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Review in Progress: XCOM 2

Feb 05 // Nic Rowen
XCOM 2 (PC [reviewed], Mac)Developer: Firaxis GamesPublisher: 2K GamesReleased: February 5, 2015MSRP: $59.99 I'm a sap. A total and complete sap. If a game has an option to individually customize characters, I will always engage with it to the exclusion of everything else until I'm happy with what I've done. Even more so in a game like XCOM where the stakes are high and characters run a high risk of dying a horrible, and permanent, death. What better way to make that loss feel real? When a squadie gets flayed by an alien soldier wielding a rail gun in my game, I'm not just out a decent Ranger, I've lost one of my friends. I'm guessing I'm not the only one who does this, because Firaxis leaned into the character creation element hard in XCOM 2. Before you even begin fighting the alien menace, you can hop into the character creator and start making your dream squad, filing them away to show up organically in your game as fresh recruits and VIP extraction targets. As I said, I know I'm a sap, but that didn't stop me from being positively giddy when I found a grizzled rifle-toting version of my brother in my first randomized squad. Unlike XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which had fairly limited customization options, there are tons of small, silly, character-establishing quirks to fiddle with in XCOM 2 when you should be plowing through missions and writing a review. Sunglasses, tattoos, cigarettes, scars, camo patterns, accents, all sorts of small ways to make your squad feel like yours. It does make me wonder why there are only a handful of possible faces to round out all these options, but that is a minor quibble. XCOM 2 seems harder than Enemy Unknown, but in a satisfying way. Whenever a game builds up a reputation as punishing, there is always a risk that the developers will take it too far in the sequel, ramp up the difficulty in ways that don't seem fair. So far, that doesn't seem to be the case. The challenge is stiffer, but it comes from a more varied and tactically interesting set of options and enemies than a brute force buff to enemy stats. While the aliens have always outnumbered the XCOM force, the imbalance is even greater here. Even in early missions you'll run into stacked odds. This is mitigated by the new concealment mechanic which allows your squad to move freely in stealth to setup a devastating ambush before the fight begins in earnest. Play your cards right, and you can trap the aliens in a crossfire straight out of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It's almost unhealthy how satisfying it feels to drop three aliens on your very first turn of combat. Not that you'll always have time to get that ambush in motion. Timed missions and pressure conditions are more common in XCOM 2, urging you and your squad to overextend and take stupid risks in an effort to beat the clock. In these situations, trying to set up that ideal ambush situation can hamstring you in the end when you run out of turns to complete the mission. You have to get a feel for when you need to rush and when you have time to get cheeky. I've already managed to lose a couple of squad members (including Jane Kelly, the named tutorial character with spoken dialog; hope she's not supposed to show up in more story stuff later on!) and I expect they are far from the last. Despite playing hundreds of hours of Enemy Unknown and Enemy Within, XCOM 2 has done enough to change up the formula to make fighting the aliens an unpredictable, surprising, and scary experience. I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm going to need more time to beat the game, test the other difficulty options, and try out multiplayer before I'll be able to issue a final verdict. (2K Games only provided us a copy on the day before launch for some reason so unfortunately we're playing catch-up. Sorry!) So far, though, XCOM 2 is an impressive feat. A total improvement to a game that I already thought was pretty damn close to perfect. I've yet to pull out its guts, but if the first few hours are any indication, this is going to be one hell of an alien autopsy. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
XCOM 2 review in prog photo
Welcome back, commander
I've only had a few hours with XCOM 2, Firaxis Games' follow-up to its 2012 XCOM: Enemy Unknown and I can already tell it's a different beast. At its core, it is still the same isometric turn-based strategy game it has always...

Review: Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4

Feb 04 // Laura Kate Dale
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)Developer: Cyber Connect 2Publisher: Bandai NamcoReleased: February 9, 2016MSRP: $49.99 Much like the previous Ninja Storm games, this is a combination of 3D multiplayer fighting with a truncated re-telling of the story of Shippuden. Starting in the midst of The Great Ninja War, Ultimate Ninja Storm 4's story mode tells the same tale as the manga and anime, cutting out any side action and pruning what’s left to the bare essentials. Where did Kakashi get his Sharingan? Who is the guy in the orange mask? Will Naruto ever convince people to “believe it”? As a reminder of the story’s progression and to round off my enjoyment of Naruto, Ninja Storm 4 was a solid, satisfying experience. Featuring full English and Japanese voice tracks from the cast of the anime, the story mode tends to switch between ten-minute chunks of anime cutscene and short fight sequences as appropriate. There's an awful lot of watching compared to playing, but as someone looking to get through the story, that suited me just fine. The combat, which remains unchanged between the single-player story and multiplayer modes, favours style over substance. Characters use the same combo button presses and control in much the same way as each other. The primary difference between the cast is in visual flourish, the speed at which they move, and the type of over-the-top special attack they employ. It's designed so that once you have wrapped your head around controlling one character, you can switch and play as another with very little additional practice needed. [embed]338210:62087:0[/embed] In versus mode, you pick three characters from which to build a team. While you can switch characters mid-battle, the most interesting aspect of team selection is that pairing together characters with pre-existing narrative ties can result in the ability to perform special combination moves unique to the game. Put Sasuke and Naruto together, for example, and you'll see a pretty cool-looking lightning Chidori Rasengan combination attack. This simplification of combat mechanics is, in many ways, a welcome blessing, as the roster in Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is enormous. There are multiple variants of the main cast with unique move-sets, everyone from end-of-the-story villains to minor characters. I spent hours with the game just trying to see every character's top-end skills pulled off, and am well aware there's a whole bunch of combination attacks I still have not seen. Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is fairly simple as a fighting game, and has evolved little mechanically over past iterations. Thankfully for me, it really didn't need to do either of those things. It's an extravagant, over-the-top spectacle where you get to watch teenage ninjas blow up chunks of the planet using magic attacks, and that's pretty cool. If, like me, you fell off the Naruto bandwagon during the early parts of Ninja War, it's a great way to put a few hours in and still know how the whole narrative ended up playing out. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Naruto photo
Simple, flashy, over the top
Almost a decade ago, in my mid-teens, I was hugely into Naruto. As a socially awkward nerd who had just discovered that Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon were part of a larger media genre, I spent years avidly following the adven...

Review: Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel

Feb 02 // Kyle MacGregor
Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel (PS3, PS4 [reviewed])Developer: ExamuPublisher: Marvelous, XSEED GamesReleased: December 10, 2015 (JP), February 2, 2016 (NA), Early 2016 (EU)MSRP: $29.99 (PS3), $39.99 (PS4) Following in the footsteps of the aforementioned Persona 4 Arena and Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax, Nitroplus Blasterz markets itself as a game that is easy to pick up, but difficult to master. Targeting both fighting game enthusiasts and Nitroplus fans that might have never thrown a dragon punch, it attempts to walk a line between something players from both camps can get behind. I'd argue that line is drawn a little closer to the hardcore side of things. While the inputs for special attacks and super moves are relatively easy to execute in contrast with some one-on-one fighters, if you're the sort of person who struggles to pull off quarter circle motions, you're probably in for a bad time. That said, there are certain concessions for more casual players, like the "Variable Rush," a special lunge attack that launches characters into a short-lived combo. If the Variable Rush connects, players can essentially button mash to execute a customizable string of impressive-looking attacks that change depending on which face buttons are pressed. It's not necessarily the most effective use of meter (costing two of three power bars), but it's easy to execute and reasonably effective. Beyond the standard light, medium, and heavy attacks are launching "Heavy Action" moves and "Escape Actions," which, depending on directional inputs, can be used to perform everything from short hops, cancels, rolls, air dashes, and defensive maneuvers. One of the more interesting (and useful) Escape Actions is the "Vanishing Guard," which negates chip damage when blocking and, if pressed at the right moment, acts as a parry, giving the user a momentary advantage over the enemy to strike back or get away. Vanishing Guard has its limitations, though, as it can only block either high or low, leaving one angle open for enemies to exploit. [embed]337261:62032:0[/embed] Of course, each character has plenty of unique special and super moves, as well as a single "Lethal Blaze" attack, which, for the price of full meter, triggers a fighter-specific mini-cutscene that unleashes an assault powerful enough to turn the tide of a one-sided match or swiftly end a nail-biter. Lethal Blaze also can be wielded as a trump card by taking priority over other attacks. There are a couple other minor systems at play, but I want to talk about the characters. The main roster contains twelve main combatants, including the sword-wielding Saber (Fate/Zero), ranged fighters Saya and Anna, cat-throwing Nitroplus mascot Super Sonico, zone-controlling Ein, Spider-Man-esque Muramasa, grappling Ethica, and Ouka, a heavy-hitting robotic walking crucifix. While there isn't a male character in the bunch, the cast is very diverse in terms of mechanics, so players shouldn't have trouble finding at least one or two characters that suits their tastes and personal play-style. But the fun only begins with the core cast. In addition to main characters, players will also take into battle two (of twenty) additional partners that can significantly impact how a match unfolds. Each partner comes has a unique move -- and I mean unique. One rides a hang-glider in from off-screen, aiming to crash into your opponent, while others can summon overwhelming swarms of minions, like zombies or bugs. Another sends in a barrage of missiles from the sky, and a few don't attack at all, instead doing things like giving both sides a bar of meter or placing buffs in the middle of a stage, impelling players to play tug-o'-war over the bonuses. The partner blitz attacks recall the arcana system from developer Examu's Arcana Heart series, which allows players to accent their character with different abilities and gives the game an added level of strategy. In my time online with the online mode (which, by the way, is fine -- if a tad spartan), I noticed a pattern of opponents picking partners to counter one another, as the impacts their assist attacks provide can mean the difference between victory and defeat. I can imagine high-level competitors spending a lot of time working out which partners are best in particular spots and situations, offering an incredible amount of depth for those who seek it. In addition to that added level of complexity, Examu also left its mark on Nitroplus Blasterz by allowing Aino, one of the characters from its Arcana Heart series, to join the roster as a DLC character along with Senran Kagura's Homura. While I haven't spent as much time with them as the rest of the cast (they were not available pre-release), I've enjoyed the few matches I've been able to use them in and could easily see one becoming one of my mains, along with Anna and Saber. Since both Aino and Homura are free for the first week following the game's launch, that provides a little added incentive for interested parties to pick the game up early. While I'm certain some players will balk at the dearth of bonus features or collectibles, that sort of stuff (along with the visual novel-style "Another Story" mode) doesn't really interest me. I'm more than content with your standard arcade, score attack, network, and versus modes if the gameplay is solid -- and it is. That's where I derive my enjoyment from. And I appreciate added perks like cross-platform and cross-region play, so I can compete against players on PlayStation 3 and people from other countries. Even though I still have no idea who most of these characters are, that didn't end up mattering to me in the end. Nitroplus Blasterz is a fast, smooth, strategic, and generally entertaining fighting game that has found a happy medium between accessibility and depth. Provided a decent-sized community builds around the game, this is a fighter I could see myself enjoying for a long time to come. [This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.]
Nitroplus Blasterz Review photo
No nostalgia necessary
I recently attended a tribute night at a local brewery, where musicians were invited to serenade patrons with songs from the '70s. Early on that evening, I glanced around the darkened beer hall to discover I was a few decades...

Review: Call of Duty: Black Ops III: Awakening

Feb 02 // Chris Carter
Call of Duty: Black Ops III (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)Developer: TreyarchPublisher: ActivisionReleased: February 2, 2016 (PS4) / TBA (PC, Xbox One)MSRP: $14.99 ($50 Season Pass for four packs) When it comes to map design, Treyarch is one of the best in the business. One of its go-to staples is the three-lane approach, which allows for all sorts of interesting firefights and strategies throughout every game type. It takes it to an extreme here with Gauntlet, as it hosts three unique themes in each lane -- tropical, arctic, and industrial. Each area evokes feelings of the past Black Ops maps, Jungle, Discovery, and Kowloon respectively, which is good company to be in. Gauntlet is instantly recognizable, and really feels like three maps in one. If anything it's a bit too tunnel-oriented as folks will no doubt have issues with a lack of elevation (especially in the arctic and jungle themes), but it gets the job done and I'm glad it's in the rotation. [embed]338194:62083:0[/embed] Splash (pictured up top) is typical Treyarch at its finest. It's an absurd water park map that wouldn't feel out of place at Disney World's Caribbean Beach Resort. It's bright, it's littered with shops and rides, and even has a Main Street area. Water slides dot the landscape, as do cute mascot signs that top the previous meta Burger Town franchise -- it would feel right at home in the wackier Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare games. It's crazy that you can consistently read the detail on individual signs now as well (a few of which made me laugh, like the "no selfie stick" one), instead of haphazardly trying to read blurry scrawls. It's one of my favorite maps in years, with a wide array of open areas and indoor close-quarters combat sections. Skyjacked, quite simply, is a remake of Hijacked from Black Ops II. This map was a bit divisive in the community due to its close-quarters focus and propensity to promote camping, so most of you have already made up your mind on it. Personally it was one of my favorites, so I'm glad to see Treyarch bringing it back here, and was happy to play it again. The new theme isn't a half-measure like some past remakes, as the entire affair now takes place in a floating fortress, set to the backdrop of an ongoing city battle. It's a remake of a good map that's made even better due to jumpjet and wallrunning capabilities. There's usually one map that I outright dislike in a pack, and this time it's Rise. It's far too gated and familiar for my tastes, and is nearly indistinguishable from a few industrial levels included in the base package (namely Exodus). There are times where you'd think a cool new area is just waiting around a corner, but then the game doesn't allow you to actually go there due to invisible walls. It's almost like they spent too much time building the other three to really put the proper amount of care in here. If it comes up in the rotation I usually cringe. Der Eisendrache (The Iron Dragon) caps off the DLC, which immediately adds more of an incentive to pick up Awakening. Peppering in one zombie (or alien) map is a strategy the other Call of Duty developers (Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer) have adopted for good reason -- the sheer amount of depth in these things keep people coming back for more. I really dig the whole castle theme, which basically goes full Wolfenstein from the start. I'm sad to see the Jeff Goldblum crew seemingly isn't returning for more, but the original cast is iconic enough to last, spearheaded by Steve Blum's Dempsey. The animated intro certainly helps give the level a different feel as well, and it's crazy that Treyarch is still building upon the lore it created so many years ago in World at War. Der Eisendrache surprised me as well with its open layout, with plenty of room to move, lots of teleporters, and tons of secrets that players will be tracking down weeks after launch. As Nikolai even remarks during Der Eisendrache, "will there ever be an end to this nightmare?" Not as long as Activision keeps selling DLC, there isn't! But one man's nightmare is another man's video game, and the good news is that each Call of Duty developer has been pushing itself harder in recent years to justify the price. If you still play Black Ops III, you can't really go wrong with Awakening -- especially since the new maps are now built into normal playlists from the get-go.
Call of Duty DLC review photo
Four maps and some zombies
It's still crazy to me that I'm loading up a Call of Duty DLC pack first on PlayStation 4. After years of Microsoft-dominated timed exclusivity Sony finally has its shot at heading it up, and it has perfect timing with Black Ops III. As one of the best Call of Duty games in years, it allows Awakening plenty of room to breathe, and lets Treyarch be its unconventional self.


