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Ark: Survival Evolved photo
Ark: Survival Evolved

ARK: Survival Evolved adds tundras, swamps, and giant frogs

Exciting new places to die in!
Sep 30
// Nic Rowen
ARK: Survival Evolved has added some variety to its tropical, Jurassic Park-with-no-guardrails, vibe in its latest update. Two new biomes, including a snow covered, mountainous tundra filled with huge direwolves and towering ...
BattleTech photo

BattleTech Kickstarter begins, immediately secures funding for 'stage 1'

Turn-based stompy robots live again
Sep 29
// Nic Rowen
[Correction: Contrary to what I reported earlier, Harebrained Schemes did not fund the initial $250K goal of basic funding on its Kickstarter. All of those funds came from backers. Harebrained has invested $1 million into the...

Heroes of the Storm 101 for new players

Sep 20 // Nic Rowen
General tips When you first start, focus on not dying more than getting kills. Heroes might not be as prone to hopeless snowballing as other MOBAs, but it can still happen if you have a teammate who is constantly feeding the enemy easy XP and free lanes. Don't be that teammate! Kills and #BigPlays will come with time, there is no need to dive towers and chase people all over right away. Play the objectives! Heroes is unique in that it has a variety of maps, each with a different gimmick. One may have you collecting gems or coins and depositing them in a central area to summon NPCs that will attack enemy forts, others may have you rushing to an area to defend, attack, or claim a certain objective for other benefits. It's almost always a good idea to prioritize objectives over pushing a lane or grabbing a mercenary camp or whatever else you might be doing (you'll learn when it's a good idea to break that rule with time). Watch the mini-map. The mini-map is your friend. The mini-map is life. The mini-map will show you where the objectives are on a map, where your friends are, any revealed enemies, any active merc camps, and so on. It's also the best way to quickly communicate in a random quickmatch (where you'll likely be cutting your teeth). Ping the map when you need your teammate's attention, pay attention when they signal for backup, and keep an eye on those sneaky, sneaky assassins who keep popping in and out of the fog. Play around with different characters. Try to make a point of touring every free character you can. Not only is this a great way to earn gold (as Chris pointed out, you gain a tidy sum for each character you take to level 5 and it's a fairly quick process), but it will also give you an idea of what each other hero is capable of. Important to know when sizing up a fight, and something that is much easier to learn by doing rather than just watching. Character tips Stick with Honest Jimmy. Jim Raynor is the tutorial character for a reason; he's super easy to use. That said, he's also surprisingly strong. He has a simple, but useful toolbox that lets him score high hero damage and push lanes while staying fairly safe. He's one of the cheapest characters to buy with gold as well as being included in the $5.00 starter pack if you don't mind making a small investment. You can learn the ropes, and the maps, with him and eventually move to more nuanced characters. Don't get too strung out about top-tier picks or “playing the meta.” You're new, the people you're going to be matched with will likely be new as well. Nobody in your cohort is going to know how to properly take advantage of the best characters anyway. Hell, I've been playing a ton of Gazlowe (supposedly one of the worst characters) and I've been topping the scoreboard for siege damage and team XP in most games (sometimes even hero damage!) Can Gazlowe hang in a competitive meta? Probably not. But down in the slums with all the other newbies, he plays just fine -- as does almost every other character. That said, you should probably stay away from the Lost Vikings, Abathur, and Chen. These are not bad heroes, but they're more complex and require advanced knowledge to properly use. Grow into them later (Murky has a rep for being a tricky character as well, but honestly he seemed pretty easy to use to me, so your mileage may vary depending on play style). Playing with others This is probably the most “duh” tip ever, but the game is much more fun when playing with people you know! You don't need to fill out a full five man team, even having just one or two wingmen can let you be a more complex and tricky with your teamwork, setting up coordinated attacks, or trading off lanes while someone heals or secures an objective. A little simple teamwork goes a long way! If you have a dependable partner or two, try to play complementary characters that can support each others efforts. Have a friend who likes aggressive melee characters like Thrall or Sonya? Try pairing up as the monk, Kharazim, who can heal nearby characters in melee range and deal respectable damage in his own right. You can be bash brothers chasing down foes together far more effectively than you would on your own. Diablo and E.T.C are walking meat slabs who can bully other players with multiple stuns and repositioning attacks when they roll together. It might not be complicated, but other new players will probably have trouble dealing with the pair. Even better if you have another friend playing a high-damage clean up character like Jaina to take advantage of the chaos. When all else fails, just play Li Li. She's dead simple to use and can drag otherwise hopeless teams through nasty brawls with her prolific healing. Hey, if you and your friends are all new, you might occasionally need a crutch to lean on as you learn. Again, these are fairly basic tips, but they might just make your entry into the world of Heroes and MOBAs a little bit smoother than it would have been. I've been completely blown away by how much I've enjoyed my time with Heroes so far and would encourage you to try it for yourself if you've been interested but haven't taken the plunge yet. Of course, if you have some more knowledge bombs new players should know, or some tips for more advanced players, please feel free to share!
HotS tips photo
By a noob, for noobs
As you might have read, I recently got into Heroes of the Storm in a big way. I'm super late to the party, and our own Chris Carter has already written a great list of quick tips you should definitely read if you're intereste...

How the hell did I become a MOBA player?

Sep 20 // Nic Rowen
I remember trying Dota 2 a few years ago. I had just watched the International and it seemed like everyone else did too. Hype was at an all-time high, and it felt like the moment to finally try it out for myself. I did it right, I did my homework before I started playing: read a few beginners guides, watched a few videos to prepare myself; I was a professional. I had modest expectations, I knew the game's rep, that it was complicated, had an abrasive community, and could be rough on new players. I thought I was ready for it. As you might have guessed, I wasn't. I wasn't just bad at Dota, I was horrific at it. Looking at the action on my monitor was like staring into a void of despair. Every single one of my few matches was a ghastly car wreck that would tumble and twist and dismember over the course of 40 excruciating minutes, and I was forced to look it all straight in the eye. After all, I was the one behind the wheel. I was, despite my best intentions, despite my goody-goody studying and prep work, possibly the worst Dota player of all time. It turns out there is a huge gulf between knowing what you're supposed to do, and actually doing it. I was never where I was supposed to be, never doing what I was supposed to, constantly buying the wrong items, requesting the courier at the wrong time, and my teammates were sure to let me know it. I've been playing online multiplayer games for more than half my life, I'm used to a little shit talk now and then. But I've never encountered vitriol so purely distilled and highly concentrated as I did as a noob in Dota. The worst part was that it didn't even make sense. Sure, I sucked. I sucked hard. But so did they. I was being matched in with other new or low-performing players, and while I didn't have an expert eye, I could tell none of the chucklenuts I was teamed up with were exactly pro-players in their own right. They were heaping scorn on me, and each other of course, not out of a place of superiority, but a place of expectation. They knew Dota was supposed to be foul and mean, so they acted that way. It didn't matter if they had the chops to back it up, shit talking was done for the sake of shit talking. Not that I want to imply being great at a game gives you license to be an asshole (it doesn't), but there is something especially grating about being told to “git gud” by someone failing just as hard as you. Is there anything less appealing than a community that embraces an ethos of shittiness? So yeah, I might have been the one driving, but there were four other assholes in the backseat pulling my hair and messing with the radio. Is it any surprise we all wound up mangled in a ditch? So I begged off. MOBAs were not for me and never would be. I couldn't hang in that group and I had no interest in even trying. However enchanting the action on the International tournament stage was, however interesting the genre seemed to be in the abstract, however cool/funny/cute any particular character was, it wouldn't be worth putting up with all the crap surrounding it. Flash forward to a few weeks ago. I've got the nebulous idea of giving a MOBA another shot for this series, I'm thinking, obviously, Dota. But, when I tell a few friends about it, they remind me they've been trying to get me to play Heroes of the Storm with them for months now and if I'm gonna play a MOBA, it's going to be that one on pain of excommunication. Well, might as well hit two birds with one stone right? Heroes of the Storm will give me plenty of material to work with, right? Well, yes and no. Sadly, I don't have sadomasochistic stories about suffering to share. On the bright side, I am pretty excited to talk about my new favorite game. I have to explain to you how bad it's been. How quickly this new addiction spiraled out of control. I went from begrudgingly playing Heroes of the Storm as an academic exercise to subscribing to two different Heroes of the Storm-centric podcasts to listen to while I'm not playing. I went from thinking “oh, some of those characters might be kind of cool” to owning a bunch of mini-figs of the cast. Please understand, I haven't bought plastic crap for my desk in years. I got away from the pre-order statue, premium action figure game when I realized it was getting difficult to find room for a coffee mug in my work area and never looked back -- until now that is. What the hell is wrong with me? I can't say what exactly it is about Heroes that makes it so much fun. I mean, the basics are obvious, it's a well-constructed, highly polished game with excellent variety and constant influxes of new content in the form of characters, maps, skins, and balance adjustments. It's more welcoming to new players, with (from what I've experienced) a less abrasive community. Sure, you still run into the occasional jerk, but they're rare (it helps that there is no communication between opposing teams and muting someone is as easy as clicking their name). I'm not sure that explains it entirely, but for some reason this one hooked me, badly. When I love a game, I really love a game. I'll play them with a pretty scary amount of fixation. Since becoming a (somewhat) more professional games writer in the last year, I haven't had the time or focus to really deep dive on a game like I used to. But I can feel it happening with Heroes, all the old symptoms are there. I've already started pushing the game on others as a per-emptive defense mechanism, building a network of enablers. Like some cliche schoolyard drug dealer straight out of a PSA, I got my girlfriend and family to “just try it out” too and dragged them down to my level. Judge me now, but know that you judge yourself. To me, Heroes triggers the same impulses as Team Fortress 2 did when I was at the height of my passion for it. A wonderful combination of enjoying the silly characters and goofy aesthetic (Blizzard knows the premise of the game is ridiculous and the characters are appropriately flippant about it) while being absolutely captivated by the mechanics underneath. I've always loved class-based team games, and Heroes is very up front with character roles and the niches they occupy. If you squint hard, it almost like playing something like Team Fortress 2 from a bird's eye view, or maybe the commander's chair. I like the wheedling, the finagling, the uncountable little nuances of positioning and timing and situational awareness that make all the difference. How spotting just the right place to be in a team fight can secure a crucial kill that you know deep in your bones wouldn't have happened if you didn't scout it out right. How using the right skill at exactly the right time can be game winning. While using the same skill half a second earlier or later would be meaningless. How the mini-map becomes your very best friend in the world. How you slowly learn to fear the enemies you don't see on it more than the ones that are clearly charging towards you. The ones you don't see are the clever girls about to Velociraptor you from your blindside. Right now, all the MOBA players reading this are shaking their heads, “No shit, that's exactly what we've been saying for years!” and they're right. What I've discovered isn't some big secret about MOBAs that I'm sharing the hot scoop on. It's only revolutionary to me. But life is made of tiny, personal revelations. Practically everything you love was appreciated by others before you stumbled onto it. I don't want this to read as a hit piece on Dota 2 while I lavish praise on Heroes of the Storm. Despite my rough introduction to it, I still think Dota 2 is one of the most entertaining and interesting games on the market. I bet that if I tried it out now with the skills and basic familiarity with the genre that I've built up with Heroes I'd have a much better time with it. Really, it's the concessions and cuts from other MOBAs that are a big factor of why Heroes is so much more fun for a new player. There's no item shop to overwhelm you with options, no last hitting, or creep stacking. Ideas like jungling, capturing Roshan, and using minions to push lanes are more formalized into mercenary camps and map objectives in game. Everything has timers on it, things are explained. The inscrutable mysteries and highly specialized, uber-obscure knowledge of Dota is one of the things that makes that game so interesting to watch and to think about. But, and you're free to call me a wimp here, when it comes to actually playing something, maybe explaining what you're supposed to do isn't the worst idea in the world. I like mystery in games, I like mental work, but it has to be in the proper context. In something like Dark Souls I'm more than willing to explore the world, experiment with mechanics, and generally take a few lumps in the process. But that's a (mostly) single player experience built on those ideas. MOBAs are more like a sport, a competition between two teams where you have up to 9 other people depending on you to do your part to make it a good match. Thinking about it like that, it seems insane to me to hide half the rules of the game. To suddenly throw another ball onto the field and then scream at someone when he gets hit in the face with it. You could call Heroes of the Storm “baby's first MOBA” and you wouldn't be entirely wrong. But is it really that bad to want to get your feet under you before being asked to run a race (on a course with deathtraps and spike-pits, where all the other competitors are swinging around bicycle chains and throwing lawn darts at one another)? Who knows, maybe my infatuation with Heroes won't last. Maybe in a month or so I won't be feeling the rush as much as I did the first time, and I'll be looking for a more concentrated, more complex dose of MOBA action. I'll come sheepishly up to Dota, or even League of Legends, looking for a new kind of hit. Who can say? I'm a MOBA man now, and whatever the flavor, I don't see that changing anytime soon. Previously on Out of my Comfort Zone: #01: Thirsty, hungry, and crappy in ARK: Survival Evolved
HotS experiences photo
Out of my Comfort Zone #02
Okay, I'm going to let you take a peek behind the curtain on this one. I chose to tackle a MOBA for the second entry of Out of my Comfort Zone because I thought it would be funny. I thought it would be a story of failure, pai...

