance." If you want an idea of who top players use, check out the Heroes of the Storm Logs website. Players often use this to decide "tiers," but it's just one piece of data to use when choosing a main, or a new character to try. Want to try out a hero you don't own? Go to the shop, click a hero, and hit "try." For a better shop view, click the hero while in the "Play" section of the game to get an easier, bigger layout with gold and real money prices. "Random" may also grant you access to a hero that you cannot play yet due to your rank. On Quick Match, players will often fight over the "vision" points on maps at the start (especially in Blackheart's Bay). Be aware of this meta-skirmish and plan accordingly -- get behind your warrior/tank and be cautious. If your team looks like they're going for it, think about helping them out, or go to the very bottom and just start laning to get a head start on XP. Laning isn't always sexy, but it pays off, especially if you're outleveling the opposing team. Be patient when buying heroes. Buy ones that cost very low amounts of gold, and level them up -- levels one through five are extremely easy to do. You'll in turn have more chances to earn gold with those cheap character levels, which can buy you more characters as you level up your player level. Before you know it you'll have tons of gold. Exercise restraint and only try to buy heroes on sale with real money. Eventually, they will all go on sale. Speaking of XP, when you hit player level 10, you'll get a free 7-day Stimpack that boosts XP gain. Think about hitting this landmark when you'll have more free time ahead of you -- in other words, if you're about to go on vacation, don't pull the trigger on level 10 just yet. If you're redeeming the retail Starter Pack, redeem your Ronin Zeratul skin first, as it will unlock the Zeratul character. You can give your other unlock to a friend.
Heroes of the Storm tips photo
Make Uther proud
Heroes of the Storm might have some streamlined mechanics when it comes to the MOBA genre as a whole, but it's anything but "dumbed down." While I'll refrain from educating players on MOBAs as a whole (the 15-minute tutorial does a good job of that), here are some tips I've compiled over my long sessions of play.

Stella, Versus' opening party scene no longer in Final Fantasy XV

Jun 05 // Steven Hansen
Stella was a straggler. "Stella was presented as the heroine to play opposite Noctis in Versus XIII. We wanted to keep her as a heroine in FFXV’s story, and pursued ways to tie her in to FFXV’s design as well, but we found it increasingly difficult to make sense of Stella’s character and role within FFXV. So then we thought, do we want to recreate Stella with a different role and image, or do we want to start over with a new heroine? And after a lot of consideration, we decided not to include Stella in FFXV. Instead, we have a new heroine named Luna, who has a different role within the story. So we will be talking more about her in the future." That future is likely Gamescom, where Final Fantasy XV will have a big presence. It is basically skipping E3. Other characters from what was Versus, like the woman dragoon, "are still in the game with their own important roles within the story." Still, the erasure of a major character emphasizes what Tabata wants to get across ahead of the big reveals at Gamescom, that Final Fantasy XV "is indeed a different game now." Another specific change Tabata points out is that the party scene from Versus, followed by the attack on the city, has been removed. "So now, the sequence is: Noct and his retinue leave Insomnia, and...then the Niflheim army attacks the crown city," he explained. "There’s an extremely important reason behind this decision. In fact, it could be construed a spoiler, so I can’t tell you about it here." Even that change comes with a serious concern over fan reaction to these changes. "We decided to delete the scene of a party in Insomnia, which is a city like Shinjuku. So then we became concerned that the players who were looking forward to some gameplay in that city might worry that they would be losing that gameplay as well," Tabata said. "So I thought I should let you know here and now that we are preparing situations that would involve gameplay in the Shinjuku-like city of Insomnia. We had previously released information on Versus saying you would begin combat right after the Niflheim army attacks the city, but the new gameplay would not fall in around the same timeline."
New heroine Luna photo
New heroine Luna & the Versus transition
A lot has changed since Final Fantasy XIII Versus was announced. We have a black president now! Seriously. We're going on a decade now. It's not just minor things like titles or planned consoles that have changed, director H...

Who's that Pokemon? photo
Who's that Pokemon?
Everyone loves good teas. Green teas, black teas, barley teas (the best tea despite not technically being tea), Charles Barkley teas. Well, how about an E3 badge teas? I will stop the unfunny joke now. The stretch was steep. ...