Review: LEGO Marvel's Avengers

Jan 29 // Chris Carter
LEGO Marvel's Avengers (3DS, PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed], Vita, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: TT Fusion, TT GamesPublisher: WB Interactive EntertainmentReleased: January 16, 2016MSRP: $29.99 (3DS, Vita), $39.99 (PC) $49.99 ( PS3, Wii U, Xbox 360), $59.99 (PS4, Xbox One) Marvel's Avengers is the latest beat-'em-up in a long line of Traveller's Tales LEGO joints, a subseries that has hosted roughly 30 games since 2005. It follows the same rough format as past titles, with a few added bits of panache (like more cinematic attacks and sequences) for good measure. You probably know the drill by now -- multiple characters are on-screen at a time, all of which sport several attacks, but they have slightly different ways of going about it. For instance, Captain America and Hulk are both melee fighters, but Cap will be able to reflect beams, and Hulk can smash through giant machinery. Iron Man and Thor excel at range and can fly, but the former can melt metal with his beams. You get the idea. Playing with a partner will enhance your experience tenfold as you can operate in tandem with one another, as going at it solo puts a damper on things by forcing you to switch characters often. That's even more true for Avengers, where the two-person synergy attacks (like Thor slamming into Cap's shield for a shockwave) are that much more satisfying. The best part, the LEGO franchise's signature silly humor, is intact. Interactions and events play out in a similar manner, so there aren't a lot of surprises, but additional jokes and a general sense of lightheartedness actually elevate a few dud portions of the films. As such, every cutscene brings a smile to my face, and helps break up the repetition a bit. I never really minded the shift from the gibberish "LEGO speak" of the past into full voice acting, as Traveller's Tales has always maintained the same tone successfully. [embed]337320:62048:0[/embed] That cavalier, cartoony attitude can go a bit overboard, though. While including over 200 characters is a cool notion, especially for kids who are fans of some of the more obscure heroes, you end up with an overwhelming number of clones and a general sense of vanilla loadouts. They're also inherently limited by the plotlines put forth in the MCU so they can't deviate too much, compared to a wholly original game like Dimensions. So where does LEGO Marvel start to really falter? Its inability to stick to one script at at time. It jumps around so many films that it fails to tell a cohesive story, and assumes you've seen every movie. If you haven't, you'll probably be a mite bewildered as to what's going on. In fact, the game kind of just jumps into Age of Ultron's intro with no rhyme, reason, or setup, before moving onto scenes from both Captain America movies, Thor 2, Iron Man 3, and more. And don't think there's some overarching "Galactus is narrating the story" device -- it just happens as it comes. The open world hubs are a welcome respite from the constant bang bang action, in that sense. As for me, I've experienced every bit of the MCU outside of the comics, so it did mostly make sense. Some is good, some is bad (Agent Carter, which just returned to TV, is pretty good!), but the vast majority of it is easy to follow. It's not like you're going to be scratching you head trying to decipher poignant plotlines -- the game just mostly lacks context, and suffers from fanservice-itis. The latter especially comes into play when the game splices in direct quotes from the film, some of which feel forced, with an odd audio mix to boot. Does your kid constantly go on about Chris Hemsworth and Robert Downey Jr. while they run around the room in their Hawkeye outfit? Pick up LEGO Marvel's Avengers and add it to the massive pile of LEGO games you likely already have. It's a fun mindless romp through a couple of interesting setpieces, but not a whole lot more than that when it comes down to it. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.] 
LEGO Marvel's Avengers photo
WB always finds out, bro
The MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) is intimidating, to say the least. In addition to all of the feature films there's also official tie-in comics, one-shot short films, multiple sequels that set up sequels, and now, eight separate television shows with multiple seasons across two networks. If you haven't been at least following the movies, LEGO Marvel's Avengers probably isn't for you.

Review: American Truck Simulator

Jan 29 // Patrick Hancock
American Truck Simulator (Linux, Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: SCS SoftwarePublisher: SCS SoftwareRelease Date: February 3, 2016MSRP: $19.99  Euro Truck Simulator has quietly worked its way into the lives of many gamers over the years, myself included. I'm not sure why or when I thought I'd enjoy it, but I'm certainly glad the decision was made. These types of games are many things for many people; some enjoy the serenity, others enjoy the realism, and I'm sure there are those who turn their trucks into a replica of Darkside from Twisted Metal and ram into anything that crosses their path. For those veterans, American Truck Simulator is more of the same but in a new region. Calling it "American" seems a bit disingenuous at the moment, since players can only drive through California and Nevada. That's a lot of area to be sure, but hardly represents America. Many will envision a coast-to-coast trek from New York to Los Angeles, or traveling on Route 66 from state to state, but neither of these are possible at the moment. I say "at the moment" because, like Euro Truck Simulator before it, players should understand that they are buying into a platform. Nevada is technically free DLC at launch (and is included in this review), and the development team is working on Arizona as future free DLC as well. As of now there's no definitive DLC roadmap, but SCS Software has stated that "it will take us years to cover the continent," if it is financially viable. For newcomers to the series, or those simply curious as to how this is a real thing, here's the deal. Players assume the role of an American truck driver, making cargo deliveries in California and Nevada. Early on, taking jobs from various companies, using their trucks, is a steady income. As profit increases, players can afford their own trucks and even hire other drivers to carry out jobs. There are only two trucks available at the moment, which is a bit of a bummer. There are, of course, plans to add more, but as of now there are a Kentworth T 680 and a Peterbilt 579. There are variations of the two and plenty of  customization options, which help make them stand out more, but it's still only two models of truck at launch. Drivers will also gain experience and level up as deliveries are completed. Upon leveling, stat points can be distributed to categories like fuel economy, long-distance deliveries, and unlocking new types of cargo. As if making an expensive delivery wasn't nerve-wracking enough, think about delivering explosive or chemical cargo! Increasing these statistics will net the player higher rewards for completing assignments under those categories. The benefits are very detailed to the player, allowing them to make informed decisions when leveling up. While driving, it's important to remember the rules of the road. Running a red light will result in a fine (damn red light cameras), as will speeding. While Euro Truck Simulator utilized speed cameras, here in America things work a little differently. Cops are constantly on patrol, and if caught speeding near one, a fine will instantly be deducted. There's no car chase or even getting pulled over, just cop lights and sirens and $1,000 removed from your bank account. Along the way, players may need to stop for gas, rest, get weighed at weigh stations, or get repairs. These must be done at certain locations and have corresponding meters on the HUD. The biggest concern with these is the time invested, since each assignment has a window in which the recipient expects their items to be delivered in. Just a heads up: if you're driver starts yawning, stop at a rest station! The traffic AI seems to be vastly improved in American Truck Simulator. Cars will stop early at intersections, making those wide turns that much easier. They also rarely pull out in front of your giant truck barreling down on them, though I have had that happen once or twice. Hell, they'll even slow down if your blinker is on to let you move over! Well, sometimes. There are a few different control methods, ranging from very simple to complex. Steering can be done with the keyboard or mouse, and of course the game supports both console and steering wheel controllers. I found myself most  comfortable with the Steam Controller and gyro controls. The biggest gap between the simple and the complex is changing gears manually, though even at its most complex it's not exactly a "hardcore" simulator. There's definitely a lot to manage, especially for me, but people who were looking for more depth in this entry won't find it here. Is it difficult? Well, it's as difficult as you want it to be. Making the controls complex is an easy way to make the game more engaging. Personally, I think the most difficult aspect is parking. When delivering cargo there will be three options. The hardest option yields the most experience, and will ask players to pull some fancy backing up and maneuvering in order to place the trailer where it needs to go.  The second option is much more achievable, while the third option is to skip it entirely and earn no bonus experience. It's a great to be able to say "you know what? I really don't feel like parking this explosive gas tank right now." To help pass time, a good amount of radio stations are available to listen to while on the road, and it is also possible to input a personal music library by relocating some files on your computer. I enjoyed listening to some classic rock stations while "working." I must say, listening to Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight" while driving a big rig at night into Las Vegas is something that will stick with me probably forever. That's in part due to the beautiful engine. The scenery is quite a change of pace compared to the European scenery, which helps make this feel like something fresh, despite the mechanical similarities. Cities are also fleshed out more and feel more "alive" than ever before. Google Maps has been used to help create a realistic recreation of the Golden State, so many areas will be immediately recognizable to those familiar with them. Yes, players will begin to see repeat storefronts over and over again, but it hardly detracts from the overall immersion. American Truck Simulator caters to a wide array of people. There's something to be said for the serenity of cruising down a highway at night and obeying all the traffic laws. It's also a great opportunity to enjoy some audiobooks or podcasts while somewhat-mindlessly growing a trucking enterprise.  Those looking for vast mechanical or design improvements in the series won't find them here. The map is relatively small, considering the size of America, but the tradeoff is worth it: the scenery is fresh, accurate, and varied, while cities feel much more realistic. With two trucks and two included states, and another one on its way, American Truck Simulator is an investment into the series' future, but it's not a steep one and easily earns its value with what is already presented. So, while it may not be possible to go from Phoenix, Arizona all the way to Tacoma, it is possible to go from Oakland to Sactown, the Bay Area and back down. And that's just fine. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.] 
American Truck Sim Review photo
California love
I live in New Jersey, so I think I know a thing or two about California. After all, I've listened to plenty of N.W.A. and Tupac, plus I've seen Fast Times at Ridgemont High.  Oh, and I've been to California a whole lot to visit my brother and for that one E3 I attended. Does this make me an expert? Yes. Yes it does.

PC Port Report: Rise of the Tomb Raider

Jan 27 // Joe Parlock
Rig: Intel i7-4790k 4GHz 4-core processor, 16GB of RAM (2x Corsair Vengeance 8GB DDR3), GTX 980. Windows 10 Pro 64-bit. Framerate measured with Steam. Game played at the “Very high” preset, with anti-aliasing and ambient occlusion slightly lowered. [Update: Due to playing a pre-release build, I did not have access to Nvidia's Game Ready Drivers while writing this. I can now confirm that installing the Game Ready Drivers that were released today (January 27) did not fix the problems I discuss below. In fact, I would say it's made things worse: the stuttering is more frequent and the loading times are now two or three times longer than what I saw pre-drivers.] The options menu is comprehensive, with menus both inside and outside of the game. Rise supports up to 4K resolutions for those with a PC strong enough to run it, which is a decent boost from Xbox One's native 1080p. The options include all of the usuals you’d expect in a decent PC port, such v-sync, anti-aliasing, and ambient occlusion. Full key rebinding is also available, with the ability to set both a primary and secondary key for every action. You’re not exactly spoiled for choice when it comes to anti-aliasing options, with only four options that might end up not being the most efficient for your graphics card. Being able to force your preferred style of anti-aliasing in the graphics card control panel means this isn’t a huge problem, but I would’ve liked more in-game settings. I also appreciate the existence of a few quality-of-life settings that I've I’ve never seen in other games before. They’re not huge additions: simple stuff like each character having their own subtitle colour and full support for Razer Chroma hardware, but I like that they’re there. Weirdly there aren’t any colour blind options, though, which would have been useful for some players considering how the game relies upon discerning different shades of the same colour for navigation. Visually, Rise is gorgeous. The textures are insanely crisp and detailed, and even when I rammed the camera right up against a wall I struggled to see much blurring. The lighting effects are also wonderful, and really add to the atmosphere of the many tombs and caves Lara has to jump through. I thought 2013's Tomb Raider was pretty, but when you pump Rise up to the maximum settings it really is a visual treat... if you can get it to run properly. [embed]336747:62000:0[/embed] As far as the port goes, that’s unfortunately where the positives end.  Playing it with keyboard and mouse is a mixed bag. While aiming and shooting feel nice and responsive, movement is slow, sluggish, and generally difficult to control. Climbing was the biggest challenge, as I’d often find Lara leaping to her death or in a direction I wasn’t even pressing. I heavily recommend you use a gamepad if you can, as standard PC controls can be quite a nightmare in the more fiddly portions. That's peanuts, though, compared to the biggest problem with Rise of the Tomb Raider’s port: the numerous, terrible, and sometimes even game-breaking performance issues. It’s worth noting that I have a new, beefy PC that is way above the already fairly high minimum requirements, and yet I still suffered from inconsistent framerates and memory usage problems that made playing Rise a chore. At some points, I was able to enjoy a solid, smooth, and stutter-free 60FPS, but then only a minute later my game would be dragged down to a low of 20FPS for seemingly no reason.  For example, a very chaotic set-piece with lots of explosions, snow, and flying debris had a totally stable 60FP, but then I was lucky to get 25 in the small, dark, undetailed cave that immediately followed it. I’ve even gone to an area running at 60FPS, briefly ducked into a cave, only to come back out in the exact same place and find the game was now running at 40FPS instead. Even putting the game on the lowest possible graphics quality settings didn't help, which makes me think this probably will affect everyone regardless of the strength of their rig. I’m not a programmer, and so I can't conclusively identify the cause, but I think it might have something to do with the game’s fairly significant memory usage problems. Sometimes it was using upwards of 6GB RAM, even in relatively quiet and simple areas. This is the only game I have ever had crash due to my PC running out of memory, and on 16GB of brand new RAM and a new video card with 4GB VRAM, that shouldn’t be happening. It especially shouldn’t be happening after only about an hour of play. I don't want to definitively say this is a memory leak, but it sure as hell feels like one. Overall, Rise of the Tomb Raider’s port is a strange one. It has all the hallmarks of a good job: lots of graphics options and it supports both a higher framerate and resolution than its console counterpart. It’s such a shame that those positives are then dragged down by numerous, unacceptable performance issues, even for PCs much higher than the minimum spec. If my brand new, high-end PC is having trouble running this game smoothly, I dread to think how it affects those who are closer to the minimum requirements. I have to admit, I wasn’t wowed by 2013’s Tomb Raider. On its own, it was a pretty good game. It had stunning visuals, exciting set-pieces, and great exploration, but it didn't feel like a Tomb Raider game. I felt that Square had pulled out the campy, trap-avoiding, dinosaur-shooting heart of the previous games, and replaced it with a generic, edgy, and sometimes borderline sadistic husk. Fortunately, Rise of the Tomb Raider feels like a great midpoint between the solid game design of 2013 and the campy, silly fun of the original games. It has a sinister organisation racing for a powerful ancient artifact, and it’s up to you, badass archaeologist Lara Croft, to beat them to the punch. If every animal in the area hasn’t become an endangered species by the time you’re done, you’ve been playing the game wrong. Mechanically there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference between Rise and its predecessor. It’s still essentially Uncharted by way of Bear Grylls, but those mechanics are put to much better use in Rise, and you're given far more varied locations to play in. Whereas Tomb Raider 2013 rarely deviated from its green island setting, within the first hour of Rise you’ve been to a wintery cliff face, a vast network of desert ruins, and then eventually dropped into the forests of Siberia. And there are tombs! Actual, honest-to-God tombs that you can raid! In the previous game, tombs were rare as hell, and when they did finally show up they didn’t amount to much more than a single room with a simple puzzle. In Rise, not only are there are far more optional tombs to explore, they're well designed, lengthy, and actually worth doing. Exploring the world feels much more satisfying when you know the stuff you're going to find isn't unmitigated arse for a change. While I agree with Steven that Rise of the Tomb Raider is basically more of the same, it does feel a lot more confident in its execution. The story and dialogue aren’t afraid to ham things up, Lara is finally a decent character, and there’s a much greater variety of locales to explore.  Nice job, Crystal Dynamics. You've successfully got me back into a series that I've been turned off from since Legends. Here's hoping you're able to fix the port-specific problems soon. [This PC Port Report is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Tomb Raider PC Port photo
Rise of the Performance Issues
After being an Xbox One exclusive for all of five minutes, Rise of the Tomb Raider is finally making its way to PC. As the follow-up to the popular 2013 reboot, it certainly had a lot to live up to. Back when it originally la...