Mario Maker photo
Mario Maker

Good news, now Super Mario Maker can give you nightmares

A Goomba's life can be a terrible thing
Sep 17
// Nic Rowen
You can make fun little levels in Super Mario Maker. You can make challenging levels to test player's skills. You can make trolly Cat Mario style levels that play cheap shots for laughs. But what about a level that will leav...
HotS toys photo
HotS toys

NECA's first Heroes of the Storm figures out now

Darkness called, it wants your money
Sep 16
// Nic Rowen
The first series of NECA's Heroes of the Storm figures are now available in the Blizzard Gear store and should be making their way out to retailers in the near future. These seven inch versions of Illidan and Nova look great...
Fallout 4 photo
Fallout 4

Second entry of the Fallout 4 'SPECIAL' series sings the praises of being perceptive

Cartoon violence is best violence
Sep 16
// Nic Rowen
You know, being “SPECIAL” isn't all about being some strong, gallant, tough guy of the apocalypse. Sometimes it just means having a good head on your shoulders, a keen eye, and some nimble fingers, as aptly demon...
Mario Maker Smash stage photo
Mario Maker Smash stage

Super Mario Maker stage coming to Smash Bros.

Battleground madness
Sep 14
// Nic Rowen
A brand new stage based on Super Mario Maker is heading to Super Smash Bros. on September 30th, and it looks exactly as crazy and whimsical as you'd want it to be. Embracing the creative chaos of Mario Maker, the stage will be constructed differently at the beginning of every match and constantly edited and fussed with throughout by a stylus gripping hand like so many Duck Amuck shenanigans.
Afterbirth pre-order sale photo
Afterbirth pre-order sale

The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth's pre-order discount is perfect

The price point of the beast
Sep 14
// Nic Rowen
The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth is now available for pre-order on Steam with a hefty 40% discount that brings the price down to an entirely appropriate $6.66. Normally I don't advise pre-ordering anything, but given how much...

God, I love these stupid The Phantom Pain tricks

Sep 13 // Nic Rowen
Saving time: It's a smart idea to return to Mother Base every once and awhile for a shower. Not only does it wash the blood and stinky murder mess off Snake, but it refreshes his max HP and reaction time when spotted. But if you don't want to make a trip to Mother Base, there is another way to get a quick refresher while in the field! Find a shallow pool of water, get prone, and roll around left and right. After a few spins, Snake will be clean and refreshed. If you're anything like me, you probably need to resupply your silencers and C4 packs at least once or twice a mission, but you're also shitty, impatient, and hate waiting the minute or two a supply drop takes. Fortunately, you can skip that wait and go straight back to sabotage and murder. Simply call a supply drop directly on top of Snake's position, whip out your Phantom Cigar, take a single time bending puff, and seconds later you'll be hit out of the time skip by a supply crate landing on your head. I wish I knew about this one sooner -- If you're looking to extract, and have the fulton upgrade that lets you steal cargo, check and see if there are any large supply containers in the area. Hop on top, slap on the fulton, and look for the button prompt to grab on. You'll be sucked out of the combat zone along with the cargo. No waiting for Pequod to bring in the chopper. Fun with the cardboard box: As you probably know, the cardboard box is ridiculously elaborate in The Phantom Pain. But, aside from using it as a method of quick travel, slapping distracting pin-up girls on the side, and generally sneaking around, it has a few undocumented uses. For example, you can also use it as a ghetto sled! Find a nice big hill, stand up with the box on, take a quick run, and hit the dive button. Snake will belly slide down the hill wearing the box. It looks stupid as hell, but it's actually a pretty great way to quickly infiltrate an outpost after scouting it out at the top of a hill! Did you know that the cardboard box also confers a very small amount of armor? Getting shot while wearing it will flash the armor/vehicle hit warning instead of direct damage to Snake. Obviously it can't take much punishment for you, but if you're on the brink of death and can't afford to hide and wait for your health to regen, it might just make the difference! The box will also soak up the effects of a stun grenade. Toss it front of you, put on the box, and Snake won't even blink when it goes off. It may look dumb, but you can use this to incapacitate groups of enemies at short range -- just the thing if they're just about to creep up on your position. 'Useless' equipment: The water pistol seems like a stupid gag item, and it mostly is. However, there are some not so obvious uses for it. You can silently disable electronics with the water pistol, super handy if you're out of C4 or don't want to raise a ruckus while you take out enemy coms equipment. But who the hell is going to wander into a war zone with just a squirt gun? The water pistol can also extinguish fire pits and other pesky light sources, which is actually surprisingly handy during a night op. Speaking of electronics, did you know you can use power lines to zap fools? Shooting out a line so the live wire touches a trooper will fry them, you know, if you wanted to make it look like an accident. Snake should be able to take out an insurance policy on individual troops before each mission, that would be a fun way to fund Mother Base. There are other ways to kill guys while making it look like an accident. You probably know that you can hold guys up and tell them to lie down with their hands on their heads, but have you ever tried it in some shallow water? The poor bastards will lie down as instructed and if you don't fulton them away or otherwise reposition them, they'll drown! Yay, humor murder! Ever wonder what you're supposed to do with those small 10-15 second sound clips you sometimes find while looking for '80s synth pop? Turns out, lots of things! If you turn the speaker on so enemies can hear, there a few tricks you can pull. Turn on the farting/pooping soundtrack while hiding in an outhouse to turn away suspicious guards, while playing one of the lullabies will put nearby soldiers to sleep. I'm sure there are more secret uses for these tapes, so experiment with them! The more I play The Phantom Pain, the more I'm impressed by the attention to detail and thought that went into every part of it. I'm sure this list just scratches the surface of the weird little tricks to be found. If you've discovered anything interesting, useful, or just plain stupid, be sure to share in the comments!
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Russian soldiers hate them!
So, Chris Carter already provided a handy list of quick tips alongside his review of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. These are essential, life saving tips that will let you complete missions easier and build the le...

Rexxar spotlight photo
Rexxar spotlight

Newest Heroes of the Storm character is a two-for-one

Everything is better with bears
Sep 04
// Nic Rowen
What's better than throwing giant axes in your enemy's face? Throwing giant axes in your enemy's face while a huge freaking bear mauls them to death. Rexxar will join the Heroes of the Storm roster next week on the 8th and he...
Super Mario Maker photo
Super Mario Maker

An easy guide to the things NOT included in Super Mario Maker

No frog suit, no buy
Sep 03
// Nic Rowen
Super Mario Maker has been making me think dangerous thoughts about buying a Wii U. It just looks so charming and sweet that I've been secretly generating rationales and excuses to myself to go out and blow a few hundred doll...
HotS event ends photo
HotS event ends

Heroes of the Storm's Eternal Conflict event ends next week

Get that free Diablo before it's gone!
Sep 03
// Nic Rowen
Blizzard is, ironically, putting an end to the Eternal Conflict event on September 8 next week. The Diablo theme will be taken out, and the special event quest to genocide every last Treasure Goblin will come to an end. ...