Lucas photo
Mark your calendars
Nintendo of Europe appears to be the gatekeeper of all Super Smash Bros. info, as it tends to announce everything first. Today, it has revealed that Lucas will make his way into Smash as 3DS and Wii U DLC on June 14...

Stonehearth is out now on Steam Early Access

Jun 03 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]293233:58798:0[/embed] Like many other crowdfunded projects, Stonehearth began as a passion project, but it soon grew into something more. Working on the game in their spare time, the developers eventually were able to attract major interest from their Kickstarter campaign, which snowballed from there. With its release on Steam Early Access, Radiant Entertainment's Tom Cannon (also the co-founder of the Evo Championship Series) spoke about Stonehearth's inception and its growth into what it is now. "We started the game as a passion project. We had jobs in Silicon Valley that weren't really personally satisfying because we're hardcore gamers, so we did the Kickstarter back in 2013 to see if the idea we thought was cool," he said. "And the Kickstarter went well, and then we could make the game, but we had to pitch the game to our friends, which got them on board as well -- expanding the team. We spent two years making out prototype, which we showed in the Kickstarter video, and turned it into an actual game." In similar vein to the notoriously tricky and complex Dwarf Fortress, Stonehearth tasks players with creating their own unique civilizations in a procedurally-generated landscape from the ground up. Starting with just a few settlers, all randomized with their own personalities and skills, you'll soon be foraging for supplies and using tools to craft shelters and other necessities in order to survive. As you mine nearby mountains, bring in new settlers, build roads, raise your castle, and amass gold, your population will thrive and expand in unique ways. But as you build your civilization, you'll soon catch the interest of the local goblins who've got their own place in the dirt, and they may not take kindly to seeing outsiders take up residence in the same plot of land. The goblins serve as a necessary evil, as they not only serve to be your major obstacle from thriving, but they're also an opposing force that builds alongside your civilization. While in some cases you can simply negotiate terms for peace, resulting in trading of goods or paying them off to leave you in peace, other times you'll have no choice but to confront them head on. Among your settlers are those who've got the prowess to fight the goblins, but bare in mind not everyone has the courage to do so, and they could run away at the very sight of even a lowly goblin. Picking the right troops is just as important as collecting gold or building an installation, as losing a battle can have dire consequences. Though I mentioned it was similar to Dwarf Fortress, don't fret. The folks at Radiant wanted to emulate its complexity and depth found but ultimately sought to make Stonehearth easier to get into. Less daunting. Don't think of this as Dwarf Fortress with training wheels, though. Stonehearth definitely retains the hardcore focus and depth found in other sim titles. A neat trick Radiant employs to make things interesting is the A.I. director, which analyzes your behavior and throws in challenges based on your current pace of play. PC titles that take advantage of work created by fans are commonplace, and the team wanted to ensure players had access to the same tools it used to create the game to build their own additions and tweaks to Stonehearth. As an example, Cannon showed off one of the more humorous mods from fans, which reskined the game to look like a Candy Land tie-in. Trees turned to lollipops, and the ground textures looked as though they were caked in frosting. While most mods will add simple user interface and gameplay changes, many seek to alter the aesthetic and overall experience, and it's encouraging to see that the developers are so supportive. "We're incredibly mod friendly, so we love mods," said Cannon while showing off the Candy Land mod. "Our approach to mods is that all of our file formats are just open text files, and we have a modding forum to talk with others, if that's what you want to do. We give our modders all the tools they need to build the game, we want there to be tons and tons of mods because we love seeing what people do with the game." I was impressed with the level of complexity found in Stonehearth. The developers do a great job showing life and action happen during the creation of your kingdom, and I felt that the voxel aesthetic adds a lot to the charm. Though I'm not too into the sim genre, I was pretty taken with the gameplay in Stonehearth. One of the most satisfying aspects of these titles is seeing your hard work result in a functioning and healthy society that cannot only expand and thrive, but do so without you regularly needing to intervene. I'm interested in seeing where Radiant Entertainment's title goes from here. Games such as this need a passionate community to flourish, and given the already extensive mod support in place, it looks like Stonehearth will have a bright future. It's currently the #1 seller on Steam's Early Access page. I'm quite looking forward to seeing the follow-up to the Candy Land mod. Given time, I'm sure the fans will come up with something crazier than that! Stonehearth [Steam Early Access]
Stonehearth photo
3D Dot Civilization Builder
It's incredible to see how Kickstarter has given rise to so many titles. Sure, there's the heavy hitters like Broken Age, Wasteland 2, and Pillars of Eternity, but there are many others that came out of nowhere to leave such ...

