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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!
Horror games photo
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
[embed]293141:58775:0[/embed]
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...

Review: Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven

Jun 02 // Chris Carter
Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven (3DS)Developer: MarvelousPublisher: Marvelous (JP), XSEED (EU, US)Released: October 2, 2014 (JP) / June 2, 2015 (US) / June 4, 2015 (EU)MSRP: $39.99 Magna puts you in the shoes of a humble innkeeper (whose name can be customized at the start), who made a promise to his father to always keep his doors open and be the best proprietor he can be. One day on a standard trip to a cave to gather crystals (a precious resource in this world), he encounters a group of monsters. Fearing death, he retreats to a corner hosting a giant crystal, and summons a magical Spirit Girl named Charlotte (an "Artemis") who saves the day, and pledges her loyalty to him. It gets really goofy from here, in a good way. Maiden Heaven quite literally lays the last bit of its moniker on thick, as Charlotte has six other sisters who end up joining the fray over the course of the game. The narrative is framed as a shonen journey at its core, and the tone and even the presentation remind me of Lunar: The Silver Star, all the way up to and including the short, voiced anime cutscenes that intro new characters -- which is definitely a compliment. It's technically a harem anime setup, but the sexual tension is very light outside of a few scenes (most of which are optional and involve a bathhouse that buffs your party). Plus, you can readily fast-forward any story scene in the game if you wish. As you progress through the game, you'll start to realize that the story is tertiary to your interaction with the Artemis sisters. Think "Social Links" from Persona but much less detailed, and you'll have an idea of what to expect. By talking to characters at hub zones you'll be able to embark upon sidequests, which allow you to increase your affinity towards certain characters, and thus, power up your combat synergy with them. It's an interesting system, mostly because you cannot schmooze everyone in the game. You have to choose between them somewhat, as a handful of these quests will automatically cause the core story to continue. [embed]293142:58774:0[/embed] Magna has a really cool animation style that hosts chibi character models but is also insanely detailed, and for the most part, it works. Backgrounds are fairly stunning on the 3DS even without the 3D effect, and individual moving parts like a random Newton's cradle on a desk look great. The big problem with Magna though is that there is little to no exploration involved. It almost feels like at one point there were going to be massive hubs (you can see a few during quests), but they were cut for time. Instead, cutscenes are the only real way you're going to see Magna's sprawling kingdoms, and even the world map is a boring series of cutscenes. Speaking of cut for time, the English voice acting cast is great, but actual voicework is sparse, and mostly for combat actions and the first few bits of dialogue within a scene. It's unfortunate. Combat, on the other hand, is always a joy to play, and doesn't feel rushed in the slightest. It's a turn-based top-down strategic affair, but it's also grid-less, similar to Valkyria Chronicles. Instead, individual characters have a certain speed rating to determine their turn, and a movement radius. You can traverse anywhere within said radius, and then either defend, attack, or use an item. It's standard stuff, but the way combat actually plays out is just as over-the-top as its cast. The main goal with Magna's battles is to topple as many enemies as possible. Most baddies are grouped up in a formation, with a leader surrounded by tons of minions -- the former of which can summon more as long as he remains alive. For the most part, you'll want to run into these groups and hit an outside member to smash them into others, who fall over like bowling pins.  10-hit combos will grant you extra turns, so it's in your best interest to smash up piles of enemies in rapid succession. It's not the deepest system but it never gets old. Thankfully, individual scenarios have a decent amount of variety to them thanks to random items scattered about the battlefield, like explosive bombs and health potions. It might be turn-based but it doesn't really feel that way if you act quickly, and once you start acquiring more party members you'll have quite a bit of firepower to work with. The standard difficulty setting is spot-on, offering a decent enough challenge right out of the gate. You can also adjust the difficulty on the fly if you want. If you fail a level you can reform your party instantly and buy items before the battle, which is a really cool feature. Lord of Magna has seven endings in all, one for each sister. It's not an extremely lengthy JRPG though, as most of the replay value and extra content is hidden behind this gimmick. Since you can't see all of them in one playthrough it encourages you to do it all over again, but I'm not so sure a lot of folks out there will do that. Personally, I was happy enough with one completion, but years down the line I can see coming back for more. I enjoyed my time with Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven, despite the fact that it felt a tad unfinished at times. The combat system is fast-paced, the cast is likable, and the animation style looks excellent on Nintendo's newest portable. If you curb your expectations a bit, strategy-oriented JRPG fans will find a charming little flawed adventure in Magna. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Lord of Magna photo
Go go Harem Rangers
It's a miracle that Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven even exists. The project was unceremoniously halted after Rune Factory developer Neverland declared bankruptcy, and publisher Marvelous actually re-assembled part of the team t...