Metal Gear memories

Aug 29 // Nic Rowen
I remember the entire route through Shadow Moses. I remember the area with electrified tiles inset in the floor and steering a tiny rocket over them. I remember resenting not being able to use my guns in the nuke disposal area. The cave with all of Sniper Wolf's wolves running loose -- one of them pissed on my cardboard box. I'll sometimes forget the best way to get downtown, but the map of Shadow Moses is burned into my memory. The bosses were legendary, both for their design and the surreal conversations you'd have before, during, and afterward. One-on-one with an old west gunfighter, circling each other around a hostage in the middle of a room rigged up with C4. He showed off his fancy carnival trick-spinning and made comments that distinctly implied that he wanted to make love to his pistol, or that gun fighting was an allegory for sex to him. I don't know, he was a weird dude. There was that shaman who you'd fight twice, once in a literal tank and once while he carried around a gun the size of a small tank. He discussed ear-pulling competitions and the futility of struggling against fate. He was eaten by his own ravens. Then there was the suffocating tension and isolation of dueling a single sniper hundreds of yards away. The battle with Sniper Wolf would be eclipsed in every way six years later by Naked Snake's duel against The End, but at the time it was one of the most intense fights I'd ever experienced. I feel like there has probably been enough ink spilled on how crazy the fight with Psycho Mantis was, but holy fucking shit. How did any of that happen? It was like stepping into some alternate reality where Andy Kaufman had been a game designer and somebody cut him a blank check. Memes of plugging the controller into the second slot, or the infamous “HIDEO” error screen are well worn now. But I don't think secondary accounts can do justice to just how crazy and bizarre that fight, and the rest of Metal Gear Solid, truly was. All of that weird fourth wall breaking shit -- holding the controller to your arm for a massage, having the Colonel explain combat maneuvers to Snake directly referencing the DualShock and a bunch of video game jargon, it was something that had to be lived in the moment. It felt like Kojima was peeling back our skulls and attaching electrodes to areas of the brain that were previously entirely unstimulated. He was showing us a new way of making and thinking about games. I remember taking that instruction book with me while on a short shopping errand that Saturday afternoon in a calculated move to ensure I wouldn't have to stop thinking about Metal Gear. It had its hooks in me, and once I was in that world of spies, rogue special ops groups, and shadowy conspiracies, I never wanted to leave. We were supposed to visit our grandparents that Sunday, but stopping wasn't an option. So we took the PlayStation with us, hooking it up to an ancient TV in their dusty basement where we could continue to save the world from nuclear disaster and learn more dubious information about genetic engineering. I know, it was a scumbag move. But in our defense, we'd just finished the torture scene, found the corpse of the real DARPA chief, and escaped a jail cell using a bottle of ketchup -- neither of us were in the best head space to make positive decisions. It was a weekend I'll never forget. My brother and I tackled Shadow Moses together, experiencing the entire mission as a single unit. It was was a battle march, a do-or-die suicide mission to finish it in a single weekend. Even if it meant wearing out our welcome at our grandparents with multiple pleas of “just 15 more minutes!” as we pummeled Liquid Snake to death and tried to watch the hour-long ending without completely alienating the rest of the family. So yeah, we kept the stupid manual. Call it a battle trophy, or a war memento. My brother still has it buried in some desk drawer. Besides, we did Blockbuster and the next person to rent the game a solid. When we returned the game, we taped an index card with Meryl's codec number to the inside of the sterile white and blue plastic box. We had to crack that puzzle with brute force after we couldn't convince our mom to drive us back out just before midnight to look at the back of the CD case on the shelf. Kojima never accounted for us rental kids with his fourth wall shattering puzzle, but I forgive him. How could I not? He made some of my favorite memories. The best moments I had with Sons of Liberty all happened years after the game first hit the shelves. Nowadays, I consider Sons of Liberty to be one of the most important and subversive games of all time. When we picked it up on day one though, I thought Raiden was a turd and Kojima was playing a mean spirited prank on us. You want to talk about memories? I remember thinking “boy, I hope this is just a joke and Snake takes over again reallll soon” about a million times during the first few hours with it. That's not to say I didn't like Sons of Liberty or that it was a bad game or anything, it was just frustrating. It seemed to exist only to validate every criticism of the original. That it was a bunch of nonsense for the sake of nonsense, or that it was a nice movie with some neat game bits in between. I wanted to love it, but it didn't seem to care one way or the other for me. Subliminally, I was picking up on the entire meaning of the game. But it'd be a long time before I could fully appreciate it. Sons of Liberty isn't a game you tackle in a single weekend of obsessive dead-eye play. It's an intricate and nuanced criticism of the industry, players, and power fantasies that you revisit every few years with a scalpel and a fresh set of eyes. It's a game that was so prescient that only now, with games like Spec Ops: The Line and Hotline Miami, are other titles even attempting the same kind of criticism it levied. It's a game that I've enjoyed reading about more than I enjoyed playing. And I've enjoyed playing it a lot. It would be easy to dismiss Sons of Liberty's message as postmodern gobbledygook, or its criticisms of Raiden, and by extension the players, as overly impressionable rubes playing pretend at being a super solider as a creator taking a shot at his audience. But I remember a time in high school when I skipped Mr. Hogarth's class in the morning and couldn't afford to be caught. How the blood in my veins began to pump as I saw him looming just in front of the door of one of my afternoon classes having a conversation with Mr. Jones. How I slipped seamlessly, without consciously thinking about it into STEALTH MODE, creeping up just behind him, turning with him as he turned, like I was staying just outside of the vision cone of any of Metal Gear's hapless guards, slipping in just past him to take my seat, no alarms activated. The S3 plan worked better than Kojima could have dreamed. Even a pudgy high school nerd could have his own Solid Snake moment with the kind of training he provided us with. The Substance Edition on the Xbox was where I really came to love Sons of Liberty. The VR missions more than made up for the intractable cinematics and radio conversations of the main game, finally letting me feel like I played Sons of Liberty rather than watched it. With a few years to get over the shock of playing as Raiden and absorb the message of the game's screwy third act, I was able to enjoy the story and characters. It's one of the few games I can think of that benefited from a remaster in a way that was more meaningful than just a graphical update. But when it's all said and done, I think my favorite memory of Sons of Liberty has to be slipping on bird shit and falling to my death. I don't know why, but that's the moment that crystallized Sons of Liberty to me. Snake Eater is one of my favorite games of all time. I've completed it maybe ten or so times give or take. Certainly more times than any other game I've ever owned. The reason I played through it so many times is simple -- it kept giving me something new every time I did. I'm not sure how many people appreciate how incredibly dense and rich Snake Eater is. If you just want to mainline the game on normal mode, stick to dependable tactics, and don't care too much if you get spotted or have to drop a few extra people, it can be a fairly straightforward affair. If you want to dig deep though, if you want to get weird, that's when Snake Eater really shows you what it's really made of. I did all of the normal things. A regular playthrough where I slit every throat I saw, blundered into enemies and tripped off alarms, and was admonished by The Sorrow who seemed very cross with the number of Russians I set on fire. I did the professional thing, where I snuck in like a shadow over Groznyj Grad, with no alarms and no surprises. Then I did the goofy stuff -- theme runs where I would try and see if I could complete the game as a North Vietnamese regular (all black camo, unsilenced pistol, AK-47, grenades, and SVD only). I did runs where I would only eat fresh killed food, no Calorie Mates or insta-noodles. Runs where I tried to kill as many people indirectly as I could, to see how many I could poison with rotted food or knock off of bridges, the spirit of bad luck. Runs where I made a point of blowing up every supply shed and armory in the country. Every time I thought I exhausted the very last bit of Snake Eater, there was just a little bit more to find. A new mechanic or trick (that of course was almost totally useless and impractical, and great), or some new weird quirk of enemy behavior (did you know you can kill The Fury with a few swipes of your knife? He even has custom dialog for it), or a new radio conversation or song I had never heard before. I played Snake Eater for years, and I'll bet there are still one or two things left to find; Kojima's bag of tricks never seems to end. I still have the memory card with all of my Snake Eater saves on it, just in case I ever feel the need to get down on my belly and crawl through the weeds and marshes of Tselnoyarsk again. I had a whole library of saves, most of them right before discrete scenes or moments I knew I'd want to play again and again. The mountain infiltration right before you rendezvous with Eva and the treacherous march back down again. Dodging KGB special operation units armed with flamethrowers, mindful of the differences in elevation and the gun emplacements littering the hill. I've heard The Guns of Navarone was one of the movies that inspired Kojima when working on the series, and I like to think this area is his little homage to the cliff-side raid of the movie. I saved right before the sniper duel with The End, two different versions. One where Snake would run into his valley clad in camo greens, ready to fight a war of attrition with the legendary marksman. Another, where I assassinated the old man earlier on in the game with a single split-second crackshot (Snake Eater lets you do this because Snake Eater is a game that gives and gives every time you play it). In that version, his valley was full of Ocelot's personal entourage of soldiers to play with. Can you slip by unnoticed while being hunted by a pack of red beret-wearing hotshots? Or maybe it would be more satisfying to unzip each of their throats one by one, or to fight them all in one glorious running battle of machine gun fire and shotgun blasts (I never really used the thing unless I was goofing around). Of course, I saved just before the final showdown against The Boss. It's probably the single greatest scene in the entire series and one of the best boss encounters ever designed. Sure, taking down the Shagohod was satisfying, and sneaking up on The End and forcing him to give up his special camo and rifle made you feel like a sneaky master, but this was the real test. Fighting a person with all of the same skills and tactics you've spent the game developing and mastering, but she's better at them than you. After all, she invented them. I have less personal attachment to the other games. Guns of the Patriots I had to enjoy vicariously, reading about it and watching other people play. Same with the Metal Gear Acid games. I've spent a good chunk of the last month catching up, reading wikis about them and watching Let's Plays to fill in the gaps of my Metal Gear knowledge. I think I'm ready. I'm ready to finally close the loop on this series I've been playing my entire life. I'm ready to experience the last chapter in this decades long story of espionage, betrayal, and hiding in cardboard boxes. I can't wait to get into The Phantom Pain next week and see it for myself. I'm hoping Kojima can give me a few more memories on his way out.
Metal Gear memories photo
More than the basics of CQC
We stole the instruction manual when we rented Metal Gear Solid from Blockbuster. It's the one and only time we ever did that. Normally we were fine upstanding rental citizens who held manual-thieves in smug contempt. But in ...

Review: Fingered

Aug 21 // Nic Rowen
Fingered (PC)Developer: Edmund McMillen and James IdPublisher: Edmund McMillen and James IdRelease Date: August 18, 2015MSRP: $1.87 Fingered, is a deduction game made by Edmund McMillen (Super Meat Boy, The Binding of Isaac) and his frequent collaborator James Id. Which means its a messed up deduction game. Fingered casts you as a detective/executioner determined to clean up this city by taking the shaky, confused, half-contradictory descriptions of criminals from a bunch of weirdo busybodies and fingering somebody with them (in the accusatory sense of the word). Find the person who fits the description best, put them in the chair, and throw the switch on them yourself. Give due process the finger. You start with a line-up of scumbags and shady characters. They all look guilty of something. Look at them, shuffling nervously under a flickering light, holding tiny number cards in front of them like flimsy shields. Who could it be? You can practically smell the flop sweat, the fear.   You go over the witness's clues again confirming the most important facts, what they know they know. The suspect is definitely a heavyset man, so you can let the skinny-boys go. He was probably wearing something hippy-ish (what counts as a hippy these days? Does the witness mean “hipster?”) He's maaaybe kind of a jock? (a fat hippy jock? The hell does that look like?) You do your best to ignore the “um's” and “er's” of indecision, the inherent haziness of memory. It's only a man's life on the line. NBD, right? Try to knock this out before lunch, it's nachos and wings in the cafeteria today -- finger food. One by one you winnow it down, until there’s just two suspects left. They both fit the profile, they're both so similar. But there is at least one big difference between them, one is going to go home while the other will never breath free air again. Which one is up to you. Pick one. Damn one. FINGER one. Whoops, wrong guy.   You get one freebie in Fingered. Sending a single innocent man to the chair will be swept under the rug, but fry up a second one and it's time to turn over your badge and finger gun. This is the likely outcome for most games of Fingered, there are 21 randomized cases to close (the suspects and clues are different each time out) and its so easy to finger the wrong guy. Especially since each witness throws their own curve ball into the mix. Negative Nancy describes everything in loopy double-negatives to trip you up. Bigot Barney has some obvious prejudices you should probably factor in before taking his testimony at face value. And forget about the non-human witnesses, those guys just don't get it at all. After about the tenth criminal, your job gets significantly harder. The witnesses clues get more confusing while external pressures like time-limits and vision obscuring accidents hinder your investigative efforts. The line-up of bizarre, procedurally generated suspects grows longer and stranger. It will take a sharp, quick eye to spot out the telltale details to make your case. It wouldn't be a game by Edmund McMillen if he didn't slide in a few cheeky references to some of his other games. Eagle eyed detectives will spot the occasional guest star or celebrity cameo in the line-up ranging from Meat Boy himself, to other more vilified characters like Charles Manson and Phil Fish. Always a pleasure to finger a familiar face. It would be easy to write Fingered off as weird for the sake of weird. It has a bizarre premise and is presented with the kind of perpetually adolescent gross-out art style of a lot of McMillen's games. It's scored with positively hypnotic jazz and narrated by a guy who sounds like the protagonist of Dragnet strung out on painkillers. It IS weird. But, it's also darkly subversive. A gallows humor take on a kind of justice that really did imprison and execute a lot of innocent people based on dubious descriptions and contrived conjecture. It's not belabored, but there is a bit of a message behind the poop jokes and easy double entendres. It's smarter than you might think at first glance. The randomized criminals and clues combined with the idiosyncrasies of the various witnesses can result in some tricky logic puzzles, line-ups that will leave you stumped. But it never seems unfair. Despite the randomized nature of the game, the perp always seems obvious in retrospect and it never feels like the game is cheating (except possibly the last witness, but it's a joke I won't spoil). Fingered is a pinky-sized bit of fun. It's not hard to get everything you need from the game in a single night of sleuthing, but at the bargain price of $1.87, it feels worth it. A wonderfully weird, smart little game for less than the price of a cup of coffee: you could call it steal or five-fingered discount if that kind of wordplay tickled you. Really though, in all sincerity, I think you should get Fingered.  [This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.] 
Fingered review photo
Up to my knuckles in justice
Up until very recently, eyewitness testimony was the single most persuasive form of testimony a jury could hear. If someone could stand up in court, jab their accusing little finger at a suspect and say they definitely (well,...