Triad Wars just made me want to play Sleeping Dogs

Jun 03 // Brett Makedonski
For those who don't know, Triad Wars is a PC-only MMO set in the Sleeping Dogs world. It's about rising through the ranks of the underworld, and eventually being the kingpin. This is done by attacking other players' turf and defending yours. However, the multiplayer is asynchronous in that you don't have to be online in the event of an invasion. You set up lines of defense to fight for you in your absence. As Jordan and I divvied up Pre-E3 assignments at Square Enix's showcase, I knew I wanted Triad Wars. That desire was predicated entirely on this trailer; I wanted a developer to show me exactly how many ridiculous, over-the-top kills he could perform. Skewer someone on a pile of marlin heads so I can laugh about how dumb that is. Instead I was sat down and given instructions. The combat description (which came first) began with "So, have you played Sleeping Dogs?" and was asked with such an inflection as to proceed quickly when I answered in the affirmative. "Nope," I replied. That killed the mood right fast. From there, I was sort of left to fiddle with the controls to figure out how to fight on my own. Luckily, henchmen were lined up plot by plot to fall to my lightning-fast fists. I wrangled them mostly with no trouble, figuring out the two or three different combos that seemed to always do the trick. In reality, that might've been less on me, and more due to the fact that the developer approximated that the account I was playing on was 50 or so hours in. "Okay then," I responded, unsure of how this play experience could be transformed into any sort of coherent preview. I mean, I completely blew past any sense of progression that would act as a good indicator as to how the MMO components were. You know, the addictive quality that keeps players coming back to the same game time and time again. "Take me to do something," I half-demanded in a friendly tone. I was sure this was just a waste of time at this point. So, I hopped in a sporty car and drove off to attack another base. I worked my way through the exteriors of the compound, relying on careful headshots while strafing and my hastily-learned combat moves. Eventually, I karate-kicked the boss to submission. It was all pretty easy -- again, probably more a result of that 50+ hour account than my competency. And, that was the end of it. My takeaway from the whole thing was that Triad Wars seemed rather vanilla, but I'm not completely comfortable with that assessment. After all, I didn't play it the way it's supposed to be played. When I picked it up, it seemed like I was already on top, rather than climbing the ranks to dominate Hong Kong's seedy underbelly. I also simply didn't have adequate time to learn its systems, such as the intricate in-game economy it supposedly features. Really, none of it was presented in a way that MMOs need to be. That's unfortunate, but it's less a knock against this demo, and more a quality of all MMOs in preview situations. But, on a personal note, it made Sleeping Dogs seem like it's probably a pretty killer game. There's an environment that's definitely worth exploring more. I don't know if an MMO is how I want to see it, though. However, those who have been through Sleeping Dogs might find this the perfect opportunity to get back to that world. Any excuse to shove some poor bastard's head through a circular saw, really.
Triad Wars preview photo
More of a compliment than it sounds
Here's another one of those "Confession: I have a shame pile of unplayed games" statements: I never got around to playing Sleeping Dogs. Yeah, I heard it was surprisingly good, but something about it never piqued my interest....

What recent games have actually had good box art?

Jun 03 // Steven Hansen
The Gravity Daze box art was supremely my shit (it's slightly better than the American Gravity Rush one). That full piece of artwork is one of many Gravity Rush pieces that long served as a desktop wallpaper for me. It's still my Vita lock screen. It sells the world instantly. "Gravity" in the title? Beautiful city and lead not adhering to gravity? I'm interested. Of course that box art gets to take full advantage of pulling from one of the most beautiful games ever made. Like the ICO box, it's just a great piece of art, used on the box. Hey, good thing I made 2011 an arbitrary cut off, right? Maybe I can sneak Rayman Origins in here, too. I think I just like how pink Catherine is. Aggressively. It might be the hottest pink thing I own (I have pink shirts and things, mostly pale, though). Especially given how dark the story gets. It subverts the idea of naive femininity the same way both characters (bubbly, but dangerous; serious, but pink-loving) do. Holy shit yes. It is basically a war crime that this isn't a box I own in my home. I either have to A) import the Japanese boxed copy or B) just get this as a giant poster, sans logos. Actually, let's just go with B. How the hell do I make that happen. -- All right. I've already had to dip into non-North American cover art. Help me out. Which games have done it right recently? What stands out on shelves full of thousand yard staring main characters and inscrutable action?
Box art! photo
Uncharted is uninspired
So, the Uncharted 4 box art is a bit shit, isn't it? It's not particularly bad. It even has a nice swoopy subtitle font much better than the one used for Uncharted 2 and 3. But it also follows the trend of central, silhouette...