22 (probably) games that are way harder than Dark Souls

Jun 01 // Steven Hansen
Conversation around From Software's turgid-uttered sacred cow, the Souls series (Bloodborne, too) has such a strange fixation on difficulty, of shuddering players shivering under its hurts so good sadism. Namco Bandai fed into it with Dark Souls and Dark Souls II's marketing. I've died hundreds of times in hundreds of games. And it's very strange how people nod in agreement to the novelty of death and difficulty as if instant fail states were not one of gaming's founding blocks (to the point where some people have stupid arguments about whether things are or are not games). It reminds me of how Telltale's recent adventure games trump up "player choice" as if players haven't been choosing since positioning their Pong paddle. Ok, "narrative" choice? Umm, how about text adventures from 1981. Come on. Souls games aren't hard. I don't say that as a nose-upturned, "gotten gud" vet. They are about endurance and resilience more than sadistic, chronic difficulty. They are a challenge, but not monstrous or mean as people often make them out. Heck, I've seen someone who plays maybe one or two games a year get a platinum trophy in Demon's Souls. There's no club. Anyone can do this. They're designed to let anyone play and finish. Over on the webpage (and mobile application) Twitter, one-time Destructoid contributor Stephen Beirne (no relation!) loosed a series of posts about Souls and I am in accord. "I can't get behind the argument that Dark Souls is abusive due to its (presented sense of) difficulty. And I think this is because I find Dark Souls to be far, far less difficult than a game like, for example, Super Mario Brothers. Platforming is difficult! It's very difficult! It's not fun and it's agonizing and it's pointless and hateful." I love platformers, but this raises some great points, aside from the subjectivity of difficulty. No one's good at everything. I am bad at not having loads of sex, for example. Irish Stephen (not to be confused with Welsh Stephen) is bad at platformers. Young Steven (me) was bad at telling Kurt Russell and Patrick Swayze apart. There is a relative novelty to Souls games, though, and I think that's where some of the obsession over exaggerating the difficulty comes from (aside from general chest pounding reinforced by marketing to try and create a positive-feeling in-group). But it isn't in death. It's as a 3D action game. Late '80s, early '90s gaming was filthy with platformers. Mario, a pop culture icon up there with Michael Jordan and the wild shirtless Mark Farner, comes from New Jump City. The genre has only gotten easier, shedding quarter-gobbling design (the removal of "lives"), allowing you to skip levels after repeated death. While some folks are plum bad at 'em, we've had a lot of tries at being good at them. Compare to the 3D action game, which might not have even hit its stride until the PS2-era in the 2000s (PS1-era ones tended to be wonky and platforming-heavy), but at least didn't even exist until 3D graphics. In our young medium, the 3D action genre is younger still, (blood)born(e) of platformers and agèd over the last decade. Souls games occupy a genre that has a decent chance at being a new challenge to folks. It also operates different than genre-defining stuff like Devil May Cry or God of War, thanks in part to the RPG bits. The latter, reflex-based ilk are linear and need momentum. And so you can limp along, button mash, and be not all that good, for which they'll stratify you (chumps skirt by with C-ranks and stamina, experts carve up the world with SSS-rank endless combos). But you're still getting through, moving along. Even I meandered my way through the "hard" Devil May Cry games. And on the RPG side of the Souls mix, there's a history of having the numbers and grind fallback, limited reflex-oriented fighting. And suddenly, Souls, where the difference isn't "coast by or be good," but, more closely, "coast by or die." It rewrites the expectations of 3D, third-person action relative to genre standard bearers. All it asks you to do is get by, and so it skews the relationship to death and performance. The general experience of Devil May Cry is that sometimes you'll die. Mostly, you'll empty out rooms with the killing precision of a child flailing at a piñata. Eventually, you'll be an expert slayer. Souls changes that bell curve. Mostly you'll die. Eventually you'll get by. Rarely, you'll be a wrecking machine, an offensive weapon. It's about winning, eventually, instead of winning more and more impressively.  Souls offers other outs, too. You can go grind and level up, get more gear, buy more arrows. You can often fuck off elsewhere, to another stage, or on another path, rather than bang your head against one boss. Masochistic? When's the last time a text adventure let you type, "this is stupid, next question?" How about trying to suss a point-and-click puzzle that expects you to pry open a manhole, stretch a patch of human skin over it into a trampoline, and jump up through an open window? Souls games are designed to encourage you towards eventual success, even if it means breaks, detours, or extra hours. You don't get a gold star for killing the Flame Lurker without the ribcage exploit. You don't get a demerit for safely perching yourself with a bow and taking 100 potshots to down a far off creature. In Souls' judgment, it's all the same. What matters is you did it. I don't find that sadistic at all.
Not actually a listicle photo
Why the Souls series' hardened rep?
"Prepare to die," Dark Souls warns, flashlight under face, as if 30 years of video games hasn't already prepared me. "I'm not a masochist," people say, letting six years of Souls pass from afar, like they're looking out a tra...