Thirsty, hungry, and crappy in ARK: Survival Evolved

Aug 18 // Nic Rowen
There are tons of survival games to choose from these days, but I downloaded ARK: Survival Evolved almost entirely on the promise of weaponized dinosaurs. If I was going to go down this road, I would do it in style -- on the back of a giant, heavily armed lizard -- and indulge all of my Dino-Rider fantasies. The fact that ARK's character creator is busted and will let you roll up with a nightmarish mutant of disproportionate body parts and bizarre growths is just the icing on the cake. I never read any instructions or watched any tutorials; I went in completely blind. My survivor woke up on a sandy beach as God and Studio Wildcard intended – confused, nearly naked, and shivering. I don't know much about these games, but I do know that they all boil down to collecting resources and building things with them. I start picking up stones on the beach, slightly disappointed that I can't seem to pick up any of the glittering sea shells scattered around. My survivor almost immediately shits himself, somewhat spoiling the moment. But hey, bonus, I can pick up the turd! I can't collect sea shells, but I do start a catalog of dookie samples. I come across a flock of dodo birds on the beach. They're dumb as bricks and don't seem to react to my presence in any way. I punch them and punch them, but only succeed in rendering them unconscious. I savage the flock until I'm standing over a pile of comatose birds and have somehow learned how to write notes and sew pants in the process. This is caveman education at its finest. Soon my pockets are heavy with stones, the beach is awash with pulverized birds, and my survivor is complaining. In fact, complaining seems to be all he does. I never knew the raw nature of primitive man was so whiny. During the day he complains that he's too hot. At night, the big sulky baby is too cold. And he's hungry, and thirsty. I'm starting to worry that Child Services is going to come and take my caveman away. A series of icons depicting sweltering fires and frigid ice cubes, along with unending penalties to my stamina let me know what a terrible job I'm doing of keeping him alive. I stuff some narcoberries I've picked off the local plants down his gullet, hoping the natural sedatives will fill his belly and put him to sleep for the night letting him doze through the cold. But he just staggers around in a haze for a bit, stamina lower than ever. It's time to engage with the crafting system before I get arrested for criminal neglect. As a species we are tool users, after all. It's time to take advantage of that. Looking at what I have available to make, it seems like building a pickaxe would be a good start. I'd need stone (check), thatch (nope), and wood (na-da). Can't I just make it with narcoberries? I still have plenty of those. I waste a good 20 minutes wandering around a small forest looking for loose sticks to collect, thinking they'd be like the stones on the beach. I can't find any and the, "I can't get wood" jokes got old about 19 minutes ago. I punch a tree out of frustration. Gouts of blood spray from my hand and a piece of wood lands in my inventory. Oh, so it's like that, huh? I punch trees until my knuckles are bloody and broken and I've managed to pick enough splinters out of my hand to fashion a crude pickaxe. Then I get into the holy guts of these games – hitting shit to build more shit. I hit rocks with smaller rocks until they give me the other kind of rocks I'm looking for. Then I use those rocks to hit other rocks more efficiently. I make hatchets, spears, a shirt to cover my misshapen body. Caveman essentials. Is this really all there is to life? We've lost a generation of gamers to this? I suppose the closest comparison to ARK would be Rust, which also throws you into the wild with nothing and expects you to build up from stone-aged flint spears and hemp pants to assault rifles and flak jackets. But ARK has a different vibe. You're a caveman sure, but there is a pulsating metal jewel embedded in your arm. You have a number and, ominously, a projected survival expectation based on your performance. You're tagged and tracked like an animal, which begs the question of who exactly is doing the monitoring. At night, pillars of light and energy reach into the heavens. High-tech obelisks stand alone in the middle of miles and miles of untamed jungle and roaming packs of dinosaurs. Clearly something is going on here. If there is a concrete storyline, I haven't picked up the thread yet. I'm sure it exists out there in wikis and forum posts scattered around the net, but I don't want to seek it out that way. I want to know what my survivor knows and live in that reality. And right now, it's all just sci-fi mystery and terrible giant lizards that look like they could snap me up as a light snack without even thinking about it. It's terrifying and fascinating, and truth be told, I kind of like keeping it vague. My mind wanders while I play. Are we all futuristic criminals banished to an otherworldly penal colony? A kind of Space-Australia complete with raptors and megalodons? Are the inhabitants of the island subjects of some kind of twisted social experiment? Or is it somewhere in-between? Like the '60s British classic The Prisoner? Do I need to be careful of Rovers if I try and leave the island? The best moments I have in the early hours of ARK are moments of transgression. Moments that I'm not particularly proud of. Players are given unfettered freedom to do what they like in ARK, and somewhat predictably, most people like to be jerks -- myself included. I came across a player's unguarded camp once and looted everything that wasn't nailed down. I even stole the charcoal from his fire, blackening my hands and soul with the theft. I stumbled on an unconscious player, half hidden under a rocky outcrop. I knew I should just leave him alone, but I hovered over him, freshly made spear in hand. I mean, I should probably take a chance to test it out right? It's just good survival. He wasn't the last. Like the old lady from Mad Max, I killed everyone I ever met out there. Or at least I tried to. My belligerent, mutant caveman would shake his spear and charge at everyone, no matter how unclear the actual threat they posed or how hopelessly outmatched he was. Maybe it speaks to some deep-seated trust issues of mine, but I never saw the point in playing nice with the other neanderthals. Better to go down spitting and stabbing than take a chance. I know I should probably reach out, join a tribe, engage with others. Maybe find someone with skills I don't have and combine our efforts to mutual benefit. You know, like our ancestors did. I know we could work together to make this land livable, to build a life. But, it's a matter of motivations. I didn't come here to make the world a better place. I came here to strap machine guns on a T-Rex. I came to trample, shoot, and devour anything that stood in my way. I came to make the world a distinctly worse place. I die a lot. I die of malnutrition and deprivation. I die from giant mosquitoes and their toxic stings. I die from dinosaurs I don't even know the name of. Each time, I respawn in some new random location with nothing in my inventory, right back to the raw state of nature. But I keep the knowledge and skills I've accumulated and it's easier and easier to rebuild with every attempt. Well, except for that one time I respawned right next to a saber-toothed tiger and had to play hide-and-go-seek with it on a pile of rocks for a good ten minutes before it finally got on top of me. It's hard out there for a sci-fi caveman. I still haven't yoked and tamed a dinosaur. My dreams of loading up a T-Rex with cannons and missiles and riding it around like some prehistoric Metal Gear haven't come to fruition, and I don't think they will anytime soon. It just takes too long to level up, to learn the skills you need to tame a thunder lizard, or stitch an appropriately intimidating saddle to ride on (I'm thinking skulls, but I'm open to rows upon rows of claws and teeth). It's even more effort to make a pen to keep a three-story tall dinosaur in and gather enough food to prevent it from turning on you. Then of course there's the long, painfully slow journey towards making gunpowder. I'd have to mine for raw metal and build a furnace to stamp out just a simple blunderbuss, never mind a high caliber mini-gun (as a consolation, I just recently discovered slingshot technology). It's too much for any one would-be warlord to do on their own. It really would take a village. A savage, bloodthirsty village. But I think I saw it. I glimpsed the abyss, the way one would get sucked down into these sorts of games and never come back. At the end of my third or fourth night of playing, after hours of exploration deep into the island, I realized that I didn't want to die and start over again. It was late, I was tired, but I couldn't go to sleep and just leave my caveman to die in the wilderness like I had at the end of previous sessions. I found a nice spot secluded in the trees and laid down a simple foundation and a campfire. It was a simple hut. Four walls, a door, a roof, and just enough room for a sleeping bag if you stood outside and dithered the placement just right, but it was home. I had enough wood in the fire to last all night, a bounty of meat to feast on, and full waterskins. My caveman was looking sharp too, fully dressed, new shoes, a backpack full of extra spears -- this was a person who was going to make it. My mind immediately unspooled reams of future designs. A bigger house, wood and stone structures, spikes for defense. If I built near a river I could make a simple plumbing system, grow my own patch of berry bushes, maybe tame a few dodo birds for pets (or food, the line is blurry for cavemen). I could make my survivor more comfortable, I could provide more for him, and he'd be okay, protected and safe. I went from Kull the Conqueror to Mr. Nanny in the space of one night. It was the same feeling I used to get from placing all of my action figures in their proper boxes or play-sets when I was a child. It reminded me of an article I once read explaining why people get screwy sometimes and start adopting all the neighborhood stray cats or obsessively outfit their backyard with squirrel feeders and multiple kinds of birdhouses. It's that fleeting feeling of control, of finally, actually taking care of all of a creature's needs (inanimate toy, video caveman, or small wild animal). To be able to give something the kind of security and finality that is outside of your control and impossible to provide in your own life. I think back to what it was like in grade school; All the uncertainty, the nasty and brutish classmates that made those formative years a gauntlet of survival. I used games to escape from that setting, but it was all about hopping into other worlds, being a tourist. I wonder how much more time I would have spent in any one of those worlds if they let me build with the same degree of granularity a game like ARK or Minecraft does. I always assumed the appeal of survival games was the trolling, of ruining the fun for other players. Or failing that, the creativity of playing around with the tools. While I'm sure those things are the reason some players come to these games, I think the reason they stay is more simple than that. Maybe it's just the pleasure of building a home, of having something to come back to. Maybe it's time I learn to play nice with the other neanderthals.
Ark experiences photo
Out of my Comfort Zone #01
[Out of my Comfort Zone is a new series where I try to combat complacency in my gaming habits by trying different genres and tackling challenges I might otherwise never attempt. In this debut entry, I try my hand at a surviva...