Inside the incredibly shady world of selling stolen PSN accounts

Jan 26 // Mike Cosimano
Earlier this month, Destructoid received a tip from a source [who we will refer to as 'Tim'] claiming they had unknowingly purchased a stolen PlayStation Network account via G2A.com. For those unaware, G2A is a Hong Kong-based site that primarily sells third-party keys and even accounts. (Some of you may remember G2A from this story about stolen Far Cry 4 keys.) Although G2A is itself a third-party seller, it also acts as a platform for individual sellers and buyers to conduct transactions. One such transaction resulted in the sale of an account belonging to a man [who we will refer to as 'Eric']. When an account sale is on the up-and-up, the account will be nigh-barren, apart from the advertised game. There's some mojo you can perform that will allow you to play this game on your console via your main account (which I won't recount here, because it kinda makes sense and I don't want any of you thinking this is a good idea). Of course, there are examples of people just selling their stacked account in the hopes of making some extra cash; buy a bunch of popular games on sale, flip the account for more than the games are worth. Or, hey, you've just sold your PS4 in a fit of rage, why not sell that account full of platinum Trophies too while you're at it? There are too many hypotheticals in play. When you buy an account, there's a 50% chance you've just committed a crime. Unless you sign in and find a bunch of credit cards and a still-active PlayStation Plus membership. This was Tim's red flag, and he immediately contacted the seller (who refunded the transaction without a word) and Eric, who took back control of his account. "I got this account, expecting some garbled random email address and password, but the email address was just some dude's name. I kind of raised an eyebrow at that, but thinking the email address might belong to the person who bought the code to sell, I tried it out, and... it was genuinely just some guy's account," Tim said in an email to Destructoid. This is exactly what happened to me. I wanted to get a feel for the account-buying process, so I went looking for popular big-budget video games (reasoning that more people would be selling those as opposed to an account made specifically for Race the Sun or whatever) before eventually settling on a listing for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. I received an account that was as generic as they come. No name, no credit cards, no friends, no Trophies...and a copy of Ground Zeroes. Initially, I thought I had found a legit seller that had just made a mistake. That was ostensibly the end of my little experiment, so I went to the seller looking to get a refund. The seller was very insistent that I take a new key instead...which eschewed the generic email and password for a significantly less generic one. Again, much like Tim, I raised an eyebrow at this. But I logged in anyway, reasoning that I would either return the account and save a person from identity theft -- or, if this was an honest transaction, end up with an account that I could just gift to a friend. This account was very much someone else's, which is where the "light theft" part comes in. Nate Martin (his real name!) is the CEO of Puzzle Break, an Escape the Room venue located in Seattle. I know his address and the last four digits of two of his credit cards, thanks to the purchase I made through G2A. Again, luckily for Nate, I had zero intent of holding onto another person's account, so that information remains safe with me. But there's no telling what could've happened if Nate's account ended up in the wrong hands. And he has zero idea how his password ended up in my hands. "I couldn't begin to guess how it happened. I'm guessing it was that mass hack a while back I vaguely remember hearing about. No other accounts of mine (that I'm aware of) seem to be compromised," Nate told us. "I have not much in the way of free time. I'm not super interested in throwing myself against a byzantine [interactive voice response; the telephone robots that ask you if you meant 'billing' when you said 'operator'] that I'm sure Sony has in exchange for a gift card." Eric, the man whose account sparked this whole investigation, said it took "over an hour" to prove his identity to Sony. "I would say Friday I went to my PS4 and was unable to do anything with the system. About two minutes after that, I received three emails from Sony stating that my PayPal had been removed and my passwords had changed, along with my first and last name being changed as well." Sony did not respond to request for comment. It appears the modus operandi changes between scammers. According to Nate, the hacker didn't change his password. I was going to make sure the account belonged to him before I gave him what I assumed was a new password set by the seller, but it turns out Nate knew it off the top of his head. So how does the law work in this particular case? For the purposes of this article, we'll be working with California penal codes -- code 496 in particular. Obviously, a person who knowingly receives stolen property (with the intent of withholding it from the owner), will be charged with either a felony or misdemeanor. In the case of both Tim and myself, returning the account means we're off the hook, and the person who stole the account in the hopes of selling it is definitely 100% a criminal. I was curious if PSN accounts having no basis in the physical world meant something regarding the legality of this transaction. For this story, I talked to New York City-based lawyer Harvey Lippman about selling accounts that don't belong to you, on the off chance there was some crazy loophole that made all of this legal. According to Harvey, that is absolutely not the case. "From what I've read, a lot of this stuff is evolving. There are some newer laws being written," Harvey said in a phone interview. From a lawyer's perspective, he likened it to the theft of a movie ticket. "You don't own the film, but that ticket gives you the right to watch it." That license constitutes "property," and is thus subject to stolen property laws. The next question we have to ask is the placement of G2A in this whole situation. Unless G2A knew for sure that something was up, Harvey says the site is not liable. "Absent some kind of negligence of knowledge, the site is not liable -- unless there is a statute saying they have a duty."  Well, the site's Terms of Service states that "G2A.COM is neither a party to the agreement between the User and the Seller, nor between the Selling User and the User, nor between Sellers -- it merely provides specific assistance and administration services to the Sellers and the Users." The site claims it is the thirdest of parties, but let's dig into that claim a little bit. Going back to penal code 496, in the case of "every swap meet vendor and every person whose principal business is dealing in, or collecting, merchandise or personal property, and every agent, employee, or representative of that person," third-party sellers have a duty to make sure the product is not stolen. So, in this particular case, based on G2A's Terms of Service, the site defines the seller as a second third-party; G2A is more like the person who owns the parking lot where the illegal swap meet happened. As if that wasn't enough, the site that sold me the stolen account also claims to be a third-party, having purchased the code from a seller on Taobao -- a Chinese e-commerce site owned by Alibaba. Yes, that Alibaba. Last we saw, the company was working on a credit system with the Chinese government. Somebody buy me a corkboard, some red yarn, and some thumbtacks. According to a source inside G2A, the company is currently investigating both my case and Tim's. "Sellers of PSN accounts (or any other digital product present on our marketplace) are under supervision of our Customer Experience specialists. Our specialists react every time when there is even a shadow of doubt as to any credibility and trustworthiness. In such cases of an invalid product, sellers are banned and the customers refunded promptly," our source said in an email to Destructoid. Researching this story was like trying to escape from Alcatraz with only a nail file. The deeper I got, the more I hoped to find some measure of closure -- a feeling that never came. I only had to stop reporting on this because at some point, you just have to publish what you've got. We're still waiting on emails from G2A, the organization that sold me the stolen account, and (hopefully) Sony. Taobao was a dead end, because I don't speak a lick of Chinese, and even then I doubt the seller in question would confess to a reporter. At best, I would get another deflection. I can't promise you an ending, at least one that provides a sense of finality. I don't know who stole either account, and nobody's owning up to the deed. All I can tell you is that I've left this experience less trusting of my fellow man. Keep your information safe, gang.
True Crime photo
Lawyers have already been contacted
When I start looking into a story that I know will go much longer than my average Destructoid news post, I like to get as hands-on as possible. I don't just want to read a bunch of other articles about the subject in question...

All the crazy Beautiful Mind shit I did to beat The Witness

Jan 26 // Brett Makedonski
That screenshot really drove home how I've committed myself to The Witness and only The Witness. It got me thinking about not only the amount of time I've spent in-game, but all the crazy out-of-game tasks I've resorted to. Here are some pictures. (Note that there are minor spoilers in this post. While there are no direct puzzle solutions, there are representations of possible solutions. You'll probably be fine if you don't dwell on any of them for too long or give them any serious thought. Heads-up, though.) This is some sketching I did early on. I thought that was a little extreme. It got so much worse. Coloring some boxes, all on the back of a fast food receipt. This was about the time that I realized my TV was kind of dusty because the sunlight shining on it illuminated all the lines I had been drawing with my fingers. More sketches, this time on the back of a letter my grandma sent me. This is just a random screenshot I took so that I could move position and reference how something looked from another angle. My recycle bin is absolutely packed with these. I could show another hundred, but that'd waste everyone's time. [embed]335778:61949:0[/embed] Here's a video that I captured very early in the game. It seemed complicated and I was proud of myself for figuring it out. My original idea was to slap together a video titled something like "Five of The Witness' toughest puzzles at the beginning of the game." I soon realized that's in no way how this game works. Idea mostly scrapped, but a memento salvaged for this piece. I wrote this in a Google Doc at 2am one night. If I died and this were the only thing I left behind, philosophers would study me for centuries to come. Here's a keyboard I lugged down to the living room and started playing. Keyboards just make sense to me. I get 'em, you know? A shoddy night vision app that I gladly downloaded on my phone. Jonathan Blow didn't send me on a top-secret reconnaissance mission. I just wanted to see what everything would look like at night. Also, that app is riddled with ad-ware. It's miserable. There's more, but this collection seems like it nicely encapsulates my experience with The Witness. Had it taken one more day, the neighbors probably would've seen me drawing on my windows with chalk. Somehow, it never came to that.
The Witness photo
Puzzled
I've put a lot of time into The Witness lately. Like, a lot a lot. Effort too. This might be the most draining review experience of my career. It's rewarding though, and that makes it less burdensome even if it...