Final Fantasy Type-0 photo
No details yet
[Update: Square Enix has confirmed that it will be an enhanced port of sorts, offering up "new graphical options," as well as an improved battle and camera system, among other updates.] Square Enix has been on a Steam be...

PC Port Report: D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die

Jun 03 // Steven Hansen
D4 isn't a robust PC port, but it's functional. There were two instances of models (once a full character, once a tie) kind of spazzing out and shaking for a bit; I had a crash trying to bow out to the main menu between episodes; and things aren't crazy cleaned up from the Xbox One release, but the port is a fine option and not any kind of messy downgrade from the original. It's clear a lot of work went into adapting usable mouse controls (replacing the stripped out Kinect controls), UI, and so on. Not that it needs much else. Xbox One DLC is packed in with a "free shirt" section of the store that hilariously gave me a Gears of War tee right off the bat. Buying clothes is very important for no reason. Nice to see a game with different outfits in this day and age. There's some new DLC if you're into that sort of thing. The controls are the big thing, though. Chris was sure it was better without Kinect when he played it, but I do feel there is something missing, oddly enough. Never thought I'd be going to bat for the Kinect. I also never used Kinect controls for longer than 30 minutes at a time, so maybe that would drag after a while. It's just that some of the mouse swipes, especially when your cursor is at the opposite end of where you're being prompted to begin swiping across, don't quite have that same tactile connection. It feels like flailing more than literal arm waving. Clicking, pushing, grabbing -- those all work, maybe even better with point-and-click precision. But then I sort of miss those dramatic, painterly slashes across the screen. Particularly during big action sequences, but also for the rote swipe-to-do-somethings, like opening doors. And the middle mouse button to look around felt finicky to me, but that may have something to do with my broken finger. Mouse versus Kinect versus controller, it's mostly preference. The best thing about mouse controls is pure one-handed play, leaving the other hand free to sip some tequila.
Agave photo
1 tequila, 2 tequila, 3 tequila, D4
First, let's take a moment to really appreciate my tequila sub header. It's the little details that count. That's what D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die is all about. Sure, when a catgirl is doing karate in your face it's easy to thi...

Fallout 4 officially announced

Jun 03 // Joe Parlock
Fallout 4 photo
A little bit early, but who cares?
[Update: Shortly after our news post went live, the site was pulled. Thankfully, we captured screenshots while it was public.] [Update 2: We have managed to pull the YouTube thumbnail from the trailer that was embedded on th...