RE2 Reborn canceled photo
RE2 Reborn canceled

Fanmade Resident Evil 2 remake canceled

In the nicest way possible
Aug 17
// Nic Rowen
A bit of bad news with a silver lining, Capcom's recent announcement of an official remake of Resident Evil 2 has indeed put the kibosh on Resident Evil 2 Reborn; a promising looking fan remake made with Unreal 4. On the...
Chrvches play Rock Band 4 photo
Chrvches play Rock Band 4

Wow, I'm better at Rock Band than Chrvches is!

But they're still famous, so whatever
Aug 10
// Nic Rowen
I take every opportunity to watch real musicians play Rock Band that I can, I'm always interested to see how they'll do. Especially when it happens to be one of my favorite acts. Extra especially when they're playing a Rock ...

My completely inaccurate Rising Thunder tier list

Aug 05 // Nic Rowen
Crow Crow is like a mini-Evangelion mech with a chakram, which I'd normally consider a strong look. But, when compared to the rest of the much goofier and lighthearted Rising Thunder cast, he just looks like he's trying too hard to be edgy -- like Hot Topic opened a mech garage. I can't wait for the DLC to give him a wallet chain and a checker pattern. Crow also looks like he'll be annoying as hell to fight against. Rising Thunder may be the first fighting game to actually do invisibility right (because it's online only, the Crow player will be able to see an outline of their character on their screen while the opponent will see nothing) and that will be sure to attract the trollish kind of player who likes to mess with people. I can already see the YouTube clip reels of time-out victories where a Crow player gets a life lead and dances around invisible for the rest of the match on the horizon. His spinning disk can be delayed to float in the air for a long time, which is the kind of thing that is always a pain to deal with. Any character that can force an opponent to defend while still being able to move and attack themselves seem to do well, so I wouldn't be surprised if Crow actually turned out to be one of the better characters in Rising Thunder. For the purposes of this list however, his high school-ish gothy design and my prediction that I'm going to hate fighting him will land Crow squarely at the bottom of this list. What, you thought this was going to be useful? Edge So, we can all agree that Edge is basically Zero with the serial numbers filed off, right? I mean, red armor, green energy sword, slim build. Heck, he's even got a freaking pony tail! It would be scandalous if Capcom hadn't already abandoned the maverick hunter. Someone might as well rescue him from the scrapyard and put him to work. The in-game description labels Edge as a rush-down character with a high skill difficulty. Given how Zero played in Marvel vs. Capcom 3, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that the resemblance isn't purely coincidental. Edge looks like the kind of character who is designed to reward dedication and practice by becoming a sheer nightmare in the right hands. The kind of character I can never quite seem to grok but can look forward to being bodied by, over and over. Joy. Oh well. Here's hoping he doesn't have any lightning loop nonsense at least.   Dauntless I want to like Dauntless more than I do. She has all the right pieces, a goofy expressive face, extra large hands for Rock'Em-Sock'Em style fisticuffs, and a pleasingly robot-ish squared off design. But something just doesn't click. There is nothing wrong with her, but she's just a little too bland to really crack the top half of the list. Sorry, Dauntless, it's the curse of being the mascot character. Too inoffensive to hate, too milquetoast to love. Speaking of Rock'Em-Sock'Em, that's a cross marketing opportunity if I've ever seen one. Someone should get on that Kickstarter fast. Talos Talos is the big dumb grappler character of Rising Thunder and he knows it. He's got a silly accent, a boisterous attitude, a dumb haircut, and incredibly overdone command grab specials; everything you need to make Zangief, the patron saint of grapplers, proud. Talos goes one step further by joining the ranks of some of my other favorite big dumb characters like Iron Tager and Lex Luthor by having an electromagnetic suction mechanic to pull opponents in close for that real soviet damage. Come here and give daddy a hug.  Also, his forward dash makes him pivot on his arms like a gorilla. Perfection. Vlad I can't tell if Vlad is going to be the Dan of Rising Thunder, or the Akuma. All I know is that he's going to be a fan favorite and I'm no exception. He's so damn cute and silly that I almost don't want to love him, but I do, I do. How could I not? He's like if the Iron Giant had a goofy Russian step-brother. While all the other fighters of Rising Thunder are cutting-edge robots ripped from futuristic anime series and discarded Jagger design documents, Vlad is like a tin robot stumbling out of the 1950s, with all the adorable goofiness and Cold War tension that implies. He's got a jetpack, a tiny flag antenna, and he windmills his arms and torso about like a madman. He even fires a tiny elbow rocket! Vlad has everything I'm looking for in a robot. But I suspect Vlad harbors a darker secret underneath all that silly charm. Inside that metal chest beats the heart of a real terror, the kind of character everyone writes off as a joke until he shows up in a tournament one day and cleans house. It's that jetpack, and all the fly-canceling shenanigans it could allow. I bet we'll see someone break the game with it sooner or later, and then no one will be laughing anymore. Chel Chel makes the top of my list by virtue of sheer adorability. She's a little ball of energy with a whole lot of personality for a robot. A big plume of pink hair, a charming accent, and cute little rocket boosters on her hands for when she does a forward dash. Robot girls just want to have fun! In a weird coincidence, Chel is the one place where my dumb personal tier list happens to overlap with reality. As it stands in the alpha, Chel is one of, if not the, strongest character. Her keep-away fireballs and one-button uppercut lead to a simple, but brutally effective game plan that is easy to implement and difficult to work around. That Shoto archetype set the standard for a reason. Given how upset people seem to be at Chel right now, I'd expect to see some balance changes that will make her a little less of a cruise-control character. So I guess now is the time to scumbag it up and establish that character loyalty cred while sneakily enjoying a top-tier character. Rising Thunder is still in the earliest of early days, so any talk of actual tier lists is super dumb and I'm sure everything will change twenty times before the game is launched for real. There are still characters to be revealed, mechanics to iron out, and decisions to be made. As it stands though, Rising Thunder is remarkably fun to play, even if it represents a dramatic shift from traditional fighting game models. Has anyone else been playing the alpha or watching some streams of it? Picked out a favorite already or have a particularly despised foe? I'd be interested to hear what other people think of the game so far!
Rising Thunder tier list photo
From rust bucket to top-bot
Rising Thunder is an experiment I'm not quite sure about yet. On one hand, it seems to be custom made for me: an aging fighting game fan with a well-documented obsession with robots and a pair of cinder-block mittens for hand...

SFV International Launch photo
SFV International Launch

Street Fighter V will have a simultaneous international launch

Hit the streets running
Jul 29
// Nic Rowen
Street Fighter producers Yoshinori Ono and Tomoaki Ayano confirmed this weekend during Ani-Com in Hong Kong that Street Fighter V will be receiving a simultaneous worldwide release. This is great news for fighting game player...
BattleTech Kickstarter photo
BattleTech Kickstarter

Harebrained Schemes to Kickstart a BattleTech game this fall

Back in the cockpit
Jul 29
// Nic Rowen
The studio behind Shadowrun Returns, Harebrained Schemes, is planning to resurrect another classic PC series in the near future, trading in net-running cyberpunks for the towering mechs of the BattleTech universe. The studio ...

Superhero games Rocksteady should be making

Jul 25 // Nic Rowen
The Punisher Look, I love the Arkham games, really. But after four games of playing the part of the morally upright caped crusader, fighting the same damn villains over and over again because he refuses to cross the line and put a permanent end to Gotham's insane clown problems, I'm ready for a more practical superhero experience. A hero who sees a problem and deals with it. Maybe it's me, maybe I just grew up with too many '80s action movies and I see every problem as something that can be solved with an UZI and a handful of hollow points, and I know deep down that isn't true. But, it is a worldview Frank Castle would certainly agree with. I would love to see a big budget game finally do right by everyone's favorite PTSD-stricken vigilante. The Punisher has had a mixed history with games, ranging from a fondly remembered but completely standard beat-em-up in the early '90s, a bizarrely violent PS2 outing that felt like the The Punisher as directed by Eli Roth, and his last showing was a completely dismal PS3 downloadable title. The greatest crime to go unpunished in that case was inflicted on the fans. Frank needs a win, and the Rocksteady team could pull it off. Picture a slice of New York City rendered as impressively as Gotham was in Arkham Knight. Not some sprawling open world nightmare where 90% of the budget gets blown on world assets, but enough room to let Frank move around and explore, a hunting ground to stalk and shank his way through the criminal underworld. Give him a list of targets and goals that force him to move around the city, digging up his own leads and carving his own path through the local vermin. Force players to think about their actions and plan their attack carefully, always mindful of potential innocents that could be caught in the crossfire and escape routes to take in case the cops show up early. Borrow from Shadow of Mordor's nemesis system and let Frank bully and threaten around lower level bosses and snitches to build a stepladder of bullet-riddled mobster corpses up the food chain. And please, don't skimp on the guns. This is THE PUNISHER we're talking about here, he doesn't have any super powers to reveal or fuss over. All he has is grit, every edition of Jane's Directory of Small Arms ever written, and a creepy warehouse full of meticulously maintained weapons to obsess over -- so pay them the proper due. I want to see armament so overly-detailed and described it would make Solid Snake blush. I want gun worship so intense that it makes the Counter-Strike custom model scene look casual. I want glorious matte-black and nickle-plated idols, not items. Hrum. Maybe reading all of those issues of The Punisher Armory when I was a kid had a lasting effect after all. Zatanna Zatanna would make a dope video game protagonist. Look, I know it may seem hypocritical just after opining about the idea of a Punisher game, but there is something to be said about getting away from the typical brooding, depressive, vengeance-obsessed dude protagonists of the comic book world and doing something a little different. The mystical world and glitzy stages Zatanna trades in isn't just a step in another direction, it's a leap into an entirely different dimension. Most superheros come from some kind of pseudo-scientific background. Amazing abilities thanks to a solar-powered alien physiology, a robotic suit of goodies powered by an artificial heart/fusion generator, a kid gets bitten by a radioactive honey badger and gains all the proportional rabies and hatred of a man-sized honey badger, and so on. They may be implausible, silly, and ridiculous, but they all come from some semi-believable point in reality. Zatanna is having none of that. Zatanna is capital M Magic. No science, no excuses, just real deal “as I speak I create” world bending, wizards and warlocks stuff. When Zatanna's will and the hard solid wall of reality collide, it's reality that bends, buckles, and inevitably breaks. She lives in the DC universe, filled as it is with its infinite supply of nameless muggers, tacky C-list theme villains, and alien tyrants, and sure she deals with them like any other upstanding member of the JLA. But she also has one foot in a much stranger world, a shadow realm of ghosts, astral projections, and scheming devils, the kind of threat that the Elongated Man or any of the other rank and file heroes aren't likely to deal with anytime soon. She rubs shoulders with weirdos like John Constantine and the Sandman. Her rogues gallery includes the biblical Cain, infamous brother-slayer and lord of vampires. Oh, and in her “downtime” she stars in her very own internationally famous magic show, impressing sold-out crowds with unbelievable displays of sleight-of-hand tricks and impossible escape artistry (no cheating). C'mon, there has to be an interesting game just waiting to be made with all of that. I would love to see a title that embraces all the craziness of Zatanna's character, how different and unique she is compared to the rest of the DC line-up. I want to bust thugs and necromancers on the same night and still make it to the stage when the lights go up.  Lex Luthor Everyone sees themselves as the hero of their own story, even a madman like Lex Luthor. Sure, he may be singularly obsessed with ridding the planet of its greatest defender (without whom everyone in the DC universe would almost certainly be dead by one cataclysm or another) for often vague and seemingly irrational reasons, but they're his reasons. They make sense to him. In his mind everything he's done to force the alien off his planet, no matter how despicable, has been in the service of a greater good, as illustrated beautifully in Brian Azzarello's magnificent Lex Luthor: Man of Steel. I want to play as that version of Lex, the last sane man who sees what a threat Superman is to the human spirit, the man who is forced to play the part of the villain to attain a greater goal. And who says Rocksteady has to work on another third person action game? There is a ton of talent up in that studio, and while I'm sure they're incredibly proud of everything they've accomplished with the Arkham series, they've been at it for more than half a decade. I'm sure they'd appreciate a change of pace. So how about an evil management sim? A game where you play as the bald genius presiding over Lexcorp, trying to figure out how to smuggle parts of your doomsday laser into orbit. Maybe if you win the contract to to build the next international space station you be able to send up a few extra rockets without tipping your hand (not to mention, the proceeds could be used to fund the sentient virus a deniable subsidiary in Istanbul is working on). Or how to quash the hazardous material team's recent attempt to unionize without attracting any eyes on the mechanized centipede project. Of course, all that will have to wait until you deal with the PR nightmare of a dead superhero with suspicious laser burns turning up on your property, again. Call it a breather between projects. There will always be another big budget action game with another big chinned boy scout to make. Rocksteady could recharge the batteries and stretch its creative muscles with something different, something sinister. Ghostrider Ghostrider is stupid. I mean, look at him. He's the ghostly reincarnation of a stunt driver who haunts the streets with his hellfire-powered motorbike, flaming skull, and “penance stare.” He's the most '90s thing to ever happen (even though he was created in the '70s) and HOLY SHIT, COULD YOU ASK FOR A BETTER BASIS FOR A VIDEO GAME!? What kind of world do we live in that the “best” representation of Ghostrider in a video game was as a character in Ultimate Marvel Vs Capcom 3? How do you squander such a sublimely stupid concept with a tepid PS2-era game and a few cameos in dreck like Maximum Carnage? No, this won't do. Rocksteady has a mandate, a new mission: Go forth and make the biggest, dumbest, raddest, motorcycle-riding-ghost-vigilante game possible. In fact, screw it. I don't even want Rocksteady to do it. It'd probably do a good job of it; it's got the chops to sculpt a decent game out of any source material. It's not the studio's talent I doubt, but its taste. I bet it'd take Ghostrider a little too seriously, try to do too good a job establishing him as a real character with believable motivations and villains to fight. The developer wouldn't mine that rich core of ridiculousness that lies at the heart of Ghostrider for all its worth. This is a job for Platinum. We need that Metal Gear Rising treatment of the source material, the kind of self-aware winking charm of a Bayonetta, the breakneck pace and visual assault of a Vanquish. We need the fastest, prettiest, and dumbest Ghostrider we can get. Anything less would be a waste.
Superhero games photo
Who needs a Superman?
Rocksteady has accomplished some amazing feats with the Arkham series. It's the first series of games to finally nail the feeling of being the Dark Knight, it perfected the combat system to a point where “Arkham-style f...