Review: Final Fantasy Explorers

Jan 26 // Chris Carter
Final Fantasy Explorers (3DS)Developer: Square Enix, RacjinPublisher: Square EnixReleased: January 26, 2016MSRP: $39.99 Right at the character creation screen, it's immediately evident that Final Fantasy Explorers is a dated game. It was released in 2014 in Japan, after all, and the limitations of the tool itself will not inspire any confidence. I actually got a laugh out of the initial male avatar -- it had typical chibi-like features but a rock-hard manchild set of abs. It won't matter much when you're all suited up in gear, and the game has a Goku hairstyle in its small pool of options, so it gets a pass. Like many other entries in the series, Explorers revolves around crystals (of course), and the overall plot is kind of secondary to leveling up, acquiring cash, and completing missions, which lead to those sweet, sweet boss battles we all crave. You'll roam about in a Monster Hunter-esque hub world complete with shops, upgrade centers, and a few other fixins (like a one-mission-bonus-granting fortune teller who takes Play Coins as payment) as you take on new quests that lead you out into the overworld. Combat is based around AP, which fuels your abilities and is used when sprinting. The game has a rudimentary lock-on feature, the option to use the Circle Pad Pro (or the New 3DS nub) to control the camera, L or R toggles menus for your powers (with four mapped to each trigger, for a total of eight active abilities), an auto-attack button, and that's really it. To dodge or do anything fancy, you'll need to equip a skill for it, and even then, it's a bit rigid in nature. Make no mistake, this is not a high-intensity twitch action game. [embed]335296:61957:0[/embed] You'll get the keys to the kingdom so to speak after roughly 30 minutes of tutorials, where Explorers will provide you with five jobs (classes) right away: Knight, Monk, Ranger, White Mage, and Black Mage. Thankfully, it isn't as rigid as a lot of other RPGs in that jobs and abilities can often overlap. With the exception of, say, a Knight using bow-based skills while equipped with a sword, players can thankfully experiment a bit. Almost anyone can use magic, including the always helpful Cure spell. It's a great concession for newcomers and veterans alike. You can really mess around with nearly everything available to tool up your dream build -- which includes silly "Trance" modes featuring fan-favorite characters like Cloud. As time goes on it only gets deeper, as an impressive 21 jobs are at your disposal. The freedom to do what you want is even better when playing with a party (both locally or online). Team synergy and class makeups aren't necessarily bound by the RPG Trinity (tank, healer, damage), but are composed a bit more loosely, to the point where everyone can have fun with what they want to play -- like a Dragoon that can use his jumps along with evasion techniques from other jobs for maximum mobility. Speaking of multiplayer, there is support for lobbies online (rather than shoddy matchmaking), which allowed me to get into a number of games even before launch. If you're going at it solo, you can bring up to three other monsters with you on your travels, with the caveat that the AI isn't very intelligent or nearly as effective as players. By the time you fight Shiva several hours in, it picks up, but as a general rule Explorers is a slow burn. Now, I did have fun working my way up the ladder, earning more jobs, and crafting my own equipment, but it's a bit too slow going at times. As such, the "it gets better after you put time into it" argument comes to mind, but plenty of games do allow for an enjoyable early game to accompany the payoff. That's not the case here, to an extent. If you do end up sticking with it though, you'll find a 100-hour RPG full of stuff to do, including an endgame that involves fighting all of the core bosses again with new strategies in tow. Like many games filled to the brim with different classes, a lot of my time was spent trying out new jobs. While some of them don't feel wildly different from one another, the dichotomy between the three core playstyles (melee, ranged, and magic) is strong enough to feel like you're playing a different game. Final Fantasy Explorers has a litany of pacing issues, particularly when it comes to its quests and, visually, it feels like a DS-era game at times. But players who are willing to jump in with both feet will find a lot to love, and that goes double if you're planning to play through the adventure with a friend. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.] 
Final Fantasy review photo
Eidolon Hunter
If one wanted to delve into the world of Final Fantasy for the first time, the barrier to entry is generally rather high. You have a host of 50-hour JRPGs, several daunting MMOs, and a number of complicated and deep tactical spinoffs. Final Fantasy Explorers tries to ease people into the world of Black and White mages with a different, gentler approach, albeit with its own set of flaws.

Review: The Witness

Jan 25 // Brett Makedonski
The Witness (PC, PS4 [reviewed])Developer: Thekla, Inc.Publisher: Thekla, Inc.MSRP: $39.99Released: January 26, 2016  I have vivid memories of sitting in geometry class in ninth grade and listening to the teacher explain why geometry is a different beast than the other maths we had already learned. "Don't feel bad if you can't do this yet," he said. "The reason is because it's chemically impossible for you. We're doing theorems and proofs -- your brain hasn't ever been asked to think like that before. The synapses in your brain need to fire off in order to be able to understand this; when that happens, you'll get it and this will all be easy for you." That "A-HA!" moment my geometry teacher spoke of -- all those synapses firing to form a revelation -- is the greatest reward The Witness has to offer and it happens countless times. It never grows old. After a bit, it's no longer new, but it's always fresh. The fundamentals of The Witness are line puzzles. Grids, often in the shape of a rectangle, require navigating in a specific fashion to satisfy certain constraints and to reach the end-point. This is repeated hundreds of time over as the basic building block of the game. Through clever subversion, ever-evolving rule sets, and alternative methods, repetition never becomes cause for concern. Again, just like the many many moments of epiphany, the puzzles cease being new before long, but they are always fresh. [embed]335133:61964:0[/embed] Well, that comes with a caveat. They are fresh as long as you want them to be. The Witness is largely fueled by your desire to discover. Once that wanes, so will your interest. The game's island is drenched in mystery and detail, not all of which is able to be immediately appreciated. When that happens, it's just another revelation that hasn't formed yet. For what it's worth, I'm 40-some hours in, and my interest hasn't waned in the slightest; it has only grown considerably. The reason for this is because The Witness smartly preys on the curiosity of human nature. Every direction has an inviting setting just begging to be explored. It's a given that those settings will contain challenges -- challenges that are imperative to continue exploring. It's cyclical and gives way to a competitive mindset to not be bested even if we're not necessarily mentally equipped yet. It's all in the pursuit of just seeing more. We want to see more because seeing is learning, and that's in the fiber of our being. What truly makes The Witness everything that it is lies somewhere between the fundamentals of the puzzles and the deeply philosophical of everything else. These two work in tandem, complementing each other even when they seem worlds apart. There are so many layers of separation between the two that it's almost impossible to perceive or even conceive. But, they're there, working hand-in-hand and, on some level, one in the same. You'd be hard-pressed to declare that one of these components is closer to defining The Witness than the other. Truthfully, I wish I didn't have to score The Witness. I don't want to set people up for that expectation; I don't want a voice in the back of their head that says "Okay, when does this become a ten?" In a way, that's unfair and detrimental to how the game should be experienced, which is as open-minded and unassuming as possible. Don't go to The Witness. Let The Witness come to you. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.] 
Witness review photo
Come see
I am worthless. I am garbage. I am a dolt. I am brilliant. I am special. I am a genius. Those are the two extremes of self-value that The Witness constantly inflicts. It's a continuous loop of not getting it until you totally get it. Then, you don't get it again.

The Division has unexpected accoutrements on PC

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

Review: The Deadly Tower of Monsters

Jan 19 // Chris Carter
The Deadly Tower of Monsters (PC [reviewed], PS4)Developer: ACE TeamPublisher: AtlusReleased: January 19, 2016MSRP: $14.99 The silly audio "DVD" commentary right from the start helps cement that B-movie feel Deadly is going for. Permeating through the menus, the "director" of the "movie" you're playing will continue to comment on your actions throughout, much like the narrator from Bastion. This narration however is a bit wackier, and will make fun of everything from gamey elements like finding useful items instantly in unexpected places, why items disappear after you pick them up (the hero "beams" them back to his ship), and how the actors got into a particular costume. He even boasts in one early scene that having his female lead rescue his male lead is progressive, and how he was "ahead of his time" for it. It's amusing enough to keep one interested throughout. So how does it play? Well, it's basically an isometric action game, with twin-stick shooting and melee attacks. The latter can be charged for effect, and players can also roll, or hover with a jetpack in a double jump of sorts. It's a small thing, but intuitive health bars circle each enemy, so you know exactly how much of a beating they'll need. There's also three playable characters available -- Dick Starspeed, Scarlet Nova, and Robot. All of them have unique powers at their disposal, but for the most part, the choice is aesthetic. What I really like about Deadly Tower is how fresh the game constantly keeps things. At first I thought it was going to be a simple sci-fi spoof with aliens, but it's so much more than that. There's Planet of the Ape-esque monkey men, "Energy Imps," a Ghost Pirate ship, and so much more that I won't spoil here. The gimmick is really cool as well, in that the entire game takes place on a gigantic tower that extends from the ground level of an alien planet all the way to space. Players will slowly climb said tower with checkpoints, which you can instantly teleport to after obtaining them. [embed]334028:61857:0[/embed] Great camera work also helps show off these environments in a big way, and I love how you can alter the visuals and music from "DVD" quality to the worse "VHS" setting. Cutscenes can also be fast-forwarded even upon the initial viewing, and there's several funny effects such as a forced black and white section for "budgetary reasons. ACE Team also goes full hog when it comes to the theme -- I'm talking Ray Harryhausen-like stop-motion animation in some cases. If it sounds jarring it really isn't, as the player character is always on point, so the framerate doesn't necessarily drop when enemies like that appear. "For those who are curious, here are the PC visual options and the control scheme. The best part though is the freefalling system. From any point of the tower you can jump off, starting a falling animation that allows you to aim and shoot downwards, collecting helpful objects in the air as you descend. It's a rush to jump off really high points and just take in the scenery, and boss fights that incorporate this mechanic are even more fun. The fact that you can use an "air teleport" system at the touch of a button to return to the point where you fell and teleport to any checkpoint at any time is the icing on the cake, allowing a large degree of freedom when it comes to exploration. This is especially helpful on PC, where I encountered two crashes in my first playthrough. When I loaded the game again I picked up right back where I left off. Despite all my praise though, you should know what you're getting into. My first playthrough only took me roughly three hours to complete, and I managed to spend an extra hour looking for artifacts and completing additional objectives. There doesn't seem to be any option for a New Game+ or the ability to alter the difficulty, which definitely stings a bit despite its strong initial run. I can definitely see replaying it every so often however, and jumping off of the top of the tower is something I did many, many times. The Deadly Tower of Monsters is a fleeting experience, but one that no B-movie fan should go without. I have a few issues with the loot and upgrade systems (namely in that they feel superfluous), but as a straight action game, it mostly succeeds in what it sets out to do. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Deadly Tower review photo
Harryhausen would be proud
I was lucky enough to grow up with parents who had a penchant for classic films, and B-humor. Hell, their first date was Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and as a child, I was raised with an endearment to the craft,...

Review: Resident Evil 0 HD Remaster

Jan 18 // Chris Carter
Resident Evil Zero HD Remaster (PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: CapcomPublisher: CapcomReleased: January 19, 2016MSRP: $19.99 Zero begins with a rather interesting setpiece: a moving train. Rebecca Chambers, a member of S.T.A.R.S., is sent to investigate crimes in the Arklay Mountains -- conveniently located (and thus, linked) near Raccoon City and the original game's mansion. Here she meets Billy Coen, an alleged murderer and ex-Marine, and starts an "unlikely" partnership. You can probably tell from the setup that the tale is a pastiche of cheesy horror not unlike past games, but it's done just as effectively as before. Sure, the story never really makes much sense, even after the final credits roll, but you'll have a good time while you're along for the ride. Rebecca and Billy have a fun dynamic that is extended throughout Zero. The former can combine herbs and story-related chemicals, and the latter can take more of a beating and move heavy objects. It's not an original concept even for the era it was released in, but it works. This is mostly because of the "zap" partner system that allows both characters to be on-screen at the same time. You can opt to have your AI partner attack or stay idle, which is great if you don't want them wasting ammo. Swapping is as easy as pressing a button to start a second-long heartbeat transition to the other character. You can also control the AI with the right analog stick, which comes in handy for moving them out of harm's way. This idea is used in many different ways that chop up the game's pacing for the better. In some zones, Rebecca and Billy are split, working separately to exchange key items with one another through special devices like service elevators. In other areas, they're working in tandem to solve those wonderful box puzzles, where Billy is moving cubes and Rebecca is operating a device of some sort. Given that so many of Resident Evil's puzzles feature solutions born out of just one avatar, I like that Capcom went with something different here. There's another huge difference when it comes to Zero and all of the games before it: item management. In the past, players would mostly store their items in a magical gamey storage box of sorts, where you could access your armory and inventory wherever a box was located. Now, you can place items on the ground and store them anywhere on the map, no questions asked (well, outside of the single room item limit, which is inexplicably still in this remake). For instance, if you want to split a few typewriter ribbons off a stack of 10 and place them in a save room, you can. The same goes for weapons and herbs, or any key items you may pick up. [embed]332496:61804:0[/embed] Items now show up on the map, so there's no guessing as to where you put them. It's a more challenging system, for sure -- you don't have the infinite box to rely on, and sometimes you'll have to run through gauntlets of enemies if you happen to stash a key item and are required to run back for it. Its use does start to grate mid-way through the game, as it can get rather tedious to juggle everything. The mechanic isn't really re-used, but it helps cement Zero's unique identity (for better and worse) along with zapping, and the level designs mostly accommodate it. This is an old-school Resident Evil game at heart, back when "survival" was still a key factor of the series. Zero features limited ammo, save ribbons, and a lot of decision making, mostly in regards to inventory management. This is especially true given the zapping, because at any moment one character may be forced to fight a boss without the help of another, so ensuring that both cast members are fully equipped is key to your success. In terms of the actual "Remaster" moniker, a lot of the technical details are the same as before. The visuals and framerate have been updated, there's a new non-tank modern control method available, and you can swap between 16:9 and 4:3 resolution (even on consoles) -- but the cheesy FMVs remain untouched. Capcom really could bring back every entry pre-Resident Evil 4 just like this and I'd be happy. Thankfully though, it's slightly more than just a straight touch-up due to the addition of Wesker mode. In this special gametype only found in the remake (that's acquired by beating the game once), Billy is shoved to the side in favor of Wesker, who operates as Rebecca's partner throughout the game. This mode is meant to be silly. Wesker can use his superhuman powers he's flaunted since Code Veronica, including the ability to quickly dash across the room, and use a special energy attack to pop zombie's heads off. He can also mix herbs and doesn't have many limitations. They didn't go the full mile -- Billy is still present in cutscenes, as is his voice -- but it's a meaty enough change.  All of the old unlocks are also present, including additional costumes, weapons, and the Mercenaries-like "Leech Hunter." The latter is a mini-game of sorts that tasks players with escaping a modified version of the Research Center, and gets tougher as you play it. It's not as memorable as some of the true Mercenary modes in other games, but it's worth clearing at least once and should adequately test the mettle of series veterans. As a whole, Resident Evil Zero isn't one of my favorite entries, but with the amount of care that went into this remake, like Resident Evil HD Remaster before it, I'm really coming around. In fact, just get both if you don't have them already. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Resident Evil 0 HD review photo
Welcome, Wesker
For whatever reason, I didn't end up completing Resident Evil Zero back when it was released in 2002 -- in fact, it took me 10 years to truly dive into it. I think it just flew under the radar, but thankfully Capcom has opted...