Corsair's Bulldog PC: Liquid-cooled, 4K living room gaming

Jun 02 // Steven Hansen
The entry level Bulldog kit is $400. This will not get you 4K gaming, of course. You get the chassis, Mini-ITX motherboard, CPU cooler, and power supply. Where you go from there is up to you. You add CPU, RAM, hard drive, and graphics card. Maybe you want 32GB of DDR4 and a liquid-cooled Titan X. If you have a 4K TV I assume you can afford it, despite assurances that 4K TVs like the monster set we demoed on are now "affordable" at $1,800, or the same price as my weekend trip to the ER for a badly broken finger (yes, typing one handed is slow. Wiping lefty is also uncomfortable.) If you're going from scratch and buying everything fresh, you're looking at anywhere from $939 to $2249 (on the high, liquid-cooled Titan X end) to put together a nice little living room PC. If you're interested in dropping a liquid-cooled GPU solution into some other non-dog-shaped computer, perhaps your own, that's possible too. Corsair is selling the GPU liquid-cooler in a separate kit that will support all current and upcoming AMD and Nvidia graphics cards. Corsair also announced the Lapdog, which is not a laptop, but rather a big old tray you can set on your lap. It has a giant mouse pad area and Corsair's mechanical gaming keyboards can dock with its powered USB hub (go ahead and charge your phone from it, too). It's wired, which is a weird compromise between living room form factor and PC gaming precision. Also $90 (or $200 with a keyboard packed in). I like living room PC gaming. I have a nice, old tower hooked up to the aforementioned 30-inch living room television. I don't notice the noise, whether I'm playing a new game on high settings or just using it mainline Dinosaurs on Netflix. Usually I just use a controller, or the wireless mouse and keyboard sitting on the coffee table. That's me. Poor, simple me. Corsair's cool tech might be for you, though.
Bulldog and Lapdog photo
Also, Lapdog keyboard shell
The Witcher 3 looks nice in 4K. This is neither something unexpected nor something my six-year-old, 30-inch living room television would be able to teach me. But I visited with computer hardware and peripheral developer Corsa...