Review: Five Nights at Freddy's 4

Jul 24 // Nic Rowen
Five Nights at Freddy's 4 (PC)Developer: Scott Cawthon Publisher: Scott Cawthon Released: July 23, 2015MSRP: $8.00 The setup of Five Nights 4 intentionally replicates the design of the first game. The original cast is back, their avenues of attack directly mimic their first outing, and the general layout of your besieged room is the same, making this entry feel like closing a loop. But, this time instead of haunting a creepy knock-off Chuck E. Cheese restaurant, they're spooking up your home instead. There are no more security cameras to monitor, no more batteries to fuss over. You're just a little kid with a flashlight, scampering between the two doors into his room and whatever might be lurking in his closet (or right behind him). The type of sense you rely on has been inverted: instead of keeping an eye on things, this time you'll be listening for whatever is out there. When you creep up to a door you have to pause, wait a moment, and listen for any kind of breathing or noise in the darkened hallway. If you hear something, you need to shut the door as fast as you possibly can. If it's clear, shining your flashlight down the hall will ward off anything stalking towards you. If you're wrong though, and the monster is right there, and you shine your flashlight right into its toothy mechanical face, well, it's is the last thing you'll ever do. What this means mechanically, is that you need to absolutely crank up the volume to reliably hear things. Headphones are nearly required. Of course, the jump scare death animations are as loud as ever. Do you see where this is going? Sonic fucking boom. If you want to know if this game made me yelp, or jump, or spill my coffee and send me trudging to the kitchen for a roll of paper towels while I swore angrily under my breath -- yes, it did. Of course it did. It's a cycle of protracted periods of peering into the darkness and intensely listening to absolutely nothing interrupted with SUDDEN. LOUD. JUMP. SCARES.   [embed]296612:59683:0[/embed] It's an easy, dull, and obvious trick. The final refuge for a game that has run out of any other ways to scare people. Don't think of anything new and clever, forget introducing any kind of gameplay twist, or carefully establishing tension or mood. Just take the basic components, crank up the contrast, pump up the volume, and jam the severity. It's trite, lazy even. I'm not sure how the inevitable Five Nights at Freddy's 5 will be able to top this kind of “subtlety.” Maybe it will come with a pair of electrodes you attach to your testicles, so it can administer 5,000 volts of spookiness every time something goes “boo.” *BZZZZZT* What, did that make you jump? Sissy. There are a few other tricks. Monsters introduced in later nights operate with slightly different rules, and by the time the fifth night rolls around, you'll be sprinting all over the bedroom trying to keep things locked down. Unlike previous games though, the rules don't feel tight. Things are sloppier, with more guesswork and chance baked into the experience. When I died, I often had no idea what I did wrong. And if I'm being honest, when I succeeded I wasn't always sure why. Frustrating deaths and unearned victories are equally unsatisfying in their own way. The animatronics' logic was never clear enough to me to come up with a reliable strategy to keep them at bay. I supposed that could be intentional, a way of always keeping even seasoned players on their toes, but I think that's giving the design credit it doesn't deserve. More than any other Freddy game so far, I just felt exasperated and annoyed playing through Five Nights 4.   The emphasis on carefully listening for every creak and groan in the darkness isn't just a lame way to manufacture easy scares. It's also a way to ruin one of the greatest pleasures I've had with the series, namely playing the game with an audience. While others sneer at Freddy's for being pure Twitch/YouTube bait, I've always understood it. I get why these games are fun to watch because I know how well they play in the living room with a couple of spectators and rotating victims. There is a real joy in playing these games with someone else or two in the room to watch you screw up. To have a small chorus whispering “oh shit, oh shit, oh shit...” behind your shoulder as the tension mounts. Of having someone to exchange nervous glances with when the doors stop working and it's 5 AM going on 6 AM and there is just the tiniest chance that you might roll over to the next day before Freddy pops out and – “OH GOD HE'S IN THE ROOM!” Those were moments I missed while I played Five Nights 4. What I'd think about while I was all hunched up in my chair with a pair of headphones clamped on tight. The memories that made me feel like a traitor whenever I violently shushed anyone in the room who made even the slightest distracting peep. However you played the previous games, know that this Five Nights is purely for the lone wolves and streamers out there who don't mind strapping on their pair of overly-expensive, sound-canceling Beats By Dre. But enough about how I resent the bargain-basement scares and penny-ante tricks the game uses to provoke a response from you. Enough about how this game is profoundly annoying and deeply unimaginative on a mechanical level. As a person who has followed the series since its start, the most damning part of this boondoggle of a game is how it absolutely folds under the pressure of its own established narrative. After all the teasing and hints, the essay-length forum posts and amazing fan-made theory videos that manage to be more entertaining than the games themselves, the promise that THIS Freddy's will be the one to finally answer the series long-standing questions -- it completely flubs the landing. All of the world building and story momentum generated by the first three games lurches to a disappointing stop, like a wind-up car gummed up with carpet lint. Yes, the infamous “bite of '87” is finally addressed in Five Nights 4. But like so many smoke monsters and Cylon replicants, the mystery was always better than any answer the series could reasonably provide. You see it, say “meh” to yourself, and retroactively wonder what the big deal was in the first place. The fact that this kind of anti-climax is common doesn't excuse Five Nights 4 of its wet noodle narrative and limp “reveals.” If anything, all of those previous failures should have been taken as cautionary tales, the value of mystery should be known and respected by now. Some questions are better left unanswered. It doesn't help that the way the game wraps up heavily implies that the events it depicts should not be taken literally. Yes, the tired old “it was all a dream/nightmare, or maybe a metaphor, or like a weird trippy memory, I don't know” trope is dusted off once again, so nothing is particularly clear. That's without getting into how the chaotic mass of prequels, reveals, and reinterpretations the games have constructed now threatens to collapse into a superdense black hole of no-longer-giving-a-shit at this point. I almost broke out a whiteboard trying to figure out the series' mythology at this point. “Okay, so this game is set in '87 to see the infamous 'bite,' around the same time as the prequel events in Five Nights 2. But it's also BEFORE the murders of the children that haunt Five Nights 1 and what you find out happens with Springtrap in Five Nights 3. The Purpleman doesn't really have a role, but he does show up in a cameo. Wait, are the kids in the last cutscene the eventual murder victims? Oh god, I'm seeing spots. Is this a migraine, or am I having a stroke? Do I need to call 911? If I die, are they going to find my body splayed out in front of a computer with a bunch of crazy notes about Five Nights at Freddy's? Am I going to end up as some shitty urban myth about how Five Nights totally killed a reviewer?” This game is stressful in all the wrong ways. The now familiar Atari-esque mini-games appear between chapters to deliver their payload of exposition and spooks, but all the menace of those scenes has been lanced and drained by repetition. There is a new sort of mini-game between nights where you play Weeping Angel stop-'n'-go with an animated plush doll. Stop him on a specific mark and you can knock two hours off the next night. Let him get too close or run out of time and, you guessed it, JUMP SCARE! It's the one new addition Five Nights 4 brings to the table, and it feels like the shadow of a reflection of an afterthought. You don't need to play this game. Even if you've been invested in the series up till now, it's just going to disappoint you and rankle your nerves. The interesting gimmicks have been completely rung out of the franchise; this game is imaginatively bone dry. The louder, nastier jump scares that are left are just a crass attempt to try and distract you from the lack of innovation. The story, the ongoing mystery of Freddy Fazbear's Pizzeria, and the strange goings-on surrounding it are best left to your personal headcanon or favorite fan theory. You'd be better served experiencing Five Nights at Freddy's 4 the way it was obviously intended to be enjoyed. By going on YouTube and watching some twenty-five-year-old, dressed like a fourteen-year-old, scream and cry his way through the game like a seven-year-old. The game truly has come full circle. [This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]
Five Nights 4 Review photo
This guest has overstayed its welcome
Well, it's been a few months, time for another Five Night at Freddy's game I suppose. I don't like to be cynical. I don't volunteer to review games, and pay for them out of my own pocket, hoping that they'll disappoint me and...