Review: Gravity Rush Remastered

Jan 15 // Josh Tolentino
Gravity Rush Remastered (PS4)Developer: SCE Japan Studio and Bluepoint GamesPublisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Japan and AsiaReleased: December 10, 2015 (Japan/Asia), February 2, 2016 (NA/EU)MSRP: $29.99 [Note: This review is based on the English-language version of the game released in Asian regions on December 10, 2015. We expect that there will be few if any significant differences between this release and the upcoming North America/EU releases.] The most striking part of Bluepoint's work on Gravity Rush Remastered is on the technical side. The game runs at a smooth, uninterrupted 60 frames per second, at a native 1080p resolution. Higher-resolution textures sport additional detail and sharpening while improved lighting and antialiasing brings out the color in the game's unique cel-shaded aesthetic. No one's going to mistake Gravity Rush Remastered for a "native" PS4 game, but it does look much like the way I (fondly) remember the Vita original, which is high praise considering that I can compare the two side-by-side and see just how much work went into the porting job.  While Bluepoint has made some considerable improvements to Gravity Rush Remastered's graphical quality and performance, it was more conservative in terms of content, opting just to add the original's three downloadable content packs as standard, and a gallery mode to check out concept art, character designs, and unlocked cutscenes. This may dilute the game's value proposition somewhat for existing Gravity Rush owners on the fence about double-dipping since the game is identical in content and design to the Vita version. [embed]334467:61883:0[/embed] If there's anything about the game that qualifies as "bad news," it's rooted in the fact that the content itself is unchanged. As such, the criticisms raised by Jim Sterling in his review of the original do stand, to an extent. The game's mission design never really lives up to the sheer joy of its central gravity-shifting mechanic, and no amount of frame rate improvement or antialiasing can change that. Combat and control in stressful situations can still be a little squirrely, though the better "feel" of a DualShock 4 controller, combined with the extra awareness afforded by a larger screen, makes it easier to compensate. Even players who enjoyed the tilt- and touchscreen-based features of Gravity Rush are accommodated, thanks to the DualShock 4's own motion sensing and touch panel (though these can be turned off if desired). The narrative is also much more proficient at establishing atmosphere and personality than at answering the questions it raises, and by the end of the campaign it can feel like one has just read an incomplete set of obscure foreign comic books, not knowing when or where the next issue will turn up. That said, I'm of the opinion that these rough edges are not nearly as serious in their impact as some may think, and to players in the right mindset, even add to Gravity Rush's considerable charm. The writing, dialog and story all emphasize Kat's character as a somewhat hapless amateur superhero (think "anime Ms. Marvel with a different power set") just getting started in her crime-fighting career, and she's exactly the kind of person who might whiff on landing a gravity kick and go flying into a pile of boxes. Just in the way that deliberately "slow" controls can improve the atmosphere of a horror game like Amnesia, occasional finickiness and flubs reinforce Gravity Rush Remastered's sense of character (albeit unintentionally). In the end, Bluepoint deserves credit for managing to bring out the best in an already-pretty-good game, allowing PS4 owners the chance to experience the charm of Gravity Rush unhampered by the limitations of its original platform.  [This review is based on a retail copy of the game acquired by the reviewer.] UnderRail (PC)Developer: Stygian SoftwarePublisher: Stygian SoftwareReleased: December 18, 2015MSRP: $14.99
Gravity Rush Remastered photo
Falling with style
Gravity Rush is and remains one of the coolest games on the PS Vita, even three years after its original 2012 release. Unfortunately for fans of cool games, the PS Vita didn't get into nearly as many hands as Sony was ho...

PC Port Report: Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen

Jan 15 // Patrick Hancock
Tested on: Intel i7-4770k 3.50 GHz, 8GB of RAM, Geforce GTX 970, Windows 10. Framerate measured with RivaTuner. First thing's first: the PC version has an option to turn off all Pawn banter completely. In case you think you might be missing something, just know that its gibberish like "IT'S WEAK TO FIRE" and probably also "A FORMIDABLE FOE!" As an aside, I kind of like how annoying the Pawns are. For whatever reason, I get a huge chuckle out of their loud, uncalled for shouts. The PC Port also supports 4k resolution, but as I do not have the capabilities to test this, I cannot comment on how it looks. My bet is that it looks very good. Most players who have played before will have one thing on their mind when it comes to the PC Port: the framerate. While I have not played the original, the framerate was evidently awful. There are three options for framerate in the options: 30, 60, and Variable. The PC port runs smooth as butter on my rig, easily going above 60 framer-per-second in towns and hovering around 60 FPS outside and in combat. The texture quality is, well, the game is from 2012 and it shows. They're a bit muddy, especially when viewed up close. Comparing screenshots and videos, I can't say they are much better than the original, but it's hard to tell without playing the other version myself. Regardless, I wouldn't say it looks bad. Just...not great. There's also some noticeable pop-in with objects. Generally they appear off in the distance, but occasionally when turning a corner, an NPC will magically appear right in front of your very eyes. Damn, this game does have some fancy magic! Key bindings can be remapped to your heart's content, but the same is not true when using a (non-Steam) controller. There are six different presets for controllers though, and you're bound to find something that fits your playstyle between them. The Steam controller works just fine, either using it as a traditional controller or rebinding the keys to your heart's content. I've found that binding "grab" to a back grip paddle makes fighting monsters as melee way more entertaining. It really feels like grabbing! Consumables can be assigned to hotkeys, but only numbers 1-5. It's incredibly simple to do: open up your inventory, select the consumable, then press the number key to assign it. Done! This makes things like pulling out a lantern or using flasks a breeze and is also an incentive to use a keyboard and mouse. The keyboard and mouse controls feel very tight, and aiming bows has never been easier. When switching between keyboard controls and a controller, the game automatically changes the on-screen prompts and recognizes the new input device. I've tested with with both the Steam Controller and a wired Xbox One controller. There are plenty of graphics options, including the ability to change the field-of-view, something not seen too often in PC ports, let alone ports of third-person action games! Regardless of FOV, the camera pans out while a weapon is active, so there's always plenty of room to see what is happening on screen; the FOV slider affects non-combat view more than it does combat view, from what I can tell. Other graphical options that PC players have come to expect are here and can be tuned to fits any player's setup. Remember, Dragon's Dogma is a few years old at this point and shouldn't really be taxing to most gaming PCs these days. One issue is that the graphics can only be changed from the main menu. Once you load a save, most graphics settings are locked in. As for the "double dippers" who are curious if this is worth a second investment, it depends. If you bought it and never spent much time with it because of technical issues, definitely pick it up again. The same goes if you never got a chance to play the Dark Arisen content for whatever reason. If you've had your fill of the game and its expansion originally, then I'm not sure there is much here, except the opportunity to play a smooth game and not a PowerPoint presentation. This is a wonderful port from Capcom. It could have just easily just plopped this on the new platform with little to no care and called it a day. The fact is though, there are many features that are exclusive to the PC version and it runs at a stable framerate. Plus, it's not being released at full price! No, it's not perfect, but for $30 it's hard to say no to such a great RPG. [This PC Port Report is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Dragon's Dogma PC photo
They hold the advantage!
Why didn't anyone tell me Dragon's Dogma was so amazing?! I missed out on the original back in 2012, and I hadn't really heard much about it in the first place. I knew, vaguely, what it was, and had even downloaded it vi...

Review: Oxenfree

Jan 15 // Nic Rowen
Oxenfree (PC [reviewed], Xbox One)Developer: Night School StudioPublisher: Night School StudioMSRP: $19.99Released: January 15, 2016 I say “horror” in quotes because the actual spook-factor of Oxenfree isn't that high. This isn't an Amnesia-style gorefest or a Freddy's jumpscare marathon. Oxenfree trades in unease and tension more than outright scares. Think of it more like It Follows than Sleep Away Camp. It's an effective technique. Since you're not wading through blood and viscera at all times, the few moments of hard-hitting violence and terror are that much more jarring. Oxenfree starts with a group of teenagers having a party on an island tourist trap (and one-time military base) near their hometown. Testing out an urban myth involving radio signals and a spooky cave, they accidentally unleash a mysterious entity that seems to have a strange relationship to normal space and time and nothing but malicious intentions on them. The island destination is rendered in a gorgeous dreamlike art style of watercolors and soft light. The normally smooth picture-book aesthetic of Oxenfree's world makes it all the more unnerving when the entity breaks its way into reality with Tron-like neon colors and sharp geometric shapes hanging unnaturally in the sky. It soaks it all in a phenomenal synth-heavy soundtrack from SCNTFC (Galax-Z, Sword & Sworcery) that perfectly alternates between wistful and unnerving. Let me say it plainly, Oxenfree is very light on gameplay. There are no real puzzles to solve, no panicky QTEs to click on, no last-minute boss fight to clumsily fumble through. This is a game about talking. The single most mechanically meaningful thing you do in the game is respond to dialogue options in Aaron Sorkin-style “walk-and-talk” conversations that alternate seamlessly between sarcastic teen bonding, stick-a-knife-in-it awkward stand-offs, and genuinely touching moments. Each conversation option is represented by word balloons you pick with a touch of a button. The tone of the response is hinted at by the phrase in the word balloon similar to the system used in Mass Effect (and done noticeably better than in Fallout 4, I might add). Unlike the galaxy-saving Shepard however, Alex's (the playable protagonist) dialogue isn't laced with heroic speeches or badass threats. She's a teenaged girl who had a lot on her shoulders before the whole spooky-possibly-haunted-island thing started happening and she carries herself like one. She jokes with her friends, gets freaked out, and argues over pointless trivia, like a real person who suddenly found themselves in an unreal situation would. There is no outwardly visible karma meter or “so-and-so will remember that” comments in the game, but your words have meaning. You dialogue choices will effect how the other kids see you and your relationship with them. Occasionally you come to linchpin decision moments that can take you down alternate paths in the game, but mostly the choices are subtlety baked into the experience. A nice change from the “pick blue for good, red for bad” dichotomy of many game's dialogue systems. These conversations are not done in cutscenes or discrete “talking moments,” they're the life blood flowing through the entire game. You chat while walking to the beach, cutting through the woods, while exploring an abandoned military base, and the conversation follows naturally. Jump across a chasm between two cliffs while idly chatting and your friends won't just keep talking about the weather, they'll stop to recognize how badass/insane what you did just was. Same goes for conversations interrupted by spooky transmissions, or sudden, jarring hallucinations. Its easy to picture this backfiring. If the characters were tiresome, boring, or two-dimensional, a game all about talking to them would be a painful experience. Thankfully, the teens of Oxenfree are refreshingly likable. With an excellent script behind some amazing voice-over performances, the teens never wear out their welcome. They're smart, funny, and surprisingly sensible (they mostly just want to get the hell away from the island rather than work out its mysterious history). While the setup is as off the shelf as it gets, the characters don't fit into the Breakfast Club-defined roles you might expect. Alex is a bright girl trying to redefine herself after a life-shattering loss. Her brand new half-brother Jonas (yeah, she's meeting him for the first time at a kegger, it's as awkward as it sounds) is from a bad neighborhood and is implied to have spent a little time in jail. But, he's deeper and more vulnerable than the smoldering bad boy you might be picturing. Best friend Ren is a weird little guy who deals with stress with (actually funny) humor, harbors at least one secret crush, and may or may not be seeing a therapist depending on how seriously you want to take a few throwaway lines. Clarissa is the group's mean girl, always ready with a sharp barb or cutting remark in what is a fairly blatant display of a maladjusted defense mechanism. And Nona, a shy and seemingly unassuming girl who nonetheless has spent most of the semester in suspension, is probably the least developed of the characters but reveals some hidden depth if you make an effort to engage her. In what may be the game's greatest accomplishment, these kids are actually fun to hang around (other than the possible exception of Clarissa). In most horror movies, I usually end up rooting for the machete-wielding maniac after being introduced to the typical gaggle of jerks and dummies of a horror movie cast. In Oxenfree, I couldn't help but be charmed by the gang. When the supernatural creeps of the island finally started getting rough with them, it put a crinkle in my brow and an uncomfortable bend in my spine. I was tense, unsettled. Oxenfree never had to spring a jump scare on me or splatter the screen with blood to wrap me around its finger. It just had to make me care about the kids. Once I did that, it owned me. Aside from talking, the other main thing you do in Oxenfree is tune through a radio. At any time, you can pop out your handy pocket radio and scroll through the channels, finding static, 1940s big band tunes, and the occasional Satanic murmuring from some hell dimension. How very Silent Hill. Scattered throughout the game are various opportunities to tune into tourist information stations that reveal background about the island (and hopefully clues as to what you're up against), as well as secret audio anomalies that function as the game's de facto collectable. These are broadcasts that seem to be coming from another time or an alternate reality. Call me a sap, but I thought the anomalies were genuinely disquieting. It brought to mind the same spooky quality as listening to a numbers station broadcast, or the Jonestown tapes. This is a laid-back game. The vast majority of the experience is just wandering around with your friends, dialing through the radio for the occasional audio anomaly while chatting about school, gossip, and how utterly screwed up the situation you're in is. It's short. You can probably play through it in a single evening if you didn't care about seeing alternate story paths or collecting anomalies. If you wanted to be dismissive and sneer at Oxenfree as another “walking simulator” there isn't much that could be said in its defense. But personally, I think it is an excellent walking simulator. Oxenfree is a walking simulator that is confident enough in its characters and dialogue to bet that you won't mind just hanging around with them. It believes in the sinister low-ebb horror of the island to worm its way into your mind without having to crutch on a jumpscare every few minutes. It knows that its atmosphere and style will be enough to make you want to wander through its forests and dilapidated military bases. It's a walking simulator you should play. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Oxenfree Review photo
Dark signals
Stop me if you've heard this one before: A group of teenagers head to a remote, nearly abandoned tourist trap for a night of wild partying. Not long after they get there though, odd things start to happen. Unsettling things. ...