Review: Heroes of the Storm

Jun 02 // Chris Carter
Heroes of the Storm (Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: Blizzard EntertainmentPublisher: Blizzard EntertainmentMSRP: Free-to-playRelease Date: June 2, 2015 Fundamentally, Heroes is still very much a MOBA experience. It's a five-on-five, top-down, click-heavy affair with various roles such as support, tanks, and DPS, and there's a variety of different characters to choose from. To help break down the barrier to entry, Blizzard has made a number of concessions that set it apart from its competition. Perhaps the biggest difference with Heroes of the Storm is that there are no longer items of any kind, and that's something I'm really, really happy about. While I definitely appreciate the "me-too" nature of adding items to every new MOBA, as it did initially stem from the original DOTA (and by proxy, Warcraft III's shops), learning new item-meta in addition to every map and every nuance for each character can be taxing. I'll often spend hours upon hours theorycrafting builds when returning to specific MOBAs just to figure out the best course of action, which can get tiring if you have to do it for every game. Potions have been replaced by healing wells, found at every fort checkpoint -- making it even easier to get back into the action without any boring moments. Now, there's still plenty of theorycrafting to be had with Heroes of the Storm as characters do get the ability to choose between different abilities after hitting certain level milestones, but you don't need to worry about that one extra crucial layer that can make or break a match. But without items, newer players will be able to pick up any hero and play. Builds are initially limited as you start to level-up within the game's ranking system, offering only a few paths for heroes you've never played as before. It only takes a few games until everything is available though, and at player level 25 (a few days of heavy sessions), every skill will be unlocked automatically. In short, it'll be very easy to come back to Heroes months down the line and learn new playstyles. [embed]292749:58760:0[/embed] The open-ended build system is also great for another reason. Even if you don't build the perfect group composition for any given team, all hope isn't lost at hero selection. For instance, you can spec your support or tank characters into a more damage-centric role over the course of the game. Healers can spec entirely for damage if there's multiple support members on the team, and warriors can go a more tanky route if there's no one to soak up damage. It's far more forgiving than most MOBAs, where you can get yelled at for picking a hero that doesn't fit the current meta, much less your group. Shared experience is the other huge mechanic that Heroes of the Storm is pushing. Basically, it allows everyone on the team to be on the same exact level as one another at all times. For example, you won't have one master player who knows exactly how to lane amassing all of the XP on your team. Instead, the worst player is just as strong as the best one. I dig this system for multiple reasons. For one, it doesn't discourage players from attempting to mount a comeback. While another team can still theoretically outlevel their opponents as a collective, everyone can now feel like they're contributing without having fingers pointed at them. The cast itself is also a huge draw, mostly because it calls upon the rich lore already established in the Warcraft, Diablo, and StarCraft universes. There's not much backstory in terms of the world itself (unlike Riot Games, which does a fantastic job of keeping its lore interesting and fresh), but each hero has a ton of personality to make up for it. Old familiar characters like Thrall or Raynor have a lot of the same icons and skills from their respective games, as well as updated designs and sound effects. It's a joy to play as Nova and hear the classic StarCraft Ghost phrases, running up against the Lord of Terror himself, Diablo. It sounds hyperbolic, but I really do like playing as everyone (the only hero I straight-up don't like is Tychus), and there's more than enough variation to keep everyone entertained. Abathur, for instance, is a character that doesn't directly fight on the battlefield, but instead hitches a ride on other heroes (as well as towers and creeps) to do battle in the form of a sentient spirit of sorts. The Lost Vikings are a lot like Meepo from DOTA, in the sense that they're actually three different units that can be controlled independently, all in different lanes if you can handle it. There are plenty of more traditional platstyles available, as well as more unique choices like Zagara, who summons minions from StarCraft and can create creep (that barren-esque Zerg terrain) to buff herself. Other characters like Ghost and Zeratul can go stealth to pick off enemies. Sylvanas can disable towers or creeps by attacking them. Uther can heal for a short time after his death. You've seen some of these mechanics before in the genre, but the way each style plays out is unique to Heroes. If you're bored of playing the same exact five-on-five, three-lane map over and over in every game, Heroes can offer some respite. There's tons of maps to learn (seven in all at launch, with another Diablo-themed map in development), all of which have objectives built into them. These mini-quests range from collecting coins to pay a ghost pirate to blow away an enemy base, or defending a circle that shoots lasers at opposing forts. While a lot of folks likely won't enjoy the fact that a team can come back and win because of these events, they're actually just a more streamlined and flashy way of handling the Dragon and Baron Nashor objectives in, say, League of Legends. They're also designed to expedite matches -- an average Heroes game is usually 20 minutes, which is a stark contrast to 45-60 minute matches elsewhere. It's a great philosophy, as one of the common genre complaints is the fact that games take forever. The less Blizzard copies the status quo, the better. Heroes of the Storm also provides a more relaxed environment in general. There's far less pressure in unranked matches (as there should be), and there's even an option to turn off allied chat, thus avoiding taunts from angry players -- instead, you can rely on the fairly extensive pinging system on the mini-map to communicate. "All" chat is also entirely disabled, so you won't hear enemy trash-talking either. There's a few bad apples here and there, but in my experience, this is by and large the most welcoming MOBA community. This should help alleviate a lot of the concerns people have in regards to starting up the genre. For those of you who are more competitive, there is a ranked option called Hero League. There's no bans currently, but you can solo or group queue for it, and hero selection is done by a "draft" style format, where players switch off selecting characters. From what I've played of ranked, the community is just as understanding and helpful, and in every lobby I've been in, players have suggested picks for inexperienced folk and adjusted their picks to help the team. At the highest player rank there's also a team Hero League option for all five players to enter. Currently, the ranked system needs a bit more work in terms of the infrastructure behind it. Blizzard has noted that it is building a system in line with Hearthstone's ladder rankings, but top-tier players will require a lot more to keep playing. In terms of monetizaton, Heroes is roughly on par with League (which is fine by me), but with a slightly lower earn-rate for in-game currency. Yes, it's awesome that Dota 2 has all of its heroes unlocked from the start, and I wish we could have that strategy implemented in every MOBA. But the reality is, Blizzard has created enough avenues to earn gold, and the free-to-play rotation every week will still allow you to play every role and get the full Heroes experience. To earn gold, you can complete daily quests, which will net you around one character per month (depending on the price). By playing frequently, you'll earn gold inherently through completed matches, and by leveling up heroes, you'll earn a nice gold bonus at specific ranks. It's not really hard to do any of these tasks -- they merely require you to play heroes from specific franchises, roles, or play the hero itself a certain amount. There's also a few bundles, including a $20 physical boxed set at launch, that provide a large number of characters. A handful of heroes are also very cheap, to the point where you can buy a few after only a day or so of play. Ever since the beta, I've always had a reserved take on Heroes' economy. In short, it's a bit too conservative in terms of rewards, and Blizzard doesn't put out nearly enough sales (the weekly is usually just a middling one character). That could change over time, but for now, I would like to see a higher earn-rate overall. The good news is that all real-money purchases are just that -- real-money, with dollars and cents. You don't need to wade through and calculate "Riot Points" to figure out how much something costs. Skins are only available for purchase with real cash, which doesn't really bother me as they are a completely optional affair. Plus, when you see how much work goes into making a skin, the prices feel justified, especially when they're on sale. Heroes of the Storm has unfairly been branded as a "just a casual game" due to the removal of many tried and true MOBA mechanics. With over 100 hours of play under my belt, I can say with authority that those claims are untrue. Heroes has a ton of depth, it's very well balanced (though not perfect), and nearly every cast member is a blast to play. It achieves almost everything it sets out to accomplish, so I really hope it catches on with the non-believers and continues to grow. [This review is based on a retail build of the free-to-play game, but Blizzard provided us with 60,000 gold to spend in the shop. A $20 retail starter pack was purchased by the reviewer. I am currently player level 40, the maximum.]
Heroes of the Storm photo
My new go-to MOBA
When people hear the term "MOBA" they usually groan. I tend to respond with, "Tell me more." I grew up with RTS games since I could grasp a mouse and keyboard, and my first MOBA was the original DOTA back in 2005. Over t...