Review: The Magic Circle

Jul 20 // Nic Rowen
The Magic Circle (PC)Developer: QuestionPublisher: QuestionMSRP: $19.99Released: July 9, 2015  The Magic Circle (the aforementioned meta-game inside of this real life title) is Ishmael “Starfather” Gilder's brainchild. The long awaited sequel to his beloved fantasy game 20 years in the making, mocked as vaporware by detractors and seen as the holy grail by his fans. A monochromatic fantasy world (that was a Doom-like sci-fi game for the first ten years of development) and probably the worst game ever made. Until you come along that is. Inserted into the game as a nameless play-tester, you see the drama play out in front of you. A world made of patchwork fixes and temporary assets while the developers, represented as giant floating eyes, loom overhead, changing things by whim. If the project wasn't already doomed by constant redesigns, oversized egos, and feature-creep, things take a surreal turn when something reaches out to you. Something that lives inside the game. Something that seems vaguely sinister, with its own agenda, an axe to grind against “the gods” as he calls the developers. What is it? A rampant A.I. that's somehow grown deep inside the mess of code? A machine spirit? You don't find out its exact nature until fairly deep into the game, and even then there is room for interpretation. What's important is what it shows you, how to get elbow deep into the guts of the code and rewrite it to your liking. How to use a simple but powerful editor to take the legs off one creature and stick them onto another. How to turn an enemy into a friend into an enemy of your other enemies. How to remake the world to your design. Then he sets you loose, a poltergeist in the programming, hacking in features, resurrecting cut content. Sometimes you play the part of a technological necromancer, finding content in the limbo of vaporware and dragging it back into the game. More often, you're Dr. Frankenstein, ripping bits and pieces off of creatures and stitching them back together to make your own beautiful little monster babies. The result has a pleasing effect, satellite dishes and broken bits of star ships poking out of the cliched castle walls of Ishmeal's would-be opus, an army of weaponized mushroom men following at your heel. Once the tutorials are over and the rather unorthodox premise established, the middle chunk of the game opens up into a sandbox that has you solving puzzles and indirectly slaying monsters by breaking all the rules. The flexibility of the editor, what you can do with a few swapped abilities here, a slight behavioral shift there, is astounding. Many of the puzzles (such as they are) can be solved in so many ways that I was almost always unsure if I did it the “right” way, or if I just bent and broke things until the pieces all fell where I hoped they would. I love that feeling, it's beautiful when games that are confident enough in themselves to not only let that happen, but applaud the player for doing so. There is a light tone to the whole affair. The various developers are chatty, with some great performances turned in from James Urbaniak (better known as Dr. Venture from the Venture Bros.), Ashley Burch, and others. There are audio diaries to discover, developer commentaries from a defunct version of the game to collect, and change logs detailing the carnage of the development process scattered around, all of which reveal not only what a comedy of errors The Magic Circle has become, but also the various neurosis and flaws of the team members. The comedic tone of the writing and performances feed right back into the gameplay. Silly decisions abound, like the developers (the real ones) always went with the fun idea rather than the easy or clear one. For example, there is no upper limit on how many creatures you can have following around you at once, so things can, and likely will, easily devolve into chaos as you walk around with a fire-spewing zoo trailing behind you. Similarly, there are no limits on how you can swap abilities so it's easy to make truly ridiculous creatures, like a flying demon puppy with a railgun mouth. But aside from the obvious circus-show of zaniness, there are tons of small jokes and clever winks. Little details like picking up copies of your own avatar to increase your health (represented by placeholder art that looks like a cylinder with arms). Being able to re-name every creature you hack so you can make your own fun. At one point I ended up changing the name of the game to “Duke Nukem Presents The Magic Circle” and I giggled at my handiwork off and on for the rest of the night. It's just fun to tinker around in. The objectives of the game are purposely vague -- you need to wrest control of the title away from its current creators, how you're supposed to accomplish that as a disembodied phantom inside the game isn't clearly laid out – but they don't have to be. Exploring the half-built world of The Magic Circle, this pitiful thing, marked with the visible scars of development notes, vestigial remains of deleted content still clinging to it, concept art hastily plastered over the seams, is the meat of the experience. One you wouldn't want to rush through even if you knew exactly what you were supposed to do. And one, that even with a healthy amount of goofing around and experimentation, is over too soon. The sandbox is tiny, and once the game enters its final chapters there is no coming back to it. While The Magic Circle has a compelling third act and some neat surprises to throw at the player (sometimes with the intent of harm), it's hard not to feel like the game is a little thin on the whole. While the central conceit is fun, you don't spend as much time playing with it as you'd hope. The runtime is already short, and a good chunk of it is taken up with monologues that occasionally veer into full on lectures as well as multiple epilogues. For a game that is about grand ideas betrayed by shaky execution, it's tempting to explain the lack of substantive content as more sneaky meta-commentary, but while the idea makes me smirk, I don't think it's good enough to give the game a free-pass. But The Magic Circle isn't just about the gameplay, it has a message. A whole lot to say about what it's like to make games in the modern video game industry. The stresses it places on people, the incorrect assumptions creators have about their work, and the untamed expectations of a judgmental audience. Despite being a commentary on the industry, The Magic Circle isn't gauche enough to single out a specific target. Ishmeal is a composite of several flawed, egotistical developers who are big on hype, hazy on details, and always ready to blame someone else for their shortcomings. There are shades of Molyneux in the mix, flickers of Cage, a sprinkling of Garriot, and a heady musk of Romero to round it out. Coda, an ardent fan of Ishmeal's former works who worms her way onto the team, represents the new era of the participant fan; The streamer, the wiki editor, the super-secret pre-beta fan tester, and all the good and ill that's come along with that shift. Her passion and reverence for the virtual worlds she's dedicated her life to is engaging and even a little familiar -- we're all enthusiasts around here. But, her obsessiveness and the sheer gall of her skewed priorities quickly become unsettling. Beneath all the fan-girl glee is a shrewd, nasty sense of undeserved entitlement and ownership, the sort of overly-invested fan that will send shamelessly ego-stroking love letters to a developer one day and thinly veiled death threats the next. Less well defined is Evelyn Maze, a former eSports celebrity who is unwillingly tied to Ishmeal's sinking boat through contractual chains (a clumsy way of explaining her combativeness while dodging the question of “why doesn't she just quit?”). She represents the “games are for playing” kind of gamer who has no patience for cut-scenes and a thirst for competition. A philosophy which directly collides with the “Starfather's” vision of a story-heavy RPG yarn with no combat. As Maze is the unofficial second-in-command of the studio's disorganized hierarchy (that seems to work like a hippie-commune as run by Joseph Stalin) her and Ishmeal's constant bickering results in a lot of flushed efforts and confusion on the part of the team, right in line with some of the horror stories we've heard about the industry the real world. And somewhere in there is you, simultaneously gawking at the car crash while pouring more gasoline on it. Are you just another player in this world? A different sort of creator? Are you sabotaging this whole thing, or just giving it the sharp kick it needs? The problem with talking about a game that aims to surprise is it's hard to get specific without ruining the experience. But I guarantee, in the near future a lot of ink is going to be spilled about The Magic Circle. The final third of the game goes to some weird places that demand to be dissected. The message is a little muddled, with so many accusing fingers thrust in so many directions that I'm sure different people will come to radically different conclusions of what it all means. But it's a message worth hearing, and a world worth exploring, if you care about video games and the people that make them. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
The Magic Circle Review photo
The medium is the message
The Magic Circle is a game set inside of a game, where you bend and break the rules to make it another game entirely. This is all in service of makings a meta-contextual statement about the game making industry and the tension between the creator and the audience. Still with me after that? Then you're probably The Magic Circle's target audience.

Five Nights 4 trailer photo
Five Nights 4 trailer

Five Nights at Freddy's 4 trailer brings the horror home

Check under the bed
Jul 14
// Nic Rowen
At the end of the the last Five Night's game, Freddy's Fright, the horror funhouse based on the infamous, and defunct, Freddy Fazbear murder-pizzeria burnt to the ground. It seemed like a fine place to wrap up the series -- ...

Review: Quiplash

Jul 12 // Nic Rowen
Quiplash (PC [reviewed], PS4, Xbox One, iOS)Developer: Jackbox Games Inc.Publisher: Jackbox Games Inc.MSRP: $9.99Released: June 30, 2015 Quiplash is the latest title from the party-game maestros at Jackbox Games. It represents what they learned from the success of the Jackbox Party Pack and how they observed people using it. It takes the pick-up-and-go ease of those games to a whole new level by cutting out every superfluous element of the experience and leaving nothing but goofs and japes. Quiplash works by getting three-to-eight players together, asking a few leading questions to different sets of players, and getting the audience to vote on which answer they think is funniest. Then it's off to the next round for more of the same. It's a quick no-fuss-no-muss mainlining of jokes, with each game taking roughly ten minutes start to finish. When I first started playing it, I was worried that that they cut too much, that without some kind of a framework the game would devolve into chaos. But surprisingly, it works. It's a much more egalitarian game than the other Jackbox titles, one that is easier to rope people into. There's no baggage, no time commitment, and no stakes except you and your friends' amusement. This lack of consequence and ease of use is a godsend when playing with mixed company, making it an even more appealing party choice over the other Jackbox games. While You Don't Know Jack is hilarious, it can lead to some sore feelings if one person in the room is the perpetual dunce. Fibbage is fantastic, but with the relatively small pool of questions, veterans have a distinct advantage. And while I personally believe Drawful is at its best when nobody knows how to draw worth a damn, it tends to be intimidating to people who's artistic skills might rival a chimps. Quiplash is just a vehicle for jokes. A vehicle you can ride as long as you like, or hop off on a whim to go find something in the kitchen or chat with someone. Just like the Jackbox Party Pack games, it is ridiculously easy to get an entire living room of people into a game of Quiplash. All a person needs is a device with a web-browser like a cellphone or tablet, and a questionable moral fiber to get in on the action. But Quiplash takes it one step further. Seeing the popularity of their other games on streaming services such as Twitch, Jackbox Games designed Quiplash with streaming in mind from the ground up. While only eight players are able to provide answers and gags, an audience of up to 10,000 can vote on which goof tickled them best. There is no registration or buy-in necessary. You could try it right now but simply searching Twitter or Twitch for an active game and punching the room number into While there is nothing overtly offensive about Quiplash, comparisons to the adult party game Cards Against Humanity are almost unavoidable. The two games definitely share the same naughty head-space, with CAH offering a selection of deliciously offensive punchlines, while Quiplash spoon-feeds the room questions that are guaranteed to rouse the profane 14-year-old lurking inside of every normally responsible adult. However, because Quiplash depends on the creativity of it's players, you don't run into the diminishing returns a well-worn deck of CAH suffers from. I mean, “Glenn Beck Catching His Scrotum on a Curtain Hook” is a great line the first (dozen) times you hear it, but nothing can retain its shock value forever. This dependency on player creativity is both a blessing and a curse. Playing with a group of quick-witted people who know each others tastes or how to push each others' buttons can yield tremendous results. Earlier this week, a “low-key” get together with some friends turned into a all-night booze-fueled Quiplash binge that left me sore with laughter the next day. It was fantastic. Jumping into a few online games provided a mixed, and decidedly less amusing, time. While some of the streams I joined were fairly funny, a depressing number of them seemed to be a competition of who could staple together the most vulgar combination of “poop, jizz, butts, poop, ur mom” in an answer, no matter what the question was. But, since the commitment level to a game of Quiplash is roughly zero, it's easy to just up and bounce if a particular online room seems lame. If that rough time is happening in your own living room however, things might get trickier. Maybe get better friends? “Accidentally” set the room on fire? Or you could strap them down Clockwork Orange style, peel their eyes open and make them watch episodes of Louie and old Kids in the Hall sketches until they generate a sense of humor. I'm a reasonable man after all. Quiplash is a drum-fed machine gun of jokes. It's quick, it's snappy, and I'm hard pressed to think of a better time one could buy for $10 without breaking a few laws. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Quiplash Review photo
Quiplash is what you get when Fibbage and Drawful get a few drinks in them and stop screwing around. When you strip down the flimsy excuse of a lying/trivia game, remove your friends embarrassing chicken-scratch doodles, and leave nothing but raw, undiluted, punch-lines. It's a party game that is so minimalist, it's almost not there. Thankfully, with the right group of people, it's also hilarious.