With a little more time, The Division might be a fun romp with friends

Jan 15 // Zack Furniss
When the abilities work, they bring a satisfying immediacy to the numerous skirmishes you are wont to face. If you time your cooldown to finish right as a boss appears and you can pull out a ballistic shield to charge him with, it's hard not to smile and high five your co-op buddy. From what I was able to see, there's a plethora of mods and perks you can use to modify both these abilities and your agent's stats, which could lead to diverse character builds later on down the line. Combined with the crafting system and customizable weapons (grips, scopes, magazines, the usual), there will be plenty of viable options in your quest to purge New York. Throughout our various missions, we improved the three wings of our own bases of operations: Security, Medical, and Tech. Whether we were scrounging up supplies to bolster these facilities or rescuing more personnel with which to staff them, we ended up earning more perks, mods, and weapons. These missions mostly involved finding an area or killing a target, but they were fun to tackle with newly-made friends. We never had to think too hard about anything, but that's not what this game is about. It's going to scratch that same Destiny itch, where you're comparing stats and finding more efficient ways to run through quests. Here's the main problem: like most Diablo-esque shooters that are thigh-deep in weapon stats, developers tend to use enemy health as their most important slider. If you get a better gun, the guy who's wearing a hoodie and shooting you with an uzi will just have more hitpoints. He's an elite, so be prepared to fill his head with bullets for a good ten minutes before he drops. This is an old problem that you've heard about before. But in a game like The Division that really wants you to buy into a semi-realistic what-if scenario, it's hard to believe that a guy who did enough push-ups to reach level 20 can swallow multiple magazines of ammunition. Yes, AI is hard to improve, but damage sponges aren't fun. This was especially apparent when we skipped to a much later scenario when we had better weaponry and skills. Soldiers that used to fall quickly could now shrug off a hailstorm of metal and fire, yet we seemed to take damage at the same rate as the beginning of the game. It all feels rather Uncharted when you're standing next to a man, firing bullets between his eyes, watching him recoil, righting himself, stepping left, and shooting you some more. Most developers would love to have their game compared to Uncharted, but this aspect isn't a selling point. At the end of the day, I don't expect The Division to set the world on fire, but I didn't expect Destiny to keep growing and become the zeitgeist that it has. Serviceable combat, an encyclopedia worth of customization, and cooperative elements are enough for me to want to jump back in with old friends. With some more fine-tuning, this'll be a good late-night game for you and your pals. Plus, the Dark Zone areas seem promising (Joe said everything I would here). Hopefully, we'll all be able to place turrets when it releases on March 8, 2016.
Tom Clancy's The Division photo
8,000 headshots
A week or so ago I drove through Hell Niño in Los Angeles to get my hands on Tom Clancy's The Division in a 2002 Dodge Neon with bad windshield wipers. Let no one ever deny that I am committed. Alongside Ubisoft reps, ...

Review: Assassin's Creed Chronicles: India

Jan 12 // Chris Carter
Assassin's Creed Chronicles: India (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed]) Developer: Climax StudiosPublisher: UbisoftReleased: January 12, 2016MSRP: $9.99 In this tale players will assume the role of Arbaaz Mir -- a cocksure assassin who has just stolen the Koh-i-Noor diamond, a Piece of Eden. The year is 1841, and Arbaaz is caught up in your typical Assassin vs. Templar antics in the brand new setting of India. The narrative mostly takes a backseat, with various puzzles and combat (or rather, the option to avoid combat) challenges to face along the way, and little in the form of exposition or world building. It's...serviceable, much like China, in that the story doesn't really leap out of the screen, but it also doesn't get in the way. India keeps inline with China's unique visual style that looks like it could be housed in an art gallery, but with more vibrant hues and beautiful pastels than the last iteration. Often times I'd stop and ogle at the landscape, which is something I rarely do in recent 2D titles -- but then again, Ubisoft usually nails it in that department (Rayman, Child of Light). In case you're wondering, it's still following the same stealth platformer format from China, so don't expect a whole lot. Levels are very linear in nature, even if specific sections do have a number of different solutions (like whistling to distract guards, going around them entirely with the grappling hook, and so on). Once again the actual platforming mechanics are sound, and the "stealth button/run button" format translates unusually well to the 2D plane. That smoothness starts to grate though once you've made your way through similar looking labyrinthine halls, fighting the same types of enemies over and over. [embed]333470:61826:0[/embed] India still discourages combat and proclaims stealth king, which will probably polarize a few of you out there looking for constant fights. The game punishes you with a low health pool and a limited amount of combat tools, so if you are adverse to stealth you may want to sit out for this series. Personally I revel in the ability to not go in guns (or blades) blazing, so the style suit me quite well, especially with the increased emphasis on the grappling hook. Once the story is all said and done there's a New Game Plus, and a "New Game Plus Hard" option to storm through. Thankfully though Ubisoft added in another element to India in the form of challenge rooms, which are basically in the same surrealistic "VR" style as past entries, with time-based objectives to complete. Sure it's the same old song and dance for Assassin's Creed, but it's nice to have something extra to do, even if there's only six of them. Assassin's Creed Chronicles: India, isn't a whole lot different compared to China, which is either a good or a bad thing depending on your prior experience. It sports a slightly less interesting character and setting, but the core experience is replicated, and the addition of a few gameplay tweaks as well as the aforementioned challenge mode ensures that it's on the level. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Assassin's Creed review photo
Hide and Sikh
When the Chronicles series was announced, my response was mixed. I mean, it's cool that we're getting to see new settings outside of the usual suspect after all, but by that same token, I'd rather see those new areas in a fully-fledged 3D game. These Prince of Persia inspired 2.5D gaidens (including last year's China) are the next best thing though, albeit with some provisos.

Review: That Dragon, Cancer

Jan 11 // Laura Kate Dale
That Dragon, Cancer (Ouya, PC [Reviewed])Developer: Numinous GamesPublisher: Numinous GamesMSRP: $14.99Released: January 12, 2015Rig: Intel Core i5-4690K @ 3.5 GHz, with 8GB of RAM, Nvidia GeForce GTX 960, Windows 7 64-bit  That Dragon, Cancer is a two hour long, autobiographical exploration of creator Ryan Green's experience of having a young child diagnosed with cancer. At around twelve months old Joel Green, Ryan's son, was diagnosed with a brain tumor and given only a few months to live. In spite of his short prognosis Joel lived for several more years, with That Dragon, Cancer exploring the time between diagnosis and Joel's eventual passing away. [embed]332930:61798:0[/embed] That Dragon, Cancer is an odd game to really break apart. When I initially saw it in demo form a few years ago interactions were largely restricted to pacing around a single room, hearing sincere voice acting from a father with a distressed son he could not help. The frustration of being unable to do anything, the pain of pacing this single space and the strength of the writing made this single room experience incredibly moving to experience.  When Cancer focuses on these deeply personal moments, it truly shines as an experience. Be it spinning a simple children's toy in order to hear the thoughts of adults in a room to feeding ducks while Joel's siblings ask questions about his stagnant development, the times where Dragon focuses on very direct interactive representations of what their family went through are definitely not only moving, but meaningful. Where Dragon seems to stumble is when it tries to either abstract its representations of emotional themes, or introduce interactive elements that may not mesh with the tone of the surrounding narrative. With the exception of an incredibly well handled video game within the video game, most sections added to introduce additional video game elements ultimately detract from the experience, rather than adding to it. There's nothing to be gained by breaking up a somber scene with a poorly made, three lap cart race in a hospital with no other racers and no consequences for performance. That scene for example breaks the tone and impact of a much larger scene, feeling like it does so purely so the game is less likely to be labelled a walking simulator. While a few of these moments successfully convey themes, many of the successful scenes also drag on far longer than is sensible, damaging the pacing of the narrative considerably. I feel like this would be a much stronger experience if many of these moments of forced interaction were removed. That small video game inside the video game however? Really damn impressive. There's also a scene involving floating on balloons that, while overly long, did have some value. When Cancer is focusing on telling a direct narrative about a family's life with a son they knew was dying, it truly is an incredible experience. From the ways it conveys the highs and lows of life to the exploration of how Christianity fits into a family expecting bereavement, from the discussions of the future to the enjoyment of the present, it really is an awe inspiringly beautiful experience when it's focused. As a monument to a son, it's incredibly touching to see. The final scenes of the game were a beautiful bookend to a life cut short and without a doubt left me in tears for quite some time. That Dragon, Cancer is a beautiful experience, if one that would have benefited considerably from having content cut to improve the flow, pacing, and tone.
That Dragon, Cancer photo
Beautifully inconsistent
It's a very odd experience as a critic, reviewing something like That Dragon, Cancer. A product that is so clearly an incredibly personal work of art created from a place of sincerity, but also a consumer product being sold t...

Jed Whitaker's dank picks for Game of the Year 2015

Jan 06 // Jed Whitaker
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is probably my most-played game of 2015 on an "amount of days played" basis, even if it released in 2014. During the past year alone, the game has added two single-player adventures, Blackrock Mountain and League of Explorers, as well as a new expansion called The Grand Tournament, amounting to over 200 cards. The metagame has changed drastically, which kept Hearthstone feeling fresh all through 2015 and is why it deserves a spot as one of my games of the year. Well played. Her Story can arguably be boiled down to a search engine simulator mixed with FMV, but the narrative presented is so interesting and well acted that it is hard not to love. I purchased it one night during a sale and said to my boyfriend, "I've heard a lot of praise for this game. We should play it for a minute." Over three hours later, I was still playing, engrossed in the murder mystery presented on-screen via interrogation videos. Finding a new clip to watch and piecing together the mystery is exciting, even if on paper the plot almost seems like something you'd find in a Lifetime movie or soap opera. I can't stress enough what an amazing story it is and how addictive Her Story becomes once you get started. YouTube videos can't possibly do this one justice -- just buy it and see for yourself without spoiling anything. Westerado: Double Barreled is a rootin' tootin' heck of a great retro-styled western with a large dose of revenge. Each playthrough is randomly generated, but one thing stays the same: someone you love is brutally murdered, and you're out for the kind of revenge that only cold steel can provide. The style, the music, the writing, and the entire presentation are just fantastic, capturing the feel of old-timey spaghetti westerns better than any game I've ever played. That said, even if you aren't a western fan, you can still find enjoyment in the true-to-cowboy-dialect writing. Yeehaw! Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime was meant to be played with a friend or lover, and when doing so, it is damned amazing. You and your partner work together to control a colorful spacecraft searching through space for kidnapped animal buddies. Controlling the ship is done by moving your chosen character around to various stations that handle specific functions including steering, weapons, shields, and so on. It's hands down the best co-op experience of the year, and possibly the past few years. Lovers is a must-own if you've got a special someone in your life who just wants to spend time with you doing your favorite hobby. I know my boyfriend and I love it. [embed]330637:61722:0[/embed] Did you really think my list wouldn't have Splatoon? Nintendo's first shooter turned out to be the most original one in years and everything about the game is on point from the characters to the music, graphics, single-player, multiplayer, and even commercials. Splatoon launched with what seemed like a small amount of content on paper, but since then Nintendo has continually released new weapons, levels, clothing, modes, and Splatfests to make up for it, and all for the low, low price of free. I just hope the rumored Octoling campaign DLC comes true in 2016! Also, in case you missed it the first time, watch Squid Now 2 here to basically see me naked. I'm going to be honest here: I haven't even finished Yo-Kai Watch, but damn do I love it. Just look at this picture of me in my Jibanyan shirt with my Jibanyan piggy bank and try to tell me I don't love Yo-Kai Watch. What could be better than a game that combines Pokémon with cute and colorful ghosts who speak English? Not many games in 2015, that is for sure. The character designs alone make this one of my favorites of the year, and I'm sure I'll love it even more when I get around to finishing it. Speaking of games I love but haven't had the time to finish, The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes is one of them. Dare I say this is the 'gayest' Zelda game that has ever existed, and I love it all the more for it? So many of the characters are just flamboyant and utterly fabulous. Mix that in with a multiplayer version of that familiar Zelda flavor and you've got yourself a great game. Perhaps the online is sometimes laggy, and other players aren't always so good at communicating, but everyone has, at least, two friends to play with, right? I still laugh every time someone does the cheerleader emote, causing Link to pop up on my screen with pom poms. So cute, so fun, so colorful, and arguably so gay, Tri Force Heroes deserves a spot in your 3DS collection. Castle in the Darkness is the one of those games that flew under the radar for most people while being one hell of a game. If Castlevania and Cave Story had a love child, this would be it. For a game that costs $6, it is packed full of content. It took me around 16 hours just to 100 percent the campaign while unlocking two of the endings, and that is before I touched the other new game plus modes! While you're slaying hundreds of different enemies and giant bosses in this non-linear affair, you'll also be humming along to the best chiptune soundtrack I've heard in years and easily my favorite game soundtrack of 2015. Don't believe me? Then give it a listen. What is more impressive is the game was mostly developed (completely developed?) by one person, Matt Kap, and that includes the soundtrack. Even though it released in February, I've found myself thinking back to my time with Castle in the Darkness throughout 2015. It's easily my favorite single-player game of the year. Halo 5: Guardians is my second-most-played game of 2015 and my favorite multiplayer game of the year. Sure, its campaign is easily one of the worst in the series (what were they thinking having you fight the same boss so many times?), but what shines here is the online experience. 343 Industries took the base multiplayer we came to know and love from previous titles and plucked mechanics from other shooters to make the overall best multiplayer experience in the series. Aiming down sights, unlimited sprinting, clamoring up ledges, spartan charging, and ground pounding are all welcome additions. While there are microtransactions available, they only offer up cosmetics and consumables and are quickly unlockable without spending a dime, however tempting that might be. Because of their inclusion, 343 has promised that all future maps and modes will be provided free of charge. Thus far, it has kept its promise by adding multiple maps and modes since launch.  After putting over 72 hours into the multiplayer, I'm happy to report that this is easily one of the most balanced Halo games, and one that will keep me playing for many more hours to come.  That does it for my main games of the year list, but I'd like to toss out some honorable mentions: Niko: Through the Dream was the best first-person puzzle game I played in 2015. Undertale is the game I'm most likely to fall in love with if I ever play it after having bought it on release day. Rock Band 4 is my most regretful purchase of the year. The Jackbox Party Pack 2 is the best game to play with friends who can't stay off their damned phones. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is the most innovative and stressful game of the year.  Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist is the best walking simulator and free experience of the year. Downwell is the best mobile / cheap game that I love that I may or may not ever beat due to difficulty. Xbox One Elite controller is the best controller on the market (sorry not sorry Steam controller). It Follows is the best movie of the year and features a video game-esque soundtrack by Disasterpeace! [embed]330637:61722:0[/embed]
Jed's dankiest games 2015 photo
Bonus: See me nearly naked, again
I've heard a lot of people say 2015 was one of the best years they can remember, gaming-wise, but I can't say I agree. AAA titles last year were mostly more of the same, and most indie titles just didn't click with me. 2015 w...