Podtoid 295: Squidnapped

Jun 01 // Kyle MacGregor
PODTOID photo
I'm a kid now, I'm a squid now...
Oh hey there! Apologies for missing the past couple weeks -- technical difficulties conspired against us -- but the Podtoid kids are back and ready to fill your ears with ink. Or the spoken word. You can tune in to the podcast via direct download and subscribe to the show on iTunes.

Disney Infinity 3.0 expands with the Star Wars and Inside Out playsets

Jun 01 // Alessandro Fillari
For those who aren't familiar, or maybe just a bit confused about what Disney Infinity is, this title brings players into an open world and unified experience to craft unique and original playgrounds for Disney characters from the past and present. Much like the Skylanders series, characters are acquire by purchasing actual figurines that can be uploaded into the game via a world disc, a real world scanner. While you can create levels and unique scenarios and share them with others online, you can also dive into unique playsets centered around specific Disney films and television shows. In its third year now, Disney Infinity has seen a number of upgrades and additions. With last year's expansion introducing Marvel characters, they've also spent some time upgrading the gameplay and general design. In order to do this, they recruited help from independent developers such as Ninja Theory, Sumo Digital, and United Front Games where they worked on the key areas of combat, racing, and additional character support respectively. With general development handled by Avalanche Software (note: not the same Avalanche behind Just Cause), they've found the creation of Disney Infinity to be a rewarding and satisfying experience. "The two words that come to mind are 'humbling' and 'gratifying," said the GM of Avalanche Software John Blackburn while reflecting on his work on Disney Infinity. "I feel so fortunate to work with all these brands, and it's a dream come true in a lot of ways[...] I'm pretty happy that people have responded to it in the way that have, and have accepted it and are looking forward to the new versions right now. I want to make sure we're doing a good enough job that we're really trying to make high quality kids and family entertainment, because that's been more and more difficult as a business to do. So it's very gratifying to see that we're doing it right." With the 3.0 expansion, new environments and characters will be added to the core game, such as the recently announced Star Wars: Twilight of the Republic (based on the prequel trilogy), Rise Against the Empire (original trilogy), The Force Awakens, and also Pixar's Inside Out playsets. While Star Wars will be largely combat and vehicle focused experiences, Inside Out will experiment more with platforming in surreal environments. Much like the film, the gameplay centers around the emotional state of a young girl named Riley and her changing perception and feelings. Set sometime after the film, players take control of Riley's emotions Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger, and Fear, when she experiences a nightmare after falling asleep during a scary movie. The playset focuses on platforming gameplay through Riley's dreamscape, where environments and enemies take on a variety of different properties, such as warped gravity and the ground turning into hot lava. Each character has their own unique abilities and skills which will serve them throughout the adventure. After seeing the movie, I was itching for another trip into the bizarre and evocative world from Inside Out, and the Disney Infinity playset serves a great follow up to the film as it's basically the sequel to the film. Moreover, it fleshes out many of the settings and areas from the film, such as the dream productions studio where Riley's subconscious craft her dreams by way of old school film production. It's a very colorful and imaginative world, and it's likely the most unique playset Disney Infinity has had yet. The devs at Disney Interactive were very excited about what the new playsets can offer. "Every year a new fan is born," explained the VP of production John Vignocchi. "We're sitting here in the hallowed halls of Pixar, and everyone there will be someone who sees Toy Story for the first time, and we want to make sure that when they pick up Buzz Lightyear, or another favorite character, and when they play with them inside of Infinity, that he is just as cool as he was in the film." Even though I've only had some minor experience with Disney Infinity, I was quite surprised with the creativity found in these playsets. Perhaps this was coming off of my high after seeing Inside Out a month early, but I was very pleased with the translation from film to game. With the writers and directors from the film working with the devs, along with the same voice cast including Amy Poehler and Bill Hader, they wanted to ensure that it would be as faithful as possible. It's pretty crazy to see how much Disney Infinity has grown over the years. What was once a strange experiment trying to catch on to the Minecraft and Skylanders craze, has now turned into a title that's really come into its own. It's pretty impressive to see how much detail and content is packed in the title already, and with the new 3.0 expansion hitting this Fall, the Disney universe is about to get a bit bigger for fans to explore.
Disney Infinity photo
It's a small world after all
Who knew that Disney's strange and bizarre mishmash of characters into one large game would turn out to be such a big hit? I know, a Disney title with a bunch of Pixar, film, and legacy characters would've sold regardless, bu...