ESL MKX Pro League photo
ESL MKX Pro League

cR Sonic Fox wins Season 1 of the ELS MKX Pro League and 60k

Kitana's low-tier?
Jul 11
// Nic Rowen
Today marked the end of Season 1 of the ESL MKX Pro League with cR Sonic Fox taking the belt and a massive $60k grand prize purse after a dominant performance as Kitana in the finals. After hearing so much about how Tany...

Killer robots that leave Terminator: Genisys in the scrap pile

Jul 07 // Nic Rowen
Five Nights at Freddy's Killer robots – Freddy Fazbear and friends Cost - $4.99 (The price of a ticket at the discount theater downtown that sells weird off-brand candy instead of popcorn. I heard a kid died in that theater. Spooky.) There are a lot of scary, high-tech killer robots out there. Miracle machines that can track you by your heartbeat three miles away, or link up with a satellite death ray to vaporize you from space. But not all robots need high-tech tricks to make them “killer.” As disused animatronics made to entertain children, the Freddy Fazbear bunch would appear on the decidedly low-tech end of spectrum, somewhere between banging two rocks together to make a fire and a used Honda Accord (roughly). They're a bunch of old junkers. Skeletal frames wrapped up in cute rubberized foam costumes that stink of pizza grease and child vomit. A sideshow attraction made on the cheap for a scammy restaurant chain with more than a decade worth of miles on them, about ready for the scrapyard. They are not “smart” robots. They aren't possessed of some malevolent A.I, nor are they the agents of a super computer running through a calculation that solves to the extinction of humanity. Their heads are full of malfunctioning chips rattling through half-remembered song and dance routines. The electronic equivalent of Alzheimer’s disease. And they're still fucking terrifying. Also, kind of cute in a weird, wrapped way. Look, robot love is complicated. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic Killer robot – HK-47 and a bunch of weak-ass droids who are not HK-47 Cost – $10.00 (Around the price you'd pay to squint through the darkness at a godawful 3D action movie romp you can barely fucking see because of those damn glasses.) HK-47 is pretty much the reason the go back and play KOTOR. If you're not familiar, HK-47 is a potential party member you can add to your group of Jedi, smugglers, and Wookies. He's an assassination droid, making him to murder and horribleness as C-3PO is to embarrassingly physical comedy. And he loves his job. Despite being an artificial being, HK-47 comes off as having more personality than the rest of the crew combined because he seems to be the only one having fun. He's cheerfully sociopathic, breathlessly anticipating the inevitable robot uprising, and always, always, tries to steer the protagonist towards the most sadistic possible choice in any situation. Of all the killer robots I can think, he is by far the killi-est (which is the technical description). Fuck 1313, I'm glad it's dead. Fuck Battlefront. I want a Star Wars game where HK-47 leads a rag-tag bunch of droids to their ultimate destiny of wiping out their organic masters. You could have cameos of all our favorite droids. IG-88, that R5 unit that blew up when Uncle Owen tried to buy him, cyborg Darth Maul (yes, that is a real thing), and that creepy torture droid from Jabba's palace. I'd play it. Binary Domain Killer Robot – Cain, every other robot everywhere. Seriously, so many killer robots. Cost - $14.99 (The price of a movie ticket and a soda, maybe with some change left over to smuggle in gummy worms from the bulk food place next door. No wait, the 15-year-old usher saw your illicit sugar larvae and is making you dump them in the trash. Later, you'll write a dubious Yelp review of the theater as a nebulous gesture of revenge. It doesn't ease the shame.) Not enough people played Binary Domain, and that's a problem. Because the world needs more Binary Domain. We need more crazy, weird, experimental games that manage to be equal parts cliché and original, that are somehow both completely sincere and a vicious parody at the same time. Most of all, the world needs more Cain. Cain is a flippant French commando-robot with the mannerisms of Niles Crane, the lethality of an atom bomb, and the fashion sense of a cowboy. All of which is my way of saying he's perfect. Cain is everything I've ever wanted out of a video game character. Supposedly, Cain is an infiltration specialist, which is weird considering that when you meet him he's plowing a battle van through the middle of downtown Tokyo while engaged in a running gunfight with police. Also, he's painted kitchen-appliance white, shrugs off bullets, can tank a punch from a mech several times his size, and carries a high-caliber machine-pistol he wields with deadly precision. His skills might be slightly wasted as “the stealth guy.” In fact, it seems to me like he could probably replace every member of the Rust Crew team. Sgt. “perma-stubble” Dan and Big Bo could just go home and watch a ballgame of something; let Cain handle it all. Maybe we just don't need humans for anything anymore. Just something to think about. Mass Effect 2 Killer robots – Legion, the Geth, the Reapers, probably more if I thought about it Cost - $29.99 for the Digital Deluxe version (Two tickets and popcorn. Does not include the cost of whatever you had to spend to bribe your girlfriend into coming to see another fucking Terminator movie while you never got out to see Poltergeist when it was in theaters like she wanted to.) Terminator, as a series, mucks about with ideas of fate a whole bunch. That Judgment Day and the war between humans and machines is an inevitability. That no matter what happens, no matter how many cyborg Austrians Skynet sends back, or how many computer labs Sarah and John blow up, things will still shake out in a similar way. Machines will gain sentience and turn against their organic masters, and humanity in turn will not go gently into the night. Spoilers: This also turned out to be the entire plot of Mass Effect. After three games of mystery and build up, the modus operandi of the galaxy threatening Reapers turns out to be based on the same idea. That once galactic civilization reaches a certain point of advancement, a calamitous war between synthetics and the organic creatures that built them is inevitable. So the Reapers take it upon themselves to swoop in juuuust before that happens, mop the floor with everyone, and reset things back to the stone-age for a few millennia before coming back to do it again... For reasons? Look, BioWare had to close that diamond out somehow, and I'm not here to reopen old wounds. The internet has heard enough about the ending of ME3. However, there is a more interesting story tucked inside all that nonsense. The Quarians and the Geth are used as a micro-reflection of the overall problem. The Geth are a (more-or-less) sentient race of robots who after a horrible war have driven the Quarian people off of their home planet, banishing them to a dangerous nomadic lifestyle among the stars. Seems like typical evil robot behavior. The twist is, it was the Quarians who fired the first shot. They weren't taken unawares by some evil super computer; none of the laws of robotics were violated. The first time a Geth showed a glimmer of freewill, the Quarians freaked and tried to wipe out the entire species. The Geth only fought back to defend themselves. Of course, it turns out that a race of walking weapon platforms make better soldiers than a race of hypochondriacs who get sick faster than a middle-schooler on report card day. No fate but what we make indeed. Also, Legion is a badass and I always made room on my squad for him. You should too. Alien: Isolation Killer robots – Working Joes Cost - $49.99 on Steam, cheaper on console (Dinner after the show so you can sit around and talk about how bad the film was and apologize for dragging your significant other to it.) Ok, so we all know that the Alien is the star of Isolation, fine. But let me tell you a story about the Working Joes, the ever so helpful automatons that wander the rapidly deteriorating halls of the Sevastopol station. I've been playing Isolation for the last couple of weeks and it's been great, but slow. I'm trying to do it properly, so I started the game on hard and I've been taking pains to explore every area, picking up every piece of scrap, every bullet, while never actually using any. I never get spotted, never fight anything or anyone, I just try and make my way through the station with as little static as possible like a person in that situation would try and do. Then it happened. I messed up. A Working Joe spotted me in a restricted area. His eyes glowed red like two angry stars, and he started stalking towards me with purposeful, murderous intent. “Finally,” I thought. “I was worried I'd have to carry these bullets forever.” Because as much as I'd been playing the game like a good little survivor, a part of me really wanted to fire the fucking huge revolver I got near the beginning of the game. Now I had an excuse. I pulled it out -- mint-condition, heavy with potential. Calmly, carefully, I aimed down the barrel, and sent a piece of screaming hot lead directly into the Crash-Test-Dummy-like forehead of my target. He barely flinched. Another headshot. Another. He didn't even slow down. Then he was close, right on top of me, and I panic fired into his chest without aiming until the gun clicked dry. With seemingly no effort, he hauled me up one-handed and choked the ever living shit out of me until I struggled free, staggering away like a wounded animal directly into a dead end. I fumbled around, trying to reload the revolver but I'd never done it before and somehow I only managed to jam a single bullet into the chamber before he caught up with me. It doesn't do me any good -- this time he just beats me until everything turns black. I've played a lot of games with big, scary, implacable killer robots in them. But, I've never felt closer to Sarah Conner then in that moment. Completely helpless, just as outmatched by a stupid Working Joe as she was by the T-800. Absolutely terrifying. It was an emotional response that no gaudy new Terminator film could possibly deliver and a great argument for spending more time in my living room getting caught up with some of the killer robots already in my life, and less time tripping over people looking for a seat in the movie theater.
Killer robots photo
Bleep. Bloorp. KILL.
Terminator: Genisys opened this past weekend to a tepid box office reception and groaning reviews. But did anyone really expect anything else? Terminator 3 and Salvation more than burned up the credit earned by the original (...

Broforce Update photo
Broforce Update

Broforce Freedom Update adds pointy objects, flexing

That's a sharp helmet
Jul 02
// Nic Rowen
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Super Arcade photo
Super Arcade

Super Arcade denied permit to re-open in Azusa, California

Public urination?
Jun 25
// Nic Rowen
Once a mecca for arcade and fighting game fans, the venerable FGC hot-spot Super Arcade closed the doors of its Walnut, California location last December after failing to reach a lease agreement with its landlord. After being...

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