Oculus Rift up for pre-order right now, costs $599.99, out in March

Jan 06 // Chris Carter
[embed]332092:61753:0[/embed]
Oculus Rift photo
Do you want it?
[Update: All initial "day one" stock has been claimed, apparently selling out in 14 minutes. Further units for sale are now pushed back to May 2016.] This week, Oculus had a few announcements up its sleeve, including the...

Review: Amplitude

Jan 05 // Chris Carter
Amplitude (PS3, PS4 [reviewed])Developer: HarmonixPublisher: HarmonixMSRP: $19.99Released: January 5, 2016 (PS4) / TBA (PS3) Amplitude might be hard to master, but it's extremely easy to pick up. If you've played the series before you'll be able to jump right back in at the highest difficulty level, but for the rest of you, a quick five minute tutorial is all you'll need. Simply put, notes are laid down on tracks that symbolize instruments (or vocals), with L1, R1, and R2 (or Square, Triangle, and Circle) triggering the left, middle, or right notes respectively. Players are required to hit specific notes on beat on each track, then move to the next one. That's essentially it. There are a few more nuances like "Streaking" (combos, initiated by quickly moving and playing notes on a new track), and power-ups (simple concepts like clearing a track instantly), but you'll pick up the basics in no time. And in many ways, that's what's so great about Amplitude. The concept of a ship driving down a literal road that signifies your progress in a song is brilliant, and although it's been done a few times since the franchise's retirement, Harmonix does it best. All four difficulties (plus one bonus unlock) feel balanced, and the highest (Expert) is sufficiently challenging. Amplitude doesn't have a whole lot on offer though, content-wise. The campaign is a mere 15 songs long, consisting of a "concept album" created by Harmonix. It's a neat idea in theory, but it's over before you know it, and will definitely leave players wanting more. The fact that it cannot be played with friends and is required to unlock a handful of songs for multiplayer also isn't ideal. After finishing up the campaign, I had no desire to ever play it again. [embed]328939:61634:0[/embed] In that sense, the vast majority of your time will be spent in the free play mode, which supports up to four players in both versus or team play (1v3 or 2v2) situations. It's just as fun as it was in the past, as there's even more strategy involved with more ships on the track, since you can block out opponents from entering a track by claiming it first. With all of the power-ups being used in tandem, things can get hectic. It's Amplitude at its best, and truly successful players will need to watch their own track as well as peruse the entire board for the next move on top of counter-maneuvers, taking other ships into account. Where Amplitude really falls short is its lackluster 30-song soundtrack. You can take a look at the full setlist here to get an idea of what to expect -- spoiler: it's a lot of in-house work. Most of it is competent electronica crafted by the talented folks at Harmonix, but I just don't dig most of the vocal work -- either the performances or the lyrics -- and the majority of songs are not nearly as memorable as classics from the old games like Garbage's "Cherry Lips" or David Bowie's "Everyone Says Hi." I would play those songs for hours on end years back, but like the campaign, I'm willing to skip out on most of the new tracks. The original games weren't afraid to get out of their comfort zone with songs like "Dope Nose" from Weezer and "King of Rock" by Run-DMC, and the lack of risk-taking really shows with this new iteration. Another general issue I have is the way songs are doled out while playing. Tracks are locked behind the campaign as previously mentioned, but others require players to complete a ton of songs to access them. One even takes 60 plays to unlock! Why did Harmonix feel the need to do this? To gate the experience and ensure it lasts longer? It goes against the party-like nature of the game, and feels like a relic of the past. I wouldn't mind doing this if the reward were greater (like the original), but it isn't. Amplitude is a competent rhythm game that should provide lots of fun at parties, but the hamstrung tracklist is a severe detriment to its longevity. Harmonix was able to preserve the classic experience, but may have gone overboard in its effort to do so. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher. I did not contribute to the Kickstarter campaign.]
Amplitude review photo
This Amp doesn't go to 11
Before there was an abundance of rhythm games out there with plastic peripherals, there were developers like Harmonix leading the way with controller-based experiences. Along with some long sessions of Gitaroo Man and Pa...

Review: Rise of the Tomb Raider: Endurance Mode

Jan 05 // Chris Carter
Rise of the Tomb Raider: Endurance Mode (Xbox One [reviewed], Xbox 360, PC, PS4)Developer: Crystal Dynamics (Xbox One), Nixxes Software (Xbox 360)Publisher: Microsoft (Xbox One, 360); Square Enix (PC, PS4)MSRP: $9.99Released: December 29, 2015 Endurance Mode is very light on story, offering up a shaky excuse for its existence which isn't even all that necessary. Lara, seemingly breaking from her travels, is in search of artifacts as is the evil mustache-twirling Trinity organization. Her job is to locate caves and recover said artifacts, then signal a helicopter and high-tail it out of there with as many goodies as she can grab. The catch is, players now have a food and warmth meter. Grabbing supplies such as bark and berries (or killing animals for food) actually has a point now, rather than a gamified version of an upgrade system like the core story. Hilariously, it even goes as deep as needing resources to light the signal fire to even escape, something I failed at in my first run. Ammo is often much more scarce a la Resident Evil as well, which is a nice touch -- I'd almost always find myself out of arrows during nearly all of my runs. Relic caves are actually mini-crypts, and are roughly 5-10 minute, bite-sized dungeons of sorts with random trap types. They're fun to play through, and don't overstay their welcome given their short length. Additionally, the rewards for actually exploring these caves are decent, including credit payouts for more Expedition rewards, and new weapons. I would prefer a lot of these elements to just be baked into the core game, but since I assume a lot of folks would complain that it's "too hard," we have this mode instead -- a risk-reward, arcadey score attack concept. It even features challenges (locate five crypts), which are an achievement-ception of sorts. At times, it feels like a rushed bit of DLC. There's only one Endurance sandbox for starters, and as a whole, the map feels rigid and forced -- with plenty of ways to corral players into specific zones. All of that cheapness generally washes away when you're in caves, but I would have preferred the overworld to be just as enjoyable. The best part is that it involves cards. If you're into that aspect of Rise, this is probably the best game type for it, in fact. For the uninitiated, cards modify the experience -- making it tougher or easier -- depending on what cards you play before match. For example, you can up your rewards by making enemies do more damage, or lower them by taking a specific outfit that automatically grants you the entire Brawler skill tree. Some cards are limited to a one-time use, but tons more, including a large pack that comes with the Survival DLC, are permanent. Deciding whether or not to buy Endurance Mode for Rise of the Tomb Raider is a pretty easy decision. Did you play and enjoy the Expeditions? If so, go ahead and grab it, if not, skip it.
Tomb Raider DLC review photo
Don't starve
I'm surprised how much mileage I've gotten out of Rise of the Tomb Raider. While most developers are keen on stuffing multiplayer into every single project, Crystal Dynamics did the right thing but nixing it in Rise, instead adding in a much more enticing Expeditions gametype. Endurance Mode isn't exactly as thrilling as it sounds, but it expands upon Expeditions quite well.

Chris Carter's personal picks for Game of the Year 2015

Jan 03 // Chris Carter
Bloodborne What an amazing year for Souls fans. In addition to announcement of Dark Souls III coupled with a solid release date, we also got the fantastic Scholar of the First Sin, and of course, Bloodborne. Sony and From Software were absolutely genius with their timing of the latter. It was released earlier this year, leaving plenty of time to develop The Old Hunters DLC, just in time for our Game of the Year voting process. With a more twitchy action-based combat system in tow, Bloodborne felt significantly different from its predecessors, but was still a Souls game at heart. If the series is to truly end with Dark Souls III, it will end without one bad game under its belt. Yo-Kai Watch I've developed a full-on addiction to this franchise. I watch the TV show, I've acquired a few pieces of merchandise, and I love the first game. Yo-Kai Watch managed to make its way into my heart for one simple reason -- Level-5 put so much effort into this series that it truly shows. Whether it's the endearing references to the basically-but-not-technically Japan setting and hilarious cast, I'm usually smiling when I'm experiencing something Yo-Kai related. Heroes of the Storm When Blizzard first started talking about a "casual MOBA" years back, I never really took the prospect seriously. I was a devoted vanilla DOTA fan (and years later, League of Legends enthusiast), and the concept really didn't resonate with me. Until I played it, of course. The fact that the roster is made up of classic Warcraft, Diablo, and StarCraft heroes and villains is only the icing on the cake, because as a whole, the game works. I love that I can boot it up for just a bit, play a game that's only 15-20 minutes, and move on, instead of dedicating hours upon hours for it to truly get anywhere. The team-based XP system is brilliant as well. Fellow players are still able to keep up with everyone without getting left in the dust because they didn't last-hit every creep throughout a match. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Expectations were through the roof with Kojima's last project with Konami, but man did he and his team deliver. With open-world gameplay that absolutely smashes so many of its competitors, Phantom Pain was one of the most engaging games I've played in years. It also helped that it looked gorgeous, as every bullet, explosion, and setpiece was beautifully designed and orchestrated. While Metal Gear Online and the sum of its other, seedier microtransaction parts leave much to be desired, the campaign has earned a rightful place among the best work from Kojima's long, storied career. Ori and the Blind Forest I don't think I'll ever get tired of Metroidvanias, and Ori and the Blind Forest is a perfect example of why the formula still works. The platforming is spot-on, the environments are engaging and vivid, and the minimalist story is so well done that it hurts. Clocking in at 12 hours or less, there isn't any fat on Ori -- you need every bit of that game for the package to work. Shortly after completing it the first time, I went back and did another run. I can safely say that it will become part of my annual replay routine. Xenoblade Chronicles X Ah, Xenoblade. I still remember the very moment I knew how polarizing the game was going to be. I had cleared out an afternoon to do a story quest, only to find out that it needed a sidequest as a prerequisite. Having no idea how the flow of things operated, I thought it would be a mere diversion, and I would be able to power through the main questline. Oh how wrong I was, and six hours later, I still wasn't ready to continue the campaign. But you know what? That entire six-hour block was a joyous session. I found a heap of hidden areas, fought gigantic looming world bosses, unearthed a ton of useful loot, and just generally had a blast roaming around the sprawling maps. It's so easy to get lost in Xenoblade Chronicles X, and although it can be a bit too old-school for its own good, the journey is its own reward. Resident Evil: Revelations 2 I usually have one oddball pick every year, and this is it. It sounds like a cop-out to say recent Resident Evil games are better with friends, but damn it, they are. Even Resident Evil 6, despite its general garbage multi-campaign approach, had redeeming qualities with its "Mercenaries" component. My wife and I were hooked from start to finish, and the asymmetrical co-op characters really worked for us. The episodic format was a bit jarring, but ultimately fine, and I liked that some sections had multiple outcomes or endings, among the hundreds of other extras and goodies packed in. I must admit, though, most of my enjoyment is derived from the game's raid mode, which is probably my favorite incarnation of the game-type to date. I've spent more time playing it than practically any other game released this year.
GOTY 2015 photo
Another rad year
As I've said in the past, every year is a great year for gaming if you look hard enough. I see "this year sucked" so many times around the web and just can't relate, because while there may be disappointing releases on a cons...