Review: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare: Supremacy

Jun 02 // Chris Carter
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare: Supremacy DLC (PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Sledgehammer Games (Current-gen) / High Moon Studios (Last-gen) / Raven Software (Zombies)Publisher: ActivisionReleased: June 2, 2015 (Xbox) / TBA (PC, PS3, PS4)MSRP: $14.99 ($50 Season Pass for four packs) First up is Skyrise, a map that takes place in futuristic Greece. Well, you wouldn't notice the setting unless you really looked, as the only clue is the Acropolis landmark on one side of the map. As it stands, it's basically a straight remake of Modern Warfare 2's Highrise. It's a classic arena in its own right -- but as I've said in the past, I'm not a fan of injecting remakes in a $15 DLC pack. Having said that, Highrise really holds up. It's a classic tiered map with plenty of high, middle, and underground paths, with a giant playground in the middle, and hidden side paths. It's a nice addition to the rotation, and enough time has passed between the release of Modern Warfare 2 to not piss me off. Parliament is set on the River Thames in London, and is yet another tanker map. It's almost like Activision needs to fulfill an imaginary quota of tankers in every Call of Duty, so this is where you can get your fix if you're a fan of steel traps. It's a lot like Skyrise in that most of the cool stuff is happening in the background, but there's some decent opportunities to jump around the map and over hazards like the river itself. It's not quite on par with Skyrise's layout, but I have no real qualms when it comes up, since it takes advantage of the increased Exo mobility quite well. Kremlin, obviously set in Russia, is extremely colorful, and sets itself apart from the rest of the pack immediately. I love that it feels like a legitimate map from an older game like World at War, as there's tons of detail inside and out, and nearly none of the layout is wasted. It's one of the best objective-based maps currently, as there are multiple chokepoints built into it, including one really rad area that involves a long road and a mounted machine-gun perch. Whenever it comes up in a playlist, my eyes light up and I mash the vote button. It seems like there always needs to be one bad apple in these DLCs, and Compound fulfills that niche. Taking place in a staging ground in Colorado, Compound is a boring, small map that serves no real purpose in Advanced Warfare, which is a much more mobile game than past iterations. From what I've played, opposing teams tend to spawn on top of one another, leading to a bunch of messy firefights. They tried to go for a more tiered design here, but it mostly fails because everything is so low to the ground. Thankfully, the Exo Grapple playlist returns for Supremacy, and I recommend playing it to get more mileage out of Compound. In case you were wondering, there's no DLC weapon this time around -- which I'm more than fine with. [embed]293187:58782:0[/embed] Like clockwork, a number of issues I have with Supremacy have been alleviated with the third part of the Exo Zombies tale, Carrier. I really love how Sledgehammer and Raven Software are moving the story along with the same cast of characters, and its narrative style is pretty much exactly where it needs to be. It's not as cryptic as Treyarch's method, it's not too on-the-nose, and it's far more interesting than Infinity Ward's alien-oriented Extinction lore. It helps that Bruce Campbell is now along for the ride, and he fits the tone of the game perfectly. Maybe he'd be better suited as a full-on Ash cameo down the line with a wackier take on the zombies mode in general, but he does a great job of acclimating to the already talented cast here. Carrier itself looks aesthetically similar to the first Exo Zombies mission, but the intricacies will soon start to pop out the more you play. One of my favorite bits involves a makeshift Pachinko machine on a random wall that takes spare grenades, rewarding you with cash. There's also a lot of cool skirmishes with humanoid opponents this time, which elevates the mode and gives it a certain degree of depth that exceeds your normal "horde" expectations. Objectives like defusing bombs while fighting off ravenous zombies do a great job of keeping you on your toes. Call of Duty: Advance Warfare's DLC drops have become incrementally more impressive as Sledgehammer is willing to take more risks. While I didn't think it'd be able to bring anything new to the table for its first Call of Duty outing, the studio has proven me wrong, surpassing Infinity Ward in my mind. While the jury is out on the fourth DLC for Advanced Warfare, Sledgehammer has already done enough to make me look forward to its next project. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Call of Duty DLC review photo
Third time is a charm
Another year, another round of Call of Duty DLC -- four rounds, yet again, in the case of Advanced Warfare. We've already had the Havoc and Ascendance packs drop so far as part of the Season Pass, and while they weren't bad offerings, nothing about them really vied for a purchase. With Supremacy, there may be a case for the pass, at the very least at a discount down the line.