XCOM 2 photo
Firaxis Games is developing
2K Games has just sent word that XCOM 2 is in development, and will be a sequel to XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the recently beloved reboot of the series. Firaxis Games is once again handling the project, which is great news fo...

Nintendo Direct photo
A short 17-minute presentation
Nintendo had a pretty informative Japanese Direct session last weekend, but today, it dropped a brand new "Micro" session on us, with lots of news coming out of it. Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash is confirmed for North America, a...

Review: Sym

May 30 // Caitlin Cooke
Sym (PC)Developer: ATRAX GamesPublisher: MastertronicReleased: May 7, 2015MSRP: $7.99 You are Josh, a teenage boy battling social anxiety disorder which manifests itself through an oppressive and dangerous maze where dark creatures and objects lurk. Josh exists through two alter egos -- on the upside he’s a black, lanky humanoid and on the underside, an oblong alien-like figure. Both creatures represent a different side to Josh, yet at the same time act as opposing gameplay agents. Your goal is to switch between both sides to make Josh reach the door, signaling the end of the level. In doing so you must avoid various ghastly obstacles, which differ depending on which side you’re standing on. For example, when Josh is standing upright, he is susceptible to walking creatures and giant human-eating plants, but when he flips he is confronted by spinning saws of death. This interesting use of the environment allows for an additional layer of puzzle solving, and in some cases there are many ways to reach the end of the level. However, as the game progresses the levels are much more strict and to complete them, you must master speed and timing. There’s also a symbol mechanic within the levels that can change spaces from black to white and back again depending on the type of symbol, which side you’re standing on, and when you decide to activate certain switches. This adds another tricky element to the gameplay. Josh’s thoughts are riddled everywhere, sometimes giving hints to the player on what to do next such as “Run!” “Fall!” “Wait!” -- but most of the time, displaying projections of inner conflict like “Lies," “Miserable person," “Please don’t stare." Inner demons come out of the woodwork to work against the player, full of stress and dread: “The bogeyman is coming for you, pray and cry tonight.” These  thoughts combined with the jagged, monochromatic visuals instill a constant sense of being on-edge. While the art style is intriguing, the gameplay can be downright frustrating at times. The logic of the symbols and switches aren’t very intuitive, and I often found myself just jumping around the level versus intentionally trying to solve what was supposed to be done in a particular situation. Luckily, this tactic seemed to work against itself since fast reflexes and timing tend to win over anything else that Sym presents. The controls also could have stood to be a bit tighter. Getting caught between spaces or sticking to walls when trying to maneuver through smaller gaps were common occurrences. I also found the pacing of the character’s movements to be loose and difficult to adjust to. This would result in an extra layer of difficulty, which was frustrating especially in intricate, long levels in which death was not welcome. Sym can be plain confusing at times -- but I think that’s part of the intended nature of the game (if it wasn’t, the creators may be secret geniuses). Levels twist and turn, obstacles block and re-open paths, and just like life it’s never clear where you’re supposed to head. Trial and error are ever present, along with the notion of failure hanging over your head. Sym ties these concepts together well. There is also a subtle beauty to this game, and one that I can relate to. The constant battle of light versus dark, of fear and loneliness, building yourself back to where you need to be -- these are struggles that most humans face at some point, and Sym allows you to play through that emotional roller coaster in a visual way. I enjoyed its thoughtful nature and its ability to evoke feelings that I only thought were available in darker moments. However, Sym’s atmosphere transcends its loose gameplay and controls, which unfortunately creates a frustrating experience and stifles the impact of its message. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Sym review photo
Sadness distilled
Forget games as art -- games as emotion is the new wave of the indie industry. Exploration of inner feelings and thoughts manifesting through a screen and a keyboard is probably one of the most difficult things to build, ye...


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