2015 recap: The ten most popular posts on Destructoid this year

Dec 31 // Brett Makedonski
Ten most popular posts 10. Here are all the names Fallout 4's Codsworth can say Admit it: You clicked on this because you wanted to see if Codsworth can say bumbledick or shitsandwich or fuckface (he can say the latter). Just because Codsworth can say it doesn't mean you can say it, though! We'll wash your mouth out with soap and we're not bluffing this time. 9. The Last of Us multiplayer DLC is not okay Darren has thoughts. Opinions, man. Takes that are hot. He doesn't like the free-to-play multiplayer elements in The Last of Us -- a game that is absolutely not free-to-play. Over the course of, like, a million words, he explains his beef. I don't know if most agreed with him, but a whole lot of people wanted to see what he had to say. 8. E3 2015 press conference schedule They call him SEO Steven* for a reason. I don't have the hard statistics to back it up, but I'd wager that the old Google machine looked kindly upon this post. *No one calls him SEO Steven; they call him Arch Deluxe Steven on account of the crazy high arches in his feet. They're weird. They freak me out. 7. Where to find companions in Fallout 4 Word on the street is you need some friends. Loser. 6. Bethesda doesn't mind if you don't like Fallout 4's graphics Fallout 4 doesn't look great. It's not terrible, but it's not wowing anyone who's used to gaming on a PC, PS4, or Xbox One. Bethesda's perfectly fine with that. Let's face it: If you're playing Fallout for the graphics, you're playing Fallout for the wrong reasons. 5. Some jerk ruined Pixels' perfect zero Rotten Tomatoes score Adam Sandler's summer movie Pixels didn't fare all that well. For a while, it had a zero percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I don't know much about movies and percentages, but that seems bad. Until some jagoff ruined all of that. Also, I'm pretty sure that I gave Darren the headline for this article, so he owes me a beer the next time I see him. Do me a favor and hold him to that. I'll take my beer in the form of a bottle of vodka. 4. Here are all the amiibo waves and figures we know about I can confidently say that amiibo are bad and Chris is a bad man for writing about them. Some would say that I'm also a bad man for writing about them, to which I'd threaten to sue my defamers for slander. 3. Nintendo's cracking down on speedrunning and ROM hacking videos Speaking of lawsuits, a little copyright talk brought all the attorneys to the yard. And they're like "Actually the purpose of copyright law..." That's not as catchy and I can definitely see why the other song was about milkshakes instead. 2. Man hate-buys Rosalina & Luma amiibo in bulk so fans can't have them Okay, you're right: I am a bad man for writing about amiibo. Almost as bad of a man as the Internet troll who bought a bunch of Rosalina & Luma amiibo so that other people couldn't have them. (In reality, he was probably just flipping them for megabucks.) 1. Bungie gets salty defending Destiny's expansion price Understandably, it didn't go well when Bungie asked Destiny players to re-buy content they'd already bought to get full access to the upcoming expansion. One of the biggest games on the market gouging its user base in this unthinkable manner was bound to be one of the most popular stories of the year. Five most popular reviews 5. Bloodborne Chris Carter does everything around here -- including the top five trafficking reviews of 2015. 4. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Chris, did you ever know that you're my hero? 3. Fallout 4 And everything I would like to be? 2. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain I can fly higher than an eagle. 1. Dying Light For you are the wind beneath my wings. Also, how the hell did Dying Light, with a modest score of seven, end up beating those other titans? I don't understand the Internet, like, ever. This shit more or less makes no sense. Staff picks for five enjoyable posts (in no particular order) 5. 'Is that a Game Boy?' Navigating simple questions as a socially awkward adult Here's a little inside baseball: Darren wasn't even sure he should post this quick editorial he wrote. It wasn't really video game-related. Instead, it was more "How do I describe the nuances of gaming to a naive audience-"related. I'm glad he did because it tackles such an innocent, basic, yet all too familiar scenario: That awkwardness when trying to figure out when explaining becomes over-explaining. It's one that's tough to elegantly deal with no matter how many times you run into it. 4. Experience Points .25: Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars I love Ben's Experience Points series. Too often, I realize that it has been a long time since I've had anything too nice to say about video games. The magic isn't the same when you deal with covering the industry every single day. Ben's Experience Points pieces come from a place of pure affection and appreciation, though -- an attitude that makes them a joy to read and helps recapture the feeling that got many of us into this gig in the first place. We went with his Super Mario RPG entry because, gosh, that game is so good. 3. Cell games: I tried to build a pacifist utopia but the Internet ate me up Agar.io is a game about being a cell and trying to grow. This is done either by devouring smaller player-controlled cells or by gobbling up an abundance of tiny non-player-controlled cells. Really, it's kind of the very essence of online multiplayer -- everyone out for themselves, hoping to eventually be the biggest dog in the yard. Steven found himself trying to subvert that. He wanted to play as a pacifist, seeing how big he could grow just from eating those insignificant small cells. What transpired was a mutualistic relationship with a fellow player, an unlikely friendship in a game meant to show as little human personality as possible. It's the kind of story that conjures memories of an unknown buddy helping you through the emotional highs and lows of Journey. 2. True Life: One man's descent into deliriumiibo This was the most therapeutic piece that I can remember writing in a long time. Having recently fallen victim to the amiibo craze, I kept stepping back and wondering what the hell I was doing before continuing right along my troubled path. It was a lighthearted reprieve where I could laugh about this sudden obsession while in the back of my mind thinking "Fuuuuck, I'm really doing this, aren't I?" 1. Nintendo announced a new Metroid so we gave Zack a haircut This bucks the editorial trend set by the other four posts, but that's okay because this is one of my favorite things that happened all year. Nintendo (kind of) announced a new Metroid title at E3 -- Metroid Prime: Federation Force -- so, we shaved the iconic alien into the back of Zack's head. Poorly, might I add. Zack, you're gonna go far, kid. -- We wrote a lot of good stuff in 2015. Only five got listed in this round-up, but there was far more that we were proud of. If you'd like, check out the Destructoid Originals tag to rediscover some of it. Now, onto 2016, the ten-year anniversary of your favorite Robot.
Popular posts of 2015 photo
So fetch
Even though the tradition is exactly two years running at this point, I look forward to closing up the calendar year by writing about the most popular posts on Destructoid. It's no secret that we, Internet people as we are, h...

Why are the only interesting parts of Rise of the Tomb Raider's story buried in audio logs?

Dec 29 // Zack Furniss
Remember when Rise of the Tomb Raider was announced at the Xbox's E3 press conference? If not, here it is: [embed]330081:61668:0[/embed] Lara is at a therapy session, and a psychologist is telling her that despite the trauma she faced, she needs to reintegrate into society, maybe "take up some hobbies". She impatiently taps her foot, clad in a hood, eyes downcast, obviously beyond uncomfortable. Her hands are wounded, a fact that she's trying to keep a secret from the psychologist. This all adds up to a surprisingly human look at what someone would face after the (admittedly ridiculous) harrowing events of the first game. That images of her continuing to delve into dangerous situations are woven throughout the trailer add an uncomfortable, yet empowering edge. Most games shy away from dealing with trauma, yet from the outset Rise of the Tomb Raider looked like it might have something to say about the subject. Some viewers interpreted the teaser as showing Lara as damaged, but as someone who regularly goest to a therapist, I saw it as a strength. However, this scene is nowhere to be found in the finished product. These therapy sessions are relegated to simple audio logs, and even worse than that, they aren't ones that you find lying around on the floor. At some point after Ana, Lara's father's lover (and member of Trinity, the capital E evil ancient order that's searching for immortality) betrays Lara, a pop-up tells you that you've unlocked some audio logs. It's easy to miss. If you give these a listen, you'll find an extra layer of fucked-up. These therapy sessions were actually orchestrated by Trinity, and they're pushing Lara to go in the direction that they want. One recording shows that they're trying to separate Lara from Jonah, her friend and fellow survivor. Each tape ends with Ana scheming about how best to further manipulate Lara. This is good stuff, and is so much more interesting than the rote plot that ended up in Rise. Therapy in general seems to be a big no-no in game stories, but this could have been handled in a way that gave depth to Lara's character, giving her more of a reason to detest Trinity. It also makes them seem like a more dangerous enemy, secretly pulling global strings instead of just giving an army of idiots guns so that they can all be massacred by a young woman who built a bow out of sticks. Ana's brother, Konstantin, is a leader of one of Trinity's battalions, and is memorable for three things: a gravelly voice, an under-cooked boss battle, and stigmata on his hands that bleed when his prayers are answered. Sure, I can believe in a holy figure that responds to prayers in a game that has immortal soldiers that explode into blue flames when you blast them with a shotgun. But another audio log from Ana's perspective reveals that Konstantin was directionless, lacking faith. One night, she decided to stab both of his hands so that he would believe he was chosen by God. This gave him the necessary push to keep him searching for the secret to immortality so that he could save Ana from a terminal illness. Why was this not touched upon in-game? Ana abusing her brother's buried zealotry for her personal gain, and him re-opening his wounds because he so desperately wants to believe in a higher power is a huge bit of character development that goes a long way in making these people at least somewhat believable in Tomb Raider's cartoonish world. I'm all for adding a human element into this series instead of making Lara an indestructible globe-hopping terminator (even though that's...still what they're doing), but someone is clearly stifling the writers' potential here. I'm curious how much of what Rhianna Pratchett is writing is getting thrown out in favor of "more explosions, less exposition." Again, I found plenty to enjoy in Rise of the Tomb Raider for the most part, and I'll play a sequel. Hopefully there'll the more thoughtful ideas will be allowed to float to the surface. And seriously, why isn't Lara using two pistols yet, especially since she used them for the final encounter in the first game (in a QTE, but I digress)? I promise you, it's not any less believable than her killing a billion guys. One last thing. Are we taking bets on whether or not Sofia was supposed to be another player character in a scrapped co-op mode? She has braids, a bow, and all but disappears in the last quarter of the game. I have a feeling there was a more volatile development cycle here than we know.
Rise of the Tomb Raider photo
Short answer: because it's a video game
Pretty boy Steven Hansen enjoyed  our Xbox One Game of the Year Rise of the Tomb Raider, saying that it was "perfunctory Hollywood boilerplate, down to the set up for the sequel, but competently done." I agree with ...

Destructoid's award for Overall Best Game of 2015 goes to...

Dec 23 // Niero Desu
Speaking of cereal business: The accidental legacy of the cock-branded corn flakes goes back to the late 19th century, when a team of Seventh-day Adventists began to develop new food to adhere to the vegetarian diet recommended by the church. In 1894, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, the superintendent of The Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan and an Adventist, used these recipes as part of a strict vegetarian regimen for his patients, which also included no alcohol, tobacco, or caffeine. The diet he imposed consisted entirely of bland foods. A follower of Sylvester Graham, the inventor of graham crackers and graham bread, Kellogg believed that spicy or sweet foods would "increase passions." Pictured: Mergo's Wet Nurse This idea for corn flakes began by accident when Kellogg and his younger brother, Will Keith Kellogg, left some cooked wheat to sit while they attended to some pressing matters at the sanitarium. When they returned, they found that the wheat had gone stale, but being on a strict budget, they decided to continue to process it by forcing it through rollers, hoping to obtain long sheets of the dough. To their surprise, what they found instead were flakes, which they toasted and served to the insane, who loved it.  In 1906, Will Keith Kellogg, who served as the business manager of the sanitarium, decided to try to mass-market the new food. At his new company, Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company, Will added sugar to the flakes to make them more palatable to a mass audience, but this caused a rift between his brother and him. John thought the sugary version of corn flakes would get people laid. Heaven forbid: sex leads to babies, who are born bloody and can go on to produce murderous vicars and martyrs at sixty frames a second. Gross. Photo Credit: Blame Canada In 1907, his same company ran an ad campaign which offered a free box of cereal to any woman who winked at her grocer. To increase sales, in 1909, he added a special offer, the Funny Jungleland Moving Pictures Booklet. You probably had no idea how much the church, insane people, and masturbation have affected what many of you put into your mouths every morning. Luckily, moving pictures have evolved since. Congratulations, Miss Colombia, you're our game of the year. No seriously, she won. Fuck it, I own Destructoid, the Niero does what he wants. Duuude, have you seen that T-Shirt that has the old American food pyramid, but instead it says "I do what I want"? That's hilarious. Also, congratulations to Bloodborne and everyone at Sony and From Software. Sick game. [GOTY artwork design by Raul Cordoba. Miss Colombia photo credit: El Heraldo Colombia] Also, a huge thanks to the game's lead programmer, Jun Ito, who rarely gets his name mentioned by the Western press. I don't know anything about this person or the countless others that also contributed, but Ito-san is surely like many of hard-working developers in the industry who sacrificed countless nights of restful sleep. Taihen arigatou gozaimashita.
GOTY 2015 photo
Jun Ito
The downfall of Japanese game development has been greatly exaggerated. It sort of reminds me of what happened a century ago, when Dr. Kellogg introduced Kellogg's Corn Flakes in hopes that it would reduce masturbation. Kello...

Destructoid's award for Best Xbox Game of 2015 goes to...

Dec 23 // Brett Makedonski
[Incomplete products like Steam Early Access titles and episodic games that are not fair to assess as standalone experiences, without a full episode count, were not eligible for this year's awards. The cutoff for entry into Destructoid's 2015's Game of the Year awards is December 4, 2015.]
GOTY 2015 photo
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Before Nathan Drake, there was Lara Croft. This is important to note because recently, for a good number of years, Nathan Drake was Lara Croft. Shrewdly, developer Naughty Dog took the cinematic action baton and ran far,...

Review: Batman: Arkham Knight: Season of Infamy

Dec 23 // Chris Carter
Batman: Arkham Knight: Season of Infamy (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: WB Games MontrealPublisher: Warner Bros.MSRP: $9.99Released: December 22, 2015 Infamy is a bit confusing. It's not an "Arkham Episode," that's detached from the story by way of a menu option. It's an actual extension of the narrative, taking place before Batman initiates the Knightfall Protocol (the ending), and it's integrated into the open-world campaign. In other words, if you've reached 100 percent completion in the game, just load up your file to start the DLC. Four new missions pop up as a result of booting up Infamy, which you can complete in any order, featuring Mr. Freeze, Mad Hatter, Ra's al Ghul, and Killer Croc. Each one is roughly 30-45 minutes long. Let's start with the Mad Hatter, the weakest link in the chain. His effectiveness as a Batman villain has always been questionable, and that goes double for his appearance in Arkham Knight. He was fine as a throwaway sidequest included in City, but the return of his presence does little to justify a premium price here. You'll be done with his bit in less than 30 minutes, running around Arkham with a minor series of fetch quests before confronting him at the Gotham City Police Department headquarters, and enduring another hallucination that amounts to nothing more than three easy combat challenges. It's a neat concept but it's so fleeting that I barely had time to digest it. Killer Croc is another of those one-dimensional foes that often functions as the muscle of an outfit -- a trope that leads you down a predictable storyline in the Infamy add-on. A prison ship has crash-landed compliments of an escape attempt by Croc, and you'll gallivant across the environment, chasing him down for a bit (with more fetch quests in tow of course). Consisting of a few platforming sequences and some combat, there's basically no thinking involved here in just about every facet of the short quest. It works better than Mad Hatter's portion though because most of it isn't comprised of re-used environments, and there is a nice brief reunion with Nightwing. [embed]328895:61630:0[/embed] Mr. Freeze on the other hand, is a villain that has always had a more interesting, nuanced characterization. He's not truly evil in the traditional sense -- rather, he sees his schemes as a means to an end, to save his wife Nora. The actual objectives for his quest aren't all that enthralling, but it's the only one that features Predator sequences, and the concept (and the exploration of his relationship with Nora) is compelling enough to see the tale through until the end. Plus, it has a Batmobile sequence that has more of a reason to exist than most of the ones in the campaign. Ra's al Ghul's quest is the other highlight of the pack, taking place mostly in Eliott General Hospital. Hush's part in Knight was extremely disappointing, especially after the buildup from City, so it's nice to see his family's legacy featured front and center to some degree. Along with some brand new zones you'll also work through a rather intriguing subplot featuring the League of Assassins (who are some of the only new enemies in the Infamy pack), and the Lazarus Pit -- one of the wackier bits of Batman lore. There's also a choice at the end that's actually pretty interesting that I won't spoil here. As a premium add-on, Season of Infamy really fails to produce much that feels like it's essential to the Arkham Knight experience outside of two tales. But on the other hand, it has a number of nice little touches, most notably a small expansion of the GCPD HQ, adding another wing (along with some easy WayneTech upgrade points), and the mission structure in the weaker two stories is competent at the very worst. If you really loved Knight and have been avoiding all the DLC thus far, Infamy is probably worth checking out at some point -- even if it's the only thing you buy piecemeal. [This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]
Batman DLC review photo
Ice to see the end of the Season Pass
I've refrained from reviewing most of the DLC for Batman: Arkham Knight outside of the Batgirl add-on, because of the short nature of the mission-based tales. But Season of Infamy has four missions, so that means it's four times as good, right?!


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