Buy and try photo
Buy and try (within reason)
Woah. Steam just announced it will allow for refunds on "nearly any purchase on Steam" and "for any reason," from your computer's inability to run it to you plum not enjoying it. That last one might make developers sad. There...

Do any of Splatoon's online shortcomings bother you?

Jun 02 // Chris Carter
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Splatoon photo
No voice chat still a problem?
Splatoon is here, and our review was commented on more than The Witcher 3 or Hatred, which surprised me. People had a lot to say about Nintendo's newest shooter, and not everything was positive -- a lot of folk...

Review: Supercharged Robot Vulkaiser

Jun 02 // Kyle MacGregor
Supercharged Robot Vulkaiser (PC)Developer: Astro PortPublisher: Nyu MediaReleased: June 4, 2015MSRP: $4.99 The story centers on Takuya Akatsuki, captain of the eponymous Vulkaiser, and his trusty team of VulFighter comrades, who together must defend the planet from an armada of alien invaders. Akatsuki's buds can join him in battle one at a time, fusing their ships with his own. Each augment the Vulkaiser with a wide swathe of munitions ranging from a cannonade of heavy missile fire and a gun that harnesses the power of lightning to a needle blaster and a massive drill. Diffused between the levels are a series of vignettes where the VulFighters that just accompanied the protagonist will have something to say. While it's never explicitly stated, the game encourages players to stick with one squadmate throughout the experience, as the longer they accompany our hero in battle, the more of their personal storylines we see. It's a small lure, but those willing to humor it will discover an added wrinkle to the challenge. Even if you manage to clear the game on its hardest difficulty setting, sticking with a single VulFighter throughout the campaign's duration certainly ups the ante. In addition to particular allies being more useful in certain situations more so than others, they're also limited by their shields. Much like the Vulkaiser itself, the VulFighters only recharge a small amount of health between one battle and the next. Once a ship is gone, it's gone! And there aren't any continues either, so you need to be mindful about weaving through every barrage avoid an untimely and disappointing end. That's how Supercharged Robot Vulkaiser hooked me. Having initially played through the game and thought it enjoyable, if a tad prosaic outside of its charming '70s anime veneer, I began playing the game within the game. I decided to see if I would see new dialogue if kept using the same VulFighter. I soon discovered, yes, that's the case -- though this came with the realization that it might be difficult to keep them alive long enough to see all of it. And challenging it was. Going back to the lede, the moment Supercharged Robot Vulkaiser got under my skin was at its climax. I had nearly completed the entire game with my pal Kimiko in tow, only to see her VulFighter crash and burn mere moments before felling the final boss. I felt crestfallen, despondent, but more than anything imbued with a sense of purpose, an intense desire to forge ahead on this self-imposed quest. I found it remarkable how such a seemingly unexceptional experience could rise to be so much more than the sum of its parts. I can't guarantee Supercharged Robot Vulkaiser will blow you away, but I'm having a blast with it. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Doujin shmup review photo
On target
Amidst a wash of old school mecha anime and Tokusatsu-tinted nostalgia, there was a moment in this otherwise homespun shooter that left me surprised and curiously enamored. Supercharged Robot Vulkaiser doesn't come from a gen...


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